Title: Leveling Up

Pairing: M/M original characters
Rating: PG
Summary: Bryce has a cold and doesn’t want his boyfriend to catch it. His boyfriend has plans of his own, however.
Content: Contagion, mess, anthro (coyote & fox)

Notes: A commission for Gerplexan



Leveling Up




Bryce took the very last tissue out of the box and held it between his hands, at the ready. The coyote's vision of it went blurry then faded to black as the sneeze wrenched itself from his body. “hehhh-Hhhhn-IHShhhkkkkk!” He rubbed the tissue over his wet nose then slumped back in the seat of his car. He'd been sitting there almost twenty minutes now, trying to get the congestion in his head under control, but every time he thought he was all right, another sneeze tickled his nose, insisting otherwise. The sneezes just wouldn't stop coming.


His chestnut-colored eyes found the rear view mirror, where his reflection stared right back at him. “Face it, Brycey Boy, you're sick. Sniff!” Oh man. Now his nose was running pretty badly. “Sniff! Sniff! Sniiiiffffff!” Frustrated with his ability to keep it in check, Bryce blew his nose and shoved the tissue into the small trash can nestled between the driver's and passenger's seat in his car. He couldn't see much more of himself in the tiny mirror, so he ducked down, trying to angle himself differently so he could check on the artful tuft of fur that stood up between his ears. His gray-brown fur looked fine, but the tuft itself was a mess. He licked his palm and ran it over the top of his head, trying to make it look better. It stuck out at an even weirder angle afterward. With a sigh, he gave up and finally headed to his apartment building.


Coughing and sniffling into a fist held to his muzzle, the coyote fumbled with his keys. After struggling through a long, trying day of work, all Bryce wanted to do was get into his apartment and crash on the couch. But everything was taking him twice the time it should today, like he was moving in slow motion. Finally he got the apartment door unlocked, opened, and then closed behind him. He stripped off his scarf and pea coat then kicked off his boots. The couch beckoned, promising a den made of warm, cozy pillows and blankets, and yet he hesitated. “Milo?” he called out.


He could hear noise from down the hall—explosions and sword clashes and chimes and other video game sound effects. That meant Milo was definitely home. And the only reason Bryce could hear the sounds so clearly was that Milo had left the door to his gaymer den open. When he was recording or broadcasting one of his campaigns, it was always kept closed.


“Milo?” Bryce listened intently and heard no reply, no scuffle of paws against the hardwood floors, no clatter of dinner being prepared. Apart from the video game sounds, the apartment was quiet. That didn't mean his fox wasn't there, though. So Bryce called out again, “Milo, I'm not in the mood for surprises tonight.” He felt immensely shitty—a throbbing headache on top of a ticklish nose on top of a scratchy throat on top of a serious level of fatigue on top of a throbbing headache and 'round again. He made his way into the living room, looked around for Milo one last time before collapsing onto the couch.


There was a green, plush blanket they kept folded on one end of the couch, and he pulled that over him now. Then he tugged at the multi-colored, woven throw blanket draped over the back of the couch, using that too. He gathered three smaller couch cushions and half-curled around them, with his head on one and arms around the other two. He felt the congestion in his head shift as he turned his head. A brief mental image of a tissue box came to mind, and he knew he probably should get back up and find one. The comfort of the blankets and pillows was too great, however. With a body-shaking yawn and another wet sniffle, the coyote started to close his eyes.


“Boo!” Milo's head popped up over the arm of the couch, a playful gleam in his deep, black eyes.


Startled, Bryce yelped and flailed and promptly fell off the couch. The cushions and blankets he took with him meant he didn't get hurt. But the jittery, flustered feeling from having been startled just as he'd been allowing himself to finally relax made him frown. “You're such an ass,” he muttered. He started to gather the energy to get back up then decided to just accept where he was for the moment. He swirled a blanket around himself, pulled it over his head, and snuggled up to the couch cushions again.


“Yeah, but I'm your ass.” There was a beat of hesitation. Nervously, the copper fox with a white belly played with the giant silver headphones that hung around his neck, twisting the cord around a finger. “Aren't I?”


Bryce rolled his eyes, knowing Milo couldn't see his expression. As much as he loved his boyfriend, Milo could really be a pain sometimes.


“Bryce?” Milo crawled over so that he could poke at the lump that was Bryce. “Bryce? Brycey? Are you actually mad at me?” He poked harder. “Brycey-Brycey-Bryce, aww, you know I was just playing, right? Come on out. I didn't mean to—”


HAHChekkkkkuhhh! HENNNPTShuhhh!” Groaning, Bryce threw back the blanket. His hand covered his light brown muzzle as he tried to hide the mess he couldn't sniff back in, but the damage had been done. “I deed a Kleedex,” he declared, wishing he sounded a little less pathetic, a little less desperate.


Milo was already digging in his pocket and pulled out a clean, folded handkerchief. “Will this do in a pinch? I always have one on me so I don't have to get up in the middle of a game if I feel a sneeze coming on.”


Grateful, Bryce took the handkerchief with his free hand and maneuvered it into place as best he could so as to wipe his wet hand on it and cover his messy muzzle at the same time. He took a deep breath and blew hard. Both his ears popped, and they twitched as he winced. His second blow was kinder though admittedly less effective. After a third, he wiped the cloth at his nose to make himself at least mildly presentable. “Thanks, Mi. Sniff!


“You feeling okay?” Milo asked, all playfulness gone from his expression, replaced entirely with concern.


Bryce shook his head.


“You coming down with a cold?”


Bryce hesitated, hating to admit it, but it was already pretty obvious. And he couldn't lie to his boyfriend. So he nodded then sniffled pitifully a few times. Despite all the blowing, his nose was feeling runny again already. This was going to be one bad cold; he could already tell that much. He'd be down for a week minimum, maybe two or more.


“I'm sorry to hear it. Colds are no fun. That sucks.” Milo leaned forward, going in for a supportive hug.


Bryce recoiled. In fact, he scampered all the way back, pinning himself against the base of the couch. He pulled one of the blankets up over his muzzle, peering down at Milo over it. “Don't get too close. I'm sure I'm contagious. I don't want you catching my cold.” 


Milo sat back. He studied Bryce carefully. Then he crossed his arms over his chest. “Would that be such a terrible thing?” 


Bryce paused, trying to figure out what that could mean. Nobody in their right mind liked coming down sick. It took him far too long to realize it was a joke. “You're being silly.” Milo could be such a scamp, and Bryce didn't feel well enough to handle that right now. “Look, I really don't feel so good. I'm just going to crash on the couch, okay?”


“I could help you to bed,” Milo offered.


But Bryce was already shaking his head. “No, it's better if I stay out here until I kick this. I'll probably toss and turn and cough and sneeze all night long.” He gathered up the blankets and pillows and started to climb back onto the couch. But the dang tickle in his nose flared up. He sat back down. “Hang on... I think I'm... I'm g-gonna... heh...” He raised the handkerchief, holding it up in front of his face. “Hnggggg... Hihhh... eh-Eh-EHHH-HEPTchshhhhhhhhhh! Ughhhh...” He blew his nose again and wiped it dry. “Excuse me.”


Milo frowned. “Poor thing. You really don't sound good either. Let me at least help you get back up.”


Bryce pulled back again, shaking his head. One of them with a head cold was bad enough. He didn't have the energy to take care of himself right now, let alone both of them.


“I'm not going to catch your cold from touching a blanket, babe. Come on, just let me tuck you in. You look chilly.” 


So Bryce let him, though he tried not to breathe in Milo's direction. Keeping the hankie pressed to his muzzle helped with that. It was also useful to catch the runs in his nose before they could trickle out and embarrass him in front of his boyfriend. Milo piled the cushions up and Bryce lay on his side, against them. Then Milo laid the blankets over Bryce, tucking them under and around him so that no air could sneak in and chill his feet or tummy. Bryce had to admit he wouldn't have been able to do such a good job himself. Curled beneath the blankets, he got ready for that nap he'd been longing for all day.


Then Milo's hand brushed past his nose. Bryce couldn't pull back in time to avoid the sudden touch.


“Hmm. You might be running a fever. Your nose feels warm,” Milo said.


“M-my n-nose ahhhh fuh-feels sensitive and t-tick-huhhh-ticklish!” And he felt frustrated. That brief touch had been all it took to set his nose off again. “huhhh—” He turned his head, burying his face in the couch cushion so he wouldn't sneeze on Milo. “huhnnggshhmmffff!” He lifted his head, sniffling, and immediately felt the need to sneeze again. It felt like the chilliness of the room was irritating his nostrils, though he knew it was mostly the cold inside him making him feel so sneezy. And he knew it wasn't going to stop until it had run its course. “hehh! ehhh-EH!


Eyes closed, Bryce felt something warm press against his nose. His nostrils twitched against what he realized must be Milo holding another handkerchief to his nose for him so the fox wouldn't get sneezed on. His fox was so clever. The first handkerchief was thoroughly used by now, but this one felt even better against his nose. Stopped in mid-release, Bryce's muzzle wrinkled from the incessant, ticklish urge to sneeze. Mucus ran unchecked from his nostrils into the hankie. And his mouth hung open, taking quiet, desperate gasps in and letting warm, heavy breaths out. He still needed to sneeze so damn badly, but there was just enough pressure against his nose to help him hold it back. His whole muzzle quivered.


“Just hold on a second for me, okay?” Milo's voice was soothing, reassuring. Bryce didn't know how long he could hold this sneeze back, because the tickle was only getting stronger. But he made a whimpering sound he hoped Milo understood to mean he could hold on for a second or two, if he was lucky, but not for much longer than that.


“I c-c-cad ehhhh I cad t-try-hehhh! Ehhh!


The handkerchief pressed harder against his nostrils and began to rub back and forth against them in a strong, scrubbing motion. Miraculously, the tickle backed back down more. For a moment, it seemed to go away altogether. Bryce sighed with relief as his twitching muzzle relaxed. Thank goodness for Milo and his preparedness. Thank goodness he'd had another hankie on him.


But then, all of a sudden, the pressure against his nostrils was gone. Bryce didn't understand why Milo would do that, but he didn't have time to contemplate. He gasped and reared back, the sneezy tickle in his nose as fierce as ever. “hnnngg... huhhhh... here-huh-nnnggggggg here it... it...” he tried to warn his boyfriend, but that was as far as he could get before the sneeze struck. “HnnngggggGESHHUUU!


The one strong sneeze seemed to be enough to quash the tickle for the moment, so he opened his eyes and found something he hadn't expected.


Milo was a few feet away in a sort of lunging position. He had a tissue box in one hand, a tissue in the other, which was outstretched. It was as if he'd tried his best to get it to Bryce's nose in time to catch the sneeze, but he hadn't made it in time. Two more seconds, and he would have probably made it. Milo sighed and straightened back up, wiping his hand and lower arm discretely against the leg of his jeans. He walked over and plopped down on the arm of the sofa. “Ooops. Sorry. I thought if I was fast enough, I could make it back with the tissues before you sneezed. But I guess you just had to let it out, huh?” He tucked the tissue box to a spot on the couch between cushions so it would stay put. “Bless you, by the way.” He frowned. “Your, um, your nose is dripping.” He held out the tissue he'd already pulled from the box.


Bryce grabbed for it and wiped at his nose, snuffling and coughing and trying his best not to feel utterly embarrassed on top of his confusion. Why had Milo even gone for tissues if he'd already had a hankie? “What sniff! What about the handkerchief though?”


It was Milo's turn to look confused. “I gave you my only handkerchief already.”


No, that couldn't be right. “But... but you were h-holding b-back my snehhh...sneeze...” Damn, it was starting again already. The tiniest of tickles fluttered in the back of his muzzle, tickling as it moved forward. It made his muzzle wrinkle again in need, and he knew that by the time it reached his nostrils, the ticklish urge to sneeze would be so unbearably insistent.


Milo held up his hand, wiggling his furry fingers, a playful smile on his face. “Like this.” He placed one against Bryce's nose.


Bryce's eyes went wide with understanding and the familiar, comforting, physical sensation. It hadn't been a handkerchief at all. The coyote tried to pull back, not wanting to get germs on Milo's hand again, but the fox's hand moved with his nose, his finger applying pressure almost expertly. Bryce had to wonder if this was what Milo did when he had a cold and needed to hold back his sneeze to get to a tissue. The pressure felt fantastic.


And it wasn't that Bryce didn't appreciate the help; it was just that he didn't want to be sneezing on Milo. He didn't want to get Milo sick. As he felt his nose run again, he tried sniffing. He needed to keep his cold to himself. But then Milo's finger started rubbing back and forth at his nose. And it felt so good to keep the tickles away. The movement, however, caused his nose to run more, each rub making his nose squelch. Bryce was sure the fox's fingers had to be wet by now, which just had to feel gross, but Milo still wasn't taking his hand away. If anything, he was pressing even harder and moving in closer.


Milo pulled a couple tissues from the box with his other hand. “Okay,” he said softly. “I can keep this up all day, but those sneezes want out. Are you ready for 'em?”


Bryce wasn't sure he was, but he made an agreeable sort of whimpering sound.


Milo switched one hand for the other, cupping the layers of tissues around the end of Bryce's muzzle for him, covering the coyote's nose and mouth as both began to twitch with need. “hnnnnggghhh.... hehhnnnnng...


“Relax, babe. Just let them out. I gotcha covered, and your nose knows best.”


Bryce's eyes shut, partly so Milo wouldn't see the embarrassment in them and partly because, yeah, he really did have to sneeze pretty badly. “hahhhh-nnnngggggg... Hhhshxxxxxffff!” Even smothered into tissues, the sneeze sounded wet. Milo started to lower his hand, but Bryce's hand shot out from beneath the blankets and grabbed his wrist, holding it in place as he felt another sneeze coming on. “hahhh! AHH-HINGShhhhxxxxtfff! Oh... sniff!” The sneezes were getting so wet, he hoped the tissues had been enough to contain them “Sniff! Sniff!


The fox's ears twitched. “Hey, there's no need to sniffle like that. Better take these tissues yourself and blow your nose, babe. You'll feel better when you do.”


Bryce obeyed, his nose so stuffed and drippy he could barely breathe. The second he was in control of the tissues, he pressed them against his nostrils and blew and blew and blew some more. The gurgling blows brought with them so much relief he sighed when he was done.


Resting his head on a couch cushion, exhausted, he didn't even have the energy or will to pull back when Milo began stroking his head, running his fingers through the flop of hair sticking up between his pointy ears. “Don't...” He protested halfheartedly, because the touch was so nice. It was probably a lost cause by now, but he couldn't help it. “I don't want you to get my cold.”


“Well, Brycey, I gotta say that's pretty selfish of you.”


Bryce narrowed his eyes, trying to understand. Boy, he was slow today. Must be the cold in his head. “What?”


Milo smiled adoringly at him. He hopped off the arm of the couch and knelt on the floor in front of the part of the couch where Bryce was curled up. “If I came down with a cold, I wouldn't have to go into work,” he explained. “No spreadsheets, no documenting code, no stuffy shirt and tie, no sitting in a cubicle trying to type quietly so I don't disturb the people in the cubicles around me. None of that.”


This did nothing to alleviate his confusion. “But I thought you liked your job.”


“I do... most of the time. This week, though, it's all filled with meetings. I haaaaate meetings. We're even having a meeting to discuss all the different meetings we'll be having. Ugh!” He took his headphones from around his neck, setting them aside. “I'd much rather stay home and play games and drink milkshakes and snuggle in bed with you. Sounds like heaven to me. It's been ages since I had a vacation, and I have an absurd number of sick days stored up.”


Bryce's eyes were still narrowed, his brow knit with suspicion. Milo was rambling. He only ever rambled like this when he was extremely excited or when he was outright lying and trying to cover his ass. Instincts told him this was the latter, but who would lie about this? It wasn't as though Bryce were trying to get him sick; it was exactly the opposite, in fact. Milo was practically begging for it. So... maybe he really was excited about being able to call in sick? Bryce didn't want to see him suffering, but he had to admit that snuggling in a queen-sized bed with his fox sounded a hell of a lot better than lying out here, alone, hugging these couch cushions.


“I... uh...” He was flooded with uncertainty and guilt but also a bit of excitement and longing. Milo's fingers stroked the top of his muzzle, up past his forehead, through his tuft, to behind one of his ears. He scratched there in a way he knew drove Bryce mad with pleasure. It was a cheap trick, but it was working. He could have this all week if Milo were sick in bed with him and germs and sneezes didn't matter between them anymore.


Down his hand came, through the messy fur, ending up at his nose. Milo rubbed two fingers back and forth against Bryce's nose, which felt good but made that same soft, embarrassingly squelching sound he wasn't sure Milo could hear. Milo smiled and spoke in a hushed but hopeful tone. “So what do you say? Do you want to share your cold with me, Brycey Boy?” 


Bryce swallowed, his eyes fixed on the fox's dark ones. “Yes,” he whispered. “H-how?”


Milo leaned in for a kiss. Instinctively, Bryce met him there, kissing back. Bryce lapped with his tongue a few times as Milo did the same. He licked the side of Bryce's face and then, oh god, licked Bryce's nose. His hot, runny nose. Bryce closed his eyes, feeling his fox's tongue caressing him lovingly. And when it was over, he wiped his sensitive nose with a tissue, not sure what was saliva and what was snot, and realizing it didn't matter.


“Bedroom,” Milo whispered. “I'll tuck you in there just as well as I did here. Don't worry.”


Worry was the last thing on Bryce's mind right now. He grabbed the tissue box and kept the multi-colored, woven throw around his shoulders like a cape as he followed Milo down the hallway. Milo closed the door to his gaymer den along the way, the sounds of battle raging on without him immediately ceasing thanks to the soundproof padding they'd installed.


True to his word, Milo got Bryce into bed, piling up pillows as he had done with cushions to make his breathing easier, tucking blankets around him, and then snuggling up beside him. Bryce nuzzled his face into Milo's neck, the soft fur soothing and comforting, though it also tickled his nostrils just a little bit. His cold-filled nose was feeling so overly-sensitive that just about anything was liable to set it off. “huhh!” he gasped, already feeling the tickle take hold.


He tried to pull back, but Milo wrapped his arms around the coyote. “I want you to sneeze on me,” he whispered. “Then I'll catch your cold for sure.”


Bryce understood, of course, but the rest of his body didn't. It kept instinctively trying to pull back. And so it became a battle of wills, his mind telling him that he needed to do this and his body telling him he really shouldn't. He could imagine the spray of a sneeze against his face and felt almost revolted. But he could also imagine Milo sniffling and curled up beside him for as long as it took them to get better together. In the end, it was neither his mind nor his body that won the battle—it was the sneeze.


hhnnngggg! Mi... I hnnnnghh I feel a hnng! Hehh! Heggguuhh! a sn-sneeze c-c-cohuhhhh coming on.”


“Good,” Milo reassured him. He pointed a furry finger at his face. “I want it right here, babe.”


His heart racing with nerves, Bryce shut his eyes. Maybe this would be easier to do if he wasn't looking at Milo? The sneeze was going to make him close his eyes in a moment anyway. “ehhhh hnnggg-ehhhh... Uhhh-Huh-UH—” He tensed, bracing himself for the sneeze to overpower him.


Except it never did. The tickle in his nose faded into a dull urge in the back of his muzzle.


“False alarm,” he said, opening his eyes again. “I'm sorry.”


“Don't be.” Milo patted his arm. “One thing you learn playing as many video games as I do is that you don't usually win the first time through. But if you keep at it, you get there in the end. Maybe we should kiss again?”


Bryce nodded. That would surely relax him. But as he moved in for another kiss, he took an involuntary breath. “Wait! I... Hah!” He pulled back a little as he felt the tickle take control of him again. “I hahhh-haveta-hnngghhh-Hahhhhhhh!


“That's it,” Milo reassured him. “Just let it out.”


HAH!” He froze, his muzzle wrinkled, teeth clenched, nostrils flared.


Then the urgent tickle went away again. His chest deflated, and he buried his face in the pillow this time. “I dod't thidk I cad do this,” his muffled voice was full of frustration. This was a level of intimacy he'd never anticipated.


“It's just a little stuck sneeze. Nothing to worry about.”


He lifted his head, shaking it again. Bryce was pretty sure that this was a complete mental block. At this rate, he would never sneeze again. Which, honestly, solved more problems than it caused. Deep down, he still felt like getting his boyfriend sick on purpose was kind of a stupid idea. And he didn't entirely trust Milo's motives at the moment.


The only real problem was, he did still feel like he needed to sneeze. It just wouldn't come out.


“Let me help.”


As the sharp urge to sneeze intensified maddeningly, Bryce wasn't in a position to refuse his help. He nodded but narrowed his eyes as Milo turned away from him. Milo pulled his bushy orange and white-tipped tail around so that the end was in his lap and then plucked one, two, and three long hairs from it. He flinched slightly as he pulled out each but didn't complain. He held the three hairs together as he cocked his head at Bryce. “You're dot goidg to—”


“You want to sneeze, don't you?”


Bryce's head bobbed up and down. He needed to sneeze so badly. But every time he tried to let it out, he kept remembering he was supposed to be sneezing on Milo. And he just didn't think he could. Oh, but the sharp, prickling urge to sneeze was torturous.


Quickly, Milo stuck the hairs up one of Bryce's nostrils and twirled them around, prickling, teasing.


Immediately, the sneezy feeling came over him again. “I... I cahhh can feel hehhhhh! Huhhh!” He gave his boyfriend one last, helpless look and closed his eyes. His nostrils tickled. The urge to sneeze was strong. His breath came in quick, short gasps. He was at its mercy. He was going to sneeze!


Until he wasn't. Once again, it backed off.


“I'll try again.” Milo sounded hopeful, this time splitting the hairs between his hands and tickling the insides of both tender nostrils at the same time.


HIH!!” Desperate, tears in his eyes from the intensity of it all, Bryce reached out and grabbed hold of the first solid thing his hand made contact with, which was Milo's elbow; it kept him steady as he gasped. “HEHH! Nngghhh! Yihhhh! Hnnnnnngggg... HEHHHH!


But then his shoulders sagged and he snarled in frustration, pulling back and scrubbing his palm across his itchy, ticklish nose then at his watering eyes. “I cad't do it!” He grabbed a tissue and blew his nose, rubbed at his nostrils, and tossed it over the side of the bed. “Sorry, Mi.”


“Hey, it's all right babe.” He wasn't holding the hairs any more. He reached out and pet Bryce's head. “Maybe it just wasn't meant to be.” He sighed deeply, his whole body rising and falling with the breath. But he still wore a smile, his pointed teeth gleaming. “Guess I'll have to settle for kissing you some more. How terrible.” He moved in to steal another kiss right away.


But Bryce pitched forward with a sudden, strong, messy “HeyyyEHTCHHUSHHH!” followed immediately with an equally powerful “Hehh-JJUXXXXXSHHH!


Milo froze, his eyes closed, mouth open, his fur dripping. He'd caught the sneezes full-on.


Bryce grabbed a tissue. “I'b so sorry!” Shocked, he wasn't sure what to do with the tissue. Did he offer it to Milo? Did he start to try to clean Milo's face? Did he sink beneath the covers mortified and embarrassed and guilty never again to emerge?


“Don't be sorry,” Milo plucked the tissue from Bryce's hand, folded it in half, and gently wiped Bryce's wet nostrils. His tongue darted out, licking his chops, and then he smiled again, even though his face was wet. “You did exactly what I'd hoped for.”


He wrapped his arms around Bryce and pulled him close again. “Let me know if you need a tissue for that runny nose of yours. Otherwise, you can sneeze into my chest. Unless that's asking too much. I don't want to frighten your sneezes away again, after all.”


Bryce's body felt tired and achy and just plain bleh. Maybe he was running a bit of a fever. Maybe this bug was worse than he'd thought. But as Bryce nuzzled his face into Milo's chest, the soft, dry t-shirt and warm fur felt comforting. Suddenly, he couldn't imagine being sick and suffering out on the couch alone. He still didn't want Milo getting sick, but more than that he wanted Milo. “Okay,” he murmured, closing his eyes.


There was another tickle in his nose already. It was kind of faint, but it wasn't going away. He sniffed and nuzzled more against Milo's chest, but that didn't help. “h'ihhhh!” He felt Milo's hand rub up and down his back. He heard his boyfriend murmuring encouragements. Bryce was too busy with the sneeze building in his muzzle to make it out exactly, but he understood the tone. “hihh yiihhhh hnnnnnn… hihhhhhhh HIPTSchhhhhhh! HEHJjjishhhhhhh!” He felt something warm soothe his nose, wiping it dry. And though he wasn't sure if it was a bit of blanket or part of Milo's t-shirt or even Milo's finger, he didn't bother opening his eyes to find out.





There was a burning pain in his throat when he swallowed.  There was a pounding in his head. And when he swiped the back of his hand under his nose, it came away glistening in the moonlight. Oh yeah, he had caught Bryce's cold all right. Level up! Pretty soon he'd start coughing and sneezing. And then he'd feel about as miserable as Bryce did, but he really didn't mind. They'd be miserable together.


As Bryce let out a particularly loud, stuffy snore but did not wake, Milo smiled down at him. Bryce had fallen asleep lounging in bed—not quite sitting upright, not quite lying horizontal. He had his head on Milo's chest, nestled just beneath the fox's neck, with one arm draped over Milo's middle in a sort of loose hug. Milo ran his hand over Bryce's head, petting him in his sleep. He liked playing with his coyote's tuft of hair—the messier it got, the sexier he looked—but mostly he just liked petting him in his sleep, as if the touch would bring nothing but good dreams.


It felt so good to be able to hold him like this that it was easier for Milo to come to terms with the fact that he'd spent the evening lying to his boyfriend. There was no dreaded week of meetings ahead for him at work. In fact, with the upcoming testing schedule, this was a pretty inconvenient time to call in sick. But if he'd admitted he wanted to stay close and take care of Bryce, Bryce would have given some lecture about germs and keeping a safe distance. So the only way to stay close was to catch cold, too. If Milo had admitted that he wanted to get sick so Bryce wouldn't suffer alone with this cold, he was sure Bryce wouldn't have kissed him or sneezed on him. So the only way forward had been to lie. It seemed he was pretty good at it. Bryce hadn't suspected a thing.


And now Bryce was content. So was Milo, for that matter. Sick and dealing with a bit of a runny nose and stuck about four inches short of where he needed to be to reach the tissue box... but content nonetheless.