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It's the worst possible time for her to be sick.

John's just started his new job, and he's a bundle of nerves and jitters each morning before he finally knots his tie and finds his keys and heads out, pressing kisses against the top of her head and urging her to take it easy.

The house is a cluttered maze of boxes, all spilling their contents onto the floor. Saucepans and crockery teeter in stacks on the kitchen counter-tops. None of the kitchen chairs are at the table yet. Bubble wrap and tissue paper are clumped in heaps on the stairs.

And Dee's sick, her nose red and stuffed, her head full of spun cotton and her chest heavy with a weight she can't quite cough away.

The TV won't work yet (John says it's the antenna - "It's a fixer-upper, Dee..."), and Dee can't find any of the boxes with her books in them.

All she wants to do is snuggle on the couch in John's old bathrobe, watching reruns or reading crumpled paperbacks.

Her parents are coming for lunch on Sunday and this is not how Dee wants them to remember their first visit to the new house. She wants the place free of boxes and clutter and she wants the TV to work, damn it.

She sneezes and pulls John's bathrobe tighter around her shoulders.

"I'm starting to remember people's names," John says around the cord he's got clamped between his teeth.

Dee cups her mug of tea in her hands and watches him trying to hook the VCR up to the television. "Promotion tomorrow, then?"

"You better believe it, baby." He turns the television on and waits for the picture to come through. "I think maybe we're missing a wire."

Dee sighs and rests her head back against the pillow at the end of the couch. "I'm bored."

He kisses her apologetically. "I promise I'll get it fixed on Saturday."

"I'll be better by then," she grumbles, but she's not really mad. She puts her mug down on the floor and tugs at him until he's beside her, all legs and knees and elbows, far too tall for their tiny two-seater.

"Are your parents still coming on Sunday?" he asks after a moment.

"Uh-huh." Dee swallows thickly, her throat still feeling tender and narrow. "Think we can unpack by then?"

John lifts his head and looks over the back of the sofa at the rest of the living room. "No chance," he says.

Dee pushes him so he falls off the sofa. "You're the worst husband I've ever had," she says.

He laughs so hard he can't climb back onto the couch for another five minutes.

John's finding his new job a little too easy, and he finds himself worrying about it, because everyone has told him it shouldn't be.

He thinks he's doing it wrong – and oh, shit, what if he hits the end of the week and his boss comes over to tell him it's just not working out?

He rings Dee at lunch time. "What would happen if I lost my job?" he asks her.

"Why, what have you done?" she asks.

He grins. "Nothing. I miss you."

"I miss you, too," she says, and he hears her cough against the back of her hand. "Will you bring me some cough syrup?"


"Hurry home, Mr. Pike."

"Will do, Mrs. Pike."

He hangs up and he can't wait to get out of the office and back to his new, seemingly-huge and definitely-cluttered house in Stoneybrook.

All the spring rain they've had seems to be sending everyone into coughs and sniffles. John has no idea how he's managed to avoid it himself.

He shoves his hands into his pockets and hurries toward the store, praying the next shower will hold off until he can get back into the car.

He slows well before he reaches the doors of the convenience store on the corner. The big glass windows of a pet shop glitter with rain, and he can see four kittens rolling around in shredded newspaper, batting their paws against the other side of the glass whenever a raindrop slides past.

He taps his fingers against the window gently, and a ginger kitten swats at him, watching him with bright eyes.

John drums his fingers against the steering wheel as he waits at a red light. He looks at the kitten sitting in the box on the passenger seat.

"Okay," he says sternly. "Dee might be mad, so when we get home, I'll give her my Cute Face. If that doesn't work, you give her your Cute Face."

The kitten tilts its head.

"That's good," John says, turning his attention back to the road. "Just like that."

Dee's in the middle of a sneezing fit when John gets home. Her eyes are watering and her nose is red. A tissue is clutched to her mouth and her shoulders ring with pain at each heave of breath.

She's too tired and miserable to even say hello. "Did you get the cough syrup?"

"Yup." John hands her the bottle and kisses the top of her head. "Not feeling any better?"

She makes a clogged noise at the back of her throat instead of a proper answer.

John disappears into the kitchen and she hears the rustle of grocery bags.

"Did you find your books?" he asks.

"Not any of the ones I wanted." She's almost determined to stay miserable. She hates that she's sick, and she hates that the house is still so full of boxes, and she hates that she and John are apart for so much of the day.

She hates that the house is full of mess and empty of company.

"I got you a present," John says, sitting beside her on the couch. He places the ginger kitten gently on her stomach.

"Oh," she breathes, and she sits up, cradling it in her hands and bringing it to her face to nuzzle against it gently. "Oh, John," she says, "he's beautiful. Are we keeping him?"

John grins at her, looking smug. "And I didn't even have to give you my Cute Face," he says.

Dee curls on the couch, watching the kitten bat at pieces of crumpled newspaper and bubble wrap, still scattered on the floor.

"Friday!" John cheers, sliding the knot of his tie to a close. "And I haven't been fired yet."

Dee tugs at his tie so he has to bend to kiss her. "Week's not over yet, honey."

"Thanks for your vote of confidence," he says, kissing her again. He picks the kitten up and puts him in Dee's hands. "He's in charge until I get back," he says. "Lots of cat naps."

"Yes sir," Dee answers. She smiles at him and waves through the windows, before she settles on the couch again, wiggling her fingers at the kitten and laughing as he pats at her hands.

"So," she says. "You're in charge, I guess, Sarge?"

"He's too little to be a Sergeant," John says tiredly, watching Sarge try once again to leap up onto the end of the bed.

"Let him up," Dee pleads.

"If you give in to him now, he'll be sleeping with us for the next ten years."

Dee grins at her husband. "My parents gave me the same warning about you."

John purposely crushes her beneath him as he reaches over to lift Sarge onto the bed. "Oh, sorry," he grunts.

Dee giggles and wraps her arms around him tightly. "Wait," she says. "I have to sneeze."

John nips her shoulder and tickles her until she lets go of him again, the blankets ruffling against her kicking legs.

Sarge struts over to them and settles himself on John's pillow.

"He outranks you," Dee breathes, kissing the side of John's neck.

"Bullshit," John murmurs. "If you had to choose one of us, you'd choose me."

"Maybe," Dee relents. She hugs him tightly. "I'm glad we've got him," she says. "Now there are three Pikes, instead of just two."

"I was very happy with two," John says, kissing Dee's cheeks, nose, eyes.

"I'm still all gross," she says, though she doesn't want him to stop. "I've still got a cold."

He kisses her again. "I don't care."

"I was happy with two Pikes as well," she answers after a moment. She tilts her head so he can kiss her neck. "But I like three better."

"The more the merrier," John agrees, and Dee smiles at him.