After sleeping for what his internal clock was claiming to be “an hour,” his headache had subsided. Dal was right; rest would make him feel better. Fancy that.
Nick rolled onto his back and yawned, sitting up slowly and rubbing his eyes. He could probably have kept sleeping, but better judgment told him he should stay awake. Just in case. Megan and Ellis had said they would probably head out to get the speech board while he was sleeping. The house was too quiet for them to be back already, so there was still the possibility of them returning bloody and battered and in need of Nick’s medical expertise.
He shoved his feet into the slippers he had procured from Walmart and headed downstairs. When he’d gone upstairs, Dal had been sitting on the couch, getting started on the rehab exercises that Megan had showed him. Now, the couch was vacant. The whole living room was vacant, in fact, with the exception of Kris, who was curled up in the armchair with a blanket and another book.
Nick headed into the kitchen and started a pot of coffee, very happy that this place hadn’t lost electricity yet. It’d only been about four days. They would probably be able to make it a week or more before the power went out, and by then the infected would have mostly died out. That was going to make for a great smell, he was sure.
He moved away from the counter, instead opting to lean against the doorway to the living room. Kris didn’t acknowledge his presence, but he was sure she knew he was in the room. The woman didn’t seem to miss much.
“Where’s Dal?” He asked, yawning again.
“He went upstairs.” She replied nonchalantly. Nick frowned, wondering immediately why Dal had gone upstairs. He could bet that, if Kris had said something to him, she wouldn’t admit it. She didn’t seem as willing to fight with him as Coach had been. Then again, she didn’t seem excited about much of anything.
He hadn’t bothered asking her, because he knew she wouldn’t answer him truthfully, but a thought had been nagging him since a few hours after she revealed she was Dal’s mother. He had been wondering, more than much of anything, why Dal had been alone in a hut in the swamps of Louisiana. Kris didn’t have an accent to suggest that she lived anywhere near Louisiana. And sure, it was possible that she had moved herself and her family to Louisiana quite recently, but Nick couldn’t be sure of that. He couldn’t be sure of anything, except the fact that Dal had been living very much alone in the swamps of friggen Louisiana.
When Ellis and Megan returned with the speech board, he was going to grill Dal for hours.
The coffee pot ceased the bubbling noises it had been making, and he turned back into the kitchen. Before he could pull a cup out of the cabinets, however, the sound of the door opening and closing, framed by shuffling feet and mild thumping, alerted him to the fact that Megan and Ellis were back. And, by the sound of their footsteps, they were injured, too.
Injured meant they had probably failed to get the speech board. Either that or it was broken. He stepped out into the living room in time to see Ellis setting the board down on the coffee table, his shoulders torn up and his face sporting new scratches. Megan was supporting him. They both looked exhausted.
“On the couch,” Nick said heavily. Megan and Ellis immediately started shuffling towards the couch. It was sort of funny to watch their clumsiness, what with Megan being so much shorter than Ellis. He walked around to the back of the couch, surveying the damage.
“Megan, what the hell did you piss off?” He asked, mildly alarmed by the deep lacerations all over her shoulder and part of her back. He leaned over the back of the couch, gingerly pulling the fabric of her shirt away from her back. She hissed in pain, which he ignored, looking closely to get a feel for which ones might need stitches. It was a damn good thing Kris had suggested they swing by a hospital for some real supplies, just in case someone needed more than gauze pads.
“Smokers have claws, apparently,” she replied sheepishly.
It was also a good thing he had some experience with stitches, since Megan was going to need a lot of them. Her entire arm had had blood running down it, as evidenced by the coagulated smears that reached her forearms. He had no idea why they hadn’t thought to come back. Perhaps they’d been attacked on their way back. That didn’t really make sense though, because the speech board was spotless, save for a couple drops of blood where Ellis had been holding it.
“You need to shower before I can stitch you up,” he stated bluntly, “You need to clean out those wounds anyway. Why didn’t you guys come back after you got assaulted?”
Ellis shrugged, “We weren’t bleedin’ t’ death so we just figured we could keep goin’.”
Nick rolled his eyes, “You’re both pigheaded.” Megan chuckled as she stood up, walking around the coffee table to head for the stairs.
“Will it be okay to use scented body wash on these?” She asked once she was halfway up the stairs.
“Uh,” Nick paused to think about that. “I mean, probably? But I would use the bar of soap instead.” She nodded back at him and continued upstairs.
“Where’s Dal?” Ellis asked, “I wanna show him.”
“Upstairs, I gather.” Nick replied, moving to inspect the damage to Ellis’ shoulder. He recognized the pattern of claw marks almost immediately – Jockey. That also explained the cuts on his face. Ellis was going to need stitches, too. Thankfully, they had grabbed every single package of sutures in the entire hospital. Or at least, it sure had seemed like it when they were heading back out to car. They’d grabbed backpacks from Walmart before they left, and had stuffed them overfull in that hospital. He was once again thankful for modern medicine in the United States.
“What’d you do to your leg,” Nick wanted to know. Ellis sunk into his shoulders slightly, and Nick gave him the sternest look he could muster, “What’d you do?”
“Well, uh… s’kinda the reason we’re all beat up, see, we were runnin’ from the Jockey and th’ Smoker, and I was lookin’ back to try and get a shot, but I tripped over something and I twisted it. On m’way back up, got jumped on and my ankle was hurtin’ pretty bad so I end up falling on top of it and that’s how I saved us both.”
Nick snorted, shaking his head. “You didn’t hear or feel a crack?”
“Naw. It hurts like ‘ell to walk on, though.” Ellis answered, grinning sheepishly under Nick’s mild glare.
“Just stay off it as much as possible for a few days. Anything particularly deep on your face that I should be made aware of?” Nick asked nonchalantly, picking at Ellis’ ruined shirt to get a better look at the wounds on his shoulders. They weren’t as deep as Megan’s, that was for sure. Obviously, Ellis had been taken for a ride. He didn’t recall Jockey’s doing this much damage with their feet, though.
“Uh, well, there’s this one,” Ellis turned his head and took off his hat, gingerly pulling off a small gauze pad to reveal a gash on his temple. It was still bleeding. He would’ve hit the kid if he had been a less controlled person.
“Fuck,” Nick muttered. He pulled away, heading for the still-packed boxes of medical supplies in the corner of the room. He got out gauze pads, tape, a package of stitches, and a bottle of rubbing alcohol. This was going to be a grand adventure.
When Nick turned back to Ellis with his equipment, the younger man’s eyes widened, “It ain’t that bad.” He insisted weakly, despite the blood running down the side of his face.
“Ellis, it’s still bleeding. Even Megan’s have stopped.” Nick retorted, still eying the bleeding gash, “I have to close that. It might not stop on its own. At least, not in a timely fashion.”
Ellis frowned deeply, but he gave in. Nick walked over to him, dumping the medical supplies on the coffee table and moving the speech board to the nearby end table. He then seated himself on the table beside the medical paraphernalia so he could properly face Ellis.
“You should probably be lying down, but I don’t want you getting blood all over the couch. Try not to faint. This is going to hurt.” Nick grabbed the rubbing alcohol and one of the gauze pads. Ellis stiffened, hissing quietly as Nick cleaned out the wound.
“Don’t be a baby.”
“It hurts.” Ellis whined in reply. Nick made a show of rolling his eyes.
“The actual stitching is gonna hurt a lot more, kiddo.” He said, pouring more alcohol onto the gauze pad. “Kris,” he said as he was tearing open the package of stitches. “I need a hand. Or two.”
She saved her page and snapped her book shut, standing up and walking over to him, “What?”
“I need you to use this gauze pad,” he handed her a pad, “to dab at the wound and keep the amount of blood to a minimum. I won’t be able to see what I’m doing otherwise.”
She nodded silently, tearing open the gauze pad, “You didn’t even wash your hands.”
“I’ve done this in much less sterile conditions. He’ll be fine.” He replied, threading the needle deftly as Kris pressed the gauze to the side of Ellis’ head. “Ready?” He asked, and Ellis nodded slowly. Nick smirked at him and got to work.
It took about ten minutes to stitch the wound shut, which Nick was very proud of because he hadn’t done stitches in about a year. But, surprisingly, he remembered how to knot the thread. Which was the most important part, really. The rest of it was fairly easy. Kris also proved her worth, which Nick was thankful for, even if he didn’t want to admit it. She was very attentive, pressing the gauze to the wound every time he pulled his hands away.
Ellis was a champ through it, really. He only hissed occasionally, didn’t flinch away at all, and didn’t start crying. Sure, Nick had to occasionally remind him to breathe, but he’d done much the same thing himself the first time he’d been forced to give himself stitches.
They should’ve gotten Lidocaine or Novacaine or some other kind of caine. Nick just hadn’t thought that anyone was going to need stitches in the near future. Or ever, considering how much beatings Nick and Ellis had taken without ever bringing forth the need for stitches.
Megan resurfaced from upstairs in sweatpants and a sports bra that didn’t look like it would restrict anything if she were actually to engage in sports. Nick indicated the couch and shooed Ellis up to the shower. Technically, you weren’t supposed to shower for twenty-four hours after getting stitches, but Nick didn’t care.
Somewhere in the midst of stitching up Megan, Kris disappeared upstairs. He wondered briefly if it was because she couldn’t handle the gore or if she just didn’t like the noise. She always seemed irritated when they started talking to one another in her presence. Everything about her bothered him on some level or another.
He stared at Megan’s back as he was dabbing away some of the blood. She had been in hysterics after he’d killed her nephew (Ellis had divulged that bit of information to him), and he understood why. But then she had insisted that she wasn’t angry with him. He was sure it was a lie – there was no way she had no feelings of anger towards him after what he’d done. He would’ve imagined that she’d hate him, but didn’t want to admit it for fear of upsetting him. Either that or she was wholly denying her feelings for some other reason.
“You know,” he finally said as he pushed the needle through her skin again. “If you want to hate me or be angry at me, go for it. I’ve dealt with much worse.”
She stiffened slightly, which was impressive considering how stiff she’d already been, and didn’t say anything for a long time. He had touched a nerve, apparently. That was fine. It wasn’t good for people to bottle up emotions the way he did. It made for an unpleasant human being.
“I don’t hate you,” she finally mumbled. “I’m not angry, either. I have no reason to be angry.”
He tied off the last stitch, leaning back briefly to look over his work, before packing up the medical supplies and tossing things in the trash. Megan stood up, pulling the strap of her bra back into place and watching him carefully. He knew she was expecting him to say something, and he was going to say something. He just wasn’t sure what yet.
He didn’t quite understand why she needed a “good reason” to be angry with him. He didn’t know if that was true for all normal people, or if Megan was just a strange person. Either way, he knew that she had just as much reason to be angry as she did to be depressed. And even if she hadn’t had a good reason, that didn’t mean she had no right to experience normal emotions.
He paused in the doorway to the kitchen, looking over his shoulder to glance at her, “It’s okay to be angry at someone without having a reason.” He told her, before ducking into the kitchen to finally get his coffee. He was sure it would be lukewarm by now, but he didn’t care. He needed the caffeine if he was going to be expected to last until nightfall.
Dal hated his traitorous hands and mouth.
His exercises were simple; chew a stick of gum until his jaw was too tired or sore to chew anymore, and press the pads of his fingers to the tip of his thumb, one at a time, for as long as he could stand the frustration. The direction seemed easy, simple, straightforward.
Right until he had started doing it.
His jaw felt as if it would fall off. Still. He had stopped chewing over an hour ago and the muscles were still really sore. And he hadn’t been able to get his fingers to his thumb properly. The fine motor control needed to do that was beyond him at this point. He was lucky his frustration threshold was pretty high, because otherwise his bedroom would be trashed in a fit of fury by now. He’d been at it for two hours and he wasn’t making much progress. Granted, Megan had warned him that it might be a couple years before he was able to use his hands normally again but… he didn’t know. Maybe he had thought she was exaggerating or imagined in his head that it wouldn’t take that long because the damage wasn’t that bad, but now he was seeing that he was completely wrong.
This was impossible.
That was an exaggeration. Right now, however, it certainly felt like the use of his mouth and hands was light years away from him. He had modified his exercise just a little because his thumb was in worse shape than the rest of his fingers. He couldn’t move the appendage to meet the tips of his fingers. His thumbs were practically immobilized, so he was touching his fingers to the base of his palm instead. He would have to tell Megan about it later. Ellis had swung by his room on the way to the shower to tell him that his speech board was on the coffee table downstairs, and he was very glad to hear it.
But, with his mother now present, he wasn’t sure he wanted to use it. Kris had raised him to be as inconspicuous as possible around her. Especially around her. He was to be silent as the grave in the house when either of his parents were home, but when his mother was around he had to be even quieter. He had grown up tip-toeing around his own house for fear that she would hear him and throw him into his room for a day or two. He had grown up without ever speaking in her presence. She had taught him to be quiet, and now that he had the option to “speak,” he didn’t want to.
He didn’t know if she would be so bold as to punish him for making a sound, considering that Nick was around and probably willing to punch her. In fact, he was sure she wouldn’t because she wasn’t the type to fight with others. When she needed to, she would, but she didn’t actively seek it out like Nick sometimes did. Still, though, he was wary of experimenting with the boundaries she would have set for him in these new circumstances. He didn’t want to push her buttons. He didn’t want to anger her.
For the first time in his life, he didn’t want her to notice him. He had spent his whole life doing everything he could – from straight As to delinquency – to get her to pay attention to him. To notice him, speak to him, something. But she had never spoken a word to him. She and his father had ignored him so completely, he’d felt invisible, and it was the worst feeling in the world. The best thing he ever did for his parents was remain as quiet as possible for them. The best thing they had ever done for him was probably driving him home from the hospital after his accident, and that was only because the cops had gotten involved due to the illegality of his actions.
His parents had been so angry. He had been left in his room for a week. His stash had almost run out before the door was finally unlocked. That had been the worst week of his life, probably. He had left home almost as soon as his bones had healed, partially because he had to get away from them, and partially because he was hoping maybe they would notice his absence.
He’d been invisible for so long anyway, he wasn’t sure why he thought they would. He had literally been forgotten about so many times, for so long at a time, he didn’t know what he’d expected.
And now his mother was back in his life. He had Nick and Ellis now, though, and they cared for him. They paid attention to him. They noticed him and spoke to him and now they expected him to respond. Nick had already promised to look out for him, and Dal trusted Nick’s word more than anyone else’s. Nick had murdered someone for his sake. He could trust that Nick would keep him safe, so long as he didn’t wander away on his own.
His fingers ached, but he kept at it. Megan had told him to stop when it started to hurt, but it didn’t hurt that bad so he figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep going. It wasn’t like he was going to get carpal tunnel.
He was so concentrated on his task and his thoughts that he was startled when he heard someone knock on the door frame. He looked up, finding Nick standing there. The fact that he was sitting on the floor in farthest corner of his room was suddenly very embarrassing. Normally, no one stepped foot into his room for any reason. He was going to have to get used to living with people who didn’t ignore the very air he breathed.
“How’s it going?” Nick asked, walking into the room. Dal then noticed the board he was carrying in one hand. He hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a confessional, but he could imagine that it would. Nick probably had a list of nine thousand things he wanted to demand an answer for.
Dal gave him the “so-so” hand gesture and Nick smirked, crossing the room.
“You know, you even have a chair in here.”
He shrugged in reply. He wasn’t even entirely sure how he had grown so accustomed to sitting in corners, but he had. Nick walked over to him, setting his coffee on the night stand and sitting down on his bed. Dal stared at him questioningly as Nick handed him the speech board. Obviously, this was going to be a huge confessional. Hence why Nick was making himself comfortable. Great.
“Gee, where do I start?” Nick said with a smirk. Dal shrugged at him again, and Nick chuckled. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt to start from the beginning. Why were you alone in the swamps of Louisi-fuckin’-ana?”
Dal stiffened. He had been hoping that Nick wasn’t going to ask about that, but of course, he couldn’t have everything his way. Or anything, apparently.
“Ran away from home,” was his simple reply. He didn’t especially want to divulge his entire life story. He knew that there were pieces of it that would infuriate Nick, mainly because he was sometimes unreasonable. Sure, being locked in his room for days at a time had left him with a crippling fear of being trapped alone behind a closed door, but he hadn’t been beaten, so it wasn’t really that bad.
Nick frowned, “And you’re from where?”
There was a long, long pause. Nick was probably wracking his brain to figure out how on Earth Dal had managed to get himself all the way to “Louisi-fucking-ana” by himself without getting picked up by the police and taken back home. Dal figured he could leave out the part about his parents frequently forgetting that he existed, and the part about them not even informing the police when he’d gone missing, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He didn’t want to. He didn’t really want to leave out anything, and at the same time he was wishing this conversation wasn’t happening in the first place.
To answer Nick’s as of yet unspoken question, he continued, “My parents never filed a missing persons report.”
Nick visibly stiffened at that. “Why not?” He demanded, starting to look angry all of a sudden. Dal wanted to sigh loudly to frame his answer, but decided it’d probably be a bad idea.
“They probably didn’t notice I was gone. I was raised to be inconspicuous enough to be forgotten about.” He explained, downcast. This was probably the most depressing discussion they’d had to date.
He could practically see the gears turning in Nick’s head. He couldn’t tell if the man was plotting to murder his mother or if he was just putting pieces of Dal’s behavior together with this particular bit of information. Nick lowered his head slightly, gazing at the floor as if it had done something terribly offensive.
“Why are you scared of her?” He asked, his voice quiet. Dal’s heart paused for a moment. He didn’t know how to answer that. He was scared of her because she was terrifying. He was scared of her not because he knew what she could do, but because he didn’t know what she would do. Not anymore. Not now that they had fallen back into each other’s lives by accident. Not now that there were new boundaries, and the world had ended around them, and law enforcement didn’t matter. For all he knew, she would stab him if he crossed the line she had drawn in the sand (wherever it was she had drawn it).
But he knew why Nick was asking. Nick thought she had beaten him. It would have been easier if she had. By the time he was eleven, he would’ve taken a beaten over being constantly ignored in every way, shape, manner, and form. By the time he had met Nick, he was willing to allow himself to be killed if it meant spending a couple of hours with a complete stranger, just because he’d been so starved for company.
“The rules have changed,” Dal tried to explain, eyes stinging. “Before, I knew what to expect if I behaved in certain ways. Now, I don’t know where the line is, so I won’t know when I’ve crossed it. And I don’t know what she’ll be willing to do if I do cross that line.”
When he looked up, he wasn’t sure what the tempest of emotions reflected in Nick’s eyes meant. He could hardly read all of them. The one he saw most obviously was anger, but perhaps that was because he knew to expect it. In some ways, Nick was very predictable.
“What did she used to do?” He questioned, voice strained.
Dal shrugged his shoulders halfheartedly, “Lock me in my room for days at a time.”
Nick looked a little surprised by that. Dal figured he had probably been expecting a terrible case of child abuse, which would’ve better explained why he was so terrified of his mother. It was a strange case for him, because he wasn’t the victim of abuse. He was the victim of emotional neglect, and that wasn’t really a huge deal. At least, it wasn’t in his head. He was sure that other people would be horrified to hear that his parents had managed to almost completely ignore him for about eleven years. To Dal, it just… it wasn’t like he had been beaten, or molested, or otherwise tormented. He had no real right to complain. There were kids his age who were so much worse off. He was just lonely.
Nick’s scowl deepened, “What would get you locked in your room?”
“Being too loud. Forcing me and his father to waste time on him.” Dal’s blood froze, his heart stopped, and he was sure his brain also lost all function. “Getting me in trouble with the police because he’s an idiot.”
Nick nonchalantly turned to look over his shoulder, “Oh, hello, did you want to join in?” He offered with an icy smile on his face.
Dal’s hands fell away from the board sitting on the floor in front of him. He sunk into his shoulders before he realized he was doing it, hunching forward and wanting to disappear into the wall behind him. His heart, which had restarted, was hammering away in his throat. He couldn’t tell if she was angry with him or not. He couldn’t tell. Her tone was calm, but it had sounded calm when she’d been reprimanding him for getting sick. Only her expression had given her away. And right now, he didn’t think he had the intestinal fortitude to look up at her.
“I’ll pass,” she answered coolly. “Dinner’s ready.”
Dal finally managed to lift his head, only to find that his mother had left. He let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, which attracted Nick’s attention.
He nodded, even though it was a lie. No, he was not okay. He didn’t know why, exactly, but it probably had something to do with his mother walking in on his confessional. There was no way she wasn’t going to be irritated by the fact that he had basically made her look like a poor example of parenting.
He shouldn’t have answered Nick’s questions. He should’ve just told him what he told Ellis – “I don’t want to talk about it.” Nick would’ve harassed him about it until he gave a straight answer, but Dal could deal with Nick harassing him. He couldn’t deal with his mother being angry with him. His head hurt from the massive amount of over-thinking he was embarking on. He stood up with Nick, ignoring the dizzy spell that came with it. He swallowed hard, following the conman out of his room, even though he wasn’t hungry at all. He was never hungry, but at the moment he was particularly not-hungry. Nick place a hand on his should and he helplessly leaned into the contact. He needed it.
He felt like he was going to die from the fear carving its way through his body.
For all he knew, he was. It would certainly serve him right for being such an idiot.
Alongside his endless supply of anger, Nick’s head was buzzing with a mixture of his gruesome imagination and more questions. Megan’s very delicious spaghetti was settling him for the most part, though. He was sure he was going to crash soon after dinner. He hadn’t had a real meal in days, and he hadn’t had a home-cooked meal in years. Needless to say, his anger was being drowned out by his contentment.
Dal wasn’t eating much. He hadn’t eaten much since Nick had met him, though, save for that two hour period when he had practically inhaled all of Walmart. Nick wasn’t worried, per se, but part of him wished for the kid to eat more. He was sure it had something to do with the fact that he was sick. Megan had taken a thermometer to him when his appetite had died in Walmart and found that he did indeed have a low-grade fever. And when she’d checked a couple hours later, it hadn’t changed. So, they had figured that the new fever was related to the Green Flu and left it alone.
Dal was showing Megan that his thumb was more immobilized than the rest of his fingers, and she was nodding her head as the kid showed what he’d been doing instead of the exercises she’d given him. It was more or less the same thing, just that he was tapping his fingers against a different spot.
“I’ll have to think of something we can do about your thumbs. You’re gonna need those.” She told him, and Dal nodded in agreement. Ellis was actually so busy shoveling food into his mouth that he had forgotten to talk about absolutely nothing, which was kind of nice, in Nick’s opinion. Sure, Ellis had been quiet in general lately, but he did seem to be feeling better since they had moved. That was something of a relief. He had been wondering if Ellis was really seriously regretting his actions or if it was just a moment of sorts. He didn’t really want to be talking the guy off a ledge or dealing with guilt-ridden mood swings or whatever it was normal people did when they regretted their actions severely.
“S’there more?” Ellis asked Megan after he had swallowed a mouthful that looked too big for his throat.
“No, sorry.” She replied, and Ellis’ face immediately fell.
Megan returned her attention to her dinner, while Kris was getting up to put her plate in the sink. Nick glanced over at Dal in time to see him slide his plate towards Ellis, who stared at him. He’d barely taken a bite. Nick wondered if it would be wise to make Dal eat. Not that he knew how he could possibly do that.
“Are ya’ sure you’re done? Ya’ barely ate anythin’.” Ellis asked. Dal nodded pushing his plate closer as he slid off his chair. Nick looked to Ellis, who returned his gaze with a confused look. Nick shrugged his shoulders, which the younger man seemed to take as a “go ahead” signal, as he dug in only a moment later.
Megan stood up with her plate as the sound of the kitchen sink being turned on reached them. Nick twisted in his seat, finding Dal pushing his sleeves up past his elbows and grabbing a dish sponge.
“Do you need a hand?” Megan asked, setting her plate down on the counter. Dal didn’t even look up, just shook his head as he poured soap onto the sponge and got to work washing the dishes by hand. Even though they had a dish washer.
Megan looked to Nick helplessly, and once again, he shrugged. If Dal wanted to do the dishes, he should be allowed to. Though to Nick it was a little odd that he hadn’t needed prompting, he had just decided to do them on his own accord. Ellis was swallowing his last bite as Nick stood up, so the conman grabbed his and Dal’s plates, nodding at Ellis’ word of thanks, and brought them to the sink. He set them down, pausing by Dal’s side as the others retreated to the living room, Ellis limping pretty severely. He must’ve done more than just twisted it. Either that or it was one hell of a twist.
“Are you alright? You didn’t eat much.” He asked, and Dal looked over at him, expression clearly reading I never eat much. He frowned and sighed, “I’ll be in the living room so make some kind of loud sound if you need something.”
Dal snorted and nodded in affirmative, returning his attention to his task. Nick’s frown didn’t abate by the time he walked out, and Ellis and Megan immediately took that as a bad sign. He could just tell by the way their conversation halted. He must’ve looked like he was going to kill someone.
He shrugged, “He said he was fine, so I gather he’s fine.” At the disbelieving looks he received, he rolled his eyes, “He doesn’t have a track record for lying to me about that.”
Megan sighed, “His fever seems to knock out his appetite, but we really should start monitoring his diet. He looks underweight.”
“No kidding,” Nick replied, “I mean, I hadn’t eaten for the first two days after this mess started, and after that I didn’t eat for another day and a half. We just hadn’t thought to stop for nutrition and no one was diabetic so it wasn’t an issue. But seriously, before we met you, I don’t know when the last time he ate was.”
Megan looked deeply unsettled by that revelation. “I think if we make him eat little things throughout the day, he might stop losing weight. Especially if we get him eating things with high sugar content.”
“Like Twinkies?” Nick offered with a smile.
“I don’ think Dal’s the type t’like Twinkies,” Ellis remarked. Megan rolled her eyes at them both.
“Nobody likes Twinkies.” She said, earning a laugh from both Nick and Ellis. “But seriously, we should-…”
There was a crash and a thud from the kitchen that immediately made all of them jump, and then freeze momentarily in anticipation of something terrible happening Nick turned around swiftly, hurrying into the kitchen, Ellis and Megan right behind him. When they got into the kitchen, they saw Dal, lying on his side on the floor, the remnants of a shattered plate littering the ground underneath and around him.
And he wasn’t moving to get up.
Nick’s heart stopped and he rushed over, falling to his knees beside the kid and turning him over. His face was saturated with sweat and his skin felt hot to the touch. His eyelids were fluttering slightly, indicating that he hadn’t completely lost consciousness. That was a good thing, if he had to guess.
He grabbed the kid under the arms and stood up, hauling Dal with him. The kid was lighter than he’d been expecting. Much lighter. Nick was a relatively strong person, but Dal was… really light. He had lost a lot of weight. Way too much, in fact.
Ellis appeared beside him, doing his best to help support the kid’s weight while standing more or less on one foot, “Where to? ‘Is room?”
Nick considered whether or not that would be a good idea. Getting Dal upstairs while he was mostly unconscious was going to be a challenge. Abruptly, however, the weight lessened. It took Nick a moment to realize that Dal had found his legs and planted them on the floor, and appeared to be trying to pull away and steady himself. Nick was not keen on letting him go, though, lest he collapse again.
“Easy there,” Nick muttered, “Upstairs. Let’s go.”
Dal didn’t seem to know which direction that was, so Nick wrapped an arm around his back with one hand and gripped him by the upper arm with the other. Getting upstairs was grueling, but Dal seemed to have regained enough consciousness to more or less know how to work his legs. The kid’s breathing was labored and his eyelids were drooping, but he didn’t faint again.
Nick sat him down on his bed, touching his forehead briefly. It was hot. Much hotter than it had been when Megan had told him to do the forehead test before. His stomach plummeted. Before he realized what he was doing, he was pulling Dal’s sweater off – he needed to cool him down quickly. He didn’t know how hot a person could be before they expired.
“Meg-…” He turned, looking for her, only to find her right beside him, already pressing her hand to Dal’s forehead.
“I grabbed the Tylenol but that might not be enough. Here, make him take it before he faints again.” She said quickly, pushing two pills and a glass of water into his hands. Ellis held Dal upright while he blearily took the pills Nick had given him.
“What do we do?” Nick asked Megan, his voice sounding much calmer than he felt.
“I want to take his temperature. If it’s too high, we give him an ice bath.” She replied quickly, pulling a thermometer out of her pocket and sticking it into the kids mouth.
“How high’s too high?” Ellis asked, watching the thermometer.
“If his fever is over 105, we have to give him an ice bath. We don’t have any ice though, so we’ll have to just give him a cold bath and hope that works.” Megan answered quickly. The thermometer beeped and she pulled it out of Dal’s mouth, immediately inspecting the numbers. The look on her face wasn’t worry, though. It was confusion.
“What?” Nick asked, watching as Dal started to wake up some.
“It’s… not high enough for him to have fainted,” Megan said slowly, “Only a hundred and four. That’s… it must be going down. Hang on.” She reset the meter and stuck it back in Dal’s mouth. The kid blinked rapidly, reaching up a lazy hand to rub at his eyes tiredly. He then raised his head and stared at them, looking faintly confused, before he lurched forward.
Nick caught him, “Don’t make me hold you up, brat.” He muttered half-heartedly, his joking mood not entirely present.
The motion Dal did with his hands looked like someone washing a plate, and Nick could’ve slapped him, “No, you’re not doing the damn dishes! Hold still.” Dal did as told, and a moment later the thermometer beeped. Megan pulled it back and Nick shoved Dal into bed, grabbing him by the legs and pushing him until he gave in and rolled the rest of the way onto his bed.
“One hundred and three point six. It’s definitely going down, and fast.” Megan said, bewildered.
“Tylenol acts pretty quick,” Nick remarked.
“No, not that fast. It was already going down when we gave it to him. He just… apparently spiked a really high fever for a moment and then it went back down.” Megan decreed with some uncertainty. That sounded like some kind of anomaly to Nick, though he didn’t really know enough about illness to make a judgment call.
“What should we do? Just monitor his fever to make sure he doesn’t die in his sleep?” Nick questioned, watching Dal maneuver himself under his blankets. Megan hummed thoughtfully, but nodded in agreement after a moment.
“Every ten minutes until it’s down to a hundred and two,” she replied. Ellis and Nick both nodded, glancing at one another. Ellis looked fairly pale, his eyes full of worry. Nick wondered if he looked the same. Wondered if any of them could tell in any way that he had sort of panicked for a second, that he had been genuinely afraid for Dal’s life.
He wondered if they could ever tell. His concussion seemed to be healing enough for him to not be so crabby all the time, and that was his biggest and only tell when he was in pain. He wondered if Dal had noticed that, or if Ellis had figured it out. He stared at Dal’s already sleeping face for a moment, part of him almost wishing that the kid could tell.
It was improbable, though. He was pretty good at the poker face thing.