Knockin' on Heaven's Door
by Laura Bryannan

It was too weird. Riding the bus to work always made him depressed. Even though the hospital's tech support department was small, there were still enough people to deal with each day to make his job a struggle. Switching to the night shift had helped, being that he was often the only one manning the office for several hours a stretch. He knew his coworkers thought he was strange, but since he'd spent his entire twenty-one years of life knowing people thought that, he didn't much care. Not really.

"He might be cute if he washed his hair sometimes."

"Is that really a staple holding his glasses together?"

"The Sweater's got a new hole. Do you think he's raising moths in his apartment?"

Sometimes they didn't even wait till he left the cafeteria to snicker. It just pissed him off and made him more determined to arrive even grungier the next day.

So what was the deal? Why was he almost looking forward to work tonight?

Things were relatively quiet for Cook County when he arrived, no ambulances screaming, although the emergencies he handled had nothing to do with how many jerks got shot or OD'd that night. The computers running the hospital's myriad systems should have been upgraded years ago, and the programs running them were even more ancient. It worked out well for him, since he was fluent in the abandoned languages and enjoyed conversing with machines much more than humans.

He dropped his stuff on his desk and went, as always, to check in on the room across the hall. Ten beds in the large space housed The Terminals, folks comatose or highly sedated for pain, waiting for their bodies to give up and die. It was the start of his work ritual to see who was gone, who was new, and to say hello to whoever was still hanging on.

Even when he worked the day shift, these patients rarely had visitors, and he supposed it wasn't surprising. If you had family who gave a shit you wouldn't be dying at Chicago's Cook County Hospital. But at night there was never anyone around and he liked to visit with them as they lay there. They didn't care if he had nothing witty to say, or if he just sat around like a boring lump. In fact, they seemed to welcome his company no matter what he did, so it felt peaceful and calming in a way he couldn't explain.

Maybe that's why it had been such a freakout to peek in the other night and find a vertical person in the room. Clearly a doctor by the sage green scrubs and white lab coat, bending over Joe, a comatose gunshot victim. He'd made his escape, heart pounding, and plopped into his chair feeling strangely violated.

Yeah, it was a hospital so one should expect doctors to be lurking, but the fuckalmighty MDs were never on call for The Terminals, especially during the night shift. The nurses hung out at their station unless there was an emergency, so it was the first time he'd been confronted with one of the poohbahs in his space.

The blip in his work ritual made everything wrong that night, but he was a good boy and fixed the accounts payable glitch before he took a break and walked across the hall. Doctor Man was nowhere to be seen and he was relieved. Deciding to visit with Mary, who sometimes opened her eyes if he read to her since she was on morphine, not comatose, he cracked the book and began.

He was trying to get through Master and Commander, but it wasn't happening. Intrigued by the character of Jack Aubrey and his relationship with Stephen Maturin, he'd thought the movie was great. But the book was so seaworthy he felt cast adrift in the boring terminology, and often skipped ahead to the stuff about people, not ships. Mary didn't seem to mind the holes in continuity, nor was he sure she'd be around to notice if he never finished the thing.

It had been three nights in a row now that Blondie the Doctor Man had fucked with his routines, being in The Terminals' room when he wanted to chill in there himself. Each time it happened it made him more resentful and pissed. And when he was pissed, codes wouldn't debug, error messages piled up and everything was fucked.

So, last night he'd stomped into The Terminals' room later than he preferred, ready to confront the asshole if necessary, but felt instantly cheered to find him absent. Settling down to chapter four with a contented sigh, he fancied Mary gently chiding him for showing up behind schedule. He was just getting to the good part when he heard the doorknob turn.

Heart in throat, he watched the man come into the room, looking as flustered as he felt himself. "Oh! I didn't expect to find anyone here this late. Are you family?"

He turned back to Mary, just to insure she was still African-American, and replied, " I work here."

Doctor Man smiled, seemingly unperturbed by his stupid assumption. "I see." He stepped forward, offering his hand. "I'm John."

Quickly wiping his hand on a pants leg, just in case, he returned the gesture. "Dylan."

"Nice. Were your folks into Dylan Thomas or Mr. Zimmerman?"

The answer was humiliating, but he felt compelled to tell the truth for some reason. "No. Beverly Hills, 90210."

John winced in sympathy.

"My mom was..." A first class twit. He shrugged, unwilling to continue.

The man seemed to understand and smiled kindly. "Was?"

Suddenly mortified that he'd practically dumped his entire life story on a total stranger, he dove toward the door. "Uh, I better get back to work."

"Sure thing," came the amiable reply. "Later."

Dylan spent the rest of the night and the next day replaying the exchange in his mind. John had a nice face, handsome, he supposed. With light ash blond hair that was conservatively short, but had a should have been cut two weeks ago shagginess to it. Running his hand through his own dark brown mop, he smirked, since the length was in the should have been cut six months ago range.

At first glance he'd thought John to be about twenty-five, but the more he thought about it, the older he seemed. Maybe thirty- or even forty-five. It was hard to say, as the face had both youthful and worldly-wise qualities. But, how many twenty-five year old doctors were there? Dylan decided he couldn't be that young.

So, yeah, looking forward to work was definitely weird. The reason, now that he'd thought about it, was even weirder considering his lone wolf ways. But, looking forward, was pleasant in a way he'd never experienced before, and that was cool. So...yeah.

to be continued