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more quiet, conversational fic

So this one basically started fermenting while I wrote to reach an understanding. Really I think these guys just wanted to have another conversation at me.

Title: picking up the pieces
Ficverse: Leverage
Series: Understanding Among Thieves

Rating: Gen / PG-13
Length: 3200 ish
Characters: Eliot, Sophie
Teaser: "I'm fine," she told him a little crossly.
Notes: Another conversation between friends, set during The Two Live Crew Job, inspired by what Eliot said later. Slightly more emotional in parts; hopefully not too OTT.
Kind of a companion piece to to reach an understanding, but also stands alone.
Disclaimers: Not mine.
Spoilers: set during 2.07, The Two Live Crew Job.
Feedback: absolutely. The good, the bad, the ugly....

The hotel hallway, nice as it was, safe as it was, was making Eliot fidget. All cream and gold and plants and warm lighting, it was rich – sumptuous, even – but still lacking that something that made a place a home. Before he followed that thought any further, he heard movement on the other side of the door, and then Sophie opened it.

“Hardison said there was a kitchen in your suite,” he said without preamble, sizing her up at a glance. There was a dazedness about her eyes, a slight delay in her usual lightning-quick comprehension. She shook her head a little, as though not entirely sure what he was doing here, at her temporary door, with several bags of groceries, asking about a kitchen.

“Uhh ... yes.”

He jiggled the bags to draw her attention. “I got you some real food. Save you from ODing on gummi bears and popcorn.”

That struck up something of her usual spark. Her mouth opened to protest when he spotted the open packets on the table behind her, then looked back at her. She made a moue at being so easily caught out, and stepped back into the room to let him in.

“I’m fine,” she told him a little crossly.

“I know you are,” he said neutrally, heading for the kitchenette and unpacking the supplies. “But you still need food. Have you eaten anything from a food group not at the top of the pyramid yet?”

“I’m not a schoolchild, Eliot, and this isn’t Phys Ed. I’ll eat what I like.”

The snippiness in her tone made a tiny smile cross his face, but he was careful not to let her sense it, focusing on stowing the perishables and the bottle of white in the fridge.

“Are you here making sure I’m ‘okay’? Did Nate put you up to this? I only just got him and Hardison out of here.”

So much for stealthy surveillance. He took his time turning around, thankful that in his career he’d never been sent after Sophie Devereaux, or anything she’d stolen.

When he faced her, he just shook his head and held her eyes honestly. “He didn’t have to.”

Her lips firmed, a glint of truculence and a flash of that oversized ring of hers as she folded her arms, telling him all he needed to know about badly frayed nerves and overdrawn endurance. After the explosion, after they’d scrambled to deal with the authorities and double-checked there was nothing in her apartment, or what was left of it, that could incriminate the team, they’d gone into pure vengeance mode. Nate especially had bounced between hovering concern and jittery fury, and neither mode had been very relaxing. So far, though, no one had turned up any leads at all.

However, the very first priority had been hiding her. He and Hardison had spent as much time covering any track or trace, physical and electronic, that she was still alive as they had looking for leads. Nate and Parker had concentrated on smuggling her away, not risking any of their places around the city. It had taken a lot of sleight-of-hand and scurrying before Sophie was safely tucked away here, and she had barely had time to draw a breath, let alone begin to process anything.

He watched the turmoil inside her seeking the way to vent out, but it wasn’t until a flicker of exhaustion and misery made her look like a lost child that he stepped in.

“Have you even had a chance to shower, really clean up, since...?” he asked gently.

If she found the question about personal hygiene intrusive, it didn’t make much difference to the strain she was showing. “I – I only changed –”

He remembered now; the clothes she’d left at Nate’s apartment when getting dressed for the Klimt thing. Parker had fetched them for her, and Sophie’d joked about a good excuse to go shopping, and how she should blow up her wardrobe cache, too.

He nodded. “Why don’t you? And I’ll rustle up some dinner.”

She stared at him a moment, then blinked and obeyed without a word. There was a tautness around his eyes as he watched her go, before turning back to the food in front of him. A quick rummage through the drawers made him glad he’d had the foresight to bring some of his own utensils and condiments. The frying pan looked serviceable, though, and he spun it absentmindedly and placed it on a burner, already looking for a chopping board. Best to do something simple, all things considered.

He busied himself with dicing and mixing, putting away the last of the groceries, setting out plates and glasses, and then checking the layout of the place. Hardison hadn’t needed advice about getting something secure, but in reality the best protection was the bomber – Eliot gritted his teeth – thinking Sophie was dead.

All the while, he scanned for little noises and changed rhythms from the bathroom, keeping an eye on the clock. The sun had set, so he spent a few spare minutes light-switch hunting. The water shut off around the thirty-minute mark, and he put the pan on to preheat. After a moment’s deliberation he pulled out the wine, too.

He waited, hip-to-counter and slightly curled in on himself, thoughts slowing from their breakneck speed for the first time since her shaky voice sounded in his ear, hours earlier. Eliot, I, uh ... I think I’m holding a bomb.

Thank God she hadn’t taken her earbud out after the job. How long had she been standing there? Holding that thing? All alone? Waiting, just waiting, smooth cool weight in her hands, for someone to notice she was missing and check on her....

The sound of the bathroom door opening pulled him out of thoughts that were beginning to rev up again, and he took a second before turning around.

Strings of damp hair around cheeks flushed with the heat, her makeup-free face more alert, her hands and neck bare of jewelry. Her eyes and nose were red and shiny, but not from the water, and she shifted almost defensively under his observation.

He withdrew it to gesture at the ingredients on the counter. “Omelette. That okay?”

“Oh – yes. Thank you.”

He nodded and added the first ingredients to the pan, then poured two glasses of wine, moving hers toward her on the counter. She pulled out a bar stool and sat across from him, arranging herself and her big bathrobe and her wine with typical grace. As the smell of frying garlic suffused the bright, warm space, and as Eliot carefully kept his focus on the food, he could feel her begin to relax.

He threw in the peppers and said casually, “You know, I remember – my first bomb, I was ... yeah, twenty-one, and I was just so cool about it, after. Stone cold smooth, you know? I did fine, for hours – and damned if I wasn’t impressed as hell with myself.”

His laugh had a self-deprecating note in it, and he shot a look at her. She knew what he was doing, but she hadn’t tensed up again; she was just listening to his story. “Ice man, huh?” she asked.

“Oh yeah. Real tough guy. Anyway, that night I can’t sleep, so I decide to have a shower – we were only supposed to shower in the morning, but – yeah.” Carefully, he poured the eggs in, taking his time before continuing over the renewed sizzling. “I got in there, my hands start shaking ... next thing I know, I go all to pieces.”

He gave her a rueful smile and rubbed at his cheek, just for something to do. Sophie was sitting straighter, eyes bright and fascinated. “I must have been in there a whole hour. Nearly left the stall in pieces, too. Started hitting things and just couldn’t really stop.... And then, all of a sudden, it was done. It was out of me. I was just ... okay.” He shrugged, then laughed again. “Turned off the water and ran like hell, hoping no one would find out. But no one ever said anything, so. I don’t know – I was still the tough guy on base, I guess.”

He met her sharp look; she’d seen more in that than he liked anyone to. She leaned back in the chair, tugging absently at her robe to keep it in place, just processing his words. Then she drew a deep breath of the aromatic atmosphere of the kitchen and nodded at the stove. “Smells good.”

But her modest tweaks of her bathrobe had reminded him. “Oh – I bought you pajamas, too. The bag on the sofa.”

She gave him a bemused smile, then went over to inspect them, and held them up with a laugh. “Seriously?”

Eliot raised his eyebrows right back at her, a teasing twist to his mouth. “It’s that or the clothes you’ve worn all day. You’d rather me buying you some sexy negligee?”

With another laugh, she hugged them to herself protectively. “No!” She gave the blue-striped flannel a soft smile, then turned it up to him. The clearness in her eyes said he’d chosen well, and not just with the flannel. “Thanks, Eliot.”

He probably didn’t have to hold on to that smile as long as he did. He cleared his throat. “Yeah. No problem. This’ll be ready pretty soon, if you want to change.”

By the time he slid a golden brown wedge onto each plate, she was back in the bar stool, pajama bottoms hanging too long over swinging feet. She quickly rolled up her sleeves and tucked her hair behind her ears, before taking a large piece of omelette.

“Mm, good,” she said with her mouth full, grinning about her bad manners, which made him chuckle. He took a bite of his own, still standing, not quite noticing the assessing look Sophie gave him.

After a minute, she caught his eye and indicated the other bar stool. “Sit?”

His hesitation and instinctive scan of the room before he came and sat would have gone unnoticed by most, as would the lines of tension buried in his body language.

“What happened after your second bomb?” she asked, after a moment.

“What? Oh.” He frowned, then shook his head. “Don’t remember. They kind of all blur together, after a while.”

Her mouth turned sardonically. “Ah, I have something to look forward to, then.”

He matched her expression. “Yeah, it’s a blast.”

She snorted. “Pun not intended?”

“Oh –” He realized a beat behind her. “Yeah. No.”

He could feel her studying him, waiting to see if he would pick up his slack in the conversation. He didn’t.

“Why did you come by tonight, Eliot?” she asked suddenly.

He glanced at her, then finished the last bite, and stood up to put his plate in the sink. “Like I said. Food, and stuff.”

Sophie handed him her plate as well. “Making sure I was okay.”

“Right.” That expectant look of hers was hard to withstand for long. “What? I just ... I didn’t want you to be alone when it hit, that’s all.”

That made her pause, the warmth of her hand on his. “I know. Thank you,” she said soberly. Then she pulled back. “But I’m okay, now. Really. I’ll be alright.”

His mouth tightened, along with his shoulders. “You want me to go?” He didn’t wait for an answer, though, just turned to find his things, not really wanting to look at her.

She was silent for a minute. Then, quietly, he heard her say, “No. I don’t. I want you to tell me what’s bothering you.”

He stilled, just his thumb worrying his keys. Then he dropped them back down on his jacket. He squinted over at her, knowing his frustration was showing. “Five hours ago, you dropped an explosive that would go off at the slightest movement. Someone tried to kill you. Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that?”

Sophie slid off the stool and came closer. “I don’t see why, necessarily. I mean, yes, it was scary. But it’s not the first time I’ve been in danger, and believe me, if I feel the need to freak out, I’ll do it. But until then.... It didn’t kill me. You guys saved my life. It still scares me – but you’re here, and I’m safe.”

She held his eyes like she had in her apartment, her trust in him clamping down her fear, eye contact like a lifeline while his thoughts raced and spun for traction, for a solution, while nervous questions and banter sputtered around them. Locked on to him when all he could give her was how fast can you run, and no foolish, sentimental promises to stay and distract her with someone to worry about apart from herself. Smothering his own rage and powerlessness and explaining exactly how to do it to those eyes; holding himself steady and clear, bolstering every percentage point of her chances in place of everything he couldn’t do. And forcing himself to walk away, no last words, and not smacking Nate for being an idiot and adding to her stress.

And she was so damn brave.

This time, he was the one clinging to the lifeline. He searched for words, but could only find two. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asked, deliberately drawing it out of him.

He gritted his teeth. “For – everything. Leaving you like that. Not being able to ... help.”

Sophie was closer, now, understanding in those eyes, intent on digging out the bitter root. “You know that’s rubbish, don’t you? You did everything you could possibly do.”

He did know. It didn’t change anything. “It wasn’t enough,” he said stiffly.

She held up her hands, alive and well in front of him. “It was enough.”

He only shook his head.

“Eliot, you can’t – we risk our lives, doing this. All the time. And you take the brunt, looking after us, all the time. But you can’t protect us from everything.”

He wouldn’t give. “That’s my job, Sophie.”

“Right, and sometimes you just can’t. That’s why we have teammates now. You’re not the only one anymore – we take care of each other.” She reached out, touching his arm. “I’m here, I’m alive. It was okay. You did your job. We all did.”

He squeezed his eyes shut for a second, then took a long breath, and nodded.

She watched the tension drain from his body, and smiled at him. “Okay. Good. Now ... Hardison did the whole tv setup business for me, and my plan – which, let me point out, you interrupted by insisting on taking care of me – was to watch Casablanca.”

He caught her hopeful look, standing there in pajamas too big for her, like a little girl staying up past her bedtime. And he caught the tiniest undercurrent of a little girl up late, too old to be afraid of the dark, but just a little bit scared anyway. Any objection he had died on his lips.

“In that case, I guess I owe it to you to stay and watch it with you, huh?” he said, reading into her script.

“Yes. You do,” she said firmly.

Before she could go to put it on, he suddenly stepped forward and pulled her into a fierce hug. After a startled second, she returned it, holding him as tightly and generously as he was; replying in kind to everything he was trying to tell her.

“I didn’t bring anything for s’mores, though,” he said upon releasing her, turning to the counter to get their wine. “If we’re watching a chick movie, aren’t we supposed to have s’mores?”

“That’s a rank stereotype – American, I might add – and anyway, I have gummi bears. And popcorn.” She fixed him with a look from across the room. “And Casablanca isn’t a chick movie.”

He shrugged, unconvinced, then admitted, “I haven’t actually seen it –”

“What?” She stared at him, aghast. “Eliot, it’s a classic. It’s the classic. Everyone’s seen Casablanca!”

“I guess I was busy being male while that was happening.” He handed her glass to her and dropped onto the sofa.

She joined him, tucking her feet up under herself. “You’ll love it.”

“Uh huh.” There was nothing for it, so he snagged the popcorn bowl and settled in, rolling his eyes as the logo came up in black-and-white.

After half an hour, the popcorn sat forgotten next to him, and he barely noticed Sophie’s sidelong looks. An hour later, he only realized he was sitting forward when “beginning of a beautiful friendship,” died away, and “The End” faded in, and then discovered Sophie was curled up asleep on her side of the sofa.

“Hey,” he said softly, not wanting to startle her, then reached over and tapped her foot when she didn’t respond. “Hey. Sophie.”

She didn’t move a muscle, even when he shook her shoulder. He sighed and got up to clean up the dishes, not quietly. But in twenty minutes he’d exhausted every cleaning-up possibility, and she was still dead to the world. He tried shaking her again, but not too hard, trying to find that fine line between waking her up and scaring her to pieces.

He straightened, looking down at her. Against his best efforts, she’d started to snore softly.


He couldn’t just leave her there, not after today, to wake up in a strange place like this.

“... Dammit.”

At least she was already in pajamas; lines had to be drawn somewhere, and definitely long before there. He went and turned the covers on the bed, because if he was going to do this he was going to do it properly, then came back and picked her up with a grunt. This was usually a lot easier when he did it for his nephew.

At least no one would ever know. If she asked him later, he’d tell her she must have gotten into bed herself and been so sleepy she forgot. That happened to people, right? People who didn’t sleep as lightly as he did, anyway.

He paid no attention at all to her little snuggled sigh as he carefully put her down, but unfortunately it turned out to be the sound of her stirring.

“Eliot?” she murmured, muddled, as he pulled the covers over her.

Typical. “Yeah, Soph?” he asked soothingly; she didn’t seem fussed enough to really wake up.

Her hand fumbled toward him. “... Eliot ... ’ll stay?”

He stopped, then took her hand, fighting the tightness in his throat. “Yeah. I’ll stay. You’re safe, Sophie.”

She gave a tiny, sleepy nod, then withdrew her hand and curled it under her cheek. “G’nigh, ’liot.”

He couldn’t find any spare blankets, but he’d done worse than sleep under his jacket on a sofa before. And anyway, it was worth it.

A/N: In the episode, Eliot said in his eulogy: “She had a way of taking care of people, you know? She was a sister, she was a best friend, all rolled into one. I’m gonna miss you, Soph– sooo much. Katherine.” I think he meant it, and that's kind of what inspired this second conversation.

Understanding Among Thieves series:
to reach an understandingShe held up the food. “Brought you some dinner. I thought you could do with it.”
picking up the pieces – "I'm fine," she told him a little crossly.
tea and sympathy"Sophie, he made me a mute!"
after the falloutCursing all arrogant, thoughtless, high-minded do-gooders, he stomped down the stairs.


( 17 speakses — have a speak )
Jul. 8th, 2010 07:55 am (UTC)
Lovely. I like the subtle nuances, the things they notice about each other that ordinary people wouldn't, and the way they understand each other.
Jul. 8th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
Thanks. This one really wanted to be written, but now I think they're done talking at me for a while, somehow....
Jul. 8th, 2010 10:08 am (UTC)
Really nice. I love how these two are together, they really have an understanding that they don't have with any of the others.
Jul. 9th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
Thank you. I like writing that understated connection they have – without trying to turn it into romance, which just doesn't feel necessary to me. Glad you liked :)
Jul. 8th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
This is wonderful, so quiet, sweet and real, well done.
Jul. 9th, 2010 03:25 am (UTC)
Thank you. With all the crazy hijinks in fanfic, sometimes I just want to sit quietly in a room!
Jul. 9th, 2010 01:08 pm (UTC)
Heh, I can fully understand that!
Jul. 9th, 2010 02:47 pm (UTC)
I really like this, especially Eliot's understanding and expression of his feelings of helplessness. You handled that really delicately and in a very real, poignant way.

I also just like when Eliot and Sophie get a chance to interact. (And I'm happy to see it happening more onscreen in S3.) They're peers in the truest senses of the word and can understand each other without saying much. I love watching that.
Jul. 9th, 2010 09:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks :)

Yeah, I figured Eliot just might have trouble expressing what was wrong, there, but handily Sophie is good at that kind of thing. That mixture of spoken and unspoken communication that they are both good at reading is so much fun to write. Oddly, I had a bit more character study planned for this one – and then all of a sudden, they decided the conversation was done, and they just wanted to watch movies! How does that happen?

With you on just watching them interact in S3. With Nate away for six months, I guess that connection evolved a lot. Hopefully we'll see more hints at that in upcoming eps....
Jul. 28th, 2010 07:14 pm (UTC)
I. loved. this.

Again, the conversation was incredibly in-character, and you've explored Sophie and Eliot's relationship -- as well as each as their own character -- in such a lovely way. This, exactly, is the subtext missing in the show.
Jul. 28th, 2010 11:57 pm (UTC)
Thank you! It's so frustrating, sometimes, that the show only gives us the barest hints at what's going on in the relationships. But then I guess that's why we write so much! Sigh. Somewhere in there is a happy medium....
Aug. 25th, 2010 03:16 am (UTC)
Well that was tasty subtext. I love the nuanced characterisation.
Aug. 25th, 2010 04:14 am (UTC)
Thanks! Agreed. Subtext is all sneaky and delicious.
Aug. 30th, 2010 04:54 am (UTC)
Wow, this is a gorgeous story. I love that you poked at Eliot's protectiveness and what happens when things go badly, and I love love love that you tackled Sophie post-bomb and loss of her apartment, because I think that scenario would affect her in certain ways.

Thank you for such a great, quiet little gem.
Aug. 30th, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I agree – when you watch the funeral knowing that Sophie's not dead, it suddenly strikes you just how easily everyone seems to be taking it in stride (except Parker, but, well, you know). I really wish they could have given us what happened immediately after, for all the charactery goodness, but they stayed with the con plotline instead. It's that kind of show, but still.


Aug. 30th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC)
I love this... you've got Sophie trying to be strong and not show how rattled she is about almost dying, and Eliot all guilty because he couldn't protect her from the bomb... Wonderful little character moments. Well done.
Aug. 31st, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! These quiet little character moments are really the corner of the sandbox I like to play in. And somehow Sophie and Eliot are the more complex ones in that department, I think – they let things happen at more levels than the others, somehow. I don't know if that makes sense, but that's how it seems to work, and what makes for fic I want to write ... so hooray :)
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