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"Get With the Project" (Secret Santa for Natto!)

March Hare

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First of all, my apologies for making you wait so long, dear Natto, and also for the fact that the bloody thing isn't even finished. I did want to make the deadline, and most of the story IS here, but there's definitely more to come!

Secondly I'm sorry that I couldn't make it a Free! fic, but I didn't have much time to spend watching anime these past weeks, and I couldn't get into it enough to be able to do it justice in a fic. So I hope this particular scenario will appeal to you :)

Happy New Year! :D


Part 1

The cafeteria was a hubbub of laughter, shouting, and the buzz of gossip. In one corner, Eli Sanders and his two friends were ostensibly discussing their PSP, or Practical Science Project. In actual fact, their discourse consisted of a great deal of video-game reviewing, some remarks concerning the merits of various different electronic gadgets, and in-depth discussions on wayward parents and teachers, now and then dutifully interspersed with a suggestion or two on how to proceed in the project.

James was lounging outrageously in his chair, feet all but peeping out from under the table on the other side, hands in his pockets. Now and then he yawned. Marten sat with his legs curled stiffly around the legs of his chair and both elbows on the table, playing with a pen and gazing down on the notebook in front of him on the table. The page was blank.

On the surface, Eli was as casual and fluctuatingly-interested as the other two. Inside, though, he was fighting a battle – a fierce, desperate, all but lost battle. Right at the moment when he was going to suggest a considerable move forward in the PSP process, his adversary moved in for the kill.

Hiessh! Hihh-EESHH!”

They had escaped restraints he had thought adequate, which was embarrassing, but Eli couldn't deny that it felt good to let the sneezes out. It was like a release of the pressure that seemed to be building low behind his forehead, somewhere round the point that was the centre of the triangle formed by his eyes and nose. He sniffed, sniffed again, and rubbed his nose against any further incipient tingles.

Nobody said anything. Relieved, Eli cleared his throat and said “Well, I think we should just go with questionnaires. That way we can put in a respectable amount of hours without having to do too much actual work . . .”

“Yeah,” Marten agreed, “we'll just hang out and shoot the shit and when anyone asks, we're discussing the best way to word a question about how many cans of Monster our classmates consummate each day -”

“The word,” James broke in with his drawling voice, “is consume. Jeezus. It's no wonder you're failing English.”

“Shut your apehole. I'm not failing English. I am creative with language.”

Eli had to laugh at the word 'apehole', which was indeed about as creative as he thought anyone could get with language; but the laughing made him want to cough, which was the last thing he wished to do right now. So he cleared his throat again – ignoring the unpleasantly raspy feel of it – and called out, “Order! Order in this court!” just in time to prevent his uppity classmate from tossing the piece of paper he'd balled up at his creative classmate's head. James shrugged, grinned, and let the paper ball drop to the floor.

“All right. So a questionnaire about caffeine intake – taken in how many classes?”

“All of 'em, I'd say. First to sixth grade, one of each. I could get my sister to pass them around in third, maybe Marten could – ughhh, excuse me . . .” Eli took a deep breath, struggling to keep a surging tickle under control and failing. “EhhISSCHH! Huhh . . . ISSHU!”

“Bless you,” Marten said. James frowned. “Dude, don't cover with your hand, that's gross.”

“Thanks,” Eli sniffed. He raised his palm at James, mock-threatening him. James scooted backward, chair and all, making a horrible screaking noise on the tile floor. “Yeuww, get away!”

Eli grinned and coughed – pointedly into the same hand – and nudged Marten with his other elbow. “Go on, write that down. James, you bring your laptop tomorrow and we'll start in on the research plan.” He liked the words 'research plan', and the assured way they slid off his tongue. “This thing's gonna be a piece of cake.”


The next day, however, he wasn't quite as pleased with things.

“Goddambit, I swear this cold is tryig to kill be,” Eli growled, piling three or four once-folded tissues in front of him on the desk and sinking his face on top of them. “I cad't get by dose to stop ruddig. Fuck, I deed a drain i'there.”

James raised both eyebrows. “You 'deed' a drain. Indeed.”

“Shut up. Your voice is making my head pound.”

“I'm not sure what 'poud' means, but I do know my voice is not baked.”

“Hey, you two. Get a room or cut it out.” Marten made flappy arm gestures to either side reminiscent of the chickens in Chicken Run during their flying lessons. “The G-man is on his way.”

“I do't care,” Eli mumbled into the little sheet of tissues. “Leave be alode, I'b tryig to die quietly. Dode bake me talk.”

“No one's making you talk, asshole,” James muttered. He was going to say more, but at that moment the teacher, Mr. Gresnigt, walked in and a muted awe settled over the classroom. Mr. Gresnigt was somebody one did not mess about with.

Eli reluctantly raised his head, gathered up his tissues and got out his book and notebooks. At least he'd done the exercises, but looking down at the page he could not make much sense of what he had written. His eyes were watery and sensitive, and breathing was such a task that it made him slightly dizzy. Gresnigt's voice was strident and made it through the cotton-wool that seemed to be lining his entire skull without problems, but it was anybody's guess what the man was actually saying.

“Yo Eli,” James whispered at his elbow. “Looking sharp there, dude. You sure you're awake?”

Eli darted his tongue out from the corner of his mouth for the briefest of seconds, scribbled something down into his notebook and nudged James, who looked to read:

Thought you weren't making me talk. Asshole.

James sniggered. There was a pause in the teacher's narrative, and two gimlet eyes swiveled over to their desk like searchlights over a prison camp. James and Eli sat ramrod-straight, eyes firmly on the whiteboard, lips glued shut. Gresnigt nodded and continued to expand upon the mysteries of muscular tissue.

HahhMMPFF!” Oh, shit, that had been a close call. Eli reemerged from the crook of his elbow with burning cheeks and quickly retrieved a couple of tissues to blow his nose as quietly as possible. He could not help feeling immensely glad that this week's topic wasn't virology. He would not put it past Gresnigt to call him to the front and use him as an explanatory specimen. As though the state he was in wasn't embarrassing enough in and of itself.

As the hour progressed, so did the feeling that his skull was stuffed with cotton-wool. His head grew heavier; surely it would do him a world of good to give it just a little rest . . .

“Eli Sanders,” boomed the voice of Mr. Gresnigt. “Your brain is not going to absorb the information in your book through osmosis. Spare yourself the trouble, and me the wrong impression I am getting of your dedication to the subject matter, please.”

“Yes sir,” Eli wheezed, scrambling upright and making a valiant attempt to keep his eyes open and, as soon as the teacher's attention was back on the whiteboard, to clear his overproductive nose into what had to be the hundred-and-seventeenth tissue of the day. Somewhere in the room two girls were whispering and giggling, and Eli was sure they were talking about how ridiculously cold-ridden he looked. He pressed the tissue against his nose and tried to ignore the tickle that was slowly, menacingly, welling back up from deep inside his diseased face. The hands of the clock seemed to have stopped moving altogether.

“Now remember,” the teacher was saying, “this will all come up in the final exam, so the sooner you start in on it the better it will be.”

“Oh my goodness!” James said out loud, in such a ludicrously overdone tone of wonder and surprise that the class started to laugh almost in unison. “Everything makes so much sense now! I can't believe no one ever bothered to impart this gem of wisdom to us before!”

The laughter died as quickly as it had come to life, most pupils suddenly remembering the first law of this particular period (to wit: one did not mess about with Mr. Gresnigt). Mr. Gresnigt himself, however, reacted remarkably mildly to this disrespectful interruption.

“James Rutten,” he said. “Repeat what I said before I did impart to you this gem of wisdom that appears so gloriously new to you.”

James opened his mouth, took a breath, and said nothing. To his credit, though, he didn't try to bluff his way out. “Alright, sir, you've got me there,” he said, with a would-be rueful grin that worked on most teachers. “I apologise.”

“Accepted. Your lack of inclination to absorb what is told you concerns me, nevertheless. I expect an abstract of the first three paragraphs of this chapter, co-produced by your hand and mind, in my pigeon-hole by tomorrow afternoon at two.”

James nodded, quite subdued. Eli saw, however, that he had balled both his fists tightly under the desk. He had to resist the temptation to write “SERVE YOU RIGHT” in his notebook.

During break, of course, James had recovered all of his swagger and then some. When Eli slumped over the cafeteria table after a particularly messy fit of sneezing and moaned that he should've stayed home like his mother had told him he should have, James shoved him and said “Sure, run back home to mommy. . . at around five o'clock today, maybe five thirty. Because we're staying here until we've finished the damn research plan, bitch and moan about it all you want.”

“Screw a bird and eat it,” Eli groaned. “I'm half dead already and it's not even noon.” He blew his nose and coughed, then made as if to toss the balled-up soggy tissue at James.

The rest of the day was one long inhuman endurance exercise. Because his head was pounding so loudly and it was so difficult to ignore all the different aches and itches that he kept inflicting on himself because he couldn't not breathe, Eli didn't really pick up much of what any of the teachers said for the rest of the day. He tried to cope with his leaky, labouring nose and to keep the recurring coughing and sneezing noises to a minimum, all the while hanging on to the prospect of rushing through the rest of the PSP preparations after last period and then hoofing it home to collapse on his own bed for maybe the next couple of weeks.

“Look, man,” Marten said apologetically when the last bell finally rang. “I know you're feeling like shit, but we have to get this plan worked out and approved by the end of the week, right? I guess we'll only need half an hour or so to complete it, anyway, and to assign the tasks. So come on, yeah? We'll get some Mountain Dew and sit in the caf.”

“You can sleep when you're dead,” James put in.

Eli sighed, gave James the finger and blew his nose. “Fide. Get be the largest cad ad let's get od with it.”

“I did not understand a word of what you just said,” James began again, but Marten elbowed him in the ribs and made him decide to take a break from riling.

They got large cans of energy drink from the vending machine in the corner of the cafeteria and sat down at one of the cleaner tables. There was hardly anyone else around this late in the day, which was one thing that made the whole situation suck just a tiny bit less, in Eli's opinion. But only a really tiny bit.

He buried his nose in a tissue once again to catch a wrenching double “HahPFSHH! Eiissshhuh!”, cleaned up after it as best he could, and winced at the rasp of the fibres against his chafed skin. His throat was burning all the way down to his chest. Breathing through his nose was now as good as impossible, but breathing through his mouth seemed to cover the lining of his throat and windpipe with sharp little grains of sand that his body sought to expel through deep, spaced-out, rasping coughs that went on for minutes and finally left him almost literally breathless.

“Keep your lungs in,” Marten said absently, his eyes on the screen of James's laptop. James said nothing at all, either because he was too focused on his typing or because he couldn't come up with anything sufficiently scathing to say. Eli was ready to swear it was the latter.

“Sorry. Where were we?”

James pointed at the screen. “Daily log or everything at once at the end?”

“Daily,” Marten and Eli said at the same time. They turned to each other and laughed – that is to say, Marten laughed. Eli, not wanting to start another coughing fit right on top of the first one, only smiled.

“Fine, we'll do it via mail. Anything else?”

Eli reached for the cans of energy drink, standing close to each other on the table. At that moment, a devious little idea raised its ugly little head in his mind and waved frantically for his attention. Eli grinned. He didn't know much about the germ-killing properties of caffeine and taurine, if they even had any, but it was definitely worth a try. Serve James right.

He reached for a can, took a swig, and replaced it in the exact position he'd taken it from. Then he cleared his throat, blew his nose, and joined his classmates in the finishing up of the PSP research plan.


TBC . . . :twisted:

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ahh, I'm so sorry I didn't see this until now! I've been spending almost no time on the forum as of recently--haven't been able to get the privacy to do so for family reasons. But I finally got time to read this thing, and its lovely! Thank you so much for writing it. The characters are interesting--James seems like an absolutely dick, so it'll be interesting to see what becomes of him. Eli seems--well, miserable, but sort of your average bro-y guy, which can be fun to read about. Marten actually seems fairly nice. I guess I'll see later what sort of people they are.

The writing itself is lovely. I think my favorite phrase set was "His throat was burning all the way down to his chest. Breathing through his nose was now as good as impossible, but breathing through his mouth seemed to cover the lining of his throat and windpipe with sharp little grains of sand that his body sought to expel through deep, spaced-out, rasping coughs that went on for minutes and finally left him almost literally breathless." That's just a really vivid and accurate description of this kind of misery. It made me jealous that I hadn't thought of that particular wording! Overall, your language is surprising and exciting, which makes the whole story a joy to read.

Thanks again for writing this, and again, I'm terribly sorry for ignoring it for so long!! I'm looking forward to seeing what Eli's evil idea is.

Edited by Natto
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Oh my goodness yes yes yes. I like this one very much.

On a side note - I have an OC named Eli Sanders!! That's so coincidental!

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  • 3 years later...
  • 2 weeks later...

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