The captain took solace in the fact that Rider's double take was amusing.
"Oh," he said, his eyes a bit too wide, his muscles poised to flee. He swallowed and tried to hide his sudden alarm by saying something stupid. "Fancy seeing you here."
The captain rolled his eyes and turned back to his drink.
This response apparently confused Rider, but then again, he was easily confused. "I didn't recognize you without your hat."
Very easily confused.
"Nice," the Captain gruffed. He took a gulp of his beer and tried to ignore the fact that Rider had hesitantly slipped onto the seat next to him at the bar and was looking at him with thinly veiled curiosity.
"You're not gonna… chase me around? Try to arrest me?"
"I've been sitting here for an hour, idiot. If I was going to arrest you, I would have done it already."
"You saw me?" He shifted uncomfortably, "Back there? In the booth?"
"When you were bargaining with Killer to sell the pearls you stole last week? Yes. I saw you."
"Oh." Rider pondered the situation for a moment, narrowing his eyes at the captain as if waiting for the trap to spring, his head tilted slightly to the side like a confused puppy.
It was very annoying.
He only stopped when the bar tender delivered his drink, and then he gave up all pretense of being careful or cool or trying not to pry or whatever it was he was doing. Maybe he figured that he really wasn't going to get arrested after all.
"So… Why exactly am I not in hand cuffs at the moment?"
The captain sighed. "I'm off duty."
"I thought crime never slept and neither did you."
It was true. The captain had shouted that at the thief during their encounter last week. Or was it the week before? Damn Rider, and his sudden brain growth to allow for access to long term memory. "Don't you think I have better things to do with my time?"
"I hate you."
"You hate me so you're letting me go. Sorry, but I'm not buying it."
"You don't buy anything."
"Point. Now are you gonna tell me what your problem is or what?"
"Like you care," the captain scoffed, taking several sizable gulps of his beer.
"It's not good to drink alone. And you're not acting like yourself. If you turn into a sullen drunkard, my job will be no fun at all. Far too easy. I'll end up putting on weight from lack of exercise, and then the ladies will stop throwing themselves at me. Can't have that."
"Do you ever shut up?"
"Nope. Spill it. What's your problem?"
"You're my problem."
Rider held up his hands in surrender. "Look, I'm just trying to help. Being friendly, you know. It doesn't happen very often and if you're going to throw away this once in a lifetime opportunity to-"
"You are my problem," the captain snapped.
This effectively cut the man off and for a moment he just sat there, frozen mid sentence before his countenance eased in understanding. Or at least partial understanding. The captain wasn't going to give him too much credit.
Rider blinked a few times and lowered his voice in a way that would look commiserating on anyone else. "You want to talk about it?"
"What on earth would make you think I want to talk about it?" the Captain barked. "And with you, no less?"
Rider rolled his eyes, bored already of acting like a shoulder to cry on – probably for the best for both of them – and picked up his usual, arrogant whine. "I don't know! You just look like the talking type, and this listening thing is new to me. Cut me some slack."
The captain growled.
"It's that I'm too handsome, isn't it? You jealous?"
"Dear God," the captain groaned, rubbing his forehead.
"Is it the money? I bet I have more than you now. How much do you make anyway?"
"Yeah," Rider nodded knowingly. "None of us do."
"Ugg! Some of us work for a living."
"You think what I do's not work? I'm insulted. There's planning involved. And networking. And lots of strenuous activity, running and climbing and everything. And I have to look good doing it all. Do you know how much work it is to make hair look this amazing? Well, I guess you wouldn't. And, mind you, it's not like I spend a lot of time on it. I was born this way so-"
"Shut up! Isn't it enough that I have to deal with you at work! Let me drink in peace!"
Silence slammed down on them after this outburst, and then-
"You should get a massage. I know just the place. There's this girl that walks on your back. It's amazing. All your troubles just melt away. Mention my name and they'll give you a discount."
"Rider," the captain growled, quickly losing his patience.
"What? I'm trying to help."
"That's a laugh."
"Tell me what's got that bee in your butt and I'm sure we can hash things out and come to an understanding."
The captain glared at him.
"Don't hold back now. Let it all out. You won't hurt my feelings. I'm a big boy. I can take it."
"You don't have feelings."
"Well then you're in no danger of stepping on them and making me cry. Come on. I'm really curious."
The captain thought for a moment, weighing his options. On the one hand, releasing the rant that had been building inside his chest for the last few years, eating away at his soul, might be amazingly cathartic. On the other hand, it seemed like Rider actually wanted to hear about it, and denying him something he wanted promised to be its own brand of delicious.
But in the end, his gloom settled back over him like a thick fog, and the captain remembered that he no longer cared. The fire of chasing Rider, the drive that pushed him towards triumph over evil doers had faded into a lackluster, dead end job.
He turned back to his drink, his head bowed, his shoulders slumped in defeat. That was what this was: defeat. It was long past time to admit it.
"You're scaring me a bit, Cap."
The captain let out a humorless bark of laughter that only seemed to put the other man further on edge.
"Spill it or I'll annoy you forever."
"You'll annoy me forever anyway."
"Then there's no harm in telling me."
"Why are you so interested?"
Rider shrugged. "Like I said, my job wouldn't be any fun at all with you in a dither. And I expect your job wouldn't be any fun either."
The captain sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose, finally starting to feel light headed from the beer. How many had he had anyway?
Why did Rider care? He'd probably just use any information he gathered to mock him further. And there was no way he really gave a damn about the emotional state of a guard who had (or hadn't, it was hard to tell at this point) made his life difficult.
Talking wouldn't make him feel better. Such emotions were better off tucked up inside, just under your rib cage where they made your chest look impressive as they grew.
So why was it that he was starting to speak?
"I joined the Royal Guard when I was sixteen," he began, his voice grim, but settled, telling Rider that this was going to be a long story, one that was really none of his business and was going to make him uncomfortable. Oh well, the dumbass asked for it. "They took me in when I got kicked out of the house."
That's how it works. The oldest children get apprenticeships. The girls get married. The younger boys are on their own. Sent off to be someone else's burden.
"They were my family. They were strict when I needed boundaries and they were strong enough to make me strong too. I did good for the first time in my life. I could take care of myself. I could take care of others, people even less fortunate than me. But I'm sure you've no idea what that feels like."
"I've spent my life – since my life really started – protecting this kingdom. Protecting the people and the crown and my men. And I did it well. I may not have been liked. I may not be considered a hero. But that's the job. I don't need people's gratitude. I don't want it.
"And then you showed up. And you made a mockery of everything I tried so hard to build. Everything I sweated and trained for, everything I taught my men. You've made fools of the entire guard. You've made a fool of me. And now the kingdom laughs at us. We're incompetent and slow and can't even catch one man with mediocre skills. Other criminals are getting ideas. Crime is on the rise. The people feel unsafe at night. The king is worried and looking to make changes."
He turned from his glassy eyed inspection of his drink to look into the eyes of the man next to him.
"You are my problem. I'm starting to think that there's no way out. I'm starting to think you will be the ruin of this country."
Rider swallowed. "What do you want me to do? Turn myself in? That won't help your self-esteem issues." He tried to sound cocky, but there was something in his voice, and if the captain was sober, he would have labeled it as guilt.
The captain snorted. "You'd only hand yourself over if you knew you'd escape the next day. We've been down this road before."
Rider let a cocky grin slip onto his face. "True."
The captain controlled his urge to punch him.
"And it's not like it's my fault you can't catch me," Rider said, unconsciously tossing his hair. "I mean, look at you now! You're not even trying."
"Why bother? Come on! That's no kind of talk from Corona's finest." Rider slapped him on the back in a rather uncomfortable way. "What happened to the man who chased me up a mountain to a brothel and then single handedly fought off a dozen ninja harem girls? That's an achievement, my friend! One for the history books. And that time you dug that pit and I fell in? That was ingenious. Of course it wasn't deep enough and I escaped, but still! I think with a few modifications you'll really be in business with that plan. And the time you shot me in the arm? Did you even know you did that? That was a nice shot. Hurt like hell. I've still got the scar and everything."
Rider started rolling up the sleeve of his shirt before the captain stopped him. "I don't care about your arm, idiot."
"Fine. But this drunken mope fest is not doing anything for Corona, and it's not doing anything for me. How do you think I'd feel, stealing things without even the remote chance of consequences? You're sucking all the fun out. I might get depressed as well. And that would be a terrible, terrible tragedy. So if you don't see the point of bucking up for yourself or for your men or the people or whoever, do it for me because this attitude is just unacceptable." Rider covered his heart with his hand and grimaced. It was something between trying to look pleading and pathetic and trying not to cringe at his drinking partner's balding head and jutting chin.
The captain closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "You are the most annoying person I have ever had the misfortune to meet."
"I am. I really am."
He set down his empty mug and reached for his wallet to settle his tab.
"You have thirty seconds to start running. I suggest you make the most of them."
Rider beamed and disappeared, and as the captain reached into his wallet to pull out some coins, it became clear that at some point in their idiotic heart to heart, Rider had stolen all his money.