*** Warning: Contains spoilers from Smoke & Mirrors (THIRDS, Book 7) ***
Prompt: Would it be possible to get a THIRDS Thursday of Dex’s second seizure from Austen’s POV?
“Turn off the lamp.”
Austen heard Dex’s sleepy mumble in his earpiece, and sprang to action. He didn’t want to do this, didn’t want to be there when it happened, but he would. For Sloane. And okay, yeah, Dex too. The guy had grown on him. But really, for Sloane because the guy was going to be so fucking scared, and Austen couldn’t stand the thought of leaving Sloane to face what was coming alone.
It took him seconds to break into the house. The street was silent, all the good citizens asleep in their beds dreaming of their 401k or whether they were getting enough fiber. He locked the door behind him before making his way through the dark house, up the stairs to the closed bedroom door.
“Dex, what’s wrong?”
Austen slipped inside the room, closing the door as Dex spoke.
“Why’s it so bright in here?”
Austen crouched, and made his way over to the nightstand, first Dex’s, and then Sloane’s, confiscating their phones. Hospitals were out of the question. Not unless they wanted Dex to end up dead like the others. Damn it, Sloane. Why did you have to go and mark him? Austen pocketed the phones as he ducked behind the armchair before Sloane turned on the bedside lamp.
“Tell me what you’re feeling. Talk to me.”
Austen counted the seconds. It was about to happen, just as Sparks said. Son of a bitch. He’d hoped she was wrong. That she was full of shit and just getting him to spy on Dex, but… fuck. This was going to be hard. First Dex’s temperature would skyrocket, then his pupils would dilate, followed by chest pains.
“Fuck,” Dex wheezed.
“Dex, talk to me. You’re scaring the shit out of me.”
“I feel weird.”
Austen closed his eyes, breathing in deeply through his nose, and letting his breath out slowly, silently through his mouth. If it had been anyone else, no problem. Austen could blink and detach himself from a situation, close the door to any emotion that might threaten him, and endanger his mission. Had it been anyone else, he would have sauntered through the door, taken a seat, and just waited for the shit to hit the fan. No, that wasn’t true. If it had been anyone else, he wouldn’t be here.
The thrashing started, and Austen winced. Dex’s inhuman cry crawled under his skin, and Sloane shouting Dex’s name brought a hitch to his breath. He hated hearing Sloane sound so afraid. Austen turned his head up, silently cursing the heavens. Hadn’t the guy been through enough? How much more would he have to suffer?
Cut him a fucking break, huh?
Dex would fight the pain like he did the first time. At least Sloane was here with him. Austen had fucked up so bad. Sloane he had no choice in. He was stuck on the guy since they’d met. A tiny part of him still loved Sloane, but that love was changing, becoming more… affectionate. He wasn’t that pining teenager anymore. Regardless, Sloane was and would always be a part of his life. What Austen hadn’t meant to do was let Dex in. Fuck that Cheesy Doodle crunching asshole. Why did he have to be such a good guy? Why did he have to be so perfect for Sloane? Austen wanted to dislike him on principle, but he couldn’t. Over the years, Dex had wormed his way into Austen’s heart like a stray dog that follows you home, looking up at you with big hopeful eyes, wagging its tail and wanting nothing more than to love you.
Dex pissed him off. Despite all the shit Austen did, breaking into their house, eating his snacks, purposefully spying on him and making sure he knew it, the guy still liked Austen. Why? Why hadn’t Dex told Sloane to leave Austen behind? Dex knew how Austen felt. What kind of boyfriend was he?
Frantic movement told him Sloane was about to lose his shit.
“It was right there.”
Yes, it was, buddy. Now it was in his pocket.
“He’ll be fine.” Austen stood, smiling sadly as he watched Dex. He couldn’t look at Sloane. Not yet.
“Austen? You need to help me. We need to call emergency services.”
Austen shook his head. “You need to let this play out.” I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me. This was one of those moments where he questioned what he was doing with TIN. With his life. Someone he cared deeply about was in pain, begging him for help, and he couldn’t do anything because it wasn’t about the now, it was about what needed to happen, about the end game, and it boiled Austen’s blood.
Sloane wasn’t ready to hear the truth of what was happening to the man he loved, that it was his blood that was causing this. All Austen could do was protect Sloane, and prolong his heartbreak, because when the truth came out, Sloane’s heart would break. Austen prayed that Sloane and Dex’s relationship would be able to withstand the fallout. More importantly, he prayed Dex would survive what was happening to him.
“Are you out of your mind?” Sloane thrust a hand in Dex’s direction. “Look at him!” Sloane ran over to Dex’s side of the bed. Dex’s phone was gone. His head shot up, and he stared at Austen.
“You took them.”
“It’s a seizure,” Austen said gently. “Sort of. He’s had one before. You need to let it play out.”
“What?” Sloane shook his head. “That’s not possible. I would have known if this had happened before.” He quickly returned to Dex’s side, Austen joining him. “Dex would have told me.”
“He didn’t tell you because he couldn’t remember.” He braced himself.
“Explain,” Sloane growled.
“The other day, when you called him from work and he told you he must have fallen asleep. He’d had a similar episode. TIN was immediately on the scene, and Sparks was called in. They took care of him.”
“Why wasn’t I told?”
Sloane gave a start at Dex’s anguished cry, and he climbed onto the bed, kneeling beside Dex and running a hand over his head. “It’s okay, sweetheart. You can get through this. I’m right here with you.”
Tears streamed down the side of Dex’s face, and Austen clenched his jaw, forcing his emotions deep down inside him. Austen made the mistake of looking at Sloane, and it took everything he had not to run. Sloane wasn’t supposed to hurt like this. He’d always been larger than life, a strong, fierce jaguar Therian with a tender heart. A guy who could have thrown Austen away like everyone else in Austen’s life had, but he didn’t. He’d done so much for Austen, and now all Austen could offer was comfort. Fuck. It was hard, seeing Sloane look so helpless.
“There has to be something I can do,” Sloane pleaded.
“All you can do is comfort him. It’ll pass.”
“And if it doesn’t?” Sloane growled, his eyes meeting Austen’s. “I can’t just—”
“It will pass, Sloane. You’ll put him in more danger if you send him to the hospital.”
Austen carefully put his palm to Dex’s brow, smiling warmly down at him. “You can do this, Dex.” He had faith in him. Dex was strong, stronger than any Human had the right to be. Austen had watched stunned at the way Dex had swept into the lives of his teammates. A whirlwind of jokes, unhealthy snacks, and cheesy 80s music. If Austen hadn’t seen it with his own eyes, he wouldn’t have believed it. In fact, he hadn’t. When Sparks told him to keep an eye on Dex, that he was important, Austen had scoffed. He remembered his own words.
This joker? Are you fucking kidding me?
Dex had proved him wrong. He’d shown Austen what it was to be a real friend. To take a broken, wounded man and not just mend him, but inspire him to be an even greater man. Austen knew what Dex meant to Sloane. He looked up at the man who had rescued him from a life he didn’t want to even think about.
“I would never lie to you, Sloane.”
“What do I do?”
Austen hated that he could see the uncertainty in Sloane’s eyes. As much as Sloane trusted Austen, Austen worked for TIN. It hurt, but Austen didn’t blame him. “Sloane. Trust me.”
Sloane looked up, and Austen hoped the sincerity in his voice, their history together, would be enough for Sloane to take a chance on him.
“Let him know you’re here,” Austen said.
Sloane did his best to soothe Dex. He ran his hand over Dex’s head, his words soft as he spoke. “It’s okay. You’ll be okay, sweetheart. I’m here. I’m right here with you.”
Dex’s chest rose and fell with short, rapid breaths, his pupils blown, and his terrified gaze on Sloane. It looked horrific. Like he was at death’s door. Tears pooled in Sloane’s eyes, and Austen curled his hands into fists until his nails dug into his palms. Sloane brought Dex’s fingers to his lips for a kiss.
What would it feel like, to be loved like that? To be looked at as if you were the only man who existed, the only one who mattered?
“If you’re wrong,” Sloane choked out, his eyes on Dex as he addressed Austen, “I’ll never forgive you.”
Austen swallowed hard. “I know.” There was so much he wanted to say, but now was not the time. All he could do was stand here, an intruder. Austen looked around the bedroom, at Dex and Sloane’s clothes neatly folded on the armchair, Sloane’s boots by the closet, his uniform shirt hanging from the hook, freshly cleaned and ironed. It was all so domestic. So… normal.
“Dex, I’m here. You’ll be okay. You can do this.”
Dex gasped, clawing at the sheets as his back arched again. Another cry tore from his lips, and Sloane grabbed hold of him. He held on to Dex, shutting his eyes tight as Dex screamed again. Then he went limp in Sloane’s arms.
God, he hated this part.
“Dex?” Sloane gently laid Dex back down on the bed. His eyes were closed, and his chest had stopped moving, or so it appeared. “Dex? Baby, please!” Sloane felt for a pulse. Austen knew he wouldn’t find one. “Dex!” Sloane jumped off the bed and ran to the closet where his medical bag was.
Dex gasped, and Sloane turned, rushing back to his side. He cupped Dex’s face. He looked so relieved, so damn happy.
“Oh, thank God.”
Sloane climbed onto the bed and drew Dex into his arms, running a hand down his back as Dex cried against his shoulder. Sloane joined him, tears escaping his amber eyes. Austen had never seen Sloane look more terrified. Sloane closed his eyes tight, and Austen took hold of the covers to pull them snugly around them. Then he returned the cellphones in his pocket to nightstands, and he walked out of the room, closing the door behind him.
Austen quickly left the house, his chest feeling tight. He told himself over and over that it would be okay. Dex would be okay. Sloane’s blood was changing him, and as fucking terrifying as the seizures were, it meant his body was fighting, fighting to stay alive. If anyone could survive this, it would be Dex. They just had to keep an eye on him, and make sure he didn’t go to any hospitals or he’d end up in the morgue.
The cool breeze felt good against his face as he walked briskly down the sidewalk. His earpiece beeped, and he tapped it, answering with a growl.
Austen blinked back his tears. “Alive. How much longer is this going to go on? It’s fucking killing them, and for all we know it actually is killing Dex.”
“Dex is stronger than he looks.”
“And if he’s not?” Austen hissed. “You assured me…. Sloane can’t lose him. You saw what happened when he lost Gabe. If he loses Dex…. Fuck. It’ll destroy him. He’ll never come back from that.” Austen was shivering, which was really something, considering it was the middle of fucking summer.
“They’ll get through this.”
“Because you say so?” Austen let out a sound of disgust. “If you’re wrong—”
“How long are you going to feel indebted to Sloane Brodie? Or is it because you still love him?”
“Fuck you,” Austen spat out. He didn’t give a shit who Sparks was. “He’s the closest thing to family I have. The only one who gives a shit about me. You knew that from the day we met.”
“Austen, don’t make me question your loyalty.”
Ice filled Austen’s veins, and when he spoke it came through in his tone. “There’s no need to question my loyalty, because you know where it fucking lies. And in case you need a reminder, it’s with him.” Austen hung up and shoved his phone into his pocket.
Sparks might have taken him in and turned him into more than some street punk, but Sloane was the one who’d saved him, and that was something Austen would never forget.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. Published by Dreamspinner Press.