Story: Radial: Unravel
Challenge: Buttercream #9 - Basket; Vanilla #25 - Changing Seasons
Word Count: 971
Summary: Milos sets out on his delivery.
The package weighed more heavily in his satchel than he liked—as much with the responsibility it carried as in pounds and ounces. He rested a gloved hand on it as he strode down the street, fingers tapping restlessly on the leather every few minutes. He’d been right enough, sure: it was something Robin didn’t want the others to know about. He was starting to wish he didn’t know either.
Nothing made Milos feel more exposed than an on-foot delivery. On his bike he felt protected. He could be anyone, completely anonymous with a crash helmet on or just some idiot with a death-wish without, but either way no one of note. Backpacks and satchels were just a convenient means of carrying lunch.
Without his bike... Well. A spiky-looking dokkalfa with one hand poised protectively over a bag was just asking to get jumped in the less-reputable parts of the city. It wouldn’t be so bad if the place he’d been instructed to go didn’t make the less-reputable parts look positively upmarket.
Only a couple of months ago the streets would’ve been shrouded in darkness; now the encroaching spring drove back the shadows and the sun, when it managed to crack its way between the clouds and tall buildings, turned usually dull avenues bright gold. It should be an afternoon to savour. Instead Milos felt a clawing fear prowl through his gut.
Even here, bursting through the cracks and scrambling up buildings whose rendering had been flaking for years, grass and ivy made their presence felt. He’d passed through enough countryside getting here to appreciate its encroachment into the city, indeed felt strangely protective wherever he found it. Robin had teased him for it, years ago, when he’d first vociferously objected to wildflowers being pulled from cracks in the chipped bricks that passed for a yard wall. Cities were godforsaken places, he’d argued, and all life that survived them should be encouraged; when his new mentor had started to laugh he’d lost his temper, turned and stormed back into the building. Robin had acquiesced though: they were still there now. Them or their offspring.
Out here no one cared enough to tear them from their homes and they bloomed unchecked. It was the only thing he liked about coming to places like this.
It certainly wasn’t for its cleanliness. Milos pulled a face and walked that little bit faster past a jagged piece of anti-alfa graffiti almost as tall as he was, glancing around in the unlikely event that its creator was still around. Just because the news said it wasn’t a common occurrence didn’t mean that it didn’t happen—and if it was going to happen it had the greatest chance, in Milos’s opinion, of happening right when he was carrying something destined to land him in deep shit should the wrong hands get wrapped around its woven frame. His fingers rattled their refrain against the leather again, a dull litany that sounded louder than necessary in the deserted alleyway—and stopped abruptly, fingers locked mid-tap, as he saw someone emerge from a doorway further along.
That the dark-haired man turned away and walked across into a chain-fenced yard without so much as a glance at him wasn’t much comfort. Only when he was safely past, surreptitious glances revealing that he’d just sat on a bench for a breath of fresh—well, almost—air, back to the courier and attention fixed on a battered book, did he let himself breathe easily. As easily as he could in the circumstances anyway. He allowed himself a fleeting smile and resisted the urge to tap the bag again. Not much further now, according to Robin’s directions.
The haphazard arrangement of buildings didn’t just create drunken ribbons of alleyways weaving between high walls. It created tiny squares, meeting places, revealed the occasional line of lock-ups. The bonnet of the car glowed in the evening light; Milos’s fingers, about to drum another quick tattoo on the satchel, paused in mid-air. In its daily life it was probably more brown than gold, but in the late spring sunset it looked beautiful. This was definitely the place.
He took quick stock of his surroundings before digging into the bag with both hands, dragging out the rough fibre basket by hooking his fingers under the lid and between the woven gaps at the sides. It wouldn’t disintegrate: Robin had made it himself and Milos had never seen anyone make anything as sturdily as his boss.
“Be careful with my merchandise.”
The voice set the hairs at the back of his neck on edge. “I’m always careful.”
“Good.” It came from somewhere behind him. It was probably just the residual nerves from his journey here, but God the voice sounded so familiar.
Not in a good way either: the skin on his back was crawling. “You’re here about the package.” It had to be a statement: a question implied a need to know and he didn’t want to sound needy. “I have to see ID.”
“Turn around and you’ll see it, kid.”
As much as he was sure he didn’t want to, Milos had to. Straightening his back, glancing up at the sky and swallowing, he turned on his heel.
The face that greeted him froze the words before they made it into his mouth. It might’ve been ten years, but he’d recognise that face anywhere. It was impossible to forget. It grinned at him in the night.
It was grinning now too, lean and feral. “What’s the matter, kid? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”