A/N: Hey, guys. I just wanted to say thank you so much for your time and thoughts. It's been a big part of my experience with this plague, and it means the world to me that so many people have taken the time to read and review this story. So without further ado, here's the end of it.
"Guys look!" The TV screens flickered to life under Hardison's fingertips. Images flashed across the screen: a young girl reunited with her family; a doctor finally pulling his mask off at the end of the day; families laughing and talking at restaurants without masks.
All heads swiveled to face him. Even Nate. "Is that now?" Sophie asked.
"This is now," Hardison was nearly breathless with excitement. "The plague is over." He looked down at his computer screen to read off statistics. "The cases of the novel coronavirus are dropping rapidly across the nation, thanks to the hard work of Americans across the nation. Businesses will be reopening. Campuses are welcoming students back in the fall. Elementary and High schools will be open. Be advised, the pandemic is not over, but government officials are working closely with businesses and schools to determine the best course of action going forward. We are nearing the end of this."
"Finally!" Parker sighed, and flopped face first over the back of the couch. She pulled herself up, just a bit, to rearrange, and fell back on her face. She said, muffled, "I can steal stuff again."
"That means," Sophie paused, too excited to think it was true. "We can go shopping again!"
"There'll be another wave," Nate muttered. He was the only one not buzzing with excitement. Even Eliot seemed excited. Him and Hardison went through their bizarre "bro-handshake" and he picked Parker up by the shoulders to hug her. She had squirmed, though, so he dropped her back down on her face. Sophie was just short of jumping up and down.
"Nathan Ford," Sophie chided, pausing in her celebration. "We don't know that. And there may be another wave. But for now, we can go outside again without being afraid. Without wearing masks. We did it."
"There are still a lot of active cases in Boston," Nate said. He thought for a moment. "You can go shopping, but you have to wear a mask. All of you."
The look the entire team gave him rivaled that of a petulant teenager put out by not being able to stay out after curfew.
Parker pulled herself up so that she was perched on the top of the couch.
"I didn't go through all of this just to lose you guys to some stupid virus. Masks. Or, you don't go out. You stay here, without new shoes or orange soda. Your choice."
"Sweet mama, I can get my orange soda!" Hardison's shriek was so loud Sophie covered her ears with her hands.
"I'll start a grocery list," Eliot said. He was anxious to get some new ingredients. They had been living off of black beans and rice for the past week. It wasn't that the stores weren't open. Nate was just difficult and until now had refused to let them leave.
"Who's coming?" Sophie asked. She bounced from one foot to the other at the bottom of the staircase. She was wearing a pair of sweatpants and a shirt that probably once belonged to Nate. No doubt she was anxious to finally be getting ready for something.
And the entire team knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the world was not ready to see Sophie Devereaux in sweats.
"I'll go," Eliot said. He was scribbling his list quickly on a pad of paper as he opened and closed cabinet doors. Who knew when Nate would let them go shopping again?
"Me too," Hardison said. He was bent over the shelves in the corner, sorting through a bin of material. He pulled out a stack of Eliot's bandanas. "These should work," he muttered, and tossed one at Eliot, who caught it without even looking up.
"Nate?" Sophie asked. She knew it was a long shot, but she still hoped.
"I guess I could go," he said. "I do need some more scotch."
Sophie ignored that last part, and instead darted up the stairs to get ready.
"Great, man," Hardison said. He tossed Nate a red bandanna.
"Parker?" Nate asked. She had come down from her perch on top of the couch, and was now suspiciously inspecting the lighting.
"I don't think so. Shopping's boring, and I got some stuff I wanna do."
"Suit yourself." Hardison shrugged. Normally he'd want Parker to come with, but even he had had enough of her. Those dolls were just too damn much for him.
"Sophie, you ready?" Eliot called. He was dressed in typical-Eliot attire and ready to go. Hardison had a pink bandanna already tied across his face. Even Nate had been to the bathroom, and had returned semi-presentable.
"Just a moment," she called back. True to her word, not more than a moment passed before she waltzed down the stairs, graceful as always. This time, she had on a knee-length dress that flowed with her gate. It was a light blue, and rose to a halter around her neck. Her hair, too, was neat. She had it pinned up in a slight ponytail, small curls falling across her face.
"How do you do that?" Nate asked. He was staring at her in absolute awe.
"I have my ways," she cooed. She grabbed her purse from the kitchen table and waltzed out the door, leaving the rest of them to follow close behind.
Left alone, Parker considered herself. She hadn't been alone, truly alone, in two months, three weeks, and six days. This whole coronavirus thing was a pretty big deal, she guessed. She didn't want to get sick. She had stolen Nate's tablet and read through the news headlines. It was a scary disease. It made breathing impossible. But it was over now, at least sort of. She took it as a good sign that Nate let Sophie and Hardison and Eliot leave the apartment. It was even better that he had gone with them.
Parker needed a way to celebrate. She turned slowly around the dark apartment, taking in her surroundings. For a group of thieves cooped up together for months on end, Nate's apartment wasn't nearly as trashed as one might expect. Some dishes were piled on the counter, and Hardison's empty bottles of orange soda were stacked in the corner. Eliot's cards were strewn across the coffee table, but other than that it was pretty clean.
Eventually, Parker's eyes settled on the record player. Most nights, Nate had put some quiet music on for them to listen to, and they had grown to expect it. Today, though, Parker found herself fiddling with the player. She'd never touched it before, but it gave her an idea.
People usually celebrated things with parties, right? They couldn't really have a full out party because of the plague. But she could have a mini-party, right here. She opened the fridge. Nate had drunk all the scotch over a month ago. Eliot's beer was hidden carefully in the back of the refrigerator, with a strict warning to "not even think about it." The cabinets were mostly empty. All they really had were a bunch of cans of black beans, a couple cans of chicken noodle soup, and a giant ten-pound bag of rice. There were other things too, spices mostly, but Parker didn't know how to cook with those.
She turned away from the fridge and studied the room. People usually danced, ate, and drank at parties, right? There wasn't much space to dance in the apartment, and when Hardison or Eliot stomped too hard the entire floor shook a little. Not ideal.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, startling her. She pulled it out and looked at the screen. Nate.
"What?" she asked, as abrupt as ever.
"Hello to you too, Parker." She was surprised to hear Sophie's voice in her ear.
"Sorry," she muttered.
"It's alright. Nate was wondering if you could run down to McRory's and see if there's any pickles in the garnish cabinet that aren't bad. Eliot wants to make," Sophie continued, but Parker had tuned her out.
Of course! She could have the party in the bar. Nobody was there, because of the coronavirus. They had drinks downstairs, unless Nate had pilfered all of them by now. She doubted it. He was a drunk, but he wasn't quite a desperate drunk. Not yet.
The tables and chairs could be stacked in the corner. She could steal one of Hardison's contraptions and make the lights pretty. It would be awesome.
"Parker?" Sophie asked through the phone. "Are you still there."
Parker jumped a little, startled out of her daze. "Yeah, you want me to check for pickles." She bounded down the stairs, pausing to pick the lock to the pub. They had keys, but she had forgotten them.
A moment later, she stood up from rooting in the pub's fridge, and reported, "yup, there's pickles here."
"Thanks," Sophie said. "I gotta go now."
"Wait," Parker said, thinking ahead of herself. "Can you put Eliot on?"
The line went quiet for a moment, before Eliot grumbled in her ear, "What do you want, Parker?"
"Well hello to you too," she said, copying what Sophie said to her.
"Parker," he warned.
"Yeah, yeah. Um, can you make sure to get some fancy drinks and maybe a cake?" She really had no idea what people served at parties. The fancy parties they ran their cons at were all for super high-end people that ate raw fish and champagne.
"I want to celebrate," she said simply. "The plague is over. Sort of."
Eliot considered this. A Parker party was going to be an experience. Then again, he really needed an experience. "Sure, Parker. What kind of drinks were you looking for?"
"I don't know. Something you guys would like. I'm down in McRory's right now, and it's still mostly stocked, but Nate's favorites are missing, and most of the food is frozen or bad."
"How about," Eliot paused and began whispering instead. "I get a sheet cake from the bakery, a bottle of champagne, and a hot spread from the deli."
"Perfect!" she exclaimed. "Thanks Eliot!" Parker hung up the phone and slipped it into her pocket. She had a lot of work to do.
A couple hours later, the rest of the team came home carrying all manner of shopping bags. Sophie had more bags than she could carry in one trip filled with shoes and dresses and hair products and everything else she had run out of. She bounced up the stairs to her and Nate's bedroom to put them away.
Hardison came in heavily weighed down too, but his purchases were far less varied. In each hand he held two twelve-packs of orange soda, and under his chin he gripped the largest bag of gummy-frogs Parker had ever seen. Even Nate had something to show for the trip: a bottle of scotch wrapped neatly in paper, and a new suit, obviously encouraged by Sophie.
A couple moments later, Eliot followed, his hands full of paper grocery bags stuffed full with fresh produce, organic pasta, spices, and a couple bottles of exotic beer, which were immediately filed away in his "do not touch" section of the refrigerator.
"Hi guys!" Parker squealed, barely able to contain her excitement.
"Parker?" Sophie asked, coming down the stairs. "Why are my clothes strewn across the bedroom?"
"I hope you didn't touch my things, Parker," Nate warned.
"Sorry, Sophie," she said. "I didn't mean to make a mess. But everyone has to get dressed up now. I have a surprise."
"What kind of surprise?" Hardison asked. He finished filing his orange soda away in the fridge, and closed the door.
"You'll see." Parker took Hardison by the shoulders and all but shoved him into the guest room. "Suit and tie," she ordered.
Nate looked at Sophie and asked, "do you know anything about this?"
"Not a clue."
Parker looked at Eliot, who threw her a sideways smile. He had managed, somehow, to buy everything she needed without anyone else noticing. He had delivered it straightaway to the pub, and snuck back upstairs, and they were none the wiser.
"You too, Eliot," she said. He rolled his eyes at her, but rifled through his pile of clothes until he found something presentable. Surprisingly, the suit was entirely free of wrinkles, despite having spent the past few months on the floor.
Parker, meanwhile, snuck out of their sight and down to the bar where she had stashed her own outfit. It was a beautiful midnight blue dress that fell just past her knees. The top portion was covered with silver sequins, and the skirt fell pleated loosely around her legs. She tugged it on quickly, choosing to keep the converse, and reappeared upstairs before anyone else had finished dressing.
"Parker, when are you going to tell us what's going on?" Sophie poked her head out of the downstairs bathroom where she was carefully pinning her hair. Sophie's dress was a pale pink and was much looser than the majority of her outfits. The back was strappy and ended just below her arms. She wore it with gold heels.
Nate came downstairs, dressed sharply as well, in a gray button-up and black dress pants. He had tried to get away with leaving his hair messy, but Sophie had insisted it be styled. Her touch showed.
"Soon. Where's Eliot and Hardison?"
A moment later, the boys emerged from their prospective rooms, both dressed neatly in gray and black suits, Hardison missing the jacket. Eliot was still pulling a comb carefully through his hair. He fought one particularly difficult snarl, gave up, and tossed the comb behind him, landing it perfectly on the edge of his cot.
"Okay guys," she said, and led them down the stairs and through the hallway. The smell of the food was still lingering from when Eliot had brought it down earlier.
"What's that smell?" Hardison asked, practically drooling. It did smell amazing. Eliot had managed to snag a full deli spread, complete with rotisserie chicken, potato salad, and homemade mac n cheese. It wasn't his first choice in cuisine, but it was still delicious. He also managed to snag a sheet cake, decorated with buttercream flowers and icing, and a few bottles of cheap champagne.
"Something yummy," Parker answered. She stopped at the door to the pub and pulled her phone from her pocket. She had wired the lights and music to her phone, just as Hardison had taught her to. She pressed a few buttons, turned around, and opened the door.
The team stared. Even Eliot, who had been down there just a few minutes ago, found his mouth slightly ajar. The pub had been entirely cleared of chairs and tables so that the floor stretched out in front of them. The lights had been dimmed to a silky glow, and some of Nate's music piped through the speakers. The food Eliot had bought was spread across the bar. It was beautiful.
"What is this?" Nate asked.
Parker couldn't contain herself anymore. She jumped up and down in place. "It's a party! The plague is over!"
Sophie went over to the record player. Parker had stacked a bunch of Nate's records next to it, but none of them were really dance tunes. It was more like "calm the team down so they're easier to put to sleep" motioned for Hardison to come over, and the two of them worked to hook up some more appropriate music.
"What do you think?" Parker asked Eliot. He was spooning potato salad onto a saucer he'd found in the kitchen. He had to get some before Hardison and Parker devoured it.
"Honestly? I think this is exactly what we needed."
"Yes!" Hardison exclaimed. He pressed a button on his phone, and music exploded through the speakers. "Now that's what I call dance music!" he said. The song Footloose was a dance classic, and he wasted no time strutting his stuff into the center of the room. Sophie followed a moment later, heels clicking on the hardwood floor.
Parker launched herself from where she was leaning against the bar, dragging Eliot with her. It didn't take much effort, though, because even he was a sucker for a good dance to Footloose.
"Nate?" Sophie asked. She had been dancing with Hardison, but let his hand go, grabbed Nate's hand, and pulled him onto the dance floor. He swayed slightly, reluctant at first, but after a few moments he got himself into it and let go.
As it turned out, Nate was one of the best dancers on the team, rivaled only by Eliot.
They danced through most of Hardison's playlist, arguing about the tunes (Hardison thought the oldies were boring as all hell, but Nate and Sophie protested heavily and eventually got their way) and snacks. After several oldies, a couple rap songs (how do you even dance to those?), and a strange Parker-requested song that nobody knew, Hardison placed a request for, "something slow; I'm dying here!"
"Sure," Sophie said, and took the phone. A moment later, the intro to Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You piped through the speakers.
"Oh hell no!" Hardison whined, and tried to grab the phone from her hands. She dodged him, and escaped to the dance floor.
Unfortunately, she was watching Hardison, and entirely ignored the fact that she was about to run head first into Eliot. He caught her easily, removed the phone from her hand, and tossed it to Hardison. He was not about to listen to that sappy song.
Hardison swiped through a few options, typed something in, and set the phone down, a smirk on his face that rivaled the one he usually gave the bad guy when he won. Which was always.
The intro to Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody piped through the speakers. Parker jumped up from where she was sitting, devouring her third piece of cake. This song was far too much of a classic to waste eating cake.
Is this a sore throat? Is this just allergies? Caught in a lockdown, no escape from reality….
"Is this… a coronavirus parody of Bohemian Rhapsody?" Nate asked.
Hardison had such a shit-eating grin that Eliot thought his face was going to get stuck like that permanently. Hardison nodded. "Uh huh. It's a masterpiece, a work of art."
"Works for me," Sophie said. She dove into an overly-dramatic dance routine that mimed most of the lyrics. She could dance when she wanted to, but apparently today was not one of those days.
Parker joined her in her mimicry, and so did Hardison. Nate sat at the bar to watch, pointedly not amused, and Eliot joined him.
"Hey Eliot," Nate said.
"Yeah?" he asked, without taking his eyes off the scene in front of him. The song had gotten to the part where the narrator has contracted coronavirus, and Hardison was miming a grisly and untimely death while Sophie wailed loudly for her loss. Parker was bent over, convulsing with giggles. Turned out Sophie could act, when she wasn't on stage.
"Thanks for not letting her play that sappy stuff."
"You're welcome man. You're welcome."
As the song ended, the dancers came running at the bar, desperate for something to drink. Eliot smiled as he handed them all glasses of water, which lasted a total of three seconds.
"You guys done?" Nate asked. Despite himself, Nate was enjoying the party. He didn't quite like dancing, despite his skill, but he loved watching the rest of his team let loose and get into the music.
"I've got one more," Parker said. She ran to grab Hardison's phone.
"It better not be anything sappy," Eliot warned. He bit his tongue, though, when he recognized Nickelback's Never Gonna be Alone coming through the speakers. It was one of his favorites.
Sophie stood in front of Parker, waiting patiently for her to figure out the music. When she set Hardison's phone down, Sophie asked, "May I have this dance?" Parker took her hand, and the two women took to the dance floor. For all her grace and athletic skills, Parker was a very clumsy dancer. But Sophie took the lead, and the two of them danced well enough.
Hardison looked at Eliot and smirked. "May I have this dance?" he asked, bowing deeply and extending his hand. Eliot grumbled, swore, and growled like an Eliot-bear, but didn't say no. It probably had more to do with his love of the song, and less of Hardison's negotiation skills, but it didn't matter. Hardison beamed.
That left Nate. He leaned back against the bar, watching his team. He looked at them with something vaguely resembling love. Well, he thought, maybe not so vaguely.
The chorus came on again, and the pairs switched, so Sophie and Hardison were together, and Eliot and Parker were together.
"You did good," Eliot said while guiding Parker's dancing. He dodged her misplaced step, and continued. "We really appreciated it. All of us." He looked up at Nate. He was watching them dance with the hint of a smile on his lips and no drink in his hands. Eliot grinned.
Parker thought about what he had said. She did good. There was yummy food, most of which was gone by now, and music everyone liked. They had been dancing for the better part of two hours, and while her legs were sore and she was shiny with sweat, she was happy. She looked up for a moment, and confirmed that Eliot was smiling, just a little, to himself. Sophie and Hardison were giggling about something, and Nate sat watching them, for once not absorbed in his own world. She had done it. She had brought her team happiness.
She closed her eyes and listened to the lyrics of the song, resting her head on Eliot's shoulder. He recoiled just a bit, but allowed her to continue. She'd get a talking to later, but for now, he knew exactly how she felt. The lyrics said it all.
They were never going to be alone.