Despite my affinity for causing him pain and injury, I have a soft spot for former Hunter Milo Gant. He first officially appeared in As Lie the Dead (he was part of the big battle at Olsmill at the end of Three Days to Dead but did not make it on-page), and since then he's been through the wringer. Repeatedly. When I began writing Requiem I knew I wanted to start nudging Milo toward some kind of happiness, and big, badass were-jaguar Marcus Dane stepped up to help me do that.
Naturally nothing is ever easy in Dreg City. Which is why Milo stepped up and demanded a little more screen time, and thus these missing scenes were born. If you haven't read Requiem for the Dead yet, then please don't read these scenes. They are all set within the time frame of that novel, and won't make a lot of sense read as a standalone story. Otherwise, please enjoy.
Monday, September 1
Milo Gant gave up on sleep and rolled out of bed. It wasn't worth it anymore, trying to force his body to rest during those blessed chunks of time when he wasn't working. He simply tossed and turned and lay awake staring at bunk above his bed—especially when his head was full of so many racing thoughts. Old habits of working sunset to sunrise and sleeping during the day, leftover from his Triad Hunter years, were harder to break than he thought. And more than just mental anguish and regrets haunted him from that part of his life. He had a lot of other beaten-in training to work through, and that included trusting the nonhumans he worked with on a daily basis. He was getting there, as were his fellow former Hunters.
Without trust, the Watchtower simply couldn't function.
The dormitory was silent, save the occasional rumble of snoring from one of the open rooms. A large department store had been divided into a small cubicles, each with two sets of bunk beds and storage units for personal items. At the moment, they had more cubicles than Watchtower members, so Milo had this one all to himself. While Milo had never gone to college, maybe this was what it was like living on campus—sharing common facilities and a cafeteria. No one applied to this particular "college," though, and few knew of its existence.
He threw on his sneakers. Maybe a physical distraction would help clear his mind a little bit. He'd had the day off from any official Watchtower duties, so he'd spent it being bored out of his mind. He would rather use his time to track down half-Bloods, instead of watching mindless television, especially when it wasn't blocking thoughts of last night's near-miss.
He padded out of his cubicle, only to pause at the doorway to the one next to his. A soft voice muttered in his sleep, nonsensical things. Milo paused to listen, unsure if Tybalt was simply dreaming, or caught up in a nightmare of some kind. They both had plenty of nightmare fodder to choose from, and Milo had woken up in a cold sweat more times than he could count. He waited until the muttering stopped, then left the dorm area for the main hall.
Sometimes he forgot the Watchtower HQ had once been a mall. It still looked like one to the world at large, with a stained exterior and weedy parking lot, but inside the fading structure was alive with activity. He waved idly at some of the hidden security cameras, more to entertain the night watch than anything else. No one would question him being up and around. The Watchtower was pretty much twenty-four-seven when it came to activity, and it was a little after five. He was almost surprised not to see more people in the corridor.
So much had happened in the last twenty-four hours—not exactly unusual for the Watchtower, whose odd mix of humans and Therian shape-shifters policed the supernatural races in and around the city. Vampires used to be part of the group, until a deadly illness forced all of them to back out and return to their hidden headquarters, wherever that was. Milo had little use for the vampires, beyond their cunning and strength, but his best friend Evangeline Stone was concerned for them. She had vampire friends who were sick, so he worried for her sake.
He hadn't seen Evy around all day, actually. She'd gone off with her half-Lupa boyfriend Wyatt Truman earlier in the day. If they'd returned, he hadn't heard about it, which wouldn't be an issue unless their quad was called into action. He, Evy, Wyatt and Marcus Dane were a quad unit, and they worked well together on their assignments. Milo had always respected Wyatt as a fighter and a thinker, but after his infection with the Lupa virus, which left him half-human, half-werewolf, he'd gone from ass-kicker to super-fucking-badass. Plus he was hella scary when he bi-shifted.
He cursed the stupid little flutter in his chest when he thought about Marcus. Tall, muscular, long black hair. The kind of jaw you could cut glass on. He was gorgeous, dangerous, and exactly who Milo did not need to have a crush on right now. Or ever. Marcus was Felia, a black jaguar shifter, who was only ten calendar years old but had already lived half his lifetime. Even if Marcus was interested—which was not possible because really, who'd ever heard of a gay Therian?—they had no future.
Stupid, stupid crush.
A stupid crush that had nearly gotten him killed last night.
Milo and Marcus had waited on the street while Evy and Wyatt broke into the hospital morgue to see if a dead body had been killed by goblins (which it had). The pairs had met by the river, compared notes, then split up to walk back to the car (safety measure). Milo didn't remember what he and Marcus had been talking about, only that Marcus was teasing him, Milo was enjoying the easy banter, and they weren't paying attention to their surroundings. Three half-Bloods jumped them, knocked Milo's head into a car, and one had nearly taken a bit out of his neck before Marcus could shift and rip them apart.
He rubbed at the spot where those underdeveloped fangs had scraped skin. A little more pressure, and he would have been infected. His friends would have had to kill him before he changed into a mindless monster, like Felix had.
His heart panged a little as he walked past the cafeteria that had once been the food court. Milo had worked with Felix for almost a year and a half, when they were both Triad Hunters, along with Tybalt Monahan. They were all as close as brothers, protecting each other, fighting alongside each other. A month ago, Felix had been bitten and infected, and seeing the monster he'd become had broken Milo's heart. Not only because he was losing a brother, but because he'd done something stupid and fallen in love with Felix. Felix, who was undeniably straight. Felix, who died a horrible death without ever knowing how much he was loved.
Why did Milo always fall for the wrong guy?
He nodded at a pair of Therias as he passed Operations, which was in the center of the U-shaped mall. Farther down, on the opposite end of the U, was a pair of connected storefronts that was now their training area. Milo entered the weight room, which had an attached sparing room in the back. He'd never shopped in the Capital City Mall before it closed ten years ago, so he couldn't have guessed what trendy shop had once occupied the space now filled with mats, benches, and equipment of all types and shapes and sizes. Free weights and machines, resistance training, stair climbers, and even one of those bow-rod flex things.
Milo was halfway across the room to his preferred bench when he realized he wasn't alone, and he froze in place, defensive instincts kicking in. Some Hunter he was, not noticing the weight room was already occupied. In the far right corner, near one of the resistance machines, Marcus was toweling off. He was shirtless, impressive biceps rippling with each motion, a near-perfect eight-pack glistening with perspiration. His black hair was tied back, but a single lock had escaped the tie and hung by his left ear. The workout shorts were just tight enough to—
He realized how hard he was staring and blinked, embarrassed. Marcus smiled and slung his blue towel over one shoulder. The abrupt motion startled Milo into looking away. Maybe a little too sharply.
"Sorry," Milo said, frozen in place and feeling a little stupid. "I didn't think anyone else would be up at this hour." A ridiculous thing to say, considering he and Marcus had been there the night before, wrestling at three in the morning, working out some tension from their encounter with the half-Bloods. They'd gone at it for over an hour, the physical contact without fear of dismemberment or death a welcome relief.
Plus, you know, it was Marcus. Sweaty, shirtless Marcus, just like the vision in front of him now. Milo really needed his body to stop reacting to such a vision. Like, now.
"You're up," Marcus said.
The obvious statement stumped him for a moment. Two things he'd learned about Therians after working with them these last few weeks were they were incredibly observant, and they didn't bullshit around things. It was both refreshing and frustrating. Usually both at once, like now.
"Besides me." It was all Milo's stuttering brain could manage, and it perplexed him. He and Marcus had worked out together before, dozens of times. Hell, they'd had entire conversations without this sort of issue—sure, they'd been chatting about weapons and disarming opponents, but still. Was it because they were off the clock, Milo was keyed up, and Marcus was nearly naked?
"I'm up, too," Marcus said.
It took every ounce of Milo's self control to keep his eyes above chest-level and not allow his pervy brain to go other places. More savvy intelligence came out in the form of, "Yeah."
Marcus blinked, a funny glint in his copper eyes that could have been amusement. "Spot you?"
Standing over him glistening like that while Milo pressed a hundred-sixty pounds of weights above his head? Yeah, sure, that sounded like a terrific idea. Not. "Yeah, okay."
Milo set the weights and climbed onto the bench, laying back and getting comfortable on the padded seat. He realized too late that he was still in the t-shirt and shorts he slept in, providing less than was probably appropriate in the way of lower support, but brushed it off. No one else was likely to come in and get an eyeful, and Marcus was standing behind his head. Way out of eyesight, even for a were-cat.
He found his grip, set his feet, and began his first set of reps, moving the bar more easily than he expected. He'd been weight training more often than he ever had as a Hunter, so his strength had increased. Nice.
As if mirroring his thoughts, Marcus said, "You have quite a bit of power in those things."
Milo grunted, unable to decide if he'd just been insulted or complimented. He was average height for a guy, with a slim build, and people liked to underestimate him because of that. He'd used it to his advantage more than once, including the first time he'd ever sparred with Marcus. "Don't have to bulge like melons to be strong." Okay, so his own retort bordered on insult.
Even from upside-down, Marcus didn't appear put out. "True." He took a moment to flex one impressively meloned bicep. "So what has you tied up in knots so tightly that you can't sleep? Last night?"
Too damned perceptive.
"Just can't sleep." He puffed the words between lifts, careful to control his breathing as he'd been taught. He didn't want to admit to anyone how rattled he was by the near-miss. "It happens. I'm used to keeping more nocturnal hours, so I'll be off for a while until I adjust."
"Hunters mostly worked at night."
"That's when our prey was out and about."
"You miss it." The statement was made as simply as if Marcus had verified Milo's shorts were, indeed, green. Not even a question.
Milo put the weight bar back in its support brace, then sat up. His arms were warm, humming from the stretch. He shifted sideways, tossing his left leg over to meet its mate, turning him toward Marcus without actually looking at him. "I miss the way we worked, yeah, just the three of us and Kismet leading us. Less structure, more action."
"And you miss your partner."
Annoyance flared at the subtle intrusion in Milo's personal past. "Felix was my best friend. Sure, I miss him." Had been missing him a lot, actually, since last night's reminder of how he'd died.
The flare burned into a spark of anger, and he fixed the were-cat with a stony stare. "Yeah, friend. You need a definition?"
"I apologize. Felia can be quite gossipy among themselves and there have been rumors—"
"What? That Felix and I were a couple?" Hot fury and chilly regret warred with each other, neither able to unseat the other. Only a scant handful of people knew Milo was gay, and he could count them on three fingers. Not because he was ashamed of it, but because it wasn't anyone's fucking business. He hated gossip, hated being the subject of it, but damn if he wasn't tired of not being who he was around his friends and coworkers. "Felix was straight as a rod, end of story."
The genuine interest in those two words made Milo's brain stutter. Then it erupted in a buzz of fury that had him vaulting to his feet, hands fisted by his hips. He got right in Marcus's face, because what the hell? "What fucking business is it of yours? You think gay human males are so damned interesting you grill them with personal questions at the ass-crack of dawn?"
Marcus's mouth twitched, and Milo realized what he'd said—talk about a double-entendre with a side of naked truth. But he didn't back down, didn't try to take back what he'd said. Marcus did. He took an actual step backward. "We work together, Milo, and I count you as a friend. I also find you interesting, and I'm not grilling you, as you say. Mainly I am acquiring information."
"Why? Going to start a few more rumors about the queer Hunter?"
"Your anger is misplaced, Milo. I'm not your enemy, and please believe that I have no desire to cause you distress."
Milo snorted. "You're a little late, pal."
"Then I'm sorry." He came around the bench, arms loose by his sides, his expression neutral. Almost placating in its gentleness, and Milo's heart skipped. "In all of our time spent together, have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt you?"
"No." He didn't have to consider his answer. The occasional bruise or sore muscle from a sparring session didn't count, and Marcus had only ever been kind. Attentive. Occasionally fierce, when their lives were threatened, like last night. "Look, Marcus, about yesterday. I never did thank you."
"You don't have to thank me for that. We were both caught unaware."
"Still, I know better than to not pay attention to my surroundings at all time. I let myself get distracted by you, and I almost got a fast ticket to infection and death. It was stupid, and I owe you." Now why the hell had he added on by you as a reason for his distraction? Or that he owed Marcus? Words he couldn't take back, damn it.
Something sparkled in Marcus's eyes, and it sent a strange zing through Milo's insides. "Do you? I imagine you despise debts."
"Would you like to clear your debt and make us even?" he asked, his voice dropping an octave.
Annoyance—mostly at himself, partly at Marcus—made him blurt out, "You want me to just bend over, or are you going to buy me dinner first?"
Marcus surprised him by laughing, a deep sound of genuine amusement. "What you think of me," he said, smiling. "No, my request is far simpler."
"Okay. What do you want?"
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