flighty_dreams: (embarrassed)
[personal profile] flighty_dreams
TITLE: Spliced 5-6
AUTHOR: [info]flighty_dreams
WARNINGS: NC-17. slavefic. scifi setting. M/m. some graphic violence.
WORD COUNT:  7,263 (this chapter), over 200k so far
SUMMARY:  In a world where clones are made and sold as commodities, Matt Muldane can't resist purchasing an intriguing slave.
NOTES:  The index to this story available here. Special thanks to [info]aurila and to [info]tuawahine . Sorry for the delay in posting; I appreciate your patience! I haven't given up on the story!

Chapter Six
 
 
Another tedious dinner.
 
Alex stifled the burgeoning temptation to leave. His knee was bothering him, and he wanted to stretch his legs, or lean his back against Matt's chair at least, but he was too exposed to get away with either. Not only could the female client directly across from Matt see him, so could several other patrons of the restaurant, and the slave kneeling beside the woman's chair. Relief wouldn't come anytime soon either; these Mikodrans had taken forever to order their food.
 
That Matt was treating him like a damn pet, petting and heedlessly feeding him scraps from the table, ninety percent of his attention on his clients, only shortened his temper further. Matt was lucky clones were bred to be fucking free of allergies; the way this was going, he might have poisoned him by now.
 
Not that he was immune to enjoying being fed by hand--his fucked up genes ensured that--but not like this, with careless inattention and in front of all these people. Once he would've been able to ignore the public spectacle of it, accepting it as part of his place, even if he would've preferred privacy. He shook aside the memories of Kristeer feeding him by hand at meetings, and him being proud to be chosen to serve their master. That was before he'd realized what had happened to the brothers and sisters that had been 'sent away.'
 
No, it was so much better in private. Those first months with Matt seemed like another life now, but he remembered the first time Matt had fed him like this, his body responding to it helplessly, even though they'd barely known each other then. They'd been alone, the tension stretching unbearably between them. He hadn't been able to control his anticipation.
 
He frowned, recalling the confrontation with Matt in the garage two weeks earlier. To his relief, Matt hadn’t pushed his point again, for once patient enough to wait him out. What that might say about the depths of either his determination or his confidence Alex preferred not to think about.
 
As Matt offered him a fifth bite of asparagus now--which if Matt had given one iota of thought to what he was feeding him, he'd remember by now that Alex hated the stuff--instead of taking it he bit Matt's finger. Not hard, just enough to get his attention. Finally.
 
Startled, Matt glanced down at him and then back at his clients, who had turned to each other, recalling some place they'd visited on Mikodra. Alex had waited for the right moment.
 
A smile tugged at Matt's lips. Putting the offensive vegetable back on the table, he patted Alex’s head like he was a little kid. Then with one last infuriating ruffle of his hair, Matt turned back to his clients, the Chavelles.
 
Cursing him silently, Alex faced forward again, meeting the widened gaze of the slave boy opposite him. Embarrassment trickled through him. Had he seen him bite Matt? But the boy's gaze softened then, eyes indicating the owners beside him, and he sighed. Alex sent him a faint smile in return. Feels like they'll never be done.
 
The other clone's mouth twitched in agreement, then he straightened as his mistress's hand lowered to pet his hair. He leaned into the caress, but Alex wasn't fooled. He was well-trained rather than eager.
 
Young--he had that lab-fresh look about him--and very pretty, with sensuous lips made for sucking things (Alex was too cynical to believe any thought to kissing had gone into their creation), he couldn't identify him as belonging to any specific clone breed. Andorian softness, but the features were wrong, and not Vedan either, since none of them had red hair that color, and not Genaran or-
 
The waiter stopped by the table then, feet planted between himself and the boy, removing the appetizer and salad plates. He was a clone too; this was another upscale restaurant. Matt only took potential clients to the best places.
 
As the waiter moved away, Matt asked them, “So what sort of products would you be looking to transport here?”
 
The Chavelle family owned a large company with its hand in over a dozen industries. The woman patted the slave next to her, her answer knotting Alex's stomach. “Clones.”
 
While Alex bit back a curse, Matt straightened in his chair. “A long way to transport something we already have plenty of on Monlea. Or is there something special about them?”
 
“We have a new breed that we feel fills a gap in the market,” her partner--who was also her brother--said, leaning forward.
 
“How so?” Matt asked.
 
Clone breeders. Alex found himself no longer able to look at this pair calmly. Anyone owning a breeding lab was destroying far too many lives. He studied the boy again, aware now why he hadn't been able to pinpoint his origins.
 
“Well, there are very pretty slaves, like Andorians,” the woman said, “though you seem to have gone with a more atypical look with your Andorian here.”
 
“Not that there's anything wrong with him,” the man hastened to add, as Alex hid a scowl. If only they knew.
 
“No, no,” she said, glancing over at her companion before returning her focus to Matt. “I didn't mean any such thing. Rather I meant that he's unique. I like that.”
 
“Thanks,” was Matt's gruff reply, and there was no anger in it, rather almost... pride. Alex fought not to bristle. He didn't give a shit what these fucking breeders thought of him, and that Matt would preen over their praise of him-
 
Matt petted him then, and it was so hard not to push his hand away.
 
“Bashful, is he?” she asked, misreading his downturned face and hunched shoulders.
 
“Yes,” Matt said, reminding Alex uncomfortably of that moment in the slave store, Matt's infuriating amusement and all. Fingers tickled his chin. “Come on, pet, look up.”
 
It took him a long moment to shove the fury deep down, to bury everything beneath a layer of frost. When he looked up everything felt dim and far away, and he knew he must look lifeless, like an empty puppet. Matt gripped his shoulder, but even that seemed a distant thing.
 
He looked through the woman, vaguely satisfied when she couldn't meet his eyes for more than an instant, her gaze jerking away.
 
Matt's fingers slid through his shoulder-length hair, his mouth suddenly hot against his ear, breathing out, “Alex.”
 
He blinked, the roaring in his ears receding, replaced by the sounds of the restaurant around them. Matt played dirty, using that name at a moment like this. New anger swelled, cracking the ice as his concentration slipped further. The woman looked at him again, the unease vanishing as she studied him. No doubt she was telling herself she was seeing things, that there'd been nothing strange about him.
 
“Pretty, which you expect from Andorians, but there's something else about him,” she said, her voice steady. “Is he a mixed breed?”
 
“I didn't consider that,” Matt said. Until he'd disappeared from his house, Matt hadn't considered a lot of things. “I bought him at a market, and his paperwork said Andorian.”
 
“We could test him,” her brother said, as Alex's heart suddenly tried to beat out of his chest. “Take a sample and run it in our labs.”
 
“No, unnecessary,” Matt said.
 
The woman shrugged at his sharp response. “Just an offer.”
 
“I appreciate it, but I'm just not interested,” Matt said, though Alex caught the note of unease. “What are your facilities like?”
 
As the Chavelles described them, Alex watched the boy’s reactions. A slave learned to betray as little as possible, but Alex had also been trained to notice the small things: an indrawn breath, the slight tensing of his shoulders. This clone did not have pleasant memories of their labs. That the red wine color of his hair was near to Ten's natural coloring did not help Alex remain objective.
 
From what the Chavelles said, they'd bred a few hundred clones so far--a lie, Alex knew, as it meant there were at least that many more who had not lived through the development process--and had had good success selling them on Mikodra, but were looking to expand.
 
“You mentioned a market gap earlier?” Matt's words carried an edge now that drew Alex's curiosity, though his clients didn’t seem to notice.
 
“Ah, yes,” the woman said. “So there are Andorians, and then there are also breeds like Tyrels.”
 
Alex frowned inwardly. Tyrels, while nothing special in looks, were known for their sharp, useful minds. Of course, they still weren't legally supposed to read on many planets, though he'd encountered some still enslaved who could. They were often prime candidates for freeing. Very popular among people who wanted to minimize the paper trail or footprint of their business, such as lenders or bookies, Tyrels were required to hold numbers and accounts in their heads for their owners.
 
Her brother said, “We wanted a new breed as pretty as Andorians, but also intelligent.”
 
It was so tempting to glower at them for that.
 
“So a cross between Andorians and Tyrels?” Matt said, something odd in his tone. “And let me guess, you're naming them Chavellians?”
 
“Yes,” they both said, and Alex could hear the smug fucking smiles in their response. It was customary to name clone breeds after their original creator. In a distant, arbitrary way, he had Dr. Andor to thank for his existence, though the man had been dead for over four hundred years.
 
Raising an eyebrow briefly, Alex looked at the 'Chavellian.' The boy's mouth tilted wryly in response before smoothing out again with a little shake of his head. Alex stared into the green eyes, sensing hidden depths. They had done exactly what they stated, horrifying as it was: behind the pretty face was a sharp mind.
 
Not that most clones were outright stupid. But there was a weakness of will bred into Andorians and the like, done intentionally to enforce greater docility. The slavery systems on most planets firmly sanctioned keeping clones as childish and helpless as possible. Obedience was a far greater asset in slaves than intelligence. And for Alex's part, it was the lesser of evils to see a slave who couldn't function outside of slavery, who knew nothing else and accepted their lot, rather than a slave who was intuitive enough to grasp that there really wasn't much difference between himself and naturalborns except the luck of birth, and suffered that frustration in helpless silence.
 
It was the latter he sensed from the redhead here, even if he was too young to have fully caught the luck of birth part yet. So young, that it wasn't too late for him. If he got him out soon, he could-
 
“If you'll allow me to play devil's advocate,” Matt said then, “I thought most people wanted a bedslave to look pretty and be eager, and didn't care about the rest.”
 
“That's true,” the brother said. “Most people only want them for the one thing. But for someone who doesn't want or can't afford lots of slaves...”
 
“Why have a Tyrel when you can buy a Chavellian that's far easier on the eyes?” the woman continued for him.
 
“Both purposes in one,” Matt said. “I see.”
 
“Yes, or restaurants like this one,” the man said with a gesture. “Pretty servers with better memories.”
 
They were salivating at the credits they could earn, bartering other people's lives for a profit. Alex's stomach churned, threatening to reject the asparagus and its companions. The boy looked at him, his eyes puzzled, and Alex realized some of his nausea must be showing. Tamping it back didn't work though, not when he had this redhead in front of him, proof of all the lives they'd tampered with.
 
He grabbed Matt's ankle under the table. When Matt looked at him, he couldn't bring himself to utter the polite request. “Bathroom,” he mouthed instead, leaving it at that.
 
A momentary pause, and then Matt made a shooing gesture with his hand. He rose, keeping his gaze averted from the monsters at the table. As he turned to go, his bad knee aching, he was surprised to hear behind him, “May I go too, Mistress?”
 
“Yes, but be quick,” she said with a touch of impatience.
 
The redhead's unexpected presence distracted him from the nausea. As they walked across the crowded restaurant, once they were far enough away from the table Alex managed a weak smile. “What's your name?”
 
“They just call me Red,” he said, somber eyes meeting Alex's. They spoke low enough for their own ears only.
 
“What about at the labs? Any of the other clones call you something?” Alex asked, hiding his irritation at Red's owners' disinterest.
 
“We just used our numbers,” the youngster said, biting his lip.
 
No name. Alex blew out a furious breath as they reached the hallway with the restrooms. Marble and granite everywhere, none of which was present in the plain slave restroom they stepped into a moment later.
 
At least it was empty, and the door lessened the noise from the restaurant. The redhead looked at him. “What's your name?”
 
Flustered, he hesitated a moment. This boy had no name, and he had two. “Alex,” he said, wanting to hear someone say it and mean it after Matt taunting him with it earlier, before caution forced him to add, “But Mr. Muldane calls me Min.”
 
“Alex,” the boy said with a beaming smile. “Nice to meet you.”
 
“Same to you,” Alex said, the lack of a name gnawing at him. “How long have they had you with them?”
 
“They took me from the lab two weeks ago,” Red replied.
 
Flaming hell, he was that fresh? He seemed pretty well adjusted, considering, but then again he was young.
 
“Your master seems nice,” the redhead said, a hesitant note to his voice.
 
“Yeah, he's pretty tolerant,” Alex said, hoping that would explain any oddities this kid had noticed between them. It was true too; Matt was maybe half the elitist jerk he’d been when Alex met him.
 
The boy grew more hesitant, not less, toying with a lock of hair before tucking it behind his ear. Alex frowned, about to say something when the kid blurted out, “Do you think he would buy me?”
 
“What?” Alex said, before fury caught up with surprise. “Have they been cruel to you?”
 
The boy blanched. “No, it's-” He paused, taking a breath. “I heard them talking yesterday. They plan to sell me here, rather than bring me back with them.”
 
Fuck. Not much time to plan anything, though it did present an opportunity. “When are they leaving?”
 
His answer didn't cheer Alex up any. Three days wasn't much time. “I'll talk to him,” he told the boy. It was as much as he felt comfortable promising.
 
The redhead seemed to realize he might have overstepped--if Alex had been anyone else. “I don't mean that your master has to keep me. I'm not trying to r-replace you.” He looked at him, a plea in the green eyes, and Alex admired the boy's manipulation even as he still sympathized with him. He was a damn natural. Had he been playing him from the moment they entered the bathroom?
 
“But if he could find someone good,” the boy continued, doing that lip biting thing again, “I would be very grateful.”
 
Alex hid a grin. How many times had he played the same helpless card to get someone to do what he wanted? Whether through training gaps or simply lack of experience out in society, the boy hadn’t yet been brainwashed into accepting he had no control over his own fate.
 
More seriously, Alex replied, “I understand. If they only have a few days to sell you, your owners probably won't be very particular about it.”
 
The boy nodded.
 
“We better get back,” Alex said.
 
They used the facilities quickly and then returned to the table, where the main course had been served in their absence. As they approached, Matt tossed him a suspicious look, which Alex returned with his most innocent expression. He hadn't been up to anything besides plotting the boy's freedom. Not above injecting a shot of guilt, he rubbed at his bad knee before kneeling down. Matt's mouth tightened.
 
The Chavelles were talking as they knelt by the table again, the sister saying, “Depending on how well sales go here, we might expand our operations, open another lab or two to handle the greater numbers.”
 
As if those words weren't nauseating enough, she reached out once the redhead had knelt, grabbing his hair and yanking his head back to a painful angle. “You dawdled.”
 
Matt's hand landed on his shoulder, giving a squeeze of warning before Alex even realized he'd tensed, anxious to leap to the kid's defense. No, he couldn't interfere, but Flame all how he wanted to.
 
A low whimper through the boy's teeth, and then she released him. He immediately prostrated himself, begging for forgiveness. Alex's nausea returned.
 
“Why did you pick Monlea as the next planet to expand to?” Matt asked, drawing the woman’s attention.
 
It was a good question. The more obvious choices were Pyrun or Calnith, planets big into the slave trade, rather than less developed Monlea.
 
“Monlea is more lenient when it comes to the complications involving the transport of slaves from one planet to another,” the brother said after a bite of lobster. “Like quarantine.”
 
Alex hid a grimace. Quarantine was horrendous, no matter the planet. Unfortunately it was a standard practice, planetary governments wary of spreading disease. But the man was correct; Monlea was among the most lenient, only it and Tyrra requiring one day of quarantine. Other planets had quarantine periods that lasted much longer, such as Karta and Calnith, which required ten days or more.
 
Even a day of that hell, caged and prodded and run through endless invasive examinations, was too much. He felt sorry for the boy, who'd no doubt just been through it. At least his upcoming sale meant he wouldn't have to immediately endure it again. It had been years since Alex had experienced it himself, but it was a nightmare not forgotten.
 
“So what do you think of our proposition, Muldane?” the man asked. Holding his breath, Alex braced for Matt's answer.
 
“It's something to consider,” was all he said, wiping at his lips with his napkin.
 
The sister's eyes narrowed. “You were recommended to us, so we came to you first, but we could find others more eager for our business.”
 
“I'm sure you could,” Matt said.
 
The brother smiled, turning on the charm. “Do you have a reservation in particular we could help address?”
 
Matt leaned back in his chair, resting his hand on Alex's head again, thumb idly stroking him. Alex bore the pleasant touch with a blank expression, inwardly relieved at the unspoken answer.
 
Then Matt straightened, his hand dropping away. “Well, for one thing I haven't seen anything yet that shows this clone here is any different from a typical bedslave. He's pretty yes, but you're selling both beauty and wits.”
 
They smirked. “Oh, we can show you-”
 
Matt held up a hand. “That’s a minor concern though. I don't really need a demonstration. If you're here, you're no doubt doing well with your new breed on Mikodra, and some simple research on my part will reveal as much.”
 
The woman smiled. “We did a lot of research of our own beforehand into consumers' needs, and it's paid off, Muldane. Already this venture has proven quite lucrative.”
 
Matt nodded. “You've indicated as much. My true reservation, as you called it, is that I don't normally deal with humanoid cargo.”
 
The man shot him a disbelieving look. “You're Kartan, and clearly a slave owner. You can't tell me you have issues with slavery.”
 
Matt laughed, though Alex knew the sound well enough to catch the forced edge to it. Unknowingly, the man had landed a perfect hit.
 
“It's about insurance,” Matt told him, the callous answer causing Alex unease. “I'm not covered for clone cargo, as I haven't needed to be before, and I'll have to see whether the expenses of added coverage are worth this endeavor.”
 
“Ah, understandable,” the sister said, before smiling. “I'm sure you'll find it worthwhile though.”
 
“We'll see,” Matt said. “In the meantime, I know your time is limited here, so if you wish to look into other options, I understand.”
 
Hiding a scowl, Alex wondered if Matt hoped someone else would bail him out of making a decision that would create unrest at home.
 
The Chavelles glanced at each other. “We appreciate that.”
 
Talk turned away from business then as the Chavelles spoke about life on Mikodra, Matt encouraging them with subtle prods. They'd been born into money, with three generations before them expanding the family business, but the lab was their pet project, and they were quite proud of its success.
 
Alex once again fought back revulsion. He looked at the boy instead, tuning out their conversation as he planned his next move, until one statement caught his attention.
 
“We brought a few clones to Monlea with us, giving out a first taste, if you will,” the woman said with a calculating smile. “This is the last one left.”
 
“You sold the others already? Impressive.” Matt glanced over at the boy.
 
He didn't mention that part. Alex wondered who they'd sold the others to, and if negative impressions of those buyers had fueled the boy's desperation.
 
“You wouldn't happen to be in the market for another slave, would you?” the brother asked with a chuckle.
 
Alex felt Matt's heated gaze on him for a moment. “No, thank you.”
 
The boy's posture wilted a little, sadness darkening the green eyes. Alex sent him a sympathetic look, conveying the silent message: I'll see what I can do.
 
He either didn't catch it or didn't understand it, the red head bowing after a moment.
 
The same sad expression touched the boy's features as the group parted ways outside the restaurant a while later. Alex nodded to him before giving his owners--for now--the expected bow of farewell, concealing his disgust.
 
He let out a breath as the Chavelles stepped into their hovercar, glad to be rid of their presence. Matt's Spectra was brought to the restaurant's front entrance a few moments later, and he collapsed into the passenger seat with a decided slump.
 
Switching on the AGS, Matt tapped the sensor, waiting until the green light showed. No listening devices. It had become a habit, checking the car, the house, the office. Especially when someone else had just driven Matt’s precious car.
 
“Don't even start,” Matt said as they pulled away. “I know. They're bastards and you hate them.”
 
Alex discarded multiple responses, too emotionally exhausted for a real argument, and too depressed.
 
“That doesn't even begin to cover it,” he said at last, having no words for his soul-deep revulsion. While he'd met far too many slave traders in the past, he hadn't encountered any breeders since Kristech. The wholesale destruction of so many lives for profit was almost beyond his mind's grasp, self-preservation kicking in to protect his sanity from finally snapping irrevocably.
 
Yet he couldn't help himself, picturing the hundreds of labs on each planet like black dots on multiple globes, and the millions of clones they produced. A cancer that had taken over the galactic society of the Allied Planets, Festun the only one spared from it. Even Tyrra suffered it, the southerners holding off while the disease flourished in the northern hemisphere.
 
The strong took advantage of the weak. It was human nature.
 
Matt drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, the sound jarring the silence. “That's it? I expected you to rant, froth at the mouth, something.”
 
The description, showing a lack of sensitivity for his moral outrage, tightened his lips.
 
“And now you're not talking to me? Come on, Min.”
 
His temper slipped its leash. “First you want me to shut up, now you want me to be dramatic? Fine,” he growled. “I look at them, and I see the blood of all the people they've killed.”
 
“Okay, that's dramatic,” Matt said, head jerking towards him. “I thought they were creating life.”
 
“They killed all the defectives that didn't make the cut,” Alex said.
 
Matt grimaced. “You saying they should've let them all live, no matter how badly they turned out?”
 
Bitter anger bubbled up through the despair. “Plenty of clones labeled defective--or who would be labeled defective if most people only knew more about them,” he added, the reference not unmissed by Matt, whose jaw clenched, “don't have anything wrong with them. It's just convenient to get rid of a problem. If not immediately killed, they would use them as test subjects at best. Every life those callous monsters create gets destroyed, sooner or later.”
 
Matt's mouth quirked. “It's called death, Min.”
 
“You know that's not what I meant,” Alex said, turning to look out the window. “Either they get 'deactivated' quickly for some flaw, or cursed to a lifetime of slavery.”
 
“You didn't.”
 
He looked at Matt, touching the collar at his neck. “I don't seem to have escaped very well.”
 
Matt scowled. “Your family-”
 
“Not all of them made it either.” The faces of the ones long dead rose from his memories, the image of Arri strongest of all. Revk, she'd deserved to experience freedom. She would have been happy on Festun.
 
He thought of Kristeer dying at his hands, vengeance for all the lives he'd destroyed, just like these Chavelles. It had never been Kristeer's death he regretted, but rather the torture required and the monster the act had made of him.
 
Matt reached out to him then, a hesitant note to him as he said, “Minril...”
 
Past and present blurred, the way Matt said his name strikingly close to how Kristeer had said it, pleading for his life. Alex flinched away, pushing Matt's hand aside as he hadn't been able to do in the crowded restaurant.
 
“Just- not right now,” he said, unable to explain despite the flash of hurt on Matt's face.
 
Anger swiftly replaced it. “I'm just trying to-”
 
“I know,” Alex said, striving to keep resentment from his voice. “But for each one saved, there are at least a thousand others suffering. Don't bother trying to show me the positives here.”
 
“Don't bother shouldering the sins of the galaxy,” Matt countered. “It’s not your job to fix everything.”
 
Alex looked over at Matt. “I can at least fix what's right in front of me.”
 
Those hazel eyes slid away. After a pause, he said, “I'm not going to work with them.”
 
“Why?” It was the more important question.
 
Matt's brows lifted. “Besides you never speaking to me again?”
 
Alex nodded, relieved that wasn't Matt's only reason.
 
The next answer didn't arrive so quickly. “I... I'm not comfortable with the idea.”
 
Why? Alex bit his tongue before he could push Matt too hard. A couple kilometers worth of streets passed by their windows in utter quiet, telling Matt that wasn't enough of an answer.
 
At last he said, “I can't think of their lab without thinking of what you told me about your lab, the things that happened there.”
 
Finally. Alex exhaled, fighting the bizarre urge to laugh. “I'm sure a lot of the same abuses happened at theirs, no matter the other differences. In some ways, mine was actually better than the rest.”
 
“That's-” Matt paused, turmoil in his eyes. “That's a scary thought. How so?”
 
Some clones didn't make it out of the artificial wombs, genetic defects already detected, while for others it came later, when behavioral or mental problems surfaced. Well, what the lab thought constituted such issues; Arri hadn't been stupid, but she'd definitely had trouble with obedience. That was a grave enough flaw for other labs, Kristech actually more tolerant in this sense, since there'd been such a big investment made in them. For years they'd thought they could break Arri instead, force obedience into her.
 
For other labs, which widely used growth inducers and learning machines, the investment of time and money wasn't so much. Never mind that a quarter of those subjected to learning machines acquired brain damage from overload; those were expected losses, calculated into the investment.
 
He said as much to Matt, whose expression darkened when reminded of those built in losses. “And they only started the lab five years ago. So they must have used all that.”
 
Alex scowled. “Not that it's a surprise. They all do it. But allow at least a couple of years for achieving the right mix of genes for their new 'breed' and here's this kid we saw tonight.”
 
“Growth induced for sure,” Matt said.
 
“Yes.” Alex leaned forward, peering at the street sign. “Make a left at the next light.”
 
“Why-” Matt began, before realizing his intended destination. There was only one reason he'd want Matt to go to his office this late at night. “No.”
 
“I need to give Ten enough time to prepare. We have to act quickly before they sell that boy to someone else.”
 
Matt ignored him, not changing lanes. “Because she pulled his hair you decided to free him?”
 
That Matt would belittle a serious situation still frustrated him no end. “No, I'd already decided it before she did that.”
 
Matt frowned. “Min, what are you planning?”
 
“To have Ten buy him,” Alex said, keeping his tone casual. Did Matt think he’d have Ten launch some daring rescue? Unnecessary. “They already want to sell him, so why not go the simplest route?”
 
“So your brother’s going to buy him honestly?” Matt sounded surprised--and still suspicious.
 
 Alex's mouth twitched. Matt hadn't taken part in a slave rescue before. “You didn't think we just stole all of them away, did you? Easier to buy them, if you have the money.”
 
“Of course, it's just-” Matt hesitated. “Can he afford it?”
 
“We have resources,” Alex said. It would be up to Ten whether he used their joint funds or enlisted some aid. “There are organizations on Festun that help slaves.”
 
Matt's brows lowered. “And of course you’re involved with them.”
 
“I’m not running any, if that’s what you’re thinking. I just have a few contacts,” Alex said, frowning as they passed the intersection. “Matt, just let me send Ten a message. That’s as far as you have to get involved in this.”
 
Matt said nothing, and Alex’s frustration rose. “It would be a perfectly legal sale.”
 
“Except for the part where your brother is a fugitive slave himself.”
 
Judgmental bastard, dismissing not only his brother but any escaped slave from having rights. “Nice, just ignore nearly a decade of freedom and manumission papers.”
 
Matt looked over at him. “Faked manumission papers?”
 
Alex shook his head. “On Festun escaped slaves can ask for asylum. The government grants them manumission.”
 
Matt grunted. “Are these even upheld anywhere outside of Festun?”
 
“In most places no,” Alex admitted, gritting his teeth. Usually they’d check the clone’s records, see if anyone had declared them missing and if so, return them. “But that’s not our fault.”
 
Matt’s head jerked towards him. “You applied for it too?”
 
“Of course.” He’d have been an idiot not to, despite the other stupid things he’d done.
 
Matt huffed, as if he’d proven his point. “See how little it matters here?”
 
Alex glared out the window. “Hayeston, remember? No point in even trying it.”
 
“Still,” Matt said, losing none of his confidence. “Even if you did, it wouldn’t work on Monlea.”
 
Alex was sure it wouldn’t either--not with Matt so eager to claim ownership of him. Annoyed that they were wasting time on this pointless topic while they traveled farther and farther away from Matt’s office, all his frustration burst forth. “Matt, just turn the damn car around so I can send a message to my brother. Those people will get their fucking money. They don’t care what happens to the boy after that. There’s no harm done.”
 
Heavy silence reigned in the car. Alex put a hand up to his face, berating himself for losing his temper. Now Matt would never agree. As much as the contrary bastard loved to give orders, Matt didn’t respond well to being ordered around himself. He’d screwed up. Again.
 
“I didn't mean to,” Alex began, “I just-”
 
“You're just not thinking things through, as usual,” Matt retorted. “Taking stupid risks.”
 
Alex scowled back at him, all thought of defusing the situation gone. “It's not stupid.”
 
“It's a needless risk.” Matt shook his head. “You and your ashen bleeding heart. I get they're your kind and all, but enough.”
 
His kind? Matt's tone said clearly they were a lower kind. Before he could repress his outrage enough to answer, Matt said, “Amazing you haven't been caught at this bullshit before. That's the only way this ends, if you're not stopped.”
 
Alex gritted his teeth, ignoring the larger implications of that for now. “Sending my brother a message is not direct involvement.”
 
“No, but it's getting him involved, and you should care about the risk to him.”
 
Alex sighed. With the man’s attitude changing towards him, he’d thought Matt might have become more sympathetic towards clones in general. Or at least be willing to bend the rules a little on his behalf. He’d been a fool to think Matt would understand, much less help.
 
Shaking futile hopes aside, Alex said, “Of course I don't want Ten getting exposed, which is why we'd use one of the Festunian rescues for this and make it a legal sale.”
 
“Legal?” Doubt was thick on that word.
 
“Shockingly, not everyone in it is a clone,” Alex growled. “Some naturals have accepted the truth.”
 
Matt snorted. “The truth according to you.”
 
A lump tightening his throat, Alex stared out the window. Would Matt never see slavery was wrong?
 
He missed The Cutter's crew terribly at moments like this. He could almost feel Kate and Acto at his shoulders again, peering down at rescue plans laid out on the ship's dining table. His chest ached. They'd never lacked for empathy, while if it wasn't someone from his personal circle, Matt’s concern had definite limits.
 
 “Here is what's going to happen,” Matt said at last into heavy silence. “You will let this go. You hate the Chavelles, but he's not staying with them. Beyond that you don't need to know what happens to him.”
 
Alex scowled.
 
“You can be as upset as you want-”
 
“How gracious of you,” Alex snarled, “to permit me my feelings.”
 
“Shut up and let me finish,” Matt said, as Alex glared at him. “Hate me if you want, but someone has to protect you from yourself.”
 
How he could play that angle while being such a condescending asshole astounded Alex. “Right, it's all out of concern, when really you don't give a shit.”
 
Matt's face darkened. “Not wanting you to risk yourself for some doe-eyed clone is not a sin. Slaves are bought and sold every day. You didn't push to free Garthen's slave; you can let this one be too.”
 
This one was different. The redhead was young, and already in a good position to adapt to freedom, considering his gifts. Not that Matt had even cared to learn why Alex’s attitude was different this time. A slave’s fate was obviously no concern of his.
 
“And even if I did make an exception here,” Matt added, “I know you. It wouldn't stop here.”
 
Alex looked away, aware Matt had a valid point there. None of this logic was enough to convince him not to save this boy now though.
 
“Whatever you’re plotting, don’t bother. I’m not changing my mind.” Matt’s words were implacable and infuriating. “And I’m not taking you to work with me. Not tonight or tomorrow or the day after that. You are not contacting your brother.”
 
“Asshole,” Alex ground out. “You can’t even do this as a favor to me.”
 
A hard smile from Matt. “I am doing you a favor, you just don’t see it.”
 

*

 
When Matt came out of the bathroom the next morning, Alex was dressed and ready. Matt crossed his arms. “Take this pathetic attempt any further, and I’ll tell Sadie you need to be kept extra busy today.”
 
Alex’s mouth thinned, but it was a small sacrifice for the boy’s freedom.
 
The battle between them hadn’t faltered yet; when they’d returned home the night before, Matt had demanded his pocket-comm in front of Sadie, ensuring his compliance. With a bitter taste in his mouth, Alex had watched him lock it in the safe in Matt’s den. The thumbprint activated lock, keyed only to Matt of course, barred Alex from using the most easily accessible device in the house. Before he’d first returned, more aware now of his capabilities, Matt had upped the access security on all the devices he owned, even the damn vids. While not impossible to overcome given enough time, these security measures were Flaming aggravating.
 
Alex sat down on the bed now, as if giving in. “I thought I’d give you one more chance to make the right choice.”
 
“I already did,” Matt scoffed. The bedroom door closed behind him a moment later.
 
After a couple of minutes, Alex slipped out the door too. Faint sounds from the kitchen told him Matt was having breakfast with Sadie, a common part of his workday routine. Alex only joined them sometimes, so his absence wasn’t notable. It was easy to sneak out the front door instead, and into the dark garage. After a few minutes spent hiding in the backseat of the Centrum, the back door was yanked open. A glowering Matt stood over him.
 
“Do I need to use these?” he said, lifting up a hand. Restraints dangled from it.
 
Alex got up real quick. He scrambled out the other door, putting the car between them. This was not part of the plan. “That won’t be necessary.”
 
“It seems it is,” Matt countered, rolling his eyes a second later. “Do you think I’m stupid? That I wouldn’t notice you weren’t in the bedroom?”
 
“I was hoping you wouldn’t check,” Alex said, wincing. Matt usually didn’t come back after breakfast, though it wasn’t surprising he’d pick today to-
 
“Get back in the house,” Matt growled.
 
Caught between conflicting motivations, Alex froze for a moment. Then he slowly made his way around the front of the car. “Matt…”
 
“Get the fuck inside before I drag you in myself and chain you up.”
 
Pushing his fury and disappointment deep down--Matt hadn’t been such a domineering asshole in a while, and Alex missed his softer side already--he held up his hands. “All right, you win, okay?” He let all his despair show in his voice. “I had to try.”
 
He walked past Matt with his body alert and his hands tucked against himself, just in case he got any ideas. Those hazel eyes flickered, but there was no other sign of possible softening. Alex glanced back when he got to the front door; Matt watched him still, a frown on his face.
 
Inside he encountered Sadie. “There you are.” Her gaze sharpened. “Have you straightened up your master’s room?”
 
You know I haven’t. The gleam in her eyes gave her away, but he said only, “I’ll do it now, Madame.”
 
At least it provided a reprieve from her. He entered the bedroom and fixed the bed covers. He was standing by the nightstand when the door opened, revealing Matt.
 
“Get back in the car.”
 
Alex frowned. “What are you-”
 
“Don’t play innocent. Did you think I wouldn’t see through your ploy? Trying to convince me you wanted to come with me so badly, when really you’re going to use some riskier way to contact him from the house.”
 
Alex just quirked one brow up at him. Not so surprising that paranoid Matt believed he’d hack into one of his devices given time and enough motivation, but just before he’d-
 
Scowling, Matt beckoned him over. “You’re coming with me, where I can keep an eye on you myself.”
 
Alex eyed him now, weighing the man’s contrary behavior. Had Matt been playing him all morning?
 
“Come on. You’ve made me late as it is.”
 
Somehow Alex couldn’t stir up much sympathy for him. With a snort, he said, “I was in the car and you kicked me out. A little ridiculous to blame me for being late.”
 
“Minril,” was the exasperated response.
 
After a wary look--while he didn’t see the restraints from earlier, they could still be close at hand--Alex walked over, stopping in front of him. “You intended to take me with you all along.”
 
There was a momentary pause, then a hard smile. “Like I’d actually trust you not to do anything stupid if left on your own.”
 
“Asshole,” Alex muttered. He’d been upfront with Matt last night, and it had cratered spectacularly. That was likely the stupidest thing he’d do all week.
 
Matt grabbed his arm then. “Did you try anything while I was at breakfast?” His eyes narrowed. “In the bathroom?”
 
“No,” Alex growled, jerking his arm out of his grasp. It was better to wait until Matt was gone from the house.
 
“Good,” Matt said, his eyes glinting. “Although I suppose it was a question of time rather than common sense.”
 
Fuck you. The words hovered on Alex’s lips, but never left. What was the point? Until he considered the matter ‘settled,’ those small breaks were probably all that Matt would allow him away from his watchful gaze.
 
A moment later Matt walked out the door, Alex traipsing after him with a sigh. His pretense this morning hadn’t been good enough, not that he’d believed it ever had a high chance of success. Matt was too paranoid.
 
The workday that followed was exceedingly long. He considered flirting with Matt to distract him while he slipped Matt’s pocket-comm away, but he couldn’t muster up the effort. With Matt on high alert, it had about as much chance of working as catching the sun anyway.  Alex lay on the couch most of the day--sulking, he reluctantly supposed, except for a couple times when Matt joined him there and distracted him with more entertaining activities--but he was still pissed and had nothing to do. His few attempts to leave the room were blemished by Matt abandoning whatever he was doing to follow him out. That he chose to stand near that young mother’s office as he called someone over to talk was not a coincidence.
 
Alex didn’t give him the satisfaction of showing a reaction. Instead he strolled over to the bathroom as if that had been his destination all along.
 
A smug smile lingered at Matt’s mouth as they drove to the house. Alex did his best to ignore it, saying little. The bastard left his PC locked in that safe even after they returned, but least Matt didn’t push him much more that evening, content with having gotten his way.
 
It was only when they lay in the dark later, Matt pressed against his back, that Alex finally allowed himself to smile. Good thing he’d already messaged Ten during the early hours of the morning, Matt deeply asleep. Using Sadie’s PC had only made the act all the sweeter.

Chapter 7
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