Disclaimer: Not mine, no infringement intended.
A/N: So this is what happens when I spend a night listening to Split Screen Sadness and theorizing just how painful it would be if Gillian ever left. Which, for the record, I don't think she would ever actually do. But sometimes I wish she would. And then I unwish that wish because WHY? It would suck and be painful. For all of us.
One hand on the trigger
It's colder than he expected, honestly.
The wind is biting, and shears through the wool of his over coat, and wasn't the south supposed to be... southern? Warm and humid and balmy and all that crap?
The house is like he pictured it though. Too big, but solid and warm. Which is ironic, he knows, because he's currently freezing his arse off on the weathered floorboards of the front porch, but still –
It's the warmest he's been in over a year.
Irony isn't something he can cope with anymore.
In the end it was cumulative.
She'd sat in the lobby for forty-five minutes straight, simply staring at the sign on the wall.
The Lightman Group.
Stared and stared until the image was burned on the back of her retina – she could practically hear the sizzle and smell the acrid odour of burnt flesh.
The Lightman Group.
She'd never fought him about the title. After all, it was his science, his creation, his FACS program they were basing this whole company off of. At the time, it'd barely been a blip on her radar. Who cared about the name? It didn't mean anything.
Not then, anyway.
It seemed to mean something larger now, as she stared at the silver lettering with the echo of her lies to Internal Affairs still fresh in her ears.
It seemed to stretch and tower and when did it grow to such monstrous proportions?
He shifted, uneasily, from side to side. The corner of the post he was hunched against was digging into his back.
He probably should have called.
She probably would have just hung up anyway.
He'd never thought – back then, he'd been such an arrogant prick. He'd walked into the office that morning, still uneasy about the previous days case but willing to press forward in spite of it. He'd felt Heidi and Anna's eyes on him the moment he walked in the door. Accusation and disgust and he'd looked at them for one moment and he'd known.
She wasn't in her office.
She wouldn't be here at all.
He'd never fooled himself about which side of their mutually drawn line the staff was on. Hell, he could hardly blame them. He'd always thought he'd been on that side too.
Her office was empty.
He kept it that way. Even after the dissolution papers came from her lawyer.
He'd gotten so drunk that night. If he were honest with himself those papers had made him hurt more, cut deeper, bleed more profusely than even his divorce papers had.
Even after he was forced by Torres to hire a CFO (You suck at finances, Lightman. And she's not coming back. And we'd all like to get paid.) – he gave the CFO an empty office down the hall. Foster's office stayed Foster's office, her name still on the door, her scent still lingering in the still air.
No one went in there but him.
No one else was allowed to.
She knew it was cowardly.
She could admit it to herself, which was really the only person she had to admit it to.
She packed in the hush of a silent, empty office building. She'd watched him leave with Wallowski hours before.
She couldn't even pinpoint when her decision had been made. Sitting in the lobby, staring up at his name? Listening to him call another woman 'loyal to a fault'? She'd known of course – it'd been about more than Wallowski. He'd saved the cop because he saw her in her. He saw him in her.
But what she really wanted was him to turn around and finally see her behind him, where she'd always been.
Loyal to a fault.
She was. Always had been.
And it was high time it was a fault she corrected.
He didn't even know where she'd gone.
Figured it was best because he probably didn't deserve to find out. Actually, knew he didn't deserve to find out.
When they'd started this company, she'd been alight. Glowing with excitement like something surreal and incandescent. He'd watched her, and felt a little awed. Like he shouldn't even have the privilege of looking upon her. Like Diogenes, he'd held his lantern aloft and searched and searched, and the face he'd finally found had been hers.
She'd burnt with the light of truth. And when they'd sat down to outline their plan; she'd added only three rules. They trusted each other implicitly. They never lied – not to each other. And they never pried because secrets were different from outright lies.
They'd broken every single one.
And he'd always been the first to do it.
But she always got to be the last.
She'd packed and been on a plane quicker than she even thought was possible.
She'd told the lawyer to buy him out. Just because she couldn't keep the company's finances in the black, didn't mean she wasn't fabulous at investing her own money. She'd paid out her share, and opened Google maps on her phone and zoomed out and jabbed her finger randomly on a map of America.
That was where she'd go.
And forget that she had a bitter, bitter history filled with men who could never quite live up to her expectations of them.
She swore to herself to just stop expecting the best. Brace for the worst. It would be better that way.
That lie sustained her for exactly three months.
It'd only taken him a month to hit a point so low he'd hacked into his own daughter's e-mail account.
Gillian was pissed as all hell at him, he knew. But he also knew she loved Emily. And Emily had been painfully silent on the topic of his becoming partner-less. She knew.
Gillian'd stayed in contact with his daughter. And reading those e-mails he felt like fifteen different kinds of bastard. For being such a lowly human being that he would invade his daughter's privacy. For being such a terrible friend to Foster in the first place. For being not blamed or defiled nearly as much as he should be in those back and forth e-mails.
Foster never once blamed him. Never once spoke ill of him to his daughter, and his daughter accepted that rule, avoiding all topics of conversation that involved him in any way.
Which was Emily's way of demonstrating that she knew just where the blame lay.
He'd read every single e-mail, which Emily had saved in a folder in her account, just waiting for him.
He read her new address.
Like, what in the bloody hell was even there anyway?
He ignored the glaringly obvious answer of not him.
When Foster gave Emily her cell phone number, he'd stored it in his own phone without even a twinge of guilt.
He'd check Emily's e-mail periodically after that, taking the fact that Em didn't change her password as unspoken permission.
He'd also sit in Gillian's empty office, in her chair, his face turned until his cheek was pressed to the rough fabric while he imagined he could still smell her perfume. He'd brush his fingers across the screen of his phone until he'd come to her contact information. He'd just put her under Gill this time. That made everything different somehow, he knew. She was under the G's and not the F's and it made a difference. His finger would hover over her mobile number and he would hesitate.
He would wait.
Because his number hadn't changed, and surely – surely with time and distance and whatever, she would remember.
Remember that she was his best friend. His only friend really, and she would remember that despite the fact that he was a giant ponce, he actually did love her. And would be worried. She would remember and she would call – even if it was just to say 'I'm alive. I'm okay. I'm alright.'
Everytime, his finger would hover and he just couldn't do it.
Because she actually did know all that. And really, he'd been the one to forget it first.
As per their rules, she was entitled to forget it last.
So instead, he'd back out, and check his weather app instead – because at least he could know something about her life.
It was raining that day.
He wondered if her hair was curly because of it.
And he could smile, for a full half a minute.
Three months to the day she left, her phone rings.
His name comes up.
She kicks herself for adding it to her contacts in a moment of weakness preceded by two bottles too many of wine.
She doesn't drink scotch anymore. And she tries not to think about why.
She hesitates in answering. Let's it ring once, twice and hits accept before the third time. Because curiosity killed the cat and she clearly learned nothing from its precedent.
'Hello?' Her voice is trembling and she really, really, really hopes he can't hear that. Luckily she's the voice expert, not him.
She hangs up, quickly. Her hands are shaking and she wants to throw up.
She thought she was ready. And she's not. She's not ready because she is the voice expert and even in one word she can hear the pain and fatigue and blurry softness around the consonants in her last name that tells her he's been drinking.
She thought she could brace for the worst and survive.
But sometimes the worst is just fucking unimaginable.
He'd been blind drunk the first time he called.
He'd just been drinking and drinking and drinking in a way he knew she'd scold him over, tsk and take the tumbler from his hands and remind him that not everything was his fault.
Except this time, he knew she wouldn't be coming into the hushed room to save him from himself.
This time, she wouldn't say it wasn't his entire fault.
Because this time it really, really was.
So his vision had been somewhat blurry and he'd dialled her number (one touch and a call connects, in respect to drunk diallers the world over, modern technology should really make it a bit more difficult) and he'd heard her soft voice say hello and he'd felt – he'd felt – he'd felt so much.
She sounded sad.
She sounded tired.
She sounded like a hollow imitation of herself.
And he'd heard all that – he wasn't the voice expert but he was her voice expert. He'd spent close to eight years listening to her every word. Not always accounting for them, but he'd listened all the same. More so to her than any other voice in his life.
Her name had been pulled from his throat – involuntary and wounded – dragged out and put on display.
The silence was almost painful in response. Damn cell phones – almost made you miss the click and dial tone, because at least then you knew right away, there was none of this hovering in silent space, knowing and yet hoping that you were wrong and it was just a bad connection or – or –or-
He was the one who'd given voice to those words – what seemed like forever ago. '-and you and I are through.'
He just – he'd been mad as hell when he said it, righteously so. And like most righteous bastards, he'd been blindly angry and arguing from the wrong side, but he'd been the first one to give voice to the idea.
And she'd been the last one. Didn't even say it, because false threats weren't Gillian Foster's style.
She never bluffed. She just did.
He just – when he'd said it, even as the words flew out of his mouth, flung from that treacherous sling called his tongue – he never ever thought about it seriously.
It was a warning.
And he was all bark and no bite.
He never thought she'd take him up on it.
He thought she'd fight him tooth and nail until her dying day. But in the midst of battle, it always feels like it's going to last forever. It never, ever does.
And he won.
Only it didn't feel anything like winning at all.
She'd thought about changing her number.
She went on dates and tried to make friends, but she had this talent that he'd taught her and it is really really hard to make friends when you can see all the stupid social lies they tell each other and you.
It is really hard to date men and know every lie they tell.
She used to be able to turn it off. But she was hurt, and hurt, and hurt by that ability so now in an effort to prepare herself, she is constantly watching.
It's a certain poetic irony, that in order to avoid him in her life, she has turned herself into a crude model of him.
He keeps calling. Once a month. Like clockwork.
And she keeps answering. Never being able to stand more than a few words before his misery bled into her and she rejected it as viscerally as she could.
She'd thought this would make it all hurt less.
That, like the company, she could take her half and he could take his half and it would be halved. Split down the middle – half as much sadness. Half as much pain.
Instead it's like watching them side-by-side on a screen in her mind. She feels hers. And his.
How did the math screw up so badly that what she ended up with was doubled?
And so, he is huddled on her front porch, his coat wrapped around him as he watches the trees in her front yard shake bare, twisted fingers at the sky. The deadened leaves that cling to them protest in weak, whispered voices, dry and almost dead, and some of them simply let go.
He wishes he could be like those leaves.
He wishes he could let go, but he can't.
He's had more than a few bad years in his lifetime, but none previous compare to this past one. Without her.
He can't let go – not without trying just one last time. Not without looking in her face and finally saying what he'd been trying to say every month for the past nine months.
I'm sorry and I love you and please, please forgive me.
His hands are in his pockets, and the sun is weak overhead when he hears the gate creak and her intake of breath.
He's not sure why – surely she knew that eventually he would follow her lead. Her face is thinner, and her eyes look tired. Her hair is longer, reaching toward who she was when she first met him and he smiles to see that.
He stands awkwardly, because he's been sitting there for a good few hours, remembering and not planning what he was going to say, which in retrospect was stupid of him, wasn't it?