A/N: i knew where i was going with this story: toward absolution. then last week's episode aired and now i'm not so sure (really, "clean like you?"). after all, the inspiration for this story came from vic chesnutt's "I'm Through." anyway. thoughts/suggestions are welcome-constructive criticism is welcome as well. As is, of course, praise. whichever you feel like giving; just give it.


Black Friday, Chapter Two.

"Don't you dare call this disloyalty;
There's no way you could be more wrong.

Gillian wrung her fingers together in front of her abdomen as she chewed on the inside of her cheek. She had thought long and hard the night previous about—well, about everything, really. She had considered her relationship with Cal, her relationship with the Lightman Group, her relationship with herself—and when she walked into the office this morning she hadn't yet decided just which course she was going to take. But, in the end, she had decided to err on the side of self-preservation—a decision she was not entirely too familiar with.

She regarded Cal with caution and what seemed, to him, quite like an air of suspicion. "I can't live my life going from ultimatum to ultimatum, Cal." She finally spoke, and watched as his eyes registered confusion, "I won't." She corrected.

He wasn't sure what he should say—he wasn't sure what he could say, really, so he lamely stumbled upon his words "Th—that was the first one, Foster."

She nodded. "One's enough." She smiled, but it wasn't genuine and Cal was surprised at the pang of guilt he felt in his gut at the sight of her fake smile: "One's too many, actually."

"So, what? We're—" he wasn't sure he could bring himself to say it. He tried to get it off his tongue and when he finally did it sounded so much more foreign than it had the night before: "through?" he said it with the same air of contempt he had last night—only this time the contempt was for the idea itself and not for Gillian herself.

She idly fingered a book on her shelf—"Your words, not mine." She shrugged.

All at once Cal felt the air leave his lungs for what felt like the hundredth time that afternoon. He didn't trust his legs so he ran his hands across his face as he quickly made his way to one of Foster's chairs.

"I—" he faltered, stunned into a specific type of reverie "I don't know what to say."

She chuckled "Well, there's a first."

It was the sort of comment that he would have laughed wholeheartedly at were it issued in any other circumstance. But he could feel the duress setting it—he could feel his heart clenching in his chest like someone had a grip on it and they were squeezing hard. He almost smiled at this thought as he realized it was true—Foster had her delicate hand gripped tightly around his heart and it was him who had thrust it in her hand to begin with. He had given her this ammunition last night and he wracked his brain trying to think of an appropriate way to backpedal.

He shook his head firmly, his eyes dark "This is unacceptable."

She shrugged again. "I agree, Cal. This whole debacle is unacceptable—but you made it clear—quite clear, actually—that I don't have a place here at the Lightman group."

"I was angry!"

"Okay. I was angry, too. But I didn't say those things to you. The things you said, they came out of someplace real—somewhere, you really feel that."

He shook his head twice. "I don't."

"Really? " She crossed to the chair across from him and stood behind it, keeping it as a barrier between the two of them—she knew it was silly but as she leaned her abdomen against it, she felt safer, somehow. She felt protected. "You're forgetting my expertise."

He tilted his head to the side and his eyes softened as he tried to convey his apology to her.

"Cal." She admonished, "As you so astutely pointed out yesterday, I am the voice expert. You meant it when you said we'd be through. And what's worse, maybe, is that you meant it when you said that the Lightman group was built on your blood and your sweat." She gave him a half smile of the wry variety, "You forget about my tears."

He had no words.

"So, you have the Lightman group—you have a partner at your beck and call, you have a friend and, what do I have? A paycheck?" Her disdain for the words he'd spoken earlier was clear, "Really, what do I have?"

His brain felt so scrambled that he was having trouble following her line of logic—it seemed to him that Gillian was erratically jumping from point to point when really the opposite was true. "What do you mean—what do you have?"

"I spent the greater part of last night—the part where I wasn't crying—" she admitted and she caught his eyes and read a very specific type of shame there "trying to figure it all out. If this company is built on you and you alone—then what, precisely, do I have?"

She could see he wasn't following—and he didn't have an answer for her. More accurately, Cal did have an answer for Gillian, but after everything he'd said and done to her in the past 24 hours it would sound incredibly trite and he wouldn't demean her any further by saying the monosyllable.

"What is all this, Foster?" His voice was gentler than she'd heard it in ages.

She wasn't sure how much of this she wanted to share—she wasn't sure how much of this Cal deserved to actually know. Making a snap decision—and one that was counterintuitive to everything she'd been doing her whole life, she decided to tell him that: "I'm not sure how much you deserve to know," she said coolly, although she felt incredibly flustered inside.

"Probably not very much," he shrugged, his face a study in blankness.

"You're always giving nothing away, Cal—I mean that the way it sounds, and I mean it other ways, too. There you go, putting the mask in place. You keep your cards close to your chest, and okay, that makes sense, I guess. But the problem is I'm always giving everything away, aren't I?"

He didn't respond, understanding that the question was rhetorical.

"I am. My face can be read like a book—it's a decision I make. But I'm constantly giving of myself, too, and it's become so fucking exhausting" She looked at him and the face he gave prompted her to continue.

Gillian took a moment and then she abandoned her post behind the chair and chose to sit in the chair, instead. They had reversed their positions from earlier and she decided to change her tactical approach to the conversation. She sighed as she leaned her elbow on the arm of the chair and rested her cheek on her fist.

Cal gazed into Gillian's eyes and what he saw there brought a wave of nausea over him. He saw sadness. For the first time in seven years, he didn't see a trace of any other emotion in her eyes. There was no anger—no arousal—no fear—just pure sadness and his stomach dropped to his feet when he made himself recognize that he and he alone happened to be the cause of her sadness.

"I'm tired, Cal." She brushed her fingers over her hairline as she searched for the words to continue, "I'm just so damn tired of living my life for other people." She fixed her stare on something high up on the wall behind Cal's head, "I've spent my entire life living for other people—and none of them have turned out to be worth it. When I was a child, I lived for my parents, constantly seeking their approval. In school, I lived for my teachers. In college, I lived for my professors. Everything I did centered around what would make them happy—never around what would make me happy. And then I married Alec," Cal couldn't control his contempt at the mention of her ex-husband's name.

Gillian caught his expression and felt a surge of disdain, "Don't, Cal." She admonished sternly, "You don't have the right now to act as though you're so different than he is." She understood this was probably a low blow, but she was tired of not saying what she felt.

His indignation at her comment was overwhelming, and he couldn't stop himself from jumping in, "Now, wait a bloody minute, Foster—don't you dare compare me to your ex-husband! We're nothing alike!"

Gillian laughed a little ironic laugh at that, "Oh, aren't you?"

He pointed his finger, "No, we're bloody not."

"I've been in a relationship with both of you for years, Cal, I think I'd know better whether or not there are similarities—and trust me, there are. He took me for granted." She looked at him pointedly, "He chose something over me every single day for years—he refused to acknowledge me as his equal, as his partner in our marriage, he chose to go solo in nearly everything and especially in dealing with the important things."

Cal looked sad for a moment, "This is ridiculous."

"I don't know. Maybe it is, maybe you're nothing alike. Maybe there's nothing wrong with either of you—maybe it's just me."

Cal studied her, "You don't believe that."

"No," she shook her head. "No, I don't. But I have been making the same mistakes all my life and I'm tired of it, Cal. I've been putting other people and other things before me and look what it's gotten me."

Cal's eyebrows rose as he met her gaze.

"Nothing!" she said, gravely. "Not a damn thing. Not even a name on a damn door."

Cal took offense to that, "Now wait a minute, you said you didn't care about having—"

She cut him off, anger seeping into her veins for the first time since they'd started all of this, "Goddamn it, Cal! That's not the point!" She took a steadying breath before she continued.

"Everyone's just let me down," she looked at him, making her meaning clear, "Even the people I thought never would. I deserve better—I've been looked at as one type of inconvenience or another for as very long time—a burden, a wet blanket and worse—and I'm not any of those things. I'm necessary."

"I know that, Foster." He tried to sound convincing, but he was so wrought with emotion that the phrase came out scarcely as a whisper.

She observed him for a minute, putting to use all she'd learned from him throughout the years—she watched him squirm a bit under her scrutiny. "No," She shook her head, "You don't." She concluded—"But you will."

Cal felt a resurgence of his earlier frustration at her words—"Foster, will you stop being so bloody cryptic!" He nearly shouted at her—his voice taut with emotion.

"I want out." She said with resolve, not allowing the quiver she felt in her stomach to creep into her voice.

"What?" Cal could hardly speak.

"You heard me." She nodded, "I want out." She said it again.

"Foster, you can't really mean that—"

She looked at some distant point beyond his head, "I can." She nodded affirmation again, "I do." she finished emphatically.

Cal exhaled through his nostrils, a surge of adrenaline beginning to sweep its way through his body, "This isn't right."

She laughed mirthlessly, "No, you're right, it's not. And it's nowhere near where I thought we'd end up seven years ago."

He couldn't hide his curiosity about where she'd thought they'd end up—something had flickered over his face when she said it.

Understanding his silent question, she spoke, "Gillian…" Cal began, feeling the need say something relevant, if only so he could momentarily pause the wave of melancholy that was so quickly taking over his entire body.

"Let me finish." She glanced at him and then back to the point on the wall. Cal resisted his urge to turn around and find the point of reference. Instead, he just nodded.

She cleared her throat, "For the last seven years I'd fooled myself into believing that we were a team, Cal. You put your blood and sweat into the Lightman group and I put my tears." He watched as more of her tears threatened to fall, "You have no idea how many hours I've spent crying over this place—over you—and over this company. And somewhere along the way I began to live my life for this company. And I was fine with it because I was under the impression that you and I dealt in mutuality. I thought we had an understanding.

Imagine my surprise. I've done nothing but defend you, Cal. All these years. I've defended you to my friends, I've defended you to the staff, I've defended you to suspects, clients, the FBI, the police, the critics. Cal, to the President of the United States of America, I've defended you." She shook her head and blinked her eyes. Delicately bringing her index finger up to her eye, she put the side of it underneath her eye and blinked. She removed the tears and a little bit of mascara.

She placed her palms flat on her legs and finally met his eyes—they sparkled in the natural light of the afternoon, "And none of it has mattered."

Cal noticed the look of defeat pass across her face and a feeling of urgency surged within him "it has, love," he spoke quickly, leaning forward—the words rushed out, "It's mattered more than you know." He read no change on her face and so he continued, reaching his hands out into the abyss and grasping at something, anything, "I'm sorry, Gillian. I'm sorry." The desperation and panic in his body found their way into his voice and he felt himself on the verge of completely foreign territory "I'm so bloody sorry." His voice hitched slightly, "A thousand times, I'm sorry."

Gillian didn't let herself react—she felt Cal's words enter her body and tug at her heart. She felt them pool in her stomach and she steeled herself against them—letting the immense tragedy she felt chase the underpinnings of the beginning of forgiveness away, "It's not enough, Cal."

His eyes went wide with panic—

She shook her head once, and the air of finality the gesture achieved was not lost on Cal, "It's not enough." She set her jaw "It is one thing, Cal, to say things you don't mean, but you said things that you absolutely meant—and how are we ever to come back from that?"

"I don't know," He said honestly, "I don't know—But, you can't just give up, Gillian." Not for the first time this afternoon he felt at a loss for words, and the ones he chose rang dumb even to his own ears.

Gillian let them hang in the air for a moment before she seized upon them "You're done telling me what I can and can't do, Cal."

it's either the end,
or there's more.
i honestly don't know yet.