Divide & conquer, p.9
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       Divide & Conquer, p.9

         Part #4 of Cut & Run series by Abigail Roux
Page 9


  Zane stared after him, rooted to the spot, and it wasnt even Tys fine ass in those pants that had his attention. No, it was that flash of light in Tys eyes that struck Zane right in the gut and made his breath catch. He had to try twice to swallow, and his face felt hot in the brisk air. He blinked hard before he realized he was gaping and made himself turn toward the bleachers and sit down about four rows up.

  Occasional actions like that totally convinced Zane that Ty was telling the truth about loving him. It bowled Zane over, and he felt a rush of giddiness. Zane closed his eyes tight and opened them again, and Ty came into focus on the other side of the fence—Zane had zeroed in on him without consciously looking.

  A young girl, elementary school age probably, abruptly skipped into his line of sight, climbed up the bleachers deftly, and sat down right beside him as if she belonged there. She gave him a cheerful smile. “Hi!”

  Zane did a double take between her and Ty before settling his gaze on her. “Hi,” he said, a little surprised. He wasnt the type of guy kids just waltzed up to. Quite tall, broad in the shoulders, muscled, dark hair and eyes, heavy leather jacket and boots, sort of imposing. But it didnt seem to faze her.

  “Im Elaina,” she said as she stuck her little hand out to shake his. “Are you a friend of Tys?”

  His hand engulfed hers as he shook it gently. “Im Zane. Tys partner. Nice to meet you, Elaina. ” “Nice to meet you!” she said enthusiastically. She scooted around on the hard, cold metal bleacher seat to settle primly beside him, looking out at the field like she owned it. “Mommy told me to find someone who had FBI on their clothes. Then I saw you talking to Ty, so I knew you would be safe. He and Mommy used to date,” she told Zane with all the tact of an eight-year-old.

  Zane stifled a chuckle as he watched her, intrigued. “And who is Mommy?” “She plays second base. Number five. ” Elaina pointed toward the field, where the FBI team was filtering out, beginning to warm up. Five was an attractive brunette, athletic and tan and smiling. The nickname on her uniform was “Lefty. ” She was throwing right-handed, though. Zane didnt have any trouble picturing her with Ty.

  “You come to all the games?” Zane asked, opting for small talk. “Oh yeah. Were the best team here,” the little girl announced proudly. “Well, maybe tied for the best. But the firemen play dirty. ” “Of course,” Zane agreed. He ducked down out of the way as a woman carrying a tray of food climbed up the bleachers next to them. “Ill have to start following the scores. ”

  Zane caught sight of Ty standing in front of the chain-link dugout, bent over and strapping his shin guards on, slowed down by his wrapped fingers, as the rest of the catchers gear sat in the grass next to him. Zane smiled fondly. Ty was so methodical with some things. He wore his Kevlar religiously and nagged Zane about his when they went out on assignment because Zane hated wearing the vest. Ty cleaned his gun every other day whether it needed it or not. And every tie and strap and buckle on his gear had to be just so—if Zane didnt adjust a strap for him first—if he had even close to the time to fix it. It seemed he treated his recreational gear the same way.

  Zane shook his head but didnt look away. Ty Grady was a study in contrasts, and the puzzle-like appeal of it was impossible for Zane to resist.

  Zane wasnt sure why Ty was suiting up to catch, though. He definitely shouldnt have been, not with a bum throwing hand. But Ty was obviously under the impression that he could throw with his left hand and catch with his right, instead of the other way around. Zane knew he could shoot a gun, throw darts, and shoot pool, all with both hands. Zane had even seen him hurriedly scribble with both hands, though you could never read the end result, no matter which hand Ty used. Maybe he was truly ambidextrous, another fact Zane was somewhat embarrassed about not knowing, if it was true.

  Ty was still fussing with the strap to the chest protector as he and Alston walked up to home plate to meet with the umpires and the other teams captains. Zane couldnt hear them, but he could see Ty and Alston muttering to each other as Ty tried and failed several times to hook the strap at his side while using his hurt hand. Finally, Alston reached out and yanked Tys helmet from under his arm, swatted his hands away from the strap, and bent to clasp it for him as the others gathered at home plate tried not to laugh. Zane shook his head as he watched. As irascible as Ty could be, he sure had a lot of friends, people who seemed to see right through the façade that had so confounded Zane when he first met Ty Grady.

  The gathered men all shook hands where they stood in the batters boxes. Theyd step closer as they shook hands, kicking red dirt on the pristine white plate. Zane watched in amusement as Ty carefully avoided the white chalk lines and home plate. The meeting lasted a few minutes as they went over the ground rules, the men scuffing the dirt in the boxes with their cleats, smoothing out the uneven ridges of dirt. Then they parted and went back to their respective dugouts. Ty took pains to step over the white chalk lines on the field as they walked, but it was hard to tell if it was to avoid them or because that pill was hitting him.

  Elaina leaned closer to Zane. “Mommy says Tys very superstitious,” she confided in a whisper. “He wears the same socks every game. ”

  Zane turned his chin to look at her. “Does he wash them?” he joked. He tried to remember if Ty had put on the same socks Zane had stripped off of him last night.

  “Mommy tried once, but he saved them and made her promise not to. He locked himself in the bathroom. ”

  Zane laughed and glanced back at Ty. “That sounds like him. ” “He also taught me that you never cross your bats in the dugout, you never touch the lines or home plate before a game starts, and only pansies wear batting gloves. ”

  Zane laughed again. “I guess he would know,” he said with a shrug. “I never played baseball. Or softball. ”

  Elaina looked at him askance.

  “I can play football though,” Zane offered in a conciliatory attempt. She shrugged off that news and looked back out at the field excitedly as the FBI team took the field to a smattering of applause, boos, and catcalls from the crowd. Zane joined in the clapping as most of the players jogged to their positions, but Ty and Alston, who was pitching, both waltzed out as if they had all the time in the world.

  Ty had his head down, his glove in one hand and his mask in the other, and somehow hed already gotten his face and short hair dirty. It wasnt easy for him to saunter in the bulky gear, but he managed to pull off the attitude anyway. The gear fit his frame well, and it only added to the illusion that he was larger than he really was. Zane knew that in most rec league softball games, the catcher didnt bother to wear gear. But this wasnt your average slow-pitch softball league. The pitchers threw overhand, and they played with a regulation-size baseball. The women who were involved were athletes, not out there for show, and there was certainly no one drinking beer in right field.

  Ty had sent Zane a text one night earlier in the month, joking that it was srius bizness.

  As Ty got closer to home plate, he looked up into the bleachers, his eyes almost immediately settling on Zane. Zane felt his heart beat hard a couple of times, and he had to draw a breath, because for a second, he was short on air. Then Ty smiled that half smile of his, the laugh lines at his eyes and mouth appearing, before he gave a quick wink. Then he ducked his head and slid his mask on, turning his back on the crowd as he stopped behind home plate.

  Zane swallowed hard. That wink had been for him.

  Crystal-clear revelation struck Zane like a bolt of summer lightning sizzling through the chill February air. He wanted Ty with him, wanted him badly. Needed him as a partner, and not just at work. Craved him as a lover more than hed ever jonesed over heroin. Connected with him in so many ways that Zane couldnt see a way to untangle himself and didnt even want to try.

  Ty loved him. Zane believed it. Zane had also believed he didnt have it in himself to love Ty like he deserved. It wasnt Tys fault. There was so much pain
connecting Zane to the past, a tenuous lingering link between Zane and Becky, his wife years gone now, that Zane had skipped right over the obvious signs. Hed been too busy grappling with letting go of what was gone and wondering if he had any right to grab hold of what was in front of him.

  It was important to Zane to understand when craving Ty had become needing him, and when needing him had become caring for him, and if it was possible for that caring to truly become even more. Because Ty deserved nothing less.

  Zane could see it now. The craving he worried about wasnt an addiction. It was far more wrenching. Something significant enough that Zane was changing his entire life to be worthy of it, and there just wasnt any other possible explanation.

  He loved Ty Grady with all there was to give of his heart, and in the end, all it had taken was one wink for Zane to finally come to terms with it.

  As he sat dealing with the sudden realization, the world continued on without him. The players continued warming up. Alston had taken just one warm-up pitch, feeding into the cocksure, evil empire image the Feds team cultivated. The fans in the stands around him continued talking and eating and fussing with their various seating options, and Elaina jabbered on beside him.

  Ty stood talking with the umpire, his body language clearly saying he was joking around with the man. He was loose and at ease, having battled past the painkiller and his natural inability to be still. Another moment later he stepped away from the umpire and knelt behind home plate as the first batter of the game approached the batters box. But Ty wasnt there for more than a heartbeat before he raised a hand to call time and stood back up.

  A collective groan ran through both teams and the crowd. “Oh, good grief,” Elaina said as she rested her chin in her hand.

  Zane shook himself out of his thoughts and looked to Elaina before turning his eyes back to Ty. “What?”

  “He does this every game,” Elaina complained. “He says the plates crooked!”

  A woman sitting behind them laughed. “He says its latent OCD. ” Zane frowned. Tys shoulders were straight and stiff, in total contrast to the loose relaxation hed exhibited just a couple minutes before. That wasnt OCD. Zane leaned to the side to try to get a better look at what was going on.

  Ty and the batter were standing together, Ty pointing down at the plate as the batter nodded. The umpire was shaking his head, holding his mask in his hand and frowning. It was anyones guess what they were saying to each other, but whatever Ty was saying, he was adamant. Finally, he yanked his mask off and knelt over the plate, pointing to something Zane couldnt see.

  “Its not the freaking major leagues, Grady! It doesnt have to be perfect!” someone shouted from the visitors dugout.

  Zane shifted on the metal bleachers as he watched. “Somethings wrong,” he murmured. The batter stepped closer and took his bat off his shoulder, pointing it at the plate. Ty reached out and grabbed the end of it quickly to stop him from poking it, then stood and held up both hands impatiently, like he was begging them to listen to him.

  He turned to scan the bleachers, his eyes finding Zane quickly. Zane recognized the look on his partners face and was moving even before Ty started toward the fence backstop and waved to him.

  He met Ty at the fence, reaching up to twine his fingers through the chain-link. “Whats wrong?”

  “The plates wrong,” Ty said under his breath. “Its not crooked anymore. ” “Maybe someone fixed it?” Zane asked. He had no doubt that Ty would notice if it was sitting differently than usual. He just didnt know if it was something worth stopping the game over.

  “Ive been bitching about it for weeks, and they finally fixed it in the middle of the night last night?” Ty muttered as he looked over the crowd restlessly. His eyes met Zanes. Looking at him this close, it was easy to see what the painkillers were doing to him. “Its too high. ”

  The plate was not the only thing that was too high. But what Ty was saying made it sound like someone had wedged something under it. “You really think its trouble?” Zane asked quietly. “Theres plenty of cops around. ”

  “Thats what Im worried about,” Ty told him as several people shouted at them in annoyance. Ty ignored them like only he could. “Do you have your phone on you?”

  Zane pulled it out of his back pocket and offered it to him. They struggled almost comically to get it through the chain-link as those around them became more vocal with their displeasure.

  “Why dont we just take it up and adjust it?” the hitter asked Ty curiously.

  Ty finally pulled the phone through and glanced over his shoulder at the man as he flipped Zanes phone open. “Who are you calling?” the umpire asked, obviously perturbed. “Bomb squad,” Ty answered gruffly.

  Zanes fingers clenched on the fence. Ty wouldnt joke about something like that. “Better start telling people to clear out,” he told the ump evenly. Hed back Ty up no matter how stoned on painkillers his partner was. “Is there a field announcer?”

  “Are you shitting me?” the umpire said incredulously. Other players were beginning to drift closer, obviously realizing that something was wrong beyond the crooked plate and Tys supposed OCD.

  Alston came jogging up to them from the mound, and Ty took a quick step and pointed at him. “Stop!” he shouted urgently before Alston could get to home plate.

  The tone of his voice seemed to do the trick. They all knew Ty didnt screw around, and he sounded truly scared.

  “Ill get the announcer going,” the umpire mumbled as he hurried toward the wooden tower near the dugout. Zane watched silently as Ty quickly gave information over the phone while the players on the field came in to the dugouts to wait. Word hadnt gotten around yet. Zane glanced over his shoulder at the stands. Lots of families and kids were here. His eyes fell on Elaina. She looked incredibly small and innocent sitting there.
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