Teasers & Deleted ScenesJohns Hopkins Medical Center, Baltimore MD, June 2008
Chaz is watching the door when Daphne looks in. How had he known to watch? Oh, footsteps, of course. She'd bet he can recognize each of them by sound. There's a pattern to a person's gait, after all.
His chin is tucked; it makes him look wary, like a creature about to bolt from the room. But Chaz is human, so the instinct to run and hide when hurt is tethered to reason. As Chaz's body is tethered to monitors and machines.
"Hey," she says. For the first time in so many visits, it sounds empty and foolish.
But he smiles--not the big loopy Chaz smile she misses so much, but the tempered painkiller one. He doesn't speak as she comes to roost on the chair beside the bed, hands pressed flat against her thighs.
She almost asks, "How are you?" It's what she always starts with; it's what she comes for. Except...not this time. When she asks how he is, it's because she wants to know. She's not going to turn it into a way to stall for time. But without that question, her tongue sits in her mouth like a dry leaf.
Chaz clears his throat, a small, careful sound. He looks naked. A moment later she's shocked to realize it's because it's the first time she's seen him without the feeding tube since he got here. "Hafs called."
The relief swells her lungs and loosens muscles she didn't know were tight. She tips her head back and pinches her eyes shut to keep from crying. The tears creep into her nose instead and make her sniff.
"I don't know what to say," he croaks.
"I... Neither do I. I thought if--" Her hands rise as if of their own accord. "'Nothing to see here, move along' wouldn't be true. But I'm okay."
His chest rises, falls. He nods, careful as the throat-clearing. "I was scared. The whole time you guys were gone."
She can't remember ever hearing him admit to being scared. "Platypus--"
"If I'd been--been okay, it wouldn't have made you safer. But I kept thinking something would happen, and I wouldn't be there." Chaz's voice thins away to nothing, as if he wishes he hadn't told her.
She hunches forward, teetering on the very edge of the seat, to touch the ends of her fingers to his on the ugly chenille blanket. "You were right where we needed you most."
His eyelids drop; she realizes he's looking at their meeting hands. "You protected them."
She doesn't understand. She frowns, then realizes he doesn't see it. "I don't--"
"Everyone came home. Because of what you did. It might have been different." He stretches his arm an inch, winces--what did that cost him?--and clutches her fingertips. "Thanks."
They sit in silence. She doesn't move, though her arm howls for relief from reaching across the gap, until he falls asleep.