Burnt Into Ashes (OCs, sickfic, part 3)
By the time Elliott got to the restaurant, Liam was waiting for him with an unbridled glare. Elliott half expected a slap in the face when Liam strode toward him - it had never happened before, even during their worst fights heading into the breakup, but Elliott wouldn’t have put it past him.
“You’re late, Chapman,” Liam snapped, though Elliott thought he saw a flicker of…something in his face. It might have been sympathy, but it disappeared so quickly that he could just as easily have imagined it. “What do you have to say for yourself, then?”
Elliott opened his mouth to reply, to tell him he was sick, he shouldn’t even be here to begin with when he wasn’t scheduled, but he didn’t have a chance to form so much as a syllable before his nose twitched. Liam was the last person he wanted to sneeze around, but he didn’t get a choice in the matter as he hastily twisted to the side.
“hh’EHGKTzISSH’u!” Wincing, he emerged from his forearm, trying to blink away the pounding ache that spiked in his temple. His throat burned, and he didn’t trust himself to speak without coughing.
Liam recoiled, and in his haze, Elliott couldn’t tell whether it was out of disgust or…other reasons. “Good lord, keep that to yourself, will you?”
Elliott scowled and cleared his raw throat. He tried to pretend the comment didn’t sting - he supposed he should’ve expected it. “Tryi’g. You’re the ode called mbe id. How lo’g ab I worki’g, adyway? You ndever said.”
Elliott knew he was pushing his luck, but Liam, for once, did not admonish him for his bristly tone. Instead he seemed to genuinely consider it. “Through the lunch rush, at least, and quite probably through dinner as well. I suppose I did say you could do half, inconvenient as it is…”
“Id–idcodvediedt?” Elliott stammered, incredulous.
“Yes,” Liam said briskly. “We are short today, as I said. So I’ll need you as long as possible.”
Elliott stared, mouth hanging open. He wasn’t sure if it was the fever or the shock of Liam blatantly ignoring how ill he was that was muddling his head, but either way, he didn’t have enough time to sort out his thoughts before Liam spoke again.
“Get to work now, will you?” With that, Liam turned on his heel to wait his own tables, leaving Elliott standing, stunned and shivery, in the lobby. He wished more than anything that he could keep his sweatshirt on while he worked, but alas, he hung it on the hook in the coat room and clocked in before trudging to his section. He was freezing, and it made him cough each time the tremors tore through him.
As he rattled off the specials to the couple at his first table, he kept stumbling over the words, trying not to stammer or sniffle. In the end, he wasn’t sure how much they even heard through the thickness in his voice, and he didn’t care. He had to sneeze so badly that he barely scribbled down their orders and took their menus before he wheeled around and buried his face in his elbow.
“hh’GSsSH’mpf! hnh’nKGTZSHh! h-hh-hAH! AEGKJISsSHU!” Trying to hold them back did absolutely nothing but make the last of the triple harsher and wetter. He bit back a groan as he straightened, increasingly aware of how badly his body ached and how much he wished he could just sit down.
“What did I say about keeping that to yourself?”
Elliott jumped, snapping his head up to find Liam in front of him, arms crossed. Elliott didn’t have the will to argue, and his words came out feeble and hoarse. “Told you, I’b tryi’g. Y’kdow I cad’t stop theb like–” Like you can.
Liam’s frown deepened, though he glossed over Elliott’s unfinished reminder as if he hadn’t heard it at all. “Be that as it may, I won’t be losing customers because one of my employees is–disgusting–around the food.” He tripped over the middle of the sentence, and Elliott knew what he’d meant to say. Sneezing. He was sneezing around the food, and Liam still had trouble saying the word in public.
“Either that or spe’d half the day sdeezi’g id the bathroob,” Elliott muttered with a tired sniffle. “A’d you’ve already mbade it clear what you thigk of that.”
Liam appeared to be considering his employee’s predicament, lips pursed in a thin line. He soon made it clear, however, that this was not the case. “Regardless, have some courtesy. You can do as you please later.”
“Rhh-huh’IGHJShihSsH!..right…” Elliott breathed, dissolving into a regrettable bout of coughing. God, he wished Liam weren’t such an arse. He’d give just about anything for a bit of rest and a hot cup of tea. It would at least soothe his throat, which had been destroyed by the single sneeze.
“Did you even bother to take anything this morning?” Liam asked, clipped and irritable. If Elliott hadn’t known better, he might have mistaken it for some sort of abrasive concern. But of course, Liam had to be long over him. It had been months, after all.
Elliott balked at the question. “Nd-doh,” he admitted, sheepishly. “Forgot.”
Liam sighed, exasperated. “Of course you did.” He turned to leave without a hint of sympathy, nor an offer to let him off - as if Elliott expected either. “Just don’t pass out on me, alright?”
Elliott had taken to absently massaging his temple with the heel of his hand, and though he was sure he might fall asleep if he stood still too long, he replied with a mumbled, “Woulded’t dreab of it…”
Despite what he said, Elliott couldn’t shake the bone deep exhaustion that had him dragging through the entirety of lunch. He did his best not to look as miserable as he felt, but if he accomplished even a fraction of the attentiveness he didn’t have, he would have been amazed. Three times he wrote an order down wrong and had to stumble back to the kitchen to exchange it, each time earning him a grumble from Liam and a look of pity from anyone in the vicinity. Twice, he was asked why he was there, and when he offered his reasoning, his co-workers were stunned that even Liam would keep him there looking as awful as he did.
Elliott himself did his best to avoid the mirrors in the bathroom, especially when he ducked in to succumb to another sneezing fit. He didn’t need to make it worse by seeing how terrible he looked with his own eyes. It was enough to read the looks on everyone’s faces, ranging anywhere from poorly concealed disgust to deep concern.
Still, he managed, for the most part, to keep pace with the rush until near the end when a series of dizzy spells overtook him. He was aware by now that his fever had risen, and while he tried to ignore it, it was wearing him out. His shirt stuck to his back and he shivered each time a draft hit him. He was on his way back to a table, bearing a tray of drinks when he caught himself stumbling sideways. He caught himself against the wall, but in the process sacrificed the tray and its contents to the floor with a loud CLANG!
Someone came over and put a hand on his shoulder. “Whoa, hey, are you alright?” It took him a minute to realize it was Gabriel, one of the restaurant’s newer employees - a tall, lanky fellow about Elliott’s age, and kind as anything. Elliott was grateful for the steadying hand as he tried to straighten and regain focus through the fog in his brain.
“Y-yeah, I’b fihh-huh–IGKtZIhSSH!” The sneeze cut him off, and he was immediately bracing himself against the wall again, bent almost double. “Hehh-hh’EHJSsSHISH! hah’AEGHSsChU! hih’yIGHTSsSCHU! h-haehh–EIJhSSCHISSH’uh!” Gabriel kept a steady hold on his arm, and if Elliott were honest, it was half the reason he didn’t sink to the floor then and there. He brought his free hand to his face, covering clumsily with the back of his wrist when the sneezes kept coming. “h-hih’IhJSCHISH’U! huh’UHKgTZISSH’h! hah’AEHJSZHISHh! huh’EHGKTzISSHU!”
Each one was explosive and had him curling in on himself. He couldn’t take a full breath between, and even if he could, breathing hurt after all the coughing he’d done over the course of the day. He couldn’t even attempt to stop the sneezes, they were so forceful, so insistent, so merciless.
Gabriel’s hand left his shoulder, and for a moment, Elliott was sure he would fall over. He tried to open his eyes to see where his co-worker had gone, but each time, he had to slam them shut again. “hiEHh–EHZhJISsSH’U! huh’UHkGTZSCH! Hh-h-hehh! IDhJzSSCH’u!”
Just as Elliott was considering letting himself drop, the hand returned, and this time with another that pressed several paper napkins into Elliott’s own. He hadn’t thought about it until now, so wrapped up was he in remaining on his feet, but he desperately needed them. He crushed them to his face as the fit finally tapered off, blowing his nose in the aftermath. The ordeal left his head spinning, and Gabriel steadied him when he swayed.
“Are you certain you’re okay?” Gabriel asked. “I don’t have a car, but I can call a cab for you.”
Elliott had time neither to answer nor recover before another voice cut in.
“Oi, what’s going on here?” Elliott blinked in an effort to clear away the fuzzy blackness at the edges of his vision and found Liam, gesturing to the pool of drinks on the floor. “What are you two doing? This isn’t the time for tea and cuddles, in case you hadn’t noticed.” He pointed at Gabriel with a sharp jab of his finger. “You - clean that up while I deal with him.”
“But–Liam–” Gabriel started.
“I said take care of it!” Liam barked, and then turned to Elliott without leaving any room for discussion. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, anyway?”
“S..sdeezi’g…” Elliott mumbled. Both his own voice and Liam’s sounded distant in his ears, and he was surprised at how difficult it was to get the one word out. It was like speaking through molasses, like his lips had gone numb and he had forgotten how to make words.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” Liam said, nearly shouting at him. “Your table is waiting, and now you’ve been here for god knows how long chatting with the new boy–”
“Liam, you’re being a bit hard on him,” said someone else, a girl - Alisa. She was always sticking up for Elliott when Liam came down hard on him, and Elliott was especially grateful for it right now. He was starting to zone out of the conversation, only catching snippets of what they were saying. His hearing faded in and out, though he caught a bit where Liam barked at him again to retrieve another tray of drinks.
Elliott willed his legs to move, but they wouldn’t budge. “Liab…” he said, barely a whisper. “I…I ndeed t’ sit d…” He didn’t manage to finish the sentence as the blackness encroached and the scene blurred before him.
“Watch it, he’s–!”
Elliott didn’t get to hear what he was. He was only aware of his body going weak, and then his knees buckled. He didn’t feel himself hit the floor.