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8th July 2020

"There's a letter for you," Alex mumbled without looking up from his paperwork as Milos pushed the door open.

God, he was barely even in the room, not even visible. How the hell did he even do that? Milos pulled the damp towel from round his neck and dropped it on the table beside the vaguely menacing envelope, ignoring the way Alex glared at it. "Who's it from?"

"How the fuck should I know?" Alex returned his attention to the neat stack of papers. Milos watched him skim through one, mark something off at the bottom, then flip the page onto the smaller pile beside it only do the same with the one beneath. This was repeated several times before Alex glanced back up. "Aren't you going to open it?"

"I don't know. I mean, no one ever writes to me. It's probably bad news."

Alex snorted. "How could it be bad news?"

"How should I know? Maybe it's my summons to the Research department?"

He'd expected Alex to smirk at that, or make some sort of irritating, smug comment about how even then it wouldn't been soon enough. What he got instead was the strange closed-down expression he usually associated with Alex being so angry Milos had learned to take cover. "You should open it."

Milos's breath caught and failed to get through his suddenly-constricted throat. "Why? Is it?" Suddenly simply pretending he'd never seen it, hadn't heard a single word Alex said, seemed much more appealing.

Alex stared at him a moment longer, then his expression eased. It wasn't a natural thing, it only relaxed through the sheer force of an unbendable will, and it did absolutely nothing to help the way his heart was trying to force itself out between his ribs. "I've got no idea. It was dropped in by the postwoman when you were training." And, because he'd pointed out often enough that Milos was significantly more transparent than Milos thought he was and this time was clearly no different, added, "I haven't touched it."

It was pristine white, no stamp, his full name printed on the front. The two words in inkjet black looked like a death sentence. When, after another long pause, he reached out and pressed tentative fingers to one corner, he half-expected it to kill him on contact.

"Get on with it," Alex drawled. "I'm getting bored now."

Because Milos existed purely to keep Alex amused. ...Who was he kidding, he'd realised that less than a week after starting to work with him. With a deep breath that swelled a chest already battered from training to the point of pain, he grabbed the envelope and swiped a finger under the sealed fold in one quick movement.

"Could at least have used a knife," Alex muttered; Milos flicked a quick middle-claw in his direction, a gesture Alex didn't dignify with a response.

It still took him a few seconds longer to summon up the courage to pull the blindingly white paper from its sheath. He could have left it, dropped it in the bin. Alex would have pulled it out later and taken great pleasure in reading out his inevitable punishment for some misdemeanour he hadn't realised he'd committed, so there'd be no escape. He'd just sit, fretting, until it happened.

It could be good news, he reminded himself. The paper was thicker than expected. Good quality. The letters were neat, faintly glossy, only spanning a few lines. Perhaps he was being kicked out of his adult education classes for being too stupid to teach. The end result would still be Research, but on the up side, no more classes.

He scanned the neat black letters.

Then scanned them again.

Then finally concluded he really needed to expend effort in reading it instead, because the words he was seeing couldn't be the ones really there.

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