Hahshoo! Ah-ahshoo!” Sin sneezed into the crook of his elbow, the damp hidden by the black fabric of his suit jacket. Sin blinked at his reflection in the mirror. How Ducky had missed the tired circles under his eyes or the flush of pink at his nostrils, he had no idea. But this was his boyfriend’s first time seeing RENT and the tickets hadn’t been especially cheap for two college students. Even with a rotten head cold and a cough that came from deep down in his chest, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay home in bed, wrapped in a quilt, wearing nothing but pajama pants, sipping some of Auntie Al’s tea—


A chime sounded and lights flashed. Intermission was almost over. Sin pulled a tissue from the box on the sink in the National Theatre’s fancy gold bathroom. He blew his nose, feeling another tickle coming on already, and hoped he’d make it through the second act without disturbing everyone in the stage right balcony section.


He settled into his seat with whole seconds to spare. Ducky leaned into him, talking confidentially. “That number with them dancing on the tables? That was amazing. Is there more of that?”


Sin put on a smile. “You’ll see.”


The lights dimmed to nothing and the orchestra began playing “Seasons of Love.” Sin went to rub his nose, but Ducky gripped his hand in anticipation and he felt himself smiling genuinely as he rubbed his nose with his other hand.


The act started on an upbeat note and slowly went downhill. Trust issues. Drug addiction. AIDS complications. He felt Ducky tense beside him. But when the love-making began, Ducky squeezed his hand more tightly. Sin was busy squeezing his nose. There was a sneeze right there, desperate to get out. He could feel it building, tickling. He couldn’t even enjoy the moving sheets, the lights, the silhouettes, the lyrics. He waited for the right moment when the song was the loudest, then let it come against his sleeve. “HuhChoofff!


Ducky glanced at him, but Sin stared forward and Ducky turned back. Sin didn’t want to distract Ducky from the production. And he definitely didn’t want to be pitied or babied because he was a little sick.

At the end of the song, Ducky gasped and jumped in his seat. And, halfway through the next, silent tears streamed down his face. The red plush seats were small and confining, but Sin managed to slip an arm around Ducky’s shoulders. He dug a small package of tissues from his pocket and pressed it into Ducky’s hand.


Ducky didn’t question, just wiped his cheeks and snuffled quietly, breath hitching and breaking as sobs threatened him. Finally, he turned and buried his head against Sin’s suit jacket. Sin stroked his hand against Ducky’s dark hair. He wanted to whisper comforts, wanted to explain that it would be all right, that he wasn’t going anywhere. But he felt another sneeze and scrambled for a tissue from the pack. He got one to his nose just in time. Between that and Ducky’s shoulder, the sneeze was relatively muffled. “h’chffff!


Sin managed to keep from sneezing during the rest of the show. He coughed a few times, but that was all. When the curtain call came, the math grad student sprang up and applauded loudly. Sin knew the enthusiasm wouldn’t be heard from way up in the balcony, but the jock stood and joined in as one of many, thanking the actors and musicians and technicians and director in creating a work that had united them and moved them.


“I hear that some of the actors sign autographs after the show!” Ducky said, practically bouncing as he hugged his playbill to his chest as they slowly made their way down the multiple staircases, packed with theatre patrons from the balcony and mezzanine levels. Sin rubbed at his nose and, when Ducky turned his head, hope in his eyes, Sin didn’t lower his hand fast enough. It took the man only a moment. “But I’m beat. How about we just head back to your place? Feels like a night of pajamas and snuggling under a blanket, doesn’t it?” He handed back the pack of tissues.