Hot Toddy with Ginger

A/N: This little blurb is spurred by my own illness ... upper respiratory infection, ftw. So much hate.

I will be continuing Denouement over the weekend. For those of you who might be inspired to write a story with Denouement as a backdrop (little intermission fics or side projects), I welcome you to do so with open arms. Just stick with the running canon and don't alter what's already been written.


"You look like shit."

"I feel like shit."

Fiona's eyes are the spawn of motherly concern and child-like indignation. She's leaning so far backwards that it's plaintively clear she doesn't want to be too close to him if she can help it. Rhys fakes a cough just to see her scrabble backwards. His petulant grin is rewarded with a scolding frown.

"Scared of a little cough?" he taunts. The hoarseness of his own voice catches him off guard.

"Gortys said we're really close to that piece. We can't afford to all get sick now," her chiding tone makes Rhys wither guiltily. Tickles in his throat spur him to hack, for real this time, into the bend of his arm. Fiona's rock-hard gaze softens considerably. "You should go sit by the fire, though. Warm up."

Rhys' awareness of his own shivering is blurred only by the incessant throbbing in his throat and the tenderness in his joints and chest. He wobbles uneasily towards the still-burning campfire. Muscles and nerves come to a screeching halt with a sharp whistle behind him. He turns in time to see Fiona lobbing a coat over and has just enough reaction-time to catch it with metal fingers. It's definitely not name-brand apparel. Brown leather is worn to a faint ecru and there are patches where holes used to be, but the furred inseam is a huge plus. It's definitely one of the nicer things in Fiona's stash. Surprise riddles his face: it was an oddly compassionate act on her behalf. Rhys starts to call out with a 'Thank you!' and finds that the Con Artist must have disappeared inside the caravan.

The sleeves are a bit too short for his longer limbs and the zipper doesn't work. That's fine. It fits well otherwise. Exterior warmth is a welcomed sensation even if the interior chills still force him to shudder violently. Even the campfire can't get rid of those. But it does warm his cheeks and subsides the intensity of muscle cramps.

Vaughn's sitting up and fast asleep. Rhys envies the peaceful smile stretched wide across his jaw. He boredly scans him with the ECHO eye and is amused at Jack's input of Status: Knocked the fuck out.

"I can't believe you're actually enjoying this," Rhys tells Vaughn's catatonic form with a raised brow. His glowing white ocular settles into its artificial blue. Rhys tilts his head and quirks a lip. "I'm ... I'm kinda enjoying it too. Not the sick part. The sick part can kiss my ass. It sucks."

Fluctuating temperatures were probably the cause for his illness. Zipping through the Frozen Wastes greeted them with an environment befitting its name, a sharp contrast to what awaited the on the other side of the mountains - the Dead Sands' dry, arid atmosphere. The caravan must have felt the same way he did because the radiator blew as soon as they got one wheel into the Dust. That was three days ago. They were grounded until Scooter swung their way with parts.

It frustrated the hell out of Fiona, and that kept Rhys from dwelling in the caravan for too long. Jack instigating the hell out of him from the sidelines wasn't helping matters. The deceased man-with-a-mask was still irate at Rhys for telling him to piss off earlier that week - his little vicious digs made that much apparent.

Even the cyborg, twig-built Hyperion programmer had a threshold for putting up with bullshit. Seeing the hologram's slackjawed expression as Rhys wheeled on him with, "If you don't remove that stick from your ass soon, I'm gonna force it in so deep it'll come outta your mouth," alleviated some of his irritation and replaced it with satisfaction. Jack removed himself from the scene with a few choice words and Rhys was left beaming at his little victory. Then he noticed the very concerned expression Gortys was giving him.

Loader Bot bluntly asked if he needed his head checked, his sentence starting with, "I will not question your personal fetishes, but ... "

Fiona's parting shots towards the Hyperion lackeys were becoming more and more venomous. Each time Vaughn would attempt to defuse the situation with good, nerdy humor and have it backfire. Each time Sasha would reign her sister in with placating words. Each time Rhys would resign bitter defeat and slink quietly from the caravan before acid-laced words flung themselves from his mouth. He didn't want to say anything to make the scenario worse not when they were so close to finding the first Gortys piece, not when they were gonna be stuck together for the unforeseeable future, not when he was starting to feel a certain way about the duo ...

The Con Artist pair was quickly warming his heart and that was something he definitely wasn't counting on.

Fiona's motherly protectiveness of her younger sister made sense in the absence of an actual parent. Rhys speculated that there was no genetic link between them at all. They looked too different to share the same heritage ... which implied that Fiona took Sasha under her wing regardless of blood relation and cared for her as if they were related ever since they were young and on the streets. That nobility drove his respect for Fiona home - something he was apt to never confess outright. On good days, she and Rhys would banter and tease, collaborating on new and inventive ways to infuriate a prude Athena despite the numerous death threats. He often had to sit back and wonder what his younger life would have been like if Rhys had an older sibling, and how much differently he would have turned out.

Sasha was ... well, there was something he couldn't really put a finger on. She was several years younger than him but had all the maturity of someone who'd grown up way too fast. Their initial interactions were wracked with tension due to Sasha's seething hatred for Hyperion. Ever since their fiasco at the Death Race, that anger ebbed into something a lot more kind. He found it easier to talk to her than Fiona, sharing several late-night conversations about nonsensical things that didn't really matter and their jokes granted him the first barks of robust laughter he had in a long time.

Dependability, maybe?

That could be the case. He felt he could trust her. Some of the things she confided to him made it abundantly obvious she felt the same. Best friends didn't quite fit the bill though. Rhys felt precautionary for her wellbeing. He'd never been so blatantly defensive about anybody, but back at Old Haven with August pointing a gun to her ... Vaughn's endangerment was already enough to vex him, but adding Sasha to the list of possible casualties was just ... Rhys' chest filled with so much fire and his vision was clouded with so much red that he very seriously considered taking up Jack's offer just to put a bullet - or several - in her ex-boyfriend's noggin.

Of course his own violent desires scared the shit out of him and he decided to almost get blown to hell by a grenade.

Bottom line: he liked them. He liked the Pandorans. As a Hyperion, he really wasn't expecting that or the dread that came with thoughts of returning to Helios. And there was Handsome Jack to deal with. Rhys would have to tell them sooner or later - he knew that wasn't something he couldn't avoid.

Several knots form in his chest and Rhys is coughing again. He remembers he's sitting in front of a campfire and suddenly wishes to stargaze. Laying on his back presents him with breathing difficulties, so he rises, folds his legs, and caters to that hacking, rattling spasm of his throat. Spitting production into the fire makes him queasy instead of relieved. He closes fiery eyes and concentrates on the gradual filling of wheezing lungs.

Something cool presses against his forehead. He almost doesn't alert to the touch until he can hear Sasha utter an astonished, "Christ, Rhys. You're hotter than hell."

Hearing her voice prompts him into stirring, cracking open a human eye just enough to see her hazy silhouette and offering a lewd smile. "I know. Didn'cha know I was on the Helios calendar?" It's a blatant lie and she knows it. She laughs. He laughs. Then he launches into another round of 'who-needs-to-breath-when-you-can-make-your-throat-bleed-from-coughing-instead?'

Was she kneeling next to him? She stands, removing her hand in the process and Rhys finds that he misses her touch already. "Don't move." Her feet are carrying her away.

His response is several seconds too late. "I don't plan on it."

Rhys leans back, his foggy mind focusing on nothing in particular and he feels claustrophobic despite nobody but Vaughn being nearby. His ears can hear everything. A Skag was sniffing around way too loudly in the distance. Rakks where chittering to one another, nestling in for the night. Whistling winds concoct a soft harmony as it slips warmly by him. Something kicks over a rock. Vaughn is snoring. The caravan door is opening and shutting. He must have dozed off for a moment. When Sasha wraps him in a blanket he startles and almost skitters away. A firm hand steadies his shoulder.

"Now you're a Rhys-apilar." Her grin thwarts the dank cold in his chest for a brief second.

"Can't wait to be a Rhys-erfly," he responds goofily. "I'll have the most beautiful wings in all of Pandora."

"I hope they're yellow. They'll compliment your eye. The normal one."

Are his ears burning? They feel like they might be, but the rest of him is cooking too much to differentiate body parts. His grin turns to the fire and he settles into the blanket with a sigh. "I feel like a stuffy marshmallow. Thanks, Sasha."

"You need to sweat that fever out. It's warmer out here than it is in the caravan." Rhys notices a glass in her hand filled with some viscous amber fluid. "Why didn't you say anything to anybody?"

"Er, well ... I was gonna tough it out ... " It sounds stupid rolling off his tongue. "We've already been here three days and you don't need a sick Hyperion exacerbating things. I mean, I'm surprised I didn't get left for dead already and I figured this'd be the last straw Fiona needed to call us burdens and kick me n' Vaughn to the curb - " Sasha's eyes flash at his words and Rhys immediately regrets them. "That, uh ... that came out a bit harsh, huh?"

She measures a distance between her forefinger and thumb. "A little."

"Eeeh ... sorry Sash." He didn't know when he started shortening her name. Sasha never complained about it, and the familiarity of it sounded nice. Rhys hasn't quite gotten to terming Fiona as 'Fi' though Vaughn tossed it around like it was nothing. "It's uh ... it's been a bit much lately."

Understanding encompasses her. Sasha settles next to him on the dirt, knees folding. "She was sick, too. No cough, just fever. I think you got it from her."

He feels both human and cybernetic eye widen in astonishment. "She looked and acted fine though."

"Fi's kinda touch-and-go with showing weakness. If she feels like crap, she gets super bitchy." It's her turn to express remorse to Rhys. "Sorry you had to put up with it. I'm really glad you held your tongue. I know you wanted to bite back."

Rhys scoffs and coughs. Sasha's hand on his shoulder eases the bronchospasm somehow. "Was it that obvious?"

"Your left eyebrow and lower lip do this thing every time you get angry." She mimics the motion. Rhys thinks she looks like a constipated horse. "You look like a constipated horse."

"I was just thinking that." He tries to laugh to no avail.

Rhys almost expects Handsome Jack to come jeering out of his mind, but when he doesn't appear Rhys is grateful. The AI must still be steaming. He isn't looking forward to their next encounter.

A warm glass touched his lips. The fumes reaching his nose both burn and smell sweetly delicious and spicy. It's a combination that makes his eyes water. Her free hand is cupping the back of his head. He's glad he doesn't have to remove his own arms from the blanket to hold the cup - Rhys is still too cold. "Drink," Sasha commands.

He complies. It burns going down - definitely liquor with a tinge of something like honey and ... and ... "What is that?" he chokes with a grimace.

"A hot toddy. I put some ginger in it - that should keep your stomach from rollin' around. Should have your symptoms knocked out by tomorrow."

"It burns."

"It's supposed to chase the sickness out, not take it to dinner." Sasha's laughing and Rhys can join her now. The blaze coating the back of his throat is keeping it from being overly sensitive.

She coaxes him into taking another sip. Rhys forces his arms out so he can nurse the toddy on his own whim and grasps the mug gingerly. It's warm against his hands and feels fantastic.

"That's ... incredibly thoughtful." Rhys' belly is on fire. He's sure he'll be feeling the effects of intoxication soon. With how tired he feels, he's sure that means sleep is approaching. "How's Fiona feeling, then?"

"Her fever broke this afternoon. You might've noticed her mood change." She was right about that. Fiona was uncharacteristically easy to approach. Rhys was the one avoiding her at this point. He didn't want to get stabbed when he wasn't looking. "She, uh ... she was actually gonna make the toddy for you because she felt bad for treating you guys like crap. Wound up sitting down 'for just a second' and fell asleep."

His eyes wander to the caravan. The door's shut and all is quiet. Athena must be asleep too. Rhys' vision stalls on LB and Gortys, staring off into the distance from their perchpoint on the caravan's roof. They're way too close and very content and he wonders if it's possible for robots to fall for each other.

A soft, comfortable silence settles between them. Several minutes must have passed. Rhys is down to one-third of his drink.

"Thanks," he murmurs. Rhys shakes his head and says it a little more clearly, smiling brightly at his savior beside him. "Thanks. For, uh, you know ... taking care of me. But you're probably gonna wind up getting sick from being close to me right now, you know that right?"

His body reminds him how much of a lightweight he is when it comes to alcohol. Sluggish speech notwithstanding, Rhys' eyes droop slowly. Sasha gently removes the mug from his relaxing palm before it can slip from his grasp completely, setting it on the ground. She then wraps an arm around his thin shoulders and pulls him in. Rhys is no state to argue. It feels too good anyway.

"Then you'll just have to take care of me, won't you?" she giggles.

His head ragdolls lazily on her shoulder. "Yeah ... yeah," Rhys whispers with a slur, "I'd totally take care of you."

And as his eyes close and his body falls limp, it only takes his hammering heart and churning butterflies in his gut to explain to him why it was so easy being in Sasha's company. It only takes his fuzzy, partially drunken brain to tell him that he's falling in love with her before exhaustion overwhelms what consciousness he had.