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The Charm of Bathroom Mold

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“It’s rolling over the hills, oh, rolling over the hills, time to come home to her arms—”

Glancing at the window, Wylan muffled a groan in his bedspread. Who in Ketterdam showered at this hour, and why would they sing while doing it? Curse Jesper. Curse Wylan for being a light sleeper, and for being so easily distracted by the sound of Jesper’s voice.

He was hoping that Jesper’s singing would taper off, but apparently the sharpshooter really liked the chorus, because he looped back around to it far more times than it could possibly be in the song. He wasn’t that good a singer, either—definitely not good enough to warrant an impromptu midnight concert and believe no one would mind—and Wylan could not sleep this way. Jesper was loud, too. Pulling the covers over his head didn’t help Wylan at all.

“If you tell him to shut up,” he mumbled into his pillow, “then everyone else will wake up, too. Don’t piss off three murderous criminals, Wylan. Please. Don’t.”

His self-control frayed by the second.

When Jesper tried to hit a high note and his voice cracked, Wylan threw off the covers and sat up. He crossed his arms, prepared to give Jesper a talking-to the moment the shower stopped running.

Mercifully, Jesper finished up only a few minutes later. For a second, Wylan contemplated just going back to sleep and teasing Jesper in the morning, but no, Wylan was already sitting here, wide-awake and annoyed.

Footsteps resonated in the corridor as Jesper passed by. Even that, somehow, was irritating. Jesper knew how to be stealthy, so why didn’t he use that ability? Was he just going to wake up all four of them? Well, even if Jesper didn’t listen to Wylan, he’d certainly have to listen to Kaz. Right?

Wylan called out, “Your singing is horrible.”

The footsteps stopped. “Merchling?”

Unfortunately, Wylan hadn’t planned any further than that. As the door swung open, his heart leapt into his throat. Oh, no. He was in it for it now—Jesper was probably loading one of his guns right then—

When Jesper’s bare, dripping chest appeared in the doorway, Wylan’s brain dissolved into mush.

“I—um, I—“

He forced himself to drag his eyes upwards, meeting Jesper’s gaze. Oh, no. A wicked little smirk tugged at Jesper’s lips. “Sorry, merch. What were you saying a minute ago?”

“Uh, I—I was—um—“

Jesper leaned against the doorframe. The towel wrapped around his waist slid downwards, hanging precariously off his hips. Somehow, Wylan had lost the ability to think, let alone form coherent sentences.

“Was it ‘your singing is horrible?’” Jesper inquired, cocking an eyebrow. “Yeah, I think that’s what it was. Did I wake you up by accident?”

Wylan managed to piece together a thought. “You’re dripping all over the floor.”

Jesper looked down at himself. Drops of water slid off his skin, creating puddles on the floorboards. “Oh, sorry.” His catlike smile widened as he crossed over to the armchair in the corner and sat down, pulling part of the towel beneath him so he didn’t get the seat wet.

I did not invite you inside, Wylan thought.

“You aren’t—you aren’t supposed to be awake.”

Jesper shrugged his shoulders. “Couldn’t sleep.”

An awkward silence hovered between them. Wylan didn’t know what to say. His gaze darted back down to Jesper’s chest. It was dark enough he couldn’t see much, which was probably a blessing.

“It’s inconsiderate of you to wake up everyone else when they’re sleeping,” he said at last, although not with the self-righteous fury he’d initially felt.

“Looks like to me that you’re the only one who actually woke up,” said Jesper with easy dismissal. He tucked his legs beneath him and stretched. The towel slipped down just an enormous little bit more.

“Well, it’s really inconsiderate to me,” Wylan said, reddening.

Despite the darkness, Jesper saw the color in his cheeks. Wylan knew it from the gleam in his eyes. Damn it. “Deal with it. No one else cares.”

“That’s not true! Look, if I went to like, Kaz’s room right now and said—“

“Oh, you want to test that theory?” Jesper gestured at the door. “Be my guest.”

Wylan’s cheeks reddened even more.

“He’s really not that bad, actually,” Jesper said as the smirk disappeared, replaced by something more serious. “I wouldn’t wake him up if I were you, but—he’s just losing his shit because of Inej. Constantly.”

Wylan looked away. He had no problem with Kaz, and he hadn’t meant to bring him up at all. He couldn’t say the same for Jesper, though—it’d been obvious from day one. “You seem a little jealous.”

Jesper laughed. “Me, of Kaz? You think I’d be into Inej, of all people?”

“Please. I’m not that stupid.”

Jesper tilted his head. “Yeah, that’s what I’d like to think. So what are you getting at?”

“You’re not jealous of Kaz, ” Wylan said, forcing himself to meet Jesper’s eyes. If the sharpshooter was going to put a bullet in his brain in the next three seconds, Wylan should at least looking him in the face while he did it. “You’re jealous of Inej.”

To his credit, Jesper didn’t shoot. He didn’t even twitch, except for a flicker in his eyes. He said, “You think I have a crush on Kaz?”

“It’s not that hard to tell.”

When Jesper didn’t respond, Wylan added, “I mean, I’m not judging you for it or anything—”

“That sounds a little like pity.”

“Not pity!” Wylan scowled. Like Jesper could ever be called pitiful . Obnoxious, stubborn, distracting to Wylan’s studies—but not pitiful. “We all fall for people, Jesper.”

“That’s true.” Jesper splayed his fingers on the chair’s armrest, and Wylan became distracted once again as the towel slipped further downwards. A small part of him wished it was light enough that he could see better.

“Well—are you, um. Are you going to go back to your room?”

Jesper pouted. It definitely wasn’t attractive. He definitely wasn’t attractive. “So eager to kick me out?”

“I didn’t want you to be here!”

“Didn’t, past tense? Aw, and I can’t believe Nina once told me I had the charm of bathroom mold.”

Awkward. This is awkward. I don’t even have a witty comeback ready. How can he expect me to have one at this hour, when all I want to do is sleep? “Fine,” he amended. “I don’t want you to be here. Go sleep.”

Jesper crossed his legs beneath the towel. “Actually, I don’t have a room. Remember?”

Oh, yeah. Wylan did remember. It wasn’t uncommon to be unable to afford rooms for everyone when they went to a new inn. As usual, Nina and Matthias shared, and Kaz had his own. This time, Wylan had his own room, since he’d agreed to sleep on the floor last time. Which left Jesper to sleep on the floor. It was plain bad luck that this time around, they still hadn’t been able to afford more than three rooms.

Wylan collected his thoughts. Somehow, they all scattered at the sight of Jesper’s bare chest. “Then go sleep in the hallway, like you should be doing right now.”

“Ah. . .no. I’ve slept one night out there already, and it’s awful. Those floorboards are killing my back. The memory of it is what kept me awake tonight, actually.” Jesper sighed and tipped his head back against the armchair, baring a throat glistening with drops of water. “I think I’ll just stay in your room. This chair isn’t so bad.”

“I—”

Jesper’s eyes fluttered half-shut. “And you can’t complain, either. I know you took my room last time, when I stayed out that night.”

Wylan blushed. “Kaz gave it to me. I wasn’t aware I owed you anything.”

“Mm, well, I think this is fair enough, isn’t it? I’m not even kicking you out of your bed. You can have it. I’m just taking this chair.”

“But how am I going to sleep?”

“I’m not interrupting you.”

“But—whatever.” Wylan was going to shut up now. He could sleep, despite how his heartbeat accelerated the slightest bit around Jesper, or how breathing was a little harder than before. Wylan wasn’t some middle schooler who didn’t know how to handle having emotions. “Okay. Goodnight, Jesper.”

“Goodnight, merchling.”

Wylan did his best not to toss and turn in the bed, for fear that it would keep Jesper awake too. Instead, he buried one side of his face in his pillow. It was a good five or ten minutes,  but he waited until Jesper’s breathing smoothened out and deepened into soft snoring.

Wylan threw off his blanket and eased himself out of the bed. He waited again, checking for any difference in Jesper’s breathing rate. Nope. The noise hadn’t woken him.

Wylan peeled off the top blanket from his bed. He walked over to the armchair and arranged it around Jesper’s shoulders.

“Sleep well,” he murmured, and walked to his bed. Curling up beneath his remaining blanket, he fell into a peaceful sleep.