“Raining outside, is it?”
Tanim grimaced at the mischievous smirk on Daren’s lips as he slouched down into the chair across from Daren, dripping icy rainwater all over the café table. Slipping out of his soaked coat, Tanim sighed, “It trapped me halfway between my apartment and the café. Figured I might as well keep going.” The grimace flowered into his characteristic smile as he gestured to the rain streaked window. “I wasn’t sure I’d see you today, though, what with the monsoon and all. I’m glad I didn’t miss you. Have you ordered anything yet?”
“I’ve already eaten, sorry. I managed to get here before the heavens decided to drown the city,” The smirk twitched in amusement as Daren poked fun at Tanim’s unfortunate luck. “Don’t let that stop you from getting something, though.” Ignoring the jab, Tanim rose, careful not to slip in the puddle forming on the floor beneath his coat. “You sure you don’t want anything?” he pressed as he fished out his wallet. “My treat.” Daren shook his head and politely waved aside the offer. “Really, I had a big lunch. I’m stuffed. But thank you.”
Tanim knew a second offer would yield no different answer so he headed to the counter with a shrug. When he returned to the table a few moments later bearing an extra hot latte in one hand and a cup of soup in the other Daren stared out the window, watching pedestrians scurry through the downpour. Tanim took advantage of his companion’s distraction to eye him critically. Daren’s features were even more haggard than usual, his pale skin tinged at the cheeks with a faint though noticeable flush.
“Are you sick again?” he asked when Daren finally turned back, but wasn’t surprised when he received only an evasive answer in response. “It’s nothing, Tanim. Just a cold.” Daren brushed off the inquiry as easily as he had the offer of a meal, hiding the lie behind a wry smile. “You know me; I’m so kind and generous I let all the germs live in my body for free.”
Food forgotten, Tanim skewered Daren with his best glare. “And that’s supposed to make me worry less? No offense, but you look like hell. That’s no cold.” The smile faltered as the remark hit too close to home. Daren glanced down to hide the exhaustion which pinched at his face. “…You’re right,” he admitted begrudgingly, massaging his temple with two slender fingers as if a headache bloomed suddenly behind his eyes. “I sorta feel like hell, too. Maybe it’s the flu or something.” After a moment’s hesitation he relented with a sigh, “I think maybe I should head back to my apartment. I’d hate to fall face first into your soup before you’ve even had a chance to taste it.”
Tanim’s eyebrows shot up and he nodded toward the storm still raging outside. “Now? In this? Want me to walk back with you for the company at least?” Daren chuckled wearily and climbed to his feet, shrugging on his coat with careful movements in a last ditch effort to feign strength and hide the trembling of his limbs. “I’ll be fine. You can play knight in shining armor some other day.”
“If you’re sure…” Tanim wouldn’t press the matter but he made certain Daren read the skepticism in his eyes, the determination to help any way he could. Smirking, Daren leaned over and gave Tanim’s hand a playfully patronizing pat, though beneath the sardonic glimmer in his eyes was honest gratitude. “I’m sure, Tanim. And don’t worry, your concern is duly noted. I bet after a few hours rest I’ll feel much better. If it’ll keep you from fretting I’ll go right to bed when I get home, okay?”
It took every ounce of Tanim’s will not to turn his hand over and braid his finger’s through Daren’s. “Promise?” he demanded instead, though he couldn’t muster much command behind the word. This time Daren didn’t even bother to force a laugh, just flashed his companion the tired ghost of a smile. “I promise. I’ll see you later.” He raised a hand in farewell and slipped out into the dreary afternoon, his dark shape swallowed up in the stream of passersby.
Tanim watched Daren disappear before allowing himself a heavy sigh as he waved over a server. A terminally bored looking girl with a rebellious smear of bright blue eyeshadow weaved her way between the tables and raised her order pad expectantly. When she spotted the full cup of soup, however, the boredom on her face shifted to barely concealed irritation. Tanim ignored the expression and inquired with extreme patience, “Did my friend order anything before I arrived?”
“Just a black coffee,” The waitress’ nose wrinkled in distaste as she scanned the table. “Didn’t leave a tip, either. Great.” Tanim ignored the complaint. “He didn’t order any food?” The girl shook her head, then wandered off to sour other customers’ meals when it became clear Tanim had no intention of ordering anything else himself. His soup and coffee still sat cooling on the table before him but he paid them no attention, too distracted by the nagging suspicion that something was very wrong with his infuriatingly mysterious acquaintance. Thinking back, Tanim realized Daren had seemed ill the last three, maybe even four times they had met. It couldn’t be a cold, not even the flu; nothing viral would last so long. Even as he chastised himself for disobeying Daren’s command to stop such needless worrying, terrifying scenarios crept into Tanim’s mind: pneumonia, meningitis, tuberculosis, cancer…
Well, that certainly wasn’t a road he could afford to go down right now. Tanim indulged in a second frustrated sigh as he climbed to his feet, tossed down an uncounted handful of bills beside his untouched food, and scooped up his damp coat. He didn’t relish another evening spent worrying about a situation over which he had no control but he knew that was exactly what would happen. As long as Daren refused to divulge any actual personal information, Tanim had only his own runaway imagination to conjure theories, each more outlandish and paranoid than the last.
“You’re an idiot, Tanim,” he muttered under his breath, shaking his head in disgust. Fortunately the moment he stepped out all thoughts of Daren’s predicament were superseded by one urgent need: get home and the hell out of this rain. He would worry about Daren all he liked once he was warm and dry; for now the bone deep chill left him with blessedly little attention for anything more than his frozen limbs.
[ Sort of a precursor to this (very old and therefore very bad) piece, a pivotal moment in the main Tanim/Daren storyline. Also, this is why I avoid long third-person stories; I always peter out on the endings. Grr. ]