Axiom Ch. 07bydrunkenphilosophy©
"He really cares for you," Dylan said quietly. "You should have seen him, G. I mean, I don't know him very well, but I've never seen a man in such a state before. Especially not someone as controlled and collected as the Berg."
Listening to him say that made it hard for her to breathe. Her throat constricted and tears were springing to her eyes. She just looked down at the blanket and toyed at it with her fingers, acutely aware of her heart throbbing in her chest.
"Are you guys together?" he asked cautiously.
She bit her lower lip. "It's complicated," she confessed after a pause.
"Right." He nodded briefly, his expression blank. "Just...one more question and I'll leave it, I promise. I won't ask you anything else." She gave him her ok.
"I know you've thought this through, and I trust you," his voice was wary, as if he was afraid of angering her. "Gwyneth, does he make you happy? Does he truly make you happy?"
She looked into Dylan's eyes and saw the concern in his gaze. It was a difficult question, one she hadn't really thought about - but now she realized why she had put off talking about this to him for so long. As long as she kept it from him, everything was secret - so secret, it almost felt surreal, like a dream. If things hadn't worked out between Aidan and her, she could just pretend that nothing ever happened. As long as it was a secret, it didn't really exist. Not properly, anyway.
But telling Dylan would make it real. Letting her best friend know about the relationship would have carried it from the realm of secrets to the crassness of reality - plucked it from a hazy fantasy of hidden flirting and kisses and dropped it into a world governed by logic and real rules. She was disappointed with herself for being so oblivious all this time, for ignoring the obvious and letting it fester until it smacked her in the face.
Dylan's honest question left her feeling shamefaced. His care and concern for her was genuine, fortified through the many years of friendship and trust. Maybe he did behave like an asshole back at the diner, but only because she wronged him first. She had lied to him and deliberately misled him when all he'd tried to do was be a friend.
"It's okay, you don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"No, no, it's fine." She shook her head free of the jumble of thoughts and plastered on a half-smile. "Yes, he makes me happy. He really does, Dee." She covered his hand with hers. "Thanks for asking."
"That's all I need to hear." The easy smile on his face was back and she could feel the warmth returning to the room, the tension evaporating into thin air. "For what it's worth, I think that he's a good guy. Not that you need my permission or approval..." he hastily added.
She gave a sound that sounded like half-sob, half-snort. "Thanks. Okay, maybe it's not exactly your permission I need but you're my best friend. Of course you'll have to approve of whoever I'm going out with."
"Well I'm glad you're with him," he tried to sound cheerful. "Although I can't seem to understand what you see in the man. He's not even good-looking," he teased.
"Yes he is," she huffed, pretending to feel insulted.
"No he isn't. He looks like alien, what with the long face and all. And the cheekbones. He totally looks like some extraterrestial."
"Oh, he definitely looks like an alien. Not just an alien, a scary alien. A scary British alien. Tayke me t'your leedah," he mimicked in a robotic voice, making fun of Aidan's British accent. "And bring me a cup of tea while you're at it."
"Shut up!" She was giggling now.
"I don't care what you think, I'm just going to put it out there and say that I'm better looking than he is."
"Oh, please," she said sarcastically. "You're just jealous. I distinctly remember you comparing him to Batman."
"Say all you want, baby girl but you know I'm prettier." He batted his eyelashes at her and tossed his curly hair back. "Maybe I'm born with it, maybe it's Maybelline."
She burst into peals of laughter. Things between them were going back to normal and it felt good. They continued clowning around for a while more, exhuming all the old inside jokes and had a good laugh about it all. Eventually the chuckling winded down and they settled into a comfortable silence.
"So," she asked breezily, "who were on the list of Mystery Man suspects?"
Dylan threw his head back in an agonized laugh. "Oh God, you're probably going to kill me but oh what the hell, why not. Let's see, there was Eric Branstead, Jamie Gassels, Kelvin Pryor..." A look of growing horror spread across her face as he counted off his fingers one by one.
"What. The. Fuck?" She gawped at him. "A whole city full of men I could have hooked up with and you really thought that I was with those jackasses?"
"Hey!" He held up his hands defensively. "I figured it was someone you were ashamed of which meant that either he was hideous, had a small dong or was a blithering idiot. Everyone on the list was all three."
She rolled her eyes. "Well I suppose that does make sense."
"Besides, you do know that these morons fancy you, right? Not just them, actually - just about all of the men in our department are in love with you."
"Oh shut up," she snapped, feeling a little embarrassed. "You're making that up."
"It's true and you know it." He leaned back with a satisfied smile, basking in his victory. She slumped back into her pillow, a little winded from all the talking and joking. Suddenly a thought occurred to her and she sat upright.
"Wait, Dylan - our department." A bolt of alarm shot through her. "Have the rest heard about what happened?"
He winced at her question but admitted that news had already broken out despite Aidan's attempts to corral it in. The Ceres arrest was the hot topic of the moment, a scandal of gargantuan proportions - news of Marty's death was already splashed across newspapers and websites worldwide. The good news was that although the press knew about an LSA employee being assaulted, they hadn't been able to ascertain her identity. Not that people working in the firm didn't know - news traveled fast and she was quite sure that everyone was whispering her name now.
Dylan explained that no one from the firm even so much as dared speak to the media. Aidan had made it pretty clear that any employee caught mentioning Gwyneth to the press would pay for their grievances at great cost. "And I quote this verbatim," Dylan fished his phone out of his pocket and read the email aloud. "Anyone seen discussing Ms. Kenner in public, whether in regards to her hair color or about her involvement with the case should consider themselves fortunate to be cleaning loos at Chipotle." He snickered at the end of the sentence.
She couldn't help but snuffle with laughter. "Yeah, that sounds like him," she said dryly, trying to hide the glow of pleasure that was radiating inside her. This was her man looking out for her, pulling rank and terrorizing people into silence. Dating the Berg definitely came with its perks.
The happy glow quickly faded as she realized the other implications of this case. People were going to talk. As of now, she was an office celebrity for all the wrong reasons. First the assault, then Aidan's reaction. Rumors about her sleeping with Aidan were probably already spread far and wide.
Dylan saw the expression on her face and immediately understood what she was thinking about. He squeezed her hand in reassurance and tried a comforting smile. "Don't think about it just yet. The situation right now is very volatile but the talk will die down. By the time you get back, I'm sure things will be a lot better." She smiled back weakly at him and tried to shake off all negative thoughts.
"I'm really sorry, but I have to go now. I'll be back soon, okay? Take care and get well soon, girl. I'm so sorry we fought."
"It's nothing. Pigs will fly before you stop acting like a child. I'll see you when I see you."
He gave a little laugh, ruffled her hair and left. In his absence the silence of the room gaped widely. Gwyneth just sat in the quiet, thinking about everything that had happened in the past few days. It felt like everything began that night at her place when she was cooking with Aidan. That was the peak of the rollercoaster ride before everything rushed down in a mad frenzy. Right now she understood how Alice must have felt while tumbling through that rabbit hole.
All semblance of normality was gone. In a few days, everything had changed. Marty was dead. Her mentor, the man who had taught her so much about being a lawyer was now gone. Her job had swerved sharply off course and gone into a trajectory she never envisioned. She'd just survived an assault where she was stabbed. Aidan and her openly admitted to each other about being in love. Well, almost openly. She realized that this meant that life would never be the same again - today was going to be the beginning of a whole new chapter, whether or not she was ready for it.
The time alone gave her the time to digest the events that had transpired. Given that she'd been surrounded by people 24/7 over the past few days, she hadn't really had the time to lean back and just think about things properly. So far, no one had really tried to probe her about the ordeal. They understood that the trauma was still fresh and didn't want to stress her any more. Her refusal to talk worked well for the time being, but how long could she keep at it?
She sighed and rubbed her temples with one hand. Her own words echoed in her mind - I don't want to talk about it. Leave it. That was her method of handling things, wasn't it? That was always what she did - avoid. Refuse to discuss matters and pretend that everything was alright. She'd done that with Aidan and now with the assault.
It was the same thing over and over again. The same defense mechanism she had since she was young - if anything really mattered, if it really hit close to home, she would put her shields up and refuse to talk about it. Either that, or she would try to diminish the magnitude of her problems and act like she wasn't really affected by it. Only if and when someone brought it up and placed it right under her nose would she actually sit down and confront it.
She heard the doorknob creak open and Aidan walked into the room. He settled down beside her and took her hand, rubbing circles on her skin with his thumb. Looking at him tugged at her heartstrings. She felt so confused, so...shaken up by everything. A part of her wanted to insist on resolving the issues between them once and for all.
Another part just wanted to let things take its natural course and see how things played out. She could see the undisguised affection on his face, that special cryptic smile that he reserved for her and only her and it sent a warmth diffusing through her body. Even if they lacked a definition, she knew without a doubt that he loved her.
"How are you and Dylan? Everything alright?" Her mom must have told him about the fight.
"We patched things up." She linked her fingers with his and stared at their intertwined hands. "Also...I told him about us." Her face flushed pink. "I don't know if you mind and I'm sorry if it bothers you but I promise you that he'll keep mum. I only wanted him to know because he's my best friend..." she could hear herself rambling as she tried to explain.
He cut her off by stroking her cheek. "It's okay, I don't mind it one bit." he murmured. "So what did you tell him we were? Friends with benefits?" His eyes creased into a teasing smile.
Her cheeks flamed beetroot red. "I just told him that it's complicated, that's all. To be honest..." she flicked her eyes away from him, "...I don't really know what we are."
She looked back up at him hesitantly, feeling the mix of fear and trepidation. Time to break the habit, she thought. No more fake smiles, no more avoiding. She really needed to know. Her eyes met his, searching his blue irises for the answer. His expression was so gentle and loving that it made her want to smile. She thought about how he had looked at her when they first met - that irritated anger, the stone cold expression, the hard jawline. They'd come so far since that fateful meeting.
Without saying a word he cupped her face and covered her mouth with his, drawing her into a deep kiss that took her breath away. His lips were firm and sweet, gently parting hers so that she could taste him on her tongue. She could feel his warm hands on her chin, holding her to him like he never wanted to let her go.
When they broke apart he continued to cradle her face in his fingers. "I want to be with you," he said with an air of finality. "I want you, I want to be with you," he pressed a small kiss on her forehead, "and I really hope that you want to be with me too."
A rush of emotions cascaded through her at the sound of his words. She could feel her chin trembling and she was blinking fast, trying to quash the tears before they even began. She just nodded up at him with a wobbly smile and circled her fingers around his wrists. The plan to stop the waterworks wasn't really working - she could feel a stray tear beginning to coalesce, a wet sheen beginning to glaze on her eyes.
He knew that she wouldn't want him to see her crying. "So..." he pulled a mock serious expression. "Be my date to the prom?"
She gave a shaky giggle and sniffed back a tear. "I'd love to, but I'll have to get out of this place first." She held up the hand where the drip needle went in. "This isn't really the fashion statement of the year and while two's company, three's a crowd." She pointed at the pole that held the i.v. bag. "Good luck trying to dance with the both of us."
He laughed and released her chin to take her hands. "Well, have I got good news for you. Your mother and I have talked to the doctors and you've been given the green light to be discharged." She grinned like a maniac. "But..." he cautioned, raising his eyebrows. "You'll still be getting home calls and you'll need a caregiver in the interim."
He hesitated for a second. "With your needs in mind, your mother and I are of the opinion that it might be better if you stayed at my place for a while. Just until you're healthy enough. Security won't be an issue, Alfred will be there to help out, there's plenty of room for your mom to stay..." She could've sworn she saw something shift in his eyes. "...and after you're all better, we'll see how things work out."
She bit her lip to keep from smiling. The urge to be cheeky was too strong to resist. "Asking me to move in with you, huh? Well that's pretty soon."
Aidan paled a little. "No, that's not it," he reacted immediately. "Gwen, it's only for the time being. The last thing I want is to pressure you into doing something you don't want to. It's not technically moving in together but if you're uncomfortable with the idea, you don't have to-"
It was so funny to see him so rattled. She'd never seen him so jumpy before and by george, it was hilarious. "Relax," she soothed. "It was a joke. I'm just kidding around, that's all." Still he looked unconvinced. She felt a little sorry now - after all they had been through in the past few days, she was pretty sure she'd just hit a sore spot. Damn comic timing, she thought. Always with the inappropriate jokes.
Her face softened and she patted at the spot on the bed right beside her. "C'mere," she beckoned at him to come closer and he did. With him only inches away she could smell his aftershave, so close that she could almost see every fleck of those incredible irises. She slipped her arms around his waist and pulled him close, pressing her nose into his shirt. "Sorry for the bad joke. Not one of my better ones, I'll have to admit."
He didn't say a word, so she dug her chin into his chest and looked up at him. "All humor aside, I think that's a pretty good idea. I do like the thought of having you around for the next week or so. With everything that's happened, all I really want to do is just be in your arms." she nuzzled his neck and felt his arms tighten around her. They just sat there in the comfortable silence for a few moments, enjoying the peace of their solitude.
"I see you and my mom have become new BFFs."
Aidan gave a low, rumbling laugh. "Jealous?"
"Insanely," she grumbled. "A few days with her and she's already taking your side during arguments. Hmph."
"If you want to win an argument, then start putting forth points that actually make sense."
"You did not just diss my skills of rhetoric. Oooh, you'll pay."
"Bring it. I don't know if you've heard," he leaned in and added in a conspiratorial whisper, "but I'm a pretty decent lawyer."
"You're a terrible comedian, you know that?"
"Right back at you."
She laughed and pulled his head down for a kiss, only to be interrupted by the buzzing from his pocket.
"I'm so sorry," he grimaced, pulling the phone out of his pocket and taking a good look at it. "I have to take this."
She just nodded at him and watched as he took a few steps away from her, talking into the phone in a low voice. He must have been so busy these few days. Yet he always found the time to come and visit her, no matter how brief. She really appreciated that - a man of his work calibre couldn't really afford time to faff around with his personal life but he was going out of this way to do so. His eyes would flick over hers and catch her gaze every now and then. Whenever he did that she could see the faint shadows underneath his eyes.
He looked physically tired and she wondered if he was driving himself a little too hard. She felt a pang of tenderness at the thought of it - she knew that he must have been stalking about, making sure that everything about her was hushed up. And he was obviously taking such good care of her family. She wasn't going to admit it but she loved how her mom had warmed up to Aidan. It didn't take a genius to figure out that he was stretching himself thin trying to manage everything at once.
Stress was one thing but she knew that this was another. As hard as the past few days were on her, she was sure that it was hard on him, too. The big difference was that everyone fawned over her and showered her with sympathy, whereas he received no such warmth. To everyone he was still the Berg - they forgot that he, too, had feelings. That he felt the pain in secret.
"Hey," he strode back towards her, looking guilty. "I'm so sorry, but I've been called back for an emergency. As soon as it is cleared up, I'll be back, I promise."
"Don't worry about rushing back," she looked up in his eyes and even if he looked tired, she could see the spark in his eyes. "Thanks for dropping by. I know things must be crazy right now. " She pulled him in for a kiss and when they broke apart she gave him a meaningful look. "I love you."
His lips twitched into a half-smile and she could see the joy spread across his face. "I love you too. See you later, love."
She could have sworn that as he walked out of that door, his steps were lighter and his head was held a little higher.
He found her lying on the sofa with her eyes closed, her arms neatly folded across her chest clasping her iPod to her heart. Strains of music leaked out from the oversized headphones she was wearing. Judging by the faint notes of the sonorous bass and the treble echo of strings, he guessed that she was listening to classical music. He leaned over her, wondering if she was napping or just immersing herself in the melody.
His face hovered inches away from hers, so close that if she was awake she could definitely feel the warmth of his skin. She didn't stir, which meant that she was asleep. He smiled to himself and studied her face, admiring how beautiful she looked in the dim light. The perfect nose, porcelain skin, immaculately groomed eyebrows. He could remember how he had checked her out that day at Costa's, when her pretty face was smiling at a total stranger - a different smile from the one she shared with him. A different smile from the one she wore in her sleep. Gently, he fluttered his lips over hers, brushing against them first to feel their softness - once, twice - before he captured her in a firm, unrelenting kiss that lured her out of her sleep.