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Walls for the Wind

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***

They get married at the brewpub. Sophie laughs as Nate escorts her through the door as if it is the grandest hall in the whole world, bowing a little in his dark suit.

They haven’t been back in two months, not since Nate turned the reins over to Parker, not in the intervening weeks of laying low and watching, waiting. Looking out from a distance, from Nate's boat and hotel rooms in Boston and L.A., making sure Parker doesn't need them. She hasn't, not yet. Maybe not ever, and Sophie is at once comforted and saddened by that idea.

Sophie knows they won’t stay for good, hadn’t intended to be back so soon. But Parker had called, not for the advice Sophie knows she doesn’t want, but to insist, quietly and seriously, “We’re a family. You have to do it here.”

Once, before she was Sophie, before she was this version of Sophie Devereaux who is marrying Nate Ford in a brewpub in Portland, Sophie dreamed of something different. Big dresses and crowded halls, a wedding as a con to end all cons. But stepping into the bar, Sophie knows that this was the only right choice.

It’s just family, the cast of characters that greets them with a cheer. Family isn’t only Parker and Hardison and Eliot, though Sophie would have been okay with that. There’s Tara and Maggie, of course—“I am supposed to be on a yacht that week,” Tara had said when they’d called about the plans—and Sterling, too, because now that he and Nate aren’t enemies, Sophie thinks they might be—not friends. Chess partners, maybe. Once in a while.

Nate hasn’t let go of her hand and Sophie is still taking it in: white streamers hung from the ceiling in a careful pattern that must have taken Parker an hour, Eliot and Hardison in matching suits with complementary corsages. It’s a gesture that makes her laugh, or would, if Eliot didn’t break from the ranks to engulf her in a hug.

And then there is a bit of a melee, Hardison and Parker circling Nate, pointing out the decorations and chattering about their last big score. She feels the swell of the group pushing against their embrace, but Sophie holds onto Eliot for a second more. “You guys okay?” she asks into his shoulder.

He steps back from her and smiles. “Not bad,” he says, and Sophie hears pride and success in his southern deprecation. She remembers those early days when they all fought and pushed at each other, struggling to make their marks, the words they couldn’t bring themselves to say.

She lets Parker hug her, lets herself get passed around the collected group. It’s not what she would have imagined, even in those early days of Sophie Devereaux falling in love with Nate Ford. It’s not what she would have wanted.

But after a moment she finds herself breathless, standing back next to Nate, the rest forming a semicircle around them. Nate looks down at her like she is the most beautiful woman in the world and says, “Shall we do this?”

Sophie nods and smiles. She doesn’t have words, not now.

Parker says, “Let’s go steal a wedding!”

“No, Parker!” Eliot responds.

“No stealing,” Nate says. “Not this time.”

**

Father Paul marries them, a favor returned without reservation. They recite the vows of Nate’s faith in a bar, which Sophie finds startlingly apropos. All these years, it’s been Nate’s Catholic guilt and Nate’s drinking and Sophie, standing by, waiting.

Today, she’s not waiting and he’s meeting her halfway.

Hardison’s whistle when Nate kisses the bride could shatter the eardrums of half the residents of the state, but Sophie doesn’t care. She’s earned this moment.

**

There’s a break between courses in a dinner that Eliot orchestrated but is not cooking, and Sophie takes a moment to collect her thoughts.

Sometimes, she tries to remember how they got here, how she got here. She tries to picture a world where Lara Davis wasn’t desperate to escape a little town near Bristol, where trying on personas and faces and other people’s jewelry wasn’t a ticket to a bigger world. She can’t succeed; parts of her story seem inevitable even looking back.

The day she became Charlotte Prentiss and, years later, almost married another man—that day was set the instant Lara left behind her common accent and threadbare clothes, carrying herself on a wealthy man’s coattails. The moments, one after another, that showed her it was enough to make others believe she was who they wanted her to be.

They led, then, to that first day the fiction broke her heart and she fled.

Inevitable, that some of her characters would become as real to her as to her marks. But not nearly as obvious that this one, Sophie Devereaux, would be the one that she would grow into. Not in the days when Sophie led Nate across the continent, even as Annie Kroy traded arms for favors and a different Sophie Devereaux ran jobs with Marcus Starke.

It took—what? Sophie knows she found herself in a theatre in Chicago not because the thrill was gone but because the game had again gotten too real. She remembers, not so long after he’d found her again, leaving Nate to sort through his challenges alone.

Sophie can imagine how things might have gone if she'd stayed away or left for good—that was her stock and trade, she thinks. But today, more than anything else, she remembers coming back, wearing this name and this life.

Her first honest moment, even as Nate became a thief.

Sophie shakes herself out of her reverie. She wants to focus on right now, not a past that she might regret if it hadn’t brought her to this, now. This moment—never dreamed of, never expected, but here they are.

There's no dance floor and the music isn’t quite right, but it doesn't matter for Parker, who has decided that weddings are for dancing. As she passes, she grabs Hardison and Eliot, who protest—but Sophie knows it's for show. “C'mon, baby girl,” Hardison says, while Eliot chimes, “No, Parker!” But they follow her anyway.

It's a good show and Sophie smiles. So do the rest; she hears Sterling say to Tara, mocking a little, “The best thieves in the universe, there,” and Sophie would feel left out but—they're out of the game now.

“And don't forget it,” Tara says, more warning than affection.

Eliot, especially, had protested when Sterling was invited. “You're crazy, man,” he'd said to Nate, again. But Sophie doesn't find it too strange—before he was Nate's greatest adversary, Sterling was his closest friend. And there are other people in this room who have shifted over time, allegiances and friendships alike, so Sophie hopes—for Nate, mostly—that Sterling sees this as the olive branch it is.

Even if their guests might take any opportunity to kill him.

“What are you thinking?” Nate is at her side, pulling his chair up close beside hers. He slides an arm across her shoulders, casual except for the way his fingers dance on the bare skin of her arm. Sophie shivers.

There are so many ways she could answer the question. She settles on the first that isn’t a lie. “Nothing,” she says. “Everything.” Sophie leans into him, head against Nate’s shoulder, hand falling to his thigh. “I would never have imagined this.”

“Which part?” he asks, glancing briefly around the room. It’s enough time to see Hardison pull Maggie up by both hands, guiding her to their makeshift dance floor. Now the numbers are equal, but Parker grabs Maggie as if to dance a waltz, leaving Hardison and Eliot as partners. Eliot leads. Sophie wonders how much they’ve had to drink, when the last time was any of them relaxed like this.

“All of it,” Sophie says, laughing a little. “All of it.”

Nate nods, pulls her a little tighter against him. “And now that you’re here?” he says, lips against her hair.

Sophie sits back to look at him, so close she can feel his breath against her skin. She leans in and kisses him, longer than she should in company, even on their wedding day. When she pulls back, Nate’s eyes are dark with love and want, but Sophie doesn’t want to leave yet. She wants more of this moment first.

“Now that I’m here,” Sophie says, resting her forehead against his, “I’m happy.”

**

Sophie runs into Maggie in the ladies room. It’s been enough of a whirlwind that Sophie can’t decide if it’s happenstance or if Maggie planned this chance to catch up away from the best eavesdroppers in the world.

“Did you really steal a mountain?” Maggie asks by way of introduction.

Sophie smiles. “Twice,” she says. “Though I don’t know if Nate remembers the first one.”

“Super drunk?” Maggie asks, echoing Parker’s cadence. She meets Sophie’s eyes in the mirror, wry and amused.

Sophie shrugs. “There were days.” Too many days, they both know too well.

It’s the point when Sophie would look away, shrug off the conversation, but Maggie holds her gaze. “Fewer now,” she says.

“Yes,” Sophie says with more confidence than she expects. She’s watched Nate tonight, nursing his champagne because he wants to stay sober. She’s seen him do that more and more lately, the months since they left, the months before.

She won’t take all the credit—some of it goes to faith and forgiveness, some to Eliot and Hardison and Parker—but she will take the part that is owed her. The years, the patience, deciding to be Sophie for Nate and for all of them.

Maggie turns from the mirror to face Sophie fully. “Good,” she says, reaching out and squeezing Sophie’s hand. Her mouth quirks up and Sophie sees only happiness where she expects nostalgia or melancholy. “I want to know more about these mountains.”

“Well,” Sophie says. “I had to wear the most outrageous hats.”

**

It is late when they get back to their room. Nate sits on the bed and loosens his tie before Sophie rests next to him to take over the job. She starts to ease his jacket from his shoulders, but stops when she finds a hard folder in his jacket pocket.

“What’s this?” she asks, dipping in to grab it.

Nate puts his hand on her back. “A wedding present from Sterling,” he says, trailing his fingers up and down her arm. Sophie knows he doesn’t have much interest right now, but she never could resist a mystery. She cracks the folder open.

Their own faces stare back at them from Interpol records.

Sophie scans quickly. Nothing but birthdays—hers isn’t right, of course—and the occasional parking ticket. A lifetime of thieving, wiped out in a moment.

“Oh my God,” Sophie says.

Nate smiles, looks at Sophie and then plucks the folder from her hands. “Now I owe him again,” he says, grumbling before tossing the folder across the room. It lands in a flutter near the table in the hotel sitting area.

“I guess that makes us honest citizens,” Sophie says, still staring after the paper that might transform their lives.

Nate smiles, drawing Sophie’s focus. He tangles one hand in his hair, intent very clear. “For now,” he says, leaning in to kiss her. Sophie smiles and lets him, mind alight for a moment with the possibilities of a clean slate. And then there is Nate and she is not thinking about anything at all.

**

The next day after dinner that was supposed to be lunch, it's the five of them around a table, nursing drinks and pretending, for a minute, that no time has passed.

“So, what's next?” Parker asks.

“Honeymoon,” Sophie says. They're going to Paris—as if they would go anywhere else. Tomorrow, sometime. She needs to check the tickets, confirm the car.

“You gonna leave the room?” Hardison asks, raising his eyebrows and glancing pointedly at the clock. They were seven hours late to lunch. “Like, at all?”

Nate shrugs, not uncomfortable with the idea, and Sophie can't help but blush.

“No,” Parker says. “That's not what I mean.” She rolls her glass between her hands. ”After that—what happens for you after that?”

Nate turns to look at Sophie, because they've talked about this, what comes next, but she's hedged a bit. She sometimes doesn't like to admit it, but she was happy here with the theater and the team. But they won't be able to stay out of Parker's way if they're just around the corner. They've thrown ideas around, some more realistic than others, but Sophie's put off deciding what she wants.

It's an old, bad habit, that, and she's learned better.

She takes a breath. “I think, actually, that we’ll move to Maine.”

They'll find a house near Portland, the other Portland, she'll find a theater that can use her talents. Nate will tend bar, maybe, or read the classics. They'll take the times when the theater is dark to travel, to bother the team with advice they don't need.

It's not what she would have expected for Sophie Devereaux, but as she told Eliot not so long ago, she's had to think about what comes next. So has he, but he'll be looking after the brewpub forever—if not this one, than the next one. Maybe they'll get the menu right, or learn how to make drinkable beer. Sophie wants a little theater and Nate and maybe an airport not so far away, just in case she needs a night on the town.

“Maine?” Parker repeats, looking around. “Why?”

Sophie glances at Nate. “I used to spend summers there as a kid,” he says. It’s not the only reason, but it’s one that will do for now.

Parker interjects, “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Nate says. “I think it will be good for us for a while.”

Parker nods, putting the pieces together almost as fast as Nate would have. “I can see it,” she says.

“Yeah?” Sophie asks, because there are moments where she's not sure herself. When she remembers what it was like to be Lara Davis, yearning for something bigger than an out-of-the-way working town.

“Yeah,” Parker says. “I guess—.” She hesitates, their new mastermind, poking at the bar nuts on the table. “You need time to just be you,” she says.

Sophie nods. Parker has developed an uncanny way of reading a situation and getting to the heart of it in a second, straight to the point. Sophie takes some pride in knowing she helped teach Parker that, even if it has left her undone in a moment.

“Yeah,” Sophie says, and if she sounds a little watery—there's been a lot to take in these past few days.

“Hey now,” Hardison says. “It's not like we're not gonna see you.”

“No way,” Eliot chimes in. “You're gonna throw a housewarming, right?”

“And make you cater,” Parker says, turning toward Eliot. “I like those little things with the cheese.”

“What—with the cheese?” Eliot says. “Which cheese? Because there's the bruschetta with goat cheese, but I've been thinking about doing a blini, maybe some bleu cheese. It's not traditional, but I think I can make it work.”

“Maybe we can help with remodeling,” Hardison interrupts.

“No,” Nate leans forward and points a finger. “No remodeling.”

“Hey, that did not go badly,” Hardison responds.

“You knocked down walls in my apartment!”

“Dude, that was, like, four years ago. You still mad?”

“He's not,” Parker says, calmly. “Don't be silly.”

“I will knock down any walls I like,” Hardison replies, crossing his arms and pretending to sulk.

It's a relief to be here with them, again. Sophie lets the words wash over her, takes in the familiar rhythms, the ease of these arguments that are only for show, to cover the affection and the trust.

“Let us find a place first, huh?” Sophie interjects, because it's her line now that they've given her time to compose herself. “I promise, you're all invited.”

**

The Degas collection at the Musee d’Orsay doesn’t compare to the one at the Met, but Sophie loves it. She loves this museum, really, with its dedication to a period, the way the small scale and peculiar architecture hides great work in every cranny.

She’s stolen from here, more than she might care to admit. She has the original Portrait of Edouard Manet somewhere—her storage locker in L.A., probably. But tonight isn’t about taking anything; she just wants to walk the halls and enjoy beautiful art away from the throngs of tourists that would greet them in daylight.

Nate has humored her, let her grift to get them in with an insincere scold not to make a habit of it.

They stand in front of Portraits, At the Stock Exchange. Sophie folds her hands in front of her, follows the line and the brushstroke of a work she has seen a hundred times.

“They’re old friends,” she says, looking at the faces in the painting. These gentlemen—she’s always wondered who they were when they weren’t stockbrokers, what secrets they hid behind top hats and long jackets. She knows the painting’s history and interpretation, but prefers to focus on the artistry and put the ancient politics aside.

“It’s been a long time since I saw you in a museum,” Nate says, looking more at her than the painting.

“We should do more of it,” Sophie says. “The old fashioned way.”

“After dark, with nary a security guard in sight? Pretty sure this is trespassing.”

Sophie laughs. “Maybe,” she says. “But I want to show you the paintings that made me Sophie Devereaux.” Sophie looks up at the artwork; if she breaks it down, it’s just oil on canvas, a simple enough construction. She pauses, doesn’t meet Nate’s eyes. “I hadn’t realized—I didn’t know how much these last few days would be about what’s past,” she says. “I wanted it to be about now.”

“It is,” Nate says, reaching for her hand and tucking it into the crook of his arm.

“It is,” Sophie echoes. “But it’s about how we got here, too.”

Nate shrugs. He has been much more sanguine about the changes in their lives than she expected, though she’s watched him build to these decisions since his father died. “So you’ll tell me all your secrets?” he asks, trying for her to keep things light.

“Not all,” Sophie says, shaking her head. “I don’t even know them all.”

“Just the good ones, then,” Nate says, smiling.

Sophie nods. “The good ones,” she agrees. “Since you’re on my side and all.”

She pulls a little on Nate’s arm and leads him through the museum.

***