Passing Blame by Djinn
Foster had definitely had it with him. She was stomping around the office--if one can stomp on heels that narrow--as if her best friend had, oh, slept with someone else in bloody Vegas.
Her best friend. Not her lover. Because she still wanted to wait. To respect that line she clung to even when there was no reason to.
So he'd slept with the hot blonde. So what? Foster kissed him and touched him and held him and fucking smothered him, but the minute he got too close--BAM! Respect the line, Cal.
And the hell of it was he knew she loved him. Just like he knew he loved her. And now he had bloody Reynolds in the mix, taking Foster out on the town in Vegas. And even back home the two of them were whispering all the time like there was no goddamned line they had to respect.
Why did the line only apply to him? Loker and Torres were in the lab right now making googly eyes at each other despite the fact they both were seeing other people. Where was their soddin' line?
"Cal, if you could look at this?" Foster walked in without knocking like she always did, but she wasn't making eye contact. And once she got to his desk, she wasn't leaning in; in fact, she was leaning away, as if he smelled bad.
He saw her tense at the endearment. Waited for her to tell him not to call her that, but she didn't.
"So, you and Reynolds seemed to have forged a new understanding."
He held up a hand as he glanced through the file she'd handed him, as if it was easy to let go of the idea of her and Reynolds. Then, once she'd relaxed a bit, he asked, "Asked you out, has he?"
She turned and stomped toward the door.
"Simple question, love. Yes or no."
She didn't look at him as she muttered, "None of your goddamned business, you asshole."
"Strong language, Foster. Good for you." He made his voice as condescending as he could.
And it worked. She spun and turned back. For a moment, he thought she might whap him a good one, but she stopped before she got within "Smack the shit out of Cal" range.
"I hate you right now."
"Why?" She was blinking hard, and he knew she was about to cry. But with her, those tears were as much a weapon as a reaction. Foster wasn't innocent in this; she'd lived too long with one addict not to know how to get to another. "Because you betrayed me."
"How?" He shook his head, as if he didn't get it. "That whole Poppy thing?"
"You had sex with her."
"Yes, I did. Very good sex, as a matter of fact." He grabbed her arm as she turned to go. "But it was a distant runner up to the sex I wanted to have. With you."
She was caught in the irony of being angry on one hand and holding him back with the other. Her mouth opened, but no words came out, and then she tried again, but still no rebuttal.
"Yeah, exactly, love. Go figure out what you want before you tell me I'm the scum of the earth, all right?"
She stomped--her shoes were not going to survive at this rate--to the door and fled.
He pushed away the feeling of guilt and went back to the file that he actually did need to read.
Torres was watching him too closely.
"Something on your mind, girl?"
"I love the way you completely trample any pretense of PC around here." She laughed softly. "And yes, there is. Why is Foster so pissed at you?"
Learned to speak her mind, Torres had. He'd taught her that, no doubt.
"I had too much fun in Vegas." He gave her his tell, the hand across the forehead that Poppy had figured out very fast. That woman would have been a natural, too, but he didn't think she'd ever settle for a do-gooder life when high-stakes poker awaited.
"You're lying." She gave him her own special half-smile of contempt. "Or you want me to think you are. So either you didn't have too much fun in Vegas, and Foster's way off base. Or you were beyond reprehensible. Which is it, boss man?"
"You've gotten a lot sassier since you've been working here, Torres." He leaned back. "Little of both, actually. Foster's right angry with me."
"She's beyond angry. She's hurt." Torres held his gaze. "She's in love with you."
"I told you we don't--"
"Oh, like you don't know every little thing that goes on here. And not just from your phenomenal natural skill but from all these damn 'hidden' cameras." She pointed to where three of his supposedly hidden cameras were. "You're in our business every second we're here. And possibly when we're not. So don't tell me to mind my own business on this one."
He wasn't sure what to say, was still wondering why she hadn't found the other two cameras. Maybe she had, but didn't want to let him know--keep the upper hand and all that.
Torres snapped her fingers. "Yo, still talking to you."
"I'm aware." He turned back to the computer. "I've never talked about Foster with you, and I don't intend to start now."
He could tell she was staring at him. He kept working, waiting to see if she'd be ballsy enough to push him just a little further.
Em gave him the silent treatment when Zoe dropped her off.
"I don't know what you did, Cal, but you really have her wound up." Zoe hugged him, in that way she had that immediately set his lower regions to reminiscing. Damn woman.
"I may have misbehaved a little. In Vegas."
"Say no more." Zoe rolled her eyes. "I thought you were banned from there."
"Yeah, well, never say never and all that."
She laughed, then looked at Em, who was slamming things around in the kitchen. "So why's she upset? She wouldn't talk to me about this at all, just got surlier the closer we got to your place."
He wanted to tell her that somehow Em had found out what he'd done, which irritated him more than a little, but since she was his daughter, it also made him a bit proud that she'd gotten to the truth so fast. And Zoe might like to know that, too, except it seemed like a betrayal of Foster--much worse than sleeping with Poppy had been--to tell Zoe anything. "I'll work it out with her. Don't worry."
"I do worry. I'm her mom."
"And I'm her dad. And we'll work this out, Em and I. So go on now." He gave her a quick kiss and waited until she was to her car before he closed the door.
Walking with studied casualness, he nodded to Em as she seemed to be moving things around the kitchen with no real purpose other than to make noise. "So, what's with you?"
"I'm not talking to you."
"And why not?"
Em turned her back on him, the way she did when she didn't want him reading her. "I'm mad at you."
"Yeah, I got that bit. It's the why part I'm fuzzy on. Help me out, Em."
She took a very long time digging through the refrigerator for something to drink. Then she got a glass and filled it with ice. All without looking at him. He had to give her credit for getting very good at avoiding.
Finally, she said, "I stopped by the office today."
He'd seen her there, walking through the halls with Loker, but she'd left by the time he got out of the lab. "You didn't wait for me."
"That's 'cause I ran into Gil there. She was coming out of your office. She was crying."
Damn Foster with her damn tears. And had she told his daughter what he'd done? Would she do that to him--to Em?
He tried a misdirection. "Yeah, well, she's having a hard time right now. Alec and--"
Em whirled. "Don't. Don't you dare lie to me." She stalked over to him. "She was crying because of you. She didn't say that, but she didn't have to. I know her, and I know how she looks when you've been with Mom, and this was worse. What did you do?"
"What I did is between me and Foster."
"Em. Enough. I mean it." He wasn't kidding, could feel the tension in his voice, the anger rising. Damn Foster.
"She loves you. And I love her. Why can't you wake up and figure out that we could be a real family if you'd just keep your di--"
He popped his hand over her mouth, hard enough to startle her, not hard enough to be a slap. "I know you were not going to say that. Were you?"
She seemed to realize she'd gone too far and shook her head, her eyes wide.
He pulled her into a hug, holding her fiercely, saying, "Em, Em, let this go for now. I'll handle it."
Now Em was crying. Damn it all to hell.
"Sweetheart, I'll handle it. I promise."
"Okay. Okay, sure." She pulled away, grabbed her drink, and headed to her bedroom.
She didn't sound at all convinced.
He knocked on Foster's door, stepping back, the way he always did when he came here. Why did he do that? Why did he always give her room, wait for her to come to him?
Why did she never do it? Why was there always this damn line between them?
She opened the door, seemed surprised to see him this early on a weekend. "Is something wrong?"
"Yeah, you might say that." He moved closer. "Can I come in?"
"No. I have someone here."
He could have told she was lying with his eyes closed. Her voice was shaking and went up at the end, like a question.
"Oh, then we're even, love. Tell whoever it is to get the hell out so we can talk."
"I'm so mad at you."
"Yeah, I know. Now let me in." This time he didn't wait, didn't hem and haw, he just pushed past her, into the house, leaving her standing at the still open door staring back at him.
"You'll let in flies, Gil."
She closed the door and took a deep breath.
"That's right. Gird yourself for this. Because it's a battle, isn't it? You and your line on one side. Me and my bad behavior on the other."
She turned red, and he saw her reaching for the door. She'd be asking him to leave in a moment.
He didn't give her the chance, was to her, grabbing her by the upper arms, before she could open the door. "Why are we even talking about this, Gil?"
"Because it's not going to just go away and I--"
He kissed her. Hard and rough, nothing like their friendly pecks, nothing like the sweet hugs.
This was war.
She pushed him away. "I am not one of your sluts, Cal."
"Oh, you think that's what I like. Sluts?"
"I think you like people you can't read. I think you like women who are bad and make you work for it."
He decided not to tell her that what she'd said made very little sense. Bad girls by definition did not make you work for it. But he knew what she meant. "And you don't think you've made me work for it, Foster? Jesus God, how long have I been wanting you and respecting your everlastin' line?" He pulled her back to him, kissed her again, felt her kissing him back, even as she halfheartedly tried to push him off her. "You want to know who the bad girl is, here? You are, Gil. You with your rules and your kisses that go nowhere."
"Oh, so this is my fault? What? I'm a tease?" She blinked furiously, and he had to fight to not let the tears welling up in her eyes get to him. "You sleep with Zoe. All the time. You act like you love me and then you do that. And in Vegas. I was right there. And I know I looked good. Two men who could have had anyone wanted me. Reynolds wanted me. But did you? No. You wanted Poppy. And if it hadn't been Poppy, it would have been someone else. I can't trust you, Cal. I just can't."
"You've never tried to trust me. Not that way. If I were yours, if you were mine, things would be different. But I'm not yours and you're not mine. So things aren't different." He took a deep breath and pulled back. "I promised Em I'd come work things out. But maybe that's not a promise I can keep. Maybe I just need to tell her that you and I aren't going to make up this time."
"Maybe so." Foster had given up the battle with her tears.
He reached for the door, then glanced back at her. "I love you, you know. I've waited a long time."
"You haven't waited. It's been inertia. You've been there with other distractions."
"I just can't win with you, can I? Guess that's the downside of knowing each other too well." He opened the door and left, hoping she'd call him back.
He and Em were just sitting down to eat, and he was dreading telling her things didn't go well with Foster. Em was happy with him right now, smiling and laughing at silly things he said--she obviously thought he'd fixed it like he fixed everything. He could read that, her confidence in him. And in her own ability to get through to him. Now, he'd do the right thing.
He'd fix the mess he'd made.
"Em, I--" The doorbell rang. "Hang on." He went to open it, was surprised to see Foster standing there. She didn't say anything, just stepped inside, slammed him up against the door, and kissed him the same way he'd kissed her earlier.
Hard. Fiercely. And then something he hadn't done, she was letting her hands roam all over his body.
"Wow. I guess you two really made up, huh?"
Foster pulled back like she'd been burned, her face flaming. She met his eyes, and he knew his were as amused as hers were chagrined. "Oh, Em, honey. I didn't know you'd be here and..."
Emily was beaming. "Hey, don't let me interrupt. I have homework and stuff. I'll just take dinner to my room and you can do, well, whatever you're doing." She looked ready to burst, made a sound that only an excited teenage girl can make. "Okay, this is me leaving."
And whirlwind-Em managed to grab her dinner, extra soda, and her glass and rush off to her bedroom before Foster had even let go of him.
"Okay, that was totally embarrassing." Foster was smiling, though. In the way she had that said she was enjoying the moment, even if she was still blushing furiously.
"Yeah, it kind of was, wasn't it?" He pulled her to him, gently this time. "So, you wanted to tell me something?"
"I'm still really mad at you." She punctuated the sentiment with a kiss, long and sweet and with lots of tongue.
"Well, I probably deserve that." He kissed her, the same kind of kiss. A kiss well past friendly, definitely not a peck, but also not a declaration of war. They'd gotten past battling, it looked like.
He knew better than to count on that, though.
Foster pulled away. "I love you and you didn't want me."
"That's not true." He eased her in and shut the door, pulling her to the couch. "I've wanted you for such a long time. I keep thinking we're almost there and then that barrier goes up. You know the one?"
She nodded and cuddled against him, holding him and nuzzling his neck. "I'm terrified that we'll wreck this. I need you so much. I can't lose you."
"You're not going to lose me." He kissed her again, gently, softly, the easy kiss of a friend. "We're partners. We're friends. And we can be lovers, too. It doesn't have to ruin everything."
"What if it does?"
"I've stayed friends with Zoe."
"You still screw her."
He didn't think that was a very good counter to his argument, but decided to not say it. "I'll stop doing that."
"That's not what I mean. And you two have Em. You have a reason to make it work."
"And we have the company. A company that provides a lot of good in this world. It's a fabulous reason for us to make it work if we can't make it as a couple, don't you think?"
She was still cuddled against him, and he couldn't see her face. She didn't say anything, just held onto him. And for a moment, he could feel the line being drawn back between them.
She met his eyes. "I love you."
"And I love you."
"I'm going to need some time."
"I don't mean with the line in place. I mean with you. Being with you before I sleep with you."
"Well, we don't have to sleep." He tried to give her the grin that said he was joking, that said it was all right.
She laughed. "You know what I mean."
"But you're with me? You're mine? And I'm yours?" Funny how important that was to him, still. He never got very far from the boy who'd had so little to call his own in life.
"Yes. But I'm worried."
"Don't worry. For tonight, don't worry." He smoothed back her hair. "You're tired, aren't you?"
"Sleep. I'll watch over you. I promise." He pulled her closer, gently ran his fingers through her hair, down her neck, around her shoulders.
She was asleep in moments and he held her, relaxing and wishing that he could push away the guilt. That he could also bat away the worry--that this was temporary, this respite. That she'd wake up and change her mind. That she wouldn't be his at all.
He heard Em in the hall and looked up. She was smiling, and she tiptoed over and kissed him on the forehead, like he was the kid and she the parent.
"I love you," she said softly, and then she leaned down and let her lips linger on Foster's hair. "Stay with us," she whispered, and he wasn't sure if he'd been meant to catch the words or not.
She smiled at him and headed back to her bedroom.
Foster stirred as soon as she was gone. "I love her, Cal."
"She loves you, darlin'."
"She wants us to be a family." Was it unfair to use his daughter against her this way, to play off the need Foster had for a child of her own?
Did it matter? All was fair in love and war, wasn't it?