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and then fic happened

Title: confessions
Ficverse: Leverage
Series: Silver and Gold
Rating: PG
Length: 6000 ish
Characters: Maggie/Sterling
Teaser: “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.
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 (getting less so), hopefully containing enough context that each be able to be read on its own, although they do build together. We're into the back half, but it's a slow burn, and I'm a slow writer.
im_ridiculous has immaculate instincts, kept me on track (and sane), and is quite simply THE BEST. Anything that remains sucky is all mine.
–Links to the other installments are at the end.
Warnings/Spoiler: through The Last Dam Job (4.18).
Disclaimer: Stuff that's not mine is not mine. The (paraphrased) quote is, obviously, from Pride & Prejudice.
Feedback: let's hear it. The good, the bad, the ugly....



Sterling was only halfway up the path when the front door of the house opened. Warm light from inside streamed around the gorgeous woman who opened it, making it necessary for him to pause and compose himself before he reached her, in case his tired brain acted on impulses that had more to do with dreams than with reality.

“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.

He started to apologize for how late his delayed flight had got in, but she waved it off with a light, “Nonsense, it’s barely midnight.” She shot a look over his shoulder at the waiting cab. “Olivia tried to stay up, but she fell asleep on the sofa an hour ago. Why don’t you just stay here? I can drive you home in the morning. If you don’t mind the sofa bed, that is. And I’ll make blueberry pancakes for breakfast.”

She said the last like an incentive, like he needed one, like it wasn’t just surprise – or jetlag – that kept him from agreeing the instant she suggested it. He wasted no more time fetching his luggage and paying the cabbie, then went in to greet and send his daughter to bed with the promise of presents and pancakes in the morning.

He watched Olivia retreat down the hall to the bedroom that had once upon a time belonged to Maggie’s little son, then noticed Maggie watching him in turn, arms full of linens. “Ah ... how did it go?” he asked, aware she could see the other question quite clearly on his face.

“It was fine,” she said, answering both, as he helped her pull out the sofa bed and start making it up. “I’m doing some work at the Huntington at the moment, and she really liked hanging out there. She spent a day with some girls from school as well. The rest of the time I was able to take off, so we went to the beach, went to the movies, went shopping.... To be honest, I’m kind of glad you had to miss spring vacation.”

Sterling found himself sharing her grin, the vivid sparkle of her eyes. Her effort to make him feel better about his job taking him away from Olivia was transparent, yet it was working. Since he’d got Olivia back he’d done everything he could to keep to reasonable hours, and on the rare occasions he couldn’t avoid being away for a few days, Maggie had come and stayed over at their place. It wasn’t necessary, Olivia had more than demonstrated she was capable of looking after herself, but that was the point: now that she didn’t have to, he was going to keep it that way. With him being away for a full week this time, over school holidays, it had only made sense to accept Maggie’s offer for Olivia to stay with her. But it didn’t keep him from feeling guilty.

Maggie straightened from tucking in her side. “Seriously, James. She’s welcome here any time. And as for you....” Her pause was just long enough to scatter his brain to all kinds of places, before she turned for the kitchen. “Make yourself comfortable. What can I get you? Do you need something to eat? Drink?”

“Tea, please,” he said, reflexively.

She looked back at him at that, with a playful glint that was not at all his imagination and kicked his travel-deadened nerves wide awake. The last time she’d looked at him that way had been over a cup of tea and he’d damned near kissed her on the spot.

He made sure to take his time freshening up and gave himself a stern look in the bathroom mirror. It was tea. It was just tea.

When Sterling emerged, he spotted her out the back through the glass doors, the low light from the living room just enough to catch the two mugs on the deck table beside her. He took a moment, then, while she sat gazing out at the view, to enjoy the dim line of her back, her neck, the proud curve of her shoulder uninterrupted but for the strap of her pale gray top. The gleam of her hair pinned up messily with a pencil stuck through it, one lithe leg drawn up where she sat, the poke of her bare foot. She liked being barefoot, she’d told him, once. He liked that he knew she liked it.

Joining her outside, the night breeze was light and sweet with the citrus blossom that climbed the trellis over the deck, mingling with headier traces of jasmine from the garden next door. Maggie nudged his mug toward him, and he took it over to the wooden railing, following her gaze out past the backyard to where the city spilled, shimmering, into the basin spread before them.

“I missed this view,” he admitted quietly, after a few minutes. It had been years since he’d last seen it, and it ached, now, somewhere deep in his lungs, how much had passed. How much he’d unwittingly let in, back then: dinners and conversation and chess and good whiskey – something altogether whole – a balm on ragged edges where his own family had torn away. “I told myself ... actually, I don’t know what I told myself. That I wasn’t trying to fill the void, I suppose.” He glanced back at her half-shadowed form, just listening to him. “I wasn’t. That’s not why I used to come, I just....”

Maggie nodded, understanding. After all, he’d told her the whole history, the day he’d come for her help in figuring out how to save Olivia’s life. But she’d probably have understood regardless, with that ease she had of drawing more from him than he ever intended to say, and seeing more in it than anyone was supposed to. How well she’d come to know him, in spite of everything, and how strangely natural it felt that she should.

Her gaze returned to contemplate the horizon. Eventually she admitted, “I couldn’t give this place up, back when.... I lost so much. Everything else. In the end, I think maybe it was the only thing left I felt I could fight for.”

That made sense; he’d been puzzled at the time why she hadn’t just sold the lot, and started fresh. He looked it over, this family home of one. “Do you regret it?”

She craned her neck, let her eyes travel where his had, admitting, “It ... wasn’t easy. I do wonder, sometimes. If that was the only reason I kept it, because I couldn’t save anything else. If I’m only staying here out of some sense of defiance, or guilt.” When her eyes came back to him, what expression he could make out was calm. “But then I remember that’s Nate’s voice, not mine. I love this house. I love the husband and son I had in this house. I love the life I built in this house. Someday I’ll move on, I suppose, but it shouldn’t be to run away from the things I’ve lost.” She frowned, curiously, and he realized he was staring at her. “What?”

Sterling sifted his thoughts for something he could allow himself to say. “You are a singular woman, Margaret Collins.”

She laughed. “Translated from typical English understatement, I’ll take that as a compliment.”

He made his nod extra-courtly. “Please do. I find you quite admirable.”

Maggie gave him a coy look. “High praise.” Then, slowly, she stood, coming to join him at the railing, setting her mug down on it. She took an uneasy breath, arms crossing, hands cupping her elbows. “On that note, I’m ... afraid I have a confession to make. And hope your good opinion of me isn’t lost forever.”

The quote was an attempt at levity, but it was flimsy. It sent his eyes, unwillingly, to the spot only a few yards away inside where he’d once turned vicious, cutting words on her, and though much later had apologized, to this day had never given her the reason why. He put his mug down next to hers, and faced her more fully. “Impossible,” he said, very aware he was asking for trust he didn’t have a right to. “I promise.”

“It has to do with Nate,” she said carefully, then waited to see his reaction; the soft play of illumination from the city on one side and the living room lamp on the other didn’t leave them enough darkness to hide very much, face to face like this.

Which was a bit unfortunate, because once the instant, shocked idea that they’d got back together was weighed and dismissed, the overriding question was What’s that utter wanker done now? and he didn’t think expressing it was going to go over well. “Okay,” he said, equally carefully.

She licked her lip. “He – the team – needed help on a job a little while ago, so I – helped.”

The penny dropped quickly. “Dubenich. And Latimer.” It made her look relieved, as though she’d expected him to know and was glad she didn’t have to spell out the events for him. Certain details of which suddenly stood out. “The grift on Latimer. That was you.”

She didn’t answer, but it hadn’t been a question. “Nate was in a bad place. Latimer killed Jimmy, you know.”

Sterling knew very well. Latimer had killed Nate’s father, and then Latimer had wound up dead, along with Dubenich. Not at Nate’s hands directly – the forensics report had painted a clear enough picture – but as near as made no difference. While Sterling wouldn’t have handled things that way himself, he’d had no great argument with Nate’s choices until right this moment. Without even thinking about it, his hands came up to grip hers over her bare arms. “Are you alright?”

It startled her enough to meet his eyes. “I – yes. Yes, I’m ... I knew what I was getting into. I wouldn’t do it differently.”

“That’s not the same as being alright.”

“It’s the same as ... I can live with it. You’re not mad, that I...?”

He winced that he had ever given her reason to think that might be his response. “Not that it’s my place, but no. No. As long as you’re okay.”

She relaxed, and reluctantly he let her go. “Although I can’t say the same for Nate,” he added. “I cannot believe he dragged you into that –”

“No. Sophie called me in. Nate ... was not thrilled.”

Her smirk was a thing of beauty, and he shared it even as it gave rise to new questions. “Sophie called you in?”

“Yes. She told me what was going on. She thought seeing me might be enough to snap Nate out of shooting Latimer and Dubenich. She’d already tried to talk him down herself and couldn’t.”

“So – really you were there conning Nate, as well as Latimer.”

Maggie paused, eyes going wide, a sly tilt to her head. “Is that approval I hear in your voice, James?”

He took the opportunity to lean in closer in return, dropping his voice roguishly. “As I said, Maggie. I find you quite admirable.”

“Besides, we weren’t conning him. We were just ... reminding him.” Her innocent expression fared badly, especially in the face of the grin he was giving her, until she dropped it with a shrug. “I think it was bad enough for Sophie that I had to grift Latimer for her; if I’d actually managed to play Nate where she failed – especially now that they’re together –”

“What?”

Maggie stopped, surprised. “Sophie and Nate. You didn’t know?”

Sterling shook his head; he had no interest in monitoring Nate that closely. He studied Maggie for some evidence of hurt, the leftover feelings for the husband he’d watched her love so staunchly for so long, even as they went through hell, even as the man put her through hell. The feelings he’d assumed would still be there somewhere, bound up in the loyalty he couldn’t help but honor, even when he’d quite literally wanted to thrash the undeserving object of that loyalty to within an inch of his life. And he called Sterling a bastard. “You’re okay with it?” he asked, not quite believing his own eyes that she did seem to be so.

Her confusion, both at his question and the hint of bolted-down anger beneath it, was genuine. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

He couldn’t quite put together an acceptable answer to that, and the considering look she gave him slowly brightened into one that he knew, from past experience, took positive glee in making trouble for him. His pulse took off, and he had about a second to do something to head her off at the pass, or he’d be at the mercy of whatever whim she’d taken this time.

He looked down into her eyes, and did absolutely nothing.

“Although ...” she said, thoughtfully, as though it had only just occurred to her, as though anticipation wasn’t sparking like a live wire off every inch of her, snapping across the short gap to his skin.

But then she hesitated, a tiny nervous flicker, and he couldn’t bear it if she held back because she was unsure of him. “Although?” he prompted, trying to make it sound like he wasn’t begging her not to stop whatever this was, anything she wanted to do.

Maggie’s eyes flew to his and told him he hadn’t succeeded in that part, and her expression sent him soaring. “Well,” she said, drawing it out, delightedly demure. “I should also confess that it’s possible I may not have been able to resist pushing Nate’s buttons, a bit.” She bit her lip, a remarkably pretty and unconvincing gesture. “It’s a weakness. I feel just terrible about it.”

“In fairness, he does have such large, shiny buttons,” Sterling observed, making no attempt to suppress his wolfish grin. “They are rather hard to miss, sometimes.”

“Mmm,” she hummed, eyes dipping to his mouth, brief and greedy, hitting him like a short circuit. “And he was so anxious that I would think something improper had occurred between him and Sophie, back when we were married. So ... I may have made him jealous by telling him that I used to find you very attractive when he would bring you home here for dinner.”

“And why,” he asked, barely recognizing the gutteral scrape of his own voice, “would you tell him that?”

She swayed lightly toward him, fingertips coming up to brush the open collar of his shirt, the bristles at his jaw. Her arch smile as she watched his reactions couldn’t hide how her breathing had sped up too. “Probably because I used to find you very attractive when he brought you home here for dinner.”

Sterling stared down at her, mere inches away, and she didn’t look away, didn’t back down. Then he was moving faster than he could think, arms wrapping around her to bring that mouth to his.

For a second, he fought to go slow, even with the weight of her body in his arms and the gasp of her lips under his and too much and not nearly enough, every nerve incandescent with her. But then she pressed into him, and her hands were in his hair, an impatient nip of teeth and tongue at him, opening him up. He felt the curl of her wicked smile at her success. Then her soft, utterly pleased whisper into his mouth.

James.”

His shocked breath sucked his name deep into his lungs, and then, with a groan, he was lost. He crushed her to him, kissing her as hungrily as years of desire could demand, no hope of hiding it from her. But this was her turn to make a surprised sound, her arms circling tight around his neck, replying to his onslaught with equal force.

Her mouth was hot and incredible and better than he could ever have imagined, and he was dizzily certain he could kiss Maggie Collins forever. He almost groaned again when the need for oxygen pulled them apart even a fraction, drumming hearts and ragged panting moving their bodies in unison, bound together by arms that weren’t letting go. He opened his eyes, found hers, slightly dazed and stunningly beautiful, so close they filled his world. Then she was laughing, quiet and breathy, and he was too, and as badly as he still needed air he needed to find out what her laughter tasted like more, and so in between gasps he took her lips again and again, chasing every curve.

She was not long in returning the favor, eager lips and tongue claiming his, almost bringing him undone once more. But now that Sterling had recovered enough self-command to kiss her properly, he fully intended to. He took control of the pace, the depth, testing, teasing, learning her, filling his senses up with her.

He didn’t stop until he felt Maggie tremble, her bare toes curling where they’d inched up onto the leather of his shoes, the cling of her arms around him for support as well as passion. He drew back, enough to watch her eyes flutter open, slowly focus on the smirk he couldn’t contain, then narrow dangerously.

“Ohh, James.” It was more purr than chide, accompanied by a lazy, heated arch of her body against his. “You really want to make this a competition?”

He really, really thought he did. “I see no way I could possibly lose,” was his thoroughly honest answer, punctuated at every other word with another kiss, lowering his arms to fit snugly at the flare of her hips if she was going to insist on moving like that. “Maggie,” he added, half to find out how her name sounded, infused with all he’d just discovered of her, and half in promise to discover a great deal more.

Sterling had already learned how freely she gave sensual little hums of her appreciation; the one she made now taught him he was already addicted to them. She stretched again, letting him hitch her just a bit higher, digging her toes hard into his for purchase, only making him chuckle. She raised her eyebrows at this, then leaned in and, delicately, licked his upper lip.

“I do worry about this overconfidence of yours sometimes,” she murmured, and before he could answer took his bottom lip with her teeth, with a sharp little suck that struck a lightning bolt through him. The very smug look she followed it with did nothing to help calm him down.

“Not overconfident,” he said hoarsely, keeping up his truthful streak. “Just desperate to keep kissing you as much as bloody possible.”

Maggie’s rich laugh tipped her head back, an opportunity that would be inexcusable to miss. He bent his mouth to her neck, reveling in her sigh, the way her fingers twisted into the cotton of his shirt, the way she moved in perfect sync to give him access, letting him map his way up to her jaw and back to her lips. She met him with a tiny, maddening coil of her hips under his hold, doing something to the way every contour of her body pressed to his, leaving him with the last coherent thought that he hadn’t the faintest idea how far she might take this tonight and no plans – coherent or not – to ever stop her. And after that –

“Wait,” he said, or tried to, because that would involve taking his mouth from hers and that wasn’t even easy in mind, let alone practice. He tried again, arms tightening around her, which didn’t much work either. “Wait, Maggie ... Maggie –”

If she hadn’t pulled away for him, Sterling wasn’t completely sure he’d have been able to do it himself. He shut his eyes for a second, tried to collect himself.

“James, what is it?” she asked, hushed, and it was the pang of nervousness that spurred him to answer, ready or not. He’d already hurt her far too much.

“I owe you a confession too.” The whole truth, before they went any further. He owed it to her before they’d even started, really, but it wasn’t as if he’d been expecting this to happen. Which had to be an award-winning level of English understatement. “I should have told you, before I – before we – you need to know.”

She’d drawn back in his arms just enough to be able to look at him. Strands of her hair, lit faintly gold, drifted in the sweet air to frame her face, eyes softly searching, as lovely as he’d ever seen her.

“I love you,” he said, and felt something old and tight snap, somewhere deep inside his chest. After all the lengths he’d gone to, trying avoid this, to deny it even to himself, it was so stupidly easy to say. He should have known it would be, should have known the deepest truth he had to offer her was always going to be the easiest one of all. He sighed ruefully at the realization. “I love you, Maggie. I think I’ve wanted to tell you that for a very long time. I should have. I’m sorry.”

“You....” Maggie stared, confusion and comprehension warring across her face. “You mean.... As in....”

I mean. As in,” he echoed her, steadfastly. “More than I ever thought possible for me, honestly. Far more than I ever will again. You are the woman of my life, Maggie Collins. You are it for me. That much I do know.”

“That’s, um.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I wasn’t expecting – well, I didn’t ... that’s a lot to take in.”

The confirmation that she’d had no idea of his feelings for her, as irrational as any hope could be considering he’d repressed every indication of them, might have been disappointing. But there was an apology in the way she said it, and of all things that was unacceptable. She had nothing to apologize for, in any of this, and he had to make certain she knew it. “Ah, I see, you were just using me for my body.”

His teasing tone was unmissable. She laughed, but looked flustered. “Maybe.”

Sterling smiled, raised a hand and gently brushed back stray wisps of her hair. “Get some hot action, then callously cast me aside after pancakes?”

Her eyelids slid closed again as she leaned into his touch, making him ache. “They’re really good pancakes.”

“Oh, well then.” The concession came out more husky, less joking, than he’d intended, and he kept touching her, he couldn’t stop touching her, palm cupping her jaw and thumb skimming over those glorious lips. At the little sound she made, there was no choice but to lean in and replace his thumb with his own lips. It was soft and sweet and everything he wanted, and he had to stop. He couldn’t bear such kisses stolen with the last of his twisted half-truths still between them like thorns. His old cowardice and cruelty was a weight he wouldn’t, couldn’t, drag any longer into this. Even if this was what it cost him.

He sighed, fingertips tracing her, thirsty for the pleasure she showed at it. His hand anchored at the small of her back found the indent of her spine, thumb rubbing through the smooth fabric in a way he could feel go through her whole body, and he wanted.

But she drew her hands in to rest on his chest, with a look that asked for a pause to gather herself, to speak. He waited.

“James, I ... you know I haven’t been in any serious relationship since Nate. I don’t want to mislead you, I – obviously, I’m attracted. Most of the time, I want to find out where this might go, between us. Sometimes very much. Sometimes ... I don’t know if I want anything at all.”

Maggie stopped, hesitation softening into something else as she reached up, intent on his beard. “Well, I guess that’s not true,” she admitted, before dropping her hand and raising her eyes back up to his, vulnerable and uncertain and shadowed by all the devastation she’d already endured. “Sometimes I’m afraid to want anything.”

“Maggie –” His throat tightened, and he shook his head, his free hand finding hers. He pressed a kiss into her palm before curling his fingers around it. “I’m not asking for – I’m not trying to pressure, or make this be anything more than it is, for you. I just ... couldn’t let you continue, thinking it was less than it is, either. You deserve the truth from me.”

He closed his eyes, working himself up to admitting the rest, when her reply interrupted him.

“You’re right, I’m glad you did. I’d rather know,” she said. “It’s just, I was beginning to think I might be ready to try this, and see where it could go, but now ... you’re so far ahead of me. I don’t know how to handle that on top, I mean – right now it feels like too much for me to just try and see with, I just ... don’t know, James. I’m sorry.”

He couldn’t shake his head enough for that apology. “Maggie, please, please believe me, I didn’t tell you expecting anything back. You don’t owe me anything. I just want whatever’s best for you.”

A deep, long pause was followed by a little smile stealing across her face. “So essentially, you’re telling me to be a self-serving, utter ba–”

“Maggie!” He gave her his best shocked look, probably ruined by his answering smile and relief that she’d understood, and seemed to have taken it to heart. “I hope you’re not suggesting that I would ever advocate being anything else.”

She tutted him solemnly. “You know, whenever thinking about how this might go, I never imagined I’d see Jim Sterling urging me to be selfish at his expense.” She paused, then her mouth kicked up suggestively, eyes sparking bright. “Mm, then again....”

Sterling’s entire body jerked. He tamped it down frantically, unable to manage more than a tortured croak. “Maggie –”

Maggie giggled, with a look that was not at all repentant. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

He held out against the provocative twist of her lips for perhaps another second before he took it, the kiss hot and fierce as she matched his lack of restraint. Soon they were entangled so close that when he turned and pushed her up against the rail, he felt the impact to her hips as though it were his own. It shook his attention just long enough for him to drag his mouth away from hers, though how he withstood the discontented sound she made at that, he would never know.

“Give me a minute,” he ground out, his last hope to keep from kissing her until he couldn’t remember his own name, let alone what he must at all costs finish telling her, “and you might find it easier to. I – lied to you.”

He waited for her to fully grasp not just the words but, even more, the tone; knowing she had when he felt her stiffen. Belatedly he realized he still had her edged up against the railing, and backed off enough to let her get space if she wanted to. Then champed on the inside of his cheek when she did, biting down all the reactions he had no right to feel.

It did not escape his notice that she had moved just far enough to be outside easy reach, nor that her arms had come up across her body. “Okay,” she said, tightly.

“Okay,” he muttered, and took a breath. “That day I told you I didn’t want you in my life anymore?”

She gave a naked flinch at that, eyes darting over his shoulder to the spot inside where he’d said it, then back to him, her mouth drawn jagged. It was more answer than Sterling needed, certainly more than he wanted.

“It wasn’t true.” He forced the words out of his mouth into the gap between them, even though he couldn’t devise any but the most witlessly simple ones. “I didn’t want you out of my life. Ever. I just didn’t want you to know ... how I felt. How I feel. About you.” He swallowed, and Maggie was frozen, no sign of what she was thinking. “I didn’t even want me to know how I felt. I wouldn’t admit it for a long time. It ... that day it just hit me, and I....”

It seemed he’d run out of words, even simple ones.

Her breath hitched. “You were horrible to me.”

“I know.”

“And you did it because you loved me?

Her voice had risen with pain and disbelief, dug out deep, and he found he had words flooding out of him, anything to alleviate what he’d inflicted. “No! Because I was afraid of loving you, because I was stupid and proud and a coward, Maggie, I thought I could hurt you just enough to get away from it clean. I didn’t ... I didn’t think I’d hurt you. I thought you were too smart to let me hurt you.”

Sterling didn’t need the look on her face to tell him how stupid that was. “It doesn’t work like that,” Maggie gritted at him.

His head hung down. “As I discovered.”

“The things you said,” she said, voice low and nearly steady, and when he saw her eyes he would rather have her slap him again. A hundred times if necessary. “That I wasn’t worth your friendship.... You made me feel so small, so ... foolish.”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, all that he had left to give her.

Her mouth pulled downward, and with a swipe of her hand across her eyes she turned outward to the view.

He searched her profile, his hands working uselessly at his sides. “What can I do?”

She stood like that, rigid and unreadable, hands pinched white on the railing, for several minutes. Eventually, still looking out, she said, “Thank you for coming clean with me.” She swallowed against the little choke in it. “I know ... I know it wouldn’t have been easy.”

Few people, perhaps, would recognize the nervy distance disguised in the generosity of Maggie’s words. Few people knew her – watched and loved and longed for her – enough to catch it. Sterling had done all of it, for years, and maybe the decent thing would be to let her take that distance. He didn’t know. He’d never been much of a decent man, and that was why he closed the step or two between them. She tensed, clearly wary, but didn’t pull away; let him put his hands around her shoulders and coax her to face him.

She wouldn’t meet his eyes until he squeezed his hands gently, his heart torn raw by the hurt and confusion she let him see once she did. Slowly, ready to stop at any sign that the touch was unwelcome, he cupped her face with soft fingers, careful and chaste and intent on it.

“I’ve made you afraid, again. Of me ... no, of – us.” He knew as he spoke he hit the mark, even before her expression cracked for an instant and she nodded into his hands. He stroked away wetness on her cheeks with his thumbs, wishing he could soothe her misery as easily. Wishing, on a baser level, to go back to kissing her and then keep going until they both forgot everything else. But even if that could get him what he wanted, such a thought couldn’t survive in the face of her grieved blue eyes. He sighed, leaned in and put his lips to her eyebrow instead, while she stood unresisting in his hold. He even thought he felt her press very slightly into it, felt his fingers on her tighten just a bit to match, pulling the words out of him like breath.

“Don’t,” he pleaded; put his forehead to hers, caught her eyes from that close, utterly uncaring that he was laying himself bare to her. “Don’t run. I was afraid, too. And look at the mess I made – Maggie, please don’t run. I know you’re afraid, but don’t run away from this, from ... me.”

Her eyes closed with a shaky sob, and he could feel a tug where her hands had tangled at the sides of his shirt without him even noticing. “James....”

He kissed her again, reverent, slow kisses over her eyelids, the ridges of her cheeks and brows and nose, her temples, her hair. “I’m not afraid anymore,” he whispered against her skin, willing her to absorb the truth of it. “I can’t change what’s passed – but give me a chance to do better. Please.”

Her hands fisted at his waist, then with a shy, fragile little movement her face slipped forward through his hold to hide itself in the crook of his neck, making his breath catch, making his hands curl around to cup the back of her head, her shoulders, tucking her more securely against him, trying not to cry himself when he felt the hot wash of her sob breathed against his throat. He held her, just held her, and thanked anything that was holy that she let him. That even if she chose never to accept anything else, she had at least let him offer her this comfort.

When he felt her arms slide around his back, burrowing her closer, he couldn’t hold in the spill of wetness from his disobedient eyes and had to bury them into her shoulder. But there was no disguise to be had in the thin strap of material there, and after a moment she turned, nuzzled until their faces were coiled together cheek to cheek and breathing the same small pocket of tear-damp air.

“James,” she sighed then, and he had no idea how to interpret the emotion in her voice, but she couldn’t miss the way it made his clasp tighten around her. He was beginning to think there was very little he was going to be able to hide from her from now on, but couldn’t find it in him to care. She could have it. For the price of that sigh, his name, she could have it all.

A soft glide of her nose against his jaw, and then she whispered, “Give me time?”

For a second he thought he’d spoken aloud, but then he realized it was her answer to give me a chance. He had to try twice before he could make his voice obey him. “Of course.”

It made her smile, he could feel it against his beard. After a few minutes, she took a deep breath. “It’s late,” she murmured, but made no other move. He did nothing but hum a vague agreement, and could tell when she smiled again. “Especially for you,” she continued reluctantly, but more firmly. She lifted her head, nudging him to do the same. “James.”

Sterling took his own fortifying breath, dropped a last kiss on the bare curve of her shoulder, and pulled himself up, meeting her eyes as their arms released each other. “Late. Yes.”

“And we made a pancake breakfast date with your daughter.”

“Yes,” he said again, instead of I love you so much because he’d told her he’d give her time, not helplessly besotted confessions. The way it made her look at him said that she’d heard it anyway. That he’d been right: he’d given away any hope he’d had left of being able to keep her from seeing right through him, whether he liked it or not.

The way it made her skim her fingers quickly over his cheek before retrieving their mugs and turning inside said it didn’t have to be a bad thing.





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

( 4 speakses — have a speak )
im_ridiculous
Jul. 22nd, 2014 12:22 pm (UTC)
WOMAN. I LOVE THIS.

I LOVE THIS SO MUCH. You know this, yes, but I feel it bears repeating.

It sits just right for me. I love the intensity of it. I LOVE how his intensity is interrupted by those beautiful moments of bald-faced, uncomplicated, straight-up, guileless honesty... which is so unexpected in such a schemer as Sterling and yet is so perfectly, completely, absolutely him. And I adore her reaction to all that more than I can say. And it's just all so earned, and falling so right...

Just... **APPLAUSE** **throws flowers and confetti** **launches celebratory conga line because why not**

\o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/ \o/

ETA, just for the record, that all I really did was enjoy coming along for the ride my friend. The fact remains that YOU are the best :D #mutualappreciationfangirlingftw heh.

Edited at 2014-07-22 12:25 pm (UTC)
themonkeytwin
Jul. 24th, 2014 11:00 am (UTC)
Oh, babe. I love you. :)



(email rambling coming soon)
(Anonymous)
Jul. 30th, 2014 10:06 pm (UTC)
I love those series. Thank you for another fic. I especially like how characters sound and act so true to themselves!
I also like how family is slowly coming together. And Sterling had finally found the courage to come clean (I bet, he finds working for Interpol easier). Well, it took him less time than it did Nate, there is always that.
themonkeytwin
Jul. 31st, 2014 03:14 am (UTC)
Thank you! I do really enjoy writing them, and I think I'm going to be a bit sad when I finish this series. There aren't many more installments left. I love the little family that's forming too, and I was so ready for Sterling to come clean, the stories have been lugging that baggage for long enough! I'm really glad you're enjoying it. :)
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