In hindsight, Haddock supposed he ought to have spotted it on the train back from Zurich. The journey wasn't a long one, but Tintin had spent the whole of it leaning against the window with his eyes shut, tiredly patting his dog. In the low night-time lighting of the compartment, anyone would look a little peaky, and perhaps Haddock could have been forgiven for mistaking the slump in the lad's shoulders for well-earned weariness after a conspiracy thrown open and a bout of international espionage subdued, but really he should have known better.
For one thing, Tintin was never weary after an adventure. That was Haddock's job. For another, Haddock had spent the train ride sitting across from Tintin, slouched in his seat with his arms crossed over his chest, his eyes half-shut and his gaze lingering overly long on the lad's face. And where am I supposed to be looking? he was ready to grumble if caught out, but no one noticed save Milou, and the longer he was not discovered, the more boldly he stared.
"I think I'll go to bed," Tintin murmured when they arrived home to Moulinsart, and Haddock waved him off, intent on finding a comfortable chair, a bit of cold chicken, and a small glass of whisky—more or less in that order.
It was only when he'd had his drink and sandwich in front of the fire, and apprised Nestor of the goings-on in Zurich, and had enjoyed a good pipe to boot that he mustered the energy to drag his tired bones up to bed. He climbed the stairs with a yawn and paused on the landing just outside the door to the bedroom that had of late become Tintin's.
That was when he heard it. Or rather, that was when he failed to hear it. The expected sound was that of Tintin hammering away madly at the typewriter, but instead, all was quiet. Haddock lingered there another moment, not quite pressing his ear to the door, and then heard a faint, distressed sound.
He frowned. It was probably just the dog whining, he reasoned. Still, it didn't seem quite right, and finally he knocked softly on the door. "Tintin?"
A vague mutter was the only reply, just out of sorts enough in tone that Haddock put his hand on the doorknob. From the other side, he heard the scrabble of little paws. He opened the door, and Milou blinked up at him and whined before retreating back into the darkness and hopping up onto his master's bed.
Haddock hesitated. He had not set foot inside this room since the lad had taken up residence. He might be master of Moulinsart, but he wasn't its commander, and privacy ashore was more sacred a thing than at sea. Bedclothes and nightclothes and walking into a room without knocking seemed a slippery slope when sharing a house with an annoyingly fetching young lad.
The faint groan was quiet and pained, and it was enough to undo months of good behaviour and spur him to step over the threshold. In the glow of the light stealing in from the corridor, he saw Tintin sprawled in the middle of the bed. The covers had been thrown off, and the lad's pyjama top was unbuttoned and flung open. Milou was pawing at the covers unhappily.
"You all right?" Haddock asked, and when Tintin didn't respond, he approached carefully and sat down at the edge of the bed for a better look.
Tintin turned, his eyes still shut. His nose twitched as though were catching the scent of Loch Lomond single malt. "Mm...Captain?"
"I'm here," Haddock said. You weren't supposed to wake a man from a nightmare. It was bad luck. Or was that sleepwalking?
A hand quested out blindly and grabbed Haddock by the shoulder, pulling him down. Blistering barnacles! Haddock barely stopped himself from landing squarely atop the lad, catching himself awkwardly on one elbow. Tintin's arm wound clumsily around his neck, and the lad let out a contented sigh.
"What—?" He shut up when his brow brushed against the lad's and he felt the suspicious heat of it.
He tried to draw back to put a hand on Tintin's forehead, but the lad had a fair grip on him. So, after a quick glance at the door to ascertain that Nestor wasn't about to wander by and get entirely the wrong idea, he pressed his lips to Tintin's forehead instead.
Soft, hot skin; warm breath against his neck. Feverish, yes, but not worryingly so. The lad was clinging like a limpet, likely because even a hot-blooded Haddock felt cool in comparison, but he let go obligingly enough when Haddock took his hand and extricated himself.
"I'll be back," he murmured. "Hold tight."
Nestor, it turned out, had already retired for the night, and so Haddock was left to rummage through the kitchen himself, dredging up whatever old wives' cures he could remember. It was simple enough at sea: you called in every favour you could, and you parlayed that into as much rum and sleep as was needed to get you back on your feet. It was a perfectly good course of treatment. It built character, and in the case of any other young lad, he would be all for the virtue of suffering.
He grumbled at his own ridiculousness as he heated up a saucepan of water and gave up the last of a very dear bottle.
"Shoo," he said as Milou tried to herd him back upstairs. He was balancing an overloaded tray and had no intention of breaking his neck tripping over a concerned bit of fluff. The dog raced ahead of him, turning in impatient circles at the top of the stairs.
Tintin still hadn't woken when Haddock returned. He set the tray down on the bedside table and reclaimed his spot at the edge of the bed. Then he dipped a washcloth into a bowl of cool water and mopped Tintin's brow.
A heartfelt sigh puffed from Tintin's lips.
"Better?" Haddock asked, dipping the cloth again and rubbing it over the lad's flushed cheeks, down his neck and across his collarbone.
He hesitated and then, with a small twist of guilt in his gut, wet the cloth again and cooled down Tintin's bare chest with a handful of brisk strokes. In the faint light, he could see the water glint on lean muscles. Two rosy little nipples stiffened up in the sudden chill.
"Captain?" Tintin asked, his voice clearer now. His eyes opened, sleepy and confused.
"You've got a fever," Haddock said, suddenly very aware that his hand holding the cloth was resting just above the waistband of Tintin's pyjama bottoms. His fingers twitched without permission.
"Oh," Tintin said, sounding put out at the very notion of being sick.
Haddock got an arm around him. "Sit up," he said brusquely. "Drink."
Tintin blearily sat up and took the cup from him, sniffing suspiciously at its contest. "Wha'sit?"
"Hot whisky, lemon and honey. Now drink it."
It was proof of how poorly Tintin was feeling that he didn't argue. He sipped at the drink, leaning his head back against the headboard. "I'm fine," he said. "You didn't have to..."
Haddock cleared his throat and looked away. "Just finish your drink."
Tintin obeyed and then lay down again, curling up on his side with his head next to Haddock's knee and his hand curled loosely around the empty cup. "Thanks," he said quietly before his eyes closed again and his breathing slowly grew deep and even.
"Hmph," Haddock grunted, taking the cup from Tintin's limp grasp. He supposed he ought to get up, but...well, it wouldn't do to jostle the bed and lurch the poor wee lad out of sleep. Instead, he dipped the washcloth in the bowl again and mopped gently at Tintin's brow, and if his own face burned shamefully hot, perhaps he could pass it off as something catching.