Another day finished, another case solved. With the satisfaction of a job well done, Henry signed his name on another form and slipped the paper into the file, then tucked the file away where it belonged. Somehow, night had crept upon him, leaving the busy morgue around him empty and quiet, and his stomach equally as empty but not nearly as quiet about it. First thing in the morning, he'd check over his notes, in case anything had been missed, then deal with them properly. For now, he needed to head home, prepare himself something to eat, and rest.
And not think too much about Jo.
Working closely with her again was difficult, a painful reminder of days that were now history. Gone was their easy camaraderie, replaced with strain he knew he'd caused. As Henry put on his coat, he shook his head at himself. He should have told her sooner, shouldn't have waited for a dagger and a photograph to tear their relationship apart. At least she'd requested him this time, instead of circumstance forcing them together, him relegated to the role of a typical medical examiner rather than a partner.
Reaching for his scarf, he sternly reminded himself not to get his hopes up, lest they be crushed. Rebuilding a friendship was tricky at best, potentially impossible at worst. If—not when—they were to reconcile, it would have to be on Jo's terms, and at her own pace.
At night, hearing people wandering through the morgue was easy, and true visitors were quite rare. He glanced toward the glass front of his office when he heard footsteps, and saw Jo approaching. He draped his scarf over his shoulders, and waited, discouraging the smile that threatened to form. His heart ignored his mind, palpitating as she got closer, as she knocked on the door and he waved her inside, forgetting his hunger and fatigue in an instant.
Jo stepped into the office, a nervous look on her face. Henry braced himself, shoving the tiny flare of hope in his chest aside, and gave her a hesitant smile. "Jo. What brings you back down here?"
"I..." She bit her lip, and a series of inscrutable expressions flitted across her face. Not allowing his natural inclination to break all silences get in the way, Henry waited, giving her the chance to find her words. After a moment, she asked, "Hey, do you need a ride? I was just on my way out, and I thought I'd ask."
He started to politely decline, for the sake of his heart, but her eyes were pleading. She wanted him to say yes, maybe needed him to say it. So, he finished wrapping his scarf around his neck, and said, "Yes, I would appreciate one. Thank you."
Her eyes lit up, the relief barely noticeable unless one knew what to look for, and she exhaled softly. "Thanks," she said, quietly, and silence stretched between them, painful and awkward. Even when they'd first met, they'd never had trouble conversing with each other, except when he was covering his tracks.
Christ, he should have told her sooner. He only had himself to blame for the massive rift between them.
Seeming to regain some of her confidence, Jo raised her head and said, "We need to talk, don't we?"
Another part of him relaxed, and he nodded. "I think that would be a good idea, yes. But not here."
"No," she agreed, "not here."
They left his office, and he accompanied her to her car, both of them maintaining companionable small talk along the way. Jo stayed by his side, closer than she had in weeks, and though he could see the tension in the rigid lines of her shoulders and the straightness of her back, it was softer now. They weren't back to normal—not yet—but they were getting there.
Once they were both buckled into their seats, Jo turned to him and said, "Thanks for your help today. You did good—we did good. We make a good team, still."
"We do," he said. "Thank you for allowing me to work closely with you again. I missed it."
"Me too. And I..." Jo sighed, hand hovering near the ignition. "I've missed you. Working with other ME's, barely speaking to you. It was—God, I don't know."
"Lonely?" Henry suggested. Goodness knew that was how he'd felt each day without her in it.
"Yeah, kind of. I—and this might sound crazy—but I kept looking for you. I kept expecting you to be there when I couldn't figure something out, and you weren't there. It was weird. And then I'd remember it was my fault you weren't there—"
"That I'd told you I didn't want to work with you anymore unless I had to, and that I didn't want to see you, and—I don't know. I was just so mad, you know? So mad. Even after you told me." She deflated, sagging in her seat, and dropped her hands onto her lap. "You used me, and you wouldn't say why, and it hurt, and then finding out the truth didn't make it go away. I thought that was all I wanted—you to tell the truth, and to let me in, but it didn't help much."
"Completely understandable," he said. "Oftentimes, it takes more than the truth to set you free." His chest ached with regret. He was the one who'd caused her pain. Being in her presence again so casually was a gift. Hopefully, it also meant she was healing, and that he hadn't lost her. "You are not at fault for any of this."
To plead his case, he continued, saying, "I should have told you. It shouldn't have taken you arriving at my doorstep with that photograph for me to give you an explanation, and I am truly sorry that it did. You deserved better. It was never my intention to deliberately hurt you, but we both know which direction the road paved with good intentions leads, do we not?"
"Yeah." She started the car and drove. "But, hey—you don't have to keep apologizing, okay? I forgive you."
"I do," she replied. "I've been talking to Abe a lot—I hope that's okay."
"Of course." Abe had shared little about Jo's visits, fiercely guarding her privacy. Henry didn't mind either way.
"And I've been asking him about you. I just...I wanted to understand you. Want to understand you, need to understand you, and why you wouldn't tell me anything or let me be there for you. And Henry?" The pain in her eyes when she glanced toward him spoke more of sympathy than betrayal. "You really have been through too much, haven't you?"
Best of all, that meant she believed him. Relief swept over him, dizzying and exhilarating, so strong he thought its force would prove his immortality right then. He couldn't help smiling. "I've survived," he said. "That's the thing about immortality—you always live through the worst it has to offer. And the best as well."
"Yeah, but...god, all of that? All the dying, and the torture, and the losing people, and, and everything else. It's just...wow. Wow. I don't even know what to say, about any of it. It's amazing that you're not totally crazy." With a wry tone, she added, "A little crazy, or, okay, a lot crazy, but not totally there."
"Why, thank you, Detective," he said, with a feigned scowl that turned into a chuckle. "But what can I say? I've been carefully cultivating my many eccentricities for—"
"—centuries," they both said, laughing.
"And that explains a lot. I mean, trust you of all people to have a secret that's just as weird as you are. Immortality." She shook her head. "God..."
"A lot to take in, isn't it?"
"Oh yeah." Her mirth fading, she asked, "Now how do I get used to it?"
Henry sighed. "I wish I knew. I've been trying to answer that question for two hundred years, and I am just as lost now as I was in the beginning." Still, he considered the question. "A wise woman once told me that the best way to solve a case was 'brick by brick.' Perhaps accepting my peculiar condition has to be done that way as well."
"Brick by brick, huh?" She nodded once, accepting his answer. "So, what's the next brick?"
He pursed his lips, thinking. Where would he begin, if their positions were reversed? Research. "Asking more questions, I suppose," he replied. "That's where I always start, when I want to understand something. I can't promise I will answer all of them, but I shall do my best to answer most."
"I have no idea where to begin," she said. "I have so many questions—like, a ton of questions. Will you tell me the truth? That's all I want. You to trust me enough to tell me the truth."
Usually, the idea of trusting someone was painful, and gnawed at his insides until they were raw and bleeding. But the idea of trusting Jo, of giving in and telling her everything she wanted to know, made him feel lighter somehow. He could breathe easily as he said, "I will do my best. Trusting people is not my strong suit, I must admit, but for you? I will try as hard as I can. Is there anything in particular you'd like to know?"
"Definitely. And first?" She gave him a teasing grin. "What is it with you and scarves?"
A surprised laugh burst out of him. Then, drawing himself up, he launched into his explanation, lecturing her in the most serious and pompous voice he could manage. Her grin fueled him, and with each lighthearted question, he grew more comfortable with answering.
As they rode, the questions gradually became more personal. Some, he hesitated to answer, telling himself over and over, This is Jo. I want her to know me. He always longed to speak freely with people he cared about. Jo was giving him the chance.
When she pulled up outside the shop, they were still deep in conversation, the words flowing out of him as he talked about his favorite person—his son. "If I were capable of aging," he said, "I am certain that every gray hair I would have could be traced back to him. Raising him, dealing with countless late nights spent caring for him, worrying constantly about him, having to reluctantly punish him when he was being a terror, Maureen..." He smiled until his cheeks ached. "Best impulsive commitment I've ever made."
Jo went quiet, and she eyed him closely, studying his face, searching for something. After a few moments, she exhaled softly, and said, "He really is your son, isn't he?"
"Yes," Henry replied, and looked toward the dark upstairs windows of the shop. "Yes, he is."
He turned back to her, tilting his head, curious about the thoughts running through her mind. She would speak when she was ready, and he drew on his capacity for patience and waited. When she wanted to talk, he would be ready to listen.
Finally, she said, "You are something else, aren't you, Henry Morgan?"
"Something good, I hope?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I think so."
To his surprise, when he got out of the car, so did she. He slowed for her, letting her lead him, and as he unlocked the door, he asked, "Would you like to come in for a drink, or a late meal?"
"I'm good," she said, but her smile soothed his disappointment. "I just wanted to say goodnight, and, um..." She tucked her hair behind her ear. "Do this."
She pulled him into a hug, and he wrapped his arms tightly around her, closing his eyes and burying his face in her hair. As they held each other, he savored her warmth, her familiar scent, her presence. His heart filled to bursting with affection, and the sweetness of contentment spread slowly through his veins. Jo was with him again, comfortable enough to embrace his secrets, to embrace him, and, oh, how he did not want to let her out of his grasp. His chest ached from how much he cared for her.
No, loved. How much he loved her. His friend, his partner, Jo. Platonically or romantically, he wasn't sure; this was not the time to analyze that. When life was less complicated, perhaps he'd let himself consider something else. All that was important now was how much she mattered to him, and how careful he'd be from now on to keep her in his life. Still, he couldn't resist pressing a soft kiss to the top of her head, and her hold on him tightened, just for a moment.
"We're gonna make it, aren't we?" she asked, her voice muffled against him.
His throat clenched around his reply. "Yes. I do believe we are."
Gently, they parted, and she took a step back from him, her expression fond. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?" she said.
"Of course," he said, and reached for the door. "Goodnight, Detective."
She grinned, and said, "Goodnight, Henry."
For the first time in weeks, watching her walk away didn't leave him with a gaping, aching wound in his heart. She would come back to him. They would make it. He knew their partnership wouldn't return to normal, and that recovery wouldn't be swift or easy. But they would rebuild, brick by brick, and, hopefully, would be stronger than before.
Tomorrow would be wonderful.