He looked at himself in the mirror, his pale, sickly expression staring back at him. At once, as though it knew he was watching, a sneeze crept up on him. He saw his nostrils flair, and his brow furrow, and his mouth turn down just before his eyes flittered shut. "AhhhEHShhhh! EHHShhew!" He sneezed freely, breathing heavily with extreme congestion. His hand reached over to the toilet tank but missed the tissue box by an inch. With a wet sniffle of frustration, he leaned over and took one, his brown eyes opening to see the box more clearly. He blew his nose hard, coughed, and looked back into the mirror. Perhaps is was just his imagination playing tricks, but somehow he looked worse than he had mere seconds ago. With a sigh, he balled up the tissue and dropped it into the trash. Then he opened up the medicine cabinet and began rooting through it, pulling out boxes of cold remedies, stomach soothers, cough medicines, cough drops, nasal sprays, and pain killers. The counter was soon littered with medications and as he began to sift through them all there was a knock on the door.
"Ben, you in there?" In the mirror, Ben saw his eyes grow wide.
"Uh, yeah. I'll just be a bidute!" he called back, cursing his congestion. His eyes now darted frantically over the collection of over-the-counter drugs. He picked up the bottle of Nyquil and started to measure out a medicine cupful. But before he could take anything, he had to sneeze again. His hand found the tissues in time, this time, though his eyes quickly closed from the sneezey sensation filling his nose. "ahhh-EHShhhew! EHShhhh! IHHShew!"
There was another knock, but it was drowned out entirely by the sound of Ben furiously blowing his nose. The doorknob turned and in he came, looking concerned. Hands on his hips, he shook his head. "You caught that cold I had last week, didn't you?"
Ben, sniffling nose buried in a wad of tissue, nodded.
"Were you planning on telling me at some point, or were you just going to sleep on the couch and hope you could recover by the time I got back from my shift at the hospital?"
Ben shrugged. Then he pitched forward with another violent sneeze. "ahhh-EHHHShew!" He had horrible timing, it seemed, but in truth he was sneezing so much that doing so now was not so much a coincidence as an inevitability. He grabbed another tissue and blew his nose. "Sorry Alan," he whispered around the tissue.
Alan took him by the shoulders and marching him out of the bathroom and up to bed. Off came the thick white bathrobe as the heavy quilts took its job of warming. Ben was soon tucked in with a box of tissues on one side and Alan with meds in his lap on the other.
Alan felt his forehead for fever, but stuck a thermometer in his mouth to double-check anyway, only after checking Ben's throat, ears, eyes, nose, and asking him to cough. "You're spending the rest of the day in bed," Alan proclaimed finally, pulling the thermometer from Ben's mouth and looking at it with a frown. "At least until your temperature goes down significantly." Ben looked relatively frustrated but did not seem to want to spend the energy on a protest.
Alan selected a few of the meds and set the rest aside from later. Ben took all he could, and asked for more as convincingly as possible. But Alan would not budge on the subject. "Cub od? Just adother cub of Dyquil to dock be out?"
Shaking his head, Alan tugged the covers up to Ben's chin and placed a tissue in the man's hand. "Go to sleep, Ben." He kissed the man's hot forehead tenderly. "My shift starts in half an hour and I'm there until around five in the morning, but with any luck--"
"ahhhSheew! AHH-EHHShew! Tshew!"
"With any luck, you'll sleep right through until morning anyway."
It was true that Ben's eyes were already starting to close, despite his best efforts to stay awake while Alan was trying to comfort him. But his head bobbed and came to a rest, cheek pushed into the pillow, body going heavy and slack. Ben sniffled in his sleep, and his mouth opened so he could breathe around the congestion. Alan smirked as he caught their reflection in the mirror over the dresser across the room. Just last week it had been the reverse, Alan in bed with Ben hovering over him with a thermometer and pack of cold pills. And for as miserable as this cold was, deep down Alan wished he could suffer it again if it meant Ben not having to now.