I must admit, the end of Beat the Devil left me rather unsettled. I've been trying to justify why Gillian would turn down Cal's offer, and why she didn't seem to show as much concern for him as usual, given what he'd been through. I'm sure it'll make more sense when we've seen the rest of the episodes that were supposed to come before it, but anyway. Here's what I came up with.
Thanks to recoilandgrace and Remote Control Princess for reading through this one for me ;-)
Disclaimer: Don't own anything to do with Lie to Me, sadly.
The closer you come to dying, the more exhilarating every breath of air feels as it floods your lungs. The world is clearer and brighter when you've narrowly escaped death; the edges are sharper and more clearly defined when you've walked away unscathed from a situation where everything became fuzzy and blurred.
You get lucky once, and you crave the feeling again. The more the blood is pumping through your body, the louder your heart is hammering in your chest, the faster you're breathing… the closer you edge to death, the more you feel it. The rush, the power, the excitement. The closer you get to death, the more alive you feel.
Fear's healthy. She's told him that. But is it healthy to not feel fear? Or rather, to feel exhilarated by the fear pulsing through your body? What's healthy about that?
Each drop of blood is a reminder of the life within him, every bruise and every scar is a souvenir of the battle he's fought and won, every victory is etched into his mind, pushing him towards the next one. And for the next one, the stakes must be raised; the challenge must be greater for the victory to hit hard enough. Because the trouble with all addictions is the spiral; the more you have it, the more you want it. The time between each fix grows less, the dose grows a little higher, and the strength of the craving grows stronger.
It'll be the death of him one day, he knows that, and the irony hasn't escaped him. Recklessness is his downfall, and the more he pushes, the harder he will fall.
There are times when he hates it; times when he wishes he could work a normal 9-5 job and go home to his daughter without another near death experience added to his list. He doesn't want her to worry, he sure as hell doesn't want her to be half orphaned as a teenager, and he doesn't want to hurt the other people in his life. Like Foster.
He's seen what it's done to her, what it's doing to her. How she oscillates between holding him close, thankful that he is alive, and pulling away, because being too close hurts too much. He can't blame her for keeping her distance now, for exercising some control and seeking self preservation after his latest battle brought him even closer to the end. He can't blame her for it, but he doesn't like it. He can have a gun thrust in his face, can be punched and kicked and even drowned for god's sake, but for her to pull away from him… that really hurts.
Maybe her devotion to him is a bad thing. He knows he can carry on, knows he can play his games and put her through hell and she'll forgive him, every damn time. He's got no incentive to walk away when he knows he can have both; the danger, and her. She'll be there to pick up the pieces, to offer him comfort or a gentle reprimand, to wrap her arms around him and hold him close and remind him why he loves her so damn much.
She knows he won't stop, knows he doesn't know how, and she sticks by him anyway. He should be grateful; she's still his business partner, she's still his best friend, and when she says "another time", it's a promise he knows she'll keep. She's not walking out the door, and he knows no matter what he does, she'll be there. Yes, he should be grateful. But it's not gratitude he feels when she shakes her head and starts to offer her excuses: it's rejection.
He expected her to follow the pattern; to comfort him the way she always does. But she withdraws from him, turns down his invitation, hides herself behind her desk and her work and a gentle smile that doesn't quite reach her eyes, and the word why is burning through his brain.
This time is different for him, too, and he wishes he could explain it, but he can't. He came closer to death than ever before, he was tortured by a psychopath and was lucky to have escaped with his life, but where's the feeling, the appreciation of life, the extra spring in his step from realising he'd once again cheated the grim reaper? Maybe the reason it's lacking is because he suffered worse than before; it's only natural that what he'd been through would have a negative impact on him emotionally.
But if what he'd been through was worse than before, shouldn't her pain, her fear, her desire to comfort him and see he was okay also be greater?
He sees the concern on her face, the sadness in her eyes. He knows what he's put her through, knows how much what happened must have terrified her, knows that she is truly relieved that he's alright. He sees the regret when she turns down his offer of dinner, knows she really does want to be with him, knows she doesn't have any bloody work to do. He sees the lies, painted across her face, just like he sees every lie she tells. He's promised her he won't read her, but that's a lie too. Of course he reads her, he can't help it.
She touches his arm and smiles at his little joke about her wages and he can see he hasn't lost her, but the word yet hovers at the edge of his mind, and he's terrified that his notion that she'll never leave him might prove to be false. That taking her loyalty and dependability for granted might cost him everything.
Every moment they've shared after he's almost been killed has been a cocktail of comfort and relief. She's praying there'll be longer between this time and the next, while he's settling back into the normality – if such a word can be used – of his life, a mixture of sorrow and regret for what he's put her through leaving a bitter taste on his tongue. She doesn't deserve this, but the alternative is unthinkable. Walking away from her isn't an option, because he's nothing without her. The games, the power plays, the wars he wages, the fights he picks, the danger he seeks for the thrill… it's an addiction. He knows that. But he has a feeling that he is even more addicted to her, and it's that thought that frightens him.
It was her that needed him most, in the times they shared after days like this; they both pretended it was the other way around, that she was comforting him after his ordeal, but they knew it wasn't true. She was the one who needed to hold him close, to see him alive and well, to know that he was okay.
Now, he's the one who needs her. He sought her out, he came to her, seeking the comfort and peace that only she is able to bring him. He needs her, and she's pulling away.
Now, all he's left with is a dull ache and an unsettled feeling.
He expected them to be leaving together, heading out to one of their favourite places to get some dinner, but instead he's walking out alone, dejected, leaving her in her office to do the work he knows was just a lame excuse. He's powerless to stop her – she has every right to turn him down – and he can't help but question why this time she is choosing to ignore what must be her natural impulse to offer him the comfort and solace he's seeking. What is different about this time that is making her keep her distance?
He sits in his office, the door closed, the rest of the world given the message stay away. He swings lightly on his chair, gazes at a spot on the desk where there's a flaw in the wood, and tries to find a reason why she's taking a step back. Maybe it's because she's finally realised the power that she has over him. Maybe she knows now that offering him forgiveness and acceptance every time he screws up, every time he lays his life on the line to prove a point, every time he puts her through the torture of seeing him in pain or on the brink of losing his life, is not going to help him. All it will do is fuel him; what incentive does he have to quit if he knows that she is always going to be there?
And she always has been there. They were thrown together, those early days, then became swept up by growing attraction and respect; matching each other's intelligence, sparked with curiosity, driven by the ambition to work together and learn from each other. And it had led them to this – a friendship that sparkles with possibilities, a relationship that links them so intricately and yet keeps them apart with its firm and unbending rules. Is this why she is so reluctant to move things forward? Is it his passion for danger that keeps her on her side of the line, throwing him nothing more concrete than longing glances sporadically?
And now she's stepping even further back; not just keeping to her side of the line, but moving even further away from it. He lets out a sigh. All these years, he's been kidding himself that he's been giving her what she wants and needs. Letting her comfort him, letting her mother him, letting her cling to him when the desperate relief that he'd survived his latest escapade washed over her; he lets himself believe that that's what she wants and needs, when really, all she has ever wanted is for him to stop. And he hasn't. Is it that surprising that she's had enough? He's more surprised it took her this long to reach her limit.
He's pushed her too hard, taken too many liberties, been too selfish in his own pursuits that he may just have broken her beyond repair. The thought of hurting her like that terrifies him, makes him loathe himself so deeply, makes him wish he could change.
He'll suffer the consequences of his actions, because he's the one making the decisions. He'll pay the price, because he was the one who put himself in the line of fire. He'll roll with the punches, pick himself up from the fall, let the cuts and bruises wash over him and move on because it was him who invited trouble to come knocking at his door. But she didn't. She suffers when she never asked to, feels pain that she's done nothing to deserve, hurts like hell because having him in her life allows a darkness to creep in that was never there before.
And he hates it.
He'll take the blows life deals him, but he's tougher than her. Her fragility scares him, and the thought that he might be the one to hurt her more than anyone else, more than the people and the situations that he tries to protect her from, sickens him. And if the price he has to pay is her, then that's just too high.
Maybe, though, she's the strong one, not him. Physically, of course, he can handle more – but emotionally, who's the more stable of the two? He'd be a fool if he looked in the mirror and didn't see a lifetime of issues and weaknesses staring back at him.
He's always known she has a lot of emotional strength; the way she dealt with losing Sophie, with Alec's drug addiction, with her divorce. The way she's dealt with him and all his problems over the years. Now she's showing a different kind of strength. To pull away from him when he could see she desperately didn't want to – he can't help but question why. The most obvious answer is that he's pushed her too far, that being near him now is too painful for her, because thinking about what he's been through hurts her too much. It's easier to forget, to slip into denial, to absorb herself in work and meaningless tasks so she doesn't have to let her thoughts linger on his suffering or his pain, and how it mingles with her own.
But again and again, the thought keeps flooding his brain that maybe, just maybe, this is some kind of test. That she's had enough of playing the same role for eight years. That she wants more balance in their relationship. That if she wants him to stop playing games and taking risks and dicing with death she's going to have to do something about it. Asking him to stop hadn't worked, reminding him that it wasn't worth it hadn't worked, even letting him see what it did to her hadn't worked. But keeping her distance – guarding her emotions, closing herself off from him, taking a step back – that might be the last chance she has to make a difference. He's always been able to put himself in those situations and take those risks because his fear of death isn't as great as the average man's, but his fear of losing her is greater than anything, save losing his daughter.
All his excuses are fading to nothing, sounding more and more pathetic as they continue to echo around his mind. He went to Afghanistan to help find the two missing marines, he got himself involved with dangerous people because he was helping out a friend, he was almost killed by a psychopath because he wanted to make sure no more girls got hurt. All the reasons he uses to justify his actions mean nothing to her, and they're starting to mean nothing to him.
He worries he'll never change; that growing older will not slow him down, but instead see him grow even more reckless and wild. Maturity has not come to him yet, why should it now? Fatherhood did not change him, so nothing likely ever will. He has a daughter, he has a company, he has a woman who loves him unconditionally, even if she's never said the words out loud, and he risks throwing it all away in a rapid string of bad decisions that leave him wondering why the hell he does what he does.
He can strategise, he can out-think most people, he can plan ahead, know his next move, see a clear path forward even at the most difficult of times. But now he doesn't know what to do. He suffered horrific torture at the hands of a psychopath, was almost killed yet again, and he's alone in his office while she sits, alone, in hers. And he doesn't know what the hell he's going to do about it.
He gambles with his safety because he's a gambler to the core, but he'll be damned if he's going to let that be the definition of his life. And if that means letting go, he'll have to try. If it means ignoring the voice that calls him to where the centre of the action is, if it means stopping to think before hurtling himself into something he can't control, if it means letting the wild wind rush past him without jumping on its back and flying into the frenzied excitement of wherever it's leading… he can try. He recognises, of course, that he's likely to fail. That people don't change. That he'll always be a force of nature, that the hurricane of life will always excite him, that if the element of danger is lacking from his life, he's likely to turn into some dull, placid version of himself, and there's no guarantee she'll like that person either. He can try to change, but it'll be like swimming against the tide, and he sure as hell knows he'll never make it without her waiting for him on the other side.
There's something different about this time, and he wants to tell her, but he can't find the words. He wants to go back, knock on the door or just barge in, and tell her that something's different, but he doesn't know how. She thinks it's just the same, but what happened to him today has shaken him more than any other brush with death, and he can't piece together the fragments of thought and somehow make it all make sense so that he can convey that to her. He doesn't want to take a new case right now, he doesn't want to pick up a woman in a bar and get laid to forget his troubles, he doesn't even want a stiff drink. There's nothing that he would normally prescribe for himself that will help him today. All he wants is to hold her in his arms, try somehow to utter the words he's struggling to find within himself, attempt to make some kind of promise to her. And try to keep it.
He closed the door on his way out of her office, and he closed the door when he entered his. More barriers between them. He knew he couldn't ask her to give more than she has already given; reflecting in his office hasn't made him change his mind about that. All he can do now is wait. Wait and see if this time, he has pushed her too far, if the damage he's inflicted has caused her to retreat to a place just out of his reach. Or if by some miracle she will return to him; allow him yet another chance to try and redeem himself, lay her vulnerability before him again, and present him with the opportunity to once more shatter her with his selfish behaviour and disregard for her feelings. He wants to believe that he's capable of never hurting her like that again, but of all his weaknesses, naivety isn't one of them.