Thank you to everyone who has stuck with this story; it started out as a one-shot and I really never expected to continue it and write twelve parts, but there you go. I hope this final part meets your approval.
She tosses the file on his desk with a cursory "here", then turns to leave. He hasn't given her much reason lately to stay.
"It's over, then?"
She stops at his words, her hands twitching at her sides. Eventually she turns, and meets his eyes with a cool gaze.
She sighs. "Never mind, Cal. Goodnight."
"So who's next, then? That tall bloke from accounting? Roy?"
"Ray," she corrects, the edge to her voice much harsher than usual.
"Ray," he echoes, and her hands find her hips as she glares at him.
"It's none of your business."
Her glare intensifies, and her heart is hammering in her chest and she prays to God he hasn't noticed the quickening of her breath. Or, if he has, has just attributed it to irritation.
"If I want to tell you something, I will. If I don't, I don't. That's how it goes, remember?"
"How could I forget?"
She sighs, her hands falling from her hips to by her side, then reaching forward to touch the back of the chair lightly. "If you really wanted an answer to that question, it's yes. It's over."
Her question takes him by surprise, and when his eyes meet hers they seem wider than usual, more alert. There's sadness on her face, and anger and confusion and fear and a hundred other things that he can't read all at once, and the intensity of her expression and voice jolts him.
"I don't know," he says slowly. "Do I?"
She sighs again, the expression going round in circles echoing in her brain, and wonders if they'll ever find a way out of this mess.
"It's over," he repeats, his eyes firmly fixed on hers, and she doesn't back down or look away. Instead she takes a seat opposite him, crosses her legs, folds her hands in her lap and returns his scrutinising gaze.
"Yes. So what are you going to do about it?" Her eyes are blazing, and he almost wants to smile, because he hasn't seen that kind of passion from her in a long time.
"What do you want me to do about it?"
"That's a deflection," she informs him like he didn't already know, but he doesn't reply. "I'm not leaving until I get an answer, Cal," she tells him, her words surprising her as she hears them hit the air.
"And if I don't say anything?"
"Then we'll be here for a long time."
"Gillian," he says softly. "We've already been here a long time."
She swallows. "Yes, we have."
"So are you going to answer me?"
"Remind me of the question." He's just playing with her and she knows it, and while part of her wants to hit him for it, another part of her wants to smile.
"What are you going to do about it?" she indulges him, and the silence between them lasts so long she's half convinced he'll forget the question again.
"I don't know," he says eventually, which makes her smile, and he raises his eyebrows to question her response, and suddenly she's laughing. His confusion is evident on his face, and clearly he thinks she's laughing at him. What she'd like to say, if she knew how to form the words through her laughter, is that she doesn't know either, so it's comfort she's drawing from his words now, and relief that she's not the only one who doesn't know where they are or what they're doing.
More than that, though, what he's just shown her is something he hasn't shown her in a long time. Honesty.
"What's so funny?" he asks, but she just shakes her head.
"Me," he echoes softly.
"You... and me... so... us," he clarifies, and she shivers at the new meaning that word seems to have taken on.
"I guess so."
The silences stretches between them again, her laughter having subsided, and she feels as though she's locked in a game of stare like a child: first to blink is the loser.
"So I don't know... anything, really," he says at last. "And you don't, either."
"So it would seem."
"And you're not leaving this room until you get some sort of answer?"
She uncrosses her legs, crosses them the other way, tilts her head to the side as she surveys him. "Correct."
"Could be here a while," he comments.
"As you said," she reminds him, and his gaze softens.
"So until I figure out something clever to say, we're just going to sit here?"
She smiles slightly. "It doesn't have to be clever."
"So what does it have to be?"
"You could wait a lifetime for that."
Her lips thin a little, which doesn't escape his notice. "I've already waited too long, Cal. Too long," she says, and the weight of her words strikes him.
He nods, thinks, deliberates, then opens his mouth. "Ask me again."
She rolls her eyes, but obliges. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Whatever you want me to," he says, and it's an answer and it's not an answer at the same time, and they've gone from going in circles to a loopy, zig zag line that could take them somewhere, anywhere, far away from where they are now.
She wants to tell him that, but she doesn't. She wants to tell him to give a proper answer. She also wants to thank him for his answer, because she loves it just as much as she hates it.
"And if I don't know what I want you to do about it?"
A smile ghosts across his lips. "We'll stay in this room until you figure it out."
"Could be a while."
He nods. "I've got time."
You haven't, she thinks, but doesn't say anything.
I haven't, he thinks, but doesn't amend his words.
The silence settles again, but it's different now. There isn't such a sharp edge to it, and it feels more like a river of silence flowing between them, rather than an impenetrable wall. She doesn't seem so far away, somehow, whereas moments before, even on the other side of the desk, it felt like a million miles were between them. It's different, and although he can't explain it, he also feels he doesn't have to. Her quiet gaze says enough.
"So you're not going anywhere?" He has to say the words out loud, just to make sure.
His eyes never leave hers. "That's all I need to know."
As they lapse back into silence, she wonders how long they'll sit here. She wonders when the words will come, when their mistakes will become irrelevant, when the barest truth that lies between them will be enough.
What she does know, now, is that he isn't going anywhere either. All they have to do is figure out what that means, for both of them.