Tag - THIRDS Thursday

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 Returns Soon

Hello, all! With all the prep I've been doing for Hurricane Irma, and the uncertainty of where the hurricane is heading, writing has been put on hold for this week, and next week. As soon as I'm able we'll return to our usual schedule, including THIRDS Thursday. We may double up on a couple of weeks depending on how things go, or we'll have them in October instead of taking that month, but I'll be sure to let you all now. Thank you all so much for your warm wishes, and I'll keep you all posted on how things are going. For all my fellow Floridians. Stay safe.

In the meantime, is there a particular prompt you would love to see a flash fiction story for? Leave it in the comments below. Or maybe you really want a THIRDS Thursday for a particular couple. Let me know below as well.

x Charlie


THIRDS Thursday - Gummy Bears & Grenades ARC Giveaway!

Hello, all! For this week's THIRDS Thursday we're having a special giveaway! Gummy Bears & Grenades goes up for pre-order at Dreamspinner Press on September 4th, which is the same day the fabulous folks at The Novel Approach will be hosting the exclusive cover reveal. To celebrate, I'm going to give away 10 ARCs of Gummy Bears & Grenades.

To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment below. Who's your favorite THIRDS couple and why? Giveaway ends September 19th (Eastern US time). Winners will be chosen at random an announced on the blog on September 19th. ARCs will go out September 20th.

Let the shenanigans begin!

*** GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED ***


THIRDS Thursday - 8/24/17

Prompt: This week we have the final part of Taylor and Angel's THIRDS Thursday. Read part one here.


Part Two

“I missed you too,” Angel said, taking a step back before he lost it and started sobbing on Taylor’s shoulder. God, it had been so long. He suddenly realized he was staring, and he cleared his throat, hoping his face didn’t look as red as it felt. “Sorry, it’s just so good to see your face. I can’t believe how long you were gone. How are you feeling?”

Taylor’s smile was big, and it stole Angel’s breath away. “I’m good, Angel. Thanks.”

When the hell had it even happened? When had he started seeing his friend as… more? At what point had he started noticing the fiery gold flecks in Taylor’s hazel green eyes? Or the sexy way his auburn hair stuck up in every direction, or those goddamn perfect puppy-dog eyes. Shit. This was bad. So very bad. There was no way Taylor would ever look at him the way he looked at—

“Hey, look who’s back.” Dex appeared in the doorway, and Angel’s heart broke just a little at the way Taylor’s face lit up when he saw Dex.

“Hi, thanks for getting me sprung from the joint,” Taylor teased, walking over into Dex’s outstretched arms.

“It was time,” Dex replied, hugging Taylor who stayed in Dex’s arms longer than necessary. Something in Angel’s gaze must have given him away without him realizing it because Dex’s expression turned concerned, and he gently pulled away from Taylor. His smile was back the moment Taylor beamed at him.

“I’m sorry if I interrupted,” Dex said quickly, motioning toward the door. “I should get back—”

“You weren’t interrupting anything.”

Taylor’s words shouldn’t have stung, but they did. Fuck, I am such an asshole. It wasn’t like Angel didn’t know how Taylor felt about Dex. He’d known for a hell of a long time. What had he been expecting? That when Taylor got back he’d flip some switch just because Dex was getting married? That he was going to suddenly not be in love with Dex anymore and fall for Angel?

When they’d talked on the phone, Taylor often asked about Dex, and they’d laugh about whatever trouble Dex had managed to get himself into that day or week. It hadn’t bothered Angel. Dex was a great guy, and Angel could see why Taylor would fall for him. He’d been after Dex since he’d joined, but Sloane got there first, or so Taylor believed. Years ago, he’d drunkenly confessed to Angel how things would have been different between him and Dex if Sloane had kept it in his pants.

Personally, Angel couldn’t see Dex with anyone other than Sloane. The two were perfect for each other. There was also the fact you had to be a special kind of crazy with the patience of a saint to be with a guy like Dexter Daley, and patience was not one of Taylor’s virtues.

“Angel?”

Angel glanced up at the sound of his name and found Dex watching him worriedly.

“Yeah, um. Sorry. Listen, I gotta go take care of something.” Angel smiled at Taylor, and patted his arm. “It’s good to have you back. Let me know if you need anything. Excuse me.” He felt like the biggest dick in the world, but he just had to get out of there. Pretending he hadn’t heard Taylor call his name, he quickly headed for the male locker room. He wasn’t even supposed to be in today. It was his day off. Seb had given him the okay to go home after Taylor’s welcome back party. He was sure his boss wouldn’t care if he left before it.

The locker room was blissfully empty at this time of day, especially since everyone in Unit Alpha was in the bullpen getting ready to eat cake. Angel changed out of his uniform into a comfy pair of jeans, and a T-shirt. He sat on the bench to pull on his sneakers when someone sat next to him.

“Why’d you run off like that?”

Angel swallowed hard. He finished tying his shoelaces, and stood to grab his backpack from his locker. “You should get back to your party.” He turned to find Taylor blocking his path.

“What’s going on?” Taylor’s brow was creased with worry, and Angel felt like an asshole for being the cause of that worry. Jesus, like the guy hadn’t been through enough? He didn’t need Angel acting like some moody teen with a crush.

Angel summoned a smile. “Nothing. I’m really happy you’re back. Maybe we can hang out this week or something. You should go. Dex is probably waiting on you to start the party.”

At the mention of Dex, Taylor cursed under his breath. “Shit. I’m such a fucking ass.” He shook his head at himself before meeting Angel’s gaze. “I blew you off. He walked in the room, and I did exactly what I told myself I wouldn’t do.”

“What are you talking about?” Angel set his backpack on the bench, and sat, grateful when Taylor joined him.

“I told myself I’d stop pining for him like some stupid lovesick puppy. That I was going to suck it up and move on, and the first chance I get to prove it to myself, I epically put my foot in it.” He dropped his gaze to his hands, a deep frown on his face. “I’m so sorry, Angel. I didn’t mean to be a dick. You’ve been… so good to me.” He swallowed hard, and looked up, locking his gaze on Angel’s. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

Angel’s heart pounded in his ears. Did Taylor know how Angel felt? Why else would he say that? Had he been that fucking transparent?

Taylor reached up, and placed his palm to Angel’s cheek, his smile gentle. Angel couldn’t stop himself from leaning into the touch.

“I just need some time.”

Angel nodded. Did that mean there was a chance of them…. “Take all the time you need,” Angel found himself saying. Was it really possible Taylor was considering starting something more between them? He couldn’t help his big dopey smile.

“Thanks.” Taylor stood, and took Angel’s backpack from him. “Also, it’s not a party unless you’re there. Just don’t piss on any ferns.” Taylor winked at him, and walked off, leaving Angel standing there gaping after him.

“You jackass,” Angel called out, his heart squeezing when Taylor laughed, and took off. Angel ran after him. If Taylor needed time, Angel could give him that. Something told him he’d give Taylor anything he wanted if he asked. Yep, he was definitely in trouble.


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

THIRDS Thursday - 8/17/17

Prompt: I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature, with the runners up getting the following THIRDS Thursday. We had Austen and Zach for the last three weeks. This week it’s Taylor and Angel! Happy reading!


Part One

“Angel?”

It was finally happening.

Herrera.

Angel’s head snapped up, and he realized he hadn’t heard a word of what Seb had said. He gave Seb a sheepish grin. “Sorry, Boss.”

“No problem,” Seb said, his expression turning concerned. “You okay? You’ve been kind of spaced out today.”

Angel nodded, his thumbnail between his teeth.

“Then why is your leg bouncing?”

Angel looked down at his leg as if just noticing it. Crap. He put a hand to his knee, stilling himself. “I’m fine. It’s just….”

Seb leaned in, his tone quiet. “He’s going to be fine.”

“What? No. Who?” Angel straightened. How did Seb…? There was no way Seb knew. Angel hadn’t been that obvious. Had he? Shit, what if he had? It wasn’t like he talked to Taylor around his coworkers. It was always when he was home, or on his own in one of the sleeper bays. After months of only being able to talk to his best friend on the phone, Angel was finally getting to see Taylor.

“I know you’ve been worried about him,” Seb said. “We all have. But you’re closer to him than any one of us, so I know this has been really hard on you.” Seb finished his coffee, and sat up, smiling at him. “He should be here soon. Why don’t you go upstairs and wait for him?”

“Thanks,” Angel replied, grateful to Seb who headed off.

Usually Angel sat with his team in the canteen during break, but today he’d wanted to be on his own, so he’d stayed back, and decided to take his break later. As if sensing his anxious state, Seb had appeared with a big grin and two lattes, one for Angel, and one for himself. He hadn’t talked, just kept him company, and it had somehow helped soothe Angel. It was strange that a tiger Therian of Seb’s size could comfort with his presence alone. Seb could be intimidating as hell, and sometimes he could be an asshole, but mostly he was a great guy who really cared. He was firm, but fair. Angel respected the hell out of him. It was Seb who’d sat Angel down and told him the truth of what had happened to Taylor.

Angel still couldn’t believe it. He’d heard of TIN. Who hadn’t? He’d just never come close to anyone associated with TIN. It wasn’t like their operatives introduced themselves or went around flashing badges. He knew they were out there, knew what the agency’s missions statement was, but that was the extent of it.

It had shocked the hell out of Angel when he’d been informed Taylor had been taken to a TIN facility after he’d attacked Sloane and Dex. Hearing from Seb what General Moros had done to Taylor broke Angel’s heart, and all these months later he was still furious about it. It was a good thing Moros was dead, because if not, Angel would have made the bastard pay for what he’d done. Seb had been honest, letting Angel know he couldn’t give him all the details, and Angel understood. It was obvious this whole mess was bigger than him. All that mattered was Taylor, and Angel had almost cried when he heard Taylor’s voice. It had been rough, low, filled with pain, and at the same time, relief. He’d been happy to hear Angel’s voice.

What started out as one phone call had turned into a daily occurrence. They’d given Taylor his own phone, and Angel would text him to let him know when he could talk, and they did. They talked about everything any anything. Taylor wanted to know everything about his day, from what he had for breakfast to what case he was working on. Whenever Angel’s phone rang, and his screen showed “unknown caller” Angel’s heart would skip a beat.

As the months went by, Taylor grew more and more desperate to get back to his life, and Angel grew more and more desperate to see him. Some days were especially hard, because Taylor would sound distant, or not completely present, and Angel worried about the tests they were running on him. He couldn’t understand why it was all taking so long. Even Dex admitted he was worried because of how long it was taking TIN to clear and release Taylor. Angel lost count of the months. And now, he was finally back.

Angel had wandered up to Unit Alpha without even thinking about it. He absently walked into his empty office, only to discover it wasn’t so empty.

“Hey.”

Angel stared at the man sitting at his desk.

“Ellis?”

Taylor’s soft smile reached his hazel eyes. They were glassy as he stood, and he took a step toward Angel. He stopped, looking uncertain, and almost… shy.

“Hi, Angel.”

Angel didn’t think about it. He crossed the distance between them in two strides, threw his arms around Taylor, and hugged him close. When Taylor’s arms wrapped around Angel's waist, and he buried his face in Angel’s neck, Angel closed his eyes, a tear escaping to roll down his cheek.

“I’m so damn happy you’re here,” Angel said, his voice rough with emotion.

“I know everyone’s waiting for me in the bullpen, but I wanted to see you first. I had to see you first. God, I missed you.”

That was the exact moment Angel knew he was in trouble.


Part Two next week. Copyright © 2017 Charlie Cochet. THIRDS Published by Dreamspinner Press.

THIRDS Thursday - 8/10/17

I did a poll on Facebook asking who readers would like the next flash fiction story to feature. Austen and Zach won by a landslide. We had part two last week, so here's part three! Happy reading!

Part Three

“Please, just try.”

Austen was going to snap at Zach to fuck off when Zach held the mug out to him again. Oh, he meant the tea. Damn it, he was doing the pouty lip thing again. That shouldn’t work on a guy of Zach’s size. He shouldn’t be able to pull off sweet and vulnerable. With a grumble, Austen took the mug.

“Fine. If it’ll get you off my back.” He wrinkled his nose, and braced himself as he took a sip of the steaming hot liquid. It was surprisingly not revolting. Not willing to admit it, Austen didn’t speak, just sipped the tea. Zach sat there, smiling at him. Christ. Now what? Who smiled at nothing? Except maybe Dex, but Austen had stopped trying to figure the guy out years ago. What was Zach’s deal? Austen finished his tea, and put the mug on the table.

“Listen, I appreciate you doing Sloane a solid by accepting to babysit me, but I’m fine. I’ve had worse.”

Zach nodded, and stood. He walked over to the coffee table and picked up the mug. “I’ll heat up some soup for you in a bit. You should rest.” He walked off, and Austen stared after him.

What the hell just happened? Clearly, he was being too subtle. Zach returned, and took a seat on the couch.

“You need to go.”

Zach tilted his head. “Why?”

“Because I don’t need babysitting.”

“I agree,” Zach said.

Austen peered at him. “And yet you’re still here.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Oh, my fucking hell,” Austen said with a groan.

“You curse a lot.”

“Yes. Yes, I fucking curse a lot. All the fucking time. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

“Why?”

“Why do I….” Austen leaned in, eyes narrowed. “Because you’re annoying me, that’s why. I swear on my much beloved nads that if you say “why” one more time, I’m going to punch you in the face.”

“No, you’re not,” Zach replied matter of fact.

Austen arched an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

Zach nodded, a smile spreading across his stupidly handsome face as he made himself comfortable. He stretched his long jean-clad legs out in front of him. His brown leather biker boots probably weighed more than Austen. He laced his fingers on his flat stomach, the long-sleeved T-shirt straining over his bulging biceps. Jesus, did the guy not own shirts that fit? Austen would bet if he wrapped his hands around Zach’s bicep, his fingers wouldn’t touch.

“Hey,” Zach said softly, grabbing Austen’s attention.

Austen moved his gaze up to Zach's face, and the knowing smile. Shit. He’d totally just been busted checking Zach out. Feeling his cheeks burning up, Austen threw his blanket over his head, and keeled over. He curled up on himself, his voice muffled under the blanket.

“Get out.”

“Nope.”

Dammit. What the hell? Maybe if he just stayed under his blanket, Zach would go away. “I don’t—”

“Need a babysitter,” Zach said gently. “I know. I’m not here to babysit you, I’m here to offer support. That’s what friends do.”

Austen’s heart skipped a beat, and he cursed himself for being such a dork. “We’re not friends.” He felt a hand on his head, and gasped. As soon as the shock wore off he hissed.

“We could be.” Zach’s tone was soft, and hopeful.

For crying out loud. Cut me a break, will you? “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Austen muttered, curling up in a tighter ball. He swatted at Zach’s hand from under the blanket. Why wouldn’t Zach take the hint? They shouldn’t be friends. Being friends with Zach would mean getting closer, and Austen couldn’t do that. Not with Zach. Why did Zach even care? Austen had never been anything but a pain in the guy’s ass. Why did he keep coming back for more? Man, he was suddenly feeling tired. It was going to physically pain him to say the word, but he’d try anything at this point. “Please, go away.”

The hand moved away, and Austen stilled. The couch shifted, and he listened out for the door. Nothing. How could a bear Therian be so quiet? No creaking floorboards, heavy footsteps, nothing. Austen tugged his blanket down his face, and he found himself nose to nose with Zach.

“Holy crap!” Austen scrambled back until he was practically inside the couch cushions. “What the hell?” he growled.

Zach chuckled warmly, his amber eyes bright and filled with amusement. He was crouched in front of the couch where Austen had been curled up.

“You’re kind of jumpy.”

“No shit. That’ll happen when someone stick’s their nose in your face.” Okay, he’d had enough. He threw off his blanket, jumped off the couch, and the room spun. Flailing, he prepared to kiss the floor when he landed against something soft. He blinked up at Zach. For fuck’s sake. Again? Why did he keep ending up in this guy’s arms?

Zach’s brow furrowed as he looked down at Austen now cradled in his arms. He placed the back of his hand to Austen’s brow. “I think you have a fever.”

Somewhere in Austen’s head was a smartass remark, but suddenly he felt drained, achy, and sleepy. “I hate this,” Austen mumbled, closing his eyes.

“What’s that?” Zach asked, sitting down cross-legged. Austen opened his eyes, and Zach pulled the blanket off the couch. He covered Austen up to his chin, his strong arms around Austen as he shivered, both from his fever, and from being in Zach’s arms. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to feel safe, or comfortable. Too close. Too warm. Too… perfect.

“Being weak.”

“You’re not weak,” Zach said gently, but firmly. “You’re just not feeling well. We can’t be at our best all the time, no matter how strong we are. It’s okay to lean on someone. On me.”

Austen was so cold, and Zach was so warm. He turned into Zach, curling up against him, and burying his face against Zach’s chest, mumbling. “This doesn’t change anything.” He just needed a moment to recharge, that was all. Soon as the room stopped spinning, he’d tell Zach to leave, and go back to being a miserable jerk.

“I know,” Zach replied quietly.

Was that a smile he heard in Zach’s voice?

“Just this once,” Austen said, his body feeling heavy. “Then you go home.”

“After soup.”

Austen sighed. “Fine. After soup.”

“Go to sleep.”

“Don’t—” Yawn. “Tell me what to do,” Austen huffed as he tried to stay awake. Zach’s hand came to rest on his head, large fingers slipping into Austen’s hair, stroking, comforting. Austen would have swatted his hand away, but that would mean moving. He made a noise he was pretty sure conveyed his annoyance.

Just this once.


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

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