The Man In The Iron Mask
by Xenutia

Disclaimer: I don't own it. I'm running ridiculously short of ways to say this, so suffice it to say that Paramount owns the lot. I think. Or most of it, anyway.
Rating: PG
Category: Romance/Drama/and a healthy dose of clearing the air.
Codes: R/S
Summary: After surgery on his speared leg, Malcolm Reed spends some time with Hoshi in sickbay . . . but she has some bones to pick with him.
Author's Note: This story is primarily for those of us that didn't like Malcolm's reverse evolution in Minefield', especially those that want to see what happens after with Hoshi waiting in sickbay! Lol. I wrote this to try and make sense of the inconsistencies in his personality as I saw them, so if you loved the episode, this probably won't mean much to you, and you'll have no idea what I'm on about. But if, like me, you wondered if this was Attack of the Clones part two, consider this my attempt at a band-aid. Of course we're bound to see the sickbay scene next episode and this will be redundant, but I'll just consider it a nice alternative in the meantime.

Sickbay stopped spinning as the last of the wounded were cauterised, dosed, scanned and cleaned. The usually immaculate environment of which Phlox was so proud bore no resemblance to the battlefield of discarded flotsam she saw now; bandages, creams, scanners, all that she could think of, lay cast aside on the work surfaces and biobeds and floor alike. In the panic, there had been no time to clear away.

Only one last panic remained, and he had slipped into an uncomfortable sleep a little over an hour ago—slipped, because he had gone into oblivion willingly, raising no fight against the painkillers and mild tranquillisers the doctor had administered; uncomfortable because welcome it as he had, his sleep was far from peaceful. Hoshi watched him lying on his back on the biobed beside her, his hand involuntarily twitching, his face a network of silent cares and withdrawn concerns. Unreadable. She couldn't help but wonder what he was trying to escape from.

Phlox had given her the all-clear to leave, provided she went to her quarters and not straight back to the bridge, at around the time Lieutenant Reed had been brought in, but an hour later she found herself still here, unmoved, and morbidly captivated. The captain had said nothing about what happened out there, but he didn't need to.

She had heard.

It had happened quite by accident, and information not meant for her ears had nevertheless reached them. Every incoming message received through the damaged comm station, broken by the blast that had injured her, had been brought to her faithfully by T'Pol, by Trip, by anybody able to spare a moment, and she had pored over the data, earpiece carefully pressed in tight, deciphering the exotic sounds and composing a message of her own. She hadn't meant to eavesdrop; but hidden beneath the broader band of the Romulan's communication, she had picked out a narrower frequency, one designed to cross, not between ships, but between people; the frequency of the captain's and Reed's EV suits radios, faint, but undeniably there.

She hadn't intended to hear what she did, would have stopped had she known, for one moment, that it was they whose voices she separated from the tangle, but she had been duty-bound to pursue the slightest inconsistency, and anything which may or may not have been a hidden code. By the time she realised what she had found, it was too late to unhear it.

Hoshi let her eyes wander over his pained face, exploring the hills and valleys she had thought she knew well, but was suddenly unable to recognise. Something, the warmth and the impishness and the slightly self-conscious shyness, had been stolen away like wind snatched from a ship's sails. A desperate sadness stole over her as she realised that, even in his dreams, he could find no peace. She would never have imagined that the man who faced her across the bridge everyday was so bitterly unhappy inside. It hadn't taken a translator to decide that much simply from the way he spoke today. What she had heard out there had been a stranger speaking with his voice—the Lieutenant Reed she knew was so often tolerant, playful, a comforting presence when the tables turned. Stern, yes, she wouldn't deny it—disciplined, it went without saying. But never, in her year of space with him, had he been aloof.

She slipped her feet over the side of the biobed, soundlessly, and padded over to him. Phlox had left to deliver some medications to resting crewmen and women in their quarters, so she should be safe for a while. She looked down into his restless face, his laboured breathing grating against her sensitive hearing, studying the faint lines and locked jaw she found there. His hair, now loosened from its rigid prison of gel, fanned out on the pillow in a soft dark halo. It was longer, she must admit, than she would expect from somebody with his background, and she had always meant to ask him about it but had never taken the time. The Reed she had heard today was not a man that would knowingly, willfully wear his hair long; and that, more than anything else, convinced her of the suspicions that had been forming in her head ever since she tapped into the wrong frequency.

His eyelids fluttered as she leant over him, and a muscle quivered in his left cheek. She pulled back, hastily—realising, too late, that a few strands of her hair had fallen forward and whispered across his face.

His eyes opened, with a sudden snap, and looked fully into hers. Instantly a look of pained embarrassment flashed across his face. he forced, the sound thick with drugs and barely-shaken sleep.

I'm sorry, Lieutenant. I didn't mean to wake you.

It's all right, Ensign. I might as well enjoy my leg whilst I still have it. The joke, though low-key and almost missable, was a little too close in tone to his overheard self-deprecation for comfort. Hoshi dismissed it on a breath, not willing to allow him to dwell on his fatalistic tendencies. She didn't know, for sure, why she should care; why the sudden change in her superior officer should have baffled and disturbed her this much. It just did.

You used to call me Hoshi, she accused, softly.

I still do. When it's appropriate, he replied, a hint of surprise in it, as if he couldn't understand why this change should bother her. She didn't know why it did bother her. Only . . . she had gotten used to his at least being cordial with her, if nothing else. She had thought he trusted them enough by now to know they would never abuse that trust.

And when is that? On those rare occasions when you're fraternising with me?

He recoiled from the question as if she had struck him, and for an instant, merely an instant, a look of such utter hurt passed over his face like a dark cloud that Hoshi drew breath, sharply. The look was smoothed away beneath that iron mask before she could steal a second glance.

I'll have you know, Ensign, that I'm perfectly within my rights to enforce a rule sanctioned by Starfleet. I don't know quite what you think you know, but I would appreciate it if in future you would kindly keep your opinions to yourself. It came as a growl, deeper than she had heard him speak in some time, and she hesitated a moment longer before taking that one step that would bring her back to his bedside again. He had turned his head from her, burying one cheek and eye in the pillow, and refused to look at her.

she said, gently. He flinched again unmistakably at the sound of it.

I never gave you permission to use my name, Ensign, he bit; but without strength, without alarm, and without malice. He sounded only weary. And, she must never forget, in pain. He must be in so much pain.

But I gave you permission to use mine, she countered. And you won't. She gulped, taking a moment to collect the confession that pooled on her tongue like rainwater in a sidewalk crack. I have to tell you something. Maybe I should have gone to the captain, but this concerns you more. You deserve to know. I . . . I heard, Lieutenant. I thought I was deciphering some secret Romulan code buried in their communication, but . . . I'd tapped into your comm, sir. Yours and the captain's. She paused, silenced by the sudden tension of the muscles beneath his t-shirt, his shoulders coiled and braced, his fists clenched. I heard what was said, she ended, softly.

You had no right, he seethed.

And you have no right to treat me like this! You had no right to talk to the captain like he was incapable of understanding you, but you did. And . . . and you have no right to go on about fraternisation and bridge protocol with superior officers when for the past year you've done nothing but act as a friend to me, to Travis . . . you even make jokes to your subordinates if you think it will help calm them down. And yet you tell the captain that keeping you talking isn't calming yours? How dare you expect us to fraternise with our superior when you say you won't do the same? She halted, breathless, and shocked at how much she had allowed herself to say. He lay silent, breathing hard, his taut body racked with tremors and his shoulders steeled as if expecting a blow.

Gently, deliberately, Hoshi reached out her hand and touched his shoulder, sorry for what she had done. At the touch a slight, unconscious sound stirred from his throat, and Hoshi withdrew it again as the unpleasant revelation dawned.

she murmured, what's happened to you? Do you think I've forgotten the guy who asked me to a movie, because he might need help with the subtitles? Do you think I've forgotten the guy that spent his personal time giving me target practice, or who teased poor Travis for sitting in the captain's chair? I haven't . . . but I think that, somewhere along the way, you might have done. Has something happened, somebody said something to you . . ?

There was no longer any mistaking what that sound had heralded; he turned to her, at last, swallowing hard as he did so, and fixed blurred eyes on her nervously. She caught her breath involuntarily at the sight.

You remember Crewman Latrelle? he asked, quietly. The one that was my best friend at the Academy?

She nodded, gulping down the shock his almost tearful state had wrenched from her. How could she forget?

He told me about Maureen, she said, carefully.

He closed his eyes, briefly, and when he opened them again the damp shine had dissolved without having ever broken free. Controlled to the bitter end, that was Lieutenant Malcolm Reed. I talked to him the other day, he confessed, slowly, feeling out the words with a deliberation she now knew came not from anger or acerbity, but from the sheer strain of holding his voice in check. A tight smile twisted his mouth, bitter and galling. I hadn't spoken to him for a while. He said he had heard about me getting friendly with you . . . going off on Risa with Trip . . . all of it. He made it sound like he'd been spying on me, actually. He said that he was disappointed in me; that the Malcolm Reed of old would never dream of getting so comfortable with people above or below his station, in fact with anyone when on duty. I told him I thought he always wanted me to loosen up. He said he did; but he also said he couldn't respect me for not standing by something I used to believe in.

She felt a small smile touch her lips, but contained it with good grace. Used to? she echoed.

He met the smile tiredly with one of his own. Since joining the Enterprise, it's been . . . different. It's no secret to you, Hoshi—I like being here. I feel . . . I feel like I belong, for the first time in my life. A lot of the things I used to believe in don't matter to me anymore. But when he said those things . . . when he accused me of disloyalty to my roots . . .

You tried to be him again. That young cadet that did everything by the book. He nodded, grateful that she had spared him the need to say as much himself. Tell me . . . she purred, . . . is this by the book, Lieutenant?

She placed both hands on his pillow, one either side of his head, leant forward, and let her hair trail across the skin of his neck and the shelf of his jaw, swaying lightly to make the frail locks pendulum. Whatever apprehension she saw in his bright blue eyes vanished in an instant as she came closer, closer, and grazed her lips against his. He hesitated only a moment, his torso stiffened beneath her . . . and then, with a hungry growl that sent a shiver down her spine, he kissed her back.