Excerpt for Stirring Creatures: The Village 3.5 – Holiday Special by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




Stirring Creatures


A Village Series Holiday Special


Darien Cox


Stirring Creatures

Copyright © 2016 by Darien Cox

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


Cover Art © 2016 by Skyla Dawn Cameron



First Edition December 2016



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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.



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Myles began clearing the dinner dishes off the table. Christian’s was wiped clean, which was no surprise. Despite having no fat on that chiseled body, Myles’ boyfriend had the appetite of three large men. Elliot had left half his enchilada, however, so Myles paused before grabbing his plate. “Elliot, you done?”

Frowning at his phone, Elliot didn’t seem to hear him. Elliot still wore a ski beanie over his dark blond hair, and Myles had tolerated it through dinner because he’d been freezing when he arrived. Now Myles ripped the hat off Elliot’s head and tossed it aside. “Elliot?”

Elliot glanced up, then down at his plate. “Oh, yeah. Sorry, Myles. It was great, thanks.”

“You don’t have to do dishes, you cooked.” Christian stood.

“No, I’ve got it.” Myles grabbed Elliot’s plate. “Sit, you have a guest.”

“Elliot doesn’t count as a guest.”

“I’ve got it, Christian. Relax.”

“Thanks, babe. Dinner was great.”

In the kitchen, Myles cleaned up while Christian and Elliot began some new argument over at the dining table. Or maybe it wasn’t an argument. It was tough to tell with this crew. What Myles used to think of as fighting, he’d come to learn was simply the way Christian and his friends spoke to each other, like a pack of testy siblings.

He was grateful he’d made so much food, as Elliot had stopped by unannounced. Since moving Christian into his place a few weeks ago, Myles had been forced to become accustomed to people dropping by all the time. He’d known Christian and his friends spent a lot of time with each other, but until now he’d only seen a portion of it. He hadn’t fully realized just how often they saw each other. But their work life and assignments from their boss had amped up recently, which left Myles with diminished time alone with his boyfriend.

Myles had to adjust to the truth that having Christian in his life full time meant also having JT, Nolan, and Elliot. They were a package deal, and while he’d known this, the magnitude of it was jarring. But he didn’t regret asking Christian to move in. He loved the hell out of him and was thrilled to have him in his bed every night, and every morning when he woke up. But Myles had always been a more private person. As the local sheriff, he had to deal with people all day long, and when he got home he wanted to disconnect from that.

Which was difficult to do with one of Christian’s appendages stopping by all the time.

But loss of privacy wasn’t the first change he’d had to endure to be with Christian, and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. Like having a dog, he thought as he set Elliot’s unfinished dinner on the floor and watched Cuervo devour it. But he didn’t mind having the big black lab around the house. In fact he’d found he enjoyed spoiling Cuervo almost as much as he enjoyed spoiling Christian.

Myles had always been very set in his ways, but suddenly he found making Christian happy outweighed everything else. He’d never been this stupidly in love with someone, and at the beginning of their relationship he’d worried this would make him weak. Giving in to every whim Christian had, bending over backwards to please him, having to turn his quiet life upside down. But Christian had always showed Myles equal respect, so thus far there’d never been a problem.

“It’s my assignment, Christian,” Elliot snapped. “Just back off with this shit. You’re being ridiculous.”

“It was my assignment last time,” Christian said. “But you ended up stepping in and taking it over. Fair is fair.”

“It’s not my fault Baz came to me instead,” Elliot said. “He was busy when you called on him, then when he got freed up he couldn’t find you.”

“Oh, bullshit. Where could I possibly have been that he couldn’t find me? He’s a fucking alien with high tech surveillance abilities that make the NSA look like a kindergarten class.”

Myles rolled his eyes as he loaded the dishwasher. Not this again. Ever since Christian and his team helped save the Whites’ base in October, interactions with Baz had increased. Ogden, their boss, was not about to lose the advantage, and had been working closely with Baz, the Whites’ half-human hybrid ambassador, to see if he could get something back out of the deal. Humans had basically saved the Whites’ alien asses, so Ogden felt strongly it was time for them to throw humanity a few scraps. The Whites had reluctantly agreed to share some of their advanced technology, hence the more frequent meetings with Baz.

Along with the increase in frequency, contact between the team and Baz had become much more organized. Baz now had a designated cabin on the mountain not far from Nolan and Elliot’s new house, and while he didn’t live there, it was the assigned meeting place when they needed him. After being unable to locate the hybrid during the crisis in October, Ogden determined shouting at the sky was no longer a viable tactic for summoning their ambassador. There were four numbered lanterns, one for each team member. To request a meeting with Baz, whoever’d been assigned by Ogden would hang his lantern outside the front door, so Baz would know who was looking for him. Baz would ultimately light the lantern to let them know he was there and ready to meet.

While human tech was child’s play to the Whites, they were still highly protective of their presence and secrecy, so there would be no text or emails from Baz. The lantern signals were old school, but a step up from their prior method of simply going out into the woods and shouting Baz’s name with the hope that he was listening. The problem now—which was becoming a significant pain in the ass for Myles’ personal life—was Christian being on a tirade because Baz seemed to be avoiding him.

Twice now Ogden had assigned Christian to meet with Baz, and twice Baz had blown him off—then ultimately tracked down JT, Nolan, or Elliot to speak to instead. When it was one of the other team members requesting a meeting, Baz promptly showed up at the cabin. But when it was Christian’s turn? There’d been dead air. And Myles had to live with an increasingly irritable Christian because of it.

Christian was a bit of an enigma, but Myles knew him intimately now. Plenty of random villagers disliked Christian, and he laughed them off with his middle finger in the air. But if someone he cared for was pissed at him, Christian didn’t sleep, couldn’t settle until he’d resolved it. It ate at him. A small tiff with Nolan last week had Christian leaving their warm bed in the middle of the night to drive over to Nolan and Elliot’s place to apologize. So safe to say the Baz issue was making Myles’ boyfriend crazy, and it was getting tedious.

Carrying pie and plates to the table, Myles set them down. “Where’s Nolan?” he asked, trying to derail the topic of Baz and distract Elliot and Christian from arguing.

Elliot smiled at Myles. “He’s at the pub. Helping JT get ready for the Christmas party this weekend. Wow, pie? So domestic, Sheriff. Christian, you’ve got a keeper here.” Elliot grabbed a plate.

“Cuervo, get away from the tree!” Christian shouted, and the dog hunched low and slinked away.

Myles smirked. “If you don’t want your dog near the Christmas tree you probably shouldn’t have hung candy canes on it.”

“I like the candy canes,” Christian said. “My mom always hung them on the tree before she died.”

Christian cut the pie, scowling. It was their first Christmas together, so it hadn’t dawned on Myles that part of Christian’s grumpiness might be due to the holiday season. Christian’s mother had died three days before Christmas when he was fourteen, but it obviously still stung. Maybe holiday depression was conflating the situation with Baz and his work life, causing Christian to make a bigger deal out of it than it was.

Myles still loved gazing at Christian. The familiarity of living together hadn’t changed that. Christian wore a black tee shirt that accentuated his body art, scrolling tattoos etched in olive skin, perfectly sculpted arms and gorgeous face. But Myles was tired of seeing that scowl, the tightening of Christian’s eyes.

Myles sighed. “What’s going on with you two? Why are you fighting with Elliot?”

“We’re not fighting,” Christian said.

“He’s mad,” Elliot said as Christian dropped a piece of pie on his plate. Elliot picked his fork up and dug in. “He wants to take my assignment tonight and go meet with Baz,” he mumbled through a mouthful. “Please have my back, Myles, and tell your boyfriend to chill the fuck out.”

Myles sat down and raised a brow at Christian, who did a double-take at him. “What?” Christian set his fork down. “You don’t think it’s just a little weird Baz refuses to take meetings with me?”

“I think it’s probably a coincidence and you’re over-thinking it,” Myles said.

“Yeah,” Elliot said, wiping his mouth. “It was one time, Jesus, chill out.”

“Twice,” Christian said. “It was twice. What did I do to offend him? We worked side by side at headquarters to save the base and defeat the Greys. He was totally normal and friendly and we strategized well together. We got along fine. So what did I do?”

Myles met Elliot’s eyes across the table. “Would it be so bad to let Christian take your meeting tonight? Has he been briefed? Or is it something only you can handle?”

Thank you, Myles,” Christian said, glaring at Elliot. “We’ve all been briefed, I can handle the meeting just as well as Elliot. It’s basically just picking up a piece of alien tech.”

“Sure, he could do it,” Elliot said. “Christian’s been briefed, but if Baz is uncomfortable with him we shouldn’t push it. This alliance is too important to Ogden and—”

“Uncomfortable?” Christian shook his head. “Why the hell would Baz be uncomfortable with me? He actually told me over the summer that he preferred talking to me over JT! Myles, you were there. Tell him.”

Myles set his fork down, the pie seeming to get stuck in his throat. “Christian. Come on. Don’t play stupid. You know exactly why Baz might be uncomfortable with you.”

“Don’t.” Christian pointed at Myles. “Don’t start that shit again. Baz has no inappropriate feelings for me. He never did. You guys just speculated about that because you’re weird. Besides, Baz has a boyfriend now. Shit, Elliot and Nolan even had Baz and Joff over for drinks last week. Oh, and Elliot, Nolan told me Baz gives you guys fucking hugs now when he says goodbye. Hugs. But he can’t have a professional work meeting with me? It makes no sense.”

“Nolan shouldn’t have told you about the hugs,” Elliot muttered. “I’m gonna fucking kill him.”

“Oh, I see,” Christian said. “Not only do you and Nolan get hybrid-hugs, but now it’s a secret.”

“Christian,” Myles said. “You asked Baz for a hug goodbye over the summer and he said no. So either he’s growing more comfortable with humans, or he didn’t want to hug you in particular. You have to accept that maybe he’s different where you’re concerned, and that it’s possible everyone’s right about the hybrid having a crush on you. Stop being stubborn.”

“I’m not being stubborn. I’m being logical. Baz doesn’t have a crush on me. But he clearly has some issue with me, and it’s affecting my work. I need to resolve it.”

“Christian.” Elliot’s teeth clenched. “Myles is right, you’re being stubborn. Be honest. Are you really worried Baz won’t work with you for some reason or are you jealous the alien gave me and Nolan a fucking hug?”

“Hugs, plural,” Christian said. “Nolan said Baz hugged you guys several times now.”

“If he’d rather not meet with you, we can work around it,” Elliot said. “Just let it go.”

“I can’t! If Baz doesn’t want to meet with me I deserve to know why! I won’t just let it go. Since this alliance is so important, as you pointed out, I have to find a way to fix this.”

“Listen to Elliot,” Myles said. “And let it go.”

“Nope.” Christian shoveled a piece of pie in his mouth and shook his head. “Uh uh.”

Myles couldn’t handle much more of this. If he had to live with Christian, he knew this needed to be resolved. He looked at Elliot. “He has a point, Elliot. If Baz does have some reasoning behind avoiding Christian, it should be looked into, and Ogden should know about it so he can stop giving him meeting assignments.”

“Like you said. It’s a coincidence. Baz has no issue with Christian, he was just busy. He didn’t purposely blow him off.” Elliot gave Myles a hard stare. He seemed to be trying to convey some message, but Myles wasn’t getting it.

“Look,” Myles said. “Even if Baz does have some lingering affection for Christian—”

“He doesn’t,” Christian spat out.

“Even if he does,” Myles continued, “this is a professional arrangement, and Baz should be able to adhere to that. Elliot? Are you listening?”

Elliot was frowning at his phone, lips pursed, green eyes narrowed. He glanced up at Myles. “My lantern’s lit. He’s there.”

Christian flinched.

Myles kept his gaze locked on Elliot’s. “Let Christian go tonight. Please, Elliot. There’s no living with him right now, he’s driving me fucking nuts with this.”

“I’m sitting right here, Myles,” Christian said.

Elliot shook his head and gave Myles another pointed look. “It’s not a good idea.”

“Why not?” Myles asked directly.

“It’s just not.”

“That’s not an answer.”

Elliot sighed and gritted his teeth, setting his phone down. “This is so stupid, you’re making a big deal out of nothing, Christian. I’m sure Baz will show up the next time you get an assignment.”

“If it’s no big deal, why can’t I take your place tonight?” Christian leaned forward and glared at Elliot. “Answer me that, Elliot. Give me one good reason why—”

“Christ, enough!” Elliot shouted. “You know what? Fine. Go, Christian. Meet with Baz. You are so fucking annoying.”

“Are you serious?” Christian’s brows rose. “You’ll let me do it?”

“Myles isn’t the only one you’re driving nuts. But if this fucks something up with our arrangement, you’re gonna be the one to explain it to Ogden.”

“Fine. Deal. Great.” Christian jumped up and ran to get his coat.

“You know what’s expected of you?” Elliot asked.

“Yeah, yeah.” Christian sat down and pulled his boots on. “Get the thing, secure it, then call Ogden. I’ve got all the details.”

“And what if Baz asks why you’re there instead of me? It’s my lantern on the door, after all.”

Christian zipped his coat up and stood, smirking at Elliot. “I’ll say you were too drunk.”

“Don’t say that!” Elliot frowned. “Just tell him I’m sick or something.”

“Fine. Bye.” Christian kissed Myles, grabbed his phone, then ran out the front door.

Myles stared at Elliot across the table. Elliot held his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes.

“Elliot.”

“What, Myles? You wanted to let him go and you got your way. I agree this needs resolving one way or another, so let’s just see how it plays out.”

“What aren’t you telling me? Is there some issue I’m not aware of?”

Elliot stopped rubbing his face and looked up. “Something happened at headquarters. When we were prepping for the Greys. Right before Nolan and Brett took off for the base.”

“What?” Myles scowled. “Did Christian and Baz not work well together? Did they have a fight?”

“Not sure you’ll want to hear this.”

“Elliot. Talk to me, dammit.”

Elliot glanced down. “Okay. There was no fight. Christian and Baz worked together just fine. Great even. But I had a moment alone with Baz. You shouldn’t have pushed for Christian to meet with him.” His gaze lifted. “I think Baz is still uncomfortable around him.”

“Why? Baz say something to you?”

“Yes.” Elliot nodded. “Baz told me he’s in love with Christian.”

Heat crept up Myles’ face. “He...he said that? Those exact words?”

Chuckling, Elliot shook his head. “You know how Baz talks, it wasn’t exact words, but close enough.”

Leaning forward, Myles pinned Elliot with a glare. “Well what were his exact words?”

“I was talking about me and Nolan, and Baz said he didn’t want to talk about love. I asked if someone broke his heart. He said ‘Have love for someone should not in the now.’ I asked if he meant Christian. He nearly shit himself that I’d guessed it. Then he admitted it.”

A pit formed in Myles’ gut. Protectiveness and yeah...jealousy made his nerves dance. Did Christian realize? And if so, why was he pushing to see Baz? Was he curious? Did he like that Baz was into him? Maybe it gave Christian some odd thrill. The thought of that made bile rise in Myles’ throat, and anger pulsed at his temples.

“Myles, calm down,” Elliot said. “Your Irish skin just turned five shades of purple.”

“Does he know?”

“Who?”

“Does Christian know, Elliot? Did you tell him what Baz said?”

“No! Of course not. Myles, don’t go there, that’s not who Christian is and you know it. Christian just wants things to be cool with Baz. He’s never believed Baz had feelings for him. And now that Baz has Joff in his life, Christian thinks that proves we were all wrong. If Baz does still have feelings for Christian, Christian doesn’t realize it.”

“And when the alien hybrid told you he was in love with my boyfriend, did he mention what his intentions were?”

“He doesn’t have intentions, Jesus, Myles! Baz said he knew it was stupid and that he knew Christian loved you. If Baz is avoiding Christian, I guarantee it’s out of pure respect.”

“Maybe so, but if Baz is avoiding Christian, it stands to reason he still feels the same way. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a big deal to him to meet with Christian.”

Elliot threw his arms up. “Which is why I tried to dissuade him tonight, but you didn’t have my back!”

“Well I might have if you’d told me before that an alien wants to fuck my boyfriend for Christ sakes! And did it ever occur to you that Christian should probably have that information going in?”

“Baz told me in confidence, and it has no bearing on our work. So no, I didn’t mention it to Christian, there was no reason.”

“But now it clearly does have bearing on your work. Baz is avoiding Christian. This is fucked up. I’m gonna call him.”

Elliot stopped Myles’ hand as he reached for his phone. “Don’t. Let it play out. You know Christian, he’ll be totally professional. Maybe this is what Baz needs. To get used to being alone with Christian in a work setting. Shit, maybe it’s my fault. Maybe Baz is afraid I told Christian what he said. Meeting with Christian will make it obvious he doesn’t have a clue, and Baz will probably relax.”

“You and Nolan had Baz and Joff over to your house for a social visit. Baz never brought up Christian to you again? Never asked you about him or referenced that conversation?”

“Not a word. And Baz and Joff are a really cute couple. Joff has learned English and they’re really funny and silly together. They seem happy. Don’t worry, okay? It’s Christian. He can handle anything that happens tonight. Come on, you know him.”

“Joff has learned English? I met him at the party after your wedding and all he could say was ‘Happy to you’. That wasn’t even two months ago.”

“Yeah, well, Joff is a fucking alien hybrid, I guess they learn fast. I’d never say this in front of them, but Joff’s even slightly easier to understand than Baz now.”

Myles chewed his lip, worry making his dinner churn unpleasantly in his stomach.

“Myles, chill. It’s Christian. He can handle talking to Baz tonight. I know Christian acts like a giant baby when he’s aggravated but he’s a professional strategist and he’s smart as hell. He’ll handle it, whatever happens.”

Myles relaxed, the tension leaking out of him. “You’re right. It’s fine. It was just...weird hearing that.”

“That an alien-human hybrid was in love with your boyfriend?” Elliot smirked. “Now why would that be weird for you?”

Myles laughed. “Good point. I guess I’ll give myself a pass.”

“Think how poor Joff feels, having to deal with us suddenly. He’d never been up close to humans until Baz dragged him to the party after my wedding. When Nolan and I had them over last week, Joff kept staring at us like he was simultaneously fascinated and terrified. When Nolan tried to hand him a drink, Joff nearly jumped off the couch. He got used to us, though. By the end of the night he was joking and making us all laugh. But think about it. To him we’re the aliens.”

“Yeah. We’re the aliens. We’re weird to Joff. Yet Baz somehow fell in love with Christian.”

“Hey, you should feel flattered!” Elliot grinned. “You scored a guy who’s coveted by otherworldly beings.”

“Yeah.” Myles chuckled. “Think I’d prefer if my competition was limited to local villagers.”

“You have no competition. I’ve known Christian since he was eighteen, and never seen him so crazy in love. He worships your lawman ass. You know this.”

Myles smiled and nodded. He was confident in his relationship, and knew Christian had no interest in Baz beyond the obvious fascination with befriending an alien. And Myles liked Baz. Trusted him. There was nothing to worry about.

Yet after what Elliot just revealed to him, Myles knew he’d be watching the clock all night. And wouldn’t relax until Christian returned home.


****


Christian shut the car door and stared up at the cabin. The lantern, marked with a ‘3’ for Elliot, hung from the porch roof. The lantern was lit, and Christian could see through the windows that a light was on somewhere inside. Baz was in there.

Christian took a deep breath, nerves dancing suddenly. He’d been so indignant and revved up at the thought of Baz purposely avoiding him, he’d been ready to bust in guns blazing. But now that he was here, he questioned himself. He hadn’t fully thought this through.

Shit, what if Baz had been purposely avoiding him? What did that mean? That Myles was right? That his friends were right? Christian refused to believe it. Baz had never shown even a glimmer of romantic interest toward Christian. He’d always been respectful. Baz always exhibited some shyness, but it’s not like he’d been standoffish during the crisis in October. At headquarters, Baz had tried to keep Christian calm about Nolan putting himself in danger. Soothed and reassured him, showed empathy and even a few tears.

But that’s all it had been. Compassion. Friendship. Christian would know if there was more to their interactions than he’d perceived. He’d know, dammit.

But would you? He’s part alien, after all.

“Doesn’t matter,” he whispered. Whatever his friends and Myles claimed to see just wasn’t there. They were wrong about this. So that brought Christian back to square one. If Baz was avoiding him, then Christian must have done something to offend him. And he aimed to find out what that was, and clear the air.

He headed for the cabin. It was a clear, cold night, stars brilliant against a black sky. His breath came out in visible puffs and his boots crunched in deep snow. He’d have to mention to Ogden that someone ought to plow Baz’s driveway. Baz might not care since he likely beamed down via a tunnel of mist or some shit, but if Christian and the other lowly humans had to be traipsing up here in the middle of winter, it would do well to shovel the driveway before someone got hurt.

And throw some gravel on the steps, he thought as he moved gingerly across the icy porch to the front door. He knocked three times, and waited, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets. He’d been so afraid Elliot would change his mind, he’d run out of the house without gloves or a hat, which was stupid. Singing Bear Village got damn cold in December, the frigid mountain wind never letting up, and his ears were already stinging just from the short walk from the car up to the porch.

He frowned as he waited, shoulders tightening. No one came to answer the door, and his paranoia kicked in, wondering if Baz knew he was there and was purposely ignoring him. He knocked again, harder this time, then heard Baz’s muffled voice call out from inside.

“Door unlock, Ellytot, come in!”

Christian pushed open the door and stepped inside, warmth flooding his chilled body. His eyes darted around as he closed the door behind him. A cozy living room with dark wood shelves and modest furniture, country-themed with paintings of deer and flying geese hanging on the paneled walls. Worn throw rugs across a scuffed wooden floor. And no sign of Baz.

Christian walked down a short hallway and found Baz in the kitchen, seated, tall body hunched over a translucent gelatinous glob on the table that looked like a brain. Inside the brain-sized blob, small spiders of electric color flashed pink and green within. Baz’s long white fingers hovered over the strange item, head bowed, silky white hair hanging down over the sides of his face. Christian was about to announce his presence—and that he was not, in fact, Elliot—but Baz seemed lost in concentration, so instead he waited silently in the doorway.

“One minute, Ellytot,” Baz breathed as he continued to fuss with the item on the table. “Apology, need to make sure secure before you take. Have seat, El. Chill out.”

Christian frowned. Chill out? And El? The familiarity of Baz using Elliot’s nickname jarred Christian. Baz had definitely been spending quality time with Elliot. And Nolan, Christian realized, as he examined Baz’s attire.

Baz was wearing jeans. Actual jeans, though Christian couldn’t imagine where he’d found a pair to fit his long legs. On top he wore a baggy brown ragg sweater over a white tee shirt. The tee shirt was a couple shades lighter than his alabaster skin. Work boots on his feet. He was dressed the way Nolan typically dressed all winter, the sweater strikingly similar to one Nolan owned. The boots weren’t just similar to Nolan’s, they were identical, aside from the larger size to fit Baz’s extra-long long feet.

“Okay,” Baz said softly, his white hands gently touching the transparent blob, cupping the sides. “Just one more moment, need to adjust for surface oxygen, this thing being a bitch.”

Christian swallowed hard. He was stunned at the transformation, the way Baz seemed to be more attuned to his human side, the casual phrasing. But it was more than that. Christian was seeing something very different in this moment. And he didn’t think it was just Baz growing more accustomed to humans, picking up their speech and mannerisms.

It was because Baz thought he was speaking to Elliot, not Christian. When Christian spoke with the hybrid, Baz always had an underlying tension in his posture and words. Something nervous brimming beneath the surface. Christian had only just seen him last month. That Baz had changed this much in a short time was possible, but it was more likely he was simply more relaxed around Elliot. Christian was seeing a different Baz right now, the way he was with the others. The way he was when Christian wasn’t around. So why was he so different with Christian?

Maybe he wasn’t. Maybe this was just progress, a growing familiarity with the team, amplified from spending more time with Elliot and Nolan. Or maybe Baz had grown more relaxed since he had a boyfriend now. Perhaps Joff had made Baz chill out. Either way, Christian would have the answers to these questions momentarily, when Baz finished his work and figured out it was Christian, not Elliot, standing in the doorway.

Sighing, Baz brushed a strand of long white hair back from his face, eyes still focused down. The gesture with the hair wasn’t one Christian had ever seen from Baz, and reminded him of Nolan, the way he’d tuck his hair behind his ear when it was down. But Baz didn’t have the kind of ears hair could be tucked behind—his were flat to his head. More evidence of time spent with Nolan and Elliot. And Christian felt foolish envy, that his friends had this relationship with the hybrid, while Christian felt pushed out.

“Okay.” Baz placed his hands on the table and nodded. “Should be okay to move now.” He looked up. “Tell Hoggin that...Chrischris?”

Baz’s oversized eyes widened, his shoulders stiffening under the sweater. Within the electric blue and green of his double-iris, Baz’s oval pupil visibly dilated, black spreading across the inner ring. He stared, lips parted, saying nothing.

“Hey, Baz.”

Baz’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “Hello, Chrischris. I think...I thought that you were number two. No? Get wrong?”

“No, you’re right. I’m number two. Elliot is number three. But he’s not feeling well tonight, so sent me instead. That a problem?”

“No problem.” Baz’s long white lashes lowered. He seemed to gather himself, and stood, gesturing toward the table. “Is ready to go. I speak to Hoggin. Tell him how to use energy. Should be okay to take but to be cautious. I have container.” Baz abruptly left the room, his tall body breezing past Christian without a glance.

Christian took a seat at the table, scowling at the round blob. Tiny spiders of electric light flashed within. It should have fascinated him, but he was too preoccupied with Baz’s reaction. Baz had gone from completely relaxed to tense in seconds. There was no question in Christian’s mind anymore. Something was up. Baz had a problem with him. It made Christian angry, and a little sad. After all they’d been through together, it shouldn’t be like this.

Baz returned with a silver box. Still avoiding Christian’s eyes, he set it on the table, then gently lifted the energy device and placed it inside. After closing the box, Christian watched as the seams disappeared. “Is Ogden gonna know how to get into that box?”

“Yes. Okay. I tell him. He know. Is all good.”

Baz lingered by the table, eyes focused on the box. He stood with hands on his hips, posture very human, until he glanced at Christian. He immediately straightened and his shoulders stiffened. “Okay. You can take.”

“Sit down,” Christian said. “We should talk.”

Baz blinked rapidly as he stared at Christian. He dragged his chair out and sat. His large eyes narrowed slightly. “Sure. To talk. Ask me about device? I think Hoggin brief you all. But will answer questions.”

“I don’t care about the damn energy device right now, Baz. I just want to have a chat with you.”

Baz eyed him warily, drumming his long fingers on the table the way Nolan did when he was thinking. “Okay, Chrischris.” Baz smiled, but it looked forced. “You warm enough? Is cold outside for human.”

Christian chuckled. “I’m fine. Nice and warm.”

Baz stood. “To take jacket off?” Baz pointed to the heavy winter coat Christian still wore, then his shoulders hunched and his head bowed. “I mean to...take off if you want to take off. Or to leave on. Leave on if cold. Or take off if warm. You cold, Chrischris? Need tea? Elliot teach me to make. Make tea for you?”

“Baz. Relax. I’m fine. I don’t need tea.” Christian shrugged his jacket off, and for the very first time he glimpsed a whisper of something as Baz’s eyes trailed over his arms. Christian smoothed his black tee shirt self-consciously, and watched as Baz’s gaze followed the movement. When Baz caught his eye, he quickly looked away.

Ah, shit. Fuck. Maybe Myles was right. Maybe they were all right.

But maybe not. Perhaps Baz was just looking at Christian’s tattoos. Maybe it was nothing. Fucking Myles had put the idea in his head that Baz was attracted to him. Christian was probably just over-focused on that and seeing things that weren’t there. Either way, he’d come too far to turn back now. He had to know what was up. It was personal, sure, but it also potentially affected work stuff, so this talk had to happen either way.

“Sit down,” Christian said. “Relax.”

Baz sat. He glanced at Christian, then looked away. His pupils still seemed dilated, but it was hard to tell. Baz’s eyes were gorgeous and hypnotic, but a little freaky, so Christian wasn’t sure how they reacted to the light. Human’s pupils often dilated when they gazed upon something that pleased them, but Baz was only half-human. Christian was over-thinking things again, trying to monitor every reaction from Baz, and it was ridiculous. He could simply talk to him, and ask what he’d come to ask.

“Baz, are you angry at me?”

Immediately, Baz straightened in his seat, his luminescent eyes widening. “No! Never to be angry with you, Chrischris! Never. Why you say this?”

“Because we had two meetings scheduled this month and you didn’t show up for either of them.”

Baz did that thing where his body curled in on itself and his head bowed. “Not angry, Chrischris. Had other...things. Apology. To be late. But spoke to Shaytee. It was...resolve.”

“Then why do you look guilty right now?”

Baz looked up and blinked. “Guilty? Baz...I do not look guilty.”

“I know your body language. When you feel bad about something you tighten up and do that hunch thing. Like a dog that just got yelled at.”

Baz’s white brows pinched. “You say to me I am like dog?”

Christian smirked. “I think you know what I mean.”

“I think you call me dog. Very unkind, Chrischris.”

“Why? You have something against dogs?”

Baz’s head tilted. “You fucking with me now.”

Laughing, Christian nodded. “I’m fucking with you a little. Just trying to get you to relax. You’re so tense around me. When you thought I was Elliot you acted completely different. Why is that?”

“I do not understand. No to be different with Ellytot.”

“Cut the innocent routine, Baz. When you thought I was Elliot you were all ‘hey bro chill, be with you in a minute, dude.’”

Baz scowled, lips pursed. He leaned back and crossed his arms over his narrow chest. “I did not say dude.”

Smiling, Christian pointed. “There. See? Now you’re being real with me. You’ve relaxed some because I’m getting under your skin. Why can’t you be that way with me all the time? The way you are with Elliot and Nolan? And probably JT for all I know.”

“Chriscrhis. You don’t make sense.”

“Tell me the truth. You have some problem with me? I have to ask. Make sure things are all good. We do have to work together, you realize. More so now that Ogden and the Whites are making deals.”

Baz was silent for a beat, keeping eye contact. “No. We fine to work. No problem.”

Christian shrugged. “That’s it? No problem?”

“No problem.” Baz blinked. “I know you language of body as well, Chrischris. You no to believe what I say.”

Christian scrubbed his fingers through his hair, sighing. “I was having trouble believing you. But I guess I’m imagining things. I was worried maybe I rubbed you the wrong way. That you don’t like me for some reason and were avoiding me on purpose.”

Baz’s luminescent eyes softened and he leaned forward, resting his arms on the table. “Chrischris. No. Do not like? This is stupid thought. You are my favorite human.”

Christian chuckled. “Really?”

“Yes. Okay?” He pointed at Christian. “Favorite human.”

“That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. And incidentally, you’re my favorite alien.”

Baz gave Christian a tight-lipped smile, and a blush of peach rose on his white cheeks. “You not to know any other aliens, Chrischris.”

“Ah, hang on. I met Tullis, remember? The angry nasty.”

“Oh. Okay. Yes. But would hope you like me better than nasty Tullis.”

“Well, even if I knew lots of aliens, you’d still be my favorite.”

Staring down at the table, Baz nodded. “Thank to you.”

On a whim, Christian reached over and placed his hand over Baz’s. “We good then?”

Baz flinched and quickly retracted his hand. “Good, Chrischris.”

Christian frowned. “Okay.”

“Done talk now?”

“You eager to get rid of me?”

Baz’s white lashes lifted, and he stared at Christian for several long moments. “I do not have bad feel for you. Please to believe.”

“Okay. I believe you. Just had to ask.”

“Okay. Done talk now? Chrischris to leave?”

Well, shit, I guess so. “Can I ask one more thing?”

“Okay.”

“Does it bother you if I touch you? You used to squeeze my hand if I touched yours. But you just pulled away. I need to know if I’ve overstepped by touching you or something in the past. If I crossed a line or something, please just tell me. Interacting with an extraterrestrial is still new to me. I want to learn.”

“No. Is fine. You never bother me. Is fine.”

Christian smiled. “Okay. Your comfort is important to me.”

Baz’s gaze trailed over Christian, then he quickly looked away. “Always kind, Chrischris. Too kind.”

“How am I too kind?”

“No...not...” Baz rubbed his temples, another gesture he’d likely picked up from Elliot. “I mean...consider. Considerate. You. Say kind things. Too much kind. Make me feel...”

“Makes you feel how?”

Baz remained silent.

“Aren’t the others kind to you? Nolan and Elliot? JT? Rudy?”

“Yes. Very kind. Joff like Nolan and Ellytot very much. Joff say...enjoy to be with Nolan and Ellytot. Have pleasant feel with spend time with.”

“Ah. Okay.” Christian was confused. Part of him felt there was something beneath Baz’s words that he was trying to convey. But it was so difficult to tell with his limited language skills.


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