Sniffling discreetly, Anthea took a sip of her cooling tea and resisted the urge to lay her head down on her desk. Blinking rapidly, she brought her computer screen back into focus and sat up straight, striving for the energy to get through her tasks. Just two more hours to go. You've got this, she thought, dabbing with yet another tissue at the drip which threatened. Although Mr Holmes' hours--and therefore her's--were not always on a set schedule, there were no threats looming. She could acceptably leave at six, as long as he didn't need her.
"Anthea?" Mr Holmes called through his open office door, tone ever polite. The man had a (well-deserved) reputation for being cold, pragmatic and even ruthless, but he'd always been extremely courteous to her. Courtly, even, in a very sexless manner.
"Sir?" she asked, rising. Giving her nose another swift dab and a stern talking to, Anthea smoothed her skirt and walked into his office, hoping no crisis was brewing.
He set down his Mont Blanc pen and regarded her. "How long have you been in my employ?"
Her mind stalled briefly; surely he recalled? "Um, eight years, sir."
"In those eight years, how often have you asked to take personal time?" Oh god, he knew she'd been daydreaming over the Russian reports, imagining going home for the next several days, and not having to return to work until Monday.
Lifting her chin, Anthea replied coolly, "There was my sister's wedding."
A tiny spark of amusement in his pale eyes, "Which was, if my aging memory serves, five years ago."
"You have, in fact, been forced to take your holidays every year," He steepled his fingers. Regarding her, Mr Holmes continued, "Your presence in my life is invaluable--a fact I don't make clear often enough. Without you, I wouldn't function with the efficiency, smoothness & flawless precision I do."
"Thank you," Anthea repressed the question mark, barely.
He smiled, hearing it. It was a private smile, one with surprising warmth. One which wouldn't have been possible before last year & his relationship with the Detective Inspector. "What I am saying--badly--is that to perform at optimal efficiency, I need a PA on top of her game."
I'm being fired, Anthea panicked blankly, thinking of her savings and how she would feed Maurice, her Russian blue. She thoroughly enjoyed her career, and the idea of leaving filled her with despair. "I...understand, sir."
"I don't think you do," he countered, rising. "Anthea, you've been trying to hide it for the last two days, but it's obvious you're quite ill."
"I'm fine," she denied automatically.
"On the contrary, just looking at you makes me feel as if I'm coming down with 'flu."
She took a half step back, "I'm sure it's just a cold."
His tone was gentle, "I'm not reprimanding you, my dear. I'm telling you that you need to go home, get into bed and rest." He assessed her expression correctly, "This isn't a punishment. Your importance to me, and to the Crown, cannot be expressed properly, but you deserve to rest."
Stunned, she wanted to argue, but creeping fatigue and the fever she'd been ignoring for hours made her weak-willed. "If--if you're quite sure, Mr Holmes."
His tone brooked no argument, "Quite sure. Lock your laptop, tablet and files in the safe and go home until at least Monday."
Weak with relief and prickly with physical discomfort and guilt, Anthea did as she was bid, and took the lift to the ground floor. Mr Holmes had insisted his driver take her home and she collapsed in the car with gratitude. Fingers trembling, she tapped out a text then closed her eyes. Anthea was half asleep by the time Gerard pulled into the underground car-park at her building. He slid into the no-parking zone directly outside the lifts; turning, he regarded her in concern, "Like me to walk you up, Ms Jones?"
"No, thank you," she managed a smile. "I'm fine." Each step seemed to weigh a ton, and for the first time outside an interrogation or work-out, Anthea found herself sweating. The sleek marble wall of the lift felt bloody marvelous against her skin as she wilted against it. Jabbing the button for the fifth floor, she melted. The ride was blessedly brief, and she entered the corridor, nearly weeping with happiness at the sight of her front door. Just several dozen steps and she'd be home. Resisting the urge to remove her heels, Anthea took measured steps, fishing for her keys in her purse.
As she fumbled to unlock the deadbolt, the sound of the door being unlatched and opened made her pause. She was faced with her very exasperated girlfriend. "Why didn't you tell me you were this bad?"
"Lauren," Anthea all but whimpered and stepped through the door and into her arms. They embraced for a long moment, Anthea nearly swaying.
"Baby," Lauren said, low voice shocked, "You're burning up."
"I feel like crap," Anthea moaned, weak now that Lauren was here. She shivered, burrowing her sleek head into the curve of her girlfriend's neck, "Bed?"
"Right away," Lauren agreed, shutting the door and guiding her down the hall. Anthea stumbled out of her clothes and slid into their waiting bed; the cool sheets felt heavenly against her overheated skin. Lauren pressed a soft hand to her forehead, "I'll be right back, okay baby?"
"Mm," Anthea agreed, snuggling into her soft pillow, eyes already closed. She dozed off, only to wake when Lauren softly set a glass of water down on the bedside table. "Sorry, love. I brought you water, paracetamol and an ice pack. Swallow that down and I'll make you a thermos of tea."
When she woke sometime later, the room was cloaked in shadows and the only light came from around the curtains and through the crack in the door. Anthea sat up, feeling better for the rest, although still achy and congested. Swinging her legs out of bed, she stumbled to the loo. Finished, she bathed her face in cold water and then snapped off the light. Her dressing gown was hanging over the end of the bed and Anthea shrugged it on before she went in search of Lauren. She found her curled on the sofa, lit only by one lamp and the glow of the muted telly.
"Hey," Lauren said softly, spying her. Her dark eyes were tender, "How are you feeling?"
"Ugh," Anthea said, crawling onto the couch. She put her head on Lauren's yoga-legging covered thigh and stared blankly at the rerun of QI, "Sorry you left work for this. I just needed sleep."
"You're my girlfriend, it's my job to look after you," Lauren countered softly, bending so she could nuzzle Anthea's cheek. Springy curls spilled over her shoulder and veiled Anthea's face. "You're not as hot as earlier, that's good."
"Sorry you missed work," she said again.
Making a low noise of exasperation, Lauren stroked her head, "You're more important. Can't believe I had to find out from your boss."
"Mr Holmes?" Anthea asked in surprise, opening her eyes, "He called you?"
"Mmhm, had me granted personal leave for the next week. Said you were too stubborn for your own good and I was to make sure you were looked after." Lauren's tone was fond, "He knows you as well as I do."
"I can look after myself," Anthea said automatically, although Lauren's soft fingers soothing through her hair felt bloody amazing. "It's fine."
"One thing it is not," Lauren said emphatically, "is fine. You're sick, angel, and you need looking after." She kissed her cheek again, "Lucky you've got me."
Anthea reached up to tangle their fingers together, "I am lucky," she said fervently, sniffling, "but your job--"
"Is not as important as you," Lauren said firmly. Anthea grunted, unconvinced. Lauren was a simultaneous interpreter, and her job was very important, but if Mr Holmes felt it was imperative for her to come home and take care of her sick girlfriend, Anthea was too weak to argue.
She slept most of the next two days; sometimes Lauren joined her, her strength and softness easing Anthea's misery. By Thursday she was feeling improved, although still not completely better. When she texted Mr Holmes, however, he told her in no uncertain terms to remain home. The weekend passed lazily; Anthea slouched at the kitchen table in her oldest pyjamas, curls a mess, while Lauren cooked. "We could just order in," she'd suggested once, but her girlfriend snorted. She was making a fish curry from a recipe her mother had brought with her when she immigrated from Seychelles.
"Order in," she snorted and Anthea smiled.
"You spoil me," she said happily, setting aside her book. She rarely had time to read, but was finding it hard to concentrate when Lauren was there in all her dusky beauty, moving with grace and efficiency.
"Too right, someone has to."
"I should be spoiling you," Anthea countered.
"I seem to recall someone taking me to Vienna for my birthday--or was that my other girlfriend?"
Rising, Anthea wrapped her arms around Lauren's slim, muscled waist, "I'd better be your only girlfriend," she bit her earlobe gently.
"I'm trying to cook," Lauren protested, but her hands stilled. She tipped her head, sighing, "Love..."
"Hmm?" Anthea brushed her hair aside and let her lips trail over the beautiful definition of Lauren's collarbone, a hand sliding up her belly.
"Feeling better..." Anthea suggested.
"I'm cooking..." The protest was weak, though.
"I can wait," Anthea murmured, easing her hand into the loose waist of Lauren's lounge bottoms. Her palm cupped Lauren's mound, and the other woman's breath caught. "You're worth waiting for..."
"Not sure...how well I-I'm going to cook if you keep that up."
Anthea smiled against her shoulder, "Am I wrecking your concentration, love?"
"Absolutely," Lauren gasped, arching into the touch of her fingers. "Anthea--" Dinner forgotten, she braced her hands on the edge of the counter and dipped her knees, riding Anthea's fingers. "Love..."
"Sweetheart," Anthea crooned, and cupped Lauren's breast in her other hand. She nibbled on her neck, "Come to bed."
"I'm--good right here," Lauren gasped.
Anthea smiled, and dipped her fingers softly into Lauren's folds, feeling how affected she was growing. "Aw love..."
Lauren whimpered her name, nipple pebbling under Anthea's touch and her hips moved fluidly, matching the rhythm Anthea established, "Oh yeah..."
"God, you're wet," Anthea praised, tongue flashing at her ear, "Baby..."
"Oh..." Lauren's head fell back, resting on Anthea's shoulder.
"Come for me?" Anthea invited, and took Lauren's weight as she came apart in her arms, the kitchen ringing with the sound of her cries.
"Oh god," Lauren groaned, stirring. "I can't believe you did that to me while I was making fish curry. My granny used to make this for me."
"Scandalous," Anthea smirked.
Lauren turned in her arms, eyes kindling, "I seriously need to reprimand you for that."
"Please do," Anthea invited, backing toward the door, eyes bright, "I relish your discipline."
"I'll just..." Lauren stopped, torn, glancing at the food.
Anthea's eyes danced, "Go on," she said sitting back down, "I know it's killing you to leave that unfinished. I can wait."
"I'll make it worth the wait," Lauren promised, bending over to kiss her. She pulled away, smiling, "Thanks for understanding."
"Of course," Anthea smiled, "your dedication to a job well done is one of the reasons I fell in love with you." Her eyes sparkled, "And I do hope I'll come in for some of that focus later."
"By the time I'm finished with you," Lauren promised, biting her lip, "You'll feel very well done."