sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 6

Zane’s shoulders stiffened, and he shook his head quickly. His partner had a reputation throughout the Bureau for being hard to work with; Zane had found in the last five weeks that he got more apologetic looks from his co-workers now that he was working with Special Agent Ty Grady than he’d gotten when his wife had died. But Zane didn’t have a problem working with Ty. Not for the same reason others did, anyway.

“It’s been hard,” he hedged. “Getting over what happened.”

That was an understatement. The truth was that he’d been fighting insomnia, acute headaches, and suffering through nightmares when he actually did sleep alone. Tracking down a serial killer intent on not being caught was hazardous to your health, both mentally and physically, and nearly getting killed in a vicious car wreck during the hunt almost six months ago had contributed to his problems. He’d recovered surprisingly well—physically. He’d attended his rehab appointments and gym times religiously. But the rest….

He’d been able to ignore it as long as he’d had Ty in bed next to him. When Zane first got into his company-issue extended-stay hotel suite, Ty had been there almost every night, only going home to Baltimore once or twice a week to switch out his clothing. Over the next five weeks, though, as they’d languished in deskwork waiting to be cleared for the field, the overnight stays had tapered off until Ty showed up only once or twice a week, if at all. The less Ty showed up, the less Zane slept. And while it did wonders for his physical rehab and workout schedule, it was also one of the reasons Zane had been feeling somewhat disconnected, both from his job and from his partner.

Burns watched him knowingly. “That’s certainly understandable,” he finally agreed. “Which is why I’ve decided to give you a few more weeks of vacation before your official evals take place.”

“What?” Zane asked in surprise. While he felt a wave of relief that he was getting a reprieve, he also felt his stomach plummet nervously. There was always a catch with Dick Burns.

“How’s your partner, Zane?” Burns asked.

Zane blinked a few times at the unexpected query. “Grady?” he asked warily.

Burns’ mouth turned up in a half smile. “Do you have another partner I should know about?”

“No,” Zane said quickly. “He’s fine.” He and Grady got along. Most of the time. Mostly in bed. The last few weeks had been a disappointing stretch, though; apparently not having a psychopath trying to kill them was slightly detrimental to forming any sort of personal relationship.

“Fine,” Burns repeated.

Zane waved a hand around. “Yeah. Fine. I guess. Trying to stay busy.” He rolled his eyes, thinking about the whirlwind of attitude and energy from Ty he dealt with every day. “He can’t sit still,” he told Burns.

Burns looked highly amused as he tipped back in his leather chair. “No, he can’t. He never could. But then, neither can you,” he pointed out, looking significantly at the comfortable wingback chairs in front of his desk.

Zane shrugged uncomfortably but took the hint and moved to the chair Burns had indicated. “Grady spends most of his free time at the gym, as far as I know,” he said, hoping to move the focus off himself. “At the office we try to keep him distracted so he doesn’t burn down the building.”

“How’s he handling deskwork?” Burns asked knowingly.

Zane glared at him, clearly communicating that he knew it was a bullshit question. “He’s about as helpful as you’d figure.”

“Yes, I heard about your little day trip down to Quantico,” Burns said as he frowned and pulled back his white shirtsleeve to check his watch.

“We did pretty damn well in that exercise,” Zane pointed out.

“If you consider going down in a blaze of glory and paintballs ‘doing well,’” Burns said with a hint of a smile. ”The real test will come when you’re back in the field. If you ever get there,” he said seriously.

“You know how much Grady likes to win,” Zane muttered.

Burns pursed his lips and nodded. He seemed torn between amusement and concern. “Well, take comfort in the fact they weren’t real bullets, I guess,” he offered finally.

Zane leaned forward to brace his elbows on his knees and laced his fingers together. Although Ty’s actions at the time had been surprising, Zane figured he understood. It was just a game. Ty wouldn’t leave him alone when it counted. Not if there was anything he could do about it. “Real bullets change everything,” he answered.

“Remember that when you’re back in the field,” Burns requested wryly. “You have another evaluation set up in three weeks’ time,” Burns told Zane, his voice soft. “At which point I expect you to pass with flying colors. Your place is in the field,” he asserted. “If I can’t put you there after your vacation, I have no further use for you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.” Zane swallowed hard on the bile in his throat. That meant either a forced transfer to a desk job in another division—which would be terrible—or early retirement. Zane didn’t even want to think about that. He wouldn’t have anything left without this job or his partner. Without Ty.

“Enjoy your time off, Zane, starting right now,” Burns offered sincerely. “Grady is getting several death threats a day from the office staff, so he’s been ‘granted’ two weeks of his own,” he added in a long-suffering voice. “What you do with your time off is none of my concern. Just don’t do it here.”

Zane suppressed a groan. The last vacation he’d taken was a disastrous trip back to Texas to see his family. Most of it had been spent avoiding his family. “All right,” he agreed, his tone resigned. At this point, sitting alone in his hotel suite would just make things worse, but he really didn’t know what else to do. He hadn’t felt this lost in a long time, and unlike the past, he didn’t have drugs or alcohol to blame or to turn to. This time it was all on him.

Burns was watching him closely. “Have you thought about seeing a psychiatrist?” he asked carefully.

Zane flinched. He’d known this was coming, but it didn’t make hearing it any less painful. He really didn’t want to go that route if he could avoid it. He wouldn’t wish all the shit in his head on anybody.

“When you get back, there’s someone I’d like you to speak to if you’re still having difficulty,” Burns told him with a sigh. “He’s not a Bureau doctor. He’s just a friend of mine who is very good.” Zane nodded slowly, and Burns took pity on him and smiled slightly. “Don’t worry, Garrett. It’ll be all right. Find a hobby or something. Take up knitting,” he suggested with a twinkle of amusement in his eyes.