Disclaimer: I do not own Leverage.
THE FINAL JOB
They knew this would end someday.
They just don't expect it to be today—or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or every day onwards. They stand in a circle, too wide-spaced and distant for their comfort, almost as if each of them is teetering on an invisible thin line. They stand still, trying not to tremble, even though the air in the room is much too cold.
Something similar had happened a long time ago when they bid goodbye, except this time the gap between each other feels like an endless void. For years they thought they were used to loneliness, but now the unfamiliar absence of the brush of a shoulder, the coaxing accent of a British woman, the rapid typing of a laptop, is almost unbearable.
But they are stronger than that. They knew this, all of this, would end someday.
They just don't expect it to be today, that's all.
"Thank you for everything you've done," Nate says. He keeps his stoic gaze, the hard pinch in his eyebrows. But as he stares at each of his team members in the eye, he finds the stiff lines across his forehead fading, his face falling. "From now on, I want you all to lead normal lives."
"Normal?" Parker whispers. Hardison looks her way, sees her eyes glimmering with trepidation, and her jacket wrinkles as she crosses her arms tighter.
"Yeah, I get it," Hardison replies to Nate, and Parker's arms fall to her sides.
Eliot rubs his callous knuckles, feeling history in every bruise. "I'm—" he says, "my fists are gonna get lonely without any more jobs."
"This is for the best," Nate assures. "I went down the path of a dangerous criminal and tied you down with me."
"No, you didn't," Sophie's voice utters. Nate gazes at her, watches the woman's shaky breaths take control of her body. A grifter knows how to mask emotions, but Sophie feels completely stripped around Nate, and wonders how someone could touch and break her heart so easily at the same time.
Hardison doesn't dare step forward to Parker. He can only turn to her, asking, with cautious hope, "You gonna remember me?"
Parker doesn't answer. She isn't good with words, and doesn't know how she'll go through the rest of her life with them instead of locks and picks. She feels a camera in her pocket from their last con, takes the device out, and snaps a picture of the man who understood her without words. And that is enough of an answer for Hardison.
Eliot scratches his jaw, struggling to find the expression he should have on his face. It isn't scary, and it isn't quite intimidating as it was before, either. "I guess I can move back to the countryside…"
"Yes. We won't be criminals anymore. We'll all move to different places, have different names, and different lives."
Nate digs his hands into his pockets and stands tall. He stands proudly, as one would, looking over his teammates—his friends, his family—for the last time. A smile curves his lips, one of triumph and accomplishment, knowing that all of them had made a difference by working together.
He says, "Take care," and that is when his voice breaks.
He really didn't expect it to end someday.
The band members never question the bruises on his knuckles and the scars on his body. Their new singer had been intimidating at first, with a scowl permanently imprinted on his face, and a strong handshake that could nearly break fingers, but the fear subsides whenever he pulls out his old guitar and strums the strings gently with his rough hands. That is the kind of music that wins them over. They learn his name is Christian.
They go on tour across the US, London, and Germany. But never Myanmar, and four other countries he lists down. For some reason, their singer is incredibly picky with the places they tour.
On several occasions, it seems like he would punch somebody, whether an assistant spills coffee on his shirt or some idiot decides to boo in the crowd, but he always stops. His nostrils flare, his face turns red, his arm raises, but he stops. He takes a breath, sits down, and goes back to playing the guitar.
It's no doubt he has a short temper, but it's amazing how well he can control it. His band doesn't know whether to admire him or fear him. Maybe both.
Yet sometimes, they find a new kind of feeling for him, one of sadness. Late nights in the studio they catch him sitting in the dark, the microphone turned off, his voice soft, beautiful, but sorrowful. His hair grazing his face, his eyes closed, he sings in a voice rich with deep soul.
The melody is haunting. No one knows where it came from, or why he never bothers to put it on the CD. The song simply lingers in their minds, and makes them wonder what kind of past he really did have.
"And when a new moon shines through your window, or you hear a sad song on the radio, and you don't know why, but you just start to cry…"
The blonde fidgets in her seat as she watches the woman sitting across from her flip through pages for the past several minutes. She wants to yell, "Oh, come on already!" but she knows that's what normal people call 'improper etiquette'. She also knows that if she says that, she'll continue blurting out how her interviewer's gnarled nose makes her look like a witch, and how the beads hanging off of her glasses are so tacky.
The insults brewing in her head disappear once the woman finally speaks.
"Your portfolio is quite good, Miss Riesgraf," she says, looking less like a witch now. "I'm impressed."
"Really?" the blonde asks. A smile twitches, and she feels ecstatically proud, considering how everything in her portfolio is legitimate. Her name and information are fake, but none of her work is forged. She didn't need help to counterfeit the pictures by…
She clears her throat. "Thank you."
"How fascinating that you have a collection of keys and locks. Some of them look cracked open so we can see the insides," the interviewer comments, glazing over the black-and-white photos. "There's a lot of landscape, too. You must travel a lot."
She fiddles with the hem of her skirt, which is tight and uncomfortable. "I have trouble expressing myself, but with pictures… it's a bit easier."
The interviewer turns to the last photo and stops. "This one is good," she observes, and turns over the picture so the young woman can stare face-to-face with a tall, dark man she recognizes from a long time ago.
"That," the blonde quietly replies, staring, "I love that picture the most."
"Good emotion here. He looks incredibly sad."
She doesn't need him to forge her portfolios or hack into a company's computer systems anymore, but she still wonders how he's doing.
He finds that without the Internet, he gets really, really bored. He finds that he always needs to keep his hands busy, because sometimes his fingers would start twitching, eager to dance across a keyboard. No, he can't do that anymore. It's too dangerous, because he'll probably do something like hack into the White House's system again, and it's too tempting, because he'll more likely try to search what everyone else has been doing. He can probably find them, but he'll never find Parker. She probably has a different alias now, just like him.
And he's tried to find her before. Too, too many times. And he doesn't want to be disappointed and mope over some girl who might not even wonder how he's doing right now.
He really needs to do something else with his hands, which is basically a translation that he needs a life, which is basically a joke covering the fact that he just needs to move on and stop dwelling over the past.
So he does some fun little projects, like design his own watches. He goes to an instrument store to buy a sleek, new violin. He goes to a department store to buy fresh paintbrushes and palettes. And so he starts life anew with random, miscellaneous hobbies.
He curses as he struggles to fit the watch pieces together, because it's impossible with his huge hands. It makes him envy people with small hands, who could probably not only make watches, but also pick locks, fit keys, and—damn, he's doing that again.
He gets into the habit of playing the violin again like he used to when he was little. He plays in a few small concerts. He shines the best when he plays Scheherezade, but lies and says it's the first time he played such a difficult song.
The praise at his shows makes him feel good, so he goes home and paints violins. The sound of Scheherezade plays in his head, so he paints a couple of pages from the piece, too. When he signs his name in the corner, A. Hodge, he stops. He stares for a while at the painting, and figures it's not the hobbies he likes, the praises he gets, but…
He sets his paintbrush down, wondering why he can never escape from these memories, like a Scheherazade.
She's doing great. Better than ever.
She can bid goodbye to amateur stage productions and awkward silences from the audiences. No, she's standing on a bigger stage now: television and movies. It's just as she dreamed for.
Luck smiles on her when she lands two episodes in a British television drama series – one of the longest running programs on British television, and she got to be a part of it. From then on, she finds herself crying in dramas and laugh hysterically in sitcoms.
Directors are pleased with her acting versatility. They don't know that she's been acting her whole life. They don't know that the Gina they work with is an actor playing an actor herself.
Her resume stretches over time. She wants to brag, but finds that the people she wants to bring this to are not here beside her anymore. They probably have no idea of her success, either, considering how most of them live under a rock, and that most of these roles aren't great. The list of all her work is long but they're small roles, background roles, one-episode roles. She doesn't have anything to brag, after all. She just wants people she could brag with.
But oh, that makes her sound so lonely – she does have people she can brag with, she knows tons and tons of people – but all of them call her Gina.
Those who know her as Gina, they don't know of her true successes. It wouldn't matter if she starred in the next box office smash playing some gun-slinging woman. That's nothing compared to the millions of roles she played before hitting the big screen. She was a cocky FBI agent, a stoic company executive, a chipper teacher, a cautious music producer, a ruthless businesswoman.
She was also her true self. Even if it had only been with four other people.
With them, she had a big role. She was the star. She was just as important as everyone else.
She was never Gina, the hardworking, charismatic actress new in the show business. She was always a grifter. She was always the woman who maybe, possibly, could have loved Nathan Ford.
"Alright, Tim," the bartender says, "you've been loitering around here every week. Buy a drink for once or something."
He passes a glass across the table to the curly-haired man in the corner. The ciders float, taunting the man to taking a gluttonous sip, but he barely makes a glance.
"No, thanks," he replies, staying hunched over his table. He drinks from his coffee mug instead, letting the caffeine keep him awake and his brain continue pumping. He moves a chess piece across the board, watching as his pawn slowly makes its way across the checkered squares. "I just need a small, quiet place for these kinds of things. Crosswords, Sudoku, chess. Keeps my brain sharp."
"You've been playing by yourself," the bartender deadpans.
"Well, you're free to join me."
The worker shakes his head. "You're too sneaky. There oughta be someone as crafty as you…"
The tiny bell on the door tinkles as a pair of footsteps entered the bar. The newcomer shifts across the room, and when a shadow falls upon him, he looks up. Staring directly at him is a man with black, sharp-cut hair and a familiar sly grin plastering on his face.
"Nice to see you again, Nate," he says, "or would you like me to call you Timothy?"
"Sterling," mutters Nate, feeling his blood turn cold. The team had helped him become part of the Interpol, but he knows seeing the man is never any good news. "What do you want?"
Sterling takes a seat across from him, rattling the table as he shifts. The chess pieces tremble above the shaky board. Sterling's eyes flash with amusement as they scan his former rival, like a metal detector.
"I just wanted to see how nice it is that you're a good guy again," he says. "Oh, just look at you and your little chessboard. Walking around like some normal civilian, calling yourself Timothy, when deep down you're really Nathan Ford, a thief."
Nate stares back without a response, but the grim line set on his lips show he isn't pleased.
Sterling finds his thumb wrapped around the black king on the board. He plays around with the piece, tilting it back and forth. "I wonder why you fool yourself like that, Nate, when you can't deny your true identity. Somewhere, along the way, the past always… resurfaces. "
He lets go of the king, and moves the pawn instead, inching closer to the white piece. Nate doesn't move.
"What are you planning?"
"I'm thankful your team helped me join the Interpol. I really am. But you would expect me to be loyal to my job. I fight for justice, I must arrest criminals—"
"You want to advance and get big credit in your work," Nate interrupts, "and I'm your perfect opportunity."
"You are only a lottery ticket. I'm not just taking Timothy down. I'll take your team, too. Christian, Beth, Aldis, Gina—I know their aliases, I know where each of them are—the five of you together is like hitting the jackpot. You're a whole history textbook's worth of crimes, cons, and misdeeds. Your delusional Robin Hood fantasy all these years would be a worldwide scandal. And I'm the one who discovered it all."
Nate drums his fingers on the table, never ripping his eyes off of Sterling and his hateful smirk. His eyebrows narrow, and he asks, "You think you can find out all of our jobs?"
"My men and I are investigating, one by one. We'll fit all the pieces of the puzzle soon, and once we do, the whole world will know about Nathan Ford and his team. They'll know every single job you ever did." Sterling leans forward, lowering his voice. "First one: December 7, the Nigerian Job. Chicago, Illinois. African Commercial Transport and Trade Initiative. Also the Nigerian Scam. Does that ring a bell to you? It's a rush of nostalgia, isn't it?"
Nate remembers it, he remembers it all. He remembers hiring the team for the first time, he remembers the aerospace CEO tricking them, and he remembers, for the first time, when he convinced them to do the right thing. Everything had changed their lives from that point on.
None of these jobs were crimes.
Sterling could put Nate back in jail again, but he sure as hell wouldn't put the others behind bars.
"Enjoy your time as Timothy while it lasts," Sterling says, and moves the black king forward, conquering the little white pawn that had almost made it across to the other side.
Nate paces the streets of Lyon, France until he reaches the Interpol headquarters, where the black gates surround an immense glass building. He strains his neck for his eyes to reach the top of the structure, and wonders how he can get in, much less what he would even do once he enters inside. He is the mastermind at making plans, but he can't do anything standing by himself. Yet, at the same time, he doesn't want to disrupt the peaceful, normal lives of the others, wherever they may be…
To his surprise, a guard with a gruff voice stops him, and he finds that underneath the shade of the security worker's hat is Eliot's face. The sound of snapshots comes from around the corner, and they find Parker, holding a stocky camera that's tied around her neck. The commotion that follows attracts a pair of heels clicking their way, and before them stands Sophie, disguised in a black dress and veil. The door of a van opens wide, and Hardison pops out, sputtering what they were all doing here.
That's the question they've been asking each other the whole time.
"Someone's been onto me," Eliot explains. "I had to beat it out of him to find out where he came from."
"I thought it was the paparazzi," Sophie adds, fanning herself. "But I knew that guy was up to something even more suspicious."
"He followed me," Parker says, "so I followed him back."
Hardison gapes at the three of them, his eyes bugging. He waves his finger around. "Wait, wait—so all of y'all got followed, just like me?"
They stand in a circle, just like they did before, except this time they stand packed together, close enough to be whispering among themselves. But instead of a happy reunion, it's a circle of confusion, and Nate steps out, digs his hands in his pockets, and explains.
They find out that Sterling is after them and plans to take them down.
"That dirty little bastard!" Sophie says.
"What're we gonna do?" Eliot asks, tightening his fists. "Laying a finger on him would be exactly what he wants. More proof for him to show."
"He's got all the goods on us," Parker says, devastated.
"No, no, not all the goods, not yet—he's slowly finding this out, one by one," Nate says. "It'll take him a while, but he's determined, and he'll reap everything from Day One."
"I can't…" Hardison sputters, "I can't erase everything, even if I work non-stop. There's too many people we targeted, too many faces associated with us, we can't get them all to say nothing. Someone's gonna say something, Sterling's gonna uncover some kinda document, his cronies are gonna find out we forged this and faked that and oh Lord, Nana—!"
"Damn it, shut up, Hardison!" Eliot growls.
Nate had stopped staring at the Interpol building, instead fixing his gaze on his former team members. They are scrambled up, disheveled, and a mess. But they are the same team as they were before, and that gets his mind clicking, the gears in his head rolling, and Nate can think again in a way that goes beyond little chessboard games.
"We're not going to backtrack on anything," Nate interrupts the clamor. They turn their heads to him, confused. "Sterling won't be the only one announcing all the cons we pulled. We'll tell the whole world about it, too."
"What are you saying, Nate?" Sophie asks, lifting up her veil. She's glad to see his face again in bright daylight, and finally not in the mist and clouds of nostalgia and dreams. But now, he isn't making any sense.
"It's like a chess game," Nate explains, pulling out a white pawn from his pocket. He fingers the tiny piece, rolling it around his hand. "One player gets a turn, then the other player gets his next move. The more Sterling moves, the farther we do, too."
"I still don't get it," Parker says.
"If we move far enough, we conquer the king. The king is everyone else who might find out about all the jobs we did. We'll get to them first, saying we're criminals. When Sterling says we're criminals, he'll just look like a crazy fan, getting too into this 'Robin Hood fantasy'."
"A crazy fan," Sophie murmurs, and then she understands.
"Is this another con?" Eliot asks, picking up the hints. A smile creeps on Nate's face, one that he hasn't felt crawling on his lips in a long time. "Hey, I thought you said you wanted us to lead normal lives."
"Just think of it as stopping a person from trying to disrupt our normal lives," Nate says, "by working together."
The team is surprised, and a part of them is relieved in a way different than simply not getting caught. They exchange glances with each other, and find the familiar grins they once had before.
Nate turns to Sophie. "How are you doing?"
"I'm doing well," she replies. "I'm an actress now, you know."
"Good. Get me the best producer you know. You won't even have to grift this time."
"I've always been a grifter," she says, smiling.
Nate turns to Hardison, who stiffens, not knowing what to expect. "Hardison, get an empty slot on Sundays, and advertise this on every social networking site online."
He laughs. "I thought this was gonna be hard."
"Parker, once Sophie finds her producer and they locate their network, I want you to infiltrate the station. I'll tell you the rest from there. Eliot, you're gonna be allowed to fight all you want, and this time, everyone can watch."
Parker nods eagerly, and Eliot cracks his knuckles, smirks stretching across both their faces.
Nate turns around and feels the familiar presence of his team standing behind him. It's the same as before, the cons, the fights, the money. They'll do it all over again, and no matter what Sterling says, no one will believe this was ever real.
"This is the final job," he says, and starts walking ahead. "Let's steal ourselves a TV show."