Title: Rashomon Redux
Summary: The morning after the night before. Four mostly-reliable narrators, three hang-overs, two head traumas, and the Dagger of Aqu'abi.
Spoilers: Season Three
Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just taking the Leverage crew out for some cheap fun. I'll get them back to Electric Entertainment and TNT in the morning.
Author's Note: Because at the end of the day, I will always ship Nate/Sophie. Thanks for sticking with this story. I hope you enjoyed the ride.
Chapter 7: Epilogue
Once Hardison and Parker were gone, the apartment was eerily silent. Nate leaned against the kitchen counter and stared at Sophie. She remained in her chair at the briefing table and stared back.
"So," said Nate, "when did you realize that you had been drugged?" Sophie's eyes danced.
"Wouldn't you like to know?" Her accent was French. Nate laughed in appreciation and tossed his Ziploc bag of melted ice toward the sink.
"Yes, I would," he answered. "Do you want me to guess?" The grifter raised her eyebrows at him in a wordless challenge.
"I'll have to think about it," he lied. "In the meantime, it looks like Leverage Consulting & Associates is having a sick day. Would you like to stay and watch a movie?"
"Hardison told us what's in your Netflix queue," she warned him. "Really, Nate—Sex and the City?" Nate savored her return to her normal speaking voice.
"What? You like shoes," he parried. When she didn't respond, he relented. "It's fun to mess with Hardison's head. You know that. C'mon...go change into weekend clothes. I promise we'll find a movie that you'll like." Sophie scrutinized him for a few seconds, and then stood up. She was partway up the spiral staircase when she looked back over her shoulder.
"I'm not sitting through a Rockford marathon, either," she declared emphatically. Nate simply raised his coffee cup in a salute and watched her continue up the stairs. Yes, Sophie Devereaux was back. He always enjoyed the way she punctuated an exit with one final glance, like an exclamation point.
While he was waiting for her to come back downstairs, he wandered around the apartment, putting things to rights. He threw away the bagels, loaded plates and mugs into the dishwasher, and wiped down the counter with his discarded tea towels. He pushed Hardison's chair out of the briefing area and dragged the couch over so that it faced the flat-screens. Lastly, he went hunting for all of the muffin wrappers that the team had left scattered everywhere. If he wound up with mice, he was definitely going to bill his landlord for the extermination costs. When he was satisfied that the muffin wrappers were taken care of, he headed for the downstairs bathroom. He needed a shave.
When Nate returned, he found a much more casually dressed Sophie in the kitchen putting water on to boil. She favored his smooth-shaven face with an appreciative look.
"Feel better?" she inquired.
"Getting there," he answered. He stepped past her and retrieved two clean mugs from the cabinets. To reach them, he had to stretch toward the very back of the shelf. Guess he needed to actually run the dishwasher, not just toss things in. He handed one of the mugs to Sophie and poured new coffee into the other for himself. After adding whiskey, he sat at the kitchen counter and watched the grifter go about making a fresh pot of tea.
Sophie looked relaxed. The tailored skirt and dressy blouse were gone, replaced by gray leggings and a soft, long-sleeved pullover that was several shades darker than the leggings. Around her neck, he spied the gold necklace she had taken to wearing recently. The oblong pendant dipped beneath the pullover's scooped neckline. She was barefoot, and while she had her back turned, he smiled at her brightly painted toes. He had invited her to stay because he was worried about the effects of the drug she had ingested last night, and she had agreed to stay because she was worried about his concussion, and he knew that she knew that he knew—that she knew?—and now his bruised head was getting dizzy, but it was still nice. Nice to sit here companionably, with no other team members about, and just be.
Sophie rinsed out the ceramic teapot. After drying it, she set the pot aside and placed the tin of loose tea next to it in readiness. She claimed the stool across from Nate as she waited for the water to boil. He watched her hands as she sat down, the way she used both hands to re-position the stool, the way her fingers tightened against the counter top for the briefest of moments. Perhaps the dizziness had not dissipated as much as she'd have him believe. She spoke, however, and he lifted his eyes to her face.
"Coswell doesn't live anywhere near here, does he?" she asked. "Please say he and his wife aren't going to start popping into McRory's at happy hour."
"And ambush us with dinner party invitations?" Nate joked. "No, we should be safe. He and his wife live well outside of the 128 loop. That's why he was camping out in his office."
"You remember?" Her dark eyes were hopeful.
"No," he admitted ruefully. "Apparently I looked him up before contacting him last night—the internet search page was still up on my phone. But since when is going to dinner with me so bad? Coswell's in love with his wife—I don't see the problem."
"Yes, he's completely besotted. Which is why he shouldn't spring dinner guests on her, but that's beside the point." Sophie plucked a muffin from the platter. Instead of eating it, though, she toyed with the wrapper. "The problem is that Coswell knows me as Dr. Ipcress. Nate Ford and Sophie Devereaux could go for dinner, entertain the Coswells with stories about European art museums—all carefully edited, of course."
"Of course," he agreed.
"And everything would be fine," she continued. "But if Nate Ford and Karen Ipcress went, we'd have to be professional colleagues, Mrs. Coswell would view me as an old flame of her husband's...it would be a bloody nightmare." Nate had absolutely no intention of ever being a dinner guest at the Coswells, either by himself or with Sophie in any of her incarnations. And if Coswell appeared in McRory's with the missus, he might possibly hide in the poker room until they left. Still, he was intrigued by Sophie's portrait of certain disaster.
"We survived Coswell's visit today—and you were drugged and I had no memory. What makes dinner so dire? We could just pretend to be dating." The smile she gave him was faintly pitying.
"And just how would we do that? You can't stand Karen," she answered. Nate snorted.
"Almost every time we play a married couple for a con, our characters can't stand each other," he argued. "People buy it." Sophie's expression told him that he had missed her meaning. He felt as if he were failing a pop quiz in Dating 101. Time to give honesty a shot.
"Aw, hell, Soph," he said, "you know Dr. Ipcress' voice annoys me. It reminds me of the beauty-school dropout in Grease." Instead of being offended, Sophie was amused.
"It's not the voice that bothers you, Nate, but what the voice represents," she said. Nate was pretty sure that he found the voice entirely annoying, but Sophie's face was no longer teasing, and why did he suddenly feel like he had issued an accidental dare? Sophie abandoned the blueberry muffin and left her seat, walking slowly around to his side of the counter. She began her explanation in Karen Ipcress' breathless accents.
"Dr. Ipcress is meant to fade into the background, to be ignored. She doesn't argue—she rarely even makes eye-contact." Sophie was not making eye-contact with him now. She was watching her right hand trail along the counter top, which compelled him to do the same. She stopped in front of him, just short of invading his personal space, and covered his hand with hers.
"It was my bad luck that Coswell liked the sweet, shy type," she said.
Nate looked up at her face. Karen Ipcress looked back, wide-eyed and slightly batty. He blinked, and when he looked again, the timid art historian had vanished. He watched, fascinated, as Sophie's expression became bold, almost predatory. She stepped forward and leaned in, and even though she wasn't touching him anywhere but on his hand, he could feel her heat along his entire body.
"You, Monsieur Ford, prefer strong women," she whispered in Eugénie's voice. Had she moved closer, Nate wondered, and if so, how? He remained trapped in place by her eyes, and then Viola's brash voice was laughing at him. "Even the drunk, crazy ones," she teased. Finally, Sophie switched to the voice he had spent all day hoping to hear. "Admit it," she coaxed, "fighting with Karen would make you feel like a bully."
Nate smiled and reached for her hip with his free hand. Had he actually thought earlier today that flirting with her during a con was a rush? Flirting with her alone, no job or team members in sight, was much, much better. He shifted his weight, preparing to stand, when the tea-kettle screamed.
Sophie jumped back about two feet, and wobbled, steadying herself with two hands on the counter. Nate reached across the stove top and lifted the kettle off its burner. The kettle stopped shrieking, but it continued to whistle, the sound punctuated by wheezy puffs of steam. He couldn't reach the controls from this side of the counter, so he held the kettle in the air until Sophie made it to the stove and turned it off. She relieved him of the kettle and set it down on a cold burner.
"Bloody hell," she breathed. "Does any one of your passports list a birthday coming up? You're getting a new tea-kettle." He watched her pour the boiling water over the tea leaves.
"I don't know," he said. "You'd have to ask Hardison. But now that you've got your tea, what movie would you like?" She could make fun of his taste in movies all she wanted, but he knew her weaknesses. "I've got Hitchcock..." he wheedled.
It took them only a few minutes to clear the kitchen and move tea, coffee, and a pile of muffins to the couch. Nate put a pot of leftover chicken soup on the stove over low heat for later. Sophie sat cross-legged at one end of the couch and began flipping through Netflix and On-Demand options. Nate settled in at the other end with a tablet computer. He was skimming a report from Hardison related to Monday's job when a question occurred to him.
"Soph, when you were picking targets last night, did you consider Moreau?" Sophie stopped scrolling and put down the remote. Nate was momentarily diverted by the list of movie choices that were paused on screen. He suppressed a smile. It looked like she was deciding between older and younger Cary Grant.
"I did," she answered cautiously. "Are you asking to know what details fit, or why I ultimately dismissed the idea?"
"Both, I think," he said. She turned to face him and shifted to make herself more comfortable against the arm of the couch. She sipped her tea, and her eyes drifted down and to the right as she organized her thoughts.
"First, the bits that might've worked," she said. "Moreau's interest in art is well-known. He began his criminal career trafficking in antiquities." She nodded at the tablet in Nate's lap. "Hardison's research shows that his organization still derives enormous profit from looted middle eastern treasures. And now that he has money, well...if a particular piece—say the Dagger of Aqu'abi—caught his fancy, he might risk buying from an unknown like Hayton. Through one or two intermediaries, of course." She stared down at her tea, lost in contemplation.
"And the bits that didn't work?" Nate prodded.
"Our first plan had Hayton selling the real dagger and putting a fake on display. In that scenario, the buyer committed no crime. Hayton's asking price was probably pocket change to someone like Moreau. If we named him as the buyer, we risked calling attention to ourselves without getting any closer to him or his accounts." Sophie lifted her eyes from her tea and looked directly at Nate.
"And once we knew Hayton had sold several fakes, then I knew we weren't dealing with Moreau. Hayton would've been dead before he left Europe." Nate nodded, accepting her reasoning.
"This guy, Keller," he said, "do you know him?" Sophie shook her head.
"Our paths never crossed," she said. "It makes me wonder what he did before taking over Moreau's smuggling interests."
"Well, it's always more convenient when the mark doesn't know your face," Nate responded, "but I wish we had more intel. The details Hardison sent are pretty sketchy." He powered down the tablet and placed it on the briefing table behind the couch, swapping it for a book and a change in topic. "So," he asked her, with a nod at the screens, "Notorious or North by Northwest?"
She clicked the remote, and opening credits began to roll. Even before Hitchcock made his cameo as a businessman missing his bus, however, Nate was deep in thought, his book forgotten. He thought about Moreau's international web, and their new mark, the man who now ran the smuggling operations. He thought about choices, the way they piled up, one after another, until current dilemmas bore no resemblance to the situations which had spawned them. In hindsight, choices and consequences marched along in an inevitable chain. What were Moreau's mistakes? Where were the forgotten choices made along the way that the team could exploit?
Nate looked at Sophie. His eyes traced her profile and admired her open, unguarded posture. The grifter was completely caught up in the movie's spell. His own mistakes had trapped them in this job for the Italian. Now it was his responsibility to get the team free. He had until Monday to plan the next link in the chain.