Author's note: So this is abominably late. Actually I've had this sorta done in my drive since the beginning of summer (before the first episode of the third season, I assure you), but somehow it's only now as I tried to work on my other fics that it decided to finish itself. I very much hope I did the series justice - all the characters are just so lovable and fascinating. Sigh. *goes to catch up on season 3*

Warning: Spoilers for second season finale. Don't say I didn't warn you.

They've all been on a helicopter before, and so none of them is surprised by the deafening noise, enough to drown out any attempt at conversation they might try to make.

They don't try. But that's not the reason.

They're quiet when they land on a helipad in upstate Connecticut. Technically they're not all quiet, Sophie shakes herself out of it and smiles at the pilot, telling him we're even now and say hello to Margie for me, but it doesn't really count - her eyes are far away and her voice is a little wooden, a little flat. Not very Sophie.

The pilot doesn't notice, but they do.

They're quiet while Hardison arranges them a hotel condo with a seaside view - it doesn't actually matter, he doesn't actually care, but he's Alec and that's what he does. So he does it, and for once transfers the money from his own account rather than the numerous standby "sucker accounts" (as he likes to call them) he has on hold for emergencies just like these.

Not because hacking or stealing is too much trouble, you understand - comes easier than thinking sometimes, and he always enjoys a challenge, however minute it might be. It's just... well.

It just wouldn't feel right, that's all.

They don't talk as they enter the elegant building. Eliot flashes an ID and the receptionist hands him a keycard, says have a nice day. He nods, strains a smile - she's cute, has a little dimple that flashes when she talks - then hands the keycard over to Parker as they head to the elevator.

They're quiet when they get to the room, barely take note of the complimentary bottle of Merlot on the kitchenette table. Parker walks right over to the long leather sofa and sits across from the silent TV, raising her legs to hug her knees. Her hair is loose and hangs down in straggly blonde strands, and between that and her knees the only visible part of her face are her eyes. Hardison sits next to her, pats her back gently, before scooting over to let Sophie take his place. He strides over to the bar, sits on one of the stools, swiveling listlessly from one side to the other.

For his part, Eliot doesn't sit. He paces.

Parker is the first to speak up. "Don't take it the wrong way," she mumbles at her knees. "But I really want to shoot someone right now."

"I don't like guns," Eliot says flatly. He stops next to Hardison and notices the wine, grabs it in his strong hands. "But this time? I'm with her."

Hardison chuckles. Empty. "I can check out where the closest D&B is, y'all could shoot some zombies for twenty bucks."

Parker looks over at him and frowns. "Why? I like zombies."

They stare at her.

"...You would," Hardison mutters finally.

She goes on, musingly, "No, I was thinking more like Sterling."

"In the kneecaps," Eliot agrees as he hands them all a glass, parceling out his words in a precise, cold manner that sends chills down Hardison and Sophie's spines. Parker's unaffected, of course - but then, she's Parker. "Then the throat. And then maybe the face. "

"Or Nate," Sophie says suddenly. "I could - I could shoot him."

The others glance at one another, fall silent. There's only the sound of the AC humming in the background.

"I can't believe he did that," Parker says at last, voice small. She stares ahead, as if finding the fake fireplace fascinating. Which she very well might, after all (being Parker), but somehow none of them really think so.

"I could have taken them," Eliot mutters to the ground, as if to himself. "It didn't have to come to this."

Hardison huffs at that. "'Course it did," he retorts. "C'mon, this is Nate we're talking about here. He couldn't sell us out, couldn't run away -"

"Wouldn't run away, you mean," Sophie corrects bitterly.

"Which is practically the same thing when it comes to that guy," he replies seamlessly, pulling up his laptop from its case. "I mean, Nate's a thief all right, but you know, he's still Nathan Ford."

Eliot nods. "The good guy."

"Yeah," Parker whispers sadly.

Sophie holds back the hysterical laughter. She's always been very good at that.

Eliot pours each of them a glass. "To Nate," he says.

Parker and Hardison raise their glasses. "To Nate," they agree.

"…To Nate," Sophie forces out, mouth twisted into a parody of her usual smile. To you, you bastard.

Silence. The A/C hums.

"Okay, how are we getting him back?" Parker asks, sitting up.

"Good question," Eliot replies as he leans back on the bar, arms crossed. "Hardison, keep an eye out for Nate. We'll need to know where – "

"Already on it. Really, Eliot, always with the underestimating –"

Eliot ignores him. "-If we're going to do this. Sophie, talk to your contacts, maybe they can -"

But Sophie shakes her head. "He won't cooperate," she interrupts. "If Nate leaves, the mayor and Kadjit walk. He wouldn't chance it happening."

"How about we think about Nate's feelings later?" Eliot bites. "The guy got busted for us, like hell am I letting him rot in jail. I am not gonna have that on myconscience."

Parker raises her hand. "I don't care about Nate's feelings," she offers.

"Guys," Hardison says slowly.

"What good is rescuing him if he turns himself in the first chance he gets?" Sophie argues heatedly at Eliot. "Not to mention, Sterling knows us, knows all our faces, even how we work – "

"Never stopped us before," Eliot counters. "We beat him once, we can do it again –"

"Guys," the techie repeats, a little louder.

"With Nate," Sophie stresses, "we beat him with Nate – "

"You know, Sophie, it's starting to sound like you want Nate to stay in jail – "

"Of course not, don't be stupid, I'm just trying to be a little realistic here – "

"Is that what you're calling it – "

"Guys!" Hardison shouts, voice nearly cracking, and they swivel their heads to glower at him. The glares fade, however, when they see the expression on his face. "They just drove Nate to the hospital."


"What?" they blurt collectively.

Eliot moves into place behind Hardison and the two women copy him, everyone trying to peer over the hacker's shoulder. "What?" he repeats.

"He's in – he's in the hospital." Hardison repeats, typing furiously.

"You said that already," Eliot barks at him. "Tell us why the fuckhe's there!"

"I'm trying to find that out!" he snaps back. He focuses back on the screen. "Let's see what we got here… okay, it says they have him somewhat stabilized but he's still in the ICU… got some vitals here, O2 levels 78%, BP 90 over 70, heart rate 122 – damn it, people, can't you give me a little more than just stupid numbers nobody can –"

Eliot whitens. "Shot," he rasps. "Nate got shot."

"Shot?" Parker echoes in puzzlement.

He looks back at them numbly. "He's bleeding out. Those – those are the signs. Low blood pressure, increased heart rate… he got shot. He must have."

Sophia freezes. "N-no he didn't," she forces out falteringly, stepping back. "He was fine. You saw him, all of you. He was fine."

"You think Sterling shot him?" Parker asks, expression troubled.

"He was fine, he was fine –"

"When we got to the deck. He had his hand under his jacket," Eliot remembers suddenly. "I didn't think much of it, thought he was carrying –"

Hardison closes his eyes as he catches on. "…He tried to hide it. Nate knew he was… that we wouldn't have left him if – if we saw…"

"For us? He did that for us?" Parker whispers, stricken, and for once Hardison doesn't stop himself from reaching out and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Why? Why would he do that?"

Eliot's face darkens, a stormy cloud in a dark sky. "What an idiot –"

"What the hell!" Sophie screams out shrilly, and they turn to see her violently throw the wine glass across the room, where it shatters magnificently against the wall. It's quickly followed by a remote control, a magazine, and the hotel's cordless phone. She takes up a heavy cushion from the sofa, about to throw it to join the others, except she stops mid-throw, as if its weight makes her pause. For a long moment she stares emotionlessly down at the pillow, but then her face crumples and her legs buckle and she falls to her knees and starts sobbing into the pillow as if she'd just lost her best friend in the world.

Which, well –

The others exchange uncomfortable glances – except for Parker, who just stands there and stares numbly at the wanton destruction. Over Parker's head, Hardison beseechingly widens his eyes at Eliot, who widens his eyes back and emphatically nods towards the crying woman.

Hardison shakes his head, glances meaningfully down at Parker.

Eliot crosses his arms and clears his throat in unmistakable warning.

Defeated, Hardison reluctantly withdraws his arm from Parker. He swallows, steps forward cautiously. "Sophie… hey, hey Sophie, it's – it's okay, you know, Nate's fine – I mean, he's not – not exactly – I mean, he's fine – "

Her head snaps up so suddenly that he actually yelps and jumps back.

"Jeezus, lady – "

"We're getting him back," Sophie cuts him off forcefully, her glower frightening in its intensity as it passes over them, one by one. And that despite the uncharacteristically blotchy face and red-rimmed eyes. "As soon as he gets better. Nate's not getting away from us this easy."

And just like that, something gives. The quiet breaks, and the world starts moving again.

"…Damn right," Hardison agrees fiercely, and there's a tiny satisfied quirk to Eliot's lips as he nods.

"Someone's in troooouble," Parker sing-songs in what could almost be considered an idle fashion, if it wasn't for the hard gleam in her eye and her full-blown wicked grin.

"That's quite the understatement, honey," Sophie replies matter-of-factly, wiping her runny mascara off with careful fingers, but she smiles a little. "All right, let's get to work, everyone."

They wait for it, almost breathlessly –

Her eyes glint. "We've got a Nate to steal."

A/N: Please review!