by Irene Shafer
Disclaimer: You know the drill. Not mine, yatta, yatta. . .|
Summary: Liz is the one with the cold, Max is the one with the. . . hands. 'Nuff said
Authors Note: This started out as a cute little piece of fluff, but got itself serious in a hurry. I guess Max and Liz have their own ideas, huh?. . .
| "Liz?. . . Hey, Liz?! Are you ready to go?" |
She could hear Max calling from the street below. Usually, she thought it was sweet, the way he waited for permission before climbing the ladder to her balcony, but today her throat just hurt too much to call down to him. And she ached all over. She didn't have the energy to climb out of bed and tell him she was too sick for their planned picnic in the desert.
Maybe he has his cell phone on him.
She was about to grab her own phone to dial, when there was a gentle rap at the window and there he was, peeking through the curtains. Liz was momentarily embarrassed by the condition of her room: crumpled tissues all around her on the bed and night stand; the tray from her uneaten breakfast on the floor beside her; balled up clothes everywhere -- when you're sick, you lose interest in folding and hanging up your stuff. . .
She needn't have worried, though. Max only seemed to have eyes for her - and there was a look of heart-melting concern on his sweet face.
With a quick check to make sure she was demurely covered and not too disgusting looking, (she was so glad her mom made her shower last night, saying it'd make her feel better; it had a little bit then, but now it did a lot), she waved Max into the room.
"You look like you feel awful, Liz! It was just a little cold yesterday. Why didn't you call me?" he asked, ducking into her window.
"I'm sorry, Max. I meant to call and cancel, but I fell asleep early and then I was up all night coughing. I slept straight through the morning. . ." She smiled apologetically.
"Maybe you can see if Isabel has plans? It's too nice a day to miss out on."
Max smiled and shook his head. "That's not what I meant. I'm worried about you." Oblivious to the condition of the room, he moved to the bedside and sat down next to her, putting a smooth hand to her forehead. Leaning forward, he kissed her there, then sat back up, leaving his hand where his lips had been. "Hmmm. . . Well, you don't have a fever, anyway."
She hardly dared move, loving the feel of his cool hand on her head. Things had changed between the two of them - no more tortured distances or meaningful, heart-wrenching silences - but she still reveled in his every touch.
"Nope," she finally said. "No fever. I was lucky. Maria's echinacea worked. Wish I'd started taking it sooner, though." She grimaced. "I guess I was in denial. I've been looking forward to this day all week - I just couldn't believe my body would be mean enough to get sick on me. . ."
He seemed to think for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Well. . . you don 't have to be sick. . ."
Liz laughed, a short burst of air followed by a tortured cough. She rolled away from him, hiding her face in the pillow as the coughing continued.
"Ugh!" Came her muffled voice from inside the pillow. "Max, you've gotta leave before I sneeze on you or something." Grabbing a tissue from underneath it, she wiped at her nose, then looked back up at him. He was still watching her with the sweetest look of concern on his wonderful Max face. If she hadn't already loved him to her core, she'd have fallen right there and then. Anyone that could look in the face of disgusting, nose-dripping illness and not flinch. . . well, they were a keeper.
"You don't have to be sick, Liz," Max repeated, softly. With his eyes fixed on hers, he smoothed the hair from her face with a tenderness that made her heart break. Hesitating for the briefest moment, he bent down and with an index finger traced a line around her eyes, down her nose, over her lips and chin, trailing a fingertip down the smooth column of her neck. He massaged the burning spot in her throat beneath it for a moment and then, amazingly, bent forward to kiss it softly.
She felt the heat from his lips, then light flashed before her eyes and she was looking at Max looking at Max in the mirror. A younger Max. Max as a sweet-faced little boy inspecting the gaping hole in his grin where one of his front teeth used to be. He poked his tongue through the gap, then giggled, fingering the little tooth with the thread tied to it that he held in his hand. . . Another flash and it was just his lips on her throat again.
Something was missing though, which was an odd thought to have while Max's full, warm lips were on her neck. In her distraction, it took her a moment to think of what it was, (God -- he smelled so good!), but it hit her when she realized that Max's hair was the first thing she'd smelled in days!
She could smell. . .
And the tickle in her throat was gone.
And so was the pounding in her sinuses. And her lungs were almost clear.
The cold, as if hearing her and not willing to let her go yet, reared its diseased head and a small dry cough tore through her.
Max sat up, clearly a little shocked by it - proximity and all. . .
"I'm so sorry," she breathed. "Ugh! I'm disgusting!"
"That's not it," Max soothed, shaking his head. "I just thought I'd gotten it all." He glanced down, suddenly uncomfortable, a blush filling his cheeks. "I need. . . um, I need closer contact, I think. Can you. . ." He stole another glance to the tie that gathered the top of her nightie. ". . .um, I mean, sh-should I? " He seemed truly embarrassed, his brow furrowed in that thoughtful way it did when he was dealing with something difficult. For the briefest second, he looked like he was struggling with something, but then it melted and all that remained was his worry for her.
Liz held her breath and stared blankly at him, trying to get her brain around what she thought he was asking. Max's soft, brown eyes were locked on her's, though, and the intensity there spoke of concern, not . . . not lust. Not that, under more normal circumstances, she would have minded. At all.
She thought for only a moment.
Blushing now herself, she pulled the tiny ribboned bow with shaking fingers, stifling a rough cough as she did so. Once it was undone, she let it fall open -- barely. Again, had she been in a different condition right now, she might not have stopped at barely. Come to think of it, she definitely wouldn't have stopped at barely. . .
Max took a (very) deep breath, seemed to falter for a moment, then slowly, almost reverently, brushed his fingers from her throat, across her collar bone, and down into the valley between her breasts.
Liz gasped suddenly, quickly covering it with a tiny cough and a self-conscious smile.
There was a spreading warmth where his fingers made contact with her skin and she felt it move from the surface to penetrate deeply into her lungs. Soon she could feel it everywhere - her throat, her chest, beyond. She felt herself. . . responding to his touch and tried vainly to fight it. She was breathing in shallow, quick breaths and it was a moment before she realized how unusual this should be.
With breaths this shallow, she should be coughing right now. But she wasn't. " Max, I can breath!" She made an effort to slow her respiration, rejoicing in the feeling of clear lungs.
When she looked up, she found his eyes on hers, his expression altered somehow.
After a moment, a moment in which she became aware of his breathing - it was shallow, too - he leaned forward and pressed his lips to the warm area between her breasts. His kiss was sweet.
And all too brief.
He sat up, his face flushed.
"Feel better," he asked, hoarsely.
Liz nodded, shaken. ". . .um. . . Yeah, much."
As if to distract her from his obvious state of mind, he gathered the ends of the pale pink ribbon and with slightly unsteady hands, carefully retied the bow. She knew what he was feeling, though. She could see it in the studied way he was breathing, slowly and carefully forcing air through his nose as though trying to calm himself. The tips of his ears were tinged with red and his pupils were dialated. There wasn't much he could hide from her anymore.
Then again, he was like an open book right now.
Liz ached for him, too, but she held herself back. They'd made a decision, that night in the desert, to wait. Wait until the thing that compelled them was purely their feelings for one another -- not the messages from his past, and certainly not her gratitude for no longer having to cough herself to sleep. . .
She needed to thank him somehow, though, knowing that what he'd just done had most likely gone against some personal code. Healing a bullet wound was one thing; curing the common cold didn't quite carry the same life-changing weight. The selflessness of his actions, the care he had taken with her. . . She felt certain that no other boy, faced with a similar vulnerability, would have treated her with such respect. Now she knew he was another species. . .
All this made her love him even more than she'd thought she could.
She touched his face briefly, then took his hand, the hand that had healed her yet again, and gently kissed the fingertips.
"Thank you," she said, softly and, she hoped, with all the weight it deserved.
Eyes wide, he stared at her a moment, then smiled, understanding the gesture and clearly loving her for it.
"You're - you're welcome."
They stared at each other through the comfortable silence, then Max stood.
"Well," he said. "How about that picnic?"
"Max, I can't," she said softly, but she was smiling. "The last my mom knew, I was at death's door. . . I may be fine now, but I can't just go running out into the desert."
"Of course not." He held up a finger - wait. "Never fear. I have a plan." Then he ducked out the window and climbed the ladder down to the street.
She was just stepping out of the bathroom, having slipped on a pair of jeans and a sweater, when he returned, cooler in hand, and proceeded to set up the picnic there on the roof - half outside on the ledge, (for him), and half just inside the window, (for her).
"You're mom won't be able to object," he said with a grin. "Technically, you haven't left home. . ."
She raised an eyebrow. "You're pretty handy to have around, you know that?"
He lead her to her seat at the window, winking. "That's my other plan."
"What's your 'other' plan?"
Stepping back inside her room, he gathered her into his arms, drew her close to him and cupping her face, kissed her gently, sweetly and very, very slowly. When he finally spoke, she could feel his breath on her face as his arms tightened around her.
"To never let you forget that."
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