A/N: I'm terribly sorry for my tardiness on this! In my defense, I started late due to final exams, and I was a little intimidated by my assignment because I really admire CSIAngel's writing and didn't want to disappoint. Anyway, here it finally is.
I also want to say a big thank you to McBreezy for organizing this and all the other challenges that have been keeping our fandom going.
It's only a winter's tale of Christmas and temperatures freezing or below, friendship and two sets of footprints becoming one in the snow.
Cal Lightman couldn't remember the last time he had been unable to get home for the Christmas. Everyone knew it wasn't his favorite holiday; he'd had his share of less than happy Christmases as a child and the bad memories left him with a dull bitterness for the holiday. The shameless commercialization and the abundance of lies and greed that surrounded the season didn't help either. Still, he managed to suffer though it year after year. Until about sixteen years ago, that was. The first time he saw his daughter's eyes light up at the sight of the goodies under the tree on Christmas morning, the holiday redeemed itself. If there was no other good that came out of it, he could easily - perhaps even happily - endure all the negative aspects just for that look in his daughter's eye. Of course, it was a bit different now that she knew the truth about Santa, but the joy was the same. He hated that he would have to miss that this year. But the Northeast seemed to have other plans for him.
After considerable prodding, Foster had finally managed to persuade Cal to take on a case from a high end (a polite way of saying 'loaded') law firm in Maine of all places. It was an interesting opportunity, as Foster had pointed out, because lawyers were often skeptical his science; furthermore, they didn't like the inconvenience of having to get a jury to trust it. But these lawyers weren't looking for him to testify in court, they wanted to use his expertise in pre-trial proceedings. The firm's lead attorney had been hired to defend an alleged killer in an upcoming case that had been in media headlines for months. With the case being so well known, there was a great deal of concern about jury bias. That was what had led the defending firm to bring The Lightman Group in for the process of choosing the jury. It was a job that, under different circumstances, Cal wouldn't have had an issue with. But voir dire was a tedious process and Cal could only watch so many people answer the same questions before he was driven bored out of his skull. Foster was right when she said they needed the money, though, and eventually he had to give in to her and agree to take the case.
Cal and Gillian had flown up on the 18th of December to check in with the firm - Anderson & Associates, attorneys at law - before starting the jury selection process on the 19th. The entire affair was expected to take no more than four or five days - hopefully less if Cal had anything to do with it - so Gillian booked them a flight home for the early evening of the 24th. Their itinerary, unfortunately, failed to take into account the severe snow storm heading in their direction. Luckily, the storm wasn't predicted to hit until the late on the night of the 24th, so they should have been able to make their flight without an issue. But what even the weather forecasters didn't seem able to predict the strong winds that picked up, bringing the storm gusting in almost five hours before it was due. It wasn't just any storm either. No, it was a full-on Nor' Easter, dropping almost two inches of snow before Cal and Gillian could even make it through airport security. And that was how he and Foster ended up stuck in Portland, Maine for Christmas Eve.
"It could be worse," Gillian offered, trying to look on the bright side as Cal dumped his luggage back in his hotel room. Thankfully they had been able to reserve Cal's room for another night, seeing as the earliest the airports were likely to be up and running again was late Christmas day - if they were lucky. Gillian's room, on the other hand, had already been given to someone else and with all vacancies rapidly being filled by other unfortunate stranded travelers, they had been forced to share. Not that he was complaining. "At least we have each other."
Cal nodded in passive agreement. He did love spending time with Gillian. But this was going to be his last Christmas with Emily before she went off to college, and he had rather been looking forward to it.
"Em was going to fly in from her mum's tomorrow morning. I'll have to call and let her know to cancel her flight." Cal remarked more to himself than to Gillian. He flopped down in the middle of the bed and grabbed the remote for the television set, turning on the weather. He glanced over at Gillian and asked distractedly, "What about you, love? Any plans for the holiday?"
"Oh, nothing special. I was planning on just having a quiet night at home tonight, maybe watching a movie or two. Tomorrow probably would have been roughly the same." She answered, gingerly sitting next to him on the bed. The only bed in the room, Cal had noticed. They hadn't discussed that yet, the sleeping arrangements. Cal had a feeling he was going to end up trying to play the gentleman for once by sleeping on the floor.
"Well, you're always more than welcome for Christmas at my place, you know that, yeah?" Cal said, reminding her once again of the invitation she had passed up for the past three years. The first two times he couldn't blame her since Zoe had been there and there was no doubt in his mind that she would have made it uncomfortable for Gillian. Hell, half the time it was uncomfortable for him. But this year Zoe was in Chicago so it was just him and Emily, yet Gillian still politely declined the invitation to spend Christmas at his place. He was beginning to worry that she just didn't want to spend the holidays with him.
"I know, Cal. And I appreciate the offer, I really do, but I don't want to intrude on your time with Emily," she answered. He glanced away from the ominous weather report and up at her face to see that she was being honest. He expected no less from her, but it was still nice to have reassurances.
"It wouldn't be an intrusion. Emily adores you, you know that... Bloody hell," Cal exclaimed suddenly, gesturing to the weather forecast before shutting off the television in frustration, "we're gonna be stuck here for days if this keeps up!"
Gillian directed her gaze out the hotel window at the subject of his aggravation. Glancing over himself, he saw that night was falling rapidly and so was the snow. Their room was on the third floor but even from where he was sitting he could see snow barely managing to gather on tree branches before being blown about in all directions by the wind.
"They said it's supposed to stop sometime early tomorrow morning." Gillian offered, looking back to Cal. He shrugged and pushed himself off the bed and crossed the room to his suitcase to retrieve his hat and scarf. Judging by the looks of it, he was going to need them.
"Yeah, well, they also said it wasn't supposed to start until later tonight. Those wankers don't have any bloody idea what they're talking about." Cal grumbled as he pulled his hat and scarf on.
"Where are you going?"
"I figure we'd better try to go get some dinner now before we get snowed in completely." Cal explained. He grabbed her jacket from where she had laid it over the back of a chair and held it out, waiting to help her into it. "I saw a place down the street that was open looked nice, but we should go now before even that gets too far to walk."
"Alright," Gillian agreed. It was a little early for dinner, but given that the weathermen had already been mistaken in the time the storm was going to start, it was fair to assume that they could also be mistaken in how fast conditions were going to worsen. Even though they were just going down the street, it was better to go earlier, before even more snow accumulated and temperatures dropped even further.
Cal headed for the door, but paused as he reached for the handle, remembering something he had seen: Gillian's shoes. He turned back, nearly bumping into Gillian, who startled and took a step back.
"Oi, you gonna be alright in those?" He asked, pointing down at Gillian's heels. They were simple black pumps, not as bad as some of the things he had seen her wear, but not ideal for snow travel either. "Don't want you to fall and break your neck on Christmas Eve."
"I'll be fine," she laughed, waving off his concern with a mildly amused expression.
"You sure?" Cal wasn't convinced. Snow was bad enough in regular shoes or even, in his case, boots, he couldn't imagine what it would be like in heels.
"Positive." Gillian affirmed. She glanced quickly down at the shoes in question, as if to check what pair she was wearing, the looked back up at him. "Now, come on."
Gillian reached past him to open the door, suddenly bringing her face within inches of his. There was a long moment where he could feel her breath on his cheek, and he couldn't help but glance down at her lips as he was struck by the urge to kiss her. He flashed back to the time they had kissed in the porn producer's office, remembering how her lips had been just as soft as they looked, how incredible it had felt to kiss her. Just as he thought he was about to get a chance to kiss her again - a thrill coursed through him at the thought - he felt her plant both hands on his chest and shove him backwards out the open door.
"Ay, ay?" Cal grinned and waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her as he stumbled backwards.
"Come on, let's go." She said. She shook her head and laughed at his teasing as she pulled the door shut behind them.
"I told you the heels were a bad idea," Cal called back to Gillian as he walked back into their room almost two hours later.
"The shoes," Gillian answered stepping barefoot into the room behind, carrying the shoes in question, "were fine. It was the weather that was a problem."
"Which is exactly why I warned you not to wear them." Cal said. While Gillian set down her cold, wet heels and hung up her coat, Cal kicked off his own boots and set about pouring them each a glass of the wine he had convinced the waiter at the restaurant to part with. "You're lucky you didn't sprain anything."
"I suppose I should thank you for that," Gillian remarked, crossing the room and settling herself down on the bed. She propped a pillow up behind her for a backrest and lay back, accepting her wine from Cal with a nod of thanks. "But if I did, then I'd never hear the end of it."
"Nah, no need to thank me," Cal said, laying down next to her with his own glass, "just being my gentlemanly self."
"Right," Gillian chuckled at that idea, shaking her head, "You're a perfect gentleman and I'm the Queen of France."
"Hey!" Cal protested, feigning hurt, "I have my moments!"
"Mm, I suppose." Gillian agreed, pretending to sound reluctant. She took a sip of her wine, and Cal watched her relish in it, having no doubt she was taking comfort in its slight warmth. It was bloody freezing outside and given that her shoes weren't exactly designed for the snow, it was a wonder she hadn't gotten frostbite on their walk back to the hotel.
The walk over to the restaurant had been cold, but manageable. Dinner itself had been wonderful. Because of the holiday and the weather the restaurant had been nearly deserted, allowing Cal and Gillian to share an intimate meal together. Their conversation was light, focused mainly on the holiday and case they had just closed. Cal was still upset about having to miss Christmas with Emily, but Gillian quickly helped him to stop dwelling on that fact and it wasn't long before he found himself settling into a great mood. They had an excellent pork roast in lieu of their traditional Christmas Eve meals and indulged in perhaps a bit more wine than they usually would, seeing as it was Christmas and neither of them had to drive. Everything had put Cal into such good spirits that he had even agreed to split dessert with Gillian - a chocolate dessert, no less.
After Cal took the check and convinced the waiter to let him take a bottle of wine off his hands, Cal and Gillian headed out to find that the world outside had transformed. The streets were now completely empty, everyone having headed home to shelter themselves from the storm. Everything was covered in a thick - four inches at least - blanket of white with more still coming down, making the whole world bright, even in the darkness that had completely fallen. The streetlights had come on, light reflecting off the snow and illuminating the flakes still falling. Everything seemed to sparkle; it was nothing short of breathtaking. And with nobody else around, it was like he and Gillian had it all to themselves. He offered Gillian his arm and together they started back to the hotel, walking slowly in spite of the cold in order to savor the splendor of the night.
As they walked, it quickly became apparent that Cal had been right about Gillian's shoes. The snow was up past their ankles now and while Cal was fine in his boots, he knew the tops of Gillian's feet and her ankles were completely bare. She had to be freezing. Her shoes also had poor traction, making it hard for her to walk in the thick layer of snow. Twice in less than a quarter of a block she stumbled, blushing and leaning into Cal each time.
Eventually, the cold started getting to them, slicing right through to their bones, and Cal could feel Gillian starting to shiver against his arm through her coat. Instead of pulling her tighter against him, however, Cal decided to walk just ahead of her, making it easier for her to walk by stepping in his footprints. They walked briskly back to the hotel from there, with Cal pausing every few steps to check that Gillian was still behind him and to admire the way her footprints seemed to fit so perfectly in his, the same way he imagined she would one day fit into his arms; his life.
Now, back in their room, Cal stopped to admire Gillian herself as she sipped slowly on her drink. Whatever makeup she was wearing must have been light as he could see the smattering of freckles across her cheekbones that were normally hidden. He always thought it was a pity whenever she hid them like that; he loved them. Briefly, he let his eyes trail over the rest of her body - the swell of her breasts, the delicious curves of her hips, the toned perfection of her legs - then back up to her face. He could never get enough of how absolutely gorgeous she was.
Sensing his eyes on her, Gillian turned to look at him, catching him staring. He didn't bother to look away or pretend like he hadn't been, and she didn't say anything about it. She simply cocked an eyebrow and gave him an inquisitive look. It was then that he noticed the slight blush coloring her cheeks, though whether it was from the wine or his gaze he couldn't be sure.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Gillian asked, breaking the amicable silence that had fallen between them. Cal quickly took a swig of his wine, buying himself a few precious extra seconds to come up with an answer.
"I was just thinking, you know, that this is kind of nice. In spite of the circumstances, I mean." That was mostly the truth, he just opted to leave out the part about how he wished she were with him every Christmas like this. And that part about how that evening had been a perfect date, aside from the fact that it wasn't a date. And the part about how much he wanted to kiss her in that moment. And that part about how he was in love with her. Really, he was only omitting a few minor details.
"It is," Gillian agreed, a beautiful, genuine smile lighting up her features. Her smile was his favorite.
"Remind me again why you didn't want to do Christmas with me?" Cal teased, elbowing her playfully. It was intended to be a light-hearted joke, but from the look on Gillian's face, she took it more seriously.
"Cal, I..." She paused, twirling the glass in her hand, "Well, first of all, I didn't want to intrude on your time with Emily. But, more importantly, I don't want to let myself get used to having something that isn't really mine."
"...It could be." He stared down into his drink, too much of a coward to meet her eyes as she registered the implication behind his words. He was petrified of what he would find if he dared to look at her expression. There had been moments, even one earlier in the doorway earlier that evening, where he was nearly certain that he saw a flash of something in her eyes, something more than just attraction. But each time he had second-guessed it, worried that he had only seen what he wanted to see. Then here he was putting everything on the line, putting his cards on the table and risking the ultimate rejection. He knew it was stupid and foolish, a choice he would most likely be kicking himself for later, but, then again, reckless moves were his specialty.
Cal couldn't read anything in her voice - that was always her specialty - and he still couldn't bring himself to look at her. He was practically holding his breath as a momentary silence that seemed to last forever fell between them.
"Cal," she said again finally. He felt her hand on his shoulder, trying to draw his attention. "Cal, look at me."
Reluctantly, he turned to look at her, stomach quivering in fear at what he would see. Before he could even react to what he found in her expression, she was kissing him. Her lips were just as soft as he remembered, and his heart rate soared at both the kiss itself and its implications. Cal shifted more fully toward her as he cupped her face and slid his tongue into her mouth to taste her, the flavor of wine and Gillian herself blooming across his tongue. Only when they both ached for air did they break apart. Gillian rested her forehead against his, smiling. Cal could feel an equally wide grin stretching his own face as he caught his breath.
"Thank you." Gillian murmured, stroking her thumb across his cheek. Cal's brow furrowed.
"For the best Christmas present I've received in a long time."
"And what would that be?" Maybe it was just his brain struggling to catch up after the thrill of kissing her, but he didn't remember giving her a gift.
"Telling me how you feel. I know it's hard for you, sharing emotions like that." She said, leaning in to kiss him again. This time it was chaste, just a tender brush of her lips against his.
"I should be the one thanking you, darling."
"For putting up with me over the years. For loving me in spite of all the crap I've put you through." It wasn't until after the words left his mouth that he realized he hadn't actually said she loved him. Judging by her kiss and what he could see on her face he was sure she did, but he was a selfish bastard and he needed to hear the words. "You do... love me, don't you?"
"Of course I do, Cal. You can't see that?" She asked, pulling away and letting him study her face. Sure enough, there was that flash of emotion he thought he had been seeing all this time, but magnified to a tenderness that colored her whole expression. This time he had no doubt in what he saw.
"I can, love. But sometimes I question what I'm seeing, you know? It's always been hardest for me to read the people closest to me."
There was silence between them again as Cal brushed a lock of hair from her face, curling it around his fingers as he studied her smile.
"You're absolutely beautiful, you know that?" He said softly, relishing the blush that crept across Gillian's features.
"You're not so bad yourself." She admitted, wrapping her arms around his neck as she leaned in to kiss him again.
This kiss was far more passionate than the previous two had been, and Gillian moaned softly as Cal's tongue caressed hers. Cal pulled her into his arms and onto his lap, causing her to moan again as she straddled him.
"Merry Christmas, love." Cal said breathlessly in between kisses.
"Merry Christmas, Cal." She panted back. And after that there were no more words, just kisses and caresses to communicate their feelings.
And the way they fit together was perfect, mirroring the way their footsteps merged outside in the glittering night.