… … …
The detective glanced first at Loker, a showing of sympathy for them both in his eyes, then he responded to Cal's insistent plea. "Doctor Lightman, we are doing everything that we -"
"She's been in there hours!"
"The negotiation team is-"
Cal stepped away. Unfortunately, he could see that he was being told the truth.
… … …
Cal tapped a cheerful rhythm on the glass of Gillian's office as he stepped through the open door.
"It's 'Christmas Eve eve', love. Time to stop working," he declared, dropping into the seat opposite her.
A small smile curved her lips. "Says the one."
"Hey! I've already stopped."
Gillian chuckled, made a show of saving her document and then shut down her computer. "There."
"Well done, love. Dinner?"
"Is Emily not-"
Cal shook his head. "She's out with friends. I'm all yours."
"Oh, it's like an early Christmas present," she grinned, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
"If you get cheeky you won't get your actual present," he warned.
"Sure," she quipped, pushing her chair away from her desk and standing to get her coat.
He also stood. "You've been warned," he remarked. Then he took hold of her hand before it landed on the material of her coat. "You don't need that."
And he pulled her out of the office behind him.
… … …
"We don't think he is actually armed."
"You don't think? What do you base that on?"
"The phone calls that -"
"Let's hear them."
"I can't -"
Loker stepped in to more calmly explain, "We work with voices as well as expressions… You have recordings of the calls? Would it hurt?"
… … …
Cal heard Gillian's sharp intake of breath and took a second, before turning round, to guess exactly what her face would look like: Eyes wide and twinkling with the reflection of the candles; lips slightly parted, undecided on what question to ask first; a smile tugging at her mouth even while puzzlement creased her brow. Beautiful. As always.
He turned to face her: He was right.
The tentative smile became a full blown grin when her eyes met his.
"What's the occasion?" she joked, and he laughed.
He knew that the answer was not the obvious one that she assumed it to be, but he played along. "Can't a bloke just set up dinner in the break room for his partner without an excuse?"
Gillian allowed him to lead her to the table and waited while he pulled out her chair.
"Thank you," she said as she sat down, and he watched her eyes cast over the place settings; the flowers he had arranged in the centre of the table.
"Would Madame like some wine?" he asked, displaying the bottle to her with a flourish.
"Madame would love some, but Madame is driving," she reminded him.
"Madame could always leave her car here," he suggested, starting to feel the nerves about his true intentions here creeping in.
Her eyes twitched wider in amusement. "Are you planning to get me drunk?"
He laughed at her comment but noticed her brow furrow. She had spotted something in his reaction that she wasn't supposed to see.
… … …
"He assures us that was just a warning shot. No one's hurt."
"'He assures…'. We're not dealing with the actual Santa Claus here. He's not really a jolly old man! Why the hell are we accepting his assurances? It's been over five hours now. Do you have some assurance that he's coming out after six? Seven? No? Then why the bloody hell are we all just still standing here?"
He didn't wait for a response. He knew the answer. And he knew that it was true: There was nothing else they could do right now.
… … …
They had reached this point a lot sooner than he had expected them to. Sometimes he felt the need to curse her ability to read him.
"Cal…" she repeated, urging him to respond to her, as yet, unspoken question. Then she added, "What's going on?" Clearly she wasn't going to wait much longer.
No matter how hard he tried to keep the festive smile on his face, he knew that the solemnity that had sparked tonight's gesture was creeping in.
"Cal." It was more insistent this time. She wasn't going to let it drop. "I know you're not actually planning to get me drunk. So what was that?"
Direct admission of emotion never had been his thing. That's why he had done all of this. He had hoped to woo her with the romance and the Christmas magic; enjoy spending time with her; tell her, if the moment arose, that he had fallen in love with her.
He had wanted, if possible, to avoid the topic of 'why now?'. Not least because he didn't want to think about it.
… … …
Cal waited, eyes fixed on the door of the store. He was letting out some of the hostages. Women first, he'd said.
Standing uselessly behind the barricade - where he had been reminded many times to stay - Cal's heart was in his throat when the door opened and the first woman warily emerged.
Once assured that they really were free to leave, another three emerged more quickly, heading straight for the police officers who waited with outstretched arms.
Then the door closed. And Cal felt sure his heart had stopped.
… … …
"I just wanted to do something nice for you," he told her. "You deserve it."
She rose from her seat and stood in front of him. "Cal, I really am fine."
He nodded, trying to brush off the explanation she had assumed. "I know, love. I know."
She rested her hand on his arm and stroked it gently. "I'm not sure you are," she commented, softly.
He met her concerned, caring eyes and couldn't hold it in any longer. "I was so scared, Gill," he admitted quietly.
"I know," she soothed.
"When you didn't come through that door…"
She nodded, tears welling in her eyes, just as he could feel in his own. "I know."
A laugh - more a sound than a feeling - preceded his next utterance. "I should have known you were negotiating from the inside."
She smiled with him, but reminded him, "You couldn't have known. Cal, it's over. I'm fine. No one was hurt. He got help."
"'He got…'. You're too sodding kind-hearted, you know that?"
"I'll take that as a compliment," she whispered.
… … …
"He's asking for you."
Displeasure dripped from every word but Cal ignored it and snatched the offered phone, reminding himself that laying into the bastard on the other end would not help Gillian.
Relief completely flooded his system, his body swaying on momentarily weakened knees, when it was Gillian's voice that responded.
He saw Loker's eyes widen, but there was no time to even pause to convey that she was okay as she reeled off what she needed him to do.
He should have known she'd be negotiating from the inside.
… … …
"So all this is because you were scared?" she queried quietly, her fingers lightly rubbing on his arm.
"Terrified," he clarified.
"I know the feeling."
Her words were soft and not at all as pointed as she had every right to make them. He held her gaze, hoping she could see that he realised now what he would regularly - voluntarily - put her through. And as he lost himself in the genuine affection that swirled in her eyes he felt a spark of hope that maybe she really did know the feeling. To the same extent. The same feelings.
He had expected, if he was brave enough to confess it, that his admission would be one sided. That he would use it as an assurance that, one, she was never allowed out of his sight again, and, two, he would never again cause her to be terrified of losing him. He hadn't anticipated a returned confession; he knew he didn't deserve one.
But reflected in her eyes now he could see every single thing that he was feeling. Every emotion.
"Set up dinner in the break room? No. It never occurred to me."
Disappointed that she had redirected their conversation, he nevertheless followed her. "You didn't know there's a protocol for these things?"
She shook her head. "I know of only one."
"This," she whispered, and she pulled him towards her and embraced him in a tight hug.
... ... ...
She stepped outside first, her right hand raised in a placating gesture. Her left, he soon saw, was wrapped securely round the wrist of the man behind her. He still had on his red suit, but there was no beard or hat anymore and he looked suitably dejected. And that was as far as Cal's observation of him went. He redirected his eyes to Gillian. His heart was pounding; his throat tight as he watched her walk across to the police. She looked unharmed, tired, maybe. Two officers relieved her of her charge, a third asking her questions, jotting down her answers. And at that point Cal ran out of patience. He darted under the police tape and skittered between vehicles until he reached her side. A couple of voices shouted after him but no one actually tried to stop him. Their warnings alerted her to his approach though.
She turned to face him and his steps came to a halt. She smiled and she nodded to assure him that she was okay and with no small amount of relief he reached out and clasped her nearest hand in both of his, moving in closer to her.
"'I'm just nipping out to pick something up,' she said," he whispered to her.
She brought her free hand up and laid it on his chest. "Took a little longer than I expected."
... ... ...
It was their first real hug since it had happened. Questions; statements; police; media… It had all kept them relatively apart. He had stayed with her, of course, his hand always touching her somewhere, unwilling to relinquish contact now that she was safe. His arm had been round her whenever they walked anywhere - to his car; to her front door. But there had never been an opportunity for this. Or, rather, he had never dared instigate it for fear that he wouldn't want to let go.
He pulled her against him, one arm across her lower back, one across her shoulders. He buried his face in her hair, breathing in her scent; breathing in the truth: That she was there, and she was safe.
"Cal, you should have said something," she whispered to him, her hand soothingly stroking his back.
He took a breath, and shifted so his mouth was near her ear when he replied. "You're fine, love. I didn't want to bring it all up again."
He panicked, thinking he had said the wrong thing, when she abruptly pulled back. But she stayed in his arms, her hands coming to rest on his shoulders, as she told him, deadly seriously, "I know that feeling too."
And those words were pointed. For all she had steered them away from this just minutes ago, she was asking him now to take them there.
He settled his hands on her waist, tapping his fingers lightly, nervously, as he commented, "We really should talk."
She nodded her agreement. "We should."
"Maybe over dinner," he quipped, his head inclining towards the table.
"That would be nice."
He pulled her closer, lowered his voice. "I could tell you that those were the longest eight hours of my life."
"You could," she whispered, her voice trembling.
He moved even nearer, bringing his forehead to rest against hers. "I could tell you that I love you. So much, Gill. And that I'm sorry it took an event like this for me to tell you."
Her hands shifted, her fingers moving to play with the collar of his shirt, as she nestled in further and responded, "And I could tell you that you've nothing to be sorry for; that you're not the only one who didn't say anything."
Their eyes met over the very short distance that now remained between them.
"Then, I suppose, I could complain about not having the foresight to include any mistletoe in my decorations in here."
Her lips curved into a radiant smile. "And I could tell you that mistletoe isn't necessary."
"I doubt we'd get much more talking done," he observed even as his head moved closer to hers.
"I doubt we'd need to."
… … …