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The Nightingale Effect

Chapter Text

When Peter had first laid eyes on him, it was almost difficult to see the pretty face behind injuries he’d sustained. The stranger had sauntered into the emergency room, pressing a balled up t-shirt against his cheek and ignoring everyone who tried to stop him as he wandered back into the patient area. “Just seeing myself in,” he said, his voice bearing the faint vestiges of a British accent to it. “Tell me who a man speaks with to have a few stitches put in.”

“Sir, you can’t just come back here,” a nurse petitioned, and if Peter hadn’t been lost in admiration, he might have come to assist her. Instead, his eyes shifted from the stranger’s face to take inventory of the rest the man had to offer. His bare chest suggested he had removed his shirt to provide the makeshift compress and a black, leather jacket covered the rest of a slender frame. The state of the man’s jeans indicated the bloodied rag he held to his face might have seen better days itself. The doctor in Peter winced hard enough to capture the stranger’s attention.

He shot Peter a wink, smirking while a nurse dragged him over to one of the beds. They made eye contact only for a moment before the curtain shut, but it was just long enough for Peter to note the color blue of his eyes. His brown hair short and the same color as Peter’s, he had also stood several inches lower to the ground than him, but most people did. Work had summoned him away shortly thereafter, but not before Peter could make a lingering mental note of him first.

The second time he saw him, however, were under different circumstances. This time, the doors to the emergency room didn’t part to let the slim, cocky man swagger through for a patch-up. An ambulance brought him in, stretched out on a gurney with the paramedics calling out vitals just as Peter emerged from the locker room ready to start his shift. He paced along with the circus, stealing a few precious seconds to recognize the barely-healed cuts and fading bruises. New gashes dripped blood onto the white sheets beneath the mysterious man.

“What do we have here?” Peter asked, talking over everyone else, taking lead as the senior resident on duty. He pushed back the man’s leather jacket when he noticed the fabric of his shirt – a different one than the makeshift compress – sticky with blood. A tear revealed a particularly gruesome injury ebbing crimson faster than it should have. Peter let the fabric fall shut again and frowned.

“Motorcycle crash,” one of the EMTs answered. “Decent amount of blood loss and a broken shoulder for starters. Pulse has been fluttering the whole ride here.”

“Let’s get him stable for surgery.” As they passed a group of people, Peter snapped his fingers at one of the more seasoned nurses and two of the interns. “Someone call upstairs. Tell them we have one heading to them shortly. Chloe, I need you over here with me.”

The nurse nodded and dashed over. One of the interns followed, while the other lifted the phone and became a distant memory. They wheeled the cocksure motorcyclist into one of the makeshift rooms and cut away the t-shirt while Peter directed the circus. Chloe delegated tasks to those who spirited over to help. By the time they led the stranger to surgery, an hour had passed on the clock and enough steam had been expunged from Peter for him to feel like it’d been five.

“He’ll be right as rain,” Chloe said, reaching to pat him on the shoulder as he trudged out from cleaning up. “Probably out of here sooner than you think.”

Peter offered her a wan smile in return. “It’s going to be a long day if that’s what we got out of the gates,” he said. It inspired her to chuckle, but as she wandered back to work, his fledgling smile faded and eyes shifted to the last place his patient had been. Images replayed in his mind of the dare he had received in just one glance – one small wink – and a riddle played out before him, encapsulated in two snapshots. Whoever this man was and wherever he had come from, something had dragged him out from the wrong side of the tracks.

Peter tried not to be intrigued by it.

And failed miserably.

By the end of the grueling shift, he felt ready to trudge to the subway and back to his apartment. As he pulled out his earbuds and cinched his backpack up his shoulder, however, he passed by the elevators and stopped. The stranger stopped being his patient the moment he left the emergency room, but wondering about him became a song playing on repeat in his mind. ‘Chloe said he would be fine and I agree,’ Peter thought.

If he had to be honest with himself, it wasn’t about that, though.

Sighing, exasperated with himself and realizing he might have to dig deeper than the fumes keeping him on his feet, Peter pressed the up arrow and pocketed his earbuds again. He shook his head as he waited for the elevator to descend, and pulled out his iPhone in some effort to pretend being unaffected. A few thumb swipes across the screen preceded the metal doors parting and the electronic crutch remained out through the ascent to the patient room floor. When he stepped out from the elevator, he slid the phone back into hiding, seeing the nurse’s station ahead and forming a resolution in his mind. He would ask about the patient, if just to sate this needling curiosity, but that was all.

Flashing a brilliant smile at the nurse who peered up at him, he sped his pace to her. “Joanna, how has the night shift been treating you?” he asked once he was within earshot.

He placed his hands on the counter separating them while she sighed. “I hit the wall three hours ago,” the slender brunette said, rubbing at her eyes with the heels of both hands. “Still have four left in this shift.”

“You sound like I did earlier.” His smile faded, given over to concern. “Want me to bring you coffee?”

“Only if you’re willing to help me start the IV.” Joanna’s hands fell back to her lap. She lifted to a stand. “I should do my rounds, but I’ve been avoiding it. I’d like to think walking around would help, but the moment I sit down again, I’m a goner.” She turned to cast a quick glance back to the white board with their list of patients before pivoting to line Peter in her sights. “Shouldn’t you be downstairs looking gorgeous and saving lives?”

Peter laughed at the playful curl of her lips. “I’m heading home.” He patted his backpack for emphasis. “A few hours of sleep and back at it again. You’ll have to be gorgeous for the both of us in the meantime.”

“Oh, stop. I know you didn’t come up here to flirt with me, Dr. Dawes.” She raised an eyebrow and leaned forward, resting her elbows on the counter. “Who are you avoiding?”

“Nobody.” Another laugh summoned the brilliant smile back into place. “No, I had a patient earlier and was curious to see how he did in surgery. I’m not sure if you guys have him or ICU.”

“Ah ha.” Joanna turned back toward the board. “Well, we’ll see about that. What was the patient?”

“Motorcycle accident. We never really came close to losing him, but getting him stable was still a bitch.”

“Yep. I know who you’re talking about, and we have him.” She lifted a hand, tapping her bottom lip with a finger until her face lit up. “There he is.” She pointed. “Lifted him up enough from a narcotic haze to finally get an ID from him. Christian Mason.”

“Christian?” Peter felt like adding seriously to the end of that, but managed to bite his tongue. His gaze followed to where Joanna pointed and he nodded. “If you guys had him talking, that means he’s better off than when we had him.”

“Oh, he’s a riot. Until the morphine put him under again, he kept trying to flirt with the nurses. And the doctors.” She turned, catching Peter’s eye and forcing his focus back to her. The curl of her lips turned downright devious. “You came to check on your patient, did you?”

His eyes widened, a blush forming on his cheeks before he could stop it. “I… did. I was concerned,” he said. Peter reached to scratch at the back of his neck.

Joanna raised an eyebrow at him again. “Sure,” she said. “That and two bucks would get me a cup of coffee.” Glancing one way, and then the other, she looked at Peter again and shrugged a little. “Feel like jotting down his vitals for me? Get you a little peek and you can be on your way home?”

A lump formed in Peter’s throat as his arm dropped to his side again. “Yes, sure. I could do that. Especially if it’d be some help to you.” Lowering his backpack down onto the floor, he kicked it closer to the area behind the desk and perked an eyebrow at Joanna. “Don’t give me that look. I didn’t intend to actually go in to see him.”

The nurse produced a pen and a piece of folded paper from the pockets of her scrubs. “Come all this way and not at least steal a glance?” She shook her head. “I need to teach you better than that.”

“I’m all ears.” He took the writing instrument as it was offered and tucked the paper in his pocket. “Though I’m strongly suspecting you just want me to do your rounds for you.”

“If only they’d brought in more pretty men today.”

She winked and Peter laughed as he turned his back on her. “Room 418,” she called out and he gave her a thumb’s up in return without facing her again. A casual gait marked his journey down the hall, quiet except for the faint sound of televisions droning infomercials and other staff talking in hushed tones. He reached an open door and paused by the doorway before entering.

The rhythmic noises coming from the machines around one bed provided its own technological symphony, uninterrupted by any other occupants in the dark room. The television remained off, and other than the sound of the occupant breathing, there wasn’t anything else to distract Peter from focusing on him. Faintly, he remembered that bare chest, the one he’d been given a much better view of days before cutting through a shirt to assess a bleeding wound. Christian was the kind of man who looked good without even trying.

Even if he wasn’t the type you introduced to your parents.

“Well, at least that’s not a problem for me,” Peter murmured, exhaling a breath rife with tension. He clicked on the pen while shifting his attention back to the beeping monitors. Sleeping Beauty had an oxygen tube running under his nose and IVs dripping fluids and pain medication into him. His blood pressure and pulse remained steady and the numbers Peter jotted onto the sheet bore promise. “Should have you on your way home within a few days, I’d think. Just like Chloe said.”

“Is that a date then?” a hoarse, groggy voice responded, just loud enough for it to startle Peter. The young doctor took a step backward, his gaze shooting to Christian as the other man’s eyes fluttered open. Christian cleared his throat, his voice gaining confidence. “Heaven knows I could use a drink,” he continued. “Perhaps three.”

Peter swallowed down a lump that had formed in his throat, gathering professionalism back in scraps and clutching it against his chest. Oh God, why did he have to have that accent?  “I think you might have to wait a while longer before you get that drink,” he said. “Discharged from the hospital doesn’t necessarily mean back to business as usual.”

“Just meeting me and already, you know my usual business.” A slight shift in the way he was lying provoked a groan from Christian. Peter motioned closer, but the infirmed man held up a hand as he settled back into place. “Seems I banged myself up proper this time.”

“Yes, you were in an accident, Mr. Mason.”

“Hmm?” He furrowed his brow, the gesture the first Peter observed which might be a side effect of the morphine drip. Recollection appeared laborious from the other man. “Oh, right. Yes, someone else told me that, I think.”

“They said you told them your name. I’m sure they tried to explain what had happened then.” Peter studied Christian and weighed his next words. “You’re at least looking better than you had when you first came in.”

A smirk danced dreamily across Christian’s lips. “Flattery will get you everywhere, Dr. –”

“Dawes. You can call me Peter.” He laughed. “And I don’t mean that to flirt. You looked like hell when they first wheeled you in.” Stepping closer, a soft sigh preceded him lowering to a seated position on the edge of the bed. “How are you feeling?”

“Dejected. You weren’t flirting with me.” The continued presence of an amused expression betrayed his words, even if it gained a flicker of sobriety. “You were there when they brought me in?”

Peter nodded. “You came to us first in the ER.”

“You seem a long way from the emergency room, unless that’s where they keep people these days.”

“No. You’re in the patient rooms. I just thought I’d…” He trailed off. The hand still clutching the pen reached back, two fingers relenting in their grip of the writing instrument to scratch at his neck. “I wanted to make sure you were doing better. You were my first case of the night.”

Christian lingered in silence for a moment, just long enough for Peter to believe the drugs had finally slipped the other man into a haze of incoherence. The smile relaxed, but the curl refused to even, crystal blue irises fixed on Peter throughout the quiet that settled between them. A fingertip brushed against Peter’s other hand, where it rested on the bed with a piece of paper still clutched in its grip. The touch caused heat to pool in the doctor’s stomach.

“I trust this means you’ll come back again, when I can express proper thanks,” Christian said, his fingers retracting. Peter didn’t need to look down in order to see them slip away. He felt the void they left behind.

Slowly, he nodded. “Maybe after my shift tomorrow night,” he said before he could reconsider. His answer hung in the air, offered too eagerly for his taste. “If I don’t have to slip away to get some rest. The shifts in this place are brutal.”

“All work and no play makes Peter a dull boy.” Christian hummed thoughtfully, his eyes shutting for a moment. As they opened again, Peter couldn’t be sure, but he thought he saw a plea in them. “At least say hello, then. A glimpse of those pretty green eyes could only aid in my recovery.”

“We’ll see about that.” Peter winked, and though he lifted to a stand, he lingered for a few extra seconds before nodding at the other man. “Get some rest. That’ll probably help more.”

“Doctor’s orders?”

“Doctor’s orders.” A warm smile tugged at Peter’s mouth. He turned away from Christian before the look on the other man’s face threatened to force him to stay the rest of the night. Already, he was toeing the line of overstepping his boundaries and the last thing he needed this close to finishing his residency was trouble in both his professional and personal life. Even if the warm, flirtatious words and gentle coaxing continued spinning through his mind.

Even if the touch of Christian’s fingers still made his own tingle.

After returning the sheet of paper and pen to Joanna, Peter trudged from the building and to the subway. The sun had barely started peeking over the horizon, illuminating the city and threatening to stir its occupants into life, starting the cycle of chaos anew. Peter deposited his keys by the front door of his apartment and sloughed off his backpack while turning the lock and securing himself inside. As silence settled in the empty apartment, Peter breathed a sigh of relief.

“Shower,” he murmured, emptying his pockets and tossing his coat aside. Both hands lifted, rubbing at his face while the sounds of his next door neighbors rousing disrupted the quiet. His tired eyes lifted to the loft overhead, and the bed calling out his name. By the time he finished cleaning up, everyone would be off to work and perhaps then, he could sneak in enough rest to last the next shift.

Maybe by then, he might have forgotten about Christian, too.

Exhaling a deep breath, he flicked on the light switch in his small bathroom and shut the door. The sight of a twenty-eight year old man with dark circles under his eyes greeted him, but the color of his irises stuck out to him the most. “A glimpse of those pretty green eyes could only aid in my recovery.” Peter felt another shiver crawl its way up his spine and temptation nip at him once more. Ever since he’d known he liked men, there’d been two types that caught his interest above the others. The first, he called fine dining – the classier men of the lot. The ones who wore suits like it was their natural skin, like the specialists Peter would undress with his eyes while forcing sandwiches down his throat in the cafeteria.

Bad boys comprised the other group. Peter frowned at his reflection in the mirror before turning away from it. His parents had died before he’d started dating, but somehow he knew they wouldn’t approve of how many times people like Christian turned his head. Stripping off his scrubs and tossing them into a growing pile of laundry, he started the shower and stood waiting for the water to heat, tempted to slip under the stream while it could still chill him to the bone.

You want him already,’ he thought. ‘He’s a patient, for crying out loud.

“Keeping my hands to myself,” he declared to an audience of one and finally pulled back the curtain enough to step inside. Water covered his face and streamed down his body, lukewarm at first and gradually turning scalding. Peter rotated his shoulders and stretched his limbs, letting the heat work out the kinks in his muscles, then ran his fingers through his hair to saturate the unruly locks. His skin was buzzing, the tingles surfacing and gathering while he called to mind how long it’d been since he’d had a steady boyfriend.

Just one touch. You’ve jerked off to worse things.

He groaned and flexed his fingers, attempting to resist the temptation. His arm lowered and palm hovered between his legs, the internal war waged and lost with the first skim of his hand. His cock reacted, almost coercing him to do it again. Before he knew it, his fingers had wrapped around himself, giving the limp length its first tug.

I trust this means you’ll come back again, when I can express proper thanks.”

Peter’s eyes fluttered shut, the fantasy taking hold. In his mind, he envisioned Christian slipping into the shower, the smug bastard uninjured and clothed only in what God had given him as he encroached on Peter’s personal space. “Need some help with that?” he asked, inclining his head so that his lips might brush near Peter’s, knocking the taller man’s hand away to take hold of it himself.

“Oh fuck, yes…” The proclamation escaped Peter’s mouth before he could bite it back. It wasn’t his palm slipping up and down the hardening shaft any longer, it was Christian’s, slow and taunting as a devious grin surfaced on the other man’s face. His tongue flicked out, tracing across Peter’s bottom lip while the motion of his hand increased in tempo, still maddening; deliberate. With an invitation latent in it for Peter to lose control.

“Yes…” Christian said the word. Or he did. He couldn’t be sure once the fantasy evolved. Christian bit his lip and rocked his hips against Peter, pressing their bodies flush, the shorter man stroking him faster when both of them became hungry for completion. Tipping his head back, Peter felt the water from the shower pour down his back while he braced himself against the wall, coils of tension tightening in his groin and a grunt preceded the cry his mouth produced as the shockwaves took him over. Grasping onto the slippery tile, he felt his turn knees weak and his cock pulse in time with his climax. For a few moments, the sum total of existence was the other man, and what he had just done to him.

Slowly, the world filtered back into focus. The last embers of Christian’s ghost dissipated, leaving him standing alone again, his eyes opening while he struggled to catch his breath. Swallowing against a dry throat, he straightened his posture, shivering with the last jolts running up his spine.

It’d been too long since the fantasies had been reality, but that seemed to be his life these days.

The remainder of the shower lasted half the time. Fatigue settled in again, making its unwelcome presence known through the final rinse and toweling off. Peter plodded past the barely-used kitchen on his way to the loft and climbed the steep flight of stairs up to where he slept. Somehow, he managed to throw on a pair of pajama pants before collapsing into bed, and remembered to set his alarm while curling under the covers. The promise of five hours of sleep, and the heady buzz from coming threatened to pull him under.

Yes, he still saw Christian in his mind as he shut his eyes, but the warning came with it. Bad boys never knew how to tend a heart like his, and were an indulgence he’d long since learned he should stay away from, regardless of how unattainable the suits were in contrast. His parents would’ve wanted him pursuing something less dangerous; someone a hell of a lot more stable. Still, he couldn’t let it go.

If this had the potential to be so bad, then how come it felt so damn good?