When Sophie says that she’s never wanted kids, she means it. There has never been, at any point in her life, a moment where she could even imagine a world in which children would be a good idea for her. Not when she was young, not for the very short period of her life that she spent among non-criminals, and not now. She doesn’t associate any loss with it, either. It’s just something objective she knows about herself, like her natural hair color, or the precise cut of diamond that sparkles best against any given contour of her skin.
That’s why the first time she hears Hardison say it, she nearly lets it slide over her head, out of focus and into oblivion, with the helicopter blades roaring in the background as she watches Nate and the multiple authorities on the pier grow smaller and smaller in sight.
It’s not loud enough to drown out the flurry of thoughts in her mind. Or how, even as her mouth buzzes with the memory of Nate's taste and the ghost of his cheek remains on her fingertips, she somehow feels physically, improbably still.
This is the closest she’s felt to herself in years.
There’s enough room in this helicopter to seat all of them, but they sit three abreast with Hardison and Eliot on either side of her, shoulder to shoulder. Parker’s sitting on the floor, curled into Sophie’s shins, cheek resting on Sophie’s knee.
“Soph,” says Eliot, a tentative volume meant to be quiet but heard over their escape vehicle.
“I’m okay,” she nods. He nods and extends a hand toward Parker’s shoulder, the shoulder Sophie doesn’t have her hand on. That’s enough of a check-in for him now.
Hardison takes her free hand, warm but quivering just the slightest. “You came,” he murmurs, and, half-listening, the response is already forming in the back of her mind. Of course she came, small smile, little hair toss.
Letting them go was hard, almost as hard as realizing she needed guardrails for the first time in her life and finding none.
His voice is low but clear, meant as an aside to her but ambivalent about the other three people sitting near her. “Thanks, Mum.”
She’s staring ahead at nothing, at helicopter parts, turning over and over in her head how their situation must have been worse than she knew but just as bad as she thought, when the awareness grips her. Crystallized. Sharp.
Slowly (she thinks Parker’s asleep), she turns to him, ever so slightly, opening the floor for him to take it back.
When he meets his eyes directly, he stares back with nothing but open warmth.
She’s lost count of the number of times her eyes have burned today, but she’s won more battles than she’s lost. She nearly loses now, then just leans her head sideways into his shoulder as he wraps one arm around her and extends another to Parker’s shoulder. It’s solid, grounding.
But they’re going to have to talk about this.
She can’t sleep after cons, successful or not. The adrenaline has never let her rest. Hardison stays up late too doing young people who-knows-what with his computer mates, and she knows this just as she knows it’s better not to ask. When she does stay over at HQ, she tries to give him his space.
All of them are staying at HQ right now. Eliot’s asleep in his room, and Parker’s asleep in an air vent. Something about Nate’s absence pulls them closer together. They’ve pulled together figuring out Nate’s prison situation. It’s just something to do that feels normal. They’re used to having some kind of purpose together.
Today, though, she walks down to the room illuminated only by the blue lights of his multiple screens, hovers as loudly as she can without making a sound.
He starts anyway. It’s easy to forget sometimes that this person she is now defaults to quiet sometimes.
“La--Soph-- woman .” He rubs his eyes then raises the lights a little so he can stop squinting at her in the dark.
She sighs a laugh, almost to herself, and takes a familiar seat beside him. “Thought you’d be too wrapped up to notice.” She props an elbow on the table and her chin in her hand. They’ve passed the need to talk about their after-job habits a while back.
“World of Warcraft? Nah, no big missions tonight. You know, it’s kind of weird without Nate here telling me to do something else.”
The slash of anger is jagged across her chest, even as her stomach flutters at the name. She pushes those feelings - none of that is for now. Hardison keeps the kettle under the table for times like this, and she sets to work making the tea. “No one is doing anything tomorrow,” Sophie declares. “I for one will be sleeping until noon.”
“That’s what I’m talking about.”
She’s spent more nights with Hardison down here watching him game than she likes to admit. She has no idea what he’s doing, but she likes to watch the colors. It’s stimulating for Hardison and relaxing for her, in a way that’s a bit mesmerizing.
Time is a luxury, and she basks in it with him in silence.
“I’m not taking it back.”
She’s suddenly glad the lights are dim, because she chokes up at that. “You sure?” she whispers.
“I have more than enough siblings. And Nana. And them.” He leans his head in the direction of the stairwell. “Nate. And you. And you’re, yeah. You’re her.” He chuckles, presumably because her eyes are about to spill over, and she’s cried quite enough in front of them today. “Don’t make it weird.”
It’s the laugh that betrays her, sends tears falling from both her eyes. It’s Nate and the close call and the way after months of being gone, the three of them just clung to her, no explanation necessary. She did explain a bit, and she’d explain more in the coming days, but they’d just all fallen in toward her on the helicopter, no questions asked. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she whispers, smiling.
The kettle bubbles over then, and he turns back to the screens while she makes her tea in silence. They don’t speak for the rest of the night.
She wonders if he starts using the name with her when they’re alone because she’s not as solid on Lara. In her head, as deep as she’s willing to admit (which is not as deep as it should be), she’s Sophie. Perhaps different, the name of a stranger that just so happens to also be the one this team has known her by for so long. Maybe she’ll call the whole thing off and go back to Sophie.
“Mum” has made the whole thing more convenient, for him anyway.
He says it in her accent (he’s improving), which is endearing from an outside perspective, creates the illusion that it’s some kind of inside joke even though he only ever says it in front of her. Like there’s that extra layer of security in case anyone enters in on this term of endearment that only they share.
Between them, it’s a sign of affirmation of who she is, of who she’s decided to be.
And maybe it’s a sign of who he’s chosen to be too.
She’s on her way back to her place after they’ve tied up the lose ends with the Scheherazade affair, nearly has her bag packed, when she catches his eye.
“We should go to a concert sometime,” she smiles. “I haven’t been in a while. Not to steal anything. Just, a string quartet. Or something.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Like buy tickets?”
She weighs the option. It does sound a little too clean . “Maybe we’ll con our way into VIP.”
This is something they connect on. They both like “nice” things, like this. They just don’t often have the time for them.
She watches him lean into the table in an attempt to look casual about it. “Sounds good, Mum.”
That’s when she learns that the title isn’t just for sad times.
When she holds him after they pull him out of the ground, it’s brief and hard, the squeeze of people who never thought they’d see each other again. It’s like they can’t get enough of each other into their arms fast enough. But even as she holds him to her chest, meeting the eyes of the rest of the team, just needing any reassurance she can get that he’s here and alive, she’s looking at Parker and Eliot and wishing there were more of her, so she can hold all of them at once.
She’s wrenching herself away from him to look at his face, find the life in his eyes.
There too many things for her to hold right now. She can't fit them close enough to her chest.
She’s cleaved, somewhere deep where she hasn’t been before, and when they all walk back into Nate’s apartment and split off for their showers, she pulls Nate in with her and whispers exactly where and how she wants his hand to work her, channels the relief and residual fear into a quick, hard, silent release that holds her together, that holds her whole, that they don’t need to talk about.
He knows how this feels.
Everyone knows that she uses Nate’s shower (and parts of his closet). It’s not weird when she walks down first with wet hair and finds Hardison, showered with a hot mug of something, on the couch, blanket around his shoulders. (She doesn’t expect to see Parker for a while, and Eliot always takes the last shower.)
She opens her mouth to ask if he’s ok, when he stands, engulfing her in a hug.
Sophie exhales, grounding herself in his arms even as she grounds him in hers. “Don’t do that to us again, okay?” she says, smiling even as her voice constricts.
“Okay,” he murmurs, somewhere into the top of her head. “Sorry, Mum.”
She holds him tighter, even as she can feel Nate enter behind her, on the stairs, taking in the scene. “I’m so glad you’re here,” she whispers.
They’re acutely aware of Father’s Day because of Nate, but its other caregiving counterpart just doesn’t seem to come up. They’ve never had to pull a job involving the holiday. She knows that Hardison usually calls Nana on that day, and she knows that Eliot comes from the kind of family where Mother’s Day is for all caregivers with children, regardless of their relation to him.
The reason why she realizes how little of her brainspace the date takes up, though, is because these kids have decided to celebrate it this year, apparently.
She wakes up to Parker suspended from the ceiling above her. That’s not that out of the ordinary, though she looks much guiltier than Sophie’s used to seeing her look.
Sophie stretches, blinking. “Hi, Parker.”
“You should go back to sleep!” Parker half whispers, half chirps.
Sophie closes her eyes. It’s going to be a rainy day. She can already tell because it’s way too dark outside for the time it must be. They don’t have plans today, and sleep sounds pretty good to her. “I already told you you can have things out of my closet. You don’t have to go through all of the trouble,” she says. She stretches a hand out to the other side. Nate’s up already. Typical.
She opens her eyes again and finds the room very colorful. There are streamers? And...balloons?
She meets Parker’s eyes again, and Parker knows she’s made.
“Gotta go!” she says, disappearing into the ceiling. She doesn’t save her voice at all, though, when she’s up there. “SHE’S AWAKE!”
The boys enter then, followed by an extremely amused Nate. Eliot’s got a bowl tucked under his arm that he’s still stirring. Hardison’s holding a gift so nicely wrapped that she knows Eliot must have done it.
Sophie runs through a quick list of aliases in her head. Was it any of their birthdays today? She doesn’t really do birthdays, though. “What are we celebrating?” she asks as she pulls herself into a seated position.
Parker appears behind the group, still in her harness, and there’s an expressive nonverbal conversation about who is going to speak.
Sophie meets Nate’s eyes, but he shakes his head. This is all them.
Hardison clears his throat and steps forward. “Uh, well, we wanted to do this last year, but we were having that thing then, and the date’s different in the UK you know, so we thought that might actually be perfect--”
“Happy Mother’s Day, Sophie,” finishes Eliot.
“Happy You Day!” Parker chimes in.
Nate hides his laughter by looking at the floor. Sophie takes a look around the room - the balloons are a tasteful shade of lavender, with silver and gold accents. She can smell flowers from down the hall, and glittery streamers drip reflected light into the room even against the clouds outside their windows - then looks at the three of them, trying to figure out who--
Hardison flounders just the tiniest bit under her gaze, and she smiles. “You all are outrageous,” she says, even as she giggles at the sheer excessiveness of it all.
“Come downstairs, there’s brunch,” says Eliot, and he exits, taking Nate and Nate’s shit-eating grin with him (she’s going to make Nate pay for that later).
Parker bounds into the room to put a small tiara on Sophie’s head (Norwegian crown jewels?) and rushes out, and Sophie joins Hardison in the doorway with a mock glare.
“Mum,” he says, mocking her mock glare.
He wraps an arm around her shoulders and leads her into the kitchen.
Grifting is acting, but acting is storytelling. Yet, never, in her wildest dreams, could she have conceived of this life.
v . tempest
After Nate’s funeral, they all temporarily move into her house. There’s no jaunty conversation about any kind of moves forward. The three of them are here , with her. Full stop. Fully present.
She has a guest room. She also has another room with a California king, bigger than her own bed, more than big enough for the three kids even as she and Nate built custom vents into the house, for whenever Parker wanted to come over.
The first night, Sophie doesn’t sleep, not out of exhaustion but out of the uncontrollable reeling she feels when she closes her eyes. On the second, Parker gently pulls her into the bed into the guest room and curls around her. Neither Parker, nor Hardison and Eliot in a makeshift bed on the floor, say anything when she sobs herself to sleep.
When she opens her eyes to find a few rays of daylight sliding into the room, she can already hear Eliot in the kitchen. Parker’s still asleep, spooning her back, and Hardison’s in front of her, with tea steaming, setting up a side table next to their bed for her.
She closes her eyes, and the pain everywhere is gripping, just short of intolerable. But she steadies her voice. “Hardison,” she whispers.
He smooths her hair, then Parker’s. “Here for you when you’re ready, Mum,” he says.
He’s not just talking about the tea.
Sophie sees Nate in Hardison, but she also sees Hardison in Breanna - how could she not? There’s parts of Hardison, even after years of not working beside him every day, that stick with her. Mannerisms, capable defiance eclipsing a desire for validation that comes pure and true.
But Breanna only knows this Sophie Devereaux, not the one before, the one who struggled to channel her restlessness into an undefined situation where good outweighed the bad. She doesn’t know the growth, and Sophie might like that. She doesn’t know.
Hardison’s voice for the first time in months blows joy into her chest, a level of emotion she wasn’t sure she would ever even let herself approach again, in any direction.
“Sophie,” he says, on everyone’s comm, but it’s just for her. He only calls her Sophie in front of Breanna. “I’m bringing them in, Harry too.”
Sophie clears her throat. “Got it, just get back in one piece.”
Breanna turns around, elated, and reaches for Sophie’s hand. Something cloudy comes over her at the last moment and drops it, but Sophie puts a hand on her shoulder.
Breanna swallows. “He never stopped thinking about you, you know. None of them did.”
Neither did Sophie. How could she? They’re all parts of her, woven into her the way that so many of her aliases used to be.
Sophie squeezes Breanna’s shoulder. “And now we are back together,” she says. Breanna hasn’t learned yet that they all have their unique brand of love for each other, even her. But it’s the time spent learning that makes it worth anything.
Breanna smiles down at her hands. “There’s stuff he does sometimes, kind of reminds me of you.”
Sophie watches everyone greet each other first, Breanna’s exclamation of “You’re home!”, Harry’s mild yet classy and respectful acceptance that he’s being let in on something private, Parker and Eliot’s body language reacting to completeness for the first time in months.
And across the room, his face shines at her. Maybe it’s a reflection. Missed you, Sophie.
She just points to herself and nods. Me too.
Breanna’s right. They’re all home.