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I really couldn't tell you why these two are the only ones consistently getting themselves written. I do have other fics in the mill. Those fics are about exponentially more popular characters/ships. And yet.


Title: measuring precaution
Ficverse: Leverage
Series: Silver and Gold

Rating: Gen, PG
Length: 3400 ish
Characters: Sterling, Maggie
Teaser:
Sterling strode down the gallery’s familiar corridors, forcing himself not to break into a run.
Notes: This is a series focused on a slowly-evolving relationship between Maggie and Sterling in the aftermath of the S1 finale, tying it to recognisable events in the show's canon and how that might impact them. It is a vignette-style series (so far), designed to give enough context that each be able to be read on its own, although they do build together.
The series is intended to remain canon-compliant, so in some ways I'm just dawdling along the journey until I know I can give them some kind of not-ruled-out-by-canon resolution. But since I feel like that quiet slow burn is in keeping with these characters and where they are in life, I'm not in a rush either.
Links to the other installments
are at the end.
Warnings/Spoiler: Set amidst The Big Bang/San Lorenzo Job (3.15/16). Also alludes to backstory from The Queen's Gambit Job (4.10).
Disclaimer: Stuff that's not mine is not mine.
Feedback: let's hear it. The good, the bad, the ugly....





Sterling strode down the gallery’s familiar corridors, forcing himself not to break into a run. There was no reason to. He had the place’s security and two of his own guys monitoring the situation, and the precautions he’d taken were adequate.

But as he rounded a corner and nearly steamrolled a tourist, there was no denying the anxiety that had him by the throat was not letting ago until he physically laid eyes on her, and saw for himself that she was okay. His grip tightened on the talisman he – stupidly, superstitiously – hadn’t been able to put down, and once again reined in his speed. He was beginning to become conspicuous.

He spotted one of his men at the entrance to the wing she was in, and followed the direction of the man’s nod. Two seconds later he saw her unmistakable willowy figure, gesturing at an exhibit with an assistant, then belatedly hoped the flood of relief he felt wasn’t too obvious on his face.

With the urgency subsiding, he paused and took stock. The last thing he needed was to charge up to her and alarm her more than he could help. He slipped the piece into his pocket, rubbing at the mark it had pressed into his palm until he collected his composure enough.

He approached and waited a few paces away, and it only took moments for them to notice his presence.

The last time they’d seen each other was a year ago, and she’d slapped him. The only time they’d spoken since then was six months ago, and she’d hung up on him. He’d deserved one of those, maybe both, and couldn’t afford to think about either right now. He nodded at her calmly, focused on the objective. Nothing else mattered. “Maggie.”

Her surprise was replaced by unhappiness, tinged with dread. After he had demolished their tentative new friendship so spectacularly last year, he had no good reasons to be there; he was becoming her very own bearer of bad news. And if the flash of pain across her exquisitely expressive face was personal to just the two of them, then it was a testament to how his callousness was only matched by her sweetness of heart. She would never still care about him or something he’d said otherwise. He ignored it. “Are you able to finish up soon? I’ve got something of an emergency we need you for. It will take up quite some time.”

Her eyes narrowed, but she only nodded a dismissal at the assistant. She waited until he was out of earshot, and drew herself up with only a tremor. “Well?”

He wasted no time. “Do you remember the last time we spoke, on the phone, what I told you?”

She swallowed. “You said Nate’s team was going after a very dangerous man, and that I should have no contact with them, for my good and Nate’s.” Her fingers came up to worry her lip, any other personal concerns forgotten. “I didn’t. I didn’t call, didn’t email –”

“No. I know you wouldn’t. – Thank you.” He frowned at himself; it was stupid to be pleased that she’d listened to him, trusted him that much, stupid to thank her. Then again, maybe it boded for this to go easier than expected. He met her eyes squarely, willing her to trust him with this too. “You’ve done nothing wrong. But for now, let’s say that some things are in motion, which might end up being dangerous for you. Let’s say I’d like to take you somewhere to lay low for a few days as a precaution ... and let’s say I’ll explain everything as soon as I can.”

She stared at him, and he could feel the anxiety rising again. He pushed it down. “Please, Maggie,” he asked, knowing there was no way to manipulate her into cooperation. Because if there was, he would be trying it.

Her expression became unreadable at this, but she soon nodded. “Can I get my things from my office?”

Sterling pulled himself together; these waves of relief were having far too much effect on him. “Yes. I’ve spoken to your boss already; the cover story is you’re consulting on an urgent case for Interpol. In the Netherlands. So that’s what we’re doing for now – get whatever you’d need for that.”

She was brisk about it, but calm, and he noted her casual exchanges with her co-workers with a professionally approving eye. But to him she said nothing until they were in the car, his guys following behind in hers.

Now she asked, “Clothes?”

“We’re going by your place so you can pack. Count on at least a week’s absence. We’ll leave your car there, too. There’s a passenger manifest that has you flying out to Amsterdam in four hours.”

He could feel Maggie looking at him, parsing out as much as she could about the situation from the little he told her so far. “Going home is safe?”

Sterling smiled grimly. “As safe as I can make it with two armed men. Beyond that, I have to count on my source’s judgment for timing our window of safety.”

Her snort wasn’t much more amused than his smile. “You’re having to go by someone else’s judgment? You must be hating that.”

He looked at her askance; she wasn’t the only one to have picked up some insight during their shortlived friendship. Her needling, unusual as it was, masked a growing agitation. He couldn’t blame her; it wasn’t the first time her life had been in danger. He had seen for himself how she could handle it in the Ukraine, but he’d also seen the aftermath, the effects of the stress, and knew she was far from inured to it. She had not chosen this kind of life, it came from the choices of those she’d chosen to love, and there was little she could do about that now. He owed her something more concrete at this point, even though he’d been hoping to put it off a little longer.

He dug into his pocket; she looked at what he handed her with confusion. “A chess piece?” she asked.

“The white queen, to be precise.”

“Thank you, I know what –”

“It’s important. It’s part of the message.”

She wasn’t bothering to conceal her frustration very much. “You know, this kind of thing is what makes it hard to take you and Nate seriously sometimes.”

He clenched his jaw until he could open it without yelling at her. “So sorry to take the matter of your life seriously. And it’s not from Nate.”

That surprised her. “Who’s it from?”

“Three days ago, I received that in the mail, along with a folder. It held half a dozen news articles, all of unsolved mulitple homicides.” He went back into his pocket and found the post-it note crumpled at the bottom. “Forensics examined it all, and it was completely clean. Except for one perfect thumbprint, on this.”

She took it, reading the bold, inelegant handwriting aloud. “MOREAU TARGETS FAMILIES.” She faltered, but seemed to take some reassurance from his glance. “If black king exposed, minimum 8hrs window.” She paused, absorbing this. “Moreau is the man Nate’s been after for the last six months?”

He nodded, keeping his eyes fixed on the road, refusing to let himself enjoy how quick-witted she was. Always had been.

She took a shaky breath, twiddling the chess piece in her fingers as she continued to process this. “I see,” she said quietly. “I take it you recently received another message?”

“A text, two hours ago.”

“So ... Nate’s made an open move against Moreau, which makes me a target.” It was a statement, not a question, but he replied anyway.

“From what we’ve been able to gather, Moreau has just fled the country to San Lorenzo. If I know Nate, he’s going to chase him there to finish the job. I have no idea what Nate’s planning, Maggie, but Moreau’s criminal empire is literally global. This man is more powerful than quite a few governments. If he for one second thinks Nate poses a real danger, his best and most likely play is to use you against him, and believe me when I say there are no limits to what that man would do to you to achieve that. He only has to make a phone call. I’ve pulled a few strings, and your wild goose trail should be in place long before that call ever happens.”

“You set all this up in two hours?”

He smiled coolly. “Thanks, but I’m not that good. I started prepping as soon as I got the folder.”

“Oh. – The fingerprint. Who sent this to you?”

“Spencer.”

Eliot?

“He’s doing his job, watching Nate’s back.” It was grudging, but Sterling would have to be a moron not to acknowledge at least to himself that Spencer was good at what he did. And that he was showing the correct level of paranoia in dealing with Moreau. “However many clever plans Nate is spinning to trap Moreau, Spencer knows you remain his biggest liability.”

There was a sharp intake of breath at that last word, and he grimaced. If he’d been thinking about it, he probably could have chosen a different word than the one he’d used to cast off her friendship, on top of everything else. “Ah – I didn’t mean –”

“No.” Her voice was dull-edged, which explained why it hurt so much as it cut right into him. He couldn’t look at her. “Don’t. I  – I understand.” She gave a brittle, tired laugh that somehow hurt even more. “I suppose that’s just how you all think. That that’s what people are, a plus or a minus in some column or other. Chess pieces....” She looked down at the cheap piece of plastic in her hand, then dropped it and the note into the cupholder between them, turning her head to the view out of her window. “That’s why I love art. Art doesn’t see the world that way.”

He focused ferociously on the freeway exit coming up, stamping out any ridiculous impulse to say anything similar about her. He hadn’t seen her for a year. He should be over this by now. How could she still stir up so much, make him want to say and do so many things he knew he shouldn’t?

“Really, I should be grateful,” she continued, and he couldn’t help but love how she was trying to keep bitterness from creeping into that sentiment. “I mean, how else could Eliot be sure you’d know what he meant, and what to do about it? Why else would he even send it to you? You hate each other.”

“He probably worked out that I....”

“That you what?”

“Ah – that I’ve been keeping an eye on what Nate’s been doing, and had the wherewithal to protect you. And while we do hate each other, he knew he could count on me not being in Moreau’s pocket. Or intimidated by him, which is rarer than you might think.” Sterling could tell she hadn’t bought his hasty redirection, even if it was true. He stopped himself before he really began babbling. She wasn’t fooled by that sort of thing, and it wasn’t dignified.

She didn’t mess around. She never messed around. “That you what, James?”

He closed his eyes very briefly. It was completely irrational, but the fact that she was still calling him James gave him a tiny bit of hope that not everything was lost – which would last about another two seconds. “That I did the same thing when I put Nate in prison.”

“That you did the same thing,” she repeated slowly, heavily. “I think ... you’d better explain that more.”

“Look, we’re nearly at your place, we can talk about this after we –”

“No, I think you need to talk about it right now.”

There was nothing for it, so he nodded, but waited until he pulled over. They were still a block away from her house, which his men would sweep and give the all-clear before he let her anywhere near the place. They pulled up behind him, and he wound down his window to nod to them as they walked past, unfortunately taking the last of his excuse to stall with them.

He set his face and turned it toward her. “That I used you to take Nate down.”

“You ... you did what? You did what?” She stared at him for another second, and he braced himself to be slapped again, but then she was scrabbling at the door handle. He was just a fraction too slow and she evaded his grasp. He leapt out of his side after her, panic rising.

“Maggie, wait, Maggie, no –”

She kept walking away, but seemed too upset to move with purpose, at least until he caught up with her. She shook his hand off her shoulder and sped up. In desperation he grabbed her wrist, spinning her around to face him; her free hand swung wildly, hitting at his shoulder and chest, obviously more for the sake of it than to actually hurt him. “Let me go!”

Instead, he grabbed that hand as well. “Not until you stop and – just, would you stay here for a –” She tugged, futilely; he took that as a no, and therefore held on. “Maggie, would you stop – it’s not safe for you –”

“I don’t care! Let go!

Going by the numbers, if Spencer’s forecast was on the money, and if Moreau was even worried enough about Nate that he’d started looking for leverage over him, any threat to her should still be hours away at best. But that was two too many ifs and none of it mattered a damn against the way those three words slammed into him.

“Well I do!” He was yelling now; he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this angry. “I am not losing anyone else to the bad guys! These guys will shoot you in your house, they will hold you hostage, they will torture you, they will put a bomb in your car, they will go after your children –” Maggie’s eyes were getting wider and wider. He sucked in air, took a moment. “I’m not letting that happen again.”

She’d stopped pulling against him, but he wasn’t ready to let her go yet. So he didn’t. But her attention seemed to have shifted elsewhere. “Again?”

He cleared his throat, swallowed. “Two months ago. A – woman. Car bomb. Her husband and – and daughter – survived. She didn’t.” And, because he was nasty, and angry, and still scared, he added, “And for the record, they were not chess pieces.”

Maggie looked away, shaken. After a minute she gave a ragged laugh, and one last hopeless jerk against his hold. “So ... that’s how it works in this insane world you all live in. I’ll be used to threaten my ex-husband – unless I’m protected by someone who already did.”

“Not like that! God, not – not like that.”

She looked back up at him, the strain of the afternoon reaching breaking point in every line of her face, in the cracking of her voice. “Well then like what, James? Because I really need something, here. I need you need to give me something. I – can’t....”

“I know – I know,” he said, aching on her behalf, even as an idiotic part of him rejoiced. James, James, she still called him James. It didn’t really mean anything, he knew, yet something in him needed it. And he owed her a whole lot more than that back, if only he could figure out how. “It wasn’t – I didn’t –”

He stopped with a frustrated noise, and she frowned at him. “Just – tell me the truth.”

She said it like it was so simple. A humorless laugh escaped him, earning a deeper frown from her. “James, please. Tell me the truth, for once. Not just your bits and pieces of it. You’re asking me to trust you – so trust me, at least this much.”

This right here was why he could never have afforded to stay friends with her. She stood loosely within his hands, no longer resisting him, using no wiles or manipulation – just her simple presence and her request. Yet she’d had him from the moment she coupled James with please. He found his thumbs moving gently on her wrists, trying to soothe, to apologize for their grip. He stopped, ready for her to draw back, but she didn’t; she just stood there in front of him, her beautiful honest eyes seeking full honesty in return. He couldn’t help but give it; worse, he wanted to.

“I’m not good at explaining myself,” he confessed, and received a wry quirk of her lips in return. It was the tiniest thing, but the understanding in it simply unlocked him. The story just started spilling out. “Alright, I hate explaining myself. So – bear with me. I ... Nate had put himself right in the middle of my operation; he’d stolen my only witness, I couldn’t get at my guy without him. The FBI was crawling all over Boston and still couldn’t find them. But even if Nate pulled off whatever insane con he’d cooked up with his team, they’d all have to go on the run afterwards. His thieves, now, they could just up-stumps and vanish, they’ve done it a hundred times. They know how it works. But Nate – Nate couldn’t. He had attachments ... you. And Sam.”

Comprehension crossed her face, and he waited for it to be followed by disgust. But she only sighed, and nodded, and he found he couldn’t quite manage to stop explaining yet.

“I knew he would have to return home at some point – the picture Sam drew, which used to hang in his office at IYS? He would never leave that behind. So I went there and waited, and that’s the only reason I was able to catch him. And once I caught him, well, he had no choice but to make a deal ... and in the end, he was my whole case. He destroyed everything else.”

Sometime since they’d left the freeway, the sun had set without him noticing; now the winter twilight had drawn Maggie nearer, intent on seeing his face clearly. He let himself inch toward her too, ready to back right off if she reacted, but she was so focused on what he was telling her that she didn’t seem to notice. He’d given her the bare bones of the truth, and he knew he could stop there. Should stop there.

“And I was right,” he continued quietly, starkly, putting the ugly reality front-and-center. “My play was his feelings for you, and I didn’t think twice about using that against him. It was the perfect trap ... it was you. What you and Sam meant to him was the perfect trap against him; that’s who he is. – And I was a smug, gloating arse about it. That’s who I am.”

He was glad he’d stolen a little proximity when he could. It allowed him the luxury of watching every facial nuance as she processed what he’d told her, even though he knew he would lose it once she had. It must have been his pathetic eagerness to savor something he could never expect to have again that made him lose sight of anything else; even, momentarily, the reason they were standing there at all.

It wasn’t until her eyes left his to something over his shoulder that he remembered. He turned, releasing her, but his apprehesion subsided when the growing light of the streetlamps revealed his guys emerging from her house. By the time he turned back, she had composed herself, aloof once more.

“I pack my things, and then what?” she asked calmly.

He knew it for what it was: acceptance of the situation, however little she liked it. “You and I get a cab, ostensibly to the airport, while these two go on their merry way and assume I’ve got you out of the country.”

She gave only a raised eyebrow for the level of his precautions. “And instead?”

He eyed the approach of his men. “If I tell you now, can you wait to argue with me until after?”

Her other eyebrow rose to join the first, but she nodded.

He took a deep breath. “My place.”






Silver and Gold series:
lit up by the skylightWatching her, he remembered the first time she became Maggie.
overture in the aftermathShe took a patient breath. “Jim, why did you send me flowers?”
a question of costif he didn’t dial this time, he was a bloody coward.
onwards and upwardsHe raised an eyebrow at her in that way he had to know was so annoying, just in case she’d missed his point. “Now that that’s out of the way – what is it?”
this kind of liabilityShe’d started calling him James and so help him but he loved the way that sounded. He held onto that, the all-of one second of it, even as her expression changed when she noticed his.
concerns of contactHe’s free, currently not wanted. Make no contact.
measuring precautionSterling strode down the gallery’s familiar corridors, forcing himself not to break into a run.
hold and releaseSitting out on the balcony of James Sterling’s LA condo for the fourth day of being stashed away to keep her from being possibly abducted by some psychotic international crimelord Nate had openly declared war on, Maggie once again concluded that, all things considered, she was glad she hadn’t argued.
as neededIt was all wrong, everything was wrong, everything he was doing here, today, was wrong.
of twos and threesSterling opened the door of his condo and leaned against it. “Hi,” he said, in undisguised relief.
confessions“Hey,” Maggie said softly, with a welcoming smile so natural that he had to remind himself, again, that he was not coming home. He was just coming to collect his daughter. Blame it on jetlag.

Comments

( 6 speakses — have a speak )
aurora_novarum
Oct. 3rd, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Lovely vignette between them. I especially enjoy how you write Maggie.
themonkeytwin
Oct. 4th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
Thanks! I love writing Maggie, this one person who isn't really part of Crimeworld but who can hold her own when she has to. :)
im_ridiculous
Feb. 24th, 2013 04:21 am (UTC)
And then these past two installments.... I just love them too - I love the awkwardness, the mixed emotions, the confusion. The affection and anger and betrayal and confusion and all of it all wrapped up in and around each other. So many times the 'resolution' bits of arguments or stumbling blocks or Big Issues just seem a bit, And Then They Looked At Each Other And It Was Ok, y'know? I love that, just as with everything else in this slow burn fic, that you're taking your time with *this* too. hee. And I am totes excited for #8, like you don't even know. Don't. Even. Know...

So... On that note..... *mwahahahahahaaa...* *zooms off*
themonkeytwin
Mar. 1st, 2013 08:51 am (UTC)
And Then They Looked At Each Other And It Was Ok

Yeah, I ... don't know if I've ever written that. I probably don't believe in it enough to be able to sell it. Relationships are hard work, forgiveness and reconciliation is hard work ... I could probably, at a pinch, do a And Then They Looked At Each Other And Knew That, Eventually, They Would Be Ok Again. But in any case, with these two, there are no easy or quick solutions.

And on that note .....
im_ridiculous
Mar. 5th, 2013 09:31 am (UTC)
I forgot I hadn't replied to these yet :)

I probably don't believe in it enough to be able to sell it.
Yeah. I..... don't believe it at all. And actually, it annoys me. Because I can't help but be all "um... no, what happened before? Not ok. More than a look required here, people!!!!"


Which is why I love you. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is and you're just going to have to deal with it. ;P

(As for sadistic... well... you say sadistic, I say awesome... potayto, potahto...)
themonkeytwin
Mar. 6th, 2013 12:44 am (UTC)
Oh well, if that's just the way it is, I suppose I'll find some way to live with it.

:D

Potatoes! mmmmmmmmm
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