I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. So here you go! Happy reading!
He felt like crap.
Damn it. TIN operatives weren’t supposed to get sick. He knew this was coming. The second that douchebag had sneezed on him, he knew. Did henchmen not get paid sick days? The dude should have been at home, not at work infecting everyone with his germs. Granted, he’d tried to stab Austen, and that would have been far more inconvenient than contracting the mutant bug he’d been fighting for days. He’d tried to power through it, but the second Sparks heard his voice, she benched him. When she asked him about his flu shot, he cringed. He’d totally forgot. After she stopped breathing deeply though her nose—he could practically see her nostrils flaring—she asked him what medication he was taking. Apparently “whiskey” was the wrong answer. Then she went and narced on him to Sloane!
As if it wasn’t bad enough he was feeling like sludge, he had to deal with Sloane’s fussing, and Dex’s meddling. They were driving him batshit crazy with their mothering. Drink this, rub this there, inhale this, take that, get some rest. Did they not know who he was or what he did for a living? It was the flu, not freakin’ ebola. He made to get up off the couch, and the world spun off its axis, bringing him crashing back down.
“Fuck. This. Shit,” he grumbled against his pillow. Colds and flus are what mortals got, not TIN operatives. “This is bullshit.” Damn it, he had to get better.
Dex’s bachelor party was less than a month away, and for some ridiculous reason, he’d RSVP’d when he’d gotten the invite from Cael. What the hell was he doing going to a bachelor party? Especially since he knew a certain someone else had been invited as well. Just what he needed. It’s like the universe was purposefully fucking with him. Every time he thought he had a handle on things where Zach was concerned, some asshole, or some blue-eyed menace was determined to undo all his hard work.
Austen rolled onto his back, cocooning himself in the thick fleece blanket Sloane had brought him. He was fucking freezing, and the heating was on. He glared up at the ceiling. It had been odd at first, being in Sloane’s apartment, even after Austen filled it with his belongings. Gone were Sloane’s wall to wall shelves of books, and movies, the living room set and coffee tables. Austen’s space was sparsely furnished. An old habit. He’d spent most of his life moving around from one place to another. When he’d started working for TIN, he was earning enough to buy himself a home, but Austen had yet to find a place he felt he could call home.
This was the longest he’d ever held onto a place. Nearly two years. Fuck. He’d had Sloane’s place for almost two years, being extra vigilant, making damn sure no one even got close to figuring out he was here. The place was still under Sloane’s name, and the tenant an alias, one with an entire life, a busy guy who travelled a lot for business, so he was rarely home. Austen had also installed a ton of security.
Behind a picture frame by the door was a security panel that opened a section of the wall, revealing a high-tech display. With his handprint, or the right clearance, the wall opened, revealing several screens and security footage of the apartment building. There was a digital keypad, and typing in a sequence of numbers would open a section of the living room wall opposite the bookcase filled with all kinds of equipment and weapons. He had no idea what had possessed him to do that, but for the first time in his life, he felt a sense of calm when he got back to this apartment.
The alarm beeped, and there was a click. Austen groaned. The thought of two sexy male nurses would have put a smile on anyone’s face, except these two were determined to crush his libido, acting like a couple of big brothers, making him disgusting tasting tea, making sure he took his antibiotics, making him chicken soup, and patting his head like he was twelve. Two dopey faces smiled down at him from over the back of the couch.
“Hey there,” Sloane greeted.
“Aw,” Dex crooned. “He looks like an angry little caterpillar spinning a cocoon. Soon he’ll emerge as a deadly little Felid.”
Austen narrowed his eyes at Dex. “I want to seriously hurt you right now.”
“And I’m going to make you some of Darla’s special tea,” Dex replied, booping Austen’s nose. Austen snapped his teeth, but Dex moved his hand away.
“Flu’s making you slow,” Dex said with a chuckle as he walked off.
“Bite me, Daley,” Austen called out after him.
Sloane laughed softly. He came around the couch, and Austen slowly sat up. Man, his head was killing him.
“So,” Sloane said, fidgeting in front of Austen. “Dex and I have a bunch of appointments with Lou today for the wedding. Of course, if you need anything, you call us. We’ll be back tonight to check in on you.”
Austen peered at him. What wasn’t Sloane spitting out? “Just say it.”
“I um… well, we decided someone should be here with you, to you know, help out.”
Austen’s eyes widened, and he stared up at Sloane. “Don’t you fucking say it.”
Sloane cringed. “Zach’s on his way.”
It took Austen a moment for the fog in his brain to clear enough for Sloane’s words to make their way through. Zach. Coming here. It was either the fever making his blood boil, or he was just fucking livid. “Are you fucking kidding me?”
“You’re angry,” Sloane stated.
“No shit. Yes, I’m angry. No, scratch that. I’m fucking furious. He shouldn’t be coming here. Fuck, now he knows where I live! You’ve painted a huge fucking target on his back!”
Dex arched an eyebrow at him as he entered the living room. “Weren’t you the one who said Zach’s been under surveillance for a while now? That TIN’s keeping him safe? Besides, Zach can look after himself. You seem to keep forgetting he’s a THIRDS agent. And a fucking huge-ass bear Therian.”
“Yeah, in fucking Unit Beta. Those guys play defense. It’s their job to look fucking huge and scary as shit so their opponents back down without a fight. They’re the guys you bring in for crowd control, to escort dignitaries, and play bodyguard. Do I look like fucking Whitney Houston to you? I don’t need a bodyguard.” He’d bet his spots this had been Daley’s idea. The guy was so fucking annoying!
“No, but you need a friend,” Sloane said softly.
Austen’s eyebrows shot up near his hairline. “The fuck just came out of your mouth, Brodie?”
These two were unbelievable. Why couldn’t they get it through their thick skulls? Austen didn’t want Zach anywhere near him. He was trying to protect the guy, keep him away from all the grime, and fucked up shit surrounding Austen, and not all of it related to his job. Zach deserved someone good, and sweet, and fucking perfect, not a broken Felid that spooked at the mere thought of more with someone. Happily ever after was something that happened to guys like Sloane and Dex. Not Austen. He had nothing to give. No. He wasn’t going to be a sucker. He wasn’t going to get his hopes up only be tossed aside. There was no way he would ever, ever let Osmond Zachary near his heart.
Part Two next week. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.