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SPOILERS: Spoilers for the end of season 2.
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Dancing on the Edge of Destruction
Kalinda pauses briefly before the elevator to the office, holding her breath at the threshold. But she can make this work. She has to. Yesterday may have been one of the worst days she can remember since... since Kalinda existed. She may have lost her best friend (just a friend, only ever a friend), but that's fine too. Kalinda is tough, she tells herself, Kalinda doesn't care. She can press the button just like it was any other morning.
She releases her breath, and begins the morning dance.
When Kalinda was small (and not Kalinda), she loved to dance. She had the (Usual. Stupid.) dreams of making it her career when she was older.
(Those died with experience, abraded by contact with the real world. As did so many other hopes.
These days, the best Kalinda can hope for when she closes her eyes is a night of dreamless sleep.
And she's fine with that.)
Now she has much more adult dances to navigate, with more complex steps, and further to fall if she should make a mistake.
But that's okay. She's so much better at this than she ever thought she might be.
(Than she ever would have wanted to be.)
The office is quiet this morning, and that's good (needed). Claire, the pretty receptionist, barely focuses on her as she steps out of the elevator.
(Claire leaves a week later, finally managing to get another job as a software developer. Everyone else is surprised that she was anything other than what she seemed. Kalinda isn't.)
She's an outsider here. Not a good little office drone, not a highly educated lawyer, not an overpaid consultant. She doesn't quite fit into their neat little world, so people generally try and ignore her.
Unless they need her, of course. Then she's an 'us' rather than a 'them'. Trusted. Valued.
She's an exhibit; an intrusion of the outside world into their cubicled little habitat that makes them feel connected, but with enough edges taken off (hidden) that they feel safe.
Enough distance to keep her mystique, keep her safe from unwanted entanglements, but close enough that she still feels like a part of the company to everyone else.
It's a constant push and pull, straddling two worlds, belonging to neither.
It's a dance she can perform effortlessly.
And it's a machine that will chew her up and spit her out the moment she's no longer useful.
But then Kalinda (Kalinda) has never cared about safety over-much. It's all part of the thrill, the dance along the wire.
(And if she happens to pass by Alicia's office, it's just to prove that she can still do it, that it doesn't mean anything.
And if she relaxes minutely...
And if she feels that slight frisson of disappointment...
...when she sees the lawyer hasn't made it in yet?
Then it means nothing, Absolutely nothing at all.)
"Hi," she says with a smile. "I'm Kalinda."
"Norman," the large man says to her chest. Not that this is a problem. Kalinda prefers to keep her sources of information off balance a little, and she's certainly not above using desire to get her way.
I want him, she tells herself. (Lies to herself)
"Pleased to meet you," she continues, her voice low and husky.
Norman raises his eyes slightly to her face, teeth flashing white in an open, almost honest grin. (But no one is ever really honest.) "Likewise."
It can be a dangerous place, the world outside. Though she never flinches at its rawness, she's aware (always, always aware) of the pitfalls, the traps
(And it leaves her feeling used, raw and -- worst of all -- touched far too often.)
One day it will likely consume her. That day is not today.
But she can't abandon it: the thrill, the freedom. (And just the thought of being cooped up in a building all day, trapped, leaves her a just a little breathless.) It's what she's good at, her talent.
She dances the game of flirt and veiled promise, of saying enough without saying too much, and in the end walks away with the information she wants.
She even leaves another almost friend behind her, which is a pleasant bonus. (But not a friend like Alicia. She has, had, no one else quite like her.) Another contact is always useful, an investment for the future.
(And if she used a certain other face, lined with dark hair and wearing a far friendlier smile than she is ever likely to see in the future, to fuel the lie of desire? It was just a convenience.)
On another day, she watches Alicia's office out of the corner of her eyes as she passes by. Alicia happens to glance up, then stiffens and affixes her with an icy look.
It doesn't mean a thing.
The beat she is currently moving to with Alicia is one of the most complex yet. It should be simple in theory -- she's even letting Alicia lead, dictate the steps they take and the weapons they draw.
(Despite all Kalinda's instincts to the contrary, to take control of this waltz, she knows she owes Alicia this much.)
Alicia hurts her. (And no one should ever be able to do that ever again.) Alicia freezes her out, and it shouldn't matter at all. (It does.)
For the first time in a long time, too long to remember the moves well (too short, far too short a time for her comfort), Kalinda doesn't feel quite in control of herself. She's being moved by deep currents and urges from within, from places she doesn't trust and doesn't travel any more.
That she's barricaded up and put a 'Trespassers will be shot' sign on.
(Somehow, she's never gotten around to shooting Alicia, though, even metaphorically. Apart from accidentally.)
Even attempting to run didn't work, and she doesn't have the energy to try again.
(Despite everything, there is something comforting about being around Alicia, knowing she is in the same building.
But she'll die before letting anyone know that. Especially Alicia.)
And things do get better, slowly. (So very, very slowly.)
Alicia thaws to mere cool professionalism, and Kalinda follows her movements almost faultlessly.
It's the almost that gets her, that lets her know this dance is going to have a definite end.
Not a good end, of course.
Any other outcome wouldn't be practical. Realistic.
(Any other outcome would hurt too much to hope for.
And Kalinda doesn't hurt, anymore.
She doesn't hope either.)
But she can't live waiting for the inevitable.
So she does the only thing she can do -- live for now, and hope to put off any end for just one more day.
(Again. She swore that she'd never do this again.)
Kalinda is an expert in broken promises, especially those made to herself.
Of course, she isn't the only one moving. Alicia, like everyone else, has her own dances.
(Kalinda never asks herself why she notices what they are, even now. Especially now.)
Alicia's first and primary dance, always, is her children. From the hunting call of 'Mom, pick up your phone' to the slight lines of stress that Kalinda learned to recognise as being caused by Zach, they are an ever present part of her.
It's a foreign land, one Kalinda is glad she never has to visit.
Alicia's dedication at the office, making a career for herself, to make a living for her children.
(And not for ambition, of course, because Kalinda is quietly convinced that Alicia would die before admitting that.)
Alicia's surreptitious glances at the clock when the end of the day rolls around, and she has to work late on a case again.
(And any impulse that Kalinda has to do more for her, to help assuage that strange need that Alicia has for family, Kalinda keeps well under lock and key.
She wouldn't want anyone getting ideas.)
Her children are the sea that tosses her around, they are what anchors her to land, and -- to Kalinda's admittedly untrained eye -- Alicia manages the balance admirably. Her steps are at least as graceful as any of Kalinda's.
(And if Kalinda sometimes feels that way about her and Alicia, she always buries the thought immediately.)
Will and Alicia have always had their own little dance, but recently it's picked up the tempo.
Maybe Alicia has finally taken her advice, and gone for him.
Whatever it is, it's a dance they're attempting to hide, and it's throwing off the dynamics of the office.
Will treats Alicia with a little too much coldness to be quite believable, and Alicia pretends to care a little too much.
A brief exchange of glances in a meeting, a joke that they don't share with anyone else, don't laugh at so much as allude to.
They think they're being subtle, and -- maybe -- no one else has noticed, yet, but it's causing ripples.
But -- maybe -- they can keep it going.
Kalinda, for the moment, is keeping her own counsel.
(She doesn't know how she'd explain why she has been watching Alicia closely enough to notice in any case.)
It's Will that makes the final misstep in the waltz of Will-and-Alicia. (Of course it is.)
Alicia is in her office, too early, with a little too much makeup, concentrating just a little too hard on her latest case.
Kalinda almost just passes her by, walks on because she doesn't care.
But things have been better between them recently, almost friendly. So maybe it wouldn't hurt, wouldn't break character, too much, to stop in.
So she leans against Alicia's door frame and says, "Hey."
Alicia looks up. Just for a moment, Kalinda can see the pain of another broken relationship in her eyes, then she smiles, papering it over, hiding it from view.
(Kalinda knows exactly how she feels. Exactly.)
"Hi, Kalinda. Is there something I can do for you?"
"Just checking in. Seeing if you have anything you want to throw my way."
Kalinda likes to think that she sees Alicia hesitate, actually think about confiding in her, but the moment, if it even exists, passes and Alicia shakes her head. "I'm good."
Kalinda shrugs, starts to move on again. Pauses. "I'll be passing the machine. Want me to get you a coffee?"
Alicia doesn't ask why, doesn't point out that it would have to be a convoluted route indeed to go there and come back again, doesn't even point out that she has people she can ask to do that for her. Instead she just gives Kalinda something that almost looks like an honest smile and says: "Thanks. That would be really nice."
In the grand scheme of things, it's not much. But it is something.
And, somewhere between push and pull, between the ocean and the shore, maybe their dance won't have an end, but a beginning.
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