She feels ridiculous. Self-conscious. Nervous. A little turned on thinking about what his reaction will be when he sets his eyes on her. She'd bought the dress on a whim after she'd received her first alimony check from Alec. It was more expensive than she would normally pay for a dress, especially one that she didn't need. There was no event on her calendar requiring a formal evening gown but it had caught her eye. All she could think of was what she would be able to read on Cal's face if she wore that dress for him. Not for him. In his presence. Paying for the dress with the money Alec had paid just felt like justice. She was buying the dress for someone who, unlike Alec, would appreciate it. Not that she was buying it for Cal.
In the months since she'd bought the dress, there had been no reason to draw it out from the depths of her closet. It hung there, protected in its garment bag, waiting for the day it was called up for duty. It was kind of a shame, seeing it go unworn, unappreciated. It felt somewhat like a metaphor for her life at the moment. She isn't a vain woman but she knows men consider her beautiful, yet no one seems to appreciate her anymore, not even Cal. Especially not Cal. She didn't know what had shifted, but something definitely changed in the last few weeks. He'd become cold to her, throwing well-calculated punches in the insults he hurled her way. Cal is the person who knows her best, meaning he could inflict maximum damage with that knowledge. She's used to him using brash words to distance other people, shutting them out so they couldn't see the real Cal Lightman, limiting his chances of getting hurt again. But he rarely does that with her, outside of these last few weeks. She doesn't understand why he had started pushing her out, treating her like every other person out there and not like she is his...she's not really sure what she is to him.
When she'd gotten the call about a case requiring them to attend a state dinner to investigate possible corporate espionage, a little bit of hope flickered to life in her chest. The dress would be perfect attire for the event, and the caliber of the client would necessitate Cal's attendance by her side. She'd accepted the case, promising the client that they would be able to definitively give them an answer the next day. She'd wondered what kind of response she would receive from Cal when she told him that he'd have to attend a fancy dinner in a suit and tie. His answer wasn't far off from what she'd expected, grumpy and colored with British curses. In the end, she shoots him a warning glance, telling him verbally and through her expression that they need this case and reminding him that they're in this financial situation due to his recent antics. He grumbles some more but agrees to meet her at the dinner that evening.
As she gets herself ready for the evening, taking time to perfect her hair and makeup, Gillian considers what Cal's reaction to seeing her would be. When she'd bought the dress, she had expected him to greet it with lust and pride for his partner (maybe even a flash of love?), but his recent behavior has her unsure if he would even react. She's suspected for a while that his feelings for her run deeper than their business partnership and friendship; she's been patiently waiting for him to realize his own feelings and decide what he was ready to do with them. These last few weeks, however, her suspicions faltered. It felt like their partnership, even their friendship, was on shaky ground. She was constantly afraid that their next case would be the one to bring down their house of cards. How could Cal do this to them if he loved her, in any sense of the word? Tonight, she was hoping to see something, anything, on Cal's face that told her they still stood a chance, even if it was just as friends.
Gillian arrives at the dinner alone, a few minutes before their agreed upon time, hoping to familiarize herself with the setup of the event before Cal comes in and sucks all the air out of her plan. She hoped to keep tonight simple, flirting her way into a dance with their suspected corporate spy while Cal observes and talks to anyone showing a particular desire to talk to her dance partner. She orders a gin and tonic at the bar, sitting down on a stool to take in the room and try to spot her target. Instead, she spots Cal walking into the ballroom. As much as he despised it, he did manage to clean up well, looking sharp in a tux that was a more fitted cut than she was used to seeing on him, undoubtedly a pick from Emily. His hair is neatly combed, face shaved, tie properly tied and straight. He looks downright handsome tonight, and she smiles at his appearance for the evening. The look on his face, one of barely concealed contempt for most of the occupants of the room, brightens her smile. There's the Cal Lightman she knows (and loves). He clocks her from his position across the room and moves towards her and the bar. She orders him a scotch as he makes his way over and stands from her perch on the stool to greet him.
She reads his face the moment he takes in the sight of her in the gown. His eyes rake over her body, pupils dilating; his jaw slackens slightly and, most notably, he comes to a full stop before reaching the bar, completely caught off guard by her appearance. Gillian smiles, appreciative of his attention, astutely aware of the fact that she's never shown this much skin in front of her partner. She holds out the scotch to him, bringing his gaze back to her face. His fingers brush against hers as he takes the tumbler from her and she realizes this is the first physical contact she's had with him all day. It's something she didn't even notice she'd been missing but now that she's aware of it, she feels its absence from their relationship in the recent weeks. Gill has always been a tactile person, craving physical touch, even in the most mundane ways - a hand at the small of her back, an arm slung across her shoulders as they sit on the couch, a hand on her arm to get her attention. As he'd distanced himself from her emotionally, he'd responded in kind physically, and she now realizes how much she ached to make it stop.
"You clean up well for a day's notice." That was definitely not the response she'd been expecting, nor hoping for; she feels her smile falter at his words and she takes her place on the barstool once more. She can't tell if it was a veiled compliment or insult. Either way, it hurt that she'd put so much into her appearance tonight for a reaction out of him just to receive one puzzling sentence. She finishes off her drink before replacing the smile on her face.
"I saw Jensen by the fountain. I'm going to try to get something out of him with a dance. You'll talk to the others?" She turns to leave before she gets a response, unsure if she can hide the hurt from Cal for much longer.
Her plan worked perfectly. Jensen is more than happy to dance and make small talk with her on the ballroom's dance floor. As their conversation progresses, she expertly steers the conversation to his line of work, asking questions that aren't so pointed that he picks up on her ulterior motives, but detailed enough that she can provide the client with a definitive answer in the morning. As she dances, she keeps an eye on Cal, who has strayed from the bar to do his part for the night. She can feel his gaze on her exposed back while she is on the floor with Jensen, a mix of heat and a sixth sense that she's developed over the years to always know where Cal is in a room. Having gathered all the information she needed, she excuses herself from Jensen, making up an excuse seeing an old friend at the bar.
Cal, evidently finished with his role for the evening, is once again seated at the bar. She orders another drink before sitting beside him. They sit in silence, polishing off their respective drinks. She doesn't understand the awkward tension that fills the space between them, almost palpable in the air. Their friendship has always worked, even in the silence, understanding one another so well that words seem inadequate at times. This moment, however, is far from comfortable. She fights the urge to order another drink, instead turning to her partner.
"It will be a shame if you leave here tonight without putting your tux to use on the dance floor, Cal - Emily will be so disappointed." She sees the look on his face, knows that he's about to turn her down. Normally, she'd leave it at that, never actually asking for something she wants. But she's here, in a dress she bought for him (she's through with lying to herself about that fact), starved for his touch, terrified that she's on the verge of losing the most important relationship in her life. So she plays a little dirty, pulling out the trump card she knows will win him over. She begs, just a little, feeding his ego. "Please, Cal? Dance with me? We're done with work for the night and I know you want to see the look on his face when he spots me on your arm. His face reads like an open book."
"I'm not in the mood." Cal drains the rest of his scotch and sets the glass back on the bar with more force than she thinks is necessary. Without meeting her eyes, he hops off his stool and makes his way out of the ballroom. Hurt and frustrated, Gillian follows him as fast as she can manage, hindered by the dress and heels she'd chosen for him. The hallway she follows him into is dim, empty and quiet, starkly contrasting the atmosphere of the ballroom they've just exited.
"Cal! Where are you going?" He stops abruptly, turning sharply to face his partner.
"What do you want, Foster?" The use of her surname hits her like a punch to the gut. She doesn't try to hide the hurt she knows is painted across her face. Tears fill her eyes, brought on by the wave of frustration and heartache washing over her, and she hits her breaking point.
"I want you!" The words flow from her body with such force, it shocks her. Her voice is loud, filling the hall.
"I want you to look at me and see a woman, not just your business partner." He shows no reaction to her words, his carefully crafted mask firmly in place.
"I want you to see me like you do every other woman who crosses your path." Still nothing.
"I want to be your family." She can feel herself calming down, fear settling into the crevices that anger had vacated.
"I want you to see how much you've been hurting me by the way you've been treating me."
His eyes meet hers, head tilting in his familiar way, reading every bit of emotion she's laid bare on her face as he moves to encroach her personal space. She knows this play, the one he uses to intimidate people to test if they're genuine in their words, forcing honesty in their expressions. She recognizes it for what it is and it sparks something within her, giving her the determination she needs to move past the fear. He's pushing her to see if she means what she's saying and she's ready to be completely honest with him. Instead of backing away, she takes another step closer, putting her close enough to feel his breath on her skin. She lays herself bare before him, allowing herself to be more vulnerable with him than she's ever been.
"I want you to take me home, Cal." She holds her ground, anxious to read his face at her confession. "I want to wake up with this dress on the floor and me in your bed."
His eyes widen at her words, jaw slackens in a textbook expression of surprise, which leaves her somewhat taken aback. The fear creeps back in, afraid that she was too forward, afraid that she'd read everything wrong and he didn't want anything like that from her. Mostly afraid that she'd just taken a leap of faith with nothing but the hard ground to catch her. She can't stand there waiting for her partner to let her down gently, so she mutters an apology and leaves the hallway, doing her best to keep her head held high and her dignity intact, pushing down the barrage of emotions trying to beat their way out of her body until she's safely alone.
She drives for a while, circling around the city, not yet prepared to return to her empty house that still doesn't feel like anyone's home. Her tears have tracked her makeup in ugly streaks across her cheeks, leaving her looking almost as pitiful as she feels. She's pretty much past the point of caring, considering no one will be around tonight to witness the aftermath of what might be her biggest mistake to date.
She notices his car long before she lays eyes on him, steeling herself for what is sure to be one of their most uncomfortable conversations. He's sitting on her front steps, tie loosened, hair mussed, head in his hands. His body language is screaming to her that he is upset about something, a hint of nervousness thrown in the mix. He stands when he hears her car pulling into the drive. She's thankful her driveway is private, out of sight from her neighbors, because she instinctively knows that this conversation won't make it into the privacy of her home. He starts toward her car before she's even gotten out of the driver's seat. She wipes angrily at her cheeks, trying desperately to regain any sense of composure she can manage.
"Go home, Cal. Just forget that I said anything and we'll go back to normal. Please?" Her voice breaks on her last word, shame and despair hard at work on her conscience. He studies her again, stopping a few feet in front of her, a large margin by his standards. With his head cocked, he advances a few steps.
"But that's not what you want, right? I mean, a blind man could've read the sincerity on your face when you made your confession. And that's what it was, love, wasn't it? You confessed your sins to me like I was your priest." She can't bring herself to look at him, hurt by the accusation in his tone, the mockery he's making of her confession of her most guarded secrets.
"I'm sorry I said anything. Please just let me into my house and I'll never mention it again." He's not budging and she's quickly approaching the edge of an embarrassing emotional breakdown. "Please just go, Cal!"
"Look me in the eye and tell me you don't mean what you said earlier and I'll leave. I'll drive home and never speak a word of this again." She's torn between defiantly looking him in the eye and lying to the world's leading expert in microexpressions or stamping her foot in frustration because he won't drop the subject. She opens her mouth to respond but he cuts her off before she can say a word. "But I really hope you meant it, Gill. Because everything you said is all I've wanted for years, love. I'm just too much of a bloody coward to do anything about it."
Her breath catches in her throat. He's looking her right in the eyes, his voice and his countenance exuding confidence and honesty. Either Cal truly means what he's saying or he's nearing a pathological ability to lie to her, and she doesn't know what to do with either of those options. When she doesn't reply, he presses on, trying to open her eyes to the truth in his words.
"I trusted you so completely from that very first session. I couldn't understand why, but I saw something on your face that told me that you were an honest, compassionate person right to your core. The connection I felt with you was different from every other person I'd ever known. I've never felt understood like I do with you. Not my mum, not Zoe, not even Emily. And being the damaged bloke I am, I didn't know what to do with that, so I kept you at arm's length. Every time I thought we got too close to that line, I pushed you away. And I know that hurts you and I really am sorry, Gill. I could spend a lifetime trying to make up for the damage I've done and it wouldn't be enough, love. You said that you want to be my family but don't you see that you already are? The house feels like home when you're there. You make it all brighter. Warmer. Definitely sweeter with your penchant for chocolate."
She's crying again, unable to process the emotional rollercoaster they've been on in the last few hours. He's saying everything she's wanted to hear, the words she's only dreamed of. He's the one initiating contact this time, stepping close and gently placing one warm palm on her cheek.
"I want you too, Gillian. If your offer still stands, I'll take you home and I promise you'll wake up in my bed tomorrow morning and every morning after. Just say the word."
She wraps her arms under his and hugs him tightly, burying her nose in the crook of his neck. She's crying harder now, wetting his jacket with her tears, breathing him in with every ragged inhale. His hands move to the bare skin of her back, warm and steady as she falls apart in his arms. Realizing she hasn't really addressed what their next move is, she pulls together whatever composure she can manage. She lets him go and she sees the most uncertain look she's ever witnessed on his face before she grasps his hand tightly and offers him a soft smile.
"Take me home, Cal."