“Unless you want to talk about which part of your training gave you the idea to use your partner as paintball repellant?” Burns inquired with a raised eyebrow.
Ty pursed his lips to keep a smile from forming.
“That’s what I thought,” Burns replied with a shake of his head. Ty saw his lips twitch in amusement. “Then yes, Special Agent Grady. That is all,” he confirmed without ever allowing the smile to surface.
“Next time can you do this on the phone?” Ty asked as he stood and turned away, heading for the door with a frown. “It’s a long f**king drive from Baltimore.”
“Say hello to Earl for me,” Burns requested, a smile in his voice.
Ty didn’t respond as he exited the office. He walked through the outer office, head down and face set in a worried frown as he contemplated the next two weeks. It was quite clear what he was supposed to do. A trip to West Virginia was in his immediate future. He ignored the hateful woman at the receptionist’s desk as he left the office and headed for the elevators.
Ty stopped abruptly and turned in place to look back at Zane in surprise. He hadn’t expected him to stick around. “Hey,” he responded, unable to think of anything else to say.
Zane’s face was blank, and his shoulders were pulled back stiff. He was obviously expecting some sort of bitching out over the evals. He was all geared up for a fight. It seemed like Zane was always geared up for a fight lately, and Ty was running out of ways to handle him. It was tiring, and he’d been seeking solitude more often than not just to give himself a break.
Ty gave him a jerk of his head. “Come buy me some coffee,” he requested as he hit the button for the elevator.
Zane frowned and walked slowly toward Ty and the elevator. “You don’t drink coffee,” he said with a suspicious note in his voice.
“So?” Ty responded with a slight tilt of his head as he looked sideways at Zane, who held his gaze only for a moment before dropping his eyes. Ty frowned. They weren’t connecting like they had been, and he wondered when it had happened and why neither of them had noticed. The only time they seemed to click on all cylinders was when they were working—or playing—and the thought made Ty slightly sad and maybe a little hurt. He brushed it off, though. There was no point in forcing the issue. Things like that came and went, whether you wanted them to or not.
Zane shrugged. “Fine. Coffee.” He looked at Ty speculatively. “What did Burns tell you?”
“That you’re f**ked in the head,” Ty responded as he turned and looked at Zane with narrowed eyes, taking in how on edge Zane seemed. Defensive. “What have you been doing about it?”
“I’ve been busy.”
“Doing what?” Ty asked in amusement. “Aside from me?” he added.
Zane’s lips compressed, but then his eyes closed for a moment, he half smiled, and some of the tension eased. He slid one hand into his pants pocket. “Planning my next chance?”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Ty muttered as the elevator doors opened. He stepped in and punched the button for the ground floor. “Come on,” he said to Zane with a sigh. “I have to go home and pack.”
“You’re actually going somewhere?” Zane asked in surprise.
“I have not-so-subtle orders to go see my family,” Ty answered wryly. He cocked his head as he studied Zane again. “You’re going to spend three weeks just sitting around your hotel room and moping, aren’t you?” he asked knowingly.
Zane sighed and crossed his arms. “I don’t really know where I’d go. I’m not going to Texas again.”
Ty hesitated, looking him up and down. The thought of inviting Zane to accompany him to West Virginia was appealing, in a way. If things went south, Ty could throw Zane in front of his parents just like he had the paintballs. Use him as a sort of human sacrifice. And then there was the added benefit of having Zane close every night. He’d come to enjoy that when it still happened, despite how he wanted to throttle Zane sometimes.
“You want to come with me?” he asked tentatively.
Zane stared at him, obviously thinking it was a joke. “I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Maybe, maybe not. But I need you,” Ty told him as he reached out and stopped the doors from closing. He knew Zane well enough to know how to manipulate him. If Zane thought his partner was showing vulnerability, he’d fall for it every time. It was an amazingly predictable habit for his unpredictable partner. And there was more than a grain of truth in the words. “Come on,” he repeated.
Looking faintly surprised, Zane got on the elevator and stood next to him, waiting for an explanation. Ty remained silent, enjoying watching the other man struggle with the fact that he would have to ask for it. Zane actually lasted almost the entire elevator ride to the parking garage before he huffed softly. “Fine,” he said grudgingly. “What do you need me for?”
Ty smirked as he looked over at Zane, but the smile faded as he cleared his throat. “If I’m going home, I need something bigger than me to hide behind,” he said as he gestured to Zane’s larger frame.
“That actually did work out pretty well for me in the end last time,” Zane drawled, raising an eyebrow. He was obviously remembering the night after the trip to Quantico.
Ty let his eyes rake over the man suggestively. “You have other uses too,” he agreed.
“Home,” Zane said slowly, smiling a little at Ty’s playful words. “To West by-God Virginia? And you want me to just… tag along?”
“Yes,” Ty answered with a curt nod. That was exactly what he wanted. If Zane could survive a trip to West Virginia to meet the Gradys, he could live through anything. Like a cockroach.
An amused smile slowly pulled at Zane’s lips as the elevator doors opened onto the parking deck. “Just what is it you’re afraid of?”
Ty pursed his lips and waited a moment before moving out of the elevator without bothering to answer.
Zane huffed quietly and followed him. “Grady, you’re going to answer my question.”
“And you’re going to sprout wings and fly,” Ty shot back over his shoulder. “Do you have camping gear?”
“Camping… why the hell would I need camping gear in DC?” Zane asked, throwing up a hand. “Answer the question.”
“There are places to camp in DC,” Ty answered as he headed for his Bronco.