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. We had part one last week, so here’s part two! Happy reading!
That was the problem with good guys like Sloane. They always wanted to help.
“Look, I understand better than anyone the dangers of losing someone you love to the job.” Sloane sat down next to Austen, and put a hand on his shoulder. “Do you think it didn’t scare the hell out of me every time I went out on a call with Dex? No matter how capable I knew he was, that didn’t stop me from worrying, because it wasn’t his skills I questioned, but the motives and vileness of what was out there. Even once we’re sworn in by TIN, and we’ve had all the training there is, that doesn’t mean I won’t stop worrying about him. Does that mean we shouldn’t make a life together? Shouldn’t have friends, or family?”
Austen frowned deep, his gaze averted.
“Zach doesn’t live in a bubble, and yes he works for Unit Beta. The risks he faces on the job aren’t the same as those of Unit Alpha, but there are risks nonetheless. You keep telling yourself, and everyone else that you’re trying to protect him from the dangers of your job, but the truth is, you’re protecting his heart from you.”
Austen’s head shot up, and he met Sloane’s gaze. It was frightening, and heartbreaking how much affection he saw in Sloane’s eyes. Austen was a lethal, trained TIN operative, but when he was around Sloane, it was like he was that frightened little boy who’d been tossed out into the street. His world changed when he met Sloane, and despite Sloane being a huge ass jaguar Therian, Austen felt safe with him, always had. Cheetah Therians were known to have difficulty trusting, due to their vulnerability as the smallest of the felids. It didn’t mean they weren’t strong, but they had big hearts that were easily broken. He shouldn’t have felt safe with Sloane after running into him, but he had. Austen trusted Sloane with his life, and his heart. He hated that Sloane was right.
“I know you’re scared, and I’m not telling you what you should do. I’m just saying that you need to really think about the reasons you’re pushing Zach away, and that maybe having a friend or two outside of Destructive Delta would be nice. You know we’ll always be there for you, and we want your around.” Sloane put a hand to Austen’s cheek, and smiled warmly. “We also want you to be happy, to have more than just the job. At least think about it, yeah?”
Austen nodded. Just then the doorbell buzzed. Dex got up and walked over to the security camera. He called out over his shoulder.
Austen sat there quietly for a moment. This was insane. He was not going to become BFFs with the guy just because Sloane got all sappy with him. What the hell was he supposed to do? Zach was already here. With a heavy sigh, Austen nodded. “Buzz him in.”
“Your tea should be ready,” Dex said, walking over to the kitchen after presumably buzzing Zach up.
“I know it’s still months away,” Sloane said, a big dopey smile on his stupidly rugged face, “but we’ve arranged it so everyone can arrive early to the estate the day of the rehearsal dinner to give everyone a tour. There’s plenty of room for shifting, playing, and pouncing. It was one of the bonus perks for picking this place. Maybe you should invite Zach for a run. I hear he’s pretty damn quick.”
Austen let out a snort. “Maybe, though he’s not as quick as I am.”
“We’ll have to see about that.” Zach walked into the living room, and smiled at Austen.
“Are you kidding me? There’s no way you’re beating me.”
Dex handed a mug to Zach, who brought it over to the couch. He took a seat beside Austen, and handed him the steaming mug of gross tasting tea.
“And why’s that?” Zach asked, putting his arm over the back of the couch as he leaned in to Austen. Needing to do distract him from the closeness, Austen listed all the traits that made a cheetah Therian the fastest Therian on the planet.
Sloane stood, and Austen stopped talking. Where the hell did he think he was going?
“Dex, and I better get going. Lou’s kinda scary when you mess with his schedule.” Sloane cringed. “Actually, when he’s in work mode, period, he’s terrifying.”
“You’re leaving?” Austen asked, dumbly. He looked over at Dex. Hell, he’d even take Dex. Wait, if Dex stayed—which he wouldn’t, but still—he’d meddle and try to play matchmaker. It was best the blue eyed menace got lost.
“Yep,” Dex replied cheerfully. His big smile making Austen want to punch him. Dex smiled at Zach. “Make sure he drinks all that tea, and at least two more. There’s soup in the fridge, make sure he eats all of it.”
Austen glared at Dex. “Screw you, Daley. I can take care of myself.”
“Really? What was the last thing you ate?”
“Pizza,” Austen said smugly.
Dex nodded. He pointed to the kitchen. “From the pizza box next to the trash bin? The one with the receipt time-stamped four days ago? That pizza?”
Oh, you fucker. “Just go,” Austen grumbled.
“That’s what I thought.” Dex turned to Zach. “Ninety percent of what comes out of his mouth is bullshit, so you’re going to have to read between the lines.”
Austen grabbed one of his throw pillows and chucked it at Dex’s head. Unfortunately, his reflexes were for shit right now so Dex managed to duck. With a cackle, the asshole headed for the door. Sloane waved as he followed his dorky fiancé.
“Rest up. Call if you need us to pick anything up on the way home.”
The door closed, and Austen put the mug of boiled leaf water on the side coffee table, before slinking down into the couch cushions, his knees raised, and his blanket pulled up to his chin. Zach was in his living room. Sitting next to him on his couch. Close. Too close.
“You need to drink your tea.”
Austen narrowed his eyes. “You need to not be so bossy. And no. It’s disgusting.”
Zach got up, walked over to the coffee table, and picked up the mug. Instead of handing it to Austen, he walked off into the kitchen. Well, that was easy. Austen heard cabinets opening and closing in the kitchen. What the hell was he doing in there? Austen leaned forward to try and see into the kitchen. Damn it. Where the hell was he? Maybe if he leaned a little more….
Zach appeared, and Austen quickly sat back. He peered at Zach as the huge-ass bear Therian walked into the living room. He held the mug out to Austen.
“I’ve put some honey in it.” Austen opened his mouth, and Zach held a hand up to stop him. “No bear jokes.”
Damn it. Austen lifted his chin defiantly. “Don’t care what you put in it. I’m not drinking it.”
Zach took a seat beside him, and turned, one knee bent on the couch so he could face Austen. He took up half the couch. Why were bear Therians so freaking big? Okay, yeah, so their feral halves were ginormous so it made sense they’d be huge in Human form. Plus, there was the fact Austen wasn’t exactly great in stature to begin with. With each of them being at the far end of the Therian size chart, it made their differences glaringly obvious. Austen dropped his gaze to Zach’s hand. The one resting on his knee.
“You got big hands,” Austen said before he could stop himself.
Zach held his hand up to inspect it. “Do I?”
Austen snorted. He put his hand up against Zach’s, the difference staggering. “Uh, yeah.”
Zach smiled softly, and moved his fingers slightly so they were in between Austen’s, not quite holding his hand, but if he bent his fingers he would be. Austen snatched his hand away, heat flaring through his face. He was such an ass. Zach wasn’t even his type. Not that Austen had a type other than “willing and able”, but even so, Zach was most certainly not his type. He was too big, too strong, too capable of overpowering Austen. Never again. Austen shook those thoughts from his head. He wasn’t that weak, helpless kid anymore. Zach might be bigger, but Austen could take him down if he had to. He wasn’t falling for that gentle-giant bullshit. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….
Part Three next week. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.