Rise amp fall, p.2
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       Rise & Fall, p.2
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         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  “Wait.” The doctor frowned thoughtfully. “Daley. I’ve seen you on the news. You testified against your Human partner.”

  “My claim to fame,” Dex replied dryly.

  “I apologize. I didn’t mean anything by it. I thought I recognized you. Considering the options, I’d rather deal with the THIRDS than the HPF. No offense.”

  “None taken.” He hadn’t exactly left on friendly terms. Still, he’d had a good run there. He wasn’t about to throw away ten years of good work over a bunch of bureaucratic douchebags. “They’re not all bad, but unfortunately the assholes are usually the ones who speak the loudest.”

  The doctor chuckled. “Preaching to the choir, Agent Daley.”

  They walked down the ICU and stopped outside one of the rooms where Dex used the hand-sanitizer dispenser on the wall despite having scrubbed himself from head to toe. The glass sliding door was closed, and the white curtain with a blue and pink pattern was drawn, preventing him from seeing inside. He toed off his shoes and nudged them to the side so no one would trip over them before he reached for the large button that would open the door. He hesitated. Whatever he expected, it would undoubtedly appear worse. Dex reminded himself about everything his partner had been through in his life, no matter how bad, he’d persevered and he’d do it again. He held on to that. The doctor placed his hand on his shoulder, his gaze sympathetic.

  “Your partner’s a fighter, but he’s going to need your strength.”

  Dex nodded, his lips pressed together to keep himself from giving in to the turmoil bubbling up inside him. With a small smile, the doctor gave his shoulder one last squeeze before walking off, leaving him on his own.

  Well, he couldn’t stand out here all day. Bracing himself, he pressed the button and waited for the door to slide open before he parted the curtain and slipped inside. There was a male nurse with his back to Dex as he checked Sloane’s vitals.

  “Excuse me,” the young Therian said before turning and slipping past him.

  Dex thought maybe he recognized the nurse, but it was out of his mind the moment his eyes landed on Sloane.

  “Jesus.” He wiped a hand over his face in an attempt to compose himself. It was growing more difficult with each breath he took. Stepping up to Sloane’s bed, Dex stood, attempting to take it all in. He’d known what to expect, but seeing Sloane laying there in such a state…. It was a sucker punch to his heart. The left side of his handsome face was swollen and covered in bruises. The purplish blotches continued down his neck and disappeared under the hospital gown, the blue of which was a stark contrast against his tan skin, skin that was scratched to hell. There were IVs and tubes sticking out all over, while the hum of machines and beeping monitors resounded through the otherwise silent room. Dex had seen worse during his career, but on the job, he found ways to cope. When it was someone he loved fighting for his life, how the hell was he supposed to cope with that?

  He dragged a cushioned armchair over to Sloane’s bedside and took a seat, refusing to lose his composure. Sloane needed him to be strong. When his partner regained consciousness, who knew what the doctor would find? Dex could only hope for the best. He couldn’t afford to think about anything else.

  “Hey, Beautiful.” Dex wanted to touch him but was hesitant to. He’d never seen Sloane like this, and he was finding it difficult figuring out what to do. The bed had been adjusted for Sloane’s comfort and raised at a low angle, making it possible for Dex to see the terrible shape he was in. How could a Therian so tough look so fragile?

  Many Humans feared and despised Therians, felt threatened by them and their abilities, believed them to be unsusceptible to Human flaws. Therians might be resilient, but they were hardly immune to pain, illness, or death. They weren’t perfect, and yes, there were Therians who felt they were superior to Humans, but in Dex’s opinion that only went to prove that although the mutation in their DNA made them physically different, on the inside, they were as fallible as Humans.

  Dex lifted Sloane’s hand to his lips for a kiss and shut his eyes tight against the tears threatening to burst free. Hold it together, Rookie. He smiled despite the situation. The word had become a term of endearment when spoken by Sloane. What he wouldn’t give to hear that low, gravelly voice or see those soulful amber eyes. He tried not to give too much thought to their future, considering his tendency to move too quickly, but at times silly notions would slip into his head. Like them living together, spending the rest of their lives together. Being a family.

  “You have to be okay. I need you to be okay. Hell, I just need you. You promised me an afternoon in bed, remember?” A tear rolled down his cheek, and he swiftly wiped it away. It’s okay. Breathe. Just this morning he’d stood in Sloane’s arms, smiling up at those sparkling eyes. They’d teased each other and laughed before Dex all but melted against Sloane like he always did when Sloane kissed him. He’d been stupidly happy. Everything had started to feel normal again after the last few months. And now…. He put Sloane’s hand to his lips again and kept it there, his eyes shut tight as another tear escaped. It would be okay. The doctor had said so himself. Sloane was a fighter.

  “I need you to be okay, Sloane. Please. I don’t know if you can hear me. You probably can’t, but I’ll say it anyway. I love you. I love you, and you can’t leave me.”

  A tap at the window scared the hell out of him, and he gingerly returned Sloane’s hand back to the bed. Damn it, he’d forgotten to close the curtain when he’d come in, and now his father stood outside looking pretty pissed. Shit. He hadn’t expected his dad to come back so soon. Cursing himself for being so careless, he grabbed a gown from one of the hooks on the wall and slipped into it, followed by a plastic cap. Sloane’s vitals were at normal levels, and Dex didn’t want to be the cause of his lover getting an infection. Once he was done, he left the room, closed the door behind him, and faced his father. When he spoke, he tried to sound casual.

  “Hey. Everything okay?”

  Tony pursed his lips, his stern gaze on Dex. Oh God. He knows. Of course he knows. What the hell had made Dex think he could keep his relationship a secret from his dad? He’d never been able to keep anything secret from him. He could count on one hand the number of things he’d gotten away with in his childhood without his father finding out about it at some point. Tony was a sergeant at the THIRDS, for Christ’s sake. If his dad didn’t know something, he was either being purposefully oblivious or not interested enough to poke around. Dex’s best course of action was to remain calm, silent, and still. After an excruciating moment, Tony’s expression softened.

  “Yeah. Everything’s fine. How are you holding up?”

  Dex nodded, feeling the sting behind his eyes. Was his dad covering for him? He had to be. It wouldn’t be the first time Tony had put his boys before everything else, including the job. Hell, it’s what had gotten him recruited to the THIRDS after adopting Cael. The thought of what his dad might be doing for him, plus Sloane lying in the room behind him, had Dex blinking several times in an attempt to keep it together. It wasn’t like his dad hadn’t seen him cry before, but Dex was afraid if he started, he wouldn’t be able to stop.

  “Son….”

  The soft-spoken word broke Dex. He stepped into his father’s open arms and let the tears fall. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried like this. How long had everything been building up? The last few months had pushed him hard, but he’d put his game face on and did what he had to do to keep on keeping on. He’d always been good at keeping his chin up, finding a reason to smile even if inside he was screaming. Since joining the THIRDS, he’d been kidnapped, beaten up, shot, almost blown up, and now this. If it hadn’t been for Sloane taking those keys from him, it would have been Dex caught in the explosion.

  “It should have been me….”

  Tony pulled back and took hold of Dex’s face. “Stop it. I know Sloane. He would have done everything in his power to keep you safe. Forget about what should or could have been, and think abou
t how you’re going to be there for your partner when he wakes up. He’s going to need you to look after him, and we both know, with everything Sloane has been through in his life, he deserves someone good looking after him, even if he’s too pigheaded to admit it. Okay?”

  “Yeah.” Dex sniffed and took the tissue his dad handed him. He blew his nose before chucking it in the bin next to the door. His ears were hot, his throat sore, his eyes stung, and his head hurt. He was forced to breathe through his mouth because his nose was stuffed. God, he was such a mess. He turned and stepped up to the window to observe Sloane. Tony came to stand beside him, put an arm around his shoulders, and pulled him in close.

  “He’ll be okay, but like I said, he’ll need his partner. That’s why I came here. With Hogan and his crew still out there, Sloane is in a vulnerable position. I think it would be a good idea for you two to stick together. Maybe have him stay at your place while he recovers. I don’t like the idea of him in his apartment alone. There are too many entry points in and around the building. Place is a tactical nightmare. Your street’s been cleared, and Hogan’s not dumb enough to strike the same place twice. Plus we’ll have someone on protective detail close by just in case.”

  “You really think it’s necessary?” Would Hogan really try to come back and finish the job? The bomb hadn’t been intended for Sloane. If anything, Ash was the one who needed to watch his back.

  “We’re not taking any chances.” Tony pulled Dex close and gave the top of his head a kiss. “Be good. I’ve got a shitload of reports to file and a meeting with Sparks. Call if you need anything. Cael’s at your house grabbing your overnight bag. He’ll be dropping it off in the next hour or so.”

  “Thanks, Dad. I really appreciate it.”

  “Any time, Son.” Tony gave him one last squeeze before walking off and Dex stood there for a moment watching him go. He wondered if his dad would broach the subject of Dex’s relationship with Sloane once everything had settled. The rules against fraternizing with members of your own team were clear, though from what he’d heard, few agents actually adhered to it. They were just good at keeping quiet about their extracurricular activities. Dex doubted he and Sloane were the only ones using the sleeping bays to do more than sleep. With how much time agents spent in the field and on the job, relationships were bound to happen. It was when those relationships interfered with the job that the no fraternizing rule wiped the floor with them.

  Dex used the sanitizer dispenser again before going in. This time, he remembered to close the curtain. He returned the cap and gown to their hooks before resuming his previous post beside Sloane’s bed. As he made himself comfortable, he thought about how he’d run after Sloane when the explosion went off. He’d been reckless and stupid. If his dad had been there, Dex would have been in deep shit. With a heavy sigh, he sat back and ran a hand through his damp hair. He’d had this conversation with Sloane. How they couldn’t allow their personal relationship to interfere with their job. What if his relationship with Sloane impaired his judgment? Could he be trusted to make the right call when the bullets were flying? He closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts. Maybe he was still a rookie, but he was hardly inexperienced. He could do this. Who the hell wouldn’t be caught off guard by an explosion outside their house midmorning? Exhaustion soon claimed him, and he fell asleep.

  When he woke up, it took him a moment to remember where he was. He sat up and found someone had draped a blanket over him. He’d have to remember to thank the nurses. Feeling groggy, he pulled the blanket up to his chin and tried to get cozy, his gaze instinctively landing on Sloane to check on him.

  Sloane’s eyes were open.

  “Sloane?” Dex tamped down his urge to jump from his chair and instead gingerly stood, not wanting to startle his partner. Tenderly, he brushed his fingers down Sloane’s cheek—the side not covered in bruises and nasty scrapes. “Hey, handsome.”

  Sloane blinked slowly, his lids heavy and his eyes dazed. He seemed to be staring at nothing in particular. His brows drew together, and Dex waited with baited breath. At one point Sloane closed his eyes, and Dex thought he was out again, but a couple of heartbeats later and Sloane was looking right at him. His lips parted, and a barely there “hi” made it out. It was the most amazing greeting in the history of greetings. Dex’s reply was nearly as quiet.

  “Hi.”

  “Thirsty,” Sloane rasped.

  Dex quickly poured some water into one of the little plastic cups beside the pitcher on the side table along with a small straw. He placed the straw to Sloane’s lips with care and Sloane sipped. A few swallows later, and Sloane gave him a small nod. Dex returned the cup to the side table before gently running a hand over Sloane’s head, making sure to be careful. Who knew how much bruising there was.

  “How do you feel?”

  “Like shit,” Sloane murmured. He looked like he was trying to fight through the haziness. He’d most likely be falling back asleep any moment. Dex pulled his chair up close and leaned in to put his hand to Sloane’s cheek.

  “You’ll be okay,” Dex said, smiling when Sloane turned his head so he could nuzzle Dex’s hand. He closed his eyes and let out a soft sigh.

  “Stay.”

  Dex felt a lump in his throat. “I’m not going anywhere,” he promised.

  Sloane hummed before nodding again. “Good. Need you.” His features softened as he drifted off, but not before he said one more word. “Always.”

  Dex thought back to the night of the Coalition trade when Ash had been shot.

  “You okay?” Dex asked Sloane, knowing this couldn’t be easy for him.

  “No, but I’ll manage. Right now, I think you should take Cael home to your place. He’s going to need you. He’ll want to go to the hospital once the shock wears off.”

  “What about you?”

  Sloane gave him a small smile. “I always need you.”

  Dex leaned over to kiss Sloane’s brow. “Always.”

  Twice now Sloane had told Dex he always needed him, and both times the admission had knocked Dex for a loop. Not that he didn’t believe Sloane, but both instances had been under strenuous circumstances—the possibility of his best friend bleeding to death and now his semiconscious state. Sloane cared about him a lot, Dex was certain, but Sloane was reserved when it came to expressing how he felt about their relationship. Dex was always the more vocal one, the one putting his heart in Sloane’s hands and wishing for the best. He understood the whys, but it didn’t make it any easier, and the deeper Dex fell, the more he wished he knew. Would Sloane ever be able to love him? Or had that part of him died with Gabe?

  Jesus, what the hell was wrong with him? He needed to cut this shit out. Maybe it was time for another nap. Drawing the blanket over himself once more, Dex dozed in and out of dreamless sleep, checking on Sloane constantly before allowing himself to drift off again. Sometime the next morning, someone running their fingers through his hair roused him awake. Opening his eyes, he turned his head to find Sloane smiling warmly at him. It was the most amazing smile he’d ever woken up to.

  “Morning, Trouble.”

  Dex smiled widely before letting out a fierce yawn. “Morning.” He sat up, and the blanket someone had wrapped around his shoulders slipped down. “I really need to thank the nurse. He or she keeps tucking me in.”

  “He,” Sloane said before motioning to the end of the bed. “He also brought you your clothes and an overnight bag Cael dropped off a few hours ago. He apologized for not bringing it in sooner, but you were asleep, and he thought you needed the rest. You were out for the count.”

  “That was nice of him.” With another yawn, Dex stood and stretched his aching muscles when the door opened and the doctor came in.

  “Good morning, Agent Daley.”

  Dex gave him a nod and watched the doctor stop beside Sloane.

  “Hello, Agent Brodie. I’m Dr. Ward, I’m glad to see you’re awake. Your nurse should have been in to check your sutures and change th
e dressing.”

  “He has. Thank you.”

  “Good. Did he discuss the incident with you?”

  Sloane’s amber eyes clouded over as he replied with a solemn, “Yes.”

  Did that include the THIRDS withholding information? Dex would have to ask his partner. He wondered how Sloane would feel about it. Sloane had been with the THIRDS for over twenty years. He loved his job, but he wasn’t blind to their darker side. Hell, he’d been an unwilling participant in it for years. The THIRDS used youth centers to recruit. They were willing to sacrifice an agent to keep their questionable past a secret. And recently their team had discovered someone had been working out of the supposedly decommissioned research facility creating a control drug using scopolamine. Neither he nor Sloane were convinced it was the end of it. The doctor seemed to sense Sloane’s change in mood but didn’t pursue the matter. Instead he continued with the purpose of his visit.

  “Your vitals are good. I’m going to do a few standard checks. You’ll feel some pain and discomfort during your recovery, but we’ll provide medication.”

  Dex sat on the edge of his seat as the doctor did some preliminary tests, checking Sloane’s breathing, showing him how to support his wound if he had to cough or move. So far everything seemed normal. A little slow, but the doctor said it was to be expected.

  “We’re going to do a few circulatory tests.” The doctor carefully removed the blanket from Sloane’s legs and feet. “Point your toes.”

  Sloane winced but slowly did as he was asked.

  “Good. Now make circles with your feet. First the left, then the right. Good. Now slowly, I want you to raise your knees one at a time, pulling your toes toward you.”

  With his jaw clenched, Sloane gingerly bent his left knee and slid his foot toward him before lowering it again.

  “Good. Now your right.”

  A startled look came onto Sloane’s face. “There’s something wrong with my leg.”

  Before Dex could give it another thought, he was at Sloane’s side, gripping his hand. He could hear the tremor in Sloane’s voice and knew his partner was trying to tamp down his panic. Sloane met the doctor’s gaze as he discreetly tucked Dex’s hand against his side, but the doctor was sharp. And he already knew about them. He gave Sloane a warm smile that reached his golden eyes.

  “Don’t worry, Mr. Brodie. While you’re under my care, your relationship will remain confidential.”

  It seemed to take a moment for Sloane to grasp what the doctor was saying. Once he did, he visibly relaxed. He still looked uncertain, but he focused on what was most important.

  The doctor came around to the other side of the bed and gently touched Sloane’s right knee. “Tell me about your leg. What do you feel?”

  “I’m having trouble bending it. I can’t lift it either.” Sloane squeezed Dex’s hand, and Dex returned the gesture. They both waited and watched as the doctor applied small amounts of pressure to different areas of Sloane’s leg.

  “Can you feel this?” Dr. Ward asked.

  “Yes.”

  “How about now?”

  Sloane nodded. “I can feel it fine. I’m just having trouble moving it. Like it’s too heavy.”

  “During your episode, we were able to treat you before your muscles could suffer severe rigidity. There was no nerve damage, but it appears the reaction you experienced has caused muscle weakness in your leg. The fact you’ve retained some movement is good, but we’ll need to increase your mobility to prevent further weakness.”

  “Is it permanent?” Sloane asked hesitantly.

  “With muscle rehabilitation, you’re likely to regain strength in your leg within a few weeks, but it could take up to two to three months, depending on recovery and how well your body responds to the therapy. As a Therian in your shape, I would say a month. We’ll put you on a mobility plan. I’m approving your transfer to a private recovery room this afternoon. Therian nursing staff will be in to help you up and out of bed. It’s also important that while you’re resting in bed, you move positions, taking care with your injured side, of course. Once I think it’s safe for you to be discharged, I’ll give you an information packet for your recovery at home. With the medication you’ll be given, and due to your injuries, I highly recommend you refrain from shifting into your Therian form for at least three weeks. I know it’s tempting since we heal quicker in our Therian forms, but there’s a chance it may do more harm than good, so I’d rather not risk it.”

  “Thank you, Doctor. When do you think I’ll be okay to go home?”

  “I’d like to keep you another thirty-six hours to be on the safe side.” Dr. Ward gave Sloane a gentle pat on the shoulder before heading for the door. He paused and turned to smile warmly at them. “Your partner’s not left your side for a moment. You’re a lucky Therian, Agent Brodie.”

  Sloane turned his smile on Dex, and it took his breath away. “Yeah, I am.”

  With a nod, the doctor left the room. Dex took a seat. His partner’s expression turned pensive, and Dex gave his hand a squeeze.

  “I’m sorry I told the doctor about us. It was the only way I could stay with you.”

  Sloane’s smile reassured him he hadn’t messed up. “I’m glad you’re here. Remind me to change my emergency contact form.”

  “Okay.” Dex couldn’t keep his dopey smile off his face. At least until Sloane’s smile faded.

  “What if my leg doesn’t regain its strength? Sparks can’t have a defense agent who can’t work out in the field. I’ll be transferred to God knows where and put behind a desk. I’m not qualified to work Intel. Algorithms drive your brother crazy, and he loves that shit. Recon still requires a hell of a lot of fieldwork. What’s left?” His eyes went wide. “Oh God, what if they try to stick me in Public Relations or Human Resources? I’ll have to talk to the public. The media. I can’t talk to the media. Just looking at them makes me want to shoot something.”

  “Easy there.” Dex brushed his lips over Sloane’s knuckles, watching him relax. “Whatever happens, we’ll work through it together. And we both know no one in their right mind would stick you in either of those departments. You’re a defense agent. One of the best. It’ll be okay.”

  “You’re right,” Sloane said, letting out a shaky breath. “Besides, I’ve been through worse.”

  “Why don’t you get some rest?”

  Sloane was reluctant at first but soon settled back against his pillow. “What would I do without you?”

  “Lead a quiet, peaceful existence?” Dex teased.

  Sloane frowned. “Sounds boring as hell.”

  A few months ago, Sloane’s answer would have been different. Dex tried not to get too sappy over his partner’s reply. “Can I get that in writing and notarized?”

  Sloane chuckled before letting out a yawn. “Shut up.” He closed his eyes, a smile on his face as he drifted off to sleep, his hand still holding tightly on to Dex’s. Whether it was the near-death experience, the meds, or something more, Dex wasn’t going to question it, simply enjoy it. He kissed Sloane and settled back into his chair, grateful his partner was on the mend. It could have turned out so much worse. Tomorrow Dex would have to report back to work, but until then, he’d spend the rest of the day offering his partner whatever he needed. Whatever came their way, Dex would face it with Sloane.

 
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