“All available ER staff to the nurses’ station, all available ER staff to the nurses’ station.”
Adam glanced up at the announcement, then back down to the laceration he was closing; with two sutures left, he was most decidedly not available. Starting the next suture, he listened through the curtain for a snippet of the conversation, but he was too far back in the department to pick anything up. He continued chatting with his patient, a forty-year-old man who’d had an unfortunate run-in with a curb while rollerblading, while he finished and inspected his work. “Looks good,” he declared, putting his needle into the sharps box and and everything else into the trash, “Your nurse will be in with your tetanus shot, and after that you can go.”
“Sounds good, doc,” the man said, giving a thumbs-up with his uninjured hand, “Thanks.”
Ordinarily, Adam should have corrected him; he was a physician assistant and proud of it, but that conversation always took time (”What’s that?” “Are you going to medical school after this?” “I hear it’s so competitive to get in!”) and he was eager to figure out what the department huddle had been about. Closing the curtain behind him as he left the room, Adam stepped into the hall to find people moving patients to different rooms and security waiting by the door. He turned to the first person he could find, getting the attention of Bethany, the chief PA. “What’s going on?”
“Cambridge P1 is coming in with a combative psych, and one of the medics was assaulted on scene. Sounds like an absolute clusterfuck.”
Adam's chest felt like a vacuum. He barely had enough breath to speak. “Cambridge?”
“Pretty sure that’s what they said.” Bethany furrowed her brow. “You okay?”
No. Not at all. “Yeah. I, uh--thanks. I have to, um—”
“Alright.” She clearly didn’t believe him, but Adam knew she was too busy to press any further. “Let me know if you need anything.”
With a nod, Adam went to his charting station, trying to look calm. He put his fingers on the keyboard but couldn’t think clearly enough to type. Keeping the ambulance bay doors in his peripheral vision, he focused on his breathing. He took out his phone, praying for a text from Ronan, just a simple ‘see you soon,’ but the screen was empty.
After thirty seconds of Adam fidgeting, the ambulance arrived, the entryway suddenly a flurry of activity. He stood and scanned the group for Ronan’s face. He saw the cops, hospital security, two nurses, the irate patient, and finally, a paramedic. She was tall and blond and definitely not Ronan. Pushing his way over, Adam put a hand on her shoulder, immediately regretting it when she yanked her arm back. He’d apologize later. “Where’s Ronan?”
“With PD.” She jerked her head toward the exit.
He nearly smashed into the first set of sliding doors when they didn’t open fast enough. Weaving around the second set, he scanned the lot and spotted a cruiser parked behind Cambridge’s ambulance, starting to run when he saw the officer trying to help Ronan out of the passenger seat. Adam shouted Ronan’s name, and the officer looked back in time to move out of the way as Adam came to a halt, stopping himself with a hand on the open doorframe. He dropped to his knees and pressed his palm to Ronan’s cheek. “Ro?”
While he didn’t look good, Ronan could have looked a lot worse. He had a blackened left eye, a bruise spanning his cheek and temple, and a noticeable lump on the side of his forehead. There was some dried blood near one nostril, and more blood smeared on his hand and uniform. His eyes were open, but he looked dazed, sleepy. Blinking slowly, he smiled and put his hand over Adam’s. “What’re you doing here?”
“You’re at Mount Auburn, babe. You hit your head.”
“Oh. Right.” Ronan lay against the seatback, closing his eyes. He sighed. “Can’t we just go home?”
“You gotta get checked out, kid,” the cop said, startling Adam. He’d forgotten that there was anyone else in the world besides Ronan. “Can you walk?”
Shaking his head, Adam looked at the officer. “He’s not walking anywhere. Can you get us a wheelchair?” The officer hesitated, then turned toward the patient lobby, and Adam was relieved to get a few seconds alone with Ronan. Moving his hand from Ronan’s cheek to his lap, he laced their fingers together and then leaned in to kiss him, taking care not to bump his nose against anything bruised. “Oh, honey. Look at you.”
“‘m okay,” Ronan mumbled. “Promise.”
“I know, I know.” He did, mostly. He’d seen plenty of concussions during the past six months at Mount Auburn, and he knew that most people turned out fine after a week or two (and he was refusing to think about the ones who didn’t). That didn’t change the fact that Ronan was a wreck and that Adam was barely holding himself together. He needed to feel useful, like he had some modicum of control in the situation. “How’s your head?”
“They’ll get you some Tylenol once you get inside.” Speaking of which, where was everyone? It felt like ages since he left the ER, but no other staff members had come out. Adam shifted positions as he made to stand. “I’m gonna go find someone.”
Ronan squeezed Adam’s hand. He opened his eyes, visibly panicked, then squeezed them shut with a wince. “Don’t go.”
“Okay, darlin’. I’m here.”
Moments later, the cop returned with Kathy, one of the nurses, who briskly pushed a wheelchair over to them. She and Adam helped Ronan out of the cruiser, and when she went to wheel him back to the department, he still refused to let go of Adam’s hand.
“You gotta let go so they can bring you in. I’ll be right behind you.” Adam dropped to a squat next to the chair and saw that Ronan looked seconds away from tears. “Oh, love,” he murmured, kissing the uninjured side of Ronan’s forehead. Keeping his hand in Ronan’s, he stood and looked apologetically at Kathy. “He’s not gonna--let’s just go slow.”
She smiled. “I didn’t know you two were a thing,” she said as she steered Ronan toward the ambulance bay doors, “I always see you together but it never occurred to me.”
Adam didn’t have a good response. She was right--whenever Ronan brought a patient in and Adam wasn’t completely swamped, they’d find each other and chat by the ambulance doors. Adam often wondered if his smile or Ronan’s laugh would give them away, but apparently that wasn’t the case.
When they passed through the doors, the charge nurse made eye contact with Kathy. “That the medic?” She nodded. “Room four. Adam, you’re taking him?”
He was about to answer, but Kathy beat him to it. “No--assign someone else. And pull Adam from the schedule.” The charge nurse looked confused, staring at Adam for a moment before shrugging and turning to the patient assignment board.
“Thank you,” he said as Kathy took them to the room and helped Ronan onto the bed, lifting his legs onto the mattress when he struggled to do it himself. While it wasn’t easy with Ronan still clutching his hand, Adam tried to stand out of the way as she wrapped the blood pressure cuff around Ronan’s upper arm, taped the pulse oximeter to his finger, and checked his temperature. Ronan sat forward with his knees bent, one arm resting on the bedrail, head propped up in his hand. He was looking markedly worse than he had in the garage, eyebrows drawn together in a pained expression. When Kathy finished taking Ronan’s vitals, Adam perched on the edge of the bed and traced his knuckles down Ronan’s jawline. “Ro?”
Ronan shook his head in a barely perceptible movement. “I think I’m gonna throw up.”
In a practiced movement, Kathy took a pink basin out of a cabinet and handed it to Adam. “Let me find out who your doc is and see if they’ll write you for some Zofran.”
When Ronan didn’t react, Adam replied for him, “Please.”
“Medical history? Meds or med allergies?”
“Alright. I’ll be back soon.”
She left the room and Adam shifted positions to be a little more comfortable, Ronan’s clammy hand still clasped in his own. “Do you want, like—” he searched his brain for something, anything, he could offer to help “--a cool washcloth somewhere?”
“Please just--stop talking.” Fuck. Of course. It was like Adam had forgotten everything. Ronan lifted his head a little, eyelids fluttering as he tried to look at Adam. “Sorry.” Adam shook his head silently in reply, more upset at himself than anything. He hated this. Hated feeling useless, hated seeing Ronan hurt, hated that he was making things worse. After a few seconds, Ronan added, “Actually--rub my back?”
Thank god. Adam smoothed his hand over Ronan’s uniform, grateful to have something to do. He scooted closer and rested his lips on Ronan’s scalp, feeling him lean ever so slightly into the contact. It seemed like Ronan was feeling better now that he was sitting still, but Adam kept the basin close at hand in case that changed, and carefully watched Ronan’s measured breathing.
A few minutes passed like that: Adam seated barely on the bed, one hand in Ronan’s and the other on his back; Ronan resting his head on his knees, eyes shielded with his forearm. It was silent and still enough in the room that they both jumped when Bethany pulled the curtain back with Kathy in tow. “Ronan?” With a grunt as a means of greeting, Ronan barely lifted his head. “I’m Bethany, one of the other PAs. Kathy’s gonna give you something for the nausea and some Tylenol, and I’ll come back to examine you once that’s kicked in, okay?”
“Thank you,” Adam said. “Sorry to make you—”
“Do not finish that sentence.” Kathy interrupted. She had been speaking in a hushed voice on the other side of the bed, securing Ronan’s ID band and giving him three pills and a cup of water, but raised her voice noticeably to address Adam. Ronan groaned and she went on in a whisper, “You do not get to apologize for being with your boyfriend.” She paused. “Partner.”
“Fiance,” Ronan mumbled, and Adam couldn’t help but smile.
Bethany’s eyes widened. “Adam! Why didn’t you—”
“If you all don’t shut up now, I will vomit on you,” Ronan threatened, handing the empty plastic cup back to Kathy and resting his head back down. Adam stifled a laugh--even with a concussion, he was still Ronan.
Looking amused and appropriately chastened, Bethany nodded. “Alright. I’ll check in on you in a little bit.” She gave a reassuring smile at Adam before leaving. While this would have been an awful experience at any hospital, the fact that Adam knew and trusted the providers made it the tiniest bit better. Bethany had been his mentor when he started, and he did feel a little guilty for not sharing much--anything, really--about his life with her. Once this was all over with, he’d have to take her out for pre-work coffee to explain.
Kathy was about to leave as well when she asked, “Adam, do you need anything?”
He gave a shaky smile. “Ativan?”
She chuckled. “Best I can do is ginger ale.”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
As soon as Kathy stepped out of the room, Ronan let go of Adam’s hand. Sure that he was actually going to be sick, Adam put the basin in front of Ronan as quickly as he could, but the other shook his head. “Wanna lie down,” he said, sliding himself closer to the foot of the bed.
“Where do you want me?”
Ronan pointed to the head of the stretcher. “Sit there--gonna put my head in your lap.”
Positioning himself with his back against the bedrail, Adam sat where Ronan instructed and eased him down so that his head rested on Adam’s thigh. Because his uninjured side was facing down, all of Ronan’s bruises were on full display, and even though Adam had seen much worse, he had to look away. He placed a hand on Ronan’s waist, somewhere that he was relatively sure wasn’t injured. “I’m so sorry this happened.”
Ronan shrugged. “Comes with the territory, I guess.”
“I mean, not really.”
“Wasn’t entirely her fault.” Ronan’s words flowed together, not quite slurring, just tired-sounding. “Cops were trying to start shit before we got there, so she was already pretty riled up.” It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Ronan with his door papered with speeding tickets would side against the cops, but the fact that he’d go so far as to side with the person who nearly knocked him out was a bit unexpected. “Especially the fucker who drove me here. That guy sucks.”
Adam wished he could kiss Ronan from his current position; he had grown up but was still so much the same. “You’re gonna get yourself in trouble.”
“I know when to keep my mouth shut.”
They slipped into a few quiet minutes, during which Adam untucked Ronan’s uniform shirt and rested his hand on the warm skin of his low back. Ronan had mumbled something about ‘getting frisky at work’ and wiggled his butt, which made Adam laugh in earnest. He kept his hand in place even when the curtain rustled and the medic from earlier stepped inside.
“Hey, Lyn--holy shit,” she said, coming around the side of the bed and stopping short. “Oh my god. What the fuck.” She looked him over, brow furrowed, then squatted down to his level. “How’re you feeling?”
“Like shit. But better than earlier.”
She nodded. “Good. I let shift command know, someone’s gonna come by to file a report and whatever.”
“I’m not pressing charges.”
Taking a deep breath and letting it out with a sigh, she shook her head. “Yeah, you can take that up with Frank when he gets here. We still have to do an incident report.” Looking from Ronan to Adam, she asked, “You’re the fiance?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, chest suddenly tight. “Adam. Sorry for grabbing you earlier, I—“
“Dude, don’t worry about it.” She smiled, and he felt a little more at ease. “I’m Kara. You’d better do a good job looking after him--he’s legit my favorite regular partner.” Adam gave a small nod in reply, and Kara continued, this time to Ronan. “I’ll let you rest, but if you need anything, I’ll be fucking around in the EMS room until they assign me somewhere else.” She and Adam said their goodbyes, and Ronan murmured his thanks, and then the room was empty again.
Adam didn’t want to bring it up. He shouldn’t bring it up, not when Ronan was like this. It probably hadn’t even registered with Ronan. But Adam was Adam, and he ached at the thought of Ronan feeling anything less than treasured. “I, uh, didn’t realize you were out to your coworkers.”
“Just a few. It just came up one time--Kara’s bi.” With what looked to be quite a bit of effort, he shifted so that he lay on his back, looking up at Adam. “I thought we decided that was okay?”
Quickly, Adam nodded. “No, it is. I just...I--I’m not. Or, wasn’t. And I didn’t want you to feel like—”
“Adam.” Grimacing at the movement but doing it nevertheless, Ronan pushed himself all the way up and knelt next to Adam on the bed. When he’d looked at Adam in the cruiser earlier, it was like he was looking through him, but now his eyes were focused and intent. “I love you so fucking much, and I know that you love me. I also know that our lives were very, very different. You don’t owe anybody anything.”
He wasn’t going to cry in front of Ronan, not now. Of course, Ronan was absolutely right. Ronan never had reason to doubt his family’s love (even when Declan was being a dick) while Adam never had reason to believe there was anything more than indifference, if not simply hate, from his own. He’d never forget his father’s reaction to finding out about him and Ronan, more disgust than anything else. Adam wasn’t ashamed of who he was, but keeping as many parts of himself as private as possible ensured that no one would look at him like that again.
“I know.” He gave a short nod. “I love you, too. So much.”
Ronan put a hand on Adam’s cheek. It looked like he was going to move in to kiss him, but then he stopped, taking his hand down and looking it over. He scratched at the smear of dried blood, flaking some off onto his lap. “I’m a fucking mess.”
“Yeah,” Adam laughed, “You are.”
He kissed Ronan anyway.