Tag - Anthony Maddock

THIRDS Thursday - 4/19/18

Prompt: Tony and the boys when they were young. I would like to see the first time that Cael had coffee and how they figured out he can’t have it ever again.

PART TWO

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod! Don’t freak out. It’s cool. Everything’s cool. So his hyperactive, cheetah Therian little brother ate a bunch of sugar and drank an entire cappuccino. It was fine. They were fine.

“Dex,” Cael whispered loudly.

“Yeah?” Maybe Dex had gotten lucky and the caffeine wasn’t affecting Cael. Other than the blown pupils, he was just sitting there. Shit. He was just sitting there.

“Everything is so sparkly.” Cael gasped. “It’s like magic! Let’s go the enchanted woods!”

“The what now?”

Cael jumped up in his seat, and Dex made a dive for him, but he wasn’t fast enough. His brother scrambled onto the table then jumped off before running out the door.

“Oh crap!” Dex grabbed Cael’s backpack, and hauled ass out of the diner after Cael, shouting out apologies as he pushed people out of his way. Cael was heading straight for West 22nd St. “Cael, stop!” Dex ran as fast as he could, snatching Cael by the back of his T-shirt just as a car came careening around the corner. He jerked Cael back against him as the car skidded to a halt, horn blaring, the guy behind the wheel cursing him out, and flipping him off.

“Butthead!” Cael shouted at the guy before dropping to his knees, leaving Dex with an empty shirt in his hand. What the heck was happening right now?

“Cael!” Dex chased his brother into the park, and then his annoying little brother disappeared into the bushes. “Damn it, Cael! Get your little butt out here! I swear, if I get grounded because of you, I’ll—”

“Hi, Dex! Dexter! Look at me! Dex!”

Dex stomped through the bushes, parting shrubbery, and checking behind trees. Little, snot-nosed—

“Look how high I am, Dex!”

Dex’s eyes widened. No way. No, no, no. He looked up, and gasped. Cael sat on a tree branch, in his underwear, swinging his legs.

“Where the hell are your pants?” Just as he said the words, they fell onto his head. He snatched them off then glared at his brother. Of course he’d gone up a tree. Why wouldn’t he? He was a felid. A felid hopped up on caffeine. Scaling a tree in a public park, half naked made perfect sense. Their dad was going to kill Dex. No, first he was going to ground Dex for life, then he’d kill him.

“How did you get up there?” Dex walked around the tree trying to find something he could use to boost him up. How the hell had Cael done it? He was nine, and tiny.

“If I go higher maybe I can touch the clouds!”

“No,” Dex scolded. “No touching the clouds. No touching anything. Just sit there and don’t move until I figure out how to get you down.” He looked frantically around, ignoring Cael’s whine.

“But I want to. Deeeex, they’re so fluffy!”

“They are not fluffy. They’re just water drops floating in the sky.” There had to be something.

“That sounds like science! You’re a science nerd!” Cael cackled his little face off.

“You take that back!” Dex dropped Cael’s stuff at the trunk of the tree before finding a bump sticking out from the tree on one side. It must be what Cael had used. He put his sneaker to it and pushed off in the hopes of reaching one of the heavy branches. Damn felids. And Cael wasn’t even full grown. Why couldn’t his brother have done what any other kid would have done and run for the Jungle Gym? Nope. His brother had to involve nature.

“Are you okay? Do you need me to call the police?” A bystander asked. He looked up and squinted. “Or the THIRDS.”

“Nope. I’m good,” Dex said, making another jump, his fingers grazing the branch.

“Are you sure? The kid’s one of them. We should call the THIRDS. What if he’s dangerous?”

Dex stopped jumping and narrowed his eyes. “He’s nine years old and sitting in a tree in his underwear. He’s not dangerous.”

“He’s a felid,” the guy replied, frowning deeply.

“He’s just a kid, and he’s a cheetah Therian. He gets distracted by yarn balls. Thanks for your concern, but it’s fine.”

The guy folded his arms over his chest. “He’s an animal.”

Dex stilled. He moved away from the tree. “What did you call my brother?”

The guy’s eyes widened, his hands dropping to his side. “But… you’re Human.”

“And you’re an asshole,” Dex snapped.

“That’s it, I’m calling the THIRDS,” the guy snarled.

“No need.”

They all turned at the gravelly voice, Cael’s happy shout the only sound in the otherwise quiet park that was no crowded with bystanders.

“Daddy!”

Tony was in full uniform, his black windbreaker displaying THIRDS in large white letters on his back. He looked huge, and scary like he always did in his uniform. Everyone took as step back as Tony approached the tree. He arched an eyebrow at Cael.

“Cael.”

Cael’s bottom lip wobbled, and he sat at the end of the branch. Tony held his arms out, and Cael dropped down into them. Tony caught him like it was nothing, and Cael wrapped himself around their dad.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” Cael said with a sniff. “I drank all of Dex’s coffee, and now I need to wee, and everything’s really loud and bright, and I can hear colors!”

“It’s okay, kiddo.” Tony patted Cael’s back, and turned to Dex. “Grab your brother’s things.”

Dex hopped to it, stopping beside his dad who paused to narrow his eyes at the man who’d been a jerk earlier.

“Was there something you wanted to say to me about my son?”

The guy looked like he was about to pass out. He was sweating. A lot. “Uh, no. Nope. I mean, no, Sir.”

Tony grunted. “Good.” He turned to Dex. “Help me take off my jacket.”

Dex quickly helped Tony take off his windbreaker, first one arm then the other before Tony wrapped Cael up in it, and held him close.

“Let’s go. Your brother needs to burn through the caffeine in his system.”

Parked on the curb was one of the THIRDS huge black SUVs. Tony opened the back door then climbed in with Cael. Dex climbed in after him, and shut the door. Behind the wheel was a huge guy in uniform with fair hair.

“Dex, this is our newest recruit to Unit Alpha, Rafe. Rafe, this is my son Dex, and my youngest, Cael.”

Dex tried not to stare at the guy who turned briefly to nod a greeting at Dex. He had hazel-green eyes, and a very stern expression. Yep, kinda terrifying.

“What kind of Therian are you?” Dex asked.

“Dex,” Tony scolded. “Manners.”

“Sorry,” Dex muttered. He wasn’t trying to be rude, he’d just never seen a Therian that big before. Not up close. There weren’t a lot of Therians at his high school, and most of them were way smaller than this guy.

“Tiger,” Rafe replied gruffly as the car started moving.

“Cool.” Dex had been doing all kinds of research on Therians. Even though he planned on joining the HPF instead of the THIRDS, Tony said it was important for him to know as much as he could about Therians if he wanted to make a difference. Tony had told Dex all about how his mon, and his dad, John, had believed in Therian equality. They’d wanted to make a difference, and so did Dex. The HPF was filled with anti-Therians. Dex was going to change that.

“Get dressed, kiddo.” Tony said, handing Cael his clothes. “I’m sorry I’m late. The THIRDS is making some structural changes,” Tony explained. “We’ve got new recruits coming in daily, along with some new Team Leaders. I’ve been assigned my own team.”

“That’s awesome! What’s it called?”

“Destructive Delta. The Team Leader I have in mind is a little young, but I think he’s going to do great.”

“What’s his name?”

Tony opened his mouth to reply when the SUV stopped.

“Here you go, Sarge.”

“Thanks for the ride, Rafe.” Tony patted Rafe’s shoulder. “See you Monday.”

“You’ve got the weekend off?” Dex hopped out of the car, and grabbed Cael who was singing quietly to himself, making Dex smile. Little dork.

“Yep.” Tony closed the SUV door, and ushered them toward the house. “Things are going to get a little crazy—crazier—at work, so I was given the weekend off.”

Both Dex and Cael jumped and cheered as they ran into the house. A whole weekend with their dad! Ever since Tony joined the THIRDS he’d been working way more hours than he’d been at the HPF. A whole weekend was going to be totally awesome.

“So,” Tony said, arms crossed over his chest, and a deep frown as he faced Dex. “Explain the coffee?”

“Coffee!” Cael whooped and started running around the living room screaming, arms flailing, and somehow he was in his underwear again.

Dex was so going to be grounded.


Part Three next week. Copyright © 2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 9/28/17

Prompt: Can we see Tony and John during their detective days? Like maybe on a stakeout or something?

PART TWO (Read Part One here)

Tony quickly checked the street before throwing his car door open, hurrying out, and slamming it shut. He darted onto the sidewalk, chucking his coffee cup into a trash bin he passed as he bolted down the sidewalk, John several feet ahead of him. Damn, but the man could run. Even without the head start, John would still be ahead of him. His best friend might be a smartass, but when it came time to get down to business, he was intense.

Two days they’d waited for their guy to show up, and finally they were going to bring him in. John was shouting at the guy to stop, but the bastard just bolted into the middle of the street. Tony cursed under his breath when John followed. Fucking idiot was going to get himself hit by a car.

They ran through the street, cars screeching as they skidded to a stop, horns blazing while the three of them dodged vehicles coming at them from all directions. He felt like the frog in that damn arcade game John loved to play. Here’s hoping none of them went splat. Tony’s heart almost stopped when a car headed straight for John.

“John!”

John didn’t stop. Goddamn son of a bitch slid over the hood of the car and kept on running like he was the Six Million Dollar Man. Tony was going to kill him. If they survived this, he was going to strangle his best friend. No, he had a better idea.

“Stop!” John shouted, gaining on their guy when the he took a sharp left onto 5th street. Tony lost John for two seconds before making the turn and in time to see John disappear into a building. Tony was panting by the time he got there. He ran up the stairs into the converted brownstone when he heard the commotion above him. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

The door to the roof slammed open, and Tony reached deep to keep going. His chest was burning, and everything hurt. There was something off about their guy. Why wasn’t he getting tired? Tony made it out onto the roof just as they man jumped across to the next roof. Tony gaped after him. Then he saw John picking up speed.

“Are you fucking crazy!”

“Come on, partner!” John made the leap, and Tony’s heart jumped too, right into his throat. Oh, John was so going to get it. John landed in a roll before popping up and taking off full speed. This was insane. His partner was insane. He was not going to jump a damn building—

“Anthony, I need you!”

Tony let loose with every swear word he knew and then some, taking off before common sense could prevail. He said a quick prayer, and made the leap, landing hard on the other side, but rolling like they knew to do. He pushed himself as hard as he could to catch up to John, and just as he did, they dove for their guy, tackled him to the ground. The man was strong. Stronger than they were. John turned the guy over, and all the pieces came together. It was obvious by the reflection of light in his eyes.

“He’s a Therian,” John said. He reached for his cuffs, and the guy threw his hands up in front of him and curled up into a ball.

“Please don’t hurt me!” The man was genuinely terrified.

John slowly kneeled beside him. “Hey, it’s okay. We’re not going to hurt you, but we do need to bring you in for questioning.”

“I didn’t do anything. Please.”

“Why did you run?” Tony asked.

The guy looked from Tony to John and back. “I was scared. It’s not safe for people… like me. For… Therians.”

Tony let out a heavy sigh. He couldn’t argue with that. Ever since the May Day Massacre a few months ago, it felt like the world was coming to an end. The city was burning around them, citizens against citizens. There was so much death and destruction.

“What’s your name?” John asked gently, helping the guy sit up.

“Will.”

“Will, we’re not going to hurt you, I promise,” John said. “We received information that you might have information we  can use to help solve a murder where a man was shredded to death.”

Will’s eyes went wide. They welled up, and Tony felt for the poor guy. He looked to be about in his thirties, which meant he’d been real young when he got infected.

“You a soldier?” Tony asked.

Will nodded. He lowered his gaze to his fingers. “That’s how I got infected. Doc says I… I probably won’t live to see forty.”

John cursed under his breath and shook his head. He gently placed his hand on Will’s shoulder. “You don’t know that, Will. I hear they got top scientists working on how to help Therians. Don’t lose hope.”

“Doesn’t matter. I’ll be in jail anyway.”

They helped Will to his feet. The poor guy had given up already. Tony couldn’t have that. “What kind of Therian are you?”

“Um, a wolf,” Will replied. He gave Tony a small smile. “Guess it fits. I’ve always been more of a dog person.”

“Well, we’re pretty certain our victim was killed by a Therian with really sharp claws.”

John nodded. “Plus, it happened three days ago, and after changing back, you’d be in no position to give us the run of our lives you just gave us.”

Will perked up. “That’s right. I try really hard not to give into the urge to change. The first time I changed back, the doctors said I almost died. I’m terrified if it happens again that I won’t survive.” Will let out a heart wrenching sigh, the tears rolling down his cheeks as his bottom lip trembled. “Doesn’t matter. I’m still going to prison. They don’t care if I’m not the right kind of Therian. The fact I’m a Therian is enough. It wouldn’t be the first time. Seems like it’s happening every damn day.”

John took hold of Will’s shoulders. “Now you listen to me. We’re not going to let you go down for a crime you didn’t commit. You come down to the station, let us take your statement, go over what you saw, and we’ll fight for you.”

Will’s jaw dropped open as he stared at them. “You—Why?”

John smiled warmly at Will and patted his shoulder. “Because you fought for us.”

God, he loved this man. Tony couldn’t help his dopey grin. “Trust me on this, Will,” Tony said, jutting his thumb at John. “If this guy knows you didn’t do it, he will move heaven and earth to make sure you get the justice you deserve.”

Will was silent for a moment before he nodded, a look of determination coming onto his face. “Okay.”

They escorted Will back to the car, and helped him get into the back. They didn’t cuff him. Something told Tony they weren’t going to need them. As Tony drove them back to the station, he could feel John’s eyes on him.

“What?” Tony grumbled.

“I can’t believe you jumped for me.”

Tony scoffed. “Are you kidding me? If I didn’t, Gina would tear me a knew one for letting you go off on your own like the damn fool you are. Which reminds me, if you ever do anything like that again, I will bust out Old Betsy. Do you hear me?”

John was looking too smug for his own good, and Tony knew just how to wipe that smile off his face.

“On second thought, I might just tell Gina.”

John gasped. “You wouldn’t.”

Tony arched an eyebrow. “You wanna try me, Daley?”

“Who’s Gina?” Will asked.

“His wife, who is currently balancing work and a little boy just like him who’s going through his terrible two’s.”

Will cringed. “Ooh, I would admit defeat if I were you, buddy.”

“Fine,” John huffed, folding his arms over his chest, and pouting.

Tony held a hand to his ear. “Fine what? That didn’t sound like a promise to me.”

“I promise I will not jump off buildings,” John said. The smug grin returned. “Especially since my best friend who loves me will jump after me. Because he loves me.”

“I don’t know how Gina puts up with you,” Tony grumbled.

“Because she loves me, yeah, yeah, yeah,” John sang.

“Oh God, and the singing begins. Sweet baby Jesus, help us all.”

John continued to sing, and Tony shook his head with a chuckle. His friend was all kinds of crazy, and all kinds of amazing. Tony wouldn’t change a thing.


THIRDS Thursday is on hiatus during the release months of October and November and will return in December with a holiday special!

Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 9/21/17

Prompt: Can we see Tony and John during their detective days? Like maybe on a stakeout or something?


PART ONE

Damn, he hated these long-ass stakeouts. He needed a shower, and he missed his nice comfortable bed, not to mention food that didn’t come served in tinfoil or wrapped in cellophane. The driver’s side door opened for him, and he slipped inside behind the wheel with a grunt in thanks. He handed John one of the coffee cups, and closed his door.

“Thanks, Anthony.” John smiled that big boyish grin of his, and Tony let out a snort in disgust at his best friend.

“You are way too cheerful after two days of this shit.”

John shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be? The weather’s beautiful, I’m here with my best friend, and now I have java. What’s not to be happy about?”

Tony merely grunted in response before taking a sip of his black coffee. He schooled his expression knowing what was coming. Three… two… one…

“Oh my God, I thought you said you were getting coffee,” John sputtered, his face looking like he’d just tasted a rank lemon or something. Tony congratulated himself on not laughing.

“That is coffee,” Tony replied flatly.

John shook his head. “No, it’s not. It’s foul. Like they took your dirty gym socks and soaked them in water for days, and then used that water to make this coffee.”

Tony gagged a little at the thought. “You’re a cop. Foul coffee comes with the badge.”

“I’ll keep the badge, but the coffee’s getting dumped into the river with the rest of the biological waste.”

Tony reached into his jacket pocket, and pulled out a wad of sugar packets that he dumped in John’s lap. “There you go.”

“Oh, well, this changes things,” John said dryly. “Now it’ll taste like sweet toxic waste.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “They didn’t have any of that frou-frou shit you drink.”

John grinned widely. “Say frou-frou again.”

Tony flipped him off, and John cackled.

“How was that movie you took Dex to?”

John did his best to give himself diabetes as he poured packet after packet of sugar into his coffee. “He loved it. There were a couple of scenes that were a little scary, but when I asked him if he wanted to step outside, he shook his head, eyes glued to the screen. Gina took him shopping the next day, and he came back with a red zip-up hooded sweatshirt just like Elliott wears. She also bought him this tiny stuffed E.T., and he put in a basket that he made me tie to his tricycle.” John shook his head with a chuckle. His eyes went wide, and he turned to Tony with a very solemn expression. “If he gets on his tricycle and E.T. is in the basket, do not take your eyes off him. He keeps trying to make his tricycle fly. With him on it.”

Tony let out a snort. “Like I ever take my eyes of Dex when I babysit him. If he’s not tying his blanket around his neck and attempting to throw himself off the couch, he’s trying to use his jump rope as a whip.” Tony’s expression turned deadpan as he regarded his friend. “Congratulations, John, your kid’s just like you.”

“What? You mean charming?” John asked, wriggling his eyebrows.

“No. Weird.”

John gave him a knowing smile. “Does that mean you’re not going to babysit him this weekend?”

Tony’s eyes went wide in horror at the thought. “Are you kidding? Like I’m dumb enough to stand between Gina Daley and Harrison Ford.”

John laughed. “Yeah, that would not be pretty. Now I know why she keeps suggesting I dress up like Han Solo for Halloween. Can’t say I blame her. Han is pretty hot.” John winked at Tony, and Tony chuckled.

“Man, I can’t wait to see you with a teenage Dex.”

John almost choked on his coffee. “What the hell, Tony? He’s two years old, adorable, and I can’t deal with the cuteness when he’s in his footie pajamas. It’s too soon to be thinking about mood swings, teenage boy smells, or having to purchase tissue boxes in bulk.”

Tony let out a bark of laughter.  John glared at him, and Tony held his stomach as he laughed. He felt no sympathy for John. His best friend was finally going to get a taste of his own medicine, and it was going to be glorious. Tony did, however, feel for poor Gina. Having to deal with two Daley men.

“Then comes the dating,” Tony teased.

John narrowed his eyes. “Not happening.”

Tony cast him a sideways glance. “Yeah? Like you never dated? Pretty sure that’s how you ended up with Dex.”

“I ended up with Dex because I married the love of my life, and we had a beautiful baby boy that’s going to stay an innocent cherub forever.”

“Right. More like he’s going to be like his daddy before his daddy met the love of his life. Leaving a trail of havoc and broken hearts wherever he goes.”

John’s smile faded, and Tony frowned. He placed his hand on John’s shoulder. “Hey, I was just messing with you.”

“I know,” John said quietly, shaking his head. He sighed. “They’re going to break his heart one day, Tony. Some guy or some girl is going to come along and break his heart into little pieces. I think that’ll be worse than the teenage boy smells.”

Tony’s expression softened. “Well, when that day comes, we’ll buy a giant tub of ice cream, grab a bunch of spoons, and we’ll all cry into the ice cream along with him.” The thought formed a lump in Tony’s throat. If Dex really was like his daddy, he was going to wear his heart on his sleeve, and have a heart too big and too soft for all the ugly out there in the world. Tony placed his hand on the back of John’s neck, and gave it a squeeze.

“Dex has you, Gina, and me. He’s going to be okay. Besides, if some boy breaks his heart, his uncle Tony will grab Old Betsy, and pay the guy a visit.”

John burst out laughing. “And you’d do it too.”

“Damn right. Someone messes with my boy, they’re going to answer to me.”

John’s smile lit up his bright blue eyes, the same eyes he’d passed on to his little boy.

“Thanks,” John said softly.

“You’re welcome. Now drink your toxic waste.”

John chuckled, and shook his head. “Ass.”

Tony was about to take another sip of his coffee when several doors down, a guy bolted out from the building. “Shit! That’s our guy!”


Part Two 9/28/17 Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 8/15/16

THIRDS Thursdays Prompt: Don't know if this has been suggested before, but I'd love to see something more about Dex's adoption from the beginning ...how Tony handled breaking the news /asking?/ a 5 year old Dex to be his adopted son / his parent's death.

“I can’t do it.”

His voice didn’t sound like his own. But then this life wasn’t his. It was someone else’s. This happened to other people. It was the kind of earthshattering news he’d had the misfortune of delivering to others. He wasn’t supposed to be on this end of things. It was a selfish thought, but right now he just didn’t give a shit. In fact, if it were up to him, he’d disappear for God knew how long, but he couldn’t, because as bad as it was right now, it was about to get so much worse.

Tony sat in his car, in the same spot he had for the last two hours. His vision was blurry, his eyes burned, and his hands wouldn’t stop shaking. He was a fucking mess. Broken. For the last two days he’d gone through a host of emotions. His initial reaction being anger. He’d been so goddamned pissed off at John for leaving him. Every swear word he’d ever known had crossed his lips, directed at his best friend. Tony was angry at Gina too. Angry she’d left her little boy behind. She’d been his best friend. But John had been his life. Tony let out a harsh laugh. God, he was so fucking pathetic. He’d let that part of him—along with John—go a long time ago.

The moment John met Gina, Tony knew that was it, and he was happy for John, truly was. Having John and Gina in his life was a blessing, one he never took for granted. The three of them had become a family. Tony had never, ever resented Gina. There was no one more perfect for John. When Dex came along, Tony couldn’t have been happier for them. Fatherhood suited John.

Fresh tears filled Tony’s eyes and he slammed his hands on the steering wheel.

“You son of a bitch! How could you do this to me? To your son?” He let his head fall against the steering wheel and cried for what seemed like the hundredth time since he’d identified the bodies. He’d refused to believe it at first. Convinced himself it couldn’t be them. When the police had shown up that night, Tony believed they’d made a mistake. Regardless, he called his sister to come take care of Dex while he got to the bottom of whatever the hell was going on. He’d never get the image out of his head. John on that slab of steel with a blanket over him, a bullet hole in his chest, right through his heart.

Breathe. Come on, damn it.

A tap on his window scared the hell out of him, and without thinking, he swiped his gun from his holster and aimed at the window. His sister jumped, and threw her hands up, fear in her big brown eyes. Cursing under his breath, he returned the gun to his holster, then wiped at his eyes. He opened the car door, stepped outside, and closed it.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a sniff, trying his hardest not to fall apart again. “Thank you, for uh,” he cleared his throat, “watching him.”

His sister nodded, and he had to look away so he wouldn’t see the pain in her eyes.

“I can’t do this, Danelle.” His bottom lip trembled, and blinked back more tears. “I can’t go in there, and—” He shook his head. “I’m not strong enough.”

“You gotta be, honey. That little boy needs you.” She put her hand to his cheek, and he closed his eyes.

“He needs his father,” Tony replied through his teeth, his hands balled into fists at his sides.

“Anthony, you’re that boy’s daddy now.”

Tony shook his head. “No. I’m not. John’s—”

“Dead.”

Tony flinched. He wanted to yell at her for saying that, but she was right. No matter how much he wished it wasn’t true, John was gone. Dex needed him. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he choked on his words.

“He’s just a little boy. How—Oh God.” He covered his face with his hand, his whole body shaking. Criminals he could face. Lethal Therians. Whatever the streets threw at him, he could face. But tell a five-year-old the parents who loved him more than air itself were gone? How could anyone ask that of him?

Danelle wrapped him up in her arms, and he held on tight, grateful he wasn’t alone. She murmured words of comfort, and he lost track of how long he’d held on. He couldn’t put it off anymore. Dex was inside with his neighbor's daughter. It was time.

Thinking of Dex, of how small and vulnerable he was, of how hurt and confused he would be, how much he would need Tony was what kept him on his feet. He took a deep steady breath, wiped his eyes, and reached deep down for strength he feared he might not have.  Even if he didn’t, he better damn well find it.

Tony walked into his house, and headed upstairs for the spare bedroom where he knew he’d find Dex. From the landing he could hear Dex’s giggles and childish shrieks as he played. Tony stopped in the doorway, and it took everything he had not to turn around and run. Teresa was tickling Dex, and he squirmed on the floor, hugging his Braveheart Lion to his little chest as he laughed. Tony closed his eyes for a moment, praying for strength.

Dex spotted him, and let out a squeal of delight. “Uncle Tony!” He scrambled to his feet, and Tony walked into the room, nodding at Teresa his thanks before she left the room, closing the door gently behind her. Tony sat down on the carpet, his back to the bed as Dex threw himself into Tony’s outstretched arms. He hugged Dex tight, willing himself not to lose it now. Not when Dex needed him most. Dex pulled back, his little face falling as he pet Tony’s head.

“Why are you crying?”

Always such a sharp little guy. Tony gave a sniff, and let out a shaky breath. “I’m crying,” he said, his voice shaky, “because something happened, and I wish it hadn’t, but there’s nothing I can do to change that. I want you to know that I love you, and I will always love you.”

Dex nodded. “What happened?”

Jesus. “Dex, you know how me and your daddy help people?”

Another nod. Dex’s gaze was fixed on him. Tony tried not to think about how those big blue eyes would never look at the world the same way again.

“And you know how he told you about the people we tried to help but couldn’t?”

“Daddy says sometimes bad things happen to good people.”

“That’s right. It’s not fair, and it hurts, and we wish so very much it wasn’t like that, but we do our best to help the people who loved them. The ones who’ll miss them the most.” Tony braced himself. “Dex, something bad happened at the movies. Your mommy and daddy were hurt very bad. They….”

Dex’s eyes went wide, and he stilled.

“They’re not coming back, baby. It’s just me and you now. I’m sorry.”

Dex shook his head vigorously. “That’s not true.”

“I wish it wasn’t.” Tony couldn’t keep the tears back any longer. He tried so damn hard, but he couldn’t. Not when he could see Dex’s little heart shatter.

Dex’s face crumbled, tears filled his eyes, and his face went red as he let out a high-pitched shriek. “No!”

“Dex,” Tony said gently, trying to bring him close. Apparently there were still remains of a heart left to break, because it happened all over again as Dex screamed “No” repeatedly. When Tony tried to reach for him, Dex hit him with his stuffed toy.

“You’re lying! I want my mommy!” Dex screamed, his voice getting hoarse as he continued to scream through his tears. He didn’t want to be touched, and Tony didn’t try to force him. When screaming for his mother didn’t conjure her up, Dex turned to Tony. “Fix it!”

“I wish I could,” Tony said, clawing to keep hold of the lone thread holding him from tumbling into the abyss.

Dex dropped to his knees in front of Tony, and he held Braveheart out to him as he gasped and gulped for air through his sobs.

“You can… have Braveheart. Please. Fix it. Tony… please.”

“Baby, I wish I could. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” He’d never felt more like a failure in his life, and it was illogical, but the fact that Dex believed he could bring his parents back all but undid him. Dex’s eyes clouded over, anger filling the big pools of blue, and it scared Tony. Something inside him snapped, and Tony sat up. He took hold of Dex and pulled him into his embrace. Dex struggled at first, but Tony held him.

“I love you, and I promise whatever you need, I will be here. I know it hurts so very bad. I know you’re scared, and angry, but you’re not alone. I’m here, and we’re going to get through this together. Me, and you.”

Dex threw his arms around Tony, squeezing as he sobbed into Tony’s neck. “Don’t… go… away.”

“I swear I’ll do everything in my power to always be with you.” As he made his promise to Dex, he made a promise to Gina and John. He’d raise Dex as his own, love him as he deserved to be love, and help guide him, help him grow up to be the kind of man his parents would be proud of.

Dex trembled in his arms, and Tony grabbed the blanket from the bed. He wrapped the blanket around them as best he could with one hand then lay on his side and curled himself around Dex.

“We’ll be okay, baby. I won’t let anything happen to you,” he promised. Dex was asleep in his arms, and Tony started to fade. He swore to himself that no matter what happened, he would give this little boy the life he deserved, full of love and happiness. If anyone tried to hurt Dex, they’d deal with him. Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, and thought of John. His best friend had entrusted him with the most precious gift he’d been blessed with. Tony would never forget that.

The road ahead was terrifying, filled with all kinds of obstacles he’d never faced before. Parenthood was something he hadn’t given much thought to, and now here he was, father to a grieving little boy. Tony would show Dex how to survive in a world that took his mommy and daddy away. The world was trying to tear itself apart with hate, prejudice, and violence. It was up to Tony to give Dex hope. To help him heal, and prove to him that the love he has inside him will help change the world. John was a beacon of light in the darkness, his optimism, courage, and sense of justice unrivaled by anyone Tony ever met. Dex had the same light inside of him. Tony would do everything in his power to make sure that light was never extinguished.

“I won’t let you down,” he murmured. I’ll be strong for the both of us. “I promise.”


Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 8/11/16

THIRDS Thursdays WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM SMOKE & MIRRORS (THIRDS, BOOK  7)!! . . .

Prompt: This is kinda a spoiler, but I wouldn’t mind reading about Sloane asking Tony permission to marry his son.


He could do this.

Sloane lifted his fist to knock on the door and froze, panic bubbling up inside him.

Oh, God, I can’t do this.

What if Tony said no? What would he do then? Would Tony say no? Why would he say no? Let’s see, how about we start with you breaking Dex’s heart more times than you can count? Or how about your inability to protect Dex when he was kidnapped and tortured? Or when you went feral and tried to kill him? How about the fact you infected him, and succeeded in killing him?

Okay, he couldn’t think about that last part. He’d fucked up several times, and maybe he hadn’t always been the perfect boyfriend, but he loved Dex, and a number of those events had been out of his control. Maybe not the breaking Dex’s heart part, but he hadn’t meant to. He’d never meant to hurt Dex. Sloane loved him. Needed him. For fuck’s sake, he’d almost lost Dex. He had lost Dex. As long as he lived, he would never forget how Dex looked, fighting for his life. Or the feel of his lifeless body in Sloane’s arms. The memory alone brought tears to his eyes, and a lump to his throat.

Sloane pulled his smartphone out of his pocket, and tapped his pin into the locked screen. His pulse immediately steadied, and he smiled down into the face of the man he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. Dex loved taking selfies with Sloane, and the rest of their team. It drove Ash crazy. Sloane chuckled at the thought. The fact Ash hated it just made Dex more determined, and sneaky. There was no escaping when Dexter J. Daley had you in his sights. Escaping was the last thing Sloane wanted to do. He’d been caught, or rather his heart had been caught, and he’d never been happier. He wouldn’t waste any more time.

“Why are you lingering on my doorstep?”

“Holy shit!” Sloane gave such a start, his phone leaped out of his hands. Lucky for him, his sergeant had amazing reflexes. Tony caught the phone, noticed the photo of Dex and Sloane squished together laughing, but didn’t say a word as he handed it back. In fact, Tony’s expression remained stoic as usual.

“Thanks.” Sloane returned his phone to his pocket, and took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly. “Um, hi.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “That bad, huh?”

Crap. Sloane threw his hands up in front of him. “Oh, no, it’s not like that. I swear.”

“Seeing as how Dex isn’t with you, I’m going to hazard a guess and say he doesn’t know you’re here.”

Sergeant Anthony Maddock was intimidating and scary at the best of times. When he was in Father Mode, he was deadly. The man was so still and calm, ready to strike at any moment. Sloane tried to smile. Tony’s frown deepened.

“Can I come in?”

Tony stepped to one side, and motioned for Sloane to enter. Maybe Sloane should have just called? Or, maybe he should suck it up and stop being such a coward. In the living room, Sloane shoved his hands in his pockets as Tony took a seat on the couch.

“Whenever you’re ready.”

“Thanks.” Maybe he should take his hands out of his pockets. But then where should he put them? He crossed them over his chest. No, that was a defensive pose. He uncrossed them. Oh, God, he was such a dork. “Sarge—”

“You here on official business?”

“What? Oh, um, no. Sorry. Tony.” He was still getting used to that. “I’m here because, well, you know I love Dex. I hope you know. You do know?”

“I would hope so, seeing as you’re living with him.”

“Yeah, I mean, yes. I love him. A lot. He’s… everything. I can’t—and don’t—want to imagine my life without him. When I’m with him, I don’t just feel happy, but at peace. He’s the most amazing man I’ve ever known.” Was he rambling? Shit, he was rambling. Why was he telling Tony how great Dex was? It wasn’t like Tony didn’t know his own son.

“That’s really nice. I’m glad to hear it. You didn’t come all this way to tell me how amazing my son is.”

“No. I um, wow, this is hard,” Sloane said, letting out a shaky laugh. Was he this nervous because of what he was doing? Or because it was Tony? His boyfriend’s dad also being his sergeant didn’t exactly make things easier. He just didn’t want to fuck this up for him or Dex, and he certainly didn’t want to disappoint Tony again.

“Sloane?”

Sloane looked up, surprised by the man’s warm smile. “Yeah?”

“You don’t need my approval.”

“I don’t?” Sloane blinked at him. He released the deep breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“No. But I really appreciate you asking anyway. If that’s what you were going to ask.”

Sloane rushed over to Tony and dropped down beside him on the couch. “Yes!”

Tony’s brows shot up. “Easy there, son.”

“Sorry. I’m just really excited. Tony, I want to marry your son.”

“I already said yes.”

“You did? Right! I—Wow, okay. Um, thank you.”

“Wait here.” Tony stood and walked off, leaving Sloane sitting there both relieved and a little foolish for having worked himself up. Of course Tony would be okay. He loved Dex and wanted his son to be happy, and although Sloane was still learning, he did make Dex happy.

“Here.” Tony handed Sloane a small black box.

“What’s this?” Sloane opened the box, his eyes going wide at the silver ring tucked into the black foam padding. “Oh my God. Is this…?”

Tony nodded. “It was John’s.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Sloane swallowed hard. He looked up at Tony, his heart squeezing at the sight of unshed tears in Tony’s eyes. The man quickly wiped them away. From what Sloane had come to learn of the man, there were three people in Tony’s life who could get through that armor of his, Dex, Cael, and John Daley.

“Are you sure?” Tony had been guarding this for so long. Did he really want to give up a piece of his best friend?

Tony nodded. “John would have wanted Dex to have it, and I know Dex will take good care of it. Just like I know you’ll take good care of Dex. Make him happy. He deserves it.”

“I will. Thank you.” Sloane stood and threw his arms around Tony, closing his eyes and smiling when Tony hugged him back. They remained that way for a few seconds before Tony pulled back. He gave a sniff and straightened, his armor back in place.

“I don’t do wedding planning, just so you know. I especially don’t do wedding planning when Dex is involved. I would warn Lou ahead of time so he’s prepared. I will, however, offer somewhere for you to hide and have a beer during that time.”

Sloane chuckled. “Thanks, I appreciate that.” For now, he was going to concentrate on asking Dex.

When he reached his car, he sat behind the wheel, looking down at the ring, knowing what it would mean to Dex. Sloane couldn’t help his dopey grin. A part of him couldn’t believe he was going to do this, while his heart wondered what the hell had taken so long.


THIRDS Thursday - 6/9/16

THIRDS Thursdays

Prompt: I'd love to read about the first time Dex called Tony "Dad". I mean, how did he transition from calling Maddock "Uncle Tony" to "Dad"? Was it a natural instinct?


“You’re so full of it.”

Tony arched an eyebrow at his older sister. “Why don’t you tell me what you really think, Danelle?”

Danelle chuckled as she leaned against the counter. Her expression softened and her warm brown eyes filled with concern. “You can’t pull one over on me, Anthony. I remember when you were in diapers just like Cael.”

“Thanks. That’s… informative.”

“Don’t be a smartass.”

Tony gave her an incredulous look. “I’m sorry, have we met?”

“No wonder that boy’s a little smartass,” Danelle muttered, though she was clearly trying not to smile. Tony knew his sister loved Dex something fierce. Cael too.

“I’m fine,” he promised, holding a finger up before she could reply. “Cael’s about to wake up from his nap in four… three… two… one.” The baby monitor crackled to life before the sound of gurgling followed by wailing filled the kitchen.

Danelle stared at the monitor. “That child has some lungs on him.”

Tony chuckled as he took the baby bottle from the pot of heated water on the stove, checking the temperature before heading for the stairs, his sister close behind. “And he’s supposed to be the quiet one,” Tony mused.  They walked into his bedroom to the custom made crib against the wall, opposite his bed. He handed the baby bottle to his sister so he could lower the side of the crib to get Cael out since Tony couldn’t reach over the top.

Tony had learned pretty quick that Therian babies were tiny acrobats. As soon as Cael could pull himself up, he was climbing the bars of his human crib like he was a seasoned pro. Thankfully Tony’s reflexes were nothing to be scoffed at and he’d managed to make a dive for Cael just as his son decided to practice his soaring skills.

“I will admit these two have pushed my adrenaline to new heights. More than any perp ever has.” He cradled Cael in his arms and took the bottle from his sister.

“I just worry about you,” Danelle said quietly, stroking Cael’s chubby cheek as Tony fed Cael. “You know I’ll always be here for you and these boys, but, Tony, people are pissed. They think it’s not right, you adopting a Therian child. The ink’s barely dry, and your job’s on the line. What if they fire you? How are you gonna take care of these boys?”

“We have you, don’t we?” Tony teased, giving her a wink. “You got enough in your fridge to feed Dex for at least….” Tony thought about it. “Three weeks. At least. Maybe.”

Danelle laughed. “I don’t know where that boy puts all that food. I know he’s growing, but he eats almost as much as you do, and this one,” she motioned to Cael who was making little baby noises as he drank his milk, “he’s going to grow up and his Therian metabolism will kick in. These boys are going to eat you out of house and home.”

“Look at him, Danelle.” Tony turned so his sister could get a good look at Cael, not that she hadn’t made a big fuss over him before. “Tell me you wouldn’t have done the same.”

She opened her mouth to reply then closed it. With a huff, she folded her arms over her chest. “Yeah, fine. I know.” She smiled down at Cael and cooed at him, making him smile as he continued to drink. Little wrinkles formed at the corners of his big gray eyes.

“I know this is all new. Believe me, it scares the hell out of me. You think I don’t wake up in the middle of the night asking myself if I’ve gone crazy? Me? With two kids? I couldn’t even keep a cactus from drying up. I mean, who kills a cactus?” He shook his head with a sigh. Tears sprang in his eyes, and he walked over to the bed to sit down. He looked up at his sister. “I miss them, Danelle. I miss him. God, I miss him.”

Danelle took a seat on the edge of the bed beside him. She ran her hand over his head. “I know, honey. I know what they meant to you. What he meant to you.”

“Sometimes I wake up, and it’s like a I can’t breathe. When I’m at work, or out and I see some stupid thing I think John would like, that would have made him laugh, and it’s like I can’t breathe. I keep thinking, what if I screw this up? John was the one who kept me from getting too serious, too focused on the job.” He frowned at the tear his sister wiped away from his cheek, not realizing it had made its escape. Man, was the heartache ever going to dull?

“And now these babies will do that for you, Anthony.” She stood and stepped in front of him. “These boys need you. Dex needs to heal, you need to heal, and that little one in your arms needs to be loved and protected from the morons of this world. Who better to school those idiots than you, huh?” She kneeled down in front of him, her hand going to Cael’s soft fuzz sticking up. It always made Tony smile, and it made Dex giggle his little head off. “If anyone can raise these boys to be good, honest young men, it’s you.”

Tony nodded, not being able to bring himself to speak. The front door closed downstairs, and he smiled at the sound of stomping on the stair. Danelle stood with a chuckle.

“Uh oh, here comes trouble.”

Dex swept into the room with all the theatrics disposable to a six-year-old. “Aunt Danelle!” He launched himself into her arms, squeezing her tight, and making her laugh.

“Hey, kiddo.”

Once he’d gotten his hug from Danelle, Dex skipped over to Tony and gave his cheek a kiss before he planted a kiss on Cael’s head. “Can I finish feeding him?”

Tony nodded. He loved how involved Dex was with Cael. Just four months in and Dex was taking his big brother responsibilities very seriously. He helped Tony in everything when it came to caring for Cael, from feeding to changing his diaper, and even reading him stories at bedtime.

Dex sat on the bed, and Tony handed him the blanket which Dex painstakingly arranged on his lap. The kid was a neat freak, just like Gina. Tony smiled before carefully placing Cael in Dex’s arms. Dex held the bottle, his feet subtly swinging. He was always fidgeting. That he got from John.

“Can I have chicken nuggets for dinner? Pleeeease?” Dex asked, smiling widely, showing the gap where his top two front teeth used to be. It was adorable.

“Okay, but only if you promise to eat your peas.”

Dex wrinkled his nose. He narrowed his eyes at Tony. “How many peas?”

“You want an exact number?” Beside Tony, Danelle put her hand to her mouth to keep herself from laughing.

“Sounds like someone else I know,” she muttered.

Tony glared at her before turning his attention back to Dex who very grown-up-like handed Tony Cael’s empty baby bottle.

“Wait until you hear all about school today,” Dex told Cael. “But I’ll tell you later. First….” Dex arched a little blond brow at Tony. Lord, help him. The kid was too smart for his own good at six. He was going to have to keep his wits sharp the older Dex got.

“Forty-five,” Tony said, crossing his arms over his chest.

Dex pursed his lips, and Tony could see the little wheels turning. Here we go.

“Ten.”

Tony laughed. “No way. Forty.”

Danelle looked on in amusement as they negotiated over peas. These days Dex negotiated everything, from how long he could play Nintendo to what time he’d go to bed. Tony had witnessed hostage negotiations with fewer demands.

“Eighteen,” Dex countered, wriggling his fingers under Cael’s chin, making him gurgle and squeal.

Tony planted his hands on his hips, his eyes narrowed. “Thirty-five.”

“Twenty-two.”

“Thirty, and that’s my final offer.”

Dex pursed his lips. “Thirty and I get an extra cookie.”

Danelle snickered and Tony shook his head at her. “You’re not helping.”

“I’m sorry.” She turned and laughed into hers hands. Clearly she wasn’t sorry.

Tony walked over and took Cael from Dex. “Deal. Now go do your homework.”

“Woot!” Dex jumped off the bed, running victory laps around the room. Tony had just put Cael down in his crib and turned on the musical lion mobile set that Cael loved to swat at when Dex tackle hugged him. With an “oomph” Tony hugged Dex back.

“Okay, little man. I love you too.”

“Thanks, Dad!” Dex skipped off and Tony stared after him. His knees felt weak, and he held onto the crib. Danelle turned to stare wide-eyed at him.

“Did he just….”

Tony nodded. “I uh… I need to sit down.” He flopped down on the bed wondering if he’d heard what he thought he had. Of course he had. Danelle had heard it too.

“How long has it been since—”

“Sixteen months,” Tony stated. He was still sorting through the red tape of Dex and Cael’s adoptions. He was still showing up in the news as the first Human to adopt a Therian child. John and Gina’s house was still sitting there, untouched because Tony still couldn’t bring himself to sell it, and not because of the assholes who said he was taking advantage. Like he’d ever touch a penny of John and Gina’s insurance money. Everything was in Dex’s name. Not one penny touched. Tony would raise his boys on his own, with his own hard earned money. What Gina and John left behind would go toward Dex’s future, and when he was old enough, he could do whatever he wanted to do with it. Whatever happened, Tony would make sure his boys were well taken care of. His boys.

Dad.

Danelle’s arm around his shoulder gave him a start, and he shook his head. “Do you think he knows what he said?”

His sister gave his shoulders a squeeze. “You know Dex. When does he ever not know what he’s saying? He’s smart. Sometimes too smart,” she teased. “Negotiating peas.”

Tony chuckled before getting serious again. “Do you think I should talk to him?”

“Go on. I’ll look after Cael.” She gave his cheek a kiss and went to the crib. She knew him too well. He’d mull over it, worrying about Dex until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He walked downstairs to the dinner table where Dex was doing his homework. Needing to fortify himself, he poured them each a glass of milk and put some chocolate chip cookies on a plate. He brought everything over to the table and sat down. Dex looked at the cookies then up at him, his eyes wide.

“What’s wrong?”

Tony couldn’t help his smile. “Who says something is wrong?” He held up a cookie, chuckling when Dex eyed it warily.

“You always say snacks before dinner will fill you up.” Dex took the cookie, looked at it, and shrugged before biting a chunk out of it.

“I do say that. Dex, did you… um….” He cleared his throat. “You called me dad.”

Dex blinked at him, his mouth full of cookie. He gulped down some of his milk before his expression turned puzzled. “Yeah.”

“Yes,” Tony corrected.

“Yes,” Dex replied with a nod. He cocked his head. “Is that bad?” His pale blue eyes grew glassy. “Because you’re not daddy, should I not call you dad?” He looked hurt and Tony quickly reached out, pulling Dex onto his lap, rocking him and running a hand over his hair.

“No, that’s not it at all, kiddo.” He squeezed Dex tight. “I think it’s great. I love it. I just wanted to make sure you’re okay. You know that calling me dad, or thinking of me as dad won’t change how much your daddy loved you or how much you love him. You know that right?”

Dex nodded, his cheeks pink as he sniffed, tears in his eyes. “I know. You’re never going to go away, right? You’re going to be dad now, for me and Cael. We’re a family now.”

Tony kissed the top of Dex’s head, his arms wrapped tight around him as Dex hugged him back. “Yeah, we’re a family, kiddo.”

“Yes,” Dex corrected.

Tony smiled, his heart all but ready to burst.

“Yes.”


Copyright © 2016. Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.


THIRDS Thursday - 5/26/16

THIRDS Thursdays Prompt: Could we maybe see Tony and Dex’s parents? Could be before or after Dex was born. :)

“I blame John.”

Tony chuckled and looked up from his newspaper. Gina groaned as she slowly walked around the living room.

“It takes two to tango,” Tony said, motioning to Gina’s big pregnant belly. She was due any day now, and the closer she got to giving birth, the more she blamed John. Of course John never took it to heart. He was a loving husband who did his best to make sure Gina had everything she needed to be comfortable. They were as prepared as two soon-to-be parents could be.

Gina arched an eyebrow at Tony before her pale blue eyes narrowed. He gingerly lifted the newspaper in front of him to hide his face from her. If she had the slightest inkling he found her amusing she’d launch a throw pillow at his head. Wouldn’t be the first time. John said that for a pregnant woman, she had reflexes like a ninja.

“That’s not what I meant.” She groaned again, and he looked up to make sure she was okay. She rubbed her belly as she walked. “This kid thinks I’m an obstacle course. He’s like John. Always fidgeting.”

“Yeah, but you love the big dope.”

Gina let out a school-girl sigh. “I do. He’s so pretty.”

Tony laughed. “That’s why he gets away with everything. He just bats those pretty eyes and you’re a goner.”

Gina let out a very indelicate snort. “Please. Like you’re immune to that smile.”

“Smile doesn’t get me,” Tony replied with a shake of his head. “It’s that damned dimple. That and the fact he does whatever the hell he wants anyway.”

“We both love the dope, so you’re as screwed as I am. What’s today’s headline?”

“Oh no.” Tony quickly closed the paper and folded it up as Gina glared at him. He’d been given very clear instructions not to let Gina read the papers. A few months ago the government started the Therian database, requiring Therians to go to their nearest CDC clinic for classification. It was rumored they were creating a system that would have Therians marked. John had been furious, as had Tony. Gina had been livid, launching a campaign against the movement and becoming the first medical officer at the CDC Registration Office to volunteer working specifically with Therians, a position she’d demanded be introduced. No one said no to Gina Daley.

John decided that reading the newspaper was off limits for a while. The headlines upset her too much. Of course Gina was as stubborn as her husband. Telling her she couldn’t do something was like waving a red flag in front of a bull.

Gina Daley was a stunning young woman who stood at five foot three without heels, had dirty blonde hair and the palest blue eyes Tony had ever seen. She looked angelic in her pink flowered maternity dress. She could also put the fear of God in any mortal, including him.

“Tony, give me the paper.”

He blinked up at her innocently. “It’s under my butt.”

“I don’t care. Besides, I’ve seen your butt.”

Tony felt his face burn. “That wasn’t my fault.”

“Of course it wasn’t,” Gina agreed, “but that’s what you get when you let John convince you to take your clothes off in protest of campus Therian segregation. That wasn’t going to get you two anything other than some serious rubbernecking. It was like a feeding frenzy. You know how many fellow students I had to chase off that day? Geniuses you two.”

Tony shrugged, and did his best not to laugh at the memory. “We were a couple of stupid college kids.” Poor John. It said something that he was more terrified of losing Gina to his shenanigans than he’d been about getting kicked out of school. Gina had been annoyed with her fiancé, but she adored John, crazy antics and all. He learned pretty quick after that. “That was such a long time ago, Gina. We’ve both matured.”

“That was two years ago.”

Tony pursed his lips. “I got nothing.”

“Between your ears apparently. Like John. Give me the paper.”

Tony put a hand to his chest. “Ouch. You want me to get you some chocolate or something?”

“Anthony Maddock, so help me if you don’t give me that damned newspaper I’m going to—” She let out a groan/yell combo that scared the shit out of him. She was either about to kick his ass, or she’d just had her first contraction. They stared at each other, wide-eyed.

“Was that…?”

Gina nodded.

“Do you think it’s time?” He watched as Gina walked around, breathing in and out through her mouth. Less than a minute later another contraction hit and nothing she did made it stop.

“I blame John!”

“Yeah, it’s all John’s fault. Just breathe. I’ll get your bag.” He jumped from his chair, making a swipe for the newspaper before Gina could grab it. He shook his head at her. “Woman, you’re going into labor! Forget the damn newspaper!”

“Fine!” She breathed deeply in and out as he ran to get her overnight bag from the hall closet where he knew it was. The three of them had come up with an action plan in order to be prepared for this day. Another scream soon met his ear, and he hurried back to the living room. Where the hell was John?

As if by magic, John walked through the door. “Hey, baby. I got you your chocolate chip ice cream and potato chips.” He grinned that big school-boy grin of his.

“John, this is all your fault!” Gina shrieked.

“What?” John looked between her and Tony. “What did I do?” His eyes went wide and he gasped. “I swear, it’s just a scratch.”

Uh-oh.

Gina turned to face John as she huffed, doing her best to control her breathing. “What’s just a scratch?”

“Um….” He looked to Tony for help, but Tony had no idea what the hell his best friend was talking about. Knowing John, it could be anything. Realization hit John, and he stared at Gina. “Wait, are you… are you going into labor?” John rushed over and took hold of her hand. His eyes got all teary and a grin stretched across his face. “We’re having a baby.” His dimple appeared, and Gina was a goner. She burst into happy tears.

“We’re having a baby.”

“Okay. We need to um….” He ran to the hall, opened the closet then released a panicked cry. “It’s gone!”

“John,” Tony called out, trying to get his friend’s attention as John frantically ran around the house, opening and closing doors. He ran back into the living room.

“The bag is gone! Oh my God, I’m not prepared for this!”

Gina let out another painful cry, and John Joined her. Tony didn’t know whether to laugh or join in too. He lifted the bag in front of him.

“John. The bag’s right here.”

John snatched it away from him. “You couldn’t have said something sooner?”

“I tried,” Tony said, holding back a laugh.

“All right, let’s go.” John took Gina’s arm and breathed with her as they headed for the front door. Tony locked up, seeing as how John was occupied with other thoughts like not freaking out. John helped Gina into the back of Tony’s black and gold Firebird then climbed in after her, leaving the overnight bag on the floor. With a smile, Tony placed it in the front passenger seat. It was probably best he hold onto it.

Tony stayed calm, letting John do all the breathing and creaming as he got them to the hospital. It was adorable watching his best friend all but carry Gina inside. He hovered over her, talking to her, breathing with her, comforting her. He asked a million questions, hovered over the nurses, asked them about things he’d read in books. While John took care of his wife, Tony took care of John. If he didn’t, who else would? Tony kept John in fresh supply of coffee, and when the time came, Tony was asked to wait outside by the nurse. Only family was permitted to stay, and usually that just entailed the parents.

“No.” John shook his head at the nurse as he held on tight to Gina’s hand. “He’s family. He stays.”

Tony swallowed past the lump in his throat. “John, it’s okay.”

John looked determined. “I want you to stay.” His expression softened. “Please.”

How could Tony say no? He nodded, and tried his best not to give into the tears that threatened to break free, especially when Gina threw her free hand out to him. He quickly took hold of it, and cursed under his breath when Gina all but broke his fingers. John laughed, tears running down his face.

“Now the pain’s evenly distributed.”

Tony would have flipped him off if the room wasn’t full of hospital staff. For what seemed like hours, Gina screamed, breathed, pushed, cursed them, threatened them, burst into sporadic laughter then tears, while Tony and John did the same. Next thing Tony knew, there was a hearty cry, one that hadn’t come from Gina, her husband, or Tony.

“Kids got some lungs on him,” Tony said with a laugh.

“Gets it… from… John,” Gina huffed, breathless.

“Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Daley, it’s a beautiful, healthy, baby boy.” The nurse handed a wrapped bundle to Gina, who burst into fresh tears. Tony had to pull out his own handkerchief. Man, they were bawling worse than the baby. The room quieted, and John kissed his wife. Tony’s heart swelled, and he had to turn away from the tender moment. There was so much love coming from those two as they held their little boy. Tony felt blessed to be a part of this. Gina and John weren’t just his best friends. They were his family. He loved them fiercely.

A pair of strong arms wrapped around Tony, and he felt John press his head against his back. “Thank you.”

Tony chuckled. He turned and hugged John back. “For what?”

“For being the brother I never had.”

Sweet baby Jesus, the man was going to be the death of him. “Being a daddy’s made you sappy.”

John laughed, his blue eyes sparkling. He pulled back, his grin huge. “I’m a dad!”

“Heaven help us all,” Tony teased. “That boy is going to be spoiled rotten.”

“By who? You?” John walked back over to Gina who was singing softly to her baby boy.

“I plead the fifth,” Tony said as Gina motioned for him to come over. She moved the soft blue blanket so Tony could get a look at the little wrinkled bundle. He had Gina’s big blue eyes and pouty pink lips with rosy cheeks. He was absolutely adorable. Tony loved him already. Gina smiled lovingly at her baby.

“Anthony Maddock, meet Dexter Justice Daley. Dex, meet your Uncle Tony.”

Dex stared up at him before putting a tiny fist to his mouth. He wasn’t still for a moment, wriggling and making baby noises, like he was ready to start talking already.

“Oh Lord, this one’s gonna be a handful.” Tony couldn’t stop smiling. He kissed Gina’s cheek. “Congratulations, sweetheart. He’s beautiful.”

John cooed at Dex before clearing his throat. “I may have put a little scratch on your Camaro.”

Tony put his hand up and took a step back. “I had nothing to do with it.”

“You’re lucky I’m too tired and too in love with my baby boy to strangle you.”

“I love you too.” John chuckled and kiss the top of Dex’s head. “And you, my little man. Here’s your first lesson. Never, ever put a scratch on mommy’s car. It’s precious. Not as precious as you though.” He made cooing noises, and Tony shook his head in amusement. “We need a picture.” John hurried over to Gina’s overnight bag.

“John, I look terrible.”

John rushed back, his shiny new 35mm Canon camera in hand. He kissed Gina, and ran a hand lovingly over her head. “Baby, you’re glowing. Come on. It’s Dex’s first day with his new family.”

There was that dimple again.

“Okay.” Gina held Dex, and Tony situated himself closer as John instructed the nurse how to take the picture. When he was done, he took position beside Gina. He gave Tony and wink and they both leaned in to give Gina’s cheeks a kiss, making her giggle. There was a “click”, and the nurse took a few more photos before Gina said she was tired. The nurse took little Dex, but not before they all showered some more love on him.

They left Gina to rest, and went to get some more coffee. John was quiet, which was unusual for him.

“Hey, you okay, man?”

John nodded then wiped another tear form his eye. “I’m a dad.”

“Yeah, you are,” Tony said with a smile when John’s brows furrowed. He was worried. “Hey, you’re gonna be an amazing dad.”

“It’s kind of terrifying, knowing how much he’s depending on me. He’s going to be looking to me to for everything. Whatever I say, whatever I do could impact the kind of man he’s going to become. What if… what if I mess up?”

Tony took hold of John’s shoulders. “John, Dex is going to be just fine. You know how I know that?”

“How?”

“Because he has you for a father.”

John smiled. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes. “Thanks.”

“Between you and Gina, that little boy couldn’t be more loved.”

“He’s got you too,” John reminded him.

“That he does.” Whatever Dex needed, Tony would always be there for him. “Poor Gina. Now she’s got two kids wreaking havoc.” If Dex was anything like his daddy, he was going to drive her up the wall.

“Hey!” John gave Tony a playful shove. “I resemble that remark.”

Tony laughed and the two of them walked out into a small garden outside the café. It was peaceful. They sat beside each other, sipping their coffees. Every time Tony looked over at John, he had a big dopey grin on his face. Yeah, John was going to be a great dad.

“I can’t wait,” John said softly.

“For what?”

“For all those first family moments. Just the four of us. Dex’s first Christmas, his first tooth, his first steps. First birthday. First day of school.”

“First crush. His first date.”

John pouted. “His first broken heart.”

Tony patted John’s back and smiled. “His first day at college. First love.”

“Yeah,” John let his head rest against Tony’s shoulder with a sigh. “It’s gonna be great.”


Copyright © 2016. Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.

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