No matter how spacious their home was, with the rest of Sidewinder there, it always seemed small.
The team was gathered around the kitchen, Ty and Zane at the sink, Digger at the fridge, and Nick, Kelly and Owen leaning at the bar, Nick inside, the other two outside the kitchen. Zane didn’t know why exactly they were here instead of, say, the couch, but he wouldn’t argue or ask anymore. If they thought the kitchen was the right place to before watching a big game, then so it was.
Maybe it was because the freezer was closer this way. While they didn’t usually have alcohol in the house, Ty had bought beer for tonight and promised every bottle would be gone tomorrow. Zane turned his head away when Ty took another beer and handed it over to Nick, who didn’t stop in his impressive, insult-filled rant. Apparently, he and Digger had very varying views at how the meeting of their respective home teams should end.
After a few especially well chosen slurs, Owen whistled and chortled. “I think you’ll have to mention that in your next confession, buddy.”
Nick turned to glare at him while the rest of them chuckled at him. Kelly stopped first, putting his bottle down and frowning like he was trying to remember something.
“Talking about confessions,” he suddenly said, turning on Zane. “You never confessed anything.”
Zane blinked, not really able to place that statement. “Huh?”
Kelly leaned forward, placing his elbows on the bar. “You know, on the tour? The big Tell-Your-Secret round? You didn’t tell us a secret.”
Oh. So that was what Kelly was getting at, and Zane didn’t like it at all. Everybody was looking at him now, and he raised both hands to ward them off. “Oh no. That was a team-bonding exercise…”
“Exactly,” Digger cut him off, grinning widely. “Part of the team, part of all the crap, man.”
Zane blinked at him, torn between annoyance feeling honored at the reminder he belonged to the team in their eyes.
“You don’t have to, baby,” Ty said quietly, sliding a hand down Zane’s arm and then around his waist to squeeze him. Zane knew him well enough though to hear the “but” coming before Ty spoke it out. “But it might be good for you, speaking out something that troubles you. I know I felt better after we cleared the air.”
Zane looked at him, trying to be pissed and not managing it. It was obvious Ty wasn’t trying to push him, but he did honestly think it would do Zane good. Damn him.
“Listen, babe,” Nick spoke up from his position at the bar, voice gentle and reasonable. “I’m thankful for what you did during that trip. How you took all the arguments and heart-to-hearts and all the other shit in stride even though you didn’t have to and for how you let it all play out on that last day. I truly appreciate it. We needed that. But now it’s your turn. Let us hear what’s brewing behind that poker face.” A corner of Nick’s mouth turned up in an impish smile. “Tell us something about Zane Garret we didn’t know yet”
Zane swallowed, feeling his throat tightening a little. Yes, having those men counting him to their team definitely was an honor, and, as he had witnessed them washing their dirty laundry, he probably owed them. It didn’t mean he really wanted to share with the class, though. He wasn’t even sure what he should tell them, as they already knew about the drink.
He thought about brushing them off with something fun and maybe embarrassing, tell them something along the lines of “You know, I own a huge ranch, I could have paid some instead of letting Johns pay for all”. Or “I’m so adamant about my training because I used to weigh less than a wet towel and I don’t want to go back there”. Or mention the square dancing. But then, he looked up and found Sidewinder silently looking at him.
Their expressions were open and calm, almost reverent, and Zane realized with a start just how important this was for them. They were offering him a place among them, not just as a fellow gun and occasional voice of reason when they needed somebody to bring together their training and experience with the reality of the civilian environment they now had to work with. They were offering him a spot in the complicated emotional construct that tied them together. He knew he wouldn’t get the same level of love, trust and familiarity they gave each other, but they basically were making room for a stepbrother in their family, and that was more than he ever could have asked for.
This was something that couldn’t be brushed off with a joke. He felt ashamed he’d ever considered it.
“All right,” he breathed rubbing a hand over his face, half to hide the wet sheen that had to be showing in his eyes, half to buy time. He tried mentally reviewing everything that had come out during the trip, but that didn’t help much. The secrets Sidewinder had given up had been too varied to be used as guidelines.
All he knew was that whatever he said next, it truly had to come from his heart. It had to be one of the things he’d thought he’d keep under lock and key behind heavy bars in the deepest, darkest corner of his being.
And then, it came to him. It wasn’t exactly a confession, not something concrete. But it was something he didn’t usually tell to others, and that bothered him. How often had he worried Ty might find out he thought of Zane as a better man than he was?
“Sometimes,” he started, but broke off immediately, shaking his head. It was hard to phrase, and he was getting nervous.
“I know I’m hardly the only one here who took lives,” he began again. “But when I hear you talking about it, even if it’s just about severely wounding somebody, I can hear you suffer over it. I know you do. Like…Ty, when you had to put a bullet into that girl from the bombing crew, I knew you’d lose sleep over it.” He took a deep breath. “But I also knew I wouldn’t have.”
Nobody made a sound. Zane knew Sidewinder was still watching him, as he could feel their gazes on him. He didn’t dare to look up and see their reaction.
“So sometimes when I take a step back and look back at my decisions and moves over the past years, I realize that it’s always like that, no matter who I maimed or killed. Vega’s thugs, Henninger, that asshole in Virginia who trained a shotgun on Ty’s back, those cops I gutted in New Orleans-I don’t even know if they were on somebody’s payroll or not, actually . . . I never hesitated. I thought the situation justified it, so I killed them. And…and I’ve never regretted it. I’ve never managed to work up any remorse over it. I still don’t. Sometimes, I didn’t even try, I had finished that chapter by nightfall. And I can remember a time when it wasn’t that way, when I agonized about every life I took, even if it was a murderer. I can’t pinpoint the moment I lost that, but . . .”
Zane stopped again, realizing he’d started rambling. Speaking that out was harder than he’d imagined. It was weird in itself: His job, his friends and his husband all kind of determined he was ready to pick up a gun and fire it if necessary. He was, and they all respected him for it. Not caring about it was what made him good at it, but it also wasn’t healthy or normal in any way.
“Becky’s death, the time undercover, the drink, all the things I had to do, I thought it broke me. But sometimes I’m afraid it didn’t. I fear that it . . . twisted me. Maybe like what you called bending. Sometimes, I’m afraid I started bending, and it went one twist too far. That I’ve lost something inherent that makes me a normal human.”
His confession was met by utter silence. He couldn’t even hear them breathing. Finally, Ty whispered “Baby,” and placed a hand on his arm gently. Zane dared to turn his head and looked right into Ty’s wide, hazel eyes staring at him in a mix of shock, sympathy and what might have been awe.
“I don’t think you lost your humanity,” Owen silently said. Zane looked at him in surprise. He had heard Johns was good at handling meltdowns, but he still hadn’t expected it from him. “You’ve gotten used to the bloody parts of your jobs. You’ve learned to make your decisions and not doubt them afterwards. That’s useful. Not pretty, but it happens.”
Zane didn’t quite dare to breathe as he looked Owen in the eye, but the man seemed to be honest. “As long as you can still worry about your indifference, I’d say you’re okay.”
Digger clapped him on the back hard, still grinning. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t regret blowing up these CIA guys or Vega’s men, either.”
“Yeah, but you’re certifiable,” Owen muttered, and then he yelped as Digger slapped him upside the head.
“I don’t think any of us regret killing to save the people we love,” Nick added, receiving affirming murmurs. “The rest of it, you’ll have to figure out yourself. You definitely haven’t gone off the deep end, but maybe you have to remind yourself that you have other possibilities than shoot or cut somebody open lest you do. As long as you do it when you’re justified . . .” Nick shrugged and smiled. “As somebody who knows a little something about the matter once told me: Maybe we are monsters, but that doesn’t make us bad.”
Zane tried for a smile and nodded at him. It sounded a lot like what Julian Cross had once told Ty: “If the world didn’t have sharks, we couldn’t have kittens, either.” It hadn’t made much sense to him at first, but by now, he understood exactly what Cross and now Nick were trying to say.
It still didn’t really help, as his problem was that he wasn’t sure anymore if he’d always been justified or had just decided that he was simply because it was the fastest and easiest way out. He still was thankful for the effort, though.
“That explains why he worked with us that easily,” Kelly muttered, helping himself to another beer. “He’s just as crazy as the rest of you gun-nuts!”
The rest of Sidewinder immediately started a chorus of insulted noises and calling Kelly an asshole and a hypocrite. Zane almost laughed, but one person, the only man whose opinion actually mattered to him, had been silent so far.
As if he had read Zane’s thoughts, Ty stepped in front of him, wrapped his arms around Zane’s neck, and kissed him, then he pulled back, just enough to look him in the eye. “I already knew that,” he said.
Zane blinked as his tumbling feelings and thoughts screeched to an abrupt halt, leaving him utterly confounded. “What?”
“When I came to you after you’d shot that treasure hunter, I offered you to talk about it. And then, I could see it in your eyes. That you weren’t regretting it. Call me psychotic, but I thought it was strong. I let them take you and Deuce captive and beat me up, trying to find a way that wouldn’t weigh on my conscience. I knew I’d wonder for days if I’d made the right decision if I had just shot them like we joked about. You could act and stand behind your choice.” He smiled, squeezing his arms tighter. “Sides, you’re hot when you go all hard-ass vigilante.”
Zane was completely stunned. “Thanks, baby,” he choked out, at a lack for anything better to say.
“I’m always good for pretty words,” Ty chuckled. Then he became solemn again, his fingers tangling in the hair at the back of Zane’s neck. “I mean it, darling. I love you. I don’t care. So maybe you are a cold-blooded killer, but you’re my killer. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Zane felt himself choking on tears and laughter at the same time, what was weird enough. Distantly, he could hear the team groan and somebody mutter “Oh god, Tyler, really?” The situation was scary and ridiculous and it warmed him to his core.
“I love you too,” he whispered into Ty’s neck, quiet enough the rest of them couldn’t hear it. The clung to each other for another few heartbeats, then they slowly pulled back, Ty’s lips brushing over Zane’s cheek and lips as he did so, lingering there before Ty fully pulled away.
When Ty was gone, Zane suddenly felt awkward, realizing the rest of Sidewinder was still there, having witnessed the whole thing. He could see Ty was blushing a little, apparently a little embarrassed for having his sappy approach witnessed.
Zane cleared his throat, feeling his own cheeks heating. “Wasn’t there a game you wanted to see?”
He didn’t know if it was the game or if they understood the situation had been kind of overwhelming and let him change the topic, but they actually set in motion, shuffling out of the kitchen, even if they were a little quiet and earnest about it. Ty left with them, gesturing over his shoulder at Zane to follow.
And then, Digger turned towards him, shoving at Ty’s shoulder with a wide, teasing grin. “Well, at least that answers my guy-or-girl question!”
“What, didn’t those tip you off,” Kelly asked, poking at the back of Ty’s upper arm, where a bruise was barely visible under his shirt, a leftover of Zane going a little rough on him.
Ty gaped at them. “You fucking assholes!”
“Oh, the jokes I could make now,” Kelly crowed, dancing out of Ty’s reach as he grabbed at him. He and Digger were both laughing now, and Nick looked hard-pressed not to, but even Zane could see there was nothing malicious behind it. They were merely teasing, probably trying to lighten the mood a little, so all he did was laugh and follow them, wrapping an arm around Ty as he did so. Ty grumbled and narrowed his eyes at his friends, but he nuzzled into Zane’s side anyway.
Zane felt a little light-headed as they walked into the living room. He did feel lighter at finally having spoken out something that had bothered him and have others actually listen and support. On the other hand, he was worried he hadn’t really caught all the nuances of his problem. He’d spoken about killing when under attack, or to save a loved one. He hadn’t spoken about taking out Vega’s informants to rid himself of problems, his feeling merely annoyed at all those murders and his indifference at knowing Nick would torture a captive man.
If Sidewinder was half as perceptive as he suspected, they probably knew the rest anyway.
And before he could speak that out, he’d have to talk about it with Ty. He wasn’t ashamed for their little show and he thought Ty wasn’t, either. Still he didn’t want to force them into laying themselves completely bare in front of anybody if they could handle it alone. Also, all in all it had felt a little too much like sharing a story at the AA meetings and he really didn’t want to mix those two up.
So for tonight, he’d just watch the game with the guys and enjoy being with people who knew he was a recovering alcoholic with trained psychopathic tendencies and still wanted him around.
It was more than enough.