The affection is subtle and that's how he knows it's real.
The light touches they exchange are not territorial, and yet it's undeniable that they belong to each other. They communicate wordlessly: slight twitches of the lips, a sideways glance, a flick of the wrist.
These are the ways she used to be with him.
And Peter can't deny the jealousy he feels when he sees them together. He also can't deny the shambles his marriage has become. With all the pretenses of a real relationship, it's a showy manipulative tactic meant to appease the press and public only.
Peter realises that it doesn't matter what he does now: how he implores or how he fights. Because this is no longer about who loves her more. It's about who she loves more. And maybe seventeen years ago that had been him, but nineteen years ago that had been Will Gardner and it looks like, for those two, love hadn't come with a statute of limitations either.
By the time Alicia gets around to telling her children about her and Will's new-but-actually-old relationship, Will has taken to teaching Grace the guitar and has been spending a couple of days a week playing basketball with Zach.
"Hey Zach, Grace?" It's a Wednesday night, after dinner, and Alicia seats herself down on the coffee table in front of her children. She's blocking their view of the television, forcing them to pay attention. "Can you turn that off, please?"
Zach grabs the remote, hits the power button. "What's up mom?"
"I just wanted to talk to you guys about something."
"Okay," Grace nods, clearly eager to get back to whatever they had been watching.
"It's about Will," Alicia starts, hesitant.
"Yeah, what about him?" Zach asks.
Alicia clasps her hands tightly, places them on her lap. "Well, he and I have been seeing each other. Dating—" she pauses at that word "—kind of," then amends, "In a relationship, anyway."
"Uh huh," Zach says, unfazed.
Grace echoes his tone. "We know."
Alicia blinks, clearly having expected a different response, and continues haltingly, "But I want you to know that this only started after your dad and I separated. When I told the two of you that we were trying to work out our marriage, that hadn't been a lie."
"We know that, mom," Grace says.
Alicia still can't believe her kids are so calm about this. "I thought you might feel weird about it," she says, trying to bring up another concern they might have, "since your dad and I aren't officially divorced yet."
Grace shrugs. "Maybe, but—"
"But you're separated," says Zach, "And we just want you to be happy."
"And being with Will makes you happy," says Grace.
Alicia smiles – nearly beams – at her kids. "I am so proud of you two," she says, leaning in and kissing them both on the cheeks, much to their chagrin.
"Really mom," Zach says when he manages to squirm away from her hug, "Did you and Will really think you were being discrete?"
"Yeah mom," says Grace, "We kind of figured it out a while ago."
"You did?" asks Alicia, the question rhetorical, "And you guys didn't care?"
"Well…" Grace glances at her brother, "At first I didn't like it—"
"—me either," Zach chimes in, "When I met Will the first time, it was kind of awkward."
"But now," Grace continues, "Whatever. Will's cool."
"Yeah, we like him," says Zach.
Alicia looks between the two of them. "You know I love you two so much, don't you? You will always, always come first. No matter what."
Grace and Zach look at each other with a roll of their eyes, as teenagers do, and then lean in to hug her. "Yeah. We know."
Lying in her bed that night – sans Will – Alicia thinks about how children can bring people together. If it hadn't been for that day they had with Will's niece, maybe Grace and Zach wouldn't have gotten to know – and like – Will as much as they do.
Then again, children can keep people together too, and maybe that's what she had been doing with Peter: trying to heal a marriage that would never heal because of their children. It had been a good reason, but maybe in the end, it hadn't been the best reason. Still, it'll never be something Alicia regrets doing – trying to keep her family together – just like she doesn't regret the separation. And, she thinks, when the divorce goes through, she's sure she won't regret that either.
"How did it go?" Will asks a few days later. It's the first time they've seen each other since Alicia's conversation with her kids. She's supposedly awaiting a verdict, but she's waiting for it with him in his apartment.
"Well," she replies, "Really well. Surprisingly well."
"They're good kids," he says.
Alicia smiles. "Yeah, they really are."
They're in his bed partially dressed – his chest is bare but he has boxers on and she's wearing one of his dress shirts along with her panties – still basking in the aftermath of mid-afternoon sex. Alicia's propped herself up, leaning against the headboard as she checks her phone for messages, while Will brushes her bare legs with light fingers.
"You know what Diane said to me before I started my suspension?" he asks.
Alicia shakes her head a little, eyes still downcast, "No."
"She said I wouldn't last six months. That so much time away from the law would kill me. But, here I am, six months later and I'm okay." He pulls at the shirt she's wearing, gaining her attention while also exposing a shoulder in order to press kisses onto bare skin. "More than okay."
She smiles, puts her phone down. "And why is that?" she asks.
He stops toying with her shirt and sits up, angling his body towards hers. "I think I had forgotten that I could have other things going on, that there were other things worth living for that didn't include making a lot of money and getting ahead." Will meets her eyes and suddenly gets serious. "I've decided I want to – I'm trying to – build a real life for myself. A private life that has nothing to do with the law."
"Okay." She nods, trails off.
"And I want you, Alicia. I want you to be a part of it."
Her eyes widen a fraction. Will's feelings for her have never been a secret, but him declaring things like this is new. Not unwanted, just unexpected.
"I can't go back to just being friends with you, Alicia," he says, "First of all, the sex is too good. I mean, really, that's the most important thing—"
He cuts himself off, smiles when she laughs.
"That is a very good point," she says lightly.
"You want this, Alicia," says Will, serious again, "Don't you?"
He doesn't have to say what 'this' is. She knows. He knows. Hell, her kids know.
There have been some big changes in her life lately, and some big changes that are a long time coming but are just waiting for her to make a move. Now, looking at Will and listening to him make life-altering decisions has her – in the span of a few minutes – absolutely certain about some of those moves.
She eyes him now, makes her own decision. "Will," she says, "When you go back to the firm next month, I don't think I'm going to be there."
"What?" He startles at the abrupt change in topic. "What are you talking about?"
"Louis Canning. He offered me a job."
"Hasn't he been offering you a job for a year now?"
"Yes, but this time…" Alicia shrugs.
"You're considering it," he finishes.
"I'm more than considering it," she says, "I think I might accept it."
He shakes his head. "But why?"
"The pay. The hours."
"Look, if it's about the money," Will starts, "I could talk to Diane. We could work something out."
"No, Will," she says, placing a hand on top of his, "It's not about the money. Well, it's not just about the money."
"Then what?" he sighs, confused at the direction of this conversation.
Will blinks. A stutter. "Me?"
"Yes." Her eyes are clear, bright. "I don't want you to be my boss anymore."
His brows furrow. "You don't want me to—" He stops. "Oh." Pauses again. "Oh."
She smiles, open and hopeful, wants him to know she's not just talking about her future job prospects but that she's talking about their future. "It's good timing, don't you think?"
He grins, leans in to kiss her. "Perfect timing."
A/N: The writing on this series is so wonderfully fantastic that I know no fanfic could ever come close to the brilliance of TGW writing staff, but I thank you all for indulging me in this fandom anyway!
I've truly appreciated every single review and comment and hope you will leave me with some of your final thoughts. :)