Title: Love Looks Not
Author: Vesper (Regina)
Rated: T (some mild innuendo, adult themes)
Category: Angst, Romance
Characters: Henry/Betty, guest appearances by Marc, Amanda, and some very nasty forgettable OFCs.
Spoilers: The Box and the Bunny; The Lyin', The Watch, and The Wardrobe; Secretaries' Day
Series: The Course of True Love
Summary: He's not alone in this. He never was.
Disclaimer: Ugly Betty is the property of Silent H Productions, Reveille and Ventanarosa, and Touchstone Television. Dirty Jobs and Mythbusters are property of The Discovery Channel. The Master and Commander series is written by Patrick O'Brian. The story is mine.
Archival: If you wish to archive, please link to my website. Please keep all my headers intact.
Notes: My apologies for the angst; I hope the ending makes up for it. This is written completely from Henry's perspective. I'll be writing Betty's side as a sequel.
Beta-Reader Acknowledgements: Thanks to Lylsister (aka misao-incarnate on Fanfiction.Net), for finding all the commas that ran away and encouraging me to extend the ending, to MaddieStJ for valuable advice on re-writing a certain part in that ending, and to viva los angeles for pointing out a line that needed cutting and some character reactions that needed fine-tuning.
Dedication: For SpiceandNice, whose interpretation of Henry's character is an inspiration. Also for D., my Henry.


Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind...

--A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare, Act I, Scene 1


Betty breaks up with him, after nine months of what he thought was pure bliss. Breaks up. That phrase has less to do with what she does and more with how he feels. What he feels is better served by another, more hurtful cliché--she dumps him. Hard.

Oh, she tries to be gentle about it. She gives him that look--the one he's been familiar with since college. While some girls were cruel and others simply scorned him with blasé contempt, the ones that always hurt the most were those who tried to be kind.

She gives him that look and says the words that, despite being trite and cliché, are more than enough to strike fear into any man--"We need to talk." But, unlike any man, by that point he's so foolishly secure to think that this time there is more of a future than he's ever had before.

So he's stunned when she starts talking, unable to say anything as he listens to her talk, to everything she says. He's heard it all before, more times than he cares to remember. He reflects on, that, if called upon, he could probably recite each and every reason and each comes with its own phrase.

"It's not you, it's me."

"I like you, I really do, I'm just not ready...."

And the worst, the one, oh, the one that always touches emotions so bitter and so deep inside him that he never tries to think about them--"We can still be friends, right?"

He listens and he wants to protest, to fight every reason with one of his own, as loudly as possible, not to snap at her like a wounded animal does, because that's not him and never will be. No matter how much it hurts.

At some point he ceases to hear what she's really saying, only getting the point--somehow it went wrong and he knows nothing he can say will change that. All he wants now is to be away, not to have to look at her because, oh, she's beautiful and he loves her, and if he can't have her, then this really is better over.

She looks at him like she feels better for having said all she has and he--more fool he--he tries not to show exactly how heart-broken he is. She says, "I think, I think I just need time."

He says, and he's surprised at how calm he sounds, "Time, time for what?" And then it hits him, right before she answers, "Time to think about us. To get my head straight."

He almost says no, because he's been down this road before and it's shoddy treatment. There are limits and some things should never be asked, even as obliquely as this. But he stops himself, not even sure if this is something he wants to do to himself, again. To wait for something that might never come to pass. To let someone he loves make this much of a fool of him again.

He's not really sure why he nods, a silent acceptance of all she's said and then answers, "Okay." He nods again, and adds, "If this is what you want."

She nods and says, "I'm sorry," but it's mean comfort.

He nods again, this time not trusting his voice. He leaves her with a curious mix of relief and guilt resting on her face. As he walks away, he closes his eyes, briefly, and if he can feel them burn with unshed tears he'll never tell her.

Time passes. He's both excruciatingly aware and oblivious of it. His world narrows to work and home and he wouldn't be able to tell you anything specific about those few weeks, except for the overwhelming cloud of misery. He tries hard not to think because if he allows himself to examine and analyze this he's sure he'll call her up and tell her in no uncertain terms that he's changed his mind, that this time is the last time and, God forgive him, but he won't allow himself to do that.

So he waits and waits, putting aside thoughts about the dreams and plans he had, and about what waiting says about him. He's tried so hard, all of his life and he's sick and tired of trying to attain the impossible.

He sees her, of course; it's unavoidable. The first time they catch each other's gaze, after, it sends a peculiar shock of shame through him and it takes a massive force of effort to not look at her. She looks no less like home to him and he thinks, 'That's why. That's why I'm a fool.' He buries himself in numbers and spreadsheets for the rest of the day and when he comes up for air it's past nine o'clock and the throb of pain in his head is like a lance through one eye.

He goes home and only wakes up enough the next day to call in sick. He really shouldn't because the week after next is the annual audit and he can't afford to sacrifice the time, but the thought of facing the world, and possibly Betty, makes his gut twist. He pulls the covers over his head and sleeps through the better part of the morning and early afternoon and his first thought when he wakes up is, 'This is depression.'

He makes himself get out of bed, shower and dress, and then he cleans. Everything. So that it's spotless and gleaming and lined up in neat rows. When he's done, he makes himself a corned beef sandwich and a glass of chocolate milk and sits down to finish reading H.M.S Surprise.

It's nearly eight when his phone rings. He lets the machine pick up. The long silence after his message makes him look up, place his book face-down on the arm of his chair. When Betty's voice comes through, soft and tentative, he stands up, knocking the book off, and he listens as she says, "Are you okay, Henry? They told me you called in sick." Another long pause and he reaches down for the book, closing it and sinking back down into his chair. She clears her throat and adds, "You don't have to call me back. I'm sorry to bother you, I just--I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called. Goodbye, Henry. Take care of yourself, okay?"

He sits, holding the book, for a long time. He can't remember what page he was on, so he puts it aside and goes to bed.

The next day he hears the peculiar slapping sound of a pair of high-heeled dress sandals stop at his cubicle, and he looks up to see Amanda, one hand on the side of his office and the other on her hip. She raises an eyebrow and drawls, "Hi there, Henry."

The come-on in her voice throws him, but he stammers, "I, uh, is there something--" She leans forward, and he stops talking, because she drops the come-hither attitude and is suddenly more serious than he's ever seen her.

She says, "She's just confused, Henry. Confused and scared."

He struggles to say something, anything, but she turns, casts a dazzling smile over her shoulder and says, "Of course, you're enough to turn any girl's head."

He feels his mouth drop open, as he listens to the slap-click of her shoes leaving and it's as though any sensible thought has decided to pack up and vacation in Tahiti.

He goggles at it for the rest of the morning, and thanks to it, it passes fairly quickly. He can't pretend he isn't flattered by Amanda's flirtatious comment, though it's tempered by the fact that Amanda pretty much flirts with anyone. He vacillates between the novelty of that and the unexpectedness of her other, more confounding statement. Of anyone to plead Betty's case, he would have expected Christina, maybe, or even Daniel Meade, both much closer to Betty. Amanda, however...

He finds himself shaking his head over it even at lunch. He wonders how he didn't notice any of what Amanda's obviously seen. He doesn't remember seeing any signs of confusion or any unease of Betty's. Even when they broke up, he saw none of that.

He's halfway through the pickle that came with his sandwich, when he realizes that the ever-present misery he's been living with is muted. He isn't sure exactly what changed, only that it no longer hurts as much to take the memory of their break-up out and look at it, truly look at it, instead of carefully sequestering it. It stings, yes, and it brings with it a sour taste, although, on second thought, that's probably the aftertaste of the pickle. A corner of his mouth quirks up into a bitter smirk at that.

He hears someone hiss, "There you are." Henry looks up and the first thing he thinks is, 'What--is my misery that attractive?' and the second is, 'Please, not Marc, too!'

Whatever gods there might be plainly are not listening to him, because Marc drops into the chair across him and announces, "Mandy owes me cheesecake for doing this."

Henry can't resist asking, "What, exactly?" in a tone that just borders snide.

Marc crosses his legs elegantly and leans back against the chair, giving the distinct impression that he's already bored. He says, "'Encouraging you'." He removes all doubt from Henry's mind about that not being a direct quote from Amanda by waggling his fingers for the air quotes. It's just tacky enough that Henry almost smiles.

He says, with a little more charity, "And what do you get out of this, besides the cheesecake?"

Marc leans forward, saying, "Listen, we have a vested interest in keeping Betty happy, because Betty happy is Marc and Amanda happy. She can make our days utter--what?" Marc asks, interrupting himself as Henry raises an eyebrow.

"Really? Betty?"

"Yes, Betty!" Marc snaps.

Henry smiles. Marc, unaware, continues, "Our little Latina can get in a seriously foul mood when she isn't happy. And she hasn't been happy in what, two and a half weeks, now, right?"

Marc leans back again, swiping a leftover french fry from Henry's tray.

Henry looks down, to see that somehow he's shredded his paper napkin into a neat pile of fragments. He swallows, then sweeps them off the table and drops them onto his tray. He says, "I don't know what your idea of encouragement is, Marc, but that isn't it."

He looks up to see Marc giving him a singular, understanding look of pity.

Marc says, "Yes, well. Let me try again. Buck up there. It's obvious to anyone with two good eyes in their head that you two are M.F.E.O." Henry gives Marc an incredulous look. Marc responds by saying, "Spare me. Like you don't know what M.F.E.O. is. Made for each other." He punctuates each word of the phrase with thrusts of his french fry, and then adds, "That good enough for you?"

Henry nods, fighting against the insane urge to laugh at the fact that M.F.E.O. is still apparently in Marc's parlance.

Marc stands up, leans over, placing both hands on the table, and says, "You tell Betty anything about this and what happened to her bunny will look like child's play."

He leaves then, sashaying away.

Henry blinks, convinced that this day will go down in his memory as the weirdest day ever and quite possibly the most enlightening.

He heads back to his office, walking absent-mindedly around people. Safely ensconced again he pieces together the hints that Marc and Amanda's comments have given him and the glimpse it gives him of what those two and a half weeks have been like for Betty is even more eye-opening.

He's not alone in this. He never was.

The thought of Betty suffering in like manner as he brings no joy with it, only pain. All this time that he's been telling himself he loves her, he hasn't shown it. Instead, he chose to selfishly hide away like a hermit crab, scared of any contact, hurt once and forever leery of being hurt again.

He's partially to blame; he knows that now. Happiness comes with its own set of blinders. Betty isn't one to do something without valid reasons, and he's ashamed to discover that his own pre-conceived notions prevented him from taking in those reasons, and for ignoring what lay under them.

The memory of her phone call comes back to him, along with the thought that if she still cares enough to brave the possibility that he'd have picked up, then there's still something there.

He had a goal once, when they were still happy together. He'd thought she loved him. Was sure of it. He'd second-guessed himself. He could see that now. With that realization comes the knowledge that somewhere along the way, he's deceived himself into thinking he isn't strong enough to face her again.

The afternoon passes quickly, these thoughts whirling in an endless circle. By the time he reaches home that night he's come to a conscious decision.

He contemplates returning her call, and he finds himself with his hand hovering over the handset, undecided. He shakes his head and leaves it alone. Maybe later.

The indecision to get in contact with her lasts all through the next morning, until he mentally gives himself a good slap, reminding himself that this is all on her terms, to stop feeling guilty for something out of his hands. He doesn't know what she wants and until she can figure that out he's stuck in limbo.

So he works with a clear mind the rest of the day and the next. The clock on his computer is slowly ticking its way down to quitting time, and he's staring at it, going over his slim plans for the weekend. He could rent some movies or pay a visit to the library, spend a few hours browsing or possibly, instead of renting movies, actually going to see one. Then he hears a soft clearing of a throat, and he whirls around so fast he takes his mouse with him. It dangles, softly thumping into his knee. He avoids looking up and gently replaces it, taking the time to regain his composure, and when he's done he looks up and says, "Hello, Betty."

"Hi."

He looks at her, sees she's wearing that blue blouse he loves so much on her, and he could swear she's wearing the perfume he bought her for her birthday, but he's not so sure about that. She looks at him for a long moment, and by unspoken consent they both look away at the same time.

She says, "Did you get my message?"

He says, "Yes. I did."

"Feeling better?"

He tips his head to the side, as if considering and answers, "Yes. I guess."

She chews on her bottom lip for a few seconds, then says, "You didn't mind? Because--"

"No, I didn't." And he looks at her fully and holds her gaze and thinks, 'I would never mind,' but he doesn't say it. A long time ago, he would have.

"Betty," he says, just as she says, "Henry." She stops and laughs nervously, and when he doesn't say any more, she continues, "Okay. I, uh, you're probably busy. God knows I am."

She rolls her eyes. He can see the levity is forced, but he smiles anyway.

She smiles back, and it's a little more genuine than her attempt at humor, but he can tell it takes an effort too. She pushes her glasses up, and then her hand sweeps down to join with her other in a quick clasp and then apart, as if she doesn't know what to do with them. She says, "I was wondering if, when you're done, we could--"

He blurts out, "No." He swallows hard at the expression of pain on her face, but he knows this is better for them. He explains, "It's just not fair, to the both of us."

She says, "I know. I--never mind. See you later. I hope."

He nods and gives a small wave goodbye. When she's gone, he closes his eyes and breathes, in and out, once, deeply.

'When, God, when?' he thinks and then just gives in to the petty urge that he was trying to sublimate and kicks his hanging file drawer once, a swift, vicious kick. It's not the best expression of the helplessness he feels, but better the cabinet than bottling it in. He turns back to his computer and finishes filling out the columns in his spreadsheet. The formulas flow easily and when it's time to quit he's completed more than he thought he would.

The weekend is dismally slow. He does laundry, decides, even though it's pathetic, that renting movies is less pathetic than seeing one, alone. He finishes H. M. S. Surprise and starts in on The Mauritius Command. By Sunday afternoon, he's a bit stir-crazy and feeling antsy, so he takes a long walk around Central Park and then goes grocery shopping for what little he won't waste.

And he thinks and thinks until he's tired of thinking. The very thought of thinking makes him rub his eyes, fingers behind his glasses. Yet no matter what tangents he follows they always come back to one thing--he and Betty are broken and there's nothing he can do to fix the crack created. He wants to fix it, with all his soul. He's just unsure if it is fixable.

When he goes to sleep that night, he's so exhausted from doing nothing that he sleeps straight through until his alarm rings. He still feels exhausted when he arrives at the Meade building. He's been there in his office for nearly twenty minutes before he notices the corner of a sky-blue envelope wedged in-between several files in his 'in' basket.

He plucks it out.

There's nothing written on the outside, but his heart starts beating faster anyway. The envelope isn't sealed, but the flap is tucked in and it takes him three tries to pull it out without causing any damage.

Inside is a card, 5x7, the front image a beautiful inkblot in shades of emerald and sapphire. He turns it over twice, reluctant to open it, noting that the copyright on the back is not one of the major card companies--he's never heard of Buzza Cardozo--and that the card, while in good shape, still has slight yellowing on the edges. It's the most unusual card he's ever seen.

He takes a deep breath and opens the card. Inside, on the right, is a single line of text centered in the page, and on the left, Betty's looping script, covering the entire page.

The line of text is like a sucker punch, unexpected and swift--We sure know how to hurt one another, don't we?--and his eyes track immediately to the left, reading.

And we do, don't we, Henry? I don't know why that is.

I started out, Friday night, to find out how you were, no matter how I know you feel about me now, and I didn't realize, Henry, not then, and now I do. I had to know, because you didn't return my call, and I know, I didn't really expect you to, and because I do still care about you. I really wanted to tell you that, but I couldn't. I wouldn't have been able to say it right.

I'm not trying to make up. I still can't. And I'm not saying I care about you to string you along. I would never do that. I hope you know that, Henry.

I wrote this out half-a-dozen times trying to get it right, and I know I haven't, still. The thing is, I realize now I hurt you, and I can only blame myself, because I drove you away, and I never intended to do that.

You're the best friend I never expected to have and you know me so much better than I do myself and you've been so patient with me.

I know I'm asking too much and believe me, I would do this in person, if I could. I did try and you shot me down, which, I guess, you had every right to. You tie me up in so many knots that I can't even see where to start to untangle myself. But you're the only one that could help me do that even when you're the cause.

This is my apology to you and my request. Please forgive me and be my friend, and I promise you, I'll figure this out, so we can both move on, together or apart.

Betty.

Henry reads it over twice more, but it isn't until he wonders why the card's words are quivering that he notices his hand is trembling--has been trembling for awhile now. Abruptly, he longs for the days when nothing more exciting cluttered his day than helping get the checks out on time or keeping up with what meeting was what day.

He closes the card and carefully puts it back into its sleeve. He looks at it for a few moments before he comes to a decision, moving his head in a firm nod. He unlocks his safety drawer and looks at the contents for a few seconds, pondering how long it's been since he last looked and how much things have changed since he did. He places the card gently beside the small box inside and then slides the drawer shut.

He knows the next move is his.

It's another day before he sees her. As fate would have it, it's as they're on their way out for the day. It's enough to make him wonder how he managed to avoid this situation until now.

The elevator doors open and she's alone inside. She's slumped against the wall, and the doors opening obviously catch her off guard because she jerks upright, her hand flying up to her hair and glasses. Then it falls back down, and there's a tentative smile blooming on her face.

She says, "Henry!" in an endearing and very familiar squeak and he can't help but smile at it. She moves aside, although she's the only one inside, gathering her purse a little closer.

He steps inside, settling with his hands clasped behind his back, trying not to think about how familiar this all is, and the silence is no less awkward and rife with unsaid thoughts than once before.

The numbers count down on the inside panel, a not-so-subtle reminder that if he doesn't say something, he'll lose this chance. It's unexpectedly hard to say what he has to, with all the things he shouldn't say jostling for being the first in line. He shouldn't lay all that on her. Not right now.

She's pointedly not been looking at him all this time and his heart aches for the ease of conversation they once had.

He starts to reach out to her, to get her attention by touching her shoulder, but he stops himself in mid-reach. The motion is enough to make her look at him and he takes a deep breath, and starts to say, "Betty". He stalls there, struggling for the right words, finally going for the simplest ones he can get out, "Apology accepted."

She stares at him for what seems the longest time. She almost looks like she's about to cry, but he presses his lips tighter and forces himself to wait. She takes a few short breaths, as if she's struggling for air and then says, "Really?"

He nods.

And she smiles, wide and glorious, and if he didn't know he was in love before, he knows it now, and he can't breathe for wanting to kiss her so badly and knowing that now isn't the right time, so he digs the nails of one hand into the other and tries to smile back.

The doors slide open, startling him and Betty, apparently, because her head turns swiftly to the doors and back again to him. He hesitates, but when she makes no move to leave he says, "Walk you out?"

She smiles, again, and says, "Sure."

He's missed this, he thinks, as they walk side by side through the lobby. Most of the building is empty by now, only some stragglers like Betty and he left. Walking together, it almost feels like the past few weeks never happened and that he's just seeing her out on a normal night. But a few weeks ago, he would have held her hand, or she would have put an arm around his waist and cuddled close to him. He sighs and she looks at him, so he offers her a wry eyebrow and asks, "How was your day?"

She stumbles slightly, a very small pause in her walk, and he wishes mightily that he could kick himself when he realizes why. That was his question at the end of the day and it slipped out, without thought, with the ease of routine.

She glances up at him and he's sure that's wistfulness in her gaze. She drops her gaze, quickly and answers, "Not the best."

"Why?" And, again, it just slips out.

She looks up again, and away, again, faster than he can figure out what it means and says, "I think you know why."

He does and this time he doesn't hesitate to get her attention. He stops her with a hand on her shoulder and lets it rest there for a moment before letting go.

She has a look on her face that he could only characterize as cautious. Without preamble, he says, "Your letter--it meant a lot to me. I, I didn't mean to shoot you down."

She starts to say something and he knows it's probably just a denial of any wrong-doing on his part, so he lifts a hand and says, "No, don't say I wasn't wrong." She stops and looks relieved, so he continues, "I was. I wasn't listening and I'm sorry for that."

'And for not paying closer attention before,' he thinks, but doesn't say. That's not the issue right now. He looks down, saying, "I don't--" He looks back up, "I don't want to ruin our friendship, either."

She still has that cautious look on her face and he would give anything to know what she's thinking. Her reply stuns him for a second, because it's exactly what's going through his mind.

She says, her tone very uncertain, "Do you really think that we can be friends?"

He takes a deep breath. "Maybe. But that depends on you, doesn't it?"

She looks away, and he wonders how it feels like his heart can possibly keep on breaking. He should be used to it by now.

"I know," she says, "Just give me time."

"I am, Betty."

She flinches at that, a little, but doesn't say anything else. He knows better than to push it, so he starts walking again. She falls in step beside him. They part ways outside, but before he goes, he manages to give her an untainted smile as he says, "Good night, Betty."

She doesn't smile back. "Good night, Henry."

He walks away, thinking, 'This isn't friendship.' He isn't sure what it is, but friendship it isn't, because no friendship would be this riddled with pain. He's well aware that this is a mistake, but he's making it with his eyes open. It doesn't make it any easier, though, as the rest of the week passes.

She comes by his office on Thursday and asks if he wants to join her for lunch and he assents and it's awkward, but that's nothing they haven't experienced before.

He doesn't say anything about the past weeks and neither does she--as if by mutual consent they both decided to push the reset button. It's not the best solution, but he thinks that since they're both making it up as they go along, that it will do.

When she asks if they can do this again on Monday he has to say no. She's disappointed, he can tell, but before he can explain, she nods and says, "The audit. Right. I'd almost forgotten. Prepared?"

"As much as we can be."

Betty starts clearing up her tray, gathering everything for one trip and he says, because he has an instinct that if he doesn't, she's not going to press the issue, "I don't anticipate staying late. What about you?"

She hesitates for a second, in the middle of taking his glass to put on her tray, before she sets it down. She looks at him, hope in her eyes.

She says, "They won't keep you late?"

He smiles.

"No. They have to go home, too. I could walk you out."

She smiles back.

"No, I don't think I'll be staying late. Hilda wanted me to stop by a florist's and haggle their price down."

"She finally made up her mind?"

The last he'd known was that Hilda was still waffling about even saying yes, but that was almost a month ago. This reminder that life has gone on around him is unexpectedly sobering.

"Yes, and apparently, I'm the only one that can get all the wedding vendors to do what she wants. How I got stuck being her wedding planner, I don't know."

"You're her sister, that's how."

Before Betty can pick up her now heavily laden tray, he's taken it and placed it on his empty one.

She says, "Thank you," and he shakes his head.

He says, "No problem."

He stands, picking up the tray, and waits as she makes sure there are no crumbs on the table.

He says, "Just make her do the same for you, okay?" He wishes the words back, almost before they leave his mouth. He so did not want to go there, but it's too late now.

She freezes. He avoids looking at her, afraid of what he'll see.

She says, "Sounds fair."

He pretends he doesn't hear the slight quaver in her voice, and goes to dispose of their trays, with her following. Done, he turns to her and says, "I might have a few lunches free next week, but I'm not promising anything. Meet you at six, usual spot?"

She nods.

He turns to go, but turns back when he hears her say, "Thank you." She's serious and he understands immediately what she's not saying.

"You're welcome."

Walking away, he firmly tells the inner voice shouting at him, 'Don't let this go on too long, Henry!' to just shut up.

Whatever this was, it was a start. That night, the tension between them has lessened and he's grateful for that.

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."

"Why not?"

"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.

End.

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.


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