Blogging From A to Z is a blog challenge where participants post a new item every day (except Sundays), where every item relates to the appropriate letter of the alphabet. You can find out more over at http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com
Word Count: 2,230
The problem with lorries in the summer was the heat. Jonathan could wind down both the windows and hammer the air conditioning in full and the sweat still poured down his forehead.
God, if he could just drop his head to the steering wheel, just for a moment, and close his eyes—but he was in traffic, and anyway, the last time he did it he’d accidentally headbutted the horn and made himself jump.
He’d been doing it years, yes, but sometimes he envied Simon and his motorbike.
Not that he envied taking his life into his hands every time he travelled. A lorry cab might be slow but it was comfortable—once he’d arranged to have the seat adjusted—and, summer excepted, suited him perfectly. A motorbike; well, he worried about Simon often enough, and at least he wore a helmet, unlike the kid riding the white line in his wing mirror, his face shaded by his hair—
Only that wasn’t shadow—and by the time Jonathan realised the bike was long past. Still, it was just a weird flash of memory, nothing more. Except... was that a pair of dark, pointed ears standing proud either side of that mop of blond hair?
* * *
The return journey almost had him hanging his head out the window, braid in the breeze, in sheer desperation. No way he’d listen to the forecast again; they’d promised rain and where was it? Not here.
The roar of an engine that filled his ear might have had something to do with the ljusalfa size of it, but probably had more to do with the rapid approach of a motorbike along the curtain-sided truck. Though what kind of idiot thought it was a great idea to risk life and limb on such a notorious stretch of road—
Dark ears, dark skin, and still no sign of a helmet, but again that thick and wild mop of blond hair—
He could count on one hand the amount of dokkalfa he’d seen in the midlands, and on one finger the amount of blond ones...
Still. It was a flight of fancy. It had to be. Because the chances of seeing the same dokkalfa six years apart... They were nonexistent, right? There was no way the skinny teenage hitchhiker he’d picked up one dark, wet night could be sailing up and down the M1 on a bike that looked an only marginal improvement on Simon’s.
Disregarding the prevailing opinion in the ljusalfa community—and Jonathan usually did—he thought it’d be nice to see more dokkalfa up north.
* * *
The hiss sounded just enough like frying bacon to make Jonathan’s stomach rumble. He glowered at the water streaming steadily down the windscreen, barely interrupted by the regular squeak of wipers over glass, and wondered just when the revised forecast of a barbecue summer happened to include torrential rain. Sunlight might bring out the holidaymakers to clog up the motorway, but rain reduced traffic to a crawl just as easily.
Three motorbikes shot past in quick succession, their garish frames and leather-clad riders both slick with rain. There had to be some local club meet going on: this trip he’d seen more bikers on the road, despite its lack of ideal conditions, than he had during his entire previous journey there and back. And at that speed, the lack of ideal conditions would be the death of them. It was all very well being aware of what bikers were doing around a lorry riddled with blind spots, but just sometimes Jonathan wished the bikers paid him the same courtesy.
And there was another, scooting up the too-narrow gap between lanes, helmeted head angling up at each lorry it passed. For all the world it looked like the rider was trying to see inside the cabs but in this weather that kind of idea was suicidal—
Dark bike. Nondescript dark leathers that nonetheless looked almost familiar and a dark helmet whose rain-spattered visor tilted round and up as it passed the cab.
He could have sworn that, behind the tinted plastic, its owner’s eyes widened.
With the appalling weather and the biker’s inattention it was inevitable. Jonathan had to credit his ljusalfa preternatural speed and the fact his legs were nearer the pedals than any human’s for his reflexes—and, if he was honest, the fact he’d been lucky to get above ten miles an hour for the last two hours—for not driving straight into the kid when their bike slipped from under them and skidded across the road, depositing its rider in a heap on the tarmac.
He flung his cab door open with enough force it sprang back and almost hit him in the face as he swung down and into the rain. Loud hoots and honks followed his sprint to the biker’s prone form; like they were going anywhere even with his lorry abandoned in the slow lane. God, don’t let the biker be dead.
The kid was little more than a sopping heap of leathers as Jonathan hurried over, shoulders hunched against the downpour. The day was bad enough, the idea of having to peel a broken body from the road made bile rise in his stomach and God and Goddess both the figure wasn’t even moving—
A gentle groan rose like steam from hot asphalt as the biker twitched beneath Jonathan’s tentative fingers. Not dead; relief washed over him with the drizzle. Another jerk, another groan, then the biker’s shoulder pressed against Jonathan’s hand as they pushed up, each movement slow and jerky.
“Take your time,” Jonathan murmured, ignoring a long blast of air horn from a lorry further down the queue. The car in front had only advanced a few yards down the road and the other lanes, already packed, were crawling past as drivers and passengers alike expended more attention on the unfolding scene than the traffic ahead of them. Where the impatient trucker thought he’d be going, Jonathan had no idea. Probably over the kid’s stunned body.
A sound that could have been “I’m fine” made its muffled way from beneath the kid’s helmet.
“Like hell you are,” Jonathan muttered, grabbing their upper arm to steady them as their—his, that was a male voice—shoulders slumped and his head came perilously close to hitting the road again.
“’m fine,” the answer grumbled back, and for a split second Jonathan almost believed it. Right up until both hands, clad in shredded gloves, snapped up to ball at the kid’s chest and a barely-suppressed whimper escaped the dark visor. “Shit, shit, not now...”
Anyone in their right mind would have run screaming, Jonathan suspected, because there was no way anyone’s fingers should move like that. No one should sit and calmly watch as long grey blades burst from the glove’s fingers, flashing in the dull light. As their owner trembled and shuddered beneath Jonathan’s touch, until with a visible force of effort the blades melted and retracted again, leaving in their place slender lavender-grey fingers surrounded by the tattered remains of leather and fabric.
Of course, the hypothetical ‘most people’ in their right minds weren’t familiar with the effect of emotion on bio-polymetal the way Jonathan was.
The kid’s harsh breathing was audible even outside his helmet. When Jonathan reached up he flinched away, but didn’t offer resistance as Jonathan gently raised the visor.
Fearful hazel eyes met his. “I—It’s not what you think, I can explain—”
“No, you can’t,” Jonathan said softly, “because you don’t understand it yourself. It’s okay.”
It shouldn’t have been possible for the kid’s eyes to widen further; he began to struggle with the helmet’s chinstrap, fingers shaking badly. “It is you. It’s really you. I never thought I’d see you again...”
When the helmet was wrenched free, Jonathan felt his own eyes widen to match. Six years. Six whole years since he’d found a teenage hitchhiker trudging along the motorway’s hard shoulder. Six years he’d spent wondering if the homeless alfa boy was alright, wishing there was something more he’d done, wishing he’d taken him home and helped him get on his feet again instead of simply dropping him off where he’d asked.
Six years and the blond boy was now a young man, and apparently a victim of the same appalling genetic experiment that had almost ruined Simon’s life.
Words were only a waste. Jonathan wrapped his arms around the kid’s shoulders and enveloped him in a tight hug instead. Beneath his touch he felt him twitch, tense and, for a moment, almost pull away. Then wet leather-clad arms clung back, fingers wrapping into his saturated T-shirt as the dokkalfa shivered against him.
Jonathan only relinquished him again when the air horn’s sonorous blast again cut through the drizzle. Now he looked more closely at the dokkalfa he couldn’t help worrying afresh. The kid’s leathers were scuffed, almost into nonexistence in places, and his gloves were beyond any hope of repair. His bike, on its side a short distance away, appeared dented and Jonathan could make out a vivid silver scrape marring the glossy black. “There’s no way you’re riding that back.”
The kid’s gaze followed Jonathan’s. “Doesn’t look that way, no,” he said forlornly, fumbling through his pockets. “I need picking up, I better call—he’s gonna kill me—ah shit.” He froze mid-pat. “I forgot my mobile.”
Jonathan couldn’t suppress his grin at the kid’s stricken expression. “Don’t worry. Just so happens I’ve got transport.”
“But, my bike...”
Before he could object, Jonathan rose and began the careful process of picking it up. Nothing had come off it, luckily for the kid—if it was Simon’s half of it would have been in pieces over the tarmac—and aside from the worst of the dents and gouges, didn’t seem too heavily damaged. The kid simply watched, mouth slightly ajar, as Jonathan propped the bike at the side of his lorry long enough to undo a few of the catches holding the curtain closed, then struggled to shove the vehicle up into the safety of his empty trailer. So that was why it came off better than Simon’s would have done: it weighed twice as much. No offer of help was forthcoming from its owner either; despite his grimace Jonathan decided to let him off. The kid was still dazed and what Jonathan had initially mistaken for a scuff on his jacket turned out to be bare flesh patterned by seeping red road rash.
His concern must have been plain. The kid moved to cover it with one hand. “It’s fine,” he said, a half-smile twisting one corner of his mouth. “I heal fast, even if I’m not tall like you.”
Jonathan opened his mouth to point out about infections, then simply sighed. “Do you need help getting in the cab.”
This time the smile covered the whole of his lips, and was wholly without humour. “No thanks. I’ve had a lot of practice there.” Before Jonathan could answer, he vanished around the other side of the cab.
He remained standing for a moment longer, listening to the sound of the passenger door opening and closing, then sighed again and swung himself up into the driver’s seat. From the queue of traffic he heard a shout of “about fucking time!”
Humans didn’t like it when seven-foot alfa punched them, but this time Jonathan thought it would be entirely justified.
Beside him, the kid sat silently, fidgeting and dripping and looking for all the world like a larger version of his sixteen-year-old self. “Thank you. For helping me, I mean. Now and... then, too. I’m sorry, I—I’ve forgotten your name.”
He only answered when he’d pulled the ten yards forward to catch up with the car in front. “I’m Jonathan. And...?”
“And I’m Milos.” The kid smiled awkwardly down at his scraped knees.
“Well, Milos,” Jonathan said, leaning back in his seat and flashing him a tight grin, “I know it’s been a while, but perhaps you could tell me how you’ve ended up working for HEL?”
For an instant Milos froze, panic clear in his eyes as he weighed up how far he’d get if he fled the cab now. “I don’t—I mean—”
“Your hands. Don’t worry,” he added, relenting in the face of Milos’s increasing terror, “I don’t work for anyone. My lodger, though, he’s...”
“The first surviving alfa bioweapon,” Milos finished for him, his attention firmly back on his knees. “I’m right, aren’t I?”
Jonathan nodded. “And you’re...?”
“Only the second. Are you going to turn me over to him?”
He couldn’t hold back his snort. “Why would I? Simon wouldn’t have the first idea what to do with you anyway.”
“It’s a long story...”
Nodding to the snaking line of traffic stretching as far ahead of them as the eye could see, Jonathan said simply, “we have time.”
Milos sighed, folding his hands on his knees, and told Jonathan everything.