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The thing people don’t get about his job is that it’s not just fuckin’ fires he goes to.

Sure, house fires are a thing. A big thing considering how many damn ads are out for not leaving your hair straightener or whatever plugged in and turned on. He’s been to house fires and school fires and forest fires and, well, lots of different types of fires all caused by the same stupid thing - people doing dumb shit.

But the other part is the accidents. The car accidents where there are people trapped and crying and the suicidal people trying to jump off whatever the tallest thing they can find is (and he’s been there - he’s felt that deep in his bones) or even that one time there was a school shooting and they were ferrying kids out of the second-floor science classroom.

Thing about his job is that once the person’s safe, it’s out of his hands. The paramedics show up and Noel’s only responsibility is to put the fires out. It’s not even his job to clean up the mess or fix the damage or do treatment beyond CPR most of the time. That’s always someone else’s gig and he likes it like that, likes that he gets to show up and do his job and go home, none of the red tape that cops or paramedics have.

He just kinda gets to go about his life really - works four days a week, long shifts but it is what it is and he gets to do his gigs on the side which is cool. Tonight’s a car accident, jaws-of-life level shit, and Noel’s busy trying to cut through a seatbelt when the paramedics turn up with alarms screeching.

If you’ve worked it long enough you can tell the difference between the sirens, the difference between the short sharp wail the cops have and the more urgent sound of an ambulance and, well, nobody fucks with the firetruck anyway.

“What happened?”

Paramedic number one is dumping a kit on the ground and leaning around Noel, and Noel - who’s been doing this for a year or so now, maybe more - gets a flash of muscular arms and thinks, huh. Guy’s hot. It’s the standard spot his brain drifts to when it recognises the potential for trauma, some sort of fucked up self defence mechanism he refuses to feel sorry for. They see some wild shit, and they gotta have some way to tune it all out.

“Pileup,” Noel says. “No one conscious at the moment, we’ve got three trapped in this car and two in another. There’s another truck further up the road, looks fuckin’ nasty.”

“Shit,” the paramedic says, and he reaches for his radio, says something about needing more ambulances to the scene. He’s got almost-fuckboy hair, fratboy hair, long at the top and shaved on the sides, frosted tips.

“Who the hell has frosted tips in 2019?” Noel wonders aloud.

Paramedic looks almost startled, but he recovers. “Dude,” he says, “you gonna roast me for my hair right now?”

“You made choices that got you here, man.” Even as they’re talking, they’re working together to free the person from the car, and Noel’s trying to keep his attention on what he’s doing rather than Paramedic’s ridiculously good-looking arms.

“No one complains,” Paramedic pants, and they manage to heave the person out of the car. Paramedic leans over, starts doing whatever it is they do, and Noel takes a moment to consider the cute nose, the jaw, the stubble.

“We’re talking about you, dog, not your conquests,” Noel says by way of reply.

The banter doesn’t last long - Paramedic is calling another paramedic over, and they’re talking in clipped, rushed sentences and using words Noel doesn’t entirely know the meaning of, but the implications. This one’s in trouble and there’s more people in the car who need help.

It’s work, moving bodies. People are heavy even when they can help and Noel’s not exactly huge like some of his colleagues. Still, they work getting bodies to the paramedics and by the time he’s pulled the last one out and is sweeping sand over the oil on the road, he’s getting a tap on the shoulder.

It’s the cute paramedic.

“Hey,” Noel says. “This ‘bout the hair? 'Cause I mean, I don’t think this is a good place to be starting shit.”

To his surprise, Cute Paramedic actually smiles and laughs a little, although it’s muted, in that “I’m coping with laughter but civilians won’t see it that way” kind of way.

“Nah,” he says, “someone with your wrists shouldn’t be talking shit about my hair, but-”

“Oh, so you did come here to start shit,” Noel fires back. “What, you break out of your frat house and steal a uniform or somethin’?”

Cute Paramedic laughs again. “Actually, yes,” he says.

Noel figures the guy did probably come over here for a reason. “Alright, Mr. Harvard,” he says. “What’s up?”

“Just came over to get your unit details for the reports.”

“Yeah, right.” Noel blinks a little suspiciously - cops always ask that shit, paramedics hardly ever. “We’re stationed out at Beverley Hills, unit 710. I’m Noel.”

Cute Paramedic’s eyes take Noel in, slowly.

“You strokin’?” Noel asks bluntly.

“Oh.” Paramedic laughs, maybe even looks like he’s blushing a bit. Win, Noel thinks smugly. “Nah. Long shift. We’re based out Long Beach, unit 667. I’m Cody.”

Cody. Jesus fuck. A frat boy with frosted tips named Cody. Noel’s gotta get himself laid. “Just Cody?”

“Uh… I mean, no, but the last name is a… bit of a mouthful.”

It’s like he knows where Noel’s mind is gonna go as soon as he says it, and maybe Noel does grin like he’s about to go to town on it, but there’s still cleanup and he wants to finish on time, so he says, “Alright, Cody. See you at the next one.”

~*~

He thinks about Cody and his stupid fucking frosted tips for the next week, and someone must think that’s tempting fate because Cody is at the next one.

“We gotta stop meeting like this,” Noel pants as he drags someone over to where the paramedics are standing, staring helplessly up at the fire.

“Are there any other people in there?” Cody’s partner asks.

“Not sure, some of my team are on their way out.” She’s not listening, already bent over the victim on the ground, who’s coughing and sooty, but alive and conscious. Generally how Noel prefers them, until they start doing dumb shit like running back into the burning building for whatever shit, like laptops.

Cody’s busying himself with a stethoscope, and Noel makes use of himself by the truck for a bit, seeing the last two of his unit exit the smoke empty-handed. He works the hose until a buddy taps him out.

He turns around, runs almost straight into Cody Frosted Tips Paramedic.

“That how you make every entrance?” Noel quips. “Can see why they don’t mind the hair so much.”

Cody smiles a little. “You all good?”

Noel blinks. “Huh?”

“You were in the fire. Come get checked out.”

Noel suddenly feels on the back foot, a little. “My buddies were in longer-”

“We looked at them, man. C'mon.”

Reluctantly, Noel follows Cody back to the ambulance. Cody tests his breathing, takes his pulse, and Noel tries to stop it from rising at the sheer proximity of the guy. He really fucking needs to get laid.

“You’re good,” Cody says. “But uh, if you have any symptoms, you should go straight to the E.R.”

“Yeah.” Noel nods, slightly, stands. “Yo, when I said I’d see you at the next one - you didn’t have to set the place on fire, dog. You could’ve just asked for my number.”

It’s a bold move but Noel doesn’t do subtle. Cody turns red, starts stammering, and fuck if that isn’t cute. Noel grins. Got him.

“Here.”

Cody’s writing on his little post-it pad. This guy can’t be college educated, Noel thinks, if he’s carrying around a fucking post-it pad.

“What are you, Blues Clues?” he asks.

Cody laughs and hands the note to him. He’s got fucked-up handwriting which shouldn’t surprise Noel by now. Cody’s obviously smart enough to be a paramedic, but Jesus does he radiate dumbass energy.

“What’s this?” he asks, turns it over to find Cody’s phone number on the back.

“It’s my number.” He’s gone back to stammering a little. “In case there’s symptoms. Later.”

“Mint.” Noel surveys Cody for a minute. “You do house calls?”

Cody laughs. “This sounds like the start to a bad porno,” he says.

“It can be whatever you want it to be, man.”

Cody takes the joke and sprints with it, which somehow makes up for his dumbass hair. “I’m Cody,” he says, pitching his voice, “I’m um, I’m your new pizza delivery boy.”

“Fuck off,” Noel cackles. “Save it for the house call.”

Yeah, it’s really not appropriate to do an improv bit about bad pornos in front of a burning building. The media would hate it.

~*~

Cody knocks on the door at sometime just past three, and when Noel opens it, he grins.

“Hi,” he says. “I’m Cody, I’m uh… well, I’m kinda lost. Can you help me find my boyfriend’s place?”

Noel wasn’t fuckin’ expecting that, or to have someone who’s perfectly content playing along with his fucked-up sense of humour, and it takes him by surprise enough that he laughs, loud. Cody grins.

He’d called Cody the night after the house fire, felt a little guilty for waking him up when Cody’s sleepy voice had come back over the phone - “'Lo? Who’s this?” - but it worked out in the end. He’s not sure if he wants to fuck Cody or do a bit or both, but he can work that out later.

Ollie barks, and Noel bends down to pick him up. “It’s just the pizza delivery boy, bud,” he coos.

Cody laughs. “You got a puppy?”

“Yeah man, this is Ollie.”

It’s probably one of the stranger hook-ups Noel’s had. They talk shit about comedy for a while and Cody mentions having seen him do stand-up before; they both worked as devs for a bit. There’s plenty in common.

At some point, they’re back on the bullshit about pizza delivery boys again, and Cody says, “I’m sorry, sir, it’s been a really good time but my manager is probably wondering where I am…” and that’s around the time Noel says something like, “I haven’t given you your tip yet,” and proceeds to bend Cody over his kitchen counter and fuck him.

“You’re a dedicated comedian,” Cody gasps. “All this - ah, fuck - for a bit?”

“I take it all the way, baby,” Noel groans. “Doesn’t help when slutty delivery boys show up and fuckin’ tease me-”

Cody outright whimpers at that, hands scrabbling for purchase across Noel’s kitchen counter. “Oh yeah?” Noel pants. “You like getting called a slut?”

“Fuck, Noel-”

“That’s what you are.” Noel’s really pounding him, now, and Cody’s showing no signs of anything other than enjoyment. He’s only as tall as Noel but more muscular, and he gave in right away to Noel’s demands. “You’re a pussy who can’t do anything other than take orders from other people. That’s how you like it, huh? Doing what you’re told?”

“Noel,” Cody says, and he sounds like he’s about to sob.

“Does your manager know you fuck customers for tips?”

“I’m gonna come,” Cody gasps. “Noel-”

“Did I say you could?” But Noel’s close too and isn’t feeling particularly mean, so he reaches around and grasps Cody’s dick, starts jerking him in time. “God, I have to fuckin’ do everything.”

Cody makes some sort of choking noise and comes, all over Noel’s hand and the side of the counter. Noel’s not far behind after feeling Cody’s body clench around his cock, rides it out with his hand on Cody’s hip and the other still stroking him through the aftershocks.

He pulls out, ties off the condom, and tosses it in the trash. Cody begins to straighten up a little, panting shallowly. There are marks on his hips from being slammed into the marble counter, and thumb prints on his back.

“Sorry, man,” Noel says. “Did I hurt you?”

Cody shakes his head. He looks fucked, thoroughly, and Noel grins, a little proud of himself.

“How’re you gonna explain this to your manager?”

“Fuck off,” Cody breathes, laughing.

“I’m serious man. If this whole paramedic thing doesn’t work out, you’ve got a promising career as a pizza delivery boy ahead.”

“You know uh… speaking of pizza, I’m actually kinda hungry.”

This is the first time Noel gets acquainted with the fact that Cody is probably at least half racoon and not even the tame kind; the kid will eat anything, anywhere, without exception. Noel’s not normally the kind of guy to buy his conquests pizza, but he does feel kinda bad about all the bruises he left on the guy.

It’s not awkward, which is nice. They fuck and then they usually go out and do something, never the other way around. Cody comes to a few open mikes and sings Noel’s praises, tells him he’s fucking funny and why is he a fireman? Noel shrugs but it feels good to have his ego stroked, and he even believes Cody is telling him the truth.

Suddenly, it’s not super important to him that other people find him funny. He just likes making Cody laugh, goes out of his way to do it.

He goes surfing, once. Gets up at the asscrack of dawn and is as mean as a grizzly for it, but Cody looks happy and drives them down to a beach and teaches Noel how to balance.

“So this is what you white boys do for fun?” Noel says. “You, what, talk about sick waves and chew sand?”

Cody laughs. “C'mon, dude, it’s fun as shit! Look at that blue ass water!”

Noel squints. The water looks kinda choppy if you ask him.

He wipes out. Cody laughs and spends the rest of the day on the board, and Noel pretends not to watch him.

~*~

Noel really didn’t figure that there’d be a conflict of interest in them fucking.

They’ve been hooking up for a month when there’s an office fire - a bad one, spreading through the floors too quick for them to catch up with. He pulls two people out before going back in.

The smoke is so thick he can’t really see. He hears his own breathing echoing in his ears, the crash of support beams coming down. He’s always known his job is dangerous and maybe he gets a little adrenaline out of it, maybe it keeps his messed up brain going.

This feels different. This isn’t just a house fire. This is a raging fire. He already knows that they can only hope to get everyone out before the fire burns the whole damn building to the ground - that there won’t be any salvage.

He gets the last woman out, but she’s unconscious and he makes the snap decision to remove his mask and give it to her. His buddies will come back if something happens to him, but - God, sometimes people are expendable. Sometimes they have to be.

It gets a little blurry after that; he makes it outside, and the first thing he really notices is the angry wail of an ambulance, and hands on him, divesting him of his uniform.

“Jesus Christ, dude,” a voice says, sounding vaguely familiar.

Noel blinks up at the sky. Cody’s face swims above him.

“Cody?”

“You colossal dumbass,” Cody says, sounding, for the first time since Noel has known him, legitimately angry. “Taking your fucking mask off?”

“Had to,” Noel coughs. “Cody, there’s people hurt worse than me-”

“Yeah, and they’re being taken care of.” Cody’s attaching a blood pressure cuff to his arm, then turning to someone out of Noel’s field of vision. “Let’s get him on the gurney.”

He’s picked up and dumped on a trolley, strapped in, and wheeled onto the ambulance. Cody looks unhappy with whatever readings he’s getting from Noel’s machine.

“The others,” Noel croaks.

“I don’t know,” Cody says. “Right now you’re my priority.”

He sort of wants to be Cody’s priority for a while. For more than just now. But he doesn’t say it, lets Cody put a heart rate monitor on his finger and get an oxygen mask around his face. The movements are brisk and practiced, but Cody’s gentle in a way that’s really fucking familiar.

“Yo,” Noel says. He feels hazy. “Cody… this could totally be the intro to a porno.”

“Jesus, Noel. The bit is over.”

Cody’s face swims above his. God, but he’s fuckin’ pretty, Noel realises, big soft eyes even when he’s trying to look pissed and that dumb hair.

“What were you thinking?” Cody asks softly.

Noel should’ve known it was gonna go like this - should’ve known that Cody was gonna be one of those people that turns him soft just by being around, soft enough that it makes him mad at the world for fucking with Cody, makes him wanna do something about it. He should’ve known, maybe he kind of did, but here he is.

“I just didn’t want anyone to die,” he says.

~*~

He’s released from the hospital after an overnight stay.

He feels sooty and sweaty and fucked, like he’s gone nine rounds with Connor McGregor and lost, and he’s mad at himself for wishing Cody could’ve stayed with him.

“Sorry, man,” Cody had murmured, in the hallway at a packed hospital. Triage sucks, Noel’s been here before for panic attacks and fuck knows whatever else, and it’s Friday night. The ambulance team isn’t allowed to leave until he’s got a bed - Cody’s standing beside the gurney with his hand wrapped loosely around one of the bars, close enough to Noel’s own hand that he could touch.

He doesn’t.

“You can’t stay,” Noel coughs. “All good man, I get it. People need saving.”

Cody’s mouth is turned down at the corners. He looks unhappy. “Yeah. I still have ten hours of my shift left.”

Cody’s working an overnighter, then. Those suck, Noel would know. Cody’s hours vary - sometimes he does an eight hour shift and goes home, sometimes he can be out there for fourteen or sixteen hours. It depends on what they need and what Cody signs himself up for.

“No hard feelings, man,” Noel says, attempting to ease the tight expression off Cody’s face. It sort of works.

He’s about to ask about everyone else pulled from the fire when he’s finally triaged into a room, and Cody and his partner head back out into the ambulance bay. Cody gives him a small smile and a wave.

He’s kept overnight, monitored, and eventually makes his way home to shower and feed Ollie. The dog has a food dispenser that times out his meals, but he needs wet food as well.

He apartment feels foreign to him. He measures out Ollie’s food, hops in the shower, and stands there for almost half an hour, in a fugue state, not really knowing what he should do. He somehow doesn’t feel tired. He expects that someone will fuckin’ wake him up at some point if he tries to sleep anyway.

He’s half-heartedly putting together some food when there’s a knock at his door.

He checks the clock. It’s barely seven, and some fool is already knocking. Maybe one of his nosy-ass neighbours who wants to berate him for daring to walk around in his own apartment.

With that in mind, he’s fully geared up to get into a fight as he heads to the door, moves the chain, and yanks it open. Like today hasn’t been hard enough-

It’s Cody.

Noel blinks.

Cody looks exhausted. There’s bags under his eyes and the smile he gives Noel doesn’t quite reach, and he must’ve come here straight after his shift. He’s wearing his own t-shirt but his paramedic pants with their fluorescent markings on the side.

“Cody,” Noel says intelligently.

“Hey.” Cody shifts. “Sorry, man. Just came to see how you are.”

“I’m - yeah. I’m good. Hospital food is shit.”

“Surprised they even tried to feed you before they discharged you,” Cody yawns. “But yeah, I’d take my chances starving over eating their eggs.”

“Oh, so that’s what they were.”

He’s doing the math. The house fire was at seven thirty ish, and Cody’s team got there around eight.

“Man,” he says, “you should’ve finished hours ago.”

Cody shrugs listlessly. “Overtime. Almost got back but we got a priority one call for a heart attack and the next team was late.”

Noel realises, suddenly, that Cody’s still standing in the hallway. He’s leaning on the doorframe like he’s too tired to hold himself up.

“Man, sorry,” Noel says. “I’m faded. Come in-”

Cody blinks. “You sure?”

“Yeah, man. You look beat.”

Cody nods and enters. He doesn’t smell like Cody - smells like antiseptic and cleaning stuff and hospital, but Noel doesn’t care. It’s nice to have someone around.

Gettin’ soft, Miller, he warns himself, but he’s too tired to really give a shit.

“You want somethin’ to eat?” Noel asks, like he even has to wonder if his trash-foraging feral raccoon friend is hungry. Cody is always hungry, or, at the very least, always down to eat.

Cody perks up. Of course. Raccoon genes. “You offering?”

“Nah, thought I’d just ask.”

Cody laughs, but he sounds tired. “Yeah. Thanks, man.”

They eat together on the couch, watching shitty YouTube videos and mocking them. Cody’s sleepy, clearly, and Noel has the sudden realisation that Cody didn’t sleep or eat or even change properly before coming here. This was the first place he came.

“Cody,” he says.

“Mm?” Cody yawns, with food in his mouth. Disgusting.

“Thanks for coming, man.”

Cody smiles, like really smiles, and looks at Noel like he just hung the stars and moon. Jesus, it’s easy to make this kid happy, and it’s refreshing, how honest and open he is and how clearly good he is, right down to the bone.

“Course,” he says. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay.”

God, this dumb white boy has Noel in knots. He lets Cody nap on the couch before he heads home, maybe even runs his fingers through Cody’s hair. It’s enough. It has to be.

~*~

In Noel’s experience, these things have an expiration date: six months or when someone catches feelings.

They’re in month four of whatever this thing is, sex too good for either of them to give up and neither of them even trying on dating apps anymore, when Noel starts to notice that Cody’s looking at him a little different, a little softer.

It scares the shit out of Noel. He knows he’s too fucked up for anyone to love properly if they really know him, and so he pulls back, and Cody - because Cody is a good person and way too good for Noel - lets him pull and doesn’t push closer.

They don’t sleep together, that’s the thing. They fuck, and the list of things and places they’ve tried is longer now than the things and places they haven’t, and the sex is always good enough that Noel can beat off to it if he wants. But they don’t stay the night and they don’t sleep in the same bed.

He knows Cody wants to.

It’s summer now in L.A. He went over to Cody’s that morning and they’ve had sex three times just that day, and Noel’s a little proud of himself for the fact that after the third time, Cody’s pretty much knocked the fuck out next to him in bed.

He runs a hand up Cody’s spine, gently, until he reaches Cody’s neck. Cody shivers a little; he’s bruised up again. Noel likes leaving the marks and Cody likes getting them, so it’s a win-win.

“You good?” Noel murmurs, leaning over and putting his face near Cody’s ear.

Cody shifts languidly. “Mhm,” he mumbles. “Sorry, I can’t go again.”

“Old man,” Noel teases, but he continues to stroke Cody’s back until his breathing evens out and he seems like he’s asleep.

Every bone in Noel’s body screams at him to stay, to get close to Cody’s radiating warmth and go the fuck to sleep. To get a good night’s sleep for the first time in a long time.

Too bad his anxiety-riddled brain has other ideas. He slides to the edge of the bed, quietly, intending on leaving without disturbing Cody.

“You aren’t gonna stay?”

Fuck.

Cody’s rolled over, looking at him drowsily. Clearly he was about to drift off to sleep.

Noel wants to, if he’s being really fucking honest. Cody’s room feels a little too much like home - there’s some dumb potted plant in the corner and snapbacks on the wall and blackout curtains hung up. The sheets are soft. The whole place smells like Cody.

That’s exactly why Noel can’t stay.

“I gotta head out,” he says, and turns away before he can see the flash of disappointment on Cody’s face. Fuck, he never wanted to get into a relationship with this fool in the first place.

So why does he feel guilty? They never talked about it. It was a strictly fuckbuddy kind of thing, it’s not his fault that Cody caught feelings or whatever-

But it feels like it is.

“Hey, Noel?”

Fuck fuck fuck. “Yeah?”

He hears Cody sit up, turns around to see him with this earnest expression on his face. He looks a little sad and a little rumpled and every bit as gorgeous as he was when Noel got here today, except now looking at him makes Noel feel like there’s this big gaping hole in his chest.

“I’m sorry,” Cody says quietly.

He wasn’t expecting that. “Uh - yeah? For what?”

“I um…” Cody shakes his head. “I dunno. I just feel like, I feel like I might’ve accidentally put some sort of like… expectations on you? And I didn’t mean to. You’re dope. But I know you don’t - I know you don’t want like, a relationship. So I’m sorry.”

Noel is a terrible, terrible person. A terrible person who should not be allowed out to hurt good people like Cody.

“You don’t need to apologise, man,” Noel says.

Cody smiles a little bit, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. Noel thinks about what’s stopping him - that he doesn’t feel good enough for anything, that he’s time-poor, that he doesn’t think people quite get him. That he doesn’t think he deserves someone as good as Cody.

Cody’s obviously chosen him. And he’s not really that much of an idiot. Maybe it’s alright to trust his judgment on this one.

He slides back into bed, and Cody blinks at him. “Don’t you-”

“It can wait,” Noel says, “it was gonna be a lame ass gig anyway.”

Cody looks happy, finally, and he lies back down. “Cool,” he says, and Noel genuinely believes he means it. Maybe Cody does want him around. Maybe just being himself is enough this time.

He rolls onto his side, sighing softly, feeling sleep begin to steal over his body. Cody’s room really does smell fuckin’ ace, maybe because of that plant, or maybe just because it doesn’t feel unfamiliar to him. Hell, even his own house feels unfamiliar sometimes.

Cody rolls over, snuggles up against Noel’s back, and pulls him in close. He tucks his face down against the back of Noel’s neck, and Noel can feel him smiling.

“This shit is soft, bro,” he says, voice like gravel. “Figures you’d be a fuckin’ cuddler.”

“Quit bitching,” Cody says happily.

“Whatever.”

~*~

They don’t do that again.

They hang out. They fuck. They absolutely do not fall asleep in the same bed. Cody’s careful not to overstay at Noel’s place, and Noel is a coward and lets him think he’s overstaying if he lingers once the sex is over.

If it’s Cody’s place, Noel leaves once it’s done. Cracks a joke or two, never lets Cody wake up to find him gone. Always makes sure Cody knows he’s going. That, he convinces himself, is where he fucked up last time - Cody was just taken by surprise, that’s all, sleepy and a little bewildered to find Noel leaving his bed.

He doesn’t acknowledge that he wants to stay almost as much as Cody wants to ask him to, because that involves a little more introspection than his current mental state allows for. His mental state which has him crumbling - has him thinking he’ll never break into what he wants to do, he’ll be like this forever.

The truth is that Noel hates sleeping alone but at least he’s used to it. If he lets Cody in, it’ll break him and he knows it.

It seems like a dumb thing to worry about. This sneaky motherfucker has gotten through all Noel’s defences, worn him down without even trying. He’s seen Noel hyperventilating with anxiety at two in the morning and coached him through breathing exercises, he’s seen him drunk and hungover, seen him actually mad.

But the bed thing. Nah. Noel can’t get past that.

~*~

Noel knows this about Cody:

He’s twenty seven. Acts like he’s forty, but still, twenty seven. He graduated from Duke and he’s actually reasonably smart, apart from feral raccoon behaviour like eating things off the floor or sleeping sitting up.

He’s been a full-blown, non-student paramedic for six months, and he’s never lost a patient.

It’s Thursday night when there’s a pounding on Noel’s door, and his first response is to wonder what drunk fool has the wrong apartment. It’s not often he gets an actual night off when he’s not on call and he’s not in the mood for anyone’s bullshit.

He yanks it open without checking the peephole, fully ready to throw hands with whoever’s on the other side.

Except it’s Cody, and he’s crying.

“Cody,” Noel says. “What-”

“We lost someone today.” Cody’s voice is wrecked. “I, he kept trying to tell me something and I couldn’t understand because of the blood and he was a kid he was a fucking kid-”

Noel pulls Cody inside, shuts the door, and immediately turns back, yanks Cody in and puts a hand on the back of his neck. “Easy, Codes,” he whispers. “Easy, man, I got you.”

Cody shakes apart in his arms, cries and stammers out something about what the kid was trying to say, and noel listens and makes little wordless noises that are supposed to be soothing.

He remembers his first death. He remembers coming home and breaking apart in the bathroom and not knowing what to do to get the scent of death off his clothes or body. It was unexpected, the worst kind of death, a breaking-and-entering for a welfare check with the police. She was youngish, and dead by suicide, and it was too close.

Nobody had checked on her for weeks.

Cody came straight to him, and for some reason, that surprises Noel. After all, when Noel got released from the hospital, Cody came straight to him then, too. Showed he cared. And now he’s here again.

“I’m sorry, man.” Cody pulls back, wipes his eyes on his sleeves. “I just didn’t know where else to go.”

“You’re good, man.” Noel leaves a hand on Cody’s shoulder until he takes a steadying breath. “You want something to drink?”

Cody nods. “You got scotch?” he asks.

“What are you, fifty?” Noel goes into the kitchen and turns the kettle on; when he comes back with tea, Cody blinks, opens his mouth.

“I’m not givin’ you scotch,” Noel says flatly. “It isn’t gonna help.”

Cody, to his credit, doesn’t argue. He nods, sips the tea, and then says, “How do I… how do I not fucking feel it? It’s crazy. I thought I wouldn’t-”

“You’ll always feel it, at least a little,” Noel says. “Sometimes you’ll feel it a little more or a little less. Cody… man, you can’t save everyone.”

Cody’s eyes get watery again. “I can try,” he says, voice small.

“No, brother.” Noel scoots in closer, till their knees touch. “You can’t. It’ll kill you. Save who you can… do well by the rest. It’s all you can do.”

Cody nods quietly. He finishes his tea, and they sit in silence, other than some dumb movie playing in the background. When he’s done, he stands up.

“Thanks, man,” he says softly. “Sorry to ruin your night.”

“You didn’t,” Noel says, oddly meaning it. “You’re goin’?”

“Yeah, man. Yeah. I’m gonna clear out. Won’t get in your way.”

It’s on the tip of his tongue. He almost asks Cody to stay the night, but something stops him, even as he wants to, even as he knows Cody wants to.

“Drive safe,” he says instead, and hugs Cody goodbye.

~*~

Missionary sex feels too personal now. They’re close enough to know what makes each other tick, and Noel can’t take it when Cody looks up at him from the mattress or settles in between his legs.

It feels too raw and too risky. They don’t do missionary. Cody doesn’t say anything but Noel knows he’s noticed, because for all the dumb frat boy shit, Cody’s smart as hell and perceptive where it matters.

He doesn’t cling when Noel withdraws. He clings when he thinks it’ll be alright and not spook Noel, like when it’s cold or they’ve just fucked or that one time they’re trying something and Cody croaks, “Red,” and then apologises profusely while Noel rips the blindfold off him.

“Don’t,” Noel says, feeling shaken. “Don’t say sorry. Not your fault.”

Cody clings that day. Noel lets him. He knows Cody thinks he’s mad. Knows Cody’s had boyfriends in the past who have been mad for the same shit. It turns his vision red with anger but he can’t change it now.

“If you don’t want me to pin you down I’m not gonna pin you down,” Noel says, as Cody apologises again.

“Yeah but I - I wanted to try and… you were having fun.”

“It’s not fun if you’re fuckin’ scared, Cody,” Noel says. “It’s not.”

Cody takes a deep breath. “Okay.”

Cody’s bad for his guilt complex. He feels like he never notices when Cody’s hurt or quiet or just off until after the fact, and that makes him feel useless. Cody reassures him, says it’s not his fault and that he sometimes just gets like that, especially after the kid died, but Noel beats himself up all the same.

“It’s the same for me, you know,” Cody says over pizza one night. “I hate that I can’t help you when you’re having a panic attack.”

“You do, bro,” Noel says, instantly, because it’s true. Cody is so easy to ground to, so solid that Noel hasn’t doubted him for a second.

“Okay. Well… you do too.”

~*~

He’s having an ace dream about a successful open-mike when the phone rings.

“Uh, huh?” he asks, and fumbles for it. It vibrates off the bedside table and hits the floor, and Ollie barks.

“Shit, fuck.” He leans down, finds it, and scrambles to answer. “Hello?”

“Am I speaking to Noel Miller?”

“Ugh, yeah?” The clock on his bedside table flashes, 2:33AM. “Who’s this?”

“My name is Kara Gonzales, I’m calling from West Hills hospital.”

This is precisely the moment Noel’s heart drops into his stomach and his stomach drops through the floor. A phone call at two in the morning is never a good thing. First rule of working in emergency services. How did he forget that? Has he been on the other side of the phone so often he’d fuckin’ forgotten?

“Mr. Miller?”

“Yeah,” he croaks. “I’m still here.”

“We have a Cody Ko… Kol…”

“Kolodziejzyk,” Noel supplies numbly.

“Right.” She sounds doubtful, like somehow the person on the other end of the phone that she’s calling on behalf of Cody wouldn’t fucking know his last name or how to pronounce it even if it does look like a cat having a fucking stroke walked across a keyboard and-

“Mr. Miller?” She’s impatient now.

“Sorry. Yeah.”

“Mr. Kolodziejzyk was admitted to our emergency department late yesterday evening,” she says. “You’re his emergency contact.”

“Yeah.” He’s flinging back the covers, searching for a shirt, thinking that he better not crumble into tears and act like a pussy right this second because Cody needs him. “What happened?”

“I’m afraid I can’t tell you, Mr. Miller. You’re his emergency contact but not family. Can you come down here and a doctor can discuss?”

“I’m on my way,” he says shortly, knowing that yelling at some poor night receptionist isn’t gonna get him anywhere.

~*~

It takes him just over half an hour to get to West Hills hospital, bringing him to three in the morning. His heart’s pounding and he can’t stop thinking about the way the receptionist said Mr. Kolodziejzyk was admitted to our emergency department late yesterday evening, like, that’s fuckin’ hours where no one called him, where Cody was alone-

He strides up to reception straight away, and he must look a little frantic or a little mean or maybe both, because the woman behind the counter regards him gently.

“I’m uh.” His voice breaks a little. “I’m here for Cody Kolodziejzyk?”

God damn Cody and his stupid Polish fucking stroke-cat keyboard last name. Who the fuck is even named something like Cody and then has a last name like Kolodziejzyk anyway?

“Mr. Miller?”

“That’s me,” he says, tensely.

“Alright. Take a seat, one of the nurses will come get you shortly.”

Noel doesn’t take a seat. He takes up a section of floor and paces. Now that he’s here and knows something is happening he hears the screaming, sick little baby in the corner or the old woman rattling her wheelchair through shaking, and he holds it together. God, Cody needs him to get it together.

Noel doesn’t do this. He doesn’t do doting or worrying or seriousness, loves people but doesn’t really know how to translate that into this kind of care, and Cody - that idiot - has somehow slipped under the wire. Noel doesn’t know what to do. It feels useless, whatever this thing he’s feeling is, feels dangerous and like he’ll snap from the strain of having to carry it.

“Mr. Miller?”

He whirls, makes a beeline for the nurse. The guy’s name is Carlos and Noel would’ve tapped that several times even a few months ago, but now, the first words out of his mouth are, “Is Cody okay?”

“The doctor’s with him. Come through here.”

The hospital is a goddamn maze and Noel’s angry about it, angry purely because of how fucking long it’s taking him to reach Cody, angry because nobody will tell him anything, angry because of this useless thing that’s following him around and demanding attention, angry because his anxiety is only just under wraps and if even one more thing gets in his way, he’s going to fucking lose it.

The nurse pushes a door open.

Cody looks fucking faded, that’s the first thing Noel picks up on. He looks faded and tired and small in a way he’s not supposed to, sitting on the edge of an exam table with his shirt off and blood in his hair, red tips where blonde should be, and on his face, right down one side and splattered onto his neck.

There’s stitches in his head. There’s stitches in his side. There’s stitches in his fucking leg right next to that dumb tattoo he has. He’s pale and looks wrung out and very much unlike the strong, confident Cody Noel knows him to be.

And he’s covered in bruises. There’s blood on his face.

Cody raises his head tiredly when Noel walks in. His eyes are clouded over and there’s no colour in his face. The stitches are black against his skin.

“Noel,” he says, and there’s something in his voice that makes that useless thing feel even more useless and the gap in the wire gets even bigger.

“Christ, Cody,” Noel says. “What happened?”

Cody looks helplessly at the doctor.

The doctor - a short, blonde woman who can’t be any more than thirty - smiles kindly at Noel. “I know it looks bad,” she says. “But the first thing you should know is that Cody’s going to be fine. He’s got a bit of healing to do, but he doesn’t have to stay the night.”

Somewhere, there’s a cry of pain. Cody’s eyes close like he has no say in the action.

“Okay,” Noel says, and he’s almost calmer. “But what happened?”

“We got jumped,” Cody mumbles. “Got a call about someone overdosing in an alleyway… was a trick. They wanted the drugs.”

It’s not like Noel to be bloodthirsty or see red, but in that moment, he envisions the weight of the fire truck and what it can do to a human body. “Jesus Christ,” he spits angrily.

Cody almost lifts his head, almost straightens. “Can you go find out how Audrey’s doing?” he asks, voice tinny.

“Audrey?” Who the fuck is Audrey?

“Cody,” the doctor says gently, “you know Noel isn’t going to be allowed to know anything. We’ll ask Audrey’s family’s permission to update you, okay?”

Cody nods a little.

“Alright. How about we collect your things and get you out of here?”

Cody nods again.

“Doc,” Noel says, catching her on the way out. “What’s wrong with him?”

She hesitates, but not for long. Her voice is low when she speaks, probably to avoid Cody overhearing.

“He got out better than his partner,” she says softly. “He’s got a few lacerations on his body - not sure how they were caused, but deep enough to need stitches. Bruised, too, probably because he put up more of a fight. No concussion from what we can tell-”

“The blood,” Noel interrupts.

“Head wounds bleed a lot.” She’s kind when she says it, not dismissive. “He’s got fractured ribs. Breathing will hurt for a while, but we’ve got some prescription medication for him. He’ll be alright, Noel. He’s tired.”

Noel nods. “Did you give him anything? Now?”

“We gave him some codeine for the pain when he came in,” she says quietly. “It might make him a little drowsy.”

Knowing makes him feel a little better. Knowing what happened makes him angry but knowing what’s been done about it eases him.

“So I can take him home?”

“I think that’s best.”

“Alright. Okay.”

“Noel, he can’t be left alone,” the doctor stresses. “If you have commitments-”

“I don’t,” Noel says shortly. “Not now.”

She smiles. “I’ll get his discharge papers.”

She leaves. Noel stands there for a moment, bewildered, listening to a baby wail down the hallway, before turning and going back into Cody’s little cubicle.

Cody raises his head wearily when Noel enters, and for a second, Noel feels it. This is it - this is the reaction everyone told him he’d fuckin’ get on the job, the sensation of his mind saying nope, enough’s enough, I’m done, I'm fucking out - his chest caves in a little and his inhale doesn’t quite reach his lungs, his eyes sting, and-

And he pulls himself back together.

“Sorry they woke you up,” Cody says weakly. “I told them not to call.”

Of course Cody fucking Canadian Kolodziejzyk is apologising for getting beaten up, taken to hospital, and having Noel called. Of fucking course.

“Jesus, Cody,” he says, and that’s when he notices that Cody’s starting to wriggle forward on the table, like he’s trying to get down. He’s still shivering.

“Stay there,” Noel orders, and his voice cracks a little. “Cody, Jesus, just-”

His legs decide on their own to stride forward and slot him between Cody’s legs, and his arms pull Cody in close, like he’s trying to protect Cody using his own body.

Useless, useless. He wasn’t there and he’s fucking useless, even now. Even now Cody thinks he has to go to Noel, that it’s his job to soothe.

Cody holds on, his arms hooked under Noel’s, hands gripping Noel’s shoulders. He puts his head down on Noel’s left shoulder, face turned inwards. Noel can feel him shaking, now, see the goosebumps rippling up Cody’s torso. He’s still in his paramedic pants, which also have blood splattered on them. One leg is ripped at the thigh to give access to his wound.

“I got you, baby,” Noel says.

Cody doesn’t say anything for a really long time. They stay like that, Cody clinging and breathing and Noel fantasizing about all the ways he could and probably should kill the people who did this, the fact that he wasn’t there, the idea that Cody’s only ever wanted to fucking help people and wouldn’t hurt a goddamn fly-

Cody pulls back a little. “I tried to fight them off,” he croaks.

Blood on his face and neck. Someone’s made a half-hearted attempt at smearing it off, but a lot of it is still there. The stitches in his forehead stretch up into the buzzed side of his head, angry and black.

“Yeah, I knew you would, baby,” Noel says. “I’m proud of you.”

“I’m sorry they called,” Cody says, Cody and his Canadian pronunciation saying “sourrey” like it’s his fault he got bashed in an alleyway. “I told them it could wait till morning…”

“Cody, Jesus, I’m glad they called,” Noel says. “You don’t gotta apologise for anything, okay?”

Cody’s eyes go all big and soft at that, watery, and he puts his head back on Noel’s shoulder, only this time his face is turned away. He sniffles a little.

It’s a few more minutes before the doctor is back. She’s got Cody’s things but his shirt is beyond repair - Noel’s quick to strip off his own zip-up hoodie and bundle Cody into it, berating himself for not thinking of it before.

The rest is a little blurry. He helps Cody down from the exam table, and, with a ziplock bag containing Cody’s things and his shiny new prescription, they leave the hospital. Cody walks under his own power, but he limps, and he looks exhausted still.

“Thanks,” he says, which is a nice change from sorry until he follows it up with, “at least they didn’t steal my house keys.”

“House keys?”

“So I can get in?”

“Shut your fool ass up,” Noel sighs, starting the engine.

~*~

Cody sleeps most of the way back, against the window, and Noel drives slow to let him.

He helps Cody out of the car when he parks. It’s almost four in the morning. God, what a fucking night.

“Thanks,” Cody murmurs blearily.

“Yeah. C'mon.”

Into the elevator. He takes Cody’s weight and shoulders him down the hallway, unlocks the apartment, lets them in. Dumps the prescription and Cody’s things on the kitchen counter. Cody stands in the living room, blinking.

“Shower,” Noel says. “You’ll feel better.”

Warm water. He’s seen Cody naked before. Hell, he’s even stripped Cody naked before. But not like this. Cody holds onto his shoulders and makes a wounded noise when Noel strips him out of his pants and boxers.

This is different. Cody really needs him.

The water runs red for a little while, and Noel washes Cody’s hair for him and waits for the water to go clear again before helping him out. He was right though - Cody seems more relaxed now. A lot better with his blood inside his body where it’s fuckin’ supposed to be.

“Bed,” Noel says.

Cody blinks, eyes big and sleepy. “There’s only one.”

Noel doesn’t even know how to process that. They fuck and don’t talk about it and Cody would pull some shit about the bed. For all the times they’ve fucked they’ve only slept together once, with Noel’s defences down and Cody catching him in the act of leaving.

He should’ve told Cody then what it meant to say. Then Cody wouldn’t have worried about calling him. Then he wouldn’t have fucking worried about being an imposition on Noel’s life - like Noel hadn’t opened the fucking door and just let him walk right in.

“Riskin’ it all on some dumb white boy,” Noel mutters, but it’s not quite the same when Cody can’t box back at him.

“Thanks,” Cody says, blearily, when he’s wearing an old pair of Noel’s sweats and a t-shirt that somehow manages to look baggy on him. “Um, where’s my keys?”

Um, why do you need them?” Noel mimics back. He’s reading the instructions on Cody’s box of pain pills. He hates pills, knows Cody feels pretty much the same, but they’re necessary this time around. Busted ribs and stitches? Cody won’t sleep without a little chemical relief.

“So I can get into my apartment,” Cody’s voice comes back.

Noel stops, turns. “Excuse me?” he says.

“I need to get into my house, dude.” Cody looks upset, now - his eyes are watering. “Just - stop fucking playing with me, Jesus. Give me my keys.”

Noel has a feeling he can only characterise as a dreadful “oops” moment, one in which he realises he’s done real damage by pushing Cody away, one in which he suddenly gets that he owed it to Cody to come clean about his feelings or at least not hold Cody responsible for them and failed.

Cody looks downright hurt, and when Noel doesn’t answer, he wobbles upright. “Noel, please,” he begs.

“Cody, sit,” Noel says quietly. “Sit down.”

Cody sits back down. There are tears rolling down his cheeks, now, and Noel knows he’ll apologise for them later.

Noel steps in close, takes Cody’s face between his hands. “Hey,” he says quietly.

“Hi,” Cody whispers back.

“I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry for hurting you. I’m not playing. You don’t need your keys - you can stay here. Alright?”

“You don’t want-” Noel can hear the hope in his voice and it’s too fucking much - it’s been a long night and Noel is at the end of his tether, Cody’s in pain and clearly beyond his own breaking point, and they should’ve cleared things up months ago.

“I want you to stay here, Cody.”

Cody pauses for a moment, licks tears off his lips, and then nods.

“Okay?” Noel checks.

“Yeah.”

“Alright.” He steps back, pops a pill out of the packet. “Here,” he says. “Take this. It’ll take care of the pain… probably make you drowsy as well.”

Cody takes it with some water, then stands up. He’s still limping horribly as he heads to the couch.

“You got spare blankets?” he asks plaintively.

“God, you’re dumb,” Noel mutters. “Fool, get up. You’re not sleeping on the damn couch. You’re sleeping in my bed with me.”

“I’ll get blood-”

“I don’t care.”

Pause. Cody nods, tiredly, and limps upright. “Sorry,” he says.

“Why’re you apologising?”

“I know you like space.” He follows Noel into the bedroom. “I know you like being on your own, I try not to get in the way. I - I really appreciate you, man. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Noel says, feeling a little startled. “C'mon. Bed.”

He helps Cody slip under the covers, then slides in beside him. Cody’s shivering a little, so Noel inches closer and presses himself up against Cody’s back.

Cody relaxes.

“You know,” Noel says, “I only like my space sometimes.”

Cody doesn’t say anything.

“We’ll talk in the morning, Codes,” Noel says softly.

“It is morning.”

Noel smiles. That’s his Cody.

“Go to sleep, fool. Wake me up if you need anything.”

~*~

The next day, Noel wakes before Cody and slips out of bed, goes into the kitchen to feed Ollie and starts making breakfast. Or lunch. Whatever.

Cody hadn’t woken or even really stirred during the night. Noel woke almost like clockwork, afraid he wasn’t breathing.

He’s just finished up breakfast when Cody stumbles out from the bedroom. The limp is worse, but there’s a little colour to his face, now, which is reassuring to say the least. He blinks dazedly in the morning light.

“Mornin’,” Noel says. “Toast?”

“Um - yeah.” Cody slides into a barstool. “I think I got blood on the pillowcase,” he mumbles.

“No big deal. Washing machines are fully a thing that exist.” Noel sits down. “Let’s eat.”

~*~

Cody doesn’t go home that night.

Well, not really. Noel drives him around to his place and helps him pack some stuff up, then drags Cody back to his car before he can hear even a suggestion that Cody stay there.

They get Chick-fil-A on the way back. Cody’s appetite is back, which is good. He still looks drowsy, but that’s probably the pills.

“You’ll tell me when I’ve worn out my welcome, right?” he asks uncertainly.

“Sure,” Noel agrees.

Cody stays the night again.

~*~

Two days later, the police call Cody to let him know that they’ve found out who bashed him and his partner. They’re pressing charges, regardless of what Cody says.

“Good,” Noel says, feeling bloodthirsty for the fifth time that week. “Send 'em to fuckin’ prison where they belong. They can beat the fuck out of each other.”

Cody just looks tired. He’s ready to feel better and ready for it to be over, and God, Noel gets it, but…

“Aren’t you angry?” he asks. “Cody, they beat the living shit out of you, the broke Audrey’s arm-”

“They’re addicted,” Cody says tiredly. He’s cradling his ribs, even though he’s taken his pain pill today and they shouldn’t be hurting that much. “They can’t help it.”

“Fuck outta here,” Noel says heatedly.

“Noel, c'mon. They’re people-”

“I don’t give a shit,” Noel says. “I don’t care like you do, Cody, never fucking have. You’re too good for them. You went there to help them 'cause you thought someone was in trouble and they attacked you like a pack of fuckin’ rabid dogs. They don’t deserve your help.”

“I didn’t get into being a paramedic because I thought everyone deserves help,” Cody mumbles wearily. “I got into it because I think everyone needs it.”

This, Noel realises, is the difference between them. He’s a good guy - donates money to charity when he can, loves his friends and family, hell, he’d go above and beyond for any of them. He doesn’t go out of his way to hurt people. He’s a good dude.

But Cody? Cody is a distressingly good human being. Cody is the type of human being to risk his life for someone who would sooner see him dead than accept help from him.

Noel sighs, sits down next to Cody on the couch. “Alright,” he says.

“Alright?”

“Well, I know I’m not gonna change your mind,” Noel mutters. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”

Cody smiles and it almost looks like one of his old ones, if it weren’t for the bruising marring his jawline. “Thanks for letting me stay here,” he says.

“I like it when you’re here.” Noel doesn’t see the point in pretending, anymore. Doesn’t see the point in acting like his chest didn’t just about collapse when he heard Cody had been hurt, or like he’s not still ready to go out and tear those motherfuckers new assholes for it.

“Yeah?”

Cody’s smiling. Stupid goofy Duke-educated dumbass.

“Yeah.” Noel turns to face him, properly, and meets his eyes. “I should’ve fucking told you that before.”

Cody blinks, opens his mouth, and then closes it. He almost looks sad again.

“I let you leave,” Noel says.

“Huh?”

God, he feels all choked up which is stupid, Cody’s here and he’s fine and he’s going to be okay and they’ll get on with their lives. He was smiling not even one fucking minute ago-

“That night your patient died, you came here,” Noel says. “You came straight to me and you were a fuckin’ mess and I let you in and then I let you leave. I should’ve asked you to stay, I knew you wanted me to ask you to stay. I wanted to ask you to stay but I’m a fuckin’ coward and I didn’t, so I let you leave.”

Cody’s quiet for a little bit, watching him thoughtfully. Then, “You let me stay the night after I got bashed. And every night since.”

Just like that, Noel knows that he’s not forgiven - because Cody never held anything against him. As far as Cody seems to be concerned, there’s nothing to forgive.

“Fuck,” he says, and rubs his eyes like he can force himself not to cry. “Cody…”

“It’s okay, man.” Cody shuffles closer; he winces a bit, the stitches must pull, but he gets all up in Noel’s space and pulls him in close. “I’m glad I’m here now.”

Noel holds on and wonders how his dumb ass ever tricked him into thinking that he had a choice on whether or not to let Cody in. He didn’t. Cody got under the wire and now he’s snipping it down, inch by inch.

“Fuck, I am so glad you’re okay,” Noel whispers.

Cody squeezes him tighter.

They stay like that for a moment. Noel pulls away, clears his throat. Cody’s still smiling like a dweeb.

“I guess we’re gonna have to retire that pizza delivery boy bit,” he admits. “Seeing as you’ll be here way more often.”

“I reckon we could go places with the lost boyfriend one,” Cody muses, not missing a bit. “Um, Mr. Miller, sir, I really appreciate your hospitality, but my boyfriend is expecting me and he won’t like it if he knows I’ve been here…”

Noel laughs. Maybe he won’t make Cody go home tonight. Or ever again.