Calm

Ellis was tired.

It was a distant feeling at first, but it grew as the morning dragged on. Dal was feeling much better and was dutifully working on his exercises downstairs. Or at least, he had been last time Ellis had seen him. Kris had been just waking up when Ellis had stepped into the bathroom to shower, while Nick had been downstairs making his second pot of coffee to share with Megan.

Ellis wrapped the towel around his waist and stepped out of the bathroom, padding down the halls to his room. He was extremely tired and his head was hurting, and he wasn’t entirely sure why. He was beginning to think, however, that he was getting sick. He really hoped he wasn’t, but he was pretty sure he was. It was the best explanation for his fatigue and his headache.

Ellis absently pressed a hand to his forehead after he had finished putting on his shorts. He felt warm. Probably. Not as warm as Dal had gotten, but maybe a little warm. So, perhaps a slight fever. He’d take a nap on the couch later. That ought to help. In the meantime, however, he was starving. It was time for lunch.

He pulled his shirt over his head, wincing as the fabric brushed against the stitches on his temple, pulling just slightly. He was surprised at how sensitive they were. Megan’s didn’t seem to be bothering her very much. Perhaps it was just because they were on his temple, and not his back. He supposed the skin there might be more sensitive.

He was halfway downstairs when his hunger for food shifted into moderate nausea. He halted on the steps, reaching up a hand and fisting it into his stomach in an effort to quell his sour gut. No luck. Perhaps it was just because of how hungry he was. No, probably not. He knew exactly what hunger-nausea felt like, and this wasn’t that. He frowned unhappily and changed his course to the couch, where he fell into a seat beside Dal.

The kid looked up at him, expression curious. Ellis looked over at him, swallowing down a lump of nausea, “I don’ feel too good.” He explained, leaning back on the couch, “Think’m gettin’ sick.”

Dal’s eyes betrayed his mild concern, and Ellis smiled weakly at him, waving off his worries. “Nah, don’ worry. I’ll be fine.”

He leaned his head back against the couch and sank into the cushions to get comfortable. He was probably just coming down with a stomach bug. He could make a personal request for ginger ale and crackers later, if he felt like he really needed it. If not, he was sure he could find some Tums in the cabinets of the bathroom.

He could seek out home remedies later, though. Right now, he was just really tired.

Dal’s fever had returned to its normal low-grade state overnight, according to the report Nick had given her in the kitchen that morning. Ellis had been obviously overjoyed that the boy had gotten better. The guy seemed to worry a lot whenever something bad came up. Kris had been entirely indifferent, which bothered Megan more than it seemed to bother Nick or Ellis. She didn’t quite get why Kris was so dismissive about her own son. He didn’t seem like a bad kid, so why would she come across as disliking him so much?

Nick had seemed only mildly relieved by Dal’s swift recovery. He didn’t seem to react much to anything, though, so for all Megan knew he was as happy as Ellis was. Megan herself hadn’t expected Dal to die, but she was glad that he had recovered without any hitches.

Megan just didn’t understand why his fever kept spiking in the first place. Especially since it had gotten high enough to make him collapse. There weren’t a lot of explanations for that. Sure, it had only spiked twice now, but who was to say it wouldn’t keep doing that? Who was to say it wouldn’t get higher next time, or last longer? She didn’t want to be a harbinger of misfortune, but she had a really bad feeling about the future of Dal’s health.

Currently, the boy was taking a shower. Nick had confided in her that Dal had developed a phobia of water, probably related to the “rabies,” so getting himself into the shower was probably a grueling, anxiety-provoking process. Megan had been listening to him drop things in the shower for nearly twenty minutes. His hands were extremely strong, but they lacked stamina and didn’t recover particularly fast either. So, because he had been religiously (and sometimes over-enthusiastically) doing his exercises, his hands were extremely fatigued.

Megan had suggested that he slow down his pace, simply because he could end up doing more damage if he overworked his weakened muscles. He had apparently not liked the sound of that, as he had reduced the frequency of his regiment from every other hour for thirty minutes to five times a day for forty five minutes. Or until he found himself in pain. Whichever came first.

She hadn’t realized that he was going to be so enthusiastic that he would run the risk of actually damaging himself. She figured he would be obedient and do them every so often for as long as it took for him to get bored. Instead, the kid was trying to give himself every possible kind of sprain and strain anyone could think of.

Megan couldn’t blame him, though. Dal obviously hated being partly disabled. He had shown a great deal of frustration when she’d previously seen him slowly maneuvering his fingers into place, hands shaking from fatigue. It was sort of painful to watch him internally swearing at his hands because he couldn’t do so out loud.

She had been startled by the amount of damage she’d discovered when she’d been assessing him. There were some obvious things that he couldn’t do, such as speaking and using his fingers and wiggling his toes. But she had discovered that the quantity and quality of damage was pretty far beyond that. Dal didn’t have the muscle control to roll his shoulders or his ankles. He couldn’t cough. He couldn’t do much of anything with his facial muscles, and he seemed to have a hard time chewing and swallowing as well. When he laughed, it sounded more like a bark of sorts rather than the usual “ha-ha.”

She had tried to explain just how far the damage extended, but it was hard to describe. His body had been rewired to fight, so anything that didn’t relate to finding and killing prey had been taken from him. It was sort of horrifying to think that the Green Flu could alter a person’s physiology so much. How on Earth could a disease even do something like that? Why would anyone think that creating something like that was a good idea?

Megan rolled over in her bed, wincing slightly at the pull of her stitches. She really ought to get up. She had gotten into bed with the intent of taking a nap, but she’d been lying down for nearly an hour and hadn’t gotten a wink of sleep. She hadn’t slept the previous night, either, though she had neglected to mention that to anyone.

She hadn’t been able to sleep since Jake was killed. Every time she closed her eyes, she saw Nick snapping the child’s neck. She truly wasn’t angry with Nick, but she couldn’t help the resentment she felt towards what seemed like everything else. Nick had been the least involved player on that particular playing field. She should’ve been there to help get her sister’s family to safety. Her sister should’ve gotten her family out. Her sister’s husband should’ve stopped Jake rather than letting himself get killed and leaving the boy to waste away. Why did Jake have to get infected in the first place? Why did CEDA have to make such a horrible disease? What was up with human curiosity?

Rather than hate or anger, she felt like she ought to apologize to Nick. She didn’t quite know what it was she ought to be apologizing for, though. Perhaps she should be apologizing for suggesting they stay at her sister’s house in the first place. Perhaps she should be apologizing for having a meltdown after Jake’s death. Perhaps she should apologize for not being able to kill Jake herself – even though she wasn’t really given an opportunity to do so.

Nick seemed to be waiting for her to explode on him, and she wished he wouldn’t. He was by no means walking on eggshells around her, but she could sort of tell that he was waiting for her anger. It was just noticeable in the way he spoke to her – with just a hint more meanness than usual, as if he were trying to goad out her temper. It was visible in the way he looked at her on occasion, a bothered sort of look on his face. At the same time, he seemed to be avoiding her, just slightly. Instead of asking Megan something, he would hunt down and ask Ellis.

He just couldn’t seem to believe that she wasn’t going to be angry with him. She was caught somewhere between believing and not believing that he had prior experience with killing people’s relatives and then taking the heat for it. Or maybe it was just a testament to how he’d felt when his sister had committed suicide. Or perhaps Nick didn’t know how she ought to be reacting, and just defaulted to assuming people would get angry when he did things that weren’t okay.

Eventually, she supposed, she was going to have to just talk to him. Sit him down seriously and do her best to put what had happened behind her. Even if it was right behind her, just having it back there would be best. She wouldn’t make it through this mess with something that heavy weighing on the forefront of her mind. She could drudge it up to deal with it appropriately later on. For now, it needed to be behind her.

Megan closed her eyes, rolling onto her back and focusing on the dull ache of the wounds on her shoulder and back. It probably wasn’t even one yet, and already it had been a long day.

Nick supposed that Megan was telling him the truth.

Sure, it was possible that she was lying, it was possible that she didn’t know herself very well, it was possible that she was repressing her feelings because she was afraid of them. But, he supposed, he’d give her the benefit of the doubt. He’d trust that she, like she had said, wasn’t angry. It wasn’t like she had any real reason to lie anyway, so he’d just let it drop. He’d said what he’d wanted to say to her, and she still hadn’t presented with any negative emotions besides what looked like mild depression.

There were other possible reactions to watching your beloved nephew getting murdered in front of you, anyway, he was sure. Depression, fear, acceptance… he knew there were others, but with his current headache he couldn’t think of anything. Nick reached up a hand absently and ran his hand through his hair. His head was hurting enough that it was preventing him from sleeping at this point. He had gone upstairs to nap, but obviously that wasn’t going to happen now. He was going to need drugs if he was going to sleep.

He hadn’t been able to get any rest overnight because he’d been fretting about Dal. Stupid kid.

He had spent half the night grumbling and cursing and despising Dal’s general state of health, then spent the other half working himself towards a panic attack all the while rolling in circles in his bed until he was so wrapped up in the blankets he couldn’t move. That had taken several minutes to fix. He had wound up getting up at least five times to check that Dal was still breathing.

Nick wasn’t the type to leave things that mattered up to chance. If he couldn’t possibly be absolutely positive that everything was fine, he would go out of his way to make sure. Dal’s life mattered. He wouldn’t – couldn’t – leave Dal to chance.

The invasive little brain-parasite that he was.

Nick had wondered on and off if things would’ve turned out the same if he hadn’t been concussed. He’d spoken more to Dal about his head injury that morning, and the impression he’d been given was that he had been generally “not himself” from about the moment he was injured. That had left Nick wondered how he might’ve interacted with Dal if he hadn’t been concussed. He didn’t like to think that he would’ve grabbed the kid and broken his neck without a second thought, but he didn’t really think he’d have fallen for his own con either.

Dal and he wouldn’t have become close. That was for sure.

Nick sat up in bed, sighing heavily. He didn’t particularly like the way that Dal appeared in his thoughts on a fairly regular basis. It was unfortunate that there wasn’t much he could do about it at this point. Though it’d be nice if Dal would come to mind in a more positive way once in a while. Something always seemed to be wrong or going wrong regarding the kid.

As he was walking downstairs, he spotted Megan in her room. She had apparently tried to nap as well. She had looked tired when he’d seen her earlier that morning. Megan had natural shadows under her eyes, but they had gotten darker overnight. Obviously, while she hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, she had definitely not gotten much sleep. He could relate.

When he arrived downstairs, he found himself in the midst of a small commotion. Ellis was lying down on the couch, Dal crouched on the floor by his hips. Kris was walking swiftly out of the kitchen, drying her hands with paper towels that she dumped on the coffee table. There was a bowl of clear liquid sitting on the table with what looked like a pair of scissors and a washcloth in it.

“What’d I miss?” He greeted nonchalantly, stepping towards them. Kris reached into the bowl of clear liquid on the coffee table and pulled out the thin scissors.

She knelt down beside Ellis’ head, “I told you, you should’ve washed your hands.” She chided absently. Nick’s brow furrowed, confused, and he stepped closer to the scene of whatever crime was taking place, peering over the arm of the couch to see Ellis’ face and determine what the hell was going on. Obviously Kris wasn’t going to just tell him, so he might as well preform his own investigation.

As soon as he saw the dusty blue color on Ellis’ temple, he knew what had happened, and his stomach twisted.

The stitches were infected. And badly, by the looks of it. Ellis’ face was screwed up in pain and covered in a sheen of sweat. He looked a touch feverish, in fact. Kris put one hand on Ellis’ forehead, pressing down firmly to hold him in place.

“Don’t. Move.” She said clearly. Ellis made a thin sound in reply, likely nothing more than acknowledgment. Kris frowned then, and started snipping away at the stitches and pulling them out. She moved methodically, effortlessly, and efficiently, completely ignoring Ellis’ occasional noises of distress. Within a few seconds, the stitches were out and she was pulling the washcloth out of what Nick was now guessing was alcohol.

He watched as she carefully ran the wet cloth over the wound, wiping away pus and pushing gently to get more of the gunk out of the wound. Ellis’ breathing was fast and shallow, his jaw clenched, and his whole body shaking with restrained tremors.

Dal took the guy’s hand carefully, and Nick saw the moment Ellis started squeezing. Dal didn’t even flinch, just watched his mother work stonily. The kids face was paler than usual, and he looked like he was seriously contemplating being sick, in much the same way Nick was.

“Damn,” Nick stated rather stupidly, reaching up his hand to run his fingers through his hair again. His head was pounding harder than it had been a few minutes ago. He swallowed down nausea, feeling a touch dizzy.

Kris shook her head in what looked like disbelief as she continued cleaning the wound, “He has a fever,” she stated blandly. “He needs penicillin.”

“Please tell me we thought to grab that.” Nick said without an ounce of hope in his voice.

“We didn’t. I looked.” Kris answered calmly, dunking the washcloth in the bowl again. “Someone needs to go to either the hospital or the nearest drug store and get a bottle of it.”

“What’s wrong with Ellis?” Megan’s voice floated down from halfway up the stairs, and Nick turned to glance at her. His head pounded harder with the sudden movement, but he ignored it.

“His stitches are infected.” Nick told her, “Someone has to go and get penicillin.”

Megan’s expression turned both serious and concerned, “There’s a drug store not far from here. Turn left at Elm Street and it’s about four blocks down. I could take someone.”

“You’re still injured, Megan,” Kris stated disinterestedly. “You’d pop your stitches if something attacked you.”

Nick nodded in agreement, “Me and Dal can go.”

“Dal and I will go,” Kris stated with surprising finality, acting very obviously as if she hadn’t heard Nick at all. The conman glowered at her as she straightened up. She looked over at him with a glare of her own. “Out of everyone here, I’d say the concussed one should be the last to offer going out somewhere. Especially when he’s developing a crippling migraine.”

She had an excellent point, and it infuriated him. He distinctly recalled the last time he’d tried fighting with one of his migraines. He’d passed out in the middle of a horde and very nearly gotten himself trampled. Not to mention how bad his aim was when he couldn’t see straight from the pain.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? You think you and Dal will be able to work together?” Megan asked, having come the rest of the way downstairs and chosen a spot behind the couch to hover over Ellis.

“It’s the only option, Megan.” Kris replied coldly. “The rest of you are incapacitated.”

Nick scowled darkly, wishing there was a counterargument in the universe that wouldn’t sound petty but there really wasn’t anything he could say. Besides, he actually only wanted Dal to come back alive. If she wanted to off herself by way of infected, she was welcome to it. And anyway, Kris wouldn’t purposefully get Dal killed – probably.

He ought to make sure, though.

“If anything happens to him, I’ll make sure you regret making it this far.” He said darkly, gaze hardening. Behind the woman, he could see Dal staring at the two of them with slightly widened eyes. For some reason, Dal always seemed to look worried or frightened when Nick and Kris were glaring at each other. Even though neither of them had ever become violent against the other, the kid seemed like he was constantly expecting one of them to start beating on the other.

Kris stared at him stonily for only a moment before she stepped around him wordlessly. As she was pulling an assault rifle out of the coat closet where they had decided to stash all their weaponry, Nick briefly wished upon a star that she would meet her untimely demise while on this drug run with Dal.

Nick knew she wasn’t frightened, but she really ought to be. She didn’t know what he had done to people who wronged him in the past. She didn’t know what kind of person he was. She didn’t have a clue what he’d be willing and able to do to her if anything happened to Dal.

He wasn’t even sure he knew what he’d be willing to do.

Next Chapter

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