Blood & Thunder, page 20part #2 of THIRDS Series
Dex spun around and threw a hand up. “It’s my fault, Sarge. I made him do it.”
“What?” Tony looked from Dex to the two agents behind him and back, not looking convinced. Dex turned, holding back a curse. Calvin was wide-eyed and breathless, his face as flushed as Hobbs’s.
“Well, Hobbs was bitchin’ about his ouchies, so I said Calvin would kiss it and make it better. Calvin said no, so I said the only alternative was for me to reenact Romancing the Stone scene for scene while singing Billy Ocean’s “When the Going Gets Tough.” And wouldn’t you know it, Calvin puckered up. Absolutely no appreciation for the arts, these two.” Dex shook his head in shame and started singing softly. Tony didn’t hesitate. He shook his head and smacked Dex upside the head. “Ow!”
“Boy, what the hell’s wrong with you? The poor guy got blown up and you’re torturing him with your crappy-ass pop music?”
“Whoa, hey now. Don’t you insult Billy. Billy’s the man. But I understand what you’re saying. I need to work on my selections.” Dex thrust a finger at a startled looking Hobbs and started singing “Eye of the Tiger.”
“No you don’t.” Tony grabbed Dex by the collar and dragged him out of the room. “You stay out here until you hit puberty.” He disappeared inside, the door closing firmly behind him. Dex let out the deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and dropped into the chair beside him. His phone buzzed and he smiled. It was a text from Calvin.
Dex replied with a winking happy face and returned his phone to his pocket. That had been close, too close. Now that he thought about it, it sort of made sense. When Dex had first joined the team, those two had been off their game, even Rosa had said so. They’d been careless, and it had led to Calvin getting in over his head at Greenpoint when they’d been hunting for a Therian suspect.
The last few months, there’d been some tension between them, and now Dex understood why. The two had been best buds since they were kids, but clearly, those feelings had grown into something more for at least one of them. Thinking back to their behavior around each other, if Dex were to hazard a guess, he would say Calvin had been the one to fall first. Sounded familiar.
The door opened, snapping him out of his thoughts. He stood to greet his dad. “I was trying to cheer them up.”
“Yeah, I know. You got a weird way of doing it.”
Dex blinked at him. “I’m sorry, have we met?” He held out his hand. “Hi, I’m Dex. You’ve been watching me do weird shit since I was five. You have a drawer full of photographic evidence too.”
Tony rolled his eyes at him. “I’ve been holding onto the hope that it’s a phase. A really, really, really long phase.”
“Ooh,” Dex cringed. “I hate to be the one to crush your dreams, but you’re better off giving up on that hope.” Dex beamed up at him, laughing at the startled expression that crossed his dad’s weary face.
“What did you do?”
Dex shrugged. “Nothing.”
Tony gave him that look.
“I bought a karaoke machine for the break room.”
“Oh hell no.” Tony thrust a finger at him. “You’re taking it back.”
“No. I’m putting my foot down on this.”
“But we were going to have a sing-off. Destructive Delta versus Beta Ambush.” He shook a fist at the air. “They’re so damn cocky. They think they can out air guitar me? We’ll see about that.”
“No, we won’t, because whatever’s going through your head right now isn’t happening. You want to do a sing-along—”
“Sing-off,” Dex corrected.
“That machine enters the building and it’s going back out via the nearest window. Be weird on your own time.” Tony stormed off and Calvin stepped up to Dex, studying him.
“You didn’t really buy a karaoke machine for the break room, did you?”
“What?” Dex laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I didn’t. This whole case has him on edge.”
Calvin appeared to give it some thought when it occurred to him. “And you were taking some of the edge off.”
“When it seems like the world’s burning down around you, a little sense of normality can go a long way.” Dex resumed his seat, knowing Calvin had some ’splaining to do. “The sing-off is real, though. I’m going to crush those Beta bastards. Can you sing?” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll still beat them. So, you and Hobbs.”
Calvin cleared his throat and took a seat, his cheeks going pink. “What about us?”
“Dude, I walked in on you two sucking face like a couple of college kids, come on. Whatever you say stays between us. If you can trust me with your life, you can trust me with this. Something’s been up with you guys for months, and if you haven’t noticed, the team’s been worried.”
Calvin’s head shot up and he turned to Dex. “They don’t suspect anything, do they?”
“Nah. Whatever they’re thinking, it’s nothing close to that, but if you don’t sort it out soon, Sloane’s going to get wind something’s wrong, and you don’t want him interrogating you. It’s not fun. So?”
“You know Hobbs and I grew up together. We both came from a rough neighborhood. No segregated schools, at least not officially. Inside was a different matter. There were more Humans than Therians. We got shit for being friends. On top of that, Hobbs got bullied for his mutism. Those assholes knew he couldn’t fight back. He was bigger than them, stronger, but he was so crippled by his anxiety, he didn’t stand a chance.
“I don’t think a day went by where I didn’t end up in the principal’s office for fighting, but I had to protect him. My mom wanted to put me in another school, one strictly Human, but I refused to leave Hobbs behind in that shithole to fend for himself. He needed me. I can count on one hand the number of times we weren’t together. By college, Hobbs had gotten better with his mutism and the anxiety. We shared an apartment. Man, it was so much fun. We did some pretty stupid shit,” Calvin said with a laugh. His expression grew somber, and he looked down at his fingers, lost in thought. “Anyway, things were good. After college, we got recruited by the THIRDS and moved into a bigger apartment together. We figured there was no point in spending a load of money on rent when we could save that money and help get our families out of the ghettos they were living in.
“Everything was cool between us. We’d never been closer. Then last year, we had this big Fourth of July party at our apartment, and both of us got shitfaced. We hooked up with these guys, the four of us in Hobbs’s bedroom, and everything was fine until Hobbs started fucking this guy. He was blond, about my height and size. I bolted. I couldn’t be in the same room while he screwed that guy.”
“What did Hobbs do after you bolted?”
“He came after me. We had a huge fight, mostly because I was so pissed off at him and at myself. I didn’t know what the hell I was feeling. All I knew was that I couldn’t stand seeing him fuck another guy. It was selfish, I know. I told him I needed some space. You should have seen his face. It was like I’d stabbed him in the heart. For days I hid out in my room, making sure when I came out I didn’t bump into him. He was so damn patient and good. He’d make me sandwiches and leave them in the fridge for me.” Calvin’s eyes grew glassy and he gave a sniff.
“He caught me one afternoon in the hall, and when he tried to apologize, as if he was the reason I was acting like such an asshole, I lost it. I told him I didn’t want him fucking anyone else because… of how I felt about him. I couldn’t say the words, mostly because until the explosion, I couldn’t say exactly what it was I felt. I told him somewhere along the way, things had changed. The way I felt about him changed. I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for him to say something. In the end, he hugged me and said we’d work it out.” Calvin let out a heavy sigh. “He’s scared we’ll lose our friendship. I tried to tell him it would never happen. If things didn’t work out, I’d never stop being his be
“How’s he feel about what just happened?” Dex asked, nodding to the closed door beside him.
Calvin shrugged, a small smile coming onto his hopeful face. “He kissed me back. That’s a good sign, right?”
Dex threw an arm around Calvin and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “I think so. Give him time. It’s a lot to take in. I’m betting Hobbs isn’t the kind of guy crazy about change, especially when it concerns the possibility of losing his best friend.”
“Thanks, Dex. I’m gonna head back in, say good-bye. Maddock and Sloane agree he needs more time to recuperate. I’ll see you at HQ.”
“No problem, buddy.” Dex sat there long after Calvin had disappeared inside. He’d known his teammates were close, but he hadn’t known they were that close. “Man, this team is incestuous.” At least he had Rosa and Letty to keep the balance. Speaking of Rosa, she’d been right about Sloane. He was miserable to be around when he had something stuck in his craw, and he made everyone else around him miserable. Usually Dex kept Sloane from spending too much time grumping, finding ways to make him smile. Dex missed that smile.
With a groan, he let his head fall back against the chair. “Man, I am so screwed.”
“YOU SURE you’re ready to go back?”
Sloane sat on the blue couch beside Cael’s bed, glad to see the young Therian looking like his old self. A pang of guilt hit him for the reprimand he’d intended to give Dex, and he chastised himself for being such a sentimental idiot. Now he was going to feel guilty about doing his job because of Cael?
“Yep.” Cael patted his stomach with a laugh. “If I stay here any longer eating Rosa’s cooking, I won’t fit into my uniform.” His smile faded. “Hey, you got a minute?”
“Sure. What’s up?”
“I’m worried about Dex.”
“Oh?” Sloane sat back, stretching his legs and meeting Cael’s concerned gaze.
“He’s acting like… I don’t know. Like he’s been dumped. Worse actually. When Lou dumped him, he got drunk, but after a few days was back to his old self. This… I can’t remember the last time I saw him like this. Do you think he’s been seeing someone?”
“Wouldn’t he have told you?” Sloane laced his fingers over his stomach, his gaze unwavering. As much as he disliked lying to Cael concerning what was happening between him and Dex, Sloane had grown accustomed to hiding. His relationship, his vulnerabilities, the truth about himself, and what he was.
Cael cocked his head to one side. “I’m his brother. We’ve never kept secrets from each other. Unless he felt he didn’t have a choice.”
Something in Cael’s eyes set off an alarm in Sloane’s head. He’d learned a long time ago not to underestimate his young teammate. Cael’s sweet disposition made those around him comfortable, enough for them to let their guard down, and the cheetah Therian knew how to use that to his advantage. The kid wasn’t just quick on his feet. “What do you mean?”
“Like you and Gabe.”
Sloane’s heart slammed and he forced himself to remain stoic. “What are you talking about?”
“Don’t worry, no one else knows, and they won’t, at least they won’t find out from me.” Sloane didn’t say a word, and Cael let out a heavy sigh. “I was the one assigned to clear out his interface and send his files to the lieutenant’s office. You know when an agent leaves, gets dismissed, or is killed in action, Recon is assigned to remove them from Themis, do a sweep of their systems and report all our findings.”
Sloane shrugged. “It’s a routine sweep, to make sure no case files or sensitive information is left behind for the subsequent agent.” He congratulated himself on not freaking out. Cael knew something, but until Sloane knew exactly what that was, he wasn’t about to take any chances.
“We do an in-depth sweep as well, to search for any possible theft or misuse of information. It’s the government, Sloane. We don’t trust ourselves.”
“Cael, if you have something you want to say, say it.”
“I found a hidden folder with heavy protection on it in Gabe’s hard drive. It had a confirmation e-mail from a cruise company.”
“And?” Sloane arched an eyebrow at the young agent. He watched Cael intently, noticing his slight fidget and the way he suddenly moved his gaze away.
“I don’t think—”
“It was an e-mail requesting to extend the cruise by one night, a stop at the Bahamas for a romantic dinner for two. He also paid for champagne and a photographer. Your name was down as his partner, and I don’t mean work partner, so please, Sloane, don’t lie to me. I’m young, not stupid. I deleted anything that pertained to Gabe’s personal life which had a connection to you.”
The room fell silent. All this time, and now, after everything, he was finding this out? What was he supposed to do with this information other than feel shitty about it? He didn’t blame Cael. The young Therian was doing his job, and Sloane appreciated his honesty. Things would have turned out a whole lot different if Cael had simply handed everything over to the lieutenant blindly, not bothering to check it out. Still, the knowledge of Gabe’s gesture picked at the scab of Sloane’s wounded heart. He was so exhausted and tired of feeling the ache there, but too afraid to let it go. “Thank you,” Sloane replied when he managed to find his voice. “So now what?”
“Now nothing. I’ve kept your secret this long. Do you really think I’m going to say something now? I hope you don’t think that little of me.”
It was amazing how much Cael reminded Sloane of Dex, despite the two not being related by blood. They were so different, yet shared many of the same mannerisms, had similar patterns of speech, and a similar sense of humor. “You’re right. Is that all you wanted to say?”
“No. When Dex cares about something, he puts his whole heart and soul into it. He’s the best guy I know, and not because he’s my brother. He’ll never let you down, never betray you. But he’s not so good at doing the same for himself. He’ll let you keep hurting him, Sloane, and he deserves better than that.”
Sloane nodded. “You’re right, he does.”
“May I speak freely?”
Cael rounded his shoulders, his silver-gray eyes penetrating. “You’re scared, I get that. I know it must be hard for you, and I have no right to dismiss what you’re going through, but if you’re willing to walk away from my brother because you’re too much of a chickenshit to take a risk, well, he’s better off without you.”
Sloane stared at him. Wow. The kid really didn’t mince words when it came to his family. Cael’s expression softened, but he remained firm on his position. Sloane couldn’t blame Cael for being protective of his big brother. A part of Sloane believed Dex was indeed better off without him, but the other half of him didn’t want to let go.
“I respect you, Sloane, and that won’t go away no matter what you decide. I’m asking you to really think about things. Don’t let him get caught up in a future with you if you have no intention of ever letting it get that far.”
Sloane mulled over Cael’s words and decided to take a chance. “And if I don’t walk away? If things do work out?”
“If he’s happy, I’m happy. As long as no one finds out.” Cael smiled a wide dopey grin. “I like having him on our team.”
The door opened and Dex came strolling in with a cheerful smile. “Hey, Chirpy, you ready to….”
“Oh my God, Dex!” Cael wailed, his eyes going huge, and his face turning a bright crimson.
Dex saw Sloane and cringed. “Woops.”
“Chirpy?” Sloane arched an eyebrow at Cael, holding back a laugh.
“You dick!” Cael’s murderous glare was at full strength, and Sloane was relieved it wasn’t aimed at him. For all his timidness, Cael could be pretty scary at times. “You swore you’d never call me that in public! I can’t believe you.”
“I didn’t know anyone was here!” Dex replied in a panic. “I’m sorry!”
Dex let out a dramatic gasp. “Judas! How could you?” He turned to Sloane, who was desperately trying not to laugh. “It’s not what you think.”
“It’s exactly what you think,” Cael said with a smug grin. “He tried to fuck the vacuum.”
“It was an accident,” Dex insisted.
Cael rolled his eyes. “Really? You were vacuuming your room, slipped, and ‘oh, look at that. Vacuum fell on my penis.’ Please.”
Sloane burst into laughter. He doubled over, covered his face with his hands, his shoulders shaking as he tried to control himself. Oh, fuck. He didn’t have words. The brothers continued to argue, until Cael gave in, apologized, and they made up. On the ride back to HQ, Sloane had to bite the inside of his cheeks to keep himself from breaking out into spontaneous laughter, especially since Dex sulked the entire way. That had been hours ago.
Now, he lay sprawled on his bed in his sleeper bay, staring at the ceiling. With Unit Alpha working overtime to find Isaac, squads were taking turns catching a few hours of sleep in the bays. It was easier to spend the night here than waste time going home, not to mention less dangerous. The THIRDS didn’t want any of their agents falling asleep behind the wheel. Not that Sloane’s apartment was far, and he could always take a cab. Unlike many other agents, Sloane really had no need to sleep here, but he found it comforting.