Author's Note: Rewritten after my last take. This one with (hopefully) more depth.
Disclaimer: I don't own Leverage. If I do, it would have been extra family-fluffy in every episode :D
He watched the chopper hover over his head, listened to the loud puttering of its blades, and he smiled. The handcuff was cutting into his wrist, and the pain on his side was sending red-hot pain across his system, but those things don't matter. Not to him, not now. Even though he was slumped against the deck with a bleeding torso and twenty FBI guns pointing towards him, even though Sterling was hovering triumphantly by him, it was he who had that odd feeling of satisfaction running through his veins.
He had not had that feeling for a very long time. Ever since Sam died, he had forgotten what it was like to be protective. Ever since he clung to Sam's lifeless body, willing for him to breath again but to no avail, he had forgotten what it was like to have something worth dying for. And ever since Maggie left him, he forgot what it was like to go through the days with a purpose, fighting for the people he loved and cared about. All he had been then was a broken shell, wallowing in hatred and sorrow and alcohol, sinking lower and lower still into self-destruction.
That self-destructive feeling was gone.
He watched the chopper fly away, and he realized that the pain on his body and his fate in Sterling's hand are trivial compared to what he had managed to do today. He knew that if he was given the choice again, he would not change anything. Well, maybe ran the con a little differently, but he would never give up any one of the others.
He could not let them take Hardison, his prodigal genius who breaks the walls of technology to their convenience, who could bend all the rules to their command, the hacker who connects them in more ways than just with comms. Hardison, who was the first to reach out to him to get the team formed, who thrived in his praises and rose to his challenges, whose cheers were the loudest after a job well done.
He could not let them touch Parker, his fragile thief who can steal almost anything, and she did steal everything, including their hearts with her quirky remarks and odd behaviour. Parker, who was coming out of her guarded world more since they formed this team, whose childishness made them all exasperated and yet laughing at the same time, who relies on them to make her more humanlike than a mere stealing machine.
He could not let them get Eliot, his grumpy hitter who was always looking out for them, who hovered in the background making sure nobody was hurt while he was around, who would keep them away from danger, even if the danger were their own selves. Eliot, who promised to follow him to the very end even though there was a chance that he might drag them all off a cliff, whose unshakable faith kept the others in line while he sorted himself out and Sophie was gone.
Seeing her appearing so suddenly when he felt all hopes were lost seemed like a dream. She was as beautiful as ever, and smart as ever. And she came back for them. For him. And he could not, would not, let them capture her. Not his grifter, not his Sophie. Tara was as great as a grifter goes, but Sophie was more than that. She was the one who told Eliot to calm down whenever he was in a temper, the one who taught Parker how to hold a conversation with people outside the team, the one who made sure Hardison washed his laundry and cleaned his apartment every once in a while.
And the one who made sure he didn't fall too far off the rails.
Seeing her again cleared the whole path for him. He knew he can keep on with the plan. He had had second thoughts before, worrying about what would happen to the other three when he goes. But with Sophie here he knew he could be at peace. She would look after them now, as she has always looked after them all.
He had paid a high price to keep them away from being captured, but somehow he found that he didn't regret it. He didn't care what would happen to him, that his pride was wounded. What matters the most, what mattered at all, was that his team had got away. He would rather look at Sterling's smug face than seeing Hardison, Parker, Eliot or Sophie at gunpoint. He had managed to protect them, had done everything in his power to save them, to keep them safe and free. He had fought with all he had, even if it meant sacrificing himself for their sakes.
It was not just the Robin Hood thing that kept him going. It was not just about helping the powerless or taking down the malicious. It was not just the excitement of a chase or the satisfaction of a job well done. It was the feeling that he had whenever he looked at each of them, the feeling which seemed to fill the huge void inside him ever since his family crumbled. It was what he felt when Hardison looked at him after they overcame a glitch in their plan, when he saw Parker lay on the floor with tears staining her face, when Eliot came in after a job with his face bloodied, when Sophie grabbed the whisky bottle from his hand and glared at him reproachfully.
Somehow, somewhere in between running scams on their targets and returning what was due to the innocent, they had become more than just a hacker, thief, hitter and grifter to him. And he had become more than just an honest man.
"My name is Nate Ford, and I am a thief."
And he laughed. He laughed because he finally admitted to the world that he is one of them. But more importantly, he laughed because he had done what he could not do years ago. He had fulfilled a father's duty.
He wondered in a flash if he should send a thank-you note to Victor Dubenich.
I hope you enjoyed that! I originally wanted to write this as a one-shot story about Nate, but I'm considering on making it a five-shot. What do you think? Let me know!