That he was in a hurry to serve as backup for another agent, he understood. Why it all translated into Burns being so tense, he had no idea. It was more than a little unnerving, actually, because it brought back memories of clandestine assignments he’d thought he’d buried. It made him wonder what Ty could possibly be doing for Burns that Burns needed to call Zane in on a job. This wasn’t the first time Zane had worked for the assistant director at the order of a single phone call. It was just the first time he’d done it since he was sober.
Zane tried to clear his mind as he waited for the plane to land and taxi to the gate. After the all clear, he pulled on his wool coat and headed up the skyway with a purpose. His plane was on time, not too surprising for an early morning flight, and his contact was supposed to meet him at the security point where the gate let out of the concourse proper, near baggage claim.
At quarter to seven, O’Hare was bustling, and it helped Zane shrug off the last of the lingering unease from the flight. He had to walk at least half a mile through the sprawling terminals, maneuvering through throngs of people as he tried to get out, but he made it to the security point in under fifteen minutes. Right on time. Now he just had to find his contact.
He got stuck behind a group of college kids, some kind of sports team, as he came through the terminal exit. He stopped to try to look around and over them, searching for anything that might give him a clue as to whom he’d be meeting.
Suit and tie, he would guess that much.
Several people fit the bill as he surveyed the milling crowd. A man in an expensive suit with no luggage other than a briefcase was reading a newspaper. A woman in a sharp pantsuit and her hair in a tight bun stood near the entrance to a café, checking her watch. Zane gave her a second glance before his gaze coasted past a well-built man leaning over into a cold drinks case, wearing an expensive trench coat and a T-shirt and jeans. The T-shirt and trench combo didn’t get rocked often.
Zane smiled when it made him think of Ty. The pang of hurt that had lodged in his chest a couple of days ago twinged, and he rubbed at it, ignoring the frazzle of irritation that followed. Ty would wear something like that. He would probably get to Chicago, think Damn, it’s cold, and then go right out and buy a high-dollar trench to wear with jeans and a T-shirt because he’d be able to wear it at work when he got home, and who cared what he looked like in the meantime? Zane chuckled despite the frustration and lingering sense of loss. It would make sense to Ty, anyway.
He tipped his head to one side to try to see what the T-shirt said. The man straightened and brought into view the face of one Special Agent B. Tyler Grady.
Zane did a literal double take, hardly able to believe who he was seeing.
Ty looked up and met Zane’s eyes across the crowded terminal, and shock registered on his handsome face. He was wearing a pair of jeans Zane had intimate knowledge of and a T-shirt he had never seen before. It was pink and vintage-looking with an orange half circle on it. There were two cartoon characters in front of the circle, an alligator and a crocodile, one saying, “See you later,” and the other replying, “After while.” He hadn’t shaved in a day or two and looked a touch harried, but he also looked healthier than he had the last time Zane had seen him, less worn and more at peace with the world. As Zane drew near, he could see that Ty’s hazel eyes were the same as he remembered: alight with life and humor.
“Zane! What are you doing here?”
Zane was torn between a nearly overwhelming urge to pull Ty into his arms and the driving need to shake him silly. Zane curled his hands into fists, all too aware of the people all around them. “Burns sent me.”
Ty turned his chin. “You’re my backup?” he asked, a smile forming as he spoke. His eyes sparkled, and the smile lines around them appeared before he took an impulsive step forward and hugged Zane tight. Then he kissed him, heedless of the crowds milling through the terminal.
Zane clutched at Ty’s arms in surprise, but the warmth of Ty’s lips melted the shock away within seconds, and Zane squeezed his eyes shut as everything else faded.
It seemed like forever before Ty broke the kiss and took Zane’s face between his hands to look at him. “I thought it’d be days before I got to see you.”
Zane turned his head just enough to press his lips to Ty’s palm before he frowned. The swell of absolute relief and ridiculous happiness didn’t stand a chance against the stored-up anger and frustration. He pulled back and took Ty by his shoulders, shaking him just like he’d wanted to. “What were you thinking?”
Ty laughed and grabbed him. “Stop! Okay!”
“I should shake you until your teeth rattle,” Zane said as he let Ty go.
Ty nodded as his smile fell away. His hands dropped from Zane’s face, his fingers dragging against Zane’s skin.
Zane had almost a week of frustration built up, and he wasn’t about to let it go that easily, even if Ty did look like a kicked puppy because Zane sort of wanted to kill him. When he spoke again, he was surprised that it came out in a growl. “Where the hell have you been?”
Ty shrugged, looking away at the thinning crowd. “Here and there. In theory, Tennessee was involved. Or Kentucky. I’m still not sure.” He looked back at Zane. “Which one has the bluegrass and which one has blue grass?”
Zane barely resisted the impulse to shake him again. It wouldn’t help, but it might help him feel better. “I’m not asking where Burns told you you were.”
Ty nodded, refusing to comment on that.
Zane shook his head and then glanced up at the ceiling before meeting his lover’s gaze again. “You just left,” Zane said, and he made no effort to hide his upset.
Ty glanced around the terminal, then looked back at Zane and flopped his hands. “I had to. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s just sometimes it feels like… like the world is shrinking around me. Like if I don’t get out and away that it’ll catch me and crush me. And I know that sounds stupid, but it’s a real feeling and I panic. I woke up that morning and I just had to go.” He reached up and put his palm against Zane’s cheek again. It was like he couldn’t help himself. “I tried to wake you, I really did. I even shook you!”
“You shook me.”
“Well… I poked you.”
“I know! You were sleeping so soundly and…. You looked happy and safe so I let you sleep.”