Rise amp fall, p.21
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       Rise & Fall, p.21
 

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Um….” Uh-oh. The jig was up.

  Dex’s eyes went wide. “What did you do?”

  “Now, keep in mind I care about your health, and I only did what I thought was best for you.” If all else failed, Sloane was not above using his injuries to protect himself.

  “What did you do?” Dex repeated.

  Sloane cringed, and the table went quiet as everyone watched on in amusement. There was no way around it. He’d known his partner would find out sooner or later. “I’ve been swapping your junk food for healthy food.”

  Dex let out an exaggerated gasp, and the table erupted into laughter. “Judas! How could you?”

  Sloane braced himself. He might as well say the rest. “I’ve swapped your sugar for sugar substitute, your full fat milk with 2 percent, your milkshakes for protein shakes, white pasta with whole wheat, your white bread with multigrain—”

  “Stop! I can’t listen to any more of this… this horror.” Dex shook his head, his hand going to his heart. A thought struck him, and he narrowed his eyes at Sloane. “My gummy bears?”

  “They’re sugar free.”

  Dex put the tray on the table, jumped off Sloane, and dropped to his knees, his arms raised to the heavens. “Nooo! Not the gummy bears! Is nothing sacred? Oh, the inhumanity!” He jumped to his feet and put his hand to his hips. “How?”

  Sloane shrugged. “You don’t read labels. You just eat. Which is part of the reason I started doing it.”

  “How long has this betrayal been going on?” Dex folded his arms over his chest and tapped his foot. “How long has this deception been going on?”

  “Six months.”

  “You, sir, are a fiend,” Dex declared, his finger poking Sloane in the chest. “A fiend, and a cad, and a… a… sugar thief! Thief!”

  Everyone laughed, much to Dex’s annoyance. Sloane grabbed his partner’s wrist and dragged him onto his lap, despite Dex’s sorry attempt at struggling. He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.

  “Aw, come on,” Sloane said, nuzzling his face against Dex’s neck and delivering kisses. “Don’t be mad.”

  Dex wrinkled his nose. He opened his mouth to say something when ZZ Top played over the speaker system. Dex’s eyes went wide, and his face went red to the tips of his ears. “Oh my God.”

  “What?” Sloane asked, trying to hold back a smile. “You look embarrassed.” Sloane happened to look up when he noticed both Calvin and Hobbs had gone stock-still, their eyes as wide as Dex’s and their faces equally red. What the…? Calvin jumped to his feet.

  “Uh, I have to go to the bathroom.”

  “Thanks for sharing,” Ash teased.

  Hobbs stood and pointed to the bathroom. The two darted off. To Sloane’s surprise, Lou finished sipping his JD and Coke before declaring, “Those two are totally sleeping together.” Everyone around the table gaped at him. Lou blinked at them. “What? You don’t see it?”

  “They’re just close. They’ve been best friends since they were little kids,” Letty said.

  Lou grinned wickedly. “Honey, those two are way more than best friends.”

  “Fuck. Is that why they’ve been all weird for months?” Cael said.

  Sloane turned his attention to Dex who was averting his gaze. “Dex.”

  “Hm?”

  “You know something.”

  Dex pressed his lips firmly together and shook his head, refusing to look at Sloane.

  “Dex.” Whatever his partner knew, it was big. Sloane took hold of Dex’s jaw and turned his face so he could look in those pale blue eyes. “Spill.” Dex cringed.

  “Ooh, bad choice of words.”

  On second thought, maybe Sloane didn’t want to know.

  Dex leaned in to whisper in Sloane’s ear. “I saw them jerk each other off.”

  “What?” Sloane’s reaction was far louder than he intended, and he clamped a hand over his mouth. He narrowed his eyes at Dex.

  “I know that sounds… weird,” Dex continued quietly, ignoring their teammates’ demands he share with the rest of them. Sloane held a hand up to quiet them. “But I was in the surveillance van, and Cal had come back from undercover work with Bautista, shit went down, and next thing I knew they were doing the dirty up against the van wall.”

  “And you watched them?” Sloane whispered hoarsely.

  “Only in the beginning. I didn’t know what to do!” Dex’s voice went up in pitch, which meant he was panicked about it. It made Sloane want to laugh, but he restrained himself.

  Sloane arched an eyebrow at him. “How about turning away?”

  “I did. After I snapped myself out of it, I turned around and put the earpieces in. ZZ Top was playing, hence why I’ll never be able to listen to it again.”

  Sloane went thoughtful. “Did you get turned on?” His partner’s face went beet red and Sloane laughed. “Oh my God! You got turned on. You little perv.”

  “What? It was like watching live porn.”

  “Now you sound like Austen,” Sloane muttered. He glanced at Dex’s red face and couldn’t keep himself from laughing. And his partner called him kinky. This was too much. He wasn’t surprised Dex had snapped himself out of it and turned away. He could imagine what had been going through his partner’s mind.

  Dex groaned. “You’re not going to let me live this down, are you?”

  There was no hesitation on Sloane’s part. “Absolutely not.”

  Calvin and Hobbs returned, took one look at Sloane who was grinning broadly at them, and Calvin let out a wail. “Oh my God, you told him!”

  “I’m sorry!” Dex jumped off Sloane’s lap, backing away as Calvin approached.

  “I’ll give you sorry.” Calvin took off toward Dex who let out a yelp and made a run for it, with Hobbs worriedly following at a much slower pace. Rosa and Letty joined in the chase, demanding to know what had happened. Bradley and Lou were busy feeding each other pieces of fruit so Sloane turned his attention to Ash, smiling at his friend’s dopey smile as he leaned into Cael who was cheerfully rambling on at him.

  “Ooh, and I just got a new shooter game, if you want to come over sometime this week. We can hang out.”

  “Okay. Tell me when, and I’ll be there.”

  “Great.” Cael bit his bottom lip, and rubbed his bare arm.

  “You cold?” Ash asked.

  “A little. These stupid meds. I’m hot one minute, cold the next.”

  “Here.” Ash grabbed his knitted scarf hanging off his chair and wrapped it around Cael’s neck. “There you go. It’ll keep you warm.”

  Cael looked down at the scarf and petted it, his face flushed. “Thanks.”

  “Keep it. I’ve got another one at home.” He gave Cael’s cheek a playful nudge.

  “I need to go to the bathroom. Excuse me.” Cael made to stand, and Ash helped him up.

  “Need help getting there?” Ash offered.

  Cael shook his head. “Nah. I grew up with Dex. I know my way around crutches.” He laughed, took his crutch, and headed for the bathroom, walking right by his brother who waved at him from under the headlock Calvin had him in. With a sappy smile on his face, Ash watched Cael go until he’d disappeared into the bathroom. When he noticed Sloane was watching him, he frowned.

  “What?”

  “You two are so fucking adorable.”

  “Fuck off,” Ash replied, looking embarrassed.

  “So?”

  “Come on, man.”

  “Nope.” Sloane folded his arms over his chest and got comfortable. “Talk to me. Dex told me about what happened with you two back at the grain terminal. It was pretty… epic.”

  “Yeah.” Ash shifted uncomfortably. “It kind of took me by surprise.”

  “Talk to me, Keeler. This isn’t just anyone. It’s Cael.”

  A pained look came onto Ash’s face, and it worried Sloane. “Which is why I don’t want to fuck this up. I shouldn’t have done what I did.”

  Sloane sat up. “You’re regretting it?”


  Ash tried to hold back a grin but couldn’t. In the end he gave in. “Fuck no. I don’t regret it. I just mean, I wish I hadn’t been so impulsive. I wanted to do it right.”

  “I don’t know about you, but I’d say by the look on Cael’s face a moment ago, you did it right.”

  Ash leaned forward, talking quietly. He looked determined. Sloane was under no illusion his friend was in for a tough time. Not where Cael was concerned. The young Therian was crazy about Ash. This was certainly a step in the right direction, but it didn’t eliminate Ash’s previous concerns or his troubles. “Look, we have a lot of shit to sort out. Mostly my shit. But we agreed to take it slow and talk first.”

  “So, are you together or what?”

  “That’s something we have to work out.” Ash sat back with a sigh. “I know the team wouldn’t care, and we’d have to hide it at work, but outside, in the open… I don’t know if I’m ready to be what he needs me to be.”

  Sloane reached over and patted his friend’s arm. “Whatever you do, do it with him. Be open and honest. Work it out together. He loves you, Ash. Let him help you.”

  Ash gave him a nod before his expression turned smug. “Dropped the ‘L’ word, huh? I knew you were in love with him.”

  “Yeah, well, guess you and I can be stubborn assholes.” Sloane couldn’t stop the flutter in the pit of his stomach when he spoke. “We’re moving in together.”

  Ash’s jaw dropped. “What?”

  “Yeah, it was kind of a spur of the moment decision.”

  “What are you going to do about your apartment? And work?”

  “I don’t know,” Sloane replied with a sigh. “I’ll have to keep it for a while, move my stuff into Dex’s. We haven’t quite worked it all out. Austen says no one suspects anything at work, and I doubt anyone who isn’t a commanding officer would butt in. But they’re still working on all the reports from the grain terminal incident. We need to be extra careful at work. Especially since I kind of, sort of, maybe, definitely marked him.”

  Ash’s eyes went wide. “You marked Daley? Holy fuck, Sloane.”

  “I know.”

  “This is serious shit.” Something occurred to Ash and he frowned. “That’s why Seb’s team went all feral while in their Therian forms back at the granary. They smelled it. Plus your scent’s all over him. Always is. That could be dismissed as your partnership, but now this? Fuck, man. You think people aren’t going to put two and two together? What were you thinking?”

  Sloane’s expression became grim, and he met Ash’s concerned gaze. “I was thinking he’s mine, and I want everyone to know it.”

  “Fuck. Sloane—”

  “I know.” Sloane let out a heavy sigh. “Like I said. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Luckily I’m on leave for some time, so I can try and figure something out.”

  “Sparks will break up the team.”

  Sloane gritted his teeth. “There’s no way I’m going to let that happen.” He’d use whatever resource he possessed, whatever sway he’d earned himself over the years. “I’m not letting them touch my team.”

  Dex materialized behind Ash and Sloane relaxed. Where the hell had he come from? Glancing over by the pool tables, he saw Rosa and Letty trying to catch Calvin with Hobbs looking on helplessly. Turning back to his partner, he held back a smile when Dex put his hands on Ash’s shoulders.

  “You hurt my little brother, and I will spend the rest of my life annoying the ever living fuck out of you.”

  Ash scoffed. “Too late.”

  “Oh no,” Dex said with a hearty laugh. He came around and dropped himself into Cael’s seat, his grin evil. “You haven’t seen annoying. What you’ve experienced is your general grumpy displeasure toward my naturally charming and witty nature. Any attempts to purposefully annoy you were passing whims.” He reached out and took a tiny sword toothpick from the container and stabbed it into a cheese cube before leaning in, his voice low. “By the time I’m done with you, you’ll be asking for a transfer to Alaska, and even then it won’t be far enough from me.” He ate the cheese cube and waved the tiny sword at him. “I will become the thing your nightmares are made of.” With that, he stood and headed over to Sloane to give him a kiss when Sloane discreetly pushed him to one side, whispering hoarsely.

  “Fuck me. I think your dad’s outside.”

  “Say what now?” Dex straightened and turned. He let out a groan. “Man, it’s like he’s got radar or something.”

  “Um…” Sloane’s concerned gaze shifted to Maddock’s hand. “Why’s he carrying a baseball bat?”

  Cael gasped from somewhere behind him. “Dex! It’s Old Betsy!”

  “Oh shit!” Dex’s hands went to his head. “Shit! Shit! Shit!”

  “What the fuck is Old Betsy?” Ash asked, looking from Dex to Cael.

  Lou headed for the door, and Dex cried out. “No! Don’t let him in—”

  Dex’s warning came too late, and Maddock thundered in, an old wooden baseball bat in his hand. Sloane and Ash stood. What the hell was going on?

  “I can explain,” Dex said, running in front of his dad, hands up.

  “Dad—” Cael’s concerned plea was quickly cut off.

  “I don’t want to hear a peep out of you or your brother.”

  Shit. Had Maddock found out about the unsanctioned mission? He knew Maddock wouldn’t buy Cael getting hurt during a hockey game with the team. Shit, he’d somehow found out about the job. No wonder he looked so pissed off. If he knew Sloane had not only known about the job but allowed Dex to continue, he was dead. Didn’t matter. Sloane had said he would take whatever came their way.

  “Sarge, I know you’re upset—”

  Maddock pointed the bat at Sloane. “You don’t know Jack, boy. You and Keeler get your asses in the back. We have shit to discuss.”

  “About what?” Ash asked, looking puzzled.

  “About where you two have decided to plant your dicks.”

  Sloane’s slack-jawed expression mirrored Ash’s. “Excuse me?”

  Maddock moved Dex aside and stepped up close to them. “Now that the danger’s over, you’re going to be facing a whole new fear. Me. You think you can sleep with my boys and not face the consequences?”

  “What?” The color drained from Ash’s face.

  “Dad!” Cael scolded. “Ash and I are not sleeping together.”

  Maddock ignored Cael, his hard gaze on Ash. “Keeler, you have so many issues, you can put the fucking New York Times out of business. Get your ass in there.” He turned to Sloane. “You too. You pulled through, and I’m happy, don’t get me wrong. You’re recovering. Good. You’re sleeping with my son. Let’s discuss that.”

  “He’s a grown man,” Sloane said then immediately wished he could take it back when he saw Dex cringe behind Maddock.

  Their sergeant blinked at him. “Oh, you’re right. He is a grown man. Free to date whoever he chooses. Same for Cael. Except when they choose a couple of guys who’ve put them through emotional hell in the last year. Except when they put their careers on the line. Except when they’re doing it under my nose. Except when my most trusted, senior agents who I have all but watched grow up on this team decide to keep it from me. Now I’m not gonna tell you what to do with your relationships, but I sure as hell am gonna tell you what not to do.” He moved aside and pointed the bat toward the door leading to the back of house. “Now you two get your asses in there.” Maddock called out to Bradley. “Son, I want three stiff drinks.” He frowned thoughtfully. “And a Diet Coke. This is going to take a while.”

  “Dad,” Dex sighed. “Come on.”

  Maddock pursed his lips before grabbing Dex by the ear and moving him out of the way. “I will deal with you two later.”

  Sloane reluctantly took his crutch and headed for the back with Ash beside him.

  “Now what?” Ash whispered. “You don’t think he’s really going to use the bat?”

  “Are you kidding? It’s Maddock. The man chopped o
ff my hair, remember?”

  Ash was quiet for a moment. “We can take him.”

  “Shut up, Ash.” Sloane stepped into the corridor and waited for Maddock to join them. On some level, he’d rather be facing a pissed-off Sparks than his boyfriend’s pissed-off dad. He’d held his own against plenty of furious commanding officers, but dads? Uncharted territory for him, and he was pretty sure the same went for Ash.

  “Fuck. What the hell do we do?”

  Sloane’s initial reaction was to run, but his leg and the fact he still needed crutches to get around made it a little too difficult right now. “It’ll be fine. He’s a rational man. We’ll tell him how we feel. Promise we won’t let it interfere with the job. Easy.”

  Maddock stormed in, nostrils flaring, dark eyes pinning them to the spot. Behind him the door opened, and Dex ran in. He dramatically threw himself in front of Sloane.

  “But Daddy, I love him!”

  Maddock rolled his eyes. “Yeah, all right there, Pocahontas. Get lost.”

  “Damn.” Dex turned and patted Sloane’s cheek. “I’m sorry, babe. You’re on your own.” He gave Sloane’s lips a sweet kiss. “Love you.” Then bolted from the room like it was on fire.

  “Coward!” Sloane called out.

  “Did you call my boy a coward?” Maddock asked.

  Sloane held a hand up. “In the most loving way possible.” He tried to give Maddock his most charming smile. Maddock’s frown deepened, and Sloane leaned over to whisper at Ash.

  “On second thought. Pray.”

 
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