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Watching the Little Birds Fly Kamikaze Missions into the Walls

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The helicopter dropped them on the helipad of an estate on a Pennsylvania hill and then pulled out. "It's stocked for us to spend a…just over a week here," said Sophie. "There are two SUVs for when we want to leave." Her mouth worked a moment, before she got it back under control. "Eliot, let me show you where the medical supplies are."

Hardison followed right after them and moved to take the bandages and alcohol from her as if it was expected. Eliot didn't seem surprised, so she left them to it and went back to find Parker.

Parker was climbing the staircase. Or, more specifically, she was climbing the railing of the fifty foot spiral staircase, without any safety equipment. Sophie didn't shout. She kicked off her shoes and ran to the first landing, leaned over it to glare down.

Parker grunted, "Move back." Sophie did, but she still felt the air rush by when Parker flipped herself over the railing and landed in a crouch, but on her feet. Parker straightened and rolled her shoulders. "Huh. You use different muscles climbing without any equipment."

Sophie put a hand on Parker's shoulder. It wasn't the tight hug she wanted to grab her into, but she thought Parker would accept it. "Don't. Please don't do something dangerous right now. I can't take it."

Parker looked Sophie in the face, hard and searching. "You're…upset. About Nate."

Sophie bit her lips closed, so she didn't say something awful, and nodded.

"We can't take him today. He's an alcoholic with a gunshot wound to the gut. He needs a hospital." Parker grabbed Sophie, pulled her into another of those strange, too hard hugs. "When he's discharged, we'll steal him back, Sophie. I promise."

Reassurance, from this source, was too much. "I, I can't," said Sophie, and she ran further up the stairs, into the first bedroom on the left. She sat on the bed, gulping at the air, trying to breathe past the lump in her throat. She heard a noise. When she looked up, she saw Parker standing in the doorway.

"Don't cry." Parker walked in. "I have to rub your back if you cry."

Sophie nodded, and swallowed again, blinked a little until she was sure she wouldn't cry. "I know that we'll get Nate. We'll get Nate if we have to hire another crew to steal him for us." She laughed, a shallow chuckle. "Marcus would love that, I think, stealing our fearless leader for us." She put her hands to the back of her head, dug her fingers into the base of her skull where the headache was starting. "I just wanted to come back and have everything work, you see? I was supposed to get centered and then come back home, to the family. And it—."

"It's like breaking into the Met to steal something and realizing that they're displaying a forgery."

Sophie smiled, because she was sitting in a room with Parker, who, despite the personal growth she had made in Sophie's absence, was still very much Parker. Hardison and Eliot were just downstairs. Hardison was probably connecting to the wireless, and Eliot, she profoundly hoped, was cooking. "No, it's not like that, actually.  It's more like when you steal something and you see all the places where it's been kicked around, where it's been poorly cleaned and repaired. And you love it anyway, and decide not to sell it."

Parker frowned, opened her mouth and closed it, tried again. "You like things more than money, right?"

"Yes, Parker," said Sophie. "Things more than money."

"Okay," said Parker. "I think I get it."