It's just Henrik's luck, he thinks, that he'd end up catching John's cold.
John's been sick for a good few days now, dealing with quite a nasty cough and an underlying fatigue. It's not that bad of an illness, but John, being John, has been using it as an excuse to plead for Henrik's constant attention. It's only this last couple of days that the cold has started easing up, so Henrik's been getting a break from John's persistent whining for a cuddle, or a bowl of soup, or a hot water bottle, or, or, or…
(It's not that Henrik minds looking after John, not at all – he's been fending for himself for the last half-century, he deserves the chance to rest for once – but it can really be terribly exhausting to have someone calling his name at all hours.)
So, of course, as soon as John started feeling better, Henrik's started developing symptoms himself. Because that's the kind of irony that fate seems to find it funny to force on him.
He's been coughing on and off throughout the last two days or so. He's barely been able to get anything done because he's so tired all of a sudden. And most frustrating of all, he woke up today feeling horribly warm.
He checked his temperature with the thermometer they have stashed in the bathroom, though, and it was barely any higher than normal. A hot shower served to stave the feeling off for a bit, but if this is anything like when he gets proper fevers, it'll come back sooner or later.
He manages to pull through making and eating breakfast, but soon after finds himself half-collapsed on the living room sofa, leaning on John for support. He feels exhausted, but he couldn't possibly sleep like this.
John seems to notice that, too, after a while. "You should go and lie down, Henrik. You look really pale. And those bags under your eyes…"
"I'm fine," Henrik argues, almost instinctively. "You need me, I can't just—"
"I'm feeling better," John points out. "I can cope – alright, I'll probably be miserable, but that's the cold's fault, not yours. Go get some rest. It's only fair."
Henrik nods reluctantly, too tired to put up a fight, and makes his way upstairs.
"Just tell me if you need anything," John calls as Henrik walks away.
Henrik is in and out of bed for the rest of the day. John comes in to check on him regularly, bringing him water to soothe his throat after coughing fits and tissues for the sniffling. He's being too nice, Henrik thinks, but he can't be bothered to push back.
Still, he can get out of bed for meals and such, and (with John's encouragement) manages to get out into the garden for some fresh air. So it's not all that bad, not really.
The next day, though, Henrik only feels worse. He can't seem to regulate his body temperature properly, feeling either too cold or too hot no matter what he does. He can get up to shower and eat breakfast (even if, when it comes to getting dressed, he gives in and puts a pair of pyjamas on with a favourite jumper tossed over them instead of proper clothes), but after that he's too worn down to do anything but go back to bed.
John comes up to the bedroom around midday. He looks tired, dark circles around his eyes. Henrik finds himself feeling guilty for being so weak and forcing John to handle everything on his own when he's still ill.
"Do you feel up to getting up for lunch?"
Henrik has to force the words out. "No, I-" he has to stop, there, and ends up having a coughing fit. Once he's finally cleared his throat enough to speak, he whispers a "no, I don't think I can."
John frowns, sympathy evident on his face. "I'll bring you some," he promises.
"Not the most hygienic of options, is it? I might spill something, and-" he coughs again, "-and there must be all kinds of germs on my hands, and—"
John shrugs. "Henrik. If you want, I can bring you some hand sanitiser or something, but don't get too obsessive again, alright? We're both sick anyway. What matters is that you eat." After that, he leaves the room again.
(Henrik manages to drag himself out of bed and into the bathroom to wash his hands while he waits, anyway, because perhaps John is willing to sacrifice basic hygiene principles but Henrik certainly isn't.)
John, keeping his promise, returns fifteen minutes later with a plate and a glass of water. Henrik notices the sandwich on the plate has been cut up into two smaller triangles, presumably because smaller portions are less likely to make him feel more unwell.
"Here you are," John says. "Just eat a little at a time, okay? The last thing we need right now is you giving yourself a stomach upset."
"I'm not a child, John."
"I know," John promises, setting the plate and glass down on the nightstand, and gently brushing a hand across Henrik's face. "I just worry about you. It's been a nasty illness even for me, and I know how you can get sometimes."
Henrik can't argue with that, so he just takes a sandwich triangle from the plate.
By the evening, his voice has given up on him. It's too taxing to speak, and doing so only makes his throat feel sore anyway.
He forces himself out of bed long enough to eat dinner at the kitchen table, at least, not wanting to cause John any further inconvenience. He doesn't really feel like eating – being sick always ruins his appetite – but he knows it would worry John if he were to skip a meal normally, let alone when he's like this.
John sets a bowl of porridge down on the table. Henrik appreciates the decision: it always was something of a comfort food for him, especially when he's ill or simply too tired or stressed to handle food with any more than a mild taste. It's nice that John's remembered that.
"Probably not as good as you say your mum used to make," John admits, "but I tried my best."
Henrik nods gratefully and picks up the spoon.
When he's finished eating, John offers him the option of just sitting on the sofa and watching TV with him for a bit. Henrik shakes his head – it would be too much right now, he wouldn't be able to focus.
"I see," John says quietly. "Would you rather go back to bed? It's alright if you would, you know. I'll come up and sit with you if you'd like."
(It's actually kind of endearing, Henrik thinks, how much John keeps trying to emphasise that he doesn't mind taking care of him.)
Henrik agrees to that, slowly getting up from the table – and trying to ignore how, even then, it makes his vision blur. Impulsively, he reaches a hand out towards John; he withdraws it after a moment, but John seems to accept the silent request anyway, getting up himself and placing an arm around Henrik's waist.
Henrik allows John to lead him up to the bedroom, to straighten the covers out for him and then tuck him in to bed. John, as he promised, sits down on the edge of the bed.
"You need anything?"
Henrik shakes his head. There's nothing he can think of, at any rate. He just wants to sleep, really, but he feels too miserable to do so.
As if the universe were trying to help him prove his point, he breaks out into a coughing fit after that. It feels horrible: if he didn't know better (and he was in any state to be talking) he'd say he was going to hack up his lungs at any moment.
John frowns sympathetically. "Oh, darling… I know, it's awful. You'll feel better soon, I promise."
Henrik knows that. Full well. But that doesn't change how dreadful he feels at this moment. He feels too warm again, too, and it's pathetic because he doubts his temperature is actually any higher than before but it really does feel like a fever and he can't stand it. He finds himself kicking away the duvet, hoping to feel cooler.
"Hold on a moment," John says before leaving the room.
He returns some minutes later with the thermometer, pressing it to Henrik's forehead. "You're a little bit warmer than usual, yeah."
A little bit. That, Henrik knows, is a polite way of saying there's not actually anything wrong. He sighs. He hates this, hates that he's overreacting to a slightly warm temperature like this, hates that he feels like he's burning up when he hasn't got so much as even a mild fever. This is one of the worst parts, he thinks, of being autistic: the way everything is so much more intense. So much brighter, so much louder, so much warmer.
Sometimes he wishes he could see the world the way John does, wonders how much more peaceful and calm it would be.
"Stop it," John says, as if he read Henrik's mind. "I know you and I know you're feeling guilty for a reaction you can't help. Stop it. Do you really think you could make me do something I don't want to do? I like taking care of you, Henrik. It helps me just as much as it does you."
Henrik just nods in acknowledgement – because really, what more can he do?
He stretches an arm out in John's direction. John seems to take a moment to recognise the meaning behind the gesture, but once he does, he carefully shifts closer so Henrik can reach up and run a hand through his hair.
They sit – or, well, lie really – there for a while, Henrik wrapping strands of John's hair around his fingers, playing with the loose curls and silently thanking John for choosing to grow his hair out again and, more importantly, letting Henrik touch it whenever he wants.
John slips his arm around Henrik's shoulders at some point, and eventually, they fall asleep together.
Henrik feels slightly less awful by the next day – though to say he felt better would be hyperbole. His temperature is still too warm, and the cough refuses to go away, but he's able to stay out of bed for longer than he was the last few days.
Though he thinks perhaps leaning back on the sofa with the TV on, volume turned down low, isn't different enough from lying in bed to be significant.
John was sitting next to him, but then, a few minutes ago, his phone rang and he had to answer it. So now Henrik's left watching two thirty-something women yell at each other on the TV screen.
(He will never understand what entertainment John finds in this.)
If Henrik listens hard enough, he can hear snippets of John talking in the kitchen:
"—really, don't worry about me, I'm feeling much better. It's Henrik who's having a worse time of—"
"—know how he is. It's his… sensory issues, I think is the word? It must feel terrible for him."
"—call later, I swear. Bye, Dave."
John enters the room again a couple of minutes after finishing the call. "Sorry, you know how David gets on the phone. He says I'm clingy, but I go a few days without calling him and he talks my ear off!" He sits down on the sofa and starts to take the cap off of (what Henrik can now see is) a bottle of Tylenol.
Henrik pulls back, making a sound that, if later asked, he would swear absolutely did not qualify as a 'whine'.
"You don't have to take it if you don't want to," John assures him. "But I figured a bad taste for a few moments might be better than feeling bad for the whole day."
Henrik shakes his head. He'd rather just deal with this by itself. It's stupid, he knows, he's a grown man and a fucking doctor, he should be well and truly over the 'medicine is icky' phase.
But… he just can't bring himself to deal with taking it right now, on top of everything else.
"Fair enough," John agrees. Henrik finds himself surprised, somehow, at the lack of judgement. It's not that he expects John to judge him, he just expects people to. He's so used to years of odd looks and 'why are you so weird' and 'grow up, the world doesn't revolve around you'.
He's not used to "I can't do this" being met with "fair enough" and then being left alone about it.
"Anyway, I hope I haven't missed anything," John says, refocusing his gaze on the TV.
Henrik doesn't try to pay attention to what's going on in the programme (he's still too tired for that, and he hasn't got his glasses on anyway so it's hard to see what's happening), instead curling up and resting his head on John's arm.
Another show has come on by the time Henrik can bring himself to make the effort to speak up. "I'm sorry," he says, voice hoarse partially from illness and partially from disuse.
"Don't apologise. You were practically my full-time carer for a few days there, this is nothing."
"You can't even—" Henrik coughs again, "get me to take Tylenol. I'm acting like a fussy child, it's – it's pathetic."
"You're not acting like a fussy child. You're acting like a human being who has needs like anyone else, that's not an age-specific thing. You want to see someone who actually acts like a fussy child when he's sick? You're looking at him right now!"
"You aren't that bad."
"Shut it, you know you're lying because you don't want to hurt my feelings. And – you always tell me all these things: that I have no reason to be sorry, that I'm not a bother for needing things from you, that I deserve the help you give me." John throws his hands up in the air. "Why can't you believe them of yourself, Henrik? Why can't you believe that you're worthy of support too?"
Henrik doesn't know how to answer that.
John sighs at the lack of response, and then gestures for Henrik to come even closer. "Come here, my love."
Henrik hesitantly accepts the offer, letting John wrap his arms around him and hold him tight. "Sorry," he murmurs again, uncertain of what else to say.
"Nothing to be sorry for. You just need to stop overthinking all this: the stress isn't good for you. Just let yourself rest, okay?"
Henrik nods and leans in to the hug.
He spends the rest of the evening like that, snuggling up with John on the sofa, while John mocks the "terrible life decisions" of the people on the TV. It's not great – Henrik's head still hurts and he still breaks out coughing every now and then and he's still uncomfortably warm – but just being with John, in its own way, helps.