“Remind me again why we couldn’t just stay in bed?”
Ash nuzzled the side of Cael’s head, his arms wrapped around Cael from behind as they rode the elevator up to Unit Alpha. There was no one in the elevator with them and Ash didn’t really give a shit what the cameras picked up. Their shift didn’t technically start for another fifteen minutes.
“Because we have jobs,” Cael replied with a chuckle.
Ash grunted. He moved a hand up over Cael’s chest, smiling when Cael covered it with his and let his head fall back against Ash’s chest, his face tilted up so he could gaze at Ash with those big silver eyes.
Damn, he was beautiful.
“I think we need to win the lottery so I can keep you in bed as long as I want.” Ash moved his other hand to Cael’s slender neck, caressing Cael’s soft skin with his thumb.
“I’ll get right on that,” Cael hummed.
Ash waggled his eyebrows. “Oh there’s something much better and harder that I’d rather you get right on.”
Cael gasped, his cheeks turning a lovely shade of pink before he laughed and turned in Ash’s arms, smacking his chest playfully. “You perv. We’re about to start our shift, and you’re trying to give me a boner.”
“Trying?” Ash squeezed one of Cael’s ass cheeks. “I must be losing my touch.”
Cael laughed and squirmed as Ash planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. The elevator doors opened, and Ash followed Cael out. He stepped into Unit Alpha only to reel back, his heart pounding fiercely in his chest.
“Ash? What’s wrong?” Cael was at his side, his hand on Ash’s bicep.
Ash’s knees buckled, and he braced himself against the wall out in the corridor. It was like a wave of heartache and anguish was rolling over him, crashing into him over and over.
“Do you feel that?” He asked, breathless.
“Feel what? Ash, you’re scaring me.” Cael cupped Ash’s face, concern and fear in his eyes. “Talk to me.”
It was suffocating. Inescapable. He doubled over, bracing his hands on his knees and breathing deeply. Tears stung at the back of his eyes and he couldn’t explain it. What the hell was wrong with him? It was crushing. Everything sharpened around him, and he rubbed at his chest. It was like his heart was… broken. His eyes widened, and he pushed away from the wall, hurrying through unit Alpha.
“Ash?” Cael trailed after him. “Ash, please say something.”
Ash didn’t stop until he reached the office, but it was empty. The fog of pain was closer, the pulse deeper, rippling through every muscle. Stepping up to the doorway of the small canteen, he found the source of what he was feeling.
Dex sat at a small table at the end of the room nursing a cup of coffee. He looked like shit, his hair a tousled mess, dark circles around his reddened eyes. On top of that, Ash couldn’t smell Sloane on him. Ash grabbed Cael before he could say anything, and dragged him down the hall.
Cael’s brow furrowed. “I don’t understand.”
“Your brother, Cael.” Ash did his best to explain what he was feeling. Or at least what he had been feeling. Right now it was different. What he’d experienced before dulled, and now… now he had this overwhelming urge to… comfort.
“You want to comfort him?” Cael blinked up at him. “Dex. My brother. The man whose name tape you replaced on his uniform with one that said “Menace”. You want to comfort him?”
“I don’t want to,” Ash growled quietly. “I feel like I need to.” His inner lion was awake inside him, pacing and wailing. “Fuck, it’s annoying. My Therian half is pissed I’m not in there with him. I—” He was cut off when several Therian agents from their unit headed toward them. They were all carrying snacks, or cups of coffee. To Ash’s surprise, they all went into the canteen. Ash darted over to peek inside. The agents all took a seat at the table with Dex. One put a hand on his arm, another his shoulder. One took his hand and spoke gently. Ash couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
A shadow loomed over him, before a deep gravelly voice said, “Excuse me.”
Ash turned his head up, staring wide-eyed at the huge bear Therian.
“Zach? What are you doing up here?”
Zach brows drew together, concern etched on his usually stern face. He showed Ash the packet of Cheesy Doodles in his large hand.
“I came to give this to Dex. I thought it might make him feel better.”
Ash’s jaw dropped. Without another word, Zach went into the canteen.
“Well that was weird,” Cael said before it occurred to him. “You think Zach and the others are feeling the same thing you are? Like they need to comfort Dex?”
“It’s the only thing that makes sense.” Ash gritted his teeth and marched toward his office, grateful Letty was busy doing inventory checks this morning. He really didn’t need his partner asking questions about this madness. He dropped into his chair, and tried to make sense of what he was feeling, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t figure it out. Why now?
“It’s like that night at the club, but different.”
Cael wrinkled his nose. “Yeah, that wasn’t fun.”
Ash grunted. Feeling Dex’s… heat had been one of the most awkward, uncomfortable things he’d ever felt. Unlike the other Therians in the club who’d wanted to fuck Dex, Ash wanted to protect him. Like his Therian half knew his friend’s mate was vulnerable, needy, and since Dex was the last person on earth Ash wanted to fuck, his instinct had been to make sure nothing and no one came between Dex and his mate, but still, the heat had been almost unbearable, but this? This was so much worse.
Ash stood and started to pace. “This is fucking shit. I don’t wanna,” he moaned. He turned to Cael. God he sounded so whiney! “Why do I have to fucking comfort him? He’s Sloane’s boyfriend. That asshole. He should be here dealing with this shit.”
Cael walked up to him, stood on his toes, and gave his lips a quick but heated kiss. “I’ll keep an eye on Dex, you just… talk to Sloane. And don’t be mean to Dex. He’s feeling shitty as it is.”
“Fine,” Ash muttered, watching Cael go.
Work. Work would take his mind off this bullshit. He took a seat at his desk, logged into Themis, and brought up his emails. There were the usual shit ton. “Fantastic.” He could lose himself in answering stupid people’s stupid questions. Seriously, why did he have to get copied in on all of Sloane’s emails? Yeah, he was backup Team Leader when Sloane wasn’t around, but Jesus, the inane questions Sloane was asked about random shit from PR and HR, and all the fucking ‘Rs’.
His knee bounced as he read the first email, and he couldn’t stop thinking about Dex’s stupid face. He looked so… sad.
“Holy fuck, really? Sad?” Ash growled, and shook his head. “Get your shit together, Keeler.” Sloane’s drama was of his own making. Let him sort that shit out. It wasn’t his job to coddle Dex and tell him it was going to be all right, that Sloane would come around, and why the fuck was he still thinking about this? “Fuck this.” He stood and stormed out of the office to the canteen. Dex was still inside looking like a lost, homeless puppy left out in the rain. The rest of their fellow agents had gone. Ash marched over to Dex to loom over him.
Dex looked up at him, his big blue eyes wide and glassy.
“Fuuuuuck,” Ash growled. He went to the vending machine, swiped his card, jabbed his fingers against the screen’s shiny blue buttons. A packet dropped, and he swiped it up before marching over to Dex. He thrust them out at him. “Here.”
Dex blinked at him. He looked down at the packet of gummy bears then up at Ash. “What’s happening?”
“I don’t fucking know, just take the damned bears.”
“Uh, oookay.” Dex took the bag, his eyes narrowed.
“Fine.” Ash spun around and started to walk out when his inner Felid roared. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He went back to Dex, his jaw clenched. He put a hand to Dex’s shoulder. Dex stared at it. “It’s going to be okay.”
Dex opened his mouth to speak, then closed it. His eyes were huge. “I'm a little terrified right now.”
That made two of them. Now what? Come on, man. I’ve comforted. What more do you fucking want from me? He asked his Therian half. His Therian half didn’t want to leave him on his own. Mother—
A knock got Ash’s attention, and he turned to find Hobbs standing shyly by the door. He smiled, and waved.
“Oh, thank fuck.” Ash jogged over, moved behind Hobbs, and pushed his big tiger Therian ass toward Dex. “Go do that hugging shit you do, and make him feel better.” He didn’t even bother to wait for a reaction from Hobbs, just made like the wind. There. He’d done his part. He’d comforted, and no one other than Dex was the wiser, and if he said anything, Ash would deny it. Who would believe Dex anyway? It was fine. If anyone was stupid enough to believe it, Ash would simply have to destroy them. He was so going to kick Sloane’s ass.
Copyright © 2016 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS published by Dreamspinner Press.