Spoilers: Through the end of season 3, but nothing major.
Characters: Sophie Devereaux, Nathan Ford, Alec Hardison, Eliot Spencer, Parker, and Tara Cole.
Pairings: Nate/Sophie, mentions of Parker/Hardison, Eliot/Tara, and past Sophie/Tara
Summary: When a con goes south, Sophie is kidnapped by the mark. The team scrambles to save her, and even when rescued, they discover that some scars run too deep to ever be forgotten.
Chapter Seven: Fracture
Sophie woke up alone later in the night. Disoriented, she reached out for Nate, but her hand met only with empty air. The panic rose in her chest; she fought it back and grabbed the bottle of pain medication. Two swallows later, she drifted off into a hazy dreamworld, half nightmare, half peace.
It became a regular thing after that. Either Nate or Parker would be there when she fell asleep, and they left sometime in the middle of the night. She knew Nate was seeking refuge with a bottle; she didn't know where Parker went, and she didn't ask. She didn't like being on her own in the dark, but she would never tell any of them. So, they were unaware of the nightmares that choked her throat, left her so paralyzed that she couldn't even call for help. Those visions danced across her eyes until she would find herself over the toilet, vomiting what little food she had managed to force down. Her ribs ached and the healing skin on her back pulled tight as she hunched over the porcelain rim and retched; sitting back, she wiped her mouth clean with a damp cloth and pushed back the tears.
The lights were off. She stumbled her way back to the bed and sank onto it. Eliot had promised her a limited amount of freedom from her soft prison since she had finally started to heal enough that moving around wouldn't cause her further injury. She should be happy about that, and part of her was. A bigger part wanted to stay in Nate's room for a little longer. At least she got a small reprieve from watching Nate drink himself into a stupor or knowing that Eliot was watching her and waiting for a sign that she was breaking apart. She was glad that he couldn't see her then, curling in on herself and holding back the sobs threatening to tear from her mouth.
Maybe she would ask Parker to stay with her the entire night; the girl had managed to keep most of her secrets like how Sophie really wasn't eating enough. A shadow fell over the doorway that was illuminated from behind. Sophie squinted and waited.
"Hey." Hardison stepped inside, holding a bottle of water and a package of crackers. "I, um, I heard you getting sick, and thought you might like something…"
She reached out for the water. "Thank you. What are you still doing here?"
"Putting the final touches on the plan to take Carlisle down for good. I have to lay down a rock-solid trail for the cops." He handed the water off to her and opened the crackers. "You should try to eat something. Parker said you never finish any of your food."
"That was supposed to be a secret."
"I help her get rid of whatever you don't eat." He shrugged as she looked at him. "Parker seemed to think that you need some space. I'm not going to argue."
He held the crackers out to her, and she took one, nibbling at it. The small bite stuck in her throat, and she almost choked. She gulped down some more water and shook her head.
"So, what exactly is the plan?"
"We're not supposed to talk about that around you."
She raised an eyebrow. "Who told you that?"
"Nate." He could tell the second he said it that he shouldn't have, but he had thought that keeping it a secret from her was stupid. She deserved to know what was going on.
"Son of a bitch." She dropped what was left of the cracker to the floor. "Well, he doesn't always get the last word. Spill."
He sat down beside her on the bed and dumped the crackers into her lap. "Eat." He waited until she picked up another before he said, "We're going to try something similar to what we started with, but a little different. Instead of taking the money, we're going to convince him to invest in a child prostitution ring and buy a few for himself."
"He's not into anything like that, though." She wrinkled her nose and took a small bite out of her cracker. "Or does that not matter?"
"Not really. We just need the money to change hands, and the cops will arrest him. With the links we're establishing between him and several child prostitution rings, he'll end up with a ton of charges that will label him as a 'baby-raper' in prison. After that, well, the rest of the prisoners will take care of him."
"You're keeping our hands clean."
"For the most part. It was Nate's idea. The only other plan we had at the time was setting Eliot loose on him, but we all agreed this would be more satisfying." He leaned over and nudged her shoulder.
"Who's going to do the grifting? He knows mine and Eliot's faces, and Parker won't be able to pull this off." She sipped at the water while she thought. "No, Nate wouldn't do something like that without telling me. Would he?"
"Hey, I don't do that freaky mind connection thing the two of you have going on. You're going to have to explain what's going on in your head."
"He's called Tara in, hasn't he?"
"Um, yeah. You pissed about that?"
She shook her head. "Not really. I just wish someone had told me. Of course, I should know by now that no one is telling me anything."
"They're trying to do what they think is best." He took a cracker from the package and crunched on it.
She watched him for a few moments and said, "You know, I don't blame you for anything that happened."
"What do you mean?" He tried to sound nonchalant, but the fact that he crumbled the rest of his cracker into dust made that a moot point.
"I've…noticed that you've been avoiding me. We've never been particularly close, but I haven't seen you for the past three weeks. What happened is not your fault, Hardison."
"I was the one who blew the con." He sighed and rubbed at his eyes. "If I had done my job or…"
"No, stop it," she snapped. When he frowned at her, she just raised an eyebrow. "Things go wrong all the time. We were just incredibly unlucky this time around. We could all blame ourselves for something that went wrong that day, but it still happened. Your guilt isn't going to change anything."
"I'm the one who's responsible for the tech part of the job, and that's the part where I fucked things up. I got caught."
"And? You tried to fix things and help me get out of there." She tucked two fingers under his chin and guided his face up so she could look him in the eyes. "I need you to understand that while you might feel responsible, I don't believe you are. The rest is up to you."
He managed a small smile. "Okay."
"Good. I'm glad we have that settled. I think I should probably get some sleep." She watched him stand up and walk towards the door. "Don't avoid me anymore, okay?"
He nodded his head. "Okay. Get some sleep, Sophie. Let me know if you need me."
"You'll still be awake?"
"These are my prime working hours. Of course I'll still be awake." He gave her a small wave and left the room.
Parker was curled up in a chair at the high table in front of the television screens when he made it down the stairs.
"She had another nightmare, didn't she?"
"She also got sick." He collapsed into a chair beside her. "Did we wake you up?"
Parker's forehead wrinkled as she traced a pattern on the table. "I always wake up when she has a nightmare."
"Why don't you stay the night with her anymore?" He knew why Nate didn't. Eliot's warning had scared the man off, so Nate spent the majority of his nights in the bar downstairs.
She looked up at him, her eyes shining a little in the faint light from the lamp he had turned on earlier. "Am I a bad person if I can't handle it anymore?"
He scooted his chair closer to her and wrapped a loose arm around her shoulders. "Hey, mama, you don't have to do anything, okay? You've been amazing, but everyone needs a break. You just need to say something."
"Does this count?" She pulled her legs up closer to her chest. "I want to do something to make it all better, but everything is only getting worse."
"It will get better. Eventually."
"Will it? Sophie's ribs are healing, but her nightmares are getting worse. Nate is drunk."
"And the rest of us are lost," he finished for her. He tucked her messy blonde hair behind her ears. "I'm here for you. Well make it through this."
Nate staggered into the apartment at that moment, his hands groping for the first piece of furniture he could get his hands on. Hardison watched as Parker turned to study Nate, her head cocked to one side, her eyes getting larger. She was too quiet. She shook her head and got up.
"I hope you're right." She smiled sadly and leaned over, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "I'll see you in the morning."
He stared after her, his hand resting on his cheek. Nate stumbled against his chair and managed to heave his body into the one Parker had just vacated.
Hardison frowned. "Do you need some coffee?"
"What are you still doing up?" Nate peered at Hardison with bloodshot eyes.
"You need to sober up. I'll put that coffee on." Hardison stood and moved towards the kitchen. "I've been putting the finishing touches on our plan to take out Carlisle. Oh, and Sophie knows that you didn't tell her about Tara coming. She's not happy with you."
"I thought she likes Tara."
Hardison rolled his eyes. "She's mad because you didn't tell her anything. What happened to taking care of her, man?"
"She doesn't want me there." Nate let his head fall into his hands. "Besides, it's too much."
"Yeah, okay, so here is how this is going to go." Hardison walked back to where Nate was sitting and leaned over the table so he could stare Nate down. "You are going to sleep on the couch down here tonight. Tomorrow, you're going to apologize to Sophie for not telling her things that might be important for her to know. Then, you're going to actually stay the night with her and be with her when she has another nightmare."
"Because that went so well last time." Nate let out a sharp laugh. "I only hurt her. It's better if I don't stay with her."
Hardison shook his head. "Okay, yeah, maybe that's true. But no more drinking."
Nate waved his hand dismissively. "Yeah, yeah, okay. Is that coffee ready yet?"
"I'll check." Hardison wandered back over to the kitchen and poured some of the scalding liquid into a cup. He handed it off to Nate and headed up the stairs.
He hesitated in the doorway of the spare bedroom, studying Parker's prone form. Her voice startled him.
"I'm not asleep if you want to come in." She sat up and moved over on the bed.
He took the invitation and settled down beside her. "Do you mind if I stay here for a little while?"
She curled up into a ball and snuggled into his side. "No. You can stay as long as you want."
"Okay, mama," he murmured.
Eliot sat on the edge of Nate's bed as Sophie walked across the room. He frowned when he realized her jeans were sagging, and the sweater she was holding in her hands looked like it was going to swallow her whole. He had suspected that she hadn't been eating enough, but he wasn't going to confront her about it. He didn't want to make her defensive; he wouldn't accomplish anything that way.
"When did you buy those jeans?" He figured that was as close to a neutral question as he was going to get.
She shrugged into her sweater; he had been right. It was much too big for her. "A couple of months ago. I don't really remember." She looked down and studied the floor. "Maybe I should get some new ones."
"Or you could start eating." It was out before he could stop, but he decided that he didn't care. She had always appreciated honesty from him before.
She walked to one of Nate's closets that she had taken over and opened it. She fingered a silk top. "Does it ever get easier, Eliot?"
He followed behind her and surveyed the clothes Parker had stowed there. "I can't really say."
She sighed and removed her hand. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"What are you talking about?"
"Do you know that I wake up every night with nightmares?" She crossed her arms over her chest and chewed on her bottom lip. "They make me sick, Eliot, because all I can remember is their hands all over me. I've lost…something, and I don't know how to get it back. I don't know if I can get it back."
"You will. You're Sophie fucking Devereaux." His lips curled up, and he placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. "You don't let anyone or anything beat you."
"I don't think I'm that person anymore." She slipped out of his grasp and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "I can't think of what to do anymore. What am I supposed to do, Eliot?"
He walked over to her, and crouching in front of her, he took her hands in his. "I don't know, Sophie." He sighed and said, "Look, I can kill him, you know. It would be too good for him, but pretty much anything I do is too good for him."
She shook her head. "You're not that man anymore, Eliot."
"Yes, I am." His voice had gone quiet, and she was looking him straight in the eye. "I might not kill people for the jobs, but I still can, and I will do it without hesitation if I need to."
"That's not the same thing as killing someone for money," she replied. She reached out and cupped his cheek with a delicate hand. "You are a good man, and I can't let you destroy yourself to protect me, however noble the attempt might be."
"Fine." He stood up and offered his hand. She let him help her up. "Now, let's go get you some breakfast."
She smiled. "Can you make me an omelet?""Of course, darling."