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holy yet another one, Batman

I don't really know why I'm stuck on Maggie and Sterling (or why this one wrote itself so fast), but I've been home with the flu for over a week and there are only so many lame movies you can watch with your brain feeling like pudding. Also, possibly because every single episode of S5 so far has left me with a horrible, horrible, very specific feeling about how the series is going to end. And I don't want to think about it. These guys and their sexy, sexy slow burn are my happy place right now (which I know is basically just me, sorry everyone else). *fingers in ears* Lalalalalalacan'thearyou.


Title: concerns of contact
Ficverse: Leverage
Series: Silver and Gold

Rating: Gen, PG
Length: 2700 ish
Characters: Sterling, Maggie
Teaser:
He’s free, currently not wanted. Make no contact.
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. Links to the other installments are at the end.
Warnings/Spoiler: Set immediately after The Jailhouse Job (3.01).
Disclaimer: Stuff that's not mine is not mine.
Feedback: let's hear it. The good, the bad, the ugly....





No matter how long Maggie frowned at it, the cryptic message sent to her phone yielded no further information. It gave no number, although she knew who it was from; it gave no names, although she knew who it was about; it gave only one instruction, and she didn’t know why.

He’s free, currently not wanted. Make no contact.

She’d scoured news sources, but the only stories connected to the prison Nate was apparently no longer in were ones about the corrupt warden being arrested, stories that had Nate’s team’s fingerprints all over them. And nothing, absolutely nothing, about a breakout of a prisoner. Yet she didn’t for a second doubt that the message was true – nor that, lacking any identifying information whatsoever, it had to have come from Hardison.

Which was why she’d tried to obey the instruction, since if she was being asked to stay clear of them, she could take it as read that there was a good reason for it. Unfortunately, the good reason almost certainly involved danger of some serious kind. She had lasted perhaps half the morning before worry drove her to trying every single contact she had for the team. The uniform response was that not one of those contacts even existed, which she had to assume Hardison was capable of, and didn’t alleviate her worry one bit.

Logically, she knew she shouldn’t worry. Or at least that worrying was not going to change a single thing, and moreover, there was nothing else she could do for the team or Nate. If anyone could take care of themselves, it was them. The logical thing to do was assume no news was good news and get on with her own life, and that afternoon she mostly succeeded.

But by the second night of watching 04:00 tick over on her bedside clock, right next to the phone she’d checked at least twenty times in between trying to go to sleep, she was forced to acknowledge that the theory was more logical than it was practicable.

The thing was, there was one contact she knew would work, and was reasonably sure would answer. That might even have information on the situation, or lacking that, advice.

She slid out from the tangle of sheets and padded downstairs to refill her water glass, trying to pretend her stomach wasn’t churning at the thought of making that call. But this only made it worse, since this was the last place she’d seen him, six months ago. When he’d come to her home in person to tell her about Nate’s incarceration in the first place. Six months, and she still didn’t know what to think about that fight, nor what to feel.

She’d thought they were friends. She had felt ... safe. She could count on one hand the friends she had who she felt truly safe with. Not just ones she could trust to keep confidences, but ones who really knew her, knew the deep and painful things of her life, knew the emotional and intellectual boundaries and respected them. The ones who cared enough to challenge those boundaries in the right way when she needed it. The ones who, in her worst moments, made her feel like she wasn’t alone in the world.

Somehow, over little more than a year, he had gone from being her now-ex-husband’s old work friend to being numbered among that rare handful. And if there had been the occasional light teasing of something more, that’s all it was, light and teasing, and the something more was not something she let herself dwell on.

And then, right here in her living room, in what had felt like a few horrible, racing-out-of-control minutes, he had taken all that and thrown it in her face. She had slapped his. She was a little ashamed of that response now; she never thought she’d be that kind of woman. But in the moment, it had felt like the only way to strike him as hard as his words had struck her.

She had always known he was a bastard, or should have. She’d witnessed it. But she’d never experienced it, not like that, not how personal he made it. And really, that should have been the end of it. He’d warned her from the beginning that he was not a good friend to have, and of course that had only made her find him that much easier to trust. She should call it a lesson learned, a harder one than most, and move on.

Except that it didn’t sit right. Something about it didn’t add up, and she couldn’t put her finger on what, even though she had tried more times than she would like to admit – and the more she thought about it, the less sense it made to her. Of course, it was possible that she kept second-guessing what had happened because the alternative was second-guessing her own judgment. Neither of which were helped by something – call it woman’s intuition, maybe – telling her that even if they hated each other, if she went to him in real need, he would find a way to help her. In fact, she was certain of it, and she couldn’t explain to anyone, least of all herself, why that was.

Well, she needed something now, even if it was only peace of mind enough to sleep. Perhaps this would answer two questions in one.

She returned upstairs to her room and picked up her phone; she was pretty sure he was still in London, where, according to the internal clock she’d developed through years of international work, it would be around midday. If not – her mouth curled in a cool smile – too bad.

Then she stopped; she was sitting on her mussed bed, in her camisole, in the in-between hours of night. All of which felt far too exposed even for a voice call. Especially against him, against his quick, razor insight that she had never feared until now.

She quickly decided on a light robe and the small, private balcony off the bedroom. The robe was more for the psychological barrier than anything else, since the summer night breeze was warm enough against her skin that she might even be more comfortable without it. Curling up on the deckchair, she looked beyond the city lights to the ocean’s horizon for a few moments to gather calm. Then she shut her eyes and firmly pressed call.

It was on its third ring and she was realizing, with a little panic, that she hadn’t decided whether to leave a message or hang up if it went to voicemail. Making her unprepared when he answered on the fourth.

“Sterling.”

Her stomach lurched, but even so, she felt relieved. She’d expected him to sound – terse, or something. That clipped way he had of answering his phone that she must have heard a hundred times. But he sounded mostly confused, and somehow it made her greeting come out much softer than she intended. “Hello, James.”

“Maggie – what is it? Are you alright? What – what time is it there? What –”

“I’m okay.”

Her assurance silenced the flow of what she once would have been sure was urgent concern. When he finally did speak again, it was colder, formal. “What can I do for you?”

The loss of warmth – even if she was only imagining it – suddenly slammed home the sense of being cut off, the sleepless worry of the last two days. She gasped quietly, trying to get control of herself.

“Maggie?” he asked again after she didn’t answer.

She refused to take any comfort from the touch of worry that seemed to have crept back into his tone. She cleared her throat. “I assume that you’re still ‘keeping tabs’ on Nate?”

The bluntness of her question – or maybe the subject matter – brought another long pause. “I am,” he said, in a way that made it plain he was aware of recent events. “What happened?”

Her jaw clenched. She was so not in the mood to play his little games. “That’s what I want you to tell me.”

“I meant on your end,” he replied calmly. “That you resorted to calling me. Did someone ... contact you?”

Once again she had the feeling that there was much, much more going on behind what he was saying than she could decipher. Other than the obvious assumption, of course.

He, on the other hand, showed no trouble in deciphering what was behind her hesitation. “Perhaps it would help move things along if I informed you I have no interest – and no jurisdiction – to go after Nate.” His voice was becoming tight, the way it did when he got annoyed. “That would be the US Marshals Service. And Nate does not currently appear in their databases.”

“I don’t understand!”

“Maggie. Please just answer my one question, and then I will explain what I can. Has anyone contacted you?”

The please was the final ingredient in making her feel thoroughly lost, and begin to feel really scared. It seemed the only thing to do was answer honestly, and trust his motives for asking – or hang up. She breathed deep. “Two days ago I got an anonymous text saying that Nate was free, and not to contact them. I assumed it was from Hardison.”

“It named Nate?”

“Well, no –”

“Give me the exact wording.”

She recited it from memory – the eight simple words were burned in by now – and he was quiet for a moment. “Okay,” he said, sounding a little more relaxed. Then, almost an afterthought, he asked, “Did you?”

“I ... couldn’t get any number to work.”

He made an exasperated noise, which she knew she deserved, but all he said was, “Good.”

Nothing that had just transpired had done anything to calm her fears. “James, please – what is going on? Did Nate break out of prison or not? Is he okay?”

“So far as I know, he is.”

“Do you know where he is? Is he on the run?”

There was another pause. “No. The whole team is still in Boston. They haven’t gone anywhere.”

Maggie closed her eyes, feeling the tension exhale from her body in one long breath. None of it made much more sense than before, but knowing that Nate was with his team somehow made the difference.

Sterling waited her out without comment, allowing her to gather her thoughts unhurried. “Okay,” she said, once she was ready. “Then what happened? And why all this fuss about making contact?”

“I don’t know everything,” he said, cool and crisp, his efficient-business-meeting voice. “And I will not be telling you all that I do. Do you understand?”

“I do.”

“Nate is currently under some very powerful protection. The kind that can take him off – and keep him off – the radar of every law enforcement agency you can name.”

“You mean legally?”

“Yes. As far as we go, Nate Ford doesn’t exist.”

“But – you’re still tracking him...?”

There might have been a hint of a smile in his voice. “Well. Bureaucratic radars aren’t the same as personal vendetta radars.”

It was the kind of ironic, self-aware humor that had previously charmed her, especially contrasted with Nate’s chronic blindspots when it came to himself. It wasn’t the only contrast between them. Now she didn’t know what to make of it, and didn’t respond.

“Which brings us to the issue of contact,” he continued, more cold and hard than before. “The only reason he would be under this kind of protection is because he is working a job on their behalf. You have to understand, Maggie, if this is a job the protecting agent cannot do themselves, then it involves a target who is exceptionally difficult or dangerous. Most likely both. Hence the precaution Nate’s taken to get you off the board as completely as possible. Where, if you’ll take my very strong advice, you will stay. I cannot overstate that enough.”

The increasing formality of the last part only barely masked the strength of feeling behind it, and momentarily distracted her from the exceptionally difficult or dangerous part before it. But only momentarily. “Can you stop him?”

“I’m sorry?”

She didn’t need Sterling’s disbelief at the request to know it was foolish. But his warnings echoing in her head overrode that. “Can’t you do something? To – stop him, or – help –?”

She almost thought he wouldn’t deign to answer until he said, “Absolutely not.”

She hadn’t expected anything else really, hadn’t intended to push it, but the unnecessary force of his response stung it out of her. “If I’m understanding what you’re telling me, Nate’s involved in something that could probably get him killed. Is that right?”

He didn’t mince words. “Yes.”

“And you won’t do anything, nothing, to help keep that from happening?”

His grim intake of breath was audible; his voice remained cold, and for the first time a tiny bit cruel. “Much as I am touched by your faith in me, Maggie, no. I won’t. There is only one reason for authorities – especially with this kind of pull – to turn to using thieves to get a job done: because authority of every conceivable kind has tried and failed. So much that no one believes it can succeed. No authority risks going outside itself like this, ceding something like this to someone like Nate, if it can help it. Even if I did want to help Nate go after his guy, anything I could do from my position would only jeopardize him further.”

Her ears caught the new piece of information amidst his horrible, undeniable logic. “Who is he going after?”

There was another pause on the other end. “I don’t know.”

“James.”

“There are several possibilities. All of them being part of what I will not tell you.”

“Is there anything else you will tell me?” Given that he was being more upfront with her than she could have reasonably hoped, her irritable question might have been out of line. But she was exhausted. And still worried, and – confused. Really all she wanted at this point was to have a good cry and go to sleep.

Something of that must have leaked through, because instead of replying in kind, his manner gentled. “Just to repeat that you please stay as far away from Nate as you can, until this is over. For your good and his.”

Her forehead came to rest against her drawn-up knees. “I’m not stupid,” she said in a small voice, and she must be more tired than she thought if even a trace of consideration from him could get her to drop her poise so easily. She sounded like a little girl.

“No, you’re not,” he said softly. “You’re a kind, compassionate, loyal woman. And that –” He broke off, but not before tears stung her eyes. She blinked them back angrily, unable to speak before he resumed. “It will be alright, Maggie. – Try to get some rest.”

The almost-tenderness of it made her jaw drop. How dare he? She stared at her phone for several seconds, then decided no words could better convey her contempt for whatever game or joke he thought he was playing now than just hanging up on him. Which, with a feeling very much like when she slapped him, she did. She didn’t even care if it was childish; she was at the very end of her rope and just wanted to be not talking to him anymore.

Two seconds later she dropped her phone on the floor and burst into tears. For a minute she tried to keep it in, dreading the sound of the ringtone of him calling back, but when it didn’t come she relaxed and just let herself cry and cry. Soon she didn’t even know what she was crying about anymore, just dredged up emotional gunk she’d been sitting on too long and needed to clear out.

The summer’s early dawn was lightening the sky behind her before she was done, drained and boneless but finally calm, watching the blue of the ocean change against the dim purple horizon. She picked up her phone and called in sick for the day. She took a quick shower, to wash the last of the night that had passed off her, then crawled back into bed, switched off her morning alarm, and fell asleep.





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.

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