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 Ten: Shatter
Eliot tried to ignore Sophie's complete silence as he unwrapped the bandages around her torso, but she was also staring him down, and that was more than he could handle.
"You're mad at me." He always felt it was best to get right to the point with her; otherwise, they could talk in circles all day.
She shifted and tilted her head. "I asked you not to do it, and you did."
"I needed to."
"Because it's what I do. I protect my team. My family. He's lucky Tara and I didn't do more." He prodded at her soft skin, watching her for any signs of pain. "You could have mentioned how dangerous that woman is."
"I couldn't." She wasn't looking at him anymore, and he pulled his hands away.
He realized in that moment that Sophie had lied when she claimed that she hadn't hurt anyone in her past. Of course, that had been when they had all just started working together, so he couldn't really blame her for keeping that a secret. He just wished he had known, that she had told him eventually. It felt like she was lying to him all over again.
"Eliot, I didn't know how to tell anyone." She reached out and grabbed his hand, a gesture he couldn't bring himself to reject. "I'm not…proud of some of the things I've done. Can you understand?"
"I just wish I had known," he mumbled. "We deserve the truth. From you. Unless you want Hardison digging around in your past."
"How do you know?"
"Because he could have done the same with you, and he hasn't. Maybe I should have told all of you. I didn't think I had to because that's not who I am now. I have changed." She gave him a small smile. "We all have pasts, but that doesn't mean we have to be defined by them."
He sighed and pushed his hair out of his face. "What if we are?"
"I don't think you are, Eliot. If you were, you wouldn't be here."
He couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face, but at least he was pretty sure she wasn't manipulating him. "Well, you're all healed up."
"So that means I can help out on our next job?" Her face shone with eagerness.
"We have a job?" He didn't know how much Nate had told her, and he wasn't going to be the one to piss the man off by giving Sophie permission to get back into the field.
"Yes, Nate met with a client yesterday. He said that if my ribs were healed, then I could have a small part. He says he doesn't want to push me, but I just want to get out of this damn apartment."
"Take it easy, darling. But, I can clear you for work. Which means you'll have to stop taking the pain pills. I know they've been helping you sleep, so if you want some sleeping pills…"
"No. I'm fine."
"Eliot, I am a grown woman. I do not need anything."
"I'm getting you some anyway."
"Damn it, Sophie, I'm not going to make you take them. It's just in case." He was almost-yelling, but he was holding himself back for the most part.
She seemed to wilt a little before his anger, but she quickly regained her composure and added some haughtiness in for good measure. "Fine."
He laughed, then, at her stubbornness, and pulled her into a hug. She stiffened then relaxed into him, nuzzling her nose a little into his cheek. He smiled at the affectionate gesture.
"I've missed you," he said.
"I'm not back yet." She cocked her head to the side and gave him a smile tinged with sadness, fondness, and just a little bit of cheek in the way only she could.
He shook his head and stood up. "But, you're on your way. And, that counts for something."
Something flickered through her eyes, and he almost commented on it, but the darkness was gone in an instant. He smiled and left. Worry still nagged at the back of his mind. He ignored it. She was on the road to recovery.
Nate surveyed his assembled team and tried to pinpoint the feeling of disquiet lurking in the back of his mind. Sophie was back, seated in between Eliot and Parker, and it should feel right. Something was off. He shook his head and finished off his coffee before heading over to the screens on the wall to join Hardison.
"Okay, Hardison, run it." He clapped his hands together to try to generate some excitement, but he was met with lackluster looks.
"What's wrong with you people?" Hardison asked, the only one who looked like an uncontained ball of energy, which was odd because usually Parker was the one bobbing around the room and being a general nuisance. "We've got Sophie back!"
Eliot muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "That's the problem."
Parker just twisted the end of her braid around her fingers and stared at the tabletop. Tara draped her languid body over a chair and shrugged, her eyes trained on Sophie. Eliot sat in his chair, practically vibrating from his tensed muscles. Sophie was the only one who met Nate's eyes; she smiled at him, and he felt a familiar warmth spreading through his body before he pushed that aside to deal with later. Much later. He had a more immediate problem.
"Let's just try and stay focused. This should be an easy job." Nate turned his attention to Hardison and considered joining the others at the table. After glancing at Sophie, he decided he would be better off staying where he was.
"We shouldn't take this job," Parker burst out just as Hardison pulled up the first pictures for the briefing.
"What?" Nate wheeled around to look at her, and he waited for Sophie to go into damage-control mode. When she didn't, he realized with a sinking feeling that he might have figured out the source of unbalance.
"It's too dangerous. We shouldn't do this job. It's….too soon." Parker glared at him, and it didn't take long for the rest of them to catch onto the reason Parker was so agitated.
An uncomfortable silence settled over them. Any semblance of an equilibrium had been destroyed, and Nate knew he was going to flounder with any sort of argument or explanation. He watched Sophie; she was staring straight ahead, her eyes tinged with fear and weariness that were becoming much too familiar.
"I need this," Sophie finally said in a quiet voice. She was looking right at Nate. "I can't hide out here forever. Please. I need this."
Nate nodded his head. "Does anyone want to argue with her?"
He didn't expect any protests, and they moved on without any more incidents. But, there was a rigidity, a solemnity, shadowing every word and movement that had never appeared before in their small team. It worried him more than many of the things that had happened in the past. They were breaking apart, and he wasn't capable of putting them back together. That had always been Sophie; and, he didn't think she would be able to help keep them together because she was spiraling out just as much, if not more, than all of them.
Sophie was working harder than she should to keep her focus on the mark. William Hall, esteemed businessman and known asshole. It was almost too cold in the elegant ballroom. Tara had put her in a shimmering white dress that dipped dangerously low in the front, and she fought the urge to fidget with it. All the quiet elegance and grace that had come naturally to her were gone, and it was frustrating. Every action required a thought behind it, something she hadn't had to deal with since her early years as a grifter.
Thank goodness she was only the roper for this con and Tara would be taking the bulk of the work.
"Would you care to dance?"
William's hand landed on her forearm, and her instincts flared to life. She started to jerk away from him before remembering where she was, and she fished out a flustered smile.
"Actually, I need to go powder my nose. Will you excuse me?"
She slipped away from him without waiting for a response.
"What the hell was that?" Nate demanded angrily in her ear.
She hurried into the bathroom and made sure it was empty. Leaning against a wall, she shook her head as she took gulping breaths in an effort to calm her racing pulse.
"I don't know. I just…I can't do this, Nate. It was just a touch, and I panicked."
She could feel his pause through the earbud, and it was oddly comforting. He would come up with a solution. After all, he was the man with a plan.
"Okay. Tara, can you take Sophie's part? Soph, you can come back to the van, and I'll take you back to my place."
She had never said that she always liked his plans. "No."
"Don't be unreasonable. It's a minor change."
"I've already made contact, and he's almost hooked. If I leave now, he might get suspicious."
"Then you need to tell us how we can help you," Tara chimed in.
Sophie closed her eyes.
"Is everything okay?" Parker's voice jolted her from her thoughts. "Do you need a paper bag? I've heard that helps with panic attacks."
"She's fine, Parker," Eliot said in a gruff voice.
"She's hiding out in the bathroom. I don't think that's what is normally called 'fine'," Hardison pointed out.
"There are too many people in my head," Sophie said quickly. "I can't think."
"I can set it up so you can only hear one person over the earbuds," Hardison offered. "Just pick someone."
The answer came almost too easily, but she could handle the ramifications later. "Nate. Do it."
Her comm went silent almost instantly, then Nate's voice was in her ear, warm comfort stealing through her. "Okay, Soph, I want you to think about that night in Damascus."
"We had several." She fought against the tremors threatening to steal into her words.
"This would be seven years ago. You had on a dark blue dress with a spectacular diamond necklace that I was sure you had stolen right from under my nose only the year before."
"You danced with me that night. Didn't I steal your wallet?"
"Yes, which was annoying when I was trying to get a cab back to my hotel later."
She laughed and unclenched her fists, an action she was only just registering. God, she was a mess. "I suppose I could apologize for that now. But why that night?"
"It was our first dance together. Just hold onto that to keep you calm. Besides, I want you to use a few of the same tricks that you used on me."
"Okay. I think I'm ready." She started for the door. She paused to whisper, "Thank you, Nate."
"For understanding. Knowing."
Tara slipped into the bed beside her, and Sophie rolled over to face her. She was a little surprised to see that Tara had already settled down in a position facing her as well. But, of course she would anticipate this.
"Are you doing okay?" Tara's hands stroked through her hair with a careless intimacy.
"I've lost a piece of myself. My real self, not some identity I've made up. How do I get it back?" Her voice felt like it was too small, like a little girl's who's afraid of what might be lurking under her bed or in the closet.
Tara let out a small laugh, equal parts amusement and bitterness. "You're asking the wrong person, sweetheart."
"Do you ever wonder if you're making all the wrong decisions?"
"Of course." She paused, shifting her weight to her right elbow so she could peer down at Sophie in the dim light from the moonbeams streaming in through the window. "This isn't one for you, though."
"Are you sure?" Sophie traced her fingers over Tara's forehead and cheekbones, a delicate whisper of a touch.
"You're the one who has to know."
"Will things get better? Will I…"
"I can't give you that answer."
Sophie reached up and pulled Tara's face closer. Their lips met in a chaste kiss, a soft pressure that grew into a feverish kiss born out of years of friendship and this something more they've entertained but never invested in. Sophie broke away first, fighting back tears.
Tara immediately curled her body around Sophie's. "I think I should move out."
"Where will you go?" Sophie pressed her nose into Tara's neck and kissed the soft skin there.
"I was thinking about your place until you're ready to move back in. I'll still be here for you."
"I know." Her quiet assurance even surprised Sophie, but she held onto it. It was one of the only sure things she had right now.
Nate walked into his kitchen and watched Sophie move around the counter. She was contemplating a bottle of whiskey and two small glasses filled with the amber liquid.
"Are you going to drink one of those or just stare?" he asked, joining her at the island.
She looked up at him with a sheepish grin, sliding one of the glasses in his direction, her wrist upturned to him. "Sorry. I just felt like I could use a drink since the job is done."
"You did fine, you know." He lifted the glass to his mouth and took a sip.
She drank deeply from own glass, reaching for the bottle once she had drained away her whiskey. She had to stretch across him to grab it. Her hair fell to the side, exposing the soft skin of her neck. He wrapped his fingers around her arm and tugged her away from the bottle.
"Whatever you want, you don't have to con me." He kept his voice calm because he wasn't angry. Not yet, at least.
She tried to widen her brown eyes with innocence, but when he gave her a knowing look, she dropped the act. Her shoulders slumped in defeat, and she sighed.
"I just thought…" She shook her head and let her voice trail off.
"What is it, Soph?"
"I don't know how to ask you for this."
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He had an inkling about what she was after, but he didn't want to jump to conclusions.
"Just spit it out. I won't laugh or anything."
She grabbed the countertop and held on until her knuckles turned white. She was trembling, and he tried to rub her back. She jerked away from him, her body vibrating with her tension.
"I need you," she whispered. "I…I've been so fucking lost, and I don't know what to do, and I need to know that I'm okay, that I'm not broken. I don't want to be broken, Nate. Goddamn it." Tears prickled at the corners of her eyes, and she blinked them back. "Please tell me you understand. That you can help me. Because I can't keep going on like this. This is so fucked up!"
"Sophie," he began, but she interrupted him, whirling around and grabbing onto the front of his shirt.
"Please, Nate. If you've ever cared about me or wanted me, please do this for me. I know it's like I'm using you. But, I'm not. Not really. I don't know what to do. Fuck, I just…please, Nate. Please."
He grabbed her hands and held her still as he looked at her. Her chest was heaving with her panicked breathing, and her eyes were wild with desperation. He almost walked away. He moved on instinct and threaded his fingers through her dark curls, cupping her cheek with his other hand.
"Okay." He smiled at her. "Okay."
She nodded her head, echoing him. "Okay."
He leaned closer, hesitating, and her eyes fluttered closed when his breath skimmed the side of her face. He kissed her gently, cradling her jaw in his hand. Her mouth molded to his, her arms wrapping around his neck, pulling him closer. He broke away from her lips for a moment, then moved back in for another kiss. This time, he pressed with more insistence and traced the seam of her lips with his tongue. Her mouth parted, and her hands reached for the button of his pants as he slid his tongue against hers.
He took a step back. She tried to reach for him, but he took her hands in his and shook his head.
"Slow, okay?" he said in a soft voice.
She nodded in answer and let him pull her into his arms. In a smooth movement, he swept her off her feet, cradling her body against his chest as he headed for the stairs. She took advantage of this new position to start kissing his neck. When she found a sensitive place on his throat, she nipped at it then gave it an open-mouthed kiss, experimenting with her teasing. He groaned in the back of his throat and kept going.
He placed her on his bed, letting her pull him down on top of her into a heated kiss. Her fingers flew down the buttons of his shirt, and she tugged at it insistently until he slipped it off his shoulders and to the floor. He let her then unfasten his pants, and he shed them. But, when she reached for his boxers, he stilled her feverish grasping.
He slid his palms up legs over the fabric of her jeans. He helped her shimmy out of the pants and turned his attention to her neck, kissing and biting gently as he traced his left hand down her spine and his right hand cupped one of her breasts through her shirt and bra. She whimpered and arched her neck into his lips; he smiled and pulled her shirt up and over her head.
He paused to look at her, lying on sheets that smelled more like her than him, and he took in the angles of her form. Even with hipbones that jutted out a little too much and hollowed-out cheeks, she was beautiful, smiling up at him and snaking hands into his hair to tug at his unruly curls.
He slid a bra strap off her shoulder. "You are so beautiful." He punctuated every word with small kisses.
She hummed and bucked her hips playfully at him. He fumbled a little with her bra's clasp, but he managed and got rid of it. He took a nipple into his mouth, pulling on it with his teeth and running his tongue over it. He smirked up at her as she moaned, and he could see her brown eyes growing darker.
"Please, Nate," she whispered, twisting her legs a little underneath him.
He let one hand fall to the junction of her hip and thigh, his thumb brushing teasingly across the dampening fabric of her underwear. Trailing his mouth lower, down the valley between her breasts to her stomach, he pressed his thumb against her again, earning a choked gasp.
He breathed in the heady scent of her arousal and slipped one finger underneath the edge of her panties. She arched her back and lifted her hips; he pulled her underwear down her legs and positioned himself in between her thighs, keeping his left hand on her hip. He flicked her clit with his tongue.
"Nate," she moaned out. He repeated the action. "Fuck…God, Nate. Please."
He moved slowly, but he slid two fingers into her as he closed his lips around her clit and sucked gently. He curled his fingers and had to press a little harder on her hip to keep her from bucking and hitting him in the mouth. One of her hands grasped at the sheets and the other moved to his head, pushing him closer to her body and tightening a little painfully in his hair. He picked up the pace, and within moments, she came, her body shuddering with the force of her climax.
He eased himself up beside her; he licked his hand clean and leaned over her trembling form to press a kiss to her lips. He started to pull away, and she mewled in disappointment; he chuckled and tilted her chin towards him, kissing her. He was almost painfully hard by now, and when one of her hands brushed against the front of his boxers, he groaned and buried his face into her neck.
She wrapped her arms around his waist and tugged him over on top of her; he ran his hands down her sides and kissed the soft swell of her breast. Her fingers slid into his boxers, wrapping around him and fumbling a little when he thrust his hips involuntarily towards her. He covered her mouth with his, slipping his tongue past her lips. She moaned and withdrew her hand. He pushed his boxers down, struggling to get them past his hips as he was focused on the way her tongue slid against his. He finally pulled them off and held himself above her body, stroking the palm of his hand against her breast.
"Are you sure?" His voice was rough with his desire.
She nodded her head, tucking her bottom lip between her teeth. He slid a hand underneath her hip and lifted her up as he guided himself into her. He groaned at the feeling of her surrounding him and dropped his head to her neck to nip at her skin. He rocked his hips into hers and glanced over at her face. He frowned.
Her eyes were wide, but instead of the earlier pleasure, she looked afraid. Her nails were digging painfully into his shoulder as her chest heaved with frantic breaths. He reached up to brush her hair out of her face, but she recoiled away from his hand. Tears flowed from her eyes, and she whimpered and tightened her grasp on his shoulders.
"Sophie, look at me," he urged in a soft voice, trying to move away so he could help her, but she wouldn't let him go. "Soph, it's okay. It's just me."
She shook her head and screwed her eyes closed, her breathing quickening even as her fingers tightened their grasp on his skin. He had to do something; he could tell that she was panicking. Cradling the back of her neck in one hand and pulling her up against his body with the other, he rolled to the side until he was lying on his back. She blinked and relaxed her hands a little as she looked down at him, confused now.
He smiled. "If you want this, Soph, then you need to take it. You're in control now."
She watched him; she moved her hands along his chest and took a few deep breaths. She rotated her hips experimentally, moaning at the rush of sensation. She steadied herself against his chest and guided one of his hands to rest on her hip as she continued to rock into him. Leaning forward, she kissed him as she grabbed onto the headboard with one hand and pushed back against his hips.
He tugged at her bottom lip with his teeth and murmured, "I love you."
She closed her eyes, and he brushed his fingers against her clit. Her movements were less steady now, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to last much longer. His body pulsed with his need, and he rubbed gentle circles in between her legs even as she slid her thighs further apart and tilted her head back as her spine arched in a delicately graceful motion.She shuddered and groaned, and her muscles clenched around him even as he continued to flicker his fingers against her in a faster rhythm. The world went white around the edges, and he came, jerking his hips into hers then stilling. A moment later, she followed him over the edge; she collapsed against his chest, her body melting into his as her breath whispered along his jaw. He didn't move, content to lay there with her, pressing his lips to her flushed face.