*** SPOILERS *** This flash fiction contains spoilers from Catch a Tiger by the Tail (THIRDS, Book 6)
This was a terrible idea.
Why the bloody hell had he agreed to this? Hudson splashed some water on his face before plucking a paper towel to dry off with. He leaned his arms on the sink and shook his head. This was ridiculous. It wasn't as if he hadn't know the man would be here. Honestly.
“Look at you,” he scolded himself. “It’s a bleedin’ party. Nina and Cael's party. Get over yourself and get out there.” What was the worst that could happen? So what if he ran into Seb? It wasn’t as if he didn’t work with the man, and it was hardly the first gathering where they were both in attendance. Hudson straightened and smoothed out his waistcoat, making him smile. Nina had picked out his costume for the Roaring Twenties themed party, and he rather liked it. He would have gone for a nice jumper or pullover, but that was most likely why Nina had insisted on picking his wardrobe for tonight. The rich blue of his three-piece suit made his eyes stand out, and his hair was neatly parted and combed to one side, completing the vintage look. Well, it was time to rejoin the party, and stop being such a stick in the mud. Why had he even come in here?
An image of Seb looking handsome as sin in his brown three-piece suit had Hudson letting out a groan. That was why. He’d finished hanging up his coat, and when he turned around and the crowd had parted like bloody red sea, giving Hudson a perfectly clear view of Seb standing by the bar, a glass of whiskey in one hand, a disarming smile on his rugged face, and looking as if he’d stepped out of an old Hollywood movie. Hudson had been stunned stupid. Seb was a T-shirt and jeans kind of guy. Not that there was anything wrong with that, and he always looked good no matter what he wore, but there were few times Hudson had seen him in a suit. It did awful things to his insides.
Hudson chucked the paper towel into the bin with a growl. How was it the man continued to get more handsome with every passing year? Not to mention all that muscle. Damn tiger Therians. Why did they have to be so... muscly. And firm. And... for crying out loud. All right. Time to stop hiding in the gents.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Hudson left the men’s room and joined the rest of the party goers. He made the rounds, saying hello to all his colleagues. The party was in full swing, and the place was filled with people dressed to the nines as they say. There were so many people now it was difficult for Hudson to see who he might run into. He ordered himself a cocktail from the bar, and headed for one of the tables when someone threaded their arm through his. He smiled, having caught a whiff of the familiar scent.
“Damn, look at you. Who’s heart you out to steal, Mr. Public Enemy Number One?”
Hudson chuckled as Nina planted a kiss on his cheek. She pulled him toward the dance floor. “Dance with me.”
“Nope. It’s my birthday, so you have to dance with me.”
“Oh all right.” In truth, he didn’t mind. He was a rather good dancer. Nothing extraordinary, but he’d gone through his clubbing phase just like any other youth, spending many a night in London's West End. He'd drunkenly stumble from club to bar to club, dancing the night away. The thought brought a heavy sadness to his heart. He'd spent many of those nights with his siblings. How he missed them. Even if they had cast him out. Yet it was Alfie he missed most of all. Nina playfully bumped her hip into his, snapping him out of his melancholy thoughts. He really needed to get himself together.
The rest of his team was on the dance floor. The DJ played a sweet ballad from yesteryear and Hudson couldn’t help his smile as he brought Nina in close for a slow dance. Next to them, Sloane held Dex close. They looked so sweet together. Dex laid his head against Sloane’s shoulder, one arm wrapped around Sloane’s waist, the other in Sloane’s hand over his heart. Sloane let his head rest against Dex’s, his arm wrapped tight around him. Hudson wished them nothing but happiness. Those two were perfect for each other. The perfect balance of light and dark. They’d been so close to losing Sloane after Gabe died. It was so good to see him happy again
“Thank you for coming,” Nina said, interrupting his thoughts. She gave him a knowing smile.
“I wouldn’t have missed it.” As tempted as he was to stay home and watch the latest episode of How to Get Away with Murder, he wouldn’t have missed his best friend’s birthday party. The song was beautiful, and the floor was flooded with couples. Even Ash was on the floor dancing with Cael. It still amazed Hudson to see this side of Ash Keeler. Of course he was still abrasive and at times Hudson had the urge to strangle the man, but he was certainly less angry now that he was with Cael.
The ballad soon faded and a swinging tune took its place. The crowd cheered, and Nina grabbed his hands before he could make his escape. Darn it, foiled again!
“I’m not finished with you yet, Dr. Colbourn.”
Hudson laughed. What the hell. He kicked up his heels and did his best to keep up with the music, twirling Nina around, and then lifting her off her feet. The drums had the place vibrating with energy, and he had to admit he was having a marvelous time. He joined his friends for a few more dances until he was out of breath. There was no keeping up with Nina indefinitely. Where her boundless energy came from was beyond him. Needing some air, and a nice cold drink, he finally managed to pull himself away. The vodka and lemonade went down like a dream, though he needed to cool off a bit. It seemed as if more guests had arrived, and the floor was packed. Maybe he should head upstairs to the roof garden for a few minutes before Nina came to drag him away again. Finishing his drink, he headed for the stairs. The roof garden was just what he needed. It was set up with outdoor heating, but when he walked out from under the awning, the cool breeze felt so good against his skin. The string of lights and colorful lanterns were charming, and there were plenty of agents from his unit chatting. Some of them were getting cozy.
A voice he knew all too well sent a shiver through him. It had been inevitable. Well, there was no sense in putting it off any longer. He’d say hello and head back downstairs. A conversation wouldn’t be so terrible. Granted, they didn't really chat at work, at least not about anything that didn't relate to a case, but there was a first time for everything. He really needed to stop avoiding the man. Seb stood with Ethan and Calvin while Taylor chatted up one of Nina’s cousins. It was good to see Ethan here. Undoubtedly he'd needed a break from the crowded noisy ground floor. Hudson would have to ask him how his mother was. He missed spending time with Julia. They still spoke on the phone, but it wasn't the same as when he would stop by. They'd sit and watch soaps together. Sometimes Calvin's mother Darla would join them. Those two were such a hoot. It was clear where their sons got their mischievous streaks from. Hudson pushed away the butterflies in his stomach. It would be fine. Maybe even pleasant. Hudson had always loved talking to Seb. He loved listening too. Seb's gravelly voice had a way of turning him into a puddle of goo.
As Hudson approached, Taylor turned and threw his arm around Seb’s shoulders.
“Listen, bro. I heard about what happened. Sorry things didn’t work out with Cael. You two looked good together. Man, I can’t believe he chose Keeler. Him and Daley have a hard-on for fucked-up guys. You took him home a couple of times before that. Tell me you at least got to bang him.”
Hudson stopped cold, his heart splintering, which was extraordinary considering it had been in pieces for some time now, precariously held together by bits of frayed tape. He thought he’d be better prepared for this moment after years of telling himself—of telling Seb—that it was time to move on, but he hadn’t prepared himself for the possibility of Seb moving on with a friend and colleague.
Ethan tugged at Seb’s sleeve, and Seb turned around, his stricken expression confirming Taylor’s words. When Hudson spoke, his voice was barely a whisper. “You and Cael?”
It made sense. Cael was sweet, smart, and handsome. He had boundless energy, and was rarely without a cheerful smile.
“It’s not what you think,” Seb said quietly, taking a step toward Hudson. “It was a few drinks. We didn’t—”
Hudson held a hand up. He couldn’t listen to this. His heart couldn't take it. “You don’t owe me an explanation, Sebastian. You don’t owe me anything.” All he could think about was Cael in Seb’s arms, being kissed by him, touched by him. Those large, gentle hands pulling him close. Oh God, he needed to get the hell out of here.
“Don’t,” Hudson warned sharply before quickly reigning in his emotions. Whatever you do, don’t lose your composure. He couldn’t allow Seb to see how devastated he was. Hudson had no right to be upset. Not really. It would prove he harbored some false sense of hope that one day.... Schooling his expression, he straightened and smoothed out his vest. “Please don’t call me that. Excuse me.” He started to turn, when Seb caught his arm.
“It was drinks and talking. Nothing happened.”
Hudson tried to pull his arm out of Seb’s grip to no avail. He needed to go. “Sebastian, please….” Please don’t touch me. It'll break me. It was over. This was what he wanted, wasn’t it? He should be grateful. Seb was moving on.
“He’s in love with Ash, and I’m—”
“Stop,” Hudson pleaded. His emotions threatened to get the better of him, and the back of his eyes stung. No. He wasn’t going to do this. Why did it have to be this way? What had he done that was so terrible? You know what you did. You deserve every possible heartache. Hudson shook his head. He didn't. It was tearing him up inside. He didn't deserve that.
“I love you.” Seb put his hand over his heart, his grip still on Hudson’s arm. Those beautiful bright green eyes so filled with adoration pleaded with Hudson. “I told myself that I could move on, that my heart would heal, but after all this time, the wound’s only gotten deeper. I need you in my life, Lobito.”
Why are you doing this to us? To me? Hudson swallowed hard. A tear rolled down his cheek, and Seb brushed it aside with his thumb.
“Our bond is as strong now as it ever was. I can’t stand to be away from you. Please, come back to me. I know you still love me.”
This had to stop. When would it stop? He wasn’t strong enough. Every day was a struggle. The mark on his back burned, reminding him of what had once been, of how foolish he’d been for thinking he’d found a home, believing one day he and Seb would get married and start their own family. A family? A child? After what you did? You're life is just one bloody trajedy after another. Everything you touch falls apart. Hudson met Seb’s gaze. “You’re wrong.”
“And you’re lying,” Seb replied, moving his hand to Hudson’s neck, his thumb stroking Hudson’s skin, making him shudder.
Damn you, Sebastian. Hudson pulled away. “I’ve moved on.” Seb flinched, and it hit Hudson like a punch to the gut. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, but this is how it has to be.
The roof garden was empty now except for the bartender who pretended not to notice what was going on. What must his coworkers think of him? Surely that he was pathetic. Torturing himself. There was not one agent in Unit Alpha who didn’t know about him and Seb. It was the pitied looks Hudson found most difficult to swallow.
Hudson straightened to his full height and lifted his chin. He pushed his glasses up his nose, his tone harsh when he spoke. “It’s time for you to move on, Sebastian. We can never get back what we had. It’s over.”
“We let a child die!” Hudson snapped, his fists shaking at his sides. “We were so wrapped up in our perfect little world, we failed to protect those who counted on us. We swore an oath, and we bloody botched that up in spectacular fashion, didn’t we?”
Seb shook his head. “That’s on me.”
“Listen to yourself! The guilt is still eating away at you.” Hudson turned away from Seb, his voice quiet. “Well, it eats away at me too. Can’t you see that? What we had died that day with that poor boy. There’s no bringing either back. Please, for both our sakes, let me go.” Why won’t you let me go?
“Then I’ll have to take the initiative.” Hudson met Seb’s gaze, his resolve firm. “Unless there is no other option, considering we both work in the same unit, I’d like you to stay away from me. Good-bye, Sebastian.”
Hudson walked off, pushing everything deep down. He had to get the hell out of here. He headed for the stairs, aware of Seb on his heels. If he had to be an arsehole, so be it. Seb had to stop this. If it meant Hudson had to push, then he’d push. He couldn’t stand to see Seb in so much pain. It twisted Hudson’s inside. The pain was excruciating, and he held onto his stomach. Damn his traitorous body. His inner wolf howled and snarled. It was desperate to be reunited with Seb. Hudson gritted his teeth. Piss off. It’s over. You know it as much as I do. His wolf was having none of it, and the more Hudson yelled at him to shut up, the more his inner wolf snapped his jaws and made Hudson bleed, punishing him for keeping them apart.
“I know what you’re doing, and you have to stop right now. You can’t hide your emotions away in a little box and lock them up without losing a piece of you, without locking everything else up too. I know you. You shut your heart away until you don’t feel anything at all. I won’t let you do that to yourself.”
“You really have no say in what I do or don’t do to myself,” Hudson replied sternly. He hurried down the stairs with everyone trailing behind him. Downstairs he pushed his way through the crowd toward the front of the bar when he saw it.
Nina and Rafe sat in a booth by the door kissing.
The remainder of Hudson’s broken and battered heart shattered. It wasn't possible. He gave a start when Seb launched himself at Rafe.
“You son of a bitch!” Seb landed a punch across Rafe’s face. “For years you blamed what happened on my being in a relationship with Hudson, giving me shit for it, and you’re with Nina?”
“Get the fuck off me!” Rafe growled, pushing Seb away.
Hudson stood frozen, his wide eyes on Nina. “You and him?”
Nina quickly exited the booth and held her hands up. “Hon, please let me explain.”
“Explain?” Tears pooled in Hudson’s eyes, his emotions at war with each other. Anger and hurt battled for dominance. “How could you keep this from me? I confided in you. You knew everything. You knew that bloody arsehole tried to get me sacked, and you’re sleeping with him!” After the incident, his life had been a living hell, made worse every day by Rafe's one-man crusade to ruin him. How many nights had Hudson spent crying on Nina's shoulder? She'd stood at his side as Rafe tried to destroy him and what was left of his career.
Seb stared at Rafe in disbelief. “You tried to get Hudson fired?”
“He ruined your career,” Rafe spat out heatedly. “He put you and our family through hell. We got death threats!”
“What?” Hudson looked aghast. Death threats? Why hadn't Seb told him?
“That’s right,” Rafe replied through his teeth. “Seb never told you, but we got threats. Someone jumped him and tried to stab him, and that was after someone tried to run him down. Bet he didn’t tell you that either. You ruined his fucking life!”
He had, hadn’t he? Ruined them both. Seb had been demoted, transferred from Destructive Delta, and stuck in Archives while Hudson had kept his position as Chief Medical Examiner.
“He didn’t do shit except put up with your disgraceful behavior time and time again. You’re such a fucking hypocrite,” Seb growled, shoving Rafe, and getting pushed back.
“Please, stop!” Hudson tried to get close to Seb, but getting between two tiger Therians determined to beat the hell out of each other was dangerous. The two were far bigger, stronger. Nina begged Rafe to stop, but neither Rafe nor Seb were listening. This was his fault. He’d brought Seb so much pain, and continued to do so.
A crowd gathered as Seb punched Rafe, and Rafe tackled him to the floor. They thrashed around, cursing and shouting at each other, blaming each other for pain caused. Rafe grabbed Seb and hauled him to his feet. A strangled sound caught Hudson's ear and he turned to find Ethan standing there, frozen to the spot.
“Oh, no.” Hudson quickly joined Calvin at Ethan’s side. Ethan was on the verge of having a panic attack. Hudson called out to Seb, pleading. “Seb, it’s Ethan!”
Seb and Rafe pushed away from each other just as Hudson heard the shriek of tires. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end, and his inner wolf growled and whined at the impending danger. Seb hurried over, and Hudson threw himself at Seb as a familiar “pop” met his ear. Seb wrapped his arms around Hudson on instinct, and Hudson gasped, the pain shooting through his body setting his insides on fire. He willed himself not to panic at what it meant. Rafe shouted to the crowd.
A spray of bullets shattered Dekatria’s glass windows and splintered the wooden beams, tearing through everything and anything. Screams and shouts echoed through the room as everyone scrambled and dropped to the floor. Hudson hoped Seb wouldn’t be too upset with him.
“Oh God, please, no. No. Lobito, what did you do?” Seb cradled Hudson in his arms, his lips pressed together as Hudson coughed. He tasted blood. His own. “Why?” Seb caressed his cheek, and Hudson leaned into the touch. How he’d longed for that touch. Seb’s arms were strong around him, his body warm. I miss you more than you could know. Would it be terribly pathetic if he thought it was all worth it just to be in Seb's arms again?
Hudson smiled, tears in his eyes as he placed a bloodstained hand to Seb’s jaw. “We both know why.” His bottom lip trembled, and his face crumpled as the tears fell. Why did he have to love this man so damned much? It was a beautiful curse he couldn’t seem to escape. “I’m so sorry. For everything.”
Hudson was briefly aware of Nina shouting and the rest of Destructive Delta joining them. Rosa and Sloane rushed to Hudson’s side, and Sloane cursed as he inspected Hudson. He was tired, so tired. Judging by his friend's expression, it wasn't good. Had he been shot more than once? He couldn't tell.
“I found an exit wound.” Sloane pushed his hand down against Hudson’s side, and Hudson almost lost consciousness. It hurt so bloody bad. Or was that his heart?
“Where else is he hit?”
Rosa put her hand on Seb’s shoulder. “Seb, you need to lay him on his stomach. One of the bullets is still in there, and he’s losing a lot of blood.”
Don’t let me go.
Seb ran his hand over Hudson’s head. “Please, don’t leave me. Not like this.”
“Seb!” Sloane ordered.
Seb gently laid Hudson on the floor on his stomach. Was he drowning in his own blood? Funny, he should know these things. He was a doctor after all. His head was fuzzy and he couldn't think through the fog. Seb placed his rolled up jacket under Hudson’s head. It smelled like him, a mix of subtle cologne, shower gel, and his own delicious scent. Hudson would recognize it among a thousand tiger Therians. His Therian half whined, curling up on itself, seeking comfort where it could.
Seb took hold of Hudson’s hand while Rosa and Nina went to work trying to stop the bleeding. In the distance sirens wailed. Ethan joined Seb on the floor, kneeling beside him. He put his arm around his brother, and Hudson was glad Ethan was there. Seb had always been closest to his baby brother.
“You’re going to be okay,” Seb told Hudson, brushing Hudson’s hair away from his brow as Nina and Rosa worked furiously to stop the flow of blood. Hudson tried his best to control his breathing, but breathing in general was becoming difficult. His body was heavy, the darkness encroaching. He looked over at Seb and smiled. Forgive me.
“I know it’s… selfish, but… please stay with me?” Did he sound as scared as he felt? Seb held on to his hand, his expression determined.
“You know I will. It’ll be okay.”
Hudson wasn’t so sure. Whatever happened, Seb was safe. Hudson was glad it was him, and not Seb. What would Seb's family do without him? What would happen to Ethan? No, it was better it was Hudson. He had no family. Not anymore. Seb had been his family, and Hudson had ruined that too, but at least now he understood how wrong he was. Loving Seb wasn’t a curse. It was a beautiful gift. One he was lucky to have been given. Their time together may have been brief, but at least Hudson had experienced the full extent of adoration. Images of him and Seb in bed flooded his thoughts and he smiled. He’d been loved. So very loved. As his lids grew heavy and the chaos around him faded, he hung onto the memory of Seb’s kiss, and his heartfelt declaration of love. Seb still loved him. Hadn't stopped loving him. It meant everything to Hudson.
It was all worth it. You're worth it. Worth everything. I love you, Seb.
Copyright © 2016. Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.