Blood & Thunder, page 23part #2 of THIRDS Series
“Take it easy. We won’t let that happen. Come on, Sloane. We can do this. Destructive Delta hasn’t left a case unsolved. I’ll be damned if this becomes the first. We’ll find Dr. Shultzon, and we’ll stop Isaac. But we can’t do it without our Team Leader.” Dex knelt before him, meeting his lover’s reddened gaze. “Shultzon believed in you. He might have helped you become the agent you are today, but that never would have happened if it wasn’t in you. I don’t know what hell you suffered, but the important thing is, you made it out, and you’re stronger for it.”
“Why do you do it?” The words were spoken so softly, Dex barely heard them.
“Believe in me like that. You don’t know any more about me than what I choose to show you, yet no matter what, you never lose faith in me.”
Dex smiled at him, his hand stroking Sloane’s arm. “You’re my partner, and because I care about you.”
“I… I need to go. Please.”
“Okay.” Dex nodded and stood, taking a step to one side, his hands shoved into his pockets. It hurt. It shouldn’t. Not this soon. Dex was screwed and he knew it. He watched Sloane head for the door and something in him broke. “Don’t go.”
Sloane stopped in his tracks, but didn’t turn around, didn’t speak.
“I know I should let you do whatever you need to do, whatever you’ve always done, but things are different now. You’re not alone anymore, Sloane. It’s not just about you. I know it sounds selfish, with everything you’re going through, and maybe it is, but I want to be there for you. I want to do whatever I can. I’m your partner, but… I’m also more than that, aren’t I? You don’t have to tell me everything. I won’t push you for answers. But please, stay. Don’t make me stand on the sidelines with everyone else.” Dex was exceptionally still, afraid if he made any movement at all, Sloane would disappear. He didn’t want to be on the outside looking in.
Dex held his breath, his teeth worrying his bottom lip. In his head, he prepared himself for disappointment. Months ago, when they’d been doing their dance around each other, Sloane had told him he’d grown up leaning on others, until they all left him and there was no one left to lean on except Ash. Sloane had grown accustomed to not needing anyone for anything until Gabe, and then Gabe was ripped from his life.
“You said it yourself. No matter what, I don’t lose faith in you. Well, maybe it’s time you have some faith in me. You know me. Whatever happens between us, you know I wouldn’t walk away from you, so please, don’t walk away from me.”
Sloane let out a shuddered breath and ran a hand over his face. He carried on to the door, and Dex’s heart plummeted. Not wanting to see him disappear, Dex went upstairs, his chest constricted. If Sloane couldn’t stay now, what possible future could they have together? Dex sat on the edge of his bed, trying not to give in to the sense of loss. Maybe that was the point. Maybe they had no future together. Was he really surprised?
The door closed downstairs, the sound reverberating through the silent house, and Dex cursed himself for being such an idiot, for ignoring the warnings in his head over and over. He leaned his elbows on his legs and let his head fall into his hands. Well, what else could he do but get on with it? He still had a job to do, and regardless of how Sloane felt about them, Dex wouldn’t give up on helping his partner through whatever hell storm awaited them. He got to his feet and froze.
“Sorry,” Sloane said quietly. “I was trying to think of something to say that wouldn’t result in you punching me in the face.”
“What makes you think I’d punch you?” Sloane wasn’t wrong. It was exactly what Dex wanted to do, but his stupid heart kept him from carrying through with it.
“No matter how hard I try to stay away, I keep coming back, and you let me.”
If the guy wanted an answer to his unspoken question of why Dex was allowing it, he wouldn’t be getting one, mostly because Dex didn’t have one. “Misery loves company, right?”
Sloane shook his head. “I don’t want you to be miserable, Dex. That’s why I keep pushing you away.”
For all his Team Leader’s smarts, sometimes he could be pretty damn thick. “If you haven’t noticed, that has the exact opposite effect.”
“I wish I could think of something better to say than ‘I’m sorry.’ I wonder how many times it’ll take before you stop believing me.”
“That won’t happen. I might tell you to take your sorry and shove it, but I won’t stop believing you mean it.”
Sloane chuckled, his smile the best thing Dex had seen in a long time. “Gotcha.”
Dare he ask? “So?”
“This is going to sound shitty, but I won’t lie to you. I can’t make any promises.”
“I don’t want promises. I want you to trust me and try. When that little voice in your head tells you to get out, you tell it to shut up, and instead of heading to the door, you turn your ass around, and you come to me. No more lone-wolf bullshit, or uh, lone jaguar.”
“Jaguars are loners by nature.” Despite his somber tone, Dex could see the smile in Sloane’s eyes, and it warmed his heart.
“Yeah, well, if you don’t change those spots, I’ll rearrange them for you.”
Sloane’s smile stole Dex’s breath away. He shoved his hands in his pockets and lowered his gaze to the floor, his cheeks somewhat flushed. His partner was looking like his old self more and more.
“Hey.” Dex held his hand out. “How about we get rid of some of this space between us?” He watched Sloane’s eyes shift to Dex’s hand before moving up to his face. A moment of hesitation, and in two strides, he had his hand in Dex’s.
“You really are amazing,” Sloane said, bending his head to Dex’s and kissing his lips. His mouth tasted of minty toothpaste, and Dex couldn’t help but melt into him, until he caught a whiff of his partner. He pulled back, scrunching up his nose. “I think maybe we should continue this in the shower. What do you say?”
“Deal,” Sloane laughed. He pulled Dex with him, when Dex’s cell phone buzzed.
Dashing over to the nightstand, he checked his phone. “Looks like we’re going to have to make this a quickie. Lieutenant Sparks is holding a briefing at eight sharp.” He put his phone down and turned to Sloane, noticing his partner’s unease. “Okay?”
Sloane smiled warmly and held his hand out to Dex. “I am now.”
With a skip in his step, Dex joined Sloane. Although they still had to work things out, for the first time in a while, Dex had hope. Sloane had stayed when everything in him had been pushing him to leave, he’d come back to Dex. One day at a time.
SLOANE SAT behind Dex in the briefing room, his chair closer than necessary and his leg discreetly pressed against Dex’s. The tiny gesture was enough to help him settle his nerves. His team—with the exception of Hobbes—along with Beta Ambush and Beta Pride, sat waiting for Lieutenant Sparks to begin her briefing. She finished consulting with Maddock before approaching the podium, the large screen behind her coming to life with an image of Dr. Shultzon. Dex’s leg shifted gently beside Sloane, offering comfort.
“The information I’m about to disclose is classified, with only the members of the teams in this room receiving security clearance to discuss it. This is Dr. Shultzon. You know him as Dr. Freedman. We believe Isaac Pearce has kidnapped him in order to gain access to classified THIRDS information regarding First Gen recruits.
“When the THIRDS was being structured, the Therian Department of Defense decided the best place to find recruits would be within the population of First Generation Therians. They were, after all, scientifically proven to be the first Therians with both stable DNA and the finalized version of the modifications initiated by Eppione.8. There isn’t much I can share about the THIRDS First Gen Recruitment Program, other than it, along with a secure facility, closed when the THIRDS had their agents, and the research into Therians was completed. Dr. Shultzon was one of a handful of doctors to hand select candidates and help them achieve their potential.
“There are files concerning the First Gen Recruitment Program that we cannot allow to fall into public view. It would be catastrophic for the THIRDS, damaging our reputation and the careers of all your First Gen fellow agents. We believe it’s this information Isaac has been after, and why he abducted Agent Morelli.”
Agent Taylor raised his hand.
“Was Morelli a First Gen Therian?”
“He was. Isaac Pearce abducted Agent Morelli in the hopes of being led to this information. As you all know, Morelli’s file included the CDC registration office where he was registered. Gaining access to Morelli’s file at the registration office led him to the Therian Youth Center where Morelli spent time before Dr. Shultzon found him and picked him up for recruitment. For security reasons, once the program ended, Dr. Shultzon was given a new identity. The youth center’s files were altered to reflect this change in identity, including Morelli’s file. It didn’t take long for Isaac to track down the doctor.” Lieutenant Sparks tapped the tablet before her, and the screen split into three, showing photographs and personal information on three Humans.
“Although Dr. Shultzon would have been trained to withstand torture, it’s come to our attention that he may have been compromised. He has a daughter and two grandchildren who we can confirm have been placed under twenty-four hour surveillance by Isaac Pearce. My guess is Isaac has threatened to harm them if he doesn’t get the First Gen files. Considering we haven’t heard anything in the news, it’s safe to say Isaac has yet to get his hands on the information. However, we must act quickly.”
Again, Taylor held his hand up, receiving a nod from the lieutenant. “Do we know who’s performing the surveillance?”
“Yes. These three Humans: Ennio Mortiz, Reggie Long, and Ian Sanders. I expect you to bring them in for questioning. They must have some way of communicating with Isaac. I can’t stress enough how imperative it is we recover Dr. Shultzon and stop Isaac Pearce from gaining access to the First Gen information. The research facility where what’s left of the information is stored is in a secure location and has been placed under lockdown. If anyone goes near it, we’ll hear about it. Agent Taylor, you and your team will be providing backup to Destructive Delta. Now move out.”
Finally, they were getting somewhere. Maddock joined Sloane who’d gathered their team, the rest of their backup around them waiting for orders.
“Cael, you’re our eyes in the BearCat with Maddock. Letty, Ash, you’re team one, you take Mortiz. Rosa, Calvin, you’re team two, you take Long. Dex and I will take Sanders. Agent Stone, Agent Taylor, I want you to divide your teams up into four groups, one to ride with Sergeant Maddock and Cael, the other three groups pick one of my teams and stay close. These guys aren’t going to go down without a fight. Watch your backs. Anyone runs into any trouble, call for backup. Let’s go.”
Once they got to the armory, they geared up and grabbed what they needed, the rest of their weapons locked securely in the back of their individual Suburban vehicles. Sloane climbed behind the wheel with Dex settling in beside him. They were close. Sloane could feel it. One of these Humans had to have a way of contacting Isaac. The doctor was too important for Isaac to leave the surveillance of the man’s family to any idiot. They had to be trusted.
Sloane drove through the wide tunnel leading out of THIRDS headquarters and out to the street, a convoy of black vehicles like theirs, along with the BearCat transporting Cael and Maddock bringing up the rear. As soon as they reached Second Avenue, the cars split up into two groups.
“Do we know where Sanders is?” Dex asked, logging into the Suburban’s console.
“See what Themis has on file for him.”
Dex tapped through the glowing blue tabs, bringing up Sanders’s file, personal information, and tabs to any relevant information associated with Sanders.
“Hells yeah. Themis has a GPS location. Looks like he’s parked on Eleventh Street, just off Second Avenue. Shit.”
“He’s parked across from a music school. The same one Dr. Shultzon’s grandson has piano lessons in.” Dex tapped away at the screen, cross-referencing the information with Shultzon’s family file. “The kid’s scheduled for a lesson right now.”
“Son of a bitch. Okay, hang on.” Sloane flipped on the lights and sounded the sirens. Taylor and the members of his team in the Suburban behind Sloane followed his lead. They were less than three minutes away.
The moment they turned onto Eleventh Street, Sanders’s Gray Corolla burned rubber. Sloane tapped his earpiece as he gave chase. “Sarge, we’re on Ian Sanders’s tail. He’s heading down Third Avenue. Taylor, you and your team secure Shultzon’s grandson. He’s inside the music school having lessons.”
“Copy that.” Taylor’s Suburban pulled back, as Sloane turned onto Third Avenue, maneuvering through heavy traffic after Sanders.
“We’re heading your way.”
Sloane turned onto East Ninth Street, honking at cars to get out of his way, and praying Sanders’s car didn’t cause a pileup as he fled. The closer they got to Broadway, the more traffic they came across.
“Goddamn construction! Son of a bitch! Move your ass!” Sloane yelled at no one in particular, slamming his gloved hand down against the horn, and having to swerve around the cars stopped at the red light at the intersection. Oncoming traffic slowed and stopped, some skidding to a screeching halt as Sanders turned left on Broadway. Sloane hit the gas on the Fire Lane, yellow cabs and cyclists darting out of their way. He had no idea where the hell Sanders thought he was going. The guy was driving fast, but he never got far from Sloane. Something in his gut twisted, but he ignored it. He was getting close. He could feel it.
“WHAT’S YOUR twenty, Sloane?”
Maddock’s voice came in over Sloane’s earpiece, and he hoped his team got there soon. The longer they followed Sanders, the more uneasy Sloane felt. “We’re following him up West Houston Street. Looks like he’s making a right on Hudson Street. I don’t know what the hell he’s got up his sleeve, but he’s slowed down.” As Sloane said the words, the car jolted forward. “Strike that. He’s on the move.” Sloane slammed down on the accelerator, making a left on Leroy Street, and another left onto Washington Street, speeding past an open parking garage on the left, and a large building—a mix of condominiums and businesses—on the right.
“He’s turning right on West Houston Street and the underpass.” Sloane made a sharp turn and slammed the breaks. “What the hell?”
“What’s going on?”
“He…. He disappeared,” Dex replied, turning in his seat to look around them.
“We’re heading your way. Watch your backs.”
“Copy that.” Sloane put the Suburban into reverse and backed up, turning onto Washington Street where they’d come from. He parked a few feet from the corner and turned off the engine, a deep frown on his face. “I don’t like this.”
“Me neither, but we can’t let this asshole get away. Come on.” Dex jumped out of the car and headed for the back with Sloane a few steps behind. He unlocked the back double doors, followed by the deadbolts on the heavy-duty weapons drawers. Dex grabbed his ballistic helmet from the side hook and put it on, securing the straps. Sloane did the same and tested his earpiece.
“Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear, partner.”
Sloane lifted his AR15 from its foam padding, and Dex stared at him wide-eyed. “You know something I don’t?”
“I don’t trust Isaac or anyone who’s with him. This guy led us here. For all we know, he’ll come at us with a fucking tank.” Sloane checked his rifle’s magazine before grabbing an extra three and securing them to his utility belt. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, right?”
Dex smiled at him. “Right.”
They finished gathering what equipment they needed, and Sloane secured the Suburban. As Dex turned, Sloane grabbed
“You be careful. You got me?” Dex nodded, and Sloane knocked his helmet gently against Dex’s, his chest feeling tight at his partner’s affectionate smile. “Okay. Let’s kick some ass.” Sloane went ahead of Dex, his rifle at the ready as he stayed close to the building and rounded the corner on Washington Street. Someone screamed and pedestrians started running, but Sloane ignored the commotion. He headed through the underpass with Dex close on his heels. It was dark, the only light coming from the red LED lights positioned above the garage doors. On the left hand side were three windows with burglar bars and the doors were all labeled. From the looks of it, some were warehouses while others were storage units. On the right hand side of the street, there was a solitary white van parked in front of a closed garage door. There was nothing but deathly silence around them.
Sloane was about to cross the street to what looked like a side entrance when the thundering sound of clanking metal echoed through the underpass, stopping him in his tracks. One by one, the garage doors across from them opened, and armed men in bulletproof vests emerged from the shadows.