Disclaimers in part one.
Predictably, no matter how prepared he is for this audit, there is always someone who failed to do something, so Friday goes much as he expected--a mad rush to get everything ready.
He doesn't see Betty until that evening, as he promised. He tells her about the rush and she tells him about the photographer who inadvertently insulted Alexis in a brain-storming session, with Daniel and Wilhelmina present, and how the photographer back-pedaled so fast you could practically smell his shoes smoking.
Henry goes home, thinking, 'I can do this. I can be her friend.'
Of course, what he thinks is different from what he knows--that he doesn't think he'll be able to stay friends if she decides that's all she wants from him.
Even though he tries not to think about it, it's there, like a moldy spot on a piece of bread. As the week wears on, he and Betty seem to fall into a holding pattern and when he's in her presence she makes him forget about all the pain that being apart from her brings. It's that pain that begins to wear on him, that begins to make him consider giving her an ultimatum.
He's not strong enough for this, even though he thought he was.
It's a realization that's driven home on Friday, as he's leaving Betty's office after having lunch.
He passes Alyse and Miranda from Styles sitting on the orange bench in front of the elevators. He's just pressed the down button when he hears Alyse say, in a loud whisper, "So pathetic, isn't he?" It causes a shiver to run down his back.
They could be talking about anyone.
He knows that's not the case.
He tries desperately not to listen to what is undoubtedly meant, in all maliciousness, for his ears only.
Miranda whispers back, "Who would have thought that she could be such a player?"
Alyse's response is drowned out by the arrival of the elevator and Henry enters it. When he turns around, the two women give him fake smiles and shrug, in perfect unison.
He clenches his hands, feeling his ears burn with anger or embarrassment, he can't tell. The doors close and all the way down, he's silently cursing Alyse and Miranda for the spiteful gossips they are, while at the same time trying to tell himself that Betty would never, ever do what they insinuated.
But he can't help but think, 'God, what if they're right,' and it's enough to plunge him down into the doubts he's been trying to keep at bay.
He can't stand the thought of seeing Betty at all again that night, so he sends her a message through inter-office e-mail, saying, I won't be able to walk you out tonight.
Fifteen minutes later the reply comes back, What's wrong?
He lies and replies, Nothing's wrong. I just can't. I'll see you on Monday.
He hopes to God that by then he'll want to.
She writes back, Okay. See you on Monday.
He leaves fifteen minutes early and steps out onto the street front just as thunder rolls. He looks up into the grey sky and the weather fits his mood so well he laughs without any mirth.
When he gets home, the Weather Channel informs him that the rain is expected to continue throughout the weekend, off and on. He goes to sleep, listening to the rain, finding a measure of comfort and peace in the sound.
Saturday he does nothing but watch television, quite grateful to Mike Rowe and his dirty jobs, for taking his mind off more serious matters. And yet, though Mike's snark does its best, he can't help but pick at the memory of Alyse and Miranda like he would a barely healed scab. He resents it for all its implications.
He just wants this over, done with, so he can put it behind him. He wants Betty to make up her mind. He's done playing the fool. Betty needs to give him an answer.
He thinks that this conclusion should make him feel better, but it doesn't. It makes him feel worse for having given up, when he tried so hard not to.
By late Sunday afternoon, he still feels guilty, but resignation has set in as well.
He gave it as much as he could, now he just needs to talk to Betty. As much as he wants to believe that this will all come to a happy ending, he has no confidence in that.
A loud thunderclap startles him out of his thoughts, and he hears the rain that had been pattering gently become a pounding torrent. A second later, his television set winks out in the middle of Jamie and Adam firing the chicken gun, along with all the lights in the apartment.
Henry sighs through his nose and gets up to turn off the television set. No use in having it on when the power is out. He goes to search for his oil lamp, a lighter, and a flashlight, flipping the switches for the lights off on the way. Although there's a remnant of light outside, he knows that will disappear soon.
He places the objects on his coffee table and then sits down to listen to the rain. He zones out, letting his mind drift, and though it's difficult at first, the rhythmic sound of the rain helps.
The light changes fast, everything taking on the dim, grey tones that only a rainy evening causes and he's just about to light the lamp when a knock comes at his door.
He quickly lights the lamp, and taking the flashlight, goes to open the door.
He almost drops the flashlight when he sees who's on the other side, but as it is, he lamely gapes and then just as lamely says, "Betty?"
She's holding her glasses in her hands. He wonders why, but that's lost when she looks at him.
There's a longing there so naked and raw that it steals his breath, but when she looks down he's left wondering if he even saw it.
She says, "My glasses are wet."
Her voice is thick, as if she'd been crying.
She sniffs, loudly, and Henry realizes he's been staring like a dunce, and that she's soaking wet, dripping water all over the floor, just as she says, "Can I come in?"
He moves aside to let her in, still caught up in wondering why she's there, and why she's wet (a distant voice inside his head says, "She got caught in the rain, moron.") that when he tries to shut the door he misses and has to look at it to get it shut.
The mundane action seems to flip a switch inside and he's able to say, "What are you doing here, Betty?"
She's not looking at him, but her glasses instead, opening and closing them. She looks, oh God, she looks like she did when she threw their relationship off its tracks and he has to swallow against the sudden roiling in his stomach. A mantra starts up in his head of 'no, no, no, no' and his grasp on the flashlight becomes slick.
She stops fiddling with her glasses after what feels like forever and looks up at him and he thinks, 'No, not yet, I'm not ready.'
She says, "Hilda knocked some sense into me."
It's an answer to the question he's almost forgotten asking, but it doesn't do anything to ease his mind.
She continues, "She helped me understand something important."
He says, "What--" He stops to clear his throat, because the word comes out barely above a whisper. "And what is that?"
"That I've been trying to deny myself what I really want because I'm too scared to accept it for what it is." She stops, looks confused and asks, "Is the power out?"
He steps closer, saying, "Yes, yes it is. What, what is it you want?"
He's close enough to her now that when she looks up at him, he can see her eyelashes have stuck together in tiny points and the indirect light from the flashlight seems to make her skin glow. No longer does she seem anxious, instead determined, and a touch of defiance resides in her eyes. A drop of water quivers its way off her bangs. He reaches up, unable to stop himself, to smooth the hair away from her eyes.
Her breath hitches as he touches her. She says, "Us. Together again."
As his hand finds its way to the back of her neck, pulling her in, her glasses clatter to the floor, followed by the flashlight because he doesn't want anything keeping him from touching her. She meets his lips halfway, her arms coming up around his neck. Her mouth is cold and she tastes like rain and salt and his clothes are leeching all the water from hers, but he doesn't care.
Although the kiss starts out urgent, greedy, its tempo changes, becoming gentler, softer, until finally, he stops kissing her, gathers her in under his chin and says, "God, Betty, you put me through hell."
Her voice is a little muffled against his shirt as she says, "I know." He feels her pull away a little, and he can just make out her face as she looks up at him. She continues, "I am so sorry." He sees a dim gleam from her braces as she smiles widely and says, "What can I do to make it up to you?"
He can't help it. He says, "Grovel?"
She says, "That's not funny, Henry," her smile not dimming one bit.
"An explanation would be nice."
Her smile fades away and she looks back down, placing her head on his chest. She says, "I can do that."
He leans his head down, placing his mouth against her hair, and says, "You have no idea how much I love you."
Comes the answer, "I do now."
After a long minute he asks, "Aren't you freezing? We should get you dry."
She says, laughter in her breath, "Dry would be great."
He bends down to pick up the flashlight which was worth every penny he spent for it because it's still shining on.
Betty blurts, "Watch out for my glasses!"
He looks up at her, smirking, then looks back down, searching for the glasses. He says, just as he finds and closes his hand on them, "You didn't need them just a little while ago."
She raises her eyebrows, giving him a look that he's sure Marc and Amanda have seen many times over, a look that proclaims, "Don't mess with me." She says, "I didn't need them a little while ago." She holds out an insistent hand. "Now, give them to me."
Betty Suarez in full sass mode. God, he's missed that. He straightens up, starts to give them to her and then snatches them back.
"If that's so," he says, fully aware he's pushing her buttons and loving every second of it, "then I'm going to take full advantage of it."
That earns him a scathing look and a, "Henry Grubstick! I am sopping wet, I just walked two blocks in the driving rain and you--you're doing this on purpose, aren't you?"
He quirks an eyebrow and admits, "Yeah."
"I hate it when you do that."
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't."
When Betty opens her mouth again, he says, "Betty." She closes her mouth, smiles, and shakes her head.
He smiles back at her and leans down to give her a kiss, just a slight press of his lips to hers.
He places her glasses in her hand, closing her fingers around them. "There," he says, "All yours."
She looks down at them and then back up at him. She smiles that glorious smile, says, "You better believe it," puts her hands behind his neck and pulls him close.
Apparently, he thinks, his quick kiss wasn't enough.
Some time later, the power's still out, but it doesn't matter. Henry's lying on the couch, having changed into dry pair of jeans and a long-sleeved henley shirt. Betty is tucked in beside him, wearing an old t-shirt of his and a pair of his pajama pants, legs and waist rolled to fit. He's sliding his fingers through the twisting waves her hair has dried in, thinking that she's explained everything but what exactly brought her here.
So he asks, "What exactly did Hilda say to you?"
Betty shifts, so that she's looking at him, and says, "She said, 'I thought cooling it with Henry was supposed to solve all your doubts, but you're still not happy, and you're not asking yourself why.' So I did. I asked myself why."
"What was your answer?"
"That I'd made a stupid mistake."
"Better late than never, I guess."
"I really didn't expect you to take me back."
"You bailed on me. Friday night. I thought I'd lost you."
"You could have."
She gives him a questioning look, so he tells her about Alyse and Miranda.
He says, "I was this close, to coming in on Monday and telling you to give me an answer. If it would have been no, that would have been it."
Her horrified look prompts him to say quickly, "But you came here. And, it doesn't matter now."
She's silent for a long moment, looking at the flickering flame on the lamp. The lamp's flame dances mad shadows around the room.
Then she says, "I feel like I owe you more."
That statement and the worry on her face tell him she needs more reassurance. He tips her head up, with a finger under her chin, and says, "You don't. I get it, why you ran away, and it's okay, Betty. I understand and I'm not going to throw it in your face when you least expect it. That would be petty and stupid and I know you love me. That's all I need."
"But," she starts to protest, but he kisses her again. Talking it out can wait a little while longer.
Her rebuttal, whatever it was, dies a quick death under his mouth. He kisses her just long enough to elicit a soft moan from her. He smiles against her mouth and encircles her in his arms, gathering her closer, savoring the way her mouth opens under his and the way she seems to melt against him.
Henry doesn't know what the future holds, but there's still that hope he had, and a small box sitting in a drawer, waiting to be given and opened.
Afterword: No, I'm not gypping you out of Betty's explanation. I was going to write it in this story, really, but it occurred to me that it's better told from Betty's perspective, therefore you get a gloss over it.
Extras: Betty's card to Henry is real. A picture of its cover and a fanmix will be available when this story is posted to my Livejournal.