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Florence Nightingale Effect

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* * PROLOGUE * *

It shouldn't have come as a surprise when Pip Valentine got sick.

He's been hiding out in Lindsay's house in Wales for over a month now and neither of them are quite sure how it happened. Lindsay Brown wakes up one Tuesday morning, looks at the date on the clock radio and bangs his head against the headboard in frustration. Fifty one fucking days and showing no sign of moving out.

At the dull thud of skull on wood the man in question rolls over in bed and cracks open his eyes, and Lindsay remembers again why he's having so much trouble getting rid of him. Valentine's as beautiful as a girl, more beautiful because he has the long, dark eye lashes and huge, bright eyes, plus that mop of dark hair grazing his jawline, but there's no softness to him. He's all cheekbones, collarbones, shoulder-blades like budding wings, hipbones and slight, lean muscle- a cheetah to Lindsay's bull terrier. Pity he doesn't have the brains Lindsay thinks, then immediately feels ungenerous. Valentine's sharp. He's only nineteen but he's uncannily quick when it comes to people and getting what he wants.

“You alright?” Valentine asks, snuggling over into Lindsay's side of the bed.

“Fine.” Lindsay says resignedly.

“You nearly brained yourself on the bedpost! Thought you were having a nightmare.”

“I was. I dreamed that a bank job went wrong, I took this kid hostage and it turned out he was  fucked in the head so he liked it, and he lent me his car, then he moved into my house and for some reason he won't go home.”

“So I'm a dream come true, right?”

Lindsay rolls his eyes. “Nightmare, I said. What time is it?”

“What time do you think?” Valentine leans in and wraps him arms around Lindsay's waist.

Oh yes, that was why he was still there. It's several hours and several orgasms before Lindsay remembers himself and then it seems ungracious to turf someone out of your house when they've just sucked your cock like they're drowning and you're oxygen.

* * PART ONE * *

Things are always worse when the weather's bad.

It's not like Valentine really goes anywhere, not really. There's nowhere to go from this house, that's why Lindsay bought it. It's a safe house for between jobs, somewhere to come down from the shattering high of successful fraud and plan the next. He hadn't chosen it with keeping a hostage/boyfriend happy in mind. When the sun's shining it's not so bad- they've got a sea view and Valentine sits out on the wall overlooking the bay, smoking Lindsay's cigarettes and sketching or listening to music. But when it's raining the sky seems to lower until it meets the sea and the spray runs down the windows in long streaks like prison bars. Then the two men pace the rooms and take jabs at each other and Lindsay thinks that no matter how much he likes fucking Valentine their situation is getting ridiculous.

It doesn't help that Pip Valentine can certainly be ridiculous when he chooses. He promised he'd lie low and be very, very quiet while he stayed here but that hasn't stopped him responding to three days of being cooped up in the house by taking his car out in the rain and driving like a maniac. Lindsay has a business to run, several businesses to run (some more legal than others) and a real, grown-up life with suits and shirts and neatly trimmed hair. There's no space in that life for a nineteen year old boyfriend that the police are still very interesting in finding.

“You're supposed to be a missing person. You can't drive around in a shiny red soft-top and expect people not to notice.” Lindsay tells him, and Valentine rolls his eyes like a sulky teenager. He is a teenager, but he won't be for much longer. He'll be twenty soon, but the chances of him growing up in that time are slim to none.

His eyes are stupidly, blazingly blue from the coloured contacts he's taken to wearing. Lindsay doesn't know why Valentine bothers when his eyes are a natural green that is more unusual than anything you can buy in a box, but the blue adds to the way he looks like a fucking doll or something, like he's not even real. This whole thing isn't even real. Lindsay doesn't take hostages, and he certainly doesn't take them home. If he was going to take a kinky hostage he'd take a proper bloke, someone really good looking and far less annoying that this kid.

Did pervy old men get this with their bright young girls, Lindsay wonders? At least they could show them the back of their hand. He's tried that, it just turns the kid on- something in his head's wired up all wrong, and the threats and the slaps just bring him closer and closer until Lindsay can hardly breathe. Why else would he still be living with Lindsay, who screws him through the mattress every night, pulls his hair and makes him cry?

It's the usual really. They row. Valentine stands by the bedroom door looking beautiful and scared.

Lindsay remembers again why he's having so much trouble getting rid of him. The sex is amazing but there's something else too. He does feel a kick of guilt and loneliness at the thought of never seeing Valentine again. He's never fought like this with anyone he's ever been with. His short temper has found an outlet in the kid's endless desire to be hurt by him, and that's all tangled up with sex now too, and it's too much for him to fathom...

Lindsay ends up with his gun out and he loads the cartridges in front of Valentine's eyes one by one. As usual, Valentine watches this like he's watching Lindsay unzip his fly.  

“I mean it this time. I bloody mean it.” Lindsay growls.

Valentine swallows. His adam's apple bobs up, down, up again in his slender neck. “You never mean it. You're a tease.”

“What does that mean?”

Valentine's staring at the gun like it's Christmas and he doesn't dare open the box because he already knows it isn't what he wanted.

“You never mean it. If you're gonna to shoot me you should just go ahead and do it. I reckon if you were gonna shoot me you would have done it that first time, outside the jewellers, but you never. Stop being such a pricktease.”

Lindsay starts to laugh. He can't help it- the kid is standing there all defiant and self-righteous with no idea at all how ridiculous he's being. The situation is too bizarre.

“What you laughing at?” Valentine snarls. He's starting to really loose his rag now. He can take any amount of teasing, so long as it's snarky, but when Lindsay laughs at him he doesn't know where to put himself.

“You're weird, that's all” Lindsay says.

He lowers the gun slowly, but Valentine doesn't relax. He's thrumming like a highly tuned harpstring.

“Thought you liked me weird?”

Not that again. If he wasn't holding a loaded gun, Lindsay would smack himself emphatically in the forehead. Instead he says nothing.

“Thought you liked me weird?” Valentine says again, coming closer, insinuating his body into Lindsay's space. “Or was that a lie, too? You do like me, don't you?”

It's better than the other 'L' word, but not by much. Lindsay knew it would be that again, it's always that and he's so sick of it. His pause is long enough for Valentine to start up again.

“Why do you keep me here if you don't like me?”

Lindsay is not going to say “I do like you.” It's too far beyond childish, and though he half wants to, so easy to diffuse the tension and get back to the impending fuck which this conversation has interrupted, the words stick in his throat and all he can say is “I'm not keeping you here.”

“Fuck's sake!” Valentine says and he flounces out of the room.

Lindsay is left with the gun in one hand and the other balled into a fist, feeling slightly stupid with the erection he'd gained from the kid's clever fingers just minutes before nudging insistently against his jeans. When he's heard the kid bunch the car keys in his fist with a crumpled jingle, slam the front door and drive off in a crunch of gravel, he makes his way to a steaming shower and beats one off on his own, trying to get some satisfaction from knowing that Valentine would be indignant that Lindsay was getting off without him. When he comes it's with those eyes in the stupid blue contact lenses in his mind. Not the other man's cock, or even his mouth, but his damn eyes, and it doesn't feel like much of a victory.

He expects the kid to be gone for a few hours, overnight absolute tops, so he sleeps with the bedroom door ajar, never really settling because he expects at any moment to be woken by Valentine's body joining him under the covers, his mouth on Lindsay's cock in a gesture of apology. But he doesn't return, and Lindsay awakens feeling awful, more groggy and tired than when he lay down. Today is a work day for his day job, the job he keeps so that he doesn't have to lie to his mother about how he earns (some) of his living, but he cries off, ostensibly to work from home. In reality he just sits at his desk with a packet of fags to one hand and an ashtray to the other, moping through the grey hours utterly disgusted with himself for thinking of the car being found in a ditch somewhere.

It isn't until midday that he admits to himself he is worried, and at 2pm he rings Valentine's phone. He is rewarded immediately with the tinny ringtone playing down the hallway as the handset vibrates it's way along the shelf and onto the floor. Absolutely bloody typical. Closer inspection reveals that Valentine has gone out without his wallet or his house keys. This is not unusual, there's been a spare set under the mat since he was installed as the live-in abductee who never, ever remembered his keys. Far more worrying is the knowledge the car has less that a quarter of a tank, not nearly enough for Valentine to make it far, so where the bloody hell is he then?

Lindsay growls and slaps his hands down on the desk in frustration and goes to stand at the French windows. It's pouring rain- not the heavy, cleansing droplets that would finally lift the grey oppressive clouds that stew over the house like a hangover, but bitter, insidious drizzle. Cold as ice, stinging like shattered glass.

He thinks of the kid in the car, sleeping on the hard leather seats overnight. If he didn't get the roof down before the rain started, Lindsay will actually have to kill him.

The day darkens early. The sun is sinking by four and twilight slowly fills up the spaces beyond the windows. The driveway lights click on. It's almost too dark to see by the time Lindsay's watching is rewarded:

Valentine comes walking slowly up the driveway, a dark figure barely visible through the rain. He's wearing the exact same clothes as he was wearing when he walked out, of course, but the tshirt is darkened with water and he's got his jacket hunched up over his head like a schoolboy pretending to be Batman, for all the good it's doing him.

Lindsay knows he should maybe run to the man, or at least shout, or wave, or open the door for him, he finds himself transfixed by Valentine's progress.

Despite watching every step up to the door, when the knock comes it still makes him jump.

“What did you do with the car?”

“Oh, that's nice!”

“It cost a fortune.” Lindsay says, semi-reasonably. Then, because he is not an entirely heartless bastard he feels the hairs pricking up along his arms in sympathetic chill. Valentine couldn't be wetter if someone had chucked a bucket of water over his head- his hair is flattened into black tapering points that weep droplets to slide down his forehead and nose. Under the scrutiny he rubs the raindrop that is dripping of the tip of nose with an equally soggy sleeve and a wet sniff.  “Look at the state of you, you're like a drowned rat.”

“Tell me about it.” Valentine says without any real vehemence. It seems all the fire and defiance have been literally quenched from him by the downpour. He is strangely passive, his eyes a little unfocused, and despite his soaking state he makes no move enter the house.

“Come and get dry for goodness sake.” Lindsay prompts him.

Valentine pauses, then just raises his hands weakly to face and sneezes- “h'Esschu!- Esschu!”- ending with a convulsive shudder as his body adjusts to the warmth. The whiplash movement flicks rainwater from his hair in a glittering arc. He looks up with a quick, shamed sniffle.

Only then does he step inside, to drip on the tiled floor as he bends stiffly to take of his shoes. The process is so slow- Valentine's fingers must be stiff from hours of cold. Watching him fumble with the laces, not saying anything, not looking, is driving Lindsay slowly around the bend. They're those stupid canvas trainers he has about a million pairs of, in bubblegum pink.

He breathes deep and slow, not trusting himself to speak without shouting because the emotions rising up in him; guilt, fury, relief, are too parental for him to allow. Instead as Valentine peels his socks of, he just says “You'll get trench foot.”

“Think I already have.” Valentine replies. His teeth are chattering so hard his cheeks are visibly shaking, so hard that his words are hardly intelligible through lips which have cracked until they've bled. There is a bloody scab in the centre of his bottom lip like the rosebud shape painted on a geisha, counterpoint to the pink tinge high on his cheeks as the warmth reawakens the sluggish circulation to his face.

“Come and have a shower.” He takes one frigid hand and leads him mutely through the house. Valentine punctuates the walk with more of those hard little sneezes, “Hk---- Esschu!” every few minutes. Each one makes him stagger and Lindsay can feel the tug of force through the arm he's holding.

When they get to the bathroom, he doesn't wait for Valentine's permission to start stripping his clothes off. The tshirt clings and fights back as it is yanked over his head. Removing the jeans is like peeling an unripe banana.

He flips the faucet onto the hottest setting and waits for it to heat up. Valentine just stands there naked, head down like a naughty schoolboy. His lack of response, of soothing apology, is bad enough. It's his half-hard cock that really tips Lindsay over the edge. There are times when the dynamic, the games, undressing Valentine like he's a naughty kid, does it for both of them. Lindsay's ashamed to feel himself getting hard, too. He's just so beautiful, even dripping wet and clammy.

“Were you trying to make me worry?” Lindsay says at last.

“Did I manage it?” “Course I was worried, you little cunt. You could have gone to your parents or the police. If they think you've left my sight the others will kill you. Do you understand that?” Lindsay's shouting, but he can't help it. The kid can't seem to understand that they're not playing Bonnie and Clyde any more. “That's not a threat. That's the truth. You know why you ended up driving for us? Because our other driver was shot in the fucking head.”

“I don't want them to shoot me.” Shivers are coursing through Valentine now, in big waves like sobs. He pushes his body against Lindsay's like he's trying to meld with him. “If anyone is going to shoot me, I want it to be you.”

The statement makes Lindsay back up a step. “That's fucked up.”

A shrug.

“I weren't though.”

Lindsay is caught off guard and raises an eyebrow in query.

Valentine pulls away from him, pacing in the tiny space as he tries to articulate himself.

“I mean I weren't trying to make you worry. I just had to get out. I wouldn't though- I never- it weren't about you. I ain't-” He fumbles for the words. “-passive aggressive. If I wanted to have it out with you I would.”

Lindsay doesn't know what to say to that, so he just pats Valentine's arm.  “Are you going to take that shower or not? There'll be no hot water left.”

“Yeah. Will do.”

Lindsay would love to watch Valentine shower but that would be rewarding him with attention he hasn't deserved, so he takes himself off. That one outburst has sated his temper and now he's just glad to have Valentine back in the house where he can keep an eye on him. He allows Pip a reasonable amount of time in the bathroom and he can hear him sneezing against the running water, shaking the cold weather out of his lungs in sharp, convulsive fits. Eventually, Lindsay knocks on the door. The water stops.

“You coming out?”

“Give me a second.” Pip Valentine's voice is muffled, but it sounds weak. Guilt-tripping.

“I'm not cross any more, don't sulk.” Why does Lindsay always end up being the one apologising?

He pushes open the door and sees the shadow of Valentine's body behind the curtain. He's bent over, pressing his forehead against the tiles.

“I found you a fresh towel. Come on.”

“I dunno, Lindsay. I don't feel good...”

“Not good how?”

“Dizzy. And my head hurts. All of a sudden, like.”

Lindsay's stomach drops. The kid's a whiner when he wants something but he's not enough of an actor to put that waver in his voice on purpose. He sounds hoarse, too, like his throat's raw. Lindsay opens the curtain and offers two hands to coax him out. Sure enough, upon leaving the warm steam for the cooler air, Valentine sways dangerously and then stumbles, knees buckling. Luckily he's light enough the Lindsay can swing him around so that's he's sitting on the loo seat with his head between his knees before he can fall over properly.

“Shit.” Valentine says.

“Quite.” Lindsay agrees. “You look rough. Are you-” He puts his hands on Valentine's cheeks, trying to tell his temperature. It feels warm, but then Lindsay's own extremities run cold and Valentine's skin is steaming from the hot shower, making it impossible to tell for sure. He makes a mental note to check again in a few minutes.

Valentine shivers, drawing his hands around himself, rasping his palms over his shoulders for warmth. He's so thin his elbows stick out like spikes.

“Sorry Lindsay.” He says, and rises. “Had a funny turn. 'm alright now.”

“Oh really?”

Apparently not, because Valentine draws a sudden, shuddering breath in. Lindsay thinks he's going to speak, then his features go all abstract and Lindsay worries he's going to cry- it's a relief when he starts sneezing again instead.

“t'Issschuh!-Issccht!-h'IISckh!

It's a hard, repetitive sound, like once he's started he's forgotten how to stop. It goes on too long, and Lindsay can't help but count them- -three- four- five- six- One more, a painful sounding “hIssscht!”- seven- and Valentine can finally catch his breath. He shakes his head like a cat in the rain, then frowns as pain spikes through his temples. Slow fingers find a piece of tissue from the roll beside him and he blows his nose.

“Sorry,” he says afterwards, eyes averted.

“Jesus!” From Lindsay, close enough to “bless you” to do the job.

“.... sorry.” Valentine says again. It's not clear if he's apologising for the outburst, for the illness which is slowly becoming evident or for something else.

“Come on.”

He remembers why he entered the room in the first place and picks up a pair of pyjamas from the doorway where he'd dropped them at the threshold of the damp tiles. One piece grey, one piece red silk he's sure Valentine bought from the women's section. Not that he usually wears pyjamas- they both sleep naked, which is the only upside of Lindsay not having figured out how to get Valentine to sleep in his own bed.

He holds up a hand before Valentine can protest. “If you complain that they don't match, I will stuff them where the sun doesn't shine.”

“I weren't going to.” Pip relies weakly.

“Oh crap, you must be dying.”

He's only half joking. He's no doctor, but he finds he doesn't need to feel that forehead again to know that the Valentine's in pretty rough shape. Not dying, not really, just down with a flu or something bad enough to make him feel really poorly.

Even if Pip was ill yesterday and hiding it, or coming down with it while sleeping in the cold car last night, it must have come on pretty suddenly. Not being a doctor, Lindsay has no idea what to do with this information except battle a vague grudge that he's not going to get any make-up sex tonight and a bitter-sweet sympathy that washes over him when he sees Valentine pressing his fingers into his temples like he wants to break his head in two to get the ache out.

That at least he can do something about. As soon as Pip's dressed, they go downstairs and settle on the couch. He always slumps, but now he lies like he has no bones, head tipped slightly back and eyes closed. Dark lashes silhouette on his pale cheeks. His slender neck is exposed as though waiting for the noose. Every now and then his adam's apple works as he clears his throat, and his mouth contorts in a pained little wince. His nose is truly blocked now, evidenced by his parted lips. He rubs it with a knuckle, then with the heel of his hand, then finally stirs himself to find a tissue from the box under the coffee-table and blows. It doesn't sound like it helps.

He looks up when Lindsay plonks a glass of water and two ibuprofen in front of him.

“I hate swallowing pills.” He says petulantly.

“I don't keep Calpol in the house.” Lindsay retorts, then kind of grins. “Don't tell me you can't swallow all of a sudden.” Valentine manages a dirty look. “That's different, innit?”

He swallows the two tablets with only minimal shuddering and gagging. As a reward, Lindsay allows himself to sink into the sofa beside him.

Valentine squirms slowly up into his lap and they let their weight topple them over until they're lying down. Lindsay sighs out loud- Valentine snuggles his face into the crook of his shoulder and his warm, clever tongue begins exploring the sensitive patch around the nape of his neck. After a day of tension every touch feels like that innocuous bit of skin is connected by an electric cable to his crotch.

“You've perked up.” Lindsay says. 

“Yeah. You're a miracle worker.”

There's a pause, during which Lindsay's big hands scoop around Pip's waist under the waist-band of his pyjamas. He slides the warm touch all the around Pip's body so that he's resting in the flat plain just below his stomach but not quite his crotch, and the kid responds by bucking his hips slightly, bracing himself up on Lindsay's forearms so that his own biceps stand out, slight and firm and perfect.

He makes a sound, almost a little pleasure-moan but too sudden and sharp to match the way Lindsay's hands are moving.

“Don't you dare-” Lindsay flinches but Valentine does turn his face into his wrist, sparing him all but a glimpse of his chaotic, questioning face as he builds up.

Esschu!- hkEsschttch!” He sneezes without a breath between them. The second is a nasty, squelched sound where he tries to muffle it and fails, damply.

“Sorry.” Valentine wipes his nose on his sleeve, though in his defence he looks mildly horrified a moment later when he realises he's done it.

“You're disgusting.”

Valentine manages a glint of his usual cheeky smile. He likes to get under Lindsay's skin, when he can. “The things you done to my arse and you still think this is gross?”

“You're being more disgusting. Shut up.”

To his surprise, Valentine does so. There's a first time for everything. He settles down on Lindsay's chest again and goes all quiet, like he too has suddenly remembered that he's ill. He feels warmer to Lindsay but he's shivering. Lindsay holds him close, closer, sharing his own body heat and breathing warmth down the younger man's neck until it ceases, pressing casual kisses into the exposed flesh beneath his ear. His big hands glide aimlessly up and down Valentine's back, partially to comfort him and partially in enjoyment at the feeling of silk pyjamas. He can feel every bone and ridge of muscle through the fabric.

Valentine's eyes close and his breathing deepens like he's going to drift off right there, but he keeps fidgeting, turning from one side to the other with little winces and shudders of cold.

“What are you doing?”

“My bruises have bruises. Didn't get no sleep in the car.”

“Your double negatives make me want to kill you.” Lindsay says fondly, as he always does. Then, “Oh shit! The car!”

“Yeah, I -” Valentine's voice wavers as another sneeze creeps up on him and he has to turn away fast. “I- h'ESSHu!... sorry. I left it at the end of the road in the little car park cause it ran out of petrol.”

“You are so irresponsible it's ridiculous. I should make you walk in the rain and go get it.”

“You ain't going to, are you?”

Pip Valentine looks at Lindsay, all big, tired eyes. Looks like he really believes that Lindsay will tell him to go back in the rain and get the car. More, looks like he'd do it, if Lindsay asked him. The kid's a true glutton for punishment. It's like he acts out just so he can get what he thinks he deserves. For what, Lindsay doesn't know. Existing?

Truth be told, Lindsay had toyed with the idea of sending Pip out the get the car. It would be the perfect consequence for his stupidity, he might learn something. But... Pip is so pale. Tight coughs shake him, every swallow is pained wince and he's shivering in hard little bursts. It's as if his fever is going up as Lindsay watches. Even Lindsay can't punish him like this.

“... No. I'll get it. I'm not leaving it there overnight without you in it.”

“And leave me here?” Valentine's voice is small. He hates being left alone, especially at night. That'll be punishment enough, then.

“Yes and leave you here. If I don't find you in bed by the time I come back you'll be in big trouble, understand? Go to bed, your own bed, not mine. If you still feel hot in an hour and I'm not back, take another two pills, ok?”

Valentine nods.

“What do you say?” Lindsay prompts.

“Yes Li -iih-” So that's why he wasn't answering. Valentine is fighting another sneeze, whether because he wants to answer or because (as Lindsay suspects) they hurt his head. His breath goes shuddery and his nostrils flicker in and out as he rubs them. He can't fight it forever and the sound is an uneven “hh—hh-- ESSChu!ESChht! Sorry.

“Yes, Liddsay.” Valentine finishes, snuffling into his sleeve.

“That'll do.” Lindsay says and stalks from the room without looking back. The kid is so warm. If he turns again he might transform not to salt, but to something softer, more pliable than what he is. He can't have that. Maybe the rain will clear his head, ease the concern fluttering in his chest where the anger should be. Here's hoping.

* * PART TWO * *

When Lindsay pulls the car back into the drive the lights are still on. They show very yellow through the rain which is easing at last, stopping and starting and giving way to heavy Welsh mist.

Lindsay pushes the door open, fully expecting to find Valentine sleeping defiantly on the sofa exactly where he'd left him, but the sitting room is a barren expanse. There's a dent in the sofa cushions where they'd been lying, an empty glass, a few (ugh!) dirty tissues on the the floor and the curtains are still open but Valentine has moved upstairs. The house is very quiet. Lindsay kicks his own shoes off and listens to the muffle of his own feet on the carpet, flicks the lights off reverently as though putting the room to bed. He can clear the mess in the morning. Right now he wants to find Valentine, hopes to find him sleeping peacefully so that things can get back to normal.

Valentine's room is in the attic. He doesn't spend much time there, unless he's painting or sewing and even then he usually brings those things downstairs so he can work at Lindsay's feet. Lindsay rarely goes up there at all. It's a useful place to send the kid when he misbehaves, as part of their games, but that's all. The stairway is dark but there's a bar of light under the door.

Lindsay pauses silently on the landing. He can hear Valentine turning the page of a magazine, coughing wheezily, sighing. As if at some minute, extra-sensory signal he calls out,

“Lindsay? That you?”

His voice sounds painful, quiet and raw.

“I'm here.” Linday reassures him. He pushes open the bedroom door and steps in gingerly to avoid whacking his head on the slanted ceiling of the attic or tripping on a pile of clothes.

His own head swims for a moment at the thick scent of Valentine which pervades the room- it smells like hairspray, bubblegum, acrylic paint and the pear-drop smell of nail varnish, an undertone of cigarettes. It's the sweet, chemical, masculine scent Lindsay finds when his head's buried in the kid's neck or surreptitiously smelling his hair, things he objectively hates but greater than the sum of their parts. Beneath it there's a musty sickroom atmosphere radiating from the kid's fever-hot body. Valentine's lying on top of the covers, pyjama shirt open to his chest, in an uncomfortable looking S-shape. He raises his head when Lindsay comes in, gives him big blue eyes all shot with pink.

“You'll hurt your eyes sleeping with your lenses in.”

“Sorry Lindsay. I forgot. And I weren't sleeping.” He turns over, restless. “I couldn't. You said, and I tried and all but I'm too hot an' I just know I'd have fucking horrible dreams.”

“You're all hot and bothered.” Lindsay says. He sits on the edge of the bed. “You take more pills?”

Valentine nods. “Just now I did. Fink they're kicking in a bit.”

“Good. Come here.” Lindsay beckons the kid closer and holds his chin in one hand to steady his head while he plucks a contact lens out of one eye. Valentine is soft and compliant- they're done this many times before- and sits with his eyes rolled up to the ceiling like he's praying.

When Lindsay turns his head he starts whimpering.

“Ow. Ow!”

“Stop whinging. You're the one who wants to wear the stupid things.” Lindsay warns, though he finishes the procedure with a kiss right between Valentine's eyes, just above his eyebrows.

“Hurts my neck.” Valentine says apologetically, wincing like he's done something wrong, one hand to the swollen glands under his jaw.

“Sorry-” Lindsay says. He stops in surprise. He's never apologised for hurting the kid before. “You should have said. I'm not trying to hurt you, we're not playing like that right now.”

At this Valentine curls against him, all soft like a kitten with a happy little smile despite the pain. His warm, damp forehead and snuffly nose are buried in Lindsay's shoulder and obscure his speech but it sounds like “Ain't we though?”

Lindsay shakes himself. The kid's pliant surrender in his hands and the nuzzles into his neck are distracting him from the matter in hand.

“So you're not going to sleep?” After all, it's the one thing he cannot command Valentine to do. He can, and has, made him lie down but that's the limit of his power. The dark, tousled head resting against his shoulder shakes 'no thanks.' “I could run you a bath. If you want. Cool you down.”

It's his best suggestion. Lindsay has only the vaguest idea of how to treat this kind of thing. He's rarely ill, not like this. Even as an adult man his modus operandi was always to dose himself to the eyeballs on painkillers, knock back a few whiskeys for his throat and as a last resort, drive to his mum's and throw himself at her mercy. This last makes him quietly ashamed to even think about.

“You blushing?” Damn Valentine's astute, even doped up and bleary. “Thinking of molesting me in the bath?”

“Not likely.” Lindsay says, glad of the cover-up, and he gets up and starts to the bathroom before Valentine can argue.

He hopes running his hands under the cool water will ease the stinging blush in his cheeks, counterpart to a suddenly accelerated heart- he gets like this sometimes- looks at the kid the wrong way and is suddenly overwhelmed with a lust so tender it feels like love. Something about the shiny eyes and tousled hair of the kid's fever is too post-coital somehow and it's setting him off. That and the wince of pain in Valentine's face, how grateful he is for Lindsay's feeble attempts to make him feel better, how compliant and quiet he is for once... Lindsay splashes cold water on his face and tries to clear his head. He doesn't need another perversion. He has enough.

When the bath is full Lindsay calls the younger man and Valentine comes into the bathroom still all flushed but a little clearer in the eyes. He sits on the edge of the bathtub, hissing at the cold porcelain through the thin silk. He shivers even more when Lindsay lifts the clothes from his back and coaxes him into the water.

“C-can I get out?” Valentine says immediately.

“Not yet.” Lindsay says, not at all sure he's doing the right thing. The water feels tepid to him- he didn't want to shock the kid with an ice bath- but Valentine curls in on himself at once as though he's been dipped in the Arctic Ocean and he watches the older man with resentful eyes. His teeth begin to chatter and his nose suddenly starts to run. He looks so exposed there without the clothes and makeup and stupid girly hair, thin and young and miserable. He's paler than the tiles, with the exception of his flushed cheeks and the raw chapped colour underneath his nostrils.

“Please Lindsay.” His voice is broken by shudders. “Please. I can't-”

“Shh. Just a little bit longer. Come on, lie down.”

Valentine starts to obey but suddenly snuffles a nasty, throat-tearing sneeze that doubles him over before he can as much as lift his hands.

GSShchk! ...ugh.”

When he raises his head his nose is running down his upper lip. If he's ever looked like a little boy to Lindsay's daddy, it's now. Valentine looks up with something like panic, overwhelmed with self-disgust. He flaps ineffectually, trying to reach for some tissue with his damp hands. His words run together;

“Sorry- sorry, Lindsay. I'm so--shit--- ihd'GGSch!”

His beautiful features crumple comically as he tries not to do it and fails in one wet motion. Lindsay waits for the wave of his own disgust to break over him but it doesn't. All he feels is... hard. He shouldn't be. He shouldn't be, but Valentine's so weak right now and he's looking up at Lindsay all shameful and compliant. It's pretty fucking hot. Jesus, what's wrong with him? With both of them? It's one thing playing like Valentine's a little kid when they're both pretending, and that's confusing and mortifying enough, but right now his need for Lindsay's care is real.

Speaking of, Lindsay isn't so cruel as to let his boyfriend suffer for the sake of his hard-on. Not like this anyway. He rolls a wad of toilet tissue round his hand, slaps away Valentine's fingers when he reaches for it, and bunches it around his nose himself.

“Blow.” Lindsay commands.

“Gross.” Valentine moans, looking everywhere but at his boyfriend. “Gross! No way, I'll do it... please...”

Lindsay grits his teeth.

“You've got wet hands. Don't make this harder for me than it is already. Blow your damn nose. Fuck.”

A long, mortified pause and then Valentine does so. It's pretty gross but not as bad as Lindsay was expecting. Maybe Valentine did have a point- the things he's done to that arse he shouldn't let this one particular body fluid freak him out just because it's about the only one they haven't played with. Yet.

“That's a good boy.” It just slips out, the magic words. It seems fitting and the words are distractingly arousing. He can see that they have the same effect on Valentine- despite the tepid bath he has an erection too. Lindsay says it again, to watch him twitch.

“Yeah.” Valentine says softly, glowing. “Can I get out now?”

“I suppose so.” Lindsay sticks a palm on his forehead then nods. Whether it's the bath or just the pills kicking in, he seems cooler. He hauls him out of the bath and wraps him in one of the big towels straight away, holding him close and kissing him soundly. He'd feared contagion before but the fear has been overridden now. It's a good kiss, long and slow, and all the while Valentine's lithe body creeps closer and closer to his until he's practically in Lindsay's lap, nudging against his erection with a little “Oh” of surprise.

“The fuck's that? You're turned on even though I'm ill and gross?”  Comprehension comes slowly across Valentine's face. “You're turned on because I'm ill? Shit, you're more of a pervert that I thought.”

“Am not.” Lindsay says feebly, then “You're hard too. You can't be as ill as all that.”

“I'm alright.” Valentine shrugs. It's a shame it sounds so hoarse, the consonants thick with congestion and sparking a round of husking coughs.

Lindsay snorts. “Fucking liar. Dry off properly and put your pyjamas back on before you get worse. Catch pneumonia or something.”

“Help me?” His eyes are entreating, green as the ocean under those black lashes. “I know you want to, and I'm aching all over. Can't stop my hands shaking. Look.”

He holds out a slender hand. The fingers are indeed trembling minutely.

“You should be in bed.” Lindsay sighs. “Come on.”

He dresses Valentine as quickly as he can, trying not to think about the erections they're both concealing. They find themselves walking not to Valentine's room up the stairs but to the master bedroom, to the queen size bed that Lindsay swears the kid isn't allowed in, where they always seem to end up.

Valentine curls under the duvet and pulls it up over his head. Lindsay can still hear him sneezing under the quilt.

“--Esschu! --ESSChu!-- – ihd-ESSChuh! ...Fuck.”  Then the sound of him blowing his nose.

Lindsay sits down on the edge of the bed and lifts the corner of the duvet.

“You going to let me in?”

Without waiting for an answer he slides in to his half of the bed and reaches out to draw the shivering young man into his warmth. Valentine slips into his embrace like they were meant to fit together, with his slighter frame curled against Linday's and the dark head tucked into the crook of his shoulder.

Lindsay breathes deeply. He's so hard now, and the press of the other man's thigh against his groin isn't helping. It can't be accidental, surely? Valentine is bucking his hips minutely, pushing his own erection against Lindsay's hip in a steady rhythm. That's not accidental.

Lindsay's sense of decency or responsibility or something tries to protest. “What are you doing? You're in no fit state.”

“I'm better.”

“Bollocks. You're shaking and you look like shit. I'll probably kill you.”

“You wont.” There's a desperate whine in Valentine's voice and he turns over, sliding one hand inside the waist-band of Lindsay's jeans. Lindsay looks down at him, this thin, bleary eyed young man, shivering and burning by turns and still quite determined to get into his pants.

“Are you never not horny?”

That's too complicated a question for Valentine's fevered brain. It takes him a second.

“...no...? Are you?”

Lindsay kisses him on the sweaty forehead and just gives himself up to the awful, wonderful inevitable.

“For you? Never.”

It's so different from anything they've done before.

Usually Valentine is pushy, showy and full of ideas. Now he lies slack with his eyes half closed. He barely moves, except at the waist, and only the soft pleasure-sounds he makes with each thrust mark the boundary between bliss and pain. He's blazing fever like he's about to pass out but he's smiling.

Valentine's lips are chapped fuscia and he wets them compulsively, distractingly, with his tongue before each kiss. His pyjama top has slipped down one shoulder again and the hollow of his throat is hammering visibly with his pulse, his ribs seizing weakly for air even though he's hardly moving and not breathing deeply at all. The man is so beautiful like this it makes Lindsay's chest ache, makes him drive his cock in deeper until he's sure he must be hurting.

“Are you ok?” Lindsay manages. He can hardly think for the way Valentine is thrusting his hips, but he's aware of his much greater bulk pressing him into the mattress.

Valentine just gulps, nods. “Yes. Fuck, don't stop.”

The heat under the covers is a ridiculous, blazing thing but when Lindsay tries to push them off Valentine cringes and shivers, so Lindsay stays under them and he's soon as sweaty as his partner. He can feel it tricking down the back of his neck.

Valentine's breathing gets more ragged as they go on. He can't breathe through his nose and soon each breath makes his features flicker ticklishly. Lindsay is close enough to see his nostrils flaring, the minute tilt of his brows and the corner of his mouth. He paws weakly at his nose with a knuckle, and sounds a sneezy “ah...” that is half denial, half need. Something about that sound, that weakness, tips Lindsay over the edge before he can give any warning. Valentine is so sick, so hurt, and still wanting him, needing him and it's so, so- Lindsay sees stars, and before he's finished, he feels Valentine coming in hot spurts over both their stomachs.

They lie in a sticky almost-sleep for several long minutes. Lindsay is woken by Valentine turning from him and sneezing compulsively into the mattress.

ihd'GGSch! Id'SChhue!” A hiccuping breath. “-ESSChu!-ESSChu!-ESSChu—uugh.” The last is a exhausted little sound and Valentine snuffles miserably in it's wake, not daring to raise his head.

“Sorry. Do we have any tissue? Sorry.” He asks in a whisper.

“Jesus, Pip.” Lindsay presses a kiss to the top of the sleek, dark head as he rises from the bed to get some.

* * PART THREE/EPILOGUE * *

Valentine gets worse before he gets better.

Lindsay cleans them both up as best he can. Valentine helps a little, though his hands are slack and his gaze misfocused. He lies back the bed, naked now, occasional shudders running through his muscles. He looks utterly spent, and not necessarily in a good way. Lindsay bundles the man up into an embrace.

“You'd better go to sleep like a good boy.” He tells him, fondly.

“I will. That was so good.” Valentine murmurs in Lindsay's ear. “It felt- I'm all- I dunno- but next time I'm poorly we best do it again.”

“Why?”

Lindsay doesn't get an answer because Valentine is leaving the bed and stumbling to the en-suite bathroom before he can speak. Lindsay groans himself and follows. Some things he can eroticise but this is not one them. Nevertheless he follows the kid to the bathroom and finds him, as expected, knelt by the toilet. He looks awful.

“Sorry.” Valentine says. “Fought I was gonna be sick, but then I didn't.”

“Want to stay put for a bit?”

He nods, then sighs, shakes his head. “Nah. It's ok, I'm not going to now. I just felt like I was.”

He stands, or at least he makes a pretty good effort, hauling his weight up on the closed lid of the toilet and then hanging off the towel tail, but after a minute being vertical the colour drops from his face and his legs go out from under him like he's Bambi. The sight of his crumpled on the bathroom floor, curling in on himself like he means to go to sleep there despite the chaotic shivering brought on by the coldness of the tiles, is just about the most pathetic thing Lindsay has ever seen.

“Come on.” He says, and gently, gently slides on arm into the space between Valentine's neck and the floor, and when he takes the weight Valentine's head rolls back slackly like he's hardly conscious, and he coughs again, thin chest heaving. The other arm goes under Valentine's crooked knees and Lindsay draws him in towards his chest, his warmth.

For a moment he wonders if he can stand up with all the extra weight, but he braces his back against the wall and then stands up in one quick movement that makes his thighs burn with the effort. Must start going to the gym again- he thinks as he carries the slack weight of the other man across the room, mostly to distract himself from the strain in his thighs, his arms, across his core muscles. Thank fuck he's not sleeping with someone his own size.

He deposits Valentine on the bed in time for him to cup a hand over his face and sneeze wetly.

Ihd-KSCH!” It's soft, like the kid's got no energy to put itno it. The way his features crimp as he does it again is pretty cute, if you like desperation.

“Fuck my head hurts. And my throat, and-” Valentine's voice tails off. He's not even whining, just stating tired fact. “Everything hurts. Can I go to sleep?”

The reflex ask for permission makes Lindsay's knees weak. “Course you can.”

Lindsay draws him close holds him as tight as he dares. They find a position with the smaller man hauled half-up on Lindsay's chest, one arm snaked around his stomach for warmth. The other slides absently through his sweaty hair, pulling it back from that beautiful face. The kid's burning under his touch, a heat Lindsay hadn't thought possible, and even as worry is curling from it's nest in his stomach to gnaw fiercely at his intestines he can't help but think that it's just so typical. If Lindsay were ill with flu or whatever the hell this is, he'd be snotty and gross, whilst Valentine gets to burn with fever, flushed and bright-eyed like the heroine of some wretched Victorian novel. He's got two spots of colour high on his cheekbones like a porcelain doll, so perfect it's unreal and oddly beautiful.

It's about time he had some more painkillers, or some whiskey or something. But as Lindsay stirs to go and get either of those things, an arm wraps around him and holds him fast. Valentine stirs and raises his head, looking into Lindsay's face. His eyes are wild and he murmurs his partner's name so hoarsely that it can hardly be heard.

“Lindsay. Lindsay.”

“What?” Lindsay asks. “What do you want?”

His lashes flicker. “I don't know. You? I don't know.”

“Well I'm here. I'm not going anywhere.”

“Promise?”

“Course not.” Lindsay says. His stomach is twisted up in confusion- just yesterday he was thinking of ways to get the kid of the house. The intellectual knowledge that he can't keep a hostage forever clashes hard against the warmth of Valentine in his arms. They are so close, it feels so fucking good.

“But you were gonna-” Valentine bursts out coughing and barks until he runs out of breath.

“I'm here now.” Lindsay feels drunk. He feels high; from the sex, the proximity, the very smell of this man, the need of him. Don't make any promises you can't keep a tiny rational part of his brain chimes, far away.

He settles for. “I'm here. Go the fuck to sleep.”