Spoilers: Through the end of Season 3.
Characters: Nate, Sophie, Eliot, Hardison, Parker, Maggie, and Tara. And some various minor original characters.
Pairings: Nate/Sophie, Parker/Hardison, Sophie/Tara, and mentions of past Nate/Maggie and Eliot/Aimee
Summary: The team takes on a job that leads to double-crosses and choices they never expected. They all find out you never leave the past behind and it can change the present.
Notes: This is a nonlinear story. I've laid out the basic premise of the con in the first chapter and will give all vital information as the story progresses. This was originally intended for this year's Leverage Big Bang, but my muse decided to take a six month long vacation, so that didn't work out. I liked the idea too much to let it go, so here it is. As a warning, there is explicit language and sexual themes.
Chapter Two: and darkness is real
She crouches next to Hardison, Bunny clutched tightly to her chest. They can hear Sophie and Nate fighting in the next room. Hardison is attempting to distract her with his chatter. She keeps her eyes trained on the closed door; she bites her lower lip and glances in Eliot's direction. He's pacing, his head bowed.
She doesn't know exactly what's going on, but it isn't good.
"Sophie isn't going to leave again, is she?"
Hardison looks up from his laptop and at her. "I don't think so, mama. Listen, this is just a fight. They almost never get along."
Parker shakes her head and tightens her grip on Bunny. "This is different."
She falls silent. If Sophie does try to leave, she'll steal her back. Fuck what Nate says this time around. She's not really good at fixing things, especially when it comes to feelings and people. All the wrong words come out of her mouth, and she makes everything worse. She tries to be better, but that doesn't really work.
She thinks through contingency plans instead. These people, if they leave, they'll take away a piece of her. And she doesn't appreciate it when people steal from her.
There are times when she doesn't know where she stops and Hardison begins. They flow together until everything is all mixed up and confusing, and she's too opened up and vulnerable. It makes her afraid, and she doesn't like that feeling at all, but she can't run away because whatever this is, it's so different from anything else she's ever known. It's like a lightning bolt and a rainbow and electricity that shimmers in misty air, and she's trapped but she's not trying to run either. She doesn't know if it's love. Sophie and Nate are probably in love, and they keep hurting each other. Parker almost hopes that she doesn't love Hardison if that's what it turns out to be. She'll keep whatever she has.
There's a crash then the familiar sound of something breaking into pieces. She wonders absently if it is the vase she had been considering moving to her room. It's pretty much worthless, but she likes the pattern of delicate silver flowers on the white porcelain. She hopes that Sophie only broke that ugly lamp.
The door bangs open, and Parker laughs a little when Hardison jumps at the sudden sound. She watches Nate stalk out. He goes immediately to the bar and grabs the first bottle he sees.
She gets up and heads into the bedroom. She still has a tight grip on Bunny. She finds Sophie sitting on the edge of her king-sized bed, trembling and clutching at the bedspread with white fingers. Sophie's still high from the cocaine she snorted earlier in the evening.
Parker hesitates. She searches for something to say, but nothing comes to her. She scowls at her mind's lack of cooperation, but she sits down beside Sophie. Sophie doesn't look at her, which is just as well. Parker stares at the floor and plays a little with Bunny's floppy ears, thinking. The memories of lonely nights spent curled up with her stuffed animal come to her. Her fingers stroke the worn fur in a calming rhythm as she debates her options and decides on a course of action.
She turns to look at Sophie, holding Bunny out into the space between them. "You can hold Bunny if you want. He's better at this than me."
Sophie's wet eyes lock onto her, and she panics for a moment, sure that she's said the wrong thing and made Sophie cry. Then, Sophie's giving her a gentle smile. Her hands take Bunny from Parker, bringing him up to her chest in a tight hug. Parker watches and waits. She doesn't like that Sophie's shoulders are shaking with her sobs. Bunny doesn't seem to be helping. He's supposed to make Sophie not cry.
She leans in and pats Sophie's head awkwardly. When Sophie's tears don't stop, Parker scoots in closer and wraps her arm around Sophie's waist. She thinks she might be doing this right. Then, she has her arms full of Sophie, who is clinging to her torso like she's scared of disappearing.
Parker fights off the instinct to fling Sophie away and rests her chin on the top of Sophie's head. She's not good at fixing things. But as long as Sophie is holding onto her, Sophie can't leave. And maybe that's good enough for the moment. It's only temporary. She thinks about alcohol and different families every year and explosions and lost children and trust and honesty and grey areas and hiding in air ducts and tears and hugs and smiles and the feeling of coming home. Nothing lasts.
Parker doesn't have any friends. She remembers being in school, but she doesn't remember ever having a best friend or even constant playmates.
But, she's okay. She might only be eleven, but she's already learned that it's dangerous to trust people, especially adults; she has been through fourteen foster homes and twenty-three schools. She packs light and fast, always ready for the next move. So, maybe that's why she doesn't make friends. She'll have to stay in the same place for longer for people to even actually learn her name.
Bunny knows her name. She whispers secrets to him when they think she is sleeping. He makes her happy. He's the first souvenir of her favorite hobby: stealing. She likes the way the word "thief" sounds; it's full of soft and sneaky sounds. She sometimes says it over and over, in a whisper, then drawing out that last little hiss. She thinks she is a thief, but she doesn't tell anyone because people say that it's wrong and she should be a good little girl.
She prefers having what she wants. So, she slips wallets out of pockets and stows small trinkets in her coat.
Until the day she sticks her fingers in the wrong pocket.
She sees the tell-tale bulge in his pocket and slips close enough to take it; the second she wraps her hand around the grand prize, the man whirls and grabs her by the arm.
"Let me go!" She twists furiously against his iron grip, trying to make a loud fuss, but the street is so busy that no one pays any attention.
Besides, he's an adult and she's a kid. No one cares about her.
"Trying to steal from me?"
He's not that scary-looking, but he is staring down at her like he knows her, and she doesn't like it. She stops fighting and hangs limply from his grasp.
"No," she spits out, her voice and face sullen.
He chuckles and pulls her out of the sidewalk traffic. "You're a little scamp. I almost let you get away with it because you're pretty good."
"Really?" He's the first adult she's found who hasn't immediately given her a lecture on the evils of stealing and a lot of other boring things she thinks grown-up people have to say because they never get to have any fun.
"But, you could be better." He smiles at her, and she echoes it; he seems friendly.
"People tell me that I shouldn't try to get better."
"Well, I'm not like most people. Now, do you have a family?"
Her foster family at the moment flashes through her mind before she answers. "No."
"You need a home, then." He starts walking, and he hasn't let go of her, so she stumbles behind him, having to almost skip to keep up. "Stick with me, kid, and you're going to be one of the greatest thieves who ever lived."
She learns later on that his name is Archie Leach.
Hardison knows Parker is in his apartment the second he walks in the door. A cereal bowl with milk still in the bottom has been abandoned on his kitchen counter, and his television is turned to Cartoon Network, though the volume is lower than Parker normally likes. Then she skips out of his bedroom, dressed in a pair of his sweatpants and a tank top, and he swallows hard.
"Hey, mama." He picks up the bowl and puts it in the sink to distract himself from the way his pants are riding very low on her hips and the fact that it doesn't look like she's wearing a bra.
She beams at him and jumps onto his couch, her feet flying up into the air. "I couldn't sleep. Where were you?"
"Working with Sophie on making sure she has a concrete alias."
"I thought you kept up with all that when we're not on a job."
"I don't touch the ones she had before we started working together. I don't know where she got them from, but they're pretty much airtight. It's impressive."
"Since you haven't helped her with them?"
He sees a flash of Bunny as Parker bounces a little on the cushions and finally settles down. He grabs his laptop from his bag and goes to sit next to her.
"It sounds like I'm conceited when you put it like that." He flexes his fingers and starts browsing through the information he has for this job; it makes him uncomfortable that he doesn't have that much to go on.
Parker scoots closer to him and prods at his shoulder. "You're the best. You know, we went through all of this today."
"Yeah, and normally I have a ton more stuff, but this is it. These guys are pretty good at staying off the grid."
"Does that mean I'll get to steal more stuff?"
Her eyes light up at the thought, and he can't help smiling. She really is the most spectacular woman he's ever seen. He wants to reach out and touch her, but he doesn't. He likes the idea of her sticking around a lot more.
"Pretty sure it does," he answers. "No idea what, though. Nate didn't have a plan when I left."
"You were at Nate's apartment?"
"Yeah. That's where we work." His eyes skate over her face, and he takes in her furrowed brow. "What is it?"
"Did Sophie leave before you?" She's put her hand on his shoulder in her absentminded state, and he really wishes he could focus more on that than the continuing mess that is Nate's relationship with Sophie. Or the other way around.
"No." He frowns. "Seriously, what's up?"
"I just…do you think they're sleeping together?"
He laughs and only stops when he realizes that he's offended her. The hand on his shoulder disappears.
Sighing, he shakes his head. "I don't think they are. They've been like this ever since we started working together, and you'd think that getting laid would make Nate, you know, happier. Man seriously needs to lighten up."
Parker nods her head, but he's now wondering if she might be onto something. But, with a lack of work to do and a system too hyped up on caffeine to go to sleep for a few hours, he needs to find something to do. And, he won't mind if Parker stays for a little longer. He's getting used to the smell of her jasmine shampoo and the fact that she's inched a little closer to him so that their thighs are just barely touching.
"Do you want to watch a movie?" he offers.
"A Disney movie," she says, breaking into a smile and jumping off the couch.
"Where you going, girl?" He ambles to his collection of DVDs and pulls Aladdin off the shelf. It's turned into one of her favorites.
The sound of the microwave starting and the instant aroma of popcorn is his answer, and he turns around to see her pulling two bottles of orange soda from his fridge.
"We need snacks," she explains in a patient voice while still making him feel a little stupid. She's picked it up from Sophie and normally applies it to situations where it doesn't fit. He thinks she does it mostly to annoy Eliot and Nate.
She tosses a bottle to him, and he catches it a swift movement. "Heh, look at that. Eliot's not the only one who can catch stuff."
"You generally miss 57.4 percent of the time," she responds as she starts to dig through his couch cushions.
"What are you doing? And, how do you know that?"
"It's simple math, Hardison. And, I'm looking for a package of gummy frogs I put here last week." She tugs a plastic bag out and drops it in his lap. "There you go."
"Why were you stuffing gummy frogs in my couch?" He opens them anyway and offers them to her first.
She takes one and chews on it, bouncing again as the movie starts. He realizes he's not going to get an explanation. He shrugs it off and goes to get the popcorn and two bowls. Parker likes to mix her gummy frogs with her popcorn, and while he likes both, he doesn't want them together.
She doesn't even notice when he puts the bowl in her lap, and he drapes his arm over the back of the couch when he sits down, letting his fingers dangle just close enough to her shoulder that he can touch her.
Eliot counts at least half of this mission a success when he and Sophie aren't shot on sight. He does keep his focus on the three hulking men hovering behind Javier Cruz because Sophie is well on her way to wrapping Cruz around her little finger.
They've been led to the back room of a club. The techno beat of the music bleeds through the wall. Sophie settles into a chair at the table in the room and crosses her legs to expose the maximum amount of skin she can.
Javier lays a gun on the table and takes a seat opposite her. "Now, Miss Kroy, let's talk business."
"Are you attempting to threaten me?" He can't help smirking at the way Sophie bristles at the weapon.
"Of course not." He doesn't like Cruz. He likes his plan of action much better: hurt people until someone tells them what happened.
Sophie sits back in her chair, but she angles her body more towards Eliot. "I think the question I need an answer for is if you have the resources to handle moving my merchandise."
"I have very few losses when making shipments." Cruz leers at her. "I personally ensure that your merchandise will make it to wherever you want it to go."
"I should hope so." She leans forward and runs her fingers over the barrel of Cruz's gun. "If anything happens to my merchandise, you are to cover the losses. In return for your services, I will give you a forty percent cut after I cover my expenses."
"That's more than anyone is willing to pay." Cruz crosses his arms across his chest, and Eliot starts to move towards Sophie. She shakes her head and keeps her eyes on Cruz. "What's the catch?"
She smirks, obviously pleased that Cruz is almost on the hook. Eliot relaxes as she turns further in Cruz's direction.
"If any of your employees are apprehended, they are not to be traced back to me. Having the NSA attempt to chase after me will be an annoyance I won't tolerate. If you do attempt to double-cross me, I will have your business destroyed."
"You couldn't do that."
"I believe you remember the Fuentes cartel from about sixteen years ago? I had a deal with them, and they tried to turn me in and keep my merchandise for themselves. Obviously, they no longer are in existence, and here I am." The smile on her face is pure wickedness, and Eliot finds himself matching it; he's pretty sure they are making a terrifying pair at the moment.
One of the bodyguards shifts uncomfortably. Cruz finally nods his head and pulls out a flask and a small plastic bag filled with a white powder. When he pours it out onto the table and starts to manipulate it into lines, Eliot realizes it's cocaine. He wants to say something, but Sophie catches his eye and gives him a slight shake of her head. Sophie takes a dollar bill Cruz hands to her and bends over a line, snorting it in a quick movement. Eliot struggles to keep his face impassive, but he manages.
It goes on, with a few shots in between the lines, and Eliot knows that she has to be high, especially since this isn't something she does every day. They're talking in soft voices that he wouldn't be able to hear without the earbuds. It's all he can do to keep from leaping over the table and strangling Cruz.
"Would you like to move to a more comfortable place?" Cruz reaches across the table and places a hand on Sophie's arm, stroking her skin.
"I don't mix my business with personal pleasure," Sophie replies, probably with a flutter of her eyelashes and a seductive smile. At least she's still in character.
"Neither do I." Cruz stands up and motions to his bodyguards.
Eliot steps forward and hovers at Sophie's elbow as she rises from her chair in a liquid movement. She waves him away in irritation.
"Why don't you go back to the hotel?" She says this in a sweet voice with a touch low on his abdomen, and he can see even in the dim light that her pupils are way too wide.
This is an awful idea. But he has no idea how to refuse her without breaking out of his character.
"Don't leave her alone with them," Nate demands.
Eliot locks eyes with Sophie and says in a low voice, "Call me when you're ready to come back to the hotel."
"I'll take good care of her," Cruz interrupts, slipping an arm around her waist.
Sophie shrugs him off and looks up at Eliot. "Of course, darling. Now, go away like a good little boy."
Eliot sweeps a glare over the muscle still lurking in the background before leaving the room. Nate is barking orders through the comm. while Parker is asking questions and Hardison is listing off every possible bad outcome, so Eliot rips the thing out of his ear so he can think. He knows better than to tail them because they will expect something like that. His only option is to go back to the team and wait for Sophie to finish hooking Cruz.
Nate lifts his head and surveys the dark room. He hasn't been moved since they were all left here. He can't believe that he's in this position. Sophie is the only one who is still out in the wind, and there is no guarantee that she's even still alive.
He pulls at the rope binding him to his chair. Parker stirs beside him, and he hears her struggle with the rope wrapped around her torso and legs. Her chair rattles against the floor until one of the guards stalks over to her.
"Stay still," he growls, slapping her.
Nate holds back his protests because they won't do any good. He'll probably only get a beating for his trouble. His eyes have adjusted enough to the darkness to look at Parker and see the betrayed look she is giving him. He sighs and cranes his neck to see how the others are faring.
Eliot is a mess of blood and bruises, slumped over against the rope tied around him; Hardison is awake and trying to nudge his chair closer to Eliot to check on him. Tara catches Nate's eye and shakes her head. She feels like this is her fault.
He can't tell her that it's really his.
The door opens, then, and the light flicks on. He shuts his eyes against the glare and opens them to slits until he adjusts to the difference.
"Glad to see you're awake, Mr. Ford," George Westmore says as he grins and walks closer.
Nate hears Eliot growl behind him, and he is instantly relieved that Eliot is at least functioning.
"What do you want, Westmore?" Nate finally asks.
Westmore gestures to the door, and Sophie steps through it as he says, "This was all for Miss Kroy. We knew each other once upon a time."
Sophie's face is hard as stone, and she glares at Westmore. "Let's just get this done."
"I'm going to keep my side of the bargain, never worry." Westmore circles his five hostages and spreads his arms wide. "Pick the one you want."
"What are you going to do with the rest of us?" Hardison pipes up.
"It all depends on whether Miss Kroy keeps her side of the bargain."
"What bargain is that?" Nate growls because Sophie looks deathly pale as her eyes flicker across all of them.
"The details are unimportant," she says through gritted teeth.
That is bad. So, so beyond bad, really.
"Well, Miss Kroy, which of my hostages do you wish to take with you?" Westmore asks as he steps closer to her, giving her a tight-lipped smile.
Sophie looks down at Nate, and he tries to give her an encouraging look. She gazes past him and points to Eliot.
"Him. Let him go."
Sophie ducks her head and waits as the guards untie Eliot from the chair and pull him up; he almost falls over as soon as he gets on his feet. Nate holds his anger in check when the guards prod him forward. Sophie moves to Eliot's side and slips his arm over her shoulders, supporting his weight against her body as they walk out the door.
Westmore waits until they are gone to look at the rest of them. "She will bring back an item of great value to me. She's left the rest of you to die."
"Does she know that?" Nate asks in a low voice as he watches Parker and Hardison out of his peripherals, seeing them both panic.
Westmore laughs. "No. She thinks she gets to take one more of you with her."
Westmore grins and surveys them. With a nod of his head, he turns on his heel and strides out of the room, his entourage of armed men following after. Nate bows his head, resigning himself to the fact that he is no better position to negotiate an escape than before. I hope you know what you're doing, Soph.