Neil Melendez was checking over his charts for the day while his residents bickered among themselves. He had told Marcus that five residents was too many, but here he was watching four of them go back and forth about where to go for drinks that night. Neil rolled his eyes, but didn't stop the conversation because he wanted to finish his notes.
Shaun Murphy was standing closest to him, but wasn't participating in the debate. He was close enough Neil could easily reach out and touch him, much closer than he gets to anyone else. Neil glanced at him quickly and saw even though his eyes were flitting around the room and he hadn't said a word, he was listening intently. Neil did a once over on him, checking all the normal indicators of stress: hands, face, him rocking on his heels. Shaun was happy today and it was obvious, at least to Neil.
Shaun had been working at the hospital for over a year at this point and Neil knew how to read him pretty well. Slowly, but surely, Neil had become the main person for Shaun to turn to. The two had even became friends over the course of Shaun working at the hospital. They often ate meals together while at work, Neil had fixed several things in Shaun's apartment when he was too nervous to ask his landlord, and it wasn't uncommon for them to spend days off together. Neil knew Shaun's unspoken cues better than even Dr. Glassman at times. The entire hospital knew how close they were, to the point that on the rare days when Shaun was reaching his breaking point, whoever was with Shaun immediately paged for Neil. He was the only one who could touch Shaun without his anxiety rising, the only one that knew what to say to get him to calm down. Those days were rare anymore though because Neil had learned how to help Shaun before it got that far.
Shaun looked over at him suddenly and caught Neil staring. Neil gave him a smile and returned to his charts, seeing Shaun smile out of the corner of his eye. Being friends with your resident wasn't the best idea, but Neil found that he couldn't bring himself to draw a line with him and Shaun. The more he got to know Shaun, the more Neil wanted to be apart of his life. He tried to shake the thoughts from his head because he wasn't finishing his task at this point. Focusing on Shaun was much more pleasant than his notes, but he doubts Marcus will accept that excuse on why his paperwork wasn't done. He was finishing the notes when he heard the group decide on a loud bar and interjected, "A loud bar? Is that really the best idea?"
All five doctors turned to him, four of them wearing a knowing smile. They've been giving him a lot of knowing smiles lately, with no explanation and it was starting to get on his nerves. He stared them down for a few seconds before finally snapping, "I was just asking! Why am I being stared down?"
"Shaun isn't going Dr. Melendez. We know you worry about him, but he told us he already had plans. So yes, a loud bar sounds fun." Morgan told him sweetly, but her smile said she knew something she wasn't saying.
Neil glanced at Shaun again and when he said nothing to contradict her, he assigned their tasks for the morning, sending them off just to get them to stop staring at him. Claire gave him a knowing wink before marching off with the rest of them. He gave her a blank stare in return. He knew he looked out for Shaun in a way he has never done for an employee, but he didn't realize his other residents found it obvious too. He closed up the file he was holding and held it out for Shaun who was waiting for it, expecting for him to follow the others. He didn't walk away though, "Do you have tomorrow off?"
Hiding his smile with his coffee at his question, Neil shook his head yes. Now he knew why Shaun wasn't going out with the others, they've been spending the last few days off together and he wanted a repeat. Shaun nodded, rocking his whole body with his head. He was full of energy today, which meant he had slept good last night. Neil smiled when Shaun made eye contact with him. Even though they were close, that still doesn't come easily to Shaun and Neil never failed to feel appreciative of the effort, "Would you like to spend the day together again?"
"That depends, do we have to actual go somewhere or can we spend the day inside, not doing a single thing?" Neil smiled, but he was being serious. The last week was draining and he really just wanted to sit and relax. Shaun being there would make it better too.
"I like spending days off inside. Are we still going to dinner after work too?" Shaun was reading the chart by this point, but Neil knew he was paying attention. The older man confirmed the plan with a grin and Shaun nodded once more before walking off to catch up with his coworkers.
Neil grabbed the remaining files he needed to finish his paperwork for the day and headed off to his office. He had worried when Shaun and him started spending more time together that someone was going to cry favoritism and remove Shaun from his team. Neil would have put up a fight about it if anyone even suggested it. However, Shaun had proved his worth to the hospital time and time again. Not only in the O.R. where he excelled, but he was a favorite among the donors now. Parties were not Shaun's favorite place to be by any means, but the more he attended, the easier they got. The donors had long gotten used to Shaun's way of communication and often requested him at their tables. They loved bringing up the airport incident and asking Shaun to describe his hardest cases that he's solved so far in his career. Once that started happening, Shaun was Marcus's favorite resident. Shaun could probably break all the rules and Marcus would still love him and since being friends (or more) with your residents is not anywhere in the rules, Shaun had read the whole book to be sure, Neil wasn't worried about it anymore. Honestly though, it would take more than Marcus complaining to get Neil to give up his time with Shaun, he decided silently as he reached his office.
As he worked at the paperwork he had been putting off all week, Neil thought more about Shaun. When he first started, Neil was convinced that the board made the wrong decision. There was no way this man belonged in his O.R. He pushed Shaun more than any other resident he has ever had. Shaun exceeded his expectations by the six month mark. Yes, his communication was different, but he was a great doctor. Communication is a skill that could be learned over time and Shaun has done that. He's still himself, with his sing song/child like voice, the way he cannot stand still for the most part, and the eye contact. However, patients loved his straight forward attitude and his honesty. Neil was certain that Marcus intended on offering Shaun a permanent spot as soon as his residency is over. Even though professional, Neil was happy to keep Shaun at their hospital, personally he was happier. Shaun had unintentionally become an important part of his life. Their happiness was intertwined lately. When Neil notices Shaun spiraling, that becomes his number one priority. If Neil is having a stressful day, his favorite food or drink will appear at the next stop in his schedule with a post it that has a single, neatly wrote S on it.
A knock on his office door interrupted his thoughts. Neil called for whoever it was to enter as he saved the final touches on his paperwork. He hates it, but he wanted it done so he wouldn't have to work on it while he was with Shaun tomorrow so he powered through it quickly while his residents did rounds. Neil looked up to see Jessica smiling at him from the doorway. Ever since they broke up, they've become friends. He didn't think it was possible, but the longer they were apart, the more Neil could see they weren't right for each other. He waved her in farther as he leaned back in his chair, "Hey Jess. What can I do for you?"
Jessica was silent as she made her way to a chair in front of his desk, but as soon as she sat, she started what she came here for, going straight for the point, "Look, this isn't my business, but I still care for you and want you to be happy so here it goes. I think you should just ask Shaun out already." Neil replied, dodging the question with a smile, "I feel like your boldness should startle me, but it doesn't anymore."
Jessica narrowed her eyes at him as he just stared at her across the desk, his face annoyingly blank, "Fine, act like you don't know what I'm talking about, even though you know exactly what I mean. All I'm saying, is that you two make each other happy. It's obvious, even to people who don't know you as well I do."
Neil looked up at the ceiling for a moment, taking in her words silently until his brain went over it again, "I'm not going to act like you're wrong in your admittedly nosey, statement, but you're forgetting one detail. Who says Shaun would even want to date me?" Jessica opened her mouth to protest, but Neil was quicker, "I know what you mean about Shaun liking me, but he's also never brought up being romantic with me or hardly anyone else. He doesn't like to be touched and he loves his space, maybe he doesn't want to date me at all. I'm happy being in his life, whatever form that is. I'm not going to push for a romantic relationship that he may not even want."
Jessica leveled him with a look, "For a surgeon, you can be dense as hell sometimes. First of all, you are the person, on earth probably, that can touch Shaun and it have a calming effect on him. Anyone else, he tensing and flinches away. You are the exception for a lot of things with him. I know you cannot tell me that you haven't noticed him reading social cues a little better." Jessica waited for the nod of agreement before continuing, "Shaun does love his space yes, but he loves you in that space. Tell me, are you two hanging out again tomorrow for your day off?"
"Yes and dinner tonight." Neil responded automatically, rolling his eyes at her satisfied smile while she spoke again, "And I will put money on it that Shaun asked for the day together tomorrow. You know why Neil? Because you make him happy and calm. Look, I'm not saying to jump him next time you see him, but I do think you should approach the topic with him. I'm convinced that the reason Shaun hasn't made a move is because he thinks you don't want him to and obviously that is why you haven't made a move either."
When Neil didn't respond to her, Jessica lightly popped the table with a satisfied grin. Neil continued to watch her as she walked back towards the office door, pausing right before she opened it, "I'm not going to push the issue anymore, but please take what I said to heart. I want you to be happy. I want Shaun to be happy. I think you both could make each other very happy, happier than with me by a long shot."
Neil just watched her for a moment, but saw the sincerity in her face. There was no bitterness from their breakup on his end, obviously on her end too, "Thank you Jessica. I know, just like I want you to be happy too. This situation is more complicated than you're portraying it though."
His residents chose that moment to enter his office, Shaun at the back as usual. Jessica gave them all a warm smile before telling Neil, "It's not and you know it."
Neil didn't get a chance to respond because as quickly as she was there, she was gone. As soon as she rounded the corner, his residents began filling him in on how their rounds went. They mostly just wanted to verify their decisions were the right ones, so even though Neil was listening and giving approval when needed, his focus was only half there. Jessica wasn't wrong honestly, but it still threw him off to hear it out loud from her first. Neil has known for a while that his feelings for Shaun were stronger than just professional, but he wasn't lying to Jessica when he pointed out that Shaun might not want a romantic relationship. He wasn't going to be the first to bring this up between them because what if Shaun said yes just make him happy? That was unacceptable in every view point to Neil so he was content to be Shaun's friend. As long as he was happy, Neil was happy.
"Go home guys. Shifts ended hours ago and our patient is going to be okay." Neil told his residents sitting around the table in a conference room. The day was longer than most due to complications with a surgery that no one foresaw. His team was smart though and it was under control. They all shuffled to get up and Neil could see the exhaustion on each of their faces clearly. It was past midnight already. They were out of the room quickly to gather up their things to leave.
Shaun was the first one out of the door and Neil wondered if he still wanted to go to dinner. Sometimes after a long day at the hospital, Shaun valued his alone time in his apartment. Neil stretched and headed to his office to gather up his stuff. Shaun always finds him when they have plans so if he wanted to still spend time together, Neil would know.
He packed up his stuff on autopilot in silence. He hadn't eaten dinner yet, he was exhausted, but the only thing he could keep thinking about is Shaun. Neil knows for a fact that Shaun hasn't eaten since lunch and that is the worst thing for his head space. His thoughts were interrupted by Shaun himself entering the office, changed out of his doctor coat and his back back on his back, "Hello. I did not know if plans had changed."
Neil smiled at him, "I have an idea, why don't we get take out and eat that on my couch? The only places still open are diners with bright lights and I don't want that right now so I can imagine it's the same for you?" Shaun nodded happily almost immediately, "Yes. I would like that."
"Let's go then, I'm starving." Neil told him with a smile. As he passed Shaun, Neil reached out and ran his hand down his arm quickly before pulling back. Shaun said nothing about it, but as they left the hospital, it felt like Shaun was walking closer than usual and nothing Shaun does is random. He wasn't going to spend what little energy he had left over analyzing it though, Neil learned long ago to just live in the moment.
The pair exited the building in silence, but it was a comfortable one. After they got their food from a late night sandwich shop that Shaun loves, they headed to Neil's apartment. Neil glanced at Shaun, he looked like he might fall asleep at any moment. He paused a moment to find the best way to ask if he just wanted to go home. He wanted Shaun to have the option but didn't want him to feel like that is what Neil wanted, "Shaun, you look exhausted. If you want to go home to sleep, I would understand."
Shaun was quiet for a moment, but his hands were clasped tightly in his lap, "No. I don't want to go home."
Neil waited for more, but it never came. That was common with Shaun though so he just kept driving towards his apartment. Shaun immediately relaxed when he realized that no further explanation was needed. So many people push Shaun to talk, even when he's overwhelmed, but Neil never does. He accepts Shaun's answer.
Soon enough, the pair is back at Neil's apartment, the food laid out on the coffee table as Neil starts flipping through channels on the tv. Both of them liked silence, so there was no need to fill the air with empty conversation. Shaun had already finished half his sandwich when Neil finally decided on the local news. By the time that was over, Neil had just finished eating and noticed that Shaun had fallen asleep already. He was leaned against Neil's side, a position that came after he was asleep. Neil thought about the best way to get him laying down without waking, but before he could come up with a plan, Shaun had moved closer. He had pulled his feet up on the couch and was using Neil as a pillow. This was the closest they've ever been, but Neil wasn't complaining. He loved being close to Shaun. He put his feet up on the coffee table, shifted further into the couch and put his arm around Shaun. There was no point in waking him, it was early morning, they were tired, he was obviously comfortable, one night on the couch never hurt anyone.