Disclaimer: The characters belong to Ngozi Ukazu.

Bitty wakes up shivering, drenched in sweat, with a headache, a sore throat, and a thoroughly clogged nose. It's seemed lately like everyone on his floor has been coming down with something flu-like, so this isn't really a surprise, no matter how much Bitty had hoped he'd escape it. He drags himself out of bed anyway, because hockey practice waits for no man. He aches everywhere, but he jams his body into his clothes and walks the suddenly ridiculous distance from his dorm to the rink.

The lights in the locker room seem so much brighter than Bitty's ever noticed before, and he's not able to keep from sniffling and clearing his throat as he and the rest of the team put on their gear, but he thinks he's doing a decent job of pretending he's okay until he gets onto the ice. The combination of cold rink air and hard drills shreds Bitty's throat, and he can't help the hacking coughs that tear their way out of him.

"Go back to your dorm," Jack snaps after Bitty's third coughing fit since the start of practice.

Bitty straightens up, swallowing the last of his coughs with effort. Is this some sort of test? "I'm fine, Jack. It's just a tickle in my throat. I can play."

Jack shakes his head shortly. "You're sick. Go back to your dorm and stay there."

"I'll be okay, really—" Bitty starts.

"Go the fuck back to your dorm, Bittle," Jack interrupts. "We don't need the rest of the team catching this. Leave. Now."

Shitty skates off the ice with Bitty. "Sorry about Jack, brah," he says. It's not the first time he's been in a position of saying that to Bitty. "He gets uptight about physical illness."

"I'm not even that sick!" Bitty protests. "And he could be a little nicer about it, regardless."

Shitty clomps behind Bitty to the locker room. "The last time Jack got the flu, he made me lock up both of our razors just in case."

"Oh Lord, seriously?" Bitty asks, suddenly understanding much more thoroughly why Jack was being so unpleasant. "From the flu?"

"Yep," says Shitty. "Which doesn't excuse him being a fucking dick to you, but I think it does sort of explain it."

Bitty nods, not sure if he's dazed from the news or just fuzzy-headed in general.

"You gonna be okay, brah?" Shitty asks. "I do think Jack is right that the best place for you right now is bed, even if he was a complete dick about it. You can email your professors to let them know you won't be in class, and I can bring you soup later if you want. You think you're steady enough on your feet to get back to your dorm, or do you want me to go with you?"

"I'll be all right," Bitty says. "Soup later would probably be good, but I can walk back to my dorm and email my professors just fine."

"Okay," says Shitty. "Text me when you want soup." With a last concerned look, he clomps back in the direction of the ice, leaving Bitty to strip out of his gear, lurch to the showers, and wobble his way back to his dorm.

_X_

Four years later, Bitty once again wakes up shivering, drenched in sweat, with a headache, a sore throat, and a thoroughly clogged nose. This time, though, the worst part of it is undoubtedly that he wakes up next to Jack.

Now, obviously, usually Bitty likes waking up next to Jack. It's one of his favorite things, actually. He's living a fairytale life where his hardass hockey captain somehow turned out to be in love with him, and now he's engaged to said hockey captain, who by this point is an NHL star. It's wonderful.

The problem is that Bitty has not remotely forgotten what Shitty said to him that day Jack kicked him out of practice for being sick. The absolute last thing Bitty wants to do—one of the last things he's ever wanted to do in the last four years—is get Jack sick. He can't risk Jack's mental health like that. Of course, Operation Never Get Jack Sick used to be a lot easier, back before the two of them lived together. If Bitty felt like there was any chance he might have something contagious, he could simply avoid Jack (back when they were both at Samwell) or cancel any visit either of them may have had scheduled (over the two years following Jack's graduation). The summer after Bitty's junior year, Bitty had been much more careful about handwashing and such than he'd ever been previously, and he'd avoided getting sick at all during those three months. But now he's been living with Jack permanently for about five months, and he has most definitely come down with something.

Bitty rolls over and squints at the bedside clock. It's still early, even earlier than he needs to get up for his shift at the bakery. His inability to breathe through his nose woke him up, probably. He forces himself to shift his legs to the floor and then moves from a sitting position to standing, clutching his head and only barely suppressing the urge to cough—he doesn't want to wake Jack up. He picks up his phone off the bedside table, turns off his alarm, and stumbles out of the bedroom. The room is spinning a little.

The guest bedroom, which is where Bitty thinks he should probably go, is on the other side of the condo. To get there, Bitty needs to pass through the living room, but when he reaches the living room, the couch looks so inviting that Bitty sinks down onto it and finds himself lying down. He stays alert (for a given value of "alert") long enough to text his manager at the bakery and say he won't be in for his shift today, and then he drifts off.

The next thing Bitty knows, Jack is looming over him, shaking his shoulder and frowning at him worriedly. "Bits? You're late for your shift, bud. What are you doing out here?"

"Jack!" Bitty tries to reply, and then he's coughing, only barely managing to turn away and cover his mouth in time. Lord, if he gives this to Jack . . .

"Oh," says Jack. "Are you sick?" That's not, as far as Bitty can tell, Jack's panicked voice, but it should be, right? Maybe Bitty's just too out of it with illness and just-waking-up-ness to notice the nuances in Jack's tone.

"I'm so sorry, Jack," Bitty says when he's done coughing.

"For what?" Jack asks.

"For getting sick," Bitty replies. "I know it freaks you out and that—" A sob cuts him off and he covers his face with both hands. Curse his fever-addled emotions.

"Bits," says Jack firmly. Bitty peeks at him over the tops of his fingers. "You're human. You have a fallible immune system. That's part of what happens when you're a living organism. I knew that was part of the deal when I asked you to live with me. Frankly, I'm amazed that you made it through two summers here without getting sick. This was bound to happen eventually and I've talked to my therapist about it a bunch. Now come on, you need to be in bed—you'll sleep better there than on this couch."

"But Jack, the bed is yours," Bitty replies.

"It's both of ours," Jack says, and none of the steel has left his tone yet. "Fuck, Bits, have I really not made you feel like this place is yours, too? Shit. It's your bed just as much as it's mine."

"But—"

Jack shakes his head. "Nope. Besides, you slept there for at least part of last night, so it's contaminated anyway. I'll take the guest bed tonight. Now come on, up you get."

"I'm sorry," Bitty says again as he makes his unsteady way to his feet.

"No, I'm sorry," Jack says. "You deserve to be able to focus on getting better without having to worry about your effect on me, and you deserve someone who can dote on you in ways I won't be able to." He's following Bitty back to the bedroom. As Bitty gets into bed, Jack says from the doorway, "I wish I could hold you through this and kiss your forehead and all that, but that really wouldn't end well. But here's what I can do, what I will do. I can and will bring you tea and soup and medicine and whatever other physical things will help you feel better. I can and will take you to the doctor if things get worse or if you're not feeling better after a few days. I can and will do all the chores while you're sick so that you won't have extra chores to worry about once you get better. I can and will stand in the doorway and tell you I love you. I can and will bring you your laptop so you can watch Netflix for the next few days. And please let me know if there's anything else you want or need, and I'll see what I can do."

"But what if you get sick?" Bitty asks.

Jack shrugs, making a face. "That wouldn't be ideal, obviously, but I can handle it."

"But Shitty said he had to take your razor when you got the flu in college," Bitty says.

"Oh fuck, he told you about that," Jack murmurs. "No wonder you're overreacting." Louder, he says, "That was five years ago. I hope you've noticed that my mental health has improved since you met me. I still don't enjoy being sick, but I'm not worried about becoming suicidal anymore, all right?"

Bitty nods, worry about Jack's wellbeing seeping out of him and leaving him exhausted and achy. "All right," he repeats weakly.

Jack smiles. "Do you have your phone?"

Bitty glances at the bedside table, starts to shake his head, realizes too much head motion is making him nauseated, and says, "No. I think it's by the couch."

"I'll go get it and come right back," Jack says. When he returns, he comes to the bed for just long enough to hand Bitty his phone before retreating to the doorway again. "Text me if you need anything, okay?"

"Okay," Bitty says.

"You look like you're fading, bud," Jack says, and he sounds fond somehow. "I'll go get some ibuprofen and cough drops and Sudafed and water, and then I'll let you sleep, okay?"

"Okay," Bitty mumbles. Jack's right; he is fading.

Jack brings Bitty all the things he listed, in addition to a box of tissues and a trash can. He doesn't touch Bitty when he hands everything over, doesn't kiss Bitty on the forehead, and Bitty wishes things were different, just a little. At the same time, though, this is so much better than the anger or panic he'd been expecting from Jack; Jack has come so far from the angry captain who snapped at Bitty to leave practice because he was coughing. Relationships are about giving as much as you can, Bitty has learned, and also about respecting what "can" means for the other person. Jack is giving Bitty what he can, and whatever else Bitty may feel about it, he's grateful.