You would not believe the things I miss,
It’s all the little things that fill that list.
– Radical Face, Letters Home
Sam had been joking earlier when he had asked Nate if he was going to faint, but Nate still felt shaky and vaguely like he was either going to collapse of throw up. Seeing his brother again after so many years had rattled him. He was in complete emotional turmoil, his mind entirely unsure how to process that the death of the person who had meant most to him in the entire world had not actually happened.
Instead, Sam had spent a decade and a half in a Central American prison for a crime he technically hadn’t even committed. And Rafe and Nate had gotten away. It was difficult not to allow the survivor’s guilt to cripple him anew. The first few years after Sam’s apparent death, Nate had been nothing short of a mess. He still had no idea how his friends and his now-wife had put up with him at all.
He was randomly throwing clothes into his suitcase, not even thinking too much about it, because the only thing on his mind right now was Sam. Lying to Elena about where he was going to go had come naturally, he hadn’t even thought twice about it. All that mattered was that Sam needed his help and that Nate would do anything to get him out of his debt to Alcazar.
I am not losing you again. I won’t.
He had barely been able to take his eyes off Sam long enough to make it to his car, drive home, and pack his stuff. Sam had laughed at him for it.
“Just go, Nathan, I’m not going to disappear on you,” he’d said, amused, but the words had hit too close to home for Nate’s comfort. It was exactly what he was afraid of. The miracle that Sam was even alive and here was so huge that Nate was sure he’d used up his allowance of luck in the universe all in once and he didn’t want to let go of his brother for even a second, in case anything were to happen when he least expected it.
He was drunk on happiness and sick with fear of losing his brother again. He was glad he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast or it would have been on its way up his esophagus right about now.
“Hey, you in a hurry?” Elena had appeared in the door to their bedroom without Nate noticing. He jumped at her voice.
“Yeah. I mean no.” He threw her a smile. “Just excited. Sorry I gotta leave you.”
She crossed her arms in front of her chest, hip leaning against the wooden door frame. “I told you to go, didn’t I? It’ll be good for you.”
Guilt crept up inside of Nate’s throat, making his voice sound hoarse. “Yeah.” He closed the suitcase and looked around.
Elena asked, “Good to go?” She was smiling and Nate hated that he had to lie to her but he didn’t have time to explain and he didn’t want to make things harder for Sam than they had to be. They didn’t know how much Alcazar knew, whether he was watching them, and there was no way he would drag Elena into that with him. He wanted her here in New Orleans, unworried, and out of harm’s way.
“I love you,” he told her on his way out as if it would make up for betraying her. She kissed him goodbye and he tried not to pull away too early, his stomach clenched tight.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back.” That wasn’t a lie, at least. “Could be a couple of weeks, could be longer than that.”
Elena nodded, her smile dimming slightly. “I know. Just … watch yourself, okay?”
He squeezed her hip before turning away to jog down the driveway, lugging his suitcase behind him.
Sam had speed-booked their tickets and he was waiting for Nate at the airport when Nate got out of the taxi. He had showered, his hair still damp, and dressed in simple jeans and a T-shirt despite the chilly temperatures. Of course, he was smoking a cigarette. Nate hadn’t expected fifteen years in prison to rid him of that habit. If anything, it had probably made it worse.
“Ready to go?” Sam asked him and it struck Nate again that his voice was deeper than he remembered it being. He had first noticed it when he had talked to Sam at the dock. Maybe it was the smoking, maybe he had simply gotten older.
It was strange how he didn’t look that much older. The last time Nate had seen him, they had both still been in their twenties. He realized that last year must have been Sam’s fortieth birthday.
God, they had lost so much time.
He wanted to hug Sam again, hold on to him and not ever let go. Instead, he clapped his brother on the shoulder and nudged him toward the terminals. “Let’s go.”
Flying wasn’t something that had ever bothered Nate but he did get restless on long flights. Six hours in, Sam’s hand came down on his knee and he flinched in surprise. “Settle down. Go to sleep.”
Nate shook his head. He was too wired to even think about sleep. He felt like he had had five cups of coffee and then downed two more energy drinks on top. Sam’s hand on his leg kept him from jiggling it with nervous energy and the warmth of his brother’s palm seeping through the denim of his jeans helped a little with his restlessness. Sam kept it there for the next hour until he got up to pee and Nate instantly missed the contact.
One and half hours later they landed in London und Nate tried to work the crick out of his neck. His stomach was growling after not having eating for an entire day and they grabbed breakfast at a nearby Costa. Their connection flight was delayed by half an hour, so they hung around a while longer, sipping piping hot coffee.
“If we get the cross,” Nate started, “What do you think is in it? A map to the treasure’s location?”
Sam grinned at him over the rim of his paper cup. “Wouldn’t that be nice? Somehow I don’t think it’ll be that easy.”
They fell silent until they had finished their coffees. Nate tapped the back of Sam’s hand. “So how much time you got left?”
Sam chewed his lips, an uncharacteristically shy action. Although, after fifteen years, Nate had to admit that he might not know what was characteristic of his brother anymore.
“‘bout ten weeks. Took me a moment to get my bearings and find you.”
Nate nodded. “That’s not too bad, we can do ten weeks.”
Sam looked up at him with a half-smile. It didn’t reach his eyes. “Nathan, we don’t even know if there is a treasure. We could be on a wild goose chase for all we know. I didn’t–” He scowls down at his hands, lips curling sardonically, “I was an idiot to talk about it at all. I just–I guess I didn’t think I’d ever get outta there, is all. It was just a fantasy, something to keep me occupied.”
Nate couldn’t say anything, his chest feeling too tight to speak. He only realized his hand had still been lying on top of Sam’s when Sam pulled away and stood up.
“Let’s catch our plane, come on.”
The last stretch to Italy took less than three hours and Nate slept for almost all of the way. He woke once when the stewardess came by with inquiries about coffee, and then for a second time when the pilot announced the landing descent. In his sleep, Nate had dropped against his older brother’s side like a magnet, his body’s natural reaction to Sam’s presence even after all this time. He rolled his cheek against Sam’s shoulder, trying to shake himself into wakefulness.
“Hey there, Sleeping Beauty.”
Nate dug his elbow into his brother’s side, earning a soft grunt. “Shut up.”
He noticed Sam subtly flexing his fingers after Nate had sat back upright, so his arm had probably fallen asleep with Nate leaning against him. Nate couldn’t feel bad about it, after all Sam could have woken him. The fact that he hadn’t despite his own discomfort made something warm bloom inside of Nate.
They were both stiff and a little cranky by the time they had claimed their luggage. Twelve plus hours cramped in economy class were no joke and Nate didn’t care if he looked weird stretching in the middle of the airport terminal.
They hauled a taxi to drive them to the hotel they had booked for the next two nights. It wasn’t the Hilton or anything but Nate didn’t mind simple accommodation. Preferred it actually. It meant more privacy and fewer questions asked. To save money, they had only rented one room – another thing that Nate didn’t mind.
He and his brother had always shared on their explorations. It was cheaper and it made it easier to throw ideas around and plan their next steps if they were in the same room. They had both been sound sleepers, not bothered by noise thanks to growing up in an orphanage, crowded into one room with ten older boys.
In a way, having one room for the two of them was already a luxury. Maybe that was why he had moved in with Elena so quickly, entirely unused to sleeping alone. He had found it too quiet, too strange not to be able to hear other people’s breathing, giving him a sense of security.
Now, the two of them gathered at the small, round table to lay out their plans for the evening. Sully had left a pair of monkey suits for the party and a set of worker overalls for them for the climb in. The Rossi Estate would be carefully patrolled and they wouldn’t get in without an invitation. Inside, Sully would be waiting for them. After that, they would probably have to wing it since they didn’t really know what to expect. They would have to find a way into storage and who knows what the security system was like. Sully had e-mailed them blueprints of the place but there was always a chance that, for an exclusive auction like this, enhanced security measures were in place. People tended to be on higher alert and they would have to be more careful.
It wasn’t anything they hadn’t managed to pull off before.
Nate had to admit that his brother looked exceptionally good in a tux. They had had to play dress-up for jobs before but back then, both of them had been scrawnier and if not anything else, prison had definitely had a positive effect on Sam’s physique. Nate had always liked exercising to stay in shape but his brother was all muscle now, his broad shoulders filling out the tuxedo almost obscenely.
“Come here for a minute,” he said when he caught Nate staring at him. Quickly, Nate shook himself out of his trance and shrugged into the jacket.
“Help me with this, will ya?” Sam held out his arms, biceps bulging under the crisp-white fabric, motioning for Nate to insert the cufflinks for him. Nate pinched the stiff fabric between his fingers, turning the cufflinks over in his hand. They weren’t anything fancy, simple silver and black, and Nate had completely missed them on the table.
Sam shook out his arms after Nate had finished, adjusting the collar of the shirt. “I hate these things. So restricting.”
Nate had to grin at this brother’s uncomfortable grimace. “The sooner we’re in and outta there, the sooner you can take it off.”
He hadn’t meant for it to sound suggestive, and to Sam it probably hadn’t, but Nate still winced slightly. With the way he had been staring at his brother before, he couldn’t keep his brain from making the non-PG connection.
“Anyway,” he turned around, “We got everything?”
Sam laughed, a low and warm sound that made Nate turn back around. “Not so fast, little brother.” He looped the strip of the bowtie around Nate’s neck, playfully tugging him closer. Nate stumbled a little, surprised, and reflexively steadied himself on Sam’s shoulders.
“Warn a guy,” he says, voice too hoarse. Sam scoffed and pulled tie tight against Nate’s Adam’s apple. His fingers brushed Nate’s chin as he worked and Nate tilted his head back to escape the contact. His hands were slightly shaky and he didn’t even know why.
Sam’s presence was still too foreign to him, still too unreal and so fragile, as if he could vanish into thin air at any moment. Nate was still afraid that he wouldn’t be allowed to keep him.
“All right,” Sam patted him on the chest, “Lookin’ good. Let’s go.”
They quickly hopped into their overalls and hoofed it to a lookout by the Rossi Estate. The climb in went off without a hitch and it was exhilarating to be doing this again, together with his brother. Nate had always had a love for dangerous situations, nurtured by Sam after setting the initial example. They had always worked well together, silent communication, sensing the other’s position without looking, and it had made them nearly infallible as a team.
Until that day in Panama, where they had been surprised by Rafe’s diversion from the original plan and the sheer number of armed guards that had come after them. The memory was a little too hazy now to recall correctly because it had been too devastating to think about, and now it was crumpled, unavailable to Nate, who had spent the last two days trying to figure out what he had missed. How could he not have known that his brother was still alive?
Fresh grief for all the time they had been robbed of, Nate sank to the cushioned chaise in the room in which Sully had been waiting for them. Sam, who had walked ahead of him, stopped, turned. “Everything okay? You didn’t hurt yourself climbing, did you?”
Nate shook his head. “Nah, just glad we made it.” He meant it in every sense of the words and Sam returned his small smile.
“Boys,” Sully interrupted, “There’s time for you to flirt later, we gotta get a move on.”
Sam guffawed a laugh while heat shot into Nate’s face. He pressed into the shadow by the door on their way out, hoping it would hide his blush.
Of course, their stint didn’t go over without complications but all three of them were masters at improvisation by now and they managed to scrape by just so. Hurtling out of the driveway in a stolen limousine, Nate thought about Rafe and what it had felt like to hear his name again, to know he had been here, too, so close to Sam and Sully, and even closer to thwarting their little operation. He was the one who should have rotted in prison for fifteen years, not Sam.
Only, that wasn’t exactly fair. None of them would have deserved to land in prison back then, or maybe all of them would have deserved it, Nate didn’t know. What he did know was that he was furious, angry beyond measure that Sam had been dealt the bad hand instead of Rafe, who had grown up to be even more of an asshole than he had been fifteen years ago.
Sam grabbed his elbow, shouting “We did it!” over the roar of the engine and the howl of the wind. He was dangling Saint Dismas in front of Nate’s eyes but all Nate could see was the white-toothed grin nearly splitting his brother’s face in two.