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What's Worth Keeping

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"Paging Doctor Kellerman, paging Doctor Kellerman—"

"Just a damn minute!"

"Doctor Dalgety, you're wanted in—"

"All right, I'm coming!"

A bus nearly going off an icy onramp into the bay made for a pretty hairy night at Mission General. There was everything from sprains and bumps to emotional blowouts, all ages and backgrounds. From the harried frequent flier waylaid by a broken nose, to the homeless guy who'd thrown up all over himself, nobody was happy. And it was fucking Christmas Eve.

Bruce Kellerman jogged down the hall and spotted Robert's head in the sea of people cramming the main lobby of the ER. Robert had his pager, and he had Robert's credit card from ordering Christmas pizza for the Maintenance staff. As they drew closer in the hall, he saw Robert make a sudden motion and something fly into the air.

He caught his pager one-handed and positioned the credit card between two fingers. They passed at a near run, Bruce passing the card over like a baton in a relay. Their fingers brushed and then Robert was gone.

"Fancy a pint after shift?" he heard Robert call back.

"If it ever ends!" Bruce snatched up a phone at the intake station and stabbed a few buttons. "Kellerman here."

It wasn't until half past three a.m. that they finally got the hospital back in something resembling order. The homeless folks were patched up and in shelters, the yuppies had their Valium prescriptions refilled, and everyone else got their splints, bandages, or a couple extra-strength Tylenol. It had taken some six hours to get to this point.

Kellerman leaned his head back against his locker and thought about showering. Or just changing out of his scrubs and into his clothes; he could shower later. But a shower would be perfect for finishing his shift, if he could get up to take one. The water would feel good, hot and soothing as it trickled through his hair and down his neck, and he'd get the homeless guys' stink off him even with the crappy industrial hospital soap. Maybe he could scrounge up some different soap from the Maintenance guys. Surely when they gave people sponge baths—


He jumped and looked up. Dalgety watched him with a bemused expression, hanging on to his locker door.


"I called your name twice, man." He tilted his head. "You okay?"

"Just tired." Bruce rubbed a hand over his face and stood. Shower it was, but only with the industrial soap.

"Maybe you should get some rest here. We don't want anyone else going off the freeway, especially when you only have that helmet for protection."

"Yeah..." Bruce thought about the lumpy couch in the lounge and sighed. He stripped off his scrub bottoms and picked up his towel. "Maybe."

Dalgety followed him out of the row and stopped by his own locker as Bruce went to the nearest showerhead and turned one of the dials. "We never did get to have that pint, did we?"

"Well, y'know." Bruce bent his head into the stream and drenched his hair. "The beer will be there for another day."

Dalgety was quiet while Bruce finished showering. After the hot water perked him up, he quickly rinsed off the day's grime and shut the water off. When he had wrapped his towel around his waist and stepped out of the shower bay, he found Robert waiting.

"There's just no stopping it, is there? The endless days, new patients with new problems that nobody else can fix."

Bruce eyed him with curiosity as he went back to his locker. "What's your point?"

"This has got to stop."

Bruce didn't reply to that, at first. He got out his gym bag, applied some deodorant, and put on a spare pair of briefs. Robert stewed all the while, then let his dam crack a little further while Bruce sat and pulled on his socks.

"Look, I know how being dedicated is a big part of your hero complex," he continued. "But if you don't ease back, you're going to put yourself in one of these beds."

"Don't be histrionic." Bruce rolled his eyes up at Robert before draping his towel over his head and scrubbing at his wet hair.

"Okay, but I am worried."

"What do you want me to say?" Bruce pulled on a cashmere sweater and shook his damp hair out of his eyes. "I'll take two weeks in Cabo and call you in the morning?"

Robert picked up his jeans and tossed them against his chest, where Bruce caught them. "How about you act like a normal human and eat something? Or get more than two hours of sleep at a stretch?"

"All right." Bruce shoved one leg into his jeans. "Let's go eat."

"Seriously?" Robert watched him zip up. Bruce shrugged and got his shoes out of his locker. "Okay. Good."

Bruce had expected an all-night diner, but Robert took him through the SoMa neighborhood and toward South Park. He sat quietly in Robert's Saab while they parked—easy to find a spot at 4 a.m., happily—and didn't say anything while Robert led him away from the park and toward the water. He could hear the Embarcadero a few blocks away, subdued but still wooshing with traffic.

Finally they reached one of the many warehouse-to-loft conversions in the area, and Robert pulled out a key ring and let them in. The lobby was all glass and reclaimed wood and modernist sofas, but Bruce didn't spend much time checking it out as Robert led the way into the elevator.

Robert's place was a loft on the top floor, facing the bay with huge glass windows. Bruce flopped on the couch and caught a nap while Robert puttered in the kitchen. Eventually the smell of food woke Bruce, and he found a couple plates of some kind of breakfast scramble set out on the coffee table. He smelled eggs, bacon and potatoes, and his mouth started watering.

They ate together in silence, then sat back with cups of coffee. Still, Robert didn't say anything. Bruce didn't comment on his silence; he was enjoying Robert's company as it was, quiet and comfortable in the late night.

Finally Bruce drained his mug and put it down, then swung his legs back up onto the couch and tucked his feet under Robert's thigh. Robert snorted into his coffee and lifted one hip to accommodate Bruce's burrowing. He swallowed some coffee and said at last, "See? A little rest, some food, and you're better already."

"Yes, Doctor," Bruce gently mocked. He folded his arms behind his head and watched Robert lazily. "So am I cured?"

"You mean cured of your manic need to help everyone, from earthworms to people with stage-four carcinoma, regardless of the effect on your personal mental and physical health?" Robert's face was partly lit by a light in the kitchen, but mostly tinted with a golden yellow from streetlights outside. He looked tired. "I doubt it."

"I don't know why people think you have a sarcasm problem." Bruce wiggled his toes up into Robert's thigh.

"I'm serious." Robert put a hand on his ankle and squeezed it. "Will you at least promise to try to cut back?"


Robert blinked incredulously. "Really?"

"Yeah, if it means that much to you." Bruce sat up and pulled his feet back into a cross-legged position. "Now do you realize what day it is?"

Robert thought for a moment, then blinked and shook his head with a soft laugh. "Christmas. I'd nearly forgotten."

"Me too. So what do you say we open our presents?"

Before Robert could reply, Bruce cupped one hand behind his head and tilted it up for a swift kiss. He meant it to be just a peck, but Robert's lips were soft and felt good, and he prolonged the pressure with a little hum of pleasure.

Robert moved his mouth against Bruce's lips, but it seemed more like he was searching for words than returning the kiss. Bruce released him.

"Don't like it?"

"I—I don't know what—"

"Did it occur to you that forgetting about the biggest Americanized holiday of the year would look just as bad as me going fifty hours without sleep? C'mon man," he mocked gently, squeezing Robert's neck. "Seems a bit like painting with the same brush."

Robert swallowed and gave him a sidelong glance. "Don't you mean tarring?"

"I took the racial sensitivity course, as required by the hospital. Don't avoid the question." Bruce kissed him again, licking across his lips and tasting a hint of coffee. This time Robert's mouth opened readily and Bruce felt his warm breath.

"What was the question?" Robert breathed when Bruce released him.

"Admit you're just as much of a workaholic as I am. If I cut back on hours at the hospital, you do too."

"And the kissing?"

"Jesus, Dalgety..." Bruce dropped his hand and sat back with a laugh. "You bring me to your condo on Christmas morning for 'food and sleep.' What was I supposed to think?"

"My intentions were pure, believe me." Robert clasped his hands together in his lap, still clearly uncomfortable.

"Yeah, and mine weren't. Moving on." Bruce got to his feet and put his hand on Robert's head, stroking over his neat cap of dark hair. Robert looked up. "Take me to bed."

"Bruce, maybe we shouldn't—" But Robert was wavering. Bruce could hear it in his voice, and the way he unconsciously pressed his head back into Bruce's hand. He knew all of Robert's weak spots, and re-plotted his next course of action.

"I would need three hands to count all the sexual relationships going on between hospital staff. Besides, it's not like we haven't broken the rules before." Their partnership in crime: that was the ticket. Robert loved having one person who would play with him, share a private joke, or lend a steady shoulder.

He bent and kissed Robert again, his hands going to Robert's arms and pulling gently. Robert rose like he was on strings, returning Bruce's kiss with more enthusiasm. He finally put his hands on Bruce, touching his arms and back and sides with a sweet hesitancy. Bruce broke apart for a breath and squeezed Robert's arms encouragingly.

"What made you think I'd reciprocate?" Robert murmured.

"Nothing. I wasn't sure, but I figured we know each other well enough that our instincts would be right." He stepped back, leading Robert away from the couch, not backing away. "And look where we are."

"And where we're going," Robert grinned.

Robert took the lead and headed into his bedroom, Bruce close on his heels. Inside Robert sat nervously on the bed but gave Bruce an encouraging smile. Bruce remained on his feet and toed off his shoes, then stripped his sweater off.

"Did I ever tell you that you have very admirable definition?" Robert asked. He grinned.

"What?" Bruce looked down at himself and saw his stomach. "Aw. I'm getting soft. You should have seen me in med school, when I mentally reviewed suture techniques while doing circuits at the gym."

Robert pulled up his own shirt and tossed it toward a hamper in the corner of the room. "Insanely driven to succeed? I can only imagine."

"I'll show you what else I'm good at." Bruce walked closer and bent over, using a kiss to press Robert flat to the bed. Robert's hands came up and held him by the hips, pulling him closer. Bruce had to straddle him on the edge of the mattress or topple over.

"I haven't done this with a man before," Robert murmured after another round of kisses.

"You'll get the hang of it." Bruce laid a hand on his chest and felt Robert's heart beating quickly against his palm. He mentally reviewed the checklist of heart health, then dismissed the thought. He had to leave medicine outside of the bedroom for once, if only because Robert had asked him. Besides, Robert was healthy as a horse.

Meanwhile Robert had pushed his fingers into Bruce's hair. His gaze was soft and hopeful in the bluish light of the pre-dawn hour. "Kiss me again."

"Man, you don't know what that brogue does to me." Bruce pressed his mouth to Robert's, hungrily pushing his tongue between his lips and moaning when he felt Robert reciprocate. Their hands spread over each other's chests and backs, pulling tighter and holding close. Robert pushed his hands down under the waistband of Bruce's jeans and grabbed his ass, making Bruce jerk with surprise. He pulled back with a wide look to see Robert grin. Then he sat back on his heels and fumbled with his fly.

Within seconds they had each stripped off the rest of their clothes. There was no admiring examination; both had seen each other naked plenty of times before in the staff locker room. Instead they went straight to the knowing touches: Robert trailed his fingers in the dips and curves of Bruce's back and ass to feel Bruce grind against him; Bruce stimulated Robert's nipples with his thumbs and savored his gasps and low moans. They kissed until Robert was frantic, biting at Bruce's mouth and writhing underneath him. Finally Bruce broke away and buried his face in Robert's throat, moaning against his sweaty skin.

"I have some protection," Robert panted. Bruce felt the buzz of his voice through his skin, and licked his collarbone.

"Okay. Why don't you get it."

Robert reached out and Bruce lifted his head, watching. Robert rolled onto his stomach and got a strip of condoms out of a drawer next to his bed.

Bruce propped himself up on his elbows. "Any lube?"

"...I don't really need it," Robert said hesitantly, turning back onto his side.

"Oh yeah?" That was interesting. Bruce ran his hand down Robert's chest and belly to his erection, and cupped it gently. There was a fairly large amount of precome around the head of his penis. "I see."

"I don't think we should try anal on the first time, anyway."

"No, of course not." Bruce slid his palm up Robert's shaft and watched his eyes flutter closed. He grinned, happy to have undone that tidy focused concentration yet again. And while he dearly wanted to taste the head of Dalgety's cock without a condom in the way, he respected his wishes and tore open a condom packet. In a few efficient moves he rolled the condom on, then slid down Robert's body and took him into his mouth.

"God, Bruce—" Robert's voice sounded strangled. Bruce immediately felt those talented hands on him, running through his hair, gripping his shoulder. He smiled to himself and slid his lips down the shaft of Robert's cock, tongue gliding along the latex.

While he enjoyed Robert's body, and what they did with each other, he couldn't get enough of that voice going all rough and unsteady. Robert growled directions and mumbled to himself and cried out, all in a voice that he had never heard before, not even on the absolute worst days in their history of working together. If he could have this instead of medicine, he'd happily spend less time in the OR.

Afterward they haphazardly gathered the bedding and draped it over their legs, too sweaty to cover up completely. Bruce held Robert's hand on his stomach and stroked his fingers, looking out the bedroom windows at the lights of the wharf, and Oakland beyond the bay. The Bay Bridge stood silent and innocent, unaware of how many people had nearly died by going too fast on one of its onramps. Dawn lightened the sky, casting it in paler blues and yellows. The city would be waking soon for Christmas.

They knew better than anyone that life was delicate in ridiculous ways. With a cast and some physical therapy, a person could heal from a broken bone that would have killed them a hundred years earlier. But make a few poor choices—not wearing a seatbelt, taking that turn a little too fast, have a difficult time swimming in forty-five degree water—and it could all be over in a few minutes.

He was of the opinion that one should be aware of the risks, accept some of them, and live life as wildly as possible. He knew that people hated how he bent and dodged rules, shirked authority, and didn't seem to give a damn about anyone but the patients. He knew that his relationship with Mac suffered when he had fights with Pam or skipped out on some dad-thing. He knew that every time he chose work over friends and family, he was giving him more of himself away to people who wouldn't and couldn't give back. But because he had the skill to save others from the brink, to make up for the unacceptable risks that had nearly done them in, he couldn't help but do it above all else. It was a compulsion.

He looked over at Robert, sleeping on his stomach with his face mashed into a pillow. He arm rested comfortably on Bruce, and having his fingers played with didn't affect his sleep. He was used to affection.

Bruce closed his eyes and concentrated on the feel of Robert's hand under his fingers. He mentally counted each bone, traced the tendons and ligaments, and articulated some of the joints. Then he reviewed what that hand, draped over his stomach, meant.

He had something else worth keeping himself for.