2305: Look To Your Sins

Posted: February 27, 2013 by Kelly in league, stories

2305: Look To Your Sins

It is supposed to be the best meal in the world, cuisine from the highest order, but Milan Anders isn’t tasting any of it. Dozens of cameras are registering him pricking at his food. He’s supposed to be feasting with the other League competitors during the official pre-game dinner. Tomorrow morning they’ll all be fighting to the death, but tonight is supposed to be for socialising and smiling for the viewers at home.

He’s supposed to be talking, jesting, cajoling with the others. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s been doing so far and what he’s been famous for. If there’s anything Milan’s good at it’s talking to people. He knows how to be funny, how to make people laugh and how to make people like him. He’s been in sales, for crying out loud. It’s his thing.

It’s what gave him his fan base. It is what made him famous. And in the worst possible ways, it is what has gotten him this far. Or was it? What /has/ gotten him to the Euroleague of 2305? Would he even have made it here on his training and skills alone, or is he here because of Rune’s intervention? He’ll never know, and it is eating at him so badly that his food tastes like ashes in his mouth.

He drinks from the expensive champagne instead. Too heavily, too much. His cheeks are flushed and he knows that his eyes are fever bright with alcohol, but the stimms and water infusions tomorrow morning will sort him out anyway. Chances are that he won’t live to see 48 hours. If there’s ever a time to get smashed, it is right now.

“I’m sorry about your girlfriend,” the woman sitting next to him offers. She is has short dark hair and has the olive complexion of the mediterranean sea. He knows who she is. He’s watched her games, he’s seen her stats. She fights with a shock rifle and thus shoots plasma like he does, so he has been paying special attention to her. Tonight, through the haze of expensive alcohol he can’t think of her name, embarrassingly enough. Luna? Lia? Her last name is something Portugese, at least.

“There hasn’t been a verdict yet,” he responds automatically. It’s a knee-jerk reaction he’s been giving to the press in the past two weeks and it is out before he realises what he’s saying.

The woman (Landra, that’s it) gives him a pitying look. “No, there hasn’t,” she says carefully, glancing at the cameras. “But there’s the video evidence. Everyone knows about the video evidence.”

Milan sets his glass on the table and immediately pours himself some extra champagne. Straight from the bottle, even before the table staff can reach out a helping hand. The liquid is gorgeous gold like victory. “Still, I’m not saying she’s guilty before there’s a verdict,” he says flatly. “I’m sure you understand. We had this thing.”

Landra raises a slender eyebrow. “Had?”

His hands freeze in the middle of a motion. He had not realised what he was saying. “Have,” he corrects absently. His thoughts are racing. /Am I this angry at her? Have I dumped her already, and doesn’t she just know it yet? Is it enough to dump her? She meant well enough; she tried to save my life. She didn’t believe I would make it and she promised to keep me alive. She kept her promise./ He suddenly has to think about what Walter said about Rune. How intense she could be. How she wouldn’t settle for just six weeks of frantic sex in bootcamp. /How right you were, Walter. And hell, you’re paying for her intensity./ Even the champagne starts to taste sour now. He takes a quick chug from his drink anyway. It fizzes on his tongue. “Anyway, I don’t want to talk about it on what might be my last night on this earth. I’m sure you understand.”

“Why is that, Anders?” a new voice suddenly chimes in.

Milan looks up over the rim of his crystal goblet.

Across from the table, behind the glazed turkey, Laurent le Blanc is regarding him with an expression that holds the middle between cold contempt and a shit-eating grin. “Don’t want to talk about it, because without Murray holding your hand you’re sure to die a painful death?”

He bites on the inside of his cheek and doesn’t answer immediately. He just gives Le Blanc the stink eye back. He’s knows all about Le Blanc as well. The Euroleague winner from last year, back for more. The guy is an evil genius and near unbeatable with his dual guns. They say he’s almost as good – or better – as Valentina Marin with those things. And he stategises, he plays mind games. Milan knew this was going to happen and he refuses to take the bait. “We’ll just see what happens tomorrow, won’t we?” he says as pleasantly as he can manage.

Le Blanc takes a bite from his turkey and regards Milan with a smirk through his chewing. “What is going to happen tomorrow is that you die. Have you made your peace yet?”

“Have you?” Milan counters with his best smile.

Next to him, Landra laughs. Le Blanc leans over in his direction with his elbows on the table and smiles lazily. “Don’t have to. I am not going to die in the Arena, unlike the rest of you.”

He can feel the cameras on him. The people at home, watching him, assessing him. Perhaps saying the same things about him. He has to convince them; he has to convince himself. “I wouldn’t be here if I wouldn’t have a chance. I’ve made three kills in the Fortress, I’m planning to do the same here. Maybe even more.”

“You had a Fortress full of piss and shit because your trainer took out the real competition for you. How do you think you’ll fare under my guns, Milan Anders?”

/Poorly,/ the thought comes unbidden. “Well enough to make you one of my three,” he grins. He’s full of shit and he knows it, Le Blanc knows it, Landra knows it, and the audience at home knows it most of all. Still, it has to be said.

“I’m going to take extra care to make you my first blood,” Le Blanc promises. His voice is oddly flat, but the look in his pale eyes is one of a predator that has found his prey. It is mildly terrifying to see that calm, assessing gaze resting on him.

/And I am going to avoid the flying fuck out of you and hope someone else takes you out. That’s what I’m good for, after all./ He hates himself for thinking it and he hates himself more for the fact that his competitor (and all of the viewers at home) can probably read his thoughts on his face.

By the time dinner finishes, the hour nears midnight and Milan is both drunk and terrified. He still has a couple of hours left to bail out. The cut-off line will be at 6 in the morning, after that his life and death will be owned by the Corporation, until the moment he might walk out of that Arena. Thus are the terms that every competitor agrees to.

He declines Landra’s invitation to have a few drinks together in the bar and stumbles to his rooms instead. He hardly sees the splendor of the richly decorated room. All he thinks of is the competitors that have occupied these rooms before him. Has this room hosted someone who lived out the day after they spent the night here? He grabs a bottle of champagne that is sitting on the gold-rimmed glass dinner table and automatically opens it. He stands in the middle of the luxury apartment, closes his eyes and drinks straight from the bottle, uncaring of the cameras, uncaring of anyone who might be watching him.

/How do you think you will fare under my guns, Milan Anders?/ Le Blanc asks him in his memory. The alcohol doesn’t make him forget. if anything, it makes it worse. The quote starts eating at Milan’s brain as well, together with the questions he’s never asked of Rune.

He hasn’t talked to her since the day she was apprehended and jailed. While waiting for her trial, she has sent him numerous messages which he had all ignored. He had been too busy trying to process what the hell had happened to him, how it had come to this.

Instead, he had gone to see Walter in the hospital. There had been such a burning need to apologise. Walter had been cordial enough considering the circumstances, saying that Milan was not responsible for what had happened. “I told you Rune had issues, though,” he had said with a wry expression on his face.

“You did. But please believe me, I never would have fucked her if I would have known it would fuck everything up like this,” Milan had confessed.

Walter had sighed and looked out of the window, evading his eyes. “Which is why I don’t blame you, not really.”

It had made him feel a bit better, until he had run into Walter’s girlfriend in the hallway of the hospital. The red-haired girl narrowed her eyes and before he could do anything, she slammed him against the white painted wall. “What the fuck are you doing here?” she hissed as she held him pinned with a surprising strength.

He held his hands up in surrender. “Apologising. I was just on my way out.”

She slowly let go of him, but the blue fire in her eyes didn’t diminish in the slightest bit. “Get the fuck out of my face before I do something stupid.”

Milan wriggled away from her grasp and took one step away from her, before he knew what he wanted to say. “I’m sorry,” he said, “I never meant for things to turn out this way.”

He could hear her grind her teeth. “I know. Listen Milan, I’ve seen pretty much every minute of the boot camp feed and under any other circumstances I’m sure you and I would get on like a house on fire. But as things are right now, if either you or your psycho girlfriend get anywhere near my boyfriend, I’m not kidding, I’m going to do stupid things. Walter is not the only crack shot in our household, okay?”

“Duly noted.” It was as good as he was going to get, he had supposed as he trudged away to a pod station. Rune had sabotaged the weapon, but he had been the cause for it. It might have been different if he had somehow been able to emerge victorious against Walter in the Fortress. That would have been a fair battle then, and to the death. To cripple him for life in an unfair fight was just so much worse.

Of course Rune had meant to kill Walter. She had a grudge against him anyhow, so she had probably figured that whatever hurt she could have laid on him would have been a bonus. In one fell swoop she had taken out the favourite, Walter, and Milan’s other opponent, Saxa – paving the way for his Fortress victory and his entrance ticket to the League. The end of all his problems. She had been trying to /help/ him. But what is eating at him was why she had thought it necessary.

Guzzling down the champagne straight from the bottle, Milan reaches a decision. He hasn’t talked with her in weeks, not since it all went down, but before he’ll do anything, he needs an answer to that question. He needs to talk to Rune. So he gives her a call. His handheld is unsteady in his trembling hands. The world lurches around him as he focuses on the screen.

Rune picks up at the second ring. She looks awful and exhausted. Her curly dark hair is greasy and tied back in a loose braid, and there are smudges under her red-rimmed eyes. Her caramel skin has lost all of its healthy glow. “Oh Milan,” she breathes. “Fucking finally.”

“I need to ask you something,” he rasps at his screen. He blinks at her, trying to sort out his feelings for her through the overwhelming maelstrom of emotions. Trying to see if he can feel something beyond the guilt and the uncertainty.

She nods tiredly. “Anything, babe.”

When he speaks, it seems to come from someone else’s mouth. It doesn’t sound like his voice. He feels oddly detached from himself. “Did you really think I’d need it? Did you really think I would die in the Fortress?”

“I didn’t want to take the risk,” she says quickly. “You’re brilliant, but I didn’t want to count on it.”

He shakes his head as he feels the anger starting to build in his gut. “And then there’s still the Euroleague. Do you have something planned to get me out of here too, if you trust so little in my skills?” He hates himself a little, because deep down inside in his heart of hearts he kind of hopes that she does.


“Don’t you Milan me!” he snarls at the screen. “What the hell were you thinking? If you think this little of me, then I’ll die tomorrow in the Arena and you’ll be in jail because you bought me three more weeks to live! Way to fucking go!”

She looks away from the screen in an attempt to hide the tears in her dark eyes. He sees it anyway and he hates her as well.

“Are you going to tell me I should bail out?” he shouts. “Because if you want to, now is your fucking chance.”

Rune rakes a hand through her shaggy hair and closes her eyes for a moment. “As if I could ever tell you anything. That’s the problem with you. Milan, I taught you everything I know. I am just so very scared I didn’t teach you enough because /I/ suck. It drives me crazy that I might lose you tomorrow and I love you so much.”

“Well, fuck you for loving me, then!” He tosses the handheld on the bed and covers his head in his hands. He just wants to forget everything. Forget it ever happened. Forget that there are cameras on his face. Forget that there are people watching him as he is falling apart.

Her voice drifts to him from the handheld behind him. “Yeah,” she just says softly. “The things we do for love.”

There is silence between them as he fists his hands into his dark hair and tries to get control over his raging emotions. On the other side of the connection, Rune is trying the same. He can hear her breathe heavily, as if she’s trying to swallow back tears.

“Milan,” she says after a couple of minutes. Hours?

Despite everything, he picks up the handheld from the silk bed spread and looks at her. Her face is tear-streaked, but there is some determination shining through. He can see some of her fire again. “Just survive tomorrow, okay? Don’t let it all be for nothing.”

“Yeah,” he says hoarsely. “Okay.”

The cameras get a good eyeful of their last look before he terminates the connection. He grabs the bottle of champagne and wanders over to the balcony, looking up at the darkened midnight sky. There are no clouds tonight, so the light pollution has very little to reflect upon. The sky is midnight red. He stands there for a long time, one hand clenched around the neck of his bottle, the other around the railing of the balcony.

He thinks of Le Blanc, Landra, and all the others. He will meet them in the Arena tomorrow, but he now has an incentive to live. Because if he doesn’t, Walter will have been hurt for nothing. Saxa’s career will have been nearly destroyed for naught. He’s not sure he wants to fight for Rune. For a couple of weeks in boot camp, he had been intensely in love with her. He doesn’t know if that’s still the case. But if he won’t fight for her, he’ll fight for the others.

/How do you think you’ll fare under my guns, Milan Anders?/

He smiles at the darkness above him.

/I intend to fucking live./


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