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Indignity

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It starts like the threat of a cold. Which wouldn't be the first one that's gone around between them, because close-quarters makes for easy transmission, and the common cold doesn't give a shit whether you're busy or not. Aisha just downs two of the daytime cold tablets she keeps in her purse (when she has one), grabs a bottle of water, and tries to remember to cough into her arm instead of her hand, because the last thing they need is anyone else joining her.

That's nine in the morning.

By eight at night, she knows she has a fever. She knows, because she can feel every single joint ache, and she wants nothing, nothing more than to sleep. Thankfully, they're done for the day, and when she tosses back two extra-strength Advil in the car. When Jensen notices she claims it's for a headache.

She does have one. It's spreading from the crown of her head all the way down to her hips.

He asks her a couple more times if she's sure she's fine, until she snaps at him. They pick up cheap Chinese to take back to their crash-space. Clay and Cougar wolf down theirs, and then head right back out. Because ammunition still doesn't grow on trees, so getting it runs anything from a careful hop around every store in the damn city, through to making contact with whoever's dealing arms locally. Here, it's the latter.

Sometimes Aisha goes with them; sometimes, she doesn't. It depends on how likely it is she could be recognized, could run into someone that her father dealt with face to face when she was still playing his princess. Nobody ever goes alone, because that's asking to get shot, or captured. 

Tonight, she's staying in, which means she doesn't even have to draw attention to herself by bowing out. She eats maybe half what she normally would, and thinks that's probably a mistake anyway. The only thing that doesn't make her stomach churn to taste at all is the won-ton soup (if you could call it that), and even that's a near thing.

This time, they're crashing in a half-finished condo in a half-finished development. One that got far enough to put in plumbing before someone pissed someone else off and the whole thing got abandoned while the developers and the backers are tied up in court trying to squeeze each other for as much as they can get. It's nicer than the alternatives, and it's the work of ten minutes for Jensen to rig the cameras so that they send out looped, empty footage to whoever's watching, while sending the real surveillance directly to his laptops.

 It means they're all crashed in their own sleeping bags, in the skeletal living-room; it also means there's two bathrooms that work.

Aisha's grateful for both. It means when she wakes up at four AM and knows she has exactly seventy seconds until she is very, very sick, she can slide out of her bag and take the stairs (that don't creak, thank fuck) to the one that's more out of the way, and that nobody's likely to hit in the middle of the night. She locks the door and keeps the light off. There's enough of a glow from the moon and from the street-lights outside for her to see everything in outline, so that she doesn't crash into anything before she can get to the toilet.

The fever means she's incredibly cold, or at least that she's shivering. Her throat burns, and throwing up only makes it worse. She's just glad she hasn't started coughing yet, but she knows it can't be long. And if most of her head is full of misery, and pain, and the misery of the smell, and the misery of knowing that unless this gets better by morning there's not much she can do to hide . . . a very small part of her is trying to decide if this really is grounds to go back and find that god-damn fucking bank clerk and slit his throat, for being so idiotically inconsiderate as to come to work sick, and so infect her. She thinks it might be. She should be able to get his home address out of . . . somewhere. If she tries hard enough.

When her stomach is completely empty, she hits the flush and uses the half-finished sink to pull herself to her feet so that she can turn the tap on. She manages to stay upright long enough to rinse her mouth and take as much of a mouthful as she dares. That's about as much as her legs will hold her for.

This bathroom is tiny: she can lean back to touch the wall, from the sink, to lean against it so that she sits down slowly, sliding, instead of falling in a heap. Which is good. It means less noise.

Her chest is starting to itch with the urge to cough. It occurs to her, now, that all of the drugs are out there, somewhere, in her bag or in the first aid kits, or in someone else's bag. And that there's no way in hell she's getting on her feet again, and even less of a way in hell she could get around, down there, in the dark, without falling over so much that a dead elephant would wake up.

She pulls her knees up bent in front of her, folds her arms over them and leans her head on her arms.

If this is karma for never having really been shot (or stabbed, or beaten half to death, whatever applied this time), she thinks, in a light-headed way, she'd rather trade. At least being shot (or stabbed, or beaten) wouldn't make her feel like she was twelve again, and afraid of waking up the house.

She'd locked the door. She'd been careful to. So when the handle starts to rattle, and there's a click, and the fucking handle starts turning, Aisha looks up to glare hatred at it. For all of five seconds, before hatred becomes too much work, and she hits resignation by default as Jensen steps in, and closes the door behind him. Puts a folded blanket down on the ceramic box the tub would go in, close enough that Aisha could reach it if she tried.

Somehow, she's not surprised it's him. He flips on the light, so her eyes flinch close. "Jensen," she says, very carefully, keeping her voice down, "I hate you."

"I knew you weren't fine," he says, completely unconcerned. Aisha lets her head rest against the wall. She notes that he's locked the door again - and that he came with medication, which might possibly convince her not to kill him as soon as someone turns the fucking gravity back down.

"This, contrary to what your teachers may have taught you, or would have if you hadn't been homeschooled in the middle of nowhere," Jensen says, "is exactly the right time to say Yes to drugs." He breaks the cold-and-flu tabs out of their blister-packs and leans over to hand them to her; she takes them and swallows them dry, hopes she won't be throwing them back up. Then he hands her a water-bottle, and she shakes her head. Throwing up now would be even worse.

"Yes," he says, and she wants to deck him even more for the part where she has heard him using that tone of voice with his niece. "If you throw it up, you throw it up, but if you go into renal failure from dehydration we have a big problem."

"I really hate you," she replies, but he has a point; she twists the cap off and cautiously sips.

"Yeah, well, I'll survive," Jensen replies. He sits down on the other side of her, in the just-enough-space between her and the half-finished shower. " . . .wow," he says, because it means he's brushing her arm. "You're working on, what, must be a hundred-and-three degree fever?"

"Hundred and two," Aisha replies, even if it's a complete guess. "I start hallucinating at a hundred and three." Her voice is starting to scratch and scrape; the resentment that he's here is fading, melting into the general sense of misery.

"Good times," Jensen says. And that half-a-laugh that it gets out of her is what starts the coughing, so she might hate him again, a little bit. "None of the rest of you got a flu shot, did you," he goes on, when she's done, and it's not a question.

"I hope yours fails," she replies, catching her breath.

The fever has moved from feeling like she's freezing to feeling like a fever; she shifts over slightly to find a cooler sliver of the wall to lean her back against. "I think it was the fucking idiot at the bank," she says, sighing carefully so she doesn't start coughing again. "I didn't want to wake anyone up."

"You probably didn't," Jensen says. "I just have special skills, honed through years of it being a really bad idea of anyone else woke up if Holly was sick. The very same skills," he goes on, quickly, like he's trying to skip over something and Aisha's pretty sure that if her head weren't full of fucking cotton balls she'd know what, "that meant I knew you were lying like a rug when you said you were fine." And then she forgets about trying to remember what he's avoiding, and goes back to wanting to kill him.

"'Fine' doesn't mean nothing's wrong," Aisha bites out, "and you know it. It means 'fuck off and leave me alone'."

"A directive which I am historically really bad at following," Jensen points out. Which is, Aisha has to admit, true. "Besides, if I'd left you alone, you wouldn't have any anti-pyretics, and your fever might keep going up, and you might wander downstairs, and while you reeling around while you're hallucinating might be entertaining, I don't think it's the kind of  thing anybody needs right now. Especially you."

"Fine," Aisha replies, "now you can go away."

"So I'm officially listing you as the third worst patient on the team," Jensen says, instead. He doesn't move, doesn't make any motion towards moving. Just stays right where he is, beside her, one knee up and one down, arm resting on his upright knee. He interprets her glare as a question instead of a threat, and says, "Well, Clay's the worst. He almost bled out on us once. And you've seen Cougar. And Pooch. I'm kind of in between. But you're definitely in third."

Her head is full of fog, ache and miserable, so Aisha just stares at him for a minute, tries to think of some way to make him go away, and can't find any. Not even the vicious ones, the ones marked don't go here unless you have to. His face is full of the friendly, calm I-am-not-a-threat-really he's used on her before, and she gets the sinking feeling she could try to rip him to pieces (if she could think through the sick) and he'd still stay here.

"You're actually going to sit in here with me," she says, with something that might approach resignation. "On the floor. All night."

"Pretty much," Jensen replies. "You should drink more of that," and he taps the water-bottle with the side of his hand.

"You are such a fucking irritating . . . idiot," she says, with all the aggravation she can manage to stir up. It isn't much. And she does take a bit more water, seeing as she hasn't retched up the stuff from before.

"So I've been told," Jensen replies, and Aisha gives up.

She says, "Clay almost bled out?" Because if he's going to be here, and he's going to talk (which he is, she knows he is), he might as well talk about something she wants to know, if only because misery loves company. Even if it's only remembered. Even if it's the misery of someone she still isn't going to kill.

Somewhere in the middle of the story, Aisha falls asleep, Jensen's voice turning into a familiar, maybe even comforting buzz and then disappearing. She only knows that because when she wakes up, she's lying down, curled up, head resting on Jensen's lap, Jensen's hand resting lightly on her head.

She only wakes up because the ache in her head, in her bones, and the burn in her throat are all pounding through the exhaustion, like an army that just went away to find reinforcements when you thought you'd won. She starts coughing when she sits up, and just takes the pills Jensen hands her and drinks most of the water-bottle without even thinking she might throw it up, because she's that dry.

The part of her that gives a damn about pride thinks she should stay sitting up, or something; the rest of her that feels like absolute shit doesn't care. She sits there, torn between them for a second, while her head pulses pain in time with her heart.

"It's okay," Jensen says, somewhere between serious and the kind of laughing he offers up when he's asking you not to hit him. "I still know you can kick my ass when you're healthy."

It's more comforting than it should be to hear. Aisha lies back down, where she was before. Jensen puts the blanket back around her shoulders.