I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. We had part two last week, so here's part three! Happy reading!
“Please, just try.”
Austen was going to snap at Zach to fuck off when Zach held the mug out to him again. Oh, he meant the tea. Damn it, he was doing the pouty lip thing again. That shouldn’t work on a guy of Zach’s size. He shouldn’t be able to pull off sweet and vulnerable. With a grumble, Austen took the mug.
“Fine. If it’ll get you off my back.” He wrinkled his nose, and braced himself as he took a sip of the steaming hot liquid. It was surprisingly not revolting. Not willing to admit it, Austen didn’t speak, just sipped the tea. Zach sat there, smiling at him. Christ. Now what? Who smiled at nothing? Except maybe Dex, but Austen had stopped trying to figure the guy out years ago. What was Zach’s deal? Austen finished his tea, and put the mug on the table.
“Listen, I appreciate you doing Sloane a solid by accepting to babysit me, but I’m fine. I’ve had worse.”
Zach nodded, and stood. He walked over to the coffee table and picked up the mug. “I’ll heat up some soup for you in a bit. You should rest.” He walked off, and Austen stared after him.
What the hell just happened? Clearly, he was being too subtle. Zach returned, and took a seat on the couch.
“You need to go.”
Zach tilted his head. “Why?”
“Because I don’t need babysitting.”
“I agree,” Zach said.
Austen peered at him. “And yet you’re still here.”
“Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, my fucking hell,” Austen said with a groan.
“You curse a lot.”
“Yes. Yes, I fucking curse a lot. All the fucking time. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
“Why do I….” Austen leaned in, eyes narrowed. “Because you’re annoying me, that’s why. I swear on my much beloved nads that if you say “why” one more time, I’m going to punch you in the face.”
“No, you’re not,” Zach replied matter of fact.
Austen arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”
Zach nodded, a smile spreading across his stupidly handsome face as he made himself comfortable. He stretched his long jean-clad legs out in front of him. His brown leather biker boots probably weighed more than Austen. He laced his fingers on his flat stomach, the long-sleeved T-shirt straining over his bulging biceps. Jesus, did the guy not own shirts that fit? Austen would bet if he wrapped his hands around Zach’s bicep, his fingers wouldn’t touch.
“Hey,” Zach said softly, grabbing Austen’s attention.
Austen moved his gaze up to Zach's face, and the knowing smile. Shit. He’d totally just been busted checking Zach out. Feeling his cheeks burning up, Austen threw his blanket over his head, and keeled over. He curled up on himself, his voice muffled under the blanket.
Dammit. What the hell? Maybe if he just stayed under his blanket, Zach would go away. “I don’t—”
“Need a babysitter,” Zach said gently. “I know. I’m not here to babysit you, I’m here to offer support. That’s what friends do.”
Austen’s heart skipped a beat, and he cursed himself for being such a dork. “We’re not friends.” He felt a hand on his head, and gasped. As soon as the shock wore off he hissed.
“We could be.” Zach’s tone was soft, and hopeful.
For crying out loud. Cut me a break, will you? “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Austen muttered, curling up in a tighter ball. He swatted at Zach’s hand from under the blanket. Why wouldn’t Zach take the hint? They shouldn’t be friends. Being friends with Zach would mean getting closer, and Austen couldn’t do that. Not with Zach. Why did Zach even care? Austen had never been anything but a pain in the guy’s ass. Why did he keep coming back for more? Man, he was suddenly feeling tired. It was going to physically pain him to say the word, but he’d try anything at this point. “Please, go away.”
The hand moved away, and Austen stilled. The couch shifted, and he listened out for the door. Nothing. How could a bear Therian be so quiet? No creaking floorboards, heavy footsteps, nothing. Austen tugged his blanket down his face, and he found himself nose to nose with Zach.
“Holy crap!” Austen scrambled back until he was practically inside the couch cushions. “What the hell?” he growled.
Zach chuckled warmly, his amber eyes bright and filled with amusement. He was crouched in front of the couch where Austen had been curled up.
“You’re kind of jumpy.”
“No shit. That’ll happen when someone stick’s their nose in your face.” Okay, he’d had enough. He threw off his blanket, jumped off the couch, and the room spun. Flailing, he prepared to kiss the floor when he landed against something soft. He blinked up at Zach. For fuck’s sake. Again? Why did he keep ending up in this guy’s arms?
Zach’s brow furrowed as he looked down at Austen now cradled in his arms. He placed the back of his hand to Austen’s brow. “I think you have a fever.”
Somewhere in Austen’s head was a smartass remark, but suddenly he felt drained, achy, and sleepy. “I hate this,” Austen mumbled, closing his eyes.
“What’s that?” Zach asked, sitting down cross-legged. Austen opened his eyes, and Zach pulled the blanket off the couch. He covered Austen up to his chin, his strong arms around Austen as he shivered, both from his fever, and from being in Zach’s arms. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to feel safe, or comfortable. Too close. Too warm. Too… perfect.
“You’re not weak,” Zach said gently, but firmly. “You’re just not feeling well. We can’t be at our best all the time, no matter how strong we are. It’s okay to lean on someone. On me.”
Austen was so cold, and Zach was so warm. He turned into Zach, curling up against him, and burying his face against Zach’s chest, mumbling. “This doesn’t change anything.” He just needed a moment to recharge, that was all. Soon as the room stopped spinning, he’d tell Zach to leave, and go back to being a miserable jerk.
“I know,” Zach replied quietly.
Was that a smile he heard in Zach’s voice?
“Just this once,” Austen said, his body feeling heavy. “Then you go home.”
Austen sighed. “Fine. After soup.”
“Go to sleep.”
“Don’t—” Yawn. “Tell me what to do,” Austen huffed as he tried to stay awake. Zach’s hand came to rest on his head, large fingers slipping into Austen’s hair, stroking, comforting. Austen would have swatted his hand away, but that would mean moving. He made a noise he was pretty sure conveyed his annoyance.
Just this once.
Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.