Divide & conquer, p.26
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       Divide & Conquer, p.26
 

         Part #4 of Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux  
Page 26

 

  It had to feel good to be included, being blind and lost. He glanced at Ty and wondered if Ty had gone through the “it could have been me” panic. The Ty he knew wouldnt tolerate the darkness—or the helplessness—well at all, whereas Zane, by all appearances, seemed subdued but in fairly good spirits. At least Nick hoped this was subdued. He couldnt imagine Ty staying with a stick-up-his-ass partner for long.

  Nick was lost in thought when he realized Ty had leaned toward him and asked him something. He cleared his throat, looking at Ty with wide eyes. “What?”

  “Are you okay?” Ty asked incredulously. “Because Owens been bitching about the Sox for a solid five minutes, and you aint drawn down on him yet. ”

  “I left my gun at your place,” Nick answered defensively. He set his empty bottle on the table and took Tys out of his hand. Ty didnt even protest, just held up his hand to order another round.

  “Are we for or against the Red Sox?” Zane asked curiously. He had leaned an elbow on the table and shifted forward, head still tipped toward Ty.

  A round of jeers came from the others, and Nick had to close his eyes and wave Zane off. “School him. ”

  “O is from Boston,” Ty explained to Zane, pointing at Nick. “Its Red Sox or die unless you can prove a deep affiliation with another club or provide a compelling reason to hate the designated hitter. Or kick his ass. ”

  “Preach it, baby,” Nick said happily, giving Ty a closed fist in the air. “Owen is, however, a Yankees fan, and they both carried extra ammunition on missions for „accidents,” Ty went on, using his fingers to accentuate the sarcasm.

  “I grew up watching ballgames in Arlington,” Zane said, sounding greatly amused. “Affiliation doesnt get any deeper than being born and bred Texan. ”

  “Rangers, huh?” Nick said, rolling the word around as if giving them thought. “Sure, I guess theyre harmless enough. ”

  Owen gave them both a raspberry.

  Ty groaned softly and raised his hand to stop them. “Can we avoid this tonight?”

  “Gradys become a pacifist,” Digger observed, clearly disapproving.

  “He just lost his balls, is all,” Owen corrected.

  “Dont you remember holding them for me?” Ty asked him without skipping a beat. “The Rangers are actually looking good this season,” Zane said. He was looking up, and though his eyes were unfocused, he had the look about him of someone deliberately feeding the fire. Nick liked that in a man.

  “God, Zane, please,” Ty tried. Nick reached out and slid his arm around Tys shoulders, squeezing his arm hard. He wouldnt start a baseball-induced brawl in the middle of dinner. Again.

  Zane smiled and laughed, and it sounded real, not put on. Nick thought Zane might not be too bad a guy, if he enjoyed getting a rise out of Ty as much as the rest of the team did. But Ty didnt react to Zanes ribbing the same way he reacted to theirs. He didnt growl or bring out that rapier wit Nick knew was so deft. He merely looked sideways at Zane and huffed, then went back to his bottle of beer. Interesting.

  After four more rounds of beer, some appetizers, several stories, and a lot of friendly squabbling, Digger stopped the pretty waitress to ask where the best place to leave his shoes was.

  “Oh God, here we go,” Owen muttered.

  “Whats going on?” Zane asked, directing the question toward Ty. Ty just shook his head. He was leaning back on his bar stool, propped against the wall behind him. He rubbed at his eyes as if the beer was having its way with him, which was unusual in Nicks vast experience. He must have really been working hard if he couldnt make it past half a dozen rounds. He had obviously forgotten that Zane couldnt see him.

  “They dont intend to go home tonight, Zane,” Nick answered for him.

  “Whats your name, baby girl?” Digger asked the waitress. She was smiling, taking the attention of a table of drunken idiots fairly well. “Caroline. Do we need another round, or are we done for the night?”

  Ty made a pained sound as soon as she told them her name, and Nick began to grin.

  Zane turned his head, apparently trying to follow the conversation. “Which one is Caroline?” he asked Ty.

  “Blonde, smells like sandalwood,” Ty answered. Zane nodded. Yeah. They came here a lot. Nick elbowed Ty in the ribs, and Ty folded up and grunted at him as he set his beer on the table. But he was already grinning, so Nick knew they were going to get him to do it. After six beers, convincing Ty to sing was easy as pie. After ten, it was getting him to stop that was the problem.

  Across the table, Kelly and Owen were already providing the melody by humming and drumming their fingers on the table. Caroline narrowed her eyes at them but was still smiling.

  “Whats all this about?” she asked suspiciously.

  “Im so sorry,” Ty told her, smiling even as he apologized. “Please dont ban us after this. ” Nick kicked back his stool and stood before Ty could stop him, and he began to sing the first few lines to “Sweet Caroline,” the song that Fenway Park in Boston had made its unofficial anthem. Nick had an okay singing voice, enough that people didnt complain when he started.

  Zane looked like he was torn between laughing and frowning. “Ty…?” Ty glanced sideways at him but didnt answer. Instead he held his beer bottle up as if toasting the poor laughing waitress, and he joined Nick as soon as they reached the chorus. The sound of Tys pure, beautiful singing voice never failed to send shivers up and down Nicks spine.

  Caroline blushed prettily and laughed, looking around the bar with her hand over her mouth as they serenaded her, and a lot of the conversation around them died down as people watched, agape.

  And then the inevitable happened. Nearly the entire bar joined in. But nothing could drown out Tys voice from Nicks ear. He put his arm around his oldest and dearest friend as they sang, trying not to think about why a melancholy feeling was settling in his chest.

  Z ANE pulled on the old T-shirt and sweats before feeling his way along the edge of the bed. It was Tys room, and he was more than a little uncertain if he should stay there or go up to the futon in the thirdfloor guestroom. Ty hadnt said anything about any of the guys staying over, but they were his friends. An invitation to stay might be assumed. And Zane certainly knew it wouldnt go over well if they saw him sleeping in Tys bed. There was only so much that could be explained away as “helping” your blinded partner. Zane huffed and rubbed his hands over his face.

  He slowly walked toward the bathroom door on the staircase landing, trailing his fingers along the wall. Bare feet touched cold tile, eliciting a wince, and Zane was about to close the bathroom door when he heard Tys voice. He could pick it out anywhere.

  “I cant believe you made me do that,” he was saying, his voice a low, hoarse groan, the type that came with either too much alcohol or when Zane was about to get laid. “Ill never be able to go back there again. ”

  “I cant believe you dont still sing, man. What a fucking waste. ” That was the Boston accent. Nick. When Zane had stood near him, Nicks voice hadnt been quite at ear level, so Nick was shorter than six five, but Zane had nothing else to work with besides the very few details Ty had shared in the course of conversation.

  “Leave him the fuck alone, O. Its his God-given talent, he can waste it if he wants to,” one of the others said. Kelly, perhaps. Zane wasnt sure he could tell Owen and Kelly apart. The accents were both unremarkable.

  “Cabs here,” Digger announced, the words barely discernible. Hed probably been standing by the window, but the deep drawl and heavy accent of his voice was unmistakably Cajun.

  Tys answer was lost in the sounds of movement and the front door complaining as it was swung open. Zane frowned and stepped out of the bathroom, moving closer to the stairs. Yeah, eavesdroppers never heard anything good about themselves, but Zane figured hed be better off knowing which room to go sleep in.

  There was a lot of shuffling and movement, saying goodbye, see
you later, whos got the cab fare, shut the hell up before I duct tape your tongue to your nose. Fairly typical for the type of people Zane expected to be Tys friends. After it all died down and the door closed, there was a stretch of silence.

  Then Ty cleared his throat. “Water? Beer?”

  “Yeah, beer,” Nick answered as they both moved past the base of the stairs into the kitchen. So Nick apparently was staying. Zane frowned, again trying to decide what to do. Listening to Ty talk to an old friend while sitting there with them was one thing. Skulking at the top of the stairs was another. Hed catch certain hell from Ty if he were caught, and that was enough to have Zane moving back toward the bathroom, albeit reluctantly.

  “You look like hell, man,” he heard Nick say. His tone of voice now, when they were away from the others, was different somehow. More serious and sincere, less teasing. Zane hesitated to call it intimate.

  Ty didnt respond to the observation with a smart-ass remark or try to deflect it. He didnt respond verbally at all, not that Zane could hear. Zane stood at the bathroom door, gripping the doorjamb, wondering if Ty would admit to Nick what hed tried to deny to Zane, that he was exhausted, scared, stressed, and uncertain.

  Ty finally just laughed softly.

  “Are you sleeping?” Nick asked. It was the same question Ty always asked Zane when he knew the answer already. “Some. I know I look like warmed-over crap, man. I feel like it too,” Ty answered, his voice hoarse but managing to sound flippant anyway. “Its fine. You didnt stay because Owen kicks in his sleep. Or to ask me about my sleep. ”

  “No,” Nick admitted readily. “You two work well together?” “Zane?” Ty asked. He laughed again. “You wouldnt think so from the outside, would you?”

  “He doesnt appear the type you usually get on board with, no. He sort of reminds me of that DOD guy—what was his name?” “Pike?” Ty responded, uncertainty lacing his voice.

  “Yeah! Ramrod straight, Ray-Bans, always holding a file. ”

  “No, man, Pike was an officious dick. Zanes a good guy. Hes stellar. I trust him. ” “Good,” Nick said, so softly Zane almost didnt hear it. He was silent for almost a minute, then added, “Was Pike the one we hung over the railing?”

  Ty burst into laughter, the sound clear as a bell as it reached Zanes ears. Nicks laughter joined it. “Oh God, that was funny,” Ty murmured contentedly. “The screams. ”

  “Almost got the brig for it. ”

  “Worth it,” Ty acknowledged.

  There was another long silence, almost enough for Zane to retreat to the bathroom again. But Nicks next question, seemingly out of nowhere, arrested his retreat.

  “You still dreaming?” Nick asked, his voice lowered reverently like that of a man in church. Or a man with a secret. Ty remained silent for several heartbeats. “Mostly its just the desert,” he finally answered, sounding somewhat troubled. “But its not bad, Im just there. Dont know which way is up, which way is safety, which way goes… back. I wake up tasting sand instead of blood, now. Theyre not like they used to be. ”

  Zane was intimately familiar with the results of some of Tys dreams and nightmares, and he knew about the desert. He snorted softly. Hed never asked Ty to tell him, and Ty had never offered. “Dont know which way is up” described his own situation pretty damn well right now. Lost. Lost in the dark instead of the sand. Maybe Ty really did understand, just a little bit.

  He knew Ty and Nick had been close, very close, close born of blood and beer and sweat and tears and all of that clichéd Band of Brothers shit that really was true. Zane just wondered if they were still that close and how it was possible he didnt know about it after practically living in Tys pocket for almost half a year.

  “How about you?” Ty asked. “You still dream?” “Every once in a while,” Nick answered. He sounded almost haunted. “I still wake up screaming your name, man. Just like you never came back. ”

  “But I did,” Ty answered calmly.

  Zane heard Nick snort. "And I dream about that damn table. " “Me too,” Ty admitted, the whispered words painful and drawn.

  Shifting uncomfortably, Zane laid his cheek against the cool wood of the doorframe. Something had happened to them, to Ty and Nick, something like how New York City and a serial killer had happened to Ty and Zane. Something horrible enough to make Ty sound like that when he spoke of it.

  The silence below felt heavy with the past, and Zanes mind strayed toward painful memories of his own before Nick pulled his attention back.

  “Anyone but you, man, and Id have died out there,” Nick said, his voice harsh and laid bare. “We both would have,” Ty responded, his voice calm again, in stark contrast. “Its back there, Nick. Stay right here. ” Zane heard his knuckles rap the wooden table. “Come on,” he finally said gently, and Zane heard a chair being pushed back against the hardwood floor. “You can take the pullout. Ill bunk with Garrett. ”

  “Hey, Ty? I may be drunk and I may be Irish, but Im not stupid,” Nick drawled, letting the words run into each other almost insolently. “I remember what on the brink looked like, and it had your eyes. ”

  Zane opened his eyes even though it was to complete darkness. He ought to get into the bedroom now while he had the chance, ought to at least shut the bathroom door, ought to know better… but on the brink… of what?

  “Talk to me, Grady,” Nick urged, and after a moment of silence, he added, “I mean, Jesus, after what weve been through, if you cant tell me, who can you tell?”

  “Theres nothing wrong, O,” Ty insisted, his voice remarkably calm and honest. “I promise. ”

  “Okay,” Nick murmured, giving in and sounding unhappy about it. Zane could hear Ty moving, steps slow and measured and not nearly as quiet as when he was sober. “Good night,” Ty said to Nick, the tone of the words effectively saying “dont ask me again. ”
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