"Did you hear something?"
Burt Hummel grunted and opened one eye, squinting against the first rays of pre-dawn sunlight. "Huh?"
Carole was sitting up in bed, her head cocked like an inquisitive bird as she listened for whatever noise had awakened her. She repeated the question.
"I don't hear anything," he mumbled, burying his face in the pillow. He had one more hour before it would be time to get up for work and he did not want to lose a minute of it.
"I was sure that . . ." she trailed off. Shaking her head, she began to settle back down on the mattress, then she suddenly popped up again. "There! Did you hear it that time?"
She looked at him like he was crazy for not being aware of the mysterious noise. "I think it was Kurt. I'm going to go check on the boys."
Not waiting for him to reply, she scrambled out of bed and pulled a robe on over her pajamas. She was out the door before Burt's sleepy brain could fully register that she was going. Curious, he sat up and closed his eyes, listening hard. He still didn't hear anything. The walls and floors of this house were well built and thickly insulated. It seemed impossible that Carole could have heard a sound coming all the way up from the basement, where Kurt and Finn slept.
Then again, he remembered back when Kurt was a baby. After his crib had been moved out of their room and into the tiny room down the hall that now served as a combination storage room and office, Kurt's mother had been hyper-alert to his softest sound of distress. She always knew, even when Burt would have sworn that the baby hadn't uttered a peep.
With a smile, Burt settled back into his pillow. If he was needed, Carole would call him, and in the meantime it was nice to know that her well-honed maternal radar had expanded to include his boy along with her own.
As soon as Carole Hudson opened the basement door, she knew that she had been right to come down. A wet-sounding cough met her ears, followed by a desperate gasp and a second harsher fit.
The lack of windows made the basement far darker than the bedroom upstairs, so Carole had to risk waking her son, whom she could hear snoring like a chain-saw at the far end of the room, by turning on the light.
As she descended the steps, she realized that there had been no need to worry. There was a grunt, a creak, then the snoring resumed even more vigorously than before. The coughing likewise paused for a beat, but then it burst forth again, all the more intense for Kurt's attempt at stifling it.
"Sweetie, are you okay?" Carole asked, sitting down on his bed and gliding her hand gently over his hunched shoulders.
Kurt shook his head. "Can't . . . stop," he gasped, muffling another fit into his pillow.
She coaxed him with gentle pressure to sit up straighter, rubbing her hand against his upper chest to help relax the tense muscles and dispel the congestion. She could feel the boy's heart thumping wildly and knew that with the inability to draw a deep breath he was starting to panic, which was only making things worse. "Easy, now," she crooned. "Draw in as much air as you can and try to hold it for a second. Then cough it out in one big burst."
Kurt did his best to obey the suggestion, gasping a little as he struggled to make his lungs comply. Finally, he was able to do as advised, and his reddened face crinkled in disgust when a glob of thick yellowish fluid was finally hacked into his palm. "Ew," he groaned, holding the offending substance as far away from himself as he could.
Carole gave the lean shoulders under her arm a little squeeze. "Better?"
Leaving his side long enough to retrieve a couple of tissues and a wet-wipe from the boxes that sat on Kurt's makeup table, she helped him clear the mess from his hand and blot away the few tears that he had involuntarily shed while struggling to contain his cough.
Pressing the back of one hand against Kurt's cheeks and forehead, Carole shook her head. "You feel awfully warm, kiddo. I think you just earned yourself a day off from school."
"But I have a history test," he protested weakly, "and I finally got assigned a solo in glee club. If I'm not there, Mr. Schuester will give it to someone else."
"Dude, you barely even have a voice today," Finn called out from across the room.
Carole looked up, surprised that she had failed to notice that her son was awake.
"I'll make sure Rachel doesn't steal your solo," Finn continued. "And you know Mr. Kendrick will let you make up the test. He's cool that way."
Kurt sighed, the sound coming out as more of a wheeze. "What about Miss Sylvester? She hates absenteeism."
"She'll hate it even more if you get the rest of the squad sick," Finn said reasonably. "Stay home."
"Okay," he whispered, giving up so easily that the Hudsons exchanged a concerned look. Leaning his head against Carole's conveniently available shoulder, Kurt closed his eyes and admitted, "I feel awful."
She placed a kiss against his forehead and hugged him again. "I know, sweetie." Looking at Finn, she said, "Honey, could you let Burt know what's going on and then bring me my phone? I need to call work and let them know that I'm staying home today."
"You don't have to," Kurt mumbled, the protest half-hearted at best.
"Yes, I do," she told him firmly. "I'm not leaving you here all alone and sick."
Finn had left his bed and pulled a pair of sweats on over his boxers and T-shirt. Walking over to his friend's bed, he playfully ruffled Kurt's sleep-mussed hair. "Don't bother arguing, bro. She'll win anyway."
The sick boy smiled a little, clearly happy to have his token protest ignored. Taking this as agreement, Finn went to fulfill his mother's order.
Suddenly, in spite of Carole's warm embrace, Kurt shivered from head to toe and turned his head away, stifling another cough into his fist.
Carole cut off the suggestion she had been about to make that Kurt lie back down, realizing that the poor boy must have been tossing and turning all night long as she took in the severely rumpled condition of his bed.
She had suspected that something was wrong when Kurt came home from school yesterday. He had disappeared long enough to exchange his Cheerios uniform for a simple sweatshirt and comfortable-looking jeans, then sat down on the couch to do his homework. After a break for dinner, a meal that he had only picked at in spite of the entrée being one of his favorites, he had spent the remainder of the evening listlessly watching television, protesting that he was fine when questioned, but otherwise remaining silent. Kurt had not uttered a single word of protest, not even the usual scathing fashion critique, when Finn and Burt had switched on a baseball game. He had just stared at the TV for another hour before declaring that he was heading for bed. Too caught up in their sport to notice how strange he was acting, the other guys had simply wished him a good night and gone back to their game.
Carole had allowed Burt's nonchalance to direct her actions, but now she wished she had followed her own instincts.
"How about I fix up the sofa for you?" she asked, knowing that she would be happier if she could keep an eye on him. She would come down later to air and remake the bed before he needed it again.
Kurt pulled somewhat reluctantly away from her warmth. "Okay."
They were interrupted by a sudden thunder of footsteps heralding the arrival of Kurt's father and Finn.
"Hey, buddy," Burt said, his voice gentle as he tipped Kurt's chin up to get a good look at his pale face and dulled blue eyes. "Finn says you aren't feeling so hot."
"I've been better," he croaked, offering his dad a weak smile.
"Chills, fever, coughing," Carole listed, watching Kurt patiently allow his father to look him over. "Probably a sore throat too, by the sound of him."
Kurt nodded his agreement to this. "Flu?"
"Probably. It seems to be going around." Burt looked at Carole and said, "Finn tells me you offered to stay home with Kurt today. You sure? I mean, I could stay."
"We'll be fine," she said, recognizing that he was a little uncertain whether having his girlfriend miss work to look after his sick son was an acceptable thing to do. In spite of their living arrangements, this was the first time such a circumstance had come up, and Carole knew she would have experienced similar doubts if it was Finn who was sick and their positions were reversed. "I want to. It'll be nice to spend a little extra time together."
Smiling, Burt kissed her cheek then asked, "That okay with you, slugger?"
Kurt looked at Carole and smirked. He had revealed to her once that his father reverted to a funny habit of calling him things like 'sport' and 'slugger' whenever he was worried and didn't want him to know it, never realizing that the names themselves were a perfect giveaway. "Sure, Dad."
"Okay, then," he said, still looking a little doubtful as he told Kurt, "I'll take my turn tomorrow. It'll be Friday and if you got flu, you're gonna need more than one day to get better."
As his friend's desperate eyes latched onto him at this decision, Finn smiled. "Chill, dude, I got you covered. I'll ask if Tina can cover your solo until Monday, 'cause you know she'll give it back. And I'll get Mercedes and Artie to help me collect any homework you miss."
Kurt's tense posture relaxed. "Thanks," he whispered.
Still looking as if he would rather stay, Burt took a step back and addressed Finn. "Seeing's how we're both up early, what do you say to IHOP and a ride to school?"
"Sure!" Finn agreed enthusiastically, immediately moving to gather some clean clothes and head for the shower. "Feel better, Kurt."
Kurt had made a face at the mention of the restaurant, happy not to be joining in the sugar and cholesterol feast, but sketched a sloppy salute to acknowledge the good wishes of his friend.
"You sure you'll be okay here?" Burt could not resist asking, eyes darting back and forth from Carole to Kurt. "You need me to bring you anything?"
Carole was about to say no, since they had a variety of cold medications upstairs, but Kurt's hopeful request for, "Ice cream?" made her smile.
Happy to have something he could do for his ailing offspring; Burt clapped a hand on the back of Kurt's neck and pressed a quick kiss against his forehead. "You got it."