A/N: This was written several months ago, intended to be a flashback scene in my Web of Lies story. But after much consideration, I wasn't happy shoving this in there; it felt forced each time I tried to squeeze it in, and it also seemed substantial enough to stand alone. It's been buried in my hard drive since March... but I don't like the thought of just leaving it buried to turn to dust, so here it is. Thanks for reading!
Setting: 2x20 Exposed - Just after the cafe scene. This is my take on an extended ending for that episode.
Cal and Gillian walked arm in arm through the sunny streets of DC with no real destination in mind. It was one of those rare afternoons when they were both totally free… without the pressures of work or clients or anything at all, really, hanging over their heads to deflate the mood. Cal could probably count on one hand how many times that had happened in the last year, and he was bound and determined to make the most of it.
Gillian's left arm was linked through his right, and he was listening to her tell the story about Loker's little "White Lie" song that he'd written with those kids during the tractor bomb fiasco a few months back. Well, in all fairness he was only half listening. But only because Loker had already told the story himself at least a dozen times. And because he'd become completely fixated by the feel of Gillian's hand against his arm, stroking lightly through the thin fabric of his shirt. It was bloody distracting.
"And it was just so sweet, you know?" she enthused. "The way he took charge of all those little kids – especially Oscar. Did you know about that little boy, Cal? Poor guy knew everyone was in danger but he didn't tell a soul. That's pretty brave, don't you think?"
Cal nodded, content just to let her talk. He liked the sound of her voice when she felt like this… carefree and peaceful. Gillian might be the expert among them, but he'd learned a thing or two from her over the years about vocal patterns, and he could hear the lilt of her tone when she spoke about Oscar's bravery; the slight tinges of sadness behind it when she spoke of children in general. Most people would miss that, because they didn't know her like he did. Hell, no one knew her like he did.
When they passed the next store front, Gillian stopped abruptly and put one hand on her hip as she turned to face him. She looked annoyed, and a tiny bit amused. And the muffled laugh that escaped her told him that he was probably the root cause of each.
"Conversation generally works best when two people do the talking, Cal," she lightly reprimanded. Lightly being the key word; it was hard to take her seriously when she was grinning so adorably at having caught him unaware.
"Does it, now?" he answered, playing along. "'Fraid that's a new one on me, love. Learn something new every day, and all that."
"You're awful," she laughed again. She shook her head and gave his shoulder a playful slap before falling back in step with him, arm in arm again.
"Been called worse," he quipped. She laughed at that, too. It was easily one of his favorite sounds. Top five, at least.
"Well, are you going to answer me or not?" she finally pressed.
He considered this, and was a bit tempted to tease her some more, but ultimately decided not to push his luck. He thought it best not to ruin a carefree day with sarcasm and smart assed answers. So he opted for truth, albeit reluctantly. "Depends on the question, I suppose."
Gillian sighed, exasperated. "I already asked you the question."
"I figured as much, love, but I missed it. I was somewhat… distracted."
"So I bore you, huh? Is that it?"
Clearly she wasn't worried about the teasing, because she was going at it full tilt. Her voice was light-hearted and airy, and he was almost afraid to label it as such, but he could've sworn she was flirting with him. Or, he'd just been out in the sun too long and it had fried what little good sense he still had.
Now it was Cal's turn to laugh. "Of all the words I could use to describe you, Gill, boring would not be one of them. Trust me on that," he insisted.
Oh, if she only knew the half of it… whatever was the polar opposite of boring, that was the way Cal Lightman's body reacted to Gillian Foster's presence. It always had been. God knows how he'd ever managed to get any work done all these years.
"'S'pose you could take pity on me and repeat the question, then?" he finally asked. "I promise to give you a proper answer this time." And then he winked at her – it was one of those moments when he saw himself from a third person perspective and knew he looked like a complete fool when he did it, but there it was. A wink. A silly, bloody wink. Now they were both flirting, which was dangerous territory, to say the least.
Gillian's cheeks were tinged with the lightest shade of pink when he did it. And then she smiled coyly at him, dropped her gaze away from his, and spoke in a surprisingly quiet voice. "It's really not important," she offered. "I was just talking about that song that Loker sang with those kids, remember? About how brave Oscar was, even though he knew they were all in danger."
Cal nodded… of course he remembered. The amazing Loker and the ballad of the white lie had all the women on the Lightman Group payroll swooning for days. Including Gillian. Made him want to run out and buy a damn guitar. Loker ate it up with a spoon, of course, and even though Cal teased him mercilessly, he had to admit that it was a pretty great way to deal with a pretty awful situation.
He heard Gillian clear her throat then, somehow sensing that he'd drifted off. Again. Damn it, Lightman, focus.
Cal closed his eyes and tried to shake off the mental picture of seducing Gillian via guitar. He could sing, but she didn't know that yet. One of the few secrets he'd somehow managed to keep all these years.
"Oscar was right fearless," he finally agreed, once he was able to streamline his thoughts again. "That was a pretty big mess, wasn't it Gill? A bloody bomb in a tractor with a room full of third graders right in the firing line. We never expected that one, did we? Nothing in the textbooks can prepare you for that one, and I oughta know since I've written most of them."
Gillian gave a wordless sort of "mmm" under her breath in agreement, but she didn't elaborate. Then she tightened her grip on his arm and brought her free hand up to stroke along the muscles, raking a slow trail between his forearm and his bicep as they continued to walk. If she had any idea what the motion was doing to him, she didn't comment on it.
"I was pretty worried about you that day," she offered. In his periphery, he could see that her head was tilted downward, and she seemed a bit sad.
Cal tried to brush it off and lighten the mood again, not sure the conversation was veering into safe territory. "Just that day, huh?" he joked.
Either Gillian didn't pick up on the humor, or she chose to ignore it… he couldn't be sure which one it was. She seemed to be the one drifting off now, suddenly turning serious. "Among others," she quietly answered. "Many, many others."
Probably more than he was even realized – how she'd managed to stick by him for so many years never failed to amaze him. He could be a right bastard sometimes. Especially to her. "Yeah, well I…"
"A bit hypocritical for you to call someone else Captain America, don't you think?"
Okay, that one stung a bit. Quick and painful, like ripping off a bandage. The fact that he deserved it only made it hurt worse, but he tried to keep his reaction and his tone of voice as neutral as possible.
"I s'pose it was, yeah," he agreed, feeling her grip on his arm tighten at the admission. It gave him a bit of courage to continue, despite the nerves. "And I'm sorry, Gillian. For that, and for so many other things. I know I should've said it long ago."
She stopped walking then – right in the middle of the sidewalk, so that the people nearby had to change course and walk around them. She just stopped and turned to him, wide-eyed. So many emotions flashed across her face that it damn near knocked the wind out of him. By far, the predominant one was relief. It made him wonder just exactly how long she'd been waiting for his apology.
He watched her eyes flicker across his face, trying to read him. They bounced from his eyes to his brows, and then finally to his lips, which curled into an automatic smile just from the attention. So much for keeping it neutral.
Gillian took one step closer to him and he felt her small hand land on his chest. He swallowed nervously, not quite sure what she was planning next and completely paranoid that she could now feel his heartbeat hammering away beneath her fingertips. And then before he even realized what was happening, she stretched up and kissed him softly. Her lips landed at the corner of his mouth, right in the same spot that had become 'normal' for them. Or rather, as normal as it could be considering they were supposed to be 'just friends.'
As normal as it could be considering he was in love with her.
Cal closed his eyes, fighting the emotions that were so close to the surface. So he took a deep breath and tried his best to keep everything in check. A second later, Gillian gave a smile and lifted her hand from his chest, bringing it higher to cup his cheek in her palm.
Shit, shit, shit. He almost didn't feel in control of himself anymore – as if his body was absolutely refusing to listen to him. Absolutely refusing to let him push her away, or throw his walls back up, or wear that damn awful emotional mask that had become almost like a second skin. He knew little bits and pieces of his true feelings were filtering through, and her smile left him without any doubt whatsoever that she could see them. He didn't want her to see them… not yet. Not this soon. Dave hadn't even been gone for forty eight hours, and he'd be a completely fool to lay his heart on the line now.
There were a dozen unspoken thoughts swirling in his head that Cal could hardly hear himself think. He was so bloody tired of second guessing everything.
Gillian must've been waiting for him to speak, and when he didn't, she scrunched up her eyebrows and let out a sigh. Not like she was irritated or angry… just that she recognized his hesitation. "You're thinking about Dave, aren't you?" she finally asked.
Right to the heart of the matter on the first go – that was impressive. "How did you…"
"Just intuition, I guess. A little flicker of a frown, a little flash of regret. The way your jaw tightened after my Captain America comment. It seemed pretty logical."
Cal looked away, suddenly self-conscious. He glanced at everything around them – the store fronts, the few passing cars, the people who kept swerving around them and shooting annoyed glances because they were still standing in the middle of the sidewalk, directly in everyone else's path. He thought it was funny that neither of them seemed to care about that little detail. It was as if everything else had fallen away for a bit, no longer as important as what was developing between them.
He knew he had only two real options. Dismiss everything he was feeling – everything he wanted to ask her and everything that they needed to say to each other, or take a risk and move forward. Neither choice seemed right, but still… forward was progress, and that alone made it worth the risk.
He sighed, turning his full attention back toward her. "Can I ask you a question?"
"You can ask me anything."
There was one last wave of hesitation as he opened his mouth to speak, but he pushed past it and asked anyway. "Were you in love with him?"
Gillian's expression was a thousand different things. Sadness, confusion, fear, and lastly – in such a small measure that he almost missed it entirely, was hope. Hope for what exactly, he couldn't be sure. Maybe she couldn't, either.
Her mouth opened and closed a few times, as if she was weighing the words that she wanted to say, before finally deciding on one that fit. "Truth?" she asked.
"'Course, love. Always truth." He fought the urge to press her, but those few silent seconds were practically killing him. When she finally began to answer, he exhaled the breath he didn't realize was even being held.
"I wanted to be," she began. Her eyes darted back and forth between his, and for a moment he thought she might cry. "I tried to be. But, I think what I actually loved was the idea of him, you know? The idea that I could be happy again, and that someone would want me in that way."
Jesus. He'd wanted her in that way for years. Hell, he'd wanted her in every possible way for years… good, bad, and in between. Unconditional.
She looked so vulnerable. Beautiful, and vulnerable, and so impossibly perfect for him that the weight of it was almost crushing – and it killed him that somehow, she had no idea how amazing she really was. But he couldn't very well tell her any of that, so he tried to improvise. He wasn't sure if he was afraid she'd see right through him, or hopeful that she finally would.
He took another deep breath and then brought his hands to frame her face, letting his thumbs stroke gently along her jaw line. She tensed briefly, but then he felt her relax into his touch, trusting him.
"Isn't that what we all want?" he said, when he finally found the strength to answer her. "To find someone who makes you so damn happy that sometimes the world seems to slide off kilter from the strength of it?"
Gillian just blinked and nodded, and then he watched her expression slowly evolve into delight. He was vaguely aware that his grin was an exact match of her own; wide-stretching and uninhibited. Under other circumstances, he'd probably feel a bit embarrassed about it, but standing there with Gillian, it didn't seem out of place at all. It seemed… welcome.
His hands dropped from her face and he felt a thousand pounds lighter. Gillian automatically linked her arm with his again as they began to walk, once again bringing her free hand up to roam along the muscles there. They were quiet for several moments, but when they reached the end of the block Gillian nudged him with her elbow and he heard her giggle.
"You already knew the answer to that question, didn't you?" she asked.
Actually no, he didn't. "Not exactly, darling," he said honestly. "You're my blind spot."
"I know," she agreed. "But even still… you must've read something on me."
"Yeah, I probably could have if I'd tried. Probably could've read it loud and clear. But I never looked. I swear, I never even tried to read that one."
In his periphery, he watched her consider this. Her fingers stroked his arm just the slightest bit harder, and he had to fight off a shiver. "Why not?" she asked. "What stopped you?"
Fear, pride, doubt. He could practically hand her a list, but it all boiled down to one thing – one predominant feeling that had always stopped him every time he tried to find that answer.
"That one's easy, love," he explained. "I was always too afraid of what I'd find."