Disclaimer: not mine.

Notes: another one able to be read on its own, but continuing in the tradition of my previous stories to reach an understanding and picking up the pieces, a series of conversations between Sophie and Eliot. I've actually got the next one slowly developing, but realised I needed another beat before it happened, and then realised I could play what I think the full conversation might have been when Eliot called her in Ice Man Job.

As with the previous two stories, I mostly think they're just friends (and I love the friendship I think they have), but make of it what you will.

Spoilers: Set in the middle of 2.08, The Ice Man Job, where we only get Eliot's last lines of the conversation (as concluded at the end).


Sophie cradled the mug of tea, enjoying the warmth on her hands even though the evening had turned out beautifully mild. The autumn evenings were shortening, but the twilight lingered on. London was just beginning to glow more than the sky. It was her favorite time of day to sit on the sill of the third-story bedroom window, gazing over rooftops toward the city, thinking, dreaming.

Being here again, this room, this view, the years melted away. The choices she'd made then ... the paths those choices had taken her on ... the people those paths had brought her to.

She owed them more than "Sophie Devereaux". Maybe here she could start to figure out who that could be.

She took a sip, and her eyes fluttered closed, the better to savor it. Perfect temperature, perfectly steeped. How she'd missed Tetley's. Somehow tea in America never had that taste...

Her phone gave a distinctive, country-twang guitar jangle. Speaking of America –

"Hello, Eliot," she answered after retrieving the phone from her bed, resettling on the sill, juggling her mug expertly.

"Sophie, he made me a mute!"

Sophie blinked. For all that Eliot's snarl was wolfishly deep, there were times when it could have come straight off the playground. She frowned, puzzling it out. "Nate?"

"Hardison!"

Ah.

"Oh dear," she said, when she couldn't think of anything else.

There was a pause. "I can hear you smiling," he said.

It got wider. "I'm not," she assured him shamelessly, and to no avail.

"Right."

She laughed. "I can hear you rolling your eyes."

He laughed too, loosening up somewhat. "So how's London?" he asked, shelving the Hardison made me a mute fuss, presumably until he could return to it with more dignity. His regrouping tactic wasn't just small talk, though; his casual tone couldn't hide his genuine regard for how she was.

She didn't bother even wondering how he knew where she'd gone. "Just the way I left it," she replied equally lightly, but knew she'd hid the warmth she felt at his concern no better than he had.

"Sounds about right for ol' Blighty," he disparaged, but not too rudely.

"As compared to the ever-changing kaleidescope that is Kentucky?" she said sweetly.

That got another short laugh out of him. "And how's yourself?"

She smiled at the deliberate phrasing, the slight lilt he included. "Oh, I'm sure I'm lying around here someplace."

"Backtrack to the last place you saw it, huh?" he asked, easy with unspoken understanding. He probably understood better than she did. "Could work."

She took another sip of the cooling tea. "It's a start."

"Yeah. Well..." He trailed off, pregnant with second thoughts on what he'd allow himself to say. "Anyway. I guess I shouldn't have called. Giving you space and all."

"Eliot," she chided gently. "Don't be silly. Now – what is it? You're muscle, and Hardison told the mark you're mute?"

Eliot seemed unsurprised that she'd figured out what was going on, which meant Parker had let slip that they'd already talked. She felt a pang at that, wondering if Nate knew, too. But Eliot's growl brought her back to the matter at hand. "He's called himself the Ice Man."

"Oh ... dear."

"The Ice Man, Sophie! I can't work with this guy! Every time he opens his mouth, I'm ready to punch him in it." There was a beat, and then he added, more aggrieved than ever, "And that was before!"

"I know, I know. But ... he's young. He's just trying to prove himself. He'll learn." This wasn't exactly news for either of them, but she needed to mark place somehow while she let him vent.

"Can he learn from a fist in his face?"

She grinned. "Look, Nate knows what he's doing. It'll work out."

There was a silence, and unlike the previous ones, this one worried her. "Yeah," he said, eventually, the lack of conviction doing absolutely nothing to reassure her.

"Eliot, what's wrong?" she asked sharply.

"Nothing."

"Eliot."

"Well – you left, sweetheart. That has consequences."

She drew in a hard little breath. He hadn't said it accusingly – had tried to avoid saying it in the first place – but she felt the sting anyway. Just as he'd known she would.

She stared unseeingly at where London lit up the now-dark horizon. "I had to," she said, in miserable certainty.

He sighed. "I know."

"What was I supposed to do?"

"I ain't blaming you," he said, although she suspected that wasn't completely true. "But now there's only me to keep them all on kilter. Which ain't exactly easy even when you are here."

It was her turn to sigh. "I know."

Suddenly his tone changed, holding the phone away from his mouth, calling out. "Parker! Over here!" He returned to the phone. "Listen, I gotta go."

"Wait – how's she doing?"

"Well, she hasn't stabbed anyone or jumped out of any buildings yet," he said drily. More seriously, and with an undercurrent of pride, he continued, "She's getting the job done. We had to practice walking all freaking afternoon, but your Jimmy Choos helped. And the diamond bit worked perfectly for her to anchor the character."

"Eliot ... you helped her practice high heels?"

"What?... No!"

She laughed. Somehow, that restored her confidence that Eliot was equal to this. "I see. And yet you can't handle a little thing like Hardison making you a mute?"

"It's his ego. Which ain't little."

She could hear him about to get off the phone, but she wasn't about to leave him wallowing in his crankiness. Time for some sternness. "No, no, listen. It doesn't matter. This is your job."

"But –"

Sophie drew on memories of generals and commanders, and one particularly terrifying headmistress, and pitched her voice to match. "Are you under the impression we count on you because just anyone could do what you do? Quit your bitching and be the adult. Your team's one down and you have to step up your game."

He came back hot and angry. And motivated. "I know!"

"Then what's the problem?"

He fumed. "He's driving me crazy."

"Well suck it up, cowboy! You've got to keep this thing on the rails."

"How, huh? I'm backup. They can't rely on me."

She understood his frustration – shared it, in fact – but that didn't change the situation. "Find a way! They need you to. I need –"

"Alright," he said impatiently; he already knew everything she would say, knew it was true. Had probably known it even before he called her.

But there were times when just knowing it wasn't enough. Times when you had to hear it out loud, from someone else. Someone who had also already listened to your woes, and cared. She was almost 100% sure he'd heard her, that he really was back on task, but that was only almost 100%. She wouldn't allow the note of impatience to do its job of deflecting her.

"Eliot –"

"Alright."

There it was: that ground-out inflection of commitment she was listening for, assuring her he would, and could, look after them all. She sighed with relief. "Alright."

"Hey –" he said suddenly, the tension loosened in his voice, "– thanks."

She smiled at his easy frankness, emotion caught in her throat, unable to speak for a second. Just two words, but they cut to the heart of the very best part of her and what she could give. The person she had to figure out how to be.

He didn't need her to say anything more. "Don't tell Nate I called," he said, almost an afterthought, and then he was gone. Off to do his job. Every now and then, it occurred to her that life might be much, much simpler if she could only fall for this friend, instead of Nate. Yet those sorts of things did not seem to run according to pragmatism. And when she actually thought about it, she doubted it really would be that simple. It never was.

She closed her phone and tossed it on the bed. Another sip of her barely-warm tea, enjoying the cool breeze that whispered through her window. "Wouldn't dream of it," she told the night.