Nate carefully listened to the voices on the com. He was alone in his living room, but he didn't feel alone. As always, each member of his team was only a word away.
At the beginning, there'd been some bickering and what he considered small talk between Eliot, Parker, and Hardison. During this phase, Sophie, as usual, stayed silent. (She'd always preferred to let the conversations flow around her while she listened to nuances no one else could hear.) Once the action had started, everyone else had fallen silent, and Sophie had taken over.
Sophie, of course, did everything perfectly, and the mark believed everything that came out of her mouth.
As Sophie spoke, Nate felt a weight start to lift off of his shoulders. Tense muscles he hadn't even known were tense began to relax. For the first time since the explosion, he really started to believe everything was going to be okay.
Nate closed his eyes, listening to Sophie weave her web tighter around Johnson. There was some brief chatter between Parker and Hardison, but all of Nate's focus was on Sophie.
Over the past five years, continuing on had been hard for Nate. He'd tried to drink himself to death several times. He'd had periods of hopeless depression so bad that he took them out on the team. One of the main things that had kept him going had been Sophie. She was always that push he needed or the voice of reason or just the friend holding his hand so he didn't jump. When she lost her sight, he should have been the same for her. His weakness shouldn't have prevented it. He added his guilt from that to his guilt about so many things. He'd been a bad friend, but now he was going to change that. She didn't need him as much as she had, and she had Eliot for most things, but he'd do what he could.
A part of him grieved for all that Sophie had lost, and it grieved for the promise between them that would now never be realized. He'd seen the way Eliot and Sophie were around each other, and he knew he'd lost his chance. Even if the chance were there, he didn't know if the guilt would have let him love Sophie the way she deserved to be loved.
The tour of the building seemed to be taking a long time, Nate decided, zoning back in on Sophie's conversation with the mark. Maybe that's because he found Johnson boring. He considered getting up to get a drink to pass the time but shrugged it off. The craving wasn't that strong yet, and he liked hearing one of Sophie's characters on the com again. He settled more comfortably in his chair and leaned his head back, listening to her distinctly American fake accent.
Sophie was lying in bed enjoying the fact that she could. She didn't have a date with Matthew that day, and Eliot had left early to cover for his friend, Rick, who was in the hospital with his delivering wife. There was no one to make her breakfast, but there was no reason to get up, either. Her bed was comfortable, and the silence was peaceful...
That thought was cut off by the jarring ring of the doorbell. It rang once and then five times in quick succession. After a pause, it rang again, this time six times. Sophie counted.
With a groan, she struggled out of bed and slapped the top of her alarm clock.
It wasn't even nine o'clock yet!
Sophie stumbled sleepily out into the great room as the doorbell went again. This time, it was a burst of eight followed by a burst of five.
"I'm coming, Parker," Sophie called.
A muffled, "How'd you know it was me?" came through the door.
When she had all the locks undone, Parker breezed by her. "Guess what I've got, Sophie."
"I have no idea."
"Hey, you're still in your pajamas."
"I'm aware of that." She relocked the door.
"They're shiny. Are they silk?"
"Can I feel?"
"I'd rather you didn't," she said, feeling grumpy.
There were noises as Parker set something on the coffee table. Confused,Sophie followed her. "Parker, why are you here?"
"I wanted to bring you something."
"Just some stuff. Come see."
Sophie obediently made her way to the couch. When she got close, Parker plunked something into her hands. "What...?"
Sophie did as instructed. It was smooth and, as her hands ran over it, she realized it felt familiar. "Were you in my storage room?"
"Yeah, but not to take anything. Well, not to take anything for me."
"I don't understand."
"I wanted to bring you some stuff to look at even with broken eyes."
Sophie paused in her exploration. "Stuff to look at?"
"You're stuck here in Eliot's place. You need some Sophie stuff."
Sophie sat and put the statue on the coffee table. Reaching into the box, she felt around. It was filled with tactile, priceless pieces of art.
"Is that okay?" Parker asked, suddenly sounding tentative.
"More than okay."
One of the things that had still been weighing on Sophie's mind was that she'd never be able to enjoy the beautiful pieces of art she'd always loved. It had never occurred to her that some pieces were three dimensional and a pleasure to touch.
"Thank you, Parker." Sophie started taking things out of the box and placing them beside the first statue.
"You're welcome...Hey, have you got any cereal?"
While Johnson's attention had been on wooing Sophie, Hardison's attention had been on Johnson's business. More than his business, as a matter of fact. Satisfaction almost made Eliot smile as he stood with the others, arms crossed and a glare in place, watching Detective Bonanno lead Johnson away. Johnson's business was in ruins, and he'd be in prison for years. He'd never be preying on vulnerable young women again.
Sophie was standing beside him, her expression as enigmatic as it had ever been before the explosion, but he saw satisfaction in it as well.
Johnson shrugged out of Bonanno's hold for an instant and turned back. "I trusted you," he said angrily. "Are you even blind?"
His question made Sophie laugh, and a hint of pleasure touched her cheeks. She didn't answer him, but she raised her free hand and waved blithely. He growled but didn't get a chance to reply because he was grabbed and led towards the waiting car.
"Job well done, guys," Nate said, his eyes still on Johnson.
"Piece of cake." Hardison grinned. "I say we celebrate."
"What did you have in mind?" Sophie asked. She was close enough to Eliot that when she shifted, she brushed against his side. It felt natural and, without thinking, he placed his hand against her waist.
Hardison shrugged. "Pizza in the backroom."
"That's how we always celebrate." She was smiling, probably because there'd been no take out celebration in the backroom for months.
"Sounds good," Eliot told him.
"But no green peppers." Parker scrunched up her face.
"No green peppers," Hardison agreed.
"Or anchovies." Sophie grimaced.
"Nobody likes anchovies."
"I like anchovies." Nate was smiling, too.
"You're a strange man," Sophie said. She hadn't reacted to Eliot's hand, so he left it there. The others didn't seem to notice.
"Who's paying?" Hardison asked as they turned away and started towards the car.
"Your idea, you pay." Eliot shifted and offered Sophie the arm of the hand that had been touching her. "Be careful. There's loose gravel, and it's a little rough."
"How come I always have to pay?" Hardison protested. "I paid last time."
"I'll pay," Parker offered. Eliot had a feeling the money would be coming from Nate's wallet. From the look Nate gave her, it was a good bet he knew it, too.
"Thank you, Parker."
They continued to talk easily as they made their way across the parking lot. It was comfortable and familiar. Eliot kept glancing at Sophie. She looked content and happy. He fought against his own smile, and the smile won.
Parker happened to look at him at that exact moment, and her eyes widened.
"What?" he growled.
"Shut up, Parker." He meant to snap the words, but there was no venom in them, so they sounded almost affectionate. He gave up on trying to turn his smile into a scowl. What the hell, he felt like smiling. He was allowed to smile occasionally.
"You're smiling?" Sophie asked softly, her voice tinged with warm amusement.
"It was a good con...and I got to punch Johnson a few times."
"And, of course, that's the most important part."
He helped Sophie into the front seat before crawling in the back with Parker and Hardison. The team drove back to headquarters in Nate's weighed down car, together for the first time in over three months.
When Sophie came into the great room the next morning, she was already dressed, and it wasn't even nine o'clock. Eliot stared at her in surprise. She'd dressed in a simple pair of jeans and a blue silk short sleeved shirt. Her hair was already up in a ponytail, with shorter wisps of it playing around her face. She was without her cane, but she moved with a sure grace born of familiarity and her own innate elegance and poise. Eliot almost forgot to breathe as he watched her move.
"What are you doing?" she asked cheerily.
"Making breakfast," he said. At least that's what he'd been about to do before she caught his attention. "Any requests?"
"Pancakes. Chocolate chip. Powdered sugar instead of syrup; I just got dressed."
"Why are you dressed so early?"
"You know why." She settled at the table by touch.
"Are you eager, Soph?" He started hauling out bowls and utensils.
"It's not every day you let a woman drive your car."
The thought of it made his stomach clench, but he had promised. He'd be there with her, and she'd told him she wouldn't go too fast. The part of him that wasn't nervous was actually excited. It was probably a reflection of Sophie's own excitement. She didn't seem to be afraid.
"I've never let a woman drive my car."
She raised her eyebrows. "Never?"
Sophie thought about this a minute. "You really love that car, don't you?"
"She's a classic." So was Sophie, he thought, pouring the batter into the pan.
"I want to participate in more cons," she said suddenly.
Surprised at the change in subject, he stopped and glanced at her.
"Nate might argue," she continued, "but the vulnerable blind woman is a great character. She could distract the marks, get their guards down."
"It could work," he agreed, dropping one more pancake and setting the bowl aside.
"You're not going to tell me it's too dangerous?"
She shook her head.
"You never cease to amaze me, Eliot."
She didn't answer, instead saying, "Those smell good."
"They are good."
"I never doubted it."
As the pancakes finished up, he grabbed dishes from the cupboards and orange juice he'd squeezed the day before from the fridge. She was quiet as he set the table, and he kept his eyes on her, wondering what she was thinking. Her face wasn't as closed now with him as it used to be, and he'd learned to read her better than he ever could before. She seemed lighter, softer, now that she was starting to feel comfortable in her own skin again. When he flipped her pancakes into the plate in front of her, she tipped her face up to him and smiled sweetly.
"Eat up," he told her gruffly, feeling his skin flush.
"Don't mention it."
He sprinkled them liberally with icing sugar and a bit of chocolate drizzle he'd made from melting some chocolate chips. Sophie wasn't as crazy about chocolate-or as downright crazy, part of his mind added-as Parker, but he still knew she'd appreciate the extra chocolate even if she had to change her shirt. Plus, he'd get to sit back and watch pleasure light up her face.
By the time Eliot got his own plate and sat across from her, she'd already started eating. She took a bite and let out a blissful sigh.
"Good?" he asked.
"You could sell these."
He assumed that meant yes. "I only make them for you."
She laughed a little. "I highly doubt that."
"Now. I only make them for you now," he clarified honestly.
Her mouth was full so she didn't answer, and he watched her chew and swallow. There was chocolate on her lip, and she must have felt it because her tongue darted out to lick it off. Eliot clenched his teeth and forced his eyes to his plate.
After they were both done, Eliot took their plates to the dishwasher, and Sophie put away the juice. When he straightened and turned, she was just coming back from the fridge, passing him in the small space.
She brushed up against him and said, "Oh, sorry. I didn't realize you were so close."
She colored a bit, which Eliot liked, and he noticed she had a bit of powdered sugar on her cheek.
"Not a problem." She paused, and their bodies were still touching. On impulse, Eliot reached up to brush his fingers against her face. He heard her breath catch, so he quietly said, "You have some sugar."
He continued to caress her, even after the sugar was gone. His heart sped up, and he couldn't stop touching the softness of her skin.
Her expression softened, so he leaned forward and kissed her gently. She tasted sweet and slightly minty. Sophie made a soft sound, and her hand came up to rest on his hip.
Pulling away, Eliot asked, "Was that okay?"
"More than okay. Kiss me again."
Obediently, he pressed his lips to hers, this time a little more firmly. She opened her mouth, and he deepened the kiss, his hand cupping her jaw. She sighed and leaned against him, sliding her arms around him to hug him close.
Despite not wanting to let her go, he ended the tender kiss and brushed his lips across her cheek. She was still holding him, so he returned her embrace and buried his face in her hair.
"What took you so long?" she asked in his ear, her breath brushing across his skin.
"I didn't know if you were ready."
She pulled from him. "Speaking of ready..."
A pure, unaffected smile spread over her face. "Yes. Let's do it."
"Okay." He kissed her cheek. "I'll go get my keys."