Alan Humphries was cold. He was so, very, indescribably cold. And everything hurt; his bones, his muscles, his heart, his lungs, even his mind hurt. With every attempt at breath, he shuttered, unable to get even a miniscule amount of air into his system. Desperately, Alan grasped at his chest, as if trying to pry open his ribs and pull out his lungs. He wanted air, but anything he gained he just coughed up, like water from the lungs of a drowning man.

It wasn't his lungs that were the problem, though, nor was it the ribs that he so desperately wanted to rip from his chest. In fact, it wasn't any part of his body that was causing him pain, but rather what was attacking it.

The Thorns; the gnarling, brown branches that crawled across his chest, stomach, and every limb. The disease that was more 'deadly efficient' than Grell Sutcliff would ever be. That's what was wrong.

Tears streaming down his face, Alan curled himself into the tightest ball he could imagine; knees tucked into his chest, head bowed, arms circled around to keep him in place. If this had been in public, Alan would act much more composed, and likely make his way to a bathroom or somewhere else he wouldn't be seen. Now, however, he was home, sitting on his bed, the bedside lamp still turned on, as he had been reading before the attack had started.

Make it stop, he begged in his head, unable to form words as he coughed so hard the small brunette feared he may actually lose a lung. Please, make it stop… I don't know how much longer I can handle this..!

Suddenly, Alan was warmer. He felt his lithe body being shifted into the lap of another, stronger one. Very familiar with this position, Alan recognized the lap as his partner, Eric Slingby's. He also recognized the strong, protective arms that wrapped around him as he now desperately clung to the front of the blond's nightshirt.

The voice that gently whispered into his ear was also familiar, and he knew the routine, but no less comforting, chant of words, "Hey there, here I am, it'll be okay. Just hold on a bit longer; it'll get better. It always gets better."

Letting out another violent cough, Alan let Eric whisper lowly to him, let Eric hold him close to his chest, let Eric try to take the pain away, though there wasn't anything he could do to really make it leave.

"I've got you, sweetheart," Eric said, placing a kiss to the top of Alan's head. "I'm not gonna let go."

Of course he wouldn't; Eric never let him go. No matter how many or long attacks were, Eric held him through every single one. If there was even a hint of Alan coughing, Eric would be right there by his side to hold him, make sure he was alright, and make sure he got through it.

To say Alan was grateful would be an understatement, but there weren't really words for how grateful Alan was to his partner. Before Eric, and everyone else for that matter, had known about his condition, he had had to suffer through these attacks alone, with nobody to hold him or make sure he was alright. Remembering those cold, lonely nights, Alan was thankful to have Eric here with him, pressing him gently against his chest so that he could ear his steady heartbeat.

A little while later, perhaps a few minutes, the attack was finally over, though Alan was not let out of his lover's grip. Eric didn't let him go until he was sure it was over.

"There we are," Eric said softly, placing another gentle kiss to the top of Alan's head. "You okay now?"

"I… I think so," Alan nodded slowly, letting air completely refill his lungs. Breaths were slow and shaky, but possible. Both men were glad for that.

After a few moments of silence, Eric decided that the best thing to do was lay down and let the both of them try to get some sleep. Not letting Alan out of his arms, the blond reached back to pull the covers so he could shift the both of them.

"E-Eric?" Alan asked shakily as the larger man began shifting them to lay under the warm blankets of the bed.

"Hm?"

He almost felt foolish for his question, "W-what do you think I did… to deserve this? You know, the Thorns… what do you think I did to deserve them?" That was something that had always bothered Alan, always plagued his mind. Had he done something so terrible at one point that he deserved this fate? Was he being punished for something unspeakable that he couldn't recall?

Even pressed up against his lover's muscular chest, Alan could tell how shocked Eric was to hear that from him. Straightening out a bit, Alan felt warm hands on his back as he was gently embraced.

"You didn't do anythin'," the blond mumbled sleepily. "There's nothing you could've done to deserve this. It's just a freak thing, since you're probably the person I know who deserves this least. Now," he kissed Alan's mop of brown hair, "any more questions?"

Alan giggled, a welcomed sound to Eric's ears. It meant his partner was relaxed enough to open up and laugh a bit. Feeling the smaller man nuzzle into his chest, Eric heard one more soft question, "Yeah… what'd I do to deserve you?"

To that, Eric chuckled, reaching over to turn off Alan's bedside lamp before putting the arm once again around the smaller man's back. "You didn't need to do anything; you had me from the start."