The scratch of the pencil on paper as Hux did some quick addition in the margin of one of his many pages of notes grated on his already aching head. He'd been crunching numbers since he'd arrived hours ago, and it was getting on his last nerve. The fact that the clinic was under constant scrutiny irritated Hux to not end, and the fact that his nature ensured that he was the one to check every stat and expenditure wore him thin.
Hux wasn't sure why he still ran the volunteer clinic. He was one of the country's top trauma surgeons, and truthfully, it seemed like a waste of his talent to spend his Tuesday evenings checking sore throats and runny noses at the local clinic and his weekends ensuring that the place stayed afloat. He supposed it was out of respect to his mother's memory that he continued to ensure that his schedule allowed for the weekly clinic hours. She had put so much of herself into getting the small volunteer clinic off the ground while his father ran the medical school not a dozen blocks away.
Doctor Brendol Hux Sr., his father, had been one of the country's leading orthopedic surgeons before—in a bit of irony that Hux would never stop being amused by—arthritis forced him into an early retirement. Afterward, he took a position at the university and eventually ran the entire medical school. There he oversaw the development of the next generation of surgeons. Dr. Hux Sr. was a cold man, interested in the prestige of his positions more than the lives he affected. Hux's mother had been the opposite, though she had dutifully supported her husband's endeavors. She had been much more concerned with seeing those who the system often failed given the respect and dignity they deserved.
Hux supposed her lasting memory was reason enough to spend his only free evening seeing walk-ins at the struggling clinic. His mother had left all of her assets to the clinic when she passed, but just because it was financially stable didn't mean that volunteers were in abundance or local politicians weren't frequently trying to shut them down. One had accused Hux himself of performing bizarre surgeries on patients with no medical need for intervention just because he felt like it. Hux had nearly strangled the man with his bare hands at a fundraiser they had both attended. Though the real bit of karma had been when the politician's son had come into the ER after drinking and driving and running right into a barrier going well over the speed limit. Hux had truly enjoyed how pale the man had gotten when Hux walked into the waiting room post-surgery. He recalled telling the man, “I saved your son's life. That debt shall cost you dearly.” He had yet to collect on it, but the man had readily agreed and had backed off his campaign against the clinic.
“Hux, you have a patient in exam room three. Goes by Kylo Ren, but I doubt it's his real name if his paperwork is anything to go by,” Nurse Phasma said, passing his office to go back out to the waiting room. Hux looked up from his desk where he was sorting out the expenditure forms that he'd been going over. He ran a tight ship since the clinic was under constant scrutiny.
Hux put down the papers and pulled on his lab coat over his suit. He hated scrubs, and unless he was walking directly into the OR, he refused to wear them. Instead, he wore his perfectly pressed suits beneath his lab coat just as his father had done. Pulling his stethoscope off its designated hook, he stepped out of the office and strode down the hall. He glanced down toward the waiting area, but he couldn't tell how many patients they had waiting tonight.
It wasn't quite flu season yet, and the weather had been staying relatively nice, so he hoped there wouldn't be a line of runny noses begging for a cure that didn't exist. Hux hated those appointments. No amount of mastery of medicine could give Hux the power to cure the common cold, but he had had more than one irate patient call him a hack for it.
Hux took a breath before placing the stethoscope around his neck and pulling the chart Phasma had left for him out of the holder on the door of exam room three. He gave it a quick glance. Patient was male, twenty-nine. He didn't smoke. That was really all Hux could discern from the nearly illegible mess that the man had filled out. Hux had seen his fair share of bad handwriting, but there wasn't even a point in trying to read this.
Instead, Hux knocked twice before opening the door to the room. He was more than a little surprised to see the huge man seated on the exam table. He was dressed in all black from his torn jeans to his black boots to his long sleeved shirt with holes cut out of the cuff for his thumbs. Even the man's hair looked nearly black under the harsh light of the exam room, and just a little too long to be considered respectable. Hux bit back a comment about the man being a little too old to be going through his rebellious phase. Though the longer he looked, he noted that the clothing was worn and didn't fit particularly well. Perhaps they were old garments that were comfortable, or he simply couldn't afford new clothing. It wasn't his place to say anything.
“Mr. Ren?” Hux asked. The man looked up from where he was worrying the fraying hole in his sleeve. His eyes were intense as he gave Hux a once over. Hux was used to it. He was fairly young to be running a clinic, and he was certainly very young to be as successful a surgeon as he was. He'd become accustomed to people staring at him, trying to figure out just how he ticked. He took pride in the fact that few ever did succeed.
“You can call me Kylo,” the patient said in a deep, moody voice. Hux's mind supplied “man-child” but he continued to hold his comments in check. If Hux took his patients as seriously as they took themselves, he'd go mad. He thought plenty of rude things about patients, but he always remained professional. He didn't have to think them competent or approve of their choices to treat them to the best of his ability.
“Have you ever come here before?” Hux asked, getting the basics out of the way first. Since he could barely read the man's name even after he knew what it said, he couldn't make too many determinations based on the provided information...if it was even true. Too many patients lied to him, and it grated on Hux's nerves. He didn't care of they were shooting heroin or cheating on their partners, but he needed honest answers to his questions.
“No. I move around a lot,” Kylo said, tugging at the string again. Chances were that he was a squatter. There were plenty of those in the neighborhood, and Hux had seen his share of them during his time at the clinic.
“Okay, I see that Nurse Phasma took your height and weight and blood pressure. Is there any history of heart disease in your family?” Hux went with the basics.
“Not that I know of, but...” Kylo paused, looking away from Hux. “...I'm not really in contact with them. I haven't been for a long time,” he explained. He looked uncomfortable speaking about his family, so Hux didn't push. If he wasn't speaking to them, chances were there weren't any answers to be had.
Hux made a quick note in the file then looked up again. “Any pre-existing conditions I should be aware of?” he asked instead. He found people gave less information when he frustrated them with questions they didn't have answers to, so he tended to skip to the pertinent things first.
Kylo kept his eyes averted as he seemed to think about the question. Hux prepared himself to parse through whatever lies Kylo was about to tell him. “Nothing that's been formally diagnosed,” Kylo said after nearly a minute. Hux made another note, but he nodded curtly.
“So, no medications that might interfere with anything I might prescribe you?”
“No,” Kylo responded, looking back at him. He looked like he hadn't slept in a few days, and Hux wondered briefly if that was part of why he was here or if it was just common for him.
“How many hours do you sleep per night?”
“Depends. Maybe five or six?” Kylo said, shrugging his massive shoulders.
“Eating habits? Do you eat healthy? Junk food?” Hux asked, trying to give the man some options.
Kylo frowned. “It varies.”
Hux gave the man credit for honesty. Perhaps the answers weren't detailed or ideal, but Hux hadn't suspected a blatant lie yet. “Exercise?”
“I'm in good shape. Workout every day,” Ren told him. Hux figured that was true based solely off of that size of his biceps. At least he had one healthy habit.
“What brings you to the clinic?” Hux finally asked, reading Phasma's neat handwriting. His weight was good for how tall he was, and his blood pressure was normal. Insufficient sleep and poor eating weren't throwing off his numbers.
“I have a cough, and I can't sleep,” Kylo told him, crossing his arms over his chest. It was strange seeing such a large man seem to fold in on himself. Hux was constantly standing ramrod straight to give his unfortunately slight frame as much presence as he could.
“How long has this cough existed?” Hux asked, already assuming that there was little he could do for the man other than a cough suppressant.
“Weeks,” Kylo said, pushing his hair out of his face.
Hux wanted to roll his eyes. What did he have against specific answers? “And is it persistent or does it come and go?” Hux asked next, scribbling down notes.
Hux sighed. That should not have been a question. “Very well then. I want to listen to your lungs, make sure you don't have a case of walking pneumonia, but if it's just a cough, they sell things over the counter that can help,” Hux explained, standing up and walking over to Kylo. He tugged his stethoscope from around his neck and brought it to his ears. “Do you mind lifting your shirt?” he asked.
Kylo quickly unfolded his arms and lifted the well-worn shirt to reveal his broad chest. “Take a deep breath when I tell you to,” Hux said, holding the metal diaphragm of the stethoscope to his own palm to warm it a bit. The office was always so chilly that people tended to complain about the cool metal. When he was satisfied that it was as warm as it was going to get, he brought it up to Kylo's chest. “Breathe,” he prompted.
Kylo's chest expanded tremendously, and Hux was actually impressed by the man's lung capacity. He moved the stethoscope and prompted Kylo again. He listened carefully, but there was nothing particularly concerning about Kylo's lungs. When he moved it again, he felt Kylo shudder against the press of the stethoscope, but nothing to be deemed illness.
“I'll give you a prescription for a cough suppressant, but your lungs sound good. There isn't much else I can do. The suppressant has the side effect of making you drowsy, so that will help with the lack of sleep,” Hux explained stepping back to his notes. He glanced back at the patient as he wrote down his prognosis. “You may put your shirt down. I'm finished,” he said, because Kylo was still holding it up to reveal his entire chest.
Kylo blushed slightly as he pulled his shirt back down and began to tug at his sleeve again. Hux turned back to his notes, packing them up again for Phasma to enter into their system at the end of the night. “You can pick the script up from Nurse Phasma at the desk,” Hux said, walking to the door.
“That's it?” Kylo asked, sounding confused.
“But you barely even did anything,” Kylo pointed out.
“The mark of a professional,” Hux said, quite used to people questioning his brusque manner.
“How do you know I don't have tuberculosis or emphysema or...”
“Close to a decade of studying medicine and just as long practicing has given me the uncanny ability to do my job,” Hux said, annoyed that he was being forced to waste time explaining himself to a man that wasn't even sick.
“Has anyone ever told you that your bedside manner sucked?” Kylo sniped.
“Constantly, but they are usually forgiving when I save their loved one's lives,” Hux retorted.
“Conceited asshole,” Kylo muttered under his breath. Hux heard it, but he pretended that he didn't. There was no point getting into a full blown argument with a patient he'd never see again, over something that was quite possibly true.
“Feel better,” Hux said begrudgingly, stepping out of the exam room and closing the door before Mr. Ren could say anything else.
Phasma gave him a knowing look as he brought the file over to her desk. “I see you are charming the locals with you tender care again,” she said, taking the file and passing him his pad so he could write the prescription.
“I can only tolerate so much from people who rush to the doctor when they are barely ill. It is a waste of resources and time,” he said, scribbling out the prescription. He'd told her this, every week, since he'd started running the place after his mother's passing.
“And yet you continue showing up, Doctor. Tell me, are you expecting things to change here, or are you so masochistic that you enjoy your own suffering?” she asked him. Phasma was no nonsense. She'd been his right hand in the operating room before she took over the clinic for him. She had run the tightest operating room that Hux had ever worked in, and he still missed her most days when he scrubbed in. Here he was in charge, but she ran the day to day operations and frankly kept the place operational.
“If I need your opinion I will ask for it, Phasma,” Hux grumbled, shoving the script back at her and walking toward exam room two where another file was hanging.
“Mrs. Rosedower again,” Phasma said as he walked toward the door. Hux tensed at the name. The damn woman came in semi regularly with one ailment or another. Hux had determined that her elderly husband didn't give her enough attention, and she just wanted someone to listen to her. Hux did not like being used as a stand in, but he also couldn't tell her to go away either.
“What is it this time?” he asked.
“She believes she's pregnant,” Phasma said, grinning.
Hux's jaw dropped. “The woman is far too...she hasn't...” Hux gritted his teeth as he jerked the file out of the holder and knocked on the door. His mother's memory was not worth this.
The clinic wasn't all bad. He truly did respect what his mother had worked so hard for. There were days when he helped people who couldn't afford to see a regular physician. There were days he helped scared young women get answers and the help they needed. The clinic was the perfect balance to the OR.
The OR was battle. It was quick thinking, quick action, and life or death weight to every decision. The payoff was incredible, but it wasn't the natural state of things. The clinic was tedious in many respects. It was hours of paperwork, creative budgeting, coordinating volunteers, and messing up his perfectly gelled hair out of frustration when the latest batch of lobbyists/fanatics took pot shots at them. But it was also quiet nights staying late, so people could come by after too long hours of work. It wasn't glory and recognition, but it was no less important and Hux was learning to appreciate that.
It was on one of the late nights about two weeks later that he'd just walked a teary eyed girl through a very detailed sex education because she'd come in with a delightful case of chlamydia even though she insisted she had only ever had sex with her steady boyfriend. It had been awkward having to explain that chances were that her boyfriend probably wasn't as steady as she was hoping, but Hux was used to being the bearer of bad news. She was grateful as he wrote out the script and explained that he was not obligated to contact her parents and that he actually couldn't without her consent.
Hux's night only got worse when he saw Kylo Ren sitting in the waiting room. Hux offered to walk the girl to her car since it was late, but she just scurried through the lot as he stood watching from the door. It was strange giving a damn. His father had never worried about his patients once they were out of the office. If a truck hit them as they crossed the street, he wouldn't have cared at all unless they were put back on his operating table. Hux, as much as he tried to emulate his father's distance, cared more than he would ever admit. It fueled the fire inside of him to be the best.
Hux closed the clinic door and turned to Kylo who was sitting silently in the waiting area. He had on a long black coat tonight to fight the sudden chill in the air. “It's only me on Tuesday nights, so I apologize if you've been waiting long without seeing anyone,” Hux forced himself to say, motioning for Mr. Ren to follow him back.
Hux stepped behind Phasma's desk and looked for Ren's record. Thankfully, Phasma was as fond of order as Hux was, and the file was easy to find in their mass of records. “I'll take you in room three again,” Hux said offhandedly as he checked that the file was in order.
Ren didn't say anything which was a nice departure from many of Hux's patients who started listing their ailments even before they were out of the waiting room. No one wanted to know about Mrs. Priestly's hemorrhoids, especially not to girl in the corner who had already been nauseated. Hux just took Ren's silence as a small blessing.
Hux opened the exam room for Ren and followed the slightly larger man into the small room. He put the file down on the counter. “What brings you here tonight?” Hux asked in his most professionally detached tone. He wanted to finish this quickly, so he could get home and actually do some reading before bed.
Ren looked at him from beneath the swoop of thick hair that had fallen in his face. “Voice,” he rasped. It sounded like he'd swallowed a mouthful of gravel then washed it down with some gasoline before lighting a match and swallowing that too. Hux chastised himself for getting whimsical. The man had a sore throat, nothing more.
“I see,” Hux said, making note of it. “Take off your coat,” he ordered. He removed a pair of gloves from the box on the counter, pulling them on quickly. Ren's eyes were glued to his hands as he pulled the gloves up and wiggled his fingers until they felt comfortable. He knew the gloves put some people off because it hammered home the fact that they were at the doctor's. Hux tried to ignore the depressing amount of anxiety his presence could cause.
Hux removed a tongue depressor from the jar beside the gloves and stepped over to Ren. He noticed how observant the man's eyes were as they watched his every movement. Kylo Ren was intense; Hux would give him that. “If you'll open your mouth, I'll take a look,” Hux prompted, holding up the smooth piece of wood.
Ren watched him for another breath before opening his mouth and sticking his tongue out slightly. Hux pressed the depressor to Ren's tongue to hold it down and quickly removed the small pen light from the pocket of his lab coat. He shined it into Ren's mouth, looking for the cause of Ren's missing voice.
“Your throat's a bit raw, but nothing too concerning,” Hux told him, still holding Ren's mouth open and giving it one last look.
Kylo shook his head. Hix eyes returned to Hux's hands instead of his face.
“It isn't strep. Has your cough persisted?” Hux asked knowing that having to answer questions probably wouldn't help the man's irritated throat. Ren wisely nodded his head instead of answering verbally.
Hux frowned, tossing the small stick into the trash before taking his stethoscope from around his neck. Ren's eyes still followed his every move, and he seemed to perk up when Hux blew gently on the cold metal of it. “If you would remove your shirt for just a moment,” he said, motioning for Ren to shift so Hux could reach his back. “Breathe deeply on my command,” Hux said, placing the stethoscope to Ren's back. He felt Ren shiver and assumed he'd done a poor job of warming the thing. “Apologies for the temperature. Please breathe,” he said, and Ren took a deep shuddering breath.
Hux frowned. “Again,” he asked. This breath was still shaky, but not quite as much. Hux was concerned he'd missed something last time he'd seen Ren. Perhaps there was an underlying problem he'd overlooked. Hux moved the stethoscope and commanded Ren again. This one was more even, but there was still a hitch at the end. “Are you having difficulties breathing?” Hux asked softly, but Ren shook his head in the negative.
Hux came around Ren's front and carefully placed diaphragm to Ren's chest. “Breathe,” he ordered, and again Ren took a shaky breath. Hux frowned, watching Ren's broad chest as he moved the chestpiece of the stethoscope around to listen to his breaths.
“When did you lose your voice?” Hux asked, straightening up and looking at Ren, but Ren didn't meet his eyes. Instead, he continued to stare down at Hux's hands.
“Two days,” Ren said, and it didn't sound any better than the first time he tried to speak.
“I see. Unfortunately, there isn't entirely too much I can do for a lost voice. I can tell you to avoid speaking until the irritation subsides. Tea with honey to coat your throat may help. Have you finished the prescription for the cough?”
“I can write you a script to refill that if the cough is still a problem, but I'm afraid this is the sort of thing you just have to ride out. You seem to be in good health other than the cough and voice, so it should pass quickly enough,” Hux explained, giving Ren some space as he hooked the stethoscope around his neck again.
Ren nodded slowly, picking up his shirt and tugging it over his head. Hux nodded curtly before removing the pad from his coat and writing out a second script for a cough suppressant. “Use this according to the directions, yes?” he said, holding out the paper. He received another nod.
This time Ren left without an argument, and Hux found himself wondering if perhaps he'd misjudged the man. Maybe he was just feeling as awful as everyone else and just looking to take the edge off it. Hux knew that feeling himself. He was overworked and was constantly battling insomnia, so he could understand the need to function under poor circumstances.
Hux followed Ren to the door, making sure to lock it behind him after watching Ren walked toward the street instead of the small parking lot. He ran his hand over his face, sighing deeply. He needed to get home and get some rest.