Calvin walked outside in time to hear Maddock groaning.
“What did you do?”
Dex shrugged. “Nothing.”
Maddock gave him a look that clearly said he knew better and wasn’t buying it.
“I bought a karaoke machine for the break room.”
“Oh hell no.” Maddock thrust a finger at him. “You’re taking it back.”
“No. I’m putting my foot down on this.”
“But we were going to have a sing-off. Destructive Delta versus Beta Ambush.” Dex shook a fist at the air. “They’re so damn cocky. They think they can out air guitar me? We’ll see about that.”
“No, we won’t, because whatever’s going through your head right now isn’t happening. You want to do a sing-along—”
“Sing-off,” Dex corrected.
“That machine enters the building and it’s going back out via the nearest window. Be weird on your own time.” Maddock stormed off and Calvin stepped up to Dex, studying him.
“You didn’t really buy a karaoke machine for the break room, did you?”
“What?” Dex laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I didn’t. This whole case has him on edge.”
Calvin gave it some thought when it occurred to him. “And you were taking some of the edge off.” That was actually really… smart. No one wanted the sarge to be on edge.
“When it seems like the world’s burning down around you, a little sense of normality can go a long way.” Dex took a seat on one of the plastic chairs outside Ethan’s room. “The sing-off is real though. I’m going to crush those Beta bastards. Can you sing?” He waved a hand in dismissal. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll still beat them. So, you and Hobbs.”
Calvin cleared his throat and took a seat, his face burning up. “What about us?”
“Dude, I walked in on you two sucking face like a couple of college kids, come on. Whatever you say stays between us. If you can trust me with your life, you can trust me with this. Something’s been up with you guys for months, and if you haven’t noticed, the team’s been worried.”
Calvin’s head shot up and he turned to Dex. “They don’t suspect anything, do they?” If anyone found out, who knew what they’d do. They couldn’t split them up, everyone knew that, including the sergeant, but they could take them off the team, move them into a different department. Okay, he needed to stop freaking out about this.
“Nah. Whatever they’re thinking, it’s nothing close to that, but if you don’t sort it out soon, Sloane’s going to get wind something’s wrong, and you don’t want him interrogating you. It’s not fun. So?”
Calvin had no idea what it was about Dex that made him feel like he could tell the guy anything. Which was weird considering what a gossip the guy was. Yet he knew Dex would never tell anyone about his relationship with Ethan.
“You know Hobbs and I grew up together. We both came from a rough neighborhood. No segregated schools, at least not officially. Inside was a different matter. There were more Humans than Therians. We got shit for being friends. On top of that, Hobbs got bullied for his mutism. Those assholes knew he couldn’t fight back. He was bigger than them, stronger, but he was so crippled by his anxiety, he didn’t stand a chance.
“I don’t think a day went by where I didn’t end up in the principal’s office for fighting, but I had to protect him. My mom wanted to put me in another school, one strictly Human, but I refused to leave Hobbs behind in that shithole to fend for himself. He needed me. I can count on one hand the number of times we weren’t together. By college, Hobbs had gotten better with his mutism and the anxiety. We shared an apartment. Man, it was so much fun. We did some pretty stupid shit,” Calvin said with a laugh. Then he thought about the night that changed everything, and his smile faded. He looked down at his fingers, lost in the memory. “Anyway, things were good. After college, we got recruited by the THIRDS and moved into a bigger apartment together. We figured there was no point in spending a load of money on rent when we could save that money and help get our families out of the ghettos they were living in.
“Everything was cool between us. We’d never been closer. Then last year, we had this big Fourth of July party at our apartment, and both of us got shitfaced. We hooked up with these guys, the four of us in Hobbs’s bedroom, and everything was fine until Hobbs started fucking this guy. He was blond, about my height and size. I bolted. I couldn’t be in the same room while he screwed that guy.”
Calvin remembered that day as if it were yesterday. The way he’d felt sick to his stomach when he’d seen Ethan’s hands all over that guy, when he’d kissed him, fucked him. It made him feel sick now just thinking about it.
“What did Hobbs do after you bolted?”
“He came after me. We had a huge fight, mostly because I was so pissed off at him and at myself. I didn’t know what the hell I was feeling. All I knew was that I couldn’t stand seeing him fuck another guy. It was selfish, I know. I told him I needed some space. You should have seen his face. It was like I’d stabbed him in the heart. For days I hid out in my room, making sure when I came out I didn’t bump into him. He was so damn patient and good. He’d make me sandwiches and leave them in the fridge for me.” Calvin’s eyes grew glassy and he gave a sniff. He’d hated himself at the time for making Ethan feel so shitty, but he couldn’t stop feeling what he did. He’d tried.
“He caught me one afternoon in the hall, and when he tried to apologize, as if he was the reason I was acting like such an asshole, I lost it. I told him I didn’t want him fucking anyone else because… of how I felt about him. I couldn’t say the words, mostly because until the explosion, I couldn’t say exactly what it was I felt. I told him somewhere along the way, things had changed. The way I felt about him changed. I thought I was going to lose my mind waiting for him to say something. In the end, he hugged me and said we’d work it out.” Calvin let out a heavy sigh. “He’s scared we’ll lose our friendship. I tried to tell him it would never happen. If things didn’t work out, I’d never stop being his best friend.”
“How’s he feel about what just happened?” Dex asked, nodding to the closed door beside him.
Calvin shrugged, a small smile coming onto his face. “He kissed me back. That’s a good sign, right?”
Dex threw an arm around Calvin and gave him a reassuring squeeze. “I think so. Give him time. It’s a lot to take in. I’m betting Hobbs isn’t the kind of guy crazy about change, especially when it concerns the possibility of losing his best friend.”
“Thanks, Dex. I’m gonna head back in, say good-bye. Maddock and Sloane agree he needs more time to recuperate. I’ll see you at HQ.”
“No problem, buddy.”
Calvin headed back inside, feeling better at having gotten all that off his chest. It was nice having someone to talk to about Ethan. It wasn’t like he could tell Seb, or Rafe. The war between those two was getting worse by the day, and at some point, something had to give. God, they were all such a fucking mess. He dropped down on to the chair pulled up to Ethan’s bed and watched him sleep. Sometimes he couldn’t believe they were here.
After years of struggling and fighting, they’d done it. They’d clawed their way out of the putrid hole the world had thrown them in, refusing to back down. It had left them scarred in more ways than one. Calvin absently stroked the back of his head, tears welling in his eyes. There’d been times when he’d considered giving up, because really, how much shit could the world pile on the back of one short ass scrawny kid? But then he’d look at Ethan, and he’d find the strength to keep going, because if he gave up, Ethan would fall with him. Calvin couldn’t have that. It would break his heart if Ethan didn’t feel the same, or decided he couldn’t take the risk, but Calvin would have to find a way to get over it, because not having Ethan in his life wasn’t an option. Only time would tell, and until then….
Calvin took Ethan’s hand in his. “I’ll always be here. Always. No matter what happens between us, I’ll never leave you, Ethan. I promise.”
Ethan let out a soft sigh, and Calvin lay his head down, and as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep he could have sworn he heard Ethan murmur something and squeeze his hand. Maybe it was just his brain playing tricks on him, or maybe… just maybe, everything would turn out okay.
Copyright © 2014/2018 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.