Word Count: 1,362
Summary: Alex tries to coach Milos's singing, but an interruption by their temporary supervisor sends that plan awry—and reveals some unpleasant prejudices.
Milos covered his face with his hands, leaning back in his chair with a groan. “It’s useless. I can’t do it, why won’t they let me just drop out? For everyone’s sake!”
Milos covered his face with his hands, leaning back in his chair with a groan. “It’s useless. I can’t do it, why won’t they let me just drop out? Foreveryone’s sake!”
“You know why. He can’t humiliate you if you don’t do it. And if you actually remembered to breathe while you were singing it would help.” Alex swung his feet up onto his desk and mirrored Milos’s pose, only with his hands behind his head, fingers interlinked. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone nearly pass out halfway through a verse before.”
“He’s supposed to be humiliating you, too.” Milos muttered, letting his hands slide from his cheeks to land in his lap; it was hard to glare at him if he couldn’t see the expression.
“But I can sing.” Alex smirked.
“Maybe, but you’re a really crap teacher.”
The human shrugged, the smile never leaving his face. “I can only work with the raw material—or lack thereof. At least you now sound a lot less like a moose being murdered. Try again.”
Milos groaned a second time and dropped his chin to his chest for a moment, then raised it again and made another assault on the first line.
An assault that only got a couple of words in before the door was flung open to crash against the wall, deepening the dents already left by Alex’s bad moods. Milos failed to disguise his flinch as Marrok glared around their tiny office, face puce. “What the hell is that godforsaken noise?!”
“You don’t know?” Alex barked out a single harsh laugh. “You’re the one who insisted on it. Sir.”
“Why would I insist on such a terrible—” He paused and his eyes fell on Milos instead, who raised his head and did his best to stare defiantly back. “Oh. It’s that, is it?” He held the gaze with narrowed eyes until Milos looked away, then he turned his attention back to Alex. “Shouldn’t you be doing something productive, like working?”
“I’ve already finished everything.” Alex gave their supervisor a humourless smile and deliberately lifted first one foot, then the other, from the desk. “Since he can’t carry a tune in a bucket and yet you insist he should inflict a voice like that on an audience, I—”
“Don’t waste your time on that.” Marrok cut in. “It isn’t worth your effort. It shouldn’t be in this department in the first place.”
...It? Milos felt his heart lurch and his suddenly dry throat constrict as the meaning of the one simple word sank in. He’d known the man didn’t like him, but... ‘it’? The meaning didn’t appear to have escaped Alex either: he stared up at Marrok like it was all he could do not to rise and smack him. “I don’t see that it’s your place to comment on the staffing issues of a department that isn’t your own, sir.” He spat out the title like it tasted foul.
Marrok held the stare without even a crack in his perfect calm. “As far as I am aware, it isn’t a member of staff. It’s an experiment, an item. It even has an item number listed on the system—”
“—The item number refers to the polymetal inside his hands and Nazarian was in the process of—”
“Regardless of what hare-brained idea Nazarian may or may not have harboured, that is still an experiment in progress.” Just in case Alex could possibly miss his meaning, he jerked his thumb in Milos’s direction.
“That, as you put it,” Alex snarled, “is a man.”
“Really?” A smug smile spread across Marrok’s face that made Milos’s heart drop further than he ever thought possible. “I think you’ll find that’s not a man. That would make it human, and it’s as far removed from that as you can get. It doesn’t even have a natural skin colour.” He folded his arms and, to Milos’s horrified astonishment, his posture relaxed as he surveyed the furious man still seated in front of him. Alex’s hands were balled into fists so tightly bunched that his knuckles looked ready to burst from his skin and the stare he fixed their supervisor with made him wonder if Marrok could tell just how near Alex was to punching him. “But perhaps you forgot all that while you were fucking it?”
“I’ve forgotten nothing.” The words were forced out with great effort from between Alex’s gritted teeth. “But maybe you have. The last time I checked, the intra-departmental head takes an incredibly dim view of racism.”
“Are you forgetting your reputation already, Jaska?” Marrok’s unpleasant smirk grew.
“Don’t judge my present by my past.” Alex snapped back, slapping his hands hard against his desk and shoving himself to his feet. “Because if it was any kind of indicator, I’d have you on the floor and be breaking your face right now. Do you understand me, sir?”
For the first time, Marrok’s façade cracked. Not much, but just enough that Milos could see that for one second, one brief, wonderful second, the man was actually scared of Alex. With great care he unfolded his arms again, allowing his hands to hang loosely by his side and making a great show of how unconcerned he was by the threats. “I’ll be sure to find more work for you, Jaska. I can see you clearly don’t have enough to do right now.” Without waiting for a response—probably for the best—he whirled away and stalked from the room, crashing the door shut behind him. The already loose clock leapt from its hook, bouncing off the detested pot-plant on the way down to the desk.
It was the only sound in the sudden silence that enveloped the office. Milos stared at the door, mouth agape, barely registering the restless sounds coming from Alex’s side of the room. That had just happened. It wasn’t a dream.
“He’s talking shit.” Alex’s angry voice sliced through his thoughts. “He’s an absolute fucking dickhead and I can’t believe he just stood there and—”
“I can look after myself.” His gaze dropped from the door to his desk, to the piles of papers stacked as assessed and unassessed and his notes that he needed to refer to less and less the more Alex had him practice. “It’s fine.”
“It’s fine?” Alex echoed, incredulous. Milos glanced across, and realised he was staring at him intently; he had the disturbing feeling that he was searching for traces of tears. Did he want to see him cry, to break as surely as Marrok obviously hoped? He was going to be disappointed. “You’re saying to me that after he stood there and said that, that it’s fine?”
“You think I haven’t heard it before?” Milos asked, his voice sharp enough to cut himself, never mind Alex. “You think I didn’t hear people saying that while they smacked me around? That they didn’t say it while they fucked me?” His voice was too loud. He didn’t care. “I don’t needprotecting.”
If he’d hoped for Alex to be taken aback or shocked he was just as disappointed. His eyes narrowed, his entire expression freezing only to be replaced with the impassive mask he’d worn so much when they were first stuck with each other. “Okay.” He kicked his feet back up onto the desk with decisive thuds. “Start from the first verse again.”
“What?” The man was mad. He had to be. What clearer reason did there have to be to stop?
Alex gave him a slow, bored stare. “Are you deaf? If you were it’d explain a lot. Start again, or you’ll never sound halfway decent.”
Milos let out a heavy sigh, shoulders slumping as he concluded Alex had no intention of backing down. Beneath the mask he could see the steel in his eyes, and the savage urge for revenge he’d learned so fast to recognise; something in his chest felt desperate to emulate it. With a weak smile, he opened his mouth and forced himself to do as he was told.
In a battle of wills between Marrok and Alex, he’d bet on his arrogant partner every time.