#freereads – Adrift Ch 37 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

Roku’s admission leaves Arad with a few things to think about, doesn’t it?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 37

Arad had no idea how to process his day with Roku. Most attracted strangers found it easier to get along the more time spent together, didn’t they? For Arad and Roku, each passing day tangled their lives into something far more complicated. Given the growing connection between them, it shouldn’t be so easy to drive them apart. A curious situation for two people so fond of one another.

So fond of one another? What a glaring understatement.

Pulling to free the cover’s tension, Arad turned over to better see Roku in the dark. Watching Roku sleep had become a habit he should consider breaking. It started as a response to an unknown person on board, but now it had become something else. Curled on the floor, Roku snored, the gentle sawing a soothing sound. The proof of normalcy in what was anything but.

At first he’d dismissed his attraction as a byproduct of caring for the DemiShou clan. Then from the awkward circumstances of their first encounter which still aroused him, even without the Syn. After that, he passed it off as admiring the physique of a well-constructed male. Purring voice, god-like muscles, and yes an unfairly ample endowment added up to appreciating Roku’s more primal aspects.

Roku’s torso swelled and shrank with his breathing in a smooth motion. No sign of agitation. No sign of new nightmares. The jagged shards of his fractured memories piercing the surface made Arad ache. They barely knew enough to craft a rumor, and it chilled worse than an unprotected spacewalk. Roku mostly knew peace when he slept. Mostly.

Yeah… it was all about animal attraction. Sure it was.

Arad began to relax, finally feeling like he could drift off, but cursed silently over the need to pee. It was always something, wasn’t it? Getting out of bed required a careful dance around the tiger blocking the floor. Arad suspected that was deliberate on Roku’s part. His position created a wall between Arad and the door. Not that they had to worry about intruders, but the intent was appreciated.

After nearly kicking Roku getting around him, Arad tiptoed to the door. He cringed at the noise of the door opening and looked back over his shoulder to find Roku exactly in the same state. Neither of them liked to sleep with the hatch open. Roku and Arad shared similar issues about shelter and security, but while Arad’s stemmed from living on the streets, Roku couldn’t really explain why.

Barefoot, Arad made his way to the lav as quietly as possible. The automatic lights were turned down to minimum because he hated how Torrins let them blind everyone in the middle of the night. Arad relieved himself and took a quick drink from the sink. He was pretty sure he could crash now.

As he stepped out into the hallway, he nearly screamed at the figure in the shadow.

“Roku! Son of a bitch! You about startled me to death!” Arad stage whispered his frustration, somehow keeping from disturbing the non-existent neighbors.

Not moving or speaking, Roku sat on the floor waiting, face in his bent knees.

“Roku?”

The tiger snuffled into his knees. Dead asleep.

Arad shook his head as his pulse settled. “My hero from the terrors in the night.”

He may have been mocking the DemiShou, but Arad’s admiration for Roku grew. Roku was tortures by his animal instincts. Frightened by their intensity, he didn’t trust himself to stop if he gave in to his baser urges. He wanted Arad. The taste he had when waking hadn’t curbed it, and Arad didn’t know how to handle it. He wanted to believe Roku had enough self-control, but he also knew how groggy Roku had been when he woke. If he had been more aware, would he have been less animalistic? Or more?

Neither knew, and Roku refused to risk it. So he made due with being near Arad. He stayed close, protecting Arad from himself and any other that might do him harm. More than casual friendship had spawned in their time sequestered together.

If only Arad knew what to do with that.

Sex had always been a tool. A pleasurable tool, but a tool nonetheless. Perhaps not the most seemly of skills, but it had its advantages. Learning to seduce a man became an easy thing to learn and knowing how to use it to extract a trade came soon after. Arad had never known a man he wanted to bed down without getting a prize in return until Roku. Only problem was, he didn’t know how. It had always been part of a transaction. Trading services in that way made Roku uncomfortable, so Arad would have to teach himself how not to be a whore.

Assuming of course that Roku ever gave him the opportunity.

With a sigh, Arad tapped Roku’s shoulder, trying not to startle him. “Roku. Get up, you overgrown stray. Let’s go to bed.” 

It took three tries to get a response and it was limited. With a garbled murmur, Roku nodded as he rose without really opening his eyes. Arad headed back to the bedroom, Roku’s incoherent mumbling trailing behind him. He peeked back more than once to be sure the tiger didn’t fall and break his face open during the short trek.

Leaving the bedroom door open, Arad got into bed and arranged the covers to keep himself cool in the warmer atmospherics while keeping watch to make sure Roku survived the return trip.

Shuffling his feet, Roku crossed the room with all the grace of a brain-dead tweaker, stripped off his kilt, and crawled in bed. He rolled on his side and pressed his gloriously naked self—thick muscles, cock and all—against Arad. A lullaby of snoring immediately resumed.

Arad froze, unwilling to breath out loud.

Rigid with indecision, he stared at the ceiling, praying his heartbeat—which thundered for a completely new reason—wouldn’t wake Roku.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 36 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

Now that Arad has injured himself, it appears Roku insists on taking care of him.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 36

Roku ushered Arad into the infirmary, fine droplets of blood marking a dotted path from the cargo bay. Being dragged through the ship didn’t sit that well with Arad, but Roku’s determination stomped out Arad’s resistance. Although when Roku picked him up by the waist and wordlessly deposited him on the exam chair mounted to the wall, he considered being difficult.

“It’s not really that bad.” Arad wiped up a wayward line of blood trailing down to his elbow.

Ignoring Arad’s comment, Roku tore open the first aid stash and scavenged what he needed. He lowered the tray hinged to the wall next to Arad and dropped half the kit’s contents on it.

“At least the supplies here are sufficient. I won’t have to chuck you in the medbed.” Roku pried open Arad’s hand and pressed a sterile pad to sop up the wound.

“Ow. That stings.”

“Hold your hand open.”

With a lack of squeamishness Arad didn’t share, Roku prodded and examined the cut, probably to look for any debris, but his bedside manner could use some improvement. Arad couldn’t watch. The sharp twinges from Roku’s unusual rough handling was making him feel nauseous.

“You keep poking that hard, I’m gonna puke.”

Roku stopped and put a new sterile pad in Arad’s palm. “Then I’ll throw you in the medbed.”

“Wonder what that’s like. I’ve never been in one before.” Even when Arad still had his parents’ favor, he’d never been ill enough to require automated healthcare.

 Roku side-eyed the medbed and gave a caustic snort. “I noticed the other day it doesn’t have any DemiShou parameters, so let’s hope nothing horrible happens to me.”

“Oh well, you know the Demi module is on order. Probably lost in shipping.”

“Your sarcasm is refreshing.” Roku sounded unimpressed as he squeezed the cut closed and applied a wound sealer.

Arad hissed at the sting, but insisted on keeping his composure. “Did you want me to sugarcoat it?”

“Why start now? It doesn’t change the fact that the DemiShou on board, myself included, were only a commodity to be sold. I don’t even understand why you care so much.”

“Because I know what it’s like to have no choice.”

Closing his eyes, Roku paused. His shoulders swelled, and he let out a gradual, cleansing breath. It did little to ease the tension in his body. “I’m sorry. Your being injured has me on edge.”

“It’s hardly life threatening.”

“I know. I didn’t say my reaction was rational.”

Roku finished the wound sealing and cleaned Arad hand. Far more carefully than before, he testing the cut for seepage. Satisfied he was no longer bleeding, he applied a new bandage and began wrapping Arad’s hand.

“I want to apologize for what I said before. You didn’t deserve that.”

Arad shook his head. “I know you didn’t really mean to judge me—”

“Yes, I did. And I’m ashamed to admit it. My missing past must have left me hardwired to be a little inflexible in my moral views.”

“A little?” Head titled and brow raised, Arad caught Roku’s eye.

“Perhaps more than a little.”

“And now?”

“They’re flexing.”

Since they’d entered the infirmary, Arad had noticed how Roku tended to him without making eye contact. As if he was only allowing one kind of intimate contact at a time, still keeping a distance.

“I’ve noticed you’ve gone out of your way lately to avoid touching me.”

Roku paused without looking at him. “It’s for your safety.”

“You’re touching me now.”

“You’re injured.”

“You’re taking care of me.”

Roku tested the bandage and released Arad’s hand. “It’s a distraction.”

“You wouldn’t hurt me.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Not on purpose.”

A sad laugh lacking any humor tumbled out of Roku. “Ah, but there’s the point. Not on purpose.” Roku lowered his voice as if terrified someone else might hear his confession. “I have these urges. I remember how we met. How it felt. How you smelled. Sometimes I want to give in… touch you… hold you down. Stomp my morality into the floor and make you do things. I’m afraid if I give in, take what I want, I might lose control and be more animal than man because I won’t want to stop. I crave it.” A heady shudder raced Roku’s neck and shoulders. “Some days I think I should be locked up on the other side of the ship where I can’t see or smell you, but I can’t bring myself to do that.”

Was it suddenly warmer in the infirmary? Arad couldn’t understand why his mouth felt so dry. “I don’t think the ship is big enough to really do that.”

“Please. Don’t joke about this. I’m serious. I… I need to be near you. It will have to be enough.”

Arad covered Roku’s hand with his. “Roku, it’s okay. You don’t have to live like this—”

Stop it!” Roku snatched his hand back. “Yes I do. I can’t trust myself. I just can’t.”

Eyes glossy and hands shaking, Roku began gathering up the used supplies, throwing the soiled items in the dispenser. Both in the same room, yet so far apart. Arad could feel the chasm growing. Now that he’d admitted things, Roku would walk out and it would all be different. Different as in worse and the realization panicked him.

“What about your human half? What does it think?”

“There isn’t a human side and an animal side. If I’ve learned nothing else since I woke, there’s only me.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that.”

Nodding, Roku collected the remaining med supplies and put them back into the kit, slamming it shut harder than required. Arad still sat cradling his wrapped hand as Roku stopped in the doorway, clutching the jamb.

“If there really were two sides to me, Arad, I doubt the human side would stop me.”

Roku stepped out into the hall, leaving Arad loathing the cargo bay and the empty crates it housed.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 35 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

Feeling a little raw these days, Arad and Roku find a useful way to pass the time.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 35

“Another empty.” Arad couldn’t stop from grousing as he kicked the empty container. It slid across the cargo bay floor, banging into the growing cluster of boxes littering the room. Each time he tossed one aside, Roku’s twitchy gaze followed. Arad had finally downloaded Torrins’s shipping manifest to his handheld and dragged the tiger along to search the inventory for potential parts to repair the damaged engine.

Most of what he kept finding on the list were vague descriptions with nothing inside the crates. Knowing Torrins, he inflated the documents to give the impression of the Midas Ascending being a more professional operation and entice clients for higher-end contracts. Arad glanced over at the sleeping DemiShou pods. The method worked. Sort of.

“Always scheming for a bigger paycheck, Torrins. Should’ve skipped this one.”

The wall of crates hiding the DemiShou was half-dismantled. Roku pulled another off the stack with barely an effort and Arad checked it against the list. Random household supplies. Pressing his thumb to the lockplate, the lid popped open from his captain’s access. He swung the top back on its hinges and dug past the packing foam. It took a few minutes to identify the series of stoppered metal cans and random supplies inside.

“Paints?” Red, white, grey, and black. The colors of the Ansariland’s interior. “Typical. We’ve been living in this rustbucket with the walls peeling and the fix has been here the whole time. Probably because there wasn’t any profit in it. Torrins, I’m glad you’re dead.”

Speaking to the former captain was marginally better than the weird silence hanging over himself and Roku. His outburst yesterday, while justified, made Arad feel far more vulnerable than he was accustomed to. Slashing your past open with a ragged knife took its toll. Condescension plagued slugs on a daily basis and pity wasn’t something he stomached well. Feeling they both must have shared since neither man were talking much beyond what was necessary.

Arad didn’t know how or if he was ready to correct that. Instead of facing it, he found a task to distract himself, to stop thinking about past events that couldn’t be changed. So far, he’d been successful.

“I guess we’ll set this one to the side with the useful stuff.” 

Arad closed the lid and turned to find Roku climbing into one of the empty crates. Despite his bulk, the tiger seemed determined to squeeze himself inside. Licking his lower lip as he worked, Roku shimmied and shifted his furry muscles until only his rounded shoulders and the top half of his head peeked above the box’s rim. He appeared awfully pleased with himself as he wiggled into the confined space. When he caught Arad’s inquisitive stare, he froze, eyes wide and unmoving.

“Are you enjoying yourself?”

Hunched over, Roku’s nose and mouth stayed hidden within the crate. “Yes…”

The hint of guilt or emabarrassment Arad heard in the careful response was quite charming. He sighed with a chuckle, relieved to release some of the present tension. “Now’s a good time for a break. Let me know when you’re done. I’m still going to need your help.”

“Okay.”

Without another word, Arad left Roku to explore the allure of the magical trunk. He drifted to the cryotubes and checked on Shichi and Hachi. All health signals still green, they both floated peacefully, unaware of their surroundings or the potential trouble ahead. Arad wished he could wake them both, find them a new home, but with the current technical problems and limited resources, they were safer where they were. Unless Arad could repair the Ansariland… No. He didn’t wan’t to think that far ahead.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he could be put on pause too?

Now, only the tips of Roku’s ears were visible. Arad laughed to himself. Hopefully the goofy lug could get himself out again. Arad didn’t know if he had a pry bar, and he wasn’t about to cut him out of there with a plasma torch.

Since Roku was still busy, Arad slumped down to the mattress which still lived in the cargo bay. Even with all the surrounding chaos, it continued to have the best vantage point. From here he could keep an eye on Shichi and Hachi, watch Roku work on turning inside the crate without exiting, and take a mental note of how many more boxes there were to go.

“Are you ready to keep going?” Roku asked.

Arad blinked. He’d actually fallen asleep for a moment.

Back on track, they worked their way through the remaining inventory. Hours passed as they inspected and reorganized the containers until they had checked every crate in the cargo bay. They found the series of water and air recycler modules Arad had been hunting for last week. Two containers held more food packets which he guessed might extend their stores for another few months. Other boxes, if they had anything inside them, were filled with a myriad of other useless items. The maze-wall segregating the DemiShou had been reduced to blocks lining the outer walls. What they didn’t find were the spare engine parts Arad needed that were specifically listed on the manifest. More of Torrins’s bogus entries. 

Without those parts, there was no way to repair the Ansariland.

Once again the captain had managed to screw Arad. At first literally, then figuratively from every moment after he’d been incinerated in space.

“I can’t believe this! You’re just are worthless dead as you were alive, Torrins!” In utter frustration, Arad lashed out at the nearest container, sending it tumbling and catching his hand on the edge of the lockplate. “Ow!” He made an instant fist and clutched it to his chest.

Roku rushed to Arad’s side. “Are you all right?”

Blood seeped between his fingers, as he tried to hide it from Roku’s probing stare. “I’m fine.”

“No, you’re not.” Roku took Arad’s arm in a firm, yet gentle hold. “Come with me. Now.”


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 34 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

What’s Arad like when he’s really pissed off?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 34

Ear twitching at the sound of Arad’s angry footsteps, Roku turned just in time to take the brunt of Arad’s rancor.

“You don’t get to judge me.” Arab jabbed his finger into Roku’s unyielding chest. “Your memory may be shot, but I can take one look at you and know you’ve never struggled until now.”

Roku’s eyes may not have been human, but Arad knew the damnation within the stare. He’d lived under silent disapproval for more years than he cared to admit in Grey District. Clergy, rich, and authorities, they were all alike. Only other slugs had ever respected him completely. 

“I wasn’t born a slug. My family was stupidly wealthy. But the family money was under some archaic, discriminatory contract that shouldn’t have been legal of having male heirs every few generations. And since population laws only allow for one child per family, you can imagine how proud my parents were to have a gay boy who wouldn’t marry a female. They were so worried about losing their fortune, they demanded I go in for sex reassignment so I could bear a child because of the sub clause forbidding surrogates. I refused. I wasn’t transsexual or third gender. As punishment they sat back as two brutes in black jackets dragged me off screaming to a private workhouse.”

Arad knew he was ranting, but the airlock was open, and all the oxygen rushed to escape. There could be no stopping it. He continued to shove and poke at Roku with every sentence, determined to make him understand. The tiger took it all, wide-eyed and slack-mouthed without defending himself.

“Workhouses are just prisons for the homeless and delinquent. I learned to survive the beatings while forced to learn the mech trade. I had to earn my keep, and the house governors kept virtually all the money.”

“That’s illegal,” Roku whispered.

Annoyance raised Arad’s volume. “Of course it is! And the authorities knew all about it. The company who lost the last work contract to our house had their gestapo kick in the doors. They burned the place to the ground and everyone scattered like roaches. Out on the streets, I caught pneumonia and nearly died but got lucky and Sketch took me in.”

“Who was he?”

“A Syn dealer.” Arad narrowed his eyes. “And before you say anything, he treated me better than any police or authority figure I’d ever met. He even helped me find my way back to my family. What a complete waste of time that was.”

“They didn’t take you in?”

A new swell of rage burned Arad’s eyes. “I had to confront them at the door because the concierge wouldn’t let me in. Pretended he didn’t know me, even when my parents came down with a new son on their arm. He didn’t even look like me, the fake bastard, and my parents wouldn’t even acknowledge me. When security called the police, they scanned my hand, but my DNA wasn’t tagged to any ID anymore. They had me erased. And replaced.”

Roku sounded equally shocked and confused. “How did they pass off the new boy as their son?”

“How else? Money and fear of powerful people. I looked him up and the history says he’s always being theirs. Me? There isn’t a single piece of evidence of who I am anymore.”

“That shouldn’t be possible.”

Arad scoffed. “Then call it magic. I was the son of one of the wealthiest men in the city, and now I’m undocumented. Do you know what that means? The grid doesn’t acknowledge me. I’m not eligible for any school or employment programs. I can’t apply for housing and there’s nowhere I can go to change that. I don’t exist.”

“What did you do?” Roku’s brow crinkled, his face drooping in sadness, which only added to Arad’s frustration. 

“The prep school boy with the bright future ended up becoming a criminal, helping deal Syn for a few months until Sketch got arrested.”

A long pause stretched out as Arad simmered under Roku’s penitent gaze. The DemiShou should have intimidated him, but he held his hands up as if trying to quiet Arad’s vicious tirade. For all the good that would do.

“What happened to him?” Roku asked.

Old memories made Arad snarl. Pain and outrage sat front and center of his soul, the toxic bile roughening his words. “The same thing that happens to all slugs the authorities come down on. They vanish. Then you’re back on the street and doing things you never believed yourself capable of. I was terrified of the police, but had to steal more often than I wanted, and after what I put up with among the boys in the workhouse, I knew better than to join the gangs.”

Arad’s eyes stung. Roku’s face lost its crystal focus. “I was supposed to have friends, dances… first kisses… and all of that was taken away from me. When your only choices are to either go without food for days or let the fat, dirty foreman who likes underage boys be your first, or disappear like Sketch, your virginity seems less important.”

“I’ve done things and people I wish I hadn’t, but I refuse to let the pieces of trash who claimed to be my parents win. And you don’t get to make me regret who I’ve been either. I’m not the spoiled brat anymore, and I won’t be him again.” Sucking in a lungful of ragged air, a tear streaked down to his jaw. “Ever again.”

The past couldn’t be changed, and Arad hadn’t cried over his shattered life in years. Yet now that he’d dredged it up, confessed his sins to the law-abiding Roku, his anger became muddied with shame until he couldn’t tell the two emotions apart. Roku didn’t say a word as more tears fell and his vision blurred into foggy daylight.

With a stuttered inhale, Arad spun and trod out of the lavatory, thankful when Roku didn’t follow.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 33 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

What happens after that kind of nightmare?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 33

The nightmare continued to be an unspoken topic while over the next several days Arad and Roku slipped into a routine of meals, tablet work, digging through the Ansariland’s entertainment hoard, and babysitting DemiShou in between bouts of exercise and sleep. He tried to hide it, but Roku continued to avoid making direct physical contact with Arad. It stung, but Arad put on a brave face and pretended it didn’t. 

The discussion could wait. Their possession of time made them rich men.

Three hours of research had convinced Arad that a spacewalk was realistic. Repairing the engine was another matter. Damage reports gave him an idea of which parts needed replacing, but until he dug up the cargo manifest and laid eyes on what he needed, he couldn’t be sure if all the effort had been wasted.

Twisting his neck to relieve the tension, he padded into the gym, finding Roku hard at work.

His precious tablet sat nearby while Roku pushed the weight stack to its limit. The capacity had been substantial because of Tank’s requirements, but Roku’s strength made it look easy. His breathing was measured yet strained, more likely from the quantity of repetitions rather than the max kilograms. Roku’s chiseled muscles swelled, the striations visible through his fine fur. The blanket robe sat in a heap near the tablet, and it allowed for a lovely view.

Arad raised his hand to say hello and stopped himself. He’d hate for Roku to stop.

The weight hits the floor with a clang and Roku stood up and moved over to the combat dummy mounted on the far wall. Shaking out his shoulders, he bounced on his feet before preparing himself to strike. The stance: police, military, or equivalent authority figure. Arad had seen enough of those goose-stepping jerks “maintaining order” in Grey District to recognize it. Somehow, seeing it in Roku didn’t raise Arad’s alarms.

Sharp and fast blows rained over the padded leather, the dull slaps singing surges up Arad’s spine. Roku’s kilt had been split up both sides, allowing his legs room to snap out kicks that shook the target. It also gave an indecent glimpse at the curve of Roku’s rear as the fabric parted.

The harder Roku worked, the more guttural the grunt and growls. Exertion emphasized the size and power of each heaving muscle in his arms, legs, and back. Few men had ever drawn Arad’s fascination enough to fixate over. But watching Roku exert himself… Arad couldn’t deny he was staring. The whole scene was… hypnotic.

Roku paused mid-strike and sniffed. He dropped his combat stance and turned to Arad. “You never struck me as a lurker.”

Arad raised his eyes to Roku’s face and found using full sentences a touch difficult. “Not usually, but… um… you know…” He rubbed the embarrassment out of his face with a firm hand. “Okay. That was impressive.”

“The exercise helps focus me.”

“I know it’s a stretch, but does it spark any memories?”

“Not so far. But it feels good to push myself, to see how strong I am, test my limits.”

“Well, you may not remember your past, but you obviously still have some crazy skills. That was not the workout of a street slug.”

“You might be right.”

“I know I’m right. Geez, if I tried to do half of that, the dummy would fight back, and I’d end up on my butt.”

A soft chuckle graced the beginnings of Roku’s smile. “It’s good to know I’m here to save you from injury.”

Even this short amount of banter lifted Arad’s spirits, thawing the current distance between them. Having Roku on board hadn’t been planned, but he found himself missing their growing camaraderie, even over what little time they’d known one another. Making Roku smile, that fed his soul in so many good ways.

“The Ansariland can use a man with your kind of skills, my good sir. You want to be head of security? I’m taking applications.” The deep timbre of Roku’s laughter spurred Arad into a rare fit of his own. It wasn’t long before his lungs protested the lack of air, but it was well worth it. “Oh man, back in Grey District, if you were around, I’d have traded a piece of ass for that kind of protection.”

Roku’s humor faded away and his brow furrowed. “You shouldn’t joke about things like that. I’m already ashamed of how we first met. It shouldn’t have happened like that. Being intimate with someone should be something special, something that should be shared, to bond over. It’s not something you barter over as payment.”

Gathering his blanket and tablet, Roku turned and headed towards the showers.

And as quickly as it began, the banter was gone, leaving Arad stunned as he tried to understand what went wrong. Why couldn’t he joke about exchanging sex for funds? If he thought back far enough, virtually every sexual encounter in Arad’s past was a way to gain food, shelter, or some other service. One made do with the opportunities left in their path.

True, it wasn’t an ideal option. Selling himself had its downsides. Safety would always be dubious and reliable income could be fleeting when you didn’t embrace the work. Other slugs may have whispered behind his back, but they understood. Arad wished other jobs had come his way, but he’d made some amount of peace with his lot in life. Too many factors worked against him to get out of the life entirely. The only people who had issues, who condemned and threw judgement over the limited choices his life left him were people with means. People who believed themselves to be above such sleazy prospects while hiring him for the night. People who saw hustling as a gross travesty of law and order. 

People like corporate police and other authority figures.

Confusion ignited into outright insult. “Wait one minute. Did you just call me a whore?”

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 31 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

Another night on board the Ansariland.

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

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Chapter 31

Unspoken tension followed them throughout the day, even after heading to sleep. Roku had become silent and remote after the possible spacewalk to create repairs had been brought up. With barely a word, he’d taken his place again at the foot of Arad’s bed. As odd as the sleeping arrangements had become, Arad didn’t have it him to say no.

Staying near yet so distant gnawed at Arad. He’d felt responsible for the DemiShou before Roku emerged. Now, he weighed the strange attachment between them, wondering how healthy it was for a bond to grow out of so little time. How could it be so heavy when stretched so thin?

He focused on Roku’s breathing to ease his mind. For his size, the tiger did everything huge. Eat huge, sleep huge. Arad tried to forget what else on Roku was huge and what he could do with it when giving into his appetites. Better to concentrate on the rise and fall of fur lined bellows and let it drag him into slumber. Tomorrow would be a better day.

Listening to the soothing rumble, he allowed his own to sync, but before he could drift off, the breathing changed. The rhythm faltered, turning into something grating. A sad moan built, punctuating each exhale into it grew into a pitiful, haunted keening. It tore at Arad with its pain, and drew him closer to the edge of the bed.

“Roku? Can you hear me? Are you all right?” 

Carefully, Arad reached out and barely brushed his fingers against Roku’s shoulder. A chilling scream burst out of Roku, and he spun and scuttled backwards away from the bed so fast he slammed into the door with a thud. Dragging his powerful hands through his shallow fur, he shook in terror. Pulse quickening, Arad climbed out of bed desperate to help.

Roku’s eyes flashed wide in the dark and he threw out an open hand. “No! Don’t touch me! I don’t want to hurt you!” Each word was choked and twined with a dangerous, warning growl.

“It’s okay. You won’t hurt me. I know you won’t.”

A heart wrenching yowl suffocated the room. Tremors wracked Roku’s body as he struggled to contain the sobs. Arad remembered his first day at the workhouse. Alone, surrounded by vagrant boys who hated the world and anyone in it. Boys who saw him as a target or rival for food. Don’t let them see you cry. Once you start, you’ll never stop. As Arad shifted closer, Roku’s hand crumpled into a weak fist and withdrew, maintaining the fleeting distance between them. “Please.”

A tiny voice told Arad to step back, that he was trapped inside with a cornered, distraught beast. He kicked that tiny voice in the balls and told it to go sit and face the wall. He hadn’t abandoned Roku yet and wasn’t about to start now.

“It’s okay. I trust you.”

Climbing across Roku’s lap, Arad stilled his own fears and wrapped his arms around the tiger’s head. Still tangled in his blanket-robe, Roku raised his shaking arms but hesitated more than once to return the embrace. He inhaled hard and deep against Arad’s neck and shoulder, over the same spot those powerful jaws held Arad down the night he woke.

Long minutes passed until Roku spoke in half-whimpers. “I think I was dead.”

“What?”

“There was a crowd. Everyone was screaming—outraged—and I was trying to calm them down. Keep the peace. But they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t care. There were too many and they were so angry.”

“They were angry with you?”

“With me. With each other. With everything.”

“What happened?”

“It turned into a riot. I tried to protect someone near me and they beat me down to the ground. I fought back, but I…I couldn’t stop them. They swarmed and trampled me. I couldn’t see their faces while they kicked and spit on me. It didn’t stop until someone picked up a gun. I think it was mine.”

Dread filled Arad as he processed the details of Roku’s messy tale. “Why would you have a gun?”

Arad shook his head into Arad’s shoulder without lifting it. “I…I’m not sure.”

“Then what happened?” Arad closed his eyes and hugged Roku tighter against the shuddering inhale wracking the DemiShou. He’s seen enough riots on the streets of Grey District to know what came next.

“They shot me.” Roku sucked in air over and over against Arad’s skin, trying to leash himself, teetering on the edge of hyperventilating. “Over and over. My arms. My chest. I could feel it chew up my insides. Then they stuck the muzzle in my face. I could see it coming as they pulled the trigger.” A single sob barked out and Roku curled his arms around Arad. “My god, they blew my brains out. I watched them kill me. I died.”

“Shh…Roku. Shh…It was just a nightmare. You’re okay.” Arad’s stomach soured at the carnage’s description. He fought to stay strong as Roku’s tears tore free, wetting Arad’s neck and then his collar and chest as hot streaks found the path. He fought not to break down himself.

“It was so real. My chest…I still feel it in my chest.”

“Dreams aren’t real. It didn’t mean anything.” Arad squeezed harder, convinced he could force Roku’s shivering to stop if he could apply enough pressure.

“Do you really think so?”

The muffled plea stabbed at Arad. Roku kept his face buried as more agonizing mewls spilled out, emphasizing how he’d been modified for whatever reason. Fears for his own safety had melted away only to be filled with empathy. He understood how a past shaped a man for better or worse.

“Y…yeah.” Arad swallowed down the sympathetic tear, afraid if he let it loose he’d undo any comfort he’d brought Roku. “You’re going to be okay. It was just a dream.”

He kept repeating it until he almost convinced himself.


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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#freereads – Adrift Ch 30 by J Alan Veerkamp #scifi #mmromance #freereads #lgbtfiction

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!

Arad and Roku managed to get some sleep. Everything will be perfect now, right?

Missed the first installment and want to start at the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1


 

adrift banner

Chapter 30

Without laying judgment for how it happened, a night’s sleep in his own bed was a giant improvement over the cargo bay. The line of purplish marks down his torso and thigh left behind from the floor rivets still ached if agitated. Sort of how a relentless dull pressure point on his chest threatened to nudge him out of the comfy bog of slumber far too soon.

Then the odd sensation disappeared, so Arad let himself start to sink back under. Deep, deep down where sight, sound, and gravity can’t find you—

Poke. 

And it was back, causing him to tense and twinge the nearby bruises, slowing if not stopping his descent.

“Lemme alone…,” Arad pleaded, unsure if he spoke out loud or gurgled in a crappy, underwater dream.

Poke.

Each new stab made Arad bob in the mire. A brightness grew, showing him the way up and up. “What’s going on?” His voice sounded less drowned the more words he uttered.

Poke.

He broke the surface, splashing into the real world. And for the record, the real world sucked with its stale recycled air and humming environmental equipment. Nowhere near so lovely.

Arad risked cracking open a single eye. “Roku?” 

Bleary eyed and fur matted about his head and neck, Roku looked more like a newly woken toddler than the powerful human-tiger hybrid he truly was. Hovering with his cloak askew, he filled Arad’s sight with a fat, furry finger aimed dead center of Arad’s chest.

Poke. “I’m hungry.”

Both eyes wide open, Arad nearly choked in disbelief. “What? You want me to feed you?”

Poke.

“Gah!” Waving wildly, Arad slapped the prodding digit away. “Stop… Alright already…”

Arad didn’t stop grousing as he swung himself out of bed and shoved his way past the half-conscious DemiShou. The jarring squeal of the drawer opening only fueled Arad’s choice to wear one of Torrins’s old shirts for no other reason than he knew Roku wouldn’t like it.

“You know, when I was a kid I had an orange tabby named Mr. Twiddles who used to bat my face to wake me up each morning to be fed. Should I start calling you Mr. Twiddles the second? I’ll set up a litter box in the corner.”

Even groggy, Roku puffed his chest in offense. “I am not a pet.”

“No, you’re not!” Arad stabbed Roku’s granite chest three times with his finger. “Then we won’t have a repeat of this tomorrow, will we?”

When Roku refused to respond, he tugged the shirt over his head, punched the door control open, and stomped out into the hall, words rolling out of his pursed lips in self-righteous rambling to himself.

“Oh, you’re all grumpy kitty now, but we get a cup of java in you and you’re gonna be seriously kissing my butt.”

After a meal that reminded Arad their food would not last for years at the rate Roku needed, he headed to the bridge with Roku following close behind and his head dipped sheepishly low. He hadn’t apologized out loud, but made a special effort to clean up and put away all the dishes. The smug grin on Arad’s face was etched in steel.

Sitting in Daiko’s station, Arad pulled up the damage control program, specifically the details on the damaged engine. The hours spent reading over the tech manuals were a blessing. Now that he knew what to look for, he spun the holographic simulation and better understood the data scrolling off the side.

Roku watched over his shoulder as he manipulated the engine image. “If you get the engines fixed, where will we go?”

“I don’t know. Other than someplace to get supplies, I haven’t thought that far ahead. One thing at a time.”

Deflecting the question erased what was left of the smug grin. Being part of an illegal DemiShou project meant he needed to find an outpost or world outside the corporate umbrella if Roku ever wanted to live off ship again. No small task, that. Their reach, their jurisdiction sprawled into all corners.

Slipping into the nearby seat, Roku stared out the main screen into the vast, unfamiliar beyond. His wistful exhale was tinged in despair. “We’re really lost, aren’t we?”

“Literally? For now. Figuratively? I’m holding out on that verdict.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“I’ve survived lechers, thieves, and addicts for more years than I care to admit without a roof over my head. I refuse to give in. I’m indestructible.”

“You lived on the streets?” Once again, Roku calculated the truth with the little detail given him.

It was almost as fast as Arad’s sharp retort. “Is that really important?”

“No… I guess not.”

Roku’s subtle, wounded tone shamed Arad, but the slightest amount of judgment always chaffed him, and now he doubted where it existed or not. Arad cursed at himself for getting too comfortable and revealing too much. Too many instances in his past could be judged, and with Roku’s more conservative streak, he wasn’t sure who would be more hurt by divulging it all. Better for him to keep quiet and resume his tech research. Thankfully, Roku didn’t press the subject.

“Grrr. Man. This sucks!” Arad slapped the monitor’s casing as if it would give him different results.

“What’s the matter?”

Slumping back into his seat, Arad stared at the ceiling. “Even if I can repair the engines, the section got sealed off when the warship popped us. The shielding held up more or less, but there’s a hole in the hull. Because of that, we can’t land the Ansariland on any atmosphered planet since the shuttle’s destroyed. I don’t know if I have any materials that would serve as a heat shield. Plus, I’ve never done maintenance like this.”

“Maintenance like what?”

“The emergency bulkheads are down. They can’t be opened until the hole is plugged. Since I can’t get into the room, the only way to fix the breach would be from the outside.” 


 

Want to start from the beginning? Click here for Chapter 1

Be sure to check out the other Wednesday Briefers!

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