Title: The Trust Job
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: Leverage/SG-1. The first time Nathan Ford laid eyes on Vala Mal Doran, she was simply Val, a random waitress in a random diner. 1900 words.
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not. I claim nothing but the plot.
Spoilers: Leverage post-"The Maltese Falcon Job"; SG-1 for "Memento Mori", set vaguely post-series.
Notes: Much belated noodling on an sg_rarepairings gen prompt that fell through the cracks last December: "Leverage, Nathan Ford & Vala Mal Doran, addition to the team".
The first time Nathan Ford laid eyes on Vala Mal Doran, she was simply Val, a random waitress in a random diner he'd stopped at for a meal. He'd run into a roadblock on his background investigation into Farrow-Marshall Aeronautics- a literal one, staffed by men in Air Force uniforms outside a damaged warehouse connected to company VP Charlotte Mayfield- and had retreated to the brightly-named Sol's to regroup over the day's Blue Plate Special. Val had served it with a welcoming, if distant smile, and he'd paid her no further attention as he'd picked over his food and his files.
By the time he'd finished eating and was ready to call for the check, he'd reluctantly decided he was going to have to return to the office and regroup. The activity at the warehouse had suggested that he'd been right to pursue the data trail that had led him that far, but it had also hinted that the company's probable criminal activities added up to something a lot bigger than the fraud case he'd been pursuing. It didn't mean he was going to stop poking around; but it did mean he would have to be a lot more careful with his research. He'd just finished tucking a sheaf of printouts back in his briefcase when a commotion drew his attention to the front of the diner.
Val, bland waitress, had transformed into a ponytailed whirlwind of trained warrior.
Nate stared at the woman, amazed, as she efficiently took down both of her opponents. He hadn't seen moves like that since the last time he'd caught a glimpse of Eliot Spencer in action. He stilled an abortive impulse to get up and assist her; clearly, she didn't need the help, and any attempt to aid or confront her would probably just complicate things further. Instead, he took a thorough look at the attractive features concealed by awkwardly parted hair and unflattering makeup, and mentally thumbed through the catalogue of thieves and conmen he'd built a career pursuing. She didn't look familiar, but their world was a small one, and a woman that dangerous who could vanish in plain sight-
His thoughts ground to a halt again as she faltered, staring at the men on the floor and her own hands as though she were terrified by what she'd done.
He sighed, his calculating mind relaxing at the gesture. Perhaps this 'Val' had been involved in something hazardous in the past, but had come to this out-of-the-way eatery to try and leave it all behind her. Or maybe she just took self-defense courses in her spare time, and Nate's instincts were malfunctioning where she was concerned. In either case, it was doubtful that she was part of the Farrow-Marshall puzzle, and he'd do her no favors reporting her presence in the town. IYS didn't pay him to play vigilante.
All the same, he made a mental note to watch out for her in future. The woman who'd crumpled after the fight would probably never crop up on IYS radar, but the woman who'd lifted the gun from her attackers and put them both down without breaking a sweat? He had no doubt she'd be trouble.
He counted enough cash onto the table to cover his still-unseen bill, then ducked toward the men's room, looking for a back way out of the restaurant. There were enough witnesses present that the police wouldn't need his statement, and he'd rather 'Val' remembered as little about him as possible.
In his line of work, it was always safer to err on the side of caution.
The second time Nathan Ford encountered the woman he'd met as Val, she was seated at a table in McRory's.
He'd paused just inside the stairwell entrance to the bar, as he often did when the team had begun interviewing someone without him: the more information he could gather ahead of time, the better he would be able to manage the conversation to follow. He didn't recognize her at first, just that there was another dark-haired woman leaning on Tara's arm- and that Sophie was seated across from them, laughing merrily, looking happier than he'd seen her since he got out of jail. It drew him up short; for a long moment, he couldn't help but simply look at her.
The surprise of Tara's reappearance caught his attention next: Nate hadn't seen the other grifter since that last unpleasant business with Sterling. She'd fled without the others, back to whatever mysterious business Sophie had recruited her from, but whatever it was, she looked healthy and unworried, so she probably hadn't come back to them with a cry for help. Social, then. He filed that, then dismissed it- and it was then that the old memory of a ponytailed waitress in action flared briefly in his thoughts, and he looked more closely at their guest, sidling farther into the bar for a better look. Val appeared much more put together in her slim jeans, leather jacket, and waves of casually let-down dark hair, showing no hint of whatever had left her so uncertain before. Given the company she was keeping, she must have resumed whatever violent lifestyle she'd temporarily ducked out of during her tenure in Sol's Diner.
He reevaluated his assessment of Tara's presence; he'd long since guessed that her business was probably government-related, and it was an even bet that 'Val' had military experience somewhere in her background. Her quick responses, familiarity with a weapon, and most of all the wary glance that proved he'd caught her notice even if the others hadn't seen him, had definitely been trained into her. Tara must have brought her. The question was, why Nate's team and not a more official organization?
"Eliot?" he murmured, touching a fingertip to the comm in his ear.
"On it, Nate," the hitter replied, instantly. They'd all got a lot more cautious since Sterling and Interpol had spotlighted their presence in Boston. "Rental car, registered to a military account out of Colorado Springs. Hardison's running down the name."
"Some variation on 'Val', I'd guess?" Nate approved. She'd definitely been running, then; and wasn't now, which hinted at interesting things about her purpose in coming to them.
"Good guess," Eliot grunted. "Vala Mal Doran, actually. You know her?"
"Saw her in action, once. Reminded me a little of you, actually," he added, knowing that would pique the other man's curiosity.
There was a brief moment of silence on the other end of the comm; then an ominous release of breath. "On my way," Eliot said.
Nate smiled to himself, then started across the bar to meet their new client. Whatever problem Miss Mal Doran had brought to them, it would undoubtedly be interesting.
"Sophie," he nodded to his partner. "Tara, good to see you. And- Val, I presume?" he turned to the sharp-eyed woman, thrusting out a hand.
Sophie's eyebrows went up; so did Tara's, which was gratifying. Val didn't even flinch, though; she just smiled, a wide, predatory baring of teeth that suited her far better than the bland, meek thing she'd greeted him with the first time.
"The diner," she said as she returned his grip. "You have a good memory."
"So do you," he complimented her, bowing over the hand she'd offered instead of shaking it. "That was back in my suit-wearing days," he added, for the benefit of their companions.
"And you filled it out well," she said, winking at him outrageously. "But mostly, I was just impressed that you hadn't stuck me with the check; Sal mentioned later that my last table had vanished on him, and I wondered if you'd been affiliated with- the people who were hunting me."
"Foiled by my own sense of accountability," he sighed, releasing her hand as he slid into the seat next to Sophie, across from her. "No, I was actually there hunting a woman named Charlotte Mayfield; she and Farrow-Marshall Aeronautics were up to some pretty shady business, but I never did find proof of that before she disappeared and the company reorganized."
Val's eyes widened and she shivered delicately- deliberately, no doubt. "Be glad you didn't," she said. "There was more than shady business involved. That's actually what I'm here about; Farrow-Marshall was part of a wide-ranging terrorist organization known as the Trust, with fingers deep in a lot of pies all over the world. And not the tasty kind. We managed to decapitate the organization quite recently, but we were never able to identify all of their minions."
"Who's we?" a gruff voice asked at Nate's shoulder; he looked up to meet Eliot's wary gaze, and nodded as the hitter spun a chair over from another table and sat down with them. "And why isn't whatever Air Force black ops group you're with taking care of it themselves?"
"Well, hello, Muscles," Val said, eyeing Eliot admiringly. "You are as good as advertised. Unfortunately, your Air Force answers to a bunch of three-letter organizations where this problem is concerned, and none of them are willing to risk poking the anthill. My team is especially well-known in these particular circles, so we can't do it ourselves."
"So you came for outside help," Nate concluded. "But- why us? Terrorists are a little out of our usual league."
"We do have a few leads," Val replied promptly. "And we thought you might... appreciate one of them."
She reached under her jacket for something; Eliot stiffened, then relaxed as her fingers emerged with a single photograph, which she immediately slid across the table.
Nate ignored it for a moment, studying her for signs of deception; and Tara, for signals that this might be some kind of a setup she'd been coerced into cooperating with. Neither gave him any red flags, so he extended his own fingers to take it, and only then looked down.
The indrawn breaths on either side of him were almost lost amid the ringing in his ears.
"We don't know if they recruited him before or after you left the firm," Tara said, gently. "Though, if it was before, you should know- they use some pretty extensive... brainwashing... on their converts."
Nate swallowed, then looked up, meeting gazes with her; whatever she saw in his eyes, it was enough to keep her from spelling the rest of it out. He turned to Sophie next, who looked as shocked as he felt; then Eliot, who looked murderous; and finally Val. He'd been right about her, he thought distantly: she was trouble. The kind he'd never seen coming.
"Before you ask," she said brightly, "we did check your pal Sterling. He's one hundred percent the original model, I'm sorry to say."
"Pity," Nate said, thickly. Ian Blackpoole. Not as down and out as Nate had hoped- with the bonus of glowing eyes, of all the inexplicable things.
Clues, scattered bits of information long-buried, stirred at the back of his mind; he stuffed them down again to assemble later, hopefully accompanied by a good-sized glass of whisky. He knew the limits of his ability to cope, now; he was going to have to trust his team to double-check his decisions on this, but there was no way he could let it go, and he knew they wouldn't expect him to.
He took a deep breath, and nodded once in the face of her shrewd smile. "We're in."