It was probably a shitty thing to do, but Milton waited until after picking up York to fill his gas tank. He knew how York felt about gas stations - going so far as selling his car and only going places he could get to on foot or bicycle. But he also knew that York would never get over Haydn's murder if he never confronted his demons. He could see York ball his hands into white-knuckled fists as he shut off the engine.
"It'll just be a minute. I don't want to run out of gas on the way out to the lake." Milton pulled out his wallet and used the pay at the pump feature and filled the tank. He watched his passenger carefully, but York never moved. Milton wasn't sure he was even breathing until he climbed back into the truck and started it up. "Ready?"
York barely moved. If he hadn't been watching him closely, Milton would have missed the tiny nod. He put the truck in gear and headed out of town, letting York stew for a few miles in silence. His passenger still clenched his fists, but his jaw had relaxed a bit. That muscle wasn’t ticking as he ground his teeth anymore, at least.
“You know,” Milton said, his voice loud to his ears, after driving in silence. “You can’t keep going on like this.”
“Don’t.” York’s jaw was tightened again, and his knuckles were turning white again as he tried to control his anger.
“I’m just trying to help.”
“What do you know about it? Huh? Nothing. So just shut up.”
“I know Haydn wouldn’t want this for you.”
York’s fists slammed into the glove box. “Don’t say another word. You have no idea what I’m going through, so just shut the fuck up, all right?” He felt like shit for yelling at him, but York couldn’t bring himself to stop. “Just shut up about it.” He threw himself back against the seat and stared out the passenger window, hoping Milton would take the hint.
For a few more miles, Milton simply drove. York may hate him after this, but someone needed to shove him back into the living, instead of allowing him to wallow in grief. Two years was too much time lost to simply existing. He took a deep breath before speaking again. In the corner of his eye, he could see York tense.
“When my master got sick, I begged him to get me sick, too.”
York’s head whipped around to stare at Milton. In the year and half he’d been working with the man, that would have been the last thing he would have expected to ever hear from him.
“Well, I guess he was sick the whole time. He just didn’t show symptoms. That’s why he never fucked me.” Milton laughed, but there was no humor in it. He settled back in his seat, relaxing a bit, as if he wasn’t dropping the biggest bombshell York had ever heard. “I mean, why else would you take in a stupid fifteen-year-old drop-out runaway in and train him to be a good boy, but never fuck him?” He shook his head.
“Milton…” York couldn’t form any words. Milton was always quiet when they sat around, getting raucous, trading tales of getting tail. And he had never heard the big man cuss.
“When he wouldn’t do it, I tried get it myself. Tore up my fingertips and my knuckles trying to get into the biohazard box to get to his syringes. Got whipped for that one.”
“Milton, I-” York started, but Milton continued in that toneless way that was scaring him.
“Got the cage for a month when he found me drinking drain cleaner.” Milton laughed again. “He had tried to introduce some new masters. Ones to take his place. I fucking hated him for that. Screamed and clawed at the bars for hours. I sobbed, begging him to take me with him. To just let me end it so I could be with him when he went.”
“That was when he decided he needed to do something. I was all of seventeen, and completely finished with life. Trying to cash it in because the man I loved was going to die. And he knew that I would do it if he tried to give me to someone else.”
York twisted in his seat and pulled one knee up to lean against the door. “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Milton snorted. “Tell you what? The big, dumb hick was a worthless slave boy his master couldn’t bring himself to fuck? A fucking virgin slave boy. Can you believe that shit? Nah, you guys already think I’m a dumbass loser. Why prove it?”
“Save it, York. I know what you think. It’s in the way you guys act. The way you guys talk. Or don’t, actually. How y’all shut up when I walk in.”
“I’m sorry, Milton. We just thought….” York didn’t know how to finish his sentence. “You know what? I don’t think we ever really thought about you like that. You’re always so quiet, we just figured you were a sheltered country boy who didn’t know anything about what we were talking about.”
“Figured that much. Haven’t been sheltered in a long time. Hard to come out on a farm and keep the peace.”
“What? You mean….” York waited, but Milton didn’t say anything. “They kicked you out because you came out?”
“No, they kicked my ass because I came out. Then they kicked it again, and again. Figured they could beat the gay out.” He looked over at York and smiled. It was one of the coldest smiles he’d ever seen, and coming from the sweet country boy, it was bone-chilling. “They never could have figured I liked it. Almost came in my pants every time.”
York just stared at him. He tried to reconcile the man next to him with the images his story presented. This huge, innocent looking man-child, beaten bloody by his so-called friends and family. Or locked in a cage, crying. He started to shake with fury, wanting to do anything to make things better, to fix anything he could.
Milton shook his head and continued. “That was until they damn near killed me. If the branch hadn’t broke, I’da been a goner. I figured it was time to get the hell out of there.” He shrugged one huge shoulder. “Master Drake found me a couple of days later, still bruised and bloody. He brought me to his house, gave me food, clothes. A shower. Fuck, that shower felt good.” He chuckled a little and smiled remembering it.
“I can’t believe you never said anything.”
“What’s to say? ‘Hi, I’m a masochistic high school drop out with a dead master who never wanted to fuck me?’ No, that’s not something you just say. And no one ever asked. Just formed opinions based on my look. Figured it was better to just shut up and let you believe whatever you were going to.”
York couldn’t argue with that reasoning. He couldn’t remember any of the team ever asking Milton about his past. They knew he’d gotten out of school just before coming to work with them, but he looked so young and, hell, innocent was the only way to describe him. A fresh off the farm fresh-out. No way he could understand all their ways.
“Wait, you said you’re a drop out?” Milton nodded. “But you were a fresh-out when you came to us. How’d you get into school?”
“Master Drake set it up. After the poisoning incident, he knew he had to do something. I was going to do whatever it took to get myself killed. He wouldn’t allow that. While I cooled off in the cage, he set up tutors and classes for my G.E.D., then started working his connections to get me into computer classes.”
“Why did you go? If you were so set on dying, I mean.”
“Truth? He ordered me, so I went. And he ordered me to do well, so I did.” This time, there was humor in Milton’s laugh, and York joined him.
“That’s all it took? He ordered you?”
“Yep. It never occurred to me to disobey him.” Milton’s smile faded. “I went to class, did well, started living like a normal person. He started getting worse, and he prepared me for it. Finances, cooking, my classes. When he died, he planned to leave me everything, but I wanted to do something to help other runaways like me, to keep them from getting killed on the streets. He put the money into some kind of trust and the house is some kind of shelter now. I don’t know a lot about it. Not the specifics or anything. I just know they exist. Someone’s taking care of it.” He shrugged again.
“Jesus, Milton. We never even knew.”
“Ain’t no thing. We work, we live, we go on. That’s about all you can do.”
“Is that why you’re telling me all this now? I’m supposed to just go on? Like nothing happened?”
“No. Not like nothing happened. Shit happened.”
“So what do I do now?” York asked quietly, really wanting an answer.
“Would it help if I ordered you to snap out of it?”
“Figured as much. Slave boy and all. Don’t have much weight behind my orders. How about just asking that you try? I never met Haydn, but I know he would be disappointed in you. He’d want you out there. Living. Not just breathing.”
“I know,” he whispered, eyes burning. “I know.”
“I know it’s easier said than done, but if you do nothing, it won’t ever get better. You’re more than the tragedies you’ve faced. You’ve got to stop defining yourself that way. It happened. You can’t change it. You can’t fix it. All you can do is live with it. ‘Cause the alternative sucks. And trust me on this – drain cleaner tastes like shit.”
York laughed. “I’ll take your word on that one.”
They pulled into the campsite, and Milton parked next to Ogilvie’s Jeep. Milton started to get out, but York stopped him. He turned, raising an eyebrow in question.
“Thanks, Milton. And sorry we never asked.”
“’Welcome. Now, let’s go have some fun.” He smiled, and he looked like such a school boy, York couldn’t help but laugh. When he got out of the truck, Milton shocked York once again by stripping down and leaving his clothes in a pile next to the truck, a huge, mischievous grin across his face. “Race ya’!”
“What are you doing?” York yelled at Milton’s broad back as he took off running, bare ass almost glowing in the twilight.
“Last one in’s a rotten egg!” Milton shouted as he raced past the campfire Ogilvie had started.
“What the hell was that?” he asked as York dropped one of the empty chairs set around the fire. They heard a splash in the distance, then a surprised shout.
“That was one complicated man.”
“Huh?” Ogilvie looked at York, the confusion clear on his face.
“Nevermind.” York stood and started laughing, feeling lighter and more free than he had in months. “Nevermind, man,” he repeated, dropping the last of his clothes and taking off for the lake, still laughing as he shouted at Milton. “Wait for me, you big oaf!”