Quiet Hallowe'en

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31st October 2020


It took a few seconds before Alex's words perforated the sudden cloud strangling his thoughts. "You... what?"

Alex tsked, visibly irritated. "Hallowe'en costume party. Work. On Hallowe'en. We're going, aren't we?"

"Why?" His mouth felt stuffed with cotton wool; his throat didn't want to co-operate. "We haven't been before."

"Because the world felt the need to turn to shit every single previous time." Alex propped his head on his palms, his elbows on his desk, and gave Milos the kind of look that made his stomach flip for all the wrong reasons. The reasons he'd associated with Alex when they first met. "Like the time you abandoned everyone and while I was off fetching you someone decided to try to murder our co-workers. Although I can only assume they didn't hold one that year."

"Oh." Sensible words failed him. "Do ... do we have to?"

Alex stared at him until Milos couldn't meet that abyssal gaze any longer. "There's a problem with that?"

Milos swallowed painfully and found himself re-reading paperwork he'd already spent the last hour studying. It said exactly what it'd said an hour ago. "No. I've got rooms to paint though."

"You don't know what day it is."

"I've got a lot of rooms to paint."

Without moving his chin from his palms, Alex leant forward and stared so hard at Milos he felt colour flush through to the tips of his ears. "Why are you trying so hard to get out of this?"

Get out of it? He wasn't aware he was in it in the first place. "I'm — I'm not. But—"

"You've had weeks to start painting."

The file was three years old and he knew it off by heart from the times Alex tested him on it, but it became the most fascinating thing in the room. "I only got approval for it last week."

"You walked into Nazarian's office and asked, and that was only because I made you."

Milos wished he'd heard a hint of amusement in Alex's voice. The cold logic set his nerves on edge. "Yeah, and now I've got it—"

"Tell me why you're avoiding it."

"I'm not avoiding it!" Milos shouted, loud enough he knew Nazarian would be wincing down the hall. "I just don't fucking want to go!" And, after taking a deep breath, he continued, "you keep trying to take me to these things and I don't want to go! I don't know anyone! People talk at me out of pity and give me drinks I don't want, then they get bored and go and talk to more interesting people and leave me standing like a fucking idiot all alone. And why the fuck would I want to go in costume, when I'm already a fucking monster?" He flashed his claws at Alex without even thinking about it, the crushing pain from the first awful transformations now little more than a twinge. "Like they didn't think I was before this!"

"Half the department are just like us," Alex said, with the exaggerated patience that usually preceded a smack around the back of the head. "It's just a bit of fun."

"How is it fun?" Milos asked bitterly. "How is one single thing about Hallowe'en fun?"

Alex opened his mouth, then closed it again, but his dark eyes never once left Milos's face and Milos had the awful feeling Alex was assessing him. Even after all this time, assessing him was dangerous. Assessing led to the completion of forms Marrok started six months ago, and a long walk toward Research. "So ... I can't persuade you, then?"

Heat blasted through him again; he knew the tips of his ears had to be a vivid purple. Slowly, so as to forcibly suppress the urge to throw the file at Alex, then all the stationery in his desk, and then the chair, he rose from his seat and strode from the room.

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