Ugh, he was so tired of these stupid algorithms. He’d been doing them all day. Why couldn't Defense agents program their own stuff? He supposed he couldn’t be too mad at them. They had enough to worry about out on the streets without having to break their brains trying to talk to Themis. Sometimes he wanted to tell Themis where it could—
Cael gave such a start he almost fell out of his chair. “What?” He snapped at Dex hovering over him.
“Jesus, you don’t have to bite my head off. What’s with you? You’ve been such a grumpy McGrumpy Pants for the last two days. Are you feeling okay?” Dex leaned in and put his head to Cael’s brow, his eyes going wide. “I think you have a fever.”
Cael swatted his brother’s hand away. “I’m fine. I’ve just been busy.” He frowned and went back to his desk interface. “Did you want something?”
When there was no reply, he looked up and peered at Dex. His brother was studying him, eyes narrowed.
“You’re kinda creeping me out,” Cael muttered. Then again, it was just Dex being Dex. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to do, so….” Hint. Hint. Hint.
Dex got up and walked out of the room. Cael stared after him.
“What the heck was that about?” Seriously, he worried about that guy.
Cael lost himself in his algorithms, stopping only long enough to pull a tissue out of his desk drawer. Stupid allergies. His nose was all stuffed up.
“Cael, are you all right?”
A shadow loomed over him, and Cael lifted his gaze, finding Ash looking down at him worriedly.
“Dex said you were sick.”
Cael leaned back in his chair to glare at his brother who was very smartly hiding behind Ash.
“I’m fine,” Cael said. “Dex is overreacting. Again.”
Ash seemed to be mulling that over. “While I will agree that your brother is prone to exceptional feats of ridiculousness, it would ease my mind if you let me check your temperature.”
Cael stared at him. “Take my temperature?” He shook his head. “Ash, I’m fine.” Of course the moment the words were out of his mouth, he sneezed.
Ash removed a small device from his pocket.
“Please tell me you didn’t bring a—”
The thermometer was place to his head, and Ash’s expression was very stern when he spoke. “Hold still.”
Cael was surrounded by crazy people. Should Cael be terrified right now? It would appear his brother’s crazy was rubbing off on Ash. Cael sighed, and the gadget beeped.
“You have a fever,” Ash declared, and Dex leaned around him to thrust a finger at Cael.
“I knew it. You’re sick. Do you want to go to the medic?”
Cael scowled at him. “No. My partner is a medic, remember?”
“Right.” Dex looked up at Ash. “He needs to be home under lots of fluffy blankets with pillows and chicken soup and one of those smoky-breathy things.”
Ash rolled his eyes. “You mean a humidifier?”
“Yeah, one of those.”
Cael groaned. “I’m fine. You two need to go away. I’m busy.”
Cael jumped to his feet to yell at his brother when a wave of dizziness slammed into him, and he would have fallen over his chair if Ash hadn’t caught him. “I’m fine,” Cael grumbled.
“Sweetheart, maybe you should take the rest of the afternoon. You’re looking a little pale.”
“That’s just cause it’s so cold in here. Rosa probably turned the temperature down before she left for lunch.”
“Speaking of,” Ash said, running a hand over Cael’s head. It felt nice. “Why aren’t you eating lunch?”
“I wasn’t hungry, and I wanted to get these algorithms done.” He was going to once again say he was fine when he noticed Dex was gone.
Ash straightened and turned around. “He was just here a second ago.”
Tony strode into the room, grumbled at Ash to move aside, and put his hand to Cael’s brow. Before Cael could say yet again that he was fine, Tony spoke up.
“You’ve got a fever. Go home.”
“What?” Cael sputtered, shutting his mouth when Tony gave him that look. “Yes, sir.” Cael let out a heavy sigh as Tony left. His dad was very strict when it came to agents getting sick. He’d rather have an agent be out for however long it took and get them cover than have a bug go around infecting everyone. Covering for a couple of agents was preferable to having to cover whole teams.
Dex walked in looking smug, and Cael gasped.
“Oh my God, did you just narc on me to dad?”
“No, I narced on you to our sergeant. Very different.”
Cael would have strangled him if he had the strength.
“Listen,” Ash said, kneeling beside his chair. “Sloane owes me some overtime, so how about I take you home and we get you settled down on the couch and I’ll make you some soup.”
“I can make soup,” Dex chimed in.
Ash waved a hand dismissively. “I’ve got this, Daley. Go make a menace of yourself elsewhere.”
“But, I always make him soup. And chocolate chip cookies.”
Ash stood, and slapped a hand on Dex’s shoulder. “And now he has me to make him soup and chocolate chip cookies. Don’t you have a job to do?”
Dex folded his arms over is chest. “Taking care of my family is my job.”
Cael sank farther down his chair. It was like watching a tennis match that never ended because neither side was giving in. Cael just needed a little sleep, that’s all. He logged out of Themis, and shut down his desk interface while Dex and Ash argued over who would look after Cael better. Taking it slow, he pushed himself to his feet. No dizzy spell. Good. He turned and sighed. They were still arguing? Jeez. These two. Pot and kettle.
“How about,” Cael said loudly, halting the argument, “Ash makes the soup, and Dex makes the cookies?”
They both narrowed their gazes at him.
“Or, you can both stay here arguing, while I go home, all alone.” He pouted. “Sick.” Cough. Cough.
“You got it, sweetheart.” Ash wrapped his arm around Cael.
“Chocolate chip cookies,” Dex agreed. “I’m on it.”
Cael blinked up at Dex. “Can I have double chocolate chips?”
Dex threw his arms around Cael’s head, petting it. “You can have all the chocolate chips, Chirpy.”
“Wow. You two are total suckers.”
Dex pulled back, puzzled. “My precious baby brother is sick, Cal.”
Cael looked up at Ash, bottom lip jutting out. “I’m not feeling so good. Can we go home?”
“Of course, sweetheart.” Ash led him to the doorway when Ash and Dex were called over by a fellow agent. “Be back in one second.” Ash kissed the top of Cael’s head before he and Dex hurried off. Cael turned to thrust a finger at Calvin.
“You do anything to ruin this for me, and I will end you, Summers.”
Calvin chuckled. “Man, you are evil.”
“Cal, my boyfriend is best friends with my brother’s boyfriend. Which means Dex and Ash are in each other’s hair more than ever, which means they spend a good portion of their time arguing and driving me and Sloane nuts. I deserve soup and chocolate chip cookies when I’m sick, Cal. If I don’t get my cookies, and some hot chocolate with enough whip cream to choke a mule, I’m going to shank someone with a spork! Do you hear me, Cal? A spork!”
Calvin took a slow step back, his eyes wide. “Um, how about I bring you some of my mom’s pecan pie?”
Cael smiled wide. “Aw, that’s very sweet of you, Cal. I would love that.”
“You’re kinda scary sometimes.”
“You would be too if Dex was your brother and Ash was your boyfriend.” Cael gave Calvin’s shoulder a pat. “Don’t forget the whip cream.”
Ash jogged over, his expression worried. “You okay? Sorry, just had to answer a couple questions about our last case. Ready?”
Cael coughed. “Ready.”
Thankfully they didn’t hit a lot of traffic on the way home. Cael was feeling pretty gross. His head hurt, his nose was stuffed, he was cold, his whole body ached, and he was so tired. Once inside, Ash helped him into his comfiest pajamas, and helped him over to the couch. He brought down half a dozen warm fuzzy blankets, several pillows, and even made Cael a hot water bottle because he was shivering. By the time Ash was done, Cael was ready to hibernate in his cave of fluffy warmth. The only part not covered by the blankets were his eyes.
Ash put on one of the science fiction movie channels before turning and kissing Cael’s brow.
“I’m going to go make that soup. If you need anything, you just let me know, okay?”
“Thank you,” Cael said, genuinely thankful Ash was here. He was so good at taking care of Cael. Even if his boyfriend did sometimes drive him crazy when he was around Dex, Cael still loved Ash like crazy. He really was such a good boyfriend.
Somewhere in the middle of a so-bad-it’s-good movie, Cael fell asleep. When he woke up, he could hear Ash and Dex arguing. It was hilarious though, because they were whispering arguing. There was nothing like hearing Dex and Ash insulting each other in whispers. There was movement around the kitchen, so clearly they were cooking while arguing. Cael couldn’t help his smile. They were such dorks.
Cael must have fallen asleep again, because the next time he woke up, Sloane was sitting on the couch, socked feet propped up on the coffee table in front, reading from his tablet. He looked over at Cael and smiled.
“How are you feeling?”
Cael let out something that was a cross between a moan, a groan, and a hiccup. Ash and Dex appeared before him. Jeez, how did they do that? It's like they learned how to teleport or something.
“Hey, Chirpy. Are you okay?” Dex put his hand to Cael’s head. “Still feverish.”
Ash shoved Dex aside and knelt in front of Cael. “Want some soup, sweetheart?”
“Ha!” Ash thrust a finger at Dex. “I told you.”
“Can I have a cookie too?” Cael asked.
Dex bounced around on his toes pointing at Ash with his index fingers. “And I told you.”
“You better not eat all my cookies,” Cael warned his brother.
“Please. Just what do you take me for?”
Ash opened his mouth to reply, and Dex cut him off.
“Shut it.” Dex turned his attention back to Cael. “I made my own batch.”
Of course he did. Oh God, if Dex didn’t stop bouncing….
“Babe,” Sloane said gently. He patted the couch next to him. “Come here.”
Dex bounded over and dropped onto the couch next to Sloane. “Yes, my love?”
Sloane smiled warmly at him. “Nothing. Just wanted to give you this.” He leaned in and kissed Dex. Dex melted against Sloane with a dreamy sigh. He pulled up his legs, and snuggled up close to Sloane, his eyes closed. Still. Not fidgeting. Sloane winked at Cael before going back to his book.
And that was why the man was made for Dexter J. Daley.
Cael had never known anyone in his life who could calm his brother with just one look, one word, or one kiss. It was astounding.
“You okay to sit up?”
Speaking of astounding….
Cael sat up, and smiled at Ash. “Thank you, Ash. I really appreciate it.” He carefully moved aside his blankets so he could sit up. Ash placed the tray over his lap, and kissed his head.
“Anything for you, sweetheart, you know that. Oh, and Cal dropped off some of his mom's pecan pie and a tub of whip cream.” Ash shrugged.
Cael’s heart swelled, and as Ash got under the covers beside him, wrapping him up just enough to keep him warm while he ate his chicken soup. Cael couldn’t be happier.
Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.
THIRDS Thursday is on hiatus for the month of February for the release of Thick & Thin and returns March 2nd!