Title: Comfort Where We Overlap
Cal/Gillian, Emily, Zoe, post-Secret Santa, PG
Author's Notes: As always, thanks to my wonderful beta, tempertemper77, whose belief in my grasp of the characters keeps me going when I lose it myself! This fic took a massive hit when I stumbled into the world of writer's block post-Fold Equity, but I really wanted to finish it so voila!
I know there is strength in the differences between us and I know there is comfort where we overlap.
- Ani DiFranco
Long after the last stragglers had left the party and the music had been switched off, Gillian found herself padding barefoot around the floor of the empty Lightman Group, deep in thought. She hadn't seen Cal leave earlier that night.
He'd looked for her before he'd left. Wandered around the offices calling her name; Emily's chiming in, too. She'd ducked in and out of offices, not quite believing that she was trying to elude him. Finally she'd stilled, hearing him come to a stop in the hallway.
"Maybe she just went home, Dad." She heard Emily say pensively.
"Without saying goodbye? Nah," he replied, and she just imagined him shaking his head, a puzzled expression on his face, "she wouldn't do that."
Then she heard quiet footsteps as Emily walked towards him, probably placing her hand on his arm. "She's had a bad time of it, Dad. She had to hold everything together when you were gone, including me. And I wasn't very supportive of her. In fact, I don't think anyone was supporting her because it's usually you who does that and you were all that way away on a monitor with bombs going off around your head." A long pause. " She was just as scared as I was, Dad. But she didn't get to deal with it; maybe that's what she's doing now."
There was another long silence, and then the smallest rustle of clothing and the sound of a kiss to a forehead or a cheek. Then two sets of footsteps were walking away and Gillian wondered, not for the first time, why hers weren't in keeping with theirs instead of rooted to the spot and why her arms were hanging limply at her sides rather than around someone's waist as his went around her shoulders. But this wasn't her family, no matter how much she wanted it to be, and she slid down to the floor to sit until she could be sure that the coast was clear.
She'd watched from the window as Emily had dragged him across the road to his car and he'd looked up at their floor one last time before jumping in and starting the engine. She'd darted back into the shadows, feeling incredibly silly. She wanted nothing more than to be with him at that moment, curled up on his sofa with a fire going and a tree with presents and a very excited Emily. So why wasn't she?
She really should go home. She hadn't slept for days, and yet instead she found herself in Cal's library, fingers tracing the spines of the books on the shelves, eyes taking in the photographs dotted around and the artifacts collected upon many travels. For the first time since he'd left for Afghanistan, she felt at peace. There were so few traces of Cal in her home, but here they were everywhere.
She'd stolen three minutes whilst he'd been away to come in here in the hopes of a reprieve, but all she'd experienced was the agony of his not being there. Everywhere she looked she was reminded of him; he was in the books, in the photographs, in the blanket thrown over the back of the couch and the cushion squashed down and not fluffed up again since he last sat there. He was in the metal staircase that she liked to sit on, in the sliding doors for privacy, in the projector and films dotted around. Every single thing reminded her that he was not there and she fled from the room after less than a minute. She spent the next two in the bathroom trying to calm down.
Now these things were a comfort, as she'd intended them to be the first time. Now instead of fearing that she'd never see him again, that he'd die in front of her eyes, she could revel in the closeness of him. She moved over to the couch, lying down as she pulled the blanket over herself, and rested her head in the indentation he'd left in the cushion; breathing in the smell of him, seeing him in everything her eyes fell upon. Without even registering how tired she really was, she fell into a peaceful slumber.
The glow of a lamp drew him to his library. He and Emily had stopped by Gillian's on the way home only to discover her house dark and empty. "Drop me at home, Dad. You need to go find her." It was too cold for her to have walked anywhere and if she wasn't at home then perhaps she'd stayed at the office and he'd missed her? He drove back through the dark, snowy streets, thinking how different it was to the stifling, dusty heat he'd just returned from.
He found her asleep on his couch, her hair falling across her face and the smallest of smiles on her lips. Relief and a jumble of many other things came over him as he watched her quietly. She murmured something unintelligible, snapping him out of his stupor, and he moved towards her, softly tucking her hair behind her ear and giving her a feather-light kiss on the cheek. As he pulled back she sighed, "Cal" on her exhaled breath, a gentle smile on her face, and he was startled by how warm it made him feel.
Curling his aching limbs into a chair he settled down for the wait. At that moment he needed nothing more than to be near her, a pull so strong that he tugged the chair just a little closer to the couch.
He'd been given another chance, he thought as he watched her sleep.
When she woke up, he was going to take that chance.
She had no idea what time it was when her eyes fluttered open and adjusted to the light. She figured it must still be the middle of the night, though, as the only light coming from anywhere was the lamp she'd left on. Pushing herself up sleepily as the blanket fell from her shoulders to pool at her feet, she suddenly realized that she was no longer alone. And, as opposed to earlier that night when she couldn't face him, now she was relieved he was here.
She padded over to him, her feet chilled without any socks or shoes to protect them from the freezing cold floor. She knelt down in front of him, placing a hand on his knee. "Cal."
He was awake in an instant, looking at her with caring eyes.
"Why didn't you wake me?" she asked, softly.
"You looked like you needed it." A gentle murmur.
She couldn't help but agree, feeling much calmer after a couple of hours of rest.
"I looked for you earlier," he began, before catching something on her face and stopping.
She was quiet for a moment, looking down at her hands resting in her lap. Finally she looked up. "I'm sorry."
"What for?" he asked, gently.
"I…" she broke off with a humorless chuckle. "I think I was hiding from you."
Hurt flashed across his face before confusion set in. "Why?"
"Because I nearly lost you again." Her voice was so quiet he had to lean forward in the chair, trying and failing to meet her eyes as she kept her head bowed. He had nothing to respond to that with, and knew there was more to come, so he kept quiet.
"Because every time that happens it makes me re-evaluate everything; me, you, this company, our friendship. I have to prepare myself in case everything important to me is suddenly turned upside down because you don't come back from your latest dangerous endeavor." She paused, still looking down at her hands and not at him. "But in actuality, I never do that. I ignore the possibility that you won't come back, even though, from a psychologist's point of view, I know that's unhealthy. I don't prepare myself at all which is why, when you do return, I need a few moments away from you to realize that you are back and I don't have to worry anymore."
He was quiet for a long moment, taking in the hair falling across her face and the gentle breaths she was taking in.
"We're getting good at these three AM confessionals," he joked softly, his words taking her back to an earlier time in their lives, his hand so soft against her cheek as he caressed it, lightly.
She smiled, and this time it almost reached her sad eyes as she looked up at him. "Yes, I suppose we are."
"Come to mine for Christmas," he whispered, as if such things at this time of year weren't supposed to be said in louder voices.
"No, Cal, I couldn't. It's your Christmas morning with Emily."
"Em would love to have you there. We'll go by yours, pick up some stuff, yeah?"
She could protest again, and he could insist again, and they could go round in circles. But she knew that she wanted nothing more than to spend Christmas with Cal and Emily, and he knew it, too. So she nodded her head, almost shyly, as he stood from his chair and reached out a hand to her, pulling her up and out of the library.
A pajama-clad Emily came bounding down the stairs before Gillian had even had the time to take her coat off. Cal shuffled in through the door behind her shaking the snow off his coat and carrying a duffle bag that Emily eyed eagerly.
"Are you staying over?"
"Is that alright?" Gillian asked a little nervously as Cal unconsciously brushed snow from her shoulder.
"Of course it's alright!" Emily's joyous answer came as she wrapped her arms around her father's partner and whispered Happy Christmas! in her ear.
Cal stared at his buzzing daughter. "Em, what are you doing up at this hour? Have you been drinking coffee?"
Emily released Gillian, smiling at them both before answering. "I wanted to make sure everything was ok. Thought I'd wait up until you came home."
Gillian spoke before Cal could, softly laying a hand on his arm. "It's Christmas, Cal. And we aren't ones to talk," she smiled at him, before turning to Emily, "That was very sweet of you, Em. Everything's fine."
Emily just shrugged, smiling at the interaction she'd just witnessed before looking terribly excited as a timer went off in the kitchen. Grabbing Gillian's hand, Emily pulled her towards the beeping. "I'm baking gingerbread, come help me!"
"Em, at least let her take her coat off first!" Cal called out after them, but his words fell on deaf ears as he heard giggles from the kitchen and he shook his head, smiling.
They didn't get to sleep for long before they were up again for Christmas morning, and Cal being the only one grumpy about that fact was easily rectified by Gillian pushing a mug of tea into his hand and Emily placing a plate of toast in front of him.
"This is a conspiracy," he muttered, careful to conceal just how warm he felt at the idea of Emily and Gillian working together like this on Christmas morning, of all mornings.
"Hush, Cal. It's Christmas." And that was the end of it.
Halfway through his tea he was feeling human again and looked up to meet two pairs of impatient eyes.
"What?" he tried to growl.
Gillian rolled her eyes. "Is it present time yet?" Emily was grinning behind her, bouncing up and down, and suddenly he realized that, if he had his way (perhaps he should rethink), he was going to be outnumbered in this house from now on.
He was smiling without realising it, nodding his head, and immediately they were both underneath the Christmas tree. Gillian motioned for him to join them with a flick of her head and then he was sitting between them, no longer the grinch he'd always been known to be. Their happiness was infectious and in that moment he couldn't care less.
Presents were opened and gingerbread men were eaten and the house was filled with so much laughter that time escaped the three of them, resulting in a sudden panic to get Christmas lunch ready in time. Team work was in order with Emily mashing potatoes, Gillian keeping an eye on the meat and Cal making his signature Yorkshire puddings ("Well, I am English, love").
"It's not very fair that you aren't going to get to eat any of this, love," Cal said as he placed the tray of puddings in the oven.
"I don't mind," she said, truthfully, before getting a wistful look. "I'll come back to eat the leftovers instead."
He paused, smiling at her. "You're more than welcome. In fact, I insist."
She giggled. "Well, alright then."
Emily silently continued mashing her potatoes, smiling to herself.
Gillian's duffle bag was back by the door, so soon after it had arrived, and the thought of her having to evacuate the area because of Zoe's impending arrival didn't sit well with him. Dutifully, however, he helped her into her coat, watched as she hugged Emily goodbye and went to open the door when his daughter stopped him in his tracks.
"Aren't you going to kiss her, Dad?"
Spinning around he looked at her, his eyes narrowing. If this was some kind of meddling, he would not be pleased. "What?"
She gestured, innocently, to the mistletoe hanging above their heads, taking in the blush rising on Gillian's cheeks and the uncharacteristic nervousness on her Dad's face.
"Well go on then, what are you guys waiting for? It's only mistletoe," she goaded, receiving a look from Cal that said he knew exactly what she was up to. She just smiled innocently at him; subtlety wasn't working with these two, it was time to be blunt. She was a teenager, she could totally pull that off.
Seeing how uncomfortable it was making her partner, Gillian settled for giving him a brief kiss on the cheek, her hand resting on his arm. "It's ok, Cal," she murmured, smiling at Emily but all the while looking a little disappointed. "I should get going."
"I'll walk you to your car," he said as she gave Emily a final hug goodbye, feeling less of a man than he'd felt in a while. Why didn't he just kiss her?
Returning home, Cal found himself wandering around the house, checking for anything out of place or anything Gillian could have left behind. He didn't want her falling prey to Zoe's acerbic tongue, especially when she wasn't here to defend herself.
The guest room was immaculate, almost impossible to believe that someone had slept in it the night before. Her toothbrush was gone from the bathroom and the mug that she'd used that morning washed up and put away. He found himself wishing that there were some sign that she had been there, in his house, in his life. He wanted her to leave a mark in his world – not to piss Zoe off, but to reassure himself that she was as much a part of his life as he liked to think he was of hers.
The doorbell dragged him from his thoughts and as he opened the door to Zoe he found himself in his second mistletoe mishap of the day, only this time his daughter was looking less than comfortable and his ex-wife was fixing him with her usual look of disdain and some kind of affection mixed together. As he watched this all play out on her face he suddenly realized that if he kissed her this year, he'd feel for the first time like he was cheating on someone else.
"Mistletoe," she said, by way of greeting, leaning towards him.
He gave her a warm kiss on the cheek, wishing her a merry Christmas and pretending not to see the confusion on her face. He was not going down that road again, and for once he felt he might actually stick to it.
When Gillian came back he was going to kiss her under the mistletoe, and he was going to make sure that it wasn't some pathetic peck on the cheek.
"Come in, Zoe," he said, kindly, catching Emily's eye and seeing the relief there.
"I can't believe you did all of this by yourself," Zoe commented, only the slightest hint of disbelief evident in her tone as she eyed the feast laid out before her.
Cal smiled, responding quickly. "Yeah, yeah, Em and I are whizzes at it now. Aren't we, Em?"
His daughter nodded emphatically, giving nothing away, but noticing the small smile her Dad was still wearing as he thought about the help they'd had that morning.
There was a change in the air, she could feel it. "Let's eat," Zoe said, trying to hold it together.
Just do it, he thought. It works for that running shoe campaign, after all. Nike, was it? JDI. Hell, JFDI. Just fucking do it. Easier said than done as he walked up the steps, and down the steps, and up the steps again. And then he was outside her door, knocking, stepping back and holding his breath.
"Cal!" Gillian looked surprised as she opened her door.
"What are you doing here? Where's Emily?" she asked, looking behind him.
"Oh, um, she's at home. Something about calling Mick."
"Rick, Cal." Gillian shook her head at him, smiling.
He looked nervous, but also determined, standing there in her doorway. Finally, he produced a sprig of mistletoe from behind his back and stepped up to face her. "Let's get this right this time, ey?"
Her breath caught in her throat, just for a moment, as she acknowledged how their lives were about to change. She smiled, giving him a little nod and then his lips were on hers and she was kissing him back and she realized, in the back of her mind, that the mistletoe was crushed between them so, really, they were just kissing.
She smiled into the kiss as she looped an arm around his neck to pull him closer.
"Happy Christmas, Gill," he murmured against her lips.
She pulled back slightly, her eyes bright. "Happy Christmas, Cal."