It had been two days of painkillers and antiinflammatories, and Magnum still felt like he was on day one of a three day hangover. If he'd actually been drinking, he might have considered it his due, but, without even so much as a beer for over a week now, it seemed patently unfair for him to be suffering so much. The first day, he'd dragged himself out of bed, telling himself fresh air and gentle exercise was as good as a cure-all. He'd ended up sitting on the edge of the lawn, panting, with his head spinning slightly, exhausted just from that short walk.
When he'd heard the barking, he'd tried to get to his feet, but his legs had felt too weak. After a tense moment when he'd thought he could feel the dogs snuffling at his exposed neck, he had realized it was Higgins' hand pressed to the skin covering his pulse. She had frowned at him, helped him stand up, and led him back to the guest house where he had sunk gracelessly to the sofa. Every time Higgins returned, despite protestations of 'naturally I don't really care if you're ill, it's what you get for running an all night stakeout in a convertible' on her lips, she had brought him water. Twice, she had brought food and helped him eat, and, at some point, two boxes of Tylenol had appeared that she had made him take at what he supposed were reasonably regular intervals.
She had, quite cruelly in his opinion, outright refused to let him stay on the sofa. As the sun had set, the pair of them had made their slow way to his bedroom. He had been forced to lean heavily on her, shocked by how utterly betrayed he had been by his own body. Slowly, he had started to worry that she wouldn't be able to support his weight. But, by the time the thought had formed in his addled mind, they were already standing next to his bed, and she was encouraging him to take his arm from her shoulders. As soon as he'd landed on the bed, he'd realized how right she was to make him move; it might be a comfortable couch, but it was nothing compared to the support of a real mattress.
The second day, he had stayed in bed, waking to find her setting three bottles of water on his bedside table.
"I have to pop out," she'd said quietly, and then muttered something about holidays and Kumu's awful timing.
He'd watched with bleary eyes as she'd snapped open the seals on all three bottles before sitting on the edge of his bed and putting her hand to his forehead. He had remembered his mother doing the same, telling him she was measuring his temperature. He'd been much older than he probably should have been when he'd realized how impossible it was to check a temperature with your own hand.
He had tried to explain that to Higgins, but she had simply nodded along, a surprising look of fond exasperation on her face. When he'd finally stopped trying to talk past his sore throat, she had shown him the temperature strip she had been holding. He'd looked embarrassed, he knew it, and expected a sarcastic quip. But instead she'd just smiled at him.
"Get some more rest," she'd said, her voice still quieter than normal, as she'd stood and fussed with the blanket for a moment. "I'll be back before lunch. I'll check on you when I get in."
He might have watched her as she left, but he wasn't sure. He remembered feeling slightly bemused by how gentle she was being. She'd always struck him as the sort of person who would scare her own immune system into beating down any virus and hadn't expected she would be so soft with someone who wasn't as strong-willed as she was. But the memory was vague, and all he knew for sure was that he had slept, waking at odd moments to sip the water, then sleeping again.
He thought she must have brought food again at some point. He wondered if he had managed to eat anything himself or if she had fed him. None of his memories were particularly clear; everything seemed fogged over and distant.
And now it was the third morning, and he still felt like he was being beaten up from the inside out. He wanted to stay in bed again, to text Higgins and ask her to bring him more tablets, more water, to sit and talk to him. He amused himself for a moment or two by imagining her reaction to being asked to read to him. Part of him, the part that admired her strength and combat abilities, thought she would leave the room with a toss of her head. The rest of him, the part that had been so grateful for her whispered words and quiet concern, thought there was a fair chance she would simply pick up the book from his nightstand and start reading.
The moment passed, the image his fevered mind had conjured faded, and he started the all-too-exhausting process of getting up and getting dressed. He didn't dare try to shower even though his body was crying out for clean water, afraid the heat and steam would make leaving the house impossible. Although he usually went with aftershave for a scent, it didn’t seem strong enough today. He did have deodorants, and he settled for spraying on far too much in the hopes of masking the smell of sickness that seemed to be clinging to him. He couldn't let his client down. It had been too long since he had had a client who he thought could pay in cash rather than goods. And there was his reputation to think of; no one was going to trust him to solve their cases if they couldn't even count on him to show up when he was meant to.
Forcing his arms to stretch as he pulled on a shirt wasn't too hard, but making his fingers fasten the buttons was a near-Herculean task. His hands kept shaking, and the buttons slipping away from their holes. Putting on pants meant either balancing on one leg or sitting down and then standing again. Both seemed like impossible feats, but, finally, his thoughts wading through molasses, he decided sitting would make it less likely that he would injure himself. For the first time in his life, he felt jealous of a woman's ability to wear a skirt. He thought he would quite happily have something in his wardrobe that he could step into so easily. His mind was so overwhelmed by how awful he felt that he didn't even feel embarrassed by the thought of longing for a woman's clothing.
Quite how he managed to make his way to the living area he wasn't sure. He stood from his bed and his vision blurred and then he was leaning on the back of a chair, Higgins in front of him with raised eyebrows. Right, he needed to leave. He tried to tell her about the client, his pitiful bank balance, the prospect of a payday. She didn't seem impressed.
"Higgy… I've got a client. I need..." He tried to shake his head and clear his thoughts but instead it made the room sway. "I need to..."
"You've got a fever. You need to go to bed." Perhaps in deference to the pain he knew she could see in his eyes, she kept her voice soft and low. To him, it sounded as though the words had been soaked in honey, the sound a soft counterpoint to the jagged pounding in his ears. Her warm hands felt like salve on his sweat-cooled skin, and her gentle touch as she led him back to his room was somehow strong enough to hold him up but too light to aggravate his fever-torn muscles. She kept talking in that same feather-light tone as she walked beside him.
While he sat on the edge of the bed and let her remove his shirt, her voice washed over him. She was telling him she would meet the client for him, that she could run the simple background check the case seemed to call for in the car on her way back home. He wasn't listening to the words but rather feeling the shape of them. As his aching head swam and his very bones seem to throb, the sounds soothed away the pain. He felt himself pushed back to the bed, and the pillow felt so soft under his head he couldn't help but relax into it. A tug on his legs startled him a little, but her voice was there, reassuring and calming, and he was half-asleep before she had even finished pulling off his pants and tugging the light blanket over him. A touch, like a butterfly's wing, fluttered over his forehead, and he sighed at the feeling.
Somewhere, far above him, she was saying that she would send the report from his email account, that his client would never know they hadn't received his personal attention, that there was more water on his bedside table. It was meaningless to him, the tone too beguiling for his tired mind to catch the words. His entire being was sinking into the bed, the soft sounds and tender touch leading him down and down and down. He was asleep, resting properly for the first time in days, before his door clicked closed.
When he woke, Magnum was surprised to find he felt a little better. The all-encompassing ache had died down slightly; it was dull now. His body still felt heavy, but he thought he could probably move, if he really had to. He stayed still, not really wanting to open his eyes. He had no idea how long he had been asleep, but he had to admit he could probably still do with a few more hours. He wondered if there was any water left. That made him wonder how much longer Higgins was going to be out; he realized he had expected her to be there, sitting on the side of the bed and waiting for him to wake up. He didn't have the energy to address what that thought meant, what emotions were lurking behind it. Instead, he just blinked his eyes open to look for her, even though he was fairly certain he was alone.
The room was empty, and there was no sun creeping in his covered window. That had him reaching for his phone, trying to check the time without actually looking at the far-too-bright screen. It was past noon. It shouldn't have taken more than half an hour to handle the client meeting. Fifteen minutes to drive there, another fifteen to drive back. So where was Higgins?
'The study,' he told himself, pushing back the blanket. 'She's in the study, working on your case.' It took such an effort to sit up that he nearly let himself fall straight back down. But something was nagging at him, pulling on every instinct that made him such a good P.I., and, even though his eyes were refusing to focus properly and his head was already pounding in time with his heartbeat, he couldn't ignore his gut. He tried calling her, letting it go to voicemail before hanging up. After hearing her cool, professional voice instructing him to "state your business after the tone" and that she would "respond as promptly as is required" for the third time, he admitted to himself he was trying to avoid standing up. One deep breath later, he was on his feet, feeling surprisingly well balanced, and started across the room.
He made it to the door before he realized that, if she were trying to give him a chance to rest, she might have decided to spend some time away from the estate. He should have tried calling Rick or T.C. to ask if they had seen her. He winced slightly as his mind played the conversation out.
"You seem very interested in her location, brother. Want her to stroke your forehead again?"
"Absolutely not. I'm thirsty and could use some more Tylenol, but I don't know where she keeps it."
"And maybe, if you ask really nicely, she'll tell you a bedtime story."
"I do not want Higgins to tell me a bedtime story."
"But you do want her to run her fingers through your hair and whisper to you like she did before though."
"You do know slander is a crime, right?"
"You know this doesn't constitute slander, right?"
"Which of us works on the edges of law enforcement again?"
Magnum's head filled with the sound of imaginary laughter, and he nearly shook it before realizing what a dumb idea that would be. He focused instead on making his shockingly weak grip twist the handle and tug open the door. It had never seemed like there was much of a distance between the guest house and the main building before, but now he felt like every step was a contest. It was him versus gravity, and gravity was playing dirty. Before he was even halfway to the study, Magnum could feel his legs shaking. The few hours of sleep had certainly helped, but he was by no means cured and was starting to have longing thoughts about fingers in his hair by the time he had reached the kitchen of the main house.
He was tempted to head in and grab some water, maybe poke around and find the Tylenol, but he was starting to feel genuine concern over Higgins’ absence. The lowkey anxiety that could have been explained away by the fever and exhaustion was growing with every step he took, and he forced himself to ignore the thirst and reawakened headache and reemerging aches and keep going.
The study was empty. Magnum glanced around, feeling something very close to despair and realized that, in spite of the worries, he had been expecting to find Higgins here. Now that she wasn’t, he felt slightly lost.
‘You’re an investigator,’ he told himself. ‘Missing persons is right up your alley.’ But that was as far as he got. He was in pain, his body rebelling against his decision to expend energy, and he couldn’t organize his thoughts. He got as far as, ‘If Higgy is missing, you need to look for her,’ before everything came to a shuddering halt. Magnum had just enough time to realize the odd noise he was hearing was his own breathing before the room upended itself. He was out cold before he hit the floor.
Someone was standing over him, and he couldn't help but panic. Instantly, a quiet voice shushed him and a gentle hand came out of nowhere to lie on his forehead.
"It's just Dr. Luka," the voice told him, and he thought he recognized it. "I gave him a call when I couldn't wake you up."
Ah, now he remembered. It was Higgins. And she sounded upset. Wait, who wasn't waking up? Were Rick and T.C. in trouble? Magnum forced his eyes to open again - he hadn't actually meant to close them - and found himself staring up at Higgins.
"Who won't wake up?" he asked, concerned. His worry faded a little when Higgins gave him an exasperated look.
"I had to run a few errands after meeting your client and came home to find you out cold on the floor."
"I was looking for you. I was worried." It was suddenly vital she understand he hadn't been stupid on purpose. "I thought you would have been back. And I was thirsty. I tried to call you, but you didn't pick up." He looked at her with the most solemn expression he could summon given that he was utterly exhausted and that her hand was still on his forehead. She shook her head and said something he couldn't catch. He was about to ask her to repeat it when another voice spoke up. Whoops, he'd forgotten about the doctor.
"He needs plenty of rest. This flu is nasty; we've seen people hospitalized over it."
"He'll rest; I'll make sure of it." She carried on talking, but Magnum wasn't listening; her hand had moved from his forehead, her fingers were running through his hair again, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed.
"Magnum?" He frowned as he looked up, wondering why on earth she'd seen fit to wake him up and when the doctor had left. "You need to get back to bed, and I can't possibly carry you. Can you walk? Or should I call one of the boys?" The echo of laughter filled Magnum's head along with his friend's mocking cries of 'bedtime story!' and he groaned.
"Just help me up," he said finally, ignoring the overwhelming concern that had appeared on her face at the groan. "I can manage." As she moved to help support his weight, he fixed her with his best serious face. "I don't want you to read me a bedtime story." He needed her to know that Rick and T.C. were idiots. "Although it would be nice. I mean your voice is pretty. But they're wrong." Magnum couldn't figure out why Higgins was laughing, but he figured if she wasn't angry then that was a good sign.
"Lean on me as much as you need," was all she said. "Let's get you back to bed so you can rest properly."
The journey back to his room was hellish; if he were anyone else he would have asked if he could sleep on the floor. But Magnum was a SEAL, and SEALs weren't trained to quit. He sighed with relief as he finally dropped down on top of his bed and let his throbbing body relax.
When Magnum woke up next, he was starving and felt the definite need for a shower. His throat was dry, and he turned his head to see if Higgins had left more water for him. There was a half-full bottle on the bedside table, but he didn't reach for it. The book he'd been reading days before wasn't on the table anymore, lying instead on the side of his bed. And next to it was Higgins' head, resting on her hand. She looked tired even though she was asleep, and Magnum wondered how many times she had checked in on him during the night. A noise made him shift his head again, and he saw T.C. tiptoeing through the door with a blanket in his arms.
"About time you woke up." His voice was a whisper. "And it's about time she got to sleep." He must have seen the look Magnum gave him, and he explained as he carefully draped the blanket over Higgins. "She's been here all night. You spent a long time telling her you absolutely didn't want her to read to you or to stroke your forehead. Right up until she tried to hand you off to me and Rick. Then you just came right out and begged her to stay."
Magnum winced as the confused memories kicked up in his head but T.C. was grinning.
"You're lucky she likes you."
Magnum looked at the sleeping Higgins, slightly awed by the knowledge that she had spent the entire night making sure he was okay. "Yeah," he said finally, a small smile spreading over his face. "I know."