Rack & ruin, p.19
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       Rack & Ruin, p.19

         Part #3 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  down the stairs and stood to find Ash staring at him.

  “What the fuck was that?”

  “I don’t know. Sounded like an explosion out—” Dex’s world came crashing down around him. No, please. “Sloane!” He bolted for the front door, not caring what dangers might be on the other side. All he could think about was getting to Sloane. He had to make sure he was all right. He prayed with all his might. Sloane had to be okay.

  “Dex, wait!”

  Dex threw the door open and was met with clouds of thick black smoke. The sidewalk in front of his house looked like a war zone, littered with debris and pieces of mangled car parts. The leaves of the tree out front were ablaze, and Dex coughed as he ran down the steps into the smoke. “Sloane!” Where the hell was he? Dex reached the sidewalk when Ash yelled from somewhere behind him.

  “Dex, get down!”

  Something hard slammed into Dex, the force knocking him to the ground and stealing the air from his lungs. His painful cry was drowned out by a harsh, agonized growl, and it took Dex a second to realize it had come from Ash. He didn’t know why the hell Ash was on him, but he had to get himself free. Dex pushed against the cold pavement, but Ash’s weight had him pinned. The familiar pings of bullets ricocheting around them echoed in Dex’s ears. His eyes stung and his lungs burned. The smoke and dust swirling in the autumn breeze made it hard to see and breathe. He lifted his head and spotted a dark lump under a piece of mangled door.

  “Sloane!” Dex pushed against the ground, screaming at Ash to get off. Tears sprang in his eyes and ran down his cheeks, blurring his vision. His chest hurt but no more than his heart. “Ash, get off! Sloane!” Why wouldn’t Ash let him go? Dex was briefly aware of sparks bursting around them, and only then did it occur to him they were being shot at. Ash dragged Dex with him, succeeding despite Dex fighting him every step of the way. He clawed and struggled, but Ash’s iron grip never faltered, and Dex found himself shoved up against a parked car with Ash huddled over him. Dex tried to push, but it was like trying to move a brick wall. His hand felt wet, and he stared dumbly at it. It was covered in blood. He dropped his gaze to find blood seeping from the gauze covering Ash’s healing stitches.

  The wailing of sirens intensified, and Dex watched in horror as a flurry of uniformed bodies rushed onto the scene. Firefighters assessed the situation before lifting the truck’s door off Sloane. There was blood everywhere, and he wasn’t moving. Dex could barely see through his tears as the EMTs turned Sloane over. His skin was smudged black and red from smoke and blood. Then Dex caught sight of the jagged piece of metal jutting out of Sloane’s side. An anguished cry tore through Dex, and Ash pulled him hard against him, thick biceps smothering him while a hand went to the back of Dex’s head to keep him from going anywhere.

  EMTs cut through Sloane’s shirt before starting CPR and chest compressions. An oxygen mask was applied, and they swiftly lifted Sloane onto a gurney. They were taking him away. No. They couldn’t take Sloane without him. Dex tried to push against Ash, but he was exhausted, his world darkening around him. He buried his face against Ash’s chest and clung to him, his heart breaking in two as he surrendered to his grief. How could this be happening? Then it struck him.

  “It should have been me.”

  Ash pulled him back enough to look into his eyes. “What?”

  Somehow Dex found the strength to meet Ash’s gaze, stunned by the guy’s tearstained cheeks. Dex’s voice was hoarse when he spoke, his throat feeling raw. “It should have been me.” He was supposed to have gone out to the truck. It should have been him caught in the blast.

  “No,” Ash said through his teeth. “That bomb was in my truck. It was meant for me.”

  Dex stilled. Ash was right. Most of the mangled and crushed steel were the remains of Ash’s truck. The pain in Ash’s expression matched the one in Dex’s chest. “Ash….”

  Ash pulled him close against his chest and buried his face in Dex’s hair, his words barely audible. “I know. I’m sorry, Dex. I’m so sorry.”

  Dex shook his head, but no words came out. All he could do was hold onto Ash as he watched the world burning and crumbling around him. He could hear the EMTs calling out to them, feel their hands on him as they tried to help. Right now all Dex wanted was to close his eyes and hide from everything and everyone. Beck Hogan had made a liar out of him. Violence was never the answer, but violence was the only thing that asshole seemed to understand. Dex opened his eyes and felt the darkness rising inside him. He told himself not to go there. He remembered the last time he’d felt this. He’d been five years old, and his parents had been taken from him. His anger, hatred, and confusion threatened to take hold of him, but Tony had taken his hand and pulled him back.

  Well Tony wasn’t here right now, and Dex was no longer that frightened little kid. He was a trained Defense Agent for the THIRDS. For Hogan’s sake, Sloane better live through this.

  Either way, Beck Hogan was going to pay.

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