Rise amp fall, p.11
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       Rise & Fall, p.11
 

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  have Sloane in his bed every night? Lou’s words rang in his ear and he frowned. Maybe Dex needed to rein himself in a little. Let Sloane set the pace. In the meantime, he needed to show Sloane how serious he was about them and their relationship, how much he loved him. Feeling a little extra sappy, he used the heart mold he’d bought during Valentine’s Day and made the pancakes heart-shaped.

  With breakfast cooked, Dex carefully arranged the layers of food on one of his Death Star dinner plates. He poured some orange juice in Sloane’s favorite Star Wars glass and grabbed the folding tray table from the storage drawer under the island counter. With great care, he arranged the cutlery on the folded napkin, placed the Darth and Storm Trooper salt and pepper shakers next, followed by the R2D2 syrup dispenser. My God, he really was an unbelievable nerd. But so was his partner, even if he was still somewhat in the closet about his nerdiness. Dex was working on fixing that.

  He carried the tray upstairs and into the bedroom as Sloane was returning from the bathroom. His partner looked at Dex, then the tray, then back at Dex.

  “Morning, Sunshine Bear.” Dex smiled brightly as he motioned over to the bed.

  Using one of his crutches, Sloane returned to bed, and Dex put the tray down on the dresser to help him.

  “I can do it,” Sloane grumbled, sitting down on the bed and propping the crutch up against the nightstand. He sat back and brought his left leg up, but he was forced to use his hands to lift his right leg.

  “How is it?” Dex asked.

  “It’s getting better. I’ve been getting up every few hours and walking around the room, with crutches obviously, but it feels like it’s getting stronger. Therapy starts next week.” Sloane shifted back, and Dex ran over.

  “Hold on. Let me prop your pillows up.” He didn’t want Sloane twisting his body too much. His Therian body might heal quicker than a Human’s, but his stitches still needed more time.

  Dex sorted out all of Sloane’s pillows, fluffing them up and arranging them before bringing the tray over. Once Sloane was settled, Dex placed the tray over his lap and kissed him, tasting a faint hint of minty freshness.

  Sloane stared down at the tray.

  “Is it okay?” Dex asked. Had he forgotten something? “Eggs benedict and pancakes are your favorite, right?”

  Sloane nodded.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “You made heart-shaped pancakes.”

  Dex held back a smile. “Are they too unmanly? Should I have made them grenade-shaped? I’m sure Letty’s got a mold for those.”

  Sloane chuckled. “No, hearts are fine. It’s real sweet. Thank you.”

  Dex sat down on the edge of the bed beside him. He ran his fingers through Sloane’s hair feeling guilty for having left him on his own last night. Sloane could take care of himself, even if he was injured, but his partner was drugged up and obviously feeling a little out of it, considering his reaction to the heart-shaped pancakes. Maybe it was time he took care of his partner like he’d promised he would.

  “Why don’t you eat your breakfast while I shower, and we’ll watch a movie or something together?”

  Sloane gave him a wide smile. “I’d like that.”

  Dex left Sloane to his breakfast and went off to shower as quickly as he could. Showering wasn’t as much fun without his partner. As he lathered himself up, a naughty thought occurred to him. He’d also promised he’d make his partner purr. Finishing up, he could barely hold back his smile or the heat spreading through him. Easy there, Daley. Don’t get yourself worked up yet. He dressed in his comfy cotton pajama bottoms and a loose faded Back to the Future T-shirt before heading out into the bedroom. Sloane was smiling, his plate devoid of any evidence food had ever been on there. Wow, his partner had been hungry. Really hungry. Starving. Sort of like after….

  “Please tell me you didn’t.” Dex removed the tray and put it on the floor against the wall. He pulled the blanket back and tried to lift Sloane’s T-shirt, but his partner slapped his hand away. “Sloane, let me see, damn it.” He grabbed Sloane’s wrist with one hand and managed to pull up the cotton shirt, cursing under his breath at the tiny beads of blood seeping through the bandage. “For fuck’s sake, did you try to shift?” When Sloane looked away, Dex had his answer. No wonder his partner was out of it. It wasn’t just the meds. Sloane hadn’t recuperated from postshift. Dex opened the minifridge and found it empty. “When?” He slammed the fridge door shut.

  “Last night. After you called,” Sloane mumbled.

  “Last night?” Dex put a hand to his head. Veggies and hummus were all well and good for Sloane’s Human side, but not for the Felid inside him. He needed meat, protein, and more than the packet of sliced chicken Dex had left him in the fridge. “Fuck. Sloane, you know you’re not supposed to attempt shifting. The doctor said so, and it’s in the packet. To make matters worse, you do it when there’s no one here to perform postshift trauma care? With no access to the right foods? What were you thinking?”

  “I’m thinking I need to fucking heal, and if that’s the quickest way to do it, then it’s a risk I’m willing to take!”

  Sloane’s ferocity surprised Dex, and he took a step back. His partner’s pupils were dilated and his fangs slightly elongated. Fuck, what the hell was going on? It was like Sloane was having trouble controlling his feral side. Dex could see it. He could see the Felid inside Sloane staring back at him from behind glowing amber eyes. Could the meds be doing this? The recovery packet the doctor had given them specifically instructed Sloane not shift while he was healing, especially while on his meds.

  “Okay, take it easy. It’s me.” Dex held his hands up in front of him and swallowed hard, aware of the telltale signs. “There’s no hurry for you to heal, Sloane. It’s okay.”

  “It’s not okay,” Sloane snarled, his fingers flexing against the sheets and his nails starting to grow. Fuck. Oh fuck.

  “Sloane, you need to breathe. Calm down.” Dex slowly edged away from the bed. Why was this happening? Sloane had never lost his grip on his Felid side. Not to mention he’d yet to fully recover from his first attempt. “Please, Sloane. Your body’s not healed from the first try. Who knows what a second attempt will do?”

  There was no reply from Sloane. He was gritting his teeth, his face red, and his muscles straining.

  “Sloane, you need to stop.”

  “I can’t.” Sloane lowered his head, his fierce gaze on Dex.

  “Why?”

  “To protect you!”

  Dex gasped as Sloane let out a roar, his body starting to shift. What the hell was Dex supposed to do? He’d never faced a Therian who’d lost control of his Human side, much less an Apex predator. Quickly, he backed up against the far wall, cringing as Sloane’s cries of agony filled the room. Sloane tore at his clothes, pulling his T-shirt and pajama bottoms off before his mass shifted, bones popped, and fur pierced his skin. Dex reached into his pocket and with shaky hands placed a call.

  A gruff voice answered. “What do you want?”

  “Ash, you have to help me.” The panic in his voice must have been clear, because Ash’s tone instantly transformed from its usual gruffness to concern.

  “What’s going on, Dex? Talk to me.”

  “It’s Sloane. He’s shifting, but it’s not… not normal. He tried last night but couldn’t complete the transformation. Then we got into an argument, and it’s like he’s lost it. I don’t think he’s in control. How is that possible?”

  “Hide.”

  “What?”

  “Hide somewhere he can’t get to you. I’m on my way. I’ve still got my key to your place.”

  Ash hung up, and Dex shoved his phone in his pocket. Where the fuck was he supposed to hide? When he moved his gaze to the bed, he stilled. There was no time for hiding. The huge black jaguar lay in the center of the bed, his tail thumping against the headboard. He sniffed the sheets, then the air before his gaze landed on Dex.

  “Sloane?”

  Sloane let out
an angry hiss, baring lethal fangs. Fangs capable of piercing a man’s skull. He jumped off the bed and howled when he hit the floor, falling over onto his right side. Dex’s instinct was to go to him, but he caught himself before Sloane could notice. There was no telling how much of his partner was in control. Had it been any other feral Therian, Dex would have done whatever was necessary to neutralize the threat. But this wasn’t any feral Therian: it was his partner, his best friend, his lover. Dex didn’t want to hurt Sloane, but what if Sloane tried to seriously hurt him, or worse? Dex quickly shoved the thought aside. He’d figure a way out of this. He had to.

  Sloane twisted and craned his neck to look back at his right leg, hissing at it. When he stood, his leg trembled, and he ended up balancing on his other three legs. It wasn’t enough to slow him down. He hissed at Dex and limped toward him.

  Okay, calm down. You can do this.

  The THIRDS Therian-Human Relations class had prepared him for this. Sort of. Oh my God, no it hadn’t! The class had taught him about bonds between Human and Therian agents. It hadn’t taught them what to do if their partner went feral. It wasn’t something that happened. Any problems with a Therian agent’s psych evals were immediately addressed, and as far as Dex knew, Sloane’s evals were unquestionable.

  Dex quickly considered his options. Sloane was hurt, which meant his response time wouldn’t be as quick. There were several postshift trauma care kits with sedatives around the house, none of which were within his reach right now. Awesome. The bathroom was too far away for him to run to, and it was behind Sloane, so that was out of the question. He’d never make it to the closet in time, and it would mean taking the chance of turning his back on Sloane, which was a big no-no. There was only one option. Slowly, he edged toward the bedroom door, backing away through it and into the hall with his hands in front of him. Sloane watched his every move but remained still. If Dex could make it downstairs, he could hide in the pantry or the basement. Hell, even jump on the counter. Jump. With Sloane’s back leg still weak, his partner might not be able to jump as high as he normally would.

  There was a series of growls and screams from downstairs, followed by a roar that reverberated through the house. Ash.

  Dex made the mistake of glancing toward the stairs, and he paid the price. He was knocked onto his back by Sloane’s heavy mass, and he banged his head hard against the carpet. Quickly, he tried to scramble back, only to have Sloane claw at him. Dex rolled out of the way, though not before the tips of four razor-sharp claws brushed his forearm, leaving behind a painful sting and tiny beads of blood. Shit, Sloane had clawed him! There was another roar from Sloane when a huge body landed over Dex. Ash stood over him in his lion Therian form, his amber eyes following Sloane’s movements. Some sort of hissing contest followed with Sloane looking mighty pissed off as a result.

  Sloane clawed at Ash, catching him on the side of his jaw and drawing a thin line of blood. Ash roared, but he didn’t swipe back at Sloane. Instead he ducked his head and moved out of the way every time Sloane pawed at him. Ash let out a series of low growls and mewls, but he didn’t roar or bare his fangs at Sloane. He also didn’t back away from Dex, who was feeling like a tiny kitten among huge lethal Felids. Was his partner finally backing off? The rest happened so fast, Dex almost got whiplash. Sloane lunged at Ash, managing to knock him off Dex and over the first step. With a series of roars and growls, Ash went rolling down the stairs.

  “Ash!” Dex managed to get himself to his feet and checked the stairs, relieved when he saw Ash push himself to his paws at the bottom of the stairs, shaking his massive head and mane. Thank God he was okay. Dex wished he could say the same thing about himself. A low growl behind him had him turning slowly. He backed away from the stairs with Sloane following.

  “Sloane, stop,” Dex stated firmly.

  Sloane ignored him, corralling Dex and backing him up toward the wall like he was Sloane’s prey, which considering the circumstances and Sloane’s possible cognitive absence, was likely true.

  “Stop it right now!”

  Sloane hissed, and Dex freaked out. In one of his momentary brain farts, he smacked Sloane across his muzzle. Oh. My. God. What the fuck had he done?

  Sloane sneezed and shook his head. His ears flattened and a low feral growl rumbled from deep inside his chest. Dex stood motionless, holding his breath as he watched Sloane. A roar shook the hallway, and Sloane clawed at Dex’s pajama bottoms, tearing through them and jerking him off his feet. Ash roared from the stairs as he approached, but Sloane was already looming over Dex, fangs inches away from his neck.

  “Stop.” Dex’s voice came out shakier than he’d intended. A part of him knew Sloane wouldn’t hurt him, but the other was feeling the sting left behind by Sloane’s claws. Dex forced himself to look into Sloane’s glowing amber eyes. With a shaky hand, he reached out and put it to Sloane’s soft fur. “I know you’re in there somewhere. It’s me. It’s Dex. You remember me, right? The crazy guy who eats Cheesy Doodles and makes you heart-shaped pancakes? Who quotes Indiana Jones movies with you, drives you up the wall with his big-hair-band music and thinks you’re the most amazing guy he’s ever met? Remember him?”

  Something flashed through those pools of amber before Sloane nudged his head against Dex’s, and he let out a low mewling, almost wailing. It broke Dex’s heart. It sounded almost pained. Dex wrapped his arms around Sloane’s thick neck and held him, patting him gently as he murmured words of comfort. Sloane dropped down onto the floor beside him, one paw over Dex’s chest as he nuzzled him and bumped his head against Dex’s. A big sandpapery tongue proceeded to lick Dex on the side of his head, making him chuckle. At least until Sloane licked his ear.

  “Dude! Again with the ear!” He shoved Sloane playfully away, then rolled over to scratch Sloane’s belly, laughing when Sloane wiggled on the carpet and pawed at him—without the claws this time, purring like a big housecat. Sloane rolled over and pushed his wet kitty nose against Dex’s, his eyes shut in contentment. They bumped their heads together, unmoving for a few breaths. Dex wondered if Sloane was as relieved as he was. It had been one hell of a close call, but he was too glad to have his partner back to turn Sloane away. He got up and saw Ash sitting serenely by the stairs watching them.

  “Thanks, Simba.”

  Ash let out a chuff and padded into the bedroom with Sloane limping behind him. Dex followed the two inside, smiling at the two friends as they playfully bumped heads and pawed at each other. Sloane nuzzled his head under Ash’s chin, both purring like chainsaws.

  “You two are so adorable,” Dex said, as he walked over to the bathroom to get his Therian first-aid kit. He left the two Felids to make up and tended to his arm. The scratches weren’t deep, but they were definitely going to leave a mark. Was it weird he kind of liked the idea of being marked by Sloane? There were a lot of Therian chasers out there who loved getting clawed, sporting Therian scars proudly. But Dex didn’t see it as a kink. More like… he was bonded to Sloane’s Felid side now as much as he was bonded to his Human side.

  Once he’d finished disinfecting the scratches and applying a bandage, he walked out and sat down on the bed, feeling his legs shaky now that the whole ordeal was over. Two huge Felids sat in his bedroom watching him. Sloane padded over and leapt up beside him. He put his head on Dex’s lap and mewled.

  “It’s okay, buddy.” Dex scratched Sloane behind the ear. Checking his partner’s injured side, he was relieved to see there was no blood. Actually, he couldn’t see any sutures. Had the shift healed Sloane’s wound? It hadn’t healed his leg, though it seemed a little stronger than before. But as far as the surgical incision, Dex couldn’t find any trace of it. Of course, inside it might be another matter, but on the outside, there was only a long thin line of a scar.

  “Okay, guys. I think it’s time to shift back.” Ash made to leave when Dex got to his feet. “Whoa there, mister. Where do you think you’re going?”

  Ash turned his big furry head toward Dex an
d hissed.

  “Hell no. You’re not going home in your state. You need postshift trauma care, and I’m going to give it to you.” He jutted a finger at the bathroom. “Get your Aslan ass in there. There’s towels and a couple of robes behind the door.”

  Releasing a huff, Ash headed for the bathroom. Dex followed to make sure he was all right. Before he closed the door, he knelt down in front of Ash.

  “Hey, thank you.”

  Ash wrinkled his muzzle before looking away, as if he was thinking. Then he turned his head and snuggled Dex’s face, giving his chin a lick.

  “Ew, gross,” Dex laughed. “Don’t worry, big guy. It’ll be our secret. No one would believe me anyway.” Dex petted Ash before getting up and closing the door behind him. With hands on his hips, he shook his head at his partner who was rolling around on the sheets. “Seriously dude? ’Cause your scent isn’t already all up in here?”

  Sloane purred, and Dex rolled his eyes. He walked over to the bed whose sheets were now a rumpled mess, and playfully tugged at his partner’s ear. “You. Shift. Now.”

  With a moan, Sloane stopped frolicking, and Dex headed downstairs. Between the screams in his bathroom and the ones in his bedroom, his neighbors either thought someone was getting killed, or he was having one really fucked-up orgy. While Sloane and Ash shifted back to their Human forms, Dex quickly gathered supplies from his pantry and fridge. In a reusable shopping bag, he chucked bottles of Gatorade and some protein bars. He grabbed a couple of huge steaks from the fridge and cooked them up rare the way Sloane and Ash liked them. While those were cooking, he gathered up Ash’s discarded clothes from the living room and stuck them in a second grocery bag.

  The steaks were done in no time. With a bag of supplies hanging off each arm and a tray containing a plate with two steaks weighing about as much as Cael did, Dex headed up to the bedroom. Sloane and Ash were sitting on the edge of the bed in robes looking like they had a bad hangover.

  “All right, guys. Time for munchies.” He made his way over to Sloane first and helped him drink down his bottle of Gatorade before he helped Ash do the same. As soon as they were done, the protein bars came next, followed by the steaks. Dex sat on the floor with his legs crossed watching the broody and surly agents acting like a couple of big kids who’d gotten ouchies. They were grumpy and moaning, telling each other off as they ate. Dex found the whole thing incredibly amusing. Sloane would definitely need a good rest after this, and Ash looked like maybe he could do with a few Z’s himself.

  As soon as the two were done eating and Dex had cleared the plates away, he came in with the Therian first-aid kit and took out a couple of disinfecting pads. He tried to put one to Ash’s jaw where Sloane had nicked him with one of his claws, but Ash swatted Dex’s hand away.

  “Fuck off, Daley. You’re not my nursemaid.”

  “No, he’s my nursemaid,” Sloane grumbled, giving Ash a weak push before taking hold of Dex’s wrist and pulling him over to stand in between his legs. He wrapped his arms around Dex’s waist and held him close. “Get your own.”

  Ash shook his head in shame. “You’re so whipped, man.”

  Sloane let out a snort. “Whatever. Like you’re not wrapped around Cael’s little finger.”

  “Shut up.”

  “No, you shut up.”

  “You pushed me down the fucking stairs,” Ash grumbled.

  “I said I was sorry,” Sloane huffed. “What do you want, a cuddle? Do you want a cuddle, Ash?”

  “No.”

  “Good, because you’re not getting one.” Sloane rubbed his face against Dex’s T-shirt. “Mm, you smell good.”

  Right. Clearly the two hadn’t fully recovered. “Children, please.” Dex ran his fingers through Sloane’s hair and gave his brow a kiss. “Finish your juice boxes, and then it’s time for a nap.”

  “I’m going home.” Ash got up, grabbed the bag with his clothes, and started to get dressed. Having Ash naked in his bedroom was beyond disturbing. The guy had absolutely no modesty. When he was done, he called Dex over. “Help me downstairs. I’ll call a cab outside.”

  “I can drive you,” Dex offered, receiving a shake of his head from Ash.

  “Just help me downstairs.”

  Weird, but okay. He accompanied Ash out of the bedroom, wondering why Ash had asked for his help if every time he tried to take Ash’s arm, the guy told him to fuck off. Giving up, he followed Ash downstairs and to the door, startled when Ash pulled him closer.

  “Um….” Hello, Weirdsville.

  “Keep an eye on him,” Ash said quietly. “If it happens again, call me.”

  Dex eyed him. “You know something.”

  Ash looked like he was considering not telling Dex, but something in Dex’s expression must have made him change his mind because he let out a heavy sigh. “It happened once to a Defense agent years ago. First Gen. He lost it while in his Therian form. Ended up injuring some of his teammates. Almost killed one of them.”

  “Jesus, what happened to him?”

  “These huge-ass dudes tranqed him and took him away. We were told he was fine, recuperating somewhere, but I don’t know. We never heard from him again. Either way, I’m not letting the same thing happen to Sloane. You might want to consider talking to Shultzon at some point. The guy knows more about First Gens than anyone, especially us.”

  “Okay.” Shit. He hated to admit it, but there was still so much he didn’t know about the THIRDS or First Gens. Their DNA was supposed to be stable. First the purring while in Human form, now this.

  “And if you insist on going through with tonight, call Rosa. Ask her to come stay with him. I don’t think he should be on his own.”

  They finally agreed on something. “I will. See you tonight.”

  Ash gave him a nod and was off.

  Dex was glad he had the rest of the day to spend with Sloane before the meeting. He really didn’t want to leave tonight, but he was eager to get this damn case over with. He’d give Rosa a call later. Right now, all he wanted was to be in Sloane’s arms. He took the stairs two at a time and stopped in the doorway. Sloane was lying against his pillows, dressed once again in his pajama bottoms and T-shirt. The bed was still rumpled, but Sloane had obviously smoothed the sheets as best he could. He was gazing up at the ceiling, his eyebrows drawn together with worry. At least he’d recovered from postshift trauma. Seeming to sense him, Sloane met his gaze and patted the mattress beside him.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “No.” Dex shook his head and climbed onto the bed. “We’re not going down that road, okay? Clearly whatever happened was because of me. I’m not surprised I’ve pushed you that far.”

  “Not funny,” Sloane muttered, frowning at him.

 
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