sticks & stones (cut & run 2) - Page 77

Ty stared at him blankly for several beats before frowning. “Someone brought pie?” he finally asked in confusion.

Zane stared at him passively for a long moment before standing up and walking around the bed. “All right, lay back down,” he murmured, pulling the pillows back into a pile for Ty to lean against. “I should’ve remembered you’re still drugged to the gills. And I forgot what you’ve said about meds making you funny sometimes.”

Ty made a noise of agreement and carefully turned onto his side, taking advantage of Zane’s help to find a more comfortable position. “They don’t make me funny,” Ty argued. “I’m always funny,” he told Zane as he fingered the IV line. Then he turned his face up to look at Zane. “Do I get any of the pie?” he asked earnestly as he reached up to pull out the oxygen line that rested under his nose.

The rest of the irritation drained out of Zane as he calmly retrieved the line and replaced it. “Yeah, sure,” he answered, straightening out the sheet so it wasn’t bunched up around Ty’s legs. When he was done, he reached out to rest the backs of his fingers against Ty’s forehead.

Ty’s eyes fluttered closed at the contact, and he gave a heavy sigh. He didn’t even try to pull out the oxygen line again. “Tell Dad I’m sorry,” he requested sleepily.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” Zane chided gently as he rubbed along the beard Ty had grown. In his opinion, it was Earl that owed the apology. Only a real fool would call Ty a coward in any situation. Ty nodded, but it was obvious that he was already drifting off again. “It’s all right,” Zane murmured, still petting. “It’ll keep.”

Behind him, someone cleared his throat softly to announce his presence, and when Zane turned, Deuce smiled slightly at him. “Got you a Coke,” he said as he held out a bottle. “Was he awake?”

Zane shuffled a little as he straightened, surprised that he’d been caught off guard. But Ty had a way of holding all his attention. He accepted the bottle with a nod. “Thanks,” he said, wondering what, if anything, Deuce might have seen.

Deuce twisted off the cap to his own bottle as he walked around the end of the bed, his head down and a small, worried smile on his face. “It’s more than convenience, isn’t it?” he asked Zane as he sat down.

“What’s more than convenience?” Zane was deliberately obtuse as he opened his own bottle.

“You and my brother,” Deuce answered bluntly.

“As partners, it’s generally advisable that you at least tolerate each other most of the time,” Zane spun out. “Sometimes it takes more effort than others.”

“You’re not as good at evading a question as he is,” Deuce advised with a nod at Ty. “He knows there’s no pie,” he told Zane with a small smile.

“You sure about that?” Zane asked, raising an eyebrow.

Deuce shrugged and leaned forward to put a hand gently on Ty’s shoulder. Ty twitched with the contact and muttered something unintelligible. Deuce pursed his lips and looked back up at Zane. “He knew the drugs would get him soon. He was just stalling until he fell back asleep. He’ll never talk about dad to anyone. Never has, never will.” He leaned back and threw his feet up onto the edge of the bed. “I’m not trying to put you in a tight spot,” he assured Zane quietly, reverting back to their other discussion. “I’ve just never met anyone he was serious about,” he explained.

Zane forced himself not to react, to just take a drink. Serious. Then he let himself look at Deuce. “And you think you have now?”

Deuce shrugged nonchalantly. “When I say never, Zane, I mean it. I’ve known him all my life. He never had a junior high crush. He never had a high school sweetheart. Even when he was in service and going through college, there was no one he was even remotely hung up on. There was always something more important to him than being in a relationship. The Corps. His Bronco. Football. His favorite Crayola sleeping bag,” he said with a hint of a smile. “I like you, man. I think you must be good for him. But just remember what I’m telling you before you start thinking too hard. I don’t think he’d even know what to do with himself if he loved someone.”

Zane’s heart tried to pound harder, and he took a slow, steady breath, reminding himself that Deuce’s comment about love didn’t apply to him. He still had to swallow hard. “I know what’s important to him,” he finally settled on. “And his partner’s not at the top of the list.” He actually gave Deuce an honest, though wry, smile.

Deuce returned it with a sad one of his own and looked down at his brother once more. He waited for a moment before glancing back up at Zane. “I would argue differently,” he stated finally. “Just don’t let Dad find out,” he advised in a near whisper.

“You know, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Zane muttered, turning his gaze back to Ty, who was tossing fitfully again. Zane thought his own stomach was tossing just as badly now as he looked at his partner. At his lover.

“Yeah, I get that a lot,” Deuce replied with a long-suffering sigh before taking a drink from his bottle of Mountain Dew.

“Because there’s no way I’d willingly talk to a shrink about my partner,” Zane added, still not looking at Deuce as his hand crunched the plastic Coke bottle a little.

“Certainly not,” Deuce agreed amiably. “Not that you have anything you need to get off your chest, anyway, am I right?” he said.

“Not a thing. All is right in the world,” Zane continued, making himself ignore the tightness in his chest and focus on what he and Ty did best. “And Ty and I might just get through two days without a fight. Now, I said ‘might’, mind you.” He looked at his watch. “Two hours to go. It’ll be a new record.”

“You fight a lot, then?” Deuce asked in a casual tone.

“That’s an understatement,” Zane groused before taking another swallow of his drink.

“Is this on-the-job fighting or after hours?” Deuce inquired curiously.

“I have yet to determine that there is any difference.” Zane paused. “Any appreciable difference,” he corrected himself, thinking about how they got along at the office as opposed to in the bed in his hotel suite.

“I gather it’s not unresolved sexual tension,” Deuce observed. “Could it be, deep down, maybe you enjoy the fighting?” he suggested in an offhand manner.