Story: Radial: Unravel
Challenge: Buttercream #11 - Best Dress; Vanilla #11 - A Walk In The Woods; Papaya #17 - Talking To Myself
Word Count: 1,850
Summary: Another day, another routine delivery for Milos - if only!
Notes: Follows on from Eggs / Trouble Sleeping. I need to stop editing these older pieces and carry on writing new ones, I'm running out of the interim chapters to post...
“We have another new client.”
Shock almost propelled Milos back into his room again. “What?” Did Robin do this to the others too, laying in wait outside their rooms to give them a heart attack?
“Simple pick-up-drop-off, from the station to the park.” He proffered a pink slip at the younger alfa who took it with a hand that only slightly shook. “Drop off’s at midday.”
“Right,” he managed with only the briefest of hesitations. “But why me?”
The look Robin threw him as he turned to leave was odd, a kind of blankness that seemed to be layered over something unreadable. “Why not you?”
Milos stared down at the slip, trying and failing to recognise the handwriting. Futile. He shoved it into his pocket and went to fetch his jacket.
Sleep had finally caught up with him, although at what time he wasn’t sure—he’d been too inconveniently asleep to pay attention to the clock. It did help; the world was soft-focus until he ground the heel of one hand into his eye and wiped away the accumulated gunk from his vision, but his head was clearer than he’d managed in days. He was thankful for it: riding a motorbike was dangerous enough at the best of times and trying to ride one when not fully awake was asking for trouble.
Judging from the traffic just getting through the day was going to take everything he had. Doing this exhausted, he decided as he braked to avoid an Audi that pulled in front of him without indicating, would be a nightmare. The station pickup had been perfect—an anonymous-looking man taking the slip with little more than a glance and handing over a box that weighed probably triple its unassuming appearance—but an accident on the motorway had encouraged drivers to use the dual carriageway instead and Milos’s usually uneventful journey had turned into its own brand of hell—as if the sheer weight of the box wasn’t difficulty enough for him. The last time he’d seen this level of shifting population on the two-lane road had been a few days after he’d passed his test and he’d taken it as a rite of passage.
Now it was just a damn annoyance.
He weaved between stranded cars, ignoring the occasional horn-leaning vent of frustration, riding the white line and pretending he didn’t see the insulting gestures thrown his way. They had the time to waste, choosing their oversized vehicles and then complaining when they couldn’t shift them. He had a job to do and had no intention of sitting behind some overweight trucker stuffing his face every time he wasn’t inching forwards. He had a special kind of hatred for the lorry-driving classes.
Mostly. He glanced up into the cab of one as he slid past slowly, boots skimming the tarmac; he wasn’t expecting anything, not here and not now but there was always a flash of hope—
Which was always extinguished before it became a flame. The bearded human shot him a foul look and raised two fingers at him. Milos raised his middle one in return and accelerated away, smirking. The sonorous intonation of the horn followed him down the road; the artic didn’t. He’d never see the driver again.
For that he was profoundly grateful.
He’d seen people ride mopeds and motorbikes through the gardens before and sometimes it seemed tempting, if only for the sheer pleasure of taking his bike along the shaded path on a summer’s day, but the idea of spoiling the usual tranquillity with his engine was abhorrent. He left it at the gates, facing along the path. It may as well enjoy the view. He did.
After the throngs of cars the park seemed wider and airier and Milos felt even more inelegant than usual, the heavy parcel carried under his right arm as though it weighed nothing—another lie, albeit one for show, because no one’s shoulder should feel like it was going to be ripped from the socket with every other step—and his helmet, visor up, looped over his left. Beyond the birds shouting at one another from distant trees it was quieter than he’d expected: most people were trapped in their offices for another half hour or so, staring out of windows and wishing they were where he was now. It made his job easier. Searching for a new contact in a crowded space was even less fun than it sounded and the kind of mood Milos ended up in made customer relations significantly less cordial than Robin preferred.
Robin’s new client; Milos glanced down at himself. As far as practical safety would allow he’d made a determined attempt to project a good impression. Fresh black leathers were what people expected from a good class of courier, although quite why he’d yet to fathom. In combination with his dokkalfa skin tone and starkly contrasting hair it gave him a certain presence; maybe that was why Robin had decided he should do it. Although quite why he’d want a client to suffer that kind of implicit intimidation Milos wasn’t sure he wanted to consider. He’d yet to even find the person he was supposed to ‘impress’.
The word was shouted, although not from too far away. Milos paused at the turn of the path, orienting himself toward the sound of the voice. “Mr. Jaska?”
The sudden presence behind him almost—but not quite—made him jump. “You’re the courier.”
Jesus. Another one that could shift when they wanted to. “Yes,” he turned, face carefully arranged into an emotionless mask.
It almost slipped the second he saw his client. From the speed he’d moved at Milos had expected some imposing ljusalfa, but instead... A human?
The man in the suit gave no indication of seeing the hurriedly concealed surprise and instead treated him to a critical look from foot to head and back. “You’re early. I’m impressed. Although I wasn’t expecting an elf—”
“Do you have a problem with me?” He shot a glare at the human before he could stop himself. Everything Robin didn’t want from his couriers; from him. So much for emotionless.
Far from reacting in the same way, as Milos dreaded, the other man smiled. Or at least, all the muscles in his face moved to form one but the expression never made it to his eyes. “No. That aside, you’re everything we anticipated.”
Right... He allowed himself one moment of internal hesitation, just one, before nodding at the dark-haired man. “You’ll need to sign this before I can hand over the package.” He pulled a folded sheet from the pocket of his leathers, along with a pencil that made the stub attached to the clipboard look enormous, and held them both out to the client.
The client took one look at the pencil and withdrew his own pen from his shirt pocket. “Do you have anything to lean on?”
Wordlessly and with one hand, Milos held out the box.
From the way the man was eyeing his shoulder, no doubt seeing straight through him, he could tell that he’d been expected to turn and let him use his back. No chance. These were his best leathers, there was no way he’d let someone dig a pen through paper into them.
The expression must have communicated itself to the man somehow; he sighed and took the box from Milos with no evident discomfort. He settled it on the ground with great care—far more than Milos felt towards it, having carried it so far—and rested the sheet on it.
The alfa wasn’t surprised to see that it was as an illegible a scrawl as ever he’d seen. Did someone teach these guys never to sign a name that could be identified or something? He was almost tempted to demand the human sign it again, just to be awkward; the sight of Robin rose in his mind, along with the memory of just how much it hurt to be smacked into a wall, and he decided he could live with it after all.
The man offered the sheet again, his own face as carefully composed as Milos’s own. “Thanks.”
Finally, a transaction that went according to plan. “You’re welcome, glad to be of service.” He looked down at the box again and before he could help it the words escaped from him. “Just what the hell do you have in there anyway?”
Halfway through picking it up, the man paused and turned his black eyes up toward the alfa.
Shit. It was heavy, but not heavy enough to warrant losing a contract.
The man searched the alfa’s face. What he was looking for Milos had no idea and was just as classless whether he found it or not. “Medical equipment,” he finally murmured, lifting the box with the same apparent ease as before.
Milos nodded, relieved beyond words. “Have a good day.”
If he’d been expecting a reply, he was destined to be disappointed. The recipient just stared at him again with that unfathomable, expressionless face and turned back along the path.
He shrugged to himself and turned back along his own route, shoving both hands into his pockets and ignoring the way his crash helmet bounced against his thigh. No need to keep up an act now there was no one to see it, and if he moved fast enough he could get back to his bike and be halfway home before the office workers escaped their daily grind for an hour. And the best of it was, relatively speaking, there was little Robin could complain about.
He glanced over his shoulder at the thought, a smile curving his lips as he watched the client—
Milos froze, spinning on the spot to face in the direction the man had gone. The path curved but not nearly enough to obscure someone from view. There’d been no running footsteps—and with that box he doubted he’d be able to anyway, no matter how light he made it seem—and no soft rustles to imply he’d ducked into the trees. There was nothing. It was like Mr. Jaska had never even been there.
He jerked the slip from his pocket. The writing was still there, comfortingly physical between his gloved fingers. But—and this was the important bit—no recipient.
He allowed his mouth to fall open slightly, eyes flicking around just in case he was laying in wait somewhere. Nothing.
The deep, steadying breath helped about as much as the philosophical conclusion there was little to nothing he could do about it did: by not helping at all. He was reduced to staring at the paper like any answers could be found there and, finding none, gave in and crammed it back into his pocket.
He was just going to have to bear out the inevitable bollocking and pray Robin didn’t finally decide to throw him out. Stomach a knotted lump in his abdomen he gave one last, long look at where the man was supposed to be and headed back to his bike.