Blood & thunder, p.13
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       Blood & Thunder, p.13

         Part #2 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Am I a sucky partner?” Dex repeated. His voice was barely audible, and his words came out slurred.

  “Okay, sit down with me. The night air will do you some good.” Sloane sat Dex down beside him on the top step, and he held Dex against him so he couldn’t fall forward. He smiled as Dex turned into him, nuzzling his neck, and snuggling close.

  The street was quiet, lined with trees, and the lighting dim enough to conceal them from any curious passersby. He ran a hand over Dex’s head and through his hair, speaking softly. He reckoned the night hadn’t gone exactly as planned for Dex. He felt guilty now for leaving Dex to get information from Lou. Considering what he’d found out, maybe not so guilty. He’d make it up to Dex, but first things first. “Now what’s this whole sucky partner business?”

  “What if I’m kidding myself? I’m a detective, not a soldier. You, Ash, Hobbs, you’re tough as bricks, Therians who bench press busses, or at the very least a Volkswagen Beetle. Letty was in the army. Rosa, I’m pretty sure, is the next evolution of Terminator. Calvin can shoot the wings off a fly with his eyes closed, and Cael can program algorithms in his sleep. What the hell do I do, besides sing karaoke and win at laser tag?”

  Sloane turned to cup Dex’s cheek, wondering where this sudden bout of insecurity was coming from. Dex never showed the slightest hint of being anything other than confident in nearly everything he did. Maybe Sloane didn’t know as much about his partner as he thought he did. “Dex, just because you haven’t had the training we have, or the experience, doesn’t mean you’re not a good soldier. You never hesitate to go out there and do the best job you can. You’re smart, clever, enthusiastic, driven. You never give up, and you lift everyone’s spirits. If we didn’t have you to pick us up, to pick me up, I don’t know where we’d be.”

  “Bored,” Dex muttered. “So I’m the comic relief?”

  “No. You’re an important member of this team. They love you, Dex. You’re the perfect fit and exactly what we needed. After I lost Gabe… I was so sure I was going to lose them too. It was unbearable, watching them retreating into themselves, not being able to do anything about it. Rosa kept to herself. Letty spent more time around guns than she did people. Calvin was always moping around. Hobbs barely said a word.”

  “If that’s a joke, it’s in poor taste. Hobbs is awesome.”

  “No, I’m not kidding. I know it looks like he doesn’t talk, but he talks to Calvin all the time. I mean, you never hear him, but you can see him talking. After Gabe died, Hobbs didn’t even do that much. It really got to Calvin. Ash was even more unbearable, and your brother? He stopped smiling, stopped being playful, and holed himself up in his office, hiding behind his computers. At first, I thought they were grieving. I had no idea how bad it really was. Before you came, I was losing my team, Dex. You changed that. You, with your amazing smile. Even when I tried to push you out, you never stopped being you. You showed them it was okay to keep on living.”

  “What about you?” Dex asked murmured.

  “You showed me that too. I know it’s been… difficult with me in particular, but I promise you, I’m trying.” He ran his thumb over Dex’s bottom lip and leaned in for a kiss, tasting the alcohol on Dex’s tongue. Dex shivered beneath him and when Sloane pulled away, he received a warm smile.

  “Thank you.”

  “I’m the one who should be thanking you. And you’re a great agent, trust me.”

  “You’re just saying that to be nice.”

  “Think about that for a moment. When do I ever say anything to be nice?”

  Dex chuckled. “True. Grumpy pants.”

  Sloane let his head fall against Dex’s and sighed. “I didn’t know you were so worried about your position. Why didn’t you tell me?”

  “Because you’re my Team Leader. You got real shit to deal with. I wasn’t going to bother you with my pathetic whining.”

  “It’s not pathetic whining, and if you’re going through a rough patch, I want to know about it, as your Team Leader, your partner, and… more.”

  Dex pulled back, his gaze searching Sloane’s. “Really?”

  “Yes, really. And please don’t let Ash get to you.”

  “That guy,” Dex let out a frustrated groan. “I really want to shoot him. Next time we’re at the firing range, if I promise you a blowjob, can I shoot him? Just a nick. He’ll barely feel it.”

  With a laugh, Sloane helped Dex to his feet. “Come on, let’s get you inside.”

  “We can pretend it was an accident. A ricochet.”

  “I’ll think about it.” Sloane walked Dex to his door and waited until he had it open. He paused before going in, and Sloane held his breath. Despite how many nights he’d spent at Dex’s, he still got butterflies in his stomach when Dex said that one word.


  Sloane nodded and followed Dex inside. He couldn’t find it in him to say no to Dex, and what’s more, he didn’t want to.

  Dex locked up, and they walked in companionable silence upstairs to get ready for bed. In no time at all, they were huddled close under the sheets. Sloane wrapped Dex in his arms, softly stroking his back as Dex’s warm breath hit Sloane’s shoulder. This night hadn’t turned out as disastrous as he thought. Dex was out within seconds, and Sloane shouldn’t have been far behind, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Dex.

  Lou had confessed to Sloane his regrets on hurting Dex as he had and walking out on him. He’d been certain things wouldn’t have worked out, and Dex had agreed, but the longer he spent away from Dex, the more he realized the mistake he’d made. Lou admitted he had taken Dex for granted. He’d gotten scared and instead of turning to Dex, he bailed. He warned Sloane not to make the same mistake.

  It was easy to get caught up in the job, in the past, in life, and without realizing it, end up putting everything before those you cared about, until one day you looked around to find yourself alone. Sloane had spent a good deal of his life alone, and he’d grown accustomed to it. He had been fine being alone. Then he’d met Gabe, and he’d stopped being alone. He’d taken Gabe for granted, believing he’d always be there, but then Gabe had done the same. How much had they missed out on? Sometimes they’d been so scared of being discovered, so scared to take the most minimal of risks, that at times, Sloane worried about their future. He’d convinced himself everything would turn out fine. They’d worry about it later. And then there was no later.

  Dex let out a soft huff and mumbled something unintelligible in his sleep, his brow creasing with worry. It wasn’t like Dex to have unpleasant dreams, and Sloane was certain he was partially responsible. He ran his fingers through Dex’s hair and kissed his head, hushing him tenderly.

  “It’s okay. Everything’s okay.”

  Dex hummed and snuggled closer, his bare leg slipping between Sloane’s so he was all but wrapped around Sloane, pressed against him from head to toe. It made Sloane smile. He’d never been much of a snuggler, but Dex had a way of bringing it out in him, and he happily surrendered. Giving in to the feel of Dex in his arms, for the first time in a long time he drifted to a sleep devoid of nightmares.

  That didn’t mean he wouldn’t be facing a different kind of nightmare in the morning.

  “Oh shit!” Sloane bolted upright, cringing at the loud thud that followed, accompanied by a slew of sleepy groaning. He leaned over the side of the bed, wishing he had more time to soothe his groggy, dazed partner. “Sorry, but you need to get your ass up. We’re going to be late!” They’d both forgotten to set their alarms, and although Sloane was usually pretty good with waking up before it went off, today he hadn’t. Luckily, they weren’t already late, but they definitely had no time for their usual morning routine, and if he didn’t rush his partner out the door, they wouldn’t make it. “We’re going to have to shower at work. Brush your—Oh my God, are you sleeping?”

  Scrambling out of bed and nearly tripping over himself when his leg got caught in the sheets, he stomped over to Dex and grabbed him by the waist
to haul him to his feet. Dex was fast asleep. “Unbelievable.” He dragged Dex over to the bathroom, held him in front of the sink with one arm and with his free hand filled a cup with cold water, and splashed it in Dex’s face. His partner gasped and flailed, sputtering water.

  “Why you trying to drown me?” he grumbled, still half asleep.

  “Because we’re going to be late, and I’m never late!” He took Dex’s toothbrush and shoved it at him. “Now brush your teeth. We’ll shower at work.”

  “Coffee?” Dex asked, looking like he might pass out.

  “You have an addiction,” Sloane said, grabbing his toothbrush. “We’ll get coffee on the way there, but you need to move your ass.”

  Dex nodded and went about brushing his teeth. While he was doing that, Sloane managed to brush his teeth, take a piss, change, and grab Dex’s clothes. “To hell with this. You’re changing in the car.” As soon as Dex finished using the bathroom, Sloane snatched Dex’s backpack from the armchair and stuffed a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, socks, and Dex’s Chucks inside. He slung the backpack over his shoulder, grabbed Dex, practically carried him downstairs, swiped Dex’s keys from the bowl near the front door, and pushed Dex outside to lock up.

  Dex stood yawning next to him. Either he wasn’t aware he was standing outside barefoot, in nothing but his boxer briefs and a T-shirt or he didn’t care. A little old lady walking her tiny dog gasped as she shuffled by. Dex waved at her, another yawn escaping him.

  “Hi, Mrs. Bauman.”

  “My God, how have you survived this long?” Sloane ushered Dex down the stairs toward Sloane’s Impala parked in front.


  Sloane pressed his lips together to keep himself from responding. He shoved Dex in the car, thrust his backpack at him, ordered him to get dressed, then climbed behind the wheel. At this rate, after picking up some drive-through coffee and a breakfast sandwich, they’d have enough time to hit the showers and dress before heading to their morning briefing. He took a deep breath and pulled out into Barrow Street. Provided traffic wasn’t too bad, they could make it in under twenty minutes. They were okay. He hated rushing, but he hated being late even more. Dex changed in the seat beside him, albeit somewhat awkwardly, and they’d had a close call when Dex almost smacked Sloane in the face trying to get his jacket on.

  Not long after, Sloane’s panic had eased, they’d had their coffee, and eaten, with Dex insisting on feeding Sloane his Tater Tots so Sloane wouldn’t have to take his eyes off the road. The whole thing was very couple like. Sloane had even let Dex tune into Retro Radio, laughing at his partner’s antics as Dex played air guitar and sang along to “My Sharona.” Dex made stupid sex puns to go with his lewd gestures, and Sloane went along with it. He’d never had this much fun driving to work.

  Luck was on their side and they made it on schedule. Soon they were on their floor’s male locker room, showered, and getting dressed. Dex was in his baby-blue boxer briefs, and Sloane did his best to concentrate on tying his bootlaces and not his partner’s ass, which happened to be at eye level.

  “Shit. I left my toiletry bag in the showers. Be right back.” Dex headed back to the shower as Agent Taylor was heading toward Sloane.

  “Hey, Daley.”

  “Hey, Taylor.” Dex gave the Therian agent a nod as he walked past him, and to Sloane’s surprise, Taylor’s eyes followed Dex. Sloane finished tying his boots and stood, rounding his shoulders.

  “Damn. How do you work around that ass and not want to pound it?”

  “Excuse me?” Sloane closed his locker, his glare pinned on the back of Taylor’s auburn head. Taylor turned to him with a leer.

  “Come on, Sloane. From one Team Leader to another, I’m not even into Humans, but I’d tap that. And those lips? That mouth was made to have a dick in it.”

  Sloane shoved Taylor up against the lockers. “Show some respect.”

  “Hey, what the hell, man?” Taylor tried to move, but Sloane held him in place with an arm to his chest.

  “Dex is my partner and my friend. I hear you talking shit about him to anyone, I see you trying to fuck with him, and you and me are going to have problems. Understood?” Taylor had a reputation for being a player and a certified asshole, not that Sloane cared who the hell Taylor fucked, but if the guy was getting any ideas about Dex, Sloane was going to put a stop to it right here and now. Taylor eyed him warily, as if he wasn’t sure if Sloane was kidding or not. Sloane was far from kidding. “I asked you if you understood.”

  Taylor threw his hands up. “Yes! Fuck, man. I didn’t know you two were so close.”

  “We don’t have to be close. Like I said, he’s my partner. You want to get laid, do it on your own time and away from my fucking team.”

  “Can you believe Howell was using my shampoo? Dude doesn’t even have any….” Dex’s voice had Sloane moving away from Taylor. His partner looked from Sloane to Taylor and back. “Hair. Everything okay?”

  Taylor grinned widely, his intense gaze on Sloane. “Everything’s copacetic, Agent Daley. See you on the field.”

  “Sure.” Dex watched Taylor stroll off whistling to himself, before he turned to Sloane. “What was that about?”

  “Just straightening something out. You gonna get dressed, or you plan on hanging out in your undies all day?”

  Dex pulled his uniform out of his locker and gave him a wink. “Don’t want other dudes checking out my sweet ass?”

  Despite his jokes, Sloane knew his partner was oblivious to the ogling he received from both his male and female coworkers. For all of the THIRDS’ rules on fraternizing, the place was incestuous. It wasn’t so much that their employer didn’t know agents were sleeping together, but as long as there was no evidence of it, they could pretend it wasn’t happening. “Come on. Cael should have something from Allan and the CDC registration office by now. I want to see—”

  The panic alarm blared through the locker room, the emergency lights flashing. Something serious had gone down.

  “Shit.” Dex finished tying his bootlaces, and they made a run for it, rushing through the bullpen and out into the hall toward the elevator. On the way down, Sloane fastened his earpiece and connected. It beeped once and he tapped to answer.

  “What’s going on?”

  Maddock’s deep voice answered somberly. “There’s been an explosion.”


  There was a slight pause and for a moment, Sloane thought he’d been disconnected. “Sarge?”

  “Sorry. At the Therian Youth Center on the corner of East Tenth Street and Avenue A, by Tompkins Square Park. I don’t know for certain, or how many, but there may be casualties. Suit up. We’re heading out.”

  Sloane stood numb for a moment, before turning and slamming a fist into the stainless steel elevator wall. “Fuck! That piece of shit!”

  “Hey, calm down.” Dex’s gentle words had Sloane taking a deep breath. His partner’s hand came to rest on his shoulder, and Sloane shook his head.

  “Kids, Dex. He put a bomb in a kids’ center.” Sloane pressed his head against the wall, his hands curling into fists. No matter how much he’d seen, how long he’d been on the job, there was no preparing for something like this.

  “Do we know if it was him?” Dex asked as the elevator pinged. Sloane stormed out toward the armory with Dex at his side.

  “I know it is. I can feel it in my gut. There’s a special place in hell reserved for Isaac Pearce, and I’m going to be the one to put him there.”

  “Hey.” Dex grabbed Sloane’s arm before they reached armory’s huge metal doors. When Sloane didn’t turn around, Dex stepped in front of him. “We all want this bastard as much as you do, and we’re going to get him, but I need to know you’re going to be able to face him and not lose your shit.”

  Sloane wanted to snap at Dex that he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. No one wanted to get his hands on Isaac Pearce the way Sloane did, but his partner was right. As much as he personally wanted
to bury Isaac, he had a job to do. His badge weighed heavily on him, and with a grunt, he stormed into the armory to suit up. He had to keep a level head. Something told him he was going to need it.

  As soon as the team geared up, they headed out to the BearCat where Maddock instructed Hobbs to take FDR Drive. Hobbs gave Maddock a curt nod and dashed around to the driver’s side, with Calvin joining him on the passenger side. They all climbed into the BearCat, the doors slamming behind them before they took their seats and buckled up. The BearCat’s engine roared to life, and they were soon weaving through traffic, sirens blazing and lights flashing, though their sirens weren’t the only ones that could be heard. Maddock tapped away on his tablet, most likely bringing up their target location.

  “Cael, what can you tell me about the center?”

  Cael followed Maddock’s lead, scrolling through the information Themis was providing him on his THIRDS issued tablet. “It’s a nonprofit organization providing emergency and transitional housing for Therian youth. Their funding comes from either direct donation via individuals, fundraising, or businesses, with some private grants. They also have a strong educational program, with over two dozen staff, from a couple of physicians and psychologists, to art directors and social workers.”

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