Chapter 1: I
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 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.
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.
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.
Chapter 2: II
Sam’s plating the eggs by the time Nathan and Elena stumble downstairs. They look pretty much dead to the world and Sam blinks at them like he’s stumbled across a pair of zombies.
“Hey, uh. I made—”
Nathan pushes past him, makes a beeline for the coffee pot. He’s still in his boxers, with a white tee thrown over his torso, and goes through a series of motions that look nothing short of mechanical.
Sam steps to the side, out of his way, feeling very much like he’s intruding on a routine. He fidgets in front of the stove, is careful not to touch the eye he’d just clicked off.
He’s still tapping his knuckles together, awkward and unsure of what to do, when Nathan turns around and jolts.
“Jesus,” he says, coughing because he breathed in a little too sharply. “I didn't—” He smacks a hand against his chest. “I didn't see you there.”
Sam quirks an eyebrow, picks up one of three plates sitting on the counter.
“I made breakfast.”
It's nothing special. Bacon, scrambled eggs, toast with butter and jelly. He figures it's the least he can do to pay them back for … well, everything.
Not that breakfast erases a mad trip around the world made under false pretenses, but it's a start.
Nathan blinks at him a couple times. The coffee pot gurgles in the background.
Elena comes up behind Sam, lids heavy with exhaustion, and reaches a hand up to lay on Sam’s shoulder.
He leans into the touch, eyes drooping a bit because he’s perfectly aware that she’s doing everything she can (Nathan, too) to make him feel at home. And, sure, it’s kind of awkward intruding on their lives like this, but, hell, they asked for it.
“Thanks,” she says, grabbing the plate from his hands. Her throat visibly constricts with all the effort it takes to sputter out a single word so early in the morning.
Sam’s eyebrow lifts. Didn’t these kids know about early birds and worms and all that?
Elena slides her hand away, then saunters over to the couch, flopping down like she’s participating in a trust fall. It’s a weird kind of graceful, Sam thinks. Kind of sloppy. Kind of reminds him of Nathan.
His little brother isn’t far behind, hands full with two mugs of coffee. He sets them on the coffee table, then back to the kitchen, sidling around Sam to grab a third mug in a different cabinet. Yeah, there was no rhyme or reason to where they put what, and Sam had found that out earlier, scrambling around trying to find the right utensils to cook with.
Nathan thrusts the warm cup into Sam’s fidgeting hands. He grabs the other two plates before Sam can protest, and treads on over to the sofa, tilting his head for him to follow.
“You comin’?” Nathan says. His voice is shot to shit.
“Yeah, Sam, there’s plenty of room.” Elena pats the cushion next to her, and of course it’s in the crack of the couch, because Nathan, the little asshole, sits down on the other side.
It’s somewhat of a squeeze, at least for three grown-ass adults, but Sam doesn’t mind. Likes the contact, knees knocking against knees, if he’s entirely honest with himself. He’s a pretty tactile guy, likes to touch, and thirteen years in prison meant the only contact he ever got was his fist connecting with someone else’s face (or vice versa). Even the parade of women sliding in and out of his life after Rafe bought his freedom wasn’t enough to make up for all that time alone.
He props himself up on the edge of the couch, back cracking when he leans forward. Starts scarfing down food like it’s gonna disappear if he’s not quick enough. Out of the corner of Sam’s eye, he can see Elena cradling her coffee between trembling fingers (hint of blue beneath her nails, cold). She gives it one long, exaggerated whif, humming in the back of her throat. Damn if it isn’t endearing. Sam’s got a little tilt to his lips, like he’s accidentally caught something genuine. Cute.
“So,” he says, tongue rubbing along his bottom row of teeth. “You guys conscious yet? Because I swear I— I thought you were gonna eat my brain right outta my head when both ‘a you traipsed down the stairs.”
“Mm,” Elena mumbles into her coffee, drawing it away with a slurp. “Lucky for you, I’m on a strict no-brains diet.” Her elbow finds contact with Sam’s ribs.
“Yeah, uh-huh,” he says, rubbing his side. “That’s what they all say. Until your head’s cracked open and you’re, you know. Gettin’ your brain nibbled on.”
Nathan snorts into his own cup, and Sam beams at him.
“You’re so—” Nathan waves a hand. “Lame.”
“Oh, oh, I’m lame, huh?”
“Without a doubt.”
“I’ll have you know—”
“Will you, now?”
“I’ll have you know, that every girl I’ve ever met falls right for those zombie jokes.”
“She must’ve gotten a concussion, then.”
Sam pinches his brother’s side, quick-like, and Nathan yelps and Sam can feel the way Elena vibrates next to him, trying to hold in her laughter, and, yeah. Yeah, this is good.
Chapter 3: III
Sam's in the middle of a grocery store, list in hand, Elena comparing the price of two boxes of cereal next to him, and it's so domestic Sam's gonna lose his mind.
He's not meant for this life. That's all he can think. He feels trapped and antsy and can't stop fiddling with the piece of paper. Crumples it between his fingers. Smooths it out again.
“Which one do you like better?”
He's slow to hear the question. Blinks a couple times.
Elena purses her lips, stares up at him. She's a tiny thing. He feels like he's peeking over a ledge when he meets her eye. Vertigo and everything.
“Cereal, Sam.” Her voice is flat, but he's come to recognize it as playful. “Do you have a preference?”
“Oh,” he says, twisting the piece of paper. “No. Uh, no.”
Her eyebrow lifts. It's a perfect arch. She's probably groomed them recently. Or maybe she just has perfect eyebrows.
… why is he thinking about her eyebrows?
He mouths the word when she turns away—eyebrows—because he's thought it so much it doesn't really sound like a word at all anymore.
“You're not, like. Snorting cocaine or anything right?”
He stares at her back.
“I mean,” she continues, and when she tilts her head, he can see the edge of a crooked grin. “You'd at least share, right?”
“Oh sure, sweetheart,” he says, tone all lazy and drab. “Next time I'm in Columbia, I'll pick you up a couple pounds.”
She doesn't respond, only nods at one of the boxes of cereal in her hand and sets it in the cart.
Sam sits between them on the couch, bowl of popcorn between his legs. It's a tight fit, but they're getting used to it.
“Oh yeah!” she shouts, fist pumping the air. “That, Nate, is called ‘getting rekt’. R-E-K-T.” She spells it out for him, like. Literally spells it out.
Sam's mouth is probably gonna split his face in half. He laughs along with Elena, and Nathan shoots him this look of utter and complete betrayal.
“C’mon little brother,” he says, nudging Nathan with an elbow.
“I'd like to see you do better.”
If it's even possible, Sam's smile widens.
He's been waiting for this moment for about two days now. The lovebirds are up all night playing games and watching movies. Sam joined them the first night, but he's more an up’n’at’em kinda guy. Has spent the last two days practicing his gaming skills on the Playstation during the early morning hours, while the night owls get their beauty sleep.
“Betcha I can,” Sam says, casual. Like his insides aren't vibrating with an immeasurable degree of excitement.
Nathan's eyebrows shoot up, and he readily hands over the controller.
“Oh,” he says, “I can't wait to see this.”
“Care for a wager?” Sam eggs him on. He wants to make this moment as sweet as possible.
Nathan laughs, too innocent for this world and 1000% unprepared for the ass-whooping he's about to get.
“Wow, getting cocky in your old age, I see.”
“You have no idea,” Sam replies, flashing his pearly whites.
“I mean, it’s cute when you guys banter,” Elena says, “but I’m not getting younger and I’d like to see the old man flail his way through a video game.”
“Old man?” Sam’s eyes go a little wide.
Elena pokes her tongue out of the side of her mouth, smiles at him.
“Hate to break it to ya, sweetheart,” he says, “but I'm about to beat your high score.”
“Bullshit !” She laughs, swats him gently on the arm.
“Yeah, yeah,” Nathan says, just as disbelieving. “What's the bet?”
“I want your bed,” Sam says, no hesitation. “If I beat her high score, I want your room for the rest of the week.”
The air mattress isn't bad, but it's gotten old after three nights. He dreams about four glorious days in an actual bed, can't possibly pass up the opportunity.
Nathan rubs at the back of his neck, peers around Sam to look at his wife. Elena nods, immediately, probably a little too cocky for her own good.
“When you lose,” she says, “you do dishes for the rest of the week.”
“Sounds fair,” Sam agrees. “Nate?”
“Oh, hell yeah.”
“Beso mi culo! Take that!”
Sam’s so caught up in celebrating, it takes him a minute to see the look of surprised mirrored on both their faces. When he catches it, he turns to them, arms spread out. Shrugs.
“Hey, no take-backsies.”
Chapter 4: IV
Thank you for all the wonderful comments! Oh, my heart. <3
Working on a bigger Sam/Nate/Elena/Rafe poly piece at the moment, so updates will be slow until that's done. Thanks again for reading, and sorry for the stupidly long delay. ^^
While he was slurping down Panamanian prison gruel in year six of his detainment, Sam never thought he'd be in a Mexican standoff with a glassy-eyed T-rex, yellowed paint chipping off the blunt curve of its tooth.
He taps his putter against prickly astroturf, says, “So this is your guys’ idea of a good time, huh?” The green dino is open-mouthed and hunched over, its concrete jaw digging into the ground. Sam bends down to try and get a better angle on the distance between its mouth and the little red golf ball sitting idle in front of his club.
“Hey,” Nathan says, taking on that indignant, spluttery tone of his when there’s sarcasm and the tiniest hint of truth all rolled up in his chest. “Jurassic Jungle has 18 unique holes and a go-kart track with a water feature. Don’t hate.”
“Not hatin’, just—” Sam straightens up. His back cracks. It relaxes his muscles, makes him feel jelly-like after spending fifteen holes trying to putt with a club sized for a ten-year-old. “Just wonderin’ if you ever made it to puberty, is all.”
Elena huffs out a few breathy giggles while Nathan stumbles over a response. She’s leaning against a tree right outside the green, a yard away, putter hanging loose in her hand. Sam flashes her a toothy grin. She whips her club up and uses it to point at him.
“No lip, old man,” she says, eyebrow quirked. “We’re in the negatives and you’re plus-seven. You have a lot of catching up to do.”
“Old man,” Sam gasps, making a show of slapping a hand over his heart, leaning on his heels like she’s bowled him. “What’s with all this ‘old man’ talk lately, huh? Words hurt y’know, sweetheart.”
“Oh, I know.” She hops three steps over to Nathan, drops her putter on the ground with a muted clank, and smooshes her husband’s cheeks between her hands. “Don’t worry,” she stage-whisperes, loudly. “I’ll protect your honor.”
Nathan slaps her hands away, laughing, fingers slotting easily around her shoulders, and pulls her in for a kiss. Head dipped down, their mouths still open because they’re giddy and fluttering around each other like lovesick butterflies. Sam has to look away for how good they are, how right they are for each other. He bends back over his club and tries a few easy tests swings before whacking the ball with enough force to send it flying. It smacks into a deteriorating tooth and bounces back.
“Nice,” Nathan tells him, still breathy from the kiss.
“Shut up,” Sam says, rubbing the back of his neck. He glances over his shoulder to see they’ve separated. Elena bends over to pick up her club. Nathan drops his green ball at the starting point.
“Watch and learn.”
Sam steps out of the way while Nathan lines up his shot. One quick hit, not too much force, and the golf ball rolls easily up the fairway and straight through the dinosaur’s yawning mouth. He pats Sam’s shoulder, smugly.
“See? Just needs a little finesse.”
“Oh, is that right?” Sam instinctively pats the front pocket of his Levi’s for a pack of cigarettes, but he’d left them in the car. “Take me to a shooting range and I’ll show you finesse.”
Nathan tsks, lets his hand fall, but there’s a tiny little crease dimpling the corner of his mouth. “Not everything can be solved with violence, you know.”
“I can name a few things,” Sam says, and there’s strain to his voice, and he’s not sure why, but he thinks about the easy affection that blooms between Elena and his little brother, and he thinks it’s been a good hour or so since he’s felt nicotine flood his lungs.
Nathan’s hand returns, this time pressing a circle through a knot of tension in Sam’s back. “Sore loser is not a good look on you,” he says, but in a kind way, in a Nathan sort of way, so it’s nice. But Sam feels like a hole has opened up beneath his feet, suddenly and with no warning, and it’s swallowing him slow, full of quicksand, so he has just enough sense not to struggle, but it’s a close thing. Lonely. He’s playing mini golf with the only two people in the world who matter, and there he is feeling sorry for himself.
Sam rakes fingernails through his hair and steps away from Nathan’s hand. He laughs, quietly, gives a little grin. “Ah, you know me. Always tryin’ on new styles to see what looks best.”
“New styles?” Nathan shakes his head, but he’s smiling and that’s all that matters. “You look like the 80s chewed you up and spat you out, Mr. Jean Jacket.”
“Hey, don’t go knockin’ the sex appeal of vintage denim.”
“Vintage? Now you’re just trying to sell me snake oil.”
“It’ll double— no, triple your chances with any girl. Ain’t that right?” Sam turns to Elena with a wink, seeking backup.
She drops her head, rubs her temples. “Oh, yes, definitely,” she says, bland. “If Nate comes to bed in a denim onesie, I’m done for.”
Sam waves a hand in her direction, as if to showcase this new-found empirical evidence.
Nathan groans. “Now I’m just imagining what it would feel like to wear a denim onesie. The chafing.”
“What?” Sam asks. “You plannin’ to go commando?”
“I thought you weren’t supposed to wear underwear with those things?”
“Why wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t know! Aren’t there little flaps or something so you can go to the bathroom without getting naked? That would be pointless with underwear.”
“Your wellspring of knowledge about onesies is startin’ to frighten me here, Nathan.”
“Hey, you’re the one who started this conversation!”
“Actually, your wife is the one who started this conversation. And from the sound of it, you two are harborin’ some kinky denim-clad fantasies.”
A woman walks by in that moment, holding the hand of a young boy, maybe eight years old. She shoots Sam a look, and he gives her a wave, a lazy grin. She shakes her head and scuttles past.
They move on after that. Shoot the final holes. Nathan wins with a score of minus-two, Elena close behind with plus-one. Sam fails miserably with plus-ten, and blames hole eighteen’s stegosaurus with its curved tail and mocking grin. In the car, he cracks a window and lights a cigarette. Leans his head against the cool glass, and zones out in the backseat, watching Nathan and Elena bob their heads in animated conversation up front.
He can’t place why he feels farther away than he actually is. Like the car stretches into a limousine, the space between them growing.