Eliot wasn't actually sure when he'd started feeling crappy. He'd been keeping himself busy since the move to New Hampshire. He hadn't been thrilled at the idea in the first place, but the idea of letting Parker go off without him—even if Vin and Ezra were there to keep an eye on her—made him nauseated just thinking about it. In the end, there really hadn't been a choice.
He'd gotten a job easily; people always needed cooks. Ezra was a good roommate to have: funny and clever when a person needed that, sharp enough to know when Eliot needed to be left alone. Besides which, Eliot could tell Ezra when he was feeling edgy about things most people would consider paranoid or crazy, and if Ezra didn't have the same fears, then he at least didn't find them to be strange.
New Hampshire in the fall was gorgeous, and Parker'd dragged Eliot along to every zipline within a 200-mile radius. Eliot and Vin hiked together on the weekends, leaving the other two to whatever they did when stabilizing influences deserted them. Eliot was not even going to blink if one of these times, Vin and he had to pay bail upon returning.
And as much as he missed Elizabeth and Peter and the house, it was cool, having his own place. Ezra had told him he could do whatever he wanted to the kitchen, and they'd both agreed on a mix of Neal and Gee's art, with one contemporary landscape photo that had been a housewarming gift from Elizabeth. They both liked wide-open spaces.
In any case, between settling in and his new job, exploring and keeping Parker somewhat out of trouble, at first Eliot thought the sore throat and headaches were just sleep deprivation. He upped his vitamin C intake, drank some more tea, and found time for a bit more sleep. That had always cleared things like this up in the past, he had no doubt it would now.
Eliot worked for a restaurant that catered mostly to professionals at lunch and people on dates who couldn't afford to be extravagant. Nice, just not five star or anything. He generally worked the pre-dinner to closing shift, which often meant walking into the apartment around three. Since Ezra was getting his MBA, time didn't seem to have much meaning to him. More often than not, Ezra would be up, reading or typing away when Eliot slipped in.
Ezra was also sharply observant, for all he pretended otherwise, so it was not a surprise when he mused, "You, my friend, are looking a bit shabby around the edges."
Eliot nodded ruefully. "I think I caught a cold," he admitted, because it was something Ezra would accept. Denying it would only end in the Spanish Inquisition. But Eliot was hardly going to admit to the fever he'd run the day before, or how his glands were so swollen that having them touch up against a pillow hurt.
Ezra was bringing in his half the rent with a combination of stipend money and a part-time bartending job. Because Ezra had more expenses with school, Eliot covered things like the utilities and usually groceries. He didn't have sick time on his job yet, and even once he did, cooks were easily replaceable when they showed an unwillingness to come in for any reason. Eliot also had another month before his health insurance kicked in. As such until that time, so far as he was concerned, he could be dying. He wasn't going to a doctor.
Ezra said, "Would you like some tea?"
The offer was tempting, but Eliot was so tired. He'd nearly cut himself a dozen times over the course of his shift. He shook his head. "I'm just gonna sleep. See you…probably tomorrow night."
Ezra grinned in acknowledgment of his weird schedule. "Until then."
When Eliot canceled a hiking outing with Vin, feeling too worn to even want to wake up let alone get out of bed, Parker was on him in an instant. Parker knew him better than anyone, but she also had a lot of his hang-ups, including a lack of trust in institutions like hospitals. It made it easy to tell her, "It's a flu," and not have her bring up the idea of doctors. Besides, he was pretty sure it was just a flu, even if it was being awfully tenacious.
His throat hurt badly enough by this time that he was limited to liquid foods, and his temperature was admittedly a little worrisome. But Eliot had survived compound fractures and infected bites under the worst of circumstances. Here he had cough syrup and pain relievers and a bed. It was impossible to believe he wouldn't recover. It was taking some time, was all.
Eliot was so tired it hurt. He started taking cigarette breaks so he could set his phone alarm and sleep for fifteen minutes. He rarely did anything other than sleep once home. He just wanted to close his eyes and lie in bed until his body stopped aching, and if that was forever, so be it.
Instead, he made sure not to let on to the others, carefully coming up with excuses for the changes in his behavior. None of the others had the time to take off, nor did their parents. In fact, even the vague suspicion that Elizabeth and Peter might make the trip up and spend time helping him recover was one of the major reasons for making sure Parker stayed out of the loop. They'd done it more than once with some of the others. And Parker wasn't a tattletale, or anything, but Eliot couldn't always predict her reactions, especially when she was worried.
Honestly, though, he didn't have the time to be sick, and nobody had the time to give up their life and take care of him. Eliot stridently ignored the part of him that was still a kid in a cage, good for nothing but entertainment and pain. He consciously disregarded the way that child questioned whether anyone would be willing to help, even if he asked.
It was fine, because he wasn't going to ask, not even passively. The tiredness would go away eventually.
Eliot's side had been bothering him. It was almost as if it was…pulsing sharply? He couldn't describe it, but it was different than the constant ache of his muscles and bones. It made hauling the boxes of produce that were unloaded every afternoon an agonizing task, but Eliot had had worse. He thought it was possible he had some kind of weird stomach flu.
A couple of days after the pain started, Eliot lifted a box of onions and felt something excruciating rip through his side. He couldn't stay standing, his legs unable to hold him up. The box came down on his knees, but he didn't even feel it, the pain in his side was too severe.
There was a lot of noise, and Eliot thought he was probably in trouble. Maybe he'd lost? Wait that wasn't—Eliot tried to take a breath through his nose. The attempt wrenched a whine from low in his throat and the black spots in his eyes took over.
Eliot woke up not knowing where he was. There was beeping and he felt fuzzy around the edges. He couldn't feel anything. He tried to collect facts. He was lying down. There were lots of machines…oh. He closed his eyes for a moment and worked his hardest to remember what had landed him in the hospital. He recalled the tiredness and the aching and how sore his throat had been. And then his side, something must have happened with his side.
Eliot heard a toilet flush and Parker stepped into the room. Her eyes zeroed in on his and everything in her body seemed to loosen just a bit. She said, "Next time you do something this stupid, I will kill you myfuckingself and spare all of us the drama."
Eliot wanted to ask what had happened, but his mouth was so dry he could barely get it to open. Parker strode over to the side of his bed and slipped an ice chip between his lips. "They're mostly melted now. You took your sweet time waking up."
"Park," Eliot managed.
"Your spleen burst," she said in the calm tone she got when she was ready to eviscerate something with her teeth. "You had mono, which you ignored, and pretended wasn't a thing and told all of us wasn't a thing, and your spleen exploded. I don't even know what the hell a spleen is, but I can tell you it's not supposed to explode while inside you."
He had to admit, that didn't sound good. "Sorry?"
Parker closed her eyes for a moment and Eliot noticed how completely worn through she looked. When she opened her eyes, she told him, "Vin's at the airport, picking up Peter and Elizabeth. I told Ez to go to work. Told him—told him I'd take care of things."
Eliot wanted to pull her to him and hold her until the scared look in her eyes disappeared, but he could barely find his hand, let alone lift it. He mumbled, "They didn't have to come."
Parker somehow managed to laugh without smiling at all. "Okay, well. You try telling them that."
Something about the comment made Eliot feel safe enough to drift back off to sleep.
He could feel his hand when he woke up again; someone was holding it. Suddenly the hold tightened a bit, and then Elizabeth was standing over him. She smiled and brushed his hair away from his face. "Hey there, sleepy head."
"Mom," he mumbled, because he was tired and a little afraid and sore and not thinking clearly.
Her smile broadened. "Peter's talking to your doctors. We're gonna take you home for a little bit, okay, sweetie? Get you all healed up."
Eliot frowned. "Job."
Her thumb stroked along his hand in a reassuring rhythm. "Your boss and coworkers sent you a 'Get Well' card. It's got a lot of sage advice about not scaring the crap out of people you work with. Parker talked with your boss—he was the first one to call her, she wanted to say thanks—and he's going to have HR make sure your health insurance is backdated properly, and put you on FMLA leave for six weeks. The doctor's think you'll be doing all right by that time."
Eliot breathed in, relieved. "Tell him sorry?"
Elizabeth fed him an ice chip. "Okay. But I want you to sleep some more, for now."
Eliot had never been good at disobeying Elizabeth.
The next time Eliot woke up, Peter was seated next to the bed, reading. Parker was leaning against him, asleep, and Elizabeth was sitting on the other, uninhabited, bed in the room, sipping something from a paper cup. Peter must have heard something change, because he put his book down. "Nice to see you awake, big guy."
He grabbed a cup from the side of the bed and offered the straw to Eliot. He'd evidently graduated from ice chips. Eliot took a few slow sips. When Peter took the cup away, Eliot told him, "Thanks for coming."
Peter's movements had jostled Parker and she was awake to make a face at him.
Peter rolled his eyes. "We heard New Hampshire's lovely this time of year."
"Peter," Elizabeth said. She had come up to the other side of the bed. She looked down at Eliot. "I'm giving you a pass on that one because you are sick, mister."
Eliot smiled a little. It was weird how being made to feel like a ten year old was so comforting with them, when ten had been amongst Eliot's most terrifying years. As his eyes were closing again, Parker said, with a decided edge to her tone, "Hey. If you decide not to come back, can I have all your pillows?"
Eliot said, "Love you too, sis."
The trip back home seemed to take forever, and that was with Eliot sleeping through most of it. When they reached the house, though, he felt more like he could actually rest than he had since the whole thing started. Neal, Mikey and Gee had come over and made sure there was food in the refrigerator and the house was warm enough.
The five of them set up the couch to be Eliot's home base so he would be easy to access. The couch was impossibly wide and comfortable. Neal was able to slip behind Eliot and cradle him. Eliot said, "Hi."
Neal said, "Fuck, Eliot. Don't do this again."
"No," Eliot agreed.
"If you can't ask Parks or Ez or Vin or the parentals for help, ask me, okay? I'm giving blanket permission."
"Sorry," Eliot told him.
"Don’t be," Neal murmured. "It's not like I don't get it."
Eliot could feel Neal shake his head a bit and squeeze more tightly. Elizabeth came in, and Peter helped both of them to sit up so Eliot could get a little something to eat. Elizabeth had made his favorite tea. He smiled over at her and she said, "I'm gonna take good care of you."
It was hard, but he believed her.