It starts off smoothly enough. Like most videos, Ethan unconsciously decides to try to take the reins on the intro with no idea what he’s going to say before he says it.
He fists his hand around the handle of the fork and gently bashes it against the table a couple times.
“I want cake, I want cake,” he chants, still adjusting to his On-Camera persona. Mark blinks at him. Ethan is vaguely aware that he cut him off.
Still, Mark rolls with it, joining him in his half-hearted chant. Then Mark pauses, raises a hand to scratch at his head. “Do we know we’re getting cake? Is that the bit we’re going for?”
Ethan halts his banging on the table, brows furrowing as he looks at Mark.
“Uhhhh,” he draws out, for too long probably. He pauses, scratches at his nose, then glances at the camera.
He looks back at Mark, smiling and waving the fork between them. “Maybe this is the new bit we’re going for.”
Mark’s face sours comically. “No, we can’t have non-bits.”
“Okay,” Ethan says, fiddling with the fork.
“Those are meta. We need to have steady bits-”
“-steady flow-” Ethan inserts.
“-we need to know what we’re doin’, or not know what we’re doin’.” Mark punctuates this with a couple light thumps of his fist against the table. He’s still holding the fork like a weapon.
Another too-long pause that will likely be cut in editing.
“We don’t know about cake,” Ethan decides, looking at Mark.
“We don’t know that there’s cake coming,” Mark echoes, emphasizing.
“We don’t know that there’s-”
“We don’t know, that’s the bit.” Mark points his thumb at him, the skin around his eyes crinkling.
Ethan can’t help his smirk at the goofiness of it. He repeats, “We don’t know.”
“We don’t-” Mark starts, but he’s cut off by Amy’s bright voice.
“I’ve got cake!” she announces, behind the view of the camera. Both Ethan and Mark turn to her, plastering on big grins.
“Caaaake!” Mark cheers.
“Ohhhh, cake!” Ethan looks at the camera, channeling his inner child.
Amy pushes the cakes across the table, where they stop just out of Ethan’s reach.
“Slide ‘em, push ‘em harder so that they slide,” Mark says. Amy tries to slide the cakes, but they barely budge.
Ethan snorts something of a laugh, reaching forward to help. He pulls the top cake from the stack and sets it in front of Mark. He then proceeds to pop open the paper box with his own cake, moving a hand to do the same to Mark’s.
“These are fuckin huge,” Ethan says, peering at the cake.
“These are fuck- it’s not my birthday-” Mark starts.
“Can I have- can I have this one? It’s almost, almost my birthday,” Ethan says, pulling the cake in front of himself as he talks over Mark’s mumbled agreements.
“When is Ethan’s birthday?” Amy interjects, going for that old bit again.
Playing it up, Ethan drops his fork on the table and turns to look at Mark, expectant. Mark stares at Amy for a moment, then turns to Ethan, hand gesturing.
Ethan smiles, unable to prevent it, because he knows that Mark knows. He looks back towards the camera, eyes moving over to Amy, biting back a laugh. The pause lasts long enough for the editor to know to cut it in post, effectively ending the bit, and Ethan jumps right back into the video.
“Happy birthday meeee!” he shouts, his voice adopting that childish quality it always seems to revert to during Unus Annus videos.
Mark laughs at him, and they continue the back and forth banter. Ethan comments that he hasn’t had cake in a while, babbles about getting a lighter, and Mark hums a little.
“This video is a lot more daunting now that I see it in front of me,” Mark says, and Ethan, despite busying himself with removing the paper box from around his cake, can’t help but agree. The ice-cream cakes are massive. Whose idea was it again to do this? To see who could eat the most cake the fastest?
Then Amy brings up the calories, and Ethan feels his stomach drop a little at the thought.
“Oh my god, how many calories are in this?” Ethan asks, shifting his cake into the palm of one hand, carefully balancing it to push the trash out of the camera view. He glances over at Mark, who is struggling to read the serving size on the mangled paper box.
“Oh, it doesn’t even say...” Mark murmurs.
“FYI,” Evan starts, “we have a, uh, white with strawberry, and we have a chocolate with chocolate chips.”
Ethan, busying himself with lighting the candles on his cake, is only half-listening as Mark plays up his annoyance with Ethan getting the chocolate cake.
He frowns, glancing over for a second. “Wait, what did you get, Mark?”
“I got, like, white, which isn’t really a flavor, but strawberries are in here somewhere.”
“Oh, we can switch cakes then,” Ethan says immediately.
“No, it’s fine,” Mark starts, going for a bit, but Ethan cuts him off with a more serious tone, though there’s still a certain degree of comedy as he continues lighting the candles.
“No, I would like to switch cakes actually, because I don’t usually trust chocolate,” he says, looking up at Mark to convey that he’s not joking.
Mark nods, moving his cake towards Ethan almost instantly. “That’s a good point.”
“I’ve been told there’s no peanuts, but, uh, where are the EpiPens?” Evan asks.
“They’re in the other room, somewhere,” Ethan says dismissively, still focused on lighting the candles. Since he won’t be eating the chocolate cake, and with his trust in Evan to check, he doesn’t feel the need to make it any more of a deal than necessary. He’ll be fine.
Still, Amy wanders off to find the EpiPens.
Mark hums and says, “Yeah, it’ll be fiiiiine.”
There’s a brief pause, then, with a quick intensity that Mark hasn’t shown all morning, he announces, “And if it’s not, Baskin Robins, ha ha ha, we’re gonna come for youuu!”
“We’re gonna fucking sue you,” Ethan adds. The mood quickly shifts back to the regular jokes, Ethan’s voice going all high and babyish as he claims it’s the birthday of Unus Annus. They sing some horrific rendition of happy birthday, Mark whines about Ethan spitting all over his cake when he blows out the candles, and they fuck around a bit before starting the timer. Amy takes away Mark’s glass of water and they start.
Ethan scoops up a big lump of icing and sticks it in his gob, watching with amusement as Mark forcibly tries to cut through the frozen cake with his fork.
They continue like this, bantering and eating and pausing only to weigh the cakes as an easier way to tell who the winner will be.
Then they resume eating, Mark with his method of focusing on the corner, and Ethan going for the easily accessible icing on top. Both Amy and Mark mock him for it, but he just shrugs and carries on, laughing at the constipated look on Mark’s face.
Ethan, equal parts joking and serious, goes and retrieves a wooden spoon from the kitchen, digging into the top of the cake. Mark laughs at him through a mouthful of ice cream, and Ethan laughs at himself, scraping the icing off the top and popping it into his mouth.
Mark jokes about him eating his cake from top to bottom when Ethan asks if he’s got any actual cake in his ice-cream cake. Ethan finds the cake-layer, then resumes just eating the ice cream, as it’s more thawed and less work to get at. Then, somehow, Mark gets on the topic of controlling and printing their poop, and the bit is probably one of the better ones they’ve done so far this recording session.
It carries on for several minutes, Ethan only interjecting when comedically necessary, and they both continue digging into their respective cakes.
“Amy, can we please have water?” Ethan whines.
“No,” Mark says, muffled through a mouthful of ice cream.
“You guys get to decide for yourselves!” Amy says.
“I vote no.”
“-I’m so thirsty.”
“I vote no.”
“I’m so thirsty.”
“I vote no,” Mark says.
“I vote yes,” Ethan counters, giggling at the blue icing smeared around Mark’s lips.
“We have to be unanimous, or majority,” Mark says pointedly, eyes closed. They chew for a moment, silent.
“I vote yes-”
Ethan doesn’t get water. Mark and Amy banter about the math of how many calories they’ll be eating, and Ethan stabs his fork into the top of his cake, over and over.
Ethan complains about why they have to feel bad for all of their videos. Because, well, why do they? It’s stupid.
“I’m getting water,” he states, getting up.
“No,” Mark says, “no!”
Mark scoots his chair out a bit, blocking Ethan’s access to the kitchen. He jabs a finger at him, his face falling into a mock seriousness.
“Maaark, you’re scaring me!” Ethan cries, playing it up for the camera, though he is starting to get a little annoyed. After all, why can’t he have water? They never even made that a rule.
Instead of water, they break out the heavy cream from the butter churning video. Ethan leans his head on the table and whines about it. Still, he accepts the bottle of heavy cream and struggles to unseal it, immediately laughing when Mark tells him that there’s water already in it.
It devolves into a whole new bit, Ethan forgets his frustration, and the banter flows.
Ethan asks Mark for the time, then whines when he hears they’ve still got fourteen minutes left. He eats another bite of the ice cream, humoring Mark for a few moments before leaning back and bringing his hands up to his eyes, groaning.
“Mark, my body doesn’t like this. My body says, ‘noooo, stop’.”
Mark huffs a heavy sigh, pressing his face into his arm, but really, Ethan’s only half-joking. His stomach feels disgusting and full, and he’s reaching the point of nausea. He rubs his face a bit, trying to get rid of the weird bleh feeling that’s settled over him; he feels like he’s eaten too much of something terribly unhealthy in too short of an amount of time. Which is exactly the case.
They kill another five minutes with half-hearted jokes, then Evan tells them they’ll need to pause and restart due to the cameras. Mark cries out, “Noooo!”
“Alright, give me, like, five minutes,” Evan says, and Ethan nods, leaning back and pressing his hands to his belly.
“Take your time,” he says, and Mark laughs, pausing the timer.
“Hey, you are feeling okay, though, right guys?” Amy asks. Mark shoots her an A-OK signal with his fingers, and Ethan just nods.
“I’s a big cake,” he says, burping.
“It is, it is,” Mark murmurs in agreement. “Hey, if you want water though, you should probably go get a drink while we’re resetting.”
Ethan jolts a little at the idea, face breaking into a smile. “Thanks, man.”
He heaves himself up and meanders into the kitchen, filling up an empty glass from the tap. He leans against the counter and takes slow, measured sips, shoulders relaxing as the water immediately soothes his aching belly. Sure, it’s probably psychological, but it still helps.
“Ethan, you pass out in there or somethin’? We’re starting again,” Mark calls, craning his head to peer into the kitchen. Ethan hums, dumps the rest of the water down the drain, then he rejoins Mark at the table, scooching his chair in.
Evan gives them the signal that they’re rolling and Mark un-pauses the timer on his watch, immediately digging back into his cake. Ethan half-heartedly prods at his, really not feeling it anymore. He digs down and gets a small forkful of the actual cake part of the cake, which he really hasn’t touched yet, and he nibbles at it. He gives up after a few moments, setting his fork down and leaning back in his seat.
“Six-thousand calories,” Amy says. Ethan heaves a sigh, and Mark mimics him.
“Well, you’re not even close to that, what are you complaining about?” she continues, half-encouraging, half-teasing.
Amy jokes about the cake being all dairy and how Mark loves dairy, and Ethan plays up the bit about wanting a drink, changing it to milk this time instead of water. Mark grumbles something of a response and, instead of getting back to his cake, Ethan leans down and rubs his bare legs where they feel a little too hot, humming.
“It feels nice when I touch my legs,” he mumbles, eyes closed. “It’s soothing.”
There is a very long pause where Ethan knows Mark must be making some sort of face at him, so he keeps his eyes shut and continues rubbing his legs. It does actually feel nice.
“Guys, I’m not impressed,” Amy says. Ethan opens his eyes, groaning aggressively. Mark throws his fork on the table, the timing comedically perfect.
“Ohhh Amy, well fuckin’ eat it yourself then, huh?” Ethan says. Mark quickly joins him.
“Come on, Amy, there’s two cakes here-”
“-you’ve done nothinggg but stand around and complain- about our... lack of impreshiss-ness, impresh-” He looks quickly at Mark, frowning. “Im-impressed-”
“Yeah, yeah, go, yeah, yup,” Mark says, talking over Ethan’s continued attempts to find the right word. “Oh yeah, impressenment. Amy-”
“-So I’d like to see you eat a four billion calorie cake,” Ethan says, huffing a laugh and turning towards Mark.
“Amy,” Mark begins, voice raising as if to yell. “You- are beautiful and, frankly, I appreciate everything you’ve been doin’! So why don’t you just kick back and relax, cuz you deserve it!”
Ethan inhales deeply, looking down at his legs, then back up. He manages a smile, but he feels...off.
“With some cake, right?” Amy jokes.
“With some cake!” Mark says.
“With some cake, a whole cake,” Ethan adds, voice just a hair faint. For whatever reason, it’s slightly difficult for him to catch his breath. Mark asks if Amy wants some of the cake, holding it up, and Ethan brings his hands up to his face again, rubbing at his eyes. They feel watery and dry at the same time, and the sensation is unpleasant.
“Please,” Ethan says, still playing up the bit, “please.”
He scratches his cheek where it itches, closing his eyes and throwing his head back in the pretense of annoyance, when he’s really just trying to get some air into his lungs. The breathlessness has become less of something he can ignore and more of a discomfort. It’s a vaguely familiar feeling, but he still pushes it away for the sake of the video.
“No, I don’t like sugary stuff,” Amy says.
Ethan opens his eyes and makes a face, voice falling into a mocking impersonation of Amy’s. “‘I don’t like sugary stuff,’ she says.”
Ethan folds his arms, rubbing at his aching chest with his fingers, and he glares at Amy.
“It’s true!” Amy says, but her voice is overlapped by Mark’s.
“Your face is red.”
The seriousness in his voice breaks Ethan from character. He turns to him, blinking. “Mine?”
“Yeah,” Mark says, nodding slowly.
Ethan looks down at his folded arms, bringing one arm out to peer at the length of his forearm. The skin there is blotchy and covered in red hives. Ethan stares at them, mouth going dry. Suddenly everything is too hot and too itchy and he can feel his throat swelling, closing up on him.
“Oh,” he breathes out.
“Ethan?” Mark says. Ethan looks up at him, fear knocking the air right out of his lungs. He inhales, his breath an audible wheeze, and he brings his hands down to grip the edge of the table, leaning forward.
“Fuck,” he manages, coughing. His throat is tight, and he tries to swallow, to clear his airway, but it doesn’t help. “Get the, the Epi.”
“Amy- Amy, give me the Epi,” Mark says, and he turns fully towards Ethan, gently grabbing his wrists and pulling him from his seat. “We’re gonna lay you on the floor, alright bud?”
“Mark-” Ethan starts, but the rest of his words die in his throat, catching and fizzling out. Mark carefully lowers him to the floor, the table and chairs making it difficult, bearing most of Ethan’s weight.
“Don’t talk,” Mark shushes him, carefully laying his head on the tile. “Evan-”
“I’m already calling,” Evan says quickly, a disembodied voice out of Ethan’s line of sight. He can only see Mark, hovering over him.
Mark leans over him, reaching towards Amy and grabbing the EpiPen from her outstretched hand.
“The side-” He coughs, bringing a hand up to grab Mark’s wrist. “Side of the thigh.”
He guides Mark’s hand to the meaty part on the outside of his leg, his fingers a firm pressure on the fabric of his shorts. “There-”
“-Shh, I know.”
Ethan releases his grip on Mark’s wrist, allowing him to switch the Epi to his right hand. There’s a brief lull of silence, only broken by Ethan’s increasingly rasping breaths and Evan’s soft voice speaking into his phone. Ethan vaguely notes the point of contact of the Epi against his thigh.
The tension in the room is punctuated with a quick, sharp hiss of sound, and Ethan doesn’t even register the pain of the needle, nor the hard press of Mark’s fingers afterwards, rubbing at the injection site; just the heady relief that washes over him, the almost immediate loosening of his chest. The relief is familiar, reminds him of the last time he had a reaction, almost two years ago now.
He’d been at the mall by himself, had eaten something he shouldn’t have. He remembers calling Kathryn, then stumbling out to his car. He’d taken one look at his face in the rearview mirror, then given himself the EpiPen. Weak with relief, he’d called 911. He remembers, breath whistling in and out of his lungs, laying on the roof of his car so the ambulance could find him in the busy parking lot. Remembers keeping the nice lady on the phone because he’d been so scared to be alone.
He’s not alone now. Mark and Amy and Evan are all in the room with him. Evan is on the phone, Amy is rushing around to move the video equipment out of the way, and Mark is-
“Ethan, you gotta open your eyes, man.”
-speaking to him, apparently.
He doesn’t recall closing his eyes in all honesty. With monumental effort, he manages to wrench his eyes open. He squints up at Mark, at the stark whiteness of the table. His eyes catch on the raised lump of his thawing ice cream cake on the table.
His stomach churns violently.
“Mmfph, Mark, ‘m gonna- puke,” he gasps out. He rolls over onto his stomach and just barely manages to prop himself on his arms and lean to the side when he starts to heave.
He squeezes his eyes shut as he gasps and gags. The cake burns his throat coming back up. When he’s done, he starts to fall forward. Mark grabs him around the shoulders and pulls him back to keep him from bathing in his own vomit.
“F-uck, sorry, I’m sorry,” he chokes, fumbling to press his palm to his chest, hands shaking. His ears ring, muffling and distorting the sound of Amy reassurances.
All at once, his head goes light and fluttery, blood pulsing in his ears, and the last thing he registers before losing consciousness is Mark’s cold hands against the sensitive skin of his arms and his panicked voice pleading for Ethan to stay awake.
“Evan, how far out is that ambulance?” Mark calls, voice nearly a shout, and Ethan welcomes the pull of darkness.
Someone is speaking to him, a voice he doesn’t recognize. Everything itches. His skin is too hot and his chest aches terribly.
Where is he again?
The thought conjures enough panic to force his eyes open. The light is overly bright and sends a sharp stab of pain into his skull. He groans, squeezing his eyes shut once again.
“Ethan, can you hear me?” It’s a woman’s voice, gentle yet prodding.
“Yes,” he grinds out, his own voice rough and unfamiliar to his ears. It’s muffled as well, and he realizes that there’s a plastic oxygen mask snug against his face.
He also realizes that it’s easier to breathe.
“Alright, that’s good. We’re in an ambulance, just a couple of minutes from the hospital. Can you tell me if anything hurts?”
Ethan takes a moment to center himself. He swallows, his spit tacky and tasting of vomit. “I’m fine. Where...? Where is everyone?”
“Your friends are still back at the house. Due to COVID regulations, we couldn’t bring any of them with us, but we took down your friend Mark’s number and we promised him we’ll call as soon as we get you situated.”
Ethan makes a sound of acknowledgement, body growing heavy with a bone-deep exhaustion. He still has yet to reopen his eyes.
“Can you tell us what caused your reaction?” the woman asks.
“Mmm,” Ethan grunts, “Mark didn’t tell you?”
There’s a soft snort of laughter, and Ethan cracks his eyes open, peering up. The woman is grinning, her smile hidden behind her mask but her eyes bright, and Ethan notices another woman bustling around, messing with a chart of some sort and shaking her head in amusement.
“What?” he asks.
“He did,” the first woman answers. “We’d just prefer you to stay awake.”
“My name’s Taylor, by the way, and this is Cassandra.”
Cassandra glances up from the chart, giving a small wave. “How are you feelin’?”
Ethan clears his throat, wincing a little. “Been better.”
“You feel tired?” Cassandra presses.
“Yeah,” Ethan groans in agreement. “I knew that stupid cake wasn’t worth it.”
Both EMTs laugh, and when Ethan FaceTime’s Mark from his hospital bed two hours later, Mark agrees with the sentiment.
“Evan feels terrible about it,” Mark tells him, and Ethan shakes his head.
“Tell him it’s not his fault. Besides, I’m fine. They said if everything goes okay tonight, you guys can come pick me up tomorrow morning.”
“I think you should tell him yourself,” Mark says, his voice staticky and his face slightly pixelated through the phone screen.
“I will,” Ethan promises, biting back a yawn. God, he's fucking exhausted.
There’s a beat of silence.
“How serious were you about suing Baskin Robins?”