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What Would You Say If I Stayed

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This was a terrible, terrible idea. Ryan knew it. But knowing it somehow wasn’t enough to make him turn around.

No, instead of turning around and going back to his car, Ryan continued to stand in front of Lester’s door, holding two bags filled with everything he could think of that an ill Lester might need, working up the nerve to knock. He knew that Lester had told him not to come over but he didn’t like the idea of the man sitting in his flat by himself, not feeling well. Lester was probably awful at taking care of himself, Ryan reasoned. This would be good for him.

But it was most certainly not the sort of thing they did. Ryan had only been to Lester’s flat a handful of times, for food and drinks and mostly sex. He knew that he liked Lester and he was sure that Lester liked him, but their relationship was still fairly precarious. He wasn’t sure how to cross the line into making it something more and whether Lester even wanted him to.

“God damn it, Ryan,” he muttered and knocked. He stood there for a moment listening to muffled movement behind the door, including what sounded like Lester cursing, until the door swung open.

“Ryan,” Lester said in surprise, lips slightly parted while he stared.

Ryan was almost positive he was much more surprised, however. He couldn’t help but gawk at Lester, who was dressed in a tattered old pair of sweatpants that hung low on his narrow hips and a faded university T-shirt. It looked like the sort of thing Lester would threaten to burn if he’d seen Ryan wearing it.

“Um,” he said (full marks for intelligence there, Ryan) and tried to focus on Lester’s face. He held up the bags. “I went to the shop and picked up a few things, I just thought I’d come by and… and see how you were. Can I come in?”

Lester stepped back and pulled the door open wider. “I thought we’d agreed you weren’t coming over.”

“I know, but I thought…” Ryan stood a few steps inside Lester’s flat, clutching the bags in his hands and trying to think of how to do this. “Let me help you, okay? If you want me to go then I’ll go but I wanted…” He swept his hand over the back of his head.

Lester was standing with his back pressed to the door, arms crossed protectively over his chest. “I’m really not that sick,” he said and then sneezed into his hands. He held his hands in front of himself, his face a cross between disgust and betrayal.

“What was that you were saying?” Ryan asked, mimicking Lester’s favoured eyebrow raise.

“Oh, shut up,” Lester said and walked past him.

Ryan followed Lester into the kitchen and watched him wash his hands, but not before he’d sneezed again. After Lester wiped his hands on a dish towel, Ryan helpfully handed him a box of tissues from out of one of his bags.

Grabbing it with a scowl, Lester stalked back out of the kitchen and into the living room, where he flounced down onto the sofa. “Well, what else have you got in there?”

And it looked like Ryan was going to be allowed to stay, for a little while at least. Sitting down next to Lester, he set the bags in his lap and started taking things out. “Lots of medicine. I wasn’t sure what you’d need, so there’s cough syrup and throat lozenges and ibuprofen and cold pills, drowsy and non-drowsy.”

Lester made to grab for the non-drowsy tablets but Ryan smacked his hand. “Take the drowsy ones, James. You need to be able to sleep.”

“And if I oversleep? You can’t make me stay home from work.”

Although Ryan was pretty sure he could, actually, he said only, “If you let me stay the night, I can make sure you’re up in time.”

“That sounds a bit like blackmail to me.”

“Think of it however you like, but it is in your best interests to let me stay.” For God’s sake, let someone help you for once in your life. Let me take care of you.

Lester was studying Ryan’s face, a curious expression in his eyes that Ryan couldn’t quite place. He didn’t give Ryan a real answer, instead saying, “It looks like you got more than the medicine.”

“Some food as well,” Ryan said, returning to his purchases. “Orange juice and chicken soup and green tea.”

“Ryan,” Lester started before being sidetracked by a fit of coughing.

Ryan watched him with concern and asked, when Lester had regained his breath, “Yes, James?”

“You’re starting to bear an alarming resemblance to my mother.”

“Glad to hear it,” Ryan said, getting back onto his feet. “You could do with a spot of mothering. Have you eaten yet?”

“No. I’d only just got in before you arrived.”

“I thought so.” Ryan gathered up his purchases and walked to the kitchen, hearing Lester follow him seconds later. He went through the cabinets to find a pot, then dumped a can of chicken noodle soup into it and turned the stove on.

Lester had only watched him silently, which was more than Ryan had hoped for, and then said, “Aren’t you eating anything?”

“I had takeaway in the car.” Ryan got out a glass and filled it with orange juice, putting the rest of the juice in the refrigerator and handing the glass to Lester.

Lester simply held the glass for a moment but at Ryan’s look, he took a sip. “Are you planning on forcing the tea down my throat as well?”

“We can save that for the morning.”

“How generous of you.”

When the soup had heated up, Ryan ladled it into a bowl and made his way to the dining room, where he set it onto the table and then pulled out a chair.

Lester’s eyebrow appeared to be in danger of vanishing into his hairline. “Really? Are you going to tuck me into bed later, too?”

“Get in the chair, James.”

He did, but not without a scowl (and another sneeze). He grudgingly ate the soup, reminding Ryan of nothing more than a disgruntled little boy being forced to do as he was told.

When Ryan was satisfied that Lester had eaten enough, he took two cold tablets out of the package and pressed them into Lester’s hand. “Take those with the rest of your juice,” Ryan instructed. “It will help you to sleep.”

“As far as I recall, I never agreed to this. I never said you could stay.”

“Swallow the tablets, James. You’re only going to feel worse if you don’t. I’m sure you know how hard it is to sleep with a cold when you haven’t taken anything.”

Lester heaved a sigh, though it sounded rather hilarious with his altered breathing, and took the pills.

Ryan nodded in satisfaction. This was turning out to be easier than he had expected - either Lester really felt dreadful or for whatever reason, he didn’t find doing what Ryan told him to do as offensive as he did listening to anyone else. Ryan suspected it was at least partially the latter, a fact which he was fully prepared to exploit. “Go on , then. I’ll clear up out here while you have a wash or do whatever it is you do before bed.”

“It isn’t that late.”

“So? You’re ill, you should sleep. Besides, those tablets will have you out pretty quickly.” Not caring to hear Lester’s response, Ryan took the dirty dishes into the kitchen. He put the glass, bowl, and spoon into the dishwasher before washing the pot and sticking it in the rack to dry. He gave the room a once-over to make sure he hadn’t left a mess and then made his way over to the bedroom, hearing Lester still banging around in the bathroom.

Ryan stripped down to his boxers, paused, and then took those off as well. He had always preferred to sleep naked and he sincerely doubted Lester would mind. After neatly folding his clothes and setting them on top of the dresser, he pulled back the duvet and made himself comfortable.

Lester came out of the bathroom not long after that, sniffling in a way that was almost cute. He eyed Ryan. “Are you naked under there?”

“I certainly am. Why don’t you join me?”

“How could I refuse?” Lester mumbled and proceeded to take off his T-shirt and sweats, ducking back into the bathroom for a few seconds and coming back out empty-handed. He stood in the middle of the room in his underwear, looking a bit lost, like he couldn’t figure out what to do next.

Maybe the tablets were messing with his thought process already, Ryan thought. “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable without your underwear?”

“Would I?” Lester asked, seemingly to himself. “Seems like it would be more for your benefit than mine.” But then he shrugged, pushing his underwear down over his hips and stepping out of them. He went into the bathroom yet again and then finally slithered underneath the duvet. He stopped when he was lying shoulder-to-shoulder with Ryan. “You’re not… expecting anything, are you?”

“No, James, I’m not. I want you to rest.”

“Okay. I do think I feel a little tired, actually.” Lester was starting to sound sleepy, the edges of his words softened and blurred.

Ryan snaked an arm out from underneath the duvet and laid it across the pillows behind Lester’s head. “Let me ask you a question. What on earth were you wearing?”

“Hmm? Oh, that. My sick clothes.”

“Your sick clothes?”

“Yes. Don’t you have something you wear when you aren’t feeling well? Something old and comfortable and familiar. It helps me to… relax.”

“Just when I think you can’t surprise me any more,” Ryan said fondly and turned his head to press a kiss to Lester’s temple.

Lester hummed softly and rolled onto his side, facing Ryan, draping an arm across Ryan’s waist and laying his head against Ryan’s chest. “I’m glad you came over, Tom.”

That was certainly more than Ryan had expected to hear. “My pleasure,” he said. Ryan curled his arm around Lester and waited in the dimness, feeling Lester melt into him, listening as he started to very quietly snore. He wasn’t all that tired, but this… Ryan decided he could quite happily lie just like this.