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 Eight: Pressure
Eliot opened the door of Nate's apartment to see Tara standing in the hallway. She smiled at him and tossed her dirty blonde hair over her shoulder as she sauntered inside.
"Long time, no see, Sparky," she said, dropping her bag to the floor.
Eliot eyed the small piece of luggage. "Is that all you brought?"
"Is that your idea of a proper greeting?" She rolled her eyes. "Hardison is bringing the rest up. Where's everyone else?"
"Nate left awhile ago. No idea what he's doing. Parker might be dangling off the roof. Sophie's upstairs in the bedroom." He motioned to the stairs. "I'm sure she'd be thrilled to see you."
Tara moved towards the staircase but stopped. "Eliot, how bad is it?"
"The bruises are mostly gone. Her ribs and back are still healing up, so be careful. And, she's lost a lot of weight." He sighed. "She's different. She's trying to pretend like she's okay, but she's not."
"How not okay?"
"Just…. You know, she's your friend. Don't worry about it right now. She's looking forward to seeing you." He walked to the kitchen counter to continue chopping his vegetables. "Lunch will be ready soon. Make sure you tell her that."
She nodded her head and headed up the stairs. The door to Nate's bedroom was ajar. She peered inside and saw Sophie standing at the window, staring out at the city. She sucked in a breath at the sight, her quick eyes taking in Sophie's too-thin form, and the unusual slump in her shoulders.
"Hey, hot stuff," Tara called into the room, leaning against the doorframe.
Sophie turned around and smiled. "Hey. What are you doing here this early? I thought you wouldn't be here until tonight."
"Decided to take the earlier flight." Tara crossed the floor and pulled Sophie into a gentle hug. "How are you doing?"
"I've missed you."
Tara frowned but didn't press again for an answer. She opted for an easier topic; she could always press Eliot for information later.
"Eliot mentioned something about having lunch ready in a little while."
"That's nice." Sophie stepped back from Tara and turned to the window again.
Tara sighed; every minute that passed was only bringing up more questions in her mind. "What do you want to talk about, Sophie?"
"Nate brought you in for a con against Carlisle, didn't he?" Sophie's voice was tinged with a sharp edge; she sagged against the wall beside the window, watching Tara out of the corner of her eye.
"Yeah," Tara replied slowly.
"Did he tell you everything that happened?"
"Of course, that's why I'm here." Tara ran her fingers through her hair. "I would have been here a lot sooner if anyone had told me. But, that must have been an inconvenience."
Sophie shook her head. "Tara."
But, Tara was on a roll. "Of course, that's what I've always been, right? An afterthought. Not that it matters. I'm here to get revenge for you. When you couldn't even be bothered to call me and tell me that some fucking bastard did this to you, and Nate is letting him still walk around."
"Tara, just stop," Sophie interrupted. Tara huffed, but she didn't continue. Sophie mustered up what she hoped was an apologetic smile; the differences weren't registering in her mind anymore. "I…appreciate what you're doing."
"Why didn't you call me?" Tara asked quietly, her normal confidence disappearing. "I would have been here for you."
"I know. At first, I didn't think about it. I was so focused on everything that had happened, and was on such heavy medication that it didn't occur to me." Sophie paused, biting her bottom lip as she stared down at the floor. She looked back up at Tara. "Then, I didn't want to. Things have been so complicated with Nate, and everything has been falling apart. I felt like if I asked you here, everyone else would feel even worse and guiltier than they already do because they weren't enough to take care of me."
"You need to do what's best for you." Tara walked over to her and cupped Sophie's chin with two fingers. "But, I'm here now. It's okay for you to need me."
Tears welled up in Sophie's eyes, and she tried to escape Tara's firm grasp. Tara just reached up and wiped away the salty tracks coursing down Sophie's cheeks. Without thinking, she pressed a soft kiss to Sophie's lips and pulled her into a gentle embrace. Sophie blinked back the rest of the water brimming on the edges of her eyelids and buried her face into Tara's shoulder.
Parker collapsed onto Hardison's couch. "Tara's here."
"Yeah, I know." Hardison didn't even look away from the game on his television screen. "I had to haul all her shit up to Nate's apartment. Three whole suitcases. How long is that woman planning on staying?"
"I think for a long time." She picked at the hem of her shirt. "I saw the two of them kissing."
"Who? Tara and Eliot? It figures that she wouldn't even be here a day before sleeping with him. Man doesn't even have to try."
"No. Sophie and Tara."
He put down his controller, just remembering to pause his game. "Are you sure? I thought Sophie was into Nate, and with everything that's happened, that…"
"Yeah." She sighed as she wrinkled her brow. "It was only one kiss, though. It's not like they were having sex. Of course, they probably already have."
"When?" he sputtered out. "And, how do you know that? Did Sophie tell you?"
"Back when they worked together. Sophie didn't tell me anything, but Tara said some stuff when she took Sophie's place. I just thought she was trying to annoy Nate."
"What kind of stuff?"
She shrugged. "She said something about how good Sophie looks naked. And, how good Sophie is with her tongue. That one made Nate blush. I couldn't figure it out."
"Parker, how can you…what…." He took a deep breath. "Why didn't you tell me anything? Does Eliot know?"
"He was in the room when Tara was talking about Sophie's tongue. He laughed. They didn't know I was there, so I thought I wasn't supposed to hear them." She paused and looked at him. "Why do you care, anyway?"
"I don't care." He picked up his controller and nodded his head for emphasis. "I was just curious, you know, out of concern for Sophie."
She rolled her eyes. "Right. I think I'm going back to Nate's. Eliot's making pasta tonight. Are you coming?"
He looked from his game to Parker, debating his options. This was the first time in days that he'd been able to sit down and get online to play. But, with the information Parker had just shared with him, he was curious to see how dinner would go. Besides, Eliot was cooking; he really didn't want to miss out on that, not when he only had some frozen dinners.
"Sure. Just let me save my game."
She grinned. "I'll meet you downstairs."
He had already turned his attention back to the screen, and when he looked back at where Parker had been sitting, he barely caught the sight of her diving out of his window.
He shook his head. "Seriously."
Dinner was tense. Nate brooded over one end of the table, spending equal amounts of time watching Sophie and downing glass after glass of wine. Eliot sat at the end of the table closest to the kitchen so he could refill plates and glasses as needed; he kept a close eye on Sophie as well, keeping count of every bite that went into her mouth. Tara alternated between sharing stories about what she had spent the past year doing and flirting with Sophie. She overindulged in light caresses along Sophie's arm, innuendoes that made Nate lunge for his wine glass, and she even pressed a soft kiss to Sophie's cheek after a second glass of wine.
Hardison was starving, so he ate as much as he could, but he didn't miss anything. He was the one who noticed Parker's agitation.
"Hey, mama, what's bothering you?" he hissed to the girl beside him as Sophie let loose a peal of laughter at one of Tara's stories.
Parker glared in Tara's direction and stabbed her fork into a piece of ravioli. Hardison's eyes widened at that, but when he got no further reaction, he returned his attention to his food.
For her part, Sophie could barely manage to eat anything. She could feel both Nate and Eliot staring her down. Tara was almost too much, with her attempts to distract Sophie only making her focus more on everything that was wrong. Then, she noticed Parker staring at Tara, looking like she just might launch across the table and strangle Tara.
"I saw Tara kiss Sophie."
Parker's announcement cut through the idle chatter buzzing around the table. Hardison stared at Parker, mouth gaping open mid-chew. Nate's face hardened, but he put down his glass. Tara's eyes darted to Sophie's aghast face. Eliot just looked at Sophie, waiting. Sophie met his icy-blue gaze, and when he gave her a small nod, she stood up.
"Dinner was wonderful, Eliot." Sophie mustered up a smile and walked around the table to pat his shoulder. "But, I'm exhausted. I think I'm going to go onto bed."
She walked down the length of the table, ignoring any questioning looks. As she passed by Nate, she paused, reaching out to brush her fingers against his cheek then retreating before she could; he was hunched forward, his muscles coiling with agitation. She gave the table a last despairing glance and hurried up the stairs.
Eliot waited until he heard the bedroom door close before turning to glare at Parker. "Why the hell would you say something like that?"
Hardison had managed to swallow his food in the interim, and he asked a little more calmly, "Seriously, Parker, what gives?"
"It's not like I was lying." Parker scooted down in her chair, a mixture of defiance and guilt playing across her face. "I don't see what the big deal is."
I would believe that if you didn't look so guilty." Eliot shook his head. Then, he turned to look at Tara. "And, why were you kissing her? Doesn't she have enough to deal with?"
Tara rose from her chair and leaned a little towards him. "I didn't think anything about it. Sophie and I have always been…"
"Been what?" Nate lifted his head and pinned her down with a dark stare. "Because I've always been under the impression that the two of you are friends. But, apparently, you're something more? Friends with benefits? Fuck buddies, if you prefer?"
"Not that it should matter to you," Tara shot back. "I can't count the number of times I've had to comfort Sophie while she cried over you. You know, I trusted you to take care of her. I trusted all of you! And, come to find out, you let her get hurt, and you haven't done a damn thing about it."
"That's not fair," Hardison said as he moved to wrap an arm around Parker's shoulders.
"No. But, it's true. And, that's what really matters, right, Parker?"
Parker's face went blank, and she stood up, stiff as a board, pushing Hardison to the side as she walked out the door.
Eliot growled a little and clenched his hands into fists. "Hardison, go after her. Make sure she doesn't do anything stupid."
Hardison opened his mouth to argue but thought better of it when he looked again at Eliot. Eliot watched him leave the apartment then turned his attention back to Nate and Tara.
"Now, here is exactly what the two of you are going to do next. Nate, you're going to stop drinking." He reached over the table and grabbed Nate's glass. "Right now. You're going to stop brooding about what has already happened and focus on what we're going to do next. We have Tara now. It's about time we took down this Carlisle bastard."
"It doesn't matter," Nate mumbled as he sank back into his chair, eyeing his confiscated glass with longing.
"Damn it, Nate, it does!" Eliot slammed his hands down onto the table. "That bastard hurt Sophie, and we are going to get revenge for her." He turned his gaze on Tara. "And, you are going to wait here for Parker so you can apologize for hurting her feelings."
"But, Sophie needs…"
"Sophie could really use some peace." Eliot cut off her protest. "I'll check to make sure she's okay, but the last thing she needs is the two of you hovering over her and trying to one-up each other. She has enough problems without the two of you competing with each other for her."
"I'm not competing," Tara said grumpily. "It's not like I'm in love with her like Nate."
Eliot straightened up and started for the staircase. "I don't care what you think. I don't want either of you near her right now. She went through hell to keep the team safe, and all any of us is managing to do is to make her feel like shit."
Eliot turned his back on them and trudged up the stairs, suddenly very tired. He paused outside Nate's bedroom and knocked.
Sophie didn't move from where she was lying on the bed, half-curled around the pillow she was crying into. "Go away."
"I just want to make sure you're okay." Eliot's voice was muffled by the thick wood, but she could still hear him. "Either you let me in, or I break down the door, but no way in hell am I leaving without seeing you."
"It's open, then."
She sat up and wiped away the remaining tears on her cheeks as he walked inside. He didn't speak, just sank onto the bed beside her with a groan. She waited, her eyes focused on the floor. She could see the grain of the wood, swirling in patterns.
He finally broke the silence. "So, you and Tara, huh?"
"It's nothing." She shook her head. "No, that's not right. She's my best friend. She's never been anything more."
"Friends that have sex?"
"I don't have to explain myself to you. But, yes, occasionally."
"Hey, I don't really care. If it works for you, then, great. But, Nate doesn't like it. That's a huge mess that you're going to have to sort through eventually."
"Of course. It all comes back to him, doesn't it?"
"Not if you don't want it to." Eliot gave her arm a gentle nudge with his elbow. "He can go fuck himself. I'm worried about you."
"What do you want to hear?"
"The truth would be nice."
"I keep…trying to make everyone else feel better, but I'm not doing a very good job of it." She smiled bitterly. "I have no idea what to do anymore."
"Don't worry about them. They all just need to grow up."
"That's true. But, when I can focus on all of you, I stop thinking about what happened. I feel like I can breathe a little. But, when nights like this happen…" She turned her face away from him and forced back the tears rising in her eyes. "I can't forget. It's always there."
He reached out and grabbed her hand. "Sophie, maybe you should think about it. This isn't something you can brush off, and no amount of revenge is going to change what those men did to you."
"What, are you saying that I should get professional help?" she scoffed. "That's a brilliant idea. I'm sure it will work wonders."
"I'm saying that you need to do what's best for you, no matter what right now, and fuck everyone else. They'll figure out how to deal."
"Funny, Tara said something like that earlier today."
"Well, at least she's managed to do something useful."
The corners of her mouth quirked up at that, and he relaxed a little, satisfied that he had managed a small amount of damage control. There was a lot more he wanted to ask about, but he pushed those thoughts out of his mind. Curiosity could wait.
"I'll leave you alone now." He stood up. "You'll be all right by yourself?"
"I imagine Parker will be dropping in soon." She smiled up at him. "I promise, I'm all right. Now, go make Nate clean up the dishes."
He grinned at that idea. "I'll see you in the morning, Sophie."
The second after he closed the door, Parker's feet hit the hardwood floor. Sophie turned her head and caught a glimpse of blonde hair before Parker joined her on the bed.
"I'm sorry." Parker's voice was flat and she stared at the bedspread, but Sophie knew this was a sincere apology; she would be wary if Parker made an effort to include emotion.
"I know, and I'm not mad." Sophie sighed and tucked Parker's hair away from her face. "But, I do want you to tell me why. I can guess at reasons, but I would much rather understand."
Parker shrugged away from Sophie and jumped up to pace the floor. "She's not supposed to be here. We don't need her. All she's done is mess everything up."
"Parker, this is not helping."
"This was the first time you've really smiled since those men took you away, and it was because of her." Parker frowned and folded her arms across her chest. "We're the ones who have been here, but you smiled because of Tara."
Sophie patted the space beside her. "Come here and sit down." When Parker obliged and sat on the bed, legs poised to break into a run, Sophie sighed and waited as she chose her words with care, knowing that she had to find something to say that Parker would understand. "Honey, Tara is a grifter like me. She knows how I think, and she was using that to keep me from brooding. It was a manipulation of sorts, but it doesn't last. You've done more for me these past weeks than anyone, and I appreciate that. I do."
"But, why can't you smile?"
"I don't understand what you mean, sweetie?"
"Why can't you smile for me or Hardison or Eliot or Nate? Why Tara?"
"I have." Sophie met Parker's gaze and stretched her mouth into a smile. "See? That's not because of Tara."
"And, it's not real, either." Parker scuffed her feet on the floor, a little mollified when she left behind marks. "I guess I can understand. You shouldn't have to make us feel better."
"No, I shouldn't." Sophie gave Parker's hand a squeeze. "Trust me, things will get better."
"If you say so." Parker stood up. "I'm right across the hall if you need me. Or, you know. Whatever."
"I know." Sophie bit the inside of her cheek and tried again for the smile. "Now, get out. I'm going to take a shower."
Parker studied her face for a moment then grinned. "Yeah, okay."
She bounced out of the room, and Sophie shook her head, folding in on herself a little. She took off her shirt, wincing at the pull against her wrapped ribs. As she tossed the piece of clothing onto the bed, Tara walked into the room.
"Can you at least knock?" Sophie snapped. "I can't get any privacy around here."
Tara shifted her feet, her back curving against the doorframe. "Are you mad at me?"
Sophie arched her eyebrows. "Should I be?"
"Apparently, I'm causing a lot of problems."
"I don't think I'm up to making you feel better." Sophie sighed and crossed her arms across her chest, wishing that she still had her shirt on and thinking about insisting that Nate put a deadbolt on the bedroom door. Not that it would keep anyone out; the illusion would just be nice. "Just stick around. I'm glad you're here."
Tara rolled her eyes. "Earlier, you were explaining exactly why you didn't want me to be here."
"I changed my mind."
"Woman, you're going to make me crazy."
Sophie giggled a little. "I don't think that's because of me."
When Sophie reached behind her to grab her shirt, Tara pretended to pout. "Keep it off. I like you better without it."
"Pervert." But Sophie let the fabric slip through her fingers. "What am I going to do with you?"
Tara wiggled her eyebrows in what could have been a suggestive manner. "I can think of a few things. Most of them involve you wearing a lot less, though."
"You're losing your touch, darling." Sophie bit down on her lower lip, tired of the game. "Do you have somewhere to stay?"
"It's according to what you want."
"Stay with me. Please?"
Tara shrugged. "Sure. I'm just going to put out there that Nate might not like the idea."
"Nate doesn't matter right now."
"Then, I'll go grab my bags. You can get your shower. I promise I won't peek."
Sophie waved Tara out of the room and let out a long breath. Her thoughts floated through the evening as she continued undressing. Things with Tara would get better, especially after they put the con in action. She would probably tell Nate one more time that she hated the idea of dangling Tara in front of Carlisle and taking the risk that this could all happen again. Of course, that would involve them being in the same room at the same time, which never happened anymore, at least, not when he could help it. Not that she minded all that much. She was too tired to deal with him and his drinking.She would talk to him later. She would have to. She didn't trust him not to take some stupid risk, especially without her there to rein him in. She swayed a little and let her knees buckle, falling onto the bed. He should be the one to rescue her. But, he wasn't, and she didn't know if he ever would.