I had a few people asking for a part two to "Need," and since I wanted to wrap up Lightning at 50 chapters, this seemed like a good way to end it. (I'll still be writing one-shots, just not posting them here.) That also means this is the end of this story in particular, so I won't be writing any more for it.
I would love to hit 500 reviews eventually, so if sometime in the last three years you were like "I should review this" and didn't, now's your chance.
Can you talk now?
Paige wiped her hands off on the towel and pressed a button to start the dishwasher. Walter usually texted before he called, and she tried to extend him the same courtesy, even though the answer was rarely no. She forced herself to wait a minute before responding, not wanting to seem too eager. Sure.
She took the phone with her into the living room, chiding herself for feeling so jittery. Paige wasn't a teenager waiting for a boy to call her. She and Walter were working on restoring their friendship, for their sakes and Ralph's. They'd been talking once or twice a week, when they had privacy away from their respective teams' prying. Short conversations that were progressively becoming longer. Mostly about her son, sometimes about other things—irritating clients, interesting places they'd traveled.
It was almost like before. Almost.
"Hey," he said when she picked up. "How was your day?"
Paige smiled at how relaxed he sounded. They'd overcome most, if not all, of the awkwardness since their first conversation nearly a month ago. "Good." She got comfortable on the couch, pressing her knees up to her chest. Ralph wasn't home, so she didn't have to keep her voice low like she usually did. He knew they were talking again—he was too smart not to figure it out—but she didn't want to get his hopes up when everything was still so uncertain. "We signed two new contracts today. And Ralph introduced me to a girl in his class. Samantha. She seems to like him, and she's a little more age-appropriate than Patty was, at least."
"Oh. That's good." The Walter she met at the diner would have dismissed Ralph's crushes as a waste of his time and intellect. But she knew the genius felt her son's last heartbreak almost as deeply as she had. All either of them wanted was to protect him. "He's starting camp in three weeks, though. Won't that be difficult?"
"Probably. But I think he's learned that it's important to have balance. Not get so wrapped up in his feelings that he can't enjoy anything else."
Walter laughed. She'd almost forgotten how much she loved that sound. "I'm continually surprised by his EQ."
"Yeah. Me too." A brief silence fell, more comfortable than she would have expected. Paige shifted, tucking a pillow into her lap and toying with the soft fringe on the corner. "What about you? How was your day?"
"Fine. Cabe is on vacation with Allie and Florence is in New York for the week, so I'm just taking on single-person jobs until we're back at full capacity." Paige waited for the twisting in her chest that usually accompanied the chemist's name, but it didn't come. Now that Florence and Sylvester had started dating, she guessed there was really no reason to torture herself with what if scenarios. Maybe there never was.
"No plane crashes? You must be bored," she teased.
"A little. But Ralph and I are embarking on a new project. I had a hypothesis that—." Walter stopped abruptly, pausing for a long moment. "N-Never mind."
"What? You don't have him doing anything dangerous, do you?"
"No. Of course not."
"Then why—." Paige's own voice faded out as the realization hit her and she had to push down the burgeoning lump in her throat. "Walter, you can tell me about your projects. I want to hear."
"I-It's okay," he insisted. "Really. You don't have to pretend anymore."
Paige hugged the pillow to her, cringing at the memory of her harsh words. They'd felt so satisfying at the time, but there was no substance behind them. The last man she loved had abandoned her and her son and left them to barely scrape by. Disliking parsley wasn't exactly a mortal sin in comparison.
"I'm not pretending." She blew out a breath, trying to ease the heavy pit in her stomach. "Walter, I should have told you this a month ago, but everything I said that day was…ridiculous. And blown way out of proportion. I was just angry and hurt and I blurted out the first things that came to mind." Paige pressed her lips together, heat flooding her face. "It never bothered me. All the genius stuff. I mean, I…I didn't understand all of it, and a lot of it didn't interest me. But everything you taught me helped me save lives. It helped me connect with Ralph. I was never anything but grateful for that."
The seconds ticked by slowly, and Paige was starting to wonder if Walter was still on the line when he spoke again. "Why didn't you tell me those things bothered you?"
"Because everything was good," she admitted, scrambling to figure out how to explain herself because she knew that didn't make any sense. "It was all good. And I needed…I looked for flaws in our relationship. From the beginning. Until I just had this stupid nitpicky list of everything that was wrong with us."
She had nothing to lose by telling him the truth. If it hadn't caused so much damage, it would almost be funny how much Walter looked to her as the pinnacle of EQ when she didn't understand her own emotions most of the time. "So it would hurt less when it ended. If it ended. I don't know, I just…it took me years to see the truth about Drew. I convinced myself that things were much better than they were, and I always thought maybe it would've been easier if I'd just seen all the problems earlier."
"But you're the one who left," Walter said bluntly, muttering what sounded like an expletive under his breath. "Sorry."
"No. It's true." There was some history she couldn't rewrite, no matter how hard she tried. "You were sneaking around. And I didn't want to hear…anything. I promised myself I'd never stay with someone who was cheating again. The list made it easier. Convincing myself that I was always miserable made it easier. For a while. And then the excuses just didn't hold up anymore."
"Paige, I wasn't—."
"I know. I know that now. But I was afraid to hear you out and forgive you and then realize that you'd been lying all along. I didn't trust you. I'm sorry for that." She brushed the first hints of tears away quickly, glad her son wasn't there to see her tough shell cracking. "I'm sorry for a lot of things, Walter. I felt betrayed and I tried to do what I thought was right for me. To protect myself. But I would change it all if I could."
Nothing. She wasn't sure what she expected him to say. This was too much to process for someone like him. She was too much for someone like him.
"Come back," he said finally, so quiet she wasn't sure she heard him correctly at first. "P-Please."
A shiver rushed along her spine and she swallowed, suddenly aware of how dry her mouth was. "What?"
"C-Come back to Scorpion. I don't want to compete with you. I don't want keep running it without you. A-Any of you." Paige shook her head, fighting the disappointment that washed over her. Of course he was talking about the team. Scorpion was bigger than the two of them. Wasn't that what Walter always said? "It's too late for…for us. I know that. But we don't have to throw it all away. I'll make the necessary apologies. We can still fix the team."
But Paige barely heard him, her mind hung up on five words. "Is it?"
"Is it what?"
"Is it too late for us? Is that…how you feel?"
Walter cleared his throat, hesitating. "Isn't that how you feel?"
They were talking in circles again. She thought about Happy and Toby's wedding, everything good that had come out of her and Walter saying how they felt without question, without backtracking, without hiding. "No," Paige said softly, biting her lip. She didn't want to wait another three years to be honest with him. "Leaving was a mistake. I thought I would feel differently about it, eventually, but I don't. So, uh…" She shut her eyes, tipping her head against the screen, hearing his slow, unsteady breathing on the other end. "If you think it's too late and you don't want to take that chance, I wouldn't blame you. For all I know, you've already moved on. But I haven't. I don't really want to."
Another excruciating silence. At least if they were face-to-face, she could read his expression instead of being blind. Why she had the bright idea of unloading this all over the phone, she would never know. "Walter, god, say something."
"I haven't. M-Moved on," he clarified, exhaling loudly. "I don't know that I can."
Paige's vision began to blur and she blinked to clear her eyes. If he really was the love of her life, how did she ever think she could leave him behind so easily? "Just come over. We'll talk about everything. Scorpion. And us. I promise." Maybe it was too early for this, but she hadn't said it in almost four months except in her head and she needed to make sure that he knew. "I love you, Walter. That's never changed."
Even though she'd prepared for the chance that he wasn't ready to reciprocate, the relief she felt when he did was painfully palpable. "I love you. I'll be there soon."