Story: Radial: Unravel AU
Challenge: Quince #6 - How Much More Can You Take?; Fudge Ripple #18 - Sacrifice; Rocky Road #29 - Out In The Cold
Toppings: Chopped Nuts
Word Count: 5124
Summary: Alex and Milos plan to go through their notes together; sent to deal with dinner, Milos falls foul of another plan entirely—one that shakes his new-born faith in his owner to its foundations.
The next three days passed in a whirl of social obligations brought about by Alex’s standing as both a noble and an Elite Corps knight—and, Milos suspected, in no small part due to the Five Family’s sudden, pressing desire to ingratiate themselves with him. Of course, each lunch or dinner invitation meant he had to go with him as his servant. While he might remain invisible to the lords and ladies in his capacity as Alex’s shadow, there was no such luxury when it came to the servants. It was hard to make awkward conversation with them when they viewed him with suspicion, having already heard about Alex’s interview with the Fairchilds’ man and the Karrell’s servant’s apparent suicide. They thought he was a spy.
For good reason: Alex had instructed him specifically to report any unusual behaviour directly to him. He hadn’t seemed to realise that the first time he’d done it ensured that no one would ever act unusually in front of him again. Most wouldn’t even speak to him. That was no surprise though, and he was perfectly used to it. Even servants held themselves to be higher than a common slave. They had homes, families, the chance to leave and find a new employer.
He spent three days trying to clamp down on the jealousy he thought he’d gotten under control once already in his life.
The strangest part came every night as they both sat on the bed, Milos’s notes and Alex’s papers spread out on the sheet in front of them. For just that short time Alex addressed Milos like an equal, and it was both terrifying and exhilarating. The only downside was on the second night when Alex, having tidied away their documents, proceeded to pounce on his slave and, despite his frequent protestations, have his way with him. At least he remembered both the golden liquid and to use his fingers first; grudging as it was to admit it, Alex was a fast learner and he didn’t ache anywhere near as badly as he had that first time.
On the afternoon of the fourth day a foam-flecked rider on a sweaty, blowing horse clattered up to front gate of the Duke’s palace and, between heaving gasps, demanded to see Alex. Made to stand off to one side, the details of the conversation passed him by; the body language didn’t. The poor messenger was almost dead on his feet, swaying from side to side and occasionally steadied by the knight as he spoke, low and urgent, with accompanying wild hand gestures.
“What happened?” Milos asked as Alex moved over to where he was standing beside the parapet and the messenger stumbled away to find somewhere comfortable to collapse for the night.
It took him a while to respond, resting his hands on the stone and staring over the edge at the square of lawn beneath, a vibrant patch of colour against the surrounding stone. The spring sun turned the grey brickwork to yellow; the grass seemed to glow in response. When he spoke, it was soft enough that Milos had to strain to hear. “The messenger I sent back to Goldash was attacked on the road.”
“Why are you surprised? The last one was too.”
One corner of the knight’s mouth rose in something that might almost be a smile. “The last one was bringing a message about treason. This one was sent by me. We passed three on the road and I’m sure there have been more to other towns and cities. Why haven’t we heard about them?”
“I...” The sentence trailed off before it could be formed. He was right, and Milos had no answer.
From the widening of the smile, he’d read his expression like a book. “We can’t talk about this here.” He snagged the ring of his collar with one finger and gave it a sharp tug that jerked his head forward. “Come on.”
“Why are you looking at me like that?” He muttered, following him back through the main door and up the stairs. “I don’t trust you when you smile like that.”
“You trust me now?” Alex’s laugh filled the corridor. “That’s new.”
He felt his cheeks heating without understanding why. Fury. Probably fury. The man was easily the most infuriating he’d ever met. “I trust you even less than normal.”
Only when they were inside the room and the door was firmly shut did Alex speak, shoving him up against the wall, both hands wrapped firmly around his upper arms. One thigh slid between his legs; his mouth hovered over Milos’s own. “Good. You should.”
Milos tried to squirm free, without success. “I thought you wanted to talk about the messenger?”
“Later.” He pressed his mouth to Milos’s, pinning him to the wall as easily as a butterfly to a board. It didn’t matter how much he moaned or struggled, the knight was stronger, with a hot mouth and an unusually sweet-tasting tongue. When he broke away to breathe it was also to say, “take off your clothes.”
“I don’t want to. We should—” The sentence was cut off with another hard, painful kiss. Pulling at the buttons of his jacket, Alex soon had it hanging loosely from his shoulders, his hands moving to the buttons of his trousers instead. “Wait!” Milos gasped, taking advantage of Alex’s lapse of attention. “We need to—”
Alex frowned, shoving the offending pair of trousers down to his slave’s knees. “It can wait. Take your boots off, or I’ll do it for you.”
Not wishing to be manhandled any more than necessary, Milos braced himself against the wall as he yanked first one boot off, then the other, while Alex began stripping himself. “Can’t you wait ten or twenty more minutes? Why is your dick more important than your job?”
Alex smirked. “Because I say it is.” Completely naked in the time it had taken Milos to shed just his footwear, he ‘helped’ his slave pull off the rest of his clothes, at least so far as help meant ‘take complete control over’, his fingers grazing the nape of his neck as he undid the collar. Sparks travelled the length of his spine.
Back against the cold stonework, Milos shivered under Alex’s scrutiny. “Not here. If someone walked in—”
“It doesn’t matter where we are. If someone walks in they’ll see us. But no,” he smirked, running his hands over Milos’s arms without caring that he flinched beneath his touch, “get on the bed.”
“Back or front?” He asked without thinking.
Alex raised an eyebrow, grinning like a cat who’d got the cream. “Hands and knees, and maybe I’ll ask later why you said that so casually.”
Milos padded across the rug and climbed onto the bed, muttering curses under his breath all the while. Habit sometimes was hard to break, even when it was with someone he hated and who didn’t deserve even that courtesy. Behind him, he heard the small dresser drawer open and close, finding himself clenching in response even though Alex was nowhere near him. Futile, and stupid too: aside from that first time, the knight had been as good as his word and hadn’t hurt him. Instead he’d taken far more interest in his slave’s pleasure than was normal—or, indeed, healthy, as far as Milos was concerned. That was one of the things he was there for, whether he enjoyed it or not.
Enjoying it might just be dangerous.
The first finger that pressed into him made him gasp, his muscles tightening involuntarily, but it slid easily in and out. It was soon joined by a second and then a third. He dipped his head, moaning softly, fingers digging into the sheets. “This is enough?” The words almost passed him by, concentrating so hard on his breathing.
He nodded. The fingers withdrew. The unmistakeable sound of fluid gurgling from a bottle caught his attention, then seconds later a hot, slick cock pushed where the fingers had so recently been and he tried not to moan out loud as Alex slid slowly into him.
It always felt so much bigger than it looked. He whimpered softly, the sound catching in his throat as heat filled him, stretching and burning. Breathless, he clung tightly to the material beneath his hands.
When Alex began to move it drove his heart into his throat. Only slowly at first, he thanked the gods, then faster as he found his pace. Hands resting on his hips without digging in hard enough to add to the bruises already there, the only sound in their room was the slap on flesh of flesh and their ragged breathing.
Again, when Alex came, he felt it: the heat, the pulsing, and this time it was enough to send him over the edge too. He came with a guttural moan, pressing his chest down to the mattress, trying to bury the sound in the fabric where it might never see the light of day. Behind him he heard Alex made a similar noise, his stomach skimming Milos’s lower back as he bent forwards, sweat dripping from owner to slave.
“You have no right to feel so good,” Alex sighed, each word scorching Milos’s skin.
There was no answer to that so he tried a different tack. “You made me make a mess of the sheets.”
“I couldn’t care less about the sheets.” His palms skimmed Milos’s buttocks, making him shudder and his chest hitch. When he pulled out, it left him with the familiar aching emptiness; without the support of his owner he let himself collapse onto the mattress, panting. The sheets were blessedly cold against his hot body, the sticky patch little more than an inconvenience.
The bed dipped as Alex flopped onto his back next to him, a smile curving his lips. Again he looked handsome, if self-satisfied, not quite as much as he did when he was asleep but close. “You’re strange,” Milos muttered.
He turned to look at him, the smile widening. “That’s your expert opinion?”
Milos nodded faintly. “Yes.”
“At least I’m memorable.” Alex pushed himself up and off the bed again. Milos listened as he padded across the floor, the splash of water telling him he’d gone to the washing bowl on the dresser.
A wet cloth slapped across his backside, making him almost jump out his skin, and before he could protest Alex began to gently clean him. “What are you doing?”
He could just imagine the way the knight blinked at him in mock confusion. “I’m taking care of you. Isn’t that what responsible owners do?”
“No,” he tried to snap, but between exhaustion and the surprisingly pleasant sensations Alex was causing it just came out as a grumble. “I’m supposed to take care of you...”
“What do you call what we just did, if not that?” The cloth flicked over his tender skin again, hard enough to sting this time. “But if you want to be useful, you can go to the kitchens and tell them we want dinner in here instead today.”
Head feeling impossibly heavy, he nodded again—then froze as he began to push himself up. “You don’t mean right now, do you? Like this...?”
He didn’t need to look to know Alex’s eyes were lingering over his bare body. “If you mean send you naked then, tempting as it is, no I don’t.” The pressure behind him lessened and with long, quick strides Alex moved around the bed to pull the loose-fitting nightclothes he’d barely had a chance to wear since they’d arrived in Ginebourne from the drawers. He made to take them from him. but Alex tugged them out of his reach with a soft tsk. “Arms up.”
Milos complied dumbly, bemused as Alex pulled the fabric over his head and let it drop, raising his legs when indicated for him to draw the trousers over his feet. The last time in his adult life anyone had done this for him, it was a servant after his second to last master had beat him so badly he could barely move. It wasn’t the sort of thing that happened while he was healthy. It was disconcerting.
“Use the servants’ stairs,” Alex instructed as Milos stood to pull the trousers up and tug the drawstring tight. “I don’t want you scaring any of the Duke’s visitors.”
Milos gave him a humourless smile. “Of course.” Like it wasn’t going to look strange enough for the servants to see him in his nightclothes wandering around, but whatever his owner said... and it wasn’t like one hadn’t seen far more of him than this. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Alex waved a hand, moving over to the drawer that contained their papers. “Take as long as you need.”
What did he think he was going to do while he was gone? Although, judging from the twinges of pain as he walked into the corridor, the stone cold beneath his bare feet, he might need to take a little time; he leaned heavily on the railing as he slipped down the narrow stairs, squeezing past a liveried servant who barely glanced in his direction. He thanked the gods for small mercies and ducked in through the kitchen door.
It was as bustling as ever, filled with staff preparing for the Duke and Duchess’s dinner, as well as for Sir Kennet’s and their own. For one moment he wondered if it was a wise time to disturb the cook, awful visions of heavy implements being hurled at his head for the interruption, when the portly lady in question called across to him, “can I help you, pet?”
He flinched instinctively at the word before he realised she meant it affectionately, rather than as a reference to his status. “Alex, he, uh—” He shook his head, trying to keep it together. Things had been far too strange lately to let himself fall apart now. “He’d like dinner in his room today, if that’s okay?”
Her eyes travelled from his head to feet, taking in the loose clothing and lack of shoes, and for one second he could have sworn that she smiled. “Of course that’s okay, pet. I’ll send someone up with it when it’s ready, if that is to his lordship’s taste?” When Milos smiled and nodded she grinned in response. Reaching around to grab a roll from a freshly baked batch, she threw it in an overarm arc towards him. He snatched it from the air and stared down at the warm food, startled. “Take this too, to tide you over ‘til then, you scrawny thing you. You look like you need the energy.” She gave him a broad wink that made his cheeks heat until he could feel the tips of his ears burn.
Was it really so obvious? With a mumbled, “thank you,” he almost ran from the room again.
The hallway was deserted as he came to a halt, toes pressing hard against the stonework, the bread clutched hard to his chest. He should share it with Alex, he knew—well, he was supposed to give it all to him, he was his owner—but she’d meant it specifically for him. That in itself was a rare treat. After a surreptitious glance around the hall to make sure no one could see him, he ducked into an alcove that contained only a small table and vase of flowers and, unable to stop himself smiling, took a bite.
It was wonderful: hot and fresh, still soft inside—
“What in the Holy Lady’s name are you doing?!”
The voice jarred him from his reverie with an unpleasant jolt. But Alex had said—no, this wasn’t Alex. He stared, wide eyed, at the already reddening face of the Duke, and his heart skipped a beat. “I, uh...”
With more speed than he’d have credited him with, a hand wrapped around his wrist, jerking it down. The half-eaten bun was wrenched from his grip with the other. “What’s this? Have you been stealing?” The grip tightened and he gave his arm a hard shake.
“No!” Just how badly trained did he think he was? “I— I mean, Alex sent me to—”
The bun hit the floor as the Duke’s free hand grabbed a fistful of his shirt, dragging him over the stone towards him. “You speak so disrespectfully of your master, you filthy little elf?”
Even though his pounding heart, his breath catching in his throat, his first unhelpful thought was that he was hardly little; he was the same height as the bastard knight. Every thought that followed was unhelpful too. He discarded them, settling instead for a mute shake of his head because if he tried to speak he was sure his voice would only tremble.
The Duke’s green gaze shifted from his face to his neck. Milos blanched at the sudden realisation, even as the man spoke, his voice low with anger. “Where is your collar? Are you sneaking around? Spying on me? Does your master even know you’re here?”
He nodded as vigorously as the hand on his shirt, dragged up under his chin, would let him. “He sent me! Ask him, he’s in his room!” The words came out more desperately than he liked, but he didn’t really care.
“Arthur!” The name was barked out; within seconds a manservant was standing beside them, face schooled into careful impassiveness. “Go to Sir Alex’s room and fetch him here.” The man nodded and immediately sprinted for the stairs as the Duke gave Milos’s shirt another hard shake. “And if you’re lying, then so help me I’ll make sure you suffer.”
Milos suppressed the whimper only by biting on his lower lip.
When Arthur returned it was at a much slower pace, an expression of worry clear on his face—and alone. “I’m sorry, my lord. Sir Alex doesn’t seem to be in his room.”
The look the Duke turned to Milos was full of thunder. He cringed away, panic scaring away the air in his lungs. “He was there, I swear he was.” It hurt to speak. “He sent me to arrange for his dinner...”
“Now I know you’re lying,” the man growled, hauling Milos’s shirt forwards until they were almost nose to nose. “Sir Alex already spoke to me today about dinner arrangements. He told me he was intending to leave you in his room.” The grip on the fabric tightened until he thought he’d choke. “So, you lying little shit, tell me just what in the name of all that is holy are you doing here?!”
He wanted to cry, but even if he thought the tears he’d failed to shed all these years previously would come, he knew without a doubt they wouldn’t work. The last thing he wanted to feel now was just how vulnerable and, worse, young, he was. “He’s got to be somewhere in the castle. I swear to you he told me to come here, and your cook gave me the...” His voice cracked and he ducked his head, ashamed of the weakness.
For the first time since he’d returned with the news, the servant beside the Duke spoke. “Perhaps we could look around, my lord? It shouldn’t take long if he’s still here.”
Milos thought for one terrible instant that the Duke would backhand the man, such was the look of anger he turned on him, but it rapidly settled into contemplation. “Perhaps. Yes. Look for him and we’ll see just how honest this thing is.” The servant nodded and sprinted away again, leaving Milos alone with the Duke.
After fifteen minutes trapped in that iron grip, the cold air of the corridor gnawing at his bared stomach, the servants returned one by one. All shook their heads. “We can only surmise,” Arthur said softly, “that Sir Alex has left the castle entirely.”
He felt his knees weaken, sure that if it wasn’t for the way he was being held he’d have collapsed to the floor. The bastard. The utter fucking bastard had just left him here. And, as he thought about it while trying to avoid the Duke’s glare, a gnawing certainty settled into his gut: Alex had intended this.
The Duke yanked on his shirt again almost hard enough to pull him off his feet. “Do you have anything to say?”
Milos shook his head miserably.
The wall smashed into his back with more force than Alex had ever used on him. It felt like falling off a cliff. “As your master cannot be found,” the Duke snarled, a glint in his eye that made Milos’s stomach plummet, “it looks like it falls to me to teach you what happens to filthy, thieving spies and liars.”
The little yard was a raised area with views over the walled garden to one side of the castle. It had two notable features: the decorative stone wall that ran around the edges, and the thick wooden frame in the middle, shaped like an oversized croquet hoop. Milos hit the stone on his knees in front of it, biting his lip to suppress the cry of pain. He could feel blood beginning to trickle into his mouth; he bit it again savagely to remind himself that this is what he should have expected in the first place.
His arms were grabbed and held above his head long enough for the shirt to be dragged up and off. Before he could squirm free they were pulled back down and held together as Arthur wrapped a length of rope around his narrow wrists. Once they were securely bound a hand smacked into his elbows, bending them to be tied to the frame above his head and the back of his trousers was pulled down to bare his backside. Behind, he heard the Duke mutter, “call the other servants.”
Great. He was going to be made an example of. There was no need to be able to see as, over time, footsteps and subdued chatter filled up the space behind him and the weight of a hundred or so eyes settled on his dark shoulders.
“This man,” the Duke said, loud enough to fill the space and silence any remaining voices, “is a thief, and he is a liar. Today he is going to show you what will happen if I catch any of you doing the same things, and then you will be summarily dismissed. Do you all understand me?”
A muted wave of “yes, sir,” scattered the air.
Rapid footsteps clicked over the stone. With a whistling crack, pain blazed across his shoulders. A riding crop, he decided fuzzily as he gasped through the stinging. It could be worse. He barely had time to gather his thoughts when it cut through the air again to send a flare across his buttocks. Seconds later another, this time across the middle of his back.
He counted twenty five strokes in total, head drooping lower with every blow, and he’d long given up on the faint, futile hope that Alex would come striding to save him. Each stripe had stopped burning individually: now it was all a dull throb that made breathing difficult.
“Are we clear?”
Milos almost found himself answering before he realised the Duke was addressing his assembled staff. A quiet murmur seemed to be enough for him. Shuffling steps slowly died away until all he could hear in the small yard were the footsteps of the Duke and his own harsh pants.
Legs swam in front of his blurred vision, a crop tapping against one calf. “Did you find anything useful, spy? Anything to make this worth it?”
“Not a spy,” he groaned, eyes falling closed.
The crop pressed against his chin with enough force that he flinched and jerked his head up, eyelids flying open again. “That’s not what I hear.” The Duke smiled cruelly down at him; his heart crashed against his ribs. “I hear you’re quite accomplished, a knight in training—”
His sentence was cut off as Milos let out a painful bark that might have been a laugh. “I’d sooner kill myself.”
“Liar.” The crop flicked out again, catching him across the chest and jolting a moan from him. “My sources are impeccable.”
He laughed again, wishing he wasn’t. “Alex?”
This time when the whip lashed out it caught him between the legs. His laugh turned into a sharp cry. “It’s none of your business, liar, but I will say that when I asked your master, he laughed in my face.”
That was no surprise. Milos would have found it funny too, if he wasn’t trying to keep a lid on the pain. “Someone’s lying,” he muttered, “but it isn’t me.” Above, he was dimly aware of the Duke fiddling with something but he couldn’t find the energy to look.
The half-hard cock that slid over his lips almost made him wish he had looked, but only almost. He opened his mouth mechanically, accepting the thick, warm flesh over his tongue, eyes half closed and gaze directed at the ground as the Duke said softly, “if you’re a slave then you’re well used to this. If you’re a knight-in-training, then you should think twice before taking on roles you’re ill-equipped to perform.”
He’d already been ill-equipped to perform the roles Alex had insisted on without needing to be a knight. But this, being used, this he knew well. He didn’t wince as the Duke sunk his fingers into his knotted hair and pulled his head further along the length of his shaft, letting his eyes fall fully closed. There was no need to look when he’d done this enough to last a lifetime already. He let the older man fuck his face without complaint, suppressing the urge to gag as the head hit the back of his throat and forced down his throat. When he came, slamming hard enough into his mouth that Milos smashed his nose on the Duke’s groin, he swallowed almost all of it with barely a sound. No wonder the Duchess barely spoke to him, if this was what amused him.
The older man tucked himself away and delivered another stinging swat to the top of Milos’s head with the crop. “You can stay there until your master claims you. I hope you’ve learned your lesson.”
Milos nodded slowly, struggling to look up at the man through the veil of exhaustion. “I have.” It wasn’t the lesson the Duke had wanted, but he’d learned one nonetheless: never trust a knight, even if he’s sometimes kind. Well, Alex clearly had no use for him now. He didn’t imagine he’d be seeing him again. He let his head drop again as the Duke spun on his heel and marched from the yard.
Gods, his arms hurt.
He didn’t know how long he remained there, drifting in and out of consciousness, but when he became aware of someone beside himself in the yard the setting sun had cast a brilliant golden-red light over everything and the cold had made the skin of his arms and shoulders rise into gooseflesh. In the evening glow the lawns spread out below looked beautiful, inviting him to fall onto his back in the soft grass and watch the clouds float past.
He wouldn’t be laying on his back for days.
A pair of legs passed in front of him then vanished again, only the footsteps proof that he hadn’t imagined the moment. Even then he wasn’t sure: his ears could easily be playing tricks on him too.
A hand touched his hair; he flinched, the movement wrenching his shoulders. The legs returned and he prepared himself for the inevitable. Again.
Alex crouched in front of him, pressing two gentle fingers under his chin to lift it and brushing away with his thumb a trickle of dried semen that ran from the corner of his mouth. “I’m sorry.”
“Fuck you,” he mumbled, jerking his head away then wishing he hadn’t as the urge to vomit rose in his throat.
With more care than he expected him to have, Alex cupped his face in one hand, holding him in place as he leaned in to kiss him.
Milos struggled against the rope, ignoring it chafing over his skin; what made him think he had the right after everything he’d done—there was only one thing for it. He bit down on Alex’s lower lip as hard as he could.
Alex let out a muffled grunt and drew back, running his tongue tentatively over the affected area. Milos was gratified to realise he’d managed to draw blood and braced himself for the slap he knew would be coming.
It didn’t come. Instead Alex pressed his lips to Milos’s again, more lightly this time. “I’m sorry. You did well. I’m proud of you.”
He had to be dreaming. Perhaps all of this—the beautiful evening, the unexpected tenderness, the apology—was just a hallucination as the cold night air sunk its icy claws into his body and drove the life from it. Even when Alex rose, pulled the back of his trousers up and released his wrists from the rope he remained kneeling, arms resting on his thighs. This wasn’t real, he was dying and he couldn’t see why giving into the delusion now would help.
Hands sunk under his armpits, dragging him to his uncooperative feet. One arm looped around his back to support him, pressing against a whip wound; he swallowed the groan. If death could hurry up, he’d appreciate it. The pain was getting boring now.
The corridors were a blur and the stairs one long ordeal; how he ended up in Alex’s room again was a mystery. He swayed gently by the bed as Alex carefully undressed him again, fingertips grazing the raised welts left by the crop until he whimpered, stumbling forward to escape the pain and almost falling as his knees tried to give out.
“Bed,” Alex said firmly, steadying him easily and steering him back towards the mattress. He wanted to resist but his traitorous body, too tired to care any more, went along with the strong arms and soothing, lying voice. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
“Don’t want to talk to you.” The sheets were cool against his chest, the pillow soothing his aching head. “Never again.”
Alex huffed softly, drawing the sheets over Milos’s back; he squirmed at the sudden contact. “Tomorrow.”
Milos didn’t hear Alex strip or climb into bed beside him. Exhaustion caught up with him before the knight had even made his way around the bed again, plunging him into a world of darkness and a blessed lack of pain.