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with a little help (from my friends)

Chapter Text

“So, what are you going to do?” Dr. Morgan Reznick asked Dr. Shaun Murphy. It was their lunchtime, and they were sitting across from one another at a table in the doctors’ lounge.

“About what?” Shaun replied blankly. He was mostly concentrating on interpreting some test results and typing up his notes, observations, and conclusions.

“Well, you told me Lea’s got a boyfriend now,” Morgan began. “Call me crazy, Shaun, but I have a strange feeling that you don’t hang out with anyone else, outside of work — ” and here, she saw Shaun open his mouth to protest, “ — Apart from Lea,” she finished, cutting him off.

“I also hang out with Dr. Glassman,” Shaun reminded her.

“And there’s an argument to be made that hanging out with Glassman technically counts as ‘work’, as opposed to him only being your friend.”

“Dr. Glassman is my friend,” Shaun contradicted Morgan, nodding his head up and down with conviction.

Morgan tried not to roll her eyes. She counted to ten in her mind for patience, then tried again: “The fact is, though, Glassman’s got a good number of decades on you, Shaun. And he’s your mentor, not your peer. I’m not saying he can’t be a friend, but do you ever... I don’t know, consider making some other friends, closer to your own age? Maybe you could find a Meetup group for autistic people, or something?”

“I have enough people I know already. I’m not interested in adding more of them. And not all autistic people are like me. Everyone has a different personality. We may not get along,” Shaun disagreed with her.

Morgan couldn’t help it. At that pronouncement, a slightly derisive snort escaped her. Which was kind of annoying, because she really hadn’t meant to be rude.

No-one’s like you, Shaun, she thought, but she didn’t say it aloud. Her tendency towards brashness had already been brought up a few times in discussions with Dr. Melendez, Dr Lim, and Dr. Andrews.

And – she shivered in disgust at the memories – her previous attending, Dr. Matt Coyle, had mentioned it too. However, coming from him, it was less of a handy career-building suggestion and more of a threat to her overall career trajectory if she didn’t submit to his authority... and his creepy, wandering hands.

That lecherous pig.

She had caught Coyle staring at her ass once or twice, when he was her attending. On several occasions, his hand had lingered much longer than was strictly necessary for a congratulatory pat on the back, among other questionable things that made Morgan consider bathing in chlorhexidine.

She had privately cheered when the hospital became abuzz with the news that another first-year resident, Dr. Jared Kalu, had shoved that smug bastard Coyle up against a locker, apparently in an attempt to defend his fellow resident, Dr. Claire Browne, who had also been sexually harassed by Coyle. From what Morgan had heard, Claire and Jared had been... involved with one another.

Morgan had been sorry to find out that Jared had gotten the bullet over it, though, so she’d put in a positive word for him with her old mentor back in Denver.

Morgan thought that Jared deserved to salvage at least some part of his blossoming career, in sharp contrast to Coyle, who unfortunately had an enormous sense of entitlement when it came to women, and particularly his female subordinates.

Coyle’s demotion to the outreach chair position had meant Morgan was moved over to Melendez’s team, and then Lim’s, as well. She’d been hoping for Melendez as her attending when she’d applied for residency at St. Bonaventure in the first place, but she was grateful to have had Coyle’s lessons as well.


Just not the sleazier ones.

Her co-resident, Dr. Alex Park, hadn’t been a real fan of Coyle’s either, and Morgan knew Alex’s well-honed cop’s instincts didn’t miss much about how Coyle treated the female employees he had authority over.

On some occasions, if he was able to do it subtly, Park had gone so far as to physically put himself in between Coyle and Morgan, if he sensed that she was feeling pressured. He never spoke to her about it directly, which was pretty standard for Alex, a man of few words – but she had always appreciated his silent support.

And then she’d met the fabled Dr. Shaun Murphy, who was – depending on which person you asked – either Glassman’s protégé... or the son Glassman never had.

When they’d first met as colleagues, Shaun had been all starry-eyed about the pretty neighbour girl who gave him a pity kiss, only to then run away with Shaun’s heart clutched in her careless, unknowing hands.

Morgan didn’t want to get Shaun’s hopes up, and from what Shaun had told her about this girl Lea’s flighty, free-spirited way of life, Morgan could only assume she’d been right to call it as she saw it, and she didn’t see it working out too well in the long term. Between Shaun’s regimented, carefully planned routines and Lea’s impulsive, inconsiderate decisions, they made for a truly illogical pair.

However, Shaun had neglected to mention that Lea had kissed him twice, and that revelation came as rather curious news to Morgan. After hearing that extra tidbit, she kept it to herself when she began to consider it a real possibility that Lea’s feelings for Shaun were in fact – or at least had been – genuine.

Kissing somebody twice was rarely an accident, and from what Shaun had said, there had been real prospects of even a third and fourth kiss.

He’d listed off those opportunities, trying to bring a skeptical Morgan around to his line of thinking. The first one, in the motel room doorway; a potential second kiss in said motel room doorway, before the tequila shots had got the best of Shaun, and he’d had to go be sick; the possibility of a second-slash-third kiss the next morning; and another actual kiss just before Lea left for Hershey.

If one followed conventional wisdom, three kisses would be the threshold to start calling it a pattern, but Morgan had decided a while ago that it would be downright cruel to ever suggest to Shaun that his feelings for Lea were mutual. It wasn’t helpful information while she was gone, since nobody could do much about it, and it probably wasn’t all that useful now that Lea was back either, if she still hadn’t made a decisive move towards Shaun on her own.

So, when Shaun had mentioned the third kiss, which occurred the night he had come home to Lea waiting at his door, Morgan had started thinking differently about Lea, and by extension, about Shaun.

The news that Lea had recently picked herself up a boyfriend and brought him home was the catalyst that finally spurred Morgan into action. Shaun was no good to her at work if he was distracted or mopey about Lea.

“Invite me to your apartment tonight, Shaun,” Morgan demanded. “After work. We can hang out.”

Shaun looked up in surprise, his eyebrows raised so high they were nearly in his hairline. He said, slightly bewildered: “But we don’t spend any time together outside of work. And you don’t like anyone.”

“Not true. I don’t dislike you. Lea is shoving her newest booty call in your face, in your own home. Shaun, it’s time to show her that you know people too. We might even have fun.”

Shaun shook his head. “No, no. Lea asked me if I could handle it when she brought out-of-work drummers home and made weird sex noises with them. I said yes, I could handle that. Jake is a cook. Lea likes drummers. Jake is not a drummer, so Lea will not stay with him for long.”

Morgan felt a rush of irritation with Lea. In Morgan's opinion, some of Lea's explanations and justifications only muddied the waters. Yeah, she was trying to be more transparent with Shaun now, but Morgan couldn’t fathom how devastated he must have felt when Lea had left, and how shell-shocked he must have been at her return. He was probably still reeling from it.

Morgan couldn’t conceive of how utterly confused Shaun must have been to find Lea waiting on his doorstep. If she had been in Shaun’s shoes, she thought she would have probably slammed the door in Lea’s face.

Somewhere in their conversations, Morgan had stopped feeling pity for the savant with the behavioural and social impairments and started feeling admiration for the young, intelligent man she’d been trying to get to know better, who happened to be autistic.

At first, she’d made the same mistake many others had made: equating Shaun exclusively with his autism. But he didn’t seem to hold a grudge against anyone for it.

Morgan wasn’t sure she would be so forgiving if they were to swap circumstances.

Or maybe Shaun had just learned not to expect anything better of people.

Either way, it was sad.

Even a neurotypical would be torn up by some of Lea’s actions, especially if they had a crush on her, Morgan thought, feeling quite defensive of Shaun. Lea was just so damned inconsistent. The emotional battering must have been almost unbearable for a naive romantic like Shaun.

And now the pair of them were living together? What the hell? Why would Shaun torture himself like that?

Morgan returned to the conversation.

“I – uh – Shaun, look. Lea was giving you an idea of her taste in men. She doesn’t literally only have sex with drummers. She’s telling you she likes musos. Bad boys. Players. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Shaun nodded. “Yes.”

“She’s also telling you that you’re not her usual type,” Morgan continued, trying to help him comprehend the situation.

“Okay,” Shaun replied.

“Then again, not only did she tell you to kiss her, she also kissed you, and she obviously meant to do it,” Morgan observed. That is definitely something, she mentally added.

“Yes,” Shaun agreed.

“I’m wondering why you never kissed Lea on your own, just because you could. It sounds like there were opportunities,” Morgan commented.

Shaun didn’t answer.

“Did you have other opportunities to kiss her, Shaun?” Morgan pressed, trying to keep her tone patient and gentle.

“I only saw them after I missed them,” Shaun lamented, his blue eyes downcast and sad. “And now I don’t have them at all anymore.”

“Well, do you want them back? The opportunities, I mean?” Morgan asked.

Shaun shrugged. “I don’t... know.”

What do you mean, ‘you don’t know’?! Morgan shouted inwardly. Haven’t you had months to decide?!

Catching Morgan’s non-plussed expression, Shaun elaborated: “It hurt. Lea was here. Then she left. Now she’s back, and it still hurts. I didn’t know it could still hurt if someone came back. But it does.”

Morgan understood now what Shaun was trying to say: he was scared of being left heartbroken by Lea again.

Reasonable of him.

“That’s why I’m telling you to invite me over, Shaun,” Morgan explained. “You can’t wait around forever for Lea to find a clue. You have to take action. Soon. Is Lea home tonight?”

“Last time I took action and went big for Lea, I rented us a very nice, very expensive apartment to share,” Shaun said, and Morgan could almost hear a wry, embarrassed smile in his voice. “I think she’s home tonight. We’re each supposed to tell the other if we won’t be home for dinner. She hasn’t told me otherwise.”

“Oh, trust me, Shaun, this isn’t something big. It’s just a friendly little warning to Lea that she might not have the time left with you that she thinks she does,” Morgan tried to outline.

“I don’t want to lie to Lea,” Shaun argued stubbornly.

“It’s not a lie. True, we’re not exactly friends, you and I, but we respect one another’s ideas, opinions, and experiences, right? So why shouldn’t we be able to get along outside of work? I’m already hanging out with Claire sometimes, lately – hey, what if you invited Claire over, too, maybe another night this week? And then the third time, Claire and I can both come over,” Morgan continued, growing more animated as she laid out her plans.

Shaun looked mildly terrified. He’d never seen Morgan look this enthused and gleeful in living memory. About anything.

“Lea won’t be able to help herself. She’ll definitely notice you sandwiched in between two accomplished, attractive women, and that visual – right smack in her face – is gonna give her a major wake-up call,” Morgan clarified.

“Okay. Then I have to invite Dr. Park and Dr. Glassman over as well,” Shaun demurred, and he did not look thrilled at the prospect of a gathering at his place.

Morgan heaved a sigh.

“The entire point is that Claire and I are girls, Shaun. Seriously, no other guys. You won’t get your message across if you invite Park or Glassman over too. Believe me.”

With that, Morgan picked up her chair. She carried it around to Shaun’s side of the table, positioning it quite close to his. Then she resumed her seat.

Shaun recoiled a little.

“I’m in your personal space because, if you want this to work, you’re gonna have to get used to women sitting next to you, Shaun,” Morgan explained. “I know this is uncomfortable for you, but you’ve gotta try. Even if Lea doesn’t cave, you might meet another girl someday who wants to get closer to you. And when that happens, you’ll be grateful that you already know how to cope with it. I promise.”

Shaun nodded. “Okay,” he breathed.

“So, what I’m thinking is this: You get home, and I’ll come over like an hour after that. We’ll go into your room together and shut the door. Don’t look so revolted, Shaun, it doesn’t matter what we do while we’re in there — ”

“Oh, good,” Shaun interrupted. “I have had the latest British Medical Journal on my nightstand for most of the week. I have not managed to get to it yet, and I’ve been looking forward to it.”

“... Yeah, okay. Anyway, what matters is the fact that we’re alone together in your room. Then we’ll emerge from it – at some point – and order Uber Eats for dinner. You’ll go downstairs to pick up the food when it arrives, and I’ll get to know the famous Lea a little better.”

Shaun wore a dazed look on his face, like his head was spinning.

“This next part is essential, Shaun, so pay attention: After we eat, you need to ask me if I want to watch something you already know Lea will like, and for God’s sake, don’t tell her you picked it because of her. Just pretend to think about it, and then say it. I’ll agree with you, of course. Choose something she’ll always stop and sit down to watch, no matter what she’s doing.”

“A Pavlovian classical conditioning response!” Shaun exclaimed, grasping the idea in terms he could more easily understand. “Lea hears or sees this particular movie or television show playing on my TV, and she’ll sit down no matter what she’s doing. Like the bells ringing caused the dogs to salivate in spite of any other activity because the bell ringing meant the food was coming.”

Morgan nodded. “Exactly. So, what shows or movies are Lea’s favourites? More importantly: can you stand to watch any of them?”

Shaun thought for a moment. “I’m not sure.”

“How about Stranger Things on Netflix?” Morgan suggested. “Everyone I know likes it.”

Shaun brightened. “That’s a good suggestion. If I remember, Lea was watching it before she left, but I don’t know if she ever finished it.”

“Check her Netflix Watch History. You guys split the subscription, now that you live together, right?” Morgan said. “Check what episode she got up to.”

Shaun pulled up another browser tab and logged on to Netflix. He clicked a few links until he found Lea’s Watch History.

Morgan leaned closer to look. Shaun gave her an alarmed sidelong glance and then returned to scrolling through the list.

“There,” Morgan said, jabbing a finger at Shaun’s screen. “See, she hasn’t watched much of Stranger Things. Looks like she got up to the third episode. Must have been too busy in Hershey. We can start from the beginning. The show is like that; if you take a break, you can forget where you left off. That’s why a lot of people binged it in one sitting.”

“Lea is ahead of me. I haven’t watched any episodes of this show,” Shaun commented.

“I’ll fill you in on the plot when we’re in your room tonight. It’ll give us something to talk about.”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed.

Morgan checked her phone for the time. “Come on, Shaun,” she said. “Let’s go find Dr. Lim and see what’s on after lunch.”

Shaun packed up his work and his laptop, then got up to follow Morgan.

They ran into Claire in the hallway outside. She was carrying a cooler tote.

“You on lunch?” Morgan asked, gesturing at Claire’s bag.

Claire nodded. “Yeah. You? Oh, hi, Shaun.”

“Hello, Claire,” Shaun greeted her in his usual even tone. “Dr. Reznick and I just had lunch.”

“Oh, you did, huh?” Claire replied, looking over at Morgan, her eyes question marks.

Morgan leaned towards Claire conspiratorially.

“Okay, so the thing is, Shaun is depressed and jealous about Lea’s new boyfriend staying over, and I’m sick of it. I have to work with the guy. So we’ve hatched this plan — ”

At this, Shaun gave Morgan his version of a filthy look.

Morgan continued, undaunted: “Okay, I’ve hatched this plan. We’re going to make Lea very worried about the other women in Shaun’s life, and we need your help to do that.”

Claire smirked, game recognising game. “Gonna run the old ‘she won’t know what she had until it’s gone’ play?”

Morgan nodded. “Exactly. Culminating in Shaun having both of us over at the same time. Do you have any thoughts?”

“I think that’s incredibly immature, but, let’s be honest, it sounds pretty fun. We should hang out after work more often, anyway. It’s not like we’re strangers. Might even keep it going after Shaun gets his girl.”

“Lea is not ‘my girl’,” Shaun admonished them. “I do not own her.”

Claire frowned. “No, no, Shaun, what we mean is – you like Lea a lot, right? Maybe you even love her a little — ”

“Nothing I feel for Lea is small,” Shaun replied, huffily.

Morgan and Claire caught each other’s eye and almost laughed out loud. Pursing their lips, they tried very hard to stifle their giggles at Shaun’s innocent, unintentional innuendo.

They mostly succeeded.

Shaun had retreated to his private universe, anyway, presumably lost in flowery thoughts of Lea.

Morgan took advantage of his inattentiveness to roll her eyes to the ceiling. Bless him, she thought, the charming, clueless kid.

Once she was reasonably sure she wouldn’t burst out laughing, Morgan smiled again. “And I hear Shaun’s digs are a pretty damn sweet hangout destination.”

“‘Digs’?” Shaun piped up, curiously. “But I don’t have a shovel.”

Both women looked at him in exasperation. ‘This guy,’ their faces read. ‘He is so damn literal.’

“Maybe not, but we’re sure gonna help you hand Lea a nice one to bury herself with,” Morgan assured him, grinning wickedly.

Shaun looked panicked.

“Lea’s not dying, Shaun,” Morgan reassured him, impatiently. “It’s just an expression. Like ‘enough rope’, as in, ‘give a man enough rope and he’ll hang himself’. We’re going to give Lea enough food for thought to make her think – really, truly think – about what her life looks like when you’re in it a bit less.”

Shaun did not appear especially reassured by Morgan’s explanation. Claire, however, was a trifle more sympathetic to Shaun’s confusion.

“Your ‘digs’ are the place you live, Shaun. In this case, your ‘pretty sweet’ apartment is your digs,” she explained to him, kindly. “‘Crib’ is another slang term you might hear as well. It means the same thing. Your home. Okay? And when we say we’re going to give Lea a shovel, we’re saying that she’s gonna be embarrassed to have left you hanging and confused like she has. Then, with any luck, that’ll change — ”

“And even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have sowed the seed of doubt in Lea’s mind. Right now she thinks you’re utterly devoted to her. She needs to get off her B. S., and you need to stop taking it, Shaun. It’s not healthy, it’s not fair, and to be brutally honest — ”

“ — Morgan, you’re pathologically incapable of being anything but — ” Claire interrupted Morgan’s monologue.

Morgan, wearing an irritated expression on her face, said: “Your misery is completely annoying to observe. It takes you out of the game. I’m not working alongside a dumb, lovesick, anonymous guy named Shaun Murphy, whose only distinguishing characteristic is the hearts in his eyes.”

Then she went on: “I’m supposed to be working alongside Dr. Shaun Murphy, one of the most promising and creative surgical residents this city has ever seen. Hell, maybe this entire country. I wouldn't know; I haven’t worked with all the surgical residents in this country. So we need to get him back, okay?”

Claire’s mouth gaped a little. She’d never heard Morgan be so complimentary about anyone, and she had even managed to sound completely sincere.

Perhaps Morgan was evolving into a higher version of herself. Like a Pokemon, or something.

“Okay,” Shaun responded, appearing grateful for the clarification. He glanced between Morgan and Claire in turn, like a spectator at a tennis match.

“Good. We all understand the plan, then. We’d better make tracks. Enjoy your lunch, Claire,” Morgan said, practically frog-marching a bemused Shaun from the lounge.

Claire gave them a finger-wave in farewell, and walked into the lounge, shaking her head in amusement.

Then she stopped, having had a brainwave. She called to Morgan and Shaun’s retreating backs. They paused in walking, and whirled around expectantly, coming back to hear what Claire had to say.

“Shaun, when she arrives tonight... let Morgan hug you,” Claire suggested.

Shaun frowned. “Why?”

“Oh, that’s a good idea, Claire,” Morgan said, cottoning on to the real reason behind Claire’s suggestion.

“Dr. Reznick and I have never hugged,” Shaun said, confused.

“You just survived a quarantine together. Close quarters sometimes make for closer friendships and... relationships, especially in a crisis. Morgan can explain,” Claire answered, with a wink. Then she ducked back inside the lounge.

“Why is Claire saying that you have to hug me?” Shaun appealed to Morgan for an answer.

“Because it’ll wake Lea up,” Morgan said. “She’s not the only person who might wanna give you a hug sometime.”

“... Yes, she is,” Shaun stated firmly. “And I’m sure Lea is awake. It is still daytime.”

Morgan shook her head. “Just go with it.”

“Go where, with what?” Shaun asked.

Morgan sighed again. It was going to be a long afternoon.

“And, Shaun?” she said.


“You’ve gotta start calling me ‘Morgan’ when we’re outside of work.”

“But — ”

“Later. I’ll explain why later, Shaun. Okay?”

“... Okay.”

... A really, really long afternoon.

Chapter Text

Sure enough, around an hour after Shaun got home from the hospital that evening, the intercom buzzed in the front room.

Shaun had gotten up to answer it, but Lea got there first.

“Who is it?” Lea said into the microphone, Shaun perched behind her shoulder.

“Oh, hi, is this Dr. Shaun Murphy’s apartment?” came a female voice out of the speaker.

Lea’s eyebrows raised. Shaun hadn’t mentioned he was expecting anyone...?

“It could be. Who’s this?” Lea replied, looking over her shoulder at Shaun, curiously.

“I’m Dr. Morgan Reznick. Shaun and I work together at the hospital. We’re going to study together tonight, and then maybe chill out. Today was a pretty stressful day for us,” she finished, emphasising the us for Lea’s benefit.

... Okay? Lea thought, her eyes narrowing. Strange that Shaun hadn’t mentioned it earlier. Must have been a last-minute thing. She hoped they wouldn’t get too loud, because she really needed to concentrate on debugging some complex code tonight, and it was already giving her a headache, only five minutes in.

Maybe she’d even hang out with Shaun and his colleague later. A reward for her hard work.

Jake was working a late shift tonight, and he was usually too wiped to do much more than stumble home to bed after one of those, so her evening was shaping up to be pretty tame.

Plus, it was nice to see that Shaun might be branching out a little, socially. It would be good for him.

“Hello, Dr. Rez — Morgan. Lea, can you buzz Morgan up, please?” Shaun requested. Giving Shaun another surprised Look, Lea then did as he asked.

There was a knock on the door shortly after. Lea opened the door, Shaun still behind her. She glanced at Morgan with some annoyance.

“Hi, there. You must be Lea. Shaun’s told me a lot about you. It’s nice to finally meet you,” Morgan said cheerfully, all smiles.

Has he now? Funny. He’s never mentioned you. “All good things, I hope,” Lea replied instead, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes.

Morgan hitched her purse higher up on her shoulder, and held out her hand to shake.

Lea hesitated for a moment, then reciprocated, regarding Morgan with a slightly wary look. Morgan was instantly reminded of the first time she ever met Shaun: he hadn’t been eager to shake her hand, either, and had in fact dodged it completely.

Morgan wasn’t fazed. This was only for Shaun’s benefit, after all.

“Oh, of course. We were stuck in the quarantine together, last Christmas. Had a bit of time to talk.”

Lea nodded, feeling annoyed for some reason, that she couldn’t quite lay a finger on. “Right, right, of course.”

Shaun strode up to Morgan, coming from behind Lea, and opened his arms to her. Morgan was glad Lea couldn’t see Shaun’s face, because he looked mighty peeved about having to do so.

Smiling even more widely, Morgan stepped into Shaun’s embrace. She was relieved when Shaun hugged her tightly, and enthusiastically – sticking to their plan – but he also whispered to her, under his breath: “I’m imagining you are Lea.”

Morgan chuckled as quietly as she could, murmuring back, “Good strategy, Shaun.”

When they parted, Morgan glanced over at Lea surreptitiously, gauging her reaction. Bingo, she thought, triumphantly. She is not happy.

“Apparently the quarantine made my Shaun into a hugger!” Lea observed, but her cheery tone rung false to Morgan. Shaun didn’t seem to notice.

“Okay. Lea, if you need anything, Morgan and I will be in my room, studying,” Shaun said.

“What I need is quiet,” Lea replied, ignoring Shaun and still staring somewhat confrontationally at Morgan, who put on her best ‘Who, me?’ innocent expression.

A shadow passed over Lea’s face, that even Morgan couldn’t quite read.

“We’ll be quiet,” Morgan assured her.

“Good,” Lea said, turning on her heel to walk back to the couch, where her laptop was set up on the coffee table.

“Let’s go, Shaun,” Morgan said.

Shaun had a slightly glazed look in his eyes, as though he wasn’t quite there with Morgan, just at that moment. Then, he seemed to startle a little, coming back to himself.

He led the way into his room silently, and Morgan closed the door behind them.

“Did you want me to bring you anything to drink?” Shaun asked. Morgan shook her head, holding up a large Camelbak in reply.

Shaun made a beeline for the BMJ on his nightstand. Morgan held out a hand to stop him, and he looked dismayed.

“Let me summarise Stranger Things for you, first,” Morgan said. “Well, as far as Lea’s gotten.”

“Okay,” Shaun responded, sitting down on his bed instead.

“So, it’s set in 1983, and there’s this girl, who has telekinetic powers as a result of being, essentially, a US government science experiment. She’s known as Eleven. Then, there’s four friends: Will, Mike, Dustin and Lucas. Will goes missing one night, after the boys play Dungeons & Dragons at Mike’s house. The remaining boys go to the woods near Mike’s house to search for Will. Instead, they find Eleven, who has escaped from a sinister holding facility, where she’s been trapped her entire life, with her powers used to spy on America’s enemies. She and Mike, in particular, form a bond... well, until Will’s body turns up in a quarry. Which is a problem, because Eleven somehow senses that Will is alive, and had convinced his friends of that fact.”

Shaun nodded, “Okay. Is that all I need to know?”

“Yes, that’s probably enough to help you grasp what it’s about, at the start.”

“Can I read my journal now?”

“Yeah, sure, go ahead. Uh, Shaun... where should I sit?”

Shaun startled, and glanced around his rather spartan room as though he was surprised — as though he was seeing it for the first time. “I –– ”

“Well, where are you going to sit?” Morgan continued.

“At... my desk,” Shaun replied.

“So, where should I sit, Shaun?” Morgan repeated. She knew damn well he was not thrilled about offering up the only other reasonable place — his bed.

She stepped slowly up to Shaun, gently plucked the BMJ out of his hands, and walked around his bed, making a move to sit down on the floor.

Once comfortable, she patted the carpet next to her. Shaun hesitated, then picked up a pillow from his bed, carrying it over to where Morgan sat.

Following that, Shaun did something even more unusual: he gestured for Morgan to lean forward, and carefully positioned the pillow between Morgan’s lower back and the side of the bed, cushioning her against the hard frame.

She looked up at Shaun questioningly: he was usually so hands-off. He briefly met her gaze. Then he retrieved another pillow, and deposited it against the bed frame, directly next to Morgan’s. He took a seat next to her, gently tugged his magazine back out of her hands, and promptly began reading, quickly becoming absorbed in an article.

Morgan stared at Shaun for a brief moment, before shaking her head slightly, and opening her purse to retrieve her iPad. She logged on to UpToDate to check the topics she was subscribed to.

After they’d each read their respective books, magazines, and articles for awhile, Morgan tapped Shaun on the shoulder gently. He jerked in shock.

“Sorry,” Morgan apologised. “I wasn’t trying to scare you.”

“It’s okay,” Shaun replied. “Are you going to open the door now?”

“I thought I might,” said Morgan. “That all right?”

“Yes,” Shaun answered. “Do you want — ?”

Morgan held up a hand. “I’ve got it.”

She clambered to her feet, and walked over to the door, opening it in a way that was loud enough to startle Lea, who, even from a distance, looked uncomfortable, distracted, and annoyed.

Lea looked up, and for a moment, she and Morgan locked eyes. Lea looked away first.

“I was about to get a drink,” Lea said then, mostly to herself. “I figured Shaun wouldn’t have offered –– ”

“He did, actually. Thanks. I’m fine,” Morgan replied.

“Oh. Okay. Uh, did you want anything else?”

“No, that’s okay. I was just opening the door, to get some air in.”

“Oh,” said Lea, returning to her laptop, and its lines of buggy code, the drink break forgotten for the moment.

Morgan took herself to be dismissed, ducked back inside Shaun’s room, and went to sit back down again.

Shaun, meanwhile, had become engrossed in another journal. Morgan could just make out the title: Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Anything illuminating in there?” Morgan asked.

Shaun nodded, and answered, “There’s a long article on replacing opioids with medicinal cannabis. Fascinating.”

“How interesting,” Morgan said. “I’m going to need to read that. I’ve been thinking for a while that Glassman might –– ”

At that, Shaun looked up from the journal so sharply, that Morgan swore she heard his neck crack.

“Dr. Glassman knows how to manage his pain appropriately. He’s never mentioned any interest in medicinal marijuana,” Shaun said, emphatically.

“Nobody’s interested in it, Shaun, not until there’s a possibility that it could help them cope with the pain, and the nausea –– ” Morgan argued back.

“No, no, no. Dr. Glassman is prone to psychotic episodes. He hallucinated his deceased daughter for some days, following his original neurosurgery. Absolutely not,” Shaun pronounced, with finality.

“I guess you know him better than anyone,” Morgan conceded.

“That’s what makes it difficult for me,” Shaun said, unexpectedly honest.

Morgan turned to him with interest, and Shaun immediately tensed, looking like he had regretted speaking that fact aloud.

“What is... the story there?” Morgan asked.

“Why do you want to know?” Shaun questioned her, warily.

Morgan recoiled a little, and Shaun looked contrite.

“I guess you’re worried I’ll use it against you, huh?” Morgan mused. To her shock, Shaun nodded.

“I won’t,” Morgan pledged. “I promise — well, whatever that’s worth from me, anyway –– ”

Shaun closed JAMA, and put it aside with a sigh, wringing his hands. Morgan saw him rub subtly at his pants pocket, where, she had a feeling, he kept a toy scalpel from which he could never, ever be parted, or the world might well cease to spin for him.

Morgan had a sinking feeling that if Shaun kept talking, she was going to find out – in excruciating detail – the exact reason he’d sooner die, rather than face life without that object nearby.

“People like to tell me that they want to know these things about me. That they care. That they want to help me. Then they use them against me,” he began, his voice quiet. Morgan had to cock her head slightly to hear what he was saying.

“Are you asking me because it will hurt Lea?” Shaun whispered. “If she knows I’ve told you things, that even she doesn’t know much about?”

Morgan shook her head, surprised to find she was being completely honest.

“No, I’m not. I just... I have to understand you. I work with you, Shaun. I save lives — with you — every day. But there are so many lives we don’t save –– ”

“Some lives can’t be saved –– ” Shaun broke in.

“Yeah, but maybe we could do it better, if I really understood you, Shaun. And maybe I could help you to understand me. Where we’ve come from, who we are, and why we chose to do this job. Heal people. Fix people. If we don’t understand one another, we won’t do our best work together.”

Shaun nodded. “We share things in those rooms, and labs, and lounges, that people outside of them can never hope to understand.”

“Exactly,” Morgan affirmed.

“Dr. Glassman looks out for me,” he told Morgan abruptly, sounding so much younger than he was, as he got into the story. “He was a doctor back in Casper, Wyoming — where I’m from — and when my father threw my bunny against the wall and it went to Heaven, my brother and I took him to Dr. Glassman. He was the only person we knew who might have been able to fix my bunny. But nobody could fix my bunny.”

When your father did what to your rabbit? Morgan spat inside her own mind, hardly able to believe what she was hearing. What the hell happened to you, Shaun Murphy?

“I had a brother,” he continued. “I had a loving, protective, younger brother. But he died. His name was Steve. He fell off an abandoned train carriage we were playing on.”

“I’m so sorry, Shaun,” Morgan said.

Shaun nodded, then went on: “It was sad. Steve promised me we’d never go back home, after my father hurt my bunny. So, we lived in a tent, and then an old school bus. We made it into a home. And it was good, for a while. Sometimes we were hungry. Sometimes we were cold. But we were together, and that was most important. But then one day, we were playing with some kids – hide-and-go-seek – and Steve fell. So, I took him to Dr. Glassman, but Dr. Glassman couldn’t fix my brother either.”

“What about your parents?” Morgan pressed. “Well, maybe not your father, but your mother... didn’t they — ?”

Shaun shook his head. “They wished I’d never been born.”

Morgan wished she hadn’t asked.

She decided, then and there, to avoid interrupting Shaun again while he spoke, unless he said something that she genuinely didn’t get, and then only if it was not immediately followed by clarification from him.

She leaned closer to listen.

And that’s how Lea found them.

Lea had been walking past Shaun’s open door, on her way to get her laptop cooling pad from her room. She glimpsed him and Morgan through the doorway, sitting side-by-side, their heads close together.

Morgan was clearly paying rapt attention to whatever Shaun was saying, nodding, never smiling. Then, she reached out, and put her hand over his.

Lea expected him to shake it off, but Shaun looked down at it briefly, considered it, and then... lo and behold, returned to talking. She saw him take out the toy scalpel, unwrapping it from the protective cloth he kept it in, showing that Morgan girl something even Lea wasn’t completely allowed to understand.

And it was in that moment that Lea felt like that scalpel was, in fact, very real, very cold, precisely honed metal, and that Shaun was slicing her open with it.

She had never been so jealous of another woman in her life.

Chapter Text

Morgan slowly withdrew her hand from where it rested, over Shaun’s.

“I — I’m sorry,” she apologised.

Shaun shrugged. “It’s okay,” he replied.

“So, that toy scalpel... your brother gave that to you?” Morgan continued.

Shaun nodded. “Yes. There was a toy tool kit. That was one of the tools. It was a gift from Steve. I gave him the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. He didn’t finish it before he died. I took it from the bus.”

“Do you still have it?” Morgan asked.

Shaun shook his head. “No. The first year of my residency, we had a young patient. His name was Evan. He had terminal cancer. He looked exactly like my brother. I read the last chapter of the book to Evan, and gave him the book.”

“That must have been a total gut punch, seeing your brother’s doppelgänger, right there in your workplace,” Morgan said.

Shaun made a philosophical gesture. “Conventional wisdom states that everyone has a twin.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that too,” Morgan agreed. “Going a step back, though... Glassman couldn’t save Steve. What happened next? Did you move in with Glassman?”

“I stayed with Dr. Glassman, initially. He had these huge medical textbooks in his house. I started reading them. And, once I’d started, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to become a surgeon, so I could save people. I wanted to save people, so that they could go on and live their lives. I still want to do that,” Shaun answered, all in a rush.

“But you didn’t live with Glassman, growing up?”

“No. I went through quite a few foster homes. Some were better than others. Tough titmouse.”

“‘Tough titmouse’,” Morgan echoed. “What’s that mean?”

“One of my foster mothers, Bill — Sybil — that was her response to anything I didn’t like, or didn’t want to do. So, that phrase helps me to accept things I can’t change. Sometimes.”

“She sounds like a no-nonsense kind of gal.”

“She was.”

“She’s dead?”

“Yes. It’s why she had to give up caring for me. She told me she was dying. It was sad.”

In one short hour, Morgan had found a whole new level of respect and admiration for Shaun. She had already come to acknowledge his fierce intellect, and his sometimes, well... off-the-wall approaches to patient care.

But now that she had a greater understanding of the odds he’d overcome to get to St. Bonaventure in the first place, she actually found she liked him, as a person. He had moxie. He had gumption. She appreciated these traits in people.

Morgan, in contrast, had played life on Easy Mode. She had two loving parents who were still married; she had been educated at the best private schools; she had gone to prestigious universities for her undergrad and post-grad studies; and her parents had – generously – footed the entire check, sparing their only child from a lifetime of crippling student debt.

In short: she had had luck very much on her side.

“How much does Lea know about your childhood, and adolescence?” Morgan asked Shaun.

“She knows I had a brother who died. She doesn’t know a lot about the bus. I don’t think I’ve told her much about my parents. I don’t want her to feel sorry for me. I guess I’m telling you these things… because I already know you don’t feel sorry for me,” Shaun replied.

“You’re right,” Morgan acknowledged. “But I can’t imagine what you’ve gone through. You’ve had a hard life.”

“Yes. I have had a hard life. But I have a happier one, now.”

“Even if Lea brings guys home?”

Shaun’s face darkened. “That’s... hard. But my life is better with her in it. And she says she feels the same about me.”

“Well, that’s nice, I guess, but how long do you think you can cope with it, and not go insane? Even if Jake doesn’t last, you know, there might be another guy down the track, and so on...” Morgan trailed off, hoping her message was clear.

“I understand,” Shaun broke in, looking serious at first, but then his face brightened, unexpectedly. Morgan could have sworn she was seeing a... was that a smirk?

Well, that’s new! she thought to herself. And it’s... kinda cute?

“But I’ve brought someone home now, too,” he said in a conspiratorial undertone. “With more to follow.”

Morgan couldn’t help it. She threw her head back and laughed, loud, uproarious, and completely genuine.

Shaun looked at her in alarm.

Morgan managed to stop laughing long enough, to elaborate: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Shaun’s face was blank, and uncomprehending.

I need to slow down on the idioms with you, for now at least, Morgan thought.

“What that expression means is, if Lea’s allowed to bring guys home, that’s all well and good. But... I – I don’t think there has ever been, like, one moment – at any point – where she’s considered the other side of the equation: that you might bring a girl home. I actually don’t think she can fathom that happening. Which is going to be a shock to her system, because I have important news for her. And you.”

‘... Huh?’ Shaun’s face read.

”People look at you, Shaun. Girls and guys. I see them, at work, in the hallways, or the cafeteria. Do you ever notice it?” she went on.

“I do, and I don’t like it,” Shaun replied. “I’ve been stared at like a zoo animal, or a circus freak, for most of my life.”

“No, Shaun, these people I see, they’re not looking at you in a bad way. They’re looking at you like they want to get to know you better,” Morgan tried to reassure him.

“But I don’t –– ”

“Tough titmouse!” Morgan said, trying to hit a humorously ironic note. Shaun looked aghast, hearing Bill’s almost constant refrain being used by Morgan.

“I... have to accept that people are looking at me, because they want to? And they’re not doing it to be mean?” Shaun questioned, his voice shy.

“Having people look at you like that is a nice problem to have, Shaun!”

“Why is it nice?” he asked.

“Because having people interested in you is a major confidence booster. It makes you feel good about yourself. You carry yourself differently,” Morgan tried to explain.

Shaun still looked baffled.

Oh, you sweet summer child, Murphy, she thought.

Then, she decided to be sympathetic to Shaun’s apparent plight of cluelessness. Claire seemed to have had success with taking that approach to Shaun.

Apparently everyone was learning something new tonight.

“Let me try to explain. Look at how you acted when I got here, and the effect that had on Lea. She saw something – well, she thinks she did, which is the outcome we were going for – and... I don’t know, but that comment just before, about bringing a girl home, it had some attitude to it. You felt better, making that joke. You felt more confident about yourself. Does that make sense?”

“Tough titmouse,” Shaun responded, a cheeky little grin dawning on his face.

Morgan nodded. “Yep, tough titmouse for L –– ” she trailed off, hearing noises close by, and growing louder, that were awfully reminiscent of an annoyed person, stomping sulkily towards a doorway.

Morgan suddenly had a distinct sense of being watched.

Speak of the heartbreaker. Lea? Morgan queried inwardly. That you?

“I thought you guys said you were going to be quiet?” Lea’s voice interrupted their easy banter.

She was standing in the doorway, her face full of irritation.

Lea addressed her words to both Shaun and Morgan, staring down at the two of them sitting companionably together on Shaun’s bedroom floor, but Lea’s glowering expression was directed squarely at Morgan.

This fact did not escape Morgan’s notice at all.

Shaun looked helplessly at Morgan for instructions, his swagger of a moment ago all but evaporated, in the face of Lea’s annoyance.

Morgan looked right back at Shaun, apprehensive.

Then, they simultaneously broke into nervous laughter. What else was there to do, really?

“What is so funny?!” Lea fumed, now staring absolute daggers at Morgan.

“Uh, well, we were just rehashing an incident from work today. Um, there was a patient, who came out of his room, and he was wearing a bedpan like it was a hat,” Morgan invented swiftly – and quite smoothly, she thought.

Lea looked indifferent.

“We’re... not sure if it was actually empty,” Shaun cut in, coming to the rescue. “And, well – he was – he was naked.”

Morgan looked askance at him. Shaun’s eyes were darting wildly around the room, as he picked up the story.

You’re learning, Shaun, she thought, a little proudly.

“Maybe you had to be there to get it,” Lea stated, still unsmiling.

“We’re sorry,” Morgan apologised, making damn sure to stress the we.

“Yes. We’re sorry, Lea,” Shaun echoed.

Lea looked somewhat mollified, but Morgan noted that this had only occurred after Shaun had spoken up.

In the resulting silence, the tension between Lea and Shaun hung so heavily that Morgan – for the first time that night – felt very much as though she ought to excuse herself from the scene. Like she was the intruder, now.

Wow. That was an uncomfortable thought.

Jeez, Shaun, does she stare at Jakey-Boy like that? Morgan mused to herself. The electric current passing between you two could power San Jose by itself. It’s actually sort of sickening.

“Uh, Lea – Shaun and I, we were going to order dinner soon. Uber Eats. Did you want anything?” Morgan offered, tentatively.

At Morgan’s question, Lea snapped out of some sort of reverie.

“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll pass,” she said, snippily.

“After that, we were going to watch Netflix and chill in the living room,” Shaun piped up, at which Lea turned – swiftly, and immediately – in his direction, jerking like a marionette.

Morgan quite nearly choked, trying very hard not to roar with laughter.

That’s not what that means, Shaun! she thought.

“Uh, I don’t think I should be here when you and Morgan ‘Netflix and chill’, Shaun. Particularly if you’re going to be doing it in our living room,” Lea bit out, complete with sarcastic finger quotes, and looking aside at Morgan like, ‘Do you want to tell him, or should I?’

Morgan raised her eyebrows and tossed her hair back, shrugging. You do it.

“I –– ” Lea started, then closed her mouth again.

Lea looked defeated, Morgan observed. All the anger just... went out of her, like a balloon deflating.

Shaun’s gaze flickered between the two women, hopelessly stuck, and even he could discern that there was some sort of Queen Bee-slash-female dominance ritual, going on between Lea and Morgan right now.

It was also fairly obvious, from Morgan’s defiant hair-tossing, and Lea’s slumped shoulders, that Morgan was winning the fight.

These two women did not like one another. Shaun wasn’t sure yet if this was a good or a bad outcome, at least where he was concerned.

But he was learning – quickly – that people yelling at one another wasn’t a prerequisite for engaging in a battle. There were more subtle disputes that could rage on, and somehow this was even more unsettling, than if they’d been screaming the place down. This argument was quiet, and underhanded, and he had the distinct impression that it was something he had said – something incredibly stupid – that had set the whole thing off.

’Netflix and chill’, he repeated to himself, like a mantra. ’Netflix and chill’. That’s when Lea started to look like she was going to cry, and when Morgan seemed to get stronger. Just after I said ‘Netflix and chill’. Is this another phrase people use, when they really mean something entirely different?

Shaun stared at the two women, hoping for rescue. But Lea and Morgan were still locked in their little battle of wills, and it looked quite impenetrable from the outside.

Sighing, he instead took out his phone, and Googled ‘Netflix and chill’. His eyes nearly bugged out of their sockets, as he took in the true implications of what he had said. He looked up from his phone, his expression absolutely mortified.

And there it is, Morgan thought, watching Shaun flounder.

Shaun breathed in. He breathed out. He fumbled for his scalpel. He searched, frantically, for words.

Should he apologise? Explain himself?

No, he decided, firm in his resolve. That was not what Morgan would tell him to do. Morgan would tell him to own it.

Shaun conceded that Morgan had been right about everything – so far – where Lea was concerned.

Morgan had assured him that inviting women to his apartment would shock Lea, and she’d been correct. She’d said the hug would make Lea jealous – well, actually, the hug had originally been Claire’s idea, so Shaun thought he should give Claire at least some of the credit for that suggestion – and even he could tell that the hug had, indeed, made Lea jealous ––

Anyway, pressing on.

Morgan had further predicted that Lea would be hurt, when she came upon Shaun and Morgan, cosily ensconced in his bedroom. She hadn’t steered him wrong about that, either.

And she’d told him that confidence was attractive. This theory still remained, waiting to be tested.

So, this time, Shaun didn’t cower. He didn’t apologise for the misunderstanding.

He decided to own it.

He tried to look up at Lea with the most defiant, ‘screw-you-if-you-can’t-take-a-joke’ expression he could possibly muster. Challenging her.

“If I was going to ‘Netflix and chill’ with Morgan, we’d do it in my bedroom,” he pronounced quite calmly to an extremely upset-looking Lea, his tone almost scolding. “That’s very private.”

Morgan didn’t even have time to name the individual emotions in the medley of expressions, that were writing themselves jerkily over Lea’s face.

Chapter Text

If Morgan had been sitting on a chair, she would have toppled off it in total shock.

The sass! The unmitigated chutzpah in that pithy little comeback! What a stunning recovery! She nearly cheered out loud: 'Go, Shaun!'

What Morgan wouldn’t have given for a box of popcorn, watching all this unfold. She was almost tempted to film it.

She was starting to understand why people found Shaun attractive, and charmingly, innocently, adorably clueless. It all held a certain appeal, particularly when it was contained inside the same person.

If she was being honest, she was sort of on the way there, herself.

But equally apparent to her was that Shaun wanted Lea, and it was a deep, aching, visceral kind of want. He had blinkers, tunnel-vision, laser-focus. Call it what you want. The man had a goal.

Morgan hoped someone would look at her like that someday, like she’d hung the Goddamned moon.

You really don’t know what you have here for the taking, do you, Lea? In some ways, you’re just as – maybe even more – clueless than Shaun. Morgan wanted to take Lea by the shoulders, and shake her into sense.

But Shaun just looked at Lea, wilting there in the doorway.

Even though Lea was – theoretically – taller than Shaun and Morgan right now, Morgan suddenly saw her shrink, just about to nothing.

She couldn’t have scripted this turn of events any better if she’d written it herself. There was no longer a pressing need to watch Stranger Things.

Stranger things were already happening, right here in Shaun’s bedroom.

However, this lighthearted rebuke did not elicit laughter from Lea. Not even a smile.

Shaun was very confused now. He had meant the remark to be funny, but apparently Lea didn’t appreciate his sense of humour.

Or, at least, this sense of humour.

‘Who the hell are you?’ her gaze seemed to ask him. Then it flickered accusingly over to Morgan, adding, ‘And what have you done with Shaun?’

Lea also really didn’t appreciate it when Shaun’s phone rang, interrupting... whatever the hell this was.

Shaun looked down at the display, somewhat thankful for the distraction. Why was Claire — ?

He debated whether or not to answer.

But it might be important, he rationalised. I might have to go back into work. With Morgan.

Oh, that’d certainly make Lea’s night.

Shaun made the choice to pick up. “Hello, Claire.”

‘What the actual fuck?!’ Lea wanted to scream at him. ‘Do you have a whole damn harem?!’

And the triangle becomes a square, Morgan texted Claire, subtly. She’d heard the line in some teen show years ago, and it was totally appropriate for the situation at hand.

Especially if Morgan was correct in her observations of how Claire glowed a little brighter when she was around Shaun, too. What was it about him?

The reply came back almost immediately: Well put. 

She needn’t have bothered trying to be discreet, really, as Lea was otherwise occupied with boring holes directly into Shaun, using only the firepower of her narrowed eyes.

Shaun was listening raptly to whatever Claire was telling him, heedless of Lea’s increasingly enraged facial expressions.

Or... studiously ignoring them.

I’ve quite possibly created a monster here, Morgan considered, idly.

Chapter Text

Lea’s head was spinning.

She held onto it, both hands clamped down so tight they vibrated, as though she was keeping her brain stuck together and tucked up inside the confines of her skull.

She was seeing a side of her best friend that, before tonight, she hadn’t known existed.

Of course it does! her mind countered, snottily. You already know damn well that he works with women. And wasn’t it you saying earlier that it was nice to see Shaun ‘branching out socially’? What happened to that? You got what you wanted. When is it going to be enough for you?

Was this some kind of parallel universe? Shaun was acting totally weird.

Lea considered whether she was, quite possibly, dealing with Shaun’s evil twin.

Or something like that, anyway.

He was hugging women indiscriminately. He was making honest-to-God dirty jokes, for crying out loud. And he was apparently intending on getting laid in his bedroom while Lea was just outside in the living room, for heaven’s sake.

She couldn’t really decide if that last one was actually kinky, or merely simple ignorance of shared-space norms – but, with Shaun, it was usually best not to assume malice.

That chick of his, on the other hand...

And, strangest of all, he seemed to get along with this Morgan girl like a house on fire.

Kinda like they were already —

Lea, not for the first time, wondered what had really happened behind closed doors during the quarantine. Shaun had made it very clear on getting out that it had been harrowing, exhausting, and traumatising for everyone involved, and that he did not want to talk about it.

So she’d set it aside and offered him a pancake breakfast, instead.

But he’d stared at her over those pancakes that morning like he’d wanted to tell her something, and at the time, Lea had thought she might’ve had an inkling of what, exactly, that might be.

But now she was certainly considering other possibilities.

Lea could not deny that she had brought Glassy along to that happy reunion for some less-than-altruistic reasons: if she were to be totally honest about it, she’d brought him along as a sort of buffer between herself and Shaun.

It was the same reason she’d pushed Glassy to hug it out with Shaun.

At least Glassy was absolutely certain he wouldn’t plant a kiss on Shaun; Lea, on the other hand, couldn’t have been so sure that she wouldn’t.

She had gotten the distinct impression that Glassy had definitely taken one for the team that day.

If she had been the only one there to meet Shaun after he escaped that quarantine, she would have been overwhelmed with emotion. She might have —

And you can’t. Glassy’s right, you will hurt him again.

Her best friend had been shut up in a hospital full of panic and death, at Christmas, with no real link to the outside world, and having nothing but that damned plastic scalpel, and an almost seizure-inducing, malfunctioning fluorescent light for company.

Except, apparently, she’d been wrong about that: he’d also possibly had a gorgeous blonde for companionship, someone to bond with over their shared trauma.

Lea supposed that it was to be expected, with people in these kinds of situations, they were bound to get closer. Develop romantic feelings. Ask one another questions, and tell one another secrets, that they’d never asked or told another living soul.

Hell, something just like it had happened between herself and Shaun on an impromptu road trip, which simultaneously felt like it had happened both a lifetime ago, and only five minutes ago.

Shaun had told her about his beloved, deceased brother. He’d confided in her about always wanting to learn to drive. She’d taught him how to drink. She’d taught him how to properly end a date.

Lea had never even met this Morgan girl before, and she was pretty sure that she couldn’t remember Shaun speaking about her. Like, at any point.

So, what was the deal with that? How long had the two of them been working together? Was this whole fling... new?

Lea couldn’t forget what it had felt like – a sharp stab to the gut, if she had to put it into words – when she’d seen that woman touch Shaun’s hand so gently, and to watch him look down, think about what to do, and decide it was A-okay with him.

And then, to watch them laugh together, like they knew some big secret (and Lea did not, for a second, believe their naked-man, bedpan-hat story).

Obviously they’d been getting a little closer and something had made them both laugh their heads off. Maybe a fond little intimate bedtime memory, even.

Lea suddenly and vividly remembered a moment from the previous week, when she’d heard the apartment front door close quietly.

It had been a night she’d had Jake to sleep over.

Lea recalled hearing the apartment door shut over the sound of her wicked little giggles, as she’d watched Jake get tangled up in his own shirt while taking it off so they could...

But she’d heard that door close, and somehow it had been the loudest sound in that entire segment of time. Not her laughter, or Jake’s strangled 'Aieee!' as he’d worked himself free.

Shaun hadn’t slammed that door; he hadn’t announced his departure; he hadn’t expressed any form of anger. He’d just gently closed it behind him... and left. Showed his understanding that things were different now. Quietly accepted this new normal.

In short, he’d given subtle leeway to Lea to do whatever the hell she wanted, with whomever she wanted.

But equally, he’d communicated clearly that he wasn’t going to be hanging around to witness it all.

All of these little big things he’d expressed, just in the simple act of closing a door between them.

She supposed she shouldn’t really have expected him to stay cooped up in his bedroom, overhearing through the walls the sounds of something he could not be involved with. That had probably been selfish.

What else is new with you, Dilallo? she thought, wryly.

She had figured Shaun would have probably gone to Glassy’s, to check up on him, and see if he needed any help.

Now, she wondered if he’d gone to Morgan’s place for solace, instead.

You are letting your imagination run wild, she scolded herself, mentally slapping her own cheeks, You would have heard about this girl before now.

Would I? she argued, internally. There was a day where Shaun and I hadn’t kissed, that then became a day where we did. You, of all people, should know it only takes a day – or a deadly quarantine, come to that – for things to change beyond recognition. And maybe Shaun just wanted to keep it to himself for a while. Enjoy it. See if it was something worth talking about.

She also knew he worked with that girl he was talking to on the phone, Claire Something, and Lea had met her in the foyer when she’d come – in a fit of righteous anger – to St. Bonaventure, hoping to corner Shaun at work and confront him about his less-than-enthusiastic response to her return to San Jose.

And that kiss they’d shared the night of her return. Well, ‘shared’ in a loose sense – Lea had initiated it, and Shaun had fled the apartment in response.

Hell, Claire was probably giving Shaun some of her famous good advice, like he’d written about in that unsent letter he’d hidden under the lucky baseball, which she’d found that same night.

Which she had pocketed.

She still had the letter somewhere in her room. Shaun hadn’t ever asked about it, or seemed to notice it was missing.

Lea hadn’t missed the pitying look Claire had given her as they’d both stared after a stand-offish Shaun, who’d slipped away quickly when he’d caught sight of Lea, waiting to waylay him in the hospital foyer.

God. Was he involved with Claire, too? Shaun was handsome and accomplished and so desperately ignorant of his own charms.

After all, lots of people met their future partners at work, didn’t they? And surgical residency was an absolute pressure-cooker of a job.

It was completely natural that people would get interested in one another. They certainly spent a damn good portion of their lives in one another’s pockets.

She needed to sit down, but there was no way in hell that she would be joining the little tête-a-tête on Shaun’s floor, and anyway, she was pretty sure she wasn’t invited.

So she settled for heading back to the living room, instead.

Shaun, meanwhile, was being asked several ‘yes/no’ questions by Claire, on the other end of the phone line.

He had started to cotton on to the fact that Claire’s phone call was an element of Morgan’s master plan, almost as soon as the barrage of questions started.

'Is Lea home?' “Yes.”

'Is Morgan there with you?' “Yes.”

'Do you think Lea knows what’s going on?' “No.”

'Morgan texted me and wrote: He told Lea we were going to ‘watch Netflix and chill in the living room’. It was precious! Did you actually say that?!' “Yes.”

'Do you know now what that phrase really means?' “Yes.”

'Do you still want me to come over tomorrow night?' “... Yes.”

'Will you tell me all about it at work tomorrow?' “No.”

'Shaunnnnnnnn...' “No.”

'Fine, I’ll just ask Morgan.' “Yes.”

'Good night, Shaun.' “Good night, Claire.”

The call ended.

Shaun then realised he was alone in his room, and, honestly, he felt a little relieved about that.

Morgan was right – had been right – about so many things, but it was still hard to see Lea looking at him like he was a stranger.

But if Morgan said these things were important to at least try, then he was committed. He’d do it.

After all, even if Lea really didn’t want to be with him, Claire had told him that there might be other people who could make him happy.

Maybe he even already knew a couple of them.

Chapter Text

Morgan had followed Lea out to the lounge.

Lea was on the couch again, laptop open on her lap, but it was very obvious to anyone observing her that she wasn’t concentrating on her debugging one bit.

She had a thousand-yard stare in her eyes, looking out the plate-glass windows, but she was seeing nothing at all.

“You have a really nice apartment,” Morgan offered tentatively, standing behind Lea.

Why the hell are you here? Not spending quality time with your new fling? “Thank you,” Lea said, no cheer in her voice. “Shaun chose it.”

“Hmm, he told me you chose it,” Morgan mused, gesturing to the couch. “Can I sit?”

Lea shrugged. “Sure. I’m not really concentrating on debugging this code. Yeah, I suppose I chose this place. Shaun surprised me at the inspection and he saw how much I loved it. But I couldn’t afford it. Then he came home that evening, and we sang some karaoke – ‘Islands in the Stream’, it’s kind of – kind of a thing we – anyway, he told me he’d rented it for us. I spent the better part of that week going back and forth on deciding whether or not to live with him when I know he — ”

No, please, Lea, speak. You know Shaun, what? Has feelings for you? Is autistic? Has quirks that probably make him difficult to live with, at times?

Morgan desperately wondered which of those answers fit.

Hell, she almost asked Lea.

Instead, she nodded. “But it’s worked out okay? You bring people here, Shaun brings people here...?”

Lea looked up sharply. “My new boyfriend comes over sometimes. His name is Jake. He’s a cook. But, uh, Shaun... doesn’t really... I guess it never really... occurred to me to say he should bring people over.”

“Oh?” Morgan queried, curiously. You selfish moron, she mentally added.

“Um, I was really surprised to see you at the door tonight.” Lea went on. “I’m not sure Shaun’s mentioned you, but he probably has, I... well, anyway, you two seem to get along pretty well. That’s, uh, that’s good for Shaun, I think. It’s good he has some friends, or... uh — ”

“You’ve never discussed him having people over? Well, um, I’m sorry – uh, should I... go? Obviously, I’m overstepping, I...” Morgan commented, trying to sound innocently confused. “I should let you two work that out between yourselves first.”

Lea waved a nonchalant hand. “Don’t be silly, of course you should stay. I mean, I’d prefer you and Shaun did your, uh, ’Netflix and chilling’ behind closed doors, but...”

“We’ll be sure to,” Morgan reassured her cheerfully, not missing the look of horror that briefly crossed Lea’s face, like a passing shadow.

You can’t stand it, can you, Lea? It’s all about your comfort, isn’t it? she thought, unable to suppress the spite she felt.

Lea nodded, awkward. “Hey, uh, is that Uber Eats offer still on the table? I’m pretty ravenous.”

“Of course. I’ll go see what Shaun wants. I’m thinking pizza, are you good with that? I’m fairly sure Shaun suggested pizza earlier, as well.”

“Yeah, pizza is fine with me.”

Morgan stood up. “I’ll let him know.”

She walked back towards Shaun’s doorway, where she caught a glimpse of Shaun sitting on his bed, hunched over, scalpel in hand, and rocking back and forth.

“Hey, Shaun?” Morgan asked, tentatively, sticking her head in the door.

Shaun looked up nervously at the sound of his name. His tensed shoulders relaxed when he realised it was Morgan, and not Lea. He put the scalpel on his nightstand.

Morgan stepped inside, and sat down on the bed next to Shaun, but gave him plenty of space. She was learning, too.

“Things are okay out there now. Lea wants pizza, is that good with you?”

Shaun nodded.

Morgan made to get up, then hesitated. “I – uh, are you... going to be okay?”

Shaun nodded. Then he did something very unexpected.

Well, two somethings.

The first thing: he reached over and touched Morgan’s hand, gently, and held it there, like he wasn’t really keen on letting it go.

Morgan looked up at him, her eyes full of questions she didn’t verbalise.

The second thing: he leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek, then scooted back, looking very nervous.

Morgan suddenly felt the oddest desire to touch his cheek, softly, and just kind of... contemplate him, for a while. So she did.

Instead of freaking out, or wildly reaching for his scalpel, Shaun almost leaned into her touch and closed his eyes.

Still imagining I’m Lea, right, Shaun? she thought, a little cynically.

So, she chose to speak, for two reasons.

First: She wasn’t Lea, and Shaun needed to realise that.

Second: She wasn’t Lea, and maybe that was... actually okay with Shaun.

“What was that for?” Morgan almost whispered, her hand still on the side of Shaun’s face, feeling very much out of her depth.

“So that I’m able to do it in front of Lea when we watch Stranger Things, later,” he explained, all logic and brutal honesty.

Morgan gaped at him. Then she let her hand drop back into her lap.

Shaun looked down at her hand as it retreated.

“You’re staring at me,” he observed. “And I don’t know what kind of stare it is. But I’m uncomfortable with it. Please stop doing that.”

“Maybe you’d feel happier about it if it was Lea staring at you,” Morgan muttered vehemently, under her breath.

Shaun recoiled at her sudden harshness. 

“Sorry,” Morgan muttered, “I didn’t mean — ”

Shaun waved an impatient hand, like he was swatting away an annoying insect. “It’s okay.”

“Obviously it’s not fine, Shaun. You’re agitated and upset. So I apologise. I didn’t need to snap at you to make my point.”

“Thank you,” Shaun replied, his tone mild again.

“What I’m saying is, you’re gonna have to work a little harder than that to convince Lea she’s losing you,” Morgan managed to get out, suddenly having trouble finding her voice, “She needs to see something a bit more... obvious.”

Shaun hesitated. 

“Close your eyes again, and pretend I’m Lea,” Morgan suggested quietly.

“But you aren’t Lea,” Shaun argued back, softly.

Well, at least you know that, Morgan thought. Had me wondering for a sec there.

“A lot of girls aren’t Lea. In fact, I’m pretty sure there’s only one of her,” Morgan countered. “And there could be any number of non-Lea girls in the world to make you happy, Shaun. Think of it as practice for one of those. Just in case the Lea thing doesn’t work out.”

“But does this mean I have to kiss Claire tomorrow night, as well?” 

“Have you ever wanted to?” Morgan asked, the question coming out more sharply than she’d intended.

“Claire’s pretty,” Shaun said. “And you’re pretty, too. I don’t want to kiss girls just because I think they’re pretty. I only want to kiss girls who want to kiss me. Lea’s the first girl who ever wanted to kiss me. Who – who wanted me to kiss her, too.”

Morgan could not deny that she was becoming curious about what kissing Shaun might be like. A peck on the cheek shouldn’t be burning and lingering a few minutes later, should it?

And, apparently, Lea had found kissing Shaun quite enjoyable, so...

But he was already well outside of his comfort zone, she could tell. Morgan wasn’t going to push it too hard.

Plus, perhaps it was best not to blur the boundaries between friendship and something more. After all, they still had to work together.

“You don’t have to kiss me. Or Claire. Or anyone,” Morgan tried to reassure him, “Just do what you’re okay with. It’ll be more authentic that way, anyhow.”

Shaun nodded, looking grateful. “Thank you, Morgan.”

“No problem, Shaun. Let’s order that food, hmm?”

Shaun picked up his phone and logged into Uber Eats. He added his own order, then Lea’s – both of which were saved – and then turned to Morgan. “What would you like?”

“I won’t eat that much, what if I just had a couple of slices of yours?”

“Okay,” Shaun said, and changed the size of his pizza to the next largest size. Then he submitted the order. “It’s going to be about 30 minutes.”

“All right. Hey, do you think we should go back out there and keep Lea company?”

“Not yet,” Shaun said, “I - I think I hurt her, Morgan. I don’t know if I’m happy that I did.”

Morgan suddenly felt exhausted. “Shaun, she’s so self-absorbed that she didn’t even think to tell you that you could have people over. She’s so stuck in her own head that she doesn’t even think that’s something important, or even possible. I understand that you like this girl, Shaun, but...”

Is she really worth all this? hung, unspoken, in the air.

“Why do you like her so much?” Morgan asked him, as softly as she could.

“She makes me feel alive,” he replied, simply. 

Morgan waited for him to elaborate further, but apparently, that was the entire summary.

Morgan kept looking at him expectantly, like 'That’s it?', and Shaun started to shift uncomfortably.

Morgan understood then: it would never be in Shaun’s personality to gush effusively about the woman he was in love with.

Somehow that made it even more beautiful, if Morgan thought about it. Loving someone quietly. 

“Are you in love with her?” Morgan asked.

Shaun nodded. “As much as I know how to be... and as much as I understand what, exactly, that means.”

“Are you ever going to tell her?”

Shaun shook his head. “I’m always too late. I thought about telling her, after the quarantine broke. But she brought Dr. Glassman with her when I got out, and I lost my chance. She didn’t even hug me, which was unusual. She told Dr. Glassman to hug me, instead.”

“Getting Glassman to take one for the team, I’ll bet,” Morgan scoffed. “She had no idea what she might end up doing when she saw you. Well, that was smart of her, I guess. Then what happened?”

“So, then I was going to tell her at home, once we’d dropped Dr. Glassman off. Then I had that weekend free, and I wanted to spend it with her, but she dragged me and Dr. Glassman out to go-karting instead — ”

“Do you get the sense Lea’s avoiding being alone with you too often?” Morgan cut in, as gently as possible. 

Shaun nodded. “When I say it all out loud, I can detect the pattern. Yes, she likely is.”

“So what is going through that woman’s head? Shaun, honestly, doesn’t it drive you crazy sometimes? The push and pull? Aren’t you exhausted?”

Shaun shrugged. “I don’t have much else going on, at the moment.”

“Anyway, keep talking,” Morgan prompted him.

“ — And then that night I came home, and I saw she was drinking, and I thought, if I drank with her, maybe I could tell her then. But the beer on the coffee table wasn’t for me, it was for Jake. The first time I kissed her, we were both drunk on tequila.”

“Ah, yes, good old-fashioned liquid courage. I know it well,” Morgan nodded, in recognition. “But the next two times, you were both sober, right?”

“Guys, seriously, how long does it take to order pizza? Getting kinda lonely out here. And famished!” Lea called, impatiently, from the living room.

Morgan and Shaun both jumped.

“I wasn’t originally gonna push you to, but, Shaun, now you have to kiss me,” Morgan said, urgently.

“Why?” Shaun asked, looking uncomfortable.

“We’ve been in here, alone together, way too long to have just been ‘talking’,” Morgan informed him, making air quotes to emphasise her point. “Just – go to your happy Lea place in your mind, do whatever you have to, but hurry up and kiss me. Or, I’m gonna kiss you. Choose!”

Shaun hesitated.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Murphy,” Morgan hissed, yanking him forward by his collar, pulling him in.

But Shaun’s hands covered hers, warding her off. His grip was surprisingly strong.

Morgan expected to be shoved away bodily in the next second.

... That was not what happened.

Morgan then decided to immediately, and in perpetuity, stop trying to fathom Shaun Murphy.

Instead, Shaun came at her with force and a kind of ferocious hunger.

He nearly sent Morgan flying, and their teeth almost knocked together painfully.

His hands were tangled up in her hair, worrying it between his fingers, and Morgan could feel him shaking as he kissed her.

Well, it was much less of a kiss and more of an... attack. And – she wasn’t going to lie to herself – extremely hot.

Who knew the buttoned-up, introverted Dr. Murphy had that in him? Morgan pondered, kind of alarmed.

This guy right here is very, very frustrated, she thought next, How long has he kept that to himself? Months?

Shaun pulled away just as abruptly as he’d swept Morgan up, gasping and looking quite frantic, but his eyes flashed defiantly, like they were saying, 'There. Was that enough?'

Morgan gulped air and tried to get the world to stand still again.

God. What a kiss.

“I – I – I’m — ” Shaun choked out.

“If the next word you utter is ‘sorry’, I’m really gonna show you ‘sorry’, Murphy,” Morgan bit out, “You’ve been sitting on that energy for a long damn time, haven’t you?”

All Shaun could do was nod.

“Guys? Uh, is that food coming, or, uh...?” Lea’s voice came from outside the door.

Both Shaun and Morgan sprang away from one another like they’d each been poked, in turn, with a cattle prod.

Shaun lunged for his scalpel, while Morgan arranged her face into an expression that clearly said, 'Yeah, we did. What of it?', preparing to face Lea once again.

“I’m just seeing how it’s go — oh!” Lea blurted, her hand flying to her mouth at the sight in front of her.

Morgan – her cheeks pink, her eyes almost shining, her hands nonchalantly smoothing her sweater.

Shaun – his usually meticulously-styled hair a total mess, his shirt collar standing up, his eyes as big as plates.

And then, topping it all off, the rumpled comforter on his bed.

She couldn’t decide what hurt most to see, but it was a toss-up between Shaun’s hair looking like – that. Or maybe it was the comforter, all askew.

Lea might have swayed on the spot, too, when she noticed that last thing.

What the hell had these two been doing before she came in? And how had they been so quick and quiet about it?

She was starting to wonder if Shaun was secretly some kind of ninja/Casanova, sneaking girls in and out at all hours, without alerting her.

She hadn’t heard a damn thing from his room, since Morgan had gone to ask Shaun his thoughts on dinner.

You are such a drama queen, Dilallo. Don’t be an idiot. Why are you jumping to these ridiculous conclusions?

They were all saved by the bell. Literally. The intercom went off, scaring all of them.

Shaun jumped to his feet and practically sprinted from his room, leaving Lea and Morgan in a deeply pregnant silence.

Morgan’s hand went to her head almost unconsciously, smoothing down her hair where Shaun had run his fingers through it.

“He’s good, isn’t he?” Lea said bitchily from the doorway, somehow managing to make the sentence sound like a question, an observation, and an accusation, all at once.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Morgan said, trying to act like she had no idea what on Earth Lea could possibly be referring to.

“Oh, don’t play dumb, Morgan, it doesn’t suit you,” Lea said, her tone short and her words clipped. “After all, you’re a doctor.”

“Do we have some sort of an issue here, Lea? Are you... into Shaun? I mean, that would be so weird, ‘cause, uh, don’t you have a boyfriend already?”

“I do,” Lea snapped. “But Shaun’s my best friend, and I don’t want him to get hurt.” 

Continuing to argue, they heard the apartment door swing open, the sound of pizza boxes being set down on the coffee table, and, finally, Shaun coming to announce the arrival of dinner.

He took one look at Morgan and Lea, arguing with one another, and getting louder with each sentence... then simply bolted out the front door, without uttering a word.

Chapter Text

Now look what you’ve done!” Lea cried, after hearing the apartment door slam shut behind Shaun. “He can’t cope when people yell!”

“Like you’re the only one who knows that!” Morgan hurled back. “I work with him!”

“And I live with him!” Lea exclaimed.

“Didn’t know it was a competition!” Morgan screeched.

“It’s not!” Lea countered hotly.

“Then why is it bothering you so much?” Morgan asked, making her voice a little quieter and her tone as even as possible. She looked hard at Lea.

“I just don’t want him to get hurt. Shaun is... fragile. He’s... he takes things so hard sometimes. I know that from experience, Morgan, because I’ve hurt him very badly before. Did he tell you?” Lea said, hesitantly.

“Well, when we were... talking... about this... hanging out... we’re taking it very slow,” Morgan murmured, pretending to weigh her words before she spoke them.

She didn’t answer the latter question. Let Lea wonder what Shaun had told his friends about her. 

“If eating his face is considered taking it slow!” Lea laughed, although it was without mirth.

Morgan scowled, then changed the subject. “We should eat. Shaun paid, and the food’s going cold.”

“Should we – call him?” Lea ventured, uncertainly.

Morgan glanced back at her. “You decide. You’ve known him longer.”

Lea looked thoughtful. “He often refuses to eat when he’s stressed. Maybe we should just let him cool off a bit.”

If Morgan and Lea had reached Shaun’s cell, they would have heard a busy signal, as the line was currently engaged.

He’d called Claire in a panic.

‘Hi again, Shaun, what’s up?’ 

“Morgan and Lea are fighting – and they’re yelling – and I couldn’t — ” he got out, barely separating his words. 

‘Let me guess. They’re fighting over you. Lucky boy. What brought that on, I wonder?’ 

“I kissed Morgan. She said I should pretend she was Lea. She grabbed me, and she pulled my shirt collar – and I didn’t know – I didn’t know what else to do, she was right about making Lea jealous, she was right about coming over – and you were right about hugging – and when Morgan said, ‘kiss me’, it was so much like when, she was so much like – and it – and I just – felt — ” he continued ranting. 

‘Okay, Shaun. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. Now, back up, you kissed Morgan?’ 

“She said it would hurt!” Shaun just about wailed down the line.

‘Wait, did Morgan force a kiss on you – that – that goes too far, Shaun, I’m going to — that’s not okay, that’s like when that patient with the brain tumour — ’ 

“I think I... wanted to,” Shaun mumbled into the phone. “And I’m not good at these puzzles, but I think Morgan was happy I did. Not for a game or a trick. I think she just wanted to kiss me.” 

On the other end of the line, Claire goggled at what she’d just heard, and felt an immediate and savage urge to slap Morgan across the face for doing this to Shaun, of all people! He wasn’t a plushie for two dogs to fight over, he was a fucking human being!

‘Well, Shaun, she’s still grieving Tyler, the EMT we lost during the quarantine – maybe she’s just working through some stuff... although she didn’t have to involve you in it! Oh, I’m going to throttle her at work tomorrow, I swear.’ 

“Please. No more yelling,” Shaun begged. 

‘I’m sorry, Shaun, I can only imagine how painful it is for you.’ 

“I kissed Morgan because I wanted to, and now I don’t know – I don’t know what I feel, or what to tell anyone,” he lamented, his voice full of what-the-hell-do-I-do-now? despair.

‘Well, if it helps, I have no intention of kissing you unless we ever – mutually – decide that’s something we both want, all right, Shaun?’

“I’m not sure I want to kiss anyone ever again,” Shaun pronounced, sounding a little bit dramatic. “It is so complicated.”

‘Whoa, then you are really not ready to hear about sex.’ 

“Oh, no!” Shaun yelped, sounding sort of terrified.

‘Sorry. Little joke there. Landed like a brick, evidently. Tell me what I can do to help you.’

“I took the keys to the Striped Tomato. May I – may I drive over to your apartment? I already have your address from the hospital directory. I have Morgan, Dr. Park, Dr. Lim, Dr. Melendez, and – of course – Dr. Glassman — ”

‘ — I was gonna say, that’s kind of weird you have my address already – anyway – of course you can come over, but are you okay to drive? You’re kind of worked up right now.’ 

“I can’t go back in there. What if Morgan wants to kiss me again, and what if I want to kiss her as well, and what if Lea — ” 

‘Shaun, if you don’t find some chill right now, I’m not going to let you drive. I will call the police and report you. You know how driving distracted ends for people.’

“I don’t think I can stay in my apartment tonight, Claire,” Shaun said, almost apologetically.

‘That’s not the issue here. I’ve got a couch and extra bedding. But you’re not in any state to drive. I’ll come pick you up. And I’m going to have some serious words with Reznick. She is reckless, she is cruel, and she — ’

“ — Is also a person I wanted to kiss,” Shaun put in.

‘You’re a mess. You’ve cracked. And no wonder! Reznick is screwing with your head for her own sick enjoyment, probably so you’re distracted at work. I should never have encouraged her antics. Just get some stuff together, ignore those two hellcats in your apartment as best you can, and I’ll come get you ASAP. Okay?’

“Okay. Thank you, Claire.” 

‘Hey, what are friends for?’

The line cut out.

Shaun took a deep breath, touched the scalpel in his pocket for a bit of extra courage, and walked with heavy, troubled footsteps to the elevator, reluctantly riding it back up to his floor.

The tumblers on the front door lock started to turn, and both Lea and Morgan abandoned their respective pizzas immediately to train unblinking eyes on the door, which had begun to swing open. 

Shaun emerged from behind it, determinedly avoiding eye contact with either woman.

“Shaun — ?” Lea spoke first, her voice tentative.

His head turned vaguely in her direction, but he never met her eyes. 

Instead, he strode directly to his bedroom in complete silence and disappeared into it, closing the door firmly behind him.

“He’s not staying here tonight,” Lea pronounced decisively.

Morgan looked at her like: ‘How do you know that?’

“He won’t speak to either of us. Trust me, he’s in there packing a bag.”

“If you say so,” Morgan said, and she suddenly had a very shrewd idea of where Shaun might be headed. Claire’s, she thought. He’ll go to Claire’s.

“Where is he going, though?” Lea whispered, urgently, half to herself.

Morgan didn’t have the heart to share her theory with Lea: all Claire could be right now was just another girl for Lea to panic about losing Shaun to.

So she said: “Probably Glassman’s. Do you know where else he might go?”

But Lea was barely listening, her ears tuned only to the frequency of Radio Shaun.

They were both startled by the crackle of the intercom, and Lea got her answer about where Shaun was headed, while Morgan’s theory was vindicated.

“Hello, Lea. I’m here to pick up Shaun, but before I do that, have I got some choice words for you and the delightful Dr. Reznick,” Claire hissed, her voice issuing from the speaker.

“Do I let her up?” Lea asked Morgan, wary. “She is pissed.”

“I think it’ll be worse if you don’t,” Morgan replied, somewhat reluctantly.

Lea buzzed Claire up, looking rather unsettled. 

Footsteps sounded in the hallway, then paused outside the apartment door.

Lea opened the door, bracing herself for an absolute serve.

You,” Claire snapped immediately, pointing an accusatory finger at Morgan.

“And you,” she continued, glaring at Lea. “What the hell have the two of you done to my friend tonight? He called me, practically hysterical, and told me he couldn’t stand being here one minute longer. Now I want to know what on God’s green Earth has sent that man into an absolute panic, so that I can try to fix it!” 

Then Claire turned to Morgan.

“Tell her, Morgan,” Claire demanded. “Tell Lea what tonight was all about. Go on, I want to hear how you justify what you’ve done to Shaun. He is a Goddamn wreck, you – bitch!” 

“Like you weren’t involved!” Morgan spat back at Claire. “Saint Claire! Who told Shaun to hug me, huh? Who agreed to help with the plan, even though she thought it was ‘soooooo immature’?!”

“You didn’t have to make him kiss you, you sociopath!” 

“Oh, are you jealous that he wanted to?!”

“Hardly! You just screw with his mind. You already do it at work, and now it’s spilling over to his relationship with Lea. You are deranged!”

“Hey! Hey! HEY!” Lea shouted above the din, making a ‘time-out’ gesture with her hands.

“Now that I have your attention, the two of you need to explain to me, right the hell now, what in God’s name you have been trying to pull tonight,” Lea practically growled. “And how the fuck is Shaun involved? Are you both in love with him? What is the deal?!

The knob of Shaun’s bedroom door started to turn, and the three women swivelled towards it as one, collectively holding their breath, to see Shaun emerge out of the room.

He walked out steadily, head held high, shoulders square, and he addressed his next words specifically and only to Lea.

It was as though Morgan and Claire weren’t even in the room, for all the attention he spared them.

The three women still didn’t feel able to let out the breath they were all holding until Shaun said to Lea:

“They’re trying to help me because they know I’m in love with you.”

Lea opened her mouth to speak, and her voice was almost a croak when she finally found some words. “Shaun, I — ”

Chapter Text

Morgan nudged Claire, and whispered, “Claire, I think we should exit stage left.”

Claire looked back at Morgan with absolute disgust written all over her face, and said, “No, we’re staying until this is all explained. We should never have done this. We should never have pressured Shaun to do this.”

Lea looked helplessly at Shaun, who was silently rocking back and forth, saying absolutely nothing.

Then he fled back to his room and shut the door once again.

That would be Shaun’s version of a mic drop.

Well, he said his piece, didn’t he? Why talk any more? Lea thought.

Instead, Lea directed a furious glare at Claire and Morgan.

“What the hell made the two of you think that you had any right to do this?” Lea hissed.

“Well, I — ” Morgan started.

“Shaun is — ” Claire began, at the same time.

“I don’t care which one of you tells the story, but somebody better talk!” Lea spat.

Nobody moved or spoke.

“You,” Lea addressed Claire, pointing at her, “You seemed to have a whole lot bottled up to say to me earlier. You explain.”

“Can we all sit down first?” Claire asked. “Then I will explain, Lea.”

“Okay,” Lea relented.

They all found seats in the living room: Lea on the couch, Morgan on a barstool, and Claire on the opposite end of the couch.

Claire began telling the story. “Morgan noticed that Shaun seemed to be unhappy at work lately. She pressed him for details, and, um, Shaun told her that you had a new boyfriend, and he wasn’t doing so hot with adjusting to it. So Morgan came up with this hare-brained plan to make you realise what you were missing out on. And I, uh – encouraged it. And I’m sorry.”

“You were pretending to be involved with Shaun so I would get jealous?” Lea filled in, glaring at Morgan.

Morgan stood up and defiantly spoke back, “I have to work with Shaun, and I need him present on the job, okay?"

“Right,” Lea nodded. “Keep talking.”

“There's a rumour that the new Chief of Surgery has been talking about transferring Shaun’s residency to Pathology – did you know that? And that would be professionally devastating for Shaun. So he has to be one hundred percent right now, Lea, more than ever,” Morgan summarised. "He’s my co-resident, and I can’t have him miserable and mopey. He can’t work properly in that state. Our whole team is already on thin ice due to an investigation into the events of the quarantine.”

“Oh, so this was all about you, was it?” Lea shot back, sarcastically.

“When is it not?” Claire muttered, under her breath.

Lea jerked her head in Claire’s direction and gave her a withering glance. 'I’ll deal with you later', it said.

And patient safety!” Morgan expanded, defensively.

“You know, Morgan, it’s really funny that you’ve involved Shaun in this little game, yet I don’t hear one scrap of concern for his welfare in any of your words. At all.” Lea mused, her voice positively dripping sarcasm. “His job, yes. But Shaun, himself? Nothing.”

“She’s got you pegged, all right,” Claire crowed at Morgan.

Morgan scowled.

“Okay, so you guys thought I’d be jealous if you both pretended to be interested in Shaun,” Lea continued.

Morgan and Claire nodded.

“Right. So, do either of you psychos actually like Shaun, or is he just your little charity case – plaything – whatever?” Lea asked, her voice dangerously matter-of-fact and even.

Channelling Shaun, really, if any of them actually stopped and thought about it.

“I absolutely consider Shaun a good friend, and a remarkable person in general,” Claire affirmed. “But I don’t like him like that.”

“The hell you don’t!” Morgan interrupted rudely.

Claire instantly whirled around to Morgan, probably fast enough to give the average person whiplash.

“Haven’t you done enough damage already?!” Claire flung at her, giving Morgan an extremely nasty look.

“Well, is she right, Claire?” Lea asked, warily.

Claire sighed. “He loves you, Lea.”

“That’s not the question I asked, Claire,” Lea said.

“I know it isn’t,” Claire replied. “Yeah, sure, I’ve been attracted to Shaun. He’s handsome, and intelligent, and he’s very, very honest — ”

Lea snorted. “Preaching to the choir, girl.”

“ — But he’s fallen in love with you, Lea, and I don’t think he’ll stop feeling that way for a long time. Maybe one day, when he’s ready, and he’s had enough of waiting and pining, he might find someone else. But, right now, he is ass-backwards in love with you, and if he stops, that’ll be his own decision. I’m not going to tell him what to do — ”

“ — Which is a first for Claire, let me assure you,” Morgan butted in.

Both Lea and Claire ignored her.

“ — However, I am going to tell you that I think you’re very lucky to have him,” Claire finished, giving Lea an apologetic look.

Chapter Text

Lea had a dazed expression on her face. She covered her eyes briefly and waved her other hand in exasperation.

“Okay. And now you, Morgan. What’s your relationship with Shaun?” Lea asked, turning to Morgan. “If you can call it that.”

Morgan glowered. “Shaun is creative and resourceful and intelligent — ”

“No, no,” Lea cut in. “What do you think about Shaun, as an actual person?”

“Well, uh, he’s definitely been through a lot,” Morgan began, “And I didn’t know even a quarter of it. I came over with the intention of helping Shaun make you jealous. I didn’t intend on really finding out about him as a person, but I’m glad to have had that chance. And now I think he’s... really courageous.”

“Did you kiss him?” Lea asked.

Morgan nodded.

“I thought so,” Lea said.

“He kissed me, actually,” Morgan clarified. “I knew we’d been in that room for a long time. So I told him we had to give you something to stew over. I grabbed him and I was going to kiss him, and then he, like, launched himself at me. It was intense, to say the least.”

Lea held up a hand. “Okay, okay, that’s enough detail. So, Claire may or may not have a slight thing for Shaun, and Morgan... uh... thinks Shaun’s a good kisser. Is that right?”

“That kiss felt like a bomb going off,” Morgan elaborated.

Lea fixed her with a steely gaze. “I could swear I just said ‘that’s enough detail’. It doesn’t sound any better when you keep narrating it for me.”

Morgan shrugged. “I just thought you should know that, Lea, because that kiss was built from all the energy he’s saved up, waiting on you. It was like a dam burst. I legitimately saw stars.”

“I got the picture the first time, thank you,” Lea said, curtly. “So you are definitely not sleeping with him?”

“Shaun? God, no. I mean, I would, but I don’t think he’d be into anything casual. He doesn’t seem... cut out for that,” Morgan replied.

“Don’t tell me what Shaun is or isn’t. I’m asking the questions here,” Lea snapped.

Morgan shrugged again. “I would. So sue me.”

“Can I ask you a question, Lea?” Claire started, tentatively.

Both women turned in her direction.

Lea nodded. “Sure. If you want.”

“Is Shaun being in love with you... actually news to you?” Claire ventured, but she was cut off by Morgan.

“ — Do you understand that Shaun won’t wait around forever for you, Lea? And by the way, earlier tonight, I discovered a few things that were... pretty interesting,” Morgan interrupted.

Lea threw her an irritated glance. “I’m talking to Claire right now, not you.”

“Well, I’m not afraid of you, Lea. I’m not afraid to tell you what I know. I couldn’t give a damn whether you like me or not — ” Morgan retorted.

Lea reluctantly turned towards Morgan, who was only just gathering steam.

“ — And the truth is, you haven’t given even one thought to how you’re gonna feel if – no, when – Shaun brings another girl home. It has never once occurred to you, Lea, that you, one day, might actually have to deal with that. You think Shaun’s all yours, but he’s a limited-time deal.”

Lea opened her mouth to argue, but Morgan was on a roll by now.

“ — Or maybe you already know that, and you’re just pretending it’s not true. And as long as you can pretend Shaun doesn’t actually have feelings, you don’t have to deal with them. His feelings.”

Lea gaped at the dressing-down she was getting.

“— Or yours, for that matter,” Morgan added, almost as an afterthought.

“Are you done psychoanalysing me, Dr. Sigmund Reznick?” Lea shot back, feeling very attacked.

Just ‘cause she’s acting like a bitch doesn’t make what she’s saying wrong, though, the rational side of Lea’s brain conceded.

“I’m just saying — ” Morgan tried.

“Oh, don’t feel special, Lea. Everyone’s entitled to Morgan’s opinion!” Claire joked.

Lea didn’t even dignify that quip with a response.

“Is it?” Claire asked again, her voice gentle. "News to you?"

“I... don’t feel like discussing that with you, Claire, to be brutally honest,” Lea sighed. “The person I really should discuss that whole topic with has shut himself up in his room.”

“Well, should we leave you to it — ?” Morgan suggested.

Lea shook her head. “No, I’m not finished ironing all this out with either of you schemers yet.”

“Okay,” Morgan and Claire said, in unison.

“You really played your part well,” Lea said to Morgan. A backhanded compliment. “I thought I was going nuts. Like, who is this chick, why haven’t I met her, when did all this happen?”

Then her eyes took on a wicked glint. “So, how was he?”

Morgan was not sure whether she was, in fact, really supposed to answer that question.

“Do you actually want to know?” Morgan asked, wary.

Lea nodded eagerly. “Last time I laid one on him, it didn’t go well. In short, he bolted.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed he does that,” Morgan agreed, smiling wryly, “To answer your question: unrestrained, boundless passion. I’ve never been kissed quite like that before — ”

Lea’s face darkened at that revelation.

Seeing this, Morgan went on hastily, “ — But I’m not sure if he wasn’t just pretending it was you he was kissing. Which didn’t offend me, because I thought that was a means to an end, but it might bother you to know he may have been doing that. So, I figure, you probably ought to know about it.”

“All right. And then there’s you,” Lea said, now talking to Claire.

Claire straightened up in her seat. “Me?”

Lea nodded again. “Have you ever kissed Shaun?”

Claire shook her head. “No, I haven’t. And he’s never asked to kiss me, either.”

“Would you? If he asked?” Lea pressed.

“If we both wanted to, and I wasn’t just a convenient placeholder for the woman he really wanted to be kissing, yeah, I think I’d enjoy that.”

“Lea, what would you have done if he’d got out of that quarantine and kissed you? Or even just apropos of nothing, just because he wanted to?” Morgan questioned Lea.

Before or after Jake?” Lea queried.

“Both!” Morgan and Claire chorused, now leaning forward eagerly.

They didn’t hear Shaun’s door open or his footsteps as he came out of his room.

He just sat down against the wall next to his door, pulled his knees up to his chest, and listened to the girls’ chatter.

Lea sighed. “I’ve never stopped wishing that he would. Not even now I have a boyfriend. I guess I do a little bit of substitution myself, sometimes. Thank God it’s typical to kiss with your eyes closed.”

Morgan and Claire looked wistful.

“But,” Lea added, choosing her words with some care, “I am beyond terrible at relationships, and a kiss will never – could never – be just a kiss where Shaun is concerned. I’m worried that to him, a kiss is a guarantee or a promise or – just, I guess, permanent. Shaun doesn’t do well with change. I know that.”

“And yet — ” Claire said, firing up, “He does. Just look at him. Look at the things he does. Goes to med school. Leaves the only town he’s ever known to take up a surgical residency in San Jose. Performs emergency surgery in the middle of an airport terminal. Adapts to constant new stimuli in the OR. Deals with all sorts of ignorant jerks who can’t see past his autism. Accepted you leaving to go after your dreams even though it broke his heart. Let you crash on his floor when your dream ended. Moves in with you — ”

“I take your point, Claire,” Lea said, “Thanks.”

“ — Shaun can handle change, Lea. And I think you know that too. Don’t you?” Claire probed her.

“The question isn’t whether Shaun can handle change,” Morgan began, getting up from her bar-stool to come and sit on the couch with Lea and Claire, who both wore identically confused looks on their faces.

“The question is, Lea... can you?”

Chapter Text

Lea sighed. “I’m... okay with change, I guess. Except then, I think, maybe I’m actually not. I moved back to Hershey to help save my grandpa’s auto shop with my brother – but we basically ran it into the ground.”

“I’m sorry,” Claire said. “That must have been pretty demoralising.”

“Yeah, it sucks. Now my brother and I aren’t speaking, and the rest of the family has pretty much declared us persona non grata because everybody loved Grandpa Rod and the shop he built. Oh yes, everybody loved that shop, but only my brother and I could actually be bothered to try and keep it going. It was heartbreaking to lose it. But we cared enough to do something, it failed, and now we get the blame. Families suck sometimes.”

“Mmm, I feel ya on that,” Claire murmured, sympathetically.

“I really don’t like San Jose much, to be honest,” Lea continued. “Silicon Valley is so dog-eat-dog.”

“So why’d you come back here?” Morgan asked, somewhat abruptly. “If you hate it so much?”

“Well, I left on good terms with my boss, for starters – there was still a job for me, if I wanted one,” Lea answered, “Pretty handy, in this economy.”

“Okay. And how much of your decision to return was based on the fact that Shaun is still here?” Morgan pressed.

Lea tossed her an incredulous 'Oh, you think we’re gal pals now? NOT!' look.

“She just cuts right to the chase, doesn’t she? Remind you of anyone we know?” Lea commented to Claire, who shrugged.

“You know, you and Shaun would either be a fantastic couple, or you’d murder one another. There is no in between,” Lea continued, now talking directly to Morgan. “Both of you have a real blunt way of speaking. Except, with Shaun, I inexplicably find his candour almost charming, but from you, Morgan – it just kinda... pisses me off.”

“Yeah, I’ve been told I’m abrasive. My attending before Melendez and Lim was the original male chauvinist pig and a hands-y creep — ”

“ — No, he was an unchecked, egotistical sex pest,” Claire finished, flatly.

Then she turned, accusingly, to Morgan. “You never told me Coyle tried it on with you, too!”

“You never asked,” Morgan calmly replied to Claire. “But I didn’t get it as bad as you, or some of the other residents he harassed. I was lucky. Park usually put himself in between Coyle and I as a kind of buffer. It kept most of the opportune tricks away. Deliberate actions, it couldn’t help, but for everything else, Park helped take the edge off. He used to be a cop — ”

“ — Wait, hold up, one of you surgeons used to be a cop? That is so cool!” Lea put in.

Surgical residents,” Morgan corrected.

“Oh, there’s the Morgan we know and love,” Claire quipped. “Know-it-all.”

“Wow, that is the freakiest thing. You speak to me, Morgan, and I feel like that’s exactly how Shaun would sound if he was a chick. But thinking about Shaun being a chick... kind of makes my head spin. In a bad way,” Lea observed, somewhat humorously.

“Anyway, because he used to be a cop, Park knew pretty well what Coyle was. I know he wanted to do more to protect me. We were both really relieved to join Melendez’s and Lim’s teams,” Morgan elaborated.

“I guess it never occurred to me that you were probably not born a — ” Claire started.

“ — ‘Heinous bitch’?” Morgan supplied. “You can say it. I’ve heard it all before.”

“No, but seriously, were you once actually a nice person, Morgan?” Claire asked, somewhat disbelievingly.

“Oh, I was never exactly nice, but I wasn’t as arrogant. I kept getting told I was gonna get walked over by men my whole career unless I started putting myself forward more. That’s how I knew your performance review would have focused on your lack of ability to assert yourself, Claire. I got the same speech earlier on in my residency.”

“Your bosses suck. Absolute cavemen,” Lea commented. “Is that the kind of B. S. Shaun puts up with, too?”

“It’s a different kind of prejudice, but no less insidious for it,” Claire said.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Morgan reminded Lea. “How much of a factor was Shaun, in your decision to come back?”

Lea sighed. “I remember – I’d never been so excited to see someone again in my life. His hair, his eyes, thinking back to what he looked like before he kissed me, I’ll never forget the look on his face, I swear. I had my mind made up to kiss him when I saw him. Honestly... I could think of little else other than how much I wanted to kiss him again. But it was a real record-scratch of a moment. He wasn’t happy to see me.”

“Just confirm for me – I’m curious. How many kisses have you two had?” Morgan asked, nosily.

“Three,” Lea said immediately.

“And how many more were on the table?” Morgan went on.

“Two more. So, five. We should have had at least four before I left, and we had one when I came back. Well, in loose terms, at least. He’d only just started to kiss me back, before he got up and ran out.”

“Didn’t you believe Shaun when he told you it was three?” Claire teased Morgan.

“Trust, but verify,” Morgan said, defensively.

“With Shaun? Honest-to-a-fault Shaun? Nah. You just wanted to make her say it,” Claire chided Morgan, gesturing to Lea.

“I’ll concede: That number was rattled off instantly,” Morgan said. “My earlier gut instinct said it was a pity kiss – I told Shaun as much — ”

“Why... the hell... would you think that, Morgan? Much less actually say it?” Lea asked, incredulously. “Hear it now, directly from the lips that have kissed that enigma of a man three times – you trail me by two, of course — ” she continued, bitingly sarcastic, frowning at Morgan, “ — I wanted to kiss Shaun. No pity. No charity. Just a girl who looked at a guy one night, and thought: ‘I would really like to kiss him.’” 

“Okay, got it — ” Morgan said. 

“ — And if I hear of you insinuating that I pity Shaun, ever again, God help you,” Lea added, emphatically.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Claire said.

Huddled against the wall, Shaun’s ears pricked up at Claire’s announcement, as he realised he wouldn’t be able to hide in time.

Sure enough, as Claire headed to the bathroom, she caught sight of Shaun, looking vulnerable and nervous sitting down there on the floor. He was absentmindedly fiddling with the scalpel. Claire had never seen someone in more dire need of a comforting hug. 

He locked eyes with Claire, and his gaze pleaded, 'Please don’t give me away'. To her credit, Claire simply nodded, and continued on her way to the bathroom as though nothing was out of the ordinary. 

Shaun breathed a sigh of relief, and put the scalpel away again.

Claire hid a smile as she pushed open the door. I wonder how much you’ve overheard, she thought.

When Claire returned, she debated whether or not to subtly say something to Morgan about Shaun’s presence. She decided to text her.

Don’t look now, but Shaun is in the same room as us. DON’T DRAW ATTENTION. DO NOT REPLY.

Morgan’s phone buzzed. She read the message, her face impassive, and nodded, almost imperceptibly.

Claire picked up the girls’ conversation where it had left off.

“After Shaun ran out on the most recent kiss, what’s happened since? I mean, Jake is a new arrival on the scene. Something big must have happened to cause you to completely lose hope about Shaun. What was it?” she questioned Lea.

“Shaun told me to go back to Hershey – or ‘anywhere other than here’, direct quote. Actually, he sort of shouted it. He looked nothing like himself. You ever see that old movie, Psycho? That expression on his face. It was kind of alarming,” Lea answered.

“Ouch,” Morgan said, sounding almost sympathetic. “Not Shaun’s most sensitive moment.”

Over in the corner, a full-body cringe shuddered through Shaun as he relived, in lurid detail, his entire heartbroken tirade towards Lea.

What on Earth had possessed him to yell at her like that? He wasn’t normally impulsive with his words. If anything, he was usually so measured and over-analytical that he ended up using the wrong words anyway, and offending people despite his best efforts not to. Not making himself understood was always a major source of frustration and fear for Shaun.

“Do you think he meant it, though?” Claire asked Lea, gently. “‘Cause Morgan’s right. Shaun is really miserable.”

Lea shrugged. “All I know is, things between us have not been the same since that argument.”

“But you got over it enough to live with him,” Morgan observed.

“Yeah, but I made it clear that we weren’t gonna be a couple. Ever.” Lea said, regretfully. “I guess I gave him consequences for treating me like that. It might have been short-sighted of me to cut him completely dead, though, because now I feel like I’ve totally torpedoed any chance of a relationship with him forever. When, maybe... I really only just... needed to be mad at him for a little while.”

“I’m sure it’s not forever,” Claire tried to soothe Lea. “You guys get emotional because you care. That’s all it is.”

“Yeah, but when is it just a bad idea all around? He’ll never change. My personality’s pretty well stuck on at this point, too.” Lea argued.

“Come on, Lea. Shaun’s changed a lot since you met him. Hell, he’s changed a lot since you’ve been back, come to that. And the ways we all think about him have, too. Don’t you think it’s time to forgive yourself – and him? He’s waiting for you, Lea. I know he is,” Claire said. 

“Well, maybe he should stop,” Lea snapped. “He’s not entitled to be with me just because he says ‘sorry’.” 

“Of course he’s not. Lea, we pushed Shaun into this idiotic plan tonight, okay? He didn’t want to do it. He said: ‘I don’t want to lie to Lea,’ and we kinda convinced him he wouldn’t be. Shaun followed our advice because we – Morgan and I – portrayed ourselves as experts in an area he really doesn’t know a lot about,” Claire explained. “Lea, I promise you, Shaun did this in good faith. Faith that Morgan and I took advantage of.”

“He respects our intelligence, and in turn, we respect his. So it follows that he would take our advice on other things too. Especially since he can’t exactly ask you about yourself,” Morgan added.

“Then maybe you are the girl for him, Morgan,” Lea said, her eyes sad, “Or you, Claire. The two of you... really understand what makes him tick. I’m scared I’m never gonna get Shaun like that. I hate that thought.”

“I wish you could have seen how charmed he was when he told me he’d met you, and how thrilled he became when he realised the two of you were flirting. It was like he’d unlocked a door. And how proud he was to tell me that he kissed you. You know Shaun at home, Lea, but we know him at work, and it is beyond obvious, to everyone who knows about you, that you make him so happy. He’s happy when he’s talking about you. Shaun doesn’t get that way talking to – or about – Morgan or me, but you can see a change in him when the topic shifts to you,” Claire said.

“I’m worried, because I’m the first girl he’s been seriously interested in. That’s a big thing for me to contend with,” Lea said. 

Morgan shrugged. “Someone had to be the first girl he’s ever truly wanted. Congrats. It’s you.” 

“... Thank you? I guess?” Lea responded, vaguely. She looked like she was in the midst of making some particularly weighty decisions, eyes down, not meeting anyone’s gaze now. 

“And on that note, I think it’s time Morgan and I were leaving,” Claire said. “You and Shaun have a lot to talk about.”

Lea remained silent.

“Lea?” Claire asked. “Are you okay?”

Lea looked up and her eyes were bright with tears that threatened to spill over.

“It’s been a big night,” Claire said gently. “Lots to absorb.”

Lea impatiently wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, but didn’t reply.

Morgan stood up from the couch and stretched. Claire got up, too, because it was pretty obvious that Lea wasn’t really up for any more talking. They left her sitting on the couch, hunched over, lost in thought.

Claire and Morgan gathered up their purses and prepared to let themselves out. 

Before they left, though, Claire dimmed some of the lights and turned off the hanging lamps over the kitchen island, creating a much more serene and intimate atmosphere in the apartment.

She winked at Shaun, who looked both shell-shocked, and beyond ready to abandon his post.

He was able to lip-read what she said: “Mood lighting. Good luck.”

Chapter Text

Shortly after Claire and Morgan had left, Shaun crept over to the couch, and gingerly sat down at the opposite end from Lea, doing his best to avoid startling her.

She was huddled up in a ball on her side of the couch, where she had pushed herself deep into the corner cushions. Her breathing occasionally hitched, before resuming its normal rhythm.

What was left was a whole empty seat between the two of them.

Too far apart.

When it became apparent that Lea was not looking like unfurling herself from the corner of the couch anytime soon, Shaun started shifting towards her – slowly, don’t disturb her, he repeated to himself, until he was within touching distance of Lea.

A memory, perhaps uninvited – but not entirely useless – surfaced in his mind. The memory of Morgan stroking his cheek, and his hand. Soft and light.

Last time Shaun had found Lea curled up in this way, she had been crying about accidentally killing Hubert, their original, yet – regrettably – defective, pet fish.

He’d reached out to comfort her then, but he’d never quite covered the full distance.

He hadn’t been brave enough.

This time, Shaun was determined to be brave enough. He would reach out, and he would touch her, and he would comfort her.

He took stock of Lea’s general posture and the areas closest in proximity to the limits of his reach, and made his decision about where his fingers would land.

He extended a trembling, nervous hand out and touched her shoulder gently.

Lea was startled at the unexpected contact, and Shaun suppressed a sigh. He had wanted to avoid frightening Lea, if at all possible. But as his fingers settled on her shoulder, she relaxed once more under his touch.

“Hi, Shaunie,” Lea mumbled, barely audible.

“Hello, Lea,” Shaun began, uncertainly.

“We should — ”

“You were — ”

They’d both spoken at the same time.

“Okay, you go,” Lea said, turning over so she was propped up against the corner of the couch instead, leaning back on the cushions.

Shaun wished she hadn’t done that. Now she was looking at him, quiet, waiting for him to speak. But he felt like he had completely run out of words.

“You were right,” he finally managed to get out.

“I was? About what?” Lea asked.

“I’m not okay that you are dating Jake,” Shaun confessed, looking tremendously upset with himself.

“I had a bad feeling that might be the case, at some point,” Lea said. “But, Shaun, maybe it will help you to know that I think you’re doing okay with it, apart from a couple of mixed messages and communication breakdowns. Or you at least work very hard at giving me the impression that you accept it. You know, you’re not butting in when you’re not invited. You give us privacy. You, very graciously, left the apartment the other night when Jake slept over. I heard the front door close.”

“I left the apartment because my noise-cancelling headphones weren’t working well enough.”

Lea cringed. “Ah. Oh. Right. Sorry. Uh, where’d you go?”

“I visited Dr. Glassman. That was a good thing in the end, because when I got to his house, I found him slumped on the floor of the bathroom.”

“Oh, Shaun, that sounds awful,” Lea sympathised. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because I couldn’t call you, or come back home, and interrupt you and Jake having sex to tell you what had happened,” Shaun answered, matter-of-factly. “That would have been a boundary violation.”

“Well, I did originally suspect that was where you’d gone. Tonight, however, I actually started thinking – with how you and Morgan were acting around one another – you’d maybe gone and had some, um... fun of your own with her.”

“No,” Shaun confirmed. “I went to Dr. Glassman’s.”

“Hey, did you come back that night?” Lea queried. “I never heard the door open again, or saw your keys in the bowl the next day.”

Shaun shook his head. “No. We went to Portland, Oregon.”

Lea’s mouth fell open. “You went where?”

“Portland, Oregon. We were very high on marijuana,” Shaun elaborated. “Dr. Glassman wanted Mallomars. Our Uber driver realised that Dr. Glassman really wanted to visit a woman he had a crush on in high school. Her favourite snack was Mallomars. He wanted those Mallomars because they reminded him of a girl he loved.”

Lea’s jaw was now in grave danger of clunking painfully on the floor.

“You – were – high?” she demanded, hardly believing what she was hearing. “Okay, I’m going to need to hear that entire story, from start to finish, at some point in the near future.”

“Yes. And I told Morgan a lie tonight. I told her that Dr. Glassman shouldn’t be on medicinal marijuana. And, in my clinical opinion, he should not be. He is prone to psychotic hallucinations. But he has a prescription. I took one,” Shaun recounted.

“Please tell me there is material evidence of this watershed moment in the Murphy regime,” Lea begged.

“Grandma Glassman’s ashes were in a vase. We broke it playing golf indoors. I do not think we managed to vacuum all of the ashes up. So there is still evidence scattered on Dr. Glassman’s living room carpet,” Shaun confirmed.

Lea burst out laughing. “Oh, my God, this tale gets better and better, and I know you’re not lying because you have the freakin’ straightest face in history. I meant photos, Shaun. Or, even better, videos!”

Shaun shook his head. “Oh. No.”

“Then please do me a solid, Shaun, and at least tell me what the hell that looked like. I’ll try to picture it.”

“Some of it’s fuzzy. I remember being very hungry. There was a lawnmower in the living room. That was confusing. I think I wore a hat at one point, while I was golfing. Dr. Glassman started calling me ‘Smurph’, which was incredibly funny, for some reason,” he narrated.

Lea looked almost hysterical with laughter at this point.

“‘Smurph’!” she hooted. “That’s gold!”

“But only Glassy is allowed to call me that,” Shaun pronounced firmly.

Lea pouted. “Awww,” she whined.

“You’re the only other person, who wasn’t present, who knows about that trip,” he said.

“Well, I’m privileged!” Lea exclaimed.

“... And… you’re the only person who’s allowed to call me ‘Shaunie’,” he whispered, looking up at Lea.

“I am?” Lea asked, just as quietly.

Shaun nodded. “Yes.”

The silence stretched between them, a long and looming shadow.

“Dr. Glassman was insisting that he wasn’t in love with Robyn. The Uber driver didn’t agree. She told Dr. Glassman, ‘Whenever you thought about her, it made you happy. And you thought about her all the time. You felt a rush, light-headed.’”

“That’s sweet,” Lea murmured.

“I asked if that was how a person could know that they’re in love,” Shaun said, very quietly.

Lea could barely hear him.

“She said ‘that’s how it starts’,” he finished, his voice even more timid, and his facial expression told Lea exactly how terrified Shaun was right now.

“I’m — ” Lea started, then stopped. She couldn’t even pin down what she actually wanted to say.

Shaun peered at her. “Yes?”

“Do you want to talk about this?” Lea asked him. “Like, really talk, and get it all out in the open? Be honest with one another about a lot of things that haven’t gone away?”

“I don’t know,” Shaun replied, his tone apprehensive.

“Do you understand that at the end of such a conversation, I may still want to stay with Jake, or break up with him, or maybe even try going out with someone else?” Lea continued.


“Do you understand what I’ll be doing to my relationship with Jake if we talk about the things that I have a feeling you’d probably like to discuss?”


Lea sighed. “It’s called ‘emotional cheating’. Have you heard of it?”

Shaun nodded. “Yes.”

“If I’m honest, Shaun, Jake has already accused me of it. Saying that I’m emotionally cheating on him with you. So far I’ve been insistent that I’m not, but, if we talk about these things, he will probably be proven right. But it can also depend on how we go about it.”

“Okay. What is ‘emotional cheating’?” Shaun asked.

“It’s when you have an inappropriately intimate friendship with someone and confide in them, and share your fears, hopes, fantasies, whatever’s in your soul – when that’s the stuff you should be sharing with your partner. Everyone has different lines in the sand, but, basically, the real boyfriend or girlfriend feels neglected, like they’re the runner-up to an unusually deep friendship their partner has with someone else. Does that make sense?”

“Jake feels emotionally neglected by you, because of the friendship you and I share,” Shaun concluded.

Lea nodded. “Yep. I was honest with him that I have a guy best friend. However, I didn’t exactly elaborate on the gory details. Like the fact that I slept on your floor for a month, or that we’ve kissed, among other little moments. Jake doesn’t know that... stuff.”

“But Jake is smart,” Shaun observed. “He knows my friendship with you is emotionally intimate. He doesn’t like it.”

Lea nodded. “Yeah. He really doesn’t.”

“Jake is smart,” Shaun repeated.

“I suppose he is,” Lea conceded, “But — ”

“I know Jake is smart. He chose you,” Shaun said, in a tone that brooked no argument, and nor did it carry any bitterness. It was simply a statement of fact.

And it was also a fact that, at this pronouncement from Shaun, Lea’s heart began to race.

Incredibly fast.

Chapter Text

“Oh, Shaun, that’s sweet of you to say,” Lea finally responded.

“It’s not ‘sweet’. It is the truth,” Shaun pronounced firmly.

Lea sighed. “All right, then. So, how – how do we work this conversation? Assuming we’re having it, of course. Do you want to do this?”

Shaun shrugged. “I don’t know that I have anything to say.”

“Well, I do. God, this is awkward,” Lea muttered. “Okay. I – damn, it shouldn’t be this tough to talk about it. Um. I kinda... resent your work friends manufacturing this moment for us. I feel all this sudden pressure to – to admit to things, and I don’t know if I’m ready, or if I even should, and it’s just – it’s really confusing, Shaun.”

“Is Jake confusing?” Shaun asked, and Lea looked up sharply as the question registered with her.

“No, he’s pretty easy to read,” Lea answered. “He’s chilled out, open-minded, kinda goes with the flow.”

“Do you wish I were like that?” Shaun asked nervously.

“No,” Lea answered immediately. “Because that’s not who you are.”

“Would you like me better if I were?” Shaun pressed, his eyes sad.

“I don’t want you to be someone you’re not,” Lea assured him.

Shaun frowned. “You didn’t answer my question. Would you like me better if I were more like Jake?”

Lea heaved a sigh. “Shaun, I already like you more than I’ve ever liked Jake. I’ve had more time to get to know you. But it’s possible to like different people for different reasons. You like Claire for different reasons than you like Morgan, or me, right? Everyone has their own merits.”

“But I like you best,” Shaun replied, with confusion on his face.

“Yes, Shaun, I know, and I like you too. But you are very different from Jake. Being more like Jake isn’t going to make me like you more.”

“Do you... love Jake?” Shaun asked quietly.

Lea shook her head. “No. It takes time to fall in love with someone. I like Jake a lot, but we haven’t been dating very long.”

“But you’ve had time to — ” Shaun trailed off, and he looked away.

“I’ve had much more time to fall in love with you,” Lea supplied. “That’s what you meant, isn’t it?”

Shaun didn’t answer.

“It’s not that simple, Shaun.”

“It was for me,” Shaun whispered.

“You haven’t been in a relationship, Shaun, and you might be a little bit naive about these things. I’m telling you now, love is not simple. Your black-and-white thinking doesn’t work here. If you want a relationship – if you want to be in love with someone – you’ve gotta understand that there are shades of grey. Love is not an ‘either-or’ proposition.”

“I don’t understand. You kissed me. Why did you do that, if you didn’t want to be my girlfriend?”

“A kiss isn’t a contract, Shaun. Maybe I should have explained that to you before it happened. But I thought – I just – I really wanted to kiss you, and I thought you wanted to kiss me. That’s as deep as it went at the time.”

“But you’ve kissed me three times. On different occasions. Doesn’t that have a meaning? Morgan said that wasn’t an accident.”

“Oh, right, and did you say ‘go back to Hershey’ in three different ways, and expect me to do it?” Lea countered. “Or was that something you said out of anger and hurt? An impulse?”

“No, I — ”

“Well, kissing you was something I did out of attraction, and curiosity. And an impulse. I didn’t expect that — ”


“ — I didn’t expect that I’d want to kiss you all the time,” Lea admitted.

“You want to kiss me all the time?” Shaun repeated disbelievingly.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Romeo. Yes. But I was afraid of this.”

“‘This’? What’s ‘this’?”

“Shaun, everything I do concerning you – and my feelings for you – I’m always really scared. I’m scared to create expectations and obligations. We are not a simple thing, and I’ve been deluding myself for a long time that we are.”

“Jake is a simple thing,” Shaun observed. It wasn’t a question.

“I guess,” Lea agreed.

“You’re with Jake because it’s easy.”

“Yeah, probably,” Lea conceded.

“Being with me wouldn’t be easy. Is that why you aren’t with me? Do you only like simple things?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Shaun. It’s not like that.”

“Then what is it like, Lea? You never tell me. You just expect me to understand.”

“Okay, Shaun, I’m gonna be real with you here. I want to kiss you. All the time. And that’s a really simple concept. But what happens when I do act on that desire is never going to be simple. It’s complicated, and it’s messy, and it’s not a good idea.”

“Lea, do you... regret kissing me?” Shaun asked, very quiet, and very hurt.

Lea scowled, exasperated. “Shaun! God, no. Why would you think that? Didn’t I just say I still want to do it? Does that sound like ‘regret’ to you? See, this is what I mean. Things left unsaid – subtext – confuse you, and you jump to the worst possible conclusion. I’ve learned that now. I am trying to be forgiving of that in you, Shaun, but it’s difficult.”

“Jake understands subtext,” Shaun said, slowly. “What is that like?”

Lea thought for a moment. “Uh, okay. I told him my best friend is a guy, who I also live with. The subtext of that statement was: ‘And that ain’t changing, so don’t even ask’.”


“A lot of guys baulk when I’m upfront about my best friend-slash-roommate being a guy. It’s threatening, because a lot of people think guys and girls can’t be friends without romance and attraction coming into play. And, let’s be honest, Shaunie – we’re attracted to one another, aren’t we? Their paranoia isn’t entirely unfounded.”

“I see.”

“Jake wasn’t intimidated by the fact of you, so I said yes when he asked me out. But he’s asking questions. More and more of them. Gotta level with you on that.”


“See? Complicated.” Lea said, smiling wryly. “Kissing you for the first time on that road trip was the last uncomplicated thing I ever did with you. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster.”

“Why did you come back to San Jose?” Shaun asked, eventually.

“Didn’t I explain why? Do you not remember?” Lea responded in a guarded tone.

“I want you to tell me again,” Shaun said.

“No, Shaun. You’re asking because you want to hear a particular answer,” Lea stated. “You know how we were just talking about subtext? Well, buddy, here’s the subtext of your question: ‘Did you come back to be my girlfriend?’

Shaun said nothing.

“And you simply don’t answer questions you don’t like. I’m right, aren’t I? Are you trying to make me less attracted to you? Keep going on like that, and I’m sure it will work.”


“Grow up, Shaun,” Lea snapped. “You want a relationship? Any relationship? Then you’d better get it through your head – real quick – that you’ve gotta communicate. Right now, you are not communicating. You’re throwing a tantrum. Stop it. Just talk to me.”

“I’m scared, Lea!” Shaun shot back.

“Shaun, come on. I’m not gonna yell at you. I’m not gonna leave this apartment. I’m not gonna stop wanting to be around you. I’m not gonna see you differently.”

“But what if you do?”

“Oh, my God, Shaun! You already know how you feel. You already know how I feel. It’s happened. We’re there. We are officially into one another. Hooray for us. Now, do you actually want to do something about that fact? Or do you just wanna talk around it and about it forever? Because I am not here for that, Shaun.”

“I want you,” Shaun said.

“And I want you, too. But do you understand what that means, Shaun? It means that I don’t want a relationship with you only in theory. I want one in reality. Do you want me in theory, or in reality? You should think about that.”

“I used to think about that. Until you told me to stop thinking about it. Are you telling me to start thinking about it again? Are you telling me that you want me to start thinking about it again?”

“Yeah, I guess I am.”

“Do you guess, or do you know?”

“Yes, Shaun, I want you to start thinking about what being in a relationship with me would actually mean to you. I want you to think about us being a couple. I’m very interested to hear what you think that might be like.”

“Okay. I will — ” Shaun started to say, before Lea jumped in again:

“And, while you’re analysing that to death, here’s some stuff for you to consider about me, and what I think a relationship is. I want to go on dates. I want to cuddle up on this couch. I want to cook dinner together. I want to sit by you. I want to kiss you. I want to touch you. Everywhere. I want you to touch me. Everywhere. And eventually, Shaun, I want to sleep with you. I want to go on road trips, and – and stay in rooms with only one bed instead of two. I want to dive into the backseat of the Striped Tomato with you and just go at it. I want to slam you up against the wall and kiss you so hard, and so long, that you forget how to breathe. And I am sick to death of doing all the Goddamn talking here, so could you please say something?!” she finally burst out.

Shaun sat, dumbfounded and silent, looking very much like he was preparing to flee.

“If you run to your room right now, Shaun, I swear to God, I am going to lose it,” Lea hissed. “Say. Something. To. Me.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“Hmm. Well. When I didn’t know what to say, I fell back on actions. There’s a hint for you.”

“No,” Shaun’s voice rang out clearly.

“The hell do you mean, no?!” Lea burst out, trying hard not to yell.

“You need to get out, Lea. Please leave,” Shaun said dispassionately, like he was just passing on a message. Detached.

“What the hell did you just say to me?” Lea shot back. “‘Get out’? Excuse me, Shaun, but I live here too. You can’t just tell me to leave.”

“Lea. Leave. Get out of here before I — ”

“Before you what, Shaun? Use your words.”

“Before you’re more than just an emotional cheater. I think you want me to kiss you. I know that I want to kiss you. I can’t kiss you. I can’t do anything you want me to, because you are already in a relationship with someone who isn’t me. He wants to do those things with you, right?”

Oh. That.

Lea came crashing right back down to Earth as Shaun’s words sunk in.

“You still have a boyfriend, Lea,” Shaun elaborated, his voice now calm and matter-of-fact. “And even I know that you are emotionally cheating on Jake at this point. We should not go any further.”

“Yes, but – Shaun, I knew what I was saying and I said it anyway – we might as well — ”

“This is wrong, Lea. You have to fix it. Please fix it.”

“‘Fix it’? Do you mean, go and break up with Jake? Right now?”

Shaun nodded firmly. “Yes. Right now.”

“It’s ten PM, Shaun. Jake’s working till close. I can’t see him tonight. And I’m not doing it over the phone or by text. He’s done nothing wrong except for the fact that he isn’t you.”

“Then I’m going to bed,” Shaun pronounced. “Good night, Lea.”

Don’t go. We’re so close to something. Stay here with me, Lea thought frantically.

“Wait,” Lea spoke out loud to Shaun’s retreating back. “Wait, I — ”

Shaun spun around to face her, and his eyes widened as though he’d just remembered something important. He reached into his pocket, and for a moment Lea thought he was retrieving the toy scalpel.

But she heard jingling instead. Shaun walked back towards her and handed her the item he’d taken from his pocket.

“I took your car keys when I was going to escape to Claire’s. Here they are.”

Dumbly, Lea looked down and reached out for the proffered keys. Their fingers brushed, and she nearly dropped the keys. Static electricity.

She looked up at him, curiously, wondering if he felt it too. Contemplating if this was Shaun’s way of stealing any kind of physical contact he could.

No, Lea decided. He just wanted to give me back my keys. He wouldn’t have slept until he did. Things have to go back to their proper places. Let it go.

And then she had an idea. Something that would let them be close, but also something that could be explained away as merely friendship.

Something that could help them both still sleep comfortably at night.

Something almost.

“Do you trust me?” she asked Shaun.

He nodded.

“Then there’s something we can do. Or... some things. Sit down,” she said, tugging Shaun back to the couch. He let himself be led, and they fell, almost as one, back onto the sofa, sinking once more into the cushions.

Their hands were still joined.

Chapter Text

After settling deeper into the couch, Shaun looked at Lea expectantly. 

She idly noted that he still hadn’t let go of her hand. 

“We’re best friends, right?” Lea said, her voice soft. 

Shaun was now looking down at their still-connected hands in amazement, like he couldn’t quite believe he was actually being allowed to do this.

“Yes,” he answered, just as softly, still looking down at their hands.

“I thought of a few things that... might hold us over, until...” Lea announced, letting her voice trail off meaningfully. Please understand the subtext here, Shaun. It won’t work unless you do, she mentally added. “That is, if you’d be open to trying them,” she finished.

She watched an internal battle rage inside Shaun with a sort of glazed fascination. His expressions variegated among panic, desire, and guilt.

At last, he nodded. “But... it’s not...?” he whispered, voice fading.

Lea shook her head. “Not quite. Almost. A... different kind of communication. Some talking. Some... not talking.”

‘Please explain,’ Shaun’s face read.

“Okay. Tell me something,” she started, having come up with another way to have the conversation with Shaun, that she really wanted to be having.

She wanted to ask him all about his feelings for her. How they’d started, how they’d grown, how they’d evolved. The whole timeline of their... connection.

And the only way to do that, she felt, was to ask Shaun to tell it to her like a story – like they were best friends catching up over coffee, talking over their respective relationship highs and lows. 

Then, Lea thought, he’d be able to be much more open about his feelings for her, and if they were only talking in hypotheticals – well, Lea thought they could probably both go to bed with clear consciences. She knew that was of vital importance to Shaun.

It was important to Lea, too, of course, but she had the advantage of knowing that she and Jake had never actually had the ‘exclusivity’ Talk.

She hadn’t told Shaun this, and she didn’t intend on doing so. As far as Shaun was concerned, Lea wasn’t single, and she was willing to cede to his binary perspective on the matter. Because that was a hill to die on, for him. Semantics didn’t change facts.

“What do you want me to tell you, Lea?” he responded. 

“Well, Shaunie, I seem to recall hearing that you’ve fallen in love with a girl. Tell me about that,” Lea pressed. “I want to know all about her. You know, make sure she’s good enough for my wonderful best friend.”

Shaun looked at her, confused, his expression clearly saying: ‘But... that’s you. Why wouldn’t I just talk to you directly?’

“Best friends want to hear about each other’s relationships. They give one another encouragement and advice. And they offer their support when things aren’t going so well, either,” Lea explained. “You’re my best friend, and I want your life to be happy. So, tell me about this girl.”

Shaun processed this new context, and understood: Lea wanted him to talk about his feelings, without ‘cheating’.

He supposed this was a way of talking around a subject that was still forbidden.

And he was happy to try it this way. He hadn’t really had many opportunities to explain his feelings for Lea to anyone, least of all her. People only seemed to ask him if he had them. They weren’t all that interested in why he had them. Morgan had been the first person to ever ask him why.

And, while it was true that Lea made him feel incredibly alive, he knew there had to be more to it.

So, if Lea wanted to know – if she was genuinely curious to hear his perspective on the development of – whatever this would end up being – then he’d tell her.

“You’re doing the same thing people do when they say ‘Netflix and chill’,” he responded, blushing a little. “Saying one thing, when you really mean... something else. You’re using subtext.”

“I absolutely am,” Lea acknowledged. “You cool with that? I think it could work. I don’t think we’ll spontaneously combust into flames from guilt.”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed. He let go of Lea’s hand – so he could concentrate on talking, she supposed.

“Where’d you guys meet?” Lea asked.

“She was my neighbour. The night we met, she came and knocked on my door. She asked me if she could borrow some Triple-A batteries for a video game controller,” he began. 

Lea nodded. So far, her recollection of the evening was in line with his.

Shaun continued, “But I found out later that the controller didn’t need batteries. It should have had a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. I let the girl borrow the batteries, yet I always wondered why she really needed them.”

Lea blinked. This was new information.

Shaun went on, “So I asked my workmate Claire about it. I explained that my neighbour’s controller didn’t take normal batteries, and Claire started laughing really hard, for some reason. She wouldn’t say why. All I could get out of Claire was, ‘Ha! Yeah, I bet she needed them... for her joystick!’”

Lea’s eyes narrowed. Where, exactly, was this part of the story going?

“It was very frustrating that Claire expected me to understand the joke she was making. But she would not elaborate. Finally, I asked my other workmate Jared what Claire’s joke had meant, and he laughed, too. I thought no-one was ever going to explain the joke to me.”

Yes. I, too, would like to know what the joke meant, Lea thought, snippily. She didn’t appreciate the thought of Shaun’s co-workers having a laugh at his naïveté.

“Jared said ‘Oh, mate, Claire meant that your fit neighbour probably needed them for her vibrator! You know, a joystick!’ Then he told me what a vibrator was for. That was a very awkward day.”

Lea turned bright red. That had been Shaun’s colleagues’ first impression of her? She had actually needed them for the controller – she’d been using an aftermarket version, which took normal batteries.

The original one had landed in a container of watery ice and soda cans at a party, and short-circuited. She hadn’t bothered springing for a genuine replacement. The imitation model was just fine.

And then she went even redder when she realised that, for some days after they’d met, Shaun had probably been thinking she was an insatiable sex maniac. At the same time, she idly wondered if him thinking of her that way, had actually turned him on.

Tabling that rather dangerous thought for the time being, Lea went back to paying full attention to Shaun’s recount.

“She never returned or replaced my batteries. I had to go and ask for them back. Jared suggested I not ask my neighbour what she really needed the batteries for. He said it was offensive and unnecessary. I didn’t want my neighbour to think I was a moron. So I told her I was a surgeon. She said, ‘That’s insane’. And it turned out Claire and Jared were wrong, because the neighbour girl took my batteries right out of the controller in front of me and gave them back. I made sure to tell my colleagues that they had been incorrect in their speculation.”

Lea nodded. “Well, yeah, she said ‘borrow’. Fair enough! And what went through your head when you first saw her?”

“‘Her clothes don’t match, and her hair’s a mess’,” he said, without missing a beat. “But she was beautiful.”

“Mismatched clothes, messy hair, and all?”

Shaun nodded. “Everything.” Then, he sneaked a sideways look at her. “She still is.”

Lea flushed pink again. “And then, did you start seeing the pretty girl around more often?”

He nodded. “Yes. She drove me home one night, after she saw me walking home. I’d missed getting off at my usual bus stop. She’d just come from the gym. She was all sweaty. She didn’t smell great, either. And yet, somehow, she was still the prettiest girl I’d ever seen.” 

“Those gym showers are disgusting. She probably just wanted to shower at home,” Lea commented. 

“Yes. She mentioned she was frightened of foot fungus. Very reasonable. It can be a tenacious condition to treat. But she said she appreciated my honesty.”

“Okay, so then you started hanging out, or?” 

“Then she started to play her music loud at night, and I had to buy earplugs. She barged into my apartment one morning, angry that our landlord had cut her power, to express his displeasure with her loud music. I told her that her music was loud, and that I wore earplugs when it annoyed me too much. I suggested she buy headphones. She was very upset. She snatched the apple I was going to have for breakfast, and bit into it. That was irritating, because it was my last one.”

Do you ever think before you act? Lea asked herself, inwardly cringing at what a human steamroller she’d been when they first met. 

“I had to go to the corner market and buy a new one before work. The store I was in got held up. The robber kept giving confusing, contradictory instructions. He wanted me to obey them, but I couldn’t keep my hands up where he could see them, and also get out my wallet and phone, like he asked. He lost patience with me. He had a gun. A girl got shot. I tried to take an apple from a patient’s meal tray later, but I got caught.”

The story of a young man and his noble quest for a damned apple, Lea thought. She knew that the events of this day led into the night she’d hugged him for the first time.

He’d alluded to making some sort of mistake, but he hadn’t explicitly told her what had gone wrong. 

“Claire told me that I might have been stupid to tell the girl I wore earplugs to drown out her music. That sometimes, women just want support, rather than advice,” he continued. “So I apologised to my neighbour, even though I still thought she was wrong. And then, my neighbour – she apologised to me. She said she had probably overreacted. And she gave me a fresh apple, to replace the one she took a bite out of earlier. Then, she went back into her apartment.”

No duh, Dilallo. Of course you overreacted! 

“And I... hadn’t had a good day at work,” Shaun went on. “So, I went and knocked on her door. I didn’t really... think about why. I think I wanted to tell someone I made a mistake, but in my own time. Not a therapist’s time, or Dr. Glassman’s time. I just wanted to... tell her. Only her. Maybe because she didn’t ask. She wasn’t pushing me to talk.”

“And the girl helped you?” Lea prompted. She was pretty interested in Shaun’s answer to that. What had that hug been like, from his viewpoint?

“She hugged me. Everything still wasn’t okay, but it didn’t seem as bad as before.” 

“What did it feel like, when this girl hugged you?” Lea queried. 

“Uncomfortable, at first. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or arms. But I got used to it. She was warm, and her grip around me was secure, yet I didn’t feel trapped by it, either. I didn’t really know if I wanted her to ever let me go. And I desperately wanted to put my arms around her, too, but – I just – couldn’t. I tried. It was too intense. She hugged me for a long time. She was very quiet. I appreciated that. It let me concentrate on what it felt like to be hugged by her. And how it felt was – up to that point, I had hated hugs. Hers... I didn’t hate hers, at all.”

I’d never met someone more in need of a warm, welcoming embrace in my life before that night, Shaun Murphy. I didn’t want to stop hugging you, either. Lea thought. 

“Well, that’s good, that the girl helped you to feel better. Did you see her much, following that?” Lea asked him. 

“Yes. I was interviewing a potential housekeeper one morning. The girl from next door came back from her morning run, and she noticed the woman leaving my apartment. She asked me who it was leaving my apartment, so early in the morning. I’m not really sure why she asked me that.”

“Um, well – she might have thought you were sleeping with that woman. You know, the ‘Walk of Shame’?” Lea suggested.

Shaun shrugged. “I told the girl I was interviewing a housekeeper. I wasn’t hiring this one, though, because her clothes didn’t match.”

“Well, exactly. I mean, how could you expect her to look after your home, if she couldn’t even dress herself?” Lea commented, trying to be sympathetic to Shaun’s point of view.

“But when I said that, my neighbour punched me in the arm and called me an ‘asshat’. I still don’t understand what that term means. It makes no sense. And the punch hurt.”

“Well, this girl was probably teasing you to hide the fact that she might have been... a little jealous,” Lea hinted.

Oh, yes, you were. And maybe – if you’d said so earlier – you could have had him sooner.

She vaguely remembered the ensemble she’d been wearing that day: possibly a white jacket with red stripes, and black-and-white printed leggings? Maybe? If it was, that had definitely been a random outfit – she probably hadn’t done her laundry.

“Hey... maybe – did the girl’s clothes match that day?” Lea asked, “Or not? ‘Cause you said earlier, that when you met – when she borrowed your batteries – her outfit clashed.”

Shaun shook his head. “No. She was wearing... a white jacket with red stripes and graphic print leggings,” he recalled. “They clashed. Horribly.”

“In that case, she might also have thought you were judging her own outfit choice, given it clashed. So I guess she called you an ‘asshat’, because she thought you were insulting her,” Lea mused aloud.

Shaun looked thoughtful. “It’s possible. I brought it up with Claire at work. I told her that my neighbour had called me an ‘asshat’ that morning. Claire seemed convinced that my neighbour had been flirting with me.”

Ah, yes, Claire, and her advice, Lea thought, somewhat annoyed.

But she also realised that, just maybe – if it hadn’t been for that advice – she and Shaun wouldn’t be as tantalisingly close to somewhere as they were right now.

Perhaps, in some way, it was good that it had taken them so long to get to here. If they’d tried it back then – well, it might not have lasted. 

“Claire asked what the girl was doing when she insulted me, and I said that she was touching me. Then Claire told me about something she called the ‘Flirting Trifecta’: the pretentious giggle, the squirm, and the hair sweep. All of which this girl had done, while she was talking to me. Claire said that, if all I’d told her was true, the girl had definitely been flirting with me.”

“Did she now? Well, that’s a good summary of the concept, I guess. So, your neighbour was flirting with you?”

Shaun sighed. “I hoped she was. Claire was quite adamant about it being the case.” 

I was, Shaun. I was. 

“That night, I told my neighbour that she looked absurd in the sweater she was wearing. Her response was surprising. She invited me into her apartment, because she had apples, and she asked me if I wanted one. It was nice that she remembered I like apples. Claire didn’t cover that scenario, but I found out later that my neighbour was probably just creating a pretext, to spend more time with me.”

Good guess, Shaunie.

“And I had apples in my own refrigerator. But, by then, I knew I should accept my neighbour’s invitation, because we were flirting with one another, and it was fun.”

“And what happened in her apartment?”

“I told her that I am autistic, and I explained what that means for me. I talked a little about how hard it was to get anyone’s respect at work. Then, later that week, I spent a night at work, sleeping in the janitor’s closet, because I was being forced by my mentor – Dr. Glassman – to see a therapist. He thought I wasn’t coping after the hold-up. And then Dr. Glassman said he was coming to my apartment with the therapist. So, I took a few things from my apartment, and I knocked on my neighbour’s door. She let me hide out in her apartment. Dr. Glassman came looking for me there.”

Lea remembered it well. Shaun had knocked frantically on her door. She’d seen the traumatised look on his face. It had hurt her heart to see him so broken.

It had been the first time he’d ever directly asked for her help.

”Shaun! Oh, my God, what’s wrong?”

”Lea – I – I need your help.”

”Sure, okay – what can I do?” 

He’d looked behind him anxiously, and then back at her.

”I need a place to hide.”

She’d let him in straight away.

“Dr. Glassman is going to come looking for me at my apartment soon – I wanted to make my own decisions – I don’t want to see a therapist — ”

”I’ll take you somewhere. Are you hungry? Maybe we could go see a movie, that might distract you — ”

”No, no, no, I – have to hide – I slept in the janitor’s closet last night – Dr. Glassman figured it out when I ran into him – and I’m not getting a surround-sound system for my television — ”

Shaun had stayed the night. She’d offered him dinner, and he hadn’t been hungry. He’d been content just to watch her play Uncharted for hours. She had tried to get him to talk a few times that evening, but he hadn’t had much to say.

Glassy had barged right into her apartment the next morning. Thank God he hadn’t found Shaun, who had crawled under her bed, and she’d rolled the trundle in after him.

“So, what happened next?” Lea pressed. She was sort of looking forward to Shaun’s perspective on what had followed. She had vivid memories about this part. 

“I ran away with the girl. She took me on a road trip. She tried to teach me how to drive. I hit a rock. We drank tequila. We sang karaoke. When we got back to the motel, she told me to kiss her. So I did. She asked me if I wanted to do it again, and I said yes. But then I felt sick from the tequila,” Shaun rattled off, and he was deliberately looking anywhere but at Lea, as he told this part of the story.

“Shaun, those – those are just facts. I want you to tell me how it felt,” Lea said, her voice gentle.

“I don’t... think I can,” Shaun said, mostly to his lap. “I have alexithymia, as well. That means I struggle with identifying and describing some of my emotions. Lea, I want to tell you how it felt. I will, if I can. Perhaps I can try to give you more details about the night, and maybe you’ll be able to tell what I felt.”

“Okay. I think the things you give more detail about are going to be the things you felt stronger emotions towards. Does that make sense?” Lea asked, softly, and Shaun nodded. “You went on a road trip...?”

Shaun sighed. “I played hooky from work with the girl, and we went on a road trip. She tried to introduce me to some of the music she liked. I didn’t really enjoy music before that, but I wanted to give it a chance, because I thought she’d like me better if I enjoyed the things she did. I told her about my deceased younger brother. I could smell pine trees. We stopped for snacks and gas, and she offered to teach me to drive. I’d always wanted to learn how to drive. It went well – at first. Then I crashed into a rock. I was very upset at myself, so the girl bought me my first tequila shot, saying it would make me feel better. It... wasn’t bad. We drank some more tequila, and we got very drunk. I remember getting up on stage to sing karaoke. She chose ‘Islands in the Stream’. I like that song a lot now.” 

Come on, come on, tell me what happened next, Lea thought, feverishly. Tell me about our first kiss.

“And then we went back to the motel room, and the girl... she... was behaving strangely. She was standing in the doorway of the room, and she said that she had one more thing to teach me: the right way to end a date. She told me to kiss her.”

Please keep talking... I’m sorry I’ve never asked what it was like for you.

“It was... confronting... to have my emotions read so easily. How she knew I wanted to kiss her, too. I’m not used to people guessing what I want, and when they try to, they usually guess wrong. I would never have had the courage to try and kiss her on my own. I... I still... don’t.”

“Did you ever want to?” 

Shaun looked away before he answered, “I never stop wanting to.”

Then, with a visible effort, he turned back and tried to look Lea in the eye. She could see that it was very difficult for him to do so.

In an attempt to offer some kind of support, she reached for his hand again, and he jerked in surprise.

“I’m sure she knows how that feels, too,” Lea offered.

This reassurance seemed to galvanise Shaun, who picked up the story again: “She – she asked me if that was my first kiss, and I said it was; she told me I was pretty good at it... and she asked if I wanted to do it again. I did. I really, really did. So it was awful that I had to go and be sick from the tequila at that exact moment. I got it all out, brushed my teeth and stumbled to bed.”

“Oh, that must have been horrible,” Lea soothed.

Shaun nodded, shuddering at the memory.

Meanwhile, however, Lea recalled what had actually happened next. There were big gaps in Shaun’s account. He must have forgotten some of the night. Unsurprising, given his inexperience with alcohol and the number of shots he’d taken.

Shaun had emerged from the bathroom about thirty minutes later, smelling of mint toothpaste and mouthwash, his hair damp from the shower. He looked spent and miserable, but relieved to be clean.

Before that, however, Lea had ducked into the bathroom once she heard the shower start running, toting bottles of shampoo and shower gel. She knew Shaun had never been drunk before, and she wanted to keep him safe as he muddled through it. That meant waiting in the bathroom while he showered. Making sure he didn’t slip and fall, or pass out.

She’d also brought in his pyjamas, as well as clean pairs of underwear and socks, all retrieved from his meticulously-packed overnight bag. She had a feeling Shaun might have been in need of some fresh clothes when he got out of the shower. Tequila could be nasty when it wanted revenge.

Judging by the pile of his clothes in the corner, she’d guessed right.

She also had a bottle of Gatorade at the ready, retrieved from the vending machine. Standing outside the shower, she had opened the curtain, offering Shaun the bottle wordlessly, while averting her eyes. He’d taken it gratefully.

“I’m gonna stay in here with you while you shower. I’m not gonna look, I just want you to be safe. Please let me know if you need help. You probably won’t remember this in the morning, anyway.” Lea had told him.

Shaun nodded, then a look of disorientation crossed his face, like he was trying to get his bearings. 

“Dizzy?” Lea asked, sympathetically, “I know. It’s not nice. Just remember, I’m here.”

“I am... dehydrated,” Shaun pronounced, with some effort.

“Drink the Gatorade first, then you can shower. You’ll feel better, I promise. Try not to have the water too hot, it won’t help,” Lea had instructed him, trying to keep her voice soothing.

But she’d peeked. Of course she had.

And, whoa.

Judging by the omission of those details from Shaun’s account of the evening, he didn’t remember it had ever happened.

She decided not to remind him. It might have been embarrassing for him, and it wasn’t important now.

Chapter Text

“I think that’s all of the story I have the energy to tell you tonight, Lea,” Shaun said, apologetically.

“It’s okay. We can talk more about it another time. Wanna just chill out in here for a while, and then call it a night?” Lea asked, ready to introduce the next element of her ‘communication strategy’.

“I think I need the bathroom and then maybe a quick shower. I didn’t have time for one when I got home,” Shaun said.

“Okay. I’ll clear up the pizza boxes and drinks. I showered before you got home. But then I think I’ll need the bathroom after you’re done.”

“All right,” Shaun agreed, heading back to his room for his pyjamas, then disappearing into the bathroom.

With Shaun safely in the bathroom, Lea carried the empty pizza boxes and glasses to the kitchen. She put the glasses in the sink and the pizza boxes into the recycling basket.

Then she sat down again to try and regain some of her equilibrium. She was almost giddy with how it felt, being around Shaun like this, just snuggled up on the couch, talking about everything and nothing. She went around turning off the lights that were still on, except for a lamp in the living room.

She felt a stab of regret that it had pretty much taken an intervention by Shaun’s co-workers to help her see just how easy it could be between them.

“The bathroom’s yours,” Shaun said, leaving the door to it open behind him. He went to sit and wait for Lea on the couch.

Lea got up and went to use the bathroom, brush her teeth, and apply moisturiser. She could smell the Burberry Brit cologne Shaun must have sprayed before coming out of the bathroom.

I wonder if he knows how much that scent makes me want to jump his bones, she thought. Maybe I’ll tell him so, one day.

Then she went into her bedroom to change into her own pyjamas. She debated whether to wear the ones already out, or maybe put on something a little prettier.

In the end, she settled for a tank top and silky pants that she thought might feel nice for Shaun to touch, if he wanted to.

Giving herself a final check in the mirror, she went back into the lounge, where he was waiting. He’d pulled an afghan over his legs, and lifted one side so Lea could slide under it as well.

Returning to the couch, she settled down to the left of Shaun, and turned to him.

“So, well... there are some special little things that best friends are allowed to do, because they’re so close with one another,” Lea began, watching Shaun closely to check that he was picking up what she was putting down. “They’re not exactly the things that romantic couples do, but... they can be almost like them. Is that easy to understand, so far?”

“Yes,” Shaun said, but he still sounded cautious. Waiting.

Lea took a deep breath, pulled herself up into a straighter sitting position, and then she leaned over, and kissed him on the cheek.

It was all she could do not to miss, accidentally on purpose. Plausible deniability.

And it was all Shaun could do not to turn his head at the last second, so that Lea’s kiss might land somewhere, he felt quite sure, that they both wished it would.

“Do best friends kiss each other on the cheek?” Shaun guessed.

Lea nodded. “Sometimes. They also kiss each other’s noses, hair and foreheads. That’s friendly and affectionate.”

“But they don’t kiss on the lips,” Shaun observed.

Lea shook her head. “No, they don’t. That’s... well, romantic. Not... friendly.”

Shaun nodded, like he was compiling a list in his head, a spreadsheet with columns for Okay and Not Okay. He appeared deep in thought.

At last, he said, hesitantly, “I... think I... want to put my arm around your shoulders. Is that friendly behaviour? I think it must be. I see people do it all the time at the hospital, and they aren’t always couples or relatives.”

Anyone else would just pull the old ‘fake yawn’ schtick and go for it. But not Shaun, Lea thought. He’s so completely internalised the concept of ‘boundaries’ that now he feels he has to ask, even when he most likely knows I’ll say yes. Nice work on that, Dilallo. Sarcasm intended.

Instead, Lea smiled and said, “To answer your two questions: Yeah, it absolutely can be. And yes, of course you can.”

“Okay. How... do I do that?” Shaun queried.

“Oh, sure. Okay, well, here, let me snuggle up to you — ” she started, making sure she got as close to his side as possible. “ — If you just lift your arm here – okay, hold it up, let me get in there, and – all right, you can put your arm down now.”

Shaun dropped his arm around her shoulders, bracing it against the back of the couch.

Lea sighed happily, and, at last, eagerly fit herself into the space where she belonged, leaning her head into Shaun’s chest, listening to his heart beating.

She felt a hesitant hand touch her hair lightly, and heard Shaun’s contented sigh.

She laid her ear to his chest and found the sound she realised she had been waiting months and months to hear: the wild pounding of his heart.

“I can hear your heart beating. It’s so fast,” she said.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

“You should... listen to mine. I think it’s hammering just as hard,” she hinted.

“Okay. I’ll get my stethoscope,” Shaun said, moving to get up from the sofa.

Lea couldn’t help but laugh quietly at this very practical pronouncement. Of course Shaun would say that.

Shaun heard her laughter and looked back at Lea, hurt.

“Why is that funny?” Shaun asked, offended. “I use my stethoscope to listen to a heartbeat. It is more accurate to do it that way.”

“I’d rather you just... listened to it without that,” Lea said, trying to skirt around what she was really asking, yet knowing that she could potentially be confusing Shaun.

She reached up and tugged on his shirtsleeve. “Sit back down,” she urged him. “I think I need to explain something to you.”

Shaun sat back down, but this time he did not put his arm back around Lea, and she felt its absence. He looked at her expectantly.

“Shaun, when people are close with one another, in certain circumstances, they might lay their head on the other’s chest and listen to their heart beating,” Lea started.

Shaun still looked pained, so Lea kept talking.

“It can be a very special thing, especially when their hearts are racing. I’m not looking for medical accuracy, I just... do you get what I’m saying... like, at all?”

Shaun nodded. “You want me to listen to your heartbeat the way you were listening to mine. Not with my stethoscope.”

“No, Shaun. Not... with your stethoscope,” Lea confirmed.

She looked up at Shaun, who, armed with this new information, now appeared to be weighing several options in his head.

Then, his face became set, and Lea knew he’d made a decision.

Next thing, Shaun turned himself inward slightly, towards Lea. He put his left arm back around her shoulders, and his right hand came around to the left side of her neck, just under her jawline. He inched forward a little, and pressed his fingers into the soft skin there – gently, yet decisively – and held them still.

“... Shaun?” Lea said, a little confused. What was he trying to do? Wasn’t her heartbeat in her chest? What did her neck have to do with that?

His fingers were on her neck and if he just... shifted them around a little bit, he could so easily be cradling her face instead, like people who were about to kiss often did.

... Was he actually going to break the rules and kiss her properly?

She was utterly split between No, don’t, and Yes, please. The angel and the devil on her shoulders.

“Shhh,” he said quietly, and he seemed to be waiting for something. His head was tilted downwards, and to the side, in concentration. “Don’t talk. Try to stay still.”

After a minute or so, he nodded, withdrew his fingers from her neck and settled back into the couch cushions.

She looked at him curiously.

“I... can’t listen to your heartbeat in the same way you were hearing mine,” Shaun said, his cheeks going red, for some reason. “Because — ”

He can’t listen to my heartbeat because...? Lea wondered, genuinely confused.

Shaun gestured vaguely at the region of her —

OH!” Lea exclaimed, now understanding exactly why Shaun was embarrassed. “Oh, you – yeah – right – yep.”

“I know it wouldn’t be okay. Not... yet,” he outlined hesitantly.

Lea sighed. Once again, Shaun was absolutely right.

Damn it.

“So I was searching for your pulse, instead. Carotid, in this case,” he explained.

My pulse. Of course. That’s another way he can understand.

“I can also find it if you – give me your wrist – yes, that’s right – there,” he continued, as the fingers of his right hand came to rest on the inside of Lea’s left wrist, which now lay on top of the blanket. “It’s here, too. Radial.”

Then his fingers slid up towards the crook of her left elbow, so tenderly that she shivered involuntarily. “And... in here. Brachial.”

Then the same hand reached upwards to her hairline, and light fingers paused over her left temple. “And... up here. Temporal.” He brushed a stray lock of her hair away, lingering an extra moment.

“So... how does it feel?” Lea whispered. “Is it fast?”

“Yes, it’s very fast. And I know I’m overwhelmed by that,” Shaun answered honestly. “I am frequently overwhelmed. I can identify that feeling.”

Lea’s face fell.

Observing this change in her expression, Shaun hastened to clarify things immediately: “Overwhelming, because... I know why your heartbeat is fast, and I know that I made it that way.”

Then he gave her a shy, but genuine smile, and just when Lea thought her heart couldn’t thump harder than it already was, she was proven wrong.

Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him stifling a yawn.

“Are you tired?” Lea asked him.

“Yes, a little, but I’m comfortable here for a short while longer,” Shaun responded. “I... I don’t want this to end.”

“Me, neither,” Lea said. “I think I’m stealing all the blanket, though. Aren’t you cold? Here. Sorry.”

“I was, somewhat. Thank you.”

“Is this... enough? For now?” Lea asked, looking up at Shaun, so he knew she wasn’t just talking about his share of the blanket.

He nodded. “Yes. It’s enough for now. Is it enough for you?”

Instead of replying, Lea curled into Shaun’s side again, and they sat like that for perhaps twenty minutes, not speaking, just breathing in and out in an easy rhythm. The silence between them was companionable and peaceful.

“Whatcha thinkin’?” Lea whispered.

“I’m wondering what I’ll say to Claire and Morgan tomorrow at work,” Shaun answered honestly. “... Would you prefer I didn’t say anything?” he added, looking anxiously at Lea.

“Honestly? I think you’ll never get another moment’s peace unless and until you do tell them something,” Lea mused. “What would you like to tell them?”

“I don’t know. Maybe nothing.”

“Hmm. There’s always ‘a true gentleman never kisses and tells’,” she suggested. “They’ll froth over that, I guarantee.”

“What does that phrase mean?” Shaun asked.

“‘Kiss and tell’?” Lea clarified.

“Yes. What does that mean?”

“To ‘kiss and tell’ means that you’ve had a... romantic encounter with someone, that you then tell all your friends all the gory details about. Since the details can be quite... um... personal, it’s considered impolite, or I guess, just... not very nice, to talk about someone you’ve been involved with, behind their back. It’s nobody’s business.”

Shaun nodded. “So, if I tell Claire and Morgan certain things about what happened after they left tonight, I would be ‘kissing and telling’?”

“Yep. Exactly.” Lea confirmed.

“Can you give me an example of something that’s personal?” Shaun pressed. “I don’t want to say the wrong thing to anyone.”

Lea thought for a moment. “I wouldn’t want you to tell them about... hmm. I guess you could tell them most anything. I... well, the person I don’t want you to talk to, like, at all, is... Jake. And I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t talk to Glassy about this stuff, either. I would be pretty embarrassed if he knew a lot of it. But Morgan and Claire are probably okay. If you trust them. I do realise you probably need to sound off on people who aren’t me.”

Shaun thought for a moment. “I’ll tell Carly. She hasn’t met you.”

“Carly? Who’s Carly?” Lea asked, hating how suspicious her voice suddenly sounded.

“She’s a pathologist,” Shaun replied, apparently not picking up on the dangerous note that had crept into Lea’s words. “Dr. Han, our new Chief of Surgery, may be forcing me to move to Pathology. I don’t want to. I didn’t study for eight years to be a pathologist. I studied to be a surgeon.”

“Yes, and got into a fair amount of student debt along the way for your trouble, I’d imagine,” Lea said wryly, wondering again just why she had heard about this from Morgan first, and not Shaun himself?

Because you’ve been so wrapped up in avoiding being alone with Shaun lately that the two of you barely speak about anything of consequence these days, the snotty voice in her head piped up.

“I won a lot of scholarships and bursaries. My college debt isn’t unmanageable,” Shaun reassured her.

“Again: Who is Carly?” Lea persisted.

Shaun blinked, as though he was surprised Lea didn’t know who Carly was. “She’s a pathologist,” he repeated. “If Dr. Han forces me to work in Pathology, she’ll be my colleague. Or superior, I suppose. I’m not sure what the hierarchy is in Path.”

“Yeah, but the way you spoke about her, it sounds like you two are already pretty familiar with one another,” Lea said, slowly.

He doesn’t understand why you’re upset. He’s not ignoring it; he genuinely does not get it. Explain why you’re upset, she thought.

“I threatened to throw a rock through Carly’s lab window once,” Shaun began, as though this was the start of a funny anecdote. “Dr. Melendez wanted some test results urgently. I said to Carly that I’d throw a rock through her window unless she ran Dr. Melendez’s tests immediately.”

“Cute story. So, that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, then?” Lea bit out sarcastically.

Shaun looked utterly confused, as the nasty tone in Lea’s voice hit him at last.

“You are upset. Do you not want me to talk to Carly? Should I only talk to Claire and Morgan?” Shaun guessed.

“Oh, just go talk to anyone you want, Shaun,” Lea snapped. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Lea, you’re confusing me,” Shaun said. “You’re upset. I don’t understand why.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Shaun. Maybe because I have literally never heard of this girl before? Then again, I’d never heard of Morgan before tonight either, and God knows how long you two have worked together! So, when did we stop telling one another things, Shaun?”

“I’ve known Carly since I started my residency; Morgan was transferred to Dr. Melendez’s and Dr. Lim’s residency teams shortly after Jared was fired for assaulting Dr. Coyle, Morgan’s former attending surgeon. Which was around the time of the road trip.” Shaun explained.

“Do you genuinely not get why I am upset, Shaun?” Lea inquired.

“I don’t. And I’m angry that you won’t tell me why,” Shaun replied.

Lea sighed. “You suddenly have a lot of female friends coming out of the woodwork. Two of whom I didn’t even know existed. It’s just – weird – you haven’t mentioned them before. It makes you look like... forget it. I’m just insecure.”

“I’m not going to forget that you’re upset with me, Lea,” Shaun said.

“It – I – okay, I get it, Shaun, you work with all these accomplished, amazing women – and you save lives – and I’m just – I couldn’t even save my grandpa’s shop from going under — ”

“Lea,” Shaun attempted.

“ — Why would you bother with me, when you could have Claire, or Morgan, or even this Carly chick? I’m sure she’s just as remarkable as the other women you work alongside. You’re gonna get so bored of me, and it’s gonna hurt me so bad when that happens. You could do a lot better than me, Shaun. I think I’ve always known that. Running away on a road trip, being the only two people around, or living together as friends, it’s easy to forget what’s outside of us — ”

“Lea,” Shaun tried again.

“ — But it hit me in the face tonight, Shaun. I get it. I understand. Morgan’s right: you have so many options... and you don’t have any reason to wait around for me to get my life together. You could have any girl you wanted. You’re gonna break a lot of hearts someday, Dr. Shaun Murphy. You have no idea how incredible you are. And the day you figure that out, you’ll be unstoppable — ”

“Lea!” Shaun nearly shouted.

This time, Lea did shut up.

And then Shaun said something so out of character for him, so at odds with his usual reserved manner, that it knocked the wind out of Lea completely:

“For fuck’s sake, Lea.”

Chapter Text

“... What?” Lea half-whispered, still stunned.

“I said, ‘For fuck’s sake, Lea,’” Shaun repeated, with maddening calm.

“I know what you said, Shaun. I’m not deaf,” Lea snapped, regaining some of her righteous fury.

“Well, you asked, ‘What?’, so I thought you hadn’t heard what I said,” Shaun answered, almost pleasantly. “I’m going to bed. I’m tired. I have work in the morning.”

“Shaun. Wait.” Lea said, as he tossed back the blanket and got up from the couch.

He turned back to her, his face a picture of exasperation and exhaustion. “I don’t have much energy left, Lea,” he warned her. “I do need to sleep soon.”

“Okay, I deserved that,” Lea admitted. “I’m, just – um, wow. I didn’t know you knew that word.”

“I’ve heard people say it when they’re frustrated with other people. It typically seems to have an impact on the recipient,” Shaun observed, sitting back down again, reluctantly.

“Yeah, it’s, uh, pretty short and sharp,” Lea agreed. “Unambiguous.”

“I’m sorry I said ‘fuck’,” Shaun apologised.

“Don’t be. I’m sorry I don’t know when to shut up sometimes. Are you off to bed?”

“Are we best friends again?” Shaun asked, seriously.

“That... and then some,” Lea confirmed.

“Then, yes. I’m going to bed.”

“I guess I’ll join you,” Lea said, without thinking.

She nearly burst out laughing at Shaun’s scandalised expression.

“I didn’t even think – I – I mean, me in my bed, you in yours,” Lea choked out, flustered.

“Tomorrow?” Shaun asked instead, fixing Lea with a stern glare. Tomorrow, you break up with Jake, it warned.

“Tomorrow,” Lea assured him. “Promise.”

“Okay. Good night, Lea. Sweet dreams,” Shaun said, kissing her on the cheek as though it was suddenly the most natural thing in the world for him to do. Then he hugged her.

“You too, Shaunie. Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.”

Lea had done something pretty unusual: she had set her alarm so she could wake up with Shaun the next morning. Typically he was long gone before she was even remotely close to regaining consciousness.

But today felt charged with excitement, and fear, and anticipation, and it felt somehow appropriate that they start their day as they meant to go on: together.

She padded quietly into the living room, clutching her robe tightly around her. Shaun was absorbed in The Weather Channel’s seven-day forecast.

“Morning, roomie,” she greeted him. ’Roomie’? You’re still sticking to that story, huh?

Shaun took his eyes off the television and looked up in the direction of Lea’s voice, surprised to see her awake so early.

“Good morning, Lea,” he replied, a little warily.

“I wanted to see you before you left. Did you sleep okay?” she asked.

“No. I am very worried about seeing Claire and Morgan at work today.”

“Well, could I interest you in another impromptu road trip?” Lea quipped. “You can drive this time.”

“I can’t go on a road trip with you today, Lea. I have an important meeting with Dr. Han scheduled, and he wants to discuss the future of my surgical residency,” Shaun responded.

“Wow, that’s definitely unmissable,” Lea commented. “Are you nervous?”

“No. I have no need to be nervous. I know my skills are valued in my workplace. Dr. Han is new, and I am excited to show him what I’m capable of. I know once he talks to me properly, he will not send me to Pathology. Did you sleep well?”

“No, not really. I have my own tough conversation coming up today. It’s worth it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s never fun hurting somebody.”

“It shouldn’t be. People who find hurting others to be fun should have a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder considered.”

“Between you and me, I think that’s what your co-worker Morgan has. She’s one of the least remorseful, unapologetically mean people I’ve met in my life. How could you have ever kissed her?” Lea said.

The latter question had burst out of Lea without planning or thinking; she cringed as Shaun went pale.

“I’m – I’m really sorry – I shouldn’t have said that – it’s none of my business,” Lea apologised immediately.

“I wanted to be kissing you,” Shaun said bluntly, turning back to the screen as if to punctuate his sentence.

“You will,” Lea whispered, half-hoping Shaun had heard, and half-hoping he hadn’t. He gave no indication either way.

“A little birdie described it as ‘intense’,” Lea went on, wondering why she felt so compelled to pick these silly fights with the person she really wanted to try being less awful at relationships for.

“How should I know?” Shaun asked.

“Your hair was the messiest I’ve ever seen it. It doesn’t even look like that when you get up on weekend mornings. She must have really yanked on it.”

“Is that important?”

“I didn’t like knowing that she was kissing you like that. And yeah, messy hair usually goes hand-in-hand with that type of kiss. Your hair didn’t look like that when we — ”

“I didn’t like overhearing you and Jake having sex, so I left the apartment. You could have left the apartment.” Shaun pointed out.

“Well, I — yeah, you’re right. I mean, just – I was jealous. I guess that’s what Morgan wanted, though.”

“You have to break up with Jake today,” Shaun reminded her, as though it was an errand Lea had to run, like he was just letting her know to pick up bread and milk on her way home.

“Yes, Shaun, I’m aware of that. And I have every intention of doing so.”

“What time will you be home?”

“I’ll go see Jake after work. Maybe seven? How about you?”

“I hope to be home by eight at the latest.”

“Okay. Well... see you tonight?” Lea ventured.

“Yes. I’ll see you tonight,” Shaun agreed, walking over to the coat hooks to retrieve his jacket. Lea couldn’t really get a solid read on his mental or emotional state.

And then she felt as though something was... absent from their current exchange. It seemed different from their heartfelt goodnight of the previous evening. Perfunctory.

Oh, right. That’s what’s missing.

“Shaun?” Lea asked.

He paused in putting on his jacket, only one of his arms in a sleeve thus far, and looked at her curiously.

“Can I have a kiss?” Lea asked, suddenly feeling shy. “‘I’d, uh, I’d have kissed you myself, but I haven’t brushed my teeth yet. So, um... it would be... really nice if...”

The words died in her throat as Shaun finished pulling on his jacket, and she thought for a moment that he would just leave without saying anything back to her.

Instead, he surprised Lea by dropping his backpack on the floor where he stood, and then walking back over to her. He placed a tentative hand on the side of her face, tipped up her chin with it, and instead of kissing her on the cheek, he kissed her forehead, then the tip of her nose, and finally her hair.

“That’s ‘friendly and affectionate,’ he said, echoing Lea’s words of the previous night. He stepped back from her slightly.

“Yes,” Lea agreed.

But Shaun wasn’t done yet. He looked conflicted, or perhaps a little guilty for a brief moment, and Lea held her breath, waiting for him to hug her, or something.

Then, Shaun stepped close to her again, this time taking her face in both his hands, and he kissed her on the lips. It didn’t last long, and there was no tongue, but Lea still felt like swaying on the spot when he pulled away.

“And that’s ‘romantic’,” he added, walking away from a shell-shocked Lea, picking up his backpack, and leaving, the door closing quietly behind him.

He did that. He actually did that. How does he keep surprising me like this?

Maybe because you’re letting him surprise you, for a change?

Claire practically crash-tackled Shaun the second he walked into the residents’ locker room. She was bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, already dressed for consults in her lab coat.

“Hello, Claire,” Shaun greeted her, the very image of polite nonchalance. Business as usual.

But Claire saw the shadow of an irrepressible grin, hiding just below the surface. Claire just caught the briefest sight of it, before Shaun turned hastily to his locker and opened it, smiling at something apparently only he could see in its dark depths.

“Hello, yourself! What. Happened?” Claire demanded, considering whether or not to pin Shaun to the wall – or perhaps tie him to a chair – until he gave her some real answers.

“According to the call sheet, I believe you’re working with Dr. Melendez today, and I have a meeting with Dr. Han after my burn debridement this morning. We’re using Jared’s tilapia scales strategy again to help with healing,” Shaun said pleasantly, still not making eye contact with Claire as he reached for an item on the top shelf.

“Do not play dumb with me, Murphy,” Claire warned. “Lea! What happened between you two after Morgan and I left? You’re trying to hide it, but you’re smiling like an idiot into your locker, and I’m pretty sure there’s nothing very interesting in there!”

Apparently having found whatever he was looking for, Shaun backed out of his locker again, unsuccessfully hiding a yawn behind his hand. His other hand now clutched a set of neatly folded scrubs.

He turned away from his locker and opened his mouth to speak, but Claire cut him off the second she saw how bright red his cheeks were. “Oh, my God! You got laid! Literally nobody smiles like that unless they’ve recently had sex! And you look happily exhausted. Late night?”

Pausing in the act of putting on his scrubs and lab coat over a compression t-shirt and shorts, and turning back to hang his button-down, khakis, and jacket up inside his locker, Shaun said in a reproachful, prim voice: “A true gentleman never kisses and tells, Claire. Lea said you would ‘froth’ over that, whatever that means.”

“So something did happen!” Claire crowed, triumphantly.

“All of this is pure conjecture on your part, Claire,” Shaun replied, closing his locker with a decisive thud.

“What’s all this commotion in here?” Alex asked, coming into the locker room as well.

“Shaun got laid last night!” Claire trumpeted proudly, as though she had personally arranged his (alleged) deflowering.

“Nice! Congrats, Murphy! Who’s the lucky lady?”

“It’s his roommate!” Claire interjected with glee, before Shaun could reply.

“Oh, yeah, friends to lovers. That’s always fun!” Alex commented. “And you already live together. That’s certainly convenient.”

“I did not have sex with Lea,” Shaun snapped, above the din. “Last night or any other night.”

Sure you didn’t, Murphy,” Alex scoffed. “You have absolutely no poker face.”

“I haven’t had sex with Lea. But... Lea said – one day – she’d like to have sex with me,” Shaun announced, before walking straight out of the room, without another word to Claire or Alex.

“Let’s have lunch together!” Claire called, to Shaun’s retreating back.

He didn’t even stop, much less turn around.

“I think you hit a nerve, Browne,” Alex ventured, after Shaun had left. “Think he’s hiding the truth? That was some mic drop.”

“Actually, now I’m not sure, Park. I’m really... not sure. Maybe he didn’t. Yet. I know he wants to, though. That’s fairly clear.”

“My money’s on ‘he didn’t’. Murphy doesn’t lie. I can pick liars real easy. That kid ain’t ever been good at it.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Think I should apologise?”

“Nah, it gives him street cred. And frankly, I don’t know anyone in this hospital who wouldn’t agree that Murphy needed to get laid. He can be an uptight, intense kind of dude.”

“I don’t think Shaun could care any less about being ‘cool’ than he already does, Park. He’s, like... immune... to the foibles of humanity.”

“Then... apologise? What the hell do I know about the guy? You’re the expert on that kid, Browne. Nobody else knows him like you do.”

“Who doesn’t know whom like Claire does?” another voice piped up, this time high and feminine.

Claire and Alex swivelled as one towards the doorway, where Morgan was just coming in.

Claire’s expression turned dark. “Reznick,” she said, in a clipped voice.

“Browne,” Morgan replied, just as briskly.

Alex stared at Claire and Morgan with a wary expression. He knew there was no love lost between these two broads.

He beat a hasty retreat, and all that was missing from his speedy exit was the Tasmanian Devil’s tornado cloud.

“Morning,” Morgan said.

“You’re lucky I don’t have time to yell at you,” Claire snarled. “But, actually, on second thought: I’m making time. Let’s go.”

“Aww, still pissed off that I got to mack on Shaun before you did?” Morgan said, her tone mocking.

“You can’t be human. No real, well-adjusted human being is that brusque and dismissive of another person’s feelings. I swear, you are a sociopath. What is it in you that gets off on playing with people like they’re toys? And why did I have so much blind faith that you had Shaun’s best interests at heart, for once?”

Still deluding yourself that Shaun didn’t want to kiss me?” Morgan taunted her.

“I can’t fathom how you became a doctor. You are the least caring, empathetic person I’ve ever met,” Claire snapped.

“It’s funny how the word ‘empathetic’ contains the word ‘pathetic’, isn’t it, Browne? How apt.”

“Do you even care about Shaun?” Claire asked, in a quieter, more serious voice, which had no malice in it whatsoever. “Lea met you for half an evening and she could already sense so much about how you pity Shaun. Do you care about him? I’m trying not to hate you as a person, but you are making it very difficult.”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business, Claire,” Morgan responded.

“So you do,” Claire said.

“I didn’t say that. He’s a nice guy. He’s cute. He has an interesting sense of humour. He’s extremely gifted. He’s resilient. He could do so much better than Lea. She’s just the living embodiment of the ‘first girl wins’ trope. And she’s a total flight risk. You were there when she said she hates San Jose. I can see her breaking Shaun’s heart again, and it will be bad. The first time, he was only crushing on her. Now, he believes he’s in love with her. The stakes are higher this time around.”

“Well, that’s not your decision,” Claire reminded her. “Shaun loves Lea. That’s obvious to anyone. He’s gonna fall in and out of love a hundred times, and he’s gonna have his heart broken, and he’s gonna break hearts, and he’s gonna get dumped, and he’s gonna do the dumping. It’s all gonna happen eventually, same as it does to everyone.”

“Come on, Claire, you know as well as I do that he can do better his first time out. Why don’t you ask him out sometime? You fooled Lea – which isn’t exactly difficult – but you don’t fool me: you’re attracted to him. Why don’t you do something with that? He told me he thinks you’re pretty. And I saw the way you were eyeing him like a damn steak dinner at that benefit. You remember that gorgeous tux? If you’re lucky, he might even pull it out again for a date with you sometime.”

“Oh, yeah, ‘cause ‘pretty’ is the bedrock of a healthy relationship,” Claire scoffed.

“Hmm. I wonder if Han will stick Shaun in Path. Hey! He can go out with Carly! She’s a stronger match for him than that flaky Lea,” Morgan said, sort of changing the subject.

“Carly? Huh,” Claire mused. Interesting suggestion. “But Shaun’s not going to Path. Han just needs to understand how Shaun communicates. That quarantine was brutal, and that flickering light would have driven anyone insane. He delivered a baby with verbal instructions from someone standing nearby, and he hasn’t even done an obstetrics rota to begin with. If that isn’t proof of his formidable talents, I don’t know what else will make Han happy.”

“See, you’re sticking up for your man,” Morgan observed. “How adorable. Don’t kid yourself, Claire, you want him. But, you know, let’s let Lea screw him over again and then you can just swoop in and pick up the pieces. It’ll be perfect.”

“You do realise you’re talking about an actual live person with feelings, right?” Claire said, aghast at Morgan’s Machiavellian approach. Morgan would probably just call herself ‘pragmatic’.

And so might Shaun, Claire realised.

Her phone went off.

“I bet that’s your erstwhile Lover Boy. Don’t let me interrupt you two,” Morgan said.

“Shut up,” Claire retorted, pulling her phone from the pocket of her lab coat.

Lea is breaking up with Jake tonight.

Huh. That was quick, Claire thought.

She sent a reply:

Wow, that’s great, Shaun. Are you happy?

His reply came back:

I think so.

She sent:

You ‘think’ so? What?

He wrote:

I love her. Now what?

Asking the real questions, as ever. She had to think a bit harder about her next message:

I guess you get your happy ending.

He wrote:

You said that Lea’s not the only person who can make me happy.

She typed:

I still believe that’s true. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t make you happy.

He replied:

That’s complicated.

She laughed to herself and sent back:

That’s love.

He wrote:

I will meet you for lunch.

She sent:

You better be ready to spill! The suspense is killing me!

He replied:

’Suspense’ cannot kill a person, Claire. You know that.

She decided to let him win that one.

“I’m just saying, consider it,” Morgan piped up, taking off her ankle boots and putting on Skechers instead.

Claire shot her a withering glance and left the locker room.

Chapter Text

Shaun was absolutely floored by what Dr. Jackson Han – the new Chief of Surgery – had just finished telling him, in their meeting to discuss the ‘future of Shaun’s surgical residency’.

The outcome of the meeting had been that there wasn’t going to be a future, at all.

Dr. Han had just finished telling Shaun that he would now be switching to a Pathology residency, instead of staying in his current position, as a surgical resident.

No. I don’t want to. I don’t want this. I don’t want to do this. No. No. No. No. No.

Shaun ached to pull his scalpel out of his pocket, or perhaps run to the residents’ locker room, or maybe sprint home... anywhere he could just be alone.

On the other hand, he did not currently trust any of his limbs to hold him up, and he was also unsure whether his vocal cords would allow him to speak, so he stayed seated.

He sensed that – unless he was allowed to leave Dr. Han’s office very soon – an emotional, mental, and physical shutdown would be imminent.

And he did not want that shutdown to happen in front of this extremely powerful person who, evidently, could decimate ambitions, and careers, and childhood dreams, all with the scratch of a Montblanc pen on a residency contract.

No. No. No. I am a surgeon. I am a surgeon! Why doesn’t Dr. Han understand that I am a surgeon? I am not a pathologist!

Dr. Han pressed a button on his phone, saying “Send her in,” and Shaun heard the office door open shortly after.

Then, Dr. Han waved at, and beckoned to, someone standing in the doorway, who had ostensibly been sitting in the corridor outside the room, waiting to be invited in.

The figure stepped inside the office, and sat down in the chair next to Shaun’s.

The bright lights of the office suddenly seemed oppressive, the squeak of nurses’ shoes in the hall outside offensively shrill, the tapping of that Montblanc pen erratic and distracting.

Stay still. Be quiet. Too much. Loud – loud – loud, so loud, I can’t —

“Okay. Dr. Murphy, have you met Dr. Carly Lever? She’s going to be your new manager. We both think you’re going to do remarkable things in Pathology. Your prodigious diagnostic skills will be an enormous asset in solving the medical mysteries I know you desire to piece together, without needing to be in contact with patients. You’re going to be great. I have every confidence in you. And Dr. Lever is going to be a terrific support for you in these early days, to help you adapt to this transition.”

Evidently taking Shaun’s silence as assent, Dr. Han continued: “I understand this is going to be difficult. That’s why I’d like you to take the rest of today off – after this meeting – and come back tomorrow morning, refreshed, and ready to take on these new challenges. All right, Dr. Murphy?”

The room gradually came back into focus, as Shaun absorbed the news fully.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flash of something white, then geometric-patterned fabric, and dark, curly hair.

The curls were the most visually arresting thing in the environment. Kind of like Lea’s. But it was not Lea.

Dr. Lever. Carly. I was going to tell Carly about Lea today, when I went to get the tilapia scales, but I forgot, because I was nervous about the meeting, Shaun recalled. Carly does not know Lea, so she will be fair and objective.

“Hi, Shaun,” she said. “It’s going to be a blast working with you.”

“Ah, so you know one another. Excellent. Well, I have to scrub in soon, so I’ll leave you two my office. Best of luck, Dr. Murphy. And, after this, take the rest of today off. I can find out if you are still in this hospital by your security badge swipes, and I will not be happy if I discover you stayed.”

With this stern warning, Dr. Han left, closing his office door behind him.

“Are you... okay?” Carly said, uncertainly, noticing that Shaun hadn’t said a word since she’d entered, or even given any indication he’d heard Dr. Han at all.

She had the strong impression that Dr. Han had also done all the talking before she’d come in, too.

“It’s a lot. But I promise, we’re going to have a lot of fun working together. I’ve had my eye on you for a long time, Dr. Shaun Murphy.”

Shaun didn’t react. Carly gathered he was probably still in shock. Maybe it would help if she kept talking him through it.

“When I say ‘I’ve had my eye on you’, I just mean that your diagnostic instincts are the envy of everyone in the lab, including me. So, we are all beyond thrilled that we’re gonna get to pick your brain. You’re like a bloodhound, with how you hunt down answers. We all want to know: how the hell do you do it, and can it be cloned?”

“What time should I be at work tomorrow?” Shaun asked. 

Oh, thank God he understood that after all, Carly thought, relieved.

“Between seven and seven-thirty. But if you’re running late on some days, the world won’t end.”

“Okay. I will see you tomorrow, Dr. Lever.”

“Enjoy the rest of your day off, Shaun. And it’s ‘Carly’. We know one another. Just ‘cause I’m managing you, doesn’t mean you can’t call me by my first name anymore.”

Shaun miserably cleaned out his locker in the residents’ locker room, trying to keep the world straight. He assumed the lab staff had a different locker room, and that he’d be assigned a new one tomorrow.

He pulled out his phone to text Claire that lunch was off, and started to type, before he erased it, then impatiently jabbed the lock button. He couldn’t face telling anyone what had happened.

Dr. Han had told him to get out of the hospital.

He had not told Shaun that he had to go home.

And that’s how Shaun found himself in a bar near his workplace, at ten in the morning, drinking himself into a stupor, and leaving his would-be potential girlfriend a slurred – almost incomprehensible – voice message.

‘Itsh me, Shaun... Dr. Han transferredth me to Pa – Pa – Path – ha – can’t thay ith right – making me take the retht of the day off – I love you... tho much... but you won’t love me – ‘cause I’m not a thurgeon now – come drink with me – tequila, shtat!’

Lea listened to the voice mail message, with a face like thunder. Shaun wasn’t a surgeon anymore? What the hell?

In the background of the message, Lea heard the bartender say, ’Okay, champ, that’s enough booze for you. I’m cutting you off. You can have water or pop, that’s it.’

’Butsh I’m — ’ Shaun protested.

This was punctuated by two sickening noises: the first, loud and dull, like a body falling to the ground with a thump; the second, clattering, like a smartphone being dropped on a floor.

‘Dude! Whoa!’ she could hear in the background.

‘He dropped his phone, it sounded like he was drunk–dialling his crush — ’ the bartender went on, apparently talking to himself, and the voice message ended.

Then her phone rang. She picked up on the first ring.

“Lea? Uh, yeah, this is Kyle, from Harry’s, the bar up a block from St. Bonaventure Hospital. Your boyfriend just fell off a stool in my bar, drunk as a skunk, and his ID says he’s a surgeon at the hospital. It’s, uh, it’s gonna be a short ambulance ride, obviously, but he fell hard – you might want to get there – I’m gonna give his backpack, phone, and badge to the paramedics, but I heard him calling you, so I figured your number would be easiest to find. You should hurry.”

“He’s not my – um, yeah, thanks for calling,” Lea said, trying not to panic. She hung up.

“Hey, Marty,” she called to her boss. “I gotta fly. It’s an emergency. My boyfr – uh, roommate – he’s in the hospital – I have to go — ” 

“Oh, sure, yeah, go. I hope he’s okay,” Marty said.

“Me, too,” Lea said, through gritted teeth. “Me, too.”

Claire, Morgan and Alex were all gathered in a breakout room, waiting for Shaun to return from his meeting with Dr. Han, and arguing about what the likely outcome of the meeting would be.

“I’m telling you, Shaun’s going to Path,” Morgan insisted.

Claire shook her head. “No, he isn’t. If anything, Han’s probably looking at how to lend Shaun to other departments here, so they can all benefit from his knowledge.”

“We know you like defending your crush, Claire — ” Morgan began, ignoring the absolutely filthy look Claire gave her.

“Actually, I’m with Browne on this one, Reznick. It’s really not fair that other departments miss out on Murphy’s skills. He could be an asset to any team here,” Alex put in.

“And that’s why I say it’s gonna be Path. He can diagnose anything there. Han might keep him for surgical consults,” Morgan argued.

“What, put Shaun in a box, and take him out occasionally to play with him like a Ken doll, then shove him back in when Han gets bored? From surgical consults, to – to blood tests? Urinalysis? Stool samples? Are you for real?” Claire asked, vehemently.

Their bickering was interrupted by Dr. Neil Melendez and Dr. Audrey Lim bursting into the breakout room together, breathless and frantic.

“... Where’s Shaun?” Claire asked, noticing the utter panic on both her attendings’ faces, and the distinct lack of Shaun bringing up the rear.

“Murphy is in the hospital,” Audrey said.

Claire nodded, impatiently. “Yes, he was meeting with — ”

Neil shook his head. “No, Browne, Murphy is in our hospital.”

“Murphy’s a patient,” Audrey finished. “He’s hurt.”

There was a deafening screech of chairs being hastily pushed back as all five doctors sprinted in the direction of the ER.

Chapter Text

“Do we know what happened?” Alex shouted at Neil, as they all ran down the hall.

“The EMTs said he smelled like booze. Fell off a barstool. Might have hit his head,” Neil shouted back.

Booze? Shaun was day drinking? What the hell pushed him to do that? I’d like to give Han a piece of my mind, Claire thought furiously, as she ran. This has something to do with that meeting.

“Why the hell was Shaun in a bar at ten AM?” Morgan asked the group at large.

“Han,” Claire replied. “It’s that meeting! I bet you!”

“Not important right now,” Neil cut in. “All right, let’s just pause a second here. We can’t all go to Murphy’s bedside. The bartender said he called the ambulance, and then he called Murphy’s girlfriend to come to the hospital – interesting, by the way – Park, you’re with Dr. Lim. Reznick, you too. Browne – go find Murphy’s girlfriend.”

“Why can’t I come? Shaun will talk to me,” Claire argued. “You guys, I’m not so sure.”

“Fair point,” Neil conceded. “Okay, not Reznick. Park. You go find the girlfriend.”

“Lea,” Claire said. “Her name is Lea. She has chin-length brown curly hair, about yay tall, probably freaking out.”

“This Lea have a surname?” Alex asked. “In case I have to page her?”

“It’s Dilallo. I saw it on some paperwork in Shaun’s apartment when I was there,” Morgan spoke up, somewhat reluctant to disclose that she’d ever been to that apartment.

Neil raised his eyebrows. “Murphy’s apartment? You? Exactly how many of you women is that ladykiller involved with?”

“Maybe you should be sending me to look for multiple girlfriends,” Alex joked. “Or have we got two of them right here?”

“Not the time to clown around about Murphy’s love life. Let’s just assume it’s one girl, and her name is Lea Dilallo,” Audrey cut in. “Move it.”

Alex zoomed off to the lobby to look for Lea.

Turning to Neil, Audrey spoke: “You’re cardiothoracic, Dr. Melendez; I’m not sure how useful you’ll be — ”

Neil nodded, catching her meaning. “Yeah, I’m going to talk to Han. Maybe Andrews as well. I want to know what the hell happened in that meeting today. I knew Han was considering putting Murphy in Path, but I can’t have one of my residents getting toasted in the middle of the day. I have to assume that whatever it was that happened in that meeting, it rocked Murphy’s world.”

“Dr. Han’s in surgery right now, Dr. Melendez — ” Audrey began.

“Then I’ll get him out,” Neil countered. “I want answers. I need to know why our resident wasn’t at work, and why we weren’t told he was gone for the day. What if we needed him in surgery? That’s not okay with me. I’m pretty sure it’s not okay with you, either, Dr. Lim.”

“Oh, Neil, don’t be a hothead — ” Audrey started, then stopped speaking abruptly.

Claire and Morgan exchanged glances. ‘Neil’? That’s personal.

“I am not a hothead,” Neil bit out, giving Audrey an irritated look. “I have a resident – our resident – in my ER, who is not treating a patient, he is one. I have questions.”

“Yes, Murphy is a patient, and I need to get to him now,” Audrey said, pointedly.

Neil recognised the dismissal, and went back the way they’d all came.

“Okay, ladies, let’s go find out what happened to Murphy,” Audrey said, motioning for Claire and Morgan to follow her.

Alex, meanwhile, was making his way through the lobby, looking for Lea.

He was on his third lap of the room, when a panicked-looking, curly-haired brunette practically barrelled through the entrance doors.

She ran up to the Reception desk with a surprising amount of speed, although Alex was quick, too.

He caught up with her at the desk, where she was yelling frantically at the receptionist, whom she had interrupted from serving two freaked-out parents who were ahead of her.

“My boyfr – roommate – God, I’ve gotta stop doing that until – came in an ambulance. Can I see him, or – how is he?”

“Young lady, I have no idea who you are talking about. I appreciate that you are worried, but, please, wait your turn.”

“You’ve gotta be Lea,” Alex said, drawing her away from the put-upon receptionist, who looked relieved to see the back of Lea. “I’m Dr. Alex Park. I’m a resident along with Shaun, and I believe you’ve met Claire and Morgan as well.”

She nodded. “Can I see him – is he – hey, you’ve gotta be the cop surgeon — ”

“He’s in the ER. Look, are you going to be relatively calm, or are you gonna be a wreck? Murphy doesn’t need that right now. If you’re gonna be as hysterical as you just were with that receptionist, I’m gonna tell security not to let you in, and I’m definitely not gonna take you with me now.”

Lea took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, I can get ahold of myself. I want to sit with him, please. If that’s possible.”

“It might not be possible right away, but I’ll take you to Trauma and we’ll find out what’s going on. Come on.”

When they arrived at Trauma, Alex overheard two nurses talking about the doctor in Bay 3, who was now their patient.

“Murphy’s in bay three. Let’s go. It’s not far,” Alex said to Lea. “He might be asleep. Or, well, in a coma.”

“But he might have a concussion. Isn’t it bad for him to sleep? I read that somewhere,” Lea protested. I’m pretty sure I could wake Shaun up for you.

“That’s older research. Newer guidelines are to wake concussion patients a minimum of every two hours.”

They arrived at Bay 3, where Lea stifled a gasp at the sight of Shaun on the bed in front of her. He looked small and vulnerable. Someone had taken his jacket off him, removed his shoes and socks, and untucked his shirt.

The machines behind him were all beeping steadily. I wish you could tell me what all the numbers mean, Shaunie. Are they good? Are they bad?

Audrey came in behind them.

“Thanks for that, Dr. Park. Hi, Lea, I’m Dr. Audrey Lim. I’m Shaun’s attending physician – in both senses, I suppose, at the moment — ”

Lea appreciated the levity. She felt reassured by it, because it was clear from her tone that this Dr. Lim was quite fond of Shaun. What, like it’s hard to be?

“As far as we’re aware, Shaun was doing shots at a bar nearby. We’re still trying to confirm exactly why he wasn’t at work. Dr. Claire Browne – you’ve met her, I’ve heard – believes it has something to do with a meeting Shaun had this morning, with our Chief of Surgery, but Dr. Han is currently in surgery, so we can’t ask him yet. Do you know anything about why Shaun wasn’t at work? Dr. Browne tells me you once got Shaun to play hooky last year. We were wondering if — ”

“Obviously he wasn’t with me. I just came from work myself,” Lea said, irritated. “But he drunk-dialled me from the bar. It went to voice mail because I was in the bathroom. I listened to it when I got back. Then the bartender called me, saying Shaun fell off a barstool, absolutely wasted, and told me to come here.”

“Would you allow us to listen to the message? It may help us put together a sequence of events,” Dr. Lim asked, gently.

Lea thought back on what the message contained, and went red. ‘I love you... so much... but you won’t love me.’

Lea shook her head. “No, I won’t. It’s personal. I’ll tell you the gist of it, though. Your Chief of Surgery – who, by the way, is now top on my list of least favourite people – took away Shaun’s surgical residency and stuck him in Pathology. Shaun was almost incoherent on the phone. He’s seriously traumatised.”

A furious look crossed Dr. Lim’s face. Lea caught it. She doesn’t like this Dr. Han either, Lea realised.

“By the way, has anyone looped in Glassy?” Lea asked.

Dr. Lim gave her a polite, blank stare.

“Dr. Glassman,” Claire elaborated, coming up behind Dr. Lim. “I’m not sure anyone — ”

“Well, don’t you think someone should? He’s a damn neurosurgeon! And if my boyfr – God dammit, that has to – anyway – Shaun may have hit his head on a concrete floor. And I’m no doctor, but I know what it means when someone hits their head. Do you not think a neurosurgeon might be useful right now?!”

“I understand you are upset, Lea, but Dr. Glassman is still on medical leave. We are not going to call him in to consult,” Dr. Lim said, calmly. “We all care about Shaun. I promise you that. And we are going to take good care of him. Will you trust us on that? Will you trust us to look after your boyfriend?”

“Okay, well, then call Glassy in as Shaun’s friend,” Lea urged. “And Shaun is not my boyfriend. He’s my roommate, and my best friend.”

“Isn’t this just like that Lana and Javi a couple weeks ago?” Morgan said, nudging Claire.

“Remarkably,” Claire replied, dryly.

“Uh, okay,” Dr. Lim interrupted. “Lea, we’re going to run some tests on Shaun now. Why don’t you call Dr. Glassman and let him know Shaun’s here?”

“Sure, I can do that,” Lea agreed, and she went to call Glassy.

“If those two are really just best friends, I will be shocked,” Audrey said, after Lea had excused herself. “She’s feisty. Protective. Good. Kid needs more people in his corner.”

‘I think they’re going to be a couple soon,’ Claire almost said aloud, but she kept quiet.

Instead, she busied herself with taking Shaun’s vitals and avoiding eye contact with Morgan, who was clearly hoping Claire’s jealousy would surface. Projecting much, Reznick? she thought.

There was a groggy moan from Shaun, but his eyes remained closed. The monitors were still beeping steadily, no alarms going off.

“Okay, he will likely wake up soon, a barstool isn’t the highest vantage point to fall from. Amazing he’s not bleeding, but let’s keep an eye out for anything internal, and – of course – the spine. Now, Reznick, we’ve just had an alert on an MVA incoming, dual-casualty. I’d like you and Park to go and attend to that. Browne, I’d like you to monitor Murphy’s vitals and let me know immediately when he is fully alert – hopefully, that is soon – and when he does come to, ask him the usual questions, please, no hints or lead-ins.”

“Okay,” Claire responded, taking up a perch at Shaun’s bedside.

Lea came back into the trauma bay as Audrey, Morgan and Alex were leaving. “Vehicle collision,” Audrey explained, noticing Lea’s confused expression. “Shaun just groaned in pain not a minute ago, and we predict he will be coming around soon. He’s about to have the worst headache in the world, and the shots he did will not be helping at all. Dr. Browne will stay with him for the moment, and there’s a chair for you as well, Lea. I’ll have someone bring another for Dr. Glassman. Is he coming?”

“Yeah, he said he’d hop in an Uber and get here ASAP,” Lea replied.

“All right. You don’t have to worry, Murphy’s in good hands with Browne.”

“I know,” Lea said, looking at Claire.

“Le — ” came Shaun’s voice, from the bed, groggy and faint.

“He’s coming back. Sounds like he’ll be asking for you when he does,” Claire commented, with a wink.

“Shaun really loves it here, doesn’t he?” Lea observed. “This is what fulfils him. Gets him out of bed in the morning. How can some new interloper just yank that away from him? Is that even legal? He’s autistic, isn’t that a disability, like maybe even an ADA violation?”

Claire leaned in confidentially, indicating that she was going to speak out of school.

“Dr. Melendez would like to know that too. Apparently. Dr. Han merely floated the idea of kicking Shaun over to Path, but he didn’t seem to have made a final decision. Dr. Melendez is furious Dr. Han sent Shaun home, he was looking for Shaun everywhere. Luckily he didn’t need him for anything urgent, but if he had — ”

Lea scowled. “That is such B. S..”

Claire nodded, “And, yeah, you’re probably right about the ADA violation. I don’t think anyone knows what to say or do. This guy is like a runaway freight train. Seems accountable to no-one. Certainly doesn’t run his decisions past anyone else.”

“Lea,” Shaun mumbled again, this time more clearly.

“Here he comes,” Claire said, getting out of her chair to examine Shaun more closely for further signs of waking.

“Is this your favourite part?” Lea asked. “Of the job? When people wake up?”

Looking back at her, Claire nodded. “Yeah, this is typically the part where you tell someone that what you did for them was worth it. Sometimes they aren’t going to make it, in the end, but the initial joy and relief that crosses everyone’s faces is wonderful.”

“I think that’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve heard today,” Lea said.

“Hmm. What was the first?” Claire asked. “I’m guessing it’s in that voice mail message you won’t let us hear.”

“Shut up, and take care of our friend,” Lea said, good-naturedly.

“One last thing,” Claire said. “You can’t answer any of his questions and you can’t say anyone’s name, the year, anything at all. We’re going to check what memory, if any, he has of today. I’m going to ask him things and it’s going to sound impersonal. Just so you’re aware.”

“Where... am... I?” Shaun asked, waking up.

“Hey, there. I’m Dr. Browne. You’re in the Emergency department at San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital,” Claire said, “I’m going to ask you some questions.”

“I work here,” Shaun said. “Why am I in a bed? Am I in the on-call room? Did I fall asleep?”

“Well, that answers question... four,” Claire said slowly. “You don’t know why you’re in the hospital. You’re a patient, sir.”

“I am a patient,” Shaun repeated.

“Can you tell me your name?” Claire asked him.

“Dr. Shaun Murphy,” Shaun answered. “The year is 2019, and the current President of the United States is Donald Trump.”

“So that’s one, two and three on the list. Okay, Shaun, do you know how you ended up in hospital today? You were brought here by ambulance.”

“I... fell,” Shaun recalled, hesitantly, looking at Claire for confirmation.

“That’s right. Where were you when you fell, and what were you doing prior?”

“In... a bar... tequila shots... drunk,” Shaun mumbled. “Fell off my chair... hit the floor. Hit... my head...”

“Correct. How are you feeling now?”

“Bad. Head. Back. Hurts.”

“Yes, it hurts. And we’re going to take care of you, but you’re going to feel really terrible for a while. We don’t suspect alcohol poisoning, but the shots you took may also catch up with you. We’d like you to try and rest now. You don’t have to sleep, but please do not overexert yourself.”

Shaun nodded, then jerked in agony as he felt a force like the clapper of a bell ringing inside his head.

“Try not to move around too much, Shaun,” Claire said. “Also, there’s a woman here who says she knows you, and that you live together. Do you recognise her?”

Shaun looked over at Lea, not having noticed her in the room prior.

“That’s Lea,” he said, immediately. “I know her. And you’re Claire... right?”

“Yes, I am, Shaun. Okay, Dr. Lim wanted me to inform her when you woke, so I’m going to do that now.”

Claire left the trauma bay to call Dr. Lim.

“Shaun? Shaun!” Dr. Glassman’s shouts drifted down the corridor. He burst into Bay 3, almost out of breath.

“Hello, Dr. Glassman,” Shaun said quietly.

“Hello, Shaun. I came as soon as Lea called me – how are you feeling?”

“Head. Back. Hurts.”

“Yes, Lea said you hit your head on some tiles. That would have been painful. I’m going to requisition your imaging when it’s been done, and interpret it myself. I want to make sure you’re not going to wind up with complications.”

“Uh, Glassy, you’re on medical leave,” Lea spoke up. “Can you do that? Doesn’t Shaun have to give you, like, permission? Because you aren’t his doctor? That HIPPY thing?”

Dr. Glassman looked at Lea like she’d just said something exceedingly ignorant, and maybe she had.

“I’m going to make sure Shaun’s initial diagnosis is correct, and that there’s nothing that has been missed. CTs, EEGs, MRIs, the whole nine yards. Just like Shaun pushed me for when I was diagnosed with my tumour. He didn’t give up until he had answers. I’m not giving up on him, either. And you meant to say ‘HIPAA’.”

“I’ll go over them with you,” Shaun piped up. Lea and Dr. Glassman both laughed, baffling Shaun, who asked, “What’s so funny?”

“Lea, Dr. Glassman — ” Claire started, coming back into the bay.

“I’m on medical leave, Dr. Browne — ” he said, shooting a dirty look at Lea, “ — So, it’s ‘Aaron’, all right? Well, to all except Shaun, who insists on calling me ‘Dr. Glassman’ until the end of time. I’ve given up trying to change that.”

“Okay. Aaron, Lea – Dr. Lim is en route and she will want to examine Shaun, so you two need to clear out for a bit. I trust you’re familiar with our waiting room?” Claire said, motioning for them to leave.

Aaron nodded, and said, “You’ll be all right, Shaun. You’re a fighter. You’ll be fine,” and exited.

“Do you mind if I — ?” Lea asked Claire, “Just – three minutes?”

“Sure. But it really does need to be three minutes, okay?” Claire said, leaving Lea alone with Shaun, in the bay.

And suddenly, Lea had no idea what to say to him.

Scratch that.

Lea knew what she wanted to say, but she didn’t want it to be here, surrounded by beeping scary machines and Shaun in that bed, hurt and possibly still slightly drunk – this wasn’t special.

“That beeping is awful,” Lea said. “Is it – bad? Those numbers, they mean – I see that one is your heartbeat — ”

Instead of replying, Shaun laid his hand and wrist over the thin hospital blanket someone had laid over him, his palm facing up.

Then he looked up at her and said, “Here.”

Lea leaned forward and pressed two fingers into Shaun’s exposed wrist, feeling for his pulse. It quickened the longer she maintained contact. She looked at him, her eyes full of tears.

“Where else?” Shaun prompted.

Lea ran her fingers up his wrist, until she got to the crook of his elbow, and felt his pulse there, too. She was just about to touch his neck, when someone entered the bay, and she withdrew her fingers as though she’d burned them on a hot stove.

“Time’s up, kids,” Dr. Lim cut in.

With regret, Lea got up and turned to leave.

“Lea,” Shaun called, a little weakly.

She looked at him over her shoulder, and he asked: “Do you understand?”

Lea nodded, because she didn’t trust herself not to burst into sobs. Then she went to find the waiting room.

Chapter Text

Aaron had commandeered two chairs in the waiting room, and brought Lea a cup of coffee. It was positioned on the small table in between their chairs. He gestured to it with a tiny smile.

“Thanks, Glassy,” Lea said, picking it up gratefully once she’d sat down, and taking a long sip.

“Your relationship with Shaun is changing, isn’t it?” Aaron observed, jumping right in. “You’re starting to feel the same way about him as he does about you. I can see it. Am I right?”

“Yeah. But, hey, you know all about the human brain. You of all people wouldn’t miss something like that, I guess,” Lea admitted.

“I’m a neurosurgeon, not a psychologist,” Aaron told her. “But I don’t need to be a psychologist to sense that something is different between the two of you.”

“Yeah, you got me,” Lea agreed.

“Well, then, are you still with that Jack – John – Julian — ?”

“Jake,” Lea corrected him. “Yes. But I was planning to break up with him tonight after work. Then all this happened.”

“For Shaun?” Aaron queried. “You’re breaking up with Jake to be with Shaun? Does Shaun know that? Are you absolutely certain you’re ready to be in a relationship with him? The stakes are high. You could really hurt him.”

Once upon a time, Lea would have bristled at those observations and questions coming from Glassy.

But now she recognised that they were just two people who both cared deeply for the same extraordinary young man.

“Glassy,” she began, “Shaun could really hurt me, too. Do you realise that?”

“Yes, of course he could, but you haven’t had the challenges Shaun has — ” Aaron tried to explain.

“And Shaun hasn’t faced the challenges I have, either,” Lea countered. “Everyone’s got their own baggage.”

“That’s certainly true,” Aaron acknowledged.

Lea continued: “As for whether I’m breaking up with Jake in order to be with Shaun – yes, I am. And, as for whether Shaun knows I’m breaking up with Jake in order to be with him – yes, he does.”

“Didn’t you tell him that you would only ever be friends?” Aaron asked. “Shaun has taken that completely to heart. I’ve asked him if he thinks you two will ever be more, and he’s always said, ‘Lea only wants to be friends’. And it breaks my heart when he says that, because it’s so wrenching seeing him trying so hard to convince himself it’s enough.”

“As a wise young man once told me: ‘feelings can change’,” Lea said. “Glassy, I’m in, one hundred percent. I don’t want to watch Shaun go and be someone else’s everything. I got a taste of how devastating that feels last night – long story — ”

“Oh, I’ve got time to listen,” Aaron reassured her, smiling.

“I am afraid of relationships, but I’m so much more afraid I’ll regret never even having tried to be in one with him. I think that regret could destroy me. Life’s short, Glassy. Life is too damn short.”

“Don’t I know that,” Aaron groaned. “I feel like I’m supposed to ask you what your ‘intentions’ are with my son, or something along those lines,” he added, jokingly.

“Yeah, um, don’t do that, Glassy,” Lea warned, but she was smiling. “My intentions are good.”

“Maybe later, I could cover for you while you go break up with that boyfriend of yours,” Aaron mused. “If you’d like. Because Shaun will ask where you are.”

“Yes, he will,” Lea agreed.

“But before that, I’d really appreciate it if you gave me a rundown on why Shaun is a patient in this hospital today. I know you didn’t have much time to go into detail on the phone, other than to say he fell off a chair and hit his head. Did that happen here at work? Are Worker’s Comp arrangements being made?”

Lea sighed, and shook her head. So no-one had told Aaron what exactly had happened to his surrogate son.

Looked like it was gonna have to be her. And they probably had time to kill. Might as well shoot the breeze.

“Glassy, Dr. Han switched Shaun to Pathology. That’s why he’s here. Shaun was drinking his problems away. He fell off a barstool and hit his head on the floor.”

“What – the – fuck?!” Aaron half-shouted.

Lea nearly jumped at the unbridled rage in that question.

She understood – on some level – that he hadn’t gotten to be the Goddamn President of this hospital without yelling and cursing at more than a few people, and generally pissing them off, but it was still a shock to hear it at such close range.

“Glassy,” Lea cautioned, “People are staring. Maybe keep it down?”

“More detail, please, Lea. What the hell is going on in this sonovabitch joint since I went on leave?”

“I don’t have all the context, but it looks like this new Chief was hired after the fallout of that quarantine at Christmas last year. There were apparently a lot of issues with the way some events were handled during the quarantine. Hey, aren’t you on the Board still, Glassy? Why don’t you know about this already? Does your medical leave extend to the Board as well?”

Aaron snorted. “It’s just like Marcus Andrews – the current President – to keep me in the dark. Doesn’t want me to think he’s not up to the job.”

“Okay, well, obviously you have your own issues with the hospital President. Anyway, Shaun’s co-workers told me there’s this huge review going on, and that Shaun had... sort of told a patient that a medication she was taking could have contributed to her baby’s illnesses at birth. Mind you, this patient asked Shaun point-blank if that could be the case. He gave an honest response.”

“Right. And this Dr. Han took issue with that?”

“Dr. Han mentioned to Shaun’s attendings that he was thinking of shoving Shaun into Pathology in order to limit his face-to-face contact with patients, but it wasn’t for certain. So, I guess this morning it became certain.”

Aaron nodded. “So, Dr. Han thinks Shaun can’t communicate properly.”

“Yeah, that’s about right,” Lea confirmed.

“Which takes us up to here and now. Shaun is in the hospital with a head injury.”

Lea cued up Shaun’s voice mail message, and passed her phone to Aaron so he could listen. He pressed Play and put the phone to his ear.

Lea watched Aaron’s face carefully as he listened to the message, which switched variously among fury, disbelief, and sorrow. Then he handed Lea’s phone back to her.

“There’s at least one bit in there that I’d say is purely between you and Shaun, so I’m not going to comment on that. But the rest of it – why didn’t Shaun come to me? Why didn’t he ask me for help?”

“You’ve kinda got your own issues going on right now, Glassy. Shaun probably thought he’d be burdening you,” Lea reminded him.

“How – many – times do I have to tell that boy – he is not a burden,” Aaron muttered, frustrated.

“Well, when you figure out the magic number, will you let me know, please?” Lea asked, trying for a bit of levity.

Aaron sighed. “In all honesty, I haven’t been the best mentor to him lately. Maybe that’s the real reason.”

“I think Shaun knows deep down that there are always going to be challenges he will need to face alone if he’s to grow and learn, though. But it’s hard. Harder, for him.”

Aaron nodded. “Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made his life tougher when I could have made it easier. Maybe I made the wrong things easier.”

“Well, also, Shaun... he’s a little naive. He was afraid this would happen – he told me Han might send him to Pathology; actually, he used the word ‘forced’ – but this morning, he seemed much more optimistic that it was all going to work out fine, that Han only needed to see what he’s capable of, and there’d be no way he’d send him to Pathology,” Lea elaborated.

“Do you know if Shaun’s attendings had any idea this decision was going to be made?” Aaron asked.

“They were aware the idea was germinating, but I guess they assumed Han would ask their opinions before he went ahead and did it. Dr. Melendez is so angry. He was looking for Shaun and couldn’t find him. Now we’ve worked out that Han dismissed Shaun for the rest of the day without telling anyone. I could tell that Dr. Lim doesn’t like Han. I haven’t met Dr. Melendez.”

“I know Neil professionally,” Aaron said, “He is an exceptionally gifted surgeon. He is not the most diplomatic communicator.”

“Hey, I know a guy he should meet,” Lea chuckled.

“Neil put Shaun through hell when he started his residency. He was ignorant. He’s better now,” Aaron continued.


“Lucky for him that he changed his tune,” Aaron added, darkly. “I wanted to pummel him in those early days. I wasn’t sure Shaun would make it.”

“Yeah, that’s an assumption a lot of people seem to make about Shaun, isn’t it?” Lea commented, dryly.

“Did Shaun mention who his manager would be? Maybe I ought to intervene from that angle — ”

“Do you want my advice?” Lea asked. “Because I’d like to give you some.”

Aaron shrugged, but he didn’t say ‘no’.

“Well, I’ve decided, you’re getting it regardless,” Lea said.

“I expect nothing less from you, Lea,” Aaron muttered.

“I’m gonna choose to take that as a compliment. My advice is: don’t get in the middle of Shaun and his bosses. Old and new. I can’t tell you how embarrassed I’d be if someone tried to do that for me. I’d feel infantilised. Lacking agency. If you intervene, I think you’ll just reinforce the idea that Han might be right: that Shaun can’t advocate for himself. That he can’t fight. You love him, Glassy, but treating him like an incompetent child is not how you should show it.”

Aaron stayed silent for several long moments. His face remained impassive; Lea wasn’t sure if he was going to lash out, or —

“You’re right,” Aaron admitted.

“You don’t have to look so miserable about it, Glassy,” Lea kidded.

“You’re right. When I treated Shaun like he couldn’t think for himself, I nearly lost him. He ran to you. When I couldn’t work out how to be a friend instead of a mentor, or a father figure, I nearly lost him. He ran to you. Over and over, I have let him down. I have raged at him when he’s only wanted the best for me. I have not been a safe place to land. I have not been someone he can talk to anymore. And he runs – always runs – to you. Because he knows he can. The two of you run to one another.”

Lea wasn’t sure if she was supposed to interject or offer her opinion; she decided to wait and see what else Glassy had to say.

“Lea, I’ve treated you poorly – probably because I’ve seen you as this usurper, or heartbreaker. I want to apologise for that, now — ”

“It’s okay, Glassy,” Lea interrupted. “I haven’t been particularly forgiving of you, either. Apology accepted. But I’m sorry, too.”

“Apology accepted,” Aaron said.

“Do you want to keep talking?” Lea asked. “You look like you have a lot of emotion to let out. I’m listening. If you want.”

“Yes, I do. I’ve thought for a long time that the most unstable relationship Shaun has is the one he shares with you, Lea. But I understand it now. The most unstable relationship he has is the one he shares with me. I am not consistent. I ask for his help, and I reject it when it’s offered. Hell, I don’t even have to ask for it. It’s just there – he’s just there.”

“That’s who he is. Against all odds, that’s who he grew up to be. The kind of person that lets the girl who broke his heart crash on his floor for a month, no questions asked. The kind of person who brings a dead pet fish to work and has it autopsied because he can’t fathom that that same girl might have killed it. The kind of person who lives platonically with the girl he desperately loves, in the apartment she wanted so badly. The kind of person who doesn’t ask for more than that girl’s willing to give. The kind of person who, without complaint, shoves his feelings back in a box for the sake of that girl’s happiness and comfort, at the expense of his own. He is an exceptional human being. A lot of that is down to you, Glassy.”

“A lot of it’s down to his younger brother Steve, actually,” Aaron added. “Ask Shaun to tell you about him sometime. What that kid could have been. How Shaun would be if he’d had Steve for longer. If he still had him.”

“I will. One day.”

“I’m going to see if I can get an update on Shaun’s condition. These chairs are so uncomfortable. I have to move around. Do you want to come for a walk, Lea?”

“Do you even have to ask, Glassy?” Lea replied, rhetorically.

She seized her lukewarm coffee, drank the rest of it, and got to her feet. Then she helped Aaron up, too.

Chapter Text

Dr. Neil Melendez paced back and forth in his office, thinking about exactly what he wanted to say to the human tornado currently blowing a path of chaos through the halls of St. Bonaventure – otherwise known as Dr. Jackson Han.

Stopping abruptly, he yanked his desk chair out impatiently, and flopped into it with an exasperated groan.

“Not interrupting some great internal debate, am I?” came a voice from his doorway.

He looked up to see Audrey.

She stepped in and closed the door. “Which side’s winning?”

“A debate would require that my thoughts be organised into some semblance of logical order, which they currently are not. I’m conflicted, Audrey: I’m watching Han put Murphy through the same trials that I put him through when he started. Facing my own hypocrisy is uncomfortable, to say the least.”

Audrey came around to Neil’s side of the desk, and put her hands on his shoulders as though she was going to give him a back rub; instead, Neil reached up behind him and covered one of her hands with his own.

“Do you want to know what I think?” Audrey asked.

“I think you’re gonna tell me what you think, no matter what I say, Aud,” Neil replied, his voice weary.

“I think there’s a very big divide between you and Han. And what separates the two of you is your ability to learn, and your willingness to fight against ignorance – your own, as well as others’.”

“See, I think you’re slightly biased in my favour here — ” Neil cut in.

Audrey shifted over to leaning against Neil’s desk instead, her arms crossed over her chest and her feet crossed at the ankles, then continued speaking. “Yeah, you treated Murphy poorly when he started here. A lot of people did. But you don’t treat him like that now. And I don’t think Murphy even holds a grudge.”

“Do you know what Murphy said to me that first day in surgery, when I told him he’d be on suction as long as he was on my team?”

“Knowing Murphy’s steadfast commitment to ‘in my head; out my mouth’ as an effective communication strategy? I’ll bet it pissed you the hell off.”

“Actually, I couldn’t come up with anything to say in response – well, not in the moment – and that pissed me the hell off.”

“What’d he say?”

“He said, ‘You’re very arrogant.’”

“Was that breaking news, Neil?”

“You wound me, Audrey. Anyway, then he asked me: ‘Do you think that helps you be a better surgeon? Does it hurt you as a person? Is it worth it?’”

“Interesting questions,” Audrey noted.

“And, ever since Han’s anti-Murphy crusade began, I keep coming back to those questions. My arrogance makes me a great surgeon; it hasn’t made me a better one. I wouldn’t have ever been better than great if I’d refused to keep learning. Sometimes, the lessons come from sources I can’t figure out how to appreciate until they’re in hindsight. Sometimes, they appear to be something else entirely. Sometimes, they’re from sources I actively hate — ”

“Neil, I wouldn’t say you ever hated Shaun — ” Audrey broke in.

“Hear me out, Audrey. I feel like... Han is who I would have become if I hadn’t learned to work with Murphy. Never knowing what I didn’t know. Content to keep not knowing. Han’s hubris hurts him as a person, and it sure as hell doesn’t make him a better surgeon. I imagine never having those narrow victories, and unexpected glories, that then get me through the days when everything gets shot to hell – when I think I’m gonna lose them all. Thinking about not having those scares me.”

“Murphy’s one-in-a-million. Maybe a billion, even. He’s not a miracle, he’s not the Second Coming, and he’s not perfect. That being said, if this hospital loses Murphy, we are going to be so much poorer for it. I wish every hospital had a Dr. Shaun Murphy. But I’m also pretty thrilled only we have him,” Audrey commented.

“It’s just... thinking about those unlikely saves reminds me – gives me hope – that I might get to do it again sometime. That kid helps me make those saves. All my residents do, don’t get me wrong, but Murphy doesn’t do it for glory, or ego, or to be the best in the world. He does it because he wants to fix people. Send them on to better quality – if not longer – lives. He doesn’t do it to prove how smart he is.”

“He’s arrogant, though,” Audrey said. “Just like you and me.”

“Yes, but our arrogance comes from our belief in our skills. Murphy’s comes from his belief that there is always an answer to be found. When I think about Murphy’s particular brand of conceit, I remember: he’s our resident. I think, to some extent, we’ve imprinted on him. So has everyone else he’s worked with. Kid soaks up knowledge like a sponge.”

“I think he learns even when he isn’t actively trying to.”

“I started out the same as him – I wanted to fix people – and somewhere along the way, I must’ve lost that. I started caring more about showing people in here that I was the best at fixing people. That in an OR, I can cheat death. Murphy doesn’t want to be God. He wants answers. He keeps looking for them even after everyone else throws up their hands and says ‘I can’t, and I’m at peace with stopping looking for the answer.’”

“For Murphy, it doesn’t compute that questions without correct answers exist,” Audrey commented.

“And it’s not even that he thinks an answer will always save the patient. If it helps, that’s great, but he just wants to know he found it. Me, I want people to know I found the answer, and aren’t I the smartest man in the room because I did?”

“Along with that arrogance, there’s humility. Arrogance is believing you can’t learn anything from others. Humility is knowing you can. Han has no humility. However, I believe you still do, Neil. And I have always known that Murphy does.”

“I’m still sitting in here because I have no idea how to save Murphy and keep him as our resident. If I thought I knew how, I’d be talking to Han right now, instead of sulking in my office.”

“I... don’t think Han will ever be able to look at Shaun and see anything but his limitations. And you know what, Neil? I feel... really sorry for Han, that he’s going to miss out on learning from Shaun,” Audrey replied. “He’s gonna miss out because he sees only what he wants to see.”

“Okay. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that saving Shaun is contingent on getting rid of Han. Does that stop some other asshole from coming in, demanding Shaun prove himself again? When does it end? When will Shaun be enough for people – just as he comes – with all his strengths and weaknesses?”

“You know how I know you really care about that kid, Neil?”


“You’ve started referring to him by his first name, instead of just his surname.”

“Huh. Yeah, you do call him ‘Shaun’ more often than I do. You’re a faster learner than me, Aud. You always were.”

“Now I think you’re editorialising.”

“No, I’m showing humility.”

“I suppose you are. Though, is it really humility if you tell people about it?” Audrey wondered.

“The injustice of it really pisses me off.” Neil groused. “Why is Shaun, alone, expected to be infallible? Why did I ever fall into that trap, myself? How much did I lose by being so slow to accept him? He’s a resident. He makes mistakes. Why was I blind to that? Was I really so far away from my own residency that I had no patience left for errors? Or did I simply have no patience for his?”

“Well, to be fair, if we make mistakes, people can die. Hence the concept of an attending surgeon, to supervise and to guide,” Audrey quipped.

“Aud, have you noticed, Shaun has to keep proving himself long after people say to his peers, ‘Okay, you’re good enough to be here’? He just does it without complaint, as though he knows not to bother expecting better treatment.”

“I wonder what people would do if Shaun started demanding it, instead,” Audrey mused.

“Frankly, Audrey, I could see it really backfiring on him,” Neil replied, flatly. “I could shield him from some of the blowback, I guess. Make it clear I’m in his corner. But why should he need that to begin with?”

“What’s more, I don’t think Shaun would ever ask you to,” Audrey put in. “Or want you to.”

“And I’m not sure that I actually can change people’s minds about Shaun, either. I just think that... sometimes this kid deserves a break, you know? A Goddamn break from having to change everyone’s minds all by himself. Murphy versus the world. And I don’t know how he wakes up and does it all over again, day after day. I’m not sure I could put up with that.”

“I think it’s also why it’s taken you a while to work out that it happens to begin with.”

“So — ” Neil said, leaning back in his chair and stretching his arms over his head. “Do I go to bat for Shaun? Or do I let him fight Han alone?”

“You mean, do we go to bat for Shaun?” Audrey corrected him, gently.

“You know that if we do it together, Han might pick up on us being a couple. That’s a pretty big risk,” Neil reminded her.

“Andrews, then. Or could we talk to Dr. Lever? She’d be Shaun’s new supervisor, I think,” Audrey proposed.

“And end-run around Han? I don’t see him taking that well,” Neil responded.

“Okay, then... a meeting with all three of them, plus us?” Audrey suggested next.

“That might work. You know, I do see Han’s point, Audrey. Shaun isn’t the best communicator. On paper, it makes sense to put him out of contact with patients. Where Han loses me, though, is his bull-headed assumption that Shaun isn’t willing to learn to communicate more effectively. Ever. Which is B. S.”

Audrey nodded her head in agreement with Neil’s treatise.

Neil carried on, “If Shaun wasn’t willing to learn to communicate, I’d understand Han’s point of view. Hell, I’d co-sign the paperwork to get Shaun out of my hair. Path would be the best place for Shaun, if Han were right. But he isn’t right, not at all.”

“Try telling Han that,” Audrey said, dryly.

“Isn’t it funny how Han calls Shaun a poor communicator, then unilaterally decides to send him home for the day without even checking with us? Isn’t there some kind of irony to be found in that?” Neil commented.

“That hasn’t escaped my notice either, Neil.”

“Think he’s projecting?”

“I neither know, nor care, but I am not ready to lose Shaun to Path. Are you? He has so much more to give in Surgery still,” Audrey said, and Neil could see her really firing up.

“Forget only losing him to Path. I’m worried we’ll lose him to another hospital altogether,” Neil admitted.

“You think he’ll give up fighting one day?” Audrey asked.

“I wouldn’t blame him, if he did,” Neil said, ruefully.

“Me, neither,” Audrey agreed. “He won’t, though. I don’t think. Murphy’s incredibly stubborn.”

“Yes, he is. And so are the rest of our team.”

“Doesn’t mean Shaun doesn’t need a little help fighting. Help from the people who know how to be diplomatically stubborn,” Audrey said, then looked at her phone, which had just buzzed. “Shoot, is that the time? Browne’s just texted. Murphy’s doing well. He’s been moved to the ward, and he’ll be in overnight. Doesn’t seem to be much, if any, post-traumatic amnesia. No obvious spinal issues. Very lucky. Glassman and the not-girlfriend – Lea – are in there with him now. I think Lea’s gonna try and spend the night in there. Should we show her where the on-call room is, so she can shower?”

“Maybe. And your MVA? How’s that going?” Neil queried.

“One patient didn’t make it – wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, he was essentially DOA, pitched clear through the windshield — ”

“Oof,” Neil interjected, cringing.

“ — The other patient, thankfully, was wearing a seatbelt. The airbag inflated. He’s been admitted for minor lacerations – although there was shattered glass involved – and moderate whiplash.”

“So, do we go to Han?” Neil sighed, returning to the original topic. “I’m pretty sure we should. Let’s strategise tonight at your place.”

“Is that what the kids are calling it these days? ‘Strategising’?” Audrey chuckled. “Okay, come over when you get off shift. We’ll do takeout.”

“Go look after our resident, Aud. See you later.”

Chapter Text

“How is he, Dr. Browne?” Aaron asked in a low voice, looking into the window of a hospital room.

They were standing just outside of Shaun’s room on the ward, where he’d been moved after Dr. Lim had pronounced him to be largely out of the woods, at least for the moment. But they all knew that the effects of brain trauma could take time to show up. Fingers were certainly being crossed.

“He’s doing okay, Aaron. No spinal or brain injuries are obvious right now, but we will keep him for observation, at least overnight. Perhaps longer. Hmm, his heart rate is spiking randomly – there’s no apparent cause – not tachy, but definitely a little unsteady. I’ll keep an eye on that.”

Lea was inside the room, her chair as close to Shaun’s bedside as possible, and she was talking to him, their heads close together.

I can find an apparent cause. He’s in there with the woman he loves most. I’m not surprised by those spikes, at all, Aaron thought. But he didn’t tell Claire that. She was a smart woman – maybe she already knew, and this was just a polite fiction.

Shaun reached out a hand to touch Lea’s cheek, but stopped short of actually making contact.

Then, Aaron saw Lea place her hand very lightly over Shaun’s. Although Aaron couldn’t see the look in Lea’s eyes, it must have been enough to give Shaun the courage to actually make contact on his second pass.

“And there’s another spike,” Aaron murmured to himself.

Then, with Lea’s hand still over his, Shaun gently pulled both their hands down to the side of Lea’s neck, where they seemed to rest for a while.

“Is he – taking her pulse?” Claire blurted. “That’s... weird — ”

“That’s Shaun being romantic, I think,” Aaron said. “I can kind of... read what he’s saying to her.”

“You learned to lip-read?”

“When Shaun was younger – when he’d go into sensory overload – sometimes he’d mouth words to himself, silently. Usually, he was rocking back and forth at the same time, but I learned to lip-read. A little. It helped me to know when the worst of it was over, and I could step in to take care of him.”

“Hmm,” Claire mumbled, absent-mindedly.

“Would you like to know what Shaun is saying?” Aaron asked.

Claire shook her head. “No.”

“You’re fond of Shaun, too, aren’t you?” Aaron pressed her.

“Very much so,” Claire answered, suddenly feeling unable to meet Aaron’s piercing gaze. “And so is the other female surgical resident, Morgan Reznick. But she’ll never admit to it. Kissed him quite fiercely, once. And then there’s probably Dr. Carly Lever, in Pathology — ”

“Lucky boy. More women than he knows what to do with,” Aaron chuckled.

“I think he only wants just the one, Aaron,” Claire replied, vaguely, just as her pager went off. “Uh, I’m needed in the OR. I should — ”

“ — Duty calls. Go, go.”

“It’s good to see you again, Aaron. I’m just sorry it’s in these... scary... circumstances. I hope your recovery continues smoothly.”

“Thank you. I hope so. Good to see you too, Dr. Browne. Take care,” Aaron replied, sitting down, the sentry gryphon at Shaun’s door.

As soon as Claire disappeared down the hallway, a blonde-haired young woman in scrubs scurried quickly to Shaun’s door, looking from side to side surreptitiously as she did so, as though she expected someone to reach out and stop her.

She pulled up short at the sight of Aaron, sitting on a hard plastic chair just outside the room.

“Looking for someone?” Aaron asked, startling the woman.

“Dr. Glassman!” the woman exclaimed, and Aaron could tell her smile didn’t reach her eyes. “Hi! I’m Dr. Morgan Reznick. We met once, briefly, when I started my residency — ”

“Yes. I remember you,” Aaron said, neutrally. “Shaun’s a little busy right now, but I’ll tell him you stopped by,” he added. “Unless you’re coming to administer medication, or something. But I don’t see any medications or instruments in your hands, so I assume this is a personal visit.”

Her smile dropped. “Can’t I – can’t I see him for a minute? I just want to make sure he’s okay — ”

“He’s doing well, thank you for your concern. What are you really here for, Dr. Reznick?”

The incisive question disarmed Morgan, who stammered out: “I just... wanted Shaun to know that I do care about how he’s doing, even if he might think I don’t. Even if I pretend I don’t.”

Aaron sighed. “Go try your luck knocking on the door, but be warned, it’s pretty saccharine sweet in there. You could get a cavity. Oh, and expect Lea to be... unwelcoming. I thought she was going to deck the orderly who came to offer Shaun lunch, for interrupting the two of them. She snatched the apple off the tray and sent the poor kid away with the rest.”

Morgan hesitated. “I... also came to warn you both... that Dr. Han wants to come and see Shaun, later this afternoon. I overheard him talking to Dr. Andrews about it.”

Oh – hell – no,” Aaron snapped, immediately. “Not on my watch. Forget Lea decking him, I’ll do it myself.”

“Between you and me, Dr. Glassman, I think there’s already a line for that,” Morgan said, trying to keep her voice – and face – neutral. “But perhaps you’d be allowed to jump to the front of it.”

“Do you think Han’s had time, as yet, to hear about how deeply unpopular he is right now?” Aaron asked. “Heard he was in surgery most of the AM and into the afternoon. How convenient to call that meeting, knowing he wouldn’t have time to deal with the fallout. Leave someone else to pick up all the pieces.”

“I don’t know all the details, I’m afraid, but we’ve found out that Dr. Carly Lever was in that meeting as well. She’s Shaun’s new manager in Path.”

“The hell she is,” Aaron spat. “I’m sure Dr. Lever is a wonderful individual, and obviously I respect the work that Pathology does – it’s essential – but that’s not happening, Dr. Reznick.”

“I get the sense that it’s either Pathology... or else it’s residency at another hospital altogether, Dr. Glassman,” Morgan said, gently. “Han is determined to get Shaun out of surgery.”

“Yeah, lots of people were,” Aaron replied, “But God knows they appreciate him being around now.”

Morgan took another peek in the window of Shaun’s room, and nodded to Aaron.

“Anything interesting in there?” Aaron asked.

“Shaun’s heart rate’s bouncing up and down like a yo-yo. Not tachy, but it’s definitely – hmm. I guess we know why.”

“Yes, I think we do, too.”

“What are you going to do, Dr. Glassman? Is there another residency you could get Shaun into, or... does he have to go through the Match and get into another one that way? That would be tricky, it’s kind of late notice.”

“He never fully went through the Match, end-to-end. Got through some of the process — ” Aaron said.

“Yes, he went far enough through it to have bought a brand-new suit for his residency interviews,” Morgan remembered.

“I vouched for him in front of the Board. Pushed them to hire Shaun directly. I staked my Presidency on Shaun. I assume you know how that ended up.”

“So – can you call in a favour, maybe, in another program?” Morgan wondered.

“Ah, I see. You’d like that, wouldn’t you, Dr. Reznick? One less – very formidable – competitor to worry about, when the field begins to narrow.”

“It’s not that... at all — ” Morgan began. Aaron gave her a skeptical look.

She amended: “I mean, if you were asking me this before I had the chance to know Shaun, you’d be absolutely right. I’ll admit that. But now, I know him better. I know where he’s come from – he told me some eye-opening things about his childhood and adolescence – and I don’t want Shaun to go. He belongs here, at St. Bonaventure, doing whatever the hell he wants to do. There isn’t a department in this place that couldn’t learn something from Shaun. I hope he chooses to stick with Surgery, but he could honestly do anything he wants. But you already knew that, didn’t you, Dr. Glassman?”

Fiery and passionate. She and Lea would kill one another if they were left in close quarters, Aaron observed. Particularly if Lea witnessed that alleged kiss Claire was talking about.

“Dr. Glassman — ”

“Call me ‘Aaron’,” Aaron interrupted.

“Okay. Aaron. I... genuinely don’t think Han will allow Shaun to stay in this hospital long-term. And I don’t think he has any interest in giving Shaun a chance to prove himself, anywhere. At least, not in Path, and definitely not in Surgery.”

“We’ll see about that,” Aaron half-muttered to himself.

“Aaron?” she asked.

“Yes, Dr. Reznick?” Aaron answered.

“Call me ‘Morgan’.”

“Okay, Morgan.”

“I might be able to come back later. I’m not sure how far away Han is. I just – thought you three should know.”

“Go do something else for now. Come back to see Shaun in a couple hours.”

“I’ll try,” Morgan agreed, heading back to the OR.

Aaron got up from the chair and knocked on Shaun’s door.

“Come in,” Lea and Shaun called, in unison.

Oh, spare me, they’re already in sync. I bet they finish each other’s sentences, too, Aaron thought, but he wasn’t really annoyed. More amused, if anything.

“Hello, Dr. Glassman,” Shaun greeted him.

“Hi, Glassy,” Lea said.

“Hello, you two. I hate to break this up, but Dr. Han is apparently intending to visit Shaun soon, and I wanted the both of you to know, so Shaun can prepare for that — ”

“How the hell is Han visiting Shaun going to help?” Lea grumbled.

“I agree with you, Lea, and I’m going to waylay him. Talk to him — ”

Lea turned and gave him a Look, which clearly said, We talked about this, Glassy. Shaun isn’t a kid.

Message received, loud and clear, Aaron thought.

“ — But, Shaun – do you think you want to say anything to Dr. Han, right now?” Aaron went on. “It doesn’t have to be today, we can tell him to come back some other time. Do you have an idea of what you want to do? I don’t mean to pressure you, but you may need to decide, either way, somewhat soon.”

Lea gave Aaron a very subtle thumbs-up.

“ — And, Lea – you can go home and grab a shower and get together an overnight bag. Maybe bring some of Shaun’s stuff. Get a couple... things checked off your list while you’re there. Hmm?”

Lea caught Aaron’s meaning, and nodded.

“I don’t want to talk to Dr. Han, and I don’t want him to visit me,” Shaun said. “I’m a grown man. If I don’t want to talk to him, it’s none of his business.”

At that, Shaun looked aside at Lea’s impressed face. I remember you telling me that, once, he thought.

“That being said, Shaun — ” Aaron hastened to add, “You will probably need to talk to Dr. Han eventually. But I don’t agree that it should be from your hospital bed. Do you want me to tell him to go away, or do you want to tell him that yourself?”

“I want to tell Dr. Han to stay away, myself. But I want you there with me when I do, Dr. Glassman. Please.”

“Of course,” Aaron affirmed. “I’ll be right here. I’ll step out again briefly, so you and Lea can say goodbye for now.”

With that, Aaron left the room quietly to resume his seat just outside Shaun’s room.

“I am beyond proud of you,” Lea said softly.

“You promise you’ll come back?” Shaun asked, uncertainly.

“I promise,” Lea confirmed. “And I’m going to stay the night with you.”

“That might be difficult,” Shaun said, sadly.

“I’m staying the night, Shaun. If it’s okay with you, I mean. I don’t really care if it’s okay with everyone else.”

They looked at one another for several long moments, neither speaking.

“Can I have a kiss?” Shaun asked, at last.

“Sure. Friendly, or romantic?” Lea asked.

Shaun hesitated. “... Romantic?” he ventured, shyly.

“You stay right where you are, and I’ll come to you,” Lea said, leaning in. When their lips were just about to touch, Shaun reached up – albeit with some difficulty, given the IV in his hand – and he managed to link both arms around Lea’s neck as they kissed.

“I’ll see you soon, Shaunie,” Lea said, when the kiss broke. Shaun’s arms dropped from around her neck.

“See you soon, Lea,” Shaun said. “I – I can’t wait for you to come back.”

“Me neither,” Lea assured him, pulling back reluctantly.

“Could you please bring my pyjamas? They’re under my pillow,” Shaun asked. “This gown is uncomfortable. I don’t know why we make patients wear these. They rustle so loudly. How does anyone sleep without waking themselves from the noise?”

“I’ll bring your stuff,” Lea agreed.

“Thank you.”

Lea left. “He’s all yours,” she said to Aaron, when she passed him.

“Actually, I think he’s all yours,” Aaron corrected her, smiling. “But I knew what you meant.”

“See you soon, Glassy.”

“Drive safe, Lea.”

Chapter Text

Just been at hospital with Shaun, he’s been injured, coming over now, is that okay? Lea texted Jake, as she walked to her car in the hospital’s parking garage.

Sure. See you soon, came back the reply.

She drove to Jake’s building, parked, walked up to the front entrance and typed Jake’s apartment number into the buzzer, then pressed to dial Jake’s apartment.

“Hey, it’s me,” she said, into the intercom.

“Hey. I’ll buzz you up,” he replied.

He suspects something, Lea thought, feeling half-relieved, half-nervous.

Jake opened the door. “Hello, stranger. Nice of you to keep in touch. Do you realise that’s the first time this whole day that you’ve actually taken the effort to tell me your roommate was in the hospital?”

“Jake, it was a head injury. It was touch-and-go. I wanted to make sure Shaun was okay — ”

“Lea, it’s not okay that you only just texted about where you’ve been. You’ve been in the hospital all day, I assume – no time to even throw me a text? Or, hey, a phone call would have been even nicer. But you were exactly where you wanted to be. With just the person you wanted to be with. Weren’t you?”

“I’m sorry, I just – he’s my best friend!” Lea defended herself. “He was here before you, and he’s gonna be there after you, okay?”

“Is that what you want?” Jake asked her, his voice angry.

“What does that mean?” Lea shot back.

“Shaun was there before me, and he’s gonna be there after me. So, is that what you want, Lea? You want him... after me?”

“I don’t understand — ”

“Simple question, Lea. Do you want me, or do you want him? When you leave this apartment, are you going to start a relationship with your ‘best friend’?” Jake asked, brutally, injecting the last two words with utter venom. “I mean, if you aren’t already in one?”

“Just say it, Lea,” he went on. “Please. Don’t make more of an idiot out of me than you already have. All of my friends warned me – ‘Man, she lives with a guy and they’re not schtupping one another? Yeah, right. Are you seriously that naive, bro?’ and I said – I insisted: ‘Nah, they’re not screwing one another. They’re just friends.’”

“Excuse me, but we never said we were exclusive,” Lea countered. “So — ”

“I certainly had intentions of asking you to be exclusive,” Jake said, quietly.

“Frankly, Jake, intentions aren’t the same as actions,” Lea argued.

“Well, now that I know why you’re here, I want you to tell me the truth. How far have the two of you... actually gone? Lay it all out for me, Lea: how Goddamn stupid – just how damn blind – have I been? Tell me.”

“Jake, that’s not — ” Lea warned.

“Are you and Shaun sleeping together?” Jake asked, furiously. “Have you been sleeping with us both? How long? How long, Lea?”

“I’m not sleeping with Shaun!” Lea snapped.

“Maybe not, but you’d like to. Wouldn’t you?”

“Damn it, Jake, I’m not sleeping with Shaun!”

“So that’s a ‘yes’ on the ‘but you’d like to, wouldn’t you?’ front. How far has it gone?”

“I’ve kissed him, okay? I’ve kissed Shaun more than once. I slept on his floor for a month when I came back to San Jose. There. Happy? Feel better?”

“No, not really. Have you kissed him while you’ve been with me?”

Lea looked away, guiltily.

“Now, that’s definitely a ‘yes’,” Jake sighed.

“He – he told me we shouldn’t – and then we – it wasn’t like we made out, or – they were pecks — ” Lea tried to explain.

“Yeah, he told you that the two of you shouldn’t. So that means you were pretty fixated on saying ‘we should’. Well, I don’t know whether to thank the bastard for being a moral compass, or punch his lights out for stealing my chick.”

“What the hell? Shaun didn’t steal me. That’s ridiculous!”

“I suppose not. Can’t steal what’s already gone. You’ve wanted him this entire time. There hasn’t been a time when you haven’t wanted him.”

“I tried to stop — ” Lea stammered.

“All I’ve ever been is a distraction, because that guy is so emotionally stunted, he can’t even work out how to do anything about getting you, and you got tired of waiting for him to figure it out. Well, I guess he figured it out at last, huh?”

“Call Shaun ‘emotionally stunted’ again, and watch what happens!” Lea snarled.

“Shut the fuck up!” came a shout from the apartment next door.

“He’s an emotionally stunted, immature moron, who wouldn’t know what to do with a girl if he had one spread out naked in front of him!” Jake exclaimed, but he made an effort to lower his voice.

“Shaun is a surgeon,” Lea snapped, “Do you think ‘emotionally stunted, immature morons’ achieve the things Shaun has?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know you’re president of his fan club. Face it: he has autism and he has no idea how to be in a relationship!”

“Yes, Shaun is autistic. So what?” Lea whispered.

“When you’re ready to have a relationship with a real man, don’t call me, Lea.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Lea replied.

“Take your shit and get the hell out of my apartment.”

“It’s not important.”

Jake laughed bitterly. “No. And it never was, was it?”

“I’m sorry, Jake,” Lea said.

“No, you’re not, Lea. You just want to run back to Shaun, now that I’m not in the way. Well, go. Have a nice life with your doctor boy.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Get out, Lea. Go.”

She fled the apartment, running, and she didn’t stop running until she got back to her car.

She got in behind the wheel, locked her doors, and sent Shaun a text: I’ve packed my stuff, have you got anything else you want brought, besides your PJs?

The reply came, Shaun says, ‘just you’. Regards, Glassy.

She turned the key in the ignition, put on her seat belt, and gunned the engine for home.

The apartment was shrouded in darkness. Lea flipped the lights on, and her eyes adjusted.

“Okay. My stuff. Then Shaun’s stuff. Then a shower,” she said to herself.

She pulled out her phone and texted her boss: Marty, it’s Lea – my roommate is still in hospital, it’s a head injury, I need tomorrow off, please.

Yeah, no problem. Wish him ‘get well soon’ from me, okay? Take care.

“Right, that’s sorted out,” she said to the empty apartment. She hung her purse on the hook, and went into her room to pull out some sweatpants, a t-shirt and a hoodie, as well as socks and sneakers. She also added her pyjamas.

Then she yanked open her underwear drawer, fingers flicking through boring, everyday stuff, and going to the back, where the lacier, racier things were.

You’re going to give Shaun an aneurysm if he sees you in these tonight! she scolded herself. Jesus, girl, you’ve waited a long time, it’s not like you can’t wait longer.

“But I don’t wanna,” she whined to the walls.

Sighing and going back to the everyday underwear, she pulled out a black bra and knickers, and shut the drawer before she could change her mind.

She went into the bathroom and showered and brushed her teeth. Drying off, she put on the clothes she’d brought in with her.

Okay, now for Shaun’s things, she thought.

She went into his room.

She found the pyjamas where he’d said they’d be – of course – and she took out a pair of khakis, a pair of sweatpants, a t-shirt, a button-down shirt, and a hoodie, as well as socks and underwear.

She paused over his desk, where there was a framed photo of two little boys in a bus. She remembered he’d brought that with him on their road trip, so she added it to the pile.

Going back into the bathroom, she collected his toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, deodorant, shampoo, and body wash up, and put it all into his Dopp kit, which she found in the vanity unit cupboard.

Does he need his razor and shaving cream? Nah, let’s see how he looks with a bit of scruff.

She paused over the bottle of Burberry cologne on the vanity. That stuff is lethal, especially now I’m free to mack on him if I want to. Well, if he wants me to.

But he’ll want normalcy. He wears that every day. It’s part of his routine. Pack it, the other side of her mind argued.

Lea placed it into the bag gently, and then zipped it. Then she quickly packed her own Dopp kit.

Was there anything else he needed? Or anything else she needed? She knew Shaun’s phone charger was in his backpack, but she packed hers as well.

When she gave Shaun’s room a final once-over, she noticed the two medical journals on Shaun’s nightstand, and put them in the bag too.

“Do you want to practice what to say to Han when he comes? Do you want any pointers?” Aaron asked Shaun. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to tell him to go away.”

“But ‘go away’ is short, sharp, and unambiguous, Dr. Glassman. Why can’t I say that? Why shouldn’t I say what I mean?”

“Because it’s not going to achieve what you’d like it to achieve, Shaun. Yes, it’s honest, and I’m not going to tell you not to be honest, but you can use other words – synonyms – which are words that mean the same thing. Changing the words doesn’t always have to change their meaning.”

“You want me to be diplomatic,” Shaun deduced.

“If you can try, yes. I think it will help you. Okay. How about this? I’ll give you a phrase, and then I’ll say the same thing differently. Want to try that?”

Shaun shrugged, non-committally. “Okay.”

“All right, first phrase is ‘I’m busy, go away, come back later’. That could become ‘I’m a little preoccupied right now, sorry – could we catch up later?’ You could add ‘please’, if you like.”


“Now, I want you to try and find your own way of saying the same thing.”

“‘Sorry... I’m... kind of busy right now... could I... touch base... with you later?’” Shaun sounded out, remembering a phrase he’d heard other people say at work.

People seemed obsessed with the expression ‘touching base’, he’d noted. When he’d heard that phrase for the first time, Shaun had wondered why on Earth these people were talking about playing baseball in the hospital. It was completely impractical! There was so much glass to break!

He’d taken this curious phrase to Claire, asking if there was some sort of hospital employees’ baseball league that he hadn’t been invited to join. He was certain he didn’t want to play, but it might be nice to go and watch a game sometime.

“Oh! No, Shaun, when people say they’ll ‘touch base’ with one another, they mean that they’ll talk to one another about something later. So, as an example, we might draw bloods from a patient during a consult in the morning, and tell them, ‘We’ll touch base with you later this afternoon, when the results are in’. Does that make more sense?”

Shaun had nodded slowly. “I... think so. Thank you, Claire. I’ll... touch base with you, if anything else confuses me,” he finished, trying out the new phrase in a sentence, in order to check his understanding.

Claire had laughed. Not meanly, but in amusement. “You’re welcome to do that anytime, Shaun.”

Recalling Armen’s tirade to him when he’d presented the list of repairs needed in his old apartment to the grumpy landlord, at 12:40 AM one night, Shaun added ‘anytime’ to the list of words that were not always to be taken literally, either.

“That’s a good way of saying the same thing, Shaun. Very good. It lets the other person know that you do understand there is something to talk about, and reassures them that it won’t be forgotten.”

“So that’s a polite way of saying ‘go away, come back later’?”

“Exactly right, Shaun. Now, how would you change the sentence so it fits the fact that you’re in the hospital and you’re not well, while also acknowledging that Han has a right to talk to his employee? I’ll start you off: you should thank him for being concerned enough to visit you.”

Shaun thought for a few moments, and then said: “Hello, Dr. Han. Thank you for visiting. I’m not ready to talk about work, yet. Could you please come back another time?”

“Perfect. It’s honest without being rude.”

“Oh, good,” Shaun breathed, in relief.

“Let’s change the subject. So, you and Lea...?” Aaron prompted Shaun. “How are you feeling about that?”

Shaun shrugged.

“It’s a lot, huh?” Aaron observed.

“Yes. It’s a lot,” Shaun echoed.

“Watching the two of you together now is... it’s nice. I’m happy that you’re getting something that you want. That – if we’re honest, man-to-man – you’ve been wanting for a very long time. Right?”

“I’m scared, too,” Shaun admitted. “Happy, but scared.”

“That’s how you know it’s for the long haul. If you weren’t a little scared, you’d feel like you had nothing to lose.”


“Were you taking Lea’s pulse earlier?”



“It’s how we say what we’re feeling, without using words. She can feel my pulse racing, and I can feel hers, too.”

“That is... intimate. How was that, for you?”

“I’m used to looking for a pulse, but it’s... different, when I’m finding hers. It’s different because I know why it’s fast.”

“I saw your heart rate spike on the monitor when she was in here with you.”

“Yes, I know.”

A knock at the door interrupted the Glassman-Murphy version of a deep and meaningful.

“I think that will be Dr. Han. Still want to do this, Shaun?” Aaron asked. “No, don’t nod – it’s not good for your head. Just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is fine.”

“Yes, Dr, Glassman. Let Dr. Han in.”

Aaron got up and opened the door to Dr. Han.

“Dr. Murphy,” Dr. Han began, “Good to see you’re awake. How are you feeling? Hopefully you’ll make a quick recovery, and you can get stuck into your new Pathology residency soon. Your new manager will come and see you tomorrow, explain how things work down in the lab.”

Shaun looked up at Dr. Han, and took a deep breath, then said: “Hello, Dr. Han. Thank you for visiting. I’m not ready to talk about work, yet. Could you please come back another time?”

Dr. Han looked over at Aaron, confused, like, Did he just...?

Yep. You heard the man, Aaron thought, with some vicarious satisfaction. Now go away.

He got out his own phone and sent a text to Lea: Shaun just gave Dr. Han a shock. Told him to go away, but in the politest way possible for Shaun. Han looked at me like, ‘Aren’t you going to step in?’

A picture of a large dog and a small puppy came back. Don’t talk to me or my son ever again, read the caption.

Aaron guffawed out loud.

Dr. Han looked over at him in annoyance.

“Sorry, I was just looking at something funny,” Aaron apologised. Your aghast expression is an absolute sight to behold.

Dr. Han huffed impatiently, realising neither Shaun nor Aaron were going to engage any further with him – at all – right now. He spun on his heel and left the room.

“Good work,” Aaron praised Shaun.

“Is Lea texting you? What’s she saying?” Shaun asked.

“She sent me a funny picture. I just told her how you made Dr. Han leave, and how Dr. Han looked over at me like he thought I’d tell you off, or something. The picture was to do with that.”

“Okay,” Shaun said. “Thank you for supporting me, Dr. Glassman.”

“You’re welcome, Shaun.”

“Is Lea coming back soon?” Shaun asked.

“That bored of me, are you?” Aaron joked. “She won’t be much longer, I’m sure. But she’s been here all day, Shaun, even longer than I have. The bartender called Lea right after he called the ambulance, and I think she dropped everything to come and see you.”

“Oh,” Shaun whispered.

“Lea called me, too. She told me no-one else thought to call me, except for her. I’m very grateful for her.”

“I want to ask her to be my girlfriend, but not while I’m in here,” Shaun confessed. “And not while she’s still with Jake. She was meant to be breaking up with him today. I don’t think she’ll have time, now. But I’m still in here overnight, if not longer, so maybe she can do it tomorrow.”

“Don’t worry about that, Shaun. Just focus on getting better, so you can ask Lea to go out with you as soon as possible.”


“How did all this turn around like it has? Lea hinted that there was a story behind it. She said she had some sort of wake-up call, recently. Do you know anything about that? Do you have the energy right now to talk about that?”

“Talking about Lea makes me happy. It gives me energy,” Shaun replied.

“That may be, but... actually, your eyes seem tired, now I’m looking a bit closer at you. You need to rest. We’ll talk about it later, Shaun. It can wait.”

“Okay, Dr. Glassman.”

“Do you want me to get you another apple? Are you hungry? I think they might be serving dinner in about 90 minutes, actually. Do you feel like eating much now?”

“No, thank you. I wasn’t allowed to eat the apple Lea set aside, either. They were worried I’d vomit.”

“Do you want to rest? Or sleep, if you can?”

“... Maybe a little.”

“Okay. Here are the bed controls. Rest up, Shaun. I’ll see you in a little while. I’m going to go and get coffee and maybe something to eat.”

“Bye, Dr. Glassman,” Shaun said, sounding drowsy.

Chapter Text

Lea slung her purse over one shoulder, and the duffel bag containing hers and Shaun’s things, over the other shoulder.

Even considering that Shaun was in hospital, and they wouldn’t be home together until at least tomorrow, she nonetheless felt lighter than she had in a long time.

She flipped all the light switches off, shut the door, and locked it. Then she made her way down to the parking garage, got in her car, and texted Glassy to let him know she was en route.

She chose not to tell Shaun she was on her way, for two reasons:

One: She was currently trying to decide whether to go up and see Shaun right away, or eat dinner first.

Two: She wanted to figure out what, if anything, she was going to say to Shaun about her breakup with Jake.

“Hey, Siri, play Lungs by Florence and the Machine on shuffle,” she said to the car stereo.

“Okay, playing ‘Drumming Song’ by Florence and the Machine.” Siri replied, and the almost-tribal drums kicked in.

There’s a drumming noise inside my head

That starts when you’re around

I swear that you should hear it

It makes such an almighty sound.

There's a drumming noise inside my head

That throws me to the ground

I swear that you should hear it

It makes such an almighty sound...

“Louder than sirens, louder than bells, sweeter than heaven, and hotter than hell!” Lea sang along loudly.

Apart from a stop at McDonald’s for a quick excuse for a dinner, she didn’t stop singing for the entire drive, and she laughed brightly to herself when the next track was ‘Kiss with a Fist’, the song she’d been rocking out to when Shaun had caught her dancing around the kitchen, that morning after the quarantine, the day they’d all gone go-karting.

The look in his eyes that morning – Lea wasn’t even sure she could have described it accurately, had anyone asked her to try.

Shaun had been looking at her like he was pressed up against a window, staring at the view outside, separated from the goings-on beyond the glass. The wistfulness, the longing of wanting to be there, instead of here. Catching sight of something - or someone – he desperately wished for, but could not have.

Then, that day had turned into the night she’d brought Jake home for the first time, fixated only on trying so hard to fit someone new in the place of a person who was so completely incorrigible, and inimitable.

And, if she was honest – irreplaceable.

Standing in the mosh pit at the Death Cab show that night, she’d wished for nothing more than to just be back at home with Shaun. The music had almost been loud enough to drown those thoughts out.

At home, though, they were deafening: What are you doing, Dilallo? Pick Shaun. Pick something built to last. You know that he will dedicate himself to learning how to make you happy, every single day. And you make Shaun happy, too. Don’t sell yourself short, either.

She’d questioned herself over and over about what she was more afraid of:

Was she more afraid of it not working out?

Or... was she more afraid that – for once in her life – it actually might?

Don’t think about those regrets and mistakes, now. They happened, they’re in the past, and look how very close you and Shaun are to something truly real. Something that will have been worth the wait, she reminded herself.

Pulling into the hospital parking lot, she claimed a free space, parked, got out her purse and the duffel, and locked the car.

She found Aaron in the cafeteria downstairs, contemplating his coffee and chocolate-chip muffin.

He seemed to be staring forlornly in the direction of an attractive, dark-haired woman, who was working at the bakery section counter and shooting occasional glances of her own at Aaron, but he didn’t appear to have noticed them.

“Penny for your thoughts?” she asked quietly, slipping into the seat beside Aaron.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

“Does ‘Nothing’ have a name?” Lea prodded.

“Debbie,” Aaron sighed.

“Ah. You two going out, or?”

Aaron shook his head. “We were. Not anymore. I pushed her away when I was really sick. I tried to ask her out again, recently, and she said it wasn’t going to happen.”

“Now, where have I heard that before?” Lea asked, thoughtfully. “You and Shaun push people away, you know. Like, a lot.”

“I suppose we do. But, it’s not necessarily for the same reasons,” Aaron defended.

“You’re scared. It’s the same reason, I assure you. Both of you, you’re scared,” Lea pronounced.

“Yes. That’s – that’s essentially... correct,” Aaron conceded.

“Ask her again, Glassy. Ask her again sometime,” Lea urged.

“Why?” Aaron asked, curiously. “Just because you and Shaun — ”

“No, Glassy, just because she looks over here when she thinks you aren’t looking,” Lea told him, and she saw his eyes light up.

“Anyway, how is Shaun?” Lea asked.

“He was just going to try and rest when I left. No-one’s been in touch to say anything worrying, so I gather he’s okay. That was about two hours ago. I stayed down here so Shaun would have a chance of getting some rest before dinner. They might be mid-dinner service now, so they may have awoken him for that. I don’t think he was allowed to eat that apple you set aside earlier, but if he can handle eating and drinking now, they’ll have removed his IV. He was asking about you before I left. I’m sure he can’t wait to see you.”

“I can’t wait to see him, either,” Lea admitted.

“Oh, and here’s Shaun’s cell. I took it because I don’t want him trying to sneak in any work,” Aaron added, handing Lea the phone.

“Thanks, Glassy. I’ll make sure he doesn’t, either.”

“I’ll stay here, and try to pluck up the courage to talk to Debbie, I suppose.”

“Good luck, Glassy.”

“Thank you, Lea.”

Lea made a beeline for the elevator bank. Turning back to observe Aaron’s movements as she walked, she noticed him getting up to – presumably – go and talk to Debbie. His shoulders drooped in the manner of someone awaiting his execution.

Oh, Glassy, cheer up, Lea thought, as she got into the elevator, punching the button for Shaun’s floor. The doors began to close, but someone’s foot blocked them.

The doors opened again, and a very handsome, tall, Latino doctor got into the elevator. Lea snuck a look at his name tag. Dr. Neil Melendez, it read.

“You’re Shaun’s other attending! Dr. Melendez!” she exclaimed. Neil looked around in surprise.

“I am,” he replied. “And you don’t look like an old man with a penchant for stylish hats, so I’m going to guess that you’re Lea.”

“Got it in one,” she confirmed. “How’s Shaun doing?”

“Last that Audrey – uh, Dr. Lim – reported, he was awake, and he managed to eat some of his dinner.”

Ah, so Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez are a thing, I see, Lea thought to herself, not missing Neil’s awkward self-correction.

“He’ll be happy to see you. Ah – you’re the girl who likes to get Shaun to play hooky,” he went on.

“In my defense, that trip was more about Glassy’s total stubbornness pushing Shaun over the edge,” she countered.

“Oh, right,” Neil said. “Dr. Glassman is stubborn, I’ll give you that.”

The elevator stopped on the floor below Shaun’s.

“This is me,” Neil said, holding out an arm to stop the doors closing until he’d finished saying what he wanted to. “Uh – say ‘hi’ to Shaun for me, and – tell him we’re working on Han. Shaun shouldn’t fight alone. Don’t let Shaun fight alone. We want to help. And we want him to get well – ASAP – so he can get back into the OR. Where he belongs.”

“I’ll tell him. Thank you, Dr. Melendez,” Lea said. “Shaun’s – you guys are good to him. All of you.”

“He’s good to us,” Neil responded. “Nice to have met you, Lea.”

“Likewise,” Lea said.

Neil exited the elevator, and the doors shut once more. The elevator rose upward, and stopped on Shaun’s floor.

She opened Shaun’s door as quietly as she could. “Knock, knock,” she said, softly, not wanting to startle him.

“Lea,” he said, looking relieved. “You came back.”

The IV was gone from his hand, and a tray with a half-eaten meal rested on the nightstand.

“I did. Were you worried I wouldn’t?” Lea said, walking over to the chair near his bed. “I see they’ve ditched the IV. You ate some of your dinner, too – that’s good. Are you feeling any better?”

“I do feel better, especially now that you’re back. And I always worry about you,” he said.

“Couldn’t get here fast enough. San Jose peak hour traffic had other ideas,” she explained, apologetically.

When would be the right time to tell him that Jake is no longer a spectre over our budding relationship? Lea wondered.

Instead, she said, “I ran into Dr. Melendez in the elevator coming up here. He says, don’t fight Han alone – your whole team wants to help you – and get well soon, because they need you back in the OR. I’m paraphrasing, but it sounds like your team has a plan for Han. Hey, that rhymed!”

Shaun smiled briefly, before it dropped from his face abruptly.

“Dr. Han is very powerful. What he says, goes,” he lamented.

“Yeah, but he’s one dude up against, what? Four pissed-off residents, two angry attendings, and a surrogate dad who used to be the President of this very hospital? You have good people around you, Shaun. I’d be dragged out kicking and screaming, too, if I stood to lose something so amazing.”

“I have been very lucky,” Shaun agreed. “I am very lucky.”

“Can I get up on the bed with you?” Lea asked. “I – these chairs aren’t, like, hugely comfy, so...”

Shaun looked petrified.

“... Or not. I mean, the chairs aren’t terrible,” Lea backtracked.

“I don’t know if you’ll fit,” Shaun said.

“I think I could... is it that I’m gonna be really physically close to you, if I do?” Lea ventured. “If you’re not... ready for that, for hours on end, I understand.”

“But – Jake — ” Shaun protested.

Okay, that’s it. He’s gotta know. I’m gonna tell him, Lea thought.

She really hoped Shaun wouldn’t press her any further on the Jake front just now – she wasn’t quite sure how to tell him.

’I’m single – you want in?’ — No way.

‘Hey, so... I broke up with Jake, and...’ — And what?

‘I love you. You love me. So...?’ — You’re kidding, right? This isn’t a damn Barney episode!

“What if we face one another? Could that work?” she suggested, instead. “Can you lay on your side?”

Shaun looked thoughtful. “Possibly.”

“I brought your pyjamas and shower stuff. And those two medical journals that were on your nightstand. Oh, also, the photo from your desk. Plus some street clothes, if you’re allowed to come home tomorrow. And – I almost forgot – Glassy confiscated your cell so you wouldn’t try to work. I’ll give it back as long as you promise not to make – or take – any work calls or messages. Okay?”

“Okay. Thank you. Oh, I want to shower,” Shaun groaned. “But I need permission to do so.”

“You’re a doctor. Can’t you give yourself permission?” Lea suggested, jokingly.

Shaun looked at her with an offended expression. “That would be against protocol.”

“Well, then, why don’t I text Claire with your phone and ask if it’s okay? Or Dr. Lim? I don’t have their numbers. I imagine you do.”

Shaun nodded. “That might be all right.”

“I’m just going to grab your phone, then. Here’s your stuff,” Lea said, lifting the duffel onto the bed and unzipping it for Shaun. Shaun lifted out the two medical journals, and then the photo of him with Steve in the bus.

Look at that girl, Steve. She’s going to be my girlfriend. We already live together. No offense, but she’s a prettier roommate than you. She’s beautiful, isn’t she? Shaun thought, looking hard at the photo.

“I’d like to know more about that photo, sometime – if you ever want to tell me more,” Lea said, replacing Shaun’s phone on the nightstand. “By the way, Claire says it’s okay for you to shower. They can send an orderly to help you, or, uh, I – can help you shower. If you want.”

“I – oh, that’s okay,” Shaun said, looking very embarrassed. “You don’t have to.”

“I’ve helped you before, Shaun,” Lea said, without thinking. “Well... sort of. I stayed in the bathroom with you, to make sure you didn’t trip and fall or whatever — ”

“When?” Shaun asked, sharply. “I don’t recall needing your help to shower before...?” 

“Uh, well, two words: ‘Tequila, stat!’ Does that... jog your memory?” Lea said.

“Oh,” Shaun said quietly. “Did, um, did you... see...?”

“Um... yes,” Lea confessed. “Hard... not to. I... tried not to. There was an attempt... not to.” 

Shaun’s cheeks were fire-engine red. “Well, I’ve... seen you... as well,” he admitted.

“You have? When?” Lea inquired.

“You didn’t shut the bathroom door properly... and... it opened... and it stood ajar, and you were drying off — ”

“Why do you look like you want to apologise for that, Shaun?” Lea asked, studying his face. “Why would you think you needed to?” 

“Because I... I liked what I saw, and you didn’t... want me to do that,” he said, softly. His cheeks were so red, they were almost aglow, like Rudolph’s nose. “I wasn’t allowed.”

“If I recall, Shaun, I said that – if we lived together – ‘you were bound to see me naked,’” Lea reminded him, sort of enjoying seeing how flustered he got. In fact, Shaun looked like he was about to faint. 

“It was gonna happen, Shaunie. Don’t even worry about it,” she went on.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, but his cheeks were now merely pink, instead of deep scarlet.

“You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for,” Lea assured him.

Shaun didn’t look convinced.

“Hey... um, actually, I have to tell you something,” Lea began, changing the subject. 

Okay...? Shaun’s expression read.

“It’s kind of – like – it’s a... surprise. And I know you don’t like those... like, at all — ” she carried on, hesitantly. 

He nodded. “That’s correct. I hate surprises.”

“But, Shaun – I think... that’s kind of... unfair, in a sense, because, um... you surprised me this morning, and last night, and — ” she continued.

Shaun looked like he was about to open his mouth and interject, but Lea spoke first, and she had never felt as shy in front of Shaun as she did at that moment.

“ — I’d just – I hope you’ll be okay with it, if I... return the favour now. I mean, I really, really hope that... you like this surprise,” she finished hesitantly. “Or, at least... don’t entirely hate it.”

“Okay. What — ” Shaun asked, his voice anxious, before he was cut off by Lea kissing him.

He stayed motionless under her hands, frantically cataloguing a kaleidoscope of sensations, a flash flood of emotions.

The lingering fragrance of apple-scented shampoo in Lea’s hair. The taste of her minty toothpaste. Her gentle fingers, combing lightly through his hair. Her contented sighs against his lips. Bright white light behind his eyes.

The input was overwhelming, flooding in faster than even his agile mind was capable of processing. 

Shaun recognised that this kiss wasn’t like the five others that he’d previously shared with Lea. This – was a raw nerve becoming exposed, resonant and vulnerable with so much need and want. There’d been a first kiss; a ‘goodbye’ kiss; a ‘hello’ kiss; a stolen kiss; and a ‘see you later’ kiss.

If he had to name this one, though, he’d call it a ‘promise’ kiss. And it was absolutely, positively, not just one innocent peck.

He could feel Lea trying to deepen the kiss, and he could not – for the life of him – work out what was so terrifying about that.

He’d certainly dreamed about something just like this many times over. So why was it so frightening to him when it was actually happening?

Not knowing was really bothering him. It bothered him so much that he had to pull back from Lea.

Through the fog in his brain that had absolutely nothing to do with falling off a stool, or drinking too much tequila, he thought he heard Lea say, ’Want to do it again?’

He nodded slightly, in silence, strictly because he didn’t know what else to do next. But when she leaned in again, the anxious feeling didn’t disappear.

That was concerning. Shaun was so caught up in trying to ascertain what was preventing him from actually kissing Lea with the same fervour as she was currently kissing him, that he stopped responding altogether.

“You’re allowed to kiss me back, you know,” Lea murmured, pulling away from him again, very gently. Her eyebrows knitted in concern as she took in Shaun’s anxious expression.

“Shaun, I can literally feel you overthinking kissing me. It’s worrying me. Do you want to slow down? Do you want to stop?” Lea asked him. “Talk to me. Something is wrong, isn’t it?”

As the fog cleared from Shaun’s brain and blurry shapes resolved once more into solid matter, he figured out what he was so scared of.

“You – I – can’t – Jake is still your boyfriend. You were meant to break up with him today, but you’ve been here all day, up until you went back to the apartment for our things and to have a shower. So you are still with Jake,” Shaun concluded. “Perhaps you can break up with him tomorrow.”

It was a lot easier to lay things out logically when he wasn’t lost in kissing Lea, he thought. 

“I am sorry for this morning... and this afternoon. I did something very bad. I wouldn’t like it at all if my girlfriend decided to kiss someone else,” he continued. 

Lea wanted to laugh as the answer to Shaun’s worries clicked in her brain. Mostly at herself, for being so stupid.

But she held it back. Shaun would think she was laughing at him, and he was already on edge.

Of course. Shaun didn’t know she was single. Her impulsivity had led with the epic face-mashing, which possibly would eventually be followed by an explanation for the said epic face-mashing.

It really should have been the other way around. 

Let’s clear that up for him here and now, she told herself, deciding on whether to say it straight, or dance around it a little and be a bit cute about it.

“Well, I don’t have a boyfriend named ‘Jake’ anymore,” she said, watching Shaun’s face closely for signs that he had definitely absorbed that information. 

“I’d really like it if I had one named ‘Shaun’, instead,” she finished.

“Oh,” was all he said, in a small voice. Then he was silent.

Oh, God, he’s having second thoughts, he – my God, what have I done? Lea panicked.

Okay, nothing to do but wait. Let it land. Let him process it. Be patient. You’ve just dropped something incredibly heavy on him, her rational brain argued. He didn’t think you’d have time to do it today. He wasn’t expecting this.

But when Shaun sat in stony silence, staring straight ahead at nothing, for a further eternity – perhaps three minutes – Lea’s patience began to fray, and a strong sense of anti-climax began to set in.

Did you honestly think this would be simple? The feeling’s mutual, and the obstacles are gone. Terrific. And then, what – you thought it’d just be a done deal? her inner voice hissed, snottily.

Kinda, yeah, she admitted inwardly.

Lea considered touching Shaun – his arm, his hand, or his hair – but she was also worried that it might make things worse. 

Then, she thought about simply climbing up on the bed next to him. Be a presence, like she’d been the night she came back to San Jose and turned his world upside down again.

Well, Shaun can’t exactly... run out of here. Maybe that’s it. Is he feeling trapped? Lea speculated. Again, she wished she could simply ask the man himself.

Wordlessly, she laid her hands on the bed and hoisted herself onto the mattress, Shaun staring at her warily the entire time. Then he crept over to the opposite side of the bed, almost to the other edge. Making room for her.

Shaun’s expression was inscrutable, but he courteously shifted his head, so that Lea had half of his pillow to lay on. She heard his sharp intake of breath as she sank back into the pillow. He must have only just realised how physically close she was to him.

Shaun knew that Lea was waiting for him to say something – anything – but he honestly couldn’t settle on what to tell her first. 

Then her whole form lost all of its tension, and she was almost fully pressed against his side. Lea didn’t seem to want to ask anything more of him at that moment, other than to just lay beside him on this single bed.

Shaun braced himself for a burst of pain as he gingerly rolled onto his side. Lea turned her head and looked at him curiously.

Mobilising all his courage, and trying to ignore the punishing ache in his back, he reached a hand up and across to Lea, fingers landing almost at her collarbone, and he felt her shiver as he moved down to find her heartbeat under his palm.

“It’s okay to do this now. Right?” he whispered. Lea nodded.

He could feel the gently sloping curves there, too, just shy of places he thought he’d like to revisit over and over, with fingers, and hands, and lips.

Her chest rose and fell in an unsteady cadence. Shaun sensed that Lea was trying – unsuccessfully – to modulate her breathing, for his sake. To avoid scaring him off. 

He won’t even try to put his hands under my top, Lea realised. She looked behind her at the window. The Venetian blinds were mostly – mercifully – shut.

Silently, she rolled slightly towards Shaun, and put her own hand over his. Then she pulled his hand down toward the hem of her t-shirt, lifted the hem slightly, and guided his hand up underneath her t-shirt until he made contact with her bare skin. His touch was hesitant at first, then started to become inquisitive, instead of timid.

He stared at her with wide eyes that were full of questions, and she nodded slightly. Come and find me, she wanted to say.

Neither of them wanted to speak. To speak would be to break the spell, the sacred hush that had fallen over the two of them.

Chapter Text

Unfortunately, the spell was broken by a gentle knock at the door.

Lea hurriedly readjusted her t-shirt back to something approaching ‘presentable’.

“Shaun, are you decent?” Claire called through the door.

He stared at Lea, then down in the direction of his groin, and shook his head frantically at her. Moving quickly, Lea turned over, her back to Shaun, and pulled his arm over her so it looked as though they’d just dozed off together. He flinched at the tug on his arm.

“You’re Big Spoon. Quick, cuddle up as close as you can. It’ll hide – well, it’ll buy you some time — ” Lea whispered.

Then she called back, trying to sound a bit dazed, “Yes – we just dozed off, sorry – come in — ”

Claire came in, and if she noticed how the air hung heavy in the room, she didn’t say anything. They hadn’t fogged up the window, but it was definitely a little more humid in there now, than it had been before Lea had returned.

“Long day, huh?” Claire greeted Shaun, who nodded silently.

“Good news: Dr. Lim says you should be fine to be discharged tomorrow morning, and then you are under strict orders to go home. Absolutely no more visits to dive bars for a while. Is that clear?”

Shaun nodded, meekly. “What about bars with tequila and karaoke?”

“No dice. Go to town on SingStar, buddy,” Claire pronounced, firmly. “I believe Lea has a PlayStation, and you’re her chief supplier of controller batteries.”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed.

“Are you intending to stay the night?” Claire asked Lea.

Lea nodded. “I was hoping to, yeah.”

“All right. We typically only provide cots for Pediatrics – parents like to stay overnight with their kids — ”

“Oh,” Lea said, disappointed. She didn’t want to go home to the empty apartment.

“ — But – I think, in these special circumstances, we should be able to spare one,” Claire said, with a wink.

“Oh, thank you so much,” Lea replied.

“And you, Shaun? Do you want Lea to stay with you overnight? You know I’ve gotta ask,” Claire addressed Shaun.

“Yes. I would like Lea to stay overnight,” Shaun responded.

“Okay. I’ll get the cot brought ASAP. That bed is too small to fit you both comfortably for long — ”

“ — I’m pretty sure the inventor of the hospital bed wanted it that way,” Lea quipped.

“ — And you need to avoid any jostling, sharp movements, et cetera,” Claire said, now talking to Shaun. “Oh – and I believe you want a shower?”

He nodded eagerly. “Desperately. I – feel – disgusting.”

“Okay, I told Lea we could send an orderly or a nurse to help you. Or – you know, I’m sure Lea could supervise,” Claire said, suggestively. “If that’s all right with the both of you.”

“Yes,” they both chorused at the same time.

“I should warn you that the bathroom door doesn’t lock, in case of a fall or other accident, so – uh – bear that in mind,” Claire added, raising her eyebrows.

“I know that, Claire,” Shaun put in, appearing very confused by what Claire was saying.

Lea understood everything, though: words and innuendo.

“Heh. Anyway, I’ll go and see about that cot for you, Lea,” Claire said, making a quick exit.

“Thanks,” Lea said.

“Why was Claire telling us that the bathroom door doesn’t lock?” Shaun asked her. “I work here. I already know that. I could have told you that.”

Lea decided to be blunt. She turned back over so they were face-to-face.

“Claire’s implying that we’re going to have sex in the bathroom,” Lea explained. “And that’s something most people would lock the door to do, for privacy.”

“I don’t want to have sex in the same place I work. If we get caught, I could get fired,” Shaun said, matter-of-factly. “I have walked in on too many couples in the on-call room. I wish they’d have sex at home. They are communal beds. It’s very inconsiderate. And unhygienic.”

“I... did not know that people literally have sex in the – what did you call it?”

“The ‘on-call room’. It’s more of a group of rooms. One has bunk beds – that’s where we can nap when we’re in between shifts. There’s bathrooms. Kitchen facilities. The locker room.”

“So, it’s like a home away from home?” Lea observed.

“It tries to be. But I vastly prefer our home,” he stated. Lea was surprised at how her heart flipped when he said ‘our home’.

And – typical Shaun – he hadn’t put any sort of special emphasis on the phrase. It was just a fact.

“You – you just called it ‘our home’,” Lea said. She hadn’t been prepared, emotionally, for hearing that.

“Yes,” Shaun replied, looking non-plussed.

“I don’t think you’ve ever called it that before. At least, not that I’ve heard,” Lea said, slowly.

Shaun thought for a moment. “I don’t think I have, either. Isn’t it our home? Should I not have called it that?”

“Sometimes you don’t realise how meaningful some of the things you say are, Shaun. Especially when you say them to me,” Lea tried to explain. “It tells me that you’re thinking of us as being a couple, and that makes me very happy.”

“Am I surprising you again, Lea?”

“Yes, you are, Shaun.”

“When you told me that I should stop thinking of us as a couple, I stopped. But now I’ve started to, again. I hope that’s okay,” Shaun explained, sounding almost apologetic. “I’m not good at this. You have to tell me if it’s okay for me to do that, Lea.”

“Of course that’s okay, Shaunie. More than okay,” Lea reassured him.

“Oh, good.”

“We’re not one yet, though. A couple, I mean,” Lea mused aloud. “Should we... change that?”

“Is there some sort of process we have to follow to become a couple? I thought we just... were. Do people negotiate these things?” Shaun wondered.

“Well, of course, we can decide if we’re together or not. Or, you can ask me. Or, I can ask you – this isn’t 1950. Women can ask men out.”

“So, if I say that we’re a couple, and you agree that’s true... we’re in a relationship?”

“Well, it can be as simple as that, yes, if you want it to be. But is that really how you imagined this happening? You’ve imagined this, haven’t you?” Lea prodded, wanting to give Shaun the opening for his epic romantic moment – she had a feeling he would try to go big.

“Yes. Often,” he confessed. “However, I do not want to ask you out while I’m here in hospital.”

Fair enough, Lea thought. It’s not the most romantic backdrop.

“That’s okay. Do you still want to kiss and cuddle tonight?”

“Yes... but only couples do that.”

“Shaun, people... don’t have to be in relationships to do that – it’s just frequently the case that they are,” Lea explained. “There’s nothing wrong with doing that outside of a relationship, as long as both parties agree.”

Shaun looked doubtful.

“Besides, how can people know they want to be in a relationship with someone, if they haven’t had much physical contact with that person?” Lea questioned him. 

“That makes sense. I kissed Morgan once. I knew immediately that I didn’t want to kiss her again, and I didn’t want to be in a relationship with her afterwards, either,” Shaun said.

“Yeah,” Lea said, curtly. That was a sore subject. 

“And I kissed you — ” Shaun trailed off.

“I’d like you to finish that sentence, please,” Lea pronounced. 

“ — I kissed you once, and I knew immediately that I wanted to do it again. And when you asked me if I wanted to do it again, I don’t think I can explain what that felt like.”

“It was a good feeling, right? Do you want me to help you try and name the feeling? I think I know what it was.”


“I think I would call it ‘elated’ or ‘ecstatic’. Really, really happy. I’ve seen you like that three times: first was after you kissed me; second was when we tried singing ‘Islands in the Stream’ again, and third was when we decided to move into our place.”

“‘Elated’ or ‘ecstatic’,” Shaun repeated. “Yes, I was very happy at those times.”

“I could tell.”

“The common denominator is you, Lea,” Shaun concluded. “You’ve been the catalyst for each of those events. It’s very simple.”

“Have you ever been as happy as that, at any other time in your life? Getting your degree? Closing on your first operation? Anything like that?” Lea asked. 

“I was very excited when I graduated med school. I was excited when I graduated pre-med, too. Dr. Glassman was there both times. I was glad he was there. And when I found out that Dr. Glassman had an operable tumour. I was very happy that he was going to live. So happy, that I hugged him, and I said, ‘I love you’.” 

“Wait, you and Glassy have hugged before?” Lea asked. That was news to her. She had thought she’d contributed to some sort of milestone between the two men.

“Yes. I was confused why you asked him to hug me when I came out of the quarantine, as though it was something Dr. Glassman and I had never done before. Then I realised I must not have told you I had already hugged Dr. Glassman once.”

“You want the truth?” Lea sighed, “Why I asked Glassy to hug you? Why I didn’t hug you, at all?”

“Yes,” Shaun replied, “Of course.”

“I wanted to kiss you senseless, Shaun,” Lea explained. “And I would have.”

“How on Earth can a person be ‘kissed senseless’? That is impossible. That makes no sense,” Shaun said. 

“You know, from anyone else, that’d be an invitation,” Lea said.

“An invitation to do what?” Shaun asked, and Lea could tell he genuinely didn’t know. 

“Prove you wrong. It’s like... a game you play. Both people know what the real end goal is, but it’s – I guess – fun to pretend we don’t know.” 

“Why would I be asking you to prove me wrong?” Shaun asked, confused.

“Well, let’s just say that you’d really like me to kiss you — ”

“I would,” Shaun interrupted.

“ — So, if you’re telling me it’s impossible to kiss someone senseless, you’re basically throwing out a challenge for me, in which I attempt to prove that it is, in fact, possible to kiss someone senseless.”

“All right, I think I understand so far,” Shaun said.

“But, the important thing is, you want me to attempt proving you wrong, because that will mean I keep kissing you, until you admit I’m right. See how it’s a game?” Lea finished.

“Yes, I see. Okay.” 

“Do you want to... invite me to try proving that you’re wrong?” Lea pressed. 

She watched Shaun’s expression carefully, as he worked out the real question behind the words. And then she saw how his eyes darkened as he arrived at the final answer. 

He’s gonna say ‘yes’, Lea realised, with a thrill, now anticipating how, exactly, she would proceed to kiss him senseless.

“Yes, but — ” 

Shaun never got to finish his response, as their flirtatious exchange was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Lea hopped down off the bed and went to answer the door. An orderly had come to deliver the cot. 

“Dr. Murphy. Where would you like this?” he asked Shaun, indicating the cot as he rolled it in on castors. 

“On my left, please.” 

The orderly positioned the folded cot at the indicated side, and set it up. It was already made up with fresh linens, and the orderly retrieved two pillows from a bag. 

“Thanks for that,” Lea said. 

“No problem. Anything else I can do for the two of you?” 

“Would it be a big ask if someone could change Shaun’s sheets? He’s been in them pretty much all day, and he’s being allowed to have a shower soon,” Lea enquired. She knew Shaun wouldn’t ask on his own. 

“Yeah, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll be right back.”

“Thanks so much,” Lea said.

The orderly left. When the door shut, Shaun said, “Thank you, Lea.” 

“It’s not fair that I get nice clean sheets and you don’t,” Lea said. 

“I think I’d like to shower now,” Shaun said. “Then I just want to lay down again.” 

“Want some company in there?” Lea asked.

“Are you going to look at me?” Shaun whispered. 

“Do you want me to? What are you cool with?” 

“I don’t know yet.”

“Well, let’s get you in there first, and then we’ll work out the details.”

“N-no. No. That is not cool with me. I want to work out the details now.” 

“Then you gotta work out if you want me in there with you. Full disclosure: because I am human, and because I am so deeply attracted to you, yes, Shaun, I will probably look at you. If you would prefer me not to, then I won’t. But, honestly – I want to.” 

“Why? Why do you want to do that?” 

Lea couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up and out of her. “I am not laughing at you, Shaun, I swear I’m not. You have no clue how incredibly hot you are, do you? None. You have absolutely no idea. The things I would do to you, Shaun. And don’t ask me to outline them, please. Our relationship is not ready for that, and neither are you.” 


“So, what’s your decision?” Lea pressed. “In or out?” 


“What about the other thing?”

“Okay. I’d prefer it if you didn’t stare, though, please. People staring at me makes me feel like my skin is prickling. It’s unpleasant.” 

“That, I can do. Here, I’ll get the door for you now, and I’ll bring your stuff in, you just get the water started. Not too hot, you’ll feel really sick.” 

Lea pushed open the bathroom door, holding it open so Shaun could get into the room. Letting it shut, she went to get the overnight bag. 

“Here’s your Dopp kit – I – wow — ” Lea trailed off, when she caught sight of him standing under the spray. She’d thought he might leave his underwear on, but – no

“Jesus Christ, Shaun,” Lea whispered, faintly. “Okay, I’m looking away, I’m not staring. I am passing you this shampoo very nonchalantly. Here is your body wash. I am averting my eyes, so if you could... just take it, thanks. The temperature in here has not just shot up about ten degrees,” Lea narrated feverishly, half to herself.

“It could have,” Shaun said, helpfully. “This is an enclosed space, there is hot water running, and the bathroom is small.”

Lea had never been so thankful, as she was right then, for Shaun’s penchant for intellectualising things. It was quite a useful distraction. 

She was also grateful for the chair that was set up in the bathroom, because her knees were on the verge of buckling. 

And then, what Shaun said to her next nearly gave her a heart attack. 

“Could you come in?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Lea uttered, wondering if there was an alien spaceship parked nearby that had captured Shaun and then experimented on him.

His exclamation of ‘for fuck’s sake’ last night had been positively tame, compared to what he’d just come out with now.

“If you’re in here with me, it will be harder for you to stare at me, because you cannot keep your eyes open underwater,” he explained.

“First of all: how the hell do you know that I can’t open my eyes underwater? Do you have, like, some kind of Norman Bates peephole set up in our bathroom? And second of all: I thought I heard you asking me if I wanted to come in. Just to recap: you are inviting me into the shower? Me. Into the shower. With you.”

“Yes, that is what I said,” Shaun confirmed, patiently. “And it was an educated guess about the water. The majority of people do not like getting water in their eyes.” 

“Is that the only reason you want me in there? Sure there’s not – something else?” Lea asked, almost feeling irritated.

“I would appreciate your help, and I do not think you can help me without looking at me. You need to be able to see what you’re doing. You also cannot help me from outside the shower.” 

“Okay, then I’m taking off some clothes here. I just put these on, you know,” Lea retorted. “The sacrifices I make for you, Murphy.”

“That’s okay.”

“All right, give me a second,” she said, taking off her t-shirt. She left her bra on. She’d sleep without it, anyway, and hopefully it would dry overnight. Then she stepped out of her sweatpants.

Now it was Shaun’s turn to stare.

She clicked her fingers in his face as she got into the shower, and he flinched. “Hey, hey, hypocrite, eyes on my face,” she scolded him lightly, but she was smiling. “Now, sit down and I’ll wash your hair. I give a pretty good head massage, by the way.”

Obediently, he sat down in the shower chair, and tilted his head forward. Lea poured shampoo into her palm and began working it into his hair, making sure to rub it in well. He gave a contented sort of hum.

“Told you I was good,” Lea bragged, just to have something to say, so her mouth wouldn’t go totally dry.

“That’s very relaxing. I don’t usually like it when people pull my hair, but this is different,” Shaun murmured. “I hate getting haircuts. They yank my hair and it’s painful. I get them only when I have to. There’s one barber who accommodates me – his child is also autistic, so he knows. But I can’t always get to see him. I work long hours.” 

“Okay, you can probably rinse off now,” Lea said, staring straight ahead of her. It was safer that way. 

She made the mistake of looking down when Shaun’s back was to her.

“Oh, my God, does that hurt?!” she exclaimed, noticing the bruises that had bloomed on his lower back when it had hit the floor. 

“It hurts. They were giving me pain relief intravenously; now that they’ve removed the IV, it hurts again. It will be okay, Lea. I’ve treated people in much worse states than this, and most of them just ask for acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Sometimes diclofenac – Tylenol, Advil, and Voltaren, or Cataflam, I mean. I’m used to active ingredient names.”

“Where do you need help next?”

“My back. Please go lightly. Then I can do the rest if I alternate sitting in the chair and standing up. Reaching up to my hair was too painful on my back.” 

“Okay, I’ll use my hands and I’ll be very gentle. Do you want to stand, or do you want to lean as far forward as possible, and I’ll do it that way?” 

“Standing will be easier for you. You won’t have to bend down as far.” 

“Shaun, this isn’t about what’s easiest for me. I want you to be comfortable.” 

“I can stand. I’ll brace myself against the wall.” 

“Okay. Well, here I go,” Lea said, pumping out body wash now. She rubbed her palms together to create a lather, and then started stroking the wash lightly over his skin.

“Is this okay? Not hurting you too much?”

“No. It feels good.” 

“Is there anywhere else you want me to touch you? I mean, wash – oh, you knew what I meant,” Lea said impatiently.

“I think I’ll be okay on my own now, but if you could stay in here or outside of the shower in case something goes wrong.” 

“Of course,” Lea murmured.

“Could you, um – look at something else for a few moments, please? I’m going to wash the rest of myself.” 

“Yep, I got it. I’m not looking.” 

“Thank you.” 

She turned away for a couple of minutes, until she heard him say “Okay. I’m done,” and turn off the water.

“Feel better?” 

“Yes. Thank you for helping me. I don’t want anyone else trying to help me when I am like this. I just want you. I would be embarrassed in front of anyone other than you.” 

“Oh, that’s okay, Shaun. I’m... touched that you asked me. That you trust me.” 

“I often feel sorry for patients. There can be very little respect for someone’s dignity in hospital stays.” 

“Those gowns barely cover anything, yeah.” 

“Some of it is unavoidable – for instance, radiation typically requires the patient to be naked. That’s uncomfortable for people.”

“Jeez, really?”

“Or, another example is a catheter bag on the floor. You can see its contents. That’s necessary. It tells us about possible dehydration, haematuria, and so on, just at a glance. Haematuria is blood – red blood cells,” he added, seeing Lea’s confused expression, then he further explained: “If you’ve ever had a severe urinary tract infection or pyelonephritis, you know it is time to worry when you notice blood.” 

“I didn’t know that,” Lea said. “Yeah, I’ve had UTIs – not often, thankfully – they absolutely suck. I think one time it progressed to pyelonephritis. The doctor told me that meant it was in my kidneys. That was scary.” 

“Yes, it is scary. Left untreated, pyelonephritis can lead to kidney failure and death.” 

“Wow. I’ll definitely remember that. Do you want your towel?” Lea said, passing it to Shaun when he nodded. 

“Need help drying off your hair?” she asked. 

“Yes, thank you.” 

“We’ll go back into the room in a minute; here are your PJs, underwear and socks. I’ll turn around while you get dressed.” 

“I’m going to need help with my shirt.”

“Well, sure, I can help you – or why don’t you just leave it off?” Lea said, somewhat wickedly.

She felt contrite as soon as she noticed Shaun’s shocked expression. “Um, I’m sorry.”

“No, you aren’t. But that’s okay.” 

“It is?” Lea asked, surprised. 

“Yes. If our situations were reversed, I can’t say I wouldn’t make the same suggestion to you.” 

“Ah, so you’re not a saint,” she commented.

“Well, no. You can’t canonise people who are alive. But I am not Catholic, either, and am therefore unlikely to be canonised at all.”

“You’re not Catholic? But your surname — ”

“ — Is Irish? Yes, it is. My parents were Catholic. I never had any of my sacraments. I couldn’t keep still during the liturgy. My father would hit me when we got home, because I was an embarrassment to him in front of the congregation.”

“I’m sorry. That’s awful.”

“It was. You should change back into your dry clothes, Lea. Did you bring underwear?”

“Yeah, give me a couple of minutes. Oh, if you want to brush your teeth, I packed that stuff too.”

“Thank you. I would like to brush my teeth.”

“Well, here, I’ll move, and you can have the sink.”

Lea borrowed another towel and put it around her waist as she changed out of her wet underwear, and pulled on a fresh, dry pair, followed by her sweatpants.

Shaun was brushing his teeth at the sink. Lea turned towards the wall so he wouldn’t catch sight of much of her in the mirror. She unclipped her bra, shrugged it off, and hung it on the hook to dry. Then she put on her t-shirt and her hoodie, and stepped up to brush her teeth as well.

Shaun was a little slower than her, because of the pain he was in.

“I’ll wait in the room, okay? Want me to turn on the TV?”

“What’s on?” Shaun called from the bathroom, when he heard the TV sound kick in.

“Uh, the last person left it on ABC. Looks like Grey’s Anatomy. The TV show, not the textbook,” she joked, as she got into her bed for the night. “God, is this show ever going to die? Want to sit, watch, and rag on the medical inaccuracies? And by ‘rag on,’ I mean, I watch like normal, and you eviscerate all the faulty medicine? I feel like you’d get a lot of mileage out of that.” 

“I don’t mind what’s on in the background. I would like it to be quiet, though,” Shaun said, coming back into the room as well. Lea could smell the Burberry cologne he’d just sprayed.

“They changed your sheets,” Lea noted. “Hey, is that aftershave I smell? Got a hot date tonight? Is she anyone I know?”

“You packed it with the rest of my toiletries. Aftershave isn’t strictly necessary in hospital, and my razor and shaving cream weren’t in my Dopp kit. Perhaps you forgot them,” Shaun said, climbing back into bed. 

Lea sighed. “No. I saw them... and then I left them at home.”

“But you packed my aftershave,” he observed. “It would have made just as much sense to leave it at home. Is there a reason you packed it?”

“I just... noticed that you wear it every day, and I thought you’d like to smell something other than antiseptic and floor cleaner,” Lea lied.

“Okay,” Shaun said. “Thank you.”

“No problem.” 

“Your bed is lower to the ground than mine,” Shaun noted.

“Yeah,” Lea said, a little ruefully.

“Would you like to come up here for a little while?” he said, almost shyly.

“Yes. Are you comfortable with that, though?”

“Would I have asked, if I wasn’t?”

“... Maybe? If you thought it was what wanted? Which is why I’m asking. I’ve noticed, you don’t always say when you’re feeling uncomfortable, Shaun. You just sort of... suffer through it.”

“I want to be close to you.”

“Hearing about the early stages of our friendship from your point of view, last night, showed me that I was a huge boundary-stomper in the beginning. I’m trying really hard not to do that.”

“I don’t think it’s bad that you stomped on my boundaries. Would we be talking about being in a relationship, if you’d never pushed my boundaries?”

“I guess not,” Lea answered. That was an interesting thought.

“I said to you that my life is better with you in it. What did you think that meant? And now, you know me well enough to understand what is okay to push on, and what is not. This is okay.”

“Okay, move over, I’ll be up there in a moment.”

Lea got up from her bed and hoisted herself onto Shaun’s, taking up the space he’d made for her once again.

Chapter Text

There was a knock on the door. Lea and Shaun heaved twin sighs of irritation.

“Come in,” Shaun called. The door started to open.

“I’m just here to check if you need any more pain relief, Dr. Murphy,” Nurse Villanueva said. “Acetaminophen? Or something stronger, to help you sleep?”

“Acetaminophen would be helpful. Thank you. The shower I had helped with the aches somewhat. I don’t think I need anything stronger at the moment.”

“Sure thing. Don’t be a martyr, though, Dr. Murphy. If you need something stronger, you know where the call button is. I’ll just go get your Tylenol. Oh – is this your girlfriend?”

“I’m Lea,” Lea said, waving self-consciously from the other side of Shaun.

“You know, Dr. Murphy, your fellow residents and your attendings really want to see you. Dr. Glassman has already gone home. He looked exhausted. He said he’d be back tomorrow. Are you up to seeing your colleagues, or should I hold all visitors?”

“I’m quite tired, Nurse Villanueva.”

“Okay,” the nurse said, and left.

“You really should have let them come visit. We’ve got all night,” Lea chided Shaun, gently.

“I have seen enough of my colleagues in the last two days,” Shaun pronounced, decisively. “They were teasing me in the locker room this morning. It annoyed me.”

“Oh? What were they teasing you about?”

They were interrupted once more by Nurse Villanueva, returning with the promised Tylenol. Shaun took the pills, thanked the nurse politely, and she left, closing the door behind her.

“They didn’t believe me when I said we didn’t have sex last night,” Shaun went on, continuing the conversation they’d been having.

“You could have just said we did, you know. It wouldn’t have bothered me any,” Lea told him.

Shaun shook his head. “I’m not good at lying. Also, then they’d ask more invasive questions that I wouldn’t know how to answer, because I’ve never had sex in the first place.”

“Fair call. But they do care about you, Shaun. All of them. Even Morgan. I can tell.”

“I am not disagreeing with that fact, Lea. I care about them, too. But I also see them every day at work.”

“Okay, that makes sense.”

“I already know that our own work schedules are going to mean we can’t spend as much time together as we’d like. I have an opportunity to spend some time alone with you now, and I am going to take it.”

“Well, far be it for me to disagree with you,” Lea said. “Can I snuggle up to you?”

“Yes, but I can’t put my arm around you right now. As much as I’d like to.”

“That’s okay. Do you have enough room?”

“No, but I can lay like this for a while.”

“Can I put my arm over you?”

“If you can do it lightly, yes. I’d like that.”

Lea shifted so her arm went across Shaun’s chest in a sort of half-hug.

“Is this okay? It doesn’t hurt?” she asked.

“No, it doesn’t hurt.”

“Do you want to talk? About the Han thing? Or last night, or...” Lea queried.

“I have no interest in a Pathology residency. I also know that if I decline to change jobs, Dr. Han may fire me. It would be very difficult to get another surgical residency. The Match is about to conclude, and — ”

“Wait, what’s the Match?” Lea cut in.

“It’s the process of matching graduates to residencies at hospitals all around the country. I started the process, but then Dr. Glassman vouched for me to be hired on here. However, it’s early March now, and Match Day – the day you find out if, and where – you matched, is imminent. Plus, you have to go where you matched. For instance, Dr. Park is from Arizona, and he matched here in San Jose, so he had to move away from his family.”

“That’s intense,” Lea murmured.

“Yes. It contributed a great deal to his separation from his wife.”

“God, that’s horrible.”

“I am afraid that if I do not accept this Pathology residency, I may not have a job here at all.”

“Has Han said that in so many words, though?” Lea asked.

“No – but he’s the Chief of Surgery. If he doesn’t want me to be a surgical resident, then I won’t be. It’s very simple.”

“Well, it sounds like your team isn’t gonna let that happen, Shaun,” Lea tried to reassure him. “And if Han won’t listen, you can leave, and all your genius goes right out the door with you. That will hurt this hospital, big time.”

“I do not want to leave this hospital, Lea, because I know I could end up somewhere that has no interest in accommodating my ASD. I could be set up to fail.”

“ — But maybe you won’t — ” Lea broke in, and Shaun gave her a sad smile.

“If I stay here at St. Bonaventure, I’m in a place where I can be myself. I have earned the right to be myself here. Whether that’s in Surgery or Pathology. I don’t know where else I could find that acceptance. I have friends here. I have three mentors – one of whom has looked out for me since the day I met him — ”

“But I’m worried you’ll be miserable in Pathology, sweetheart,” Lea admitted.

“I know, Lea. I’m worried I will be, too.”

“Are there legal options you can take? To force Han to give you your old job back?” Lea asked.

“Yes, but they come with a cost. I saw what legally forcing the hospital to reinstate his residency cost Jared. I’m trying to learn when I should fight, and when I should not.”

“Difficult choices,” Lea noted.

“I want to stay in San Jose. I know that, at least. I don’t know if that’ll always be the case. I’m aware that you don’t always like it here, though.”

“Oh, I’m sticking around. Going back to Hershey was a mistake. It made my life worse, not better. It was a step backwards. It was really lonely, and there was absolutely no one to talk to about it. Plus, I missed you. So much.”

“I missed you, too. I wished I’d given you something of mine, before you left.”

Lea giggled. “You kinda did. You gave away your first kiss... to me.”

“Yes, I suppose I did.”

“Anyway, when I got back to Hershey, my high school friends had all moved away – college, careers, marriages, a couple of them might have kids – I was naive to think Hershey wouldn’t have moved on without me.”

“I do care what happened in Hershey, Lea. I don’t think I ever let you know that.”

“You were angry, and hurt. I realised I couldn’t blame you for that. Who did I think I was, showing up on your doorstep, asking to crash with you? God, what you must have thought. I didn’t even warn you I was coming.”

“I asked myself – many times – why you came back. The reason I didn’t ask you why you came back, is... I was scared of the answer.”

“What answer?”

“I was afraid that you had come back for me, and I was afraid that you hadn’t come back for me, at all. I was scared I was a factor, and I was scared that I wasn’t. If I never asked, the truth could never hurt me.”

“You know damn well you were a huge factor in my decision,” Lea reminded him.

“Yes, but you volunteered that information. I made sure I didn’t ask. I know that hurt you, that I didn’t ask.”

“Well, you know, my brother and I ran Grandpa Rod’s auto workshop into the ground. There was nothing left in Hershey. I ran back to Hershey from San Jose, and then I ran from Hershey back to San Jose. Looking back, I was doing a lot of running.”

“Perhaps you were running away, but did you learn something from going back to Hershey?”

Lea thought for a moment. “I think I did.”

“What was that?” Shaun asked her, gently.

“You really can’t go home again. I guess that’s when you sit down, and figure out how to make a new one, instead.”

“I don’t think I could go back to Casper, either. And I don’t think it’s my home anymore,” Shaun said. “Casper might not have changed, but I know that I have.”

“I think I made a new home with you,” Lea burst out, not really knowing she was going to say it before she did.

Lea felt Shaun suddenly become very tense beside her, and she cringed, wondering if she’d said something wrong.

“I think I made one with you, too,” he said, finally, some of the tension leaving his body. “I think we made it together.”

At that point, something just snapped in Lea, and she lifted her head up to look Shaun in the eyes.

He matched her stare with equal intensity, although she knew it was a very difficult thing he was doing. He was making the effort... for her.

“I love you, Shaun,” she said, clear and proud.

She watched his face change from apprehensive to determined; saw something snapping inside of him, too.

She felt Shaun roll towards her a little, and then he leaned across the short distance to kiss her. It was deep, and searching, kind of bruising and desperate.

Suddenly they couldn’t get close enough to one another.

The last thing Lea heard, before Shaun kissed her again, was, “I love you too, Lea.”

“We are going shopping this weekend,” Lea pronounced, when their kissing had gradually petered out, in favour of other, more mundane, necessities. For instance, breathing.

“We are?” Shaun asked, warily.

“You need a bigger bed. I won’t hear any arguments. We’re gonna hit a big old couple milestone – our maiden visit to IKEA. It’ll be fun. I’ll drive. Swedish meatballs are on you.”

“I like my bed just fine,” Shaun protested. “It’s comfortable.”

“That’s great, Shaunie. Do you eventually want me to sleep in it with you, though?” Lea inquired, pleasantly.

“... Yes?” Shaun ventured, cautiously.

“That’s not going to happen.”

“It’s not?”

“It is not.”


“Because there isn’t enough room for the two of us in your bed.”

“But you have a bigger bed,” Shaun said, slowly.

“And why should I always be the one changing the bedsheets, huh?” Lea challenged him.

“I am also capable of changing bedsheets, Lea. Perhaps not just at the moment, but — ”

“You’re lucky you’re sexy as hell, because, make no mistake, you are also annoying as hell,” Lea said.

“I just don’t understand why I have to get rid of my perfectly fine, perfectly comfortable bed,” Shaun argued.

“I didn’t want to have to put it so bluntly, Shaun, but here we are. Do you want to have sex with me... eventually?”

“... Oh, yes.”

“Then you must respect that I am loud, I am enthusiastic, I am energetic, and I need some space to move around, okay? If I fall off your damned single bed, and I end up in this hospital with a bruised back, I will be deeply unhappy with you.”

“Lea — ”

Deeply unhappy, Shaun Murphy,” Lea warned him. “If you hate IKEA, that’s fine; other places sell beds. There is no time like the present, for you – an actual, bona-fide adult man – to get a bed in which you have adequate space to — ”

“‘Netflix and chill’?” Shaun suggested, his face the picture of innocence.

“Oh, now you’re looking for trouble,” Lea asserted. “You think you’re being cute, don’t you?”

“I recall that you have referred to me as ‘cute’ on a number of occasions, Lea,” Shaun countered.

“Oh, and you’re arrogant,” Lea retorted, considering whacking him with a pillow.

“You’re beautiful.”

The clever comeback died on her lips as she took in how his expression had changed, no levity in his demeanour now.

“Yeah?” she asked, softly.

“You’re everything,” he whispered.

Chapter Text

Lea felt tears pricking her eyes as she took in Shaun’s heartfelt declaration. She attempted to hide them by looking away, but Shaun noticed.

“Lea, you’re crying – did I make you sad?” he asked, anxiously.

Lea shook her head, trying to stop crying. “No, Shaun, I’m not sad. I’m – no-one has ever said that to me before. Not even close. I – I’m — ”

“You’re overwhelmed,” Shaun deduced.

Lea nodded, before she spoke again: “You are like no one else I’ve ever met in this world, Shaun. I know that you are going to make me so incredibly happy. I just – God, I just hope like hell that I can do the same for you.”

“You do, Lea. You make me very happy,” Shaun assured her.

“You told me to go back to Hershey, or anywhere other than here — ”

Shaun cringed at the reminder. “I’m sorry, I — ”

“ — There was one problem with that request, though, Shaunie: You aren’t anywhere other than here. You weren’t in Hershey, and you weren’t in any of the places I passed on my way back here, either. So I had to keep driving, to the opposite end of this country, until I got to the place where I knew I could find you again.”

“Lea — ” Shaun tried to cut in.

“Claire and Morgan were right. They were exactly right about me. Maybe their methods were... manipulative, but... they worked. And hearing them talk about you... it’s obvious to me now, just how close I could have been to losing a chance. A chance that I didn’t allow myself to realise I desperately wanted. I have missed too many opportunities with you, Shaun. All this time has passed, and I don’t want to waste any more of it.”

“Lea, I’m — ”

“I was forced to confront just how it would feel – how deeply it would hurt – to watch you become someone else’s everything, when all I really want is... for you to be mine.”

“Lea, please — ”

“Please let me finish. Shaun, I am so terrible at relationships. But you are the first person I’ve wanted to be better at them for, and I — ”

“ — Well, I don’t even know how to be in a relationship, so maybe I’m terrible at them, too. Lea, I don’t care if you think you’re terrible at relationships. I don’t even care if you are terrible at them — ” Shaun broke in.

Lea smiled nervously. “But you should, Shaun. You should care. We could really hurt one another,” she insisted.

I don’t care if you’re good at being in relationships, Lea — ” Shaun asserted, emphatically.

“But I — ”

“ — I just want to be in one with you.”

Lea’s jaw dropped.

“So, I’m guessing Shaun and Lea are very cosily ensconced in his room right now,” Morgan speculated, sitting in the breakout room with Claire. “Nurse Villanueva said she’s holding all visitors.”

“Oh, and let me guess: you’re taking all the credit for this particular turn of events,” Claire commented, sardonically.

“Well, yeah, it was my idea,” Morgan responded. The ’Duh’ was implied.

“I don’t think Lea likes you much,” Claire said.

Morgan shrugged. “I don’t really care. I don’t like her much, either.”

“Your plan didn’t help Shaun keep his job, though,” Claire reminded her. “When Shaun gets back to work, he won’t be a surgical resident anymore.”

“I think the decision had already been made,” Morgan noted, carelessly.

“Seriously, do you think the world will end if you admit that you admire Shaun?” Claire asked her.

Morgan flinched.

“‘Cause I know you’re pretending the plan was just a means to an end. But I really do think you care about him.”

“Shaun, yes. Lea, not so much.”

“Well, that’s good enough, I guess.”

“Is anyone gonna go to bat for him against Han?” Morgan asked. “Maybe Lim and Melendez?”

“I was hoping you’d help me compile a list of cases where Shaun made incredible saves. There are so many.”

Morgan looked away. “The thing is, maybe Shaun will do better in Path. He isn’t the best communicator...”

“You’re just afraid he’ll keep showing you up!” Claire accused her. “You totally lack empathy; Shaun doesn’t have the strongest communication skills; I don’t know how to assert myself. But we are all damn good surgeons. We can be even better surgeons, though. Why should we be so arrogant as to think we have nothing left to learn? If Han doesn’t think Shaun can improve – if he thinks Shaun has come as far as he will ever be able to, he is wrong. He is so wrong, that it’s actually insulting.”

“Well, okay, but — ” Morgan started.

“Do you think Shaun would be in that room with his girlfriend now, if he couldn’t learn anything new about communicating?”

“What’s your point, Claire?”

“My point, Morgan, is that he’s in there with his girlfriend. I’m pretty sure he had to communicate in order to start a relationship with her! Or do you think he just clubbed her on the head like a caveman, throwing her over his shoulder, and grunting, ‘You and me, we couple now!’?”

“Well, I guess – but being on the job is different — ” Morgan argued.

“How so? Did you learn everything about how to interact with patients when you were in med school? Were you a blank slate before that, who didn’t know anything about communication? Are you still learning, even now?” Claire contended.

“Yeah, I suppose you do have a point,” Morgan conceded, grudgingly.

“So will you help me get Shaun his job back, please? The one he earned?”


“Okay, great. Let’s brainstorm. He saved a kid hit by a falling glass panel in the airport. A girl with a sore stomach turned out to have a life-threatening condition, and Shaun visited the parents at home to persuade them something was wrong. Um, what else – oh, there was a clot in a donor liver that only he noticed, and we – Shaun and I – had to operate on it roadside...”

“Wow, field medicine, really?” Morgan said, trying to conceal how impressed she was. “That would have been a sensory bombardment for him.”

“You didn’t hear about any of these saves?” Claire asked, disbelievingly.

“Maybe I did, but I probably chalked them up to beginner’s luck, or straight-up nepotism.”

“Then you will never be able to fathom the staggering loss it will be to the Surgery department, if Han throws Shaun into Pathology. You have no idea what Shaun is capable of, do you?”

“Don’t convince me. Convince Han,” Morgan said.

“I’m certainly gonna try,” Claire pronounced, her face determined.

“I come bearing delicious, gourmet Chinese food,” Neil announced, when Audrey had answered the door.

“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry, I haven’t got any money for a tip,” Audrey teased. “But you are a very cute delivery driver.”

“Oh, I accept other methods of payment,” Neil hinted.

Audrey took her cue and leaned in to kiss him, taking the bags of food from him as she did so.

“How’s Murphy?” Neil asked, as he took a seat at Audrey’s kitchen counter. Audrey took out chopsticks and napkins from the bag, handing one lot to Neil.

“The not-girlfriend – Lea – is staying overnight in his room, so he’s obviously doing a lot better. It’s certainly a big distraction from losing his surgical residency, I guess,” Audrey commented.

“I met Lea in the elevator, actually. Let me just say this, Aud: she and Murphy make an interesting pair. I was looking for Han or Andrews everywhere. I couldn’t find either of them, no matter where I went. I called both their cells and they went to voice mail. It was damned frustrating. I also thought about approaching Lever, but she finished around six and I missed her.”

“Okay,” Audrey said, grabbing a piece of moo shu pork with her chopsticks and popping it in her mouth.

“Browne’s texting me. She’s roped Reznick into making a list of cases Murphy either solved alone or provided the missing puzzle pieces for,” Neil said, checking his phone.

“Well, that can’t hurt,” Audrey mused. “Look, I know the split was painful, but – have you considered asking Jess for her take? She knows Glassman well, she knows Murphy professionally, and she can speak to whether we can press an ADA violation-slash-discrimination angle here. Or could we ask our new counsel to weigh in, maybe?”

“Jess and I don’t keep in touch at all. I don’t even know where she’s living.”

“Okay, then. Not Jess. Have you actually made an appointment with Han or Andrews?”

“Not yet,” Neil said. “I haven’t planned out what to say. I was hoping you had some ideas.”

“Well, today is Thursday. I’m giving the kid tomorrow, and then the weekend out. I can give him longer, but it will be FMLA. I don’t think he needs it, physically. Mentally and emotionally, however... Honestly? I want to stall Han.”

“How’s Murphy’s spine?”

“No complications anywhere, so far. He’s bruised; that floor was concrete. His back’ll be killing him more tomorrow. He narrowly escaped a horrible hangover. He can go home tomorrow. Medically, I can’t justify keeping him home long. Professionally and personally, I can, and I will. Hopefully Murphy hasn’t signed the transfer.”

“Should we text him?” Neil asked.

Audrey nodded. “Yeah. I don’t think we’ll be popular if we send someone to tell him in person.”


Murphy —

It’s Lim here. All being well, I’m going to discharge you tomorrow morning. I’m going to sign off on FMLA for you – at least part of next week – to buy some time. Did you sign the transfer?

Audrey pressed Send and waited for a reply.

No, I didn’t sign it, Dr. Lim. Why do you ask?

“He wants to know why we’re asking,” Audrey relayed to Neil.

“Tell him we’re gonna do everything we can to help him stay in Surgery,” Neil prompted. “And tell him not to talk to Han or Lever.”

Dr. Melendez and I are working out what we can say to convince Dr. Han to reinstate your surgical residency. We don’t want you to speak to Dr. Han or Dr. Lever at all. That’s an order from YOUR attendings.

“We’re still his attendings if he hasn’t signed the contract, right?” Neil asked, reading over Audrey’s shoulder as another reply from Shaun came through.

That is good. I do not want to speak to Dr. Han anyway. Dr. Glassman told me how I could say ‘go away’ without being rude. I sent him away when he tried to visit me today. Dr. Lever spoke to me after the meeting with Dr. Han. I only asked her what time I should be at work tomorrow.

“I would have paid money to see Han’s face when Murphy told him to get lost!” Neil chuckled.

“Oh, God, I wonder what the hell that kid said,” laughed Audrey.

“Well, ask him! Kid’s got a near-perfect memory, he could probably tell you verbatim.”

What... EXACTLY... did you say to Dr. Han, Murphy?

Audrey’s phone buzzed again.

“Lord, I don’t know if I can stand to even look,” Audrey said. “Read what he says, Neil.”

’Hello, Dr. Han. Thank you for visiting. I’m not ready to talk about work, yet. Could you please come back another time?’

“Oh, thank God,” Audrey sighed in relief. “It wasn’t thermonuclear.”

“I bet Han took that well,” Neil commented.

Shaun’s phone buzzed on the nightstand, breaking the silence that had fallen between himself and Lea.

“It’s Dr. Lim,” Lea said, holding the phone out to Shaun.

“I thought I wasn’t allowed to work,” Shaun said, waving the phone away.

“The preview makes it seem pretty important, Shaun; I think you should read it,” Lea said, offering him the phone again. This time, Shaun took it.

“What’s it say?” Lea asked, knowing better than to read over Shaun’s shoulder.

“Dr. Lim wants to know if I signed the transfer to Pathology,” Shaun summarised.

“Oh. Did you?”

“No, I didn’t. Dr. Han mentioned it would be coming. I wonder why she is asking.”

“Well, ask?”

“Dr. Lim says she and Dr. Melendez — ”

“Oh, yeah, Audrey and Neil,” Lea snickered.

Shaun looked at her strangely.

“Your attendings are involved with each other,” Lea explained. “I picked up on a couple hints. I’m pretty sure.”

“Okay. Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez are planning on talking to Dr. Han on my behalf. They told me not to talk to Dr. Han or Dr. Lever.”

“Yeah, Melendez told me to tell you they were gonna fight on your behalf. But the bit about not talking to either Han or Lever is new.”

“Dr. Lim says I’ll be discharged tomorrow, and she’s going to put me on FMLA next week to ‘buy time’.”

“Did she say how long for? I’ll work from home next week.”

“Okay. Perhaps we can binge-watch Stranger Things.”

“Oh, I never got to finish that show! Yeah, let’s do that.”

“That is what Morgan came over to watch last night, after I spent time with her in my room. She asked me what you would like to watch, and then suggested Stranger Things. We checked your Watch History. You finished up to the third episode.”


“Yes, Lea?”

“I don’t want to talk about Morgan.”

“... I don’t, either.”

Chapter Text

“Your eyes are starting to drift closed again, Shaun,” Lea noted. “Maybe it’s time I went back down to my own bed.”

“I am tired,” Shaun admitted. “I cannot sleep comfortably with you next to me in this bed.”

“I know, sweetheart. It’s too small. But I’m going to be just down here, and I’m going to stay the whole night through. I promise. Give me a kiss goodnight?”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed.

Lea slung her legs over the side of Shaun’s bed and dropped gently down to her own cot. Balancing on her knees, she came up to face Shaun, who was laying on his side, face-to face with her. They met in the middle and kissed softly.

“I love you, Lea. Sweet dreams.”

“I love you too, Shaun. Good night.”

Sighing, Lea laid down on her own pillow. She could feel the sheets were cold, and she shivered.

“You are everything I never knew I wanted – or needed,” she whispered into the darkness.

At that pronouncement, one of Shaun’s hands came down over the edge of the bed, and Lea held it gently. They held hands like that as they both gradually fell asleep.

“I – did not know – just how many – saves – Shaun – has made,” Morgan marvelled, her words punctuated by yawns, as she stretched her arms over her head.

“Thank you for helping me do this,” Claire said, sincerely. “I really hope it makes a difference.”

“You love him, Claire. I didn’t see you compiling an entire essay on why Jared should have been allowed to stay,” Morgan said, her voice gentle. “You don’t have to tell Shaun, but you should admit it to someone.”

“We’re just friends. I do love Shaun... but as my friend. That’s all,” Claire insisted.

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Claire,” Morgan replied. “I meant that you’re in love with him.”

“I knew what you meant, Morgan,” Claire sniped.

“You know, he’s a really intense kisser. He does this thing where he — ”

“Shut up,” Claire said, balling up a piece of paper and throwing it at Morgan’s smirking face.

“Ah, well, there’s still plenty of time for you to find out for yourself just how intense Shaun is,” Morgan commented. “Seriously, he just kind of... slams into you, your teeth nearly knock together – well, anyway, I said he was intense, not that he’s technically perfect – and then he — ”

“Seriously: shut the hell up,” Claire repeated, angrily.

“I’m just making a public service announcement. More people should kiss that guy. It is an... experience,” Morgan said, innocently.

“Why is it always one step forward, and two steps back with you, Morgan?” Claire asked.

“What’s that mean?”

“Every time I think you might be a nice person – very deep down – and I start to consider trusting you, you subvert any good vibes I had developing towards you, by acting like a bitch. Why? What do you gain from it? Do you even know anymore? Have you just been acting this way for so long that you forgot how to be human? Or was it Tyler? You were a defrosting ice queen until he died — ”

“Don’t even go there, Browne,” Morgan warned. “That’s not up for discussion.”

“Well, then, neither are any feelings I may – or may not – have for Shaun. See? Two can play that game.”

“Oh, you’ve got them. It’s obvious,” Morgan said. “Don’t really even need to ask. I just like seeing you get all flustered when you’re confronted about them.”

“And that achieves... what, exactly?”

“It amuses me.”


“Go home, Claire. There’s nothing more you can do for Shaun now.”

“Thanks again for helping. I’ll try to keep it to myself that you can, very occasionally, do nice things for people. Wouldn’t want to ruin your sterling reputation, make people think you’ve gone soft.”

The night had passed without incident. Shaun’s alarm went off at the usual time – he hadn’t switched it off – and his phone was closest to Lea, who nearly fell out of bed when it rang right above her head.

“Jeez! Shaun! Shut that off!” Lea groaned, pulling the pillow over her face to drown out the noise.

A seemingly disembodied hand reached across to the nightstand, fumbling for the source of the offending noise – a cell phone – and the alarm stopped.

“The first time we share my room, that thing is going on silent,” Lea vowed. “And every time thereafter. I won’t have it. Noises like that are used in Guantanamo to torture prisoners, I swear to God.”

“There will be several others. I need reminders to keep me on track with my morning routine,” Shaun outlined patiently, now disabling all other, aforementioned, alerts.

“Oh, I’m already awake now,” Lea snapped.

Shaun recoiled from her anger.

“Oh, God, Shaun – sorry – I’m just not a morning person, I’m not angry, I just – it was right above my head and it scared the crap out of me,” Lea tried to explain. “It’s one thing hearing it go off from a distance, and while we’re separated by a wall, but at close range, it was just — ”

“They’re loud. I know. They have to be. I have to be able to hear them. I am sorry I left them switched on — ”

“Hey. It’s all right. I overreacted. I – uh – I do that in the mornings. They’re not my favourite time of day. Although — ” she trailed off, as Shaun came more into focus, “ — I could be persuaded into believing they’re okay...”

“I will make sure they are turned off when I sleep in your room,” Shaun assured her, giving her a tiny, sheepish smile. “But that will mean I can only sleep in there on most Friday and Saturday nights.”

“Oh, God, we’ve barely started our relationship and we’re already scheduling sex,” Lea joked. “The spontaneity is gone.”

She took one look at Shaun’s shocked face, and she wanted to kick herself.

“I don’t – I meant that as a joke, I – we are really going to need to talk a lot when we get home, aren’t we? Got to figure out how we want to work together.”

“I would like to sleep in your room more often than Friday and Saturday nights,” Shaun said.

“... You... would?” Lea stammered.

Shaun opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by Nurse Farrar knocking on his door. “Dr. Murphy? It’s time for vital signs.”

“I’ll go and get dressed in the bathroom,” Lea said, excusing herself while the nurse took Shaun’s vitals.

“How are you feeling today, Dr. Murphy?”

“My head and back are sore.”

“Well, yes, you did fall off a chair onto a concrete floor,” the nurse agreed, taking measurements and writing them down with a stylus on her iPad.

“I know I did,” Shaun said.

“So, is that your girlfriend?” Nurse Farrar asked – somewhat nosily, Shaun thought. “But I thought you didn’t want love. You... said you didn’t.”

Lea, having finished getting dressed and brushing her teeth, froze in her tracks as she overheard Nurse Farrar’s comment.

Shaun doesn’t want love? she thought, panicked. Then why would he...?

“Nurse Farrar, you said you had your wedding planned out. All you needed was a groom. You asked me if I was available.”

“... Did I? Is that how the topic came up? Huh.”

“Yes. Your question that night made me very uncomfortable.”

“Gosh, I’m sorry, Dr. Murphy. I – I didn’t realise I was overstepping.”

“To answer your question: Lea is my roommate. And to answer your other, earlier question: no, I am not romantically available.”

“I’ll... be sure to tell all the other nurses,” Nurse Farrar said, looking like she’d been smacked in the face, and she left.

Wow, Lea thought, She’s even more nebby than Glassy.

“That woman has some nerve,” Lea fumed, sitting in the chair near Shaun’s bed. “Imagine asking such a stupid question! What business is it of hers? Living up to the ‘nurses want to marry doctors’ stereotype, isn’t she?”

“Yes. Her questions were irritating,” Shaun agreed. “That’s one of the aspects of my job that I don’t particularly care for.”

“What’s that? Being hit on by nurses?” Lea asked, sarcasm creeping into her voice.

“Everyone is sleeping with everyone else – or it’s assumed they are. Even if you don’t say anything, people just make up rumours. When a patient kissed me once, the story went all around — ”

“Wait, when a patient did what?” Lea snapped, taken aback.

“She said I was very young-looking for a doctor, and then she kissed me. She had a brain tumour — ” Shaun explained.

“Oh, no, Shaun, a woman doesn’t have to have a brain tumour to know you’re attractive,” Lea broke in, with a scoff. “She knew what she was doing!”

“No, she didn’t,” Shaun stated, calmly. “She had a brain tumour, which suppressed her inhibitions. After we had resected it, I asked her if she wanted to kiss me again.”

“Oh, and what was her response?” Lea hissed.

“‘Maybe a little. But I’m not going to’.”

“Right, well, that’s okay, then,” Lea said, still heavy on the sarcasm. “I’m confused why you didn’t tell me, Shaun. After all, I talk to you all the time, about my days at work. And you didn’t think this was important? The violation of your boundaries wasn’t – egregious enough – bad enough, to tell your best friend? What the hell, Shaun?”

“Alcohol lowers inhibitions, too,” Shaun said, quietly.

“Are you going where I think you’re going with that?” Lea asked, her voice dangerously low and even.

“Going where, with what?” Shaun queried.

“Are you seriously comparing a brain tumour patient kissing you – no, wait, sexually assaulting you – to our first kiss, which, yes, admittedly, we were both drunk for? Is that where this is going?”

“What would you have done if I had told you about the patient who kissed me?” Shaun asked. “Would it have changed anything?”

Not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, Lea’s mouth fell open in shock.

“I – I guess – I would have — ” Lea trailed off.

“When the truth can’t help someone, we should lie,” Shaun recited. “The answer is that nothing would have changed, Lea. The patient with the tumour would still have kissed me, and we would still only be friends. So how could the truth have helped anyone?”

“Well, maybe we could have decided that together, Shaun!” Lea countered. “So, what, if we had been a couple, you would have just pretended you’d had an ordinary day at work? You wouldn’t have thought something like that might be important to mention? You would have lied to me?”

“We were not a couple,” Shaun reminded her. “And I did not ask her to kiss me. It had nothing to do with me. It was her tumour.”

“Shaun, you don’t – forget it, it’s over, it’s done – I’m sorry.”

“Why are you angry, Lea?”

“I’m not – I’m not angry, I’m – I guess I’m hurt, Shaun. It hurts emotionally to realise that we weren’t as close as I’d thought we were. I have only myself to blame for that. I was the one who laid down the rules, and – and the boundaries. You – Shaun, you’ve done a much better job – than I ever have – of respecting boundaries. The boundaries I set. God, I haven’t been someone you could talk to — ”

A knock sounded on the door. “Murphy? You still in here? It’s Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez. We’d like to talk to you, if we could, please,” Dr. Melendez called, from behind the door.

“I’ll get the door,” Lea sighed. “But this isn’t over. We have a lot to talk about – I didn’t realise just how much we need to discuss.”

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Lea,” Dr. Melendez said, when Lea opened the door. “Hello, Murphy, how’s the head? And back?”

“Hello, Dr. Melendez. As expected – sore. Thank you for asking. And, hello, Dr. Lim.”

“Hi, Murphy. You’ll mend quickly, you weren’t down there for long, thankfully, but you would certainly have felt a jolt. You must tell us immediately if you begin to experience emesis, persistent headaches, dizziness, and so on. I’ve looked at your vitals – they seem pretty good – do you have anyone who can stay with you during the day?”

“I’ll stay with Shaun, of course,” Lea spoke up. “He’ll tell me what to look out for. Won’t you, Shaun?”

“Yes, Lea. Do I need more imaging, Dr. Lim?” Shaun asked. “Dr. Glassman and I were hoping to go over it together. Was there any during my intake? I – don’t quite – remember.”

“We don’t think any more of it is necessary, but, then again – we’re just cardiothoracic and trauma – we’re going to defer to the very bossy neurosurgeon on this one,” Dr. Melendez said. “If Dr. Glassman jumps up and down about it, and you’re willing to get it, sure, we can do more imaging.”

“Somebody very smart once told me, that some tests are unnecessary – that sometimes they just scare the crap out of a patient,” Shaun began, and Dr. Melendez laughed, recalling the rocky start to Shaun’s residency.

“We all know that if I have a concussion, it’s unlikely to show up on an MRI or CT. Is there concern about any possible cerebral contusion, or subdural haematoma?” Shaun went on.

“... Um. What language are you all speaking?” Lea broke in, looking confused. “What the heck is a contusion or haematoma?”

“Bruising, and blood,” Dr. Lim explained. “When we’re talking about it in the context of a mild traumatic brain injury – or MTBI – Shaun’s asking if we’ve noticed any possible problems with internal bruising, or bleeding in his skull. The prefix haema– means blood, and a contusion is what you’d call a bruise.”

Haema– is Greek,” Shaun offered, helpfully.

“Ah, so literally, all Greek to me... oh, like ‘haematuria’!” Lea said, in sudden recognition.

“Yep, same root word,” Dr. Lim confirmed, then raised her eyebrows at Shaun, like, Why the hell are you talking to your girlfriend about blood in urine? That shit’s weird.

“Anyway, to answer Shaun’s original question: do we have any concerns? No, Shaun, just to reassure you, you weren’t down for long at all, and you had one of the shortest rides to hospital possible, without actually already being inside it.”

“Okay,” Shaun said, looking apprehensive.

Lea could tell that he was struggling to deal with deferring to experience, and the lack of control over what had happened to him while he was out.

She could also see that it was just plain hard for Shaun to put his health – particularly his spectacularly prodigious brain – in the hands of others.

They say that doctors make the worst patients, she thought, remembering reading that somewhere.

“Do you feel like you can stand up and walk a few steps, Shaun?” Dr. Lim asked. Shaun nodded.

“Try not to nod, Murphy,” Dr. Melendez cut in. “Don’t move your head too much.”

With a bit of an effort, Shaun swung his legs over the side of the bed, lowering himself slowly to the floor.

“That’s hurting you more than yesterday,” Dr. Lim observed. “Like the second day after a hard session in the gym,” she added, by way of an explanation, to Lea, who nodded her understanding.

“Are you sure acetaminophen is enough, Murphy?” Dr. Lim asked. “If you need something stronger, say it. Tramadol? I’ll write you a scrip,” she said, scribbling on a prescription pad and tearing off the top sheet.

“Thank you,” Shaun said, taking it, and walking slowly around to the opposite side of the bed, then back again.

“That’s good. Okay, hop back on the bed – we’ll wheel you out after discharge. Good work. We also wanted to talk to you a bit more about the Han situation.”

“Should I be here?” Lea asked. “I can step out while you talk shop.”

Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez exchanged looks.

“If you’re okay with that. Murphy, is that okay by you?”

Shaun looked at Lea, as though he was asking her approval.

She smiled reassuringly, and said, “You know my feelings on that douche – sorry – and your sweet ears are too delicate for the kind of words I want to use to describe him. So, I’ll jump out.”

“Okay, Murphy,” Dr. Melendez started, after the door had shut behind Lea.

Shaun looked up, paying rapt attention to his attending.

“It’s like this. We - Dr. Lim and I – want you to stay in surgery. We know – mostly – what we’re going to say to Dr. Han, and Dr. Lim is also going to ask Dr. Andrews to attend that meeting. We think it’s best if you’re not here — ”

“Which is why I’m approving FMLA until next Wednesday inclusive, with a possible extension to Friday – also inclusive,” Dr. Lim added. “Dr. Lever will be informed.”

“Yes. And... we are kind of relieved Lea stepped out, because Dr. Browne and Dr. Reznick – with some eleventh-hour contributions from Dr. Park, should he wish to involve himself – have compiled what is, essentially, Dr. Shaun Murphy’s Greatest Hits,” Dr. Melendez outlined.

Huh? Shaun’s face read.

“Those women sat down together last night, and they researched – and brainstormed – and described – every single case where you either single-handedly made the correct diagnosis, or contributed materially and uniquely to the discovery of the correct diagnosis,” Dr. Lim elaborated. “That’s not all: they’ve also detailed where you have kicked in ideas on treatments, surgical techniques and approaches, and so on.”

“In short, Murphy: they have written an essay highlighting absolutely everything remarkable you have ever done for this hospital, since even before you stepped foot inside it,” Dr. Melendez went on. “The field medicine inside the airport is always going to be a career highlight of yours.”

“We have a pretty good idea of how Lea might feel, if she knew your female co-residents had written this document on your behalf. I say this delicately, Shaun, and here, I am speaking to you as a friend, not a superior: it is obvious that a lot of care, respect and genuine personal affection – for you – went into this... manifesto. Therefore: we do not recommend that you mention this document to Lea,” Dr. Lim said. “We feel that it is going to be extremely helpful in potentially saving your residency, but it will not help your budding romantic relationship with Lea. She is protective and ornery. It could give her the wrong idea. It’s up to you if you tell her, but just be aware: out of context, it could be an uncomfortable and confronting thing to explain.”

“I will not start my relationship with Lea by lying to her,” Shaun pronounced, firmly.

Dr. Melendez gave him a pitying look that clearly stated, ’Okay, it’s your funeral, kid.’

“Anyway, we are going to keep in frequent touch with you throughout this process. We don’t expect it to be easy; in fact, we expect that Han will fight us tooth and nail. But we are prepared. We know you better than he’s ever going to, and we truly believe that to be his loss. If it does not work out – we will do everything within our power to secure you a suitable surgical residency at another hospital. Including vouching for you, personally, in person and/or in writing. Or, you do have the option of moving to Pathology, of course, and we will push for Han to allow you to consult on surgeries occasionally.”

“I am a surgeon. I am not a pathologist. I didn’t go to college for eight years, studying to be a surgeon – and incurring a lot of debt – not to be a surgeon at the end of it,” Shaun said, his eyes flashing with defiance.

“Ah, but it’s never really been about the money for you, has it, Shaun?” Dr. Melendez asked.

“No. It’s been about a lot of things, but money hasn’t ever been one of them,” Shaun agreed.

“Too true. I certainly haven’t forgotten what a residency pay check looks like. Seriously depressing. Have you forgotten, Dr. Melendez?” Dr. Lim chuckled.

“Me? Well, I’d never seen a more impressive number in my life before. Nearly fainted on the spot,” Dr. Melendez answered. “But, then again, I grew up poor, with a sick sister. My parents couldn’t afford her meds.”

“Me, either,” Shaun added. “I mostly grew up in foster homes, estranged from my abusive parents. I also had a sibling, but my brother died.”

“... You win, Murphy,” Dr. Melendez choked out, unsure how on Earth to follow on from Shaun absolutely wiping the floor with him, in this impromptu game of Childhood Trauma Bingo.

“My life has improved somewhat, since then,” Shaun noted, totally deadpan.

They all burst out laughing.

Chapter Text

“Getting back to the main point of this little chat — ” Dr. Lim said, as their laughter subsided.

The atmosphere in the room turned serious again.

“Shaun, do you feel comfortable with us – Dr. Melendez and I, that is – approaching Dr. Han to plead your case?” Dr. Lim went on.

“I have to be comfortable with it. Or else I will be a pathologist. Won’t I?” Shaun replied, sounding resigned.

“We know Han has presented your move to Path as a fait accompli. I get the sense that a lot of people treat you that way, as though they always know what’s best for you. Has that – occasionally – been your experience?” Dr. Lim asked.

Frequently, Dr. Lim. Very frequently,” Shaun corrected her, politely.

“Okay. So, let me ask you this, Shaun: Are you comfortable with the idea of us meeting with Han and trying to persuade him to reinstate your surgical residency? Do you want to attend the meeting?” Dr. Lim asked.

“And, Shaun — ” Dr. Melendez broke in, “Do you understand that Dr. Han... likely will not be the last person who ever comes into this hospital, and demands you prove yourself? Make no mistake, Shaun, you have proven yourself, time and time again, in the face of what can be truly astounding ignorance. Including, I’m sorry to say, mine. But do you realise that there may be times in the future where you will need to do it again, in order to keep your job?”

“Frankly, Murphy, we wonder how much more capacity you might have left to cope with people doubting you because of your ASD,” Dr. Lim added, gently. “Do you think you will ever reach a point of no return, where you simply cannot stand it anymore? I realise that’s probably a very difficult question to answer, since nobody can predict the future – but have you thought about these possibilities, at all?”

“May I ask you a question, Dr. Lim?” Shaun asked.

“Of course, Shaun.”

“Do you believe that I have a future here at St. Bonaventure?”

“I would like you to, yes. I think you have a great deal to offer this hospital, a possibly infinite capacity to learn, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I can teach you medicine – everyone here can – but we can’t teach what makes you unique. You’ve already brought those things with you. Yes, Shaun, I certainly hope there is a future for you here.”

“I’m co-signing everything Dr. Lim has just said, and I want to add: I hope you believe you have a future here, too, Shaun,” Dr. Melendez jumped in.

“Lea pointed out that I have options – that there are other hospitals, and I know she is right. But... other hospitals... do not have the people I work with here. I do not want to leave St. Bonaventure.”

“No-one wants you to leave, Shaun — ” Dr. Melendez tried to explain. “We’re just trying to give you all the facts. The fact is, there is still a lot of ignorance around autism. There is still a perception that you are disabled, period. That you will, one day, come up against hard limitations, and you will never overcome them.”

“Dr. Melendez, I do not have to explain myself and my ASD to everyone I meet. I do not need everyone to understand it, or me. I just need to treat the patient in front of me,” Shaun began.

“I would like to think that there will come a day where my experience, and my reputation, will precede me,” he continued.

“You are of Latin American extraction, Dr. Melendez – and, Dr. Lim, you are of Asian descent. So is Dr. Han. Dr. Andrews and Dr. Browne are African-American. Not so long ago, people would never have believed any of you capable of the things you are, either,” Shaun finished.

There was a lull.

“He’s right,” Dr. Lim said, quietly. “You’re right, Shaun.”

Time changes minds. I... can’t. Even if I could, I wouldn’t. That’s not what my job is.”

“Maybe you should come to the meeting, Shaun,” Dr. Melendez said, slowly. “Maybe you could make Han understand.”

“Weren’t you listening, Dr. Melendez? It’s not Shaun’s job to make Han understand. Shaun already has a job. Now let’s make sure he keeps it,” Dr. Lim said.

“Thank you,” Shaun said.

“We should let you get up and dressed so you can go home,” Dr. Melendez said. “Take care of yourself, Murphy.”

“Am I free to leave?” Shaun asked them both.

“Yes. You can go home. And we do mean ‘go home’,” Dr. Lim answered, her last words turning stern.

“Yes, Dr. Browne did say I wasn’t allowed to set foot in any dive bars, including those with both tequila and karaoke,” Shaun said.

“See you next week, Shaun,” Dr. Lim said.

They got up to leave.

Lea was sitting just outside of Shaun’s room, in the same chair Dr. Glassman had been sitting in the previous day.

She saw Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez leave, and they both nodded to her.

She got up to go back inside the room.

“Hey,” she said, letting herself in, and pulling the door closed behind her. “How’d it go?”

“They wanted to make sure I understood a few things. I will tell you more, when we get home,” Shaun replied.

“You have no idea how awesome it is to hear you say, ‘when we get home’,” Lea commented. “So, you’re gonna brush your teeth and get dressed, and then, we can leave?”

“We can leave,” Shaun confirmed.

“Okay, I’ll gather up your stuff. There’s some clothes in here for you.”

“Thank you,” Shaun said, rifling through the bag. “Oh, I never got to finish my journals,” he noted, regretfully.

“You’ll be home soon, and you can read ‘em to your heart’s content,” Lea assured him.

“Thank you for packing my bag for me,” Shaun said. “You got the majority of it correct. I’ll be back in a few moments.”

“Leave the door ajar. You still might be a little woozy,” Lea warned him. “That way, I can run in if you need me.”

“Yes. Good suggestion,” Shaun agreed, going into the bathroom. Lea could hear the water running. She took the opportunity to sit on the chair near Shaun’s bed.

I have to stop picking fights with him, she thought. The thing about the tumour patient kissing him – honestly, it just further illustrates the kind of person he is. Think about the kind of men you’ve been with in the past, and how they would have used that information to make you jealous. Shaun didn’t, and he wouldn’t. He’s not a ‘Nice Guy’. He is a genuinely nice guy. It would never occur to him to try and use that information in order to make you jealous. Remember what Claire told you: Shaun did not want to take part in the plan to make you jealous. He was firm: he did not want to lie to you. Those girls convinced him that he wouldn’t be lying, and he agreed, in good faith.

Shaun emerged from the bathroom, dressed in the button-down and khakis Lea had packed for him. He carried his hoodie in one hand.

“Ready?” Lea asked.

“Almost. I’ll just check I haven’t left anything behind.”

“I’ll check the bathroom, if you like,” Lea said, and went to do so.

“I’m ready,” Shaun called, from the main room.

“Yep, looks empty in here too,” Lea agreed, coming back out of the bathroom. “Do you want to say ‘hi’ to your colleagues on the way out?”

“I don’t think my pass will let me into the surgical areas anymore,” Shaun said, his voice sad. “I’m sure Dr. Han has locked me out.” And I’d be humiliated to find that out the hard way, went unsaid.

“Okay. Then let’s make a quick getaway,” Lea said, and without thinking about it, she extended her hand out to Shaun, who regarded it warily, like it had teeth.

“Nobody has ever wanted to hold my hand in public before,” he began.

“Well, I promise you, Shaun: I do. Very much. Public, private, anywhere. But we don’t have to.”

“I’ve never wanted to hold someone’s hand as much as I want to hold yours,” he said quietly.

“Okay,” Lea said, reminding herself to be patient with him, and to always remember that what might come as second nature to her, might still be very new – and very nerve-wracking – to Shaun.

“We have held hands before,” Lea said. “But not in public. Is that... worrying you?”

Shaun looked thoughtful. “I wouldn’t say it’s worrying me. I often hesitate, even when it’s something I want to do.”

“That’s okay. You can want to, and yet not be ready to. What if we just walk side-by-side, instead?”

“I think that would be very nice,” Shaun agreed, leading the way out of the room. By necessity, Lea followed him out, but when they emerged into the corridor, they naturally fell into step alongside one another.

“I’m not supposed to walk out of here. I’m meant to leave in a wheelchair,” Shaun said, as the elevator took them down to the ground floor.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that, actually – what’s up with that?” Lea asked.

“It’s less likely you’ll slip and fall leaving the hospital. It can create liability for the hospital if you were to injure yourself,” Shaun explained, as he walked over to the Reception desk.

The same harried-looking receptionist as the previous day was again working the desk, and she did a double-take when she noticed Shaun and Lea.

“Dr. Murphy! What can I do for you?”

“I need a wheelchair brought over, please. I’m being discharged today and I know the policy is to leave the hospital in a wheelchair.”

“Oh, right, yes, there was talk going around that you were a patient here. Took a bit of a tumble, did you? Of course, I’ll have a wheelchair brought promptly. Just take a seat over there. Will your girlfriend be pushing the chair, or would you like an orderly to do it?”

“She’s not — ” Shaun trailed off when Lea tapped his elbow, communicating to Shaun that the receptionist wasn’t particularly interested in whether they were together or not. She was already requesting the wheelchair for Shaun, and as soon as she hung up, she launched right into another phone call.

An orderly came by with the wheelchair very quickly – Lea suspected strings had been pulled – and motioned for Shaun to get into the chair. Shaun handed his backpack to Lea and did so.

“Where are you parked?” the orderly asked Lea, and she told him. The orderly wheeled Shaun out into the daylight, Lea leading the way.

Chapter Text

Once they’d bundled into the car and buckled up, Lea started the engine, and let the car idle for a few moments. The radio kicked in.

“Music? No music?” Lea asked Shaun.

“Music is okay, if it’s soft,” he said, cringing slightly at how loud it was.

Lea looked over at him apologetically, and turned down the volume.

“I’m glad we get to spend some time together, although I’m really sorry for the fact that you had to get hurt for it to happen,” Lea said, as she shifted into Reverse, and released the handbrake, pulling out of the parking spot.

“I am, too,” Shaun replied, offering her a small smile. “I’m going to be okay. I just need to rest.”

“Do you, um... do you want to sleep in my bed?” Lea asked, hesitantly. “Or, just... maybe... read, or talk? I mean, you don’t have to... but I can keep you company, if you want. I didn’t get the best night’s sleep last night, and I don’t imagine you did, either... I’m rambling, I know I’m rambling.”


“Yes, Shaun?”

“I would like that very much. I want to shower first, though. Hospitals can be deceptively filthy places.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you showered twice a day for fun,” Lea commented. “Well, you can go first. Do you need help with anything?”

“I’m just going to rinse my hair, I won’t shampoo it. The rest is fine.”

“Okay, but keep the bathroom door open, so I can hear you. Then I’ll have my shower.”


Once they got back to the apartment, Shaun made a beeline for his bedroom to retrieve a new pair of pyjamas, then went into the bathroom. He left the door wide open.

Meanwhile, Lea went into her room and made the bed, feeling self-conscious all of a sudden. What if Shaun thought her room was too messy? What if her bed wasn’t comfortable? What if there were too many pillows, or not enough?

She decided she would wear the same tank top and silky pants she’d put on two nights ago – her other pyjamas had gone with her to the hospital, and would need to be thrown straight in the wash.

Her reverie was interrupted when she became aware of the scent of cologne. Shaun was standing in her doorway, looking shy.

Lea’s mouth fell open, when she fully absorbed the fact that he was not wearing a shirt.

Probably still painful to slip it on over his head.

“Okay, I’m just going to — ” knock you down on this bed, and go to town, “ — have my shower now,” Lea managed to get out instead.

After she’d showered, Lea found the errant pyjama shirt hanging on the back of the bathroom door. I should offer to help him put it on, she thought, guiltily. Or, I could bring it back to my room. Or, I could put it on. Or... I could simply pretend I never noticed it. He’ll ask, if he wants it.

Choosing the latter option, and taking a deep, steadying breath, Lea went back to her room.

Shaun was sitting on top of the bed covers, idly checking his phone.

“Which side do you want?” she asked.

“This is your bed, Lea. Which side do you sleep on?”

“Usually, I’m in the middle — ”

“No. What about when you are not alone?” Shaun pressed.

“... The right.”

“Then I will take the left-hand side,” Shaun pronounced, getting under the covers as he did so. Lea got in on her side, as well.

They were facing one another again, although Shaun’s eyes were cast downward.

“A lot more room now, right?” she commented.

“Yes. Your bed is more comfortable, too. I want to talk about the meeting I had, with Dr. Melendez and Dr. Lim.”

“Okay, yeah, sure.”

“My attendings are going to talk to Dr. Han, on my behalf. They... wanted to check if I was all right with them doing that,” Shaun started.

“Wow, they asked if you were okay with that? That’s super considerate of them,” Lea noted.

“Yes. I appreciated that they asked. Of course, I know that if they do not talk to Dr. Han, I am going to be a pathologist — ”

“But still, it’s nice that they wanted to do right by you.”

“Claire and Morgan wrote down all the times I’ve done excellent work to help diagnose the patient, or where I’ve diagnosed them by myself,” Shaun went on. “They spent much of yesterday evening compiling a list of cases where I contributed uniquely to the outcome. Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez believe that this document could be the difference between me getting my surgical residency back... or being moved to Pathology.”

Lea felt her hackles rise. Those two women had written an essay on why Shaun was so fantastic? They’d spent hours on it?

Well, of course it took hours – he’s exceptional! her inner voice reminded her.

And remind me: Why is he choosing you, again? piped up another nasty little voice in her head, in reply. What the hell have you done for him? You just dragged him away on a road trip, which he probably got in major trouble for —

“Lea, you haven’t said anything. I find that unusual for you. Is something the matter?” Shaun asked, concerned. “What are you feeling?”

“Oh, nothing, I just – that was a very nice thing for Claire and Morgan to do for you,” Lea managed to get out, hoping her outward expression didn’t betray her jealousy.

“Yes, it was. They believe Dr. Park – Alex – will have some contributions to make, as well.”

“I hope it helps,” Lea said, feeling a little more at ease once Shaun mentioned Alex in the mix.

“I do, too. I didn’t ask anyone to write such a statement on my behalf. It must mean that I have earned their respect.”

“No. And you would never ask anyone to do such a thing, either,” Lea agreed. “That’s why they’ve done it. They do respect you, sweetheart, professionally and personally.”

“I suppose they do,” Shaun mused.

“I want you to know something. I will still love you... even if it doesn’t work out, Shaun. If... you don’t get to be a surgeon again,” Lea said, very quietly.

“You... will?” Shaun asked, confused.

“Shaun, you drunk-dialled me from the bar yesterday. You were so afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t love you, if you weren’t a surgeon. I just wanted you to know... I do, and I would. So, I guess – don’t be – afraid of that,” Lea explained, choosing her words carefully.

“What did I say?” Shaun asked. “In that message?”

Lea sighed. “I assume you’d prefer I paraphrased it, rather than playing it for you? You were really drunk.”

“What did I say to you, Lea?” Shaun asked again, urgently.

“‘I love you, so much. But you won’t love me, because I’m not a surgeon anymore’,” Lea summarised.

“Oh,” Shaun said, in a tiny voice.

“I know that being a surgeon is a huge part of your identity. I know it’s all you want to do,” Lea continued. “Shaun, I worry that you’ll love yourself less... if there’s ever a day that you’re not a surgeon anymore. Whether anything less than that... can still be enough. Whether you’ll ever think you’re enough.”

The look he gave her was inscrutable.

She went on, a little desperately, “You are enough, Shaun. For anyone. For everyone. Including yourself.”

Lea wasn’t sure what she’d hoped Shaun’s reaction would be, but he looked terrified.

“I’m sorry, I — I’m just telling you, because I don’t know that anyone else ever h — ” Lea tried to explain.

The end of the sentence was drowned out, when Shaun crushed Lea to his chest, and kissed her so hard, that she would probably have fallen over – if they hadn’t already been lying down.

She felt him briefly tense up, as a shockwave of pain barrelled through his body, and once it had passed, he went right back to kissing her.

She could feel cautious hands on her back, tracing patterns that felt like a bunch of little wildfires were being stoked all along her shoulder blades, still over the fabric.

Their kissing grew more frantic, heavy breathing turning to laboured panting. Hands wandering, idly at first, then becoming more focused.

Shaun reached furtively under the hem of Lea’s tank top, as though he expected to be told to stop what he was doing.

Their eyes locked. ‘May I...?’ his gaze seemed to ask. She nodded. Light fingers stroked her stomach, and then gradually travelled upwards.

“You can be gentle if you want, but if you’d like to be a little rougher on me, that’s fine too,” Lea whispered.

She thought she heard him mumble “Oh, God,” under his breath.

When she next felt his touch, she was inclined to echo that sentiment.

Chapter Text

“Do you want to help me get out of this thing?” Lea asked Shaun, indicating her tank top.

She had had half a mind to just take it off altogether, without canvassing for Shaun’s opinion, but she decided to let him call the shots, since he already looked close to fainting.

“Yes... but... not yet,” he managed to get out.

“Oh, you’re frustrating,” she said, smiling.

“Sorry,” Shaun replied.

“No, don’t be sorry, it’s a complete turn-on,” she assured him. “I feel like I’m a birthday present that you don’t wanna open, ‘cause then the mystery of what’s inside is gone.”

“Actually, it’s that I’m touching you like this... and you’re letting me do it,” he said. “And it is overwhelming.”

“You’ve seen me naked, though,” she reminded him.

“Yes, I’ve spent some pleasant times alone, with that image in my head,” Shaun agreed.

“You know, now I consider it, I don’t think I’ve ever... heard you,” she wondered. “Getting yourself off, that is. I’m curious what that sounds like.”

“I make an effort to be quiet,” he said, almost primly.

“So, you’re saying I’m loud?” she teased him.

“I do not have to say you’re loud. You’ve told me that yourself,” Shaun said. “I don’t find it hard to believe at all. You’re very loud about everything else.”

“Oh, how dare you!” Lea shot back, jokingly.

“There’s been one occasion that I’ve been sure of what I was hearing,” Shaun confessed. “I’d woken up to get a glass of water. And I went back to bed, listened through the walls, and... I... well, right along... with you.”

“Good God, Shaun,” Lea said, taken aback at his brutal honesty.

Shaun shrugged. “The fact that my feelings for you were unrequited – at the time – may be what is so disturbing to you about that.”

“Those feelings... weren’t unrequited at all, Shaun,” she said, leaning over to kiss him. “I’m not disturbed, exactly. It’s just not a topic we ever discussed, before we decided to shack up together, is it? Actually, there are a hell of a lot of things we didn’t discuss.”

“Perhaps you didn’t want me to ‘get ideas’,” Shaun speculated. “I remember how hesitant you were to live with me. I also remember why.”

“Maybe. Or, maybe I didn’t want to give myself ideas.”

“Should we discuss these things now, Lea? You were upset with me in the hospital, when I told you about the patient who kissed me. I’m still confused about why.”

“I was just – um – I guess I was... unpleasantly surprised to realise that you felt you couldn’t talk to me about something as big as that. We were friends, Shaun. You could have told me. God knows, you listen to me rant about work all the time. And you really do listen – you don’t jump in with well-meaning advice, as though everything is a problem to be solved, which I appreciate so much. A lot of men just want to know what the problem is. Then they can fix it.”

“Claire told me that sometimes women just want someone to listen,” Shaun said.

“And you took that to heart. I know, Shaun. The whole apple-snatching debacle was the catalyst. I was wrong to play my music that loud. You weren’t rude. You made a perfectly reasonable suggestion, and I bit your head off. Then, you cared enough that I was upset, to ask another woman you trust, what the hell was going through your neighbour’s head, and why she got mad at you. And, ever since that day, you’ve been the best listener I know.”

“I like listening to you. I wouldn’t listen, if I didn’t want to.”

“But now I realise that you didn’t think you deserved the same from me. So then, here I am, and all these things are going on in your world, and I’m not part of any of it? That was difficult, Shaun, really difficult to learn. Whether it was because you thought I didn’t care, or you didn’t trust me, or — ”

“No, it — ”

“Suddenly, there’s a gorgeous blonde woman in our home, sitting side-by-side with you, and she knows exactly which buttons to push when it comes to both you and me, because she’s a master manipulator. Somehow, you end up kissing her, and I end up thinking the two of you are dating.”

“Which was a ruse I was advised to perpetuate, for the purpose of making you jealous,” Shaun explained.

“Yeah, I got that. Shaun, this woman knew my mind better than I know it. She knew exactly how I would feel, when I realised what was going on between the two of you. How the hell did she do it? How did she know I’d feel so hurt?”

“I told Morgan that you had brought Jake home. She knew that I was not ‘cool with it’. And she said she was tired of me being ‘mopey and sad’ about it. Morgan told me that I should learn how to be close to a girl so that – even if I never got to be with you – at least I’d know how to be with someone at all.”

“And so, I’m confronted with – I’m thinking, ‘Well, that’s a damn shock to my system and I never saw it coming.’ And then, it occurs to me, I’m so self-absorbed, that I never thought I’d see it. I never thought I’d see you bring someone home. I never thought of saying ‘Hey, you should bring people over too, Shaun. Maybe I should learn to deal with hearing your weird sex noises you make with — ’ God, I never even asked what you like — ”

“Automotive engineers from Silicon Valley, by way of Hershey, Pennsylvania,” Shaun said.

“... What?” Lea choked out.

“You asked me what I like. That’s what I like.”

“Then there’s another – beautiful – woman who comes past to pick you up, and take you back to her place. There might also be a lovely female pathologist in the picture. I mean, I knew you worked with women, but I never realised how drawn to you they are. Then I feel so stupid, because of course they’re drawn to you. Why the hell wouldn’t they be? Because they can see what I see in you. You never hide it. But you do hide what you feel. And, Shaun, you are very, very good at it. You’ve been hiding things, for my sake. I should have been careful what I wished for. I wished for a friendship, and I wished for boundaries, and I wished for only the parts of you that I could handle, that didn’t make me uncomfortable.”

“Lea, I’m — ”

“I didn’t know what I had... until I nearly lost it.”

“Yes, that was how Claire and Morgan put it,” Shaun agreed. “They said it was time I showed you that I know people, too.”

“You did show me. And how, Shaunie. And how.”

“I didn’t tell you about the patient who kissed me.”

“Yeah, I know. Did you... want to?”


“Why didn’t you?”

“I was told to keep the kiss to myself. That did not stop people spreading rumours about it. Perhaps someone overheard.”

“It’s... as simple as that?” Lea nearly spluttered. Well, didn’t we overreact? Again.

“Yes. Did you think there was another reason?” Shaun asked.

“Uh... yeah. I thought you, maybe... might have thought about using that information to get some kind of a... reaction, out of me. I’ve dated a lot of men who would have done just that,” Lea explained. “But I don’t think you’d do that. Would you?”

“What kind of a reaction?”

Jealousy, Shaun. The same play Morgan and Claire wanted to run.”

“Oh. No. That didn’t occur to me.”


“Yes, Lea?”

“It... would have worked. If you’d told me about her. Just in case you were wondering about that at all.”

“I do have one question, actually,” Shaun said.

“Okay, shoot.”

“Were you trying to do the same thing, when you brought Jake home?”

Wow. That hit its mark, Lea thought.

“... Touché,” she managed to get out, to which Shaun gave her a blank look.

“... Maybe... a little? Yes?” Lea admitted. “Okay, I didn’t expect that question. But... if I’d expected it, I would have definitely been dreading it. You certainly know how to get a zinger in now and then, don’t you?”

“I did not expect you to say ‘yes’. Jake was very nice. The two of you seemed to have a lot in common,” Shaun observed. “You were well-suited. Although I did not like overhearing you have sex with him, you sounded as though you were enjoying yourself.”

“Really? That’s incredibly Zen of you, Shaun.”

“Yes. However, I am afraid that none of those things stopped me from wanting to punch him in the face.”

“How interesting. You and Morgan seemed to get along like a house on fire. Lots in common. She was... nice, I guess. In her own way. To you, at least. Unfortunately, I’ve never wanted to slap someone as hard in the face in all my life. Don’t bring her home again, please.”

“You are the only person I want to bring home with me. Which is impossible, as we live together.”

“Okay — ” Lea said, wondering where, exactly, Shaun was going with this tangent.

“Will you go somewhere with me?” he asked, and Lea could see that he’d suddenly become very nervous.

“Just about anywhere you want,” Lea replied dreamily.

Lea was a little confused when Shaun got out of her bed, and walked slowly to the other side of it. He put his hand out to help her up, and out of bed.

Getting to her feet, she had just about gathered her bearings, when Shaun tugged on her hand, leading her out of her bedroom.

She was extremely confused when Shaun pushed his own bedroom door open, pulling Lea inside with him.

“Shaun, this is your bedroom — ” Lea began, but fell silent when he fixed her with a gaze like molten steel.

“Yes, this is my bedroom. You have been in here without me. But I have never brought you in here with me,” he explained. “I cannot bring you home with me, Lea, but this is the one place in our home that – to this point – has been all mine.”

Lea didn’t expect to start crying. Shaun’s room. His sanctuary.

“I would like it very much, if... from now on... it was all ours. So, I want to ask you something.”

Lea couldn’t have spoken a coherent word, even if she’d had something to say.

“Lea, will you be my girlfriend?”

Lea could only nod through her tears, and Shaun brushed them away with gentle fingers.

“Yes. Yes. Yes, I’d love to,” she whispered, heart leaping at the way his brilliant smile lit up the entire room, and how it was the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes, as he moved in to kiss her.

“I – love – you – so – damn – much – Shaun – Murphy,” Lea said, punctuating the words with kisses all over Shaun’s face. She felt giddy, like an over-exuberant puppy.

They were sitting side-by-side on Shaun’s bed, kissing and talking and laughing – but mostly kissing.

“I love you too, Lea Dilallo,” he replied, a little more reserved.

“Hey, sell me on this bed of yours,” she suggested, a gleam in her eye. “Convince me it’s worth keeping. And, if it ends up going, let’s make sure it has a story to tell.”

“What kind of a story?”

“The one where there’s a guy and a girl on a bed, and they just can’t keep their hands off of one another. I think that’s a very interesting story. Don’t you?”

“How does it go? I’ve never heard this story before,” Shaun said, very innocently, but his blue eyes twinkled with mischief... and a hunger that had nothing to do with food.

“Well, the girl says, ‘Do you want to know a secret?’ and the guy says — ”

“‘Yes, I do.’”

“And the girl whispers, ‘The scent of your cologne makes me want to bang you like a screen door in a hurricane’. And, oh, how she’s been waiting to tell him that, for months and months.”

“And the guy says, ‘Ah. That’s why you packed it in my overnight bag.’”

“... Of course he does. Anyway, and she asks him, ‘Are you ready? Do you want to do this?’ And... he says...?”


“Then say it. Say my name. This isn’t a story anymore, Shaun. This is reality. Do you want to do this? Are you ready to do this?”

“Fuck yes, Lea.”

Chapter Text

“You are loud,” Shaun observed, when Lea had come back from the bathroom. She offered him a warm, wet washcloth, which he took gratefully.

You were warned,” Lea reminded him, getting back into bed. “Shove over.”

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing. Hearing your... appreciation for what I was doing was encouraging, and helpful.”

“Judging by the things you just did to me, I know you paid a lot of attention when they were teaching you about the female reproductive system,” Lea teased him.

“Oh, yes. And supplemented with independent research,” Shaun assured her.

“How’s your back? And head?” Lea asked, more seriously.

“I could not have cared less about either of them while we were having sex. Now, they hurt.”

“Yeah, that’s because this bed is tiny.”

“No, that’s because thrusting is taxing on the back muscles, and I still feel a little dizzy after coming.”

“Oh, just what every girl wants to hear: ‘You hurt my back, and you give me a headache’!”

“Well, it’s true. It is hard work — ”

“Yeah, it is!” Lea smirked.

“ — But it’s fun work.”

“Mmm. Extremely fun work. In all seriousness, Shaun, the bed may have been tiny, it may have been your first time, it may have been our first time, but that was amazing. You sure you haven’t done that before?”

“I’m sure.”

“Well, you’re pretty good at it. You want to do it again?”

“Yes, but — ”

“But what?”

“I need Tylenol and a different bed. You’re right: this bed is too small.”

“Wait, I’m sorry, did you just – let me find my ear trumpet – what’s that? I’m right?” Lea joked. “You’ll have to speak up, sonny.”

“You’re right: this bed is too small.”

“That’s what I thought you said.”

“I did.”

“I want to really drag it out this time. You’ve heard of ‘kissing senseless’ — ”

“ — Which I still don’t agree is possible,” Shaun cut in.

“ — Now, get ready for ‘fucking senseless’.”

“Okay, that, I accept, is possible. There is an instant during orgasm where the mind goes completely blank. Senseless, if you like.”

“I’m hungry, though. Like, ravenous. Do we have anything in the fridge? Are you hungry?”

“Do we have apples?”

“You and your damn apples, Shaun. Yes, we have apples. I know that much.”

“Then that’s what I’m having. I didn’t get to have one in the hospital. They took it away from me. People are always taking my apples away,” Shaun complained, pulling his pyjama pants back on, and getting out of bed with a groan.

“Well, you know what, you’re gonna have to share them. I cannot be bothered actually assembling some sort of lunch.”

“I’ll peel and chop. I have to wash my hands first, though.”

Lea put her own pyjamas back on, and eased herself out of bed as well, following Shaun to the kitchen.

Shaun ran the faucet until the water became hot enough to wash his hands in.

Lea sat at the counter, waiting, admiring the view when Shaun bent over to open the crisper drawer. Don’t slap him, don’t slap him, he’ll knock his head into the shelves, and then where will you be?

“What are you staring at?” Shaun asked, bringing the apples over to the counter.

“Oh, nothing,” Lea replied, innocently. Shaun gave her a doubtful look.

“The most wonderful ass I’ve ever had the pleasure of tapping,” she admitted. “God, what you’re hiding under those khakis and button-down shirts. Can you just, like, walk around naked all the time at home, please? I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of looking at you.”

“No, thank you. I don’t want to sit on our furniture naked. That’s unsanitary. And I’d get cold.”

“Oh, I bet I could warm you up. And we could just lay down towels everywhere.”

“That’s a lot of laundry,” Shaun noted, handing her a freshly sliced apple, which Lea immediately started wolfing down, as though she had never seen food before.

“I give you solutions, and all you do is give me problems, Murphy,” Lea fake-scolded him.

“No, the amount of laundry we’d create with your towel idea would definitely be a problem,” Shaun replied.

“Of course it would, with that attitude,” Lea remarked.

Shaun came to sit beside Lea. With one hand, he stroked her back, and with the other, he picked up his own apple slices to eat.

“Wait... isn’t an apple a day meant to keep the doctor away?” Lea asked, teasingly.

“You’ll have to be specific. Which doctor were you hoping to keep away?” Shaun asked.

“Every single one of them... except for you.”


“I noticed you never asked about your pyjama shirt,” Lea said, conversationally.

“I left it in the bathroom. Did you see it?”

“... Yes. Was it too hard to put on?”

“Sort of. I could probably have done it. But I also remembered you saying, ‘Or you could just leave it off’ to me, in the hospital.”

“Are you comfortable, like that? I mean, I really like what I’m seeing, but — ”

“It is strange walking around without a shirt, but I am finding your reaction makes the discomfort worthwhile.”

“I see.”

“And there have been... other rewards,” Shaun said.

“Oh? How’s that?” Lea asked. She thought she might have an idea exactly what Shaun was referring to, but just in case she was wrong...

“I was lucky enough to get to have sex with you. I may even be lucky enough to get to do it again sometime soon.”

“Stop saying you’re lucky, Shaunie. Luck had nothing to do with it. You are wonderful. By virtue of the person you are, I am in love with you. If anyone’s lucky, it’s me. Lucky that I ran out of batteries, and knocked on my hot neighbour’s door. And the rest is history. You’ve gone from being my hot neighbour, to my hot friend, to my hot roommate-slash-best friend, to my extremely hot boyfriend.”

“Lea, I don’t know that I can describe you quite like that, but – I would if I could. You already know I think you’re beautiful.”

“Hey, it’s okay. I don’t need you to talk dirty to me.”

“I’d like to learn how.”

“That’s fine, and we can try it, but if it never comes naturally to you, that’s going to be okay. I know exactly how you feel.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I know that when your thoughts change, your touch becomes more, like, insistent. It’s taken me a day and a half to work that out.”

“Okay,” Shaun murmured.

“Or when you first got on top of me in bed. You started slow and cautious, and then, as you got used to the rhythm and the sensations, you pushed deeper, and harder, and faster. Because you wanted more. You wanted me. And you wanted me to know it, too.”

“Yes, I did.”

“Your hands were lazily wandering my body. That changed. Your grip got tighter, less gentle. Every time I tried not to get loud, you went harder and faster, until I couldn’t stay quiet anymore.”

Shaun had a far-away look on his face at this point. Lea decided to just keep talking. He’d rejoin her, eventually.

“Shaun, how you feel about me is evident in how you touch me. You were ecstatic to be fucking me. And telling me that, literally saying: ‘I want to fuck you so hard that you can’t help but scream my name’, it’s not something that I can imagine you... actually doing. I don’t think that’s your style, Shaun. And it would turn me off if I could tell that you weren’t at ease saying it. It would be awkward.”

“I don’t want to be awkward,” Shaun agreed. “If I’m awkward, then you won’t want to have sex with me.”

“Things get easier. Do you remember our first kiss?”


“It was kinda awkward. You’d never kissed anyone before. And my pushing you into the deep end, by basically commanding you to kiss me, made that a lot worse. It made you so nervous, that you couldn’t keep the tequila down. You didn’t have that many shots.”

“I was very nervous.”

“Then there’s our second kiss. That was different. We both know that. Do you want to explain to me how?”

“It was... easier. We were sober. I wasn’t as nervous. You asked permission to put your arms around me. You gave me time to prepare. You didn’t ask permission to kiss me, but you didn’t order me to kiss you, either. That was a very nice kiss. I hated saying ‘goodbye’, but that kiss was enjoyable.”

“Then, our third kiss was different, again. I never really asked you what you thought about it, actually.”

“When you kissed me, everything came flooding back. And it hurt. A lot.”

“Where did you go, that night?”

“I hid in the parking garage. And I cried, and I panicked, and I couldn’t make myself go back until the middle of the night. And then I found you in my bed.”

“Yeah. Um, I’m sorry.”

“It was... difficult. It got easier when you started sleeping in your own bed again.”

“Were there any bright spots in that month I stayed?”

He thought for a moment. “No. I’m sorry. There weren’t. All I could think about was how much more I wanted. And how scared I was to say anything about it. Well, perhaps the bright spot was that you were back.”

“We danced around that... something between us, all that month. And the longer I stayed, the more we drifted apart.”

“I was not ready to be with you. Not... like this.”

“Yeah, I think I realised that, too.”

“The fights we had in my old apartment, and then outside the hospital, and then still coming back home to you... that was very painful.”

“Yes, it was excruciating. So many times that month I wished I’d done things differently. But maybe if I had, we would have just crashed and burned anyway.”

“I do not want our relationship to ‘crash and burn’,” Shaun said. “I will read up on how to avoid that.”

Lea laughed gently. “That’s a shared responsibility, Shaun. It takes two to start a relationship, two to keep it going, and two to make it fail.”

“You will need to show me what to do.”

“Honestly, in a lot of ways, we already do a lot of it just by living together. We compromise on stuff. You’ve loosened up on things. In a lot of cases, the way you like to do things makes sense. It’s good always knowing where the remote is. It’s good having two toilet paper dispensers. It’s good coming home to a tidy kitchen. And my clothes are cleaner since I started using two pods in the washing machine.”

“They do make sense.”

“Yes, Shaun, they do. But there have been times where I prefer to do something my own way, and you’ve had to accept that. Or, we compromise, by integrating our two different approaches, and basically coming up with a hybrid of both. Where that’s not possible, you do things as you see fit, and I do things as I see fit. And that’s hard. Most people are awful at compromising. I think we’re pretty good at it.”

“I think I’m bad at it. But it’s important to me that I be better at it, because I want to keep living with you. I like living with you. Actually, I love living with you. That’s likely because I love you.”

“And you haven’t loved me less when we’ve had to compromise. And I haven’t loved you less, either. Watching you change and grow is something I’ve loved doing, and in truth, has made it easier to fall for you, because I see who you’re becoming, and that is a person I really want to be with.”

“I feel the same way about you.”

“And other things have gotten easier. Our fourth kiss – new and special, again.”

“I did a very bad thing. I made you cheat on your boyfriend. Not good. I just went ahead and did what I wanted.”

“Hey, I wanted you to do it, too. And – well, Jake’s opinion on the matter wasn’t positive, but we also were never exclusive. I didn’t tell you that because – I’m not sure it would have changed how you thought about it, anyway.”

“What does that mean, ‘exclusive’?”

“It’s when both halves of a couple agree to only see one another. When you’re not exclusive with someone, you’re free to date other people, and so are they.”

“That sounds incredibly complicated and tiring. Are we exclusive? Do you want to date other people?”

“You asked me to be your girlfriend.”

“Yes, I did — ”

“That’s asking to be exclusive. I’m your girlfriend now, Shaun, and you’re my boyfriend. I am not interested in dating anyone other than you. I gather you see things the same way? You just want to date me, and no-one else. Right?”

“I’ve never wanted to date anyone other than you, Lea,” Shaun said. “I don’t want to date anyone other than you now, either.”

“Then that’s that: we’re exclusive, we’re going steady, we’re a serious couple – however you’d like to put it, it’s you and me... and no-one else. And that’s not a compromise. That’s a mutual agreement.”


“But there’s one thing you need to understand, too. Obviously, I hope this relationship lasts for a long time – and I’m open to the concept of it lasting forever — ”

“So am I,” Shaun interrupted.

“ — However, break-ups are different. They are often a disagreement. And, unlike starting a relationship, where both people in it need to agree, it’s not very common for them to agree on breaking up. One person can say it’s over, and the other person is expected to accept that. I mean, nobody goes into a relationship expecting it to end – that’s a waste of time — ”

“But you said it takes two to make a relationship fail,” Shaun said, confused. “So how is a break-up a mutual failure state, if only one person needs to want to break up?”

“It’s pretty normal for both people to notice something has changed or has gone wrong with the relationship. But accepting it’s over is very difficult. You still love the person, but being with them is no longer a better option than being alone – or being with someone else.”

“It’s like when I lose a patient,” Shaun said. “I don’t want to accept I’m going to lose them. Accepting I’m going to lose them is the hardest thing I do in my job. I have failed. There is no amount of education or magical number of years spent in medical school that can make that easier.”

Lea nodded slowly.

“We can keep someone alive, but they aren’t living. There comes a time where we have to say we have done everything we can. We have to let them go. Bringing someone back from asystole — ”

“Asystole?” Lea asked.

“Flatlining. The absence of cardiac contractions.”

“Shaun, please try to explain it to me in English.”

“Unless we’ve purposely stopped someone’s heart to perform surgery... it means there’s no heartbeat. We can perform CPR, we can treat it with medication, but only about 15 percent of people come back. And of those who come back, it’s usually just a stay of execution. Delaying the inevitable.”

“They’re dying anyway,” Lea deduced.

“Yes. They’re dying anyway.”

“God, that’s difficult.”

“Hearing their heartbeat come back is tempered with the knowledge that, yes, we bought them time, but we didn’t necessarily buy them quality time.”

“I see how that works into your understanding of break-ups not necessarily being mutual,” Lea said, carefully.

“Yes. I understand. Sometimes relationships end, and there’s nothing more anyone can do.”

“But it’s important that you remember... don’t be in this relationship just always bracing for the end. The end comes, or maybe it doesn’t. I can promise you, Shaun, that to be in this relationship, and constantly worrying that it might end... you could miss seeing and experiencing so many wonderful things. Just enjoy being with me. Enjoy finding out what we can offer one another. Embrace it for what it is, and what it will teach you.”

“Okay, Lea. I will try.”

“And, Shaun, if there comes a day where being in this relationship is not making our lives better, that can never erase what we once were to one another. That can never negate all the things we did, and saw, and said. The time we spent will not have been wasted. And... I know that... even if this doesn’t work out for forever... I wouldn’t want to have missed any of it for the world.”

“I wouldn’t, either.”

Chapter Text

Dr. Marcus Andrews was just stepping out of his office, mid-afternoon on Friday, when Dr. Neil Melendez ran up to him, obviously out of breath, and relieved to have found him.

“Dr. Andrews, I’m glad I caught you. Dr. Lim and I want to call a meeting with Dr. Han, and we were hoping that you would attend as well.”

“Hmm. What is this meeting about, Dr. Melendez?” Marcus said, motioning for Neil to go back inside his office with him.

They sat down, Neil across from Marcus, and Marcus in his huge executive chair behind his desk.

“Well, uh, it’s – it’s about Dr. Murphy. Dr. Han has switched Dr. Murphy – apparently, quite recently – to a residency in Pathology.”

“Well, I’m certain that the decision was not taken lightly — ”

“Dr. Andrews, Dr. Han relayed this news to Dr. Murphy in, what I’m told, amounted to an ambush. Murphy was simply told to come to a meeting to ‘discuss the future of his surgical residency’ — ”

“I see.”

“ — Where, evidently, he was informed that there wasn’t actually going to be one. Then, Murphy’s told us that Dr. Carly Lever, in Pathology, was also summoned to the meeting at some point, ostensibly so Murphy could meet his new manager — ”

“Right,” Marcus nodded.

“ — And, to top all this off, Dr. Han then gave Murphy the rest of the day off. Without telling anyone else. I’m sorry, Dr. Andrews, but until this meeting – and to be fair, even now, since Dr. Han hasn’t even approached me, or Dr. Lim – Dr. Murphy was my resident, and Dr. Lim’s, as well. In Surgery. We don’t find it acceptable that such a decision was made without consulting us, and had we been, it is most certainly a decision both Dr. Lim and I would have... vehemently discouraged Dr. Han from making.”

Marcus tapped his chin in thought. “But Dr. Han is the Chief of Surgery, and he outranks both you and Dr. Lim,” he pointed out. “He has the discretion to dismiss staff who are not performing to his expected standard. Dr. Han did approach me about the possibility of moving Dr. Murphy to Pathology, and raised several concerns about Dr. Murphy, that I considered reasonable and valid, when viewed in context. In hiring Dr. Han, Dr. Melendez, I have given him that authority.”

“Is it a decision you would have made, when you were Chief of Surgery?” Neil pressed. “Because both you and I had our own concerns about Dr. Murphy, in light of his ASD, and he has proved exceptional. Yes, he makes errors – it’s expected, he is a resident, after all — ”

“I don’t have all the facts, Dr. Melendez. I couldn’t say.”

“Well — ” Neil said, pulling the dossier his residents – minus Shaun – had assembled, out of a folder he’d brought with him, “Read this, and you’ll have all the facts, Dr. Andrews. Please.”

“What’s this?” Dr. Andrews said, taking the document from Neil.

“Murphy’s co-residents feel so strongly about keeping him in Surgery, that they have compiled and documented a great number of examples of situations where – without Dr. Murphy’s unique skills and insights – the outcomes for these patients would have been undoubtedly dire.”

“Did you or Dr. Lim ask your staff to write this?” Dr. Andrews asked, flicking through the pages with some interest.

Neil shook his head firmly. “Absolutely not. Dr. Browne spearheaded the project, and enlisted Dr. Reznick and Dr. Park to assist her. It has made for extraordinary reading, Dr. Andrews.”

“And Dr. Murphy? Did he ask his co-residents to write this?”

“No, Dr. Andrews. Murphy didn’t even know it existed until this morning. Dr. Han is Chief of Surgery, that’s true. But you are the President of this hospital, and by my calculations, that means Dr. Han reports to you.”

“I am aware of the hierarchy in this hospital — ”

“Just read it, Marcus,” Allegra Aoki cut in, coming into Marcus’s office.

Marcus gaped. “You showed this to Ms. Aoki before I saw it?”

Neil shrugged. “I can’t make you read it. Dr. Lim can’t make you read it. Our residents can’t, either. But Ms. Aoki can.”

“It’s very compelling, Marcus,” Allegra said, her pleasant smile belying the warning underneath. “Do let my assistant know when you’d like to convene the Board meeting, won’t you? Thank you for bringing the matter to my attention, Neil, and please send along my well-wishes to Dr. Murphy. I hope his recovery is swift.”

“Dr. Murphy’s... recovery?” Marcus spluttered.

“Oh, yes. The loss of his surgical residency distressed Dr. Murphy so much, that he was drinking alcohol, and fell off a barstool in a bar nearby to this hospital. I gather he did not go home after Jackson dismissed him. He was a patient in here most of yesterday, and he was discharged this morning,” Allegra informed Marcus.

“Ms. Aoki, I can’t know every patient that comes through these doors — ”

“I would accept that, Marcus, were it not for the fact that the patient was one of our own staff members. Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the fact that yet another employee from a diverse background – in Dr. Murphy’s case, neurodiverse, as well as socio-economically disadvantaged — ”

“If I may interject: Dr. Glassman has told me that Shaun Murphy’s parents were neglectful to the point of abuse, which on occasion turned physical,” Neil cut in. “Shaun has, at various times, been – for all intents and purposes – homeless. At first, living with his late brother in an abandoned bus, and then, after his brother’s untimely death, with various foster families. He attended college for pre-med on a great number of scholarships and bursaries, and earned those same financial supplements during med school.”

I thought Glassman paid for Murphy’s college? Marcus thought to himself. Huh.

“ — Were you finished, Neil?” Allegra asked, pointedly.

“Oh, yes. Sorry, Ms. Aoki. I just wanted the President to have all the facts, as he claims he doesn’t have them — ”


“Sorry, Ms. Aoki.”

“ — As I was saying, it concerns me greatly that Dr. Shaun Murphy is potentially experiencing adverse conditions and treatment in his employment here, due to factors that, in many regards, are beyond his control. In addition, Legal informs me that Jackson’s treatment of Dr. Murphy could see St. Bonaventure acting in contravention to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and therefore, could expose this hospital to possible legal action. I warned you about this ignorance previously, Marcus. You should be well aware of the exceptionally poor optics here. Particularly as you, yourself, are of a diverse background.”

“I didn’t know this — ” Marcus just about choked out, “I didn’t know Dr. Murphy was a patient here, I didn’t — ”

“How interesting. Dr. Han did,” Neil said.

Watch it, Neil,” Allegra cautioned him firmly, turning on her heel and leaving.

“Well, if there isn’t anything else — ” Neil said, once Allegra was well out of earshot, as well as line-of-sight.

“You. You stay here. I’m going to call Dr. Lim in as well. The pair of you have some explaining to do,” Marcus said, furiously, pointing at Neil.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Andrews, but Dr. Lim and I have found ourselves down a resident recently, and I really need to get going,” Neil replied, coolly.

“That wasn’t a suggestion, Dr. Melendez.”

“Don’t you have some reading to do, Dr. Andrews?” Neil countered.

“This is not over, Dr. Melendez. This... end-run... is unacceptable.”

“Well, I think unilaterally switching a surgical resident to Pathology – without asking his attendings their opinions on the matter – is pretty unacceptable, too,” Neil argued, trying to keep his voice polite.

“Go. I’ll be in touch. I am very unhappy with your methods here, Dr. Melendez.”

“So be it, Dr. Andrews. If it gets Murphy back in the OR... We need him there.”

The last thing Neil saw before he left Marcus’s office was the President settling in to read the report Neil had handed him.

Neil allowed himself a small smile. Surgery needs this kid more than Pathology does.

He sent a text to Audrey: Just saw Andrews get his ass handed to him by Aoki. Genius idea to get her involved. I’ll be sure to reward you later.

Audrey replied: I wish I could have been there. And I’m very interested in this reward you speak of. Any hints?

Neil sent back: Well, when Han snatches one of our residents away – we can’t just leave our other patients unattended. Plus, I was against Murphy at the start. It seemed fitting that I be there to fall on my sword for him now, and eat some humble pie. As for this reward... We could try out those new silk ropes we bought on the weekend. I’m all yours, on all fours.

Audrey wrote back: Sounds like fun. Been dying to get all tied up with you.

“Hello, there,” Lea whispered to Shaun, who was just rolling back onto his own pillow, entirely spent, entirely satisfied and entirely naked.

Lea’s comforter half-trailed on the floor, where one or both of them had kicked it away sometime between missionary, cowgirl, and something Lea was pretty sure they’d invented together on the fly, that nearly had her screaming the apartment down with how intensely good it felt.

“Hello,” he whispered back, turning towards her with an irrepressible grin. “You need to go and — ”

“Sometimes it sucks being a woman,” Lea pouted, getting up carefully to avoid the dreaded wet spot. “Can’t even cuddle up to my honey after wonderfully athletic sex.”

“Nobody is saying you cannot do that, Lea. But if you get — ”

“Yeah, yeah, if I don’t get it all out immediately, the consequences will close up my... adult fun park for a solid week.”

“And then you’d probably develop vaginal candidiasis – thrush – from the antibiotics I would have to prescribe you to clear up the infection. So make that two weeks, without being able to enjoy sex.”

“Oh, dear. That’s horrible. Okay, okay, thank you for that stark reminder, Dr. Murphy,” Lea teased him, standing up. “And you are so fucking sexy when you talk medical to me.”

“I don’t understand how. Most of these topics are unpleasant.”

“Oh, I’ll explain it to you when I get back. With practical demonstrations,” Lea assured him, looking suggestively at him over her shoulder, as she left for the bathroom.

I am unsure whether to injure Dr. Han for taking away my surgical residency, or thank him profusely for setting these events in motion for me, Shaun thought.

“I’m back,” Lea announced a few moments later, tossing a washcloth at Shaun’s chest, and carefully removing the old blanket they’d set down before... getting down, gingerly dropping it on the floor out of the way.

“Now, where were we?”

“You were going to explain exactly how me ‘talking medical’ is attractive,” Shaun recapped.

“I’m tabling the ‘practical demonstration’ aspect of this explanation for now. I’m exhausted,” Lea pronounced. “But, it’s the... authority. How you say things. You’re in your element, and it shows. Confidence is attractive.”


“That was terrific,” Lea said. “God, I didn’t know how fun you can be in bed, when you loosen up.”

“Well, I was a virgin until today, so you are not the only person who was not previously aware of how fun I can be in bed. And, yes, that was fun. I now understand exactly why people make a point of spending days in bed having sex. I just had it, I’m tired, and yet, I already want to do it again. I thought kissing you was going to be the pinnacle of my romantic life. I was wrong.”

“Yeah, sex is like Pringles,” Lea agreed.

“Pringles? How so?” Shaun asked, his brow furrowed.

“Once you pop, you can’t stop,” Lea explained. “Could you really go again? That would be three times today. You’re insatiable.”

“Not only that. I think I could survive being stuck in Path... if I got to come home and have sex with you every night. I’d have a lot to look forward to. Is that why everyone is so happy when they leave work? Are they going home to have sex?”

“Probably some of them are, yeah,” Lea said.

“Is your weekend looking busy?”

“I have a feeling I’ll be getting busy,” Lea said, grinning. “We’re just going to have sex the whole weekend, aren’t we?”

“Not the whole weekend. We still need to eat and drink, sleep, and go to the bathroom,” Shaun contradicted her, pedantically. “And we have to go to IKEA, and pick out my new bed.”

“Your sex drive is really waking up, isn’t it?” Lea commented. “And I’m thrilled you’re coming to terms with letting go of that damn twin bed.”

“Fucking you in that bed was uncomfortable, and I was sure someone was going to fall off. Yes, Lea, I’m getting a new, larger bed.”

“Are you trying to pepper more curse words and dirty talk into your vocabulary? Because we talked about this, Shaunie. It’s not vital.”

“I think it comes with a sexual awakening. I’m now much more comfortable saying ‘I want to fuck you’. Because sometimes there are no better words to describe what I’ve recently realised I really like to do to you.”

“Just don’t ever call it ‘making love’. My skin crawls at that expression.”

“Okay. What other words can I use that say the same thing?”

“Synonyms? Oh, sure. Okay. There’s ‘banging’, ‘screwing’, ‘boning’ – nah, I don’t like that one – ‘nailing’...”

“... No, I think I prefer ‘fucking’.”

“Yeah, I’m starting to get used to hearing you say it, actually.”

“I’m tired. Genuinely tired.”

“Well, so am I, so who’s going to drag my comforter back up from the floor?”

“Joint effort?”

“Yeah, okay. Then nap time?”


Unlike the last attempt at nap time, in which you spooned me, very innocently, and I felt your not-so-innocent, rather magnificent, rock-hard — ”

Unlike the last attempt at nap time. I love you, Lea. But I am staying on my own side of the bed for now.”

“I love you too, Shaun. Hey, we can still hold hands.”

“That would be very nice.”

Chapter Text

“I am starving,” Lea pronounced, sitting up in bed.

“Mmm,” Shaun mumbled into his pillow.

“Hey, Sleeping Beauty, wake up. We need food.”

You need food. I need sleep,” Shaun groaned.

“Oooh, you’re grumpy when you wake up.”

“Fine,” Shaun said, sitting up as well, and stretching. “We’ll get... what mealtime is this?”

“Dinner,” Lea confirmed, consulting her phone for the time. “What do you want?”

“I don’t know, what do you want?”

“Should we cook? Can either of us be bothered? I know we have a twice-a-week takeout rule – and we had Chinese on Monday and pizza on Wednesday — ”

I didn’t get to eat the pizza,” Shaun pointed out.

“Yes, yes, I know. So, anyway, that means you’re still technically allowed one more takeout meal this week, but I would also argue that these are special circumstances.”

“How so?” Shaun asked.

“Take your pick. We’re a couple now; you lost your virginity; you just got discharged from hospital this morning. Quite a few things to celebrate.”

“Yes, I’ve been discharged from hospital. Which means I should be focusing on eating something healthy, and preferably home-made.”

“Ah-ah-ah – takeout can be home-made. I seem to recall that one of our favourite pizza places heavily pushes their ‘home-made’ marinara.”

“That is not the same thing, Lea, and you know it.”


“All right,” Shaun agreed.

“Do you think we should venture out into the big wide world again?” Lea mused. “We could probably let this room air out a little.”

“I think we both need showers first,” Shaun said. “Can you wait to eat? I feel sweaty and uncomfortable.”

Lea convened with her stomach, and determined that she could wait a little bit longer. “Yeah, but I’m getting in there with you. I can’t wait for you to have one, or have one and then wait for you. I’m too hungry. Um – is that... okay?”

“Yes. It’s okay.”

“Oh, that’s better,” Lea sighed, towelling her hair semi-dry.

“Yes, I feel a lot better now. Do you mind driving? I don’t think I’m supposed to,” Shaun said, getting dressed.

“No, that’s okay. Yeah, I’ll drive,” Lea agreed, pulling on fresh clothes as well, and slipping her feet into sneakers at the door. She grabbed the keys and said “You coming?” to Shaun, who followed her out of the apartment, once he’d put on his own shoes.

They held hands in the elevator all the way down to the parking garage.

“This is, like, the best food I’ve ever eaten,” Lea announced, enthusiastically biting into her sub. “Sex makes me hungry,” she whispered to Shaun, who turned as red as the tomatoes on his own sandwich.

“Or it could simply be that we each had two apples for lunch, and then no more food until now,” he pointed out, reasonably.

“I like my explanation better,” Lea said. “Hey, you’re staring at me. Do I have something on my face?”

“No. I’m just looking at you, and thinking to myself, ‘She’s my girlfriend’. I can’t quite believe it. Also, I’m wondering when we last fed Albert.”

“Quite a pair of contrasting thoughts. And I fed him today, by the way, as well as last night. Hey, do you think we should get him a girlfriend fish? He’s going to get lonely, with us all wrapped up in each other, I think. It’s hard when your friends get into relationships.”

“What will we name her?”

“Alberta. Obviously. Or, maybe he wants a boyfriend fish. We should ask him.”

“Lea, that’s ridiculous.”

“Oh, just feed him and he gets snarky again!” Lea said.

“We can’t ask our pet fish his sexual preference,” Shaun said.

“Of course we can’t, Shaun. Okay, so then we’ll get two more fish – a boy and a girl – and see what ends up happening. And, before you ask, the boy fish can be named Alberto.”


“You’re not going to argue?”



“The relationship advice book I downloaded to my Kindle, suggested I ‘pick my battles’.”

“When the hell did you have time to read a book?”

“You slept for several hours. I woke up a couple of times with a headache. Took two Tylenol, which helped. And I am a fast reader.”

“You really care, don’t you?” Lea observed.

“About you? Yes.”

“Well, yes, I know that. I mean, you really care about doing things right. With us.”

“Yes. I have waited a long time for this chance, Lea. I do not want to squander it.”

How the hell did I get so lucky? Lea thought.

“Hey, is this our second date?” she asked, instead.

Shaun surveyed the surroundings with a critical eye. “No. I’d prefer it wasn’t. Is that okay?”

“Of course. Why don’t we plan our second date together, right now?”

“All right. I would like to take you out to dinner. Somewhere nice, where we can dress up. What do you think?”

“What do I think? I think seeing you in a suit and tie is on my bucket list,” Lea replied. “I’ll have to get a dress. I haven’t bought anything new in ages.”

“Oh, you don’t have to — ”

“But I want to.”

“Okay. I’m sure you will look stunning.”

“Hey, speaking of suits and ties, when I was packing your bag last night, I noticed this drop-dead tux hanging in your closet. Can you please explain to me why I have never seen you in that, and advise me on exactly when you will rectify this terrible problem? Thank you.”

“The tux... I wore to a benefit gala at St. Bonaventure.”

“You went to a gala? Wow!”

“It was horrendously boring. I do not like networking. Though, I must admit, everyone tried to help me get through it. I was going to rent a tux. Dr. Andrews suggested I rent one. The brand-new suit I had in my closet wasn’t fancy enough. Morgan advised me to purchase a tux, instead.”

“What a philanthropist,” Lea said, feeling a little annoyed.

“I... don’t think Morgan donated much to the foundation,” Shaun said. “We aren’t that well-paid.”

Lea shook her head. “Uh, no... I mean that Morgan performed a public service. Did the Lord’s work.”

“I’m still confused, Lea.”

“Okay. She advised you to buy a tux, which you then wore, and I am positive you would have looked – I don’t even know what the word is I want to use, so let’s just say ‘devastatingly handsome’. To unleash you, in a tux, on an unsuspecting public, she was truly doing God’s work. I would have had a very difficult time keeping my hands off of you. Were there any photos?”

“Yes, I think so. They’re in my emails. Marketing sent them for approval. They wanted to put them in some promotional materials for the hospital foundation, and they needed permission from me.”

“Well?” Lea said, expectantly.

“Well, what?” Shaun asked.

“Can I see them? Please?”

“Oh. Okay. Let me find the email.”

Lea waited, somewhat impatiently, for Shaun to locate the relevant message. When he did, he held out his phone to her silently, and Lea took it.

She almost dropped the phone when she saw the first photo.

Holy fuck,” she mumbled, when she was able to hold the phone properly and focus.

“They’re terrible, aren’t they?” Shaun said, quietly. Lea looked up at him. “I said they couldn’t use them.”

“The only terrible thing is that you said they couldn’t use them. My God, Shaun, they’re beautiful. You’re gorgeous. Wow. Just – wow. I’m actually... a little lost for words.”

“I was going to text you one of those photos, but I decided not to.”

“I would have flown straight back here if you had, just on the off chance you could have gone home with somebody else. I’d have liked to be there... to go home with you at the end of the night.”

“I was asked if I wanted to bring my girlfriend,” Shaun said.

“Um? You mean, you had a thing with someone else — ?”

Shaun shook his head, blushing again. “No. I had recently mentioned I’d gone on a road trip... with my girlfriend. It went around the hospital.”

“Oh. You – you meant – me,” Lea said.

“Yes. I meant you.”

“Do they do these – galas – every year?”

“Yes, but it’s not often that residents are allowed to go. Claire, Jared and Morgan were all very excited. Alex seemed about as enthusiastic as I was.”

“I wish I had been there,” Lea said.

“I wish you had, too.”

“But maybe we’ll get to go again. You still have a few years of residency left, and then — ”

“I’ll wear it again for you, one day.”

“You can wear it to our wedding,” Lea said, speaking faster than her brain could evaluate what she was intending to say. Do you hear yourself?!

“I’m – God, I did not mean to say that out loud — ” Lea stammered.

“It’s okay,” Shaun said. “Could I please have my phone back now?”

Lea held onto it. “Do you solemnly swear that you will not delete those photos, Shaun?” she asked, urgently. “Because I know people who can un-delete things. And if they can’t help, I could just stand in the middle of Silicon Valley, throw a stick in any direction, and it’ll probably hit a hacker.”

“I promise, Lea,” Shaun said, seriously, and Lea surrendered the phone.

“Should we go back home soon? You look wiped.”

“Yes, I’d like to go home.”

“Come on, let’s dump this trash and get moving,” Lea said, jingling her keys.

Lea switched on the ignition and let the radio kick in, and it connected to her phone via Bluetooth, playing her Apple Music Library.

“Oh, Taylor Swift,” she said. “Um, I’ll change it – how basic — ”

“I like Taylor Swift,” Shaun said quietly, reaching out to turn it up slightly.

Clear blue water

High tide came and brought you in

And I could go on and on, on and on

And I will

Skies grew darker, currents swept you out again

And you were just gone and gone, gone and gone

In silent screams and wildest dreams

I never dreamed of this...

They exchanged a look, the lyrics impacting them both at the same time.

“Let’s go for a drive,” Lea suggested. “Nowhere in particular. Let’s just drive around.”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed.

This love is good, this love is bad

This love is alive, back from the dead

These hands had to let it go free, and

This love came back to me...

“It’s a nice night for a drive,” Lea commented. “Clear out.”

“Not too cold. The Weather Channel said there wouldn’t be any rain, either.”

Tossing, turning, struggled through the night with someone new

And I could go on and on, on and on

Lantern, burning, flickered in my mind, only you

But you were still gone, gone, gone

Been losing grip, on sinking ships

You showed up just in time...

Finding a spot near a playground, Lea pulled into the spot and killed the engine and the headlights, but left the Accessories switched on so the music could keep playing.

Glancing at Shaun, she jerked her head in the direction of the backseat in a silent question, and they scrambled over the front seats, landing messily on the bench seat in the back, all topsy-turvy.

Righting themselves again, Lea settled into the now-familiar security of Shaun’s arm around her.

“Not painful?” she asked.

“It will be okay.”

This love is good, this love is bad

This love is alive, back from the dead

These hands had to let it go free, and

This love came back to me

This love left a permanent mark

This love is glowing in the dark

These hands had to let it go free, and

This love came back to me...

They didn’t talk much, and they thought even less. Lea had never felt so at peace, just sitting beside someone else.

Your kiss, my cheek, I watched you leave

Your smile, my ghost, I fell to my knees

When you’re young, you just run

But you come back to what you need...

“I’d better check the Up Next. There is a mood in this car right now, and it must not be spoiled,” Lea said quietly, reaching into the footwell for her purse and her iPhone.

Swiping and flicking a few selections away, Lea was left with a playlist that wouldn’t break the spell.

“Do you want to keep driving?” Lea asked Shaun.

“No. Not yet.”

“Okay. Kiss me, Shaun.”

They kept kissing softly and murmuring to one another right to the end of the Taylor Swift song, and then through Someone to Stay by Vancouver Sleep Clinic, The Night We Met by Lord Huron, and Rivers and Roads by The Head and the Heart.

The synth intro to a Talking Heads song started to kick in as Shaun pulled away, catching his breath.

“It’s hard not to picture forever right now,” he whispered.

“No, it’s not,” Lea agreed. “But I think it’s time to un-fog these windows and head for home, what do you say?”

“Yes. I want to go home.”

They climbed back into the front seats, and Lea started the ignition.

Once she could drive one-handed, she reached the other out to Shaun, who took it in his own briefly, then, letting it go gently, said, “You really should have both hands on the wheel.”

I can drive just fine with one hand, she reasoned internally, about to argue.

“I treat a lot of people who think they can drive one-handed. They usually... don’t make it,” he explained.

“Okay,” Lea agreed, putting her hands at ten and two. Pick your battles, she reminded herself. Shaun’s learning to pick his.

Chapter Text

“Browne, could I steal you for a few moments? Do you have anything pressing on? Can we sit?” Neil addressed Claire.

“No, nothing that can’t wait. Sure, Dr. Melendez. What’s up?” Claire said, following Neil to a table with chairs around it.

“I presented your essay to the President. Well, Dr. Lim and I decided together to present it, but we couldn’t both go. The one about Murphy.”

“Oh – uh, how’d he take it? Am I... fired?”

“Reluctantly,” Neil sighed, pulling a chair out from the table for Claire, then one for him. They sat down. “And no, no-one is getting fired. I... don’t think.”

“I see,” Claire said.

“But Dr. Lim had the brilliant idea to call in reinforcements,” Neil said, brightening.

“Oh?” Claire queried.

“We looped Ms. Aoki in first. We did an end-run around Dr. Andrews. Dr. Lim knew he wouldn’t appreciate it, but she has beyond adequate social capital to burn with Ms. Aoki, who pushed it on Dr. Andrews from the legal/ADA standpoint. So, as we speak, Dr. Andrews is sitting with some very important information that he needs to take decisive action on. Soon.”

“Lea noted the ADA implications as well, when I spoke to her. I haven’t heard from her or Shaun since. I had hoped to catch him before he got discharged, but he left in a hurry. And I’ve been run off my feet all day up till now,” Claire said.

“Claire,” Neil started, trying to work out how best to say what he felt he had to say – and, a very tiny part of him noted – what he wanted to ask her.

Claire looked up in surprise at being addressed by her first name.

“What drove you to spend most of last night writing that essay, even enlisting your colleagues to help... for a man who hasn’t even thanked you for going to the trouble?”

“Shaun deserves to be here, in Surgery,” Claire replied, and Neil could see her eyes wandering all over the place. “I – I watched Jared — ”

“I don’t think that’s it, Claire.”

“Then, just... ask me the question, Neil,” Claire prompted, with a troubled sigh, and it was Neil’s turn to be surprised to hear her call him anything other than ‘Dr. Melendez’.”

“If I’m reading this right... if you and Murphy have a... a thing... then both Dr. Lim and I need to know about it. Two of our residents dating, it’s – it’s a HR minefield — ”

So is two attendings dating, he mentally added, somewhat guiltily. Or an attending and a resident, for that matter, remembering with a slight jolt how Claire had once looked at him.

He’d pretended not to notice, keep things strictly professional, but —

Claire didn’t make direct eye contact with Neil.

Now, who does that remind you of? Neil asked himself.

He went on, “However... I suspect Murphy has no idea how you feel, Claire. And, because it’s Murphy we’re talking about here, I don’t think he’s pretending not to. I think he genuinely... doesn’t know.”

“He’s not going to,” Claire said. “I learned my lesson with Jared. And – Neil — ”

She looked at him as though she expected to be admonished.

“It’s a personal matter we’re discussing. ‘Neil’ is fine, if you’re not too loud about it.”

“I’m pretty sure I’m too late, anyway. Shaun’s involved with Lea. And he’s been waiting a while to have that chance with her.”

“Well, if the essay has the impact you’re hoping for, he’ll be your co-resident again. What if he and Lea break up? Will you...?”

“The only person who is just as stubborn as Shaun, himself... is Lea,” Claire responded, with a watery laugh.

“I’d argue that’s even more of a dealbreaker, Claire. Two stubborn people, things get difficult...”

“There’s nothing to worry about, Neil,” Claire said, firmly. “Okay?”

“Okay. If you say so... then I trust you.”

“I do. Thanks. And, uh, thanks for the update. Can I – go?”

“Yes. Thanks for your time, Dr. Browne.”

“Of course, Dr. Melendez.”

With Claire gone, Neil hesitated over sending the text to Shaun that he’d just composed.

Murphy — It’s come to my attention that you have not thanked Dr. Browne for her efforts on your behalf. I suggest you rectify that. Quickly.

Shaun felt his phone vibrate in his pocket just as he got home. Pulling it out to read Dr. Melendez’s text, he then showed it to Lea, who was looking at him, eager for news.

“You haven’t thanked Claire?” Lea asked, a little appalled. “Shaun!”

“I don’t have my surgical residency back yet,” he pointed out – fairly reasonably, he thought. “So what is there to thank Claire for?”

Shaun took just one look at Lea’s disbelieving expression, and he instantly knew that what he’d said was very, very wrong.

“Get inside, sit down on the couch, and I am going to explain you a thing,” Lea hissed.

Shaun obeyed.

“Right,” Lea said. “I know that was a little forceful, but you need to be aware of how unacceptable it is that you have not thanked Claire. It also appears to me that you have no idea why this is so bad, and we are going to fix that, Shaun. Immediately. And then we are going to work out – together – an appropriate ‘thank you’.”

“Okay,” Shaun said, reaching once more for his phone, but Lea swatted his hand lightly, and Shaun jerked back.

“Not by text,” Lea said. “Well, not only by text, anyway. You should thank her in person. And flowers wouldn’t be a bad idea.”

“No. Not flowers,” Shaun disagreed, and Lea was surprised by his vehemence. What’s up with that?

“Then – what else does Claire like? Shaun, I think it has to be flowers,” Lea persisted.

“No,” Shaun said, very firmly.

Lea looked at the set of his jaw and the stiffness of his shoulders, and realised that it wasn’t that Shaun didn’t think flowers were a good idea.

It was something else altogether.

“You’ve never... given anyone flowers, have you?” Lea slowly said. “No Valentine’s Day, no — ”

Shaun shook his head.

“And – I’m going to take a guess here – that’s a romantic milestone you want to hit with — ”

Me, she thought, but didn’t say.

“Your first girlfriend,” she said, instead.

“My first girlfriend,” he confirmed.

How do I do this? I have to pick this battle, Lea thought. How do I make the point I think Shaun needs to hear, without stomping all over his beliefs?

“Shaun, I don’t want to discount your pre-conceived expectations of love,” Lea began, patiently. “They’re important to you. But... would you be open to hearing... something else you may not have considered?”

“Open, yes. Will I do what you want me to? I don’t know yet.”

“At this point, I’d just like you to listen. Okay?”


“Shaun, it’s possible to send flowers to people without it being romantic. I mean, yeah, a dozen red roses ain’t gonna be what you send – but there are plenty of other reasons to give someone flowers. Your patients must get lots, right?” Lea said.

“They are not meant to. It’s an anti-allergy and anti-infection measure,” Shaun replied. “It’s a fairly common policy to encounter in hospitals nowadays. I am surprised I’m permitted to wear cologne to work, as a lot of hospitals have a scent-free policy, too, for similar reasons.”

“Okay, but my point stands, Shaun. It’s not just to say ‘get well soon’. People also give flowers in sympathy, when someone dies. They give them for birthdays, graduations, and other milestones. And they also give them to say ‘thanks’. Which brings us to this.”

“I see. That makes sense. But I don’t think I can send Claire flowers now. I’d have to send them tomorrow.”

“Well, okay. What if you text her a quick ‘thank you’ now, and we can pick out an arrangement now, that she’ll receive tomorrow?”

Shaun sighed. “Then I should really be sending flowers to everyone who is intervening on my behalf. Right? It’s not just Claire.”

“Hmm. Well, you could send a big general arrangement to your co-residents and attendings, and a separate one just to Claire alone. Or even deliver it in person. Do you know where she lives? I think what she’s done here is above and beyond. It’s — ”

Again: why aren’t you with her, Shaun? Lea thought, wanting suddenly to snatch Shaun’s phone, forward Claire’s contact information to her own phone, and text her with some very uncomfortable questions.

He hasn’t even considered the possibility that Claire has real feelings for him, Lea realised.

“Lea, there is something you aren’t saying to me. You keep opening your mouth and shutting it again. Why?” Shaun asked.

“Huh? Oh, I hadn’t even realised. I just went into my own thoughts for a minute. I was going to ask, do you want me to get my laptop and we can look at florists’ Web sites?” Lea answered, trying to cover herself.

“Okay. But I want to text Claire first,” Shaun said. “I’m bad at this. What should I say? Can you help me?”

No, don’t ask me to write something for Claire. The only thing I want to write is ‘Hands off, he’s mine’. Oh, and you’re full of it, Shaun. God knows you can write about your feelings. I’ve seen the letter you never sent me.

No, you stole it, the other side of her mind piped up, accusingly.

Yeah, yeah. That’s beside the point.

What she actually said was: “Sure. Do you have any idea what you want to say, besides ‘thank you’? I don’t think it needs to be too gushy and awkward.”

Wouldn’t want Claire getting the wrong idea, she mentally added, her inner voice turning spiteful.

Together, they came up with the following:


I’ve been told that I have you to thank for writing an essay on my behalf that points out the excellent work I’ve put in over my time in Surgery.

I also think it’s worth noting that you were involved in many of these cases as well, and I appreciate what you do.

I just want you to know how grateful I am that you put in all this effort for me, and that – no matter what happens with my surgical residency – I will always be incredibly thankful for what you did.

With thanks,


“Perfect. Send that,” Lea pronounced.

“Okay,” Shaun replied, obligingly pressing Send.

“Are you happy to look at the arrangements now?” Lea asked, pulling her laptop up from the coffee table and onto her knees.

“Yes. And thank you for helping me work out what to say to Claire.”

“No problem, Shaun,” Lea said, firing up Google. “Here, this one has great reviews.”

“Actually, there’s a florist close to the hospital,” Shaun remembered. “It’s called – something French – Bonaventfleurs, I think. I don’t know how it survives, since patients aren’t meant to have flowers,” he finished, emphatically.

If he’d been a different sort of person, he’d have been banging his fist on the table with each word.

“Good grief, their pun game is on point,” Lea commented.

Lea’s first instinct had been to cut Shaun off, to just say ‘Whatever, it doesn’t matter’ to Shaun’s point.

But it did. It mattered to Shaun. And now, by taking a few more moments to listen, Lea had learned that there was a florist nearby to Shaun’s work. And that, if she were ever visiting someone there who was sick, she shouldn’t bring them flowers.

Not immediately useful information, it was true, but it was information she didn’t have before.

It had taken her, what, an extra two minutes of her life to listen to Shaun a bit longer? Maybe even less? And the no-flowers policy did make complete sense. People’s allergies seemed to be more severe these days.

Plus, it was handy to know there was a florist near the hospital, which meant they’d be as fresh as daisies – Lea allowed herself a grin at her own joke.

Then she said, “Oh, well, maybe there are businesses or people working in the area that do buy flowers. Or it’s a newer policy, the ‘no-flowers’ thing. And, maybe people get flowers when people pick them up from hospital. Then they don’t technically have flowers in hospital.”

“Those are fair points – but the name is still nonsense. Bon is ‘good’, ‘avent’ isn’t even French – if anything it should be avant, meaning ‘before’ – and fleurs is ‘flowers’. So, generously, it’s ‘good before flowers’. See? Nonsense.”

“Yes, but someone who’s sat down and worked out how to incorporate part of the hospital’s name in their own business’s name is a person with attention to detail, and that’s just the kind of person I’d want making a flower arrangement for me.”

“Yes. That is also a good point,” Shaun agreed.

“You know, just like I’d want a meticulous packer performing brain surgery on me, if I ever needed it,” she finished, giving him a smile, watching him remember the other time she’d said that to him. He smiled back.

Oh, and now I know Shaun can possibly speak French, she realised, having noticed the quality of his accent when he’d spoken it.

The things you could learn about a person... if only you were patient enough to listen to them a little bit longer.

Chapter Text

“I know there’s a no-flowers policy in the hospital, but surely that changes with Valentine’s Day, and so on? I bet lots of people get flowers from their unsuspecting significant others every so often, right?” Lea said, while she and Shaun scrolled through the arrangements offered by Bonaventfleurs, trying to settle on two of them.

“Do you like any of these?” Lea asked.

Shaun shrugged. “They’re all running together for me.”

“Okay, just pick something. Will it get to the on-call room?”

“Yes, I would think so. But I certainly can’t deliver them personally,” Shaun said.

“Or, there’s gift baskets. They have candy, and cookies, and so on. Want to send your colleagues one of those, instead?”

“That might be easier... but I still can’t deliver it personally,” Shaun said.

“I’m absolutely certain a florist knows how to deliver flowers and gift baskets to hospitals. How do you feel about balloons?”

“When they pop, I recoil like my father just hit me again,” Shaun said, matter-of-factly.

“I’m sor — ”

“Lea, I was abused. I do not like talking about it. I also do not want you to be sorry for me about it. It happened. It is not happening now.”

“Yes, I know, sweetheart. But I don’t know if you realise how it’s coloured so much of your personality, and how you react to things. You think I don’t notice how you flinch sometimes when I move to touch you? You think I don’t know why you absolutely cannot be around people who are yelling? You think I didn’t give Morgan a total serve after you ran out on me and her the other night?”

“Why are you angry at me?” Shaun asked, shrinking back from Lea.

Lea sighed. “Shaun, I’m not angry. I don’t feel sorry for you, I feel for you. I will never fully understand the maelstrom in your head. The best I can do is try.”

“If you keep yelling at me and getting angry at me all the time, I will never let you understand it,” Shaun said, quietly, but his voice was forceful. “I have to go to bed.”

“Do you want me to — ”

My bedroom. Alone. Good night.”

“Shaun!” Lea cried, desperately, reaching out to touch him.

She could not have picked a worse thing to do.

He shook her off roughly as he stood up and strode to his bedroom without a backward glance.

The door closed behind him, and then she heard the devastating sound of a softer, second click.

Shaun was locking her out.

Who can I call? Who the hell can help? Lea thought, panicking. I could call Glassy. He’ll know what to do.

“No,” Lea said aloud, to herself. “I will not betray Shaun like that.”

You broke it. You fix it, the voice in her head hissed.

“I can’t!” Lea mumbled to herself. “I don’t know how!”

She ran through her options, none of which were particularly appealing:

Knock on Shaun’s door, and hope like hell he answered.

Call Shaun’s phone, and hope like hell he answered.

Call Glassy.

Go to bed, and hope like hell that things looked clearer in the morning.

Drink herself stupid, and try to forget how she torpedoed the shortest relationship in history, in the shortest amount of time.

Whatever choice she ended up making, Lea knew she couldn’t bear to sleep in her own bedroom that night. The place was already so haunted.

Miserably, Lea turned off all the lights, except for one of the lamps near the couch, and she curled up on the sofa cushions, under the afghan she’d shared with Shaun only two nights ago.

It felt like a lifetime ago now.

As she cried herself to sleep, the last thing she noticed, before she succumbed, was the lingering scent of his cologne.

Behind his locked door, Shaun wasn’t doing much better.

He’d dragged his comforter onto the floor, rolled around him like a sleeping bag.

He felt unable to face sleeping in the same bed where, only hours ago, he hadn’t thought it was possible for him to be so incredibly happy, until the moment Lea had said ‘Yes’ to being his girlfriend.

And then, how’d he’d been even happier when he heard her keep saying ‘Yes’ – in a very different tone of voice – not too much later.

At least I’m getting a new bed this weekend, he thought, wryly, fighting the urge to text Lea, or anyone else.

Claire. I could text Claire, he thought. She is a good friend. She will know what I should do.

But Claire is not your girlfriend. You shouldn’t ask her advice first. Not anymore. You should be talking to Lea when you need advice. Lea is your girlfriend now.

“I could text Dr. Glassman,” he said to himself, next. But a glance at his phone’s clock stuck a pin in that idea. Too late at night.

Faced with a dearth of options that did not involve contact with Lea, Shaun put his phone on to charge, then rolled away from it – and his bed – pointedly, hoping that sleep would soon claim him.

When it did not, Shaun instead began ruminating over his argument with Lea, trying to understand his part in it.

He tried going through it systematically.

Why did it upset him so much that Lea wanted to understand him? Where he’d come from, all the people he’d been before he met her, all the pain and the hurt he tried desperately to keep buried far below the surface.

Why had he been able to explain the same things about himself to Morgan with so little hesitation?

Lea feels sorry for you. She pities you. Pity kisses. Pity relationship. Pity sex.

Morgan has never felt sorry for you. That’s why you told her. You said as much to her.

And you have never told Claire anything about your childhood. So there’s nothing she knows about that she could pity you for.

Was it that Lea had referred to his mind as a ‘maelstrom’? Was that offensive to him?

After all, Lea could have called his mind a mess, a muddle, a shambles, chaotic, confused – anything else. And those terms were more offensive to him, Shaun decided. His mind was not a mess, a muddle, or a shambles.

He could make cases for ‘chaotic’ and ‘confused’.

He thought he had a reasonable idea of what ‘maelstrom’ meant, but he flipped back over and reached for his phone, noting, with mixed emotions, that Lea had not tried to call or text him.

And what would you say, anyway?

Nor had Claire replied to his ‘thank you’ text.

maelstrom, noun

An area of water that moves with a very strong circular movement and sucks in anything that goes past.

Well, is Lea wrong? he next wondered. His brain did move in patterns like swirling water, always thinking, always pulling in new information and stimuli to be absorbed and integrated into what already existed.

No, ‘maelstrom’ is just another way for Lea to tell you she knows your brain doesn’t work right, and it never will.

His parents had never understood how overwhelming all the new things were, sights and sounds and smells, flooding in faster than he could understand what he was perceiving, either.

”Stop that damn rocking and crying before I give you something to damn well cry about! You’re a fucking retard, kid, you know that?! Fucking embarrassing me and your poor mother in front of the entire damn congregation! You’re useless! Your brain doesn’t work right and it never will!”

“Ethan, please, he’s autistic, he’s not retarded, he just needs — ”

”He needs a good walloping, is what he needs! Get out of my way, woman, before you’re next! Get the fuck out of my way, Marcie! You won’t fucking deal with this damn brat, I will! Fucking look at me, Shaun! Fucking look me in the face, you damn freak! Stop pretending you don’t fucking hear me! LOOK AT ME!”

”Daddy, please, please, it hurts to sit still, the music is so loud and the organ is out of tune and it’s painful — ”


Instinctively, Shaun closed his eyes, hugged himself, braced for the winding blow he knew must be coming —

Lea sat bolt upright the second she heard the screaming, and it took her a moment to realise it was coming from Shaun’s room.

Fumbling around in the dark for her phone, she quickly flicked on the flashlight with shaking fingers.

She walked, as quietly as she could, over to the door to Shaun’s room, and experimentally tried the doorknob, even though she knew it was likely still locked.

The doorknob rattled violently, and both Shaun and Steve froze in the bottom bunk, as still as statues.

”It’s Dad,” Steve whispered, urgently. “Get behind me, Shaun. Let him get me this time. You have bruises on top of bruises.”

”Shaun! Steve! Open this damn door before I rip it off its fucking hinges! Fucking lock your own father out, I don’t fucking think so! You don’t own this door! I do! I DO! OPEN THIS GODDAMN DOOR!”

“Okay – okay, Daddy, I – I’m coming – I — ”

The lock disengaged, and Steve opened the door to their furious father. As ever, their mother brought up the rear, looking terrified and powerless, and Shaun noticed new bruises on her face.

”Yes, sir?” Steve said, as politely as he could manage, while also using all his body mass – there wasn’t much – to do his damndest to physically block the way into his and Shaun’s tiny bedroom.

But Ethan shoved Steve aside like he was a rag doll, and made a beeline for Shaun, who was already bracing for the blow. Shaun heard the clinking of a metal buckle, and knew today his crime had been the worst – instead of fists, it had earned him the belt.

“Shaun! Shaun!” Lea cried out, still shaking the doorknob, trying to cut through Shaun’s petrified screaming. “Shaun, I love you, I love you, please let me in! I love you, Shaun, please, please let me in!” she sobbed.

Shaun tensed, half-aware of a female voice coming from behind the door. Mom, he thought. It’s over for another night. Mom is hurt. I am hurt. We will hurt together now.

“Shaun, it’s me, it’s Lea, I love you, please let me in!”

Mom’s name is Marcie, Shaun thought. Who is Lea?

Getting up from his bed on the floor slowly, as though he was in a trance, Shaun fumbled his way over to the door, half-crawling, half-walking, until he reached up for the doorknob and its lock.

The lock disengaged, but the door opened slowly, as Shaun was clinging to the doorknob and kneeling on his bedroom floor.

He looked up with terrified eyes at the mysterious woman standing in the doorway. She came into focus slowly, silhouetted by the moonlight, and Shaun could see her whole body shaking.

Not Mom. It’s Lea. Lea. Lea.

“Shaun,” she cried out, falling to her knees and holding out her arms.

“Lea,” he replied, collapsing into her embrace.

Chapter Text

Lea and Shaun sat opposite one another, cross-legged, on top of Shaun’s comforter on his bedroom floor.

Lea was holding both of Shaun’s hands in both of hers, and her grip was secure, but not crushing.

She did her best to avert her gaze from Shaun directly, as she had the distinct feeling he didn’t exactly... know who she was, at least at the moment.

He said her name occasionally, like a chant or a mantra, but didn’t elaborate further on who – or what – she was, to him. He also mumbled random words like ‘Steve’, ‘Mom’, ‘Dad’, ‘hurt’, and ‘retard’, and he was rocking back and forth gently.

“Where is your scalpel?” she asked him, in a low voice. “I’ll get it.”

“Night – stand,” he choked out. “Wrapped – cloth.”

Lea got up on her knees and shuffled over to the nightstand, and retrieved the scalpel. She decided to leave it wrapped in its cloth.

Nothing Shaun did lacked purpose: if it was in a cloth, there was a reason for that, and that was how she’d hand it to him.

She passed him the scalpel silently, still wrapped in the cloth. Shaun unwrapped it with a shaking hand, his other hand still in Lea’s, and began rubbing it, tears streaming down his face.

Lea purposely looked away this time: this was a private ritual, not for anyone’s observation or analysis.

She waited as patiently as she could while Shaun gradually returned to himself and stopped disassociating, studying the patterns in Shaun’s comforter, counting the checks.

“You - here – me – locked — ” Shaun said, trying to figure out how to construct coherent sentences again.

“I didn’t break in. You let me in. I promise,” Lea said.

“Thought – Mom – we both get hurt – let her in after – Dad hit us — ”

Lea said nothing. Be a presence, she repeated to herself. Just be here.

“When Dad had stopped hitting Mom – at least for the night – she would – she would knock on my door, saying ‘I love you, Shaun, please let me in’.”

Lea nodded. Okay, that particular sentence and word selection is triggering. I’m going to do everything I can to remember that. This is absolutely heartbreaking, she thought.

“When it was over for the night, and my Mom and I both hurt the same way — ”

Lea nodded, hoping Shaun could see the gesture by the moonlight slicing through the room.

“My brain doesn’t work right,” he said, in a little boy’s voice. “It never will.”

The next sentence shattered her heart.

“And now you know it, too.”

“No – no – Shaun – no – differently. Not wrong, or right. Differently,” Lea tried to tell him, but Shaun shook his head violently.

“Don’t do that, don’t do that, Shaun, you’re not supposed to make sharp movements — ”

“What does it matter? It doesn’t work right. Never has. Never will,” Shaun cried out, still the younger version of himself.

“Does this work properly?” Lea said, desperately, putting her hand over Shaun’s heart. It was racing so fast, Lea wondered if she ought to Google if that was a problem.

“I can feel it. It does. What about these?” she asked, touching his legs, arms, stomach, and neck. “They do.”

Then she touched Shaun’s head. “This works, too. Yes, it works differently. But why would you think that things working differently makes you less? Do you think people who maybe can’t use parts of their body at all are less, too?”

Shaun shook his head, but not violently.

“Then why do you think you aren’t right? Why do you think you’re less? What makes you think you’re so damn deficient?”

Shaun shrugged.

“You are not less. You are different, Shaun.”

“Different,” he repeated, giving her a lopsided smile. “A maelstrom.”

“I’m sorry, I – it’s just — ”

“It’s a nice way to tell me you know my brain doesn’t work right. My mind is a maelstrom.”

“And so what if it is?” Lea burst out.

Stop pitying me, Lea,” he bit out, savagely.

“Shaun, I don’t pity you. I never have. But I will... if you push me away.”

That got Shaun’s attention.

“I will pity you if you choose to give up. Because we could be the best thing that ever happened to one another, Shaun.”

Blunt, crazy wisdom, Shaun thought.

“And I will pity you if you – willingly – give this shot we have away, because then you will never know – for absolutely certain – just how good this could be. I will pity you for making the choice to miss out.”

“But Morgan said — ”

Fuck what Morgan says, Shaun! What do you say? Maybe I’m not gonna be the love of your life. Maybe you’re not gonna be the love of mine. I don’t know, Shaun, we haven’t even been a couple for twenty-four hours yet. But do you actually want to stick around and fucking find out, or do you want to run? I know you’re scared. I am too. But I’m still here, Shaun. Are you?”

“I haven’t told you why I wasn’t comfortable with swearing, particularly ‘fuck’. I... I do want to reclaim it as something else. Something positive. My – my father, used it every two seconds. Generally a few times, in most of the sentences he ever shouted at me.”

“Shaun, are you still here?” Lea asked him again, recognising the possible redirection and avoidance strategies he was employing.

Or, he missed the question altogether.

“Of course I’m still here. This is my bedroom, in our apartment.”

“No, Shaun... I’m asking if you are here, in this relationship.”

Shaun was silent for several long moments. It was excruciating to Lea.

Too excruciating.

“Okay — ” Lea began.

“Yes, I am here. In this relationship. With you,” Shaun said, but there was almost something... mechanical about his voice.

Maybe you will be, again. But you aren’t right now. You’re just saying the phrases you think are right. Too scared to be different, Lea thought. Too scared to say something unexpected.

“Okay,” she said, instead. “Do you want to sleep in my bed?”

“I don’t think I want to have sex,” Shaun replied, sounding apologetic.

“We won’t,” Lea assured him. “Let’s just sleep. We can keep each other safe.”

“Okay,” Shaun relented. He put his scalpel back down on his nightstand, once again wrapped lovingly in the cloth.

“Bring that,” Lea told him. “I know it helps you. I don’t know why – I assume there is a story – but it gives you a comfort that I just can’t... no matter how much I wish I could.”

Shaun gave Lea a look of total relief and gratitude, and picked up the bundle as gently as he might lift a baby from a crib.

Lea tried not to start crying again.

When they were settled in Lea’s bed, Shaun placed the scalpel gingerly on the nightstand.

“Do you want to talk?” Lea asked him. “Just go for it. Say whatever’s in your head.”

“My scalpel. There was a toy tool kit. It was in the kit. It was a gift from Steve. He always said, ‘Never forget: you’re the smart one. You can do anything. And I’m proud of you, Shaun’.”

“It brings him back to you. You remember him by it,” Lea guessed.

“Yes. And – it’s called ‘stimming’.”

“What is?” Lea asked, confused.

“The comfort I derive from touching the scalpel. It’s a repeated movement that calms me. Has helped me stop disassociating, in extreme cases. Some people have an emotional support animal. Some people use fidget spinners or cubes. Pen clicking or tapping drives me insane, but for some people that’s their stim. And touching the scalpel is mine.”

“Stimming,” Lea repeated, slowly. “And it’s wrapped in that cloth to protect it. You’d run back into a burning building to save it. You’d turn a place upside down to find it, if you noticed it missing.”

“I have,” Shaun said. “The hospital. I did practically turn it upside down to find it. I do that. I turned my old apartment upside down to find my star-tip screwdriver once, too. That’s why you heard the pipes clattering that night.”

“Is the scalpel your only stim?” Lea asked. “Do you want me to know about any more of them? Or — ?”

“They’d be embarrassing, if I were more conscious that I was doing them in the first place,” Shaun said. “When I’m very happy or excited, I bounce up and down on the spot, and wave my hands around – I flap them a little.”

“You did that the night I agreed to move in here with you,” Lea recalled. “I was sort of waiting for a hug.”

“Any time I’ve done that around you, specifically, it’s because there was... something else I wished I could have been doing instead, but I wasn’t allowed. It may take me some time to accept I can kiss you or hug you if I want to. And, obviously, I won’t be kissing and hugging other people if I’m happy around them. You’ll see me stimming instead – you’ll keep seeing it.”

“Okay,” Lea said.

“I do not tell people my stims. I would prefer you did not, either,” Shaun said, and she could hear the anxiety creeping into his voice.

“It is absolutely nobody’s business, Shaun, and I won’t tell anyone. I – I’m happy you told me.”

“Oh!” Shaun nearly yelped, startling Lea.

“What? What’s wrong?” Lea asked.

“I haven’t brushed my teeth or washed my face,” he said. “I need to go do that.”

“Well, I haven’t, either. Would you prefer I did?”

“Yes. Then I will be much more excited to kiss you again.”

“Okay,” Lea said softly, following him to the bathroom.

This will not be the last time he falls apart in my arms, she thought to herself. Will I always be strong enough to love him through it?

Chapter Text

“In some ways, I think — ” Lea began, tentatively.

“Yes?” Shaun asked.

“ — I just – I don’t know. I want to talk about the nightmares you had — ”

Shaun shrank back from her instinctively; Lea cringed.

Have I forgotten how the hell to start a sentence? she thought.

“I mean – I – I don’t want a play-by-play, but I think we have to talk about it in the abstract. Do you have nightmares like that often?”

“No,” Shaun said. “Not anymore. I had them more frequently when I lived alone. That’s why I needed my sink to drip like it did in Casper: hearing the water hit the metal of the sink is repetitive and soothing.”

Lea nodded, although Shaun felt, rather than saw it.

“It grounds you. Like how I sometimes have music playing softly during the night,” she said.

“Yes. It grounds me.”

“So, this is the first time you’ve had the nightmares since we’ve been living together?”

“Yes. It is.”

“God, I feel awful,” Lea sighed.

“Why?” Shaun asked.

“I think it’s my fault you had the nightmares, Shaun. Obviously.”

“Why would that be obvious? I do not understand. Did you reach into my mind and force me to dream about my childhood? That’s not possible, Lea. You cannot control what I dream about, any more than I can.”

“You locked me out, Shaun,” Lea said.

“You are wrong, Lea. I locked myself in,” Shaun replied.

“I hear you, I understand you, I know I shouldn’t get angry or yell at you. I know all those things, and yet I – just – could we please be, I don’t know, charitable about things and say I care? Like, a lot? I wouldn’t bother getting emotional about something I couldn’t care less about,” Lea pleaded.

“Do you get angry and yell at people at work? Your boss? Your other friends? In public places?” Shaun asked, shrewdly.

“No, I guess I don’t,” Lea answered, reluctantly. “I get angry, sure. Or upset. But I do know how to behave in public.”

“Then I am confused. Why is it acceptable for you to do those things to me, Lea? Is it because we’re in private? Is it because you don’t love the cashier in the store or your boss at work?” Shaun asked. His tone was mild, but his words cut right through to Lea’s soul.

“I — ”

He’s right. He is exactly right. As always, Lea thought.

“It’s not. I know it’s not,” Lea tried again. “But I — ”

“As long as you keep getting angry at me and yelling at me, I will keep shutting down. It is the only thing that can protect me. When you are angry and yelling, I cannot feel safe.”

“Am I meant to be emotionless, then?” Lea asked, hot-tempered. “Because, correct me if I’m wrong, Shaun: you are attracted to me.”

“Yes. I am. You know that.”

“Why?” Lea asked. “What is it about me that attracts you?”

“You make me feel alive,” Shaun responded.

“Okay, and can... anyone else... do that?” Lea pressed.

“Not like you,” Shaun answered, as though it was the most obvious answer in the world. “And I am not interested in giving anyone else the opportunity to try.”

“Okay. Part of being alive is having emotions, and allowing yourself to feel them — ”

“I am not saying you cannot have emotions, Lea,” Shaun interrupted. “I am not even saying you cannot get angry and yell at me — ”

“Then what are you saying, Shaun?”

“ — But I will shut down in the face of it. I guess that... I’ll give you consequences for treating me like that.”

Lea’s eyes narrowed.

Why did that phrase sound so damn... familiar?

“You were in the room with us,” Lea said, slowly, realising that Shaun had used almost the same phrasing she had, when Claire and Morgan had asked her about her feelings for Shaun, and why they weren’t a couple.

’I guess I gave him consequences for treating me like that.’

“You eavesdropped when I was talking to Claire and Morgan. I could have sworn I heard a door open while I was talking. It was you. You — ”

Without warning, and in embarrassed fury, Lea flung the comforter off of herself, flicked the switch on her lamp so hard it wobbled on the base, and stood up quickly from the bed.

She rummaged in her nightstand until she found what she was looking for: a well-worn piece of paper, folded and unfolded so many times it had holes in it.

She tossed it on the bed.

Shaun’s eyes were wide, and she saw his expression flicker between their own mix of embarrassment and fury, as he recognised exactly what Lea had thrown onto the bed.

With shaking hands, he picked up the letter he’d never sent to her, and unfolded it.

“Been looking for that?” Lea asked, sarcastically.

Pausing in rereading the letter he’d written her, Shaun looked up, and spoke calmly: “This was under the baseball you lent me. I never mailed it. Why do you have it?”

“I found it the night I came back. I picked up my baseball — ” Lea replied, emphasising the my. “And the letter was underneath it.”

“Why would you read something that was not yours?” Shaun asked, confused.

“It’s not mine? How does that work? It’s addressed to me,” Lea bit back.

“I never mailed it,” Shaun repeated.

“I know you didn’t. I’ve had it for months. I pocketed it in a panic when you nearly caught me reading it. I guess you’re not the only one who stumbles on information you were never meant to have, huh, Shaun?” Lea said. “Well, that’s all I’ve been keeping from you. Exactly what else did you overhear?”

“You never stopped wishing I would kiss you. You don’t think I do well with change. The whole story about what happened in Hershey. You don’t like San Jose. Morgan insists she hasn’t been a ‘heinous bitch’ from birth. The first thing you wanted to do when you saw me again was kiss me. And during our fights in my old apartment and outside the hospital, I apparently resembled the lead character in Psycho when I was yelling,” Shaun answered, his voice wry by the end. “The scalpel does not help that image.”

Lea sat down on the bed, and buried her face in her hands, until the last sentences hit her, and she snuffled, almost laughing, anger subsiding.

“You mean, you’ve been compared to the dude from Psycho before?” she managed to ask.

“Of course. The film students in my college dorm used to ask me whether I spied on girls in the shower. I got a little confused when they asked me about my mother. I told them I haven’t seen her in years. Apparently, that was especially funny to them.”

“Jeez,” Lea interjected, not really knowing whether to explain the relevant plot points, or leave it be.

“Particularly when I’m disassociating, I have a habit of staring past or through people, without really seeing them. I used to look at people for a long time without ever speaking, which Dr. Glassman informed me is ‘unnerving’. I got called ‘creepy’ a lot. ‘Moron’, ‘retard’, ‘spaz’, ‘perv’, ‘psycho’.”

“Wow. In school, too? People were that mean the whole way through?”

“Elementary, high school, undergrad. The insults were always fundamentally the same. I never bothered fighting back. It would only get worse if I tried. I don’t like being shoved headfirst into water, and that was a favourite tactic. It made sense to avoid it as much as possible.”

“I don’t think anyone likes that,” Lea said.

“Being submerged headfirst in toilet water is disgusting.”

“Oh, my God. They didn’t,” Lea gasped, feeling sick to her stomach.

“Yes. A few times. I’ve been pantsed, I’ve been kicked in the groin too many times to count, I’ve been spat at. I’ve been spat on, as well.”

What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Lea thought.

“You never made... any friends?” Lea asked.

“You’re pitying me now, aren’t you,” Shaun noted, in his matter-of-fact way.

“No. I’m just... appalled at the human race, sometimes. But surely there were people with ASD in college? There’s plenty of them in Silicon Valley. They had to get their degrees from somewhere.”

Shaun shook his head. “Until I treated a patient named Liam, who had autism, I’d never met another person with ASD.”

“Maybe not. Or you did, but you never realised they were on the spectrum, as well,” Lea speculated. “And they never told you.”

Shaun looked thoughtful. “That’s very possible. I’ve treated another patient with ASD more recently. Her name was Lana. Her roommate – Javi – was also autistic. Their relationship was purely physical. Javi loves Lana, though.”

“Javi was a guy, or a girl?” Lea asked.

“A guy,” Shaun answered.

“Huh. And Lana... doesn’t love Javi?”

“No. Javi said ‘I think I love you’, and Lana replied ‘I think you do, too’. She did not say it back.”

“Did it remind you of...?” Lea ventured.

“Of what?”

“Us. Did Lana and Javi remind you... of us?”

“I treated Lana around the same time you started having Jake over to stay the night,” Shaun said.

“You’re not answering the question,” Lea replied, a little frustrated.

“Are you asking if that’s when I put a name to my feelings for you?”

“Essentially, yeah.”

“I put names to quite a few of my emotions around that time.”


“Do you remember when I said that my life is better with you?”

“Yeah, absolutely. And, ditto. You know that, right?”

“Javi came to realise his life is better with Lana. That he’s a better person with her.”

“And that switched a metaphorical lightbulb on in your head, too?” Lea guessed.

“He said ‘I don’t love her. She’s my roommate’.”

“I think I see where this is going,” Lea commented.

“Yes. I am sure you do. You’re very smart,” Shaun told her.

Lea scoffed. “I’m not that smart.”

Shaun pointed to a framed degree on the wall. “The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League university. I think we can safely assume you are ‘that smart’.”

“Go, Quakers,” Lea said, ironically. “So I can pass a test. Woo-hoo. Well, you’re a freaking surgeon. Hey, did you go away to college? Claire seemed to think you never left Casper until you came here to San Jose.”

“Yes. I went away to college.”

Take that, Claire! Lea’s inner petty voice cheered. I know something you don’t know, doo-dah, doo-dah — oh, grow up.

“Ivy League?” Lea asked, the competitive streak of an Ivy graduate resurfacing.


“Oh, God, this is like pulling teeth! Where?” Lea asked, exasperated.

Shaun smiled beatifically.

“Harvard. You went to Harvard,” Lea guessed.

“Maybe,” Shaun answered, as close to coy as he ever got.

“It’s gotta be Harvard,” Lea said, decisively, having just recalled something pivotal she’d heard Shaun say, only a little while ago.

There is absolutely nowhere else he would have gone to get that degree. And I know exactly why I’m right.

“What makes you say that, Lea?” Shaun asked, but his eyes were darting all over the place. Another giveaway.

“Something you said earlier, actually. I was listening,” Lea said, enjoying their playful banter. “Steve always told you: ‘Never forget: you’re the smart one. You can do anything. And I’m proud of you, Shaun’.”

“Yes, Steve did say that. But why are you so sure I went to Harvard, Lea? How does what my brother said support your hypothesis?”

“Shaun. Shaun, Shaun, Shaun,” Lea tutted, jokingly. “Where else would the guy who can do anything want to go? And I’m guessing you had one hell of an admissions essay.”

At last, Shaun broke into a smile that made Lea’s heart flip.

“Yes. I did go to Harvard,” he replied. “And I like how you worked it out.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t keep saying I’m sorry for getting angry and raising my voice, and expect it to be okay forever, can I?” Lea asked, her tone turning serious again. “I can’t just blame it on who I am as a person.”

“I do not want you to change, Lea,” Shaun said, earnestly.

Lea sighed. “But you said it yourself, Shaun: If I keep getting angry and raising my voice at you constantly, our relationship will never be all it could be. You’ll always be closed in on yourself, and it’ll frustrate me, so I’ll shout louder – ha, like that’ll help – and...”

“Shouting meant I was about to be hit. Or worse.”

“I know. I know,” Lea groaned. “I’m not asking you to let me get away with it, Shaun. I’m just wondering how I can be myself – loud, fiery, passionate – while also not scaring the pants off the man I love.”

“You do scare the pants off me, Lea,” Shaun said, giving her a tiny smile.

“See, I want to laugh at that. But I don’t know if I should,” Lea said. “Any hints?”

“I meant it to be funny,” Shaun assured her.

“Oh, it’s funny, Shaun.”

“I like it when I can make you laugh, Lea. I’m not good at making people laugh with me. At me, perhaps — ”

“I honestly felt like we really ironed out all the potential creases in our relationship before we got into it,” Lea said, ruefully. “Not so much, huh?”

“To be fair, Lea, you didn’t know I have nightmares, or what happens to me when I do. I would not have thought to iron out that potential crease, either, since it had been a while since I last had those sorts of dreams.”

“Did you... uh... recognise me? When you finally let me in?” Lea asked, reluctantly.

“Yes and no. You already know I was hearing my mother — ”

“Noted. That particular sentence is triggering for you.”

“ — However, I recognised you properly when you took me in your arms. I felt safe there.”

“Yeah, probably ‘cause I wasn’t yelling, for a change,” Lea said.

“I do know very well by now that people yelling, and screaming, and getting angry, is a fact of life. I don’t know that I will ever feel safe being around people who are doing those things, though. Even if no-one’s yelling at me.”

“I always want you to feel safe. What helps you feel safe?” Lea asked him.

“The difficult thing,” Shaun started, propping himself up on an elbow, “is that a relationship can never be completely safe. If it is always safe, it will become boring.”

“I wouldn’t say boring — ” Lea hedged.

“Really? I certainly would,” Shaun responded, looking at her like he knew she was lying to make him feel better.

“Okay. Yeah, I would, too,” Lea admitted. “But there is a difference between building up to things, versus throwing you in the deep end fully clothed, and unable to swim. I could have said, ‘Do you want to kiss me?’ instead of ‘Kiss me’.”

“Lea, you did,” Shaun reminded her. “Your next move, after asking me if that was my first kiss, was to ask me if I wanted to do it again.”

“You’re easing my guilt,” Lea warned him. “Letting me off the hook. Maybe you shouldn’t.”

“Do you want me to see a therapist?” Shaun ventured, after a few moments of silence between them.

“Why are you asking me that?”

“I care about your opinion. I also trust you not to have one waiting for me in our apartment, like Dr. Glassman tried to do to me.”

“I don’t know, Shaun. Maybe it would help,” Lea admitted. “But then again, sometimes things are so deep-seated, that bringing them back up makes them worse. I know you could get a lot worse before you get better. I also know it’s possible you would be worse off altogether.”

“All salient points,” Shaun agreed.

“Therapy isn’t a panacea, no matter how much people like to pretend it is. And finding a therapist you click with... it’s hard. Then, finding one you, Mr. Crazy Work Schedule, can actually get time to see, that’s another issue. And you’re in a class all by yourself to begin with. So... there’s that.”

“Alphabet soup,” Shaun agreed, half-smiling. “ASD, OCD, GAD, C-PTSD, 2E, ND or NA, savant syndrome.”

Lea blinked, trying to translate the acronyms as Shaun rattled them off.

“... Come again?”

“Perhaps later — ”


“Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder...”

“Those are the two I actually got,” Lea said.

“... Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, twice exceptional, neurodiverse or neuroatypical, and savant syndrome.”

“‘Twice exceptional’?”

“Some people call it having ‘disability superpowers’. I have a disability, but I am also intellectually gifted. Which ties into savant syndrome. I have a few areas in which I am incredibly gifted. I also have areas in which I am noticeably deficient, when compared to NTs.”

“‘N’... ‘Ts’...” Lea sounded out.

“If NA is ‘neuroatypical’, then NT must be...?” Shaun prompted her.

“Neurotypical,” Lea answered.

“Thank you for not just defaulting to ‘normal-type people’,” Shaun said. “But I know some of my problems are ‘above your pay grade’, as people often put it.”

“I don’t like admitting that. At all,” Lea grumbled. “I’m a fixer. I try to fix things. I wanna help you, Shaun. I do.”

“I do not need a parent,” Shaun said. “And I don’t want one. I don’t want to see a therapist, either. I don’t want to change because someone says my life will be easier if I do. How would they know that?”

“Okay, but what about if I gave you advice to change something? Or Claire?”

Shaun looked down. “I cannot ask Claire for her advice anymore.”

Lea jerked in surprise at that statement. “Why’s that?”

“Claire is not my girlfriend. You are. To seek advice from her is no longer acceptable.”

“Who says that? Don’t tell me it’s that book you were reading.”

“There was a chapter titled, Beware the ‘Work Spouse’.”

“Claire isn’t your ‘work wife’, Shaun. She’s your friend, and your colleague. You definitely should ask her for advice. What the hell do I know about subdural haematomas and cerebral contusions?”

“No, Lea. I’ve asked Claire for advice about my friendship with you, in the past. The friendship between you and I is now a relationship. It is no longer appropriate for me to ask Claire’s advice on what I should do about situations that arise in the relationship I am in with you,” Shaun explained, patiently. “You have taught me that boundaries are important.”

I could not be more relieved that I do not have to explain all of these things to you, Shaun, Lea thought.

“The only solution is a therapist. They are fair and objective,” Shaun went on. “Carly is fair and objective, because she does not know you. However, she may be my new manager, and, if she is, I won’t be able to talk to her like that, either.”

“You need someone to talk to. I get it.”

“The only person left, who I neither work with, nor am subordinate to, is Jared. He’s in Denver. Asking advice from people who aren’t around is difficult, Lea. I know you know that, because I wrote it in my letter.”

“Are you angry I read it? I’m sorry I threw it on the bed, I was embarrassed that you eavesdropped on me.”

“I could have hid it better. I put it under the baseball as a reminder, because I considered sending both of them to you in Hershey. I’m not angry that you read it. As you pointed out, it was addressed to you.”

“You were going to send my baseball back? I hope you were intending on hiring an armoured truck to courier that thing, it’s priceless!”

“Yes. Some days, it hurt even just to know it was in my apartment. I tried to put it in a high cupboard, out of sight, but that didn’t work. I still knew it was there. So I decided I had to get rid of it.”

“And then I showed up in person,” Lea said.

“I’m tired again, Lea,” Shaun said. “I think I can sleep now.”

“Of course. It’s so late that it’s actually early. I’m sleepy too,” Lea admitted, reaching out to touch Shaun’s cheek briefly, and not daring to do much more than that.

“I want you to stay close to me, Lea. Please,” Shaun said, leaning across to kiss her good night.

“Yeah, anything. How close, exactly? You want to show me? Or tell me?”

“As close as we can be, without sharing the same pillow.”

They snuggled closer together, leaving a small gap between them.

“I love you, Lea.”

“I love you too, Shaun.”

We’ll work it out, Lea thought. What we’ve got is something I will fight for.

Chapter Text

“Good morning,” Shaun said, waiting for Lea to sit up in bed, before handing her a steaming mug of coffee.

“Oh, thank you,” Lea replied, taking a sip and placing it carefully on the nightstand.

“I have been looking at beds on the IKEA Web site. Do you want to give me your opinion? I’ve made a shortlist.”

“Of course you have.”

“And I’ve measured the available space in my bedroom.”

“Hey – I was thinking – do you still want to keep separate bedrooms? Or should we move into one, and make the other bedroom a guest room?”

“I am not ready to share a bedroom with you full-time, Lea,” Shaun admitted, apologetically. “I was hoping we could split our nights between my room and yours. At least for the foreseeable future.”

“That’s perfectly okay, sweetheart,” Lea assured him. “I just didn’t want you settling for less than what you had actually hoped for, so I thought I’d check.”

“Thank you.”

“Okay then, about these beds.”

Shaun got onto the bed beside her, an iPad in hand. He scrolled through his shortlist.

“The Malm looks like a simple shape,” he said.

“Yeah, it’s nice, but changing the bedsheets would be a pain. Look how it sits in the frame.”

“Yes, that does look annoying. I also like the Hemnes — ”

Lea looked at the indicated bed, and noted the bars of the bedhead. “I have plans for that bedhead,” she whispered to Shaun, grinning wickedly.

“Well, yes, I would need help to build it,” Shaun said.

Lea chuckled softly. “You’re so innocent. Look again.”

She watched Shaun’s face turn red, as he peered more closely at the picture.

“There’s the Songesand and Brimnes. Then the Tyssedal. But I think you like the Hemnes best,” Shaun observed, still faintly pink.

“Yeah, but which one do you like?” Lea pressed him.

“I like the Hemnes and the Songesand. I have room for a full or queen bed, but probably not a king.”

“Queen,” Lea decided. “There’s room to move, and there’s room to be separate.”

“Do you want to go to IKEA today?”

“Sure, do you want to go now or later? If it’s now, I just have to finish my coffee.”

“I’d prefer to get it out of the way, and have the rest of today free.”

“Actually, today’s Saturday. Do you want pancakes? Is it my turn to make them this week, or yours?”

“We could make them together.”

“I like that idea.”

“Every time I visit that place, I remember why I avoid it,” Lea groaned, as she pushed open the door of the apartment, Shaun coming up behind her. “It’s exhausting. I’m not even sure the meatballs are worth it.”

“It was especially crowded today. It’s Saturday,” Shaun pointed out.

“Yes, thank you for that, Shaun.”

“I want to watch Netflix,” Shaun said.

Lea cocked an eyebrow at him. “Is the ‘and chill’ implied here?”

“I am not having sex on this couch. People have to sit here. I’d be distracted watching them sit in the same places we did unspeakable things to one another,” Shaun said, very firmly.

“You mean we’re never getting it on in this lounge? That’s disappointing,” Lea protested.

“I did not say that. I said we are not ‘getting it on’ on the couch. It’s less deep than my single bed, for a start, which would be uncomfortable.”

“I am absolutely certain there is a compromise to be found here,” Lea hinted.

“I have considered several. We could move the coffee table, lay one of our comforters down on the floor – this is wood flooring – and have sex. We could also buy a TV stand on castors, and wheel it into whichever bedroom we are occupying that evening.”

“Or we could buy a third comforter, one that’s way too thick for anywhere but, like, the Arctic Circle, designate it the ‘Sex Comforter’, and lay that down instead.“

“That could work,” Shaun said.

“I’m just full of ideas, sweetie,” Lea responded. “Did Claire reply to your text, by the way? I never asked.”

“She hasn’t,” Shaun said. “I’m sure she is busy.”

The buzzer had gone off in Claire’s apartment while she was making lunch – she was starved – and she went to answer it, annoyed.

The video screen showed a courier, bearing an absolutely enormous flower arrangement in his arms.

“I’ve got a delivery for a ‘Dr. Claire Browne’?” the courier said.

“This is she,” Claire answered. “But I don’t think those are mine. I don’t have anyone I — ”

The courier checked his consignment note. “Nope, definitely for you. Secret admirer, maybe? Anyway, could you buzz me up, please? I need you to sign for these.”

“Uh, sure, okay.”

The courier knocked on her door about four minutes later, and he was barely visible past the arrangement he was struggling to keep balanced.

“Wow, I think someone sent me an entire florist, not an arrangement!” Claire laughed, relieving the poor struggling courier of the electronic pad and stylus, and signing her name.

“Whoever sent you these must be head-over-heels in love with you. Whoa. That thing was heavy.”

“I don’t even know if I have room for these,” Claire worried.

“Lady, I’m not bothered, just show me where to drop them and I’ll get outta your hair.”

“I guess you can put them on my dining table,” Claire suggested. “Thank you.”

When the courier had left, looking visibly relieved to be free of the portable, veritable flower garden he’d staggered in with, Claire sat down at her dining table, then plucked the white note card from the front of the arrangement, and read the message written on it.

Claire —

I don’t thank you half as often as I should. I’m sorry.

— Shaun.

Claire’s phone had been on Do Not Disturb all night and she’d left it in her room, instead of in her pocket – strictly verboten for residents, but she’d been totally wiped after her shift, and it was just this once. She was trying to reclaim a little bit of that elusive phenomenon: actual work-life balance.

She picked up her phone and noticed an unread message had come through sometime last night, presumably while she’d been dead to the world.

She scanned the text Shaun had sent her on Friday night, and wondered what on Earth to type in reply.

She stared at the text. She stared at the flowers. She stared at the note card.

What am I supposed to think? she wondered.

“I could write that. It’s as good a question as any, right?” Claire asked the empty apartment.

She slowly picked up her phone again and snapped a photo of the flowers, then texted it to Morgan, along with: Maybe you were onto something.

Also around Saturday noon, Morgan had answered her own buzzer to take delivery of a smaller, though no less exquisite, flower arrangement.

The card read:

Morgan —

Thank you for helping me – personally and professionally.

— Shaun.

P.S. You and Alex once made a bet, and he requested a particular type of Scotch whiskey if he won. What kind was it?

Opening the photo Claire had sent on her phone, and waiting for it to load, Morgan almost spat her matcha latte onto her screen when it finally appeared.

Did Shaun rob a florist? she sent back to Claire. Make a damn move already, or I’ll do it for you!

Claire typed back: I think you’ve made enough moves on everyone’s behalf recently, but thanks for the pep talk, Coach. 

Morgan narrowed her eyes and stared at the photo of the flowers Shaun had sent to Claire, then back at her own arrangement, and shook her head in disbelief.

What other proof do you need, Browne? she thought.

She sent a text to Shaun: You literally don’t know how to do anything other than ‘go big’, do you, Murphy?

His reply came back. No.

Morgan thought for a moment, then wrote: You’re the kind of person who sorts online shopping catalogues from high to low prices, aren’t you?

Shaun replied: I don’t know what you mean.

Morgan typed back: Yes, you do. That’s why there’s a $2,368 Armani tux in your closet, a $1,643 television in your living room, and an entire florist’s inventory on Claire’s dining table. Oh, and you live in a very nice, very expensive apartment.

Before Shaun could reply to that, Morgan dashed off a separate text: Thank you for the flowers. They’re gorgeous.

“Hey, Mr. Popular, that buzzing and tapping is super distracting. I’m trying to concentrate on the mysterious vanishing of Will Byers, and the reasons behind it. Which you’re also supposed to be doing, by the way. Can you put that phone down, please?” Lea asked Shaun, irritably, noticing he seemed to be distracted by his phone and texting a lot.

Shaun pressed the crescent moon icon on his phone to place it in Do Not Disturb mode, avoiding Lea’s gaze. He placed the phone into his pocket.

Be present, he reminded himself, mentally flicking back through the pages of the self-help book he’d read yesterday. Be in the moment with your partner.

He couldn’t help noticing that Claire still hadn’t replied, even though he knew she’d signed for the flowers – the courier had e-mailed a tracking link and a photo of Claire’s signature.

Doing his best to put Claire’s lack of response out of his mind, Shaun returned to watching Stranger Things, recognising a little of himself and his own history in the character of Eleven. The selective mutism. The suspicion of everyone and everything, every bump in the night. The extraordinary gifts.

He shivered.

“Hey, are you okay?” Lea whispered, pressing Pause. “I, uh – I forgot that this might be a little confronting to watch, with Eleven’s backstory in the lab, and — ”

“It’s okay. You remind me of Mike,” Shaun whispered back, finding it in himself to smile a little.

“Ha. Well, I hope I don’t look like him, ‘cause that kid’s hair is a... choice,” Lea giggled, tangling her fingers in his. She snuggled up against his side. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

“I sent the flowers,” Shaun said, and it came out louder than he’d intended. “To Claire and Morgan. I had them delivered to their homes. It avoids having the flowers turned away at the hospital.”

Lea looked up at him with an expression he couldn’t quite read. “Oh. I guess that’s why you were texting so much. They must have gotten them recently. Did you choose nice ones – what am I saying? What a stupid question, of course you chose pretty ones.”

“I sorted by high to low prices. I got Claire the biggest arrangement, and Morgan a smaller one.”

“Knowing you, you went overboard,” Lea chuckled, ruffling his hair, her expression back to one of fondness, rather than whatever the other one had been.

Turning his head and looking anxiously over the back of the couch towards the door, Shaun wondered what Lea would say when her own flowers were delivered. The e-mail had come through, and they were en route.

After the end of episode three, the buzzer went off, and Shaun leapt up to answer it.

Lea was flicking through the Recently Added section of Netflix, and Shaun slipped outside the apartment to sign for the two dozen red roses.

It’s cliche because it works, bro. Just tell her you’re sorry you missed Valentine’s Day! Jared had texted him, when Shaun had sought his opinion. BTW, congrats on making it happen with that fit neighbour of yours! Oh, sorry, your roommate! You’re the man!

Although it had pained him to match Jared’s vernacular, Shaun had written back, cringing all the while: Thanks, bro.

“Hey, who was th — ” Lea said, walking up to the apartment door, just as Shaun was coming back in.

She looked at Shaun first, and then her eyes lit on the roses in Shaun’s arms.

“These are – I didn’t send anyone else red – I saved them for — ” Shaun tried to get out, starting three different sentences, but not really committing to any of them.

Which, at this point, honestly just felt like an apt metaphor to sum up his increasingly fraught connections to three remarkable, courageous, intelligent women.

“I wanted these to get here first, but it didn’t work – I’m sorry — ”

“Shaun — ”

“These are for you,” he said, finally following through on one of his sentences, and gently laying the flowers, wrapped in beautifully printed paper, cellophane – the squeak of which set his teeth a little on edge – and tied with a deep red satin ribbon, in Lea’s waiting arms.

“I wanted these to get here first, because then you would be the first woman I’ve ever given flowers to. It didn’t work. I’m sorry,” he apologised.

“Oh, Shaun,” Lea said softly, looking up at him in a way that gave him the courage to keep going – keep standing there – keep explaining.

“But I got to give them to you in person – and you’re the first woman I’ve ever done that for – so that will have to be enough.”

“It’s more than enough, Shaunie. These are just — you are a living grand romantic gesture, you know that? You didn’t have to — ” Lea tried to tell him.

“I wanted to. I’ve been wanting to. They would have been here on Valentine’s Day if I – they’re late. I’m very sorry,” Shaun apologised again.

“Let me find a vase for these,” Lea said, carrying the roses carefully over to the kitchen counter, and putting them down.

“It is in there,” Shaun said, pointing to one of the cabinets. “I remember unpacking it.”

Lea rummaged in the indicated cabinet, and found her only vase, which she’d been inexplicably drawn to at Goodwill. She wasn’t normally one for a lot of knickknacks – especially not vases – but it had been pretty.

She washed it out quickly with lukewarm water and dish soap, filled the vase to two-thirds full with water, and dissolved the sachet of flower food into it.

“Do you want help?” Shaun asked, a little anxiously. He couldn’t tell what Lea actually thought of the roses, and it was scaring him a little.

“No... uh... okay, yes. I’ve never been given two dozen red roses before,” Lea admitted. Unspoken was the fact that she’d once received a mere dozen, but that information wouldn’t help anyone.

“Do you want to snip stems or do flower arranging?” Lea asked. “I know you like to cut things.”

“I don’t mind.”

“You cut. I’ll arrange.”


They stood side-by-side behind the kitchen counter.

“Trim their stems at a 45-degree angle, remove the leaves on the stem, and hand them to me. I’ll put them in the water,” Lea instructed, taking the roses one by one as Shaun trimmed them.

When the flowers were all standing in the vase, Lea took a step back and admired them, while Shaun went and turned the television off, then returned to the counter, sitting on a barstool.

“Sweetheart,” she began, as she sat down next to Shaun, wanting to broach a touchy subject, a pattern she had noticed with him, before things got out of hand.


“I meant what I said, about you being a grand romantic gesture personified. But this is just the second day of our relationship. I understand and love what you were doing with the roses, but not everything has to be big. Some things are little big. Big little. That doesn’t make sense, I know, but I’ll try to explain. Not every day has to be filled with gifts and heartfelt speeches. I want us to find joy in the ordinary, too. I don’t want you to come home with jewellery or flowers all the time.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” Shaun burst out, looking quite relieved. “That could get very expensive. And I’d run out of ideas about what to buy.”

“Exactly,” Lea said. “But I adore the roses, Shaun. I don’t want you to have any doubts about that at all.”

“I was very worried you wouldn’t like them. I know it isn’t an original idea — ”

“I couldn’t care less if it was original or not. What makes it original is the fact that I’m the first girl you ever gave red roses to. That’s a special thing.”

Chapter Text

“And – she’s – in! Yay! You have a new bed!” Lea exclaimed, putting down her drill.

It was Sunday afternoon. Shaun’s new bed had been delivered that morning, and Lea had built it, with some assistance from Shaun.

Shaun had plucked out the Allen key from the bag of fasteners, and offered it to Lea. She had shaken her head and left the apartment briefly, returning with a tool bag and wielding an electric drill.

She had motioned for Shaun to get his earmuffs, while she drilled and hammered the parts together. They had communicated mostly in gestures, as he passed her the fasteners she needed.

“Thank you, Lea,” Shaun said.

“Oh, no prob, I like building things. Let’s roll out the slats, throw the mattress on top, and have a drinks break, huh?”

“I’ll put the sheets on. You go have your drink.”

When the bed was made, and before he could lose his nerve, Shaun crept up behind Lea, who nearly tossed her drink in fright.

Not the most auspicious start.

Putting his hands on her shoulders, he whispered in her ear, “Do you want to...?”

“Yeah... do you wanna shower first?” Lea asked, knowingly, hopping off the stool and reaching for Shaun’s hand, tugging him to the bathroom with her.

“Shaun, sweetie, can you please pass me the nearest item of clothing that isn’t underwear? I wanna bury my face in it,” Lea requested, a little breathlessly.

“Why?” Shaun asked, looking up at Lea, worried he was doing something wrong. He stopped touching her.

“Because... as long as you’re doing these wicked, wicked things to me... I really need something to scream your name into,” Lea elaborated, reaching out to get his hand back where he’d last been touching her – at last count, there had been two or three very inquisitive fingers involved, one of which was making a certain... beckoning motion. From the inside.

What do you know? It’s not a myth! she thought, happy little aftershocks coursing through her.

“Oh. Okay. That will be a shame,” Shaun replied, eyes downcast. His hand stilled again, after he’d withdrawn his fingers, very gently.

“A shame?” Lea queried, confused.

“Yes. I would miss looking at your face. Watching you climax is fascinating. And also, intensely arousing to me.”

“Out of interest, where the hell did you learn all of... this?” Lea asked, gesturing vaguely at her bottom half. She was still mostly boneless and hazy.

“When there’s something I want to understand, I research it obsessively,” Shaun explained, patiently. “I want to understand what I am doing to you, and how it makes you feel. I want to know what it is I’m doing that makes you feel like you need to scream my name.”

“How do you not have, like, a hundred ex-lovers? You’re incredibly considerate, and the communication is honest and refreshing.”

“I do not like to be touched. Touch seemed to be a non-negotiable, inextricable requirement for achieving some sort of romantic or sexual congress with others. I opted out.”

“Wait – what?” Lea asked, worriedly. “You don’t like to be touched? Where does that leave us, then?”

“I do not like receiving physical contact I have not explicitly asked for.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Yet, you’re worried you’ve done something wrong,” Shaun noted. “Why?”

“Like I said earlier: I see you suffer through things, Shaun. I don’t want you to do that with me. In fact, I’m gonna beg you not to,” Lea said. “If there’s something you’re putting up with – if you’re making trade-offs – if you’re compromising yourself for me, I need you to tell me, sweetheart. Please, tell me. If you’re scared, don’t be — ”

“No — ”

“We can slow down, if you want to. Sex hormones make people crazy with lust. They do. Then the dust settles, and it’s like ‘Did I do this for the right reasons?’”

“Lea, please listen. I have had a lot of time to think about being in this relationship. Autism doesn’t have to preclude friendships, attraction, romantic relationships, or a sex drive. Perhaps it does, for some autistic people. But I can only speak for myself, and autism doesn’t preclude those things for me. So, speaking for myself: I want this. I want you, more than I can explain. I have wanted you since before I even knew the feeling actually had a name.”

“Including the physical aspect?” Lea pressed.

“Including the physical aspect. I’m not going to like everything physical that we ever try. And you’re not going to like everything physical we ever try, either. Here is a list of things I know I don’t like: I don’t want you to bite me; I don’t want you to dig your nails into my back; and I don’t want to have sex in the shower – I’ve treated people who hurt themselves doing it. There are things you don’t like, either. Tell me some of them.”

Lea thought for a few moments. “I don’t like anal. For me, personally, that’s an exit, not an entry. Um, I really don’t like being choked. Sex on the beach is a nightmare. Sand in so many places.”

Shaun nodded, as though he was making mental notes. “Is there anything you don’t ever want to try?”

“Golden showers. Scat. Pegging. Threesomes. Group sex. Facials. Open relationships. Swinging. What can I say? I’m a serial monogamist. Uh... usually,” she added, self-consciously, a little bubble of sorta-kinda cheater’s guilt forming in her stomach.

“I stole a kiss, and I asked for a kiss. I’m just as complicit, Lea.”

“Did I push you away? Tell you I couldn’t? Noooooope. Guilty, guilty, guilty. I think a part of your innocence died that day, and it’s all my fault.”

“Oh, Lea, a lot of my innocence has died this week. In general,” Shaun proclaimed. “But I’m okay.”

Lea snickered. “You. I like you.”

“Yes. I like you, too. Are you hungry? I’ll fix you something.”

“If you’re cooking, I’m gonna request that awesome macaroni cheese you made the night I came back. God, it was good. Do you want help?”

“I have to go to the supermarket. I think we have the macaroni and nothing else.”

“Okay. Are you up to driving?”

“Yes. It’s not far. I’ll tell you if I’m nervous.”

“Okay, let’s get dressed and go.”

Returning from the supermarket, Shaun set out his ingredients and tools (‘mise en place’, he explained to Lea, again with that accent).

In hindsight, Lea thought, Jake’s accent on the same phrase had been... pedestrian, at best. She was starting to understand why some women commented: ‘He could literally read me the Goddamn phone book, and I’d still drop my knickers’, when they heard certain accents.

Shaun set a pot of salted water on the stove to boil, and while that was happening, he chopped the bacon, cut open the two bags of cheese (Parmesan and cheddar), set out another pan for putting the bacon on to fry first, and then tore aluminium foil to wrap the cooked bacon in, to keep warm. Finally, he poured milk into a small saucepan to heat.

“I’ll make the roux from the rendered bacon grease,” he explained to Lea. “Possibly a little butter, if I need it.”

“You sure that’s all in hand? That’s three burners going, and heating milk is finicky sometimes. I’m happy to help,” Lea protested, jumping up from her stool.

“Okay. Could you take over the pasta, please?” Shaun relented, after pouring dried macaroni into the water, then moving away and passing the wooden spoon to Lea, who started stirring and taking occasional glances at the clock to time the cooking.

She felt – and saw – Shaun eyeing her, furtive little stares. He pressed down on the bacon with a spatula, listened to it crackle for a few moments, and then turned the burner off. He also turned off the burner with the milk shortly after.

“What?” Lea said, self-consciously touching her hair, like it was out of place, feeling shy under his gaze.

“I’m finding joy in the ordinary,” Shaun said, simply, kissing Lea on the top of her hair, and lingering there for a moment.

“You speak French, don’t you?” Lea asked suddenly, as he pulled away to make the roux, remembering she’d wanted to check on that. “Like, fluently. Or at least conversationally.”

“How do you know that?” Shaun asked, now stirring flour into the pan.

“Your accent is noticeable, even just from short phrases. Do you use it much? I wish I knew a different language. I tried to learn Spanish with Duolingo once. It – uh, didn’t go so well.”

“I can teach you Spanish,” Shaun said, off-handedly. “My Spanish is better than my French.”

“I’m starting to think I dreamed you up. You’re an attentive and generous lover; you speak at least two languages other than English – that I know of; you can cook; you like to clean, for heaven’s sake! Oh, and you went to Harvard, to become a surgeon,” Lea added at the end, almost as an afterthought.

“I’m real,” he replied, shaking pepper into the roux.

“Oh. And just so you know, if I find out you wear glasses occasionally, well, stick a fork in me, I’m done. Then, you can stick something else in me, while wearing said glasses. Thank you!”

“I have considered them,” he replied. “Glasses are something I’m aware I might benefit from, in the future.”

“Anytime soon would be fine. How’s your cheese sauce going? Pasta’s done,” Lea said, turning off the burner.

“The sauce is nearly ready. Just have to add the pasta and the bacon.”

“God, it smells delicious.”

Shaun stirred the hot milk and then the cheese into the roux, letting it bubble and melt for a few minutes. After that, he added the cooked pasta, followed by the bacon, and let the whole thing heat for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, Lea set out bowls, glasses, and a trivet, then took out flatware and a ladle from a drawer. She poured La Croix into their glasses.

“It’s not the healthiest thing I can make,” Shaun said, almost by way of an apology, lifting the pan and bringing it to the counter island, setting it down on the trivet.

“Hey, it’s home-cooked. I’m calling it ‘healthy’,” Lea pronounced, ladling pasta into a bowl. “This is yours. Say ‘when’.”

“Thank you,” Shaun said, accepting the bowl from Lea, and sitting down at the counter. Lea served herself next, then took a seat next to him.

“So, the French, and the Spanish,” Lea began between mouthfuls, waving her fork around. “How’s that?”

“I studied them to distract myself when I spent too long with my medical textbooks,” Shaun explained. “And this is California: speaking Spanish may help me in my job. The French was in case I worked in Canada.”

“Can you say something? I mean, it’s good I’m sitting down now, you know. It might... do things to my knees when I hear it.”

Shaun thought for a moment. “Vous êtes la plus belle femme que j'aie jamais vue. Soy el hombre más afortunado del mundo.”

“That was both French and Spanish in there,” Lea noted. “Are you trying to make me collapse? Keep going: you’re almost there.”

Shaun shrugged, nonchalantly. “You weren’t specific about which language you wanted to hear.”

“Are you going to translate?” Lea asked.

“Hmm. No. Not now,” Shaun answered politely, gathering up their empty bowls, glasses and flatware, plus the cooking pots, and loading the dishwasher.

Much later that night, when they were settled in Shaun’s new bed, he leaned over to Lea, and whispered in her ear, “You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

Lea felt her face go warm, and in reply, she expressed some sentiments of her own, by way of kisses, cuddles, and a few other little things she wanted to offer up.

Shaun understood exactly what she was trying to say.

Chapter Text

“All right, Dr. Andrews, what’s all this cloak-and-dagger business about?” Dr. Jackson Han asked, as he strode into the conference room Marcus had reserved, mid-morning on Monday.

The other attendees glanced at him in irritation, as Jackson was running late and had kept them waiting. He took a seat at the conference table, leaning back leisurely in his chair, and appearing entirely unruffled.

“Ah, Jackson. Glad you made it. Good, now we’re all here. Thank you, everyone, for your attendance. I’ve called this meeting to discuss the future of Dr. Shaun Murphy’s surgical residency, here at St. Bonaventure,” Marcus began, addressing the attendees: Dr. Audrey Lim, Dr. Neil Melendez, Dr. Carly Lever, and Dr. Han.

“Hello, Jackson,” Allegra Aoki’s voice issued from a phone in the middle of the table.

“Good morning, Ms. Aoki. Dr. Andrews, I’m afraid I’m not sure why we’re discussing the future of Dr. Murphy’s surgical residency, as it’s my understanding that Dr. Murphy will commence his new Pathology residency on Thursday this week, when he returns from FMLA,” Jackson spoke up, pleasantly.

“I see,” Allegra’s voice came out of the speaker. “And Dr. Murphy is aware of this... change in his employment?”

“Yes, Ms. Aoki. Dr. Murphy was made aware of the change in a meeting last Thursday morning. Effective immediately following that meeting, Dr. Murphy was no longer a member of my department.”

“Okay, and the Pathology department was happy to take on Dr. Murphy?”

“That’s correct, Ms. Aoki, and Dr. Carly Lever will be overseeing the transition process, as Dr. Murphy moves on to new challenges within our Pathology department.”

“I understand. Jackson, I did want to ask: were Dr. Lim or Dr. Melendez made aware of the loss of a surgical resident from their team?”

Jackson’s smile faltered. “Not – exactly. At the end of my meeting with Dr. Murphy, I was running late to scrub in for a procedure, and I expressed to Dr. Murphy that I was dismissing him for the rest of the day. I appreciated that the news of this change might have come as something of a shock, and I thought it was the best course of action.”

“Right. And you didn’t include Dr. Melendez or Dr. Lim in this meeting with Dr. Murphy?”

“No, I didn’t see the point. I did, however, have Dr. Lever attend part of the meeting, as she will be Dr. Murphy’s supervisor.”

“Yes, right,” Allegra said.

“Thinking back, it’s possible I neglected to mention to Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez that I had sent Dr. Murphy home from work. I apologise unreservedly for any inconvenience that may have caused to anyone else. As I said, I was running late to scrub in, and it must have slipped my mind.”

“I have to admit, Jackson, I’m fairly confused here. Dr. Murphy is a surgical resident. That’s what his contract says he is,” Allegra pronounced, slowly. “Did Dr. Murphy indicate to you that he was feeling unable to continue with his current residency? By all accounts, he’s adapted well to most anything he’s encountered in his role, with the possible exception of the meltdown during the quarantine.”

“No, Ms. Aoki, I — ”

“Let me see if I have this correct, Jackson. You... didn’t think informing Dr. Lim or Dr. Melendez of the change in Dr. Murphy’s role – their resident’s role – was important?”

“Respectfully, Ms. Aoki, as Chief of Surgery, the discretion of who is and who is not employed in Surgery falls to me. I have made the decision that Dr. Murphy will not be continuing with his surgical residency here.”

“So, you made the decision unilaterally. You didn’t consult anyone beforehand, Jackson?” Allegra inquired.

“Well, Ms. Aoki, I did briefly discuss the possibility of transferring Dr. Murphy’s residency to Pathology with Dr. Andrews. I also expressed to Dr. Melendez and Dr. Lim, on other occasions, that I had numerous concerns about Dr. Murphy’s suitability for Surgery, and that I believed Pathology would be a better fit for his particular skill set.”

“Hmm,” Allegra replied. “Jackson, did you, at any time, raise these concerns with Dr. Murphy, himself? It seems odd to me that you moved straight to switching him to another department. Wouldn’t it have been more reasonable to make Dr. Murphy aware of those issues first? Perhaps, together, come up with a plan on how he could overcome them? You seem very cognizant of his talents. Why wouldn’t you seek to nurture them in Surgery?”

“Ms. Aoki, one such example of these concerns is Dr. Murphy’s treatment of a mother of a paediatric patient. It was particularly egregious. He expressed to this utterly bereft woman that her anti-depressant medication could have had a hand in her newborn’s birth defects. Obviously quite a traumatic thing for a parent to hear, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I’d like to jump in here, if I may,” Audrey spoke up.

There was a general murmuring of assent.

“Thank you. Ms. Aoki, Dr. Han – my understanding is that this mother asked Dr. Murphy – point-blank – whether ceasing paroxetine after she’d conceived would have been too late to avoid possible complications with the foetus.”

“Okay, Dr. Lim, and why would paroxetine be of particular concern in pregnancy?” Allegra asked Audrey.

“In layman’s terms, Ms. Aoki, paroxetine – Paxil – is an anti-depressant medication that may be implicated in birth defects. We call that a potential ‘teratogen’. Paxil is therefore generally contraindicated in pregnancy,” Audrey added. “If you want an example of how devastating teratogens can be, you need only look to children whose mothers were given thalidomide to combat morning sickness.”

“I see. Thank you for providing further context to the issue, Audrey. I have certainly seen photos of children deformed by thalidomide. Yes, teratogens would be incredibly worrying to an expectant mother.”

“When this mother asked Dr. Murphy if the Paxil was to blame for her daughter’s condition, he gave an honest response: that being, it was possible, citing a study. However, by no means did Dr. Murphy make a definitive statement that the medication was the entire cause. Ever. And nobody can. That’s because testing medications on women known to be pregnant is unethical. Paxil is in pregnancy category D, meaning there is strong evidence of risk to a developing foetus – a possible teratogen. However, depending on what the medication is being used to treat, sometimes these medications are taken anyway, if the benefits could outweigh the possible risks. Anecdotally, Paxil is one of the hardest medications to cease taking.”

“Expanding on Dr. Lim’s take on the situation — ” Neil hastened to mention: “I’d like to add that, as I heard it, the parents approached Dr. Murphy when they knew he was alone. I’d also like to note that Paxil use in pregnancy is particularly associated with an increased risk of congenital heart defects. The infant in question was, indeed, born with heart defects.”

Neil then turned to Jackson and addressed him directly: “With respect, Dr. Han: would Dr. Murphy turning away and refusing to answer have been better, or perhaps referring the parents to someone else? I’m not convinced it would have been. They would have assumed the worst if Dr. Murphy hadn’t spoken. Lying and evading is corrosive to the doctor-patient relationship. A patient – or a parent of one – cannot make sound health decisions, without knowing the truth. For that matter, what if the parents had just gone and gotten the same opinion from someone else, and came back accusing Dr. Murphy of not being candid with them?”

“Regardless of these factors, it was an unacceptable response to give a traumatised parent,” Jackson pronounced, stubbornly, then turned resolutely back to the phone on the desk, seemingly disregarding everything Neil and Audrey had just told him. “Dr. Murphy should have known better.”

Audrey felt her blood start boiling. Under the table, Neil took her hand briefly and squeezed it, feeling the tension in her fingers and wrist.

I’m frustrated too, he tried to say, telepathically.

“Thus, returning to your line of inquiry, Ms. Aoki,” Jackson continued, his voice mild: “It was then that I spoke with the Chief of Pathology about a transfer. When that was approved, I sought out Dr. Murphy, and presented the alternative residency in the Pathology department to him, for his consideration. I also made it clear that his previous residency in Surgery would no longer be available to him. Again, that’s at my sole discretion, and that is the decision I have taken. I’m quite surprised and disturbed that my choices are being called into question.”

“Yes, Jackson, you are the Chief of Surgery,” Marcus agreed. “However, I am the President of this hospital, and that means I have to be on guard for potential lawsuits from – and on behalf of – patients. And, I need to be worried about possible lawsuits brought against this hospital by its employees, because not only do I answer to the Board, I also answer to the California Department of Labour. I am deeply concerned about what appears to be wilful ignorance of our obligations to Dr. Murphy, as his employer, and, indeed, all our employees. By your own admission, you did not attempt to performance manage Dr. Murphy, you simply made a decision to change his job.”

“Dr. Andrews — ” Jackson began.

“I took it in good faith, Jackson, that the concerns you raised in our meeting about Dr. Murphy were genuine, and with patient welfare top of mind. It’s becoming apparent to me now that you may have... other motives. I’d therefore like to remind you that you answer to me.”

Jackson scoffed. “Don’t tell me you’re going to pull rank on me, Dr. Andrews. You’ve done my job before. And, as I recall, you had similar reservations about hiring Dr. Murphy in the first place — ”

“Yes, and Dr. Murphy has proven that he is an asset to St. Bonaventure. On numerous occasions.”

“ — Namely, Dr. Murphy’s disability – let’s call it what it is, shall we? – and what I conclude are insurmountable impediments to becoming the kind of world-class surgeon this hospital needs – that our stakeholders demand.”

Summa cum laude from Harvard isn’t world-class enough for you?” Audrey muttered, just loud enough for Neil to hear.

“Dr. Andrews, Ms. Aoki – everyone. Please don’t misunderstand me: Dr. Murphy can still be a world-class doctor in this hospital. However, he won’t be a surgeon in the Department of Surgery. My department.”

“Yes, Dr. Murphy is autistic,” Audrey broke in, and everyone turned to look at her. “And yes, ASD is a disability. However, Dr. Murphy is not his autism. It is part of his identity. Working alongside Dr. Murphy, and watching him develop under the tutelage of others — ”

“Has Dr. Murphy – over time – managed to completely assuage those concerns of yours, Dr. Andrews?” Jackson went on, as though Audrey had never spoken. “Because I do not think Dr. Murphy can ever – will ever – completely assuage mine.”

“I have concerns about everyone I employ, Jackson, because nobody in this hospital is infallible,” Marcus replied. “I’m in charge of a place that can offer hope and healing to many people. But it is not a place that offers or guarantees perfection, and it has never claimed to be. Are you asking for perfection, Jackson? More fool you, if you are.”

“No, I am not asking for perfection, Dr. Andrews. I simply don’t believe that Dr. Murphy should be in contact with our patients,” Jackson answered. “We have a number of incidents documented where Dr. Murphy’s approaches to doctor-patient relationships have caused those patients to develop severe doubts about continuing their treatment at this hospital. Several have requested transfers to other hospitals, should Dr. Murphy continue to be involved in their care. I appreciate Dr. Murphy’s prodigious diagnostic skills, but I also recognise the obstacles he faces, in light of his autism. We certainly cannot afford to ignore this valuable stakeholder feedback.”

“How interesting. I don’t recall seeing those reports,” Marcus retorted. “Dr. Lim, Dr. Melendez? Have you?”

Neil and Audrey shook their heads. “No, we haven’t,” Neil answered. That bastard wouldn’t actually invent complaints against Murphy... would he? he thought, racking his brain for any memory of these complaints.


He would, Neil realised, with a jolt.

“We cannot afford to ignore the law, either, Jackson,” Allegra put in. “And the law is on Dr. Murphy’s side, should he wish to pursue a case of adverse, discriminatory treatment and a hostile work environment, against our hospital. He is of an underprivileged background, having spent his formative years shunted from foster home to foster home. He attended Harvard University on numerous scholarships. He is neurodiverse. The optics here are not advantageous to our position as his employer, and Dr. Murphy falls into a few protected classes. You would do well to keep those facts in mind. Legal certainly hopes you do.”

“Ms. Aoki, I am not firing Dr. Murphy,” Jackson said, insistently. “I am reassigning him to a department more forgiving of his autism. I am Chief of Surgery, and his... particular requirements are not going to be well accommodated in Surgery.”

“With all due respect, Dr. Han,” Neil said, “Did you ask Dr. Murphy whether he actually has any requirements? All I see in my resident – as his attending – is a thirst for knowledge, immense motivation to succeed, and an almost insatiable desire to keep improving.”

“That’s a pretty low baseline, Dr. Melendez,” Jackson scoffed.

“Yes, Dr. Han, that’s merely the baseline of what I require of Dr. Murphy every single day, and he has never stopped exceeding expectations. I’m proud of all my residents, but Dr. Murphy has something special that I absolutely refuse to lose to another hospital – if there’s any way I can prevent that from happening.”

“And his co-residents agree with Dr. Melendez: Dr. Murphy is an asset to this hospital, and an invaluable member of the Surgery department,” Audrey added. “Dr. Claire Browne, Dr. Morgan Reznick, and Dr. Alex Park, presented Dr. Melendez and me with extensive documentation of cases where Dr. Murphy contributed uniquely to diagnoses, surgical strategies, and eleventh-hour saves.”

For the first time in the entire meeting, Audrey, Neil and Marcus each individually noticed Jackson’s smug expression start to flicker with uncertainty.

Audrey went on: “One of those cases occurred before Dr. Murphy even stepped foot inside St. Bonaventure itself. We have already shown this document to Dr. Andrews and Ms. Aoki. Perhaps you’d like to see it, Dr. Han?” Audrey suggested, holding up the report.

Jackson shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, Dr. Lim.”

“Surgery is already poorer for being without Dr. Murphy,” Neil concluded. “Okay, Dr. Murphy is young; I’d argue this also makes him teachable. He is stubborn, sometimes too stubborn, but – again – teachable. And if you could actually be bothered reading the essay his co-residents wrote about him, Dr. Han, you’d know that Dr. Murphy’s tenacity is most of the reason he was able to diagnose and treat those patients when the rest of us had stopped looking for zebras, so determined – so conditioned were we, to always think they were just horses.”

“Yes, let’s talk about that. Dr. Murphy is young. That means he lacks control over his emotions, such that when I dismissed him for the day last Thursday — ”

“ — I ran around searching for him, like a damn headless chicken,” Neil muttered, darkly.

“ — Such that Dr. Murphy simply took himself to the nearest bar, got drunk, and fell off a barstool, ending up as a patient in this hospital. Does that sound like a mature, resilient individual?”

“No,” Audrey answered. “It just makes Dr. Murphy a person. Who among us has not found solace in a bottle after a traumatic event? Who among us has not mourned a loss? I know I have. I won’t presume to speak for anyone else here, but I certainly have. And Dr. Murphy was off the clock. I can’t tell you how many happy hours I spent in bars after knock-off, during my residency. Dr. Murphy is a young man in his twenties — ”

“With all the impulsivity and naïveté that decade entails, evidently,” Jackson countered.

“ — But do you know what Dr. Aaron Glassman felt he had to do, when Dr. Murphy ended up in a hospital bed? Dr. Glassman had to confiscate Dr. Murphy’s phone from him, so he would not try to work while he was injured. I don’t know about you, but when I was drunk, my mind wasn’t on our patients.”

“Nor was mine,” Neil added.

“I find it interesting,” Jackson started, getting up and pacing, “that everyone here is fighting Dr. Murphy’s battles for him. Everyone seems to do that. Well, I won’t have it in my department any longer.”

“Dr. Han, we ordered Dr. Murphy not to attend this meeting, and we ordered him not to engage with anyone, except his attendings. He has simply been following directives from his attendings,” Neil cut in.

“If I could say something?” Carly said, waving her hand in the air like she was eager for the teacher to call on her in class.

The room swivelled towards her, as one, waiting for Carly to continue speaking.

“I don’t have the time or inclination to manage a surgeon who has no interest in being a pathologist. I’ve read the document everyone is referring to, and as much as I’d appreciate having Dr. Murphy in my team, he does not want to be there. Quite frankly, he’d be under-utilised in Pathology. He has so much more to offer in Surgery. Dr. Han, your department should be proud to have Dr. Murphy — ”

“We are,” Audrey stated, and Neil nodded in agreement.

Carly went on: “In those case studies, I read about a surgeon who connects with patients in his own unique way. I honestly don’t think Dr. Murphy can achieve those outcomes in Pathology, precisely because what we do is impersonal. If Dr. Murphy can’t see a patient in front of him, he can only know half the story of what brought them into our hospital. So much of what Dr. Murphy is capable of cannot be achieved by just analysing samples. It would be like seeing out of only one eye. Shaun’s got to communicate with patients if he’s to keep doing what he does.”

“We can teach Dr. Murphy about having a decent bedside manner. Tact. Compassion. Empathy. We can’t teach what he’s already got,” Audrey said, emphatically.

“Dr. Murphy did say some things to me and Dr. Lim, when we visited him, and I’d like to relay them now,” Neil requested.

“Oh, you wrote them down,” Jackson commented. “By all means, Dr. Melendez, you have the floor.”

“My recollections might be a little fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure Dr. Murphy could tell you word-for-word. They certainly made an impression on both me and Dr. Lim, and gave us a great deal of food for thought. I’ll do my best.”

“Okay,” Jackson said, sitting back down, pushing his chair away from the table, and crossing his arms over his chest, his face skeptical.

‘I do not have to explain myself and my autism to everyone I meet. I just need to treat the patient in front of me. Time changes minds. I can’t. That’s not my job,’  Neil read.

’Dr. Lim is of Asian extraction, as is Dr. Han, and Dr. Melendez is of Latin American descent. Dr. Andrews and Dr. Browne are African-American. Not so long ago, people would never have believed any of you capable of the things you are, either,’ Neil continued reading.

“He’s right,” Marcus murmured, almost in revelation, just as Audrey had last Friday morning.

’One day, I hope my experience and my reputation precede me, the way they do for all of you,’ Neil finished, folding the paper and putting it back in his pocket.

“Yes, sentiments are lovely and all, but I won’t change my mind: Dr. Murphy will join the Pathology department, or he will be free to pursue a surgical residency at another hospital,” Jackson pronounced. “However, I will consider each and every person willing to write Dr. Murphy a letter of recommendation to be insubordinate,” he added.

“Then I’ll change your mind for you, Jackson,” Marcus spoke up, finally at the end of his patience. “Quite apart from your stunning ignorance of the legalities of what you’re attempting to do – or the lack thereof, for that matter — ”

Marcus,” Allegra’s warning issued from the speakerphone. “Keep it civil.”

“Everyone in this room knows Dr. Shaun Murphy a damn sight better than you ever will,” Marcus announced, just about thumping his fist on the table in frustration. “And do you know why that is, Jackson? Because you have absolutely no interest in knowing anything more about Shaun than you already do. No interest in finding out more about Dr. Shaun Murphy, Ivy League graduate, and no interest in finding out about Shaun, the kid with ASD who fought against incredible odds and prejudiced people – myself included — ”

“That’s ridiculous, Dr. Andrews!” Jackson snapped back.

“Well, Jackson, I won’t have that in my hospital – what else might you refuse to see, hear, or understand?” Marcus concluded, striking a blow he was fairly confident Jackson would not come back from.

’Take your ego, shove it in a cupboard somewhere, and start acting presidential’, he heard Glassman say, in his head.

This man is more of a risk to my hospital than Shaun could ever be, Marcus realised. Who will he bully next? Who else am I gonna lose if I keep this guy? Yeah, you made a bad hire. It was gonna happen sometime. Shove your ego in a cupboard. You’re happy enough to admit everyone makes mistakes. What are you, God? God already has a job. Why the hell am I hearing Glassman in my head? Go away.

“Oh, come on, Dr. Andrews,” Jackson said, chuckling derisively.

“Dr. Murphy sees things you never will, Dr. Han,” Audrey added, trying to keep her voice even and calm.

“Yes, and Dr. Murphy sees these things because we gave him the chance to prove what he’s capable of,” Neil added. “Believe me, Dr. Han: None of us wanted to. But Dr. Murphy’s reputation and his experience already precede him now. You’re in a room with people who are telling you that you are wrong about Dr. Murphy. Well, if I’d kept listening to everyone who insisted Dr. Glassman was wrong about this kid, including my own pure ignorance, I’d be just as arrogant as you, and with just as much hubris to spare.”

Neil!” Allegra barked.

“If you force Dr. Murphy out of Surgery, it will be your loss, not the rest of ours. ‘Cause we’ll just come down to the lab to pick his spectacular brain every chance we get. Just because you move him out, doesn’t mean we’ll act like he’s gone,” Audrey said, defiantly. “We want Shaun to stay. And I don’t think you can fire all of us.”

“The hell I can’t!” Dr. Han snapped, finally losing his cool.

“The hell you can,” Marcus interjected at last, making every word count. “I won’t hesitate to pull rank if you try it. Ms. Aoki, your thoughts?”

“What else would you be willing to just... ignore, Jackson? I’m quite worried about that, now,” Allegra said, smoothly. “Marcus has certainly raised an interesting point.”

Pull rank. Do it. Do something you can be proud of, Marcus.

Instead of responding to anyone, Marcus simply pulled his cell phone from his pocket, and dialled a particular number, acutely aware that the entire room was staring at him.

Chapter Text

Marcus waited impatiently for the call to connect. Pick up, pick up, he thought, frantically.

The call connected. Marcus hit the button for speakerphone, and everyone leaned forward to listen.

‘Good morning, Dr. Andrews.’

“Good morning, Dr. Murphy. How are you?” Marcus inquired.

‘I’m well, thank you for asking. And you?’ Shaun replied, with polite interest.

“I’m also doing well, thank you. Dr. Murphy, I was wondering if you’re perhaps feeling up to coming back to work today,” Marcus queried.

Somewhere just at the edge of Marcus’s field of vision, he saw Jackson’s facial expression turn to one of confusion.

‘I do feel well enough to return to work. But I don’t start my Pathology residency until Thursday, Dr. Andrews,’ Shaun protested, sounding resigned.

When he heard the apparent defeat in Shaun’s voice, Jackson’s expression switched back to triumphant. Marcus very pointedly ignored this, and kept talking into the phone. He had a funny feeling that the smirk would be wiped off Jackson’s face soon enough.

“Actually, Dr. Murphy, there’s a department here that needs you a great deal more than Pathology does,” Marcus explained.

He heard Shaun’s breath catch at the other end of the line, and in the lull, there was the sound of a door being opened, then shut. A female voice said: ‘I’m ba – oh, you’re on the phone!’ then abruptly fell silent.

“Dr. Murphy, are you still there?” Marcus prodded him.

‘Yes, Dr. Andrews, my girlfriend just returned – sorry – what was your question?’

The room did a collective double-take when Shaun mentioned his ‘girlfriend’; meanwhile, Audrey and Neil exchanged a very subtle high-five under the table.

“Well, you’re needed quite desperately in Surgery, Dr. Murphy,” Marcus told Shaun, relishing the moment. “Could you possibly make it in today?”

‘Oh, yes!’ Shaun exclaimed, and the pure joy in his voice made Marcus’s day. He’d never heard Shaun sound that thrilled. Not even when he was first hired on.

‘I hope Dr. Han will still let me work in Surgery, Dr. Andrews,’ Shaun added, cautiously. ‘He was very determined that I transfer into Pathology.’

“Yes, well. Right now, Dr. Han is sitting in a conference room full of people who are just as determined that you stay in Surgery, Dr. Murphy,” Marcus explained. “And he’s outnumbered.”

“Now, just wait a minute, here!” Jackson blustered. “I’m the Chief of Surgery — ”

Yeah, yeah, we know, Marcus thought. He was really getting quite sick of Jackson’s voice by this point, and he had a hunch that he wasn’t the only one.

“Hold that thought, Jackson,” Marcus said, as politely as he could. Then he returned to his conversation with Shaun.

“Okay, Dr. Murphy, we’ll see you as soon as you can get here. You don’t have to rush too much, your team is managing, but, as you know – the ER and the OR, never a dull moment — ”

‘Dr. Andrews, I will be at work as soon as possible. Thank you very much for calling,’ Shaun said.

“The pleasure’s all mine, Shaun,” Marcus assured him, while also fixing Jackson with a steely glare. “We look forward to seeing you later today. Take care.”

‘I’ll see you later, Dr. Andrews. Bye,’ Shaun replied.

The call cut out.

Marcus held up a single ‘just a second’ finger when Jackson attempted to interrupt him again. Then he dialled the next person he knew he needed to call.

‘Hello?’ the person answered.

“Good morning, Aaron, it’s Marcus Andrews here. I hope you’re well. I have a proposition for you. Is now a good time to talk?”

‘Yeah, now is fine. Okay, shoot,’ Aaron replied, sounding a little apprehensive.

“Aaron, how would you like to job-share the Presidency of St. Bonaventure with me as President Emeritus?” Marcus asked. “Call it a gradual return to work-slash-succession plan.”

‘President Emeritus? Does that position exist?’

“I just created it,” Marcus informed Aaron. “So, would you be interested?”

‘Not so much, I’m afraid, Marcus,’ Aaron chuckled. ‘Fond as we are of one another, I think we’d step on each other’s toes quite a bit — ’

“Well, Aaron, if it’s of any comfort to you, it’d only be a temporary arrangement... until you’re healthy enough to resume your presidency full-time, that is,” Marcus hastened to assure him. “Ultimately, the presidency will still be yours in the end, free and clear.”

Aaron snorted. ‘Oh, right, and what will you do, Marcus?’

Marcus snickered right back. “Aaron, I am – not before time, I’m sure you’ll agree – taking my ego, shoving it in a cupboard somewhere, and acting presidential — ”

‘Heh. How’s that?’ Aaron wondered aloud.

“By admitting defeat, and resuming my old role as Chief of Surgery – full-time – when you come back as the President for good. What do you say, Aaron? Think it could work?” Marcus asked.

‘Well, now that I have the context... I’m not totally horrified by the idea, actually,’Aaron said. ‘Honestly, I’m going insane at home.’

“Well then, I’ll just have to clear it with Ms. Aoki,” Marcus said loudly, so Allegra could hear.

“It’s fine with me!” Allegra nearly shouted back.

‘... Marcus, am I on speaker?’ Aaron asked, not sounding at all impressed.

“Yep,” Marcus confirmed.

Aaron sighed, then said, ‘Hello, Ms. Aoki.’

“Hello, Aaron,” Allegra responded. “I’m happy with Marcus’s proposal, if you are?”

‘Yes. I accept. I’ll come in tomorrow and we can talk some more with Marcus about what the job-share arrangement might look like.’

“Okay, great,” Allegra replied.

‘Marcus, I’d come by today, except that I thought I might visit Shaun later. I haven’t seen him since Thursday. I wanted to give him time and space to recover, and not just from his injury, if you catch my drift,’ Aaron said, meaningfully.

“Hmm,” Marcus said, cagily. “You might want to check where Shaun is, first.”

‘I’m pretty sure Shaun’s at home. He’s on FMLA, Marcus,’ Aaron replied, sounding a little non-plussed. ‘Until Thursday, he said.’

Marcus hid a smile. Don’t give the game away, anyone, he thought, eyeballing the other people in the room sternly. Especially not you, Jackson.

“Well, that all sounds good to me, Marcus, Aaron. I’ll dial in,” Allegra agreed. “Let me know what time.”

“Thank you, Ms. Aoki,” Marcus said.

‘Yes. Looking forward to it, Ms. Aoki,’ Aaron concurred.

“See you tomorrow, Aaron. Look after yourself, won’t you? Rest up, because there’s a lot going on in this place right now,” Marcus commented.

‘Yeah, it’s gone to hell in a hand-basket, I heard,’ Aaron replied, cheerfully. ‘Or a Han-basket, if you’ll forgive the pun. Well, we’ll just have to see what’s what. I’ll touch base with you later about a time.’

“Sure thing, Aaron,” Marcus agreed, trying hard not to laugh at Aaron’s rather clever joke, and hung up.

“So where, exactly, do I fit into this picture now, Dr. Andrews?” Jackson asked, infuriated. The jab at his expense had not escaped his notice.

“Quite frankly, Jackson, I don’t think you do,” Marcus responded, calmly. “You are too much of a liability to this hospital. I’m terminating you – effective immediately – for gross misconduct. Good luck in your future endeavours.”

“This is crazy!” Jackson finally exploded. “I have a contract – I have a notice period – I — ”

“And I have the right to terminate that contract – without notice – for gross misconduct, Jackson,” Marcus countered, then went on: “You know who else has an employment contract here? Dr. Shaun Murphy. Except nothing you did where he was concerned was, in any way, fair or balanced. You subjected him to adverse conditions that were based purely on your prejudices against him. Nothing Dr. Murphy ever did amounted to gross misconduct. No action he took warranted the abject humiliation you put him through.”

“Well, you’re a hypocrite, Dr. Andrews,” Jackson argued.

“Yes, Jackson, I will own the fact that I did not want to hire Shaun when Dr. Glassman first introduced the idea. However, he has been a gift. An absolute gift. He has earned our trust, our respect, and our admiration over the course of his residency, and he is a valued member of my Surgery department. It is a real pity that you can’t find it in yourself to understand that. I cannot afford to sit around and wait for you to gradually, grudgingly appreciate what Dr. Murphy brings to this hospital. You needed to learn that a lot quicker.”

“Dr. Andrews, you do realise what this hospital will be losing, if you fire me?” Jackson just about spat.

“No, Jackson, not completely. Who can say? But I do know what this hospital stands to lose, if I don’t,” Marcus parried Jackson’s argument, smoothly.

Then he continued: “However, I’m in a magnanimous mood, so I’m also prepared to accept your resignation – provided it’s sitting on my desk by no later than — ” Marcus consulted his Rolex watch, “ — five o’clock this evening.”

“But — ” Jackson tried to jump in, but Marcus cut him off.

“Jackson, I must make it clear that your previous role – and any future roles with St. Bonaventure – are no longer available to you,” Marcus finished, delivering the killing strike and enjoying the delicious irony.

“You’ll be hearing from my lawyer,” Jackson snarled.

“Of course, and I assure you that he or she will be hearing from us. So, again: resign, or I will fire you. The choice is yours.”

“Not much of a choice,” Jackson shot back.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t give Shaun much of one either, did you, Dr. Han?” Audrey bit out, impulsively. Then, she clapped her hand over her mouth, as everyone turned to stare at her.

Hothead, Neil texted her, and Audrey reached into her pocket as her phone vibrated. She read the message quickly, and, out of the corner of his eye, Neil saw her type a reply.

Bad influence, Audrey sent back.

“I think we’re about done here. Thank you, everyone, for your attendance, and have a good day. Ms. Aoki, any final thoughts to share?”

“I think you’ll be happier back in your old role, Marcus,” Allegra observed.

“Yes. I agree. And I think Isabel will be happier, too,” Marcus replied. “I’ll be home a lot more.”

“We’ll talk some more later. Take care, Marcus.”

“You, too,” Marcus responded, and the call disconnected.

The attendees of the meeting poured out into the hallway, including a thoroughly chastened Jackson Han, who bowed his head and spoke to no-one.

Neil hung back, waving a curious Audrey on.

“I just wanted to say – not sucking up – you did good, Dr. Andrews,” Neil offered, once the room was empty save for him and Marcus. “Maybe one day you’ll even find it in yourself to forgive me and Audrey for the end-run.”

Don’t do it again, Neil,” Marcus warned him, pleasantly.

“Don’t hire a bigoted a-hole like Han ever again, and we won’t need to,” Neil retorted.

“Shaun isn’t the only one who’s come a long way,” Marcus commented, thoughtfully. “By the by, Neil, congratulations on making it with Audrey. I’ve watched the two of you dance around one another since your residency.”

“How did you — ”

“I’m the President of this hospital, Neil. It’s my job to notice these things.”

Neil chuckled, nodding. “Right you are, boss.”

“After you,” Marcus said, showing him the way out of the conference room.

Chapter Text

Shortly after his conversation with Dr. Andrews had ended, Shaun’s phone went off again:

Murphy —

It’s Lim here, do you want anyone to know you’re coming in today, or do you want it to be a surprise? Won’t say anything until we hear from you.

See you later, and welcome back!

And again after that:

Smurph —

I’d like to come by and see you today, could you please let me know if that works for you?

— Glassy.

And then a third time:

Shaun —

Rumour is that Han is out on his ass, so I hope that means you got your job back? See you out there.

— Morgan.

By the fourth incoming text, Shaun had flicked the switch to Silent, and simply tossed his phone onto the floor.

Then he lay back, waiting for Lea to finish her coffee.

Lea, for her part, was fairly certain she knew what the outcome of Shaun’s phone conversation had been – and she was beyond thrilled for him – but she also wanted to give him space to enjoy his moment of triumph.

For Shaun, that mostly likely meant he’d be wanting an opportunity to quietly absorb and relish the victory.

So she sat up, drinking her coffee, but she kept sneaking little looks of her own at Shaun, waiting for him to speak.

She saw him jab a finger at the Silent toggle switch, then drop his phone on the floor, where it landed with a soft thud.

That was odd. He wasn’t usually careless with his things like that. She looked at him a little curiously.

“I have to go to work,” he explained, rolling over onto his side and looking up at her.

“Understatement of the century,” Lea quipped, setting her coffee down on the nightstand.

“I got my job back,” he announced. He might as well have prefaced it with a nonchalant ‘oh, by the way’.

“I thought that might be it,” Lea said, wondering how the hell he was keeping such a straight face. “How’s it feel?”

But on closer inspection, she noticed that his eyebrows had knitted together, like he was nervous about something. Then he said, “It feels good. I have a question for you.”

“Okay. Just – what is the question?” Lea asked.

He paused for a few moments.

“I want...” he started.

Lea waited for him to continue.

“I want... to bang you... like a screen door in a hurricane,” he finally managed to get out. “Please?”

“In our haste to tear each other’s clothes off, I don’t think I ever congratulated you on getting your job back,” Lea remembered, getting back into the warm bed.

“What is there to congratulate me for? I wasn’t even in the meeting,” Shaun replied, looking confused.

“Yeah, but they wouldn’t have had an essay to write if you weren’t as brilliant as you are,” Lea pointed out. “You got your job back because you are incredible at it, and people noticed.”

“You’re right,” Shaun conceded, turning away from Lea and reaching down to the floor to retrieve his phone, which he placed on the nightstand.

“I guess our long weekend is over, huh?” Lea commented, a little regretfully, sidling up behind Shaun and slipping an arm over him. She made sure to press her entire body right into his, and felt him shiver in response.

“I know what you’re doing, Lea,” Shaun said, his tone playfully scolding. He checked the time on his phone, and Lea practically saw his brain calculating the amount of time that had already passed since Dr. Andrews’s phone call, and now.

“So? What’s the verdict?” Lea prompted.

“I can’t go again, Lea. I want to, but I can’t. I need to get ready for work,” he explained. “But you’re welcome to join me in the shower.”

“What were all those texts you were getting?” Lea asked Shaun, over the sound of running water.

“One from Dr. Lim, asking if I wanted anything said about my return. One from Dr. Glassman, asking about coming to visit me today. And one from Morgan, asking if I got my job back. There’s a fourth text, from Claire, but I haven’t read it.”

“Well, are you gonna reply to anyone?” Lea prompted.

“Yes, after I’m out of the shower and dressed,” Shaun answered.

“Oh, uh, how are you getting to work? Bus? Or I could drive you, if you want. I’ll take a leisurely jaunt to my office after I’ve dropped you off,” Lea suggested. “Can I borrow the hot water? I need to rinse off the soap.”

“Yes,” Shaun said, stepping aside. Getting out from under the stream allowed him to get a very good look at Lea, her skin flushed pink from the hot water, droplets cascading down...

“Hey, did you want something, or...?” Lea kidded, eyeing him right back.


“But you don’t want to screw in the shower,” Lea clarified.

“I don’t.”

“Okay, but do you want to do something about that? Wait, I’ll rephrase: do you want me to help you do anything about that?” Lea queried, gesturing downwards to illustrate the point. “I... don’t think you can go to work like that.”

“What could you possibly do – oh. Oh.” Shaun trailed off, noticing that Lea was suddenly now a great deal shorter than he was. About chin level with his groin.

“Yes? No?” Lea asked gently.

“If – if you want to,” Shaun choked out.

“Yes, I do want to. More importantly: do you want me to?”

“I – I – yes.”

However, upon hearing the hesitation in Shaun’s voice, Lea slowly got back up to a standing position, and said, her voice gentle: “You want me to do it, but you aren’t ready for me to do it, are you?”

He didn’t make eye contact with her.

“It’s okay, Shaun,” she tried to reassure him. “It’s a standing offer. Uh – well, not usually standing, but – you know. Should we get out now?”

“I’m worried that I’m going too slow,” Shaun confessed, turning off the water. “Slower than you would like. Slower than I would like.”

“Shaun,” Lea started, putting her hands on his shoulders. “‘Slow’ is relative. We’ve been a couple since Friday. And I know you’re going to say that we’ve lived together a lot longer. But we were just... what even were we? Anyway, my point stands: this is so, so different.”

“How?” Shaun asked, handing her a towel, then taking the other one for himself. “We still live together. That hasn’t changed. And you’re still my best friend.”

“Well, for a start,” Lea said, towelling her hair as dry as possible while she spoke, “I’m pretty sure we didn’t share a bed. Habitually,” she added, noticing Shaun getting ready to jump in with a counter-argument. “And I don’t think we had showers together, either.”

“Yes. That does seem different,” Shaun agreed, wrapping a towel around his middle, and going to the sink to shave. After that was done, he caught Lea’s eye in the mirror as he sprayed that positively lethal cologne of his.

“Can I borrow that? Please?” Lea asked, after she’d applied her deodorant and usual face stuff, jostling with Shaun for space at the vanity.

“My aftershave? Yes, but why?”

“You’ll see,” Lea told him, as she dabbed some on the tip of her nose. Shaun looked bewildered.

“I’m going to be able to smell your scent for a while,” she explained, recapping the bottle and placing it back into position on the bathroom counter. “I’ve done it before.”

“You like it that much?” he asked, almost shyly. “I was in a department store one day, buying my residency interview suit. The salesgirl was practically spraying it onto people. Very irritating. But the scent stuck with me – obviously, as it was sprayed at me – so I returned at another, quieter time, and purchased it.”

“When I was crashing with you, I began calling it ‘Burberry Sex-in-a-Bottle’,” she admitted. “Every night... I would come home, and I would catch that scent, even if you weren’t there. I still do.”

“I suppose it’s my body chemistry,” Shaun mused. “It combines with the scent of the cologne in a way that is appealing to you.”

“Oh, sweetheart, please don’t reduce this to science,” Lea pleaded.

“But it is — ”

Battles, Shaunie. Pick ‘em.”

Sitting at the counter, fully dressed and presentable, Shaun began tapping out responses to the four text messages he’d received.

Dr. Lim, please don’t tell anyone I’m coming back. I want it to be a surprise.

Dr. Glassman, you’re welcome to come over for dinner tonight, but I won’t be home today.

Morgan, I’m still going to Path on Thursday.

It was easier to lie via text for that one.

The last text was from Claire.

Shaun had taken one look at the blurb that had flashed up on his screen, and tossed his phone on the floor, suddenly feeling quite incapable of answering the text. The question she was asking.

But now he had to respond. Claire deserved an answer. She’d deserved every single flower in that arrangement, and more.

For all the cases she’d summarised in that essay about him – Dr. Lim had forwarded him a copy – Claire had neglected to mention the often pivotal contributions she’d made, right along with Shaun’s own.

She’d written: Shaun, are you trying to tell me something?

He finally wrote back:

Yes. Thank you. I can never thank you enough.

Lea noticed Shaun was quiet the entire drive to the hospital, and out of the corner of her eye, she saw him retrieve the toy scalpel and run his thumb over the surface.

She decided not to comment.

“Thank you for driving me to work, Lea,” he spoke up, suddenly, putting away the scalpel. “I am nervous to get back to my job. I notice you are not talking as much as you usually do.”

“I know what you look like when you’re nervous, Shaun,” Lea responded, turning into the parking lot. “And I have learned that talking over the top of that noise in your head is not helpful. I’m not ignoring you or anything – I hope you don’t think that — ”

“I don’t,” Shaun assured her.

“Well, good,” Lea said, finding an empty space and parking the car in it.

Turning to Shaun, she said quietly, “I guess this is ‘see you later’?”

“Yes. I will see you later, Lea. I love you,” he replied, leaning over the centre console to kiss her once – twice – three times. They were going back in for a fourth when Lea laid her palm flat against Shaun’s chest.

“If you keep that up, I’m going to lock the doors, and we’re going to end up having sex at your work,” she murmured.

“This is just the parking lot, Lea,” Shaun corrected her. “Not my workplace.”

“Trust you to get me on a technicality,” Lea said. “You’re incorrigible. Okay, one more for the road, and that is it. Better make it a real good one.”

“‘Senseless’?” Shaun suggested, impishly, taking her face in his hands.

“Thought that wasn’t possible,” Lea teased him, mumbling against his lips, which were still touching hers lightly.

“Mmm,” Shaun responded, non-committal, pulling back quite reluctantly.

“And that’s you not wanting to admit to maybe, possibly, being wrong,” Lea prodded.

“I do want to find out for sure,” Shaun conceded. “If it’s possible, I mean.”

“It’s possible. I love you too, Shaun. Now, you go in there and you – I want to say ‘knock ‘em dead’, but that’s really not the aim of a hospital — ” Lea trailed off, trying to work out what she wanted to say.

Shaun waited patiently while Lea found words again.

“Go be a surgeon, Dr. Shaun Murphy,” she said, finally.

“Yes. I will,” he replied.

Then Shaun got out of the car, hitched his backpack up onto his shoulders, and, after closing the car door, walked away.

Lea was about to start the car again when she caught sight of Shaun in her rear-view mirror. He had suddenly stopped walking, and was standing still. Then she saw him turn back in the direction of her car.

He began running towards the car, coming up to the driver’s side door. Lea switched the car on to Accessories and rolled down the window.

“Did you forget something?” she asked. She got her answer when Shaun leaned in through the window opening, reaching his arms out for Lea, and he kissed her again.

Then he withdrew, straightened up, and sprinted across the parking lot to the doors of the hospital, the whole building illuminated by the bright morning sun streaming into all the windows.

It stood out from the landscape like a welcoming beacon, like it had been waiting for Shaun to return.

Chapter Text

“Could you please check the access credentials on my hospital pass?” Shaun asked, holding his employee badge out to the Security Officer. “It should be set up, but I just wanted to know for sure.”

“Yeah, give it here,” the officer said, taking the ID from Shaun, and scanning the barcode, then looking at the database record that had popped up.

Shaun waited anxiously while the officer skimmed the file.

“Good to go. All areas. Hasn’t changed since it was granted in June of 2017. Surgical resident. That about what you expected, Dr. Murphy?”

“Yes,” Shaun breathed, taking the pass back from the officer, and stowing it securely in his pocket, feeling sheer relief wash over him.

“Anything else?” the officer said.

“No. Thank you,” Shaun replied, walking away from the security desk.

Shaun?” came a bewildered voice, from almost directly behind him, and Shaun turned around towards the source of the sound. He’d know that voice anywhere.

“Dr. Glassman,” he answered, happily, as Aaron approached him.

“Shaun! I didn’t expect to see you back at work until Thursday. I guess that’s why you invited me for dinner tonight, and not lunch today,” Aaron said, checking his watch as he spoke. “Well, in the meantime, are you free for brunch? Or... are you starting your Pathology residency early?” he guessed next, a look of distaste clouding his face.

“No, Dr. Glassman. I got my old job back,” Shaun told him, as they walked together across the foyer, heading in the direction of the cafeteria. "I am a surgeon again."

Aaron’s eyes widened. Then he broke into a proud smile.

“That’s terrific news. All right, pancakes are on me, and you can explain exactly how that came about,” Aaron said.

“Okay. That would be very nice. Thank you. Why are you at work today, Dr. Glassman?” Shaun replied, adding his own question. “Aren’t you still on medical leave?”

“Frankly, Shaun, I'm starting to think we both got interesting phone calls from Marcus Andrews this morning,” Aaron commented, as they entered the cafeteria and claimed their usual table, sitting across from one another.

“Yes. Dr. Andrews called me this morning to invite me back into Surgery,” Shaun recounted. “He asked me whether I felt up to returning to work, and I said yes, but that my Path residency didn’t start until Thursday. Then Dr. Andrews told me that there’s a department here that needs me more, and he meant Surgery. He said he was in a conference room with a group of people who wanted me back in my old job. Dr. Han didn’t, but Dr. Andrews said that he was ‘outnumbered’.”

Aaron chuckled. “Nice.

Shaun shrugged. “I don’t think Dr. Han found it very nice. I heard him yelling in the background that he is still the Chief of Surgery. He was angry,” and here, he leaned in conspiratorially, “Dr. Glassman, I am afraid I might see Dr. Han today. I am scared to walk around the hospital alone. I am very glad you’re here.”

“I don’t think you’ll need to worry about the possibility of running into Han for too much longer, Shaun,” Aaron reassured him.

Shaun looked doubtful. “Dr. Han still works here. He is still Chief of Surgery.”

“Actually, I don’t think he is,” Aaron said. “I mean, whether he still works here or not – that, I’m not entirely sure of – but he’s definitely not Chief of Surgery.”

“How do you know that, Dr. Glassman?” Shaun asked.

“I know Han is no longer Chief of Surgery, because the reason I've come in today, is to talk about a job-share arrangement with Marcus,” Aaron explained. “The discussion was going to be scheduled for tomorrow, but since you said you weren't free today, I told Marcus I could stop by, if today suited him.”

“A job-share arrangement?” Shaun echoed, questioningly.

“Yeah. You’re not the only one getting their old job back, Shaun. Marcus called and offered to share the Presidency with me, until I’m well enough to return to work full-time. Then he’s going back to his old role as Chief of Surgery, permanently. I assume in the interim, he will spend a little more time being the Chief of Surgery, than he will being the President."

"I think Dr. Andrews will be happier in his old role," Shaun commented. “He was better at it. Did you know I won a staff betting pool that he would keep both roles – President and Chief of Surgery? Practically everyone else bet on Dr. Melendez or Dr. Lim. I was the only one who bet he would try to do both.”

Aaron laughed. “Oh, that’s good. Did you buy anything fun with your winnings?”

Shaun shook his head. “No, I saved them.”

"That’s interesting..." Aaron began, coming to a sudden realisation. "Marcus said something strange in that phone call, that I only just made sense of: 'You might want to check where Shaun is, first'. So, he must have called you, and then me.”

"Do you think that will make you happy, Dr. Glassman? Do you want to be the hospital President again?"

"Yes, Shaun. I do,” Aaron confirmed. “It gives me purpose. I have felt as though I’ve been missing my purpose, ever since I was diagnosed. The days I was sick all bled together. I’d wake up of a morning, not knowing what day it was.”

“I’m glad you will be President again. Then you will be happy.”

"Well, thank you, Shaun. Okay, how many pancakes do you want? Four?" Aaron asked, pulling his wallet from his pocket. “Syrup? Chocolate chips?”

Shaun nodded. “Yes, to all three.”

"Do you know what happened in the meeting this morning? I assume Han was there? Your attendings? Andrews, obviously. Anyone else?" Aaron asked Shaun, who was in the middle of practically inhaling his pancakes. Aaron was eating his own at a much more leisurely pace.

"My co-residents wrote an essay," Shaun explained, when he’d swallowed the food. "They compiled details about all the cases where my contributions were unique, and outcome-altering.”

“‘They?’” Aaron queried. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew who would have written it. Not least because there weren’t many people it could have feasibly been...

“Yes. Claire and Morgan wrote it. Alex helped, too.”

Aaron sighed. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about Claire and Morgan. Shaun, you want to be careful with those two. Particularly Claire.”

“Why do I need to be particularly careful with Claire?” Shaun asked. “She is my friend and my co-resident.”

Aaron stared at Shaun for a few moments, trying to gauge whether the seeming naivety of that question was genuine or not. Reaching no definitive conclusion either way, Aaron opted to ask a few more questions.

“What do you think of Claire?” Aaron asked. “No, actually, that’s the wrong question. What does Lea think of Claire, Shaun?”

“I don’t know. They’ve only met three times,” Shaun answered. “Is that important?”

“Has Claire ever mentioned having feelings for you, Shaun?” Aaron asked, bluntly.

“No,” Shaun answered, looking anxious.

“I think you should be careful with Claire,” Aaron warned him. “Have you given her any reason to think you might feel the same way?”

“I didn’t send any red flowers in her arrangement on Saturday,” Shaun assured him. “I have saved the red ones for Lea.”

To Aaron, however, this statement was utterly apropos of nothing.

“You... sent Claire... flowers?” Aaron demanded.

“Yes. Of course. Claire came up with the idea to write the essay,” Shaun said. “Lea said it had to be flowers. I don’t know what else Claire likes, anyway.”

Lea said it had to be flowers?” Aaron repeated blankly, now totally non-plussed.

“Yes. My attendings told me about the essay, before I was discharged on Friday morning. Then Lea and I came home from Subway on Friday night, and Dr. Melendez sent me a text telling me he knew I hadn’t thanked Claire for what she did for me.”

“Right, right, you had to leave the hospital, you didn’t get to see Claire before you left,” Aaron filled in.

“I read Dr. Melendez’s text out to Lea, and she became really upset with me. She told me it was ‘unacceptable’ that I hadn’t thanked Claire. I was confused, because I didn’t have my job back yet, so I wasn’t sure what I’d be thanking Claire for — ”

“Oh, Shaun,” Aaron groaned, his hand to his forehead in exasperation.

“Yes, Lea displayed a similar reaction to yours. Then she told me that I had to send Claire flowers, to express my gratitude. I didn’t want to send anyone flowers, because I’d never given flowers to any girl before. And Morgan helped write the report, too. So I sent flower arrangements to Claire and Morgan.”

“Oh, Lord...” Aaron sighed.

“I also gave Lea flowers,” Shaun finished. “They were meant to arrive before Claire’s and Morgan’s arrangements. They didn’t.”

Aaron breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay, Lea got flowers too. Great. What kind? Roses, I imagine?”

Shaun nodded. “Yes. Two dozen red roses.”

“Two dozen red roses,” Aaron repeated. “You must have spent a pretty penny on those.”

“I realised that red roses had to be what I sent. Lea was explaining to me that flowers don’t always have to be romantic. They’re given at lots of other times, too. But then she also said, ‘a dozen red roses ain’t gonna be what you send’. So I made sure none of Claire’s or Morgan’s flowers were red, because red sends a message. I don’t completely understand how a flower’s colour sends a message, but I trust Lea to explain things to me. And I know colours have messages. We use colour codes here, and triage tags. Those colours have meanings. Red flowers do not say ‘thank you’. I understand that.”

“Well, you’re right about that,” Aaron agreed.

“I couldn’t make sure Lea was the first girl I ever gave flowers to, but I gave Lea her flowers in person. The others, I had delivered. So Lea is the first girl I have ever personally given flowers to, and she is also the first girl I have ever given red roses to,” Shaun explained.

“That’s... a lot. You got together on Friday? And by Saturday you gave her flowers? Shaun, that’s – that’s a little fast, don’t you think?”

“Dr. Glassman,” Shaun began, putting down his knife and fork, his face set, “I cannot remember when I started wanting Lea, but I think it must have been soon after I met her. I have never stopped wanting to be with her. I have been waiting and wanting to do these things for Lea.”

“I understand that, Shaun, but — ”

“I have waited to love her, Dr. Glassman,” Shaun stated, with finality.

Aaron knew there was absolutely nothing he could say to contradict Shaun’s honest statement. And he wouldn’t even have dreamed of trying.

Chapter Text

“I must admit, I’m very curious about how all this happened,” Aaron said. “Do you want to tell me?”

“It started last Wednesday. Morgan told me she was sick of me moping about Lea, and that it was distracting me at work. She made up this plan where she – and Claire – would come over to my apartment and pretend to be interested in me. Romantically. They told me it would make Lea jealous. That I’d show her what she was missing.”

“And you... went along with this? Did you know what you were doing?”

Shaun looked away before he answered. “I didn’t, at first. I didn’t know what I had done, until I saw how hurt Lea was.”

“What hurt Lea the most?” Aaron asked, softly.

“I kissed Morgan,” Shaun pronounced. “I wasn’t meant to. But she said we had to give Lea something to stew over. She told me I should kiss her. So I did.”

“Wait, was that in front of Lea? Shaun!”

“No. Lea came into my room just after the kiss happened, because I was meant to be ordering the pizza with Morgan. She knew straight away what I had been doing. My hair was messy where Morgan had pulled on it. Apparently that was some sort of giveaway.”

“I see,” Aaron murmured.

“The pizza arrived, and I went to answer the door. When I came back, Lea and Morgan were shouting at one another. I left. I called Claire. I was going to stay at her apartment, but she said I was hysterical, and she wouldn’t let me drive myself there. She said she would come get me, instead.”

“Ah, I see. And Claire came to get you?” 

“Yes. I hid in my room while I was waiting for Claire to come get me. She arrived, and I heard her speaking very angrily to both Lea and Morgan. I couldn’t completely make out what she was saying. I snuck out of my room a while later, and I eavesdropped on some of the conversation the girls were having. Claire saw me on her way to the bathroom, but she didn’t say anything about it to Lea.”

“Smart girl,” Aaron interjected.

“They – Morgan and Claire – asked Lea why she only wanted to be friends with me. Why she brought Jake home.”


“Lea said that she gave me consequences for treating her badly when she came back. She came back to be with me, Dr. Glassman. The night she showed up again, she kissed me.”

“Right. And you did... what?”

Shaun sighed hugely. “I ran. When I came back around one A.M., I found her in my bed. She went back to her own bed later.”

“Now, those would certainly have been some mixed feelings,” Aaron quipped, to which Shaun gave him a confused look. “Never mind.”

“The consequence of treating Lea badly was that we would only ever be friends. But then, she said something else: she regretted telling me that, because she realised later that she might have just needed to be angry at me for a while. She felt she had to be consistent, and not give me the wrong idea anymore.”

“And then she brings home Jake,” Aaron supplied.

“It hurt. When she came back, it hurt. When she started dating someone else, it hurt worse. I had no idea how much it would hurt.”

“Maybe I should have warned you,” Aaron said, apologetically. “I knew it would hurt you. I think I also had a fairly good idea of just how much.”

“Was it ever going to hurt less?” Shaun asked, rhetorically. “Would it have hurt less if you’d warned me?”

“Probably not.”

“The night I came over and found you in the bathroom, I had left the apartment because I could hear...”

“Yeah, I think I’ve got it,” Aaron interrupted, holding up a hand in a ‘stop’ gesture. “And then we went on the longest Uber ride in recorded history. I seem to recall you came to a realisation during that trip.”

“That I’m in love with Lea? Yes.”

“Is – Lea – does she, um, feel the same about you? Can I ask that?”

I heard it from her, but I want to see how your face lights up when you say it, Shaun. You deserve to be happy, Aaron thought.

Shaun beamed. “Yes. Lea loves me. ‘So-damn-much’, she says. When I asked her to be my girlfriend, she was very happy. I asked her after we came home on Friday. Then on Saturday, we went to IKEA. I bought a new bed.”

Aaron just about choked on the sip of coffee he had taken.

“You... bought a new bed,” he repeated, slowly.

“Yes. My old bed was too small. Lea said she wasn’t going to be the one changing her bedsheets all the time.”

“Oh, God, Shaun, that’s too much information,” Aaron groaned.

“Well, you are coming over for dinner tonight, and you might notice that I have a different bed now. So I’m telling you in advance,” Shaun explained, reasonably.

“Yeah, thanks for that. You're very considerate.”

“We spend some nights in my room, and some nights in hers.”

“I really didn't need to hear that.”

Shaun's phone buzzed in his pocket with a message from Dr. Melendez: Ready to get back to work, Murphy?

“I'm sorry, Dr. Glassman, but I have to go,” Shaun apologised. “Thank you for the pancakes. Lea and I will see you for dinner tonight.”

“That's all right, Shaun. I should go meet Marcus. See you later.”

Shaun got up from the table, then picked up his backpack, and put it on. He turned to leave, but whirled back around when Aaron said, “Was it worth it?”

Shaun nodded. “Lea is my girlfriend now. It was worth it,” he said, decisively, then he left.

Shaun made his way to the locker room, and found it mercifully vacant. He changed into his scrubs and lab coat, and stowed the rest of his things in his old locker, which had been left empty as well.

As he was leaving the room, he nearly body-slammed into Morgan.

“Shaun?” she said, in disbelief. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” Shaun replied, pleasantly.

“Duh. I know that. What happened to Path? Are the rumours true? Is Han out on his ass? Are you back in Surgery? How did that happen? Those flowers were beautiful, by the way – where did you get them?” Morgan burst out, all in a rush.

“You are asking a lot of questions,” Shaun admonished her. “Questions I do not have time to answer right now. Dr. Melendez is texting me, and I need to go and see him.”

Morgan shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, then said: “Can I ask just one question?”

“Apart from that one?”

“Ugh. You. Pedant.”


“Did it work?” Morgan asked. “The plan, I mean.”

“Yes. Thank you,” Shaun replied, briskly. Then he pushed past Morgan and left the locker room.

As he left, it occurred to Morgan that she hadn’t differentiated between plans: Were Shaun and Lea an item now? And did he have his old job back, courtesy of Claire’s written treatise?

As he walked along the familiar corridors, Shaun’s senses were all on high alert for any evidence of Dr. Jackson Han’s continued presence at St. Bonaventure. He was bracing for the possibility of Dr. Han popping out from behind a door.

So tightly wound were Shaun’s nerves, that he didn’t realise he’d walked straight past Dr. Melendez’s office.

He was brought out of his reverie by a voice cutting into the fog: “Murphy!”

Shaun stopped dead at the sound of his attending’s voice, and turned slowly to face him, fearing that Dr. Melendez would be angry.

“What took you so long? Another road trip with your girlfriend?” Dr. Melendez teased him.

“No. I haven’t been on any road trips with Lea recently, Dr. Melendez,” Shaun replied, dryly. “But I may want to go on another one soon. Thank you for that idea.”

“Great. Well, if you could just do me the teensy-tiny little favour of getting those days approved by your attending this time around, that’d be appreciated. In the meantime, would you like to assist in OR 1 on a fairly tame ACL reconstruction, or would you prefer the slightly more exciting cerebral bypass in OR 5? Things are a little twisty on that one, we could use your encyclopaedic knowledge of Gray’s.”

“Cerebral bypass,” Shaun said, immediately. “I took a while getting here because I ran into Dr. Glassman in the foyer, and he bought me pancakes. I won’t take as long to get here tomorrow.”

“Go scrub in on the bypass. Welcome back, Murphy.”

“Thank you.”

Just as Shaun was leaving Dr. Melendez’s office, he stopped short and asked, “Is Dr. Han still here?”

“In body, yes. But I suspect he’s busy drafting his resignation letter. Murphy, there is nothing more Han can say to hurt you. And if he tries, just ignore him. You have pretty much everyone’s permission to do so.”

“Morgan was right. Dr. Han is out on his ass,” Shaun said, in relief, exiting Dr. Melendez’s office.

Shaun made his way quickly to OR 5, and slipped in quietly to avoid distracting anyone from the task at hand.

Alex was the first to look up, and he broke into a genuine smile. “Hey there, Murphy. You want in on this? I need the bathroom anyway.”

“I would like that very much,” Shaun answered, and with that, someone came to assist him with getting him scrubbed in and gowned.

Once prepped, he walked over to the operating table, and waited for instructions from the surgeon in charge – who was not Dr. Han. Shaun felt the tension in his shoulders melt away.

“Nice to have you join us again, Dr. Murphy. Where we're currently at is...”

After the surgery – which he’d been given the privilege of closing on – Shaun took some time out in the doctors’ lounge, replying to texts from Lea.

Dr. Lim had caught Shaun on his way to the lounge. She had reminded him to take it a little easier that day, and gradually get back in the routine of residency life.

In turn, Shaun had tried to argue that he felt perfectly capable and comfortable, but Dr. Lim had shaken her head, telling him he’d be frantically busy soon enough, and to enjoy the calm before the storm.

Shaun? Is that you?” Claire’s voice drifted over to him.

For a moment, Shaun could not understand why everyone seemed to be surprised to see him back at work, until he remembered he’d expressly asked Dr. Lim to keep his reinstatement a secret.

“Hello, Claire,” Shaun responded.

“Wow, I didn’t expect to see you here – I mean, in Surgery, I — ”

“I got my job back,” Shaun assured her, then paused, trying to work out what to say next. Claire was hovering awkwardly, standing up.

“Sit down,” Shaun said, gesturing at the empty chair nearest to him. Claire took a seat, and looked at him expectantly.

“I wanted to – I – thank you,” Shaun began, clumsily.

Claire chuckled, “You’ve already thanked me, Shaun. You don’t need to keep harping on about it.”

Shaun shook his head stubbornly. “I have not thanked you in person, Claire. I know that I should. That is what I am doing. Without your efforts, I would not be sitting here. I would be downstairs in the Pathology lab. I would still have to see Dr. Han in the hallways, and know he took my job away. You have always looked out for me. I appreciate that very much. I have realised that I do not acknowledge that often enough. So... thank you, Claire.”

“I’m your friend. Of course I’ll look out for you, Shaun. That’s what friends do,” Claire assured him.

Then, Claire saw a variety of emotions cross Shaun’s face, and he gave her a hesitant look.

“What’s wrong, Shaun?” Claire asked.

“I would like to hug you. May I?”

“Yeah, absolutely. Bring it in,” Claire said, standing up and holding out her arms. Shaun stepped gratefully into them, and put his own arms around Claire.

“Let me know if I’m squeezing too hard. I know you aren’t a fan of that,” Claire murmured.

“It’s not bad. It’s very nice, actually.”

“Yeah, it is,” Claire whispered to herself, then said louder: “Thank you for my flowers. They’re lovely. You really didn’t have to.”

“Lea said I had to. She was very disappointed in me when she found out I had not thanked you. She said, ‘I think it has to be flowers’,” Shaun outlined.

“Oh,” Claire said. That took the shine off things, a little. She tried not to feel let down. Shaun was just being honest. God knew that Claire sometimes wished others would follow his example a bit more, too.

The hug ended, and she and Shaun sat back down again. Claire felt... awkward.

“Why did you get me so many flowers?” Claire asked him, settling on a reasonable question. “The size of that thing was insane!”

“You went big. I went big,” Shaun stated, as though he couldn’t believe the answer wasn’t obvious.

“Well, I don’t think I went big, exactly. It was basically an essay about the times you already went big and solved cases the rest of us thought were unsolvable. I just wrote ‘em down on paper,” Claire tried to explain. “You did the hard work, Shaun. All I did was tell your story.”

“Claire, why do you understate your contributions, in favour of highlighting mine?” Shaun asked her, curiously. “I don’t understand. I don’t work alone. You don’t, either — ”

“Oh, Shaun, it’s not about who does what, and who fixes whom — ” Claire tried to interject.

“So why is it that you write about me like you’ve never had anything to do with my successes here?” Shaun finished.

“Because it wouldn’t have helped you keep your job,” Claire explained. “It had to be about you. Shaun, it was nothing less than an honour to write about my friend – you – and how exceptional you are.”

Claire watched Shaun’s face carefully as he seemed to come to some sort of revelation. Then, abruptly, he stood up and left the doctors’ lounge, without another word.

Shaking her head in amusement, Claire got up to make herself a cup of coffee.

I know what I would like to give to Claire, Shaun thought, as he went to retrieve his iPad from his locker.

And then, for the rest of the day, whenever he had a spare moment, Shaun typed into a document he’d started compiling.

His brain worked overtime, with people and places and things flashing up like little home movies running on a projector in his mind.

A catalogue of memories that only gained new layers of significance, when they were viewed through the lenses of nostalgia and hindsight.

Chapter Text

“Murphy, could you please run these samples down to the lab?” Dr. Lim asked Shaun, handing him some specimens in a bag.

“Yes,” Shaun agreed, taking the bag. “Am I allowed to speak to Dr. Lever now, Dr. Lim?”

“Are you allowed to — ?” Dr. Lim began, before she realised why Shaun was asking. “Oh. Yes, Shaun, you’re allowed to talk to Dr. Lever.”

“Because you said — ”

“I know. Dr. Melendez and I told you not to talk to Dr. Lever or Dr. Han. But that’s over now, Shaun. You can talk to whoever you want.”

“Even Dr. Han?” Shaun pressed her.

“Well, yes, but good God, Murphy, why would you want to?” Dr. Lim asked him, quizzically.

“I don’t want to, Dr. Lim. I just wanted to know if I’m allowed to.”


“I’ll be back soon,” Shaun said, and left.

“Oh, hi, Shaun,” Carly greeted him, coming up to the front counter. “As much as I was looking forward to working with you, I’m glad you’re on the other side of this counter. You belong in Surgery.”

“I’m glad I’m on the other side of this counter, too,” Shaun responded.

“You know, I was in the meeting this morning,” Carly said conversationally, taking the bag of specimens from Shaun. “Han was really gunning for you. Truth be told, Murphy, I don’t think he wanted you in this hospital at all. Path was just a place to shove you out of the way.”

“Mmm,” Shaun said, absently, craning his neck around Carly for a better view at all the equipment set up in the lab behind her.

Carly laughed.

“We’re researching antibiotic resistance in emerging microbiomes. We just got an awesome new pathogen bio-printer. Try not to drool all over yourself,” Carly added, noting the longing look on Shaun’s face. “What could have been, huh? Hey, if you did want to shadow me sometime, I’d still love to show you what we do here,” she offered.

“Thank you,” Shaun replied. “That would be nice. I will talk to Dr. Lim and Dr. Melendez.”

“Take a seat. Your results will be ready soon.”

Shaun did so, and got out his iPad, opening the document he’d been beavering away on. He read to himself parts of what he’d already written: ’Claire offered to pick me up from my apartment when I couldn’t drive myself safely to hers... Claire told the paramedics to turn off the flashers when we went to get the liver... Claire was with me when I woke up from my injury... Claire communicates well with autistic people...’

’Claire pushed Morgan into helping her write an essay about me, because she wanted me to keep my job in Surgery. Even if it means we compete against one another, in the later years of our residencies...’ and he kept tapping away, as he thought of more and more things to add.

“Shaun? Your results are ready.”

Closing off the document, Shaun got up from the chair and went to collect the results from Carly.

“What were you working on?” Carly asked him, curiously, as she held out the results sheet. “You were tapping at that iPad so frantically, it was actually sort of distracting.”

“Notes on a case,” Shaun replied, taking the proffered results from Carly, and leaving the lab.

Having delivered the results to Dr. Lim, Shaun had been dismissed for the rest of the evening after that.

He changed out of his scrubs and lab coat in the locker room, and put on his street clothes, then picked up his backpack and went to sit in the foyer. He sent texts to Dr. Glassman and Lea:

Dr. Glassman — I’m finished for today. Do I wait for you at work, or will Lea and I just see you later tonight? 

Lea — Is there anything you need me to bring home? Don’t forget, Dr. Glassman is coming over for dinner.

He received quick responses to both his messages.

Dr. Glassman sent: Yeah, Marcus and I are just about done here. I’ll meet you in the foyer.

Lea wrote: Maybe just a bottle of wine? Wait, can Glassy drink yet?

He can. Small amounts. Shaun typed, in response to Lea’s question. 

Lea replied: Okay, I’m making chicken Parmesan, so Google suggests Sangiovese, merlot, or pinot noir. 

Confused, Shaun wrote back: Lea, that is too many options. Please tell me what to buy. 

Lea responded: Get a Sonoma pinot noir. See you soon. Love you.

“Ready to go?” Aaron said, ambling up to Shaun. “Is a cab okay?”

“Yes, but I need to stop somewhere, and buy a Sonoma pinot noir,” Shaun said. “Lea says that will go with chicken Parmesan.”

“Lea says that, does she?” Aaron chuckled, as they walked outside to the taxi rank. “Well, are you going to drink it?”

Shaun shrugged. “I’ll try it. The only thing I don’t want to drink anymore is tequila. Bad things happen to me when I do, except for singing karaoke and kissing Lea for the first time. But everything else involving tequila is awful. I don’t know if wine will be the same.”

“Honey, we’re home!” Aaron cried out, as he entered the apartment, with Shaun at his heels.

“Glassy! Nice to see you again. Hi, sweetheart, how was work?”

“Hello, Lea. I got the Sonoma pinot noir,” Shaun said, walking over to the kitchen counter and setting the bottle down. Then a vague look passed over his face, like he wasn’t sure what came next.

Lea didn’t seem fazed, though. She put down the wooden spoon she’d been holding, and, stepping up to Shaun, gave him a kiss.

“Do you require any assistance with dinner?” Shaun asked her.

“No, I’ve got it under control. Sit down, relax. Both of you, tell me about your day.”

“I assisted on a cerebral bypass today,” Shaun recounted, sitting down at the breakfast bar. “Dr. Ko let me close. It was cool.”

“That’s amazing!” Lea exclaimed. “Congratulations!” 

Shaun shrugged, nonchalantly. “It’s not the first time I’ve closed, Lea.”

“Yeah, but it’s a privilege to do it, right?” Lea prodded.

“Yes, it is,” Aaron cut in, giving Shaun a Look, as he also took a seat at the counter. “What Shaun means is, ‘Thank you’.”

“I said exactly what I meant to say,” Shaun said, indignantly. “It is a fact that it was not my first close.” 

“It’s okay, Glassy,” Lea said, turning off the burners, and coming over to the breakfast bar. “I’m proud of Shaun, regardless of whether it’s his first close or his thousandth.”

“It was good work,” Shaun agreed. “Thank you, Lea.”

“I’m also super proud of Shaun’s modesty,” Lea noted, and Aaron laughed. “He’s very humble.”

“No, I am not. I am arrogant and stubborn, and that is why I will be a great surgeon,” Shaun countered.

“How about you, Glassy?” Lea went on, now positioning the chicken in a dish, sprinkling cheese on top, and then putting the whole thing in the oven. “What’d you get up to today?”

“I’m going back to work soon, on a part-time basis. I’m going to be sharing the President role with Andrews. When I’m ready to go back to full-time, Andrews will be Chief of Surgery again. I went into work today to hammer out the nitty-gritty of the job-share arrangement.”

“Oh, so how it was when Shaun started?” Lea queried.

Aaron nodded. “Yeah.”

“I think Dr. Glassman will be a lot happier when he goes back to work,” Shaun added. “I will be happier, too. Dr. Andrews is not a very good President. He is an excellent Chief of Surgery.”

“Ah, Shaun, I think you’re a little biased there, maybe,” Aaron demurred.

“Dr. Glassman, you would not have hired Dr. Han,” Shaun pointed out. “Therefore, you are a better President than Dr. Andrews, who did.”

Aaron eyed Lea, who shrugged, and said, “Is Shaun wrong?”

“Well, we find it very hard to convince him, on the rare occasion he is wrong,” Aaron replied, smiling wryly. “But, in this instance, he isn’t wrong. I wouldn’t have hired Dr. Han.”

“He played loud music in the OR,” Shaun put in. “It was terrible for my concentration.”

“Oh, he was one of those,” Aaron commented. “Awful.”

“Yeah, I know all about Shaun’s aversion to loud music,” Lea said.

“You can buy headphones, Lea. I don’t think Dr. Han should operate with headphones on,” Shaun argued. “How would he be be able to hear other people talking to him? Clear communication is essential to achieving positive surgical outcomes.”

“Okay, I think dinner’s ready,” Lea said, changing the subject.

Shaun jumped up and got out plates, flatware and three wineglasses, and went to set the table.

Aaron took advantage of Shaun’s preoccupation with setting the table, to say quietly to Lea, “It’s not easy, is it?”

“I never thought it would be, Glassy,” Lea replied, just as quietly. “And easy’s overrated.”

“Thank you for cooking, Lea. This is really nice,” Aaron said, in between forkfuls of chicken Parmesan, and hearty gulps of wine. 

Shaun, meanwhile, looked slightly alarmed at how quickly Aaron seemed to be sinking the wine. Lea could tell he was itching to say something about the amount of alcohol Aaron had already consumed, and to implore Aaron not to drink any more.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Shaun cooked yesterday, so it was my turn today. More wine, Shaun? Glassy?”

“Okay. Thank you, Lea,” Shaun said, holding out his glass for a refill, to which Lea gave him a somewhat surprised look.

“It goes well with the meal you made,” Shaun explained. “I don’t think I mind drinking with a meal. Tequila isn’t typically consumed with a meal. Maybe that’s why it makes me sick.”

“I disagree: Mexican food. Margaritas have tequila in them, and I wouldn’t drink much else if I’m eating Mexican,” Lea countered. 

“No more wine for me, thanks, Lea. I can see the appalled look on Shaun’s face. That’s his ‘I think you’re wrong – don’t do it’ expression,” Aaron said.

“You are not long out of chemotherapy, Dr. Glassman. It is dangerous for you to imbibe too much alcohol,” Shaun scolded him, giving Lea a stern look. 

“Anyway, Andrews told me he gave Han the opportunity to resign by five PM this evening,” Aaron continued. “I passed Han in the corridor, as I was coming to meet you, Shaun. He was holding what I presume was his resignation letter, and if looks could kill — ”

“Which they can’t,” Shaun interrupted.

“I’d have been a dead man. Han glared at me like I had cancelled Christmas or something.”

“Well, did you say anything to him?” Lea asked eagerly, her forkful of chicken poised in mid-air.

“I... might have mumbled something particularly disparaging – and not a little unprofessional – under my breath, yeah,” Aaron admitted. “But I won’t repeat it in polite company.”

“Why would Han take it out on you, though, Glassy?” Lea wondered aloud. “You weren’t in the meeting today, were you?” 

“Dr. Glassman convinced the Board to hire me, which set off a chain of events that have ended negatively for Dr. Han, and now he is out on his ass, as Morgan put it,” Shaun contributed, helpfully. “I can see why he would be angry with Dr. Glassman.”

“Makes sense,” Lea remarked. “Is everyone done with their plates?”

“I’ll clear. You cooked, Lea. And, Dr. Glassman, you are our guest,” Shaun put in, gathering up the dishes and flatware, and carrying them to the kitchen.

Back at the dining table, Lea shifted chairs, so she was sitting next to Aaron.

“How is it? Being with Shaun?” Aaron asked, softly. “If that’s not too nosy a question. Or, Shaun tells me you call it being ‘nebby’.”

“Yeah. Pittsburgh thing. You’re allowed to be nebby, Glassy,” Lea replied. “To a certain extent, anyway. It’s – well, not much has changed in the ‘living together’ department — ” Except for the part where we’re playing ‘Musical Bedrooms’, she mentally added, “But, he, um, he had some dreams, on Friday night. That was scary.”

“What kind of dreams?” Aaron asked, suspiciously.

Lea sighed. “Nightmares. About his childhood. The screaming. God, I’ve never heard him sound so scared.”

Aaron sneaked a look at Shaun, still engrossed in methodically washing the dishes one by one, out of earshot, and the water was running too loudly for them to be in danger of being overheard.

Lea continued: “He locked me out. Or, if you view it from Shaun’s perspective, he locked himself in. I thought about calling you for help. He was disassociating. He – he thought I was his Mom, I think, for a minute.”

Aaron frowned. “Was that your first time encountering a situation like that, with Shaun?” 

“Yeah. He said it was the first time he ever had those dreams, since we moved in together. I told him I wanted to understand the maelstrom in his head. I guess we sort of... had a fight.”

“Interesting word choice, ‘maelstrom’,” Aaron observed. “Not exactly wrong, either.”

“He said, if I kept getting angry at him, and raising my voice, he’d never let me understand it.” 

Were you angry or raising your voice?” Aaron asked her, shrewdly. 

“Does it matter? Shaun thought I was,” Lea replied, sadly. “He didn’t even tell me I had to stop being loud, or angry. He just said he’d retreat inside himself, if I was. It’s the only thing that keeps him safe, he says. I’m starting to take his point. He’s not telling me to change, or be an emotionless robot. He’s just protecting himself.”

“I guess it passed. He seems fine now,” Aaron commented.

“I gave him the scalpel. Steve’s scalpel. He explained stimming to me. Why it helps calm him down.”

Aaron opened his mouth to reply, but cut himself off when Shaun closed the taps. He then began drying the now-washed dishes, and putting them away.

“Was it worth it?” Aaron whispered.

Lea nodded. “Yes. It is. He is.”

Chapter Text

“Oh, come on!” Lea shouted at the television, gesticulating wildly. “Seriously, this guy thinks ‘clutch’ means a type of purse! Hit the damn ball! Are you blind?”

Aaron and Shaun exchanged furtive glances, while Lea kept yelling angrily at Monday Night Baseball.

“They cannot hear you — ” Shaun began, until Aaron touched him gently on the arm. She knows that, Shaun.

“How was your day, Lea?” Aaron half-shouted, over the din. Shaun picked up the remote and turned the volume down on the game.

“How was your day?” Aaron asked again, this time in a normal voice.

“Short, thankfully. I just went in to check that my in-tray hasn’t collapsed under its own weight. Then I had a boring meeting.”

“You are still sitting in endless meetings, talking about building things,” Shaun observed. “You don’t like that.”

Lea sighed. “Yeah. That’s true. But, I decided to reframe it in my mind, as literally being paid to sit down. The chairs are comfy. Occasionally, we do build something. I also know it isn’t any better anywhere else in the Valley. They can put in Ping-Pong tables, and hammocks, and bring puppies into the office, and give us free yoga classes, but every tech firm wants to offer those perks. It helps mask the fact that they don’t really pay market value for our skills. And that there are always endless meetings, pretty much everywhere.”

“Money is not the only motivator,” Shaun said, thoughtfully.

“I’m aware of that, Shaun,” Lea replied, with a snap in her voice that was not unlike that of a mouse trap. Aaron noticed her irritation, but it seemed to elude Shaun.

“You did not come back from Hershey because you wanted money,” Shaun added. “Money was secondary.”

“Uh, no, Shaun, money is definitely important,” Lea disagreed.

“I did not say it was unimportant. I said it was secondary. Secondary is still very important,” Shaun said.

“If I’m remembering right, Shaun, you wanted your job so you could make money, to afford a television – this television, in fact,” Aaron cut in.

“That is true, Dr. Glassman. But I also said I wanted to make it possible for people to grow up, and become adults. Money for a television was secondary.”

“Motivation is complex. I think we can all agree on that,” Aaron pronounced, feeling a bit like he was herding cats. It’s early days. They’re learning how to be around one another in a completely different way than ever before, he thought to himself. And that’s not easy.

“Glassy, would you like to bring Debbie next time?” Lea suggested.

“Debbie, from the hospital cafeteria?” Shaun spoke up. “I introduced them.”

“Oh, maybe. We’re still figuring it out,” Aaron said.

“Well, don’t take too long. Time waits for no man,” Lea reminded Aaron, softly.

“I’m intimately familiar with that concept, Lea.”

By the seventh-inning stretch, Aaron was starting to doze off a little, and Lea nudged him gently.

“Glassy,” she murmured quietly. “You’re falling asleep. How are you getting home?”

“I guess – I’ll just call – an Uber,” Aaron said, stretching and standing up slowly. “Or a cab.”

“I can drive you. I only had one glass of wine,” Lea said.

“No, really, it’s... thank you, Lea. That’d be nice,” Aaron relented.

“Okay, we’ll leave in a minute. Shaun, you want to come with?”

“No, thank you, Lea. I need to shower and work on some case notes.”

Lea eyed Aaron and said, “Looks like it’s just you and me, then, Glassy.”

“Good night, Dr. Glassman. Thank you for coming over,” Shaun said, politely, then made for his room.

“You said it was a long story,” Aaron began, as they buckled their seatbelts in the Striped Tomato. Lea started the engine, backed smoothly out of the space, and headed for the open road. “How you ended up deciding to make a go of things with Shaun. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Are you really that interested in the ramblings of a twenty-something Millennial woman?” Lea asked him, shrewdly.

“Some of my best friends are Millennials,” Aaron retorted, but in good humour. “I’m asking, because I don’t think you have anyone else to talk to. It hasn’t escaped my notice that Shaun seems to be your closest friend.”

“Yeah, he is. I mean, I know a lot of people, but... I guess when you have someone as extraordinary as Shaun to come home to, other people can seem... I can’t relate to them, like I did before. It’s weird. Like, they’re fine to drink with, see a gig or two with, or club with, but I wouldn’t confide in them about something like this. My family and I aren’t speaking, either, so that’s out.”

“I’d like to offer you some advice, if that’s okay.”

“Sure, go ahead.”

“Make good friends, other than Shaun. It’s not healthy for the two of you, if you don’t have lives outside of one another, and your relationship. Make sure that if this goes haywire, you have a shoulder to cry on. A support system. Because Shaun won’t go back to just being friends with you, if that’s what you’re thinking he’ll do. I know him, Lea. It’ll be too painful. He will cut you out. Or, worse, he’ll try to be friends with you, and pretend he’s fine.”

“I’m not in this relationship to waste anyone’s time, Glassy,” Lea said, a little defensively. “But the point you made, about ensuring I have a support system outside of my relationship with Shaun, is solid. You’re right. I should work on that.”

“A relationship with Shaun can become all-encompassing. Sometimes, that’s wonderfully rewarding, and sometimes, it’s just plain exhausting,” Aaron observed.

“Shaun’s workmates – Claire and Morgan – came up with this plan to hang out with Shaun in our apartment, and act as though they were romantically interested in him, in order to make me jealous. Morgan was the instigator. As I understand it, Shaun had seemed pretty miserable at work, ever since I started going out with Jake. Morgan got jack of watching Shaun moon around, and she told him to ‘take action’.”

“Well, it worked, I’m guessing?” Aaron replied.

“Those girls read me like a Goddamn book, Glassy,” Lea replied, grudgingly. “I will never forget what Shaun looked like, when I walked in on him and Morgan in his room. It was so obvious that they’d been kissing. Intensely.”

“How did it feel?” Aaron asked her, gently. By this time, they had arrived at Aaron’s house, and Lea parked in the driveway.

“Like I’d been stabbed in the gut,” Lea answered, flatly. “It was a shock. I didn’t know I was going to feel that way. But, apparently Morgan did. I don’t like her, at all.”

“Because she kissed Shaun?” Aaron prodded.

“That, and she’s incredibly manipulative. Do you know, she told Shaun that his first two kisses – I mean, the ones he and I shared — ” and here, Lea trailed off, feeling like she was saying too much.

“If you don’t want to go into detail, that’s okay. I mean, hearing about Shaun’s love life is awkward. But, I will push through the awkwardness, because I really do think you need to talk about it, with someone other than Shaun,” Aaron pressed her.

“Glassy, I get angry all over again, when I remember that Morgan actually told Shaun that the kisses he and I shared, were pity kisses. They weren’t. They meant something. They meant so much to me, that the night I came back to San Jose, the first thing I wanted to do when I saw Shaun again... was try for a third. I missed that boy like hell.”

“You resent Morgan, because you think she preyed on Shaun’s insecurities, about your feelings for him?”

“Yeah. Ever since I got back from Hershey, he just... pulled away. It was already volatile between us, but if he’d just – if he’d said something – has Shaun told you about the fights he and I had?”

“A little. It was obvious he was hurting. You confused him, Lea.”

“I know I did. But, when I came back, I asked him how he felt about it, and all he would say was: ‘everything, and nothing’.”

“You came back to be with Shaun?” Aaron asked her.

“In no small part, yes,” Lea confirmed. “I mean, I had a job to come back to, but I think I would have come back here, regardless. It felt... unfinished between us, somehow.”

“I place a much higher value on taking chances like that, ever since I lost my daughter. My only child.”

“Oh, Glassy, I’m so sorry.”

“I locked her outside in the cold, one night, when she came home, stoned out of her gourd. I – I thought she’d go to her friend’s house, I — ”

Lea unbuckled her seatbelt and reached over to put her arm around Aaron, who had begun to sob in earnest.

“I never got to tell her how much I loved her,” he lamented, through his tears. “She died hating me. Tell Shaun – promise me – tell him every day. Don’t risk having the same regrets I do.”

“Okay, let’s get you out of the car. Give me your keys, we’ll go inside.”

Aaron allowed himself to be led up to his own front door, and he handed his keys to Lea, with the correct key pulled up and away from the others.

Lea unlocked the door, and Aaron told her the code to disarm the security system. Then she ushered Aaron inside the house and to the living room, where they sat down together on the sofa.

She retrieved a box of tissues from an end-table, and brought them to Aaron.

“Thank you, Lea. I’m sorry, you must feel terribly uncomfortable — ”

“You can’t talk to Shaun about your daughter, can you?” Lea guessed, and Aaron shook his head.

“It’s not that he doesn’t care. It’s – a lot of reasons. I don’t want to dredge up his own grief about Steve, for a start, and I try not to overload him with things he can’t fix. He gets incredibly frustrated when he can’t help. I want to spare him the burdens of an old man. He’s so young, and yet he’s already carrying far too many of his own.”

Lea nodded in agreement. “I wanted Shaun to ask me what happened in Hershey. He said: ‘You would have told me, if you wanted me to know. You might not be ready to tell me,’ and I realised he was right. He would want to help, and there was nothing he could help with. What happened, happened. That won’t change.”

“There’s a fine line between not burdening Shaun unnecessarily, and condescending to him, as though he isn’t capable of understanding,” Aaron pronounced.

“What was her name? Your daughter?” Lea asked him, softly.


“What was she like?”

“She was the greatest thing I will ever accomplish in my life. But she had an inner world that I couldn’t find a way into, no matter how hard I tried. She fell into drugs – I was an absent father – and when I had time to spare, I suddenly found that I had no idea how to talk to her. She shut me out.”

“That’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Lea murmured.

“Lea, I don’t want to tell you how to be with Shaun, it’s none of my business, really. If you love him, that’s your decision, you decide when, and how often to tell him, if you want to tell him – I overstepped — ”

“I took the advice for what it was: a well-meaning reminder to not lose sight of what’s really important,” Lea assured Aaron. “Glassy, I do love Shaun. And I will make sure he knows that. In my own way. Just like he shows me that he loves me, in his own way.”

“I should let you get going. Thank you for listening to the ravings of a decrepit old Baby Boomer.”

“Some of my best friends are Boomers,” Lea joked.

Aaron got up to walk her to the door.

“Drive safe, Lea,” he said. “Thank you for bringing me home. Good night.”

“Night, Glassy.”

Chapter Text

“I want to go on our next official date this week,” Shaun announced to Lea, who was just coming back into her room after her shower. Shaun was already quite comfortably settled in Lea's bed, leaning back contentedly against the pillows and tapping away on his iPad.

“You do, do you?” Lea said, pausing in the process of exchanging her bathrobe for her pyjamas.

“Yes. I — ” Shaun trailed off, his breath hitching, as he caught sight of Lea.

“You were saying?” she teased, winking at him and giving a little shimmy, showing off. “Or... is something distracting you?”

“You know you are distracting me, Lea,” Shaun replied somewhat irritably.

“I do! Isn't it fun? Hey, put that iPad away, and I might just show you exactly how fun being distracted is.”

“Being distracted is not fun for me, Lea,” Shaun demurred, but he did put the iPad on the nightstand. “I am trying to discuss plans for our second date with you, and you are parading around half-dressed. It completely breaks my concentration.”

Shaun immediately wanted to rewind and erase what he’d just said when he noticed Lea's crestfallen face.

Without another word to him, Lea angrily yanked the drawstrings of her pyjama pants tighter. Her fingers slipped as she tied the strings in a messy bow.

“I need to say that another way,” Shaun said in realisation. “I have upset you.”

“Yep,” Lea agreed, shortly, now adjusting her tank top.

“You are beautiful, Lea,” Shaun amended, sheepishly.

“Thank you. Keep going,” Lea prompted. She got into bed beside Shaun, but stayed firmly on her side of the mattress.

“You are so beautiful that when I see you like that, I sometimes forget what I was going to say. I cannot see you like that and also keep up a meaningful conversation at the same time. It has to be one or the other. You are not frustrating, Lea. I am sorry I didn’t say it right.”

“Distracted by the sexy,” Lea translated.

“Distracted by the sexy,” Shaun echoed.

“Maybe it would make you feel better if you knew that you’re also plenty distracting to me when you’re half-dressed. Or fully naked, for that matter. I just about lost my train of thought when you asked me to come into the shower with you. You remember, when you were in the hospital? My mouth went so dry. It was ridiculous!”

“The other times I have seen you like that, we have not been engaged in a true conversation, and you have been covered by the comforter. So my concentration does not break as easily. But if I’m trying to talk to you about something specific and you just suddenly – I can’t think.”

“Okay,” Lea noted. “Got it.”

“They say men have a brain and a penis, but only enough blood to run one at a time,” Shaun quipped.

“Hey, I thought you were highly evolved,” she teased him, sliding over to his side of the bed. “You’re above all of that.”

“I try to be above ‘all of that’. Except when we have sex. Then I am just another red-blooded, straight human male doing something I have always instinctively known how to do.”

“So, how does that work when I’m on top? Still the same instincts?”

“Yes, just at a different angle. I have found that sex is about angles. Different angles produce different results and stimulate different nerve endings. Some sensations are pleasurable and some are not.”

“I can’t understand how you made that sound so hot and yet so matter-of-fact at the same time,” Lea grumbled, but she wasn't really annoyed.

“You are attracted to me, Lea,” Shaun pointed out. “It is likely you would find most things I say sound ‘hot’ to you.”

“Hmm. Makes sense. Okay, so, our next date,” Lea started, moving to the next topic.

“I suggested we go out to dinner. Where would you like to eat?” Shaun asked her.

“Shaunie, you know you’re a lot pickier about food than I am, so it’s up to you,” Lea said.

“Yes, I am picky. But we have lived together long enough that I am reasonably confident in your ability to pick a restaurant for us.”

“‘Reasonably confident’,” Lea quoted, half-chuckling. “High praise from you. I’ll take it, I guess. Okay, I’ll tell you what: I’ll shortlist some places and send you their menus — ”

“I love you,” Shaun broke in, his face set and serious.

“Hey, I love you, too — ” Lea began, but Shaun spoke up again.

“I love you because you know I would prefer to see a restaurant’s menu in advance.”

“I mean, Shaun, it’s a little thing – I just thought you might — ”

“It is not a little thing to me, Lea,” Shaun insisted. “You care about me. You know I would appreciate that. You never even asked if I wanted that. You just knew.”

“I think you’re overstating how great it — ” Lea tried to say.

“Mom wasn’t the best cook. I’d sit at the dinner table most nights, trying to choke down what she had made. I had to hide that I was struggling with the sensory aspects – stringy, dry meat, tasteless vegetables, stale bread – because then, my father would yell at me to hurry up and eat what I’d been given. He once threatened to serve me a can of dog food for dinner. I couldn’t be ‘grateful’ and ‘eat like a normal kid’. I deserved to be treated like the animal I was,” Shaun explained.

“You have food issues. I’m not surprised. It drives me up the wall how kids are forced to eat things that they don’t fucking like. Adults don’t bother, they just eat something else!” Lea cut in, fuming.

“I love you for many reasons, Lea. You know I am a fussy eater and you offered to send me restaurant menus. That’s the most recent addition to the list of reasons I love you.”

“Do you actually have a list?” Lea asked, curiously.

Shaun tapped his forehead. “Yes. In here.”

“Hmm. Interesting. Well, I keep my list somewhere around... here,” Lea responded, reaching down between them for Shaun's hand, then bringing it up to rest over her heart.

“Oh, God, we literally just talked about this. I'm doing it again, aren't I?” Lea exclaimed in frustration, realising she’d just done exactly what Shaun had asked her not to – distract him with the sexy. “We’re having a serious conversation and I decide that’s a fine time to yank your hand up and drop it on my chest.”

“Yes,” Shaun agreed, but he didn't move his hand.

“All right, then — ”

“I have not stopped touching you, Lea,” he added.

“No, you haven’t,” Lea said, slowly. “Do you want to stop?”

“Absolutely not.”

“You know, this is really one-sided,” Lea commented, having given Shaun his hand back. She pulled the covers tighter around herself to avoid him accidentally catching an eyeful.

“What is?”

“I haven’t really... done much to you,” Lea said, a little hesitantly. “Every time we’ve had sex, it’s been pretty much entirely about me. Isn’t there anything you want, sweetheart? We could revisit what I proposed in the shower this morning. Or – how do you like to get off? When you think about me, what am I doing to you? I know I get you going – that’s not news – but why aren’t you asking me for things?”

Shaun sighed. “Please put some clothes back on if you want to discuss this.”

“Okay. Close your eyes. This is going to be a Serious Conversation, with a capital ‘S’ and ‘C’. Isn’t it?” Lea observed, putting her tank top back on, and getting up to retrieve her robe for good measure. She put it on, wrapped it tightly, and double-knotted the sash.

“I’m decent again,” she called out to Shaun, and he obediently opened his eyes as Lea got back into bed.

“Do you just want me to start asking questions, or do you want to tell me things in your own time?” she asked.

“I need help gathering my thoughts. You can ask me questions.”

“Did something... happen to you? Maybe in college? Like, did you try something with a girl that didn’t work out?” Lea pressed.

“No. I asked to kiss a girl once, but that was in middle school. It did not go well for me. She almost tricked me into pulling my pants down, and her friends were waiting for me to do it so they could laugh at me. She said: ‘Like I’d ever kiss a creepy weirdo like you’.”

“Oh — ”

“You are the first girl I have ever kissed.”

“And I’m honoured, but we’re moving away from the point. Which makes me wonder: do you know why you haven’t asked me for anything?”

“I asked you if you wanted to have sex on Sunday, and I also asked you this morning. And you said ‘yes’.”

“Yeah, but I offered to give you head in the shower this morning, and you said you wanted it, but your body language was shouting ‘I’m not ready’. Shaun, are you scared I’ll hurt you? I’m not – you know, I’m not gonna bite your — ”

“No, it’s — ”

“Did we do things in the wrong order? Is that it? We skipped right ahead to the sex part. We could stop having sex for a while, if you want — ”

“No!” Shaun practically yelped, and Lea jerked, alarmed, staring at him with worry etched all over her face. “No. I do not want to stop having sex with you, Lea,” he elaborated.

“Okay, Shaun, then what — ? You know that I love you. And honestly? I don’t want to stop having sex with you either. But slowing down a little is totally reasonable, too. We could have less of it – I mean, we had sex twice on Friday, then once yesterday and again this morning. That’s four times in four days.”

“Yes, it is,” Shaun agreed, sounding as close to ‘dreamy’ as he ever got, while his face took on a wistful sort of look.

Lea stifled a giggle. That is definitely not the facial expression of a man who doesn’t enjoy sex.

She continued: “I’m telling you, though, sex... it can’t just be about me all the time. Frankly, sweetheart, it makes me sad. At worst, it’s a turn-off. You think I haven’t dreamed of doing things to you? I was serious about giving you head in the shower. I was serious about nailing you in the back of the Striped Tomato. I have half a drawer of frilly lingerie that I seriously can’t wait to wear for you. We have so, so much to look forward to, Shaunie.”

“I know, Lea.”

“Wait, I do a monologue and you just reply, ‘I know’? That’s unacceptable, Shaun.”

“I am still perseverating about the logistics of having sex in that car. I cannot imagine it being comfortable.”

“Yeah, well, sex is kind of about leaving old comfort zones, and finding new ones,” Lea commented, a note of irritation creeping into her words. “Of course screwing in a car isn’t comfortable, but were you planning on doing it for hours?”

“No. Not hours.”

Lea sighed. “Okay, let’s table this for now. It’s a conversation that we should keep having, anyway. It’s not a ‘one-and-done’ scenario. Want to sleep?”

“That might be a good idea. It is getting late. Good night,” Shaun agreed, giving Lea a peck on the lips and turning over.

Lea stared at his back for a few moments, wondering what had just happened. But Shaun didn’t turn to face her again.

Well, he’s clearly done with that topic for tonight, she thought, wryly.

Sighing, she reached over to the lamp and flicked the power switch. The room was instantly shrouded in darkness. Then she huffed again and rolled onto her back, staring up at the black expanse of the ceiling, feeling about a million miles away from Shaun.

Over on his side of the mattress, Shaun was only pretending to sleep. He felt rattled by the discussion he'd had with Lea.

Having sex with Lea is fun. I enjoy making her feel good. What would be so wrong about asking her to make me feel like that? She lets me have sex with her. That feels good to me.

Yes. Lea lets you sleep with her. That should be enough for you. It's a miracle that she wants you at all, another voice hissed in his mind, full of bitterness and two-and-a-half decades of concealed self-loathing. Especially considering how pathetic you are.

“You aren't really asleep, are you?” Lea's voice cut into the darkness.

“No,” Shaun confessed. “But I should be. I have an early start tomorrow.”

“You are enough, you know,” Lea reminded him, her voice quiet, and for a moment Shaun wasn't sure if that was her speaking in real-time, or if he was merely remembering last Friday – how she'd said that, and how he had finally come undone when she had. ‘I will still love you... I'm just telling you because I don't know that anyone else ever has...’

“You deserve to feel good, Lea. I am happy that I can make you feel good,” Shaun replied instead, but his voice sounded robotic even to his own ears.

“But...?” Lea prompted him, her voice soft. “You don't deserve the same things. Right?”

“No. It's a miracle you are with me at all. I am afraid to ask you for the things I want.”

“Well, that's progress,” Lea proclaimed.

“How so?” Shaun replied, confused.

“Like I said, at least we've established that you do want things. It's a start.”

“I am not scared that you might bite me.”

“Okay, Shaun. For what it's worth, I don't think that's it, either. Let's sleep now. Yeah?”

It was easier to fall asleep the second time they tried it; they slept curled up close together, each protecting the other from everything, starting with old childhood nightmares and all the way through to the mundane horrors of modern life.

Chapter Text

Shaun came to a decision early on Tuesday morning.

The solution to his Lea conundrum arrived unexpectedly, while he was idly contemplating the toast slices on the plate in front of him.

Shaun knew he shouldn't do what he was considering doing – he knew it was inappropriate – to bring this up with anyone else, and to talk about Lea behind her back. He should be talking to Lea herself.

But trying to talk about his reluctance to ask for sexual favours from Lea with Lea herself wasn't proving to be much of a winning strategy so far, and Shaun thought he might die of embarrassment if he spoke about it with Dr. Glassman.

Plus, Lea would also be embarrassed if Shaun were to bring it up with Dr. Glassman. She'd told Shaun she didn't want him ‘kissing and telling’, and she'd expressly requested that he not talk to Dr. Glassman about the physical side of the relationship.

Shaun had tossed and turned the whole night through. He'd annoyed Lea with the incessant shifting of the mattress, and all of it was punctuated by frustrating hypnic jerks, yanking him back into alertness every time he thought he was finally – mercifully – falling asleep.

He wasn't a fan of the smell of coffee, and he despised the taste, but the lack of a decent night's sleep was getting to Shaun. He was seriously considering working on acquiring at least some semblance of a taste for coffee. He felt utterly exhausted, like he'd just finished running a marathon.

Talking to Morgan was out: Shaun still had some unresolved feelings about the kiss they had shared last Wednesday night.

It wasn't that he wanted to kiss Morgan again, precisely: rather, it was that kissing her had awakened an almost primal instinct inside himself, simmering incessantly far below his skin. A distant, buzzing sort of hum, like the sounds of the white noise machine he sometimes used to help lull him to sleep. He couldn't understand how he'd always been so ignorant of its existence before.

On reflection, Shaun would have much preferred it if Lea had been the one to help him to discover that drive of his, instead of Morgan.

He vividly recalled nearly knocking his forehead against Morgan's, the fingers of one of his hands weaving roughly through her blonde hair, and the fingers of his other hand stroking the featherweight cashmere of her sweater, like it was something alive.

Then there had been Morgan's own unyielding hold on Shaun, one of her hands grabbing for a fistful of his shirt collar, the other yanking on his hair. And he flashed back on shuddering and shaking while he clutched at her, seeking out some sort of grip on reality.

Until that kiss, Shaun had never really understood just how something could be painful and pleasurable at the same time. All the frustration and the fury he had kept buried – because it got too loud when he carelessly let it start creeping, unchecked, up to the surface – every last bit of it found a home in that moment, when he was – willingly – kissing someone other than Lea.

A knot of discomfort lodged in Shaun's stomach as he next recalled lying to Lea. In the hospital, he'd told her he had kissed Morgan, and he'd known immediately that he didn't want to do it again.

Telling Lea that he'd known it immediately had been a lie. Shaun damn well had not known it immediately. Sometimes he even wondered what else might have happened, if Lea hadn't walked in on the tail-end of that kiss. Would he have kissed Morgan again?

Kissing Morgan had hurt. It had been forceful and brutal. Shaun knew he couldn't kiss Lea like that. It might hurt her, and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

In the end, Morgan's plan to make Lea jealous had worked: Lea was Shaun's girlfriend now. And he knew Lea and Morgan did not like one another.

So that left —

“Shaun?” Claire asked him curiously, sitting across from him at their cafeteria table. Her brow was knitted in concern. “There's something on your mind. Want to talk about it?”

“Yes. There is something on my mind,” Shaun admitted. “I want to talk to you about it, because you communicate well with autistic people. I think you will understand it.”

“Well, it's nice of you to say that, Shaun, but I'm not trying to communicate with you just because you're autistic. Communicating with you is important to me because you're a good friend. One of my best friends, actually. What bothers you bothers me. And something is bothering you. You haven't stopped fidgeting, all through breakfast.”

Shaun couldn't help but note the striking contrasts between Claire's and Lea's individual approaches to conversations with him.

Where Lea seemed to jump in and try to finish the thoughts Shaun sometimes couldn't complete on his own, Claire simply sat patiently, waiting for him to gather his thoughts up and shuffle them around, until they made enough order and logical sense in his own head to justify being spoken aloud.

“Lea is my girlfriend now,” he began, awkwardly, to which Claire grinned widely and exclaimed, “Hey, that's terrific!”

“Yes. It's terrific. We have had sex four times since Friday. It's very fun.”

Claire had been sipping her orange juice when Shaun made this nonchalant declaration, and she choked on her drink. Her eyes began to water, and she kept waving her hand around in the air like, 'Heard and understood, I'm okay, just give me a second.’

Shaun took this gesture literally, and stayed seated, instead of launching himself across the table to perform the Heimlich. He waited patiently for Claire to pull herself together.

“Uh, that's – great, Shaun,” she said weakly, when she had recovered her composure. “Congratulations?”

“Lea is telling me that I should be asking her for sexual favours. She seems troubled that I am not asking for them, and it is beginning to trouble me that she is troubled by that,” Shaun went on.

Claire translated in her head: 'Lea wants to do other things, and so do I, but I can't seem to get comfortable with asking her for them.'

“What kind of sexual favours?” Claire asked, mirroring Shaun's terminology. “Like, blow jobs? Hand jobs? Fluffy handcuffs? How adventurous are we talking here? A gimp suit? Pegging?”

“Lea has offered me two blow jobs so far. Also, I bought the Hemnes bed from IKEA on the weekend, because Lea seemed fixated on the fact that there are bars on the bedhead. Therefore, I had to buy it.”

Claire let out an involuntary chuckle that she was able to turn into a sort of wheeze. Thankfully, Shaun didn't seem to notice the odd noise Claire had made.

"Uh... did, um, you want me to explain... why the bars... did Lea tell you, or...?” Claire managed to stammer out.

“Lea would like to tie my hands to them. I would like to tie her hands to them as well, one day. I have already set aside a necktie that I do not like, and will not want to wear ever again, for this exact purpose,” Shaun outlined, factually.

“Okay, right, you're keen on a bit of light bondage. Fabulous. Well, uh, thanks for the nightmares, buddy. But do you want other things as well, like a blow job, or whatever, Shaun? What you want matters, too. You can say yes to some things and no to others. You can have soft and hard limits – actually, you know what, I'm really crossing a line here now, you should discuss these things with your girlfriend — ”

'Can I be honest?' his pained gaze – or the bit she could see of it, at least, since his head was tilted down – seemed to ask, followed by, 'And will you tell anyone else what I've said to you, if I am?'

“Shaun, this chat doesn't go beyond this table, if that's what's worrying you — ” Claire started.

But Shaun carried on: “Claire, I have been trying to discuss these things with my girlfriend... and I cannot get the words out. I don't know what I'm scared of. There are many things I'd like to do to Lea, and many things I'd like her to do to me. I know what they're called – it's not a case of not knowing what to ask for.”

“All right,” Claire said, slowly. “Have you tried just telling Lea that? It sounds like she's pretty confused, Shaun. Worst case, she might be feeling like you're sleeping with her out of a misguided sense of obligation, or that you aren't really attracted to her. Sex – and relationships, generally – are all about give and take. Lea feels like she's been doing all the taking, but not giving you anything back. She's worried that you aren't getting what you want. Do you feel guilty for wanting things, Shaun? Or maybe like you're not worthy of them?”

Shaun looked thoughtful. “Maybe. My parents didn't ever make me feel like I had the right to ask for anything. I was never in control of anything until I ran away with my brother.”

“Hmm. Then I'm wondering if it's that you're afraid you won't get what you want… or whether you're really afraid that you actually might. Are you asking yourself the right questions?” Claire pondered aloud.

“I am not afraid of Lea,” Shaun stated.

Claire shook her head. “I'm not saying you are, Shaun. I'm saying that you don't think you deserve Lea's love. You're waiting for the bottom to drop out. Preparing for the end. You're scared to be truly vulnerable with her. You think she'll leave you again, and you'll have to relearn how to live without her from the ground up. Any of that sounding familiar?”

“Yes, it does. Your insights are very helpful. You always give useful advice. Thank you, Claire.”

“Anytime, Shaun. We should get going now, though.”

As they scraped their chairs back and got up – Shaun cringing at the noise – he leaned across to Claire and said confidentially: “I do want Lea to give me a blow job.”

“Yeah? So tell her you want one.”

“Will it be fun?” he next asked, anxiously.

Claire flashed him a brilliant, mischievous grin. “Well, Shaun, there's really only one way for you to find that out. And it'd be nice if you were to, you know... reciprocate.”

Shaun appeared to be shaken to the core by this information, and stopped short.

“Oh, don't you go being a typical guy on me now, Murphy,” Claire scolded him, rolling her eyes. “So many men think they don't have to return the favour. I thought you were different, you know? Not a selfish jerk like the majority of 'em.”

“I am different, Claire,” Shaun assured her. “I'm autistic.”

The morning passed by without incident, and Shaun had stuck close to Claire's side for most of that time.

Whenever it looked as though Morgan might approach the two of them, however, he jerked reflexively, like a startled jackrabbit.

“Don't worry, we've all regretted kissing... particular people,” Claire assured him, in a sympathetic undertone.

“I don't regret kissing Morgan,” Shaun responded, briskly. “It made Lea jealous, just like Morgan said it would. It was very helpful.”

“Fair enough.”

But Shaun couldn't continue giving Morgan the slip forever, and she cornered him in the doctors' lounge at lunch.

“Why are you avoiding me, Murphy?” she hissed. “I can't believe how ungrateful you're being. Are you still torn up about kissing me? Get over it. Don't make it weird. I'm guessing you got Lea out of it, in the end, so how bad could it have been?”

“Lea does not like you. I think she would prefer that I do not talk to you outside of our work here,” Shaun replied politely.

“Do you always say 'How high?' when Lea says 'Jump!'? Doesn't she trust you to think for yourself?” Morgan shot back.

“You and I are not friends, Dr. Reznick,” Shaun reminded her. “We just work together. Don't make it weird.”

Morgan was a little floored by Shaun's swift dismissal of her, and his reiteration that an isolated in-depth discussion and an impulsive kiss did not a friendship make.

She supposed she shouldn't have been taken aback by this, really: they'd carried out this plan with no intention of becoming friends by the end of it. She and Shaun had simply brokered an arrangement. At best, they were co-conspirators.

“Look, I'm not totally opposed to us trying to get along with each other, Shaun,” Morgan said, startling even herself, and resenting how plaintive she sounded. “Or would you prefer that I just call you 'Dr. Murphy' from here on out?” she added, injecting a tiny drop of venom into her words.

“We will not be seeing one another outside of work. There is no reason not to use our proper titles while we are working, Dr. Reznick,” Shaun answered, reasonably.

However, Morgan noticed that Shaun did not make direct eye contact with her, and needled him, deliberately: “Sorry, Dr. Murphy, but I can't hear you. You seem to be talking to the floor, not to me.”

“I find it difficult to look directly at people who I am uncomfortable being around,” Shaun responded, his voice calm and measured.

“Oh, I see, eye contact is haaaaaard,” Morgan drawled, mockingly. “So that's why you were perfectly at ease shoving your tongue down my throat and copping a feel over my sweater. You could keep your eyes closed for it,” she continued, remorselessly.

“Thank you for helping Claire write the essay, Dr. Reznick. It was instrumental in getting my surgical residency back. And thank you for helping me to make Lea jealous. It worked very well. She is my girlfriend now,” Shaun replied, his tone mild. Then he looked down at his cell phone, which was buzzing in his palm. “I have to go.”

He left, and his exit had a quiet sort of dignity about it.

But who should be coming into the lounge, just as Shaun was leaving it, and doing the clumsy little 'No, you go first!' dance with him, the awkward pas de deux of people who each want to go through the same doorway at once?

Browne. Of fucking course, a meet-cute. How vomit-inducingly adorable, Morgan thought, snidely.

Then she silently watched from afar, as Claire laughed gaily at Shaun, while they each tried to let the other pass through the doorway before them. Then she saw Shaun chuckling, too, and he lightly touched Claire's arm, indicating that he would step aside to let her go past him.

What a gentleman.

Claire lifted her gaze up at that moment, and Morgan didn't miss the triumph in her eyes, as the two women held an impromptu staring contest.

Morgan was the first one to look away.

Chapter Text

“Is this seat taken?” a tentative voice asked, the sound coming from somewhere above Morgan's head.

My day just gets better and better, Morgan groaned inwardly, as she recognised who was speaking.

She'd been so caught off guard by Shaun's polite rejection of her offer of civility – if not a genuine friendship – that she'd stayed put in her chair after he'd left, grouchily crossing her arms over her chest and glaring angrily into her lap.

As a result, she had failed to take notice of Claire, who had been walking towards her table.

Can't you see that I don't want company? she thought. Least of all yours? Apparently Murphy isn't the only one who can't take a hint.

“No. Feel free,” Morgan mumbled, instead, attempting to sound somewhat gracious. She felt the table rock as Claire sat down opposite her.

“What's the matter with you?” Claire asked curiously, as she unzipped her lunch tote and took out a sandwich wrapped in clingfilm, followed by a bottle of VitaminWater.

“That stuff is full of sugar,” Morgan commented about the water, still not bothering to look at Claire.

“Oh, well, I don't drink it every day,” Claire replied, dismissively. “Plus, I could use the short-term energy boost.”

“So, has Lea presumed to tell Shaun he can't talk to you outside of work, either?” Morgan asked, looking up at Claire, and trying not to sound too interested in the answer.

“... No? Why would she?” Claire asked in confusion, after taking a bite out of her sandwich, and washing it down with her water. “Has Shaun said something?”

“Yeah. Little bit. And he's gone back to calling me ‘Dr. Reznick’,” Morgan said, her voice full of derision.

“Well, did you think you guys were gonna be pals after that idiotic plan of yours? Is that it?” Claire questioned her. “You sound surprised about his reaction.”

“No, I — ” Morgan stammered. He sent me flowers, she finished, lamely, in her head. They weren't quite as epic as the pop-up Chelsea Flower Show he sent to you, but I just thought – I helped you write that damn paper, too —

“Oh, right. A kiss to build a dream on, huh?” Claire ventured, feeling like she was starting to understand Morgan's frustration – and also getting an inkling of just why Lea might have put her foot down about Shaun continuing to have some semblance of a friendship with the girl who had preyed on both of their insecurities. “You're upset that he's dismissed you. You've served your purpose. He doesn't need you now.”

Yeah, but he always needs you, doesn't he, Browne? Morgan practically spat in her mind. Being so pedantic about calling me by my title, yet calling you 'Claire'. Delineating, with his usual brutal honesty, who his real friends are.

“Did you even try to tell him that you care about him?” Claire asked, incisively. “Shaun doesn't really do hints. If you want to be his friend, tell him.”

“I said that I wasn't opposed to us being nice to one another, getting along, I mean, it's... whatever,” Morgan explained, reluctantly.

Claire fixed her with a pitying look. “And he said...?”

“'Thank you for helping Claire write that essay'. It was essential to him getting his job back, he told me.”

“Sounds like Shaun was being pretty nice to you,” Claire mused, giving Morgan a knowing look. “Polite and gracious. What more could you want?”

“I want him to ask me why I helped you,” Morgan admitted, colour rising in her cheeks. “Not why you wrote it. Those reasons are obvious to everyone except Shaun. But why I helped you to write it.”

“Surely it wasn't because you were trying to do something nice, for once in your life?” Claire ribbed her. “And, for the last time: Shaun has a girlfriend.

“Well, now, I wouldn't call that a denial,” Morgan shot back.

“Call it what you want,” Claire retorted. “I don't care. Personally, I think you're projecting. You are obsessed with the idea that I might be in love with Shaun, and it's getting weird how invested you are in that concept — ”

Because... you... are,” Morgan said, speaking very emphatically and deliberately, as though Claire was a particularly slow-witted five year-old child. “The mistake I made wasn't that I tried to get someone to pine after Shaun. The mistake was that I helped Shaun get the wrong girl.”

“In your opinion!” Claire countered hotly. “He wants Lea. You don't even know how damn long he's wanted her. It just pissed you off, didn't it, having to look at his sad blue eyes every fucking day, even though it had less than nothing to do with you. And, paradoxically, he's currently the happiest man alive because of what you did. So don't tell me you helped Shaun get the wrong woman. You got him the woman he's in love with. The woman who's in love with him, too. Not... the woman who loves him... who he doesn't love.”

Morgan watched in fascination as she saw Claire gradually come to terms with what she had just admitted to.

“... Feel better?” she offered tentatively, smirking, as Claire gave her a very dirty look.

“If you tell him – or anyone – what I just said, I swear to God, I will kill you and make it look like an accident,” Claire hissed desperately, as Morgan's Cheshire Cat smile only grew wider.

“Please, Morgan, don't screw things up for Shaun, okay? I can get over him, but I don't think he was doing all that well at getting over Lea. Seriously, if it happens with me and him, it happens,” Claire went on, beseechingly. “I'm appealing to your humanity here. I really want to stay friends with him. Like I told Melendez — ”

Morgan nearly choked on her own breath at that unexpected revelation; Claire, meanwhile, looked absolutely furious with herself.

“So Melendez knows, too?” Morgan asked. “Wow, you're really doing a bang-up job of hiding how you feel about Shaun, aren't you?”

“Apparently,” Claire acknowledged, laughing weakly. “I've already started talking. I might as well go for broke.”

“Hang on, Lim's texting me. Let me just put her off,” Morgan responded, while dashing off a quick message.

“Oh, that's okay — ” Claire cut in.

Morgan waved her off with an impatient gesture before saying, “Right. Okay. Melendez caught on. What led up to that?”

Claire sighed, resignedly. “He cornered me Friday, and asked me why I went to all that effort for a man who hadn't even thanked me for going to the trouble. I tried to redirect him, claimed that I had watched Jared lose his job, and that I wasn't gonna sit around and watch Shaun lose his – I'd already been a coward once. I could have done more for Kalu. It haunts me that I didn't. But Melendez knew that wasn't the whole story. Then he told me that if Shaun and I were going to be a thing, he, as our attending, needed to know, because it would be a 'HR minefield' for two of his residents to be dating.”

“Did you actually tell Melendez what you really feel for Shaun?”

“No. Not in so many words. He asked me what I would do if Shaun and Lea broke up. I told him Shaun's stubborn, and that the only person who's more stubborn is Lea. Morgan, I need you to understand this: I don't want to do anything about my feelings for Shaun. They'll fade in time. And I have to work with him – potentially for the next few years, at least. I honestly don't know what a post-relationship Shaun looks like, but an abandoned and confused Shaun isn't pretty. I've seen it.”

“Okay. I hear you,” Morgan said. “You're right. Shaun is a lot. I still think you two would make a sweet couple. You're so fucking functional. But that's not particularly exciting, is it?”

“It really isn't about excitement,” Claire insisted.

“Whatever you say, Grandma,” Morgan replied, teasingly. “But, then again, if the sex is anything like his kisses, well...”

“Please just quit while you're ahead,” Claire begged her.

“You must know a little — ” Morgan wheedled.

“Unfortunately,” Claire conceded, flatly.

“And...?” Morgan prompted.

“He is fucking her absolutely stupid,” was Claire's blunt reply. “That lucky bitch. And what did I do? Encouraged him to talk to me about it!”

“Whoa! Tell us how you really feel, Browne,” Morgan replied, a little bit shocked by Claire's frankness.

“Honestly, it felt good to get that out,” Claire acknowledged. “Listen, I'll let Shaun know you're not actually Satan. As we all know, he listens to me. God help me. But I'm not telling you anything more – I let my frustration get the better of me.”

“I already knew you weren't really 'Saint Claire',” Morgan assured her.

“I fucking hate it when people call me that,” Claire groused.

“See you out there,” Morgan said, silencing her phone and getting up from the table.

After Morgan had left the breakroom, Claire pulled out her phone to text Shaun: Hey, Shaun, did you really tell Reznick not to talk to you about anything apart from work?

His reply came: I am uncomfortable being around Dr. Reznick. I have kissed her. You know that.

She wrote: Did Lea tell you that you're not allowed to talk to Reznick, though?

His reply: Dr. Reznick is making it weird.

Claire and Shaun were teamed up again for afternoon rounds, and it was a rare quiet day, so they had plenty of opportunities to chatter. Shaun was relieved to find that Dr. Reznick was working in Trauma with Alex.

“Hey, Shaun?” Claire began, and Shaun looked up from the iPad in his hands, waiting for her to speak.

Claire clasped and un-clasped her fingers together, wondering how to bring up Morgan in the conversation organically. Not that Shaun would necessarily notice if she did it weirdly, she noted absently.

“You said, um – you told me that Morgan's making it weird. What do you mean by that, exactly? I – I meant to ask — ” Claire continued.

“My girlfriend doesn't like her,” he responded.

“Okay, but do you like her?” Claire prodded Shaun.

“She was easy to talk to. Now she's not. She made it weird,” Shaun answered.

“Did you like kissing Morgan, Shaun? Is that what's 'making it weird'?” Claire asked him, gently.

Shaun gave a reluctant nod.

“You know, it wasn't a crime to kiss her,” Claire explained. “Lea sure didn't hold back on bringing Jake home, did she? And it's not like you kissed Morgan in front of Lea. She would have been none the wiser if she hadn't walked in just after.”

“That is true. But I'd still be uncomfortable, because I kissed Dr. Reznick to prove a point,” Shaun answered, now walking into a patient's room to study the chart hanging from the foot of their bed.

He pointed to the bag of saline hanging from the stand, and Claire went to check it, nearly tripping over the catheter on the floor. Recovering swiftly, she noted that the colour of its contents didn't quite jive with the amount of saline that had been hung.

“I don't like this colour, Shaun,” Claire said, gesturing to the catheter. Replacing the chart in its holder, Shaun came over to look at the bag on the floor.

“Can you see any gross haematuria? You see colours the rest of us don't. Oh – Shaun, no,” she groaned, as Shaun put on a pair of surgical gloves, then got down on his hands and knees to inspect the bag's contents at close range.

“Well, how else am I going to see what I need to see?” Shaun countered.

“The floor is probably filthy,” Claire observed.

“Yes. Quite possibly. But my other choice is to lift the bag up, and that means touching it.”

Shaun studied the patient's urine, then pronounced himself largely unconcerned and moved to get up from the floor, until something else caught his eye. He resumed looking at the bag.

Claire took advantage of his distraction to say: “Morgan helped me to write that essay for you, Shaun. You know that, right? She isn't awful.”

“Yes, I know that Dr. Reznick helped you with the essay, Claire — ” Shaun said, bending this way and that – if Claire stood at a certain angle, she had a very nice view in front of her – notwithstanding the cath spoiling the picture, of course – but... details... “ — and I have already thanked her,” Shaun finished, now getting back to his feet.

“Maybe you should ask Morgan why she helped,” Claire suggested.

Taking off his gloves and tossing them in the biohazard can, Shaun replied: “But I already know why Dr. Reznick helped. You asked her to help.”

Claire nodded. “I did ask Morgan, and she could have said 'no'. But she didn't.”

Shaun looked thoughtful. “That is true. Okay, when I have a chance, I will ask Dr. Reznick why she helped you to write that essay. I hadn't considered that she might have done so for her own reasons.”

“Just... call her 'Morgan', Shaun,” Claire told him, before she decided to move on to a new subject. After all, there was only so much to say about Morgan before it sounded strange – and even if Shaun didn't find it odd, Claire knew she'd feel self-conscious about it.

Plus, the discussion of Shaun kissing Morgan sort of made Claire's hackles rise. A little.

... All right. A lot.

“Okay, new topic. Are you gonna talk to Lea? I think you have to tell her something soon, or it's just going to get worse. It's already A Thing. You don't want it to mutate into this, like, huge.. crisis situation, do you?” Claire mused aloud, as they went into the next patient's room.

Chapter Text

“Hi, honey, I'm home,” Shaun called out to Lea, trying out a new – to him, anyway – phrase. The apartment door shut quietly behind him, and he hung his backpack and coat on their designated hooks.

Lea turned towards the sound of his voice, and he saw her start to smile.

He found he couldn't meet her gaze, however: it was almost too bright, too welcoming, too accepting.

In his mind, Shaun heard Claire's voice asking him: 'Are you gonna talk to Lea? You don't want it to mutate into this... crisis situation, do you?'

Lea knows that you aren't very good at naming or explaining your emotions. She will be patient with you, he reminded himself. She is your girlfriend, and she loves you. She's concerned that you're not getting what you want. But she won't know what you want if you don't tell her.

“Hello, sweetheart,” she replied, standing up from the couch and shoving her phone into her jeans pocket, where she'd had one eye on her Instagram feed.

She stepped over to Shaun to kiss him, but it landed on his cheek when he turned his face away at the last second. He saw emotions flashing briefly in her eyes – maybe confusion, possibly hurt – which were swiftly replaced by a more neutral look.

“It's my night to cook dinner. What do you want me to make?” Shaun asked her, as he walked to the kitchen area. Meanwhile, Lea took a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Pesto pasta. I bought all the stuff for it on my way home. Just use the stir-through sauce in the cupboard, don't get creative.”

“Okay,” Shaun agreed, opening the pantry and retrieving penne pasta and the jar of pesto, depositing them both on the counter. Then he looked in the fridge and took out some pre-cooked chicken and spinach leaves, bumping the door closed with a well-aimed hip-check. He put these on the counter as well, and then opened the drawer where they kept the cooking pots, picking up a medium-sized saucepan, which he took over to the sink to fill. He put the now-filled pot on one of the hot plates, turned it on to boil, and sprinkled salt in the water.

“I usually use oil,” Lea broke in. “What's the salt for? You used it Sunday night as well.”

Shaun put the lid on the pot, briefly walked to the sink to place a trivet near it, and then came over to the breakfast bar. “The salt brings the water to the boil faster. It also prevents the pasta from sticking together,” he explained. “Oil causes the pasta to repel the sauce.”

“And that's why you're a better cook than I am,” Lea sighed. “Not only do you know what to do, you also know why you're doing it. That's the reason I serve wine with everything I cook, I guess – so people take less notice of what they're eating,” she joked.

Shaun studied the ingredients label on the pesto, and said: “You aren't wrong about adding oil, Lea. It's in the pesto.”

“No, I thought oil stopped the pasta from sticking together. I put it in the water,” Lea clarified.

“Oh. Well, no. It's in the pesto. Jake should have known not to add oil to the water,” Shaun said, absent-mindedly. “He is a cook.”

“Wait, how'd he come up in this conversation?” Lea queried in surprise, bracing herself for a disagreement.

“He taught you to cook better,” Shaun elaborated. “Notwithstanding telling you to put oil in the water, of course,” he added.

“Of course,” Lea echoed.

“It's the only logical conclusion. Your smoke alarm used to go off all the time when you cooked in your old apartment. It was irritating to hear. It doesn't go off when you cook in our apartment,” Shaun continued, before adding, “And I don't smell things burning anymore.”

“That... makes sense,” Lea agreed. Shaun was right: Jake had enjoyed cooking for her, and she'd picked up a few little tricks by watching him.

“I like your cooking a lot more now. I suppose that means I'm grateful you went out with Jake, after all,” Shaun added, as the lid of the pot began to rattle, and he went to put the pasta in the water to begin cooking.

Lea really wasn't sure how to respond to that. He'd said it with no trace of irony or sarcasm, just his usual measured tone, and she stared at his back, trying to work out if she could be missing something.

“That's pretty magnanimous of you, Shaunie,” she said at last, trying to keep her voice light.

Looking at her over his shoulder, still stirring the pasta, Shaun replied: “I didn't say I liked him.”

“Yes, you did!” Lea reminded him, laughing. “I remember that!”

Turning off the stove top, Shaun reserved some of the cooking water in a small cup, then went to put the colander in the sink. Returning to the stove, he seized the pot by its handles with a pair of oven mitts, then carried it to the sink to drain the pasta. He dumped the pasta out into the colander, then put the pot on the trivet next to the sink.

“I thought the pretty girl would like me more if I made an effort to like the same things she did,” he stated, once again looking at her over his shoulder. Then he went back to the stove and carried on with making dinner.

“She already liked you more,” Lea heard herself say, as she got up to get out the bowls and flatware, and move the trivet to the breakfast bar. Then she went to the fridge, briefly contemplating the wine chilling in there before reaching for the La Croix instead.

“How would I have known that?” Shaun asked her, as he served Lea first and then himself.

“Fair call,” Lea conceded, pouring them both tall glasses of La Croix, then sitting down to eat. Shaun sat down next to her, and they ate in relative quiet.

After they'd cleaned up from dinner, they had showers, and then hit the sofa to watch the fourth episode of Stranger Things, but Lea noticed that Shaun wasn't really paying much attention to the narrative.

“Shaun, is everything okay?” Lea asked him, quietly. “And please don't lie. You're not concentrating on this episode. Let's switch it off and talk. Something's going on in your head.”

Shaun nodded in silent agreement.

When the TV was off, Lea remained next to Shaun on the couch, and waited patiently for him to speak. She waited a while, and she forced herself not to push him or prompt him. Whatever was troubling him was clearly difficult for him to talk about.

“I want to talk about sex now,” he said at last.

“Okay,” Lea replied.

Too late, Shaun realised he could have sounded less imperious. His announcement had come off as a demand. Lea didn't seem perturbed by it, though, and he felt the back of her hand nudge his in a reassuring sort of way, but she didn't try to hold it.

“I want you to do things to me,” he went on, not making eye contact with her. “But I don't know what I should ask for first. I don't know the right order of operations. And I don’t want to go into sensory overload.”

“There isn't an order of operations, Shaunie. This ain't, like, PEMDAS, or whatever,” Lea tried to tell him, but Shaun shook his head resolutely.

“Listen to me, please,” she insisted, as he continued shaking his head. Then he put his hands up to his hair and started yanking at it, grabbing tufts in his fists, evidently on the verge of panic.

“The right order is purely between you and me. We work it out together,” Lea said, trying to sound calm and patient. “If you want an analogy, I mean, there's the baseball one, but we've already gotten to home plate. A few times, in fact. And what a collection of home runs they were — ”

Lea watched in dismay as the fear in Shaun's eyes and the shaking of his hands continued unabated, in spite of the assurances she was attempting to give.

She truly hated to keep pushing him for answers, when he looked as though the only thing he wanted was to run out of the apartment, but she could also sense that the issue wouldn't get better if she didn't at least try to get him to open up.

“Shaun, when you talk about sensory overload, can I ask... why it's different when we have sex? Why that doesn't overload you?” she pressed him, keeping her voice as light, curious, and warm as possible.

At that, Shaun's hands relaxed and dropped back into his lap. He turned towards her again, still wearing the panicked expression, but his body language was showing signs of calming down.

“I'm sure this sounds super ignorant, and I'm really sorry if it is, but I genuinely can't understand why having sex is different to me, say, giving you head, or jacking you off. Could you try and explain it to me?” Lea went on.

You would be doing things to me,” Shaun replied, now standing up to pace back and forth in front of the couch. “When I am doing things to you, I am in control of what I am doing. You are also vocally appreciative of my efforts, which provides positive reinforcement to continue what I am doing.”

Lea ran that last sentence through her internal 'Shaun-ese-to-English' translator, and came up with: 'I can make you scream. And I'm good at it.'

She elected not to share this alternative interpretation of his words with Shaun, however.

Instead, she nodded and said, “Okay. I think I'm with you so far, even if you just kinda made me sound like I'm some sort of, I don't know, zoo animal you're observing. I know you didn't mean it how it sounded. At least, I... think I know that...” she trailed off, uncertainly.

“Yes. Of course you are with me, Lea. We are boyfriend and girlfriend,” Shaun said decisively, pausing in his pacing.

Lea shook her head. “No — ”

“We aren't boyfriend and girlfriend?” Shaun broke in, looking quite distressed at this apparent development.

“No, no, we're definitely a couple,” Lea clarified hastily. “Shaun, I mean that I understand what you're saying so far. About being in control.”

“I am not in control of the things you do, or how you do them,” Shaun elaborated. “And I will feel everything simultaneously. It is too much — ”

“ — Maybe I'm too much,” Lea cut in, darkly.

But Shaun continued: “Lea, I could have a meltdown. I do not want that to happen. I don't want to equate you with panic and fear. They are extremely strong, crippling associations that are very difficult to change.”

“Well, I definitely don't want that for you, either,” Lea hastened to assure him, trying not to sound bitter. “I just want you to enjoy yourself.”

“But I like having sex with you, Lea,” Shaun reminded her, in a jarringly chipper tone of voice. “I enjoy it.”

“Yes, but — ” Lea started, before she cut herself off, and then said, half to herself, “Simultaneously...”

“It means two or more things that happen at the exact same time as each other,” Shaun offered, helpfully.

“Yeah, I know the definition, I'm just – thinking out aloud...” she murmured distantly, feeling an idea beginning to germinate in her mind.

At this, Shaun stopped pacing abruptly, and resumed his seat on the sofa. It was his turn to wait for Lea to speak.

“Okay. Sensory overload. I think I might have a plan,” she announced abruptly, to which Shaun gave her a bewildered stare.

“I think what I'm planning... it might actually work. I need you to grab some things for me, though,” Lea continued.

When Shaun kept giving her that wary, uncertain look, she went on: “You're gonna need... let me think... earplugs or those ear defenders you use, whatever you prefer. Also a towel. And a necktie. Can you please go grab them and bring them to me?”

Returning to his bedroom and then going into the bathroom, Shaun gathered up what Lea had asked him to bring back into the living room, then, nervously, walked back out into the apartment, the towel under his arm, worrying the necktie between his fingers, and clutching a plastic case of earplugs.

When Shaun came back into the living room, Lea had shut the blinds and turned off all the lights, except for the lamp on the end-table. The room was very dim, but not pitch-black.

She gestured for him to lay the towel down over the couch cushions. He did so, then sat down, looking up at Lea in fear and confusion. She took a seat beside him, and he silently offered her the necktie, which she accepted.

“Anyway, sensory overload. You've got five senses: smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing,” Lea started. “I can overload all of them... or I can overload just one or two at a time. What do you think of that?”

“I think I do not understand, Lea,” Shaun replied, looking extremely apprehensive. Then, tapping into a reserve of courage, he added: “But you want to help me understand.”

“You're going to feel vulnerable. Don't get me wrong on that. But there are ways to ease you into being okay with me doing things to you. At least, I'm pretty sure there are. And the way I've come up with to help you is through sensory deprivation. I'm not going to deprive all of your senses, but I'm going to... how do I put this... as you get more comfortable, I'll start letting you use more of your senses, until you can deal with all five working at once.”

Shaun did not know what to say. At all. So he just nodded his understanding.

“All right. To begin with, I thought I might blindfold you – I'm gonna use one of my scarves. I'll bind your hands with the necktie, 'cause, quite frankly, I don't want you to punch me if you're scared. The earplugs will help you to not get distracted by noise. Are you comfortable with the plan so far?”

“Yes. But what if I feel comfortable, and then I don't?” Shaun asked, worriedly, finally giving voice to one of the concerns swimming around in his head.

“I've thought about that, too, and here's what I've got. If you want me to deprive a sense that I've stopped depriving, tell me, and I will fix it. If – or when – it's too much altogether, tell me, and I will stop what I'm doing and move away. Immediately. Sweetheart, this is going to require an immense amount of trust. I love you, Shaun, and I want you to feel able to receive that love, without being deathly afraid of it. What do you think? Do you want to figure this out together?”

“I trust you, Lea,” Shaun said, earnestly. “I want to try this.”

“It is my turn to make you feel wanted, Shaun. To show you that I want you. And just how very much,” Lea said softly, kissing him, feeling herself being folded into his warm embrace while his fingers combed through her hair.

After they broke apart, she asked Shaun: “Are you ready to put your earplugs in now? I need you to do that before I blindfold you – oops, don't do it just yet — ” Lea told him, seeing him reach for the earplugs. He put them back down again. “ — I have to explain the other things I intend on doing, first,” she went on, and Shaun nodded his understanding once more.

“Okay, where was I? Oh. After that, I thought I might take off some of your clothes, but I'll leave them right next to you, so you know they're there if you need them. Do you want me to take them all off, or should I leave your underwear on?”

“I don't want to be naked yet. Pants off. Shirt unbuttoned. Underwear on,” Shaun pronounced.

“Okay, will do. Next question: do you mind if I take all of my clothes off?”

“I'm going to be blindfolded, with my hands tied up and my ears blocked?” Shaun paraphrased, checking his understanding.

Lea nodded her confirmation.

“Then no, I don't mind if you are naked,” Shaun pronounced.

“Okay, cool. Finally, I'm going to tie your wrists loosely enough that you can slip out of the bindings anytime, if you need or want to. How does all of that sound?”

“I am okay with all of that,” he replied, after taking a moment to consider what Lea had laid out.

“This is subject to change, depending on how we both feel, but are you open to all of this leading to full-on sex?” Lea queried.

“I hope I will be,” Shaun answered.

“Before we start, is there anything else you want me to know? Things I should avoid doing? I know you don't want to be bitten, but what about nipping and sucking? I know you don't want me to dig my nails into you, but what about if I lightly drag them over your skin instead?” Lea asked.

“Try things. I'll tell you if I need you to change what you're doing, or if I want you to stop. I don't think I want you to tell me what you're doing before you do it. I will have too much time to get scared if you do.”

“That's why you're putting in those earplugs. Could you please do that now?”

When Lea noticed his nervous expression, she went on: “There will be nothing you can't escape from on your own, Shaun. Do you understand?”

Obediently, Shaun fitted the earplugs in, and then held out his hands in front of him, clasped together. She could see that they were trembling.

Then he closed his eyes, and Lea laid her scarf over them, tying the ends in an easily loosened knot behind his head.

Following that, she got down on her knees, perching on a cushion she had co-opted from the couch. Then she took off his pants, but left his underwear on, just as he'd asked her to. Picking up the pants, she folded them neatly and deposited them close to Shaun, so he'd know they were right there.

Lastly, she wound the necktie around his wrists, tying the ends in another knot, leaving plenty of slack so he could free his hands if he wanted or needed to.

Then she took off all her own clothes, shoving them haphazardly under the coffee table.

Before she started touching Shaun, she unbuttoned his shirt and shirt cuffs, then climbed into his lap, her knees and calves slung over his thighs. Running gentle fingers over his chest, she traced light circles all over it, and watched him acclimatise to the sensation.

Not being able to see the look in his eyes was actually less strange than she'd anticipated, given his discomfort with direct eye contact in these moments.

Not that it mattered: the rest of his face gave her plenty of information to work with, as did the way his body tensed and relaxed while her fingers roamed all over his chest, constantly varying the amount of pressure she applied, and occasionally raking her nails lightly over his skin.

She leaned forward to drop kisses on his jawline, feeling around for his carotid pulse under her fingertips. It was already accelerating when she found it.

She touched all of the pulse points he'd first shown her how to find on her own body – 'carotid, radial, brachial, temporal', she recited to herself, gratified by how his pulse raced faster with every press of her fingers.

She dragged her nails down his chest, leaving light red scratches that faded quickly and would not hurt. Then she kept gradually leaning forward until their chests touched, grinning to herself when Shaun murmured faintly, “Oh, Lea,” as he felt her bare skin gliding against his.

Flicking her eyes down, she skimmed her fingertips right over the front of his underwear, teasing him. She continued rubbing up against him, hearing him groan in a mix of delight and frustration.

“I like this,” he managed to say. “Please... everywhere...”

She decided to reward him for his politeness, reaching into his waistband, caressing him, and with her free hand, she also found her own intense heat. She dipped her fingers inside, slicking them, and then she touched Shaun's fingertips with hers, showing him what this was doing to her, too.

She had only meant for him to discover for himself how turned on she was. But that wasn't the response she got.

Shaun did his best, albeit with hands bound, to bring one of those fingers to his lips, touching it lightly with his tongue at first, and then Lea got the shock of her life when he started licking her fingertips properly.

She braced herself for a negative review, hoping he wouldn't be too brutal in his rejection – and then she worried that maybe he hadn't realised what was on her fingers to start with.

Stupid, stupid thing to do, she scolded herself, feeling very much as though she had taken advantage of his trust in her —

“Kiss me,” Shaun's voice broke into her thoughts.

“Do you know what – do you know what you just — ” Lea stammered out, forgetting he couldn't hear her.

“I know,” Shaun spoke again... surprising her again. He must have felt her tensing up, and drawn his own conclusion.

Too stunned to protest, Lea obeyed, then, still feeling hopelessly out of her depth – he'd really disarmed her with that plot twist – she shifted in his lap to find a more comfortable position for them both.

For his next trick, Shaun twisted his still-bound wrists and fingers until he found an angle where he could easily slip a finger or two into Lea – and honestly, she was so turned on, he could have probably put all five in with minimal fuss.

“I want to hear now, but not see,” he said in an undertone, his voice urgent, and Lea made a Herculean effort to concentrate on the task she'd just been given.

But his wicked fingers were not helping matters. And judging by the tiny grin on his face, he damn well knew it, too.

She untied the scarf, and she couldn't resist the urge to loop it over his head, then his shoulders, pulling at the ends to draw him to her for a kiss.

“Oof,” Shaun grumbled.

Lea brought her hands up to his ears and carefully removed the earplugs, one at a time. “You'll get over it, babe,” she teased him, yanking him back in and kissing him again... well, until she nearly ended up screaming into his mouth when he curled his fingers up inside her, and the distant thought of, 'Hang on, this isn't about me yet!' was almost completely eclipsed by the fact that Dr. Houdini-Hands, even all tied up, had still managed to find her G-spot, and she... was...

“Hey, hey, this is all about you,” she scolded him lightly, when she could speak coherently again. She swatted his hands away playfully and retied the blindfold over his eyes. “Behave yourself... or I'll put my clothes back on,” she warned him, trying to sound pleasantly threatening.

“You never said I couldn't touch you. You only said you'd tie my hands up. Would you like me to stop?” Shaun argued, smirking at her choked-out exclamation of 'Shaun!' as he stroked her again. Lea felt her eyes flutter shut and another orgasm take hold.

“I kinda thought the tied-up hands were a hint,” she huffed, when she got her breath back, but she was more amused than put out. “By the way, when did I say you could use your sense of taste?”

“You know that I need things spelled out for me,” he reminded her, still smug. “I typically miss hints.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, how's this for a hint, Murphy?” Lea retorted, responding in kind by reaching down further into his underwear – and apparently he could get even harder in her hand.

Chapter Text

“Nice job distracting me, Shaun, but you can’t keep it up forever,” Lea said, getting back down to the floor, then wrapping her hand around his hard-on – she’d had to angle her hand strangely – and giving it a few gentle strokes.

“No, I can’t – keep it up – forever – I think I’ll – have to come – eventually,” he replied, the sentence broken up by staccato gasps of delight as Lea worked a little faster with her hands.

She waited for Shaun to tell her it was okay to take his underwear off now, but he didn’t speak. Well, he’s probably enjoying himself too much to think about it, she considered.

“You’ll get more out of this if you let me take these off,” she suggested quietly, snapping the waistband of his underwear. “Are you okay with that?” 

“I think so,” Shaun mumbled.

“I’d like to untie your hands now, too. I want you to put your hand over mine and show me how you prefer to be touched. Ready?”

“Not yet. What you’re doing right now feels good to me. Ask me again later, and my answer may change.”

“Absolutely. I can do that,” Lea agreed, pulling down Shaun’s underwear, then laying it neatly on top of the khakis already folded beside him.

“Scoot forward a bit,” she prompted him next, and he shuffled nearer to her until she told him: “That’s good. Hard to reach if you don’t get a little closer.”

“Are you going to do something else to me now?” Shaun asked her.

“Yes. Quick check-in: everything still okay back there? Are you comfortable? Anything you’d rather I wasn’t doing? Anything you’d like me to do that I’m not currently doing?”

“I am uncomfortable,” Shaun stated truthfully, and Lea tried hard not to feel offended. She’d pushed him for honesty, after all.

“But...” he added, catching Lea off guard. His declaration of discomfort had sounded like the end of the sentence.

Apparently it wasn’t.

“But what...?” Lea prodded him impulsively, then immediately wished she hadn’t.

“I don’t always want to be comfortable,” he went on. “Being uncomfortable is not the same thing as being afraid.” 

“Maybe sometimes it is,” Lea put in. 

“I’m not afraid of you, Lea,” Shaun assured her. “You’re very overwhelming, but you’re not something I’m scared of. Being overwhelmed by you is something I’ve generally come to like,” he clarified, then added wryly, “... although not always at first.” 

“Okay,” Lea said, then rearing up high on her knees, she brought her lips close to his ear and asked in a low voice: “Do you want me to make you come?”

Shaun gave an emphatic nod. “Yes.” 

“Awesome. Next question: do you want to watch me while I do it?”

He shook his head. “I’m not ready to see that.” 

“That’s cool. Do you mind if I look at your face, though?”

“Without the blindfold?” Shaun queried, the anxiety creeping into his voice again.

“Well, I can take it off and you just keep your eyes shut, but it’s totally fine if you’d prefer to keep it on, too,” Lea assured him.

“I wish I could take it off, but I — ” Shaun added, apologetically.

“For the record, Murphy, you are devastatingly sexy with or without it,” Lea announced. “I’m good on mechanics for the most part. What I need to see in your face are the changes in expression, depending on where and how I touch you. And verbal feedback is, of course, always appreciated.”

“I’m not good at explaining my feelings — ” Shaun protested. 

“That’s okay. This isn’t about that. I’m better at reading you than I used to be, anyway. Like right now, you’re nervous.”

“How can you tell?” Shaun queried, confused.

“Because looking at you is one of my favourite activities,” Lea murmured. “I’ve picked up on a few things.”

Settling back down towards the floor, she curled her hand around his hard-on again, sliding it up and down, occasionally looking up to assess Shaun’s facial expression for continued signs of enjoyment and ease – or any sort of panic.

Seeing no immediate cause for concern, she reached just underneath him and pressed on something that would almost certainly elicit a... strong reaction. She made sure to keep jacking him off at the same time, hiding her evil grin – not that Shaun could see her expression, anyway – waiting for...

“Fuck!” Shaun cursed, jerking as though Lea had jabbed him with their fireplace poker.

Ah, so that does do something for you, Lea thought, filing the information away in her head for future use. She had never heard Shaun swear so loudly before.

“My, my, haven’t we developed a potty mouth?” she chided him playfully, pressing her fingers down again and taking stock of his physical responses as she did so. “And judging by how you just about ascended to the astral plane there, you liked that a lot. Can’t you reach down here by yourself?”

“Yes, I can. But you are – at a different angle – than when I – do this – to myself,” Shaun managed to retort in between gasps for breath.

“Oh. Well, happy to help!” Lea said cheerfully, now stroking his shaft, his balls, and his perineum, all at once.

Her hands were very full indeed, and the noise Shaun made in the back of his throat as Lea did all of this was almost animalistic – closer to a growl.

Good God, that is hot, she thought, hoping she’d get to hear it again sometime.

Then his voice went softer, almost pleading: “Be – very – careful.”

“I am being careful,” Lea promised him. “Does it feel good?”

“Yes,” he whispered in reply.

For his part, Shaun was trying very hard to trust the woman who quite literally had him by the balls, and who – if he were honest with himself – pretty much always had.

‘Here goes nothing,’ Lea said to herself, leaning forward and darting her tongue out experimentally. She thought she heard Shaun stop breathing, and she was about to abort the mission when she noticed he was fidgeting with the bindings on his wrists. She paused in what she was doing just in case he needed help, but he found his own way out of the restraints quickly.

“Hey, is there something you want to do with your hands?” Lea asked teasingly.

“I know girls don’t like having their hair pulled — ” Shaun began uncertainly.

“Girls... usually don’t. Women... might,” Lea responded.

“I want to pull your hair,” he said in a slightly more confident voice, the ‘may I?’ implied.

“Try it,” she encouraged him, and she felt his fingers rake through her hair over and over, the action becoming less timid and more assertive on every pass, yanking harder every time she murmured, “Shaun, please...”

“Can you do the same to me? I want to know if it hurts when you do it,” Shaun requested after a little while.

“Yeah, sure,” Lea agreed, getting up from her position on the floor and wobbling slightly on coltish legs. She tried to fall back onto the couch with some semblance of finesse.

“How graceful,” she chuckled self-deprecatingly, taking a moment to get her bearings before settling into Shaun’s lap once again.

Recognising that he was now sitting quite a bit forward, and that Lea might tip backwards, Shaun acted quickly to steady her, circling an arm around her waist.

Lea reached out and slid her fingers into his dark hair. She hadn’t touched it since she’d washed it for him in the hospital, and the texture was completely different. It was so soft. She almost felt bad about the fact she was going to tug on it.


She pulled his hair lightly at first, then when she heard him murmur his approval, she increased the amount of force incrementally. As his breathing grew shallower, and the hand around Lea’s waist tightened its grip, she kept stepping up the intensity. Her other hand crept down between them to lightly stroke him, while her tugs on his hair became even rougher.

“That’s – too – much,” Shaun choked out desperately, and Lea immediately withdrew from him.

“Okay, I’ve stopped. Was it the hair or the — ” Lea started.

“Both of them together. Too intense,” Shaun explained. “It felt good... until it didn’t.”

“Why don’t we leave the hair-pulling for another day?” Lea suggested gently.

“Okay,” Shaun agreed, voice quiet and shy again.

“Ready for something else?” she asked him, and he nodded.

Letting herself back down from the sofa, and finding a comfortable position on the throw cushion, Lea then decided to give Shaun the first blow job he’d ever had in his life.

When he fully realised what was happening to him now, Shaun was very glad of Lea’s earlier, brilliant idea to blindfold him, because he didn’t think he had the courage to make eye contact with her while she was up close and personal with his cock.

In time, however, he felt more comfortable with laying his hands over hers, gently guiding her to the places that always felt best to him, and showing her exactly how firm her grip ought to be.

“Oh! Hi, there,” she giggled, adjusting her grip to accomodate his hand over hers. “How’s that?”

“You’re going to make me come — ” he managed to get out, before abruptly falling silent as Lea took him slightly deeper into her mouth. Then he felt her gently pushing his own hands aside, signifying that she’d absorbed the lesson and she felt confident taking over from him.

He couldn’t quite work out exactly where she was at that moment, either, and he figured the disorientation was probably due to being unable to see. It felt like Lea was in several places at once: that was her tongue swirling all over his cock; those were her fingers delicately cupping his balls; that was her humming against his skin, whispering his name.

He leaned back, trying to quiet his mind and just luxuriate in absolutely everything his girlfriend was doing to him, in awe of it – in awe of her.

He was doing well at it. That is, until he was suddenly asking himself questions, and then it occurred to him that he should probably be asking these questions of Lea instead.

She said she doesn’t like facials. I can’t assume she wants to swallow, either.

“Please stop!” he exclaimed, panicked. True to her word, Lea immediately withdrew.

“You’re close, huh?” she guessed, and Shaun nodded shakily.

“Do you want me to stop, or are you just not sure where to...?” Lea asked him gently, and her reassuring tone calmed him down. “I’m sorry, we didn’t talk about where — ”

“The second one,” he cut in. “You don’t like facials.”

“I’ll finish you with my hands, then. Just let go when you feel it,” she said, once more paying attention to his hard-on – it needed a little bit of reviving first – and a short while later, he came.

“Thank you,” he finally managed after a painfully long silence, feeling awkward, not knowing what else to say, before going on: “Do you want me to reciprocate?”

“I think that’s a question for another time, Shaunie,” was Lea’s quiet reply.

“Are you saying ‘no’?” Shaun persisted anxiously.

Lea’s first instinct was to shake her head, until she remembered he still couldn’t see. “I’m saying that I don’t expect you to do it tonight, sweetheart. You don’t always have to do the absolute most,” she amended. “Anyway, I, um, I should wash my hands, they’re pretty sticky — ”

“Sorry,” Shaun apologised automatically.

“Don’t be,” Lea insisted, as she went to go and wash her hands in the bathroom. She held a washcloth under the running water, wrung it out, then closed the taps.

When she came back into the living room, she was somewhat amused to find Shaun exactly where she’d left him, sitting bolt upright with his hands clasped in his lap, his eyes still concealed by the blindfold.

He looked for all the world like he was patiently waiting for someone to take his order at a restaurant.

... If the restaurant was a cafe attached to a sex dungeon, Lea noted, considering his current presentation.

“What’ll it be tonight, sir?” she asked jokingly, taking a brief trip back to her days waitressing, putting herself through college. “Coffee, tea... or me?”

Even without seeing his eyes, she could instantly tell that Shaun was confused by her quip.

“Fine, I guess I’ll surprise you!” she said, then remembered she had the cloth in her hand. “Actually, I brought you a washcloth. Here,” she went on, handing it to him. He took it and cleaned himself up, then gave it back to her. She tossed it on the pile of her discarded clothes.

“Brace yourself, I’m climbing back in your lap,” Lea informed him next, and at Shaun’s nod of assent, she did so, slinging her legs either side of him again. 

“I want you to take my shirt off. I’m ready for that,” Shaun pronounced as soon as Lea had settled into a comfortable position.

“Blindfold — ?” Lea started.

“ — Not yet. But... feelings change,” Shaun replied, reaching out blindly for Lea, finding her face under his hands, pulling her in for a kiss that set her on fire.

“Shaun, I haven’t brushed my teeth, I – sorry, I forgot, I’ll go — ” Lea reminded him, breaking the kiss abruptly, and moving to get out of his lap, but he held on to her, his grip firm and assured.

“Love... you...” he hummed into her mouth as he drew her in for another kiss, pulling her even deeper into his lap. She felt him go hard again, and she couldn’t resist rubbing up against him, enjoying hearing him groan with desire.

“Don’t be shy,” she urged him in between kisses. “Touch me, and I’ll touch you. I feel like this is the part where things get a lot more mutual again. What do you think? C’mon, what have you got for me?”

“More than I know what to do with,” Shaun answered honestly. “Help me take my shirt off.”

Aren’t you going to say ‘please’? Lea thought, before she realised that to Shaun, this was how to be rough. To his mind, ordering her around like this was all part of the foreplay. So she moved to push his shirt off his shoulders, then watched with glazed eyes as he did the rest. He held the garment out to Lea as though he expected her to fold it.

Instead of folding it, though, Lea took it and put it on herself, leaving it unbuttoned, waiting for his curious hands to discover the next surprise for themselves.

She heard his strangled ‘Oh!’ as he realised he wasn’t touching Lea’s bare skin, but the cotton of his own shirt, the material still warm from his body.

Then she listened harder, hearing his breath hitch as his hands travelled further towards the open front of the shirt, soon to learn that not all of Lea was clothed again.

This fact seemed to tip Shaun over some sort of invisible precipice, and his hands frantically roamed her body. She didn’t know what they were searching for, and she found herself simultaneously hoping that he would find what he was looking for, and also hoping that he would never find it, if it meant that he kept touching her like this.

“I’m wondering how hypocritical it would be if I said I want to bite you, w-when you know that I don’t want you to bite me at all,” he said, self-consciously.

“Oh, babe, incredibly hypocritical. Do it anyway,” Lea commanded him, her fingers curled around his cock, moving up and down the shaft, and a couple of the fingers of her other hand were fighting a couple of Shaun’s for dominance. They gradually established a collaborative little rhythm.

Lea looked down at the red marks he was leaving all over her with his other hand. Shaun had never before been rough with her like this, and it left her panting and breathless.

Well, that... and everything else.

Then, to top it off, Shaun chose that precise moment to untie the blindfold.

Lea watched it fall between them as it fluttered weightlessly to the floor. Shaun gazed at her; upon noticing he was doing so, Lea deliberately chose to focus on a spot past his right shoulder, so he could come to terms with the removal of this last artificial barrier between them.

And, you know, check her out in relative peace and quiet.

“Everything okay?” she asked him eventually, her voice soft. She was relieved when Shaun nodded... then quite confused when he, rather unceremoniously, tossed Lea off his lap and stood up quickly from the couch.

She didn’t have time to ask any follow-up questions, either, because Shaun yanked the sofa cushions out from behind Lea, throwing them away from the couch as though they had somehow pissed him off.

Lea’s eyes lit up when she figured it out at last, and she guessed out loud: “We’re screwing on this couch, aren’t we?”

Chapter Text

“Just to be clear, I’ve kind of made it my secret mission to bang you on every available surface in this apartment,” Lea continued, as she stood up from the sofa. “Eventually.”

“I will gladly have sex with you on this couch, but I will not do it on top of the kitchen counter,” Shaun said primly, moving the pile of his discarded clothes to the coffee table, then picking up the towel and shaking it out.

“What about against the kitchen counter, then?” Lea wheedled.

“What position is that?” Shaun asked, gesturing for Lea to lay down on the couch again after he had laid out the towel. 

“This one? Well, this is how missionary starts, I think,” she teased him, easing herself onto the left side of the couch and leaning back into the throw cushion Shaun had so thoughtfully pushed up against one of the armrests. 

“No. What is it called if I have sex with you up against the kitchen counter?” Shaun clarified, looking exasperated.

“If I’m bent forward at the waist, bracing myself on the countertop with you entering me from behind? I’d call that ‘doggy’,” Lea responded, beckoning him towards her, her entire body laid out in invitation. “And if you pinch my nipples and finger me at the same time, this dog will go to heaven. Wait, you never saw All Dogs Go to Heaven?” she elaborated, catching sight of Shaun’s blank look. “It’s an animated kids’ movie.”

“My pet bunny went to Heaven when my father threw it against the wall. Is that the Heaven they’re referring to in the title? Do all pets go to Heaven?” Shaun asked at last, and Lea immediately felt like putting every stitch of her clothing back on.

She settled for sitting up, crossing her legs tightly, and pulling the borrowed shirt closer around her body.

“Well, yeah, they are,” Lea admitted, uncomfortably. “But I was making a sex joke out of it. I guess I killed the mood.”

“I made it weird,” Shaun observed bluntly. “Now you don’t want to have sex.”

“You could try reminding me that I really wanted to,” Lea offered, shifting closer to Shaun, who had sat down next to her, though he faced away, his body language closed-off and tense.

“Can I — ?” Lea asked tentatively, moving to take hold of one of Shaun’s hands, which went sort of limp in her grip.

“No. Nope. Okay. That’s okay,” she murmured to herself, gently depositing Shaun’s hand back into his own lap. “Maybe that’s enough for tonight, anyway — ”

Lea trailed off as she noticed that Shaun had put his arm around her shoulder, much like he’d done nearly a week ago now.

But this time, the contact wasn’t nearly as innocent.

Lea’s eyes widened as Shaun turned three-quarters inward, reached out to place his palm over her heart, then ran it down to stroke her nipple, which hardened at his touch. 

Lea let her head tilt backwards, and she hummed in delight as he leaned forward to replace his fingers with his mouth. She felt him clamp down gently with his teeth, and she whimpered, but it was still too timid for her liking.

“Bite down,” she urged him, and he looked up at her from under his lashes in a less-creepy version of a Kubrick stare, nodding imperceptibly before he bent his head down and did as she asked, his other hand coming up to pinch her opposite nipple and rubbing his thumb back and forth over it.

“I just realised... you haven’t done this to me before. Not with your mouth, anyway,” Lea murmured. “But I knew it’d feel amazing when you got around to it.”

Shaun gazed up at her again, and their eyes locked.

Remembering she was still wearing his shirt, she said, “Oh, here,” then shrugged it off and deposited it on the coffee table. He looked relieved at its safe return.

“Anyway... do you want me to do something like this to you?” she ventured, reaching out to scratch lightly over one of his nipples with the tip of a fingernail, and she heard his sharp intake of breath.

“Come closer,” she suggested, and Shaun shuffled even nearer to her, tightening his grip on her breast to give him leverage.

“It’s not a handle,” she joked, but the laughter died in her throat as his hand came down to rest at the apex of her thighs, which parted slightly to admit him.

His fingers slowly and lazily drew patterns, skimming her clit in a frustrating, almost-but-not-quite kind of way, and another finger traced just around her entrance, teasing the wetness there, turning her on even more.

“You’re very aroused, Lea,” he observed quietly. “Would you like me to make you come now?” 

Lea shook her head. “No. I would like you to tease me out of my fucking mind, please.”

He gave her a grin that said clearly: ‘Don’t mind if I do’, now focusing his attention on stroking all the soft skin concealing bundles of delicate nerves below it, making Lea arch her back and sigh with every careful caress.

Just as she’d requested, any time Shaun’s fingers directly touched anything sensitive, they skipped away breezily moments after.

Occasionally, he traced over her nipple, alternating between her breasts, fondling them in a way that might have been ticklish out of context, but coupled with the sweet, wonderful torture he was inflicting on her lower half, it was enough to get her legs shaking, and to make her moan, “Shaun... Shaun... oh, please...”

In a more lucid moment, she said: “I want something to play with, too,” and reached over to wrap her hands lightly around his cock. 

“Please do not play with my penis. It is not a toy,” Shaun requested politely, warding her off. 

“What we’re doing now is playing,” she explained, although it was punctuated by soft moans as he continued touching her. “That’s why it’s called ‘foreplay’.”

“Are you going to give me a hand job?” he asked, and Lea nodded eagerly. 

“Next time, please say so,” he reminded her, before reaching out to tug Lea’s hand towards him. Her hand closed gently around him, and she started lightly jacking him off before leaning over to kiss him.

He met her with equal enthusiasm, groaning into her mouth as she kept one hand around his cock and pinched at his nipples with the other, back and forth between them, soon hearing him groan, “Lea, oh, please, faster.”

“I can go faster, but unfortunately, you have a refractory period... and I don’t,” Lea reminded him regretfully. “You might have to choose, babe – you know, triage.” 

“That’s a very bad analogy,” Shaun commented.

“And yet they seem to work for us — ” Lea noted, her words cut off as Shaun slid a finger into her, and circled her clit with another.

Slightly later, he announced: “I would like to tease you differently. I want to get on top of you.”

“Oh, thank God,” Lea moaned, leaning back into the cushions. When she was comfortable, she prompted Shaun to position himself above her, and he did. 

Her knees fell open, and she whined quietly as she felt the tip of his cock slide over the place his fingers had just been. Then he froze in shock as Lea put her hands out to grip his ass.

He recovered fairly quickly, though, and reached down between them, holding himself steady, carefully dragging the head all over her entrance, slightly pushing past her folds with tiny little thrusts that made Lea want to dig her nails in and pull him closer, preferably until he was buried to the hilt inside of her. 

“Make yourself come,” he said, uncharacteristically bold, and Lea looked up in surprise... and a little bit of dismay.

“I won’t go any further until you come,” he told her, and he pulled almost entirely back out of her to illustrate his point.

“Is this your idea of teasing me? Making me get myself off?” Lea clarified, pouting.

“Yes. I’ve brought you to orgasm before. You’ve brought me to orgasm tonight. I’ve heard you do it to yourself. Now I want to see you do it to yourself.” 

“Okay. But a compromise: I want you to keep doing what you’re doing. I don’t know where you learned this whole ‘just the tip’ gambit, Murphy, but it is maddening.”

“You asked me to ‘tease you out of your fucking mind’,” Shaun quoted.

“Do you know how much I wish you would just slam into me?” Lea countered. 

“Is that what you’re asking for now?” Shaun queried.

“It’s getting harder not to,” Lea admitted grudgingly. “Should have been careful what I wished for.” 

“You may play with my penis again,” Shaun offered, straight-faced, and Lea giggled, reaching out once more for it, enjoying the way his eyes slid shut as she established her grip and reached under his cock, grinning evilly to herself at how he gasped when she caressed his balls and his perineum.

“How generous of you,” she joked. “Surely it’s not because you’re getting something out of it?” 

“I’m watching you have fun,” he assured her, when he got his voice back. “I’m having fun, too.”

“Same here,” she agreed, before saying: “Let’s set this up. You, here — ” she said, positioning the tip of his cock where she wanted it, “ — okay, now do your sneaky little ‘I’m going to make Lea frustrated as hell’ trick — ” she prompted him, sighing in delight as she felt him enter her again, “ — and I’m going to get myself off.” 

“I want to see you,” Shaun said, drawing his eyes down to watch Lea’s fingers press into her clit, and he was so transfixed by the sight that he almost forgot to thrust shallowly into her. 

“My eyes are going to close,” she informed him. “Then you can watch my face. I’d love it if you would touch me, too.”

“I don’t know if I can do all of that at once,” Shaun said regretfully. 

“That’s okay! I just want you to know that you’re very allowed,” Lea assured him, before she began touching herself properly, and her eyes closed, just as she’d promised him they would.

Shaun had to admire his girlfriend’s ability to multi-task: she was somehow keeping it together enough to not only pinch and rub at her clit, her expression changing right along with every nerve she hit – but to also curl her other hand around his cock and slide it up and down. 

It’s not enough just being inside her. I have to touch her. I want to be a bigger part of this, he thought, gathering some of his concentration to lightly caress her breasts one at a time. 

His heart flipped at the slow smile she gave him when she felt his touch, her eyes closed in a blissful trance.

He braced himself on his other elbow, just next to Lea’s head, holding himself up so she had room to keep doing what she was doing, and he watched her fall to pieces under him.

Her hips shuddered – her whole body shuddered – and through his dizziness he listened to her crying out his name, and felt her clench wildly around him. ‘Shaun, please, now,’ he heard her say. 

He slid all the way into her in one smooth, languorous movement, feeling the ebb and flow of her orgasm gradually subside as he found the exact place he wanted to be. 

“Can you try and look me in the eyes for this part?” Lea whispered gently, her hands on Shaun’s shoulders. 

“Yes,” he responded, and did so. 

“I love you, Shaun. All of you. Everything you are,” Lea said, her hands either side of his face. 

“I love you too, Lea,” Shaun replied. 

He felt like he had a lot more to say than that, really, but at this moment he simply wanted to shut up and fuck his girlfriend into next week.

He thought he’d better canvas for Lea’s thoughts on the matter, though – perhaps she’d prefer a more subtle approach? – and asked her: “Are you ready? Do you want to do this?” 

Lea cocked an eyebrow and grinned wickedly. “Fuck yes, Shaun.”

“Okay, new angle,” Lea announced to a bewildered Shaun some moments later. Could have been five minutes, or fifteen – neither of them were much focused on time-keeping.

“Is this angle uncomfortable?” Shaun asked, pausing in his thrusts and wearing a look of concern. 

“I want you to go deeper,” Lea informed him. “Stay still, I don’t want to kick you in the head — ” she continued, hooking her legs over Shaun’s shoulders.

He turned his head from side to side, admiring her shapely legs and trying to understand what she wanted. “Lea, I’m going soft,” he warned her.

“Just a second,” she muttered, adjusting the angle she was curled into, and when she stopped fidgeting, Shaun’s hard-on made a rapid recovery as he realised just how deep inside her he was now.

“I’m going to hit your cervix if I’m not careful,” he alerted her.

She laughed softly. “I can’t do this for long, but I want you to know how it feels.”

“Can you take me in this position?” he asked her, tentatively pushing his hips into her.

“It’s like you don’t think I’m getting anything out of this,” she said, playfully swatting his ass. “You are so deep inside me right now that I could cry of happiness.”

“Bizarre concept,” he tossed out, his fear of causing her pain losing out to the overwhelming desire to slam into her as hard as he could fucking manage.

“I dare you to pinch my tits,” Lea challenged him, throwing her head back when he did just that.

“You like watching them bounce, don’t you?” she prodded him. “I know your secrets, Murphy.”

The dirty talk was so much easier to play along with in context, and Shaun found himself saying: “I do. They’re distracting in the mornings when you’re not wearing a bra. They’re part of the reason I leave early.”

“And if you didn’t?” Lea pressed.

He settled for asking her: “Do you ever wonder why I go straight back into my room after breakfast on Saturdays?”

“Oh, yeah, when I shake the pancake mix. I’ve seen you with morning wood a few times. I liked to think it was because of me.”

“Well, I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable, but...” Shaun trailed off, shy.

“I thought about you, too,” Lea noted. “Now I think about all of this.”

“So do I,” Shaun replied.

“I have to go back to basics, sweetie,” Lea said eventually, lowering her legs from his shoulders. “But did you like that?”

“Can’t explain how much. I’ll show you,” Shaun said, his movements building in intensity.

Lea reached down between them to bring on another orgasm for herself, Shaun’s pounding into her delivering the internal stimulation to complete the equation.

They fell over the cliff together, whispering ‘I love you’ to one another over and over, kissing frantically, greedy hands and fingers grabbing at anything they could reach.

“That was...” Lea pronounced, not quite sure which adjective would encapsulate things, and Shaun nodded in silent agreement.

“Can you let me up? I’ll be damned if I have to miss out on two weeks of that. Whoa,” Lea said.

“Yes,” Shaun agreed, courteously and carefully withdrawing from Lea to allow her to get up from the couch. She bent and rummaged in the clothing pile for her underwear, pulling it on as quickly as possible, although she was incredibly wobbly.

“I’m not sure how hard that stuff is to get off a wooden floor, but I don’t want to find out,” she said by way of explanation, gingerly picking her way through the living room towards the bathroom.

While she was gone, Shaun laid back on the cushion against the armrest, feeling absolutely, delightfully spent.

I am completely in love with her, he thought. He’d known he was in love with Lea for a while, but this was the first time he’d had to tamp down an absurd, impulsive urge to actually propose marriage to her right then and there.

Lea poked her head out of the bathroom door, and gave him a wolf-whistle. Shaun startled at the high-pitched noise.

“Yikes, sorry – I was just going to ask if you wanted to shower with me,” Lea said sheepishly.

“Yes. Okay,” Shaun agreed, rolling off the sofa and getting up to go and join her.

“I feel like we need a conference to just talk about everything we did to one another tonight,” Lea commented, soaping up her palms and running them all over Shaun’s back, half-washing, half-massaging – he’d informed her, sadly, that it was sore.

“There isn’t a thing we did that I didn’t enjoy,” Shaun concurred. “Thank you.”

“Thank you,” Lea said back, and Shaun felt her kissing the side of his neck.

“Tired, babe?” she asked next.

“Not yet,” he admitted. “I don’t think I could have sex again tonight, but I was wondering if — ”

“If — ?” Lea repeated, curiously.

“I want to use my mouth on you,” he answered hesitantly.

“You sure? That could be really intense,” Lea said, doubtfully.

The truth was, absolutely nobody she’d been with before had treated it as anything more than begrudging payment in kind for a blow job. Just another ‘well, I guess I owe you’. Nobody had ever been as earnest and altruistic in offering it as Shaun.

“Is it because I blew you earlier tonight? You feel obligated?” she asked sharply.

Without warning, Shaun turned to face her, his face set, and Lea felt like she was burning under his bright blue gaze.

“No. It’s because I love you, Lea. All of you. Everything you are,” he told her firmly, quoting her own words back to her.

“Well, okay,” Lea agreed.

“Do you need help finding a position?” Lea offered, throwing the comforter right back and settling into the pillows on Shaun’s bed. “Going to assume your main education here is from porn — ”

“A little. The rest is from reading magazine articles explaining how to pleasure women.”

“My researcher,” she joked fondly, peering down at Shaun, who was just finding a place to start. He pressed down on something in her inner thigh, and she jumped slightly.

“I’ve been looking forward to introducing you to your other pulse points,” he explained, holding his fingers in position. “Wanted to show you last week, but as you can tell, it’s not somewhere friends should be.”

“That it is not,” Lea agreed. “What’s this one called?”

“This is your femoral pulse,” he answered.

“If more people knew about it, I bet they'd use it for evil,” she remarked. “I can imagine it being a bit of a panty-dropper.”

“You’re not wearing any panties I could drop,” he teased her, before she felt his mouth stop talking, in favour of licking, sucking, and nipping. Meanwhile, his fingers came up to play outside.

“That’s amazing,” she sighed, and it wasn’t all that long before the combination of his tongue and his fingers sent her over the edge.

Afterwards, he came up to lay beside her, leaning over to kiss her without even running away to brush his teeth first.

He spooned her from behind, singing ‘Islands in the Stream’ off-key into her ear, snuggling her right when he got to ‘I can’t live without you...’, and falling asleep soon after.

Lea joined him in slumber not too much later. As she drifted off, she wondered drowsily whether it was possible to love someone more than this.

Chapter Text

Lea woke up alone in the bed on Wednesday morning, and at first, she felt disoriented – this wasn’t her room, it was Shaun’s.

She was still kind of getting used to switching bedrooms every night, and if she was honest with herself for a tiny second, the novelty was starting to wear off. She made a mental note to ask Shaun if they could maybe do longer stints in each room, rather than sticking with the current situation.

Speaking of Shaun, where was he? Surely he hadn’t just left without saying goodbye, considering the, ahem… events of the previous night?

Lea stretched languidly, cat-like, as she recalled every little thing they'd learned for – and from – one another. Their first time had been a revelation. Last night had been the Goddamn Enlightenment.

Seriously, where the hell was Shaun? His absence was frustrating, because Lea had just become aware of the fact that she’d made plans in her head for a quickie with him this morning. Okay, admittedly, she'd neglected to run said plans by Shaun, but still.

Lea strained her ears, but she couldn't hear the shower running, or the sounds of him puttering around the kitchen.

She checked her phone for any messages from Shaun, but saw none. However, as she put it back down on the nightstand, she realised that it had been acting as a paperweight for a note.

Putting aside the phone for the moment, so that she could retrieve the folded paper, Lea unfolded it and read:

Wednesday, 05:30


Lea —

I was called in to work much earlier than usual. It was unexpected.

I kissed you goodbye but you weren’t fully awake.

I wish I could stay here in bed with you. All day.

I love you.


xx Shaunie.


P.S. I’m not on call Friday night. We should go on a date. 

“I guess I’ll have to start without you, won’t I, babe?” Lea muttered to the empty space beside her. She was profoundly horny.

Setting the note back down on the nightstand with a huff, she threw the covers back, yanked her underwear off impatiently, and tossed it on the floor. She pulled open the drawer, feeling around for her vibrator.

Fuck. Still not her bedroom.

I cannot be fucked getting it from my room, she grumbled, resigning herself to a slightly less explosive orgasm as she reached down. She tried experimentally curling her fingers up inside herself just like Shaun would.

When that didn’t quite work, she added: ‘Ask that boyfriend of mine whether he learned that from Cosmo or PornHub, and demand he shows me, step by delicious step, exactly how he does it’, to her mental to-do list, then resorted to her own patented, tried-and-true techniques.

“You look pissed off, Murphy. Already sick of being back at work?” Claire teased him, as they changed out of their scrubs in the locker room. “Maybe Lim will let us leave early tonight. That five AM wake-up call was murder. My physical body is here, but I’m pretty sure my brain stayed home.”

“Patients don’t choose when to develop sepsis,” Shaun reminded her. “The woman we operated on yesterday didn’t schedule the exact moment her organs started to fail this morning. Additionally, Claire, your brain is in your skull, and your skull is in your body, which is here at work, so it is impossible that it ‘stayed home’.”

“Of course she didn’t, Shaun. I’m just venting. I’m tired. Don’t pretend you like being woken at five AM either. Hypocrite. I can’t deal with your snark at this Godforsaken hour.”

“Who’s a hypocrite?” Alex asked, joining them in the locker room, stifling a yawn with an arm thrown over his face, and striding to his locker.

“Shaun is,” Claire answered, shooting an annoyed glance in his general direction. “He’s pretending like he’s not just as pissed off that he got called in early to work on that septic patient by obfuscating his annoyance with holier-than-thou platitudes about how our patients ‘don’t schedule their organ failure’.”

“Well, they don’t,” Shaun cut in. “They can’t.”

“Murphy, there are days that you’ve gotta ask yourself: do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy?” Alex warned him.

“I’m happy being right,” Shaun responded, without missing a beat.

Alex shot Claire a look that said: ‘I tried.’

Just then, Shaun’s phone buzzed with a text message, and he pulled it out of his pants pocket to check it.

It was from Lea, and it read:

Started without you. Sorry, not sorry.

That in itself wasn’t particularly scandalous, but when Shaun clicked on the attachment she’d sent, he nearly dropped his phone on the locker room floor.

“Dude, what is it?” Alex asked, as he observed how Shaun’s facial expression had gone from neutral to – whatever the hell it was now. “Is something wrong?”

Wordlessly, Shaun held out his phone for Alex’s perusal. Alex took it, and understood immediately why Shaun’s hands were trembling.

“What’s going on?” Claire asked curiously, starting to get worried.

Alex nodded to Shaun, handed him back the phone, and then said to Claire: “I gather that Murphy here has just had his first experience with sexting.”

“Lea?” Claire queried. “Lea sent Shaun a dirty picture?”

“Well, it could be Lea, though I can’t say I recognise her from that particular angle,” Alex replied in a droll voice, before adding slyly: “Pretty sure Murphy does, though.”

They both watched with equal parts concern and amusement as Shaun sank onto a bench, his head in his hands. He put the phone face-down on the bench next to him, and rocked back and forth for several moments.

Claire hesitated, then went to sit down next to Shaun, while Alex continued changing out of his scrubs.

That was the scene Morgan walked in on.

“Morning, all,” she greeted them cheerfully, before she noticed that Shaun was practically catatonic. “Uh – what’s up with him?” she asked, gesturing to Shaun.

“Our boy genius is growing up,” Alex responded evasively. Claire glared at him, then patted Shaun’s shoulder reassuringly, a gesture made more difficult by the fact that Shaun was pulling at his hair with clenched fists.

“Shaun got a message from Lea that he’s a little confused about how to react appropriately to,” Claire explained to Morgan.

“What kind of message?” Morgan asked, moving to take a seat on the other side of Shaun. “Did she dump you by text? You look like a wreck, Shaun.”

“Jesus, Reznick,” Alex broke in. “Think before you speak.”

“Well, is someone going to tell me what this mysterious damn message was about?” Morgan bit out impatiently. “Shaun?”

“Shaun, are you okay with me telling Morgan what Lea sent you?” Claire prodded him gently, to which he raised his head up slightly, nodding miserably before returning to his silent contemplation of the patterns in the linoleum flooring.

“Lea sent Shaun a dirty photo,” Claire outlined. “We’ve gathered this is the first time he’s ever gotten one. He’s not sure what to say or do.”

“Well, not replying straight away is your first mistake, Shaun,” Morgan scolded him. “She put that out there and you haven’t reacted? You have to say something!”

“Not. Helping,” Claire muttered through gritted teeth. “I agree Shaun needs to reply, but the question is, with what?”

“Why don’t we all just leave him to his own devices?” Alex suggested, humorously. “Let’s give him some privacy. Just remember to keep your face out of it, Murphy, you don’t want that coming up in a Google search of your name.”

“Are you suggesting that we leave Shaun alone in here so he can masturbate in peace?” Claire asked him, incredulously. “You’re joking, right, Park?”

“No, I’m suggesting that we leave Murphy in here so he can exact sweet revenge on his frisky girlfriend with a dick pic,” Alex replied. “You’re forgetting that I saw the photo Lea sent.”

“Well, I hope you didn’t look too carefully at it,” Claire snapped. “Shaun might have a problem with that.”

“I showed Alex the photo,” Shaun spoke up tonelessly, a look of horror on his face. “I showed Alex... the photo... of my girlfriend... fing — ”

“ — I think we all have a good idea of exactly what Lea was doing in that photo, Shaun. You don’t need to tell us,” Claire jumped in, coming to his rescue. He flicked his eyes up briefly to give her a grateful look.

“Lea is going to be angry,” Shaun mumbled. “I showed Alex the photo — ”

“Murphy, I barely saw anything. I’ve already forgotten it,” Alex tried to reassure him, slamming his locker shut. “Just don’t tell Lea you showed it to anyone, right? I gotta go grab a protein shake before rounds. See ya,” he finished, and left.

“Tick-tock,” Morgan spoke up, and both Claire and Shaun turned to her.

“A: we don’t have all day to console Shaun about receiving the kind of picture most guys beg for from their girlfriends, and B: he needs to send her something,” she finished, retrieving Shaun’s phone from the bench beside her and handing it to him. He accepted it with shaking hands.

“What should he write?” Morgan asked Claire, talking across Shaun, who was still sitting in the middle of them. “Shaun, was it just the photo, or did Lea write something else as well?”

“‘Started without you. Sorry, not sorry,’” Shaun managed to say, and Morgan raised her eyebrows at Claire.

“Okay, then... how about... ‘I can’t wait to get home and help you finish what you started’?” Morgan suggested, as kindly as she could. “Do you want me to send it for you, Shaun? I won’t look at the photo, I promise.”

Shaun quickly handed his phone off to Morgan as though it had burned his fingers.

Morgan took that to mean he approved the message, so she typed it quickly and hit Send.

“Wait, what if Lea sends something even dirtier in reply?” Claire said in a panicked voice. “He’s got to tell her that she really can’t do this to him at work.”

“Then he finds a bathroom stall, locks himself in, opens the message, and gets some relief,” Morgan replied impatiently. “It’s not like she doesn’t have to go to work, she can’t keep this up all day.”

The phone went off again, still in Morgan’s hand, and they all jumped at the loud noise. None of them felt brave enough to open it.

“Shaun, she’s your girlfriend,” Claire pointed out. “You have to be the one to open it.”

Shaun brought his phone right up near his face so that neither Claire nor Morgan could see Lea’s latest message, and read:

Looking forward to it.

“What’d she write back?” Morgan asked nosily.

“Is that really your business, Reznick?” Claire responded.

“Well, is it something that needs a reply, Shaun?” Morgan amended.

“I don’t know,” Shaun said. “Lea wrote that she’s ‘looking forward to it’. Then she added emoji. There’s a winking face, a devil, an anatomically incorrect illustration of a heart, and — ” he trailed off, peering closer at the phone, “ — an eggplant, I think. That was probably accidental.”

“Uh, no – it’s meant to represent, well... look, let’s just say your girlfriend really wants something from you,” Morgan tried to explain. “She definitely didn’t send that one unintentionally. You can probably just write, like, ‘Me, too’ or whatever.”

“Okay, I will,” Shaun agreed, sending the text message as Morgan had instructed. He appeared to have calmed down slightly.

He stood up swiftly from the bench without warning, startling both women, stowing his phone securely in his pocket, then left the locker room with scarcely a backward glance to either of them, clearly firmly back in his own little world.

When they were alone, Morgan eyed Claire, and said: “I guess you were right: he absolutely is fucking her stupid. Wouldn’t you love to know what he did to deserve that little surprise?”

“Not particularly,” Claire replied, dryly. “Though I’ve now got a much shrewder idea of why he was so Goddamn chipper when he arrived at work this morning. Even Shaun Murphy isn’t immune to the chemical rush of mind-blowing sex.”

“I think he’s still lost in the memories,” Morgan observed. “The way he left so abruptly. It’s like he goes somewhere in his head that we can’t get to. It’s disconcerting.”

“You didn’t expect things to move so quickly between them, did you?” Claire speculated, getting up from the bench. Morgan followed suit. “When you went over to make Lea jealous, I mean.”

“Would they have moved so fast if all that stuff hadn’t happened with Han?” Morgan wondered aloud, as they both left the locker room, walking down the corridor towards the breakout room.

“Probably not,” Claire remarked. “Then again, maybe it only seems like they moved fast because we keep forgetting that they’ve been friends for a while now, and that they live together.”

“Seriously, though, are you doing okay?” Morgan asked her, with what seemed to be genuine concern. “That’s gotta be confronting, hearing about his relationship. I don’t know that I would have done this whole thing to begin with if I’d realised you had feelings for Shaun sooner.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks,” Claire replied in a wry tone. “It feels a little less like taking a bullet every minute. I’m happy for him.”

“I talked to Lea,” Shaun said confidentially to Claire at lunch that day. “It’s not going to mutate into a crisis situation.”

Don’t ask him what happened, don’t ask him what happened... Claire thought, noticing he was smiling like the cat who got the cream.

“So, the two of you worked out your, uh, differences?” she settled for saying.

Shaun nodded eagerly. “It was fun. I was able to explain to Lea that I was scared of going into sensory overload, and she came up with a plan to mitigate the risks of it happening. She deprived my senses by blindfolding me, tying up my hands, and making me put in earplugs. It was a successful strategy — ”

“ — But you told me you didn’t think you deserved sexual favours from Lea,” Claire reminded him. “When did sensory overload come into the picture?”

“I didn’t think I deserved sexual favours from Lea because I thought she would laugh at me if I had a meltdown as a result of receiving them. It wouldn’t be very attractive. I don’t like it when I’m not in control.”

“You... thought your girlfriend would laugh at you if you couldn’t cope with her being in control of your pleasure,” Claire translated.

“Of course. I don’t want to be laughed at,” Shaun explained patiently. “Especially not in the middle of sex.”

“Shaun, I highly doubt you’re the only person who feels that way,” Claire assured him. “Anyway, I’m glad it worked.”

“We did so many things,” Shaun went on happily, oblivious to Claire’s discomfort. “First we engaged in mutual masturbation, then she performed fellatio on me, then we had sex, then we showered together, and after that, I performed cunnilingus on her.”

“Ack! Shaun!” Claire wailed, pressing her hands over her ears. “That’s an overshare! Do you think Lea’s telling all her work friends about everything the two of you did last night, like some sort of X-rated parody of ‘Summer Nights’ from Grease?”

Shaun stared at her blankly.

“You know, that song that goes, ‘tell me more, tell me more, did you get very far?’” Claire elaborated, singing the line.

“I have never seen that movie,” Shaun responded, “so I don’t know what you mean. You gave me advice. I wanted to let you know that it was useful advice. And yes, I did ‘get very far’, particularly when she threw her legs over my shoulders — ”

“Message received, Shaun. Loud and clear. Glad it worked out.”

“So am I,” Shaun agreed, and Claire softened as she realised how palpable his relief was.

“I really am glad for you,” Claire assured him. “I’d love to be able to tell you that there’s no way a woman would laugh at you for shutting down in the middle of sex, but I probably shouldn’t promise you that.”

“I don’t think you would laugh at me. Morgan might, though,” Shaun speculated innocently.

Claire was unpleasantly surprised by how his casual words sliced right down the middle of her heart.

Chapter Text

“Why did you help Claire write the report about me?” said a voice from somewhere above Morgan, cutting abruptly into her thoughts.

She was sitting in an armchair in the doctors’ lounge at dinnertime, nursing a cup of lukewarm coffee, and trying to guess how many hours were left in her day.

Given how early they’d had to come into work that morning, she sincerely hoped the answer to that question was ‘not many’.

She glanced upwards at Shaun, who shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as she appraised him.

“Claire said I should ask you why you helped her write it. So that’s what I’m doing,” Shaun elaborated patiently, before claiming the seat positioned catty-corner to Morgan’s.

“She needed help putting it on paper. You’ve built up quite a resume here,” she answered casually. “There was a lot of material to go through.”

“Do you want to be my friend?” Shaun asked her, and to Morgan, it felt like the question came out of nowhere.

“Uh — ”

“Claire says friends look out for one another. She says that’s what friends are for. You have looked out for me this week. Would you like to be friends?”

“Gee, I don’t know, Shaun. Your girlfriend really doesn’t like me,” Morgan demurred.

“She doesn’t,” he acknowledged bluntly, before he went on, his voice turning shy: “But like you, and I want to be friends with you. You aren’t a stranger. Meetup groups are full of strangers. I already know you, so being friends with you is a logical decision.”

“A friendship of convenience,” Morgan commented, her voice turning a little sour at the end.

“We work together, so yes, it would be a very convenient friendship,” Shaun agreed, missing the note of disdain in Morgan’s tone.

“Maybe run that thought by Lea first,” Morgan warned him gently. “You don’t need her permission, but you should at least tell her.”

“Why?” Shaun wondered aloud.

“Well, she caught us – you know, just after we finished kissing,” she hissed meaningfully.

“Yes, and she didn’t like it. That was your intention. Making me kiss you was a way of looking out for me.”

“In what sense?” Morgan queried, curious about where Shaun was going with this tangent.

“I am in love with Lea. I wanted to be in a relationship with her, and your plan to help me get into a relationship with her, by making her jealous, worked. You were looking out for my interests,” Shaun outlined, ever the pragmatist. “Therefore, you were acting as my friend.”

“Can’t argue with that logic,” Morgan conceded.

“Who could argue with logic? That would be illogical,” he stated.

“Good point,” Morgan acknowledged.

“Mine usually are,” Shaun agreed.

“Yeah, okay, let’s be friends,” Morgan replied, nodding.

“Okay. Then we are friends. But — ” Shaun trailed off.

“But what?” Morgan prompted him.

“You cannot make me kiss you on the lips again,” Shaun warned her. “That’s not friendly or affectionate. That’s romantic.”

Morgan burst out laughing at the scandalised expression on Shaun’s face. He looked as though he thought that he was being unfaithful to Lea by merely mentioning the kiss aloud.

“You can’t make me,” Shaun repeated, his whole demeanour stern and serious. “Friends do not kiss on the lips. We were not friends before. And I have a girlfriend.”

“You do? Really? Gosh, you should have said something!” Morgan chuckled, good-naturedly.

Shaun stared blankly at her. “I just did.”

“I was joking, Shaun. I know you have a girlfriend. I was teasing you in a friendly way. Letting you know that I am very much aware you have a girlfriend. I of all people should know that, seeing as I was pretty much the creator of Operation: With a Little Help from My Friends.”

“Oh! You were being funny,” he realised aloud.

“Yeah. Funny. Not doing it to be mean. For once.”

“Okay,” Shaun said, making a move to stand up, but Morgan made a split-second decision, and tugged on the sleeve of his button-down.

“Hey. I’m gonna answer your question,” she said.

He looked at her strangely, but sat back down all the same.

“What question?” Shaun asked her, curiously.

“The one about why I helped Claire write the report,” she elaborated. “I’m gonna answer it truthfully. Do you want me to?”

“It wasn’t just because Claire asked you to?” Shaun queried.

“No. I mean, that wasn’t the entire reason. I helped Claire write that essay because she learned faster than I – faster than a lot of people, really – that you do belong here, Shaun. In Surgery. But when it was all laid out there in black and white, those cases, they added up to a doctor who absolutely deserves to be a surgeon. Because one day, you’re gonna be teaching new surgeons, and they will be privileged to learn from you.”

“You have told me that you don’t think I belong here,” Shaun reminded her, not unkindly. “But you’re not the first person to say that, and you won’t be the last.”

“Yeah, I know. I – haven’t always had much patience for how you do your job. Your approach can be... uh... very unique, and I don’t always agree with the way you handle things. Sometimes you’re honestly a bottleneck, Murphy – hugely inefficient, always keeping information to yourself that should be shared. As hard as you try to be... you’re just not much of a team player. You absolutely suck at empathy, and though you’re quite humble, in reality, you’re also an arrogant ass — ”

“Arrogance makes me a better surgeon. I’m learning that from Dr. Melendez, and he is far more arrogant than anyone I ever met at Harvard — ”

Harvard? Shut up!” Morgan gasped, impressed. “Why didn’t I know this? Does Claire know this? Jeez! Why the hell isn’t your degree hanging in your room? How on Earth do you not name-drop that school every time someone disagrees with you?”

“Because I’d prefer my name and title to be the very first things people learn about me,” Shaun explained simply. “Not where I graduated from. Do you tell people you graduated from Stanford before you tell them that you’re Dr. Morgan Reznick?”

“Fair enough — ” Morgan started to reply, before Shaun cut her off.

... How does he know I graduated from Stanford? she thought, almost absently.

“It’s my choice... who gets to know more about me than just my name and title. Then I might tell them that I’m autistic, or that I went to Harvard, or that I had a remarkable brother who believed I could do anything, or that I have good people in my life. I might tell them all, some, or none of those things.”

There was absolutely no counter-argument to Shaun’s quiet wisdom.

“ — And as for why my degree isn’t hanging up in my room, that’s easy: it’s going to hang in my office one day. Right next to the photo of me and my brother.”

“Where the hell are Reznick and Murphy?” Audrey questioned Claire. “Don’t tell me they’re on break together. Whose brilliant idea was that? Well, I guess we’d better go find the murder scene — ”

“You know those two have kissed, right?” Claire bit out snippily, and Audrey paused mid-stride.

Propelled by forward momentum from her brisk walking, Claire nearly body-slammed into her attending. She muttered an embarrassed apology.

“You know it’s blatantly obvious from your face, voice, and generally angry walking that you have a major problem with that fact?” Audrey countered, though her expression was soft. “Are you going to hide it from Murphy?”

“As long as I can,” Claire sighed. “Thankfully, Shaun’s so wrapped up in his relationship with Lea that I might even be able to push ‘as long as I can’ out to, ‘for all eternity’.”

“Okay, I’ll cave. Reznick... and Murphy. What the hell even was that? And how?”

“It was a shitshow, Dr. Lim. Last Wednesday, Reznick came up with this whole crazy scheme to make Lea jealous...”

“When will you kids learn to keep it professional?” Audrey chuckled. “Residents bed-hopping has been an epidemic since Jesus was a boy! I thought this cohort was going to be different!” she continued, mock-wailing for dramatic effect. “What a headache! I didn’t think Murphy was going to be that kind of headache. I thought he’d be a political headache, not a romantic one.”

“Us kids will keep it professional... when the adults around us do,” Claire shot back, raising an eyebrow and giving her a meaningful look, willing Audrey to squirm under her incisive gaze, but she didn’t rise to the bait.

“What time did you get called this morning, Browne?” Audrey asked her casually.

“... Five AM?” Claire answered warily.

“Interesting. Pro tip: slow down on the sass, or it might just be four-thirty AM next time,” Audrey remarked pleasantly.

“Heard and understood, boss,” Claire agreed sheepishly. “Hey, I can hear their dulcet tones. I’d say they’re on their dinner break in the doctors’ lounge.”

“Nice of Dr. Melendez to tell me he let them both go at once. And where did we put Park today?”

“Uh, he’s doing outreach. Careers Night at a local high school. Cop to surgeon – truly an inspirational tale,” Claire explained.

“I swear, the shine has long rubbed off of this ‘shared-residents’ caper Andrews cooked up. I never know where anyone is. Oh, well, I’ll just appeal to the relative sensibility of Glassman when he comes back next week... oops!

“Glassman’s coming back?” Claire prodded Audrey.

“Don’t tell a soul,” Audrey hissed. “There’s going to be an announcement this week. Andrews came up with the idea to make Glassman President Emeritus. They’re doing this crazy job-share experiment.”

“This, I’ve gotta see,” Claire snickered. “I’m gonna call Shaun and Morgan back from dinner. I’m famished... uh, do you mind if I...?” she added, suddenly remembering who she was talking to.

“Sure, go ahead,” Audrey nodded at her. “I’ll keep them too busy to bicker.”

“Hey, Thing 1 and Thing 2,” Claire greeted Shaun and Morgan, who both looked up at her. “Lim wants you both. And I want dinner. Shoo.”

“Hello, Claire,” Shaun greeted her. “I am a person, not a thing.”

“Dr. Seuss reference,” Morgan and Claire explained, almost in unison.

“Where is Dr. Lim?” Shaun continued.

“Headed back to her office. Anyone seen Melendez?” Claire answered him, then added her own question.

“Not since he sent me and Shaun to get dinner. We were crazy busy before that. I think it was more about him getting a break than it was about us getting one,” Morgan replied.

Neil groaned at the new voice mail alert that had just flashed up on his cell phone screen. He hit the button to dial his inbox, rolling his eyes the whole time. Let’s clear them before they get out of hand. Again.

‘Dr. Melendez, it’s Lea, uh – Shaun’s girlfriend? Yeah, I know he won’t ask you this himself, but is there any chance he can have this weekend off? I want to surprise him with a road trip. I, um, I know that was a sore point last time — ’

Murphy’s girlfriend was begging off work on his behalf? What the hell?

I’m gonna regret this, he thought to himself, pressing the button to return the call.

She picked up on the first ring.

‘Oh, hey, I didn’t think you'd call me back. I – yeah, Glassy won’t tell me exactly when Shaun’s birthday is – all he’ll say is that it was within the last couple of months – I wanted to — ’

“Shaun doesn’t want to tell you his birthday?” Neil asked. Why? Who doesn’t love their birthday? he wondered to himself.

‘No. Glassy says pretty much all of them hold awful memories for him,’ Lea replied flatly.

Neil felt his heart squeeze painfully.

After all the years he had seen his family struggle to give him and his sister good birthdays, he had made a covenant within himself to never, ever be the reason someone’s birthday went bad.

He always took note of patients’ birthdays when he saw their charts, ensuring he avoided scheduling surgeries on those days. Emergencies were emergencies, always – but if it could be planned around, he’d do it any other day.

‘Estúpida superstición!’ his father would say to him, unsentimental and brisk. ‘Haz lo que sea necesario!’

‘Sí, papá. Quizás. Pero es mi estúpida superstición,’ Neil always wanted to say.

Anyone could remember Christmas, but birthdays were for the individual. They were special, they should not be forgotten, and they were important milestones.

But in the Melendez family, birthdays were rarely joyous occasions. Sometimes they couldn't even afford dinner, let alone something as frivolous as a cake.

And that wasn’t to mention the years the universe didn’t give a shit about the fact that it was Gabi’s birthday, deciding in its cruel omnipotence that a little girl’s special day was as good an opportunity as any for yet another, painfully unaffordable, emergency room visit.

“You want to make sure Murphy’s not working this weekend so you can do a belated birthday road trip thing?” Neil paraphrased.

‘Yeah. That’s what I'm trying to do,’ Lea confirmed. ‘I don’t need to know exactly when it is to make it special.’

Neil sighed. “Okay. Take your boyfriend away for the weekend.” And out of my hair, he mentally added.

As brilliant as Shaun was, he was still as exhausting to manage as ever.

‘Thank you! Thank you, thank you!’ Lea squealed happily, and hung up.

“Those two must exhaust each other,” he muttered to the walls. “Match made in heaven.”

Finally, the inordinately long day was over, and Shaun thought he might just fall asleep where he stood.

I’m on my way home, he texted Lea, when he got on the bus.

See you (not soon enough)! Love you! she wrote back, her joy radiating from the exclamation marks.

I love you, too, he sent.

Then he put his phone away and leaned back into the bus seat, staring out the windows, counting the stops they went past on the way, and wondering what awaited him at home.

Chapter Text

“Welcome home,” Lea greeted Shaun, as he let himself into the apartment. “Long day?”

“It was,” Shaun agreed, feeling wary. He knew there were a few things he ought to be talking to Lea about. The friendship he’d decided to strike up with Morgan, for a start... and, of course, his thoughts on the photo Lea had sent him that morning, perhaps – but he was exhausted.

Too exhausted to deliver on the promise he’d made in response to the photo she had sent, really. Which, technically, Morgan had made on his behalf.

He knew better than to announce this to Lea, though.

Instead, he opted for a reasonably neutral: “How was your day?”, and followed it up with, “Have you eaten?”

“It wasn’t too bad. I didn’t want to be there, though, really. I ate at work. You?” Lea replied. “You’re home late. I assume you grabbed dinner at work?”

Shaun was confused by the way she was speaking to him. He couldn’t quite ascertain the tone of voice Lea was using. It didn’t match the flirtatiousness of her texts from that morning, nor the brimming enthusiasm of her reply to the message he’d sent from the bus to let her know he was headed home.

“So — ” Lea went on, walking over to the sofa. Shaun followed her.

They sat down side by side, but the slightly chilly atmosphere was a world away from that of Tuesday night.

“I have decided to be friends with Morgan,” Shaun announced eventually, while studiously avoiding looking at Lea.

Then he went on: “I’m not asking for your permission, but Morgan thinks I should run the idea past you.”

“Oh,” Lea replied, neutrally. What the fuck? she muttered inwardly.

“I know you don’t like her. I won’t bring her home again,” Shaun said, as though he thought such a statement would reassure Lea. “It makes me uncomfortable when you yell at one another. I will see her at work. We often have our lunch breaks together.”

“Why her?” Lea bit out, harshly. “Claire, I understand – she’s a terrific friend to you – but Morgan?”

“Claire says friends look out for one another, and that is what Morgan did. She saw that I wanted you, so she took steps to help me show you that — ”

“Ha! Is that what she told you it was? Steps to help you?” Lea scoffed.

“ — She helped Claire write the essay that got me my surgical residency back. So it is logical for me to be friends with her. And we work together, which makes it a very convenient friendship,” Shaun went on, with a factual, dispassionate rationality to his words.

“Shaun, I don’t think Morgan knows how to be anyone’s friend,” Lea countered. “Watch your back — ”

“Claire watches out for me. Dr. Glassman watches out for me. My brother watched out for me. Everyone who watches out for me is my friend,” Shaun elaborated calmly.

“Oh, right. Then what am I, Shaun? I didn’t hear you mention our friendship in that little speech,” Lea noted, her voice volume rising.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Shaun recoil from her, flinching at the noise.

She almost wanted to cry, but she couldn’t decide whether it would be in frustration, or in sadness.

Why couldn’t Shaun understand? Why couldn’t he just put himself in her shoes for one tiny moment?

“You don’t understand why this hurts, do you?” Lea whispered, in realisation. “The last thing you want is to be hurting me. But you are hurting me... and you don’t understand why.”

“I can’t even make myself understood. What chance have I got of understanding you?” Shaun responded, just as quietly, and the despair in his words pierced Lea’s heart.

They both sat with that hanging between them for a few moments, until Shaun spoke up again.

“All I can understand is that you do not want me to be friends with Morgan. The fact that I’d like to is hurting you,” he stated. “But you and I were not a couple then, and it wasn’t a crime for me to kiss Morgan. You didn’t hold back on bringing Jake home.”

That’s not the way Shaun talks, Lea realised suddenly. He would never describe kissing Morgan as a crime. He’s parroting things others have told him. And, come to think of it, he does that a lot.

“Those aren’t your words,” she pronounced. “You’re quoting something that was said to you.”

“Yes — ” Shaun admitted.

“How often do you just repeat things people say to you?” Lea demanded, and Shaun looked away.

“You remember things verbatim. You use syntax and slang that aren’t true to how you talk. You quote people word-for-word. Shaun, what is up with that? Are you aware that you do it?” Lea continued to press him.

“I am,” he confessed. “I am aware that I do it — ”

“Again!” she noted, irritated. “You did it again! Right there.”

“Is it bothering you?” Shaun asked her, before saying: “I think it’s bothering you, but I can’t say for sure.”

“Honestly, I think it might be,” Lea acknowledged. “Can you try and explain what it is? What you’re doing? I mean, if this is an autistic trait – I don’t need you to teach, like, an Autism 101 course, but — ”

Shaun clasped and un-clasped his hands, fidgeting with them as they sat in his lap.

“It’s part of something that is colloquially called ‘masking’,” he began. “Masking involves imitating the behaviours of neurotypical people in order to fit in socially with them. When I quote people directly, I don’t always understand what they were trying to tell me, but I think that if I repeat something one neurotypical person said to me, to another neurotypical person, well – perhaps they will understand each other.”

“That actually sounds entirely reasonable,” Lea agreed. “I mean, it’s true. There are things I just ‘get’ instinctively on a social level... and it’s becoming very clear to me that you don’t take that knowledge for granted like I do. Like sending the text and flowers to Claire. The point you made was that you didn’t yet have your job back. I knew you should thank Claire. I was pretty horrified that you didn’t know that. I’ve gotta admit, sweetheart... I never stopped to think about why you didn’t just know that.”

“Dr. Glassman was pretty horrified, too,” Shaun said wryly, before his face took on a sheepish ‘Oops!’ expression, and he hurriedly amended his phrasing to: “Dr. Glassman was... not impressed with me.”

“Caught yourself doing it, huh?” Lea observed.

Shaun nodded in agreement, and then he continued his explanation: “The repetition of words and phrases is known as ‘echolalia’. When autistic people mask, they often describe it as being like playing a character. We are self-aware enough to realise that the ways we think, talk, and act are different. We are shown quite early on that these ways of being are strange and unlikeable. So, instead, we mask. Adapt to our surroundings, like chameleons. It’s how I know that I should not talk to my attendings the same way I talk to my co-residents. And it’s how I know I should talk to you differently than I do people at work. Different contexts call for different behaviours.”

“Okay, you parrot things others tell you because you think that if you do, you’ll be talking and acting ‘right’?” Lea paraphrased. “Like how kids repeat the things they hear adults say, without really understanding what they’re saying?”

“Yes, I suppose it’s like that,” Shaun agreed.

“Do you understand much of what I say to you? Or are you just pretending?” Lea asked him next, and she cringed at how accusatory her voice sounded. She hadn’t meant it to.

“In what sense?” Shaun replied, his expression one of confusion.

“Such as when... uh... you asked if you could bang me like a screen door in a hurricane, on Monday morning,” Lea offered as an example, blushing slightly as she said it. “Do you remember?”

“Yes,” Shaun confirmed. “I remember.”

“Where did you get that phrase from?” Lea went on, already knowing the answer to the question she’d asked, but wanting Shaun to explain it in his own words.

“Before we had sex for the first time last Friday, you said that the scent of the guy’s aftershave – my aftershave – made the girl – you – want to bang the guy – me – like a screen door in a hurricane. Then we had sex, so I concluded the phrase was to do with wanting to have sex. Afterwards, you confirmed that the word ‘banging’ was a slang term for sex,” Shaun rattled off.

“And then you used it Monday. Repeating something you’d heard before,” Lea concluded. “Did it have any meaning to you beyond that? I should have realised that you were saying something out of character — ”

“Lea,” Shaun started, and his voice was steady and confident.

She looked up in surprise, questioning where he’d gathered this new stridency from.

Will I always wonder what’s really him from now on? she worried. Is this a character?

“I haven’t always known what it means to bang someone like a screen door in a hurricane. But I have almost always known that I am sexually attracted to you,” he pronounced decisively.

“I don’t know what one has to do with the other,” Lea cut in. “A little help, please?”

“All you did was give me a phrase to explain my feelings that didn’t sound robotic, detached, or weird. Because I know by now that saying ‘I am sexually attracted to you’ to someone is an odd way of putting it,” Shaun outlined.

“Okay,” Lea said. “You’re right – saying it that bluntly is not exactly sexy.”

“No,” Shaun agreed. “I know it isn’t.”

“Okay. But is it real?” Lea prodded him.

“Is what real?” Shaun queried. “Me being sexually attracted to you?”

“No – I mean, yes, but – uh, what I mean is, is it your way of putting it?” Lea tried to clarify her meaning. “Is saying, ‘Lea, I’m sexually attracted to you’ the way you’d put it in words – if you didn’t know you could say it differently?”

“Yes,” Shaun confirmed. “When I realised it, that is how I heard it in my head.”

“I see,” Lea said.

“That’s not what you heard in your head when you realised how you felt about me, though, is it?” Shaun asked her, his gaze shrewd.

“Not so, um... precisely, no,” Lea confessed. “Do you want to know what I heard?”

“Do you think I’ll understand it?” Shaun pressed her.

“I’m not gonna be so condescending as to worry that you won’t,” Lea assured him. “There were a few things. The imagination went into overdrive on our road trip, excuse the terrible pun. It was the first chance I’d had to really ogle you. Then I saw you in the shower — ”

“What did you think?” Shaun interrupted. “I have no idea if what you saw was attractive. I can’t imagine it was, though. I’d just been sick.”

“You weren’t being sick in the shower, sweetheart,” Lea pointed out. “But you were completely fucking naked. I wanted to rip my clothes off and jump right in there with you. I wanted you to pull me close, and I wanted to feel you get hard against my thigh, and I could tell your arms were strong, and I wanted them around me, and you have these startlingly blue eyes I can drown in, and your hair, I just love running my fingers through it – I’m rambling, I’ve lost you — ”

“In short: you wanted to bang me like a screen door in a hurricane,” Shaun summarised.

“Well, yeah. I guess what I’m asking is whether you can relate to that.”

“Not like that,” Shaun said honestly. “And I’m worried it’s going to frustrate you, in time. I can’t seem to express how I feel in anything other than facts. I never really had a reason to worry about my alexithymia affecting a relationship before.”

“You did an outstanding job expressing how you felt last night,” Lea assured him, with a knowing wink and a smirk, patting him on the thigh. “And that is a fact.”

“We have diverged from the topic of my new friendship with Morgan,” Shaun announced, a few moments later.

“Yeah,” Lea agreed, warily. “It’s not like I want to say to you that you can’t be friends with her. I just don’t think she can be trusted. I’m worried she can make your life at work difficult. I don’t have those kind of concerns about Claire.”

I do, however, have several other concerns about your friendship with Claire, she added, in her head, deciding to save that potential conflict for another day.

“I hurt your feelings earlier, and I don’t understand how,” Shaun reminded her. “It didn’t seem to have much, if anything, to do with Morgan. I’m still confused.”

“Oh – it’s just that you named all your friends, and I wasn’t in the list,” Lea explained. “That stung, Shaunie.”

“Why would I list you among my friends? You are my best friend, and also my girlfriend,” Shaun said, slowly.

“There’s a hierarchy?” Lea deduced. “I’m on some kind of pedestal?”

“Yes, of course,” Shaun replied, still looking baffled, “and I’m not in love with my friends. I am in love with my best friend, who is also my girlfriend.”

“Facts,” Lea observed, finally getting it. “You know what, babe?”

“What?” Shaun asked.

“Coming from you, facts are starting to sound kinda hot,” she told him.

“‘Hot?’” Shaun wondered aloud. “How so?”

“‘Cause that’s you talking,” she responded, snuggling up to him.

He put an arm around her shoulders, and she laid one of hers over his chest, reaching her other hand up to play with the hair at the nape of his neck.

“You sent me a photo today,” Shaun noted, and Lea saw his cheeks going red.

“I know better than to ask you how you felt about it, now,” Lea teased him gently, hoping to elicit a chuckle from him. “Maybe later you can show me.”

The hoped-for chuckle didn’t quite come, though, but there was a short, gasping intake of breath and a shy smile, followed by his hand coming to rest on her thigh.

“Seriously, though, you’ve gotta make it up to me sometime,” Lea pouted, humorously. “Leaving me alone in the bed this morning, Shaun, that was brutal. You didn’t wake me, either.”

“I had no choice in what time I was called in,” Shaun protested. “And I know you’re not a morning person. Particularly not a five AM person.”

“How did you even hear your alarm?”

“I am wearing a smart watch,” Shaun responded, lifting his wrist to show her. “It vibrates on my wrist when I get a phone call or an alarm goes off. I don’t want to wake you.”

“Shows how observant I am. When did you get a smart watch?” Lea queried.

“I ordered it on Amazon while you were sleeping on Friday afternoon. When I bought the Kindle book about how to maintain a relationship,” he explained. “You didn’t appreciate it when my alarm went off that morning in the hospital.”

“That,” Lea put in, and Shaun looked confused. “Things like that. Right there. Coffee on the nightstand before I wake up. A smart watch that vibrates on your wrist so that you don’t disturb me. An autopsy on a dead fish I thought I killed. Buying a queen bed so that I can sleep comfortably with you. A no-questions-asked month-long stay in your old apartment. Renting us the apartment I couldn’t afford on my own.”

“What are you saying?” Shaun asked her, anxiously. “Are these bad things?”

“No, they’re facts,” Lea answered. “And they demonstrate so clearly how you feel about me.”

Chapter Text

“I don’t think I understand how facts explain my feelings for you. Facts are devoid of emotion,” Shaun said, looking non-plussed. “It is a fact that I am in love with you, Lea. But that’s all it is: a fact. You can’t infer any emotions from a fact.”

“Well, I can, and I have, so maybe you just have to trust that I understand it, Shaun – that I can infer emotions from statements of fact,” Lea suggested, her voice gentle.

To his credit, Shaun didn’t interrupt her, although she noticed him blinking hard, then looking up towards the ceiling, and she could tell that he was formulating a searing rebuttal to her points in his head.

“Okay, facts are unemotional and cold. I accept that. But your arms around me are not cold – they’re warm, and comforting, and loving. Kissing you is anything but cold – sometimes it’s this kind of cozy feeling, like when we have the fire crackling. Sometimes it’s scorching hot. And what we did last night, sweetheart? Whoa. Burn, baby, burn.”

Shaun still did not appear convinced by this explanation.

“We just view situations differently. That’s no bad thing,” she tried to persuade him.

“I’m trying to understand this from your perspective,” Shaun grumbled. “I’m not succeeding. It’s frustrating.”

“Okay, well, do you like having your arms around me?” Lea pressed him.

“Yes, sometimes. But I can’t explain why,” Shaun complained. “That’s the problem.”

“Hmm. Let’s see... you have your arms around me, and that’s a fact – but there’s nothing cold about how you’re doing it, Shaun,” she informed him.

His expression was still doubtful, so Lea continued to talk, hoping that somewhere in there, they’d reach some kind of mutual understanding.

“I feel safe and loved. All I want you to try to do is trust me when I say that. Oh, and please let go when you’re touched out,” she went on.

“I do trust you,” Shaun said. “But what do you mean by ‘touched out’? I don’t know that phrase.”

“I was reading about sensory overload today, and I came across that expression. It means that you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve been in physical contact with others for such a duration that it’s actually uncomfortable,” Lea outlined.

“I sometimes touch you for longer than I want to,” Shaun admitted, a little reluctantly. “It’s tiring because the whole time, I’m thinking about whether I’m doing it right.”

“Why would you do that? Have I pressured you into doing that?” Lea questioned him.

Shaun shook his head. “No. I want to make you happy. When I touch you, it makes you happy. I think I like it when you’re happy.”

“That’s very sweet,” Lea acknowledged. “But hearing that you’re pushing yourself like that doesn’t make me happy. It doesn’t make you happy. And it’s not going to help you get comfortable faster, either. You know that, right?”

“Repetition of behaviours can foster comfort and boost confidence,” he argued. “I have established routines that help me exert a sense of control over my life. My routines have been reinforced by repetition.”

“Our relationship is a routine — ?” Lea began, feeling offended for a reason she couldn’t quite put a name to.

“My relationship with you is made up of repeated behavioural patterns. Some have carried over from our friendship, like making pancakes every Saturday morning. Some are new. Every night when I got home, you’d ask me how my day was. Now, you also kiss and hug me. Lately, I am trying to remember to also ask you about your day, so it becomes automatic over time,” Shaun outlined.

‘I don’t care what happened. But I care that you care,’” Lea said slowly, paraphrasing a long-ago assertion of his.

He looked up, blinking in silent recognition.

“I found reasons to care,” was his quiet reply.

“I appreciate you saying that you care, but is our relationship a routine to you? I feel like I’m misunderstanding you in a big way here,” Lea pressed.

“Our relationship feels unstable and unpredictable to me. I felt the same about our friendship,” he explained patiently.

“Okay. How does doing more – going further than you really want to at that moment – make that better?” Lea prodded him. “How does going past your boundaries help with building stability?”

“I’ll be the kind of boyfriend you want,” he said simply. “And you’ll want to keep being my girlfriend.”

“Am I giving you hints that you’re not? And that I don’t?” Lea parried.

“I don’t think of our entire relationship as a routine. But parts of it are routines. I need routines in order to behave appropriately in it,” Shaun replied.

“So not everything is a routine, just some things,” Lea summarised.

Shaun nodded. “I know part of what attracted me to you is that you don’t live your life by routines like I do. And those you do have, you adhere to mostly because of me.”

“Are you saying I’m bad at adulting?” Lea fired back, jokingly. “Well, God knows where I’d be without you to keep me on track — ”

“No. Because you want me to feel comfortable. Most of the routines you follow make my life easier,” Shaun contradicted her.

“Well, yeah. What kind of nutcase wants to make someone’s life harder?” Lea muttered.

“I’m not making myself understood. You have adapted to my routines because you care about making my life easier. Because you care about me.”

“Of course I do,” Lea agreed emphatically, still not quite understanding what Shaun was trying to say.

“I don’t understand why you love me,” Shaun whispered. “I don’t do anything that makes it easier for you to love me.”

“Shaun — ” Lea attempted, twisting slightly in his arms so she could look him in the face, but he avoided her gaze.

She decided to speak up and say what was on her mind.

After all, just because he wasn’t returning her gaze didn’t mean he wasn’t paying attention.

“The thing that frustrates you isn’t that I love you, it’s that there is no explanation for it that will ever make complete, logical sense to you. I could spend eternity explaining why you’re lovable, but you would never be satisfied. To some extent, Shaun, it’s actually none of your business why I love you,” Lea said firmly, a little impatience creeping into her voice.

She felt him jerk in indignation when she got to ‘none of your business’, and ignored it. If he was reacting so emphatically, that meant he was listening. Probably wasn’t thrilled by what he was hearing, but he was hearing it.

“The fact that there is a question without a perfect answer makes you anxious,” she informed him next, and saw him tense up.

“But you’ve made the choice to feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s a brave decision,” she continued.

“How do you know that I care about you?” he fired back, his eyes darting all over her face, never settling in one spot.

“Because you decided to be in a relationship with me... in spite of the fact that it’s scary as hell,” she told him. “And because you ask questions like, ‘How do you know that I care about you?’. Do you really think someone who doesn’t care would ask that?”

“I can’t understand how someone else thinks. I can only understand how I think. Your question is based on a flawed premise,” Shaun stated.

“Shaun, the entire premise of relationships and love is that they are flawed. Without the flaws and cracks, you’ll never appreciate happiness when it comes. Ask yourself this: what do you want out of this relationship? Why are you in it? Why’d you chase it for so long?”

“Because my life is better with you in it,” he argued. “You already know that.”

Lea shook her head. “That was good enough when we were just friends. Now what, Shaun? Why did you choose to complicate your life with me? Why not, oh, I don’t know, Claire — ?”

Shaun stared right through her, solid and impassive as stone.

“ — Or, um, Morgan?” she added as an afterthought.

And suddenly, there it was: the real question, all of Lea’s insecurities laid bare for Shaun to eviscerate in his innocent yet thoughtless way.

She’d never been one for prayer, but once that doubt was out there, hanging between them, she found herself begging God that he wouldn’t cut her into pieces.

“I’m writing an essay for Claire,” he began, and Lea jerked so forcefully she felt a cramp.

That was random. And an unpleasant shock.

“It’s been very easy,” he continued. “I think it’s easy to write about what I’m thankful for. Claire has been an excellent friend to me. I’m thankful for the help she’s given me. I had a lot of things to list, so it’s quite a long essay at this point.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Lea asked incredulously. “Because if you think telling me you’re writing some kind of epic essay about another woman is gonna make me less pissed off at you, you are sorely mistaken — ”

At that, Shaun eased out from his position on the couch and stood up abruptly to pace, his fists curling and uncurling, his breathing rapid.

When at last he spoke, it was stream-of-consciousness, unstructured and raw and well past any emotion.

At first, Lea worried that he was headed for a meltdown. She felt as though she was being talked at, rather than talked to.

“Being friends with Claire is nice. It’s easy. Loving you is exhausting,” Shaun began, and Lea’s eyes narrowed, hearing nothing more nuanced than an insult.

“That’s why I couldn’t write an essay explaining all the things about you that attract me, and repulse me, and scare me, and intrigue me, if my life depended on it. Claire is a list. You are – I’ve read the Merriam–Webster dictionary. And their thesaurus, too — ”

“Why the hell does it not surprise me that you’ve read the dictionary?” she muttered.

“‘What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in vocab,’” Shaun recited, before he eyed her nervously. Daring Lea to play a game of Who Said It?: The Shaun Murphy Edition.

“I think that was... Steve,” she ventured hesitantly, hoping for an encouraging nod, but all she got was a flinch.

Answer enough.

“Yeah, you ran away with your brother, and you had a lot of spare time when your sperm and egg donors weren’t around to harass you anymore. Reading would have filled some of it up,” she continued, conviction in her words. “And, of course, you set a Guinness record for speed reading, right?”

“I’ve read the dictionary and the thesaurus, and I still don’t have enough words for everything you are.”

She opened her mouth to retort, but he barrelled right on.

“I’m not nervous and anxious around Claire. I have never been worried what she thinks of me. She has never been the person I think about before I go to sleep at night. I’ve never felt my pulse rate increase the minute I see her every morning. She never gave me a baseball to remember her by, that I looked at every night, feeling emotions I couldn’t name. I wasn’t embarrassed to ask Claire to account for your odd behaviour towards me – including punching me on the arm and calling me an ‘asshat’ — ”

“ — Oh, believe me, I’m very close to doing it again,” she muttered darkly.

“ — which Claire explained was actually you flirting with me. I wasted no time that night insulting you, trying to flirt back.”

Lea sucked in a breath, watching his eyes flash and his hands whip the air harshly to emphasise the points he was making.

“The scents of pine trees, green apples, pancakes, tequila, and burning rubber... all remind me of you. The only scent that reminds me of Claire is the smell of disinfectant. I associate her with work. And I hate Morgan’s perfume. It gives me a headache. I’m going to tell her she has to stop using it, or we can’t be friends. Sitting near her more frequently is going to be intolerable if she doesn’t stop wearing it.”

“You shouldn’t do that,” Lea attempted. “You might just have to drown it out with your own cologne — ”

“I was going to move my residency to Hershey to follow you. But I wouldn’t follow Claire. Or Morgan. Or Alex, or Jared. I went through the Match until Dr. Glassman offered me the job here in San Jose. Until then, I was prepared to follow the work to wherever I could get it. Then I met you, only to have to let you go... and I realised I wanted to follow you instead.”

“Why?” Lea asked, in anguish. “Why me?”

“Because the ways you complicate me make my life better,” he answered, looking her square in the eye at last, although it was short-lived.

“But I don’t know if you like it when I complicate you,” Shaun continued, his gaze turning downcast, scanning for invisible cracks and scratches in the floorboards under his feet.

“I might not even believe you if you tell me that you do,” he added, mostly addressing the floor.

“Is that the part that exhausts you about loving me? The not knowing? The existential dread of knowing, but never being sure?” Lea gradually realised aloud.

“Yes,” Shaun replied.

“I guess with Claire... she’s straight with you,” Lea pondered. “Predictable. And Morgan... well, from what Claire was saying last week, Morgan’s pathologically incapable of anything but brutal honesty when it comes to you – so I guess you like that in a woman. Consistency, I mean. Certainty.”

Shaun nodded. “And yet, I spend time with you, and I behave in ways that will probably never come naturally to me, in the hope that I keep on attracting you. I still feel like I have no idea if you’re happy. I can’t predict your responses to things very well. So can I believe it when you say that you’re happy with me? Can I trust that you’re being honest about how you feel?”

“Sweetheart — ”

“Am I worth the trouble?” Shaun mumbled.

“Yes, Shaun. But do you want to be told, or shown? Let me know when you decide,” Lea suggested, letting him think that over before she bombarded him any more.

“Hey, getting back to the stability thing — ” she spoke up, after a long pause, when the silence had become so loud that she couldn’t stand it a second longer.

Shaun came to sit back down beside her, but he positioned himself slightly past the limits of her fingertips’ reach.

“I was gonna say that our relationship probably feels off-kilter because there was a big ol’ intermission in the beginning of it. And, I – uh, I do unexpected things that throw you off course,” she acknowledged.

“Yes, that sounds accurate. As I said, I frequently find it difficult to predict your behaviours and responses. The photo you sent today shocked me,” he confessed, his cheeks turning crimson. “I’m not sure why. I have seen you naked before. I can picture you naked easily. The picture was — ”

“You’re not in the habit of thinking about me naked while you’re at work,” Lea supplied. “It was wildly out of context.”

Shaun nodded. “But I also meant what I wrote back. However, I was confused by the eggplant emoji. Did you put that in by mistake?”

Lea giggled and shook her head. “No. I put that in on purpose.”

Shaun still looked totally adrift.

“I’ll give you a clue: it represents something you, uh, put in me last night,” she went on. “And something I’d have liked you to put in me again this morning, but you had to go to work early.”

“The eggplant is my — ” Shaun spluttered in realisation.

“Can’t say it with your clothes on, huh?” she teased him.

“Why has it only become easier to talk about sex when we are naked?” he mused, edging closer to her.

“Beats me. Maybe we should get out of these clothes and talk about it,” she suggested flirtatiously, and he gave her one of his ironic little half-smiles, corners of his mouth turned upwards, lips twitching.

A piece of hair fell over one of his eyes, and he put his hand up to brush it away impatiently.

At the sight of the gesture, she unexpectedly flashed back on their first time, fooling around in that uncomfortably tiny old twin bed of his, fielding his concerned questions as he tugged her tank top off over her head, and as she’d pulled down his pyjama pants.

“I did mean it when I said ‘Fuck yes,’ to having sex with you, but from what I understand, there’s a lot more to it than simply agreeing to have it. I think I will need to learn how you like to be touched first.”

“Do you know much that isn’t from porn?”

“I mostly watch amateur pornography. Watching professional pornography does not arouse me in the slightest. Everyone is unnecessarily loud and forceful. It’s embarrassing to observe when it’s so obviously, obnoxiously fake.”

“Oh, my God, you’re so right. Have you learned anything you want to share with me?”


“Well, do your worst.”

“My worst? That’s absurd. I want to impress you. I’m not going to do anything less than my absolute best.”


“Is that... good?”

“Shaun Murphy, if you dare stop, I will literally kill you.”

“In which case I will literally stop.”

“Please don’t stop.”

It was amazing how in the midst of all that, he’d still had the wherewithal to pepper her with queries like:

“What kind of contraception are you using? Do you keep to a perfect schedule?”

“The Pill. Yeah, here are the alarms on my phone. And here's the packet.”



“Have you been tested and cleared of STIs recently?”

“Absolutely. Last week, in fact. Would you like to see a copy of the results?”

“Yes, thank you. I’ll wait here.”

“All right.”


“I don’t have any concerns about your results. Thank you for showing them to me. Should I wear a condom? Do you have any?”

“I’m cool with or without. They’re tidier, though.”

“Would you like to see my test results?”

“But you’re a virgin...?”

“I don’t have to be a virgin to have an infection, and not all infections enter the body via sexual intercourse. There are just some that are most commonly spread that way.”

“Something you’d like to share with me there, babe?”

“I work in a hospital. It’s free.”

“So practical. Come here, you.”

As he’d searched for the ideal position atop her, his face had taken on a pinched look, apprehension clouding over the ocean blue in his eyes with its passing shadows.

She’d leaned up to whisper, ‘it’s gonna be okay, baby,’ while feeling down between them, finding his hand and guiding him where to go, and his hand had slowly begun to seek out something he had wanted to find in her for so very long. Clumsy and disoriented at first, exploring without a map, to a sweet, tender familiarity, and then, finally, to passionate, hectic hyperfocus.

She remembered looking up at him to see his eyes closed, his face displaying studious concentration, alternating with the euphoria of discovery, both of the wonderfully new and the irretrievably changed.

His hair had fallen slightly over his eyes. She’d lifted her free hand and gently patted it back into place without thinking, immediately drawing back in apology upon realisation.

His eyes had snapped open, and she’d mumbled a tiny ‘sorry’, but he’d reached out and grabbed hold of her hand as it was retreating, their gazes meeting square-on.

“I think it’s now. Is it now, Lea?” he’d wondered aloud.

“Yes, Shaun, it’s now,” she’d replied tenderly.

He had responded to that invitation with an assured push of his hips, all the tension in his body giving way to the new comfort of finding another kind of home with her.

“I am really looking forward to your physical response to that photo. If you’re not too tired,” she admitted, playfully waggling her eyebrows.

“I wanted to lock myself in a dark room with that picture today,” he conceded, sounding guilty.

“Well, that’s kind of the result I was going for. Would you like help putting it somewhere safe on your phone?”

“I’m allowed to keep it?” Shaun asked, startled. “I deleted it. If someone grabbed my phone — ”

“Yes, Shaun, of course you can keep it. This is the start of what is often called a ‘spank bank’,” Lea explained patiently. “You are allowed to think about me that way. You don’t have to be on top of me to think about me that way. Or under me, for that matter.”

“But we are sharing our bedrooms now,” Shaun said, and Lea’s stomach tightened at the prospect of another argument that night.