More Neff from me! I can't help it, they've stolen my soul. (And no one can yell at me now, because I actually updated "No Regrets." HA. HA.)
I don't own them, or Glee, or the song "Already In." Or Jon McLaughlin, unfortunately.
Something is wrong.
Jeff is well within his rights to be exhausted, having been up the vast majority of the night attempting to write a paper about gender biases (which, at an all-boys school, had felt a lot like a joke, but that isn't the point), but this is different. He feels kind of like he's wading through Jell-O every time he moves, and he keeps getting dizzy if he does so too fast. Nick is humming merrily on the other side of the room, and it sounds way too loud; Jeff kind of wants to get up and get some Advil, but that would require him to get out of bed, and he's not exactly sure how that's gonna go. He groans quietly, wincing when the sound elicits a few harsh coughs. No, something's definitely not right.
"Good morning, starshine," Nick sings cheerfully, wheeling around to face him. "You don't get up you're going to be late, you know."
"So get up, then." He chucks a pillow across the room, and Jeff watches in vague amusement as it falls uselessly to the ground a few inches away from his bed.
"Fail," he teases halfheartedly, attempting to clamor out of bed without causing himself extreme physical distress. It's successful enough that he manages to stumble over to his desk and down a few Advil, dry, in the desperate hopes that it will help his headache.
"Shut up. You love me, bad aim and all."
"You know it," Jeff replies, trying not to blush too hard at the truth in his words. This is what they do- -they say it all the time. It's just...well...it means more to Jeff than he'll ever admit. Instead, he just labors to continue getting dressed.
"- -there was a...Jeff? Hello? Are you listening to me?"
"I was talking to you." Jeff just blinks at him, and Nick raises an eyebrow. "Dude. You okay?"
"Oh. Um. Yeah, sorry. What'd you say?"
"Your blazer's inside out," Nick points out, crossing the room in a few quick strides and deftly tightening the knot of Jeff's tie. "Are you sure you're alright?"
"Totally," he manages, slowly shrugging off the jacket and attempting to flip it the right way.
"No, you're not," Nick accuses, freeing the clothing from his grasp and doing it for him. "You look like shit and you're barely functional."
"Gee, thanks," Jeff says, with a very weak attempt at sarcasm. Except now there's this ringing in his ears, and it's making it kind of hard for him to focus. "Doesn't matter. Have to go. I hafta turn in my paper."
"You have to go to sleep," Nick corrects him, carefully hanging the blazer back up and steering him gently back toward his bed. "I will give her your paper."
"'N I have a test innn...something," he continues, eyes widening in fear. "Nick, did I study for my test?"
"I don't know," he replies patiently, even though he's pretty sure that Jeff doesn't actually have one. "But can you just do me a favor and lie down?" He sits, but is otherwise stubbornly vertical, and Nick sighs. "C'mon, please? You need the rest."
"Your chem test can wait." It's a wild guess- -Nick has no effing idea what subject this hypothetical test is in, if it even exists, but that seems to have exactly the wrong effect, because Jeff is suddenly launching to his feet.
"Have to go talk to her," he blurts out deliriously, except whoa, bad life choices, because he'd kind of forgotten how dizzy he is and he's pretty sure the room shouldn't be spinning like this. And heyyy, is the floor tilting?
"Whoa!" Nick exclaims, lunging forward to catch him before he can fall. "Take it easy."
"Mrffff," is the quiet response, as Jeff clings to him, suddenly feeling like his legs are made of jelly; and on any normal day, Jeff would love the excuse to be so close to Nick. But right now..."Really dizzy."
"I know," he whispers, soothingly. "You gotta be careful, yeah? You're really sick. Either you lie down and get some sleep, or I physically carry you to the nurse."
Jeff sits down again and blinks, attempting to decode whether Nick is serious or not, and then decides that thinking makes his head hurt worse and curls up in the fetal position, shivering slightly. "S'cold."
It's actually kind of stuffy- -Nick had been contemplating opening the window to get some air circulating, before he'd realized that he'd be going to class in a few minutes anyway. Instead, he furrows his brow, concerned, and presses his palm to Jeff's forehead. He retracts it almost immediately. "Jesus! You're burning up."
"No. Cold," he protests, pouting up at Nick feverishly.
"It's really warm in here, dude." Nick tugs ineffectively at the comforter, which is totally trapped under Jeff's body. "If you sit up for like, a second, you can put this on and warm up."But Jeff just stares at him blankly, because now that he's horizontal again, he has no effing clue how he'd managed to get up in the first place. Nick's heart twists, and he nods. "Okay. Never mind, just...give me a sec." And he goes to his closet to pull out his favorite, fluffy down blanket and covers Jeff with it. "We'll email your teachers, okay?" he continues, as Jeff smiles a tiny smile and cuddles deeper under the blanket. "And I'll turn in your paper for you."
Jeff doesn't say anything for a long moment, and then, finally, nods.
"Do you want me to get you anything?" Nick continues. "I can make you tea or soup or something and get it to you before class."
But Nick's alarm clock is visible from Jeff's bed, and there are only five minutes until first block starts. And it makes him feel really, really bad, thinking about his roommate being late because of him, so he forces himself to reply, "M'okay."
It might have been effective, if they hadn't known each other for approximately their entire lives. "I'll get you some soup," Nick says decisively. "Do you think you'll be okay in here for a couple of minutes?"
"You're gonn'be late," Jeff slurs, and follows it up with a wheezy cough.
"It doesn't matter. They'll understand."
Which is so nice, Jeff thinks, squeezing his eyes shut tight as Nick walks out. Because it's probably a good idea to eat something. Except he already misses Nick, so how's this going to work while he's in class? I don't want to be by myself. And maybe that's a little childish, but he feels seriously awful, and why the hell is it so hot in here now? He kicks off the blanket and buries his face into his pillow, only to realize two seconds later that that really doesn't work when you're congested.
Nick is taking a really long time.
The clock keeps saying it's only been about ten minutes, but it feels like hours. And now Jeff's really sweaty, which is pretty gross. Why is this happening?
"Sorry, sorry," Nick exclaims as he (finally) bursts back through the door an indeterminable amount of time later, toting an entire thermos full of something that smells like chicken noodle. "I went the nurse."
"Why?" Jeff rasps, his voice hoarse from all the coughing he's been doing while Nick's been gone. He makes a face at the sound.
"She said it sounds like you have the flu, but that she has to call someone to get more meds, because it's going around and she ran out. Also, you're under strict instruction not to leave this room today, so..." He takes a second to study Jeff, and upon the realization that his anxious ramblings are doing nothing helpful at all, shuts up.
So. Many. Words. Jeff closes his eyes again and takes a few seconds to figure out what they mean, and when he opens them, Nick is perched on the edge of his bed with the thermos. "Did you get too warm? Because you should probably stay covered up. Try to break your fever that way."
"But it's hot," Jeff complains, a slight whine creeping into his voice, and damn if sick Jeff doesn't cut right to Nick's heart.
"I know," he murmurs, pulling the blanket back up and brushing Jeff's sweaty bangs away from his forehead. "But right now this is the best we can do."
His lips tremble, just a little, and he catches Nick's hand in his own. "I don't feel good."
"I'm sorry," Nick whispers, and shit, first block is already almost over, but he really, really doesn't want to leave Jeff like this. "Will you be okay if I go to class?"
Jeff's eyes widen and he very nearly asks, do you have to go? But he feels bad enough already, making Nick miss class to take care of him and stuff, so he forces himself to nod and reply, in a tiny voice, "Yeah."
"Are you sure?"
"Uh huh," he manages, and promptly lets out a flurry of coughs.
Nick lets go of his hand, even though he doesn't believe him for a second. "The nurse said she'd come by once she's got the medicine." Jeff just makes an adorable little mewling sound and buries his head into his pillow, and Nick wavers. "I...if you're sure you'll be okay, I should probably go."
"Wait, wait!" Jeff sits up quickly- -too quickly. Big mistake. He whimpers as he sags back against his pillows, closing his eyes and clutching at his sheets to try to steady himself against the harsh swell of dizziness.
Nick is back beside him almost at once. "What? What, what's wrong?"
"Can you stay with me?" Jeff whispers. "I- -I'm kind of afraid to be by myself. In case I get worse or something."
"Yeah, of course. Jesus," he mutters, half-scoldingly. "Just tell me next time. You scared the hell out of me."
"Sorry. I got scared," Jeff admits, kind of snuggling closer to Nick (who had joined him on the bed again).
"I'm not gonna leave you unless you want me to."
Jeff looks up at him through impossibly long lashes, and asks, "Why would I ever want you to?"
And Nick can't even begin to try to figure out what that one means, so instead, he just says, "I'm gonna go make you some chamomile. Try to rest, yeah?"
"Don't want tea," Jeff pouts. "Not thirsty."
"Yeah, well, I don't want you getting dehydrated, so you're drinking the tea."
"Ifff I drink my tea, can we watch a movie?" Jeff asks, his eyes shining hopefully.
"What'm I gonna say, no?" Nick laughs. "When've I ever told you no?" It's not their way, really, to say things like that, to even hint that there might be something else there other than friendship, but Nick can't help it. Besides, Jeff's still pretty delirious, and the likelihood of him remembering any of this in the morning isn't very high.
Jeff shrugs. "Mrf?"
"Mel Brooks?" Nick offers, as though he has to ask. Anything Mel Brooks has been Jeff's go-to sick day entertainment since forever.
So Nick loads every Mel Brooks movie they collectively own into the DVD player, unequivocally certain that Jeff will be asleep before the end of Young Frankenstein, and presses play to keep his friend occupied in the two seconds that it will take to go heat up the water. "If you want anything else, let me know, and I'll get it now."
Jeff mutters something incoherent, already half-unconscious, and cuddles with his pillow, so Nick just shrugs and heats up some tea for them both.
"Why're you all th'way over therrrre?"
Nick, who had gotten totally wrapped up in the movie within seconds of being back in the room, jumps about a mile. "I thought you were sleeping."
"Nope." He squeaks slightly, sniffling and tugging lightly on the back of Nick's blazer. "'S comfier ov'r here, and you're far away."
He swallows, hard. Honestly, he doesn't give a damn about getting sick. He's almost certain he's not going to get the flu, and even if he wasn't, he doubts that would have any impact on his decision whatsoever. But he had sat at the foot of the bed when he'd gotten back to the room so that Jeff would have ample sleeping space, because these are twin beds. Tiny, tiny twin beds, and he's spent way too much time thinking about Jeff in none-too-platonic ways for this to be...well. Not awkward. "Yeah, but you should sleep. And I don't want to be all up in your space."
"You should be," Jeff answers with an innocent smile, and were he not so sick, he'd have been horrified by the fact that the words had left his mouth. As it is, though, he can't bring himself to care, and, in fact, isn't quite sure that he actually said it.
Nick flushes. "What?"
"C'mere," he answers muzzily, winding his arm through Nick's. "Be my pillow."
"You have a pillow," Nick stutters, but he's already kind of half-horizontal, and he's not going to tell Jeff no now.
"Pweeze?" Jeff pouts, nuzzling up next to him so that his face is pressed up against the back of Nick's shoulder.
"I'm already lying here," he points out breathlessly.
Jeff doesn't answer, but somehow his arm ends up wrapped around Nick's waist, and Nick won't even try to fool himself into thinking he minds. But wait, holy shit, this is probably so effed up. Jeff is his best friend, and isn't there something slightly incestuous about being head-over-heels for a kid you've seen attempting to eat your crayons? And he's sick, on top of it. Jesus, he's taking advantage of his sick best friend. But...but...
"I love you."
"Hmm, l've you too," Jeff murmurs, snuggling closer, and Nick's heart stops. Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, I said that out loud. Shit.
"I- -Jeff- -I..."
"Shnffm," he replies, and Nick calms down as quickly as he'd panicked. He's asleep. And, well, even if he's not...it's probably fine. They've said it before. He won't think anything of it. Right?
The next thing he knows, the DVD's frozen and Jeff is curled up in the fetal position next to him, hacking up a lung and looking completely miserable. "She didn't come yet," he says in a small voice, looking, if possible, even more feverish than before. "I don't feel good."
"Shit, I'm sorry," Nick manages, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and sitting up. "I didn't mean to conk out on you."
"'S'okay," Jeff rasps, letting out a harsh cough. "I feel awful."
"Worse?" Nick asks worriedly, and when Jeff nods, "How?"
"My chest really hurts," he admits. "And I can't breathe through my nose."
Nick's been there many a time, so he fully understands exactly how crappy Jeff feels. He also knows what will help, so he climbs out of bed with effort, carefully avoiding Jeff's eye as he speaks. "Shirt off."
"What?" His voice cracks, and Nick feels himself flush.
"Do you trust me, Jeff?"
"So do it. I promise I know what I'm doing."
"O- -okay," he whispers, and Nick gets the small jar of vapor rub down from the top shelf of his closet. Not going to think about half-dressed Jeff, so not going there. Focus on helping him feel better.
"Okay." Jeff's propped himself up on a few pillows, and Nick's voice drops, gruff and low as he murmurs, "It will probably be better if you lie all the way down." And oh God, that came out really sketchy sounding, didn't it? He draws a deep breath and sits beside Jeff, whose own breathing is raspy and shallow. That's what finally shakes Nick out of his stupor. "You're going to be okay," he whispers, gently starting to spread the cold gel onto Jeff's chest. His skin is burning up, and he spasms slightly at Nick's touch.
"'S freezing," he whimpers.
"Shhh," Nick murmurs. "I know. I'm sorry. Just breathe."
Jeff inhales shakily. "I hate being sick."
"Focus on me," he urges the other boy, leaning a little closer as he slowly starts rubbing the gel in. Jeff's eyes, still bright with fever, are locked on his face, and he smiles a little.
Nick's still massaging, fingers dancing lightly across Jeff's bare skin, and he begins to sing under his breath, just loudly enough for Jeff to hear.
"It's you to me,
Your gentle face,
Overdue, worth the wait...
And out of my reach,
But I'm reaching out for you."
He puts his free hand on top of Jeff's, and is rewarded when the other boy flips his hand over and intertwines their fingers, stifling another hoarse cough.
"Me to the night,
I say goodbye.
The time is up,
I fight the time,
A needed award.
I can't afford
A finished song,
Or one more chord."
Jeff sighs, arching slightly up into Nick's touch, because by now the gentle caresses just feel nice. His eyes flicker closed, a small smile blooming on his face as he listens to his roommate's soft voice.
"And it's already in my mind
I'm in over my head inside
And it's already in my mind
"Why did you stop singing?" he asks drowsily, after a few silent seconds, and Nick laughs a little. Because that's the verse that fits us best.
"I don't remember the words," he fibs instead, finally ceasing his ministrations. "Did that help?"
"I think so." He yawns, and smiles like a little kid on Christmas morning when he manages not to cough. "Hey, Nick?"
"How come you picked that song?"
He freezes, and Jeff can feel the sudden, inexplicable tension in his body; but he can't find the words, in his current state, to ask about it- -or to let himself hope. "Why? Did you like it?"
"'Course. Love to hear you sing."
"It was...it just popped into my head," Nick replies, and some small part of Jeff registers vague disappointment. But then again, he doesn't really have a reason to expect anything else, does he? And Nick's here with him, and that's all that really matters, especially right now.
"Shut up, idiot. You're my best friend. I wasn't just going to let you suffer."
Jeff shakes his head bemusedly. "Except yeah, I totally get that, but you were so...I mean, Christ, Nick, you skipped class and Warblers rehearsal to take care of me." His own phrasing brings a blush to his face, but it's too true to be really embarrassing. "So just let me thank you and c'mere."
Nick snorts and allows Jeff to pull him into a bone-crushing hug, laughing as Jeff playfully nuzzles up against his neck. "Stop, you freak, that tickles!"
"Oh, whatever, you like it," Jeff teases, releasing him and backing away. And then, suddenly, his entire demeanor changes.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"No," Nick replies blithely, rolling his eyes. "You're not allowed."
He smirks despite himself. "Asswipe."
"You love me." He says it on instinct, but for the first time, it brings them both up short. "Anyway," Nick stutters, suddenly uncertain, "you were asking?"
"Promise you'll be honest?"
"Of course." But his palms are starting to sweat, his pulse picking up speed, as though his body already knows what's coming.
"I- -when I was sick, I thought that...I thought maybe, at some point, you- -you said you loved me." It is among the hardest things he has ever done to maintain eye contact with Nick in that moment. "And...and maybe I was delirious, but...it sounded like...like you meant it for real."
Nick is fairly sure his heart has actually stops. "Wh-what?"
"I- -I mean, if that's not...did I misunderstand you? Did that even happen?"
"I thought you were asleep," Nick blurts out. "I just...I didn't think about it, it just kind of came out."
His face falls. "I just...wondered," he almost whispers, and this Jeff is such a stark contrast to the one who'd been here only a few minutes ago that Nick wonders if maybe he just made a rather colossal error in judgement.
"What d'you mean, why? Why what?"
"I- -I dunno." Nick swallows hard and clutches the back of his desk chair for support. "Would you hate me if...if I told you maybe I did mean it?"
"I could never hate you." And now there's this hope in Jeff's eyes, and maybe, maybe everything's going to be okay, and suddenly Jeff is crossing the room and grabbing him by the tie, and oh.
"You are so stupid," Jeff practically growls, tugging him forward and kissing him. And Nick can't even think anymore, he's just acting, tangling his fingers in Jeff's hair to anchor their faces together. Jeff laughs a little against his lips, wrapping his arms around Nick's waist and pulling him closer so that their bodies are pressed flush against one another, and, playfully, nips Nick's lower lip. Nick gasps, letting Jeff's tongue sweep into his mouth and returning the kiss with a vengeance. He has been waiting, they've both been waiting, for such a long time, and now...now Nick is completely allowed to back Jeff up against the wall if he wants to and just keep kissing him. So he does so, trailing a line of tiny, open-mouthed kisses along Jeff's neck and smiling against his skin as Jeff gasps and clutches at the back of his blazer.
"Not fair," he gasps, even as he rolls his head back to allow Nick better access. He tires of this not long later, though, because hello, he can kiss Nick now, and dammit, he intends to do so as often as humanly possible.
Eventually, though, Jeff pulls away first, a little breathless, but smiling brighter than Nick's seen in a long time. "Jesus," he breathes, leaning his forehead against Nick's and bringing one hand up to caress his face, so gently that it takes away what remains of Nick's breath. "I have wanted to do that forfuckingever."
"Me too," Nick manages, trailing his finger lightly along the neckline of Jeff's shirt and grinning when the other boy's breath hitches at his touch. "So I think we should stop wasting time."
And then he kisses him all over again, and they only stop when they realize that they're late for Warblers rehearsal.