NEW DS9 Triage 0/5 [R] (B&Nog, B/Ez, J/J)

Title: Triage

Author: Paula Stiles (thesnowleopard@hotmail.com)

Webpage: http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch.html

Series: DS9

Part: NEW 1/1

Rating: [R]

Codes: B&Nog, B&m, B/Ez, J/J



Summary: Following the evacuation of the survivors from the siege at AR- 558, Bashir and Nog end up on a crowded hospital ship. Set early in Season Seven, between 'The Siege of AR-558' and 'It's Only a Paper Moon.'

Disclaimer: It ain't me, babe, but Paramount who owns the characters and the Trek universe. RCA Records appears to own the rights to Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit". Lewis Carrol's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" don't belong to me, either. I also use Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda", which belongs to Larrikin Music, Ltd. Oh, and while I'm at it, I confess to misusing "The Charge of the Light Brigade", as well as Emerson's and Shaw's quotes (see below). But since Berman and Co. did that first, I don't feel especially bad about it. I'm not making any money off of this story, but I am having fun. As far as I know, that's not yet illegal.

Note: Anybody ever wonder how Bashir survived getting shot point-blank by a Jem'Hadar during 'The Siege of AR-558' when Kellin didn't? I sure did. If Bashir had been a redshirt, he would have died on that battlefield. This is my take on how he survived.

Warning: This is rated R for description of trauma, multiple character deaths, foul language, drug-fueled fantasies, gallows humour, a rather gruesome dream and general war angst.



TRIAGE

"A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."

R.W. Emerson

"You cannot be a hero without being a coward."

George Bernard Shaw



I'm busy taking out Jem'Hadar. Automatically, I keep a tally in my head. It's much more than anybody else's. I don't have time to feel sick about that, or be scared. We've been overrun. I have to stem the tide, give the others a chance to stop the Jem'Hadar already in our compound.

Vic's song ended just before the attack, but I still hear music in my head. In her last message to me, my mother sung me a lullaby that I used to love when I was four. She also sent me the complete works of Lewis Carroll. Her voice soothes me as I kill and kill and kill.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see a Jem'Hadar aiming at me. I turn, trying to face my attacker, but you cannot swing a phaser rifle round that quickly. My knuckles, shoulder, neck, and side light up like fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day, even as the Jem'Hadar is knocked to one side by a phaser blast. I convulse, losing my grip on my rifle and spinning to the ground. Wedged into this crevasse, I'd been impossible to hit from the front. I'd hoped they wouldn't notice my accuracy and try to take me from behind. They noticed.

Twitchy Vargas, the security bloke, goes down with a knife in his back, his killer already dying on the ground.

"Kellin? KELLIN?!"

I hear Ezri's shout of anguish. Kellin, the engineer with whom she's been rigging booby-traps against the Jem'Hadar for days, blocks a shot meant for her. I want to go to her, but I don't dare even to look. I have to get up, keep shooting. Instead, I grey out.

I wake again to AR-558 a few seconds later (what mortal sin did I commit to deserve this?). Kellin is down. Vargas is down. Dead-eyed Reese has his knife out. Ezri...I don't see her, can't think about her right now. So few of us left. I roll over, fumble at my rifle, and crawl back up to start shooting again. The ache in my side makes it hard to draw a breath. If I'd been hit on the left side, I think I'd be dead already. The Jem'Hadar accomplished something, at least. I've slowed down--a lot.

There's a flash of light and a Jem'Hadar falls on top of me, knocking me back down. I turn my head to see Captain Sisko clubbed to the ground by another enemy. I shoot the Jem'Hadar as he aims his rifle at the Captain. My aim is bad; I have to shoot him twice to finish the job. There's no one else to do it. Then, I crawl back up again, to shoot some more incoming enemy. It's harder than before--how could it get harder?

After a weary, nightmare-long time, the targets dry up. At first, I don't register it. I slump down on my rifle, too exhausted to turn around, to see if we've won or lost. Since I'm still alive, I suppose that means we've won. I know for certain when I feel a hand on my left shoulder and Reese says:

"Doc? You still with us?"

"Yes." I lift my head. I turn over stiffly. My right shoulder isn't functioning well. I can't feel it at all. "Did we...?"

He nods, his face blank. "Yeah. Yeah, we did. Look, Doc, most everybody's wounded. Do you think you could, um...."

All I really want to do is lie down and go to sleep forever. But as long as there's a war on, it seems that I still have a job to do.

So, instead, I say, "Of course."

Kellin and Vargas are dead. Ezri seems all right, but just sits on the ground, Kellin's head in her lap. I am briefly envious of him. The Captain survived, as well. The Jem'Hadar knocked him out, but he'll wake up in a few minutes. Reese wasn't hurt--physically, anyway. Ensign Nog, who lost his leg in a previous skirmish, remains stabilised. He slept through the whole battle. I decide not to disturb him. Killing a Jem'Hadar who made it as far as my makeshift infirmary has finally stunned Nog's Uncle Quark into silence. Good. I don't think I could deal with any more civilian nattering at this point. We should never have brought him along in the first place.

Nearly everyone else is either wounded, or dead. The dead would be easier to sort if I could remember which ones I've looked at already. They all look the same in the gloom. I wish I could see better. My head aches. The leftover ozone smell from all the phaser and disruptor fire makes me thirsty and nauseous. My side and shoulder have gone numb, and I'm none too sure of my medical judgment right now. I can only lift my right arm for a few seconds at a time. I slog on as best I can, though, running down like an old watchspring.

Captain Sisko kneels down beside me, putting a hand on my shoulder. I don't notice, at first, because it's my right shoulder and I still can't feel it. I see he finally woke up.

"Are you all right?" he says.

I look at him. I think about lying, but I'm too tired. "No."

"I saw you take a hit."

I nod. "It's gone numb. I'm not sure how serious it is. Thank you for saving my life."

"You're welcome," he says. "I think you should beam up to the Veracruz with Nog and the rest of the wounded."

"Really?" What does he want from me now? Haven't I done enough? "Do you think it's best?"

He doesn't answer for so long that I forget he's there. Suddenly, he's back at my side with a medtech. I didn't realise he'd gone. I look at the medtech. When did the reinforcements come in? I glance down at my patient, who stares sightlessly up past me. She's dead. She was dead the last two times I checked her, as well.

I look at Sisko again. Then, I look at the medtech. No, wait, there are two of them, and they have a stretcher. Clearly, my observational skills are nonexistent, today. I crawl over to the stretcher and lie down on my side. Nobody says a word.

That's how I leave AR-558.

*********

The Veracruz feels much colder than the surface of the planet did. It stinks of antiseptic and charred meat--must be me. I start shivering before we even leave the transporter room. A medtech lays a heated blanket over me and gives me a hypospray shot. She won't tell me what it is. It doesn't seem to help. Teeth chattering, I slip into a doze soon after. I wish they would give me some water.

I hope that they'll put me in a corner with the rest of the yellows, and let me sleep. Red is for life-threatening injuries, yellow for non-life- threatening, green for the uninjured or walking wounded, and black for the dead, in that order of importance. Triage is so simple. It's the decisions that are hard.

"Bashir! Lt. Bashir!" I open my eyes. I'm in a sickbay which is crowded full of stretchers. I'm lying on my back. Around me, the wounded scream, cry, whimper, and groan. So much for sleep. A Human nurse looms over me, his green eyes narrowed with worry. He rakes a bloody hand through his short hair, brown on brown, then runs a steriliser over his fingers without looking at them. The blood disappears. Was it mine?

"Can you hear me?" he says, as he puts an IV in my arm. The thirst eases, though I'd still like a drink.

"Of course," I reply. He's practically shouting in my ear, the flat burr of his accent (Welsh, I think) gone harsh with suppressed tension. He's in combat mode. His uniform is bloody and rumpled, his face unshaven. He has what look like permanent bags under his eyes. Obviously, he's been working double shifts. When I start to roll over onto my side, he stops me.

"I'm sorry," he says. "You need to stay on your back."

"But it doesn't hurt," I protest. I see his face go grim.

"Not yet," he says. "It will, soon. Can you tell me your name and rank?"

"Lt. Julian Subatoi Bashir, Chief Medical Officer at Space Station Deep Space Nine in the Bajoran system, serial number--"

"Okay, that's enough. Can you tell me where you are, then?"

I open my mouth to answer, before I realise that I've completely forgotten the name of the ship. "Umm, a ship? Not the Defiant."

"Nope," he shakes his head. "Not the Defiant. That must be your ship."

"Of course," I reply faintly. It's not the kind of thing you're supposed to forget.

"You're on the Veracruz," he explains.

"The Veracruz. Right."

"Can you tell me what time it is?"

I remember this game now. He's trying to establish how alert I am by asking me who I am, where I am, and what time and date it is. If I know all three, then I am orientated times three and I'm all right. The problem is that, while I've passed number one with flying colours, I've bolluxed up number two, and I can't remember three to save my life.

"Bashir!" He's shaking me. I jump.

"It's okay," he says, more quietly. "It's all right. You had me a little worried when you didn't respond. Do you remember what I just asked you?"

Now, I'm really concerned, because I can't. "No."

"I asked you what time it was. Can you tell me that?"

"No." I hear my voice go very small. "I'm sorry. I was in this battle, you see. And it went on and on...I suppose I lost track of time."

"That's okay." He plays with my IV for a bit, then gives me an injection. At first, it doesn't seem to do anything. Then, the room brightens. Everything sharpens around me. The fetid, dead-fly smell of drying blood threatens to smother me. I notice the red flag on the wall next to my head, and realise that it's much closer than the yellow flag across the room. The people surrounding me all look bad. I can't see a single yellow among them.

Ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod. I know what's wrong. I'm in shock, and I'm decompensating fast. If they don't stabilise me soon, I'm going to die.

"You put me with the reds!" I try to sit up, but a wave of nausea knocks me flat. "What the hell are you trying to do, kill me? You put me with the reds!"

"It's all right. Take it easy." The nurse holds me down. I'm too weak to struggle for long, so I stop. I start to cry.

The nurse crouches down next to the gurney, his head level with mine. "Lt. Bashir, listen to me very carefully. You've been shot. You're badly wounded, but you're not going to die; not as long as you keep fighting. If you were going to die, you'd have done it immediately, right? The longer you stay awake, the better your chances are. Do you understand?"

I nod, still sniveling. "Yes," I say. "I didn't...didn't realise...." If I'd been my own patient, I'd be dead now.

"Nobody expected you to." He chuckles. "Now, let's see if we can get you out of this filthy uniform and into some warm clothes."

I hate this part. I really do. The last time I was wounded, I got to sleep through this. I staggered into an underground hospital, dragging a generator behind me, and promptly fainted from second and third degree blast burns. By the time I woke up, they'd cleaned me up and put me to bed.

That was during the Klingon War--the Klingon War, the Dominion War, the Maquis rebellion. Too many damned wars, if you ask me. Nobody ever asks people like me.

If I hadn't been so scared about losing Jake in the Klingon barrage and about the hospital being overrun, getting wounded would have been almost pleasant. I needed the break. Losing your commanding officer's only son behind enemy lines tends to complicate your life, though. When I saw Jake walk back into the base on his own power, it was one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I don't know how I could have faced the Captain if I'd got Jake killed.

I got a medal for that. I wasn't enthusiastic about it, but both Siskos insisted. I suppose I'll get one for this stunt, too. There's a part of me that loves the attention, but another part wishes I didn't have so many little gold coins on ribbons to commemorate the more traumatic events in my adult life.

The nurse gives me a shot of painkiller, "because it's gonna start hurting sometime soon, so let's take care of that now, shall we?" I want to know what he's given me but he refuses to say.

"Look, Bashir," he says, as he rolls me onto my side and slits my uniform down the back with a laserscapel. "I know you want to feel as if you're in control, but running your own treatment is not a good idea right now. You are just going to have to trust that we are taking good care of you. Relax. We're a good team, here."

With whatever he's given me, I can't help *but* relax. I stop blubbering, finally. My arms dangle over the side of the gurney as the nurse works my charred, stinking uniform off and gets me kitted up in a hospital johnny. I never could stand the things, but it's better than being naked under a blanket. I'm rather less excited about the urinary catheter, particularly since he's putting it in right out in the middle of Sickbay, but at least it's not as confining as a diagnostic shell.

"What's your name?" I say, to distract myself as he puts in the catheter.

"Sawalha," he replies. "Lt. Sawalha." He gently turns me onto my back and puts by arms back at my sides. When I try to clasp my hands over my chest, he firmly puts them back down on the gurney.

"You know better," he growls, and I have to admit that I do. If I were to seize, or go into cardiac arrest, my hands could get in the way. I'm fortunate he doesn't restrain them as a precaution, but I don't feel fortunate, just vulnerable. I shudder.

"Don't worry," Sawalha reassures me. "We won't restrain your hands unless we have to." Then, he covers me again with the blanket. "How does that feel?" he asks.

"Lovely," I say dreamily. This painkiller he put me on is amazing, though I could do without the metallic taste it leaves in my mouth. I halfheartedly try to identify it, but I'm so stoned that it's a hopeless task.

Then, I remember something. "Sawa...Nurse?"

"Alex." He looms over me, the light above him making a rainbow halo around his head.

"What?" I blink up at him, completely thrown by his response.

"'Alex'. It's my first name. Easier than 'Sawalha', isn't it? Less impersonal than 'Nurse', too. I have a feeling you're going to need to use it at some point." One corner of his mouth turns up in weary amusement. "Go ahead. Try it out. 'Alex'."

"Alex," I say slowly, feeling out the name. "I came up with--with a shipmate..." I trail off, unable to remember anything else--like a name.

"Ensign Nog?" he suggests.

Oh, thank God somebody is on the ball around here. I'm certainly not.

"Nog. Yeah. How is he?"

"Ensign Nog is resting right now," Sawalha intones. "His condition is stable and we anticipate no problems in fitting him with a cybernetic prosthesis once we get him to a hospital. He'll be fine. You did a good job, Bashir."

"Oh. That's nice. Where...?"

Sawalha points over to the yellow section of Sickbay. I squint at that corner, but can't focus well enough to make out Nog in the crowd. Poor Nog. Nobody's making a fuss over *him*. He should be getting all of this attention.

"You know that's not the way it works," Sawalha scolds me. "Besides, you gave him plenty of attention when you operated on him down on that planet." I must have spoken out loud without realizing it. I'm going to have to watch myself. Although, how I'm going to do that, when I have neither the means nor the inclination to do it, is an interesting dilemma.

"Can I see him?" I ask.

"We'll bring him over for a visit when you're feeling better," Sawalha assures me.

Bollocks. I feel fine. I wish everybody would stop *hovering* over me.

"But I want to see him *now*," I whine. Normally, I'd wince at my tone.

"Soon. I promise," Sawalha soothes me. "Don't worry. I'll take care of him for you, okay?" He tucks the blanket around me as if I were a four-year- old and whisks off to another patient.

I fall asleep after Sawalha leaves. It's pleasant to feel like this, in an out-of-control sort of way. After some nameless time passes, I feel someone crawl up onto the stretcher beside me, a naked someone. She slips her hands under my hospital johnny and wraps her arms and legs around me. For some odd reason, this doesn't bother my shoulder and side. I try to turn my head to see who it is.

"Shh," Ezri breathes in my ear. "Relax. It's only little old me."

Oooh, I *like* these drugs. I don't know how I'm going to face the real Ezri later on, but right now, I don't care. I lie there and let this drug-induced phantom work some very old black magic on me. While she does, she sings softly to me my mother's lullaby:

"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small.

"And the ones that mother gives you don't do anything at all.

"Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall."

As I drift off, I see a white rabbit running ahead of me along the river. I chase after it in the wet grass. Just when I think I'm going to catch it, the ground gives way under my feet and I'm falling, falling....

*********

I open my eyes to see a dark-haired Human staring at me from a biobed. A diagnostics shell covers his abdomen. His expression is cheery and his black eyes vague.

"Great stuff, eh?" he says. "Who'd you dream about?"

"What?" I'm in a biobed, too. I hear the thready beep of my pulse from the panel above my head. They must have given me another shot. If anything, I feel even more out of it than before.

"Nechayev," he lowers his voice, confiding in me. "I did Admiral Nechayev doggie-style."

Somehow, this strikes me as hilarious. I giggle, unable to stop. The man giggles right along with me.

"I tell ya," he chortles. "Me and that stuck-up blonde bitch goin' at it like a couple of Klingons--It was the best fun I've had for months. What a great side effect."

I try to calm down, get my breath, and end up coughing, instead. It takes me a few minutes to get back under control. The smell of my own blood and urine drifting up from the biobed containers doesn't help.

"What--what happened to you?" I splutter.

He grimaces. "I caught a Jem'Hadar disruptor bolt in the nuts. At least, that's how it felt. It wasn't a direct shot, though. Lucky me." He grins. "Imagine my relief when I found myself here, in the middle of a wetdream with the icebitch goddess of Sector 001. What about you?"

"Our position was overrun. I blocked a point-blank shot with my rifle-- got hit in the...hand, shoulder and side, I think. Maybe the face."

"Damn," he says. "You're lucky you're still here. You're not, um, paralysed, or anything, are you?"

I shake my head, then surreptitiously wriggle my fingers and toes. Even the drug can't subdue my relief at being able to do that.

The conversation fades out after that. My neighbor's condition isn't as good as his big smile indicates, I think. It's hard to tell. I can't concentrate with so many drugs in my system. While I'm grateful that there's no pain, I can't carry on any kind of complicated conversation. I drift off again.

*********

I don't know what ominous sound rouses me. I've always had the knack of waking from a sound sleep within seconds, under normal circumstances, but now.... All I know is that I wake up sensing that something is wrong. I struggle to surface, opening my eyes with an effort.

My neighbor lies very still--eyes closed, face grey. I can't tell if he's breathing. The beeping of the monitor over his head is slowing, and the lights of his diagnostic shell have all turned red. Despite the chemical peace in my veins, a chill shoots through me. I try to lift my head, but I'm too weak.

Help. I have to get help. I can't do anything on my own.

"Nurse," I whisper, then clear my throat and try again, louder. "Nurse. Nurse!"

Nobody comes. They can't hear me. Of course they can't. Sickbay is full of the sounds of the wounded. How could the medical staff tell one more urgent moan over another?

Somehow, I have to attract their attention. I try to sit up, but the IV is in the way. I tug at it impatiently. It crashes to the floor. Alerted by the sound, a nurse (not Sawalha) rushes over.

"Please," I say, looking at my neighbor. "He's sick...."

"Shit!" the nurse yells. "I need a code team over here stat!" Medical staff swarm over my neighbor. I've fixed the problem. I've saved my neighbor. I should feel great, but instead, I feel dizzy and nauseous. And it's getting worse.

Ezri sings in my ear:

"And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you're going to fall,

"Tell them a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call.

"Call Alice, when she was just small."

"Oh...God," I say, as black stars crowd my vision. "I don't feel well." My mouth feels like it's been plated with tritanium. One of the nurses looms over me, her face green and distorted, as though I'm looking up at her through deep water.

"Get another team," I hear her say from a distance. "This one's crashing, too."

"There is no other team," another nurse answers her.

I see Jadzia. She's in full Klingon armor, so I suppose we got her into Sto'vo'kor, after all. Worf will be so pleased. If Ezri won't help me, surely Jadzia will. She's only been dead a few months, but it feels like forever. I'm so happy to see her that I start to cry again. I've missed her so much. The medical team ignores her as she draws near me and takes my hand. Her hands are cold as the dead. She frowns at me. Have I made her angry? I hope she doesn't still blame me for letting her die.

"Jadzia," I say. "Have you come to take me away?"

She leans close to me. "Julian, listen to me," she says urgently. "Keep breathing, no matter what. Just keep breathing."

"Keep...breathing. Right." I'm so tired that I'm not sure I can obey her.

"Yes, that's right, Julian. Just keep breathing. Please." She grips my hands tightly; I can't move. She's crying, too, now, like me. I don't want to make her cry, so I struggle to take one rattling breath. Then, another, and another, even as I feel my heartbeat slow and falter.

Mum, sing me that lullaby again. I swear I'll be good. Don't leave me here in the dark with these heathen. I don't want to die alone.

*********

"When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go,

"And you will just have some kind of mushroom,

"And your mind is moving, ohhh,

"Go ask Alice. I think she'll know."

I'm in Hell, and it looks like Wonderland. I wish the Red Queen would stop singing. She merrily orders her card-thin soldiers to hoist me onto their shoulders and carry me to the Mad Hatter's table. His friend, the March Hare, carves me into little pieces. They soak the slivers in their teacups, slurping them down. A drunken little Dormouse bangs on my skull with a spoon. Everyone joins in on the song.

"When Logic and Proportion have fallen sloppy dead,

"And the White Knight is talking backwards,

"And the Red Queen's off her head,

"Remember what the Dormouse said:

"'Feeeed your head. Feeeed your heaaaad.'"

It's very uncomfortable, being dipped head first into a teacup. I don't like it. The tea is too hot and strong. I try to push the Dormouse away, but they've tied my hands to the bed. Why are they tormenting me? What did I ever do to them?

"Julian?" the Mock Turtle says solemnly. "Julian, can you hear me?"

"Ssstop," I whimper. "Stop singing. Please."

The Mock Turtle turns to the Mad Hatter, as the singing finally dies away, and says, "Well, at least he responded this time."

"Not that it made any sense," snorts the Hatter. "He's still completely off his head."

"Shh. He can hear you," the Mock Turtle intones. "Julian," he says to me. "It's gonna be okay. I know you're not feeling very well right now, but we've given you something to help you feel better soon."

Not more tea. Anything but that.

"Tea?!" says the Hatter.

"Nono," the Mock Turtle says soothingly. "Nothing like that. Just relax. Try to sleep, now. You'll feel much better in a little while."

I'll feel even better once I stop that bloody Dormouse from whacking me on the head. I try to grab his spoon, but my hands are still tied. The Mock Turtle presses my head gently back against the pillow, immobilizing me. Am I supposed to just lie here and take this?

Apparently, I am. The Mock Turtle and the Mad Hatter walk away, leaving me at the mercy of their soused comrade. Eventually, the tea that the Mock Turtle has forced on me takes effect, dulling the Dormouse's enthusiastic banging. I fall asleep.

*********

"Tell me about the Dormouse, Julian."

The Mock Turtle, so blurry I can barely make him out, looms over me. "Julian, can you hear me?" he says.

"What?" I squint up at him. The Dormouse and his spoon have buggered up my vision. Slowly, the Mock Turtle turns into Nurse Sawalha.

"The Dormouse," he repeats patiently. "Tell me what it's doing and I'll make it stop."

"Sawa--Alex?" Even I can see the relief on his face.

"So, you're back with us, today," he says. "That's good news. Tell me about the Dormouse."

I hesitate. What if I tell and the little beast retaliates? But, the Dormouse is too drunk to notice. He bangs away, cheerfully oblivious to our conversation.

"Come on, Julian," Sawalha coaxes me. "I know it's been driving you crazy. You've been yelling about it for days."

I scowl at him. "Then, why didn't you come sooner?"

Sawalha sighs. "Julian, this is the 12th time that I've asked you about the Dormouse since I came on shift two hours ago. *Everybody* has been asking you about the Dormouse. Believe me, when a patient spends two days screaming, 'Make this bloody Dormouse stop or I'll rip his little head off!' at periodic intervals, we do make an effort to get to the root of the problem."

"Two...days?" I whisper, stunned.

Sawalha nods. "Yep. Now, tell me about the Dormouse."

"I...he keeps banging on my head--with a spoon."

"I see. So, you've got a headache? That's understandable. Do you need more medication?"

I shake my head. The Dormouse continues, unfazed. "Doesn't hurt," I say. "Just...I can't stop him doing it."

"Yeah, I'm sorry about that." Sawalha looks genuinely sympathetic. "We had to restrain you after all. You kept moving around; that wasn't healthy for you. Where's the Dormouse?"

I turn my head a little. "My head. Left side."

"Does it hurt?" he says.

I shake my head. "A bit itchy, though."

"Okay, that's good." Sawalha strikes out above my head, knocking the Dormouse off my pillow. The little beast disappears for good with an outraged squeak.

"How's that?" Sawalha says.

"Perfect," I smile in relief. My head's so much clearer, now. "Got him the first time. Cheers." Now, if only these bloody restraints didn't chafe so much....

"Great. I'll be back in a little while to check on you, then."

"But--you're leaving? What if he comes back?" How did I perfect this colossal whine in my sleep? Somebody tell me how to get rid of it and get my old personality back. I don't like this one.

Sawalha looks annoyed, but smooths it over quickly. "I'll be right back," he says. He disappears down the row of beds before I can protest. Brilliant. Now, I'm stuck here, staring at the ceiling until he comes back.

I glance over at my neighbor with the secret thing for Admiral Nechayev. He's gone. In his place lies a Tellarite, who stares blankly at the ceiling. He's not wearing a diagnostics shell. I glance down at my own shell. I have a sick feeling that this is the only one in Sickbay. This must be a smaller ship than I thought.

Nobody needs to tell me that the other bloke is now in the morgue. He wasn't getting any better, the last I saw of him, and it's finally dawning on me that this biobed is my own last stop before a quantum torpedo coffin. If I survive this, it can only get better. If I die, I suppose the Tellarite gets my diagnostics shell. Waste not, want not.

"Hullo," I say tentatively. The Tellarite does not respond. I wonder if he ever will, or if this is his last stop, too.

"Sir?" The voice sounds familiar, but the uncertainty in it does not. I turn my head.

"Nog." I blink at him, feeling stupid. I've been asking about him for what seems like weeks, at this point. Seeing him sitting there beside me in his wheelchair is such an anticlimax.

"How are you?" I say.

"Fine," he replies. "They're going to set me up with a cybernetic leg once we arrive at Starbase 371. They say I'll be as good as new, then."

That's good. He looks half-dead right now.

A funny look comes over his face. "Well, at least you're honest about it," he says.

I stare blankly at him.

"About what?" I say.

"Everybody else keeps saying how much better I look, how I'm recovering really, really well. You're the first one to notice how I *really* feel."

Agh. I've gone and done it again. Damn these drugs. It's worse than trying to hold a conversation with Lwaxana Troi, the universe's nosiest telepath.

"Nog," I say, slowly and carefully. "Do me a favour."

"Yes?" Where did he get that bruised, pathetically eager look? It's heartbreaking.

"Don't pay any attention to what I say for a while." His hopeful smile wilts. "I mean it, Nog. I'm completely stoned today. I don't want you to be hurt by anything I say, all right?"

Nog reaches out and squeezes my arm. "It's okay, Sir. I know that you'd never do anything to hurt me."

I stare at him. "Nog...in case you haven't noticed, I'm in restraints."

"That's just to keep you from hurting yourself. The seizures really scared everybody--especially after that guy died and you almost went along with him. And then you were hallucinating so badly.... I'm sure they'll let you up as soon as your head is a little clearer."

"Seizures?" I feel sick. "When did I have seizures?"

Nog looks anxious, sensing a misstep, no doubt. "A couple of days ago. You only had two. You look a lot better now. I'm sure it won't happen again."

Seizures.... What if I've developed epilepsy? What if they can't control it? What if they won't let me practice medicine, anymore? God, I'd rather be dead.

Nog's face crumples. Oh, no. Tell me I didn't just say that out loud.

"Nog." I scramble into the conversational breach. "It's not the same. Really. Once you get your leg fitted and finish your initial course of physical therapy, it'll be as though you never lost it. You'll be fine. You'll see. It'll all be fine."

"Of course," he says, dully.

I can see that I've jammed my foot firmly down my throat again. Extracting it will have to wait, though. Suddenly, I feel so tired. Nog notices and clutches my arm.

"Sir, are you okay?"

"Fine," I reply brightly. I'm lying. I cannot keep my eyes open for more than a few seconds. "Just tired," I insist. "Gonna rest my eyes for a bit." I let my eyes close. It feels like two pressure doors slamming shut.

*********

After what seems like an eyeblink, I open my eyes again. Nog is gone. The sickbay lights have dimmed. It's the night shift. I must have slept for hours. A tricorder chirps nearby. I turn my head to see Sawalha scanning me.

"What are you doing?" I say groggily.

"Checking your vital signs and downloading the data from your diagnostics shell," he whispers back.

"You could do that remotely," I point out.

He shrugs. "Well, yeah, I could. I just prefer to do my visual and tricorder exams at the same time as the vitals history."

I smile. "You don't trust machines very much, do you?"

"From what I hear, you don't, either," he grins back. "How're you feeling?"

"Tired," I admit.

"I'm not surprised. You've had an exciting few days."

"Yeah." I start to drift off again, but right on the verge of dreamtime, something he said jolts me awake. "Hear what?"

Sawalha pauses. "Excuse me?"

"What do you hear about me?" I'm really too tired to ask this question, but then, maybe Sawalha is tired enough to answer it.

Sawalha sighs. "Go back to sleep, Julian. You need it." I want to argue the point, but the truth is, I do need the sleep. But if he thinks I'm going to let it go for good, he hasn't learned much about me in the past few days.

*********

I sleep the rest of the night, and right through the day shift. When I wake up again, I see Sawalha making rounds. Glancing over at me, he sees that I'm awake and smiles. Eventually, he works his way around to me.

"How are you feeling?" he asks, pulling up a chair next to my biobed.

"Better," I concede.

"That would be the sleep you had today, I think. Sorry about the noise during the day. We're somewhat over capacity right now."

I chuckle. "I didn't even notice."

He laughs, too. "So I heard. That's good. That'll help you heal."

I glance over at the Tellarite, on my other side. "What about him?"

Sawalha sighs. "I don't know. Physically, he's stable. Otherwise...we probably would have just let him go, otherwise."

"I see." So, I am lying next to a turnip. Will he ever wake up, let alone recover? Does he rate a biobed? God, what a hellish decision to have to make. I know. I've had to make it.

"What about the other bloke? The one before him? The one who crashed right before...." *Before I crashed,* I can't quite say. "He's dead, isn't he?"

Sawalha nods.

"You had to choose which of us to treat, didn't you? You let him go to treat me?"

Sawalha's tone is gentle. "I'm afraid so, Julian. I'm sorry. We just didn't have enough resources to save you both. If it helps, he probably wasn't going to make it, anyway." It doesn't help, but I'll bet Sawalha knows that already.

"Why?" I say. I have to know. "Why me? Why not him?"

"We...." Sawalha pauses, clearly unsure whether it's safe to continue. "You were in bad shape when you came here. We really didn't expect you to make it. The odds were...well, bad. But you fought so hard. You just refused to give up. It didn't seem fair to give up on you. So, we kept you hydrated and doped up on painkillers and antibiotics, and kept treating you for shock until you pulled out of your nosedive. And here you are."

"Which is where, exactly?"

Sawalha fidgets. Clearly, he doesn't want to have this conversation with me. "You're not out of the woods, yet. On the other hand, your chances of a full recovery are going up every day. If you keep quiet and get your rest, as you're supposed to, you should be fine."

"I see." It's a vaguer prognosis than I'd like, but better than I'd feared. I don't know what he means by a 'full recovery'. I'm not sure I want to know yet how long he expects it to take, either.

I change the subject. "So, what do you hear about me?"

"What?" he says, looking startled.

"You said last night that you'd heard things about me. What have you heard?"

Sawalha chews on his lip for a few seconds, then says thoughtfully, "I'm going to take these restraints off now, I think. You don't really need them, anymore." About time! "Your neurological scan is a lot more stable than it was yesterday, and your fever is down."

I had a fever? Why the hell doesn't anybody *tell* me anything anymore? "You didn't answer my question."

"You noticed?"

I nod. "You'd be surprised what I notice when I'm actually approaching a normal state of consciousness."

Sawalha's laugh is short and unexpected. "Well...." He finishes pulling off my restraints, then sits back down. "It depends on whom you talk to."

"What do you mean?" Funny, I always thought I got along well with everybody I met.

"Let's see--the word around Starfleet Medical is that you're a maverick, a real rebel. That's not what they say, of course. What they say is that you're a primadonna and an arrogant pain in the ass. After word got out that you'd been genetically enhanced, several people claimed that they'd known it all along. The word 'insubordinate' gets used a lot, too. And you have a reputation for admiral-baiting. Oh, and I believe there was also a pool going around a few years back about how long it would take for you to go AWOL and join the Maquis."

I wince. This is a bit more truth than I'd anticipated.

He notices. "You did ask."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. Go on."

He shrugs. "On the other hand, I've also run into a couple of people who've worked with you in combat conditions, and they've been trying to get assigned to either Deep Space Nine, or the Defiant, ever since."

"Really?" I'm touched. I didn't realise that I inspired such strong reactions in people.

He grins. "Let's just say that you're the kind of doc that people are happier seeing in a foxhole than behind a desk."

"To be honest," I admit. "*I'm* happier in the field than behind a desk. Not in a foxhole, though."

"Nobody is happier in a foxhole, Julian," Sawalha points out. "Nobody sane, anyway."

I chuckle. "At least you think I'm sane. Not everyone would agree with you on that."

"You mean, because you volunteered to go to Bajor? Do you have any idea how many people have wanted to trade places with you for the past six years? There've been rumours for years that you had some kind of inside knowledge about the Wormhole."

I shiver, thinking of what Sloan and his cronies could have done with that rumour, had they believed it. Apparently, they hadn't, or I might now be someplace that makes this biobed look like a vacation spot.

"Believe me, I didn't," I say. "I was just in the right place at the right time." I think of how many times I've told Captain Sisko that. We've got that routine down pat, now. "I just got lucky."

Sawalha smirks at me. "I have a feeling that you're the type who makes his own luck."

"Maybe. I don't know." Right now, I don't feel so lucky.

"Julian." Sawalha pauses, as though he's reluctant to say what's next. "I need to ask you something."

"What?"

"We, um...we're running low on some supplies--specifically, the medication you're on. We'd like to switch you to another med until we get to Starbase 371."

"I see. Why is that a problem?"

He shrugs. "It's not, necessarily, a problem at all. It's just that this one has been working so well that we wanted to leave you on it. However, if we could safely switch you over, it would help. You're not the only patient on it--"

"--But I'll bet I'm the one using most of it, right?" He looks embarrassed. He really doesn't want to do this to me. They must be running dry. "If you switch me over, how much will it help you?"

"Well, we can switch you over, or we can switch over the other five patients who are on it."

"Oh." *That* bad. "All right. So, do it."

He gives me an odd look. "You're sure?"

"Yes," I reply crossly. "Of course. Absolutely. If you have an alternative, then use it." Why is this a dilemma? It makes perfect sense, from a triage standpoint. Of course, triage is my worst enemy right now. I am a very bad survival risk. I shiver again.

"Julian." Sawalha puts a hand on my shoulder. "Your condition is still not very stable. You could have a bad reaction to this."

I feel a flash of fear--it must be time for my next shot of whatever. Mentally, I stomp hard on the fear and look Sawalha in the eye.

"Well," I say. "I've done all right so far, haven't I? I'll muddle through."

*'Forward, the Light Brigade!' Was there a man dismay'd? Not tho' the soldier knew

some one had blunder'd,* Miles' voice whispers in my head. *Their's not to make reply. Their's not to reason why. Their's but to do and die. Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.* Oh, those brave words that we two recite before battle. Someone has to keep up appearances.

*Then they rode back, but not...not the six hundred.*

Shut up, Miles. You're not here. You're my friend. Why aren't you here?

I finally notice the strange way that Sawalha is looking at me. How much of my reverie have I just blurted out?

"Are you okay?" Sawalha asks.

I swallow a bubble of panic. "Of course. Let's just do it, all right?"

He nods. "We can start now. You're due for your next shot."

*********

The new stuff they give me leaves me lightheaded and nauseous, but not as groggy as my usual poison. I'm not certain that this is a good thing. I rather liked being semi-conscious. The nurse who relieves Sawalha at midnight wakes me up every time she comes by to check my vital signs. It's not her fault. She tries to be quiet, but the new medication is making me restless.

"How are you feeling, Julian?" she asks me.

"Fine." I reply. She gives me a skeptical look.

"You seem to be having a little trouble sleeping," she notes. "How's the new medication working out?"

"Great. Better than the old." I'm lying, of course. My eyes feel gritty, and my head aches from the lack of sleep. Still, I'm determined to see this through. I don't want to suck up five patients' worth of medication. Even if that were healthy, it wouldn't be fair.

She sighs, sounding a bit exasperated, but leaves to me to get on with it, anyway. Eventually, I do fall asleep--to everyone's relief, especially my own.

*********

My legs hurt, as though ghosts have come in the dark to stick knives in my shins. I try to lie still, but there's no way to be comfortable. I want my mum.

I'm afraid to call for help. One of the first things I've learned, since I was much smaller than today, is that I musn't disturb Daddy's sleep- -ever. If I wake him, he yells and breaks things. Sometimes, he hits me. Only Daddy gets to be loud; everyone else has to be quiet, and tiptoe around the house so as not to disturb him.

It's a scary game. I try to cry just loudly enough for Mummy to hear me, but to not wake Daddy. Fortunately, Daddy sleeps much more heavily than Mummy.

Mummy tells me that it's just growing pains. "It's only leg cramps. You'll grow out of it," she tells me, patting me on the back. I try not to notice how worried she looks as she has me walk up and down the hallway each night to ease the pain.

At night, the aliens come to me in my sleep and stick their needles and probes inside me. They scan me with machines that hum and click, sometimes making me feel dizzy. They won't let me sleep. As they poke and prod me, I feel myself growing larger and taller like Alice. I sit up in bed suddenly so that my head won't go through the headboard. But I don't stop growing.

The aliens, mouths hanging open, run around in consternation as my head breaks through the ceiling, the attic, the roof. Their piping voices float up to me from the backyard, where they have escaped to monitor my progress. I stare around at the quiet neighborhood, now waking up to my metamorphosis. My parents stand out in the backyard in their nightclothes. Daddy shakes his fist up at me and dances in a rage.

"Look what you've done!" he squeaks. "You've grown too big! Look what you've done to our house, you little monster!"

The neighbors come running, waving torches. At the head of the mob, Director Sloan squeaks up at me in terror and rage, "Burn him! Burn the monster! He's too big!"

They are going to burn the house down around me. I stretch out my arms. Each fist goes out a window. I am trapped. How can I escape them when I'm stuck in a house? I hear crackling all around me. A searing pain goes up the side of my neck as the house catches fire.

No. No, please don't burn me. I'm not a monster; I'm just a little boy. I didn't mean to grow so much. I can't help it. Please, please don't burn me....

"Shh. Easy does it," a voice from above tells me. Mummy brushes the hair back from my forehead. Has she forgiven me for growing so big and wrecking her house?

"Mummy," I whimper, licking my cracked lips. "Mummy, don't--"

"Shh, Julian. It's all right. I know it hurts. Just give it another few seconds for the Asperidin to filter out of your system. Then, we'll put you right back on the Ilderol."

I blink up at her. Her face is too blurry to make out, but I know now that she isn't my mother. "Sss...hurts," I say.

"I know," she says gently. "You had a bad reaction to the Asperidin. I know you're feeling your burns, but I had to filter it out before I could switch your medication. Just hold on."

I reach up and grab her uniform. She squawks in surprise as I drag her face close to mine. It's Sawalha's third shift replacement. The burns...this pain is from my burns? God, I had no idea. No idea.

The nurse grunts as she twists in my grip to grab something next to the bed. She lifts it into my line of vision. It's a hypo. It hisses as she presses it against my throat. My hand loosens, dropping onto the diagnostics shell. Blessed relief flows through me as the drug takes it all away--pain, fear, and consciousness.

*********

Somebody is holding my hand. It's nice to know that somebody cares. I open my eyes, taking my time. It's Nog.

"How do you feel, Sir?" he asks, smiling nervously at me.

"Ugh," I say. My, I'm articulate, today.

Nog squeezes my hand. "It's okay, Sir. They just had to give you an extra dose of your old medication. You'll feel more up to speed tomorrow."

"Hmm." All right, so this isn't my day for deep thoughts. I look Nog over. "You okay?"

"Fine," he says. He has a rotten poker face. He doesn't look at all 'okay', nor 'fine', for that matter.

"Not okay," I say, with drunken conviction. "Not fine."

Nog shrugs, his face closed and wary. "Don't worry about me, Sir. I'll be okay, soon."

My gaze drifts past Nog to the window. What is a window doing there? Am I still asleep or have the dueling meds finally driven me mad?

"No, sir. We're on Starbase 371." *Again*, with the one-way telepathy. *Damn* these drugs.

Then, I remember. "Alex? The ship--are they still here? Alex?" My voice rising in panic, I try to sit up. Oh, my God, is that a mistake. Black sparks swarm in from the edges of my vision, and the entire room rotates sideways. Nog doesn't have to push me back down onto the bed, even if he could. I fall back quickly, before I throw up.

Nog is talking to me. I really should pay more attention to what he's saying. He's answering my question. What *was* my question?

"What?" I say, too loudly.

"Sir, the ship left last night."

I blink at him. "They left? Just like that?"

Nog nods. "They beamed us all over and left. They needed to get back to the front."

"But...Alex." I feel overwhelmed. I've been depending on Sawalha for days. It never occurred to me--I thought I'd at least get a chance to say goodbye, to thank him.

This is a lesson for me. Don't rely on any more people. Don't become dependent. The people around me will come and go. Don't let it touch me. Why is it so hard for me to learn that?

Nog pats my hand. "I'm sorry, Sir. I guess they thought it would be better for you if you slept through the transfer."

"Huh. Did *you* sleep through it?"

Nog's face drains of all expression. "More or less," he says. In other words, 'no'.

"Did it hurt?" I ask.

"Not really," he replies hesitantly. "It was just a little scary. They were in a really big hurry. I guess they could have been gentler."

Nog seems to be guessing about many painful events in his life today. "I'm sorry, Nog," I say, as gently as I can. I pat him clumsily on the shoulder.

He smiles. "Thanks, Sir. At least they put us together in the same room. I think they were annoyed at me for asking. But I just kept pointing out that having somebody you knew watching out for you might help them out."

I laugh out loud, paying for it with a coughing fit. "Nog," I say, when I get my breath again. "I like your style."

Nog grins nervously at the compliment, but still looks concerned. "Sir, are you sure you're all right?"

"Absolutely," I reassure him. Less than five minutes later, I'm back in my now standard state of consciousness: drug induced coma.

*********

My first week at Starbase 371 more or less escapes me. I sleep most of the time--first because of the drugs, and later, simply because I'm so tired. Healing is exhausting, and I've got a lot of it to do. So does Nog.

As the week progresses, I stay awake longer and more often. I begin to notice Nog becoming more miserable. Or is it that I'm noticing everything more? The surgeon comes and tells Nog that there are complications with his stump. Nog's got some infection that is causing edema in his leg. The infection is interfering with his immune system. If they can't get it under control, they might have to amputate more of his leg. Then, he wouldn't be eligible to get that cybernetic limb. They'd probably give him a medical discharge. At best, he'd get a desk job. At worst, he'd be out of Starfleet. Nobody has any such discussion with me. The assumption seems to be that if I don't die, then I will go back on duty at some point. What does not kill a genetically enhanced Human makes him stronger, I suppose.

I try to stay positive for Nog, but inside, I worry. The more my head clears, the more I second-guess. Did I amputate too much? Should I have amputated more? Should I have used a pain killer with anti-inflammatory properties? I'd avoided that for fear that it would start the leg bleeding again. Perhaps I shouldn't have done that. Perhaps I should have worried more about keeping the leg viable. Should I have left Nog to go hold the line with a phaser rifle? No...I know the answer to that one, already. That one couldn't be helped. I turn it over and over in my head, even though I know better. I cannot change the past, no matter how many mistakes I've made. But, I continue to gnaw on it, unable to stop myself, unable to ease Nog's misery.

**********

Six days after our arrival, the Hermat evening shift nurse, who comes in to give us our medication every night, tells us some news.

"You guys are lucky bastards," s/he says as s/he gives me my shot. I hate this new stuff that they're giving me. I get my shot and five minutes later, it's good night, Julian. It also makes me feel very calm, which doesn't surprise me. My nervous system can't heal if I'm not calm. To be honest, I'd be a screaming wreck without the drugs.

"What do you mean?" Nog says. The tension in his voice means that he's feeling his leg. He's supposed to go in for preliminary surgery tomorrow, so they can match his nervous system up with his new leg. He's been irritable all day.

"You two came in with the Veracruz on its last run, didn't you?" the nurse says. "It disappeared with all hands two days ago while evacuating a frontline hospital in the Cerus system. They think a Jem'Hadar patrol got it. You didn't hear?" S/he moves over to Nog, who has turned pale, and gives him his shot.

"No," I say heavily. "We didn't. Nobody tells us anything, here."

The Hermat glances up at me--alerted, perhaps, by my tone. "I just thought you'd want to know," s/he says, in a neutral voice.

"Bully for you." The Hermat opens hir mouth, then seems to think better of it. Shaking hir head, s/he picks up hir tray and leaves.

"Nog," I say, as the door swishes shut, but he just turns his face to the wall.

*********

"So, they collected the wounded, the crippled, the maimed

And shipped us back home to Australia.

The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane,

The proud, wounded heroes of Souvla."

The song sounds familiar, but I can't place it. Would Miles know? They play it with a big, brass band as Nog and I stumble down the Promenade. Nog is on crutches. I lean on him, unable to stop twitching. Up ahead, I see Captain Sisko and the rest of the Senior Staff waiting for us. I hope that they'll wait long enough for us to get there.

"But the band played Waltzing Matilda,

As they carried us down the gangway.

But nobody cheered, they just stood there and stared.

Then, they turned all their faces away."

As we approach the Senior Staff, I see that they are all gathered round a shrouded gurney. They, and the crowd lining the upper level of the Promenade, smile and clap, cheering us on. When we arrive at the gurney, Captain Sisko raises his hand and everyone falls silent.

"Julian, Nog, we are very proud of what you have done," he says, all of his Emissary oratory on display. "Putting your lives, your bodies, your very sanity on the line for the good of Starfleet and the Federation is well above and beyond the call of duty." Yeah, yeah. Get on with it, whatever it is. "Today we would like to show you what your bravery and sacrifice have bought you." With that, he pulls back the shroud. Underneath it is a body. It is Sawalha.

And, oh God, his guts, blown out of his abdominal cavity and flash- frozen, are just beginning to thaw. And, oh God, oh dear God, no. His face-- -

*********

I snap awake, as though I had been turned on by a switch. Nog is crying. I'm not sure which bothers me more, that last image or Nog's quiet sobs into his pillow. I cannot sleep, not after that dream.

"Nog," I whisper. He doesn't answer. "Computer, what time is it?"

"The time is 0200 hours," the voice in the air intones.

"*Nog*," I try again, more insistent this time. The sobs pause for a moment, then start up again. Still not an answer in my book. "Dammit, Nog. *Talk* to me."

"I'm all right," he whimpers back, sounding stuffed up.

"No, you're not. What's wrong. Does your leg hurt?"

He is silent for a long, long time. Finally, he says, "He was a good officer." This is a mighty accolade from Nog. "He deserved better."

"Who?" I say, though I know whom he means.

"You know."

"Sawalha." I can't say his first name. It sounds too much like throwing dirt onto a coffin. That dream...I won't forget his face very soon.

"He deserved better," Nog says firmly. "He was nice to me, and he was honest with me. *Nobody* else was nice to me." So, Sawalha did take care of Nog, after all, just as he'd promised. That only makes it hurt worse.

"It's a war, Nog. We all deserve better." Since when did I become so bitter? This wasn't the personality change that I had in mind.

"It's still not fair," Nog insists. Well, he is young. I used to think like him. When did I lose my innocence? Garak would be so proud of me, even if we hardly talk anymore.

"No, Nog. It's not fair," I say, "But it is done. And he could still be alive, you know. He could be stuck on some planet the way we were last year, remember? We have to hope for the best." Even if I don't believe in the best anymore.

He sighs. "Yeah. I suppose." I can just see his head turn as he looks at me in the gloom. "Sir?"

"Nog, we're both patients right now," I say, exasperated. "Call me 'Julian'."

He ignores the offer. "Sir, can you promise me something?"

"It depends. What is it?"

"Can you promise me...." he stops, his voice breaking. "Can you promise me that you won't leave, too? That you'll at least say goodbye, first?"

Don't *leave*? 'Don't die on me. Don't get transferred. Don't get discharged and go back to the station without me.' That's what he really means. I can't promise that. There is no way that I can promise it, anymore than Sawalha could. Surely, he knows that?

"Don't worry, Nog," I assure him. "I'll be here when you get back from surgery."

He doesn't answer. I hear him shift about, scratching at his leg. God, I have got to get him to stop that. He's beginning to drive me mad.

"Nog?" I say. "What's wrong? Tell me. Does your leg hurt?"

I try to wait patiently for him to answer. It's difficult. Finally, he says, "It itches."

I'm puzzled. "What? Your stump?"

"No," he insists. "My foot. I know it's not supposed to be there anymore--but it still itches."

"Oh." I consider this for moment. "Wait. I'll...do something about that." Taking a deep breath, I turn and slide over the side of my bed. I try to do it gently, but I can't hold on. I land with a thump on the floor, jarring my shoulder.

For a few seconds, I lie there, breathless. When, my hearing comes back, I hear Nog calling my name.

"Relax, Ensign," I reassure him. "I'm fine. I just fell a little hard." It takes me longer than I'd hoped to get my breath back, though, and now my whole upper body is really starting to ache. But I'm nothing if not persistent. I roll over onto my stomach (one of my better ideas, recently) and crawl over to Nog's bed. I stare up...and up. I feel as though I'm looking up a volcano face on Mars. How am I going pull *this* off?

"Oh. Ow," I say. "Nog. Help me out, here."

"Sir? What're you doing?!" I hear Nog groan as he turns over. A hand waves the air above my head. I reach up and flail around until I connect with Nog's arm. I pull myself up his arm, as though I'm crawling up a rope on a cliff face. Nog grunts from the strain, but doesn't let go. He even reaches over with the other hand and tries to pull harder on my arm.

I don't even want to think about what the night staff would do if they walked in right at this moment. They are not the most understanding of medics. In point of fact, we annoy them, Nog and I. Tough. It takes time, and too much agony, to get up and over the side of the bed, but we pull it off eventually, Nog and I. Once there, I grey out for a bit. When I come to, Nog is nudging me with his good leg.

"Sir?" he says. "Sir, are you okay?"

"Fine," I say. I reach out for his good foot, then pull it onto my chest. Ferengi feet smell like red wine. I decide not to point this out to Nog. "Tell me where it itches," I say.

"It's the other foot," he says. He means the stump. I don't point this out. Fortunately, now that I am on fewer drugs, I don't blurt all of my thoughts unawares. I reach down for the other leg, and begin to scratch randomly.

"Not like that," Nog says. "Down a bit...no, over...no, more...Yeah! Right there. Just stay right there."

I am in bed with a young Ferengi Starfleet ensign, scratching his non- existent foot. Since I'm so much taller than he is, my feet are propped up on his diagnostic bedboard, which beeps in protest whenever I shift position. Thank God it is two am. A laugh wells up from deep in my belly and bursts out unexpectedly.

"What?" Nog demands, sounding distressed.

"Nothing," I reply hastily.

"No, really. What? What's wrong?"

"Nog," I say. "Just--look down."

In the dark, I can just see the pale oval of his face as he lifts his head and looks down the bed at me. "Oh. My. God," he says faintly. Then, he bursts out laughing. I laugh, too.

"We look like complete idiots!" he exclaims.

"I know!" I crow back. As we both calm down a bit, I ask, "How does your leg feel now?"

"Better." He sounds astonished, as though I've worked some sort of miracle. "Can you, um...Can you stay like that for awhile?"

I snort in bitter amusement. "Nog, I hate to break this to you, but you're stuck with me for the duration, unless somebody comes in and finds us. I don't have the strength to get out of this bed, let alone get back into mine."

"Ah," he says. Then, after a pause. "Well, in that case...how about a little more over to the left?"

END