Lukian wilted against the door to his dorm. The click of the electronic lock never sounded so sweet.
Home sweet home sweet home.
He launched his jacket at the bed, wrestled out of his shirt like a wild animal, and dropped his pants. His robe was in the bureau.
With jammies for later.
He’d never call them that in front of another man, of course–but for now, they were fucking jammies.
It was time for a relax. Time for a shower. Time to get loaded and forget the insanity of the world.
He scooped his dirty laundry from the floor into a ball, and smoothed his crumpled jacket–best not to look too messy and keep a low profile. Such was rooming with Krodha’s pet snitch.
The door to the washroom was cracked open, with lights on: was Aiden here?
Or did Aiden go out and leave the lights on? Because if he dared to use the toilet with the door open, it was time for a transfer–
Lukian held his breath and kicked open the door: the washroom was empty.
“Ha, that’s an infraction of energy management, you stupid bastard!” Lukian shook a fist. Sometimes it felt great to shout when he was alone.
He loosened the knot on his robe and dropped the fabric around his shoulders, inspecting his body. It was true, he recalled only a fraction of the beatings he received. His topography was branded with a myriad of scars and bruises, scabs and swellings that appeared and faded, with origins unknown.
A few were from training, harmless: a puzzling number were not.
The robe fell to the floor, and he meditated upon his body, the worst of enigmas.
His skin was awfully white.
Lukian leaned over the sink and pressed a hand against the mirror. He thought about a baby bunny rabbit gored in the snow. That was his complexion, the skin on his face.
Fuck this place. It was time for a shower.
He threw back the curtain: Aiden was inside. Fully clothed, he knelt over the faucet, head bowed against interlocked hands, eyes closed.
Lukian shut the curtain.
Aiden didn’t move.
When the stun dissipated, Lukian collected his robe and dressed himself. He cleared his throat. “New house rule.” He waited for a response, for Aiden to come out from the curtain.
Aiden did nothing.
Lukian marched to the tub and threw back the curtain. “I don’t give a fuck about what you do when you’re alone.” He pointed a finger. “If you want to use the bathroom, lock the door.”
No response, head bent, eyes shut.
Lukian pushed a palm against his forehead, staring sideways at the wall. “Okay, spectacular!” He pulled open the door to leave. “This won’t happen again.” He stepped through the doorway, one foot inside the washroom and one foot outside. “My rules are non-negotiable.”
He glowered at the curtain, stumped.
He heard the rusty squeal of curtain rings. “Wait.” Aiden peeked from the shower. “That’s it? You’re leaving?”
Lukian pulled at his hair, threw his arms into the air. “Did you want me to have a bath with you?”
Aiden blinked, neck crooked around the wall. “Well… depending.”
Lukian stormed out and slammed the door.
“But you can’t apprehend me if you don’t know what I’m doing.” Aiden’s voice inside the washroom. Mocking the fabric of his sanity.
Did Krodha plant him here to test Lukian? His heart beat faster and he raged, clenching a fist.
Aiden’s voice was muted by the sinking acoustics of the bathroom. “There’s always the option of turning me in under a suspicious behavior code.”
Lukian threw open the door, marched inside and grabbed Aiden by the shirt. “That’s your game, isn’t it?” Lukian planted one foot in the tub and thrust him against the wall. “You’re a fucking little tattletale snitch.” He tightened his grip on his shirt. “I can guess who sent you–”
He released his fist and staggered backward, away from the tub, collapsing against the wall behind him: Krodha was a genius. If he couldn’t break him with surveillance, he could break him with anger.
Lukian caught his breath. He had to calm down. “Alright, Aiden, seriously–”
“It’s not what you think.” Aiden climbed out of the tub, lifting a hand to his roommate’s shoulder, a calming gesture.
Lukian dodged the arm, sliding out of reach, pressing himself against the wall. He clenched his teeth and squinted. “Are you insane!”
Aiden lifted an eyebrow, studying Lukian in recoil. He nodded in understanding. “Right, touching is–”
“A symptom of psychological bonding to something other than the state–” Lukian backed away. “Aiden, are you trying to send me to therapy?” He steadied his breath, entire body tensed for flight. “Is that your plan?”
Aiden blinked. “Is that what you… really think of me?”
Lukian glowered. “You do the math.”
“Calm down.” He threw back his head and laughed. “You have no idea what I was doing?”
“I don’t want to know.” Lukian turned around. “I’m leaving. Let’s forget this–”
“We can talk about it.” Aiden smiled and pointed at the camera in the ceiling. “I disabled the audio feed–”
Lukian lowered his jaw, dumbfounded. “You… tampered with national property.”
“It’s great.” Aiden’s shoulders bounced with a laugh. “Now we’re free to come here and talk about anything we want. No one will know.”
“Then let’s talk about…” Lukian dripped with sweat. “Obstruction of surveillance.” He lifted a finger. “And the penal code.”
“As long as we both maintain clean codes of conduct and never trigger a red flag audio sweep, this camera has a zero percent chance of being actively monitored.” Aiden lifted his hands in the air, tilting his head to one shoulder with a blithe smile.
Lukian wanted to vomit. He spent his whole life grabbing at straws, and now they were blown away by the wind, blown away in a matter of seconds. “It’s impossible for you to know any of this.”
“We’ll be passively monitored, don’t get me wrong.” Aiden tugged the curtain back and forth. “But if the audio feed reads silence and no one is visible on camera, the room is assumed empty by default.”
The screech of the metal rings chafed his nerves.
“Thus.” Aiden climbed back into the tub. “It’s the perfect place to hide, if you ever find yourself needing space.”
“You–This–It’s–” Lukian pointed at the camera, and bobbed his hand in a tight fist. “How can I believe you?”
“I’m a double agent from Jambu.” Aiden sighed. “I don’t strike you as suspect?”
“I have one goal in this life.” Lukian gritted his teeth. “I will not exchange my right to an unmarked grave for the right to be processed as fuel. I don’t want to be caught in anybody’s jaws. You understand?”
“This place gets to me, Lukian.” He sank against the wall of the tub. “I know you act like it doesn’t, but I can see that it gets to you, too. I–” Aiden shook his head. “I shouldn’t be talking to you about any of this. But I can tell we feel the same way, and that’s why… Why I think I can trust you–”
Lukian exited, slamming the door. He had nothing to discuss.
Aiden was a fool, with a death wish more monumental than his own.
But he felt slightly relieved, knowing there was at least one other person doing heinous to try and get by in this world.
Though, he was pissed he had to wait for the shower. He stared forlornly at the bed, at his black sweatpants and grey T-shirt with a map of the Empire and the Premier’s mustachioed face: his jammies.
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Genre – Sci-Fi/Steamy Romance
Rating – R (18+)