Ball & Chain Page 2

“You’ve been living in certification,” McCoy countered. He glanced at Zane, but his smile was hesitant and a little sad. He lowered his head. “It’s good to see you back safe, Grady.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Have a seat. I’m afraid I don’t have good news from the home front.”

Zane groaned. “Please tell me you’re not putting him back on desk duty. You remember what happened last time.”

McCoy turned his chair so he could rest his elbow on the desk and prop his chin in his hand. He didn’t seem amused. In fact, he seemed downright solemn.

After a long moment of silence, he breathed in deeply. “Gentlemen,” he said as he examined a file on his desk. He tapped it as if trying to decide what else to say. “During the course of Grady’s leave of absence, a few things came to light that . . . I would have preferred to remain in the dark. Unfortunately . . .” He trailed off and shook his head.

Zane’s good humor drained away as he watched their boss through narrowed eyes. He caught himself turning to Ty and stopped.

Ty leaned back in his chair, slumping and scratching at his forehead. He pulled the Santa hat off. He’d gone pale, and his knee was bouncing. They both knew what was coming.

McCoy looked up at Ty from under lowered brows, and then his gaze shifted to Zane.

Ty held his trembling fingers over his brows, as if shielding himself from the sun.

“I need to know one thing from you both before I continue,” McCoy said grimly. “Are you now or have you ever been involved . . . romantically?”

Ty closed his eyes as the rest of the color drained from his face. Zane blinked hard over McCoy’s question and had no idea what to say. How could they reply when McCoy already knew the answer, but the truth would probably separate them?

McCoy watched them silently. Ty finally moved, sitting straighter in the seat. “Yes,” he answered, the sound barely even a recognizable word.

McCoy slammed his hand onto his desk. “Dammit, Grady! All the times you’ve lied to me over the years, and you pick now to be honest?”

There wasn’t anything Zane could add. Not really. He wasn’t ashamed of being in love with Ty. He watched his partner as Ty met McCoy’s eyes. He looked ill, but Zane knew why. They were well and truly out now. For better or worse. Ty was handling it better than expected, really.

McCoy propped both elbows on the desk and massaged his temples. Finally he leaned back and shook his head at them both. “Now, I want it made very clear that the Federal Bureau of Investigation does not give a good goddamn about who you fuck.” He kept rubbing his fingers over his chin and mouth in a nervous habit that rarely manifested. “Heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, omnisexual, transsexual . . . we don’t give a damn. As long as you conduct yourself in a manner that is dignified and discreet, you do whatever you want. We will not tell you who or who not to be involved with. That having been said, my concern here, and that of my superiors, is how your relationship impacts your job performance and those around you.”

“Romantically involved or not, we were one of the best goddamned teams you had,” Zane said.

“And now you’re his superior.” McCoy shook his head and covered his mouth again. He met Zane’s eyes; then his gaze flickered to Ty. “Gentlemen, if I could snuff this out, I would do it in a heartbeat. But you made a very public display before Grady left. While it’s not against any specific Bureau policies, it’s frowned upon, and it’s been dealt with the same way across the board in the past.”

“By sending one of us to North Carolina?” Zane asked with a bitter laugh.

“By separating you, yes.”

“This is bullshit,” Ty said.

“This is precedent,” McCoy snapped. “You’re both good agents, but neither of you have ever been above reproach. We can’t afford to have your integrity come into question in the future because you’re fucking. Especially now that Garrett is essentially your boss.”

Zane grunted. “We’re no longer partners, there’s nothing to separate.”

McCoy looked at him with true regret and sighed heavily. “You’re management now, Garrett. There’s no going back. And you can’t have your . . . your boyfriend working under you.”

Ty opened his mouth, and McCoy held up his hand. “If you make a joke, I’ll shoot you.”

“Yes, sir,” Ty mumbled, slumping further into his chair.

“I have to reassign one of you.”

Zane stared, appalled by this sudden obstacle thrown in their path. A reassignment could mean any number of things—different shifts, different departments—most of them not so conducive to him and Ty seeing each other regularly. There was no way McCoy could have any idea how serious their relationship was. He seemed to simply think they were sleeping together. Zane glanced over at Ty, who was sitting stock still and watching McCoy intently.

“We have several options,” McCoy told them, obviously uncomfortable. “One of you will be transferred to another field office. DC or Philly would be relatively close. Even Newark. Unless you’re willing to end your relationship to stay where you are?”

“No,” Ty answered immediately, his voice low and firm. Zane shook his head. He wouldn’t give up Ty now that he’d just gotten him back.

McCoy nodded as if he’d anticipated that reaction. “Well,” he said slowly. “Which one of you will it be? Grady, we could send you to Philadelphia, closer to family. Garrett, you’re already familiar with DC. You could easily go back there, where there are more chances to advance.”

Zane dropped his gaze to his hands. Yes, he’d expected them to be separated. But he’d been anticipating them working different shifts, not this.

DC was a good choice. When he’d lived there when they’d first been partnered, Ty had driven back and forth from Baltimore. But it had only been for a matter of weeks. Zane drew a slow breath, trying not to resent McCoy for what he was making them do.

Before he could speak, though, Ty reached between their chairs and brushed his fingertips across Zane’s elbow, eyes still on McCoy. Ty didn’t appear angry or upset. In fact, Zane’s usually temperamental partner looked downright composed as he pushed to his feet. He lowered his head as he reached under the lapel of his suit coat and pulled out his badge—the badge he’d just gotten back. He laid it on the desk in front of McCoy, followed by his Bureau-issued sidearm, still in its holster.

When McCoy looked up at him, his eyes were wide and his lips were parted.

Ty merely shook his head. “Nobody’s moving.”

Zane distantly wondered what the thundering noise was until he realized it was his heartbeat in his ears. He stared at Ty, unable to look away. He knew how much Ty loved and lived for his work. He was afraid to speak for fear of what would come out.

“Grady, think about this, would you?” McCoy said patiently. “I understand, okay? It’s a shitty situation, and if I could sweep it under the rug, I would. I tried.”

Ty was shaking his head, gently pushing the badge on the desk around in circles with his finger. “I know, Mac. But being separated is not an option.” Zane’s gut clenched as Ty used the one finger to push his badge closer to McCoy. “Garrett can stay where he is. Consider this my resignation.”

“No, no,” Zane finally managed to say. He stood and snatched Ty’s badge from the desk. “No, I can’t let you do that.”

Ty turned to face him.

“You’ll go insane if you’re not working, Ty,” Zane whispered. “I’m two years from retirement. Let me take the bullet on this one.”

“Exactly, you’re two years from retirement,” Ty hissed. “Two years and it’s over.”

“Gentlemen.” McCoy sighed. “If the Bureau loses either of you right now, it’s my ass they’ll come for. I can’t let either of you resign, goddamn it. That’s not a solution.”

Ty shook his head and gave him a small smirk. “It’s my way or the highway, Mac.”

McCoy began to massage the bridge of his nose.

Ty reached for Zane’s hand and gently removed the badge Zane was clutching. He set it on McCoy’s desk and pushed it toward their boss, his eyes never leaving Zane’s. Then the smirk turned into a smile—the same beautiful grin Zane had always loved. The laugh lines at his eyes appeared. His nose scrunched. But there was no light in his eyes, the sparkle that said he was enjoying life. That light hadn’t been there since he’d gotten home.

“I’ve got a rubber band ball to retrieve from my desk,” Ty said. He patted Zane’s arm. “I’ll see you at home.”

He walked out, leaving Zane and McCoy staring after him with their mouths hanging open.

“I can’t believe he just did that,” McCoy finally said.

Zane shook his head. “Give me time before you file his paperwork, okay?”

“You’re the Assistant Special Agent in Charge,” McCoy said, and he stuffed Ty’s badge and gun into a desk drawer. “You file his damn paperwork. Get out of my office.”

Ty spent the next two weeks reacclimating to civilian life. He got up early to run, relearning his old route and taking note of everything that had changed. Buildings being redone, neighbors being gone, a florist where a dive bar used to be, a martini bar where the Fosters used to live.

It all felt the same, but it was different. A car would backfire and Ty would drop and roll. A baby would cry and Ty would reach for a gun he no longer carried. Zane would knock into him in the middle of the night and Ty would grab him and roll him off the bed.

Okay, that had been kind of funny after the fact.

But it was taking Ty longer to get used to being in his own skin again than he would have liked. He didn’t hear much from the other guys, either. He supposed they were all suffering through the same sense of vertigo as he was. Sometimes it was easier to get used to real life again if they didn’t speak for a while. They’d discovered that years ago. The only person Ty had expected to hear from already was Nick, but he hadn’t even received a text message from the man. That in itself was strange, and it felt like something was missing from each day.

Not working was also disconcerting. He’d never in his life been without a job. It was driving him a little crazy already, and he knew he would have to find something else soon. A city cop position like Nick had taken up, or even private security somewhere, because as far as he was concerned, guns were the only thing he did well. But all he had to do now was work on the old Mustang in the backyard, and pore over the scraps of evidence Zane brought him about their mole.

Since their ordeal in New Orleans with Liam Bell resurfacing and the uncanny knowledge both he and the Vega cartel possessed about Ty and Zane’s movements, Ty was just as sure as Zane was that a mole had infiltrated the Baltimore office. Burns had confirmed it the day Ty’d received his orders from the Marine Corps. Someone was relaying information to the Vega cartel, and God knew who else. Enemies who would kill Ty or Zane without a blink.

The danger had always been at the back of Ty’s mind, knowing Zane was home, alone, with no one he could trust to watch his six. Kelly had spent a great deal of time in Baltimore getting to know Zane, keeping an eye on things for Ty, but Ty hadn’t known that when he’d been away, so he’d fretted at night, worried himself sick when he had the free time to do it. Nick had attempted to distract him at first, but even he had given up on trying to keep Ty’s mind off the very real threat.

Coming home and finding Zane happy and healthy, smiling and beautiful, had very nearly erased the worry from Ty’s mind. But walking out of the office the day he’d quit, the realization had come tumbling down on him again that there was still a traitor in their midst, and now he’d removed himself from the game.

So he searched. He pored over news articles and police reports about the cartel. He tried to find connections between the events of New Orleans and any of their cases, delving into everything he had at hand that wouldn’t tip off the mole. But his resources were minuscule, and there was so little to go on.

All he found were dead ends, and so more often than not he found himself just like he was now, on his back on a modified mechanics creeper—really just a plywood board he’d reinforced and put wheels on—beneath the Mustang.

He was humming along to the radio, trying to keep his mind clear as he worked, when someone grabbed him by both exposed ankles and yanked. He closed his eyes and tensed his entire body as the creeper shot out from under the Mustang, shocked he didn’t catch his head on any protruding parts. When he cleared the undercarriage, he had his gun in hand, and was shielding his eyes from the winter sun with his wrench, even though he was pretty sure he knew who his assailant was.

“Let’s go inside,” Zane said, the mischief quite clear in his voice. He didn’t even bother helping Ty off the ground, nor did he seem fazed that a twitchy war veteran had just pulled a gun on him. He headed for the door, already yanking at his tie and shrugging out of his jacket.

“What did you do?” Ty called after him.

Zane laughed, and Ty hurried to follow. He was pretty sure that whatever it was, he didn’t want to miss it.

Zane jumped Ty before he could even say hello or wipe his greasy hands off on his jeans. He dragged him through the door and slammed him against the wall, leaving Ty’s radio playing and all his tools laying out in the yard as snowflakes began to drift down.

The next kiss made Ty think he could buy new tools if they got stolen or rusted. Zane pulled at his jeans and shoved at his heavy wool shirt, growling at him to take everything off.

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