kids love me
Do they though?
one way to find out
Clearly, dispatch had been eavesdropping on his texts with Ronan. That was the only explanation for why Kavinsky, a good, respectable, dedicated employee would be getting stuck with a transfer all the way up to Children’s an hour before his shift was over. They wouldn’t be getting back to base until nine at the earliest, and that was if everything went smoothly (and of course, now that he’d had that thought, things would go the opposite of smoothly.) Anyway, the joke was on dispatch or the EMS gods or whoever was responsible for this; it was Cal’s turn to tech the call, so Kavinsky wouldn’t do much more than say hi to the kid before driving the thirty some-odd miles north. He just hoped the parents were chill--he didn’t have the energy to deal with an off-the-walls anxious parent in the passenger seat, not tonight.
Backing into ambulance parking, he threw the truck in park and got out, his back aching with the movement. He was getting too old for this shit. Behind the truck, Cal had already pulled out the stretcher and thrown the computer on top. Making eye contact with Kavinsky, who was doing his best to stretch the part of his low back that felt like an absolute rock, he asked, “You want a minute, man?”
“Nah. Let’s just get this over with.” The last thing he needed was for the (cute, but way too young for him) new medic to think that Kavinsky was some old man who couldn’t hack it on the road anymore. Taking hold of the back of the stretcher, he followed Cal through the ambulance bay doors, weaving through the emergency department to the nurses’ station.
Opening up the computer, Cal leaned on the counter and got the unit coordinator’s attention. “Hi, we’re here for, uh—” he glanced at the screen, “Opal Lynch?”
“What?” Kavinsky grabbed the computer and wrenched it to face him. Sure enough--Opal Lynch, six years old, going up to Children’s. “Shit.” He handed the computer back to Cal. “Change of plans, I’m gonna tech this one.”
“You know her?”
Kavinsky ran a hand through his hair, tugging on the ends. “She’s my Friday partner’s kid.”
He turned to the coordinator. “What room?”
“Fifteen. Do you want me to page her nurse?” She reached for the phone, but Kavinsky waved her off.
“Not yet--I’m gonna go talk with the family.” Then, to Cal, “You okay waiting here for a bit?” Cal nodded, and Kavinsky forced a smile. “Thanks. Shouldn’t be too long.”
That last part might have been a lie, but Cal was new and really wasn’t in a position to put up a fight. There were two options for how Ronan and Adam were doing. The first was that they were both calm; they were emergency medical providers, they had knowledge and logic to give them structure and reassurance. The second (and, to be frank, more likely option) was that they were both absolute wrecks, catastrophizing about the worst, and Kavinsky was not about to rush his dearest partner and his beautiful husband through this whole experience.
He hovered outside room fifteen, listening for voices through the curtain. Sure enough, he heard Adam talking in an artificially bright tone; he must have been reading out loud to Opal, because there was no other reason for him to be talking about bunnies. Kavinsky couldn’t hear Ronan’s voice, but there was the rhythmic sound of someone pacing, so that was probably him. Knocking on the doorframe as he pushed past the curtain, Kavinsky stepped into the room. Adam looked up from where he sat on the stretcher with one arm around Opal, a book held open in the other hand. Opal’s face was puffy and tear-streaked, and she had a clown-printed hospital gown on, an IV taped down to her little hand. She held a pink stuffed bear on her lap, and she seemed alert, engaged with whatever Adam was reading to her. All in all, she looked okay.
When Kavinsky made eye contact with Ronan, there was a pause and then, with a few steps, Ronan came over and pulled him into what was possibly the tightest hug of his life. Burying his face in Kavinsky’s neck, he didn’t say anything for a few seconds, then mumbled, “I’m so fucking glad to see you.”
“What’s going on, man?” Kavinsky wrapped his arms around Ronan, rubbing one hand briskly over his upper back.
With a deep sigh, Ronan stepped back. He gripped the back of his head with his fingertips, like he wished he had hair to pull. “It’s, uh--mastoiditis—” he pointed to the bone behind his ear, “She’s got an ear infection, and I guess it spread to the bone? They’re admitting her for IV antibiotics and uh,” he lowered his voice, “they’ve gotta go in and drain the—“
Opal made a whimpering sound, and Adam hoisted her into his lap. “You’re okay, baby girl. Everything’s gonna be fine,” he said, smoothing her hair with one hand and picking the book back up. Then, at Ronan, he added, “Can you talk about it outside? Please?” He looked and sounded exhausted, worn absolutely thin.
“Sorry, sorry.” Ronan shook his head. “That’s pretty much it.”
“Shit, dude, I’m sorry.” Kavinsky sucked in a breath through his teeth. “My bad.”
Not looking up from the book, Adam flapped a hand at him. “She’s heard worse.”
“So are you really the ones taking her?” Ronan leaned against the stretcher, supporting himself with a hand on the back. “Seems a pretty basic transfer for a double-medic unit.”
“I guess they ran out of BLS units, but for once, poor fleet management has worked out in our favor.” This was, quite possibly, the only time that he wouldn’t complain about having to take a transfer that didn’t require advanced life support. As he would often bitch to Ronan, he didn’t go to a year of medic school to be a taxi service. He tilted his head toward Opal. “So do you want to introduce us, or—”
“Sure.” Ronan squatted so that he was closer to Opal’s level and touched her cheek to get her attention. Kavinsky got down as well, trying preemptively to make himself look as unthreatening as possible. “Remember how we said that you’re taking a trip in an ambulance to a different hospital?” She nodded. “This is my friend Kavins--Joseph--who’s going to be taking care of you in the ambulance. He’s a paramedic, like me.”
Kavinsky held out his hand ( shit you don’t shake hands with kids what do you do) and Opal hesitantly took it, her own hand small and sweaty in his. He was suddenly incredibly aware of how young she was, how tiny in comparison to the adult-sized hospital bed. “Hi, Opal,” he said, pitching his voice a little higher, “You can call me Joe.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Adam whip his head to look at Ronan and mouth ‘Joe?’ “Have you been in an ambulance before?”
She shook her head.
“Yes, you have, O,” Ronan said. “You got to sit in the fire department one at the fair, remember?”
She furrowed her brow, then nodded. “Oh, yeah.”
Kavinsky smiled. “That’s great. It’s gonna be nice and easy--you’ll be in your car seat, one of your dads is gonna come with you, and I promise I won’t do anything that hurts.”
Twisting around in Adam’s lap, Opal looked to Ronan for confirmation, and he nodded. There were very few circumstances where they could promise a painless experience, but Kavinsky was positive that he could deliver on that. He’d make sure to have her nurse take one last set of vital signs so he didn’t have to chance it with the blood pressure cuff--with a sick kid, even the squeezing could be enough to send them over the edge.
“I have to do a few things before we go, so I’m gonna leave you here with your dads and come back in a little bit, okay?” She didn’t respond, but he wasn’t concerned; honestly, he was surprised at how interactive she’d been so far. Usually kids were freaking out by this point, but the fact that she’d seen Ronan in uniform probably helped. Kavinsky stood upright and looked to Ronan, who was still pushing himself up from his squatting position. “Do you have her car seat here or—hey. Heyheyhey. Lynch.”
Ronan had been standing at his full height for only a second when his eyes went unfocused, his face vacant. Grabbing him with one arm, Kavinsky pivoted to grab the nearby chair and eased Ronan into it. Once he was seated, Ronan leaned forward, resting his arms on his knees, exhaling slowly through pursed lips. Kavinsky knelt in front of him, close enough to hear him utter, “Shit.”
Looking at Adam, Kavinsky asked, “When’s the last time he ate something?” He could feel himself click from friend-mode to medic-in-an-emergency-mode; he hadn’t realized how different his voice was, a little louder, a little more demanding.
“Too long.” It was Ronan who replied, looking up from his lap. His skin was still ghostly pale, but the look in his eyes was more like his usual self. “Fuck.” He straightened, shaking his head. “I’m good.”
Kavinsmy scoffed. “Yeah, no.” Back to Adam, he said, “I can stall for like, fifteen minutes if you want to feed and water him.”
“I said I’m fine.” Ronan’s voice was almost a growl. He glared at Kavinsky as he went on, “Let’s just go.”
“Ro.” Adam’s voice was firm. “Don’t be an asshole about this.” He nudged Opal to get off his lap and scooted off the bed. “I’ll go find something. Hold him down if you have to--Joe.” He smirked at Kavinsky before turning around and kissing Opal on the head, reassuring her that he’d be right back.
Once it was just the three of them in the room, Opal had no choice but to focus on Ronan, and damn, nothing got past kids. “What’s wrong, Dad?”
He shook his head. “I’m just tired, sweetie,” he said, giving a not-at-all-convincing smile. “It’s been a long day.” Reaching out, he took her hand and ran his thumb over the back of it. “Do you want to watch an Arthur while we wait for Daddy to come back?”
She nodded, and Ronan reached into his nearby backpack and pulled out a tablet, pulling up an episode in just a few swipes and handing it to Opal. Within a few seconds she was completely focused on it, and If it weren’t for the IV and the hospital gown, she’d look fine. Hell, she looked better than Ronan at the moment.
Once she was sufficiently distracted, Ronan looked at Kavinsky and said, his voice barely audible, “I’m so fucking scared, K.”
Kavinsky grabbed the wheeled stool from nearby and took a seat, because he was definitely too old to be kneeling on the floor. He stammered out a few words, trying to find the right thing to say, and then he realized why nothing sounded right. “Do you want me to talk to you like you’re my patient’s dad, or do you want me to talk to you like my partner?”
“Like I’m your partner.”
“Okay. So.” Glancing at Opal to make sure she wasn’t paying attention, Kavinsky leaned close to Ronan and went on. “What’s the biggest thing you’re worried about?”
Kavinsky nodded; Ronan was right to be concerned. They’d both seen septic patients before, the sickest of the sick, people getting antibiotics and transfusions, whose blood pressure tanked without the help of three different medications. “Alright. But is she septic now?” Ronan shook his head. “Are they sending her by a critical care unit?” He shook his head again. “No. They sent me, and they would have sent a kid with a brand-new EMT card if they’d had an available unit. Next big thing you’re scared about?”
Taking a shuddering breath, Ronan glanced at Opal, who was still fully focused on the screen, before speaking. “She could lose her hearing.”
“Also reasonable. But all this,” Kavinsky gestured vaguely around them, then at himself, “is so that doesn’t happen, yeah?” Ronan nodded. “And like, if it did--it’s not the end of the world. Like, I don’t know how bad Adam’s hearing is, but—” He cut himself off, mouth open, because he realized that he didn’t actually know what the deal was with Adam, just that there had been a time when Adam had said something about his hearing not being great after asking Kavinsky to repeat something twice.
Ronan shrugged. “Adam was a teenager when it happened--this is different.”
“Is it, though?” Kavinsky straight up did not have an answer for that, but it sounded sensible. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t be scared. Just—” He shrugged, sitting back and bringing his voice back up from a whisper. “I dunno. That’s all I got. Sorry.” Wow. Great job. Super comforting.
With a slow breath in, Ronan nodded. “No, that’s--that was helpful, actually.”
Oh. Okay then. “Glad to help.”
Leaning against the raised head of the bed, Ronan closed his eyes. He really didn’t look well, even after being seated for a few minutes. Kavinsky remembered him coming to work with a stitched-up lac on his forehead a few years ago and saying that he’d passed out, and sometimes at work he’d complain about being lightheaded, but Kavinsky had never seen him like this. Even with all his experience, it was still alarming; then again, everything felt different when it was someone you knew.
Before long, Adam returned with a variety of vending machine snacks and drinks, surreptitiously handing them to Ronan in a way that Opal couldn’t see. Scooting his chair so that he was out of Opal’s range of view, Ronan downed half a bottle of Gatorade before starting in on one of those granola bars that turns into crumbs the second you unwrap it. Adam sat on the bed next to Opal, leaning over to see what she was watching, and she launched into a recap of the episode. With the family seemingly settled, Kavinsky stood. “I’m gonna go find her nurse, then we can get head out, okay?”
Ronan and Adam both looked up and nodded; Opal just stared at him. Stepping out of the room, Kavinsky let out a long breath. He was already emotionally exhausted, and they hadn’t really even started.
After apologizing to Cal, who waved it off with a ‘no problem’, Kavinsky got a report from the nurse, jotting down the most recent set of vital signs. They brought the stretcher to her room and hooked up the car seat, which Ronan had brought in before the ambulance was even called, as soon as it was decided that she was going to Children’s. There was a brief outburst of crying when Adam helped Opal get buckled in, but a few gentle words and kisses seemed to quiet her down. She squeezed her stuffed bear tightly against her chest, her knuckles white with the effort.
Once she was calm and secured, Cal turned to Ronan, who was looking a little better but was still seated, and then to Adam. “Alright--which of you is riding with us?”
Both men said ‘you go’ to the other, voices overlapping as each went on to make their case.
“Ro, you can barely stand--”
“You’re gonna worry the whole—”
“--you’re not gonna drive forty-five minutes—
“Adam.” Ronan got to his feet and held his husband’s shoulder in one hand, touching the side of his face with the other. Lowering his voice, he rested his forehead against Adam’s. “I know you. You will spend the whole drive obsessing about what might be happening while you’re not there.” Adam nodded, closing his eyes. Kavinsky saw Ronan thumb a tear off Adam’s cheek; he looked away. “I don’t need to be there to know she’s okay. I’d trust K with my own life--I trust him with hers.”
Kavinsky felt his heart race. That was unexpected. Not just given the circumstance, but like, entirely. This wasn’t an off-the-cuff comment to a patient, intended to put them at ease before loading them in the truck. This was Ronan . To Adam. He’d seen them close like this before: foreheads together, hands on cheeks, talking softly, like the rest of the world didn’t exist. He’d seen it the day he met Adam, the day his whole picture of Ronan had changed from surly, standoffish medic to surly, standoffish medic who was head-over-heels in love with his husband. To hear his own name spoken in that tone, in that place? Fuck. It was the highest praise he’d ever received- -could ever receive.
Ronan was running his fingers through Adam’s hair now. “I’ll sit in the waiting room until I’m feeling better and I’ll call you before I leave, okay?”
Sniffling, Adam nodded and quickly kissed Ronan before pulling away. “I’m coming with you,” he said in Kavinsky’s direction, but without looking directly at him. Taking a few steps so that he was next to the stretcher, he faced Opal and gave a smile that might have been enough to convince her. “I’m gonna ride in the ambulance with you, O. Dad’s going to drive the car and meet us there.”
“No!” She tried to twist around to see Ronan. “I want you and Daddy!”
“Hey, darling, it’s okay.” Ronan was at her side almost instantly, drying the fresh tears from her face. “I have to drive the car so that we can take you home when you’re feeling better. You’re gonna have Daddy with you, and Joe with you, and Blue Bear with you. I think you’re gonna have a great time, and then I’ll be with you at the hospital before you know it.” Opal nodded, clearly still holding back tears, and Ronan pressed his lips to her forehead. “I love you so much, O. I’ll see you soon.”
When he stepped back, Kavinsky could see how shaken Ronan was, but he did a decent job of holding himself together. Without waiting for Ronan to make the first move, Kavinsky hugged him. “She’s gonna be fine, Lynch,” he whispered.
He felt Ronan nod against his shoulder. “I know.” He pulled back after taking a deep breath. “Alright. Hit the road. I better not see you when I get there--weren’t you supposed to be done like—”
“Now?” Kavinsky shrugged. “I’m getting that sweet, sweet overtime for this, buddy. Opal just paid for our next round of drinks.” That actually got Ronan to smile. “But yeah, I’ll be long gone by the time you get there. Text me tomorrow, though, let me know how she’s doing?”
“Sure thing.” Ronan clapped Kavinsky on the shoulder. “Thanks for everything, K.”
With a two-fingered salute, Kavinsky smiled and turned to Opal. “Ready to go?” She didn’t respond, well into the ‘this is new and scary and I am small’ part of the experience, so he looked at Cal. “Let’s roll out.”
Once they had loaded the stretcher into the ambulance, Adam stepped inside. “Where should I sit?”
“Technically, you’re supposed to be in the captain’s chair,” Kavinsky said, pointing to the rear-facing seat behind the stretcher, “because it’s safest, but I imagine you want to be somewhere you can see her, yeah?” Adam nodded, and Kavinsky gestured to the bench seat that ran alongside the stretcher. “Take your pick.”
Adam took the spot closest to Opal’s seat, and Kavinsky sat beside him, closer to the foot of the stretcher. After making sure that all three of them were buckled in properly, he shouted up to Cal that they were ready to go.
The truck roared to life, and unfortunately, that was not an exaggeration. This was a huge diesel-powered truck and it was loud. Opal looked to Adam, wide-eyed, and reached out for him. Leaning over as far as he could with his harness on, Adam said over the rumble of the engine, “It’s okay, O. I know it’s loud.”
She still looked like she might cry, so Kavinsky decided it was time to swoop in with his most child-pleasing skill. “Hey, Opal,” he said, reaching for the box of nitrile gloves wedged into one of the cabinets, “Do you like elephants or turkeys more?”
This gave her pause, and she replied, albeit skeptically, “Elephants.”
“Awesome.” He stretched one of the gloves a few times, then blew it up and tied the cuff in a knot. Then, after tying the index and middle fingers and fourth and fifth fingers together, he drew ears, a mouth, and a smile on with the pen from his pocket. Holding it out to Opal, he said, “I only know how to make two balloon animals, but this one’s my favorite.”
She actually smiled, taking the elephant-ish glove balloon and sitting it on her lap, twisting the thumb-trunk in her fingers. “Thanks.”
“Does it have a name?”
Her brow furrowed in thought. “Joe.”
“That’s a good name for an elephant.”
She walked the elephant across her legs and over to Adam, who suggested that maybe Blue Bear (who was distinctly pink, but hey, kids were just like that sometimes) would want to play with Joe the Elephant. This seemed like a good enough suggestion, and soon the two little animals were engaged in a conversation.
In terms of conversation between real people, Kavinsky wasn’t sure if Adam wanted to be left alone or be distracted. He seemed distant, even from Opal, like he was thinking of something else. Granted, the guy had spent the whole day with his daughter in the same ER where he himself had treated some very, very sick kids, so there were definitely a few extra layers here beyond what any other parent would be going through.
When Kavinsky noticed that Adam was gripping the edge of the seat so tightly that his hand was shaking, he had to say something. Nudging Adam’s foot with his boot, he said quietly, “Hey--you okay?” Fuck, no, wait, if course he wasn’t. “I mean like--obviously you—If you want to—” This was going well.
It was like Adam had been waiting for Kavinsky to say something, even something as clumsy at that. He closed his eyes and let his shoulders sink, taking a long breath in. Biting his lip as if deliberating whether or not to speak, he finally leaned his shoulder against Kavinsky and replied, voice barely audible over the sound of the truck. “It’s my fault that this is happening.”
“What?” Sure, medically, this kind of thing was beyond Kavinsky’s level of education, but there was no way it could be anyone’s fault. “No. How could it be?”
Adam rubbed a hand over his face. “I’m like, shit at asking for help. I used to be way worse, like, a huge pain in the ass about doing everything for myself. I’m sure Ronan’s bitched about it to you at some point.” Kavinsky frowned, shaking his head. “Huh. Anyway. On...more than one occasion I’ve gotten sick and just...tried to deal with it on my own, well past the point when a normal person would.”
“I mean, guilty.” Kavinsky jerked a thumb toward his own chest. “Doesn’t every person in medicine do that at some point?”
“I’ve been like, particularly stupid about it. But anyway, I was sick like, a month ago, and he said something about Opal learning from me that it was okay to hide being sick, or that she should do it, or--” He looked up to the ceiling of the ambulance, then let out a whooshing breath. “This isn’t the kind of thing that just happens . She must have been sick for days before it got this bad, and she just didn’t tell us.”
Kavinsky put a hand on Adam’s knee. “Hey, now—”
Adam held up a hand, and then after a few measured breaths and a look at Opal, he went on. “I, uh--I had a really fucked up childhood, like, my parents were terrible people who should not have had a kid. And I have been terrified since we had her that I’m going to fuck her up, too. And like--here we are. She’s trying to make herself invisible, just like I did.”
“Okay, first of all—” Kavinsky raised his voice to a normal speaking volume, mainly because whispering was starting to get uncomfortable. “Ronan has told me enough stories and shown me enough videos for me to know that this kid is not trying to make herself invisible. She’s a goddamn powerhouse. Secondly,” he started ticking off each point on his fingers, “Kids do stupid shit all the time. It’s just how they are. And thirdly, just from what I’ve seen in the past hour--you two are like, amazing parents. Like, she clearly knows that you love her and—” he shook his head, “You didn’t fuck her up. I promise.”
For a long few seconds, Kavinsky was sure that he’d overstepped his bounds. Sure, he knew a ton about shitty childhoods, but who the fuck was he to talk about good parenting? Was he seriously out here mansplaining Adam’s family to him? Was it still mansplaining if they were both men? It was going to be an uncomfortable half-hour to Children’s.
But then Adam twisted in his seat and attempted to hug him. Kavinsky tried to reciprocate, awkwardly caught up in his harness and Adam’s. Finally, they settled on a side-hug, with Adam putting an arm around Kavinsky and giving a quick squeeze and letting go. “Thanks,” he said, looking away right after.
Bumping his shoulder against Adam’s, Kavinsky smiled, even though he knew Adam couldn’t see. “Always happy to give free therapy that I’m not qualified to give.”
Adam shook his head and laughed. “I’m really starting to get why Ronan likes working with you.” Looking back to Kavinsky, he added, “You know he has you as ‘Work Wife’ in his phone, yeah?”
“That is way nicer than what I have him in my phone as.”
At that moment, Adam’s phone rang, and Kavinsky was inexpressibly grateful that the universe had aligned in such a way that he would not have to tell his partner’s husband that he currently had said partner’s contact listed as “Bronan Bitch”.
“Hey, Ro,” Adam said, pressing the phone to his ear. “Yep, she’s doing fine. Kavinsky made her a glove balloon elephant.” He paused, looking at Opal and reaching out to tuck some of her hair behind one ear. “Yeah, he’s been great with her--actually, with both of us.” Pause. “No, no, I’m fine. Really.”
After listening to Ronan’s reply, Adam looked directly at Kavinsky, smiling as he continued, “We might have to take him up on that babysitting offer the next time Blue and Gansey want to do a double-date.”
Well, he’d walked right into that one. Guess it was time for him to learn to make some actual balloon animals.