A/N: This is a new story that popped into my mind. I envision it as being similar in tone to Collide, so I hope you guys like it! It's turning out to be much longer than I originally envisioned, but I'm going to try to come out with fairly regular updates. I'm planning on having seven chapters (if you couldn't tell from the title, lol).
A big thanks to BillatWork and GCG for their thoughts and suggestions!
The lyrics throughout the story are from Snow Patrol's "Signal Fire."
The perfect words never crossed my mind,
'Cause there was nothing in there but you.
Sarah's mouth twitches upwards as she stares at the man standing in the hallway and grinning adorably at her. That smile. That smile makes her forget about the fact that she's spent the last two days retching into the toilet and sneezing until her nose is as red as a clown's. He opens his mouth to say something when she feels a familiar itch in her nose.
"God bless you," Chuck says.
"Thanks." Sniffling and wiping her nose with a tissue, she motions for him to come inside. "What –" She pauses to blow her nose. "What are you doing here? I'm going to get you sick."
He shrugs her off. "Don't worry about it. I have the immune system of an ox."
There's a silence as both contemplate his answer, Chuck pursing his lips and clearly wishing to take it back.
"Uh," he stammers, "but hey, I thought you'd be bored, since you've pretty much been cooped up in here for the past few days. So I brought you something." With another charming smile, he brandishes a take-out bag and a Wall-E DVD.
She raises an eyebrow, accusing playfully, "That looks like a cartoon."
"That's because it is," he laughs. "And an awesome one at that! Now you just sit down and get comfortable while I get dinner ready."
With a trusting smile, she obliges and flops onto the bed, watching him as he takes soup cartons out of the bag. From the smell of it, it's good old-fashioned chicken soup. Her smile fades as he readies their dinner.
She shouldn't be doing this. Her instincts are screaming that she shouldn't allow him to get this close, to take care of her like this. Although she values her independence, deep down, a part of her misses having someone to lean on when she's overwhelmed. And as she watches the man across the room, she knows she's too deep in this to push him away now.
"Screw instinct," she whispers fiercely.
He looks up sharply. "What was that?"
"Nothing," she answers with a smile. "What's this movie about anyway?"
He grins, and for the rest of the night, she lets him in. They cuddle on the bed and eat the soup he brought, and she manages to keep it down for half the movie. When her stomach finally objects and she's forced to rush to the bathroom, he's right on her heels, holding back her hair. Exhausted, she leans her forehead against the cool porcelain, and he hands her a wet washcloth to wipe her mouth.
"I'm sorry," she says pathetically, dabbing at her mouth.
He shrugs her off. "It's no big deal. I always used to take care of Ellie when she got sick."
"Yeah," she nods, "until Captain Awes . . ." She closes her eyes and trails off, too tired to continue the thought.
"Come on. Let's get you off the bathroom floor," he says, and she feels his sturdy arms wrap around her, hoisting her to her feet.
"But I want to go to sleep," she groans.
He lets out a strained laugh as they make their way into the main room. "Yeah, but how 'bout you sleep on the bed and not on the floor, okay?"
Smacking her lips, she realizes how disgusting her tongue tastes, how disgusting she feels in general.
"Wait," she says, and they stop shuffling. "I think I should brush my teeth."
Making more of an effort to support her own weight, she leans against the sink. Chuck fumbles through her cabinet, but eventually hands her a toothbrush with an abundant amount of cinnamon toothpaste on it. When she's done, she licks her lips, enjoying the taste of the toothpaste still in her mouth.
He wraps an arm around her back, and they make their way back to the main room. Before she can collapse onto the bed, Chuck wraps a thick, warm blanket around her shoulders.
"Okay, go," he says in a low voice, releasing her and guiding her gently onto the soft, inviting mattress.
He throws another blanket on top of her, and she snuggles into it, letting out a low moan as he leaves her side.
"Come back," she urges.
"Relax," he assures her, and a minute later, he returns carrying a waste basket lined with a plastic bag. He sets it on the floor next to her side of the bed and explains, "In case you get sick again."
She smiles at his thoughtfulness, the smile growing as she feels the opposite side of the bed sink with his weight and his arm slide across her waist.
"You feeling any better?" he mutters.
She nods. "But my stomach's still a little upset."
For a moment, a tremendous cold settles around her as he takes his arm away to reach for something on the table on his side of the bed. The cold dissipates when he nestles back against her, holding a bottle of Ginger Ale out to her. She takes it gratefully, the cool liquid sliding down her throat and settling comfortably into her stomach.
She swallows and says, "Thanks."
"No problem. Finish the movie now?"
Smiling, she nods. And even though this flu makes her feel like she could sleep for three days straight, she manages to stay awake through the rest of the movie. As the credits roll, she turns her head to look at the man lying beside her.
"Did you pick this movie for a reason?"
"What? It's a cartoon," he protests, and she can tell by the tone of his voice that he's nervous.
"Yeah," she says as she swivels to fully face Chuck, "but you can make your point with a cartoon."
He stares at her, his lips tight, and she stares right back until he gives ground. "Fine," he admits, and when she smiles in victory, he adds, "Maybe."
Her smile softens, and she sighs, coming a bit closer before saying, "They're you and me. Aren't they?"
He looks at her, his eyes clouded with uncertainty. "Who?" he asks in an attempt to evade the situation.
But there's no way she's going to let him off the hook that easily. "Eve and Wall-E," she tells him. "They're you and me."
A strained smile on her face, he nods and turns his gaze away. "If they can save the day and still be together, why . . . why can't we?" His voice is soft, almost pleading.
She brushes a hand against his forehead. Finding that she can come up with no argument, she defensively tells herself it's because she can't stand to see him crushed, to watch his crestfallen face as she hands him back his heart. But there's a part of her that knows she's lying.
"Maybe someday," she whispers, surprised at the truth behind her statement.
That's good enough for him. He rewards her honesty with one of his trademark smiles, and she decides that maybe she'll let him take care of her more often.
Despite her protestations, he stays with her for the next few days, looking after her every need. She's not a demanding patient, and they spend most of the time watching movies or playing board games. On the sixth day, she finally feels better, but he insists on staying the night.
"Just to make sure," he says, and her heart lights up.
Only she wakes up the next day to find him sleeping like a log. She shakes him awake so he can get ready for work, but he doesn't even open his eyes when he groans in protest. Placing a hand on his forehead, she's shocked by how hot it feels. And that's when she realizes he's come down with what she's had for the past week.
"Immune system of an ox, huh?" she jokes quietly to herself.
Chuck's not actually too bent up about having the flu. She wants to take one last sick day from the Double O, but he won't let her, assuring her that he'll be fine for a few hours by himself. She gives him a goodbye kiss on the forehead, her lips cool against his too-warm skin, and, to make up for her guilt at leaving him alone all day, she picks up a handful of gaming and entertainment magazines from the Large Mart on her way home.
She also drops by Chuck's apartment, where she and Ellie spend fifteen minutes trying to detangle his Wii from the rest of his gaming systems. Ellie's concern for her brother is evident, but so is her delight when Sarah mentions the situation, especially the part where Chuck will be staying with her for the next few days. Ellie's smile grows even wider when the two women pack a duffel bag with a few sets of his clothes. On her way out the door, she tosses the first few seasons of "Battlestar Galactica" into the bag as an afterthought.
Chuck's ecstatic when he sees that she's retrieved his Wii, and they spend the rest of the evening playing video games, their gaming only interrupted by Chuck's trips to the bathroom to empty his stomach.
The funny thing is that neither of them mind being cooped up in her tiny little hotel room. They haven't had a mission in a week, and, with Chuck out of commission, Sarah predicts another mission-free one.
Yep. A mission-free, science fiction-filled week.
A year ago the thought alone would have made her go stir crazy. But right now, it feels like exactly what the doctor ordered. They start the first season of "Battlestar Galactica" the night she comes home with his bag, and by the third day, she's so sucked into it that she's skipping her lunch breaks in order to leave work early and get home faster, just to see what's next for the "BSG" gang. She'd never admit it aloud that he's turned her into a fan, but Chuck brings it into the open when he casually mentions next year's ComicCon.
She had gone this past year for a number of reasons – to see what it was all about, to make him happy, but mostly just to spend time with him. A few days without covers, without missions. And she knows she'll be right by his side again next year, only this time because she'll actually want to take part in the nerd-fest that is ComicCon.
Last year, Morgan had tried to convince her to wear the Princess Leia costume from the previous Halloween. Backed up by Ellie, she had refused to don it in front of a crowd that size, and the girls and Devon had gone to "the Con" in plain clothes. But it's when she leaves open the possibility of her attending "the Con" in a costume next year that he drops a bomb on her – "Battlestar" is beginning the end of its final season this coming January.
She lets out an involuntary gasp.
He laughs and promises to get her caught up on the first three and a half seasons before then. She has to smile at that. Because even though he's the one who's sick, he's still taking care of her.
Murmuring her thanks, she grabs him another Ginger Ale before settling next to him on the bed for another round of episodes. Undaunted by germs, they snuggle.
And for the first time, she's afraid that this isn't real, that they'll return to the outside world in a few days, healthy again but forced to forget about this time together. She holds him tighter, not sure she'll be able to handle that.
The sickness gives her proximity; the living situation gives her privacy. They can converse without fear of being overheard here, though that doesn't stop her from waking up in the middle of the night to whisper to him. It's easier to talk in the night, and he's a good listener. They don't have to worry about shoring up their cover here, though that doesn't stop her from taking every opportunity to touch him. She feels his forehead for fever, she runs her hands through his hair, she even takes so much care wrapping a blanket around him that once, with a laugh, he accuses her of feeling him up.
Even after the initial onslaught of symptoms, Chuck continues to stay at her place. When he worries that he's giving her too much trouble, she merely smiles, placing her hand on his shoulder and kissing his temple.
Because if he spent almost a week looking after her, then the least she can do is help him recover from the sickness she passed on to him.
Give and take.
That's what relationships are about, right?