Bright Copper Kettles

"Dad." Emily's tone alone was a clear indication of how this conversation was going to go. Judging by the sing-songy way she dragged his name out in a cajoling manner, clearly the signs were pointing to it not going well. For him.

"What do you want, then?" He sighed and she glared at him in outrage, crossing her arms and pouting at him.

"Why do you always assume I want something?" The only thing that would make her look more than a five-year-old would be if she had of stamped her foot, or even better, jumped up and landed on her bum in frustration the way she had when she was a toddler. He smiled at the memory; he used to call her the bomber because of it.

"Oh so you don't want anything then, yeah? Excellent." He sat back in his chair, swinging his legs onto his desk and folded his hands over his stomach in contentment.

"Dad!" She actually did stamp her foot at that, and he laughed out loud at her expression. "Stop it. This is important." At her strident tone, he sobered, pulling his legs down and facing her with a serious expression. She stared at him for a beat and he sighed impatiently, waving a hand.

"Well? Out with it then!"

"You're not going to agree anyway-"

"Oh don't go pulling that passive aggressive crap on me, Em. You should know by now it doesn't work. Just spit it out, yeah?" She sat down with a huff, twisting her hands in her lap before looking at him.

"Okay, well, every year the high school does a fundraiser in the winter. It's always for a good cause too – not like prom or a senior trip or any crap like that, the senior committee picks a charitable cause and all the donations and money made go to that. Last year it was a child abuse charity and the year before they chose a cancer research organization." He nodded along and she bit her lip and took a deep breath. "Anyway, this year I'm on the committee and my charity got selected – it's a," she paused and looked at him briefly before looking away, "a suicide prevention charity? I just thought – what with what you told me last year about Grandma, and then reading her diary this year..." she trailed off and he looked at her in amazement. Sometimes he had absolutely no idea what on Earth he and Zoe had done right to raise such a smart, empathetic, capable daughter. Oftentimes he felt that whatever it was, it must have been an accident or a mistake, because he surely hadn't done anything in his lifetime to deserve her.

"That sounds fantastic, Emily, really. Congratulations." His praise was sincere and she brightened a bit at his words.

"Really? Thanks, Dad! So the thing is, each year we hold a Winter Carnival at the school to raise money. Now, normally I just get Mom to go, because I know you'd hate that sort of thing. But this year it's my – our really – charity, and Mom can't make it because she has that big trial in Baltimore, and I was really really hoping you would go, Dad. Please?" She turned her gaze to him, her eyes filled with hope and he felt resignation settle over him as he sighed.

"Are you sure your Mum can't go?" He protested weakly and she shot a glare at him.

"Dad," she whinged and his shoulders slumped down in defeat. "It'll be really fun! There's games and rides, and food – you love food!"

"Normal food Em, not the sugar infested crap they parade as food at these bloody things!" He argued and she sighed harshly.

"No one can not like funnel cake, Dad."

"Funnel cake? Ooh, I love funnel cake!" Gillian strode into his office without knocking, a file in her hand and a smile on her face.

"You would, love." His gaze was drawn down to her legs, shown off admirably in her dark green dress. He found himself distracted for a moment and when his gaze finally landed on her face, she was smiling, the light in her eyes telling him she was finding this all very amusing.

"Nutella and powdered sugar is my favourite." She sat down in the chair next to Emily, crossing her legs and settling in, the folder still in her hand.

"Oh which one?" Emily asked? "I'm a classic powdered sugar girl myself."

He laughed out loud and both of them looked at him in curiosity. "How long have you known Gill, darling? She didn't mean one or the other – she meant both. And downright disgusting that sounds too, Gill. How on earth do you survive eating all that crap?"

Gillian blushes, and shot a guilty glance at Emily. "He's right – I do like both at once. And clearly I survive just fine, Cal. Why are we even discussing funnel cake, anyway?"

"OhmyGod!" Emily rushed the words out all at once, bouncing in her seat a little and Cal tried to open his mouth to head off her idea at the pass, but she was speaking too rapidly to even give him half a chance. "My school is having a Winter Carnival this year for charity, and Dad has to come, but you should go with him Gill! He'll hate every second of it, you know, but you'll make him have fun! He always has fun with you!"

Gillian laughed good naturedly before biting her lip in hesitation. "It sounds like lots of fun, Em, but maybe your Dad wanted to take a date or something."

Emily swung her gaze toward him, pinning him down with a glare. "I thought you didn't have time for dating? Who would you be dating? Shazza?" The tone with which Emily spoke Wallowski's name wasn't lost on him, and judging by the small grin Gillian smothered, it was by no means lost on her either.

"Emily." He said he name as a warning, and she glanced down sheepishly, guilt colouring her cheeks. "I'm not seeing anyone." He stressed this for her benefit, but also Gill's, who simply sat back with an arched brow that told her she didn't believe him a bit. "I'm not!"

"Okay, you're not." Gillian agreed pleasantly, in that way she had which more often than not meant she actually didn't agree at all.

"Hey." He glanced over at her and she shrugged, her face a complete canvas of blank serenity. "So are you going to come along then? I'm told there's games, and rides. Plus Em helped organize it. You'll help ease my suffering too."

"I don't know," Gillian hedged with a grin, her previous tension forgotten. He often envied her that ability, to just move on from things so quickly. "How much funnel cake is in it for me?"

"As much as you want, love, just don't make yourself sick with the crap, yeah?" He agreed readily, because he knew for a fact that he definitely wanted Gillian along. It was multi-purpose, really. They could use the time away from the office to reconnect – things hadn't been quite the way they used to be before he opened his mouth one night and screwed everything all to hell. Plus watching Gillian enjoy the experience would certainly make him suffer through it better.

"Will you take me on rides?" Gillian's smile was growing, and he waggled his brows at her suggestively.

"Oh, you have no idea, love."

"Oh God, Dad, ew." Emily exclaimed and he shot a surprised glance over at his daughter as Gillian laughed out loud, the sound sparkling and joyful. His breath caught, because she just hadn't laughed like that in months. Not around him, at any rate. "So you'll go, Gill?" Emily glanced at Gillian with the same pleading, hopeful expression she'd used to make him crumble earlier.

"Of course I'll go, Em." Gillian folded with a smile, and he sat up straighter, wondering how something that he'd resigned himself to earlier had morphed into something he was looking forward to.

"Excellent! You guys are the best, both of you. It means a lot to me." She smiled so much she was glowing with happiness as she jumped out of her chair and picked up her bag. "Okay, I have to go – Liam's picking me up, we have a committee meeting tonight. I'll be home before nine, okay Dad?" She rounded the desk and pressed a kiss to his cheek as he gaped at her.

"Oi, you didn't tell me Liam was on this committee too!"

"Dad." She admonished. "It's a school committee, god. Relax okay? I'll see you later. And the fair is this weekend, okay? Saturday from 5 until 9, so you both work out your date details, and I'll see you there, Gill." She grinned as she backed away, meeting his glare head on and unrepentantly. As she walked by the desk, she bent down and placed a soft kiss on Gillian's cheek too, adding a brief one armed hug. "Thanks for dragging him, Gill. Love you both! Bye!" And like a whirlwind, she was out the door, leaving him and Gillian staring after her in confused amusement.

What on Earth had he just agreed to?

"So have you thought about what you're going to wear?" Emily had let herself into his room with a nauseatingly obnoxious grin. He rubbed a hand over his face and glanced at the bedside clock, which informed him of the god awful early hour it was.

"It's Saturday, Emily." He grumbled as he burrowed his face deeper into the pillows on his bed. "Aren't your lot supposed to sleep until noon or something like that?"

"I have a ton of decorating to do today – I'm leaving in an hour. I brought you tea." She put a mug down on the bedside table before bouncing onto the bed with all of her might, shaking the mattress and generally ensuring there was no possible way he could go back to sleep. "Come, Dad. Get up. Get up. Come on."

"What the bloody hell do I need to get up for?" His voice was muffled by the blankets and she rose on her knees, bouncing and bouncing unrelentingly. "Good god, stop that. I'm up alright? I'm fucking up!" He sat up, dragging himself into a sitting position and pulling a hand over his face as he glanced at the steam rising from the mug of tea on the table. "Bloody hell."

"Language, Dad!" She admonished, before jumping off the bed and moving over to his closet and hauling the doors open.

"Oi! Don't you be nosing around in there!" He wrapped a hand around the mug and took a sip as his daughter shot a glare over her shoulder.

"I promise not to look in the totally obvious corner of the closet you hide my presents in. Now. What are you gonna wear?"

"Who cares? Clothes. Jesus, Em – you do realize I'm a man right?"

"I just think it would be nice if you looked nice, Dad. Shave. Put a nice sweater on, god – you know that Gill is gonna put some effort in to look nice, why is it so unreasonable for a guy to do the same thing? Which means no black or white wrinkled dress shirts like you usually throw on. Where's that sweater I got you last year?" She was pushing clothes aside as she spoke, finally crying out in triumph and yanking out a dark grey sweater and throwing it on the bed. "There. Wear nice jeans. And shave. I am so serious Dad."

"It's not a date, love, it's just a-" he hesitated for a moment, because really it wasn't like he and Gillian ever did these sorts of things. They were friends, yes – best friends. But they didn't normally go do things like this. He'd invite her round for supper, or they'd have a drink in his office. But they weren't the type of friends that went out for dinner or went to shows together, and he could count the amount of times he'd been to her house on one hand. They were more the sit in each other's offices and bare their souls over a glass of scotch type of friends.

"A what, Dad?" Emily was amused, he could tell and he rolled his eyes, taking another mouthful of hot tea instead. "Yeah. Exactly. It could be a date, if you'd let it be."

"Emily." He warned but she sat on the side of the bed, ignoring him as usual.

"Don't try to tell me you don't feel that way about Gill, Dad. I've been watching you two for years."

"It's not about that." He hedged, putting his cup down before dragging a hand over his face.

"No, I know. It's about you being an idiot." She was serious as she stared at him and he huffed out a small laugh.

"I'm an idiot?"

"You think you're not good enough for her, or you don't deserve her or maybe what you two have is just too big and scary for you to contemplate, but yeah, you're an idiot. Dad, you're obnoxious, overbearing, protective and generally awesome and nobody loves you like Gill does. And nobody ever will. And seriously, hooking up with random women and chicks that you meet while they're breaking into our house-"

"Oi!" He attempted to interrupt but she spoke over him, her volume rising.

"- is not gonna get you anywhere near to the love you could have if you weren't so damn scared. In fact, it's downright idiotic of you, because by doing all that stupid crap, you take Gill for granted. That she'll always be there. Everybody has a breaking point, Dad. And you might wanna think that Gillian will always, always be there, but how long is she supposed to push back when you're all but shoving her out of your life?"

"Emily," he started weakly, grimacing as he spoke. These weren't things she was supposed to just feel comfortable discussing with him, for Christ's sake. "You don't understand everything – and you don't know the full details of the-"

""No I don't." She interrupted. "But I know that you love her and she loves you and the instant things started looking like they could move into a more serious area, you started backpedalling like hell."

"Gill is," he sighed, sitting up further and looking at Emily seriously. "She's my best friend Emily, and she deserves the absolute best. She's not gonna get that as long as she's attached to me, love."

Emily looked at him for a beat, her eyes losing focus as he mouth pulled down slightly, and she stared at him silently. "Dad, when are you gonna realize that you don't get to choose for her? She is going to feel the way she feels, no matter what. And you doing all this stupid stuff to save her or whatever? You're only hurting her more." She sighed softly, glancing at his clock before looking back to him. "I have to go – Liam will be here soon, but listen to me, okay? I know you guys have that stupid line or whatever, and I know you have a hard time reading Gill but just think about how things have been lately. Is she happier Dad, because of all this? Are you?" She leaned forward and pressed a kiss to his cheek as he sat silently, and thought about her words. She stood and walked toward the door, throwing one last look over her shoulder before she left. "And Dad? Don't forget to shave."

He'd been awake for what seemed like forever, mostly because his lovely daughter woke him at the god damn crack of dawn just so she could fill his head with things he should never ever be thinking about, and leave him alone all bloody day to do what? Think about them.

"Damn girl." He muttered, pocketing his keys after pulling them out of his ignition. He was parked in Gillian's lot – and he was astoundingly almost a half-hour earlier than he said he'd be, but wandering his silent house with Emily's words echoing on repeat in his head had been driving him mad, so he'd decided it was far better to face Gillian's wrath for him being early than to continue on as he had been.

It was rather seasonably cold, and he felt the chill as he stepped through the light dusting of snow on the ground on his way to her door. It hadn't snowed seriously yet this year, but what little had fell certainly wasn't melting away like he'd prefer. He'd even had to haul out his old leather jacket before leaving, and frankly he was glad Emily had threatened him within an inch of his life to wear a damn sweater, because it was certainly appreciated now.

He rang the bell, hopping from foot to foot as he waited for Gill to answer the damn door. When the door was yanked open, the sight that greeted him was rather comical. Don't get him wrong, she looked bloody gorgeous – dark denim jeans and a red sweater, she looked casual, yet immaculate. Her hair though, was a complete mess – clearly she'd been in the middle of drying it when he'd rang the bell and she glared at him now when he smiled.

"You're early. "

"I know love, I'm sorry – but the house was too empty and I was bored." He walked in, ignoring her glare and shut the door behind him, toeing off his shoes and shrugging out of his jacket before tossing it on the back of the sofa. "You look lovely."

She snorted, rolling her eyes and walking back down her hall without responding. He followed her through to the loo, which was still slightly steamy and warm. "I'm barely dressed and my hair is half done and I don't even have make-up on, Cal." She glared at him as he took a seat on the closed lid of her toilet, and looked up at her with an unapologetic grin.

"You're perfectly dressed, and I can wait for the rest." He settled back, his elbows on the tank as she sighed and turned her hairdryer back on, bending over at the waist – and he didn't mind the view at all – and proceeding to dry her hair. She had that huge attachment on it, which Emily also always used – and she'd explained to him once it was for curly hair. The noise prevented any conversation, though she did glare and laugh when she caught him checking out her ass. He simply shrugged- because if she didn't want him to look she shouldn't be all bent over in front of him.

When she finally shut the dryer off five minutes later, she flipped her hair over her back and unplugged the unit before shoving it under her sink. "So you couldn't have had much to do all day, if you're bored enough to not only be on time for once in your life, but actually be early." She was putting some type of cream in her hair, brushing it through with her fingers, and he watched with fascination.

"Hey, I can be on time sometimes." He protested mildly. "And Emily woke me up at bloody seven in the morning today – she had to leave early to help decorate. I finish two more chapters of the book though, almost done now."

She glanced over at him with a surprised smile. "Really?"

"Yeah. Just gotta wrap it up, really." He nodded and she smiled wider, turning away to pull open a drawer and pull two large bags out – one pink and one blue. "Good lord woman, what have you got in there?"

"Skin care and make-up take a lot Cal." She pointed out primly and he swung his legs slightly, leaning against the counter as he watched her.

"You don't need a bit of it, Gill. You look gorgeous right now." She looked at him with a blush before she looked back in the mirror. She was smoothing cream onto her face and he continued to watch silently for a moment. When she got to the actual eye make-up, he spoke again. "You know I used to watch my Mum do this when I was a kid? I'd spend all my time with her, follow her around. I was a real Mum's boy. I remember her putting on her make-up, letting me brush her hair. It's funny that I remember that so well."

He remembered he'd sat, just where he sat now – and his legs couldn't reach the floor so he'd swing them back and forth. And his Mum would always smile over at him, and make faces in the mirror so he could see.

"It's nice, actually – usually the strongest childhood memories are negatively associated." She paused for a moment, a brief expression of sadness crossing her face. He was paying very close attention tonight, thanks to Emily, and he felt his heart tug slightly at her expression. "Anyway, I'm glad you have some nice memories to think of."

He nodded in agreement, still watching her face as she concentrated again on the task at hand. "Zoe never let me watch her do this. I'm a bit surprised you let me in here, actually. Thought you'd kick me out to cool my heels on the sofa."

"Oh, I had a choice?" She asked with amusement, her lips curling up. "Damn it."

"Lost your chance now, darling." She was almost finished now, and she moved to pick up a perfume bottle but his hand wrapped around her wrist gently. The entire bathroom smelled like her shampoo – a sweet scent that reminded him of the underlying smell that constantly hovered around her, and drove him mad. "Don't – I just like how you smell now, yeah?"

She arched a brow, and looked down at him with a half smile. "Have you sniffed me when I wasn't looking?"

He stood slowly, and the room seemed to shrink in size as he edged in just slightly closer. "Nah, just I can always smell your shampoo or whatever it is, under your perfume. I like it. Smells nice, all on its own."

She tilted her head slightly, smiling up at him. "It's honey. The scent I mean. I have shampoo and conditioner and body wash." His fingers were still wrapped around her wrist and he leaned in closer, his face by her neck as he inhaled deeply. Honey. Of course, now that he knew that, he could identify the smell easily. "Cal?" She said his name like a question, her voice slightly higher than normal. He pulled back, looking down at her face with a smile.

"I like it." She nodded in apparent agreement, but made no move to leave or pull back. "You're gonna need socks, right, Gill?" She nodded again before blinking in surprise and glancing down at her bare feet.

"Right." She breathed out, stepping back and looking at him in confusion. "Right, I'll get those and you can get ready."

He nodded, and brushed past her to exit the toilet and head down the hall, sitting and pulling his shoes back on. When he sat back, she was padding down the hall in the most ridiculous pair of socks he'd ever seen – all red and green and white striped. He chuckled and she glanced down at her feet before glaring at him. She pulled boots on, and zipped them over her jeans, bracing one hand against the wall as she did so. He stood, moving over to help her as she pulled the other boot on and zipped it up, before standing. He pulled his jacket on and she did the same, winding a green scarf around her neck and pushing red mittens in her pocket before pulling a red and green striped hat over her hair.

She turned around and eyed his lack of any winter wear with a sigh before she opened her closet door again, pulling out a navy scarf and shoving it at him. "Here. You can't go out with nothing, you'll freeze. I don't have any gloves though, I only wear mittens. And I'd offer you a hat but-"

"No." He cut her off, holding his hands up. "The scarf's enough – I think I've got some gloves in the car somewhere. But seriously, Foster, mittens? You can't do anything in the things! Also, you're not, you know, five."

"Hey – mittens make fierce snowballs. And I just pull them off if I need to do anything. They keep my hands really warm!" She laughed, and he just shook his head in disagreement. She walked over to him and wound the scarf around his neck, pulling the ends through and tightening it. "Ready?"

"As I'll ever be." He sighed dramatically and she eyed him suspiciously before grinning.

"Great!" She clapped. "I have been dying for funnel cake all day!"

They had a terrible time finding parking, and ended up having to walk over two blocks to the high school. "It's a great turnout, that'll make Emily happy." Gillian smiled as she walked and he nodded in agreement.

"Yeah well, the charity means a lot to her."

"She never did tell me which it was." She prodded and he shoved his hands in his pockets in an effort to keep them warm.

"Suicide prevention."

"Oh." Gillian's response was soft and she threaded her hand through the crook of his elbow, her bright red mitten wrapping around his arm and squeezing slightly. And it's ridiculous, he knew, but he felt so much from that one moment that he actually stopped walking and turned to look at her, his face was serious and his chest feeling like he was about to jump on the tracks when the tube was barrelling towards him. She stopped and looked at him, and her eyes were so blue, and her breath was frosting in the night air and it was so cold that he could feel the skin on his face tingling. She was smiling slightly, just the corner of her mouth twitched in that way she has, and he felt himself trying to say something, anything to explain why they're stopped in the middle of a suburban sidewalk and he was staring at her like he'd never seen her before. "What?" Her brow furrowed as she asked and he shook his head for a moment.

It was just that – with one word and a bright red mitten squeezing his bicep, she was letting him know that she understood almost bloody everything and she was there if he needed it, but not pushing if he didn't. "It's just..." he trailed off weakly and she was standing still, pressed against his side, waiting for him to finish his thought and he actually can't, not here, in the middle of the bloody street on their way to a high school carnival – it's not enough time.

If he were honest, he doesn't think trapping her beneath his hands for a whole day, weekend, week, month, year, lifetime would be long enough to explain to her just how much she meant to him. And Emily's words were there in his head, echoing about how everyone has a breaking point, even her and how the fuck hasn't she reached it yet? He shook his head in confusion, and leaned over and pressed a cold kiss to her even colder cheek, and he lingered there a second (or three) longer than he should. When he pulled back her hand tightened on his arm, and he smiled at her. "Thank you."

It was something he never said enough, even though he should, even though he thanks her every damn day, silently in his head. He thanked her for staying. He thanked her for being there. He thanked whatever the hell he did to inspire such loyalty and fealty and love in the first place, because he's quite frankly fucked if he knew exactly what it was.

She beamed at him, like hearing what should be two common place words was the most beautiful thing she's heard all year. And maybe it was, because she didn't have to ask this time. She just smiled so wide he thought that it must be hurting her cheeks, and he put his hand over her mitten and she laughed, because it looked ridiculous. "You know the best way to say thank you?" She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially and he swayed toward her in response. "Cake."

She rocked back, and tugged on his arm, and they started walking again, turning left at the corner and finally catching a glimpse of the transformed high school parking lot. There were booths with lights, rides lit up, and he could see a few food carts dotted here and there, red and white striped canvas roofs strung with fairy lights. Gillian jumped up and down in excitement next to him, and he glanced over at her face with a smile.

She was dragging him into the parking lot, letting go of his arm, but he caught her hand in his, not really caring that she still had those fucking ridiculous mittens on. Truth be told, they were kind of keeping his hand warm, and if he knew how to make it look completely normal and not at all odd, he'd hold both her hands at once.

She looked down in surprise but she doesn't let go, she just continued dragging him up to the first food cart she could find with a sign for funnel cake. She ordered and he paid before she could even take her mittens off to pull her money out of her pockets. She handed them to him when she took the paper plate covered in what he considered to be dubiously titled 'cake', with a light dusting of powdered sugar.

She walked over to the nearest empty bench, and pulled a piece off and popped it in her mouth, and her eyes closed as she chewed and moaned. He was smiling genuinely, and he pulled her mittens on over his hands, because they were warm, and he figured well – he could keep them warm for her. It had nothing to do with the fact that his hands were so cold they sort of ached, and he smiled wider when he realized they were fleece on the inside.

"I thought you got that nutella crap too?" She opened her eyes at his question and looked at him with a grin.

"I do, normally, but I knew I'd never convince you to try a bite if I got that on it too. So I went classic. Just this once, so you could try some." She glanced down and finally noticed his hands, and she burst into laughter, drawing looks from several people bustling by. "Oh my God, Cal, what are you doing?"

"Keeping them warm for you?" He waved experimentally, and she giggled again, and pressed a hand to her mouth. "What? You don't want cold mittens, now do you?" She grinned and shook her head side to side.

"No, absolutely not. How very gentlemanly of you."

"I thought so." He slouched into the bench, crossing his ankles and placing his hands on his stomach. "You know what this means though? Can't have a bite. Sorry. Mitten-warming waits for no man, and I would be remiss if I neglected my duties."

Her eye narrowed into slits as she observed him, pulling another piece of cake off of the plate with a mischievous grin. "Well that's okay. I can feed you – wouldn't want you falling down on the job, now would I?" She extended the piece toward him and his breath froze as he opened his mouth to take it automatically. His lips brushed her fingertips as he chewed and she pulled her hand back, licking the powdered sugar remaining there, and his heart beat wildly as he chewed mindlessly, because really, that was one step removed from her licking his lips, essentially. "Well?" She smiled and glanced over at him, catching him watching her. "Do you like it?"

As far as he was concerned, he could have been chewing sawdust for all the notice he took of the flavour, so he honestly had no idea how to respond to her question. "Not sure," he hedged and she laughed, pulling another piece off and popping it in her mouth before doing the same for him again. This time, he closed his eyes against the vision of her licking her fingertips delicately, so he wouldn't be distracted. It was... sweet. A bit like deep fried cake, but more yeasty, and very, very sweet.

"Well?" Her demand caused him to open his eyes and he shrugged.

"Sorry, love, it's very... sweet." She laughed at his response, pulling off another piece and eating it.

"S'ok, more for me then." She spoke around her food and he laughed genuinely, watching her with amusement. She finished her food quickly, licking her fingers thoroughly and wiping them on the miniscule napkin provided with the food. Once she stood, she brushed the loose powdered sugar off of her jacket and then held out her hands. "Mittens."

"Are you sure? I'm not sure if they're warm enough..." She laughed, and arched a brow until he gave in, pulling them off with a sigh.

"I thought mittens were childish?" She teased him as she pulled them on with a smile. "Oh they are nice and warm, thank you, Cal!" She clapped her hands together and it made a muffled sound as she waited for him to stand up. "Okay what should we do first? Games? Rides? More food?" Her eyes shone with excitement and he chuckled at the child-like joy on her face.

"How about rides?" Her face had lit up most when she'd offered that suggestion and she grinned in response, nodding. "We'll need to get tickets first though."

He spotted a ticket booth and ambled over, buying twenty tickets before taking her hand again as they strolled through the carnival. "Okay, let's see what they have first, and then we'll decide what order to ride in." Gillian's tone was slightly bossy and he found himself grinning in response.

"Yes, ma'am."

She shoved at his shoulder with her free hand and he laughed, pulling her closer. "It was just a suggestion!"

"Oh, was it? I couldn't tell from the dictator-like tone." She glared at him and he pulled her along, weaving their way through stalls of goods for sale, and eying the games aisle curiously before turning them toward the corner of the parking lot dedicated to rides. There weren't many, a ferris wheel and a carousel, a swing ride, some bumper cars and a tilt-a-whirl.

"Tilt-a-whirl!" Gillian exclaimed, before dragging him over to the long queue for the ride and he sighed in defeat.

"Can't we just do the ferris wheel? That looks nicer."

She laughed and turned to him with a grin. "What are you scared of the tilt-a-whirl, Cal? This was my favourite ride when I was a kid. We'll go on the ferris wheel later, Grandpa."

"Oi, are you insinuating that I'm old?" He stepped closer to her and she tilted her chin up in a challenge.

"Yup." She responded cheekily, popping the 'p' and not backing down a bit. He found himself wanting to pull her even closer, his hands at her waist and no space between them. He restrained himself though, only huffing and turning to face the queue.

"We'll see about that." He muttered, shoving his hands into his coat pockets, which did little to warm them. Suddenly a mitten was waved in front of his face and he glanced over at Gill as the queue moved forward. "What are you doing?"

"You're cold. We can share." She handed him the left mitten and kept the right one on herself. He smiled, but pulled the mitten on and then glanced down.

"What about our other hands?" He pointed out, shuffling forward when the queue did again. She just smiled, and reached out for his right hand with her left; lacing her fingers with his and her hand was warm against his chilled skin. They were on the steps up to the ride at this point, and Gillian was all but bouncing in excitement as she watched the ride go round.

Finally it was their turn, and he reluctantly released her hand to give the tickets to the dubious youth operating the contraption who was eying Gillian up and down. He complained about this as Gillian dragged him over to a particular cart. "Oh stop complaining!" She laughed. "Carnies are always questionable, Cal – it's a rule. This one – I was watching earlier, it spins the best!"

"Did you see how he was looking at you?" He spluttered, climbing in with her and slouching down as she pulled the supposed safety bar down over their laps.

"Jealous?" She teased and he rolled his eyes. "Oh, maybe I'll get a free ride!" He simply looked at her, and she blushed, whacking him in the arm. "Oh god, not like that. Ew!" She glanced over at the operator who was still eying her lasciviously and she shuddered, scootching closer to him on the seat and nudging him until she was flush against him. He laughed and wrapped his arm around her waist, gripping the handle on the other side of her.

"That better, love?" She nodded vigorously, burying her face into his shoulder while he laughed at her. The operator was walking around now, checking that the bars were all locked in place, and Call stared at him in a challenging manner when he checked theirs. The operator dropped his eyes and moved on quickly, and shortly after that there was a hiss as the locking mechanism released and they began to swing in lazy arcs.

With a jolt the ride started, and Cal watched the scene outside go by in a blur as Gillian laughed in delight by his ear. They would slide from one side to the other, until he braced his legs, but Gillian glared at him.

"Stop it! Getting squashed is half the fun!" Her mouth was so close to his ear that he could feel her lips brush against his skin and his hands tightened on the safety bar in response even as they spun again and the centrifugal force pushed him backwards and she clung on to his waist instead of the bar in front of them. He couldn't say he minded, at all. She was shaking with laughter and her face was aglow, and he was laughing too. He couldn't concentrate on the blurry view spinning by outside, so instead, he watched her face as they spun around and around, and the absolute beauty of the joy written all over it.

All too soon the ride slid to a halt though, and with a click the cart locked once more and the bars lifted up. Gillian was still laughing, and he helped her up as they walked over to the exit gate.

When they walked down the rickety stairs there, arms still around each other, they were greeted by a bright flash and the laughter of his daughter. "That was possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen."

Emily stepped forward and kissed his cheek, while Liam stood behind her calmly. "Nice to see you shaved, Dad."

"Oi, only because you reminded me a plethora of times before you left the house. " He nodded to Liam as Emily stepped back, taking her boyfriend's hand and tucking her camera back into her coat pocket.

"Liam this is Gillian Foster, Gill – this is Liam, my boyfriend." Emily introduced Gillian, notably not adding any qualifier to Gillian's name, which meant obviously that she'd discussed her with Liam. Gillian smiled and shook his hand with her mittened one.

"It's nice to meet you Dr. Foster." Liam smiled politely and nodded to Cal. "Dr. Lightman."

"The place looks amazing, you two. You guys did a great job." Gillian was smiling and Emily blushed, looking down.

"Thanks, Gill. It was a lot of work, but everyone is having a lot of fun, and we're collecting a lot of money." Emily grinned proudly, before looking between them. "And I just got some rather adorable photos of you two on that ride. Have you guys been here long?"

"About an hour? Foster, of course, had to eat that alleged cake as soon as we got here, and-"

"I made him try it!" Gillian exclaimed next to him and Emily's brows shot up in surprise.

"Wow, and? What'd you think Dad?"

"Utter crap." He spoke frankly and Emily laughed out loud, while Gillian pouted.

"You just said it was too sweet!"

"Yes, love, which translates into utter crap. Sorry, darling." He glanced down at her with a grin and her pout melted into a smile.

"Well, we should get going – I have to check on the games stalls and the grab something to eat, I am starving. But we'll see you guys later on, okay?" She gave them both a hug at the same time, wrapping her arms around their necks and squeezing before bouncing backwards. "Love you! Bye!" With a small wave, she grabbed Liam's hand, who also waved and then they walked away, hand-in-hand while he glared after them. Gillian squeezed her arms around his ribs and he looked down at her.

"He seems like a very nice boy, Cal."


"He was polite – he called both of us by title and he doesn't seem intimidated by you at all, which is a good thing." She pointed out and he rolled his eyes.

"I don't know about that."

"You like him." Gillian's grin was smug and he shook his head, walking them toward the main throughway again. "Admit it!"

"I'll do no such thing. Though I will allow that he's certainly an improvement over Dick." He caught her smug grin widen out of the corner of his eye and he sighed. "Where to now, love?"

"Oh shopping, definitely!"

After they'd wandered the craft stalls, and ridden the tilt-a-whirl one more time, at Gillian's insistence, Gillian suggested stopping for hot chocolate, something he didn't object to as he wrapped his hands around a too-hot paper cup of cider and sat next to Gillian on a bench. She pulled her mitten off and wrapped her own hands around her hot chocolate with extra whipped cream, and sighed contentedly. Her cheeks were rosy from the walking and the cold and she grinned at him in excitement.

"So games next, or the ferris wheel?"

"What about the bumper cars?" He took a sip of his hot cider and she shook her head stiffly, tension filling her shoulders. He frowned, wrapping an arm around her and hauling her against his side. "Alright, no bumper cars then love, not a problem. How about the games first?" She nodded, draining her hot chocolate before handing him his mitten and pulling hers on.

"You know we could have bought you a pair of gloves or your own mittens at that stand over there." She pointed out wryly and he laced his free hand through hers and shrugged.

"But I like yours, Gill. Something about 'em. They fit better." She stopped and looked at him quietly, her expression was suddenly serious.

"You sure about that?"

She was vaguely brushing up against their issues of late, and he knew that she was thinking of this metaphorically. Not surprising, because he'd meant it that way, and for some reason, even when he wasn't saying words that remotely even sounded like what he meant to say, she always got the meaning anyway. He stepped in closer to her, so close that the back of his hand brushed the tops of her thighs.

"Absolutely. Yours is always better, Gill." He was as serious as she was, and he could feel her breath, whispering across his cheek as he looked at her. She smelled like chocolate and honey, and the mixture was delicious.

"Sometimes I wonder." Her voice was small and his hand tightened around hers.

"Sometimes I'm confused. Or I get the wrong end of the stick, you know that, Gill." He couldn't even pretend this was about mittens anymore, and she nodded reluctantly.


"When what?" He was confused and she began walking again, but turned them toward the ferris wheel instead of the games like he'd suggested. He didn't object though, simply trailed along after her and waited for her response.

"When did you get the wrong end of the stick?" She clarified after a few moments and he frowned, trying to think of an exact moment in time.

"I'm not sure. After the-" She turned her head, shushing him gently as they walked up the empty ramp toward the ferris wheel operator. He gave the man the required tickets, and he shrugged, escorting them to a seat.

"Not many on now, so just let me know when you're ready to get off." The operator smiled, a much older gentleman who seemed a lot less questionable than the normal blokes you found running these rides. He closed the safety bar, and meandered back over to his booth. Once they were in the air, he turned to Gillian, determined to finish his thoughts.

"After Burns, Gill." A brief expression of sadness crossed her face and a small part of him hated that Burns could still evoke that emotion in her. It was gone almost as soon as it appeared though and she looked confused.

"I don't understand Cal."

He sighed, sitting back and rocking the cart slightly and Gillian grabbed his leg in surprise. "After – after he had to leave, it just seemed like everything was... you felt like you were getting too close, and I felt like all that would do was hurt you." His eyes met hers and she frowned, moving closer to him. He could see the fine sheen in her eyes and he kicked himself, because he'd known even as Emily had spoken that morning, that she'd been right. He'd hurt her even more in all his attempts to not hurt her.

"That's ridiculous Cal. You were my best friend. I don't even understand how we could be too close." Her voice was pained and he felt dizzy, like he wasn't getting enough oxygen all of a sudden. There was a constricting pain around his chest as he noticed her use of past tense.

"I was? Does that mean I'm not now?" He took a deep breath, sucking in painfully cold air as he held a hand up. "No I know what you're gonna say, Gill – that I've not been acting like it much lately. And you're right. But I'm – I'm an idiot Gillian." He felt colder than he had all night, and he swallowed heavily, not sure if he could get this all out while looking at her face, weary and hesitant and lined with pain he'd foolishly caused. He stared straight ahead, watching the landscape lazily circle, big to small and back again. "When – I mean before Burns I thought that – I mean I suppose since you and Alec – I always thought that we would- that you and I would –" he hesitated and waved a hand. "But then it was like you pulled back, and I wasn't upset. We'd had a rough few cases, and I thought you were hesitating – after Helen and the whole Jimmy Doyle thing. And I thought – you know, that was fine, you needed time and it was the least I could do, right? And granted, I wasn't – I mean there was Clara and that whole... thing. But I thought I was just... biding time. And waiting for you, Gill." He did look over at her now, and she was staring at him mutely, her eyes a bright blue and tears streaking slowly down her face.

He'd never seen her look more gorgeous. "Cal," it was a watery whisper, and he shook his head.

"Me first, yeah? Then you- because I don't know if I can say all this in fits and starts Gill. Then Burns came along. And – and," he rubbed his hand over his forehead, worrying his worry lines as he tried to find the words to explain. He was shit at explaining these types of things. It was half the reason he was divorced, and unable to maintain any sort of relevant relationship. Outside of Gillian, that was. "You were so happy. And I thought – I thought you know, he was an upstanding guy, a cop, someone who would deserve you Gill, and I thought that seeing you happy would have to be enough. And then after – after I fucked it all up for you, I had to wonder if a large part of me didn't do that one on purpose. I mean, I thought he deserved you Gill, but I knew that I needed you more than he did. And I was – I was appalled. I put your happiness in jeopardy because of my own selfish needs. And I know, it's no shocker that I'm a selfish bastard, but I never thought I was – not when it came to you. So I thought if I pushed, and pushed, and pushed – maybe you'd, I don't know find some bloke who wouldn't screw you over for his own needs, and you'd be happy again. And I realize now that it was just an incredibly stupid idea, but those are my forte, as you well know." He exhaled harshly after he finished and he looked at her hesitantly.

She was staring at him opened mouthed, her breathing erratic and she finally shook herself out of this stupor and she hit him on the shoulder. Hard. "Ow!"

"You deserve that and more, Cal Lightman. You are the stupidest, most idiotic, most infuriating man on the face of this planet, do you know that?" She hit him once more, and continued to glare at him. "I didn't pull away that night in my office because of you or any of your various multitude of psychological complexes, you moron. I was scared. Some psycho had just kidnapped you and tried to drown you four times, you could have died Cal, and it was just one time in a long line of times. But when you were being held at gunpoint or disarming bombs or even in Afghanistan, I felt I had some thread of control because I knew you – and you could talk your way out of damn near anything. But Martin was a psychopath, Cal, and he had you and there was no way you could talk yourself out of that one. And if Ben hadn't of gotten there in time, or – or-" She was breathing unevenly, and he wrapped his hands around her shoulders, hauling her against his chest and holding her tightly. When she spoke again, her voice was muffled against his chest. "And then the whole Doyle mess happened, and I thought – I mean, I know you said that whatever it was you'd forgive me, but I don't think you did. I don't think you did, Cal. I lied to you – and you thought that I was the one person who had never lied to you. And then...Dave." She swallowed, he could hear the sound and she looked up, her eyes red and her face damp with tears. "And then lately, it's like I don't even know you anymore, Cal."

"I'm sorry, Gill. I'm so, so sorry." His hands were on her face, and he could feel the dampness of her tears seep into his skin. He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek and she sniffled.

"What about Wallowski?" The question was so soft he almost didn't hear it and he leaned down, close to her face so she could hear him.

"She's meaningless Gill. She's a resource, and that's it. And I'm sorry you had to lie for me, about her. But the only reason I helped her at all is because her loyalty reminded me of yours. It wasn't for her – it was for you, for us. Gill, she's – she's just a cop."

"But you'd like it to be more-"

"No." He cut her off forcefully, his hand slid down to her chin and pulled her face up until her gaze met his, so she could see that everything he was about to say to her was true. "Even if I was even a little bit attracted to her Gillian, if there's a half a percentage of a chance for us to be together, ten thousand Wallowski's wouldn't be worth it. Nobody is worth more to me than you, darling."

"Cal," her voice was soft again, and she put a hand against his chest, pushing him back slightly so she could sit up more. "I'm not doing this like some movie of the week cliché on top of a carnival ride that we've been on far too long, okay?" She smiled, but it quivered and he felt his heart pumping as though he'd just run a marathon. He nodded in agreement and waved to the operator the next time they swung around. They circled once more and once at the top, she laced her hand through his again, and he felt like he could breathe a little easier.

She didn't let go. Not when they clambered off the ride, not when they walked home, not even when he offered to get her another funnel cake to go. She simply shook her head and they walked quietly back to his car. Halfway there, snow started falling around them gently, big fat flakes that clung to her hat and her hair and coat and she stopped, and started to laugh.

"What?" He was confused, and she let go of his hand finally, and turned to face him with a huge grin.

"We're being stalked by clichés, Cal. But whatever, I don't even care." He opened his mouth to ask her about what – but she stepped right up to him and took his face in her hands. And she had one small hand, slightly chilled against his cheek, and the other still wore one woollen red mitten and he could feel it scratch at his face gently. And she leaned up, and pressed her lips against his. They were soft, and cold, and he could taste salt from her tears earlier, but his hands moved to her hips automatically, dragging her closer as her ran his tongue against her lower lip lightly, and she opened her mouth with a moan. He wasted no time, slipping his tongue inside and she tasted like chocolate and sugar and something indefinable, but he felt like he could taste that whatever it was, forever. Her tongue wrapped around his and her arm slipped over his shoulders and she was pulling him closer, just as much as he was crushing her to him. Her chest was against his chest and her hips were lined up against his, and he could feel every inch of her and it was fucking amazing, but then he'd always know it would be. That they would be.

When she pulled away, she was out of breath and so was he, and he could see snowflakes clinging to her eyelashes. She smiled beautifully, and he grinned back, because he couldn't seem to function in any other manner, other than copying her movements.

"Don't ever do that again." Her voice was firm and he nodded dumbly. "You can't make me stop loving you, Cal. It's not humanly possible." His heart clenched at her words, and he was fairly certain his entire soul wrapped around it.

"I promise – no more of that. I'll just spend the rest of my life making sure you never regret it." She smiled again, and nodded.

"I need you to say it."

"I love you, Gillian. More than you could possibly understand. And I need you. And good god do I want you."

The snow was still falling but he couldn't feel the cold anymore, only this strange burning within his chest that was spreading to his limbs and extremities, his fingers and his toes.

"You've got me. Always have had me, you giant idiot." She laughed, and pressed another kiss to his mouth, swift and cold. "Now take me home before we both turn into snowmen."

"Snow persons, darling, wouldn't do not to be politically correct." She kissed him once more, laughing against his lips and he thought that it might be his favourite kiss so far. She was smiling, and he could kiss that little corner of her lip that he adored. He was smiling when she pulled back, probably looking like a ridiculous ponce, but he didn't even care.

"Let's go home."