Slavery, 103

Being Afraid Is No Excuse to Be Mean

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“I’m going to go out for a bit.”

“I’ll come with you.”

Daniel looked at Marcus, who was laying on the bed. They were sharing the second room in the inn tonight because Ozzy had spent all of supper riling Theodore up and was currently in Theodore and Daniel’s room begging for forgiveness. “Okay,” Daniel said, as if he hadn’t been leaving to get away from Marcus.

He grabbed a coat and some extra knives, tucking them away carefully while Marcus got dressed, then pulled on his boots once Marcus was finally ready. They went out together.

This was the first time they’d been alone together since they’d been in the capital. Since everyone had left. Since Marcus had been freed. It wasn’t going well.

“Where were you thinking of going?” Marcus asked, once they were outside the fancy inn.

“Just for a walk,” said Daniel, who’d been planning to scope out the academy. It was hard to get away during the day, when Theodore wanted Daniel there for all the meetings he was having with every noble he could get an audience with. Today he’d spent all day talking to a bunch of eastern royals, and it had been annoying, and not just because King Niall had tried to fuck him.

Theodore insisted that wasn’t what he’d been doing, but Theodore wouldn’t recognize flirting if it punched him in the dick.

Marcus kind of held his hand at his side like he was expecting Daniel to take it, but Daniel pretended not to see it and started walking. “The capital’s really nice, huh?” Marcus asked, looking around.

“Yeah,” Daniel agreed. He’d mostly only seen the rich parts of it and they were nicer than Merket, but in a stuffy, fake way that Daniel didn’t like. He felt like if he littered someone would show up out of nowhere and clean it up for him.

“Ozzy and I went for a walk to this park today,” Marcus went on, clearly not picking up that Daniel wasn’t really listening. “It was really nice. I guess there are birds there when it’s warmer. We ate lunch at this restaurant that had really weird food made from mostly peppers, I think? I didn’t like it very much but Ozzy did, so I pretended to because I was worried he’d feel bad for suggesting we go there. But now I feel like I probably shouldn’t have lied to him, right?”

“He probably knew you were lying,” Daniel said, turning off the main road to see if this side street went where he thought it did. He’d looked at a map of the city earlier and wanted to have a lot of ways of getting back to the inn just in case something went wrong. He would be at a disadvantage if anyone followed him because they’d know the city in a way he didn’t.

“Yeah. I think that makes it even worse that I did it, because he has to pretend he doesn’t know I’m lying, which probably makes him feel worse than me not liking the restaurant did, because now he thinks I don’t trust him enough to tell him how I really feel.” Marcus looked like he was considering putting his hands in his pockets, but then he didn’t. “Which I guess is why he was all over Theodore at supper. So he wouldn’t have to sleep with my dumb ass tonight.”

“He loves your dumb ass,” Daniel told him. The map hadn’t showed the incline on this street. The map had made it seem like Three Hills had no hills even though it had at least four that Daniel had noticed.

“I know. But I’m worried he thinks I’m mad at him.”

“I’m not mad at you, Marcus.” This wasn’t an interesting game.

“Huh?”

“I’m not mad at you. I’m happy for you. Everything just changed really fast and I’m still getting used to it. Sorry for acting so weird.”

“Uh,” Marcus said. He looked up at the sky. “Well. Thanks. But I was talking about me and Ozzy.”

“I’m not dumb, Marcus.”

“Sure. But I am. I know you and Theodore do the whole thing where you have a whole conversation and never once say the words it’s actually about, but I can’t do that, Daniel. I was talking about the thing I was talking about.”

Oh. Daniel looked over at him, and he felt so…stupid. “Fuck, sorry,” he said, in a long exhale. “Ozzy isn’t sucking Theodore’s cock because he thinks you’re mad at him. He’s sucking Theodore’s cock because Theodore’s tall and kept calling him ‘son’ this afternoon. If you’re worried about it, just tell him what happened. He probably already forgot about it.” That was what normal people did. They didn’t linger on minor inconveniences forever.

“Yeah.” Marcus hunched his shoulders. “Okay. Thanks.”

Daniel nodded, shifting uncomfortably. “Sorry for making it weird with the other thing.”

“It’s fine. I mean. It’s not like I haven’t noticed that you’re not talking to me anymore.” The hurt in Marcus’s voice was obvious.

“I just wanted to give us both time…to get used to it.” Daniel’s hands were cold. He kept walking up the street. It was curving, a little.

“I think that…” Marcus trailed off, kicking some melting snow.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Marcus.”

“It’s mean so I’m not going to say it.”

Daniel rolled his eyes. “Marcus, I barely have feelings to hurt, you know that.”

“I know that’s not true. You have the same amount of feelings as everyone else.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Daniel said. “Whatever, fine. I don’t blame you for not trusting me enough to tell me how you feel. I wouldn’t either.”

He felt bad as soon as he said it, and the look on Marcus’s face made him feel worse. “You know you’re the meanest person I know?” Marcus asked, quietly.

Daniel looked at his feet, his face doing something stupid. “Yeah. Sorry.”

“I know. Benedict says you’re only mean because you’re afraid of people hurting you.”

Benedict should mind his own fucking business. Daniel hugged himself for warmth. “Benedict should stop talking about us behind our backs.”

“I wish you weren’t afraid that I would hurt you,” Marcus said, in half a whisper.

The city wasn’t quiet. There were people around, talking quietly. There was a dog over there. The wind was blowing. Daniel didn’t hear any of it, just his own breathing. “So do I,” he admitted, tears gathering in his eyes. Dammit. “I know you won’t. But I’m still afraid.”

Marcus’s arms were around him, stopping Daniel walking and holding him in place. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Daniel cried.

“If you need time that’s okay. I just wish you’d told me that instead of making me feel like I’d done something wrong.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Daniel whispered. “I did. I lied before. I’m not happy for you. I’m too selfish to be happy for you. I want to be but I’m sad for me and I don’t know how to be happy and sad at the same time.”

Marcus nodded against Daniel’s shoulder. “Okay. I don’t think most people do. Can I try to help you be less sad?”

“How?” Daniel whimpered.

“I don’t know. But everything changed really fast and I’m still getting used to it too. And Ozzy and Theodore both expect me to be super excited about everything all the time and mostly I’m just scared. And I’d really like it if I had someone to be scared with. Just because I’m not a slave anymore doesn’t mean that everything has to be different with us, right?”

Daniel heard Marcus pleading with him to please say it didn’t mean that. And it did mean that. Things did have to be different with them. But that was a mean thing to say. “Right,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “You’re right.”

“Right,” said Marcus. He knew Daniel was lying. “I know you went on this walk to do secret assassin stuff but can we please go back? I want to try just hanging out. I want to tell you what I’ve been doing. And hear what you’ve been doing. Please?”

All Daniel had been doing was feeling sorry for himself. “Okay,” he said. He stepped away from the hug, and took Marcus’s hand as he turned back to the inn.

“Thank you.”

Daniel nodded. “You too. Ozzy really is just horny for tall people, I promise.”

“Yeah, I know. I can just never shake that part of me that tells me everyone secretly hates me, you know?”

Daniel did know that. “Yeah. That part of us is ass.”

“Yeah. I don’t get the tall people thing.”

“I mean, I do, a bit,” Daniel admitted. “But he’s weird about it. There were these orcs at the wedding and I swear to God, if he’d been there I probably wouldn’t have had to do anything…”

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