Title: Silence is the Speech of Love
Fandom: Star Wars- Alternate Reality
Disclaimer: George Lucas owns the boys and their world. I just renamed them and made them my own for the story. I still don't get any money/fame from it, though.
Archive: Only my own site, please
Summary: Autumn strikes, along with the beginning of cold and flu season, and hits Ben hard.
Notes: Title came from Richard Henry Stoddard's 'Speech of Love'
Feedback/More Notes: My first ever attempt at an AR in this or any fandom so please be kind, however constructive criticism is as welcome as the fuzzy stuff! I'd like to know what I did wrong and where I can improve in trying to link the characters to their original incarnations while still being their own selves.
Silence is the Speech of Love
The heaters had kicked on a week too early, in Quinn's estimation. And the building was filled with an unnecessarily musty warmth that couldn't be shaken for the windows were too few and the temperature outside just a little too cold for opening them wide. There was no happy medium to be had for the professors and students trapped inside the academic buildings, but the students, at least, were afforded the luxury of breaks outdoors between classes. Strolling across the commons in the crisp autumn air, taking lunch on the food court's patio, leaving grounds early for the day when they had only morning classes or coming late and spending only an afternoon in the buildings. But for the professors, apart from taking occasional lunch in the food court or brisk walks outside from one building to another, there was no escaping the regulated temperature inside the buildings.
Quinn's office was especially stifling, so much so that he'd gone as far as to loosen his tie and unbutton the top button of his shirt. He'd unbuttoned the sleeves and rolled them up nearly to his elbows as well, but all efforts seemed futile as the gentle hum of the heater meant more and more heat was being pumped into the closed office. Though his face was burning from the heat, he tried to concentrate. He had books to go through and papers to correct, more work than he knew what to do with now that students had just completed mid-term exams. But as a drop of sweat trickled from forehead, down cheek, off chin, and onto the eighth page of one of his student's essays, he gave up.
He sprang from his chair and bolted to the window, unlatching it in an instant and throwing it open. The chill caught him in the face at once, sweeping back the strands of hair not pulled into the ponytail. The cold air caught the sweat which had beaded on his face, making him shiver. He took in a deep breath, the air filling his lungs and making him double over, coughing into a fist. It seized his chest as he had not expected, making him reach for his abandoned seat and lean on its back to steady himself. This was not what he had been hoping for and suddenly remembered why he'd kept the window closed all morning.
But as he peered down into the courtyard, a sight struck his eyes and made him forget about the goosebumps on his arms and the cold ache in his lungs. There was a group of students mingling under a tree, exchanging papers and laughter. The late fall had been gracious to the tree, stripping it of not many leaves, so that it still flamed in bright oranges and yellows. But through the gaps in its branches Quinn could easily see the students, and the one in particular he was most interested in.
"I'll be sure to copy the notes by tomorrow," one of the boys said, stuffing a notebook into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder. "Thanks, Sarah."
The boy looked momentarily upset that it was not he who would be going on the date, but agreed anyway, returning her smile with a shining one of his own.
Beside the two who were just breaking into their routine of flirting, were Chuck and Winston, deep in a discussion about the afternoon touch football match.
"I'm telling you, we're three points ahead after last week," Winston reiterated as Chuck plucked a red and gold leaf from a low branch and pretended to be more interested in it than Winston's point. "There is no question that my team will win."
Chuck leaned forward, slamming his palm into the bark of the tree, missing Winston's head by inches in an act clearly intended to intimidate the other boy who did not even flinch. "Things of that nature are always questionable. My passes have been improving all season." He flexed his arm, showing a bulge of muscles under the white shirt.
"And we shall see how beautifully improved your passes are just as they're intercepted by my team," Winston replied coolly. Chuck steamed at this.
But a sudden, fierce sneeze drew attention away from the separate threads of conversation. Ben grimaced and a hand snapped up quickly but only halfway there before he sneezed again. The spray was caught in the afternoon light, glistening in the air and against his hand. His hand clamped over his mouth as he sniffed, the side of his index finger pressed beneath his nose. "Excuse me," he said, muffled behind his hand.
"Are you coming down with something?" asked Winston, leaning forward and pressing the back of his hand to Ben's forehead. Ben nodded, shaking the hand off in the process.
"Let me feel." Chuck attempted the same, but Ben pulled away skirted around the outside of the group with a laugh.
"I'm not that sick--" His voice caught in his throat as his face screwed up for another sneeze. Sarah, who had pulled a pack of tissues from her purse after the first two sneezes, handed one over just in time. Ben covered his nose and mouth with it, bending a bit at the force, but straightening up right away with a few wet sniffles. "Excuse me again," he mumbled, rubbing the tissue discretely beneath his nose with no desire to blow his nose in front of them. "I think I'd better hurry up and get to the lab. If I can finish up early, I'm going to leave for home as soon as possible and nip this thing in the butt." He felt he was getting worse by the moment, and there was no time to be lost.
They all bestowed their best good luck and get well wishes upon him. Chuck tried to feel his forehead again, resulting in Ben awarding him a playful punch to the stomach which nonetheless winded him for a few moments, long enough for Ben to make his getaway.
The upper floor hallways were, if possible, worse than the classrooms and worse than the offices. There was no ventilation for them whatsoever, and they were most times occupied by a half dozen warm bodies. Or, in the case of times between classes, literally dozens of hot, sweaty bodies, so that the halls were so stiflingly hot Quinn felt he would rather prefer not being able to breathe.
He was done with lectures for the day, and office hours did not start for another three quarters of an hour. But this did not, by any means, indicate he had free time. Instead, he made his way down the hall with a stack of books and papers, careful to balance them just right for their ordering was important and a spill would mean needing to reorganize them all.
Quinn leaned against the doorjam of the lab entrance. He didn't need to scan the room to locate him, and didn't need the loud, wet sneeze to call his attention to the back of the room, for he almost always sat there for it afforded him a good view of the rest of the room. This day, however, he was using the spot for its privacy benefits. He hid behind the monitor, rubbing his nose with a crumpled tissue. He kept the tissue in his hand, balled up in his palm, holding it in place with his thumb as he clicked the mouse and typed on the keyboard. Suddenly, he froze with realization and quickly held his hand to his face as he snapped forward with a fierce sneeze. He rubbed his nose again, gave a cough, then lowered his hand wearily to click the mouse again.
Admiring his dedication and feeling altogether too sorry for him, Quinn shook his head. He was disappointed not to be able to take part in his favorite work pastime in watching Ben work from afar, but did not regret his swift approach. He headed across the room and moved a keyboard to sit on the table beside Ben, facing him, looking down at him. "How is the work going?" he asked, leaning forward so he could peer back to the screen, which showed Ben's blank desktop.
Rubbing his other hand against the back of his neck, Ben blushed ashamedly. "I only just arrived, Sir. I'm sorry. I was unavoidably detained."
Quinn raised an eyebrow. "Unavoidably detained, you say? Is that what they call socializing with one's friends nowadays?"
Going a more scarlet shade of red, "I thought it the most dignified way of putting it, yes." He smirked, shaking his head. "You always seem to know what I'm doing. I shouldn't be surprised that you saw me. And I am sorry."
Quinn nodded, his eyes kind now. Despite the setting and situation, he was slowly changing to his non-professor role as concern for Ben swept through him. "There is no need. It is good to know at least one of my research assistants has the time for a social life. It's commendable, really, that you are able to balance it all. And yes, I saw you socializing. But I also saw more."
A few silent seconds passed before Ben understood the statement, his eyes widening. Quinn opened his mouth to speak. "It's all right," he said quickly, heading off anything Quinn might say. "Just a little cold or something. Nothing to worry about. I'll stay late to make up for my tardiness. It's no problem. I'm glad to do it."
But Quinn did not need to speak first. He waited until Ben was finished with his speech of selflessness to say exactly what he would have said had he not been stopped. "I want you to go home and get some rest. The research can wait until you feel better. Besides, if I could leave his horrid, stuffy place I would jump at the chance." The lab was much worse than any of the other rooms and the hallway combined. Not only were there no windows and a bunch of people crammed into the small space, but the running computer units and monitors gave off warmth, filling the room with a stifling heat. The smell of body odor hung in the air with no place for it to go, making the air virtually un-breathable. He did not like the idea of Ben sneezing and coughing and sharing his germs with the others in the room either.
Everyone always thought colds and flus were so rampant in the winter because of the temperatures or the weather changes, when really that had nothing to do with it. As a teacher, Quinn knew exactly what the real reason was- it was because in the cold months more people were trapped inside with those who were sick. And with the damp, sticky heat of these room he was sure the germs were all too happy to multiply and spread. With a sigh, he pulled out a clean handkerchief. It was a visual distraction for Ben as a moment was all Quinn needed to reach over and hit control-alt-delete. He logged a now angry and protesting Ben out of the lab computer system and then wiped the mouse and keyboard off with his handkerchief. He flipped it over his hand, folding it in half when finished, and tucked it back away.
"... because I really do have to get that paper done and I promise I'll take it easy tonight," Ben finished, stopping his protesting long enough to take a much needed deep breath. Quinn could hear a gentle rattle in his throat as he did.
"That you will, Benji, take it easy tonight, I mean. But you should do so immediately, not later tonight. You're certainly not staying here and working, paper or no. I'll write to Dr. Yarin and request an extension on your behalf."
Ben was shaking his head. "No need to, really. I'll have it done in time for the conference due date--"
Quinn cleared his throat. "I believe I am co-author of said paper, even if you are listed first, and I believe we need an extension. If he cannot grant one, there is nothing lost in asking." There was an overwhelming amount of logic to this, and Ben was forced to nod in agreement. "Good, now," he handed over the stack of papers and books that he'd set down on the table as well. "Take these home for me." He dug his keys out from his pocket and forced them into one of Ben's now nearly-full hands. "And take my car. I don't like the idea of you standing at the bus stop or walking home with that cold keeping you company."
Ben looked ready to start over with the protests, but quickly set the books down. He raised a fist to cough a few times, then closed his eyes expectantly. The sneeze took its fine time in getting there, silencing them both in patience. Finally, he drew a sharp breath and fell forward with three sneezes, each wet and strong and making both him and his tissue worse for them. Quinn cleared his throat and handed over his handkerchief. Ben tried to refuse it, looking around to see if anyone else had noticed the offer. But Quinn pressed it into his hand. Ben smiled with appreciation and held it to his face, first to rub at his nose, then to catch a fourth sneeze, which sounded as though it would have been much wetter and stronger than the others had it not been for the hanky. Quinn steadied him and moved to the side, blocking Ben from the others in the room as he blew his nose, cheeks a bright crimson again.
Ben took advantage of his recovery to slide the papers and notebooks into his backpack, pulled it on over his jacket, then took up the armful of books again. "My car is parked in the lot behind the engineering building," Quinn explained. "Facing the street on this side." He gestured towards the right.
Nodding, "I'll find it. Sure this is all right? I could swing by and pick you up if you'd rather not take the bus home. Or just nap in the car until your day's over."
"Don't worry about me. Just go home and rest so you start feeling better as soon as possible." Quinn leaned closer. "I'm not doing this, my handsome young research assistant, just because I happen to be madly in love with you. I would say it to any of my students or employees."
Grinning, "That's good to hear. Because I think I caught this cold from Marta and she's got an appointment with you in half an-hour's-time-" he finished speedily before the tickle in his nose grew worse. He couldn't get the handkerchief out in time, his face falling, brow furrowing, eyes closing, jaw dropping, mouth twitching down to a frown, nostrils flaring. He sneezed into his shoulder as best he could manage.
"Go home," Quinn said, patting him on the arm. "Get some rest. Work can wait." It was an easy enough thing to say, really, but reality did not see him putting aside the work he had to do. There were no extensions when it came to teaching. Professors only got a certain number of days in which to relay all the information possible, make sure students not only comprehend it but can properly analyze its ramifications, test them to be sure it sticks properly, and prepare them for the next course on the topic. What with school holidays, snow days, and Mondays and Fridays during which a portion of the classes were absent, there was precious little time to get any proper teaching done. And Quinn, though concerned, was not about to let the health of his lover distract him from doing so when he had several hours already set aside to grading and office hours, and when said lover was insisting that he would be fine.
As another vicious sneeze caught Quinn's attention, he looked over at the doorway to see Ben with his nose buried in the handkerchief, balancing the books carefully against his chest with his other arm. Another rush of sympathy overtook him and he felt, suddenly, that missing an hour or two from work just to take care of a Ben who so obviously needed him would be more than worth it.
"Professor? While you're here, could you take a look at this proposal I'm working on for that new grant?"
closed his eyes, centering himself, remembering his place. Then
turned to the student in the row in front of him. He smiled, nodded. "Of course,
Ben eyed the bus stop on his walk across campus, seeing people shivering, swaying, and stomping on the ground. Quinn's keys rattled in his pocket and he felt overwhelmingly glad to be able to avoid the bus today. He didn't much feel like sniffling and shivering from the cold with a bunch of strangers, trying to pretend he wasn't sick. Or looking forward to getting on the bus with his head cold and watching as people moved away from where he sat so he didn't get them sick. No, this was really the best solution. Leave Quinn to have thought of it, too.
Though, all things being equal, he would have preferred going home together so he wouldn't have to drive all stuffy and out of it. He loaded the books and backpack in the back and took his seat behind the wheel to start the car, but not without first reaching over to the glove compartment and extracting the tissue box there. The car was parked facing the street, and he was sure everyone passing by could see him sitting there, blowing his nose over and over again. They probably wondered if he'd ever actually drive away. He was starting to think curling up in the backseat with the emergency blanket and the box of tissues was sounding almost more appealing than driving the twenty minutes home.
But it was cold in the car, even with the heater blaring, and it made his nose run terribly. So he decided, given his options, that is was simply best just to sniff his runny nose back as much as possible, concentrate on the road past his thumping head, and try not to sneeze while driving. Ben summoned up all his energy, and put the car in reverse, looking out his rear view mirror.
And then there were the vultures who circled the lot behind him, looking for a spot in which to park. But they were commuters and never looking for faculty spots, at least not before five. The problem was that they took up the whole parking lot and left no room for backing up. And at the faintest sight of taillights they stopped and signaled, then cursed when they realized it was a faculty spot, purposely pulling up behind to block him in.
He had to wait a good ten minutes after he'd thoroughly blown his nose before someone finally made room and waved him out. The drive home was trying. He savored every stop sign and red light because it meant a chance to blow his nose or take his tired eyes off the road for a few moments of rest. The apartment complex lot was as vacant as he'd ever seen it, and after the time trying to get out of the campus lot, he was glad to find a spot right away right by the door to their building.
He unloaded the car, cradling the books in his arms as he climbed the steps to the building and took the elevator up to the top floor. Their loft was warm, but not hot. Dim but not dark. He deposited the books on the desk carefully and unpacked his backpack before heading to the kitchen. He opted for an immediate glass of orange-pineapple juice rather than standing and waiting for water to boil for tea.
Then Ben spun around, looking the place over, trying to decide just what to do next. There was work, there was sleep. There was the desk, the sofa, the bed. He couldn't quite decide what looked the most appealing, or least, for that matter. He settled on none of the above, grabbed his pajamas and headed to the bathroom for a shower.
The temperature was dropping every minute as the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. Quinn was chilled, numb, and rosy-cheeked as he hopped into the elevator. His briefcase banged lightly but impatiently against the wall of the elevator as it rose to the top too slowly for Quinn's taste. He checked the door, finding it unlocked, which was grand as he remembered he'd given his keys to Ben. He made a point to enter the apartment quietly, not wanting to wake him were he asleep in bed.
While Ben was not asleep, he was in bed, but not under the covers. He sat on top of the covers of the still-made bed, an old quilt covering him from his waist downwards. He sat back against the headboard and pillows, knees bent, a book open against them. One hand held the book, while the other held a crumpled tissue up to his nose. He looked up, sniffling. "You're hobe earlier thad I thought you'd be, Quidtod." He shot a grateful smile over.
Quinn smiled back and pulled his scarf off, hanging it on the hook by the door. "I cancelled the last few blocks of office hours, Benjamin." He shrugged out of his brown overcoat, hanging it up as well. "I just gave exams, so no one was coming by with questions anyway. They won't miss me." He slipped his shoes off. "Though I felt that there might be someone at home who would."
"I did," he said with a nod and patted the bed beside him. "I'b glad you're hobe." He sniffled and took a new tissue, holding it to his nose. He exhaled deeply and closed his eyes. "uhhh... uhhhKTCHKShhhhhh! huhhhKEXXShhhh!"
"You sound..." Quinn stopped in mid-sentence, not sure that he wanted to be honest or reassuring because he wasn't sure he could be either. Ben sounded much worse than he had in the lab, though perhaps because he was not holding anything back now. Quinn wished he hadn't said anything in the first place. He sat down on the bed, back against the headboard. He stretched and put an arm around Ben, drawing him close in comfort. His thumb brushed against Ben's smooth cheek as it found its place on his shoulder.
But Ben seemed to have forgotten the beginning of the sentence as he quickly bent the corner of the page he was on and closed the book, shoving it aside before Quinn could get too good a look at it. "What're you reading?" Quinn asked, grabbing the book by its spine just before it left his reach. Ben closed his eyes, waiting for the blow to fall. "Benjamin!" And there it was, sharp and stern. "Silly me, but I thought the reason for my sending you home was not to tire you out with work." He tugged the book from Ben's clutches. "I thought I made that perfectly clear! You're not to worry about the paper, or the research, or anything, my handsome, sneezey research assistant."
Ben nodded. "Yes, Sir," he answered automatically, eyes still tightly closed. "I did try to sleeb. It was just all this sdeezig keebig be awake. So I thought at least I could do subthig useful." He rubbed a finger boyishly under his nose, adding the rest of his hand to it after a few rubs that seemed to do nothing to decrease the tickle. He turned his head away, breath hitching. "uhh-huh-hehhh-huhKEHTChishhh! uhhhHIXShhhhh! Ehhhkxxshh! Uhhhh..." He pulled his eyes open so that he could locate the tissue box, which was conveniently nestled in-between the two of them. He rubbed his nose and blew, one-handed, into it. Then crumpled the tissue up and dropped it into the wastebasket he'd relocated beside the bed.
A hand gently caressed his cheek and then ran over his short hair. Then it eased Ben's head onto his shoulder. "Was it a good read, at least?" Quinn asked. In his special way, he was making it known that he understood Ben's reasons and sympathized.
"Dot bad. I did't get too far idto it, I'b afraid." He coughed and leaned closer against Quinn. "Kebt havig to stob id order to sdeeze."
"Well," Quinn said, kissing his temple, "Now that I'm here, I can help you out." He pulled his reading glasses from his pocket and picked the book up, turning to the dog-eared page and beginning to read. Ben smiled, taking the end of the patchwork quilt and pulling it up over his arms. He stopped tugging when it got up to his neck, curling up beneath it, snuggling against Quinn's side. Despite frequent sniffles, he fell asleep before Quinn had finished the page.
Ben woke to an empty bed and the sound of keys jangling in the lock. A frozen Quinn entered, shaking from cold and bearing several bags of groceries. Ben propped himself up on one elbow and rubbed his hand under his nose with the other. "Just waking up, are you?" asked Quinn, shutting the door behind him with a nudge from his foot. Ben nodded. "Seems I timed it very well, then." He set the bags down on the counter and began unpacking. "I've bought you all the necessities for taking care of a cold." He tossed a box of extra-soft tissues over towards the bed. It landed within inches from the box from which Ben was currently extracting a tissue. "And I am going to make you the best chicken soup you have ever tasted in your life."
Ben smiled weakly, holding the tissue up to his nose. "Thad souds gread." Though he sounded terrible, himself, and Quinn was too polite to point this out. He lay back on the bed, snuggling beneath the blanket, finishing up the first box of tissues as he watched Quinn prepare dinner across the room. His eyelids heavy with fatigue, he drifted in and out of sleep, seeing Quinn washing celery one moment then chopping carrots the next. Watching Quinn slide a chopping-board full of something into the bubbling pot on the stove, and then shaking some spices into it during what seemed to be the next moment.
He sat up and accepted the steaming hot bowl when it was brought over, hoping he could stay awake long enough to eat it. And while it looked good, he couldn't taste most of it. Ben assumed it must be packed with spices and flavors, and regretted not being able to sample them, but his head felt full of congestion and all he could taste from the soup was a bland chicken flavor and lots of warmth. "By head feels lige id's stuffed wid codded," he complained after Quinn asked how it was. "Bud if I could sbell id or tasde id, I'b sure id'd be gread."
Quinn laughed, kissing his forehead and taking the empty bowl back to the sink. He returned with a small jar and knelt down on the bed beside Ben. "Unbutton your shirt," he commanded, pulling the blanket quilt to Ben's waist. Ben eyed the jar curiously but complied, his fingers sloppily undoing the buttons of his pajama top.
Quinn took two tissues from the box and tucked them into Ben's hand, raising it to his chin for easy access. Then he unscrewed the lid of the jar. A strong smell filled the air, and Ben immediately felt his nose tickle. He closed his eyes, burying his face into the tissues at once. "uhhhKIFFChuhhh! uhhhKIXXShhhhh!" He blew his nose furiously, tossed the tissues over the side of the bed to the can, and pulled another out of the box, already sniffling again. He waved the tissue at the jar, trying to fan the fumes away. "Whad is thad?"
"This," he said, angling the jar so Ben could see the goop inside, "Is going to make you feel much better." He dipped three fingers in, and Ben's eyes grew wide.
"Oh doe you dod't! You're nod..." his hand tightened on the tissue as the urge to sneeze seized him, but he tried anyway. "Nod... nod rubbig thad... od... od be..." unable to speak now, he pulled his shirt closed in the middle and slid a little more beneath the quilt. "hehhhKERChhhhhhh! uhhhhKRTChhhhh! KETSChuhhhhh!"
Quinn set the jar down, then used his free hand to pluck two tissues from the box. He held them up to Ben's face. "Blow, Benji." Ben, slack jawed with another urge to sneeze, obeyed this command as well, and felt better afterwards, nose temporarily satisfied. "Now, I will be rubbing this on you," he said, pulling the blanket down and Ben's shirt open. "And you'll see."
"Bud it sbells so sdrog..." the congested complaint was drowned out by Quinn clearing his throat in indication that Ben should be patient and wait to see before making such judgments. Patiently, Ben waited, though swearing to himself that even should foul-smelling goop make him feel a little better, he still wouldn't be glad for the treatment. A moment later, a sigh and a pleasurable moan escaped his lips without authorization and it was much too late to recall them as he saw Quinn smile approvingly.
The cream, which was tinted green and looked slightly metallic when it caught the light, was warm against his chest, sinking in and seeming to soothe his lungs beneath. The pressure from Quinn's rubbing was the most relaxing sort of massage he could possibly imagine. The scent, which at first had been so strong that even with his stuffy nose smelled putrid, now overpowered him, clearing his sinuses almost magically. His nose still ran a little, and Quinn supplied the tissues immediately, as though reading his mind. But the itchy tickling that had made him constantly feel the need to sneeze had been soothed to nothingness. He felt his eyes close as he took it all in.
Quinn continued rubbing until a generous amount had been rubbed into Ben's entire chest. Then he ended the session with a gentle kiss to Ben's lips. Ben, practically comatose in a state of pure relaxation, opened his eyes wider than minutes before at the sight of the cream. "Don't kiss me!" he exclaimed, horrified, his congestion drastically reduced. "You'll catch my cold if you do that!"
With a light chuckle, Quinn fought past protests, head turning, and arm flailing, to kiss him again, harder this time. "My dear, Benjamin. I'm already destined to catch your cold. That part is utterly inescapable. I catch everything that goes around at school. It doesn't matter if it's the lad in the back row of the seven-hundred-seat classroom who has the sniffles, for I will still come down with them just the same. It's my curse to be in love with a profession that exposes me to so much of it."
Ben looked momentarily speechless, and Quinn chuckled in the silence. "To look upon this weakness of mine favorably, I am an expert at being sick. And who better to take care of you than an expert patient?" he added, giving a third kiss which was not blocked by the stunned Ben.
"There is no need to feel badly about sharing your germs with me," Quinn said, reading the guilt from his expression. "It is unavoidable, as you are sick, and would only be an energy consuming, fruitless effort to try and prevent it. Besides, I would much rather touch you and hold you to care for you than administering treatments clinically and keeping my distance by sleeping on the couch." He stretched out on the bed beside Ben and held an arm out to him. "And something tells me that you would prefer the sweet, tender touches as well."
With a few coughs that sounded much healthier than the one earlier in the day, Ben nodded. He scooted closer and wrapped an arm around Quinn's middle, holding him securely. "You know me so well, Quinton," he answered, pressing his cheek into Quinn's upper arm.
"As I said," he whispered back, stroking a hand against the top and back of Ben's head, "I know well what it feels like to be sick. It would make little sense to avoid using that knowledge to benefit the man I love."
A soft, shy smile broke out on Ben's face, though Quinn could see but hints of it from the angle at which they laid with arms around each other.
Quinn woke in the middle of the night to cold against his chest. The covers were a tangle of blankets and sheets, but he did not spot the quilt anywhere. A dim light shown across the room, lighting a visage that looked pained and full of concentration. "Ben," he called over in a whisper which seemed appropriate for the darkened room. "Come back to bed."
Shaking his head, Ben looked up and over. "I should'd," he said. Tissue in one hand, he gave a stuffy snuffle into it. "I'll wage you ub wid by sdeezes. You hab a full day of worg today."
Quinn's face broke into a smile. He had not woken from sound of sneezes, but the chill of the room filling Ben's empty spot in bed. It was freezing cold in the apartment, and the bare wood floors did not help matters any. The warmest place to be was in bed together, and for the sick man to refuse such refuge was cause to worry and scold.
He pulled the top blanket with him as he climbed out of bed, crossing the room to the couch where Ben was stretched out, trying to read again. "That is not your concern. And if you refuse to go back to bed, I'll just have to stay up over here and read to you again."
Ben's head shook again, more fervently. "You should go bag to bed. I'll be all right. I'b just... sdeezey..." As though to prove this point, his nostrils twitched. Quinn looked for the tissue box instinctively, but though Ben had it close at hand, he held his hand up to his face instead. His palm cover his mouth and his index finger pressed against the bottom of a nose which was starting to look a bit red to go with his a bit peaked look. "uhhhehkxxxxt! uhhxxshttt!" he sneezed. Then he brought a tissue to his nose and blew heartily but quietly. "See?" he said, when he'd finished. "I cad be quied. You cad go back to bed add ged sub sleeb."
Quinn sighed and settled onto the end of the couch, the only part not taken up by Ben. He rubbed the man's legs through the blanket, then worked down to his foot, massaging through the quilt. "The reason I will stay up is not because you're too loud to allow me to fall back to sleep. I want to take care of you because I want to make sure you get better as soon as possible and I want to lessen your suffering as much as I can. It is becoming quite clear to me that you are not the sort of patient used to taking it easy or being taken care of," he said, taking the book from Ben, turning down the corner to mark the spot, and then tossing the book across the room. Rather, he slid it across the wood floors, not wanting to hurt the book any but trying to make a point. "If I have to stay up all night in order to teach you how to relax and let me help you, I shall."
Ben hung his head, smiling. "All right, you win. I'll go back to bed with you."
Laughing, "Don't make it sound so appealing!"
Ben's smile turned into a laugh as well. "I'b sorry. I mean- blease, by hudky brofessor, take be back to bed." He held his arms out.
Quinn had him take hold of the quilt and tissues, then lifted the man in his arms. Quinn was older, yes, but that had nothing to do with his strength. The other man was a bit shorter and a bit skinnier, and fit in his arms nicely during the trip back to bed. Blankets were replaced to warm them, pillows rearranged to give Ben's head more height to accommodate his congestion, and the two snuggled together under the covers.
It wasn't five minutes before Ben grew uncomfortable in the position, and shifted around so that he lay on his back. But when coughing seized him, Quinn rolled him over on his side to quiet him. Ben smiled as warmth in the form of Quinn wrapped around him from behind. Quinn pressed his body close, draping his arm over, nuzzling into the back of Ben's neck. Ben closed his eyes, preparing to go back to sleep. But the tickle in his nose seized him again and he had not the energy to turn back around and search for the tissues. "uhhh-KUHTchhhhh! uhhKIXTShhhh! ehhhKTUShhhhhh!" he sneezed freely, rubbing his hand at his nose afterwards, needing a tissue. Gathering what little strength he had left, he turned onto his other side, and found Quinn waiting with a tissue for him. "Dags," he thanked the man, and blew his nose. Then took another tissue and repeated the process until he didn't feel like blowing his nose any more. It wasn't clear, but he was too worn out to care.
Quinn collected the used tissues that sat on the bed between them. "Doe... you dod't hab do..."
"Hush," Quinn said, placing a kiss on his forehead. "Let me take care of you." He reached over Ben to his side of the bed, dropping the used tissues over the side and into the trash can. Then he brushed his hand alongside Ben's face a few times. "Close your eyes and try to get some rest." He plucked out a tissue, folded it, and wiped gently at Ben's nose. "Just rest..." he whispered. Ben grabbed his wrist and gestured for him to hold the tissue there. "Nose running again?" Ben swallowed hard, then breathed out heavily, the congestion clouding his breath. Quinn alternated tissues as needed as Ben drifted in and out of sleep. Every time he started to nod off, his nose or throat or something in between would wake him up again.
He tried lying on his stomach, but his ribs seemed weak and it hurt his lungs to fight for air with his weight upon them. Then he tried his back, but coughed too much again. Back on his side, he couldn't quite get his head to hit the pillow in a comfortable way, and the blankets were too heavy, then not warm enough. He lifted a leg and rested it on between Quinn's bent ones as he lay on his side, facing Ben. He closed his eyes again, sniffling terribly even though Quinn helped him blow his nose as often as needed. Finally, he gave a frustrated sigh and shook his head. "See? I jusd cad fall asleeb."
"That's all right," Quinn said, plumping his pillows to help him sit up a little more. "Sleep is, in my estimation, highly overrated. When one is sleeping, one is altogether completely unproductive. Then there is the matter of getting just enough sleep to feel rested, and yet not too much or you will feel sluggish all day. Then there are the nightmares which can terrify you for days after you have them. There are the sweet dreams that are so sweet you cannot reconcile the fact that they were but dreams. And there are the dreams that fade the moment you wake, when you know there was something important to be felt but cannot think what it might be." He stopped, quickly switching tissues at Ben's nose for he had the look of another sneeze coming on. Apparently his ramblings had not had the desired effect of putting Ben to sleep.
Ben's breath hitched and his face went slack along with his jaw. "kuhhhCHIXXShhhhh! uhhhKUFTChhhhhh! KIXShuhhhhh!" His nose wiggled around Quinn's rubbing it with the tissue, and it was clear another sneeze was on its way. Ben looked impatient as he tried to lure the tickle out with deep breaths. But the look in Quinn's eyes told him to be patient. And in mere seconds, that nonetheless felt like hours, the last sneeze struck. "huhhhhhhKRUFChuhhhhhhh! Ughhhh..."
"There, there," Quinn whispered in response to the groan. "No need to complain. Just lie back and sneeze when you need to. You're sick, you cannot help it. The sneezes really aren't that bothersome." And compared to the rasp in his throat as he coughed or breathed, the sneezes were nothing to worry about. "Why don't you just lie back," he stuffed more tissues into Ben's hand, "And I'll rub some more of that cream on your chest."
Ben brightened at the prospect of having his nose cleared again, even if the effects were only temporary. He slipped his shirt off completely and lay back on the pillows, holding the tissues up to his sniffley, runny nose.
Quinn sat beside him, rubbing slowly and soothingly with one large, strong hand, then both. "Close your eyes, my love," Quinn whispered, bringing his lips to Ben's softly in a kiss that spoke of unproductive times and sweet dreams. Ben's lips kissed back weakly. There was spirit enough behind it, but the weakness had come from his fatigue. He drifted off to sleep before Quinn had finished rubbing all the cream in properly. Quinn took the half-naked man in his arms beneath the blankets, covering him and snuggling him to be sure he'd stay warm.
Ben woke, expecting to see the morning sun streaming in through the curtains. But it was still pitch black outside in the cloudy autumn sky. He would have liked to have seen stars, or even the moon, but there was only blackness. Ben felt weighted down, not from the covers or his lover leaning into him, but from the congestion. It was all he could do to crawl out of the bed and head across the room to the kitchen area. He put on hot water for tea and swayed back and forth to stay warm in the chilly loft, trying to remember why he wasn't wearing his pajama top and where he'd left it.
He raised his hand to his face in his usual manner, the sneezes somewhat muffled but still loud in the quiet night. "uhhhKTChfff! huh-TChixxhuhh!" He sniffed wetly, the sniff sounding louder by far than the sneezes had. Then he wiped his hand on the side of his pajama bottoms and resumed his task of staring intently at the tea kettle, willing it to boil sooner rather than later.
Ben gasped, clutching chest and leaning on the counter for support. "Dabbid, Quidtod! You scared be do death!" He exclaimed, his voice rough, harsh. He would soon lose it altogether.
"A watched pot never boils," he said wisely, coming over from halfway across the room, his steps noiseless in stocking feet.
"Id's a kettle," Ben replied with a shrug. "Add it'd better boil because I deed sub tea badly."
"I thought we'd agreed that you'd stay in bed and I would take care of you?" Quinn said, keeping all hint of annoyance from his voice. Even if Ben seemed to be resisting his care, he still wished to show patience. Wrapping the quilt and his arms around Ben from behind, he gave the short-haired head a soft kiss. Ben shivered as the cool blanket touched his naked torso, but soon warmed up to it, up to Quinn. He closed his eyes and leaned his head to the side, resting it on one of Quinn's strong arms. He was a professor, yes, and though his normally conservative clothes did not show it, for every point in his high IQ he had a good measure of muscle as well. "I'll make you the tea." Quinn's words floated into Ben's ear on a warm breath, making him chuckle at the tickling sensation. "Go back to bed and keep it warm for me." He took the younger man by the shoulders, turned him, and gave him a push in the proper direction.
Once propelled into motion, he found that he could not stop until he hit the bed, not even as he heard Quinn's strong yawn or the clattering of pots behind him. His eyes closed halfway over, and he reached the bed, legs slamming into its side. He bent a leg and put his knee upon it. Then he collapsed onto it on his side, pulling all the covers around him like a nest. He was shivering, but not so much from the cold room. Ben couldn't quite place it until he felt the tender touch of Quinn returning to his cheek. With the man's strong arms around him and a warm cup of tea in his hands, his shivering slowed and stopped completely.
Ben could not be sure how much tea he had managed to drink, though his throat thanked him for every bit of it. He could not recall how many sneezes struck, but he remembered Quinn being there with a tissue for each and every one. He could not even remember falling back to sleep, but he had a vague recollection of Quinn taking the mug from his hands and kissing him so powerfully that he would have forgotten anything he might have remembered. But, perhaps, that was only part of a dream. All he knew was that, when he woke up, it was morning.
Quinn woke with a start, feeling the cold at his back this time. Though the covers had been thrown over him, there was a gap between his back and the blanket as he lounged on his side against the mound of pillows he had piled there for Ben. However, Ben was not utilizing them at the moment. Hoping that it was only a trip to the bathroom and that he did not have to scold the man for getting up to study so early in the morning, Quinn opened his eyes and looked around.
Hovering over him was a tray, and attached to it a smiling Ben. As Quinn sat up slowly in surprise, straightening his legs out along the bed, the tray was lowered to his lap, standing on legs just tall enough to avoid hitting his knees. It was packed full of breakfast, from a stack of pancakes to scrambled eggs and toast. There were several glasses of orange juice, a pot of tea, and two forks.
"I think you have this a little backwards," Quinn said, masking a yawn, not wanting to look or sound ungrateful for the unexpected feast. "I should be bringing you breakfast in bed."
Ben leaned down and kissed Quinn's forehead, though Quinn moved his head up, expecting a kiss on the lips. The result was a set of kisses that hit at awkward places on the others' faces. They laughed it off and exchanged a soft peck on the lips. Then Ben's hand swooped down and draped a cloth napkin over Quinn's lap in one beautiful motion that had Quinn chuckling again. "I cad't talk buch," he said in no more than a squeak to show that his voice had, indeed, left him. He walked around the bed to mount it from his side, rather than crawling across and potentially spilling the meal. When he spoke again, it was in a soft whisper, "Bud I wadded do bake dis as a dag you for takig care ob be. I dow I'b dod de easiesd..."
"You're perfectly wonderful," Quinn argued, stabbing a bit of scrambled egg with his fork and holding a hand over it as he guided it into Ben's mouth. "You just need to learn that I understand how you feel and that I want to do all I can to help you get better."
Ready to reply, Ben opened his mouth, but Quinn forced another forkload of eggs in. "Save your voice. Let it heal." Chewing, Ben nodded obediently. Even he could not fight that one. But he did gesture for Quinn to eat some as well.
After helping himself to some tea, Quinn took a bite of the warm pancakes. The tastes of soft buttermilk and sweet syrup swam wondrously in his mouth. It was so good, in fact, that he was forced to close his eyes in order to savor each delightful moment.
Quinn's eyes snapped open as he heard a sharp intake of breath. He had guessed it to be a sneeze, and his hand reached automatically for the tissue box. But it turned out only to be Ben, waiting in anticipation for a report on the meal's quality. His eyes begged for an answer, and the flushed cheeks against his pale face betrayed his desire for his lover's approval.
Quinn smiled and nodded, placing a sugary kiss on the man's red cheek. "Utterly fantastic. You've outdone yourself, my love." Ben beamed. "More than worth skipping my morning at the campus gym." The sudden brooding look on Ben's face made Quinn laugh. "No, of course I had no intensions of leaving early to hit the gym. I want to stay here as long as I possibly can." Ben's face brightened at the answer and he snuggled up against Quinn, opening his mouth expectantly for the next forkful that was already making its way over.
Quinn finished the pancakes and split the rest of the eggs and toast with Ben, who, despite putting on a very brave front as he had in the lab the previous day, was worse by far. As Ben nursed a cup of tea, his nose began acting up again. Though to say again would imply that there had been a time when it had not been. As he reached for a tissue, Quinn's hand got to the box first, supplying him with several. Then Quinn's strong hand gently massaged his upper arm in a comforting sort of way.
His breath hitched, his jaw dropped, and a shudder raced through his whole body, causing Quinn's hand to slide from his arm to around his shoulders in a hug. "hehhKTCHhhhh! uhhhKXTChhhh! uhhhTXXShhuhhh! Uhhh... uhhhHKTChushhh!" He bent forward at the force of the sneezes, but leaned back afterwards to the comfort of Quinn's touch. Even struggling with a terribly tickly and runny nose after the sneezes wasn't so bad when Quinn's arm was around him. He winced as he cleared his throat and Quinn took his cup of tea, refilling it. When he handed it back, his hand slid over Ben's, guiding it up to his mouth for a few long sips. His throat, strained from the sneezes and congestion, apparently felt much better for he smiled and nodded a thank you.
Quinn drew Ben close, with another strong kiss to the temple and a hug. As he nuzzled his cheek against Ben's, their eyes glanced off the others'. They pulled back, eyes locked, speaking wordlessly to each other. The apartment was silent, what with even Ben's snifflings coming to a stop for the brief moment. Ben's eyes were soft, full of hurt, but full of understanding, while Quinn's were sympathetic and regretful. Finally Ben looked away and nodded. He dropped a handful of tissues to squeeze Quinn's hand, then took the napkin and tray from Quinn's lap to signal he was all right with Quinn leaving. So Quinn pulled from the bed and crossed to the dresser. He looked back to be sure Ben was all right before leaving for a shower.
Upon his return, dressed in a rather casual style suit and tie for work, he deposited another box of tissues beside Ben and tucked the covers around the younger man. "huhhhhhh... huh-CHUHshhhhh! Uhhh-KEPTCHHH!" Though Ben had taken to holding another tissue below his nose all the time now, Quinn pulled out another to help him with blowing his nose, wiping so gently against the chapped nose that there was only relief, no pain. For a man who was so strong in addition to being so smart, he also had the softest touch Ben could imagine.
With a smile, Ben reached up and tugged on Quinn's tie, pulling him close. He placed a gentle kiss goodbye on the man's lips. Then he sniffled and straightened Quinn's tie, retreating back against the pillows and beneath the blankets.
Quinn smiled and adjusted his suit jacket upon his shoulders. He dug the cordless phone out from between the couch cushions and tossed it over to Ben. Ben nodded, tucking it under Quinn's pillow and looking back with a most curious look in his eyes. Quinn nodded, fingers on one hand briefly brushing against the watch on his other, his eyes speaking the answer. Briefcase in hand, overcoat on, he headed to the door.
His hand on the doorknob, the professor paused at the sound of the sneezes, and the painful, wheezing breaths that followed. Quinn's eyes were closed, his back to the bed, but he could still see an image of Ben in his mind, lying cold beneath the covers, miserably going through tissue after tissue, picking up a book to entertain himself during the long day he would be spending in bed.
The briefcase slipped from his fingers, hitting the ground. Quinn locked the door and turned, then quickly crossed the room, slipping out of his coat, scarf. He then extricated himself from the suit jacket and tossed it and his tie off onto a random chair. He knelt down on the bed, easing the tissues from Ben's hand, which fell away at once, tired of being constantly raised to hold the tissues to his face. Quinn rubbed gently at Ben's nose as he kicked his shoes off, one after the other, over the side of the bed. His free hand undid the buttons of his shirt, then his fly. He pulled back to stand, shedding shirt and pants and leaving them in a pile on the floor as Ben raised the covers for him. Quinn slid under them, wearing only an undershirt and boxers.
Ben nuzzled against him with gratitude and with hesitation, in a way that asked to be sure Quinn was all right with the arrangement. In answer most certain, Quinn wrapped his arms around and affectionately cuddled him back. A relieved sigh left Ben's lips, making him cough a bit. Quinn already had a glass of orange juice from the tray now on the nightstand ready to calm his throat. They, who did not need words to communicate, shared one passionate, final kiss of the morning. During which, Ben gave himself up entirely, and Quinn made a promise. Throat appeased, runny nose taken care of by Quinn, Ben rested his head on Quinn's chest and Quinn began petting him. They lay like this for a few moments, soaking each other in, each glad for the other's welcoming company. Then Ben dug the phone out from beneath the pillows and handed it over to Quinn. One hand still petting his Ben, the other made the necessary phone calls.