A/N: This is my third TGW fic, and each one has been for a different pairing. I feel so free and open and just a little fickle.:) A big part of my heart belongs to Willicia, so I hope I did them justice. Please let me know.
Spoilers for "Heart" and "Nine Hours." Thanks to shipperatheartrealistbynature for the appropriately "quick and dirty" beta.
When Alicia Florrick was trying to conceive her first child, she read a lot of parenting magazines (while other wannabe mothers spent their time researching pregnancy and the steps that promoted it). Her mother-in-law found one once, tucked in the magazine rack between the Times and Newsweeks, and worried aloud that she was "getting ahead of herself" – but Alicia knew that pregnancy was going to be the easy part.
It was being a good mother that was the real challenge.
Alicia always prepared herself for challenges, and that's why she read so voraciously.
And to her credit, Zach had grown into a good-hearted, loyal teenager (although the jury was still out on his taste in girls). And she didn't know how much of that she owed to those all magazines she'd read, but it also couldn't have hurt.
In one of them, there had been a blurb about current research on marriage and family, that said parents "staying together for the sake of the kids" led to children who were better-adjusted than their divorced-family counterparts – but only as long as the unhappily married parents could keep the majority of conflict out of the shared home.
At the time she'd read it, she was briefly grateful for her loving marriage, and that her and Peter's conflict was mostly relegated to spirited debates at the dinner table and, for particularly serious matters, reasonable and logical discussions that nearly always ended in acceptable compromise.
Then, she forgot about that article.
She only remembered it again as she watched the video of her husband fucking a hooker. And, after that… well, a lot of things were hard to forget.
Funny, the things that stuck with you. And also funny, how life-altering revelations can come in quiet, unassuming fashion. Like when she was sitting at her kitchen nook, drinking grapefruit juice and eating cereal, and she realized she didn't love her husband anymore.
Marriages could survive adultery, when both partners were committed to doing so – she truly believed it. Maybe it was the fact that most cheated spouses never had to watch and listen to the gory details of their partners' transgressions. Maybe it was because most cheated spouses never became publicly defined by those transgressions. Whatever it was, in her case, she looked across the table at Peter and realized that although she didn't have it in her to hate him anymore – cared for him very much, really – still found him physically attractive and had many wonderful memories of their life together to challenge the horrible ones…
She was, without question, not in love with him.
It should have hit her like a ton of bricks, but instead she sat calmly, spooning her Kashi Go Lean into her mouth and reminding Grace to grab her umbrella and rain boots because the forecast predicted showers later in the afternoon, while Peter read the newspaper on the other side of the table. It was probably because, even though she hadn't come to this particular conclusion until that very day, she'd already grieved for the loss of her marriage long ago.
Peter glanced up over the Lifestyle section; offered her a smile.
She returned it, because she wasn't ready not to.
Her preoccupation caused her to be a fraction slower in their morning team meetings; the partners seemed to barely notice, distracted as they were with the looming conflict and the changes to the firm that were brewing under the surface. But when Kalinda later stopped by her office to drop off the fruits of the day's investigative efforts, she'd confronted her.
"What's going on with you?"
Alicia knew better than to try to deflect. "I'm not in love with Peter." While the words felt strange rolling off her tongue, they felt no less true.
"Of course you're not." Kalinda said it in that matter-of-fact way of hers, that should make Alicia feel annoyed or hurt at her brusqueness but instead just made her grateful that someone in her life didn't mince words. "What are you going to do?"
If she were that far along, this issue wouldn't be impairing her thought process the way it was. "I don't know."
Kalinda's head tilted near-imperceptibly in the direction of Will's office. "It's okay to do things for yourself, sometimes."
As smart as Kalinda was, there were a few things she couldn't know.
Like how the things you want become a fraction of their original importance, once you become a parent.
At first, just the small things, like a few extra hours of sleep, or the luxury of last-minute travel, or spending your work bonus on that big-screen TV or the beautiful Chanel sweater you saw while browsing online.
And later, things like one true loves and grand romance. All those things that seemed so damned exciting and perfect and everything one could want, as a younger person – they meant nothing if your children were hurting or unhappy.
And now, she realized that she had lost all sense of the importance of her own happiness.
Maybe it wasn't very important at all.
She hadn't spent her years pining for Will. Certainly he'd occupied the occasional wistful (not to mention lustful) thought throughout her adult years, but she'd been devoted to Peter, and invested in her marriage, and hell, she just didn't have much damn spare time to devote to the could-have-beens. It wasn't until Will had stolen that guilty, illicit kiss from her, in his office during a particularly brutal case, that all that longing and desire and need came pouring to the surface.
It still wasn't quite apparent to her, whether that longing was for him, or just for the desire to escape the mess her life had become. But whatever it was – she had come back. After she'd narrowly escaped with her fidelity still intact, she'd come back to find him, not even knowing what she was looking for. If he'd still been in his office when she'd returned, what would have happened?
She's not sure if she had she been saved by his absence, or cheated.
The possibilities kept her awake at night, but if she were honest with herself, it probably wouldn't have changed anything. They were both logical and intelligent people, and that small indiscretion aside, they most likely would have ended up where they did end up – gazing at each other with regretful eyes and agreeing that no matter how good it felt, they were a bad idea.
And that wasn't even a question. She'd asked Will for a plan during his brief moment of boldness, knowing full-well he wouldn't have one – or not an acceptable one, anyway.
Because what would it be? Would she divorce Peter and date Will, ignoring the sure scandal that would follow? Would she marry him, despite the havoc it would create for both of their work? Would he be Zach and Grace's step-dad? Her kids were old enough to have strong opinions and had proven themselves hugely stubborn, time and time again. Their capacity for forgiveness had been exhausted by Peter's scandal. They'd hate Will, no matter how good and kind and fair to them he would be. They'd blame him for the ruin of their family alongside Alicia, and resent her until, maybe, they were adults themselves and could truly comprehend how complicated and heartbreaking life's choices could be.
She'd have to live, perhaps for a long time, without her children's respect – and she'd be miserable.
Alicia Florrick always prepared herself for challenges, but there were no books or magazines to help her with that one. She couldn't imagine what it would be like, and she didn't particularly want to.
Will stopped by her office a few days after the revelation he couldn't have possibly known about, his knock tentative and his voice apologetic, like he was concerned with interrupting even though she was sure it was obvious she was just pushing around paper on her desk. Work was busy, but her mind was busier.
"Hey. How's it going?"
She blinked at him, realizing she had no idea of how to answer. "I'm… not sure."
Surprise was evident in his eyes, and she felt badly – he was likely coming in to ask her something about work, and now she was that person who made it awkward.
But then he surprised her. "Did you still want to talk?"
"Oh," she breathed, because she'd thought he had (purposely, perhaps) forgotten about her request on one vulnerable night during a life-or-death case. "I…" She trailed off, words and explanations eluding her.
He spoke too quickly to fill the silence, floundering in kind. "I know it's been kinda crazy, but I just thought… maybe…" Realizing eloquence wasn't materializing, he gave up and finished, "If you want a moment, I can make one."
"Yes. I want one," she said quickly, not wanting him to feel embarrassed for asking, or like it was another of their many missteps; his face almost immediately smoothed in relief. "But…" And those lines in his forehead returned. "I just need… just a little more time?" Her voice begged for understanding. No, she wasn't trying to stall forever. No, she wasn't trying to string him along. All she wanted was, when they met face-to-face and really talked about this, to be sure about what she wanted to say.
He owed her nothing – less than nothing. She owed him. But in that way he always had of making her feel like the person she was and the things she needed were all perfectly okay, he gave her his patient smile and reassuring nod. "Sure. You'll let me know when you're ready?"
"Absolutely." She said it with fierce gratefulness, and promised herself that, when that moment came, she would tell him exactly what she needed. And even if it wasn't what either of them hoped for, it would be the truth he deserved.
She had always wanted to assume that the love was still there between her and Peter; that trust was the issue to overcome. Now, being proven wrong, it changed both everything and nothing.
If she stayed, she'd be resigning herself to a life in a loveless marriage – 'til death do us part, and all that. If she left, she'd be hurting her children.
There was really no question there, or a choice to make. This was her cross to bear, and Peter's; not Zach or Grace's, and she wouldn't allow her children to take any more responsibility for their parents' problems, or their inability to solve them.
But that meant…
Never again. Never again, would she lie in the arms of a man, loving and trusting and both physically and emotionally sated. She'd never feel safe with someone else, look into his eyes and feel warm and grounded and connected.
And all the "what if's" she'd entertained when it came to Will Gardner – they'd become worse than useless. They'd become a painful reminder of possibilities that were forever lost.
The night that realization occurred to her, alone in the master bedroom from which she banished her husband upon his homecoming, she stared unblinking at the ceiling for a good long while.
And then, for the first time since watching her life fall apart to the tune of the audio of a hotel-room tryst more than a year ago, she cried.
She and Kalinda had a drink at lunch the next day. This time, Kalinda didn't bring it up first, but probably only because she knew that Alicia herself would get there eventually. And she did. Even if it was with sweaty palms.
"Do you think, if you're about to make a huge sacrifice for a very long time, it makes it any better to do one, brief, horribly selfish thing?"
Kalinda's expression didn't change as she took a sip of her dirty martini. "I think you've made enough sacrifices to earn a lifetime of selfish things."
Alicia twirled her straw through her fingers, not committed to drinking. "I wouldn't go that far."
She knew Kalinda's permission didn't make a lick of difference in the big picture, but for now she held it close to her, like grasping at straws or excuses.
"I'm the wrong person to talk you out of it, and you know that," Kalinda told her.
Alicia offered her a rueful half-smile. "Yes, but you're the only person I talk to, so you get the job by default."
The look on her colleague's face might have been pleasure at the implication. "Be a bad girl, Alicia." She lowered her voice in conspiracy. "I won't tell."
She wondered what it meant, that her only friend was also the devil on her shoulder.
The Alicia she used to know, never would have even considered it. At no point in her life or her career in law, had she ever really believed in an eye for an eye, or good excuses for bad behavior.
But when she went home in the evening, Peter had a glass of wine poured for her and that hopeful look in his eye, and it took every ounce of willpower she owned not to scream in his face, that it shouldn't be her who felt guilty for disappointing him, when she dashed that hope by going to bed by herself.
It's not as if she couldn't be physical with him now. She had, twice now since the scandal. But even then, as he did all the right things and her body responded in all the right ways, she came to the disheartening epiphany that orgasms were not the most enjoyable part of sex – and that while Peter was still the best lover she'd ever had, she felt as cold and empty afterward as an Antarctic night.
She couldn't enjoy it, then, or now. Not as long as the thing she had missed out on played in her mind on maddening loop, and as long as she remembered that at this point, Peter didn't deserve her, or her body, or her fidelity.
Her fist met her pillow in frustration.
Something had to give.
Maybe it wasn't the person she normally was. Maybe it wasn't something she deserved, or something she earned. Maybe it wasn't even about what she wanted.
But there was something she needed, in order to do the thing she had to do.
As she lay in the home she'd resigned herself to sharing with a man she didn't love, something inside her changed.
And she gave herself her own damn permission – just this once.
She knew Will was always the first in the office in the morning; even in college, he always did his work before the sun rose, no matter how late they'd stayed up the night before playing pool in a bar nearby to campus. She'd always admired and been a little jealous of his stamina.
Now, she made sure she was up and at work before he was.
The light was on in his office, so he couldn't have been completely surprised when he entered and found her pacing. But his eyes were cautious, and confused, as she spun around to face him. "Alicia?"
"I have to stay with Peter. It's better for the kids, you know? I have to do what's right for the kids."
She was not sure how she expected him to respond to her outburst, but he didn't look crushed, or angry, or sad, only questioning. Probably because it was obvious there was more, or else this could have waited until at least daylight.
"I know this…" She gestured helplessly between them. "… Is not right. I know it's not fair, to anybody. But…" She blinked hard against the threatening emotion welling up. "I'm not sure I can do what I have to do, without at least having the memory of what this feels like."
The 'this' needed no emphasis the second time around; her meaning would be unmistakable to him. And in the moment she braced herself for his rejection, she bit back the shame of what she was asking him, the boldness that drove her here dissipating in every second of silence.
She was asking, essentially, to use him. She was asking him to betray Tammy (even if they weren't serious, Alicia wasn't a rule-bender, and she knew it was a betrayal); asking him to give her something sacred, with no regard for his feelings or the things he wanted for himself, or for them; to hold her secret, and not ask for anything more. It was the most selfish thing she'd ever requested, and if he hated her for even suggesting it, she wouldn't blame him.
But she couldn't bring herself to take it back. The die had been cast. She could only watch the swirling tempest in his eyes and wait an eternity for him to say the words.
As it happened, words weren't what he gave her. Instead he took a step closer, eyes locked on hers and intense, and her heart stuttered with anticipation of the unknown.
Then he took her hand. Her gaze dropped dumbly to their joined fingers while his thumb stroked with infinite gentleness over her knuckles, one by one, before turning her hand over in his. Raising it to his lips, he pressed a kiss to her palm – then one to each fingertip, lingering warm and loving at each bit of sensitive flesh.
She almost sobbed in relief as she fell into his arms. Their lips met and it felt as if she were falling all over again, like she had for those few seconds last year when she kissed him in this very same space, before she had caught herself. This time she allowed herself to plummet, and heard her own whimper as he threaded his fingers through her hair and kissed the breath from her lungs.
Oh, how good it felt. To just let herself experience this without fear or shame – to let herself have this thing she wanted, so, so much, forgetting about the rights and wrongs. His lips tasted like every sweet, sinful treat she'd ever denied herself, and now she took them in with a voraciousness she'd never expected to possess. When he took them away from her, she chased after them, making a noise of frustration as he evaded her.
"Not here," he told her, voice husky, and she realized he was right. She – they – had one opportunity for this, and it shouldn't be wasted on a quick and half-clothed fuck in his office, worrying if someone would happen upon them in this semi-public place.
"Please. Take me somewhere." She should have been embarrassed by the neediness in her voice, but it was an honest emotion and she couldn't disguise it if she'd wanted to.
He held her tightly while their breathing evened. "I'll take you anywhere."
Alicia had never been to his condo before; it looked just like she would have expected – rich and dark and decorated casual but tasteful, save for a too-big TV and few large and gaudy basketball and hockey trophies that he likely couldn't resist displaying. They were beyond niceties; she didn't compliment his décor, and he didn't offer her a tour. Once she slipped off her jacket and laid it across the back of his sofa, he silently took her hand and led her to his bedroom.
The question flitted across her mind, once there, just how recently Tammy had been in this room, lying on his hunter-green and burgundy bedspread – and how soon she'd lie there again, after today.
But it wasn't her business, and it didn't matter. She pushed it from her mind and focused on the man who was surveying her with question in his eyes.
"Do you want…?" he began to ask, before she silenced him with hands to his arms, as she urged him to sit on the edge of his bed. He allowed her to lead, watching intently as she backed away just out of reach and began to undress.
Her shirt. Her skirt. Her pantyhose. Her bra. She'd always imagined him undressing her, but in the time it took to get here she'd felt her nerves rise again, niggling on the edge of her consciousness, and this way she could regain some of that lost control. She needed to take in his reactions, without distraction – to make sure they were what she believed they would be.
The morning sun was just beginning to shine brightly through the blinds when she stood before him boldly naked, in full light. While other women her age envied her figure, she didn't have the body of a young woman anymore. The skin of her stomach bore the fine, silvery lines of her two pregnancies; her breasts were no longer so high or firm as they once were. But she wanted him to see the truth of her – because tonight would be the last secret she kept, and she couldn't bear the weight of any others.
And although that truth wasn't anywhere near flawless, he gazed upon it with awe and desire in his eyes, just as she'd known he would; following a hungry journey up and down her body and pausing at the places he'd likely resigned himself to never witnessing.
"Alicia," he sighed, and it sounded reverent as a prayer. "You are everything."
When he reached for her, she came to him, reveling in the first moment of contact when his hands spanned her bare hips, and he pressed his warm lips to her belly. Weaving her fingers through his hair, her eyes rolled back and her lashes fluttered as his tongue took a leisurely journey across the front of her and ended in the valley between her breasts.
That's when she lost her patience, climbing astride him on the bed and kissing him furiously, the brush of his wool suit against her naked and oversensitized skin almost unbearably erotic.
She had thought that perhaps, everything but the here and now would be wiped from her mind; that any thought of her other life would wrack her with too much guilt to continue. But strangely, neither was the truth, she found as she undressed and explored him in kind. She'd been with the same man for so long, that the contrasts between him and this man stood as starkly as her pale skin on his dark sheets – the light smattering of hair across Will's chest, compared to the thick brush of Peter's – the narrow tapering of Will's waist to his hips, compared to Peter's broader frame – Will's erection, not quite so thick as Peter's but longer, with a graceful upward curve that fit perfect and heavy in her hand. His scent, the noises he made, the way he touched her – it was all different, and instead of reminding her to be ashamed, she felt only a burning curiosity to experience the rest.
And then, when he was poised above her, he hesitated for a harrowing moment where she was terrified he'd stop – take this away in some misguided attempt to save her from herself, or save himself from the inner conflict and heartbreak this would surely cause – but then she whispered his name, and any trace of question on his face was lost to burning need and desire, and they were joined together in the way she had been imagining for years. Decades. Forever.
It really didn't take long at all for her; not with him looking at her like that, like she was the only woman he'd ever need or want to share this with. Not when they fit like this, finding and matching one another's rhythm like it was the most natural thing in the world. Still, she was shocked at the speed and intensity of her climax, and as she trembled through it she remembered that although orgasms weren't the most enjoyable part of sex, experiencing that vulnerable moment with someone you loved certainly made the cut.
Her hips kept moving in reflex, pressing to his, drawing out the pleasurable feelings, but his hands were frantically trying to still her movements.
"Alicia, please," he gasped out, into her shoulder. "I don't want this to be over but if you keep doing that..."
There was a thrill of power that went through her at his words - that she could make him struggle for control of himself. She was taking a chance, not knowing the limits of his restraint as a lover, but in giddy post-climax mischief, she looked up at him with defiance and a naughty half smirk while she squeezed her inner muscles around his cock.
He groaned, while his heavy-lidded eyes darkened dangerously. "You like to tease me? Almost make me lose it?"
Suddenly, she felt devilish and sexy and happy and all she wanted to do was tease him – play with him, challenge him, be challenged in returned, have fun because this was what sex was supposed to be, and how she wanted to feel. It was another Alicia she used to know – one who was sensual and carefree, and she never wanted to stop feeling this way again. "Maybe," she breathed, holding back a giggle. How long had it been since she had felt like giggling?
"You know what happens to women who tease?" he baited, rising to the occasion and managing at the same time to sound good-natured and predatory.
"Show me." And then she was gasping as he pulled out of her and flipped her whole body, easily. His cock slid home again, and from behind this way, he was touching a whole new and wonderful place inside of her. His energy was renewed by their brief and enticing exchange, and all she could do now was grab the bars of his headboard and hold on for dear life while he held her hips and pounded her. It wasn't quite as romantic as before, but she wouldn't even pretend that having him take her like this wasn't on her list of top fantasies featuring Will Gardner, and she enjoyed every second of the experience.
Whether it was his skills, or her heightened awareness of the eroticism of this encounter, or just the novelty of letting go like this, she unexpectedly found herself right there on the edge again, just out of reach. "Will. God. Fuck," she moaned, the profanity rolling off her tongue easily as if she were the kind of woman who said those things.
Although he wasn't yet well-versed in her body (and she expected he could become so very, very quickly), he understood instinctively what she needed, and he gave it to her – sliding one hand under her sweat-slicked body and finding her clit, rolling it between gentle and talented fingers. That did the trick, and she was immediately bucking back at him, whimpering through another orgasm – half in pleasure, and half in grief that this was almost over.
And sure enough, he couldn't last through this time – he had given of himself valiantly, but as she writhed and moaned and climaxed around him, he buried his face into the flesh of her shoulder and the silk of her hair and gave an anguished grunt at his release. She could feel him, pulsing inside her, and even though they had ensured they were both protected, it felt like life. She savored it.
A few, last, weaker thrusts, and then his body became heavier on her back before he rolled them, still connected, to their sides. They lay there, tangled and damp with exertion and fighting the inevitable return to reality.
Her breathing slowed as he held her tightly to him, chest to back. He placed soft, tiny kisses at the back of her neck while his fingertips brushed up and down her nipples, which were paler and softer than they were during their lovemaking but still tingled pleasantly at the languorous stimulation.
She tamped down the strange urge to thank him for this, knowing it would cheapen it to act as if it were something he gave her, rather than something they did together, and gave each other. Still, it felt like a gift.
"I love you. I want to be with you. I'll never stop wanting more," he finally spoke. The words were said simply – with no intent to guilt her, or hurt her, or prompt a confession in return. It was just a matter of fact, and if he hadn't said it, she would have known it to be true anyway, in the way he'd made love to her.
Turning in his arms and sighing as their bodies separated, she faced him. "Me neither," she breathed. "I love you too."
She gazed into his eyes intently, trying to make sure that he understood the truth of her words – both the honesty behind them, and the fact that they didn't change anything. Not as long as she had children to protect.
And he did. She could see his understanding, right before he pulled her tight to him, tucking her head underneath his chin.
"I'm sorry about our timing, Will."
"Me too, baby. More than you'll ever know." Even though she was fairly certain she did know.
They lay quietly for a few moments, dreading the moment one of them had to say it was time to get up, get dressed again, go back to work before people got suspicious. He traced his fingers up and down her upper arm, and instead of the other thing, he asked, "How do you feel?"
She had to consider it, and in the time she laid thinking about the question he likely wondered if there even was an answer. But the truth of it was that there was one; just not the one she'd anticipated. She'd expected to be wracked with guilt, hating herself for her weakness.
Instead, she felt… lighter. Like her moral superiority had been a burden that she'd needed to shed.
No longer could she look at Peter with disdain, knowing that no matter how badly things were going in their marriage, or how upset she was or dissatisfied, she would have never disrespected him or their life together like that – because she had done it, too.
The moral high ground was overrated.
"I feel like we're going to be okay," she said. And she was surprised to find that she meant it.
He pressed a kiss to the top of her head, and she squeezed her eyes shut tightly and memorized the last, few, too short moments of lying in his arms. "Okay's not so bad."
Life was no fairytale. Soon, people would miss them at work and would give them that look as they came in, both late but separate, that was both interested and disapproving - just look at them, probably carrying on together – and that part wouldn't be much different than any other day, and just like usual they'd go to their offices and be professional. She'd go home in the evening and face Peter's hopeful face again, and maybe in time she'd find a way not to dash that hope. And her children would be back from school, Zach with his questionable taste in girls, wanting an earring and all kinds of other things she didn't understand, and Grace with her new faith and her weird friend, and in just being their quirky and frustrating and loving and teenage selves, they'd make everything she had to do feel worth it.
She loved Will; it was the truth. She was learning to love herself, bit-by-bit, the way she was now, instead of the way she used to be. But she'd always love her children more.
"Okay's all you can really ask for," she agreed.
And when she closed Will's door for good and left his building, knowing she could never return … she began working on believing it.
A/N: This fic makes me sound incredibly pro-adultery. And I'm not. I swear. It's just... gah. Everything's different with these two. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.