I don't own Leverage. I borrowed two sets of quotes for this one. The one is from the movie Serenity, the other is from the episode of Star Trek: Voyager entitled 'Imperfection'. Written for Leverage_Bingo over at .

The first time she disappeared from the hospital they found her at her own place, curled up around Bunny. She still had tape on her hand from the IV site; dried blood was visible from where she'd pulled it out. She'd pulled on two sweaters over the hospital gown she'd been in when they'd last seen her.

Hardison had been frantic when they'd gotten the call from the hospital saying she was missing. She hadn't spoken in four days even though she'd open her eyes and look around. Sophie had been the one to suggest that the first place they look was Parker's warehouse. She told them that in times of stress, a person often went to a place that felt safe to them, and that the security of her warehouse would be something that would appeal to Parker.

Parker didn't respond when they shook her and called her name when they got there. Eliot picked her up and put her in the back of the van. They returned her to the hospital.

The second time she disappeared Hardison didn't even get the call from the hospital; Nate phoned him and said only "Parker's on my couch. Come to my place." When Hardison got there Eliot was just getting out of his Challenger. Sophie's car was still parked where it had been when Hardison had left that day. By the thin layer of snow on it he could tell she hadn't left.

"Man, this hospital thing isn't working," Eliot said as he preceded Hardison up the steps, disdaining to wait for an elevator just to save himself the trouble walking up two small flights of stairs.

"Yeah, but what else can we do, Eliot? She won't eat. She won't talk. Hell, if breathing was optional she probably wouldn't even do that." Hardison's voice was a mixture of frustration and pain. Seeing Parker like this was like being tortured.

"Let's see how she is." They entered the apartment without bothering to knock. Sophie was currently sitting on the floor beside the couch, one hand stroking Parker's hair. She looked up at them when she heard the door open but didn't say anything. She was wearing one of Nate's shirts, and from the look of it, not a hell of a lot else. Any other time the guys would likely have ribbed her about this, but this was anything but an ordinary situation.

"When did you find her?" Eliot asked, crouching down and looking into Parker's eyes. They stared ahead, uncomprehending.

"About half an hour ago. I was... upstairs, with Nate," she said, and Hardison saw a sight he never thought he'd see: Sophie was blushing. "I was thirsty, so I came downstairs to get a drink and I noticed that there was a blanket sticking out from the couch. It wasn't there when we went upstairs. I came over and found her like this."

Eliot used the penlight on his keychain and checked Parker's pupils. They were equal and reacting, but sluggishly. She moved her head back a bit from the light but otherwise didn't respond.

"We should take her back to the hospital," said Hardison. "I'll stay there and watch her so she doesn't leave again."

"What about tomorrow?" Sophie said. "I know she isn't exactly... cognizant, but she'd want to be there."

"Sophie, I doubt she'll even remember if we take her," said Eliot.

"That isn't the point Eliot. Someday she'll want to know that she was there, even if she can't understand it right now. He was like a father to her."

"I don't know..." Hardison started to protest, but Nate cut him off from over at the table where he'd been sitting since they arrived.

"She deserves to be there guys. Sophie's right. She might not remember, or it might not matter now, but someday she'll be glad she was there. God knows I don't remember much of Sam's funeral, but I wouldn't have missed it if I had two broken legs." He got up and came over to the couch. "Hardison, why don't you call the hospital and ask them if she'll be stable for the next 24 hours. Tell them we'll bring her back tomorrow evening."

Hardison nodded. They'd all been a bit shocked when they'd found out that Parker had a will that listed Hardison as her emergency contact. In retrospect, it made sense that she'd have a will made out; she was the epitome of preparedness. It was the fact that Hardison had been listed that was a bit surprising.

Hardison made the phone call and spoke with the nurse in charge of the floor where Parker had been. She said she'd check with the doctor to make sure that it was okay, and then call him back. She also cautioned him that in her current state of shock Parker needed to be monitored; she would get up and use the washroom on her own but may not remember that she should turn on both cold and hot water to wash her hands with instead of just hot. She also cautioned that Parker may turn on a stove or try to perform normal tasks and then abruptly forget what she was doing and wander away. The nurses on the floor had often entered the room to find her pushing buttons on her IV pump. They'd also caught her pulling on the window. Thankfully the IV pump had locks on it, and the windows didn't actually open.

Hardison relayed the information to the others and then settled into the armchair closest to Parker. The nurse had told him to watch her and that was exactly what he'd do, no matter how long it took.

"We'll take shifts. Hardison can watch her for a while and then I'll take over," said Eliot. "Sophie, you should get some sleep. You look wrecked." She'd been with Parker most of the last three days, barely sleeping, only eating when they pestered her so much that she couldn't ignore it anymore.

"I'm fine," she said stubbornly. "I'm staying right here."

Eliot met Nate's eyes. Though he didn't say a word, apparently the other man got his message. Eliot thought he'd try to reason with Sophie, but instead he did something that Eliot would never have dreamed of: he walked over and picked Sophie up like a sack of potatoes. And okay, yeah she definitely had underwear on beneath that shirt. If you could call that scrap of lace 'underwear'.

"Put me down Nate! Now!" she yelled, but he ignored her protests. She thumped him as well as she could considering the position she was in but it did no good; he just continued walking toward and then up the stairs. Eliot could still hear her yelling at him when the door closed upstairs, something about how Nate had better never let her catch him asleep again or God help him, with a few insults about his character and his family history thrown in for good measure. Eliot couldn't help it; he grinned. Hardison caught him at it and for a second he thought the other guy was going to come up with a snarky comment but instead he actually smiled a little bit himself. Eliot went to Nate's storage closet and pulled out the stowaway cot and stretched out on it, setting his wrist watch to alarm in two hours. Odds were he wouldn't actually sleep that long but it didn't hurt to be sure.

"You had no right to do that." Sophie's anger had transformed. Whereas before it had been all hot rage, now her voice was like ice. She glared at Nate. "Just because we're... whatever the hell we are, that doesn't mean you can manhandle me like that."

He sighed. "Soph, if you would just admit you need sleep and food and all the other things that normal women do, then I wouldn't have had to. But we both know that despite those semi-permanent black circles under your eyes, you would have sat there all night. Maybe it's pride, maybe it's just pure stubbornness, I don't know. But I know that if you won't take care of yourself then I'll damn well do it for you."

"I'm fine." He could have chipped the ice in her voice and used it to cool a bottle of wine.

"Exactly my point. You actually believe that. You think you're okay. But you aren't. Just like I thought I was fine, that I wasn't an alcoholic. I was wrong, and so are you."

She sat down on the bed with her back to him. When he reached out to touch her shoulder she shrugged it off. "Piss off Nate. Just leave me the hell alone."

He swallowed. Great. He knew that tone. She was trying her best not to cry. He knew it was a losing battle; he'd had arguments like this a lot of times with Maggie.

"I'm sorry if what I did hurt or embarrassed you Soph. I'll apologize tomorrow in front of them all if it helps. But I can't apologize for wanting to take care of you." He stretched out on the bed next to her, not bothering to undress. Lord only knew if he'd need to get back up again tonight.

She was still sitting like that when his eyes slid closed. He tried to stay awake, but there was just no way. After everything that had happened in the last few days, he was almost as wrecked as she was.

When Eliot's wristwatch went off, he turned over and sat up, rubbing at his face and thinking idly that he needed a shave. Hardison was still sitting where he had been two hours before. His eyelids were drooping a bit, but he was still awake. Eliot's respect for him increased on the spot. He'd known lots of military operators that had needed years to master the skill of staying awake while on a boring watch. But this kid of twenty four had done it just for a girl he cared about.

Eliot walked over and put a hand on his shoulder. "Go get some rest, man. I got this for a while." He gave Hardison's shoulder a bit of a shove. Hardison looked like he might argue but then nodded. He'd be no good to Parker if he passed out while watching her.

Nate groaned a bit when the bedside alarm clock went off at 7 am. He sat up and stared blearily at the wall across from him. He felt like he'd been run over by a truck. Or maybe a train.

Sophie was curled up on her side, snoring softly. He noted the tear tracks on her face. They made his heart clench a bit. He hated that he'd had to do what he'd done last night but inside he knew it had been the right thing.

As quietly as possible he slid out of the bed and grabbed a sweat suit. He'd shower and change later before the funeral.

When he got downstairs he saw Eliot picking through the fridge, muttering something about no one else knowing how to pick out fresh produce. Hardison was passed out on the cot over in the far corner of the room.

"Any change?" The question was routine, automatic. Nate knew what the answer would be before Eliot spoke, but he needed to ask.

"No." Eliot's reply was soft. "But she closed her eyes for a while. I couldn't tell if she was actually asleep but she seemed to be resting."

Nate nodded and grabbed a cup of coffee. He sat down at the table with his laptop and began checking the news.

Eliot knocked softly on the door to Nate's bedroom. When he didn't get an answer, he transferred the tray in his arms to the other hand and opened the door. Sophie was still asleep. He was torn between waking her up so she could eat and just letting her sleep. Deciding food was more important, he set the tray down on a nearby table and shook her gently, calling her name. She made a sound that he would have said was a whimper from anyone else. He shook her again, and her hand came up in a flash, grabbing his wrist and pushing him away. When her eyes opened for a second Eliot saw someone he didn't know. Someone who was waiting to be hurt, expecting it, and ready to fight tooth and nail to stop it from happening.

"Sophie, hey, it's just me, it's Eliot. I'm not gonna hurt ya darlin'." He backed up a bit. Suddenly her eyes cleared and she blinked a few times.

"Eliot," she said, her voice still foggy from sleep. "Sorry. Bad dream." She looked away from his eyes.

"I brought you some breakfast." He indicated the tray. She nodded and got up and sat at the table. She ate mechanically, fuelling up but not really tasting it. Even though she was dealing with it better, she was as haunted by the events of four days ago as Parker was. She kept seeing the gun, seeing it pointed at Parker's head, and then... She shook her head and shut her eyes as tightly as she could, trying to send the tears back to wherever they'd come from.

Eliot watched her from three feet away. He knew that look, that gesture. He'd done it himself enough times to know; she was fighting against her memories. Unfortunately, it was a battle she couldn't win. He walked over and wrapped his arms around her from behind. She clung to his arms, leaning her head against them, just trying to control her breathing. "It won't go away, but it'll get easier Sophie. Trust me. It gets easier. Eventually the new memories overlay the old ones so that they can't come through as easily."

She tried to say something, but could barely get the words to come out past the lump in her throat. "He saved our lives Eliot. Just... just died for us."

"I know. And none of us will ever forget that sacrifice." He hesitated for a minute, and then turned around, lifting his shirt off. He was covered in scars, testament to a thousand fights and who knew how many other bad experiences. But right across his shoulders, in simple yet elegant block letters, were the words NEVER FORGET. Beside it were names and dates, nine of them. Some had faded a bit but they still showed. And right at the bottom of the list, still fresh enough to look red around the edges, were the words Archie Leach, and the date four days ago.

She traced the words on his back as the tears ran down her face. When she took her fingers away, he shrugged back into his shirt and turned back around to face her. "Eat your food, okay?"

She nodded. "Okay." As he went to leave, she called his name. He turned around. "Thank you," she said softly. He put his fingers up as if tipping the brim of a non-existent hat, and in a southern drawl that had taken him years to get rid of, said "All part of the service, ma'am."

When Sophie came down the stairs, she automatically looked over at the couch. Parker was sitting up, staring at the TV in front of her. Hardison and Eliot were nowhere to be seen. Whether Parker was actually seeing the TV was subject to debate, but her eyes did appear to move as if following the characters. At the moment, cartoons were playing. Road Runner and Wily Coyote. Sophie walked over and sat down at the table. Nate was there, doing something with his laptop. She picked up his coffee cup and took a sip, wincing at the taste of the whiskey.

He pointed at the laptop. "I'm going over the camera logs outside the building. See if I can find any clues about who they were and where they were going. From what I can tell, there are only three. All tall, dark hair, tanned skin. I'd be tempted to say South American from their accents.

Sophie reached over and closed the laptop. "Not today Nate. No work." She paused and then said "Go have your shower and get dressed. It's almost 9:30. The funeral's at 12:00." She gave him a push. Strangely, he didn't argue, just nodded and went up the stairs. When he came back down twenty minutes later, clean shaven and wearing a black suit, she felt a flutter somewhere in her midsection. It was just unfair that he got to look that good with so little work.

She walked over to the couch and took Parker's hand, tugging lightly. The girl stood up without looking at her. However, when Sophie got her to the stairs, she wouldn't step up. Sophie even tried putting her foot on the bottom step, thinking that would indicate to her that she should climb them. Parker just stood there. Nate looked over and saw what was going on. He set down his coffee cup with a sigh. Walking over to them, he put his arms around Parker and picked her up. He showed no signs of strain at doing so. Sophie wasn't surprised; though he may not look like it, he had the type of lean muscles that could take hours of strain. Nate carried Parker up the stairs and sat her down on the edge of his bed.

"I take it you're putting her in a shower before you get her dressed?" He looked over at Sophie.

"Well I was, but... How will I get her in there and then back out, Nate? She wouldn't even step up for the stairs, I doubt she's going to step into a bathtub."

"Get her undressed and wrap her in a bathrobe. Then I'll carry her in and set her in the tub and you can take it from there. When you're finished I'll come and lift her back out for you." Sophie was giving him this weird look, like she was wondering how he knew to do this, but she didn't ask. "I'll go warm up the shower," he said.

After Parker was undressed and she'd put one of her clean robes around her, she called Nate's name softly. He carried the girl into the bathroom and set her down in the tub, making sure she had good footing before he let go. "Call me when you're done, Soph." He touched her shoulder briefly in passing. That had been happening more lately; little touches that neither of them really noticed they were doing but that indicated the growing closeness of their relationship. Sophie sighed and set about bathing Parker. The girl had no reaction at all to her ministrations; she might as well have not even been in the room. The only thing Parker did react to was when Sophie washed her hair. When the water ran onto her head she squeezed her eyes shut. But she opened them again the instant the water was no longer on her head.

When she'd finished getting her washed, Sophie dried Parker and then put her back into the clean bathrobe. She called out to Nate and he came back in. He took Parker back out and set her down in front of what had been his computer desk. Sophie had pretty much taken it over as a makeup and hair station. Several types of cosmetics were scattered across the desk as well as a bunch of hair clips.

"Go have your shower, Soph." Nate grabbed the hair dryer from the bathroom. "I'll comb and dry her hair while you're in there."

She nodded and retreated to the bathroom. She turned the water up as hot as she could stand it, and just stood there for a bit letting it pour down on her head. She wished it could wash away the memories of the past four days.

When Sophie came back out of the shower, Nate swallowed reflexively. She hadn't bothered to get dressed in there; she'd told him once that it was a hell of a lot easier to get dressed if your clothes didn't stick to you because the whole room was filled with steam. He tried not to let his eyes wander too much when she started getting dressed, but he really couldn't help it. She was so damned beautiful.

"Nate put your eyes back in their sockets where they belong." She smiled, but even that had pain around the edges.

"Sorry. Can't help myself." He turned back to Parker and ran the comb through her hair one more time. "I didn't know whether to put her hair up or not Soph, so I left it. I'm going to go back downstairs. Call me when she's dressed and I'll carry her back down." He stood up, and before he left he gave Parker's hand a squeeze. He thought that just maybe she might have squeezed back, but it could just have been wishful thinking.

By 11:00 Hardison and Eliot had returned, both wearing suits and looking as formal as Nate had ever seen them. Parker was once again seated on the couch, this time with a dress on. Sophie was sitting beside her.

"We ready, man?" Hardison directed the question at Nate.

Nate nodded and then gently pulled Parker up off the couch. "Come on, Parker," he said softly, "Let's go say goodbye okay?"

It was a closed casket of course; the bullet meant for Parker had gone right through Archie's head. No funeral home in the world would have been capable of making that presentable. There was a picture of him on top of the casket: grinning and holding up an (inevitably stolen) statue. There weren't many people there, and the five members of the team stayed close together, taking solace in each other. Parker still didn't speak, but her eyes did seem to be moving faster than they had earlier. Some of the fogginess was gone from her gaze.

They returned her to the hospital that night. This time when they got there the nurses suggested a locked ward, one that required a code to get out of. Eliot protested vehemently, but in the end the decision was Hardison's. It took him almost ten minutes of pacing up and down the hallway before he came back and said "No. I won't put her in a cage." The nurse sighed but said she'd communicate his wishes to the doctor.

The third time she disappeared was during the only two minutes when Hardison left her alone. He went to the bathroom and when he came back out she was just gone. He ran out into the hallway, hoping to see her still leaving, but there was no sign of her. He nearly ran over one of the other patients on his way to the nursing station. They called a "Code Yellow" which stood for a missing patient. But they didn't find her. They even checked with security at all the entrances to the hospital; no one matching Parker's description had gone through any of them.

Hardison texted Nate and then Eliot. He'd have texted Sophie but he knew she was at Nate's place with him. Both Nate and Eliot answered almost immediately. Nate said he'd leave Sophie at his place in case Parker went there. He'd go to Parker's place and wait to see if she showed up. Eliot said he'd do a sweep of all the streets leading away from the hospital to see if he could spot her.

By the time an hour had gone by, Hardison was frantic. Eliot had picked him up from the hospital and taken Hardison with him. And then it started to snow. And freezing rain. Eliot could barely keep his car on the road. Neither of the guys could see more than ten feet in front of them.

At one point, visibility dropped to zero and Eliot pulled the car over to wait it out. Hardison took off his seatbelt and dropped his head into his hands. He was trying extremely hard not to just break down and cry but it was becoming a losing battle. She was gone. He loved her, and she was gone.

"We'll find her." Eliot's voice was soft, but there was a world of conviction in it. Hardison nodded but didn't lift his head out of his hands. "Your place is right around the corner from here. Why don't we stop there and get some coffee and then we'll go back out?" Without waiting for an answer, he steered the car back onto the road and in five minutes they were in the underground parking lot at Hardison's apartment.

When he went to open the door to the apartment, Hardison noticed a scratch on the doorplate that hadn't been there before. Daring to hope just a bit, he quickly unlocked the door and pushed it open. And there was Parker. She still had some snowflakes melting in her hair. She was sitting in front of his desktop pc, watching, of all things, Star Trek Voyager.

Hardison rushed over and gathered her into a hug. She squirmed away from him, as if thinking he was going to hold her down. Eliot grabbed his phone and texted Nate and Sophie that it was okay, that they'd found her and she appeared to be fine.

"Girl, you scared the hell outta me," said Hardison. She looked at him for a second before turning back to the computer. She pushed play and then rested a finger on the screen, and then looked back at Hardison. For a second he wasn't sure what the gesture meant. Then he realised: she wanted him to watch something. She skipped the first parts of the episode and then stopped when the scene appeared that she was looking for.


Icheb: "Doctor? Computer, locate the Doctor."

Computer: "The EMH is offline."

Icheb: "Activate the EMH."

The Doctor: "...have to sedate you!"

Icheb: "Doctor?"

The Doctor: "I'm sorry Icheb, I wasn't talking to you."

Icheb: "Where's Seven?"

The Doctor: "I wish I knew. When I refused to release her, she overrode my autonomy protocols. In the middle of a sentence, no less."

Icheb: "Computer, locate Seven of Nine."

Computer: "Seven of Nine is in Sickbay." Both of them see her comm. sitting on the biobed at the same time.


Be'Lanna: "He's looking for you. The Doctor. I ran into him in the corridor. He's about thirty seconds away from calling a ship wide alert."

Seven: "Are you going to tell him where I am?"

Be'Lanna: "Nope. I know what it's like to be stuck in sickbay. I've escaped the Doctor myself once or twice."

Seven: "Thank you."

Be'Lanna: "Anytime."

Several minutes later:

The Doctor: "There you are! I should have known she'd be the one to harbour a fugitive."

Be'Lanna: "We... difficult patients, need to stick together."

Parker paused the playback and looked up. Hardison sat there and considered it for a second. "You're saying the hospital isn't the right place for you. That you can't or won't heal there." Parker didn't say anything, but her eyes dipped for a fraction of a second. Considering how little she'd reacted to anything in the past four days, that was like a shout of acclamation.

"Okay," he said softly. "You can stay here or you can go back to Nate's. We need to stay with you, and you have to eat. I'll put the food in front of you, but you gotta promise you'll eat it." Her eyes dipped again. He held up his hands in front of him. "My place." He moved his right hand. "Nate's." He moved his left. Her eyes were still for a second, and then focused on his left hand. "Eliot, can you take us there?" Hardison looked over.

"Yeah. Get some stuff together in case you need to stay there for a bit. Parker, come sit down." She was drifting again, her eyes blank. Hardison took her hand and led her over and sat her on the couch. In ten minutes he had a suitcase packed and they were on their way.

"Thank God." Sophie stood up and walked over when they entered the apartment, Hardison first and then Parker after him, Eliot bringing up the rear. Sophie pulled Parker into a hug. The girl didn't hug her back, but her eyes shifted to follow Sophie when she moved.

"She's gonna stay here for a while Nate." The mastermind was sitting at the island in the kitchen. "That okay with you?" Hardison looked at him.

"She can stay here as long as she wants to." His voice was soft, but his eyes were focused, never leaving Parker's form.

Hardison walked over to the fridge and got a glass of milk. He guided Parker over to the sofa and then handed it to her, making sure of her grip on it before he let go. She chugged it.

"Whoa! Slow down, Parker! You'll make yourself sick like that!" said Eliot. "You haven't eaten anything in four days, you hafta start slow. Hardison, only give her small portions of stuff. I'm going to make some soup, it'll be better on her stomach."

Hardison nodded, feeling a little guilty for not thinking of that. Sophie must have seen it on his face because she said "It's okay Hardison. I would probably have done the same thing. We'll just have to learn as we go along." She patted his shoulder and then went over to the kitchen to help Eliot. Alone she couldn't cook much, but she did okay with Eliot there to guide her.

There was relief in all of their faces when Parker got up by herself and went to the cupboard. She got out her favourite bowl, the one no one else would take because they knew it was her favourite, and put it beside Eliot. He gave her a quick hug as she passed by him. She went and sat down at the table.

After all of them had eaten (none of them could turn down the soup once they smelled it) Sophie declared that it was movie night. The guys let out a collective groan; usually this meant suffering through either a musical or a Disney movie. Eliot grudgingly made popcorn, dishing out a separate, smaller portion for Parker. He did however, add some M&Ms to hers, since she'd told him once that it was one of her favourite food combos.

All three of the guys were shocked when the movie started playing. It was Serenity. One of the few movies set in space that Eliot would ever admit that he liked. All of them liked it actually, but none of them had known that they all enjoyed it. Except Sophie.

Sophie cried into Nate's shoulder when Shepherd Book died. "Can't order me around, boy. I'm not one of your crew," he said, using one of his last breaths to make a joke. "Yes you are," replied Malcolm. Hell, even Hardison teared up a bit at that. Come to think of it, Nate was blinking a bit too rapidly as well.

When the movie ended, they each said goodnight. Eliot left for his place, and Hardison dragged the cot over closer to where Parker was already sleeping on the couch. Nate and Sophie disappeared up the stairs, but not before telling Hardison that if he needed them, he was to wake them up no matter what it was for. He settled onto the cot. Just as he was drifting off to sleep, he felt Parker's fingers curl around his.

"I'd offer to sleep on the couch but it's taken," said Nate. He knew that despite today, Sophie was still pissed at him for last night. "I guess I could take the floor."

"Don't be ridiculous, Nate." She slid between the sheets. He watched her for a second, and then crawled in beside her.

"I'm sorry. I seem to say that a lot, huh?" He glanced over at her and then away.

She sighed. "Yeah, you do. But..." She stopped. He almost asked 'but what?' but at the last second something stopped him. "Maybe this time you were right. Although you didn't have to show off my ass to Eliot and Hardison."

"Yeah. I'm..." He clenched his teeth to stop the word 'sorry' from escaping again. "Tell me what to do to make it up to you Soph, and I'll do it."

"Oh really. Anything?" She raised an eyebrow.

Nate swallowed hard, and then nodded. "Anything."

"Would you dye your hair purple?" She looked at him with amusement in her eyes. He hadn't seen that look since before it all went wrong with Archie.

"Yep. Though I'd probably go to jail for kicking the crap out of the first person that made fun of me."

"Well, it's not like I haven't had to visit with you through prison glass before." She tilted her head.

"Hmm. At least prisoners are allowed conjugal visits," he said, sweeping his gaze down her body and back up again.

"I really should be able to stay mad at you for longer than this," she said, and then closed her eyes as their lips met.

"I'm glad you can't," he whispered.

When Hardison woke up the next day, he was a bit confused. First, he was definitely not in his own bed, because it was way more comfortable than this. Second, there was this weight pressing down on him. It was light, but it was there. Third, something was tickling his nose.

He opened his eyes, and they widened in shock when he realised that Parker was sleeping on top of him. Her hair was sticking up; that was what had been bugging his nose. He raised a hand as gently as possible to move her hair a bit. She stirred as soon as he moved. He felt his body trying to react to her presence and sternly told it that she was ill and there was no way he'd take advantage of her in this condition. His body ignored him and responded anyway.

"Want a coffee?" The question was asked in a whisper. Sophie was standing behind him and to his right.

"Naw. I'm fine," he whispered back. She nodded and went back to the morning paper at the table. She made no comment about the fact that Parker was sleeping on top of him, didn't even bat an eye. Women.

It was almost another week before Parker spoke again for the first time. Sophie had cautioned them not to try to force Parker to talk; she said that the thief would talk when she was ready, and trying to coerce her into it could make her withdraw even further.

Sophie was sitting at the island in the kitchen, working on a Sudoku, when she heard "That one's wrong." She jumped a bit, not having heard Parker come up behind her. She twisted around to look at the thief, doing her best not to look shocked.

In her calmest tone of voice, she asked "Which one?"

Parker pointed at one of the columns. She'd accidently filled in a seven even though there was already one there. "Crap," she muttered, and started erasing. Thankfully she always did these in pencil.

"Stop." Parker's hand overlaid her own and stilled the eraser. "It's okay up until this part. Just erase this one and that one."

Sophie looked at her for a second, puzzled. "How...? Never mind," she said, erasing the two squares as instructed. When she finished the puzzle about five minutes later she found out that Parker had been right. "Thanks," she said, looking over. Parker shrugged a bit but didn't answer. That distant look was back in her eyes. She'd asked a friend who was also a psychiatrist about Parker's behaviour. Her friend had told her that it was Parker's way of protecting herself from the pain. It wasn't that she didn't remember; the times where she went blank were the times when she was taking a break from the pain by not thinking at all. Actually, Sophie thought it had sounded a good bit like meditation, letting everything drift away and just being.

Nate chose that time to walk in, shaking snow off his head. He peeled off his coat and gloves and then walked over to where the girls were. "Hey," he said, touching Parker briefly on the shoulder as he walked past and then kissing Sophie on the cheek.

"Nate, you're freezing!" He grinned and wrapped his arms around her. Some of the snow was still sticking to his hair and she squealed and jumped when it fell down the back of her neck. "Hey, get off!"

He nuzzled her neck and then whispered in her ear "That's what I was thinking about too. Come on. Warm me up."

She looked at him in disbelief for a second or two. They'd had sex twice last night and then again this morning in the shower. The man was insatiable. She shook her head slightly and then subtly indicated Parker with her eyes. The girl was doing better but they still didn't want to leave her alone. Nate, seeing the look in her eyes, sighed and took the other seat at the island.

Parker wandered back over to the couch and picked up the TV remote, turning it on and then flipping through the channels. She must not have seen anything that interested her, because she turned it back off a short while later. Sophie could hear her bored sigh even from where she was sitting at the island.

"How's she been?" Nate said softly.

"She spoke briefly." Sophie looked into his eyes, letting him see the happiness at that development. She'd really missed her friend's voice; her quirky comments and her constant questions, most beginning with 'why'.

Nate smiled at her. "Good."

At that point, Eliot and Hardison walked in the door, arguing about something. Hardison had been spending almost all of his time here with Parker and Eliot had decreed this morning that Hardison was leaving the apartment for a while even if he had to tie him up and drag him. Hardison had finally agreed (though with very little grace) and they'd headed out.

Hardison dropped his end of the argument and walked over to the couch, sitting down beside Parker and hugging her. "Hey, mama" he said softly.

"Hey Alec." Eliot's head whipped around when he heard Parker speak. He was about to start firing questions at her but stopped when he caught sight of Sophie glaring at him and gesturing for him to come over there.

"What?" he said. "When did that happen?"

"A very short time ago," she said. "Don't you dare make a big deal out of it. It could drive her back into her shock. Let them be for a bit." Eliot nodded. "Nate, you said you had something you needed to show me on your laptop. Why don't we take it upstairs so we don't disturb them?" she suggested.

"What? What are you... Oh. Oh yeah, right. That thing." Nate almost tripped over himself going over to grab the computer off the table. Eliot met Sophie's eyes and gave his a roll. Jeez, for a smart man sometimes the guy was inexcusably thick. She just shrugged, a bit guiltily, and gave a grin.

"Do me a favour and keep them downstairs, okay?" Lord knew she didn't need a repeat of Parker walking in on them. It had already happened. Twice.

Eliot just nodded and grinned back at her.