Welcome to another free read Wednesday!
We’re back for the most recent addition to my new story, presented through the flash fiction group Wednesday Briefers.
Each week, the contributing members write a chapter/story with a maximum of 1000 words, trying to get the most out of the word limit. For me, it helps keep me writing when my schedule gets tight. Win/win!
Okay… Arad and Roku have had an interesting encounter. What now?
Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Arad’s eyes fluttered awake. Had minutes or hours passed? Roku still held him in his iron embrace. Two rows of teeth continued to gently rest around Arad’s drool soaked shoulder. Rucked up from earlier, his shirt was chilled and clammy from wicking moisture off the DemiShou’s fur, meant it couldn’t have been too long. Although he didn’t feel aroused in any way, so the Syn must have worn off.
All kinds of things told him he should be terrified, but the extra weight felt less like a cage and more like a warm, dozy shelter. Roku held him like a treasured possession, and Arad welcomed that, which made Arad question his own mental health under the circumstances.
The opportunity to assess his wayward brain ended as Roku shifted and awoke with a gasp, probably from the peeling of stuck-together body parts. Releasing Arad, his weight lifted, moving to his straightened arms and floor. Then with a confused grunt, he lurched backwards. It allowed Arad to roll over and the sight quashed all the warm feelings he’d woke up with.
Sitting back on his feet, Roku’s corded muscles twitched as his wild eyes fixed on Arad. Distressed, feral noises rumbled out of him. Now able to see Roku unhindered, Arad could see the bestial side hidden during his hibernation, the dangerous unknown in his midst. It stoked Arad’s primal urge to run. To flee. But even a slug knew not to run from a predator.
However, the longer Arad watched, the less Roku appeared enraged. The skittish gaze grew glossy with each passing minute. His broad shoulders weren’t poised to pounce. They shivered as if struggling to hold the weight of his huge arms.
Roku looked lost. Somehow monstrous and vulnerable at the same time.
Arad stamped down his unease. It didn’t vanish, but smothered long enough to paste on a facade of confidence. He hadn’t forgotten his promise to help. He wouldn’t abandon him now.
Raising both hands, Arad tried to sound calm. “It’s okay, Roku. Everything’s all right.”
“Who are you?” Roku growled. He clasped a hand to his own throat. “What’s wrong with my voice?”
“Oh! You can speak?”
Annoyed ridges crinkled Roku’s snout. “What? Why would you say that?”
“Sorry. It’s been a weird week. You’ve been through a few changes.”
Feeling abruptly stupid, Arad tried to maintain a casual tone. The tiger hybrid was spooked enough. No need to add to his anxiety.
Roku’s baffled gaze swept the ceiling and walls, yet didn’t turn to see the cryotubes behind him. “Where am I?”
“Oh man. That’s gonna take some explaining, Roku.”
“Why do you keep calling me Roku?”
“Um… long story. What should I call you then?”
Roku opened his mouth to speak and paused. His eyes lost focus as he searched himself, brow creasing as he dug deeper. Arad waited, watching Roku’s feline features darken into a growing despair as he came up with a big fat nothing. From his expression, more than his name was missing.
“It’s okay. You can be Roku until you come up with something better.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
The last status Arad recalled read SYNAPTIC. He knew what that meant. Did the process scoop out Roku’s brain and leave it empty? What was left of whoever he started as?
Roku wrapped his powerful arms around himself, as if he could make himself smaller and escape. Every glance and every movement screamed out his disorientation.
Marshaling his nerve, Arad covered his concern. “You just woke up. Give it time.”
“Your voice. It sounds familiar.”
“I talked to you a lot while you slept. Didn’t know if you could hear me.”
“Was I sick?”
“I’m not sure. You were in a kind of coma, I guess.”
Roku’s brow furrowed as he noticed his hands, seriously for the first time. He raised them for a clearer view. Spreading his fingers wide, he followed the unnatural stripes running up his arms, turning them slowly to see as much as possible. His breath stuttered, leaving him one step away from shedding a tear. The sound wrenched at Arad’s heart.
“What happened to me?”
“I wish I knew. I don’t really understand what was going on.”
“Do we know each other?”
“Sort of? Maybe?”
The word biblically came to mind, but it wasn’t completely accurate, so he struck it down as poor phrasing. “I’m not sure how to answer that.”
Roku looked down at himself, finally aware of his nudity. He touched the dried fluids around his groin and smelled his fingers. When his attention came back around, he sniffed in Arad’s direction.
“You smell like… Did we…?”
“You don’t remember?”
Roku’s eyes widened as he really took in Arad’s lack of pants and the stains on the shirt. Recognition flashed across his tiger face and there it was. That horrible moment when a person wakes up and the drugs have worn off, and they’re forced to realize what sleaze they’d been up to the night before.
“Okay… Yeah… you remember.” Mildly humiliated, Arad fingered his shirt hem, tugging it lower as if a hooker could really make himself decent. He tried to be nonchalant, but Roku noticed.
“Did I hurt you?” His voice became so tiny and fragile, contrasting his dominant presence.
“But I scared you.”
Scratching his head, Arad’s face burned as he tried to find an answer. “That’s not how I’d describe it.”
“I… I… don’t understand.”
The questions and Arad’s conflicted thoughts made the awkward scene heavier still. They needed a chance to get settled. Somewhere without the evidence and memories of their first encounter getting in the way. Roku needed a touch of stability.
“Right now, it’s not important. I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually run around with my junk hanging out when I have guests over. Let’s go get cleaned up and see if we can’t find you some clothes.” Arad stood and offered his hand. “Roku? C’mon.”
Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1
Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!