Eli glanced again at his watch. He had thought that Ria would be back by now. He was hanging around to go over some interview footage with her, but he hadn't expected her to be gone so long. It was getting a little too late to start looking at the footage now, and, just as darkness was starting to settle across the city, disappointment was settling across Eli. It wasn't that he was in a hurry to get home. Rather he had been anticipating the opportunity to spend time with Ria - any opportunity.
He had tried - since their one night together - to accept that they were not going to be anything more than friends, but his attempts had not been successful. He had fallen for her, deeply, and he couldn't let go. He didn't want to let go. She could say all she wanted about it not being appropriate; about it being for the best, but he could see her true feelings all over her face; hear them in her voice. And she had to know that. She had to know that he was hoping for more as much as she was. There was no way she could miss it in his face and voice.
And yet they were continuing this pretence that they were both fine with their current situation. He laughed to himself as he realised the similarity to Lightman and Foster. Ria was always saying that she couldn't understand how they could bear to maintain the distance between them when they were so obviously in love with each other. Well, now she was finding out: They both were. And he still hadn't figured out how to handle it, he just hoped he didn't look as lovesick as he felt.
The opening of the lab door startled him from his thoughts. Doctor Foster was peeping round it, her hand curved round the metal.
"You okay?" she asked, her brow ever so slightly crinkled in concern.
"Yeah, you just surprised me," he admitted - a half truth. She would know there was more going on, but she wouldn't pry.
She offered him a smile and nodded. "Ria called. Her car's broken down. I've told her not to worry about coming back in."
Now he hoped his disappointment wasn't showing. Trust him to fall in love with someone in an office full of microexpression experts. He nodded once. "Okay… Thanks."
She smiled again and then stepped out of the lab.
Instructing himself to pull it together, Eli began shutting down the files that he had open. His thoughts drifted to going home, alone again and still no further towards either moving on or asking Ria to reconsider. It was getting ridiculous now and he had to make some sort of progress in one direction or the other before he lost every ounce of 'manliness' he ever possessed.
He sighed, even more dejected, upon remembering that the roads were more than likely crazy in response to the snow that had been falling since yesterday evening. Then his thoughts drifted back to Ria - as they usually did - and the image of her sitting in her powerless car in the cold. He swiped his jacket off the back of his chair, snatched his scarf up and draped it around his neck as he left the room.
He found Gillian en route to Lightman's office and asked her exactly where Ria's car was. He thought he spotted a twinkling of amusement in her eyes as she gave him the location without question.
As he walked away along the corridor, Lightman's voice drifted behind him.
"Where's he going?"
He heard Gillian softly placate him. "Home, Cal."
"He seems in somewhat of a hurry."
He knew Lightman was intentionally speaking loudly enough for his comments to be heard. Eli smiled as he imagined Gillian ushering Cal back into his office; keeping him on track; knowing him better than he even knew himself: He wanted that - although, slightly more than that - with Ria.
As he stepped into the chill of the parking garage he pulled his coat tighter around him and resolved to tell her such tonight. After all, how much more romantic could you get than lightly falling snow at twilight?
... ... ...
Eli made one stop to pick up two cups of coffee. He made a second when he was about two minutes away from Ria's car, having realised that pulling up unannounced on a deserted street, in the dark, may scare her.
She answered his call cheerfully enough, but she sounded cold!
"Hi… Listen, I'm going to pull up behind your car in about two minutes. Thought I'd better warn you."
"Loker, you don't have to - "
"My heater's been on all the way here. And I brought hot coffee - always takes off the chill."
He could hear the smile and relief in her voice when she responded. "Eli, that's - … Thank you."
"Two minutes. I'll flash my lights three times so you know it's definitely me."
As hoped, she laughed. "Make sure it's three times or else I'll ignore you."
"See you in a moment."
He ended the call, unable to stop himself smiling. He knew it was pathetic, but he'd missed her. And Eli Loker didn't like to do pathetic so that reaffirmed his decision to discuss it all with her tonight.
... ... ...
The light of the street lamps reflected off the snow on the ground, casting everything in a silver glow. Beside the road, where neither vehicles nor pedestrians had disturbed it, the gathering flakes had reached a depth of about a foot. If Eli didn't look at the road, where slush was split by tire tracks, he could believe he was in a winter wonderland.
Even in the short walk between her car and his, Ria's hair had become peppered with snowflakes. They had melted quite rapidly in the heat of his car, but every so often, as she moved her head while she was speaking, he caught a glimpse of a droplet in her hair; catching the light, drawing his attention. Not that he really needed his attention drawing to her. Since she had climbed into the car - preceded by a swirl of cold air that confirmed for him that coming out here was the right move - he hadn't been able to (or wanted to) take his eyes off her.
Right now she was telling him about the break down and he was lost in a daze just listening to her voice, watching her lips… If this was what Lightman went through every day for seven years with Foster, it explained a lot regarding his sanity!
He was brought back to concentration when she mentioned him.
"Sorry?" he asked automatically and she shot him a nervous, knowing look.
"Foster said you would come out here," she repeated, her hands grasping her coffee cup tightly, her eyes looking anywhere but at him.
Eli shook his head slowly as he smiled, remembering Gillian's amusement when he'd asked where Ria was. "Apparently I'm predictable."
"Did she not tell you?" she asked, glancing up at him.
"No… She let me come to the decision myself."
"And why did you?"
Her question surprised him; he hadn't expected that she would need to ask.
"Couldn't have you sitting out here in the cold on your own," he replied, nonchalantly.
"You know, as I was leaving, I was listening to Foster and Lightman. The way she just knows what to say, what to do, to keep him in line - "
"Most of the time," Ria interjected.
"Well, yeah…" he agreed, then returned to all seriousness. "I want to be like that."
"Annoying as hell?" she quipped in response.
Eli laughed at that, imagining himself being anything like Lightman. "If it means I get a gorgeous woman watching out for me, then sure."
"Got a little crush on Foster, have you?" Ria teased, but he heard a quiver of uncertainty behind her words.
"That might be easier to deal with. At least I'd know I didn't stand a chance."
He heard her take a breath to speak, but continued anyway, locking his eyes on hers, not giving her chance to look away.
"I know I'm technically your superior, and I shouldn't do this, but… I want what Lightman and Foster have, Ria. Only, I don't want to wait seven years - or longer. We can learn from their mistakes! I can't do what they do. I can't ignore it."
"Loker - "
A burst of laughter broke free from Eli's lips at that and Ria's initial shock soon morphed to understanding.
"That's what Lightman does." She nodded as she spoke.
"Calls her 'Foster' to keep his distance."
"Well, to try."
"Because he's scared." Her voice was quiet now, unconfident.
He nodded, softly assuring her, "I know."
"Because it would be incredibly risky," she continued.
"I think it would incredible in general."
Her expression showed a mixture of discomfort, hope and excitement. She wanted them to have this conversation as much as she didn't.
"I think you spend too much time thinking about Lightman & Foster," she tried for a lighter tone.
"I think you know we're not talking about Lightman and Foster," he acknowledged gently.
She held his gaze a beat longer before breaking away and looking at her coffee, moving the cup to swirl the remaining liquid. He conjectured it must be cold by now, but she lifted it to her lips and took a sip before uttering, "I know."
Accepting that his persistent gaze might be adding to her discomfort, Eli turned and faced straight ahead. Snow had begun to gather on his windscreen, soon translucent due to the heat from inside. He watched the falling flakes dance around in the silver night, and he drummed his fingers on the wheel, and he tried to think of something to say to convince her that she didn't need to be scared. Of course, that would have been easier if he wasn't terrified himself.
"What happens when we pass them?"
Ria's sudden voice surprised him in the silence that had descended on the car. He didn't understand her question and turned back to her, frowning.
Recognising his expression, she clarified, "Lightman and Foster… What happens when we reach territory that they haven't charted yet? Potential mistakes that they haven't yet made?"
Her use of 'when' sent a powerful flutter through Eli's abdomen, through his heart, through his head, and he felt a little dizzy.
"Well, then we just go with the flow," he answered her, trying to reign in his excitement so he appeared calm and collected. "We see what happens… I'm sure we can think for ourselves."
He was relieved when she laughed with him at that remark, the gentle sound carrying over the short distance between them; sending another tremor of anticipation coursing through him.
He captured her eyes with his once more and had to make sure: "Ria, are you - "
"It's probably not the best idea ever," she interrupted him.
He indicated his agreement with a head twitch.
"But... I do think that we're inevitable..."
She trailed off and he completed her thought, "So why waste time?"
She smiled, still anxious; still apprehensive; but happy. She looked happy.
"Besides, we're just the minions. It's not like the company would fall apart if it didn't work."
He didn't like that her thoughts had gone there. "Do you think it won't work?" he checked.
Ria relinquished her two-handed grip on her cup, and placed her left hand on Eli's right, where it was curved round the side of his seat. "I think... I want to go with the flow; see what happens."
Eli nodded, turning his hand over to hold hers. "We'll take it slowly; date properly..."
Now Ria nodded. "Okay..." He watched as her face tried to force her bright smile away but it refused to be shifted.
"Wanna go for coffee?" he grinned, giddiness growing greater with each second.
Ria giggled. "Ah, first date accomplished," she commented, making a 'toasting' gesture with her cup.
Eli held her hand more firmly and leaned closer to her, lowering his voice to just above a whisper. "Then how about dinner tonight?"
Ria replied at the same volume. "That would be nice."
She had tilted her head towards him; her eyes were inviting him to close the gap between them.
Maybe it would become a problem, in the future, that he couldn't say no to her. Maybe it wouldn't. Right now, none of that mattered.
He felt his lips curving uncontrollably as he inched ever closer. Her eyes slipped closed as her breath danced across his lips. He gave a gentle tug on the hand he still held, to encourage her to meet him halfway -
And then the bright lights of the recovery truck flooded the car as it passed them and pulled up in front of Ria's car.
"Crap timing," Ria breathed as she began to move away.
Eli landed his left hand on her hip, and brought his right up to caress her face and he turned her towards him and kissed her.
His memories of kissing Ria had not done her, or the act, justice. This was a tender kiss of promise, far removed from the frenzied passion that had overcome them on that other night. Her lips moved slowly under his, tasting of the peppermint mocha he had bought her.
Reluctant to pull away, he broke it down into brief individual kisses, until each was discernable from the one before. Then he stroked his thumb across her jaw line as he studied her reaction.
When her mouth quirked into a radiant smile, he allowed his own to do the same. "Why waste time?" he repeated as the explanation her raised eyebrows were seeking.
She leaned into him and deposited another quick peck on his lips before zipping up her jacket and opening the car door. Another swirl of cold wind entered, sprinkling the seat with a dusting of snowflakes, and then she was gone.
Eli watched the white specks dissolve into nothingness and wondered if, any minute now, this reality might do the same. He held his breath for a moment; each flake disappeared. He was still there.
And through the window, beside her car, rocking from left to right for warmth, was Ria.
He buttoned up his coat and allowed more flakes into the car as he exited. The snow crunched beneath his feet, and he was careful not to stand on any of Ria's footprints once they came onto his path. It made him smile to look back and see the two sets of prints, side by side.
Even he knew how cheesy that sounded, and he shook his head lightly as he reprimanded himself. He had got it bad...
He wrapped his arm around Ria's shoulders, sharing his body heat, and she smiled up at him gratefully.
… but, luckily, he wasn't the only one.