“Hey, Six,” Digger blurted.
Kelly looked up and couldn't help but grin, even though it hurt. Ty looked battered as hell, worse than he'd ever looked at the end of a mission when they were still in the service; he was leaning heavily on Owen's arm, a drip stand between them, and his other arm was in a sling. The hospital attire wasn't doing him any favors, but he was upright and alive and that was worth a hell of a lot.
Ty cast a quick glance at Owen, who said in a tired-sounding voice, “He says he's not our Six anymore.”
Kelly wanted to hug him, but guessed neither of them would appreciate that much. He might have been caught on the tail end of a hell of an explosion and had to be dug out of the rubble of a building—again—but Ty had jumped out a window and into a swimming pool in the wake of said explosions, and he was very clearly not being discharged.
“How's Zane?” he asked, because there was no way in hell Ty didn't know. It might have been a coincidence that he and Digger had been assigned to the same room, but Ty and Zane were fucking married. Even if the staff had done something stupid like separate them, Ty would have been perfectly within his rights to ask.
Ty swallowed hard, and Kelly suddenly felt a twist in his stomach. No. Fuck, no. Ty and Zane had earned their happy-ever-after, goddammit, there was no way in hell it had ended like that.
“Sit,” he said, hearing the shift into corpsman mode in his voice as he indicated the chairs in the hallway. Ty shouldn't be standing anyway.
Ty sat, slowly, his knees shaking the whole way down. Owen followed him, so Digger and Kelly sat, too. Kelly was reaching for Ty's free hand to comfort him, to reassure him that however bad it looked, it would be okay, Zane would be okay, he wouldn't have to go back to Baltimore alone, when Ty said, “Zane's going to be fine. He's awake, he's...he'll be fine. We talked. He knows...what happened.”
Kelly exhaled. “Thank fuck, dude. The way you were acting, I thought you were gonna tell me he didn't make it.” He glanced from Owen to Ty and back. “I don't suppose either one of you knows where they're keeping Nick in this place? We were going to ask at the front desk, but hey, you're here.”
Owen's lips pressed tightly together. Ty swallowed again. “Doc, Nick...they're not keeping him here at all. He's...they sent him back to Boston already.”
Kelly stared at Ty. “What? No, no, that's not Nick. He wouldn't leave without saying goodbye to us. He wouldn't just go back to Boston. And, hell, there's no way he was in good enough shape to be discharged already.”
“Oh, hell, no,” Digger whispered from behind Kelly. Kelly glanced over his shoulder to see that Digger's eyes were wide with horror.
“What?” Kelly frowned at him, then turned back to Ty. “Grady, what the fuck is going on? Why is Nick back in Boston?”
“His—” Ty's throat jumped as he swallowed. “His father...claimed him. Had him sent back there.” His fingers trembling, he reached out and gripped Kelly's hand lightly, not because he didn't want to hold it harder, Kelly could tell, just because that was as hard as he could manage. “Kelly...he didn't make it. He's gone.”
Nick didn't have a will, and even though he'd put Kelly in charge of his affairs once upon a time, his parents had stepped in the moment they'd been notified he was dead. Since he'd died intestate, all his possessions belonged to his parents, and they sure as hell weren't going to let Kelly have them.
Fuck them. Kelly didn't want to be Nick's sole heir, like they clearly thought he did. He didn't want to be Nick's heir at all. He'd wanted to live a thousand years with him and die side by side in the same bed on the same day. He'd wanted forever with Nick, not forever with the memories.
So the last thing Kelly ever expected was the Fed-Ex guy on his front porch with a box postmarked Boston.
Kelly signed for it automatically. He thought he might have said something to the delivery guy, but all he could hear was a buzzing in his head. He lugged the box inside and set it on his coffee table and stared at it, hard.
It had been a few weeks since Miami. Since they'd crawled out of the rubble of the Cartel's headquarters and been carried to the hospital. Kelly didn't know where the others were, if Ty or Zane had been discharged yet, if Owen and Digger had gone home, what was going on with the FBI agents who'd risked their lives and careers alongside them. He didn't care. He'd shut down as soon as Ty had whispered those words.
He'd been distantly aware of Digger sobbing, of Ty apologizing over and over, of Owen anxiously asking if he needed a nurse, but he'd just gone blank. Completely shut down, refused to acknowledge anything that was going on. He'd pulled free of Ty's fingers and brushed off Digger's hand and walked out of the hospital without a backwards glance. He'd gotten a taxi and gone to the airport and flown straight to Boston and placed a single phone call before he'd even fully gotten out of the gate.
And when he'd seen Alan Hagan's face when he pulled up in front of the airport, he'd known it wasn't another one of Ty's lies.
He'd gone to the funeral, distantly surprised he hadn't missed it. He'd stood a little apart from Hagan and the others, feeling separate. He remembered Nick's sisters singing “The Parting Glass,” a beautiful old Irish song, in four-part harmony. He remembered Kat breaking down and her oldest son, the one who'd come to the hospital a year before when Nick had donated part of his liver to the ungrateful bastard who called himself his father, stepping up and joining in in an uncertain boyish treble to sing farewell to the man who'd sacrificed so much for them all.
He'd stayed behind when the rest of the mourners left, staring at the mound of dirt covering the man he'd thought he would spend the rest of his life with, and he had felt nothing.
A black limousine had pulled up and a door had opened and a hand had beckoned, and Kelly had stepped in mechanically. He'd probably talked to whoever was in the car, flat, monotone answers to questions posed, but he couldn't bring the face to mind, let alone the voice. He had no recollection of where the car had taken him, what had happened afterwards. Anything could have happened, but he didn't remember and didn't really care. He was a blank slate from the minute he'd gotten into the car to the minute he'd walked in the front door of his cabin.
Ever since then, he'd been on autopilot.
He ate. What, he couldn't have said, but he ate, because he had to in order to live, and for some reason he had to keep doing that. He might have slept, but he also might have just gone into a trance state for a few hours at a time. He ignored his phone. He didn't open his laptop. His world shrank to his kitchen, his recliner, and the bathroom. He couldn't venture out of that circuit. There were traps waiting outside the circuit—memories impressed in odd corners, marks made by illicit encounters, things left behind. Nick was everywhere in the cabin, if Kelly let him be, and Kelly couldn't risk letting him be there because then he'd have to acknowledge that he wasn't there, that he never would be again, and that Kelly hadn't said goodbye because he hadn't known there was a goodbye to be said.
And then the chiming of the bell indicating someone was coming up his drive had jerked him out of his trance. The only trouble was, it had jerked him in the wrong direction. He hadn't had visitors in ages, and the last one he'd had had been a government SUV with two Marines and one set of orders. He hesitated to call it a flashback, except it kind of was, because for a minute, he'd pressed a hand to his chest, feeling the phantom pain of the bullet that had torn though his chest two years ago, and he'd prepared to get off his ass and scream that they weren't taking Nick away from him again, that they couldn't send him back alone, that if Nick had to go back over there Kelly was damn well going to tuck himself into Nick's seabag and go with him.
Then he'd remembered, and he'd had a whole different kind of pain.
Now he sat in his living room, staring at the box. Reality was starting to reassert itself, and that sucked, to put it mildly. It had been a hell of a lot easier when he'd stayed in his fog where pain couldn't touch him and he could forget Nick was dead. Admittedly, he had forgotten just about everything else, too, but at least the pain of losing Nick was deadened.
He could ignore the box. He could hide it in the closet, go back to his pattern. Out of sight, out of mind.
Except, his brain scoffed at him, Nick's jacket is still in the closet. And so is that back-scratcher he made, the morning after you first got him to kiss you. You open that closet, and it's just as bad as opening anything else. Like this fucking box.
Kelly stared at the box. It was innocuous, and fairly heavy. He hadn't been able to guess at what might be inside it. The likelihood that it was anything of Nick's was slim to none. Unless Hagan had cleaned out Nick's desk and decided to send those personal items along to Kelly.
Well, since he'd never developed fucking X-ray vision, he was going to have to open the damned thing.
Taking a deep breath, Kelly worked his fingers under the tape sealing the box shut. It would've been easier to use a knife, but there were too many memories attached to the knife, and he could only take so much at a time. It took him way longer than necessary, but finally he'd stripped off the packing tape and laid open the box.
There was...a lot of stuff. It wasn't exactly crammed in haphazardly—in fact, it was tucked in very neatly—but it was stuffed to the brim, and Kelly couldn't tell what any of it was, except that there was a smaller, battered cardboard storage box in the center. On top of it was an envelope with his name written in neat, precise handwriting.
It wasn't Nick's handwriting, but Kelly pulled it out and opened it anyway. Inside was a letter written on folded sheets of paper torn off a yellow legal tablet. He held the letter close to his face—he didn't feel up to going upstairs for his glasses—and began to read.
I hope your address is still right—I found it in one of Nick's address books. If not, hopefully someone knows where to forward this to.
I'm so sorry. Our parents had no right to do what they did. You and the rest of your team meant so much more to Nick than any of us did. Don't try to argue with me, it's true. As much as he loved the other girls and me, it wasn't anything near what he felt about your team. After all, we weren't the ones on his desk at work. And I know you meant more to him than anything. I know how he felt about you, what you two meant to each other. If anyone had the right to his things, you did. I was sure Nick would have written a will, at some point, but I haven't been able to find any indication that he did. Or if he did, it was never filed properly.
Our father isn't expected to last much longer. At least Nick didn't have to face down all the inevitably condescending people telling him he did his best, gave him an extra year, whatever. But he's too sick to really argue with us, and our mother is busy dealing with all of that. (I won't tell you what she had to say about Nick, because it makes me too angry to even think about.) They gave Erin and me permission to go through the Fiddler and take some things we might want, although they did give us a list of the sorts of things we weren't allowed to take.
We did take a couple of things for ourselves, and I kept back a few things for Patrick. But what's in the box are things I—we—thought you and the rest of Nick's recon buddies might want. His pictures, the things he kept from when he was in the service, a few personal items. Erin packed some things in here that she thinks are yours—they're a little small for Nick, anyway. There was also a box we found tucked in a secret panel. It's labeled with someone's name, not Nick's, but I think I remember it being one of your team members. I don't know why Nick had it, but maybe you can figure it out.
Let us know the next time you're in Boston, or at least on the East Coast. You'll always be welcome, at both Erin's house and mine. After all, if you weren't our brother yet, we all knew Nick intended to make you be.
Kelly stared at the last line of the letter for a long moment. His eyes were perfectly dry, but there was a suspicious lump in his throat that wouldn't go away. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he set the letter aside and reached into the box.
He had to pull the pictures out first. They were tightly packed around the box in the center, and he never would have been able to extract it if he hadn't, not without risking the glass breaking. Fleetingly, he thought of the devastation at Ty's row house after Nick's fight with Tanner's men, then pushed the thought out of his mind. He had to stay in the present or he wouldn't be able to get through this. To that end, he laid the pictures face-down on the coffee table without looking at them. He would. Eventually. Maybe. But right now, he just couldn't.
Underneath were, as Kat had said, some of Kelly's shirts that he'd left on the Fiddler. The way they were bundled, they were probably wrapped around things, knickknacks and tchotchkes and gewgaws and whatever else they'd found. Kelly ignored them. He could get the box out now, see what it was and why it was in there.
Then he saw the name printed on the top, and he gasped like he'd been punched in the stomach as all the emotions he'd tried to keep out came flooding in at once.
SSGT ELIAS SANCHEZ.