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Vanilla #6; Quince #14; Chopped Nuts

Author: Regret
Rating: PG
Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Vanilla #6 - Dinner Party; Quince #14 - Have You Heard The News?
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 3,356
Summary: Milos tries to exact revenge on Alex... and fails again. Alex's revenge is to insist he go with him to a dinner party. Milos thinks the dinner party is worse—or at least more embarrassing.

Milos woke to a sticky feeling between his buttocks and a distinct absence of Alex. It was an effort to push himself into a sitting position as every muscle screamed in protest: both the ones Alex had numbed by sleeping on him and the ones that had taken such a pounding last night, and even on the surprisingly soft mattress his backside made him whimper and adjust his position.

Bastard. He gripped the sheets in impotent fury, looking wildly around for something to throw at his head when he came back. Nothing. At least, nothing readily. He was sure he could find plenty once he got out of bed.

He leaned forward, groaned and clung to the sheets again.

Okay, maybe it’d take a little longer than he’d expected.

* * *

The knife thunked into the frame as Alex pushed the door open, wrapped parcels tucked securely under one arm; true to form the arrogant bastard didn’t bat an eyelid at it, just looked from the still-shuddering grip to Milos, now dressed and trembling with anger in the middle of the room. “I see you’re awake, then.”

“Blood!” Milos shouted, grabbing another knife from the table. “There was blood, you bastard!” Unable to contain his fury, he threw himself at the knight.

In one easy movement Alex tossed the package on the bed and spun to seize Milos’s wrist, slamming it into the wall. The weapon fell from his fingers and clattered to the floor. Pinned against the plasterwork, he couldn’t escape as Alex leaned forward with a grin and ran his free hand down over Milos’s hip. “Do you need me to clean you up?”

“I did it myself,” he snarled. “Get off me.”

“I can double-check.”

Why did the bastard sound so gods-damned cheerful? After what he’d done to him! He shoved his free hand against Alex’s chest, which was grabbed with all the ease of the first and pressed to the wall beside his head. So he did the only thing he could think of when faced with the amused smirk of his owner. He tried to slam his forehead into the knight’s nose.

Alex jerked his head back, easily avoiding Milos’s attack, then snapped his knee smartly up between his legs.

He sagged in Alex’s grip, dropping to his knees as the fingers slowly released their hold on his wrist, both hands pressed to his groin. Insult to injury, now he was sore all over. “You shit-headed...” The floor suddenly seemed inviting and he let it meet him, falling to his side and curling up into a ball.

“Shush. You brought it on yourself.” He shut the still-open door and turned to the package instead. Milos could hear the rustle of paper but, eyes blurred and tears streaming down his cheeks, couldn’t look up to see exactly what the idiot was doing until he crouched in front of him, dangling a slender rectangular bottle from thumb and forefinger. “But you’ll have less to complain about next time.”

Realisation crushed his chest as he squinted at the golden liquid inches from his face. “Next time?”

“Yes.” He rose again and moved from Milos’s view, no doubt to put the bottle on the dresser. “You felt surprisingly good.” As his vision started to clear, Alex’s boots came back across the floor and moved to the bed. “The apothecary guessed, I think, but he didn’t seem bothered.”

“It’s common.” He pushed himself upright slowly. At least now he couldn’t tell which part hurt more. “Male slaves can’t get pregnant. No inconvenient babies.”

Alex tilted his head from one side to the other thoughtfully, mulling it over. “That’s true. You’ve not yet given me a good reason to go back to whores.”
“They don’t try to kill you,” he muttered, ducking and lunging for the knife.

A foot slammed down on his hand even as his fingers grazed the grip. “I’d wondered if you’d gotten bored.” Alex grinned down at him. “I’m glad you haven’t.”

“I hate you,” he hissed up at the knight.

With a wide smile, Alex lifted his foot again and crouched in front of him, gently stroking his hair from his face. “But not all the time.” When he rose again he offered his hand to Milos; his slave pushed himself up again while staring at the floor instead, wincing as he moved. “It will be better next time.”

Who was he trying to reassure? He was doing it wrong again.

“Put your collar back on.” That was more like it. He caught the strip of leather and metal as Alex threw it to him, struggling slightly with the catches at the back. “Because you’ve still got to do the landlady’s washing up.”

* * *

In truth, it wasn’t as bad as he’d expected. There was a lot of it, even more than he’d feared, but the plates weren’t filthy and he enjoyed the effort he put into scrubbing the metal tankards, which helped him forget the pain until it was just a bearable ache—as well as taking out the frustration he felt towards Alex in a way that wouldn’t get him hurt. The landlady herself was a pleasant woman who busied herself with cooking while he worked, occasionally stealing freshly cleaned plates and even stopping for a while to help him dry some. If she found his pointed ears or midnight skin repulsive she made no outward show of it.

Mostly it was nice to get away from Alex for a bit and when he’d done he found himself wishing he could stay. When it came to returning he dragged his feet up the stairs, fingered the collar and wondered if anyone would notice if he ran away.

Of course they would. Who wouldn’t? Heart heavy, he pushed open the door to Alex’s room.

“You’re back. Good.” A heap of fabric hit him in the face. “Put that on.”

He stared down at the shirt in confusion, running his fingers over the soft, sleek material. “I didn’t pack this.”

“No. I bought it this morning.” When he looked up Alex stood in front of him, already dressed in a high-necked cobalt blue shirt and black dress trousers. “If I take you to the Duke’s dinner dressed in my old clothes, people will talk. And not in the good way.”

“But...” The fabric was softer than anything Alex had given him, a pale blue with darker trimmings that matched the colour of Alex’s top. “I can’t go, I’m a slave.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You’re telling me where I can and can’t take you now?”

He really was an idiot. “I can’t go because it’s not acceptable!” He tried raising his voice. Maybe then he’d listen to him. “You might take a servant to help you, but I can’t go. I don’t have the right to.”

The other eyebrow rose to meet the first as Alex sat at the edge of the bed, serious eyes following Milos’s every move. “So I could take a servant to assist me who is paid for their services, but I can’t take my own property that I paid for?” He snorted softly. “I’ll take who I damned well like, thank you.”

He wasn’t going to win. He could see it in those strange dark eyes. Alex was determined to get his own way. Milos pulled off his shirt and dropped it onto the floor, pulling the new one over his head and marvelling internally at the difference against his skin. Alex threw a pair of trousers to match his own at him; he caught them easily and changed into those as well, ignoring the way the knight’s gaze moved below his waist. If Alex wanted to see what it was like to be a laughing stock, that was his problem.

* * *

“How did you afford this, anyway?” He asked as they ascended the imposing stone stairs that led up to the main door. “You’ve not sold my services to anyone else, have you?” He wouldn’t have put it beyond him—and he’d definitely prefer prior warning on what kind of service it might be.

Alex gave him a look that was all utterly unbelievable innocence. “I’ve arranged for that bill to be sent to my father too.”

“Your father will be horrified his son is spending money on a slave.” Other guests were milling around by the door, admiring the radiant flowers on plinths and each other’s outfits, all of which were best displayed in the golden evening sun. They all turned to stare at Alex with his elf on a lead. Milos tried hard not to care.

“My father won’t notice,” Alex said softly, then turned a broad smile to one of the overdressed gawpers. “Good evening.”

Milos watched the smile turn self-satisfied as the gawper muttered a greeting and turned away to gossip with another guest. Alex was turning heads already, and not for his looks. Well, he had to admit as he watched a young woman make eyes in his direction, maybe sometimes for his looks. And with any luck he’d meet some nice, impressionable and far too stupid young woman today and leave his poor slave alone tonight.

Alex dragged him over to make pointed conversation with another guest whose eyes appeared to be trying to bulge from their head at the sight of a dark elf slave and Milos had to conclude that there was every chance his luck wasn’t willing to help him today.

When the Duke appeared at the door, dressed in full and flower regalia, a hush fell over the assembled crowd and a wry half-smile spread over Alex’s mouth. “I’m pleased you were all able to attend, and if you would all please follow me...” With a sketched bow to his guests he turned smartly on one heel and led the chattering crowd to the dining hall.

If Milos had thought the façade and route to their small meeting room impressive before, they were nothing compared to the grand dining hall. The walls had been plastered with decoration painted on, and tapestries and imposing portraits of severe old men or beautiful women hung around the room. The table was long, fruits, flowers and candelabras lining its middle, and a number of servants in different liveries were already arranged around the perimeter of the room. It was a kick in the gut to realise that he was the only one still with his master; some servants gave him looks of pity, others of disgust.

One thing was for sure: they’d remember Alex’s visit for some time.

The positions of the servants appeared to be some kind of marker for their employers: each one seated themselves without any apparent difficulty while Alex had to be escorted to his seat by one of the household butlers. Cheeks burning, Milos took his position in the empty space behind the chair and prepared himself for a long evening of banal conversation.

“Sir Alexander, I see you have a slave and not a servant with you?”

Milos winced. Couldn’t they at least wait until the first course had been served before embarrassing him? Not that Alex seemed bothered, turning another of his charming smiles to the older man who’d asked so bluntly. “Yes, I brought Milos with me. I prefer to keep a slave rather than hire a servant these days.”

The use of his name raised eyebrows among the nearest guests. “Why would that be, if you don’t mind my asking, Sir Knight?”

Alex smiled conspiratorially, leaning forwards. Various interested parties mirrored his gesture. “I prefer staff who cannot just leave when they feel like it. Servants can make things inconvenient like that.”

A ripple of laughter ran through the guests. “Is that a problem you commonly have?” One young lord asked with a smirk.

“You could say that,” he responded with a dramatic sigh. “My servants have the unhappy habit of dying.”

This time the laughter was subdued with several of the younger or more aristocratic guests giving Alex a look of sudden misgiving, as though they suspected he was simply prone to finding himself in duels. They had no idea what the life of a knight was like. Milos didn’t blame them. He was Alex’s and he still had no idea what he was doing.

Conversation dulled to more mundane matters as the courses were served, each one displayed to perfection and smelling beautifully of spices and mouth-watering citrus, enough that Milos’s stomach started to rumble hopefully and, judging from the sounds at the edge of hearing and the occasional flushed cheeks of the other servants, he wasn’t the only one.

Only when the main course of steaming hot beef still rare and oozing had been served did the Duke’s voice dominate the conversation. “Sir Alexander, may I enquire as to how your investigation is going?”

A hush fell across the table as all eyes turned to the knight. Mouth full, Alex chewed thoughtfully as he considered his answer. “Quite well so far, I’d say.”

“Investigation?” Another voice piped up. “Is something amiss?”

The Duke’s smile looked, on the surface, sympathetic but something about it made Milos feel nervous. There was an edge of steel beneath it that felt like a knife to the ribs. “You haven’t heard the shocking news? There are rumours of sedition in our fair city, I was horrified to discover. Sir Alexander has been dispatched by none other than our most revered King Nazarian to root out this evil.”

If Alex had hoped to simply play the unconventional young lord act, the Duke had carefully scuppered it. Milos watched him frown as he turned to the Duke, laying his knife and fork carefully on the plate and folding his hands on the table. “There was one certain issue yesterday where my slave was damaged by a man who seemed intent on robbing me.”

A flare of remembered pain seared Milos’s neck. After Alex had cleaned them the marks were barely visible at least, as the stares in the room switched from the knight to him. He straightened his back and tried not to look so nervous. “Ah, yes. I heard of the matter from Sir Kennet who, I believe, stepped in to assist you?” This time, the edge to the smile seemed even nearer the surface. “Lucky for your slave that Sir Kennet was delivering my invitation at the time, I understand?”

Alex’s expression darkened. “The situation was under control, although I am of course grateful to your guard for his assistance in ensuring my slave took no further injury.” The last part looked like it was physically painful to say.

This time, the Duke’s smile was triumphant. Milos cringed. In a few short sentences he’d made Alex seem inadequate; no wonder the smirk had been sharp enough to hurt. “I hope you have better luck in the future, Sir Alexander, but I am shamefully glad that so far you have only been troubled by the kind of common criminal all cities are plagued with, rather than any real treasonous activities.”

The murmur of assent from the other guests told Milos—and Alex, from his sour look as he nodded to the Duke and resumed his meal—that the topic was now effectively closed.

Filled with exactly the kind of idle chitchat Milos had dreaded, the rest of the meal passed without incident. Alex responded to questions with charm and wit but now and again, when he hadn’t been directly addressed, Milos could sometimes see just how furious he truly was about being shown up publicly. Not in anything so indecorous as an outright display of temper, but in the little signs he’d learned so quickly to learn: the tightening of the skin around his eyes and mouth, the closed expression; he hoped his mood improved before they left again or tonight had every possibility of being worse than the last.

After the plates had been cleared away by the Duke’s household staff, Milos and the rest of the servants helped their masters to stand—Milos with half an eye towards dodging if Alex looked like he might lash out in a fit of anger—and while the other lords and ladies filtered through into a drawing room Alex had to stand and give clear instructions that Milos was to go with the other servants, loudly enough to ensure there was no misunderstanding from any bystanders.

Milos couldn’t stop himself from smiling at Alex’s irate expression. This was what he got for buying someone without understanding how it worked.

It didn’t seem to help.

The servants, and Milos with them, filtered into the kitchen, ostensibly to help the Duke’s staff with the washing up but mostly, it seemed, to sample whatever food had been left behind. His second set of washing up in a day; pulling a face, he rolled up his sleeves and set to work. It gave him the perfect opportunity to listen to what everyone else was saying while blending, as well as he could, into the background—and unsurprisingly, talk started out with Alex.

Very little of it was useful. They seemed amazed that the King was taking it so seriously, that Alex seemed a little young to be sent to deal with it—he grimaced; youth had nothing to do with stubbornness—and one even muttered something about how they envied his slave and what they’d give to spend a little alone time with someone so handsome.

Milos almost swallowed his own tongue and had to disguise his shock as a coughing fit.

Aside from two servants who seemed remarkably quiet during the topic of treason no one seemed to have any useful information or, at least, didn’t seem willing to gossip about it if they did. So much for servants’ loose tongues. He glared down at a pot that didn’t seem willing to give up its baked-on crust, then surreptitiously took notice of the silent servants’ liveries. It couldn’t hurt. After that conversation drifted onto topics he couldn’t care less about: Lady M—’s dress and how it didn’t suit her, and Lord L—’s inadvisably tight trousers.

Milos almost choked again, this time from suppressing a laugh. The unfortunate Lord and Alex sounded like they’d get along perfectly.

“Milos. Come here. We’re leaving.” Several of the staff jumped, standing up automatically as Alex’s voice rang out through the room; he couldn’t help noticing how the one so entranced by his looks suddenly blushed a vivid red.

He waved a wet hand at his owner, wiped them dry and, still trying not to laugh, followed him from the room.

“What’re you finding so very funny?” Alex snapped as he tied the cord around the ring of Milos’s collar again. “Been listening to the crap servants talk about?” Obviously the drawing room conversation hadn’t been to his taste.

His sour face was far too amusing. “You’ve got an admirer. Several, really. They thought you were handsome.” This time he failed to stop himself from laughing.

Alex shot him a glare that rapidly dissolved into a smile, startling his slave. “Nice to know someone likes me. I don’t think I can count the Duke as a friend, do you?”

He shook his head, following Alex through the hallway and out through the massive front doors. Night had fallen and orange lights punctuated the dark city; walking back to the inn suddenly seemed intimidating. If the knight felt the same way his expression didn’t betray it.

Relaying the little he’d learned and listening in return to Alex’s anecdotes from the evening’s chat and his attempts to find out anything that might help did a lot to dispel the nerves, but as they approached the inn itself a different kind of fear prowled back into his gut. He snuck a look at Alex’s profile, frowning. Yes, he was handsome. He was also a bastard who didn’t care who he hurt so long as he got what he wanted. He couldn’t forget that; his body wouldn’t let him, even if his mind let it slip sometimes.

He hated admitting it, but he was becoming afraid of him.



Runaway Tales



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