A/N: I just wanted to briefly say, thatI really do love all the reviews you guys leave me. I appreciate them all so much. I happen to hate this site's review reply function with the fire of a thousand suns, though - so even though I don't reply, just know that every single one makes me smile. I love you guys. 3


All the white horses have gone ahead

He has ideas, she knows – certain pictures squeaked out in his mind in indelible ink about who she is. She wonders sometimes, if he stares at it so much, there in his head, looks and looks and darkens a line here, and retraces the shape of her there so much that when he opens his eyes and sees her standing before him, all he can see is the acid green ghost image of what he thinks she looks like.

(He knows, he's always seen – it's the same picture. But her perception is skewed and she is like Picasso, marring self-portraits and never seeing the whole picture beyond those perceptions.)

She doesn't quite have the heart to point out the flaws in his picture.

And it isn't because she doesn't want to hurt him, and it isn't because she doesn't know any better – she does. She really, absolutely does know better. It's just that-

She likes his picture.

In his image of her, she is whole. Unmarred and unflawed. Pure. Naive. Innocent. She is so many things in his mind, that she has never ever achieved on this earth. But she likes it.

She likes that he thinks she is some whole, perfect person, to be handled with care lest he break her in his clumsy haste.

(She is to be handled with care, he knows this – but for reasons that she never even considers. Because she should always be handled with care. Why would he ever handle her without care? It wasn't possible. Hadn't been from those first moments in her office.

He cared.

She was impossible to handle any other way.)

What he doesn't see - never has, never has, she's never wanted him to - is that there were cracks that spread like spider webs through fine glass, all over and under and within her since long before he met her.

(She's like bulletproof glass, he thinks. Shot after shot and she cracks, but never shatters.)

He tells the truth to strangers, and whispers secrets to people who don't know him. Everyone else – with her, with his family, with his co-workers and friends – watches him hold his proverbial cards to his chest, clutched there so that only he can see. No cheating.

But she's been standing behind him this whole time – catching every glimpse she can when he forgets, and relaxes for just a fraction of a second.

And he can't see her there, because she is invisible, see-through, and clear as glass all but for those myriads of tiny fractures that barely hold together.

(He can always feel her breath, on the back of his neck. It comforts and excites him simultaneously. Soft puffs of air that whisper across his skin, and he lets himself uncoil a little more with each exhale.)

He doesn't want to be the first one to break her – because in his mind, in that image, she is the one who has come through so much, undamaged.

Undamaged.

It's an odd word, and she doesn't like it. It allows for the risk of damage in the first place. And how he can be so blind as to think her undamaged, she has no idea. Maybe he can't see past his own.

(She never seems to realize that he is flawed and she is flawed, but they fit together, and always have. Not that they are two halves of a whole or any romantic crap like that, but that most of his edges can fit into her crevices and the ones that don't fit seamlessly just overlap.)

The truth is, she tries to fit into that image he has of her. Tries to contort her body and soul, twist herself into shapes that she no longer fits, because when she does – for just that moment he looks at her, and she is what he sees, she can be that woman, and she likes it. She likes the way his eyes rest on her, when he thinks she isn't looking, and his gaze is ridiculously close to adoration, and it's a nice feeling.

(It isn't adoration, but it is ridiculously close to love. Or maybe it's ridiculously beyond love, somehow.)

It's a feeling she basked in, every time she watched her husband lie. It's a feeling she wrapped around herself for comfort every time she saw the red under his nose. It's a feeling she used to protect herself when she realized she hadn't loved her husband in a long time. She was just sitting in her house, playing pretend, because it was the bed she made, and if her childhood had taught her anything it was that she should lie in it.

So she did.

(And he lay with her. And lied to her, because she needed him to until she could stop lying to herself.)

Cal will never get the honour or the black mark of being the first to break her, because that title has been claimed years and years and years ago, by her father – a man who laughed and played with her, built forts out of sheets and tables, threw snowballs at her in the yard on too-cold days with too-bright sun, held her hand as she learned to ride a two wheeler and then held her hand again as he stumbled, unable to climb the stairs because the day was long and there was too many hours and too much time to drink his pain away in. She used to tell him she wanted to marry him. I'll always always always be with you Daddy. I'm never gonna leave you. And he would get sad, sadder than she'd ever seen him, but he would be smiling even as his face was lined with melancholy.

Things change, Gilly bean. So fast.

And he'd been right. They did change – she grew up, and she grew less innocent, and she realized that her Daddy wasn't just sick a lot. And she'd watched as he spiralled down, and she'd heard those first sounds of cracks forming and spreading.

He won't even get the dubious claim to second (her mother promising her that everything would get better, promises and promises and so many unkept promises) or third (her high school boyfriend who swore that he loved her, but she found him sleeping with her supposed best friend) or fourth (a college professor who'd told her he was separated until she'd run into him and his very pregnant wife at the local coffee shop) or fifth (a nameless, faceless woman who'd given her the greatest gift she'd ever received, only to take it back again in the most painful way) or sixth (her husband who chose mind-numbing oblivion to control his own pain, and never even looked to see hers).

She wondered what he would say, if she told him that maybe – maybe he'd be lucky number seven.

(He'd proffer that he wasn't lucky number seven, he'd be zero. A bet with risks, but he would start the count all over again, and no other number would follow.)

But then she would have to show him – all these cracks, all these lines and marks that he is blind to, and she doesn't want him to see her. Not really.

She is some glass half empty, but god dammit at least we have some water to drink and we're not thirsty version of that woman he sees in his head. She is sure that woman's cup runneth over.

So she waits him out, because slowly bit by bit, line by line, crack by crack, he is going to eventually take off his blinders and look. Just like truth by truth and lie by lie and bluff by bluff she is slowly peeling his cards away, to see what he has in his hands. He doesn't know it; but she's remarkably sure it looks like her heart.

(And she doesn't know it, but he's been tracing and retracing that image in his mind, wondering when she's going to realize he always has seen those cracks, and has only been waiting for her to love her as much as he does.)

But what she does know (they both know) is that they can wait together.