Disclaimer: Not mine, yada yada.

Notes: I wrote "wrong with you", a one-shot, or so I thought. Then came "steal a resurrection", because I wanted to know what happened next. This is the third in what's becoming a series of scenes which (I hope) work as self-contained stories, but also as a continuing narrative of how Parker's death would play out in the relationships among the rest of the team. (I killed Parker. Sorry.) As far as timeline goes, this takes place pretty soon after The Lost Heir Job, before Tara has really had much more to do with the team.

Concrit: Always welcome.

The cool pre-dawn air met his intrusion upon its sleeping city with just a little resentment.

Mismatched shops and homes as old as America clustered along the streets he paced on, private in their early morning dormancy, indifferent to his wheeling thoughts.

He shouldn't be surprised that Hardison's tracking found Sophie here. He wasn't surprised. The fading nighttime scents pulled at memories he couldn't afford to think about, long lost chases and near brushes and those exotic eyes sparkling with the thrill. When things had been ... simple.

Well. Maybe not simple.

The scrape of his tread on cobbles was too loud, too immediate. It was the sound of him being here, right at her doorstep, and still not knowing how to do this. His hand closed around the intimacy of a palm-sized bottle that wasn't there, then opened again helplessly, drawing over his haggard face. She'd hate him if he turned up drunk.

The pit in his stomach grew. She'd hate him anyway. How could she not?

How could she not? How could he.... There had to be a way, an in, somehow. If he could only find it, plan.... Since boarding the plane, every cog had been spinning, looking for traction on anything that would let him tell her that....

He swallowed.

Who's dead? The memory of her slim fingers fluttering over a face full of fear, eyes wide and devoid of masks. Who's dead? It echoed in his ears, sharp and panicky. Who's dead?

God, Parker, not Parker, not Parker. So small, so fragile, lying bloody on that warehouse floor with a bullethole in her, and he couldn't –

He'd been too late. Hadn't even seen it coming. He should have – should have known, should have warned them, should have kept this from happening.

And Sophie would look at him. She'd come back, of course she'd come back; that wasn't even the question. Two return tickets sat confidently in his wallet. Nobody could keep her away from taking their revenge. He'd have her back, without even asking for it, and he was drowning with longing to be back in her apartment in London when that was all he wanted.

There had to be a way, some con, some hook, some loophole he could find to keep her from hating him ... didn't there?

The image of her face swam in front of his eyes again, soft this time, gentle and understanding, that sweet warmth in the corners of her smile. He could almost feel her arms curving around him, he wanted it so badly, tight, binding up the desolation he was carrying, staunching the emptiness bleeding out everywhere.

But ... no.

No, she'd look at him as though he'd let Parker die. Because he'd let Parker die. There was no way around it; he ran the best crew he'd ever heard of, and he still couldn't keep from losing a child he loved, failing the woman he –

Suddenly he wished he was drunk, fiercely drunk, uncontrollably bawling drunk. He smacked his hand against the nearest wall, wanting to scream with the unfairness of it. He hadn't asked for this, hadn't wanted a family again, but there they were, nestling under his heart and ripping it apart.

Somewhere in this city, a bar was open. The craven thought oozed through him, shifting his feet a half step down the road before he even noticed. A bar, a stool, a shot ... he could just slip into it and drift away. He'd just let it all go, never look back, never worry about what happened to them all, never stray into another accidental family. He'd know better this time, keep his distance. He'd never have to lose anyone ever again, never let anyone down.

He reached out, steadying himself against the cold grittiness of old stone, looking everywhere around him to find the way out of this moment. He could taste it, the alcohol sitting on his tongue, sliding down and making everything dull. Dull and disconnected, somehow not his problem anymore. He could smell it, heady and rich, free agency in a bottle, the rest of a life borne away on a languid swirl of booze.

And Eliot and Hardison would ruin those responsible, they could do that without his help, they didn't need him. And Sophie would ... Sophie would learn about it over a computer screen, a reproduced voice from the other side of the Atlantic, a face in pixels, or maybe not – a blank screen so nobody's eyes had to meet, reveal the shards of broken hearts.

And she'd be alone.

He froze. She'd be alone. Who's dead would blossom into its cruel fullness, slice into her, standing there wrapped in a red kimono which provided no protection at all. She'd be alone, no one to put arms around her while she fell apart, no one to rail at, hit at, if she needed to. She'd hate him anyway, how could she not, but she wouldn't be alone. However little he could offer, he wouldn't let her be alone.

He pressed the buzzer, and again, urgent not to outlast this calm resolve which held him at her door, filling his thoughts with her pain even more than his. He found himself pressing it again, unable to risk her sleeping through this moment of sober courage high.

"Please," he muttered, "please –" and, maybe, he might be praying to the God he'd left behind at Sam's grave, praying for just this one break which he couldn't create for himself. Maybe he was begging her to wake up, to answer the door. Maybe both.

His fingers were landing on the button again when he heard movement on the other side of the door, then the long pause as the implication of his presence registered.

The locks clicked slowly, squeezing the breath out of him, before the door finally opened. Crimson silk, yes, and mussed dark hair, and warm light spilling around her into the street, all eclipsed by the terror in her eyes as she stared at him.

He opened his mouth, but what could he even say?

"No," she said abruptly, cutting him off before he could think of anything. "No. Tell me ... tell me you're here with some, some stupid bloody excuse to get me to ... some dreadful metaphor to make me feel needed, but not too needed, tell me – tell me – Nate –"

Tears stung his eyes, mirroring the ones in hers. "I –"

Her mouth sagged open around a broken gasp and she stumbled away from him, clutching at the fabric at her chest as though trying to hold her heart intact. He pulled the door closed behind him, following helplessly to where she perched on the arm of her sofa, the slumped curve of her back to him.

He couldn't bear this. He needed to say something, do something. He couldn't just stand here and listen to her breathe in soundless half-sobs. "It –"

Her hand whipped up, shakily refusing to hear him, turned against him as she wrestled her voice under control. After a few long minutes, head still bowed away from him, she asked, "Who?"

He forced a deep breath past the agony in his chest. "Parker."

She gave a tiny, lost nod, as though that was the name she suspected, then collapsed in tears, curling almost fetally against the back of the sofa. Away from him. He hovered, uncertain how to appease the need to intervene, struggling against the stark recognition that she didn't want him to do so. He sat awkwardly behind her, the sofa plush and welcoming in bitter contrast to the moment, and ran his hands through his hair in lieu of anything else to do.

Eventually she calmed in resignation or exhaustion or some combination. "How?"

"Five goons. They ambushed her and Eliot, and ... she was shot." His voice shook only a little.


"Yesterday afternoon."

She nodded. "We know who sent them?"

Nate smiled darkly. "Oh, yes."

He felt her twist and glance over her shoulder toward him, then turn back to stare out the window at the brightening sky.

"You're asking me back for this," she said, and he couldn't tell if it was a question or not. He touched his wallet for some kind of reassurance.

"Got tickets for a flight in five hours."

He felt her sad little sigh, rubbing raw against his regrets. "Please," he said suddenly, surprising himself, then flailed, searching for what the hell he thought he was saying. "I – I don't want to pressure you, or ... I thought ... I just ... need you back."

He was an idiot.

She stayed very still, not looking at him. He opened his mouth to yammer something, anything, to defuse the words, and then stopped, fingers scouring his eyes. What could he say?

The gentle touch nearly shocked him out of his skin. He stared down at where her hand had slipped into his, then up at her unmoving back. As the seconds passed and she didn't withdraw it, he gave up trying to understand and just held on for dear life.