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Routine

"Get the hell away from me!" Milo said groggily as light began to filter back into his senses.

"Aw, don't be such a baby", Law drawled. He brought the cloth he was holding, wet with hot water, to the gash on Milo's right cheek and began gently wiping the blood away.

Milo let his eyes wander around the room as the memory of what had happened slowly returned. Dova had left, gone to the store to get some damn thing. Beer? Groceries? Didn't matter. Milo had said something sarcastic to Law, and Law had responded in typical Neanderthal fashion. Punched him full in the face, knocking him down. Then he had dragged him up by the front of his shirt and hit him again. Milo had passed out at that point, but judging by how his body felt Law had kept going for a while.

Now he was lying on the couch in the living room of the small house the three of them shared with Law kneeling beside him, cleaning his various injuries. Law's expression as he worked was one of studied boredom mingled with contempt, but his eyes betrayed him. They conveyed concern and regret. Dova sat on the other side of the room, reading the newspaper.

Milo jerked away as the cloth touched his split lip, and Law dropped it onto the coffee table in exasperation and turned to Dova. "Boss!"

"Hold still, Milo", Dova said, glancing up. "He got you pretty good this time. You're a mess."

"No shit. Probably do it again as soon as you leave the room", Milo grumbled. But he obediently kept still as Law dabbed the dried blood off his lips. In spite of his words, he found himself relaxing. This was a familiar routine. Maybe it was guilt, or the fact of Dova's presence, or something else altogether. For whatever reason, Law was always gentle when he cleaned Milo up. And it would be at least a few days before Law hit him again, no matter what Milo said to him.

"Awright, get ya shirt off." Milo sat up, wincing involuntarily at the stab of pain that went through his head at the movement, and pulled his shirt off before lying back down. His pale skin bore several bruises in the size and shape of Law's boot, overlaying the not-quite-healed bruises from last time. But only one of them was bleeding, so he'd got off easy.

Dova was standing beside Law in a moment. He brushed his fingers lightly over the worst of the marks and said wearily, "I've told you not to kick him."

"Ain't my fault, boss. He got thin skin." And, to Milo, "If you weren't so scrawny, maybe ya wouldn't end up wearing ma boot prints all tha time."

"Just get on with it. I ain't exactly enjoyin being this close to you. Last thing I need is fleas."

Law gave him a laconic grin and then resumed his work.

Of course, Milo could have cleaned himself up after his "arguments" (Dova's term, not his) with Law. But he never had. He always woke up to find Law tending to him. The first time (Was there ever a first time? He sometimes wondered.) Milo had made the mistake of trying to shove Law aside and get up. In an instant, Law had him pinned down with one knee digging painfully into his abdomen. There had been a wild, dangerous look in his eyes. Dova had quickly intervened, telling Law to get off him and ordering Milo to "stop carrying on" and let Law take care of him. Since then, the routine hadn't varied.

All the same, he couldn't help tensing when Law ran his fingers over the scar on his abdomen, just to the left of his navel. It was no ordinary scar, and Milo hated having Law touch it. In raised, uneven lines of pale pink, about two inches tall, were the letters LTA. Law's initials. One day about three years ago, in lieu of beating him unconscious, Law had held him down and marked him with a pocket knife. Milo had been furious and humiliated, and had actually taken a swing at Law when he was let up, which Law dodged with a smug grin.

Soon afterward Law had insisted on cleaning that wound, too. Still seething, Milo had told him to go to hell. But Dova had calmed him down and prevailed upon him to allow it, saying that what was done was done and there was no sense in making any more trouble about it. And Law had been different that time. He had been more thorough, for one thing, using disinfectant and soap as well as hot water. At first Milo thought he was just trying to make it hurt as much as possible while emphasizing his own power over Milo. But the usual boredom and contempt were missing from his expression, replaced by a curious intensity and something that was almost desperation. And when Dova left the room for a moment, Law had leaned close and whispered very quietly, "Sorry, Milo. I'll try to keep it from scarring." Milo had been shocked by this, and later he would probably have convinced himself he had imagined those words. Except for Law's expression.

Now, Law noticed Milo's discomfort and smirked, deliberately caressing the mark again before going on to one of the last bruises. When it had become clear that Milo was going to have a scar, after all, Law's attitude toward it seemed to reverse. He never missed an opportunity to remind Milo of it, gleefully watching the anger that played across the other man's features.

"That's the last of it, boss", Law called over his shoulder to Dova. He turned away from Milo without another word and headed for the kitchen to get a beer. Milo sat up and pulled his shirt back on, then got carefully to his feet. Pleased that standing up only hurt a little and he wasn't dizzy, he smiled reassuringly at Dova. Dova gave him a relieved smile in return and said, "Let's see if anything's on TV, Milo."

*******

Milo sighed and gave up the pretense of watching the game. "Stop looking at me like that."

"Sorry." Dova guiltily turned back to the TV. Five minutes later Milo said warningly, "Dova…"

"Sorry, Milo, I just keep drifting off. Not much of a game, is it?"

Not fooled for a second, Milo hunched his shoulders and looked away, scowling. Dova just barely heard him mutter, "Chrissakes, like its never happened before."

Dova took a gulp of his beer and tried to decide what to do. He was the leader, he was in charge, but at times like this he wished he wasn't. Milo and Law were his responsibility, and that made what happened his fault. Didn't it? He clamped down on that train of thought before it could go any further. Yes, it did. And god hates a coward.

"What in the world did you say to him?" he found himself asking.

"Don't remember."

"You must have been in rare form, considering the reaction you got."

Milo grunted noncommittally and pointedly turned the volume up a little.

Dova subsided, at a loss. Milo obviously wasn't going to talk about what had happened, and trying get through to Law was useless. He would only become sullen and insist that "the little runt deserved it".

At that moment they both heard Law's truck pull into the drive. He had been gone about three hours, and when he sauntered into the room the smell of cheap cologne came with him. Milo wrinkled his nose and rolled his eyes. "What dumpster did you crawl out of?"

As concerned as he was, at that moment Dova could cheerfully have slapped him. Sometimes it seemed like Milo wanted to get hit. His eyes flew to Law, anxiously waiting for his reaction.

But Law was in a good mood, and he only grinned at Milo and said with deliberate crudeness, "I been fuckin' a woman. Maybe someday you'll get to." He paused, then added slowly, "Kinda doubt it, though."

What passed for greetings taken care of, he dropped heavily onto the other end of the couch. Dova relaxed and tried to get interested in the game on TV. As the game droned on, the silence between the three of them was almost companionable. He and Law took turns insulting the players, and Milo snickered at their remarks. During the break, Law retrieved a six-pack from the fridge, wordlessly tossing one to Milo before taking one and setting the rest on the table. And when the game ended and Milo got up to go to bed, he didn't wince at all. All in all, it was a pretty damn good night.