Here it is – the last chapter! :) It's a bit longer than I intended, but once I started it, I didn't want to split it up. Thank you to all who've been following along and reviewing! You're encouragement has been very appreciated and helpful for those times when I've been running out of steam. Any last reviews would be greatly appreciated!
To those who are asking/wondering, I don't have another story in mind just yet – I'll have to wait for inspiration to strike again. :) Disclaimer's the same as always. Characters might be more OOC this chapter, but here it is anyways.
"You come here to hit on me again?" Cal asked Eva, as she stood just inside the doorway.
"Hey, if you didn't like it then why'd you tell me to 'climb on board'?" He grinned at her feisty reply as she crossed the room and sat down in front of his desk.
He slouched back in his seat and studied her for a moment before asking, "So what can I do for ya, luv?"
"I was wondering if…" she paused, uncertainty causing her to look away.
"Well, go on, spit it out." Cal wasn't known for being a patient man.
"I was wondering if you could offer Ria her job back." She looked at him hopefully.
"She's the one who quit. I didn't fire her." Cal got a bit defensive, but then again, he'd been on edge all week, if truth be told.
"I know. But she's miserable. She doesn't say it, but I can tell."
His demeanor softened a bit at hearing this. He didn't like the idea of Torres sitting at home unhappy. "Well, luv, she's been through a lot lately."
"Yea, but she's not miserable because of the accident or being shot. She's miserable because she's not working here anymore. With you." She looked at him and realized she wasn't really explaining very well all that she wanted to convey. So she started over. "On the day of the accident, when she was driving me back home after you called her in, do you know what she told me about working here?" She looked at him and could tell that she'd piqued his curiosity. "She said that you were chewing her out, telling her she wasn't dedicated to the job, and threatening to fire her like you do every other day."
She watched as an expression of guilt openly passed over his face, then one of defensiveness. "Then why isn't she happy she quit?"
"Just let me finish explaining." She eyed him, waiting to see if he'd interrupt her, and when he didn't she continued. "My sister is the strongest person I know. After she got away from our father, she made a vow to herself to never let another person treat her like a doormat ever again. But when she told me how you were treating her at work, I told her she was doing just that. Know what she did then?" She waited for the slight shake of his head no. "She defended you to me. Said that you were a good guy, but that you hide it. That you don't even admit it to yourself. She looks up to you. And she respects you. Neither of us have had many respectable men in our lives, and I think that's why you're so important to her and she puts up with the bullshit you put her through. She doesn't want to disappoint you because you're the first guy in her life that's been worth the effort to get to know, to try to live up to your expectations, even to emulate." She waited a moment to let the words sink in. "She also cares a lot about this job and the people that work here, including you. If she didn't – I know my sister – she would have quit a long time ago." She waited and hoped he'd see the reason in her words, hoped that she'd made herself clear enough about how important the people and the work at The Lightman Group was to her sister.
Cal didn't let the surprise he felt at her words show on his face. Instead, he asked her the question that had been bugging him since that day in the hospital. "Then why'd she quit now?" Not that he couldn't understand it after all she'd been through, but she had acted so un-Torres-like that it befuddled him, left him clueless as to what she was really thinking.
"You'll have to ask her that." was the only reply he got. Cal figured as much, but it didn't make doing it, or making up his mind to do it, any easier.
Giving into the inevitable, he replied "No promises, luv. But I'll talk to her."
Cal waited until the end of office hours to head over to Ria's apartment. He didn't call to tell her he was coming, not wanting to give her the opportunity to escape. She opened the door to his incessant knocking and reluctantly moved aside so he could come in. He didn't say anything, just walked right into the living room, leaving her to shut the door and follow him on crutches. She took a seat in one of the chairs, since standing took too much energy these days, and nodded towards the couch, silently welcoming him to sit down. She waited for him to do so, watched as he leaned back in his typical slouch, before speaking.
"Let me guess, Eva came to see you?" He nodded, but didn't say anything. "You can ignore whatever she told you. I'm perfectly fine. You guys can stop coming to check up on me. I know you've got a lot of work to do at the office."
"Do me a favor." Cal rolled his eyes at her, not letting her get away with bullshitting him.
She didn't say anything in response to the overused expression, just waited for him to tell her why he came over. For a while there was just an awkward silence, made all the more uncomfortable for her by the way he was sizing her up, staring her down, reading every expression that flitted across her face. He hadn't planned on what he would say to her, but then, he rarely ever planned what to say. Rather, he usually just spoke his mind, regardless of whose feelings might get stepped on. Lord knows, Gillian had called him out on it enough. But he knew she was in a bit of a vulnerable place by what he'd learned from Gillian and Eva, even if she'd never admit it herself. So he really wasn't sure how to start. It was a conundrum he definitely wasn't used to.
He doubted it was really the right first question to ask, but since it'd been bugging him constantly, he went with it anyways. "Why'd you quit?"
She looked away from his prying eyes. He could tell she was trying hard to keep her face neutral, but his expert eyes saw the embarrassment and sadness anyways. "Just be straight with me, Torres. Okay?" She didn't answer him. He sat up and leaned forward, closing most of the distance between them to emphasize his next words. "I'll make you a deal. You be straight with me, and I'll be straight with you. I'll answer your questions honestly, if you'll answer mine. Facial expressions included – we don't hide them. Deal?"
He saw immediately that he had piqued her interest. And well, who wouldn't be interested? It wasn't every day that Cal Lightman agreed to be totally open and honest with someone. She nodded and he reiterated his question. "Why'd you quit?"
She took a breath and then answered. "I was afraid. A guy hit me with his truck and then came into my hospital room and fired a gun at me." She paused a moment. "And I didn't even recognize him. He was the father of a boy I helped send to prison and I didn't even recognize him."
He could definitely read the fear displayed on her face, but there was also a tinge of disappointment rooted in self-reprimand.
"You were nervous." Cal stated.
"At the hospital?" She gave him a funny look. "I'd call it fear more than nerves."
"No, I'm talking about the trial. When I saw you right before the trial you were nervous. It was your first time testifying as an expert witness. When you're nervous, you notice less and it's harder to read people." There was no accusation in his voice. But it did sound like he was speaking from personal experience. She debated on asking him about it, but decided not to. Maybe she would later. She mulled over what he'd said for a moment, recognizing that he was giving her permission to not blame herself – the same permission that she'd been denying herself since the day she'd been shot. He saw her accept it internally and then he continued with another question.
"What else? What aren't you saying? Fear wasn't the only thing that made you quit. Neither were the self-doubts. I saw it in your eyes when you answered the question."
She shook her head. "My turn first. Why didn't you come to see me at the hospital?" A brief look of hurt passed over her face, along with embarrassment at asking the question.
He thought it over. He could say that he was there. That he initially showed up, but left later to find the guy who hit her. But there was more to it than that, and he had promised her honesty.
He saw immediately that his admission shocked her, but it also confused her. She gave him a questioning look, knowing that he would understand it. So he forged on, even though he wasn't a fan of admitting to his errors, even just perceived ones. "I shouldn't have made you come back in and I shouldn't have made you work late the night before. If I had just left you alone to eat with your sister, then maybe you'd never have ended up in the accident."
"Yeah, or maybe the guy would have hunted me down at the restaurant and shot both me and my sister." She said, trying to make a point. "Lightman, you had no reason to feel guilty. Even if it had turned out to just be some freak accident. It's my – it was – my job to work hard and come into the office whenever you needed me."
"So why'd you quit?" He asked the question again, expecting the full answer this time.
She stared at her hands for a while, an internal war waging openly on her face. Reluctantly, she started speaking. "I think I'm too emotionally involved for the job." She looked at his face to see if he knew what she meant, and realizing she'd have to be a lot more explicit. Taking a deep breath, she dove in. "I care too much about what you think of me. I care too much about your opinion. Had it been any other boss I'd have told him to shove it a long time ago, considering the hoops you make Eli and I jump through. But you're not like the majority of guys I know, and definitely not like the majority of bosses I've known. You don't always treat the people around you the best, but you have a lot more honor than most people in this world today. You work every day against injustices and you constantly fight to find the truth. And in my opinion, that's what makes a person good, noble even. And it's what makes a person worth knowing." She took a breath and glanced at him, then quickly away. Baring her soul was no easy thing to do. "I guess I've been looking for you to fulfill a role in my life – mentor, father figure, someone to have my back – whatever you want to call it – and at the end of the day, I think I'm expecting too much from you – from this job even – and expecting you to fulfill a role you're not comfortable with. So when you didn't come to the hospital…"
"You thought I didn't care." He finished the sentence for her. She nodded and glanced at his face, glancing away quickly again as embarrassment, shame, and hurt played out on her own. He finally understood where she was coming from, why she quit.
"Well, luv, that's absolute bollocks."
He studied her reaction to his statement, watching the doubt and the hope collide over her features. "Look, we made a deal to be straight with each other and it's your turn to ask me a question. So ask me what I think about you and I'll give you 100% honesty. If that's what you want."
She considered the question. This was Lightman and she knew him too well to expect any false assurances or lies from him. She wasn't sure she was ready for so much honesty, but she took the plunge anyways. "What do you think of me?"
He waited a long minute before answering, taking in the nervous twisting of her hands, and the worry and the fear playing out on her face.
"When you first came to work for me, you were greener than green. I often found myself annoyed at having to explain the science all over again to someone new. And I was even more annoyed that you didn't have to work at it like I did. I've spent more than 20 years of my life studying it and you just waltzed in and saw what I saw without ever spending the time or money that I had to, to learn it. But as I got to know you, I learned a few things about you. First thing I learned was that when you want something, you work at it. You could have slid by on your natural abilities, but you've worked hard to learn what I can teach you. Second thing I figured out is that you may not have spent money and time learning it like I did, but it didn't exactly come free to you, did it, luv? You paid for it in blood and bashings that went on for years. Seems like a far steeper price to me than money and time."
He watched her as she hung on his every word up until he mentioned the abuse she went through, at which point she looked away in shame. He hated that she owned the shame that belonged to her father, not to her.
"You're not weak." He said it and the way she snapped her gaze back to his proved to him that that's exactly what she had been thinking, just as he suspected. "You've been through a lot in your life that makes me sick just to think about and you've come out on the other side of it all strong, independent, and well-balanced. That's more than most people can say who've gone through even half of what you've been through." She couldn't believe she was hearing what she was hearing, let alone who she was hearing it from. He watched her fight back the tears forming in her eyes before he continued.
"I'm sorry I hurt you by not coming to the hospital to see you. It's not because I don't care. I care too much, since we're being honest. Somewhere along the way I started thinking of you less as a protégé and more as… I don't even know what to call it. A friend, perhaps. But more than that. I care about you kinda like I care about Emily and Foster. I want to protect you. And thinking about any guy who's put you through the ringer, like your father or the guy who shot you – well, luv, that just makes me really very angry. I don't like anyone messing with the people I care about. And I don't like anyone messing with your head or your emotions either. I know I did that by not coming to the hospital, but I – well, luv, I just… it wasn't intentional, alright?"
She nodded, but was in disbelief at all that he had said. She had watched his face the whole time, knew he was telling the truth, but still it was hard for her to believe. He really was taking on that father figure role that she craved so much. She realized this and leaned over to hug him, it being the only way she knew how to express all that she was feeling in that moment. He hugged her, and when he pulled back he saw tears streaming down her face.
"Now now, luv. Don't be such a crybaby." He told her in a teasing tone. She laughed and sat back in her chair, wiping her face.
"Well, I think that's enough soul-baring for one day." She stated.
"Definitely." He agreed. He hadn't been that open with anyone for a very, very long time. Not even with Gillian. "So."
"So you'd best be at work first thing tomorrow morning. You've run out of sick days."
She rolled her eyes upon learning he hadn't actually put through her resignation papers. It was so very like him – nothing happened without his say so, even her quitting. Perhaps that's why he didn't even protest it in the first place. "I'll be there," she replied with a smile.
He stood up to leave, but didn't head for the door just yet. "Oh and Torres, don't make any plans for Friday. Apparently Loker wants to take you to that new posh restaurant downtown."
"Sfoglia? Seriously? I've been wanting to go there since they opened two months ago." He could hear the excitement in her voice, and considered telling her it's too bad she'd have to work late all week, but he decided to not be so cruel, just this one time. He'd be back to his antics tomorrow, though.
He headed to the door and she followed him. He was just about to open the door, when she blurted it out: "Hey Lightman, are you in love with Foster?"
He pulled his expression into a neutral face and turned around to look at her. "Deal's over. And it was my turn for a question anyways." He turned back around and walked out, leaving her standing there. It's not like she really expected him to answer anyways.