This, like 'Without Control' was inspired by the above jeans add. I'm not quite sure why it's drawn my attention for so long, but I suppose inspiration can come from the oddest of places.Enjoy! J

It was a day's walk up and around a mountain to the spot where the rivers came through. Patrick and I were with a group of friends who'd been planning to go river rafting for some time. It had taken months to arrange but Robert, our group's unofficial leader, held fast in the mission. Finally, a weekend was decided on, and we all cancelled our plans, packed our gear, and drove to the selected spot.

The place was beautiful, as it was the middle of June. The trees springing to life, full with bright green leaves, the flowers all in bloom, the squirrels and chipmunks scurrying around after each other. The air filled with freshness, romance, adventure, warmth… and pollen.


Lots of pollen. "Bless you, Patrick."

He sniffed, rubbing his handkerchief under his nose. In a stuffy voice, he replied, "Thank you."

Patrick's allergies had been acting up since lunch. They were quite interesting to observe, though, I had to give him credit for that much. Some days he went without a single problem by just popping a pill. Others, he would have multiple fits every hour. He usually suffered without thought to them—it was just something else going on, not some horrible ailment that was cause for complain or sympathy. His eyes never itched or watered, and he rarely coughed. Sometimes I'd catch him drinking an access of water and I'd assume his throat were tickling, and pass him the cough drops without mention. But the sneezing… the sneezing was much more difficult to miss. They weren't so much loud, as they were strong. If he were standing, they froze him in place. If he were sitting, they pitched him forward. It was as if everything he was doing stopped for the few milliseconds it took for one to build and come out. Patrick was a very easygoing person, and was never bothered by them, just called them a nuisance if anyone inquired. Good thing too, because at the rate he was sneezing today, any normal person would be plenty bothered.

He and I were at the back of the line, hiking on the very narrow path. And every few minutes he'd stop, pull his handkerchief out from his back pocket, and hold it in front of him, level with his neck. He'd pause, breathing just a few short, deep breaths, then sneeze into the handkerchief, bending forward a bit to meet it. With his nose buried in it, he would blow his nose, and then wipe twice before tucking it away. Then we'd walk a little faster and catch up with them in half a minute.

At that rate, you might suspect it took quite a while to reach the river, but as planned, we made it in a day, staking out a spot by the water to set up camp just before the sun began to set. We worked on our tents, which we doubled up on. Then we went down to get the rafts inflated and tied down so we could leave early the next morning.

"ehhh-IIIhhhhshoo! Ah-EHHSHOO! EhhhSHOO! ehhh-Iiiihhhtchoo!" I looked over to see Patrick with one hand on a low branch; the folds of the handkerchief covered the other. He was having one of his full-blown sneezing attacks. I always felt inclined to help him, but I knew he could handle himself, and there was work to be done.

But I headed over, just to be sure. "Honey, are you ok?" I gently put my hand on his back.

"eeehhhTSHOO! Ehhh-Ihhh-IiihhhhShhhoo! EhhhhSHOO! Ehhh-iiihhhchooo! Uhhhh-Shuuushhh! Iiihhhhhsssshhhhoo!" Nod. "Ehhh-Ihhhhhshooo! FiiiiihhhSHOO! Fine. Go help theeehhhh…ehhhh-IhhhhSHOO! IiihhhTSHOO! Ehhhh-iiihhhhSHOO!"


"Ehhh-iihhhshoo! Eeeehhhh-TISHOO!" Nod. Nod. "ehhh-Ihhhshoo! Sniff ehhhhSHOO! EhhhIHHHSHOO!"

"OK." So I left Patrick to himself, though he was only a few meters away from us. I could still hear him sneezing as we set up everything. I was starting to get concerned when I felt his kind hands sweeping my hair from my neck and pulling it back for me from behind. I smiled, turned and kissed him. He was smiling as if he were having the time of his life. I had my suspicions that he was just covering his suffering, but he truly did look happy, and that was enough for right now.

"Hey, Pat, help me tie this down, would ya?" Robert yelled over, trying to secure one of the boats down.

Patrick leaped over, lending a hand. I pulled my dark hair up more permanently with the hair tie I always keep on my wrist. I watched him, seeing his hands make quick knots in the rope. I remembered that he used to be a Boy Scout. Then I watched his nose twitch and saw him reach for his handkerchief, lifting it up just in time. "hhhhheehhh-TUUSSHHH!" Yep, a Boy Scout… always prepared.

We headed back to camp to start dinner. I volunteered to help start the fire, and I hardly noticed Patrick's absence until I noticed him slipping into our tent. I excused myself and followed him in to see him on his stomach, lying on top of his sleeping bag, eyes closed.

"Patrick? You awake?"

He opened his eyes and nodded groggily. "ehhhh…ehhh-IIIiihhhSHHOO!"

"Bless you. Honey, are you sick?"

He shook his head. "No, just sniff tired after the hike and my eeeeh-iihhhhhSHOO! Sniff! My allergies acting ehhh… up… ehhhhhIIIiihhhSHOO!"

"So I see." I sat down, crossed-legged, on my sleeping bag beside him, rubbing his back gently. "Did you remember to take your allergy medicine?"

He nodded, burring his face into his pillow and sneezing again, the sound muffled, "eeehhhhmmmmmmph!"

"Bless you. Want a Kleenex?"

He shook his head, taking out his hanky and sitting up, burying the lower half of his countenance in it. "Hhhhheeehhhh-SHUSHHHHO!" He blew his nose and tucked it away.

"Sounds like you have a very tickley nose there, Honey."

Sniffling, and muttering to himself, "Stupid allergies," he nodded.

I patted his leg. "Want me to stay with you or can I go help make dinner?"

"Go," he waved his hand. "Don't let me stop you. I'm sniff fine. Go have fun."

So I gave his leg one last pat. "Ok, but I'm come back in when dinner's ready."


As I did, half an hour later, to find him lying on his side, in his sleeping bag. Beads of sweat poured from his face and soaked through his shirt at the neck and armpits. The tent didn't seem especially hot to me, but I suppose being under the blanket must be. So I sat down, unzipping the bag slowly and pulling it back.

He woke with a start, and a frightened yelp, startling me so much that I jumped back, almost hitting the pole to knock the whole tent down.

He closed his eyes, pushing the sleeping bag down and shivering. His teeth chattered as he ran his hand through his died black hair, drenched in sweat. He sat up sniffing, pulling off his shirt, rubbing his face dry in it; then he lay back down, shaking with chill.

I sat back, watching this, a little startled still. What could I say? "Um… Patrick, dinner's ready."

He moaned feverishly. "I'm not hungry. Could you just tell them sniff I'm asleep?" He looked over at me. "I'm ok, don't worry Sniff. Just tired. Could you? Please?"

Nodding my head. "Sure. Do you want me to bring back any food?"

He coughed. "No food. I just want to sleep. Go, have a good time." I thought it sounded as if he were trying to get rid of me, but he was so tired that I did not want to make any snap judgements. We'd both had hard days.

"Ok, then. I'll be back later."

"Ok." Sniffling, he brought out his handkerchief again. His face dropped, mouth open, nostrils flaring. "eeehhhshhh! Eeeehhheeehhhshhushhh!" He paused. "Eeeehhhshhhoshh! Eehhhhchusshh!" He sniffed. "Stupid sniff stupiiiihhh… eehhhhchhhushhh! Sniff! Stupid allergies, Sniff!"

So I left him alone again, my heart going out to him, wondering what he could be covering. There was something, I knew. Something about him wasn't right. He looked feverish, and the shivering was not a good sign. Needless to say, I rushed through dinner.

Patrick was fast asleep under his sleeping bag when I returned to the tent. I left briefly to brush my teeth and relieve myself. Then I changed and climbed into my sleeping bag. There was a chill in the air. For as warm as the day had been, it was certainly forty degrees colder at night, if not more. Perhaps the altitude accounted for some of it.

I snuggled up beside him, rubbing my hand up and down his bare arm, his bare chest. I closed my eyes, hoping all would right itself in the morning.

He groaned.

I pulled back, startled, then scared. "I'm so sorry! Where did I hurt you?"

He rubbed at his nose and rolled from his side to his back. With a sniff, he said slowly, "You didn't hurt me… I feel sick."

I propped myself up on one elbow to get a good look at him. He certainly didn't look well at all. "You do look a little pale."

He groaned. "Oh man sniff I hope it's not the flu. It was going around last week."

Patrick worked as an elementary school art teacher and got more than his fair share of ailments from the kids. He was skilled in avoiding all the bad stuff- bronchitis, strep throat- but when it came to colds, he seemed to catch each and every one. There was rarely a time from September to June when he wasn't sniffling from a cold, or a time from May to September when he wasn't sniffling from an allergy. He was just one of those people. I never minded it much. In fact it felt nice to pamper him and see him smile when I made him comfortable through his misery. Very few times he would ever admit his pain, but when his smiles were true, it made it all worth it. And I cared for him too much to get tired of nursing him back to health, for the short time that he remained there.

"I'm sorry you don't feel well. Anything I can do to help?"
He shrugged, sniffing. "I'm sniff sorry. I think I'll need to sniff cut the trip off early. I really need sniff to be back in bed."

I nodded. "Of course. First thing tomorrow we'll head back."

Then he said softly, as if he were reluctant to say it, "You can stay sniff if you want."

"Without you? Of course not!"

Sniffing, "I really am sorry sniff. Why does this always sniff, sniff happen at the sniff worst sniff times?"

I rubbed his arm. "It's all right. I miss home already. Air conditioning… showers… it's too hot and too cold all at once when we camp in the spring. It'll be nice to go back a little early."

"You… eeehhhhshhhhh! Sniff! You sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all! We'll leave first thing in the morning."

He snuggled up against her, not too close. "Thanks Kelly. Sniff! You're the greatest."

I gently wrapped my arm around him, making sure to give him enough space.

"Goodnight, Patrick Honey."

"Goodnight, Kelly."


* * *


Something about the bags under Patrick's eyes told me he hadn't slept well at all last night; I slept like a rock, as always. I whispered to him that I was going to go tell Robert we were leaving, and he settled back into sleep before I'd finished changing.

I found Robert down at the river, checking up on the boats.

"Ah! My dear Kelly! Just the pair of hands- I mean, just the person I wanted to see. Come, give me a hand with these knots, will you? My fingers are too big."

I happily obliged. "I came over," I told him, loosening the knots after a minute of struggle. "To tell you that Patrick and I are hiking back down. He's come down with something and needs to go back home. Bad timing… I know… I hope it won't throw off your plans too much?"

Robert patted me on the shoulder, taking the loose ropes from her. "Don't worry about that. We'll be short two, but we'll manage. I hope he feels better. Tell him we'll all miss him. And we'll all miss you, too, Kelly."

I kissed his cheek. "Thanks. I'll tell him. Take care and good luck today on those rapids!"

Grinning from ear to ear, "Thanks! We'll need it!"

When I returned to the tent, I found Patrick still asleep. So I packed up what I could, then squatted down beside him, nudging him, shaking him gently to wake him. "Patrick? Come on, wake up, Honey."

He finally opened his eyes with a yawn and a cough.

"I need to take down the tent. Can you get dressed and wait for me outside? Then we'll start back down to the car."

He nodded, pulling on jeans and a T-shirt, and tying a sweatshirt around his waist. He placed two fresh handkerchiefs in his back pocket and left the tent with his water bottle in hand.

I rolled up his sleeping bag and took out the gear before dismantling the small pup tent. I attached it to my bag this time, as he'd carried it the way up. I tried it on my back, deciding that I could stand another pound or so. So I transferred over a few more things, making his burden lighter.

When I finished, I looked around to see him sitting on a log we'd rolled over for the fire circle. His hair was a mess, his face pale white, his nose just a little pink at the nostrils where he'd been rubbing. He was hunched over, both arms around his stomach, rocking back and forth just a little.

I went over slowly, putting my hand on his shoulder as I sat in front of him. "Are you well enough to walk down?" What would we do if he weren't? Send someone to get a medical helicopter?

He nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. A little cold, but otherwise ok. Everyone came by already to say goodbye sniff a hundred times each."

I laughed. News traveled fast. "Then I guess it's time to leave."

He got up, wincing, but pretending not to as he collected his pack and headed back to the path.

"You all right with the weight?"

He nodded. "Fine."

I followed him down the first bend, wondering if it were just my imagination that made it seem like we were going much slower. "Patrick, hold on a second."

He stopped, turning, looking at me in question. "What?"

I reached out and hugged him. He hugged me back.

"Nothing," I said, kissing his cheek.

He smiled, kissing mine back. "Thanks, Kelly."

I nodded. "You're welcome."

And we continued down.

* * *

What Patrick had was most definitely the flu. We had to stop several times for him to get sick. The first time, he chose a tree, clinging to it as the nausea came quickly and unexpectedly. The second, third, and fourth times, he shed his pack, and went behind bushes, trying to be quiet about it. As nurse-like as I wanted to get, this was one area where I could not stand to tread. Just the sound, just the thought of someone getting sick makes my own stomach churn, even now. He was such a sweetheart to try to be quiet, but I must admit I was nearly sick to my stomach several times at the sounds of his dry heaves. He hadn't eaten all day, and was drinking water only, using it to rinse his mouth more than anything else, which made his vomiting much worse for him.

By the time we were halfway to the bottom, he was in a bad state. His stomach was more frequently upset, and strenuous walking was no help. He was sweating and shivering with fever, and dragged his feet as we walked. When I touched him, he flinched or moaned that he was in pain. I didn't blame him; I was sore from all the walking, so the aches from the flu in addition to it must have been too much too handle.

So I made the only decision I could, and while he was bent over, coughing and gagging, I set up camp. His stomach had picked a small clearing, and there was more than enough room to have a fire and set up a tent. I set to work on the fire first as I laid out his sleeping bag for him.

By the time he finished, weak and exhausted, I had a small fire already going. It had grown dark all at a sudden, and I was suddenly glad that I'd set up camp when I had; poor Patrick's state had surely made me lose track of all time. He came and collapsed upon the sleeping bag. He looked up at me with soft, innocent eyes, giving me the look he always gave me when he said "I Love You" but this time the words came out a little differently, "Please Kill Me."

"Oh, Patrick!" My heart went out to him. "You must feel horrible! I'm so sorry!"

"Kill me now…" he muttered. "My pocket knife's in my back pocket. I'm too weak to get at it or I'd do it myself. Please…"

"Patrick…" What was I to say?

"Just cut my leg off and let me bleed to death. It'd be much less painful than this."

I reached out to him but he moaned and went face-first into the sleeping bag to get away from my touch. I bit my lip.

Suddenly his whole body heaved, and I jumped back, wincing at the thought of what was to come. But this time it wasn't his stomach so much as his nose. "eehhh-ehhhSHhhhh! eeehhhhshhhh! EeehhhIHshhhh!" His hand was thrown back towards his pocket, groping weakly for a hanky. He groaned again, his arm falling to his side. "eehhhSHHH!" he sneezed, body shaking, then rubbed his nose into his shoulder.

"Bless you, Honey." This is just what he needed, allergies on top of the flu. "Did you take your allergy pill today?"

He nodded. "Yeah. It stayed down for about ten min… minutes… eeehhhhhSHHHHH! EeehhhhhShhhhhhhhh!"

"Oh you poor dear…" Of course he hadn't been able to keep it down; the poor guy couldn't even keep water down. I reached back and took out a handkerchief for him to use, resting it at his nose.

"Hold it?" he asked stuffily.

So I did, feeling a bit nervous to do so. But he blew strong and hard, and then rubbed his nose against it before nodding his head to signal that he was done. "Thanks," he whispered.

This was certainly the worst I'd ever seen him, and it made me feel horrible to realize how very little I could do for him. But it was worse to realize how very little he could actually do for himself. Aside from moaning and flailing limbs, his abilities seemed no more than those of a coma patient.

"Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?" I asked softly, wanting so much to embrace him and tell him everything was going to be fine. However, I was sure to add quickly, "Aside from murder?"

But he hadn't smiled at my attempted joke. He only shook his head, then shivered from cold. "Just don't do sniff anything. And don't go away."

I frowned at the first line, but the second had sparked at least a small grain of hope within me. Moral support, at least I was still good for that.

"Kel?" he swallowed.

"Yes, Honey?"

He clasped a hand over his mouth, mumbling through it, "I'm… gonna be… sick…"

I jumped back. I didn't want him to be sick there, in front of the fire, on his sleeping bag. But I wasn't about to—

"Uuuggghhhh…" he was trying to get up on his own, to spare me the discomfort—and it was clearly killing him.

Caught between the proverbial rock and hard place, I did the only thing I could do, which was pull him to his feet and forward a yard or two to the trees. He collapsed onto his knees, his arms wrapped around his stomach. He coughed a few times and I patted his pack, but then he reached around, pushing me back. "Go!" he yelled, and I suddenly realized that he was trying to hold back on my account.

So I backed up, closing my eyes. So much for proverbs…

His body went through the motions again, which seemed to take forever.

It was somewhat easier this time, on me at least, and by the end I realized the unsettling feeling in my stomach was simply that- a feeling. Nothing had come of it all day—nothing but a man I had grown so fond of retching helplessly, feverish and alone. It was then that I felt absolutely terrible.

I returned to him just as he was finished, gasping for breath, spitting. I gave him his water bottle and let him rinse his mouth out. The water was warm from being near the fire, but he didn't seem to notice, or care. His hands were trembling as he handed it back to me. Then I realized that it wasn't just his hands.

With a moan, and perhaps even without meaning to, he fell against me. "H-h-h-h-elp-p…" he whispered while I wrapped my arms around him, holding him tightly against me. His face was in my chest, and I could feel the dampness thereon even through my shirt. His dark hair tickled my chin, and I only hugged him tighter, his body shaking almost violently against my own. I felt his arms reach around, grasping for me, as if he were holding on for dear life. I'm uncertain as to how long we stayed like that, but to me, then, with his shaking the way he was, it seemed like hours.

Suddenly his body shook with coughs again, but oddly enough it didn't so much as dawn on me to back away. I just held him close against me until the feeling passed, and then after. I could sense that those beautiful brown eyes of his had closed when I felt his chest press lighter against me, and I could hear his breathing slow. As if in reaction, his shivering slowed as well, and his body gently glided into a motionless state, weighing against me for all support.

"Patrick?" I whispered to see if he were awake.

"Uh…?" he replied.

"Back to bed?"

He nodded, licking his lips. "Yeah…"

Somehow I managed to get him back to his sleeping bag, which, with a motion of his hand, he wanted to be put into. I put my hand on his forehead, finding it warm, but not quite as much as I had last remembered it to be. Perhaps it was finally backing off. So, gently, I helped him into his sleeping bag. I put a damp cloth on his forehead, while I ran another about his face. His stubble scratched it, and his jaw moved gently around while I rubbed, as if in pleasant reaction. I did the same to his neck, and then his hands and arms. He shivered a few times, but his retreat into the sleeping bag was met with a soft smile, however brief. I lifted the bottle to his lips, then thought better of it. With the cleaner of the two rags, I moistened it until dripping, then guided it to his lips. He smiled, not sucking, but letting a few drops wet his pallet. His eyes closed again, and his body relaxed with a sigh.

Gently I kissed his forehead, then put the washcloth over it again. "I think the worst has passed," I told him, to which he nodded.

"Stomach feels better," he answered. Then one hand ventured out of the warm cocoon, searching for what I thought was water.

"Slow on the water," I told him, putting the bottle in his hand.

"No…" he said softly. His tough Boy Scout hand traced up my small, slender one, resting only when it covered it completely. "Slow on you, too?"

I smiled. "You can have as much of me as you like. Just wait one moment." I put down the bottle and pulled out my sleeping bag. I put out the fire to be safe, and put both our packs up, hanging from a rather tall tree a good few yards away, but still in clear eyesight, to keep them from any wild animals, and to keep those same wild animals from us. I leaned up against a tree and pulled him over gently so that he used my thigh as a pillow. He, again, took my hand, this time linking it in his.

My other caressed him, keeping the washcloth on his forehead, and pushing back his dark hair from his face. His face felt rough against my soft fingers from the stubble, but I didn't mind in the least.

I'm not too sure which of us fell asleep first, but somehow I know that we both slept soundly this time. And when we woke our hands were still linked tightly.

"Good morning," I said softly, seeing his deep brown eyes looking up at mine. I wanted to ask how he felt, but I was certain that was not the greeting he wanted.

"Good eeehhh… good morn… morning… eeehhhhssshhhhh! Eehhhshhhhh!" he sneezed.

I reached down into his sleeping bag to retrieve a handkerchief from his pocket. Swabbing his nose ever so gently, then holding it firm as he blew it, I knew that the day would be hard for him still, but with my help, nowhere near as bad as the day before had been.

"You want me to get your pill?"

He nodded. "And a… a… eeehhhh…" I quickly covered his nose with the handkerchief for him. "eeeehhhSHHH! Eeehhhhhsshhhhhhh!" He sniffed wetly and blew before opening his eyes and resuming. "And a change of clothes?"

"Of course. Bless you, Honey."

"Thanks," he said with a bit of a cough. He cleared his throat a few times.

The water with the pill were wonderful on his throat, I was certain, because he drank quite a bit of it. I warned him to take it easy again, and he nodded, slowing the stream, and swallowing gently.

"Yes, sniff you're right." He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

After doing a good job of changing in his sleeping bag, while I did the same with much more difficulty, I helped him to his feet. His legs were wobbly, and gave way halfway up, making him fall forward into my ready arms. "Whoa, baby!" I said, clenching my teeth as I struggled to keep him upright. I was nearly staggering under his weight, but when I pushed him to put him a bit more vertical, he found his footing and strength. He kept his hand on my shoulder, of course, but he seemed almost completely steady. "There you go," I said, genuinely proud of him. "We'll rest a little, then pack up, then rest a little more before we make our way down, ok?"

He seemed apprehensive. "I'm not sure I can carry…"

I know. I'll carry most of it. Then pull the rest. Might wear through the pack but—"

"That's fine. It's wearing in a few places alrEAD—" his legs gave out again, and this time I wasn't fast enough to grab hold on him. He landed heavily on his rear with a loud "Ooomph!"

I quickly squatted down. A broken tailbone was just what he needed. "Broken? Sprained? Bruised?"

He shook his head. "Hurts… help me up and we'll see."

I helped pull him up, and let one of his hands stay on my shoulder, while I guided the other to the nearest tree. I bent forward a little, patting his rump gently in a way which gave me no satisfaction at all. He gasped at the pain in one part, but seemed able to move around and flex… "Not broken. They'll be nasty bruises, though. I'm so sorry."

"Umph… it's not your sniff your fault."

"Need a hanky?"

His eyes squeezed closed, and his head bobbed up and down with affirmation. "Yes bleaseehhhh… eehhhhCHOO! EeehhhIHSHHHH! eehhhssshhhhh!" I'd managed to catch the third of his triple in the handkerchief, for which he seemed grateful, giving me a pleased sigh. "Blowig," he mumbled to me just before blowing his nose powerfully. I grasped the sides of his nose from underneath, guiding one nostril shut, then the other, just as I did with my own when I blew it. When he was done and I'd put it away, the grin on his face was enormous. "That cleared me up almost completely," he told me. "You're so good at that."

I had to joke at that one. "That's me, Kelly Cunningham, power attorney, fitness trainer, and damn good nose blower."

Miraculously, he laughed.

Not meaning to, I grabbed him round the waist, hugging him tightly. "I'm sorry," I said as I pulled away. "It was just so wonderful to hear your laugh. I, um, didn't hurt you did I?" That would have been the irony to end all.

He shook his head. "Your touch is the best medicine in the world. And your hugs are the sugar."

I looked at him, completely puzzled. Even I hadn't gotten that one.

His face, still adorned with a handsome smile, looked ever so happy as he broke out into light song. "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…"

I laughed, embracing him again, much more carefully and softly this time.

Then I helped him sit down, and he rolled up our sleeping bags, while I repacked everything. I had to admit to being rather hungry, but when I was moving our gear around, I noticed the expression on Patrick's face when it glimpsed food. I was not about to risk that on account of my hunger. We'd be home soon enough, I knew.

When I was done, I gave him a few more minutes then we both got to our feet, and headed down the rest of the way.

* * *

While the hike down was slow, the drive home presented no problems at all, as Patrick slept the entire way without waking once. He had snored, his nose still stuffed from allergies, but after feverish moans, even his snoring sounded delightful. I carried his things up to his apartment on the third floor(yes, of course the elevator was out of order), and even opened the door for him since his keys were deeply packed. He had given me my own several weeks earlier.

Patrick headed straight to the bathroom to wash up, change into a bathrobe, and then climb into bed. I joined him in the bedroom when he called for me, tucking him in.

Then I sat down on the bed beside him, running my hand up and down his leg through the covers comfortingly. "I don't want to sound like a worry-wart here, but how are you feeling?"

"Much better, all thanks to you."

I rubbed his tummy gently. "And how's your stomach?"

"Hurts a little still, but steady now."

I could have been gladder to hear that. "And you're still taking a few days off from work?" We'd both taken three vacation-days for the river-rafting trip; it seemed to me that he'd need at least that to recover. Given this week's caseload, I was pretty sure I'd cancel mine and go in, but he didn't have to know that.

He nodded.

"Good." I kissed his forehead and ran my hand once more over his cheek, caressing it. "I'll let you alone so you can rest now."

"Thanks," he said, smile fading into a heavy yawn. "Thank you for everything."

"Honey, I—"

"No," he looked me straight in the eyes. "Thank you, Kelly. I wouldn't have made it without you. I owe you everything. You're…" he yawned again, "so wonder…" and again, "wonderful…"

I bent over and kissed him lightly on the lips. "I'm so glad you're all right. And you're welcome."

He yawned once more, giving me a tired, sheepish smile.

"Now get some sleep. I'll call you tomorrow afternoon."

His nod was barely noticeable as his head sank deeply into the pillows of his soft, warm bed.

I turned off the lights on my way out, closed his door with a soft click, and then let myself out of the apartment, locking the door and stuffing the keys back into my pocket.


I stood in the hallway for a while, leaning against the wall to his apartment, thinking. Fright was the first thing that was triggered when I looked back at it. Never had I seen Patrick, or anyone for that matter, look so bad. His fever had passed quickly, thankfully, but at the time I had been scared out of my mind. And yet, I had taken him against me through it. I wouldn't have done that for just anyone. In fact, I could not name another soul I would or could do that for. "Patrick…" I said softly, though the 'I love you' stayed back on my tongue. Perhaps one day I would be able to say it. But for now, I would simply feel it. And with every kiss, every hug, and every smile, I would let him know it.