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Any Little Heartbreak

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Nurses are angels in comfortable shoes.

— Author unknown

 

 


 

There’s absolutely no way he’ll get through this without a beer.

Dean straightens his back, wincing when his spine gives an audible pop. He glances around his new apartment, the still curtainless windows, the bare floors and the boxes piled up on every available surface. The sight is very disheartening, and Dean really, really needs a break, so he goes straight for the fridge, where at his request his landlord – God bless his heart – left a six pack of Bud Light.

The cool glass of the bottle meeting Dean’s palm is a nice contrast to the sweat-soaked t-shirt clinging to his back. He takes a generous swig and leans against the kitchen counter, looking around the room in resignation. This must be how Attila the Hun felt before going into battle.

Since Dean would do pretty much anything to put off this ordeal for just a bit longer – and also because he’s an amazing big brother – he fishes his phone out of his jeans pocket and speed-dials Sam. It’s Sunday and barely past 8 am in California, so he should still be fast asleep, but Dean would bet any money the jumbo-sized weirdo is up and about already.

Sam proves him right when he answers after a single ring.

“Dean? How are you? Have you settled in already? How’s the Big Apple?”

“Big,” Dean replies, grinning into his phone. Sam’s enthusiasm manages to carry even over the three thousand miles that separate them.

“That’s groundbreaking news,” Sam snorts. “Come on, give me something. How is it?”

Dean props his elbow on the countertop and starts picking at the label on his beer bottle.

“It’s fine, Sammy. I dunno. Sort of overwhelming. I’m about to unpack, but there’s so much of this crap I don’t even know where to start.”

“Sorry I couldn’t come with you to help,” Sam says, and Dean can almost hear the frown in his voice.

“Hey, no worries. School’s more important. I can handle a few boxes.”

“You better make it all nice and homey for when I come over to visit.”

The thought of Sam flying over from across the country is just the incentive Dean needs. He puts away the beer and turns to face his new living room, phone still pressed against his ear.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to prepare a nice guest bedroom for you. Paint it pink, put in a dressing table, maybe some Disney Princess posters on the walls?”

“Fuck off,” Sam says half-heartedly, and Dean laughs. He walks over to the closest box, aptly labeled ‘cooking stuff’, and attacks the adhesive tape that keeps the flaps together.

“And how’s the hospital?” Sam prods, undeterred.

“Don’t know yet. Tomorrow’s my first day.”

The tape stubbornly refuses to yield under Dean’s fingernails, and he grunts in frustration.

“What the hell are you doing over there?”

“Trying to open a goddamn box,” Dean grits out, jamming his nail into the crease between the flaps.

“Just use a knife,” Sam offers soberly.

“All my knives are inside the boxes, genius.”

“Then go borrow one from the people next door. That way you can meet your new neighbors.”

“Thanks for the advice, Aunt Samantha.”

Sam must be scowling hardcore right now, and Dean is greatly disappointed he can’t see it.

“Just let me know when you’ve settled in, okay?”

Dean pauses for a moment, letting go of the box and leaning back on his haunches.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll call you.”

“Good.”

There’s a brief silence between them, and Dean purses his lips. Maybe this was a horrible idea after all. Sure, being parted is nothing new, but they’ve never lived farther than a few hour drive away from each other. And now Dean shipped his ass across the entire continent for nothing more than a job, like some goddamn yuppie who only cares about his career. How much time will it take before him and Sam go from being thick as thieves to sending each other Christmas cards with courteous updates on their personal lives that no longer have anything in common?

“Or maybe you could Skype me?” Sam suggests. “So you don’t forget how I look.” His voice is teasing, but there are undertones there that Dean sees for exactly what they are – the reflection of his own fears.

“Sure. Yeah, I’ll Skype you.”

They both go quiet again, and it’s a perfect opener for mushy talk, the kind that Sam relishes and Dean despises. It’s just the right time for Sam to assure Dean that nothing’s going to change, that just because they’re on the opposite coasts doesn’t mean they can’t keep in touch, that technology blah blah telephones blah blah planes blah blah. Dean instinctively braces himself, but then Sam clicks his tongue and seamlessly turns back to his full-on annoying little brother mode, dropping the subject before they can really delve into it.

He’s indulging him. For the love of crap.

“You want me to email you instructions on how to set up Skype on your laptop?”

Dean rolls his eyes, but he can’t contain a small smile tugging at the corners of his lips. He abandons the box and walks back to the counter to grab his half-empty beer.

“Why not,” he replies in his best ‘whatever’ voice.

“But if I didn’t, you’d know how to do it by yourself, right?” Sam teases mercilessly.

“I’d figure it out, it’s not rocket science.”

“That’s coming from a guy who doesn’t know how to tag people in photos on Facebook.”

“Fuck you, I have a PhD.”

“Doesn’t change the fact that you’re a grandpa.”

“And you’re a nerd.”

“Said a geek.”

“Hey, I wear that label as a badge of honor.”

“Don’t I know it. I’m like 80% sure the first thing you’re gonna do with your new room is hang up an Indiana Jones poster.”

“Try to join us here in the 21st century, Sammy.”

“But, Dean,” Sam says sweetly, “didn’t you once say that Harrison Ford from the Raiders era is the main reason someone should invent time machines already?”

Dean almost drops his beer.

She told you. I’ll kill her.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Sam says brightly.

“She got me kinda drunk, okay? And when I say ‘kinda drunk’, I mean ‘totally hammered’, and then I just, I don’t know, I think she may have coaxed it out of me with witchcraft?”

Sam starts laughing openly, which leaves Dean pretending he’s offended and doesn’t enjoy inadvertently making Sam crack up.

“You should call her some time, by the way,” Sam says once he’s recovered. “Tell her you’re fine.”

“I will, I just need to gather my strength for it. You know how Jo is. The first thing she’s gonna ask will be if the nurses are hot and if I have my eye on someone.”

“I think her involvement in you love life is sweet,” Sam announces.

“Of course you do,” Dean snorts. “Everything is sweet to you, you big baby.”

“Call her. And set up Skype.”

“Yeah, yeah, I said I would. Now go do something fun. It’s Sunday.”

What follows is their usual routine of Dean encouraging Sam to go “seize the day” and “squish the college experience like a lemon” while Sam huffs indignantly and argues that he “came here to study, not to become a frat boy” and “getting shit-faced is not on my list of ultimate college experiences, Dean.”

When they finally hang up and Dean slides the phone back into his pocket, he realizes two things.

One: even though the boxes strewn across his floor haven’t shrunk in numbers, he feels brave enough now to tackle the monumental task of unpacking them.

Two: New York might still be loud and intimidating outside his window, but knowing that his moral support is one phone call away – or Skype call, whatever, he’ll figure it out later – makes the prospect of facing it on his own significantly less overwhelming.

 


 

Dean’s optimism turns out to be short-lived when he wakes up on Monday, and realizes the reason his alarm didn’t go off yet is because he forgot to change his phone’s clock to the NYC time zone. Which means he has twenty minutes left before his first shift begins. Which, in turn, means that he’s uber screwed.

“Fuck, shit, fuck!” he swears uselessly, leaping out of bed and stumbling into the bathroom. The situation calls for desperate measures, so he resorts to something he’s rather lousy at – multitasking. He brushes his teeth with one hand while frantically raking the other through his hair in an attempt to lend it an air of no-I-did-not-just-wake-up. With no time to rummage through the boxes in search of fresh clothes, he shimmies into the pair of old jeans and the t-shirt he wore yesterday (he’s going to make a great first impression in those, for sure.) The clock is ticking, so he decides to forego breakfast and the coffee that usually keeps him awake during the first few hours at work. He rushes off in such a hurry that, of-bloody-course, he forgets his wallet and has to go back for it. By the time he finally makes it to the hospital, breathless and rumpled, it’s 9:08 am and he is officially the biggest failure in the history of failures.

The nurse in registration looks him up and down like she’s trying to decide if he needs to be rushed to the ER and given oxygen.

“Are you alright, sir?” she asks, drawing her painstakingly plucked eyebrows together.

“Yeah, I’m good, just… a little short of breath.”

“How can I help you?”

Dean inhales deeply, willing his heart to stop racing, and offers the nurse his million-dollar smile. After all, she’s his coworker now, isn’t she? Might as well start making friends right away.

“I would like to see Doctor Crowley, please. He’s expecting me.”

“Oh. Are you the new heart surgeon?”

“That’s right,” he nods, his smile widening. “Dean Winchester.”

“Doctor Crowley said you’d be coming. I’ll call him down.”

While the nurse – Elizabeth, as her name tag says – makes the phone call, Dean leans against the counter and tries to get himself under control. It’s only 9 am and he’s already a screw-up, but at least it can’t get much worse than this. From now on, he’s going to be calm and collected, and a 100% professional.

“Doctor Crowley is on his way,” Elizabeth informs him, putting the receiver down. “You can sit down and wait over there,” she adds, gesturing behind Dean to a small waiting area.

Dean flashes her a quick thank-you smile and plops down on the nearest chair, looking around himself with curiosity. He’s seen pictures of the hospital online (Sam researched it the second he found out Dean had been invited to apply for a position), but he never actually set foot here until today. Even his job interview was conducted on the phone – courtesy of Doctor Crowley himself, who showed unexpected understanding and wholeheartedly agreed that a trip from California to New York and back is not something one undertakes lightly, especially without the guarantee of actually getting the job first.

Come to think of it, Crowley has been very accommodating. Suspiciously so, considering the reputation of a hardass he’s gained for himself (Crowley’s reputation is also something Samuel Winchester took upon himself to google.) It’s almost like he’s too nice. Hospital administrators are not nice. Not in Dean’s experience.

Sam is certain that he’s being so cute and cuddly because he knows Dean is the best at what he does, and wants him on the team. Dean is less optimistic (and half-waiting for the other shoe to drop), but the fact remains that he’s got a contract signed with one of New York’s best hospitals, and however weird or shady the motives for Crowley’s kindness might be, it’s not the worst position to be in.

“Doctor Winchester,” a silky voice purrs from over Dean’s shoulder, making him snap out of his musings. He jumps up a bit in his seat and turns around to see Crowley, who looks even more suave in person than he did in the photos that Sam found online. He extends his hand for Dean to shake and as he does so, the corners of his lips drag upwards, but it’s more of a smirk than an actual smile. He’s wearing a bespoke, black suit that seems out of place among the sterile white of the hospital corridor.

“Pleasure to finally meet you in person. Welcome to St Hubert’s Medical Center. Would you please follow me.”

Dean doesn’t manage to get another word out before Crowley turns on his heel and glides down the hall, leaving him no choice but to follow.

Although he tries his best to memorize every turn and corridor they take, soon Dean has no idea where he is. He finds himself distracted by watching the people that pass them on all sides, doctors, nurses, and patients alike. Some of them slow down to give Crowley a polite nod or offer a greeting, but none acknowledge Dean’s presence – not that it’s surprising, really, but the farther into the bowels of the hospital they enter, the less confident Dean feels, and he wishes he knew someone friendly in here. If right this moment Crowley decided to leave his ass to fend for himself, he’d probably need a map to find the exit.

It’s not a comforting thought.

“Here we are,” Crowley announces once the elevator door opens on the third floor. “Let me introduce you to a few people. They’ll be your… hm. That’s interesting.”

Curiously, Dean follows Crowley’s line of sight and his eyes land on a nurses station, where a plump black woman in scrubs is currently whacking a scrawny-looking doctor upside the head with a pile of documents.

“I swear to God, Charles, one more time you disturb my girls with your nonsense and you’ll get smacked with something much heavier than this!”

“I was just—”

“I know exactly what you were ‘just’, and I don’t appreciate you coming onto my nurses. A well-respected neurosurgeon like yourself should find better things to do with his time than using Star Wars puns as a means of seduction, Charles. Now, I’m sure as entertaining as Pamela finds them, she needs to go back to work.”

“I was just making conversation,” the man called Charles mumbles, but he doesn’t argue further. Instead, he heaves a long sigh and reluctantly dawdles away, much to the amusement of a black-haired nurse who Dean deduces must have found herself on the receiving end of Charles’s attentions.

“I’ll catch you later in the cafeteria, Chuck,” she offers with a twinkle in her eye. “So you can tell me all about the—”

“Rounds, Miss Barnes.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m going. I’m gone.”

Pamela grabs her stethoscope and walks away as well, giving Dean a wink as she passes him. Without much thought, he responds with a smile that’s nothing short of seductive. Her hips sway a little as she moves, and Dean’s eyes inevitably trail after her until she disappears behind the corner.

“So, you’re a flirter.”

Dean’s head whips back to find Crowley staring at him with amusement. His eyes widen in horror as he belatedly realizes that he has just checked out his coworker’s ass with his boss watching the whole thing.

“Uh, I— no, that’s— I was just being friendly,” he blurts pathetically. Jesus Christ, when he thought he couldn’t fuck up more than by being late on his first day, did his brain take it as a challenge?

“We don’t formally forbid intimate relations between hospital staff, but we strongly discourage them,” says Crowley, stuffing his hands into his pockets. “Especially if they are of a purely sexual nature. So unless you plan on marrying nurse Barnes in the near future, I suggest you slow down a little.”

The tips of Dean’s ears get redder and redder with every word. Luckily enough, Crowley’s rather playful tone indicates he’s not seriously displeased – or for some reason he doesn’t show it. Maybe it’s a test. Maybe in reality hooking up with a nurse means getting your ass fired effective immediately. Maybe—

“With that in mind, let me introduce you to our head nurse,” Crowley continues, evidently not interested in hearing Dean’s response. He leads the way to the nurses station, where the woman who put a damper on Charles’s flirtations bustles around giving orders and handling documents.

“How can I help you today?” she asks, not lifting her head from the paperwork she’s reading.

“By being a darling and showing Doctor Winchester around.”

She looks up at that and gives Dean a quick once-over before turning to Crowley.

“New heart surgeon?”

“Precisely. Doctor Winchester, meet Missouri Moseley.”

Dean smiles politely, at the same time wondering if the frown that has appeared on Missouri’s face is a bad sign. She nods back at him, but her lips thin in displeasure.

“Nice to meet you, dear. And what exactly do you expect me to do?”

It takes Dean a moment to realize the question part wasn’t in fact meant for him, but for Crowley, and he bites his tongue just in time.

“It would be fantastic if you could give him the grand tour of the hospital. Show him the ORs where he’ll be working, the treatment rooms, just the usual. As much as I’d love to do it myself, I have other matters to attend to.”

“I ain’t a goddamn tour guide,” she says, knitting her brows. “Got my hands full here anyway with those hopeless souls.”

“Hey!” a female voice protests from behind Missouri’s shoulder. Its owner turns out to be a dark-haired woman, perhaps in her thirties, wearing scrubs and holding a clipboard. “Who’s hopeless?”

“Every single one of you,” Missouri says firmly. “I’ve been afraid to take a day off ever since you lot almost set the cath lab on fire.”

“I need to hear about that,” Dean says, grinning at the younger nurse. She grins back and extends a hand for him to shake.

“I’m Tessa. I can show you around, if you want.”

“You got work to do, miss.”

“But—”

“Off you go,” Missouri insists. Although her tone isn’t harsh, it leaves no room for argument.

Tessa shrugs and smiles apologetically, mouthing ‘good luck’ at Dean and giving him a little wave as she disappears down the corridor.

“I’ll take my leave as well,” Crowley adds smoothly, putting a hand on Dean’s shoulder. Given the considerable height difference between them, it should be awkward as hell – and it sort of is, the angle all messed up – but Crowley has so much confidence coming off of him that it’s somehow still intimidating.

“I didn’t say I agree,” Missouri interrupts, putting her hands on her hips. “I ain’t got time for babysitting.”

“I’ll manage on my own,” Dean says quickly, determined to interject before the conversation ends in fisticuffs. He doesn’t know Missouri, but she doesn’t seem like the kind of person to back down first. “If you just show me into the OR, I’ll look around myself.”

Missouri gives him a stern look, but Crowley jumps on Dean’s suggestion like a hipster on an oversized sweater.

“Perfect,” he says, voice all velvety. “Of course, don’t hesitate to call me or come over if you have any questions,” he adds pleasantly. His expression clearly says that under no circumstances should Dean dare interrupt him during the meeting, unless he wants to get in the boss’s black books on his first day.

Once Crowley’s gone, Dean is left standing awkwardly under Missouri’s scrutinizing gaze. She’s looking at him as though she was trying to determine if he can be trusted to tie a shoelace, much less to be let loose in the operating block.

“There are no surgeries scheduled in OR number 2 until 1 pm,” she informs him eventually, which Dean takes to mean the evaluation was positive and he’ll be allowed to explore the operating rooms after all.

“Here’s your access card,” she continues, taking it out from under the counter and thrusting it into Dean’s hands. “It opens all staff-only doors in the hospital except for Crowley’s office.”

“Obviously.”

“He’s a traditionalist,” she goes on, as if she didn’t hear him. “His office door is the only one in the hospital opened with a regular key. Now, here’s a map of the cardiology department.”

“Why do you even have that?” Dean asks, but quickly shuts up when Missouri narrows her eyes at him.

“Because, Doctor Winchester, I’m prepared for anything, as you’ll learn yourself soon enough.” She puts the map on the counter between them and taps on it.

“Now. The hospital cafeteria is on the ground floor, by the elevators. Open till 7 pm, so if you haven’t eaten till then, you ain’t eatin’ at all. The doctors lounge is here,” she points at the map, “the breakroom here, the ORs here, cath lab here, treatment rooms here and here. The loos are on all floors, just ask anybody from the staff. Every staff member has a pager, and here’s yours,” she says, handing it to Dean. “You be sure to keep that on you at all times, you hear me?”

“Yes, Ma’m,” Dean says, and it comes out much less ironic than he expected.

“Good. I suppose Crowley will assign you new patients as soon as he’s done with that meeting of his, and until then you can get to know your way around the block. All clear?”

Dean’s not sure he remembered half of what’s just been said, but he nods nonetheless, smiling faintly.

“Crystal.”

“Don’t forget to scrub before you go in anywhere,” she adds sternly, raising a finger at him in a mock threat.

“I’m new, not an amateur,” Dean replies, a bit offended.

“Don’t you get cocky with me.”

“I’m just saying it’s not my first job. I wouldn’t make such a rookie mistake.”

Missouri watches him for a moment, arms crossed, but then something unexpected happens.

She smiles.

“Good to hear we have a professional joining us,” she says, much softer now. “Well, good luck then,” she adds, shooing him away. That new, good-natured smile is still on her face though, and Dean gratefully smiles back.

“Right. Thank you.”

He looks down at the map in his hand, then back up, but Missouri has already vanished somewhere, leaving him standing unsurely in front of the nurses station. He glances back down at the plan, which shows all four floors of the hospital with abbreviations like PACU, PAT or CTICU written across different rooms.

“Well, this’ll be painless,” he mutters under his breath. He allows himself one resigned sigh before rolling his shoulders and straightening his back.

Okay. CTOR sounds like a short for Cardiothoracic Operating Room, so it’s probably a good place to start. According to the map, it’s located on the fourth floor, so Dean makes a beeline back to the elevator and hits the button with number 4. As the door slides shut and the elevator climbs up to the next floor, he once again examines the map, nibbling absent-mindedly at his bottom lip.

Four floors, tons of doctors and nurses running in all directions, a maze of corridors, and a confusing network of rooms and offices. What could possibly go wrong?

 


 

When they meet for the first time, it’s in a flurry of sparks.

“Motherfucker!” Dean yells. His sleeve flies up to his face to protect it from the shards of glass raining down from a broken surgical lamp. He ducks his head and tries to back away, but he trips over the leg of the operating table and goes down like a fallen tree – except with much less dignity.

Shit. He hasn’t even started working yet, and he’s already managed to make a complete fool of himself and damage medical equipment possibly worth hundreds of dollars. This simply can’t get any better.

“Excuse me, are you allowed to be here?” a low voice asks from somewhere above. Dean screws his eyes shut, willing the voice to go away and let him contemplate his stupidity on his own. Apparently, it’s not his lucky day, because the owner of the voice doesn’t give up. He grabs Dean’s left arm and shakes it decidedly.

He’s got one hell of a firm hand.

“Are you hurt?”

Dean sighs and opens his eyes.

“No. Just mortified.”

The hand slides down to grip his entire shoulder and pulls him up to his feet with unexpected strength. Dean blinks a few times, and discovers that the hand is attached to a gravely-looking dude sporting blue scrubs and equally blue eyes.

“Um. Hi.”

Blue Scrubs glares at him with reproach.

“Did you break the lamp?” he asks, as if the glass lying everywhere and Dean being the only other person in the room wasn’t incriminating enough.

“Uh. Yeah. Sorry ‘bout that.”

Blue Scrubs gives him a look like Dean has just disappointed every single puppy within twenty mile radius.

“I’m afraid Doctor Crowley will not be happy about this,” he says evenly, turning away from Dean and inspecting the damage. The lamp shoots up a few final, miserable sparks before it goes dead and joins others in the Surgical Lamps Valhalla. Or wherever the hell it is that broken medical shit goes off to. Dean feels a bit guilty and sincerely hopes it’s somewhere nice.

While he’s busy contemplating the afterlife of the lamp that met its untimely death because of him, Blue Scrubs turns away from the mess and pins Dean down with a displeased stare that suddenly reminds Dean of his brother.

“What are you going to do about this?”

Dean considers the question for a moment.

“I would love to sneak out and pretend I was never here, but that wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, would it?”

He hopes to elicit at least a brief smile, but the Lamp Avenger is not amused.

“It definitely would not. You should report this to Crowley as soon as possible,” he advises. He pauses for a moment, then adds: “You’re the new cardiac surgeon, aren’t you?”

Dean nods his head with resignation. Great. Everybody in this hospital will know about the stunt he pulled by lunchtime. Or earlier, if Grumpy here likes to run his mouth. He doesn’t seem like a gossiping type, but who the hell knows.

“I must leave now. I assume I can trust you to inform the administration about the damage?”

“Yeah, of course. Scout’s honor,” Dean promises, his tone more serious now.

Blue Scrubs disappears behind the door, leaving Dean standing among the remnants of the lamp and his reputation as a medical practitioner.

He’s going to have to interrupt Crowley’s meeting.

He’s going to have to tell his employer of not even one whole day that he broke a vital part of his precious OR equipment.

How the hell is he supposed to do that?

With a long, heaving sigh, Dean maneuvers himself around the mess he’s made and directs his steps to the nearest elevator, which will (hopefully) take him to Crowley’s office.

He’s too preoccupied with trying to conceive a sensible speech to realize that he didn’t even catch Blue Scrubs’ name.

 


 

“I think I just met Dean Winchester,” Castiel says, putting a tray with empty pill vials on the table.

Meg perks up at his words, lowering the Cosmo she’s been browsing.

“You don’t say. Our new celebrity?”

Cas nods as he starts cleaning out the vials.

“Well? What’s he like?” Meg asks conversationally, nudging Cas’s leg with her toes. “Spill it, Novak.”

“He broke a lamp in the OR,” Cas admits with a pained expression.

Meg smirks, turning a page of her magazine.

“He’s stirring shit up already,” she remarks lazily, propping her foot on the edge of the desk and starting to sway her chair back and forth. “So, what’s your take on the guy?”

Cas gives a nearly imperceptible shrug.

“He seems… I don’t know. Young.”

Young? That’s your professional opinion?”

“He is young for a heart surgeon,” Cas clarifies. “You hardly ever meet heart surgeons under forty. He must be really accomplished to have secured a job here. Crowley is usually extremely picky when it comes to medical staff.”

“Huh. Is he hot?”

Castiel knows Meg too well to be surprised by the question, so he doesn’t skip a beat as he answers:

“I believe most people would describe him as conventionally attractive, yes.”

Meg gives him a positively devilish grin.

“He single?”

“I wouldn’t know. We barely exchanged a few sentences. If you are interested in making advances, I suggest you ask him yourself.”

Meg pretends to consider this option for a moment before shaking her head.

“I think I’ll pass. Got a date tonight anyway.”

Cas looks up curiously from the now-empty tray.

“If I ask who it is, will you tell me?”

“I will,” Meg offers graciously. “Mostly because I want you to envy me. She’s super hot.”

“You know I don’t—”

“Shhh. Are you listening, Clarence? Super. Smokin’. Hot.”

Cas winces a bit at the nickname, but he doesn’t say anything. He’s long since given up trying to convince Meg to stop using it. It’s simply one of those things you need to let go in favor of coexisting in relative peace in a small nurses station.

“Her mother was admitted three days ago with severe pneumonia,” Meg continues, “and she came by yesterday afternoon to visit.”

Cas’s eyebrows knit together as he goes through his mental list of patients admitted in the last three days.

“You mean Mrs. Milton?”

“That’s the one. The mother’s a dull sack of potatoes, but the daughter…” Meg licks the tip of her finger obscenely before turning another page of her Cosmo. “So you can have Klutz M.D. all to yourself if you want.”

“Why thank you,” Cas huffs sarcastically, putting away the tray and slamming the drawer shut. “I wasn’t going to, what with it being against the hospital rules and all, but since you were so kind as to give me your permission, it would be a shame to waste it.”

“Careful, Cas. Boys don’t like it when you sass them.”

Castiel doesn’t bite; instead, he only shakes his head in resignation.

“I’m going downstairs to get some dinner. Would you like to come with me?”

Meg throws her Cosmo on the nearby countertop and stretches her arms above her head.

“Yeah, why not. You payin’?”

“No.”

“Worth a try.”

During lunch, they chat about the pain-in-the-ass patient from room 312, the new movie Cas must absolutely see because “seriously, Clarence, when was the last time you saw a movie made in this century?”, and the alleged aesthetic qualities of one Anna Milton.

Somehow, Dean Winchester’s name doesn’t come up even once.

 


 

“The mashed potatoes they’re serving today look more like puke than the actual puke I had to clean up this morning,” Meg announces gravely as she enters the breakroom, flinging herself onto the nearest chair. Charlie looks up from the mug of coffee she’s just brewed and gives her a crooked smile over the rim.

“You always complain about the food in our cafeteria and yet you always go back there. Bring your own stuff,” she advises, waving her hand around the little kitchenette shared by both doctors and nurses.

Meg shrugs noncommittally.

“I’m too lazy.”

Charlie snorts into her coffee.

“Fair enough.”

“Hey ladies, you on break too?”

Meg and Charlie turn to see Pamela, who marches into the room like she owns it and goes straight for the fridge. She rummages through it and emerges triumphant with a neatly packed chicken salad.

“Just finishing it,” answers Meg.

“Just starting,” answers Charlie.

“Shit, I thought you’d both keep me company,” Pam says ruefully, working the lid open and fishing out a plastic fork.

“You mean share hospital gossip,” Charlie amends with a smile.

“You got me,” Pamela agrees easily, slumping on the nearby couch and stuffing a forkful of salad into her mouth. “What have you got for me?”

“There were sightings of the new heart surgeon today,” Meg supplies. “You know, the wonderboy from California that Crowley hired.”

“Oh, so that’s who the playboy was,” Pamela says with an impish smile.

“You saw him?” Charlie asks curiously, perching on the armrest by Pamela’s side. “When?”

“This morning. For a moment I thought Crowley hired himself a stripper.”

Charlie bursts out laughing, and Meg looks like she’d do the same if it didn’t interfere with her strict policy of showing no emotions other than cold disdain for the world.

“What?” Pamela asks defensively, but she’s laughing now, too. “I swear he looks like a stripper who has a doctor routine rather than an actual doctor. Have you seen his lips? Come on!”

“I have to meet this guy,” Charlie decides once she’s stopped laughing. “As the resident lesbian of this hospital I’ll objectively evaluate his looks and get back to you.”

“Hey, I’m objective,” Pamela protests around a mouthful of chicken.

“I won’t be,” Meg announces. “Clarence says he’s hot, so I already have my expectations.”

Charlie swings her legs over the back of the couch and snorts.

“Cas did not say that.”

“The gist was the same,” says Meg, shrugging. “Oh, and he broke a lamp in the OR. Cas caught him.”

“On his first day? That’s gotta be a new record.”

“Do you think Crowley’s gonna back out of hiring him?” Charlie asks, already feeling bad for the doctor she hasn’t even met yet. “That’d be a shame.”

“He won’t,” Pamela says confidently. “If Crowley offered him a position, he must really want him, and one minor fuck-up won’t change that.”

“So, prestige?” Charlie asks.

“Prestige. Haven’t you heard the name Winchester before?”

“Nope. I work in IT, remember? Not really in the loop with the celebrities of the doctor world.”

“You’re not missing much,” Meg smirks. “All you need to know is that he’s the shit among cardio surgeons right now.”

“So basically the Beyoncé of cardiology?”

“Equally attractive for sure,” Pamela says.

“That’s kinda blasphemous.”

“You haven’t seen him. I mean, he’s really, really fucking—”

“Apples and oranges, Pam.”

“Like hell!”

The banter runs wild for the next few minutes, but despite their best efforts Meg and Charlie don’t succeed in convincing Pamela that Beyoncé is a separate category of human and therefore unsuitable for any sort of comparisons.

“Don’t you need to go back to work, Meg?” Pamela interrupts at last, throwing her now-empty salad container over Charlie’s shoulder and into a trash can. “Your break already took at least half an hour.”

“Missouri will have your head if she finds out,” Charlie joins in.

“But she won’t, because you won’t tell her,” Meg cuts off, though she gets up and runs a hand over her scrubs to smooth out the creases. “Okay, okay, I’m off. Later, kitties.”

Once Charlie and Pamela are left alone (save for the ever-silent Doctor Creaser munching on his lunch in the other corner of the room), Pamela turns to Charlie and pats the spot next to her on the couch.

Charlie raises her eyebrows in silent question, but Pamela just shakes her head and scoots farther up to make more room. Intrigued, Charlie plops down on the couch and leans in.

“What is it, Pam?”

Pamela hooks one hand under Charlie’s arm in a conspiratorial gesture and uses the other to put a finger on her lips.

“I didn’t want to say anything in front of Meg, but I got that feeling again.”

Charlie’s eyes widen.

“When you say ‘that feeling’, you mean…”

“I mean like when I knew about Tess’s husband before she did. Yeah, that feeling.”

“Crap,” Charlie mutters. She looks around them briefly, as if to make sure no one’s listening, and turns back to Pamela, whose forehead creases in thought.

“But do you know what…” Charlie hesitates, pausing to rephrase. “Is there anything specific about it? People maybe?”

“I only know two things,” Pamela says. There’s frustration seeping into her voice, but also an undercurrent of fear that unsettles Charlie. Pamela Barnes is not one to get scared easily. Whatever she’s seen or felt, it must have been serious.

“I know it’s going to involve that new doctor.”

When Charlie doesn’t comment and waits patiently for her to continue, Pamela sighs and places her head in her hands.

“Something awful’s going to happen, Charlie. I have no idea when or what or how, but it’s going to be bad, real bad.”

While Charlie processes the news, Pamela shakes her head almost angrily as if trying to shake away that disturbing feeling too.

“I’m sorry to burden you with this, kid, but these things tend to eat you alive if you don’t share them with someone,” she explains. Charlie responds by putting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing it gently.

“Don’t worry about it. Now that we both know, maybe we can keep an eye on him.”

Pamela gives a little nod, but Charlie knows she’s indulging them both. There’s nothing to be done about this, just like there was nothing to be done all the other times. It always happened the same way; Pamela would see something vague and horrible, and sooner or later it would come to pass.

Charlie didn’t believe her the first two times.

This is premonition number six.

 


 

Although the administration meeting has ended before Dean arrives at his boss’s office door, Crowley is not too happy about seeing him again so soon, and even less happy when he finds out the reason for it.

On the upside, he doesn’t throw a bitch fit (Dean once had the head of the hospital shut the door in his face and it wasn’t a pleasant experience), nor does he fire Dean on the spot. Truth is, he looks like he’s holding back a disbelieving laugh.

“I do hope testing the durability of our medical equipment won’t become a habit of yours, Doctor,” he quips drily.

“It was an accident and won’t happen again,” Dean vows, watching as Crowley taps away on his tablet. He was afraid of Crowley’s reaction, but now for some reason he feels pissed at his nonchalance.

“The lamp was insured, but I’ll still deduct a compensation from your salary,” Crowley says without looking up. Dean refrains from sighing and just nods his head. He expected that much.

“In the meantime, since you’re already here, I have a list of your new patients. Your first surgery is scheduled for Wednesday. I hope before then you will familiarize yourself with our hospital and staff without causing any more damage.”

Dean flushes furiously and nods his head again without uttering another word. If he tried speaking right now, he might snap and get sacked for real. Instead he shuts his mouth and takes a thick folder from Crowley’s desk, scanning the front page.

“You’re still here,” Crowley remarks, eyes glued to the device in his hand.

Dean grits his teeth and mutters a curt, passive-aggressive “thank you” before leaving the office. Once the door closes behind him, he releases a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He’s not fired. He fucked up big time – on his very first day, when you’re supposed to be busy making good impressions – and he still has the job.

Sammy’s right. Crowley must really want him here.

Comforted by that thought, Dean opens the folder in his hands and scans through the list of people he’ll be operating soon. On the top of the page, he finds the name of the cardiologist that referred the patients for surgery: Dr. Franklin Deveraux.

“Here’s hoping you’re a sensible guy,” he mutters. Then he slams the folder shut and directs his steps to where he hopes he’ll find the hospital cafeteria – after all, what better way to celebrate not getting fired on your first day than with a nice lunch?

 


 

The rest of Dean’s day passes by in an endless blur of new names, faces, and places. The more people he meets, the more they blend together, and the more he explores the hospital, the more confused he gets. On the bright side, there are no more catastrophes like the one in the OR, and Dean successfully manages to locate some more strategic locations, the most important of which is the doctors lounge.

It turns out to be a mid-sized, dimly lit room with a single couch and a small TV set tucked into one of the corners. It’s oddly quiet, much more so than the doctors lounge in Dean’s previous hospital. There’s no one inside, so Dean hovers awkwardly around for a few minutes, poking around, and walks right back out.

The mystery of why the room seems barely used is solved at his next stop, namely the breakroom on the second floor. The explanation comes in the form of a small doctor who almost bumps head with Dean on his way out of the room.

“Shit, sorry!”

“No worries.”

The doctor gives him an apologetic smile and it’s then that Dean recognizes him as the Star Wars loving neurosurgeon from before.

“You’re Charles, right?”

The doctor winces and shakes his head as if Dean should know better.

“Chuck.”

“Okay, Chuck it is. I’m Dean, the new heart surgeon.”

“Oh, right,” Chuck says distractedly. “Nice to meet you. Sorry, I gotta rush. My break’s over and I have a surgery in fifteen.”

Dean nods automatically and steps away a little to let Chuck through before his words fully register.

“Wait, you were having your break here? Why not upstairs?”

“What, in the doctors lounge?” His lips stretch into a good-natured smile, as if Dean was a lost duckling in need of adult supervision. “Nah, we barely use that. The social life is here. If you ask me, it’s because the kitchen is also here.”

“It was different in my old hospital,” Dean says grumpily.

“Hey, don’t sweat it. You’ll get used to it soon enough. “ Chuck pats him gently on the shoulder, then quickly removes his hand as if he changed his mind. “Uh, anyway, I gotta run. Good luck and all that.”

With that, he’s gone.

A few moments pass when Dean just stands there awkwardly, the door in front of him having swung closed before he could make a move to hold it. Eventually, he shakes himself and swipes his new access card to open it again, putting on his most charming smile as he enters the breakroom.

If this is where the social life is at, it’s time to win over the crowd.

 


 

It’s already well past 8 pm when Dean returns home, feeling tired down to his bones despite the fact that he didn’t perform a single surgery today. His apartment welcomes him with silence, a couple of boxes he’d left unpacked lying around the living room, and a strong smell of cleaning detergent that stubbornly clings to the floor and refuses to evaporate.

Dean’s first instinct is to go to sleep without even bothering with the boxes, food, or bath, but his immediate second instinct reminds him he was supposed to call Sam. That’s why instead of making a beeline for the bedroom, he sits himself down on the sofa with his laptop. Thanks to Sam’s instructions (which were overly simplistic, really, Dean’s not a fucking baby boomer, he can deal with technology), the process of setting up Skype is fast and painless. A few minutes later Sam’s shaggy head flashes across Dean’s screen, and he can’t help but smile all wide and gummy at the sight.

“Heya, Sammy. How’s life?”

“About the same as yesterday, and the day before that,” Sam replies, moving closer to his laptop so that his face fills the whole screen, giving Dean extra insight into his skin pores. “It’s your life I’m more interested in. Come on, tell me everything. How was it?”

Dean sighs all long and theatrical, leaning back to swing his arm over the back of the sofa.

“It was a clusterfuck. Honestly.”

Sam frowns, propping his chin on his hand in that schoolboy gesture Dean secretly finds endearing.

“What happened?”

“Well, let’s begin with the fact that I fucking overslept.”

Sam snorts before he can stop himself.

“On your first day?”

I know,” Dean whines. “It’s because my stupid phone didn’t switch itself to the right time zone. But that’s only the first on the long list of today’s disasters.”

“It gets worse?” Sam asks incredulously.

“You bet it does. It turned out my boss didn’t have the time to show me around, so he tried to pass that ungrateful job to the head nurse, who basically told him to go screw himself. So I ended up showing myself around, going everywhere with a map in my hand like a freaking Japanese tourist, and when I managed to finally find the OR something short-circuited or something, and I broke a fucking lamp.”

Dean is infinitely grateful when his brother doesn’t burst out laughing and limits himself to a light snicker instead.

“That’s a feat,” he remarks. He sounds as if he was genuinely impressed.

“Shut up. I’ve been here a day and I’ve already fucked up in all the ways that I possibly could. This sucks.”

“Dean, but this means it can only get better now. It’s perfect.”

“Come again?”

“It’s perfect! Because you’ve already hit rock bottom, and now the only way is up.”

Dean groans.

“Wow, Sam. You do know how to make a guy feel better.”

There’s a sloshing sound on Sam’s end, and Dean notices a bottle of water Sam is twiddling with.

“I could use a drink,” he says wistfully, throwing a quick glance towards the kitchen. The fridge that holds beer seems so very far away.

“Don’t change the subject,” Sam chastises. “Tell me about your coworkers. Are they nice?”

“Kindergarten teachers are nice, Sam. People working in a hospital are just trying to function.”

“Okay, okay, jeez. What did they do to you that made you so broody?”

They talk some more, but despite his best efforts, Sam doesn’t succeed in getting anything substantial out of Dean apart from a desperate “I’ve got information overload, Sam! Ask me all those questions again in a week.” After some not-so-gentle encouragement Sam ends up telling Dean about his own day as well, about the paper he’s writing and the extra credit he’s going to get, and another handful of more or less random news about his student life that have Dean nodding and smiling with that particular glint of brotherly pride in his eyes. When they finally say their goodbyes, the call time indicates 54:21 and Dean can barely keep his eyes open.

“Remember to set your clock right this time,” Sam teases.

“Remember to eat your Wheaties and blow your nose,” Dean shoots back.

“Jerk.”

Dean opens his mouth, a knee-jerk reaction he could hardly control even if he wanted to, but it’s too late; Sam has already disconnected.

There’s no doubt the little shit did that on purpose, and Dean makes a mental note to start their next conversation with an appropriately offended “Bitch!”.

 


 

The first person Dean runs into as soon as he steps into the hospital is, to his embarrassment, none other than the man who caught him red-handed with the broken lamp the other day. He’s already wearing scrubs, a stethoscope flung around his neck and a pile of documents in his hands.

“Doctor Winchester,” he nods and steers around Dean without stopping.

“Morning,” Dean responds too late to the air where Blue Scrubs was two seconds ago. He looks after him, brow furrowed, and it hits him that while Blue Scrubs knows his name, Dean has no idea who he’s dealing with. Dressed in those universal scrubs, the guy could be anyone – a doctor, a surgeon, a nurse, a physical therapist…

Dean thinks back to the strong hand that pulled him up to his feet, and decides that physical therapist is where he’d put his money. Then again, there’s no reason for a physical therapist to be in an OR. A surgeon then? If so, they might end up operating together, and it’s going to be fifty shades of awkward when Dean won’t be able to call the guy by his name. Although, of course, somebody else in the block could—

“Doctor Winchester?”

Dean snaps back to reality and his eyes fall on a short, bespectacled redhead who’s smiling tentatively up at him.

“Yes, that’s me. I think.”

She stifles a laugh.

“I’m Charlie Bradbury from IT. Doctor Crowley said you have your first surgery tomorrow and asked me to show you how our OR software works.”

“Oh, right. I mean, yes! Yes, that’d be awesome.”

“Super. Let’s go.”

Charlie leads the way to the cardiology department and Dean takes full advantage of having her as a guide, trying to commit the route they’re taking to memory. It comes easier today, and he even thinks he recognizes some doors and corridors from his solitary exploration the day before.

“So, how are you settling in?” Charlie asks conversationally as the elevator doors shut behind them. “I bet it’s a lot to take in at once,” she adds with sympathy.

“It’s overwhelming, yeah. But I’m fine. Mostly.” He shrugs. “It would help if I knew someone here. Or at least in New York.”

“Well, now you know me. That’s an awesome start.”

She smiles so wide Dean can’t help but return it, and funnily enough, it really does make him feel a bit better.

“How about we grab lunch together?” Charlie asks when the elevator stops on their floor. “Do you eat in the cafeteria?”

“Well, I didn’t have enough time to work out a routine yet,” Dean says, following her out. “But sure, why not. I hope it’s better than the shithole in my old hospital.”

“Can’t promise you that,” Charlie quips with a glint in her eye. “Where did you work before, anyway?”

Talking to Charlie is the easiest thing in the world, and encouraged by her genuine curiosity Dean soon finds himself telling her about his time in Sandover Memorial in much more detail than he normally would a stranger. By the time they reach the ORs and scrub before entering the sterile environment, Charlie knows not only Dean’s specialization and medical areas of interest, but also the members of his old team. It doesn’t escape her notice that Dean has something nice to say about everyone, even if he dresses it in jokes and hides it in-between silly one-liners. “Dumb teddy bear” Benny must be a damn fine anesthesiologist judging by Dean’s words; Ash, Charlie’s counterpart in Sandover Memorial, is a weirdo hippie who drives the hospital administrator insane by coming to work in baggy pants and worn-out T-shirts, but Dean’s description of him is in equal parts teasing and affectionate. The head nurse Jody sounds a lot like Missouri to Charlie’s ears, so much so that it makes her suppress a laugh at the thought of Dean moving from under one bossy lady’s thumb to another’s. Never mind that as a surgeon Dean doesn’t answer to the head nurse; one look at him and Charlie just knows that he’s a type that secretly loves being mom’d.

The conversation needs to be put on hold once they’re inside the OR, but Charlie is already looking forward to lunch and learning more about Dean Winchester. She starts up the equipment and begins explaining step by step how to manage video signals, all the while pointedly ignoring Pamela’s words that keep floating back to her with infuriating persistence.

Something awful’s going to happen.

Charlie does not like the idea of anything even remotely unpleasant happening to the first doctor in her career that didn’t react to her natural inquisitiveness with a condescending “It’s too complicated to explain to someone without a medical degree.” She already likes Dean. She likes how unaffected and down-to-earth he is, and how genuine interacting with him feels. She likes how the softness in his eyes betrays how much he cares about the people he tells her about, and how he looks at her attentively when she’s speaking.

She likes Dean, and so she makes every effort to forget Pamela’s words. Maybe this time she’s wrong.

Maybe just this once.

 


 

As they sit down with their trays in a quiet corner of the cafeteria an hour and a half later, Dean thanks his lucky stars for sending Charlie Bradbury his way. He expected it might take him some time to adjust to the new workplace and make friends, but it’s only his second day and he’s already found an invaluable ally. The friendly beginning may have been attributed to nothing more than general politeness on Charlie’s part, but when at some point she unzipped her hoodie revealing a Batman tee and looked up to see Dean grinning as if Christmas came early, the deal was sealed.

The only bummer is that since Charlie is from the IT department, they won’t be working too closely after Dean’s express training is completed. The people he’ll soon be spending every waking hour with still remain strangers, their names and faces mixing up incessantly.

Dean thinks back to his awkward morning encounter with Blue Scrubs, and decides it’s as good a starting point as any to test the waters.

“There’s this guy I met yesterday,” he begins casually, sticking a fork into his lasagna. “He... well, he kinda walked in on me murdering a lamp.”

Charlie snorts and quickly covers her mouth with her hand.

“Colorful way to put it,” she says, clearing her throat. “But you’re not in trouble now, are you? Pam thought you wouldn’t be.”

“Who— wait, how do you even know about that?”

Before Charlie can answer, Dean does it for her.

“That guy told you, didn’t he. Shit, he didn’t look like a blabbermouth to me.”

“Cas isn’t a blabbermouth, and he didn’t tell me anything. He only told Meg, and she told us.”

“Cas?” Dean perks up. “That’s his name?”

“You met him and you don’t know?”

“He was too busy grilling me about the lamp to introduce himself,” Dean says, shrugging. “And when I ran into him this morning I had no idea how to call him.” He sighs, rubbing his temple. “What I’m trying to say is, I’m obviously the new kid in the playground. I still don’t know who’s who. So, help me out a bit?”

Charlie livens up at that and leans closer, forgetting about the fork hovering half way to her mouth.

“You want me to break it down for you like they do on TV?”

“Like… come again?”

In her excitement, Charlie bends over the table so far that her glasses slide down to the tip of her nose.

“You know, exposition. Like in pilot episodes, when you have a lot of new characters and you need to introduce them to your audience so that they don’t get confused? And often you have the main character arrive somewhere new and you get to know the rest of the characters through his or her eyes, like in, I don’t know, Brooklyn Nine Nine or Community or—”

“I saw Brooklyn Nine Nine,” Dean interrupts, grateful for having something familiar to latch onto in the midst of an unexpected lecture on screenwriting.

Charlie grins even wider and slaps him on the shoulder.

“I like you already, Doctor Winchester.”

“Please don’t call me that, I feel so old when people do it. Dean’s fine.”

“Okay, old man, I’ll remember. So you know how in the first episode the new captain arrives to the precinct and Terry tells him about all the detectives, and we get their names and short descriptions and even some flashbacks on them?”

“You wanna do the same for me?” Dean finally catches on, and it makes him laugh around his mouthful of lasagna. “You wanna be the sergeant to my captain?”

“Hell yeah. You in?”

“Sure,” Dean agrees. “Hit me.”

Charlie pushes her glasses back up with a flourish and sets her elbows on the table. “Alright. You’re gonna have to refer to your imagination for the montage, so close your eyes. I’ll be your narrator.”

Dean shakes his head, laughing helplessly, but he obeys. The cafeteria disappears behind his eyelids, and as he loses all visual, he becomes hyperaware of all the sounds assaulting his ears: the clatter of trays, the scraping of cutlery against the plates, the chatter of people, the squeaking of shoes on the linoleum floor, the buzzing of fluorescent lights.

“You focusing yet?” Charlie asks.

“Yup.”

“Alright. Before we proceed any further, you have to promise not to use anything I tell you against me. All the things you’re about to hear are opinions and are not an objective or reliable source of information about our coworkers.”

Dean pops one eye open and frowns, but Charlie waves her hand dismissively.

“Just a disclaimer. Anyways, the opinions expressed by yours truly by no means represent the official position of the hospital’s administration, blah blah blah, etc. Now for the fun part.”

Charlie stops to take a breath, and when she speaks again, it’s in a much lower, theatrical voice.

“Let’s start at the top of the food chain, namely with Crowley. Of course you’ve met him already, but here’s a handful of selected fun facts about him: he’s a lover of antiquities, he wears only tailored suits, he hates his first name – seriously, never ever use it in his presence – and he doesn’t practice medicine anymore.

“Our head nurse is Missouri, and you might think she’s not your problem because you’re a doctor, but you’re wrong. You do not, I repeat, do not want to get on her bad side. Luckily, all you have to do is don’t be rude or condescending towards her. Just remember that and I’m sure she’ll like you, and once she does, you’ll be good here. Who else did you meet already?”

Dean shifts in his seat, eyes still tightly closed, and strains his memory for names.

“Tessa?” he says hesitantly.

“Tess, of course. She’s a widow, raising two kids on her own. Her husband died in Afghanistan two years ago and she’s been alone since, but she’s a very cheerful person when you get to know her. You can often catch her listening to music when she has a moment to herself. She says it helps her relax.”

“She’s raising two kids on her own and works as a nurse?” Dean cuts in, impressed.

“I know. She’s our very own superhero,” Charlie smiles softly, tapping her fork against her plate. “Who else?”

“There was this nurse with black hair I met yesterday. She had a really great, um…. Anyway, I think her name was Pamela.”

“Pam, yeah. The word you were looking for is ‘bum’, and she does have a great one,” Charlie agrees. “Okay, so Pam is a wonderful human being, and really good at her job, too, but watch out for her, cause sooner or later she’ll probably try to get in your pants.”

“Yeah, I got that impression,” Dean mumbles under his breath.

“And then of course you have Meg.”

“The one who blabbered about my screw-up to you guys?”

“Come on, Dean. You must know that trying to stop hospital gossip is like trying to catch water with a sieve. Moving on. Meg is 5’2 of concentrated sass and one-liners, and I hear she’s great company during night shifts. I don’t really know anything about her private life, though.”

Dean chooses this moment to give up and open his eyes, blinking rapidly against the sudden brightness.

“What about the montage?” Charlie sulks.

“My imagination’s not that vivid anyway. And I’m pretty sure people are beginning to stare at the idiot who eats lunch with his eyes closed.”

Charlie gives him a devious smile, like that was her plan all along.

“Fine. Anyway, if you wanna know more about Meg, you should ask Cas about it.”

“Huh. Are they…” Dean begins, then trails off. The obvious question hangs in the air between them as Charlie chews slowly on her food.

“They’re close,” she says at last, which doesn’t explain anything. “I never understood why, because they seem so different, but…” She shrugs noncommittally. “And Cas himself, he’s something else. I don’t know much about him privately either, just that he’s not from around here.”

“He seems uptight,” Dean remarks.

“I like Cas,” says Charlie, like it’s an accusation. “He just comes off that way, but he’s the sweetest guy in this hospital.”

Dean snorts, and quickly regrets it when Charlie glowers at him in response.

“Wait till you get to know him. You’ll see.”

“Alright, alright,” Dean allows, raising his hands in mock surrender. “I guess I will. But what exactly is his job?”

Charlie opens her mouth to answer, but before she can speak a word her pager begins beeping like crazy. She pulls it out of her pocket and frowns down at it like it has personally offended her.

“Let me guess, you’re needed?”

She sighs and pushes her plate away.

“It’s Doctor Walker. I hate that guy. He probably disconnected his monitor again.”

“I’m no good at all that technical stuff, but that sounds pretty basic,” Dean says, watching Charlie get up and put her tray away.

“That’s cause it is,” she groans. “And it’s like the third or fourth time it’s happened, you’d think he would have learned by now. Anyway, see you later?”

Dean nods, and watches with a small smile as she scurries between the tables and out of the cafeteria, leaving him in a much better mood than the one she found him in.

 


 

He spends the rest of the afternoon buried in the paperwork of the patient he’s going to operate the following day. The usual pre-surgery blood tests, x-rays and anesthesia evaluation were all done the week before, so all that’s left for him to do is study them till they’re etched permanently into his retinas.

The patient is a 46-year-old man in need of a mitral valve replacement. It’s a standard procedure – hardly revolutionary – but Dean prepares for it as if it were his very first time operating. The deeper he delves into the details of the surgery and the patient’s particular needs, the more it helps him calm down and control his nerves later on, when he needs to be at his sharpest. The sun moves slowly across the sky outside Dean’s window, descending all the way down and behind the horizon before he finally straightens his back and allows himself to call it a day.

The way home is quicker the second time around, with significantly less running around looking for the right exit in the subway. The untouched boxes still mock him from their spot on the living room floor as he enters the apartment, and Dean fights off his sleepiness to crouch down and unpack them already, jeez, okay, if they insist on sitting there and insulting him with their presence then fine.

The original plan is only to empty the boxes so that he can get rid of them and take care of arranging his stuff some other time, but somehow Dean ends up sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room and sorting through his medical books and musical records, putting them in alphabetical and chronological order respectively. He runs out of energy around half past ten, so he leaves the last box unpacked (what? it’s still progress) and heads to bed to get some proper rest before his first big performance tomorrow.

He’s already falling asleep when it occurs to him that Sam might be disappointed he didn’t show up on Skype.

He grabs his cell from the nightstand, types in a quick, “Too beat to Skype. Night, bro” and drifts right back to sleep.

 


 

“The surgery will take about four hours and it’ll be performed under general anesthesia. Would you like me to explain what we’re going to do?”

The man sitting on the bed looks at Dean sternly.

“I know what’s wrong with me,” he drawls, balling his hands into fists. “It’s all I’ve been hearing about for the past two months.”

Dean plasters a polite smile on his face and nods empathetically.

“I understand that, Mr. Henriksen. If you think what Doctor Deveraux told you is enough, that’s fine by me.”

A slight shadow of hesitation crosses Henriksen’s face, and Dean mentally congratulates himself on reading the guy right. He expected Dean to keep pushing and he would refuse any further explanations, but seeing Dean back away without insistence made him doubt his own decision.

“He explained the basics of mitral stenosis,” he admits, “but I read up a lot on it. The mechanics, the causes, the whole kit and caboodle. He kept yapping about how I should limit strenuous activities, like that’s even an option for a cop. I don’t like cardiologists. No offence.”

“Not a cardiologist, none taken,” Dean replies, tapping his pen against the clipboard he’s holding. “Yeah, if you’re a cop then keeping your heart rate in check is a shitty piece of advice. But I hope Doctor Deveraux told you you’ll need to take at least a month off from work?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Henriksen grumbles. “I know. I hate it though.”

“Heart diseases are generally a pain in the ass, but once your new valve is in place you’ll feel a noticeable difference,” Dean promises.

“So, what exactly are you gonna do when you’re up to your elbows in my guts?” Henriksen asks grumpily.

A triumphant smile spreads across Dean’s face, and he quickly hides it behind the clipboard.

He’s totally won the guy over.

“We’re going to replace your leaking valve with a brand new, mechanical one. There are different types of valves, but the mechanical ones don’t wear off as easily as, say, tissue valves, so with a bit of luck it will serve you well for the rest of your life.”

“Let’s hope so,” Henriksen grouses.

“There’s no reason to be pessimistic.”

“I take your word for it.”

“Good.”

Henriksen seems stunned for a moment, but then shrugs as if accepting Dean’s response.

“What happens next?” he asks.

“Doctor Visyak, your anesthesiologist, will come in a bit to prepare you for anesthesia. I’ll be off now, but I’ll see you soon in the OR.”

Dean lowers the clipboard to his side and gives Henriksen his best reassuring smile before taking his leave to go prepare for the surgery. As he walks down the corridor, he can feel his blood start to buzz with anticipation, that unique combination of nervousness and thrill that always overtakes him right before walking into the OR. The adrenaline will soon begin pumping through his veins, but his hands won’t shake and his mind will be the clearest it ever is, laser-focused on the task at hand. All the other thoughts, the worries and fears of a newcomer will wash away for those few hours of complete concentration.

He cannot wait.

 


 

“The patient’s out already,” Eleanor announces.

Dean looks up and nods.

“Great.”

“Also, your assisting nurse is here.”

She smiles and points behind Dean, so he turns around on his heel, ready to charm the (undoubtedly lovely) nurse who’ll assist him on this and many more surgeries to come. What he sees makes the smile freeze on his lips.

Blue Scrubs squints at him as if he couldn’t believe this shit either.

“Are you my assisting nurse?” Dean asks uselessly.

“Yes.” Cas (because it’s high time to start calling him by his name now – besides, everybody here is wearing blue scrubs including Dean himself, what even—) extends his hand for Dean to shake.

“Castiel Novak. We’ve met before.”

“Yeah, I remember,” Dean says weakly, taking the proffered hand and squeezing it gently. He immediately regrets it when the grip he gets in return almost crushes his fingers.

“I did tell Crowley about the lamp,” he says stupidly.

“I figured you did. I saw it had been replaced,” Blue Scr- Castiel says. Really, though? That’s what Cas is short for? If Dean’s being honest, it’s just as weird a name as Blue Scrubs, but whatever. The guy didn’t pick it for himself.

Before Dean has a chance to say something smarter, or anything at all, Castiel strolls out of the scrubbing area and into the OR.

If what they say about the third time being the charm is true, then Dean’s chance to make a good impression is irrevocably gone. Looks like this cooperation is going to be painful.

Dean inhales deeply through his nose and releases a long, steady breath.

Calm and collected.

Prioritize.

Alright. Blue Scrubs turned out to be a surgical nurse – his surgical nurse – but Dean has no time now to ponder on how he feels about that. It will have to wait until after the surgery.

He rolls his shoulders as if trying to shake any lingering, distracting thoughts, finishes off the scrubbing and walks into the OR.

Into battle.