Author's Note: Written for wishfulsinful for Yuletide 2012.

For as long as he had known her, he had been in love with her.

He was too much of a gentleman - too much of a scoundrel; he held himself back and did not allow himself to act on his sordid impulses. He couldn't do that to her, the one pure and good thing in her life; he could not drag her down to the level of sordidness where he lay, mired in dirt and mud and other squeamish things. He could not tarnish his angel in white gossamer and red lipstick.

He just couldn't find it in himself.

It was the one thing he could never do.

To crystallize something, to give life to the words that had echoed through his head for an infinite duration of time, meant there was no going back. Never going back. He could only move forward now. He loved her. Loves. Cal Lightman loves Gillian Foster, and there was no way to take that back. Not even if he wanted to.

He could self-flagellate for the rest of time alone, or he could rise up above himself. Prove to himself - to Emily, to Gillian - that he was worth more than a scoundrel's fate. Or else, he would be left to burn into a pile of ashes alone.

The first step toward redemption: confession.

His first opportunity for confession, for penance, for whatever passed for salvation came with, as so much else did in their relationship, a late night in the office. He passed by her office, on his way to get something to drink from the break room, and saw her lamp light burning bright. "You're still here," he said, popping his head inside. It wasn't a question, because there was no way to question her presence there.

She pulled her face up from the stack of papers before her, and she wiped the back of her hand against her forehead. "Paperwork's not going to do itself," she said with a wistful sigh. "If only we had a cute little robot running around the office that could fill out forms for me. Make my job so much easier."

"And then you'd only have to deal with the people that come in here and the lies they tell. And me." He took the seat in front of her desk and looked at her. She would never realize half the things he thought about her. He never knew where to start - the beginning? In medias res? Start at the end and work his way backward?

She laughed; the sound was tonic to his battered soul. "'Dealing' with you," she said, a sparkle in her eyes as she placed her hands on top of the reports scattered before her, "is one of my favorite parts of my job. No, scratch that. Favorite."

"You're just saying that to flatter me."

"Oh, and I'm sure you wouldn't say the same thing about me."

He took this as a first, tentative step toward absolving himself of his sins and impurities. Because he would. He would say all of what she just said about him, and extend it beyond the workplace and into his personal life. She was his grounding force; she was what held him down to Earth and prevented him from detaching entirely. Emily adored her; he was in love with her. She was the best thing in his life, and probably didn't even realize it. "I would, love. Every day."

"You're just saying that to flatter me." She echoed back his previous words to him; there was a flicker of a mischievous smile flitting at her lips as she did so, and her eyebrow arched ever-so-slightly, and he couldn't help it. There was no way she knew what she did to him. No way.

"If I wanted to flatter you, love, I'd tell you the truth."

"Oh? Do tell."

He'd never been a model of discretion and subtlety, especially not when it came to Gillian. Why should he start now? "You are the most attractive woman I have ever met, and there's no one I'd rather - but you had Alec, and then you would never -"

She cut him off with a quick, silent kiss. "Yes, I would," she said, her eyes darkened with lust. "Yes, I would, and don't you dare try to tell me what I can and cannot feel for you. Because you don't know everything, as much as you love to try." And then she kissed him again, pouring everything from their entire relationship into the action; they had such a long, sordid friendship that there was a lot to say.

He let out a low gasp at the feeling, and held her close to him; now that she had given him the permission to go this far, he wanted to see how far he could go - he grazed his hand at the side of her breast, and she laughed as she leaned into his touch, opening her mouth further to his tongue. This was the Gillian he dreamed about but dared not to believe actually existed. This was so much better than any dream he could have ever had, though.

Because it was real.

She was really letting him do this to her; she was really letting him touch her over her shirt, letting him massage her nipple with the pads of his thumbs, and he couldn't believe that someone like Gillian, with everything that she had going for her, would be willing to be with a guy like him.

And then she turned to him, broke their kiss with a crushing press, and smiled at him. "Don't you dare think that you're not worth this, because you're worth every moment of every day, if you ask me."

"I should have asked you sooner, then." He held her close to him, and moved his touch downward, creasing her skin with his fingernail, and she only laughed as she moved in closer. Maybe he was worthy of her after all.

They could take the second through infinite steps together.