Erica smiled a Strange smile.
Rolled her forehead against his rough cheek until her brow settled against the line of his jaw. Inhaled slow and deep, catching the memory of him her them now. Perfect moment, perfect memory. Exhaled contented and felt his muscles twitch when her breath tickled his throat. No words, no need.
It was deja vu in his arms, even though she was sure she'd never been there before. Every plane of his body new but familiar, even through their thick winter coats. It was scary, this feeling, and she pulled herself closer.
His armed tightened in response and together they swayed gently. A still dance to silent soundtrack in a hall filled with improbable wonder.
She moved her hand to trace his cheek, holding him to her lest he think she was pulling away. Sketched invisible hieroglyphs with her fingertips down to rest against his pulse. His shirt collar bowed beneath her hand, and when the intimacy became too much she clutched at it, letting the back of her hand catch the subtle shifts as his heart beat and periodically, he swallowed.
Settled now it was his turn to move, at which she held him tighter still. Until his hand stopped higher on her back, tangled in her hair in a manner not soothing, not possessive, but something more honest.
Thus rearranged, they sank further yet.
- . -
She had questions. There were always questions. But the only one she was worried about right now was the one she would find the answer to momentarily – what would be on the other side of the door when she left the room? She lay her head against the jam, gripping the handle. And with eyes still tightly shut, pulled it open.
To step back out of her door. Back into the hallway. To her relief it was not empty, though this place no longer intimidated. Now that she had chosen, it was almost... exciting. But the hallway was not what she was after and the familiar sight of Dr. Tom waiting was steadying in a way she craved, even in the midst of gleefully moving forwards in her life. His chin lifted in greeting.
He looked different to her now. Not so much smaller, but less remote in a way that lessened the imposing aspects of his person. The sense that she was walking in his footsteps, at her own pace but beginning to catch him up, reflected back at her through eyes that were more like kinship than a look from the wise to the lost.
He waited still.
Once more, she didn't know what to say to him. "So, no more sessions? Is that how it works?"
"'We're never really done, not even when we're dead.' Erica Strange." His lips quirked under her solemn stare and he added, in lighter tone- "I paraphrased a bit, there. But I believe you're ready to handle life now, for yourself. "
It felt too much like goodbye.
"But what about the rest of my regrets?"
"Do you really need to go back to them?"
"… No." And it was true. It would always be easier to have someone point out the parallels and guide her to an answer, but it was... exciting... now, to think of finding them for herself.
He looked away, then, pulling a book from his coat pocket and holding it out to her. Her hand reached for it automatically, and she saw it was his notebook, her own handwriting calling out from her past, listing many of the excuses she had always used to keep herself stagnant and unhappy.
Holding it now, it was as if something between them snapped. Slowly, she put the notebook away in her purse, and resettled the strap on her shoulder. She had no boyfriend waiting, no job but the one she and Julianne would create for themselves. She still had a secret, but no longer possessed the comforting expectation of finding herself removed to the safety of Dr. Tom's warm office during trying times. As soon as she turned and walked back out to the street, she would be walking into the rest of her life and she wasn't, quite, ready to leave behind the life she had gotten used to.
It was 'goodbye,' in a way.
She stepped forward before he could stop her and hugged him.
He was solid and real against her, but also stiff, as if merely waiting for her to stop. This cold reception made her more uncomfortable with the unfamiliar action, though she was determined not to quit until he responded – either to return the hug or push her away. It was her turn to wait, until he was ready.
She forced her body to relax against his, and was surprised at how easily they fitted together. Even more surprising was when she began to silently plead, she thought of him as just 'Tom' without a sign of any honorific. She thought of all the things she knew about him. And all the things he knew about her. And for the first time she really wondered what he did, where he went and who he saw when they weren't together. How easy had it been for him to chose his own door, and what his first regret had been. And above all she wondered if she would ever have the chance to ask, and if he would ever let her know the answers.
She wondered all this, until at last the tension faded from his body and he returned the embrace. Fully and sincerely and, by degrees, unreservedly.
Erica smiled a Strange smile.
- . -
At last they broke apart. Took a step back and with shy eye contact tried to discern how much they had said without saying a word. Too much or not enough? At any rate, what was done was done and you can't, Erica reminded herself with a satisfied grin, live the past over.
But you can chose what you do next.
"I'll see you around." Like he had done before, she borrowed her own words. Waited for him to smile, to confirm her suspicion. Then she turned to go.
As she left the hallway the click of a door caused her to look back. It was empty.
A part of her wanted to follow. She'd open his door and knew what she'd say "I'm not following you, I just wanted to see you." And he would have to smile and she would sit in her familiar chair and he would lounge behind his desk. There wasn't anything they couldn't say, over that desk.
But you can't chase a moment already gone, without destroying it. Whether for 'real' or simply in memory. That lesson had been one hard won. And not one she was going to forget.
They would see each other again.
With that thought she spun around, into her future.