I don't own Leverage. Bit of a shorter chapter this time, but hopefully more soon. Been so busy lately I've barely seen my laptop. Thank you to everyone who reads and reviews! See you soon, vivi749. :)

"No. No no no. You can't go in there alone, Sophie. Hell, I'm not sure that I should even have let you drive today. You aren't yourself." Eliot's voice was firm. Part of what the service had taught him was that a strong commanding tone of voice could mean the difference between orders being obeyed or not. Normally he'd balk at the idea of him giving orders to Soph, but his job was to keep his team safe. All of them had agreed that in matters of safety, Eliot's word was law. Even Nate had accepted it now.

"I have to, Eliot. Nate might be in there. But he only invites women, and only one at a time. You're just going to have to trust me to do this." Sophie tossed two shirts on the bed, trying to decide which to wear for the con. The old wisdom was true: first impressions were everything.

"We don't know Soph. We don't know whether Nate's there, we don't know if he hurts these women, there are just too many unknowns in the scenario. You need me there to watch your back." Eliot's tone softened. "I want him back too. I know there's this voice in your head just screaming at you to find him, and to hell with what it takes. But what good will it do to get him back if we lose you in the process? We both know he'd destroy himself if you died for him."

Sophie brushed both of the shirts away angrily, then turned and dropped onto the end of the bed, dragging a hand through her hair. It occurred to her that it would need to be dyed again soon. The day she found the first faint grey streaks she'd called Tara, left a note for the team, and then flown to a remote island in South America. She'd spent a week there, resolutely ignoring the world. Tara had provided her a willing distraction, didn't ask why she'd had to run away. When she finally told her on the sixth day there, her friend had burst out laughing, then apologised profusely when she realised how seriously Sophie was taking the whole deal.

The problem, of course, was that Sophie had never expected to get old. She'd never expected to live long enough to even worry about it; the life she led was dangerous, and she'd figured that she would die long before it ever became an issue. Still, it terrified her.

She'd gotten over it for the most part, but every now and then she'd see a tinge of grey or find a new line in her face, (courtesy of Nate, mostly) and the fear would hit her again.

After a few minutes of silence, Eliot came over and sat down beside her, nudging her shoulder gently. "You still here?" he asked softly.

Sophie shrugged, her eyes not moving, not seeing what was in front of her. "I'll pay the price. Whatever I have to, to get him out. I… I don't want to die, Eliot. I love this crazy life that I have with you and Nate and Parker and Hardison. This is the only family I've ever had. But I'd give it all away to keep him safe. It's not like my soul is in jeopardy anyway, now. It's already too damaged to turn back."

Eliot frowned. "Thought you didn't believe in God?"

Sophie tilted her head slightly. "I don't. But look around at the world, at everything, and tell me what you see."

Eliot grimaced. "You don't wanna see the world through my eyes Soph." She just waited, those dark eyes now focused solely on his. With another twist of his mouth, he finally replied "I see blood. I see danger and suffering."

She nodded. "And then when you're with us? When we're all safe?"

He furrowed his brow. "Well, then I see good, I guess. I mean, in a 'Parker get out of my kitchen before I skewer you' kind of way."

Sophie moved her eyes away. "Balance. All of life is about a search for balance. When you find it, find the right mix of things that you need, it feels good. There's even a word for it: homeostasis. It doesn't just apply to people though. It applies to everything, all of nature. Remember that movie Hardison brought home that you didn't want to watch, citing 'too cartoony', and then we were all mesmerised? God, what was that called?" She shook her head, trying to concentrate.

"Wind… Valley of the wind, something like that," Eliot mused.

Sophie nodded. "Remember how all the people thought that the toxic jungle was trying to kill them, but it was really filtering out the poisons left after a nuclear war? How it was the world actually working at fixing itself? Well the entire world, universe, whatever, it's all like that. It constantly recycles things, uses them as building blocks for the future. And I figure it's the same thing with souls, or personalities. When we die, when we're finished with them, they get taken in, repaired, and sent back. But every so often there are things that just aren't worth recycling, things it would take too much work to repair."

"And you think you're one of those?" asked Eliot softly.

She stared at the floor. "Those weren't the first people I've killed. Or tortured." She didn't stumble at all at that admission, said it softly and calmly. "I'm not a good person, Eliot. I know you all think I'm safe, stable, gentle. I'm not. Just like you aren't a declawed house cat, no matter how careful you are with all of us. You're a lion."

"Well I have the hair for it," he joked, hoping for a smile. She shrugged again and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Please don't do this without me?" he begged softly. "Let me in."

Sophie had done many difficult things in her life, but the tiny nod she gave then was by far the hardest of them all. Trusting Nate's life to someone other than herself.

Eliot felt her assent and let out a sigh of relief, a "Thank holy fuck" coming out of his mouth before he could stop it. He did get a slight laugh at that, and then Sophie pulled him down beside her.

Later, as he lay there with her in his arms, he said softly, "You're wrong. I've seen your soul. I can say, with certainty, that it's in good condition. Bit beat up, sure, but nowhere near as bad as you think. And when we get Nate out, I'm gonna show you until you see it too."

"When," she repeated softly. "Not if." It wasn't a question.

He shook his head. "No if's." He drifted to sleep to the sound of her breathing.

Nathan Ford tensed instinctively at the sound of the door opening. They hadn't taken off the blindfold since he was brought here; his hearing seemed twice as acute now. He'd filed away all the sounds since he got here. One of the guards had a limp, right foot, Nate could hear the uneven gait. Another had a lung condition, asthma or the equivalent, always breathed through his mouth and often wheezed or coughed. Part of his brain mocked him about logging such useless details, but he ignored it. It was better than concentrating on what they were doing to him.

"Well Mr. Ford, shall we continue our conversation then?" The sound of a wheelchair gliding across the floor was loud in the silence.

Nate was shaking before they ever touched him.

Hardison opened his eyes to a strange sensation. He'd fallen asleep in the chair again, which he could tell by the momentous kink in his neck. As he lifted his head his neck muscles protested strongly. He ignored them.

Parker was in his lap. Her IV tube was stretched across the bed, wrapped around God knew what, her hand and most of the rest of her hidden inside the flannel blanket she was wrapped up in. Only her blonde hair stuck out of the top of the blanket.

Hardison felt his heart skip. Slowly, he brought a hand up to her shoulder. "Parker?" he asked softly. She responded by snuggling closer. He broke into a grin. "Babe? You there?"

After a couple of seconds she raised her head, looked at him, then nodded. "I might have to go away again though," she said. "If it… gets too bad. But I'll come back." Her blue eyes were earnest, begging him to believe her.

"S'Okay, mama, I'll be waiting. I'll always wait, long as you want," he promised. "I… I love you," he said in a rush. His heart decided to act like he was running a marathon.

Parker smiled slightly. "Sophie owes Eliot ten dollars. She said it would take you longer. I love you too Alec, even if you do make stupid robots with my name." She was giving him a weird look. "Why are you grinning like that? You look like that pumpkin we carved last Halloween."

Hardison firmly reminded himself that tears of joy were not manly, even if they were appropriate. "I can't stop," he replied.

Parker put her head back down on his shoulder. After about fifteen seconds of silence she asked quietly "Nate?"

Hardison's smile flickered and died.