Klaus sneezes for the fourth time since they left the building, subdued yet distinct, and it becomes clear that somebody has to say something at this point because the three of them have barely been outside for half an hour.
"I thought you said you were feeling better," says Luther, taking on the responsibility. All of his latter-day practice has his comment carrying almost as much concern as he'd tried to load it with, but he still can't manage to get the accusatory, commanding control out of his tone entirely. He's been trying. Big brother over leader, they've all been trying to tell him, and Luther finds himself repeating it throughout the day like a mantra.
"Yeah, well." Klaus sniffles, quick and wet, sounding just about the same as he did yesterday. Luther had only permitted -- not permitted; agreed upon, compromised, discussed -- that he would come out to assist in plucking and disposing of the partially-attached and tangled up tree branches that had been struck in last night's storm because he said he was nearly through with the cold that has kept him laid up coughing and miserable on the couch for nearly a week. "You win some, you lose some."
That, and it really is a three-person job that Vanya and Five are both too physically small to help with. Luther doesn't know where Diego is today. He didn't ask.
"Being out in the rain can't be helping much," says Allison. She rubs a slender hand down the side of Klaus' arm, then pinches and tugs at the motley fabric of his sleeve without asking. Her assertive style of nurturing has only amplified since she became a mother. "Luther, give him your jacket."
Luther frowns. "Are you cold?" he asks Klaus.
"You don't have to do that," is how Klaus answers. Yes, he is, is what he's saying, so why doesn't he just say yes? Klaus has always been such an indirect communicator. It makes him quite difficult to talk to. His avoidance and masked meanings have always made it hard for Luther to know what's best for him, what's going on with him; hard to know what he wants. "It's also not raining anymore."
"You're still not dressed for the weather," argues Allison as she pats Luther's arm insistently. To him, she says, "Come on."
Luther's wearing another two layers of long sleeves underneath the stretched corduroy sheath that's insulating him far too well, and they're not going to be leaving the courtyard so he doesn't really mind peeling himself out of it. Physically, it's a relief. Luther tends to run hot, and the garment had been incredibly tight, like most things are on him now, but he'd worn it today out of habit even though it doesn't feel as bad to expose his form around his siblings now as it had a few months ago.
He holds the garment out toward Klaus and reminds himself that no one's going to stare.
"Here," Luther says. "You need it and I know you're not going to ask for it."
Klaus shudders in that way people sometimes do when they experience a change in temperature. "God, you're warm," he remarks as he slips it over his sharp and narrow shoulders, letting it hang off of them for a moment like a giant ribbed velvet curtain. He could easily wrap the entire thing around himself three or four times, but he sticks his arms through the sleeves instead. "Hmm, wow. Feels like I'm at the spa or something. Thanks, big guy."
"You're welcome." The two of them had their growth spurt around the same time, but Klaus' frame never really broadened after that and Luther's clothes would have swallowed him up in the exact same way even back when he had his old body, were Klaus to steal from his closet instead of Allison's.
Klaus stays like that for a moment, and Luther lets him -- watches him -- before he finally cuffs the edges of the sleeves above his wrists so he can get back to work. Klaus' residual symptoms don't disappear, but Luther still finds himself keeping less of an eye on his brother for the subsequent hour and a half.
Allison leaves once the job is done (not yet for the airport, just her publicist's office downtown), and Luther takes a shower and then assigns himself to the office to double check the fiduciary's most recent amendments to the family's trust documents. Klaus goes off somewhere else in the house to do… something, and Luther realizes he should really be more aware these days of what all of his somethings might be, and then remembers that it's not his job to keep tabs.
Not that he'd been keeping tabs on Klaus for a while, since long before he went to the moon, for a variable stack of reasons. But he and Five are the only other members of the Academy who moved back into their childhood home for the time being, the three of them not having any outside obligations or anywhere else to go, and Luther still has yet to place the details of what happens in Klaus' day-to-day.
That excludes the preceding six days, obviously, which for Klaus consisted of meandering between rooms while dressed in several evolving, bizarre assortments of loungewear as he passively complained about how awful he was feeling and waited for Vanya to come over and give him something substantial to eat. He had almost certainly been well enough to cook for and entertain himself, but he did have a bad cough for a few days that only now seems to be on its way out as his body takes its time fighting what remains of what only seems to be a stubborn bout of congestion. It's not so bad at this point, but all of that could get pretty exhausting after a while, Luther supposes.
He doesn't feel great about having kept his distance and leaving all of the care-taking to Vanya and the others, but in his viable defense, Dad had never taught them how to do that kind of thing. Grace had been around to take charge when any one of them was sick or hurt; she was programmed to perform medicine better than any doctor in the country, Luther had been told, which meant there wasn't really a need for the rest of them to learn anything more than on-site first aid for emergencies and the basics of sanitation. But Luther assumes he now has a considerably different immune system to that of his siblings, meaning his avoidance hadn't been at all attached to a fear of contagion. No, he just had no idea what to do.
Looking back, it all seems pretty straightforward: tissues, hot drinks, cough drops, a blanket or two, maybe some company and asking after him once in a while. (No cold medicine, no cough syrup, nothing with dextromethorphan: Luther would remember that. He's been keeping track all week without a problem.) It's plenty simple, all based on empathy and intuition, and Luther likes to think he has plenty of that.
It's difficult, though, to keep a clear head when you're caught off guard not exactly knowing how to protect your family in a way that seems to come so easily to everyone else.
But for all the ways Klaus is immensely difficult, he's not so hard to please when it comes to matters sociable and domestic.
Luther runs into him during a recreational trip to the kitchen.
He's unhurriedly journeying through the hallway trying to decide what to drink for the remainder of the evening when he hears Klaus sneezing again, vocal and familiar, quickly in a set of two followed by a distant third and then a short, frustrated rumble from the back of his throat.
"Bless you," Luther says as he passes through the doorway, still appropriate because only a handful of seconds have passed. His scavenging brother turns around.
"What? Oh, yeah." Klaus chuckles and it sounds so fond. "Thank you. Sorry, did you need…?"
"No, just water," Luther says. He walks past whatever Klaus has got covered and boiling on the saucepan so he can get to the lower left cabinet for a glass. Klaus is muttering to himself as he goes through the shallow pantry with his back to the unattended stove. Luther leaves it alone. "What are you doing?"
"Experimenting," says Klaus.
That doesn't sound tactical. Luther brings up his arms to cross them and employs some self-discipline in bringing them down again, even though Klaus can't see him. More than any of his other siblings, Klaus has a real talent for making people nervous. "Uh-huh…?"
Klaus takes a moment to slide something over on the shelf before he elaborates.
"Did you know we have, like, a thousand bags of rice?"
"Our emergency rations?" asks Luther. It's okay to sound suspicious when he hears that, he decides, but the panic riding underneath it shows itself, too.
"No, no, no, those are downstairs, no need to fret, Number One," Klaus says as he continues to clatter around. "Ha! Okay." He finally turns away, triumphant, one hand carrying a slender tin can and the other gripping several half-empty glass canisters of spices. "But there are almost exclusively perishables up here, too. Maybe we should get groceries."
"I was thinking of hiring a cook, actually," Luther tells him.
Klaus lifts the lid off of the pot as he turns the temperature down to let it simmer, then bends forward so his face is directly over the liberated steam. His shoulders scrunch up as he tries to inhale more deeply than he's capable.
Klaus opens his eyes and tilts his head so he can look at Luther. "You can't cook?" he asks.
Luther doesn't know what to say to that. Grace had always prepared their meals, and he was busy training while she was teaching the basics to Allison and Vanya. There was never reason nor opportunity for him to practice.
Klaus straightens back up. He smiles and laughs and somehow doesn't make Luther feel embarrassed about it.
"Diego can't cook either," he says, and the way he's looking at Luther tells him that Klaus knew it would make him feel better. "Uh, and neither can Five -- well, he can a little, I guess, but you know, not like a normal person."
"I didn't know you could," Luther says. He fills up his glass all the way to the top and drains it immediately, then turns on the faucet to fill it again.
Klaus untwists one of the canisters and spills out a fountain of orange powder. "Oh, yeah," he says with grandiosity.
Luther can't tell if Klaus is messing with him. "Where'd you learn?"
Klaus peels off the lid of the can and pours something thick and bright red into the pot. Probably tomatoes. "I'm plenty worldly," he says as some of his ingredients splash onto the countertop. "I'm quite experienced."
Luther is having trouble figuring out how much sincerity is there, so he doesn't say anything yet, just watches Klaus pour and stir and occasionally mutter to himself -- no, to Ben, probably, Ben could be here. Ben's sometimes here -- while he erratically transforms whatever's in front of him into something increasingly colorful and exciting.
"Oh!" Klaus says candidly to save Luther the trouble of responding, motivation coming out of nowhere, spinning around and leaving his spoon in the pot as he whirls around and gracelessly leaps across the kitchen. He pulls Luther's jacket off of the back of a chair and says, "here, man, thank you," and drapes it right over Luther's arm and then pats the top of it a couple of times. "Who knows where I'd be if not for your generosity. Probably laid up with bronchitis or something. I appreciate it."
Luther stares at him.
"Allison--" he says.
"Ah, you would've done it anyway," interrupts Klaus with dismissive confidence. "Eventually. You would've felt too bad for me to not want to try and do something about it. I know what you're like now, no use trying to blame Allison for your gentle heart. You get to have Spanish rice on the moon?"
"You know-- rice, tomatoes, beans, bit of heat…? Mom used to make it sometimes."
"No, I know what--" He forgot how Klaus does that sometimes, just goes somewhere else and forgets that everyone around him isn’t also riding his wavelength. Without a push to try and wrangle him, Luther finds himself being stunned over and over from the confusion and whiplash brought by Klaus and the nature of his impenetrable and lawless sociable energy.
"Let’s see if you still like it," Klaus insists as he turns off the burner. "You’ve been locked up at a desk being boring for three hours, I know you haven’t had dinner."
While he watches Klaus grab a plate, Luther says, "No, that's okay, you don’t have to serve--"
"Consider it a repayment or maybe… I don’t know, good karma, only it's being given to you right away instead of three reincarnations later,” Klaus says. “I promise I’ve been super sanitary. You watched me."
"I’m not worried about getting sick," Luther says earnestly.
Klaus looks at him, brows knitted together, shadowy eyes unguarded and exhibiting a rare display of raw purity. "You're not?" he asks.
"No," Luther says. He folds his jacket and sets it down on an empty chair next to him, then sits down to show he's accepted the invitation to eat.
Klaus sees him and starts to fill up the larger plate he’d pulled out. "Dude. It's okay if you are," he says, and the humor cushioning his voice is back. Luther can't tell if that makes him feel more comfortable or less. "I so would be."
That isn’t true. Luther remembers Klaus defiantly spending four days in Ben’s room while he had the flu when they were kids, and staying at Vanya's place in college during that week she thought she had mono. He doesn't think twice about what he eats or where he goes, readily shares food and drinks with strangers and touches the inside of the public bus with bare hands. Klaus has never been worried about germs. Maybe that's part of why he came down with something in the first place.
"No, I don’t think I can catch anything off of you," Luther concludes as Klaus sets a plateful of the reddest rice he’s ever seen on the table in front of him. "First of all, I'm--"
"Stronger," Klaus interrupts, teasing.
It's not what Luther was going to say, but for once he knows what page Klaus is on so he puts his head down and says, "Uh… Yeah." He smiles. That's what he's supposed to do. "That."
“Well I’m a better housewife, so maybe the mournful immune system was worth it." He didn't even skip a beat. With his hands flat on the tabletop, Klaus leans forward. "It's good, right?"
Luther hasn't even taken a bite yet.
Klaus pushes himself back up and flaps a hand toward Luther as he heads back to the stove. "Yes, of course it is," he confirms on his own, like he's speaking for Luther and doesn't actually want him to answer. Klaus has yet to try any himself.
But he's right. The dish is pretty good for something with no fresh ingredients, hot and soft and not too salty, all things considered. It's a lot more than anything he could have made on his own.
"You can have the rest," Klaus offers as he sits at the table across from Luther, his own plate half the size of Luther's and filled with less than half as much food. "You'll still be nice and hollow, right?"
"Why aren't you going to eat it?" asks Luther.
Klaus takes a bite. "I'm not that hungry," he says, sounding unsettlingly neutral. "I was just looking for something to do."
"That doesn't make any sense," says Luther.
"Yeah it does." Klaus takes another bite. He bends one of his legs and brings it up on the chair so he can lean forward with it pressing into his chest. "Sometimes it's just easier for me to breathe if I eat something hot like this, but I don't think it'll work this time. Listen." Sharply, he inhales through his nose, and he's right: there's barely any airflow. With a wide, conclusive gaze that prompts Luther to agree with him, he says, "See? Nothing."
"Oh, yeah. I could already hear it in your voice," sympathizes Luther. He can't remember the last time he heard Klaus talk about something like that while keeping his tone so conversational.
There's a languid scraping sound as Klaus stirs his food around on his plate. "It's hard to taste anything so it's hard to hold onto an appetite. So, it's your lucky day. Home-cooked meal just for you, buddy, on the house!"
Some of the guilt billows back up as Luther remembers Dad's nutritional guidelines stressing the importance of three square meals. "You sure you don't want to just save it for later?"
"I think you need it more than I do," Klaus says, and Luther doesn't understand why he's suddenly wearing that twinkling grin like they're sharing a joke, but he smiles back anyway and tries not to look uneasy. "Next time you're hungry, just lend me one of your gloves and I'll cook something while I wear it as a shirt."
It wouldn't fit, Luther thinks as Klaus improvidently slides his plate across the table and leans back in his chair as he anchors himself to illustrate a pledge to stick around, and then he nods toward Luther to match and feed the dialogue as it veers into hyperbolic nonsense.
But Luther engages anyway with a vow to try and let Klaus steer this time. Slowly, he relaxes more into the idea that maybe that's the point.