That One Regret


“No. I don’t like the sound of that one bit.” Pulling one end of the stethoscope from Lucas’ chest and the other end from her ears, the nurse practitioner shook her head. Her straight, shoulder-length blond hair swung and her blue eyes narrowed at him. “You know a cold can aggravate your asthma, especially in someone as active as you are. You might have to switch to your emergency schedule. How often are you using your inhaler?”


Lucas didn’t answer. Instead, he lifted his arm to rub his hand against the back of his neck.


“Tell me you at least have a working inhaler.”


“Uhh…” He didn’t meet her eyes. And, swiftly, he cupped both his hands to his face. “errtchhxxxxt! Herktjshhh!


“Tissues, Lucas. Tissues.” She poked at the box she’d put next to him at the beginning of her examination.


“Thags.” He pulled a couple from the box and snuffled heavily into them, wiping at his nose and coughing. He knew he sounded like a complete mess; that’s why he’d finally broken down after four days of absolute hell and gone to the doctor’s office. Well, that and the wheezing. That had been scary, and he didn’t want to have a full-blown asthma attack. But colds always made his asthma worse and his asthma always seemed to complicate things into making a cold last twice as long as it should.


“Don’t think sneezing’s going to get you off the hook. I asked you about your inhaler.”


Technically, she hadn’t asked him a question, but he wasn’t about to point that out. “Yeah, uh, I… bight’ve forgotted… to get it refilled the last time...”


The nurse practitioner tisked in disapproval. “I want you to get it filled immediately. Keep taking the Musinex; that will help. Drink as many clear fluids as you can and get much more rest. No going into work.”


“But my clients—”


“No!” She let out an exasperated laugh. “Do you want to give this cold to half your gym?”


He shook his head.


“Then stay home until you stop coughing and sneezing. Get into bed. Binge some Netflix. Order in pizza—“


He made a face.


“Okay, okay. You know I love that you’re a health nut. Just take some time for you. Stop pushing yourself. Be kind to your body and let it recover from this. You may have to help it along with more uses of your inhaler than you’re used to. So I’ll have Chrystal phone in a new prescription for you. I want you to pick it up immediately. Get it on your way home.”


“Can’t…” He cleared his scratchy throat, though it didn’t do much good. It was still rough and he still felt wheezy and a bit out of breath. “Can’t you just… give me an emergency one?”


“If this is an emergency, I’ll call an ambulance right now to take you to Hillcrest Hospital. Do you need me to do that?”


He grumbled and shook his head.


“Okay. Then get your inhaler and take a few days off from working out. Your job can wait that long; my job is to make sure you don’t make your condition worse. Do you promise to get it?”


He nodded unconvincingly.


“If this cold doesn’t clear up in a week or gets worse with any flu-like symptoms, I want you to come right back here. Understand?”


He nodded again.


“And if your asthma gets scary again, I want you to go straight to the ER. Got it?”


And, once more, he nodded.


“Good. Feel better, Lucas.”


Better? If he had to go to his pharmacy, things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. Damn it! He knew he should have changed pharmacies. Just one more thing to add to the list of regrets.




At least it wasn't snowing. It was too early in one of the mildest Novembers on record for it to snow, but apparently not too early for cold and flu season to start taking hold. Knowing this was the worst thing for him to be doing, Lucas stood outside the drug store in the rain. He wheezed constantly now, and the cold air wasn't helping. The doctor was right; he needed his inhaler. But he just couldn't summon up the courage to walk into the store. Instead he just stood outside. In the rain. In the cold rain. Staring at the doors and figuring out a plan he could live with.


David's car wasn't in the parking lot. He'd circled twice, checking and double-checking. But David might have gotten a new car. Or he might have taken the bus. He might have even walked to work. It didn't mean he wasn't in there, but it also didn't mean he was. So Lucas put together a plan. He would wait until five minutes until five o'clock, which was when the pharmacy staff had a shift change. If David was working, Lucas would shop in the store and wait until David was gone before going up to the pharmacy counter. If David wasn't working, that would give Lucas enough time to dart in and get his inhaler before the shift change when David might come on duty.


Keeping a close watch on his fitbit, which doubled as a wristwatch, Lucas coughed and sniffled until it read 4:55. Then he stormed inside, out of the storm. He pushed back the hood of his jacket and shook off the water, wiping his feet on the mat as he eyed the pharmacy counter at the back of the store. He couldn't get a decent look from here, but a dark-haired pharmacist was definitely working the counter. Damn it. David's hair was a beautiful shade of dark chocolate brown. Looking around to give himself some purpose, he grabbed a shopping basket and loaded it up with a few boxes of Kleenex he was sure he'd need. Then he moved a little nearer, all the while trying to stay hidden from the pharmacy without looking like a creepy security risk the other employees would flag.


Between boxes of cereal one aisle over, he risked a closer look at the back corner. The pharmacist was grabbing medication from the rack, his back to Lucas. But it definitely could have been David. Same haircut. Same height. Same... well, Lucas couldn't see his rear end from here, under the white coat he was wearing. But it brought to mind all those times he'd woken up to find David's beautifully curved ass pressed against his crotch. That was how he'd woken up the morning of the betrayal, even. That was the last time he'd woken up next to someone else in his bed.


Hyper-aware of his tickling nose and scrubbing at it with his wrist, Lucas moved closer, this time hiding behind a rack of greeting cards. Happy birthday! Happy Thanksgiving! Happy new baby! The cards were all too happy. There was no Best of luck stalking your ex in a pharmacy! card. There was no Sorry he cheated on you and now you need something from him in order to breathe! card either. Lucas would have settled for a Get well soon! Card, but there wasn't even one of those on the rack. He peered out again and checked the pharmacy counter.


Yep. There he was all right. There was David. Same dimpled cheeks. Same hauntingly beautiful brown eyes with endless lashes. Same perfectly trimmed beard that always tickled Lucas when he... Damn it! He did not want the memories that were flooding back right now. Lazy weekend mornings in bed. Late night drinks at that dive down the street from his apartment. That trip to the beach where they'd made love in the surf.


The need to sneeze flared up in Lucas' nose, and pinched his nose tightly, trying to drive it away. He was too close to David now. One sneeze and all his efforts would be for nothing. David knew the sound of his sneezes all too well, which was sort of a strange thing to know, really, but that's how it was with David. So Lucas couldn't sneeze. Couldn't even stifle. Lucas ducked down and pinched his nose harder, trying to apply as much pressure as possible to keep from sneezing.


And it worked, mercifully. But his head swam with congestion, something leaked down the back of his sore throat, which felt hot, tiny, and blocked. The doctor had been right; he needed his inhaler and needed to get the hell out of there and into bed. Lucas took the long way around an aisle to avoid being in direct view of the pharmacy counter and ducked down, hood back up, as he searched the shelves. He found the cold remedies and tipped three boxes of the extra strength stuff into his basket. Not able to remember what else he had at home, he grabbed a bag of cough drops and a bottle of Aspirin as well.


He waited another minute, seeing the seconds tick away on his fitbit. 5:03 came and went, followed inevitably by 5:04. He desperately wanted this all over with but decided to give it one more minute. Sometimes they were slow to change shifts because of customers they were in the middle of helping or orders they were in the middle of processing.


But a breath caught in Lucas' throat, tickling and making him cough his wet, rumbley, attention-getting cough. And it wouldn't stop. He couldn't catch his breath. God, he just wanted it to stop. He tried to clear his throat, but his breath caught, and, when trying to force a breath, he wheezed badly. Needing something to steady himself as he grew lightheaded, he grabbed hold of the nearest shelf and managed to clear his throat enough to stop coughing. Then his nose had its say. He pinched it again, sure he could head this sneeze off before it came as well. David was probably already gone, but Lucas wasn't taking any chances.


Except the urge to sneeze got worse. It was sharp in his nose and strong at the back of his throat. He was going to sneeze. He pinched harder. Nope, he was still going to sneeze. He rubbed his hand back and forth against his nose. No good, he was definitely going to sneeze. And it was going to be a big one. “HahhhhTttjshhhuhhhhhh!” Ugh. He had one hand cupped over his wet nose. The other hand held the shopping basket. The shopping basket that held tissues he couldn't get to. Damn it!


He wiped his hand at his nose, snuffling and sniffling as best he could. It was enough to give him a chance to rip open one of the tissue boxes and stuff a wad of Kleenex around his nose. Heavenly, dry tissues. He wiped and blew and scrubbed away the faint ticklish sneeze that was already back again.


With a triumphant smile, he checked the time again. 5:07. That had to have been enough time. Lucas risked a quick glance up at the counter. David wasn't there. Excellent. His path to his inhaler was finally clear.


Then a hand clapped against his back. “Lucas?”


Lucas jumped a foot, his hood falling back from his head. He dropped his basket and rammed his side against the shelves, knocking at least a dozen things to the floor. Looking over, Lucas found David's handsome, dimple-filled smile fading to concern.


“Sorry! I didn't mean to startle you. But I heard that sneeze and thought that had to be you.” He touched Lucas' back again with gentle pressure and warmth. “Guess I was right.”


Arm bent at the elbow, Lucas rotated it back and around, shrugging off the touch. “We're dot datig ady bore. You don't get to touch.”


David took a step back. “Oh... right. Sorry.” David had always had a hard time with boundaries, especially at times like this. But after the way they'd ended it, Lucas was surprised he was being so friendly. “Anyway, I saw the prescription come up in the computer and recognized the order right away. Then your name came up. So I guess it was more of an educated guess, really.” 


“Right,” Lucas said, trying not to wheeze too loudly, though David could surely hear it, and trying not to look up at David's beautiful eyes. “Well, I wod't keeb you if you'd od your way out.” Hint hint.


“Oh, I'm working a double shift tonight. The guy who's supposed to be working now is home with a bad cold, poor thing.”


Damn it! Lucas gritted his teeth. So his plan would never have worked anyway. He'd always been doomed, fated to talk to David tonight. The best thing he could do now was hurry this along. “Okay, so cad I just get—”


“Guess there's a lot of bugs going around right now. Cold and flu season started early this year, didn't it? Sounds like you're fighting off something yourself.”


It was pointless to deny it, but he didn't want to say what he knew David wanted to hear. Those words, once spoken, would bring nothing but trouble tonight. His jaw was tense, teeth grinding against each other. And then... damn it all! He had to sneeze again already! Lucas still had tissues in his hand, used but definitely a better bet than reaching down for the basket still on the floor and getting some fresh ones. “huhhhhh!” He breathed out involuntarily into them, but sucked in a deep breath that didn't feel like it was going in at all. It seemed impossible, but there was still enough air in him to pitch him forward with a fierce sneeze. “HUHKTXXXChhhhhh!


“Oh, God bless you, baby.”


Lucas' head snapped up and he found his breath when he most needed it. That was the last straw. He would not let David treat him like this. He would not allow David to enjoy any part of this. “You dod't get to call be baby ady bore either,” he said, trying to sound as forceful as possible with a wad of tissues clutched to his runny nose. “I'b just a guy deedig his brescribtiod. That's it.”


David chewed a little on his bottom lip, which was an unbelievably sexy look on him in and of itself. But he nodded in understanding. “Okay.” He looked hurt, which was just fine as far as Lucas was concerned. “I'll, uh, help you over at the counter then.”


Finally. Lucas picked up his basket, and they started over toward the pharmacy. David walked faster, using his key to head through the door into the pharmacy area. Instead of going to the rack to get Lucas' prescription, he went to the computer at the counter. “Can I get your name, Sir?”


Seriously? “Lucas Greed.”




Lucas' hand clenched tight into a fist. “Greend. Like the color.”


“Oh, Green. Of course.” David typed it in. “And your date of birth?”


Lucas' eyes widened. He was going to go through this whole song and dance as if they were total strangers? As if he hadn't taken Lucas on that trip to the winery on his last birthday? “Six-twedty dideteed eighty-five,” Lucas said.


David typed. He didn't look up from the computer. “I'm showing just the one prescription, is that correct?”


“Yes.” Lucas replied, teeth clenched so tight he could hear them grind, and maybe David could too.


David turned and retrieved the little pouch hanging on the rack, taking the bag with the prescription out of it and pretending to double-check the name against what was in the computer database. “This looks like a refill, but do you have any questions about this prescription I can answer for you at this time?”


Frustrated, Lucas' only thought was to hurry this along. “Doe.”


“Great. Have there been any changes to your insurance, Mr. Green?”


“Doe.” He was going to lose it any second. This had to be the last of it. All he had to do was pay and get the hell out of here. He pulled his credit card out, positioning it at the card reader for the second the machine told him he could swipe.


“I'd be happy to ring up the other items in your basket.”


ARGH! Lucas screamed internally. “Wod’t… be… decessary… I cad bay... ub frodt...” he wheezed.


“It's no trouble, really, Sir.” He held his hand out for the basket and, as Lucas handed it over, he had the sneaking suspicion that David wasn't doing this to frustrate him, he was doing it to prolong their encounter. He wanted to spend more time with Lucas. Probably he just wanted to see Lucas sneeze and cough again. But maybe there was more. Maybe there was something else.


Lucas resolved that he wouldn't sneeze again until he was back at his car. Not even once. Not where David could hear and coo over him again. And he almost made it. He didn't sneeze as David bagged up his purchases. He didn't sneeze as he paid, agreed to the total, and signed. He didn't sneeze as David thanked him for using this pharmacy and told him to have a good day. He didn't even sneeze as he walked across the store.


When he got to the door, however, he paused to put up his hood. And in that moment, the most urgent sneeze yet struck him straight away and he just couldn't help but let it out. “herrrTChxxxt!


Not daring to look back or even take the time to open the bag in his hand for some Kleenex, Lucas plowed through the doors and went straight for his car.


The cold evening air hit him like a bullet shot to his throat. He gasped for breath that didn't seem to get further than his mouth. His lungs protested, desperately wanting to be filled. In a panic, scared he might never breathe again, he threw himself into his car, ripped open the paper bag, and stuffed the end of his inhaler in his mouth. One puff didn't do shit. With two, he felt something free itself in his chest. With a third, he could finally breathe in deeply. Eyes closed, tears leaking out the sides and down his face, he leaned back against the seat. He breathed carefully, slowly, amazed that the breaths could so suddenly and magically make their ways right where they were supposed to. One second he felt like he was about to die, and the next everything was normal.


Thank God the doctor had insisted he get that inhaler. And thank God he'd actually listened to her advice.


Lucas coughed and blew his nose and coughed again. As soon as he was sure he'd be all right to drive, as soon as his hands stopped shaking, he started the car and headed home.


~ *  ~


David stood in the hallway of the apartment building he hadn't been in for months. He stood looking at the door he used to have a key to. He knew what a bad idea this was. He knew Lucas would not want to see him. He knew this would drudge up all those old emotions, the chief of which would be all-consuming regret. But still he raised his hand and rang the doorbell.


It was a good apartment building. There wasn't a doorman or a security guard or even a buzzer system. But the walls were thick and the doors strong. David couldn't hear what was going on in the apartment, but he bet Lucas was in there swearing up a storm. He had to be irritated by having to get up and answer the door at ten-thirty at night.


When the door was flung open and David saw Lucas standing there, he knew he had grossly misread the situation. Lucas wasn't irritated. He was absolutely pissed off. “What the fuck are you doig here, David?” he asked, eyes burning over a fistful of toilet paper clutched to his nose.


Before David had a chance to dive into the excuse he'd rehearsed on the drive over, Lucas' beautiful blue eyes fluttered closed. He spun on his heels and bolted inside, leaving David in the open doorway. David's heart went out to him as he watched Lucas unroll another handful of toilet paper, wadded it up, and pressed it to his nose and mouth. “hah-hahhh-hahhhhhhhh!” He wheezed, even as he pitched back and paused, waiting for the sneeze to strike. “Hahhh-CHIDDshhhhhhh!” He coughed and snuffled and swayed. “hahhh-IRKtchhhh! Hih-GUDChhhh!


All the breath had left David's lungs. Every instinct in him screamed to go over and wrap his arms around the man to give him something strong to lean into, something dry to snuffle into. He needed help. He needed babying. He needed care. He needed David's care. And he needed tissues. David couldn't stop himself from stepping inside and closing the door behind him.


All the breath left Lucas' lungs as well, it seemed, but for a different reason entirely. He lunged for the inhaler, digging it out from under a pile of wadded tissues and toilet paper bunches. He put it to his mouth and inhaled deeply, carefully, holding the breath for the required time before letting it out slowly.


“Guess it's good you got that filled today, huh?”


Lucas jumped again, wheeling around, startled.


“Sorry!” David hadn't realized he'd even walked that far into the living room. He was practically on top of the man. He was in prime hugging range. Prime caring range. Oh, how he longed to cradle the man in his arms on the couch, all wrapped up in a fluffy blanket. He could hold a cool cloth to his forehead or tissues to his nose. Tissues. Right. The reason he was here. David held up a plastic bag.


Lucas, sniffling, looked at it dumbly.


“You left half your purchases at the store. It's stuff I thought you might need, considering the bad cold you seem to have, so I decided to bring it by as soon as my shift was over. I hope I didn't wake you up?”


Lucas blinked. “You do this for all your custobers?”


“No... of course not. But I knew where you lived, of course—”


“So you... you... oh fuck nuh eh-huhhh dot agaid.” He staggered over to the couch and collapsed upon it. He unrolled about half of the toilet paper that was left on the roll and pressed it to his face. “ehhhehhhh herrrh hihhhhAHHPTSHHHH! Uhh...” He gave a wet blow into the toilet paper that didn't look like it could withstand a second blow, though his nose seemed wet and drippy still and definitely in need of one.


“Here.” David reached into the bag, ripped open a box of tissues, and handed a few over.


Lucas' look revealed that he both wanted to take them and wanted to kill David at the same time for offering them.


“Please, just take them. They're yours anyway.”


Reluctantly, and desperately, Lucas snatched them up and blew his nose. The look of relief on his face as he did so made David's insides flutter. He wanted so badly to take care of this man, to do nothing more than sit next to him and hand him tissues all night if that's what would help. He even found himself sinking onto the couch beside him now, so close that their legs might touch if one of them leaned the wrong way.


And Lucas was leaning now, but in the opposite direction. With his nose temporarily in check, there was anger back in his eyes again. “Bet you're lovidg this.”


David didn't know how to respond to that. Seeing and hearing the contempt Lucas had for him was not his idea of a good time. But he had to admit getting to play the knight in shining armor had been a thrill and a half. He'd spent his whole shift anticipating getting to drive the forgotten bag over to Lucas' apartment, hoping Lucas might have a change of heart and let David look after him a little once there. He'd known it was a long shot, and he really couldn't blame Lucas for the reaction he had given, but David had still been hopeful. “I...”


“Shit... hahhhh...” He reached over, grabbed the tissue box out of David's hand, and stuffed a whole handful of tissues under his nose just in time. “hehhhh-HAHTchhmmphh! EHTChummphh!” He snuffled and blew and wiped.


When Lucas was done, David offered a soft, “God bless you,” and made an effort to remember to not add “baby” to the end of the sentiment, though it was a tough habit to break. But he couldn't help asking, “Can I get you anything?” 


Lucas coughed and sniffled and wheezed.


David glanced at his pocket where he'd previously stuffed the inhaler, but knew it was probably way too soon for another hit already. He wondered what kind of medication Lucas was taking for his cold. Probably couldn't go wrong with a steam treatment or a saline flush right now. But he couldn't suggest these things without incurring more of Lucas' wrath. “Anything at all? What do you need?”


“For you to go add leave be alode,” Lucas replied. He dragged his palm back and forth against the tip of his nose, rubbing.


David's insides clenched. He wasn't sure what he'd expected from this, but this wasn't the outcome he'd hoped for. He hadn't expected Lucas to welcome him back like nothing had ever happened and let him fall instantly back into the care-giver role. It was just hard to be so close and not be able to comfort the man the way he'd used to be able to do back when they were dating. Just one cuddle. Just one tiny little cuddle. That was all he'd really wanted from the moment he'd heard that familiar sneeze back in his pharmacy. 


“Oh, I get it,” Lucas said suddenly, pulling back, scooting further away on the couch. “You're doig this to get rid of your guilt.”




“You're bakig ub for the breakup.”


Sure, David still felt sorry for the way things had ended, but this wasn't about making amends. Was it? “No, I—”


Lucas cocked his head. “Tell be, do you do this to all your exes whed they catch head colds or just for those in relatiodships you ruid whed you cheat od theb?”


It was meant to sting, and it did, feeling as if a bee had just attacked him. But it wasn't like David could blame him for saying it. “Honestly, I haven't had a relationship since...” he trailed off, suddenly unsure about how to phrase it.


Lucas knew how and didn't pull any punches. “Sidce you stayed out all dight lodg fuckig a total stradger you bicked ub at the club odly a week after our secod year addiversary?”


David swallowed hard. And he nodded. The stinging bee was turning into a whole swarm of bees now.


“Well you dod't get to do that. You dod't get to bake yourself feel better about beig shitty to be by tryig to take care of be dow. And you sure as hell dod't get to feel sexually turded od by lookig after be.”


Now David found himself standing naked in the middle of the beehive. David didn't regret telling Lucas about his kink. At the time, he'd wanted to be honest and open with the man he loved. And he didn't blame Lucas for mentioning it now. But his kink was a hell of a lot more complicated. Just because he liked taking care of people more than anything else in life didn't mean that he didn't feel sorry when someone felt miserable. And that was even more the case when it was someone he loved. Loved. Past tense. But maybe, if he played his cards right, future tense too? “Lucas—”


“Doe! Doe bore blayig doctor. I wod't let you use be to—” His words dissolved into cough after cough. He hunched over, as though that would somehow help him stop coughing and catch his breath.


It didn't. In fact, it got worse. The coughs got harsher, louder, faster. He coughed so hard tears leaked from the corners of his eyes, running down his face. He clutched at his chest, as if begging it to stop. And he grimaced at each one; his body must have been aching, hurting from the force of every cough.


Unable to just sit by and watch the man in pain, David reached over and set his hands on Lucas' shoulders. He massaged gently. And Lucas tried to pull away, but he was coughing too hard to get up or move far.


Just as David was starting to get concerned that something worse was happening, the coughs subsided on their own. He pulled his hands back and Lucas leaned back against the couch, wheezing.


But the red flags that had been raised were now waving, and David's concern was rising with each flutter. He wanted to scoop the man up and get him into a hot, steaming shower where he might be able to breathe easier. “Those were some coughs. You don't sound so good.”


Lucas cleared his throat. “Of course I dod't. Cough! I've got a cold. Cough! Cough!” 


“What are you taking for it?”


Having trouble breathing, between coughs and wheezes, Lucas didn't bother talking. He just pointed to the far side of the coffee table where an open box of Mucinex sat.


“Okay. And when are you due to take more?”


Lucas lifted his arm, which seemed like an effort, and tapped his fitbit. He flashed a series of fingers at David. Five. Ten. Twelve.


“Only twelve minutes? Well thank God for small favors.”


Lucas nodded in agreement and took a breath to say something more. But that was when the coughing really started. Impossibly harder. Impossibly louder. They were so bad he came close to gagging, but seemed to catch himself. But his whole body shook helplessly. He coughed and coughed and wheezed and snuffled and coughed some more. David slipped some tissues into Lucas' hand and Lucas immediately pressed them to his face, hawking and snuffling and wiping. When the coughs mercifully backed off, he dried his eyes. David took a tissue out of the box, intending to wipe away a tear trail. But at the fierce look in Lucas' eyes, David took the hint and moved back. “You're in bad shape here, Lucas. You need more than just a couple pills every four hours. Do you have anyone who can come over and look after you?”


It was difficult to read Lucas' expression. It was mostly hidden behind two handfuls of tissues, scrubbing at his face. “I'b fide od by owd,” he replied. The talking tickled his throat and forced another teasing cough he desperately tried to keep under control. David made a move toward him, only intending to hand over another tissue. But Lucas pushed off the couch to escape the intimacy.


Only the moment he'd made it a couple feet away, he stopped and swayed. He put a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. He swayed more violently and one hand shot out to grab hold of something that wasn't there. Unable to catch himself, he went down.


But he didn't hit the floor because David rushed in and grabbed him. Lucas didn't want his touch; David got that. But David figured that Lucas didn't want to split his skull open on the corner of the coffee table even more than he didn't want David to touch him. David got him back upright then swiveled around to gently deposit the man back on the couch. He waited to see those beautiful green eyes open, waited to make sure Lucas was conscious and listening, before David said, “Who can I call over to look after you? Do you have a... boyfriend?” He hated himself for that hesitation before saying that word, but there was no taking that back now.


Lucas shook his head. “Single,” he choked out, his voice raspy with congestion and tired. 


David spotted a bottle of water on the coffee table and handed it to him. “Drink slowly, he cautioned. How about a friend? Ooooh, what about Melissa?” Melissa, one of the other fitness trainers at the gym where Lucas worked, was probably his best friend. She was a health nut, which meant David trusted her to get Lucas feeling good.


Lucas gulped the water, not taking it slow at all. He paused long enough to say, “Paris.”


“Really? Wow. Lucky her. How about your neighbor... what was his name? Reggie?”


“Moved.” He coughed again, and that set him off into another coughing fit.


Shit. David grabbed the Mucinex. It might not have been the full twelve minutes, but Lucas needed it now. Getting two pills out of the blister pack was akin to a theft at Fort Knox. When he finally freed them, Lucas snatched them out of his hand immediately and downed them with another gulp of water. He winced at every single swallow.


David remembered the bag of cough drops in the forgotten purchases bag. He opened it and handed one of the cough drops to Lucas. Lucas' hands fumbled to unwrap it but managed to pop it in his mouth. The smell of medicinal cherry suddenly filled the space between them. Lucas didn't wince as much when he sucked on the cough drop and swallowed. That had to be a good sign. Maybe it would cut down on the coughing a little too.


To his great relief, it did.


But it did nothing for the sneezes. “hahhh!” Lucas pulled the tissue box onto his lap. “hahhh-Heh-IHPTSHHH! Hahhh-Kertchxxxx!


“God bless y—”


hah-HAHTshhhh! errrGihtchhhh! HAHPTShuhhh! Herkuhtchhhh!


“God ble—”




This time, David waited. There wasn't another sneeze. “God bless you.”


Lucas blew his nose and then fixed his gaze on David. “Thag you for brigig the bag I forgot.” A serious flutter rose up inside David. Was this it? Was this the time Lucas would let him back in, let him do a little care-giving? “I wadt you to leave.” He blew his nose. “Right dow.” He pointed, as if the message might somehow be misunderstood.


But it was loud and clear for David. “All right,” he whispered. He rose and, reluctantly, made for the door. Behind him, he heard sniffling. He heard Lucas' breath hitch. And he heard another sneeze. “hahhh-HIHTChushhxxxxt!


David stared at the door in front of him, his hand on the doorknob. So softly that Lucas wouldn’t be able to hear it, David whispered, “God bless you, baby.” He didn't want to leave, not with Lucas in such bad condition and without anyone to see him through this monster of a head cold, but he had already pressed his luck here. Still, he couldn't leave without saying one more thing. He spun on the balls of his feet and took a deep breath. He wanted to beg to stay, but he knew it would be futile. He wanted to say, for the hundredth time, that he was sorry, but he knew Lucas wouldn't believe it. So all he could say was, “I hope you feel better soon, Lucas. I truly do. Keep taking that medicine and using your inhaler.” David knew how much Lucas hated his inhaler. He probably shouldn't have ended with that, but it had just come out before he could stop it.


He looked around the apartment for what he realized now would be the last time. There was the kitchen where he'd perfected his chicken soup recipe. There was the bathroom where he had held Lucas' head over the toilet when a 24-hour stomach bug took hold.  There was the bedroom where he'd snuggled Lucas under the covers when the man had been shivering with fever. And there was the couch where they'd almost gotten back together. Too choked up to say goodbye, he turned, grabbed the doorknob, and let himself out.


As soon as the door swung shut and locked behind him, he regretted the move. Lucas was sick and didn't know what he was saying. Lucas was sick and needed him. Lucas was sick but, even well, would probably always hate him for cheating and lying and breaking his heart. “G'bye, Lucas,” David choked out. The thick door prevented him from hearing any of the coughs or even the muffled sound of explosive, wet sneezes. That didn’t make it any easy for Lucas to walk away. But he forced himself to walk down the seemingly endless hallway toward the elevator. And he forbade himself from looking back. This wasn’t exactly closure, but it was as close as he was going to get.


Tears stung his eyes and the elevator buttons blurred. He stabbed at the down button repeatedly until it binged and the doors opened. David closed his eyes, feeling something inside him die forever and not wanting to see even a glimpse of that apartment door at the end of the hallway again.




The drive home was brutal. David thought about stopping at a bar. He even made a couple turns, detouring toward the club. But, in the end, he wound up at home. He was tired after his double shift and wearier emotionally than he had a right to be. How could he have known tonight that his ex would show up at the pharmacy? God, just seeing Lucas again had made all those memories and feelings come rushing right back. Lucas, the only man he'd ever been able to open up to about his care-taking fetish. Lucas, the only man to make him wake up at six in the morning to go running before breakfast. Lucas, the only man he'd ever said “I love you” to and actually meant it.


He supposed he should feel lucky for the chance to see him again, the chance to try to make things better... even though it seemed like all he'd done was make things worse. His heart hurt for his loss. But, even more, his heart hurt for Lucas. Poor Lucas. Lucas, who hated being weak in front of people. Lucas, who always gave of himself. Lucas, who was so understanding and passionate. Lucas, who never deserved to have his weak, useless boyfriend cheat on him. Poor, poor Lucas.




David jumped. He almost shrieked.


In sweatpants and a jacket with the hood up against the cold spitting rain, Lucas stood outside David's apartment building. He was shivering and sniffling and somehow looked twice as miserable as he had less than an hour ago, trying to cough his lungs up in his apartment.


“What are you doing here, Lucas?”


Lucas dragged the side of his hand under his nose with a long, wet sniff. “Waitig for you to get hobe so you cad let be id.”




“This does't bead adythig.”


Yes it did. This meant everything in the world.


“I dever thought I'd see you agaid.”


Ditto. His heart was racing.


“Whed I cabe dowd with this, all I could thidk was how I wadted you aroud to take care of be. Add thed suddedly, there you were id by house, tryig to hold be. Add I wadted you to.”


“You pushed me away.” Repeatedly.


“Because that's what you're subbosed to do whed your boyfried goes off add does the thigs with subode else that he's odly subbosed to do with you. You're subbosed to break up with the bastard add edd it.”


But it wasn't ended, was it?


“Why are you here, Lucas?”


Lucas glanced at the apartment building, then back at the parking lot, then at David. And David felt that flutter come back, that excitement, that hope. Lucas' breath caught and he pitched forward with a fierce sneeze, sprayed freely out in front of him. “her-KIHJJCHhhhhhhh!” His nose dripped.


“Tissues, Lucas. Tissues.” David dug a small pack of tissues out of his jacket pocket, the one he always carried, and handed it over. Their fingers met. David's were warm. Lucas' were damp. They looked into each other's eyes. Then Lucas sniffed and pulled his hand back, without taking the offered and badly-needed tissues. “How about you let be idside add thed you cad wibe by dose for be? Sniff! You cad hold be id your arbs add bress tissues to by dose add bake be feel so buch better. I dow you cad.”


David paused, trying not to listen to his heart and rush back into this. He'd just put this behind him and now...




David took a deep breath and stepped closer. He rested his hands on Lucas' strong, muscular arms and rubbed up and down. Lucas didn't flinch, didn't even pull away. “God bless you, baby,” David whispered.


“Thags,” Lucas whispered back.


“Now let's get you inside and under the covers before this rain makes your cold worse or your asthma act up, okay?”


Moving in closer, moving in for a hug, Lucas nodded. David cuddled him close, finally getting what he’d longed for all night. But he was still worried. And afraid.


“You swear you’re not just doing this because you’re sick? Because I couldn’t stand it if…” If David spent all that time nursing him back to health and falling back in love with him, only for Lucas to leave him. He couldn’t handle being used and having his heart broken. Not after all this. “I couldn’t stand it if I lost you again.”


Lucas looked up. His beautiful green eyes were tired and bloodshot but wet with tears. “I swear. I… should have forgived you lodg ago. Just brobise be you’ll dever cheat od—”


David didn’t even need to hear the rest of the statement before he blurted out, “I promise!” And, not caring that the man was sick and probably still pretty contagious, David tilted his head and closed his eyes. They sealed their promises with a kiss.