Sophie has been entertaining the idea of her and Nate ever since the first time she saw him in Prague all those years ago. She has been having the fantasy since Damascus, since his fingers grasped her elbow, since she felt him behind her – memorized the gait of his walk, the smell of his cologne, the evenness of his breathing before he even said a word. The fantasy continued through years and decades, almost made reality in Tuscany, strengthened and used to keep her warm at night during their first year as a team together in Los Angeles.
If Nate ever becomes honest with himself, Sophie knows he would admit that he felt the same. She never doubts that he thought about her just as much as she did him – both professionally and personally, during those all too frequent lonely nights when all he had was the darkness of his thoughts and his cold fingers to keep him company. She knows he wants her just as much as she wants him. She can see it in the way his touches and glances linger, in the way his fingers will tighten around her wrist a beat longer than needed during a con, in the way he leans in too closely and pushes her too far just to see the spark of anger, just to garner an argument.
But eventually Sophie starts to realize that being honest with himself isn’t on Nate’s list of priorities. Eventually she realizes that for Nate to be truly honest with himself he will have to admit things he may never be ready to admit (starting with, of course, that he is a liar and thief just like them, that he is their equal, not their superior) and for that reason alone it – they – may never happen.
Which is okay. Truly.
Sophie makes her own luck, designs her own fate, and innate knowledge tells her that a fantasy with a vague possibility of becoming true is much better than a fantasy turning into reality and being an utter disappointment.
(This, too, helps to fill those lonely nights she’s grown all too accustomed to.)
After she attempts to bury Sophie Devereaux and feels the intense urge to shed all the women she has breathed life into and molded with lies over the years, she tells the team, as a whole, that she needs a break. That she’s slipping, off her game, and this team means too much to her to have her shortcomings cost them in the process.
Parker looks confused. Eliot just stares, a million things he wants to say caught in the back of his throat, but never slipping through. Hardison asks too many questions and Nate, well, Nate refuses to look at her although she supposes he must have seen this coming.
Sophie would be disappointed in him if he hadn’t.
It’s harder than she thought it would be, saying goodbye, so the word never actually leaves her mouth. It is in that moment, with the words of her explanation hanging in the air between them, that she realizes these people aren’t just her colleagues or her friends, that they’re her family, and that makes this so much more important. That knowledge, the way she feels about the people she has chosen to surround herself with, makes her even more certain that she desperately needs this time to straighten the absolute mess inside her head so she can be a better version of herself – not for her, but for them.
They seem to take that statement as is, and don’t bother to ask her any further questions, although the way Parker looks at her after – her lips pressed into a thin line, her eyes hardened and closed off to the entire world around her, absolutely shatters Sophie’s resolve. She doesn’t linger, merely asks Hardison to book her on the first flight he can find out of Logan and watches as they file out of Nate’s apartment one by one, mumbling their own version of goodbye just before shutting the door behind them.
After, it is just she and Nate in his empty apartment – separated by the distance that has been put there, their differences that drive them together and the similarities that drive them apart. Nate stands by the counter in the kitchen. Sophie lingers in the doorway, her line of sight catching his, and it is the first time he has looked at her since she said, aloud, that she was leaving.
Nate looks at her as though he can see right through her, through all the lies and the facades she has so carefully constructed, and it unsettles her almost completely.
Sophie is the first to look away.
“Where will you go?”
She’s sitting near him in the kitchen now, ankles wrapped around one of the rungs of the stool she’s perched on. Nate palms a cup of coffee back and forth between his hands; between Sophie’s there is tea, but she wishes for something less soothing, something that bites and burns on the way down.
“Hardison has me on the red eye to Heathrow,” she tells him in lieu of answer. The ticket and passport sit atop her purse on the counter next to her. Sophie eyes them both warily. “After that I honestly have no idea.” She shrugs and looks away, drawing her index finger over the rim of her cup idly. “I’ll figure it out as I go along. I always do.”
Nodding, Nate crosses the short distance between them, his feet shuffling until he is occupying the space beside her, his shoulder flush with hers. He makes a point of not looking at her when he says, “We’ll be here when you’re ready to come back,” and it shouldn’t matter, Sophie knows it shouldn’t matter, but the way he manages to completely separate himself from her while they are literally breathing the same oxygen cheapens the moment. It makes the words that should mean something mean absolutely nothing.
The anger is self righteous and warm as it settles in her belly and Sophie makes the mistake of allowing herself to indulge in it. She breathes it in, allows it to consume her wholly, and when she faces him again, she is using her palms to push herself away from the counter and off the stool, her laughter rueful and without mirth as curls in her mouth.
“That’s it? That is all you have to say to me?”
He doesn’t falter, doesn’t get caught up in the unbridled anger laced in her tone, in the way her fingers curl into fists at her sides. “It’s very obvious that you have made your choice, Sophie. Who am I to convince you otherwise?”
“Surely not even you can be that deft, Nate.”
Nate has the audacity to look incredulous at her words and it fuels her even further. There are a plethora of words forming and intermingling in her head and she constructs them carefully before allowing herself to speak, knows exactly what she wants to say and how she wants to say it, but when she opens her mouth to do so, nothing comes out. The words catch in her throat as she stares at him, as his mouth presses into the thinnest line, as he opens his mouth to reply with something that is bound to ignite that already fraying string holding her together and set her completely aflame.
This is when she kisses him.
She may start it, but Nate does nothing to stop it. Her mouth is vicious, angry against his. She pulls his bottom lip between hers and doesn’t let go. Bites until she tastes copper, fists her fingers into the thin cotton of his shirt, uses a leg to pull him closer, the heel of her stiletto digging into the fabric covering his legs, indenting the flesh underneath. Sophie pours every emotion she is feeling, every ounce of disappointment and disillusion, every single bit of anger she feels towards him over all the things he feels but refuses to say, over all the things she wishes she didn’t want or need from him into the kiss.
Nate doesn’t back down. He matches her inch for inch, fists his hands in her hair, pulling, grabbing and if she were a lesser person, if she wasn’t numb from the anger humming like a livewire under her skin, it would hurt; it would make her pull away. Nate kisses her like he’s angry too, and the cycle continues viciously, his anger fueling hers, Sophie pushing and him pulling, the grasp of control changing possession with every flick of tongue, every slant of lips.
Eventually a hand leaves the now tangled mess of her hair and slides down the skin of her arm, drops to her hips, slips under fabric and against the smooth skin of her thighs. Nate lingers there, his fingers dancing along the fine line of muscle. It is not out hesitation or uncertainty, but out of cruelty, denying her something she wants, and Sophie responds in kind. She uncurls her fingers from his shirt and allows them to slip further between them, grazing the soft skin at his navel, pushing under the jean fabric that sits low and loose at his waist. He groans then, the sound low, guttural, and Sophie swallows it whole, readily makes it a part of her as she grasps him in her hands, applying pressure here and there, her fingers like magic against him. She doesn’t stop kissing him as she opens her eyes and watches his face as he fights for control, as he nearly loses it completely.
She likes him like this – vulnerable, at her mercy, needing her. She knows this says entirely way too much about them.
With a moan, Nate tears his mouth away from hers, finally, her name like a curse as it tears past his lips and Sophie smiles victoriously. His breath is ragged, his fingers still lingering under her skirt, inching closer and closer to the heat between her thighs, and she takes control, uses her free hand to cover his and shove it deeper between her legs. She bites the inside of her cheek to hold the sigh of relief bubbling in the back of her throat from giving her away as his fingers push past silk and slip inside her, as he whimpers at the feel of her, at how wet she is for him already.
Their vast history serves as foreplay, and the anger that drove her to kiss him, the anger that fueled him into kissing her back, has them so finely tuned, so wanton already that the rest happens in a haze. Nate pushes her back on to the stool roughly, her back hitting the edge of the counter with a thud, the stool underneath her tipping just slightly under the sudden influx of her weight. Nate reaches forward to steady her and kiss her again all at once as he slides easily between her legs. Her hands reach back to his jeans as his push her skirt up around her waist.
They don’t bother with shoes or shirts, with tenderness or permission. Nate presses into her with his mouth never leaving hers, his fingers grasping everywhere at once, slipping and skimming over flesh until they find home at her thighs and dig in to the point where she knows she is going to come away with bruises.
They fuck like they don’t know each other at all and the reality of it causes Sophie to lose her breath almost completely. It forces her to pull her mouth away from his and bury it in his neck, her quiet gasps for air muffled by the slick skin there as the tension builds and builds and builds to the point of breaking her almost completely. Their pace is fast and dirty, harsh almost in the way their hips meet roughly, the way they push themselves together hectically in an attempt to find a rhythm they do not need because this isn’t meant to last.
He says her name, just once somewhere in the midst of it all. The two syllables sound so far away in the haze, but she hears it, holds on to it, and Sophie comes embarrassingly fast with one hand fisted in his hair and her teeth sinking into his skin without remorse. The fingers of her free hand fumbling until they find something solid to hold on to, finally fastening around the edge of the stool beneath her, her knuckles pearl-white and the tips numb. She doesn’t let go for the longest time, anchors herself in an attempt to preserve the parts of her that don’t belong to him already, in attempt to not lose herself in him completely.
It is to absolutely no avail.
While she straightens her skirt with steady fingers and turns her neck to get the kink out, Nate watches, too quiet from his stance next to her.
Sophie counts his breaths and evens her own to match. Says, “Ask me to stay, Nate. Tell me the team needs me. Tell me that you need me.”
The regret mixes with the taste of him on her lips all too soon and she hates herself a little bit for allowing him to get too close, for being so vulnerable before him. Nate looks as though he is on the verge of doing just that, about to tell here the very things she foolishly yearns to hear him say, but ultimately he merely stays quiet.
She laughs a little at the hum of nothing, the sound of her laugh hallow as it leaves the well inside her chest and pushes past her lips, as it falls between them heavily.
His silence is stifling. It rings in her ears and outside his window a lamp flickers on and off. There are sirens in the distance. The city around them continues to exist outside of this room and this moment with him, and Sophie focuses on that instead of Nate, instead of the way he is looking at her.
“It’s alright,” she breathes unsteadily, the words catching in her throat. She tries again: “It’s alright, Nate,” and her voice is more like her own this time – smooth, calm, nearly collected. Reaching for him, her palm cups his cheek and hates the way recoils first before allowing himself to lean into her touch for the briefest span of time. Sadly, she smiles for just a moment before leaning forward and pressing her lips to the far corner of his mouth. “I don’t think I would be able to say it either. Not now. Not yet.”
It is just another lie to add to her long list of many and before she can hesitate further, before she can lay more of herself bear for this man who doesn’t deserve it, not yet anyway, Sophie reaches for her coat and makes her way towards the door. This time she doesn’t linger, only pauses with her fingers around the doorknob and the remembrances of him between her thighs as she smiles over her shoulder in a parting shot. Her goodbye is mumbled, hauntingly quiet.
Still, Nate says nothing as he watches her go.