Lance retched again, dark hands clinging to the sides of the porcelain toilet as his entire body heaved with the last spasm.
He was fine.
He pressed his sweaty forehead to the cool rim, taking comfort as heat plagued the rest of his body. His stomach twisted again and, not even a minute of respite, and he wearily pulled himself back up despite the fact he had nothing left in him to offer.
He was fine.
This was just a stomach bug. Bad case of the flu. It wasn't…
His hand shook as he flushed away the acid scent of stomach bile before he retook his position, cheek resting now on the porcelain. Even from here, with the bathroom door firmly closed, he could make out the strains of the television even though it wasn't worth listening to. Same thing on every channel.
Garrison City under quarantine. No leaving, federal blockade in effect. Only drink bottled water. Stay inside. If you display symptoms go immediately to the hospital.
He snorted at that, regretting it immediately as pain flared behind his eyes and it turned into a low groan instead. Because go to the hospital to what? To die? No one could figure out what this virus or poison or disease or whatever the hell it was that had already killed over two hundred people and hospitalized thousands was. No one had found a cure. And everyone who went to the hospital….
They didn't come back out.
His stomach rebelled again and Lance quietly gagged once more, throat burning and eyes stinging.
He was fine.
Biological terrorism had been thrown around. Scientists said something about the water, but even those who hadn't dranken form the city's system were sick. Lance thought it was stupid. Why would terrorists choose Garrison City? All it had to its name was its prestigious university where he was a second year student.
Lance coughed again and this time he couldn't stop.
White-knuckled he braced himself against the toilet as his entire body trembled with the onslaught.
There was knocking on the apartment bathroom door now and he heard Hunk calling for him, demanding he open it. Lance was too busy trying to hack up a lung to do so.
He was fine.
There was more noise outside now and the room was shaking as Hunk's knocks turned to full on slams against the door. He clutched the toilet bowl tighter and his stomach heaved once more even as his lungs rebelled.
He felt dizzy.
He was fine.
The door flew off the hinges at the same time Lance choked out another breath and this time it wasn't clear bile that stained the toilet bowl.
It was blood.
Lance stared at it, vision tunneling in on the red splatter and the copper he could taste in the back of his throat.
He distantly felt Hunk's hands descend on his shoulders, pulling him away, and loud but muted shouts. There were more voices then - Keith, he dully picked out, and Pidge - and he winced at the volume and he coughed again, this time feeling the slick crimson drip down his chin.
Hunk was lifting him up then and the world spun in a nauseating blur. He scrunched his eyes closed even as his mouth remained open, gasping for air that he suddenly couldn't come by.
Maybe he wasn't fine after all.
Lance awoke not in his bed but on the lumpy couch Pidge had proudly procured from the dumpster, recognized immediately thanks to the spring digging into his lower back.
He felt cold, a shiver ripping through him and his teeth clattered in his mouth. A large hand descended on his head and he leaned into it immediately, latching onto the warmth and letting out a tiny sigh.
His eyelids felt glued together but he forced them open and took in the bleary form of his childhood best friend and one of his current roommates sitting by his head.
"H-Hunk?" he rasped, another shudder taking hold.
The hand brushed his bangs back in a soothing caress. "Right here, hermano."
His eyes drifted shut again without permission as another shudder shook him and he moaned low in his throat. That made the entire thing tingle and the next thing he knew he felt the familiar and horrible heaving sensation.
Hunk, a near professional vomiter, must have seen the symptom as quicker than Lance would have thought he was rolled onto his side and Hunk was supporting his head as he coughed and gagged and he tasted blood once more.
When it was over he felt as weak as a newborn kitten although his limbs would not stop trembling. Tears were pricking at his eyes and a moment later he felt himself hefted up and then Hunk was there on the couch with him, pulling Lance to his side and cuddling him tight.
Lance pressed himself firmly against Hunk, soaking in every bit of warmth possible as the blanket he felt wrapped around him may as well have been tissue paper.
"H-Hunk," he whispered. "I… I think I'm s-sick."
Hunk let out a sound somewhere between a sob and a laugh. "Yeah, Lance. You are."
Hunk's arm tightened about his shoulders in answer and he could feel the large body shake then with its own repressed sob.
Lance burrowed his face deeper and felt a new sting of hot tears.
He was not fine at all.
He was dying.
The news reports said after symptoms were displayed the victims had between twenty and twenty-four hours before they succumbed. They would go through heavy vomiting, seizures, decreased body temperature and increased muscle spasms before eventual kidney failure ultimately killed them.
"It's gonna be okay," Hunk comforted although they both knew he was lying. "I'm right here. I'm not going anywhere." That Lance did believe and despite the circumstances a tiny smile pulled up his lips.
He cuddled in closer. "No hospital," he managed, the next shiver having nothing to do with the cold. "Por f-favor." He didn't want to go there to die. Not with its overcrowded rooms and crying families and sterile halls. Please no.
"No hospital," Hunk agreed quietly and Lance let out a breathy sob. At least he'd be here, with Hunk, when the end came.
"Can… can I call home?"
"Pidge is trying. She'll get through."
Ever since the city went into quarantine status three days ago all of the cell towers and routers had been disabled for public use and prioritized for the scientists and military. They claimed it was necessary for the general safety but it was mostly to prevent citizens from coordinating with those outside and fleeing the blockade. A dozen people had already been forcefully stopped; two fatally.
Pidge though was a programming genius and if anyone could find a workaround it was her.
"Do you think you can manage some water?" Hunk asked after a few moments of silence. "You… you need to stay hydrated."
And now that Hunk said that Lance was more than aware that in addition to the copper he could taste lining his throat it felt as try as cotton wool and he swallowed thickly. He managed a nod.
"Okay, I'll be right-"
As Hunk shifted on the squeaking couch Lance thrust out a hand from his blanket cocoon and latched onto Hunk's vest with more strength than he'd thought possible, although it shook a second later.
He knew Hunk was just going to the kitchen around the corner, but Lance could not fathom being alone right now. Not even for a minute.
Hunk settled right back down.
"Keith?" he called out instead and as if waiting for the summons a dark head popped like a gopher from behind the kitchen wall. Lance might have laughed if his body didn't decide at that moment it wanted to forcefully expel his lungs again.
Somewhere over the sound of his dry heaving and coughing while Hunk propped him up and rubbed his back, Keith returned bearing a cup of tea that smelled faintly of apple and spice.
"Here." He thrust the large mug, only half-full to prevent spilling, into Lance's hands and kept them there until Lance gave a nod that he had a grip on it, his expression more serious than Lance had ever seen.
Lance wasn't as close with Keith as his other two apartment-mates, but the two had developed from a bitter to a mostly friendly rivalry in their shared field of study. When Keith had dropped that he needed a place to stay Lance had invited him to join them in their already cramped two-bedroom apartment. Keith though had been happy with moving into the large linen closet and the towels had found a new home in carefully constructed shelves in the bathroom.
Keith could be a little awkward when it came to social interactions - which at first Lance had read as stuck-up jerk - but he really did care and Lance tried his best to muster up a smile for the tea although he was pretty sure it came out a grimace.
"Is he okay?" Keith turned to Hunk. Lance wasn't sure if he should be offended since "he" was sitting right here, but he felt too wrung out to really care. As it was Hunk was guiding his hands up to his mouth so he could take a sip from the mug and at the first taste of the not-scalding tea (Keith had remembered he hated super hot drinks) he let out a tiny sigh of actually happiness at the relief and taste.
"For the moment," Hunk answered back quietly. "It's going to get worse," and his voice wavered on the last word.
"'m okay," Lance mumbled, trying to reassure Hunk even though he knew he really wasn't and he wasn't going to be. "You're h-here."
Hunk squeezed his shoulder in answer.
"Is there anything I can do?" Keith asked, and he looked incredibly young then, Lance thought, shoulders hunched and hands tucked up under his arms in some pseudo-hug, despite the fact he was almost a year older than him and Hunk.
"Stay?" Lance managed.
Keith gave a jerking nod of his head and settled himself on the storage ottoman in front of the couch. After a second he reached forward and placed a tentative hand on Lance's blanket covered knee that was curled up against Hunk's thigh and Lance tried for another smile.
"Tell me a… a story?" His request came out between a cough and gasp and he tasted blood with the apple spice.
"How...how about that one time we got lost at the furniture warehouse?" Hunk suggested, voice thick. "Remember? We made a camp and everything."
Lance hummed lightly and snuggled further against Hunk. He felt the still mostly full mug of tea lifted from his hands and the blanket readjusted about him and then Hunk began to speak, voice a soothing cadence that rumbled through his chest.
"So it all started when…"
Lance was dimly aware of voices talking above him. The were so loud. They hurt. It felt like his very bones were shaking at the volume and he let out a groan.
That only made it worse.
And then suddenly everything was shaking and he heard Hunk crying out in alarm and hands were there then - small ones on his leg, large ones turning his shoulder - and he tasted acid on his tongue again.
"-on the couch-"
"-he's turning blue-"
Lance struggled to take a breath and found that he couldn't. Panic seized him as surely as his lungs.
He couldn't breathe.
"-here, turn him-"
He somehow wrenched his eyes open and made out the blurry forms of Hunk and Pidge directly over him before everything went back to darkness.
Something was being pressed to his lips when he next awoke and Lance whined, confused and in pain. The sensation continued with more force.
"Damn it Lance, drink it."
Keith. Demanding and harsh but beneath that he sounded scared.
"Keith, easy. C'mon man, not like that."
Hunk. Calmer but just as scared.
The object pressed against this mouth again and Lance turned his head from it, seeking safety in the warmth that he dully identified as being Hunk.
That one was Pidge. Small hands grasped onto his arm with a near bruising force.
"Lance, hermano, we need you to drink this," Hunk cajoled. "It's… it's medicine."
Lance moaned again, stomach twisting. Medicine? Why did he need medicine? Was he sick?
Why couldn't he remember?
But if Hunk said he needed it…
He parted his lips, barely, even that small effort costing him what little strength he had. The bottle was tipped and he felt something not quite cool strike his tongue.
He choked then as it registered and he sputtered, coughing it back up.
They'd just tried to make him drink alcohol.
What was going on?
The bottle was back again and a small, high keen that he barely realized was coming from him sounded as it was forced into his mouth.
"Godamnit it, just drink it," Keith snarled and he sounded angry and Lance was alarmed to feel tears working their way down his cheeks from beneath tightly closed eyes that refused to open.
"Lance," and that was a new deeper voice, but familiar.
Shiro. Keith's older brother and Lance's absolute idol in the piloting program.
"Lance, you need to drink it," Shiro continued and he felt a cool hand - colder than any flesh - brush against his forehead. "Come on, buddy. You can do it."
He tried to form a protest. He didn't drink; no one in his family did after his uncle had died in a drunk driving accident. He was underage too.
Why were they doing this? He didn't want it.
Tears were flowing more freely now and a sob escaped him.
"Hermano, it's okay, it's okay," Hunk soothed, hands rubbing on his shoulders. "I know. I know you don't want it. But please. Por favor. Just this once. For me. Para mi."
"¿P-por qué?" he choked out.
"It's medicine," Shiro explained. "I know you're confused, buddy. Please. Trust us." Shiro's voice broke and at that Lance managed a tiny nod of consent.
The alcohol was back then, flooding his mouth and he choked at the taste and the burning, but swallowed it down with a gasp. And then again. And again.
"No m-más," he pled at one point, but they were insistent and he had no choice as they would pinch his mouth and nose closed until he was forced to swallow. He was crying heavily and he could feel Hunk shaking behind him but they still didn't stop.
Everything was going even hazier now and his stomach was rebelling. He slumped sideways, vision reeling even though his eyes were closed, and he moaned. He was shifted then to lying down and he let them do it without complaint, feeling horribly sick and confused.
Hunk's hand was back in his hair then, smoothing sweat-slicked bangs away. "Sleep," he whispered, voice sounding from far far away.
And Lance did.
When he next awoke it was to a raging headache so bad he wondered if he wasn't actually dead. Something was pressed to his lips a moment later and he moaned, turning his head away. He couldn't remember much or think clearly at all because of the pain, but he did remember being forced to drink.
"It's just water," came the quiet but still much, much too loud voice of Hunk. "You'll feel better. Just a sip."
Lance took a hesitant one, but true to his word it was plain, boring water. And now that he'd had one sip Lance wanted another and moaned his displeasure when the cup was taken away.
"Let it settle for a minute," came a faintly amused one. Then, more serious. "Can you open your eyes for me?"
Each eyelid felt like it weighed as much as his required history textbook, but Lance managed to do so and took in after a few blinks the concerned face of Hunk, dark bags under his eyes but a wide smile on his face.
"There you are," Hunk breathed. And a second later Lance felt himself being pulled from a slight recline into the tightest of hugs.
"Wha- what happened?" he managed. Everything felt fuzzy and the headache was not helping.
Hunk burst into a ramble - something about poison and antifreeze and alcohol and ethanol a scorned scientist named Honevera Haggar who'd once been a Garrison University professor and some revenge against the university and its city but she'd been caught and Lance was going to be okay now and everything was okay - and Lance just gave little hums, still not quite following but knowing whatever had happened was over and Hunk was here and that meant everything was safe.
He snuggled deeper into Hunk's hold as he continued to talk, feeling the soft rumble of his words and letting it lull him back into sleep until he could make sense of everything that had apparently happened.
He did know one thing though.
He was fine.
And this time it was true.