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“Probably don’t want to poke at the wild boar either,” Deuce added helpfully. “Or the bats. Or the bears.”

“Sounds like lions and tigers and bears, oh my,” Zane said as he helped himself to more scrambled eggs.

“Bears, sure. Lots of coyotes. And you just might see yourself a lion if you’re really lucky,” Earl said while he buttered a piece of toast.

“We have varying definitions of lucky,” Deuce interjected.

“Seen a black panther out there once,” Chester offered, unconcerned.

“Was that through the end of a moonshine jug?” Ty asked him with a smirk.

“Watch that tongue, sonny,” Chester warned with a wag of his crooked finger in Ty’s face.

“Better if you plan to restrict your poking,” Deuce told Zane helpfully. “Lots of endangered animals up here aside from Ty. Snails. Peregrines and a lot of other birds, mostly. And a salamander.”

“Don’t forget the freshwater mussel,” Ty drawled.

Deuce toasted him with his orange juice. “And the freshwater mussel.”

“How do you even know where to walk?” Zane asked flatly. Ty rolled his eyes and waved Zane off.

“What’s the plan today?” Deuce asked Ty as they ate.

Ty shrugged. “Haven’t really got that far,” he answered. “What about you, Garrett? Got anything you wanna do before we take you up there and leave you?”

“Sleep?” Zane suggested, ignoring the playful threat. “Or something equally relaxing. We’re supposed to be on vacation, remember?”

“Vacation?” Deuce asked in surprise. “I thought you used up all your vacation already.”

Ty looked at him, pursing his lips. The two brothers stared at each other expectantly for a tense moment. “I don’t wanna talk about it,” Ty said finally.

“Neither do I,” Deuce assured him gratefully as he went back to eating.

“Talk about what?” Mara asked distractedly.

“Nothing,” Ty insisted.

“Ty and his partner are on punishment,” Earl told her, frowning. Zane’s head popped up in surprise.

“Did Dick tell you that?” Ty demanded angrily.

“No, Ty, I figured that one out all by myself,” Earl answered with a tap to the side of his head. Eyes darting from side to side, Zane leaned back a little out of the line of fire.

“If you two are gonna fight, you take it outside,” Mara told them, unaffected by the suddenly tense atmosphere. “Zane, honey, how long have you been with the Bureau?” she asked.

“A little over twenty years, ma’am,” Zane said hesitantly.

”You’d think twenty years would get you better than Ty,” Deuce muttered as he reached for the orange juice.

“Well…” Zane drew out, smiling a little, “no. Afraid not.”

Ty glared at them both. Earl watched Zane with his head slightly cocked. He had the same quality Ty did, the one that always made it look like he knew something more than he was letting on.

“I believe it was more Ty getting stuck with me than me getting stuck with him,” Zane clarified as Ty gave him a gesture that probably meant for him to shut the hell up.

“Why do you say that?” Deuce asked curiously.

“I was transferred from another division, and Assistant Director Burns dumped me on him with no warning,” Zane said, trying to talk around it enough that Ty might not kick his ass later.

“So you consider each other punishment?” Deuce asked as he set his elbow on the table and leaned forward in interest.

No way was Zane touching that one. He’d let Ty throw the first insult.

Ty wagged his fork in his brother’s direction. “Stop psychoanalyzing us,” he warned.

“But that’s my job,” Deuce protested.

“If I wanted to see a shrink, I’d go to the one Dick told me to,” Ty told him. Zane did a double take between the brothers.

“Why do you need a shrink?” Earl asked Ty.

“We really don’t like to be called shrinks,” Deuce informed them in annoyance.

Zane’s chin turned toward Deuce. “You’re a shrink?” was out of his mouth before he could stop it.

“I’m a psychiatrist, yes,” Deuce answered. “Ty didn’t tell you?”

Zane snorted. “I know as little or less about you all than you know about me. I didn’t even know Ty had a brother ’til this morning.”

Ty’s fork clattered into his plate, and he held up his hand. “Can we stop sharing, please?” he requested in frustration.

“Why do you need a shrink?” Earl asked him again.

“I have daddy issues,” Ty answered with a smirk.

Earl pointed his fork at him and narrowed his eyes as he chewed, though there was a hint of amusement in his expression. It seemed all of them enjoyed brandishing that quick wit. If Zane weren’t so off balance, it would have almost been fun to see Ty bested by someone else.

“If Richard said you needed a shrink, then you need a shrink,” Mara told Ty with certainty.

“I don’t need a shrink,” Ty insisted with a gesture of his hand to calm his mother.

“We really don’t like to be called shrinks,” Deuce repeated again in annoyance.

“Honey, you’re lucky that’s all we call you,” Mara told Deuce as she dished out more grits.

Ty snorted, and Deuce grumbled at them both.

“I think Burns just enjoys yanking us around,” Zane said under his breath.

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“He doesn’t enjoy much about either of you lately, son,” Earl told him, growing serious once more.

Zane glanced up at him, surprised. He wondered what the two men could legally even talk about. Ty—maybe. But certainly not himself, except in the most general of terms. With a quick look, he saw that Ty wasn’t paying him any attention. His eyes were closed, and he was pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Ty?” Zane said significantly. He hated the thought of someone checking up on him without his knowledge. Especially if it was someone who might really care and be upset by hearing about Zane’s ups and downs. He could imagine that Ty didn’t like the idea, either.

Ty opened his eyes and looked at Zane through his fingers as he covered his face with his hand. He shrugged helplessly, as if to say he had absolutely no control over what was happening. Zane wrinkled his nose and resisted the urge to reach across the table and smack him one for being absolutely no help. Instead he turned his attention back to Earl. “Just how well do you know Assistant Director Burns, Mr. Grady?” he asked curiously.

“You’re welcome to call me Earl, son. And I’ve known Richard for almost forty years,” Earl answered. “We went into Vietnam together, and we came out together,” he said with a hint of pride.

Very good friends, then. Zane sighed and sat back. Earl might not know much of anything about him. But he also might know more than Zane would want to admit to anyone, much less Ty’s father, of all people. He leveled his eyes on his partner and waited.

“What?” Ty asked defensively. “It’s not my fault,” he protested as Earl chuckled.

Zane felt his lips curl up. It was actually amusing to see Ty’s reactions to his family. “What isn’t he enjoying about us?” he asked, going back to Earl’s first comment.

Earl shrugged as he handed his plate to his wife, who was now rounding the table collecting dishes. “Apparently you’re making him do more paperwork than he wants to be doing. He mentioned something about throwing handguns and blue paint,” he said with a bemused frown. Ty snorted and covered the laugh with a cough. Earl looked at him with narrowed eyes and then back at Zane. Zane was hard-pressed not to chuckle. “He also told me he was worried about you both,” Earl continued. “He’s always worried about Ty, but him saying he’s worried about Ty’s partner is new,” he informed Zane as he studied him closely. “Ty usually takes care of his partners.”

Zane automatically handed his plate up when Mara held her hand out for it, but he kept his eyes on Earl, not sure if there was more to hear.

“Why’s he worried?” Earl asked him pleasantly.

“Dad,” Ty said in warning, but Earl continued to look at Zane expectantly.

After a long moment of silent standoff, Zane just shrugged one shoulder. He didn’t know what the man wanted him to say. Anything he could think of was far too personal. Earl’s eyes transferred from Zane to Ty without a word. Ty merely raised an eyebrow at him and bit into a piece of bacon with a loud crunch, obviously more immune to the gaze than Zane was.

Deuce gave Zane’s arm a gentle pat, and he scooted his chair back noisily. “Come on, Zane, I’ll show you the mountain,” he offered under his breath.

Zane glanced to Ty before moving to follow Deuce out. His partner was on his own with this one, and Zane wanted out from under Earl’s knowing eyes before he said something he shouldn’t. It wasn’t really Earl’s reaction he was worried about. Zane didn’t have to go home with him.

They went through the back door, which was the nearest exit, and Deuce had to grip the railing as he thumped down the old wooden steps that led into the back yard. The grassy part of the yard rolled slightly and then dropped off suddenly into a deep ravine just twenty yards from the back of the house. The thick woods started at the edge of the far side, seeming to enclose the area with a wall of trees. Deuce took a few steps toward the ravine and waved at the land beyond it. “And there’s the mountain,” he told Zane with a small smile.

Zane took a deep breath of the clean air and gave him a smile. “Thanks,” he said with a nod.

Deuce waved him off. “Don’t let Dad get to you,” he advised. “If you can deal with Ty, Dad should be a cakewalk for you.”

“I don’t care about offending Ty,” Zane answered. “Although I do have to work with him, so I try not to piss him off too badly.”

“A fair plan. And Dad isn’t easily offended,” Deuce told him with a smile. “What are you worried he knows about?” he asked curiously.

“I don’t exactly have the best track record in the Bureau,” Zane said quietly as he looked around at the trees.

“You’re still in it, though, and I know Ty doesn’t rate second-hand partners,” Deuce countered.

Zane would have answered in the affirmative, but he wasn’t quite sure if he really fit the bill. “I guess I’m a little off balance,” he said vaguely, gesturing to the surroundings.

“High altitudes will do that,” Deuce replied, the sarcasm practically dripping from the words.

“You talk like him,” Zane said wryly, hearing the smartass echo in Deuce’s voice that so reminded him of Ty.

“How’s that?” Deuce asked in interest.

“That tone of voice,” Zane said, fixing his eyes intently on Deuce. “Ty sounds like that all the time. Droll. Like he’s humoring me.”

Deuce laughed. “I apologize,” he offered with an open, honest grin.

Zane’s smile was more genuine this time. “I’d say you don’t know how annoying that can be, but….” Deuce laughed harder as the screen door creaked behind them.

“We’re gonna have to start slipping Dad Valium or something,” Ty muttered as he joined them. He handed Deuce a thick cigar that he’d had hidden in his pocket.

“Cuban?” Deuce asked in delight.

“Cuban,” Ty answered with a nod as Deuce slid the cigar under his nose and sniffed it.

Zane frowned. “Where’s mine?”

“You haven’t earned illegal Cubans yet,” Ty informed him seriously.

“Earned?” Zane asked, voice rising toward the end. He looked at Deuce and jerked his thumb toward Ty. “See? This is what I deal with almost every day.” He sniffed. “Earned,” he muttered, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“I thought acting as a human paintball shield qualified you for illegal Cubans?” Deuce asked Ty in an innocent voice. Ty began snickering before he’d even finished speaking.

Zane rolled his eyes. “I still have bruises,” he said plaintively.

“Boo hoo,” Ty offered. “You smoke too much for cigars,” he reasoned.

Zane shrugged at Ty’s logic. He was used to it by now. “Better hope no one with a grudge catches you with one of those.”

“Everyone has a grudge,” Ty told him with a smirk.

“My brother has no morals,” Deuce sang lightly, and he cackled gleefully as he slid the cigar he’d been given into his pocket.

Ty grunted at him. “I’m running low, and Charlie’s getting discharged in three months, so enjoy it while it lasts,” he told Deuce in a disgruntled growl.

“You’ll just have to find some other shady character at Gitmo,” Deuce counseled seriously. “I’m gonna go unpack some things and sit with Grandpa before he gets the shovel out,” he added with a smirk. He gave Ty a pat on the arm before walking away, leaving them alone in the cold, fresh air.

“Shovel?” Zane questioned.

Ty shook his head. “Later,” he promised.

Zane shifted his weight and tried to let the tension from breakfast go as he pulled out a pack of cigarettes and lit one up. He took in the sun rising above the trees, and there was a full minute of quiet before he spoke. “Your family is… nice,” he said with difficulty.

That caused Ty to start laughing. Hard.

Chapter 4

SOON enough, Ty was making his way around the house toward his Bronco to retrieve the bags of camping equipment they’d brought with them. Zane remained in the back yard for a moment, finishing his cigarette in the cool, crisp air and looking around at the peaceful surroundings. For some reason, he couldn’t imagine Ty having grown up here.