Very carefully, Luther coughs into the inner bend of his elbow. His back and shoulders stretch the tight fabric of his jacket as they shake.
"I don't think I've ever seen you this sick," Allison says to him on the second day, nobly playing nursemaid because she's had practice and nobody else really knows how to do it. "Do you think being on the moon for such a long time might have messed with your immune system somehow?"
"Could be," Luther says. His voice doesn't sound normal and his throat is a wreck, and Allison, God bless her, takes his hoarseness as her cue to saunter back to the kitchen to make some more tea.
It's funny; he'd always thought so, too, but for the opposite reason. His infusion of primate blood following the accident had altered his DNA in a way that had Luther assuming his immune system had become different enough to leave him no longer susceptible to the same diseases as those who were fully human, but the following isolation out in space may have softened him enough for it to actually become a hindrance.
It hadn't hit him too fast, which meant that he had plenty of time to prepare. Luther has always found that the best way to fight an illness is through an uptake in general attention to wellness: plenty of rest, water, and three balanced meals that he makes sure are warm and easy on his throat. The scratchiness and fatigue and overall prickling heaviness in his sinuses are uncomfortable, but he's had worse. His concern, instead, is focused on keeping his family safe from the same demise.
But the world doesn't stop just because he gets sick. He has a job to do, and the show must go on. It's poor timing, but the family gets called to help with an emergency at the community center on the north side of the city during the third day of Luther's ailment.
"It's not a hostage situation," Diego says when they're deciding which of them should head out on the mission. "Allison and I are the best at hand-to-hand, and you're out of commission. So."
"No I'm not," Luther says. "This thing is in my head, not my body. I'm good to fight; don't be ridiculous."
From a barstool, Vanya looks up from her book and says, "Allison's across town at a meeting and I don't think she'd be able to get there on time."
"So I guess it's just us," Luther says to Diego. He tries to be professional to avoid showing how clearly unhappy he is with that, except he isn't really trying at all.
Diego crosses his arms. "A spirit could know something or be able to slip in and out of places that are too dangerous for us," he says. "Klaus, you're coming."
"No, that's okay," Klaus says. "I'm good."
"What do you mean 'you're good'?" Luther says.
"I just don't really feel like it." Klaus stretches. "I'm sure the two of you can handle it."
As always, Luther isn't thrilled with Diego's idea. Klaus has always been the easiest to get sick, even when they were kids and his immune system was pure and natural, and missions sometimes put them in close quarters. The idea of passing this on to anybody makes Luther want to enact the nostalgia of space travel and wear a bubble suit until he's feeling better.
"Very funny," Diego decides anyway. Luther indulges in his own fatigue with the reminder that they're supposed to be equalizing as a team now instead of operating as an organized hierarchy with a chosen leader. "Meet at the car in five."
"Fine, browbeater. Sheesh."
Luther doesn't protest, but he also doesn't drive. It's not worth the struggle, and they're taking Diego's car because parking is sparse on the north side and it fits better into the tight parallel spaces.
From the backseat, Klaus kindly bounces a half-empty bag of cough drops into Luther's lap.
"Put your seatbelt on," Diego says.
"Put your chill on," Klaus bites back.
"Where did you even get these, anyway?" asks Luther, concerned.
"Uhhh…" Klaus allows himself to pause, distracted as he tugs on the strap behind him, vinyl zipping against itself as it's pulled before the buckle is clicked. "They're from like, six months ago. Still good."
Luther unwraps one and helps himself.
Klaus chatters excitedly on the ride back a few hours later, after being unoccupied during the mission and allowed, on his own terms, free roam of the building while Diego and Luther worked together -- begrudgingly -- to diffuse the situation. Klaus is familiar with the center, as it turns out, and reconnected with a couple patrons during the mission and kept them updated on what was going on. He's more satisfied with the social activity than he is about having been helpful.
He really was, though -- he can be plenty useful when he's sober and makes an effort not to screw around so much -- and the three of them had gotten the assignment done efficiently and smoothly, so Luther says, "Great job, guys. We worked well together today."
Diego huffs an affirmation and lets his head bobble contentedly, and Klaus reaches over and pats Luther gently on the shoulder.
"What are you talking about?" Allison shakes her head and squints, taken aback and exasperated. "Everyone gets sick."
"Not me," Diego insists. "You're imagining things."
"You got sick just as much as the rest of us when we were kids," Allison recalls, slipping a sleek leather pocketbook into her bag and then rooting around inside of it. "No one's impervious. You probably got Luther's cold."
"I didn't get anyone's cold," Diego says hotly, nerves struck. "Especially not his."
"Whatever. I don't have time for this." Allison pulls the purse over her shoulder and heads for the door. "I left some echinacea and honey on the counter for your sore throat."
"I don't have a--"
She turns the knob and walks out, interrupting him.
"Feel better, Diego!"
He spends the afternoon brooding on Allison's nosy petulance and wincing every time he swallows. Diego has made a habit of spending time at the estate instead of his own cellar apartment, partly because he has to admit the open space feels nice sometimes but mostly so he can keep track of what's going on with everybody. He had major reasons to avoid the place back when it was just Luther living here, but now that Klaus and Five have moved back in and Allison and Vanya are visiting with regularity, he's not going to be the only one estranged and left in the dark.
Even with most of his siblings home these days, the house is big enough to keep Diego's familiarity with solitude intact, and he occupies himself just fine until Klaus shows up in his space after dinner -- a meal Diego skipped because he's already sounding just scratchy and nasal enough for someone to comment on it -- and affords him even less grace than Allison had.
"Hey, do you wanna go somewhere? I need a ride," he says nebulously.
The letter n in the word no might give him away, so Diego carefully asks, "A ride where?"
"There's this shop on ninety-sixth," Klaus says as he leans on the door frame and scratches his forearm. "They're only open in the evenings and we've been busy every night this week, so I thought this would be the night to take advantage of our free time and a pinch of daddy's money."
Accompanying Klaus anywhere can be a headache when Diego isn't feeling particularly sociable -- which is most of the time, including today, when he's already drained from an oncoming whatever-it-is and run down in general, his throat hurting and nose starting to run. And that's definitely not something he can hide nor is it something Klaus will let him get away with.
"Though I think if I transfer buses I can get down there on my own," Klaus muses. "But I just thought, like, a road trip to the south side? What better way to spend a Wednesday evening, huh?"
But Klaus has some unsavory connections in that part of the city, and a trip down there at night isn't going to be safe, especially for somebody like him who doesn't have a lot of physical strength and has difficulty staying present.
That means Diego is going to have to accompany him, but he'd really rather not do it so readily.
"What do they sell?" he asks carefully.
"Oh, just clothes and consignments and like… uh, you'll see."
Klaus grins and touches him, pushing against the back of Diego's shoulder blade in the direction of the back door.
"Finally," he expresses on their way down the hall. "I've been wanting to leave after dark for days. I'm so sick of all the missions we have to do at night now, aren't you? They're so boring. And exhausting. I don't even feel like doing anything when we get… Diego?"
Diego lowers his hand from his middle of his face and stares ahead, squinting with the dissatisfaction of having to stop a sneeze as he quickens his pace to catch up.
"What kinds of missions would you rather be sent on?" he asks dryly.
"Oh, I don't know. Something fun where I get to talk to someone who, one, didn't die traumatically so I don't have to look at anything grotesque, yikes, and two, actually has something interesting to say and doesn't just beg me to help send them into the next realm, or whatever. I don't even know how to do that."
"You could use the opportunity to practice your telekinesis."
"And then spend the rest of the night washed out with a headache? Yeah. Uh, no thank you."
On the exhale of a masterfully stifled sneeze -- his head had barely bounced down -- Diego says, "Gotta learn some time, man."
"Bless you," Klaus says. He shuffles his feet a little as he walks. "You sound just like Ben. 'You can't keep avoiding it forever, Klaus. The sooner you get a handle on it the easier it'll be, Klaus. You could be practicing instead of enjoying yourself, Klaus.' …Yes you do sound like that. Develop some self-awareness, bro, you're hounding me just like that all the time!"
Diego can't help sniffling, the sound unfortunately thick and crackly. "Has Ben ever been wrong?" he asks to deflect.
"No, but he's been annoying." Klaus looks at Diego when he sniffles again. "You okay?"
"What? I'm fine."
"All right. Touchy."
Klaus says that like he's going to let it go, but his comments don't let up until Diego reaches his threshold and can't mask his symptoms anymore. The confined space of his car has him under the microscope and Klaus invasively sympathizes with him until Diego's forced to come clean about his state of poor health the following morning.
As she sets her coffee cup down on the counter, Allison frowns and says, "I think you got me sick."
"Luther got you sick," Diego corrects, tone sharp and voice soft, hoarse and sore from coughing. Colds always seem to settle in his chest and stay there a while after the rest of his symptoms disappear. "All last week you were sitting on his bed spoon-feeding him chicken noodle."
"Shut up. No I wasn't," Allison says. Her gaze twitches to the doorway as Klaus enters the kitchen, then she looks back down at her breakfast and says, "My throat is killing me."
Without saying good morning, Klaus approaches them and grabs Allison's cup and takes a sip from the singular hole on its insulated lid.
"Klaus!" she scolds. "Stop that, are you serious? You just heard me say I was sick."
Klaus wobbles the cup back and forth and shrugs. He truly, genuinely doesn't seem to care.
"He did that to me all weekend," Diego says. He can't stop the rumble in his chest from stuttering out as he coughs against the top of his forearm. "You're next, bro. You're like a magnet for these things. I can't believe you haven't gotten it already."
"Life is full of surprises," Klaus says. He takes another sip.
"Okay, okay." Klaus sets the cup back down in front of Allison and rubs her shoulder affectionately. "You probably need the energy anyway, poor thing."
"It's like you're trying to get sick," Allison says. "Go upstairs and take some Zinc. I left a bottle on the desk in my room."
"You make such a beautiful nurse, darling," Klaus says exuberantly, then happily drifts back out with the kind of playful obedience he keeps on reserve only for her.
"Oh my God," Klaus moans from his makeshift nest of fleece and cotton on the couch. "I can't believe this. Betrayed by my own sister."
"Oh, please," Allison says. "You betrayed yourself. We all told you not to get too close to us and instead you stuck to us like barnacles and ate off of our plates. You probably got it from Luther like Diego did."
Klaus snickers, feeling sorry that Diego is elsewhere. Once he'd owned up to falling ill, he'd seethed about the source of it for days and it had been a blast and a half to watch.
"Allison, what was I supposed to do," he asks, suddenly serious, "watch you all mope around being sick and lonely? Absolutely not! I was fulfilling my gracious brotherly duty, so you're welcome. And now you have to hang out with me to return the favor for…"
He has to stop so he can cough, already raspy and irritated, strong and halfway against his chest and halfway into the open air.
"…for getting me sick in the process. Fuck, would you listen to that. Jesus. Ow."
"I did not get you sick," Allison insists. All of the care she puts into her voice has paid off by getting her through the start of the virus with barely a hint of scratchiness, but several of her consonants have taken on a hoarse, nasal quality that she doesn't even bother trying to hide. "And even if you technically caught it from me -- which I don't even think you did -- you can't say you weren't fishing. Here. You're gonna drive me crazy."
She passes him a box of tissues and Klaus cradles it without taking any for himself, choosing to sniffle luxuriantly instead. Allison shares his blanket and kicks at him until he blows his nose.
"I am so sick, " Klaus declares with a pitiful whine, head pillowed on his arms as he leans forward with them folded on the countertop. "Why aren't you sick? You live here too. This is so unfair."
"Aren't kids supposed to catch, like, ten colds in a year?" asks Diego. "Your body's immune system is so much less developed than ours. It doesn't make any sense."
Five sits on a barstool with his back straight like a perfect little doll. "Because I have a sense of personal space," he says. "The rest of you can't stay out of each other's pockets."
"So not true," Klaus says. "Our siblings are quite independent."
"He was talking about you," Diego mutters. In response, Klaus hums dismissively before he shivers with an irrepressible sneeze. "Bless."
"Thank you," Klaus says. "You know, I don't think I've ever sneezed this much in my entire life."
"That's doubtful," Five says, "but you might be giving yourself a run for your money with all your complaining."
"I've been holding back. You have no idea."
"I don't even think you're capable of holding back."
Klaus throws a tissue at him. Five, unfazed, picks it up with his bare hand, throws it back, and somehow gets away scot free.
Vanya's coffee table tells a story, with pharmaceutical supplies sprawled across its surface in between scuffed movie boxes and empty, tea-stained mugs. The slump of Vanya's shoulders and the bags under her eyes had made Allison want to volunteer to clean up, but she isn't as drained as Allison was expecting so she keeps the offer in her pocket.
"Sorry," she says as she sits down in the chair across from her sister. "I was hoping you'd be able to avoid this thing, especially with you living all the way out here instead of at the house."
Vanya shrugs and says, "Everyone gets sick. It's okay. Kind of on me for inviting Klaus to hang out here on Friday. Half those cups are his."
Allison chuckles and says, "Any regrets?"
The mentholated Ricola lozenge clacks against Vanya's teeth when she smiles, her eyes crinkling as she leans back into the couch.
"Not a one," she promises, and Allison knows she means it.