Hades Let Them Leave
Something has changed in the last three days. Emily can't put her finger on it, but in the time between her leaving for Chicago on Tuesday and arriving back home on Friday, something is… different. (Weird in a way that leaves her skin buzzing, but unlike so many other times with her father, it's not from fear.)
For starters, her dad texted and insisted he was going to come and pick her up from the airport, even though her flight got in at four in the afternoon. Which means he forwent a late night staying back at the office trying to puzzle out whatever case landed on his door this week, and instead left early to come out to the airport and pick her up. No cab ride, no take-out, just her father playing chauffeur and running after her like she's in middle school again, then back home for an early dinner together.
And then, when she spotted him standing by the arrival gates, he looked… happy. Truly happy, in a way she was worried may never happen again. Casual and carefree in his jeans and black shirt and a work blazer thrown over the top, he looked like he had not a care in the world, and while Emily knows he's always thrilled to see her, Cal Lightman being happy while standing alone in the airport is not very typical of him these days. Not very typical of him on most days, but he wasn't even scrutinising any of the people walking by, and that was strange because airports a full of faces just ripe for the studying.
And now Emily sits in the passenger seat of his car, driving back to their home, and Cal is listening to her prattling on about her mother and Rudi and all things Chicago, and he isn't even interrupting her. (She keeps lining him up for the shot – giving him the ally-oop to slam dunk with his own brand of humour, and he isn't biting a single one.) He's far too… smug. Or something. Quiet. That's what it is, he's quiet. But in a contented, satisfied kind of way, rather than the brooding and depressed way she's come to expect of him the last year or so.
"So, Gillian is cooking us dinner?" asks Emily, confirming what Cal already told her as they were collecting her checked bag from the airport carousel.
Gillian coming over for dinner on a Friday night is completely normal. Cal allowing her in his kitchen unsupervised is… less so. (Strange that both he and Gillian finished early today, but Emily doesn't question that for the minute, because her dad being happy is a gift and she doesn't want to ruin it.)
"Uh, yeah… some Indian dish she wants to try out"
"Better than beans on toast, I guess", replies Emily with a shrug.
"Oi! Don't knock my beans, girl"
Emily grins, triumphant in her efforts. "You know who never eats baked beans?"
"If you say your mother, that's a damn lie, I got her onto them and she secretly loves them"
Emily smiles at him, shaking her head. "She doesn't love them, actually, she only tolerated them for you. And no, I wasn't going to say Mom, I was going to say-"
Emily waves her hand in front of her, and Cal scoffs. "Bloody Rudi, of course he doesn't"
And at least this still feels normal. Teasing her dad about her mother's fiancé and making him feel, somehow, like the better man because of some god-awful British cuisine in a can. Maybe she's just imaging the weirdness, or maybe he had some time to work out whatever was going on in his head lately (namely the turmoil of his feelings for a certain business partner combined with the grief of officially outliving his own mother.) In any case, despite the quiet, Cal is enough like himself that Emily isn't concerned – curious, maybe, but not concerned.
"I guess he and Gillian have that in common", says Emily with a grin. In truth, she wouldn't know how Gillian feels about beans on toast, because Cal has never had the gall to make it for her. If Gillian comes over for a meal, they always attempt to make an effort, or order something in as compensation. (It's what she would do for them – and has done, more than once – and so some gentlemanly part of Cal is unable to stoop low where it comes to hosting Gillian at their home. Emily thinks it's ridiculously sweet of him.)
"Wrong again", says Cal. "Foster loves my beans too"
There's a funny look on his face that Emily catalogues for later interrogation.
"Yeah sure, just as much as Mom", says Emily, rolling her eyes.
Cal's face looks smug, and yet his tone isn't biting, isn't snappy at all. It's something far gentler than he usually shows whenever she makes the slightest suggestion that Zoe and Gillian have more than a gender in common. (They are both incredible in their own rights, and Emily and Cal could agree on that, but they are so wholly different in every other respect it's almost laughable when she notices – rarely, now and then – a point of intersection between the two. And it never fails to knock her father on his ass when it happens, which Emily finds endlessly hilarious.)
"Sure, Dad", she says, grinning, and leaves him be.
They drive most of the rest of the way home in silence. Emily texts Zoe that she got home safe, and asks how she feels about baked beans, and laughs and shows her father at a red light when the only reply back is a typed out sad face emoji that makes Cal smirk and mutter liar under his breath as the light turns green.
Emily Lightman first fell in love with Gillian Foster the day she met her, at the tender age of nine. Her parents, Gillian, and Alec were all out celebrating the "financing" getting "approved" and the "company trademark" getting "registered", and none of these words really made sense to Emily, but she knew all the grown-ups were laughing, and her parents hadn't yelled at each other in almost a week, even though Cal had set up his latest project on their kitchen table and Zoe hated it. (It would come to be the place the Lightman Group solved its first cases, Gillian and Cal crowded in their family kitchen while they waited for leases to be approved and office fit-outs to be installed in their first – smaller, browner - building. But that was months away, and in the meantime, this humble beginning became the starting point of Gillian Foster being a regular fixture in the Lightman family kitchen.)
Emily was deemed old enough to come to the fancy restaurant and meet her father's "new work wife" (a term her mother used and Emily didn't quite understand), and she remembers sitting between Gillian and Cal the whole night, falling slowly in love with the woman who was so gentle and kind to her, and so confident, and yet different from Zoe in almost every way. They shared a piece of chocolate cake and a crème brulee between them because neither could decide on dessert, so they just got two. (Both Cal and Alec had laughed at them, teased them for it, as Gillian's soft smile made Emily feel like they were in a secret conspiracy; a spy movie, full of sweets.)
It remains in her memory as one of the best dinners of her life.
She has considered Gillian one of her closest friends ever since – another trusted adult in her life, and a steady constant through her parent's divorce, and her father's struggles, and her mother's ambition that took her almost 1200 miles away. Emily is astute; she knows she is blessed by the company she keeps (the company she was born to), all of them accomplished and driven; all of them leaders in their fields and burdened with responsibility. The older she gets the more she appreciates what her mother does, what her father has achieved. The older she gets the more she has come to rely on the steady port in the storm that Gillian provides her, and to cherish the role she plays in both her and Cal's life. (The older she gets, the more she understands how lucky Cal is that Gillian hasn't ever walked away, especially after the last couple of years.)
There is a distinct comfort in seeing Gillian standing by their kitchen stove when they walk in the rear door; a warmth that sits in Emily's chest to see this stalwart, beautiful person stirring bits of meat and sauce in a saucepan, as though she belongs there.
Gillian turns as she hears them come in, that easy and instant smile on her face.
"Welcome home, Em", she beams, and Emily can't help but return the smile.
"Thanks. That smells amazing"
Gillian demurs a little. "Thank you. I think it's working out how I wanted, so… we'll see"
She turns back and stirs the pan some more as Emily and Cal move further into the kitchen, juggling her bags and the groceries they picked up on their way.
"Did you remember the ice cream?" asks Gillian without turning around.
"Yes, I remembered your bloody ice cream", says Cal, his nose turned up. "Any wonder you don't turn into a sugar cube, with the way you eat"
Gill hums. "No need, I'm sweet enough as I am"
Emily watches a look flick over her father's face at that – something foreign and unexpected, and yet, it also belongs there. (Belongs, even as Emily can't work out what it means, but suspects.) They haven't spoken about the two of them since his late-night confession about his feelings for Gillian. Emily hasn't pushed, and Cal hasn't offered, and so as far as she knows they are carrying on as they always have, despite the fact he's deeply in love with her. Nothing on the surface seems amiss – nothing different to how it should be on a random Friday night.
And yet there's… something… in the air. Some kind of tension. But not the tension of last year, when her father was being a right prick and pushing everyone away. And not the tension like when Gillian was dating, and he wanted to protect her (or interfere, as Emily has come to suspect.) Still, the air is thick with something Emily can't get a handle on, and she is fairly certain it's not to do with work, or they wouldn't be so… easy with each other. (Gillian likely wouldn't even be here if they were in the middle of a work fight.)
Cal walks to the fridge to put away the milk (for hot chocolates later) and the ice cream (for Gillian), and then steps up close to Gillian's back, crowding around her the way he does with everyone, in an effort to unnerve them. The fact it never makes Gillian so much as blink an eye is one of the many, varied reasons Emily has continued to love her all these years; she's one of the only, maybe the only person who can combat Cal's particular brand of crazy and not even break a sweat. She even seems to enjoy it sometimes, in the same way Emily enjoys it, revelling in Cal's hyperactive energy.
"Smells good", he mutters.
"Hopefully it tastes good too", replies Gillian, her voice low and easy (and intimate.)
It should be unnerving to see her father get so close to a woman in that way, but it's Gillian, and they look… well, they frankly look pleased. And maybe a little bit embarrassed, which is completely new and a bit off-putting.
"I'm just going to take my stuff upstairs", says Emily, turning away before it gets uncomfortable.
A part of her brain is panicking, wondering if she's imagining the sinews and connections that her subconscious is desperately trying to stitch together. Threads of the afternoon coalescing into a single narrative that makes complete sense, and yet, it can't make sense, because that would mean something changed, something got drastically flipped on its head in the last three days, and if her father and Gillian are carefree with each other and getting all close, closer than Emily has ever seen them before, closer than any friendship she's ever heard of, maybe it means…
Emily dumps her bags on her bedroom floor and stands in her room with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. It takes her a solid ten seconds to decide that whatever is happening, it's not going to get better or worse by having her hide upstairs, and so she might as well go investigate.
Better she finds out now if she's imagining things or if she's going to watch the two of them implode.
(Or watch the two of them be stupidly content. It's fifty-fifty at this point.)
Coming down the stairs slowly, quietly, she's surprised they don't hear her. Emily knows they don't hear her, because as she descends the stairs, she catches sight of them standing by the stove. Cal has one hand sprawled on Gillian's hip, the other holding her wrist lightly. Her captured hand is holding a fork with a piece of meat on it, and she's offering it to him to try. They are standing so close that, were it not for Cal leaning back a little, their bodies would be touching; they'd be in each other's arms.
Emily watches as her father takes the bite off the fork, letting off a small hum, the hand on her hip moving a fraction closer to the small of her back. Gillian's face looks gentle, and yet… also cheeky, like they're enjoying some kind of unspoken joke, or she's enjoying the fact he's enjoying her cooking. They stare at each other dead in the eye as Cal chews and swallows, neither of them blinking. That's good, he mumbles around his mouthful, and Gillian's eyes narrow a fraction as she hums in glad reply. They still don't take their eyes of each other, the gaze become long and heated and tender.
It's a tableau that can only really mean one thing – a closeness and an intimacy that goes so far beyond… whatever the two of them have been these past years.
Taking the last two stairs with the grace of an elephant, Emily exclaims, "oh my god!" and watches the two of them step away from each other, guilt writ large in their shared expression.
"What?" asks Cal, playing for innocent and missing completely.
She points at them, but her mouth has stopped working.
Gillian turns back to the stove to flick the burners off and check on a pot of fluffy rice; she's blushing from her neck to her ears.
"You are… aren't you?"
"Aren't what?" asks Cal, as he sways and steps on the spot, doing his very typical Cal is uncomfortable and trying to play it off dance while staring Emily down and decidedly not looking at Gillian, (the coward who is now just aimlessly stirring pots to avoid having to turn around.) His awkwardness and feigned innocence is all the confirmation Emily needs.
There is a brief moment where Emily and her father look at each other and they both know she can't control her mouth; she's going to blurt out the first crass, uncouth thing she's thinking, and neither of them can stop it. She wishes she could stop it – wishes she didn't have to call him out, and embarrass Gillian like this, but she can't help it, she really can't, because there are too many thoughts flying through her head and too many things she wants to ask, and too many facts she wants to get straight, but first they have to get past the very real fact that...
"You're sleeping together!"
(And in fairness, it's probably the politest way she could have said it.)
Gillian spins around then, her face a portrait of acute pain and anguish, a whispered Emily on her lips, as though she wants to apologise and explain and disappear, but she pulls up short. The moment Gillian's eyes land on Emily's face, even without being the expressions expert – without being Cal Lightman – she can see the unbridled glee all over the girl. From her wide eyes to the grin trying to find a home in the corner of her mouth, to her open arms and upturned palms, Gillian can see it written all over her; happiness for them, for this. Acceptance. (If filtered through a decent dose of disbelief and shock.)
(Cal clocked it the second their eyes met. Cal knew what Emily wanted, expected; knew how she felt about his feelings for Gillian. Cal knew she wouldn't be mad, or he never would have invited Gillian over before telling Emily about them in private. Cal is, infuriatingly, very calm.)
After a beat of silence, Emily flicks her look from her father, to Gillian, and back to her father again. "Well? Are you?"
"That is none of yo-"
"Um, it absolutely is my business"
Gillian goes to interject with a gentle, "Emily-", playing the mediator as she has so many times before, even if she doesn't really know what to say. But the fact she moves half a step forward, reaches out towards her with a beseeching look, a plea in her eyes; it gives Emily more information than they realise.
"Oh my god, you started it!", she says, and points an accusing finger at Gillian then waggles it between the two of them.
Gillian lets out a single burst of laughter, unable to stop herself being shocked by the accusation. (Emily just barely sees Cal rolling his eyes heavenward by her antics.) None of them really know what to say, or where to go from here, but the adults haven't denied two absolute truths so far; her father and Gillian have (finally, mercifully) started a romantic relationship, and Gillian was the instigator. (A fact that surprises Emily less than it should, because after eking out his confession of love, it was obvious Cal had neither the knowledge of what to do next, nor the resolve to change anything about their relationship, lest he ruin it completely. It was always going to be Gillian who had to make the first move, and that also makes total sense to Emily, even if nothing else does.)
"You did, didn't you?"
Never one to be backed into a corner by a direct question, Gillian stands a little firmer, looks Emily in the eye, and says simply, "Yes, I did"
Cal's protective instinct overcomes everything else after a few more seconds, and his eyes turn gentle and worried for Emily. He steps forward a little bit as his hand reaches for her.
"You okay, luv?"
Emily aims a closed-lipped (barely contained, ready to burst) smile at him, and then steps away from him to launch herself at Gillian, giving her a full-body hug. Not expecting it, Gillian reels a little bit, a noise somewhere between oof and woah leaving her as Emily crashes into her. But her arms are quick to react, and land around the girl's back, one around her ribs and the other smoothing down her hair.
"I'm happy for you", says Emily. And what they hear is I'm relieved for you. Because holding on to her father's secret was difficult, not because she couldn't keep it, but because she wanted to make them do something about it. Emily imagines them looking at each other over her shoulder – feels Gillian's head move a little bit and her arms tighten just a fraction, maybe in response to a smile? (Her father is right; she needs to stop spending so much time hanging around his office, she's starting to notice more about people than anyone should. But it's still nice, to feel all the little twitches and squeezes and know that she and Gillian are sharing more than just words in this moment; that humans can connect on so many levels and right now the thing she's feeling the most is simply love.)
"I'm happy you're happy", Gillian says quietly back, her hand smoothing Emily's hair one more time before they step away. (They can all hear the relief in her voice, too.)
Emily looks at her father. He has a dopey, sappy look on his face, now that he knows Emily isn't going to fall to pieces. "You owe me an explanation", she says to him as she walks into his waiting hug. (She can feel the reassurance in it; the unburdening of his worries as he sways them a little side to side, his arms encompassing her completely as though she's still a small child. He waits just a fraction longer than usual before releasing her.)
"Only a little one, if you're lucky", he replies, pinching her ear as they part. "But first, I think we owe Gill a try of this curry, for her efforts"
Emily looks back at Gillian with a smile. "Her bribery dinner"
Gillian blushes again, shaking her head at the both of them. "It's not a bribe", she says with a wide smile, her tone playfully insistent.
Emily grins back. "Trying to… curry favour"
Gillian giggles at her, Emily feels smug, and if Cal chuckles it's only because he's appreciative of a terrible dad joke, not because he actually likes it or agrees with her.
"Nothin' to be sorry for", says Cal, and if he thinks his tone sounds teasing, he's dead wrong; it's far too soft, too honest to come out teasing. He can't stop himself looking at Gillian for just a moment, and Emily has never really thought all the romance movies were real, but there's something disarming about seeing an over-exaggerated Hollywood look of adoration on her own father's face. And directed at Gillian, too.
Refusing to allow any awkwardness to creep into this moment, she points at the food on the stove. "I'll have a big plate, please", says Emily. "I'm starving, I haven't eaten since Chicago"
The tension is broken; Cal frowns at her. "Doesn't your mother feed you?"
Emily doesn't answer that.
The adults share a quick look – a check-in with each other – that Emily pretends not to notice, and then they all move as one. Cal steps to the cupboards and collects three bowls for them. Emily goes to the other draw and collects three spoons. Gillian takes the pots of curry and rice off the stove and places them on a wooden board in the middle of the kitchen island so they can serve. It's a scene of sickening domesticity that, thankfully, hilariously, is not remotely new for them, occurring at least once a month, or on the holidays, or whenever the Group gets a big case requiring long hours. Cal might joke about starting their business in his kitchen – and they did, much to Zoe's chagrin – but in truth they never really left it, not entirely. Sometimes Emily loves how easy they all are together, in this holding pattern, this configuration. (Today she loves that barely anything looks set to change, even if something very big already has.)
(The curry is, predictably, delicious.)
"This is good", says Emily through her third mouthful, smiling around her food. The way she's staring them down makes her meaning crystal clear.
She wakes to the whispered feeling of fingers running over her cheek.
"Emily", coos Gillian, rousing her from where she's fallen asleep on the couch. "Time for bed, sweetheart"
"Did I miss the end of the movie?" she asks, voice raspy.
"And most of the middle", says Cal, packing away the DVD and putting it back on the shelf.
"Wow, I haven't done that in a while"
Gillian smiles at her as Emily hauls off the couch and stretches. "Travelling takes it out of you", she says graciously.
"Yeah, and eating your body weight in ice cream", adds Cal at the both of them. They ignore him.
"You go sleep, we'll clean up down here", says Gillian, vaguely gesturing to the debris of their movie marathon on the coffee table.
Emily smiles at Gillian and hugs her father goodnight; walks three steps towards the stairs and then stops and turns, a thoughtful look on her still half-asleep face.
"Will I see you in the morning?" she asks Gillian gently. There's no judgement in the question, but there is a spark of hope; of longing.
Gillian smiles at her sheepishly – can't stop her eyes flicking to Cal for just a fraction of a second – then looks back to Emily and nods gently. Her voice is hardly more than a murmur when she answers, "You will"
Emily smiles, nods once in agreement, turns on her heal and keeps walking. "Goodnight", she calls at the bottom of the stairs. "You kids better not stay up too late"
It feels good to ascend the stairs to the sound of their shared chuckling. It feels right that they spent an ordinary, exceptional Friday evening together. It feels safe, brushing her teeth, walking to her room and turning on her lamp and going through the motions of getting ready for bed, knowing two of her favourite people are just downstairs. That soon they'll be asleep (together) in the room at the other end of the hall, and they'll all wake in the morning together, share coffee in their pyjamas and make pancakes or crumpets or something boring like toast, and it won't be boring at all. (They have spent a few rare mornings together, when Gillian stayed in their spare room for one reason or another, but it's different now. It's always going to be different now.) Emily falls back asleep in no time, an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and joy curling through her stomach, wondering at the appropriate length of time before she stops referring to Gillian as her dad's business partner and starts using stepmother as shorthand instead.
(It's not like she hasn't been, all these years, in their own unique, messed up kind of way.)
P.S. For the record, baked beans on toast is a great dinner; that was Emily talking, not me.