You know a finale screwed you up when it takes you two days to recover enough just to write about it. Quintis shippers, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Waige people – the day may come when we lose all hope. But it is not this day. This day, we read fanfic.
Walter finds them at four in the morning, at a truck stop in Fresno.
He almost clips another car, because he just happened to look and saw Paige's red Malibu in the parking lot and almost missed the exit. Now, he watches them through the window for a brief second – exhausted, but smiling over milkshakes and baskets of fries.
Part of him feels guilty – he may not be the best at picking up on social cues, but he knows that his own behavior gave Tim the indication that romantic advances on Paige wouldn't be a problem.
Try as he might, though, he can't let that guilt stop him. Paige might send him home, might choose instead to ride off into the sunset with a man who would have a much easier time understanding her, but even so…he has to try. He has to.
He fears he'll go insane if he doesn't.
He tugs the door open. The place is quiet, empty except for the table in the corner, so of course they spot him immediately.
"Walter?" Paige is stunned, then worried as she gets up and hurries over. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, it – um, i-it's just I…."
Tim has joined them by now, and Walter is suddenly struck at how vital the man had been to their case the day before. Toby would likely be dead if not for him. The thought helps his brain do what it does best – form a plan.
"Actually, I was, um…wondering if I could talk to Tim?"
Paige frowns, looks like she wants to protest – or at least find out what on earth Walter's doing here at four a.m. – but Tim nods and follows Walter outside.
"Is Toby okay?" he immediately asks. Walter could kick himself – he hadn't thought about how things would look, turning up like this.
"He's drowning himself in tequila, but otherwise he's fine." He pauses. "I, um. I owe you an apology."
Tim blinks. "Uh…okay? For what?"
Walter shrugs. "You've proven your importance to this team over and over again, but I didn't want to recognize it. Toby…he would have died if it hadn't been for you."
Tim's face softens a little. "Thanks, Walter. And for the record, I know it was just because you're protective of your team. There's nothing wrong with that. I respect it, actually."
"Well, thank you, but…um, that's not why I didn't like you."
"Oh." Now Tim looks confused again. Walter sighs internally – he has a feeling that even for a normal person, this conversation wouldn't be easy.
"It was because of Paige."
Tim's eyes widen. "Oh."
"I know it's not fair, I gave you the tickets, I gave you every reason to think that I wouldn't mind, but – "
"Boss," Tim holds up one hand, "It's not a crime that you like Paige."
"I don't like her," Walter says, the first signs of impatience creeping into his voice. "I love her."
The words are easier to say this time, which is something he didn't expect. He feels lighter, like he can suddenly stand up straight.
Tim stares at him for a moment or two, then huffs. "Why didn't you say something?"
That's a harder question to answer, but he does his best. "Um. Well, I was…scared. There's a great deal of emotional risk involved, which is something I'm not used to in romantic relationships. I've never felt this way about anyone, so the intensity of it…was rather unsettling."
He eyes the other man carefully; thus far Tim doesn't look angry, which is good. Right now he just looks deep in thought. After several moments he speaks, keeping his gaze on the pavement.
"Are you here to tell her?"
There's no point in lying. "Yes."
Tim nods, and looks up at him. "I'll wait out here."
Walter is surprised – he thought he'd have to ask, beg, shout it from the doorway while Tim tried to wrestle him away.
"Are…are you sure?"
Tim shrugs. "Not really. But your feelings are more important than mine right now."
Walter frowns. "Paige…Paige probably wouldn't like it if you said that."
Tim chuckles mirthlessly. "Walter, I know you well enough to know that's your way of saying that you care about my emotions too. So, thanks. But what you feel for Paige…it's the real deal. I'm still getting to know her."
"Well, maybe that's – "
"I sent her chocolates a couple of days ago." Tim interrupts him, looking equally amused and irritated. "What would you have sent her?"
"Salty sweet," is the immediate reply.
"Mm. And why did you scold Ralph last week when you caught him hacking into the school server so he could skip classes and go to a physics lecture at the college lab?"
He snorts. "I literally did the exact same thing when I was a teenager – "
Tim levels him with a look, a look that he's learned means his lie holds about as much weight as tissue paper. He swallows.
"Because his experience in a normal school setting is important to Paige."
Tim nods. "Walter, I could learn all of that about her, but I could never love her the way you do. That kind of love…that's a one-time thing."
Walter stares at him.
"Now, if you're done having me convince you to go tell my date that you're in love with her – I'll be waiting in the car. We were almost done, so I already took care of the check. Take your time."
Tim rolls his eyes, shakes his head as he walks away, and Walter thinks that maybe he wants to be angry, to be upset, but he's not so Walter isn't going to waste his chance.
He turns around and barrels through the door, and finds Paige exactly where he left her.
His breath freezes in his chest. She's beautiful, and it's completely overwhelming because he's letting himself appreciate it for the first time. Vaguely he remembers thinking about how soft her hair looked, that first day so long at the diner, when she'd come up to him in a protective mother's righteous indignation, and later, seeing her in sweats and a ponytail at her apartment…
He'd be lying if he said he hasn't been imagining going home to that for the past two years.
Her voice snaps him out of his reverie. She looks confused, worried. Miraculously, he knows the reason for the latter.
"Toby's fine," he says quickly. Some of the tension leaves her face, but none of the bewilderment follows. He swallows, hard.
"I, um. I had to tell you something."
"It couldn't wait till I got back?"
That's an easy one. "No."
She seems to pick up from his face and voice that this is important, and she settles down a little. "Okay. What is it?"
The words won't come. They were easy to say to Toby, Tim, even himself, over and over again on the drive here, but now that he's standing here with the woman who's come to mean so much more than she was ever supposed to…
Walter suddenly remembers a conversation they had after he sent Megan's rocket up. He'd been regretting not spending more time with his sister, not telling her he loved her more. Paige had smiled, taken his hands and said, "Walter, sometimes actions speak louder than words."
He prays she'll understand, because his throat feels like sandpaper and his heart is beating so fast it feels like it's going to come right out of his chest but –
He closes the distance in three strides, and when he enters her personal space she looks a little taken aback.
"Wal – "
He cuts off the rest of his name by crushing his mouth against hers.
Both of his hands are cradling her head, fingers in her soft hair and he's engulfed with the scent of lavender, and she tastes like strawberry milkshake and ketchup but he doesn't care, especially not when he feels her hands run up his ribcage until her fists close around his shirt collar, yank him closer.
He can't breathe, but it doesn't matter because he doesn't want to. He never wants to do anything but kiss Paige Dineen for the rest of his life.
Eventually, though, she pulls away, and rests her forehead on his.
"What – " she gasps, and Walter drops his hands to her waist, encircling her and loving how she just seems to fit, like there was nobody else in existence that would feel like this in his arms.
"I love you."
He almost wants to laugh in relief that he finally, finally got the words out. But he waits for Paige's response first.
She gawks at him. "But, you – "
"I'm sorry. I've been stupid, so stupid, and afraid, but Paige," he kisses her again, not nearly as long but just as deep, and when he backs away again, they're both even more breathless. "I love you. And I'm so tired of pretending that I don't, of you not knowing."
For several long, heart-pounding seconds, she just stares. Her eyes are wide and dark in the crappy florescent lighting, her cheeks are flushed and her hair is a little mussed from his hands.
Finally she strokes his face gently. "Walter, you should have told me before. This isn't fair to Tim."
His heart feels like it just dropped straight down to his toes.
"He's been looking forward to this weekend, and now he's going to have go by himself."
Walter looks at her, confused. She looks the same way Tim did outside – like she wants to slap him and laugh at the same time.
"I'm assuming this is what you two talked about?"
He nods, still not sure where this is going, but she sighs and heads for the door.
Walter obeys, and tries not to watch out the window. He's mostly successful, though he does see the two exchange a hug, and then Tim gets her bags out of the trunk. He says something else as he hands them to Paige, and they smile before Tim climbs back in, and Paige stands still, watches him drive away.
He waits until the taillights have faded before joining her outside. Her bags are at her feet, her arms are crossed over her stomach, and there's a fond smile on her face.
For a moment, neither of them say anything.
"Are you sure? He…he's a great guy."
"I already have a great guy," she turns to him, loops her arms around his neck and he can feel her fingers playing with his hair. It feels nice, normal even. "Tim wanted me to tell you that he'll look after Toby while we're gone."
Walter's eyes widen. "Y-you mean…he gave us the tickets?"
"Yep. Said it was only fair, since you paid for them."
He can see the logic behind that, but he could have also seen the logic behind Tim being absolutely furious. He's not sure what's prevented the expected reaction, but he certainly isn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
"O-okay. So….do you want to get going?"
"Yeah," she smiles, then seems to realize something. "Walter, you don't have any clothes packed."
He hadn't thought of that when he had sprinted out of the garage, but right now it seems like a minor detail. "Ah…well, we can stop and I'll buy some. If we leave now we'll have plenty of time before the festival starts."
"Okay," she takes one step away. "I need to use the restroom first."
"Sure," he bends to pick up her bags, "I'll load these."
She walks away, and he's just turned towards his car when he hears footsteps behind him, and he turns just in time for Paige to kiss him solidly on the mouth.
Her momentum makes him stumble backward; he hits the side of the car, but she's not letting up, running her hands through his hair and at some point he drops both of her bags so he can put his hands to much better use.
"I forgot," she pants when they finally come up for air.
Walter has always scoffed at the romantic, silly descriptions of being kissed senseless, but just now Paige proved it's actually possible. He can't quite remember what he was doing before she threw herself on him.
"For…forgot what?" he manages, still holding her close.
She nuzzles his jaw, one hand trailing down his chest to rest over his heart, then she tips her head back to look up at him.
"To say that I love you, too."
Walter couldn't stop his ridiculous smile even if he wanted to, and when he sees Paige's answering smile he feels, illogical as it is, that his entire world is right here in his arms.
Eventually, she does step away, and this time actually makes it back inside. He loads her bags, takes a moment to do a quick search on his phone for clothing stores near the festival grounds, and by then Paige is back, ready to hit the road.
It's not until they're back on the interstate that Walter suddenly realizes what this means. From now on, Paige will expect him to act like he loves her, not like he's afraid to. She probably would like to hear the words every so often, too.
The familiar fear is back, but he swallows it down, and reaches over to hold her hand. Her answering smile tells him what he already knows – that his actions will do most of the talking for him, because they speak louder anyway.