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A Week's End

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It takes some convincing, Sam can’t deny that, and in the end it’s his little brother’s wife that sways his initial decision.

“I couldn’t—ah.” He scratches the back of his head while he scuffs the toe of his boot against the dock. “I don’t wanna impose on you lovebirds.”

Elena whaps him on the shoulder (the injured one, Jesus). She hits harder than expected, so he’s left rubbing the ache out with gentle fingers, staring at her a little, yeah, a little hurt. Eyebrows up, in pursuit of his receding hairline.

“You’re family,” she says, worrying her bottom lip. A pause, teeth freeing sensitive flesh. “And, hey. You think I’m done listening to those embarrassing stories about Nate? Nuh uh. Not a chance.”

Hey,” Nathan says, eyes cast up to the sky, a groan rumbling its way out of his chest.

Sam can’t help the grin, the instinctive search through various pockets for his pack of cigarettes. He pulls one out, slides the filtered tip into the side of his mouth.

“Well, as tempting as that might be … ” The cigarette waves up and down while he talks. He’s quick to notice Nathan’s balled up fist, not quick enough to dodge the light tap on his arm. Sam sidesteps after the gentle touch grazes his shirt sleeve. Little bubbles of laughter slip out. “I’ve got, y’know. Other things. Lotta catchin’ up to do.” Fingertips fish inside another pocket, make contact with cold metal.

He dips his head, cups his hand around the lighter so the flame doesn’t snuff out before he can light his cigarette. Long draw in. He blows smoke out the other side of his mouth, so it doesn’t get in anyone’s face.

He’s already talked to Nathan about this. It’s not time for him to settle down—not with thirteen years of prison putting his life on hold.

Sam’s pretty confident he’ll get away with it (not that he’s getting away with anything, he’s just trying to live his life), but Elena steps into his line of vision and she’s … well. She’s pretty damn tough to say ‘no’ to. Not when she carries herself like the whole world’s wrong if it disagrees with her.

“Come on, Sam. Just a couple weeks?” She’s persistent, he’ll give her that.

It sounds like a request. Sam’s about ninety percent sure he’s not allowed to turn her down, but at least it sounds like he can. Plus, those sweet wide eyes are staring up at him, all kicked-puppy-like. He definitely, definitely knows it’s a ploy, but that doesn’t stop the way his gut clenches at the thought of disappointing her.

He turns to Nathan, pointedly, looking for some backup, but the smarmy little bastard only holds his hands out, palms forward, and takes a step back.

“Hey,” Nathan says, “I’m on her side here. As much as I want you to get a chance to do your own thing, I could stand having you around.”

“You could stand it, huh?” Sam takes another drag on his cigarette, blows out smoke through his smile.

“Don’t get cocky, didn’t say for long.” And Nathan’s got his hand around Sam’s bicep, suddenly, giving it a squeeze. Playful warning, reassurance, all swaddled up together.

Sam’s got another excuse on the tip of his tongue. He pulls the cigarette out of his mouth, holds it between his middle and index fingers.

“Give us a week, at least,” Elena says. Her fingers circle his wrist and tug hard. “We’re not taking ‘no’ for an answer, alright?”

He stumbles in her direction, throws a look at his little brother.

Nathan grins, follows behind them to the taxi.

*****

The first night home is awkward.

The flight’s long. Way way way too long. Sam’s antsy and purposefully annoying the entire time. There are a lot of stops, layovers, and in the final stretch, Sam occupies the middle seat of a three-person row just so he can sling his arms around the pushy couple and regale them with Panamanian prison culture until they’re grossed out and pleading for him to stop.

Touchdown in New Orleans.

They stop at a convenience store on the way home, to buy an air mattress. Sam tries to convince them it’s unnecessary, he can just sleep on the couch, really guys, but they’re having none of it.

He’s too exhausted to pay much attention to his surroundings by the time they get home. While they’re setting up the mattress in a guest-room-turned-office, he attempts one more shaky attempt to convince them to let him crash on the sofa (no, no, I don’t wanna—listen, I don’t wanna be, like. A bother. And we’re all runnin’ on fumes here. Give me two minutes alone and I’ll pass out on your living room floor, honest).

They ignore him, attach an air pump, plug it into the wall, and let the room fill with piercingly loud noise. Sam leans against the doorway leading to his own (temporary) private bathroom. Fingers shaking for a nicotine buzz.

Elena fits sheets onto the squeaky blue air mattress while Nathan drags out an assortment of blankets from their bedroom closet. As soon as they’re done, Elena gives Sam another hug, Nathan pats his shoulder, and they retire for the night.

Sam undresses down to his boxer briefs, falls into the air mattress, and immediately everything becomes very, very awkward.

He’s on the verge of surrendering to the void when he hears muffled conversation across the landing between both rooms. He can’t hear the words, but it’s clipped. Staccato and heated, and he remembers, oh yeah, he got Nathan into some deep marital shit with this whole adventure. Built on lies, no less.

Whoops.

It’s really none of his business, but he can’t help how he instinctually strains to hear. Are they talking about him? Was Elena just being nice, earlier, with that whole ‘stay with us for a while’ bit? Does she hope he’d refused just one more time, to let her off the hook?

Sam clenches his eyes closed and is still hypersensitive to every little sound, when the noises … change.

It takes him a moment to place it.

Thump. Groan.

His eyes shoot open. The rubbery mattress whines its protest with how fast he pulls the covers over his head.

Well, I mean, he thinks, clapping his hands over his ears, because he does not want to add ‘hearing his little brother have sex’ to his Things To Tell My Therapist Once I Actually Get a Therapist list. That’s one way to resolve an argument.