The Takedown

Cover by P.L. Nunn


About The Takedown
Jody Aguirre's family was kidnapped and tortured by witch hunters, and after a few days of captivity, he's all that's left. Using his frosty awakened superpowers, Jody manages to escape—and is rescued from the side of the road by Bren Faulkner's stretch Town Car. Bren, a hot-thermal awakened with government connections, promises to help find the witch hunters who destroyed Jody's life.

While navigating his trauma and pain, Jody comes to rely on Bren for more than just food, his house, and his superpowered connections. Brendan is all that reminds Jody what's left to live for, and a strong advocate for justice vs. vengeance, like the proverbial knight in shining armor he is. As their affection for one another deepens and their attraction becomes impossible to deny, Bren wonders if acting on their feelings would be taking advantage. Jody, meanwhile, struggles to claw his way back to something like normality, knowing that Bren's part of the solution, not the problem.

But none of it matters, if they don't take down those witch hunters.

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The Takedown deals with serious themes that may be a trigger for some readers. Find a list of potential triggers in my Goodreads Review of the book--under a spoiler cut.

Character Stats
Jody Aguirre by Astro. Click to enlarge.
Name: Jody Aguirre
Age: 22
Height: 5'9"... on a good day
Hometown: Harrisonburg, VA
Current Residence: Sorta in transit, currently.
Occupation: Just graduated with a BA... not sure what's next?
Powers: Cold-thermal.
Level: Average
Control: Great! I've never accidentally frozen off a body part or anything.
Politics: Liberal and Progressive
Religion: Catholic
Favorite music: Either dance party stuff or Mozart-type stuff. Also all the things in between.
Favorite movie/TV: I like the THOR movies? Oh, also, Luke Cage was great.
Favorite book: I'm supposed to say The Red Pony because I'm named after it, so I'll go with that, because man, this question is way too hard to answer.
Favorite fictional character: Xena, Warrior Princess. Or maybe Bob Belcher.
Favorite food: Mom's empanadas.
Favorite drink: Vitamin Water. Also Scotch.
Favorite sport: Soccer, come on!
Favorite artist: Thomas Eakins? I don't know, there's something really American (and queer) about him that I like.
Favorite news outlet: Washington Post, probably.
Favorite superhero: Jubilee from the X-Men
Favorite supervillain: Magneto, totally.
Describe yourself in one word: Frostyfresh. (What, it's a word!)


Brendan Faulkner by Astro. Click to enlarge.
Name: Brendan Faulkner
Age: 33
Height: 5'11"
Hometown: Rockville, MD
Current Residence: Arlington, VA
Occupation: CEO, Faulker Electonics
Powers: Hot-thermal
Level: Advanced
Control: Excellent
Politics: I'm trans and gay; figure it out.
Religion: No, thanks.
Favorite music: Britpop. Shut up.
Favorite movie/TV: I like the Coen Brothers movies? Something by them, probably.
Favorite book: Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis, overall, but recently I liked The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Favorite fictional character: I... have no idea.
Favorite food: French or Indian. Better yet, Indo-French.
Favorite drink: Laphroaig
Favorite sport: Boxing
Favorite artist: Warhol
Favorite news outlet: Wall Street Journal
Favorite superhero: Superman.
Favorite supervillain: Lex Luthor, clearly.
Describe yourself in one word: Ready.

Excerpts
#1: Punching Bag (PG)

Bren found me in the gym and asked, “Have you ever boxed?”
I made a face at first. I’d never been in a fight in my life and had zero interest in starting… Except I did, didn’t I? One fight in particular. Just the one. I shook my head. “You?”
“Yes.” He nodded to the punching bags, one small, one huge, nearby. “I was a small kid, born with a disproportionate amount of fight me. Also queer as fuck. And trans. Even if I wasn’t getting into fights, the outlet would’ve been useful.”
I chuckled. “Points taken.”
He led me to the bags. “Can you throw a punch?”
“Probably not?”
“Right. Let’s tape you up and get started.”
Without another word, he pulled some cloth strip thing out of a nearby locker and hooked the end over my thumb. He wrapped it around my hand, except the thumb, a few times, then started wrapping it between each finger. I was kind of distracted by his other hand, though. It brushed against my forearm, then held it steady and straight.
He had really strong hands.
He snapped me out of it with, “There, that’s one down. Let’s have the other.”
I flushed, but he didn’t seem to notice. He wrapped the other hand efficiently, and I tried not to enjoy it for weird reasons.
“Done. Now, stand here.” He moved to face the body-sized bag.
I obeyed, because why the hell not?
“You’re a right-hander, yes? Good, turn to the side. Want to present a smaller target—”
“Like a pistol duel,” I interjected.
He chuckled, low and quiet. “Precisely. Left foot forward. Keep your weight on it. Your back foot is your pivot. Don’t stand straight—then you have to lean back to dodge, and you throw your balance off. Yes, good. Now, hands up. You know not to make a fist with your thumb on the inside, yes?”
I laughed. “That much, I know.”
“See, you’re already ahead of the curve. Now, right hand here.” He moved nearer and lifted my right elbow, then bent it, putting my right fist in front of my nose. “You always want one hand to protect your face.
“Left hand up. Good. That’s your jab hand. Like so.” He assumed the same position, but instead of looking cramped and uncomfortable, like I felt, he looked almost graceful. He jabbed at the bag with his left, so fast it was almost a blur, and the bag shook. “Little jabs, fast, with your left hand. Your right is the power hitter.” He tilted somehow, lifting his left fist to cover his face instead, and struck out with the right. The impact made a solid thud, and the bag rocked violently.
“That looks hard.”
“It’s not,” he promised. He stood behind me and cupped my left elbow in one of his hands, lifting it and pushing it forward. “There. And…” He put a hand on my right arm and pulled back, twisting me a little. “There.”
He was making it hard not to be weird. Like, superweird.
He smelled nice. Not like anything especially, just like the laundry soap and his deodorant, which was probably something called ICY MOUNTAIN SPRING RUSH or fucking SPANISH FLY FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE for all I knew. It was nice when I put my head on his shoulder, though.
“Now.” His breath was warm on my ear. “Jab with your left.”
I tried, tapping lightly at the bag.
“Faster,” Bren said.
I tried again. The sound it made on the bag was a little more respectable.
“Good. Now three times in a row, sharp.”
Pop. Pop. Pop. Actually, this was kind of fun.
“And a good, solid punch with the left.”
I punched with my right instead, and Bren lifted my left to cover my face. The bag went thwumpand rocked. Not like it had when Bren had punched  it, but still.
“There’s your warm-up.” Bren stepped away and got back into position next to me. He did the cycle again, gaze fixed to the bag. Pop, pop, pop, thwump. Pop, pop, pop, thwump.
“You make it look cool,” I said. Cool wasn’t actually the word I was thinking of, but I was still trying not to be weird.
Bren chuckled and dropped his stance. “I don’t know about cool, but it’s definitely cathartic. And you could use some catharsis. And something to punch.”
“Probably,” I admitted.
“Well, then. Get punching.”

#2: Whisky Kiss Argument

We sat on the patio that night, drinking a bottle of Talisker and talking about our day. It was the most normal I’d felt since before. And it was all Bren.
He had the collar of his Lacoste polo unbuttoned, and his eyes looked pale and kinda magic in the moonlight (and, yeah, okay, through my drunk filter). In one of our easy silences, he caught me staring at his cheekbones.
He asked, “Are you all right?” Eyebrows up.
I don’t know what fucking possessed me, but I leaned in close. Slow. I mean, like, everything was in slow motion. I may have been drunk, but I wanted to feel this out, make sure he was cool with it before I shoved my face up in his.
His eyelashes fluttered in surprise. But he tilted his head slightly.
That was an invitation if I’d ever seen one. I went in for it, pressed my lips to his. He smelled like peat and whatever that green scent in his shampoo was. He tasted like scotch. He had such a nice mouth, not pouty like mine, but that combo of soft and demanding that made me weak. It lasted a few seconds, just tentative. I lifted one hand and touched his cheek.
I really shouldn’t have. He froze, then pulled away suddenly. We stared at each other for the longest moment in the world. I wasn’t sure how to feel. I mostly just wanted to kiss him again. A lot. All night.
He stood and walked toward the table holding the booze. “I’m sorry. We can’t.”
Might as well have slammed me against the wall. Part of me knew that was coming, but I couldn’t help feeling like shit.
Why had I done that? Why the fuck had I put myself out there like that? Why had I not protected what little of me was left? Fuck, fuck, fuck.
I stayed seated but nodded at his back. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
He turned to look at me, but I just stared at the patio. He said, “It’s not—”
“No, it’s totally my fault.” I still couldn’t look at him, though.
He brought the bottle over.
I held out my glass, feeling like a kicked puppy, and frosted it up. “I’m just—all weird and emotional.”
“I know.” He poured. “It’s entirely my fault, and I sincerely apologize.”
“I kissed you. That’s on me.”
He was quiet while he finished the pour and made himself another one. Then he sat back down, just as close as before, his thigh pressed against mine on the bench.
So, good sign, I guessed? At least he wasn’t pissed.
“This…” He sighed and took a drink. “This has been between us for a while. I tried to stop it.”
That surprised me into looking up at him. He looked pale and serious, chewing on the inside of his cheek. “Wait, you—” But I stopped in the middle of my own question, trying to figure out what he was saying. “If you feel…something, then…why?”
He raked a hand through his hair like he always did when he was annoyed. “It’s wildly inappropriate. On my end.”
“You’re not that old,” I joked weakly.
He smiled but shook his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“I don’t get it.” I could still feel it, how warm he was all the time and how it drew me in. Now that I knew it wasn’t just me who felt something here, I couldn’t stop myself. “Do you want me or not?”
Bren looked miserable. “You’re in my house, in my charge. You’re emotionally compromised. To take advantage of that—”
“Take advantage?” I shot up off the bench, face heating up. It was like emotional whiplash: I’d been feeling so good, almost normal, finally, and here I was, suddenly reminded just how broken I really was. And he was wrong, anyhow. “What, like I’m incapable of consent just because—”
“Not incapable.” Bren held out one hand in a gesture of surrender, like he knew he’d fucked up there. “But I do have a certain…position of power right now that makes this—”
“Is that what you think of me? I’m some lost little kid, your fucking ward?” Okay, part of me was thinking he wasn’t that wrong about some of it, maybe. But overall, this was goddamn insulting.
“No. But…” He trailed off helplessly.
“But what? Bren, I’m not interested because you saved my life, or because I’m eating your food and drinking your whisky. I’m interested because I got to know you. And because you’re—you’re fucking hot. Those are normal reasons to want someone.”
“But these aren’t normal circumstances,” he insisted. I’d never seen him look pleading before, but he did right then, eyes huge and all sincere. Fuck, he was pretty. “It would be taking advantage of—”
“This from the guy who was just telling me not to forget that I had the rest of my life ahead of me.” I almost felt bad when he winced, but also felt really good. Like I’d landed a blow, which was totally what I wanted. So I swung with a few more. “You know what, fine, just keep thinking that. My mistake for thinking about anything but how fucked up my life is and how much I owe you. I’m out.” I jerked open the French doors.
Bren stood. “Jody, don’t—”
But I shut the door on him before he got any farther and marched back up to my room, holding his whisky tight.

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