Leaving the Rub' al Khali proved itself far less eventful than entering it. Salim's men salvaged Marlowe's leftover equipment, which included a truck which had gotten through unscathed, save for a few bullet holes and scorch marks. But it ran and that was the important thing. Either from hospitality or a desperate desire to set the two of them from his sight, Salim bequeathed it to Sully and Nate. They took turns driving it through the desert and speaking very little, save for the small nothings that usually pop up on road trips. They concluded that they needed a beer, and they therefore needed to a get to a country where beer came readily and cold. Fortunately, they discovered that driving solo was much faster than moving in a convoy. Unfortunately, however, between the sand dunes and oppressive heat, it was still much slower than driving on a road. It still took them a couple of days after departing from Ubar to roll into the outskirts of town, just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.
Nate killed the truck's engine at the edge of the city. "It's probably best not to be seen in this thing."
"Who knows how many goons Katherine had in town." Sully nodded. "Good thinking."
Nathan shouldered his door open with a grunt. "Yeah well if they're here, I sure hope they haven't gotten the memo about their boss taking a dirt nap."
"They have to have noticed that their cargo plane didn't return. I bet dollars to doughnuts they're combing the desert right now." Sully slid out of his seat and slammed the truck door shut with enough force to eject a healthy cloud of dust from the frame.
"Either way, I'm more than ready to get the hell outta here."
"You said it," Sully agreed.
They trekked through the city and back to their as of yet unused hotel room. Shockingly, everything was as they left it, with no signs of Marlowe's goons having ransacked the place. Given their penchant for spy bullshit, Sully didn't take the state of the room as a given that they hadn't been robbed while they were busy being chased, drugged, and kidnapped. It wasn't like Katherine did things by halves. He unzipped his bag and searched it. His passport was where he left it, pressed between the side of the bag and an old pair of socks. Nate did the same, plucking his passport from his bag moments after Sully found his.
"Looks like we are good to go," he said.
"Yeah. There should be an evening flight we can take advantage of. But hey, try not to blow up the plane this time! Chrissakes, Nate. Only you would come up with an insane rescue plan like that," Sully laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.
"Wasn't me." Nate shook his head. "You should be thanking Elena. It was her idea. She was going to do it, too." He sat at the edge of his bed and wrestled with his boots, pulling them free.
Sully raised an eyebrow. He was no expert on marriage, to be sure, but he was certain that ex-wives don't mount suicidal rescue missions for sleazy business partners of men they don't love. "So you two are back on again, then?"
"I don't …" he trailed off and took a breath. "It's not such a good idea." Nate sighed, fell back into his bed, and stared at the ceiling.
"You're out of your goddamn mind if you're going to let that woman slip away from you three times!" There were precious few days when Sully didn't feel like grabbing Nate firmly by the shoulders and shaking sense into him, but today was unique in that he was dangerously close to actually doing just that.
"You almost died because of all this, Sully. And you remember what happened to Elena in Tibet. I couldn't live with myself if I ever let something happen to her again." He rolled over to face the wall. "I don't know if you've noticed, but everything I touch turns to shit. She's better off without me. Better being, you know, alive. But at least now we can part ways and not hate each other," he finished, sighing into his pillow.
Sully shook his head. Nate's unbridled confidence was only matched by the intense navel-gazing which followed when he inevitably screwed up. He chalked it up to the boy's Catholic upbringing. And, Sully noted, the fact that Nathan Drake had a heart bigger than his brain. His protege was being stupid in both the heart and the head, but he was also tired and therefore unlikely to respond to reason at the moment. Sully dropped the argument with a grunt. "Get some shut-eye, Nate. I'll go take care of business and then we can get out of this goddamn desert."
"You're just in a hurry because you wanna go someplace where the women dress more scandalously," Nate chuckled, his usual wry tone forcing itself back into his voice.
Victor Sullivan didn't argue the point.
Sully knew a guy. Sully always knew a guy. That was a good eighty percent of his business-knowing the right kinds of wrong people. It wasn't hard to find someone who would pay out for genuine Sabaean artifacts. Given more time, he could have shopped them around and sold them to an oil prince with more money than sense, but as it stood he got enough for what he wanted.
And what he wanted was an old '42 Grumman G-44 Widgeon that was selling for a relative pittance. He missed flying, and after four years he figured if he didn't jump on a deal like this now then he wasn't ever going to find one again. Sure, it needed a lot of work, but he figured that he and Nate needed a project, anyway. Of course, it wasn't gonna get them home in a timely fashion. These things only had so much range. But it would get them out of the country well enough, and there would be very little in the way of a paper trail. They could figure out what to do from there. They always did.
With the first item of business taken care of, Sully set about the second: mitigating Nate's damn stupid martyr complex and getting his wife back. It was the least he could do for the kid saving his life, after all. That, and he was rather fond of Elena, anyhow. Nathan Drake could have picked worse women to marry on impulse. He'd hoped that the two of them would have reconciled earlier. The fact that she'd let them into the country was proof enough that their relationship wasn't beyond repair. And for ostensibly being fed up with Nate's expeditions, she sure threw herself down into that cistern with little protest. He chuckled to himself, realizing not for the first time just how alike those two were. Sully tugged at his shirt and straightened his shoulders before knocking at her door. Maybe he couldn't patch the two of them up himself, but at the very least he could steer them in the right direction.
The look on Elena's face as she opened the door was priceless.
"Oh my God, Sully! I was convinced that you two …" she leaned to one side, looking behind him. "Where's Nate?"
"Sleeping it off. The kid had a helluva time."
Elena ushered him inside and shut the door behind him. "He usually does," she sighed.
"I hear I have you to thank for the rescue." Sully took a seat on the couch. "Nate told me you were gonna do all that yourself, even. I'm grateful, but it's not something I'd have expected."
"Of course I'd jump out of a plane for you, Sully," Elena said, giving him one of her sideways grins.
"And why is that?" He took a seat on the couch and gave her a long stare. "Let's cut the crap and talk real for a minute here. I've known you too long to think that my charm actually works on you. You didn't have to risk your job to give me and Nate press passes. And I sure as hell know that you didn't have to wear Nate's ring out here. There are other rings."
Elena paced around the room and played with her hair. Her face was an unreadable morass of emotion, and he didn't know if she was going to punch him out or start crying or both. "I know what you're asking," she replied. "Fine. The answer is yes, okay. I still love him. And the fact is that you're much more to Nate than a 'business partner.' You're family. And when I married him, that made you my family, too."
Well, she may as well have punched him. In fact, that may have been easier. In twenty years, he'd never really put a name to how he felt about that scrappy kid he'd pulled off the streets of Cartegena. He hadn't needed to-he looked out for the kid, and the kid came to look after him. It was what it was. Besides, Nate was so cagey back then that if he had tried to outright adopt him, he'd have probably up and ran. Hearing it put into words was strange, humbling, and it made his eyes sting. "Aw shit, someone oughta give you the goddamn Pulitzer already. You've almost got me in tears here." He blinked hard to fight them. He wasn't good at this sentimental shit.
"Oh no, don't you start," Elena warned. "If you cry, then I'll cry and it'll be a disaster."
Sully shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Alright. I'm alright. Look, you were right back underground a few days back. Nate does listen to me ... sometimes. He's been acting stupid, and it's high time I got a little real with him."
"That's not going to involve a black eye, is it?" Elena asked.
Sully laughed. "I don't think so, but with Nate you never know." He got to his feet and gave her shoulder a squeeze. "There's a flight outta here leaving right before sunset. I picked up three tickets," he lied.
"That's presumptuous," Elena snorted.
"Just be at the airfield at six-thirty. See how it goes. You can always walk; it wouldn't be the first time I've wasted money on a woman. But I'll make sure your husband is there."
His choice of words didn't go unnoticed. She took a breath and bit her lip, turning the idea around in her mind for a few moments. "I might pack a bag," she answered.
It was just so typical Elena that he had a hard time not laughing. "See you at six-thirty," he smiled.
It was nearly five o' clock when Sully reentered the hotel room as loudly as he could short of kicking the door down. "Get up kid, we're leaving in an hour," he grumbled. Nate sat up and rubbed his eyes, mumbling incoherently about dreaming of the desert. "And take a shower and get changed, would ya? It's you I have to sit next to, you know."
"There's a water shortage," Nate managed to articulate after a couple moments of half-worded incoherence.
"Nate. It's one goddamn shower."
"Jus' kidding, grandpa," he replied and stumbled out of the bed. He stretched, rolled his shoulders, and staggered towards the washroom. Sully tugged a shirt and a pair of jeans from Nate's bag and threw them at his head. He caught them with a laugh. "Right," he said. "Thanks."
Sully waited for the sound of water running before tearing through his bag, grabbing his shirts by handfuls and tossing them onto the bed. Upon realizing that was a waste of time, he turned the bag on its head and dumped all the contents on the bed. Mud-stained trousers, three Havana shirts (one smelling heavily of smoke) several pairs of underwear, a grimy stick of lip balm, seventy-eight cents, and an unadorned titanium ring fell onto the bed's over-starched duvet. Sully let out a sigh of relief, picked up the ring, and dropped it in his pocket.
Nate had thrown it to the floor after a hotheaded argument with Elena over a lot of things, but mostly the idea of pursuing Marlowe and stealing that damn astrolabe from her. Nate thought of it as saving Elena the effort of breaking things off with him again. Sully saw it as the kid trying to keep himself from getting hurt, or maybe getting back at Elena in some way for breaking things off between them the first time. Maybe it was both. He'd taken the ring and pocketed it for some damn reason: safekeeping, maybe. Perhaps he should have left it out, or given it right back to Nate as soon as his head cooled. He started telling himself that he'd give it back 'when he was ready.' But when the hell are you ever ready for anything in this life? Sometimes the best things come out of nowhere, wreck all your plans, and turn your life upside-down in the best and worst of ways. It would do Nate well to learn that.
Nathan sulked all the way to the airport. He said little and sighed often. Sully held his tongue, knowing that Nate was going over all the "I told you so's" inside his head already. He should have listened to Sully in France. He should have listened to Chloe in London. He shouldn't have walked out on Elena in the first place. Good God, Elena had better show up or the kid was going to be impossible to live with for a while.
Sully parked the jeep and grabbed their bags. Nate went over his pockets, checking that he had his phone, wallet, and passport. "You have our boarding passes?" He asked.
"We're all taken care of," Sully grinned and tossed Nate his bag. "Did you at least call her?"
Nate grimaced. "She didn't pick up. What is it with people not answering their phones, anyway?"
"Eh, it'll work out," he assured him, and they started toward the terminal and out to the airstrip. Sully checked his watch. The girl wasn't here and he wasn't ready to tip his hand about the plane just yet. Now was as good a time as any to say what needed saying. He wasn't any good at this and hadn't any idea what to say, really, but he may as well wing it. That sort of not planning worked for them so far.
"Hey. Hold up a minute, Nate."