Author: Sapphire Smoke
Beta(s): dolfynrider on LJ
Pairing(s): Parker/Sophie (heavy mentions of Parker/Hardison)
Timeline: "The Grave Danger Job"
Summary: Parker used to feel like a superhero, but now she's a mess of confusing emotions and it's making her feel a bit too human for her liking.
A/N: I've rewritten this story more times than I have any other. It's seriously insanity. I think, finally, I'm happy with it though lol.
"Or maybe that's why they call it falling in love."
If this was what falling in love felt like, Parker wanted no part of it. Her heart was beating so hard inside of her chest that she was sure it was going to burst into a thousand tiny pieces of bloody, pulmonary confetti. Her throat was tight; an asphyxiation she couldn't stop no matter how much she tried to remember to breathe. She couldn't think, she couldn't feel. The numbness had settled in when she heard Hardison struggle for his next breath; he was suffocating, dying. He was going to die there in that grave because she wasn't fast enough, she wasn't good enough. Her thoughts were no longer coherent; rather blurs of images she wasn't even sure were real. Parker felt like vomiting up her entire stomach as she ordered Hardison, desperately, to not give up. She needed him. Damn it, she needed him!
And that scared the living hell out of her.
Emotions. It was a word Parker knew the definition of, yet had a hard time understanding what it really meant to feel. Her childhood wasn't exactly filled with time spent drawing techno-colored rainbows and cheerfully bright butterflies. Kids who drew the world in color could see the beauty in it. They could see the sky, the stars; they could feel the wind on their cheeks and the earth beneath their feet. They could feel love. They could feel alive.
Parker could feel none of those things as a child. And honestly, she was probably better off.
It was a survival instinct for her; to see the world in black and white, to feel numb to the wind and disconnected from the earth. Without emotions the pain dulled to a prickle; nothing could hurt her, nothing could touch her. She was invincible, she was a superhero. He tried to break her in half, he tried to beat her bloody; he was a four eyed monster and everyone looked so tiny to him from up there. But he couldn't hurt her. She had hardened herself; creating an impenetrable armor that blocked out the agonizing colors of her world. She couldn't be touched because she could run, she could fly. She was so much more disciplined than everyone else; the next phase of humanity. She was purpose without hesitation.
And then she met them; her team, her family.
Suddenly cracks began to form in the armor Parker had given herself. She could see the colors of the sky; feel the warmth of unexpected contentment. It was something she never thought she needed, though found her body craved. But the unknown was a terrifying place; a weakness Parker knew she couldn't properly deal with. So she clutched onto the last of her armor, desperately trying to protect herself from something she tried to deny, yet knew in her heart was inevitable: she was being stripped of her super powers; she was becoming a real person.
It shattered today; the rest of her armor. It shattered into a billion pieces and left Parker alone and naked; a turtle without its shell. It was too much for her; an overwhelming suffocation that made her body weak and her stomach turn. It ended up hitting her all in one go, like a freight train with no brakes barreling towards the edge of a cliff. Parker felt like she was being torn from every direction; her head swam with incoherent thoughts of pretzels and Belgrade as her finger pressed firmly against the gun's trigger. The sound that followed was deafening.
For one, agonizingly long moment Parker was afraid she had shot him; that maybe he was too weak to move and now Hardison was lying there, bleeding out beneath the shallow earth. For the first time in the last twelve hours, Parker felt herself grind to a complete stop as her brain replayed the horror of that scenario over and over in her mind. The dirt, the blood, the tears.
The sound of the coffin opening nearly made her fall over. Nate, Sophie, and Eliot were helping him up; hugging, loving, connecting to Hardison to make their family whole again. But the onslaught of emotions left Parker broken and weak. Her muscles felt like sludge, her heart like a rock. She looked at Hardison; the first man she had ever seen in true color, and she couldn't see anything else besides a blur of complexity and feeling. He stared back at her and it was blinding, invading; it stole her breath away and made her fear she would suffocate again. So she turned away, her last hope for protection.
It was hard to run from your heart though.
When Hardison's lips pressed against her cheek later that night, Parker was sure that he burned her. Fire shot through her veins, igniting something deep within her that made her feel like she was floating midair on a strawberry cupcake filled with pure elation and rainbow colored unicorns. It was like a drug, that feeling Hardison gave her. It was dangerous; it left her vulnerable and needy with an addiction she was sure she could never sate.
"Thanks for not hanging up the phone…"
Parker's hand twitched against the bar as he pulled away, his breath ticking her oversensitive skin. She nodded mutely; wanting to reach for him, wanting to hold onto him and never let go. It took every ounce of willpower she had inside her to suppress the urge. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped the side of the bar, feeling him walk away but not daring to look at him go.
It was hard for Parker to sleep after that night. It was hard for her live with what she knew, with who she was now. She wasn't stupid; even without Sophie's help she knew what was going on. Hardison had left his mark on her that night; he broke down the last barriers of her superhero armor and turned her into a helpless civilian who could do nothing else but wait around to be crushed by the weight of reality and the inevitable pain it would cause her. Because Parker knew better, she damn well knew better than to think that this wouldn't end with her heart being torn from her chest.
(The stone was cold beneath her fingertips as she scaled the side of the old Victorian manor without thought or question to her actions. Familiar. Numb. Purposeful. The window, located on the third floor, second to the right of the large oak tree, had always seen through more of her than she has of it.)
Parker watched her mother die from that – a broken heart; her father having left when she was five years old to make a new life with some diseased ridden whore, forgetting them and the responsibility he had to them entirely. Her mom drank herself to death within a year, drowning her pain and her tears in that burning poison.
(It was autonomous; the way nimble fingers disabled tiny wires, preventing the comfort of an alert to her presence. She didn't like to be announced. Only important people were announced. The wood of the pane was heavy with familiarity; the opening. Her opening. Feet against wood, hand against railing. She wasn't alone. But that was the point.)
And then she watched Sophie leave two summers ago because of the very same thing; Nate being too self-involved to see that he was destroying the woman that he couldn't even begin to function properly without. Sophie's heartbreak tore their family apart and forced them to take in a stepsibling who had entirely too large of breasts that all of the boys stared at when they thought she wasn't looking. Tara wasn't bad or anything – she actually smelt quite nice – but it was kind of like trying to force a puzzle piece in the wrong spot; it might happen to look right, but that didn't mean it fit.
(A scream. There was screaming now and something being thrown at her. A pillow maybe, it usually was a pillow. Then finally a stern, "Parker, we talked about this. It's the middle of the bloody night; you scared me nearly half to death. Honestly, one of these days…")
Parker often wondered how Sophie managed to stop the pain. It had once suffocated her so much that she ran away from them, from everything, just to breathe. Parker was sure she would never see the grifter again; she was convinced the pain would envelop Sophie and crush the life from her, just like it did to her mother. But Sophie came back a little more whole than when she left. For someone who was broken – as they all were in one way or another – that conclusion was unfathomable. Sophie had a secret, a reason she got better, but she never told and so Parker never knew. It left her with no solutions, no way to make her whole again if she broke, and so she found herself fearful of the scenario's inception more than anything else in the world.
("Are you alright?" Concern. There was always a lot of that. "Parker?")
She wouldn't let herself get attached to him though; Hardison. She wouldn't connect with him. She avoided him entirely most days because she refused to let him fill her with the love she knew part of her ached to receive. But Hardison was dangerous – an explosion of emotions that in actuality was nothing like falling from a building. When Parker flew through the air, she had no fear. Yet when her eyes would connect with Hardison's and she ended up feeling more exposed than she ever had in her entire life, she found she was more scared of him in that moment than she was of horses.
(Her voice, with a tone full of comfort and understanding, tried instantly to fix what was broken. She did that; she had always done that. Maybe she liked to do it. Maybe she didn't have a choice. Maybe it was a distraction.)
"Parker, hey," Sophie prodded gently, climbing out of her expensive bed with her expensive sheets to compliment her expensive tastes. Wealth was beauty to Sophie. Wealth was everything to Sophie. The brunette's hands took hold of her shoulders, nudging her softly out of her trance. "What's wrong?" she asked carefully, eyes searching Parker's for any sign of an answer. "You look… a bit zonked, honestly. You haven't taken anything, have you?"
Her voice sounded strange coming out of her mouth; she had heard it solely inside of her head for so long that the audibility of it startled her. Parker's eyes flickered up to meet Sophie's; her hopelessness reflected in the grifter's concern. She didn't know why she came here, really. She was sure she didn't actually make the conscious decision to climb into Sophie's bedroom window at three in the morning, startling the older women out of bed. Yet there she was, all five feet seven inches of her standing in the middle of a room that surrounded her with pretty trinkets and attractively contrasting colors, and quite suddenly and unexpectedly, Parker felt about an inch tall.
Sophie looked at her for a moment, though quickly came to the conclusion that Parker was not going to share her thoughts at this point in time. "Do you want to stay the night?" Sophie asked instead, and not for the first time. This was time number six in the last four years that Parker found herself unable to sleep by herself, her thoughts rushing too fast and too hard, making everything turn into a blur of techno-colored madness that kept her awake for hours. She never told Sophie this, but somehow she knew. Somehow, she could make the craziness stop long enough so she could sleep.
Parker nodded mutely, only vaguely aware of what was actually going on in front of her.
She was placed on the bed momentarily with Sophie climbing behind her, yawning slightly as she situated herself into the position that was beginning to feel more belonging than strange lately. Her legs fell to either side of the thief as her hands ran up pale skin, nails emitting an involuntary shiver. "Close your eyes," Sophie instructed softly.
Parker closed her eyes, forcing the blurs of color to become solid darkness. But she still felt like she was moving; still felt like she was running a marathon that had no hope of an end. She was rushing, leaving, falling, screaming. She wanted her armor back; she wanted to be whole again and stop being this squishy slug-like bit that lived in a constant panic that the floodgates were going to open again.
Parker couldn't deal with that. She couldn't deal with another graveyard emotional equivalent. She grew up without learning that there needed to be a balance with feelings like these, which from her understanding were supposed to be incredibly common. Affection, butterflies, smiles. They were normal for everyone else. But not for Parker. She couldn't separate her emotions, she couldn't compartmentalize them and feel them at the proper times because she went so long without feeling any at all that now she was getting crushed under the weight of not just one human feeling, but all of them combined. She couldn't love Hardison like he loved her; she couldn't love him normal – instead when she thought of him she cried with a smile, hating the compassion and chaos-peace of the insane, mind-numbing putrid beauty that crushed the wings he gave her to fly. It was too much. She needed it to end.
Sophie's thumbs pressed into the base of Parker's skull, showing the thief brief stars behind her lids that temporarily blinded her from the chaotic motions in her mind. "Count," Sophie requested softly, running her nails up the thief's head; a motion the grifter knew distracted Parker immensely due to the anticipation she felt. She was waiting for something, but she never had been able to find out what. The end she constantly waited for never came, whatever it was.
"Five," Parker began.
Fingers kneaded the muscles in the back of Parker's neck, causing a momentary pause as the motion blurs in her mind flickered like an old movie. "Five crying moms," Parker answered, almost forgetting for a moment to use Sophie's backwards system that somehow enabled her to find out what was wrong with the frequently non-responsive thief without actually having to be told specifically. Usually it would feel invading, but Sophie made the colors dull and the thoughts slow, so she found it didn't matter in the long run.
"Go on," Sophie encouraged softly.
"Four disappearing grifters." Sophie didn't seem to be expecting that and her hands stilled for a moment. But after a moment they resumed their decent down Parker's arms, kneading out the tension the thief stored within her. The flickers of blurs slowed and then sped up without warning, suddenly making Parker feel very nauseas as she tried to keep up with her own mind. Hearts and Hardisons, Sophies and mothers, coffins and deaths multiplied, stretched, and merged in an onslaught of vertigo so powerful that Parker opened her eyes and immediately, frantically tried to scramble out of Sophie's bed before she puked all over her nice sheets. She couldn't deal with this.
"No, stop it, Parker," Sophie ordered strongly, immediately hooking her arms underneath Parker's before pulling her towards her, forcing the thief's back to collide with her breasts in a way that could not have felt very pleasant. She cradled Parker's head with both of her hands as she kept her pinned, fingertips pressing against her temples. Her grip was like a vice; the power in it startling Parker for a moment. "Close your eyes and tell me three." It was no longer a request; it was a demand that matched the power of the tight grip that held her firmly in place. No excuses, no questions, just action. Sophie was going to fix her whether Parker wanted her to or not. "Don't stop. Don't think. Breathe. In…"
…Out. Parker still felt ill but began to breathe as Sophie instructed, submitting to her demand without even a thought to fight against it like she normally would. As she closed her eyes again, trapped in the place between chaos and freedom, she spit out without hesitation, "Three broken hearts." Sophie's grip on her tightened slightly and its dominance was utterly distracting. Parker could feel her friend's lips just a hair's width away from her ear as she encouraged in a low voice:
"Good girl. Two?"
This wasn't how this usually went. Sophie had never held her in a way that seemed more possessive than comforting. Then again, Parker could usually get through these exercises without the intense need to escape; apparently this was Sophie's solution to keep her where she needed to be. Still, the feeling of the woman's breath on her neck and the acute awareness of the rise and fall of breasts behind her made the blurs dim for a moment to allow room for complete perplexion. For the first time in weeks, Parker wasn't overly aware of everything she felt; instead it was replaced by the bewilderment of not being able to identify anything she was feeling in that moment. She knew she had felt it before, but not when it was by itself. Usually it was mixed in, like how the chocolate chips were in cookie dough; complimenting each other by contrasting.
This was different though. This was strong; seemingly unable to be watered down.
Parker had been silent for an unusually long amount of time, too wrapped up in her thoughts to answer. To rectify that and keep her on track, Sophie suddenly grasped blonde hair in both of her fists, pulling hard enough to make her point; she was supposed to be counting. The sound that left Parker's lips was foreign to her ears and it seemed to also be a little bit bad since Sophie noticeably froze behind her for a moment.
But Parker couldn't help it. It was a weird feeling, allowing herself to be trapped by someone who usually made their point with words, not by grabbing parts of her that Parker would normally kill people for trying to grab. But she couldn't move. Part of her didn't want to anyway. The thief's head was turned at an angle, half against Sophie's shoulder and neck as the grifter held her in place by her hair. It made her feel incredibly vulnerable, but strangely also made her feel safer than she'd felt in quite awhile. The world would burn before Sophie hurt her, she knew that. "Two runaway civilians," Parker finally answered, her voice sounding incredibly breathy for some reason.
The blurs, the motions in her mind, had slowed to unexpected crawl sometime during all the pulling and pinning. It wasn't long before they faded almost completely, giving way to the curiosity that ended up overshadowing the fear. Parker desperately tried to understand what was going on; Sophie had never gotten her to calm down before "one" and the endless breathing exercises that followed that number, yet all of a sudden she found herself with a clarity she hadn't known in weeks. Though due to the current position Parker found herself in, clarity turned to confusion within a matter of moments.
"One?" Sophie requested, her grip noticeably slacking. She must have known something worked. Sophie always knew when things happened before anyone. Psychic, maybe, though she denies having the superpower. Nails were massaging Parker's scalp again softly, though Sophie still had her in a hold that Parker would be unable to get herself out of without the use of violence. Parker couldn't use violence on her family though.
"One death," Parker finished quietly. The finality of the countdown paved the way for the next few moments' silence in the room. Parker still hadn't opened her eyes, having found herself concentrating a bit too much on the sound of Sophie's breathing. It was a little heavier than normal. Sophie still had a firm grip on her, but it must have been without her knowledge that she continued to keep it, because when she pulled away suddenly, letting Parker go, it seemed like the position she found them in startled her a little.
While it was nice to be allotted freedom, strangely Parker found herself missing the contact and contentment Sophie's hold had given her. Though Sophie had let her go, she still stayed in the same position behind her. Parker's feet dangled off the edge of the bed as she held the edge of the mattress, opening her eyes to look down at the floor paneling. She wanted to turn around, but something told her that might be a bad idea right now.
It was a good while until Sophie spoke. "Are you feeling better?" Parker nodded mutely, overly aware of each beat of her heart; they were heavier, faster. She was nervous for some reason, which didn't make much sense seeing as a moment ago she was comfortable being with Sophie. But something was wrong; she could feel it in the air of the room. "That's good," Sophie replied. There was a pause before Sophie apologized softly, "I'm sorry I had to do that to you, Parker."
"Do what?" Parker asked, not really sure what Sophie was apologizing for. It had worked, didn't it? She still didn't turn to look at her, instead choosing to stare at her shoes as she swayed them back and forth slightly.
Parker shrugged lightly. "I think I liked it," she told her, because she was pretty sure she did. It wasn't often – or ever, for that matter – that she relinquished control to someone else. But when she gave it to Sophie, or maybe more accurately when Sophie took it from her, it lifted some kind of weight from her that Parker didn't even realize had been crushing her on top of everything else.
"I know," Sophie answered, still sounding a little guilty about something that Parker didn't think she should have guilt about. "It wouldn't have worked if you didn't."
"Then why are you sorry?" Parker asked, finally turning her head over her shoulder to look at Sophie curiously.
The question was left unanswered; a decision Parker's sure was made consciously. "Look… I know what happened was traumatizing," Sophie told her softly, changing the subject back to the reason the thief showed up in the first place. "It broke something in all of us, Parker; not just you. But I also realize you're dealing with something so much more than just the possibility of loss. You're changing, probably much too rapidly for you to know how to deal with on your own. You've lost the ability to control your emotions, which is probably terrifying to you seeing as you spent a great deal of your life exercising so much control over them that you could choose when, and when not, to feel them."
"Stop," Parker pleaded softly as she wrapped her arms around herself, pulling herself off the bed as she stood up, trying to think of anything else than what was being said to her. If she thought about it the chaos would come back. If she thought about it she would break again. She had spent so much of her life being broken; all she wanted was two goddamn seconds of something more than pain and confusion in her life.
Sophie sighed as she watched Parker pace back and forth, trying to distract herself from reality again. "All I was trying to say is that if you want, I may be able to help you." Sophie's offer made Parker stop mid stride, turning to look at her.
"You can make it stop?"
"I can try to help you find the balance you need," Sophie corrected; a promise without eye contact as she picked invisible lint from the sheets. "I won't help you rebuild your walls, Parker. I won't help you shut down again."
"Why do you look like that?" Parker asked suddenly, wanting to know. Sophie's face turned from slight guilt to full on quizzical, not understanding the question. "Like you're doing something wrong by helping me. If you don't want to, then don't."
"What?" Sophie asked automatically, though seemed to understand rather quickly because that was followed up with an, "Oh. No, it's not that I don't want to. It's…" she sighed softly, running her fingers through her hair as her cheeks colored to a slight rosy hue. "I think I may have gotten a bit carried away earlier and honestly I'm embarrassed about it; I only meant to help and I had a feeling that would, but I didn't mean for it to end up seeming so blatantly sexual. I don't want to be the one to confuse you, Parker."
Parker furrowed her brow, letting that information sink in. It made sense though now, why her heart rate increased and her breathing shallowed; what Sophie was doing was arousing. Which honestly perplexed Parker a little bit; she never really expected to have those kinds of thoughts about Sophie. It had actually been so long that she felt that way that she obviously didn't even remember how it made her body react. She tilted her head to the side, as if assessing Sophie as something new; different. She kind of was now. "You think I'm going to want to have sex with you?" she asked, hoping she came to the right conclusion. Sometimes it was hard to understand Sophie's point; Parker thinks that maybe she does that on purpose sometimes.
Sophie smirked slightly. "I know better than to presume how your brain works, Parker." It was an answer that wasn't really an answer and it confused Parker, which must have been evident by the look on her face. Sophie shook her head lightly. "Never mind, we'll discuss this another time. It's late; we should probably both get some sleep."
(Sleep was something only she got those nights, for Parker would rather stand watch over one of her most prized possessions than leave it vulnerable. If it broke, she would break.)
The digital clock read five thirty-four in the morning and the small bit of sunlight that was streaming into the room left Parker only half hidden by the shadows. There was a stir, a groan, and Parker turned from the window to look at the body half hidden under the covers. She stepped back, crouching down to be enveloped by the darkness the bureau cast over the right corner of the room, knowing she shouldn't be in here. People always yelled when she hid in places she wasn't supposed to, misunderstanding her intentions when she watched them.
Sophie sat up a little, squinting from the rising sun. Her face was scrunched up a little in confusion as she stared at the window Parker was at not moments previously, like she knew someone had been there even though Parker was sure she left nothing disturbed. She yawned before her eyes did a once over of the room, but Parker found herself holding her breath as Sophie's eyes lingered a bit too long on her hiding space.
"Parker?" Sophie asked quietly, like she couldn't really be sure if she was there or not. Parker didn't answer. Sophie looked around the room once more before seemingly deciding she must have been imagining things as she lay back down in her bed. It was a good twenty minutes until Parker risked coming out, not wanting to disturb her.
She probably should have waited longer.
"You're not as quiet as you think you are, you know."
Parker practically jumped from the unexpected sound of Sophie's voice as she tried to make her way back over to the window. Instead she turned around halfway to her destination, being met with brown eyes that stared into hers, one eyebrow cocked in her direction. Parker shifted her eyes to the left guiltily; it wasn't often she got caught doing… well, anything. "Uh, hi."
Sophie looked a little amused though through her haze of tiredness. She rubbed her eyes sleepily before sliding to the other side of the bed, holding up the covers in invitation. "Come on, get in; you need to sleep."
Parker noticeably hesitated.
"Or at least let me lie with you until I fall back asleep," Sophie compromised in the middle of the yawn, motioning to the covers again. Parker raised an eyebrow, not buying that excuse. Sophie just wanted her to get into bed so she could sleep. But she can't sleep here. It's just not something she does. Sleeping here is weird, for some reason. Besides, Parker tried to sleep in the guestroom once; it was frilly and made of smiles and lace with a nice big bed that should probably feel welcoming, yet only felt distant and cold. It felt wrong in there; fake, and so Parker much preferred being in a room that wasn't filled with lies.
"I'm not a stuffed animal."
"Yet you try to provide me comfort while I sleep," Sophie countered. Parker squished her face to the side, unhappy that Sophie knew what she was doing in here. It seemed less important when it was known, somehow. Not that a stuffed animal could do her job, of course. That would be ridiculous. But comfort was comfort, no matter which level it lay on.
"Your security system is a joke," Parker answered, as way of explanation. Sophie smirked slightly, amused by her assessment.
"To you, maybe. But there's no one else in the world like you, Parker."
Parker liked the way she said that and she smiled slightly, though aimed it towards the floor. She heard Sophie yawn again; this time much bigger. She was so sleepy. "Fine," Sophie relented softly, tugging the covers up over her as she settled into her pillow, eyes closed. "Just please try to be quiet; you may not want to sleep tonight, but I'd like to get what little I can."
Parker nodded shortly before returning to her place by the window. She stole small glances at Sophie while the grifter tried to fall back asleep, wondering why she allowed her to stay. No one ever had before. Everyone kicked her out and yelled things about privacy and politeness. Sometimes they threw things. It was usually Eliot who threw things as her; not hard things, not hurtful things, but things anyway. He really hated when she made forts inside of his bedroom closet for some reason, even though the dimensions and architectural structure was ideal for it.
Six seventeen in the morning; that was when Parker rose from her perch on the window to carefully cross the room to Sophie's bed. Six nineteen was when she realized Sophie was actually quite pretty while she slept; like a princess lucky enough to not lie on the pea. Six twenty-three was when she discovered that the grifter had somehow stopped her from thinking about the crazy stuff for over three hours, which prompted the smile at six twenty-four and the contemplation that maybe she should never leave at six thirty-one. But six forty-two was her favorite minute, as that was the moment Sophie chose to reach out in her sleep and cover Parker's hand with hers.
(Touching was always so odd for Parker, but her hand was like silk in her palm and her fingers were too needy to ignore. They wanted to tangle. Wrap up in each other. Play with each other, as fingers do; as friends do.)
But she was too numb to feel their gentle caress this time. As Sophie's hand slipped into hers, Parker barely acknowledged it. She stared vacantly across the waiting room of the ER, unable to think or feel. "He'll be alright, Parker," Sophie tried to tell her softly; "the bullet was through and through; it missed his vital organs. He'll be okay."
It didn't matter if it was life threatening or not, that wasn't the point. Someone shot her… Hardison. Someone shot Hardison.
Eliot walked up to them, nodding at Parker but addressing Sophie. "How's she doin'?" Parker wanted to scream at him, tell him he shouldn't be asking how she was doing; he should be worried about Hardison. But she didn't move, nor utter a sound. It was as if her body no longer took commands from her brain. There was so much screaming before; so much fear, blood, and revenge. But it was when Hardison was in surgery that Parker finally looked down at her hand, still stained red along with most of the clothes she had on, and realized she couldn't fucking handle this anymore. People like her were not meant to have feelings like this.
So she shut down.
"Not good," Sophie replied, a sympathetic look crossing her face as she took in Parker's unmoving, unspeaking figure.
"Hey, Parker," Eliot exclaimed, snapping in her face like she was some sort of dog. "Hardison's gonna be fine; seriously. You're makin' this into somethin' bigger than it is and if ya don't quit Nate's gonna start sending you to a shrink."
The said shrink-sender was currently pacing up and down the hallway about twenty feet away, mumbling to himself.
The people were blurs and their voices were like echoes. Reality was too distorted to make sense of the pain that flooded their lives. It felt like she was being sucked into a black hole; something that should feel rather familiar to her by now but instead filled her with a sense of suffocating fear. But instead of running from it she stood stock still, her limbs uncooperative and her muscles feeling of sludge covered molasses.
The hand left hers; a movement that left Parker cold as she fell through reality into a land of her own making.
"She shouldn't be here, Sophie. She obviously can't handle it and havin' to lock her up in the loony bin is the last damn thing we need right now. Seriously."
"I know." Eyes flickered over in her direction; voice hushed yet not quiet enough. Parker wasn't deaf, she wasn't stupid. She just couldn't move. Couldn't speak. But she could hear them, though they seemed to think she couldn't. "I'll take her back to my house; call me when Hardison wakes up, yeah?"
Eliot nodded shortly before turning his gaze over to Nate, who was still pacing back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth…
"I don't want to go."
(But it was never said out loud. Words filled her head that never left her mouth; a desperation that was meant to be screamed yet was swallowed by silence. Words were nothing unless they were spoken. Nothing was everything unless it was accepted that things were real.)
Alone. An hour and a half later, Parker found herself alone in the room filled with frills and lies. Sleep, Sophie said, as if she didn't know that couldn't happen here. Especially not here. Especially not in this room. The comfort was a façade for the distance it forced on those who didn't belong.
Parker hated being alone. There once was a time when she reveled in the feeling of solitude, but such things were for superheroes. Parker had fallen from grace and now lived in the world of bright lights and rushing thoughts; a world where she could feel the earth spin and gravity pull her down. She lived in the world they lived in. Her family.
And she needed them to help her walk through it.
She had been alone for too long now and so bare feet crossed chilled wood, down the hall before finding their decent down the stairs. Parker found Sophie in the kitchen, a half empty bottle of liquor in her hands as she stared at her phone. She looked like a Barbie doll that had been abused by its toddler friend; beautiful but disheveled to the point of no return. She stared and stared; so tired, yet refusing to sleep until she had her answer.
But she had already told Parker the answer long ago. She said it'd be okay, that he was fine. She had lied. She didn't know; that's why her eyes were red and the poison was flowing through her veins as a way to dull the worry she felt. That's why she was waiting. That's why she couldn't sleep. Waiting. Staring. Worrying. Crying.
Sophie always fell apart when she thought no one was around to watch her crumble.
Parker felt like vomiting. She had believed her; part of her had believed her that Hardison would be okay. Not a large part, but the part that made her able to go numb; silent, unmoving. The colors were bright, the noises were loud, but they didn't overwhelm her. Not then. But they were now. She felt like she was falling; crumbling with her, crying her tears.
Crying. She was crying.
Sophie looked up, Parker unable to keep her silence any longer in the shadows. "Bollocks," she swore, getting up off of her stool. The sound of wooden legs against the tile screeched and it made Parker wince as she turned away, aware only enough to realize that Sophie had seen more weakness than she tried to allot her. "Parker, it's—"
Sophie tried to respond to that, but tripped over her herself when her heel got snagged on an imperfection in the grout. "Bloody fucking—" A clang; just short of a crash and loud enough to make a point as she threw off her heels in frustration. "I didn't—I didn't lie, Parker," she tried as she made her way over to her. She smelled like a drunk. She was a drunk. No, she was just drunk. Not 'a', but in this moment, Sophie was drunk. For the first time Parker thinks she had ever seen too.
A hand on her arm. It was pushed off immediately.
"He's going to die, isn't he?" It was so quiet, so small. So helpless and weak through tears that made her blind and a tightness in her throat that made her feel asphyxiated.
The force of the refusal was so strong that it made Parker look at her, but only briefly. She was a blinding light herself that made Parker pray for clarity.
Hands on her shoulders now. Two of them; strong, unyielding. "Listen to me, Parker; Hardison is not going to die. All right? But I can't just bloody sit here and not be upset that my friend was shot. I'm fucking trying – all I ever do is try to make things sodding easier on everyone else and I—"
Arms were thrown around the grifter's neck; head was buried in her shoulder. Parker didn't mean to move, but it was starting to get hard to breathe and that scared her. Fingers curled around Sophie's nightshirt, tears soaking the collar. "Help," she breathed, something that probably wouldn't have been heard had Sophie's ear not been a few inches from her lips. It was a request she had never asked before; it sounded strange even to her own ears. Weak. Child-like.
But it was too much. The lights, the sound, the world; all of it. It was attacking her without her shields, without her armor, without her hope. Life, reality… they were knives that penetrated what was left of her sanity over and over again. She couldn't think, she couldn't breathe, she couldn't do anything else but beg for Sophie to make it stop before she found a way to convince herself Hardison was already dead just to torture herself some more.
Because she did that, you know. Torture herself. It was like a game that would never hold a winner.
The movement seemed to freeze Sophie in place for a moment; a shocked look on her face that Parker didn't have to see to know was there. But slowly she touched her; arms wrapped around her waist as she pulled her deeper into the comfort Sophie held inside of her, yet struggled today to find for her own peace of mind. "Always," she breathed, a word that sounded almost surprising coming from the grifter's lips. But it shouldn't have been. That's what Sophie did.
She saved people. She was the superhero now.
One hand tangled in blonde hair, pulling her face away from her neck so foreheads could meet. "Count," she requested in a whisper, a word that Parker felt against her lips. The thief closed her eyes tightly, a futile gesture as another tear slipped down her cheek like a good man going to war; hesitant, yet filled with a purpose and meaning too great for its tiny form. She shook her head.
"I don't want to."
"No," Parker replied, voice shaking as slender fingers curled in brunette hair. Closer. She could feel it; the comfort that Sophie gave her, but not in the way it was intended. She could fly; she could save the world. She was so high up, in this way that Parker used to be, used to feel. Parker could almost touch it, nearly could taste it. She craved that freedom, like she craved air to live. "I don't want to deal; I don't want to move forward." The hand untangled itself from Sophie's locks, sliding around to cup caramel skin. Her cheek; so warm, so damn distracting. She needed that. "I want to fly," she breathed, "I want to forget…"
Purposeful lips met hesitance with a need that threatened to consume her sanity. The moment made Parker's mind go gloriously blank as she pushed Sophie up against the island counter, feeling the heat from the other woman wrap around her in a way that made her feel rather infinite. Peace, for one second of her life there was a stillness in her mind as Sophie made her forget. Or rather, as she forced Sophie to make her forget.
It was too much; Hardison. There were too many feelings, too much fear that filled her when she thought of him. The uncertainty and the need. There was no dealing with that, Parker knew that now. So instead she craved to forget; she wanted to be saved. Sophie had always saved her. Sophie had to be the one to change history; rewrite time. Sophie had to teach her that one person couldn't dominate her mind, for it made her dance on the edge of insanity. Parker needed someone else, something else to erase the pain of the loss she was forcing on herself.
And she chose Sophie.
The grifter was dominant, needy in her reciprocation, but only for a moment. Then her face was turned, a shocked look on her face as her brain tried to catch up to the situation. "Parker—" Her hands came off of her, gripped onto the edge of the island counter so hard that her knuckles flashed white. Parker's hands were lifting up her nightshirt, the coolness of her palms contrasting with the heat of Sophie's skin. Sophie let out a heavy breath and turned to look at her, another protest about to fall from her lips. But Parker didn't want to hear that.
Lips collided again in a mess of desperation and silent pleading. Their tongues met and Parker made a point to drink up all that Sophie was, her nails tracing a path up the grifter's ribs, feeling each ridge and curvature. When her thumbs dusted over hardened nipples and she milked a quiet whimper from Sophie, Parker knew, she knew her friend would help her. "I need to feel something else," Parker breathed against her lips. "Make me fly, Sophie. Make me feel something in the world that's better."
"I'm going straight to Hell," Sophie murmured, something so soft that Parker knew it was a statement meant only for herself. But it didn't matter. Parker could see that she was caving; that she was wanting to feel something else herself. Parker was an observer of people; of the way they reacted to the elements around them. It had always fascinated her, but nothing fascinated her more than the way Sophie looked at Tara when they crossed paths a year ago.
They were lovers once.
Sophie liked girls. Maybe she didn't like girls as much as she liked Nate, but Nate was a confusion that drove her to run all the way across the world; Nate was a confusion that paled in comparison to Hardison confusing Parker, but he still fucked her up. He fucked Sophie up like he fucked himself up, all the time. Everything, the whole damn world was exploding as lines blurred and paths were crossed and Parker knew Sophie needed the escape just as much as she did. Just one moment to feel something other than reality. One moment that could lead to something other than pain, heartache. They both needed to take a step back… then run full throttle in another direction entirely.
The moment when Sophie stopped fighting was the moment Parker found their positions reversed. Her back collided with the island counter as Sophie's tongue – tasting of expensive vodka and imminent shame – plunged into her mouth; taking the control from Parker so quickly that her knees nearly buckled from under her. Contact was broken for only a moment, the flimsy material of Sophie's nightshirt being stripped from her body, leaving the grifter pressed up against her in only a pair of panties. Her body was hot beneath Parker's touch; like a burning fire was racing underneath her skin, threatening to consume her lest she pass it on. And she was. She was.
God, Parker could feel it. It tore her up inside, releasing so many demons that had lain trapped inside her mind. It was blanking; erasing, leaving her with a glorious feeling of emptiness that she had needed to feel for so long. Hands were on her body, tearing off her clothes with such heated impatience that it left the thief breathless, eyes closed as once again she found herself submitting to Sophie. Things were so much easier when Parker let her have control.
"I'm going to regret this in the morning."
It was an admission they both already knew, being whispered in her ear like some kind of secret. But it wasn't. Parker knew, but she very much didn't care. Sophie's fingers had unhooked her bra, pushing the straps off her shoulders in this agonizingly slow manner, hesitating for a moment as she was waited for something. A reply maybe. Fuck, Parker didn't want to talk. She didn't want to think.
Parker needed this. There was nothing to regret. Her lips pressed against hers again, kissing her with feverous desperation as she slid her hand beneath Sophie's panties, grabbing her ass possessively as she pulled Sophie's hips against hers. She didn't really have the first clue of what she was doing, but it didn't seem to matter. The unwavering need to forget pushed her body forward, making it run rather automatically as it took what she so greatly desired in that moment. Oblivion. Ecstasy. Fantastic fucking stillness from the madness that was once her mind.
Sophie grabbed a fist full of her hair, wrenching her lips away from her so she could latch her teeth to the base of her neck. Parker cried out as she bit down, shutting her eyes so tightly she saw stars behind them. A hand tugged roughly at the button on her jeans, loosening them enough so slender fingers could slip inside. Parker grabbed into her back, digging her nails deeply into her skin; marking what little she was allotted of the grifter as hers.
And then Sophie's fingers slipped against her clit.
It was like sparks shot to every nerve ending in her body, making her skin hum and her hips twitch in excitement. "Oh…" Parker gasped out, eyes popping open for a moment from surprise of how good it felt. She had forgotten; it had been so long since she had let someone touch her. Almost as long as it's been since she touched herself. Parker wasn't a big masturbator; she thought it wasted time better put to other uses. "Fuck." But God, maybe she was wrong though…
A pathetic sounding whimper that Parker wished didn't come from her filled the silence of the room as Sophie's fingers slipped out of her jeans. The thief opened her eyes, ready to protest from the lack of contact, but her words died in her throat as she watched Sophie slide her fingers into her mouth. The sight filled her with a radiating heat that started in the depths of her abdomen, before exploding and overwhelming all of her senses. The sound that followed was most definitely from her; a low groan that she wasn't ashamed of in the slightest. Her chest was heaving; her breathing labored as Sophie kept continuous eye contact as she sucked on her fingers like they were a popsicle on a hot summer's day.
God, there was no coming back from this.
Not that Parker cared, but she was sure Sophie was going to freak out about this later. When she was sober; clearheaded. When things weren't so utterly fucked that they had to screw each other just to make sense of the world and what was happening in it. Complication; that's what they were running away from, all while inadvertently causing more between each other. But the simplicity of this moment was what attracted Parker; sex was carnal, natural. People touched each other to feel connected; they touched each other to feel alive. With everything that had been going on, it had been so long since Parker felt alive. Things were always so disastrous in her mind, in her world; death and guns and coffins. This was none of those. This was… this was something good. Something simple. Safe.
But then Sophie hesitated again, eyes widening as her alcohol soaked brain actually caught up to the situation again. Damnit, no. Parker was starting to hate it when Sophie thought about things. At least these things. Things like right now. Things that could possibly make this sexy time stop. There could be no stopping sexy time once it had already started; that just wasn't fair and she was sure her head wouldn't be able to handle it.
Parker cupped the back of Sophie's neck before crashing their lips together again; this time tasting herself on the grifter's tongue. It was erotic. It was sensational. It was like jumping off a building without a harness; complete freedom coupled with the feeling that in the end, it will probably all go wrong. But right then, in that moment, it didn't matter. She seemed to have successfully diverted Sophie's brain back to the instinctual, carnal place she needed her to be in as nimble fingers pushed at the top of Parker's jeans, sliding them down pale thighs so the thief could step out of them. Sophie kicked them clear across the kitchen floor for her before dropping to her knees. The contact emitted a smack that echoed into the darkness, only to be overshadowed by a loud moan as Sophie's tongue got lost between her folds.
"Oh… holy…" Parker panted, shutting her eyes tightly as her fingers wove in the dark tresses. "Shit," she breathed, hips twitching against the grifter's mouth as she moved to make her stance wider. No one had ever done that to her before. Why? This was… this was… Jesus, this was. It just was. Sophie's mouth was hot against her wanton core, milking sounds from the thief towering above her that Parker didn't even know she could make until five seconds ago. Her other hand was gripping the edge of the island counter so hard she was sure she was about to pop a knuckle, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered outside of feeling. Of excitement. Of simplicity. Of sex.
But Sophie's lips left the place Parker wanted them most, sliding up to bite softly at the tender flesh of her hip. Parker pressed her lips together in a tight line, suppressing a whimper, as she quickly grew impatient. But fingers tangled between hers, coaxing her downwards. The thief came without a fight, letting Sophie push her flat on her back once she had come about halfway down to her height. The tile was cold against the scorching heat of her skin, which intensified once Sophie had slid her thigh between her legs, pressing it firmly against her clit. Her moan was swallowed by Sophie's tongue however; the grifter taking a fist full of Parker's breast as she kissed her without a second's hesitation.
The no more hesitation thing made Parker smile. Then again, they had already gone this far. There probably wasn't even a point in hesitating anymore; they both knew Sophie was going to get all weird about it in the morning, so they might as well finish. The outcome was going to be the same either way, and this way at least they'll have orgasms.
And this way, Parker could save a little bit of her sanity.
Parker's hands tore at Sophie's panties as she kissed her, frustrated that she was the only one completely naked in this scenario. She heard the fabric rip and give way beneath her grasp, prompting the grifter to break the kiss and look down at her. "Damnit, Parker. They were my—!"
Favorite? Best? Parker didn't care; they were in her way.
She cut Sophie's protests off with a searing kiss as she used her newfound freedom of being able to explore all of Sophie's body by slipping her fingers through her folds. Her mouth muffled Sophie's moan, but it was still the best thing Parker thought she'd ever heard. It may also have been the best thing she had ever felt. Sophie was so wet. It wasn't often – or ever, actually – that Parker got the chance to explore another woman's body other than her own. It was fascinating. It was mesmerizing. It was… kind of warm and squishy actually, but in that really sexy kind of way that makes you want to lick it. Her. Everything.
God, she wanted to lick every part of Sophie.
But that didn't look like it was going to be happening anytime soon. Sophie had completely taken over, grabbing both of Parker's hands and pinning them above her head. Parker was about to complain because she wasn't done exploring, damnit; but it was overshadowed by the loud moan that left her lips as Sophie rolled her hips against hers, making their clits slide together. The feeling was incredibly erotic, distracting, and wonderful. Parker couldn't think anymore. She didn't want to think anymore; she just wanted to feel. Everything. All of her. Every fucking part of the woman on top of her and then some.
Sophie's breathing was labored, each exhale tickling Parker's lips as she continued to thrust her hips against her. "Fuck," Parker swore, pleasure and frustration etched over every inch of her face as she tried to move. She wanted to touch her, but Sophie's grip was firm and due to gravity and the angle they were at, she would have to exert some serious energy to move. Normally that wouldn't be a problem, but the pleasure was clouding her brain and she could barely remember her own name, let alone Sophie's to tell her what the hell she wanted. So instead she just gasped out, "Please…!"
Sophie chuckled low in her throat. It was probably the hottest thing Parker had ever heard in her life.
"Never thought I'd live to see the day you begged for something," she replied, sounding far too amused by this than should be legal. Parker squirmed beneath her, opening her eyes to look up into pools of brown that she quickly found herself falling into. The grifter smirked, her eyes mischievous and her hair disheveled. She looked beautiful. Then again, Sophie always looked beautiful. She was the pretty one in the group. Parker was… well, Parker was just kind of there.
But she didn't feel like Sophie thought she was just there right now. The way she was looking at her made her feel… well there was butterflies. And warmth… lots of warmth. Specialness. It made her feel special to be looked at like that from someone as breathtaking as Sophie Devereaux.
Or whatever name she was going by this week.
But Hardison looked at her that way too. Hardison had always looked at her like something to be desired, needed. Hardison—
Thankfully, her thoughts were cut off by Sophie before she ended up finding herself spiraling down a black hole she was already, desperately trying to crawl her way out of. The grifter let go of her wrists to lift her right leg over her shoulder and… and oh God and…
Suddenly, Sophie's fingers were buried up to the knuckle inside of her and Parker will swear to anything that she just saw heaven. She tossed her head to the side; jaw dropping as she cried out into the silence of the room, eyes shut tightly as she tangled her hands in Sophie's hair. Her back arced off of the floor, pushing her hips into Sophie's hand, which in turn pushed the back of Sophie's hand against her clit. Sophie's groan was lost in her neck as Parker held onto her tightly, more afraid of anything else in that moment that Sophie might start to see reason and stop this. Because she didn't want to stop. Ever. It felt so damn good.
Parker's hand slammed against the ground over and over as she moaned, pushing her body so hard against Sophie she was sure she was about to break one of them in the process. But it didn't matter. Nothing fucking mattered except for the feeling of Sophie filling her completely. Entirely. Intimately. "Oh… holy… motherfuuu—Jesus, Sophie, fuck…!"
Parker's hold that she had on the grifter's hair tightened, nearly pulling it out of her skull as she roughly turned Sophie's head to kiss her. It was a mess of teeth, tongues, and frantic desperation as the world as Parker knew it melted around her. She was going so high up, higher up than she thought she'd ever been, and all she wanted to do was fall face first into complete and utter oblivion. She needed it. Begged for it. Fucking lived for it right then.
"Sophie, Sophie, please… I want to… I need—" but Sophie seemed to understand the message before it was even out of her mouth, because her thumb slipped against the thief's clit as she curled her fingers inside of her and Jesus Christ she was coming so damn hard.
She was screaming. Parker knew she was screaming, yet it sounded like a dull roar in the back of her mind as everything she knew clouded over in a haze of satisfaction and the feeling of flying. Heat, tongues, skin; that's all she could feel. It's all she needed to feel. It's all she needed to know. Ever. Fucking forever and ever and then some, the end.
(Hours. It went on for hours. The touching and the grabbing, the fucking and the screaming. But then the calm washed over; the feeling of absolute stillness that Parker had been craving for months. Exhaustion, perfection. Sophie's hand tangled in hers once more, letting Parker hold onto something that for once in her life she knew was real.)
But then it was gone. Parker felt cold as suddenly the body that was covering her was off in a flash. As she slowly became aware of the world again, she could hear Sophie shuffling around in a rush. She could feel the hardness of the kitchen tile beneath her, the soreness in her limbs. It felt good but at the same time… it felt heavy. Lonely. Final. It wasn't the most pleasant way to wake up. She was supposed to be new; better. Instead she felt thoroughly fucked, in more ways than one.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck. Bollocky fucking wank shit! Damnit."
Sophie swore under her breath as she shuffled around, no doubt thinking Parker was still sound asleep on her kitchen floor. She nearly jumped out of her skin when Parker replied in a scratchy, morning voice, "Can you make coffee before you freak out? You're too loud for morning time." She rolled over, groaning a little as she hoisted herself to a seated position. When she opened her eyes, a harsh brightness greeted her from the sunlight streaming through the window above the kitchen sink. She shielded her eyes for a moment, but gave up and lay back down, closing her eyes. She didn't want to wake up. She had decided. Sophie was dressed again anyway; wasn't anything worth keeping her eyes open for this early.
"It's not because of you," Sophie told her impatiently, slamming something down on the counter. The sound made Parker's head rattle. "It's my blasted phone; it died sometime last night and if we missed the call from the hospital—"
Parker suddenly found herself sitting up straight, wide-awake. Short for breath. Chest constricting. "Hardison? Is he—?"
"Well I don't bloody well know, now do I?" Sophie exclaimed, obviously frustrated as she ripped the phone charger from her handbag. She shoved it into the nearest outlet before hooking it up to her phone, looking furious with herself as she waited impatiently for her phone to get enough of a charge that it turned on. "I shouldn't have…" she started to mumble, shaking her head a little before she suddenly looked back at the thief. "Christ. Parker – for the love of God – will you please put on some clothes? The last bloody thing I need right now is a nude reminder in my kitchen of how much of blooming slag I was last night, alright?"
"What's a slag?" It was a rather automatic reaction; Parker was used to asking questions when she didn't know things. "And why is it blooming?" But it didn't really matter; she honestly didn't even care very much. Parker was holding onto her legs as she pressed them to her chest, squeezing them tightly as she stared at Sophie. At her phone. The thief's heart was pounding, hard; she didn't forget anything. She was free for a moment, but now she felt chained to the earth again. No flying. No superpowers. No starting over.
It didn't work.
"Just get dressed." Barking. Snapping. Rudeness.
Parker felt herself recoil a little; uncomfortable with how mean Sophie was being this morning. She expected it from Eliot. From Nate. But not from her, and not from—
Parker grabbed her clothes off the floor in a rush, standing up heavily; loud as she stomped on the floor, unable to contain what she was feeling. She wasn't even sure what it was, just that she didn't like it. It was like a sickness in the pit of her stomach and as she threw her shirt over her head she lashed out at the only other person in the vicinity, "Why are you being such a bitch?"
Sophie whipped around so fast that it almost startled Parker. Almost. What did startle her though was her tone; she was yelling. Sophie had never yelled at her like that. Only Nate. She always yelled at Nate. "Because while one of my best friends lies in the hospital, I'm off shagging the woman he's in love with! What the hell kind of person does that make me? Damnit, Parker!" Her hand slammed down on the counter, but it also hit the edge of her phone. The speed and the angle caused it to go flying and Sophie tried to catch it, reaching out her hands. But it was in vain; Parker watched the phone smash to the floor… and then Sophie fall apart.
The grifter slid to the ground to lie in a heap against the cupboard doors, putting her head in her hands. She didn't cry; Sophie never cried in front of people if she could help it, but it was obvious she was upset. It startled Parker. It had never been the other way around before. Parker was always the one that fell apart and Sophie the one to pick up the pieces. Parker didn't know if she was strong enough to fall into that role, even when her friend needed her. But she tried, because focusing on Sophie was so much easier than thinking about… anything. Everything. A distraction; Sophie was always that – for better or for worse.
"Sophie?" Parker asked tentatively, crouching down to be at her level. "Do you want to count?" She didn't know what else to ask; that was how Sophie helped her, after all. Counting made things better. Counting made things simpler. It made everything stop being overwhelming and the woman in front of her looked to be the definition of that word.
But Sophie shook her head, taking a sharp inhale of breath. "No," she told her softly. She wiped at her eyes even though Parker was sure she didn't let any tears fall; maybe it was a precaution. Fingers ran through chestnut hair as Sophie took a few more deep breaths. Then she looked at her. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have yelled at you."
"It's my fault. I made you do it," Parker replied, a funny feeling in her chest that she tried to ignore. She didn't understand it. She didn't want to understand it. "The sex, not the yelling," she clarified.
"I'm a grown woman; I make my own decisions. You didn't make me do anything." Sophie turned away from her then, grabbing her phone off the floor. She looked at it. "Oh thank god," she muttered, realizing it wasn't broken. She held up a finger to silently tell Parker to hold on while she pressed a number on her speed dial.
"Eliot?" she asked once the hitter had picked up on the other end. "Hardison, did he—?" An annoyed sigh followed. "My bloody phone died, Eliot. It's not… look; just tell me, is he—?" Parker felt herself holding her breath as she waited during the long stretch of silence. It was torturous. But then she saw Sophie nod, looking a lot more relaxed. "Alright," she answered him. "Well we'll be there soon; call if anything changes." When she put the phone down she addressed Parker, relief in her voice, "Hardison's out of the ICU and is stabilized. He hasn't woken up yet but the doctors said he should soon."
Parker's voice was weak; distant. ICU was bad. ICU was very bad. The fucking ICU was where people went when the doctors didn't know if they were going to live or die. Sophie had an 'oh shit' look on her face and Parker's heart squeezed so hard in her chest she was sure it was going to pop. She really had lied. She never knew if Hardison was going to live or die; that's why she was so upset, so frantic this morning. She was terrified that she was going to wake up and find that she had a voicemail telling her that Hardison died in the middle of the night.
"You lied! You told me you didn't and you did! You fucking did!"
Parker pushed Sophie's gesture of comfort away angrily; furiously upset that they had all lied to her face. Eliot acted like she was so stupid for being worried, that it was nothing and he… he almost died. Hardison almost died. Again.
God, she was sure her heart couldn't handle this. It ached.
"Parker, I didn't lie to you—listen to me!" Sophie grabbed her arm, stilling her. She didn't want her to get up because she knew the thief would run. She would run until her legs gave out. It didn't matter where; just that it was away. "Parker, do you trust Eliot?" she asked forcefully, like this was some kind of important question that mattered. This had nothing to do with Eliot.
"Eliot has been wounded more times than any of us. He knows things about violence, Parker. He knows things about guns, about gunshot wounds. Okay? He said Hardison would be fine and he meant it." Her eyes caught hers; such a blaze of determination mixed with a twinge of regret. "And I trusted him. I had to. And he was right. Okay? Hardison's fine. He's… he's going to be all right. Do you hear me? Hardison's all right."
Parker stared at her, trying to allow the information to sink in. It was too much though. Then again, wasn't everything with her lately? She would think of Hardison and all of a sudden her emotions were imploding all over the place like a volcano, though entirely less murderous. They were killing her, sure; but so far she hasn't killed anyone else with them. But then she looked at Sophie. Sophie. She was probably killing Sophie right now, even if she didn't know it. Even if she did know it and didn't care. Parker was dragging her down with her because she didn't want to be the only one to find herself at the bottom. She didn't want to be alone. She didn't want to be the only one who failed.
"It didn't work," Parker whispered painfully, looking away from her. She slumped back down to the ground, feeling incredibly weak all of a sudden. Like her muscles were sludge. Slow. "I was supposed to forget. I didn't."
"Momentarily you did." Sophie's answer was sympathetic as she peered at the girl in front of her. "We both did," she admitted softly, sounding guilty again. But Sophie took a breath and continued, "But… things aren't ever that simple, Parker. And if you had taken a moment to ask, I would have told you that."
Parker picked at the grout between the tiles, staring at the floor. She shrugged lifelessly.
"It can never happen again," Sophie went on carefully, gauging her reaction. "You know that… right?"
"I know." Parker's voice was low, barely audible. She still wouldn't look at her. The grout was bothering her. There was something wrong with it. A chip. A small chip that she needed to make bigger. It was like a compulsion… pick, pick, pick…
Sophie took her hand in hers; pulling it away from the floor so she would stop messing it up more. The gesture finally made Parker's gaze catch hers. "And no one on the team can find out," she finished pointedly. Point. The point. That was the point, wasn't it? That was always the point. Secrets.
"Every time one of us says that, everyone always ends up finding out anyway."
Sophie cracked a small smirk, even though Parker's voice was monotone and she wasn't meaning to be funny. That was just what happened. "Well please don't tell anyone," she requested. Parker nodded softly before she looked at the ground again, watching her foot twist uncomfortably back and forth. She just needed to move. She hated serious conversations.
Parker sighed a little, looking back up at the grifter, ready to be told what else she could and could not do. But instead Sophie smiled at her softly. "Thank you." That made Parker furrow her eyebrows, not understanding why she was getting thanked when what happened nearly caused Sophie to have a full blown panic attack of her own. That was supposed to be bad, right?
"For reminding me that I missed… something," Sophie answered, purposely being evasive. But Parker understood. It wasn't that hard to. She had sex with her and she was a girl. They were both girls having sex with one another. So she corrected her with:
Sophie looked a little surprised at first, but she nodded slightly. "Yeah…" she confirmed, looking a little sad though she was smiling. It was strange. Being both happy and sad at the same time didn't make sense. Parker was like that all the time now, but she was slowly going insane. Sophie was… Sophie was sane. Normal.
"Tara," she answered for her.
Sophie pursed her lips. She looked even more surprised that Parker knew who she was referring to, but she didn't comment on it. Instead she requested softly, "I'd rather not talk about it, if that's alright." It looked painful for her. It made Parker sad. Sad that she could look that way. Sophie had always been this big glowing ball of light to her, yet now she looked so dark. Like a cloud. A rain cloud. She used to be the sun; beautiful and blazing. Warm.
Parker nodded though, accepting that she didn't want to get into it. Sophie gave her another smile, once again laced with so much sadness. "Things change, Parker," she told her quietly. "Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. But that's… it's just a part of life. You need to take that leap of faith; it's exactly like freefalling, like jumping off a building. It's scary, yet exhilarating and completely freeing. And if you never take that leap, if you never put yourself out there and risk getting yourself hurt, you may end up missing out on that one chance at true happiness. That's no way to live."
"Do you think Nate is yours?" Parker asked, looking up at her. She wanted to know. She needed to know. She didn't know why, but it felt important. She knew Tara wasn't hers; it was obvious by the look on her face when her name was mentioned. She tried with her… and failed.
"I don't know," Sophie answered honestly. "That's the point. You'll never know if you don't try."
Parker picked at her fingernails, chewing on the inside of her cheek. A deafening silence settled over the room. Things unsaid. Stuff unexpressed. She said not to go into it and yet Parker didn't understand. She didn't get why… "Why did you say thank you then?" she asked, unable to contain the questions. "If Tara wasn't your happiness, why are you glad I reminded you that you missed her?"
Sophie didn't exactly look comfortable with the change of topic, but seemed to understand Parker needed an answer. "Tara was a… wonderful part of my life. Sometimes I end up blocking it out because the ending to our story was so painful. But that's not fair to her; it's not fair to our relationship. What we had was…" she bit her bottom lip, looking up a little in remembrance. She smiled this time; a real smile. "Beautiful," she told her. "Passionate, wild, dangerous. It was so much fun. But if I block that out, if I don't remember, then sometimes I find myself wondering if anyone could ever really make me happy, because I end up being filled with so much loneliness; sadness. But she did; Tara very much did. So why can't someone else?"
"I thought everyone only got one chance at happiness."
Sophie looked at her, a smile of understanding and patience on her face. "Everyone can give you happiness, Parker; so long as you let them. True happiness is something else entirely; it's something that the person you spend the rest of your life with gives you. Or so I've heard."
Parker cocked her head to side in question. "You don't know?" So strange.
"Contrary to what you may believe, I don't know everything. But it's something I'd like to believe. It sounds nice, don't you think?"
Parker thought about that. True happiness. It sounded like a myth; Parker had spent most of her life living in horror until she became too numb to feel it anymore, to care. Happiness was something she had in fleeting moments, though most recently from being with her family. They smiled and she smiled. They got excited and so did she. They understood her. They really got her. No one had ever done that before. No one ever really cared to. But 'true happiness' sounded like some ultimate world of bliss with dancing little munchkin men and sparkling unicorns, and regardless of how unrealistic it sounded… Parker smiled.
And Sophie smiled back. Mirrors.
"Come on," she coaxed, picking herself up off the floor. She held out her hand and Parker took it without a second thought. Warm. Soft. Inviting. There once was a time when she didn't trust any hand extended to her, but Sophie was right; things do change, for better or for worse. Parker couldn't help but feel like it was a little bit of both, but maybe that was the way things were supposed to be. Balance. The world was functioning and turning because of the balance it had. The sky and earth. Water and fire. Complimenting. Contrasting.
She allowed Sophie to help her to her feet, though she was already starting to become frightened by the prospect of seeing Hardison in that hospital bed. Seeing him bandaged. Sewn up. Barely put together. Parker was sure she wouldn't be able to hold it together. It made her choke up; the thought of something ever happening to him. But that was the problem, wasn't it? Everything always happened to him. Everything always happened to all of them. All of them, at one point or another, have almost been blown up, run over; killed in some way, shape or form. It probably wasn't ever going to stop.
So the question was… could she live with that reality? Could she handle it?
(A hand on her shoulder. Comforting. Sophie always knew when things started to hurt, even if no one else did. And this hurt, all of it hurt. But maybe she was starting to realize it hurt in a good way, if there was such a thing. Sadness with a smile. Laughter with tears.)
Even though Sophie wasn't there anymore, Parker could still feel her. They had left her in the room, each of them having their own excuses to go (he needed a drink, she wanted some food, he needed some goddamn fresh air). They were close though, she knew that. They wouldn't go too far. Parker fidgeted in her seat, looking at Hardison lying in the bed. He didn't look in pain; he just looked to be sleeping. But she supposed he couldn't be in pain if he wasn't awake. Still, he looked… nice. No, that was stupid; someone shouldn't look nice after being shot.
Still. He… did.
The wall coverings were an obnoxious eggshell white, something that made her feel like they were attempting to scrub her clean. Him clean. Both of them. Fix them with purity that didn't actually exist. It made her rub her hands together rhythmically, as if trying to wash away everything wrong with her. But that was impossible; she would always be damaged. But… they all were, in their own way. It wasn't just her being the something that was wrong this time; they all were. And together, all of their wrongs kind of made it feel right. It was odd.
Then Hardison opened his eyes. Slowly, looking at her like he wasn't sure if she was real. Blinking. Lots of blinking. Parker felt her heart rate increase, conflicting feelings of running to him and running out the door rooting her still. Brightness. All of it was bright. He was bright, but he was a beautiful kind of bright.
He smiled at her.
And she smiled back. Big. Relieved.
"Hey," he croaked out, his voice scratchy. Parker felt like crying from hearing his voice; it meant this was real for her too. He was real. He was okay.
Parker continued to play with her hands, suddenly feeling the overwhelming urge to look away so her emotions didn't get the best of her. Her leg was shaking, her heel tapping against the floor over and over. It was a horribly maddening sound. Yet Hardison didn't say anything. He just let her be, let her figure things out. He was like that though; patient, understanding. Sweet. She bit her bottom lip, feeling too much and not really knowing what to do with it. There she was, standing on the edge of a cliff.
So does she jump?
Parker got to her feet suddenly, starting to pace in her nervousness. Hardison just watched her, the silence hanging in the room. Cliff, falling, flying, soaring. It's what Parker lived for, wasn't it? She never hesitated when jumping before. Heights were nothing. The fear of dying was irrelevant. It was that one moment of pure, undiluted expression of freedom that Parker really loved. So if she did what Sophie said, if she took that leap of faith, would it feel the same way?
Regardless of whether she wanted to or not, she was about to find out. Her mouth started speaking without permission from her brain. "Hardison, I…" she stopped, swallowed, then looked over at him. He looked expectant, a little hopeful. Her hands shook and she shoved them in her jean pockets as she spit out, "I want to be a superhero again."
It took a moment for Hardison to understand, if he even did at all. Maybe he didn't, maybe he was just confused on why she said that and only just accepted that she said strange things. But he smiled at her in this way that made her stomach warm and her heart clench. A real, genuine, happy smile that filled her up and made her feel a little less scared.
"Girl, you've always been a superhero to me."
It was such a simple statement and yet it felt… perfect. It made her smile, it made her feel amazing. Like her world just became a techno-colored rainbow with sprinkles and candy canes. And Sophie was right… taking a leap of faith felt exactly like jumping off a building.
It also felt a lot like falling in love.