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Warm comfort

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After pulling away from Natalie’s hug and watching her leave the break room to head home, Will silently thanks his lucky stars to still have her in his life, even if it’s just as a friend. He muses that actually they are probably way better being friends than they would be being anything more. He was grateful that she had tried to comfort him, and for her sake he had acted like it had helped, but he knew that something was missing, the way it always was in these kinds of situations.

Immediately he felt guilty, like he has used her, and feelings all too familiar came flooding over him the way they always did. On some level he knew it was completely irrational, but the feelings of guilt and self-loathing were impossible to ignore. He hated himself for being secretly relieved when Natalie had told him they would be better as friends, and even more relieved when she had started dating Jeff. He had been able to manage with Nina, but he knew it would be a losing game in the end, and that filled him with feelings of profound despair on nights where he couldn’t sleep and would just keep tossing and turning.

“You’re a champion at pushing people who care about you away.”

“Maybe the reason no one is ever able to really comfort you is because you don’t let them.”

“Because you can’t.”

Even though Will was familiar with the thoughts going through his head, they still hurt the same way they did when he had first started thinking them. He couldn’t even remember when they had started. Probably before he was even old enough to think. They are accompanied by a sense of desperation and dread, wondering if he will ever be able to really get close to anyone, actually let himself be comforted, or whether he is destined to spend the rest of his life alone. Well, perhaps not physically alone, but definitely lonely.

Overcome with doubt, self-loathing and the still very raw blow of losing Dr. Rowan, Will sinks into a chair at the table in the corner of the break room. Putting his face in his hands he fights back tears.

Just as he is regaining his composure slightly, the break room door opens and Connor walks in, looking tired and stressed. Instead of just letting the door fall closed, he puts his hand on the bar and purposefully pushes it shut, as if by this gesture he is shutting out the world he just came from. He lets out a deep, shoulder-heaving sigh before turning around and noticing Will sitting at the table, looking pale and staring in the distance.

Connor doesn’t move but the two of them make eye contact. The look and the nod they exchange is very familiar between doctors who have just had a challenging day. Nothing really has to be said – they are both very much acquainted with this type of understanding. It’s almost like a professional courtesy.

But something here is different. Will wants to look away but strangely enough he can’t make himself do it. In about half a second something in Connor’s face has changed. An expression of deep sympathy and understanding, way deeper than the situation would normally merit, has replaced the exhaustion on his face, and Will finds it strangely, inappropriately mesmerizing.

Averting his gaze momentarily, Connor closes the distance to the table and sits down along the side of the table next to Will’s. “Stressful day?” Will rasps, feeling like he should say something, anything, to relieve some of the awkwardness he is suddenly feeling. He is surprised at how dry his mouth is, and how the sounds barely even come out. “Not nearly as stressful as yours,” Connor replies with a sudden intense warmth to his voice, re-establishing eye contact. Will is having enough trouble processing the situation as it is, but that same look is back on Connor’s face, the one he finds it impossible to look away from. It just draws him in.

“I know she meant a lot to you.”

“Yeah.”

A long moment passes and Will is again struggling to fight back tears.

“It’s okay.”

It takes Will a moment to realize, but suddenly, as if watching events unfold in slow-motion, he sees Connor’s right hand come down on the table next to him, palm stretched up in an invitation. Incredulously, as if he is having an out of body experience, Will sees his own left hand move towards Connor’s, hesitating for a second before nestling the back of his hand in Connor’s upturned palm.

Almost immediately Connor’s other hand closes over Will’s, gently but purposefully folding Will’s fingers over to turn his clammy hand into a fist between his own two hands, and Will is shocked at how this feels. How right this suddenly feels.

Nothing else is said as the warmth of Connor’s hands spreads to Will’s. It seems to spread all through his body, as Connor’s blue eyes bore into his, sharp but soothing. Unable to explain it, Will feels a connection he has rarely felt to any other human being. He feels… comforted.

How was this possible? Until recently they had just been colleagues who got along fairly well but still regularly butted heads over patients. And now, now they were sitting here like this. No matter which way he turned it over in his head, Will couldn’t help but come back to how right it felt. And in this moment he was content with feeling this way.

 

Neither of them really knew how long their moment had lasted, but all too soon it was interrupted when Maggie burst through the break room door. “Dr. Rhodes, Dr. Latham needs you in the OR. I... oh.” Connor keeps his eyes fixed intently on Will’s, his friend’s eyes suddenly wide with panic. Will tries to pull away but Connor tightens his grip and refuses to let Will’s hand go.

“Dr. Latham needs you in the OR...” Maggie repeats tentatively. “I’ll be right there,” Connor replies in his usual confident voice, tilting his head towards Maggie and the door but not able to meet her eyes since they are fixed on Will’s hand clasped with Connor’s on the table.

“Of course, sure… I’ll let him know,” Maggie replies as she turns back towards the door, closing it carefully with an ever so slight smile forming on her face.