A/N: This story is set somewhere between seasons 1 and 2, just after Gillian's divorce. And, yes, I have been working on this all that time.
Cal hardly recognized her, standing on his fronts step drenched in rainwater and shrouded in the pungent scent of alcohol. He almost answered the door with a baffled but curt "Can I help you?" in a tone that he reserved for door-to-door salesmen and Jehovah's witnesses. But then he looked, really looked, at the woman standing in front of him and his ever-slackened jaw hit the floor with nearly enough force to knock him unconscious. He knew that something must have gone very far south her to be in this state, let alone for her to be here in this state.
"Bloody hell Foster, what happened?" He asked as he grabbed her, dragging her into the house and out of the rain. Gillian tried not to giggle. "How much have you had to drink?"
"I dunno," she said, swaying on her heels, "I wasn't really counting."
He paused to quickly take stock of her. She was obviously drunk. Her hair was dripping wet and out of place, strands plastered haphazardly to her neck. Her purse dangled loosely from her left arm, and her clothes were soaked through to the point where he had to make a conscious effort to take his eyes off of the bra that was clearly visible through her translucent blouse. She was an absolute mess but she didn't seem to mind. In fact, she had a delirious grin on her face as she watched him stare at her. Water was dripping from her shirt and quickly forming little puddles on his hardwood floor, but Cal hardly noticed.
"Are you going to stare or are you going to get me out of these clothes?" Gillian asked, snapping him back into the moment and shocking him even more with her suggestive phrasing.
"Ah, right then, let's get you some dry clothes to wear," he said finally, taking her arm again – this time with less haste – and leading her upstairs. She stumbled twice on their way up the staircase, laughing at her own clumsiness each time, and eventually he looped an arm around her, pretending not to notice the way she was intentionally pressing her chest against his side.
Upstairs, he led Gillian to the bathroom, grabbing a towel from the linen closet as they made their way down the hallway.
"Now I'm going to turn on the water and leave you to take a take a quick shower to sober up while I see if I can find you something to wear, okay?"
"You sure that's a good idea? Maybe you should stay to make sure that I don't get tipsy and slip in your shower."
For a second, Cal managed to convince himself that maybe she wasn't suggesting what he thought she was suggesting. Maybe she really did want him to just make sure that she didn't fall and hurt herself –after all, in theory, it wasn't a terrible idea – but then he saw the shamelessly coquettish smile she was giving him and knew that she was implying exactly what he had secretly hoped she was.
"I think you're a little beyond tipsy at this point, love. And I trust you'll be fine. Here's your towel. You've got ten minutes." He warned, shoving the towel into her arms and flicking the shower on before turning to leave. He shut the door quickly behind him, before she could do something she might regret later.
A few minutes later, Cal was rummaging through his dresser, searching for something for Gillian to wear. Unfortunately, he no longer had any of Zoe's things and Emily wasn't Gillian's size, so Cal doubted he would have anything that would fit her properly. Eventually, he settled on a tee-shirt and a pair of forgotten sweat pants that had been buried at the bottom of his drawer so long that they probably didn't even fit him anymore. They were a little worn and not exactly Gillian's style, but they would have to do.
He wandered back to the bathroom but paused outside the door, listening to the running of the water for a moment before deciding he should probably give some sort of warning before walking in.
"Gill, I've brought you something to wear," he called, rapping quickly on the door. When he didn't hear any protests from within he took it as implied permission to enter.
Though he had only been gone for a few minutes, the bathroom was already starting to fill with steam when he walked in, forming a thin layer of condensation on everything in the room. As he made his way into the room, depositing the clothes on the counter beside the sink, he was proud that he managed to restrain himself from stealing no more than a quick glance at the outline of Gillian's naked figure behind the shower curtain, though he did get distracted by her pile of discarded clothes. Specifically the matching bra and panties that seemed to draw his eyes like a magnet, only serving to remind him that Gillian – a woman he cared for and wanted desperately – was standing completely naked within mere feet of him.
"Clothes are on the counter," Cal called as he headed for the door, trying to shake the risqué thoughts from his mind.
"Cal," He froze in the doorway when he heard her voice behind him shortly followed by the scrape of the shower curtain being drawn back. He turned back to find Gillian peering out at him from behind the curtain, hair and what she could see of her shoulder dripping wet. Pulling the curtain back a bit further, revealing a dangerous sliver of sternum, she asked, "You sure you don't want to join me?"
At this point he should not have been so surprised by her flirting, her outright suggestions, but he felt his jaw drop and his eyes widen all the same. The idea of pinching himself to see if he was dreaming popped into his head, but he quickly dismissed it as absurd. He knew he was awake, it was just so hard to believe that this was really (his) Gillian. The Gillian he knew didn't behave this way.
"Maybe another time." He answered once his voice found its way back to him. He knew he had to get out of there before he did something stupid. "See you downstairs."
And with that he fled, out of the room, down the stairs, into his living room and to the sanctity of his couch before he could let himself give her offer a second thought.
It was only then, seated alone on his couch surrounded by nothing more than the comforting silence of his living room and the faint noises of Gillian moving around upstairs, that he allowed himself to contemplate what might have brought her here. He knew that she was upset about her recent divorce and understandably so. He had been an absolute wreck after Zoe left him, coming in to work half hung-over, wearing wrinkled shirts that looked and smelled like he had been wearing them for weeks. But Gillian seemed, from what he could tell, to be dealing with it far better than he had. So far he hadn't seen any of the signs of self-destructive coping mechanisms that he had used. Of course, it was possible – though improbable – that he had missed something. Even he was subject to human fallibility. Perhaps she was a better liar that he thought. Perhaps drinking to excess was a regular thing for her. But, even so, that didn't explain why she came here. She had certainly never done that before. And the way she came on to him, dear Lord, the way she came on to him. That was definitely something she had never done before. Then again, he had never seen her this drunk before, so perhaps that was just how she acted when she was drunk?
He was left with little time to contemplate that idea, however, as a moment later he heard the familiar sounds of Gillian descending the stairs. He turned in the direction of the sound of her footsteps just in time to see her enter the room in his tee-shirt and sweat pants, somehow succeeding in making them look far more alluring than he or anyone else ever could.
"Hey," Gillian greeted as she sashayed – not a word he normally used but he swore it was the only description for the way she was moving – over to take a seat next to him on the sofa.
"Hey yourself," he replied, "Feeling better, then?"
"Mmm, much. Thank you for the clothes."
And she looked better, too. Her hair was tied back in a loose, wet ponytail and she was no longer wavering on her feet when she walked. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as though the shower had done its job of sobering her up.
At least, that was what Cal thought, until she sidled closer to him and looked up at his mouth, the intent obvious in her eyes. He tried to put some distance between himself and her darkened eyes, for both their sakes, but Gillian was having none of it. She tucked her knees under her and moved so close that she was practically sitting in his lap, her face mere inches from his.
"This is a bad idea and you know it," he said when she glanced at his lips again. His voice came out sharper than he intended, sounding more like a harsh reprimand than a gentle warning. But it did the trick of getting Gillian's attention.
She looked away for just a moment and when her eyes met his again, the façade was gone; the game over. She was still intoxicated, of course, but revealed herself to be far more sober than she had appeared earlier. He estimated that she had only had one or two drinks as opposed to the six or seven she had led him to believe earlier. But, beyond that, there was something else in her expression that he hadn't noticed before.
He mentally kicked himself for not seeing it earlier; the shadow of sadness lurking behind her seductive smile. He had been trying to read her since her arrival – they both knew that – yet he had somehow missed it; the micro-expressions of sadness hadn't even registered with him. It seemed that was always the way with those he was closest to. He never noticed the signs until it was too late. But he saw them now and he was going to take advantage of it while he had the chance. In spite of her usual misgivings about him reading her, she encouraged him now, making sure he had seen everything before she dropped her gaze again.
"What is it?" he asked, because he wanted to know and he could see that she wanted him to ask and he loved that. In the darkest corner of his heart he admitted to himself that he loved it when she allowed herself to be vulnerable with him. Yet, at the same time, he hated himself for equating her pain and vulnerability with faith in him.
"I... After Alec started using again he started spending more time with his sponsor, Christine. At first I was fine with it. I mean, I was a little upset that he didn't think he could come to me, but I understood that she was better suited to help him get and stay clean. She understood what he was going through in a way that I couldn't and I respected that. But it turns out it was more than that..." she sighed and shook her head sadly, "You were right, Cal. They were having an affair. I refused to see it but you... you did."
"I'm so sorry, love." Cal said. Under almost any other circumstances he would be the first person to say 'I told you so' when he was right, but not this time. He had never felt so terrible about having read someone correctly. But his remorse did nothing to ease Gillian's pain and that somehow only made him feel worse.
"I just don't understand... I can't help but wonder if I said or did something that made him feel like he had to... like he couldn't come to me anymore."
"No, listen to me, Gill, this isn't your fault. Granted, I'm not privy to every detail of your relationship, but I've never seen you be anything but supportive of Alec. If you ask me, you've given him far more patience with his issues than he deserves."
"Then why didn't he come to me? Why did he..." She trailed off and bit her lip.
Because he's a moron who doesn't realize when he has something good in his life, is what he wanted to say. But then he realized that he wouldn't just be talking about Alec. Instead he settled for: "I don't know. Sometimes you just can't understand why people do things, love." Which probably wasn't about Alec either, but Gillian didn't seem to notice.
"I know. It's just… it's so hard sometimes, you know?" she said, her mouth pressed into a deep frown as she rested her head against him. He wrapped an arm around her. She burrowed further against his side, her cheek against his chest, and he could feel her trying not to cry, body tense and rigid in his arms.
"It's all right," he said softly, his voice hitting just the right tone and his hand rubbing just the right spot on her back to make her come undone and her whole body went limp in surrender as she let herself cry into his chest.
He had never been entirely sure what to do with a crying woman; he suspected that no man ever had. Truth be told he had never had much experience. Zoë had never really cried in front of him. Their marriage had been a very combative thing and she hadn't wanted to show weakness or vulnerability to him by letting him see her tears. And Emily, like many teenage girls, was embarrassed to cry in front of her father.
The only difference between Gillian and any other woman crying was that Gillian's tears twisted his chest more than those of any other woman and he wasn't quite sure what to do about it. What could he do other than lend her a shoulder to cry on? So that was what he did. He held her close, her hair whispering against his neck and chin, her back shuddering under his palms, and he thought about how much he loved the woman who was breaking apart in his arms.
After a time her tears subsided, her shudders gave way to barely perceptible tremors and she sat up and pulled away from him, rubbing at red-rimmed eyes. "I'm sorry, Cal."
"Sorry? What on earth for, darling?"
"For... for trying to… for coming on to you like I did," She made a vague gesture toward him and he nodded, understanding what she was trying to say, "I guess I just wanted to lose myself a bit tonight. To feel… wanted…"
"No you didn't." He wanted to believe her explanation, mostly because she seemed to want to forget about the incident and move on, but something about it just felt off to him. And, as usual, he couldn't help but push and prod until he figured out what it was.
"Excuse me?" She looked up at him, baffled at his outright contradiction of her words.
"Look, I'm no shrink, but I can tell that's not why you came here tonight. I mean, Christ, look at you, Gill. You're gorgeous. You could've picked out any man in a bar and he would've gladly taken you home – probably some of the women too, for that matter. But you didn't, you came here. Why?"
She scoffed and shook her head, not appreciating his confrontational tone and afraid to have to answer to what he was insinuating, "I… I think I should go." She said, ducking her head as she stood, shifting her body away from him and effectively cutting off his only source of insight into what she was thinking. Cal frowned; it was unlike Gillian to run away. Then again, many of her actions so far that evening were out of character for her.
"No, stay," he said quickly, seizing her wrist and tugging her back towards the sofa.
"Really, Cal, I should go. I've embarrassed myself enough for one night." She said quietly. She tried to disguise it but Cal heard the waver in her voice, saw the way she glanced down at her feet.
"You've got nothing to be embarrassed about." He assured her. He loosened his grip on her wrist, brushed his thumb along her pulse. "Besides, you can't very well go home dressed like that, now can you?"
Gillian frowned and looked at her clothes, seeming to have just remembered what she was wearing and the fact that she was barefoot.
"I can always just -"
"You can stay in the guest room." Cal supplied, cutting off whatever absurd idea she had been about to suggest. "Please, Gillian." It was the 'please' that got to her. Cal watched her hesitate for a moment longer but he could see her giving in before she even realized it herself.
Even after she settled back on the sofa beside him, silence hanging heavy between them, he maintained his hold on her wrist. She sighed quietly and he trailed his fingers down and around until he was grasping her hand in his. He ducked his head to meet her gaze that was steadily focused on her lap and frowned at the glistening he saw in her eyes.
"Why are you here, love? What do you need?"
She lifted her gaze to his, steady and blue, showing him something he couldn't quite read. For a split second he was half certain she was going to say 'you' and his pulse quickened at the thought of it, but then she shook her head with a sad smile and a half shrug and said;
"I don't know, Cal." She bit down on her lip and he sensed that she was about to psychoanalyze herself for him. "I thought I wanted a one-night stand… or something, and I came here because I..." Here she paused and bit her lip, hesitating just briefly before continuing, refusing to meet his eyes as she finished her sentence, "I know you're attracted to me, Cal. And I didn't want whatever decision I made tonight to be something I would regret in the morning. Besides, coming here was a lot safer than picking up a stranger in a bar."
"That's all fine, love, but why did you pretend to be drunk?" He asked. He didn't bother denying that he was attracted to her; they were far beyond subtlety at this point.
"I figured if I was drunk you wouldn't question my motives. I should have known that you wouldn't take advantage of me, it was wrong of me to think you were that kind of man. Or maybe, unconsciously, I did know. Maybe the real reason I came here is because I knew how you would react, I knew that you would take care of me. I don't know. Either way, it was selfish of me and I'm sorry."
"'S alright. Everyone's entitled to be a little selfish now and then," he murmured, giving her hand a gentle squeeze. "Especially you, love. You're the most unselfish person I know, you know that?"
Gillian smiled softly at that, the faintest hue of pink creeping into her cheeks. "Thanks, Cal."
She shifted closer to him again and dropped her head to his shoulder, prompting Cal to disentangle his hand from hers and wrap his arm around her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. He rested his head on top of hers, tilting to brush his lips against her damp hair. He inhaled the familiar scent of his shampoo mixed with the delightful smell of Gillian herself.
They stayed like that for quite a while, simply comfortable and content to be in the other's presence. There was nothing but silence and warmth between them, the pull of mutual affection binding them to each other. And even though all contact between them was above the waist, Cal felt the moment was more intimate than sex ever could have been. They didn't need mingling fluids and bated breath to feel a connection as deep as that of lovers.
"Thank you, Cal," She said softly and he could feel her gentle breath against his neck, "for tonight. It's been a while since anyone has looked after me like this."
"Any time, darling," he replied. He kept his voice to a whisper for fear of disrupting the moment. "Would you like me to keep taking care of you?"
"What?" He felt her stiffen against him. Cal rubbed his hand up and down her arm soothingly, assuming that she misunderstood him.
"Make you some tea, tuck you into bed," He suggested, clarifying his statement. He was well aware of the double entendre hidden within the phrase 'take care of you' and although he thought he had made it clear that he didn't plan on taking advantage of her tonight - or on any other occasion, for that matter - he wanted to make sure that Gillian understood his intentions.
"Oh," He wasn't the voice expert, but Cal was certain he could hear the blush in Gillian's voice when she spoke again, "I'm not drunk, Cal. You know that, right?"
"I know, but you don't have to be drunk to be taken care of by someone who..." he paused, realizing that his mouth was running faster than his brain and he was dangerously close to forming the word 'love' before he caught himself, "...who cares about you."
Gillian was silent and for a moment he was absolutely terrified that she was going to call him out on his near slip of the tongue. For as much as he loved her - and he did realize that this was the utter, hopeless, wonderful truth of his feelings - he simply wasn't ready for the consequences that would come if (when) she found out. To his relief, however, she didn't say anything about it, simply shifted, looked up at him with an almost shy smile and said:
"I think I'd like that."
"Right then," Cal said, slapping his thighs as he stood, offering Gillian a hand to do the same.
"Would you mind if we skipped the tea though? I'd really prefer to just go to bed." Gillian accepted Cal's offered hand as she spoke, letting him pull her up.
"'Course, love." Cal answered. He flashed her a mischievous grin but didn't give her a chance to question the intent behind it before he stooped down and scooped her up in his arms, one hand under her knees, the other under her arms.
"Cal!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms around his neck for balance, "What are you doing?"
"Bringing you to bed," he answered nonchalantly, though he knew she could hear the amusement in his voice. "I used to carry Em like this all the time when she was little."
"Well it's hardly necessary. I can walk by myself, you know." Gillian complained, though she made no move to extricate herself from his hold as he started up the stairs. "Don't hurt yourself."
He ignored her warning, but sure enough, he was no more than half way up the stairs before his back started to ache, rudely reminding him of his age. Carrying Gillian up the stairs was something his body would regret later, but it was worth it if only for her reaction. In spite of her complaints, she was grinning, a beautiful carefree smile he hadn't seen in far too long, all traces of sadness eliminated from her features. The entire mood in the house had been changed with her smile, letting Cal forget about his own guilt and even his anger towards Alec.
The walk to the guest room from the top of the stairs was short, and Cal took his time walking, relishing the feeling of Gillian in his arms - the warmth of her body against his, her arms around his neck. She was an incredible, brilliant, absolutely gorgeous woman and he hated that she didn't get treated like this more often. Someone like her deserved to be taken care of at least once in a while. Really, she deserved far more than that and it irked Cal to no end that she didn't have someone in her life to treat her that way. He wanted so badly to be that person, but he was absolutely terrified that he would only end up hurting her in the end, much like Alec did. It wouldn't be intentional, of course - he would never even dream of purposely doing anything that would hurt her. But though his job was essentially to understand people, he knew that he often missed the vital things that were right in front of him in his own life. Case in point: in spite of his years of training, he somehow missed the sadness on Gillian's face when she had walked into his house earlier that night. It was things like that, he feared, that would ruin them before they even had a chance to begin.
Any further musings were halted by their arrival at the guest room, where Cal thankfully kept the bed made up for unexpected situations. Cal moved towards the bed but was stopped by Gillian squirming in his arms, trying to get him to let her down.
"I think I can get myself into bed, Cal," she said, rolling her eyes. But she was still, he noticed, smiling that radiant smile, even as he complied and set her on her own two feet. He watched her as she went over to the bed and drew back the covers, giving him another one of her shy smiles before sliding in between the sheets.
"I have to tuck you in, remember?" Cal reminded her as she reached for the covers. He crossed the room to where she lay and she blushed lightly at his closeness as he drew the covers up to her neck before placing a quick kiss to her forehead. "Night, love."
"Cal?" He heard her call softly just as he was heading for the door. He glanced back to see her sitting up and looking at him with one of the most heartfelt and tender expressions he had ever seen.
"Really, thank you for tonight. I appreciate it." Her voice was so sincere, her expression so heartfelt and tender that it very nearly brought tears to his eyes. He blinked quickly and swallowed, hoping she wouldn't notice in the dim light from the hallway.
"Anytime, darling." Cal murmured, holding Gillian's gaze to ensure she could see the sincerity there. She met his eyes and he felt a thrill course through him at the brightness he saw there. She nodded, understanding that he meant it, and as he turned to leave she gave him that brilliant smile, the one that he loved and had missed seeing for so long. "Night."
Though he may not be in her life as a lover, Cal realized as he closed the door behind him, and may never be so, at least he could revel in the fact that he was able to give her some happiness as a friend.
And at the end of the night, that was all that really mattered.