Hafidha was late. Not just late, but hours late, with no call, no text... And Chaz told himself he'd gotten over this, years ago, that he trusted her. And he did. But, that didn't mean there weren't days he worried about her, rather than about what she might do. She was usually home, by now, even with traffic on the bridge, even if she'd gone out to dinner with Penny and Fitz.
What if something had happened?
This was all him, and he knew it. Nightmare visions of the future he'd walked away from, utterly stupid concerns that-- Were they really so stupid? He couldn't tell if it was the Anomaly or just his own mind, but it loved to remind him that none of them were infallible, that he, in particular, had fucked up often enough and badly enough that it had cost lives -- nearly his own, more than once. That 'she's a grown woman and a federal agent' didn't actually mean she was fine.
He reached for the phone, again, knowing he wouldn't call. He didn't call, because he trusted her. If there was something he was supposed to know, she'd call him.
But, this was one of those nights. And he wished he could shut himself up, that he didn't have to listen to every idiotic neurotic thing his brain could throw at him, but the unfortunate thing about being himself was that there was really no way around it. There was no psychic ball-gag.
But, he wasn't going to sleep until she came through the door.
Not so he could say anything, but just so he could see that she was all right. He just needed to look at her, to know that whatever this was, she'd made it home.
Wouldn't it be his luck, she'd picked up somebody in a bar, and she was going to call him from work, in the morning, wondering why he was late. Oh, that would be one to remember.
He laughed tiredly and set the phone down again, tabbing through windows on his laptop. Things he was supposed to be working on, things he wanted to be doing, all of it blurred together into a wall of things he wasn't thinking well enough to engage with at all. And that was the worst. Not only was there nothing he could do to address the problem, there was nothing he could do at all, because his mind was too busy twisting itself into the saltiest pretzel in history.
And he was cold. The kind of cold where turning up the heat only went so far, where the thermals just meant he wasn't freezing, where eating just made his hands and feet colder as all the blood rushed to his stomach. It was the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, and that set off a whole other series of concerns about the snow on the roads.
She was fine. She would be fine.
An hour later, in the middle of the forty-sixth meditative game of Minesweeper, he heard the key in the lock and threw himself off the couch, tripping over the coffee table and his own feet, dropping the laptop onto a cushion, as he lunged toward the door. This was not, in fact, keeping his cool, like he'd meant to.
Hafidha came in to the sounds of muffled swearing and furniture collisions, and by the time she turned around from closing the door, Chaz was standing awkwardly at the edge of what passed for the entryway -- the point at which the light from the living room was no longer quite enough. She reached into one of the two enormous shopping bags that had come in with her, and pulled out a fuzzy thermal throw, cracking it open and swinging it across his shoulders, without a word.
"You-- you're all right." Ten points from Ravenclaw; stating the obvious. Chaz decided he really did need a ball-gag for his brain, as Hafidha tied the blanket around him like a cape.
"Somebody almost wasn't. I had to go all the way to Fredricksburg for these." Hafidha draped another blanket over one of his shoulders. "They were out on the other side of the river, they were out here... But, these were on clearance, and after your birthday present had an accident in transit..."
"I thought we were never going to get all the glass out of the carpet." Chaz remembered opening the box on what should have been a set of pyrex baking dishes, in the sizes Hafidha had thrown out the window, years before. And then his attention snapped back to the blanket draping across his other shoulder. "Wait, how many...?"
"Probably enough." Hafidha tossed another blanket over his head and tied it under his chin, framing his completely confused face. "You should go back and sit on the couch, because this is going to get awkward after a few more."
"Implying there are more than a few left." Chaz made his way back toward the couch, trying not to trip over the blankets or the coffee table, which sat enough askew that he was glad he hadn't kicked it over, getting up.
"Depends on your definition of 'a few'." Picking up the bags, Hafidha followed, taking a moment to drape her coat over a chair. "You've watched me take four of them out of one bag, and I haven't hit the bottom yet."
Chaz sprawled across the couch, twisting pillows until he could approximate a comfortable position. "Wait, seriously, how many blankets did you buy?"
"All of them." Hafidha pulled out another one and draped it over him. "End of the first bag."
"Five blankets in the fi-- Is the second bag all blankets?"
"Of course not." The first thing out of the bag was another bag, and this one went on the coffee table. "Seven had something catered, and I caught the ruins when I went up to drop off some hardware Falkner wanted to lend What's-Her-Fuck in Financials -- she's cute, too. If you don't want that, I'm gonna. But, I passed this wonderful abandoned wreckage of a lunch meeting, and you get everything I couldn't fit in my mouth. Sandwiches mostly. There's a few pastries in the sideways box."
"I'm going to die happy. The world could end right-- well... fifteen minutes from now, I'm warmer, but I'm not warm, yet. Cold-ass blankets fresh from the freezing outside are taking a minute to come up to indoor temperatures."
"Have another." A sixth blanket unfolded, just as fuzzy and warm as the first, and Hafidha draped it offset to the one before it, because Chaz was, as usual, way the hell too tall. "What do you have the heat set to, in here? Have I just been outside too long, or--"
"Eighty. I don't know how we're going to pay for it, but I couldn't do another day of seventy. I know that's a reasonable temperature. I know that should be perectly warm, but I just --"
"Charles. You weigh less than I do. It is December."
"I'm wearing thermals and fleece! It should be more than enough!"
Hafidha studied the problem, for a moment, and then pulled out a seventh blanket. "Coffee. You have to put warm into the thermals if you're going to make it stay in the thermals." An eighth blanket landed. "Find your hands in all that and eat something. I'm going to put on a pot of coffee."
"Eating makes my feet cold!" Chaz complained, knowing she was right. He figured out how to extract his hands, without displacing too much blanket, the difference in air temperature suddenly obvious against the backs of his hands, and tore open the knotted plastic bag, extracting the first box of sandwiches -- probably something weird, from the weight of it. That or half the unit was out sick. Definitely the latter, he decided, after the first bite revealed the sandwich to be turkey and swiss. Perfectly reasonable things to put in a sandwich, even if they weren't things he preferred in his sandwiches. There was a time to be picky, and free food was not it. Especially free food he didn't have to get up for.
By the time Hafidha returned, Chaz had rearranged the blankets so he could curl up in the corner of the couch with the box of sandwiches. She tried and failed not to laugh, intermittently cackling as she left a cup of coffee on the arm of the couch and the pot on the table. "You look like you're doing Jabba the Hutt impressions."
Chaz looked down at himself. "A, this is entirely your fault and B, is it really Jabba if you're not wearing a bikini?"
"I mean, if you're looking to get strangled, I'm sure I could arrange that, but I'm not putting on a bikini for it." A ninth blanket appeared, draped over where Chaz's legs were tucked up next to him, and Hafidha checked the bag.
"Not really my thing, but thanks. I can always tell you love me. It's the little things." The cup of coffee was warm enough that Chaz could feel the heat spreading through his fingers into his wrists, as he picked it up. "You know what would be really incredible?"
"If I microwaved the bucket of chile stew you made on Sunday and put it in the foam cooler you take the fish to Brady's in?" Hafidha flipped over the second bag, dumping a final blanket across her arm. The receipt that followed drifted toward the couch and Chaz grabbed it out of the air.
"Okay, seriously, ten blankets? Ten? Can we even--" Chaz looked at the receipt he was holding, squinted at it, blinked, held it up to the light. "You paid what for these?"
"And that's why you have ten of them." Hafidha piled the last one over Chaz's head and shoulders, held in place by the back of the couch. "I'm going to go nuke the soup, and then I'm stealing the rest of your roast and going to bed."
"If you bring me the soup, you can have the roast. Take the bag of orange creams in the freezer, too. They'll warm up by the time you finish the roast." The words were a bit muffled by the next sandwich. "I think I'm sleeping on the couch."
"You're going to sprain something, and I'm going to laugh," Hafidha warned, from the kitchen.
"I can live with that," Chaz decided.
The Next Morning...
"Hey, sleeping ugly, you getting up for work?"
Chaz opened his eyes to Hafidha leaning over the arm of the couch, staring at him, upside down. "No. Fuck off."
"Sprained your back, didn't you."
"No, I'm just warm. My entire body is warm, and I'm not going anywhere, least of all outside in that frozen wasteland that's pretending to be a city." Chaz shoved the blankets up further around his ears. "Taking a sick day, because I'm not sick. Finally. Tell-- no. Where's my phone?"
Hafidha picked it up from the coffee table and dropped it on his chest. As he tried to get his hand out of the blanket pile, she took out her own phone and took a picture, and then a few more for good measure. "If anybody asks, I'm just showing them. It's like cute puppy pictures, except less cute. It's like my very own pulled-Platypus burrito."
Chaz made a face that wouldn't have looked good on anyone. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
"Is that how it's going to be? Throwing me out of my own house first thing in the morning? Rude." Hafidha put on her best sympathetic face and crouched down beside the sofa. "If you need anything, anything at all... just call for takeout." She stuck out her tongue and stood up, heading for the door. "I'm going to work! Don't die! I left a box of Clif Bars on the coffee table!"
The door shut just hard enough to make the dishes jump in the cupboards, and Chaz was left still trying to get to his phone, which he finally managed. He called Lau.
"How much do you love me?"
"What are you doing that I'm going to punch you in the face for?"
"I'm not coming in."
"Yeah, I kind of guessed, when you weren't here before me."
"Oh, come on, I am not that--" Chaz stopped and thought about it. "I really do that, don't I."
"Every damn day. I can't remember the last time I got here and you weren't already halfway through a box of donuts and pissed off about something that might be a case." Lau paused. "You should quit that. You'll live longer."
"Speaking of living longer, taking a sick day, not vacation."
"What do you have and should I care?"
"I don't. I'm just finally warm for the first time since September, and I'm really enjoying being able to feel all my fingers. Pretty sure that counts as a health issue."
"There's something fundamentally wrong with you, Villette."
"Yeah, I know, it's called the Anomaly."
"I think I left it in my other pants."
"And you're calling me, because you don't want to tell Mom you're ditching because you're well, right?"
"I will bring you so much pastry if you fix this for me."
"... Yes, okay, I can be bribed with pastry. I'll take care of it. I'll tell her you're recovering from hypothermia."
"I pretty much am. Have you seen me, recently?"
"You have been looking a little blue and jittery around the edges." Lau sighed. "You're really feeling better?"
"Hafs has photos. I don't guarantee I look better, but I probably look a little less blue in the lips."
There was an awkward pause.
"Whatever. Bring me something with puff pastry and fruit, when you stop playing dead."
She hung up on him, and he tossed the phone back onto the table and pulled his hand back into the warmth of the blankets.
And then, Chaz was happy.
~*~* The End. *~*~