… … …
"Spinach and ricotta ravioli," Cal announced, placing Gillian's plate in front of her with a flourish.
Gillian smiled towards the food then looked at Cal with her eyebrows raised in surprise. "Doesn't strike me as your kind of meal," she explained.
Cal wrinkled his nose. "Emily likes it. I thought it might be your kind of meal," he smiled as he sat down opposite her.
"Thank you," she said, picking up her fork.
They both tucked into their meals, talking about nothing of consequence until their conversation returned to Emily.
"She did very well with drunken Torres," Cal remarked.
"I can imagine she panicked a little," Gillian observed.
"I imagine you did as well."
He could hear her smirk in her voice and shifted his gaze from his plate to her to see it. He knew she was referring to Torres and the shower. She had let him go this long without winding him up about it. He should have known that it wouldn't last.
"I'm used to drunken women throwing themselves at me," he beamed at her.
She shook her head, slowly. "I bet you are."
Cal watched her eat for a moment but couldn't resist the opportunity to tease her a little in return. "Why do you never get drunk and throw yourself at me?" he asked, nonchalantly.
She swallowed her food, coughing as she laughed. "You wouldn't know what to do with yourself."
Waggling his eyebrows, Cal grinned at her, "Oh I would."
She tilted her head to one side, pursing her lips as she looked at him. "Maybe I'll try it some time."
"Oh now you're just teasing me," he grumbled, playfully.
Radiant was really the only word to describe the smile she offered in return. "Humouring you, Cal."
… … …
Gillian settled back into the cushions of Cal's couch, cradling her cup of hot chocolate in both hands. "Thank you for letting me stay," she said quietly, for about the fourteenth time that evening.
Cal shrugged - again. "Thank you for staying up with me to spy on Emily and her boyfriend when they get back."
"I didn't realise that's what we're doing." She shot him a disapproving look.
"Yeah, well you might have tried to stop me," he quipped.
"I'm going to stop you," she told him, confidently.
He rested his elbow on the back of the couch, fixing his eyes on hers. "Oh yeah? Gonna get drunk and throw yourself at me?"
Her lips curled into a small smile. "Maybe… Got any scotch?"
"You can skip the getting drunk part if you want," he told her with a smile of his own.
Her eyes widened ever so slightly. "Yeah?"
He nodded. "If you're drunk then I'll have to fight you off."
"And if I'm not drunk?"
"Then I can throw myself right back."
Though he had started this, when he watched the mischievous sparkle in Gillian's eyes shift to a more solemn stare, he instantly realised it had spiralled out of his control. He hadn't expected her to play along with it to this extent.
"Would you?" she asked him, absolutely no hint of teasing now.
"Would you throw yourself at me?" he responded.
She smiled, cryptically. "Ridiculous risks are your -"
"Not when it comes to me…" she echoed. Her eyes widened fully with realisation. "Right."
They were exactly where he had feared they would end up. He smiled, sadly, and nodded once to confirm that what she was thinking was correct.
She held his gaze. He could tell from the slight crease in her brow that she was thinking, but no amount of studying her revealed her thoughts. He had taught her well.
"Well," Cal spoke when the silence was too much to take. "This conversation quickly turned serious… Emily should be back by now."
He swept from the couch and strode towards the window, feeling Gillian's intense gaze follow him.
"She knows her curfew is midnight -"
"You're really going to change the subject?"
He looked back at her and quietly answered, "I thought it best. Things were getting too -"
"Serious," she supplied, nodding as she repeated his earlier statement.
He nodded but she continued before he could respond.
"Too real? Too close to something we've probably been hiding from for too long?"
He feigned consideration of her question, longing to give in and let them have the conversation she now seemed intent on pushing, but knowing that he really shouldn't. So he adopted a flippant tone as he told her, "All of the above."
"Gillian, there's a reason we've been hiding from this. There's a reason I won't take ridiculous, reckless risks when it comes to you… You're too important."
"So you're backing away for the business?" Minor disgust flashed on her face as she spoke.
He shook his head vehemently. "No. You know that you mean more to me than that."
"Do I?" she retorted, her voice hard. "Have you ever told me?"
"Don't do that! You can see it."
"I can see that you're in love with me," she stated, and he found that he wasn't surprised that she had noticed, but a little surprised she had come straight out with it. "But if you're not prepared to say it, then how much does that actually matter?"
She was determined to pursue this and he had an overwhelming feeling that he was going to end up hurting her whether they did or didn't.
"No, Cal!" she stopped him forcefully, putting her cup on the coffee table with a loud thud.
He noticed her hands trembling and it hit him that he should have realised sooner that the attack was playing a part in this. The fact that she still didn't want to be home alone should have been a big clue. Annoyed at himself for not realising that, he stepped towards her as she continued.
"Last night could have ended very differently, Cal. I saw how terrified you were; I saw how relieved you were…"
He could hear her building tears behind her words. He sat down beside her and reached for her hands. She took hold of his and leaned towards him, lowering her voice.
"… You flirt, Cal; you ask me to throw myself at you. But if I did, you wouldn'tknow what to do."
"Sweetheart, you're -"
She shook off his concern. "I was shaken up - I am shaken up by the attack. But I know what I'm saying... I'm not married anymore, Cal. If you're going to flirt, then you need to mean it."
She sat back, letting go of his hands, folding hers together in her lap.
"And you need to mean it soon," she added quietly, "Before I meet someone else."
A surge of jealousy flickered through Cal, knowing that wasn't as hypothetical as she tried to make it sound. "Someone like Doctor Burns?" he queried.
"Maybe," she whispered in reply, keeping her eyes locked on his, letting him see that she meant every single word she had said to him.
He had known Burns fancied Gillian - who wouldn't? But he had hoped it wasn't reciprocated. His instant reaction was to tell her that Burns was hiding something, but he held it back. He knew his jealousy played right into what she had highlighted as the problem. He would flirt; he would be insanely jealous of any other man who drew her attention, but when it came to it, he wouldn't take the risk. She was throwing herself at him, heart first. And he didn't know what to do.
The silence dragged on as he tried to figure it out. She was just watching him, not really expectantly, but rather as if she was simply wondering what he might say, or do. And as if she didn't expect him to say or do anything different to what he'd been doing since her divorce.
He wanted to. He really wanted to. She was right that last night could have ended very differently. She was right that he had been terrified until he had been assured that she was okay. But he was equally terrified now. He had never expected to have this conversation; he had certainly never imagined that she would instigate it. It had never occurred to him that his feelings were requited, choosing to attribute every glimpse of affection in her eyes to love for a friend. He hadn't prepared for this. And it was far too important for him to handle off the cuff.
They were still enveloped in silence, awaiting his next move, when they heard the front door open. Gillian broke their eye contact, preparing to face Emily as if they had not been embroiled in such a life-changing conversation. Cal envied her apparent ability to do that.
Emily seemed surprised to find them both still up. "Oh, hi," she muttered, smiling at Gillian, on whom Cal was still focused.
Gillian smiled back. "Hi, Em."
Emily frowned, her eyes flitting from Gillian to Cal. "Did I interrupt something?"
Cal and Gillian replied simultaneously but their answers differed. Cal saw Emily's eyes widen before his shifted back to Gillian, looking at him now with disbelief.
Shaking her head, she reiterated for Emily, "No, Emily, you didn't interrupt anything." And she stood from the couch, and turned away from Cal. "I was just about to go to bed. I'll see you both in the morning."
Emily bid Gillian good night, but Cal could hear the confusion in his daughter's voice as she spoke. And when he had finished watching Gillian leave the room, he saw it on her face.
"You're late," he accused, managing to remember that much through the war taking place between his own thoughts.
"By five minutes. What's going on?"
"Gillian didn't want to be-" He stopped himself, unable to think clearly about anything but the fact that he didn't want the conversation to end like this. He resigned himself to 'off the cuff' and stood to follow Gillian.
"I haven't forgotten you're late!" he warned Emily, waving his hand in her direction as he moved. "Just give me a minute."
He took the stairs two at a time and spotted Gillian just as she stepped into the bathroom. He called out to her and she stopped, reappearing in the doorway, no verbal response, just that wondering look again.
"It matters," he told her and her eyebrows twitched with surprise. "But..."
She stepped back, folding her arms across her waist and it broke his heart to watch her prepare to protect herself from what she expected was coming next.
"No, darling," he implored, stepping closer to her as he tried to reassure her. "There's a reason I'm not in a relationship," he admitted, then realised there were actually two. "Aside from the fact that I'm completely in love with you," he clarified. "I'm not good at them. You saw what happened with Zoë and I can't -... I'm not prepared to do that to you."
He waited to see what her response would be, hoping to take a lead on what to say next from how well this was going so far.
She was silent for a further moment before she nodded, slowly. "Okay," she uttered, softly.
He frowned, unsure what was okay exactly. "Okay?"
"Okay. If that's how you feel then..." She shrugged and moved to go into the bathroom.
"Wait!" He was completely thrown - not for the first time that evening - and had no idea what to say, but he knew it most definitely was not okay for them to leave it there. "That's it?"
Gillian shrugged again, resignedly. "If that's how you feel, Cal, then there isn't-"
She frowned at him. "No?"
He felt as if his head was likely to explode any second. "No," he repeated.
"That's not how you feel?"
He shook his head, knowing now that the only way she got to move away from him was after an agreement that they were going to explore their attraction. "Apparently not," he told her, and he watched as she quickly hid a smile. "... Which you knew," he accused, realising now that he had been played.
She permitted her smile access to her lips now. "I needed you to know. You'd have avoided this all night. You needed a deadline for your decision."
"It's a big decision."
"It is... But you made it. Well done."
"When did you decide?"
"When you told me I could skip the getting drunk part... I decided I was tired of the game."
"You wanted me to mean it," he stated to show he understood. He inched closer to her. "I wanted to mean it."
"I know you did."
Moving even closer, his face now centimetres from hers, he admitted, sincerely, "You scared me tonight, love."
She smiled, and her fingers came up to softly stroke across his cheek. "Good," she whispered, and then her hand held him still and she gently pressed her lips to his.
It would have been a tender, brief, kiss of promise, but when she moved to end it, Cal seized the back of her head, and pulled her back to him. His other hand landed on her hip, encouraging her closer, and hers gripped his shoulder as she willingly followed his lead.
When he did permit them to part, they were both breathless, flushed and - he felt confident speaking for both of them - deliriously excited about this.
After grinning at each other for a minor eternity, Gillian whispered, "So..."
"So..." Cal echoed.
And, after more inane grinning, he added, "I meant that."
Gillian's cheeks blushed a deeper pink as she remarked, "I could tell."
"So what now, love?"
"Now," Gillian smiled, "We say good night; you go and fail at trying to remind Emily of her curfew because you can't stop smiling..."
Cal rolled his eyes, knowing that was completely true and Emily wasn't going to rest until she knew what she had interrupted tonight.
"... And then, tomorrow, you can make me breakfast," she smirked.
He loved it when she smirked; when she thought she had got one over on him.
"A novel concept for you, is it?" she continued, "Making breakfast for a woman when you haven't -"
He landed two fingers on her soft, soft lips. "I was going to make you breakfast anyway, darling."
She took his hand in hers to move it away. "Good... And while we eat, we can talk."
"Talk," he agreed.
"Figure things out. Reassure you that this is going to be fine."
He nodded, confident that this could work if she believed it could. "Sounds good."
"Okay." Her smile widened.
"Okay." So did his.
"Right then... Well, good night."
She initiated another kiss and he made sure it wasn't a short one, then, breathless again, he wished her good night, and reluctantly allowed her to step away from him and close the bathroom door between them.
Seconds later, he was still staring at it, his mind not quite caught up with the turn of events.
Her amused voice drifted out from inside. "Cal."
"Yeah?" he responded automatically.
"Go and talk to Emily."