Ball & Chain (Cut & Run #8)(2)

by Abigail Roux

Zane returned the smile, only to have it ruined as Ty pressed their mouths together, kissing him for all the months they’d missed. It was usually at this stage of a dream that Zane would wake up, alone and so heartsick he thought he might cry. But the kiss lingered on. Ty’s hands on his face were still warm and solid. His beard was scratchy at Zane’s cheek. He was real. This was real, and Zane wasn’t about to let it slip away.

He grabbed Ty and dipped him backward, kissing him for all he was worth. He heard the distant snap of a few cameras, the tears of joy from other reunions, tiny voices welcoming their mothers and fathers home, the muffled gripes from Nick to let him the f**k off the ground so he could at least try to be dignified about coming home. He felt Ty smiling against his lips and holding on to his neck so he wouldn’t fall.

It was the most satisfying rush of emotion Zane had ever experienced. Better than any high.

When he finally stood them back up and let go of Ty, they were both breathless and laughing. Zane couldn’t keep his hands off Ty, wanting to maintain contact, wanting to reassure himself that this wasn’t a dream.

Ty took his hand and didn’t let go. “You look amazing,” he said as he leered at Zane.

“So do you.” Zane ran a hand over Ty’s shoulder and the new insignia there. “Captain Grady, huh?”

“Captain.” Ty nodded, his beard almost hiding his smile. “They gave us all a bump in rank equivalent to the time we would have served if we’d stayed in the Corps. Owen and I got kicked over to officers.”

“Captain Grady,” Zane repeated. He shook his head and swiped his fingers across Ty’s chin. “Nope. You’ll always be Staff Sergeant to me. What’s with the beard?”

“Special forces. Don’t worry, it’s coming off.”

“No, I like it. Keep it for a while.”

Ty grinned. “Whatever you want.”

Zane pulled him into another hug. He was peripherally aware of the rest of Sidewinder picking themselves up off the ground and trying to straighten their uniforms, and he finally let Ty go long enough to turn toward them.

They were all grinning from ear to ear, hugging Kelly repeatedly, unable to stop laughing long enough to speak. Kelly began poking fun at their new titles.

“Mother f**king Master Sergeant O’Flaherty,” he said with a pluck at Nick’s sleeve.

Nick brushed himself off, retrieving his hat from the ground with a grunt.

“Why the new ranks?” Zane asked Ty. He did a double take, unable to keep his eyes off the only man he’d been waiting to see.

“It’s not as good a deal as it sounds,” Ty said. “The ranks came with some pretty steep responsibilities. It was the reason we were called back. That’s . . . that’s pretty much all I can say.”

“Are you out now?” Zane asked. “Is it . . . is this it?”

“Yeah, this is it,” Ty answered. “I’m out.”

“Me too,” Digger said, almost singing the words. He bent to pick up his seabag and slung it over his shoulder.

Owen laughed ruefully. “They asked me to stay on. But, uh . . . I told them to stick it. It’s back to the private sector for me.”

Zane snorted, glancing at Nick. He was looking at his feet, and Kelly was watching him with narrowed eyes.

“Nick?” Kelly asked. “Did they ask you to re-up?”

“Yeah, they did,” Nick answered without looking up.

“You didn’t,” Kelly whispered.

Nick cleared his throat. “They asked me to stay on as a drill instructor.”

“Oh, good casting,” Ty mumbled. Zane glanced at him, and Ty mouthed, “He’s scary.”

“I told them no.” Nick smiled at Kelly, then looked around before picking up his seabag again. “I’m done with carrying a gun.”

He walked off. The others stared, looking stunned and confused. After a few seconds, Kelly jogged after him.

Zane finally found his voice and turned back to Ty. “What the hell happened to you guys?”

Ty was still watching Nick make his way through the crowd, his mouth hanging open. He had to tear his attention away to meet Zane’s eyes.

Owen grunted and smacked Digger in the chest. “Let’s go get a f**king milkshake.”

“Milkshake?” Zane echoed.

Owen nodded and grabbed up his bag. “And meat.”

“Oh, meat!” Digger practically skipped after the others, leaving Ty and Zane alone.

Ty was still staring after them, frowning. “There’s something wrong with him.”

“Digger? Hasn’t he always been like that?”

Ty shook his head. “Nick. There’s something wrong with Nick.” He turned to Zane and wrapped his arms around his neck. “I missed you.”

Zane pressed his face to Ty’s neck and closed his eyes. He laughed. “Can we skip milkshakes and just go home?”

“Nope. Bad luck.” Ty kissed his cheek, then took his hand and began leading him through the celebratory crowd.

When Ty walked into the federal building in Baltimore, it caused quite a fuss. Zane hadn’t told anyone he was coming home because he hadn’t wanted to deal with all the teasing from his coworkers. But also because he’d wanted to walk out of the elevator and see all their faces when they realized Ty was with him.

The commotion started with their old team. Clancy saw them and screamed and flailed, which caused Alston to duck and cover like he was used to her smacking him. She came running over and threw herself into Ty’s arms, hugging him around the neck and letting her feet dangle. Ty was wearing a red Santa hat with a white fluffball on the end, and the fluffball hit Clancy in the head when they hugged, but she didn’t seem to care.

Alston, Perrimore, and Lassiter swiftly joined her, giving Ty hugs and handshakes. Others came over to welcome Ty home, and it didn’t take five minutes for the teasing and ribbing to start. Everyone in the office, including Zane, had had six months to get used to the idea of Ty and Zane being a couple. Zane had endured a great deal of good-natured banter, with a side helping of nasty comments and uninformed opinions. For the most part, though, it had become old news. People had gotten over it and accepted it, then mostly forgotten it the longer Ty had been away.

For Ty, though, it was all new. And from the look in his eyes, it was scary.