By mid-afternoon the next day Nate was ready to leave the hospital. He had spent more than an hour with Jules during the course of the morning being told what to expect in the aftermath of the previous days' events. Jules had tried to convince the man to stay in the hospital for at least another night so they could monitor him and make sure he was alright but Nate was having none of it. Much to the dismay of his team and the doctor he threatened to sign himself out AMA if Jules did not discharge him. He was still very weak and in a lot of pain but he was adamant he was leaving, claiming he could recuperate much better at home. Eventually it was agreed that Jules would discharge him that afternoon, but he instructed the team that Nate should not fly back to Portland until at least the next day and then it would be best if they arranged a charter flight so that he would be able to lie down and not have to sit cooped up for the length of the flight. He also gave Eliot the name of a friend of his in Portland who would take over Nate's care from him.
There was a little tension when Sterling arrived at the hospital with Olivia. Eliot, as always, was not pleased to see the man but let him into the room anyway.
"Nate…" Sterling said as he stepped into the hospital room.
"Sterling." Nate replied.
"I just wanted to…thank you, for what you did, for me and for Olivia." Sterling said his voice strained. He did not like thanking anybody, least of all Nate Ford.
"Don't mention it." Nate said honestly, he would have done what he did for anybody.
"I won't…but I do owe you." Sterling replied with a smile.
"Again..." Nate smiled back at him.
"Well I'll be going then…take care Nate." Sterling said and turned to leave. But before he could Olivia moved to Nate's bedside.
"I'm sorry...I acted…" She started to say before Nate put his hand on her arm and stopped her.
"You have nothing to be sorry for Olivia. He is your dad and you were scared." Nate said simply. He understood what she had been going through and did not blame her for her reactions.
"Thank you Mr. Ford…for everything." She said leaning down and kissed him on the cheek before turning back to her dad. She smiled at him over her shoulder and then the two of them were gone.
It was five in the afternoon when they eventually arrived back at the safe house. Maggie had taken her leave of them at the hospital telling them to take care of Nate and she would check in with them regularly for updates. Nate had needed some help to get into the place, he was out of breath from the short walk and Sophie could tell that he was in pain although he tried to hide it. She settled Nate down in the living area on one of the couches when he refused to go to the bedroom saying that he was tired of lying down.
"So…when do we go back to Portland?" Nate asked as Eliot delivered some steaming coffee to him with a glass of water and two pain pills.
"I have a charter for tomorrow morning at ten." Hardison told him.
"Good…the sooner we get back the better." Nate replied. He wanted to get back to his place, he needed some peace and quiet without them hover over him trying to help. He also needed to go through all the possible client files that had been put aside when all this started. He was never one to just lie around and do nothing. No, the sooner he got back to work the better it would be, he thought to himself.
"Nate, you are going to take it easy and rest when we get back right?" Sophie asked reading him better than anybody else would ever be able to.
"Yes…yes of course I am." Nate placated her.
"You're lying." Sophie stated. All eyes were now on the Mastermind and the Grifter. The three youngest members of the team sensed a confrontation coming and although they dreaded it, they knew it had to happen.
Nate rolled his eyes at Sophie and picking up the remote turned on the TV flipping through the channels. He did not want to have this conversation now. Actually he did not want to have this conversation at all. But Sophie was having none of it. She moved forward and grabbed the remote out of his hands and switched off the television her anger now evident in her expression.
"Don't you 'Sophie' me Nathan Ford. Did you not listen to what Jules said? Or did you just decide that you know better? Now we let you leave the hospital…"
"Let me leave…?" Nate asked sarcastically. He pushed himself up on the couch and immediately winced at the pain it caused. Parker instinctively moved forward to help him but he waved her away. "I'm fine…" The tone of his voice made Parker pull away as if she had been burned.
"That's just it Nate…you are NOT fine." Sophie said. "You are NOT BLOODY FINE Nate." She shouted at him her anger now spilling out.
"Sophie calm down." Nate said his eyes going wide as he saw her explode.
"No…no I won't bloody well calm down Nate." Sophie told him. "Tell me Nate…tell me what you were planning to do when we got back. Tell me Nate. Tell me you were planning to rest, that you were NOT planning to go through possible clients and start planning a new job. Come on Nate, tell me you know that over exerting yourself IN ANY DAMN WAY could kill you and you JUST DON"T CARE."
"Sophie you are over-exaggerating." Nate said softly.
"Am I…really! Tell me Nate… come on tell me you don't need any help. Tell me you are fine when I can see you sitting there sweating from the effort. When I can see the pain you are in. When I can see how weak you are after just the short walk into this place. Tell me again Nate…tell me you are BLOODY FINE."
"Enough!" Nate said loudly pushing himself up and off the couch, ignoring the sharp pain the sudden movement had caused. "Enough!" He repeated as he grabbed the arm rest to steady himself.
"No Nate it is not enough. Do you know why? Because I DO BLOODY CARE." Sophie said her voice growing louder as her emotions overtook her. "I will NOT stand by and watch you kill yourself. I won't do it. So now you need to decide Nate. Either you are going to behave yourself and follow Jules' instructions and take care of yourself or…Or I am going to walk out of here. And if I do that Nate…I will not be coming back." Sophie said staring at the Mastermind as she gave the ultimatum.
Nate was now breathing heavily and he fell back onto the couch no longer able to keep himself standing.
"NATE…" Sophie called out alarmed at how pale he had turned and the fact that he was battling to catch his breath. She moved swiftly to the couch and sat beside him as he struggled through. "Nate please, please I'm begging you. Let us help you. Let ME help you. We need you Nate, don't you understand. I NEED YOU!" She said her tears now spilling over and flooding her cheeks. She put her hand under his chin and lifted his head so that she could look him in the eye. She saw the pain there, saw the struggle he was having as his chest heaved with deep breaths. "I love you Nate…" She whispered to him. She had not meant for this to happen now. He was too weak and she felt like a monster for attacking him when he was so vulnerable.
Nate heard her whispered confession and saw the love and concern in her eyes. He felt his heart melt but said nothing. Instead he gently moved her hands away and stood unsteadily fighting through the pain of his actions. He looked down at her; then moved his eyes to meet the angry ones of Eliot. Looking from Eliot to Parker all he saw was panic and confusion. Hardison looked concerned and frightened at the same time. Then without saying a word he moved on unsteady legs to his room and closed the door. Eliot watched him go and forced himself to remain still and not to rush to the man's side and help him as he wobbled his way slowly to the room. Sophie also followed his progress, his halting steps brining more tears to her eyes. His deep heavy breaths shattering the silence. When the door closed behind him she looked up at Eliot.
"I didn't mean…I mean I…Oh God Eliot." She said emotion overwhelming her.
"It's OK darling. It had to come out…" Eliot told the Grifter feeling her pain. Then he sighed and looked to the closed door. "Tomorrow is another day Sophie. Maybe when we get him home…" Eliot said although he could not quite bring himself to believe that would make any difference at all. Nate was a stubborn damn fool who was going to kill himself trying to prove he did not need any of them. He shook his head sadly at the thought then turned back to Sophie.
"Let's all get some sleep. Tomorrow we take him home and then…well one day at a time right?" He said.
The next morning Eliot started breakfast early. Hardison had arranged the charter flight for ten and he wanted to make sure they all had a good meal in them before making the journey. They others filtered into the kitchen a little later, Parker helping herself to serial as Hardison and Sophie each sat down with coffee. Sophie looked a question at Eliot and he shook his head in response. She sighed heavily and took another sip of her coffee before making her way to his room. Knocking lightly she opened the door to find the bed empty.
"Nate…" She called out softly.
"I'm in the bathroom. I'll be out now." He called back in response. She resisted the urge to go and check on him and retreated back to the kitchen.
"He said he would be out now." She told them as she sat down again.
Nate emerged a few minutes later and walked over to the table. Although his steps were slow he was a lot steadier than he had been the night before. Eliot served the meal as Sophie placed a cup of coffee before Nate. He smiled and taking a sip he looked at her in surprise.
"Jules said just enough to keep the DT's away." She said in explanation for the dash of whiskey she had added.
Nate said nothing as he put the coffee down and started on his breakfast. The meal was taken in relative silence. Nobody wanted to start another argument. Nate finished his meal and sat back in the chair surveying his team and sipping his now cold coffee.
"Hardison, I need to make a detour on the way to the airport." He told the Hacker.
"No problem Nate…where are we going?" Hardison asked.
"Holy Cross Cemetery..." Nate said softly. "Thanks for the breakfast Eliot." He muttered as he stood and made his way back to his room. "Call me when you're ready to go." He said over his shoulder before disappearing into the room.
They arrived at the Cemetery and Nate directed them to the section he wanted. Once the car had stopped he sat for a few seconds and closed his eyes. Then he took a deep breath and opened the door. Getting gout of the car he turned back and held his hand out to Sophie. She looked surprised but did not hesitate to take his hand and join him. She took his arm as they walked slowly down the little path. Sophie smiled to herself tears pricking her eyes as she felt him lean his weight slightly on her as they walked. Turning off the path they approached a grave with a bench in front of it. Sophie looked at the simple headstone and read the inscription.
"Samuel Ford. Beloved son… taken too soon."
Nate steered her to the bench and they sat down. Still no word had been spoken between them and yet Sophie knew that Nate had spoken volumes by bringing her here. Finally he did speak.
"I miss him…" He said softly not taking his eyes off of the gravestone. Sophie said nothing; she merely squeezed his hand gently. "When he died Sophie…when I lost him…" Nate took a deep breath before continuing. "I died with him. Not a piece of me Sophie…ME!... Only I didn't…" Nate stopped again his gaze not faltering from the headstone. "I swore to myself that would never happen again."
Still Sophie said nothing. She sensed that Nate needed to say whatever he needed to say and she was willing to sit here with him for as long as it took.
"When we started this. You were all just a team to me. Tools to be used." He said his voice dropping an octave on the last sentence as if he were ashamed of the statement. "Then you became more. I didn't want that. I didn't ask for it, it just happened. We became a family. If I had to lose one of them, Parker, Hardison or Eliot, any one of them Sophie it would be like…like losing…him." Nate said indicating the headstone his voice full of emotion and his eyes swimming in tears.
Finally he turned to look at her. He was exposing himself to her in a way he never had before. "If I lost you Sophie." He said taking her hand and squeezing it tightly. "It would kill me." He said looking deeply into her eyes and ignoring the tears escaping from his. He inhaled deeply and spoke to her his voice touching her very soul with his words. "I love you Sophie. With all my heart. With every bit of me."
Sophie saw the pure raw emotion in those pools of perfect blue. She could see that he was showing her his very essence. Something he had always kept carefully guarded. She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around him pulling him close. "God Nate…I love you more than anything …" She said. They sat there for what seemed like forever. Clinging to each other and letting their emotions flood them. Then Nate pulled away from her and kissed her gently on the forehead and then the lips.
"I'll try…" He whispered to her. "I promise I'll try to…to ask for…for help. I'll look after myself Sophie, for them, for you. I'll take it as slow as is needed because you know." Nate said raising her eyes to his. "I have something…someone to live for."
Sophie pulled him in tight to her again then kissed him tenderly.
"About bloody time Mr. Ford..." She said smiling through her tears. She knew she had to lighten the moment. They had to go, they had to leave here and go home, to their home. She could see that this whole ordeal had taken a lot out of Nate.
"Yes…yes…it is time to go HOME." He smiled kissing her again.
Finally she helped him up and they both said their goodbyes to Sam before turning to leave. At the junction with the pathway they saw the rest of the team waiting for them.
"Well are we going home or not?" Nate asked them smiling broadly.
"Yes…hell yeah man." Hardison said as he watched Eliot fall in beside Nate and the Mastermind take his arm in support.
Parker watched the scene and knew everything was going to be alright. She smiled her happy crazy smile and bounced ahead towards the car.
"I'll drive…" She called out and four voices called back simultaneously.
WELL THAT IS THE END. I hope you all enjoyed it and it was a satisfying end to the story. Thank you to all my readers for your reviews and encouragement. Special thanks to Stella, Sphinx, Kd, Carebear818, Kelly, KendraBC, Gorgolo Chick, Kristen, Leveragus and huttonfan as well as SusieDevereaux, DeathWalker1717, DesertOrchid7485, Kathlynn Toppo, PartyGirl181084, Floralisette, AllAroundThunder, kelz, Zee-Zee Magee, NeverTrustAPirate1, Yeahlev, Don't Anticipate, scottlangleyscr and livestar, thank you all for taking the time to review my story, I really appreciate hearing from my readers, what they think and how they are enjoying (or not) the story and the direction it is taking. Thank you also to all of you who followed the story and favorited it.
Please let me know how you felt about this last chapter. I look forward to reading all of your reviews.