Chapter 3: Leverage Family
A/N: Okay, see, I had my plan for what Buffy would do to Sterling but was told by a close friend that it was too cruel. That it would make Buffy seem sorta sociopathic and put anyone who found out about what she did in a difficult place, ethically speaking. Originally, she was going to plant evidence that indicated he was a pedophile – at least where she was concerned. That the reason he was trying to take her away from Parker was so he'd have Buffy to himself. The only charge Buffy would make verbally was that he was hanging around and making threats. It was the evidence she manufactured that was the problem to my friend.
Warning: I don't know; maybe language and innuendo somewhere along the way.
Challenge: #4917 by EvaMcGregor.
Thanks to my betas: AshDawnSoulmates and zigpal.
Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. Leverage characters belong to John Rogers, Chris Downey, and TNT. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.
And so it went for the next few months. Buffy would ask Parker if they could do things with the guys, then Eliot and Buffy would fade into the background or quietly leave Parker and Hardison alone so it ended up almost being a dating routine.
Not being as socially backward as the blonde thief, Hardison caught on after about the third time they did it. However, he had grown fond of Parker and actually was happy about their matchmaking so he went along with it. Nobody said anything because they were afraid of Parker's reaction to finding out she had been manipulated into a 'relationship'.
Meanwhile, the team found out where Nate had gone on his 'vacation'. Much to everyone's surprise, the mastermind of Leverage Inc. had checked himself into a detox center to get over his alcohol addiction. Sophie in particular was stunned – seeing as how he had shrugged off her efforts to clean him up during the rehab con.
Why did he choose now to do it?
The simple answer was Buffy.
Nate looked at her and saw his son's eyes staring at him. So when she flinched at his closeness, it was as if it were Sam doing it…and it tore him up inside to think that his child would ever react the same way Buffy did.
Sam's death almost destroyed him; if he kept drinking to forget his pain, it would…sooner instead of later. Something he had overheard Buffy saying to Parker one day got him to thinking about how he was living his life. She was talking about her past and the fact she witnessed her cousin's death, and she said, 'Celia's mom was worried about how I had stopped playing or laughing. Finally, she sat me down and asked me to do something for Celia. She asked me to live for Celia. Make my life something she would be proud to be a part of.'
Those words kept repeating over and over in Nate's mind for days. It finally got to the point where he couldn't even take a drink without hearing them. He knew that Sam would be ashamed of how his dad fell apart because of his death. Sam's memory deserved a better legacy than a drunken father – even if he was a 'functional' drunk.
That's when he made plans to get clean.
But he needed to do it on his own. As much as he cared about the team – and Sophie in particular – he couldn't let them be involved. This had to be for him. Letting them be part of it would just cloud the process. So he basically snuck away, not telling them what he was doing.
Parker and Buffy's apartment
After Nate came back…
Peering out from her hiding spot by her bedroom door, Buffy glared at the man talking to her mom; the others called him Jim Sterling. He worked for the company that let Nate's son die. That made him and the company the baddies in her mind. And the fact he was sneering at Parker only solidified that opinion.
Sterling lounged on Buffy's bed and picked up Bunny, petting it in what felt to Parker and Buffy a threatening manner. Of course, his next words sort of encouraged that judgment, "Either you help us or I'll make sure you lose that little girl of yours. I know that 'adoption' you pulled couldn't possibly be legal. No person in their right mind would ever give you custody of a child," he snarled very Sterling-like.
Parker's eyes widened in fear. He would know just which button to push. "Leave Buffy out of this!"
He set Bunny down, but made no move to get off the bed. "Just do as I say and I'll be happy to."
"Until the next time you want something, right?" she correctly guessed.
Figuring this was the best time to interrupt, Buffy pushed the door open and did her best blonde act for the creep. "Hey, Mom! Who's this?"
The creep finally got off her bed to greet her. That bedding so needed to be burned, and Bunny needed to be disinfected. Oh yeah, creepy was speaking, "Hello, Buffy. My name is Jim Sterling. I'm a colleague of your mom's; just came to ask for her assistance."
"Hello, Mr. Sterling. You have a system you need fixed?" Buffy asked, tilted her head to the side and scrunching her face up in mock-confusion.
Sterling's confusion was genuine. "Excuse me?"
Buffy gave him a 'duh' look. "Mom is a security systems analyst. So if you need her help, then you must be having trouble with a security system."
Fighting the very strong urge to roll his eyes, Sterling leaned over to Parker, whispering, "Seriously? Your cover is a security systems analyst?"
Parker leaned away from him like he had the plague. "Why not?" she quipped, wondering where Buffy came up with that. She would have to mention that to Hardison; it was kind of a good explanation for what she did.
Buffy stamped her foot in indigation. "Hey, mister! I asked you a question! It's kinda rude to ignore people and whisper in front of them!"
Sterling cleared his throat, still trying to figure out what kind of scam Parker was pulling with the kid. "Terribly sorry, Buffy. I was just surprised that you knew what your mother's job title was," he explained, quite condescendingly in Buffy's opinion.
She decided she had enough of this pretend thing she was doing. Time to run her own con on the guy. "I'm 10, not stupid! Forget it, I was gonna try to be polite with you, but you're obviously just a big poophead. Leave my mom alone or I'm gonna cause you so much trouble any relatives unlucky enough to share your DNA are going to suffer," she threated with a 10 year old's version of a Slayer glare.
He backed up a step, somehow frightened of the child, before stopping himself. "I don't think you can understand just what I can do to you and Parker," he retorted hotly.
"Please, I heard you threaten to take me away from her. As if you could!" Buffy scoffed in an unconcerned manner.
Sterling just smirked in return, knowing he had the winning hand here. "Parker isn't fit to be a mother; therefore, any adoption would be illegal."
However, Buffy changed the rules of the game on him. "Well, first, you're wrong about your opinion of her. She's a great mom. Second, you'll have a lot harder time taking a kid from their biological parent." Checkmate! She knew from her experience with her real parents that taking a child from their natural parents was hard to do – even with proof of abuse.
"She's not your biological mom…right?" Suddenly he didn't look so sure. He started glancing between Buffy and Parker for some clue whether the kid was lying.
"You're considered as smart as Nate? Pfft!" she blew a raspberry at him. Then she subjected him to her best snarky tone, "Take a good look at us, and try to use all your brain cells for this. You're seriously telling me you can't see the family resemblance between us?"
Wow, when he did what she suggested, Sterling started to see what the brat was talking about "But how--?" he sputtered.
"Wow, that's really sad you don't know where babies come from," Buffy said with mock-pity. "Guess it has something to do with the fact no woman in her right mind would touch you with a 100 foot pole. See, when two people have sex – do you need a picture of what sex is? – one of the possible side effects is pregnancy. Since she was only 15 at the time and in foster care, Mom obviously couldn't keep me."
"So why are you here now?" he demanded, still trying to wrap his mind around this new complication. He really was counting on being able to blackmail Parker into helping him.
Giving him her best sneer, Buffy explained, "Not that it's any of your business, but she's not stupid; she knew she couldn't raise me before. When she joined up with the team and felt she could trust them, she asked Hardison to find me. After they saw some orphans being mistreated, Mom knew she couldn't stay away from me anymore. That living in a family like this one was better than living in foster care or a group home."
Sterling turned to Parker, guessing she was the one who had the true answer. Maybe the kid didn't know the truth. "She really is your daughter?"
For the second time that day, Parker struggled to catch up to her daughter's lies. Fortunately, she had every reason to go along with the con. "Uh, yeah. One of the boys from the foster home I lived in got me drunk and we had sex. Since the parents liked him better, they blamed me for it happening. Sent me away."
Buffy went over to Sterling and kicked him in the shin. Juvenile, yeah, but so was she. "So go away, you creep! If you ever come near my family again, I'll make your life hell! And by family, I mean the whole team, not just Mom," she clarified.
"This isn't over!" Sterling called out as he left, deciding a strategic retreat was called for at the moment. He'd come up with another way to get what he wanted…Nate's head on a platter for his boss.
After checking for any bugs Sterling might have had a chance to plant, Parker turned to her daughter with a shocked expression. "Buffy! How on earth did you manage to come up with a story like that?"
Buffy just shrugged in response. "I've been thinking about it ever since you took me home. I guessed that somebody would eventually use me to get you to do something. When Hardison told me we have the same bloodtype, the idea just fell into place. You don't mind, do you?" she asked, biting her lower lip in worry.
Parker pulled her into a tight hug – something she managed to get used to over the past few months. "Of course not! I actually kind of wish it was true though," she said wistfully.
"Me too. We can pretend it is," Buffy answered, snuggling into her mom's embrace.
Taking a moment to enjoy the closeness, Parker finally sighed and got up. "We should probably warn the others that Sterling came around. Means there's bound to be trouble soon."
Once Parker and Buffy filled the team on their visit with Sterling, Hardison started laughing hysterically. "Oh man, I wish I could have seen Sterling's face when Buffy threatened him!"
Nate smiled at the image too. Then his expression turned grim, and he warned her, "But you need to be careful, Buffy. He's a very dangerous man."
"I know. I just couldn't let him hurt Mom," Buffy explained in that childlike manner kids had sometimes.
"Thank you, sweetie. Nate's right though; next time we see Sterling, stay clear, 'k?" Parker pleaded. She couldn't live with herself if something happened to Buffy.
Buffy considered it for a second, then answered truthfully, "No promises."
It was only a month later when Sterling made his next move. Except, this time he targeted Hardison. When he tipped off the mark the team was working on that Hardison was hacking her computer system, Sterling didn't count on the woman physically going after Hardison.
But see, Allyson Brendan was not a woman to mess with. Everyone thought it was her brother, David, that was behind the violent things that happened to their enemies. That was the way Allyson and David wanted it to look; that way, nobody would watch her movements. If they had, it would have made sense that David always seemed to have an air-tight alibi when the hits went down.
Sheer luck kept the bullet from penetrating Hardison's heart.
Instead, it nicked his right lung when he tripped over a crack in the sidewalk. Ignoring her own safety, Buffy burst out of the van to rush to his side – as did the rest of the team. Within seconds, Sophie had called 9-1-1 while Nate tried to stop the bleeding. Eliot figured out where the shot came from and took off after the shooter.
It was Parker who was torn about what to do; stay with Buffy and Hardison or chase the one who shot him? Catching Buffy's eye, Parker saw her daughter's vote and sprinted after Eliot, knowing that Nate and Sophie would watch over Buffy. Whoever did this would pay – maybe/probably with their life. It didn't occur to Parker why she was so angry about this. After all, it wasn't the first time one of them was hurt.
Back at the scene, Buffy looked around the area for any other threats. Again, it was something in her psyche that made her do it. She growled angrily when she saw Sterling across the street in his car. He had something to do with Hardison getting shot; she just knew it. He would pay for this!
She had just the way to do it, too. A man like that, his reputation meant everything to him, so that's how she'd get him…through his reputation.
Hardison's hospital room
4 days later…
Parker sat by Hardison's bedside, alone for the moment. The others were out chasing leads and handling the con they were running. Buffy was still at school for another half hour. Her daughter had told her that talking to the hacker would let him know he wasn't alone. Parker didn't even consider questioning how Buffy could possibly know that.
"Eliot and I tried to catch who did this, but they got away in a waiting car. It turned out to be stolen so no help there." Her voice cracked as emotions overwhelmed her, "Hardison, you have to wake up. Remember, you promised to help me with Buffy? I can't do this without you! I need you! Please! I--I--I love you, Hardison," she whispered through her tears, finally realizing what that gnawing feeling in her stomach was. It was the fear she'd lose somebody who was almost as important to her as Buffy.
This was something new for the reformed thief to think about. Love wasn't an emotion she put much stock in; her years in the foster care system drilled cynicism deep into her heart. Having Buffy come into her life was the first step to turning away from it, and falling for the quirky hacker finished the job. She couldn't lose either of them now.
Hardison woke an hour later to find a blonde head next to his shoulder. At first he thought it was Buffy, but then he saw the younger girl in a chair by the window. That only left… "Parker? What's up, girl?" he murmured in the elder blonde's ear.
She snapped up and exclaimed, "Hardison! You're not dead!"
He chuckled at her blunt way of speaking, finding it quite charming – in a Parker sort of way. "Nah. Not that I can tell, anyway." Parker was so relieved that she kissed Hardison right on the lips. "Then again, I could be in heaven now."
Buffy bit the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing at the dazed look on Hardison's face. "Sorry, not just yet. Mom kinda had a revelation about you, though. I'm just gonna go call the others so she can tell you about it," she said as she backed out of the room. Now she just had to figure out how to take a while to find somebody. Nobody would interrupt those two if she had anything to say about it.
Staring at the door where Buffy left, Hardison shook his head, then turned back to Parker. "What was this revelation?" he inquired.
Parker suddenly looked very nervous. She got up and began pacing at the foot of the bed. "Umm, see, the thing is--" she broke off, unsure how to proceed with her confession.
The pieces finally fell into place and Hardison grinned happily. "That you care about me as much as I care about you?" he guessed. The light in his eyes was pure hope that he was right.
"You do? Really?" Parker asked, stopping dead in her tracks.
Hardison nodded. "I swear on my earbuds. I was hoping that someday we could wear you down with all of our 'dates' that Eliot and Buffy arranged."
Parker's face scrunched up in confusion; then she thought back to all the group activities that ended up with just her and Hardison. "Is that why they kept leaving us alone?"
"Guess baby girl wants her mom to have a dad to play house with." Hardison seemed pleased with the world he woke up in. If this was a delusion of some kind, he wasn't sure he wanted to break it.
"And do you? Want to play house with us, I mean," Parker clarified, worried what his answer would be.
Hardison held out his left hand to Parker, ignoring the ache he felt from the movement. He was gratified when she took his hand and reclaimed her seat by his side. "Of course. Parker, you are the craziest chick I have ever met… But you are also the funnest one. Not to mention how great you are with kids. I would love to be part of your and Buffy's lives. Well, more than I already am," he added with a laugh, wincing as the pain flared in his chest again.
She looked up at him shyly. "I'd like to try that too."
He tugged on her hand to get her closer to him. "Then come over here and let's try that kiss again now that I'm ready for it." Neither one heard the soft cheer from the hallway when their lips met for a second time.
IYS black tie event
Sometime in the very near future…
Jim Sterling – newly instated VP of IYS – was speaking to Ian Blackpoole, head of the insurance company, and several clients or potential clients when he heard a young, angry voice call out from right behind him. "I warned you to stay away from my family, Sterling."
He turned around to find Parker's daughter, Buffy standing there, quivering with rage. "How did you get in here, Buffy?" he demanded, looking around for the rest of the Leverage team.
"Who is this child, Sterling?" Ian hissed quietly. This wasn't the time or place for a scene; not when they were trying to close the biggest deal their company had ever seen.
But Buffy heard him and fixed her glare on him. She guessed why he was trying to be quiet, so she went the opposite way, raising her voice even louder. "Name's Buffy Parker. And you must be the scum who let Nate's son die. You must be an idiot!" she declared, smirking to see that she had the attention of several people nearby.
"See here, young girl--" Ian attempted to shut her up before she said anything he couldn't spin.
She just kept going though, "I mean, I'm only ten, and even I know that keeping Nate happy and working for you was worth way more than you would have spent on that experimental treatment for Sam. He saved you, what? Millions? Hundreds of millions over the years? What's a couple hundred thousand – or even a million – compared to that? Not to mention what he would have saved you if he kept working for you."
A blonde woman came over from a different group, fire blazing in her eyes. "What is she talking about, Ian?"
Buffy didn't know who this woman was, but she was more than happy to blab what she had learned from the Leverage team and their files. "Oh, Ian didn't tell you that he let the son of his best insurance investigator die because the company didn't want to pay for an 'experimental procedure'? Gee, I wonder why not?"
Sterling did know who the woman was, and tried to stop Parker's daughter from causing any more damage than she already managed. "Buffy, you don't understand--"
"You're right, I don't," Buffy cut off his plea – pure venom in her eyes. "But then again, I have those pesky things called human emotions that you two don't seem to be bothered with. Tell me, did it even cause you to lose any sleep that you almost got Hardison killed?" she accused.
"You don't know what you're talking about!" Sterling denied, wishing he could grab the little brat and shake her into silence. If there weren't so many witnesses, he might have done just that.
"I saw you there that day. I know you know who shot him. Remember what I said to you when you threatened my mom?" she reminded, starting to stalk towards him.
"Yes, but wh--" Sterling's question was cut off by a decidedly girlish screech as Buffy swung her fist as hard as she could into his family jewels. When he doubled over in distress, she took the opportunity to give him a head butt that caused both their heads to ring in pain.
Even though Buffy was grimacing with her pain, she still took the time to warn him. "Come near my family again and I'll cut something off next time. That goes for you, too, slimy insurance guy," she tacked on towards Ian over her shoulder as she walked to the front door.
Ian knew he needed to do serious damage control, starting with Nate's ex-wife. "Maggie, she obviously misunderstood--" he began, reaching out for her.
Maggie reeled back from his touch, the agony on her face evident. Her eyes hardened as she clenched her fist and punched him hard in the nose. Then she started screaming, uncaring about all the guests who were gathering around them, "What? What could she possibly have misunderstood? Seems to me she was quite clear that you let my child die! You're some kind of sick psychopath. Did you get some perverse pleasure having me do work for you? Oh god! You bastard!!!"
She shuddered in disgust, turned away and blindly ran from Blackpoole and Sterling, leaving them to face the crowd of disdainful partygoers.
"I assure you, this is a simple misunderstanding," Ian tried again to keep this from blowing up in his face.
And had just as much success with this attempt as he had with Maggie.
"And I assure you, Mr. Blackpoole, my company does not like dealing with groups that are subject to these kinds of 'misunderstandings'," the leader of the group assembled sneered, clearly not believing Blackpoole's protestations. "I believe we'll take our business elsewhere. I'm sure it won't be a problem for you, though. There are plenty of companies that don't care about things like this. Ours just doesn't happen to be one of them."
Seeing those fat contracts going up in smoke, Ian pleaded, "Please, let me explain!"
The leader looked repulsed at this vile excuse for a human. "Explain what? Did you forget what Lasten Ensimmäinen stands for? Children First, Mr. Blackpoole. We take the revenues from our $200 billion oil company and use them to fund children's programs around the world – which in turn earns us another $175 billion a year. From adoptions to theme parks to college scholarship funds. There is no part of the child's life that we don't have a company to cover. That includes experimental treatments for children who are dying! We exist because of parasites like you, Mr. Blackpoole. Now if you'll excuse me, I suddenly feel the need to dip my hand in disinfectant."
The higher ups of IYS watched as the LE group followed their leader away from the party – each one looked like they wanted to spit on them as they passed. This one was going to hurt their bottom line…bad.
Once she found where Nate was holed up, Maggie barged into the Leverage offices to demand, "Why didn't you tell me about what Ian did?"
Startled at the sight of his ex-wife, Nate couldn't even try to hide his confusion. "What are you talking about?"
"About Sam's treatment?" she prompted with a raised eyebrow.
Nate collapsed back in his chair, unable to stand anymore. "How did you--?" he gasped out.
Taking pity on him, Maggie took a chair across from him, and began her explanation, "Little blonde girl by the name of Buffy Parker tore into Ian at a benefit last night. I don't think she realized who I was when she told him and Jim Sterling off."
Finding the strength – mostly from fear for Buffy's safety – Nate stood back up. "She did what?! I told her to stay away from Sterling!" he shouted.
Maggie just laughed in response. Nate's heart gave a little flutter at the sweet sound he missed so dearly. "I wouldn't worry too much about Sterling getting anywhere near Buffy again. He's probably too scared to get within six blocks of her."
Re-taking his seat again, Nate asked, "What? Why?"
Fighting her giggles, Maggie said through her beautiful smile, "To put it euphemistically, he's eligible for the Vienna Boys' Choir now."
"You mean to say--?" Nate couldn't finish his question because he started laughing himself.
Happy to see her ex-husband smile again, Maggie confirmed, "Oh yeah, right where it counts."
"Eliot should appreciate that. He only got a small taste of her strength when he dealt with her." When he saw the blank look she was giving him, Nate explained, "Uh, he's a co-worker of mine and now one of Buffy's honorary uncles."
She gave him an unreadable look. "You must be another one. She warned Ian to stay away from her family or she'd make him suffer like Sterling." Maggie leaned back in her chair, delighted to be able to share something she knew would make Nate happy. "Funny thing is, between me and her, we've already hurt him far worse."
Intrigued by the almost evil smile she had, Nate inquired, "What do you mean?"
Maggie shrugged nonchalantly. "One of his potential clients was meeting him last night at the benefit, and now they've decided to go with another company after hearing that IYS let our son die."
"Lasten Ensimmäinen is a company founded on helping children. The sad irony is that if we had told them about the treatment back then, they would have covered the costs," Maggie shared with tears in her eyes. The CEO caught up to her in the parking lot to assure her that they would make every effort to ensure this wouldn't happen again to somebody else's child.
Nate looked down, unable to meet her eyes anymore. "I'm sorry, Maggie. I just-- I worked for those people and trusted them to do the right thing for Sam. When I found out what they did, I felt responsible. If I told you, then you'd hate me as much as I hate myself. I thought it was better to have your pity than your hatred."
Maggie caught the present tense when he said he hated himself, and her heart broke for him. She stood up and walked to the other side of the desk to lay her hand on his shoulder. When he glanced up at her, she spoke softly, but sincerely, "Nate, I could never hate you – especially for something that wasn't your fault. I only wanted us to help each other through our grief. It hurt losing you to alcohol after losing Sam to his illness." She scrutinized him for a second, then added, "Speaking of which, you are looking much better than the last time I saw you."
"Got sober a couple months ago. When Parker got custody of Buffy, it hurt to see her back away every time I came in the room. We think she dealt with some abusive, drunken adults before coming here. Anyway, it got me to thinking about Sam and what he would want from me. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in a treatment center," he explained with a self-deprecating shrug of his shoulders.
"Well, I'm very happy for you. Buffy obviously must be okay with you now if she's taking on Ian for you," she pointed out.
Nate's eyes brightened at the mention of the younger blonde whirlwind. It was almost like before Sam died – the happiness she saw there. "Yeah. We had a talk when I got back, and as long as I stay away from the booze, she and I are good. She's quite a pistol, that girl."
Maggie was encouraged at the changes she saw in Nate and wanted to say thanks to the girl responsible for getting him to fight for his life again. "So I saw. Think there's a chance I can meet her again under better circumstances?"
"Sure, if you want." He looked at the clock on the wall and said, "She's probably at the hospital visiting Hardison right now."
Remembering the name from Buffy's accusation the night before, Maggie nodded in understanding. "Oh, the one she blames Sterling for."
"Huh?" was Nate's less than intelligent response.
Surprised he didn't already know, Maggie relayed what Buffy yelled, "She said she saw Sterling there the day Hardison was shot. She thinks he knows who did it."
That little-- Nate sighed in frustration. "Guess I'll have to have another talk with her. Did you want to meet the rest of the group now?" he asked, conveniently forgetting that meeting Sophie might be a tad awkward. He stood up and held is arm out.
Maggie took his offered arm. "That'd be very nice. Then maybe we could go get a bite to eat? Catch up?" she asked, almost shyly.
Caught off-guard by her tone, Nate stuttered, "Umm, sure."
A/N: Sterling is gone and Parker and Hardison are together. All is right in the Leverage world. You get to guess what happened between Nate and Maggie or Nate and Sophie. The company's name is Finnish…just for kicks.