Rise amp fall, p.5
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       Rise & Fall, p.5

         Part #4 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet

  Sloane pressed his lips together, meaning he was trying his best to remain calm.

  “I swear it won’t happen again.”

  “Damn right it won’t. You….” he trailed off and sighed, his gaze going to the ceiling. Sloane pulled Dex closer against him. “I’m glad you’re okay.” When Dex didn’t reply, Sloane glanced over at him. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

  “Yeah. I was thinking….”

  “You really need to stop doing that thinking thing,” Sloane muttered, the corner of his mouth twitching in its desire to smile.

  “Dick. Anyway, I was thinking you should stay with me while you recover.” He was hardly about to tell Sloane his dad and everyone else had sort of already decided for him. But from everyone else’s standpoint, it was a tactical move. From Dex’s it was a personal one. He wanted Sloane with him. If he explained all the logical reasons why it would be a good idea, he had no doubt Sloane would agree, but Dex didn’t want those reasons to be why his partner accepted.

  Sloane stared at him. “But that’ll take weeks. Maybe longer.”

  “It doesn’t matter how long it takes.” Dex leaned in and kissed Sloane, his thumb stroking Sloane’s jaw. “Let me take care of you. Not because you can’t look after yourself but because I want to help.”

  Sloane closed his eyes and Dex waited. It wasn’t an easy decision for his partner, especially since it would feel like they were living together. Dex was always the one to make the first move, to nudge Sloane in the direction Dex wanted their relationship to go in. He didn’t want to keep pushing. A part of him feared he’d push Sloane too far, and the guy would turn and run like he’d done before. Each time was more painful than the last, and although Sloane always came home, Dex’s heart couldn’t take it. He’d told Sloane as much. If Sloane needed space, all he had to do was ask, and Dex would be happy to give it, but there was always the worry their relationship would reach a point Sloane wasn’t willing to go beyond. After what seemed like forever, Sloane spoke up.

  “I need to know something first.”

  Dex’s pulse quickened. “Okay.”

  “Are you going to wear one of those sexy male nurse’s uniforms, the white latex ones with the assless chaps?”

  Dex let out a bark of laughter. “Oh my God, I can’t believe you remembered.”

  “Of course I remember,” Sloane said with a wink. “I told you. I remember everything.”

  “Then you’ll also recall you didn’t wear one for me.”

  “True,” Sloane admitted, “but white latex wouldn’t look good on me. I’m more of a black leather type of guy.”

  Dex’s mouth dropped open. “Dude, we can’t have sex for like ages, and you’re putting all these naughty images in my head.”

  “I’m not putting anything in your head. I was commenting. Now on you, I think it would be a different story.” He ran his hand from Dex’s chest down to his thigh.

  That really wasn’t helping the no-sex situation, but he left Sloane’s hand resting on his thigh regardless. “You honestly want me to wear white latex assless chaps?”

  Sloane’s cheeks flushed and he shrugged. “I’m not saying you should, just that I wouldn’t mind if you did.”

  “Uh-huh.” Dex held back a smile. He knew his partner had a bit of a kinky side. Not that he was complaining. He loved it when Sloane got all bossy in the bedroom or talked dirty to him. Now he had sinful images of Sloane dressed in leather in his head. Guess he knew what he’d be thinking about in the shower later. Sloane dressed in nothing but a pair of tight black leather pants with maybe some straps around his beefy biceps. Oh yeah. He needed to get off this train of thought before he ended up poking his partner with a different part of his equipment. “We’ll see. So, will you stay with me and let me nurse you back to health?”

  Sloane’s expression turned serious, and he removed his hand from Dex’s leg. “I have some terms and conditions.”

  “All right. Lay them on me.” Dex braced himself. He half expected Sloane to whip out a monocle and unfurl a list of rules long enough to reach the end of the room.

  “I control the music.”

  Dex gasped. He might have whimpered a little too. “Does that mean no Retro Radio?”

  “I wouldn’t dream of it. It means I’ll decide when and how often we tune in to Retro Radio. I would rather give up my left testicle than sit through another one of their Musicians with Mullets marathons.”

  Dex let out a snicker. “You were so ready to lose your shit.”

  Sloane smiled pleasantly and booped the end of Dex’s nose. “And that’s how serial killers are made.”

  “Okay,” Dex said with a laugh. “Okay. No mullet music marathons. Anything else?”

  Sloane grinned widely. “You bet your cute little ass. I’ll give you my list of demands after I’ve settled in.”

  “Hold up. So I have to accept the terms and conditions without knowing what they are first?” So not fair! And pure genius. Why the hell hadn’t Dex thought of that?


  “Are you going to make me regret asking?”

  “Quite possibly.”

  Dex eyed him suspiciously before pretending to think about it. “Fine. It’s a deal.”

  “Good.” Sloane let out a yawn, his eyelids growing heavy. “You’ll need to pick up some clothes and toiletries for me at my apartment.”

  “No, prob. I’ll drop by on the way home.”

  Sloane let out another yawn. “Can you pick up my mail?”

  “Sure thing.” Dex gave his cheek a kiss, earning himself a contented smile. It was most likely the meds putting Sloane in such a sappy mood. Dex might as well enjoy it. He ran his fingers through his partner’s hair. It was starting to grow long again after he’d been forced to get it cut, thanks to Tony finally carrying through with one of his famous “get it cut before I cut it for you” threats. Poor Sloane. It had been a traumatizing experience for his Felid Therian partner. Sloane hummed and turned his head toward Dex. When he opened his eyes, he looked uncertain.

  “You really want me to stay with you? I mean, you’ll have enough to deal with at work without having to worry about me.”

  Shit. Work. For a moment, Dex had forgotten about work and the case. The case he’d been pulled from. He leaned in to kiss Sloane, being gentle while at the same time trying to show Sloane how glad he was they were together. Sloane placed a hand to Dex’s cheek, his thumb stroking softly, and a lump formed in Dex’s throat. He smiled up at his partner, a guy who was quickly taking over his world. How could Dex tell Sloane their team was no longer out there searching for the bastard who’d done this to him?

  Dex kissed Sloane once more before carefully getting off the bed. “I’m sure. I’d worry if you weren’t there.” He clipped his holster back into place, along with his badge before he picked up his jacket.

  “You’re leaving?”

  Sloane’s pout was adorable, and Dex was tempted to hang around longer, but he wanted to pick up a few things before taking his partner home. “Yeah, I’m going to stop by your apartment and finish a couple of reports. I’ll be back tonight. Call me if you need anything, okay?”

  Sloane nodded with a yawn. “Okay.”

  Dex was about to head out when his phone rang. Distracted by Sloane’s sweet face as he wrinkled his nose at something he saw on TV, Dex answered without checking the caller ID.

  “Daley here.”

  A PR agent rattled off excitedly about all the possibilities for their upcoming brainstorming session and a host of dates he could come in, plus a load of other words Dex wasn’t quick enough to make sense of. The PR department was either on a constant caffeine high or crack. Nothing else could explain the earsplitting grins or unrelenting excitement.

  “Yep, okay, sure. Pencil me in whenever. Okay. Send it to my diary. I’m looking forward to it as well,” he forced out before hanging up. Sloane gave him a questioning look as Dex returned his phone to his pocket before walking over to the window and kn
ocking on it.

  “What are you doing?” Sloane asked.

  “I’m wondering if this is bulletproof.”


  “Because I want to know if I can shoot my way through it before trying to jump out.” He turned to the couch and pointed to it. “Do you think if I dramatically throw myself onto this like one of those old Hollywood starlets it’ll have the same effect? I feel like I need to have some kind of bitch fit right now.”

  Sloane’s throaty chuckle relieved some of Dex’s frustration. But he still wanted to break something.

  “Let me guess? PR?”

  Dex nodded and headed back to his partner. “Seriously. When did I become the poster boy for the THIRDS?”

  “You said it yourself. It’s hard to resist all that Daley charm.” Sloane’s grin grew wicked. “They clearly got swept up in the gravitational pull of your awesome.”

  “You really need to stop remembering everything I say.”

  “And miss the opportunity to one up you? Never.”

  Dex’s phone pinged, but he refused to look at it.

  “Guess they penciled you in,” Sloane teased.

  Dex kissed Sloane and booped his nose. “And that’s how serial killers are made.” With one last lingering kiss, Dex reluctantly left his partner to his movies and empanadas. He couldn’t keep his dopey smile back. Sloane had agreed to stay with him, and he’d done so without freaking out about it first. Maybe he was finally settling into the idea of them. Dex tried not to get too excited. It wasn’t as if they didn’t spend a lot of time together. They worked together, and Sloane slept over at Dex’s more often than he did at his own place. But this was different. Sloane’s injuries would keep him from coming and going as he pleased.

  The longer Dex spent with Sloane, the more he came to understand his jaguar Therian partner. Therians were far more complex than Humans, and Humans were difficult enough as it was. Not only did you have to get to know their Human side, but their Therian one. As a jaguar Therian, Sloane’s instincts demanded freedom. Dex had learned the hard way. His partner’s need for space wasn’t so much because he wanted it, but because he simply needed to know the option was there, not caged in.

  On the drive to Sloane’s apartment, Dex listened to his favorite station, Retro Radio. He smiled when Journey came on. It was stupid, but he always thought of Sloane now when he heard the band’s music. He had a feeling Sloane wasn’t as put off by it as he pretended he was. As Dex drove, he sang along and tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, letting the music seep down into his bones. He always felt relaxed after listening to his ’80s music.

  Luck was on his side. He found a parking spot on Sloane’s street not far from the High Line. He climbed out of his Challenger and set the alarm before heading for the large brick-and-steel building. No wonder his dad didn’t want Sloane staying here on his own. With all the busy streets surrounding it, the connecting buildings, all the foot traffic, shops, and the High Line running alongside it, there were plenty of places for a perp to hide.

  There were also far too many ways in and out of the building and too many glass panels and windows for Dex’s liking. It was a new modern-style building. Simple and elegant. Two sets of metal stairs led to a small foyer with one elevator and another outside set of stairs led up to the High Line. If Hogan did decide to strike, Sloane would be a sitting duck. For all of Sloane’s Therian strength, his injuries would make him no match for a healthy tiger Therian like Hogan.

  Dex took the empty elevator up to the seventh floor, making sure to remain observant every step of the way. The hallway was empty and brightly lit thanks to the daylight coming in through the floor-to-ceiling window at the end. Using the key Sloane had given him for his birthday, Dex let himself in to the apartment. He quietly closed the door behind him and stood there for a moment, listening. He was met with nothing but silence. Leaving his Chucks by the door, he headed upstairs to the bedroom. Everything appeared to be where it should be. Once upstairs, his gaze immediately landed on the dresser’s top right-hand drawer that contained Dex’s clothes. It had been the best birthday present he’d ever received. Well, the My Pet Monster his dad had given him for his sixth birthday came pretty close. He remembered nearly wetting himself in his Ninja Turtle footie pajamas out of sheer excitement. The memory made him chuckle. Poor Cael. He’d been absolutely terrified of the furry blue thing.

  Standing in the middle of the elegant black, gray, and white patterned room, Dex decided he should probably find a bag or suitcase or something. Opening Sloane’s closet, he let out a shriek and jumped back, his hand flying to his chest. At first he thought someone had been hiding in there. Good to know his initial reaction to a possible intruder was to scream like a five-year-old. Man, he needed to get his shit together. He would’ve been annoyed with himself if he hadn’t realized what had scared the hell out of him. Reaching in, he pulled out a life-sized cardboard cutout of Han Solo. “Damn.” His boyfriend was a bigger nerd than Dex had given him credit for. Sloane was so never going to hear the end of this one. Dex planted Han to one side, snickering as he rummaged through the closet for a bag or something he could carry Sloane’s clothes in. He found a medium-sized travel suitcase shoved in one corner.

  “Perfect.” He dropped it onto the bed and opened it before heading to Sloane’s dresser. Dex went for the softest and most comfortable clothing he could find, which consisted of a variety of sweatpants, pajama bottoms, and T-shirts. When he finished there, he grabbed some jeans and cardigans just in case. He’d be dropping by to check on Sloane’s apartment anyway, so he could always come back to pick up anything he might have forgotten.

  After grabbing Sloane’s toiletry bag from the bathroom, along with his toothbrush, Dex stopped again to think. Had he left anything out? Shoes. He went back to the closet and had picked up a pair of Sloane’s biker boots when he noticed a shoebox with a furry black tail poking out of it. Inside he found the stuffed toy jaguar with its paws still bandaged. Sloane’s little pal from his time at the facility. He couldn’t blame Sloane for not being able to get rid of it. As determined as his partner was to leave his past behind, this toy had been the only comfort Sloane had before meeting Ash. A lump formed in Dex’s throat at the thought.

  Sloane refused to tell Dex what he’d suffered at the facility, believing nothing good would come of it. How the knowledge of what they’d done to him would only hurt Dex. The past couldn’t be changed. Sloane was protecting him, and Dex appreciated the thought, but a part of him still wished he knew. It was a piece of Sloane he’d never get to understand.

  Dex remembered the research facility all too well. He remembered being strapped to a chair in the cold lab surrounded by strange machines. He’d been scared. Who wouldn’t be? He could imagine Sloane there, in his place. Except Sloane had been just a little kid at the time. They’d experimented on him. Poked. Prodded. Caused him pain. All in the name of science. They’d discovered life-altering information and saved countless Therians at the cost of Therian children. How many like Sloane hadn’t survived? He’d been through so much, yet he continued to push forward. Dex admired his partner’s fortitude most of all. And now Sloane needed him.

  How could they expect him to sit around and do nothing while Hogan got away with hurting Sloane? While that asshole threatened those he cared about? But if he went after Hogan on his own, he would be in deep shit with Sparks. Sloane might have let him off the hook for disobeying orders back during the Therian Youth Center bombing, but he doubted Sparks would be so forgiving. Since the incident, the only thoughts occupying his mind had been of Sloane. Now that Sloane was recovering, other thoughts started to creep in. The anger he’d felt toward Hogan during the explosion stirred inside him once more, while a darkness he hadn’t known he possessed threatened to seep into his every pore.

  He sat there holding on to the stuffed toy, its shiny amber eyes rousing emotions inside him. Emotions he shouldn’t pursue if he knew what was good for him. After returning the
toy back to its shoebox, he placed Han back in the closet and closed the door. He finished packing Sloane’s suitcase and went downstairs. Whatever darkened thoughts were trying to plow their way into his head, they had to stop. Who knew where that path would lead? Besides, he wasn’t a detective anymore. Going off on his own, especially when he was off duty, would be unacceptable. Instead he concentrated on what he could do to make Sloane comfortable at home. As he put his shoes on, he made a mental shopping list. He locked up behind him and headed for his car where he popped the trunk. Something felt… off. He slipped the suitcase in and paused. It was like he was being watched.

  Having always trusted his instincts, Dex closed the trunk and removed his cell phone from his pocket. He pretended to send a text, using his phone’s adjustable camera to zoom in and discreetly look around. It could be his overactive imagination, but Dex had never ignored his gut before. He wasn’t about to start now. A Therian stood on the High Line a few feet from Sloane’s apartment. He was leaning against the rail among the potted flowers and plants with a newspaper in his hand. It wasn’t typically the sort of behavior to bring up any red flags. At this time of the day, joggers, tourists, students, or folks out for a stroll could be found on the High Line, though Dex doubted this guy was out for a stroll. Not with the way he kept glancing up from his newspaper to Sloane’s apartment building right about where Sloane’s living room window was.

  As Dex looked up, their eyes met, and the guy took off. Shit. Definitely not out for a late-afternoon stroll. Dex shoved his phone into his pocket and raced back to Sloane’s apartment, taking the stairs two at a time to get up to the wooden deck of the High Line. He bolted out onto the platform and immediately spotted the guy speeding down the underpass of the building next door. Dex gave chase, running as fast as he could while doing his best to avoid any foot traffic. As he closed some of the distance between them, he passed rows of small round tables lined up along either side of the High Line. Citizens chatting and eating currently occupied a couple of the accompanying chairs. Before Dex reached the last table, the asshole he was chasing grabbed it and tossed it in Dex’s direction like he was throwing a discus.

  “Shit!” Dex hit the boards as the aluminum table whizzed over him, grazing his hair. It landed with a clattering bounce somewhere behind him. Son of a bitch. Assault on an agent. Dickbag was going down. Jumping to his feet, Dex took off after the guy, emerging on the other side of the underpass and heading for the High Line’s sundeck. Thank God the guy wasn’t a cheetah Therian, though he was still fast as hell, and Dex found his lungs burning as he pushed himself to catch up.

  “THIRDS! Stop! I’m ordering you to stop!”

  “Fuck you!”


  The Therian headed for the handrail, and Dex knew he was going to jump it. On the other side, a set of stairs went down to street level. He couldn’t let the guy make it to the street. Giving it everything he had, he sped up and launched himself at the guy. Both of them hit the boards hard, the large Therian landing on Dex and knocking the wind out of him. Fuck. Why did these guys have to be so damn heavy? The guy rolled off Dex, hissing as he pulled back a fist, but Dex had already swiped his Glock from its holster. He aimed it at the Therian perp whose fist came to an abrupt halt.

  “That’s right. Now back the fuck up. Slowly,” Dex ordered. He breathed in deep through his nose, letting it out slowly through his mouth as he tried to steady his breath. He kept his gaze on the Therian as he got to his feet. The mark on his neck stated he was a Leopard Therian. Comfortable with heights, water, agile, and astoundingly strong. Duly noted.

  “What were you doing outside Agent Brodie’s apartment?” Dex asked, taking a step back, the hold on his gun unwavering.

  “I was just out for an evening stroll. Reading the paper. That’s not a crime now is it?”

  “No, it’s not. But trying to blow someone up is.” Dex cocked his gun. “Your boss tried to kill my teammate. Twice. Instead, he sent my partner to the hospital.”

  The bastard grinned at him, fangs bare. “Maybe your partner should have minded his own business. What’s that Human saying? Curiosity killed the cat? Well, nearly.”

  Dex aimed low and fired.

  With a howl, followed by a litany of curses, the Therian dropped to the boards clutching his leg. He gaped up at Dex. “You shot me? What the fuck!”

  “It’s only a flesh wound. It won’t even need surgery.” Dex moved his gun to the other leg. “This one might. Now. I asked you a question. What were you doing outside Agent Brodie’s apartment?”

  A female’s shriek pierced the air, and Dex cursed under his breath. He held his gun in both hands as he backed up and circled the Therian on the floor so he could keep an eye on him and see what the hell was going on. In the shadows of the underpass, a cougar in his Therian form was clawing at a Human jogger. The asshole must have been hiding in the thick greenery. The jogger balanced precariously on the small table screaming for help, her pant leg shredded and leg bloodied.

  “What’ll it be, Agent Daley? Bring me in or preserve civilian life. That’s your number one directive isn’t it? Preserve civilian life?”

  Another scream, and Dex let out a frustrated growl. Fuck. Not only did he not have any zip ties with him—fucking genius, Dex—but he didn’t have time to come up with an alternative other than shooting the guy. How the hell was he going to explain himself? He took off toward the cougar Therian in time to watch in horror as it swiped at the woman’s leg, sank in its claws, and jerked her off the table. She shrieked, bringing the table and chairs clamoring down with her. The cougar Therian hissed and roared as the woman flailed, unable to get away due to the slippery pool of blood beneath her.

  “THIRDS! Stop!” Dex shouted as he fired a round, hitting the cougar Therian in the shoulder. It let out an ear-piercing cry before it released the jogger and leapt over the High Line banister. Dex’s priority was to neutralize the threat and prevent any loss of life. He ran to the banister and leaned over to find the cougar Therian long gone. Knowing he’d never catch up to it, he rushed back to the jogger, securing his Glock back in his holster as he kneeled beside her.

  “Hey, it’s okay. Look at me.” Dex called out for help over his shoulder, grateful when a couple nearby rushed to their aid. He instructed for them to call emergency services and quickly removed his jacket while reassuring the injured woman. His gaze darted over to where he’d left the first asshole he’d shot, but as Dex expected, the guy was gone. Remembering he was wearing an undershirt, he pulled off his long sleeve T-shirt, wadded it up, and pressed it to the woman’s leg. He held it down tightly, talking to her and distracting her, even managing to make her smile while they waited for the paramedics to arrive. A few minutes later, and the medics were carrying the woman away. He thanked the couple who’d helped, and thanked the EMTs for the sterilizing hand wipes. What a damned mess. A large figure headed for him and Dex cursed under his breath.

  “Dex? What are you doing here?” Seb frowned as he approached.

  “I came to pick up some stuff for Sloane.” Dex pointed at Sloane’s apartment a few feet away. “Sarge suggested he stay at mine while he recovers.”

  “Right.” Seb seemed to relax some, but he still had his “on the job” face. “So what happened?”

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