Ain't Just Allergies

Summary: Siblings who aren't really siblings, allergies that aren't really allergies, and a family that isn't really a family. What can anyone do but put them all together and see what becomes something real for a change?

With a squeak and a loud sniffle, Etadel sneezed.

Grabbing for her backpack, she held her nose with one hand and prayed that no one noticed her less-than-proper, gooey sneeze. Dread of humiliation kept her eyes from straying to all the possible witnesses. What would people think of her? And usually she had such a knack for sneezing inwardly and not allowing any mucous to escape, too!

What was her nose's problem?

Through watering eyes, Etadel finally snagged her backpack from under the desk (how did it get all the way under there? Did she throw the thing at the beginning of class or something?) and pressed it up against her abdomen. The teacher's droll voice continued as background fuzz to her throbbing ears as she rummaged around for the package of tissues that she'd chucked into her bag earlier that morning. Good thing she did, because today was definitely a tissue day.

"Aha!" The exclamation came without thought as her hand hit the tissue packet at the bottom of the backpack. As quickly and as quietly as possible, she tore through the plastic of the wrapper and yanked out a tissue, putting it up to her nose as fast as she'd ever done anything before. After taking care of that, she cleansed her hand of the snot and finally felt a little less self-conscious.

That was, until she put her glasses back on to try and read what the teacher had written on the blackboard, only to see most eyes in the room trained not on the blackboard, but on her.


"Etadel, dear, do you need to see the nurse? Or visit the restroom?" The teacher, bless her old caring heart, stopped the lecture to inquire. Some of her classmates sniggered. Others who hadn't been looking at her before turned to do so now. Stupid, concerned teacher. Would scowling be an appropriate answer to such an attention-grabbing question?

Etadel sank into her seat and clutched her packet of tissues in a white-knuckled grip in her lap. Great, just great. No, she didn't need a nurse. And she didn't need to go to the restroom. Maybe if she felt better, if her legs felt up for the five-minute walk to the facilities, then she might have taken the teacher up on such an offer, if only to escape the embarrassment for a bit. But then again, if she felt better then she wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. No, she needed an allergy pill and a fluffy pillow.

That was it.

And perhaps a glass of water.

Oh, and a bed. That too.

Beyond red in the face from all the attention, not to mention red in the nose from all the sneezing, Etadel shook her head in response and tried not to let her unease show. Not that her efforts did any good or anything, but at least she tried.

"If you're sure…" Mrs. Abby trailed off uncertainly. After a moment she continued her lecture, and eventually the students all went back to not paying attention to either the teacher or to Etadel. That's just how she liked it.

No longer under scrutiny, she decided to rest her head on the desk. Encased in her arms, her head felt unusually heavy. Did her neck actually have enough gumption to support such a weighty thing every day? With a newfound respect for all the necks of the world, Etadel clutched her tissues in one hand just in case she needed them and tried to distance herself from all surroundings. Her head pounded, though, she couldn't get comfortable, and the teacher simply wouldn't shut up. Besides that, a moment into her attempts at some rest, her nose started twitching again. She had to bolt up and sneeze into another tissue before more snot had the chance to get all over the desk.

Scowling for real this time, Etadel decided that she definitely hated springtime. No, that wasn't right. She hated all season changes. Why couldn't the year pick a season and just be satisfied with its decision? Honestly, changing seasons so often had no point at all. The year did it to torment her and all the other allergic people in the world. Yes, that's exactly why summer changed to fall or fall changed to winter.

Constant torment.

But before her mind had the time to spin out of control over such an injustice, the bell rang for class to end. She would have been happier about it if the ring didn't hurt her ears and make her head pound in sync with it. Four loud dings all in a row, and then people all scurried as a unit to gather their belongings and race off to who-cares-where. Etadel couldn't concentrate on anything except for the footsteps and the rattling of keys as people got them out of backpacks and the damnable dinging.

"Etadel?" Her teacher again. The woman was standing next to Etadel's desk, leaning down to peer into her red, wet-and-dry-at-the-same-time eyes. How had she gotten so close without Etadel noticing? She shook her head, trying to clear it, but that only made her sneeze again.

The teacher backed away hastily.

"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked from a distance.

Etadel wanted to say no. Truly she did. But that was a stupid question to ask someone who looked as bad as she did and who sneezed every other minute for the entire hour in this class. So instead of being honest, because that question didn't even deserve honesty from her, Etadel forced a grin and said, "Just fine. I'm just-ack-fine!"

Her sarcasm would have worked better if she hadn't have choked halfway through. She could almost feel the mucous sliding down her throat by this point. Even though she wanted to spit it all up and make sure it didn't all go into her stomach, she knew she couldn't spit it out on the floor in the middle of Mrs. Abby's classroom. She was sick, but that didn't mean she needed to behave like a buffoon too. She silently promised herself and her oblivious teacher to wait until she went outside to spit up all the saliva and snot that kept pooling in her esophagus.

"If you're sure…" Mrs. Abby said. Now where had Etadel heard that before?

Forcing a nod and another grin, perhaps to get her sarcasm back up to par, Etadel finally noticed that she was the only student left in the classroom. They sure knew how to vacate efficiently! Keeping the tissues out, she zipped up her backpack and went for the door before Mrs. Abby had the chance to say anything else. Good riddance.

"Took you long enough," Philip said from his position outside the classroom, leaning against the wall and glaring at no one in particular. He didn't even glance her way as he said it, either. For the second time that day, Etadel scowled. He sounded as if he hated wasting his time for her, even though he wasted his time on a daily basis with idiotic things that were just… idiotic. Not that she was idiotic, but everything else he wasted his time with certainly was. Not that he wasted his time with her

Etadel's headache magnified.

She didn't even know what she was thinking now, and that was never good.

"Thanks," Etadel said in return. "I try my best to be tardy when I know you're going to be waiting upon my arrival .Haven't you figured that out already? You don't have to walk me home you know; when did I ever ask for your company?"

"I'm being the big brother I'm- shit, 'Del, what the hell happened to you?"

When he finally got a good look at Etadel, he had to do a double take. Did she look that bad? She felt it, but usually allergies didn't show so drastically. With a sniff, she comforted herself with the thought that Philip always over exaggerated things, and this time was no different. Indignant, she demanded, "What? You mean my stunning beauty that you're just now noticing?"

"Uh… no." Philip said, much too flatly. But Etadel spotted a trace of well-concealed concern etched into his voice and radiating out his eyes. Not that she'd ever tell him that his eyes radiated or anything. Because they definitely didn't. His eyes were too bottomless and black to radiate anything, except for maybe lethal toxins. Frowning at her own thoughts, Etadel started walking out of the building and decided to take medicine as soon as she got home. Only a serious illness could force her to take notice of Philip's eyes, for crying out loud.

"Did you get run over by a truck?" Philip asked as he caught up.

"What? During school?" Ah, her sarcasm was coming back!

"Seriously, 'Del, why do you look like a popped cherry?"

At his exasperated question, Etadel stopped in her tracks and turned to face him. Her fellow housemate wore black, had lanky black, greasy hair that he always tried to hide behind, had a black leather choker that looked tight enough to, well, choke, and she had to admit to being fooled by the disguise when her mom had first introduced her to Philip and his father. She'd thought him nothing more than an idiot thug who probably did all sorts of drugs and would taint their house with his presence. But he always tried to make her feel… welcomed, which was strange because the house belonged to her, so shouldn't she be trying to make him feel welcomed?

"Oh," Etadel muttered, snapping out of her thoughts. Her head throbbed even more so from thinking so much and she sneezed again. Being too late to cover her nose with a tissue, some snot escaped and ran down her face. She hurried to apply a tissue while Philip scrunched his own nose in disgust.

"Oh," she said again, sniffling, not bothering to be embarrassed in front of him, "And you'd know all about popped cherries, wouldn't you?"

Philip openly gaped at that one.

Silence. Occasional sniffles.

And then: "I don't… I didn't… I mean, I've never…" Philip's pale face turned pink as he stuttered for the first time Etadel could ever remember him stuttering. Score one for her, she thought, chuckling painfully through her sore throat and wishing that she could savor the moment. But she had to get home and take medicine and sleep; maybe she could savor it when she felt better.

Yes, that's what she would do.

With her first genuine grin of the day, Etadel rubbed her nose with the used tissue and continued walking. After a moment, she heard Philip's footsteps start up to follow along and then lapse into a comfortably tense silence. Oddly enough, he hardly ever walked beside her. She always felt uncomfortable with him two paces behind, but he simply refused to walk like a normal human being.

If their parents stayed together long enough, she vowed to fix that.

They exited the building at last, and most everyone was already long gone. A couple of stray teachers were walking to their vehicles, but otherwise the schoolyard looked like a recently vacated ghost town. Etadel shivered a little despite her loose jacket and the afternoon sun, and she clutched the strap of her backpack and her tissues tighter. Why was it so hot out?

They walked a couple of blocks before the heat fully registered, and by that point she was sweating without realizing it and could hardly think enough to remember her name. All she knew was that she needed to get home, and that she needed to put her head in the freezer as soon as possible. Or maybe bathe in cold water. Or just sleep.

Sleep sounded… nice…

When she opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was blackness. But then she felt a wet, cold thing on her forehead and covering her eyes, so she reached up to move it away and then the first thing she saw was Philip's face.

"Ugh," she moaned, throwing the cold rag back down over her eyes. "That's not the first thing I want to see! And where am I, and how did I get this rag, and why am I laying on the couch? Oh, I guess I know I'm home, but how'd I get here?" She moaned again for good measure. The rag also covered the top of her nose, giving enough pressure to make her feel less likely to sneeze. Her feet were cold, and she felt sort of nauseous, and her nose still hurt like hell. But the rag felt good, and so did the cushions propping her head up and the feel of soft fabric underneath her bare back.

Bare back?!

She attempted to bolt up and see why she could feel the couch on her back instead of a shirt or some other clothing at all, but Philip pushed her back down and placed the rag onto her head in a better position.

"Relax, 'Del, you're home and you're feverish."

"And why do I feel naked?" she croaked out when it became clear that he would not say anything else.

Philip's chuckles soothed her worries a tad. "You're not naked! Your shirt's just rolled up a little to give you more breathing room. You have a fever, idiot." But the insult was meant affectionately, Etadel was sure. She groaned and swatted his hand away from her forehead so that she could hold the rag herself. Ah, it felt good against her palm.

"Guess it ain't just allergies then, huh?"

"I'd say that's a pretty good guess." Philip sounded amused. "You collapsed about a block from home and I had to lug you all the way here. You're lucky I did walk home with you this time, since you wouldn't have made it on your own. Why didn't you call your mother to pick you up from school or something?"

"She's at work!" Etadel wouldn't interrupt her mother's job for what she'd assumed to be an allergic reaction to the season change. "And I didn't know I had a fever."

"Well now you do." Philip walked away for a couple of minutes, and Etadel felt drowsy enough not to care overmuch. But he came back all too soon with instructions for her to sit up and take a pill. Etadel wanted to groan again at having to move, but she felt that she'd done that too much already. So instead she sat up, took the rag away from her head for a brief second, snatched the pill from Philip's hand and downed it with some water he'd also brought, and then promptly laid back down.

Mission accomplished.

"Your mother won't be home for another hour, so just rest until she gets here and I'm sure she can help you better than I have." Philip's voice sounded far away all the sudden, though, and he also sounded a little hesitant. Etadel, through the fog of whatever annoying illness her body had managed to catch, reached out blindly and grinned when she smacked what she hoped was Philip's arm.

"You did good," she said awkwardly.

"Thanks." Philip sounded less hesitant now. He let her pull his arm down until he was mere inches away from her, and then allowed her to give him a loose hug. He stiffened, certainly, but this was the first hug Etadel could remember willingly giving him, and he willingly accepting. Progress, she supposed. That's what their parents would call it, anyway.

Just as he was walking away, though, presumably to let her get that rest he spoke of earlier, she remembered something he'd said during their walk. Something about him being a big brother to her…

"Hey!" she called, and she heard his steps falter and stop. "You're not my brother! We're not even close to being remotely related! Just because your dad's shacking up with my mom, that doesn't mean we're related. You get me?"

She didn't know what she said that was so funny, but surprisingly, he laughed. Laughed so hard she thought she heard him stumble or collapse in some sort of spastic laughing frenzy. She didn't have the chance to get offended by such a laugh, though, because a moment later he was calm and composed again with words she didn't think she had the mind to decipher at that particular moment in time. But she made a mental note to review them later when she felt better and possibly get all the implications out of them as possible in a less lethargic state.

He had a grin in his voice as he said, "You don't know how happy I am to hear that."

And then Etadel slept.