Bryce hates being sick. Sure, nobody actually likes coming down with a cold, but Bryce hates it. So much so that when he comes down with a bad cold in the middle of September, he actually tries to play it off, go through his normal schedule like he isn’t running a fever or like he’s not one good coughing fit away from hacking up a lung.
This doesn’t go as well as Bryce would like. Partially because Bryce’s life as a full-time college student and part-time spy doesn’t really leave him much room to be sick as a dog, and also because Chuck’s not a big fan of the whole “play through the pain” motto, and he keeps nagging Bryce to take some medicine, get some rest.
But whatever, he can handle this. Bryce was hand-picked by the CIA to be a super-secret spy, there’s no way that some tiny little cold is going to kick his ass.
“Bryce, you look and sound like a plague victim,” Chuck says as they walk into the lecture hall for their European Folklore class.
“Do not,” Bryce counters, but even if he doesn’t sound like a plague victim, he does sound like he’s been gargling with acid, so his denials don’t exactly fly with Chuck, who just gives him an alarmed look.
And of course, Chuck turns out to be right, because Bryce spends the entire lecture coughing into the crook of his elbow, coughing until his eyes are tearing up and his chest hurts. By the time he’s done, practically everyone within the nearby vicinity has backed away slowly, in obvious fear of his germs, except for Chuck, who’s just looking at him with a mixture of concern and I-told-you-so smugness.
“Fine,” Bryce croaks sulkily, defeated. “Maybe I do need to stay in for a day or so.”
“Yes,” Chuck says emphatically. “You really, really do. If only so you don’t end up infecting the rest of the student body.”
And with that, Bryce is confined to his bed for the foreseeable future. Or at least until he stops feeling like death warmed over. He honestly doesn’t expect Chuck to fuss over him the way he does, though, which is why it’s such a surprise when Chuck brings him all sorts of stuff to weather through this nasty cold—cough syrup, lozenges, tissues for Bryce to sneeze into, even chicken noodle soup, for God’s sake.
“It’s just Campbell’s,” Chuck says abashedly as Bryce digs in, sitting up in bed. “I wanted to call Ellie and ask for her chicken noodle recipe, you know, but we don’t want you to come down with food poisoning on top of this cold.”
“No, man, this is awesome,” Bryce assures him, feeling touched. He can’t help but stare down at the half-empty bowl—someone made him soup. Bryce can’t remember the last time someone made him food because he was sick.
“Good,” Chuck says, grinning at him. “And oh, hey, I have to get to class, but I’ll check in you later, okay? Seriously, don’t even think about getting out of bed, just relax, eat your soup, and enjoy the thespian stylings of William Shatner, okay?” he suggests, patting Bryce’s box of Star Trek DVDs, original series, of course.
Bryce offers him a little mock-salute. “Will do, Doctor Bartowski.”
Chuck laughs. “That’s Ellie, not me, but I will take that as a compliment. And seriously—stay in bed.”
Bryce has never been one to follow doctor’s orders if he could help it—but it’s Chuck. So he eats the soup, and he stays in bed and watches Star Trek, just like Chuck asked.
When Chuck comes back to their room a few hours later, Bryce is still propped up on the pillows, the blanket pulled up almost to his chin, watching The Empath on their TV. “Classic episode, I approve,” Chuck says, dropping his backpack on the floor. “Feeling any better?”
Bryce shrugs. He’s coughing a little less now, thanks to the syrup and the lozenges, and his throat’s stopped feeling like it’s been set on fire, so that’s an improvement, but he’s still feeling hot and achy and generally pretty gross.
Chuck walks over and feels Bryce’s forehead with the palm of his hand, brushing aside Bryce’s bangs as he does it. His hand is cool and dry and if he can sense Bryce tensing up under his hand, he doesn’t let on. “Hmm. Your fever doesn’t seem to be going down yet.”
“Uh,” Bryce says intelligently, wondering if the fever’s a good enough excuse for the way his face is all flushed right now. “Guess not.”
“Well, keep taking your medicine,” Chuck tells him, his hand falling away from Bryce’s forehead, right before Bryce can do something stupid like lean into Chuck’s touch, or worse, ask Chuck if he wants to touch him somewhere else.
“You can watch some episodes with me if you want,” Bryce offers, glancing at Chuck out of the corner of his eye. Chuck thinks about it, and shrugs, grinning at Bryce.
“Yeah, sure, why not?” And with that, Chuck settles on the edge of Bryce’s bed, and they start watching old Star Trek episodes.
“God, Nichelle Nichols is a goddess,” Chuck mutters fervently as he watches Uhura walk around in the midriff-baring uniform of her evil counterpart. By this point, Chuck’s stopped sitting at the edge of the bed, and he’s lying right next to Bryce, propped up on Bryce’s extra pillow and the headboard, the two of them sharing popcorn. (Chuck had been dubious about the effects of popcorn on Bryce’s germ-infected body, but Bryce had won by arguing that you can’t have a Star Trek marathon without popcorn. Chuck had also won by insisting that Bryce drink orange juice with his popcorn instead of Coke, so it was a victory for everyone.)
“You don’t need to tell me that,” Bryce responds sleepily. He’s tired and sleepy and a little feverish still, which is why he’s not allowing himself to freak out about how close his body is to Chuck’s, even through the barriers of clothing and a thick comforter and a sheet.
And right now, it’s easy not to think about the things he wants from Chuck, easier to think about the things he gets from Chuck. Like chicken noodle soup, and Star Trek marathons, and someone who’ll feel his forehead for fever when he’s sick.
Slowly, Bryce leans in until his head’s resting gently against Chuck’s upper arm. He’s tired and sleepy and a little feverish still, and Chuck’s never been that sensitive about his personal space, so Bryce figures he can get away with it. And sure enough, Chuck just glances over and gives him a quick, affectionate smile before turning his attention back to the TV and a goateed Spock.
“Hey, Chuck?” Bryce says, his voice quiet. “Thanks for the soup.”
Chuck smiles at him again, like maybe he understands what Bryce isn’t saying, and hey, maybe he does. “Sure thing, man.”