It takes Adam less than ten seconds to say yes when Carson calls him about the job – an art heist in New York that shouldn’t take more than three or four days all in – partly because it’s only a couple of hours away but mostly because there’s been an itch in his fingers for the last two months that small-time cons just haven’t been able to fix.
L.A. feels cloying and overheated, the crowds of people making his skin buzz with nervous energy, and it’ll be good to get away for a bit. He may just not come back afterwards – take off to Singapore or Germany or Russia for a while and let the month-by-month lease on his apartment run out like he did with the last handful of places. He’s fussy about where he lives but he’s also got more than enough to shell out on another high-end apartment somewhere anonymous, and all his belongings that actually mean something are safe in an assortment of different storage facilities around the world, paid for through a maze of shell accounts that only the best hacker could trace back to him.
Carson doesn’t meet him off the plane, texts the address of a small café three blocks over to the burn phone he’d shipped Adam the day after they last spoke, and Adam doesn’t bother with a cab, taking the opportunity to stretch his legs.
There’s already a mug of coffee the size of his head waiting when he sits down, and he takes a moment to tell Carson how much he fucking loves him.
“So,” he says eventually, “how’s this shit going down, man?”
Carson grins, friendly and professional, and Adam’s reminded why he’s the only guy he trusts to do this – to put together a team and a plan that’s not likely to go to hell within an hour because of too many egos and not enough shutting the fuck up. To be fair, he’s normally responsible for at least sixty percent of that in any given room, but he never said he wasn’t a dick sometimes. Most of the time. Whatever.
“Shakira’s already in play, she’ll be our eyes inside, and I’ve got Usher studying blueprints and security,” Carson says, and Adam nods, pleased. Shakira and Usher are both constant professionals, and more than that, Adam fucking adores them, which he makes sure to tell them every time they go out and get blind drunk post-job.
“So are you taking point?” Adam asks, and Carson looks away. Adam’s own eyes narrow suspiciously. “Carson?”
“No,” Carson says, “no, I’ll be at HQ keeping an eye on things. I’ve got a grifter.” He says it slowly, like Adam’s going to run scared, and that can only mean one thing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me?” he says, voice coming out in a hiss as he tries to keep quiet. “Shelton!? Really?”
Carson sighs and gives Adam a look that tells him he thinks he’s acting like a child. “Blake’s the best,” he says, before Adam can start ranting. “You know he is. Besides, Usher and Shakira both like him, I like him, and you know perfectly well that the two of you make a fantastic team when you stop bickering long enough to do your jobs.”
Adam feels chastised which is totally unfair; Blake Shelton is six foot five of full on country brawn with a laugh loud enough to cross state lines and the tendency to drink three shots of vodka before breakfast. He still lives in Oklahoma despite the fact that everyone in his town knows his name, will get up with his guitar at any and all open mike nights that won’t object too loudly to him singing songs about guys called Bubba, and considers denim and cowboy boots the height of appropriate fashion.
All of these things should make him nothing less than the worst conman in the history of ever, but the fact that he’s not is probably why Adam hates him so much.
Or, should hate him. Whatever. The guy’s a bigger dick than he is.
“Fine,” he says, glaring at Carson once more for the hell of it. “Okay. I brought my own gear, obviously. Just take me to headquarters, and, you know, keep Shelton away from me until I’m awake and less likely to kill him.”
Carson pats his shoulder as they stand up and is nice enough not to laugh in his face.
When he comes back out he’s met with an armful of Shakira, her smile pressed into his neck, and he grins back and deliberately doesn’t look over at Usher who’s pretending not to watch them from the other side of the room. Adam’s a jerk, but he’s not that much of a jerk, and besides, Shakira is far too good for him.
Which was actually the first thing she ever said to him, come to think of it.
“So,” she says, smirking. “Paris?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Adam says, and then ruins any attempt at a straight face by winking. Okay, so modesty isn’t high up on his list of traits either.
“I knew it!” she laughs. “As soon as I heard, I knew it was you. We were in Amsterdam, you should have called us!”
Usher snorts, attention back on his work, and Shakira moves to sprawl out on the couch next to him. Adam resists the urge to join her, but Usher has punched him once before and that’s plenty enough; they’re cool now but man does the guy have a fierce right hook. He takes the chair by the window instead.
“Blake’s on his way up,” Carson says, checking his phone, and Adam pretends the surge in his stomach is from twenty-four hours of nothing but coffee and not…anything else. “Play nice.”
“Always,” Adam says, fluttering his eyelashes obnoxiously, and Carson rolls his eyes. Adam likes to think it’s a sign of affection.
He spends the next few minutes sitting on his hands and ignoring the looks Shakira and Usher keep shooting him, which, yeah, he should probably stop getting drunk with them. Drunk him tends to say things that should really never be talked about ever, ever, ever, and it’s all well and good him pretending not to remember anything the next day, but that doesn’t really fly when they’re both freakishly good at holding their liquor.
He’s about to snap when there’s a knock and Carson opens the door to a booming laugh and the fucking limbs of a Sasquatch taking up most of the small hallway. Adam lets himself stare at Blake’s arms for a couple of seconds before shaking it off and putting on his best bitch face.
“Shelton,” he says, eyes narrowed, and he’s about to follow it up with something scathing – Carson be damned – but then Blake’s pulling him out of his chair and hugging him hard enough to break bones. Adam’s feet aren’t even touching the floor anymore, what the hell, and it’s possible that he’s started making embarrassing noises of protest that he only means in the sense that it’s getting a little hard to breathe and not because he minds being manhandled.
Because he doesn’t – mind, that is – which is pretty much the problem.
“For fucksake,” he manages eventually, and he doesn’t need to look at the others to know that they’re all laughing at him. “Put me down.”
“Sure,” Blake says, easily, and then: “Were you always this small or did you shrink?” and “I knew squeezing through all those air ducts would end badly.”
It’s possibly that Adam’s able to appreciate being manhandled and hate him at the same time, actually.
“That’s why I needed all four of you,” Carson says, giving Adam a significant look that is totally unnecessary. “Milian’s already agreed to be the fence, so now it’s up to you guys.”
Shakira fills them in on the lay of the land with Usher butting in now and then to show them something on the projection screen, and Adam is completely focused, his brain analysing each new bit of information as his fingers draw out entrance and exit routes on his knee. He’s vaguely aware of Blake fixing himself another drink at the wet bar, but even that is pushed aside for the moment; if nothing else, Adam is a consummate professional, which is really the only reason Carson ever put up with his shit when they first started working together.
“What’s my in?” Blake asks after they’re done, and Shakira passes him an envelope.
“Party,” she says. “I was able to secure an invite for Mr. Gregory Howl, entrepreneur and property tycoon. Kept it simple; family business, ranch in Tennessee, and investments all over the country.”
“I’ve already set up an online paper trail, just in case,” Usher says, opening a new tab. “Mr. Howl now has three ex-wives, a few old law suits filed against him that never came to anything, and an eclectic interest in art that betrays how little he knows about it. It’ll be a conversation starter, just let them think you’re a newb.”
“So, can’t tell the Impressionists from the Pre-Raphaelites, then?” Blake says, grinning, and Adam tries not to laugh, remembering the Prague job and the woman who’d lectured Blake for three hours on Millais’ Ophelia after Blake had blinked and pronounced it ‘Milly’ just to make her flush. It had been the perfect distraction for Adam who’d been clinging to the ceiling panels for twenty minutes already.
“Don’t oversell it though,” Carson says. “You don’t have to pretend to think you’re an expert, just that you’re rich enough to be able to afford it. It’ll just make you another one of the guests, rather than someone that particularly stands out.”
“As party planner, I have full access to the majority of the estate,” Shakira says, “so I’ll be able to put Adam’s gear in place.”
“And I’ve mapped out the security blind spots,” Usher adds, “it’s a small window of opportunity, though.”
“No worries,” Adam says, taking the file when he passes it over. “I work fast.”
Blake snorts and Adam firmly ignores him.
Adam doesn’t actually remember much – just flashes of skin and stubble and big hands – but he definitely remembers waking up the next morning with a pounding headache and Blake’s arm flung heavily over his chest. He’d been very much naked, but he hadn’t checked to see if Blake was; that would have provided a pretty solid answer, and if he didn’t have positive proof then he could just pretend that he’d overheated in the night and stripped off the way he sometimes did.
Denial has always been his friend.
So, yes, it’s possible. Probable, even.
Adam doesn’t know what to do with that, though, so he mostly pushes it to the back of his mind and only lets it stray forward when Blake’s in his direct vicinity.
And then it’s only because he can’t stop staring at Blake’s hands.
Shakira gives Blake directions to the vault and Adam listens to him try and shake the lady chatting him up, biting back a grin and getting ready to move.
“Okay,” Blake says eventually. “This guard’s just started his rounds. Now, Adam.”
It’s like a switch. Suddenly his brain is nothing but distance and time as he crosses the grounds and grabs his gear from where Shakira’s hidden it in a planter. It’s not hard to get up the side of the building, but he’s constantly aware of the pan of security cameras and how long it will be before the guards out here take a break from the Yankees game to do their job, and it pushes him to move faster, be better, and this is why he does this.
Blake nods at him once he’s inside, moving to keep look-out, and Adam’s up against the vault door, plugging his tablet into the keypad so Usher can take control, and then he’s in, dancing out the way of the sensors and across the room until his fingers are on the safe, ear pressed to it as he listens, feels it come to life beneath his hands as he turns the dial slowly--
He’s in and out in less than three minutes; Blake’s eyes flash as he smiles at him, and seriously, Adam does not have time to think about that right now, not whilst he’s carrying a piece of history and getting ready to abseil four stories without detection, but fuck if the adrenaline doesn’t make him horny.
He’s half-tempted to say something, just an innuendo to throw Blake off his game a little, enough that maybe, maybe, the rush will still be there when they’re back at HQ, job well done, and after, at the bar they’ll inevitable fall into, enough to convince Blake to stay in town one more night, alcohol enough of a denial to make it easy.
Blake cocks his eyebrow as Adam opens his mouth.
And, of course, that’s when the alarms go off.
That leaves Adam and Blake, and Adam knows that Blake probably has just enough time to slip back into the crowd, pretend like he never left the party, but instead he grabs Adam’s arm and pulls him down the corridor and into a room at the back of the house. Adam can hear the guards taking the stairs two at a time, listens as they enter the vault to find the safe empty and the mark’s voice demanding answers far too close for comfort.
Blake’s pressing the wood panels on the wall, eyes narrowed in focus, and Adam’s about to just jump out the fucking window and take his chances when the wall gives way and Blake lets out of a small noise of triumph.
“Come on,” he says, ducking down low to fit through, and Adam follows, the hidden panel sliding shut behind him. The passage would be too small for a normal sized person, so it makes Blake look even bigger in comparison, and Adam would laugh if it were any other circumstance. He’s not sure how thin the walls are so he doesn’t say anything until they’re down the tiny flight of stairs that he suspects to collapse under Blake’s weight, and even then he takes Blake’s cue.
“Okay,” Blake says, “if we keep following this it should take us out somewhere on the grounds. Fingers crossed it’s not right by the guards station.”
“This wasn’t on the blueprints,” Adam says, stupidly. “I mean, I didn’t know this was here, and Usher didn’t say anything--”
Blake turns his head to grin at him, and Adam doesn’t notice the way it makes his dinner jacket pull over the muscles in his shoulder. At all.
“This place was built in the prohibition days,” Blake says, looking smug. “House like this? Bound to have been a place of dodgy dealings and drunken deeds, and these things come standard.”
“Of course it’s because of the booze,” Adam says, shaking his head. “Of course it is. Do you actually have blood anymore, or is it just whiskey?”
“Just because some of us are lightweights--” Blake says. “And by ‘some of us’ I obviously mean you.”
“Been there, done that,” Blake says, and Adam freezes, feeling the blood rushing to his face. Blake blinks. “Are you having a heart attack?” he asks. “Now’s probably a really crappy time to die.”
“I hate you,” Adam says, voice coming out as little more than a squeak, and Blake laughs.
“Sure,” he says, looking unconcerned. “Okay.”
Adam’s pretty sure he’s screwed.
“I figured no one was going to notice a missing Honda in all the drama,” she says, shrugging, and Adam has to admit she’s right, though he doubts it belongs to any of the guests; he takes a moment to feel guilty for whichever member of staff is going to be hitching home tonight.
“Dump the car downtown and get the subway,” Carson tells them. “See you soon.”
Adam finds a backpack in the boot and dumps its contents, shrugging off his shirt to line the bag before sliding the painting carefully inside. It’s only when he sits back up that he notices Blake watching him in the rear-view mirror.
He’s never been a self-conscious guy but he’s suddenly super mindful of the fact that he’s only in a vest, his tattoos on full display, and if it were anyone else he’d be raising an eyebrow, waiting until they flushed and then giving them the smile that made it clear the night would end in far less clothing than this. As it is, he can only stare back, and he’s sure he must look like a deer caught in the headlights, but Blake refuses to look away.
“Seriously guys,” Shakira says, sounding amused. “You could cut the sexual tension with a knife.”
Adam remembers they’re still on comms when Usher snorts.
“Don’t encourage them,” he says, and Shakira laughs.
“I’m the one stuck in a car with them,” she says. “If they jump each other now I’m the one that’s going to have to watch. Actually--”
“Stop. No. I don’t need any of those images, thanks.”
Adam shakes himself out of it enough to say, “Don’t pretend you’re not a kinky motherfucker, dude. I’ve seen your browser history.”
“That’s mine, actually,” Shakira says, and Blake roars.
“Jeez,” Usher says. “Just. Get back safely, folks. I’m going to scrub my brain clean.”
Shakira has just enough time to say “You love it” before there’s radio silence.
Normally now would be the time they went out for drinks, but the heat means that none of them want to risk it, even in a city this size. Usher’s booked them a rental car through three different aliases because they don’t want to risk the stations or the airports and they’re heading down to California.
They share hugs around, say “until next time” rather than goodbye the way they always do even though none of them are particularly suspicious, and Adam wonders how many people have unconventional friendships like this.
And then it’s just him and Blake and a hotel room, and, yeah, he hadn’t thought this one through.
“So,” he says, looking at a spot an inch from Blake’s ear.
“So,” Blake echoes, and Adam really doesn’t think it’s fair that he always gets to sound so amused. “Planning to run away again?”
“What--?” Adam splutters. “I did not run away.”
“Right,” Blake says. “No, you really did.”
“We were drunk,” Adam says, crossing his arms over his chest and trying not to feel like a petulant child.
“Well, yeah,” Blake says. “But if you hadn’t run away we could have made up for that with breakfast and morning sex. Jeez, you’re an idiot.”
“No, you are,” Adam says, ignoring the way his chest tightens and his toes curl a little in his shoes. “Fine. Whatever. Get naked then.”
Blake grins, and Adam wonders if there’s ever a time when he’s not on the verge of laughter.
“Such a romantic,” Blake says. “You could at least buy me room service first.”
Adam rolls his eyes and calls reception.
“You’re still a countrified Sasquatch with bad life choices,” Adam says, glaring slightly at the opposite wall even as he melts against Blake.
He feels rather than hears Blake’s answering laugh against the back of his neck.
“And you’re still a pissy little bastard,” Blake says. “Want to come to Italy with me?”
Adam blinks and then shrugs.
“Sure,” he says.