"Josh!" His mother called out. "Watch out for my camellias!"
"Sorry, Mommy!" The little boy called back and rushed after his soccer ball. He stumbled on the grass, grazing his knees green, but picked himself up again and carried on going, determined to get a goal past the goal keeper.
Who, unlike little Josh, was wearing an old Georgetown sweater and muddy jeans instead of a red soccer shirt and matching shorts, and the greys in his hair were starting to catch up with him. As Will Gardner teased and played with his godson, Alicia watched, the smile on her face betraying her wrinkles. But they were happy wrinkles now, no longer the lines of stress, but rather the wear of a few years doing a job she enjoyed even on the worst of days, motherhood and all its trials, and the serenity of feeling safe and loved again. Sitting across from her was Kazue, now in her early thirties, radiant with calm beauty. Motherhood had softened her, added a little happy padding to her bones, made her smile more. The tell-tale white band of skin of her ring finger had long faded away, and against the Illinois spring chill, she'd taken to wearing very sensible, very mommsie jumpers. She had the rare quality of looking her age, and far more coveted features that age well.
For all four people in that suburban garden, where the sounds of Chicago traffic were quiet and distant, where the skyscrapers of the city were blurry on a clear day, far removed from the bizarre rush of cosmopolitan existence, their lives had only recently begun. For three of them, again.
"How are things with Liam?" Alicia asked.
Kazue smiled. "He's good, really good. He's visiting his girlfriend's parents in Santa Fe for the weekend."
"Really?" Alicia repeated, surprised. For all these last few years Liam had barely left Kazue's side, keeping his promise to be an attentive and present father. Alicia had always believed that he hadn't moved on from his ex-wife, if his affectionate, longing gazes at her were anything to go by. Evidently she was wrong.
Kazue grinned. "I know, things are going really well for them. Julie's son, Charlie, he's gone with them, they were thinking of taking Josh too but he really wanted to see Will." Kazue smiled happily. "The two boys get on really well, and it's working out really well for Liam. I hope it works out for him. He looks at her the way he used to look at me. It's really good, seeing him happy again. And she's nice, I like her."
Alicia studied Kazue carefully and smiled at what she found. No jealousy. No bitterness. No regret. Just genuine caring, genuine affection.
"What about you, Alicia?" Kazue asked kindly. "How's being an ex-Florrick?"
Alicia smiled grimly, and then, in answer, shrugged. "Technically I'm still a Florrick, too much hassle to change my name back. As much as I resent it sometimes, sharing a name with the State Attorney has its advantages."
Kazue nodded understandingly. "How are you and Peter?"
Again Alicia shrugged. "Good, I guess. Things are going well for him. He's still living in the old apartment with Zach until the sale goes through. We've agreed to split it, so when that comes through I might take some time off work again if I can, take Grace to Europe before she goes to college next year if she'd like."
Kazue grinned at the prospect. "That's a fantastic idea. Fly to London and get inter-rail tickets, see the best of Europe by train. Me and my mates did that when we were at sixth form, brilliant summer that was." Her grin calmed. "How are they, Zach and Grace?"
Alicia sighed. "They're... they're alright. Zach's at Harvard now, and things have been a bit better for him since he went away to college, to be honest. I think his girlfriend, Jamie, gave him a little perspective. Her parents are divorced as well, and she seems more... considerate than his last girlfriend. He stays with his dad when he's home, though he gets on well enough with Will now, the few times they've met anyway. I think it's still uncomfortable for him though. I think it's hard for Peter too, with Zach away in Boston. It meant a lot to him when Zach... when Zach chose to live with him."
Kazue watched sympathetically as Alicia's head dipped at the memory of her son's custody choice. "And Grace?"
Alicia's face filled with pride, making Kazue glad she moved the subject on. "She's good, her teacher's think she'll get the grades she needs for the University of Chicago with flying colours."
Kazue grinned. "Ah, excellent choice, my alma mater."
Alicia grinned too, nodding. "She's going to live in student halls though, it's easier to meet people that way, make new friends." Kazue nodded, agreeing. "Until then, she's settled in well, I think, with Will and I."
Kazue nodded, smiling. She remembered the more stressful days, when Alicia officially divorced Peter. It had been a fair and amiable enough process when it came to sorting through their shares of their finances, neither greedy, neither overly demanding, neither selfish. But when it came to the question of custody, with neither of their children of age, everything got complicated. It was not a question of finances: both Alicia and Peter were working and earning decent money, and could easily afford to look after the kids, and given how busy they both were it wasn't a question of who had more time for them either. Peter had his mother to help out still, and Alicia's brother Owen had moved closer to his sister, so he had offered to help and be a decent and humorous uncle. Ultimately, it was a choice for their children, to decide who they were most comfortable living with.
Alicia and Will's relationship was no longer a secret from anyone, even though it was no longer news worthy any more. Doing as Eli Gold had advised, keeping things Disneyfied, had surprisingly done exactly what they'd hoped it would. It wasn't seedy like Peter's affairs, it was all portrayed as the romantic converging of paths that had long been destined to return to each other, or some such nonsense. The press ate it up, and so did the public. And time and again, they beat down every insinuation, every accusation, anything and everything that came up in their work against them. The last time Cary had tried the 'boss-is-sleeping-with-his-junior-associate' card, Will had actually turned to him - in court - and told him to stop being a sore loser and stop being so petty. Cary had actually stammered for a full five seconds until he sat down in his seat with a quiet 'nothing further, your honour'.
But even though it was becoming accepted in the wider world, in her own home there remained friction. Zach, despite admitting that he consciously didn't blame his mother for seeking and finding her happiness elsewhere from her former husband, he still felt bitter about it. For all of his father's mistakes, despite all the hurtful things he'd done, he had at least come home. Peter had at least not given up on them completely. As irrational as Zach consciously knew it was, he could not help but feel that his mother, by giving up on his father and choosing Will, had given up on their family, despite all her protestations and efforts to the contrary. Upon hearing that his mother was contemplating moving in with Will eventually, Zach had decided to live with his father. He had nothing against Will personally, but that was not a situation he wanted to grow to accept. He'd had enough of change.
Grace, upon hearing her brother's decision, and seeing the pain on her mother's face, decided there and then that she'd stay with her mother. Unlike her brother, she'd listened a bit more carefully to her mother's plans. Alicia was planning to get another apartment, one that Will, when things were more comfortable, would eventually move into, and sell his own place. It was a plan that potentially would not be acted upon completely for years. It was entirely dependent on many things working out. Potentially Grace herself might have moved out to college, and at that point she was only a high school freshman. It was a big change made at a snail's pace, and it hadn't intimidated Grace half as much as it did Zach. The idea of living with her father, whose actions had torn their family apart in the first place, was not really all that attractive anyway. Grace couldn't help it: after all that had happened, she thought her mom deserved to be happy more than her dad. And seeing her mother's face light up at Grace's decision only made her more certain that she'd done the right thing.
No matter how many times Zach tried to convince her otherwise. They were relatively close, and Zach didn't want them to be split up. But neither would back down, would budge on their choices. For a while Zach was very bitter about that too, no matter what Grace said to justify her choice, or how much effort she went to making it up to him. Zach ended up feeling resentful to Peter too, for failing to keep their family together. In the end, after a few months of living with his permanently angry son, Peter found himself going round to Alicia's new place, only to find Will working on a case whilst Alicia dropped Grace off at a sleepover. Peter, anxious to talk to his former wife about their son, found himself accepting Will's offer to wait, found himself accepting a beer while he waited, and found himself spilling out all of his worries, too tired to be resentful of his ex-wife's lover. To his surprise, Peter found that Will was the one to come up with the best advice, even after hours of talking to Alicia: just leave Zach be. The boy was feeling how he was feeling, as natural as breathing, and there was very little that could be done to change Zach's feelings except to simply let them change. If Peter haven't already, Will said, apologise for all the things Zach's not happy about that he did, or didn't do. Mean it, and let Zach, with time, accept it. Otherwise, just let him be, because if he was as stubborn as his parents then there would be no hope of persuading him otherwise. Besides, if he was like his parents, he'll come round eventually. Compassion was a strong streak in their family.
And Will was slowly but surely proving to be right. Time, Harvard, space, and a nice girlfriend at Zach's side had been the only things to ease Zach's bitterness.
It wasn't living happily ever after. But it was living pretty happily, all things considering. Things could be better. But they had been, and could be, much much worse.
"I'm so proud of Grace," Alicia told Kazue. "When Will moved in a few months ago she handled it so well. She sees her father a lot, as often as he can, and she flew to Boston for the weekend once to see her brother. I'm so proud of her." She smiled. "I'm so proud of both of them."
Kazue smiled back. "You should be. They're good kids, Alicia, credit where credit's due." She gazed after her son, who was now arguing with his godfather over the legitimacy of a goal after tackling the goalkeeper. Will was teasing him with faux-legal language whilst gripping his bruised shin. "How are things now with Will?"
Alicia's smile widened. "Better."
It had been a long, tiring journey, these last few years. It had not been easy, and knowing that before hadn't made it any easier. It had been tough for Will, watching as his girlfriend continued to go home to her husband, a husband she wouldn't leave until the right time, wishing that things could have been simpler, that he was free to announce to the world that he was in love with her. Secret love is weary for the soul, it yearns to be expressed rather than hidden like something shameful. No matter how hard he tried to rationalise to himself that Alicia was with him, regardless of what the rest of the world knew, he still felt jealous of Peter for still having first claim to her, jealous of the love she had for her children. He tried hard not to let it make him bitter, tried not to take it out on her. For the most part, he succeeded. When he didn't, it hurt both of them. They argued over it, often repeating the same things over and over, repetitions of the same feelings that wouldn't go away. And then they'd fall to silence, aware that they couldn't change any of it yet, aware that they weren't going to give up either.
They were honest to each other. They would sit and talk about all the awkward things that people in a committed relationship do. Alicia admitted how frightened she felt, sometimes, that Will would grow tired of their difficult situation and return to bachelorhood, yet how happy she was that he showed no signs of feeling that way. He admitted how sometimes he did miss the single life, of not having to share everything in his life would someone else, of his time being completely his own, but not enough to give her up, to not enjoy doing precisely all of those things, of sharing everything he had and all of his time with her. They talked about how often they should see each other, because of the kids or Will needing some time to himself to go to basketball games and the like. They talked about the future they wanted to build together. After Alicia bought the new apartment, when Grace moved in and Will started to prepare to sell and move out of his own place, they talked about how they felt about their new, developing situation, of what kind of role Will had in Grace's life, how much of a stepfather he should be. They spoke openly and frankly, sometimes heatedly, about it all. At first it was awkward, very awkward, talking like that. They got used to it, even though sometimes they didn't always like what they found out from each other. Most of the time, they found out good things.
She couldn't blame him for his feelings. She wished she didn't have to make him jealous either. Sometimes she found herself wishing that she'd never met Peter, that she and Will had gotten together instead at Georgetown... and then she'd feel ashamed as she remembered that if she hadn't met and married Peter, she'd never have had Zach and Grace. No, she wouldn't take back those years of her marriage when they'd been a good and happy family, she and Peter and the kids. But she did find herself less bitter that Peter had betrayed her. Out of that horrible deed something good had happened. It had returned her to Will, had freed her somewhat to chase that 'what if'. She found herself not regretting any of it. It was Life, and it had delivered her to a good place. So she bore the times when their circumstances grated on Will, grated on her too, and always tried her hardest to make sure he knew that she didn't want to be anywhere else, and looked forward together to the days when they would be free to not hide anymore.
Then the leak happened, and partial freedom was handed to them on a very bizarre plate. The office was buzzing with gossip again, and peculiar looks and avoiding eyes. It was discomforting, imagining what people said about her, but at the same time good things happened too. With their secrets out and no need to pretend to be the 'good wife' any longer, with the time off on vacation and with the kids, with Peter's public subtle acceptance of what was happening, her lives with her two most important men got easier. She was so relieved when Eli told her his scheme, relieved that it meant no pretence any more, relieved that his schemes actually helped her personal life rather than irritated it.
Ah, Eli Gold. To her considerable surprise Alicia respected him. He asked less of her when the secrecy and the campaign was over, making one less fight in her life. He was good at his job, Eli Gold, she had to admit it. As time had passed, after her separation and divorce from Peter, Gold continued to turn up in her office on occasion, asking for her support where he thought it would genuinely be needed, letting her know when such-and-such wanted an interview or story on the State Attorney's former wife, though never actually asking whether she wanted to do them, or implying that she should or would. She liked that he had sense enough to never ask for what was not needed, and then fought hard for her contributions when he was certain that they were. She still made his life hard for him though, which she suspected only made them respect each other all the more. And she was grateful, supremely grateful, that when it came to Zach and Grace, Eli Gold and Alicia were of the same mind: no go area. Admittedly his reasons weren't remotely the same as hers, but she was grateful for his considerable efforts in keeping the press away from her children. And now that he was no longer an intrusion in her life, they were a little more familiar. Business done they'd catch up a little before heading off to carry on with their jobs. She liked teasing him about what she'd once heard on a wiretap, about him being the protective father. And he'd ask if she was still defending Nazis.
And then of course, there was Kazue... Alicia very wisely never, ever asked about or spoke of what she saw in the hospital car park the night Josh was born, and she always suspected that Eli was actually rather grateful for it.
Sitting in that garden, her friend sitting across from her, watching her partner play with his godson, Alicia took note to herself of her blessings. Her two brilliant children. Will; her best friend, employer, lover and partner. Her mentor, Diane, for being so understanding, supportive, merciless and inspiring. Kalinda, for all her observations, for her strength and advice. Even for Peter, for finally trying, for all those good times past. For the new home she had, with furniture she and Will had picked together, decorated together, went home to and cooked together, slept together in and woke up to face the world together.
For herself, for being, though no longer the good wife, a good woman still.
The words came out without Alicia even really being aware that she'd said them. She only realised that she actually had when Kazue smiled, nodded and sighed.
They carried on watching the little boy play, so young and blissful, living simply and joyfully, without all the strange complications of grown up life. Now, they did not envy him. Their lives had riches that little Josh would find out much later. Alicia turned and studied her friend's face, and wondered. "How's Eli?" She asked, keeping her voice down.
Kazue's eyes dropped away from watching her son, and then flickered back up resolutely. "He's fine."
She said nothing more, just smiled at her own silence. No, there really wasn't much to tell.
Being a new mom was a full time job. Kazue brought her new born son home and began the sleepless nights, breast feeding, paying constant attention to the baby, learning Josh's moods, getting used to changing diapers and the occasional vomiting. The only connection Kazue had to the Florrick campaign - to Eli - was watching its progress through the news. When she could she sent quick emails to Eli about what she thought of Peter's press statements and interviews, or the ones made by his opponents. Quick things like 'good job', 'change his tie, too bright', 'shut up already about that', 'man up, Eli, Chicago ain't that dense', 'too subtle, go bigger'. Generally she didn't get replies unless he wanted some expansion on her comments. Otherwise things would turn up at her apartment: the Manchester United t-shirt and shorts Josh had grown into and was sporting now, baskets of random exotic fruits, back massage equipments, bath aromatherapy sets, once even soft baby all-in-ones with a matching suit perfectly tailored for Kazue's size, all with notes teasing about the trials of motherhood.
She watched as Peter won, wondering what Eli would do to celebrate. She had camellias from one of her own plants - one of his gifts - couriered to his campaign office with a bottle of champagne. She learned that Eli continued to work for Peter when the occasion called for, managing his press to ensure Florrick's second rein would not be besmirched by the events that ended the first. Uncertain drafts of speeches appeared in her email, and she'd send them back with her comments when she could. Not all of them were for Peter Florrick, some were for Eli's other clients.
Meanwhile Josh took his first steps, started speaking English rather than gobbledegook - although he still did that on occasion. His father tried to get him into American football, and eventually admitted defeat as the little toddler favoured British football - 'sokka!' - with his mommy.
Then Kazue turned thirty. Her birthday celebrations were split in two: the day itself with a select few, Josh, Liam, Alicia and Will, Grace even, for a meal at Liam's restaurant. The weekend after was a night out with her girlfriends. Liam promised to babysit, and off she went, in a gorgeous dress and heels, face made-up and colour exploding around her eyes, hair styled to perfection. She'd planned a bar crawl, and had every intention of getting home at dawn with a hangover, to celebrate still being young enough to do it. All drinks, she'd been promised, were on her friends, and on arrival at the first bar she was gifted with a colourful looking shot and a box of condoms, and was shoved in the direction of the hottest single guy in the bar.
Then she saw the news on the TV above the bar: a well-known Chicago businessman - the one she judged to be a lazy rich ass at Alicia's party, which felt like so very long ago - had been accused of massive tax evasion. He was one of Eli's clients, one that she had drafted company press statements for when he asked. The hot guy drifted away when he realised she wasn't paying attention any more, and soon after she left too.
She found Eli in his office, staring over the lights of Chicago, deep in thought as the news blared on the TV through the dark, frown set deep in his forehead. She hadn't actually seen him since he came to the hospital. He finally realised she was there when she turned off the TV, plunging the room into complete darkness save the orange glow of the city below. He had one second to take in how beautiful she looked in her dress, one second when he forgot to hide just how beautiful he thought she'd always looked, before all he could see was her face coming closer to his... and before he was ripping said dress off her.
When dawn hit through the windows, it traced over strewn clothing, paperwork thrown all over the floor, scratches in the desk, and two still writhing, sweaty bodies together on the couch. The first thing Kazue said to Eli - other than his name and words like 'oh God' - was "Drop the client. He's not salvageable." He just chuckled against her skin, kissed her again.
The next year sizzled for them. One of them would booty call the other, and she'd turn up at his apartment or his office. Random gifts continued to arrive at her home: chocolates when he thought she was looking too thin, early learner reading books for Josh, Mozart CDs, after a particularly adventurous night the Kama Sutra (definitely not for Josh), some of the movies he'd made reference to that she hadn't seen before. For that year they never went on a proper date; they never had dinner together, never went to the movies together, never did any of the stuff couples usually do. They were not 'together'. Behind closed doors it was another matter entirely. He was a good kisser (amongst other things), she was surprised to find; it had taken forever to teach Liam how to kiss her properly so many years ago. He didn't crowd round her when they spooned, exhausted; another thing she'd had to teach Liam not to do. She liked that he was surprisingly gentle at times, that cuddling was not beneath him and was right from the start an unawkward part of what they had, that he didn't just talk about the campaign or work like a boring loser. He told her all the things she'd missed from the campaign - cutting Peter's mother out, dinner with Alicia's interesting sibling, having his own candidate's children tracked to ensure they were behaving themselves and not being caught on camera saying stupid things - making her laugh as he painted the scenes for her. She'd threaten him with baby stories, giggling as he'd wrinkle his nose with reminiscent disgust as he'd try and shush her from describing diaper changing.
He never saw anyone else - Eli Gold was too busy to be dating - and neither did she, despite her friends attempts to set her up, or even Liam's uncertain disapproval. Ever since Josh had been born Liam spent more time at her apartment than at his own in order to spend time with his son. He knew Kazue wasn't remotely shirking her responsibilities to her son, she was a great mother. She made sure Liam looked after Josh whenever she was called away, and every morning was back in time to make Josh breakfast. She was less stressful, less frustrated with her stay-at-home life, clearly happy and content. If only it wasn't with an older guy who described himself as an asshole.
It couldn't last, this lack of complications and definitions.
He sulked when she couldn't always convince Liam to babysit when Eli wanted to see her, which sometimes amused her so she'd tease and flirt her way into him forgiving her, and he'd then have fun thinking up all the ways she should make it up to him. Then he admitted his short conflicted crush on the young Natalie Flores during the campaign, a little after Josh was born, and Kazue, has hard as she tried not to, saw green. No amount of reasoning over and over to herself - it was before they were... whatever they are, Eli was free to fancy who he liked, nothing happened - chased away the jealousy, that stopped her from feeling uncomfortable when she answered his calls and let him sulk when she made excuses.
Eli saw straight through her. Within a few days, time enough to let reasoning do what good it could do - a little but not much - Eli drove out to her home, and promptly introduced himself to his lover's son and said son's father. Liam, thawed to his ex-wife's new... whatever Eli was - by Eli's managing to translate and respond to Josh's gobbledegook and not mind the little boy's sticky hands trying to grab his nose, disappeared to put Josh to bed, and left Kazue to it, practically sprinting up the stairs when he realised that Kazue had barely looked at Eli since he'd stepped in the house. Feeling vulnerable she turned her back on him to finish washing the dishes, and tried not to melt when Eli wrapped his arms round her and settled his chin on her shoulder.
He teased her gently for feeling jealous in the first place, of feeling jealous because he'd made an absolute fool of himself. And then he told her he was sorry for making a fool of himself. Particularly the making a fool of himself bit, making her chuckle. And then he told her how glad he was that he didn't make even more of a fool of himself then, because Kazue had never made a fool out him.
As that last sunk in, the green faded and she smiled up at him. "I try." He just smirked in response, pressed a kiss into the crook of her neck, and wrapped his arms round her tighter when she turned into his embrace and held on just as tight. "Can I say something?" She murmured against his jacket. He nodded, waited. "It wouldn't have been all that nice if you'd actually been a party planner. That would have been a bit lame, I think."
As he drove back to the city, her words repeated themselves in Eli's head over and over again as he wondered whether she meant what he thought she meant, or whether that was too hopeful, or was 'hopeful' really the right word... Then he'd shook his head at himself, and laughed. She'd just pulled a Mark Darcy on him.
Finally Eli took her out on a date. Josh was visiting his paternal grandparents for the weekend, Eli had stopped kissing her long enough for her to shower, and when she came out he gave her a present - a stunning black dress and heels to change into, and took her to one of Chicago's Michelin star-ed restaurants. He picked a table in a dark corner, so no one would see how close they leaned towards each other across the table, or see him trailing his fingers over her wrist, his eyes seeking out all his favourite places on her body that he could see. Thank God for low v-necks.
And then... "I've been asked to go to D.C."
Kazue's mind went blank. Within seconds, just from the way he was looking at her, so suddenly serious, business-like, and set, she knew where this conversation was going. At first she thought it must have been some ploy for work, that this dinner was some way linked to a client. She was right, just not a Chicago one. Now... she knew instantly. Eli was going to Washington, following his ambitions, and he'd already decided. This was a 'had a great time, see you around' dinner.
"Come with me."
That she had not expected. Kazue's eyes widened in surprise, realising that she was several steps ahead of him in the wrong direction, and tried to rally, but already he was leaning forward, his face bricked up. "Look, I know you won't leave your son," he started, his voice tight. "I know you won't uproot him just before he starts school, or take him away from his father. But I... I want you to know that I want you to come with me. A blindly hopeful part of me is hoping that you won't do what I know you will do." He picked up his glass of wine, put it down again, fidgeting uncomfortably. Eli Gold was not the type to bare his heart. Hell, the fact that he had one was 'but I'd have to kill you' Top Secret. "You're stunning, Kaz. All these months we've been... together... it's been fantastic." He grinned slightly, making her smile. Oh yeah, it really had been pretty fantastic. "And if I wasn't the selfish, ambitious son of a bitch that I am, I'd stay and tell the Senator to shove his campaign for the White House up his ass. But I am a selfish ambitious son of a bitch and everything else that I want is in the Capital. And as I'm a selfish son of a bitch, I want everything else that I want to be in the Capital as well." His eyes bored into hers, not remotely sparing her from what he was saying. Yet there was a rare lightness, an acceptance that it wasn't going to happen, and he'd already made his peace with it. It was honest. It felt so ruthlessly honest she almost wanted to cry. But she'd never shed tears for him, not once, just as she'd promised when Josh was born, and she wasn't going to start now.
So she shook her head in answer, they went back to his apartment again, where he made her shatter so hard she finally shed her first tears for him, realising that she was going to lose a lover that she was completely addicted to.
In the year since he'd left, she'd seen him a handful of times when he came back to Chicago to see to his business. They'd lock themselves in his hotel room for the weekend, forgetting all plans of fancy dinners and other ideas for dates, having other things to catch up on, until he had to catch his flight back to D.C. After she'd be glowing for a while, and miss him after that. Between his visits they barely talked, neither wanting to become some conventional long-distance couple. Conventional didn't suit either of them.
"I miss him," Kazue told Alicia quietly. "I miss the banter, and the... y'know." Alicia grinned as Kazue turned bright red. She wasn't surprised; Kazue had mourned how she'd gone from nearly three years of nothing to a year of more sex than she'd ever had in her life to nothing again. Eli's complete absence made her appreciate just how much she had missed him before too, when he told her to go be a mother. She missed his company, how much he made her laugh with his sheer snobbery and arrogance. She enjoyed sparring with him, the back and forth of dry wit, how far apart their opinions of the world were and how close too, how they'd argue over issues until finally they both gave up and smirk, knowing they'd never agree, and instead just decide whose thoughts worked best in the real world and get on with it. She'd appreciated that when she was pregnant, hormonal and moody, he never gave her any slack, giving her free rein to bitch by giving back as good as he got.
Yet it wasn't just that that she was missing these days. Odd moments stuck out to her, nothing to do with his political ambitions, or him being the asshole she admired. One time in particular played through her head over and over. It was maybe a few months in, after he'd given her the Kama Sutra to study and practice, when she knew he didn't just wear suits all the time, and when staying up 'til dawn on his office couch was not so kinky any more. Liam was looking after Josh, now used to babysitting at the last minute, his doubts already expressed, countered and accepted. When Eli opened the door to her he was on the phone, his brow creased with irritation. It was the expression he reserved, she knew, exclusively for when he was talking to his daughter, so she let him postpone greeting her properly, hung her coat up, kicked off her shoes and got herself a drink as she eavesdropped on his conversation. When he finally hung up, troubles still unresolved, he wrapped his arms round her, pressed a kiss into her hair and sighed. "God, don't ever have daughters."
She chuckled, poured him a glass of wine and watched him take a sip. "Marissa still set on Israel?" He nodded, staring into space, seeing nothing but his imagination. "You know you can't stop her forever, right? She's too much like you." He smiled, but the frown didn't ease. "In which case, make sure she knows you'll help her out if it turns out that, as her father, you actually do know best." He chuckled and tightened his hold round her, and she pressed back into him. Finally the frown uncreased, and his eyes focused on reality, on her.
"You know, parent talk really isn't a turn on." And she started laughing, her giggles swiftly smothered by his kiss as he pressed her against the kitchen cabinets.
She loved those moments, those rare moments when he forgot to hide his 'warm and understanding' side.
Kazue's face fell. Since when did she 'love' anything to do with Eli Gold? Her skin buzzed with the memory of him, and tears threatened when she realised how much she wished he was here. She shook her head slightly, as though to rattle out such silly thoughts from her head, and watched Josh again. The tears faded. No, she didn't regret her decision to stay, and to not ask Eli to stay. It was too selfish. Besides, it wasn't over, they still saw each other whenever they could. Who knew what the future held? All she knew was that she loved her son far more than anyone she'd ever loved in her life. She had no regrets.
She was, despite her sex life, happy. Josh would be starting school soon, and she knew she was going to love helping him with his homework and picking him up from school just as much as she loved reading to him at night and playing in the park now. She could spend more time helping Peter's press team during school hours or go back to managing Liam's restaurant, whatever fancied her. Life was about to open up a little, and she didn't have to hurry to decide. Life was good.
She turned back to Alicia and smiled. "I'm happy too."
The two women toasted their mugs of tea to that, and enjoyed the comfortable silence, punctured only when Josh tried to tackle his godfather to the ground, making them laugh as Will comically fell to the ground. Yes, life was good.
"So... what did you girls talk about all afternoon?"
Alicia giggled. "Boys, of course."
Will chuckled back, squeezed her hand as they walked towards their car. It was getting late, time to go home. And he kind of needed to get the mud stains out of his jeans, and the grass out of his hair. "Oh no, that can't be good," he teased.
She laughed. "Yep, we talked about how you're all commitment phobes with deep-rooted issues concerning your exs and your mothers, and how all the signs mean something." They both chuckled. "No, we were talking about life. How we're happy."
He stopped, stared at her for a moment. "Are you happy?"
She looked at him for a moment as though he were a complete idiot, smiled, and kissed him. Evidently that was answer enough as he kissed her back. That was one thing she liked about them, how they worked. They still made out just like they had when they first got together, he still kissed her like he was hot for her. He leaned his forehead against hers, held her a little tighter to his chest. "Are you happy too?" She asked.
He leaned away for a moment, gazed straight into her eyes. "Funny, actually, we were talking about that, Kazue and I, while Josh showed you the tree-house. That's kinda why we came, really, I had to ask for her advice on something."
She smiled, bemused, wondering where this was going. "Oh?"
And then Will Gardner did something he had never thought he would do in his entire life, something he'd been planning to do for a little while now, something he was absolutely certain about now.
He got down on one knee. Watched as pure astonishment swept over Alicia's face. Will had wondered why people got nervous when they proposed, when they walked down the aisle. Surely, if they were in love, surely, if they were certain enough to ask, surely they didn't need to be nervous. Right there and then, he wholly sympathised. He was asking to change his life forever. Just because they lived in an age of divorce did not mean the intention of marriage was any different. It was for life, to spend every moment of it with someone else, just one person, which to a man who'd enjoyed his bachelorhood immensely, is completely inconceivable. No freedom to enjoy the hunt, no freedom to enjoy the spoils. The notion of being able to sleep with only one person, after years of being free to sleep with anyone, can seem... unexciting.
And there he was, Will Gardner, hoping to God that she'd say yes, and end those days forever.
"Alicia, I..." He stopped, and smiled. The astonishment had washed away from her face, leaving one thing: sheer happiness. "I love you. I love you so much. And I love it. I love being in love with you. I love our life together. I want that, I want you forever." He squeezed her hand, and reached up to wipe away a tear that dribbled down her cheek. "I want you to be happy, Alicia. I want you to feel loved, every day. I want you to know how brilliant you are, how you deserve to be loved and feel loved. You deserve the best, Alicia, and I want to spend the rest of my life trying to be the best for you."
A happy sob bubbled out of Alicia as she stepped closer to him, and he rubbed her arms soothingly. But he stayed on one knee, not yet done. "Now, poetry aside," he said, his tone turning more practical, grinning as she smiled at the change too. "We need a plan. I've asked Zach and Grace about how they'd feel about this, and they both said that as long as you're happy, they don't mind. Grace was a bit more particular, she insisted that she be your bridesmaid, and that you guys practice throwing the bouquet so that she catches it." He grinned again when she chuckled. "And Zach wanted to know whether... whether it would change anything. I'm afraid I was very pragmatic and told him that if anything did, I'd do my best to make sure it changed for the better; I hope that was the best thing to say." He smiled uncertainly there at her, hoping she wouldn't disapprove. She didn't, nodded, hoping her son took it well.
He stopped smiling as much, and told the bare truth. "Alicia, I'm a lawyer. I know that, should anything happen to me, things are easier when you've got a certificate saying that you're my wife. But, it's more than that. I want to share everything I have with you. Our home, money, everything. I want to be proud of the life we have together, and I want that pride to be recognised every way it can be recognised. I want to celebrate us."
Alicia gazed down at Will, lifted her hand to caress his cheek as he paused, seemed to build up all his courage, and put his soul on the line for her. "Alicia, will you marry me?"
She'd heard those five words before. She remembered them well. Peter, as he often was, had been so confident when he asked her to marry her. He'd taken her to her favourite restaurant, had roses delivered to the table, and given her a ring with the biggest diamond she'd ever seen. He'd just gotten a job at the district attorney's office, and he was feeling flush with his first paycheck, with great ambitions for his career and their lives. Other than that it was an ordinary night; she had work the next day, and she'd been drafting a letter to her best friend from college, her best friend that she'd been slowly drifting apart from, or rather he'd been drifting apart from her, no longer so close now that he was no longer the most important guy in her world. And then Peter swept away all thoughts of Will from her mind with promises of ever-lasting devotion and she let herself get swept up in it. Then it all proved hollow and false. She couldn't possibly have foreseen how things would change.
As Alicia stared at Will's earnest face, she worried. Worried that she was about to make the same mistake again, of getting swept away by fine words, only to be betrayed years later. She worried. For the briefest of moments. A moment she would regret, a moment she would be ashamed of. She knew that Will's words, his promises to make her happy, to make her feel brilliant, to make her feel loved... he'd been doing that every day since they got together. He worked hard to do it. He didn't have to, he could still be enjoying being one of Chicago's most eligible bachelors. Instead he'd built a life with her, one that he'd always meant to last. And most of all, he'd made sure that she always knew that he would never, ever hurt her like Peter had. In the years they had been together he'd never, ever given her any reason to worry that his attentions were straying. He was still capable of appreciating a woman's good looks, like any other red-blooded male, but then his eyes would look for her, and smile brighter when they found her. He always made her feel so beautiful, every time he did that. It was something that Peter never did, he'd always pretended he hadn't noticed other women, or worse forgot to remember how beautiful his wife was.
After Peter betrayed her as he had, Alicia had expected to never really believe in men's fidelity ever again. It made her so happy to believe in Will's.
She loved him. Alicia loved Will too. She loved their life together too. And she loved loving him too.
The Gardner home has no ambiguity. It has an entrance hallway with a closet for coats and shoes. Local artists' paintings grace the walls. It has a living room with Italian silk sofas and a rug on the floor in front of a ridiculously large tv to watch the games on. The large windows mean that during the day there are no shadows. There's a kitchen, with an island in the centre with pots and pans hanging above it, well-thumbed cookery books on a shelf in the corner, a fruit bowl near the sink, and a formal long pine table with chairs always set for six. Upstairs there are three bedrooms. The first is full of boxes amidst the beginnings of collages being made, stacks of memories waiting to be displayed. The second, clearly a girl's room growing up, is colourful, yet now full of boxes, a lot of defining characteristics have been temporarily packed away for a home elsewhere, but the bed is made, a teddy bear lying on the pillow, waiting. The third, the master bedroom, is dominated with memories. There are framed photos on every surface. Of a mother with her son and daughter. Of two lovers, on vacation, enjoying life. Of the son arriving at college, the distinct buildings of Harvard behind, with his father, both so proud it is hard to measure who has more pride. Of the daughter at her high school graduation, and with the mother, the Eiffel Tower clearly in the background. Of a godfather with his godson, both slowly getting older, more handsome. The two lovers together with a friend in a garden, the photo slightly kiltered, the angle suggesting the low height of the photographer.
Of a wedding at a registry office. The couple unaware, about to take their vows, their nervous excitement in their faces as they smile at each other. The couple posing for the camera, rings on fingers, happy. Of the groom posing with his stepson, both smiling with ease, the groom with a friendly hand on the younger man's shoulder, yet keeping to their own space. Of the bridesmaid elated with joy, holding the caught bouquet like a cheerleader's pompom. Of the crowd at the reception, familiar faces from long ago, one with his face ascrew, in the middle of saying "about damn time!". Of a father with his daughter and son, smiling happily, glad to celebrate the newfound happiness of someone he cares a great deal for, to whom he owes no bitterness now.
Of a wife and a husband on the dance floor alone, taking their first steps together, enjoying instead a passionate kiss as the crowd behind, out of focus, cheers, the couple grinning through their kiss, arms tight around each other, the first of many kisses like this during their married life.
Throughout this home there are memories everywhere. Photos, souvenirs, momentos. It's the same apartment Alicia bought when she divorced her husband, intending it to be a home she'd build with her new partner, a home to share with her children too, the home her daughter Grace chose, the home her son Zach slowly chose to accept during his college years as he grew older, more mature.
Both have since grown up. Zach graduated from Harvard, and, not knowing yet what path he wanted to pursue, went travelling, working on volunteering projects around the world. As much as both his parents missed him, they'd never been prouder of him. He was a good son: he wrote home often, called when he could afford to be on the phone for hours as his mother and sister asked him every question known to man. His long-time girlfriend, Jamie, went out and visited him once, and kept in touch; Alicia's glad they stayed together, waited all that time, stayed faithful. When Zach returned, suntanned and happy, he moved in with his girlfriend in Boston and got a job at a travel agent, writing columns for travel sections in newspapers on the side. Both his parents helped with his apartment's deposit and helped him move in. They and Grace travel down often to see him, or offer the plane fare so Zach and Jamie can visit them in Chicago.
Grace is now in between places. She graduated from the University of Chicago at the top of her class, and has a place for her post-graduate law degree at Georgetown, following the footsteps of her mother. She's just completed an internship at Lockhart Gardner, and one of her favourite photos is of her and Diane, both suited up for court, flush with victory as Alicia took the photo with enormous pride, Diane smiling proudly at her latest young protege. In love she has yet to be as lucky as her brother: she met a few guys, even had a brief relationship that ended at graduation. There is a guy she met at her interview for Georgetown that she kept in touch with and will be attending with her in the fall. The closer term gets, the more hopeful she becomes, and the sweeter the emails come in. Were she to show these messages from this boy - Bobby, from the depths of sunny California - to her mother, Alicia would be able to smile and tell her that Bobby is just as into her too.
On the fridge in the kitchen there are postcards from Zach's travels and from Alicia and Grace's pre-college tour. Dotted around the house are souvenirs from all over the world that Zach brought back, whilst Alicia and Grace's are centred more in the kitchen: African crystals scatter the light by the windows, needlework from South America hangs in Zach's bedroom, a tapas dish from Spain sits on the shelf in the kitchen, whilst the fruit bowl was from Italy.
In the living room there are two other photos worth noting. One is of a mother and her son, Kazue and little Josh, Will's godson. Both look well, happy. The photos taken before this one were of Kazue giving her son a big kiss on his cheek as he pulls a face, and then of Josh wiping his face as his mom laughs. The one in the Gardners' home is just of the two of them smiling, son in front, his mom's arms wrapped round him. He's got a trouble-maker's grin, and grass stains on his jersey: his school soccer team just won the regional championships for their age group. His dad is taking the picture, and yet his mom is completely at ease, unworried, smiling and relaxed. No regrets.
The other picture is just Kazue herself, on a beach somewhere exotic in the world. The sun is going down, and the pink light plays over her tan skin, her turquoise bikini showing through the man's shirt she wears to protect from sunburn. She looks beautiful approaching the end of her thirties, youth still being honest and not pretending to be younger. She smiles at the camera, happy, content.
Even those who know Kazue rarely guess who took the picture. Most think it's a family photo, maybe taken by her son, her husband if they don't know her at all. No one ever guesses that she was smiling at the man whose shirt she's wearing, the man who got the current president into the White House and turned down a place in the West Wing to return to Chicago. The relationship between Eli Gold and Kazue Natsu-Harris is no secret, but it's never been formally announced, so few actually know about it. Both have worked too long in PR to not make statements. Besides, what would they announce?
They both know what they want for now, both know what the other wants. Kazue wants to do well at her job, continuing to work at Peter Florrick's PR manager, wants to pick up her son from school on time, have fun with her girlfriends every now and then, enjoy tea and cake with her ex-husband's new wife whilst babysitting their kids, and at some point install new curtains in Josh's bedroom, they're looking a bit shabby and babyish now. She wants to spend time with her lover outside of her family home, washing every day stresses away over dinner, a drink or a movie, being naked and feeling sexy and not caring or worrying half as much about life for a bit in his company. Kazue doesn't kid herself that it won't last that way, that eventually things will either end or get serious, but for now, not being too serious about things is precisely where she wants to be.
Eli on the other hand has fulfilled his greatest ambition: he got a good man - a friend, even - back into the State Attorney's office, he went to the Capital and got another good man into the White House. He has a daughter fully grown from a former marriage, a daughter he knows he can take little credit for her upbringing, but nonetheless makes him considerably proud, despite her strange adventures in the world. And somehow he met his equal and fell in love with her. The fact that his equal is a younger, incredibly beautiful woman is just the icing on an amazing cake. She has her own life, doesn't need him, and yet wants him all the same.
Even Eli Gold, one of the most seemingly self-assured of men in his game, is chuffed and humbled about that.
As well he should be, because regardless of what he or she thinks or doesn't think, says or hasn't said, they are undeniably 'together' in far more senses of the word than they were before. She has her own clothes drawer at his apartment and a spare toothbrush in his bathroom. They have arguments, actual arguments over the things they don't like and don't have to just accept any more. They make-up, talk and compromise, make-up. They talk on the phone when she can't come round because of work or commitments for Josh, rather than sulk over a missed booty-call. And they have an anniversary, a few days after her birthday, which they do celebrate by re-enacting the circumstances, though not at his office any more. They even arm-in-arm as they walk down the street together, and it goes without saying that if either need a date for an event, they need not look elsewhere.
Every time Alicia sees either of them she shakes her head with amusement, as does her husband. She can't believe that they've lasted so long. She no longer bets when it will end, there's so little certainty now that it will. Perhaps when little Josh is not so little any more, or when Eli finally grows up and accepts that if he wants all of Kazue in his life, he can't just have her, but all of the people she loves too. It'll have to happen at some point. Every time she sees them together she marvels just how much he resembles a son of a bitch totally and utterly in love. She marvels at how happy Kazue is too, bickering and bantering over their conflicting views, bringing out the strength in both their personalities. And then Alicia smiles, not envying them. Life gave them their happy endings, but continues to write an epilogue far more interesting than 'they lived happily ever after'. Life is still complicated and on-going, and she wouldn't change that for anything.
It's dawn now in the Gardners' home. They sleep soundly, the wife curled into her husband's side who instinctively leans towards her. The sheets hide whether or not they're wearing any clothes, though judging by the clothing scattered over the floor, it would be fair to assume not.
Will Gardner slowly wakes, groans softly as he senses how early it is. He smiles at Alicia's peaceful face, slowly extracts himself, replaces himself with his pillow and watches for a moment as Alicia, still sound asleep, hugs the pillow, finding comfort in the smell. He finds his boxers, goes and pees, ignoring proper consciousness, and gets back into bed on his wife's other side, spooning her back, goes back to sleep with his nose buried in her hair as she leans back into him, away from the substitute pillow.
It's a Saturday. Neither are expecting work to call urgently. They can sleep a little longer, stay in bed, make love, and worry about nothing that exists outside of that bedroom. Eventually they'll get out of bed, make breakfast. Will can get a paper and groceries whilst Alicia works on her notes for Diane. Then later they can get ready to make dinner for their friends tonight, and catch up on life. It's going to be a big crowd tonight: Will and Alicia, Grace, Peter potentially with a date, Diane and her on-again, off-again lover Kurt, Kalinda, Cary at Kalinda's request (apparently they're 'friends', whatever that means, Kalinda continues to be 'private' as always), Kazue and Eli, Josh, Charlie, Liam and Julie. Kazue promised she'd come round early to help with the cooking, and Liam promised he'd deliver some extra chairs and a long table from the restaurant too.
But for now it's just them. At home. Their home, finally defined.
Ahhh, all done. Many thanks to all my readers and reviewers, and to all those who read and review this last installment. I hope this wraps things up, and that it's not horribly cliche or icky. I don't need to write more for this, I hope that everyone else's imagination can continue this little alternate fiction.
Hope this finds you all well :-)