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Blue Raspberry #6; Quince #9; Chopped Nuts

Author: Regret
Rating: PG
Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Blue Raspberry #6 - The Latest Trend; Quince #9 - Whose Side Are You On?
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 2,461
Summary: Alex takes Milos to the shopping district, but when the journey home becomes dangerous a face from the past comes to their rescue.


Instead of leading him back to their lodgings, Alex angled to the right as they left the castle grounds, directly into the most crowded part of the city. With no choice but to follow Milos could only go along with him, trying to remain as close as possible as people bumped against or walked into him. That he was forced to stay so close to the knight didn’t do anything to make him feel better either, and it was worse every time a busy citizen shoved into Milos hard enough to throw him against his owner.

Luckily Alex seemed too preoccupied with finding wherever it was he was going to remember what had happened previously. Milos wished he felt the same way; every time he was pushed into him all he could remember was his expression as he’d dragged him down and the knowledge of what was going to happen.

Wherever it was Alex was heading, so long as it put off their return to the inn Milos didn’t care.

Lost in thought and already becoming used to being pushed around, he didn’t notice the increase in people until Alex half-led, half-dragged him around a corner and to the top of a flight of stairs carved into the downward slope, and the full spread of a marketplace revealed itself to him. Brightly coloured canopies hung above stalls selling everything from food to fripperies, with a large section seemingly dedicated to fabrics in varicoloured rolls, wools both natural and dyed every shade of the rainbow, accessories, tools and even soft-haired livestock penned off to one side. Everywhere he looked was filled with people of wildly varying heights: humans, light elves, and both with slaves on leads. It was breathtaking.

He didn’t get much time to appreciate it: Alex set off down the stairs, dragging Milos along behind him. “I’m starting to see a use to this cord.”

“Mmm,” was the best he could manage. The last thing he wanted to do was agree with him, at least out loud. “Why are we here? Did I forget something?”

Alex paused and glanced over his shoulder at his slave, a rock against the tide of people. “Why do you think that?”

Milos shrugged as nonchalantly as possible as someone’s shoulder almost knocked him into his owner. “I must have, or you wouldn’t want to come here. And the inn serves food so it can’t be that.”

Alex smiled slightly and, for once, it contained no malice or anger. “You’re planning on wearing my cast-offs for the rest of your life?”

He opened his mouth to speak but was only jerked forward as Alex set off again without waiting for an answer. He didn’t know what he’d been about to say anyway; the rest of his life? Either he was anticipating it being a very short space of time, or the psychopath really was planning on keeping him permanently. Or, he realised, pulling a face, both. But if he was expecting a quick demise, why would he want to clothe him properly?

He groaned; Alex ignored him. Where was the point in trying to work out the reasoning of a madman?

The smells of the market assaulted him as they made their way through the throng: food, both fresh and cooked, made his stomach growl and did much to mask the scent of massed people and animals. That Alex had no intention of speaking to him was a bonus. He was sure he’d never hear him anyway. Without checking to make sure his slave was alright Alex made a beeline for the fabrics stalls, pulling Milos to a stop in front of a stall stacked with bolts of soft-looking fabrics. “The problem with you,” he said, loudly to be heard over the thrum of the crowd, “is that my family colours would look bloody awful on you.” He grinned. “I don’t want my property looking like a moving shadow and I certainly can’t let you walk around dressed unfashionably.”

Milos only stared at him as Alex grabbed his wrist and hovered his hand over various shades, some patterned and some not, squinting from the dark lavender-grey of Milos’s skin to the contrasting colours he examined with great care until, leaving his slave almost clinging to the side of the wooden stall, he ducked to have a shouted and yet still unintelligible conversation with the dark-haired woman owner.

When the knight stepped back, it was with nods and smiles and, without another word, he led Milos away from the stall. Indeed, he led him away from the market at all, down one of the claustrophobic side streets filled with looming buildings that, although still busy, lacked the worst of the crush. “Where are we going?” He tried eventually, glad to not have to shout so loudly to get his attention. “Changed your mind?”

“Why would I?” He drew to a stop outside a bay-windowed shop, gaze fixed on the sign above the door. “Her family owns this shop and you need measuring. She said that she’d give me a special price if we used their services and Ginebourne is famous for their shopkeepers never discounting their wares.” He gave Milos another strange look, as if he couldn’t believe how stupid his elf was. “This is the trade capital of the continent, you know?”

“No, I didn’t.”

Alex’s expression of bemusement never faltered. “Just get in there.”

The man in the shop, a man of indeterminate middle age with a kind face, didn’t seem to object to having to touch and measure a dark elf but even though he did nothing on purpose to make him nervous, Milos still found himself twitching and flinching as a measure was pressed along his inner leg and the length of his body. Now and again an expression of irritation flickered over Alex’s face and he knew he should control himself while the tailor was taking such care with the measurements, but it just made him feel worse. Finally Alex left him to stand in the middle of the shop while he discussed fabrics and trims with the shopkeeper and, after ten minutes when he came to reclaim him, Milos felt an unpleasant and entirely unexpected wash of relief and thankfulness towards the arrogant bastard.

“The clothes’ll be delivered back home,” Alex said as he led Milos from the shop again, “so you don’t need to worry about the packing.”

He hadn’t worried until then, but not having to try to pack additional items was another relief.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

Milos stared at Alex, at the strange combination of amusement and exasperation on his face and, clothing excepted, tried to work out what he should thank him for. Finally he shook his head and looked away.

Alex snorted and this time it was with pure amusement. “If I’d tamed you this easily I’d have been disappointed. You’ve not tried to kill me in ages, I was getting worried.”

He glared down at the filthy street rather than meet his owner’s gaze until, a few seconds later, a sharp tug on his collar told him it was time to move again. This time Alex didn’t lead him towards the marketplace but took him further into the narrow alleys where the crowd petered down to the occasional person and the shops slowly became townhouses. “You actually know where you’re going?”

“Unlike you,” Alex grunted, dragging him around another corner, “I’ve actually been here before.”

“So you don’t actually know where you’re going,” he grumbled, running his fingers around the rim of his collar. Whether it was the closeness of the buildings or his complete lack of confidence in Alex, he had another one of those feelings. But at least he hadn’t broken anything this time.

“I know perfectly well.” He paused at a crossroads, then led Milos down another road that, if possible, seemed more narrow than any before. “And we’re almost back so stop complaining.”

Milos huffed and shook his head to himself. The man wasn’t just a psychopathic lunatic, he really was very definitely an idiot too. If a road barely wide enough to fit two horses led them back to the inn then he’d—

Something sharp pressed against his neck, driving away any idea of what he’d do. “What do we have here?” Foul breath tickled his ear and made him want to retch. “Don’t you look interesting?”

Ahead, Alex whirled around and dropped the cord. Milos couldn’t bring himself to meet his gaze. “No. I don’t.” He grunted, trying to duck away from the blade. An arm wrapped around his chest, pinning him in place; the blade dug in further.

“You do realise he doesn’t carry my money, don’t you? There’s no point in robbing him.” Alex rested his hands on his hips nonchalantly. “Do what you want with him. I’ll just replace him.”

He would, too. He could see it in his eyes. Even his unseen assailant seemed suddenly unsure. “He doesn’t look easy to replace. Hand over your money.”

Alex laughed, the sound unnaturally loud in the enclosed space. “Hells no. And him? I picked him on a whim. He sticks out like a sore thumb too, a normal-looking slave would be much better. Do me a favour and dispose of him for me.”

A flash of pain told him the blade had sliced his neck, but not enough to kill. He hoped. The arm across his body tightened its hold. “Playing tough, don’t waste my time! Just give me your money!” The blade bit again and this time Milos couldn’t hold back the gasp.

Alex’s eyes narrowed. One hand dropped from his hip to the pommel of his sword. “Wilful destruction of property is a crime.”

“You can’t murder a—”

“Slave. No, you can’t.” He flexed his hand on the grip and smiled coldly. “But if you damage or destroy my property I can and will ensure you’ll be punished. Soundly.”

“So he is valuable, after all.” The hand moved from Milos’s chest to grab his jaw, fingers digging in and yanking his head back. The knife dug into the tender flesh below his chin. “Draw your sword if you like, you can’t hurt me before I kill him.”

Well, it was one way out. Alex’s reputation for carelessness would remain intact. Milos closed his eyes and held his breath.

They snapped back open as the knife clattered to the floor, the hand falling away from his face. He stared at Alex, who stared back wide-eyed and gripping his half-drawn sword. The pressure behind him slipped away with a faint gurgle, but the impact of a body on cobbles was drowned out by an amused male voice. “Aren’t you going to thank me?”

Paralysed with sudden, gut-clenching fear, he could only stare forwards as Alex’s eyes widened even further, then narrowed, brows falling into a deep frown. “What’re you doing here?”

From behind, a hand snaked over to drag fingers through his hair, giving it an affectionate ruffle. Milos let out a strangled yelp and, finally realising he was free to move, leapt forward to duck behind Alex. That the day had come when he ran to a knight for protection, and the most unlikely one at that, escaped him in his moment of terror.

It seemed to have escaped Alex too and his hand never once moved from his sword. “I’d heard you’d left the order, I just didn’t expect that you wouldn’t have gone far.”

The other man, clad in buffed armour and wearing crimson fabric trimmed with gold braid, was a tall and handsome blond with a disarmingly cheerful smile. “You could say I had a better offer. It’s easy to guard a Duke who prefers to live a peaceful life. Much safer than running all over the land hunting for ghosts.”

“Easy, huh.” Alex snorted and slowly released his sword again, shaking his head. Milos watched him carefully, taking in every faint expression at war on his face. “You never used to be a coward, Kennet. I remember you were once very competitive.” For a moment Milos was sure a look of resentment passed through his eyes.

The other man shrugged, his smile never wavering. “People can change, Alex, however I can see you aren’t one of them. Although this,” he gestured to Milos, “is a new one. I don’t recall you having tolerance for people at the best of times, let alone keeping a pet.”

It didn’t matter how often he heard those words, they still stung. “People change, remember?” Alex murmured, what little warmth there’d been leaving his face. “What brings you to this part of the city, if you’re now part of the Duke’s guard?”

Kennet paused and briefly Milos was sure that the coldness of Alex’s face was mirrored in the charismatic knight’s. “His Grace regrets his harsh words. He understands that your only concern is the safety of your king and gives you free reign to investigate the matter in Ginebourne. He also extends an invitation to dinner tomorrow, if you’d do him the honour of attending.”

Alex paused, his eyes flicking from Kennet’s open and honest face to the man now laying in a spreading pool of blood at his feet. There’d only been marginally more meet on the would-be robber than there was in Milos, if appearances were anything to go by; it made Milos feel nervous that he’d been so easily surprised. “Please give the Duke my acceptance of his kind invitation, and let him know how grateful I am that you were able to protect me and my slave.”

The smile widened and Kennet bowed briefly at the dark haired man. “My pleasure, Sir Alexander. I‘ll convey your wishes at once. And don’t worry about this,” he nudged the body with one toe, “I’ll arrange for someone to clean this up, so you may be on your way.”

They watched him leave, Alex’s expression closed and unreadable, then he turned on his heel and stalked along the alleyway again, away from Kennet and the cooling corpse. It took Milos a moment to realise that the cord was still hanging loosely from his collar. His footsteps echoed as he broke into a run after him. “You know him?”

“Sir Kennet of Lormere. I trained with him. He was once a member of the King’s Guard.”

“Does he normally step in to save people in danger?”

Alex’s mouth tightened. “No.”

Biting his lip and hoping no one would notice that his owner wasn’t holding onto him, Milos followed Alex back to the hotel. At least the bastard was right about that. The only problem was that he was starting to develop the suspicion that he’d been right about everything else all along.

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