TITLE: The Longest Con
CHARACTERS: Gillian, Cal
SUMMARY: A journey through fifteen years of them.
Year 1 – Paper
Year one is when he swaggers into her office.
He is a mystery. One she does not necessarily want to solve, but slowly uncover, dissect into its individual pieces and be part of somehow. It feels intriguing. He does. (And it's clear from the very first moment he locks eyes with her, that she could never discredit him the way they want her to.)
He still calls her Dr. Foster sometimes throughout that first year, even though they have already moved on to Gillian and Cal a long time ago. She can't figure out whether he does it on purpose—because he likes the sound of authority it gives her or because he simply likes to tease her—or whether it maybe really is a slip. Either way it only deepens the mystery he surrounds himself with.
In fact he's better than any textbook psych case.
"You need to put your squiggly little name on this paper and sign your life over to me."
He grins, but she knows it is the exciting truth in one way or another.
Year 2 – Cotton
Year two is when she slowly gets used to his humor.
She's still in the process of figuring him out and he has so much fun with it, telling her all kinds of stories about his life and only later revealing which ones are true and which ones are utter bullshit. To her they all sound like they belong to the latter category, though.
It takes her some time to realize that he's doing all that as some kind of weird training, looking for clues about how much she has learned about deception. She finds it even more endearing after the penny has dropped, but she doesn't tell him that.
Instead, she's working on some little fibs of her own here and there (nothing serious, just a little fun) and soon she discovers that while his abilities to spot lies with other people are almost never failing him, he seems to have a problem figuring her out at times. She's not quite sure what to make of it.
"I was hoping you'd not be wearing the shirt with the two missing buttons for such an important meeting with the mayor's office," she whispers to him with disappointment in her voice while they are waiting for the delegation to arrive.
There's a look of sudden panic on his face and his eyes wander down to his shirt. No button is missing of course. He rolls his eyes and smirks.
"Point for me," she says.
"You're an awful liar, Foster."
He still hasn't figured out her biggest lie.
Year 3 – Leather
Year three is when she learns about his mom.
Or rather: when he lets her. For a long, long time she has wondered how exactly he found his field of science (none of his books ever offered an answer on this and neither did any of their conversations). It's when she finds him on the sidelines of an informal get-together, that she realizes that he stumbled into it without ever wanting to.
They're here to convince potential investors of the brilliance of their business, but he doesn't look like he has the right mood nor the energy to unleash the charming side of himself.
"What's wrong?" she asks. "I mean despite you hating parties and the general shallowness of gatherings like these?"
The brief smile he gives her in return is real, but disappears so fast and turns into something sad that she can't help but worry. She sits down next to him and decides to say nothing. They just sit there in silence watching other people talk, laugh, and lie.
"It's the day my mum killed herself," is what he says a while later. Not an easy statement to start a conversation with, but little about him is easy. She quietly listens to his story and looks at the dog-eared photograph he eventually takes out from his leather wallet.
She never figured he'd be a guy to carry around sentimental photos in his pocket, but maybe she just doesn't know him at all.
Year 4 – Linen
Year four is when they move to a big office.
She walks through the hallways, passing by the reception, the big conference room, the lab, and still can't believe that it's all theirs. They started out so small with just the two of them working out of their own homes, and now they have about a dozen employees and a whole floor in a fancy office building.
He appears out of nowhere from behind a corner and puts his arm around her shoulders to walk her to his office. There's a big smile on his face. "I need your womanly touch."
He doesn't mean a literal touch—it's more her sense of aesthetics that is needed.
"Where would you put them?" he asks and takes a huge canvas print of his own face out of a box. She can see there's many more. Only he can be this vain and get away with it.
"Maybe the men's room? To scare everyone away?" It's not even a lie.
He is amused by her statement. "I am surely more attractive than the men's room."
"I'm not going to comment on that."
He walks over to the big white wall of nothingness and holds one of the photos against it. She tries to suppress it, but in the end has no choice but to break out in a big, warm smile. He's always had that effect on her, whether she wanted it or not.
He looks at her and sees the smile. "Admit it, you want some of these for your own office, right?"
Year 5 – Wood
Year five is when they are working their first suicide case.
He is obsessed. In a way that seems unhealthy and somehow dangerous. She can see all the guilt he harbors about his mother's death, even though he had nothing to do with it. And yet, he's apparently still trying to bring back the dead. In this case a soldier who had just returned from Afghanistan.
She's trying hard to find the mystery in the case. The web of lies that would require their expert work, but she soon realizes that there is none. And he knows it, too. He's trying to prevent something that has already happened, tilting at windmills during a hurricane.
He won't find the redemption he's looking for and maybe that's exactly the way he wants it to be.
When it's all wrapped up, she visits him in his office with a drink in her hands. She pours them both a glass and sits down.
"I think it's not good for you to work on cases like that."
"Yeah, I know that that's what you're thinking," he replies with a little annoyance. "I'll try staying away from them, okay?"
She nods and jokes lightly: "We should have gotten you a wooden table, so we can knock on it."
"I'll consider it for the next renovation."
She knows exactly that this won't be the last time he's been that obsessed with a suicide. She wishes she could help him, though.
Year 6 – Iron
Year six is when Zoe leaves him.
He spirals out of control for a while. She hasn't seen him like this before, even though there had been other times that made her worry for him. But this is new. This is as intense as almost everything about him.
She can't get through to him. Whatever she does, he deflects, turns her down, invades her personal space with anger to scare her away. She tries some of her counselling approaches to get him to talk to her, but soon realizes that he's become too close to her for this to still work. And maybe it's never worked with him anyway.
At one point she just decides that she should back off and let him get through this on his own. He clearly doesn't want her help or companionship, so she just makes sure that he doesn't bring the whole company down with him and that the employees he yells at don't quit. She sorts out the messes he leaves behind on his raging crusade against (what she thinks is) deep hurt.
One evening she finds him in his office with a cut above his eye and a split lip. She gets closer to examine the damage and eventually fetches a wet cloth to gently wash off the blood. He lets her, though he doesn't say anything. She can almost feel the metallic taste of blood in her own mouth as well.
It's not the first time that has happened since the separation from Zoe; he's gotten in a lot of fights and she's sure he's actually looking for them and the physical pain they bring. It might be masking the emotional pain he feels for a bit.
"Are you sticking with me?" he asks with sadness in his voice and looks at her, searching her eyes for a little reassurance.
"Of course I am."
She has every intention to, but she realizes it might not always be an easy promise.
Year 7 – Wool
Year seven is when she thinks of him as a friend for the first time.
Which is weird, because what else would they have been throughout all these years? But the truth is, that she's never explicitly defined their relationship before. Sure, they were business partners, and they were colleagues, and sometimes they got take-out after a long day at work or went for dinner together with their spouses. They've been in each other's homes and they generally know what's going on in each other's lives.
They've laughed together, they've cried, they've been through a lot, and have seen each other at their best and worst. They know things about each other—secrets maybe—that not many else do.
Maybe it's because her marriage to Alec is crumbling, that's she's looking for a better definition of who they are. Maybe it's because she needs him to be exactly that in these times of need: a friend.
He gently puts a woolen hospital blanket over her shoulders before leaving the room and once again emphasizes that nothing is worth her getting hurt. Then he goes to outsmart a serial rapist.
He can be so infuriating and exhausting at times, but she always circles back to him and knows that her place is next to him somehow.
Year 8 – Bronze
Year eight is when they dig into their past.
He figures out her biggest lie, is angry and somewhat disappointed, but hugs her in the end. She breathes a sigh of relief. She couldn't bear to lose him like that. Not then and not now.
But it's not the only digging they do.
She's helping him clear out some of his stuff in the library next to his office. Mostly by asking him questions like, "Do you really still need that?" (he does) and "How does that thing make you feel?" (he feels "joyful" about all of them). He's accused her of being a pack rat, but clearly he is, too.
There are some new things she discovers about him in the process. She never knew he had so many books about photography in here. He can name all parts of a camera (and he does so just to impress her) and apparently was an avid photographer when he was younger.
Then she spots a medal in one of the boxes. "Is that from when you ran hurdles?" she asks with a little wink and points at the medal.
He takes it out and runs his finger over the engraving. "Oh no, that's from when I was 'Best Dad'." The medal does indeed say 'Best Dad' in elegant letters.
She chuckles. "Why is it bronze, though? Who are gold and silver Dad?"
"I've been wondering ever since."
Year 9 – Pottery
Year nine is when the doubt creeps in.
Doubt about whether their friendship is still as strong as it used to be. Doubt about whether he even sees her as an equal partner. Doubt about whether she can go on like that.
He's been angry with her, yelled at her, and said insensitive things before. It's who he is sometimes and even though it's not really a side of him she appreciates, she knows it's part of him and that things always smooth out in the end.
But this time, it's not a fleeting phase. He's been angry for too long and somehow she can sense that it's a feeling coming from deep within himself. He's angry with himself, not her, but she's the constant in his life that he takes it out on more often than usual.
She wishes she could ask him about what makes him so angry, before everything shatters to pieces that can never be put together again to what it used to be.
He remains a mystery to her even after nearly a decade.
Year 10 – Tin
Year ten is when tragedy brings them closer together again.
From one day to the next, things are different. Not just for her, but also between them. He turns up on her doorstep more often than usual, checks in on her at the office all the time, calls her when she's out working cases asking trivial questions that really don't warrant a call. He brings her coffee every morning and is even ready to share a late-night emergency can of baked beans with her (she politely declines).
"You need to stop coddling me," she tells him eventually, "I'm okay and not as fragile as you think. Besides, it's my job to coddle you."
"You're not doing your job very well, so I took over," he declares and she gives him a wry smile.
"I thought you didn't like me mothering you. Remember you once calling it my 'least attractive quality.'"
There's genuine shame on his face and he turns away for a moment. Then he looks her back in the eye and lets her see it all, instead of hiding again. "I'm sorry," he says and she knows he means all the things he's done to hurt her.
Year 11 – Steel
Year eleven is when she learns about one of the few secrets left between them.
He tells her that he's been part of a long-time study on depression and bipolar disorder. Every year he gets his brain scanned in an MRI as part of a control group. She doesn't need him to tell her that it's part homage to his mother and part fear that something might be wrong with him, too.
He lets her accompany him to the hospital for his annual examination. She's allowed to sit behind a glass pane and watch him do small tasks while his brain activity is monitored. He solves puzzles on a screen, fails some math problems (he really is awful with numbers), assigns words, and looks at pictures of famous people. And at photographs of people close to him.
He gives her a picture of his brain when looking at her photograph on a bleak day when everything she touches goes wrong. 'You light up my brain,' is written on it and it might be the best compliment she's ever gotten.
Year 12 – Silk
Year twelve is when they fall in love.
Or rather, when they admit to each other that they've been in love for a long, long time.
There's no big bang or sappy declarations of undying love, there's just a moment where he says, "Ah, fuck it," and kisses her. Not quite out of the blue, but there certainly is an element of surprise to her.
The following morning she wakes up with him next to her. He's not asleep anymore and looks like he hasn't been in a while. His eyes study her with an intensity that makes her uncomfortable. He's so extremely close, yet he also feels very distant all of a sudden.
Before she can even whisper a good morning, her thoughts are running wild and a knot just below the breastbone is tightening. What if this was the biggest mistake they could ever make? They will screw it up, fall out, crumble under the pressure of separating work from private life, get into epic fights over money, cases and stupid little things—until neither them nor their company will withstand. And then they won't even have their friendship, because they've overstepped this line.
He knows it, too. She knows he does. It's going to end before it has even begun, here in her own bed.
His eyes keep staring at her and his mouth curls into an apologetic half-smile. She prepares for him to put audible words to her dark thought. He starts, but his voice is soft and affectionate. "I love you, darling, but I really hate silky bed sheets. They make me slide all over the place all night. How can you sleep like that all the time?"
She didn't expect that to come out of his mouth. She can't stop laughing, while he wrestles away some of the hated pillows to be even closer to her.
One day she will tell him how afraid she was.
Year 13 – Lace
Year thirteen is when they talk about marriage.
They're at a wedding reception of one of Gillian's friends, when the topic comes up. It's well after midnight, the party is slowly dissolving, and they're sitting in a safe distance to the dancefloor, watching groom and bride, as well as young kids and elderly uncles compete in who has the best moves. They are both smiling, hoping nobody will make them embarrass themselves, too.
He scoots a little closer and casually puts his arm on the back of her chair. "So what do you think?"
She is alert and immediately a little more sober than just three seconds ago. This bears the potential for disaster. "I think we tried and failed and maybe nothing about us is very conventional." She shrugs her shoulders a little, not wanting to offend him.
He seems to ponder it in his head—for an awfully long eternity—and then grins eventually. "I like that."
He forms a sad looking ring out of some foil from the table decoration and puts it on her finger. "Will you not marry me, Gillian Foster?"
"Yes, never," she replies promptly and smiles. They kiss to make it official and she feels a little tipsy again. Nothing about them is very conventional indeed.
She keeps the ring though. She's a pack rat after all.
Year 14 – Ivory
Year fourteen is when they stop reading each other.
It's the elephant in the room. Something they never talk about anymore. She knows it brought down his marriage eventually and even though the circumstances with them are different, she fears it might bring them down one day as well. There's a reason 'the line' had once been established between them a long, long time ago.
She starts looking at him a little differently. With love instead of scientific concern. She doesn't feel the need to know everything running through his mind anymore. By now she knows enough about him and the mystery he is to feel that she can just be and not doubt. She tells him, hoping he can let it go as well.
One day he confides in her too, taking her hands, and for the first time she feels he is looking at her without trying to find something deeper.
"It's not just that we're so close that makes you my blind spot. It's that whenever I look at you, I just see you, thinking I'm a bloody lucky bastard."
Year 15 – Crystal
Year fifteen is when they come full circle.
She casually walks into his office with a bottle of Macallan and two tumblers in her hands. "It's a day to celebrate," she announces, sits down and pours them both a generous glass.
He winces a little. "What did I forget?"
"It's our anniversary."
He thinks about it for a moment and squints his eyes a little in the process. "I'm pretty sure we first did it in a summer month. July maybe."
Yeah sure, as if he couldn't remember. She smiles. "Not the kind of anniversary I mean. It's been fifteen years since you first walked into my office as a tragic basket case."
"Yeah?" he just asks which a seriously intrigued expression on his face.
"Fifteen years; that's crystal anniversary." She taps a finger against the crystal glass in her hand and takes a sip of the whisky.
He takes a sip as well and gulps. "I'm not sure we'll make it to gold, darling. I might die before that, no offence."
"Not if I won't let you."
He nods like a little schoolboy. "And you can be very convincing." He sits up a little straighter and appears to make an official announcement. "Good thing I actually reserved a table at your favorite restaurant for our special day."
He nods. "As if I had known." He wiggles his eyebrows, leaving her questioning whatever the hell that means and whether he really knew this was a special day or not.
"Okay, I'll get my things. Meet you at the door in five minutes." She gets up and she can feel his eyes moving along to the swaying of her hips, following until she is nearly out of sight. Before she's around the corner, she stops, though. Doesn't need to read him in order to know him.
"You didn't make a reservation, did you?"
He shrugs a little, not even embarrassed by being caught red-handed. "Nah, but I'll give them a call now and bully them into giving me one."
She has no doubt that he will indeed get one. He still feels intriguing; even after all these years of knowing him. Of dissecting the mystery into its individual pieces, and realizing that she likes who he is as a whole, with faults, and quirks, and all the little things that make him him.
But now she's also part of his mystery. Just like she always wanted to be.
The longest con was probably them.