Hello, all! We have a special Valentine’s treat for you! The fabulous RJ Scott is hosting a number of authors on her blog to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and today we have a fun little Valentine’s Day flash fiction story featuring our devious duo Dexter J. Daley and Sloane Brodie. Check out what mischief Dex is up to on Valentine’s Day.
Prompt: Ash and Dex team up to take care of Cael while he is sick, like a couple of mother hens. :P
Ugh, he was so tired of these stupid algorithms. He’d been doing them all day. Why couldn’t Defense agents program their own stuff? He supposed he couldn’t be too mad at them. They had enough to worry about out on the streets without having to break their brains trying to talk to Themis. Sometimes he wanted to tell Themis where it could—
Cael gave such a start he almost fell out of his chair. “What?” He snapped at Dex hovering over him.
“Jesus, you don’t have to bite my head off. What’s with you? You’ve been such a grumpy McGrumpy Pants for the last two days. Are you feeling okay?” Dex leaned in and put his head to Cael’s brow, his eyes going wide. “I think you have a fever.”
Cael swatted his brother’s hand away. “I’m fine. I’ve just been busy.” He frowned and went back to his desk interface. “Did you want something?”
When there was no reply, he looked up and peered at Dex. His brother was studying him, eyes narrowed.
“You’re kinda creeping me out,” Cael muttered. Then again, it was just Dex being Dex. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, so….” Hint. Hint. Hint.
Dex got up and walked out of the room. Cael stared after him.
“What the heck was that about?” Seriously, he worried about that guy.
Cael lost himself in his algorithms, stopping only long enough to pull a tissue out of his desk drawer. Stupid allergies. His nose was all stuffed up.
“Cael, are you all right?”
A shadow loomed over him, and Cael lifted his gaze, finding Ash looking down at him worriedly.
“Dex said you were sick.”
Cael leaned back in his chair to glare at his brother who was very smartly hiding behind Ash.
“I’m fine,” Cael said. “Dex is overreacting. Again.”
Ash seemed to be mulling that over. “While I will agree that your brother is prone to exceptional feats of ridiculousness, it would ease my mind if you let me check your temperature.”
Cael stared at him. “Take my temperature?” He shook his head. “Ash, I’m fine.” Of course the moment the words were out of his mouth, he sneezed.
Ash removed a small device from his pocket.
“Please tell me you didn’t bring a—”
The thermometer was place to his head, and Ash’s expression was very stern when he spoke. “Hold still.”
Cael was surrounded by crazy people. Should Cael be terrified right now? It would appear his brother’s crazy was rubbing off on Ash. Cael sighed, and the gadget beeped.
“You have a fever,” Ash declared, and Dex leaned around him to thrust a finger at Cael.
“I knew it. You’re sick. Do you want to go to the medic?”
Cael scowled at him. “No. My partner is a medic, remember?”
“Right.” Dex looked up at Ash. “He needs to be home under lots of fluffy blankets with pillows and chicken soup and one of those smoky-breathy things.”
Ash rolled his eyes. “You mean a humidifier?”
“Yeah, one of those.”
Cael groaned. “I’m fine. You two need to go away. I’m busy.”
Cael jumped to his feet to yell at his brother when a wave of dizziness slammed into him, and he would have fallen over his chair if Ash hadn’t caught him. “I’m fine,” Cael grumbled.
“Sweetheart, maybe you should take the rest of the afternoon. You’re looking a little pale.”
“That’s just cause it’s so cold in here. Rosa probably turned the temperature down before she left for lunch.”
“Speaking of,” Ash said, running a hand over Cael’s head. It felt nice. “Why aren’t you eating lunch?”
“I wasn’t hungry, and I wanted to get these algorithms done.” He was going to once again say he was fine when he noticed Dex was gone.
Ash straightened and turned around. “He was just here a second ago.”
Tony strode into the room, grumbled at Ash to move aside, and put his hand to Cael’s brow. Before Cael could say yet again that he was fine, Tony spoke up.
“You’ve got a fever. Go home.”
“What?” Cael sputtered, shutting his mouth when Tony gave him that look. “Yes, sir.” Cael let out a heavy sigh as Tony left. His dad was very strict when it came to agents getting sick. He’d rather have an agent be out for however long it took and get them cover than have a bug go around infecting everyone. Covering for a couple of agents was preferable to having to cover whole teams.
Dex walked in looking smug, and Cael gasped.
“Oh my God, did you just narc on me to dad?”
“No, I narced on you to our sergeant. Very different.”
Cael would have strangled him if he had the strength.
“Listen,” Ash said, kneeling beside his chair. “Sloane owes me some overtime, so how about I take you home and we get you settled down on the couch and I’ll make you some soup.”
“I can make soup,” Dex chimed in.
Ash waved a hand dismissively. “I’ve got this, Daley. Go make a menace of yourself elsewhere.”
“But, I always make him soup. And chocolate chip cookies.”
Ash stood, and slapped a hand on Dex’s shoulder. “And now he has me to make him soup and chocolate chip cookies. Don’t you have a job to do?”
Dex folded his arms over is chest. “Taking care of my family is my job.”
Cael sank farther down his chair. It was like watching a tennis match that never ended because neither side was giving in. Cael just needed a little sleep, that’s all. He logged out of Themis, and shut down his desk interface while Dex and Ash argued over who would look after Cael better. Taking it slow, he pushed himself to his feet. No dizzy spell. Good. He turned and sighed. They were still arguing? Jeez. These two. Pot and kettle.
“How about,” Cael said loudly, halting the argument, “Ash makes the soup, and Dex makes the cookies?”
They both narrowed their gazes at him.
“Or, you can both stay here arguing, while I go home, all alone.” He pouted. “Sick.” Cough. Cough.
“You got it, sweetheart.” Ash wrapped his arm around Cael.
“Chocolate chip cookies,” Dex agreed. “I’m on it.”
Cael blinked up at Dex. “Can I have double chocolate chips?”
Dex threw his arms around Cael’s head, petting it. “You can have all the chocolate chips, Chirpy.”
“Wow. You two are total suckers.”
Dex pulled back, puzzled. “My precious baby brother is sick, Cal.”
Cael looked up at Ash, bottom lip jutting out. “I’m not feeling so good. Can we go home?”
“Of course, sweetheart.” Ash led him to the doorway when Ash and Dex were called over by a fellow agent. “Be back in one second.” Ash kissed the top of Cael’s head before he and Dex hurried off. Cael turned to thrust a finger at Calvin.
“You do anything to ruin this for me, and I will end you, Summers.”
Calvin chuckled. “Man, you are evil.”
“Cal, my boyfriend is best friends with my brother’s boyfriend. Which means Dex and Ash are in each other’s hair more than ever, which means they spend a good portion of their time arguing and driving me and Sloane nuts. I deserve soup and chocolate chip cookies when I’m sick, Cal. If I don’t get my cookies, and some hot chocolate with enough whip cream to choke a mule, I’m going to shank someone with a spork! Do you hear me, Cal? A spork!”
Calvin took a slow step back, his eyes wide. “Um, how about I bring you some of my mom’s pecan pie?”
Cael smiled wide. “Aw, that’s very sweet of you, Cal. I would love that.”
“You’re kinda scary sometimes.”
“You would be too if Dex was your brother and Ash was your boyfriend.” Cael gave Calvin’s shoulder a pat. “Don’t forget the whip cream.”
Ash jogged over, his expression worried. “You okay? Sorry, just had to answer a couple questions about our last case. Ready?”
Cael coughed. “Ready.”
Thankfully they didn’t hit a lot of traffic on the way home. Cael was feeling pretty gross. His head hurt, his nose was stuffed, he was cold, his whole body ached, and he was so tired. Once inside, Ash helped him into his comfiest pajamas, and helped him over to the couch. He brought down half a dozen warm fuzzy blankets, several pillows, and even made Cael a hot water bottle because he was shivering. By the time Ash was done, Cael was ready to hibernate in his cave of fluffy warmth. The only part not covered by the blankets were his eyes.
Ash put on one of the science fiction movie channels before turning and kissing Cael’s brow.
“I’m going to go make that soup. If you need anything, you just let me know, okay?”
“Thank you,” Cael said, genuinely thankful Ash was here. He was so good at taking care of Cael. Even if his boyfriend did sometimes drive him crazy when he was around Dex, Cael still loved Ash like crazy. He really was such a good boyfriend.
Somewhere in the middle of a so-bad-it’s-good movie, Cael fell asleep. When he woke up, he could hear Ash and Dex arguing. It was hilarious though, because they were whispering arguing. There was nothing like hearing Dex and Ash insulting each other in whispers. There was movement around the kitchen, so clearly they were cooking while arguing. Cael couldn’t help his smile. They were such dorks.
Cael must have fallen asleep again, because the next time he woke up, Sloane was sitting on the couch, socked feet propped up on the coffee table in front, reading from his tablet. He looked over at Cael and smiled.
“How are you feeling?”
Cael let out something that was a cross between a moan, a groan, and a hiccup. Ash and Dex appeared before him. Jeez, how did they do that? It’s like they learned how to teleport or something.
“Hey, Chirpy. Are you okay?” Dex put his hand to Cael’s head. “Still feverish.”
Ash shoved Dex aside and knelt in front of Cael. “Want some soup, sweetheart?”
“Ha!” Ash thrust a finger at Dex. “I told you.”
“Can I have a cookie too?” Cael asked.
Dex bounced around on his toes pointing at Ash with his index fingers. “And I told you.”
“You better not eat all my cookies,” Cael warned his brother.
“Please. Just what do you take me for?”
Ash opened his mouth to reply, and Dex cut him off.
“Shut it.” Dex turned his attention back to Cael. “I made my own batch.”
Of course he did. Oh God, if Dex didn’t stop bouncing….
“Babe,” Sloane said gently. He patted the couch next to him. “Come here.”
Dex bounded over and dropped onto the couch next to Sloane. “Yes, my love?”
Sloane smiled warmly at him. “Nothing. Just wanted to give you this.” He leaned in and kissed Dex. Dex melted against Sloane with a dreamy sigh. He pulled up his legs, and snuggled up close to Sloane, his eyes closed. Still. Not fidgeting. Sloane winked at Cael before going back to his book.
And that was why the man was made for Dexter J. Daley.
Cael had never known anyone in his life who could calm his brother with just one look, one word, or one kiss. It was astounding.
“You okay to sit up?”
Speaking of astounding….
Cael sat up, and smiled at Ash. “Thank you, Ash. I really appreciate it.” He carefully moved aside his blankets so he could sit up. Ash placed the tray over his lap, and kissed his head.
“Anything for you, sweetheart, you know that. Oh, and Cal dropped off some of his mom’s pecan pie and a tub of whip cream.” Ash shrugged.
Cael’s heart swelled, and as Ash got under the covers beside him, wrapping him up just enough to keep him warm while he ate his chicken soup. Cael couldn’t be happier.
Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
THIRDS Thursday is on hiatus for the month of February for the release of Thick & Thin and returns March 2nd!
The fellas share their New Year’s resolutions.
Ash: I don’t make new year’s resolutions. If I want to do something, I do it. If I don’t want to do something, I don’t. That’s it.
Dex: How very Ash of you.
Ash: Whatever. This coming from the guy with no self-control.
Dex: *huffs* I totally have self-control. I don’t know what you’re talking about. *Turns to Sloane* Babe, I have self-control, right?
Sloane: *looking everywhere but at Dex*
Dex: *narrows eyes* Babe?
Sloane: *blinks at him innocently* Hm?
Ash: *snickering behind Cael*
Dex: Darling? Light of my loins. Owner of my very, very precious heart. Self-control. I have it, right?
Sloane: Um, of course your do, sweetheart.
Dex: You hesitated.
Sloane: *looks past Dex to Cael* How about you? Any resolutions?
Cael: I’m going to try and be more assertive. Outside the bedroom, anyway.
Ash: *jaw drops*
Dex: *eyes go wide* Oh my God, why? Why would you say that in my presence? *covers his eyes* I need bleach for my brain!
Cael: *rolls his eyes* I’m thirty years old, Dex. One of these days you’re going to have to accept that your baby brother isn’t a baby anymore.
Dex: Never! *throws his arms around Cael’s head and pets him* Precious, precious cookie.
Cael: I’m going to seriously hurt you if you don’t let go.
Dex: *sniffs* They grow up so quickly.
Cael: Get off.
Dex: One minute you’re changing their diaper—which was so heavy you had to wonder how something so small could poop so damn much—and the next thing you know—*gets tackled off his chair*
Sloane: *to Ash* What do you want to do after this?
Dex: *tussling with Cael on the floor* Could use a little help here.
Ash: *thinks about it* How about we grab some dinner and watch a movie? I’m kinda in the mood for Korean.
Dex: *groans after getting hit in the ribs* Babe?
Sloane: *snaps his fingers* Hudson recommended this great place over on East 31st Street. We should go there.
Ash: Sounds good.
Dex: Ouch! Dude, did you just try to knee me in ma boys? I need those!
Cael: Then stop talking about my diapers, you turd!
Dex: *snickers* Turd.
Cael: *stands over his brother and narrows his eyes* Say one more thing about me in diapers. I dare you.
Dex: *opens his mouth to reply*
Cael: Just know that when you do, I’m going to describe in exceptional detail the sex Ash and I had last night.
Dex: *pops up onto his feet* You know, I think I’m gonna sit down next to Sloane.
Cael: You do that. *Resumes his seat next to Ash*
Dex: *leans over Cael to peer at Ash* I blame you.
Ash: For what? The sex?
Dex: That. But generally, I just blame you.
Sloane: *chuckles and pats Dex’s leg*
Dex: *turns to Sloane* So what’s your new year’s resolution?
Sloane: *thinks about it* I don’t know. I guess, just really appreciate what I have, and making sure what I have knows he’s appreciated. *kisses Dex’s cheek*
Dex: *melts* Aw. You’re such a sap.
Ash: *to Dex* I blame you for that one.
Dex: *sighs dreamily as he looks at Sloane* I happily accept responsibility.
Dex: Bite me, Simba.
Ash: That’s getting old.
Dex: Aslan, then. Or we could go with Scar. Or Mufasa.
Ash: *grins wide* How about we go with my fist in your face. How’s that? I like that one best.
Sloane: Okay, that’s enough you two. Back to resolutions.
Dex: *puts his hand up * Ooh, I got one!
Sloane: Why are you raising your hand?
Ash: I find it hard to believe that you ever raised your hand in school.
Dex: Of course I raised my hand. I was an exceptional student.
*Cael and Ash exchange glances before bursting into laughter*
Cael: *wiping a tear from his eye* He’s right. He did raise his hand. He also made noises, whispered loudly to get the teacher’s attention, and flailed his arms. It drove his teachers insane, among other things.
Dex: *wrinkles his nose* Hey, I was an enthusiastic student.
Cael: And then after all the flailing and noises, when the teacher finally did call on him, he’d ask a completely random question. Like if she asked what the answer to the math problem was, he’d drive her nuts until she picked him, and then ask something like “why do dogs get surprised by their own farts”.
*Ash and Sloane burst into laughter*
Dex: What? If I didn’t ask when it occurred to me then I’d forget, and it would bug me for the rest of the day. I needed to know. You can all bite me.
Sloane: *sobering up* Okay, babe. What’s your resolution?
Dex: *mutters* To find new friends.
Sloane: Aw, don’t be mad. *pulls Dex into his arms and kisses him* You know we love you.
Ash: *opens his mouth when Cael clamps a hand over it*
Dex: *pouts* Can we get ice cream after dinner?
Sloane: Of course we can. You can have all the ice cream you want.
Cael: *eyes light up and turns to Ash* I want ice cream too!
Ash: *hugs Cael and glares at Sloane over Cael’s head* Of course, sweetheart.
Dex: *jumps off his chair at the same time as Cael* Woop! *they run out*
Ash: *shakes his head at Sloane* You couldn’t have just said yes, you had to say “all the ice cream you want.”
Sloane: Sorry. You know it’s hard for me to say no when he’s looking all pouty like that.
Ash: Which is why he does it, you sap! *throws his arms up* Now they’re going to eat their weight in ice cream, and Cael is going to be bouncing off the walls.
Sloane: *shrugs* Dex will be too. And it’ll last most of the night. *waggles his eyebrows*
Ash: *opens his mouth to answer then closes it. Realizes what Sloane is saying and stands* Let’s go get some ice cream. *grins wide* Happy New Year to me.
Sloane: *chuckles and walks after him*
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
*** CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SMOKE & MIRRORS ***
Prompt: I would like to read the scene where Dex is found in the woods in Smoke & Mirrors from Sloane’s point of view.
He had to find him.
Damn TIN for wasting so much time. Sloane should have been out here searching for Dex hours ago. Instead the bastards had knocked him out. Did Sparks really think he was going to just sit around on his ass and do nothing? His mate was out there somewhere, in trouble and in pain. Sloane could feel it down to his bones. He didn’t care if he drew attention to himself in the bright orange muscle car, he needed to have it with him. Needed to feel close to Dex, sit in his seat, grip the steering wheel. It was stupid, but driving the Challenger kept his hopes up. Like the damn thing might actually lead him to its owner.
As he drove, he told himself over and over that they would find Dex and he’d be alive. His man was made of tough stuff, tougher than a lot of people gave him credit for. Dex would survive. He’d do whatever was necessary to get back to Sloane, to Cael and Maddock. His family.
“Come on, baby, you gotta come home. I need you to come home.” Sloane’s phone rang and he tapped his earpiece after the first ring. “Who is this?”
Sloane almost slammed the breaks. For a second, he was afraid maybe he was hearing things, but he’d never mistake Dex’s sultry tones for anyone else’s. His voice was hoarse, sounding as if he were on the verge of tears, and Sloane had to blink away his own. He was so relieved, but until Dex was safe in his arms, he’d maintain focus.
“Oh thank God. Dex, where are you?”
“I… I have no idea. There’s lots of trees. I don’t see any signs. There was a road, but I don’t know what it was. Can you get Cael to find my location using the phone’s GPS?”
“Give me a sec,” Sloane murmured, sending Cael a quick emergency message asking him to trace the phone Dex was calling from. A heartbeat later he received a reply. “He’s on it. Are you okay? Talk to me. What happened?”
“It’s a really, really long story. I just… I need you.”
The whimper, the fear and need crept into Dex’s voice, and Sloane wanted nothing more than to be there with him. To hold him close and never let him go. “I’m on my way, sweetheart. Are you somewhere safe?”
“Home was safe.”
Sloane swallowed hard. Those sons of bitches. Whoever did this, whoever made Dex feel unsafe in his—their—own home was going to pay. “We’ll sort that out. Right now, let’s get you to me, okay? I’m your home.” Sloane rubbed at one eye then the other. He had to keep his shit together.
“Thank you. I really needed to hear that right now.”
Always. His earpiece beeped, and he tapped it, hearing Cael’s voice come in through the car’s speaker. Sloane hit the gas. “We have your location. I’ll be there soon. Stay on the line with me.”
No. No. No. Who knew what shape Dex was in. Sloane couldn’t lose him. He tried to keep the panic form his voice. “Stay awake, sweetheart. Please.”
“I don’t think I can. I’m kinda in bad shape here.”
There was a tremble in Dex’s voice, and as Sloane headed north, speeding through the city and breaking who knew how many traffic laws, he scrambled to think of something that would keep Dex awake until he got there. Stay with me. Please stay with me. An idea struck him, and he turned the radio on. It was tuned in to Retro Radio, same as it always was.
“Sing with me.”
“Come on. Listen.” Sloane turned up the radio, blasting the Romantics “What I Like About You.” Sloane sang and urged Dex to sing with him, his husky voice wrapping Sloane up in its warmth. Dex was trying his best to keep up with the lyrics which was no easy feat considering the fast-paced tune.
Dex loved this song. It came on while Dex cooked dinner last week. Sloane had joined in when Dex grabbed him and begged him to dance. He’d laughed and tried to pull away, but his boyfriend was an adorable goofball, so Sloane ended up getting swept up in the crazy. It had been fun, just jumping around, acting like a couple of dorks, singing along.
Sloane’s heart squeezed in his chest when he thought about that night, and every other night since he’d moved in with Dex. Sloane told Dex he was Dex’s home, but the reverse applied as well. Dex was his home. Wherever they were, if Dex was there, Sloane was okay. His sparkling blue eyes, his beautiful smile, and infectious laughter, Sloane needed him. All of him.
“Keep singing, sweetheart,” Sloane pleaded.
Dex was trying, and it broke Sloane’s heart. His voice was rough, his words barely audible, but he tried. As the song ended, the car became frightfully silent.
“Dex? Dex! Stay with me, baby, please.”
Breathing. He could hear breathing. Finally he pulled up on the street in the car’s GPS. He parked, turned off the headlights, and locked up before running up the incline where he spotted several TIN operatives. They’d started searching the thick greenery. The rest of their team arrived, and Cael ran to Sloane, his big gray eyes filled with fear.
“Where is he?”
“I don’t know. He’s got to be in there somewhere. Everyone spread out. If you find him, I want to know immediately.” They joined the search, and Sloane tried to catch his mate’s scent. “Dex! Dex, where are you?”
A faint croaking sound caught his ear and he stilled. He sniffed at the air, and his stomach flipped. He ran toward the scent, his inner Felid stirring. He was close. TIN operatives caught onto something as well and they followed him as he ran through the trees, emerging to find the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. Sloane sped over and dropped to his knees, cradling Dex in his arms.
“Dex, look at me. Sweetheart, open your eyes.” Oh God, what have they done to you? Sloane couldn’t focus on the blood stains, bruising, or swelling. He had to look past the state Dex was in to the man he loved. “Dex, I’m here, sweetheart. I’m here.” Sloane gently hugged him close, one hand around Dex’s back, the other cradling Dex’s head to him, enveloping Dex in the hopes of giving him some of his warmth. Relief flooded through him.
“I stayed awake,” Dex murmured, nuzzling his face against Sloane’s shirt, inhaling his scent. Sloane blinked back his tears.
“You did good, babe. It’s okay.”
TIN operatives were ordered to span out and search, and Dex went limp in his arms. Sloane checked his pulse. He was out cold. With a shuddered breath, he rubbed his cheek against Dex’s hair, rocking him gently, murmuring comfort against his air.
“I love you, Dex. I love you so damn much.”
“Sloane, we need to take him.
Sloane snarled up at the operative, a fierce sense of possession flooding through him. He held Dex close to his chest, his fangs elongating as he dared anyone to lay a hand on his wounded mate. He’d tear them apart.
“Try it,” Sloane hissed. “Lay one finger on him and I’ll rip your throat out.”
The operative put his hands up and took a quick step back.
Sloane kissed Dex’s temple, a growl rising in his throat at the unfamiliar scent. A wolf Therian.
“Sloane?” Sparks crouched down beside him. “Dex is hurt. We need to get him medical attention.”
Sloane’s inner Felid fought against him. He didn’t want anyone touching his mate, but Sloane’s Human senses prevailed. Dex needed help. Who knew the extent of his injuries? He had to think of Dex, had to help him. Sloane’s chest tightened, and his inner Felid wailed as he nodded. Lifting Dex in his arms, he stood, and although his instincts fought to hold onto the man he loved, he allowed the large bear Therian to take Dex.
Sloane stood, his heart breaking as the operative carried Dex away. The pain coursing through him was like nothing he’d ever felt before. Never in his wildest dreams would he have imagined falling so deep and so hard for someone. Dex was his life, and Sloane would do whatever it took to keep him.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Prompt: I would love to see the team play paintball or a similar game and get very competitive.
“This is ridiculous,” Ash growled. “How is shooting each other up a team building exercise? None of us are on a team.”
Cael contemplated that. “Well, we work as a team every day. Sarge wants us to keep our individual skills sharp.” He finished strapping into his tactical vest. “At least he’s not making us carry our equipment.” Cael grabbed his helmet, turning to Ash before putting it on. “Whatever you do, stay away from Dex.”
Ash looked pained. “Come on, sweetheart. It’s everyone for themselves. I love you, but you don’t really expect me to pass up an opportunity to shoot the shit out of your brother, do you?”
Cael blinked at him. He shook his head when he realized Ash had misunderstood. “I didn’t mean stay away from him so you wouldn’t shoot him, I meant stay away from him so you wouldn’t get shot by him. He’s going to kick all our asses.”
Ash stared at him. “I’m sorry, are you… are you being serious?”
“You’ve never played paintball with my brother, Ash. He turns into like, Rambo. Seriously, he’s kinda competitive, and really good at it. Not even Cal’s going to make it out of this.”
“Cael, I think I can handle your dorky brother.”
Cael smiled sweetly. He patted Ash’s bicep. “If you say so.” He headed into the waiting room where everyone stood except for Dex. Ash looked around before addressing Sloane.
“Where’s your dweeb boyfriend?”
Sloane shrugged. “I don’t know. He said he had to get ready. I’m not really sure what that entails, or why he couldn’t do it in the same changing room.”
The instructor came out, and Cael told him to go ahead. Dex knew this obstacle course like the back of his hand. His dad had already explained to the team that if he attempted to find a course Dex hadn’t done, he’d have to send them out of state. The team laughed when Tony told them not to let Dex beat them too badly. If they didn’t want to believe the man who’d raised Dex, they had no one to blame but themselves. Dex was competitive at the best of times, but put a paintball gun in his hands, and there was no escape.
The instructor led them to their course, and Sloane frowned. “Where the hell is Dex?”
They turned and Ash burst into laughter. “Holy shit, are you wearing camouflage?”
Dex grinned broadly, wriggling his brows before lowering the visor of his helmet. “This is war, Keeler.”
“Oh, I am so looking forward to this.”
They were each handed their paintball rifles containing a different color then escorted out onto the field. The obstacle course was the size of a football field surrounded by shrubs and trees with everything from sandbag bunkers, to car frames, old broken down cars, tire stacks, industrial barrels, and stone structures.
The lion Therian instructor motioned to the field. “When the buzzer rings, game’s over. Whoever has the least amount of paint on them at the end wins. Take your positions.”
Cael ran off, ducking behind a sandbag bunker, and Ash ran behind the car across from him. Dex was nowhere to be seen. It had begun. Cael almost felt bad for his team.
The buzzer sounded, and the game officially started. Cael wasn’t concerned with winning, just keeping himself from getting too much paint on him. He edged close to the end of the bunker and peered out. The coast was clear. Cael ran for the stack of tires ahead of him, diving behind it when he saw movement to his right. Letty fired, hitting the tires where Cael had been seconds ago. She cursed in Spanish and Cael chuckled.
“Nice try,” Cael called out. Playing with his team was nothing like playing with his friends back in high school. Unlike his teenage friends at the time, his team was trained to stalk and remain out of sight, not to mention engage in warfare. For several minutes, they all crept and crawled, dashed, and ducked. And then Dex decided he was tired of waiting for his teammates to come out of hiding.
Dex soared through the air, aimed, and fired, hitting Ash in the back of the head. Cael cringed from his spot where he saw the spectacle clearly. Before Ash was even up, Dex landed on a stack of hay and promptly rolled off right behind a wooden wall.
Ash’s startled expression made Cael giggle.
Dex popped up from behind a stack of tires several feet away and shot Ash in the ass. Ash jumped to his feet.
“What the fuck is happening right now?”
“Ash, you need to move before—”
Dex dove out from behind a car frame and shot twice, and Cael sucked in a breath as both shots hit Ash in the ass. His boyfriend’s howl echoed through the field. By the time Ash turned around, Dex was nowhere to be seen. Everyone else took advantage of Ash’s stupefied state and shot him.
“You sons of bitches!” Ash dove behind a stack of tractor tires. He shouted over the side. “I’m going to kick all your asses, starting with you, Daley!”
Dex’s reply was a swan dive over a haystack, and a shot to Ash’s helmet before he vanished behind a sandbag bunker.
“Fucker!” Ash turned to face Cael. “When did your brother become a fucking ninja?”
“I told you. He’s kinda competitive when it comes to paintball. The guys in his old department used to fight over him when it came to picking teams. Whichever team he was on always won. I tried to warn you.”
“Fuck this. I am not going to lose to that dork.” Ash let out a roar as he ran out, the rest of Destructive Delta rallying at his war cry. They’d decided to unite against the force that was Dex, and Cael could see why. Everyone was covered in dozens of blue splotches—Dex’s color.
Cael shook his head and watched the chaos. It was like a game of Whac-A-Mole the way Dex popped up, except the mole had a paintball gun and sprayed his teammates like he was Tony Montana taking out his enemies. In fact, Cael was pretty sure he heard his brother throw out a couple of Scar Face quotes.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Calvin screamed in frustration. “How is he doing that?”
Ash thrust a finger at Calvin. “Dude, you’re the fucking sniper, snipe him!”
“I’m trying, but he’s like some kind of squirrel on steroids.”
“Enjoying the show?”
Cael gave a start. “Jesus, Dex, you scared the shit out of me.”
Dex laughed. “Ash looks like he’s wearing a blue suit. I’ve run out of places to shoot him.”
Rosa’s curses were loud and vehement. Dex narrowed his eyes. “I may not be an expert of the Spanish language, but I’m pretty sure what she just said was both insulting and frightening.” Dex lifted Cael’s visor, and patted his cheek. “Oh, and I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Cael asked, cocking his head.
“For this.” He shot Cael in the vest before skipping off, calling out over his shoulder. “No favoritism, Chirpy! Love you!”
At hearing Dex, everyone charged in his direction, but Dex was already diving behind a rusty pickup. They ran around it, and Cael stood, propping himself against the bunker, chuckling at his unsuspecting teammates.
Dex stood on the roof of the car and shot each one of them on their visors the moment they turned around. They scrambled, bumped into each other, and all went down. Dex blew the end of his rifle as the buzzer sounded. He hopped down, walked over to Sloane, lifted his visor, and held his hand out.
Everyone removed their helmets and stood. Ash looked so confused, Cael found him completely endearing.
“You look like you should be in the Blue Man group,” Cael teased him.
Ash pouted. “I can’t believe I lost to your brother.”
“Aw.” As everyone headed back indoors with a grumble, Cael stood on his toes and kissed Ash. “How about we wash you off, and then when we get home, I’ll help stroke your ego.” He nipped at Ash’s chin. “Among other things.”
Ash’s lips broke off into a grin. He nodded, and followed Cael inside. As they were getting dressed in the locker room after showering, Dex was celebrating his victory.
“So how about it,” Dex said to Ash. “Drinks on me at Dekatria for beating your butt so completely.”
Ash smiled brightly, and Cael braced himself.
“Sorry, pal. I’m going home to do filthy things to your little brother.”
Dex’s jaw dropped.
“Yep, going to pound town.”
Cael groaned and covered his face with his hands. He could not believe Ash just said that.
“Oh God,” Dex gagged. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Yep, gonna get him naked, and—”
“I’m not listening!” Dex covered his ears, singing some eighties song at the top if his lungs as he ran from the room. Ash threw his head back and laughed. Cael shook his head at him.
“You just couldn’t help yourself, could you?”
Ash wriggled his eyebrows. He leaned in to nibble at Cael’s ear. “Doesn’t make it any less true.” He grabbed Cael’s hand, said “see ya” to everyone, and winked at Dex as they walked by. Dex yelped, and Ash laughed as they headed for Ash’s truck. Well, Dex won his game, Ash won the last word, but as Ash turned him, and kissed him soundly, a preview of what the evening held, it was pretty clear who the real winner here was.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Prompt: I think it would be cute to see Dex try and ride Sloane when he’s in Felid form and just general play. Maybe Dex buys cat toys without telling Sloane and then pulls them out to play with.
It was almost time.
Dex rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation.
“How’d you convince Maddock to give his permission for this?” Calvin asked, securing one of the hatches.
Dex surveyed the area. That was the final one. “Easy, I told him Shelley’s Market needed our help, and he agreed.”
“They’re this little family owned market that’s been around for generations. Anyway, they have this amazing little bakery at the back that makes fresh pies. My dad used to drag Tony in there all the time.” Dex smiled wistfully. “Apparently, my dad’s stomach was as bottomless as mine.”
Calvin chuckled. “So you’re helping Shelley’s Market out by buying all the leftover stock?”
“Yep, and everyone’s going to freaking love it. You’ll see. Even Austen showed up for this.” He patted Calvin’s arm before he headed for the gate to let in their Unit Alpha teammates who had all shifted into their Therian forms. Dex had put together the signup, specifying some Therian shenanigans. Thanksgiving was over, and not all agents got to spend it with their friends and family. The holidays were especiallt tough for some Therian agents, whether it was because they were out on the streets trying to keep everyone safe, or because they were reminded of the families they’d lost for simply being Therian.
The THIRDS canteen offered an amazing Thanksgiving spread all week, and invited agents to have their own gettogethers. Not everyone was as lucky as Dex, and he made sure to never forget it. So it became his tradition to lighten the mood, and involve his fellow team members in various shenanigans. Sloane had been skeptical at first, but after last year’s event went so well, he realized how right Dex was.
“You really think Sloane and Ash are going to join in?”
Dex grinned wide. “Oh, ye of little faith.” He’d booked the outdoor training area for the evening since it was less likely to be in use, and Shelley’s Market had dropped off the goods an hour ago. Calvin and the girls helped Dex set everything up before the girls went off to help their Therian teammates with their shifting out back. Now it was time. He climbed the ladder to the instructor’s platform along with Calvin.
“Best seats in the house,” Dex said, stepping up to the console, and pressing one of the buttons. “Pete, you ready?”
The speakers came to life, and Pete’s gruff voice came through loud and clear. “Ready, Dex.”
“Okay, let them in.”
A buzzer sounded, a red light flashed, and the half a dozen steel gates opened. Therian agents in their feral forms came flooding through. Dex wriggled his eyebrows at Calvin.
“Lions, and tigers, and jaguars, oh my!”
“You’re such a dork,” Calvin said through a laugh.
There were about two hundred agents in attendance, a mixture of Felid Therians, wolf Therians, and bear Therians. Dex spotted his teammates right away. He leaned forward and spoke into the microphone.
“You guys ready?”
A cacophony of roars, hisses, howls, and chirps echoed through the massive indoor field. It was almost as big as a football stadium. Around the walls, six ramps led up to six hatches. Dex pressed the button for Pete again.
“Okay, Pete. Let her rip. And make sure Al’s recording this.”
“Got it,” Pete replied. An even louder buzzer than the previous one blared, red lights flashing before the hatches opened, and hundreds of pumpkins came speeding down the platforms. It was sweet pandemonium. The moment they hit the grass, everyone was off. It was the funniest shit he’d ever seen in his life. The tiger Therian agents were so freaking adorable it hurt. Both Seb and Hobbs had each sunk their fangs into a pumpkin and were currently trotting around the ring, pumpkins displayed proudly, tails raised high. Ash’s mane swishing caught Dex’s eye, and he laughed as Ash batted a pumpkin with his paws like he was playing soccer. Cael and Hudson were too cute, pouncing and swatting a smaller pumpkin to each other as if it were a ball. Cael chirped, and Hudson released a series of bark/howls.
Dex had never seen so many pouncing Felids in all his life. Everyone was enjoying themselves, swatting, pouncing, dashing here and there. Everyone except Sloane.
Calvin looked at Dex worriedly. “Why’s Sloane sitting there looking so miserable?”
“I don’t know.” Dex climbed down the ladder, and jogged over to his grumpy jaguar Therian boyfriend who looked even grumpier than usual. “Hey, babe. Why aren’t you playing?”
Sloane looked up at him, his big amber eyes bright. He groaned before getting up and rubbing his head against Dex’s legs. Dex crouched down and gave Sloane a good scratch behind his ears and under his chin. “Come on, talk to me. What’s wrong?”
Sloane got up. He padded over to a small pumpkin and gingerly smacked it with his paw until it rolled over to Dex and hit his boot. Then Sloane sat on his haunches and looked up at Dex expectantly. Dex blinked at him.
“You want me to play with you?”
Sloane shut his eyes and opened his mouth, and Dex was suddenly stupidly happy. He dropped to his knees and threw his arms around Sloane, hugging him.
“Aw, you’re such a big softie.”
Sloane huffed, and licked the side of Dex’s face, making him laugh.
“That was gross. Thanks.” He got to his feet and readied his stance. Sloane lowered his head, his tail twitching.
Dex gasped, and pointed behind Sloane. “Holy crap!”
Sloane’s head shot up and he turned.
“Sucker!” Dex grabbed the small pumpkin and took off, laughing at Sloane’s annoyed growl. “I can’t believe you fell for that!” Dex tossed the pumpkin on the grass, and kicked it with his boot, doing his best to keep it away from Sloane who bounded up to him, jumping and pouncing, trying to swat at the wobbly orange vegetable. Sloane played dirty, trying to trip Dex up, at one point succeeding. Dex landed on his ass. He made a leap for Sloane before Sloane could sink his fangs into the pumpkin and run off with it. Unfortunately, in Dex’s desperate attempt to stop Sloane, he made the mistake of grabbing Sloane’s tail. He was lightning quick, twisting his body and smacking Dex upside the head with his paw.
“Ouch, man!” Dex laughed. He scrambled to his feet and dove for the pumpkin, curling himself around it. Sloane tried to shove his muzzle under Dex’s armpit, and Dex broke off into laughter. “That’s not fair. You know I’m ticklish.”
Sloane ignored him, poking Dex with his muzzle before he licked Dex up the side of his face with his sandpapery tongue.
“Right in the ear!” Dex wiped his ear with his sleeve, and Sloane swiftly batted the pumpkin out from under Dex. He tried to reach Sloane before Sloane plunged his fangs into the veggie, but it was too late. For Sloane, it was like biting into an apple. He picked up his pumpkin and darted off. “Come back here!”
Sloane ignored him, and Dex chased Sloane around the grassy pitch, doing his best not to run into any Felids. Austen zoomed past him, a pumpkin in his mouth, and Dex was forced to skid to a halt just as Zach loped past. Holy shit. He’d almost smacked into three hundred pounds of furry brown bear. That would not have been pleasant.
“You get him, Zach!” Dex took off after Sloane again, and spotted Calvin rolling around the grass with Hobbs. Rosa was cursing Ash out as she chased him. Something about him stealing her pumpkin and being a greedy bastard. That was when Dex noticed Ash had somehow managed to get his jaws around two small pumpkins. Letty, of course, was laughing her ass off.
Two hours later, and Dex lay on his back in the grass panting. “Oh my God, I can’t move. I’m done.” Dex flopped his hand in the general direction of the gate. “Babe, I think I need you to carry me.”
Calvin dropped down next to him with a chuckle. “How is Sloane going to carry you? It’s not like you can ride him like a pony.”
“Tried that. It was a very painful experience.”
“Oh, shit! You didn’t!” Calvin fell onto his side he was laughing so hard.
“Did you know that jaguar Therians weigh a fucking ton, and therefore when they land on you it hurts like hell? He grabbed my boot with his jaws, threw himself onto his side, and landed on me. I thought I broke a rib, but no, just hurt like I did. I would not recommend it.”
Calvin was wheezing. “Like… I would be… that stupid.”
“Thanks. Sloane, pleeease.”
“This I gotta see,” Calvin rolled onto his side, and propped himself on his elbow.
Dex closed his legs, putting his boots together, and Sloane gently slipped his fangs under Dex’s laces and pulled.
“You’ve got to be shitting me.”
Dex sat up and held onto his legs, though not before waving at Calvin over his shoulder. “See ya, bud.”
“Seriously? You have your boyfriend dragging you?”
“Hey, he’s a jaguar Therian remember? It’s good practice for him. He can drag Seb and Zach at the same time if he had to. I’m a piece of cake. It’s like sledding. Except you’re the sled. And you’re on grass.”
“That is the epitome of laziness.”
Dex shook his head. “Don’t knock it till you try it.” Sloane let out a grunt, and Dex chuckled. “You know, they should make this a sporting event.” He gasped. “Holy shit, we should totally make this a sporting event!”
Sloane let go, and stared at him.
With a flick of his tail, Sloane sauntered off.
“Hey, where are you going?”
Sloane ignored him, and Dex whined. “But the door is still so far away!” With a groan, he pushed himself to his feet, and lumbered toward the door. Letty came skipping over, and hooked Dex’s arm in hers.
“This was so much fun, Dex.” She leaned her head against his arm as they walked.
Dex couldn’t help his wicked grin. “Wait until you hear about my idea for next year.”
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press
Prompt: I would love to see the first instance of the Waking Dead. Was it when they were younger and Cael and Maddock having to drag Dex awake to school? Or the first time Lou slept over and found his boyfriend non-functional? So curious!
Lou woke up five minutes before his alarm went off just like he did every morning, except this morning wasn’t like every morning. He couldn’t help his big smile as he stretched. He turned off his alarm then rolled over, chuckling at the adorable mess of a man that was Dexter J. Daley. It would seem the guy slept the same way he lived. Eccentrically. Last night, for the first time, Dex asked him to stay, and Lou happily accepted. This morning Lou woke up to Dex’s blond hair sticking up in all directions, blankets wrapped around Dex’s torso, arm, and leg as if he’d waged a lengthy battle with the thing. He was sound asleep, looking sweet and peaceful.
Lou leaned in and kissed Dex’s cheek. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
There was no response.
“Dex? Honey, wake up.” Lou sat up and leaned over. Seemed his boyfriend was a deep sleeper. “Dex,” Lou purred softly. Nothing. Perhaps a little louder? “Dex, wake up.”
Okay, a very deep sleeper.
Letting Dex sleep in, Lou got up to take a shower and get dressed. Maybe by the time he got out of the shower Dex would be awake. If he was lucky, maybe Dex would wake up and join him.
A sexy morning shower was not in the cards. Lou showered, dried, and dressed. He shaved, brushed his teeth, and styled his hair. Surely Dex would be up by now, except it was still so quiet. When he got out of the bathroom, he was stunned to find Dex still asleep. He had a moment of panic.
Oh my God, what if something’s happened? It was a ridiculous thought, but no more ridiculous than any of the bizarre scenarios Dex found himself in at work at the HPF. The man seemed to be a magnet for crazy.
Lou ran over to Dex’s side of the bed and shook him. “Dex, wake up!”
A groan was followed by a grumble of unintelligible sounds.
“Dios mio.” Lou said a silent little prayer of thanks before crouching down next to Dex. “Dexter, you scared the life out of me.”
More sounds, and then something that sounded strangely like… “Did you say coffee?” A huff of breath was Dex’s response. “I’m going to take that as a yes. Okay. I’ll make coffee, you get that cute butt of yours out of bed and come downstairs.”
Grunting followed, but no movement. With a chuckle, Lou went downstairs. Usually he was already out of the house by this time. His shifts started a little after dawn, and ended well into the evening, but it was a sacrifice he was willing to make. If he wanted Clove Catering to really take off, he had to put in the hard work, just like he would have to do if he wanted his relationship with Dex to work. Between their schedules, it wasn’t going to be easy, but Lou was determined. Dex was a good guy. He was sweet, funny, and genuinely interested in Lou’s dreams of turning his little catering company into one of New York City’s best.
Lou got to work making breakfast. He started with the coffee, since Dex had somewhat communicated it’s what he wanted. As soon as the coffee started percolating, he heard a loud “thump” come from upstairs. It startled the hell out of him.
“Dex, are you okay?” Lou called up. He turned when he heard thumping on the stairs. “What the heck?” He stood behind the counter, frowning at the stairs when socked feet appeared. Arching an eyebrow, Lou watched Dex come down the stairs. His eyes were half open, maybe? Lou couldn’t tell until he was closer. Yep, they were open. Kind of.
As Dex approached, Lou pressed his lips together to keep himself from laughing. Dex’s T-shirt was on backwards and inside out, the tag hanging from the collar. There was a good chance his loose pajama bottoms were on backwards too. The Star Wars robe was hanging off one shoulder, and his hair was plastered down on one side of his face, the other side sticking up.
“Good morning,” Lou said cheerfully.
Dex plopped down into a chair at the counter, his hooded eyes, and dopey smile making him look like he was drunk. Lou laughed softly.
Dex lifted an arm up above his head and waved it. “Frogs eat their own skin.”
Lou blinked at him. “What?”
“Frogs,” Dex said then yawned. “Eat their own skin.”
“That’s… disgusting. Are you okay?”
Dex scratched his head. “An army.”
Lou was completely lost. “An army of what?”
“Frogs. Called an army.”
“I don’t know what’s happening right now,” Lou muttered. He was more than a little worried. Was Dex okay? Should Lou call him a doctor? What if he’d fallen off the bed and hit his head? “Did you watch a documentary on frogs or something?”
Dex yawned again. He looked down at his fingers and frowned. “Yes.”
“Oh, okay. Coffee?”
“Yes.” Dex sat there staring down at the counter.
Lou turned then realized something. “Dex, say something.”
“Anything that’s not “yes”.”
“Yes.” Dex yawned and sniffed the air, a pout coming onto his face. “Coffee.”
“So you can talk about frogs, say “yes” and “coffee”. Wonderful.” Lou shook his head in amusement. He made Dex a cappuccino just like he liked it, and placed it in front of his boyfriend. “It’s like you’re awake, but not. Like a zombie.” Lou snapped his fingers. “Like the Waking Dead!”
Dex pulled the mug close, grumbling and muttering a host of sounds before taking a sip, making Lou laugh.
“Hm, I wonder….” Lou leaned on the counter. “Can I pick the restaurant this weekend. Even if it’s fancy froo-froo?” Dex hated fancy froo-froo. He wouldn’t subject the poor man to it, but Lou had to know.
Lou stared at him. “Um, okay. Can I drive your car?”
“Oh my God!” Lou gasped. He clamped a hand over his mouth, his voice coming out a hoarse whisper when he spoke. “You said I can drive your car.”
Dex took another sip of his coffee. “Yes.”
Dex was not going to let Lou drive his precious car, and Lou had no intention of driving the orange muscle monstrosity, but his little experiment was yielding amazing results. Lou checked his watch. Ten minutes had passed since the first sip.
“If I take you to a petting zoo, would you pet a goat?”
Lou was stunned speechless. What the heck had he just uncovered? Lou came around the counter and sat next to Dex. “Did I just find the chink in Dexter J. Daley’s armor?”
Lou was so giddy he was bursting at the seams. He came up with a host of questions and requests, each one more outlandish than the last and Dex said yes to all of them.
“I’d like you eat a salad for lunch today.”
Dex blinked up at him. “What did you say?”
“I said I’d like you to eat a salad for lunch today.”
Dex looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “Why would I do that? Is it a burger salad?” His eyes went wide. “Oh my God, tell me you invented a new burger salad, that’s like mostly burger. No pickles. Is that what we’re talking about? Because that would amazeballs!”
Lou looked at his watch. Exactly twenty-three minutes. “Interesting.”
“What is?” Dex peered at him. “What’s with the mad scientist look you’ve got going on.”
Lou smiled sweetly. “Nothing.” He kissed Dex’s lips then hopped off his chair. “You’re amazing.”
“Um, thanks.” Dex finished his coffee, got up, and took his mug to the sink to wash. Lou came up behind him and wrapped his arms around Dex.
“So, Detective Daley, you have a little trouble waking up in the mornings?”
Dex turned in Lou’s arms, and wrapped his arms around him. He cringed. “You noticed that, huh?”
“Just a little,” Lou said, chuckling when Dex’s face went red. “Aw, you’re so cute.”
Dex let out a sigh, and shrugged. “I try.”
“You sure I can’t get you to change your mind on that salad? Eating healthy is good for you, you know.”
“Nice try, but there’s no way anyone is ever going to get me to eat any of that rabbit food. Not gonna happen.”
“Not even for me?”
Dex kissed his cheek, before heading for the stairs. “Sorry, babe. Not going to happen. Nothing personal. Many have tried, and failed. That day is never coming.”
“And if that day does come?” Lou teased.
Dex stopped on the stairs and turned to wink at Lou. “Then that’s the day Dexter J. Daley has met his match.”
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
*** Contains spoilers for Smoke & Mirrors (Book 7) ***
Prompt: After Sloane breaks up with Dex in the 7th book, Cael goes to comfort Dex, so I wanted the scene taking place between them…Does Dex get sick because he thinks his mate’s left him? Something along those lines. Preferably from Cael’s POV (but either will do).
Cael was fuming.
When the cab pulled up outside Dex’s house, Cael did his best not to slam the car door behind him. He paid the driver and thanked him before marching up Dex’s front steps. Ooh, he just wanted to plant a fist in Sloane’s stupid nose. How could the guy just walk out on Dex like that? And everyone said Ash was an asshole. Ash would never walk out on Cael. Maybe at one point he might have, but not anymore.
Ash wasn’t the kind of guy to back away from a fight, whether he was in the wrong or not. That was the difference between Ash and Sloane. When Sloane was hurt, he wanted to be alone to lick his wounds, so he went off to find somewhere he could do that. With Ash, he stayed put, and if you knew what was good for you, you would be the one to give him space, but if you didn’t, he would go on brooding whether or not you were there. These days, Ash talked more. If Cael was upset about something, Ash talked it through with him, helping Cael calmly explain what was wrong, and what Ash could to help, or how they could do things differently the next time around.
Cael was going to fish in his pocket for the spare keys he had to Dex’s place when the door was thrown open.
Cael looked up at Dex and all of Cael’s anger melted away. He’d never seen his big brother look so… fragile, so lost. Unable to find the right words to say in that moment, Cael threw his arms around Dex and hugged him tight. They stood like that for what seemed like hours, Dex’s face buried in Cael’s hair. It was only when Dex shuddered that Cael realized his big brother had been silently crying. Cael rubbed circles over Dex’s back, imagining the pain his brother must be in. Dex’s boyfriend hadn’t just walked out on him. His mate had walked out on him. The pull between bonded mates was so much deeper. Emotions ran higher, hotter, and the pain far more intense.
When Dex was ready, he pulled away, giving Cael a wobbly smile that broke Cael’s heart. His big brother was always the one Cael leaned on. The one who made everything better. Dex was unbreakable. Cael had never seen Dex not bounce back, a big boyish smile on his face. It might take some time, but Dex always bounced back. This time, Cael wasn’t so sure, and he hated it. Hated that Sloane had left his big brother all alone and in pain.
“Hi, Chirpy.” Dex stepped to one side so Cael could come in.
Inside the living room, Cael’s heart squeezed at the nest of blankets and pillows Dex had on the couch. The coffee table was littered with snacks, from his favorite gummy bears and Cheesy Doodles, to cupcakes and chocolate. The Princess Bride was paused on the huge flat screen TV.
Dex finished locking up and joined Cael in the living room. It was the middle of summer, but Dex had the AC cranked up. He had fuzzy socks on his feet, Star Wars pajama bottoms, and a plain black T-shirt that was too big for him and obviously Sloane’s. As if reading his thoughts, Dex put a hand to his chest and rubbed the T-shirt, a sad smile on his face.
“I know, I’m a dork, but….” He sighed heavily. “It make it hurt a little less.”
Cael nodded his understanding. He waited for Dex to climb on the couch, wrapping himself up then holding one side open for Cael. Cael toed off his sneakers then climbed up, snuggling up close to Dex when his brother wrapped the blanket around them.
“This reminds me of when we were kids,” Cael said with a smile. “When there was a bad storm and you’d make a fort out of the couch cushions, blankets, and pillows, then you’d read stories. Dad would make us s’mores and hot chocolate, then take over for you, and we’d both fall asleep to him reading.”
Dex sighed. “Yeah. I miss those days.”
“Me too.” They were both quiet, and Cael could feel his brother wanted to say something, so he waited patiently.
“Did you see him?” Dex asked, his voice quiet.
Cael nodded, feeling himself getting angry again. “He’s staying on Ash’s couch.”
Cael pulled back and frowned up at his brother. “Why are you apologizing for him? He’s the one who left.” Dex flinched, and Cael kicked himself. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean….”
“It’s okay.” Dex’s eyes were red and glassy, his hair a mess, and his skin flushed. He’d clearly had a good cry long before Cael showed up. “And you’re right. I just can’t help worrying about him despite everything. Was he okay?”
Cael’s expression softened. Trust his brother to be worried about Sloane after the guy had ripped his heart out. “He looked rough,” Cael admitted. He folded his arms over his chest. “I know he’s your mate, and that you still love him no matter how pissed off you are at him, but, Dex, I really want to punch him. I can’t believe he did this to you, after everything.” Cael could feel the heat rising in his cheeks. He was so mad. “It was his idea to move in together, he agreed to mark you, he promised he would be here for you, and he’s doing what he always does. I thought he’d changed.”
“He has,” Dex assured him. “For the most part. This was just, I don’t know. It’s different. Bigger. I’m not saying I’m not pissed off, because I am, but to be honest, it’s being drowned out by all the hurt. My mind is indignant, but my body….” Dex put a hand to his heart, rubbing the spot as if it were sore. “It fucking hurts so bad, Chirpy. It just refuses to listen to my head. I tell myself we’ll work it out, that he’s not gone for good, but my body is buzzing with need, and I don’t mean sex.” He moved his hand to his marked arm. “It burns, and I’m hit with these waves of nausea. They don’t last long, but at first, I kept getting sick, and dizzy.” He let his head fall back with a sigh. “I don’t know what to do, and that’s a new thing for me. This is all new.” Dex swallowed hard, blinking past the tears in his eyes.
“He’s it for me, Cael. I can’t imagine my life without him. I didn’t even know you could love someone this much. It’s scary. It could be the mark, or it could just be my stupid heart.” He straightened and looked down at Cael. “I fucking adore him, with all his faults, just the way he is. Yeah, I wish he hadn’t walked out, and as much as I want to kick his ass….” Tears welled in his eyes again, and Cael put a hand to Dex’s shoulder. “I just want him home, Chirpy.”
Cael didn’t hesitate. He wrapped Dex in his arms, offering what comfort he could. Closing his eyes, he prayed that Sloane would come to his senses, work through his shit, and come home to Dex. Didn’t Sloane realize what he had? How madly head over heels Dex was for him? How many times could the guy break Dex’s heart? For now, all Cael could do was be here for his big brother, just like Dex had always been there for him.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Prompt: Don’t know if this has been suggested before, but I’d love to see something more about Dex’s adoption from the beginning …how Tony handled breaking the news /asking?/ a 5 year old Dex to be his adopted son / his parent’s death.
“I can’t do it.”
His voice didn’t sound like his own. But then this life wasn’t his. It was someone else’s. This happened to other people. It was the kind of earthshattering news he’d had the misfortune of delivering to others. He wasn’t supposed to be on this end of things. It was a selfish thought, but right now he just didn’t give a shit. In fact, if it were up to him, he’d disappear for God knew how long, but he couldn’t, because as bad as it was right now, it was about to get so much worse.
Tony sat in his car, in the same spot he had for the last two hours. His vision was blurry, his eyes burned, and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. He was a fucking mess. Broken. For the last two days he’d gone through a host of emotions. His initial reaction being anger. He’d been so goddamned pissed off at John for leaving him. Every swear word he’d ever known had crossed his lips, directed at his best friend. Tony was angry at Gina too. Angry she’d left her little boy behind. She’d been his best friend. But John had been his life. Tony let out a harsh laugh. God, he was so fucking pathetic. He’d let that part of him—along with John—go a long time ago.
The moment John met Gina, Tony knew that was it, and he was happy for John, truly was. Having John and Gina in his life was a blessing, one he never took for granted. The three of them had become a family. Tony had never, ever resented Gina. There was no one more perfect for John. When Dex came along, Tony couldn’t have been happier for them. Fatherhood suited John.
Fresh tears filled Tony’s eyes and he slammed his hands on the steering wheel.
“You son of a bitch! How could you do this to me? To your son?” He let his head fall against the steering wheel and cried for what seemed like the hundredth time since he’d identified the bodies. He’d refused to believe it at first. Convinced himself it couldn’t be them. When the police had shown up that night, Tony believed they’d made a mistake. Regardless, he called his sister to come take care of Dex while he got to the bottom of whatever the hell was going on. He’d never get the image out of his head. John on that slab of steel with a blanket over him, a bullet hole in his chest, right through his heart.
Breathe. Come on, damn it.
A tap on his window scared the hell out of him, and without thinking, he swiped his gun from his holster and aimed at the window. His sister jumped, and threw her hands up, fear in her big brown eyes. Cursing under his breath, he returned the gun to his holster, then wiped at his eyes. He opened the car door, stepped outside, and closed it.
“I’m sorry,” he said with a sniff, trying his hardest not to fall apart again. “Thank you, for uh,” he cleared his throat, “watching him.”
His sister nodded, and he had to look away so he wouldn’t see the pain in her eyes.
“I can’t do this, Danelle.” His bottom lip trembled, and blinked back more tears. “I can’t go in there, and—” He shook his head. “I’m not strong enough.”
“You gotta be, honey. That little boy needs you.” She put her hand to his cheek, and he closed his eyes.
“He needs his father,” Tony replied through his teeth, his hands balled into fists at his sides.
“Anthony, you’re that boy’s daddy now.”
Tony shook his head. “No. I’m not. John’s—”
Tony flinched. He wanted to yell at her for saying that, but she was right. No matter how much he wished it wasn’t true, John was gone. Dex needed him. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he choked on his words.
“He’s just a little boy. How—Oh God.” He covered his face with his hand, his whole body shaking. Criminals he could face. Lethal Therians. Whatever the streets threw at him, he could face. But tell a five-year-old the parents who loved him more than air itself were gone? How could anyone ask that of him?
Danelle wrapped him up in her arms, and he held on tight, grateful he wasn’t alone. She murmured words of comfort, and he lost track of how long he’d held on. He couldn’t put it off anymore. Dex was inside with his neighbor’s daughter. It was time.
Thinking of Dex, of how small and vulnerable he was, of how hurt and confused he would be, how much he would need Tony was what kept him on his feet. He took a deep steady breath, wiped his eyes, and reached deep down for strength he feared he might not have. Even if he didn’t, he better damn well find it.
Tony walked into his house, and headed upstairs for the spare bedroom where he knew he’d find Dex. From the landing he could hear Dex’s giggles and childish shrieks as he played. Tony stopped in the doorway, and it took everything he had not to turn around and run. Teresa was tickling Dex, and he squirmed on the floor, hugging his Braveheart Lion to his little chest as he laughed. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, praying for strength.
Dex spotted him, and let out a squeal of delight. “Uncle Tony!” He scrambled to his feet, and Tony walked into the room, nodding at Teresa his thanks before she left the room, closing the door gently behind her. Tony sat down on the carpet, his back to the bed as Dex threw himself into Tony’s outstretched arms. He hugged Dex tight, willing himself not to lose it now. Not when Dex needed him most. Dex pulled back, his little face falling as he pet Tony’s head.
“Why are you crying?”
Always such a sharp little guy. Tony gave a sniff, and let out a shaky breath. “I’m crying,” he said, his voice shaky, “because something happened, and I wish it hadn’t, but there’s nothing I can do to change that. I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you.”
Dex nodded. “What happened?”
Jesus. “Dex, you know how me and your daddy help people?”
Another nod. Dex’s gaze was fixed on him. Tony tried not to think about how those big blue eyes would never look at the world the same way again.
“And you know how he told you about the people we tried to help but couldn’t?”
“Daddy says sometimes bad things happen to good people.”
“That’s right. It’s not fair, and it hurts, and we wish so very much it wasn’t like that, but we do our best to help the people who loved them. The ones who’ll miss them the most.” Tony braced himself. “Dex, something bad happened at the movies. Your mommy and daddy were hurt very bad. They….”
Dex’s eyes went wide, and he stilled.
“They’re not coming back, baby. It’s just me and you now. I’m sorry.”
Dex shook his head vigorously. “That’s not true.”
“I wish it wasn’t.” Tony couldn’t keep the tears back any longer. He tried so damn hard, but he couldn’t. Not when he could see Dex’s little heart shatter.
Dex’s face crumbled, tears filled his eyes, and his face went red as he let out a high-pitched shriek. “No!”
“Dex,” Tony said gently, trying to bring him close. Apparently there were still remains of a heart left to break, because it happened all over again as Dex screamed “No” repeatedly. When Tony tried to reach for him, Dex hit him with his stuffed toy.
“You’re lying! I want my mommy!” Dex screamed, his voice getting hoarse as he continued to scream through his tears. He didn’t want to be touched, and Tony didn’t try to force him. When screaming for his mother didn’t conjure her up, Dex turned to Tony. “Fix it!”
“I wish I could,” Tony said, clawing to keep hold of the lone thread holding him from tumbling into the abyss.
Dex dropped to his knees in front of Tony, and he held Braveheart out to him as he gasped and gulped for air through his sobs.
“You can… have Braveheart. Please. Fix it. Tony… please.”
“Baby, I wish I could. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He’d never felt more like a failure in his life, and it was illogical, but the fact that Dex believed he could bring his parents back all but undid him. Dex’s eyes clouded over, anger filling the big pools of blue, and it scared Tony. Something inside him snapped, and Tony sat up. He took hold of Dex and pulled him into his embrace. Dex struggled at first, but Tony held him.
“I love you, and I promise whatever you need, I will be here. I know it hurts so very bad. I know you’re scared, and angry, but you’re not alone. I’m here, and we’re going to get through this together. Me, and you.”
Dex threw his arms around Tony, squeezing as he sobbed into Tony’s neck. “Don’t… go… away.”
“I swear I’ll do everything in my power to always be with you.” As he made his promise to Dex, he made a promise to Gina and John. He’d raise Dex as his own, love him as he deserved to be love, and help guide him, help him grow up to be the kind of man his parents would be proud of.
Dex trembled in his arms, and Tony grabbed the blanket from the bed. He wrapped the blanket around them as best he could with one hand then lay on his side and curled himself around Dex.
“We’ll be okay, baby. I won’t let anything happen to you,” he promised. Dex was asleep in his arms, and Tony started to fade. He swore to himself that no matter what happened, he would give this little boy the life he deserved, full of love and happiness. If anyone tried to hurt Dex, they’d deal with him. Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, and thought of John. His best friend had entrusted him with the most precious gift he’d been blessed with. Tony would never forget that.
The road ahead was terrifying, filled with all kinds of obstacles he’d never faced before. Parenthood was something he hadn’t given much thought to, and now here he was, father to a grieving little boy. Tony would show Dex how to survive in a world that took his mommy and daddy away. The world was trying to tear itself apart with hate, prejudice, and violence. It was up to Tony to give Dex hope. To help him heal, and prove to him that the love he has inside him will help change the world. John was a beacon of light in the darkness, his optimism, courage, and sense of justice unrivaled by anyone Tony ever met. Dex had the same light inside of him. Tony would do everything in his power to make sure that light was never extinguished.
“I won’t let you down,” he murmured. I’ll be strong for the both of us. “I promise.”
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
Prompt: There have been several prompts for the ball pit incident mentioned in Smoke & Mirrors, so here it is. Enjoy!
“Could you repeat that?”
Dex blinked at Sloane, not sure he’d heard correctly. He couldn’t possibly be that lucky. Maybe his partner was getting him back for one of the many many pranks he’d pulled since joining the THIRDS. Don’t get excited. It could be a mistake.
Sloane handed Dex his helmet. “I said, we’re heading to Brooklyn. A couple of drunk idiots decided to shift in public and wreak havoc at a kid’s birthday party.”
“Yeah, I heard that part.” Dex finished strapping himself into his vest. He could barely contain his grin. “I need you to repeat the other part. The part about where they’re wreaking havoc.” He took his helmet from Sloane. Come on. Say it.
Sloane let out a sigh. “Chuck E. Cheese.”
“Yes!” Dex let out a “whoop” and did a little dance. Best news he’d heard all day.
Ash shook his head in shame at him. “Of course you’re excited. Why am I not surprised?”
“How can you not be excited?”
“I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of ways I can respond to that ridiculous question, but I’m going to go with the fact that I’m not a man-child like you.”
Dex flipped Ash off, ignoring his chuckle. He followed Sloane out of the armory where the rest of their team was waiting by the BearCat. Hobbs was already in his Therian form, his eyes shut in contentment as Calvin scratched him behind the ear. Dex looked from Hobbs to Sloane and back. Did his partner realize what he was about to do? Should he say something? Sloane had to know. As the team climbed up into the back of the BearCat, Dex caught Sloane’s sleeve, speaking quietly.
“You’re going to send Hobbs in?”
Sloane looked puzzled. “Yeah. Why?”
“Dude, that place is filled with climbing, bouncing things.”
Sloane nodded. “I know. We don’t know how hostile these guys are, so I’m not sending your brother in there on his own with two leopard Therians. Also, climbing, bouncing things and your brother. Think about that for a moment.”
“You have a point.”
“I need to make sure this doesn’t get out of control. My other option is Ash.”
Ash loose after two Therians in a Chuck E. Cheese. Dex shuddered at the thought. “Point taken.”
Sloane smiled and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Relax. Hobbs will be fine. He has plenty of self-control.”
Dex followed his partner into the truck, and as soon as everyone was secured in their seats, Tony got them moving. They had no idea what to expect. The place had been evacuated, and Theta Destructive was on their way to clear the area and keep traffic out. When they arrived, they received a call that Theta Destructive was held up thanks to a traffic accident.
Tony cursed under his breath before addressing the team. “All right. Get in there, get it done, and get out. Beta Ambush has been dispatched, but we can’t risk these asshats getting out into the street before backup arrives, so move quickly.”
They all confirmed their understanding before hurrying out of the truck. Tony was right. With all the foot traffic, and street traffic, it would be chaos if two drunk feral Therians made a run for it. Quickly Destructive Delta got into formation behind Sloane, tranq rifles at the ready as they headed toward the entrance. Hobbs padded beside Sloane, waiting for the signal.
Sloane signaled for them to stop at the door, and they waited. Gingerly, he opened one of the glass doors and motioned for Hobbs to enter. As soon as their teammate was in, the rest of them followed Sloane inside. It was quiet. No sign of the two perps anywhere.
Hobbs’s sniffed the air. When he flattened his ears, and let out a low hiss, they all readied themselves. Dex looked around him, trying to catch movement from within the colorful tubes or bouncy play areas. Sloane gave Hobbs the signal, and their Felid teammate let out a roar that shook the rafters. The two Therians leaped out of their hiding spots and the chase began. Hobbs took off after them, and the two leopard Therians split up. Destructive Delta gave chase, following one of the leopard Therians as he ducked in, out, over, and under the play area equipment, a feat much harder to do when carrying tactical equipment.
“Split up,” Sloane ordered, taking off in one direction, while Dex went off in another, Calvin close behind. They rounded a corner and found a giant ball pit at the far end near the door they’d come in from.
“I thought they got rid of those,” Calvin said, as they slowly approached.
“Most of them did. The rest are on the way out. Man, I used to love those things.”
Calvin let out a snort. “Used to? I bet you’re just itching to jump in there.”
“You know me too well,” Dex admitted with a chuckle. From the corner of his eye he caught a flurry of movement. “Oh shit.” Dex grabbed Calvin’s arm and tugged him along with him as he ran. “Fall back!” They made a run for it just as the two Therians soared through the air into the ball pit. The air-filled container exploded, releasing a giant wave of colored plastic balls, knocking Dex and Calvin on their asses.
Dex rolled, spotted one of the Therians and fired three rounds of tranq darts, two hitting the perp in the neck. Calvin took the other one down.
Dex was about to say something when Calvin scrambled to his feet, shouting.
“Ethan, no! Someone close the damned door!”
Dex turned in time to spot Ethan leaping through the open front door after dozens of colored balls spilled out into the street, the place’s manager on the floor looking like he was about to pass out. What part of “wait outside” did the guy not understand?
Dex took off after Hobbs. There was no way he was missing this. With the perps subdued, Dex was free to take advantage of this epic situation. Outside it was pandemonium. Beta Ambush had yet to arrive, and the streets were littered with rolling colored balls. He pulled out his smartphone and started recording just as Calvin barreled out of the building and took off after Hobbs.
“Ethan, stop!” Calvin sped off, and Dex followed, leaving his team to take care of the rest. He couldn’t help himself. Calvin hauled ass after Hobbs who was swatting at the colored balls, unaware of the panicking pedestrians diving out of his way. Dex was laughing so hard his phone shook in his hands. Up ahead to his left, some dude climbed his Hummer.
Hobbs swatted a blue ball out into the street and chased after it. Calvin turned to follow only to have Hobbs swat the ball back onto the sidewalk. He was so excited, he didn’t even notice Calvin, and swept past him at such speed that Calvin spun and flailed. Dex could hear his friend’s curses from where he was. With some impressive footwork and balancing, Calvin kept himself from falling on his ass. His face was red, and Dex could barely breathe.
Dex moved his phone’s camera back to Hobbs, and cursed when he spotted the yuppie he was headed straight for. When the yuppie saw Hobbs, he sprinted forward, revealing a tiny old lady a few feet behind. Before Dex could warn the old lady, she looked over her shoulder, secured her purse under her arm, and bolted into a run that any athlete would envy. What came next Dex wouldn’t have believed if he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes. The tiny old lady plowed through yuppie guy like she was a running back for the Giants. The dude soared through the air.
“Holy shit!” Dex had to prop himself against a car, he was laughing so hard. “Oh God. I can’t breathe.” Tears ran down his face, but he kept recording as Hobbs sped by, Calvin close behind. Hobbs smacked the blue plastic ball and it hit Tony’s boot, bringing Hobbs to a screeching halt. Calvin smacked into him, falling over Hobbs and onto his back on the sidewalk. Dex made his way over. He stood over Calvin, recording him. He waved down at him with his free hand.
“Fuck.” Panting breath. “You.”
Dex laughed, and wiped at his eyes. He stopped recording, and joined Sloane by the truck as Tony shouted orders at the newly arrived members of Beta Ambush while reporters flooded out of their news trucks.
Sloane dropped his head into his hand when Dex stepped up to him, grinning. “What was it you said before we came out here? Something about control?”
Sloane groaned. He lifted his head, his bottom lip jutted out. “Sarge is going to kick my ass.”
“Brodie! Get your ass over here!”
Dex patted Sloane’s arm. “Whatever you do, make eye contact, and just agree with everything he says. I’ll be here to kiss it better.”
“Thanks,” Sloane murmured before heading off to face their sergeant.
Several hours, and lectures later, Destructive Delta was back in the armory putting away their equipment. Everyone was silent. Mostly because Calvin was so pissed he was practically radioactive. No one dared say a word.
In the locker room, Dex was getting undressed when Calvin opened his locker. Plastic colored balls poured out, rolling and bouncing across the floor. Ash was the first to laugh, and Dex couldn’t help himself. He joined in along with everyone else in the locker room. So that’s what Ash had been doing when they’d been waiting in the truck for him.
“Fuck all of you,” Calvin hissed, grabbing his toiletry bag before slamming his locker shut and marching off toward the showers.
Dex picked up one of blue plastic balls, and put it in his locker as a little memento.
Best. Workday. Ever.