“So.” I dropped down on to the couch and looked at everything except him. Mostly, that meant a wood floor that was past due for a vacuum and a plant that had been over or under watered - I never could remember how that worked - and was dissolving into brown-black ooze. “Now what? How does this work? What does this look like? What happens next?”
He was quiet, too quiet, so I darted a glance up, and then another after I saw his face. He was full-on beaming, like teeth and shining eyes squished up under his cheeks and everything. He didn’t even try to tone it down when he caught me looking, just kind of bobbed his head, nodding.
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, ok. All right! Good. Great. Good.”
He nodded some more. I could feel my eyebrow heading for the ceiling. He was a little too pleased, too relieved. It felt gross - just, embarrassing, or something. I didn’t like it.
I got up again and stalked off to the kitchen, clattering around purposefully with cutlery and things. Honestly, it was just an excuse to turn my back on him and get some distance. My heart was beating like I’d just been running from a nightmare, and the edges of my mouth were tight where I had pinned them in place.
“So here’s what I think,” I said, clattering some more, checking every couple minutes to see if Henry had calmed down again yet. He hadn’t. “I think we both need to know what to expect and be prepared. And boundaries. We need some boundaries.”
I liked the sound of that. It sounded in control and take charge and purposeful.
“What kind of boundaries?” Henry said.
I jumped. His voice was too close; he’d snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking.
“Shirts,” I blurted, jamming my hip on the side of the counter as I backed away, “shirt-wearing is a good boundary. Actually, clothes-wearing in general is an absolute must. I’m really going to have to insist on continuous covering of skin in general.”
“My shirt doesn’t really cover anything anymore,” Henry pointed out quite reasonably, though his grin hadn’t dimmed down as much as I needed it too.
“Also space,” I slid along the counter until I bumped into the stove behind me. “Like, my space is different than your space. You sleep out here on the couch until we can track down a bed for you and- and observe a minimum distance of four feet of space between us at all times.”
Henry frowned at that. “I’m not sure these boundaries of yours are conducive to your ongoing safety. I was thinking we could have more of a flexible arrangement where I do whatever I need to to keep you safe, and you stick close and make that easier on both of us.”
“Boundaries,” I snapped back, undeterred, “will be observed in all non-lethal environments.”
His mouth quirked up a little again, apparently amused. I nearly growl at him in frustration.
“Fine, what is it that you think should happen? I’m just trying to get us set up to succeed here.”
He backed off a couple steps, hands held up in mock surrender. “OK, April, you got it. Space.”
I snorted. “That’s only three feet.”
He backed off a little further, clearly amused. I noted that this afternoon’s wound seemed to have shrunk again, and yesterday’s cuts and abrasions had somehow shrunk to the point where they could hide under the sad string of bandaid chains.
“I don’t really need any help to succeed,” he said, running a hand through his hair so a fine patter of dirt sprinkled the floor. He looked at it guiltily, then back up to me. “-I’ll clean that up later. Um. Yeah, I really just need you to stick close and I can take care of the rest.”
“Seriously? That’s it? Typical for a guy; no foresight. No planning.” I wasn’t impressed with his show of bravado. Diving into fights unprepared didn’t seem to have been working for him as well as he thought. “How about this? We sort out some, you know, clothes for you to wear.”
I tapped a finger on the counter, thinking. “…and maybe some sort of go bag, like gear you can just grab on your way out the door. You know: weapons, first aid kit, snacks or a juice box…”
“…for shock, smartass-“ I said, eyeing him disapprovingly. He pressed his lips together tight, hiding a smirk. “-you don’t really get much warning when there’s an attack, right? So we should prepare ahead. How do you know, by the way? You do that weird thing where you freeze, right? Is that-“
At first I thought he was teasing me, or just illustrating my point with a clumsy attempt at humour.
“Right, that… Hey! Hey, earth to Henry!” I waved a hand in front of his vacant eyes, then gave him a smack on the arm, then shoved his chest. He didn’t move, didn’t blink. His pupils didn’t even respond when I got in his light and stared at him up close. I pressed two fingers under his jaw, feeling awkward about violating my own oh-so-recently established boundaries and felt his pulse; freakishly slow but steady. His chest didn’t rise; he wasn’t breathing.
“Oh, crap. Is this like…?”
Then, all of a sudden, his pupil constricted as he focused on me, and shivering back to life with a steady, strong inhale.
“We’ve got to move,” he said, reaching for my arm.