Chapter 1: ginger tea
staying ahead of the game here
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Sure you should be drinking that?" Diego asks, eyes locked on the unopened bottle of ruby red cough syrup in his brother's hands. "Now that you're sober?"
Klaus follows, eyes flickering downward toward the medicine too, then back up to recapture Diego's catechizing gaze. His eyes are bright and he's squinting like he's got a headache.
Still, he smiles, lopsided, his eyes half lidded while his eyebrows jump up, and he says, "Well! Isn't it fancy running into you here."
"In the closet by the bathroom?" Diego asks. "At half past midnight?"
Klaus rolls his eyes in mock offense. "Well, that's plenty fancy for me, Mister Grandiloquent." He lowers his voice playfully, schooling his features to look hyperserious. It lasts only half a moment before he needs to unravel the performance to cough.
"I'm serious, man," says Diego. "How long you been clean now?"
"Almost…" Klaus clears his throat and runs a hand down the front of his face as his posture deflates. He rubs his eye and looks exhausted. "Yeah. Almost a month since the, uh, since the world didn't end."
He says it like he's surprised at himself. Diego isn't.
"You know," Klaus says, melodic and raspy as he tosses the bottle a couple inches into the air just so he can catch it, "I hadn't decided if I was going to drink it yet. I was considering having a nighttime dose only for its intended purpose."
Diego almost believes it. "You sound like shit," he says, and that isn't a lie. "Your throat still hurt?" It sounds like it does.
"My every-–" Klaus cuts himself off with this weird little half-cough-half-throat-clear that he tries to talk through, his words turbulent as he fails to cover his mouth. "-–thing hurts. I'm just desperate for some shut-eye, that's it, that's all, I promise."
Klaus has been sick since Tuesday, runny nose and slow reflexes doing little to inhibit his presence in the living room or any of the quips he uses to fill every ounce of empty space his siblings leave available during a conversation. Diego's been the only one of them not bothered to keep a distance, though Vanya had felt his forehead earlier that afternoon and Five, expression characteristically blank, took the time to drop a box of tissues in his lap after Klaus had depleted his own. Diego was sure that, were he still lucky enough to embody his corporeal form, Ben wouldn't have been mindful about getting too close, either, out of companionship rather than carelessness about germs.
Despite Klaus no doubt amplifying his affliction for show, the situation does get him a sympathetic frown; Diego feels it happening and he can't really help it. Bad luck for the guy to come down with a cold at a point in his life where he isn't really supposed to have any medicine.
Diego gently clutches Klaus by the shoulder and uses his other hand to take the Nyquil from him. Klaus lets go without protest, and the bottle is warm from his grip.
"Come on. I'll make you some ginger tea," Diego promises, his voice low and smooth. "So you won't have to be up coughing all night and I won't have to listen to you."
Predictably, Klaus allows himself to be guided down to the kitchen, emphatically whispering his gratitude and calling Diego Florence Nightengale. Half an hour later, when he's done chatting with Diego about nothing and sniffling into his tea as he sinks further down into the couch, cheeks pink and hands unsteady, Diego can only predict that his remedy will last Klaus until morning.
And because the sunrise feels eons away, neither one of them is too worried about that.
im ready to chug these character dynamics til i burst
Two mornings before his midnight excursion with Diego, Klaus had been minding his own business in the downstairs kitchen when Allison had ambushed and clocked him in lieu of saying hello.
"Are you getting sick?" was how she'd greeted him, speaking up behind Klaus before he even had time to see her. The hollow clacking of her light spring boots on the brick red tile had at least alerted him enough to keep him from startling at the dulcet tones of her beautiful voice.
He turned around, looking away from his treacherous, grating breakfast of toast and jam and said, "Good morning to you too!" and the enthusiasm and volume hurt his tender, aching vocal cords, but nobody ever said performance came without sacrifice. "I agree, the weather does look lovely for a Tuesday, doesn't it, Number Three?"
"Oh, shit, you are," went Allison and her X-ray vision. She pulled a couple of canisters out of the fridge and set them down on the counter, presumably to make something to eat, herself. "And no, it doesn't. It's raining."
"You're the one who's raining around here, with all of your negativity."
Klaus readjusted himself as he decided he was done eating for now. Speaking more than a few words at a time had put him close to his limit, and if words felt like blades on his throat, then the dry crust of toasted bread would absolutely shred the thing until it was glowing red and raw.
"How could you tell I was sick?" he asked, not in the mood to explain any fleeting or candid jokes to his sister. Usually she got them. Ben frowned disapprovingly from his seat on the couch as Klaus pushed his plate away. "You're so smart, Allison. My throat feels like Luther after he told Diego that some of Dad's criminal files were classified, do you remember? Ohh, he hated that. Totally tried to slice him up."
He thought she was cringing at the memory, but then Allison said, "Yeah, you sound like it. Did you just wake up not feeling well?"
"It all started late last night, actually, Doctor Allison," Klaus described. "But now it's… oh God." He really considers the state of his well-being and feels the awful sting in the back of his soft palate, an ominous predictor of several days' worth of congestion and sinus pressure. "Yup, definitely worse this morning. Ow."
From his spot on the couch, Ben said, "You need to eat something that isn't just carbs and sugar. I'm sure yogurt or oatmeal would be easier on your throat."
He was right, of course, but instead of making the effort to get up, Klaus rested his head atop his folded arms on the table and hummed an affirmation that he'd heard the suggestion.
"Have you ever tried HANAH powder?" Allison asked, and Klaus was too buried in his arms to see her but he could hear a couple of cabinets opening and closing. "It's sort of like Emercen-C."
"Uh," Klaus mumbled into the fabric of his sleeves. "Nope."
"It's supposed to be really good for you. I'll put a tablespoon into your smoothie. The Vitamin C should help, too," she promised.
Klaus turned his head over so his ear was resting against his forearm and Allison could hear him better. "You're making me a smoothie? Aren't you sweet as pie," he said, then tested out a cough to swat away the fluttering tickle in his chest, scraping up something thick and wet.
"Do you know where the blender is?"
"I don't know where anything is."
That wasn't even true, but Klaus was suddenly feeling too heavy-headed to search his poor, muddled brain for inventory. And that was fine, because she found it eventually, and the excited electric whirring of the appliance concocting Allison's healing elixir teased at the edges of a tension headache that Klaus could feel starting to gently beat upon his temples.
She talked to him while she got to work chopping and pouring, but Klaus barely paid attention and relied on his social and familial fluency to know when to interject with nasally hums and hoarse backchannels while he tried not to cough again because even though that first one had sort of hurt his chest, his idiotic body was already trying its damndest to get him to do it again.
Ben helped him out while they waited. A couple of times, when Klaus was too busy resting to realize it was his turn to say "uh-huh" or "okay" or "oh, wow, no shit?" to Allison's friendly anecdotes, Ben would take the responsibility of calling out his name to remind Klaus to respond. Sucks that he was dead, but at times like those it was nice having Ben's support present and secret and accessible just for him.
The blunt rattle of a full glass being set down on the wooden table in front of him resounded even louder with Klaus laying his head so close to the surface. When he sat up, Allison had lifted her delicate, slender hand from his shoulder and moved to the chair across from him, pinching the straw of her own drink and nodding her head down toward his.
"Hopefully that'll help you nip your cold in the bud," she said. "It is just a cold, right?"
Klaus grabbed his sister's gift and said, "Yeah, I think so."
He caught Ben's eye as he nodded yes at Klaus' answer, but the tautness in his eyebrows bore a whispered trace of misplaced concern.
"Is this another one of your Hollywood secrets, how you all keep such a healthy glow?" asked Klaus in an endeavor to distract them both. "Do you think I could sell your smoothie recipe to Entertainment Weekly, Allison?"
His sister's eyes crinkled as she smiled, and that worked to make Klaus start to feel just better enough for the time being.
do you guys know about hanah powder? it costs like a billion dollars and looks like sludge and i wish i could eat it like pudding
Klaus is interesting in that although he spends most of his time clamoring for somebody to pay attention to him regardless of whatever else might be going on around them, he tends to take up a good amount of space even when he doesn't mean to. Whether it's through mumbling to himself (or to somebody nobody can see) or the noisy shuffling of his weedy, uncoordinated limbs slipping around idiosyncratically and knocking into things, it's hard to ignore Klaus while he's in the room.
Most of the time, Number Five understands, it's inconsequential; not something he thinks about nor is it something he can help. And although Number Five has barely interacted with Klaus on purpose since yesterday, all of the sneezing this afternoon is no special case.
Despite his being halfway across the longest room in the house, Number Five can hear the testiness of his brother's respiratory system very clearly, each and every outburst coming out sounding expressive and agitated. It's only minimally distracting, so Number Five doesn't yet see any good reason to move from his work or to offer an acknowledgement.
Although Reginald had trained procedural manners into all of his adopted children, which included responding to a sneeze in a way that would eventually become automatic and reactionary in those who were prone to such conditioning, Number Five has spent enough time by himself in a post-apocalyptic wasteland to have the habit unraveled and dissolved right out of him. The custom doesn't make much sense to begin with, regardless of its Western Medieval origins, and in most cases the dignification of a response only feels arbitrary and waste a moment in time. In most instances, a sneeze doesn't mean anything.
This is especially true for Klaus, who occasionally and at random gets stuck in these brief sneezing fits that Number Five has always suspected to be the result of a mild allergy to dust or mold. Like most things, it's insignificant and infrequent enough for Number Five to never have said anything about it, especially because nobody else has and there hasn't been a major reason for him to exhibit his knowledge and intuition about something so inappreciable.
After Klaus shudders with three of them in a row, not for the first time in the past half hour, Number Five decides that this is going to be one of his exceptions.
"Gesundheit," he comments pointedly. It's not like he ignores every last sneeze he hears, but unless it's excessive or he's engaged in conversation with the person, Number Five simply opts not to bother.
"Thank you," Klaus replies instantly, evidence of his condition showing up in the quality of his consonants, effectually pinched and sticky. "Well, it's about time."
Unlike before, Number Five looks up from his documents. "If you knew I was listening," he says diplomatically, "you could have also excused yourself."
Klaus shakes his head like he's taken aback and says, "Not the same! Did you forget your manners when you were stranded for a billion years in the end of times? You're supposed to say something first to assure me that my suffering at the whims of my own body isn't bothering you."
"It is bothering me," Number Five tells him. "Is everything all right? Are you sick?"
"So sick," Klaus says, splaying his upper body, both arms, and surely plenty of germs all over the surface of the bar countertop as he leans forward.
"Are you really?"
"With what, a head cold?"
"That's what it sounds like, huh?"
It does, and probably isn't going to become anything worse, otherwise Klaus wouldn't be addressing it with so little hesitation like he is. He likes to shy away from discussing matters that indicate at all that something could be seriously wrong with him, which is why the others tend to scrutinize him so thoroughly while simultaneously ignoring a lot of what he has to say. They're all getting better about that, at least.
"Rooting around with all the the dust under the bar's cabinets and oriental rug isn't doing that very much good, Klaus," Number Five mentions, because his brother's low sense of self-preservation will only persevere without admonishment, and nobody's going to want to deal with the fallout when he ends up feeling worse for what is essentially no good reason, his sinuses already on their way toward becoming stuffed up and aching.
"Ugh. Everyone's teaming up against me," Klaus pouts.
"Ben's smart," Number Five says. "I'm not surprised he agrees with me."
"He sure does, the bastard."
"What are you looking for, anyway?"
"I'm just trying… to find…" Klaus stammers out, voice skipping and rising in pitch, losing power and gaining breath before he inhales and ducks his head down to sneeze twice in a row, spaced several seconds apart with his shoulders shivering as each one of them overtakes him.
"God bless you," Number Five says, overlapping with the groan Klaus rolls out afterward. He could have easily waited for Klaus to continue speaking and not interjected at all, but Number Five finds himself making a show of the fact that he isn't blind to courtesy.
"Thank--" Klaus tries, then he sneezes again, louder this time. "Thank you. Fuck." He sniffles. "You know, neutral German to religious English, that's an interesting choice."
Number Five shrugs and says, "Basically means the same thing anyway. It's all niceties."
"I guess." Klaus pushes himself off of the bar but doesn't round his way out of it. "You're the only one who thinks about it that much, though, you little Descartes." He runs the side of his hand against his septum, hard, squinting as he sniffles again and frustratedly mutters, "God."
With an intentional, vocalized sigh, Number Five sets his documents aside and stands up.
"Come on," he says.
With a quirked eyebrow, Klaus asks, "Where are we going?"
"I'm getting you the air purifier," Number Five explains. He saw one in the upstairs closet a couple of days ago. "I'm busy later and nobody else is going to do it. Otherwise you'll be stuck like this for the rest of the day."
"I'm already stuck like this," Klaus says petulantly with a dismissive wave of his right hand, but he and his cold readily and fancifully follow Number Five through the corridor regardless.
someone trying to show klaus up after being told they're not polite is one of my favorite little tropes to use
Chapter 4: curry
A brief phone call with Allison had sent Vanya on a self-appointed errand to pick up a second order of potato curry buns to bring over to the house. In an effort to involve herself with the family after decades of severance, she's been trying to find reasons for herself and her siblings to spend time together on her afternoons off. Today's offer was a walkthrough of the premiere of the Kensington market, but the invitation was met with the news that Luther was holed up in Dad's office preceding an afternoon at the gym, Five and Diego would be out of the house, and Klaus was starting to come down with a cold and seriously needed to be wrangled away from the temptation to run around outside in the chill of late Spring.
Because if they didn't monitor and distract him away from doing so, he'd be meandering across town getting into trouble and infusing a chill through his own bones in no time.
"Okay, that's fine," was what Vanya said into the receiver once she'd absorbed Allison's report. "I can still come over anyway."
The shopkeeper had recommended the curry to help with a sore throat and congestion, saying the spices would stimulate and numb the irritated nerve endings and help with the dryness that came with being stuck ill and indoors. Vanya had added a bag of manuka eucalyptus drops to her basket for good measure, knowing that the array of impressive, extra-strength cough syrups and decongestants, at least for right now, would unfortunately be a no-go.
He's the first person she runs into once she steps through the grand baroque double doors, treats in hand, and even though they'd seen each other only four days ago Klaus still excitedly leans down to hug her hello. He smells like menthol and incense and he sniffles thickly as he straightens up and lets her go, his long, cold limbs hanging idly at his sides.
"Hi," Vanya says. "How are you feeling?"
"Oh, I dunno. Pretty good. How are you feeling?"
Vanya can't tell if he's being innocent or avoidant so she clarifies, "Allison said you were sick."
That gets him.
"Wow. What a gossip that one is, huh?" Klaus spins around as he walks a little too quickly and then leans against a pillar as he waits for her to catch up. "Do I seem sick?"
Vanya sizes him up.
"Yeah," she decides. "A little."
Performatively, Klaus frowns, and then he says, "Still the most spry young creature to roam these halls, though. I mean, by far. I think it's actually giving me a bit of a healthy glow, don't you?"
"No," Vanya tells him, smiling. "Here, I brought you a get well present."
Klaus gasps joyously and it makes him cough, irritated and dry, which he tries to speak over ("sorry, shit, sorry") as they enter the upstairs kitchen. With Mom out of the house, the whole place is a little less pristine than Vanya is used to seeing it, a couple extra dishes in the sink and an unopened bag of chips left out on the round table in the corner, situated upright in a way that almost looks ritualistic. She's surprised to see Diego standing at the counter, peeling an apple the only way he knows how.
"You okay, man?" he asks as Klaus starts to taper back down to normal.
Klaus just nods and says, "Wrong pipe. What's up? Weren't you supposed to be going to hassle somebody at the station?"
"I'm just headed out. Sure you don't want to come?"
Klaus clears his throat and shakes his head, waving a flaccid hand in Diego's direction. "You go ahead. I can be bored at home by myself for free, but thanks. Don't forget to take pictures."
"Uh-huh." Diego tosses the peeled apple up into the air and gets his hand sticky. He looks right at Vanya and says, "See you later."
She waves goodbye.
"So?" Klaus says to Vanya, ignoring Diego's cold shoulder, "whaaaat did you get me? Is that it? In the bag?"
"It's not actually that exciting," Vanya warns him, then pulls out the takeout container and hands it over, grateful to find that it still feels warm on her palm. "I was just in the Indian neighborhood over by my place and they said this stuff was good for colds, so."
"Aww, Vanya, really, just for me? Your most tortured brother?"
"Careful, I think it's supposed to be pretty spicy."
"The more the better," Klaus says, then sets the box on the countertop and opens it. "I could breathe through my nose just fine this morning, but I'm telling you, sis, my life has changed very drastically since then."
"Sorry you're going through such tough times, Klaus."
"Well, maybe not for long," Klaus says hopefully. He grabs one of the buns and takes a bite, then slides the styrofoam container toward Vanya as an offer that she do the same.
"Thanks," she says, following suit. "What do you think?"
"Ohhh my God," Klaus says, setting his piece down and sniffling. "Oh my God, that's good. Excellent choice, Vanya. Mm-hmm. Jesus." He sniffles again and Vanya hands him a napkin, her own cheeks starting to burn from the heat of the spices.
"Are you feeling better?" she asks.
Klaus slides the rough paper cloth underneath his nose, then crumples it up into a ball and does it again. He swallows and says, "Oh yeah. Yes. So much."
She smirks. "Are you just saying that?"
"You know how they say thoughtfulness is the best medicine…?" Klaus looks at the empty space next to her and rolls his eyes. "Well, they should."
Vanya watches him scoff at their dead, invisible brother, then his expression grows kinder when he flickers his eyes back over to hers.
"You're an angel, Vanya," he assures her. "Seriously. That stuff really did the trick. I feel so alive for the first time today, do you have any more?"
"No, sorry," Vanya says, "but I'm glad you liked them. I can bring you some more tomorrow if you still aren't feeling well."
"That's cute; 'if'," Klaus says. "I wouldn't place any bets, dear soeurette. Like, I was sneezing a lot earlier, it's not looking good."
Vanya can't help the soft smile that twitches on her mouth. He'll be just fine. Poor Klaus.
"I'll just have to come back, then," she promises. Klaus smiles back at her and rests against the counter. "Let's just hang out at home today, though. I'm sure Allison can find us something to do."
Chapter 5: steam
"You should really eat something, Klaus," Ben nags from his perch on the chair on the other side of the bedroom. He's reading something that Klaus can't see clearly because his sight is all blurry and partially blocked by the corner of his blanket as he lies miserably on his side. "You'd have a lot more energy with more than a snack and a couple bites of toast in your system."
"Too tired to move," Klaus mumbles valiantly. "Why don't you make something and bring it to me."
"You know I can't do that," Ben says, exasperated.
"I am kind of hungry," Klaus admits. He doesn't have an appetite, but he can feel the very specific fatigue that sets in with low blood sugar and the claw of emptiness scraping up the inside of his stomach. "Go ask somebody to do it, then."
Ben sighs. "I can't do that either."
"I'll manifest you."
"You couldn't manifest a fly right now. Get up."
Klaus echoes his brother with a sigh of his own, only it's heavier and drags along his inflamed bronchial tubes and the lining of his throat, his chest stuttering afterward with a short, raspy cough. "Listen to that," he says. "I'm so sick, Ben, and here you go, yanking me out of bed and into the cold during my weakest hour. Some guardian angel."
"I know," Ben says. He gets up, too. "I'm basically giving Satan a run for his money right now, encouraging you to have some lunch."
"Don't I know it."
The fridge offers Klaus two feasible choices that won't wreak havoc on his throat: plain yogurt that he probably wouldn't be able to taste anyway, and a carton of mashed sweet potatoes or carrots or something that someone must have brought home from a restaurant last night. The yogurt looks more attractive because he wouldn't have to heat it up, but he does love a mystery and Ben urges him toward the orange stuff because he'd supposedly benefit more from vitamins than probiotics right now.
In the end, the latter wins out because Klaus doesn't want Ben to nag him about anything else today (headache alert!) and he figures something warm might feel more soothing, especially with the chill of the house always getting to him more easily when he doesn't feel well.
He blows his nose while they steam up the microwave and listens to Ben try and figure out whose food he's stealing.
"I don't think Allison would mind," he says as Klaus takes his bowl over to the couch in the living room so he can get a little light and open air. "The box looked pretty fancy. I take back what I said earlier; it's probably hers."
"Mhm. Probably," Klaus says absently as he sits down and wishes he'd thought to tow his blanket downstairs with him.
The food feels nice, at least. Klaus can feel some of his energy returning, a good portion of the supposed fatigue of early-onset illness disappearing as he swallows slowly and gently and doesn't bother trying not to wince. Ben's the only one around to see it, and it's comfortingly pointless to attempt to put on airs in front of him.
He's a little more than halfway done eating when he notices Luther momentarily joining them as he walks by, the room big enough for Klaus to almost miss him, and while he enjoys Ben's company for the most part, he needs to talk to somebody living to keep his sanity where it probably belongs.
So he puts down his spoon, deliberately clinking it against the ceramic bowl and says, "Hey."
Luther stalls. "Hi," he says neutrally.
"Where you coming from?"
"Uh," Luther says awkwardly. "Cardio. Why?"
Despite his clear deficit in social skills, Luther tries to return the favor.
"What are you up to?" he asks. It's cute that he's trying to engage on neutral grounds, no leadership necessary, and Klaus is happy to practice with him.
"Oh, nothing, not really anything," he says. "Just hanging out. Surveying the scenes, seeing the sights. Enjoying our beautiful home."
Luther frowns. "Your voice sounds a little…"
"Yeah, I'm getting sick," Klaus tells him.
"Is it serious?"
"Just a cold."
"Oh." Aww. Klaus can't help being endeared at the expression Luther wears in response to that. He's really trying.
"I think," Klaus adds for fun. Ominous. Out of the corner of his eye, Klaus can see Ben's bright, amused smile.
"Damn. That sucks."
"It's okay. Hey," Klaus says, lightbulbs upon lightbulbs brightening the inside of his skull for the first time today, "are you going to take a shower?"
And there's the suspicious affect! It's fine, Klaus expected it. Luther is especially prone to looking like he's just been insulted, even if nobody's said anything to even remotely offend.
"I was planning on it," he says like he's walking on eggshells and Klaus has just grown ten thousand heads right in front of his eyes.
"Let me sit in the bathroom with you. I promise not to peek or anything. Cross my heart."
Klaus gestures to his face because it's pretty obvious. "The steam, man. I'm telling you. The air here is so dry, I bet I'll feel a million times better and so will you, you know, doing your big brother duty, helping a guy out."
"Steaming up the bathroom is how you get mildew," Luther recites, but he looks pretty sympathetic which means Klaus must be starting to sound as shitty as he feels.
"Oh, whatever. One sauna won't hurt anything. Come on, pleeeeaaaase."
"You're not looking pitiful enough," Ben says, always the critic, but it doesn't matter because Luther is going to give in. It's not important enough for him to argue.
And Luther does cave, of course.
"All right. But just wait until I get in there and you have to leave before I come out."
Klaus can't help laughing along with Ben. It hurts his throat but there's no cough this time.
"Okay, okay," he fake-concedes, excited that Luther's letting him utilize him and wondering whether he knows Ben might come in with them, too, if not only to keep Klaus company while he tries to get Luther to talk to him while he washes his buzz cut and enlightens him on the concept of conditioner. It'll be fun. "Okay, big guy. If you insist."
Chapter 6: rest and fluids
Klaus whimpers when he's healthy and snores when he's not. Ben doesn't like to see him sick, obviously, but he has to admit that it's nicer to listen to the grating of his irritated soft palate and stuffy sinuses while knowing he's getting some much needed rest than watch him in anguish over the tortured screams of the dead. Klaus doesn't sleep well when he has a cold either, but at least he doesn't wake up startled and disgruntled in the same way that he always does after a nightmare.
The rest of their siblings don't have as much of a frame of reference as Ben does, clearly, because they're quick to exchange antithetically concerned and amused glances when he falls asleep during a movie night.
"Should we… wake him up?" asks Luther, looking from Diego across the rug to Allison next to him on the couch. The way Allison swats at him is completely devoid of any power or malice, but it gets her point across regardless.
"He's sick, let him sleep," she says.
"Came on awfully fast," Diego comments after a moment. The subtext there says that he's concerned about how it could mean he's got something worse than a cold, even though Diego has seen it happen enough times to remember that Klaus always gets sick like this, zero to fifty because he relaxes into showing as many symptoms as he's able as soon as the cat's out of the bag and he feels like he's allowed.
He's been sitting next to Diego for the entirety of the evening; Ben's surprised Diego hadn't noticed Klaus perpetually nodding off since they all first settled down, especially since the evening feels awfully quiet without the usual constant commentary Klaus is physically unable to keep to himself during films. He doesn't often sleep very deeply, but he doesn't startle even during the heavier action of the film or heightened volume of the score.
He does fall over onto Diego halfway through the plot, though, lolling his head while he makes a low, congested sound in the back of his throat. Diego, who's used to Klaus and his waking affection, who's seen him inebriated and out of sorts dozens of times, who's seemingly made it his own personal mission to make sure Klaus is safe so long as he's in his sight, only goes stiff as he turns his head to look at him.
Klaus doesn't open his eyes, but he reaches up and tugs at Diego's arm until he's able to lift it up and wrap it around himself. Five would have absolutely swatted him off, but Diego just sits there and looks perturbed about it.
"You're warm," he says.
Klaus just sighs and goes, "Uh-huh," and lets his mouth hang open. He's not really listening, but even if he were, his reaction would probably be the same. He's never been anything but blasé when finding out that he has a fever.
Luckily for everybody, Diego leaves it alone and Klaus steeps right back into dozing. Unluckily for Klaus, Diego brings it up again once the room goes dark and the credits roll.
"Where's the thermometer?" he asks, not bothering to lower his voice. Vanya and Allison both start shifting and collecting themselves to get up, but Diego doesn't move a muscle.
The first time Klaus got sick after Ben died, it had been heartbreaking being unable to touch him while knowing how much he always benefitted from a quick squeeze of his arm or rubbing across his back. Such a blatant confrontation of the differences between someone living and someone dead must have been comforting for him, acting as a reminder that Klaus was still flesh and blood and existed among the living, himself. It could also be especially disorienting for somebody who already felt out of sorts in their own body, whether it was from the effects of foreign substances or the change in orientation that came with a fever.
Sometimes, when things got quiet and Klaus was especially vulnerable, after a night of his specialized training offsite or when Ben would catch him distraught and confused by himself after making another companion who turned out to be a ghost, Ben would lean onto his shoulder so Klaus could wrap an arm around him, soothed by being able to feel his brother's breathing and to have something warm and loving to squeeze. Neither of them ever said much about it, but it didn't change when Klaus would come down ill; Ben could never get himself to worry too much about germs, and even if he did, he wouldn't have minded being sick together.
It's nice knowing someone else is still around who's missing the same reservations. Someone really does need to be taking care of Klaus and has been, in some way, shape, or form for his entire life; but with the way he is now, Ben can only do so much.
"It's upstairs," Luther says, and Five vanishes.
Vanya stands up. "How bad is it?" she asks. She's gaining some assertiveness as she begins to settle into both her new powers and her place in the family, and that shows in the way that she doesn't bother waiting for a response from Diego before she's hovering over Klaus and touching his cheek with the side of her hand.
"Hel-lo, icy hands, Vanya, is that you?" Klaus murmurs. It's hard to tell whether the croaky rasp in his voice is from his sore throat or having just woken up after sleeping with his mouth open. Either way, he doesn't sound very good.
"You need to drink some water, bro," Ben tells him.
"No I don't," Klaus says.
"What?" Vanya asks.
With his cheek still on Diego's chest, Klaus says, "Not you. It's okay. What's up." He rolls himself off of Diego, who helps steady him even though he doesn't really need to, grabbing Klaus by the upper arm and acting as an anchor as he sits all the way back up. "Movie's over, huh? Did we like it?"
"Yeah, sorry you fell asleep," Allison says. "How are you feeling?"
"You have a fever," Diego says, like maybe that'll inform his answer.
"Oh. Well, hooray."
"Do you think it's the flu?"
"No," Five says, returning with precision next to Vanya and in front of Diego with a tell-tale zap. "He'd be sicker. Turn your head this way."
"Yes Sir, Doctor Doogie Howser." Klaus sniffles and then hums when Five puts the thermometer in his ear. "Oh, shit. I forgot we had one of those fancy ones. I feel like it's reading my brain or something."
He sits there for another few seconds until it beeps.
"Ninety-nine," Five reports. He looks at Diego and says, "You need to calm down."
"You need to watch your mouth."
Klaus waves his hand around, purposefully running his flailing fingers into Diego's tight and battle-ready bicep a couple of times as he says, "It's fine. Maybe you're used to me being colder."
He really isn't one to diffuse arguments. Whatever his body's fighting must really be doing a number on him.
"I guess," Diego says. He continues bouncing his leg.
"Well, if no one else wants to feel my face," Klaus says, limbs shaky as he stands up, reminding Ben of when he'd come home after a long bender and struggle to stay upright as he tried to get himself into bed, "I'm gonna split. Real busy night ahead of me. You know."
"Do you need us to bring you anything?"
"A glass of water," Ben insists. "Or a bottle of Gatorade or something. Klaus, ask them."
"Ben wants a drink," Klaus says.
With defiance, Diego says, "Ben can't drink."
"He means for Klaus, genius," Allison says, not unkindly. "I'll bring you something."
"Okay." Klaus sighs out a groan and stretches his arm up into the air with a grandiose wave as he starts to exit the room. "Sayonara, amigos. See you in a thousand years when I'm healthy again."
Whatever's settling into his head has got him weighed down and wasted, eyelids heavy in a way that shows how thin the layer is between his state of wakefulness and the dreams he'd been having just moments before. Despite his own limitations, Ben follows along to supervise as he watches Klaus waft through the halls in pursuit of the reserve of his bedroom.
Chapter 7: lavender
There's something particularly exciting about the bitter decadence of red wine washing down the rich, buttery vulgarity of movie popcorn. Allison pours her second glass without feeling a thing or offering to get one for Luther, who's helping clean up the soda glasses that their siblings used during the film.
"Can one of you guys go check on Klaus?" asks Ben's unexpected voice before Allison can take a sip, characteristically friendly but authoritative in a way none of them can remember hearing out of him before. Being tethered to Klaus would do that to a person, Allison supposes. "I think something's wrong."
In response, Luther stands at attention. "What is it?"
"Well, for starters…" Ben says.
It prompts Allison to ask, "Did he send you down here?" Ben looks awfully uncomfortable. "He's using a lot of energy keeping you corporeal. Not that we don't enjoy seeing you."
Ben's smile reaches his eyes despite the circumstances. "Thanks," he says before letting his features harden, "but that's the thing-- he isn't doing it on purpose. He's still asleep."
"Shit," Allison says. "That's weird, isn't it?"
"Super weird," Ben says. "I only noticed when I tripped over a floor lamp in his room. He must have knocked it over while I was in the library earlier."
It's weird hearing Ben's footsteps when they climb the stairs together, Luther staying behind at Ben's insistence that they not crowd Klaus and make a cup of tea for him instead. He's already had several throughout the day, Ben reported, and he also said that they seem to help. Allison thinks that's mostly because sipping on something hot and trying to find the flavor in it gives him something to do other than whine about having a stuffy nose.
"Did you notice anything odd before he went to bed?" Allison asks as they patter down the hallway.
"He got that low-grade fever after dinner," Ben says. "Remember? But I've seen him with a fever plenty of times and there's never been anything too out of the ordinary."
Allison recalls Klaus getting quarantined so much more severely at night when he got sick as a kid, with no one but Mom allowed in his room after the sun went down. He'd always get so quiet.
His bedroom door is open and so is his window, the spring air rendering the inside atmosphere chilled and humid. Allison walks past the bed to crank it shut while Ben hovers over Klaus with his hands on his hips. He experimentally runs a finger over the Tiffany lamp on the desk and looks nervous.
Klaus is asleep on his side with his head propped up on a couple of extra pillows, arm stretched out and hanging over the side of the bed so low that his fingers almost brush the faded Persian rug beneath him. His hair is clean but frizzy from the dampness of the weather, and the exposure to it can't be good for his body as it tries its best to fight off whatever's making him feel so miserable and run down. Allison rests the back of her hand against his cheek.
"Don't wake him up," Ben orders. He's always been adamant about letting Klaus sleep, even when they were kids and Klaus would sometimes nap during the day. They all knew he had nightmares, even though he never, ever talked about them; sometimes he'd cry out at night, or jolt up with a start if someone did manage to catch him, and he was always so tired when he'd first come down for breakfast, unless he'd already been awake for hours by the time Mom called them all downstairs.
Allison moves her hand up to his forehead and says, "I won't."
"Is he warm?" Ben asks.
"Sorry, I just--" Ben sighs, self-conscious and frustrated. "I can't actually feel anything. Usually there wouldn't really be a reason to check on him if it's just a cold, but…" He gestures down at himself. "Well."
"Yeah." Allison looks back down at Klaus, and just for a second, she goes ahead and pets his hair. He's kind of sweet when he's knocked out like this. "He isn't clammy at all."
Ben frowns. "What does that mean?"
"His fever hasn't broken," Allison explains. "It might be climbing. I'm going to get the thermometer."
They don't run into anyone on their way to the closet on the second floor, which was where Five said he'd left it because he didn't want to be called on to jump back and forth from the infirmary if anyone-- in his words-- got themselves any more excited over a case of the sniffles. It's not that anybody is especially worried about him, except for maybe Diego, who's worried about everything, but Klaus has a history of having things wrong with him and ignoring them in a way that almost seems purposeful.
It's not like he isn't a survivor. Klaus has somehow been taking care of himself on his own for almost fifteen years, with the insistence that nobody come to his aid or go out of their way to do anything to help him in a way that might matter. But that still doesn't mean they don't want to keep him from feeling worse than he needs to.
Allison almost drops the device onto the unpolished tile under her feet when a figure down the hall startles the everliving (emphasis on the living) hell out of her as they head back to the bedroom.
"Oh my god," she says, hand on her chest as she makes terrified eye contact with Ben.
He looks alarmed, but Allison discovers it's for a different reason. "You can see her?"
"Who is that?"
"We don't actually know. She doesn't talk very much, and when she does it's only in Polish, and Klaus says he can't make much sense out of any of it anyway. She's mostly harmless."
"She's missing half her face."
"Yeah, but when you get past that."
Poor Ben has always been so tolerant.
"I didn't know Klaus spoke Polish," Allison says after a moment, averting her eyes as they pass the apparition.
"He's okay at it," Ben replies. "He picks them up pretty fast without really trying. His German is amazing."
Dad made them study a few foreign languages each while they were growing up, just in the case of international missions. Klaus had been the best translator, but he was so petulant and distracted that Dad gave up on using him pretty quickly. Allison had been assigned Mandarin Chinese, and somehow, despite Klaus never putting a finger to any of her textbooks, his Mandarin had always been so much better than hers.
"Has she been around for long?" Allison asks. "The Polish woman?"
"Uh," Ben says. "Yeah, a little while. We think Dad might have done something to her family, but we can't figure out what yet. Klaus doesn't really like talking to her, though, on account of the whole, uh, face thing."
Allison snorts. She can't really blame him.
Neither one of them bothers knocking when they visit Klaus again, which turns out to be a mistake because he jumps a little and then tries to hide it when Allison steps out from behind the door.
"Hey, Allison," he croaks pleasantly. He's already sitting up. "Careful. Ben's right behind you."
"I know," Allison says.
Ben steps around her carefully and touches Klaus on the shoulder. Klaus glides his eyes up to meet Ben's.
"Oh. Well, great." He clears his throat. "While you're around, could you get me another box of tissues? This one is cashed, bro."
"Klaus," Ben says. Before letting go of Klaus, he runs his hand down his arm. "I've been up for like, at least fifteen minutes. I went all the way downstairs while you were asleep. How did you do that?"
Klaus sniffles loudly and drags his sleeve underneath his nose. "Uh," he says.
"Isn't it tiring you out?" Allison asks.
In response, Klaus turns away from the both of them and coughs. It makes his shoulders shake. Then, after clearing his throat again, he says, "I can't tell."
He sounds forlorn, though he probably doesn't mean to. Growing up with Klaus has made it easy to tell when he's cloying for sympathy, and that's clearly not an objective for him right now. He seems to be too exhausted to try.
"Allison met Paulina, too," Ben says.
"Apolonia," Klaus replies. "That's her Polish name, remember? Please have some respect."
Ben rolls his eyes.
"Can you feel yourself doing it at all?" Allison asks. "Your hands aren't even glowing."
Klaus shrugs. "I don't know. Everything already feels kind of wrong all over."
"Maybe you're doing it subconsciously because you want the company," Ben says.
"Nah," Klaus says. "That's not it."
Ben balks while Klaus coughs some more.
"You sound awful," Allison says. "Luther's making you some tea if you want to stay up and drink it."
"He's gonna have to bring it up here," Klaus says. "Sorry, just, y'know, I'm finally almost warm and I don't want to draaaag my ailing body all the way down to the kitchen and have to start all over again."
Allison nods and says, "Okay. Do you want to take your temperature while I go and get it?"
"Do I ever," Klaus says flatly. He takes the thermometer when Allison holds it out to him. "Any chance you could add a little vino to the cup while you're down there?"
"Nice try," Allison says.
"Not funny, Klaus," Ben adds.
"Worth a shot," Klaus says, facing Allison. He winks at her and flops back against his stack of pillows.
"Still not funny," Ben says.
"I'll put in a spoonful of honey, how about that," Allison tells him. "Since you can't have any cough syrup."
Klaus stares at the ceiling. "Cough syrup, now there's an idea," he says.
"Klaus," Allison says. "Ben's…"
"A pain in my ass? You got that right, sister. Glad you're all finally coming around to realize it, too."
"No. He's gone. I can't see him anymore."
Klaus shrugs and says, "Oh. Well, he can see you, so. No harm, no foul."
Allison grabs Klaus another box of tissues with Ben suddenly unable to perform his assigned duties. On her way back, she gets the tea from Luther and updates him on what's going on-- Ben is back in ghost mode, and Klaus is awake and doesn't seem to want to talk about it-- and as an afterthought, takes a clean washcloth from the linen closet and a tin of lavender salve from her own vanity desk to try and draw out his fever.
It would have been nice to have Ben around for just a few extra minutes to help her carry everything, but Allison has pockets and she manages.
When she gets closer to his bedroom, Allison hears Klaus sneezing and then mumbling something to either himself or Ben. She catches him doing it a second time when she steps back inside to see him, and the end of it is vocalized with a declarative exuberance that sounds like it's taken more out of Klaus than he has left to give. He sneezes like that when he isn't sick, too.
"Brought you a present," she greets, handing him the Kleenex and setting the mug of decaf green tea on the table by his bed so it can cool.
Unabashedly, Klaus blows his nose. Allison doesn't bother saying anything when he lets the scrunched up tissue fall onto his worn plaid duvet.
He groans, sniffles, then groans again, these little frustrated sighs that act as testaments to his inability to breathe through his nose no matter what kinds of methods he resorts to. He sneezes a third time into nothing, then plucks another tissue from the box and cleans himself up.
"What did you see in the cabinet?" he asks when he's done, voice quiet and heavy and waterlogged. "Any NyQuil? Sudafed? Anything?"
Truthfully, Allison hadn't been looking, but even if she had, she wouldn't have grabbed any of it for him. He's been doing great lately and it's not fair for a cold to screw it all up.
So she says, "No one's really lived here for years, Klaus."
"And, well, naturally, I'm the first one to get sick after the band gets back together. Because I've always been the luckiest member of the get-along gang," Klaus says. "Could you… I don't know, rumor me into feeling better, or something? Does that work?"
For about a dozen different reasons, Allison says, "No, Klaus. I'm sorry."
From what she knows about them now, Allison wonders why Klaus hadn't ever asked her to try and rumor away his ability to see the dead. She might have tried a while ago, when she was younger and her ethics were sitting abandoned on the wayside, but she wouldn't dare mess around with any of that these days.
"Okay. Whatever," Klaus says, though he doesn't actually seem like he's mad at her. He leans forward and in the yellow light, Allison sees how pink the edges of his eyes have gotten and how wrung out he looks. Worryingly, there's no flush on his cheeks. "So what's in the can? Another surprise, my darling?"
"It's a salve," Allison says, relieved to have something new to do with him. "A co-star from a couple of years ago used it when she had strep near the end of filming. I don't think it expires."
Without saying anything, Klaus holds out his hand for the tin. Allison gives it to him, curious to see what he's going to do with it, and watches him with her arms crossed.
Klaus is surprisingly modest when he takes a pinch of the waxy remedy onto one of his fingers and presses the opposite hand onto it to warm it up. He's glazed over but seems to be concentrating appropriately, chest stuttering with a light couple of coughs into the air before he lifts his wrist to cover his mouth and scratch his lungs properly.
Next, he pauses and stares at the chair past his bed by the window, his expression blank, and then resumes. Allison can only guess that it was Ben talking to him, but it apparently isn't important enough for Klaus to relay.
He puts his fingertips under his eyes and drags them down along his cheeks, then his neck. He hands the bottle back and says, "All right. Let the healing commence."
"It's supposed to be cooling," Allison clarifies just in case, "to help bring your fever down. I know it isn't that bad right now, but you might as well."
"I bet I smell amazing," Klaus says as he leans back. "I bet I smell like a bath."
"Like an English garden," Allison contributes. She hands him the washcloth so he can wipe off his hands. "Do you need anything else?"
Weirdly, it sounds sad when Klaus tries sniffling again. He's never been very persistent, but on this matter it seems like he doesn't want to give up.
"Guess not," he says. "I'll just drink this and try again."
"All right. Good luck."
Allison knows her brother's preferences well enough not to shut the door or touch the lights as she leaves. She hopes it'll be at least a few days before the occurrence of Ben's return.