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Zane didn’t have anything else to say. He was pretty sure Ty cared about him, just as he cared about Ty. They were partners. They watched out for one another. They depended on each other. Only Zane was finding himself more and more attached to Ty—and that was something that scared him.

Deuce sat silently as Zane mulled it over, the hiss of his bottle cap as he twisted it off the only sound he made. “I’ll send Ty the bill,” he finally said with a small smile.

Chapter 17

“SHOULD he be traveling as sick as he is?” Mara Grady asked worriedly as she fussed back and forth between Ty and the pies she was preparing in the kitchen. “Maybe he should stay here until he’s feeling better.”

“I’m feeling better, Ma,” Ty called out from where he sat on the couch, covered in blankets and holding a mug of hot chocolate his mother had shoved into his hands.

“You are not,” she insisted from the kitchen as she banged a pie plate onto the counter and began rattling utensils and plates.

“God hates me,” Ty muttered from under one of the heavy quilts she had draped over him.

Zane snorted from where he was sprawled in a rocking chair across from the couch, under an afghan of his own. Mara had taken to mothering him too. “If God hated you that cat would have bitten you somewhere more sensitive,” he said, teasing.

“Yeah, wait ’til the drugs wear off and I can tell which one of you is real,” Ty grumbled at him. He sniffed at the air as the smell of apple pie began to waft to them.

“When do you have to go?” Mara called.

“Leave the boy alone,” Earl told her from his seat in the kitchen, and their voices dropped as they continued talking quietly to each other. Ty sat and scowled at Zane.

“I’d say it’ll freeze that way, but you might like it to,” Zane murmured as he rocked, the chair squeaking a little.

“When are we leaving?” Ty asked.

Zane was quiet for a long moment as he watched Ty. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”

Ty inclined his head and frowned harder. “You’re not leaving me here,” he whispered harshly.

“Don’t you think you need to rest and heal up instead of driving all the way back to Baltimore?” Zane asked. “It’ll be a hell of a lot easier for you to fly home. It’s only a short drive to the airport in Charleston.”

“Don’t you think you should be baking pies or something?” Ty responded gruffly.

“I bet you already know how,” Zane said. “Deliverance.”

“What the hell does that have to do with pie?” Ty asked in annoyance.

“Just a comment about your wide and varied skills.” Zane paused. “Of which healing seems to need some practice.”

“I heal just fine,” Ty argued. “And you’re one to talk,” he added, pointing at the colorful bruise that stretched from his very black eye along the full line of Zane’s cheekbone, which was apparently so painful that Zane hadn’t shaved his beard off yet. Zane wrinkled his nose and winced.

“You boys want more hot chocolate?” Mara called out as Deuce came thumping into the living room and threw himself onto the couch beside Ty.

“No, ma’am,” Ty and Deuce both called out.

“I’m good, thanks,” Zane answered as he gave Ty a disbelieving look.

“What?” Ty asked him defensively.

“All I’m saying is, you have a chance to kick back and relax, have someone take care of you. Maybe you should take advantage of it.”

Ty blinked at Zane slowly and pushed the quilt off his head as he leaned forward. “Do I look relaxed to you?” he asked in a low voice.

Beside him, Deuce began to chuckle softly. Zane raised an eyebrow, still rocking gently. Ty began to struggle with the heavy quilt, trying to get out from under it. Deuce moved beside him, pulling the edge of the quilt out from under himself in an attempt to help, and Ty growled as the throbbing in his hand got worse and worse.

“What do you need?” Mara asked as she came into the living room with a tray of more hot chocolate and set it on the coffee table. “Stop your fussing,” she ordered as she swatted Deuce away and recovered Ty with the quilt he’d just managed to get off.

“You’re killing me, Ma,” Ty protested as he began struggling with the quilt again, fighting against the cumbersome cast on his hand. “Killing me,” he muttered with emphasis as she tutted and headed back to the kitchen.

Zane watched the circus with a slight smile, looking back and forth between Ty and Deuce.

“Stop it,” Ty told him in a growl.

Deuce began to laugh softly. “She just misses you,” he offered. “Let her baby you some. She’ll let up,” he advised.

“I’d be more tempted to listen to you if you weren’t snickering gleefully while you said it,” Ty told him. “Garrett, when are we leaving?” he asked Zane stubbornly as he gave up the fight against the quilt and started trying to go the other way instead, lifting it up over his head.

“Your family wants to spend some time with you,” Zane reminded him gently. “Without someone around to remind you about work, I’d guess.”

“I can see them any time,” Ty countered.

Deuce cleared his throat pointedly, and Ty growled at him as he finally extricated himself from the quilt and tossed it on the floor triumphantly. Zane was shaking his head slightly, the look on his face pretty much classing that answer as bullshit. Deuce was looking at him in much the same manner.

Ty rolled his eyes at both of them and sighed. He sat silently for a moment, trying to ignore them and the intense throbbing in his hand. Finally, he looked around the room and pursed his lips. “It’s kinda cold in here, huh?” he muttered as he leaned forward and retrieved the quilt to wrap up in it again.

“Zane’ll take care of your Bronco. If you don’t want to fly, I’ll drive you home at the end of the week,” Deuce offered.

“And I promise I’ll take care of your Bronco,” Zane repeated.

Ty sighed and glanced sideways at his brother. He couldn’t honestly say he wanted to go anywhere but to bed. “Don’t look at me,” Deuce told him as he leaned forward and picked up a mug of hot chocolate. “I’m not a couples counselor,” he reminded.

Ty jerked in surprise, but he recovered quickly and jabbed at his brother in retaliation, causing him to spill the hot liquid in his mug all over his lap.

Zane chuckled at their antics. Without warning, he shifted and stood. “I’m going to see if I can sleep until dinner,” he murmured. “I can’t drive home like this.” And he started toward the stairs.

Deuce was standing and patting gingerly at the fronts of his thighs, and Ty watched Zane go as he hid himself behind the quilt. When Zane’s feet disappeared up the steps, Deuce turned and swatted at Ty, gesturing that he should follow.

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“What?” Ty asked defensively.

“Go talk to him,” Deuce ordered in a whisper.

“You go talk to him,” Ty hissed.

“Go talk to him, and I’ll keep Ma and Dad off your back while you’re here,” Deuce bargained.

Ty glowered at him, but after a moment he sighed and stood, tossing the quilt aside. “What do I talk to him about?” he asked uncomfortably.

“Figure it out,” Deuce answered as he shoved his mug into Ty’s hands and headed for the kitchen to get a towel.

Ty looked down at the marshmallows that swirled in the mug and then up at the stairs with a deep sigh. He set the mug on the table and headed for the stairs unsteadily, trudging up to his old room in search of his partner.

He knocked softly on the door before pushing it open slightly. Not only had Zane left the door unlocked, but he was lying on the bed, on his side, with his back to the door. Ty stood in the doorway for a long moment, frowning. It was unusual behavior from his very paranoid partner. Maybe that meant he felt safe here. That thought actually made Ty smile. “You want to tell me why I owe my brother five hundred dollars?” he asked finally as he began moving into the room. Zane didn’t even twitch, his cheek pushed against the pillow as he lay totally still. Ty sat on the edge of the bed next to him. “Did it help?” he asked softly.

“Did what help?”

“Talking with him,” Ty answered as he leaned to one side, trying to see Zane’s face.

Another long pause, and Zane’s shoulder moved slightly. “More than I’d rather admit,” he muttered.

“You think it might help to talk to him again?” Ty asked carefully.

“Can your wallet handle such abuse?”

“If it would help.”

Zane finally moved, rolling toward Ty to look up at him. “I think Deuce has the wrong idea about us.”

Ty resisted the urge to ask for further details. If it had to do with whatever he’d talked about with Deuce, then it needed to stay with Zane for now unless he wanted it out. Zane had to know that if he did decide to seek out help with Ty’s brother, what they said was safe even from Ty.

He was also scared to ask what the right idea about them might be.

“He knows we’re screwing around,” Ty finally responded with a negligent shrug. It was the only thing he could think to say.

“You told him?” Zane asked.

“He’s smarter than I am,” Ty argued.

“Clearly,” Zane murmured. “You should listen to him sometimes.”

“What makes you think I don’t?” Ty asked.

Zane studied him for a moment before shifting to lie on his back so he could look up at him, and he rubbed his eyes again. “I’m too tired to play word games right now.”

“I’m not playing games,” Ty assured him. “Look, Garrett,” he sighed as he turned and leaned over him. “Wouldn’t you rather talk with Deuce than some random Bureau shrink?” he asked, wincing inwardly as he waited for Zane’s reaction.

Zane sighed, reached up to curl his hand over Ty’s nape, and tugged down gently. Ty allowed it warily, not certain what to expect. When Ty was close enough, Zane kissed him gently for mere seconds and then released him.

“Thanks,” Zane whispered.

Ty pressed his forehead to Zane’s with a hint of relief. This was one step in the right direction, anyway. The sooner he got Zane back on track, the sooner they’d be in the field again. He cocked his head, looking into Zane’s exhausted eyes. He wanted to say more. He wanted to ask Zane what he’d meant earlier when he’d mentioned “them” as if they were a unit. But he supposed his father was right; he was too much of a coward to ask.

“I can see your thoughts running in circles in your eyes,” Zane said softly, his fingers ruffling in the hair at the base of Ty’s neck.

Ty pulled back, his eyes darting back and forth as he looked into Zane’s. He was too worn out to think of anything to say in return other than to ask, “What?”

“You’re thinking hard about something,” Zane said. “Something you’re not happy about. It shows. To me at least.” He smiled, but it immediately faded. “Probably because I’ve seen it so much lately.”

Ty sighed and shook his head. “Usually I hide the thinking thing better,” he tried in a wry voice.

“You don’t have to hide from me,” Zane told him quietly. “Lord knows I’ve probably seen you near your worst.”

Ty gave that a small smile. “You’re right,” he acknowledged. “But I’m not hiding from you.”

“So what are you thinking about? Will you tell me?”

Ty held his breath as he considered the request. It wasn’t out of line. And Zane was right; he’d seen Ty at his very worst. Any opinions he might form about Ty’s weaknesses, either physical or mental, had long ago been formed.

“I was thinking about being afraid of things,” he admitted.

Zane didn’t say anything right away. He tipped his head slightly to one side as he studied Ty, and then he moved, scooting over on the bed and drawing Ty down to lay next to him. “Things like dark rooms,” he said softly. “Small spaces,” he clarified. “You seemed to handle being out on the mountain in the dark okay.”

Ty was already shaking his head in answer. “Do you… do you think turning back up there would have been cowardice?” he asked slowly.

“No,” Zane answered immediately. “You heard me disagree with Earl from the start. We were four men of various capabilities, very lightly armed, in unknown territory with no resources and no idea who or what we were facing. We should have gotten to safety and sent back people who were equipped to handle it.” His fingers clenched where they draped over Ty’s hip. “We were lucky. Real damn lucky.”

Ty didn’t respond as he met Zane’s eyes. Those were the same things he’d been telling himself up until he’d run into bigger things to worry about. But the hint of doubt lingered. He was too tired to try and conceal the emotion.

Zane lifted his hand and cupped Ty’s cheek, turning Ty’s chin so he couldn’t look away. “You listen to me, Beaumont Tyler Grady. You are a wise-cracking, stubborn, annoying pain in the ass who lives to cause trouble. You’re also a brave, courageous, and valiant Marine who puts his life on the line for what he believes and for those he loves. There is no way you have ever been or ever will be a coward. It simply isn’t in you.”

Ty stared at him in shock. It was the nicest thing Zane had ever said to him. Possibly the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him. He had no idea how to respond, and he realized his mouth was hanging open slightly as he tried to think of something to say. The corner of Zane’s mouth curled up into a half-smile, and he moved one hand to slide his fingers lightly over Ty’s lips. Ty blinked rapidly at him. “Thanks, Zane,” he finally managed to say. It felt silly to say it. But it was the only thing coming to mind. At least he was no longer afraid of making a fool of himself in front of Zane. He wouldn’t be able to function at this point if he worried about that.