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Good Service: Secret Santa for Starpollen (3/14 part 3)

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@starpollen Happy Secret Santa! 

I used a slight twist on one of your old prompts: Personal butler at high end hotel takes care of a poker player with allergies that comes down with a cold.

_______________________________________

                                 
     “My break is over. I’ve got to get back to the desk, but you’ll do great.”

Ashton nods at his friend Eric’s reassurance, but he can’t help his nerves. All he can feel is the super-absorbent paper towels that see-saw on the seams of his cream silk shirt under his armpits. This is Ashton’s last week of three months’ worth of interning and his first client going solo. He can’t mess this up. Not with all the other interns clamoring for the few spots that are left. He runs a gloved hand down his tie, continuing even when it disappears inside the grey vest that hugs his slim form. Not quite over missing a button in his nightmare last night, he double-checks his black jacket and straightens his cufflinks for good measure while he waits just inside the entrance and out of reach of pollen. It hasn’t passed the butler’s notice that the client requested unscented sheets and soaps, declined any welcoming flowers, and refused entrance into his room to any personnel with cologne or perfume on their person. Ashton wonders how the client will fare coming through the Tempest’s gardens to get to the entrance. The Tempest’s exotic display is the curbside appeal for the hotel, and horticulturists work every day to maintain the fresh work of art. His client for the week, Griffin “CB” Sordinue, still sits in the backseat of the car that had been sent to pick him up. Country Boy. He chose the name fifteen years ago when he first made his rounds around the online poker circuit, and it stuck even though he’d outgrown the title ten times over. Country Bear is more like it with his stature and powerhouse build. Ashton tenses up as his client steps out of the car.

      A free stay at The Tempest with gold membership access, room service, and a butler to boot. Griffin continues to list the perks in exchange for competing in this poker tournament as he looks ahead to what seems like a mile-long hike to the front entrance through a swarm of tourists taking pictures instead of walking past the masses of pollinating flowers abstractly shaped into animals. A thousand crawly tingles skitter along the lining of his nostrils and burrow deep within his sinuses, buzzing and making his eyes water. He vigorously rubs at it, making deep grooves into the flexible appendage while avoiding the low-hanging “blue jay” bells that sway in the wind. Coming to an abrupt stop behind a group of click-happy photo-enthusiasts, his eyes crinkle and his mouth tightens into a strained oval as his breaths turn shallow. 

“Country Boy! 

Griffin recognizes the voice immediately and turns, giving his fellow competitor one of those preoccupied, dazed smiles. 

“Bluff...can’t believe..hehh...you left..that fancy home of yours.”

Bluff grips Griffin’s hand and slaps his back. 

“Free stuff, man. They really wanted the heavy hitters here. Oh, Simon was just behind me. I’m sure he will want to say hello.”

Griffin rubs his hand on his pants, growing fidgety as he resists stirring up the hoard of allergen-fighting cells again. 

“Oh you brought Simon?”

“Yeah. Here he comes now.”

Simon squeezes his way through the crowd towards them. Griffin pries his hand off his pants and shakes Simon’s hand a little too forcefully as the niggling irritation riots.

“Simon, good.. to see..you.”

His breaths lighten as he begins to falter, but he stubbornly pushes air out his nose. 

“It’s great to see you too. This place is gorgeous.”

Simon slowly spins around as he takes in the gardens while Griffin gives up and swishes the heel of his palm against his nose, trying to work faster than the itch can grow. The itch turns feral, roaring with the desire for relief. Griffin hitches once, twice, nearly on his tiptoes with too much air in his chest. Reaching into his back pocket, Griffin fumbles with the depleted pack of tissues for a few moments before he pulls the last two out. Face frozen like a tragedy mask with mouth wide open, eyes squeezed closed under furrowed brows with nostrils flexing, the need overrides everything else as his entire body capitulates at once. 

Hngg’RRESHOO!..AhhNgtCHOO…Ahh’RRESHOO!

“Bless you, CB!”

“Thankhihh..HUH’GSHChoo!...IiGHSHCOO!..”

“Mr. Sordinue?”

With soaked and torn tissues pressed against a red-tipped nose, Griffin turns toward the soft voice and looks down into unsure turquoise eyes and a soft upper lip hiding the bottom one that cushions a row of teeth. Slicked-down jet-black hair highlights the most unruly cowlick that contrasts adorably with the sharply dressed, handsome worker. In his outstretched, gloved hand is a blue handkerchief that trembles slightly. The man is nervous, and the fierce urge Griffin feels to reassure him—no, protect him—surprises the poker player. As he takes the handkerchief, he is rewarded with a small smile. Just that tiny lift of his lips warms Griffin. 
He blows his nose fully, and then folds the soft cloth several times to press against the infernal itch still bothering his abused nose. Pleasantries had to be quick. 

“Mr. Sordinue, I’m your butler—I mean, I’ll be your butler for the week. It..it is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Griffin holds out his free hand and waits for the butler without a name to place his hand in there. 

“S’all mine, bud. Mind if we get outta here?”

Ashton blinks, recognizing the Southern accent, but never having heard it like that. His voice is deep and gruff with wisps of a twang moving in between the dark crevices, causing his words to lilt. Ashton nods, forgetting to mention that the concierge will meet them upstairs with his luggage. 

Follow me, please.”

Griffin just nods, far-away now. 

“See ya later, CB.”

The itch dulls every other sense but touch as it relentlessly pokes and prods inside his nose in search of nerve endings. It pulses through his body screaming SNEEZE! SNEEZE! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THA-
Griffin grits his teeth, taking some of the edge off by drilling into his right nostril with the soft handkerchief. All he can do in the packed crowd is keep the sneeze at bay, endure the itchy sensations crawling from his nose to his eyes and back down to his nose again in a repeating endless cycle, seeking a moment of relief with every nudge and knuckle-push to his fiercely active nose.

Nnngh..heh.....hehhh.....hehhh....mmmrgh” 

When Ashton stops and glances back at the quietly frustrated sounds, Griffin shakes his head, grabs on to the butler, and hurries forward. People move out of the way of the hulk-like figure speeding through like a raging bull. As soon as he slowly pushes through the revolving doors, Griffin spots the bathroom and goes inside, belatedly realizing he is still holding on to the butler. 

“Oh sorry! I….”

Griffin pauses and then ducks into his elbow.

AhhNgtCHOO! …Ahh’RRESHOO!

“Bless you. I’ll wet some paper towels for your eyes.”

“That’s okay. I’ll splash them and then be out in a bit.”

Taking the hint, Ashton leaves the bathroom and waits. 
What a great first impression.
They both think to themselves. 
When Griffin comes out of the bathroom, he looks a little worse for wear with his devil-red nose, slightly puffed eyes, and drawn expression, but at least he can breathe through his nose. In the elevator, Ashton peeks at him from his peripheral vision, going more from memory than the blurry visual. He remembers curly auburn hair, hazel eyes, and tanned skin. He sees Griffin paw at his nose again and hopes it’s not his fault. Ashton takes a breath.

   “I meant to stay inside, but I didn’t because, well…”

Ashton hopes the gesture he is making toward Griffin’s face is explanation enough as he quickly gets the rest of his words out. 

“I just hope I’m not the cause.”

Ashton avoids Griffin’s stare by looking down and scanning for any trace of yellow on the black backdrop of his suit. 

“Hmm, you think? I’ll check.”

Huh?
As if it is the most natural thing in the world for a human being to do, Griffin bends down to Ashton’s neck and sniffs. Tingles spread from the warm spot on the butler’s neck where Griffin’s nose hovers. Ashton’s skin smolders like scorched grass from a rocket’s blast when Griffin releases a breath just before lifting his head enough to be face to face with the stunned butler. A smile decimates the even, smooth planes of his face and sears his stunning image in Ashton’s brain. 

“So far so good.”

No outward effects hit until Griffin’s head dips again to check the other side and Ashton sees a watermark of the other’s face projected on the stainless steel doors, the textured ceiling, and the back of his eyelids when he closes them for a moment. He opens them again when Griffin stands up straight.

“No pollen and not even a whiff of cologne.”

A cheeky grin lights up the poker player’s face.

“Now that’s good service.”

The ding of the elevator saves Ashton from replying, but it does nothing for his racing heart when a large group wearing reunion shirts enters the elevator and Griffin crowds him into the corner. Ashton snaps out of it when he realizes Griffin is holding his breath. 

“Hold the doors, please!”

Ashton catches Griffin’s eyes, which isn’t hard to do since Griffin has been looking at Ashton this whole time, and inclines his head toward the open doors.

“This way, sir.”

Ashton moves through the party, smelling a few perfumed individuals. He hopes the few seconds in their company didn’t do much, but he’s not very confident with the way Griffin’s face scrunches up and how harshly he scrubs his nose. He quickly brings out Ashton’s handkerchief.

“Sah sorry. Sometimes, it f-feh..Aah!NgKK’Shu! Ehh’NgkkSHoo! feels like...HngKK’Chuu!..like I’b puh-pl-playi’g Whac-A-Bole with this guy.”

“Bless you. No need to apologize. Nobody takes the stairs, so we should be good in there.”

“You dod’t deed to bless bme, but thagks.”

Griffin does the math in his head before pocketing his handkerchief. 

“You’ll walk up eighteed flights of stairs with bme?”

Ashton, feeling more comfortable now, smiles up at Griffin.

“Of course. I think earlier you called it good service.”

~~~~~

TBC

Edited by Reader

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Feo

This is really well written @Reader The way you describe everything and portraits the characters is impressive!

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starpollen

Ooooh!! @Reader I LOVE IT!! Thank you!

🥰🎄🤩🎁🤩🎄🥰

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Dusty15

Wows @Reader that was DELICIOUS!!! I love the Secret Santa because we get to read all the things and find gems like this one! It's like getting extra gifts ;)

 

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Posted (edited)

@starpollen Thank you so much for enjoying the first part! This second part is long. It goes light reading, cute segue, and then heavy “cold front”. I changed the tense of the story as well.

Thank you for letting me know that you liked what you read, Feo! 

DUSTY, the ultimate compliment in fet-fics is comparing stories to food so thank you!!!


 

Eighteen flights for Griffin was nothing. After all, he was used to taking stairs instead of elevators and walking around crowds instead of through them. He enjoyed the slight burn of his muscles singing and how exercise loosened his congestion enough for him to blow it out.

On the other hand, Ashton felt like his chest was about to implode. The gel on the butler’s hair had sweated off, making his hair bounce with each step, and his eye still burned from the sweat that had slid in it. Every now and then, he wiped his forehead with his hand.

Although Griffin wanted to take this time to get to know the shy man, he kept quiet because he could tell his butler was rationing how much air he took in to avoid gasping for it. He did, however, ask one question.

“Do you want to get off on this floor and take the elevator the rest of the way? I’ll meet you up there.”

To Griffin's surprise, Ashton refused rather vehemently and walked a little faster. Griffin hid a smile and kept pace with his butler. When they reached the correct floor, Ashton imagined what it would feel like to collapse on the plush carpet that looked as soft as marshmallows.

 “Here we are.”

The relieved words came from Griffin who walked ahead of Ashton in hopes that he would take some deep breaths.

 Ashton, slowly recovering, pushed Griffin’s room key into the slot and stepped back after the green light appeared on the card reader. When he turned to Griffin’s luggage, it was off the ground and halfway through the door as Griffin used his elbow to get in. Feeling a bit of whiplash, the guilty albeit grateful butler followed Griffin inside.

Griffin stared down with a goofy grin at the tissues, his favorite allergy medicine, eye drops, and nose cream that were among wine and chocolates in the welcoming basket on the kitchen counter. He knew his butler was to blame. It was the kind of thoughtful thing he would do along with walking up eighteen flights of stairs without complaint.

“Thanks! This is great!”

He set his luggage down right there and walked directly to the small area off the kitchen where a small table was with two chairs. Pulling out one, he motioned for Ashton to sit while moving toward the fridge. Griffin whistled low when he opened it and saw how fully stocked it was.

Ashton, resisting the role reversal, waited to sit down until Griffin came back with a set of bottled waters and sat down himself. It was a little after guzzling down half his water that Ashton was back to being professional.

“Thank you for the water. Have you used a butler’s service before?”

Griffin rested his elbows on his knees and leaned forward with his head cradled in his hands. Ashton was biting his lip again. It was probably why the beauty mark on his bottom lip was fading.

“Why do I make you nervous?”

A squeaked out “hmm?” made Griffin ask the question in another way.

“You’re not breathing right now. What’d I do to make you so nervous?”

Ashton shook his head in denial, but of course Griffin made him nervous. He was intimidatingly big, his voice was baby-making music itself, he liked to have prolonged and direct eye contact, he was gorgeous, and last—but certainly not least—he was a client.

“This is my first time with a guest without a senior butler standing over me.”

Griffin leaned back against his chair with his hands resting on his thighs. Even with arms at rest, Ashton could see his muscles straining against his skin. He made the mistake again of looking at Griffin’s smile. It was relieved. 

“Oh, is that all? I thought it was me. Listen, we’ll just be buds this week. I don’t need anything, and I want you comfortable. Ya hear?”

Ashton nodded meekly.

“Ok, now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me what a butler usually does.”

Ashton knew that whatever he said now, Griffin planned to disregard in the name of best buds. He began his practiced spiel anyway.

“The guests choose any eight-hour period that they want me to be available, and they are provided with a number to reach me during that time. I can provide anything needed as long as it’s within the law. Throughout the guests’ stay, they will tell me what they need, and I’ll find the right people for the job or make reservations for the activities. On the first day, I’ll usually start by unpacking their luggage and making arrangements for clothes to be pressed. Depending on the hours chosen by the guests, I can wake them up with a newspaper or provide a nightcap to them at night. I also schedule with guests when meals should be delivered if they choose not to cook or eat downstairs. ”

Griffin cleared his throat as he thought over the butler’s words. He took a sip of his own bottled water for his dry throat and coughed quite crisply after he swallowed. Several throat clears later, his voice came out smoothly.

“I’m not one to be fussed over, so I’ll do my own chores. And I like to cook, so I’ll make my own meals. I make a mean Beaufort Boil. You have to let me fix some for you. Your life won't be the same.”

With Ashton already feeling like he was slacking off and turning into the worst butler, the idea of eating with a guest—even this friendly one he actually wanted to eat with—was too much. He couldn’t flat-out refuse and be rude though. Panicked, his brain raced with contrasting thoughts and words slipped out unfiltered.

“Oh, umm, that’s not necessary. I-I grew up eating it.”

Griffin eyed the butler with curiosity.

“Where ya from?”

“Wilmington, South Carolina.”

Even with working tirelessly to get rid of his accent for nearly a decade of adult life, he still couldn’t say his hometown without it creeping in.

Griffin slapped the table and laughed, cheeks dimpling as he beamed at Ash.

“Well I’ll be. You little rascal! Where’ve you been hiding that?”

Ashton didn’t  know where Griffin was going when he stood up, but the mischievous glint didn’t bode well for the butler who stood automatically, not wanting to break etiquette.

“Oomph!”

Griffin pulled him closer with an elbow around Ashton’s neck and curled his finger around that indomitable cowlick of his when a seizing tickle commanded his attention. He lifted his hand instinctively to swipe at his nose and heard a yelp from the butler at the same time he felt the resistance of wrapped hairs on his finger. Griffin flattened his hand immediately on top of Ashton’s head and tugged him against his chest, trying to stabilize the butler even as his own body trembled with the building sneeze.

“Hooooh-hold on to....”

His eyebrows drew together, top lip helplessly scowling as the lines around his mouth deepened. His eyes misted over from the tickly, wiggling pandemonium occurring in his sensitive nose and it wasn't long before his breaths quickened. He swiftly buried his face into his elbow.

ihhzzhjjmph!........ ijzjiimph!...huh...huh...

Plastered against Griffin as he was, Ashton felt how tightly Griffin tried to contain those sneezes with every steel-blunted muscle in his chest that clustered together on the release. Griffin brushed against his nose in futile attempts. He shuddered in another breath and held on to it for as long as he could, but one sharp inhale disturbed the silence before Griffin’s head bobbed away from Ashton.

Aa! NgKK’Shu! Ehh’NgkkShHH!

His frame trembled as he stopped his body from finishing the sneeze. He rubbed the irritated tear out of his eyes before swiping his palm across his nose in quick movements, the action bringing weak protests from his nose in the form of squelching complaints at being handled so aggressively. Fluid-logged nose hairs bent easily from the weight of more of the thin fluid trickling down the canal of Griffin’s nose with only his soggy sniffles keeping it just off his upper lip.

Sniff.......snff.......snrf.......snrk....

“Uh, I need to blow my nose.”

Snrrk....Snffkk...Snghff...snfkhf...snckgff

The hesitant statement, the increasingly congested sniffles, and the absence of a nose blow clued Ashton in to the fact that Griffin was waiting for permission.

“Yes! Please do.”

Griffin palmed his handkerchief as best he could and blew his nose in quiet spurts. With cheeks burning and dread filling his chest, Griffin worked to untangle his finger. His voice came out soft and concerned when he bent down to capture Ashton’s gaze.

“I shouldn't have horsed around like that. Sorry bud. Did I hurt you?”

Ashton shook his head, holding the hazel gaze of the other until the poker player started running his freed fingers softly through Ashton’s hair to check for a bump.

Griffin’s mother had always taught him not to say anything if he didn’t have anything good to say. Griffin wondered if Ashton was practicing that now as he looked down and bit his lip. A thought made Ashton brave looking back up.

“Is something setting you off in this room? I tried to make sure everything was in order.”

The touched poker player didn’t like how worried the other looked. He shook his head quickly, reassuringly.

“No, it’s perfect in here. My body’s been fighting somethin’ off the past couple days. I thought I kicked it, but now I don’t know.”

Griffin sat back down heavily.

“If you need anything from the store, just use this number. I’ll make sure you get it.”

Griffin took the card from Ashton.

“I think I’ll be fine with some rest, but all right. For the hours, does 3pm to 11pm work for you? The tournament starts tomorrow at 11am and will end around 11pm when you add in all the breaks.”

“I’ll be available. Would you like for me to get some Emergen C now?” It was a little before 3, but he could start early.

Griffin gave Ashton a tired smile.

“That’s okay. Think I’ll just sleep.”

Ashton wished Griffin a good day, hearing the thickening accent from the sleepy poker player, and then left immediately for the store.

~~~

That night, Ashton received a call at 10:45 from Griffin.

“Hello Mr. Sordinue. How may I help you?”

Ashton waved to Eric and walked away from the desk.

“Just Griffid. Ca’ I hab sobe of that Eberged C before you leave?”

Ashton wanted to tell him that it seemed to be too late for that, but it was the first time he had asked for something.

“Of course. I’m coming now.”

After hanging up, Ashton turned to his friend.

“Could you hand me those bags I had you hold earlier? And clock me out when it reaches eleven. I’ll send you a text so you don’t forget.”

The state Griffin was in could only be described as pitiable.

~~~~~~~~~

Griffin soaked his tissues with a long nose blow. He pinched the tissue around his nose and gasped in air through the only way he could breathe before blowing his nose again. Instead of the absence of congestion and freedom to choose which airway to breathe from, he felt the sludge behind his nose and deep into his sinuses harden into concrete. An aching pressure started to build under his eyes and on his forehead. A different albeit just as annoying sensation built in his nose, promising to make his headache worse. He sighed and moved under the covers until he was fully covered.

Just as Griffin relaxed enough to fall asleep, his chest tightened up and he couldn’t breathe until a small cough pushed out. He inhaled and coughed forcefully behind the collar of his flannel pajamas. Catarrh rubbed against his throat and caused him to break out into thicker, more productive coughs that worked to clear the congestion in his chest. He fought the covers to sit up.

When Ashton heard Griffin, he turned off the stove and hurried to bring him a glass of water. He found Griffin bent over his fist, wet hacking coughs slowly dragging out of him. Before Griffin could finish, an involuntary inhale that crackled with congestion was quickly followed by throat-ripping sneezes contained in Griffin’s cupped hands.

IhhZzJJShUU!.............AhhNgtSchIOO!.....Hngg'RRESHOO!

His fingers immediately pressed the side of his head after the sneezes, pushing the veins he could feel right under the skin. The repeated and forced bursts of air knocked down the wall of goo in the back of his sinuses and brought it forward. When Griffin’s head slowly tilted back, Ashton saw it begin to slide back into the shadowed entrance of Griffin’s nose. The poker player's unsteady breaths coaxed his chin to lift higher while lulling his lower jaw to relax. With every deepening breath that swelled his chest, ticking closer to the messy bomb he was about to set off, he pressed his fingers firmer against his temple. Ashton pulled as many tissues as he could in one point five seconds before covering Griffin’s pulsing nostrils and pursed lips. 

Hh’ EIGgJjShUU!.........Hh’ IIGgJjShUU!

HEH!...HEH!

Ashton firmly moved his tissued hand against the scrunched up, flaring wings of the rooted organ. He rubbed, massaged, and kneaded into Griffin’s nose. Any minute now and Griffin thought it would be ready to go into the oven. He silently chuckled at the joke, but was caught off when the itchiest, torturous, unforgiving, and most burning sensation he’d ever felt clutched his nose and embedded deep. Like striking a match, the searing itch ballooned out his nostrils again, causing his watery eyelashes to flutter and stuttering his words between irregular gasps.

“Bore are cuhh HUH!! comi-EEZjjHISHuuH!…….

EhhNgG'HEtCHU!.......Ihh’DdHhZzMPH!….Hh!....EIGgJjShUU!

Most of what was in his nose was in the tissues now. Ashton pinched Griffin’s nose for a second as he gathered the tissue together before placing the folded tissues back against Griffin’s nose, waiting. Griffin blew as gently as he could. Unfortunately for him, his body knew of a much quicker way to empty his nose. At the first inkling, he blew quickly and thoroughly, not needing any more nudges from his body in that direction. He winced at the splunk he heard when Ashton tossed the used tissues into the trash.

Griffin accepted the glass of water with a shaky hand and took small sips of the lukewarm drink.

“Are you okay?”

“Yea. That’s whud happeds whed I try to lay dow’d.”

He was so tired. He just wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t breathe when he laid flat. His tired heavy-lidded eyes fell on a soft surface. A little alcove that would fit exactly what he needed. It wasn’t an accidental landing from exhaustion or a slow descent. It was a dead drop. Griffin didn’t stop moving until his forehead was secure against Ashton’s neck, didn’t relax until he felt the blanket Ashton draped over his shoulders. He fell asleep to Ashton rubbing his back and whispering softly.

“I’ll wake you in a couple hours for food and medicine. You need more sleep than anything right now.”
 

Edited by Reader

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AngelEyes

Awww. This is lovely.

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caramelfuzz

They're so cute!!!! I can't wait to see what happens next!

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Alex Hemmings

amazing

 

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Reader
Posted (edited)

@AngelEyes Thank you so much!! Glad you’re healing up well. 

@caramelfuzz Love your cuteness meter! Thank you!! I hope you like this new character!

@Alex Hemmings That made me smile. Thanks!! 

~~~

Eric laid back down for the twentieth time after looking through the blinds to Ash’s still-empty parking spot. With their earlier conversation, it was fairly apparent that Ash was with Mr. Sordinue. It was three in the morning now though. Surely, he wouldn’t still be at the hotel.

“This is not good, Eric. I’ve got it bad. He’s so handsome, has such an easy-going personality, reminds me of the good parts of my hometown, and....I mean, even his sneezes are…”

At the slight dip in Eric’s brow, Ash swallowed his next word, suddenly feeling self-conscious. What came out was toned down.

“...charming.”

“You know you have it bad when you even like your crush’s sneezes.” Eric teased. 

“I know!” Ash lamented.

“So what are you going to do?”

Ash leaned closer to Eric. The lobby was virtually empty, but he still lowered his voice even more.

“Umm, nothing. He’s a client. Even though he doesn’t act like one.”

Ash’s work phone rang just then and he stepped away. 

Eric’s eyes had slid over to the bag that Ash had given him to hold. How Ash had known that Eric had started not to feel too good was something Eric hadn’t concerned himself with. Ash just knew him like that. And knew he would gladly take the bag and hole himself up for a week.

In the end, Ash had taken the bag of supplies away and hadn’t come back. 

Was that a noise he heard?

 No, it was just his imagination. Even if that had been Ash, he would hear him come through the door any minute. If Eric got up again, he knew he’d have to check multiple times after that before he could settle. 

Eric groaned a bit at the achy pain in tender muscles when he stood and moved slowly towards the window. It was going to be a long night. 

Eric pulled out his phone and called Ash, straight away hearing his voicemail. 

Knowing it would be Ash’s voicemail if he called again but needing that part of his head to calm down, he continued to call Ash until he’d completed the task in a multiple set. 


~~~~~

“Welcome to this year’s biggest high stakes event! Joining me today to cover the action of the Big Shot will be a legend in these parts, Victor Atternam!”

“Thank you Jim! Happy to be here with you instead of yelling at my tv. The wife doesn’t appreciate my excitement.”

“And what an exciting time this event is! Exciting times, exciting event! So, we are just an hour away from the start of this event. We’ll be broadcasting about half an hour behind, folks, on the Tempest’s very own channel number 5 throughout the entire tournament.”

“A lot of players are gathered already in the conference room.”

Eric counted the subtitled words in multiples of five, turning away from the large screen tv mounted on the wall in the lobby only when the sentence ended neatly. Ash hadn’t come home last night or given a heads up of why and his sleep had suffered for it.

Hhhh!...
He took a halting breath and then another frustrated, hitchy one before swiping his nose. He’d had false starts all morning with nothing but watery eyes and a reddening nose to show for it. Feeling another tickle wave over his nose, he didn’t bother to move at first. He figured it would just be a false start. Quickly changing his movements with the increasing tickle, his shoulders tensed for a moment before he pinched his nostrils and ducked his head. 
HNnGxT!....HNGXT!

He hurried away from his desk towards the bathroom before lifting his elbow.
HUH’SHIEW...huhh...huhhh...
HHiHh’TSCHIEW....HIhH’CHIEWW!

He returned back to his desk in a haze. His brain was muddled with the beginnings of sick fog and keeping too many tabs open in his mind. Mrs. Higgs from the third floor had passed by their desk four times. Will, who shared desk duty with him, had hiccuped nineteen times. Mr. Rodes had called for his third complaint that morning.

He drummed his fingers for a moment and then glanced at the clock. It was ten in the morning. Pushing off the desk, he turned to Will.

 “I’m taking my lunch break, Will.”

Will mentally rolled his eyes at the handsome twenty-seven year old that acted like he owned the place instead of his father. He was supposed to be working from the bottom to the top. But he still did whatever he wanted.

Eric grabbed the universal key card quickly and took the elevator to the poker player’s room. It was getting close to the event and he hadn’t seen him on screen. He could use the excuse of that to see if Ash was there as well. 

Outside of Mr. Sordinue’s hotel room, Eric stopped to cover his bases. No “Do Not Disturb Sign” hung on the door. He knocked and waited a minute before letting himself in. The parlor was empty and the kitchen clear. There was no sign of Ash. 

Mr. Sordinue, on the other hand, could be heard loud and clear from the bedroom. The sound increased in volume as Eric walked to his side. 

Sprawled out on the bed with littered tissues tracing the outline of his top half and an empty box of tissues rising and falling on his chest in gentle torrents, the poker player slept underneath the covers. Ash was nowhere to be seen.

“Mr. Sordinue, wake up.”

~~~

Griffin always sneezed when he woke up. It was a ritual at this point. Griffin resisted though, scrunching his nose every which way. Why he tried to fight the prodding tickle that amped up the more he left it unattended slowly made sense to him as he fully woke and opened his eyes. 

Griffin quickly ground his knuckles into his nose to stop the burgeoning itch. It flourished, unable to be stopped by anything except sneezing it out. Griffin fumbled for a tissue that wasn’t used, but quickly switched over to gathering a few used ones. 

“Are you hehhh...Hehh!!...AiiSTchUI! ISTCHUU! wear...IstchHH!...weari’g colode?”
Blocked as his nose was, Griffin couldn’t actually tell, but this tickle was maddening. 

“No.” The man handed him his handkerchief. 

“Ok just by c-cold thed. Th-thankkks”

Griffin said quickly before he inhaled sharply and sneezed into the proffered handkerchief.

Hehh AiGgSHhuu!....Huh..HUHhI’SH!

Griffin blew his nose into the soft cloth before lowering his hands and facing the hotel worker. 

Nearly obsidian eyes in pockets tinged with tired shadows perused Griffin’s face. Although the cool undertones on the man’s skin covered the flush on his nose and cheeks, other symptoms weren’t as well-hidden. 

With a harsh sniff that speared an indent in his cheek, Eric stood and turned his gaze away from Griffin. The sides of the younger man’s head were closely shaved while tiny statues of twisted locs on his head were artfully displayed to look in disarray. 

Pursing his lips in displeasure brought out the buttery plumpness within that outline even more as he pushed his nose into his fist. With a released sigh and furrows starting to form on his forehead, he took a step away from Griffin. Inhaling a tiny breath through a crumpling face, he shook his head slightly as he brushed up against his nose futilely. With a greater hitch he couldn’t stop, desperate sneezes rushed out, knocking each other in their flurry to get out.

Tkchhh! Hetchkk! Ekk-shuu...heh?...Heshhhh! Haeshoo! 

“Ble--”

“Excuse me.” He was cut off. 

Griffin realized the man had made his sneezes soft to not draw attention to them.

“You should get ready. You have your tournament in less than an hour.”

Eric could see something dawn on Griffin’s face before the poker player quickly looked around. Eric followed his gaze and landed on shoes. Shiny shoes that were a part of a butler’s uniform. 

Griffin discerned from the man’s face that he knew the shoes were standard uniform for the hotel. And he probably knew the butler that was assigned to this room.

Nothing had happened last night. Griffin had fallen asleep in that little alcove and then woke up flat on his back with this man without a name. It still looked bad. The heat from Eric’s glare was palpable. 

“Where’s my best friend?” Eric asked through gritted teeth. 

So the tall man with the streamlined muscles was on his bud’s side. With a sigh of relief, Griffin quickly filled Eric in on what he knew...which was nothing.

“I just dod’t know why he left his shoes.”

“He sleepwalks.”

“What!”

It was the wrong exclamation. Eric pinched the skin between his eyebrows. It was a practiced move. One of habit instead of sudden pain. Eric was annoyed and Griffin knew he was the cause. 

“He walks around when he sleeps, unaware of his surroundings! He fell asleep here on accident, and now WHO KNOWS where he is!”

“Ok. Ok. Cob dow’d. You getti’d upset won’t help us find hib faster. I’ll help you look. I just deed to throw some clothes od.”

Eric rolled his eyes and turned around. 
“Since you can’t smell, I guess you would be alright just throwing some clothes on.”

To be fair, Griffin smelled fine but it was Griffin’s fault this was happening. When Ash was at home, they had fail-safes in place. 

Griffin found the retort kinda funny though and chuckled as he changed quickly. It wasn’t good for his lungs though. He coughed heavily, squeezing his eyes shut from the strain. He wiped the few tears gathering at the corner of his eyes and sniffed in the suddenly watery fluid careening down his nasal passages.

“Ok, let’s go.”

Edited by Reader

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AngelEyes

Oh dear! This is getting intriguing!

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sistersneezes

I really like this concept! It is turning into a very interesting story!

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