Many thanks to Dizzy for the beta. All remaining mistakes are mine.
One Sick Puppy
Ben almost ran a red light in his haste to drive home from the airport.
Joey hadn't felt well when Ben left for the linguist conference three days ago but had assured Ben—with an eye roll to emphasize what he thought about Ben's attitude—he was fine. Surely, he was able to survive a runny nose without Ben's supervision. Grumpily, Ben had conceded defeat. Now, he wished he hadn't listened to Joey.
Dora had called him late last night, her voice sounding brittle and very upset. “Ben,” she had said, “You better come home earlier. Joey isn't doing well.”
“Why? What is going on?”
“He came over in the afternoon. He... he was in his pup form and he merely scratched at my door. He won't shift back, he won't drink or eat and I think he's burning up. I don't know what to do! I can't take him to a vet but I can't get him to shift back and he's mostly sleeping, curled up on my lap and... and...,” Dora broke off.
“Dora, try to talk him into shifting back, okay? I'll call the airport; see when the next available plane to get out. I'll call you when I know more.”
“Okay. Just... hurry, Ben. I'm really worried.”
Ben called the airport, managed to get a flight four hours later and called Dora back. She promised to take care of Joey until Ben was back. That had been twelve hours ago. Damn those international flights, which seemed to take forever.
Of course, Ben hadn't been able to sleep on the plane. Neither the worry about Joey nor the plain disapproval of his boss about canceling the rest of the conference was helpful for sleep. Ben decided he'd deal with Marsters, his boss, later. The good thing was that Marsters needed him and couldn't afford to lose Ben in his department. Every other university would offer Ben a chair if he so much as raised his finger.
Which left the task of worrying about Joey. Ben had stared out of the small window, and wondered. Joey didn't become ill easily, maybe that was due to his shape-shifter physiology. Joey barely ever caught a cold. Even when there were cold epidemics on the campus, Joey would stay on his feet and be well.
Ben frowned; actually he had never seen Joey get sick at all. Yes, he had broken his left arm once and also suffered from bruises in various sizes when he lost control over his bike but he had never been sick.
What if Joey couldn't shift back because he was too sick? What would happen then? Dora was right, they couldn't bring him to a vet.
So Ben was mostly on autopilot—and the support of a large cup of coffee—on his way home when he almost ran the red light. He stopped the car with screeching brakes, cringing when the driver behind him honked and shook his fist.
“Yeah, yeah, get over yourself,” Ben muttered.
However, Ben drove more carefully the rest of the way. Not for the first time he cursed about the distance between the airport and home. Usually, Joey picked him up when he came home from a long flight. It was freaky how bereft Ben felt without Joey sitting behind the wheel, chattering about anything and everything.
Eventually, Ben pulled the car into the parking spot, and got out of the car. He decided to leave his suitcase in the trunk for now. Taking two steps at once, he bounded up the stairs. The closer he came to Joey, the more energized he felt. It was weird, but not an unknown feeling for Ben. No matter how tired, frustrated or whatever Ben was, his mood always brightened the closer he got to Joey.
As he reached their floor, Dora's door opened. She looked like a ghost. Her face was probably as white as her hair, and the crinkles in her face were more pronounced than ever. Joey lay on her lap, his little chest heaving up and down in a rhythm way too fast.
Ben rushed to them, crouched in front of Dora and gently scratched behind Joey's ears. Joey's eyes opened to a slit and a high-pitched whine escaped his mouth. Laboriously, he lifted his head and sniffed Ben's hand. Obviously pleased with the smell, Joey closed his eyes again.
“Is that all I get? No puppy kisses? Not even a tail wagging?” Ben tried.
Joey lifted his tail and wagged it once before he told Ben telepathically, I'm glad you're here. Tell Dora thanks for taking care of me?
“Joey says thank you for taking care of him.”
Dora's eyes widened in surprise. She looked from the small puppy in her lap to Ben, then asked, “How did he speak to you?”
Ben's head swiveled upward. “He... er, what?”
She suspected anyway, Joey threw in.
Ben sighed. “And we just have to drop that particular bomb now?” To Dora he said, “This will probably sound strange but--”
“Stranger than the shape-shifting?” Dora whispered conspiratorially.
Ben smiled up at the old woman, who kept stroking the puppy's flank. “No, I guess not. He's able to talk telepathically to me.”
“I thought there was something special going on between you. Well, more special than what's going on anyway. You go to your apartment and unlock the door and I'll carry him over for you,” Dora commanded.
Ben marveled at the fact how stoic this woman took everything. He got up from his crouch, squeezed Dora's shoulder and said, “Thank you, Dora.”
Ben led the way to the apartment and unlocked the door. When he turned, he saw Dora carefully cradling Joey in her arms, rubbing her nose into his fur, murmuring something to him. Joey wagged his tail twice in acknowledgment.
Ben shifted the limp puppy from Dora's arms into his own arms. Joey was sprawled on Ben's forearm, his paws dangling loosely in the air. Joey's obvious weakness scared Ben more than he liked to admit. He bid his goodbye to Dora, promising her to let her know how Joey was the next morning and yes, he'd shout for her if he got worse during the night.
Ben carried Joey around as he opened windows to air out the rooms. When he entered their bedroom he stopped on the threshold, gazing around wide-eyed. “Joey? What exactly happened here?”
Joey opened one eye and squinted at his surroundings. I am sick.
“Why does our bedroom look as if a bomb exploded in it? You can't have worn all these clothes.”
I was freezing, and then I was too hot, and then I was freezing again, and some of the stuff itched on my skin, and... and oh my God, are you going to spank me? Now? Beeeen, I'm really sick! I swear!
Joey gazed up at Ben, his eyes shining wetly. A shiver surged through the tiny body, forcing Ben to tighten his hold on the puppy. Ben pushed some clothes on the floor aside so he could walk to the bed. He laid down on it and gently lowered Joey next to him. Joey whined and tried to crawl back on Ben's chest. Realizing he was too weak to accomplish his goal, Joey ordered, Beeen! Up!
“Joey, wouldn't it be b--”
I want uuuuuuuuup! Joey screeched.
Wincing, Ben picked Joey up and placed him on his chest. He curled one arm around the shivering form of his partner and shook his head. “Sweetheart, I'm sure you're running a high fever. You probably had shivering fits the other night. Didn't you ever have one before?”
No! Make it go away.
“We should take you to a doctor but you have to shift for that.”
Why? You're my Top, make it go away.
“Sweets, I'm no miracle healer. You need to see a doctor. Maybe you have an infection and need antibiotics.”
I've never needed antibiotics before. Fever-glazed eyes stared at Ben accusingly.
“Joey, please, can you shift? So we can take your temperature to get an idea if you're running a high fever that needs medical assistance or not?”
I wanna sleep.
“You don't want to shift?”
“All right. I can take your temperature in this form too.” Ben cradled the puppy securely in his arms before he got up and walked to the bathroom.
How's this going to work? You can't stick the thermometer under my armpit.
Ben rummaged in a drawer, retrieved a thermometer and shook it down. He held it in front of Joey and said calmly, “Do I have to explain where I'm going to stick this?”
Joey's eyes widened in shocked comprehension. You... you can't do that! I don't want that! You're mean!
Ben carried the weakly struggling puppy back to their bedroom and laid Joey on the comforter. “So, how are we going to do this?”
I doooooon't want this!
“One more time, Joey. How. Are. We. Going. To. Do. This.”
I should've stayed with Dora.
With a sigh, Ben rolled Joey on his side and lifted his tail. Joey's screech of indignation had Ben gritting his teeth, and he closed his eyes for a second. When he re-opened them, Joey muttered, I'll shift. You won. Meanie.
“Joey,” Ben warned. “I know you're not used to be sick. This is still no excuse to call me names.”
“No. I haven't slept in more than 24 hours. I was, no, I still am, very worried about you, and I want you to shift so I know whether I should take you to a doctor or not.”
But I don't hurt so much when I'm a puppy, Joey wailed.
“What hurts, sweetheart?” Ben rubbed Joey's belly soothingly.
My throat. It hurts really bad. I couldn't swallow anything although I was thirsty.
“That sounds like a throat infection to me or maybe tonsillitis,” Ben replied, never ceasing in his gentle ministrations. “Please shift so we can have a look, okay?”
Joey sniffed. I'd rather--
“Joey, please,” Ben sighed. He lay down next to Joey, nudged the pup's nose with a finger and waited.
Joey huffed, rolled onto his belly and stretched out his limbs. Usually, Joey shifted so fast, Ben often thought it happened in a blink of an eye. Today was different though. The shift happened in slow motion. Joey's limbs elongated, then the fur receded. At first it seemed as if a young boy lay in Joey's place, eliciting a flabbergasted “oh my god!” from Ben.
Joey turned his head toward Ben, grimacing slightly. Ben gasped. Yes, this was still Joey but he looked about ten years old.
“Just a second,” Joey replied, his voice sounding higher than normal.
Ben watched Joey's features shift slowly until the proportions were right and his young lover lay panting beside him. Swallowing hard, Ben reached out with a shaking hand. Joey's skin felt hot to the touch and Ben swallowed again. In a whisper he asked, “What was that?”
I'm sorry you had to saw this. Shifting while being sick is not so easy. My mom usually allowed me to keep my pup form the few times I was ill. I haven't been sick for... I think almost 9 years. I didn't remember the shifting being so difficult.
“Why are you still talking in my head?”
Because my throat hurts really bad. It hurts to talk. Um, Ben? Can you pull the comforter up? I'm cold.
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
Ben pulled the comforter up to Joey's neck, covering the shivering form of his lover. Pulling himself together, Ben waved the thermometer in front of Joey's face and asked him to open his mouth. Obediently, Joey opened.
While they waited for the thermometer to beep, Ben carded his hands through Joey's sweat-soaked hair. Joey nuzzled his head against Ben's thigh, and repeated his earlier heartfelt declaration, I'm glad you're home.
Ben smiled and replied, “Me too.”
When Ben looked at the display of the thermometer it showed a temperature of almost 104. “Shit! Sweetheart, we have to get you dressed and to the doctor. Ah damn, it's Friday evening, we probably should go to the emergency room.”
Emergency room? Noooooo. Can't you go to the pharmacy and get me something against the pain?
“Let me have a look at your throat.”
You're not a doctor.
Ben raised an eyebrow.
Not that kind of doctor, Joey clarified.
“Open up anyway.”
Reluctantly, Joey did as he was told. Ben peered inside and sighed again. “Joey, even I can see your throat is red and swollen. There are also white patches on your tonsils. Come on, I'll help you dress.”
Tears welled up in Joey's eyes and his lower lip slipped out in a pout. Beeeeen!
Ben ignored Joey's protest and efficiently dressed him within a few minutes. He got their jackets, his car keys and wallet before he helped Joey to a standing position. Joey leaned heavily against Ben, trembling from the sheer effort of standing.
If you'd allowed me to stay a pup you could carry me, Joey whined.
Ben rubbed his tired eyes and prayed for patience.
Hours later they were back from the hospital with a bag full of antibiotics and painkillers, as well as some advice. Ben coaxed Joey into taking the prescribed medication with a well-aimed slap to Joey's butt.
Ben was about to tuck a crying Joey into bed, when they heard a knock on the door. Ben frowned, kissed Joey's cheek and said, “Stay put.”
Riiiiight, as if I'd do anything else. You're a--
“Ah! Don't say it. I know you're sick and I know swallowing the pills hurt but I'm not letting you get away with calling me names. Is that understood?”
You'd spank me? Now? I'm really sick!
“You're not too sick to behave like a brat and no, I wouldn't spank you now. I'd do that later.”
Joey huddled further under the blanket, his fever-glazed eyes staring up at Ben in disbelief. Another, more insistent knock at the door interrupted the strained silence. Uh, you should probably get that.
Wordlessly, Ben got up and walked toward the door. After looking through the peephole Ben opened the door. “Dora. Shouldn't you be asleep? It's the middle of the night.”
“How is Joey?”
“He has tonsillitis. We got some meds to treat it, and now we're getting some sleep. You should get some sleep too,” Ben concluded softly.
“You're right. I just wanted to know how he is. I've never seen him so out of it before. He really scared me.”
Ben bent down to hug Dora. “He scared me too. You're welcome to come over tomorrow and see him.”
“How about lunch time? I'll bring some soup and pudding. He should be able to swallow that kind of food.”
“You don't have to--”
“Benjamin Riker! I will be here at twelve hundred sharp. You better have the table set by that time.”
Ben smiled and saluted. “Yes, ma'am!”
Contentedly, Dora smiled back, turned her wheelchair and rolled back to her apartment. Ben waited until he heard her locking the door before he did the same. He chucked his clothes on the way to the bedroom and swiftly slid under the covers. Joey was already asleep but even in his sleep he snuggled back into Ben's embrace. Ben barely remembered to switch of the light before sleep claimed him as well.
For the next two days Joey slept most of the time. When he didn't sleep, he whined about anything and everything. Getting him to eat was a nerve-wracking matter, even though Dora and Ben made sure the food was either liquid or very soft.
At lunchtime on the third day Ben had enough. “All right, that's it.”
Joey looked at him, his eyes wide in alarm. Ben crooked a finger and beckoned Joey to get up from the kitchen chair. After a moment of hesitation, Joey obliged. Nervously, he shuffled over to Ben who drew him between his legs.
“Okay, sweetheart. Your fever is down, your throat is still sore but can't hurt as horrible as you're making it out and you need to eat. You have two options now. One—you go back to your chair, sit down, and eat the soup. Or, two—you go over my knee and afterward I'll feed you. What's it going to be?”
Joey, who normally was so very mild-mannered, if a bit too mischievous and playful for his own good, snapped. He glared down at Ben, and said very slowly and clearly, “One—you're an asshole and two—you're--”
Ben interrupted Joey by unceremoniously pulling him over his lap. Within seconds he had divested Joey of his sweatpants and underwear and administered the first smack.
“No! I'm sick! You can't do that!”
“I believe I can,” Ben replied. He swiftly covered Joey's butt with a round of well-aimed slaps, turning the skin pink.
“Ow! Ouch, Ben! I'll eat!”
“Of course you will,” Ben said calmly while he started his roundabout circle on Joey's butt again.
“Ow! Okay, okay, I'm sorry, all right? I shouldn't have spoken to you like that. I'm sorry!”
Immediately, Ben put Joey on his feet, re-arranged his clothes, and pulled a sniffling Joey on his lap. Joey's head sagged on Ben's shoulder while Ben held him tightly.
“I'm sorry. I'm not good at being sick, I guess.”
Ben snorted. “No, you're not.”
“I'm sorry,” Joey sobbed.
“It's okay, sweets. I'm not mad at you.” Ben pulled Joey's bowl with soup over to him, stirred it with the spoon, blew on it and held it out for Joey.
Joey darted a glance between the spoon and Ben. Blushing furiously, he squeaked, “Ben? You're not serious, right?”
Ben looked steadily at Joey, and then said, “Joey, I believe your smarting butt should be answer enough to your question.”
A tear spilled over and rolled down Joey's left cheek as he kept staring incredulously at Ben. “I'll eat, I promise.”
“You had your chance, now you do as I say.” Upon seeing Joey's reluctance and the obvious shame lurking in those large dark eyes, Ben had to gather up all his willpower to stay firm. “Joey, now, please.”
Ben brought the spoon to Joey's lips, nudging them with it. Saucer-like eyes looked at Ben but eventually Joey opened his mouth. Joey swallowed the first spoonful of soup and watched Ben dipping the spoon into the bowl again.
“But Ben!” Joey protested. “I learned my lesson. Please, can I hold the spoon?”
“No. Open your mouth.”
Reluctantly, Joey did as he was told. After swallowing the next spoonful Joey darted a beseeching glance at Ben but kept his mouth shut. Ben's eyes softened. With a sigh, he hugged Joey closer to him. He pressed a kiss to Joey's temple before saying, “Don't ask me again. You do as you're told and that's it. I'm not doing this to humiliate you. Think about it—isn't it nice to sit on my lap, completely relaxed and getting fed?”
Joey snorted and rubbed the trickling tears from his face. “My bum is burning.”
Ben adjusted Joey's position, kissed him on the lips and smiled at him. “And?”
“It's weird and I'm not sure how I feel about it.”
“Okay, that's an honest statement. Now, let's get you fed.”
This time, Joey stopped fussing and pleading and simply allowed Ben to feed him spoon after spoon of soup until the bowl was empty. Afterward, Joey curled up on Ben's lap and hid his face against Ben's chest. In a small voice he said, “I'll eat, you don't have to feed me again.”
“Okay. How about you lie down for a nap while I clean the kitchen and do some stuff around the apartment. We really need to wash some clothes.”
“I don't want to nap. Or at least not alone. Can't I just sit with you? Or... or I could shift and you could carry me around?” Joey looked at Ben hopefully.
“Joey, how am I supposed to do the dishes one-handedly? Come on, sweetheart, get some rest; I promise to hurry and lay down with you, okay?”
Joey pouted but went to the bedroom after Ben patted his butt encouragingly. Ben had just cleared the table when he heard the unmistakable noises of soft paws padding toward him.
Joey whimpered and Ben looked down at his feet. Joey in his pup form leaned against his leg, holding a long piece of fabric in his snout. Frowning, Ben bent down, scratched Joey behind his ears and asked, “What is this?”
It's a sling. My mother used it when I was small. I... I still have it because... Anyway, you only have to tie it and then you can carry me around and have both hands free.
“Joey,” Ben sighed.
“God damn it, brat.”
Please, please, please, Joey begged.
“I don't know how to tie it!”
I can tell you. Please?
Ben stared hard at the yipping puppy. Joey pushed himself up on his hind paws, wagged his tail tentatively, and nudged Ben's nose with his own cold puppy nose. Please, Ben.
“Okay, tell me.”
Joey explained to Ben how to tie the sling, and barked in appreciation when Ben lifted him into it. Joey licked Ben's hand before he fell asleep, cradled close to the person he felt safest with in the world. Ben peered down at the slumbering puppy in astonishment from time to time while he did some chores.
Later, Ben sat down on the sofa, intent on untying the sling because it was getting really warm under it. Ben aborted his attempt when he discovered Joey keeping a piece of Ben's shirt in his mouth while his forepaws kneaded Ben's stomach slightly.
“Oh sweets, what am I going to do with you?”
Joey slept on, leaving Ben only the choice of shaking his head in fond amusement. Ben slouched back against the backrest of the sofa and switched on the TV. Before he concentrated on a documentary he muttered, “Don't you dare to pee on me.”