sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 30

Zane grimaced. “I don’t really want to take that chance, thanks. So what now?” he asked as he eyed the snake that was coiled in front of him and still rattling. “I can’t shoot the damn thing.” He very slowly uncrossed his arms, his right hand settling at his left wrist. He was pretty sure his knife wouldn’t help either, but it made him feel better regardless.

“No, they’re endangered. Can’t kill her. Don’t move,” Earl warned. He moved closer and circled behind the snake as the rattling became louder, but Zane wasn’t about to turn his head to see what the man was doing.

“Fucking vacation,” Zane said under his breath.

“Move,” Earl barked suddenly.

As Zane shifted his weight and jumped sideways, away from the snake, it went after him, striking fast. Earl grabbed at it as it lunged through the air, its momentum making it impossible for the five-foot long snake to do anything but hiss and curl its body around Earl’s hand as he held onto it, just below its widened jaws.

Zane stared at him, both appalled and impressed.

“Got to catch ’em below the teeth,” Earl advised calmly as he carefully unwrapped the snake from his wrist and then tossed it with both hands into the underbrush, sending it sliding down the rocky hillside unharmed, away from them. “You all right?” Earl asked him as he turned to look at him.

Zane nodded numbly. Ty joked about West Virginia snake charmers sometimes. Zane had never taken him seriously, though. Maybe he should start. “Thanks.”

Earl grunted and took a few steps to peer down the hill. Zane stayed back—no way was he tempting fate again. In Texas the general wisdom was that snakes traveled in pairs.

“Just a last big dinner before winter. Thought we wanted it,” Earl drawled carelessly. “Warning us off is all.”

“Well, it succeeded,” Zane said vehemently.

Earl just chuckled. Before Zane could say anything more, Earl frowned and squatted down, moving aside some fronds of a ground fern.

“What are you doing?” Zane asked in confusion.

“Look at this,” Earl said.

Zane went to stand behind Earl and look over his shoulder. But he kept one hand on his knife, just in case.

“SO IF you’re not emotionally invested in this guy, why’d you bring him up here?” Deuce asked as he caught up to Ty again.

“Why are you so interested?” Ty asked desperately, wishing his brother would just back off for once.

“Because you’re my brother,” Deuce answered as he grabbed at Ty’s elbow to stop him. “And I enjoy watching you squirm,” he added as Ty glared at him.

“You want the truth?” Ty asked in frustration.

“No, Beaumont, I want you to lie to me,” Deuce replied drolly.

Ty gave him a hard punch to the bicep in retaliation, and Deuce yipped and stumbled a bit, laughing as he grabbed for his arm. “You’re a jackass, Deacon,” Ty said with a grunt. “Don’t you tell him my given name,” he threatened seriously.

“I won’t,” Deuce agreed, still laughing. “Answer the question, Ty. You’re never this stubborn unless you’re trying to hide something. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” he stated with a hint of surprise.

Ty sighed and looked away, staring out at the rise and fall of the mountain ridge through the breaks in the tree line. To this point, he’d been able to tell himself that Zane was nothing more than a friend and partner. Ty had never been in love. He didn’t know what it was, and so he couldn’t say for sure. He pressed his lips together and lowered his head. He rarely lied to Deuce, and he saw no reason to start now.

“I don’t know,” Ty said. “I don’t know if I love him or not. I think… I think I could if he let me,” he said, admitting more to Deuce than he’d even been willing to admit to himself. “But that has nothing to do with why he’s here,” he insisted as Deuce opened his mouth to speak. “Dick is on the verge of forcing Garrett into an early retirement,” he told Deuce softly, looking around the trail at their surroundings as if someone might overhear them.

Finally thrown off the scent, Deuce straightened in surprise and took a step closer to Ty, lowering his voice when he spoke. “What’s the reason?” he asked curiously.

After a moment of hesitation, Ty answered regretfully. “Our last case did a number on him. He’s bombing his evals.” It felt wrong, telling anyone about Zane’s situation. Hell, it had felt wrong hearing about Zane’s situation. But he trusted his brother, and he was hoping Deuce might be able to help. He was a trained psychiatrist, after all, and that was exactly what Zane needed, in Ty’s opinion.

“Which evals?” Deuce asked, and Ty could practically see him switching over into professional mode.

It had always annoyed Ty before, but now it was almost a relief. “Psych ones mostly,” he answered with a small huff.

“He seems pretty grounded,” Deuce observed.

“It’s an… ongoing thing,” Ty answered. “Things from the past piling up. Then that car wreck in New York?”

Deuce nodded, not commenting on the fact that Ty hadn’t called home to inform them about that whole ordeal until after he’d been released from the hospital.

“He got pretty torn up. And he doesn’t know I know, but he ended up having to kill the man we were hunting. Then he got tossed back into an undercover gig that he wasn’t ready for and didn’t want, and there’s drugs and alcohol and all kinds of shit involved from his past. He cleaned up but… it… he’s not dealing well. He tries to hide it, but he’s not,” Ty went on in frustration.

“You brought him here for me to talk with him?” Deuce asked in surprise.

“Not… really,” Ty answered with a wince.

Deuce was silent, staring at him, and soon Ty lowered his head, unable to look his brother in the eye. “Did Dick order you to bring him here?” Deuce asked uncertainly.

“No, that was all me,” Ty corrected.

“But Dick ordered you here,” Deuce reminded.

“It was a suggestion,” Ty argued.

“A suggestion,” Deuce repeated dubiously.

“A mild suggestion,” Ty said with a nod of his head.

Deuce snorted. “The last mild suggestion Dick gave you sent you to Cuba,” he reminded.

“Yeah, well, I kind of enjoyed Cuba,” Ty muttered as he looked away and squinted back in the direction they’d come.