The planned attack and subsequent rescue of the Italian ambassador went off without a hitch. He was grateful beyond all measure, and even happier when he found out that it was someone of his own country that had saved him. He made the offer of a job as his bodyguard right on cue. The Italian (Maria, she'd finally told Nate) accepted but told him that she had some things that she had to finish as part of her old job.

"Be careful." Nate was sitting in his car with Sophie. He was trying to conceal exactly how worried he was about her going into this place, and he didn't think it was working.

"I'll be okay, Nate." There was a faint tremor in her voice.

She was terrified. Terrified that they'd kill her, or even worse, that they wouldn't, and she'd end up right back where she'd started this mess. Drugged, unable to tell reality from fantasy. There were still times that either she or Nate woke up in the middle of the night and had to wake the other and ask where they were, if this was all a dream. Eliot had been mostly okay since his bruises healed; he'd told them that it wasn't even the worst torture he'd ever experienced. And Parker was fine except that she was closer to Hardison than ever.

"I know you'll be okay. You always are," he said softly. After a second he said, "It's time."

Sophie nodded, and pulled him down into a kiss. "I love you," she said.

He nodded. "I love you, too."

He watched until she was out of sight before he drove away.

The plan to steal the CIA files went fine, except that Sophie's com went dead about twenty minutes into the con, and Eliot had to hold Nate down so that he wouldn't rush in there in some sort of suicidal attempt to rescue her. When her com came back on almost a half hour later, Nate was frantic. Eliot hadn't had any other choice but to tie him up, so at the moment he was tied up rather awkwardly and glaring at Eliot from the floor. Glaring because of the duct tape over his mouth; Eliot had been worried that Nate's shouting was going to attract attention.

"Nate, we're out," said Sophie, and then "Nate?"

"He's… indisposed, Sophie" said Hardison, trying not to grin.

"Oh. Well, I'm on my way back to the safe house."

"Okay, we'll see you there." Hardison climbed into the front seat and started the van.

When they got back to the safe house Nate was still tied up, mostly because Eliot thought the older man might take a swing at him and he wanted room to move if it happened. The look in Nate's eyes was pure murder, and it didn't help when Sophie opened the door of the van and then started giggling madly.

"Eliot, *hic* I think you'd better *hic* let me untie him," she said.

"Fine by me," Eliot said, and vacated the area.

"What happened?" Sophie asked. She pulled the tape off Nate's mouth as gently as she could. She'd warned him he should shave this morning.

She waited for him to answer, but he wouldn't even meet her eyes. After a second, she cut the ropes around him, and after sitting up and rotating his shoulders a couple of times, he simply climbed out of the van and walked away. Sophie stared after him in a mixture of hurt and confusion. She looked at Hardison.

"What the hell?" she asked.

Hardison explained about how Nate had freaked because they hadn't been able to hear her. "I think he just started to panic. I told him it could just be that they had a damper there to keep anyone from transmitting, but he wouldn't listen."

She sighed. "Me laughing probably didn't help. Men and their pride." Hardison looked affronted, and she stopped him before he could argue. "I'm going to find him. Tell the others we'll be back later." Shaking her head, she started off in the direction Nate had gone.

She found him sitting in a park, the kind that had chess sets as part of the tables.

"Sorry I laughed," she said. "You just looked so ridiculous."

He shrugged and continued to stare at the board. "Whatever," he muttered.

"Nate, why are you so angry? Eliot didn't actually hurt you, right?" He shook his head. "So why?"

"Soph, I can't protect you."

"Who asked you to?" she said, a bit angrily.

"I did." He looked up. "I promised myself I'd take care of you guys, and I couldn't. They took us and I couldn't do a damned thing about it. How can you ever feel safe around me?"

She tilted her head back, silently praying for patience. "Nate, you're right." He looked up at those words. "You can't protect me. Not always. Someday something is going to happen and I'm going to die. It might be a con gone wrong, it might be an accident, it could even be cancer. That's what killed my father." He flinched at the word, and she could almost see Sam in his eyes. "There are things in the world you can't stop. If you're going to try to control every single thing for the rest of your life than you aren't going to have time to enjoy anything. Like whatever the hell we are," she said, reaching across and taking his hand. "What brought this on now?"

"Lying there in the van feeling completely helpless. I couldn't even say your name because he taped my mouth shut."

"I'll talk to him. He really shouldn't have done that. But he was protecting you." She tugged on his hand. "Come on. I bet you can guilt Eliot into cooking dinner."

It was almost another month of preparation before Nate was ready to proceed with his plan. On the surface, it was simple; between the files that Sophie had gathered and the ones Hardison had found, they had more than enough dirt to raise serious questions about what the CIA was involved in, both in the States and abroad. Nate offered these in trade for the CIA immediately suspending all experiments at the facility where they'd been kept. It was a good bet that it wasn't the only facility like it, but as Nate had told Hardison and Parker, it was a step in the right direction.

Also, in the course of his digging, Hardison had come across the name of the person responsible for having them taken in the first place. Nate had demanded his immediate resignation and an investigation into his private life (Hardison hadn't even had to fake the guy's guilt; his hard drive was filled with child pornography.) Sophie had thrown up after looking at the pictures.

Of course, Nate had no intention of handing over all the evidence. Every so often, he would send a new piece of information to Conrad, just to let him know that they still had damaging files that they could use. Also, he made sure that Conrad was aware that if anything happened to any of them, the information would be made public, all of it, immediately. To this end, Nate had gone to ten of the most trustworthy clients that his team had helped in the past four years and handed each a folder, asking them to keep it safe and giving them instructions about what to do in the event of his team's demise.

It was a relief to them all when Nate returned unscathed from his meeting with Conrad. Sophie had been the most opposed to him going alone, or maybe it was simply that she was the most vocal. She'd slapped him, too, which at this point he was sort of coming to expect. Eliot had been angry, too, wanting to go and watch Nate's back, but Nate had replied that in the event that he was captured again, they needed a retrieval specialist on the outside, not stuck in there with him.

"I'm back," he said, somewhat unnecessarily. They were all sort of huddled together in the living room. "It's done."

"Can I go steal some stuff now?" Parker asked.

Of all of them, the forced captivity had hit her the hardest. Tara joked that the person who invented the phrase 'stir crazy' must have meant Parker.

"Parker!" they all said.

"What?" she said innocently.

"No, Parker, no stealing today. We're having a party to celebrate our freedom," said Sophie, "And you, my dear, are wearing a dress." Parker stuck her tongue out at her.

"Keep doing that and your face will stick that way" said both Nate and Maggie at the same time. They looked at each other and burst out laughing.

"You guys are sooo old," said Hardison.

Eliot had poured wine for each of them (except Nate, to whom he handed a wine flute filled with Coca-Cola). As he went to hand one to Sophie, she said "Actually, I think I'll have what Nate's drinking."

She wasn't sure whose eyes she could feel boring into her back when she went to the fridge. When she turned around Maggie, Tara and Nate were all staring at her. "What?" she said.

Maggie walked over and looked her in the eyes and then pulled her into a hug. Sophie gave up the pretence and buried her eyes in her friend's shoulder.

"I'm bloody terrified," she whispered. Maggie just tightened her arms.

Sophie wasn't sure what she was expecting when she finally looked up, but it wasn't to find Nate waiting there to hug her as soon as Maggie let her go. "Guess it wasn't just the porn that was bugging you huh?"

She shook her head against his shoulder. When he pulled away, Tara grabbed her. "Am I ever glad I'm not you," Tara said, grinning.

"Hey y'all, what is this, like, hug Sophie day or what?" Hardison looked confused.

"Sophie's pregnant," said Parker, and then looked defensive when Sophie raised an eyebrow. "Well, you left the pregnancy test in the garbage in the bathroom. And you were the only one in that bathroom that day, other than me, and it wasn't mine."

"Parker, I don't even wanna know why you were going through the garbage. Nasty," Hardison shuddered. Then apparently the whole thing got through to him because he jumped up and ran over to Sophie and hugged her too.

"Hey Hardison, get your little laptop thing and find out what pregnant women are supposed to eat so I can make dinner," Eliot said.

"Laptop thing? It's called an I-Pad. I-Pad. Get it right man."

"Whatever, man, just do it."

"Wait," Sophie said. She picked up her drink. "First, a toast. To freedom."

As they repeated her and then clinked glasses, she looked at Nate. And smiled.

Author's Note(s):

The first scene is from Babylon 5: Shadow Dancing.

The second is from Babylon 5: Between the Darkness and the Light.

The third quote is from John Sheridan in Babylon 5: Ceremonies of Light and Dark.

Also, as Maggie stated, what Tara quoted from was Jesus to his disciples and is found in the New Testament of the King James Bible, Matthew, Chapter 3.