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Papaya #7

Author: Regret
Rating: 15
Story: Radial: Unravel
Challenge: Papaya #7 - I've Got Your Back
Extra: Malt Weekly Challenge 1 - Mystery Challenge
Word Count: 3,304
Summary: Milos and Alex head out on a retrieval assignment, but nothing's ever simple, is it? Because witches are real after all, and they don't seem to like being retrieved.
Notes: I started writing this for the mystery challenge but it got a bit away from me... Actually, Milos in general got away from me. I never realised before just how much he swears. Also, no offence to anyone who lives in Stoke.

“Everything you need to know is in there.” He throws the file down onto the desk in front of me and I just stare at it. That’s the thing I’ll never understand with this lot. They give me folders and say ‘read this’ and it’d be quicker and easier to just tell me instead. I don’t need the background information. I’m just here to do the fetching and carrying.

It’s Alex who’s here to do the thinking—and he won’t let me forget it. I’m not stupid, I’ve just not seen the inside of a school since I was thirteen, but that doesn’t stop him from taking the mickey and insisting I can’t read. He’s smirking now, although I don’t know if it’s aimed at me or just because he was quick enough to get his feet off his desk before our boss walked in.

I didn’t. I got them smacked off the desk instead. But what’re they going to do, kick me out?

“What d’you need from me?” I’m not even going to touch that file. At least, not while he’s still here. I’d lose my own argument if I did.

There’s a definite look of exasperation. He folds his arms and stares down at me so I fold mine and stare right back, and he caves first. “There’s a Beldame in or near Stoke. She needs to be retrieved.”

From the corner of my eye I can see Alex is taking notes, but this is all going straight over my head. “A what? And,” this should be obvious, but apparently not, “can you be more specific? Stoke? That’s pretty fucking big.” And yes, I can hear the only-just-suppressed choke from my boss.

Like I said, what’s he going to do? Sack me? “Be glad it wasn’t London,” Alex mutters, sitting up again and shoving his notes into his shirt pocket. He actually takes an interest in his files. He’s got a filing cabinet and everything.

Our boss nods at him, so I guess I’m not going to get an answer to either question. Instead, we get, “obviously time is of the essence, so the faster you can retrieve her the better.” Then he leaves, a bit faster than is really dignified, probably just in case I start asking anything even more awkward.

I’m so busy watching him go that I’m not paying attention to Alex—at least, not until he clouts me round the head with his copy of the file and drops it on the desk on top of mine. “Pick it up.” I do. There’s no point in arguing, it didn’t hurt (much) and I’m getting used to it. It gives him less to complain about too, which is always a bonus because when he starts I could happily tear his throat out. “You can read it to me, I’ll be driving. And,” oh wait, let me guess... “you need the practice.”

* * *


I hate his car. I hate cars anyway, for many reasons, but I don’t like feeling penned in and I don’t like the smell these things have, the fake leather and fake apple air freshener. Fake, fake, fake. I don’t like trying to read while it’s moving either. Maybe for once he wasn’t insulting my lack of education. I really do need practice. “So what is a Beldame anyway?”

“It’s a witch.”

I snort. “There’s no such thing as witches, you think I’m that dense?”

He reaches across, grabs my wrist and stabs his nails into the underside, then almost throws it back onto my lap when it does the inevitable and shifts. It hurts too. Bastard. “Your hands do that,” he says, waving at it and shooting it a look like it’s something he found crawling up a toilet wall, “and you don’t think witches exist?”

“Yeah, but...” But I didn’t get a say in these. Like the rest of my life, it just happened to me without asking. How is that even the same thing? “But they’re just fairy tales,” I mumble in the end, shifting my hand back and trying to look like the file is a lot more interesting than it is, “they’re not real.”

“Then you’re not fucking real either,” Alex snaps. “And neither am I, or that other freak we made, or... You want a list?” I’m suddenly really glad he’s holding onto the steering wheel or the back of my head would feel like it’s been hit by a ton of bricks. “You’ve got to get over what you think is real and what isn’t, because nine times out of ten you’re going to be wrong, do you understand?”

I nod and look out the window instead. Motorway countryside is so boring, I’ve seen half the country’s and it all looks the same. This could be anywhere for all I know, it’s only the road signs that make it clear.

“You’re not going to fall apart now, are you?” Alex snaps, and I can see his reflection turn to look at me for a second. “Because if you are I’ll pull over and kick you out here.”

If he ever offered me actual sympathy I think I’d die of shock. “I’m fine.”

“Good. Read me the file again.”

“What did your last slave die of?”

“He manifested polymetal in his skull.” I really can’t tell if he’s joking or not. He’s smirking, which is a bad sign. It usually means he’s serious.

Fine,” I sigh and start reading it out to him again.

* * *


We’re saying she’s a missing person and Alex is using the photo in the file to back it up. He asks people questions, looking respectable and well-dressed as he does; people like someone who looks official. I stand there with my hands in my pockets and look awkward instead, all jeans and trainers and giving off completely the wrong impression. Or maybe the right one. I know he’s not much older than me (well, relatively speaking) but he looks sophisticated and I... don’t.

Maybe it’s because his hair is all one colour.

I’m only listening with half an ear because it’s not exactly demanding my full attention. You can only listen to so many “that’s such a shame”s and “such a pretty girl, I hope you find her soon”s before you lose the will to live. I’m not jealous, if that’s what you’re thinking—I’m just bored.

It’s not really a lie anyway, she probably is a missing person, and there are worse things that could happen to her than be found by us. I don’t know how old the photo is that Alex has got, but she only looks like a kid—big eyes, long blonde hair, she’s just asking to get into trouble looking like that. Like hell she’s a witch, she’s just lost.

“Really? Thank you.” I’ve been so wrapped up in my thoughts I’ve not been paying attention to Alex. Not that I listen to him normally... Except for when he snaps his fingers in front of my face, like he’s doing now. Then I start to imagine breaking them. “Wake up and get a move on.”

“What?”

He gives me an irritable look. “You are so— Someone’s seen her.”

“I guessed that,” I snap at him. And he calls me thick.

“Just get in the car.” He turns and walks away from me so I have to go trailing after him, as usual. “The sooner we find her, the sooner we can leave.”

Now there’s something I agree with. I’ve only been here once before, passing through, and didn’t much like it the first time round. Why anyone’d voluntarily hide here I’ve got no idea. “Where is she?” Semi-professional curiosity; I’ve got this mental list of places I slept, I want to know if she’s somewhere on the list.

Alex stares at me over the top of his car. He knows everything about my past—he’s thrown parts of it in my face often enough—so I brace myself for whatever sarcastic remark is coming. “She was seen near a disused kiln.”

Well, I wasn’t expecting that... He just stares at me a little longer, then vanishes into the driver’s seat and starts the engine. No better hint that if I don’t get into the car too he’ll just drive off and leave me. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’ve got to salute the kid: I never thought about crashing there. The hole in the roof put me off.

Alex leans on the horn and nearly makes me jump out my skin. I should feel honoured, he never normally gives me warning before he ditches me; he usually tells me later I’m stupid for walking, I should be used to hitchhiking and he hopes I’ve not done anything embarrassing to get back. See what I mean about using my past against me?

I get in the car; I don’t trust him to text me the location. He accelerates away without even considering the speed limit. “Glad you finally joined me.” He couldn’t sound less like he means it.

“You’d just get into trouble without me.”

He snorts and smirks at the road, that god awful expression he’s got with no actual emotion in. The one that just makes me feel uneasy...

* * *


I know what Alex’s magic skill is, or whatever he wants to call it, but I think he’s got another one too because I’ve never once seen him get lost. He can find his way around without a problem, even in the absolute fucking maze that is HEL. So even when I open my mouth to ask how he knows that it’s these kilns right here, I shut it again because I know that it will be.

There’s this feeling in my chest as I get out the car, and I think it’s fear. They’ve been training me, sure. I know how to fight now, properly, not just an elbow in the face and run job, but I’ve got no idea if it’s going to help. I’ve got no idea what a Beldame is and a ‘witch’ is a bit of a generic term, just makes me think of turning people in frogs and cursing people with warts, that kind of shit—but then, ‘witch’ makes me think of some old hag anyway, not a pretty human kid.

One thing’s for sure though, she’s picked the right place for it. There’s this sense of abandonment about the place: piles of cans and flytipped junk in the corners, a burned out car that doesn’t look recent, broken glass crunching under our feet. It’s the most obvious approach ever, she’d have to be deaf not to notice us. I keep flexing my hands, on, off, on, off, until Alex smacks me round the back of the head hard enough to send me stumbling forwards. “Stop that,” he snaps. “It’s disgusting.”

‘I can’t help it’ won’t wash as an excuse because I can, and ‘I’m nervous’ is likely to just fetch me another good slap, so I just stare at him and do it again, then give him my biggest and most innocent smile when he glares at me. I know I shouldn’t, but I really do love pissing him off.

“Just get in there.” He points to one of the doorways without taking his eyes off me. “And put those away before you see her—unless you want to start out by scaring her witless?”

Ugh, I hate it when he has a point. I put mine away. I don’t even ask if it’s the right door, tempting as it is to add insult to injury, because I want him to watch my back and not do anything like stab me in it. I can’t shake the feeling that something bad’s going to happen, but that’s what we’re here for, right? And at least Alex is actually following me, his footsteps are just as loud as mine; I did think he’d let me go in alone and wait for me to find out the hard way if there was a problem or not.

Up close the building doesn’t look like I imagined it would. The door’s nonexistent, just a gaping hole that I step through feeling like my heart‘s going to launch itself out my mouth, and a large chunk of the inside has collapsed leaving this big area with piles of bricks shoved up against the walls. It’s bigger than I thought too, big enough to fit in a desk that’s seen better days and a chair with a whole set of uneven legs. My first thought is that they’re dumped like the car outside, but why would someone dump what’s basically a whole small office in a place like this?

It takes me longer than it really should to realise that the girl isn’t there. Looks like the amazing mister Jaska’s sense of direction finally packed in on him; he’s not going to like that at all. It’s childish I know, but I can’t help grinning.

Then, out of nowhere, there’s this gentle tap on my shoulder. I guess Alex finally decided that smacking me gets old real quick and thought he’d shake things up a little, so I turn round to congratulate him on finally making an attempt at being a normal person for once and... It’s not him.

Okay, that photo is older than I thought. That’s no kid, she’s a goddamn woman. “Ummm... Hi.” I try. She’s pretty. Really, really, pretty. Not in that ‘thinking with my cock’ kind of way either: she’s just stunning.

She takes a couple of steps back and just stares at me. Well, that’s not really a surprise. If it’s not the skin or the ears, it’s probably the hair. Over her shoulder I can see Alex walking in—so much for watching my back, obviously from a safe distance, the bastard.

The way she’s looking at me is odd, so I try again. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” Starting with an apology (of sorts) is the best way to begin, right? “We’ve been looking for you, can we talk?”

Just more staring. This is getting kind of unnerving now. I shove my hands into my pockets because if I’m not careful I will shift them without meaning to, and if she’s staring at me like this when I look normal what would she do if she saw me with hands like that? I back away a bit more, put the table between us—I mean, I think it’ll make her feel safer. Maybe it’ll make me feel safer too.

Alex comes to stand beside me and I’m sure if he had pockets he’d have his hands in them too, not to hide anything like me, but because he’s giving off this aura of absolute confidence. Her blank expression doesn’t change at the sight of him; it’d give Alex’s a run for his money. “You tried tact,” he says to me, giving me that smile I hate again, “now let’s try tactless.”

Oh god, really?

He raises his chin, puts his head on one side and gives her the same smile. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Well, that goes about as well as I expected. The table flies through the air, straight at him. Anybody else and they’d have bounced against the back wall. Alex just stands there stoically as the wood splinters behind him, to what looks like her great surprise. “‘Do you come here often’ would’ve been less embarrassing,” I hiss at him while I try not to think about the fact she just threw a table at him without even touching it. “Still stupid, but less embarrassing.”

He gives me a look that says just shut up. He’s multi-talented, I’ll give him that: he can do it with his face as well as his mouth. As far as tactless goes, I’d say he succeeded.

The Beldame’s face agrees with me. I don’t know if it’s what he said or because he avoided her table, but now she looks like he’s an irritating little insect she wants to wipe from the world. I know how she feels, but since he’s supposed to be on my side I think I should be really worried. She shifts her hand and the chair flings itself at his head.

I sometimes wish I could do that to him too, but it’d be as successful as her attack was. It bounces off the wall and survives a bit better than the table—one leg is still attached to the seat afterwards. It’s not much of a survival though; the rest of it looks like firewood.

She looks genuinely angry with him now, so—oh shit—she turns to me instead... She raises her hand and flicks, and the next thing I know I’m flying backwards through the air. But it’s all right. The wall stops me pretty successfully. Now I know why they wanted me in HEL: they keep talking about alfa healing and I think I just cracked a couple of ribs. For future reference, walls hurt about as much as the floor does. You’d think I’d already know this.

“You’ll have to try harder than that,” Alex tells her, and widens that stupid dead smile of his.

She moves her hand again. I smack into the wall behind him, much higher than before, and fuck this! I shift and stab at the same time and get lucky. I’ve not dropped far when my claws punch into the wall. Shame that in my blind panic I’ve released the ones in my elbows too: I’ve just ruined a perfectly good hoodie. Still, on the other hand, at least I’ve just saved myself from two broken legs.

When I’m actually in a position to look at her, dangling from the wall, her expression is priceless. She’s looking at me like I’m the most horrifying thing she’s ever seen and I guess I probably am, but it’s definitely distracted her. She’s so transfixed she doesn’t realise Alex’s moved until he jabs a needle into her neck.

“You could’ve done that sooner.” Like before she threw me the second time. Healing be damned, this really hurts.

He holds her as she passes out, then lays her on the floor. I somehow don’t think he was ever that gentle with me. “Stop complaining. I needed to wait until you had distracted her. If you’d shown her that disgusting trick of yours before now, it would have been over faster.” He gives my claws another filthy look.

I can’t believe him. I really can’t. “You were the one who—!” But it’s no good, he’s not listening now, too busy with picking her up and carrying her out the building. Now there’s just me, alone, hanging by one hand. I jerk it free; the drop’s not far when you’re not travelling at god knows what speed, it’s just jarring and I get away pretty lightly with a sprained ankle. It’s enough to put me off kicking the remains of the desk. Good thing too, there’s something there I’d have missed. A photo, dog-eared, a couple and a baby. A couple who look a lot like the woman Alex is taking to his car...

I put it in my pocket. I’m sure she’ll want it later, maybe after she stops trying to kill me.

A loud car horn from outside the building tells me that if I don’t shift it, Alex will leave without me. Right now I think I’d actually prefer to walk back rather than share a car with him, even if it is hundreds of miles. But there are things I want to ask him, so I head back.

Like why the hell she gets to be unconscious on the comfy back seat of his car, while I got to be naked in a fucking van.

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