"So you wanna tell me why you were late to your own party?" Cady transfers another stack of plates to the rinse sink as she waits for Henry to decide how he's going to answer her. The party is still going on, out in the main room of the Red Pony, but Cady gave up on playing hostess not long after it started, hit by an overwhelming feeling of done done so very done with everything that had her retreating to the kitchen just to have a moment of peace.
Or a moment alone, anyway. The peace hadn't melted into her bones until Henry walked through the door twenty minutes ago and told Harold, the line cook, to go join the party. Maybe it's part of Cady's general doneness, but she's reached the point where she's tired of pretending she doesn't know herself well enough to know what her reaction means.
"I needed some time to myself," Henry says after he plates a grilled cheese and sets it on the pass-through. He turns back to her, warm smile aimed her way as he wipes his hands on the dish towel at his waist. "Some time to appreciate the freedom you won me."
Cady smiles back at him. She can't help it. Henry's just so...sincere about things like that. There's no second-guessing with him, no wondering if he actually appreciates her as a person, rather than as a means to an end.
Henry starts walking towards her. Cady's heart skitters like a horse hide shedding flies, and she has to fight down a flush of anticipation—but then Henry veers to her left, stopping merely to pull the trio of pilsner glasses from her lax grip.
"You do not have to do this, you know," he says. "Especially since you no longer work for me."
"I like doing it," Cady says, a little shyly. Then she grins at him. "Besides. I don't remember you ever actually firing me."
"Yes, well, I do not have the funds to keep an attorney of your caliber on retainer." Henry's eyes sparkle as he smiles down at her. "Also, you can never remember which table is which."
Cady rolls her eyes. "That's because your numbering system makes no sense."
"That may be so. But it has not changed since you were twelve years old."
The words drift in the air between them for a long second, before Henry's face tightens and he turns away. He begins busying himself with the unwashed dishes, and Cady follows his lead.
They work in silence for a while, falling into an easy partnership that makes Cady remember the way her mom and dad used to always stand together at the kitchen sink, cleaning up after a meal. Cady washes her hands; Henry hands her a towel. Henry frowns at a particular stubborn spot on a skillet; Cady hands him a SOS pad. They slip past each other, time and time again, a culinary pas de deux that seems to be melting the tension out of Henry's shoulders, but only serves to wind her own.
Finally, she's had enough.
"Is that how you really see me?" She steps out of the dance, crossing her arms over her chest. "As a twelve-year-old girl still?"
Henry finishes loading the glasses he'd been working on into the drying rack, his hands, as always, full of infinite care. He dries his hands, then settles the towel back on its rod, tugging at it until the ends hang evenly.
Then he turns to face her, eyes almost as wary as when she'd first stepped into that goddamned interview room at the jail. "No. How could I, when you have been at my side every day for months, fighting so ably for my life?"
Cady shakes her head. "All of which would have been for squat if not for you and my dad putting everything together."
"Which we could not have done if you had not uncovered the reference to the feathers. Do not downplay what you did." Henry takes a deep breath. "You are an amazing woman, Cady."
Something releases inside of her, like a bird stretching its wings. She drops her arms to her sides and takes a tentative step towards him. "Thank you. It's nice to know someone's paying attention."
"It is almost impossible not to." Henry glances away. "It would be better if I could still picture you as a little girl."
"Don't say that." She lays a hand on his chest. "Henry, I—"
"I am your father's age, Cady." He cages her hand with his own, not pushing it away, but not allowing her to touch him further. "He is my best friend."
"Yeah, and I'm not my father, so why don't we leave him out of this conversation." She brings her other hand up, laying it on top of his, like some twisted version of patty-cake. "I let my fears about what he'd think of me screw up my relationship with Branch. And yeah, maybe Dad was right in the end, but it's my life, Henry. Not his."
Henry blows out a breath. "You know it is not that easy."
"Nothing is easy." Cady lets out a slightly hysterical laugh, weeks, months—hell, years—of stress bubbling up and out. "That's what you're going with? After everything we've just been through, you're trying to warn me off with it's not going to be easy?"
Henry's eyelids dip with his smile, his grip on her hand loosening into a gentle hold. "Perhaps 'easy' is not the word I should have chosen."
She might not be the most experienced trial attorney out there, but she knows when she's won a fight. "You definitely could have phrased it better." She tries to stay straight-faced, but a naughty grin keeps peeking out at the corners of her mouth. "I was actually looking forward to you telling me how hard it's going to be between us."
Henry huffs, rolling his eyes. "Cady, that was terrible."
She laughs, and God, she hasn't felt like this since before her mother died. Between the work she did on Henry's case, and whatever this thing is with Henry himself, she's standing on her own two feet again, rather than tripping over everyone else's.
"You didn't like that one?" She goes up on her tiptoes, leaning into his solidity, into his strength. "I haven't even gotten to my oral sum—"
Henry kisses the words right out of her mouth.