Hell & High Water, page 6part #1 of THIRDS Series
“Hey, watch it.” Sloane stormed up to Dex who held his ground, his chin lifted defiantly. Rookie had nerve, but he needed to learn his place. Sloane grabbed him, hauled him off his feet and slammed him into the mat. “Stay the fuck down, if you know what’s good for you.”
Dex ignored him, his breath coming out heavy as he got back on his feet and threw a punch. Stupid little bastard didn’t know when to quit. Sloane ducked, grabbed Dex around the waist and once again slammed him back down on the mat. With a low groan, Dex rolled onto his side and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. Sloane wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand as he circled Dex. He’d lost count of how many times he’d dropped Dex, yet the guy kept getting back up. Granted, each time took a little longer than the last, but he pushed himself to his feet regardless. Sloane didn’t know whether to be impressed or aggravated.
“You’re not cut out for this, Rookie.”
Dex didn’t reply, simply glared at him. He charged Sloane with a growl, ducking under Sloane’s right hook and landing a jab to Sloane’s exposed ribs. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Sloane used the adrenaline pumping through his veins to keep going and bring his fists down onto Dex’s back. Dex hit the mat painfully, his head smacking against it.
Fuck. Sloane touched his ribs and winced. Damn, the rookie had gotten him pretty good. “Why don’t you stay down? It’s only going to get worse.”
With a humorless laugh, Dex rolled onto his back, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “Let me guess. This is the part where I’m supposed to go crying home to Daddy. “Ooh, my new partner hates me. Boohoo.” Sloane could see the strain on the rookie’s face as he struggled to stand, sucking in a sharp breath when he straightened. “Well fuck you. Here’s a little FYI for you. I would rather fucking bleed to death than give you the satisfaction, you prick.”
Sloane arched an eyebrow at him. “Charming.”
“I am fucking charming!” Dex shouted, his entire face going beet red. “I am the most charming motherfucker you will ever know, so kiss my perfectly perky ass!”
After some consideration, Sloane cocked his head to one side and shrugged. “I’ve seen better.”
“Oh, now you’re insulting my ass?”
Sloane opened his mouth when a booming voice came over the speaker system.
“Destructive Delta, please report to briefing room “A” in one hour as per Sergeant Maddock’s orders.”
“Looks like you were saved by daddy after all.” Sloane turned to his team and clapped his hands together. “Okay, hit the showers. See you upstairs.” Everyone headed out, and Sloane made his way to the towel rack. He grabbed himself one to wipe his face, and when he turned, he almost ran into Dex, his rig hanging from one hand.
“Well, let’s see it.”
Sloane threw his towel over his shoulder. “See what?”
“Are you asking me to go feral or whip out my dick?”
Dex looked like he was actually considering it. “Come on. I want to see the alpha beneath the asshole. We’ve got lions, and tigers, and….” Dex shifted his gaze to Sloane’s neck, a strange little smile coming onto his face as he looked back up at Sloane. “Jaguar. Oh my.”
Holy shit, the guy was serious.
Dex shrugged. “I don’t see what the big deal is. You’re my partner, we’re in a wide open space, and there are vending machines down the hall for post shift. We’ve got time before we need to get to the briefing room. It’s my turn to see what I’m dealing with.”
Sloane mulled it over. “Okay.”
“Sure.” Sloane circled Dex and crowded him, making him retreat until his back hit the wall. With his arms to the sides of Dex’s head, he watched Dex’s Adam’s apple bob as his new partner swallowed hard. Just as Sloane suspected, Dex was clearly having second thoughts about seeing the “big bad alpha.” He leaned in close, his lips inches away from Dex’s jaw as he inhaled deeply. “Do you know why jaguar Therians are the most lethal of the Felids?”
“My Therian bite has twice the strength of a lion’s. I can use a deep-throat, bite-and-suffocation technique where my fangs pierce through the temporal bones of your skull, right between your ears and pierce your brain.” Sloane gave a little demonstration with his fingers on Dex’s scalp, earning him a scowl. Sloane laughed then whispered in Dex’s ear. “I bet the only word you heard from all that was deep-throat.”
Dex lifted his chin, his eyes dropping once again to Sloane’s mouth before moving back up to meet his gaze. He licked his lips, his eyes clouding over. “Your pupils are dilated. Does that mean you want to fuck me or eat me? Because I might have a problem with one of those.”
Sloane congratulated himself on not letting his surprise show. Rookie definitely had some balls. He curled a hand around Dex’s neck and gave it a gentle squeeze, fully aware of the stirring in his groin. He chose to ignore it. “Next time a stupid idea occurs to you, keep it to yourself. I’m not here to perform tricks for you, and I sure as fuck am not your pet. You got me?”
“Got it.” Dex gave him a curt nod then held a finger up. “Question.”
“No.” Sloane pulled back and strode out of the training room with Dex on his heels. He did his best to ignore the guy, but he didn’t know what he found more disturbing—when the rookie wouldn’t shut up or when he actually did. Sloane glanced over, releasing a groan when he saw the wide grin on Dex’s face. “What?”
Dex gave a lazy shrug. “Nothing.”
“Why are you following me?”
“Because I prefer not to reek of stank during my first briefing and I don’t know where the showers are.”
Sloane eyed him suspiciously. Minutes ago, the guy had been about to hurt something cursing him out, and now he was acting like they were best buddies. “You are a very strange man.”
Dex beamed up at him. “I prefer the term ‘unique’.”
“Let’s agree to disagree.” With a shake of his head, Sloane continued across the lounge, murmuring the occasional acknowledgment to fellow agents who greeted him. On the other end of the facility were the locker rooms, and he was relieved to see Letty outside the males’ locker room waiting for him. She handed him the confirmation paperwork. Good, he could get Dex off his back for a few minutes until he finished showering.
“Here you go. Dex’s locker assignment.”
Sloane frowned at the number on the sheet of paper. “Seriously, Letty?”
Right next to his. Perfect.
Letty shrugged, though her eyes lit up with amusement. “What? It was the only one available.”
“Are you sure?” Maybe he could convince someone to swap with Dex. If all else failed, he could always make someone swap.
“Well, there is one.” Her troubled expression twisted his gut. “But I didn’t think you’d want me to give him that one.”
“Why?” Dex peered around Sloane’s shoulder at the paperwork. “What’s wrong with the other locker?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” Sloane snapped.
Dex threw his hands up and took a step back. “All right. Geez, you don’t need to bite my head off.”
“Keep acting like a jackass and next time I go feral I might.” Sloane shoved the paperwork at Dex and stormed into the locker room. He shouldn’t have snapped, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t like Dex being here. Maybe if the guy had been assigned to another team, things would have been different. They might have even gotten along. But Dex wasn’t on another team. He was on Sloane’s team, trying to replace Gabe. No one could replace Gabe.
In a foul mood, he got undressed and wrapped a towel around his waist, doing his best not to think about his partner. Of course that went about as well as all the other times he tried not to think about Gabe.
Beside him, Dex quietly went about opening his new locker, his brows drawn together thoughtfully as he put his boots in. “I’m sorry about the locker. I didn’t know it
Sloane didn’t reply, grabbed his toiletry bag and slammed his locker shut. When he turned to face Dex, the compassion in the rookie’s eyes sent a pang of remorse and sorrow through Sloane.
“I’m sorry about Gabe,” Dex added.
“If you crack one smartass joke about him, so help me….” The warning was a low, menacing growl, but he was relieved when Dex shook his head, his expression one of sincerity.
“I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about. I’m not that much of a jackass.”
Sloane nodded, feeling somewhat guilty for making the assumption, but then he was aware how defensive he was about Gabe regardless of who was talking about him. With nothing left to say, he left Dex to get undressed and headed for the showers. The rest of his team was already in there, laughing and joking as they washed the day’s workout off. Ash knew him too well by now, and his smile faded before he tilted his head in question. Sloane appreciated his friend’s concern, and gave him a reassuring smile. Ash Keeler might be an unbearable prick at times, but he was Sloane’s best friend and the only one who knew what he’d suffered.
Turning on the cold water, Sloane stood under it, letting it wash his tension away. His muscles welcomed the tiny spikes of cold liquid, and he brushed his hair away from his eyes, telling himself he needed a trim. He rotated his muscles, feeling himself relax until he heard him.
“Aw, private stalls? Where’s the fun in that?”
“Some of us’d rather not have our junk stared at,” Ash replied with a growl.
Sloane stepped out from under the showerhead and grabbed his shower gel, catching Dex’s eyes on him as Dex said, “Not staring, appreciating,” before turning his attention back to Ash, “and who doesn’t partake in a good gander every so often? If you’re gonna stand there and tell me you ain’t never sneaked a peek at another dude’s love truncheon, I’m calling bull-poopie.”
Calvin leaned his arms on the frosted glass divider, shaking his head at Dex. “I don’t know what I find more disturbing, your choice of vocabulary, or you in general.”
Dex laughed as he stepped into the empty stall between Cael and Sloane. Cael hadn’t batted an eyelash at his brother’s antics. Ash, on the other hand, turned to Cael in exasperation.
“Seriously, man, does your brother ever shut the fuck up?”
Cael paused, as if thinking. “No. Wait, when he’s asleep. Most of the time.”
“I love you, bro.” Dex reached out and pulled his brother over to plant a big kiss on Cael’s head, earning him a noise of disgust and a shove.
“Gross! We’re in the showers.”
Dex laughed off his brother’s horrified expression, turning on the shower and testing the temperature. “It’s not like we’re sharing one. That was when we were kids. You should have seen him. He was so cute. He had this teeny little—”
“What?” Dex blinked at his brother innocently. “I was only going to say penis.”
Sloane let out a choking noise and quickly turned away, putting a hand to his mouth to keep himself from laughing. That idiot. Calvin had no such luck and he burst out laughing.
Cael obviously wasn’t as amused as the rest of them. He gave his brother a murderous glare. “I hate you so bad right now.”
“I’m sure you’re not alone in that,” Ash pitched in.
“I’m messing with you. I’m sure your penis has grown way more since then.” Dex wriggled his eyebrows as he started lathering himself up, and Sloane forced himself to look away. Dex was not amusing, and he sure as hell was not cute.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ash shut off his shower and grabbed his towel to wrap around himself.
“Relax. We’re brothers. It’s what we do.”
Ash’s expression said he was underwhelmed. “I feel sorry for you, Cael, I do.”
“Hey,” Dex jutted his citrus shower gel at Ash. “You might have fallen for that I’m-so-adorable-I-should-be-in-a-boy-band look, but I grew up with him. I know the evil that lurks inside him. Did he tell you about the time he drugged me, shaved my head, and dyed the fuzz neon green? I went to the prom with my head looking like a giant tennis ball.”
“Oh yeah,” Cael chortled. “That was pretty funny.”
“Go Cael.” Ash and Cael bumped fists; Dex didn’t look pleased.
Is this what it was going to be like all the time? Usually it was Ash who was always getting on everyone’s last nerve. Looked like his best friend had some fierce competition in that department, and they all knew how much Ash loved competition. Fun-fucking-tastic.
“Sure, laugh it up. It’s all fun and games until you end up with tennis ball head.”
Cael shut off his shower, wrapped himself up and snatched his toiletry bag before turning to his brother with a deadpan expression. “Remember when I said I was glad you were here?”
“The novelty has totally worn off.”
Dex threw his head back and laughed. After rinsing himself off, he shut off the shower and gave Sloane a big grin. “I think I’m gonna like it here.”
God help them all.
“YOU COULDN’T stay put, could you?”
Dex followed Tony out of the elevator, eager to finally get a look at his workspace. He was far less anxious now than he had been before he met his team, though he had plenty of other concerns.
“I think it went well.”
“Well? It was a disaster! Your new Team Leader beat the shit out of you, which, by the way, is starting to become a disturbing habit.” Tony stepped to one side, that vein pulsing in his head, the same one that had been pulsing when he found Dex getting dressed in the locker room and not in the lounge as he’d instructed. After a few choice words, and after he sent the rest of the team to the briefing room to wait, Tony had looked at Dex, opened his mouth, then closed it, before marching off and barking for him to follow. “Do you think this is a joke? I stuck my neck out for you, and you couldn’t even wait for me to make the proper introductions?”
Dex frowned. “You act like you don’t know me. I like to do things my way because my way works. I’m not going to change who I am because I’m on the demolition squad. I appreciate what you’ve done for me, you know I do, and I’m grateful to be here, but you need to trust me. I know what I’m doing.”
“And what’s that?”
Dex met his hard-ass father’s gaze. “Trying to save your team from itself.”
“What are you talking about?”
With a discreet glimpse to make sure no one was within hearing distance, Dex explained. “Your team hasn’t healed, and your Team Leader is hanging by a thread.” Tony appeared to be momentarily stunned. Seeming to shake himself out of it, he motioned for Dex to continue. In the short time since he’d met his team, Dex had managed to pick up on a lot, and it concerned him, greatly. His new partner especially.
“You think Agent Brodie beat the shit out of me because he doesn’t like me? He beat the shit out of me because something about me got under his skin, and that pissed him off. He doesn’t want me here. If I stay, it means he has to leave Gabe behind, and he’s not ready to do that. It’s not about my being good enough. It was never about that. You can’t tell me the last six or so agents he’s run off didn’t know what they were doing. The guy practically punched my lights out for talking about Gabe’s locker for fuck’s sake.”
“Ash is a certified prick. He’s channeling his pain into anger that he takes out on whoever tries to step into Gabe’s shoes. Cael is in his own little world because he doesn’t want to face what happened. Calvin and Hobbs—I haven’t even heard Hobbs talk, does he talk?”
“He’s a Therian of few words. Come to think of it, I think I’ve only heard him talk maybe a handful of times since I’ve known him,” Tony murmured. “Anyway, get on with it.”
“Calvin and Hobbs are seriously codependent on each other
“And you managed to pick up on all that while being hung upside down by a fellow agent, getting yourself beat to shit by your new Team Leader and tormenting your baby brother in the showers?”
“Yes. I would have had more, but you know, I was momentarily distracted by all the soapy six-packs.”
“Fraternizing with your teammates is not permitted.”
Dex gave him a sly grin. “Who said I wanted to fraternize? I was thinking more along the lines of having hot, sweaty man sex.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Same thing.”
“No. If you don’t want your employees having sex with each other, you should say, ‘Don’t have sex with each other’, or ‘intercourse’, or ‘consummation’, or whatever ridiculous alternative you can come up with that initially means sexy-time.”
“I’m joking. I’m not going to have sex with any of my teammates, and since one of them is my brother, that only leaves the one who dislikes me, the one who really dislikes me, and the one who wants to push me in front of a moving bus.” Dex gave Tony a pat on the back. “I think we’re good.”
“Let’s get on with this. We have a briefing to get to.” They soon arrived at their previously waylaid destination. Unit Alpha. “Here we are.”
Dex guessed they were done talking about the team. He wanted to know what Tony was going to do—if anything—with the information he’d given him. Dex wasn’t trying to rat out his teammates, he was genuinely concerned. As the one with the least experience, he was the most vulnerable. As good as his teammates supposedly were, if the shit hit the fan, he needed to know they’d have his back.
Sloane Brodie was his biggest concern. The guy was capable, but it didn’t take a PhD to know Sloane had been hit the hardest by Gabe’s death, as was expected. Sloane and Gabe had been partners, working on and off the field, in each other’s hair day in and day out. They’d become close, probably even good friends. It wasn’t as if Gabe had been transferred—in Walsh’s case transferred to prison for doing something stupid—he was killed on the job. Dex was going to have to figure out how to handle Sloane. For now, he’d focus on Tony’s tour and making sure his new partner didn’t push him in front of a moving bus.
Unit Alpha took up the whole of the twenty-first floor and was as impressive as the rest of the building. On the other side of the thick glass doors sat an expansive marble reception desk with half a dozen receptionists consisting of three males and three females, an even number of Humans and Therians. With a friendly greeting exchanged between them, Tony led Dex past the desk to make a right down a wide hall with numerous closed doors on each side. After a right turn, they came to stand before a set of thick glass doors. It read “Defense Department” in bold white letters. Through there, Dex wasn’t surprised when he saw yet another set of glass doors, and on the other side, he could just about make out what appeared to be a bullpen, except unlike the Sixth Precinct’s bullpen, this wasn’t made up of desks, but rows of classy, thick glass-partitioned offices that stretched from floor to ceiling with a wide path down the center. Before they went into the Defense Department, Tony paused to point to the large hallway on the left.
“Down that way is Unit Alpha’s Intelligence Department, made up of eight hundred employees, all of which are divided up among Unit Alpha’s squads. Intel Agents are responsible for gathering, analyzing, and monitoring information using our Themis system.” He turned and pointed to the equally large hallway on the right. “Down that way is the Recon Department and its four hundred employees who are also divided among the squads. Recon handles all investigations. They’re also the only agents who work with both Intel and Defense. You’ll only be dealing with Recon.”
Tony put his hand to the panel and the doors to the Defense Department opened. Inside, soothing music played. To their right, the reception area was manned by two Humans and two Therians. Tony greeted them and introduced Dex. They were friendly, though a couple eyed him warily. Dex was on his best behavior, giving them a friendly smile and “hello.” Then, like busy little bees, they went back to work. To the left was a waiting area with seating, coffee tables, reading material, a flat screen TV playing some news station on “mute” with subtitles, and a refreshment area with coffee, tea, water, and accompaniments.
In the center of the floor, the THIRDS logo was once again proudly displayed. Tony came to a stop a few feet away from the second set of doors.
“There are a total of one hundred Defense agents broken down into fifty teams of two agents, which are then divided into the ten squads. Your squad is Destructive Delta. Each squad works with its own Intel and Recon teams. Your squad has been assigned sixty Intel and twenty Recon agents. Defense agents are the trackers and muscle. They provide backup for Recon out in the field, aiding investigations and taking the necessary action to neutralize any threats. They’re our sharpest and toughest. If there aren’t any immediate, large-scale threats, you and Sloane will accompany Cael and his partner on their high-risk cases. In between, you’ll be asked to handle everything from high-risk warrants, to barricaded subjects and extractions. Every quarter, you have to qualify in weapons and physical proficiency. When you’re not out in the field, you’ll be training or filling out reports.”
The double glass doors slid open as they approached. Inside, a wide path cut