Story: Radial: Unravel (First Arc)
Challenge: Buttercream #12 - Jellybeans; Papaya #3 - I Smell A Rat
Word Count: 2,632
Summary: Milos tries to deal with the fallout from the previous encounter, but this time it seems like he's run out of sympathy...
Notes: Follows directly on from Bonnet / Been There, Done That / Wouldn't You Like To Know?. I guess I should actually finish editing the ones I've done and post them...
This time he had no intention of being startled in his own room. He’d been failing to sleep when the door clattered against the chest of drawers he’d shoved in front of it, the handle knocking as loudly against the surface as any knuckles against the wood.
He pulled the quilt over his head and tried to pretend he wasn’t there.
“Milos. Get out here. Now.”
Under the sheets, he pressed his hands to his ears. It wouldn’t help and he knew it, but deep down he couldn’t stop hoping that if he couldn’t hear his boss he might go away. Just five, ten more minutes and maybe it would be okay.
The burning of the freshly-scratched scar on his chest told him in no uncertain terms that he was deluding himself. So did the voice outside. “Milos, if you think this is funny you’re sorely mistaken.” Robin’s tone promised trouble, but Milos didn’t need the reminder.
Even wrapping his hands around the back of his head, pressing his arms to his ears, couldn’t block out the sound. Not that it needed to: he could hear the words echoing in his head just as clearly as the ones outside and more besides.
“Oh, for—!” The handle crashed against the drawer top again, probably hard enough to leave a dent judging from the way the unit rattled against the door. He held his breath and waited for the banging to resume but this time silence reigned. In his spooky way, Robin had apparently left again without making a sound.
He had to face him sometime. There was no escaping it, unless he wanted to stay locked in this room forever, but postponing it probably wasn’t a good idea either. The anticipation was already making him feel sick. What was the worst Robin could do anyway? Other than a sound thrashing, or kicking him out onto the street again, or...
Milos groaned and pulled his knees up to his chest, curling into a tight ball. Maybe in half an hour.
The house was quiet when he dragged the drawer back and slid into the deserted hall, heart in his mouth. It was as unnerving as last time, but more welcome; Robin must have sent them on jobs, but their absence made it easier for him to slip out of the building and take a walk to clear his pounding head.
At least, that was the theory. The hand that leaned over his shoulder to slam the door closed again attested to the fact he was as good as sneaking out as he was at sneaking in. “Where are you going?” Robin was so close behind him he could hear every word rumble through his back; he wanted to retch.
“I was going to—”
“You were running away.”
“No! I—” He could feel his throat constrict and stifle the words as they tried to leave.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t shove you out of that door right now and lock it behind you.” The big man’s other hand pressed hard against Milos’s back, almost driving him into the thick wood. “Give me one good reason.”
“Your client.” A surge of anger overtook him at the memory. He turned, ducking one shoulder under Robin’s hand until the palm was pressed against his chest instead and ignored the way the fresh scratch stung. “Your friend.”
“What about him?”
As far as Milos was concerned, that answer counted as the one good reason; judging from Robin’s face he disagreed. “You know what happened!” He paused, staring up at his mentor with a sudden, crushing fear. “Don’t you?” Unlikely: he’d get the version of the story that made Milos look as bad as possible.
Judging from the way Robin glared down at him, Milos could tell his instinct was right. “I know you assaulted a customer. I gave you a chance to redeem yourself and this is how you repay me.” The palm resting above his heart increased in pressure, trapping the dokkalfa between Robin and the door. Milos was sure he could feel his ribs creak. “So whatever your excuse is, it had better be good.”
For the first time in years he could feel the urge to cry build up inside him: the closeness in his throat and the pressure behind his eyes. He could guess at how well it’d be received too, and forced it back down before it could embarrass him. Crying was useless; crying had never saved him in the past. Towering above him, Robin was becoming visibly impatient. “He pushed me against that car. And—” The words stuck in his mouth. It was like being fifteen again, battered and bleeding, hiding in the shadow of an abandoned warehouse; he screwed his eyes shut long enough to take a gulping breath that did nothing to calm his trembling. “And he tried to—” He heard his voice rising, threatening hysteria, and took a second, equally futile, gasp of air. God, why was this so difficult? “He tried to force me to have sex with him.”
Whatever he expected from his boss, it wasn’t for Robin to stare coolly at him and raise one eyebrow. “Well, it wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done that, would it?”
His heart seemed to stop beating and didn’t want to resume. He couldn’t have stunned him better if he’d slapped him. After everything, for Robin to throw that back in his face... “But I—”
“You’re going to deny it? You’ve already forgotten how we met? It was only three years ago.”
“I— He—” Words deserted him in the face of Robin’s contemptuous stare.
The pressure against his chest lessened, from crushing to merely painful; Milos couldn’t tell if it was out of pity or just that his hand ached. “Look, I’ve known James a long time and he’s a very valuable client. He moves a lot of stuff, has some specialised requirements, and you know that kind of thing pays well.”
His heart didn’t so much sink and plummet. He’d been naïve; of course business transactions always came first, or there’d be nothing left for him to call home.
Robin paused, and the pressure increased again. “But I don’t have to tell you that, do I? You know everything about doing what pays well.”
Each word was a punch to his gut and he could see from Robin’s face that he knew it. What faith he’d had left in his younger charge was well and truly gone; even the parts of his past he was most ashamed of just became fair game and as much as he wanted to break down, scream that it wasn’t like that, all he could do was stare up at the big alfa and whisper, “I’m sorry.” What he was actually sorry for he no longer knew.
“I can’t even bear to look at you right now. Get out of my sight.”
Suddenly afraid that if he left the building now he’d never get back in, Milos twisted out from under the oppressive hand and bolted for the deserted living room instead.
The slam of the front door made him flinch. How long he’d been sat there for, huddled in the far corner of the farthest sofa with his knees pulled up to his chest and arms wrapped so tightly around his shins he’d lost sensation in his hands, he’d long since lost track. Robin had made no attempt to come into the room, although Milos had heard him clattering around in the kitchen at some point. He’d tried not to listen, staring instead at the folds of his jeans and tracing each crease until the effort he concentrated on the task obscured everything else. When he’d finally resurfaced into the real world he realised he was once more enveloped in silence.
Footsteps creaked across the hall and he found himself starting to panic, trying to find a viable escape route. The hall was out, obviously; the kitchen led through to the hall but there was as much chance the new arrival would go and make a snack first; he could flee up the open-plan stairs opposite but that was a dead-end. The patio door to the yard had been locked for as long as he’d lived here.
It wasn’t even an issue, they’d say ‘hi’ and go about their business; that was a comforting realisation. There were only a couple of guys who’d been around long enough that they knew each other well and the chances, statistically, of it being one of them were—
“Hey Milos, what’re you doing here?”
—Tiny. He stared up at Rick and tried to force a smile. Judging from the ljusalfa’s expression, it was fractionally too late to be plausible. “Hi.”
If it had been Raz the conversation would have finished there. Rick, he concluded glumly as the bigger man flopped onto the cushion beside him, was always too friendly for his own good. “How’s things?” He turned a bright smile—too bright for comfort; it was clearly leading up to an awkward question—onto Milos and settled back into the sofa, folding his arms behind his head. Rick was the one person the sofa didn’t seem to have a grudge against. Milos couldn’t tell if he admired him for it, or hated him.
“Fine,” and, before Rick could press further, he added, “where’s Raz?”
It was possibly the least subtle conversation change he’d ever managed, and the grimace on the other alfa’s face made it clear he thought so too. “Still out on a job or something. I don’t know.”
“I thought you guys did everything together.”
Rick snorted. “He’s my twin, not my shadow. And you’re one to talk,” he added, giving Milos a pointed look that told the alfa he’d prise the information out of him sooner or later. “You’re normally out around now too, aren’t you?”
“Mm.” He returned his attention to his knees. The only thing Rick knew about him, really, was his short temper that was slowly being tamed. Laying bare the train wreck of his past to the closest person he considered a friend, seeing his expression change from concern to disgust, wasn’t something he could bear the thought of on top of everything else. He’d felt like an adult from the age of thirteen; to suddenly feel like a child at twenty-one was disconcerting.
“You want to talk about it?” Rick’s voice was low and gentle. From the corner of his eye Milos saw him rootle around in one pocket before withdrawing a crumpled white paper bag. “I’ve got jellybeans, if it helps?”
The absurdity of the sentence was just enough to tip him over the edge. Rick treated him to a blank stare as he leaned back in the chair, ignoring the nagging prod of a stray spring, and started to laugh. “Jesus Christ.”
He’d half-expected him to resemble his brother in failing to take a joke. Instead the other alfa grinned and snagged one of the brightly-coloured beans from the bag. “Haven’t heard that in a while.”
Rick didn’t give an immediate answer, instead chewing on his jellybean and focusing on retrieving another. This one he held up between finger and thumb in front of Milos, displaying it thoughtfully before, with a quick gesture, he flicked it at him. “Your laugh.”
The first time he’d thrown something at him, in a fit of pique at one of the dokkalfa’s mood swings, he’d been visibly impressed at the easy grace with which he’d snatched it from the air—and less impressed at the speed with which it’d been returned, particularly when it glanced off his temple. His expression had been priceless, enough to make Milos grin despite himself; enough to forget whatever had irritated him in the first place. He caught it this time too, and gave him a rueful smile; still, if he thought he was getting it back again he was sorely mistaken. He had no intention of turning down free treats—and it made a convenient excuse to avoid replying.
Clearly coming to the same conclusion, Rick sighed. “You do realise I’m not going anywhere until you either tell me, or tell me to fuck off, right?”
“Yeah.” Milos turned away and directed his attention to the yard outside the patio windows instead. He opened his mouth to add, ‘you’ve always been stubborn,’ and thought better of it. The idea of alienating the one person left who cared even for a second about him was surprisingly painful. At length he managed only, “I can’t tell you.”
“You hit someone again, didn’t you?”
Milos winced. “Something like that...” It wasn’t even that Rick was particularly adept at guessing. Ever since they’d been in the same house, his reputation for losing control had been impossible to shake. He could see it in Rick’s wary stare reflected in the glass, weighing up whether now was a good time to rest a comforting hand on his shoulder or if it was liable to earn him a backhand slap for his trouble.
Rick turned away; Milos’s heart sank. First his mentor, now his only friend. Maybe leaving really was for the best; he could sell his bike and leathers—as physically painful a thought as that was, twisting and pulling at his heart—and use the money to keep himself going until he found a job. Which, with no qualifications, no transport, no home, would be: never.
The hand that gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze almost had him bringing his elbow up and back; he froze, mid move. In the glass, Rick’s reflection gave him a tentative smile. “Thank you for not breaking my nose.”
He dropped his hand back into his lap and his eyes to the arm of the sofa.
“I understand, you know,” Rick’s voice was on the edge of hearing, “why you act like you do. We’re all fucked up, one way or another, and we all deal with it in different ways.”
Milos raised his startled gaze in time to see Rick’s reflection lick his lips. “We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t on the way here.” He couldn’t imagine Rick or his twin, with their ljusalfa good looks, doing anything unsavoury, but the other man looked suddenly uncomfortable and he knew all about not wanting to be reminded of the past. “Just don’t let them define you. Or you’ve let them won, do you understand?”
He nodded slowly.
The front door slammed again, hard enough to rattle the light fixtures; he cringed as the living room door thumped into the wall. “Milos. My office. Now.”
He twisted and stared up at his boss. Judging from his expression alone, he’d be lucky to come away from this discussion without a broken bone or two. Before he could open his mouth to acquiesce Robin turned and was gone again.
Heart pounding, he pushed himself up from the sofa; the hand slid from his shoulder as he rose. He wanted to say something—anything—to his friend but no there didn’t seem to be any words to encapsulate everything he felt; he turned a wan smile down at him as he padded past—
Faster than he thought possible, even with the ljusalfa preternatural speed, Rick grabbed his wrist. Milos stared down at the hand, the fingers wrapped around his slender joint, open-mouthed. “Be careful,” Rick whispered, turning serious blue eyes up at the other alfa. “Something feels wrong.”
Heart crawling into his mouth even as the fingers slid from his wrist again, he nodded and mouthed the words ‘thank you’, throat too dry to even consider speaking them. He could feel the other man’s gaze track him up to the door. It was much less of a comfort than he wanted to admit.