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Fate's Cruel Plans

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"He's stunning, Book, look at him," Joe whispers out of the blue. Booker has been staring intensely at his empty glass for the last several minutes, half-hoping that if he stares hard enough and for long enough, it will refill itself - the bartender has been chatting to a man across the bar and ignoring the rest of his customers, something Booker is doing his best not to complain about. Joe, on the other hand, has had his eyes on a blue-eyed beauty on the opposite end of the bar for half the night. The man, clad in a pale blue short-sleeved shirt, is alone and has been since he arrived almost two hours ago. In that time, he's been nursing the same drink as he looks around himself like a tourist taking in the sights.

Some sights, Joe thinks as a roar builds from somewhere nearby; the angry cry of a man "wronged" after too many beers. He catches the stranger smirk at the ruckus before the pale blue eyes glance away and look down at his drink as if he's worried about getting caught staring - he doesn't seem to notice that half the bar is openly staring at the rapidly escalating fight. A light blush dusts his cheeks and colours his ears, illuminated sharply in the obnoxious lighting surrounding the bar.

Letting out a long-suffering sigh, Booker looks up from his empty glass and studies the stranger with a raised eyebrow. A few seconds later he hums non-committedly and returns his gaze to his glass. It's been a rough week for him and talking clearly isn't on the cards. But that's ok, Joe doesn't need Booker to talk. He just needs to be here at Booker's side to make sure he doesn't drink himself into a coma.

The blue-eyed beauty across the bar turns around again as another, louder roar erupts from the room, this time from a totally different corner. He turns more fully this time, one hand wrapped around his glass as it rests on the bar. His free hand rests on one knee, and he looks so relaxed and casual that Joe's heart flutters.

The stranger glances around suddenly, and their eyes meet. 

Joe's first instinct is to look away and pretend he hasn't been staring, but the other man's gaze is captivating. Looking into those beautiful blue eyes is like looking into an ocean, so deep and mysterious that his breath catches in his throat. The other man doesn't look away either, and his expression doesn't change. The two of them just keep staring.

The stranger's cheeks suddenly darken once more and his eyes twitch away. The hand on his knee tightens. 

Joe sighs again. Brilliant. "I'm going to the bathroom," he mumbles and Booker grunts and tugs Joe's glass in front of him. Good Booker, no matter how close he is to a depressive drunken stupor, he'll still watch out for others even if that's just keeping an eye on a friend's drink.

In the bathroom, Joe just stands in front of the mirror and glares at his own reflection. Real smooth, he tells himself silently. Next time don't creep the poor guy out by staring at him like he's a piece of meat. He splashes water on his face and leans heavily against the sink, breathing deeply in an attempt to calm his beating heart. He can't believe that a total stranger is getting this reaction out of him - this hasn't happened to him in...well, he can't actually remember the last time his heart has fluttered like this simply at the sight of a beautiful man. Surely this has to mean something. 

He's not a great believer in fate, but if this guttural reaction is anything to go by...he has to at least say hello.

Except by the time he gets back, there's another man at the beautiful stranger's side and another drink in his hand. 

"Damn it," Joe hisses quietly as he returns to his seat next to Booker who has, finally, acquired another drink. He's nursing this one, taking it slowly like he's learned from the inattentive bartender. 

Joe pulls his own drink back in front of him and swallows it in one. "So much for fate," he mumbles and folds his arms atop the bar, leaning down to rest his chin on them.

"Fate?" Booker says with a raised eyebrow, then glances over at the two men across the bar. "Ah. Him. You know, he looked over a couple of times when you were in the bathroom. Then Mr Muscle literally muscled his way in. Sorry, Joe." It comes as a surprise that he truly does sound guilty, as if there's something he could have done to stop Mr Blue Eyes from being approached by another man. His guilt makes Joe's own stomach twist - he hates making Booker feel worse than he already does on a day-to-day basis.

Letting out a long sigh, he straightens up in his seat. "Don't worry about it. I was mooning over a stranger, it's not the first time eh? Remember that girl in the red dress last time? You couldn't take your eyes off her the whole night and ended up with half a pint poured down your front? It happens to one of us every time, I swear it. Romantics, the pair of us!" he says and laughs, his smile widening as Booker lets out a dry chuckle.

For almost an hour, Joe manages to forget about the beautiful blue-eyed man and focus on his night with Booker. They laugh and joke and watch as yet a full-blown fist fight breaks out nearby - surprisingly only the third of the night, although there have been several close calls. Most of the bar cheers as punch after punch is thrown and blood spills on the floor - Joe and Booker don't, they watch silently and do their best not to roll their eyes at the adult-sized infants rolling around the bar floor.

Finally the men are ejected from the bar and Joe finds himself glancing at the stranger. Watching for only a moment, something twists painfully in his gut. 

Something is wrong.

The man who'd spent the last hour mooning over the blue-eyed man is pulling him out of the barstool, one arm pulled over his shoulder. It's as if the stranger is drunk, except Joe is sure that he can't be because the bartender has been so occupied with his own conversations and with the fight that there's no way he could have served many drinks. And yet the stranger can't seem to get his feet under him, and he's limp in the other man's grip. His skin is paler than it was and his eyes are half-rolled into his skull. 

He doesn't look drunk. He looks unconscious.

"Book, does that look odd to you?" Joe asks without tearing his eyes from the sight.

"Yep," Booker answers.

"Should we-?"

"Yep."

They move as one towards the pair, already straightening their backs and widening their stances to look as intimidating as they have to. The man is several inches taller than both of them and with broader shoulders, but they’ve been in enough fights not to be intimidated by an opponent’s size.

"He ok?" Joe asks the more conscious of the pair, gesturing to the man he's been admiring all night.

The other man nods once and smiles. "Too much to drink, that's all. Man can't hold his drink," he says, but there's something about his smile that only makes Joe even more nervous. 

"Drunk, huh? If he's that far gone you should probably take him to hospital, get his stomach pumped. You need a lift? I've been on the soft stuff all night, I'm safe to drive you both," he offers.

"Nah, he'll be fine. Just needs to sleep it off, he won't remember a thing in the morning."

And it's that phrasing, that specific phrasing that pushes Joe to the edge. "Judging from his glasses and the shitty bartender, he's had about two drinks. He can't be that much of a lightweight," he snaps, a little louder than he intended.

The unconscious man doesn't even stir, another point of concern. 

But his "friend" just shrugs. "A lightweight he is. Now if you'll excuse us, I'm going to take our boy home. Good night, gentlemen."

It's Booker who stops him, planting a hand on his chest and staring with an intensity only he is capable of.

The man swats his hand away and practically growls, "get out my fucking way."

Booker doesn't move even as a fist swings at his head. He doesn't have to because before it can hit him, Joe catches the fist and twists the stranger's arm until he yelps.

The unconscious man slides to the floor, forgotten about as pain sets in. Joe tries to catch him but is too slow, and he watches for a moment for any sign of movement. There's none.

That's when his panic truly sets in. He's barely aware of Booker punching the other man, of the bartender demanding that they leave. He's only aware of fumbling for a pulse, for pulling out his phone and calling for an ambulance when he finds breathing too shallow and a pulse too sluggish. At some point the stranger disappears and Booker kneels next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. All the while Joe clings to the blue-eyed man's hand and prays that he will get to see those eyes again.

-

They won’t let him in to see the blue-eyed man. Joe’s not all that surprised, is actually relieved if anything because that means that the stranger is safe - not that he doesn’t trust the hospital staff because he does, but it’s been an intense evening and he’s still a little high on adrenaline. But despite this reassurance, he can’t bring himself to leave despite the heavy hinting from several nurses that he should do exactly that. After everything, he can’t help but feel responsible for the stranger’s wellbeing and there’s no way he’s leaving until…well actually, he’s not entirely sure what will make him leave. 

But the fact is, he stays. And because he stays, that means Booker stays too. He’s good like that, a loyal friend who’s a true believer in “if you’re going through shit, I’m gonna be there to go through it with you”. Just like Joe does with him.

They’ve been there for almost three hours and watched the hospital waiting room fill and then empty, and Joe barely looks up as the door swings open and a tall woman with short brown hair hurries through them. She gets to the reception desk and Joe doesn’t hear what she says, doesn’t bother trying to strain his ears because it’s none of his business, but he does notice when the man behind the desk gestures his way. He nudge’s Booker’s half-asleep form and straightens up in his chair as the woman walks over.

“They said you’re the ones who helped Nicky. Is that right?” she asks, her voice low and careful and her expression carefully schooled. 

Joe frowns. “Nicky? Is that his name? No one told me. But yes, we’re the ones who got rid of the creep and called an ambulance.”

The woman nods. “Nicky, yes. How did you know what was happening? What made you intervene?” She looks the two of them up and down with narrowed eyes. Joe can’t exactly blame her for being cautious considering the circumstances but he still finds himself squirming under her intense stare. She’s a dangerous looking woman, the kind of woman who thinks would look more at home in the middle of battle than in conversation with a stranger. He is suddenly struck with an image of her clutching a sword and has to bite back a smile even as he wishes for a piece of paper and a pencil to draw it.

The urge to smile quickly fades as he explains the night’s events. He doesn’t leave out any details, even about his crushing, because the woman looks like she’d be able to read his mind and he doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea if she figures out his feelings instead of being told. When he finishes, he can’t help but blurt out, “they haven’t told me anything, is he ok? He wasn’t breathing right when the ambulance got there. I’m Joe, by the way. And this is Booker.”

Booker lifts a hand in a half-hearted wave, silent as he watches the exchange with sleep-heavy eyes.

The woman sighs. “The bastard roofied him, that’s what they said. He clearly wanted to…yeah. He’ll be ok, though, he needs to sleep it off and might be a bit out of it for a few days.” She hesitates, then adds. “I’m Andy. His roommate.”

“Nice to meet you,” Joe mumbles.

She nods absently. “Listen, if you hung around this long then I’m guessing that you were worried. Nicky won’t be much for talking for a while yet, why don’t you come see him tomorrow? He’ll want to meet his knight in shining armour, he’s like that.”

Joe hesitates for a moment, then glances at Booker who is slumping lower and lower in his chair. “Is that alright? If I come back and see him, I mean,” he asks, because he knows that Andy and Nicky will both probably be on edge after a scare like this and he doesn’t want to do anything to make them more nervous - and like it or not, a stranger like him hanging around is probably going to make them nervous.

But Andy nods more firmly this time. “Yes. If you don’t come back then Nicky will never stop complaining if I tell you not to come back. He’ll want to thank you.”

“Ok. Then I’ll come back - to save your ears.”

Andy snorts and pushes herself up off the chair, grimacing as she does. “God that chair kills your back, good luck walking out of here. I’m going to go and see him,” she says, then pauses half a step later. “And…thanks.”

She’s gone before Joe can say anything else. He smiles softly and turns to Booker, prodding him sharply in the arm. “Ok come on, sleeping beauty. Let’s go home, you look like you need your bed.”

Booker grunts and swears under his breath as he stands, rubbing his back as he half-stumbles out of the door with Joe closely behind.

-

When Joe arrives at the hospital the next day, Nicky is awake, but only just. He’s propped up on several cushions with an IV line running from one hand and a nasal cannula resting under his nose. Andy is in a chair at his side, talking quietly, but she stops when she sees Joe standing in the doorway. “Nicky, this is the guy I was telling you about. The one from the bar? Well, one of them anyway. Where’s your friend?”

“Probably still sleeping. He doesn’t do mornings. Or afternoons, really,” he comments with a long-suffering smile as he settles down on the empty chair next to Andy.

Nicky is even better looking up close, he discovers, even with heavily lidded eyes and skin a little flushed. He looks like he’s in dire need of a sleep but he brightens at the sight of Joe, pushing himself more upright with trembling arms - he shoots Andy a thankful smile when she places a hand on the small of his back and supports his attempts. “Hello,” he says. He has an accent. Italian, Joe thinks, and he can’t help but grin. God, even his voice is beautiful.

“Hi, Nicky. You’re looking better. You’re even conscious this time!” he says and laughs when Andy smirks.

Nicky blushes and looks away for a second, almost shyly. “Yes, that was…a mistake. I should have paid more attention and watched my drink more closely. I guess that I…I don’t know, I don’t really remember much. I must have looked away for a moment too long. Thank you for saving me, I am not normally so absentminded that someone can spike my drink.” His fingers fidget with the blanket, tugging on a loose thread.

“He must have been subtle about it.” Joe wants to scold Nicky but he looks so frustrated with himself already that Joe can’t bring himself to add to that - and Andy has probably given him a lecture, she looks like the fiercely protective type. Instead he holds out a hand and says, “I should introduce myself. Although Andy may have done that already for me. I’m Joe.”

Nicky smiles and takes his hand in a firm but slightly shaky handshake. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Joe. I’m Nicky, although Andy may have already told you that.”

And there’s something about Nicky’s hand in his that has Joe’s stomach in butterflies. It feels so…right, and he finds himself prolonging the handshake despite the blush that covers his cheeks. As he glances up at Nicky, he notices the huge smile on Nicky’s face and he can’t help but wonder if the other man feels the same.