A/N: This is a continuation of my other fic, One Hand on the Trigger, so you may need to read that first for this to make sense :) Enjoy!
I will beg my way into your garden
The wind is biting into her skin, bringing tears to her eyes as she walks down the avenue toward her house, paper bag from the liquor store heavy in her arms. She's so damn tired as she trudges down the street, and it's so fucking cold, and the bag is heavy in her arms, but it is weighted down with the promise of oblivion on this anniversary of sorts.
It's been a year since she boarded a plane, and left her entire life behind in Washington.
She left her entire heart behind too, she knows, so if the two wine bottles and one scotch bottle inside her paper sack numb her enough that she doesn't miss it so much tonight, she'll be okay. Because she knows – one year to the day, and he'll call tonight.
Maybe she won't answer; she lies to herself as she walks into the wind, tears streaming from her eyes. It's from the wind, she lies some more, hitching the bag up higher as she blinks fiercely. Maybe she'll finally say something back, instead of just listening to his broken voice, a few more seconds each time.
She is keeping his hope alive, she knows. Nursing the small flame, hovering over it protectively as she gently blows, each time she lets him talk a few seconds longer, waits those few extra moments before hanging up the phone, and it's like oxygen. Each second morphing into molecules that feed him.
She doesn't know if she can do it anymore. Because it was supposed to be a measuring stick of how much less it hurt each time, and all it ended up doing was press against the bruises already on her heart, keeping them mottled and in full technicolour.
She knows that there is no way to heal them. Not here.
But at the same time she thinks going back might just render her battered heart finally useless.
Her mind is occupied with these thoughts, the same thoughts that have been circling it again and again for the last three hundred and sixty-five days and she doesn't see him until she is through the gate, and halfway up her walk.
The gasp slips out, because she didn't expect this.
She's never even acknowledged the possibility of him knowing where she was, because if she did –
If she did –
Why hadn't he come?
And the answer to that question was like giving her heart a thousand paper cuts and then pouring alcohol over it. So she was happier just thinking – he didn't. He didn't know where to find her, he'd only ever found her phone number. Because if – if he knew where she was, he would come.
"Cal-" his name slips out and she is struggling to hold up the brown bag in her arms, struck with the sudden knowledge that she didn't buy nearly enough alcohol to numb this coming pain.
He stands up stiffly, like he's been waiting and waiting and waiting for her to get back, and she is not strong enough or unselfish enough to not take a little pleasure in that fact. But it is bitterly cold out, unseasonably so, and she feels ashamed of the thought immediately after, even if she's the only one who knows she's thought anything at all.
He looks surprised, which is weird, because he's been sitting on her front porch, shouldn't he be expecting her? "Gillian-"
Tears well at just the sound of her name, in his voice. All those phone calls, all those nights and he's never said her name, not once. He looks alarmed by her distress and she shakes her head, because she can't explain it. Isn't willing to explain to him her weakness. "You shouldn't be here." It's a whisper, and he nods but doesn't move from his spot. The leaves in the tree above her are rattling out their last breaths as they cling desperately to life the left them long ago, and the paper bag is slipping in her suddenly damp palms. She is nervous, skittish and fearful all of a sudden. She wasn't ready for this.
She isn't ready for this.
"I know." He nods, runs a hand over his face and through his hair before looking at her again. "I know." But he remains still, still in front of her, blocking the path. She can't go forward and he can't go back and she laughs at the symbolization of it all. They are representations of themselves, blatant and dead locked on her garden path.
He flinches at her laughter and the sound dies in her throat abruptly. She never wanted to hurt him.
She just wanted to hurt less. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nothing turned out the way she wanted it to.
She feels suddenly exhausted, like all of her energy is being drained by just feeling, by just standing here and gathering enough strength to physically remain upright in front of him, and not crumble at the mere sight and sound of him. The wind picks up - cold and crisp with a faint scent of decay - and it scatters the leaves on her lawn, pushing them further into the corners of the fenced yard despite their dry, brittle protests.
She needs to sit down. She needs another year to be ready for this. She needs a drink.
Two of the three can be solved by moving inside, so she steps off the path, into the yellowing grass and moves around him to climb her stairs. The third step creaks, stiff with the cold and she thinks that he turns at the sound. She didn't invite him in, but she didn't ask him to leave either and she knows that to him, that will be invitation enough.
Her lock is stiff and she is struggling to turn her key in just the right way, and not drop the bag that she is still holding. Finally it gives way and she pushes the door open, revelling in the warm air that rushes out to greet her. She kicks her shoes off immediately, moving straight through the hall and into her kitchen so she can release her burden on to the counter.
She hears the door close, and his footsteps are light, almost hesitant in the hall. Finally he appears in the kitchen doorframe, and she already has her coat off, and three bottles lined up on the counter top. She is biting her lip, trying to decide which to open first, before settling on the wine.
She can feel the weight of his gaze as she pours two glasses without even asking, and even then she is startled by the expression on his face when she turns to hand him one. He looks... incredulous. Like he can't believe he's seeing her, and his eyes roam over her figure restlessly.
He takes the glass carefully, his fingers don't touch hers and she knows it's a deliberate gesture. She sinks into one of the chairs around her table, and he opts to sit next to her, both of them facing her kitchen window. It's dark outside now, so there is nothing to be seen other than their reflections and she is oddly touched by his choice of seat. She doesn't have to look at him, but she can still see him, and he is close enough that she can smell his after shave as she breathes, and feel the heat radiating from his body.
She doesn't have to look him in the eye. And he could watch her while they talk, once they talk, but she knows he won't.
They both drink silently for a moment, and the air is heavy, it feels weighed down with expectation and fear. She knows she can't be the first one to speak.
After a moment, he places his glass on the table and she can see his fingers stroke the stem lightly. She knows he's about to break the silence, but she is still startled by the sound of his voice, right next to her. "I've done a lot of thinking about you. Over the last year. At first I thought I deserved it. You leaving like that, you know? I thought, you know, serves me right for doing what I did before you left."
She nods, because she can't speak and part of her agrees with him. Another part of her is screaming inside, imagine if it was you, and the thought is rubbing her raw inside, like sandpaper just below her sternum. What if she'd been the one just left behind with no word? His fingers are gripping the stem now, and she can see the white around his knuckles and she wonders just how difficult it was for him to come here.
He's reckless. He can be the most hurtful person in the world when he wants to be, because he knows your weaknesses and feels no hesitation in exposing them. He's self-depreciating and he nurses his guilt. Any wound he inflicts on others he inflicts on himself, twice as deep.
But he's also always been the bravest person she knew, because he never ever backed down from anything. Anything but you. She blinks back sudden tears, and that raw feeling is replaced with anger so swiftly it steals her breath.
"Is this the part where I tell you that you didn't deserve that? I hope you didn't come here for platitudes, Cal, because I'm not sure I have any left in me." Her words are quiet, but he flinches like she is screaming.
"You just left. I know I hurt you, Gill – I do. I do know that but can't you just – do you know what it was like? You were there and then you were just gone. And you got to say something – not with words, really, but the act of you leaving said something. I got left behind with this gaping hole in my business, my life, my everything." He moves suddenly, his palms flat on the table as he stares down at the glass in front of him. She could see his face in the window, so she turns her head, and her breath catches at the lines of pain etched on his face.
He looks up at her gasp, his eyes meeting hers and she really looks at him for the first time since seeing him outside. He looks... exhausted. Run-down and tired and there was a bit more grey in his hair, which had grown longer in the past year. He has an unkempt beard – not thick or full, but like he just hasn't shaved for days.
"I kept your office you know. I sit in there sometimes, wondering if you're happier." His gaze loses focus as he speaks and she can see a tell tale sheen in his eyes that makes her blink, she can feel a tear escape and roll hot down her cheek. "Are you? Please tell me you are, Gill, because one of us should be, right?" His eyes are sharp and they focus on her as she shakes her head.
"No," it's a small whisper of a confession, but it's the truth and that's the only currency they can deal in now. He sighs and she fidgets, her fingers circling the base of her own glass. "I was just – it all just hurt so much then, Cal. I felt like – like you would eventually hurt me so much, that it would destroy me. I loved you, you know that? I think you did. Know that. And it just made every jab, and every accusation and every choice you made hurt that much more, you know? If I'd stayed... if I'd stayed I think you would have kept going, until you just- just murdered my heart. I left because I wanted the hurting to stop. I left because I wanted to protect myself. And I'm not going to lie; I left that way on purpose. I wanted to – wanted to just hurt you a little bit." She wipes her face with the back of her hand, but the dampness remains and the tears keep coming.
"It was more than a little bit, Gill." His voice is soft, and she looks away from him for a moment. "I wish I could tell you – tell you something that would just fix this, but I can't. I did choose to hurt you. I know that, I did that. And I thought I had reasons. I even thought they were good ones, but – nothing I say is going to magically fix this. I wish I hadn't hurt you, but the reasons for doing it still remain, you know. I wish I'd just... just done it differently. But I can't change that. Just like you can't change how you left." She hears him move, and knows he's turned to face her fully now.
"Then why did you come here?" Her question is breathed out and she draws in one more breath before holding it, waiting for his answer. She feels compelled to look at him, and when she does, she sees him gazing at her, with a bleak expression.
"I don't rightly know." His answer is plainly an honest one and she stares at him, waiting for more. "I broke into Emily's e-mail, you know. To find out where you were. I was so desperate before that, desperate and worried and miserable. I was an absolute sodding bastard to our staff – I've no idea why they all didn't just up and quit. And when I knew – I thought it would be enough to just know. That you were here, and safe and you were okay. I think I honestly thought you'd call and tell me that, but you never did. So I got blind drunk one night and called you."
"And I hung up." He nods and she hangs her head, wondering again how the hell they got here.
"You hung up." He finally answers after an extended moment of silence. "Can I – can I touch you, just – just you're right here and I don't know how this whole thing is gonna go down, so I'd just like to –" Her heart cracks as she listens to him – his voice is unsure and weak and she knows nothing for a moment except the desire to comfort him so she turns and leans into him, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and presses her face into his neck and she knows then. Her heart thumps, and then beats on steadily, and the pressure in her chest eases and she knows – she never should have run. And this was the only thing she ever needed.
"Cal," she breathes his name out and his arms wrap around her, tightening around her rib cage and if she feels him breathe deeply.
"The thing is, Gill, I did know you loved me. I knew that, I did. But I didn't trust myself not to hurt you, not to be the one to cause irreparable damage to you. I'm- I'm a mess, darling, and I didn't trust myself not to be one more person in your history who hurt you. Which is stupid really, because I hurt you anyway, didn't I? I was a scared, stupid bastard. And it's no excuse I know-"
Her arms tighten around him as he speaks, her hands sweeping over his back in large circles. "I hurt you too, Cal. I know. I know – it's – it's not alright but I do know." She feels him pull back, feels his gaze on her face and she wants to hide, to bury herself back into his embrace. But she's had a year to do that, and now isn't the time.
"I thought it would be safer for us both, to not be together. But even this last year, Gill, even when you've been here, in my mind we were still together, you know?" His hand brushes against her face, sliding under her jaw as his thumb ghosts over her cheekbone and she feels her mouth go dry. "I dreamed of you every night. Four nights ago I had a dream and I could hear your voice and smell you, but I couldn't see your face. And it was so real, I thought you'd be there when I woke up, but you were still gone, and I still couldn't quite picture your face as clearly. And I panicked. Packed a bag and got in my car and drove and drove."
"Oh Cal, I'm sor-"
"Don't be." He interrupts her fiercely, his grip tightening until he forces her to meet his eyes. "Don't be sorry. I'm an idiot, but it took me being a bastard to push you to leave and it took you leaving for me to realize that it doesn't matter what I think, Gill. What ifs and maybes and my own belief that I can't love you like you should be loved doesn't stop me from loving you. I can't control that."
"I shouldn't have left." Her voice is a tiny whisper, the words small and broken. He shakes his head and lowers his own gaze in shame.
"I shouldn't have pushed you like that. Shouldn't have expected you to stay through all that. I had no right to be hurt when you did. I can't – I can't imagine how much I must have hurt you to make you leave." He sounds rough and jagged, like the surface of something broken and glued together again, smooth but every now and then an uneven edge catches your skin.
They are both silent for a moment, his arms around her and her forehead pressed against his shoulder. She thinks that her heart still aches, and the bruises are still there. Purples bleeding into maroons and reds mottling into burgundies. But she also thinks that where she is right now is the only place to heal them, before they burrow under the muscle and become a part of the structure of her heart. And she already has too many holes where valves should be.
He doesn't speak, and neither does she. She knows he isn't speaking out of fear and she isn't speaking because that would mean that this moment is over, and she wants to enjoy the feel and smell of him below her for just a minute more. Inevitably, he cannot stand the silence a second more, he fidgets – his fingers twitch and she feels it against her back, even through the thin wool of her sweater.
"What happens now?" She can tell even as he asks it, that he hates the question. Hates the constraints it shackles around them, hates the finality it introduces to the conversation.
But that's only because he doesn't know (or refuses to hope for) the answers.
She pulls back, sliding back into her chair, and his hands slide across her shoulder blades and his touch lingers down her arms until her hands are in his, and she's lacing their fingers together. She smiles, and for the first time in a long time it doesn't feel forced or tight or controlled. It is simply happy, and relieved. The hard part isn't over but the starting of it is, and she knows that he'll be with her on this journey in a way he wasn't on the last one.
"Now we start the repairs." His hands tighten around hers and she can see hope in his eyes. "I think a road trip home should be a good place to start, don't you?"