… … …
She hears Emily's footsteps on the stairs yet, minutes later, she's still sitting alone. She stands and makes her way through to the kitchen to check on Cal.
He is leaning against the counter, by the sink; his legs are out in front of him, his ankles crossed. And he appears to be deep in confusing thoughts - pronounced creases in his brow giving this away.
She stops on the threshold of the room and can't help a small, sympathetic smile.
"You okay?" she asks him softly.
His head lifts to look at her and he nods. Then he reconsiders and shakes his head.
She walks further into the room as she assures him, "Well, you didn't need me, so that was good. You did well."
He lets out a laugh and then just watches her as she comes to stand opposite him. There is a moment of silence and then she asks again, "Are you okay?" Her tone is more pointed this time, her concern clearly wider than just the evening's conversation.
He meets her eyes and his head moves as if to nod again, but he stops. She watches his walls slip out of place; observes the sadness crossing his features. That's all the answer she needs.
She steps towards him and he reads her intention, pushing away from the counter to receive her embrace. She wraps her arms around his shoulders, and feels his hands come to rest on her back. He hugs her tightly, his head nestling into the crook of her neck, and her heart aches with sympathy at just the thought of what he must be feeling.
"None of it is your fault, Cal," she whispers to him, aware that he is blaming himself.
His hold tightens, and she feels his lips press softly against her neck: It's a gesture of appreciation, she knows; of gratitude to her for her words. But she also knows that it'll take time before he believes them.
Her eyes slip closed and she holds him as firmly as he is clinging to her. She's grateful that she's there, and she's grateful that he is letting her see this. Usually he tries to hide his true feelings; usually he's strong, even if she can sense otherwise.
They hold each other for an unmonitored length of time. She has no intentions of stepping away before he is ready.
When that time comes, he presses another kiss to her tender skin, and a shiver flickers through her. But now is not the time to dwell on that.
He pulls back and she shifts, resting her hands on his shoulders as she looks him square in the eye. "Shall we go and see Ben?" she offers softly, trying to covertly study his face to determine if he is okay.
"Yeah… We'll take him some grapes," he smirks.
She smiles, relieved to see this side of him resurfacing. "I'm sure he'll appreciate them."
He lifts his right hand and gently strokes her arm, and his laughter is soon replaced by a solemn look again. "Thanks, love," he says, quietly; sincerely.
She shakes her head. "No need."
"I don't deserve you," he observes.
"True," she grins. "But I'm gonna hang around anyway."
She's pleased to see this laughter reach his eyes, and returns a kiss when he leans forward and touches his lips to her cheek. This time when he drops back, their eyes meet and they share a genuine smile.
"Let's go buy some grapes, love."
THE END (as it should have been, imo!)