It had only been about three days since the argument, but during that time, Ben had made little effort to talk to Tom, and instead spent most of his time staying at Matthew's. It wasn't at his great expense though; seeing as he had nothing to do, Ben spent the day doing the housework and cooking every meal, while Matthew was either at Humphrey's, or running between the two of them, fruitlessly persuading them to make up. The only expense he had to make was to give up his bed; as Ben was technically his guest, it didn't feel right to give him the sofa. Anyway, it wasn't like he was going to stay for long ... hopefully.
It was day four when Tom made a move - albeit not under pleasant circumstances. He thought he had heard yells coming from Matthew's place and, fearing for the worst, Tom had grabbed his staff and ran for it. Matthew was hardly prepared for fights, and Ben wasn't that much better; if anything did happen to them...
"Matthew." Tom slammed his palm against the door while bellowing for him. He didn't need long to know something really was wrong; Matthew never took this long to answer, and even if it was just Ben in there, he doubted he would go as far as not answer the door. Tom tried to kick the door open, but the locks were too effective; when he also failed to jab it open with both ends of his staff, he thrust his glowing palm at the door and broke it down with his powers.
"Tom -" said Matthew. His face was pale, and he was kneeling on the floor, his left hand clutching his bleeding right forearm. Ben was standing some distance away, armed only with a rake; each of the prongs was currently entangled with a chain whip, controlled by Valet Scorpio.
Scorpio’s blouse and jeans were ripped and torn to the extent that they formed layers; in contrast, his sand-yellow waistcoat and brooch had been kept in perfect condition. The half-mask he was wearing was shaped and coloured like the head of a scorpion, and his whip appeared to be the same shade of brownish-black as well.
“Get back, he’s mine,” said Ben through gritted teeth as he tugged the rake backwards. Scorpio seemed to be struggling as well; he was trying to untangle his weapon, but with every pull and shake, Ben countered him by going the opposite direction. Tom didn’t know what to do; even if he did make a move, they were too intertwined for him to be able to break them apart without one of them letting go of their weapon.
The game of tug and war would have lasted longer if a breeze hadn’t swept through the house at that point, and Milton glided in, although he was holding onto a first aid kit. Scorpio glanced at him, and, seeing as Ben was momentarily distracted with him, yanked his chain whip again. The rake flew out of Ben’s hands, and Scorpio untangled his weapon before he jumped backwards out through the window behind him. The former stared at his exit, made no comment about it, and then rushed over to aid Matthew, with Tom and Ben following him.
Milton wasted no time in prising Matthew’s hand off his injury; his lips twitched to the side as he saw what he feared was a gash instead of a cut. Nonetheless, he started to clean his wound, stopping whenever Matthew’s winces and flinches were becoming too extreme, and waiting for him to calm down before resuming. Behind them, Ben walked away first, intending to clear up (though all that was required was him picking up his weapon), and Tom followed him, albeit initially in silence.
"Are you alright?" he said.
Ben refused to look at Tom as he said, "I'm fine."
"It's a bit unusual, isn't it, a rake?"
"It's the first thing I grabbed when Scorpio came in. You should see what Matthew picked up -" Ben kneeled down and dragged a spade out from under the table. Tom raised his eyebrows, and for the first time in a while, Ben willingly met his eyes.
Milton was about to call them over when Matthew nudged his arm and said, "If this gets them talking again, leave them alone for a bit. I'm not going to die."
"You would be if I hadn’t arrived." By now, Milton had bandaged Matthew's arm, and the worst of the bleeding had stopped.
“How did you know any of us were injured?”
Milton shrugged. “I’m not sure. When I got your emergency call, I knew I had to take the kit with me. Anyway, what happened?”
“I don’t know how Scorpio managed to get up here, but he came in through the window,” said Ben as he joined Milton and Matthew. He put the spade and rake down, and Tom, who was behind him, also threw his staff onto the pile. “Matthew and I grabbed whatever we could, but …”
“He got me first,” said Matthew. He was looking at his arm, and when he tried to move it, he winced and clutched his wound.
“Careful,” said Milton. “Did Valet Scorpio show his abilities?”
Pause. Matthew looked up at Ben, who was shaking his head. “…No… I don’t think he did … no, he definitely didn’t.”
Milton glanced down, and then looked up again as he spoke. “I doubt he will be like Valet Gemini. As far as we know, each Western Valet has a different ability … and I think we may have to wait until Valet Scorpio finds us again before we know what he can do.”
“What do you want us to do until then?”
“Matthew, I think it might be better if you –”
A phone rang, and Matthew had barely pulled it out of his pocket when Milton took it from him, took a glance at the caller, and hung up.
“Milton –” said Matthew as he took his phone back.
“If you think I’m going to let you see Humphrey after this…” Milton started to pack up. “I’ll cover for you when I get back.”
“You could have at least let me talk to him.”
Milton kept his eyes away from Matthew. “I’d … rather you didn’t. I don’t … want you hurting your arm. You need rest.” He had hardly finished when he could feel stares behind his back; he tried to ignore them as he continued packing. He knew that they knew (or could at least guess) what his actions really had been about, but he wasn’t going to show it.
“Milton … if this is about me and –”
Milton stood up as a way of interrupting Matthew, and as he walked out, he said, “Matthew, you need rest. Tom, Ben, look after him for me. I’ll come back tonight.” Without looking at any of his members, he leapt into the air once he was out through the door, and returned to the flat.
Milton returned quicker than usual, but as he put the kit away and gave the kitchen a quick sweeping, he noticed how Humphrey was throwing looks at him, like he knew what had happened with Matthew’s phone.
“What’s the matter?” he said when he had finished sweeping.
“Where did you go?”
“I told you, my members were in trouble.”
“Is that it?”
“Yes.” Pause. “You’re not angry about that, are you?”
“Did you go looking for Matthew?”
“Why would I?”
“He hung up on me.”
Pause. “You can’t blame me for that. It could have been bad phone signal.”
“He didn’t even answer my first call. I called him back, but he wouldn’t tell me what happened the first time.”
“I still don’t understand how this is related to me.”
“What have you said to him?”
“Humphrey, I haven’t seen him. I don’t know where he lives, and even if I did, how was I supposed to go up to him? I can’t fly in through his window like I can here, and you saw me leave with my coat on. You know it’s important to me, I wouldn’t leave it lying around to pretend to your boyfriend that I’m human like you.”
“Milton … I’m ordering you to tell me … have you seen Matthew?”
“No, I haven’t … sir.” Milton stared into Humphrey’s eyes, determined to be the last one to flinch from the eye contact. Not that he had to keep it up for long though; Humphrey broke away first. “Anyway, I need to contact the other leaders.”
Milton left for his Item, with Humphrey’s eyes staring at the back of his head. He shut the door behind him, pausing for a breath first before he picked up his Item, though even then he hesitated, trying to clear his mind first before sending out his message to the other leaders. For something that was supposed to be natural to them, it took a surprising amount of effort and a very clear mind just to send one message.
“Valet Scorpio has been sighted,” he said. “His psychic ability is currently unknown. His weapon of choice is a chain whip.” He paused, and seeing as there was nothing left to say, he put his Item down. Seconds later, he watched the pearl flip into the air eleven times, one for each leader acknowledging they had heard him.
Milton walked over to the door, but rested his hand on the handle. He waited, and only left when he thought he could no longer sense Humphrey fuming. He could do without it; after all, he had bigger issues on his mind right now.
“How’s your wound now?” said Milton. Several hours had passed since Scorpio's ambush, and as Milton had said earlier, he had gone back to check on Matthew. The only change was that Ben had gone back to his and Tom's, which was a relief for both of them, as they now had one problem less to deal with.
"It doesn't feel like a cut," said Matthew. "It feels like I've been stung."
"Hmm, I'm not surprised. Have you felt anything unusual?"
"No. I can still function on my own."
"Alright, well ... are you sure you'll be alright on your own?"
"Yes, I'll manage."
The look on Milton's face didn't match Matthew's tone. "I still think you should be with Tom and Ben tonight."
"Milton, we don't live that far away. Anyway, they wouldn't want me over, not when they've only just started talking to each other again ... although I don't think Clarkey's forgiven him completely, he's still behaving a bit cold to Tom."
"At least they're not ... you know. Valet Scorpio's already giving me headaches."
"Is this about his powers?"
"Yes. It's scaring me that he hasn't revealed them yet."
"I wouldn't worry about it too much. Nothing's happened to me or anyone else yet. I mean, has he been seen by anyone else?"
"At the moment, no, not even Herring." Given how all goats were weak to Scorpio, Milton thought he would have tried to target the one leader he had the strongest advantage over; compared to Gemini’s ambush, Bridges had been much quicker to make contact.
Matthew glanced over his shoulder and out through the window where Scorpio had broken into. Milton stood up and walked over to inspect it; he brushed back the curtains and, when he stuck his arm out, he stroked the wood. Aside from the uneven texture, his fingers occasionally passed over indents that felt like it had been made from a hook, or the tip of a chain whip.
Milton sensed Matthew join him after some time, and he said to him, "Do you know how Valet Scorpio got in?"
"I think he used his chain whip to climb his way in. I'm not worried about that, I'm more concerned about how Scorpio knew where I lived."
"It's possible he's been following you for some time. I still think he was behaving a bit odd this morning."
Milton didn't answer straight away. He walked back to the seats and sat down, with Matthew following him. "When Tuck and Khorsandi first ran into Valet Gemini, they fought them, but when Valet Scorpio saw me, he didn't even bother. Why would he go to the trouble to make sure I knew where he was if he then doesn't fight?"
"...Are you worried Scorpio has other intentions?"
Pause. "Milton, I think you should go back to Humphrey's. It's not going to do you any good if you continue to stay here."
"I don't know if Humphrey's told you, but I won't be over for a few days. I don't want him asking what's happened to my arm." Milton stared at Matthew, and vice versa. Between them, they knew that it wasn't just about his arm - of course it couldn't be - and Milton nodded.
"Thanks," he said as he stood up. “He’s starting to grow suspicious. This morning, he kept asking me if I had forced you to hang up.”
“Well, it did look odd when I ignored him the last time I went round yours.”
Pause. Milton knew that just as well as Matthew, and their cover story hadn’t exactly been brilliant; but then again, they hadn’t been in the best of moods when they had to lie their way out of their secret. "I should get back, so..."
"If my wound grows worse, I'll call you."
Milton didn’t receive any calls that night, and instead spent it doing the usual – cleaning and tidying up most of the flat while Humphrey was in his room, asleep. Not that Milton was at ease; it didn’t feel right that he was getting in Matthew and Humphrey’s way, and yet he was pleased that he wouldn’t have to witness them behaving lovingly in front of him for a few days. He couldn’t even say what he really wanted now; maybe he didn’t mind them being together, or maybe he should never have stopped Matthew from revealing his Item in the first place…
“Milton, you’ve cleaned the sink five times today,” said Humphrey the following afternoon.
Pause. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” Milton abandoned the sink and shuffled into Humphrey’s room, but he didn’t shut the door behind him as he picked up the jar. The moment he touched it, he could feel a faint disturbance; frowning, his first thought was to check on Matthew, Tom and Ben, but as he did so, he felt nothing unusual. He went through the rest of his members’ Items, and just as he started to wonder if it was Thom vying for his attention again, he stumbled on David’s Item, and realised he was the problem.
“David?” said Milton.
“Milton?” David seemed surprised and somewhat jumpy. “What are you … do you need me for …?”
“…No … your Item –”
“– Sorry – hold on –” Milton waited for a while before he glanced over his shoulder to see Humphrey closing the door behind him. “–Milton?”
“Is everything alright?”
“Not – not really – erm – I’ve been meaning to tell you – I’ve seen Scorpio –”
Milton almost dropped the jar, and he paused to retain his grip before he said, “What happened? Are you hurt?”
“No – I wasn’t the only one – Miles –”
“Yes – he’s in a worse – sorry –” Pause. “– Sorry, Thom’s with me –”
“What’s Tuck doing with you?”
“He was the first person I told when – I know, I’m telling him now – sorry – when I woke up after Scorpio ambushed us.”
“David, I can talk to you later if you want.”
“No, it’s fine, I can –”
“Where are you right now?”
“I – erm – Thom – Thom – sorry Milton, needtogobye –”
The other end of the line went dead, leaving Milton confused at what had just happened. He tried to find Thom, but after a struggle to connect to his Item, he abandoned his attempt and tried to get hold of David again, except the same was happening with him. Seeing as he couldn’t push any further, he put the jar down, but his fingers remained cupping the lid; he wondered if he should check on Matthew, but as he thought about it, the latter was more or less capable of contacting him if he needed to.
The next time Milton saw Matthew was later that night, after he had made sure Humphrey was properly asleep. As he had been expecting, nothing had really happened, but he still wanted to talk to him.
"So ... I take it Tom and Ben are ... you know, talking again?" said Milton.
"I don't think they're properly talking still, but at least they're not arguing again."
"That's good." Pause. "So ..."
"Is this about Humphrey again?"
An even longer pause followed, during which Milton kept looking down on the floor. "It ... sort of is. If you want to go and see him, I won't stop you."
"Your arm should be fine in about two or three days, but it's possible it will leave a scar."
"I'm not worried about that," said Matthew as he pulled back his sleeves, showing Milton the faint imprints of the scratches and wounds. He kept his arms exposed for a little longer, then hid them again as he continued. “Are you sure you want me to come over again?”
“I’d feel more comfortable if you did.” Pause. “Can you call me first? I don’t want to be away on Clan business when you’re over.”
“I’ll do that.”
When Milton left ten minutes later, instead of heading for the flat, he diverted round the back of the house and hid in a tree near Tom and Ben’s place; right now, Ben was standing outside, leaning on the railings and glancing in the distance, preoccupied with whatever it was he could see. Milton followed his stare, and over his shoulder, he could faintly see the lights were still on in Matthew’s house, albeit as dim as two candles from a distance.
I don’t think he’s seen me, thought Milton as he turned back. He wanted to come down, but at that moment, the door opened, and Tom came outside; he hugged Ben around his waist, and rested his chin on his shoulder, the right side of his jaw being brushed by the spine of his wing. Ben didn’t flinch, but he didn’t seem entirely comfortable either; he turned his head slightly, as if to glance over his shoulder, and then continued staring ahead.
None of them said anything, not even when, after a while longer, Ben shrugged, and Tom let go of him; without looking at him, he went back into their house, though he kept the door open. It was then that Milton decided enough was enough, and he made his way back to the flat; not long after he left, Tom followed Ben back inside, and shut the door behind him.
I honestly think this may be one of my favourite chapters yet...
(I certainly had a lot of fun writing it - the process was no inspiration, put on Vocaloid music, no inspiration, hmm it's getting a bit late I should sleep - OH WAIT I'VE GOT IT!!!, *frantic writing*, *sends to Samurottsan*, *falls asleep from crazy 3 hours of non-stop writing*)
More concept art! Here's the rough floorplan of how I imagine the flat to look like; I've avoided describing it before as my vision of these things tend to change the longer I write this series (it's certainly true for characters like Thom, but I digress), but now I'm absolutely certain this is how the flat looks.
On a side note, apologies if the diagram's a little crooked, but it's bloody difficult trying to draw clean, straight lines in the S Memo, and that's with the assistance of the S Pen. Gaps in the walls indicate where the windows are, and I tend to imagine Milton leaving through the one closest to the trapdoor.
When Milton got Matthew’s call three days later, he was even more relieved than he had been for a while, but it wasn’t because it had been the first time they had made contact since two days ago, when Matthew had reassured him that he would be safe now that Tom and Ben were his bodyguards, albeit the latter being slightly battered from all the training they were doing. What had been really bugging Milton was his constant failed attempts to get through to either David or Thom; subsequently, for a few hours, he had been panicking that it was his Item that was malfunctioning, until Matthew called.
“I still want to make sure your arm’s alright,” said Milton. “I don’t want Humphrey asking all sorts of questions.”
“How are you going to…?”
“As it happens, Humphrey has apparently missed the parcel he’s been waiting for. Call me again when you’re here, and I’ll tell him. Just getting to and coming back from the Post Office is going to take him about twenty minutes.”
Milton hadn’t been expecting another call for a while, but was taken by surprise when his Item started to throw itself around the jar ten minutes later.
“That was quick,” he said.
“Tom and Ben knew I wanted to come over, and Clarkey flew us over.”
“…Are they with you right now?”
“Yes. I told them I would be fine, but they insisted.”
“As long as Humphrey doesn’t see them…”
“Don’t worry, they know what to do.”
“OK, as long as Humphrey doesn’t ask me why there’s a monkey and a rooster outside our flat. Anyway, I’m going to distract him now, I’ll call you again when I’m done.” Milton put his Item down, and he pulled out the missed delivery card from his coat; what had actually happened was the postman had come while Humphrey was out, and even though he had rang the doorbell, Milton couldn’t answer it for contractual reasons.
When Milton waved the card in front of Humphrey’s face, the latter eyed him as he took it.
“You were in when he came,” said Humphrey.
“I’m sorry, sir, but because the parcel was for you, you had to answer the door.”
“My contract forbids me to impersonate or use your personal details in any way … including signing parcels for you.”
“You’re not allowed to …?”
“Our ancestors used to be able to, but as they had unrestricted use of that clause, some of them used this as a loophole for … unhealthy purposes.” Pause. “Don’t look at me like that. You know how seriously I take my contract.”
“You don’t have to mimic my signature.”
“Even if I drew a picture of an ant as your signature, it still counts as impersonating you.”
There was a fair amount of smugness to be had with knowing that Milton had succeeded in distracting his master, and Humphrey kept looking at him as he got ready; had this happened a couple of months or years earlier, he would have put up more of a resistance, but this was Milton. Everything he did was bound to be odd, even if it did have a purpose to it.
Milton was going to call Matthew again, but had barely entered Humphrey's room when the doorbell rang, halting him before he could go any further. He wondered if it was Humphrey coming back for something, but then it occurred to him that he had the front key; Milton never locked the bolts during the day, it made it less of a hassle having to keep opening the door for his master.
With that in mind, Milton went to answer the door, and nearly kicked himself when he saw Matthew. Of course, he did say he was outside theirs.
"I saw Humphrey leave," said Matthew as he took off his jumper and rolled up his sleeve. "That's how I knew it was safe to come up."
"OK." Milton unwrapped the bandage, revealing the cut; by now, all of it had formed a scab, but it seemed thin and fragile; one slightly harder nudge could make it bleed again. "It looks alright, but you will have to be careful around it. Does it still hurt?"
"It stings, but that's it."
Milton got up to grab the first aid kit, but he saw the window he normally entered and left through, and he walked up to it. As a precaution, he had shut and locked all the windows, in case Scorpio tried to ambush them again; Milton pressed his face against the pane, and could faintly see the back of Tom and Ben's heads.
"We still have about fifteen minutes before Humphrey comes back," he said as he moved away from the window. "I'm going to change your dressing, and I'll see if it's possible to pad your wound out."
Milton had barely made it to the kitchen when he heard the door being unlocked; he started to take his coat off, but when he threw Matthew a look over his shoulder, the latter was staggering towards the bathroom, one hand over his mouth; outside, he thought he could hear Tom yelling and, preparing for the worst, Milton used his powers to push all moveable furniture aside. If he had got it right, the flat was about to be turned into an arena -
Now was one of those moments he wished he hadn't predicted correctly - the door was kicked open, and Scorpio stormed in, followed by Tom, armed with his staff, and Ben, who wearing no armour except for gauntlets and wing guards. Milton jumped in front of the toilet door, both arms outstretched, his palms glowing; behind him, he could hear Matthew throwing up into the toilet, exposing his weakness against Scorpio.
"Get out of my way," said Scorpio. Milton stuttered a little; that voice sounded somewhat familiar, but he couldn't pin it down on who...
"No," he said. "You will have to pass me first."
Behind him, Tom whacked his staff down on Scorpio, but the latter caught his weapon and flung around, his chain whip moving ahead of him. Tom hopped back and slid his weapon out of his grasp, but before he could do anything, Ben darted out from the side, aiming for the tip of the whip, but missing and instead headbutting Scorpio towards Milton. The latter pushed them back, else he would have fallen into the bathroom –
Where he heard Matthew screaming, and he kicked the door open with his heel.
"I'll look after Matthew, you take care of Scorpio," he said. Tom and Ben nodded as they reached over to grab each other’s' hand, though their attempt was broken when Scorpio tossed his chain whip at them, forcing them apart again.
Milton shut the door and kneeled down by Matthew, who was hunched over, holding onto his bleeding wound. His face was fast paling, and although he tried to speak, all that came out was a string of stuttering consonants, distorted by his heavy, choking breaths, and the yells and gasps as he tried and failed to tolerate the stinging pain in his arm.
“– Scorpio –” Matthew didn’t get far before he passed out and fell forward; Milton caught him in time before he hit the floor, and then lowered him down, though making sure that his wound was facing the ceiling.
Outside, two pieces of metal clashed, followed by a yell from Tom and another metal and metal collision. Now that Matthew was in an even worse state than before, there was no way Milton would be moving; his palms resumed their glow as he shifted so that he was standing over his member, ready to defend him.
His help against Scorpio wasn’t needed at all; as the scene drew on, he had never seen Tom and Ben fight or hold their own so well, and even though both of them were now sporting scrapes and bruises, Scorpio seemed to be tiring too. The tip of his whip was flying inches out in the direction he wanted it to go, and the weapon itself was snaking out of his control; both his opponents noticed, and when they staggered back again from another attempt, Tom glanced at Ben and raised his eyebrows as he tilted his head to his right.
Ben ran ahead, but before he could even get close, Tom’s staff, complete with a monkey clinging onto the wooden end, skidded between both his and Scorpio’s legs and, in the same motion, stopped when the metal end nudged Milton’s toes. He had hardly registered what had happened when Tom darted up and wall and crouched on the top of the doorframe, albeit at a rather steep angle owing to the little space he had.
Scorpio ran ahead of Ben into the bathroom, and Tom somersaulted off the frame, landing as a human and lifted his staff up, making sure to slam it into Scorpio’s crotch before he pulled it back. At the same time, he seized Ben’s hand and, using his metal powers to strengthen his next move, whacked his weapon onto the back of the Western Valet’s head.
Milton sidestepped out of the way as Scorpio collapsed forward, his head missing the toilet and instead partly resting on Matthew’s legs, before he toppled over from the lack of balance, and landed back-side up, exposing his brooch. Underneath his mask, his eyes were shut, and after a few cautious prods and nudges, they knew he had been knocked out for good.
“Good work,” said Milton. He unpinned the brooch and pocketed it.
“Thanks,” said Tom. He shifted his grasp on his staff, so that it stood upright. He seemed to have forgotten he was still holding onto Ben; it was either that, or he knew, but he feigned ignorance. The latter didn’t seem to mind though; if anything, Milton thought it looked much more settled than several nights ago.
Matthew grumbled as, at that moment, he regained consciousness, though it soon turned into winces when he moved his injured arm. Now that Scorpio was taking up a lot of floor space (the bathtub took up all of the right side, while the sink and toilet occupied the left, and with Scorpio lying on the middle of the floor, it left little space for anyone to walk in between, let alone hold four more people), Tom and Ben were forced to stay back while Milton helped Matthew sit up.
“Are you alright? Does your wound still hurt?” said Milton.
“No … it just stings again.”
“Can I take a look?”
Matthew nodded and held out his arm; the bleeding had stopped, but underneath the blood, it was too difficult to tell if his wound was healing or not.
“Is Scorpio knocked out?” said Matthew.
“Thanks to Tom, yes.” Milton walked past Scorpio on the left, and managed to open the door a little wider. “Anyway, you two need to take him away before –”
“Milton –” All four Valets started as they realised at the same time that Humphrey was just outside the front door. “– Why is the door open? – Milton –”
From the way the two doors were positioned, whoever was in the bathroom room had the more advantageous view – even if it was just a narrow glimpse – over the front and landing, and Milton nudged Tom and Ben further into the room before pushing the door shut. He turned around so that he was sitting with his back to it, and he kept eyeing the handle as a way of avoiding staring at his panicking members’ faces; in a way, Matthew no longer had the palest face out of the four of them.
Milton couldn’t believe he had forgotten to keep track of the time; he stole a glance at his watch, and reckoned that at least fifteen minutes had passed since Scorpio had unlocked his way into the flat. Even though a wall was separating the two parties, right now, it felt like nothing more than a piece of paper.
I believe this is the longest chapter I have written so far; it takes up 11 pages in Word. That said, this took AGES to write, not in the least because it was just so difficult to have a conclusion that I was fully satisfied with, though massive thank yous go to Samurottsan and PaperPrince for helping me out ... and giving me suggestions that would, er, raise a few eyebrows on Twitter. *coughbringupslashtagagainprobablycough*
“How are we going to get out?” Tom kept mouthing at Milton, but the latter was trying hard not to look at him. He had never felt or been this helpless in the flat; out of all the rooms, why did they have to be stuck in the bathroom?
“Milton.” If he had to judge where Humphrey was according to sound, he guessed that his master had just pushed open his room door. “Milton.”
Milton, however, was more distracted by Matthew, who seemed to be on the verge of throwing up again. Even though Scorpio was now out cold and stripped of his brooch, his presence and closeness was still enough to affect him.
“Milton? Where are you? Milton?”
“I’m in here,” said Milton. He tried to reach for the lock, but he would have to stand up to grab it –
“What the fuck has happened to the furniture?”
“I’ve been … cleaning, and I was … going to push it back when –”
Matthew couldn’t hold it anymore, and he threw up into the toilet again. Ben shuffled over to him, and Tom sided up to Milton in a sliding-standing-up movement, and pushed his palms against the door.
“Are you alright? Milton?” Humphrey slapped the door as he tried to turn the handle; Tom shoved even harder, and Milton’s palms began to glow.
“I – I’m fine, erm, Matthew came over when you were out –”
“…Shit, is he OK?”
“He will be. He’s just a bit … unwell.”
“Let me come in –”
Tom almost slipped as he pushed against Humphrey’s attempt to open the door again; his foot kicked Scorpio’s shin, and for a second, Milton thought he was about to wake up.
“You don’t want to,” he said as he looked up at Tom. Ben was staring at them, his face as pale as Matthew’s, and even Tom glanced down, sweating as much as Milton. “It’s not … not pretty in here.”
“…If you’re sure you don’t need me…”
“You know me, we’ll be alright.”
Matthew tried to stand up, but stumbled and would have hit the wall if he hadn’t stuck his arm out. Ben slipped an arm around his waist, and helped him up; together, they stepped past Scorpio, though with the lack of space, only Matthew could move ahead, leaving Ben leaning against the wall, in the gap between the sink and the toilet.
Matthew knelt down and said into Milton’s ear, “Now what do we do?”
“I don’t know,” said Milton, his voice just as low. “He’s going to be suspicious if I distract him again.”
“We can’t stay here,” said Tom. “We need to move.”
“I know, but what choice do we have? He can’t see any of you looking like this, and we can’t do much with Scorpio in the way.”
“Use your powers –”
“I can’t. Humphrey doesn’t know Matthew’s true identity, remember?” Remembering that he couldn’t give away his own master, Milton added, “Not just Matthew’s, mine as well.”
“Could we get out through the window?”
Milton turned to stare at the small window opposite him, but then shook his head. “If it was just you and Ben, it would work, but how are you going to get Scorpio through?”
“We could move Scorpio into the bath,” said Ben after a pause.
“It’s an idea … but that’s only going to convenience us for a little longer. You might not be able to get him out quickly when you need to.”
“It doesn’t have to be just Tom and Ben taking Scorpio out,” said Matthew. “Either one of us can distract Humphrey.”
Milton didn’t answer as he pressed his ear against the door; no matter how quietly they were talking, Humphrey was inevitably going to hear something. “Humphrey?”
“We might be a while. Do you want to start moving everything back? I’ll give you a hand in a moment.”
“I can’t do the heavy stuff on my own.”
“Yes you can. I moved everything by myself.”
Nobody said anything as they waited for Humphrey to start. In the backdrop of the noise, they could at least talk louder and more frantically, and with less risk of anyone unwanted overhearing them.
“I know distracting Humphrey doesn’t have to be done in pairs, but moving Scorpio is a difficult task,” said Milton. “Even in here, Humphrey’s going to hear us if we tried.”
From outside, it sounded like Humphrey had started moving the sofa, creating enough noise to drown out Tom kicking the side of the bathtub. Milton fired a glare at him, but nothing happened outside, save for an occasional swear and grumble. Eventually, Matthew stood up and took off his horns.
“What’re you doing?” said Milton.
“I’m going to do something,” said Matthew as he stood up. Tom stepped back, but Milton remained seated, and, when his member sidestepped past him, he shot his arm up and grabbed him on the wrist. Matthew yelped and sank to his knees, his eyes watering from the force Milton was using to hold onto him. He doubted Humphrey had heard anything; the noise outside continued as normal.
“You are not going out there.” Milton looked straight ahead, ignoring Matthew’s reaction.
“Get off me – ow –”
“Milton, we don’t have –” said Ben.
“Yes. We. Do.”
“I’m not going to do anything too –” said Matthew.
“Don’t bother with that trick, Crosby. I am not going to let you out there on your own. Either I go with you, or you stay in here.”
He looked up at the ceiling, thus avoiding Matthew’s stare. “Can you please let go?” Milton paused, and then did so; Matthew flung and rubbed his wrist, but remained standing where he was.
“Now what?” said Tom.
Milton didn’t answer, as outside, all noise stopped for a moment. He waited for it to resume, then said, “I might have to knock him out.”
“I thought you said you can’t use your powers?”
“I don’t want to, but we don’t have a choice,” said Milton.
“We do –” said Matthew, although he didn’t get far when Milton cut across him.
“I am not going to – if you go, I’m going with you.”
“Why are you so worried I’m going to do something –?”
“I’m not –”
“Milton, if I promise you I won’t do anything too –”
“THAT’S NOT THE POINT.”
Silence. Nobody had ever seen Milton loose it like that, and once again, it fell quiet outside. Milton couldn’t care less though; he had eyes only on Matthew, and for once was able to block out everyone else. He knew what he was planning, and there was no way he was going to let him go ahead with his idea; he wouldn’t be able to stand it, not when he was close enough to actually doing something to prevent it.
Nobody said or did anything until Humphrey resumed moving, and that was after a very long moment.
“What other less violent options do we have?” said Matthew.
“There will be a way,” said Milton. “I am not going to let you get away with this one.”
“Go on. What’s the idea?”
“…I don’t know yet –”
“You can’t tell someone they can’t use an idea when you haven’t got one yourself.”
“Can we talk about this later?”
“No, not when it’s our only way out.”
“It isn’t, there is another way.”
“You keep saying that, but –”
“I’m going to knock out Humphrey.”
“That’s even worse than mine.”
“No, yours is even worse.”
“Milton, this isn’t the time for personal feelings –”
“If you can say that, then why are you insisting on continuing with your idea?”
Matthew stuttered as silence descended on them; Tom and Ben kept looking between them, but Milton’s glare remained fixed on Matthew.
“Maybe I am doing this because I haven’t seen Humphrey in days, but I’m the only person who can distract him without drawing blood. He can’t know about Tom and Ben, and since you can’t use your powers around him, it just … leaves me.”
Milton stayed silent, though it was broken for a few seconds as a breeze whistled past the window; not long after it passed, his eyes flickered to the wall, and lingered there before he turned to the floor, and then back at Matthew. He stood up and walked to the side, stopping next to Ben.
“I shouldn’t have lost my temper at you. I’m sorry.” As he paused, another breeze flew past. “Go on, do what you need to do. Tom, open the door for him.”
Everyone was staring at him, but he ignored them, and looked at the door instead; Tom stood back, and, seeing the lack of space, changed into his monkey form and climbed up the sink, before leaping off the rim, hopping over Milton’s shoulders, and resting on Ben’s. Matthew rested his hand on the handle, but remained motionless for the next minute or so before he started to open the door.
“Can you open the window? I think Humphrey can do with some fresh air. It isn’t easy pushing that sofa back,” said Milton.
Matthew nodded as he walked through the crack he had opened, and then promptly shut the door; no sooner had he gone through did Milton, Ben and Tom (now back in human form) step over Scorpio and listen to the unfolding scene.
“Matthew –” The scraping stopped, replaced by the sound of running. “–Are you–?”
He didn’t get a response, but in the seeming silence that followed, Milton had a hunch they were doing one of the things he didn’t want them to do, or witness them do. He could have waited, but as the gap drew on, he started to grow suspicious; he wanted to keep the door shut, but he had to find his cue, and to do that, he had to see what was happening…
He reached for the handle, but only grasped it; was he going to regret this move? He looked over his shoulder, and watched Tom leap over Scorpio; he shook his head at him and Ben, and then turned back to the door. Since they were getting ready to go out there, he was going to have to see the scene outside…
No matter how slowly or how wide he swung the door open, it wasn’t enough to brace him for what he was seeing. The window was open, yes, but standing next to it were Humphrey and Matthew, firmly in each other’s embrace, kissing each other, and, most worryingly, seemed at any moment ready to stumble backwards into the nearest room – which happened to be Milton’s –
He had never felt closer to vomiting than in that moment, especially when imagining what was going to happen in his room (and a certain few Twitter feeds) if he didn’t do anything –
He pulled the door back and locked it just as the wind picked up again – except this time, it raged on and on, not even stopping when both Humphrey and Matthew were yelling and swearing, all drowned out by the even louder gusts that were blowing into the flat. The door rattled and shook, briefly concerning Milton that the lock wouldn’t hold; while he could have lessened the force, he pressed his back against the door instead.
“You want us to walk through that?” said Tom, albeit louder than before.
“Don’t worry,” said Milton with an equally loud voice. “If this has worked, Matthew and Humphrey should be –”
“MILTON–” Both Matthew and Humphrey yelled at the same time, forgetting that the other was supposedly unaware of Milton’s true identity. In other situations it would have been difficult to explain away, but in that instance, they could easily claim that they were screaming for him for help, rather than as a demand to stop the wind.
“– trapped in the kitchen about now. They won’t be able to get or look up.”
“We still can’t –”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got your backs. Tom, don’t bother with your staff, when you’re out, come round the back and I’ll throw it out the window.” Milton reached for the lock. “Anything else you want to ask before I let you out?”
“How is this supposed to be a better solution to –?”
“Off you go. Good luck.” He flipped the lock open, and the door flung itself open as the wind invaded the bathroom; Milton was slammed against the wall, and Tom, Ben and Scorpio pushed back a couple of paces.
A second, stronger breeze pushed the three Valets forward, before it lingered by the doorway, acting as a kind of shield to allow Milton to see what was happening clearly.
Trying to get through the typhoon was nothing short of a nightmare; the wind tore past them, beating whatever parts of them it could reach, undercurrents skewering the direction of each step they took so that they were being forced to sidestep until their hips bumped into the kitchen counters. If they had peered over the top, they could have caught a glimpse of Humphrey and Matthew clinging onto a cabinet door handle, their heads forced down by the wind.
Ben was the first to slip, and as he landed chin-first onto the ground, his wings snapped shut, his feathers ruffling and tangling together; by then, they were half-way across to the door, and as Ben struggled to get back to his feet, Tom also tripped and landed on his stomach. How Scorpio could remain unconscious as he was dropped to the ground twice was a mystery; in comparison, when Tom got up, he had hardly taken several steps when he couldn’t stand the breeze again, though this time he grabbed onto the edge of the counter, ensuring that he was kneeling instead.
Humphrey’s keys for the front door flew over their heads, but Ben caught them; he tried to loop his finger through the keychain, but at that moment, the wind changed direction so that it smacked his back. His wings wrapped around his shoulders as he was pushed forward, tripped over Scorpio, and collided into Tom, who had only just found his balance; he fell over backwards onto the floor, and had barely landed when he slid towards the exit. Ben remained on top, hugging him with the same amount of desperation as Humphrey and Matthew were showing with the cabinet; they crumpled against the door, topped by a nudge from a still-unconscious Scorpio, who had rolled after them.
Ben let go of Tom and pushed himself up, first thrusting the key into the keyhole and unlocking it, before reaching for the higher bolt and chain, while Tom groped for the bottom one. In a succession of clicks, they managed their goal, and they staggered to their feet again, both of them using the doorknob for support.
With the wind blowing the wrong way, they tugged at the door as hard as they could, even though the wind kept pushing them back against it. Milton waited until they were as far from the door as possible, before he clicked his fingers and changed the direction; with that, all the doors in the flat flapped open, but Scorpio started to drift away –
Milton changed directions again, and as quickly as the door had opened, it started to shut, but not without Scorpio rolling faster back over. He slid between the gap, jamming the door with his hips; taking the opportunity, Tom let go and slipped through, before Ben followed suit (though not without pulling out the keys first). Now with both of them out of the flat, they dragged Scorpio with them, and the front door slammed shut.
Milton never heard the lock being turned, but he kept up the storm for a while longer as he darted to the window and pushed it open first. Minutes later, Tom appeared and Milton pushed his staff through; he caught it with one hand, and with the other, he chucked the keys into the air, where they floated up to the other Valet.
With that, Milton shut the window and turned back to the storm. He could have ceased it there, but seeing as he was going to have to deal with a very pissed Humphrey sooner or later, it couldn’t hurt to keep it going just for a little longer.
Samurottsan's internet has finally been fixed! :D Anyway, apologies for the long delay, but unfortunately I have ran into a problem with this series. I basically have 2 installments, but I can't decide which one should go first because I've got a writers block for both of them. It's not helping either that I'm currently hooked onto a MMO, which is great for production *rolls eyes*. Anyway, I'll try and get another update out soon ... hopefully ... at least I'll be seeing Samurottsan soon.
Shappi was already at the safe house by the time Milton reached there; as he handed her the brooch, he told her what had happened while watching her reaction. Judging by the silence that followed when he finished, it seemed she was just as stunned as he had been.
“I’m amazed you managed to get out of that,” she said.
“So am I,” said Milton.
“I think your master’s going to be angry at you still for some time.”
“I know, but it was worth it.”
Shappi glared at him, and then said, “There’s something I need to tell you. I don’t want you to be mad at me for doing this, but when I got your call, I –”
The backdoor opened, but it took a haggard-looking Thom several seconds longer to step in. His eyes were red from crying, it seemed, and the bags underneath suggested he had hardly slept. Despite that, it didn’t stop Milton from running over, grabbing the front of his coat, and slamming him against the wall; Shappi followed and, borrowing on the strength of her powers, pulled them apart.
Milton tried to claw his way out of her grasp, but there was little he could do against a metal-strong grip, and it wasn’t long before Shappi had him in a headlock. Thom remained lying on the ground throughout, and only staggered to sit up when he was certain Shappi had Milton under her control.
“Jones, I knew you were going to react like this – stop it – I asked Tuck to come here because you two need to talk.”
“Get off me –”
“Not until you promise me you won’t try to kill Tuck.”
Milton continued to struggle against Shappi; he knew Thom was considered the least reliable of all the leaders, but this time, after days and days of attempting to get through to him, he had gone too far for his tolerance. He wouldn’t have been this angry if it wasn’t for the fact that David had gone awry at the same time as him, and knowing their relationship, he couldn’t believe it was just a co-incidence.
“The sooner you promise me, the quicker I’ll let go,” said Shappi.
Milton stopped, but it took him longer to say, “I promise … I won’t try to kill Tuck.”
Shappi let go of him, and he stumbled backwards in a coughing fit; as he recovered, she clasped her right hand into a loose fist, and formed a metal pole that was about the same height from her head to her waist, and then chucked it at Thom. It landed away from him, but rolled towards him anyway from the force of the throw; he caught it with an outstretched hand, and then got to his feet at the same time as Milton.
“I’m going outside, but if anything happens, I will come back. Tuck, if Jones tries to attack you again, use the rod.”
Neither man said anything as Shappi left through the backdoor; it was only when she shut it did Milton glare at Thom. The latter didn’t meet his eyes; instead, he kept looking down, occasionally dabbing his eyes with his sleeve.
“Sorry,” he said.
Milton waited, but when it became obvious that he wasn’t going to elaborate, he said, “Is that it? I’ve been trying to find you for days. Where were you? Why weren’t you answering me?”
“David told you about Miles –”
“What has that got to do with –?”
“Didn’t he tell you about Miles’ injury?”
“Stop changing –”
“Scorpio got him on the chest. He could have killed him.” Pause. “I could have lost a member.”
“…Why didn’t you tell me?”
“David tried to, but Miles woke up when he was talking to you.”
“That explains why he was rushing to cut me off. You should have still talked to me.”
“How could we? You know how much Miles means to both of us.” Thom looked up, and, seeing the look on Milton’s face, added, “Ignore what I just said. I forgot you don’t know.”
“If this is about you and Humphrey again –”
“Leave it, Jones.”
Milton hesitated at the unexpected use of his surname, and the room fell quiet. He eventually broke it by saying, “We’re going off topic. I don’t care how you manage your members, but you shouldn’t be giving me difficulties with my members.”
“Is this about David?”
“Who else can I be talking about?”
“How’s this related to me?”
“I couldn’t get through to either of your Items at the same time.”
“You can’t blame me if your members don’t want to answer their calls.”
“Do you think I always jump to this conclusion?”
“How am I supposed to know?” Thom sighed as he ran a hand through his hair. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have … I’m so tired, I–”
“I can tell David’s as close to Miles as he is to you, but –”
“For fuck’s sake – how many times…? – this isn’t related to me.”
“If you let me finish –”
“What’s the point? I know how it’s going to fucking end.”
“What if I was going to say something different?”
“You were going to blame every single fucking thing that goes wrong with you on me just because it happens to go all fucking wrong for me as well, because apparently I don’t feel a fucking thing when I can do without the blaming and the … and the … and …” He screamed and threw the rod at the wall; he sunk to his knees seconds before the bang, which prompted Shappi to kick the door open and run in, though she stopped soon when she saw the situation.
They remained stood where they were as Thom’s sobs broke the silence; Shappi had never seen him like that before, and Milton wasn’t certain whether he should make the first move, or let Thom do it like last time. He then caught her eye, and in that moment knew exactly what to do; they approached Thom and kneeled either side of him, though they had barely done so when he lunged and hugged them both with an arm each. Shappi was much smoother than Milton in comforting Thom, and she put an arm around him; Milton remained rigid for longer, and although he relaxed, he was still weary of making any body contact.
"Thom, are you sure you're going to be alright?" said Shappi. Thom nodded, albeit unconvincingly. "If there's anything we can do -"
"I want to ... stay ... here for ... tonight."
"You should be alright ... I think ... will we need to get anything from your ...?"
"I don't think he needs to," said Milton.
"Milton, can you ... tell David I'm ... not ... going back ... tonight?"
"I'll do that when I get back."
Thom shrugged Shappi off him as he withdrew his arms and stood up, though he kept his head down throughout. "I'll be alright on my own. Thanks for ... for..."
Even though Thom never finished as he dragged himself out of the room, between the three of them, they knew what he meant. For a long time, Milton and Shappi remained kneeling in silence, listening to the thudding upstairs as Thom prepared himself for the night. It was growing dark outside, but Milton didn't mind; if anything, it would make flying easier, though of course he couldn't ask Shappi to stay for another hour or so, not when her household took longer to get back to.
"Khorsandi, if you want to go soon, I can stay here and -"
"I'm not in a hurry. My master can do without me for longer. What happened when I left you alone?"
Milton recited their argument, and, after consideration, told her about last time before concluding, "This has to do with what happened years ago. He's never opened up to me about it before."
"Why would Tuck tell you? You know we don't talk about past masters."
"This time is different. Tuck's first master ... was my current master."
Shappi stared at him with wide eyes; even among leaders, Milton had never told them that secret. "That changes everything, Jones. Have they never even mentioned anything about...?"
"No ... Not on purpose anyway."
"Jones ... If I were you ... Don't ask anymore. There has to be a reason for that."
"That' s what everyone keeps saying, but –”
“It’s too difficult.”
Milton nodded. “I might never find out, and I … I suppose I’m fine with that, but it won’t go away.”
Shappi looked at him, but kept quiet; she could probably tell he wasn’t being entirely honest with her. Yes, he knew there was a chance he would never know, but he wasn’t prepared to give up on it anytime soon; he had been given too many clues to let go of it now, and he was going to piece them together, no matter how long it would take him.
“You don’t have to stay here with me. I can keep an eye on Tuck.”
“I’m not in a hurry either.”
“You can’t avoid your master for much longer.”
Milton started walking to the door. “If anything happens, give me a call. I don’t think I’ll be going anywhere else for the night.”
“OK … good luck, Jones.”
“…Thanks.” He wondered if she wanted to add ‘you’re going to need it’, but when she said nothing else after her ‘goodbye’, he pushed the door open and returned to the flat.
“…Wait … Scorpio had his own key?” said Humphrey. Milton coughed and picked up the key lying on the table; while he had been making his way back, he had decided to tell his master about Scorpio’s ambush. Humphrey grabbed the key and turned it round in his hand, checking it from every angle, as if trying to find a fault with it; when he couldn’t, he threw it back onto the table, and watched it skid to a stop not too far from the edge.
“I’ve checked as well,” said Milton. “It’s a perfect replica.”
“How could he have …?”
“You’re the only person who has the keys to this flat. I think we can agree that Scorpio has never been within touching distance of you.”
“Could he have entered the flat when both of us were out?”
“Probably, but I always leave when you’re here, and I trust you lock all the windows when there’s no-one in?”
“It doesn’t make a difference, the keys are with me.” Pause. “How did Scorpio know about here?”
“It’s not surprising if he followed me. The Western Valets are sneakier than us; they don’t do any serving at all, we don’t know where they live or how they train … in fact, all the surviving stories about them highlight their trickery, wits and prowess.”
“What I’m concerned about is whether you have fallen for a trick without realising it.”
“What do you mean?”
“No Western Valet ever works alone, for most of the time they’re a much closer community than we are. Given how we don’t know all the Western Valets’ abilities, it’s very likely that they’re planning ahead while we’re still in the dark.”
“I still don’t get why they would want to take my key.”
“Nor do I, but I fear that they’re doing this to make Valet Leo’s job easier.”
“Isn’t Leo the one you’re weak against?”
“Yes, but that’s for another time. What matters is we get the locks changed. If Valet Scorpio can leave the key behind, then it means they must still have the imprint.”
Humphrey glanced at the clock. “We’ll have to find someone tomorrow. Are you sure they won’t be able to get in at all?”
“Even if they did have a spare, they can’t get past the chain and bolts without waking us up.”
“So … if Scorpio attacked you … then did Matthew see anything?”
“No. I knocked him out, took him outside, and then Matthew came over about five minutes later.”
“You let him go?”
“Was I supposed to do, hold him hostage? What matters is that he no longer has his brooch; I’ve told you before, once we take the brooches off them, they lose their powers.”
“So, if he comes here again –”
“We’ll be able to fight him with no problems. Anyway, it turns out his power isn’t that dangerous.”
“What was it? I don’t think you’ve told me.”
“Any injuries he’s made feels like a scorpion has stung his victim. We were lucky this time that he only managed to inflict one cut … I can’t begin to imagine what it would have felt like if he had done more.” Pause. Seeing as there was hardly anything left to say, Milton stood up. “Anyway, I better tidy up, that storm really made this place messy.”
“I still haven’t forgiven you for that.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“Why did you do that anyway?”
Milton didn’t answer as he went to fetch the broom; it was only when he started sweeping that he said, “I fancied having a bit of fun.”
“…That was your idea of fun?”
Milton said nothing, but whistled and continued about as if Humphrey had never asked. After all, it was probably better to let him draw his own conclusion on that particular matter.