Emily: I have a question.
Cal: Uh-oh. What’s that look mean?
Emily: (sighs) Gillian. Do you love her?
Cal: Of course I do, darling. Of course I love her.
Emily: No, I mean REALLY love her.
Cal: (pauses, looks down then back up) Yeah.
(Emily snuggles up to her dad)
Emily: Then what are you waiting for?
(Cal thinks for a long beat and shakes his head)
Cal: I don’t have an answer for that one, love.
Cal should've known there was no way Emily would be able to let this go. She's half lawyer and half deception expert, after all, with a dose of her own special brand of dogged perception and stubborn bloodymindedness to complete the adorable yet unstoppable package. If she was concerned and curious enough to ask in the first place, then of course there was no way she'd just shrug it off and continue on as normal.
He should've expected something, but in his defence, he's pretty sure he never could've expected this.
"So, have you figured out a plan yet?"
"You know Foster adores you, right?"
"If you don't say something soon, I'm gonna do it myself."
"Why haven't you asked her out yet?"
It's unrelenting, and he's running out of excuses.
"C'mon, dad, Gillian isn't gonna wait forever."
He doesn't have the heart to explain the last option is what he's banking on, despite knowing it's the coward's way out. Because for all the years he's known her, Gillian has been his ideal of perfection. His rock. The one he looks to for guidance and acceptance and a clip round the ear when he needs it. His partner in crime, his guardian angel, his best bloody friend. It's easier, it's safer, when she's out of reach.
"You really need to talk to her."
And he hates Alec for not seeing how amazing she is, and he hates Dave for lying to her and hurting her, but the truth is... the men in her life have always been the best excuses not to risk their friendship. He wants her, loves her, needs her. Needs her so much it scares the crap out of him more often than he'd like to admit. Needs her so much more, he's sure, than she needs him. And he's not certain he'd be any better for her than those wankers were.
"She makes you happy. What more do you want?"
And yes, he wants the right to kiss her - properly, mind - and hold her and love her, but if he fucked this up, if he messed up the relationship (and his track record is not impressive, he's hardly a sure thing) and it screwed with their friendship... if he lost her, he's not sure he'd survive.
Losing Gill would make divorcing Zoe look like a piece of cake.
So he prevaricates. "Em, I need to do this right, okay?" he says, when he can't just stay mum any more.
Em rolls her eyes in the teenagerly way that says he's a hopeless excuse for a man and she despairs of him.
(He sort of agrees, if he's honest.)
"What're you so scared of, dad?"
That's his Em. Cutting to the heart of it, and seeing right through him in the process. "Ev'rythin'."
Her face softens as she takes in the honesty of this answer. His little girl is not so little any more, despite how babyfaced she still looks, and has more wisdom and understanding than he gives her credit for. "Don't you think it's better to at least try?" She smiles encouragingly. "I mean, she's practically my step-mom already, she's your best friend, you already know each other inside out, she's... She's Gillian, dad. She's perfect for you."
"I know, love. She is. But I dunno if I'm perfect for her."
Emily frowns slightly, opens her mouth, but nothing comes out.
She's trying to find a way to argue, he's sure, but even his darling daughter knows he's far from perfect. They're on the couch again, where this conversation started, weeks ago now, and she snuggles into his shoulder. He's not perfect, but he'll always be her dad and she'll always be his little girl, and when words fail, they anchor each other with hugs.
"Maybe she doesn't need perfect, dad. Maybe she just needs someone who really loves her."
He pulls a face at the top of her head. She's being so logical about this, as if relationships and love and fear are just something you can figure out if you put enough work in, like calculus or chemistry. As if Cal plus Gillian is as simple as 1+1.
He'd really, really like to believe she's right, but since he's certain his sanity, never mind his heart and his business, depend on his solving this equation correctly without blowing anything up, he can't be so sanguine. And all his years of studying emotion don't give him much confidence in logic necessarily being the best tool to unpick it.
"I don't think she's going anywhere, you know?"
He frowns, uncertain what she means.
She twists her head to look up at him. "She's put up with a whole lot of crap from you over the years, dad, and she's still there. She's still the first person you call. You're still the first person she calls, and she trusts you to come when you need her." Em shrugs and curls back into his chest. "I don't think telling her you love her is going to make her walk away."
He brushes a strand of hair back behind her ear. She is so sure.
"She loves you. I mean... I don't know if she loves you, but she definitely loves you. She's not going to desert you."
It should be him reassuring Emily, not the other way round. She's not supposed to have to be the adult in this conversation. But he adores her for it, for putting words around his fear and telling him it won't come true. "I really hope you're right, Em."
"I am." She hasn't yet lost the simple faith of a child about stuff like this. The people she loves most deserve happy endings and will get them.
He envies her the certainty.
It's barely a week later and he's still mentally rehearsing how to broach the subject when things come to a head. He's been off, and he knows it - not mardy or even particularly difficult (by his standards), just... off.
He feels like he's carrying around a huge sign saying 'I have an enormous secret and I don't know what to do about it.' It's a secret he's been sitting on for years, but somehow after thatconversation, that confession (not to mention Emily's constant nagging to 'Just ask her out already, dad, geez' ever since), something he'd been able to conveniently ignore whenever he wanted has turned into flashing neon, niggling at him whatever he does. The secret wants out. He's almost surprised he hasn't blurted 'Oh, by the way, Foster, I'm in love with you, have been for years, just thought you should know' in the middle of a case. Then Emily pinpointed his worst fears and basically told him not to be a coward, and it's got even worse.
Gillian knows him too well not to notice something is up, but it takes him snapping at her and stomping off to his office in a huff for her to cross the line and come confront him.
He buries his face in his hands and waits.
He knows, knows those are her footsteps in the hallway, knows what she's going to ask, knows he's screwed before the knock on his door. He's tempted to either ignore her or yell 'Oh, piss off' or something equally childish and inappropriate. He probably would, except he doesn't think it's likely to slow her down much.
He closes his eyes for a moment. Bugger. "Come in." He looks up, and tries to arrange his expression into something that isn't fear or possibly just despair.
She peeks her head in like she's expecting him to bite it off, and the guilt ambushes him again. He's such a shit to her sometimes, and he's not sure he has any right whatsoever to love her, never mind to hope there's even the slightest chance she might love him back.
When he doesn't hurl some fresh piece of nastiness at her, she pushes the door open and enters the room with more confidence.
"What's up, Foster?"
She gives him a look. Exasperation. Well, emotions aren't usually quite so specific, but it's not hard for him to identify a reaction he's so intimately familiar with. Opiate addicts are hard-wired to recognise disgust, he's hard-wired to spot when Gillian has had it up to her eyeballs. "I was going to ask you the same question."
"I'm fine." He's not foolish enough to think it will put her off, but on the very small chance she'll think better of prying...
"You're obviously not fine, or you wouldn't have gotten so grouchy with me over something so insignificant."
He'd like to argue about the significance, but he can't actually remember what it was that got him so riled up - it's been displaced by ohshitohshit what am I gonna doooo - so she's probably right. "Sorry I blew me top, love, it wasn't you."
She comes closer, and he's not sure how he's managed to function all these years with her being all... all Gillian all the time. It hasn't generally been a problem, he's mostly managed to keep his hands to himself, he's even slept with other women and not accidentally called out her name in bed, but it's as if admitting his feelings out loud completely screwed with his ability to pretend she's just a friend. He's aware he's staring at her like a goldfish with dementia, but he can't seem to do anything about it.
"What is wrong with you, Cal?" She looks confused.
"What?" He tries again to school his expression. Judging by her reaction, he fails spectacularly.
They do their best thing not to read each other without permission, but sometimes faces shout so loud it's impossible to ignore. Clearly, his is screaming, and whatever it's screaming has her a little worried.
"You've been... weird, lately."
He laughs, forces it out. "Weirder than usual?"
She grins suddenly and shrugs. "Yes." She tilts her head to one side, her eyes warm and concerned even though she's clearly still amused. "What's wrong, Cal?"
He opens his mouth, closes it again, wonders if he can request a do-over on today so he can handle it differently and not end up in this situation. He was supposed to be better prepared.
It's his own fault, really. If he'd had the guts to find a time and place to talk to her, instead of sitting round on his arse making up excuses why it wasn't the right moment just yet, he would've been a bit more ready.
He just needs... he needs her not to be standing there all gorgeous and caring and Foster, he needs a moment to get his words in order so he doesn't screw this up any more than is absolutely unavoidable. He needs a stiff drink. He's not going to get any of those things with her in his office.
"Love, could you-? Could you give me a minute?" He doesn't usually do 'pleading', but it's the only reasonable word for how his voice sounds.
The humour falls away from her face. Now she just looks concerned, which makes him feel worse. "Cal, what's wrong?"
He closes his eyes, shakes his head. "Please, I just need... I'll come see you in a few, I promise, love, I just need to-" He looks up at her again, begging her to understand. "I promise, I'll explain everything, all right, just give me a moment."
She searches his face for what seems like aeons, then finally nods. "Okay, Cal. Just-" she shrugs one shoulder "-don't leave it too long, okay? You're worrying me here."
He manages a wonky smile. He'd love to tell her there's nowt to worry about, but it's not like him being in love with her is the grand prize in the game of life. "Sorry. I'll be through in a minute, I promise."
After another long moment, she nods. "All right."
She strides away, and out of habit he checks her out. As usual, she looks elegant and beautiful. As usual, she glances over her shoulder as she exits, and throws him a knowing, not-quite-a-reprimand look.
Once she's gone, he rubs his face, sighs, then digs around in his stash for a shot of something potent. Just a shot; he does not want to be shitfaced when he explains to Gillian he's been weird because he's been trying very, very hard not to tell her he loves her at an inappropriate moment, but he does need a little Dutch courage.
Even after the bracing mouthful of single malt, though, he isn't feeling terribly courageous.
If he hadn't promised her faithfully he was going to explain, this would be the time when he scurried out of here, told Anna he was taking a personal day and went somewhere with no cellphone coverage. He's actually rather tempted, now he thinks about it, but tomorrow or the next day or whenever he could no longer avoid her, Gillian would be even more concerned and also totally furious. His best bet is to go and talk to her now when she's just worried, and doesn't (yet) want to castrate him.
It's downright embarrassing how long he stands outside her office trying to summon up the nerve to knock on her door. It doesn't matter how much he tells himself not to be such a pillock, he just can't seem to make himself do it, and it's ridiculous.
He's got no idea how much longer it would have taken him, but suddenly the door swings open and the choice is taken away.
"Cal." She's startled, unsurprisingly. "I was just coming to find you."
She frowns at him.
"I, uh." He cringes slightly. He's a tongue-tied idiot, and it's pathetic. "I got, uh, distracted."
She looks baffled, and he can't exactly blame her. Without another word she gestures him inside, then goes to sit behind her desk. Probably, he thinks, trying to put some distance between herself and the madman he's turned into over the few weeks.
It feels too formal to sit opposite her, too informal to make himself comfy on her couch, so he ends up standing in the middle of the room like a right lemon, not sure what to do with his hands, feeling like he's in the Cube being stared at and studied, even though her eyes are as friendly and warm as they always are when she looks at him.
"See, here's the thing, Gillian the thing that's been making me act weird-"
He nods, conceding the point. "Okay, more weird."
She grins at him, and he feels like he's about to set off a grenade in her face and she has no idea. How does he even start?
"I'm... I dunno where to begin, love. I'm-" He pauses.
"Scared?" she supplies.
He blinks, startled.
"You're not the only one with deception training, remember?"
"Oh. Yeah." He's officially a stupid, stupid man. "Okay. Yeah, I am. A bit." (A lot. Terrified. Ready to wet his pants.)
"Whatever you want to say, Cal, it's okay. I promise, it'll be okay."
Her smile is sincere and reassuring and so sweet. It's as if the sugar she eats so unapologetically all goes to her temperament. She is sweet and he is not, and he's still so afraid he's going to ruin her somehow.
He wants to back out, tell her it was nothing, run far far away from his feelings and go back to pretending. But he's in too deep now. She's concerned and caring and wants to know what's going on, and even if he could start to pretend again, it would change things. She'd always know there was something he was hiding and- for a very, very short moment he could curse Emily for forcing his hand.
Then he thinks of Foster with her friend's blood all over her, crying into his shoulder after she was attacked in her own home, being dragged away by a sadistic rapist, just for starters. He's already left it too long and taken too many chances. She needs to know, and he needs to know she knows. Em is her father's daughter - she understands him better than he understands himself sometimes - and she was right. It's about time he stopped being such a wimp and just owned up.
Gill's still looking at him, curious but so very kind, and boundlessly, endlessly patient. He doesn't know what he'd do without her, and he hopes he never has to find out.
"I-" He takes a breath, and when he starts again it all tumbles out. "I love you, Gillian. And I am scared shitless, because you're you, you're my business partner, you're Em's surrogate mum, you're my best friend, my-" He manages to stop himself just short of saying 'my everything.' "I don't want to screw this up, what we have, but I couldn't keep it a secret any more, and I'm sorry, love, I really am. I'm a big old mess, and you don't need any more of that in your life."
He really can't decipher the expression on her face, and he's not sure if it's because it's her, his fundamental blind spot, or if it's just his own mastery of the science letting him down, but it makes him feel like he's groping in the dark and he hates it. He hates not having the beginnings of an idea what she's thinking.
It's bloody unfair is what it is. All these years spent reading people's faces, and now he comes to one of the most important conversations he's ever gonna have, and he's fumbling helplessly, suddenly blind.
He sighs. "I'm really sorry, Gillian."
"Why?" She seems sort of... annoyed? which wasn't the reaction he expected. Shocked, horrified, an outside chance at pleased, maybe, but annoyed? He doesn't get that one.
He looks at her blankly, trying to make sense of the question so he can answer it. Why does he love her? She's modest, but even she could come up with a dozen reasons without stopping to think, surely. Why can't he keep the secret any longer? He hasn't a clue.
"Why are you sorry?" It's a more definite frown now.
He frowns back. Didn't he already explain that? "'Cause... 'cause I'm wrecking everything, aren't I? Cocking it all up."
She glares at him, and he has no idea why. In fact, she looks like she's about ten seconds away from throwing something at him in sheer frustration.
Foster isn't typically a violent woman, but he's always tended to bring out strong reactions in people (something of which he is inordinately proud), and he wouldn't put it past her to lob a paperweight at his head.
Pissing people off is fun. Concussion is not.
(And she is not just 'people' - not to him.)
He attempts a smile, though he instinctively knows it's not going to reach his eyes, then looks down at his feet. "I'm not... you deserve... you deserve more, Gillian." He shrugs.
His voice is thick and uncooperative as he tries to get out the words which have been choking him for weeks now. "I really do love you, you know that, don't you, darling? I always have. Prob'ly always will." He's trying not to make a big thing of it, to risk making her feel guilty. He glances up at her, then wishes he hadn't. She looks almost like she's about to cry now, something he is absolutely not going to be able to deal with. He hates it when Gillian cries. Hates it. Hates to see her in pain.
Knowing it's his fault? Shit.
He takes a deep breath. "You deserve the stars, not a screw up who's no better than Alec, except at least I can see what a fool he was." Being better than Alec in one respect is not exactly a ringing endorsement. "Still can't believe that plonker didn't realise what he had. He was an idiot. If I had you, I'd never let you go. 'Cept you're too good for me."
"I mean, why should you have to put up with all my bollocks, eh?" He'd make light of it if he could, but his levity is forced and unconvincing. She knows him too well, knows his voice too well, and he's giving himself away with every word. He has to let her know he understands, doesn't expect her to slum it again for his sake. It's the least she deserves. "I get it, I do. You don't want another messed up prat who doesn't appreciate you prop'ly. Bad enough you have to deal with me at work."
He raises his head at her sharp tone. "What?"
Her mouth is tight and her eyes are narrow, but the look she's shooting him now is not anger, not really. Or not just anger, anyway. She's shaking her head and her knuckles are white where she's grabbing on the edge of the desk.
"Why do you...? Why do you have to do that? Make me out to be perfect and-" She bites off whatever she was going to say. "I'm not perfect, Cal."
"'Course you are, love." It's automatic and honest and heartfelt, and he doesn't expect her to react to it by standing up so quick he thinks her desk chair is about to go into orbit.
"I'm not, Cal. I'm just as fragile and screwed up as the next person." She purses her lips, her forehead creasing. "I'm not perfect or untouchable. I don't need to be put on a pedestal and worshipped."
He opens his mouth to point out - well, something stupid, probably, about how she deserves to be treated like a queen, but she beats him to it.
"Don't you think maybe what I 'deserve' is to be with the man I love and who loves me, not to be set on the shelf out of reach just in case you hurt me?"
He finds himself staring at her like she announced she was from Mars or was having a torrid affair with the president or... "The man you love?"
She smiles suddenly, the frustration and anger still lingering but being outshone by affection and amusement. She moves out from behind the desk, comes to stand in front of him, her fists on her waist and her head cocked to one side, suddenly playful and flirtatiously familiar again. "For a man who's spent his entire adult life studying human emotion, Cal... you are hopeless, do you realise that?"
He's still reeling from the near admission he's afraid to believe, but even when he's stunned, it takes a lot more than this to render Cal Lightman speechless. He grins. "'Course I realise. My ex-wife and my daughter tell me on a daily basis."
She raises an eyebrow. "How about your partner?"
"Well, she doesn't say it out loud quite so often, but I'm fairly sure she thinks it."
"Only 'fairly sure'?"
He shrugs. "Well, see, it's a lot harder to read a really beautiful woman."
Surprise. It's the emotion he's used to seeing flash across her face when he compliments her on her appearance, and, as usual, it strikes him as incredibly endearing. How she can look in the mirror every day and still be surprised someone thinks she's beautiful is a perpetual mystery.
Still, he enjoys the effect of it - how she lights up, the shy, pleased grin she tries and fails to subdue, the way her eyes sparkle and her cheeks turn pink. Enjoys how, after all this time, he can still surprise her just by telling her she's pretty.
"Is that so?"
He nods. "Yeah."
She reaches out to straighten his shirt, moving casually into his space, and when her eyes meet his again he has to swallow at what he sees there. She shakes her head. "What am I going to do with you, Cal?"
If he wasn't quite so busy trying to make sure he keeps breathing, he'd leer. I have a few suggestions if you're really asking.
But his voice isn't cooperating, and he can't even summon up a lascivious grin. He's stretched tight, like an elastic band, everything moving in slow motion as Gillian comes even closer towards him, tilts up her head, her mouth slightly open, everything about her inviting him to take the final step. Now it's her face shouting. Her face, her body, her everything, telling him to grow some balls already and just do it.
He swallows again. "Gillian..."
"Yeah?" Her voice is as soft as his, her breath brushing his mouth, and it takes all his willpower not to close the gap and taste her.
"I really don't wanna hurt you, Gillian."
Her lips quirk into a fond smile. "You won't."
"I might." He really wishes he had half as much faith in himself as she does in him. "I dunno if you've noticed, but I'm not very good at this."
His self-deprecation gets a gentle laugh, though she shakes her head in denial all the same. "You can do anything you set your mind to, Cal." She shrugs. "I had a man who was supposed to be 'the one', reliable and hardworking and decent, and he turned out to be an addict. I helped him and loved him and tried my best to be what he needed, and then he deserted me when I was in pain. When I needed him, needed him so badly, he left me high and dry and went back to his coke." Even after two years, pain lingers on her face when she talks about Alec, which makes Cal want to go find the man and pound his face into the pavement.
"You never deserted me, Cal. You've pissed me off and frustrated me and upset me, but you were always there. You might not be perfect, but I'm not either." She smiles, and her fingers tug at his collar, coaxing him closer. "I don't need perfection. I don't even want it. I just want to be loved."
Well. Em is going to be so smug when she finds out she was right.
Tentatively, he lowers his head, and he's kissed her before, many times, not always so chastely - even got in a proper snog that one time they were pretending to be a frisky married couple - but the simple action of pressing his mouth to hers now, when it's not just a little friendly comfort, when it's the start of something more, is enough to coax a groan right up from the pit of his stomach. And then her lips part under his...
Abruptly the elastic band snaps and slow motion turns into fast forward, and suddenly they're kissing hard and deep, and Gillian - his Gillian, always so careful, so in control, circumspect and genteel and so very, very ladylike - is digging her fingernails into his scalp and making noises he didn't know she could make as she presses her body into his, not to mention doing things with her teeth and tongue that shock even him.
"Bloody hell, Foster," he manages to squawk when she releases him. He can't seem to find any other words, which is probably just as well. This moment doesn't need wrecking by him asking if she's been moonlighting as a porn star without telling him.
She grins, looking extremely pleased with herself. Last time she looked so much like the cat that got the cream, it was after coaxing a thank you out of him for getting the FBI off his tail, and if she hadn't been so drunk she could barely stand, he would've kissed her then, too.
"You're gorgeous, you are," he breathes.
"So what're you going to do about that?"
He smirks at her. "Gonna do my best not to be a complete screw up. I'm gonna snog you silly, then I'd like to take you home and ravish you."
She giggles. "Sounds good."
"Remind me to thank my meddlesome daughter, yeah?"
Gillian gives him her patented 'have you lost your mind?' look.
He shrugs. He's used to her thinking he's bonkers. "She made me tell her, then she wouldn't shut up about how I absolutely had to tell you. 'S all her fault," he adds with mock-petulance. "Else I'd still be in denial."
"Ahhh." Gillian grins.
"Took a teenaged girl to make me grow some balls. Sad really, innit?"
"Sad, but not surprising."
Gillian's grin widens until her entire face is just... lit up. So happy. The kind of happiness he hasn't seen from her in much too long. And it's his doing. He's seriously tempted to pinch himself.
Instead, he just grins back, and leans in to kiss her again.
~ fin ~