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North Square fic: Square One 1/1

March 1st, 2012 (07:06 am)
rejuvenated

feeling: rejuvenated

Title: Square One

Disclaimer: I don’t own North Square.

A/N: This is really just wishful interpretation, taking place after the series. Much thanks to my partner in James Murray love, sophie_deangirl for the beta. Oh, and general apologies for the American spellings and any lingo that slipped in there! And if I misrepresented something in the British legal system, I also apologize. Everything I know comes from watching the show, so I'm by no means even close to well versed in it :)

Characters/Pairings: Morag/Hussein, Morag/Johnny Boy (with appearances by others)

Summary: And just when Morag thought she had something figured out, something new came along and threw it all entirely on its head, leaving her grappling desperately at square one all over again.



-o-

Morag was a smart girl. Good student, too. She was bright and receptive, eager to learn and quick to listen. This made her the ideal pupil all her life. She always passed her classes with glowing marks, and had been at the top of her class all her life. Teachers loved her, and on paper, she looked most impressive.

The problem was, of course, that none of that meant much of anything when it came to being a barrister. Knowing the facts was only a small portion of her job. Understanding how to work the system was entirely another. It required not knowledge, but being savvy, not training, but being cunning.

And just when she thought she had something figured out, something new came along and threw it all entirely on its head, leaving her grappling desperately at square one all over again.

The up and down nature of real life as a barrister was becoming more normal to her. But she was, by no means, an expert at it just yet. And still, she approached the task with the quiet tenacity that had gotten her through the rest of life. At the very least, no matter what happened, she kept showing up and hoping they gave her cases and a paycheck.

Things had started out so well, so she still wasn’t entirely sure how it’d all gone off track so quickly. She’d gotten herself locked up in contempt of court, almost ruining her future. Then, she’d lost out on the position in chambers and even if she’d been invited to squat, she understood full well her place with that. And for the most part, it was okay. She’d been dressed down, literally and figuratively, but at least she still had a job where she could look everyone in the face.

More or less, of course. Sometimes she could still see Peter’s doubt when he assigned her a case; she could still hear the casual way she was overlooked for the biggest cases. She still saw the quirk of a head when people asked what chambers she worked for and she had no clear answer.

She was invited for drinks and had a place to work, but she still felt like the lesser party that she was day in and day out. In fact, most days, it took all she had to hold her head high and nod politely at the general assembly when she came in. She’d be a liar if she said that Peter’s discerning look still didn’t make her bristle, which was why she was more than somewhat relieved that most of her cases still went through Johnny Boy.

Which was certainly the case this morning. As she made her way to the mailboxes, he briefly met her gaze, holding out the file as she passed. “A new one for you, Miss,” he said.

His manner was perfectly perfunctory and professional. There was no hidden malice and certainly nothing salacious or endearing about it. He had clearly taken their confrontation to heart a few weeks ago and had had said nothing of it.

Which was good. Considering how little clout she had, it was nice that someone listened to her, took her seriously.

Morag paused at his desk, and his eyes darted away as she took the file.

As nice as it was that he had listened, she still felt somewhat awkward about it all. Maybe this was what Peter had meant, the perils of dallying with the lesser employees around her. He called her Miss but had seen her naked and there was just no going back from that, even as much as she wanted to.

Uncertainly, she glanced from Johnny Boy to the file and back again. “And what’s this?”

“Assault,” he said, still not looking up. “Just came in.”

It was inexplicable for her to feel embarrassed, but somehow she still did. She’d seen something more in him once--something fun and entertaining. His charming smile had been so readily disarming and she’d let it happen. He was her clerk and she’d fallen for it, almost let it go on too long. Which was ridiculous in and of itself; more so when she’d considered how he’d wheedled his way into her good graces.

As if she hadn’t humiliated herself enough at this job.

For as good of a student as she was, she had never quite mastered the perils of self-doubt, fighting herself on the same insecurities for weeks and months and years. At this rate, she’d feel embarrassed to face Johnny Boy for the rest of her career, or at least until she found a better place to squat.

If she didn’t feel so small around Peter, she’d avoid this daily awkwardness, but as it was he was the lesser of two evils.

Cheeks burning, she turned sharply on her heel and continued toward her mailbox. Head high, she charged back through the main room, purposefully not looking at Johnny Boy even as she felt his eyes following her into the hallway.

The attention was unnerving, but she soon found that it was the only such attention she would receive. After all, what she had forgotten in her self-horror was that everyone else in chambers had their ups and downs as well. The other barristers had not quite integrated her fully into their fold, but it was impossible not to know something of their personal and professional successes and failures. They were all too preoccupied with their own business to worry much about hers, no matter how spectacularly awful her own may have been.

That was true for everyone except Hussein, of course.

Her once equal pupil barrister had been keenly aware of her from the start, and though she’d had her doubts, he’d proven himself to be her friend as much as her competition. There was solace and frustration in that, especially since he’d been given a real job and she hadn’t, and when she sat down to tackle her morning briefings, she was not surprised to see him already poised and hard at work.

She resented him just a little for being so together--as always--but he certainly more than made up for it in other ways. What they had together had never been officially called anything, and their dalliances were trysts of convenience and pleasure, with no strings attached. She might have it in her heart to resent him more if he wasn’t quite so pleasurable in other aspects of life.

It was clearly a tact he agreed with. He demanded nothing of her and asked for nothing in return. There was no future between them, just the ease of familiarity to keep them well lubricated, as it were.

As she sat down, he looked up at her and smiled warmly. He was still unfailingly polite, no matter how many times they’d been naked together.

Still, it was impulse to smile back. He brought out the right and proper in her. “Hello,” she said, settling herself down.

“Rough morning?” he asked sympathetically.

She found herself blushing. “I’ve certainly had worse.”

He laughed a little. “I’m not sure you should be testing fate.”

Huffing, she started through her mail. “You’re probably right,” she said. “But at least I’ve always got plenty of work to do to keep me busy.” She glanced at him. “How about you?”

Hussein lifted the papers he was looking at, a small smile on his lips. “Just got a few good cases,” he said. “That drug bust that’s been coming in for months now. Finally got the file.”

At first, she thought maybe she had heard him wrong. But Hussein was not the type to mislead, nor was he prone to exaggeration or posturing. He was telling the truth. The case was his.

Which would be fine and well if the case hadn’t more or less been promised to her since her days as a pupil.

Morag was so surprised that she couldn’t even muster up a frown of discernment. This job was full of its surprises to say the least, but this was something she’d been counting on. A rarity, to be sure, but this case had been percolating for weeks now. The initial chatter had started her first day on the job, and as she’d gotten more experience, it’d become clear that it was one destined for their chambers.

More than that, it was destined to be hers. True, it was impossible to guarantee cases most of the time, but Johnny Boy had pushed for her involvement from the beginning, a move in which Rose had encouraged and Peter had approved.

In short, it was her case. It was probably the only perk she’d had left when she’d agreed to squat in chambers instead of actively pursuing other work.

So to see Hussein with it...

Was more than a bit of a shock. “And how’d you snag that one?” she asked, barely holding her incredulity in check.

Hussein looked up again, nonplussed. “This? Johnny Boy.”

This time she managed a frown. This made sense on one level, but on another, it was still something to consider. Yes, Johnny Boy doled out cases, but he’d never shown deference to Hussein, not even after he’d made barrister. Especially not when it’d become clear that they had a thing together.

More than that, this was her case. Had been since talk of it first came down the wire in her latter days as a pupil.

She hadn’t thought twice about it, had taken for granted that it’d still be hers. The wealth of best cases had dried up, but she’d never pegged Johnny Boy as truly vindictive enough to steal her case away. “Johnny Boy,” she repeated, trying to make it parse. She could still remember the way he hadn’t met her eyes, the way he’d called her Miss and given her the lesser case without so much as a word of warning.

He’d known. Stupid git had known and not had the decency to face her.

Hussein shrugged. “We came to something of an…understanding,” he explained carefully.

Careful or not, the meaning had implications, implications that were not so preferable to Morag, especially when she was a barrister without a chambers and she was bedding her main competition. “What kind of understanding?” she asked, too aware that she was almost demanding at this point, allowing her aggressions to be taken out on the wrong person entirely.

But this was important; this was her career, and playing a wilting flower got her nowhere. She’d thought breaking up with Johnny Boy had been the smart thing, and it was unnerving to think that she may have jeopardized what little she had going even further. To think she’d ever been charmed by the likes of him.

Hussein looked a little surprised by the obvious force in her voice. “I convinced him that sharing more cases with me would be beneficial to everyone.”

“Really,” she said, more than a little dubious, because now she didn’t know whom to trust, what to trust. If she had any hope left in these chambers at all. Hussein had not proven himself to be a liar but they were in competition even now and the best thing Morag had had in her favor was the preferential assignment of cases. “And just how did you do that?”

Hussein smiled a little. “I tend to prefer being polite and proper in my dealings with others,” he explained. “But if I’ve learned anything during my time as a pupil, it’s that clerks are not motivated by politeness.”

Another truth, of course, one she had learned from Johnny Boy’s interest and Mr. MacLeish’s ire. “And what are they motivated by?” Morag asked.

Hussein quirked his eyebrows. “Sometimes, affection,” he said, a little pointedly. “But most of the time, it’s a matter of favors. You have to have something they want and learn how to leverage that to your benefit.”

Again, this was true, and she knew it. But there was still a missing piece here. In her frustration, it was still clear to her that Hussein would need a lot of leverage to win over Johnny Boy, especially now. “But what did you leverage with Johnny Boy?”

“Well, your family case a few weeks back, of course,” he said. “The one about the flat, before all this.” He gestured vaguely around him.

She blinked in utter stupidity. “What?”

“After the client requested me, he still asked me not to take it,” he said. “Came to me after you’d gone and made a very straightforward case.”

She stopped cold. It was a case she’d always remember, a case it wasn’t even possible to forget: The case that probably cost her her job. The case that had shown Johnny Boy and Hussein for who they really were.

At least, that had been what she’d thought. Anger simmering with her shock, she wasn’t so sure of anything. It wasn’t the first and she was beginning to suspect it wouldn’t be the last.

Brow furrowed, she worked to keep herself under control. “So, let me get this straight,” she said, being slow and deliberate now. “It was Johnny Boy who told you to get out of the case.”

“He asked, yes,” Hussein said. “Though I had to spend more than a little time on the phone making that happen. And I’m sorry for all the trouble it caused you, but it did seem like the right--”

She shook her head, more adamant. “But he was the one who brought it up,” she clarified, because she could take Hussein’s good graces for granted by now, clearly. But Johnny Boy...

Hussein was looking at her plaintively. He nodded simply. “He didn’t realize that he wouldn’t have to beg,” he said. “I would have done it to be right by you without any further incentive, but he came offering so much--”

“Offering what exactly?” Morag asked.

“First choice of cases,” he said. “Three times. This is the first time I took advantage of it and I’m quite pleased.”

“He traded with you?” she repeated.

Hussein was sincere when he nodded. “I figured I would be foolish to not take such an advantage when it was presented so freely.”

It had been Johnny Boy’s idea. Yes, Hussein had the gallantry to go about it, but it had been Johnny Boy’s idea.

“He even insisted on taking the file over himself,” Hussein said. “Stayed late with me just to make sure it all got transferred back correctly. He may have had questionable morals at times, but he is dedicated to his job.”

Hussein was good at seeing things as they were, even better at putting it all in the plain light of day. Of course Johnny Boy had been the one to take the case to her; that was his job.

And more, it had been his idea.

The gift of gab, he’d said. Not with the client, like she’d assumed. With Hussein.

The revelation was shocking and yet it made sense. It made so much sense. It was like being in a room with her client and finally cutting through the crap and seeing not the best line of defense, but the raw truth. Such things were rare and beautiful in her line of work, and she had had it in front of her face the entire time and chosen not to see it.

Had believed guilt instead of innocence.

And had eviscerated him for it, just as readily as she herself had been thrown upon the altar for sacrifice more than once since starting on in chambers. It made her one of them, she supposed, but it occurred to her now that that might not be such a good thing after all.

“Bullocks,” she muttered, running a hand through her hair.

Hussein frowned. “Sorry?”

She shook her head, sighing. “I’ve been an unmitigated ass,” she muttered.

Across from her, Hussein looked perplexed, the plea for more information written plainly on his open features.

She shook her head with sudden decisiveness. “I’ve got to go,” she said.

His brow furrowed. “But your case--”

On her feet now, she looked at the file and sighed. It had to be dealt with, this much was true, but life was more than cases. She knew that now--a lesson perhaps learned the hard way, but an unforgettable lesson nonetheless. No more waffling. No more uncertainty. Her decision was made and she would stick to that, no matter what, even if it cost her the case, even if it put her in jail. This place was designed to test her, and it was up to her to make the right choices and come out on top.

This was what it was to be a barrister, to remember the relativity of truth and the power of reasonable doubt. Such lessons applied in the courtroom and real life, to criminals and clerks.

Especially clerks.

Her head high, she kept herself composed. “It can wait,” she said and as she walked toward the door, she could only hope she wasn’t too late.

-o-

For all her bluster, when she got to the main room, her courage was flagging. It was the right thing to do--she had no doubts about that--but the idea of facing Johnny Boy again was still somewhat hard to fathom. After all, she had started off being terrified of him before being totally jealous. When that had faded, she had found herself smitten and very near giddy in his presence.

It had all imploded with Hussein’s revelation and her humiliation had been easily redirected at him.

Redirected but misplaced, and she couldn’t hide the fact that she’d made her assumptions and lashed out without thinking it through. Really, it had just felt good to put someone else in their place, just like she had been so thoroughly put in hers. Of course, she had taken solace in thinking her own degradation had been unfair; it was painful to consider that she’d inflicted the same on someone else.

On someone who had looked out for her, who had liked her.

When she looked at his desk and he wasn’t there, Morag’s first impulse was to be relieved. She could still remember the way he avoided her gaze this morning, and his absence was certainly easier than his presence.

But it wasn’t going to help her make amends.

Lingering, for a moment, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Just then, Bob brushed by her. “Good morning, Miss,” he said. “Something I can do for you?”

She blinked, looking at the junior clerk with a measure of surprise. “No, just--” she began, but faltered. Frowning, she tried again. “Where’s Johnny Boy?”

There was a momentary look of bemusement and derision on Bob’s face. “He’s out,” he replied eventually, his tone even. “Mr. MacLeish had a few errands for him.”

Her frown deepened, especially as she noted the barely hidden glee in Bob’s eyes. “But aren’t you usually the errand boy?” she asked.

The question was crass, but it was also true. Bob bristled slightly, but pulled himself erect, straightening his head. “Things can change,” he said. “And favors shift.”

She eyed him, looking through him like a witness in the box. “You mean, the favors of the office have shifted,” she concluded.

Bob nodded somewhat. “It’s not really for me to say,” he replied.

Tilting her head, her look was one of knowing exasperation. “You’re being a tease, then,” she said.

Bob feigned innocence. “I just know my place is all, Miss,” he said. Then his eyes darkened just slightly. “That’s a lesson that Johnny Boy would do well to remember.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“It’s not my place,” he said, ducking his head and moving back to his desk.

She could have let him be--she probably should have. But the should-haves in life were getting her nowhere; she wanted answers.

Following him, she was unrelenting. “That’s rubbish,” she said. “Tell me what you mean.”

Bob flushed, eyes flickering around.

She followed his gaze, to Johnny Boy’s empty desk to Peter’s.

Bob leaned forward, his voice hushed. “Johnny Boy didn’t follow direction,” he said. “That’s not how it works for a junior clerk.”

Morag shook her head. “What direction didn’t he follow?” she pressed.

Bob lifted his eyebrows. “Regarding you, of course,” he said. “Not that I can’t understand his desires, but Mr. MacLeish was clear--”

She frowned. “Wait, Mr. MacLeish?”

Bob nodded. “He told Johnny Boy not to pursue it,” he said. “Pursue you, I mean. He didn’t listen, so if he’s the one fetching coffee, that’s entirely his own fault.”

There was a lot there, and Morag was bright enough to put together the pieces most of the time. But for some reason, this was a little harder than usual, and even if she could read between the lines, she wanted to hear it. Needed to hear it--just to be sure. “What didn’t Johnny Boy listen to?”

Bob looked surprised. His eyes darted around again and he leaned even closer. “Mr. MacLeish was quite clear. Clerks and barristers--they don’t get together,” he said. “He told Johnny Boy more than once to keep himself in check. Bastard didn’t listen. Not that I can’t see why, of course, but it’s a lot to risk your career on.”

That was what he’d meant. She hadn’t thought much of it--she’d been stewing in her own anger much to listen to him--when he’d told her that no one could tell them who they could or couldn’t see. She’d thrown the comment away like she’d thrown the rest of him away, and hadn’t taken the time to understand what he was saying, to understand what he was risking.

Johnny Boy was going after her despite direct orders to stay away.

That was something, really. In her time there, Johnny Boy had proven himself to be a reliable right hand man, following Mr. MacLeish’s lead unfailingly. He tackled any proposition for his boss, no matter how dubious or unseemly.

Except when it came to her.

She’d seen MacLeish’s wrath--in her favor and against--and it certainly wasn’t something she’d willingly choose. Even if she hadn’t thought Johnny Boy to be an opportunistic ass, Peter’s warning might have been enough to effectually snip their relationship in the bud. She was ambitious and she doubted if she would have been ready to risk her career for the sake of a good fling.

And yet, that was what Johnny Boy had done. The risk he’d been willing to take.

And she hadn’t even seen it. She hadn’t even let herself look.

Pulling herself together, she kept her emotions in check. She nodded slowly at Bob. “Right,” she said. “Well, if you see him--”

Bob lifted his eyebrows.

Morag shook her head. “Never mind,” she muttered before turning on her heel and walking away.

-o-

The thing with courage was that it was best played for an audience. Even then, Morag had her issues and by the time she was outside, she realized well and good that she had no idea what she was doing.

Going to find Johnny Boy, presumably, but she didn’t know where he was. Out running errands could mean anything; she was effectively looking for a moving needle in an amorphous haystack.

And that didn’t even begin to answer the real question in the back of her mind. When she found Johnny Boy, which was really inevitable at some point, what was she going to say to him?

His misleading behavior had been the impetus she’d given, but she had to wonder if that was it. Peter had thoroughly warned her against a relationship with Johnny Boy, and in retrospect, it was easy to see such wisdom. Johnny Boy was her clerk and as a squatting barrister, she could hardly afford any more embarrassments. Running around with Hussein was one thing; she was not entirely sure that anything with Johnny Boy would be a smart alternative.

And that assumed she wanted something with Johnny Boy. It wasn’t a point she thought on often, but she knew there was a reason she could be comfortable around everyone but him. Not just because he’d seen her naked but because she’d really rather fancied him.

Legitimately.

Things with Hussein were fun, but she saw no future for it. Sex before a case was excellent stress relief and going over the finer points of defense over breakfast was just convenient. And Hussein was polite and friendly and generous and boring.

There it was. Hussein was a wonderful best friend but the prospect of anything more with him was horribly dull in her mind.

Maybe that was why she’d been attracted to Johnny Boy in the first place. He wasn’t simple or by the book. He wasn’t fettered by legal posturing or solely concerned with a proper image. Morag had played it safe her entire life, and Johnny Boy had been anything but. It’d been a reckless and well meaning sort of fling, but that didn’t explain why she still thought about him.

Why she still blushed when they talked, why the skin on her arm still rose when they accidentally brushed. Why she thought of the way he slept naked with her in bed all night long, even while Hussein carefully dressed and brushed his teeth before coming back to bed.

It wasn’t just that things with Hussein weren’t going anywhere. It was that she missed Johnny Boy.

Missed the way he rigged things for her. Missed the way he smiled at her. Missed the way he never pushed himself, but always waited for her, to make a move and then never looked back.

Just outside chambers, she stopped short and shook her head, looking up. She was a bloody mess over this. It had been easier when he was an opportunistic climber with an ambitious sex drive. To think he had lobbied Hussein, had made a deal with someone he clearly didn’t like, and then not defended himself while she dressed him down--

Well, that was an awful sort of feeling.

She was an awful sort of person.

“Everything alright?” a voice came, breaking her thoughts.

Morag startled, looking down to see Rose moving toward the front door. “Oh, yes,” she remembered to say, forcing something of a smile onto her face.

Rose looked skeptical.

Morag shrugged. “More or less,” she said.

Rose hesitated, lingering. “Something you’d like to talk about?”

It was possible that Rose was just being polite, but of all of the barristers, Rose had been the one to show real compassion toward her. Not just as a barrister, but as a person, and the entire thing was such a jumbled mess that she nearly couldn’t help herself. “Maybe,” she said. Then she sighed, looking at her former mentor apologetically. “I’ve just been trying to figure some things out.”

Rose regarded her carefully. “What kind of things?”

“The difference between right and wrong,” she said. “Between personal life and professional life.”

Rose’s eyebrows rose. “Those are some loaded topics.”

“I know,” Morag said. “Sometimes I feel like the more I do this and the more I learn, the less I really know. It’s all a mess sometimes, isn’t it?”

“Are we talking about a case?”

Morag smiled wistfully.

“Hussein?” Rose ventured.

The frankness of it caught Morag off guard. “What?”

Rose smiled knowingly. “We’ve all noticed,” she said. “I think it’s cute.”

The flush burned up Morag’s cheeks before she had a chance to deny it. “Oh,” she said, swallowing with some difficulty. “It’s…well…not like that.”

Rose’s expression shifted somewhat, and she adopted a fresh air of reservation. “Oh,” she said simply.

“I mean, sort of,” Morag amended quickly. “But, not really. I don’t know. It’s just for fun. Convenient and all.”

“Right,” Rose said, nodding in understanding. “That’s not so bad.”

“No, it’s not,” Morag agreed. “But that’s all it is. All it ever will be.”

At this, Rose’s eyes narrowed slightly. “And you want something more,” she concluded gently.

It was such a fine point that Morag herself hadn’t found it just yet, but now that it was out in the open, it was certainly something to be reckoned with. Because she did want something more, and that was the crux of it. And yet... “With Hussein, no,” she said finally. “But I did think...once, I mean...”

She let her words trail off, unable to find enough courage to say the rest out loud.

Rose leaned forward with some interest. “Really,” she said. “Anyone we know?”

This time, the blush in her cheek was fonder but still undeniable.

It took a moment, but the pieces fell into place and Rose’s eyes wet wide. “Oh,” she said. “Johnny Boy?”

Morag shrugged sheepishly. If things between her and Hussein were quite clear to everyone, it was probably pretty likely that her affections for Johnny Boy had been equally plain no matter how hard they’d tried to conceal it.

At the time, it had made sense. Now, here with Rose…she understood Peter’s point with fresh acuity. “That’s crazy, isn’t it?”

Rose blinked, clearly in shock. “No, I mean,” she began, somewhat flustered. She pulled herself together, though, and smiled. “It’s just surprising. He is a clerk, after all.”

“That’s what Peter told me,” Morag reported miserably.

At that, Rose’s face darkened. “Peter knew?”

Morag nodded. “Talked me out of it.”

“And you let him?” Rose pushed, her incredulity plain.

“Well, somewhat,” Morag said. “There were other things, too.”

Rose seemed to work to keep herself from getting angry. “Like what?” she asked instead.

“Some false assumptions,” Morag explained. “Seemed like the right thing at the time.”

“But you’ve reconsidered now,” Rose understood.

Morag offered a small smile. “New evidence has recently come to light,” she admitted. “It seems Johnny Boy might have been more sincere than I gave him credit for at the time.”

“Time does have an impeccable way of making asses of the best of us,” Rose mused.

Morag snorted in agreement. “That is certainly true.”

“So if you’ve reconsidered, what’s the hang up then?” Rose prompted.

Sighing, Morag let her shoulders slump. “Well, I don’t know if going to him and explaining it all is worth it,” she said, looking at her mentor earnestly. “I’m not sure anything can come of it.”

“Why not?” Rose pressed.

“Well, I keep thinking maybe it’s better this way.”

“But you’re miserable.”

“But he’s a clerk,” Morag said by way of protest.

“And a man,” Rose pointed out. “And a fine looking one at that.”

Morag blushed with fresh vigor.

“What?” Rose asked. “It’s not like we haven’t noticed. We’re barristers, but we’re still women.”

“But Peter--” Morag tried to interject.

Rose huffed, eyes rolling. “Peter will try to control your life, if you let him,” she said with finality. “He has good intentions sometimes and he’s even right occasionally, but he’s always looking out for himself first. Always. Understand that about him and he’s a spectacular ally. But place his opinion too highly and you’ll find yourself in a mess straight away.”

This was something Rose knew from experience. Morag was only privy to the basics of what had happened between them all, but she knew enough to know that Rose’s place had been tested and earned at chambers, and the implicit understanding between her and Peter was unparalleled amongst the barristers. This was Rose’s humiliation as much as it was her pride, and Morag knew enough to know that she knew what she was talking about.

Still, that somehow didn’t make her own decision much easier. “What would you do?” she asked finally.

Rose smiled. “Follow your heart,” she said plainly. “Your mind is what you need in the courtroom, but your heart is what you need in life. Don’t forget that. On your life, don’t you ever forget that.”

With that, Rose nodded her head, ducking around her to head inside and leaving Morag alone on the stoop.

Alone and wondering if she had the strength to follow the advice she knew was right.

-o-

In the end, it was a matter of timing. She could blow off her prep time, but blowing off a meeting with the client would cost her what little she had left of a career.

As she went back into chambers, she told herself that practicality didn’t rule out the possibility of talking to Johnny Boy. She was just waiting for the proper time. For herself and for him.

Still, focusing was hard and she felt more flustered than she should as she gathered her papers together.

Across the way, Hussein was watching her. “Something wrong?” he asked in that way of his. That way that already knew what she had to say but still wanted to make the show of politeness.

She sighed. It was silly to resent the man for being an unfailing gentleman. And she held no ill will toward him. He had been nothing but good to her; he was her friend.

Her friend.

And that was why she had to put this right once and for all.

“What are we doing?” she asked.

He stared at her for a moment. “Getting ready for our cases?” he said slowly.

She shook her head. “No, I mean, us,” she said. “What are you and I doing?”

He blinked this time. “I thought we agreed,” he said. “It’s just a casual thing.”

“And that means what exactly?” she pressed.

It seemed to catch him somewhat by surprised. He stiffened a little before forcing himself to relax. “It means that we are free to enjoy each other’s company as we want,” he said. Then he shrugged. “Just like we’re free to enjoy anyone else’s company. There are no expectations or commitments required.”

Morag nodded, pressing her lips together. “Right,” she said. “So technically if there’s nothing going on, there’s nothing to end.”

His brow furrowed somewhat. “I suppose.”

“So there’s nothing to break off since there’s nothing here.”

Hussein shifted on his feet. “Morag, is there something you’d like to tell me?”

She sighed again. “Just that I can’t keep doing this.”

There was a flicker of hurt on his face. “Okay,” he said.

Guilt flared within her. “It’s nothing to do with you,” she said. “I mean, I don’t want to hurt you.”

Hussein still looked uncomfortable. “And you don’t want to sleep with me.”

“Well, that’s quite nice and all,” Morag said. “I mean, really nice.”

“So what’s the problem then?” Hussein asked.

Morag shook her head, looking for the words. “It just doesn’t seem right,” she said. “To lead you on.”

“I never asked for anything more than what you gave,” Hussein reminded her.

“I know,” she said. “But maybe I’m ready to ask for more.”

“Maybe I’d be ready to give it,” Hussein countered.

Morag paused, jaw tight. “But maybe I want it from someone else.”

He stared at her for another moment, uncertainly, before his expression shifted to understanding. “So you’re not over him,” he concluded.

Morag swallowed hard, tilting her head sympathetically. “I’m not sure,” she said. “But I think maybe it’s a risk I have to take.”

“He’s a clerk,” Hussein pointed out. “And an opportunistic one at that.”

“The former doesn’t matter,” she said. “And I’m wondering about the latter myself.”

“He’ll do anything to get what he wants,” Hussein reminded her.

She smiled. “And if he wants me,” she ventured.

Hussein had to smile, head dropping in defeat. “Then I suppose that works out pretty well then, doesn’t it?”

He looked up again, meeting her eyes. She smiled at him. “It’s at least worth finding out.”

It was Hussein’s turn to sigh. “I hope it works out,” he said.

She nodded. “Thank you,” she said. She paused then eyed him hesitantly. “This doesn’t change us, right? We’re still...?”

“Friends?” Hussein assumed.

She felt the blush on her cheeks yet again.

Hussein rolled his eyes. “If we can survive friendship and competition, then I certainly think I can survive your dalliances with a clerk,” he said.

Morag brightened. “And if you find someone, I want to hear all about her.”

Hussein just nodded. “Of course,” he said, proper and prim, just like always.

Just like it was supposed to be.

A lot of things were still out of place in her life. She didn’t quite have a real job and she didn’t have a boyfriend. She wasn’t sure where she was going professionally and the one boy she may have feelings for is the one she’d sent away belittled and rejected.

But, now, at least, she had a best friend.

Plain and simple, just the way Morag preferred.

That morning, when she went to meet her client, Morag felt more optimistic than she had in weeks.

-o-

As it turned out, the case was a snap. Open and shut, and she had her way with it in no time flat. In all, it was some of her best work to date, and when she returned to chambers with total success, even Peter was impressed.

Morag just smiled because it actually didn’t seem like a surprise for once. Things felt right today; things felt better. She was moving on the right path and she was certain of it.

At least, until she turned a corner and nearly ran right into Johnny Boy.

His hands were full with briefs, and when they collided, his long limbs fumbled to catch them before they spilled onto the ground.

Surprised, she yelped slightly, hands reaching out automatically to try to prevent certain chaos from ensuing.

“Sorry!” she exclaimed, flailing somewhat as she endeavored to help.

Johnny Boy got control of his files, pulling them closer to himself, lips pressed together. “No problem, Miss,” he said, voice strained. He managed a smile. “I didn’t look where I was going.”

“No, it was my fault,” Morag said. “I was coming too fast--”

Johnny Boy shook his head. “Never the matter, Miss,” he said and started to go around her.

He was already passed her when she remembered herself, when she had remembered Hussein’s revelation and her own subsequent realization.

She had promised herself she wouldn’t let it slide and yet, there she was, letting him walk away.

“Wait!” she called.

Johnny Boy paused, stopping just short of the corner. He turned back, almost reluctantly. Looking at her expectantly, he asked, “Something you need?”

She had his attention but it occurred to her now that she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say. It had been easy to dismiss him; that had come with alacrity. But now, this--

This was something else.

Brow furrowed, she searched her brain, hoping she didn’t look as daft as she felt. “Do you think we could, um,” she tried.

He looked at her, face open, blue eyes shining. He was wearing his typical suit, which no doubt cost more than she made in a month, and he looked good: he looked so good and professional and still somehow vulnerable.

He was a clerk. This was true. Opportunistic. Meddling. No doubt unscrupulous.

And yet...

When he looked at her, there was still something earnest, still something hopeful.

Bloody hell, she needed to stop thinking if she was going to get through this.

Teeth clenched, she forced herself to continue. “Do you think we could talk?”

Johnny Boy didn’t flinch; didn’t move. “What did you want to say?”

She startled. “Oh, no,” she said. “I mean, can we talk someplace else?”

Johnny Boy looked around, clearly trying to make sense of what she was saying. “Is there a problem with your caseload?” he asked, and Morag had to wince at how sincere it was.

“No,” she said readily.

“Then, I’m not sure--”

“It was your idea,” she interrupted abruptly, because she couldn’t do it anymore. She couldn’t play the game of pretenses, couldn’t watch him pretend like nothing had happened between them, like neither of them had wanted something more.

His expression wavered but, to his credit, he kept composed. “What was my idea, Miss?”

She swallowed hard against her fear and uncertainty; she’d gotten this far and now it was time to finish it, for better or for worse. “Convincing the client to take me back on in the family case about the flat,” she said. “That was your idea. You were the one who talked Hussein into it. It was your idea, and you never told me.”

For a moment, his face was blank. There was a flicker of indecision in his eyes before he drew his face together calmly. “Didn’t seem to be much point in that.”

Morag gaped. “How do you figure?” she asked.

His posture went stiff as he shrugged one shoulder. “Your opinion seemed quite clear,” he said. “As a clerk, I’ve learned not to question the stubbornness of barristers.”

The fact that there was truth to that only made her more frustrated. “That’s rubbish,” she said flatly.

Johnny Boy inclined his head just so. “Is that so, Miss Black?” he added her title with distinction.

She had to flinch. “But--”

“But nothing,” he interjected shortly. “It’s over and done, and for what it’s worth, I’m sorry for how it worked out. For everyone, except the client, it seems.”

He was giving her an out; he was leaving a hole open in the conversation to escape by, nice and clean. She could walk away now, no further questions asked. They wouldn’t have to deal with the rest of the awkwardness, not if she didn’t want to.

But she did want to. “But why?”

“Because the case was dismissed,” Johnny Boy explained. “You did something Hussein wouldn’t have--”

“No, I mean, why did you ask Hussein to get off the case?”

Johnny Boy paused, his body stiffening again. His jaw worked as he looked at her. “I liked you, Miss,” he admitted finally.

This much she had already surmised. At least, she had thought it was true once, before she started questioning everything. In the aftermath, she had thought him to be shallow and dim, wheedling and manipulative. But now, looking at him, she saw him as she had at the beginning: Young and determined, talented and naive. Not so unlike herself.

“But what was in it for you?” she asked.

He studied her. “Is this a trial now, Miss?” he asked.

She frowned. “What?”

“All the questions,” he said with a nod. “Feels something like a cross examination.”

Shaking her head, she tried to deny it. “I just--”

“Because I thought you already tried and convicted me,” he said over her, the words heavy and with meaning. “You gave your verdict on the whole matter quite clearly.”

Morag was gaping again. “That’s not fair,” she breathed, indignant.

He quirked his eyebrows. “I dare say it’s not,” he agreed.

His barb was pointed and Morag felt it keenly. Still, she couldn’t let that deter her. Not now. Not when she’d already pushed things this far. “You still haven’t told me what was in it for you,” she said, almost insisted now with all the willpower she could muster.

He seemed to hear this, seemed to listen to her. His eyes diverted away, and he looked at the ground for a moment. When he glanced up at her again, his face was guarded. “Mr. MacLeish wants us to look at the bigger picture, the overall gain for chambers,” he explained. “He is very explicit that that is how we should operate at all times.”

It wasn’t the answer she expected, but she could tell there was something important in his words. As a barrister, she was trained to listen, to read between the lines, to know what clients weren’t saying even when they wanted to. “And do you?” she asked. “Operate that way at all times?”

Johnny Boy shrugged one shoulder. “Most of the time.”

The admission was telling. She was cautious when she asked, “And the rest?”

“Well, Mr. MacLeish is right,” he continued readily. “The big picture is important. As clerks, we have to look out for the greater good of chambers if we want to stay in business. I’ve learned a lot from him--Mr. MacLeish. Everything I know, I know from him. I owe him my whole career--all of it.”

This was a side to him she hadn’t seen, maybe one she hadn’t let herself see. Because it’d always been clear that Johnny Boy was something of a puppet to their senior clerk, but she’d never allowed herself to fully understand the implications or the power dynamic between them. It was easy to assume that following orders for him was an easy job; it was less easy to understand how dependent he was on one man’s opinion and graces.

Johnny Boy made good money and he wielded some power, but he was still a low man on the totem pole. The barristers could take him or leave him and Mr. MacLeish’s plots and moods dictated everything. For all Johnny Boy enjoyed about his job, it was suddenly clear to Morag that there was just as much that worried him, too.

And she understood that. She understood questioning if she’d still be employed, if she had any power to do her own thing. This was why she was still squatting here; this was why when Peter told her to do something, she listened, without fail. This was why dumping Johnny Boy had made so much sense.

This was why Johnny Boy’s pursuit of her made less sense. Bob had been clear that Peter disapproved. Johnny Boy had suffered for his pursuits.

Which begged the question: “So why do it? You were told not to and you did it anyway. So why?”

Johnny Boy looked away again, shoulders slumping a little. “Because,” he said, glancing up briefly. “Sometimes that’s not all that’s important.”

It was a simple answer, but Morag understood it for what it was. The admission spoke to what Johnny Boy valued, to what he was willing to risk. It spoke to how he felt about his job; how he felt about her.

Her job as a barrister was to find the most palatable version of the truth possible. It meant overlooking details and focusing on only the parts that prove her case. It was a selective process and she had spent so much time perfecting it that she wondered now if she had taken it all too much to heart because in real life, people are rarely so simple. Getting the verdict is a different task entirely than maintaining a relationship, and maybe Johnny Boy was right. She’d tried and convicted him without letting him defend himself.

She could see that error now, had to wonder what else she’d missed. About him. About them.

Because, yes, Johnny Boy was young and opportunistic, just like they said. He was willing to compromise a few morals, overlook a few manners and a bit of decorum to get what he wanted and needed. He thought with his dick from time to time and seemed to have few qualms about leveraging a situation to his personal or professional benefit.

Which really did make him just like the lot of them. Except that he had no high ground to fall back on. All he had was the good graces of his clerk and his ability to make everyone around him happy. His advances toward her hadn’t been just for fun--they couldn’t, not with all he had on the line. He’d just been naive enough to think he had a chance and cocky enough to try.

He wasn’t pure and smart like Hussein or he would have insisted on telling Morag the whole truth when she’d reamed him out. He wasn’t unscrupulous and hot and cold like Peter or he wouldn’t have given up quite so easily. She wasn’t exactly sure what he was but she was more certain than ever that she wanted to find out.

And she really wanted to find out.

A moment lapsed, and for once, Morag was oblivious to the movement of the chambers around her. Because Johnny Boy was right about this: sometimes that wasn’t all that was important.

Sometimes, it wasn’t important at all.

She smiled. “That makes a lot of sense,” she said.

He looked uncertain. “Really?” he said, hedging somewhat.

She nodded. “Very much so,” she agreed. “And really, it helps put some things in perspective.”

His brows knitted. “And what’s that, Miss?”

Shrugging, she gathered her burgeoning confidence and took a step forward. “Just that maybe there’s an advantage to not being hired on after all.”

“Oh,” he said. “What’s that?”

“Well, if I’m not working here, no one here has any say into my choices,” she said. “I’d be free to come and go as I please, to look for new opportunities. To see whomever I wanted.”

For a moment, Johnny Boy just stared.

She made a point to hold the eye contact, willing him to understand.

His mouth opened, then closed. His forehead creased and he tilted his head. “You’re saying...”

He didn’t finish; he didn’t have to. Morag was a barrister, after all. She could read between the lines.

Smiling, she nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m saying.”

Just like that, a grin split his face.

“Now,” she said, taking a step forward. “There is one last detail we must discuss before we can consider this a closed case.”

He pulled his mouth together, lips still twisted in a bemused smile. But the uncertainty was gone, replaced with a playfulness she’d missed. “Yes, Miss Black?”

She took another step forward, closing the gap between them. Her eyes twinkled as she looked up at him, her fingers gliding gently on his arm. “My place,” she said, easing her body closer to his and feeling him respond in kind. “Or yours?”

Comments

Posted by: sophie_deangirl (sophie_deangirl)
Posted at: March 23rd, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
This is SO DELIGHTFUL

I love that LJ gives us opportunities to write fanfic that doesn't fall into a known audience or that may never find an audience other than a select population like with this in the UK. It's only in our crazed need to "track down" any material we can find on James Murray have we've been able to enjoy things like North Square and A&E so I LOVE that even though both shows were short-lived, we're able to give characters like Johnny-Boy and Danny Barton our only little twists of fate that they'll never get from their shows.

Of course, like everything, it's what James brings to each character that makes us fall madly for them and inspires us to want to give them the due notice they didn't get.

This lovely little romance is so sweetly innocent and we get to see Johnny-Boy as downright noble. I LOVE it so much.

Fave parts:

He was giving her an out; he was leaving a hole open in the conversation to escape by, nice and clean. She could walk away now, no further questions asked. They wouldn’t have to deal with the rest of the awkwardness, not if she didn’t want to.

But she did want to. “But why?”

“Because the case was dismissed,” Johnny Boy explained. “You did something Hussein wouldn’t have--”

“No, I mean, why did you ask Hussein to get off the case?”

Johnny Boy paused, his body stiffening again. His jaw worked as he looked at her. “I liked you, Miss,” he admitted finally.

--*sigh

This was why Johnny Boy’s pursuit of her made less sense. Bob had been clear that Peter disapproved. Johnny Boy had suffered for his pursuits.

Which begged the question: “So why do it? You were told not to and you did it anyway. So why?”

Johnny Boy looked away again, shoulders slumping a little. “Because,” he said, glancing up briefly. “Sometimes that’s not all that’s important.”

--THUD and *sigh...

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 26th, 2012 08:56 pm (UTC)
Re: This is SO DELIGHTFUL
johnny boy smug

LJ is good for this kind of thing, although really, I could write this stuff just for you. Which, LOL, sometimes I think I am! Quite happily!

(And I just remembered that I need to finish making the revisions on my Cutting It fic and getting it up! I still have a personal goal of whumping JM in all his characters if possible!)

And James does do a great job of bringing characters to life. Johnny Boy really wouldn't be a likable character overall except for JM's subtlety, which I think gives you just enough to imagine something more. But you know me: I need to fix things and so redeeming Johnny Boy was pretty important to me, even if not necessarily the most believable route :)

Thanks so much! For reviewing, for beta'ing, for helping me see this show in the first place!

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