For the first solid week after Henry's return home, no one left the house. The McCords were determined to spend as much time with Henry as they possibly could. They'd spent one day decorating the Georgetown home for Christmas, and the place was filled with a festive energy that Elizabeth had been quite sure would never exist there again. Nights were hard; Henry was insecure at times, and she was struggling to get her head around all the things that had fallen back into her life. But mostly they were grateful. A majority of the time could find Henry and Elizabeth tangled up together one way or another; holding hands or cuddling. The children would once have called them out for it, but not now. None of them had the heart to, nor wanted to.

Today, however, was going to be a little bit different for them all. Stevie, Alison, and Jason had been invited to a Christmas party, and after much debate, had decided to go. As they stood in the hallway and shrugged into their coats, Henry had his arm wrapped around Elizabeth on the couch.

"Are you guys sure this is a good idea?" Alison asked, and Henry sighed. He squeezed his wife's shoulder and stood, heading into the hallway with the kids.

"Yes," he said as he wrapped Alison in a hug. "It's going to be fine, Noodle. You guys go and have a good time. We're going to be right here when you get back, alright? I promise."

Alison nodded and each of the children hugged Henry tightly, even though they had already done so a few minutes earlier. With final goodbyes and calls to Elizabeth, the kids were ushered out the door and the house was occupied only by Henry and Elizabeth for the first time since Henry had gotten home. Henry settled back onto the couch and Elizabeth leaned back into him. She closed her eyes briefly as he wrapped his strong arms around her and she melted against his chest. She sighed contentedly and Henry let his eyes rest on the Christmas tree. It was decorated beautifully, and with ornaments that told the story of their lives. Handmade ones from their children, ones that they'd bought on vacations, gifts from people who had played important roles in their lives. Henry held Elizabeth a little bit tighter and dropped his head to press his lips against the tender flesh of her neck.

"It's so quiet," he marveled.

"No," she replied. "Compared to two weeks ago, this is...not even quiet."

She was speaking not necessarily to the sound in the house so much as the atmosphere of it, and Henry couldn't resist pulling her a little bit closer. She didn't object; she couldn't get close enough to Henry these days.

Elizabeth turned her head and kissed him lightly, but when she moved to pull away, Henry pulled her closer with a gentle hand at the back of her head, his fingers buried in her blonde hair. He tugged her bottom lip between his teeth and she twisted to face him. He pulled away, a little breathless, and met her blue eyes.

"Is this okay?" he asked softly, and Elizabeth nodded her head, leaning in to rest her forehead against Henry's. She rested her hand against his cheek and he leaned into her touch.

"Love me," she breathed, and Henry didn't need to be told twice. He considered briefly moving this whole operation upstairs, but after six months and one week of desperately wanting to be with her, and finally getting his chance, he didn't think he could be bothered. He ran his fingers along the neckline of her warm, navy blue sweater, and over her shoulders until he could reach the hem. He tugged at it until it was over her head, and tossed it aside before glancing back at her. His breath caught at the sight of her. She paused as his eyes landed on her and glanced down.

"What?" she asked, suddenly sounding nervous. Henry shook his head.

"You're just- gorgeous," he breathed. Her cheeks tinged pink and she leaned in to kiss him to disguise her suddenly erratic heartbeat. Henry wasn't fooled though; six months apart had not diminished his deep knowledge of Elizabeth, and he pulled away from the kiss to look at her. His hazel eyes were filled with concern.

"Are you sure you're okay with this?" he asked her softly, his hand on her jaw in a gentle, loving caress.

"I need this," she replied earnestly. "We need this."

Henry nodded; he agreed, but he couldn't continue without being sure with her first.

"Okay," he breathed, and Elizabeth took her turn to tug at his shirt, slipping it over his head. She'd had only glimpses of his body over the last week, in between shirts or after showers. Now, they were free to gaze upon one another more slowly, and neither of them seemed to be able to get a long enough look. Elizabeth ran her palms over Henry's broad chest and her right hand came to rest over his heart, feeling the steady beat against her. It grounded her, and she took a slow, steadying breath. The heart that she'd been certain was still now beat against her palm, a physical reminder of the lungs that took in air and let it out again, of the sweet, gentle, protective, loving soul that inhabited the physical body before her. Elizabeth was reminded in that moment of Henry's faith; she'd never believed in God the way that he did, but right then she had to wonder. And more than that, she had to thank whomever or whatever was running a universe that was beautiful enough to have brought that soul, that body, that heart, back home to her, and given them a little bit more time together. She pressed herself against him and kissed him again, more deeply and more passionately as Henry's hands hesitated just briefly at the clasp of her bra before he undid it. Undressing one another was a ritual of theirs; it always had been, and Elizabeth was glad to see that it had not fallen behind in their time apart. Henry discarded the garment and slowly began a trail of kisses along her neck and chest, resting over her heart for a moment as she had his, taking his own time to be thankful that they'd ended up together again, that he'd been able to return home to her. He pressed reverent kisses to her breast and Elizabeth felt a shiver run through her at the sensation. She buried her hands in his hair and leaned her head back, loose golden curls brushing against Henry's hands where he was holding her. He slowly lowered her to a resting place on the couch and hovered above her, watching the way the Christmas tree lights made her skin glow. She wordlessly tugged him to her for another kiss and, as his tongue brushed against hers, she moved her hands to his belt and undid it, tugging at the button and the zipper. She pushed his jeans over his hips and he braced himself against the couch to free his hand so that he could do the same to her. He sighed in frustration as he realized he didn't have the space he needed, but Elizabeth's glance at the open space in the floor had him pulling away from her with an idea.

"Think we're too old for the floor?" he asked, and she shook her head.

"Not at the moment, but ask me again in a couple of hours," she replied. Henry couldn't help but laugh even as he spread the thick quilt Stevie had left on the back of the couch over the carpet. He reached out to Elizabeth and she moved quickly from the couch to the floor, now both of them sans jeans. He rested on his hip next to her and slowly trailed his fingers over her skin as he kissed her deeply. She sighed contentedly against him, and he was struck by her newfound patience. He couldn't count the times she'd hurried him through foreplay and pre-coital adoration to get to the point; now, she seemed content to let him explore and to do so herself. Henry certainly wasn't going to complain about that. Elizabeth drew him in with her hand on his waist and pressed her lips against his neck, sucking gently- not enough to leave a mark, but enough to make him draw in a breath. He hovered closely over her now, and tugged at the waistband of her underwear- his had been pulled off alongside his jeans. With both of them completely exposed now, Elizabeth could feel the heat radiating between them.

Henry slowly traced his hand along her stomach and hesitated just at her pelvis, as if waiting for permission. Elizabeth shifted slightly to allow him access, and her wordless invitation was enough. He brushed his hand rhythmically against her pulsing center and watched her face. She squirmed slightly under him and he stopped. Something wasn't right. Not only was Elizabeth uncharacteristically silent, but she seemed closed off somehow. When his fingers stilled, she opened her eyes and looked at him.

"What is it?" he asked, and she shook her head as if she were about to dismiss his question.

"Elizabeth," he pressed. "I'm not going any further until you tell me what's wrong."

She sighed, turning her head away from him briefly. Pleading, earnest blue eyes looked up at him from the floor, raw and uncertain.

"Promise you won't be upset with what I'm about to say," she begged, and Henry nodded.

"I promise," he assured her seriously.

"I'm scared and I need you to be really gentle," she said, all in a rush. Henry couldn't help but think of the insecure young woman he'd known so long ago. In many ways, he thought, this was quite like their first time. They'd not gone this long without sex since his deployment, and on top of that she'd been under the belief that this would never be happening again. He brushed his hand through her hair, gently moving it away from her face.

"It's okay to be scared," he assured her. "And I promise I'll be gentle, Elizabeth," he said softly. "As gentle as I can possibly be, okay?" She nodded slightly. "But," he continued, "You have to promise me you'll tell me to stop if you need me to, alright? I won't be upset if you need to stop, but I will be upset if you just stay quiet and let me hurt you." His hazel eyes were warm and serious as they met hers. She nodded her head, already feeling slightly less fearful under his familiar assurances. It had been a great number of years since she'd needed them, but now Henry seemed to slip back into that role as easily as he'd fallen into it in the first place, all those years before.

"I promise," she breathed, and then her lips were on his again, a clear signal to him to continue. He slowly resumed his small, stroking movements against her with his fingers, carefully working her back up to where she'd been. When she leaned her hips into his touch, he began to move his fingers just slightly faster and watched as she let her eyes flutter closed, bliss on her face above all the worry and fear.

"Henry," she breathed. He knew that tone; light and breathy and eager. It made him smile slightly to hear it again, and he leaned in to kiss her, tugging her bottom lip between his teeth. Her hand found him and he suppressed a shiver.

"Don't do that," Elizabeth mumbled.

"Don't do what?" he managed.

"Hold yourself back," she answered, and he knew exactly what she'd meant; she could innately sense that he was trying to make this all about her, and in true Elizabeth Adams McCord fashion, she wasn't having it.

He kissed her hungrily and she smiled slightly against him, stroking him with her hand as he flicked his tongue against hers. He hummed in appreciation against her and she quickened her movements. She pressed herself against his hand and he gently slipped his fingers against her entrance.

"Are you ready for this part?" he asked softly, so quietly that had the house not been so quiet, she would never have heard him. She nodded her head, biting her lip lightly.

"Okay," Henry breathed and Elizabeth moved to allow him access to her; he slowly and carefully slipped two fingers into her and she moaned quietly.

"You okay?" he asked, and she nodded quickly.

"Henry, I need-" she began, and he watched her carefully.

"Are you sure?" he asked, and she nodded.

"Yes, but- slowly," she said, sounding apologetic.

"Okay, love," he breathed, and she felt something ease in her chest; something about the way he spoke calmed her. "Don't hesitate to stop me, Elizabeth," he pleaded, and she nodded.

"Henry, just- please," she begged, and he slowly slid himself into her, watching as she arched her back in response. Tears gathered in her eyes and slowly made their way down her cheeks. Henry started to pull away, but she pressed her hips up to him, shaking her head.

"Stay," she whispered, and he held her shoulders protectively, watching her.

"Elizabeth," he murmured, and she shook her head.

"I'm not- you're not hurting me," she managed. She pulled him down to her; his weight on top of er was comforting and she rested her forehead against his shoulder. She sobbed against him and Henry felt tears sting his eyes. He slowly moved above her and turned his head to kiss the tears on her cheeks, suddenly having understood why she was crying. It wasn't out of pain or fear, but rather of raw emotion and the most intense kind of gratitude, a release of multiple layers all at once.

"I'm here," he murmured against her, tears clinging to his own eyelashes. "I've got you, Elizabeth, I'm right here. It's over, baby."

"Henry," she cried as her fingers dug into the skin on his back, as if she were reminding herself of his presence.

"It's okay," he breathed through his tears. "It's okay, babe. Let go for me, alright? It's safe now. You can let go."

Her climax and his seemed to overlap one another as they clung to each other there on the floor beside their Christmas tree.

"Elizabeth." Henry spoke her name like a prayer, a broken sob surrounded by reverent, deep love and gratitude for the woman he was holding in his arms. She cried out, something primal and unsteady, like the last battle cry of her grief as it clung to her while she shook it off. It was time to let go, just as Henry had said. Time to shed that part of her life and take a step forward. Henry was very much alive, and her grief for him no longer held a place in her life. Henry had taken that place, and these moments only cemented it. She took a shuddering intake as Henry moved off of her and she rolled toward him, tangling them thoroughly, nearly every inch of their naked bodies pressed together. Elizabeth buried her head in his neck, her body still trembling as he held tight to her and buried his nose against her hair, taking a slow, deep breath.

"I love you," he said, his voice shaking. "God, I love you."

"I love you," she answered, her warm breath washing over his skin as she clung to him. "Don't ever leave me like that again, Henry," she begged. "I can't do that again."

"No," he answered as he smoothed his hand over her hair and drew her in more closely. "No, baby, I promise. I'm never leaving you willingly again. Never, okay? I promise."

She nodded against him and just held him a little bit more tightly.

"I'm so sorry," he whispered, but Elizabeth shook her head.

"Time to stop apologizing, babe," she said softly, finally pulling away to look up at him and tracing a loving hand over his cheek and jaw. "It's over," she said quietly, her words echoing his from moments before. "Time to let go."

And there on the floor of the home they were sharing again, Henry and Elizabeth took one shaky step forward.