He's allowed to be here today because several of the partners need clarification on his old cases: the ones Diane parcelled out like treats on Halloween, or tricks, maybe, depending on the client. He walks into the building all suited up and it doesn't seem different, like he's just taken two weeks off from work and gone on vacation or something. This easy feeling lasts for about three minutes: from the time it takes for him to get on the elevator to the 28th floor until the time he makes it past the foyer and into the office proper. He's still addressed as Mr. Gardner by the associates but the vibe is different. There are dropped conversations and covert glances and suddenly, he gets what Alicia means when she used to say it was all too much.
And, all of a sudden, all he wants to do is see her – Alicia – because even if everything else has changed, he knows the feeling that inevitably washes over him when he's in her presence never will. If fifteen years apart has told him anything, it's that she's the one thing in his life that will always remain constant, even if those feelings might not be reciprocated on her end. And those feelings? He needs them right now, if only to bury all the other slightly panicky ones making their way to the surface.
He rounds the corner, quickly bypassing Eli's office, and there she is sitting at her desk. Like rare earth magnets, she directs her attention upwards to meet his eyes almost exactly as he seeks it. His feet know where to go all on their own and within seconds, he is leaning against the doorjamb and she's there in front of him. They're standing close. He wouldn't have to reach his arm up very far – two inches, maybe – if he wanted to touch her. It occurs to him, suddenly, that they more often than not stand like this: closer than strictly necessary, and it's really no wonder that rumours about them sleeping together had surfaced almost as soon as she had started working for him three years ago.
She smiles, and it's not the bright bright one that makes him believe everything is right with the world, but it's enough. "Hi Will," she says, voice low and intimate even amongst chaos.
"Is your next question going to be 'how are you doing'?" he asks, voice a little wry.
"Do you want that to be my next question?"
He shrugs, smiles, and she nods, understanding.
"Court today?" he asks, giving himself a second to rue over how odd that question is, as if he hadn't been the one assigning her cases just a couple of weeks before.
"Not scheduled," she answers.
"So you'll be—"
"—I'll be around."
"Okay," he says and he reaches for her wrist, squeezes it a little, "Then I'll see you around."
An hour and a half later, when he's walking out of one office and she's making her way to the conference room, she slips him a neatly folded-up note.
'Lunch later?' it reads and he has a stupid smile on his face when he walks into Julius' office.
He thinks he could probably text her his answer, but it wouldn't be nearly as charming. It's this and only this reason that has him scrawling underneath her contrasting neat script: Love to.
He places the note on her desk, and this time her response comes back to him through Eli Gold.
"Will, please, have a seat," Eli says, "I have a few items I'd like to discuss while you're here."
Will shuts the door behind him and just as he's about to rush through the business end of things as quickly as possible, Eli continues, "And before I forget, Alicia wanted me to give you this." He hands Will an envelope, sealed, and with his name written across the front. "She had to run off somewhere." Eli waves his hand vaguely in the air as if he couldn't be bothered to remember.
"Thanks," Will responds. He slips it into the folder he's holding, all nonchalant, and spends the rest of the meeting futilely ignoring the urges to just rip it open. They're not quite finished when one of Eli's clients – political, he gathers – bursts past the receptionist and straight into the office, demanding Eli to turn on CNN.
"Call me and we'll finish our conversation another time," Will says, excusing himself as Eli's face turns ashen and mutters something inaudible in response.
Glancing at the clock, he sees there's a good twenty minutes before his last meeting with Diane. He winds through the halls until he comes across an empty conference room, one of the smaller ones unlikely to be used for meetings at this time. Flicking on the lights, he slides his finger under the envelope flap and pulls out the note – the same one as before, but with a few more lines of writing tagged on the end:
Heading to the courthouse after all. Probably won't be long, but don't wait for me at the office. You'll be done before I get back. If you still want to get lunch, it might have to be a late one.
Will thinks this time he'll have to resort back to a more prosaic type of communication and he pulls out his cellphone, ready to compose a message to Alicia when—
"Hey! Kalinda." He pulls open the office door and stops Kalinda in her tracks halfway down the hallway.
She backtracks. "What's up?"
"Where are you heading right now?"
"I have to get some information to the courthouse."
"Will you see Alicia there?"
"Yeah," Kalinda looks at him oddly, "It's her case."
"Great," he says, "I need you to get something to her."
She gives him one of her sphinxlike smiles, "Whatever it is, you better make it quick. I'm in a rush."
He makes sure he has his wallet on him, grabs the letter, envelope, a pen, and his clipboard, and leaves the rest of his things where they are. "I'll ride down with you."
Kalinda doesn't read the note. When Will places the creased and re-creased piece of paper back into the envelope – crossing out his name written in Alicia's distinct handwriting and replacing it with hers – Kalinda takes it wordlessly and slips it into her leather jacket. Will hadn't explicitly told her not to read it, and by her guess, probably wouldn't care if she did, but she wouldn't. And he knows that. It's a trust thing.
It doesn't stop her from later observing and making certain assumptions when she hands the note over to Alicia, though.
They're going through pre-trial motions in the courtroom and Alicia is walking back towards her seat when Kalinda hurries up the aisle.
"Thanks," Alicia whispers, taking the folder from Kalinda.
Kalinda nods. "And this," she says, reaching into her pocket, "is from Will."
Alicia's serious face changes, just for a second, into a pleased one. A second and then the front returns. "Thanks Kalinda," she says again, and yes, there are the makings of a smile there.
After court, Alicia tells Caitlin to head back to the firm. "I have something to take care of," she says, handing the files off to the young attorney.
Kalinda can't help it. She falls in step beside Alicia and gives her occasional glances, not meant to be surreptitious at all.
"What?" Alicia says finally.
And it is actually a slightly amused 'what'. Things have been gradually getting better between the two of them lately and Kalinda doesn't like to admit she needs anything, but she thinks Alicia's friendship might be the closest any living or inanimate object has ever come. "What do you need to take care of?" Kalinda asks her now.
"So, you're going to pick something up?"
They're nearing their cars, parked on the street. "No. I'm going out for lunch," Alicia answers. She's parked further down the street than Kalinda and when they pass her SUV Alicia looks pointedly at her. "Wasn't that your car?"
Kalinda ignores the question, checks her watch instead. "It's nearly three. A little late for lunch, isn't it?"
Alicia chuckles, keeps walking as Kalinda finally stops. "Goodbye Kalinda."
His note had been simple: Our usual place.
It hasn't been 'their place' for months now, still, right before she pulls out into traffic she shoots him a text: Twenty-six minutes away. Twenty-six minutes from the courthouse and eighteen minutes from the office during typical mid-day traffic: she had clocked it once.
The bell above the door rings when she enters the cheery family diner tucked between a used bookstore and a shop selling clothes for pets. Even though it's small in square footage, it doesn't feel cramped and the pale yellow walls lend a splash of sunny optimism even on the worst days. After that first night together in the spring, Will had brought her here, around the corner from the hotel to this place that serves all-day breakfasts. All these years and he had still remembered how much she loves breakfast foods. Hard to forget, maybe, since she used to insist on pancakes for dinner and cereal for lunch.
He's sitting at the back of the restaurant, getting up to greet her and giving her a hug, one they had both wanted to exchange hours ago in the office. Alicia had forgotten how snug these two-person booths are, but her body doesn't. Her knees touch his and instantly, the current pulses through her as if they are completing a circuit. The memories of how they used to tease each other under the table come rushing back and a look in Will's eyes suggests he feels it too.
"Are you hungry?" he asks, trying to disperse the palpable energy.
She takes a beat too long to answer. "Starving."
Alicia tries to tell herself that this is dangerous, dangerous. They've been here before, after all. In fact, they had been exactly here, trying to decide whether their one night liaison would, in fact, remain just one night.
"Oh man," Will breathes out, scrubbing a hand over his face.
The waitress shows up and both of them have never been so glad. "What can I get for you?"
"A time machine," Will mutters and Alicia nudges his foot. "Sorry," he says to the waitress, recovering with a winning grin, "We're not quite read to order yet, but could you get us a coffee and a tea – jasmine – please."
She doesn't like people ordering for her, usually, but Will has always had a knack for knowing what she feels like. A lift of her eyebrow and the question on her mind is asked nonverbally.
"Well, you prefer jasmine tea," Will says, "Unless you're sick. And I knew you would want a tea today instead of coffee—" He reaches for her right hand, unfurls her fingers and holds her wrist steady: she's shaking, "—because you've already had too much caffeine today."
"Lucky guess," she responds, smiling. She doesn't pull back when he goes to rest their loosely held hands on the table. She counts their silence in heartbeats, and after three, Alicia surprises herself when the next words out of her mouth are 'I miss you, Will' said in a hushed tone.
He grips her hand and she thinks the action must be unconscious because his expression hasn't changed. They've perfected their poker faces over the years.
"I need you to justify this," she continues, voice so quiet that he actually has to lean in a little in order to hear her, "because I can't—I won't be able to."
"You want me to give us grounds for a retrial," he says. He's trying to make her laugh.
She doesn't. She knows it's unfair of her to make him go through this, but maybe she doesn't know how to stop hurting him.
He answers because he'll always answer her. "Well, I'm not your boss anymore."
They're operating on technicalities now, both aware that him being her boss had only been one portion of their whole plight.
Still, she opens her mouth, hears herself say: "No, you're not."
A/N: This might turn into an M-rated fic (unless there are staunch objectors?)
Please review. I'd love to know what you're thinking.