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The Nightingale Effect

Chapter Text

“… I knew you were trouble when you walked in, so shame on me now

One bleary eye opened before the other, the expression on Peter’s face registering confusion as his waking brain tried to determine what was happening. Streams of music poured from the clock radio on the nightstand beside his bed, the volume set far louder than might have been considered reasonable. He blinked against sleep, his eyelids wanting to shut again despite the cacophony of pop music blaring offense into his ears.

That was, until his phone joined the chorus.

Peter groaned and reached first for the radio. Slapping at it, he managed to hit a button that stopped the racket, and then fumbled through the tangled mess of sheets for where his phone had disappeared. With one swipe of his finger, the sirens ceased, but by that point, the damage had already been done. Stretching his limbs first, Peter flopped outward from the curled position he had maintained while sleeping and yawned. Another afternoon was upon him, and another twelve hours at the hospital lay in wait.

The coffeemaker percolated while the microwave heated something that vaguely resembled food. It took until he polished off his coffee for him to remember Christian, giving the other man one last shiver of acknowledgement as he gelled down his unruly locks of brown and finished shaving. Out the door a mere few minutes later, he had determined avoiding the patient would be in his best interests for the remainder of Christian’s stay. Even if a pang of guilt echoed at recalling those plaintive blue eyes.

It bore all the earmarks of potential success. He had the will to resist temptation, and spent the subway ride into work going over the reasons why he should follow through it. The first and foremost was his professional career, and how much fire he’d be playing with fraternizing with a patient. Beyond that, however, he reminded himself he needed something more stable than his normal fare; something with a much better chance at being a relationship and not just a casual fling. Pretty or not, Christian didn’t seem like the type of guy who knew the word commitment, and though the aura of mystery was enticing, it also bore that reminder that something shady lurked on the other side of that seductive grin.

Striding through the automatic doors of Temple University Hospital, Peter squared his shoulders. It was safer that way, he told himself, as he waded into another night of drunks, overdoses, and bar fights.

The sun crested the horizon twelve hours later and brought with it the end of one shift. When his alarm clock summoned him awake once more, he started the whole process all over again, without another thought spared toward Christian Mason. Almost immediately after he changed into his scrubs, a patient walked through the doors complaining of heart palpitations and right after that, a man who with chest pain which turned out to be indigestion. By the third case of the night, Peter had hit a stride, which carried him through his first break of the night.

As he returned to the floor, however, he paused in front of one of the bays and furrowed his brow at the shut curtain. The silhouette of an IV pole and of a man lying on the cot piqued his curiosity, and as he glanced around for an attending doctor, all of his co-workers appeared embroiled in different patients. ‘We keep people waiting all the time,’ he thought. ‘And if this one’s getting admitted, then there’s probably a paperwork bottleneck.’ Still, there seemed to be something familiar about this one, luring him closer to the bay.

No, he told himself. It couldn’t be.

Peter pulled the curtain back enough to slip inside before drawing it shut behind him. As he turned, he caught his breath and blinked while the man lying before him smiled at the expression on Peter’s face. “Dr. Dawes,” Christian said, his eyes sparkling with mischief while his grin took on a playful tenor. “If I didn’t know better, I would think you were avoiding me.” One arm in a cast, a sling kept the useless limb close to his body while his other hand rested on his stomach. He shifted more upright, wincing against the effort and moving enough to knock a robe draped across his shoulders open.

Attempting not to glance downward, Peter kept his eyes trained on Christian’s face. “Shouldn’t you be upstairs?” he asked.

Christian shrugged with his good shoulder. “What I should be doing and what I am are often two completely different subjects. Do you always invite yourself into private places, Doctor?”

Peter felt a flush creep up his neck. “I had the suspicion you didn’t belong here. It turns out I was right.” The tone of his words attempted to register chastisement. Peter wasn’t sure if they achieved that end, however. “All things considered, you shouldn’t even be up walking.”

“Do I look like the sort of man who takes well to being confined to bed two days in a row?”

“I –” A laugh escaped his lips before he could stop it. “No, I admit, you don’t, but you’re going to have people looking for you if you don’t already.”

“Oh, I’m certain they’re delaying their search for a few minutes. Possibly hoping that I slipped away. The nurse was ready to sedate me.” Tilting his head, Christian eyed the other man from feet to shoulders, his gaze finally returning to meet Peter’s as his smile broadened. “How am I mending, Dr. Dawes? To your satisfaction?”

Peter sighed, fighting the urge to roll his eyes. “I’m not your attending physician.” Christian patiently held his gaze, until Peter shook his head and paused to steal a glance outside the curtain. Disappearing back inside the bay, he drifted closer to the IV pole and crouched to study the display. When Christian shut his robe and turned to face Peter, the young doctor considered it a small mercy. “They dialed you down from morphine,” Peter said. “How has your pain been?”

“Manageable,” Christian said, allowing his feet to dangle from the cot. “But I’ve been shot before. This is a stroll through Piccadilly in comparison.”

“I don’t even know what that means.” Peter peered back up at Christian and smirked. “I wondered if the accent was an act.”

“Many things are with me, love. The way I speak isn’t one of them.” His tongue darted out, licking his lips. While it appeared a subconscious act, something about the way Christian did it bordered on obscene. “Why, do you fancy it?”

“Your accent?” Peter fought against another flush, perking an eyebrow at the other man. Slowly, he rose to a full stand. “I think you’re confusing the purpose of a hospital, Christian. It’s supposed to be for healing, not picking up doctors.”

“Doctors. Nurses. Why discriminate?” While his expression sobered, it lost none of its smolder. “You remembered my name.”

“It was hard to forget.” Peter spoke the words before he could consider them, and winced against their issuance the moment they passed through his lips. “I mean to say, it’s an ironic name for you. I’m sure you get that a lot.”

“Only every other week for the better part of my life. You are a poor liar.”

“What was I lying about?”

“The intention of your comment. Your ears are pink right now.” A pause punctuated his comment. He waited until he had Peter’s full attention again before speaking, only this time the volume of his voice had lowered. Its tone crept across Peter’s skin like silk, reminding the young doctor of the shower while temptation threatened to coil itself around him. Peter swallowed hard, watching Christian slide down from the cot. “Tell me, who you are chastising not to confuse the purpose of a hospital, me or you?”

Peter froze in position. Something about the look in the other man’s eyes held him captive, threatening not to let him go. “Either way, it applies,” he said. “I should be calling security and telling them to take you back upstairs.”

“Should be. Could be. Aren’t,” Christian retorted. “I’m not alone in noticing that, am I?” His feet touched the floor, one after the other, and as his good hand lifted from the bed, it lowered to his side. The way the patient paced closer to Peter bore deliberate slowness to it, drawing out the moment. “You didn’t come to see me, but you’ve thought about me, haven’t you?”

A lump threatened to form in Peter’s throat. “I think about the patients I’ve had a lot.”

“Do you come up to their rooms to visit them all personally, too?” He raised an eyebrow, stopping well within the taller man’s personal space. Craning his neck, Christian peered upward at him, the hand lifting once more, fingers toying with the neckline of Peter’s scrubs. “How did you picture me? Lying out on my bed, unable to resist while you straddled me and had your way with me? Or isn’t that your particular brand of fantasy?”

The next breath which escaped Peter’s lungs bore a heavy amount of tension. “Not my preference, no.”

“You’re going to drive me mad with curiosity.”

“It’s not something I want to talk about.”

Christian chuckled softly. His fingers lifted, only to stray to the white coat which hung from Peter’s frame. Gathering a fistful of it, he used his hold on the doctor to press their bodies together, lifting up onto his tiptoes until his mouth hovered above Peter’s. They brushed lips. “Well, take what you want from me,” he said. “You have me right here.”

Peter shut his eyes. “I can’t kiss you, Christian,” he countered. “You’re a patient and we have rules about that. If I’d met you somewhere else, maybe, but not here.”

“So, you won’t deny that you’re attracted to me.”

The weight of Christian’s gaze prompted Peter to lift his lids once more, his eyes regarding the shorter man. As Christian kissed the corner of his mouth, a groan threatened to rumble from Peter’s throat. “I think it’s probably too late for me to deny that.”

“I was going to refute you if you tried. There’s evidence to suggest otherwise.” His hand released its hold on Peter’s coat, fingertips dancing down the other man’s chest while on a southward trek. As his palm shifted against the fabric of Peter’s scrubs, it pressed down until stopping just shy of the young doctor’s waistline. “Then again, perhaps you want me to remind you of that evidence.”

“Christian, no. Somebody will see us.”

“Isn’t there a utility closet in this godforsaken place? Give a man a thrill before confining him back into bed, especially if you have no plans of joining me.”

“I’m working.”

“Yes, being a very attentive doctor, I’m sure.” Warm breath caressed Peter’s skin as Christian chuckled softly. “Such a Boy Scout. So bent upon doing the right thing. There’s a part of you screaming out to do something reckless. Can’t you hear it?” Christian tugged at Peter’s bottom lip with his teeth. As the young doctor shuddered, the patient laughed. “You are pent up, love. Don’t tempt me to get down on my knees right here in the Emergency Room.”

“Please don’t do that,” Peter said, breathing the words out and nearly apt to beg with them. A part of his mind summoned the picture of Christian undoing the ties of his pants and pushing them down, lowering onto his knees and taking Peter’s cock in his mouth. His lips sliding up and down the shaft, head bobbing while Peter protested his way straight through a climax. ‘No. Stop. Don’t… stop… Don’t stop.’ The thought turned vivid enough to prompt Peter away from Christian. He stepped back, dislodging himself from the shorter man and taking a series of breaths to steady himself.

Christian laughed, his face alit with amusement. “I would give my good arm for a peek into where your mind just went,” he said. Peter didn’t know whether to be aroused or perturbed at the way the other man’s smile broadened. “Dr. Dawes, you’re in danger of breaking my heart.”

“Because I won’t disappear into a supply closet with you?”

“No, because you seem bent to refuse me altogether.” Christian sighed, though it sounded overly dramatic. “I suppose I can take a hint.”

“Wait, I…” Peter gritted his teeth. His hand lifted fingers combing through the locks of his hair while he stole a glance toward the side. Nobody, it seemed, had paid them any attention. People shuffled around the bays in their normal observance of hospital life, the ebb and flow having a certain kind of rhythm he always found comforting, but everyone appeared ignorant of anything else.

Peter turned his head, his gaze returning to Christian. As he peered into those clear, blue eyes, the look behind them turned coaxing; unrelenting. “Christian, I’m a busy guy,” he began, shifting slightly in position as if to give certain parts a chance to calm down. He fought the urge to reach down and adjust himself while continuing. “Dating always turns out to be a train wreck and while I’d love nothing more than to push you into an open room and forget about the rest of my shift, you’re a patient and I’m a doctor. I could get into a lot of trouble for a guy I barely know.”

The lazy smile springing to life across Christian’s lips reached his eyes, the look of amusement refusing to wane anytime soon. He nodded, attempting to appear thoughtful while glancing away and back again. His fingers traced idle patterns on the sheet of the cot he leaned against. “You lot always do take yourself seriously,” he observed, “I think it’s in your blood. That being said, I see what you’re fighting. In fact, I just pointed it out to you.” His gaze flicked down to the tiled floor and back up to Peter, regarding the taller man through his lashes. His grin broadened. “When I’m discharged, promise me you’ll let me show you what you’re missing.”

Every warning bell in Peter’s mind rang at full volume, pleading for him to pay attention to it while that shiver that had crawled the length of his spine threatened a return. “It’s probably not...” Peter trailed off as Christian’s gaze refused to relent, and sighed as that ironclad will he’d summoned the day before crumbled like rocks falling into the sea. He nodded, surrendering to the admission that yes, he wanted to do something reckless; something careless with this man. Even if it was against his better judgment.

“Yes,” Peter said, regarding Christian like a parent worn down by a recalcitrant child. “When you’re discharged, then we can hook up. Until then, please don’t give your nurses such a hard time.” He perked an eyebrow at the other man.

Christian lifted his good hand and traced a cross over his heart. “On my best behavior,” he said. “I’ll even return to my room all good and proper without you needing to call security.” He pushed off from the cot, heading toward the edge of the curtain before pausing. Turning his head to regard Peter once more, he mirrored the upturned eyebrow. “Do you promise to visit me tomorrow?”

The tingling returned to Peter’s groin. “I’m off tomorrow. I’ll check in on you after my shift the day after that.”

“Off tomorrow.” Christian tsked. “What a shame.” Something indistinguishable flicked across his eyes, laden with mischief and leaving Peter to wonder at its source. No sooner had it surfaced than it disappeared, Christian acknowledging its departure only with a nod of his head. “Good evening, love. We’ll see each other soon.”

“I promise.” The two words sounded impotent to Peter as he issued them forth. Something in the space which followed demanded to be filled somehow. With a kiss. With a gentle caress. He fought against it and remained stationary through Christian’s departure, even as the man emerged from the curtain, pulling his IV pole with him while gasping at one of the doctors. “Well, shit, I’m lost,” he heard Christian say, “Where do you keep the bloody cafeteria in here?” The doctor responded with normal levels of protocol and Peter surrendered to a soft chuckle as he thought about Christian playing dumb in the effort to avoid getting into trouble.

Peter felt warmth radiate through him despite himself. There was a fondness to the look in his eyes, even after he emerged from the bay and resumed taking patients for the rest of the night. He didn’t want to admit how much the other man had seeped his way into Peter’s heart already, but the evidence was there from the smile he wore for the rest of the night, to the tenor of his pace toward the subway at the end of his shift. As music played in his earbuds, he rode the train back to his apartment and settled into rest. The grin remained fixed in place, even after he fell asleep.

It wasn’t the blaring of pop music from his clock which woke him several hours later, though, nor the sounding of alarms from his phone. Peter opened his eyes, furrowing his brow as dreamscapes bled their way into reality, asking himself if he’d really heard the knocking at the door or only imagined it. When another steady rapping answered the question with more certainty, however, a yawn crested past his lips. “Just a minute,” he called out toward the entryway. “I’ll be right there.”

His eyelids felt heavy and his limbs weighted down with sandbags as he crawled out from the comfort of his sheets. As he plucked a mostly clean shirt from a pile of laundry, he pulled it over his head and threaded his arms through each of the sleeves. Padding his way down from the loft and toward the front door, he only imagined the wreck he must have looked like and couldn’t find it in his heart to care. If they were waking him from a sound sleep, they could deal with the state he’d be in. “Can I help you with some –” he said as he unlatched the lock and twisted the knob.

When the door swung open, he could hardly believe his eyes.

A grin teased at the corners of the man on the other side’s mouth, a glint in his eyes and a bag hanging from a strap slung over one shoulder. Peter blinked, his focus shifting to the crystal blue eyes of his former patient while his mind spun dizzily. “Christian?” he asked, unable to mask the presence of overwhelming confusion in his tone of voice.

“Surprise, surprise,” Christian said. While his injured arm remained useless and in a sling, the other hand clutched onto a leather briefcase.  A clean, black shirt, and fresh pair of jeans replaced the hospital gown, and a new leather coat protected one arm while being draped over the other. When Peter met the other man's gaze again, he found himself at a loss for words.

“You promised me when I was discharged that we could hook up,” he said, unapologetic with his opening gamut. His grin broadened into a wide smile. “Well, then. Here I am.”