This is the most embarrassing moment of his life.
If someone had approached Babe and told him he would be going to the ER because he got something stuck in a place where it shouldn’t have been stuck, he would’ve laughed at them. Babe has actually always been considerably careful about where he stuck things. But, here he is, in one of Philly’s premier medical facilities, sitting between a baby that won’t stop crying and a woman who has a nail embedded halfway through her palm.
The crowded room smells faintly like piss and vomit and one of the nurses keeps eyeing him dubiously. Which is probably because Babe sort of had a crisis and put down ‘frequent urination’ as his reasoning for being here. She’s probably waiting for him to accidentally unload on everyone.
Babe has made a collection of horrible decisions today. They began when he accidentally ordered the wrong coffee at the quaint coffee shop he likes so much. Now they will end here, at this hospital, because he will eventually die of embarrassment.
Unfortunately, that is the preferable option. There is no scenario in which Babe Heffron will leave this place with his dignity still intact.
Babe waits in the ER for three hours before anyone even acknowledges him.
The nurse had told him when he was checking in that he would be low priority and there was a good chance he would be waiting for a while. She had also suggested that he go to an urgent care clinic or try and make an appointment with his regular physician to skip the wait time. Both options were out of the question. There was no way he was going to see Dr. Winters for this. Especially not when he’d built up such a solid reputation of never having to go in to see him in the first place. The urgent care clinic would’ve undoubtedly just sent him back here.
It’s twenty minutes after a nurse takes the screaming baby and it’s mother into the back that another nurse comes through the door. “Heffron?”
Sitting is uncomfortable, but standing is even worse, so he can’t help but wince; he doesn’t even try to hide it as he goes over to meet her. She’s pretty, with bright blue eyes, a kind face and even kinder hands.
The nurse smiles at him. “Sorry about the wait,” she says. She sounds sincere. Babe likes her immediately.
“I’m in no rush,” Babe lies. Her mouth twitches like she can hear the lie.
She smiles at him and leads him into one of the rooms in the back. “It says here you’re with us for frequent urination?”
Babe flushes impossibly red. She says it like it happens all the time and not like how he wrote it. His fingers had been nervous and there was enough discomfort to make him contemplate just going home. “Uh,” he stammers, clearing his throat. “Yeah.”
“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” she assures him.
The room she leads him to looks like any other room in a hospital with it's barren white walls. There is a vase of fresh flowers on the far counter, and an uncomfortable looking examination bench off to the right side of the room. Babe sits on the bench and tries to hide how he flinches.
She notices, clicking her tongue disapprovingly. “Are you experiencing pain?”
“A little,” he admits.
“I’ll let the doctor know,” she says, writing something down in the chart she’s carrying. “The Doc is going to want some urine samples.” She walks over to the cabinet and takes out a clear container with a blue lid. Babe has vivid war flashbacks. “There’s cups on that counter and you can drink the tap if you need some assistance.”
Babe bites his lip. “Alright,” he pauses, and then adds, “Thank you.”
She smiles at him again. It lights up the entire room. “The Doc will be a few minutes.”
She slips out of the room with one last look in Babe’s direction, like she’s afraid he’s going to do something stupid. She leaves him with a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. He breathes a sigh of relief he hadn’t even noticed he was holding, and eyes the cup on the counter with concern. He thinks about just doing it anyway, scared they might turn him away because he lied on the forms like an idiot, but decides against it. He’s fine. His piss is fine.
His ass on the other hand, has seen better days.
Babe hasn’t been in a hospital for years, so he forgets how much waiting goes on. You spend hours in the waiting room just for a nurse to pull you into another waiting room under the guise of finally seeing a doctor. Then, after all this damn waiting a doctor will see you for ten minutes and then you're on your way. That is why Babe avoids hospitals and doctor’s offices. He doesn’t have the patience for them, has never had the patience, if he’s honest.
He spends so long sitting on the bench that he comes close to just leaving. He thinks about toughing it out, hoping by a miraculous gift from God that his problem will correct itself. Then he can begin the long, grueling process of forgetting this was ever actually a thing.
When the door finally opens he’s not expecting who comes through it.
The doctor is young, just out of his residency, maybe. He has deep blue eyes that Babe can’t stop staring into and his hair is such a rich black that it’s almost blue underneath the fluorescent hospital lights. He’s unbelievably good-looking. Babe tries not to shift on the bench at this fact, but does not succeed.
“Sorry about the wait,” he apologizes, and his voice is deeper than Babe expects. His accent is hard to place, sounding a little french with a southern lilt to it. This does nothing to fold this doctor’s attractiveness. Babe curses whatever deity is listening that he has to do this with a doctor he actually wants to bed, Christ. “I’m Doc Roe,” he says, and sticks out a hand to shake.
Babe could’ve gone his entire life without feeling those long, skinny fingers wrap around his own.
“That’s no problem,” Babe lies, again. Today is the day full of lies, apparently.
Doc Roe’s eyes narrow at him like he catches the lie, but thankfully, like Renee, the nurse, he doesn’t call Babe out on it. Just turns his attentions back to the chart in his hand and takes a seat on the chair by the examination table. “Says here you’re in for frequent urination, is that right?”
Babe nods. “That would be correct, doc.”
Roe makes a thoughtful noise, and looks to the counter, where the container sits, empty. “The nurse did tell you to fill that, right?”
“Ah,” Babe stammers, because this is the hard part. This is the part where any slither of pride and decency goes completely out the window and burns in the fiery pits of hell. “I may or may not have lied on the forms.”
The doctor blinks at him. Babe doesn’t blame him. “You lied on the forms.”
“Yeah, I, uh. You know. The problem is way more embarrassing than frequent urination, and I, uh. Panicked. Sort of.”
The doctor looks amused instead of righteously pissed like Babe first expected. “What’s really going on then,” he pauses for a second, looking at his form, “Edward? Assuming that is your actual name.”
Babe deserves that one. He deserves a lot more, actually. He doesn’t hide the wince at his name like he usually does, and sighs. “That would be me, unfortunately. Though everyone calls me Babe.”
Roe makes a considering noise. “Stop avoidin’ it.”
“I’m just patiently waiting for an extremely critical patient to come waltzing through the doors so I won’t have to have this conversation with ya anymore,” Babe admits. Now that he’s here, in the room, with a disgustingly attractive doctor staring at him in concern he is almost positive he can’t have this conversation without dying of absolute mortification.
Roe laughs at that, and Babe is so done. He is gone and done and he’s definitely sure he won’t survive this. On his tombstone it will read: Died with a foreign object in his asshole, Cause of Death: the treating doctor.
“There’s no reason to be embarrassed, Edward. Not Here.”
“Strangely, that isn’t comforting in the slightest. Not gonna lie here, doc.”
Roe grins self-deprecatingly. “Whatever you’re ‘bout to tell me, I’ve heard worse.”
“Oh yeah? Tell me about ‘em.”
“You’re deflectin.’ Again.”
Babe bites his lip. He isn’t getting out of this unless he physically takes himself out of the room. Though, there is something about Roe that says he will just drag him back in by his ankles if he even seriously considers it.
“Alright. Alright,” Babe pauses. He gathers as much courage as he can, and before he can lose his nerve, and possibly his stomach all over the tile, he sighs, “I, uh. May have something stuck. Somewhere.”
Roe just stares at him, before his expression clears and he sighs like Babe has been the biggest inconvenience of his day -- though he really doesn’t sound too put out about it -- and stares him down with a look that could level mountains. “Where is it?”
Babe coughs, and it moves uncomfortably. He makes a mental note not to do that again for the foreseeable future. “It’s uh. Stuck. In the general vicinity of my--” Babe makes an obscene gesture that he hopes gets across what he’s too horrified to say.
“That’s not as bad as I was expectin’,” Roe says, and nods reassuringly at him. “We’re gonna have to take x-rays to see how far it’s lodged. You’ve been jostlin’ it a bit and I don’t wanna just go in there without seeing what we’re workin’ with.”
“Trust me, doc. As painless as can be will actually save a couple shreds of my dignity, hopefully.”
When Roe laughs at that, it lights up the room tenfold.
(Babe is so royally screwed.)
As it turns out, Babe was building it all up in his head.
After Roe does the x-rays Babe can breathe a little. The vibrator isn’t as far up as he initially thought. All it’ll take is a healthy amount of lube, some perseverance and a hell of a lot of grappling. It’s over in less than five minutes and Babe can leave the hospital with at least a shred of decency intact.
When Roe finishes washing his hands, he turns to Babe with an expression that Babe can’t read. It’s equal parts mischievous and amused, and normally it would scare the shit out of him. Those expressions don’t end well on anybody, for anybody, but it looks so good on Roe that he can look past it.
“Thank you for not dwelling on me making a complete ass of myself,” Babe says, when awkward silence stretches on for too long. “I promise I’m not normally this much of a fuckin’ disaster.”
Doc Roe smiles a little half-smile that somehow manages to reach his eyes. “It was my pleasure. Just be more careful next time. I’d hate for this to be a repeat performance.” The way he says it makes it seem like it is for many people, and Babe makes a vehement promise to himself that he will not become one of those people. He will not become a ‘I Get Weird Stuff Stuck In Me All of the Time’ kind of person.
“Trust me, doc,” Babe begins. “I’m gonna be way more careful. I definitely don’t wanna repeat this experience anytime soon.”
Roe just waves him off. “Take care of yourself, Edward.”
Babe just grins at him and exits the room.
All things considered, he leaves the hospital in much higher spirits than when he arrived. It has nothing to do with the cute doctor that may have had his hand two inches away from his prostrate, and everything to do with the fact that he no longer had a vibrator stuck in his ass.
The second time Babe goes to the hospital it’s because of David fucking Webster.
Babe has known David since they met at summer camp one year when they were kids. Babe’s mom had to pick up every extra shift and work overnights whenever she could sacrifice the sleep in order for them to afford it. Webster’s mom dropped him off in a Range Rover that was brand new and didn’t even look at her son when he got out of the car.
They bonded over their fierce dislike of the camp’s sorry excuse for food and their abhorrent dislike of most of the other campers. Aside from that, they didn’t really have anything in common. David was smart -- not that Babe wasn’t, but he definitely didn’t care about literature the way David did. Whenever they had downtime, David could be found curled in the corner of their cabin with one of the books he brought along with him.
So, Babe’s known David for a long time, too long, in fact.
That all means nothing in the fact of the fact that Babe has a damn fishing hook currently ripping a hole into his palm.
“This is all your fault,” Babe says, for what is probably the four hundredth time.
David rolls his eyes so hard it surprises Babe when he doesn’t pull something. “Trust me, I’m well aware.”
Babe doesn’t even remember how it happened really. One second he was trying to reel in his line and the next the hook was digging into the skin of his palm. It hurts like a bitch, to the point where Babe’s being a little petulant about it--which he thinks is warranted, because David had acted like nothing was wrong when he first saw it, like it was a minor cut and not like he would need stitches.
There’s blood caked all the way down his arm, and his hand is fucking kill him. The only thing that Babe can think about is that fact that there’s a very real chance he’s going to die in David’s disgusting jeep before they even make it to the hospital.
“You owe me so big for this,” Babe grumbles. Babe doesn’t even like fishing--come to think of it, Babe doesn’t really like any of David’s hobbies. The only reason he was even on the boat was because Joe cancelled on David, again. There was a part of Babe that was terrified Webster would end up accidentally murdering himself if he was alone on that stupid boat of his for too long without some supervision.
"I'm sure you'll tell me all about it while we're in the waiting room," David sounds resigned, but luckily doesn't say much else. The pain is getting to the point where it's no longer just a minor annoyance, but rather is the only thing that he can think about. It's searing through his palm, an intense, burning pain and Babe has the wild and irrational thought that he doesn't want them to amputate it.
"Damn right you will, buddy," Babe hedges, and to focus on something other than the pain, asks, "Have you told Joe yet?"
"He's going to meet us at the hospital," David assures him, and it makes him feel better. Babe might be in too much pain to tear into David right now, but they both know Joe will have enough words for all three of them. It seems like there's nothing Joe can't find to pester David about.
It's why they work so well. No one else can put up with Joe's incessant bitching, and David's melodramatic commentary can only be tolerable after so many beers.
"Good," Babe grunts, and then he realizes something. "You're taking me to the one off of 5th."
"The other one is fourteen miles out," David says in a tone that implies he thinks Babe is being very moronic.
Babe narrows his eyes. He can also do without the haughty pretentiousness, but David's been there for him through the worst of it, so he lets it slide like he always does.
"I know it is," he begins, "it's just. I don't have the best history with this one." Babe will tell himself, very firmly, later that he didn't blush, and David will agree with him because he knows better than to face Babe's wrath.
"I can take you to the other."
Babe bites on his lip. "No. We're almost there. I just hope this is quick."
David slams down on the gas. Babe will never admit to how grateful he is for it.
Joe is already waiting for them inside.
He gets up immediately from where he was sitting along the far wall. "How bad is it?" He asks, trying to get a good look at Babe's palm. "Web didn't give me any details." It's amazing how accusatory Joe can sound at someone who he regularly sleeps with. Babe actually sort of admires him for it.
"It isn't that bad," David says at the same time Babe grunts out, "I'm pretty sure they're gonna have to amputate it, man."
Joe's eyes narrow. "That bad, huh?"
"That bad." Babe confirms. "David didn't think it was a huge deal or else we woulda been here sooner."
"That's cause Web's a moron," he says.
David makes an offended noise. "Oh, come on. That's not fair. It didn't look that bad at first!"
Babe blinks at him. "There's a gaping hole in my palm, Dave."
Joe laughs at them. "This is why, Babe."
"This is why I always refuse to go with him," Joe clarifies, but there's an amused, deeply fond tilt to his mouth. Babe doesn't think there's anyone fit for David better. They balance each other out. "He's an absolute idiot as soon as he steps on that boat."
David glares at him. "That's not true."
"You got lost once and instead of looking for, y’know, help or whatever you decided it'd be a perfect opportunity for swimming."
"The weather was perfect for it!"
"We could've been stranded, Web!"
"But, we weren't."
"Only 'cause I found a map under your fuckin' obsessive shark manuals."
"Guys," Babe interrupts, because it's really starting to hurt. "As heartwarming as this is, I would love to be checked in now."
They stare at each other for a few more seconds, Babe desperately hoping by sheer dumb luck alone one of them takes pity on him. After a healthy amount of glowering at each other like school children, David sighs in defeat and walks over to the check-in desk, thank Christ.
The wait is shorter this time around.
It seems like he's only in the waiting room for a little over twenty minutes. It’s hard to keep track of time over the sounds of David and Joe bitching at each other. Babe wouldn't be surprised if they never stopped fighting.
Babe perks up and, with a salute in their general direction that neither of them pay attention to, he follows the nurse through the door.
She smiles at him, the same warm smile that he remembers from last time. He might be projecting, but he's at least 80% positive he sees recognition in her eyes.
"That's a deep cut you have," she says, and her tone is dripping in concern.
Babe bites on his lips. Now that he's away from his friends, the pain is certainly more noticeable. "Feels pretty deep, ma'am."
"I wouldn't worry about it," she assures him, "Doc Roe is the best at what he does."
Babe freezes. "Oh."
She seems to understand what the problem is because her smile takes over her face. "Don't worry, Doc takes discretion very seriously."
Babe isn’t entirely convinced, and it must show on his face because she stops him in the middle of the hallway.
“If you’re uncomfortable with seeing him again,” she starts. There is his confirmation that his suspicions were correct, “I can put in a request for a different attending doctor.”
“No,” Babe says, and he sounds hesitant even to his own ears. “No. That won’t be necessary.”
The nurse stares at him for a moment, probably to make sure Babe isn’t doing something he’s uncomfortable with just to save face. Once she’s sure he’s being honest with her, she smiles that same damn smile at him and leads him into a room that looks very similar to the one he was put into during his first visit.
Babe doesn’t know why he’s surprised by this. All hospitals tend to look the same.
He sits down on the bench before she asks him to and very carefully manages to lay his hand in a comfortable position.
"The doctor will be in soon,” The nurse says.
Doc Roe looks the same as when Babe left him.
The circles under his eyes might be a little more prominent, but his blue eyes are the same as Babe remembers. His hair is still a stark contrast against the bare walls of the hospital room, leaving Babe’s breath catching in his throat. He looks good. Well, from what he can gather, the Doc always looks good, but Babe isn’t there all the time.
“Edward,” he greets.
“Didn’t expect to see you back ‘ere so soon,” his says, amused, and Babe very much wants to melt into the floor. He should’ve just died in Webster’s damn jeep.
“Wasn’t plannin’ on it either,” Babe grumbles, and gestures down to his injured hand with his free one, “Kinda got ambushed by an idiotic friend. It was super effective.”
Babe will always be surprised by Roe’s laugh, he thinks. It demands attention; Babe is kind of in love with it. “Let’s have a look at that hand, then.”
Roe's gentle touch will always surprise Babe, too. His fingers are calloused from all of the chaos of the hospital, his touch is warm, always so warm. Babe thinks he could return here every single damn day and still be shocked by this.
The skin around the hook is now purple. It wasn't purple a few minutes ago. Babe tries not to hyperventilate but by the calming look Roe gives him he's doesn't succeed all that well.
"This is in deep," he comments, and Babe barely bites his lip on the 'no shit' that threatens to slip out. His fingers graze over Babe's own in a reassuring gesture, and he meets his gaze again. "I don't feel comfortable pulling it out without surgery. It could be hooked 'round a vein."
Babe hasn't been in surgery since he was four and he needed his tonsils taken out, so he's a little nervous. "Whatever you gotta do, Doc."
Roe quirks a half-smile at him. "I'm gonna need to take x-rays of it, too."
"Gotta tell ya, that's the part I'm least worried about," Babe laughs, "that machine and I go way back."
"I figured," his eyes are so bright Babe almost drowns in them.
The surgery is over quicker than Babe expects, probably because he's out for the entirety of it.
He wakes up expecting to still feel pain in his hand. Instead he only feels drowsy and his head is too heavy, like its filled to the brim with cotton balls. He's about to ask about it, because heads should not feel like this at all, when a voice says, "It's alive."
It takes him a few minutes to realize it's Joe. "Joe?"
"Don't hurt yourself there, Babe. Drugs still haven't worn off."
Oh. Drugs would make sense. "Did I lose a hand?"
Babe can't feel it. Well, Babe can't feel anything right now, but especially not his hand.
"It's still right where it should be," Joe assures him.
"Oh," he licks his lips. "Good."
It's quiet for a few minutes, and then, "You totally missed it, man."
Babe doesn't like missing out on things. "What?"
"Your doc sorta tore into Web after he came outta surgery to let us know you were okay."
Babe blinks. And blinks again. And blinks one more time for good measure. His brain is still drug-slow, but even then he's pretty sure he heard Joe correctly. "He what?"
Joe grins at him, all teeth. Babe doesn't understand how he can find so much enjoyment over his boyfriend's pain. "Your doc kinda told Web off for letting the accident happen. Then lectured 'im for about twenty minutes on the importance of boat safety."
Babe doesn't know what to say. "Oh."
He looks around the room, expecting to find David brooding in the corner over his boyfriend embarrassing him again. If Babe's honest, their entire relationship is built on the need to rip the ground out from underneath each other. He finds the room empty save for Joe.
Joe seems to notice this, because then his grin turns absolutely predatory. "Web isn't here. He's sulking in the cafeteria."
Babe doesn't know what to think about any of this. Partly because his head is still moving at a glacial pace, his thoughts fuzzy, but another part of that is because Roe will never stop surprising him. Just when he thinks he had the other man figured out -- quiet and reserved, but too kind for his own good -- the doc decides to flip the script on him.
It's not a bad thing, though. It's exhilarating, sends his pulse racing. He hopes, god he hopes, that doesn't change.
"When do you think David will be back in here?"
Joe laughs. "Whenever his pride has been restored." He says, and looks down at his phone. His smile widens into a grin. "He's petulantly sending me updates."
Babe laughs, even though he probably won't remember any of the conversation when he wakes back up. "Probably gonna hear about this for at least the next five years."
"Be prepared for it," Joe agrees, though his eyes are dancing. It's one of those rare times Babe likes him more than his boyfriend. "No one holds a grudge like Web does."
Babe groans. "Great."
Joe pats his arm. "You get used to it."
When Babe wakes up for the second time, his room is suspiciously empty, except for Roe who looks to be checking his vitals.
His head doesn't feel so stuffed now, and his vision is certainly clearer. He's about to ask what the doctor is even doing in here, this is a nurses job after all, when Roe seems to feel his gaze on the side of his face.
"How you feelin'?"
Babe licks his lips, and tries to clear his throat. Only it sends him into a hacking coughing fit, rough, loud coughs that leave his throat sore. Roe sheepishly hands him a glass of water.
"I shouldn'ta made you talk," he says. His cheeks are flushed a little underneath the lights from the machines and the street lamps outside. Babe likes the look on him -- though if he's pressed to admit it he'd like any look on Roe.
"I'm okay," Babe says, “S’okay.”
Roe nods once, satisfactory, like this is all he needed to hear. “They'll release ya tomorrow,” he informs Babe when the silence has stretched on for a little bit too long.
“Alright,” Babe replies.
Roe chances one last look at Babe--he will never get used to the depths of his eyes -- and gestures towards the door. “Should get back to the oth’r patients,” Roe mumbles.
Babe doesn’t even get a chance to reply before he flees the room. Interesting.
The third time Babe shows up at the hospital in as many months isn’t his fault at all.
He’s sleeping in his bed when his phone rings on his bedside table. It’s a Sunday, which means he’s off of work and able to sleep in more than he usually does. He pretends he doesn’t hear it and tries to go back to sleep. Babe is allowed to do these things on Sundays, no one ever needs him. But then it rings again, and it’s probably just his imagination, but it sounds urgent, somehow. It's not like Babe ever actually does anything anyway, so he begrudgingly reaches over to answer it.
He shoots out of bed like a damn shot at the sound of the voice on the other end. He's heard Lipton sound a lot of things--amused, angry, annoyed, resigned, deliriously happy -- but he's never heard him sound like this; absolutely fucking miserable.
"Lip? You okay?"
"Don't think so, boy," he grits out. "Opened my damn thumb on a knife. Ron's still at work. Gonna need you."
Babe blinks. "It's seven in the morning."
"Ron doesn't work regular hours," he says, and Babe knows this. He doesn't remember exactly what Ron does (both of them keep that card close to their chests) but he knows Ron works sporadic hours. He always has, as long as Babe has known them at least. "Already called him but he won't be able to get here for another hour at least. I-I'm gonna need help before that."
Babe's already pulling on pants and grabbing his wallet and keys from the top of his dresser before Lip even finishes his sentence. There is nothing Babe wouldn't do for those two, really, and if it's as bad as he thinks it is, then Lip might be losing a damn finger.
"I'm leaving now," Babe assures him, because Lip's breathing is starting to sound increasingly labored and he doesn't like the sound of it too much.
"Don't mention it."
Despite Lip living on the other side of the damn city, Babe makes it there in less than ten minutes. He also may have violated traffic laws, but that's between him and the city of Philadelphia.
Lip and Ron's apartment looks a lot like Babe's own, or well, it would if their building was thirty years older.
He illegally parks his car after deciding the amount of cops on the lookout for parking violations would be at an all time low, and heads up to their apartment on the fourth floor.
Babe doesn't even bother knocking, knowing that Lip would've already unlocked the door for him and barges right in. Lip is standing in the kitchen to left of the front door, holding a paper towel drenched in blood wrapped around his right hand. Babe's stomach bottoms out.
"Lip," he greets, gesturing towards his hand. "How bad is it then?"
Lip stares at him for a moment, before sighing and unwrapping the towel, probably understanding Babe wasn't taking him anywhere without seeing what the damage was.
He's almost sorry he asked to see it. Lip's entire hand is a bright, disturbing pink-purple that is probably as painful as it looks, though it's hard to tell underneath all of the blood. His thumb is just barely hanging on, looking like just one wrong jostle will send it flying. Babe kind of wants to unload his dinner right in the middle of their kitchen.
"Jesus, Lip." He says and watches as the other man dutifully wraps his hand back up. "That thumb is almost off clean. We gotta go now."
Lip just grunts at him. Babe sends Ron a text to tell him they're on the way to the hospital and that he should meet them there instead.
The drive over is uneventful, mainly because Lip is fading in and out of consciousness in Babe's backseat. Babe doesn't have the heart to try and make conversation with him.
He knows he should try and keep him awake, because of blood loss and all that. He doesn't find it likely that Lip will die from this, so he doesn't find it necessary. He does, however, frequently check back to make sure Lip is still stable.
(He always is.)
He gets there in record time, probably because he breaks enough traffic laws to definitely warrant an arrest, but either the cops are taking pity on him today or someone who really adores him is looking out for him; they get there with no interference. Thank Christ.
The nurse on duty when he comes in recognizes him almost immediately, going by the shit-eating grin that's taken over half of her face. She hasn't noticed Lip's bloody hand, apparently.
"Back to see us so soon, Edward?"
Lip has enough humor in him to mouth 'Edward?' when the nurse looks back down at her papers again. It's enough for him to contemplate just leaving him there; Ron will be there soon. Babe could probably get away with it.
"S'not me today, unfortunately," he says, and gestures towards Lip. "He almost sliced his thumb off while making breakfast this morning."
The nurse, thankfully, then seems to notice the bleeding man next to him and a brief flash of guilt takes over her face. “I’m sorry about that, sir,” she apologizes profusely. “Let’s go ahead and get him checked in.”
"His boyfriend will be here soon," Babe says, "who, understandably has a better understanding of his medical history."
"The paperwork can wait," she smiles at them both, and directs them to sit in the waiting room.
"The doctor will be out to see you shortly."
Babe tries to resist the urge to ask, he really does, because he knows his crush on the doctor is pretty much blatantly obvious at this point. If anyone asks, he’s sure he’s entitled to a tiny bit of plausible deniability. So, really, he can’t help it when he leans over on the front desk and drawls, “What doctor is on shift tonight?”
The nurse, whose name tag reads ‘Alice’, smiles at him knowingly. Babe shouldn’t have asked, he should’ve kept his big fuckin’ mouth shut. “Doctor Roe is on shift tonight,” she says.
“Thanks,” he says, and makes a beeline towards Lip, who is already sitting down in one of the chairs along the far wall. Babe’s cheeks are burning bright crimson, just like his ears, and he really hopes Lip will do him a solid -- either because he’s in too much pain to notice Babe’s outright mortification, or because he definitely sees it and just chooses not to comment on it. Babe’s here with him at the hospital; he thinks Lip owes him at least that much.
All Lip has to do is look at him and those hopes are dashed completely. Babe really hates his friends sometimes.
“So, is there something you should be telling me?” Lip asks. How he still has the energy to speak at this point is beyond him.
“Ron is going to be here in about five minutes?” Babe tries.
Lip, is just about as amused as Babe thought he would be at that, which is not at all. “Don’t play coy with me, boy. I heard the nurse. Spill.”
“Kinda been here a few times, recently,” Babe admits, and at Lip’s bug-eyed look of panic, waves a dismissive hand. “No, Lip, it wasn’t nothin’ serious. Just a minor embarrassment I’d rather never think or talk about again, and then the whole boat incident.”
“Joe and I told you not to go out on that damn boat of Webster’s,” Lip grumbles.
“Trust me, I learned my lesson,” Babe assures him, because he has. He could die happy knowing he’d never have to step foot on that monstrosity again. “So the staff kind of knows me here.”
“Huh,” is all Lip says.
“And there’s this doctor…” Babe trails off, lamely. He pauses. It’s not like he thinks Lip will care or judge him for it, he’s dating Ron of all people, he’ll be the first to understand, but Babe has always been tight-lipped about who he’s interested in. Not even his ma can get anything worthwhile out of him in that department, and she’s always been suspiciously perceptive.
“Out with it,” Lip manages.
“He’s, y’know,” Babe starts, and at Lip’s expectant look, sighs, and decides to go for broke. There’s really nothing left in him to be embarrassed about, not after the Incident He Refuses to Acknowledge Ever. “He’s pretty damn great, Lip.”
“You would have it bad for a doctor.”
Babe’s about to reply, but someone cuts him off. “They have steady hands.”
He almost has a heart attack. Babe almost dies right there in the middle of a hospital waiting room. For a good while he forgot about Ron’s disgusting obsession with catching people completely and totally off guard.
“Christ, Ron,” Babe breathes. “Warn a guy.”
Ron, unsurprisingly, ignores this and turns his attentions to Lip. “How bad is it?” He murmurs.
Babe rolls his eyes and decides to go up and get the paperwork from the nurse to have Ron fill out after he’s made sure Lip isn’t critical. While he had his misgivings about Ron in the beginning, finding him creepily intense and downright terrifying, he couldn’t deny how much he cared for Lip. It was kind of sweet, actually, when you got past all the horrible parts.
Babe thinks Lip is lucky, in that way.
They wait there for about twenty more minutes, with Ron whispering sweet-nothings and promises into Lip’s ear. Unfortunately, it’s still loud enough for Babe to hear, and he wouldn’t be surprised if that were intentional. Ron is a conniving bastard -- Babe feels like he’s intruding on a nauseatingly comforting date.
It’s Doc this time that opens the doors and calls Lip back.
Roe scans the waiting room for a few seconds before his eyes fall on Babe. They’re the same deep blue that Babe remembers from a few weeks ago, though there’s a little stubble on his face, like he was too sleepy or busy to shave it off. Babe decides he likes it.
There’s confusion on his face, probably at the fact that he’s here again in such a short amount of time, but Babe gestures to Ron and Lip beside him, who are so wrapped up in each other they didn’t hear Roe call their name.
He takes a plunge and elbows Ron in the side. “He’s ready for ya, Lip.”
“Don’t do that again,” Ron warns, sounding distinctly serene. There’s a definite possibility that Babe will have nightmares for the rest of his life.
Ron helps him to the doors, before handing him off to Roe and a nurse who mysteriously appears out of thin air. Neither of them are allowed back, yet, at least not until Roe assess how bad it is--which is pretty fucking bad, to be honest--so they both take their seats again and fall into an awkward silence.
“Okay.” Babe says, and promptly closes his mouth.
He’s not touching that one with a ten foot pole.
Doc comes out about an hour later, the expression on his face carefully blank. Ron immediately gets up to go talk to him, with Babe following him a few seconds later.
“Mr. Speirs,” Doc greets, and Babe almost forgot how rich his accent was, jesus. “The surgery went great. Mr. Lipton should be able t’a go home tomorrow. He was lucky the knife sliced it clean.”
Ron nods, taking it all in, before he meets the Doc’s gaze once more. “When can we see him?”
Surprisingly, Babe is included in this, especially after the cheap-shot he made at Ron’s expense earlier, but he knows better than to question him on anything.
Doc’s eyes shift between the two of them. It's probably just Babe’s overactive imagination but he’s pretty sure Doc lingers a little, can feel his eyes boring into Babe’s own. It’s exhilarating.
“I can go ahead and take you back now,” Doc says, though he looks between them. “One at a time, though.”
Babe bites his lip. “Go,” he says, though he knows Ron doesn’t need permission from him about anything.
Ron nods, before following the doctor back behind the doors. Babe sighs, thinking that maybe it was a good thing that they hadn’t connected personally. He probably would’ve made a right ass out of himself, only furthering to give this hospital material to make fun of him for, and he would most definitely scare Doc off for good.
He’s about to retake his seat in the back row, when he feels a hand rest gently on his shoulder. All breath escapes him.
He turns around, and almost collides straight with Doc’s chest. He’s never noticed it before, but the man is only a little bit taller than Babe. It wouldn't be much for the doctor to have to bend down to kiss him--y’know, if the other man was so inclined to do so. Babe could hope.
“Sorry,” Doc apologizes, not really sounding sorry at all.
“Is something wrong?” Babe asks, unable to keep the frantic panic out of his voice.
“No,” Doc assures him, “nothing like that.”
“Oh,” he says, lamely.
There’s an awkward silence for a while, before Doc gestures to Babe’s hand. “How’s that healin’ up?”
Babe shrugs. “Still hurts sometimes, but it’s okay,” he says, and then shows his hand to him. The palm isn’t really bruised at all anymore, aside from a little yellow around the edges of the wound. The wound itself has closed up nicely, new pink skin replacing the jagged lines where the fishhook used to be.
“Healin’ up nicely,” Doc nods, looking pleased. Babe wouldn’t be too put out if he saw that same damn expression for the rest of his life.
“Thanks, Doc,” Babe smiles, unable to wipe it off before it surfaces.
Doc is quiet for a second, and Babe wonders just how obvious he’s being right now. It’s probably clear just how deep his feelings run, and he should probably leave. He can always visit Lip tomorrow since they’re keeping him at least overnight, and in that time he can lick his wounds and gather what little pride he has left.
Just when he’s about to make some half-hearted excuse about leaving to go do something or another, Doc returns his smile shyly. His eyes are glittering with something a lot like fond amusement. Babe's heart skips a couple beats.
Doc chuckles at that. “No,” he smiles. “My name. It’s Gene.”
“Oh,” Babe says, and then it hits him. “Oh.”
Gene seems to think that’s nothing short of amusing, because he lets out a breath that sounds a lot like a laugh, and gestures with his head down the hallway Ron disappeared down a few minutes before. “You can’t go in yet,” he says, and he sounds apologetic. “But, you can wait ou’side.”
Babe blinks, in a haze, but manages to follow Gene through the double doors. It looks different than it did when he was a patient here; the walls don’t seem so disturbingly pale, the fluorescent lights don’t seem so daunting, and the staff actually looks happy; humorous.
“Huh,” he says.
“Heffron?” Gene questions, eyebrows furrowing.
“It’s just different, is all,” He replies, and at the confused look he gets, says, “The hospital. When you’re not a patient, I mean.”
“Yeah,” Gene is half-smiling again. There’s a good chance Babe might just die if he doesn’t stop. “S’different when you’re a doctor, too,” he says, teasingly.
Babe grins. “Maybe someday I can try that out as well.”
“Gonna need some years of medical school until then,” Gene says in that same damn tone, and good God, Babe is done for. He’s so done for. There’s nobody else on the planet that can make him feel like this, no one other than Gene. “Don’t want you hurting the patients.” He pauses for a moment. “Or yourself.”
“Hey, now,” Babe scowls.
Gene just stares at him for a minute, looking for all the world like he wants to say something, but then he shakes his head like it’s a bad idea, and bites on his bottom lip instead. It’s like the man is out to personally get Babe or something. Honestly, he wouldn’t be surprised if he were at this point.
“Dammit,” he curses, and then looks down at the phone that’s beeping at him violently. “Sorry, but I gotta go.”
“That’s okay,” Babe says. “Go keep bein’ a doctor ‘nd stuff.”
Gene’s smile reaches his eyes this time. “Keep bein’ healthy a’d stuff,” he teases, and then he scrambles down the hall and disappears.
Babe can’t breathe.
He hasn’t been able to breathe in a couple of days. He had pushed it aside because it was just the beginning of summer, and he tended to get sick with the seasons change. But, he hasn’t been able to get out of bed in so long he can’t even remember the last time he took a shower, and he’s willing to admit that he probably needs to go to the hospital. Maybe.
After a couple of tries, he manages to lean over and grab his phone from the bedside table.
Babe [08:38:29 A.M.]
Babe [08:39:00 A.M.]
Luckily, Webster has always been a pretty prompt texter, and a reply comes within a few seconds.
Webster [08:40:11 A.M.]
Babe? Everything okay?
Babe [08:41:34 A.M.]
Sick. Really sick. Somethin’ wrong.
He closes his eyes for a second, just a second, he swears, but the next thing he knows there’s Webster leaning over him with an expression that’s halfway caught between palpable concern and disgust.
“Web,” he croaks. His throat feels like ashes. “Please tell me you didn’t break ‘n.”
“You gave me a key,” Webster reminds him, and then his warm, too warm hand, oh god, rests on Babe’s forehead. He doesn’t even try to hide his flinch. “Jesus, you’re delirious. We need to get you to the hospital.”
“No,” Babe moans, and shoves off Webster’s hand. “I’m ‘ine.”
“Babe,” Webster starts, and fuck, he actually sounds somewhat panicked. “I’m not qualified to deal with this,” he gestures toward Babe’s entire body, and he has enough in him to scowl petulantly. “And I’m definitely not leaving you here to die without supervision.”
“Just sit in the corner then,” Babe coughs.
“I can call Joe,” Webster offers. “He’ll just annoy you into going until you eventually concede. You know he will. He’s worse than I am.”
Webster does have a point. For all of Joe’s gusto and sharp tongue, he cares deeply for the people he’s chosen to let in, and somehow, Babe’s managed to be one of those people. Joe is ruthlessly selfless when it comes to those he cares about. He’ll probably have half the head to carry Babe straight outta here himself, and there are just some things he doesn’t want to ever deal with.
“Fine,” he snaps, but there’s no heat to it. He really does feel like boiled over shit.
“Glad that was virtually painless,” David mumbles. “Let’s get you movin’, then. Can you walk?”
“Dunno,” Babe mumbles. “Haven’t tried in a few days.”
He probably smells something awful, and going by the way David’s nose scrunches up like he’s caught wind of it, basically confirms it. He hasn’t had the energy to do anything but lie there. He probably should’ve called David sooner, but he’s always been stubborn. Ain’t nothing going to change that one.
“We can try,” David said. “Lean on me as much as you have to, just don’t breathe in my face.”
Babe raises an eyebrow. “‘Fraid of a little germs?” He wheezes.
“I have a very delicate immune system.”
Babe laughs so hard he cries, and snot gets over pretty much every single surface in his vicinity.
David almost walks out.
It’s on the way to the hospital that Babe feels spiders crawling all over him.
He’s never been particularly scared over bugs, not really, not since he was a little kid that still needed his dad to kill the long legs that liked to chill out on his ceiling, but he can feel them all over his face, his neck, his legs, and there are just some things he’s not equipped to deal with.
“David,” Babe says, voice hoarse. “David. Pull over. Now.”
“I’m on the highway, I can’t.” He pauses for a moment. “Are you going to throw up?”
“I can feel ‘em, Dave. Please.”
David blinks at him in the mirror. “Feel what, Babe?”
“There are spiders,” he finishes, weakly. “All over me. I can feel them."
He hasn’t looked down yet, but in that moment he does, and he immediately regrets it.
There are hundreds of tiny spiders crawling all over him, to the point where it almost seems like they’re coming out of him. All breath leaves him immediately, and the small confines of the car are rapidly closing in on him. His throat is scratchy, tired, full, full of those fucking bugs. There’s nothing Babe can do.
“Please.” He croaks.
“Babe,” David says calmly. Babe can’t bring himself to look away. They seem to sense his fear, changing directions and making a beeline for his face. He lets out a blood-curdling scream, because there’s a definite possibility he will die. They haven’t bitten him yet, thank god, but they’re closing in on his face and he’s terrified.
David is still talking to him, in hushed, comforting tones, but Babe doesn’t hear any of it. He can’t hear any of it because they’re crawling to, or out of his ears. He couldn’t even be sure at this point.
He loses track of time. It feels like minutes could’ve passed or maybe hours, he’s really not too sure, but suddenly there are strong, warm hands pulling him from the backseat of David’s car, and he’s being loaded onto the stretcher. Maybe he hadn’t just been talking to Babe, now that he thinks of it.
“They’re still there,” he whispers.
He can’t make out who’s there and who isn’t, but he’s pretty sure he can see the outline of David’s thick hair looking down at him. There’s a gentle squeeze to his right wrist -- Babe wonders how the grip gets through all of the spiders, but his throat is too tight to question it out loud.
The last thing he remembers before he closes his eyes is that he’d really, really appreciate being thrown into an entire pool of bug repellant.
He wakes up to beeping.
There’s something on his face that he can’t claw off no matter how much he tries but there doesn’t seem to be anything crawling on him anymore. He turns and notes the side table, barren aside from a couple of cards and a teddy bear. His head is still fuzzy, loaded down with whatever they’re pumping into him, and he’s grateful for it.
The monitors must let Doc know he’s awake, because between one breath and the next, Gene is by his side. There’s a worried slant to his eyebrows that Babe wants to smooth away with his thumb.
“You put us through a scare, Edward,” Gene says. His voice is carefully neutral, but his eyes are oceans of concern.
It comforts Babe more than he’d like to admit.
He goes to try to talk but Gene holds up a slender, calloused hand.
“You had an allergic reaction to one of the medications we gave you,” Gene tells him, sounding apologetic. It’s not Gene’s fault. Babe has no idea what he is and isn’t allergic to, because he’s never really been a frequent hospital goer until recently. “We had to put you on a breathalyzer to stabilize everythin.’”
Babe blinked, but nods to show his understanding. “The tube’ll come out in a few hours. Just gotta make sure your vitals stay the way they are.”
Babe nods again, and hopes his eyes convey what he’s trying to ask. Either Gene can actually read his mind, or if it’s just blind dumb luck, but he gestures towards him. “You came in delirious, Edward.”
He thinks he remembers it, mostly. He remembers being in the back of David’s rusty old truck that he refuses to get rid of no matter how old it gets (“It’s remarkable,” Joe complained one day, “He fuckin’ insists on repurchasing the same damn expensive shirts but he’ll sit in that rotting piece of junk until someone goddamn tears him away from it,”), and he’s pretty sure he remembers the spiders.
“We haven’t narrowed down exactly what virus is causin’ ‘t,” Gene says, voice gentle. “So, we’re gonna keep you here for a few days, just to make sure.” ‘You don’t take a nosedive’ is what Gene doesn’t have to say for Babe to hear it anyway.
When the tube finally comes out, his throat hurts something fierce, it feels dry as a desert, but at least he can talk again.
Gene and a few nurses come in and out of his room for a while after that, checking his vitals and asking him if he’s began hallucinating again. He appreciates their concern, knows they’re just doing their jobs, but he hates being coddled.
“I’m okay,” He says, the fifth time Gene comes in an hour.
“Just came here to ask you a few questions.”
Babe nods. “Okay.” His voice still doesn’t sound quite the same.
“How long were you sick before you came in?”
He bites on his lip. He knows he should be truthful here, because it’s the best route, but he also knows Gene would probably be upset with how long Babe waited to get checked out. He’s just always been a ‘I’m going to avoid all problems until they eventually go away’ sort of guy, especially when it came to his health.
Which definitely wasn’t a good thing, when he was sort of halfway in love with a doctor.
(Let it be said that Babe sure knows how to pick them.)
“Uh,” Babe starts. “A while. A few days.”
Gene’s eyes narrow unhappily. "Heffron.”
“I didn’t think it was nothin’ serious,” Babe explains, because it’s true. He’s had the flu before. It would always eventually pass. “But, then I woke up and couldn’t remember what day it was and I didn’t think I could get outta bed.”
He tsks. “Your immune system is gettin’ attacked. Should’a came in here sooner.”
“Least I’m here now?” Babe tries.
That gets Gene to smile, at least, though it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.
It’s quiet for a long time, the beeping from the machines Babe’s hooked up to filling up the silence, and it should be awkward, but it isn’t. It’s comfortable in a way silences usually are not; enough for his eyelids to start drooping, his eyelashes fluttering against his cheeks. He doesn’t want to fall asleep, not when he could be talking to Gene.
“I’m real glad you’re okay, Edward,” Gene says. He sounds sincere.
“How many times do I gotta tell you, it’s Babe.”
Gene laughs at the petulant tone to his voice, and shakes his head. “Like Edward better.”
Babe finds he doesn’t mind it so much, not when it’s from Gene, either.
There’s so much blood.
This is Babe’s first thought. One of his best friends is lying in the road, clutching helplessly at his throat, and the only thing Babe can think about is how red the streets are, how Julian’s hands keep slipping off of his neck because of how much blood there is. He’s frozen in place, he can’t do anything.
“Hold on! Julian, hold on. I’m going to get you help,” Babe screams, eventually, because Julian won’t stop moving, like a roach on it’s back, and it may or may not be the cause of Babe going into a damn crisis.
When he reaches into his pocket to get his phone, he realizes it’s dead, and curses. His car is here, but he doesn’t really trust himself to drive, not really, not when his hands are shaking so bad he can’t even grasp a steering wheel.
But, Julian is dying, and this is the only thing Babe can do for him, so he loads him up in the back seat and drives him to the hospital.
“Sir,” The nurse says, and he doesn’t recognize her. She’s trying to placate him, he knows, because that’s what nurses do. “You have to wait in the waiting room.”
“We’re going to take him back now,” her voice, this time, is gentle.
Babe doesn’t want them to take Julian back. Well, he doesn’t want them to take him back without Babe. He feels morally responsible for Julian, one of the kids in his neighborhood that he took a liking to almost immediately and has spent the majority of the last ten years protecting.
He couldn’t protect Julian this time.
Babe doesn’t want to think about it.
He doesn’t know how long he waits in the waiting room this time.
He switches between unable to take his eyes off the clock to not wanting to look at something as definite as time at all, eyes trying to focus on anything else and hardly succeeding. He’s never felt like this before, anxiety-ridden and panicked and resigned.
Babe faintly remembers calling Julian’s mom. He also remembers it going to voicemail.
He doesn’t quite know what to do with that one.
Babe’s so caught up in his own head he doesn’t hear Gene call for him.
He almost jumps when he feels a hand rest on his shoulder. When Babe looks up, he almost wishes he didn’t. He knows doctors are taught to always have their expressions be carefully neutral, their eyes bright and comforting, their posture placating.
Gene is none of those things. There’s defeat written in the line of his shoulders, and his mouth is pulled down into a frown that Babe’s never seen before.
His recognition must be written all over his face -- Babe’s always been pitifully horrible at hiding how he feels -- because Gene bites on his bottom lip for a second, before he grabs Babe by the elbow to pull him up. “Follow me.”
Babe blinks, but follows him through the doors, anyway.
Gene leads them to a room that looks like it’s used to house doctors and nurses on breaks in between shifts, and gets the impression that Gene’s probably breaking a bunch of regulations and rules by bringing him back here.
“Gene.” Babe starts, and then stops.
He ignores Babe, instead pushing him down on one of the cots that looks like it hasn’t been touched in a while, and stands in front of him. “Edward,” he repeats, and then blows a breath out of his nose. “We couldn’t save him.”
Rationally, Babe knew this. He has known this since he saw Julian laying in the street. He’s known this since Gene appeared in front of him looking defeated. Babe shouldn’t be surprised by this. But knowing and hearing are two completely different things, and he can’t help the way his heart beat skyrockets.
“The bullet hit ‘im right on his trachea. Severed his carotid artery,” Gene explains. Babe knows severing arteries is never a good thing. There was so much blood; he should’ve known. “We did everything we could.”
Babe is still for a long time after that. He doesn’t want to talk, because he knows everything he says will be a mechanism against the panic and helplessness he’s now feeling, and he doesn’t want to blame Gene for something he couldn’t control. Babe knows this, but he also knows his instinct is to lash out, so he can’t help it when his fists slam against the bedside table by the bed, can’t help it when his knuckles start bleeding and he doesn’t think to stop.
“Edward,” Gene tries, but Babe can’t hear him over the ringing in his ears. Babe should’ve tried harder. He should’ve shoved Julian out of the way the moment he saw that damn car, but he didn’t. It’s Philadelphia, if he balked at every car going outside would be pointless.
Eventually, two solid, warm hands close over his wrists and pull him away from the table. “Babe.”
“It was my job, Gene,” he whispers, eventually. There’s anger soaring inside of him still, but it’s mainly at himself for letting this happen. “Promised his ma I would protect him.”
At this, Gene actually looks irritated. “This isn’t your fault.” He says, but then his expression sobers up, and he looks apologetic. “The police are here. They need’a statement from you.”
Suddenly, bringing Babe back here makes a whole lot of sense. He feels pretty damn stupid for thinking Gene would bring him back here as some sort of twisted special treatment, and feels his cheeks heat in response, ducking his head.
“Shit. Edward,” Gene says, and then his hands are pulling his collar down. “Why didn’t you say somethin’? You’re hit!"
Babe blinks. “What.”
Babe looks down and notices his blood-soaked collar. There isn’t nearly enough blood as there was with Julian, but Gene still calls for a nurse immediately. Babe knows this one, from the first time he was here. Babe flushes even more at the sight of her, to which Renee smirks at him knowingly. Her eyes are light and amused, though, so Babe decides not to let it bother him too much.
Now that he’s been made aware of the wound, it starts to throb. He winces when Gene tears his shirt a little to get a better look at it, and out right whimpers--jesus, that’s embarrassing--when Gene gets closer to it.
Gene makes a considering noise in his throat. “Can’t tell how bad it is,” he mutters.
“I didn’t even know,” he breathes, because it’s the truth. He must’ve been so caught up in Julian that he didn’t even feel it, let alone think to look for anything on himself. “There were so many bullets. I didn’t think to look for any other’s that hit.”
“S’not your fault,” Gene assures him, and then taps his shoulders. “We’re going to need to move you to a sterile room. How bad is the pain?”
Babe breathes through his nose heavily. Now that he’s aware of it, it’s steadily climbing from an annoyance to a deep ache, so he shakily holds up five fingers. “Five.”
“Okay,” Gene nods, not looking surprised by this, and loads him into the wheelchair Renee brings in.
He scowls at it. “I can walk, y’know.”
“Not doubtin’ it,” Gene snorts. Babe doesn’t care how nice his ass is, this is so not funny. “Just takin’ precautions.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Babe waves at him.
Babe is lucky.
He’s heard that at least five times from five different people in the last three hours and all he wants to do is go home, curl in his bed, and maybe forget that he’s a person for a good long while.
The bullet was just a ricochet, probably off of the pole they were standing by. It missed pretty much everything, just lodging a few inches beneath the surface of his skin. If he had been standing a few inches to the left, he would’ve ended up like Julian, bleeding out on a street, and then on that damn hospital bed. Babe doesn’t want to think about how lucky he is.
One of his best friends is dead, and he isn’t, and all Babe can focus on is how it should’ve been him. He should’ve died.
Julian was just a kid.
They end up keep him overnight for observation.
The day is full of a flurry of nurses, worried calls from family members and friends who heard about the drive-by on the news, and a line of questioning from the police he’d like to never repeat again (“No, I didn’t set him up.” “Yes, I did everything I could to save ‘im.” “No, I didn’t get the plate number,”).
Gene comes in right before they wheel him out. He looks worn-down and tired, big, purple-dark bags under his eyes. Babe’s only seen him a handful of times, but he’s never seen him look so exhausted. He’s dressed in a warm sweater and black dress pants.
“Gene,” Babe says, and then doesn’t say anything else.
“I just came by to check ‘p on you,” Gene says. He looks concerned. Babe is no stranger to it. “I didn’t get’a chance to do it earlier.”
“I’m good,” he says, and then can’t bite back on the, “Well. Good as I can be, y’know,” that escapes from his throat.
“Was a dumb question, wasn’t it?” Gene laughs, but there’s no humor in it. “Also wanted to see if you wanted a ride home.”
“Isn’t that against the rules?”
“Not explicitly, no,” Gene says, and then rubs a hand behind his neck. “I could call you a cab. If you’d be more comfortable ‘ith that.”
Babe doesn’t want to ride in a cab, so he says as much. “Okay.”
“You’re not gonna like this,” Gene starts, and his eyes are glittering with a playful light he’s never seen before. It’s a welcome distraction from the debilitating grief Babe is trying not to focus on. “But, we’re gonna hafta wheel you out.”
“Gene. No.” Babe hisses. “I am not an invalid.”
“Hospital policy,” Gene says, not sounding sorry at all.
Babe rolls his eyes. “Well, hospital policy sucks.”
The peel of laughter Gene lets out at that warms Babe down to his core.
“I’m not even surprised,” Babe says solemnly.
“What?” Gene asks. His eyes are so much more blue in the light of the sun. Babe’s breath catches in his throat, he can’t help it.
“That you listen to this.”
“There’s nothin’ wrong with it.”
“My mother listens to this,” Babe says, and it’s true, too.
Gene grins crookedly at him. “Tell your ma’ that she has great taste in music.”
When they pull up to Babe’s apartment complex, he can’t help but feel a pit in his stomach.
“Thanks,” Babe murmurs, feeling his throat tighten. “For everything. I don’t think I’ve ever really thanked you.”
Gene shakes his head, looking fond. “Ain’t got nothin’ to thank me for, Edward.”
His heart flutters. Then he takes a leap and closes his fingers around Gene’s wrist, feeling warmth he’ll never get used to, even if given the chance. “I do, though. So, thanks.”
Gene looks down at his wrist, and Babe almost thinks he’s going to pull away, maybe sock him right in the jaw, but all Gene does is meet his gaze to smile at him.
“Still don’t gotta thank me,” he mumbles, but then says, “You’re welcome.”
It’s not until later, when Babe locks his door, that he realizes Gene finally called him by his name.
It's enough that he's able to fall asleep. He's woken up by nightmares seven times.
Babe hasn’t been to work in a while, in between the frequent hospital visits and then Julian, he hasn’t really felt up to it, but Lip -- who happens to be his manager -- and Nixon, who owns the place, have been understanding of this, most likely because he’s damn good at his job and they don’t want to lose him.
It’s his first day back at work in a couple weeks, and it’s going smoothly. Well, as smoothly as working as a bartender can go.
No one has thrown their drinks at him yet, which is a plus.
“Just going to take this,” Nixon says, appearing out of nowhere and reaching back to take one of the many Vat 69 bottles. He holds it close to his chest and then presses a finger to his lips as he meets Babe’s gaze. “Don’t tell Dick.”
Babe rolls his eyes. “He’s gonna find out, y’know.”
“Whatever.” Nixon waves him off. “He thinks I’m down here mingling. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
Babe doesn’t think it’s the best idea, letting an alcoholic own a bar, but Nixon is a great boss; he’s stable enough for an alcoholic and he has Richard to keep him in check, which is nice. Babe likes working for him. It helps that Lipton is the manager, but Babe would like it even if he weren’t.
“Whatever ya say, boss,” Babe grins at him good-naturedly, and shrugs off the middle finger that gets thrown his way.
Nixon is good people.
It’s about an hour before the bar closes when Babe spots him.
He’s wiping down the bar when someone clears their throat above him. He’s just reaching for a glass to start their order when he looks up and stops dead in his tracks.
It’s Gene. For some reason, Babe never expected to see him outside of the hospital. Certainly not in a bar. In his bar. Gene looks good, though. He’s wearing a soft, off-white sweater that hugs his slim shoulders perfectly, his hair is messy and sticking out in random tufts like he’s been running his fingers through it recently, and his eyes are dark underneath the shadows of the bar.
Babe’s mouth absolutely waters.
“Gene,” Babe says, warmly. “Never thought to see you here.”
Gene levels him with a look, and manages to hold it for a few seconds before it caves into a crooked half-smile. “Doctors do go to bars, y’know.”
“I know,” He answers. “What can I get ya? It’s on the house.”
“C’mon, Doc,” he grins, “I owe you one. For how many times you saved my stupid ass.”
Gene humors him, because he sits down at the bar, collapsing with a sigh. “Okay. One drink.” He concedes, like a drink isn’t what he was here for in the first place.
Seeing Gene outside of his element is interesting.
Babe’s experienced it before, when Gene drove him home, but this is different. They’re not in a car, driving into Babe’s shitty neighborhood. They’re in the bar in Nixon’s Slightly-More-Appealing neighborhood.
Lip keeps glancing over here like he’s waiting for something to happen, having picked up on Babe and Gene’s chemistry back when he nearly cut his thumb off. Babe shakes off his gaze, because Lip can look over here all he wants. He’s still doing his job. Mostly. He’s just taking frequent breaks to chat to Gene as much as he can. Unsurprisingly, having most of their conversations be under the influence of drugs meant most of them weren’t terribly deep.
Babe learns that Gene moved here from Louisiana for his residency a few years ago and never bothered to move back so he took the job the hospital offered to him after he completed. Gene doesn’t like the cold too much, misses his ma’s gumbo something fierce, and has a dog who his mom bought for him so he wouldn’t be too lonely.
Gene is possibly the best person Babe knows.
His shift is ending when he looks over at him apologetically and winces. “Sorry, Gene, but we gotta close up.”
“That’s alright,” he drawls. Babe still isn’t over his accent. Especially not after learning the man speaks fluent french. There’s something hot about that where it shouldn’t be, Babe thinks. “I should’a be goin’ anyway. It’s late.”
It is late, pushing two-thirty in the morning. He has no idea how the doctor’s eyes are even open, nonetheless how he’s still here.
“You gotta be exhausted,” Babe says.
Gene shrugs. “Kind of wired, actually.”
“Yeah,” Gene agrees, and he leans forward over the counter a bit, like he’s decided something. He clears his throat, and it’s then that Babe notices he looks nervous. “Probably ‘cause I’ve been tryin’ to work up the nerve to ask you out.”
Babe blinks. He blinks four times and Gene still hasn’t disappeared like he’s a figment of Babe’s imagination, so he remains silent. These types of things don’t happen to Babe.
Lately, he’s been notorious for having shitty luck. It’s why his relationships haven’t gone anywhere and why he’s been in the hospital more often than not. His friends told him he’s a magnet for all things sour, and recently Babe has to agree with them. Which is why this doesn’t make a lick of fucking sense.
Gene looks considerably more unsure now. “Wanted to ask you out. On a date. I thought it was obvious.”
Babe’s mouth is probably letting a disgusting amount of dust bunnies and filth in, but he couldn’t close his mouth if he tried.
“Obvious?” He chokes. “That what was obvious?”
Gene stares at him like he’s an incredibly ignorant child. Babe certainly feels like one. “I’m interested. In you.” Gene says plainly.
“In me,” Babe’s voice is flat, even though his heart feels like it’s about to explode right out of his chest.
“What?” Gene smiles, a little ruefully. “Did you think we kept all patients overnight for minor surgeries, Babe?”
“Babe,” he grins. “That’s twice, Gene. Gotta stop bad habits before they form, yeah?”
He laughs. “Figured it might help my case a ‘ittle.”
“The case being?” Babe probes, because he’s still not believing this. Maybe if he hears it enough it’ll actually sink in that Gene is laying out everything Babe has been fantasizing about for the last four months.
“Dinner. You and me. Friday night. How does seven sound?”
Babe’s heart most definitely explodes right out of his chest at that. “Okay,” he says, quietly. “Yes. Yeah.”
“Good,” Gene flashes a smile in his direction, before he produces a pen out of nowhere -- probably one of the endless perks of being a doctor, Babe assumes -- and scribbles something down on the napkin his empty glass was resting on.
He shoves it at Babe before he can protest, and then with a jaunty wave and an excited, shy half-smile, he disappears through the door.
Babe lasts a glorious fifteen seconds before he gives in and looks down at the napkin. It’s Gene’s phone number, written in his messy, chicken-scratch scrawl.
He doesn’t ever want to get rid of it.
Gene picks him up ten minutes to seven.
Babe has been pacing around his apartment for the last twenty-five minutes at least, so frantically that his roommate, Bill, had pushed him out of the door fifteen minutes early because his pacing was giving him a headache. Babe scowls at the door long after Bill has closed it. He’s contemplating forcing his way back inside when he hears a throat clear from behind him.
He turns around, and feels his breath catch in his throat.
Gene looks downright delicious -- which is not something he’s ever thought about anyone previously, but jesus, does it fit Gene right now. He’s dressed in a dark blue button-down that does everything it can to bring out his eyes, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows to show how pale his arms are, probably because he never leaves the fucking hospital. He’s wearing a charcoal gray waist goat on top of it, his shirt tucked into dress pants that does nothing to hide the delectable curve of Gene’s ass.
Babe immediately thinks two things: 1) he has never wanted to break into his own house more, and that has everything to do with the fact that he possibly wants to lock Gene in his bedroom and explore him for the next...well, ever and 2) he feels disgustingly underdressed in his ripped jeans and striped button-down shirt he found at the bottom of his closet.
He is pitifully underdressed, actually.
“I feel like I should change,” Babe laughs, uncomfortably.
Gene must sense his discomfort, because he smiles at him, and rests his hands on Babe’s hips. “You look great.” At Babe’s unconvinced look, he tightens his hold on his hips. “I mean ‘t.”
Babe flushes at the other man’s words and ducks his head. “Kinda wanna skip dinner all together and convince my roommate to fuck off.”
The other man’s cheeks flush impossibly red. “After.”
“That a promise?” Babe asks, mischievously.
Gene just smiles at him and (unfortunately) takes his hands off of Babe’s hips, instead using one to guide him out of the hallway of his apartment building and down the stairs. “Insufferable,” he mutters, but his hand stays where it is.
Babe decides he could get used to that.
The restaurant Gene takes him to is a small-town diner on the edge of Philly that he’s never bothered to try.
The food is good, though, the company better, and Babe can see why he likes it so much when he spots gumbo on the menu. Babe wonders if he misses it sometimes. Back home in Louisiana. He doesn’t think he could do it, move away from his mother and sisters.
He says as much, to which Gene smiles sadly. “Didn’t think I’d do somethin’ like that neither,” He says. “But, then med school happened. Didn’t have much of a choice, then.”
“Louisiana has medical schools,” Babe points out. He actually doesn’t know if they have medical schools or not, but Babe finds it hard to believe there’d be none in the whole damn state.
“S’wasn’t a competition,” Gene clarified. “One of the best ones was here. Not back home.”
Babe doesn’t know what to say, so he settles on: “I’m sorry.”
He’s greeted with a broad, crooked smile. He’s never seen this one before. Babe wonders how long Gene’s been keeping it from him. “Don’t be. S’not all bad here.”
Gene settles his hand over Babe’s, and it feels more right than anything has in a long, long time.
Babe hasn’t been on a date in a long time, hasn’t screwed anyone even longer than that, so he doesn’t know how to tell Gene he’d really, really like to see his dick without sounding desperate or impatient. Instead of trying to say anything, he just stares into the remains of his dinner and hopes his message is conveyed.
(It isn’t, which is a shame. Babe was sure he had ESP down this time.)
Gene seems as reluctant as he is to leave the diner, so when Babe suggests getting dessert as a stalling tactic, he agrees almost instantly.
“Ever get dessert here?”
“Just the pie,” Gene answers. “It’s good.”
Babe makes a considering noise, and when their waitress -- who knows Gene, apparently -- comes by their table again, he orders them two slices.
(The pie is good.
The way Gene’s eyes can never seem to leave his face is even better.)
They’re packing up their leftovers when Gene stops Babe with a hand on his bicep.
“Gene?” Babe asks. Gene’s eyes are soft and kind-hearted, the way Babe loves them to look. He can’t quite read what exactly is there thought. He’s not even sure he wants to.
“Wanna come back to my apartment?” Gene asks, and then licks his lips. Babe wants to die. “For a cup’a Joe, maybe.”
Babe quirks a smile. “I’d like that a lot, Gene.”
Gene’s apartment is lived in and messy.
His living room is cozy and also sort of a disaster. There are books on every available surface -- the coffee and side tables, on half of the couch, and there are even more stuffed to the brim in a few bookcases that line the wall. The couch has a few blankets haphazardly placed over the back, like Gene keeps them there for whenever he gets cold or wants to take a nap, and Babe’s heart warms at the thought of that.
He doesn’t think anything else is more adorable than the image of Gene lazing around on the couch with his feet sticking out of a blanket that’s not long enough for him. The image is actually all sorts of unbearably cute.
“Sorry ‘bout the mess,” Gene offers, apologetically.
Babe waves him off. “My apartment is worse. Trust me.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. His room was worse, but Bill keeps the rest of the house so damn clean that Babe hardly had time to trash it before Bill made it perfect again.
“‘Bout that cup of Joe,” Gene says, and walks into the kitchen. The kitchen is much cleaner, startlingly so.
“Two sugars, no cream,” Babe murmurs out, before Gene can ask.
After the coffee is made and properly sugared, Gene manages to clear off enough space off of the couch for them to sit. It should be awkward, all of their meetings should be entirely too awkward, but it never is. Gene is quick-witted, though quiet and reserved and he finds that when he really gets the other man going -- usually it’s him ranting about some medical trial he doesn’t agree with -- it’s hard to get him to stop.
That’s okay with Babe though. He could listen to him talk for hours.
Their coffee has been gone for a while now, and Babe can’t stop staring at the side of Gene’s face. He’s telling a story, something from his childhood that causes his eyes to get bright with playful mischief and his hands are moving animatedly. He should be listening. He realizes he should be listening, but the only thing that he can think about is how badly he wants to kiss Gene.
He’s never felt like this before, so caught up in a person it’s hard to think about anything else but them. Babe doesn’t know what to do with the information.
So, what he does, unsurprisingly, is make a complete ass out of himself.
Gene has been going on for twenty minutes now. It’s the most that Babe’s heard from the other man during their entire relationship, so he almost doesn’t want to stop him, but he’s blindsided by the deep-seated, raging need to kiss him. So, he does.
He kisses Gene. It’s like he imagined it would be, but so different. Gene’s lips are as soft as they look, warm and inviting, though Babe forgets about all of that when he realizes he’s the only one actively participating.
Oh. That’s an issue. Maybe he doesn’t want to be kissed yet. Babe probably should’ve asked before doing it. He’s such an idiot.
He pulls away, cheeks flushed bright with embarrassment and doesn’t meet Gene’s eye. “I’m sorry. Shit. I’m sorry. Let’s pretend I never did that.”
Gene is still staring owlishly at him, dark eyes boring holes into him. Babe kind of wants to cower in the corner and die of mortification.
“I should go,” Babe says, and then places his mug on the coffee table. “I’m gonna go. I’m sorry -- god, Gene, so sorry.”
He’s almost successfully made it to the door, and his sweet escape, when a hand closes around his wrist and tugs.
“Don’t,” Gene grunts, and promptly pulls Babe into his lap.
It’s not graceful at all, and they both almost end up with elbows to the face, but that’s forgotten the moment Gene blessedly kisses him. This time is so much better than before, probably because Gene’s lips are moving against his own.
He quickly learns that Gene is just as talented with his tongue as he is with his hands, and by the time he’s steadily sucked a string of bruises on his neck and jawline, Babe is helplessly thrusting his hips down into Gene’s, fruitlessly searching for some friction.
“We should move this somewhere else,” Babe pants.
Gene doesn’t answer, instead opting to shuffle Babe out of his lap and pull him towards his bedroom. He shoves Babe down on the bed as soon as he gets the chance to, and crawls on top of him.
“We’re wearing far too many clothes,” Babe comments, leering up at him.
Gene rolls his eyes, but he also takes his shirt off. Babe files that one firmly into the ‘win’ department and hastily does the same. The doctor is just as wiry and thin as Babe thought he would be, but there’s muscle definition there that he’d really like to explore with his tongue.
He can feel the other man smirk against his neck, and Babe moves with it, surging forward to pull him into another kiss. It’s frantic and messy, and their teeth clank together like they’re fucking teenagers again -- and Babe feels like it too, feels unhinged and rushed; all he wants to do is stick his hand down Gene’s pants and taste.
It’s with that thought that Babe breaks the kiss off and switches their positions so he’s on top. He takes in the other man’s curious look and trails kisses down his jawline, sucking a bruise into Gene’s collarbones when he has him distracted by Babe’s hips pistoling down to meet with his.
Babe will probably pay for that later, because it’s seriously unprofessional, but he can’t care, not with the breathy little noises Gene’s letting out, his fingers knuckle-white twisted in the sheets.
God, he’s so hot.
“You’re killin’ me here,” Babe says into his chest.
Gene bucks his hips up in response. He sees stars.
“‘m not comin’ in my pants like a damn teenager, Heff.” He snaps the waistband of Babe’s pants against him. “Get’m off.”
He’s not going to survive this. For all that Gene is good at being a doctor, he’s even better like this, demanding and hot against Babe.
Babe reaches between them and pops the button on the front of their pants, shimmying out of his own to allow better access. He hasn’t felt this frazzled, this undone by someone else in years. He sinks into it though, let’s it envelope him as he finally, finally gets his hand down Gene’s slacks and grasps him through his boxers.
Gene mewls, like he’s been waiting for this just as long as Babe has, and maybe that’s true. It’d be just Babe’s luck that all the time they could’ve spent fucking he was, instead, moping around because he thought Gene didn’t want him.
He teases him for a while, just like that, his fingers rubbing just under the head through the fabric, to the point where Gene wraps his legs around Babe’s middle and tugs him down on top of him. “Stop your damn teasin’.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” he smirks, and makes quick work of stripping his boxers and pants off of him.
When he leans back to get a better at look at Gene, his breath catches in his throat. Nothing’s prepared him for the sight of Gene naked. Babe’s mouth waters when he catches sight of his dick, thick and uncut and curling towards his belly button. He doesn’t think he’s ever wanted to suck dick as much as he wants to right now -- which is incredible, when taken into consideration that Babe’s life has been marked by varying levels of wanting a dick in his mouth.
Babe doesn’t even try to hide how he licks his lips when he leans forward into Gene again, and he slips one of his hands down to wrap around his cock. He’s so responsive like this, twitching into his touch and throwing his head back against the pillows. Babe doesn’t think he’s seen anything hotter, not really, so he doesn’t feel ashamed when he reaches down with his other than to palm at his crotch.
Gene doesn't like this, apparently, because his hand slaps at Babe's wrist until he disheartedly moves it. "My job."
Babe's eyes roll back into his head at that and he thinks, goddamn.
"Gonna make you fall apart," Babe pants into Gene's ear. He's never been much for dirty talk. Honestly, he’s never seen the point in talking about what you're going to do rather than just doing it, but Gene brings it out of him, probably because of how he reacts to it. He opens up like a damn dream, truly.
Gene arches against him so their dicks line up, which is so much better when they’re like this, flushed and naked and pliant against each other.
Babe’s getting past the point of ‘Kinda-Wanting-Some-Relief’ to ‘If-I-Don’t-Come-Soon-I’ll-Die’, so he bends himself in a way that should probably result in some serious injuries but really only ends up with Gene's dick in his mouth.
"Edward." Gene actually keens, fingers fisting in the sheets so violently Babe's arm immediately comes down across his hips. As hot as this is, he really doesn't want to tooth Gene, not now.
Babe smirks around his cock, which is easier than it sounds, and wraps a hand around the base. He matches the rhythm of his hand to the suction of his mouth, curling his tongue around the sensitive underside of the head on every upstroke, successfully rendering Gene speechless.
It isn't long before Gene is pulling desperately at Babe's hair, fingers curling around his skull. "Heff. I'm gonna come."
It's a warning, a hidden question that he answers by defiantly opening his mouth wider, relieving his arm from along Gene's hips and promptly letting him thrust into his mouth.
The noise Gene makes as he comes is downright angelic.
It takes all of three seconds for Gene to return the favor.
Babe comes so hard he sees starbursts.
Babe is drifting in and out of sleep when he feels an arm curl around his middle.
"You're stayin', right?" Gene rumbles, in his ear.
It sends shivers down his spine. Babe's heart pounds in his chest at the thought of leaving, and very deliberately says, "If ya want me."
"Stay," Gene doesn't hesitate.
Neither does Babe. "Okay."
Babe wakes up to the sunlight streaming in through the blinds -- which is neither as welcomed or as romantic as all of the movies make that shit seem -- and to a cold, empty bed. It’s like a blow, resonating in his chest and spreading throughout the rest of his body. It’s not like he expected Gene to stay, and there’s probably a rational, acceptable reason, too, but Babe just wants to bury himself in the covers for the foreseeable future and pout like a petulant child.
Gene probably got called into work.
He plays around with staying in bed all day, but then he remembers he violently needs to take a leak, so it’s quickly overruled. Babe’s about to collapse back into bed, hoping to get a few hours, when he smells something disturbingly delicious and a lot like bacon waft in from his kitchen.
Babe doesn’t have bacon. He’s like 95% sure he doesn’t have bacon.
It’s then he remembers that he’s at Gene’s, and as fantastic as last night was, Gene probably wouldn’t be comfortable enough to leave him in his apartment. Alone.
He is such an imbecile.
Babe throws on a pair of sweatpants with a coffee stain on the right leg, and smiles to himself. He wonders if it happened because Gene was half-asleep and bleary-eyed and accidentally knocked it over or if it was because in his rush to get ready one morning he spilled it everywhere. Both possibilities are endearing. He’s still smiling about it when he walks into the living room.
Gene’s at the stove, wearing a pair of sweats that hang dangerously low on his hips, enough so that Babe can just make out the beginning of love bites and bruises he left on him last night, and it’s enough to propel him forward, enough to make him wrap his arms around his middle.
“Good mornin’,” Babe rumbles, and places a kiss behind Gene’s ear.
The other man leans into the touch. Babe doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to this.
“Mornin’,” Gene presses a kiss to Babe’s cheek when he gets close enough. “Hope you’re hungry.”
“Starved,” Babe admits, and unwraps his arms to make himself a pot of coffee.
It’s disgustingly domestic, the picture they paint, and Babe should probably be embarrassed by this, or at least feel a little awkward, but he doesn’t. This is the least awkward he’s felt in his entire life; things with Gene are just easy. He’s not used to that.
He manages to find the mugs in a cupboard above the sink and grabs another one before he can talk himself out of it. He doesn’t see a cup for the other man anywhere, and Babe figures the least he can do is fix Gene’s cup of coffee for him.
He's halfway through it when he remembers he has no idea how he takes it. "How'dya take this?"
Gene flips the bacon in the pan, glancing over his shoulder when he done. "Black."
“Should’a guessed,” Babe grins, and fixes them both a cup.
It’s three weeks later, and they’re having lunch in the cafeteria in the hospital.
In three weeks Babe has learned this: dating a doctor fucking sucks.
Gene is amazing, incredible, actually, but Babe could do without the on-call week and the absolutely abysmal and unpredictable schedule, and how no matter how many times he showers Gene always smells like alcohol (okay, so the last one isn't all that bad, but seriously, on-call week is the worst. It's like the week is designed purely to destroy Babe's libido).
He does like these moments though. The moments when they're smiling at each other like the sappy dopes they are, how Gene steals the tomatoes off of his plate when he thinks Babe isn't paying attention, how their hands immediately find each other's the moment after they've sat down.
It's a decent trade.
(And if Babe steals the mushrooms off of Gene's plate -- blatantly and unashamedly -- well, then, that just happens to come with the territory.)