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It's been a rough morning and a worse afternoon, but things finally slow down enough for them to stop somewhere for lunch. "Hey, at least we don't gotta deal with the lunch rush," his brother yawns as Zed pulls the ambulance into the diner’s parking lot. “Think they’ll still be runnin’ the special?”

Zed keeps his eyes on the rear view mirror as he carefully backs into a parking spot. “Don’t think so.”

“Can’t hurt to ask,” Ned says, yawning again. “They might just on account of us bein’ so adorable and all.”

They get out, double checking to make sure the doors are locked before heading for the front entrance. “We ain’t adorable, we’re grown-ass men…we’re cute,” Zed corrects him. “And you’re buyin’ today.”

“The hell I am; I paid yesterday.”

“Please. You did not…” Still arguing amiably, the brothers go inside to take neighboring seats at the counter. Ned immediately tries his charms on the long-suffering waitress who, if Zed’s not mistaken, also moonlights as Slinky Sereena at the Up Over (her nametag here says she goes by the name Marge when she's at home). He glances around the diner at the other patrons – not too much of a crowd today, just a handful of service workers wearing those bright orange pants and one or two professional types.

Zed turns his attention back to the menu that he doesn’t really need to read, because he gets the exact same thing every single time they come here, only to find that Ned has already ordered for him and scored a date for next Saturday. “It’s gonna be awesome,” Ned says, shaking a few pills into his palm from the bottle he’s pulled from a side pocket. “Told her we’d go see the sights.”

“Don’t that usually mean goin' up to that hill and seein' if you can get 'em on their backs? How is that seein’ anything but the messed up headliner of your truck?”

Ned puts on an offended look and knocks back the pills in his hand, chasing them with a gulp of water. “Hey now, Debbie Downer. I’ll have you know that from that one spot, you can see pretty much all of Pandora! It’s nice. Makes folks feel real special that I took ‘em there.”

Zed shrugs, because it’s not as if he can do anything about it. It’s not his life and he’s definitely not jealous that both of his brothers seem to have such an easy time attracting other people. At least someone in their house has the mental fortitude to keep their dick dry for more than five minutes at a time, Zed thinks uncharitably. “If you say so. Ain’t she workin’ at Up Over, though? Don’t know if it’s a good idea to be takin’ a stripper up to Horndog Hill.”

“So the hell what if she is? Don’t slutshame, man. You wanna date one of her friends, just ask – don’t think I didn’t see you eyein’ the bouncer last time we were there.”

“No way,” Zed splutters. “I was only lookin’ ‘cause she had blue hair-"

Slinky Sereena herself returns with their plates and Ned immediately begins spreading the southern charm so thick, a chainsaw couldn’t cut it. Zed rolls his eyes and looks over to one of the booths where the two career women had been poking at their food earlier. They seem to be arguing about a chair, for some reason, and Zed gets the Stink Eye from one of them when he doesn’t look away quickly enough. He shrugs and picks up his fork, intent upon eating so that he can get most of the food into his stomach before they get another call. Despite the fact that they’re not affiliated with Generally Hospital, they’re kept fairly busy with emergency and the standard non-essential calls that independent ambulance services like his usually receive.

Zed finishes up quickly and is thinking about ordering a slice of pie because he’s still hungry. He’s still trying to decide which kind to choose when a loud scream nearly makes him fall right off of his stool. Slewing around, Zed sees that one of the two women who'd been having words with each other is covered in blood.

Huh. Maybe he'll get cherry.

"Ned."

His brother doesn't even look. "Nope."

Zed glares at him and gets up to hurry over there because Ned's too busy eating his damned meatloaf a crumb at a time. "You ladies okay over here?" He digs into one of his thigh pockets and pulls out a pair of latex gloves, wishing he had one of his masks handy. "What seems t'be the trouble?"

"Nothing," the bleeding woman insists, as if she's not just been dubbed Prom Queen in a horror film. "Go away." She mumbles something else Zed can't really hear, because her hands are clapped over her face.

The woman resists his efforts to come close and see what's really going on, so he sighs and looks at the screamer. "Ma'am?"

Her friend, a cute plus-sized woman in her mid-thirties, is now looking dangerously pale at the sight of all that blood. "She just…it just went everywhere," she says.

"She get stabbed?" Zed starts to rise from his crouch beside their booth, intending to signal Ned to call dispatch while he restrained the woman, but she shakes her head violently and stammers out that it's actually a nosebleed. "What's your name, honey?"

"Ch-Ch-Chimay," she gulps, her eyes as big as dinner plates behind her blood-spattered glasses.

"Here's what we're gonna do, Miss Chimay. See that big ugly son up at the counter, looks kinda like me? You go on over and sit right down next to him, okay? Now, once you're calmed down he'll probably try to ask you out but you just tell him you ain't interested," Zed tells her softly. "I'll take care of your friend, here." He glances over to see that Ned has finally taken notice and is headed over help out. "Just you remember to tell him no."

She smiles weakly, and Zed grabs a fistful of napkins from the dispenser before sliding into the booth next to the other woman. She's eyeing him uncertainly, so he makes sure to give her his best reassuring smile. "I didn't call you, I'm not going to pay you," she says.

"That's too bad. I was sure I could count on you for at least five grand," Zed comments. "That's some nosebleed you got goin' on, ma'am – whyn't you let me take a look?" He keeps his voice low and manages to get her to lower her hands, then slides closer and gently tips her head back. She still has blood seeping from one of her nostrils, though the flow seems to be lessening as a clot forms. "You don't seem surprised at all, so I'm gonna take a wild swing an' say that this happens pretty often. You, uh, you don't got nothin' I could catch from bein' around your blood, right?"

"I am not going to pay you," she repeats.

Zed glances over at Ned, who is bending close to Chimay solicitously, and wishes they could swap patients. "Did I ask you for money?" he demands, starting to feel irritated despite himself. "I coulda just left you here to bleed out, but I stepped away from my lunch 'cause it looked like you needed some help."

"It is not lunchtime and if I wanted a large, strange man to invite himself to sit with me, I would have advertised in the local newspaper."

He sighs and starts shredding one of the clean napkins. "And me without today's edition. Look, lady, helpin' is what I do so if you wanted to bleed to death you picked the wrong place for it. Now zip it, 'cause the sooner this gets done the sooner I can leave you here t'bitch at whoever else has the good fortune to cross your path."

"You are a very rude man," she says, actually looking surprised that she's provoked him, "and your massive arms are extremely hairy."

Zed finishes rolling the strips into a wad that will fit inside her nose and plug the rest of the bloodflow until her body can take care of the problem. "Too bad you ain't payin' me 'cause then you could just whine all you wanted once the survey got sent to ya." He eases back into her personal space and gives her advance notice of what he's about to do. "Just lean back an' think of Elpis or somethin' – won't take but a minute to get this up in there."

She's clearly skeptical about the whole procedure, but lets him do it anyway. Once he's carefully wedged the napkin inside her nose, Zed sits back and gives her a few moments before he asks again about any possible communicable diseases. "If perpetual anxiety were contagious, I daresay none of you would be able to have a moment's rest ever again," she declares.

"Is that a yes or a no?"

"No, I am not currently afflicted with anything that could be considered contagious," the woman says.

"Besides that good mood, you mean? Well, that's real nice. I gotta get goin', lady, so you'd best leave that wad in there for an hour or so." Zed sighs and stands up, stripping off his gloves. Marge doesn't look too happy with having to clean up the mess, judging by the way she's banging stuff around behind the counter. "A nice tip'd probably work wonders too, if you're ever plannin' on comin' back here."

She stares up at him in silence and Zed looks right back at her for a second before heading to the men's room so that he can wash his hands and make sure she didn't splatter his uniform with any bodily fluids. When he comes out of the bathroom she's already booked it out of the diner, and Ned has resumed eating his lunch. "Craziest chick I seen all week…and that's not even countin' that Rid Head we transported two days ago," his brother says cheerfully. "Not too bad lookin' though, 'neath all that blood. She'd clean up decent."

"You think? I didn't notice," Zed sighs. "If you're gonna finish that meatloaf, you should maybe get Miss Slinky to bring more ketchup."

"Ugh, now I ain't even hungry."

"Pass it over. I'll finish it," he volunteers.

Their day ends with another handful of non-emergency transports, and then they're pulling back into the parking lot of Generally Hospital to file their paperwork – it costs too much to maintain a separate office elsewhere. Zed had worked out a deal with the previous hospital administrator, and gotten a contract where he's allowed use of one of the smaller offices and can leave his ambulance in the parking deck for a fraction of what it would normally cost; everyone's happy. Or, at least, everyone was. Everything went to hell after the hostile takeover of Atlas – now the hospital's parent company is none other than Hyperion, which has branched out from profit prisons and arms manufacturing. He fully expects Hyperion to try and pull a fast one on him, because he knows how they operate. No pun intended.

The office they've been leasing is on the smaller side, but that's just fine with Zed – they don't need much space and though it's shared by a hospital employee whom they've never even met, this also isn't a problem. Their officemate Sterwin seems to be devoted to his job as resident pest control officer and has taped pictures of crocodiles on every available surface, but always finds time to leave them a cheerful note about having a good day.

Zed shakes his head upon seeing that this sticky note, too, has the word g’day on it. “I don’t s’pose you wanna do the first batch?” he asks, referring to the half-and-half system they’ve worked out. Zed usually handles the first half while Ned tomcats around the hospital, then he’ll waste half an hour trying to hunt his brother down so that the work will get finished and they can finally go home.

Ned is already halfway down the hall. “Nope!”

“Didn’t think so,” Zed sighs. He gets busy sorting the various forms into two separate piles, then tackles his with reluctant enthusiasm – the sooner he’s done, the sooner he can leave. He’s an old hand at filing this sort of thing so Zed wades through the pile quickly enough to re-sort Ned’s so that his brother will have to deal with the more challenging claims first and then have an increasingly easy workload.

He tracks Ned to one of the nursing stations and gives him a shove towards the general direction of their office. “See ya later,” Ned calls out to one of the newest nurses, a young man whom Zed hasn’t seen before.

Zed rolls his eyes and ignores the young nurse’s gape of disbelief upon seeing that they look alike. “Wow, you’re twins!”

“We ain’t twins,” Zed growls and starts to tell the kid a thing or two when the head nurse comes up to smack him with her clipboard.

“You leave new boy alone,” Nina says, eyeballing him to make sure Zed follows her advice. “Such a grumpy gas.”

“Grumpy Gus,” Zed corrects her.

Nina drops the clipboard atop the other charts at the crowded station. “I say potato, you say vodka because Zed is always growling like bear at the zoo.”

Why in the world would he say vodka? “Bears don’t drink vodka, Nina. I could use a shot of it, though… how’s things ‘round here?”

His friend laughs and claps him on the shoulder hard enough to bruise. “Things always so busy; Pandora is such big mess. Patients come in with Shivers, getting shot and stabbed…Nina miss Elpis.”

Zed leans on the counter, curious despite himself – she almost never talks about her time in Elpis. “Things’re better there, then? Lower crime rate an’ all?”

“Lower?” Nina scoffs. “Not lower, but Elpis more spread apart – by the time Nina get patients, most already dead. Is not for nothing that main ambulance service run by man with nickname Deadlift.

“Deadlift, huh? I heard about him – ain’t his real name somethin’ wild, like Encephalitis McGee?”

“Ha! Close but no cigars. Name is Bucephelus MacElroy.”

They both have a moment of silence for anyone being saddled with a name like that, then Nina starts telling him about the Dahl Corporation’s annual Science Fest and Career Fair down at the new underground convention center. “Hang on – they moved the egghead convention to the Underdome? Whose damn fool idea was that? Most of them idiots’re bound to be claustrophobic!”

Nina rolls her eyes to the ceiling. “You have no idea. Nina already see most for diseases they not even have. Traffic handled by Doc Mercy today, but he not want route for long – Dahl insurance no good for business. They not pay on time and dispute each item on bill as not essential…this time of year is worst. Nina go vacation this time next year; you will see!”

Zed is instantly irritated by the mention of his rival, Francis “Doc” Mercy – the man’s a menace to society and shouldn’t even be allowed to breathe the same air as everyone else, let alone have an actual medical license. Zed knows for a fact that Mercy had been the one to strong-arm the state medical board into revoking Zed’s license, because the board chairman had told him so. Knowing Mercy, the means were either blackmail or intent to harm the chairman’s family; probably both. Zed can’t blame the man for caving, but he doesn’t have to like it…so he keeps eyes and ears open for anything he can use against Mercy. The bastard will get what’s coming to him, and Zed plans to have a front row seat when it happens. “I know one of the ladies in Processing; if Mercy gives up the Underdome run, I’ll be glad t’ take it off his hands. Don’t you go tellin’ him why, though.”

“Phaugh! Nina not waste time talking to him anyway – Doc Mercy on borrowed time after one too many time of saying he will call Iwan.”

“Why the hell’s Iwan still after you? It ain’t like he’s your daddy,” Zed frowns. He’s always disliked Nina’s overbearing older brother, who seems to think he should be the one to make all of Nina’s decisions for her. Iwan and Mercy are definitely rakks of a feather. “Damned bullies. Got no use for ‘em.”

“You not only one,” Nina sighs, then levers herself up from off her elbows. “Nina must go – nurses will slack off if Nina not breathe down necks. You keep Ned from trouble, eh? He is such naughty boy!” She chuckles and slaps a folder against Zed’s chest in farewell. “Nina see you tomorrow.”

Zed wanders off to speak with Marcus Kincaid, a childhood friend who’d been recently hospitalized with a gunshot wound. This isn’t the first time Marcus has been shot by one of his own customers, and it won’t be the last – he just seems to take it as an occupational hazard. Zed would change occupations if he were Marcus, but the Kincaid family motto is ‘A day without swindling customers is like a day without sunshine.’ Or something really close to it.

Ned comes in to trade a stack of porn mags for whatever back issues of GUN HQ Marcus has been paging through, so they visit for a while longer until Moxxi sticks her head through the door and Marcus kicks them out in her favor. “I hate for you to leave, boys, but I love to watch you go,” Moxxi purrs.

“Hell, Miss Moxxi, you should watch me come sometime,” Ned says with a wink, making Zed sigh and roll his eyes.

She gives a delighted laugh as Zed seizes his brother’s arm and yanks him back out into the hall. “Let’s go!

“You gotta be the grumpiest bastard in Pandora! We need t’get you laid, son. You want Chimay’s number? I bet she’d take you.”

Zed rolls his eyes again. “Yeah, sure. Let’s just go home.” All he wants to do is take a hot shower and maybe watch some tv while he eats dinner in his pajamas. It’s not exactly a hot time on the town, but it’s good enough for him at the end of the day. “Make sure you hold those magazines ‘neath a black light ‘fore you paw through ‘em – who the hell knows what Marcus’s been up to in that room?”

“Gross,” Ned declares, immediately shifting his grip on the magazines. “You still got that hand sanitizer in the car, right?”

“Long as Ted didn’t mistake it for lube again, yeah – should still be there.” Zed starts laughing. “You were the one who told him it was, weren’t you.”

Ned grins back. “Maybe. “

“Helga was so friggin’ mad, I thought she was gonna kill him! She probably still smells like aloe vera when they-”

“Oh my God! Zed!”

They laugh all the way home, and laugh some more when they see that Helga Steele herself has come courting. Zed parks the Outrunner in the driveway and sends Ned inside to make sure they won’t walk straight into a scene from a porn video. Luckily, this time Ted and Helga are only wrapped around each other on the couch watching a movie. “Y’all washed your hands, I hope,” Zed says, ducking when Ted throws a wadded up piece of junk mail at his head. "Take it to bed if you're gonna be gettin' all sloppy in here."

Ted drapes his arm back around Helga’s shoulders. "We figured we'd just fuck right here, show ya how it's done."

"Teddy. Don't be disgusting – we would have to charge admission," Helga says, toying with the end of one of her braids and winking at him. "It wouldn't be free."

"C'mon, you ain't gonna give us a family discount?" Ned teases, leaving his boots in the middle of the floor and pretending not to notice when Zed glares at him for it.

Zed hangs up his jacket and grabs a slice of cold pizza from the fridge. "I don't care what y'all charge – just put a towel down this time. Nobody needs to sit down in the damn wet spot. There ain't enough Febreze in the world to get rid of that kinda nasty." Shoving the pizza in his mouth, Zed charges up the stairs so that he doesn't get stuck with the cold water his brothers always leave him with after they've used up all the warm…one of the drawbacks of living in such an old house. However, there's plenty of space for the three of them along with whatever partners they choose to bring home on any given day. Ned might as well install a revolving door on his own bedroom with the amount of action he's been getting lately. Even Ted has been auditioning at least two on a regular basis. Zed, however, tends to stick with jacking off in the shower. The clean-up is easy, he doesn’t need to worry about remembering anyone’s name, and the only one he has to take out to dinner beforehand (so to speak) is himself.

The pipes rattle like a demon let loose from hell before any actual water comes out of the taps, but still the noise isn’t enough to block out the moans coming from downstairs. Emphasis on the coming, because it sounds like the happy couple has once again convinced Ned to participate. Zed himself has an open invitation to join in, but he hasn’t because it seems as though whatever partner Zed does find himself with for the night inevitably wants his brothers too. When they were younger, they’d done their fair share of it… but Zed would rather have someone who didn’t think his dick was interchangeable with Ned’s or Ted’s. The only trouble is that he has neither the time nor the energy for the dating scene, so Zed simply relieves his tension with a handful of baby oil. It doesn't stop him from thinking about actual sex, though.

Zed ducks under the spray with a sigh, his imagination starting to give him a fairly clear picture of what’s going on downstairs. Helga’s probably got one on each end of her, unless she’s adventurous enough to take them both at the same time. With those tattoos, she probably is… and he shouldn't be thinking of her in that way at all because it’s so inappropriate. EMTs usually work fairly closely with the police department, after all, and she’s high enough in the ranks to rate nothing but the utmost respect. If she wants to fool with Ted and sometimes Ned, too, then more power to her.

He washes his hair quickly and reaches a hand out past the shower curtain for the bottle of oil, making sure to flip the cap open and smell it before squirting some into his palm. Satisfied that nobody’s pulled the hand sanitizer trick on him, Zed leans against the tiles and rubs his other hand over his stomach before closing his eyes. Despite the fact that there are any number of scenarios with past lovers he could draw from, the one person who immediately comes to mind is the woman from the diner. He curls his oil-slicked fingers around his rapidly stiffening cock, imagining that she’s cornered him somewhere – inside the ambulance, maybe - and is thanking him for his earlier assistance. She’d be a whole lot nicer to him, of course, instead of running her mouth at him. God, that mouth. Zed pumps his cock slowly, picturing her on her knees in front of him. His fantasy has her leaning forward and rubbing the head of his dick over her mouth like she’s putting on lipstick, slow and controlled while those plump pink lips gather a sheen from the precome leaking from the tip. Then she takes him into her mouth, rolling her eyes up to watch him while she sucks him off.

Zed groans, tightening his grip. Yes, she seems like she might be the type to stare up at him as she swirls her tongue around up under his foreskin and sucks him in deep enough that he bumps the back of her throat. She’d probably wind up with another nosebleed, though, because she might not have all the air she’d need…so he imagines her leaving bloody streaks on his pubic hair and it’s weird as hell but Zed actually finds himself getting into it. “Fuck, yeah,” he mumbles to himself, thumbing the head of his cock on each upstroke. Zed uses his other hand to fondle his balls, pinching and tugging until he pushes his hips back into the tiles and starts stroking in earnest. The mental image of her pretty blood-smeared face coughing around the base of his dick is just too, too good. Zed’s abdominal muscles tighten, giving him just enough warning to release his sac and cup his palm over the head of his cock instead. His breath hitches as he comes in his hand with enough force to cause the thick fluid to backsplash onto his stomach. Zed draws out the sensation with slow, firm strokes that trigger a few weaker spasms that spill more semen into his cupped hand. “Goddamn,” he breathes, tilting his head back to look up at the steam swirling just below the bathroom ceiling.

He washes himself quickly and tosses the bottle of oil back out by the sink, feeling sleepily relaxed. The only downside to helping himself is that there’s no warm body to curl up next to – Zed isn't ashamed at all to admit that he misses it. Miss Nosebleed certainly wouldn't want to cuddle, he thinks with a grin as he turns off the water. “What the hell you doin’ in there, jerkin’ off? Some of us still gotta take a shower,” Ned complains from the other side of the bathroom door.

Everything has its downside – case in point being big old houses with only one bathroom. “Get in here and take one, then, ya big ol’ baby!” Zed unlocks the door just as Ned wrenches it open, bringing a draft in with him. “Anyway, I thought you were too busy fillin’ Helga’s quota.”

“Nah, that was just Ted fuckin’ around with the speakers. She got called in by the Watch Whatsits, and he’s off to get laid.” Ned hurriedly shucks his clothing and slides past Zed, leaving a strong scent of alcohol trailing behind him. “I got someone lined up for later, so I gotta get.”

Zed makes a point of sniffing loudly. “You better take a cab. Last thing you need’s another DUI…and if she left, then where’s he goin’? I swear to God, y’all are walkin’ sperm banks.”

Fuck-! You used up all the hot water, and I got a date…listen, one of these days you’re gonna need to just sling your Fleshlight into the dishwasher and have sex with a real live person. It ain’t my fault I love to get drunk and stick my dick where it don’t belong!”

“…yes it is.”

“You know what I mean, so just shut the hell up.” Ned leans out from behind the shower curtain, jabbing a finger at Zed. “There ain’t nothin’ wrong with sex, or wantin’ to have it. You act all high an’ mighty, like you’re so damn special for goin’ without, and I’m sick of it! Truth is, you’re stuck in a rut and too lazy to get yourself out – you do whatever the fuck you want, but don’t blame your emotional constipation on Ted and me ‘cause we didn't do nothin’ to you!”

Zed flushes angrily. “Fuck you.”

“Tell somebody who actually wants to – you ain’t pretty enough for me,” Ned laughs, yanking the curtain closed again.

Zed finishes drying himself and, with a final glare towards the shower, yanks the other towels off onto the floor before he reaches over to flush the toilet. Ned’s yowl of surprise makes Zed smile as he walks out of the bathroom, leaving the door open.

He locks the bedroom door behind him just in case Ned tries to get revenge on him later, and unwraps the towel he’d folded around his waist. Zed lets it drop to the floor, yawning as he moves to draw the curtains – a quick look outside shows that Ted’s motorcycle has reappeared. He thinks of Ned’s lecture as he gets dressed, feeling slightly embarrassed for being called out like that. Zed might not like to admit it, but he can be a judgmental asshole when it comes to the sex that everybody but him seems to be having. It’s not like his brothers are going around saying their name is Zed and their partners are certainly willing, despite whatever con Ned is running on them. Maybe he should start putting in a little more effort.

There’s no way in hell that he’s going clubbing, though.

Zed heads downstairs in search of more food, intending just to bring the rest of the pizza back to his room. He’s on the last step when his newfound acceptance of his brothers’ oversexed social lives is immediately put to the test – Ted has his other Flavor of the Month stretched out on the couch, doing…something. Zed doesn’t even want to know what’s happening. He holds his hand at eye level to block out all the flailing limbs and prays for death as he tries to get to the kitchen as fast as possible. “Damnit, Ted! You got a room for that!”

“Sorry,” Ted says breathlessly. “He likes the couch…you two’ve met before, right? Zed, this’s Jeff. Jeff? Zed.”

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Jeff says, and Zed can’t keep his head from whipping around because he’d recognize that voice anywhere.

There, right on their living room couch, is Hyperion’s Vice President – Jeffrey Blake. In his underwear. “You gotta be kiddin’ me!” Zed yells before he can think better of it. “Ted!

“Hey, the heart wants what it wants,” his brother says with a shrug. Zed has no doubt that the wanting part of this equation has to do with something quite a bit lower than Ted’s heart. “What can I say? I got a weakness for leggy blondes.”

“Uh huh,” Zed says, peeling his eyes from one of the most disturbing tableaux he's ever seen. “Nice drawers, Blake.”

“I thought so, as well,” Blake returns smoothly, which makes Ted laugh and pull him back down for…something. Zed doesn’t stick around to see what it is, but he can hear the squelch of saliva and some smacking noises that will probably haunt his dreams for a full month. He snatches the pizza box and two cans of beer from the fridge before hightailing it back up to the safety of the master bedroom.

In the morning it’s clear that they’ve got another full day of headaches and, to their mutual dismay, the Underdome route. Zed hadn’t lied to Nina about being glad to have it, but he certainly didn’t think they’d have it right now.

“Just…I dunno, maybe call dispatch an’ see if they can’t shuffle things around for us,” Zed finally says, exasperated by the sudden influx of hypochondriac red alerts. “You’d think Dahl woulda had more sense than to pack all their nerds into an underground convention center!”

Ned sighs and unbuckles himself to move into the back. “I heard it’s cheaper than the Coliseum and they don’t want ‘em anywhere named The Cesspool. Torgue Arena was booked already for that gun show.”

Zed slows down to make sure Ned gets into the back safely, then checks the mirrors before changing lanes. “You just know they’re down there lined up to use the phones ‘cause somebody sneezed way too loud. What’s the address again? Deep Fathoms…South?”

“South,” Ned confirms. “Not too far from the Underdome. We could just set up a clinic in there, really rake it in.”

“We ain’t in this for the money, Ned, we’re here to help folks.”

“Speak for yourself; I got bills need payin’.”

Zed bites back a smart remark about how much money Ned might be able to save if he stopped whoring around at night. “Don’t get coffee so much, then,” is what he says instead. “You could save plenty if you’d just make it at home like I do.”

“Eh, maybe.” Ned calls dispatch and Zed returns his attention to the road, checking the road signs and flipping on the turn signal as they approach the on-ramp of the Crimson Tollway. There’s a few calls to deal with in this particular neck of the woods, which isn’t ideal since it’s all back-and-forth until the end of their shift. With any luck at all, the dispatchers will be able to group together the non-essential transports and they’ll be able to get away with taking more than one patient at a time. Doing so isn’t exactly illegal, but it’s definitely frowned upon and the insurance might make a fuss if they figure it out. At the moment, Zed couldn’t care less – he’s not about to waste his time bouncing back and forth for only one patient who doesn't even need EMS transportation. One of the worst things in the world is being stuck with someone who’s freaking out about a splinter while someone else is in dire need of their help; Zed’s had it happen before, and will do anything to prevent a reoccurrence.

They take care of the patient, who turns out to be a midget with alcohol poisoning, before going over to the Dahl conference and seeing what’s what. Ned suggests that they bring in the gurney just to be on the safe side, and Zed agrees – they’re less likely to be stopped and asked their opinion on a weird rash if it looks like they’re busier than they really are.

He hasn’t visited the Underdome in a while, but it’s apparent that Moxxi’s doing pretty well for herself these days – it looks a lot better than what he remembers. Zed locates the auditorium where there’s supposed to be everyone who’s called for medical transport….unsurprisingly, it’s completely empty. “Aw, fer…this was the room, right?” Ned asks. “I hate these damned places, nobody ever knows what the fuck’s goin’ on.”

“You go talk to the ticket agents up there, and I’ll check the other rooms that ain’t listed as full,” Zed says, holding up one of the pamphlets he’d swiped on their way in. “They ain’t gonna stow ‘em in a lecture hall.”

They split up, and Zed’s still trying to hunt down their customers when Ned comes jogging back to him. “Found ‘em and someone else, besides…remember that lady from the diner?”

“What la- oh, man. She’s here? Nosebleed Nelly?”

“Yep. At it again, too. Someone needs to get that girl a bottle of iron supplements,” Ned laughs. “Thought I was you an’ yelled at me.”

Zed sighs to himself and hooks a thumb back towards the room where they’d left the gurney. “Let’s go back and get the damn thing so we can get on with it.” They head towards the indicated room with the gurney, and Zed barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes when he sees the seething mass of panic-stricken scientists. “Oh, my God.”

“Mm,” Ned agrees. “Right or left?”

“I’ll take the left. Acute injuries closest to the doors,” Zed says, pulling a notepad from his back pocket and clicking his ballpoint pen. Ned moves ahead to separate the milling crowd into two lines that snake along the walls on either side, retrieving a paper pad of his own. Zed approaches the first potential patient, writing the number one on the pad. “We’re takin’ names and symptoms first, folks, so please be ready when we get to y’all,” he calls out, lowering his voice as he turns to Number One. “Okay, sir, let’s get started. Name?” He listens calmly to the hastily stammered problems, determines that it’s most likely something that an analgesic could deal with, and sends the man to the back of the line with a few words of reassurance.

The next two people are also sent to the back, but then Zed is faced with a young woman who is quite obviously in pain. She’s burning with fever but acting as if she’s freezing, and Zed gently feels at her stomach when she complains of pain there. “C’mon and sit down, kid, we’ll get you taken care of,” he says soothingly, leading her to the gurney and reaching into his bag for an InstaHealth. “This’ll tide you over ‘til we get you to the ER – we need to make sure nobody else here’s gonna suffer from the wait.” She nods, sighing with relief when Zed administers the injection, and he helps her lie back before continuing with the impromptu survey.

Ned’s already pulled a few to the head of his line, and Zed works through his as quickly as possible. He only finds one other person who’s in need of urgent attention. A couple of them can hang in there until they return, but there’s three that need to be taken to Generally Hospital now. They rope one of the security guards into rounding up two wheelchairs and helping push one out with them; Ned ensures that the remaining hypochondriacs remain in line by threatening not to treat them. They will anyway, but the hysterics die down because Ned definitely looks like he means what he’s saying.

The lights and siren get turned on, and Zed pulls the ambulance back out onto the Tollway. Ned makes sure everyone’s strapped in, and ECHOs ahead.

The road, and all of the other vehicles on it, turn into a blur as Zed focuses on getting to the hospital as fast as safely possible. There are several ER nurses standing by to receive the patients as soon as they pull in, and Ned relays the situation to them breathlessly as he runs the gurney inside. “We got four more waitin’, so we’ll have to stack ‘em again – don’t like leavin’ any there, but these folks couldn’t wait.”

Zed signs the patients in hurriedly, with a promise to clean up the reports on their next trip back, and the charge nurse takes pity on him. “You can do it later; Nina vouches for you.” The man winks at him, which startles him to no end, and Ned laughs when he notices how flustered Zed is. Ned teases him on the drive back to the Underdome, but is then too preoccupied with the rest of the urgent patients to follow up on the harassment.

Quite a few of the other Dahl nerds have plainly thought better of claiming a paper cut as worthy of medical attention, so the lines are swiftly winnowed to a manageable number. Most of them don’t object to sharing emergency transport, so Zed and Ned can get away with taking four at a time. They’re nearing the end of the line when a familiar face pops up; Nosebleed Nelly herself slides into the line, having waited until the Blancos are nearly finished. “Name and symptoms, please,” Ned begins, sliding his notepad from his back pocket.

She narrows her eyes at him and whips her head towards Zed, who sighs at the look on her face. This is not going to be anything like he’d imagined while he was in the shower. “You. Do you know how long it took me to retrieve the tissue you shoved up my nostrils?”

“I’m sure I got no idea, ma’am-”

Ma’am? How dare you?”

“I’m sure you’re gonna tell me,” Zed mutters beneath his breath.

“What was that?” she demands.

“What was what?”

Nelly makes the I’m Watching You gesture, forking her fingers at her eyes and then pointing at Zed aggressively. “Anyway, extended browsing through certain ECHOnet sites suggests that you might still be under the mistaken impression that I owe you compensation.”

Zed’s eyes feel the urge to roll so far back, he can see the back of his skull. “I already told you-”

So, I have decided to allow you to take me from my home for a timespan of three to four hours,” she says.

Ned has abandoned any pretense at not listening in, and leans on the gurney to watch openly. “Is that kidnapping, or a date?” Ned wonders aloud.

“The second option,” Nelly says. “Now go away; this doesn’t concern you.”

“Maybe not, but I’m still gonna pretend it does.”

Zed finishes writing the notes for the person he’s still in charge of, and that Nelly is taking his attention away from. “’Scuse me a minute, sir, I got a mental patient what needs my help,” he says politely before turning back to Nelly. “Listen, lady, why d’you think I’d even be interested in goin’ on a date with you? You’re rude as fuck, pardon my Elpisian, and how the hell would it ‘compensate’ me if I gotta buy you dinner? You gonna suck my dick under the table while I look at the wine list?” There, Zed thinks with satisfaction. That should shut her up.

“Would the table have a long enough tablecloth to conceal it?” Nelly asks and Zed fumbles his clipboard, dropping it on his foot.

Ned chokes on his gum. “Dude!

“W-well, no, ‘cause I ain’t – I mean, I wasn’t serious ‘bout the…oh, hell.” Zed rubs the back of his neck and looks around wildly for the help that is nowhere to be found. “What, uh…what’s your name, again?”

Ned butts in helpfully. “Nametag says Patricia Tannis, PhD.”

“This does not concern you. Go away,” Patricia Tannis, PhD tells him.

“Zed was right. You are rude,” Ned observes, leaning over to snatch up the clipboard that Zed is just bending to retrieve. “Y’all go on an’ make your dinner-dick suckin’ date. I’ll finish up here.”

She scoots closer to Zed, who’s trying to keep his face from turning any redder. “Why is your name Zed? Were your parents unable to have any more children and so wished to commemorate the loss of fertility by using an appropriate name?”

Zed grabs one of the papers Ned had left on the gurney, and fans himself with it. “You’re kinda weird. Who says stuff like that?”

“I do,” Patricia says, and starts to feel at his biceps for some reason. “Oh, that’s a relief. You seem to be sturdy enough to keep from falling on me directly after sexual intercourse.”

Ned’s startled guffaw echoes off the walls. “You got a live one, son!”

She tows him further away from his brother. “He’s very nosy, isn’t he?”

“You got no idea. Listen, I was just kiddin’ about the…y’know. The table,” Zed says. “You don’t owe me a damn thing.”

Patricia Tannis gazes up at him, and he’s suddenly reminded of his little fantasy the previous night. “You’re blushing again. Why?”

“I ain’t blushin’-”

“What if I want to owe you?” She asks next, which has him back to feeling like an absolute fool. “You are not unattractive, and despite your age you seem as if you might be fairly vigorous in a sexual manner.”

“Um. Thanks…?” Zed glares over at Ned, who has dropped the clipboard and is rocking back and forth clutching his stomach in silent hysterics. “Look, uh, Doctor Tannis; why me?

She gets even closer, and it’s enough to drive every single coherent thought straight from his head. “If you must know…”

Oh, boy. “What?” Zed asks, inwardly resigning himself to another onslaught of embarrassment.

“Medical professionals are the only ones who are sure to know where the clitoris is located,” she says matter-of-factly.

Ned’s scream of laughter rings in Zed’s ears as he stares at Patricia in slack-jawed disbelief. “What’d you just…what…?”

She plucks a business card from her coat and slips it in the front pocket of his jacket. “You may collect me between 6 and 7 p.m.,” Patricia says. “Please take a shower and change your clothes; you smell like the invalids you transport.” And just like that, his date (whether he wants one or not) for the evening turns on her heel and walks away.