Disclaimer: Not mine.

Better

"You really don't have to do this, Ben. I mean, you must have better things --" Juliet was interrupted by a fit of coughing, which was perfect. Just how she wanted to look in this still fairly new, brilliant-with-possibilities relationship -- like she was hacking up a lung.

Promptly, Ben appeared at her bedside with a glass of water. "Here, have a drink," he said, holding it to her lips. She took it from his hands with a grateful smile and sipped at it slowly. "Actually," he said, smoothing her hair back from her forehead, "I can't think of a single better use of my time than nursing you back to health."

Juliet plopped her head back onto the pillow and rested the glass on her stomach, watching the light from the window prism through the water. "That's sweet, but really, I'll be fine. I just can't believe I'm sick. On this beautifully warm tropical island."

"You'll be better in a day or two," Ben reassured her, taking the glass and setting it on her bedside table. "But in the meantime, you're stuck with me."

"Thank you." She closed her eyes. It was so bright outside. "As long as you're okay with me acting like death warmed over," she mumbled. Ben chuckled quietly and she opened an eye to peer at him. There was a kind look on his face. Almost soft. For a second, her breath hitched and tears mysteriously stung at her eyes. She quickly put a hand over her face, telling herself it was just the light.

"Julie?" The bed creaked and shifted as he sat down. He put a cool hand to her cheek and she grabbed it, comforted by his fingers curling around hers.

The tears pricking at her eyes disappeared as quickly as they had come, and she croaked, "Sorry. I get stupid and emotional when I get sick."

His hand still on her face, he smiled and said, "You're never stupid."

"Wanna bet?" Juliet started to laugh, but it quickly turned to a cough. Ben rubbed her shoulder until it subsided. Who would have guessed he had it in him to be so attentive when she was such a coughing, sniffling mess?

After the divorce, when she'd been laid low by bronchitis for weeks, she'd prided herself that she hadn't needed anyone to take care of her. She could drag herself to the doctor, make herself tea and chicken noodle soup, pick up her own prescriptions. And doing it all alone meant that no one who was supposed to love her would look at her puffy eyes and red nose and be disgusted. She hadn't cried then; not once.

"You know what, Ben?" she asked.

"What?"

"No one's taken care of me in a long time."

He didn't say anything for a moment. Then, he leaned over and kissed her forehead. "It's my pleasure to do it. I just want you to feel better." As he looked at her, she felt a shiver run through her that had nothing to do with being ill and everything to do with the fact that no one had looked at her like that in a long time. "Should I let you sleep?" he asked her.

"That's probably a good idea."

With a nod, he got to his feet and made his way to the door. "I'll be in the living room if you need anything," he told her. "Oh, and Juliet?"

He hesitated, and she gave him a wondering look. "Yeah?"

For a second, he looked as though he was going to shake his head and walk away, shutting the door gently behind him. And she would wonder what it was that he had been about to say, what it was that had made that mingled expression of apprehension and adoration flit across his face. But then she'd fall asleep, and whatever it was would go unsaid, and maybe an enormous shift, a change in everything, would be avoided, or maybe it was nothing at all and her fevered mind was just running wild. "What is it, Ben?" she asked.

He drew a breath, quickly, and said, "I love you."

Her mouth dropped open slightly and a little, "Oh!" escaped, and they just stared at each other across the room for what seemed like an eternity.

Ben looked awkward. "I'm not expecting you to return the sentiment, but...I wanted to tell you."

"I...oh."

He started to close the door. "I'll let you sleep now."

"Ben!" she exclaimed, suddenly desperate for him to stay in the doorway. He stopped and met her eyes, his expression guarded. "Wait," she said, making him tilt his head questioningly. Breathing deeply to summon up her strength, she swung her legs out of bed and approached him shakily.

"No, Juliet," he said a bit helplessly, "you're supposed to be resting."

She didn't respond and for a moment, just stood in front of him. "I can't be lying in bed if I'm going to tell you that I love you, too," she said.

His eyebrows shot up. "Are you? Telling me, I mean?"

Juliet nodded and Ben wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. "You're going to get sick," she murmured into his neck.

"I don't care," he replied, pulling away a little -- as it turned out, only to kiss her fiercely.

And it wasn't that she enjoyed being ill after that, but for some reason, it didn't seem so bad.