Orpheus Never Turned
Gillian figures out the problem just after midnight on a Tuesday.
She's brittle, and on edge – Loker had called it "lustful" a while back, and that's not necessarily inaccurate, but it's not the full story either. There's a restlessness that's been brewing under the surface since she lost Dave; a desire to be desired, by a man who isn't more interested in snorting cocaine, or lying to her face, or sleeping with other women. She wants to be someone's first pick, just once. Gillian wonders, sometimes, what it is about her that attracts complicated men, and what she would have to do to get herself someone kind, and stable, and boring.
A lobotomy, probably.
(She's not exactly the type to go for boring.)
But it would be nice, she thinks, to want that. To have her arm twisted, as it were. To want a simpler life, like the one she imagined when she was in grad school, long before the Pentagon, and top-secret security clearances, and government cover-ups, and Cal Lightman.
She's been on edge for months, and Claire's death was the final straw that broke her back; put into stark light the state of herself and the next chapter she is writing. Work is good, mostly. Their business is afloat, usually. But her life? Her life? There is something… lacking. For a long time it was a child, and she tried to make that possibility happen, both with Alec and again (quietly) alone. But that door closed in her face, not with a slam but with a gentle I'm sorry, Ms Foster, in these circumstances, it's difficult to find a suitable fit, with your long working hours, and being single. And so, she had let herself mourn for the loss of that chance, and opened her heart to the world again, and in walked Dave and stole it.
And out he walked again, such a short time later.
And it left her… wanting. Seeking. Incomplete.
For a moment she had felt utterly cherished and possibly loved, and then it was gone in a battered, difficult day and she was alone in her bed again, just alone again.
She hates to think of it that way, think in those terms, because she's happy and healthy and sane. But it's true. As much as he's a workaholic, Cal still has Emily to go home to, and a plethora of floozy dates to woo into bed when he's feeling especially lascivious. (Well… maybe not so much lately, save for the surface-level flirting with Wallowski that won't ever go anywhere serious. But he can, is the point; and he does, when he wants to.) But Gillian is far more reticent. She takes her time, and guards her heart, and part of that is because she's been hurt before but most of it is just her nature. The yin to his yang.
Which is how she figures out the issue on a Tuesday night, with him walking her to her front door.
He might just be the only one for me.
(If he doesn't realise it soon, she thinks she might burst.)
Cal is being so fucking gentle with her, after this case. A missing baby turned out to be an adoption gone wrong – echoes of Sophie bouncing around the halls of the Lightman Group in ways the others could never (and would never) understand. Shadows of her infertility – her empty arms – left stark against the walls once the case was over. And Cal had shielded her as best he could, even from the inevitable outcome of the child going back to her birth mother. Had rubbed her shoulder, pulled her in for a hug, called her darlin' and tried to make it all better, knowing he couldn't.
He is walking her to her home door because he doesn't know how else to say I'm here if you need me, but she can hear it all the same, in the angle of his shoulders and the softness of his eyes.
She wishes his love for her wasn't so obvious. Wishes it wasn't painted all over his face in quiet moments when the world falls away and they are left standing in a puddle of their shared, messy history. It would be easier to go out and find someone else (find another want, another dream) if she wasn't waiting on tenterhooks for Cal to say something; to let it fall off the tip of his tongue and give her the honesty she thinks she deserves, one way or another. His regard for her has been stratospheric from the day they first met, his love for her swift and wonderful – gentle and fun when they were both married, and it was platonic; fierce and focused when he was divorced, and she was separated, and maybe it wasn't platonic any longer, but they couldn't say so. They are tactile and effusive and give each other words of comfort and of care all the time, but there is still something in his face when he looks at her, sometimes, that makes her want to shake him to just spit it out already.
And he never does. And she never demands it.
(The silence is starting to wear thin.)
Cal is so much better at loving her when he thinks another man isn't doing it right; when he's stepping in to defend her honour, defend her marriage, defend the very best parts of her, even if they are somewhat rose-tinted in his eyes. And that's the problem. She needs Cal to love her in all the moments in between, too. To act rationally because it eases her burden, not because he's afraid she will (finally, reluctantly) walk out of this chaotic and fascinating mire they have created together. She needs him to take care of himself without the threat of secondhand-hurting Emily sitting on his shoulders. Gillian wants to know that he will show up for her when there is no threat to her life; their rocky patch is barely over, and she's still not entirely convinced he won't jeopardise the company again on a fool's errand. She doesn't want to change him – never that, because he is brilliant, funny, fascinating – but it would be nice if he could just be his better self more often. (His better self is the eighth wonder of the world, to her, and she wishes he knew that too.)
Tonight is one of those moments where he's showing his love because it is easier to do so when he's worried that she might fall to pieces.
(She won't. The case was emotionally trying, but she's coping just fine.)
"I'm okay, Cal", she says to him, an indulgent smirk in the corner of her mouth.
"I know, darlin'. I know you are"
His words sound honest. His eyes are still beseeching. She doesn't need training to see he's watching for any cracks in her armour.
(Gillian knows she is his blind spot. She takes pleasure out of knowing it, if she's being honest with herself.)
There had been a moment, today. One of those strange moments. They found the baby and brought her back to the office, waiting for all the authorities and parents to converge. Gillian was holding her, bouncing her around and cooing softly, and she had looked up and seen Cal's face – watching her from the couch, all slumped and brooding and thoughtful. Looking at her like she was chocolate cake. Like she was an undiscovered Amazonian tribe. Like she was something to be devoured.
She'd seen that same look again, later in the afternoon, when Emily had called by on her way to the airport. Gillian had hugged the girl, petted her hair, given her a quick word of advice about the newest boyfriend, told her to ignore her father's grouching. The look on his face as he watched them… it had been the same again. My girls are ganging up on me, he had muttered as he walked away with his arm around his daughter, and nobody had corrected him.
She sees that same look now. Thrice in one day, and although she is used to being demonstrative with him about their feelings, this look is… something more. Something well beyond the line they've been eroding since her divorce was finalised and she wore pink.
And now there is no baby, there is no Emily, and there is no threat that one or both of them might imminently die.
It's just her, and him, on her front stoop, late at night. Hands in coat pockets. Open, easy expressions, like they've done a thousand times before. (Like they always do.)
She lets him look because he still isn't seeing it. Still isn't sure he's seeing it, because he struggles to read her, and because she usually pushes him away at this moment to keep the feeble line in place, for reasons that became obsolete almost two years ago.
"You don't need to protect me from everything", she says to him, voice barely above a whisper. Her eyes hold his, watching as his pupils flick across her face – to each eye, to her mouth, her forehead, the corners of her eyes again.
"Because of the line?"
He shuffles on his feet, moving half a step back and then half a step forward, as though he's dancing on that very line right in front of her.
She shakes her head minutely. Her eyes soften and glisten for him. "No", she says with a smile. "Because I'm a big girl. I can handle it"
He watches her expression – the depths and breadths of what she's saying as she says it. With the dim streetlights it should be harder to read her face, but he's not speaking to her as a scientist now, he's speaking to her as… as Cal. As her Cal. (Whatever that could mean.)
"Can't help it, luv", he says. It's what I do, she hears. His voice is warm; it betrays him. Gives away all the various times he has literally run in to save her; picked her up after heartbreak, or after a break-in, or an attack, or just because they both needed the reassurance that they were alive and kicking. Standing in the middle of her marriage, prepared to wrestle with Alec's secrets so they wouldn't hurt her. Standing in the middle of her relationship demanding the truth from Dave. Standing in the middle of her kitchen cradling her head and making her laugh. It is what he does, for those he loves. He tries to protect them, and the circle of people who fit the bill is so tight and controlled she could probably count it on one hand. (Forefinger and thumb would be herself and Emily. No doubt.)
Gillian doesn't know where to put all the love she has for him because she can't put it into him, into them, can't pour it into sweet morning caresses and anniversary gifts and long nights of making love to show him how deep inside her soul her regard for him lives. Cal never seems to leap over the line with her the way he does with every other woman in his orbit, (even his ex-wife.) But she wants to, God does she want to bound over it, give in just once – knowing full well it won't be just once. Walking half-hugs and chaste kisses just won't cut it anymore. She aches with it some days, the need to release all this love out into the world.
And it dawns on her that what he is doing now – what he's been doing for years – is protecting her from himself. (Because he may know that he's clever, but he will never fully believe he is worthy.)
"What if I told you I didn't want you to protect me anymore? That I didn't need it?" she challenges. Her chin goes up a little bit. Her mouth quirks in the corners. Her eyes suddenly look drunk and wanting for him, like she's been knee-deep into his scotch again. (His pupils dilate in response, which she notices with great triumph.)
"I still couldn't help myself", he replies, shrugging. His chest is very nearly touching hers, they are standing so close. "You know that"
She does know that. All too well.
She sighs her eyes closed and – much to his surprise – tilts her head forward until her hairline is resting against his temple. Leans into him as though she means to nuzzle him and headbutt him in the same motion. He turns his head, so his lips graze her jaw, and his hands finally come out of his pockets and come up to hold her. She hates the way they land tentatively, uncertain, on her sides, nowhere near any place improper. Hates that he is still questioning himself while she pushes and prods herself into his space.
(She's not exactly being subtle.)
"Even if I told you I knew what I was getting myself into?"
He pulls back then, with his hands still on her waist and a question in his eye. "What are you saying, Gill?"
(I'm saying what you won't, she thinks.)
Any pretence that they are talking about anything else falls away as she squares him with a look that tells him how well she knows him, and how long she's been waiting.
"You infuriate me", she says mirthfully.
His brow furrows, still studying, still trying to solve this riddle. "I know that"
"And you entertain me"
He can't stop the little grin in the corner of his mouth. "Oh really"
"And you make me want to tear my hair out some days"
Her voice is still light, but she catches the way he demurs, turns in on himself a little bit like she's scolding him. Like he wants to crawl into an apology and never come out of it.
"And yet… I still completely adore you"
The two of them go still, and she lets him run his eyes over her, back and forth, waiting for the other shoe to drop. She stands still, with that smug little look on her face, waiting for him to understand that she hasn't just opened the door for him, she's taken it off its hinges, set it aside, and blasted out the walls for good measure.
(Step on through, Dr Lightman, what more invitation do you need?)
"What the hell is happening right now?" he blurts out. His face is painted with confusion, some worry, and just a tiny spark of hope, like he's wondering if he translated a passage of text incorrectly – heard adore where she actually said hate. Like she's asking him to leave instead of inviting him to stay (forever? Maybe.)
Gillian places her hands on his chest, and curls one into the lapel of his coat for good measure, just to emphasise that she's pulling him in, not pushing him away. She squares up to him again, stops their swaying about and dancing back and forth; makes him meet her eye and keep looking. With her heels still on they are the exact same height, and it makes staring him down that much easier. His hands have landed back on her body, despite himself; one just above her hip, one a little higher near her ribs, both warm through her coat.
"I realised something today", she says.
She hums, affirming, nods once.
"Are you drunk?"
He still – even with their arms around each other and barely three inches between their mouths – thinks this must be some cruel joke.
"Would this be easier to hear if I was?"
She looks him dead in the eye, stone cold sober. The two of them rocket back to that drunken night on the balcony, the forced (and very sincere) thank you, the almost-kiss, the long and swaying embrace as they forced a raw moment out into the open. He hadn't crossed the line then – would never cross the line when she wasn't completely herself, completely cognisant of what they were about to do – and so she knows that this conversation wouldn't be any easier if she were drunk because they've already played that version to the end.
(Her ushering him out of the office, to go home to his daughter, while she made a bed for herself on the couch in his office.)
They've played out every other conceivable version of this conversation, except the one they both want.
The reason she can't seem to settle with anyone else, or with any other path in her life, is because she is rooted firmly to this path, with this man, and even if someone else could come in and steal her heart away – as Dave very nearly did – they would have to accept that a piece of her would always be tied to Cal Lightman. As sure as a marriage certificate, or a business partnership; a best friend, a Leo. They would be competing with his brilliance, his demands on her time, his sense of humour, his ability to drop everything and run to her side when she really needs him.
It could be possible. But unlikely. So rare as to be completely unattainable. Letting herself love Cal is just accepting that nobody else will ever really measure up while she's unknowingly comparing them. Letting herself tell Cal out loud is just admitting she doesn't really want anyone else.
"What did you realise today, Gillian?" he asks her, his voice low, his words slow and deliberate, the heat of them burning into her, full of desire; full of longing.
"That this is inevitable", she says back, nearly whispering. Her eyes flit down to his lips.
He sounds doubtful. Inevitable could mean a lot of things. Inevitable isn't much of a choice, really.
"Inescapable", she says. She looks back up into his eyes again, catching the fear in their corners.
"Do you want to escape, darlin'?"
His arms have wound around her lower back now, pulling her just a fraction closer as he asks the question, betraying his worry even as he can see plain as day on her face that no, she has no intention of escaping, maybe not ever and certainly not right now.
"If I did, I would have done it years ago"
"If you were smart, you'd have done it years ago"
She grins, nudges his cheek with her nose, then pulls back again.
"Then call me a fool", she says, almost a sing-song, just to tease him with her sappiness, just to make him roll his eyes. (He doesn't, not this time.)
"You are nobody's fool, Gillian Foster", he says gently, his eyes softening into that same old expression that says I adore you too.
"Then stop trying to protect me and kiss me already"
"Are you sure?"
Because they both know what it means if they do this. A carefully constructed line – a deliberate distance every time they skirted just a bit too close to it. Even amongst honest confessions about wanting her, or finding him to be an interesting mind, they knew exactly where to stop. To leave space just in case anybody else needed to enter stage left and steal them away. They have shared kisses for cases and embraces for themselves. But this is… something else entirely. This is a step they can both recognise as a defining moment in the rest of their tomorrows.
(This is their never going back moment.)
He's reading her smile as she replies, "I've never been surer of anything in m-"
And of course, he doesn't let her finish. That would be asking too much. So, she can only moan the remainder of her words into his eager mouth as one of his hands comes up to the back of her head and the other pulls her body flush to his. She grasps both his jacket lapels, tightly, making sure he's not going anywhere now that she has him.
She stands there and kisses him for a couple of extremely long minutes, playing her tongue over his lips, against his tongue, rocking her body against his in a universal display of want and desire that even he can't misinterpret. She kisses him with all the love, the frustration, the pent-up lust that she has felt for him over the nearly-ten years that they've known each other. She kisses him like she has something to prove.
When they finally part, the look on his face tells her she most certainly proved it.
"Jesus", he mutters, swaying a little on the spot.
She laughs. No, giggles. She giggles at him and buries her face into the crook of his neck where it disappears into his collar, resting her face against his skin while she feels his hands running over her back, down her sides, then one hand trails up into her hair to keep her against him.
She winds her hands from against his lapels, down his sides, to wrap around his back, and pulls herself closer, tighter.
"This changes things, darlin", he mutters against her hair, turning his face into her neck.
"I know", she hums. She pulls back just enough to see his face again. The rest of their bodies stay close, entangled. "Is that okay?"
"Fine by me", he replies with a leer that doesn't quite reach his eyes. (He's far too busy being… overcome… to be convincing as a letch.)
"Is that fear, Cal?"
Her voice is still soft and quiet - her therapist voice, or the one she reserves for those long late nights by lamplight in their offices.
"You scare the shit out of me, Gill"
His confession makes her grin widely, delightedly. "Really?" she asks, through a mouth full of teeth and eyes that sparkle.
"Don't want to fuck this up, luv", he says gently. His sincerity pauses her teasing, her eyes going from a glow to a burn. A simmer just for him. Stilted and hesitant, he goes on, "You're too important - to me - to risk hurting… or losing"
"Then don't", she whispers, placing another long, gentle kiss against his lips. She doesn't deepen it and doesn't pull away, just rests them there for a few heartbeats to feel his warmth. "I know what I'm doing", she says against his lips, her eyes closed. She feels him puff against her mouth, his tongue darting out to wet his lips.
"That makes one of us", he mutters, before taking control back and finally - finally - diving into her, gripping the back of her head and kissing her the way she's wanted for so long. The way that makes her feel like he wants to turn her inside out, run fingers across every bone, every tendon, place his hand around her heart and cradle it gently forever.
This is an act of trust, from him, that she doesn't take for granted. She is his best friend, his business partner, the ballast steading his ships of lesser angels always lurking in the corner of his eyes. She knows what her loss would do to him - just as she knows what his loss would do to her in return. For him to follow her - take her hand and trust-fall off this cliff with her like it's the most natural thing in the world - is an act of faith that's truly remarkable for such a faithless man. It may just be the most courageous thing he's ever done, and she doesn't take that for granted.
To have his passions turned against her is making her heady for him; makes her appreciate his ferocity in a new and exciting way, just when she thought she knew every angle and crevasse of Cal Lightman.
"Inside", she mutters, not really breaking away but tugging him in the general direction of her still-closed door.
"You sure?" he mutters back, pulling away to try and read her face for just a moment.
"I'm completely in love with you", she says. She almost tosses her hair as she says it, and it could almost be like she's mocking him except she is dead serious. "I have been for a while"
She'll never put a number on it - the line from best friend to lover is too blurry to pinpoint the moment when the needle moved from one to the next. Sometime after her divorce? Possibly. Before he landed in the hospital after the car accident? Definitely. But there is no way for her to narrow it down from all the infinitesimal moments in between. And it doesn't matter anyway, not really. Not now.
"Now that you know it, I want you in my bed tonight", she finishes. He's not the vocal expert but even he can hear the lust in her voice, smokey and low as it is.
He waits a beat, then another, and then from somewhere deep inside him a smile blooms. Starts in his eyes, spreads to his lips, his cheeks, the smoothness of his forehead, the tender flex of his fingertips against her hip. She smirks and holds his gaze as her hands fish her keys from her bag. She turns to her door and hopes - prays - that he follows her, and lets out a breath she didn't realise she was holding when she feels him crowd up behind her, along the length of her back, as she deals with the locks, turns the handle, pushes the door open.
He holds her still for just a moment before she moves forward, and she feels his lips against her ear.
"I am completely in love with you too, Gillian", he says gently.
She turns with a smile, determined to catch the adoration she knows she'll find on his face.
(She finds it. Of course she finds it. It's a look she knows all too well. This part… this is not new.)
She holds his hand and backs inside, softly dragging him along. He presses the door closed, locks it without looking, without breaking eye contact with her for even a moment.
"It's a very good thing we're equal partners, luv", he says as he shucks his coat and lets it drop carelessly to the floor. She does the same with her handbag, begins on her own coat as he continues to lope towards her, the two of them slowly stepping further and further towards her short hallway, in the direction of her master bedroom.
"Why is that?" she asks with a smirk, losing her coat and blazer in one.
He grins, one finger in her belt loop stopping her progress and pulling her into him.
"I wouldn't want to answer rumours we only got to the top by sleeping with the boss"
And because it's new - and it's thrilling and he's never seen this angle of her, either - she smirks at him before answering, "I'll show you who's topping the boss"
And she giggles and kisses him as his face - plain as the day is long - wars between shocked amusement and outright blinding lust, a growl emanating deep in his throat as he attacks hers. She moans in reply, throws her arm around his neck to keep his lips on that exact spot, and he follows willingly as she starts shuffling them backwards, losing her heels, changing the height difference, (changing so very much, and yet… hardly anything at all.)
Something monumental happens just after midnight on a Tuesday night; Gillian Foster finds the solution to her problem.