Elizabeth stared out from behind the car's tinted windows, her heart tripping and fluttering through its fitful rhythm in her chest. Closing her eyes, she breathed long and deep until she could keep the heavy, slimy feeling at bay.
She glanced down at her watch, but only a couple minutes had passed since the last time she'd checked.
She sighed, and then looked sharply to the front seat to make sure that Matt hadn't heard her – she knew that her security detail was unhappy idling in an unsecured location for so long.
But she wasn't budging from this spot anytime soon. Somewhere in the hospital up ahead was Henry, and she wasn't moving any further away from him now than she absolutely had to.
Her knee bounced with agitation.
She'd sent the kids up alone to see him first, stalling with some lame pretense about overcrowding the room and begging them not to pester him with too many questions. Jason and Alison had raised their eyebrows at the last-minute change of plans, but Stevie had shot her a truly impressive look of incredulity and disapproval.
Easy for her to say.
Stevie hadn't been there that night, hadn't seen the betrayal and resentment blazing like burning coals in Henry's eyes as he was led out of their front door and into the darkness. Somehow, she and her siblings had slept through the very worst moments of their parents' lives like it was any other ordinary weeknight.
It was the only thing that helped Elizabeth breathe just a little bit easier – she wouldn't wish those harrowing, agonizing hours on anybody, and her sweet babies least of all.
But shielding their innocence had come at a cost, leaving Elizabeth isolated in a way that she'd never felt before in her life. She was stranded in a lifeboat at sea, all alone except for one horrible, world-altering fact –
He was never going to forgive her for this.
The darkness and the monotony were deafening as the lifeboat crested and sank on the swells, radio silence ringing maddeningly in her ears throughout all her endless taxing days and even longer sleepless nights. The water and the sky seemed to go on forever around her, making her feel small and so very far away from home.
Then, yesterday, a signal flare burst through the blanketing fog with a blinding flash – Henry was now allowed to receive guests.
But hope and relief scarcely had the chance to flicker to life within Elizabeth's weary heart before they spluttered out again. It was only natural that he should be missing the children, but there was simply no way that Henry would welcome seeing her.
She couldn't regret it.
No matter how much the consequences haunted her, she could never have done otherwise, not when she'd seen so clearly the danger that he posed to himself.
Not to her, though. Never to her, or to their kids.
He'd kill himself before he ever hurt any of them.
Elizabeth was jolted from these bleak thoughts by the ringing of her cell phone, the noise so jarring in the quiet that her shaking hands took three tries to press the correct button properly.
Stevie didn't even bother with a greeting. "Will you get up here?" she demanded through gritted teeth. "When Dad saw you weren't with us, he looked like he was going to cry."
Elizabeth's brow furrowed, her imagination trying and failing at once to square the image of her husband on the verge of tears with the fury on his face when last she saw him.
He just doesn't want the kids to see how angry he is, she reasoned, her heart sagging ponderously. Doesn't want to make a scene. But how could she tell her daughter so?
She slumped back against her seat. "You three finish up with your visit, take as long as you like," she said at last, resigned. "I'll come up after you're done and visit on my own."
Her words were not given lightly and she fully intended to keep them, but as the long minutes passed, Elizabeth's nerves overcame her. Creeping in like a whole cluster of spiders, each one supplied another graphic vision of how colossally badly the encounter might go.
"Ma'am?" Matt said from the front seat, abruptly cutting off Elizabeth's mental visualization of the end of her marriage.
"Yes, what is it?" she choked.
He pointed wordlessly to the front door of the hospital, from which her three children were now emerging.
Elizabeth could not break free of the car fast enough, Matt and the other agents grumbling as they set up a perimeter around her on the sidewalk.
Alison reached her first, throwing her arms around her mother's neck and positively melting against her – other than Henry, their middle child really did give the most amazing hugs she'd ever received, and Elizabeth could hear the smile shining out from her face.
"How was everything?" Elizabeth asked, aiming for casual even as her heart thundered in her chest, threatening to snap the ribcage that was meant to keep it safe.
"Good," Alison replied simply, looping her arm around her mother's waist and leaning against her shoulder.
The other two were even less forthcoming – but there was something different about Jason now, a change since she waved goodbye to them just a short time ago. He looked lighter, somehow, stood straighter, his brow less furrowed. Were those tears drying on his cheeks?
"You can go ahead up now," Stevie told her. "Dad still has some time before lunch."
But the hospital loomed before them as immense and formidable as a mountain, and the prospect of trying to scale it made the blood in Elizabeth's veins run cold. She'd rather relive Iran and its aftermath a thousand times over – yes, she'd well and truly talked herself out of the visit now.
"You know…" she said, ransacking her brain for an excuse and hoping that none of them could see the way her pulse was galloping at her throat, "I don't want you guys to have to stick around and wait for me. I can just come back and visit some other time."
Stevie's eyes narrowed.
"That's okay," Jason chimed in, blind to the smoke that swirled from his sister's ears. "Stevie's taking us to a movie, so you can spend as long as you want with Dad, and we'll take the bus home after."
A grimace rippled across Elizabeth's face before she could conceal it.
Stevie's nostrils actually flared. "What is the matter with you?" she growled, stunning Elizabeth for a moment when she grabbed her by the shoulders and gave her a quick shake. "You're going up. You dressed for him," she pressed, flourishing her hands at her mother's entire ensemble.
It was true, though it unnerved Elizabeth to hear that she'd been so transparent.
Even as she'd been casting about for a world crisis that required her attention, any pretext to dodge this whole impossible situation, Elizabeth had put on jeans for the first time in forever, the very skinniest ones she owned. She hadn't so much as looked at a pair since coming to Washington, but standing in her closet in her pyjamas this morning, all she could think was how much Henry loved the way they clung to her legs. The only thing he loved more was the feel of the denim under his fingertips – he could never keep his hands off her when she dressed like this.
She'd topped a white blouse with a sky-blue cardigan, Henry's favourite colour on her – his favourite colour period, because it matched her eyes so perfectly. It always left him besotted to distraction, a stupid smile on his face, and she could count on having to repeat herself several times over before he'd be able to absorb her words.
Lastly, she wore her hair loose today, with no product in it, because there was nothing in the world Henry loved more than threading his fingers through her blonde waves. For him, for both of them, that had always been the ultimate form of relaxation.
There would be no escape for her, Elizabeth realized, shuddering as defeat settled heavily onto her shoulders. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply to brace herself. "Alright," she said, fighting to control her quivering voice. "I'm going."
She kissed each of the kids on the forehead, offering them a weak, queasy smile, and started down the sidewalk, flanked by Matt and the other agents.
She was halfway to the hospital entrance when Stevie called after her.
She heard footsteps slapping on the sidewalk, and turned back just in time to get pulled into a fierce hug by her eldest daughter. "I love you," Stevie said throatily, squeezing her. "It'll be okay."
Elizabeth hugged back tightly, hot tears threatening to leak out the corners of her eyes, her throat burning with the effort of holding them back. The embrace lasted longer than any she'd shared with Stevie in years, infusing all the comfort and strength her daughter could give her.
The warmth and confidence from that hug carried Elizabeth exactly as far as the lobby before beginning to leach from her body, replaced by that sickly, sluggish feeling that made it so hard to keep propelling herself forward. Her lurching heartbeat returned more erratic than ever, and she wiped her clammy hands over and over on her jeans.
Soon, before she was even remotely ready, she found herself standing at Henry's open door. Her detail taking their positions flanking the doorway, she knocked softly and peered into the room.
The bed was empty, and so was the couch.
The bottom was just plummeting out of her stomach, alarm bells ringing in her head, when a voice spoke over to her right. "Gosh, you're so pretty."
Henry's words were guileless and soft, and a shy, gentle smile curved his lips as he emerged from the little bathroom she had failed to notice.
Like a towering oak who stands tall throughout an endless backbreaking storm, she'd been holding herself together for so long now, resolute and unyielding. But the wind and the rain had weakened her, and seeing him now, seeing him like this?
The rage in his eyes had been scorching that night, and in the days since then, that last glimpse played over and over on a loop in her mind, telling her that he would never again want to lay those eyes upon her.
Seeing him now, with his eyes as warm and sweet as they had ever been – the dissonance was too much, and it broke her, just as an errant breeze could fell that mighty oak on the next sunny day.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she sobbed, her knees buckling beneath her. They were the only words her breaking heart had wanted to call after him that night, as his eyes were shooting daggers that she hadn't even attempted to fend off. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
For a moment, Henry froze, his eyes widening as though a puzzle piece had just clicked into place in his mind. Then he was swiftly crossing the short distance between them, and her quaking body was fully engulfed in his arms.
"No, Babe, no," he insisted, rocking her back and forth.
The tears only came harder after that, a desperate and unending torrent, the embrace so good that it ached, like the first breath of air in her lungs after an eternity underwater. She gripped him back as tightly as she had ever clung to anything in her life, the noises she was making no longer human, practically climbing his body to bring it closer to hers. The feel of his broad shoulders beneath her fingers was overwhelming in a way that her brain didn't know how to process, when a moment ago she'd been so certain she'd never be allowed to touch him again.
She felt him shake his head, heard him murmur, "No, she'll be okay", but she could only take gulp after desperate gulp of air, burying her face in her favourite spot against his neck, the home she had missed so much every night that she'd spent lying alone in their bed.
She wore herself out, crying like that, and when her sobs eventually slowed and quieted, Henry began to loosen his hold. Elizabeth keened in frantic protest, but he was only reaching up to cup her face with both his hands, forcing her to meet his gaze.
"I'm not going to let you apologize for getting me the help I need, Elizabeth," he said, his voice so adamant and sincere that there was no room left for doubting him. "You did the right thing."
The sound of that word resonated in her bones, sobering but somehow oddly reassuring, giving strength back to her legs and rooting her feet solidly back on the floor. She swayed once at the surge of it, but after that she rested her forehead against his, and trusted that she would not fall.
Henry always chose his words carefully, and need told Elizabeth everything – it acknowledged what she'd seen when she picked up the phone and dialed 911, and meant that his eyes were seeing just as clearly now. It said that he'd already been working hard and still had a ways to go, but he could see the path before him now. One littered with obstacles, perhaps, but visible, no longer shrouded in darkness, now that nighttime had given way to daylight.
She shuddered as the last of her tears abated, and pulled back just far enough to meet his gaze once more. "Promise?" she asked hoarsely, one hand coming up to touch his chest. His heartbeat thudded, strong and steady under her palm. Promise that we're okay?
As he almost always did, Henry knew what she was really asking. "I promise," he vowed firmly, stroking her cheek with his thumb and leaning down to press his lips against hers in a gentle kiss.
Blushing, Elizabeth ducked her head when he pulled back. "I'm sorry for falling apart like that," she said, softly and shyly. "I've been trying so hard to—"
"You have nothing to apologize for," Henry repeated, lifting her chin and tucking her hair behind her ear. "Neither one of us needs to try to be strong for now, alright?"
She nodded tiredly, and he led her over to the couch, where she curled up tight by his side, his arms cocooning her against him. A part of her longed to sit back and just drink in the sight of him until she'd had her fill, but her heart was still raw and fragile in a way that radiated out to her very pores, setting her nerve endings afire. Only the warmth of his touch could soothe that sting, so she burrowed deeper into his embrace, seizing a fistful of fabric in each hand to keep him close.
"I love you," Henry murmured, kissing the top of her head. "Take all the time you need. I'm not going anywhere."
Slowly, slowly, the burning, prickling feeling in Elizabeth's skin began to ebb away; slowly, the deafening silence that hummed in her eardrums waned. She heaved a deep sigh, and forced her muscles to release the tension that had been mounting inside of her this week, groaning softly when it was gone.
"I need to thank Stevie," she murmured into Henry's hoodie.
"I wasn't going to come up here," she admitted, loosening one fist so she could caress his chest through the light material. "I was too scared – I chickened out almost as soon as the words were out of my mouth. But Stevie kept pushing, and I'm so glad she did. I needed this."
"Me too," Henry agreed, tangling his fingers through her hair. "You and the kids. When you didn't come up with them, Stevie said you thought I didn't want to see you, but I didn't believe her. I just figured I frightened you off that night."
"Most terrifying night of my life," Elizabeth nodded, "but as soon as you were taken away, I was in the dark. I couldn't let myself wonder how you might be doing, so all I had left was the absolute certainty that you wouldn't forgive me for sending you here, and I didn't know how I'd ever survive that."
She shivered at the memory of those lonely days in the lifeboat, the lashing rain and gnawing hunger, feeling like she'd never be warm or happy again.
"I'm so sorry, Babe," Henry said, tightening his arms around her. He didn't let up until her body relaxed once more against his. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm so grateful to you, Elizabeth. Because of you, I have the chance to get better."
She squeezed him back, hard – any other reply she might have attempted to give would have been woefully inadequate.
Elizabeth's strength had mostly returned to her now, and with it came the capacity to ask the question she hadn't dared even to let cross her mind until this moment. She eased back and took Henry's hands in hers, needing to look into his eyes as she posed it. "How are you feeling?" she asked gently, rubbing the backs of his hands with her thumbs.
"I'm getting there," he said, his gaze honest and unflinching. "I still have more to work through, but I have some good strategies now, and I'm already sleeping better."
She smiled, her first genuine smile in days. "I can tell," she said, lifting his hands so she could kiss them. "I'm so proud of you, Henry."
The stubble grew heavier than usual upon his face, and he still seemed more than a little worn out to her practiced eye, but on balance, no worse than he might after a bout of the flu. Certainly nothing like he did before, when the weight of all that had happened sat like an enormous bear upon his chest, crushing him and ripping him to guilty shreds with its claws.
Dragging her eyes away from Henry, Elizabeth took proper stock of his room for the first time, the regular bed and saturating sunlight making it feel almost comfortable and cheerful, nothing like any hospital room she had ever been in.
There were sketches plastered all over one wall – she spotted the bowling alley where they fell in love, the rings she wore, Lady, and so many images of their three beautiful children. With only his pencil, Henry had surrounded himself with all the things she loved best, so he could have her here with him until he was well enough to come back to her.
That was another question that burned deep within her, but whatever answer he might give, she knew it would be too long, so she tamped down on that flame before meeting his gaze again.
But wispy tendrils of smoke lingered in her eyes, and Henry knew how to read those too.
"Maybe another week?" he volunteered, quiet and apologetic.
A lump of dismay rose in her throat, and Elizabeth swallowed hard to dislodge it. "Okay," she said, but her voice was shakier than she would have liked.
You will not make this about yourself, she thought furiously, and squeezed his hands to steel herself for another week of his side of the bed lying empty beside her. She'd live that week a thousand times over if it meant getting him back in better shape at the end of it, but oh she missed him already, and she hadn't even left yet.
"Okay," she repeated, with resolve this time, and squeezed his hands again. "Whatever it takes." Expelling all the air in her lungs to start afresh, she forced her mind to change tacks. "Did Jason say anything to you?" she asked curiously. "He's been—"
"He thought it was his fault," Henry interrupted, his face suddenly grey. "He thought he was to blame for me coming here."
"Oh, my poor baby," Elizabeth lamented, her heart clenching painfully.
After Henry was taken away that night, she'd sat up at the kitchen table until morning, waiting to catch the kids to fill them in, though it nearly killed her to watch the fear flood their eyes. Afterwards, both girls had clung to their mother, but Jason hadn't wanted anybody to touch him, retreating back upstairs to hide in his room as soon as Elizabeth would let him escape, and he'd remained withdrawn ever since, no matter what she tried to get him to open up.
"Thank you for getting to the bottom of it," she breathed. "He was a different person when he got back to the car."
By now, lunchtime smells were wafting down the hallway, tying Elizabeth's stomach up in knots the stronger they got – patients here were kept to a regular schedule, she knew, including eating lunch promptly at noon, but she was sick at the thought of having to leave Henry yet.
A nurse knocked on the door just then, and Elizabeth tried to muster whatever fight she had left to argue against her dismissal – but the nurse was only stopping by with some soup and a sandwich, letting Henry eat in his room just this once so they didn't have to cut their visit short.
"I can bring you something too, Madam Secretary?" the nurse offered, handing Henry the tray.
"I appreciate that, but I don't need anything," Elizabeth said, hoping neither of them could hear the relief as she exhaled, or see the way her muscles shook as the adrenaline abandoned them.
"I don't want to eat in front of you if you're not having anything," Henry protested unhappily.
"I'm fine, Henry," she said, willing her stomach not to growl and contradict her. "But you need to eat – I need you to keep following doctor's orders, okay? Doing what they say has gotten us this far."
Henry frowned, but picked up his sandwich. "Only if you have a big bowl of ice cream tonight," he haggled as he took a bite. "I need to know you're looking after yourself too."
She smiled. "Promise. And I'll put another tub on the grocery list for us to share, okay?"
It warmed her heart to see him eat with appetite again after so many skipped meals recently, and even more nights of watching him push his food around his plate with a fork.
She hadn't been finding pleasure in food lately either, but she knew that she would have no trouble polishing off what was in their freezer tonight.
They chatted idly for a while after that – or mostly he listened and ate while she talked. Once she got going, she couldn't stop, telling him about this week's episode of Cupcake Wars, and the latest drama on their street, and how Nadine had gotten the upper hand the last time Russell came storming over to the State Department. She hadn't realized how starved she was for his ear, how much she'd missed his chuckles and his eye-rolls and his stern looks when he felt she was being unreasonable.
Once Henry was finished and the tray set aside, Elizabeth cuddled back up against him, his fingers weaving through the soft waves of her hair as if drawn by a thousand tiny magnets. She purred with pleasure at the sensation, but the passage of time prickled uncomfortably at the edge of her consciousness, a lapping wave that threatened to become a tsunami if she couldn't rein it in.
Stay in the moment, she pleaded with herself, breathing deeply. Stay present with him, for however much longer you've got.
She raised her head and nuzzled her face against his cheeks, the warmth and the roughness helping to ground her, so that all she felt in the end was the simple joy of having him close.
When she pulled back, her face was smarting, and she knew that it was red and raw.
Henry winced. "Sorry," he said, ducking his head.
"It's alright," Elizabeth said easily, brushing his whiskered cheek with her hand. But she stayed quiet after that, sensing that he had more to say.
"I … I haven't felt like shaving here," he mumbled. "I wasn't allowed at first, but even after that, I … I didn't trust myself." He shifted uncomfortably, forcing himself to meet her gaze for an instant before looking swiftly away again.
Hearing I didn't trust myself, hearing him actually say the words out loud – his admission was like a knife to the gut, chasing all the encouraging things he'd already told her about his progress straight out of her head and into the wind. For a moment, her heart actually stopped beating, and she hoped he didn't notice when her fingers flinched and went cold against his skin.
"I know I'd be safe now," he went on, "but I can't quite — there's something degrading about having to go and ask the nurse for a razor, knowing they're going to come watch, or counting the minutes until you return it."
"That makes sense," she nodded, the reassuring words for her benefit as much as his own – he's alright, she reminded herself, her heart beginning to beat again. He's here and he's getting better, he's just being honest with you. "There's no rush, Henry. Just wait until you're ready. It can stay like this for now."
(After what his confession had just done to her heart, it could stay like this forever).
"But that's just – I don't like how this feels," he grumbled. "I want to feel like myself again, and I'm sure I'd feel better if I could just get over—"
He broke off and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath that Elizabeth recognized from her own therapy as a means to stop himself from spiraling. She breathed with him, and he leaned into the soft touch of her hand.
"You feel good," he murmured after a while, nuzzling her palm. "Do you think – would you do it for me?" he asked, his eyes still closed. "That wouldn't feel humiliating. It would just be … us."
Her heart was still rattled, still trying to settle into its new rhythm, and she needed another deep breath to give herself courage, but she reached up to cup Henry's face with both hands, waiting.
"Of course I will," she said when he opened his eyes, and pressed a loving kiss to his forehead. "I'll do anything for you, you know that." She'd take any pretext she could to prolong this visit as long as possible. "Let me go get what we need, okay?"
Obtaining a razor and shaving cream from the nurses' station down the hall was, fortunately, as simple as her easy promise, and so a short while later, they found themselves crammed into his tiny bathroom. There wasn't room for two people to stand at the sink, so Henry sat on the toilet, lathering his face with the shaving cream when she passed it to him.
Elizabeth's hands trembled as she turned to him with the razor, her heart lodging in her throat at the way the light glinted off the blade – it instantly brought her back to That Night, and how she'd suddenly been so aware of just how many things in their home her husband could use to hurt himself before help could arrive. How he'd been so far gone that it might not even have mattered whether she took her eyes off of him or not.
One hand on his shoulder for balance, she drew in a shaky breath, holding it in until her lungs ached, and brought the razor down onto his skin.
She blew the air out again almost at once, for Henry was as loose and relaxed under her touch as she had ever felt him – she had nothing to fear here. He may still have plenty of work ahead of him in therapy, but he was nowhere near the precipice now.
Henry's lips turned up at the corners, and his eyes kept slipping shut with every pass of the razor, sliding open again as soon as he noticed they were closed.
"Just relax, Babe," she soothed him, now that she could finally do the same. "Close your eyes if you want to."
"Hard to keep them open when your hands feel so good," he moaned, trying not to move his lips too much as she worked. "But I never want to stop looking at you."
Well, she could certainly relate to that, she thought, dipping down to press another lingering kiss to his forehead.
Soon enough, she was finished with her task, and after she returned the borrowed items to the nurses' station, she and Henry snuggled up together once more on the couch. He rested his feet on the coffee table this time, her arms around his waist and her head pillowed on his chest.
"Thanks for doing that," he murmured, kissing the top of her head. "I know you were scared, but you made me feel safe, and I know now I'll be able to do it myself next time."
Elizabeth didn't need to say a word, merely squeezing him tightly and soaking in the heat of his body beside hers.
She felt time slipping away around them like quicksand inside an hourglass, the grains falling more swiftly the harder she fought against the pull. She'd been so lucky, been granted far more time with him today than she ever imagined, and she knew she couldn't just stay here forever, but the thought of leaving still stole the air from her lungs.
Another soft knock, and this time they turned to find Henry's primary doctor in the doorway. Elizabeth felt those final grains of sand giving way beneath her feet, felt herself being torn away from her husband's side.
"I'm glad I was able to catch you while you were still here, Madam Secretary," Dr Hughes said.
"Elizabeth, please," she said, shaking his hand before he settled into a chair across the coffee table from them. She planted her feet back on the floor and laced both of her arms loosely around one of Henry's. Her stomach twisted, storm-clouds looming heavy and low above her head.
"Well, well – so this is how my patient looks when he's not pining for his better half," Dr Hughes joked gently.
"He's my better half," Elizabeth corrected, an edge of flint in her voice. It made something glow inside her, however, to hear that a stranger could see how in love with her Henry still was, that an expert in the human psyche could already see how much this visit had meant to him.
She pressed a kiss to Henry's shoulder, the only part of him she could properly reach.
"And we're both always pining if we're not in the same room," Henry added with a little grin. "The kids tell us it's sickening."
"Well, this old man thinks it's wonderful," Dr Hughes disagreed. "A good support system will be essential once Henry goes home, and it's plain to anybody who looks at the two of you that he's got that."
Both Henry and Elizabeth smiled at that, and she squeezed his arm.
"You're still happy for us to talk to Elizabeth about your treatment plan, Henry?" he confirmed.
"Well, Henry's making excellent progress," Dr Hughes explained, his words lifting another brick off of Elizabeth's shoulders. "As long as he continues with the outpatient therapy to which he's already committed, we've agreed that we feel comfortable releasing him this weekend."
Elizabeth elbowed Henry at once, hard, and he yelped, his reflexes not swift enough to deke the impact.
"You liar," she said, swatting Henry over the head and wagging an accusing finger in his face. "You told me they wanted you to stay another week!"
This weekend? her mind raced. Less than half the time for which she'd been bracing herself only a moment ago? She could feel her lungs expanding in her chest, some of the clouds that pressed down upon her lifting higher into the sky. She could manage this.
"Just didn't want either of us to get our hopes up if plans changed," Henry muttered defensively, massaging the spot where her elbow had struck him.
Dr Hughes had been chuckling, but at Henry's words, he grew more serious. "You can trust yourself, Henry," he said, looking him straight in the eye. "You know what to do now when you're struggling, and how to keep yourself from getting there in the first place. You're ready."
The doctor's words chased the remaining rainclouds away, letting nothing but sunshine in, and warming Elizabeth from head to toe. He was ready, wasn't he?
And so, she found, was she. This wasn't like before, alone in the lifeboat with the sinking dread of losing him forever – when she left today, it wasn't going to be the end.
Henry nodded, but she could see that he was flagging.
"Tired, Babe?" she asked, reaching up to run her fingers through his hair.
"No, no, I'm fine," Henry insisted, even as he tried to stifle a yawn. He wrapped his arm tightly around her, as though she'd made even the slightest move to get up and leave.
"You've had a lot of excitement today," Dr Hughes reminded him, "so a nap might be a good idea. You want to be well-rested for therapy this afternoon."
"Listen to him, Henry, please?" she urged. "I promise I'll stay until you fall asleep."
With a sigh and a nod, he conceded the wisdom of their words, and so after they said a quick goodbye to Dr Hughes, he slipped off his hoodie and his sweatpants and climbed into bed.
There were no curtains for Elizabeth to shut, and dimming the lights had little effect on such a brilliantly sunny day, but he had plainly been more tired than even she had guessed, because by the time she joined him on the bed, Henry was already more than halfway asleep.
He lay on his stomach, and shuffled closer without even opening his eyes once she settled against the headboard. Draping one arm around her waist, he pressed his face against the leg of her jeans, and hummed with pleasure at the feel of the denim.
"I love you, Henry," she murmured, trailing her fingers through his short hair and down to the nape of his neck.
"Love you too," he slurred, before his breathing evened out, and his body went slack against her, more relaxed than she'd seen him in a very, very long time.
She could have happily gone on touching him forever like this, but she allowed herself only a couple minutes more before making her way out of the bed, easing out from underneath her husband's arm without waking him exactly as she'd been doing for decades. She watched him roll onto his side, grasping his pillow as soon as she was gone.
She had almost reached the door when an idea occurred to her, and she padded softly back over to the bed.
Slipping off her blue cardigan, she tucked it into the cradle of his arms. A soft smile touched Henry's face in sleep, and he pulled the sweater closer, inhaling her scent.
"Watch over him for me?" she whispered to the sketches on the wall.
Her children's smiling faces, the soulful eyes of Buttercup and Lady, and the timber and metal and bricks of all their favourite things shone their promise back at her.
Elizabeth couldn't resist one more kiss to Henry's forehead, but then it really was time to go.
She couldn't wait to get home.
She'd smother Stevie with the biggest hug of her life, devour the ice cream straight from the carton without even waiting for dessert, and then finally get a good night's rest – Henry would be back in her arms before she knew it.