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Even bears get sick (The Bear, Carmen, m, cold)


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I am currently obsessed with The Bear at the moment, and was thinking that probably I'm not the only one who thinks the high-pressure environment and collection of tortured characters is perfect for hurt/comfort fic, so here is my attempt! Just a one-shot unless I get unexpectedly inspired further. This is set somewhere nebulous in season 1.

Content note: If the idea of sickness in a restaurant setting grosses you out, this is not for you. But I can reassure you that there is no contagion/spreading of illness in the story.



Every damn time, Carmen thought as he dragged himself out of bed and turned off his 5.30am alarm. You never fucking learn.

His throat had started feeling sore and scratchy two days ago, but he didn’t have time to be sick and he’d ignored it. Obviously, he didn’t have time to be sick; he was working 16-hour days, 7 days a week, trying to keep the Beef above water and maybe starting to think about improving things about how it ran. He’d never had less time to be sick. And now, as his head pounded and he dragged on his first cigarette of the day, he definitely was, whether he had time or not.

Luckily, this wasn’t his first rodeo. None of the high-end kitchens he’d worked at gave chefs time off for colds, or anything really (other than gastro, which there were health department rules about) that didn’t require hospitalization. He knew the drill. Carm stuck the kettle on to boil and dug around until he found two slightly wizened lemons and a lump of ginger root. He hesitated as he was about to take the kettle off the stove, nostrils flaring, then doubled over with a wrenching sneeze.


Sniffing, he grabbed a dish towel and lifted the whistling kettle off the heat, pouring the boiling water into his water bottle and a mug. On autopilot, he peeled and chopped an inch of ginger into a pile of fine shavings and added them and the lemon juice and peel. Then he went off to shower and dress. The hot water made him feel slightly more human, but his nose was running like a faucet and when he looked in the mirror, he looked pale and shaky. He didn’t need to check the bathroom cabinet to know there wasn’t so much as a Tylenol in there. He got dressed and stuffed a handful of toilet paper into his pockets.

Back in the kitchen, Carmen took a gulp of the hot drink, and felt his eyes fill with tears as it burned and stung all the way down his throat. He finished the whole mug in three more agonizing swallows, wiped his face, grabbed his bottle, and went to work.


*      *      *


A few hours later, Carm was seriously questioning the point of coming in. He was still trying to get used to being chef de cuisine (CDC), which basically seemed to involve not being in the kitchen at all and instead being stuck on the phone to contractors, suppliers, and other hordes of people the Beef owed money to. He sat hunched over his desk in the tiny cupboard of an office, a pile of toilet paper to hand, and tried to listen to the tinny voice on the phone over the distant, but still very audible, sound of irate shouting from the rest of the kitchen.

“Yeah, yeah, I get that,” he rubbed at the bridge of his nose as he tried not to sneeze. “But we talked about a payment plan, didn’t we? Can you do me 30 pounds of it while we get that sorted out?”

The voice chattered in his ear as Carmen’s breath hitched in his throat. He pinched his nose tightly and rocked forward, stifling the sneeze so hard little black spots appeared in his vision for a second.


It didn’t make any difference. His nose was still itching like crazy and he couldn’t concentrate on the conversation, which was (like all of them) about paying money he didn’t have for ingredients and utilities that he really needed in order to have a chance of ever paying that money.

The conversation seeming to have finished, somehow, he hung up, grabbed a wad of toilet paper and blew his nose for the fiftieth time. The background roar of shouting outside his door surged for a second, and he felt his adrenaline spike. Then it subsided. Being in here, rather than out there, should have made him feel calmer, but instead he felt like a caged animal. All the same energy of being in the kitchen but nowhere to put it. Just file after file and notebook after notebook of Mikey’s incomprehensible, disorganized bullshit notes. Carm gave up and went for a smoke.

As soon as he got outside into the sunlight, which was filtering weakly through a haze of grey clouds, he knew what was coming. It was almost a relief to lean back against the wall, dig a tissue out of his pocket and let it rip.

Hehh…Hehh’AASH’OO!! Hah’ESSCH’OO!! Hah’AATSCH’OO!!He blew his nose, then took another shaky breath. Not done.

Hehh’ESSCHOO!! Hah’ATSCH’OO!! H’AASHOO!!Finally, he managed to light a cigarette and take a drag. The smoke burned in his throat and lungs, but he felt the worst of the panic start to dissipate. Then the door banged open and Sydney stuck her head out.

“Family’s up, chef.”

“Yes, chef,” Carmy responded automatically, finishing his cigarette and dragging himself inside.

He didn’t eat, his stomach churning, just stood at the window and brooded while everyone else talked and joked and laughed together. No one seemed to notice. Sydney laid out the plan for the service. It was like they didn’t need him there at all. A few minutes later, he was back in the office with nothing but more depressing phone calls ahead of him.


*      *      *


But just as the mid-afternoon lull started turning into the early dinner rush, Sydney knocked on the door wild-eyed.  

“So, Richie just sent Tina home, some problem with Louie? What do we do?”

Carm blinked for a split second. Then training kicked in and he was out of his seat. He could yell at Richie about it later.

“You take Tina’s station, chef, I’ll run expo.”

Sydney eyed him suspiciously, anger at Richie and stress at the situation vying with concern.

“You ok, chef?”

“All good, chef.” Carm grabbed his water bottle and followed her out to the kitchen. He stuck his head through to the restaurant where Richie was managing front of house.

“Tina gone home, cousin?”

Richie was unapologetic. “Problem with her boy, cousin. Had to go handle it. We can cope.” A big group came through the door, and he turned away to greet them. Carm gave up.

He settled into the familiar expo routine. Chits came through from Richie, he shouted to the chefs, they shouted back, dishes went through to diners, sandwich ingredients went through to Richie. It was like a dance, a rhythm, a song he knew the words and the tune to. Except his voice was getting hoarser with every order and he was constantly fighting against having to sneeze and his head was pounding and he felt like he might fall over if the adrenaline didn’t keep him on his feet.

“Six beef all day, one hot, five sweet, chefs!”

“Yes, chef!” They chorused. He ducked his head to one side and stifled a sneeze against his shoulder, then another, and another.

H’TTSCH!! Eh’TSCHH!! N’TTSCH!” The kitchen spun around him briefly, but then he was back in it.

“Two chicken all day, one chocolate cake, chefs!”

“Yes, chef!”


*      *      *


Somehow, the rest of service happened, and then it was over. The team congregated in the middle of the kitchen for the debrief, Sydney taking them through what went well, what went badly, what was a complete shitshow. Carmen stayed quiet. With the constant manic energy of service done, he was left feeling like he’d been washed up on shore from a shipwreck, wrung out and exhausted and shaking.

Eventually he noticed that Sydney had finished, and everyone was looking at him.

“Good job tonight, chefs,” he managed to croak out. “We got stuff to work on, but we pulled together and got it done.” That seemed to satisfy people and they turned away to get on with cleaning their stations.

Sydney caught up to him as he was putting his jacket in his locker.

“Give me your keys, I’m driving you home.”

The words all individually made sense, but he was too tired to put them together into a coherent sentence. He swayed on the spot. Sydney held her hand out.

“Your keys, chef.”

Too out of it to protest, he handed them silently over.

About two seconds after they set off, Carm fell asleep, face against the cold damp glass of the window, mouth open. He woke with a start a few minutes later, disorientated as the streetlights strobed over his face and Sydney drove calmly through the empty Chicago streets.


“No problem, chef.”

“How-“ he struggled to form the thought properly. “How are you getting home?”

Sydney shrugged with her hands still on the wheel. “You don’t live that far from my place. I’ll get the bus in tomorrow.”

Carmen was still trying to put himself back together. He needed to sneeze again. He wrestled with the seatbelt and his jeans to try and find a tissue, succeeding at the last moment.

Hehh’NTTSCH’OO!!” He tried his hardest to stifle, but no luck this time. He rubbed at his nose with the tissue and leaned his head back against the headrest.


Carm ignored this. Sympathy was not something he knew how to handle graciously (or otherwise). A few minutes later Sydney pulled up at his apartment and they got out. She locked the car and gave him back his keys. He stared at them blankly.

“Feel better, chef.”

“Yes, chef.” Carmen blinked; it had come out automatically, as though she’d given him an order instead of expressing a feeling. He didn’t even know if she’d heard him - she’d already turned away and started walking. “I mean, thanks. Good night, chef.”

Edited by Triosk1
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ahh this is so cute and i’m so glad you wrote about Carmy i was hoping someone would!

everyone’s so well characterized and i especially love the very end in sydney’s car, i feel like that could be a scene in the show! thanks for sharing :)


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  • 4 weeks later...

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