… … …
"He makes the mess."
"She cleans it up."
It was quick. Barely noticeable unless you were looking at her at the exact right second. And he was. Because he had noticed the resonance of what had just been said; the echo of a situation not so far from home. And what he saw told him that she had recognised it too. The tension; the contempt; the sadness. When she was unguarded, her face could always say so much. And for that fleeting moment reality breached all of her usual defences and her real feelings were thrust to the front. Of course, they only lasted a split second before the surprise of the unexpected parallel wore off and she shielded them behind her expertly crafted walls once again. But it was long enough. A trained eye could read emotion in less than half that time.
He had been concerned enough to look at her in the first place. He had expected, perhaps, a glance of realisation; a look of surprise at the similarity; a pensive moment as she considered her own position. Her actual reaction heightened his worry, though. That negativity so quickly overpowered the surprise revealed that this was not the first time she had thought about her situation. This was not - as he had initially presumed it would be - an epiphany. She already knew that he was treating her like dirt. She was already struggling with it.
It threw many of his recent thoughts regarding the relationship between his two superiors out of the window.
He had always disapproved of the way she defended Lightman; her diligent efforts to make everyone else see whatever hidden side of him it was that she must have seen. He hated the way that she would support Lightman; allow him to walk all over people; to lie to people. He had hoped that, in private, she berated him; that out of sight of the colleagues who needed to look up to them - or at least to her - she gave him hell for being such an ass. But in the last few months, he had watched as she became the one to be trampled; as she was lied to and hurt and treated like one of the 'minions'. And he had watched as she just took it.
He could hardly judge her for that. The 'minions' didn't dare speak out when they were the recipients of such disregard. But, nevertheless, judge he did. Because she was supposed to be the one person who would set him straight. Because - even though the staff were never witness to it - he had firmly believed that she did not let Lightman get away with anything. So it was disappointment that had gripped him upon realising that she was blissfully unaware. She was going about her day to day life as if nothing was amiss. She really was wrapped around Lightman's little finger. And with that realisation, all respect and admiration that Eli had had for Gillian Foster had dispersed into the ether.
But this, now… This made him look at it all from a different angle. She hadn't been letting it all go; she hadn't been oblivious to how appalling his behaviour was. She perhaps was as intelligent as Eli had originally given her credit for. The tension and the contempt revealed exactly how it was affecting her; that she did know that he was using her, and that she was being shockingly taken for granted. Eli would have been ready to stand beside her and scream "You go, girl!" as she let out all of that pent up anger… But the sadness. The sadness answered every question he now had, and had ever had, about why she wasn't confronting him. It was resignation.
She had been standing up to him. She had made it clear that he couldn't speak to people that way; that he couldn't threaten to fire people, daily; that he had to treat people with respect. Lightman had to know that Gillian defended him, and protected him, on a daily - if not hourly - basis. He had to know that she cared about him much more than he deserved to be cared for. And yet, if anything, he had got worse instead of better, and started to take it out on her. Seven years worth of caring: Ignored. No wonder she had given up trying. Eli was surprised she hadn't reached this point earlier.
… … …
Eli watched, for the rest of the case, whenever he could, but he saw no further trace of that briefly glimpsed pain. He couldn't decide if it showed strength or not, to do what she was doing. Ilene Clark had felt a duty, a responsibility to her brother, borne of her guilt, and her love for him. What was keeping Gillian at Lightman's beck and call?
It was partly the same thing, he supposed: Love.
He pondered this as he surreptiously observed her where she sat beside him, drinking the cup of coffee that Torres had made. The two women were discussing the resolution of the case, and he occasionally contributed a remark so they wouldn't suspect that his mind was predominantly elsewhere.
He thought that he couldn't understand how someone as kind and gentle as Gillian had managed to fall in love with someone who just didn't care. Then Torres spoke and his eyes drifted towards her. And he admitted that perhaps he could.
"If it hadn't been Juan Salazar in that car, then the case may never have come to us… What would have happened to Ilene Clark then?" Ria mused, swirling the remains of her drink round the cup.
Eli stole a quick glance at Gillian. If she was drawing the parallels between herself and Ilene then, this time, it didn't show at all. Regardless, he saw an opportunity to encourage her to make a change. Maybe it would get her to think about it…
"Well, eventually, something would have had to change. I mean, she couldn't go on forever like that."
… Or maybe she would ignore it; pretend it never happened. As she did with so much else.