A few years of school haven't made him a doctor, but a few weeks working in this clinic made him certain he was doing the right thing, despite being run so ragged he'd need new sneakers every three months and being so exhausted he'd learned to sleep standing up and with the lights on. He stands on one foot in front of the coffee machine, turning his free foot in tight circles, watching the steady drip of dark liquid. His pager goes off and he grabs the half-full cup and pours out all but a mouthful so it won't spill as he jogs down the hall.
He opens the door to exam room 3. The guy sitting on the table is taking in the bland beige walls, the dusty sky-blue floor, one foot tapping restlessly against the cabinet. "Could really use a spot of color in here, doc," the guy says, smiling at him in a way that he doesn't quite trust; "how's this?" He gestures to his bloody nose, the two black eyes blooming against the pallor of his face. "Broken," he self-diagnoses authoritatively.
Spectacularly broken is more like it, and Ben can't find his professional voice, not when this guy is joking through the pain. He leans in a little closer to assess the damage and can see freckles peeking out from under the spatter of rust-colored gore. "What's your name?"
The guy's mouth opens and closes quickly like he hadn't been expecting that question, or maybe not that tone of voice. "Dean."
"Alright. Hang on, Dean, I need to check something out." He reaches forward and cradles Dean's face in his hands, thumbs sliding as gently as possible over his cheekbones, then shifting so his fingers can probe cautiously. Dean doesn't flinch once, just lets the weight of his head hang heavy in Ben's hands and keeps his eyes on Ben's. Big, green-gold eyes with long lashes that sparkle gold at the tips. "You're right, it's broken. I'm going to have to set it; that's probably going to hurt worse than the break." At least it hasn't started to heal already. He doesn't think he'd be able to take a hammer to that face.
Dean just nods, eyes steady. "Do what you gotta do, doc," he says, trying to grin.
"I'm not a doctor," he says. "Not yet."
"I know. You're just a baby," Dean says, sitting back and looking him over consideringly.
"I'm almost twenty-five," he says, knowing the minute he says it that the "almost" is a dead give-away.
Dean leans back and laughs, his long, strong throat on display. "Almost? Really? Will there be cake and streamers and balloons?"
"If I've been a good boy, there will be," Ben smiles back, unable to read any meanness in that easy laugh, the teasing words. "And if you're a good boy and sit very still while I set your nose, you might get a treat too."
And for the first time Dean blinks warily and looks self-conscious and sits up straight. "What's your name?" he asks, sounding confused.
"Ben," he says, holding out his hand. Dean's hand is rough, his grip firm.
Dean nods as he lets go. "I'm ready."