Blood & Thunder, page 17part #2 of THIRDS Series
“Christ, it’s that bad?” Dex said, running a hand through his hair. He got up and started pacing. “Cael, we went through this. Remember your senior year in high school? You remember what I told you?”
Cael nodded somberly. “Yes.”
“What did I say?”
Cael swallowed hard, his voice quiet. “Never fall for a straight guy.”
“And what happened with Shane? He broke your heart into tiny pieces.”
“Yes, I remember.” Cael lifted his chin defiantly. “Thank you, Dex.”
“And out of everyone, you’re gonna fall for him? The guy’s an asshole!”
“He’s not!” Cael snapped, startling Dex. Damn, it really was that bad. “I know he might seem that way, but he’s really not. I don’t know why you two can’t get along. He’s outspoken, and yes, crude sometimes, but underneath all that, he’s really…. He’s a good guy.”
“Okay, look, as much as the guy annoys me, you know I’d support you in anything that made you happy, with anyone who made you happy, but Cael—”
“Yeah, he’s straight. I get it. But you know what, sometimes, I’m not so sure.”
“Cael….” Dex let out a sigh and resumed his seat beside his brother. He wanted nothing more than to see his brother happy, even if it was with, God help him, Ash, but his brother was looking for something that wasn’t there. “Don’t confuse affection for something more. He cares about you. I know he does. It’s obvious. He treats you differently than he does everyone else. I admit, it amazes even me, but I don’t think it’s more than that. Have you ever seen him do anything with anyone that made you think he might be interested in males?”
Cael shook his head, his bottom lip jutted out. “But maybe it’s different with me. Maybe it’s the first time he’s thinking… he might want to.” He worried his bottom lip, when he suddenly seemed to think of something. “You could ask Sloane.”
“Don’t tell him it’s for me, but ask him if he might know something about Ash that maybe we don’t. They’ve been best friends since they were little. If anyone knows anything, it’d be Sloane, right?”
“Things are tense at the moment between us, what with my going against his orders.” Cael nodded dejectedly, and it was too much for Dex. “But as soon as we sort it out, I’ll talk to him.”
“Of course I will. You know I’d do anything for you, bro.”
Cael smiled sweetly at him, before letting out a yawn. “Thanks, Dex.”
“Why don’t you get some sleep, huh?” He gently pulled Cael in for a hug and planted a kiss on his brother’s head. “We’ll sort it all out.” As soon as Cael drifted off to sleep, Dex lay back down on the couch. He should have seen the signs sooner. Why hadn’t he paid more attention? Cael had a bad habit of falling for guys who weren’t good for him, and now he’d fallen for the mother lode. Even if there was the slightest probability Cael was right, Ash was so deep in the closet, he was taking Aslan’s place in Narnia. Whatever the outcome, it was going to be one hell of a tough road for his baby brother.
IT HAD been two days since Sloane had spoken with Dex, and he’d genuinely believed he would’ve simmered down by now, but when Dex undressed beside him in the locker room, the bandage around his leg glaringly white against his fair skin, Sloane was far from calm. The more he thought about it, the more he could feel his anger rising. He recalled the way Dex had limped out of the building, leg bloodied, face dripping with sweat, and smudged with muck from the explosion, an explosion that had happened mere feet away.
Dex finished getting dressed and turned to him with a sigh. “Look, I know you’re pissed off—”
“Pissed off?” Sloane slammed his locker shut, the rest of the agents in the locker room gathering their belongings and bolting. “I’m not pissed off, Dex, I’m fucking furious.”
Dex swallowed hard and stood his ground, rounding his shoulders. “I was doing my job.”
“No, you were disobeying orders. You not only put Hobbs’s life in danger, but your own.”
“He would have died. How much more in danger can he get?”
“Don’t—” Sloane caught himself and tried to pull his anger in check. “I’ll see you upstairs.” He needed to cool off, but every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was Dex lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Since the explosion, Sloane had been sleeping at work in his sleep bay, and both nights he had the same nightmare he’d had back at Dex’s place, with the same outcome, except instead of Isaac pulling the trigger, Sloane had watched a mirror image of himself doing the shooting. Disturbed didn’t begin to cover it.
His team was his family. If he lost one of them…. Goddamn it, he had a job to do. Protocols were put in place for a reason. If the structure had given way…. What the hell would he have told Cael? How would he have faced Maddock? How would Sloane have explained to Maddock he’d let his son die because he hadn’t the balls to put his foot down and take control of the situation? Dex was a good agent, but emotionally, he was too green. Maybe in the HPF, Dex could get away with running headfirst into the fray, but not at the THIRDS, and certainly not on Sloane’s watch. He’d make Dex understand, one way or another.
When he walked into their office, he went straight to his desk, where he brought up the files he needed and typed in the time and date, as well as a quick and brief description of the incident. Afterward he would attach his notes and the appropriate reports. As soon as Dex walked through the door, Sloane tapped a code into the side panel. The door swished closed, and the room went into “privacy” mode, the frosted white walls turning solid white so no one could see inside or overhear any conversation.
“Sit down,” he stated calmly. Dex pressed his lips together and did as asked. There was no telling how Dex would react, but Sloane reminded himself he was doing his job, and although his partner would most certainly disagree, he was doing it for Dex’s own good. Sloane would have done the same had he been facing any other of his teammates. Pressing the “record” button on the panel of his desk’s interface, Sloane began.
“Team Leader Sloane Brodie, badge number 0102, issuing a verbal reprimand to Agent Dexter J. Daley, badge number 2108, for direct violation of Policy 2-3, Failure to Follow Procedure.”
Dex gaped at him. “You’re taking disciplinary action?”
Sloane paused the recording. “Were you expecting special treatment?”
“You mean because we’re fucking?” Dex hissed quietly, though with the room in “privacy” mode, Dex could shout at the top of his lungs and no one would hear a word. “No, I didn’t expect any special treatment for that. What I did expect from you was guidance.”
“You knew exactly what you were doing,” Sloane ground out through his teeth. He leaned his arms on his desk and met Dex’s stubborn gaze. “That wasn’t a rookie mistake and you know it. You deliberately went against direct orders!”
Dex jumped to his feet. “And I’d do it again! I’m not about to stand by and watch one of my teammates die when I can do something about it.”
“The structure was unsound!”
“It was sound enough. I was there and you weren’t. This isn’t about not following orders. It’s about you not trusting me on the job, or outside of it.”
“You don’t trust me.”
What the hell? “Bullshit. You’re my partner. I put my life in your hands every time we go out in the damned field.”
“Only because you’re taking the lead. You’re not risking a part of yourself.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. I take the lead because I’m the Team Leader and that’s my job! Like it’s your job to do whatever the hell I tell you to do!” If he wasn’t careful, he was going to lose it. Dex had a talent for getting under his skin and that angered Sloane further. “Why are we having this ridiculous conversation?”
“Argument,” Dex corrected. “We’re h
“You’re not thinking objectively and that’s what this is about.” He hit the pause button again to resume the recording. “Performance improvement to a satisfactory level is required to prevent further disciplinary action which may impede the course of your training and development, or lead to punitive action which may result in your dismissal. You have a right to contest to this reprimand, under THIRDS Policy 6-2, and are permitted three weeks in which to do so.” He took a deep breath and braced himself. “Do you have anything you’d like to add?”
“No,” Dex replied through gritted teeth.
“Verbal reprimand concluded.” He hit “stop,” wishing he could do the same with the shitty feeling turning his stomach. What the hell had gotten into him? He’d never shouted at any of his coworkers. He’d never shouted at Gabe, and they’d had plenty of arguments at the office.
“Are we done?” Dex asked.
Sloane was tempted to keep arguing, but instead, he nodded, not trusting himself to speak. Dex stood, typed his code into the panel and marched out. Just Sloane’s luck, seconds later, Ash walked in.
Again, all Sloane could do was nod. He dropped down into his chair, hearing the swish of the door, and watching the walls go white once again. Ash came to stand beside him, and stared at him in disbelief.
“You gave him a verbal reprimand? Why?”
Sloane glanced up at his friend. “What do you mean, why? He disobeyed orders.”
“We disobey orders all the time. Orders aren’t always right. You know that better than anyone.”
“Are you going to tell me how to do my job too?”
“What the hell’s going on with you? You wouldn’t have reprimanded Gabe.”
Sloane jumped to his feet to confront his friend. “Gabe would have followed orders.”
“Don’t bullshit me, man. Gabe would have done the same. Hell, any one of us would’ve if we’d been in Dex’s place, and I know you wouldn’t have resorted to disciplinary measures.”
“He has to learn he can’t go off half-cocked, disregarding his safety, like everything will turn out fine.”
“So this is about Dex.”
“Yes, it’s about Dex. It’s about him thinking he can do whatever the hell he wants without having to face the consequences. He thinks he’s goddamn indestructible.”
“No, I meant this is about how you feel about him.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You think I don’t see how close you two have gotten? It’s fine. No one’s going to hold it against you.” Ash took a seat on the edge of Sloane’s desk and shrugged. “It was bound to happen. He’s your partner.”
Sloane’s frown deepened. There was no way Ash could know.
“You two have become close friends. You work together, hang out together. No one said you can’t be friends with your partner. Look, the guy annoys the ever-living fuck out of me, but I can see why you like to hang out with him. You’re too serious, were too damn serious, and he changed that.” Ash let out a heavy sigh and tapped away at Sloane’s interface as he spoke, bringing up several online news sites. “After what happened to Gabe, I thought… I really thought that was it for you.” Sloane’s surprise must have shown, because Ash glared at him. “Don’t look at me like that. Of course, I was worried. You’re my best friend, but let’s face it, you’re different with him, in a good way. He makes you laugh, drags you along to do stupid shit. He’s like an excited puppy that never sits still, which makes me want to punch him.”
Sloane peered at his friend. “You want to punch puppies?”
“I’d never punch a puppy. What’s wrong with you? Dex I’d punch.”
“So what’s your point?”
“My point is, before he came along, all you had was the job. I could never get you to fucking relax outside of it. I can’t believe I’m saying this—and I swear if you tell him, I will deny it to my dying breath, and then I will beat the shit out of you. Don’t screw this up, Sloane. Talk to him. He’ll listen to you. The guy practically hangs off your every word.” He tapped the desk and the board to Sloane’s right filled with news articles, all concerning Dex.
Sloane came to stand before the digital board, looking over at various photos of Dex captured by photographers spanning from Detective Walsh’s trial, to the bombing at the youth center. He stepped forward and double tapped the image of his partner and lover emerging from the smoke filled building, his arm slightly forward as if he were reaching for Sloane who was walking ahead of him. The tagline read, Human agent, Dexter J. Daley saves Therian teammate in the aftermath of tragic events. Sloane swallowed hard. The irony wasn’t lost on him.
“Talk to him,” Ash insisted, the swish of the doors the only indication Ash had gone, leaving Sloane standing there in the silence of his empty office, staring at pale blue eyes.
“Damn it.” He walked back to his desk and closed the window containing all the articles, leaving the reprimand glaring back at him. His finger hovered over the “Submit” button before he tapped the screen and hit “Delete” instead. It asked him if he was sure and he let out a scoff. “I don’t know what the hell I’m sure about anymore.” Tapping “Yes,” he logged into his partner’s communication device. Dex was in Sparta. Fucking fantastic. This wasn’t going to end badly at all.
He headed down to Sparta, mumbling a greeting to his fellow agents as he searched for Dex. Just his luck, he found his partner in one of the training bays set up for boxing. Dex was down to his snug, black undershirt, his tac pants, and bare feet. He was taking his frustration out on the battered leather bag swaying in front of him, with wraps around his hands instead of gloves. He didn’t bother looking at Sloane when he spoke.
“What? Did you come to grade my performance? I’m not wearing shoes. Have I breached protocol again?”
“You gonna throw a hissy fit every time I have to do my job?” Yep. Not going to end badly at all.
Dex delivered a fierce left hook to the bag, followed by a right. “You weren’t doing your job, you were being a dick.”
Calm. Remain calm. “There are protocols and you failed to adhere to them.”
“I’m really starting to hate that word,” Dex muttered, delivering another right hook to the bag. “The structure was safe.”
“You don’t know that.” Sloane tried his hardest to summon patience, despite knowing he wouldn’t last much longer, especially with Dex’s punches growing angrier. The sweat dripped down his face, and Dex stopped long enough to swipe the back of his hand across his brow.
“What if it had been Ash or Cael?”
Sloane rounded his shoulders, answering tersely. “My orders would have been the same. You’re letting your emotions cloud your judgment.”
“Well excuse me for having any,” Dex spat out.
That got Sloane’s hackles up. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing.” Dex turned back to the punching bag, but Sloane wasn’t about to let him off the hook, not with what he was implying.
“It’s too late. It’s out there now, so own up to it.”
“You want me to own up to it? Okay. I know it’s your job not to let things get to you, but sometimes I wonder if you have an off switch. Don’t you get tired of being the Sloane Brodie all the fucking time?”
“Is that what you think?” The remark cut deep, but Sloane didn’t want him to see that. At least Dex hesitated, which told Sloane maybe his partner’s words were more out of anger than anything else. Still. He didn’t appreciate the remark.
“Sometimes.” Dex shrugged. “Look, the job is important. Believe me, I know. But you know what? So is family. If it came down between my teammate’s life and my job, fuck t
“Losing our teammates is the risk we take. That’s why you’re here.” How could he make Dex understand? Surely he’d faced similar situations with his fellow officers at the HPF? Sloane was aware it was slightly different with a team. When one was out of commission, the rest suffered. When one was lost, the rest grieved. They laughed together, cried together, waded through scandal and death, and a river of toxic shit, protecting each other, caring for one another, at times falling in love. But they were also soldiers, officers, defenders for the public. They took an oath to put the citizens of the city before themselves.
“I’m here to prevent loss of life. Prevent. Or have you forgotten? And that’s what I did that day. Yes, sometimes a situation will be out of our hands, and lives will be lost, but if I have a choice to do something about it? Guess what I’ll be doing?” Dex went back to punching the bag, and Sloane grabbed his arm.