DISCLAIMER: I own nothing.
Dedicated to... Scription Addict and Gemenied who both wrote fics that made me think, "Hmm, what if..." - thank you!
Papering Over the Cracks
This is the man who has a surprising and wickedly mordant sense of humour. This is the man who drinks his coffee black and his whiskey neat; the man who has a towering reputation for being brash and quick-tempered, but who still somehow inspires tremendous loyalty in all his subordinates. This is the man who is always too stubborn to know when he is beaten and invariably triumphs because of it. This is the man who can grin like a schoolboy, smile like an angel and shout and swear like a drill sergeant. This is the man Grace Foley thinks of not just as a colleague but as a close personal friend. This is the man who has just buried his only child. This is the normally defiant, irrepressible man who is suddenly far, far too quiet.
So many hours have passed that it's just the two of them left in the big house now, and she doesn't know if Boyd is actually aware of it or not. He's been drinking on and off all day, and as far as she can see he is still coldly, bitterly sober. She has seen no tears from him, not as he joined with the pallbearers to carry the simple oak coffin, not at the crowded graveside. He has been closed, quiet and dry-eyed throughout the entire day, and it has earned him more than one sharp rebuke from those who evidently blame him for the whole terrible tragedy, but nothing seems to have touched him – not the pain, not the grief, not the alcohol. He is empty. Broken.
Grace doesn't know what to do, whether to stay or go, whether to speak or to remain silent. The intensity of his sorrow is a palpable thing, as stark and powerful as the guilt that she fears will ultimately destroy him, and it calls to her, a melancholy siren song that refuses to be ignored.
She does not know what to do, so for now she does nothing. She simply sits quietly, and she watches and she waits.
Life goes on. It's a trite saying, but no less true because of it. The day after Luke Boyd's funeral, Grace arrives late for work, but she arrives. Not so Boyd who has been summarily ordered to take at least a week's compassionate leave before even thinking about returning to the CCU's gloomy basement headquarters. His absence is as keenly felt as his presence normally is, and it isn't just the unusual level of quiet calm in the squad room that's responsible for the distinctly odd atmosphere that hangs heavily around them all. There's an overriding sense that somehow nothing's ever going to be the same again, not for any of them; as if they all already know that Boyd's personal catastrophe will have far-reaching consequences for everyone who comes into contact with him from now on.
She should talk to them. Should call them all together and discuss all their fears and worries; should offer whatever reassurance and insight her professional experience can bestow, but Grace is too busy wrestling with newly-acquired demons of her own to spare the notion much more than a passing thought or two. If anyone actually notices how uncharacteristically preoccupied she is, she hopes they will simply put it down to the accumulated stress of the last few days. For most of the morning she remains determinedly in her office, the paperwork spread across her desk hopefully giving the impression that she is simply far too busy to spend any significant time interacting with her colleagues. It's a kind of cowardice and Grace knows it, but it's the only plausible defence she currently has.
Life goes on. For her, for them; for Boyd himself.
She despises herself. She realises it in the lunchtime silence of the empty squad room as she makes yet another cup of coffee that she will probably forget to drink. It may prove to be a transient state, but for now, Grace utterly despises herself.
Superficially, it's laughable. He is, after all, a mature and attractive man with a well-known eye for the ladies. The idea of any woman taking advantage of him is patently ridiculous. There isn't anyone who knows him who wouldn't laugh aloud at the very thought of it.
But that's exactly what Grace did. She took advantage of his sorrow, his intense vulnerability. Took advantage of him for her own stupid, selfish reasons.
So confused, so wounded and so very trusting as she gently took his hand.
Was it worth it, Grace? a reproachful voice in her head asks quietly, and now, in the cold light of day, the answer – of course – is an emphatic no.
Guilt and disgust are burning in her stomach. The acid sting of regret tinged with deep self-loathing.
Oh, yes, as she continues to skulk in her office well away from her colleagues, Grace thoroughly despises herself.
It's Eve who comes in the end, when the long working day is finally done and the shadows are gathering darkly in already dusky corners. At first Grace assumes the reasons for her visit are professional, but it's very quickly evident that she's wrong. There's an awkward, stumbling sort of compassion in the younger woman as she hesitantly offers, "I thought you might need someone to talk to…"
It's on her lips to decline – firmly but politely – but something, maybe Eve's own part in the whole appalling tragedy, stops her. Instead, Grace allows a wry grimace. "I wish it was that simple, Eve, I really do."
Instead of commenting, Eve simply sits down and asks, "So how was the funeral?"
"Grim," Grace admits, picturing the coffin on its trestles, the hollow strained look on Boyd's face. "No parent should ever have to bury a child. It's just not the natural order of things."
Eve nods, says quietly, "And just how many times have we all found ourselves saying that over the years?"
"He got through it, though?"
"Oh, yes. In his own way. You know Boyd. There weren't any histrionics – not from him, anyway."
"Luke's mother?" Eve guesses.
Grace nods solemnly, remembering. She sighs heavily. "Poor, poor Mary. She and her second husband have two girls, you know. Heaven only knows what this will do to her relationship with them. I can't imagine her ever letting them out of her sight again after this. She blames him; as far as she's concerned, it's all Boyd's fault."
"Time's a great healer, Grace. That's what they say, isn't it?"
"They do. Whether it's always true, I'm suddenly not sure."
Grace pulls a face. "God, no. I can give you chapter and verse on the psychology of grief and healing, Eve, but in this case it would just be empty words."
Even gazes at her for a long moment before asking, "He'll be all right, though, surely? I mean, he's as tough as they come…"
"And you honestly believe that, do you?"
Eve looks at the floor. "Spence thinks it's game over. He thinks Boyd will resign and they'll seize the opportunity to shut us down instead of appointing a new commanding officer."
"Which is one of the reasons he'll stay," Grace tells her.
"The others being…?"
"Pride. Penance. Stubbornness. A fundamental belief that what we do actually makes a difference."
"Mm," Eve says, clearly unconvinced. She looks around for a moment and then asks, "I don't suppose you've got anything to drink in here, have you, Grace…?"
So they drink. Not to excess, but they drink, and the wine – a smooth red – quietly does its job, gently blurring the lines between what can and cannot be said. Grace is guarded, but the truth and the remorse are weighing so heavily inside her that it becomes increasingly difficult not to let them spill out into the space between them. Eve, though, is paid to be perceptive, and she seems to have little trouble finally asking bluntly, "So, are you going to tell me what's been bothering you all day?"
Grace shakes her head slowly. "I can't."
"Why? Whatever you say won't go beyond these four walls, you know that."
"I just… I can't, Eve."
"It's Boyd, isn't it?" Eve says, the note of resignation in her voice far too clear. "Come on, Grace, what's he done this time?"
"Nothing. He's done nothing. And why do you always assume it's about Boyd?"
"Because," Eve says gently, "When you're like this, it always is. Almost always is, anyway. What happened? Did he pick a fight with you after the funeral?"
Defensively, she says, "No, of course not. Nothing like that. It's not Boyd, it's me."
"Oh, God. 'It's not him, it's me'. Wake up, Grace."
Grace stares silently into the depths of her glass. It takes her a long, long time to admit, "I did something terrible. Something incredibly selfish and stupid, and I feel absolutely awful about it."
Her confession is met by a steady gaze that's open and not at all judgemental. "It was a difficult day for both of you. I'm sure that whatever happened – "
"Trust me, Eve," Grace interrupts, "I'm not talking about just speaking out of turn, or telling him something he didn't want to hear. This isn't going to go away."
"So call him," Eve says impatiently. "Call him and talk about it."
"Not a good idea."
Silence creeps back into the room for several minutes, both of them apparently lost in their own thoughts. Into the intense quiet, Eve eventually says, "It's absolutely nothing to do with me, but sooner or later you and Boyd are going to have to sort yourselves out – you do realise that, don't you?"
"'Sort ourselves out'?"
"You know what I mean."
Bristling, Grace says sharply, "Actually, I don't know that I do."
Eve stands up and places her empty wine glass neatly on the desk. "Oh, please. Just… I don't know… go out to dinner… go away together for a weekend… shag each other senseless. Whatever it takes. Get it out of your systems and move on, or stay together and try to make it work; it doesn't matter which, just as long as you finally sort it out."
Alone in her own bed, she dreams of him. When she wakes in the cold dawn light, she immediately thinks of him. Neither state is restful. She tries to imagine how he is feeling, but it's an impossible task which only brings back haunting memories of wounded dark eyes watching her warily in the subdued light of a single bedside lamp. Over and over again Grace asks herself difficult questions that only have intensely painful answers. Self-awareness hurts. She knows exactly why she did what she did, and the knowledge is almost impossible for her to stomach. Nothing's getting any better, far from it. The more she dwells on what she did, the more appalled she is by it.
Was there any part of her that might have misguidedly believed she was merely offering him some kind of comfort? Grace thinks not, and her conscience twists uneasily.
He's not a child. Far from it.
It doesn't make any difference.
She should not have done what she did. There's no excuse for it, any of it. She saw an unexpected opportunity and she took it. This time the culpability is entirely hers.
It's a strange and unpleasant notion.
On arrival, she goes straight to the lab, barely sparing Stella and Spencer a brief nod as she passes through the squad room. She hopes her colleague will be alone, that none of the technicians will be there working alongside her. For a change, luck is with her. Even as Grace automatically shrugs into a clean white lab coat and steps through the second set of doors, she can see that Eve is the only one present. Seated at her desk, the dark-haired woman is staring intently at her computer screen, a lit cigarette in her hand. The smoke curls lazily towards the ceiling where it will be caught and vented. While the cat's away, the mouse will play. Boyd has very little tolerance when it comes to Eve's on-going love-affair with nicotine, and his complaints about her unrepentant smoking in the CCU's lab are frequent and highly-vocal.
Eve looks up, attention obviously caught by the sound of the doors softly hissing open. Her expression changes from mild curiosity to something far more cautious. She says, "Grace."
"Can we talk?" Grace asks without preamble.
"If it's about last night," Eve says quickly, "I'm sorry. I said things I shouldn't have done. It's none of my business, any of it, and – "
Grave waves her words off. "I really need to talk to someone about what happened the night of the funeral, and I have no idea where to start or who to turn to."
Eve looks faintly sceptical. "Are you absolutely sure I'm the right person?"
"I don't think there is a right person," Grace admits with an inappropriate trace of dark humour. "All I know is that I need to find some perspective, and I can't seem to do it on my own."
"All right," Eve says. She gestures towards an empty chair. "I can't promise I can be of any help, but I can listen."
"Thanks," Grace says, settling gratefully. For a moment she glances round the lab, oddly soothed by its clinical familiarity, its cold functionality. This is not a place for sentiment, this is a place where the truth is revealed, however unpalatable it may prove to be. Finally looking straight at Eve, she says, "This isn't easy for me."
"I'm getting that," Eve replies. She shrugs slightly. "Nothing much shocks me, Grace. Sort of goes with the job."
Biting the metaphorical bullet, Grace says bluntly, "I slept with him. Boyd. The night of the funeral."
Eve doesn't look remotely surprised. "Is that all? Christ, Grace, you had me really worried there for a moment."
"What do you mean 'is that all'?" Grace asks, taken aback by the other woman's reaction.
Eve gives her a sideways look. "You're both consenting adults. Stress and grief does strange things to people, you know that better than anyone. Unless you're about to tell me he forced himself on you?"
Grace laughs sharply. "No. Far from it."
"So? Grace, I know you like him, and it's glaringly obvious that the feeling's entirely mutual. Please don't tell me this is going to be one of those 'but we have to work together' conversations? Plenty of people end up in relationships with co-workers, and most of them are perfectly sensible about it."
"It's not going to be that sort of conversation," Grace assures her quickly. "Eve, he was so… lost. So lost and so, so hurt, and I… I took advantage of that."
Dark eyebrows rise sharply, ironically. "Oh, come on… this is Boyd we're talking about. He couldn't be taken advantage of if he was trussed up like a chicken and handcuffed to the bed."
"Eve," Grace chides.
Eve shakes her head as she stubs out her cigarette. "Sorry. But I think you may have got things a bit… out of proportion. I can't really see you managing to drag him up the stairs against his will. Okay, perhaps the timing could have been better, but – "
"You really don't understand, do you? The state he was in – "
"You're looking at this through professional eyes," Eve says abruptly. "He's not a victim and we're not talking about issues of consent. Christ, people have sex for all sorts of reasons, you know that. Boyd's perfectly capable of looking after himself, whether he's grieving or not. Maybe it was exactly what he needed, have you considered that? Maybe the last thing he wanted was to be left alone in that big old house of his with just his memories for company."
"Irrelevant," Grace says stubbornly. "He was vulnerable and I – "
"Stop it, Grace. He's not a little boy, even if it amuses you to treat him like one."
Stung, Grace retorts, "You didn't see him."
"No, I didn't. And, no, I can't imagine what he's going through, but I know he's a lot tougher emotionally than you seem to think."
"Really. And on what do you base that assumption, Doctor Lockhart?"
"Observation," Eve says tartly. "I only deal in observable facts, Doctor Foley."
He cried in my arms, Grace thinks as she drives slowly and inexorably towards the familiar Greenwich street. He broke down and he cried in my arms like a child…
"He's not a little boy…" Eve's voice echoes in her mind.
But in some ways that's exactly what he is. A hurt, confused little boy who doesn't understand why all the hurtful things that have happened to him have happened.
You're wrong, her own voice says sternly in place of Eve's. You're wrong, Grace. You ascribe things to him simply because there's so much about him that you still can't fathom – and it drives you crazy. He's not a client, he's your colleague, your friend. And the man you made a point of deliberately sleeping with because you unexpectedly had the opportunity. Deal with it.
She should be at work, lunch hour or not. She shouldn't be in Greenwich preparing for an encounter that could prove incredibly painful for both of them.
But she knows she's already avoided facing him for too long.
Boyd's silver Audi is still in the same position on the drive as it was when she left in the early-morning light a little more than thirty-six hours ago. Locking her own car and walking towards the house, Grace notices that a number of the fanlights are wide open. Clearly, Boyd is at home. He's far too cautious not to firmly secure his property before leaving it unattended for even a short time. Walking slowly up the wide stone steps to the front door, it strikes Grace yet again how little the house reflects its owner's carefully-constructed public persona. It is not a towering, gloomy fortress or a sleek, expensive bachelor apartment, it's a big, elegant family house with massive windows that flood the rooms with light and air, and it's very comfortably and conventionally furnished. A very… nice, very ordinary sort of house. Solidly, unrepentantly middle class.
Boyd opens the door before Grace has a chance to knock, and though he may be barefoot and unshaven, he looks in a far better state than she feared he might. A little gaunt, a little haggard, true, but the dark eyes are clear and alert and he regards her quizzically as he explains, "Saw your car pull up."
He does not look like the broken, traumatised man who sobbed inconsolably on her shoulder just two nights ago. All the carefully-planned words disappear and Grace hears herself say inanely, "I wanted to check that you were all right."
"Frightened I might have topped myself?" Boyd asks sardonically. He folds his arms across his chest and inquires, "Shouldn't you be at work?"
"Well, you know," she says, unconsciously falling back on the old, familiar banter. "The boss is away, so…"
"I see. I don't think I want to hear any more, do I?"
Even barefoot he's still easily able to look down at her. "Are you going to come in, or are you going to carry on hovering suspiciously on my doorstep…?"
"I'm sorry," she says again.
Boyd's hands tighten on the back of the dining chair he's leaning on. She can see the strained whiteness of his knuckles. Both his expression and his voice remain absolutely neutral as he replies, "Don't, Grace. Just don't, okay?"
"Please, Boyd. At least give me a chance to explain."
The refusal is emphatic. Studying him, Grace takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment then exhales slowly. As calmly as she can, she asks, "Why not?"
His eyes always give him away, and they do this time. She sees the flash of angry dark fire that precedes the sharp, "Why the hell do you think? I can just about live with the idea of being a pity-fuck, but I really don't want to listen to all the reasons why I'm the last man alive you'd choose to sleep with under normal circumstances."
She stares at him incredulously, genuinely unable to form a retort. In the end she manages, "That's really what you think? That I would… That… You think I could actually do that? To you? To anyone?"
"I think we should either change the subject or that you should leave. Either way, I'm not discussing it."
Her temper is nowhere as dangerously volatile as his, but when it's roused it can be just as fierce. Grace can feel the blood starting to drum in her ears, can feel her breathing start to accelerate. Knows it's time to walk away before one or other of them says something completely unforgivable, but she finds herself almost literally rooted to the spot. There's not much distance between them, maybe only four or five feet, and for a moment she fights the urge to spring forward and slap him as hard as she possibly can. What it is about Peter Boyd that can – and does – bring out both the absolute best and worst in her, Grace has never known.
Managing to stay the urge to lash out at him physically, she grinds out, "It's always about you, isn't it, Boyd? You don't want to discuss it, so it doesn't get discussed."
"My house, my rules," he tells her, his voice hard. He releases his grip on the chair and moves to stare out of the window, his back firmly to her. Under the dark, slightly rumpled tee-shirt, his shoulders are set stubbornly square.
The last of her patience ebbs away. "Fine," Grace snaps at him. "You're entitled to that – but don't you dare accuse me of things that simply aren't true."
Boyd half-turns and bites back, "Truth too brutal for you, Grace?"
Her own anger makes her immune to the spite in his voice and she counters immediately with, "Not at all. I can deal with the truth – can you?"
He turns away again. "I already have. I'm living with it every minute of every day."
Frustrated, Grace takes a step towards him. "This isn't about Luke, this is about you and me, and why we can't ever manage to communicate properly."
Boyd raises a hand. "Spare me. I've had enough of your psychological clap-trap to last me a lifetime. Face it, Grace, you lost the moral high ground the moment you felt so sorry for me that you jumped into my bed."
His words are hard, and they hurt. But Grace isn't ready to walk away from the battlefield just yet. Not bothering to disguise the brittle edge in her voice, she says, "What gives you the right to sit in judgement over me, Boyd? I made a stupid, selfish mistake – one I came here to apologise for – but if you think I slept with you just because I felt sorry for you then you're even more incapable of understanding women than I thought. And that's saying something."
"When I woke up, you were gone."
The hard angry growl has disappeared, she realises immediately, and it has been replaced by a hint of something plaintive, something hurt and confused. The abrupt change startles Grace, makes her pause and choose her answering words with care. Staring at the back of his head, she says, "You were exhausted, Boyd. I had to go home, had to get ready for work. I thought it was better to leave you to sleep."
She can see him looking at her reflection in the glass as he accuses, "You didn't call me."
Again, there's far more sorrow than anger in his voice, and her temper finally subsides completely. It takes a lot of courage, but Grace grudgingly admits, "I was embarrassed."
Boyd turns to look at her. He shakes his head. "Thanks, Grace. Thanks a lot."
"For God's sake, Boyd… Stop making assumptions. For a man who didn't want to discuss this…"
Quite abruptly, all the fight seems to out of him. His head drops and his shoulders slump. Quietly, he says, "I think it's time you left."
She can be stubborn, too. "Not until you tell me what the hell we do now."
He looks up, a distinctly ironic look in his eyes, and gives her a tight smile totally devoid of humour. "We do what we always do, Grace. We paper over all the cracks and do our best to ignore the bloody great elephant in the room."
The resulting silence is loaded, uncomfortable, but not actually hostile. There it is, the grudging acknowledgement that Boyd knows as well as Grace does that there are a great many things unspoken between them. Big, significant things; things that could change everything if they ever found a voice.
Despite herself, she smiles ruefully. "I can't remember a time when there wasn't three of us. You, me and the elephant in the corner."
"Yeah, well… Some of us might have taken a little longer to notice the elephant than others," he says, uncharacteristically self-deprecatory.
Surprised, Grace raises her eyebrows. "That's remarkably self-aware of you, Boyd."
"Don't expect me to make a habit of it."
"Oh, don't worry, I won't."
"Go away, Grace," he says, but without rancour. "Go back to work. I'll see you next week."
He's offering her a truce. Not what she came for, but infinitely better than continuing to bite and snarl at each other. Deciding to take the words at face value, Grace asks, "You're definitely coming back on Monday?"
"What do you think?"
"The DAC won't like it."
Boyd puts his hands in his pockets and leans back against the windowsill. "The DAC can shove his compassionate leave up his arse. I'm not going to sit around here licking my wounds while you lot do your best to run the unit into the ground."
"Good," she says in satisfaction. There's no doubt Boyd has a long, long road ahead of him, a lot of grieving left to do, but suddenly she has more confidence in his ability to bounce back. Eventually. There are things Grace wants to say, things that she needs to say, but she reluctantly recognises that this is not the right time or place. She wonders if there will ever be a right time or place. Picking up her bag from the dining table, she says, "Go out and get some fresh air, Boyd. Eat something, even if it's just a takeaway."
He sighs pointedly. "Get outta here, Grace. When I need someone to mother me, I'll let you know."
She goes. Not because she wants to, but because grudging compromise is better than bitter argument.
She doesn't start the engine. Instead, she sits behind the steering wheel and stares at nothing in particular as she tries to reconcile her swirling thoughts and emotions. The guilt isn't as heavy as it was, the self-recrimination is not as sharp, but there is still a deep sense of dissatisfaction inside her. An uneasiness caused by the certain knowledge that nothing has really been resolved between them. She sits and she stares, and she asks herself why she feels the way she does about him. It's a question she's never been able to answer in the past, and she can't answer it now. He is a difficult, stubborn and infinitely contradictory man. An angry man who seems to enjoy deliberately setting himself against the world; easy to rile, difficult to soothe. He's impatient, impulsive and he doesn't easily listen to anyone. Too often they end up in opposition, and it is never pleasant. For either of them, Grace suspects.
Nothing ever changes, not really. Sometimes they make concessions, and sometimes they attempt to talk, but nothing significant ever changes.
The dream is just that. A silly, ephemeral thing.
She thinks of the smoothness of his skin, the surprising softness of his lips. She thinks of stray, unwary words whispered in the dark and the wetness of his tears.
Maybe Eve's right. Maybe it's time to move on.
A tap on the driver's window makes her jump. Boyd, of course. Who else?
Dropping the window, Grace asks wearily, "What?"
"A mistake? Really? You said – "
"I know what I said."
He gazes at her placidly. "So?"
Grace sighs heavily in return. "I don't know. I really don't know. I don't even know if I care much anymore."
"You don't mean that."
She's silent for a moment. "You haven't got any shoes on."
"I know. The gravel on the drive was a bitch."
Grace looks up at him. Despite all the long, hard years, he's still as ridiculously good-looking as he ever was. She says, "It's not the right time, is it?"
His reply is quiet, level. Honest. "No."
"And it never has been, has it?"
"Maybe one day."
Grace nods solemnly. "Maybe."
He leans on the roof of the car, looking down at her steadily. "If I thought – "
"Don't," she says quietly. "Don't say it for the sake of saying it, Peter. Let's just… keep papering over the cracks."
"And the elephant in the room?"
Grace turns the key in the ignition, and the engine obediently springs to life. "What elephant?"
Boyd steps away from the car without a word, allowing her to pull carefully away from the kerb. When she looks in the rear-view mirror a few moments later, he's still standing barefoot in the road, hands in pockets, silently watching her. She looks once again as she approaches the junction at the top of the road. He's still there, but now he's calmly looking up at the summer sky.
The urge to stop and turn round is very strong. But she doesn't.
- the end -