[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Lucien draws a sharp breath, staring at Shuni, genuinely moved. Lucien can’t recall anyone having opened a door to him so freely before. “I’d love to stay with you,” he admits softly. “It’ll be nice to have a friend’s company after all this.”
Shuni laughs lightly. “It’s not much, but at least for tonight, what’s mine is yours.”
That’s a deeper offer than the one Shuni has actually made, and he should be careful about saying such things so freely. Lucien doesn’t warn him of this, though; a reprimand now would be rude, and perhaps it’s just a show of Shuni’s trust. “Thank you,” he says again. “As for the rest…”
He pauses, looking Shuni over again. It really is remarkable what a match Shuni is for him. Lucien has no idea how the director did it. There are minute differences—Shuni’s jaw is a little sharper, his nose a little wider, the circles under his eyes less pronounced. He may be a centimeter or two taller; Lucien always has trouble telling. His chest (where Lucien can see far too much of it for modesty, given the way his shirt’s fallen open) is a bit smoother.
Lucien finds himself looking at the pendant again. It is an odd thing, a twisted piece of metal. It reminds him of one of those puzzles where people have to find the way to unlock one bit of metal from another. But if it is that, there is only the half of it.
Noticing him looking, Shuni covers it with his fingers briefly, then twists it in his hand, laughing self-consciously. “What? You’re staring.”
“It just looked interesting,” Lucien admits. “What is it?”
“Just a keepsake,” Shuni demurs. “You know how it is.”
Lucien does. He folds his hand around the brass key in his pocket just to feel its weight. “I suppose most actors have something like that. A little bit of luck to carry with them.”
“We’re a superstitious lot,” Shuni agrees. “You were going to say, though, about the rest? The possible switch?”
It’s odd. On the one hand, Lucien doesn’t see any harm in doing it. Surely Lord Crow is powerful enough to see through any kind of disguise or costume, and surely Shuni, just an actor, isn’t powerful enough to play Lucien’s role so well that Lord Crow could really be mistaken. Lord Crow might even appreciate the challenge, having Lucien return the next night and make it into a puzzle.
On the other hand, why is Shuni even offering this? Why does he seem so invested in it? It might be nothing, Lucien reminds himself, just a kind offer. They’ve all seen things go off the rails with things like this, so perhaps it will make Shuni feel as if he is helping a friend. Lucien can hardly fault that, if so. But… it’s a risky sort of kindness to offer. Spreading attention around might make it easier on both of them, but it guarantees Shuni is drawn into it himself. So…
Is Shuni trying to get in on this? Did he hear Lucien describe the romantic walk, the focused attention, and decide he wanted some of that himself? Is Shuni hoping to be romanced by Lord Crow?
…And is it so bad if that’s the case? Perhaps they have more in common than their looks. Lucien feels a grin curl his lips.
“Oh no,” Shuni says. “What’s got you making that face?”
“Shuni, do you like Lord Crow?”
“Do you fancy a dinner date with him yourself?” Lucien’s grin widens. “Perhaps see if you can skip that and move onto the second date?”
Shuni’s brows lift, and he laughs. “You sound like the over-eager one there. Don’t tease, or I’ll take your flirtations seriously. I already told you: I’m the sort who’ll spread myself thin. I’m just offering the same to you.”
“Enough of this,” Shuni says, though he sounds flattered. He rises. “I was going to ask if you’d eaten, but then remembered you clearly had. Let me show you to my bedroom.”
Fair enough. Lucien is tired. He’s probably sounding manic—even hysterical—by now. “Thank you again,” he says. He rises and lets Shuni lead him there.
It’s a small bedroom, unremarkable and lacking any real personality. Just a moderately-sized bed, a single bookshelf with some chapbooks on it, and a writing desk. Not much on the writing desk either, just some pages with a bit of scribbled text visible on them. Shuni gestures to the bed. “Go lie down.”
“What’ll you do?”
“I’ve some things to finish up myself before I sleep,” Shuni says, and shuts the door behind himself.
Obligingly, Lucien takes off his outerwear and lies down in the bed. Yet, for all that he’s exhausted, it’s hard to sleep. A thick line of sunlight is showing under Shuni’s thick, closed blinds, and too much has happened for his mind to easily wear itself out.
He’s not sure how much longer it takes, but the door eventually opens again. Shuni pauses, apparently observing him, then comes to sit on the bed, leaning over him. “You’re still awake,” he says. His voice is softer, like he’s afraid of waking Lucien despite making that observation.
“I can’t sleep,” Lucien whispers back.
One of Shuni’s hands rises, caresses Lucien’s cheek, slides down his neck to his shoulder—almost to his chest. “Can I help?” he murmurs. His voice is rough, suggestive.
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]