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Author: Regret
Rating: 15
Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Blueberry Yoghurt #19 - Unfamiliar Customs; Quince #4 - This Can Only Mean One Thing
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 2,938
Summary: Alex's restraint very almost cracks, but Milos is saved by a knock at the door. But after their meeting, it's possible that instead things have gone from bad to worse...


The inn wasn’t as run-down as it looked from the outside: the wooden floors were swept and shiny with use, the tables in the small dining area beyond the entrance had only a few puddles spread over their surfaces and the scattered guests looked, for the most part, at least somewhat presentable.

Milos was sure this had more to do with the woman behind the counter than the customers themselves. She didn’t look as though she suffered fools gladly; he took a great pleasure in the fact her appearance even seemed to cow Alex. He left them discussing the details of the rooms and went to fidget by the door, keeping an eye on the horses through the clouded window. Leaving them unattended and still laden with a stable boy put his nerves on edge, even if the boy didn’t look bright enough to lace up his own shirt let alone read private letters. He could still easily have light fingers.

The prospect of getting a kicking for someone else’s theft was never appealing.

“Come on.” Alex’s voice, closer than expected, made him jump violently. “I got a room.”

Just the one? No surprise, even if he had idly hoped... He glanced over his shoulder at his owner, then back to the window. “The horses—”

“They’ll be fine. That’s why they have dedicated staff.”

Was he really that dense? No, not even Alex could be, surely. “No,” he said, unable to keep the irritation from his voice, “the packs need bringing in, unless you want to leave your clothes to the mercy of a stable wall?”

“Well go and fetch them, then.” A similar note of impatience crept into Alex’s tone as he glared at him. “I wasn’t stopping you.”

Maybe he really was that dense, or just didn’t listen to what he was told. Gods, he’d explained it once! “I can’t, remember? I can’t go anywhere without you.” He couldn’t hold back the bitterness.

Finally Alex at least had the decency to look aghast. “Not even into the yard? You’re telling me you need written permission to do anything I ask you to?”

Milos closed his eyes briefly, gritting his teeth. “Yes.”

He wasn’t sure if the uncomplimentary things the knight muttered were directed at him or at the city laws, but he grabbed him by the collar—because the best way to take out your frustration was to garrotte your slave—and dragged him back into the cobbled yard, much to the wide-eyed surprise of the youth unloading the packs from the horses’ saddles. “What were you going to do with these?” Alex barked to the boy, gesturing to the pile of rolls and bags on the ground.

“I was going to put them there, by the door, sir.” Came the whispered response, along with a finger pointed to a pile of other sundries stacked by the inn porch.

Alex growled. “What is wrong with you people? Pick them up,” he shoved Milos towards the heaped packs, “and don’t let me forget this again.”

Doing as he was told and thanking the gods he’d always been stronger than he looked, Milos let his gaze flick over to Alex now and again. His mood had rapidly worsened, moreso than at any point in the last week or two; the only thing he could think that was bothering him so badly was— He dropped his eyes from Alex’s face to groin and couldn’t help grinning. The bastard was desperate.

Good.

From the anger that briefly shaded Alex’s face, the quick look hadn’t gone unnoticed. Ducking away from the hand that made another grab for his collar, he followed the knight back into the inn and up the narrow stairs towards their allotted room, only stumbling once as he struggled to manoeuvre everything without hitting the walls or dropping them.

Alex pushed the door open for him, possibly the most generous thing he’d done since they left, and followed him through. He slid onto the bed and Milos could feel his eyes boring into his back as he lay everything as carefully as possible on the sturdy table near the window and started to unpack, taking as much time as he could in order to put off the inevitable short-tempered argument that he could feel building in the knight behind him.

He had just finished arranging their few clothes in a wardrobe that had not only seen better days but better years when Alex’s sharp voice made him jump, almost dropping the final garment. “Come here.”

It wasn’t a tone that brooked argument, but it did sound like it threatened trouble. Milos swallowed nervously, turning around as slowly as he dared while forcing himself to appear calm—and almost lost his battle at the sight of Alex sat at the edge of the bed, legs apart with his elbows on his knees, a furious expression on his face and distinct evidence of exactly how frustrated he really was pressed against the front of his trousers.

“I said come here,” Alex snapped, more loudly this time.

Dear gods he didn’t want to, he really didn’t; without his permission his feet began the slow, dragging process of moving him over the scuffed floor towards his owner. It didn’t matter how much he’d fought or disobeyed, something in Alex’s face made his body remember what happened when he’d tried in the past. He’d said he wouldn’t do anything without warning, but maybe he considered this adequate.

As he approached Alex rose, barely long enough to knot his fingers into Milos’s hair and drag him down in a blaze of pain as he seated himself again. Milos flung out one arm and only just managed to support himself against the bed before his knees hit the floor beside the knight. “This,” Alex growled from above him, “is your fault.”

“How?” The hand hurt, but the arrogant bastard’s insinuation was worse. He barked out a laugh. “Because I said you should restrain yourself? Since when do people like you ever listen to slaves?”

Alex grunted, twisting his fingers more tightly around the messy strands, and Milos braced himself for the inevitability of his head being dragged forwards—

A knock at the door made them both freeze, the grip tightening for one second and sending a flash of agony across Milos’s scalp, then his hand fell away and he shoved Milos to one side. “What?”

“The Duke requests your presence, Sir Alexander.” The words were muffled by the door but sounded unmistakeably like they belonged to the gate guard who’d been so unwilling to be polite. “He’s waiting for you at the castle.”

“Right. Thank you.” He gave Milos a look that told him exactly how lucky he was; he didn’t need to be told.

From the other side of the door came a soft scuffling sound. “Do you need any help finding the castle, sir?” There was a smirking tone that even the heavy wood couldn’t disguise, so obvious even Alex scowled in his direction. “I’m at your disposal.”

“I think I can find the large stone building, thank you.” Then, more quietly so only Milos could hear, added, “before I dispose of you, upstart little shit.”

There was a faint snort of laughter, then overly loud footsteps slowly retreated back along the hallway. Alex only got to his feet when the faint resonance of the footsteps indicated the guard had made his way onto the stairs. Milos took the opportunity to scramble up and away, far out of reach of Alex’s painful grip and angry expression and towards the things he’d not managed to finish tidying before the knight had lost patience with him. When Alex finally returned his attention to him, he’d tucked the letter of introduction into a pocket and was knotting a length of thick cord into the ring of his collar. “What?” He snapped as Alex raised an eyebrow.

“I never thought I’d see you willingly submit.”

Milos frowned, glaring back down at the cord. “Why do you think it’s willing?”

His breath suddenly fled his body as Alex moved to stand right in front of him, grabbing the cord and giving it a sharp tug. “You’re doing it yourself.”

“It’s not willing,” he growled, looking down at the floor. No matter how hard he tried to ignore his suddenly thumping heart, he failed. “It’s not wanting to be left in here.”

A broad smirk spread across Alex’s face and he jerked on the cord again, obviously enjoying the way Milos’s head was yanked forwards. “We better get a move on, hadn’t we? We wouldn’t want to keep the Duke waiting.”

As far as Milos was concerned, based on the flash of Alex’s eyes, the sooner he got into public with this suddenly worrying knight the better.

* * *

He’d been to cities before with other masters. Just... Never ones as big as this. For the first time he felt comforted by the presence of the cord that ran from his neck to the loop Alex had knotted in his end and wrapped around his wrist. People pressed against him, staring openly at his ears and skin until he wanted to curl into a ball with his arms wrapped over his face. He thought he’d become used to it, it had only been happening for his entire life, but surrounded by this many gawping people was surprisingly traumatic.

Alex was oblivious as ever, his attention focused on the castle that rose up at the rear of the city, as unmistakeable as he’d said. Crimson, gold trimmed pennons fell from the windows, drifting slightly in the breeze, each one bearing the Duke’s own emblem. It was impossible to miss, and impossible not to inspire almost as much awe as his first sight of the keep Alex called home had.

Judging from Alex’s face, Milos was the only one who felt that awe. The knight’s expression instead held its characteristic combination of boredom and irritation, increasingly the latter as people jostled him and stepped into his path, much to Milos’s amusement. A rough yank on his cord told him Alex had seen his smile and recognised it for what it was; that just made it all that much funnier.

The Duke of Ginebourne was waiting for them at the top of the massive stairs, an older man with greying hair and lines around his mouth and vivid green eyes. It was a face that looked as though it laughed a lot, but not one Milos immediately felt he could warm to. “Sir Alexander,” he said with a broad smile, opening his arms towards the knight without paying a second’s attention to the leashed man beside him, “what a pleasant surprise. It’s not often that one of King Nazarian’s elite corps pays me a personal visit.”

Elite corps? That was the first Milos had heard about it. He gave Alex a curious look—it was hard to believe he was that competent—but the knight remained as unreadable as ever when faced with those in power, just a small yet cocky smile curving his lips. “It’s a great pleasure to meet you, your grace.” He swept into a low bow that carried all the flair and charm the gate guard’s had lacked. “I’m sorry for the intrusion.”

He turned to Milos and gestured, once, with all five fingers: a ‘give me’ if ever Milos had seen one. He wanted to break those fingers. Instead he pulled the letter from his pocket and with a sullen glare handed it over to his owner, who took it with, if possible, an even wider smirk.

“A personal letter of introduction?” The Duke took the letter with a faint smile that set Milos’s nerves on edge. “The King does me a great honour.”

Alex smiled again, this time the expression never making it to his eyes. “My apologies, but I’m afraid I must trouble you with some questions. I trust now is not too inconvenient?”

The Duke’s smile matched Alex for lack of feeling, the kind of smile Milos had learned to absent himself from long ago—or at least learned to relax at the sight of, to soften the pain. “Of course, Sir Alexander. Please, follow me.”

* * *

The inside of the castle was easily as imposing as the front, massive grey stones softened with hanging tapestries in bright colours, detailed fabrics decorating chairs and draped over tables and long, plush runners lining the floors to muffle their footsteps. Compared to the relative frugality of his one time in the king’s throne room Milos felt overwhelmed and wasn’t too surprised when Alex pulled on the cord more than once, encouraging him to stop staring and keep up.

The room the Duke led them to was small, tucked away near the front of the building and quite a way from the main entrance. Even here the walls were hung with bright tapestries conveying everything from fine art to vicious battles, some of which sat at odds with the exquisitely carved table and two chairs standing in the middle, decorated with yet more expensive cloth and a large vase of flowers. “Please be seated and I’ll have someone escort your slave somewhere safe.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed, an expression Milos had learned early to be wary of, and with great care he slipped the loop of cord from around his wrist. “He stays with me.”

The Duke’s eyebrows raised almost imperceptibly, then dipped into a frown. “Are you sure? Surely what you want to discuss—”

“He is valuable and will stay here.” Even if it wasn’t obvious from his voice, the knight’s stony expression screamed that he wouldn’t budge on this matter. Milos was relieved; he’d only have ended up shivering outside or being forced to help in the kitchens. But using his value as an excuse? He’d be seen through within seconds.

For one moment the green eyes flicked the length of his body, taking in his untidy hair and secondhand, slightly too large clothes, then just as casually dismissed him. “If you insist.” He slid into one seat and gestured for Alex to do the same, ignoring Milos as he positioned himself behind his owner to assist him with the chair. He might as well have become a piece of furniture himself. “You have some questions for me?”

“Yes, your Grace.” Alex folded his hands on the table and smiled at the Duke. “Please tell me why our messenger was beaten to within an inch of his life and sent back to Goldash strapped to his saddle.”

For one moment Milos was sure he could detect a paling of the skin, a tenseness around the eyes, at the knight’s words. Then, as quickly as it’d appeared it was gone again and an impassive, slightly curious mask appeared in its place. “Sir Alexander, I don’t understand. Are you insinuating something?” Mirroring Alex’s gesture, he rested both hands on the table, fingers intertwined. “I’m sure you are aware we’ve had something of a bandit problem of late, are you sure the unfortunate man wasn’t simply the victim of a robbery?”

Alex’s smile widened. His eyes remained hard. “We walked the journey. I’m a king’s knight travelling with property and yet no one deemed me worthy of robbery. I wonder how our poor messenger appeared for him to appear such a target?”

“Messengers are easy targets.” He was making every effort to seem reasonable but there was a shortness of tone that hadn’t been there before. “I’m sorry for the man’s condition, but I do not see how I can—”

“Did you know,” Alex interrupted, his smile becoming a full-on grin while his eyes held all the warmth of the depths of winter, “that the messenger returned warning of sedition in Ginebourne? He was remarkably specific on that, considering the condition he was in.”

“Delirium brought about by his injuries, nothing more.” The Duke shook his head in the most insincere gesture of sorrow Milos had ever seen and unfurled his fingers again, pressing his palms hard to the table to push himself into a standing position. “It is to be pitied, but not something that we can help. Now, Sir Alexander, if these are all your questions—”

“So you’re confirming that there are no plots overthrow King Nazarian?” Alex was all innocence. It was almost sickening. “Nothing that someone as illustrious as yourself might be involved in?”

This time, his face turned the colour of freshly-laid snow. “Sir Alexander, if you’re going to throw baseless accusations at me then I must ask you to leave, and please be assured that the king shall hear of this.”

“I expect nothing less.” Alex rose, Milos pulling his chair back to allow him to stand. Still the Duke refused to acknowledge his presence. “I anticipate hearing my king’s response in due course. Thank you for your time, your Grace, I shall show myself out.” Scooping up Milos’s lead again, he gave a sharp tug on his collar and led him from the room.

“You’re a lunatic,” Milos hissed once he was sure they were out of earshot. “How does upsetting him help?”

Alex grinned widely. He gave every appearance forgetting his previous frustration and anger, savouring instead with the thrill of the hunt. “He’s lying, and we know it. All we need now is the evidence and, given how flustered he is, it won’t be long before he gives it us.”

Milos stared at him, open-mouthed. “You really are a lunatic.”

Still smiling, Alex turned his attention to the main corridor and the faint, echoing sound of a man’s furious shouting. “We’ll see.”

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