Title: How Can One Keep Warm Alone?
Genre: Het, Larry/Megan
Setting: mid-fourth season (post-"Tabu"); this is a direct sequel to my fic Out in the Cold, which you should probably read first.
Author's Notes: Thank you to feliciakw, my N3 beta who wanted more *g*; to kalquessa, who requested "actual het fic" and was my Beta of Squee; and to mistraltoes, who worked through adversity to give her excellent notes.
Summary: His mouth curves in that small understanding smile, but he doesn’t say anything, and she would turn and kiss him for that if she didn’t really want that hot chocolate.
How Can One Keep Warm Alone?
(sequel to “Out in the Cold”)
His fingers brush against hers for the first time since they walked out of her parents’ house, and she starts. “Your hands are still cold.” They’d turned up the heat in the rental on the drive back, but apparently it hadn’t been enough.
Larry looks down at his hands. “So they are.”
Megan turns back to the door of the hotel suite, jiggling the keycard until the lock flips. “Let’s get inside.”
He holds the door for her, as usual, but she doesn’t have the energy to accept with a flirtatious smile or to object playfully in the name of feminism. It’s a relief to step into the room, dim and bland except for the maroon accent of their luggage and the glow of one small lamp. She heads for the wall near the bedroom door and turns up the thermostat.
Larry shuts the outer door. Megan’s black wool coat is spattered with drops of melted snow. She slides out of it and hangs it up in the tiny, dark closet, draping her matching scarf around the hanger. The heater will take a few minutes to kick in. “Want something warm to drink?” she asks, glancing over her shoulder as she angles past the entrance towards their small kitchenette.
He’s still standing there, overcoat glistening across the shoulders, watching her with the same expression she saw in the car: the pinched, quiet whiteness of a little boy waiting to be noticed.
Not something she feels like dealing with, right now.
“Perhaps that white hot chocolate you found in the airport?” he suggests. Megan feels herself flush and a smile tugs at her mouth; he really does know her too well. She glances at Larry again as she moves the kettle’s spout under the faucet. The running water echoes as the kettle fills. He finally starts moving, methodically removing his scarf, his coat, bending to unfasten his boots.
She hasn’t taken her shoes off, yet; hasn’t even looked at them. Suede pumps with a 2-inch heel aren’t exactly made for tramping through snow. They’re probably stained, ruined. Megan sets the kettle on the gas burner, turns the knob and watches blue flames lick against the metal.
Shoes aren’t the only thing that got ruined tonight.
She should have known what would happen. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice. . . .
She’d rather not deal with that, either. Easier to pull down two plain mugs (white, Larry will like that), unwrap two plastic spoons, and start hunting for the box of chocolate mix.
“Here.” His shoulder presses against hers as he reaches up to open the second cupboard. Sure enough, the box is sitting right at eye level.
Megan pulls it down and lets her arm stay warm against his. “Thanks. Don’t know where my mind is, right now.”
His mouth curves in that small understanding smile, but he doesn’t say anything, and she would turn and kiss him for that if she didn’t really want that hot chocolate.
The next few minutes are quiet. She spoons extra hot chocolate mix into each mug. Listens to the rumble of the heater. Larry wanders around the living area, disappears briefly into the bathroom, and somehow ends up at her elbow again a fraction of a second before the kettle begins to shriek. Megan turns off the gas and raises an eyebrow at him. “What, you have super hearing now?”
“Not quite.” He’s as close to smirking as Larry ever gets. “The sound of steam escaping from the spout changes, becomes higher in pitch, as the pressure rises to the level necessary to produce that shrill whistle. It’s possible to predict, with enough practice.” The smirk softens into one of those interior-blackboard looks, the one that means he’s drawing diagrams in his head and marveling at the wonder that is this small and mundane point in the universe.
She wishes, sometimes, that she could crawl inside his mind and see those things firsthand.
Larry nudges her out of the way. “Allow me,” he says, reaching for the steaming kettle. “You are still wearing wet shoes and stockings.”
She thinks–not for the first time–that Larry’s maternal streak should annoy her, but the gentle statement of fact is hardly condemning, and now that she thinks about it, her feet are wet. Damn low shoes, letting the snow creep in and soak her nylons.
She kicks off the shoes at the doorway, next to Larry’s boots, but still can’t quite bring herself to look at them. The stockings, snug and knee-high under her slacks, prove more difficult. After a minute of tugging, she sits down on the floor and attempts to shove the leg of the slacks high enough to get a grip on the top of one stocking. No luck. “Shit.”
“Is there some way I can help?”
Megan looks up to find Larry with a steaming mug in each hand, in the middle of transferring them to the small table beneath the curtained window. “Not unless you want to help me out of these pants.” It’s flippant, frustrated, but Larry stops moving and looks at her, all of her, drinking her in with the silent, absorbed attention he usually reserves for the stars. It’s as intoxicating as the first time she experienced it.
But she still wants that hot chocolate. Megan pushes herself up and heads for the bathroom. “Give me a minute, okay?”
She can feel his gaze on her until she shuts the door.
The tile is colder against her bare feet than the soaking wet nylons had been. Gooseflesh chills her legs, makes her shiver. Socks and hot chocolate, and then maybe she’ll be able to stop, able to sleep.
She scurries out into the carpeted room, still wearing her red sweater but pairing it with gray sweatpants. Larry is seated at the table, fingers curled lightly around his mug, and there is a pair of dark gray woolen socks lying across the seat of the empty chair. “The chocolate is superb,” he observes, clearly waiting for her to sit down and complete the tiny circle.
At least something is, Megan thinks, sitting down and pulling on the socks. She stretches out both feet and wiggles the toes. “Cozy feet. Finally.” She tucks them underneath her in the chair, curled together, and slouches over the table, cup cradled between both hands. It’s almost too hot to touch, but the warmth feels good, feels real. She closes her eyes and breathes in the steam: sweet, not quite milky enough, but with a pleasant prickle of cocoa underneath.
She takes a sip, and smiles at Larry. “Thank you.” She can’t imagine what this evening would be like if he weren’t here. The only world that could possibly exist is the one where he waited in the cold for her to walk off bitter disappointment, then retrieved her coat for her, let her drive the car in silence, and reminded her to change into dry socks.
He’s watching her quizzically, his brow furrowed. Megan feels her smile edge wider. This is one of her favorite flavors of Larry. “I love you,” she says, trying to explain whatever he saw on her face without going back too far, into the cold and snow.
Larry looks down at his hot chocolate, then back into her eyes. “Will you be all right?”
God, do we have to talk about it? But at least he asked in the future tense, rather than acting as if she should be all right this very minute. She takes another sip, to buy time. “Sure.”
He draws in a fortifying breath. “Will we be visiting your sister tomorrow as planned?”
Men. Always concerned about the agenda. Megan nods, not looking at him. “I want to see my nephews. They’re both in school now, it’s crazy.” This topic isn’t quite as safe as hot chocolate, but at least she can be truthful about missing Theresa and her boys. “I’m not going to waste the plane ticket.”
Larry’s hand cups around hers where it cradles the mug, his thumb brushing along her first finger. “Truly you are my gravity,” he muses. “I have trouble getting to a conference and back without losing myself. Whereas things seem to simply fall into order around you, as satellites around a planetary body.”
She forces herself to giggle. It is funny–Charlie and Amita regale anyone who will listen with stories of Larry’s travel mishaps–but it’s also the furthest thing from it. “Not everything does.” The words wobble. She hasn’t cried over this since she was 26, during mandatory therapy for her graduate degree. Larry’s hand tightens on her fingers.
Megan slides her hand free and uses both to lift the cup to her mouth. When she glances at Larry, he’s biting his lip, trying to figure out how to respond, what needs to be fixed. She loves him for all the ways he’s different, but sometimes he’s just like all men, and it’s both adorable and exasperating.
He settles on, “Will we be visiting your parents again?”
She’s out of her seat before she realizes she’s going to move, and nearly runs into the wall before she realizes that there’s nowhere to go, nothing to be done. She rests her hands against the textured wallpaper, gasps in air, tries to blow it out slowly. She wants out of this conversation, out of this trip. Not out of this life, because there’s everyone in LA to return to, and there’s Larry, who’s not making it precisely easy for her to stay in this room right now, but who is totally worth it.
She turns, gathering her courage to go back to the table, but Larry is already out of his chair, coming right to her. “No,” she says, before he can add anything to his previous question. “No, maybe, I don’t know. . . . Do we have to talk about this now?”
“No, of course not.” Larry takes her hands in his and just stands there, waiting. He looks . . . sad, grave, but not apologetic. “What would you like to do instead? I brought several books, including that western you recommended to me, or we could--”
Megan squeezes his hands and leans in to kiss him, interrupting the litany of entertainments. He returns the kiss readily, sliding his hands up her arms. As she pulls back he takes a breath and stammers, “Or–or we could do that.”
She smiles at him. “I’m sorry. I’m . . . kind of being a bitch, aren’t I?”
“Not in the least,” he says, and the calm certainty in his voice is more than she can bear. His arms wrap around her, snug, secure. She lets her head drop onto his shoulder; she’d like to stay here for a while. Maybe a long while. “Megan,” he says, cautiously, “how can I help? Can I help?”
It’s a moment before she can find her voice. “You already are. You keep me safe, you know that?”
It takes her another moment to notice his reaction; his whole body has gone stiff and awkward. If she weren’t leaning on him so hard, he’d probably step back, pull away.
Megan straightens, lifts her head enough to see his face, but doesn’t move out of his arms. His eyes are bright with tears; he’s staring at her like she slapped him. “Larry. What is it?”
“I keep you safe?” Almost all the affect has dropped out of his voice, and while he holds her gaze, she can tell he’s seeing something else as well. It’s like that interior-blackboard look, but underlaid with loathing rather than wonder.
Megan presses herself a little more closely against him, and waits to hear the rest.
He squeezes his eyes tightly shut; when he opens them, the moment has passed, leaving only–hurt? Guilt? “I didn’t even see you to your car.” The tone is one of quiet apology, of resignation, and oh, oh, crap, that hadn’t even occurred to her. Her kidnaping happened well over a year ago, and with everything else that’s gone on since then, space flights and DoJ assignments and monasteries and traitors and this evening’s debacle, she hadn’t realized he’d still be carrying the weight of that perceived failure.
She drops her head back onto his shoulder and kisses the soft spot just under his ear. “I’m sorry, I should’ve said. It’s true, though. You keep saying I’m your gravity? Well, you’re mine, too. I might fly off into the far reaches of space if you weren’t here.”
He turns his head, cheek a little rough against hers. “I keep you safe?” There’s a note of arch disbelief in the question, now, and it makes her chuckle.
“Yes, you amazingly brilliant doofus.” She plants a couple of tiny kisses along his jaw, and catches his lips with hers before he can do more than open them to reply. He still tastes a little bit like chocolate, and this is what she really wanted, not a warm drink and warm socks, just Larry, solid and real and generating his own brand of heat.
She takes a breath, mouth still near his.
“Well, then,” he says, dipping his face so their noses touch, “if I am to accept that each of us exerts a powerful gravitational pull on the other, I must assume that we are a binary star.”
She’s heard some variation on this before, but it seems especially apt tonight. “Are we?” she asks.
“Most definitely.” He pauses every few words to plant a small kiss against her lips, her cheek, the curve of her neck . “Two stars, each burning bright enough to light a system the size of Sol’s. Orbiting each other in an constantly evolving balance. Pulling off strands of stellar matter, sharing, consuming, each boosting the other toward reactions impossible for a single star. . . .”
“I like the sound of that,” she whispers in his ear. “Show me?”
“How could I begin to resist my binary partner?” His fingers brush the cool skin at the small of her back, and it warms beneath his touch.