That was good. An effective, neutral greeting. Walter stepped aside to let her in, steadfastly ignoring the statistically significant uptick in his heart rate. Paige adjusted her purse strap around her shoulder, looking around as if she was seeing the garage for the first time even though it had changed very little in her absence.
"You sound surprised to see me," Paige said flatly, pressing her lips together. "You invited me here, remember?"
"Yes. I just...wasn't sure you would actually come," he admitted haltingly. "But I appreciate it. You coming here, that is."
"Yeah, well." She met his eyes and quickly looked away. "You said it was a matter that impacted the whole team. I'm their boss. It's my job to handle that stuff."
Their boss. It stung. There wasn't supposed to be a them, separate from him. But of all the impossible hurdles Scorpion had overcome, bridging the divide between him and Centipede had proven to be the most daunting. "I wanted to deliver the news in person." Walter retrieved the folder from his desk, handing it to her. "This is everything you'll need to move forward."
Paige glanced at him uncertainly before opening the folder, thumbing through the documents inside. "I don't understand," she said after a minute. "This is confidential information about your clients. You could get in huge trouble just for showing this to me."
"Actually, I won't." He swallowed, willing himself to say the words that still sounded strange even though he'd turned them over and over in his head for weeks. "They're your clients now. I've already spoken to them and recommended your services. They've all agreed to hire Centipede on, albeit some on a trial basis."
She stared at the papers like they were written in hieroglyphics. "Scorpion 2.0 would never survive this. It's corporate suicide."
"That is the idea, yes." Paige was looking at him fully now, eyes wide as the pages hung slack between her fingers. "Scorpion 2.0 isn't sustainable. Centipede appears to be doing well. I'm conceding defeat, Paige. Officially."
"W-What about Cabe? What about Florence? Did you even tell them about this?"
Walter blinked, surprised by the higher-than-usual pitch of her voice. "Of course I told them. Cabe will be reassigned elsewhere in Homeland. Florence was offered a position in New Mexico. They were reluctant at first, but once I explained my reasoning, they were both supportive of my decision."
Paige's expression turned cryptic. Or perhaps his EQ was operating at such a rapid pace that analyzing any emotion other than his own was nearly impossible at the moment. "What are you going to do?"
The genius shrugged. "What I did prior to Scorpion. I still have some connections. The, uh, media coverage of our cases has given us name recognition. I'll figure it out." When she didn't break the resulting silence, Walter nodded toward the file in her hands. "I imagine they'll be calling shortly to arrange for new contracts. If you have any questions, I'll do my best to answer them. You can...email me, I suppose."
"You're a moron, Walter," she snapped, tossing the file back down on his desk with a thud. "Going back to those corporate jobs will kill you. You'll never be happy doing anything but helping people. And I know for a fact that Scorpion 2.0 isn't in danger of closing its doors. The contracts in this file are worth almost a million dollars. I competed for them too, I know how much we lost out on. Why are you really doing this?"
He stiffened, feeling exactly the way he had every time Paige was upset with him and he couldn't immediately pinpoint the cause. "I'm sorry, I'm...having some trouble with your reaction. Wasn't this the exact outcome you intended when you started Centipede?"
"I didn't..." She faltered, pushing a section of hair behind her ear. It was slightly blonder, now, up to the spot where her grown-out roots reached. "Just tell me why. I will take all these clients and walk out the door right now if you tell me the real reason why you're closing Scorpion. Because it's not money."
He hadn't intended to go into this part. Not really. He didn't think he would need to. But he'd clearly underestimated both Paige's business acumen and her illogical concern about the welfare of the company she was actively competing against. "Fine," he said quietly. "I'm tired, Paige. I fought in the beginning when I thought...when I believed this would only be temporary. But now I realize this situation is permanent and I accept that. Without the team, there's no Scorpion to protect. At least I can make sure that Happy and Toby and Sylvester and...a-and you and Ralph are taken care of."
Paige set her jaw. "No."
He wasn't sure what to do with that response. "No as in…" he prompted for further clarification.
"As in no, I don't accept. Scorpion and Centipede can coexist. If you're not happy competing for jobs, we'll split them or we can branch out into something more specialized-."
"Paige. Paige," he said more loudly when she continued to ramble. She stopped, opening and immediately shutting her mouth. "I'm confused. You were unhappy here. Why would you care whether Scorpion continues to operate?"
"Because this isn't what I wanted!" she blurted unceremoniously. "Maybe it was for about five seconds, but you giving up Scorpion would make the world measurably worse and I don't want to be responsible for that."
"Do you think this is what I want? Do you think any of this was what I wanted? Running Scorpion has been exhausting every day since you left. This was supposed to be a home for people who didn't have anywhere else to go. That was the point. And those people are gone now. They chose you. So what am I supposed to do? Keep pretending like everything is fine? Like Scorpion 2.0 is better somehow? I told you I'm tired, Paige. I don't want to do this anymore."
"If you cared that much, you would have found a way to get us back. You would have asked me to come back and you never even did that!" She froze, the shock on her face very likely matching his own. Walter found himself, not for the first or last time, utterly at a loss for words. He knew what she said, could have recited it verbatim and yet it was so contrary to everything he thought he understood that he was sure he must have heard it wrong.
Paige recovered first and closed her eyes, inhaling a sharp breath. "When you asked me to come over, I thought…god, I don't know. I never learn, I guess." She squared her shoulders, standing tall like she did when she wanted people to think that nothing fazed her. "Keep your clients. Keep Scorpion open. Or close it. Whatever. Just don't ask me to be part of this."
Walter felt like he'd been woken up in the middle of a dream as Paige turned around and started toward the door. He shook himself out of his stupor and caught up to her in a few large strides, angling himself between her and the door. "Paige?"
"Please, just...explain to me what you meant. I'm trying to understand." She rolled her eyes, but she wasn't trying to fight her way past him, which seemed in his limited experience to be a good sign. "Would you have come back if I asked?"
Paige looked down, clutching the strap of her purse like it was the only thing anchoring her to the floor. "I don't know, Walter." She let out an exasperated sigh. "I change my mind about it every day. Some days I tell myself I'm better off. Some days I miss this place so much. But that's all kind of a moot point because you've never even tried. And I figured it was because deep down, you were happy with the way things turned out."
"I'm not happy. It's ridiculous that you would even think that." He cringed at his matter-of-fact tone, which even he recognized the situation didn't warrant. It was just so incomprehensible that she believed he'd meant for any of this to happen. That he was living out his dreams instead of sitting in an empty garage every night wondering where the hell he was supposed to go from here. "Sorry. I s-shouldn't have said it like that. But I'm not happy with what happened, Paige. I would take all of it back if I could."
Paige nodded, her eyes shining. "Me too," she admitted.
"You would?" He swallowed, the possibilities of that statement triggering a surge of EQ he didn't feel equipped to handle. Walter took a small step forward. "I wanted you to come back, Paige. To Scorpion, at least, if not...n-not to me. But then I would remember everything you said and I convinced myself that if you were miserable here, it would be selfish to ask you to do that again. If I loved you, I should let you be happy somewhere else."
Paige shook her head. "I go to work every day and you're not there. I go home every night and you're not there. And it's so hard. I wasn't miserable with you. This is making me miserable. Walter, I'm so sorry. I screwed everything up."
"You didn't do it alone." He slid his arms around her, reassured when Paige dropped her cheek against his shoulder and relaxed into him. She was crying openly now as Walter stroked his fingers through her hair. "I'm sorry. Please tell me how to fix this."
"God, I don't even know," she murmured, her voice muffled by his shirt. "You could start by telling me if you still love me, I guess."
Walter chuckled. "Of course I do. Being with you was the best thing that's ever happened in my life, Paige. I shouldn't have made you doubt that."
"Same here." Paige pulled back, offering him a weak smile. "There's something else you can do."
She bit her lip, looking up at him hopefully. "Ask me to stay tonight?"
That was a good start. That was a very, very good start. "Please stay tonight," he said, knowing how limited his words were in conveying how much he wanted that outcome. "I want you to stay."
Walter wished he'd said it months earlier, but judging by the look on Paige's face, it hadn't come too late. "Okay."