Book of the day … Sticks and Stones – Cut and Run novel # 2 by Madelein Urban and Abigaile Roux

Description:

Cut & Run Series Book Two – Sequel to Cut & Run


Six months after nearly losing their lives to a serial killer in New York City, FBI Special Agents Ty Grady and Zane Garrett are suffering through something almost as frightening: the monotony of desk duty. When they’re ordered to take a vacation for the good of everyone’s sanity, Ty bites the bullet and takes Zane home with him to West Virginia, hoping the peace and quiet of the mountains will give them the chance to explore the explosive attraction they’ve so far been unable to reconcile with their professional partnership.

Ty and Zane, along with Ty’s father and brother, head up into the Appalachian mountains for a nice, relaxing hike deep into the woods… where no one will hear them scream. They find themselves facing danger from all directions: unpredictable weather, the unrelenting mountains, wild animals, fellow hikers with nothing to lose, and the most terrifying challenge of all. Each other.

Excerpt

SO, SPECIAL Agent Garrett, I understand you’ve finished your evaluations,” the Assistant Director of the Criminal Investigative Division said from where he sat behind his large mahogany desk. The desk stood out against the drab colors of the paint and carpet and matched the wall of bookshelves that warmed the room.

FBI Special Agent Zane Garrett stood at the window, looking out at the wet, dirty streets of Washington, DC, and desperately wishing he could be anywhere else. He could see his boss in the window; the man behind the desk held several files in his hand as he looked at Zane with raised eyebrows.

Zane sneered at his own reflection in the window. The shadows under his eyes and wrinkles from his frown were pronounced above his slightly crooked nose, giving him a rough and tumble appearance even though he was clean-shaven. The scraped cheeks were in sharp contrast to his slightly overgrown dark brown hair. Looking at himself, he acknowledged that, despite the muscular build cloaked in black slacks and a royal blue dress shirt, he wasn’t any prize right now.

He had been assigned to the DC office for five weeks, along with his partner, after they’d been reunited in this very office following five miserable months apart. Upon receiving the new assignment, they had both been relegated to deskwork for various reasons, not the least of which was the physical and mental aftereffects of the turbulent past year or so. For him, it had been an especially rough year. Ty seemed better able to shake off the past than he did. Zane took a steadying breath and slid his hands into his pockets, shifting uncomfortably in place.

He winced and turned to look at Richard Burns. He’d known the meeting today would be… rocky.

“You passed the academic and physical testing, but you know that already. You also know you managed to flunk the mental evaluation that would have cleared you for field duty,” Burns said in concern.

Zane didn’t answer as he folded his arms in front of himself, wondering what he could say to explain. There was so much shit bouncing around in his head that he wasn’t sure himself why he’d had such a tough time with an evaluation he should have been able to bullshit through easily. He just hadn’t been able to focus.

“If there’s a legitimate reason you can’t get your head out of your ass, I’d like to hear it,” Burns invited as he looked back up at Zane. He paused, probably waiting to see if Zane would say anything. When he received no comment, Burns continued. “Is it your partner?” he asked carefully.

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.

“Knitting,” Zane repeated flatly.

Burns nodded as there was a knock on the door to his office, and his harried assistant opened it. Burns waved her off as a man pushed past her to enter. Zane turned to see his partner and looked back at Burns with a frown, wondering what was going on.

“Come in, Special Agent Grady,” Burns greeted pleasantly, completely unfazed by Ty’s entrance. “Good to see you.”

“You’re a lousy liar, Dick,” Ty Grady muttered as he ushered Burns’ secretary back out and shut the door in her face. He turned back around and glowered. “I just got off the phone with my dad,” he announced accusingly. “Said he was looking forward to seeing me this week. Know anything about that?”

Burns merely cleared his throat and smiled.

Zane ran his eyes over Ty, skimming over the close-cropped hair and clean-shaven face before moving his attention down over the sand-colored suit and black shirt he was wearing. The tailored suits he’d been wearing while on duty in DC looked incredible on him, though Zane knew Ty hated to wear them. He managed to look loose and comfortable in them despite the almost constant fidgeting they caused him. The tie took the brunt of the fussing during the day. It was usually gone by lunch.

It was amusing to watch him, and Zane did so every day with not a little sympathy. Although, Zane admitted silently, it was worlds better to see his partner like this than as the still, silent ghost of himself Ty had been after the major concussion he’d suffered on their last case.

Right now, Ty looked annoyed, the slight wrinkling of his narrow nose matching his furrowed brow and sparking greenish eyes. He was angry; it was obvious in the sharp and annoyed movements of his lanky, muscled body and the tightness in his jaw.

Ty moved further into the office, glancing at Zane as if he were just noticing him there. He pointed at Zane accusingly. “What’s he done now?” he demanded of Burns.

“Why would you suppose he’s done anything?” Burns asked. Ty opened his mouth to speak, but Burns was faster. “From what I understand, you two are wreaking more havoc amongst the office drones than you ever did in the field. Got anything to say to that?”

“Yeah,” Ty huffed in response. “Stop giving my dad progress reports!”

“He’s an old friend, Ty,” Burns said to him in a low voice. “And I will talk to him whenever I goddamned please. Sit down,” he ordered.

Ty hesitated stubbornly for a moment and then reluctantly moved to obey, flopping into the seat beside Zane. He glared at his partner, as if his being there were somehow Zane’s fault. Zane rolled his eyes and turned his chin so he was looking back out the window.

“Why are we here?” Ty asked impatiently.

“To embarrass me for jackassing my eval,” Zane muttered.

“You’re here to amuse me,” Burns corrected in a sarcastically sweet tone. “But now that you mention the tests….”

Ty glanced over at Zane and frowned slightly. “What’s going on?” he asked, the annoyance draining away, replaced by growing concern.

“Why would you think anything’s going on?” Burns asked curiously. “Smell something in the wind, do you?”

“Uh huh,” Ty responded warily as he looked between them, either oblivious to Burns’ sarcasm or ignoring it.

“Garrett is going on a little vacation,” Burns answered as he leaned back in his chair.

“What? How long?” Ty demanded.

“Three weeks.”

“What?” Ty repeated, slightly more panicked. “But who will I get to do my paperwork?”

“Jesus Christ,” Zane swore quietly. Burns was practically kicking his ass to the curb, and all Ty could think about was the paperwork. Classy.

“I’m still filling out forms from throwing his gun at that cab!” Ty told Burns.

Zane’s lips quirked. Every bullet fired from a service weapon had to be accompanied with a written report for the Bureau. Ty had fired… quite a few bullets at the cab that had almost smeared them across the highway in New York City. Zane didn’t know what paperwork you had to fill out for throwing your gun at something. He’d never tried that before. Hell, he’d never even thought of it before.

“Don’t worry about the paperwork,” Burns told Ty with a grin. “You can finish it when you get back.”

Ty went silent, pursing his lips as he gave both Burns and Zane measuring looks. “Where am I going?” he asked carefully as he looked between them again.

Zane knew Burns sometimes sent Ty off to mysterious places that never produced paperwork. He had yet to find the right opportunity to ask about that though. Ty probably thought he was being sent on one of those trips now. “I’m going on ‘vacation,’ remember?” Zane reminded him, internally bracing for impact.

“What, I have to go with him?” Ty asked incredulously. “Why the hell am I being punished too? Jesus Christ, Dick, I’d rather take his damn tests for him than be sent off into exile!”

“Would you do any better?” Burns asked pointedly.

Ty leaned forward in his chair and smacked his hand against the desk. “I have never fucked up an eval,” he protested in a hurt voice.

Burns slowly raised an eyebrow. He leaned forward and pushed the folders on his desk around slowly. Then he picked one up and tapped it on the desk, giving Ty a significant look.

“What?” Ty asked, his tone suspicious.

Burns silently slid the folder across the desk.

“What is this?” Ty asked as he took the folder and opened it.

“Your latest psych evaluation,” Burns answered without commenting further.

Ty frowned as he looked at the file and began shaking his head before he snapped the folder shut again, tossing it onto the desk. “Is this medical leave then?” he asked tightly.

Zane sat quietly, taking in the news that Ty must have failed his most recent psychological exam as well. He was surprised. While he himself—usually—was pretty damn good at lying his way through just about any test, Ty was an expert at hiding things he didn’t want other people to know, and mental problems would be at the top of that list. Zane frowned. Ty must not have recovered from the trauma suffered at the hands of the Tri-State killer as well as he claimed. Zane could understand that. He knew Ty had faced almost certain death when Tim Henninger had bricked him into a catacomb and left him in the dark to die. That had to affect a man, especially one whose sanity already teetered on the edge on a good day.

“As I told your partner, these results will never see the light of day,” Burns was informing Ty. “Your real evals will be given in two weeks. Zane’s in three. Until then, you are both officially on vacation.”

Ty was silent, staring at Burns until Burns actually shifted in his chair as he met Ty’s eyes.

“My dad knew you were sending me on vacation,” Ty stated. “He know what’s in that file too?” he asked him softly.

Burns gave a shake of his head in answer. “You know better,” he chastised. “But your father asks after you, Ty,” he said in a surprisingly gentle voice. “He worries. Maybe if you called home more often I wouldn’t have to give him news when I talk to him.”

Zane shook his head imperceptibly, feeling suddenly uncomfortable about being there. There’d always been something more between Grady and Dick Burns than merely a relationship between agent and director. Now he had some idea of what it was. Burns knew Ty’s family, and fairly well, from the sound of it. While their relationship seemed nice on the surface, he could imagine it was a nightmare for Ty, who was so protective of his privacy. Zane didn’t want to think about what he’d do if Burns had a direct line to his own father. He shifted to study his partner, whose face was stony and blank.

“Garrett, we’re done,” Burns announced without looking away from Ty. “Would you excuse us?”

Zane hesitated for a long moment and then murmured, “Yes, sir,” before standing and exiting the room without looking at his partner again. Once he got out of the main office and shut the door, he leaned back against the wall and exhaled heavily.

Well, it could have been worse.

TY LOOKED down at the file on the desk again, waiting until he heard the door click, and then he looked back up and met Burns’ eyes.

“I’m fine,” he said in a low voice.

“For now,” Burns answered. “Maybe.”

“Don’t do this, Dick,” Ty pleaded. “You take this job away from either of us, and we’re both done,” he said with a tap to his own temple.

Burns raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? Both of you?”

Ty cocked his head, trying not to react too obviously to anything Burns said or did. But Burns didn’t look away; he just watched and waited.

“What?” Ty finally asked, feeling uncomfortable under the older man’s piercing gaze.

Finally sniffing, Burns relaxed back into his chair. “I have it on very good authority that without this particular job, you would have three more waiting for you,” he said with a sigh. “From organizations that would be less concerned about your mental health than I might be.”

Ty shifted, trying not to fidget.

“I know why you stay here, Ty, and I’m grateful to you,” Burns went on in a gentler tone. “But I begin to wonder how long I can keep you here before you just go stark raving mad on me. They’re still cleaning up paint in Hogan’s Alley.”

“That wasn’t all me,” Ty reminded defensively.

“You don’t owe me your dad’s loyalty,” Burns told him, ignoring his interruption. “Don’t think I don’t know that.”

Ty swallowed heavily and linked his fingers together, trying harder not to shift around in the creaky old wingback.

“It’s not necessarily you I’m worried about here, kiddo,” Burns continued. “If abnormal psych evals from you concerned me overly much, I’d never get any sleep.” He paused. “Tell me about your partner, Ty,” he requested. “How is he?”

Ty met Burns’ eyes carefully, wondering just how much the man knew about him and Zane. But it was safer to play dumb than it was to try and find out. No matter how well Ty knew Burns, something like fucking around with his partner wouldn’t go unpunished.

Ty shrugged, deciding to bypass the other comments for the one he was comfortable talking about. “He’s struggling a little,” he answered.

“Why haven’t you done anything? Or said anything?” Burns asked, his voice flat.

“To who?” Ty asked calmly. “You? You telling me you didn’t know? Thought he’d be okay right back in Miami after all we went through?” After healing up from his injuries in New York, Zane had been pitched right back into undercover work. It hadn’t gone particularly well, and although he’d kept away from the drugs and the drink, he’d definitely been a mess in the head when he’d gotten back to DC to be re-partnered with Ty.

Burns’ face took on a pinched look, and he shook his head. “I made a mistake, Ty. It happens to the best of us.”

“Yes, it does,” Ty agreed. He nodded at the file on the desk. “My marks are low, but they’re acceptable. So I’m guessing you want me gone for a reason. Tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m juggling some paperwork here,” Burns informed him, his shoulders sagging to show how exhausted he really was. “In order to bury these current tests, I have to have both of you make yourselves scarce for a while. Nothing more sinister than that,” he assured Ty.

“Dick,” Ty protested weakly. He hated the thought of sitting on his ass, twiddling his thumbs.

Burns raised his voice, speaking over Ty’s objections. “After these evaluations go through, you’ll both be reassigned to the Baltimore office. I bet you’ll be happy to return home.”

Ty eyed Burns warily. It would be good to get back to Baltimore. He had buddies there, and he considered the city home after nearly four years. He was still living there through the temporary DC assignment, making the commute every day and occasionally shacking up with Zane in his DC hotel room when he didn’t want to go home.

The drive back and forth was murder.

A move back to Baltimore was good news. But he knew there was something he was missing here, some catch in the arrangement that Dick was about to throw in. He had a feeling he knew what it was too.

“Have a nice trip, Ty,” Burns offered with a smile. “Say hello to the family for me,” he told him with a hint of mischief in his eyes.

Ty stared at him. “The family,” he echoed. “My family?”

Burns just smiled and pushed the folders in front of him into a neat stack once more. Ty warred with himself. He wanted to ask questions, but he didn’t feel like getting into it with Burns about his family. Or about Zane. “Is that all?” he asked after a long moment of contemplation.

“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 fucking 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.

“Grady.”

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 fucked 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.

“Yeah, if you’re homeless in a city park,” Zane retorted. “Answer the question, Grady.”

“I did,” Ty said to him with a smirk he tried to hide. He seriously enjoyed riling Zane up. The results were often… heated. “I mean, if you want specific places to camp, I’m gonna need a map. And maybe some squeaky pens, you know, the ones that smell good?” he rambled, knowing it would annoy Zane and trying not to smile as he said it.

Zane stopped in place as Ty kept walking. After a long moment he shook his head and changed directions, heading for the far side of the parking garage. Zane had learned not long after they’d been reassigned that he didn’t have to stick around to deal with Ty’s verbal sparring. In some ways it was a nuisance, because now Ty had to work harder to annoy him, but it was refreshing, too, in that Zane wasn’t willing to be batted around like a mouse being taunted by a cat anymore.

“Hey!” Ty called after him with a melancholy smile. He did miss the verbal sparring sometimes.

“What?” Zane yelled back as he kept walking to his Valkyrie, parked in the corner about thirty yards away.

“You want to know why I don’t like going home?” Ty asked as he jangled his keys, the sound echoing in the cement parking garage.

“I believe I asked what you were afraid of, Grady. Two different things,” Zane responded as he picked up his helmet from the seat of the motorcycle. His voice bounded off the concrete of the parking deck and reached Ty almost as an echo.

“I’m afraid of the dark,” Ty answered immediately with a tilt of his head, his voice soft and serious.

Zane paused and turned back to study him. Ty smiled slightly. They were both still dealing with hang-ups and problems. While Zane certainly had a harder time dealing than Ty did, every once in a while it did Zane good to be reminded that he wasn’t alone in his struggles.

“You really want me to come?” Zane asked him uncertainly.

Ty nodded.

“What are we going to do while we’re there?”

“Eat home cooking and take a little hike in the woods,” Ty answered with a negligent shrug.

Zane’s shoulders relaxed. “There’s a difference between a little hike and needing camping gear.”

“Is there?” Ty asked innocently. He shook his head. “We just go up on the mountain. Stay there a week, maybe ten days,” he explained.

“Ten days,” Zane repeated flatly.

“Sometimes less,” Ty answered.

“I’ve never been to the mountains,” Zane said doubtfully as he set his helmet down.

“All the more reason to go,” Ty countered, though he was silently wondering how in the hell Zane had lived all his life without going into the mountains. Any mountains.

Zane nodded slowly. “Are we still getting coffee?” he asked after a moment.

“If you want it,” Ty answered with a shrug. “We need to go shopping. You’re gonna need some boots,” he told his partner with relish.

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