sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 54

Ty took in a deep breath and finally looked up, seemingly calm once more. Earl removed his hand slowly and gave Ty’s shoulder a pat before he took a small step away. When Ty answered, his voice was pitched just loud enough for the two prisoners to hear him. “I say we take them with us,” he decided grimly. “We may need them if we run out of food.”

A muffled series of protests emitted from the tied prisoners. Zane had to turn his back on them as he covered his mouth to stop from laughing, careful of jarring his nose. Ty wasn’t too far gone if that jackass sense of humor was still showing.

Deuce merely rolled his eyes and sank back into his chair. “Shall we talk about dinner, then?” he asked wryly.

Chapter 12

ZANE pushed through the brush, having escaped from the campsite to smoke after Earl and Deuce called it a night. He stopped maybe twenty-five, thirty yards back down the yellow-brick road and off the path a little ways, shook the cigarette out of the package, and lit up before leaning his head sideways against one of the trees he’d taken shelter under. He looked out into the dark, trying not to think, trying to shrug off the tension.

God, he was twitchy. After dealing with a long hike up into strange territory, the treasure hunters and their booby traps, Earl’s repeated verbal jabs at Ty, the capture and showdown, and then the stressful walk to the camp, Zane’s strongest instinctive response—besides wanting to curl up in a ball and protect his head—was to try to calm and comfort his partner. Ty would let himself be coddled when he was hurting when others couldn’t see. But Zane doubted anything he could do at this point would help, if Ty would even let him try. It was frustrating.

Zane knew one thing: that sure as hell wouldn’t happen with Earl around. Zane had never seen Ty react to anyone like he did to Earl. Zane had never even imagined Ty had it in him to behave the way he did around his father: sedate and quiet and eager merely to follow orders.

It was obvious that Earl Grady had been hard on his sons growing up, but it had been clear from the start that Ty and Deuce loved and respected him a great deal. They boys seemed to be more a product of tough love rather than abuse. And the Gradys hadn’t struck Zane as a family that bickered and sniped to hurt each other until Earl had called Ty a coward.

The anger still flamed through Zane at the mere thought. The sheer audacity it took to even think that was stunning. And the fact that Ty had so obviously taken it to heart just because his father had been the one to say it made Zane want to hit something. He couldn’t help but wonder if Earl was being cruel because he was reacting in some way to Zane’s presence. Had he picked up on their relationship? Was he taking it out on Ty because he’d realized what they were doing and disapproved? Zane sighed and shook his head. He was pretty sure he was just being paranoid, and he knew he shouldn’t brood over things he couldn’t change. Leaning his head back, Zane blew a long column of smoke up into the air.

A twig broke somewhere in the darkness as someone moved behind him. Zane tensed and had one hand immediately on his gun as he whirled around.

“Don’t shoot me,” Ty requested quietly as he materialized out of the darkness. Zane relaxed and huffed at him, taking the cigarette from his lips. “Those things’ll kill you,” Ty said softly as he moved to sit on a fallen log near Zane. He stared out over the dimly moonlit valley below them.

Zane’s lips quirked a little, and he relaxed back against the tree as he looked down at his partner. “I’m still expecting bullets anytime now.”

Ty sighed with a hint of the downtrodden to him and nodded in agreement. He looked down at one of his boots and pulled a stick from the tread of it. They stayed quiet for a few minutes, with Zane gazing down at him. “How are you holding up?” Zane finally murmured.

Ty merely shrugged and looked off into the distance. There wasn’t really much to stare at, as dark as it was. It was obvious from the line of his shoulders that he was not going to talk about his father or his feelings or much of anything else. He rarely did.

“I’m starting to think that we’re better off at work than we are on vacation,” Zane mentioned after a few more quiet minutes.

Ty was silent for a moment, but then he lowered his head and snorted. He chuckled ruefully, the sound loud in the still, cold night.

Zane smiled as he finished his cigarette and stubbed it out carefully on an exposed rock before he put it back in the slightly crumpled pack. “Next time we should tell Burns to send us on a case somewhere miserable. Fate would mean we’d be safe there.”

Ty nodded in agreement as his laughter trailed off. He didn’t seem to have much of anything to say, and Zane wondered why he’d sought him out. He stared off into the mountain blackness without moving again. It felt like a moment that deserved a beer or two, even though Zane knew he wouldn’t have been drinking.

Finally, Ty looked over at Zane and sighed. “Got any more of those cigarettes?” he asked quietly.

Zane slowly raised an eyebrow. He got the pack out of his pocket and pulled out a cigarette, sliding it between his lips. After another moment, he had it lit, and after inhaling once, he offered it to Ty.

Ty shook his head as he reached out and took the cigarette. Instead of stubbing it out and flicking it away like he usually did when he took one of Zane’s cigarettes, he took a long drag of it and handed it back to Zane wordlessly.

After a few heartbeats, he reached out and took it again, keeping it this time.

He was silent, unmoving as he sat with his elbows propped on his knees and his head cocked to the side, only occasionally putting the cigarette to his lips.

Zane didn’t know what else there was to do. He’d learned that sometimes the best thing to do with Ty was to wait. Sometimes his partner needed time to work up to what he wanted to say, and sometimes he never said anything at all. So Zane kept quiet and sat down heavily next to him, facing the opposite way so their shoulders brushed as they sat, extending his legs, and lightly prodding the swollen cheekbone under his black eye with one long finger.

“How’s it feel?” Ty asked him softly after several minutes of sitting in silence.

“Hurts like hell,” Zane admitted. The aching throb in the whole side of his face was his pulse. He’d be really colorful for the next several days.

Ty looked over at him with a sympathetic frown. He was the only one who had remained uninjured through the whole ordeal; even after the can bomb, the grenades, the beating he’d taken, and the skirmish, he’d come out with just a bruise or two from the punches he’d taken. He didn’t even have a scratch on him. Zane wondered if Ty was adding a bit of survivor’s guilt to all his other current problems. He watched him worriedly. Ty didn’t deserve this.