Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Sticks & Stones, Page 2

Abigail Roux

  Ty skidded to a halt as they reached another narrow alley and peered around the corner. Agents were running along the length of it, and more were coming up behind them. He and Zane put their backs to each other and fired in opposite directions, forcing the encroaching patrols to dive for cover.

  “The cars!” Zane said harshly, and they darted across the street toward a row of parked cars, the action getting them closer to the building even as it offered cover. As they ran, Zane pulled the detonator he’d just programmed out of his pocket and flipped it. Behind them, the weapons cache blew, blowing the door open, making a mess of the windows and the street in front of the building.

  It bought them just a little more time as the agents in pursuit ducked and covered or turned to look.

  But after no more than half a block, they were forced to duck behind a Lincoln land yacht as more shots came at them from across the street. Zane flinched as a shot smacked the bricks ten feet away. They were pretty damn well pinned down; Zane took a glance over the hood and quickly hunched back down as more ammunition skimmed over their heads.

  “Ten fucking yards,” he said harshly, turning his chin, his dark eyes meeting Ty’s.

  Ty smiled at him, barely resisting the urge to grab him and kiss him. “We could pull a Butch and Sundance,” he suggested.

  “I don’t know about you, but I did not come here to die today,” Zane said smartly as he put a fresh clip in his gun. Despite his annoyed tone, he looked amused and his eyes sparkled wickedly. “Don’t have a better idea, though.” After a moment, he gave Ty a half-smile. “It was fun, yeah?”

  Ty grinned back at him and nodded, switching out his empty cartridge and pulling out extra guns to set them aside. “Always knew I should have gone the Dark Side route,” he mused.

  Zane laughed quietly and was checking his two guns when they heard “Federal agents!” shouted by one of their pursuers.

  Looking under the car, Ty could see the feet of the dozen or so agents surrounding them.

  “Toss out your weapons and come out with your hands behind your head!” one of them called out.

  Ty shook his head. “Did we ever sound that stupid when we said that?” he asked as he consolidated his supply of ammo. With two guns, he had enough for a last stand.

  “I don’t know. I was more the ‘drop it or you’re getting it in the head’ kinda guy,” Zane muttered. He winked at Ty and turned so he was facing the car where he crouched.

  They had one advantage. The agents who were swiftly surrounding them would have to wait until no other option existed before they fired on their quarry. They would have to give warning, just like the good little Feds they were.

  Ty and Zane were no longer constrained by such delicacies.

  “On three?” Zane suggested.

  Ty glanced over at him and then to his side, toward the building that was just out of range of their receiver. They were so close. Ty narrowed his eyes and looked at Zane again speculatively. Two out of three just didn’t sit well with him. “Ready,” he answered.

  “One,” Zane said under his breath. “Two. Th—”

  Before Zane could stand, Ty reached out and grabbed him around the neck, yanking him up and to the side, putting Zane between himself and the agents as he dragged him sideways around the car they were using as cover.

  “What the fuck?” Zane squawked, heels kicking out as he struggled to get hold of Ty’s arm around his throat that was bowing his body back.

  “I thought you liked it when I did this, darlin’,” Ty breathed into Zane’s ear with a smirk.

  “Goddamnit,” Zane huffed, sounding like he was trying not to laugh.

  At least a dozen agents leveled their guns at them. Some knelt in the middle of the street behind large black ballistic shields in pairs. Others used the cars parked along the street as cover.

  Several agents were yelling at them, telling them to stop, to drop their guns, to hit the ground. Ty ignored them, moving slowly toward the building, hiding behind Zane and pointing his gun at the agents who followed.

  When a couple of the agents looked like they might be getting brave, Ty moved the gun to point the muzzle at Zane’s head, grinning as he shouted, “Stop moving or I shoot him!”

  The agents paused, looking at him warily and giving each other confused glances, but then they resumed their advance, following as Ty drew them backward.

  Zane turned his head to the side, eyes shifting to look around them as he growled, “If they don’t kill you, I will!” And then with no warning, he stopped struggling in Ty’s arms. ”Now,” he hissed.

  Ty pushed the button of the switch he held in his hand, tightening his grip on Zane so he couldn’t get away. The building down the street—Alpha team’s objective—gave off a muffled whump, dust flying off the roof and the bricks as the charges made a mess of the inside. The agents flinched and ducked before continuing to shout at them to drop their weapons.

  “Happy trails, Lone Star,” Ty breathed to Zane as he raised his gun under Zane’s arm and fired several times, hitting the shields with dull thumps, just as Zane did the same with his two guns.

  But when the agents returned fire, Ty ducked his head behind his human shield. Zane howled in pain, and his body jerked hard as he took the volley of shots right in the chest. When he started to collapse, Ty let him go and turned, running for cover.

  A SERIES of piercing whistles sounded from one of the building tops.

  Agents began filtering out from their locations, some of them covered with red paint where they’d been shot. The other two “terrorist” teams were brought out as well, all four of them covered in the blue paint of the FBI agents-in-training.

  When everyone gathered in the middle of the street around the instructors who’d been observing from various points through the town, Special Agent Ty Grady emerged from the spot of safety he’d managed to reach, completely unscathed.

  And Special Agent Zane Garrett sat up from where he lay sprawled on the asphalt, his chest soaked with blue paint.

  He may have been covered in blue, but he was seeing red. Zane looked over his shoulder right at Ty and glared at him evilly. “You bastard. You cut and run?”

  Ty shrugged unapologetically as he walked up to stand over him. “Every man for himself, partner,” he said with a wide grin. “Last man standing,” he announced triumphantly with his arms spread wide.

  “I can change that,” Zane promised darkly, torn between being angry and surprised or amused and resigned. Ty had not only used him as a distraction to make his escape but also left him behind. Zane wasn’t even sure if it should bother him at all either way. It was just a training game, after all. And as he saw how relaxed and happy Ty looked, Zane could only sigh and set his arms on his propped-up knees, shaking his head.

  “Trainees! Not only did all three points receive fatal damage, and not only did we not capture a live prisoner to interrogate, but you let one of the terrorist agents get away!” Special Agent Jason Stanford announced angrily, his voice booming out of his lanky frame. He was wearing a gray FBI sweatshirt and khakis like all the trainees. “But before I rip you all new assholes, let me introduce the men who just ran the table on you. This is Special Agent Ty Grady, who was raised by wolves, if that makes any of you feel better about getting your asses kicked,” he said, pointing at Ty.

  “I thought they hired actors for these things,” one of the trainees called out. “We didn’t know we were up against trained agents.”

  “You expect to face actors in the field?” Zane pointed out as he stood up and shook his hands while he glared at the newbie agents. Blue paint splattered on the asphalt as it dripped off him. How many paintballs had hit him? Those little fuckers hurt!

  Stanford looked at Zane with a smirk. “And this is the very dead Special Agent Zane Garrett, who was apparently raised by Kevlar,” he told his agents-in-training. “Nicely done, Special Agent Garrett.” Zane glared at him, too, just for good measure.

  “That was cold, man,�
� one of the trainees muttered.

  “No shit,” Zane muttered, glancing Ty’s way again. Ty studiously ignored him, though, blatantly pretending not to notice the look.

  Stanford went on to introduce the other four agents participating as Zane swiped at the paint along his chest and arms. Ty stepped slightly away from Zane as the paint spattered, wiping delicately at a spot on his leg that may or may not have had blue paint on it. Zane narrowed his eyes as he watched him, considering what his chances were of tackling his partner to the street and kicking his ass. Or at least smearing him with paint. There was such a thing as enjoying oneself too much at your partner’s expense.

  At least he wasn’t humming or whistling anymore. Or, God forbid, singing. Zane always knew there was trouble coming when Ty started making up his own words to “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

  “The special agents participating today are on loan to us for this exercise,” Stanford continued with a smug smile. “Give them all a hand, if you will, and be sure to try to learn something from them.”

  “That was kind of awesome,” one guy said from the back of the crowd. The back of his sweatshirt had one small red splotch to indicate where he’d been shot. He was the man who’d tackled Zane. “Took three of us out without even saying anything to each other.”

  “After years of working closely with your partner, you too will develop that skill,” Stanford said, blithely disregarding the fact that he knew Ty and Zane hadn’t been officially partnered for more than five or six weeks. Zane suppressed the urge to smile. “It’s something that can’t be taught,” Stanford added.

  “Partners use each other as human shields often?” one of the group asked wryly.

  “Never underestimate your enemy’s will to live or his mental instability,” Ty advised with a smirk. “You may be taught never to leave a man behind. Doesn’t mean they are. Expect anything.”

  “Thank you, gentlemen. You were a big help today,” Stanford said to Ty, Zane, and the other four special agents. He turned and started lecturing the trainees, many of whom peered around him to watch Zane turn on his partner, hands on his hips, looking none too pleased.

  “Last man standing, huh?” Zane asked, voice dropping dangerously low. His chest was starting to ache under the protective vest he was wearing.

  But Ty merely smiled at him and held up the switch he’d used to trigger the pyrotechnics in the targeted building. “We won,” he said happily.

  Zane made a disgusted sound in his throat even as his mouth threatened to turn up at the corners in the face of Ty’s childish glee. “You’re too damn pleased with yourself.”

  “But we won,” Ty repeated, grinning widely in his pristine uniform.

  “Keep talking,” Zane dared him. “Please. Keep talking.” Ty was only about four feet away, and Zane figured it was even money that he could take him down. Ty would probably kick his ass in the end, though, and it would also ruin Ty’s good mood. Zane grimaced.

  Ty looked down at the switch, still smiling. “Spoilsport,” he said to Zane in a low voice, and then he tossed the switch to Stanford with a nod. The man was watching them in amusement, his smirk indicating that he was just as eager to see if Zane would retaliate as his class was.

  “Next time try not to leave the place in pieces,” Stanford said to them with a smile.

  “No promises,” Zane said, hands up as if to ward off the future. “They don’t let Grady out of his cage often enough.” Then he remembered something that actually made him smile. “C’mon, Grady. You drove today, remember?”

  Ty pursed his lips, glancing at Stanford as he tried not to smile. He shook the man’s hand, thanking him for the opportunity to come blow shit up and shoot people, and then he joined Zane as they headed out of the little mock-up FBI town called Hogan’s Alley.

  “You brought a change of clothes, right?” Ty asked Zane as he looked him over critically.

  Zane stopped in place and just stared at him. He could feel the paint dribbling down his neck, into the collar of his jacket, and curling along his palms and fingers.

  “What?” Ty asked innocently, his eyes wide.

  Zane crossed his arms, heedless of how it spread the paint more across his jacket. “I didn’t expect to turn into a wide-open target.”

  Ty’s lips twitched, and it was clear that he was desperately trying to hold on to the innocent facade. “How many months have you been my partner?” he inquired.

  “On the books or off?” Zane asked with equal nonchalance.

  Ty finally let a smirk play across his lips, and he stepped closer. “Either way, you should know you’re always a target,” he advised, his voice low and teasing.

  Zane rolled his eyes. “Funny guy.” He uncrossed his arms and looked down at himself. “I’m a mess, and it’s your fault. What are you gonna do about it?”

  “Make you walk home,” Ty answered seriously as he twirled his car keys around his finger and turned to head off for his Bronco again.

  “C’mon, Grady,” Zane complained as he followed. “I brought you down here, didn’t I?”

  “That’s right,” Ty acknowledged. “If it weren’t for you, those could have been real bullets and bombs we were playing with,” he said pointedly. “But no,” he drawled out in disappointment.

  Zane stopped at the side of the truck. “I passed the tests, okay? Should be any day now we get the word from Burns.” He opened the back door and pulled out a duffel bag.

  “Did you really bring a change of clothes?” Ty asked in surprise as he tossed his gear into the back seat.

  Zane favored Ty with an aggravated look, but he was still pleased enough with the day not to get pissy about it. “I figured you’d find some way to fuck me over,” he said. “You’ve been bouncing off the walls for over a week now, and I’m your favorite target lately.”

  “Are you still pissy about the rubber band cannon?” Ty asked him in exasperation.

  “Ugh.” Zane started unbuttoning the BDU blouse. “You’re lucky that guy from accounting didn’t know it was you when his toupee went flying. He might have rerouted your next paycheck to Greenpeace.”

  Ty began snickering softly, obviously trying to hold in the laughter. He closed the back door and leaned against the rear of the Bronco to look at Zane critically. “All the puns in my arsenal, and I can’t think of a single blue joke,” he said mournfully.

  Zane carefully pulled the heavy green and black camouflage jacket off, turning it totally inside out as he did. “Off your game, Grady,” he said distractedly as he set the folded-up blouse on the pavement next to his feet and started digging in his duffel for a towel.

  “You’re just pissed ’cause you got riddled with holes,” Ty grunted as he turned to head for the driver’s side door.

  Zane had to smile as he shook his head. Ty had been going crazy in the office for the past five weeks, so when he’d heard about the chance to come over here to Quantico for the day, Zane had jumped at it and dragged his raving-mad partner along. With a sigh, Zane wiped pretty much all the paint off his hands and swiped under his chin a couple times before folding up the towel and shoving it and the now-blue uniform blouse in the duffel.

  Ty had the truck running when Zane got into the passenger seat and shut the door.

  Ty was looking at him with a crooked smile. Zane raised one eyebrow. “What?”

  “That was fun,” Ty told him in a pleased voice, one Zane hadn’t heard much lately.

  Whatever annoyance he’d been feeling faded in the face of Ty’s unholy glee. “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” he said, giving his partner a tolerant look. Maybe Ty would be a little easier to live with for a day or two. Which would in turn make Zane a little less cranky as well. It might just be a decent week after all.

  Ty gave him a wicked laugh as he pulled the Bronco out of its spot, pointing them back toward DC.

  Chapter 2

  “SO, SPECIAL Agent Garrett, I understand you’ve finished your evaluations,” the Assistant Director of the
Criminal Investigative Division said from where he sat behind his large mahogany desk. The desk stood out against the drab colors of the paint and carpet and matched the wall of bookshelves that warmed the room.

  FBI Special Agent Zane Garrett stood at the window, looking out at the wet, dirty streets of Washington, DC, and desperately wishing he could be anywhere else. He could see his boss in the window; the man behind the desk held several files in his hand as he looked at Zane with raised eyebrows.

  Zane sneered at his own reflection in the window. The shadows under his eyes and wrinkles from his frown were pronounced above his slightly crooked nose, giving him a rough and tumble appearance even though he was clean-shaven. The scraped cheeks were in sharp contrast to his slightly overgrown dark brown hair. Looking at himself, he acknowledged that, despite the muscular build cloaked in black slacks and a royal blue dress shirt, he wasn’t any prize right now.

  He had been assigned to the DC office for five weeks, along with his partner, after they’d been reunited in this very office following five miserable months apart. Upon receiving the new assignment, they had both been relegated to deskwork for various reasons, not the least of which was the physical and mental aftereffects of the turbulent past year or so. For him, it had been an especially rough year. Ty seemed better able to shake off the past than he did. Zane took a steadying breath and slid his hands into his pockets, shifting uncomfortably in place.

  He winced and turned to look at Richard Burns. He’d known the meeting today would be… rocky.

  “You passed the academic and physical testing, but you know that already. You also know you managed to flunk the mental evaluation that would have cleared you for field duty,” Burns said in concern.

  Zane didn’t answer as he folded his arms in front of himself, wondering what he could say to explain. There was so much shit bouncing around in his head that he wasn’t sure himself why he’d had such a tough time with an evaluation he should have been able to bullshit through easily. He just hadn’t been able to focus.