I've taken some liberties here, like with when exactly, Zoe left Cal. That's probably the most prominent liberty. As for the rest, this story is based on a jumbled up mixture of moments from "Depraved Heart", "Lack of Candor" and "Sweet Sixteen". All other references, are just general, across the board. I hope you all enjoy.
With his hand to his forehead and his face buried in a pile of useless, practically illegible paperwork, Cal knew he was in way over his head. He knew the science, he had created it after all - or as he felt more appropriate; discovered it - regardless that he was published, as it's creator. But with that white sheet permanantly fixed to the kitchen wall, his mother's smiling face playing over and over across the ripples in the one-thousand thread count Egyptian cotton he and Zoe had recieved as a wedding present; he started to wonder if he'd made a mistake.
Not just about quitting his job either, but everything that had anything to do with Zoe. He'd done it for her, ironically. But on the same day he'd come home with the news, he'd seen Emily sitting in the back seat of the car, cheeks wet with tears and Zoe lugging a big heavy suitcase out the front door.
Sniffing the air, he dragged his head up to look about the kitchen for the source of the sudden smell. He tugged at his shirt (the same one he'd worn for the past three days since Zoe and Emily left) but it wasn't the shirt. It may have been musty, but it didn't account for the sudden offense to his nostrils.
It's when the shrieking of the fire-alarm reached his ears, that he realised what it was. The toast. He'd been so wrapped up in self-loathing and personal pity, he'd forgotten his earlier internal conflict that ended in his realising that, yes, he did need to eat.
With all panic gone, now, he grabbed a wooden spoon and slinked to the fire-alarm in the hall, hitting the offending object with the spoon until it stopped. The damage was done, though. Looking back to the kitchen, it was shrouded in smoke and the toast was sitting popped up in the toaster, black as the night with a fleck of ember on the corner like it had actually been on fire. It's alright, he wasn't really hungry anyway.
Grabbing the toast, Cal popped the window open, tossed it out before opening the rest of the windows, then sitting back down in the groove he'd practically worn in the kitchen chair and continuing to watch his mother's video.
He wasn't sure what he'd been thinking, not that he could really delude himself into thinking that he had a choice in the matter at all. He'd quit his job, yes. Was it his choice? Not entirely. It was a lack of options, really and he'd taken the less offensive of the options he did have. Graciously bowing out, some would call it. He called it cowardice, but he'd never admit that.
Jumping, he cleared his throat and scrubbed a hand over his face as he heard the chime of the front door. Blinking, he looked at his watch. It was already getting dark outside and there was a chill in the air, from the open windows. The door chimed again and he grumbled, hoping to hell that it wasn't Zoe. He just couldn't deal with that now, on top of everything else. He'd never even gotten a chance to tell her that he'd quit his job. He'd helped her carry the bag to the car in silence, sharing a look with her, knowing her thoughts from the look in her eyes, but saying nothing. And he'd watched her go, without fighting it. He hadn't known how, or even why.
There was a faint knock on the door and with heightened agitation, he stumbled toward it, having hoped that whoever it was, would have left already when he didn't answer. No such luck. He was intrigued though, when he saw the silhouette beyond the curtains, waiting patiently.
With his hand to the door-handle, he took a deep breath before pulling it open.
As the cool air from the street rushed in, he was surprised with who he saw standing there, spinning around at the sound of his presence. "Doctor Lightman, hello." She smiled, her hand gripped tightly to the strap of her bag. A nervous gesture, like fidgeting. He smirked. She matched it. "You're amused to see me here?"
He looked up at her face suddenly. "Excuse me, Doctor Foster?"
She pointed at his face. "Your eyes, the upturn of your lips. I amuse you."
He smiled brightly for the first time in what felt like years. It didn't quite meet his eyes, but it was a giant leap forward on the road to recovery. "Yes." Was the breadth of his answer, but the smile on his lips seemed to keep her rooted to the spot. She wasn't offended in the slightest and he wasn't quite sure why he was happy about that. "And you're here, because?"
"Oh, I wanted to see how you were. I heard that you'd left the Pentagon."
He crossed his arms over his chest. "And you wanted to see if your 'diagnosis' had anything to do with it? Considering, my livelihood was riding on it."
"No, I," She paused when his expression changed and his intrigue sky-rocketed. "okay, to a degree. But I honestly just wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Honestly?" She hadn't lied to him once or at least, he hadn't spotted her in a lie yet. He didn't quite know how to respond to it. "Would you," He checked behind him, making sure the front of the house wasn't too messy. "come in?" He reached for her arm, guiding her into the house. "Come on, coat off." He ushered her and she laughed gently as he fussed. Taking her coat from her and hanging it up, he turned around to face her. "You honestly want to know how I am?"
"Yes. Is that so wrong?"
"Nope," He grinned. "nothing wrong with that. Just curious, that's all."
He could see in her eyes that she wasn't convinced, but she didn't voice it. She didn't need to, and that part of it fascinated him. He'd noticed the small something in his sessions with her two weeks before, with all that stuff about Doyle he'd have rather forgotten already. She'd been interestingly insightful then. He was only suprised she'd show up now.
"Where is your wife?" She questioned.
"She left." He answered solemnly and by the look in her eyes, he could see she knew exactly what he meant.
"Turns out, she wasn't too happy with my line of work."
"But, you've left the Pentagon, I don't-"
He cut her off. "Ironic, isn't it?"
They both stood there in the doorway, silently watching each other for a few minutes, neither knowing where to go from there until she cleared her throat and broke that silence.
"I suppose, I also heard that you'd decided to continue your work, out in the private sector?"
He moved towards her, pointing at her brow as though it'd done something amazing. "Ah, there it is."
She backed away a little, though not from discomfort, he noted. "What?"
"That's what you're really here for."
She laughed openly, then and he found the smile now reaching beyond his harshly set jawline, up into the crows-feet around his eyes. Tugging at their toes, but not there, yet.
"Alright." She admitted. "Your book on my desk, wasn't just a plant to soften you, Doctor Lightman; I wasn't lying when I said that I was interested in what you do."
She opened her mouth to answer and he smirked. She looked away with a smile and that look so many had when realising he'd known the truth, before they'd said it.
"Micro-expressions. They're called. You just had one."
"Oh?" She smirked.
She stood her ground, chin high, lips pursed. He smirked back. "Pleasure. You're in your element with this, aren't you darlin'?"
"I told you, I'm fascinated."
"Well, come on then." He grabbed her arm, no longer caring for the smell of the burnt toast that hadn't quite dissepated or the mess covering his kitchen counter. He knew she'd seen it all, scanned the room and noticed the signs, but to her credit - and irrespective of the fact he could see it in her eyes when he turned around - she said nothing. "What'dyou see?" He pointed up at the screen. Dropping her handbag on the counter, she slowly stepped around it, ignoring all other elements in the room as she looked up at the woman talking about how happy she would be, to go home and see her family.
Cal watched Doctor Foster's expressions change. He watched her lick her lip and cross her arms and he watched her, as a saddness came over her. "She's in pain."
"Full marks." He declared quietly and did his best to ignore the way she was looking between him and the white sheet with the old video playing back again.
There was a deep silence between them for a time. Her studying him and him, trying his best, not to study her. And it made him uncomfortable then, when she turned on him with her arms still folded, though she reached a hand out to casually point between him and the sheet. "She's important to you."
He didn't quite know how to respond. He'd taken her down this road, but when she looked at him like that and she edged closer towards him, with her hip against the countertop, he started to consider that he just might tell her.
And he'd never told anyone, not even Zoe. Not even Emily.
He couldn't though. The words wouldn't so easily leave his lips and when he opened his mouth to answer, the sound became lodged in his throat. Turning, he switched off the tape and did his best to ignore the flash of concern on her face, as he turned his eyes away. "Who is she?" She whispered and he pressed his eyes closed tight, taking a handful of long, deep, calming breaths before opening them again and turning back. Even though he couldn't look into her eyes.
"She," He looked back up at the now blank sheet. "is the reason I started all this. The work with the Pentagon's only increased my ability to spot bull-shit a mile away." Waving a hand out across the photos and unmarked tapes scattered on the bench, he glanced towards her. He watched her out of the corner of his eye, as she looked across the kitchen counter, taking it all in. His house was a shambles and his work, even moreso, but she didn't seem to care about that. Atleast, it didn't show on her face.
She set her eyes on him firmly. "I want to help you."
"You what?" He blinked, sitting down. And he didn't mention the flash of guilt and fear that crossed her face.
"Your science is ground-breaking. I want to work with you on this. And if we're going to open up this private firm, we have to start from the very bottom. So, first thing's first," She raised her eyebrows in excitement and he continued to gape at her as she headed for his phone, taking it and quickly dialing a number. She dropped her hip back to the counter, grinning. "chinese food."
He continued to stare at her, not quite sure what to make of it all. Fifteen minutes ago he'd been wallowing in self-pity and a ground-breaking science that was so far, getting him nowhere and regretting everything he hadn't done in the last couple of weeks, that was eating him alive. A part of him thought that the guilt she flashed, could possibly have had something to do with the fact that she knew. That she was the only one that did. But that didn't account for the fear.
She hung up the phone, smirking as she crossed the room with a bounce in her step. "They'll be here in twenty minutes. In the meantime, why don't you start teaching me how all this works?"
"You don't have to do this, Foster." He stared at her, honestly perplexed as to why she was still there. He'd noticed a wedding band on her finger when he'd met her the first time. And there was photos of her and a man, scattered around her office. She had a home to go to and it was well past eight at night, he didn't know what would keep her from leaving.
She stopped moving, resting her elbows on the counter as she looked away, thinking. "I have my reasons for wanting to do this, Doctor Lightman, as you do." Her voice was quieter, held together with quivering steel as she met his eye, holding a look between them. Her determination could have been for any number of reasons, a plethora of which, he'd never guess. But she was smiling at him and he nodded, ready to give her the benefit of his doubts.
"She's my mother." He said softly. Not breaking eye-contact with her.
"I thought so. Would you like to tell me about her?" She moved around, taking the seat beside him. She was an intelligent woman, as he'd first thought. Untainted by the darkness of his own past and unemcumbered by the guilt that plagued him over Doyle, his Mother, Zoe, Emily. But something burned within her. A fire kept alight by kindling of another sort. He found himself wanting to find out what that was, wanting to feed it. He found himself wanting to tap the potential he saw in the depths of her smile. Because she had an honesty about her, an innocence. And her excitement about the chinese food made the smile from before, want to reach his eyes for real this time.
"Yeah," He breathed, watching her smile grow, making him feel that perhaps, in the darkness, he'd found a true friend. He wanted to give something back to her, wanted to allow her to do this, to drag him up from the hole he'd fallen into. She was unwittingly offering him that hand up and he wasn't yet sure if he'd ever have the courage to tell her, just how much late-night chinese food and a genuine interest, helped.