Nick is pacing again.
He crosses one, two, three, four tiles, foot placed squarely in the centre of each; at five he pivots neatly on his heel, the sole of his shining shoe squeaking on linoleum, and he reverses his path. His eyes are fixed on the floor, hands clasped behind his back, and he doesn't look up when Jack says, "Nick, you're pacing again."
"Yes," Nick says. Four, five—pivot. "And?"
Jack yawns theatrically as he leans back in the stiff plastic chair, lifting the folder he's reading and stretching his feet out before him. He blocks Nick's path, and Nick stops short and glares at his older brother.
"Sit," Jack says, lowering the folder back to his lap ruffling through the photos in the dossier from MI6. He sounds amused; Jack always sounds amused. "You're ruining our image."
Nick, begrudgingly, sits down in the seat beside Jack's. Their luggage is stacked neatly on the floor beside him; that is, their life's work of arcane instruments and reams of research pack tight into suitcases in a poor imitation of ordinary luggage is stacked neatly on the floor beside him. He touches the latch on the uppermost suitcase as though to reassure himself that it's locked tight and they won't be found out and no one in the airport lounge can magically see through the casing. But someone could, he reminds himself; their aforementioned life's research has been to prove that things of that nature can be done, and with ease, and without anyone being able to tell, let alone him—
"Stop," Jack says, "worrying."
"One of us has to," Nick retorts, but he slides his hand away from the suitcase and drops it into his lap. He looks at the dossier open in Jack's hands and considers snatching it away from him. "You shouldn't have that out in public."
Jack lifts one of the blurry polaroids carefully by its edges and squints at it. "Homework," he mutters through his teeth; he lays the photo flat on his palm and tilts it, trying for a different perspective.
"Which you can finish when we land," Nick says. He takes the picture from Jack and gathers it up together with the rest of the papers, tucking them away into his coat. "But not where everyone can see it."
"They wouldn't know what they were looking at to begin with," Jack says reasonably, but Nick ignores him, and they lapse into a temporary silence.
Jack, restless, drums his fingers on the brim of his hat and then pulls it off, raking his hand once through his neatly-combed hair to make sure it lies smooth. His fingers fly down next to casually tug at the knot of his tie, loosening it at his throat; he is exactly as uncomfortable as Nick, though he passes it off much better, all boneless lazy charm. Nick hates it; Nick is envious of it.
"You know," Jack says, "you wouldn't be worrying so much if we weren't flying commercial."
"Blame the Agency," Nick says.
"Oh, I usually do," Jack says, but he is smiling while he says it for the benefit of the young family of three sitting opposite from them. The two parents are deep in conversation, the little boy—starched and combed into respectability for the trip—buried in his comic book, but it won't do to draw their attention. Jack tilts his head Nick's way, voice still level, face mild. "If they're sending us back out to that godforsaken rock, the least they could do is send us in style. And security."
"You know it's your fault," Nick says. He flicks at the lie of his brother's suit jacket; the gun at his belt is showing. He quotes their supervisor: "They 'deemed it prudent' to cut expenses where we're concerned. You know. After the incident in Scotland—"
"If they didn't want us proving there was a damn monster in the loch, they could have said so," Jack says, buttoning up his black jacket like he'd meant to all along while he deftly pushes the gun further away out of sight.
"Politics," Nick says. "Ambiguity. Plausible deniability."
"Fuck their politics," Jack says pleasantly.
"Nick," he returns, voice mocking.
The little boy sitting opposite is watching them now over the top of his well-thumbed comic book, eyes comically round. Nick goes stiff when he realises it, but Jack just smiles wider and leans forward, elbows on his knees.
He nods at the comic. "Namor, huh?" Jack says. "Not a lot of kids reading his stuff these days. He's from Atlantis, right?"
Nick discreetly kicks him in the ankle. Jack ignores him.
The boy risks a glance at his parents, but they are both whispering intensely at one another, their faces set and furious. The boy looks back at Jack and nods.
"I thought so," Jack says. "I used to read his comics back when I was your age. You want me to let you in on a secret?"
The boy blinks and clutches the battered copy of Tales to Astonish against his chest.
Jack laughs. "Well, you know, everyone gets the story of what happened to Atlantis wrong. The island never actually disappeared under the water, you see—"
Nick puts on his sunglasses as Jack keeps talking, staring numbly out the wide bank of windows opening onto the observation deck. It is overcast and drizzling outside; preparation for London, he thinks. He should call their mother. Let her know they'll be out of the country. If something happens while they're overseas—
Nothing will happen, he reminds himself sternly. It's a consultation gig. Not even fieldwork. Nothing dangerous. Nothing exciting. Though Jack will make something exciting of it, Nick knows; he always does.
"And that's why they'll never catch Bigfoot," Jack finishes ten minutes later.
Nick stands, clearing his throat. "I think they're calling our flight," he lies.
The boy's mother looks over as with one final hissed word her husband gets up in a huff and walks away towards the bar down the corridor. She thumbs a tear from her eye, gloved hands fluttering, clearly rattled by her conversation. "I'm sorry," she says; her voice quavers, then holds. She gathers the boy against her side. "Was Bobby bothering you? He does love to chat—"
"Not at all," Jack says smoothly, standing with Nick. "I was just saying how much he reminds me of my kid brother here when we were his age. Wasn't I, Nick?"
"Oh," Nick manages. He pulls his hat lower over his face, as if to hide. "Ah—yep."
Jack smiles reassuringly, and when the boy's mother looks away, he gives Bobby a wink. Bobby grins.
"I'm going to kill you," Nick hisses through his teeth, gathering up their luggage.
"You're not," Jack says, dropping his hat back on his head, slipping his sunglasses out of his pocket and onto his face. "I'm just keeping up appearances, little brother. Myths need their believers. We know that better than anyone. Don't we?"
He passes Nick his dark overcoat; Nick swings it on and smooths his face into calmness, his jaw set, and Jack nods at him as he fixes his own tie and collar.
"Good," Jack says. He shrugs on his coat and rolls his shoulders, and Nick, hefting their suitcases, stands back to let him lead. They are a matched pair now in their solemn anonymity; matched, at least, until Jack lowers his dark glasses to wink. "Let's move."