Walter woke up and practically growled. He set his jaw and thought of quadrant perimeters and circuit relays, really anything to keep him in bed and perfectly still, because maybe, by some miracle, if he lay perfectly still, the room might just stop spinning. It wasn't that he was hung over. No, far from it. He had a high fever. He knew it without even having to think about it. His core was cold, but at the base of his neck, that patch of skin was blisteringly hot. His entire body ached and he could feel beads of sweat drip off his forehead, and the spot where his head and neck laid on the pillow was drenched.
But then he felt his mouth water, and he knew he had roughly seven seconds to get from the bed to the toilet or he would be vomiting on the floor, and it would be a bitch to clean out of the carpet.
After he had expelled his stomach's contents, he staggered back into his room to get his phone. He managed to turn his pillow over so he wouldn't have to lay his head back down in dampness, and he sent a text to Cabe letting him know he was sick. The second text was to Paige to inform her that he was under the weather and to let the team just simply work on their own projects until he could sufficiently recover, hopefully in the next couple of days.
Half an hour later, Walter heard a soft knocking on the door. He couldn't help but grin as he recognized Paige's knock - soft but persistent. He struggled to get out of bed and managed to pull on a robe over his boxers and undershirt. He didn’t want her to be uncomfortable with his attire, but neither did he feel up to the task of dressing himself. Besides, she was probably just going to stay long enough to drop off some soup.
Walter tried, he really did, to smile and greet her as he opened the door, but all he could manage to do was cough and try to contain the phlegm that was coming from the bronchi in his lungs. Before he knew what was happening, Paige was backing him into the house and sitting him on the couch, urging him to take sips from a water bottle.
“A little under the weather, huh?” she reiterated as she perched herself on the edge of the coffee table and felt his forehead with the back of her hand.
Walter gave her a pointed look while attempting to control his horrible coughing.
Paige returned the look without a hint of trepidation. “I'm making you tea and soup,” she announced as she stood up and presumably began hunting for something.
Within moments, she found the linen closet and pulled out a blanket and pillow, then she proceeded to make him lie down and practically tucked him in. She also retrieved a bottle of aspirin from her purse, giving Walter two to take before he laid down again.
Then in the kitchen, Paige made herself busy heating up a can of soup and boiling water for tea, but she spared a moment to peek in on him where he was still resting on the couch. His eyelids were closed and his parched lips were open to allow him to breathe through his mouth since breathing through his nose was not an option at the moment. He looked miserably ill, and Paige's heart twisted uncomfortably, willing him to recover faster.
The teakettle began to whistle, just in time for Walter to open his eyes and catch her staring at him. Paige turned quickly to attend to things as he made a gallant effort to sit up. She returned a moment later with his soup, tea, and a few crackers on a small tray and set it in front of him on the coffee table. Then she grabbed a box of tissues and offered them to him.
“You have… uh,” Paige tried to hint as she gestured toward the corner of her own mouth to call his attention to the drool that had escaped while he had taken that short rest.
It took Walter a moment to realize his faux pas, and when he did he wanted to smack himself in the face. His cheeks stained from embarrassment as he quickly took a tissue and wiped the corner of his mouth. He couldn't even bring himself to say anything and opted to just eat the soup while Paige went to his bathroom to find a thermometer. His throat welcomed the soothing hot liquid while his stomach rejoiced in being filled with something comforting and easy to digest.
Paige returned shortly and swiped the thermometer over his forehead to get a reading on his temperature. She gave a small huff through her nose, clearly not pleased with the result.
“This is not acceptable,” Walter blurted out.
Paige scrunched up her face, thinking he was referring to her soup. “Excuse me?”
“I'm a genius. I shouldn't get sick,” he protested, trying not to pout.
Paige's features relaxed and a small grin broke out on her face. “You're human. Everyone gets sick,” she soothed as she ventured to sit down next to him and rub his back comfortingly.
“I can't even breathe out of my face. This is completely ridiculous,” he groaned as he felt his body start to relax. He took a sip of the tea and tried not to grimace.
“Yeah, I know it's not great, but it will help,” Paige said when she saw his expression change.
Walter gave her a skeptical side glance but took another sip anyway.
“Here,” she prompted as she pulled him to lay his head in her lap.
“Wha...” Walter began to protest, but his body was all too willing to follow her gentle commands.
“After that car accident, when you insisted I see a medical massage therapist, this is something she taught me,” Paige explained as she began to caress his forehead with her fingertips in the pattern she had been instructed to.
Walter's eyes fluttered closed as he began to feel the effects; slowly, and then all at once. His nasal passages cleared, and he was able to breathe through his nose again.
“Thank you,” he murmured as he continued to enjoy Paige's attention.
“You're welcome,” she replied softly as she studied his face intently.
How did he have such thick and long eyelashes? Even when he was sick he was still handsome. And even though she was used to seeing him in a suit, the casual attire was rather endearing, if she was being honest with herself.
Her hands began to still on his head, and suddenly Walter's eyes drifted open to consider her in adoring curiosity. Paige unknowingly held her breath until Walter smiled up at her. She smiled back down before lightly scratching his scalp, her grin widening as Walter groaned in pleasure and his eyes closed again.
“I should probably be getting back,” Paige mused softly after a few moments, combing his hair back into place with her fingers.
Walter’s face returned to its prior grimace.
“Do you want me to come back later and check in on you? Or do you think you can manage on your own?” Paige inquired.
Walter racked his brain for how he should respond. At the moment, he could think of no greater use of her time than doting on himself, but he knew there may be implications in asking her to stay. He didn’t want her to think he was ‘needy,’ no matter how ill he was, even if ‘needy’ was exactly how he felt at the moment. Neither would it be the most professional thing to do, and if she got sick from being around him, he would feel immensely guilty. He also still had to protect her reputation, so to speak, so all things considered, she probably shouldn't stay too much longer.
“No, I'll be fine, thank you. I can breathe a lot better now,” Walter answered as he pulled himself up to sit again. “I should bounce back by tomorrow. The day after that by the latest.”
“Oh, okay,” Paige replied, trying to sound compliant and not disappointed as she picked up her purse from the coffee table and walked towards the door. “Call me if you need anything, Walter,” she called over her shoulder as she hesitated by the door, wanting to say something more but losing the courage to say it at the last minute before she left.
“Okay,” Walter called back as he pulled the bowl of soup back into his lap.
After he was sure she had left and wouldn't hear him, he answered her previous offer. “I need you stay, because I have responses to you that would indicate that you matter to me in an inordinate amount. So much that it is unfathomable to me. It's unacceptable because I shouldn’t have enough EQ to even feel this strongly about you, but here I am.”
His words hung in the air, laced with bitterness, sarcasm, and contempt for himself, but nonetheless completely true.