Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Quince #26 - Tell Me Something I Don't Know; Blue Raspberry #7 - Handshake
Topping: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 1,923
Summary: After a bad night, Alex's regular mood reasserts itself... until, out of the blue, he confuses Milos in only two words.
Kennet had put Alex in enough of a foul mood that the evening was one long ordeal. He’d hoped that he might be allowed to stay upstairs while Alex dined and be spared that torture, but no. It seemed Alex wanted to spend almost two hours listening to his slave’s stomach growl only a couple of feet behind him.
The worst part of it all was having to listen to Alex fail to make polite conversation with Kennet and the Duke. He wasn’t even trying, only giving monosyllabic responses if Kennet spoke and perfunctory replies to the Duke’s questions. It was enough to make his toes curl.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if Kennet seemed in any way affected by the earlier events, but if anything he seemed more cheerful than before, ploughing through his meal and smiling and chatting to the Duke and, more pointedly, to Alex. He couldn’t make him look any worse.
Milos desperately wanted to kick the idiot and yell at him to make an effort. The Duke make no outward sign of irritation, but Milos couldn’t help noticing how his eyes kept flicking over to Alex, a frown adding more lines to his face.
The only advantage to Kennet and Alex’s fight was that, after dinner, Alex didn’t seem inclined towards pouncing on his slave and let Milos sleep unmolested on the side of the bed that he was rapidly starting to think of as his. Sleep came as a blessed escape from both Alex’s mood and the oppressive atmosphere he’d carried back to their room, even if it brought with it Alex’s frequent tossing, turning and stealing of the sheets, and Milos’s twisting, uneasy dreams.
The next day was spent interviewing the Five Families formally. Managing to pull his mask of civility back into place, Alex was his usual ingratiatingly amiable self as he discussed both matters of treason and general social events with a procession of lords, ladies and servants, all of whom without fail stared in outright shock at Milos holding a notepad and pencil.
It wasn’t a surprise. He just wished Alex didn’t make him do it—earning his keep, as he kept insisting it was—because no slave ever needed to highlight skills they really shouldn’t have. These people gawking at him had no idea how he’d come to be stuck with this arrogant bastard; they no doubt thought he’d been born into it like most others were.
Somehow, he didn’t think screaming that he’d had as much right to education as they had would help, and Alex wouldn’t take any interruption to his work well. So he kept his mouth shut, alternating his glares between the person responsible for his embarrassment and the ones contributing to it.
They didn’t notice. That was probably a blessing too. After they’d stared at him like he’d come crawling out the sewers they proceeded to ignore him. He might as well not exist in the room, and that helped. They stopped seeing Milos with his notebook and unceasing handwriting and focused instead on the important person in the room, the handsome one with the pretty smile and expensive clothes.
Milos in turn recorded everything discussed and, on Alex’s express command, anything he noticed about the way they fidgeted in their seats, the looks they exchanged, how they turned to glance at the slightest noise in the hallway. They were a lot nervier than he’d expected. He didn’t know if it was down to the man interviewing them or the subject matter itself, and he didn’t blame them for either. After seeing him in the arena with Kennet he’d developed a whole new respect for him, where respect stood for the realisation of what he could do to him if he so wanted.
The worst part of it all was that every time the knight rose to take his leave, he shook hands with the men he’d been interviewing then, ignoring everything Milos had tried to teach him about slave-owner etiquette, insisted that Milos do the same. The nobles saw him again for the first time in an hour, his dark skin and his collar; they looked as disinclined to follow Alex’s request as he felt. But the knight always got his way in the end. He didn’t know who felt more unclean: them or him.
“Anything useful?” Alex asked him once they were outside the palatial townhouse of the final family, giving the cord running to his collar a short tug. Silently, Milos flipped open his notebook to the last page and held it out to Alex who read it without taking it from him, not caring that the longer he took, the more Milos’s arm hurt. “They might not be saying anything outright,” he said softly, looking from the page to his slave, “but they all seem like they’ve got something to hide.”
Closing the pad again and tucking it into the pouch hanging from a shoulder strap, he couldn’t stop himself asking bitterly, “why are you doing this?”
“You know why. Because I was ordered to.”
“Not that. I meant, why are you so desperate to humiliate me?!” It didn’t matter that his voice was rising or that passing servants were staring outright at them. “You know—I told you—but you make me do things like—like touch people—”
Alex raised an eyebrow, the insufferable smirk returning to his lips. How did he think he’d missed it yesterday? “You touch me.”
“That’s different! You own me, for a start! I’m expected to wash you and dress you, and—”
The knight’s laugh did as much to make people pause as Milos’s vocal anger. “And sex. Don’t forget that.”
“Shut up!” He balled his hands into fists, digging them into his thighs in case one of them decided to bury itself in Alex’s face instead. “Why do you think this is funny? You’re going to get me—get us both in trouble!”
“I’d missed your temper.” Alex grinned, reaching out to scrub one hand through Milos’s already unruly hair. His grin only widened as Milos ducked his head away, glaring at him and wishing that they weren’t where everyone could see them. “I know what I’m doing. And anyway,” he added soberly, the smile fading from his face, “you should enjoy it while you can, because if I’m right then things will become very difficult very soon.”
Milos didn’t speak as Alex turned away with a quick pull on his slave’s collar. The sight of Alex’s serious side, as opposed to his more frequent bad- tempered one, was enough to put his nerves on edge all over again. “Don’t they always, around you?” He’d be damned if he’d let the arrogant bastard know that he’d got to him; after everything, he was pretty sure he was damned anyway.
Glancing over his shoulder as he led him towards the horses, Alex gave him a brief smirk and when Milos stopped by his mare, gave the cord another sharp yank.
Without questioning, he followed his owner towards a narrow brick alleyway near the street. The close air was damp and he shivered in his thin clothes as he looked around uncertainly. Just what was the idiot doing now, dragging him to a place like this that led only to an outhouse or the worst home in the whole city—
Hands pressed against his shoulders, shoving his back against the rough brickwork. Moisture seeped through his jacket, biting cold and a sharp contrast to the heat blazing through Alex’s palms. “What are you—” A hot mouth closed over his own, cutting off the sentence. He moaned, struggled futilely, as Alex’s tongue skirted over his teeth. Escape came only when he shoved against his chest, pushing him two steps back. “Get off me!”
What he expected he didn’t know. For Alex to be angry, perhaps, or to try again more forcefully. It wasn’t for him to wipe the back of his hand across his mouth and grin at him. “I told you I liked your fire.”
“We’re in public!”
Alex looked pointedly at the opening of the alleyway. Even as people passed by they didn’t glance in. The gloom cloaked them as effectively as the muggy air muffled their voices. “No one’s looking. I could take you here if I wanted and no one would know.”
“Please don’t,” he said softly.
When Alex smiled again, it was gentle and oddly sad, and that alone made it the most unnerving expression Milos had ever seen on the man. “I’m sorry.”
He stared at him. “Why?” Alex had bought him, beaten him, forced himself on him and he apologised for a kiss? The world could end there and then and he wouldn’t be as surprised.
“You’re already the most bearable of the servants I’ve had, and you kept trying to kill me.” For one second Milos thought the knight was going to grab his chin again. He flinched away, freezing as Alex’s fingers hovered a hair’s breadth above his cheek. “People who travel with me don’t live long and I’m usually responsible for that. Well,” he paused, looking away, “so far I’ve always been responsible for that. And if what I suspect might happen actually happens...” He shrugged without meeting Milos’s eyes. “Then I’m sorry.”
“I’m not scared of dying. And I already know about your servants, I heard the whispers every time someone passed me in the corridor in your castle.” He twitched his head to one side, away from the fingers and the chance of an accidental touch. “So don’t apologise like I know nothing.”
Arching an eyebrow, Alex smiled. “If you’re so confident all of a sudden, why won’t you let me fuck you here?”
“You want to take the chance of the charming Sir Kennet just happening to stumble across us?”
The laugh sounded louder in the thick air. So much for that: he’d expected Alex to be irritated by the name, not amused. “You do realise he’d offer to join in?”
Milos felt the blood drain from his face at the mere prospect. “No... I...”
He laughed again, tugging on the cord to force Milos closer to him, his mouth only a short distance from his slave’s. “So there’s something you didn’t know?”
“Don’t be so gods-damned smug.” His heart pounded painfully in his chest. He ignored it. “It’s unattractive.”
“I’ll bear that in mind,” he said with a broad grin that left Milos cursing in his head. “Now come on. I wanted to fit a training session in today too, before you become so useless you’d lose a battle with a tree.” From the way his eyes moved the length of his body and his smile grew, he was remembering the bed post and the bruises he still bore on his shoulder from that particular debacle. “And it’s more fun when you can put up a fight.”
“You’re an idiot,” Milos mumbled as he followed Alex from the alley and back towards their horses, then flinched away from retribution that didn’t come. Either he hadn’t heard or, more likely, simply let the comment slide.
The man was unlike any other Milos had ever had. The rest had inspired either fear or awe in him. Alex was the first to inspire hatred and another strange, twisting feeling that he couldn’t identify and wasn’t sure he wanted to.
It had only been two and a half weeks, anyway. He had no intention of dying yet and sparing Alex from any further expression of his loathing.