A/N: To reward everyone's patience, here is a very long chapter. Please read and review!


14

Crew Quarters, B Deck, 2240 hours, August 17 2151

When Reed had first gotten back to his quarters at around 0730, he'd kicked off his shoes and fallen into bed without bothering to get undressed. He slept soundly for several hours, catching up on the rest he'd missed while sitting with Jean, but sometime just before midnight his growling stomach woke him up. He lay in his darkened quarters, too hungry to fall back asleep, but not quite awake enough yet to consider leaving the soft warmth of his bed. Just to pass the time, he tried to remember the last time he'd eaten anything.

I had breakfast the morning of the mission, we snacked a little at that street fair, and I think the guards gave us some scraps when we were waiting in the cells. Have I had anything since? He turned, shifting position, and grit his teeth at the sudden, throbbing ache in his side. Damned ribs!

Crewman Cutler had said they weren't broken, only bruised, but they still hurt like the dickens when he tried to move. In the hours since he left Sickbay his sore muscles had stiffened up, too, and he had a nagging suspicion that sleeping in a chair hadn't helped matters. Slowly, carefully, he eased himself into a sitting position and shifted over to the edge of his bunk. For a little while he just sat there, gripping the side of his bed frame with both hands to keep himself upright and willing himself to stand up.

After a few minutes he nodded resolutely and got to his feet, holding one arm rigidly next to his sore ribs and blinking copiously to wake himself. He glanced over at the time display on his desk. 2248 hours. His stomach growled again. It wasn't very loud, but the feeling of emptiness that accompanied it was astounding.

'Is your belly hollow?'

He smirked, remembering his Novan jailer's question several months before. Yes, yes it is. But I'll pass on the digger meat this time.

He shuffled into the bathroom. On his way to the toilet, a ghostly, unkempt apparition in the mirror caught his eye. He stopped dead in his tracks, then went over to look more closely. Dear God! The figure staring back at him was pale under its messy, dark brown hair, which stuck out in odd little clumps and at strange angles. There were dark circles under the wide, shocked eyes, and rough stubble covered the lower portion of the face.

Reed shook his head slightly and blinked wide. His double did the same.

What were you expecting? That he'd lean out of the mirror and hand over a razor? He heaved a deep breath, screwing up his face in a wince when his ribs complained. Right then, get on with it. He went over to the toilet and lifted the seat. Once he was finished, he flushed and washed his hands, all the time darting furtive glances at the mirror, hoping his reflection had improved. He wasn't surprised when it didn't.

Right, I'll shower, shave, and change into clean clothes. I can't very well leave my quarters looking like this. Then I'll go to the Mess and grab something to eat.

He started to dry his hands on a towel, then shook his head. Why bother? He undid the lacing at the neck of his shirt and carefully tugged the hem out of his pants before trying to pull the garment off over his head. It was halfway there when his hand accidentally brushed over his sore ribs, setting off fresh waves of pain.

Damned, stupid, bloody planet!

He stubbornly grit his teeth and yanked the shirt the rest of the way off, briefly entertaining the notion of flushing the offending garment down the toilet. He certainly never wanted to see it ever again. It reminded him too much of the mission, the blood stain especially. No, I shouldn't flush it. It might clog a pipe somewhere. Ultimately, he settled for balling the shirt up so that the stain was hidden and tossed it next to the sink before moving on to his belt.

He didn't have any trouble divesting himself of his belt or the pants, which he simply let fall onto the deck around his feet and then stepped out of. The belt was nondescript enough and it wasn't stained at all; he'd keep it in his quarters until he could return it to the quartermaster along with the pants. He left the pants where they fell, then gently kicked them towards the main part of his quarters. Leaving them on the floor would drive him batty, but he was too sore to consider trying to pick them up. Getting out of his skivvies was no problem either; he kicked them into a pile with his pants and resolved to put them all down the cleaning chute when he could undress without wanting to curse.

Reed had kicked off his shoes and one foot was in the shower when he glanced down at the supporting bandage Crewman Cutler had wrapped around his middle. Damn. Can't get this wet. I'll have to take the bloody thing off. He stood there, frowning in displeasure until an idea hit him. He reached for the comm panel by the shower stall.

"Lieutenant Reed to Crewman Cutler."

A soft chirp answered his hail, followed by "Cutler here. Go ahead, sir. What can I do for you?"

Reed cleared his throat awkwardly. It had only just occurred to him that he was speaking to a female subordinate and he was totally naked. He swallowed nervously, then pushed aside his embarrassment and went ahead with his query. "Crewman, I was wondering. Those bandages you used on my ribs, do I need to remove them if I want to take a shower?"

"No sir, they're waterproof. If you do decide to take them off, I'll want you to come down to Sickbay so I can re-wrap them properly. Is that helpful, sir?"

Reed nodded happily, allowing himself a faint smile. "Yes, Crewman. Thank you. Reed out."

He stepped the rest of the way into the shower and turned the water on, hot. For a few moments he just stood there, letting the water softly pound on his sore muscles. He let his head fall forward and breathed deeply, giving the water a chance to relax the muscles in his neck and shoulders. He was almost enjoying himself when his stomach rumbled.

Alright already. I get the idea.

He shook his head slightly to snap himself out of his brief reverie, and reached for a washcloth. He worked some soap into a lather and set about washing his arms, chest and legs, leaving his back for last. When he was getting undressed he'd noticed that it hurt to lift his left arm past a certain point, so he knew that he'd need to limit his range of motion to what didn't hurt, which, unfortunately, meant that washing his back would be rather tricky.

As he continued using the soap, he noticed how much dirt and grime had already been rinsed off and was swirling around his feet.

Lovely. And I've been this dirty ever since we came back on board.

He snorted in mild disgust. Since he was still looking down, he started washing the area below the support bandage. It was wrapped too tightly for him to properly clean the skin underneath it, and he didn't like the idea of leaving part of himself filthy until the bandage came off, but he could still wash around it and he didn't really want to remove it. Besides, he was in less pain with the bandage in place than without it, and the idea of going down to Sickbay to have it re-wrapped didn't appeal to him in the least. Not to mention the fact that he'd been banned from Sickbay until the next day...

But does that include going there for treatment? Maybe I could ask Cutler to – no. Jean's the only one who makes house calls. And I'm not sure it would be appropriate for the crewman to be in my quarters, especially when I'm perfectly capable of walking there on my own.

While he'd been debating the matter with himself, he'd finished washing every bit of his body except for his upper back. He slowly tried rolling his left shoulder. No pain. He smiled and experimented with washing the back of his neck using his left hand. There was a slight twinge when he first raised the arm, and he couldn't quite reach the right side of his neck, but otherwise the pain was minimal. He sighed and switched the washcloth to his right hand to finish the job. It was a bit of a struggle to wash his upper back with just one hand, but he managed.

Sometime later Reed noticed that he'd been drifting off, so before he started to wash his hair he made the water a bit cooler, just to wake himself up. His sore muscles lodged a feeble protest, which he firmly ignored. It was important that he be fully awake now, before he tried to shave off his two days worth of stubble. He'd attend to his various aches later, after he'd finished cleaning himself up and eaten a meal in the mess.

Once he'd rinsed the shampoo out of his hair, he turned off the water and stepped out of the shower stall, grabbing a towel on the way. He dried his arms and then cautiously patted his chest and belly dry, somehow completing that task without provoking his aching ribs. He shook his head very slightly, surprised that he'd managed to do that, and felt a few drops a water land on his shoulders.

Right, that's what's next.

He scrubbed the towel over his head, roughly drying his hair. He soon realized that he was using the force which he'd restrained in drying his midsection, and that his general frustration and disgust at recent events was powering his actions. I'd better make sure to not pull any hair out by mistake. He abruptly stopped, his inherent caution coming to the fore again.

What is wrong with you?

He shook his head vigorously and suddenly felt a sharp, throbbing pain near the back of his skull which made his vision swim. It was where he'd been hit with something big and heavy when he and Trip were 'questioned'. Reed absently let the towel drop lower in his hands. A dear friend of mine was stabbed yesterday, she's still at death's door, and I can't even be there with her. That's what's bloody well wrong with me! And to top it all off, that vicious ass Rostin got away clean, last I heard.

Reed twisted the towel angrily, bunching it in his fists as his traitorous mind replayed the highlights of the away team's stay on Chalderon. He watched, helpless, as Jean was carried off to god knows where... as he and Trip were interrogated. He reached up to touch the back of his head, gingerly feeling the sore spot. He didn't need to touch his ribs to remind himself of where one of the guards had repeatedly punched and kicked him until Trip kicked at the guard, drawing the sadist's attention to himself and granting the lieutenant a respite. Admittedly, it wasn't as brutal as it might have been – the guards hadn't used anything more than fists, feet, and the butts of their guns – but it was still an experience he wasn't eager to repeat. Nevertheless, here he was in his bathroom barely 24 hours later, living it again.

Blood... pain... fear... anger... and, finally, anguished worry. He blinked rapidly, trying to rid himself of the images floating through his mind. Bloody hell, what I wouldn't give to be unconscious right now... No, then I'd be having nightmares again. Big improvement, that.

He absently wrapped the towel around his waist and hissed in pain. He'd tucked in the towel right on top of one of his sore ribs. Brilliant job, Malcolm. I need to sleep, get my head together properly. Make sure I don't do that again. He adjusted the towel slightly so it wouldn't hurt, stepped over to the mirror and leaned forward, bracing his hands on either side of the sink.

But I'm still worried. That part hasn't passed yet... and it won't, either. Not until I can talk to her. Not until she's awake. Not until I can see her smile.

He was still banned from Sickbay for another seven hours, so he couldn't see her until then, and he knew that waiting so long to see her again would be torture. Just sitting by her bed had helped to calm his worry. Watching the steady rise and fall of her breathing had been reassuring beyond words, and just knowing that she was so close and that if anything should happen he could call Phlox over to fix it, had helped him keep a solid grip on himself. Now that he'd lost that tiny bit of reassurance, he'd simply have to find another way to keep himself in check.

The best way to pass the time is to just sleep, he reasoned. But first I need to eat something in the mess, and to do that, I'll have to be properly presentable.

He took out his razor without checking his reflection. He'd have to use the mirror to shave properly, but he still didn't like to see himself so unkempt. After a brief hesitation he switched on the shaver and lifted it to the corner of his jaw. It only took him a few minutes to shave, during which time he avoided looking at the main part of his reflection, and instead remained focused on just the lower portion of his face, being particularly careful around his split lip. He switched off the razor and carefully cleaned it of shavings before putting it away again.

Reed reached for a comb, put it down next to the sink, and then reluctantly looked at his reflection.

He rubbed a hand over his face tiredly, making his nose bend slightly to one side as he ruefully contemplated his appearance. The hair just needed to be combed into place, and the stubble was gone. He was still pale from lack of sleep and a surfeit of worry, and even though the warm shower had brought some color back to his face, he knew that it probably wouldn't stay there very long. The circles under his eyes weren't less prominent than they'd been before, but they'd fade with time. And rest. If he could manage to get any...

He picked up the comb again and quickly ran it through his hair, trying desperately not to think of anything at all, because he knew that no matter what thoughts might pop into his head, something would remind him of her.

What am I doing? I'm acting like she's already dead! His eyes squeezed shut and he slowly shook his head. No. No. No! She is alive, damn it, and she's not going to die! Stop being an idiot. Stop acting like a child. He angrily wiped the back of his hand across his cheeks, trying to steady the breathing which he just realized had become ragged. I'll be going out where there are people, soon. I can't be seen like this.

After his hair was neatly brushed back, Reed forced himself to put down the comb. He was surprised to find thin red stripes criss-crossing his palm and the inside of his fingers. I must've been gripping the comb too hard. It's a wonder it didn't snap. He glanced at the mirror again and scowled at how red his eyes were.

That won't do. He grabbed a washcloth, ran it under cold water and, after squeezing most of the damp out of it, pressed it to his face.

He held the cloth to his eyes, letting the coolness soothe his tired eyelids. Reed removed the cloth for just a moment, opened his eyes and moved to sit on the low bench by his shower. He sat, leaning back against the wall and trying not to think about the mission. For the first time that evening, he succeeded. He kept his eyes shut, relaxing into the paneled wall and holding the cool cloth in place. After a little while, Reed started to nod off. He let his hand fall to his lap, glad that the cloth stayed in place over his eyes. It seemed to stick to his skin on its own. He must have been dozing for twenty minutes when a very slight chill woke him. The skin on his thighs was raised in gooseflesh and his towel had fallen open.

Reed sat up, pulling the terrycloth around him again as his stomach rumbled even more insistently. Yes, yes. I'll see to that in just a minute.

He stood, being careful to hold the towel in place as he walked towards the bathroom door.

Right, dressed, mess hall, then back to bed. He winced when he moved back into the main part of his quarters; at some point, his body had decided to stop cooperating with him altogether and now even walking was painful. Now, what to wear?

Normally he would have thrown his uniform on, no question, but now his soreness gave him pause. Maybe a quick trip to Sickbay after the mess, just to get something for the pain. He shook his head, only partially amazed that he felt so lousy, and almost lost his balance as the room did a strange turn. He'd completely forgotten about having a mild concussion.

I'm a right mess, no mistake. He stopped himself from shaking his head again and took out some underwear. He'd decide whether or not to try putting on his uniform based on how much trouble he had with the underwear. If getting the bottoms on proved too hard he'd wear something else, since getting into the one-piece uniform required a good deal of bending and, given how much his side was hurting, he might find it easier to just put on normal pants and a shirt.

Getting into clean underwear was easy enough, in theory, at least. In practice, it turned out that bending to put on underwear was the worst part. He tried holding his breath and closing his eyes, hoping that would prevent, or at least lessen, the pain in his ribs.

It didn't. A bright explosion of pain crashed behind his eyelids, surprising him and making him take in a quick breath with the shock of it. That didn't help much with the pain, either. Taking in the breath only hurt his side even more. He still managed to get his skivvies on, though, despite the pain, and then spent the next minute or so trying to make himself breathe steadily.

So the uniform's out, then.

He remembered that Jean had been cajoling him for a while to venture out of his quarters wearing something other than his uniform. Apparently, though, wearing something besides his uniform when he went to the ship's gym didn't count towards her idea of variety.

"Can't you wear something else, just once? Add a little variation to the color scheme of... whatever?"

Now she'll just have to hear about it, he thought ruefully. He grabbed a beige t-shirt and sweatpants out of his locker and slammed it shut. He pushed the door so hard that it hit the frame and bounced back again, not actually closing properly.

Temper temper, Malcolm. Can't go about breaking things. Reed carefully shut his locker, trying to make himself breathe steadily again.

The next part would be fairly tricky, since he was having trouble lifting his left arm, but he grit his teeth and managed to pull on the undershirt and t-shirt without too much pain. He still couldn't raise his left arm without pain, but, like with the shower, he managed. The sweats were another matter. He tried to put them on without bending, quickly realized it was impossible, and muttered some curses to himself before working up the nerve to put himself through that ordeal again.

He had to bend over to get them on, which unfortunately meant that a dizzying pain exploded in his side before he had pulled them on completely. The pain was so bad that it made his vision go blurry. Luckily, though, he was near enough to his bed to sit down until the feeling faded to a dull ache. It shouldn't be this hard.

He tried to shake off his self-pity and, closing his eyes tightly, got the pants on properly with only a little bit more agony. He'd had to lie down again to do it — bending while he sat on the bed only meant more pain — and afterwards he stayed lying down for quite some time, trying to will the pain away. After Reed had his pants on, he allowed himself a minute to get his breath back, and then he got some water and surprised himself by downing three whole glasses. When he finally felt recovered, he headed down to the mess, hoping that if he ate something – as his stomach kept insisting that he should – maybe he could get back to sleep.