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The "Oh, Shit"-Moment (Westworld, Theresa) final part added


Chanel_no5

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***Note***

The thing here was - irony at its finest - that I was going to try to write a cough-centered fic to see if I could, because for some weird reason all the things that normally puts me off fetish-wise works wonderfully with this character. Then I started coming down with pretty much exact the same cold described here. I've had it for over a week now and I'm still not doing too hot. But then, why should she? Sorrynotsorry. :twisted:

Some mess, embarrassment, foul language, and so on. 

:cheers:  

***

It wasn’t often that Theresa could pinpoint the exact moment a cold started to take hold of her – it was usually vague things like a persistent headache, a general exhausted feeling, or several sneezes over the course of a day which wasn’t usual for her if she was healthy – but this time she consciously registered the exact ‘oh shit’-moment.

It wasn’t right when she woke up, but a few minutes afterwards, when she was still gathering strength to face today’s fuckeries. It started as a sharp sting in the left side of her throat. The way it stings when you swallow a strong drink the wrong way, only she hadn’t been drinking anything.

“Fuck,” she muttered.

“And a good morning to you too,” Bernard mumbled from somewhere between the blankets.

“I’m coming down with a cold,” Theresa said, to explain her unprompted expletive.

“Again? You just recovered from one, are you sure?”

She swallowed and winced. The sting was still there.

“Positive.”

“Maybe you should see a doctor. It can’t be a good sign to get colds this frequently.”

“It’s just stress messing with my immune defence.” Her voice almost cracked and she swallowed again. “But it’s fucking annoy-“ she was cut off by a sudden cough, then she swallowed again. The sting had spread to the other side of her throat too. Not as sharp, but definitely there. “Do you have any cough drops here?” she asked.

“Hmm, not unless you left any lying around from last time you were sick.”

“Great,” she sighed, and the bed covers rustled as she sat up. Bernard was already sitting up, giving her a close visual inspection. “Stop it Bernie, I’m not feeling sick.”

She was truthful. She really didn’t feel like she was sick.

“You look a bit pale, though.”

“I’m Scandinavian. We’re always pale.”

“Alright, fine,” Bernard said, knowing there was no use arguing with her. “Do you want breakfast?”

Theresa was in the process of getting dressed, and she shook her head without even looking at him.

“You do know that skipping meals when you’re getting sick isn’t a good idea, right?”

“Why not? If I’m already getting sick either way, who cares?”

“I see now why you keep catching colds…”

“What’s that?”

“Nothing.” He suppressed a sigh. “At least have some tea.”

“I have to get to work,” she said. “I need to get everything in order, the Board arrives this afternoon to…” she turned away and coughed into a loosely cupped hand. It was still a dry cough, but the way she cringed and brought the hand to her chest after coughing made him think it would turn into a wetter, more productive cough, and probably sooner rather than later. “… to grill me on that security breach from last week.”

“You sure you’re up for that?”

She gave him an amused smile.

“Bernie, I’m not seriously ill, it’s just a cold. I’m perfectly capable of working with a –” she interrupted herself with another cough. This time it was a bit more persistent. “With a cold,” she finished, her voice decidedly more ragged afterwards.

Bernard knew that the standard opinion on the floor was that if Theresa would choose not to work with a cold once in a while, the amount of cold epidemics among staff would lessen significantly, but if he informed her of that she would demand names. And his best techs were among them.

“At least put on something else before the meeting,” he said.

“What’s wrong with this?” Theresa asked, looking down at her deceptively simple yet very expensive, sleeveless dress. Then she sneezed, spattering the front of the dark grey fabric with droplets of spray.

“Except that?” Bernard joked. Theresa rolled her eyes at him and impatiently wiped at the damp spots with her hand.

“I didn’t feel it coming,” she said. “Ugh, fuck. Now, enlighten me, Mr Lowe. What’s wrong with this dress, except the fact that I just sneezed all over it?”

“You may not be feeling sick now, but I guarantee you that by afternoon you’ll have the chills. So you probably want to put on something warmer.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Have I been sick so often that you can predict the progress of my colds?”

Bernard shrugged, but the little smile playing at the corners of his mouth spoke volumes.

Theresa shook her head, then started coughing again. She was still coughing when she left, but by then she was struggling to muffle the coughs with her hand, trying not to draw attention to her presence in this part of the staff quarters.

***

Fast-forward a couple of hours, and her throat felt much worse. The twinge was constantly nudging her towards a cough, and if she tried to resist the urge she ended up with watery eyes and an even worse tingling in the back of her throat.

There was a knock on her door, and she looked up. Stubbs stood there. She gestured for him to enter, which he did.

“I found the data you wanted,” he said. Theresa held out her hand, waiting for him to give it to her, and turned her head and started coughing again. “You okay?” he asked.

Theresa nodded, still coughing. She gasped for air and put some more gusto into the chesty spasms, to rid herself of the persistent irritation. Finally, she managed to placate that prickle, though she knew it was only temporary. She had coughed so hard she had somehow managed to get congested and get a runny nose at the same time.

She sniffled, cleared her throat and started looking through the files on the device. Stubbs remained next to her desk, showing without flat out saying that he was at her service. Theresa ignored him. She read through the files and kept sniffling and clearing her throat. When she was done, she leaned back in her chair.

“You don’t happen to have a cigarette on you?” she asked. The engraved silver case with her own cigarettes was still on the nightstand next to Bernard’s bed. Ironically, because in Bernard’s bed her nerves were completely soothed already.

“I do, but with that hacking you don’t sound like you should smoke.”

“I shouldn’t smoke at all, and neither should you,” Theresa croaked. “But I might kill someone if I don’t get a cigarette, and you’re nearest, so… up to you.”

He huffed out a laugh as he fished a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and slid it across the desk.

“No offense, Theresa, but you don’t seem to be in shape to kill anyone right now.”

Theresa glared at him.

“Don’t test me, Ashley. That security breach is going to be a fucking shitstorm.”

She lit a cigarette, inhaled the smoke, and started coughing again.

“What the hell is in these cigarettes anyway?” she said in a choked, raspy voice. “Tastes like h-… huhRASSCHuh! Horseshit.”

“Probably is, it’s some fucking eco-friendly stuff,” Stubbs said.

Theresa held the smouldering cigarette away from her face and wiped her watering eyes with the other hand. She was sniffling wetly as well. The need to cough was scratching at her throat.

“Ugh, no, I’m gonna cough up my lungs if I finish this,” she said and put out the cigarette again. It was probably too late anyway, the smoke had upset her already inflamed airways, and the tickly, tingly sensation in the back of her throat felt like it had spread to her chest. 

And the smoking hadn’t even succeeded in calming her nerves first. 

“How much of a shitstorm do we expect it to be?” Stubbs asked. 

“I don’t know, but I’ll tell you one thing. Heads will roll, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it from being mine. Or yours.” 

“What about Bernard? Is his job at risk too?” 

“Mr Lowe has, to my knowledge, never had access to security codes regarding the guests’ personal information, and thus has nothing to do with this.” 

“That’s a relief.” 

“It certainly is, for Mr Lowe,” Theresa said in a dismissive tone and rubbed her nose. Clearly that was the wrong decision, as she nearly immediately snapped forward with a hoarse, throaty double. “HehRSSHuh! Uh-ERSCHoo!”

And then she started coughing again, an audibly raspier and wetter cough. 

“You really don’t sound good, boss.”

“Thanks for that assessment,” Theresa said and reached for a tissue to blow her nose. “As long as I make it through this afternoon, I don’t care how I sound.”

He didn’t respond. There didn’t seem to be much to say. Unless you wanted to say a prayer, but neither of them was exactly the praying type. 

“Evidently we have a stray horse in sector 47,” Theresa said, looking at her phone. “Send a response team. Full armour.”

“Full armour for an animal stray? Isn’t that a bit over the top?”

“Probably, but do you want to take any risks today?” Theresa gave him one of her I’m only asking because you can’t be that dumb, right?-looks that said more than words could. Stubbs sighed. 

“No.” 

When he left, Theresa leaned forward, into her hands, and gave in to a scraping, burning coughing fit that was felt throughout her entire body. This was not going to be her best day at the job, not by a long shot, but if she didn’t do her best, it might be her last day at the job.

***

Theresa wished that she had listened to Bernard’s advice and put on something warmer, or at least more covering, but she had been too busy looking into the issue with the security codes, and now it was too late.

She was seated in one of the chairs outside the most luxurious conference room on location, the one where two of the walls entirely consisted of panorama windows overlooking the desert and the railroad leading into Sweetwater.

Theresa was freezing in the air-conditioned cool air, and really just wanted to shrink into her own sweet, wonderful body heat. She caught herself when she had nearly retreated into a self-hugging position, and reluctantly put her hands on her lap instead, straightened up, squared her shoulders and raised her chin to try and look more alert than she felt. The last thing she should be doing right now, was to display a submissive body language.

“Miss Cullen? The Board will see you now,” a secretary said. Theresa nodded and stood up. The secretary – no doubt a host herself, Theresa didn’t claim to know every single one of the thousands of hosts – led her into the conference room. The table placed right in the middle could offer a seat for twenty-four people, but only seven seats were taken today. Which was bad enough – that was the entire Board of directors, some of whom Theresa had never even seen before, despite working in close contact with them for the past couple of years.

The door closed behind her but no one offered her to sit down, so she remained in the doorway, wearing her best poker face and loosely lacing her fingers together to avoid fidgeting. When she got out of this, she was going to get her cigarettes and then smoke two at once, and fuck that cough.

Her head was pounding in her ears and she thought she might end up with a migraine before today was over, but for now, she was more concerned about her ability to subdue the cough. And the growing threat of sneezes.

Six pair of eyes were fixed on her, but the seventh was staring out of the window. It was – of course – the executive director, Charlotte Hale, pretending to not even have noticed Theresa’s arrival.

Theresa’s throat burned and she swallowed and tried to clear it quietly, as she was becoming painfully aware that her nose was starting to run. And had she brought any tissues? Of course not. She gave a light sniff, and the sudden rush of air through her inflamed airways made it feel like she was about to sneeze. Or cough. Or both.

Get yourself under control, Cullen, she sharply told herself. Now.

Whether it was her willpower or just luck, the urge withdrew for the time being. But there was a recently added wheeze in her respiration, maybe not loud enough for others to hear but definitely audible to her. She knew what that meant, too. Her body was actively fighting the virus, and that was good, but it was producing stuff she’d have to get rid of. More to the point; mucus.

Finally, Charlotte turned around and stood up. She looked impeccable as always, in a dark red dress hugging her curves in a deliberately provocative way. It didn’t matter that Theresa knew how destructive their little fling had been and how much better off she was with Bernard, part of her was still dangerously attracted to this woman, and Charlotte was very well aware of that.

“Theresa,” she said now, her voice sweet and cheerful and lethal. “I hope you can explain this fucking mess to our satisfaction.”

So do I, Theresa thought. Charlotte gave her a flashing smile and gestured to a chair.

“Have a seat,” she purred.

As Theresa sat down, she felt the prickle in her throat getting worse and she swallowed, trying to block it from turning into a cough. What she succeeded in doing however, was making the prickle spread upward, into her nose.

That was worse. Theresa had never been able to stifle, and sneezing quietly was about as impossible too. She really had to hold it back, because letting it out was not going to give her the start she needed to pull this off with her job intact.

She cleared her throat, sat down, and discreetly gave her nose a quick, firm rub.

“So, last Thursday, somebody accessed guest’s personal information logs from the mesa hub,” Charlotte said, and instead of sitting down in her own chair at the head of the table, she slowly walked up to Theresa, circling her like a shark.

That was bad, because being this close to her made Theresa’s heart race in apprehension. It was also bad because Charlotte wore perfume. It wasn’t heavy at all, but it was… tickly. It was most likely she would barely have noticed if she hadn’t already been tormented by the cold, but as it was, the scent was turning a flicker into a flame. The flowery fragrance teased Theresa’s already irritated nose like a thousand feathers, forcing her to hold her breath for several seconds to avoid an inevitable reaction to this tickly invasion.

“We’ve already concluded it was not a glitch but an actual – and sadly successful – attempt at…”

No, no amount of willpower could resist this unbearable need to sneeze. Theresa quickly tented her hands in front of her face and tried to sneeze into them as lightly and quietly as possible. For someone whose sneeze normally was a harsh, wet, unapologetic explosion she actually managed to keep it reasonably ladylike. Not exactly a silent stifle, but not a resounding production of mess either.

Huh-TSSCHuh! Excuse me.”

Bless you! Is it just me, or was that extremely restrained coming from you?”

Theresa didn’t reply, and Charlotte chuckled a little before turning completely serious.

“Of course, it’s your responsibility to assure guest’s safety during park visits, and that includes their personal information.”

Theresa nodded. She desperately wanted to sniffle, but feared that if she did so while Charlotte and her perfume remained this close, it would rapidly turn into another sneeze, and she didn’t think she’d be able to keep the next one as restrained.

“So, what the fuck happened?” Charlotte continued, slamming her palm against the polished oak for emphasis. Theresa nearly jumped at the sudden noise, which surely was Charlotte’s intention.

“Stubbs, our head of security, and I, have found the exact breach, which occurred on Thursday morning at 04:15.” Her voice wavered, almost cracked, then decided to stay in service a little while longer. “It was perfectly coordinated with the latest update of our security software.” She cleared her throat and gave a very light sniff, just a desperate measure to keep her nose from dripping. To her relief it didn’t set off the itch again, but she felt like she needed to either sniffle hard or blow her nose, and soon, before things got completely out of hand. “The timing leads us to believe it was meant to be coordinated, as a cover.”

She coughed against the back of her hand, trying to suppress the cough the best she could and feeling tears pricking at her eyes from the ripping pain in her throat.

“Excuse me,” she said, but this time her voice was weak and threatened to give out. Charlotte’s dark eyes sparkled with sadistic glee when she realised this was more than a temporary tickle.

“Are you getting sick, Theresa?” she asked.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Theresa said. She was in fact realistic enough to know she wasn’t going to be able to play it off as nothing, but she refused to fully admit it. She didn’t need anything else to put her in a weaker position than her actual position did.

“You certainly don’t sound fine,” Charlotte said. “And I do remember your little pattern of catching colds whenever you’re feeling stressed.”

“I didn’t say I was stressed.”

“You mean a security breach like that, on your watch, doesn’t stress you out? Then I’d say you either have nerves of steel, or you’ve got something to do with it.”

Theresa pursed her lips. That was the most she dared to do in regards of showing how ridiculous she thought that was.

“If I had anything to do with it, you think I’d be that sloppy?” she asked. Charlotte laughed.

“No, I doubt that. Besides, if you were to do anything like that, you would have done it already. You’ve been a loyal soldier all along.”

“I don’t think anyone here doubts your integrity, Miss Cullen,” one of the men interjected. “It’s your competence that we question.”

Theresa had been mesmerised by Charlotte to the point where she had almost forgotten that they weren’t alone in the room, and his words hit her like a slap in the face. The park and the employees were a shitshow to handle and she had managed to keep everything neat and tight for years. She knew it was a serious mishap, but she managed thousands of people in possession of sensitive information daily, and this was the first time anything of this magnitude had ever happened on her watch. She was actually so taken aback by the insult that she had to bite her tongue to avoid giving a retort – a retort that doubtlessly would have cost her the job.

“The only person who could have known the exact timing of that update, was the tech issuing it. At the time, there was no suspicions regarding the update in and of itself.”

“Tell me, Miss Cullen, do your techs always make updates in the ungodly hours?”

“Yes, sir, as a matter of fact they do.”

“Why?”

“To avoid risking disturbances in the regular systems.”

Idiot, she added inwardly. It was common sense. Even Theresa, who wasn’t a coder or tech by any means, knew that.

Charlotte had turned around and stared at the blonde man who had just spoken.

“How stupid can you be? Would you update your phone five minutes before a business call? Oh right, you do. That’s why we always have to re-send all information to you, because you keep losing stuff in the fucking updates.”

Theresa crossed her legs, feeling slightly more comfortable. Somebody else had blatantly displayed their vast incompetence, and she hadn’t been forced to be the one to call him it out on it.

But her comfort was short-lived, as the inflammation kept poking and prodding at her sensitive airways. She coughed, a series of fiercely bottled up coughs that made her shoulders shake. She struggled to put an end to the cough before she took in more air, because she knew it would only fire up the urge even more, but eventually she had no choice. She took a deep, shuddering breath and broke out in a series of louder, more productive coughs, each causing a slight wheeze in her chest.

Sometimes when she had a coughing fit, it ended in a couple of sneezes, and this one decided to do that little routine, despite Theresa’s desperate attempt at stopping it.

HhhRRSHUH! Huh-EAASSHHoo!” Furious with her body’s mutiny, Theresa tried to force the third sneeze into retreat before it could follow suit, but it wasn’t obeying; it turned into a painful, nasal failed stifle. “HhhGNXTSCHgh!”

Thick spray shot out of her reddened nostrils and ended up – thank God for that at least – in her cupped hands. She felt her cheeks heating up with embarrassment, but there was nothing she could do. She couldn’t remove her hands from her face without revealing the entire mess show going on, she had no tissues, not even long sleeves to hide behind. In any other situation she could simply have gotten up and excused herself and found a bathroom, but when you dealt with the seven most powerful people in the world, you took no initiatives on your own unless you had been explicitly told to.

She felt her own hot breath against the palms of her hands, and wondered what she had done to deserve this humiliation. She was a cold-hearted bitch at work, true, but she had never harmed an animal, she always paid her taxes on time, she took full responsibility for all her actions, and she didn’t take personal pleasure in being a cold-hearted bitch at work.

“So you’re not getting sick, huh?” Charlotte said. She sounded amused rather than repulsed, and that was something. She was also blocking Theresa from the view of the other Board members, which could either be an unexpected and uncharacteristic act of compassion, or simply a coincidence. “Well, I hope that’s true because I really don’t want to catch any more of your viruses, but I think we both know better, don’t we?”

Theresa still kept her hands over her nose. Charlotte chuckled, shook her head, and called for the host.

“Lucy, get us some tissues.”

The host was back within a minute, handing Theresa a bunch of tissues. She took them and immediately threw caution to the wind; if she was trying for the ladylike dab at the nostrils she had another thing coming. Likely something even messier.  

Instead, she cleaned herself up quickly, then buried her nose into the rest of the bunch of tissues and blew as hard as she could, producing a thick, seemingly endless, wet sound. Almost a crackling. She had no idea how she could have gotten this congested this fast, but she was determined to get rid of it so she could breathe properly again. And not having to be afraid of another embarrassment the next time she sneezed, because she had no false expectations that the sneezing was over. Oh fuck no, she was only getting started.

“I apologise,” she muttered thickly when she had finally fixed the current problem. “We have proof of the tech’s identity here,” she said and put the tech pad on the table.

“Thank you, Theresa,” Charlotte said. “We’ll have a look through it… after disinfecting it.” She gave her colleagues an amused glance over her shoulder and there were some chuckles in response.

Theresa said nothing. Her headache was getting worse, and now it felt like it was pounding in her sinuses, even. Jesus, she just wanted to take a bunch of meds, pull a blanket over her head, and sleep for a week.

“Anyone have any questions for Miss Cullen?” Charlotte asked. “Because otherwise, I suggest we’re done here.”

“Agreed,” one of the other Board members said.  

Theresa had no doubt that if she couldn’t have produced any specific evidence she might have lost her job on the spot, but she wasn’t off the hook yet. They could get the tech, but she was still the one in charge. Still, she had some hope that she and her security people would get out of this reasonably unscathed. There was nothing suggesting that the tech was cooperating with anyone else inside the park. Theresa’s personal suspicion was that it was someone planning to make some extra money on the side through blackmailing some rich and famous people.

“Alright,” Charlotte said and turned back to her. “Now get the fuck out of here. Take some Nyquil or something and try not to get everyone else sick with that fucking crap.”

Theresa got up and started towards the door. Charlotte tapped the table with her perfectly manicured nails and pointed towards the used tissues – Theresa felt like she was supposed to be ashamed for ‘making a mess’ or something, but she was too exhausted to really care. So she just gathered them and left the conference room. The door had barely closed behind her when she bent over and started coughing heavily. Her head felt like it was about to split in two, and coughing made the pain even worse, but she couldn’t stop.

She started walking down the corridor, coughing a painfully raspy cough into the balled-up tissues. Her eyes were watering, makeup smudging, her nose was streaming. She somehow made it into the elevator and leaned her back against the wall, breathing heavily, feeling the congestion rattle in her chest.

Someone stepped into the elevator and pushed the buttons before she could even make a move to do it herself, and the doors swiftly closed.

“You doing okay?” Bernard asked, his voice soothing like a cool cloth against a sweaty forehead.

“No,” Theresa said, and the word sounded drenched, like it dripped out of her. “Why are you here?”

“Because I assumed you wouldn’t be okay,” he replied softly, put his arm around her shoulders and very gently pulled her into his embrace. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“It’s only four in the aftehhh… eeeRRSCHHoo! Afternoon.”

“Bless you. Yes, it is.”

“I don’t get off work until seven.”

“But you’re not going to get anything done the rest of the day anyway.”

“True. Oh… I’m g-going to sneeze again… huhhERGSSCHHuh! Ugh, sorry. They’re so fucking messy!”

“It’s alright, Tess.” He rubbed her shoulder. “It’s alright.”

She gave him a watery-eyed half-smile and leaned into him without saying anything. When he said it was alright, despite knowing better, she could almost believe it.

 

Link to comment
On 11/30/2019 at 3:57 PM, crazygirl22 said:

I am so glad the forum is back and on top of that with such a great story from you. Thanks :)

Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed! 😊

There was a final part to this that I just finished, so here goes! 

 

***

 

”Tess.” 

She groaned and rolled over, ignoring the soft voice and hoping it would just go away.

“Tess, wake up.”

“Why?” she muttered hoarsely. “I just went to sleep.” She started coughing, a desperate, wheezing cough that made her whole body shake under the warm blankets. “Oooh God,” she gasped once the fit was over. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “Hehh… aaRRGSCHHugh! Oh, fuck-hhh…”

Bernard sat down on the side of the bed and gave her back a comforting squeeze.

“Bless you. You’ve actually been asleep since I left this morning. That’s three hours ago. I would have preferred not to wake you, but Hale is looking for you.”

He sounded almost apologetic.

Theresa coughed again, her chest burning with congestion.

“Well, fuck.”

“I don’t know what she wants,” he said, trying to offer her some hope, but Theresa cleared her throat and sat up, rubbing her hands over her sleep-swollen face.  

“I have a pretty good idea.” She sniffled and pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to rub away the hot, prickling sensation inside, then realising it did the opposite.

“Uh-ERGSCHugh!”

Her shoulders shuddered with the heavy, throaty sneeze. She momentarily looked like she was done, then suddenly snapped forward with two more sneezes, less throaty, way wetter.

HuhESSSHHHoo! ESSSHHHooo!”

She sniffled a couple of times, then sneezed again, misting the palms of her hands with abundant spray.

Hahh… ahhhISSSHHuh! Huhh… ahh-AAEEESHHHoo! I can’t fucking s-stop… uhh-EESSHHHooo!”

Bernard handed her some tissues and she buried her irritated, cold-red nose into them and blew. There was a light twitching in the fine muscles of her brow as her features tried to form the tell-tale, ticklish pre-sneeze expression again, but this time she managed to fight off the tickle. The wings of her nose trembled under her fingertips, and a quiet moan rose from her throat.

“Done?” Bernard asked.

“I think so.” She sniffled and lowered the tissues, only to get them back up to her face. “Oh, no, hehh… I-I’m not done-heeAASCHHooo!”

He chuckled, and Theresa glared at him.

“Bless you. How about now?”

She pressed the back of her hand against one of her nostrils for a few seconds, evaluating the irritation and how her body would respond to it. Then she nodded and lowered her hand again.

“Yeah.”

“Do you still have a fever?” he asked, feeling her forehead. “Hm.”

’Hm’ doesn’t sound encouraging,” Theresa replied thickly and slapped his hand away. “I’ll take something.” She rolled her eyes. “Heaven forbid I appear as miserable as I did three days ago at that fucking Board meeting.”

“You’re worse today than you were three days ago,” Bernard enlightened her, perhaps not too helpfully.

“Yes. But it’s all about how I appear.” She patted his knee. “Move. I have to get ready.”

He scooted over, watching her over the rim of his glasses as she got out of bed and started getting dressed, doubling over with a breathless coughing fit as she did. When it finally passed, a tear trickled down her cheek, an indication of just how harsh the fit had been.

“Stop fussing,” she said hoarsely. Bernard raised his hands in surrender.

“I didn’t say a word.”

“You thought plenty.”

He smiled and stood up.

“But you can’t implicate me on thought. Good luck with Hale.” He leaned in and kissed her, then wiped the tear off her cheek with his thumb. “Make sure I get to sleep next to you tonight.”

She huffed.

“That’s a lovely way of saying ‘don’t get yourself fired’.”

He smiled and kissed her again.

“Yes, it is.”

***

Fuck, you look rough,” Charlotte said, giving her a onceover as she walked into the conference room. At least this time they were alone; the rest of the Board wasn’t there, and Theresa viewed it as a positive sign. But she had actually thought that she had succeeded in putting on proper makeup that hid the worst, so this swift negative review was disappointing.

“Thank you,” she replied dryly. As dryly as she could when she was drowning in her own bodily fluids, at least.

“The Board has decided not to push the question of your responsibility in the case with the security breach. Your loyalty and competence have been unquestionable this entire time, and considering the number of updates made, we have ruled that you couldn’t be monitoring them all.”

Cool relief flooded her veins and she hadn’t realised how tense and worried she had been. She released a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, coughed, and then her nose started to itch again. She tried with all her might to block the urge to sneeze before it had slipped out of her control, breath hitching silently as her nostrils quivered.

“Organise tighter screening and more check-ups of new tech hires,” Charlotte said. “And we’ll forget this mishap.” She eyed the other woman closely. “Oh for fuck’s sake, just sneeze. You look ridiculous trying to hold it back, and I already know you can’t do it anyway.”

That was painfully true. Theresa got her hand up to her face, turned away, and sneezed against her wrist.

HehAARSCHoo! Excuse me-eehhyISSSHHuh!

Charlotte stood, walked up to her, trailed her fingertips down Theresa’s arm. The one she hadn’t just sneezed against, of course.

“You know, if you weren’t so obviously contagious, I might be persuaded to kiss you again. Rekindle some old flames, so to speak.”

“Honestly…” Theresa cleared her throat. “I don’t think that’s a road we should go down again.”

Charlotte looked her dead in the eyes, and Theresa held the stare, knowing that if she broke eye contact, she might make Charlotte suspicious. Not that she wasn’t allowed to have new relationships – that was none of Miss Hale’s business, frankly – but if she figured out who it was, Bernard might be in trouble. Or rather, they’d both be. It could raise objectivity questions considering their roles as heads of delicately balanced power branches. Her past thing with Charlotte on the other hand was so laughably unequal that no one would bat an eyelash. What Charlotte wanted, Charlotte got. If that thing she wanted was an affair with a lowly QA manager, who cared? Who was going to question her? She was the one calling the shots. Sometimes literally.

“Oh. And why is that?”

“You mean to tell me that wasn’t toxic?”

“You mean to tell me you didn’t enjoy it?”

“I did enjoy it,” Theresa said, putting a little bit of emphasis on ‘did’ and turning it into past tense. An awkward silence stretched out between them, probably just lasting a few seconds but feeling like minutes. Then Charlotte withdrew her hand.

“Well. I wouldn’t want to catch that disgusting cold anyway,” she said.

“No, you wouldn’t,” Theresa replied sincerely. Charlotte’s dark eyes drilled into her blue for a few moments longer, then the younger woman turned her back on her.

“Take a few more sick days, for crying out loud. You’re a mess.”

Theresa could agree with her on that note.

***

Later, when Bernard had come over and they were on the couch snuggling – they had started out discussing work, because Theresa demanded to be kept in the loop even if she was sick, but they had somehow ended up in a lounging embrace – she decided to tell him about the brief thing she’d had with Charlotte in the past.

He was silent for a few seconds, but she could tell he wasn’t upset; he wasn’t trying to put any distance between them, and his hand was still gently playing with her hair.

“Ah. That explains why you react like that whenever her name is mentioned.”

“I don’t react.”

“Yes, you do. It’s okay. When was this?”

“Eight years ago. It lasted a few months. It wasn’t healthy.”

“Why?”

“Because she wasn’t interested in me as a person. Fine, I’ve had relationships that were solely based on sex, but that wasn’t it either. Good sex demands communication, respect. There was nothing of that sort. It was her way or the highway” She shifted a little so she could look him in the eye. “I’m not very adventurous. I like things comfortable. I like courting.”

He smiled.

“You’re a hopeless romantic.”

“I am,” she admitted. “And that wasn’t it. Anyway, today she… expressed an interest in rekindling old flames.”

“How did that make you feel?”

“Honestly?” She sighed. “It made me feel like running, as fast as I could, to you. Don’t get too cocky now.” She chuckled, then coughed a couple of times, her chest feeling tight and congested. “But it made me want to commit to what I know is good for me. It’s just that I’m no good at commitments unless they’re work.”

“No good at them, or afraid you won’t be good at them?” he asked.

“I…” she trailed off, was silent for a moment. “I don’t know.”

He waited for her to gather her thoughts.

“I’ve never been good at it, it never felt right. I think… I think this does. But what if I’m wrong?”

“You know we don’t have to, right? We can just let things take whatever course they do. That’s how it’s been all along, after all. The first time we made love was a bit of a surprise for both of us.”

He chuckled. So did she, then she started coughing. When it wouldn’t stop, she sat up and leaned away from him, coughing heavily.

“You okay?” he asked. She nodded, still coughing.

“Fuck,” she wheezed, pressing a hand to her chest. “It doesn’t usually get to my chest like this. Hahh-EESSHHHoo! ERRSSHHHoo! Ugh. Now that’s more common,” she muttered.

“Maybe you should see a doctor after all.”

Theresa sighed and searched through her pockets for a fresh tissue to blow her nose.

“Yeah, maybe I should make sure I don’t need some vitamin supplements or something.”

“Or, you know, actual food…” Bernard said.

“Huh?”

“When was the last time you ate? I know you didn’t have breakfast.”

A guilty expression crept into her face and she looked away, blowing her nose thoroughly to put off having to answer. Bernard got up and headed towards the kitchen.

“What are you doing now?” Theresa asked, sounding a bit impatient.

“I’m going to make dinner, Theresa,” he said firmly. “I’m not surprised your immune system fails you when you don’t give it anything to sustain it. That even happens to the hosts.”

She followed him into the kitchen, leaned against the doorframe and crossed her arms.

“You know what, Bernie?”

He opened one of the cabinets and started taking out some items; pasta, canned tomatoes… she appreciated that he wasn’t going for soup. She had never really understood the American obsession with chicken soup.

“What?”

“That’s why Charlotte Hale doesn’t compare to you.”

“Because she won’t force-feed you?” He turned around and grinned at her, but she seemed completely serious.

“Because she lacks the simple humanity to care.” She turned to the side and released a quick, harsh sneeze. “Uh-EERSSH! I’m sorry you’re probably going to get this cold as a re-hehEERSSHHH! Reward for that care, though.”

“We’ll deal with that if and when it happens,” he said. Theresa smiled. Despite the dark circles around her eyes and her chapped, red nose, it made her look relaxed and carefree.

“Okay.” She walked up to him and put her arms around his waist from behind. “If and when it happens, I’m going to take care of you.”

He chuckled, turned around and kissed her.

“That’s good to know.”

 

Edited by Chanel_no5
fixed a thing.
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