"So how was your physical?"
"Are you sure?" Doug pressed.
"Yes...why do you ask?"
"Cause it's three in the afternoon and your in bed staring somewhat vacantly at the ceiling."
"I was just thinking."
"Wow...I wish I could do that. I bet I'd sleep better."
"You appear to sleep just fine, if your snoring is any indicator."
"Very funny." Salen's roommate rolled his eyes. "I'm going to be out of town for the rest of the week, family matters, I'll see you later."
Salen watched Doug leave before returning his gaze to the ceiling. His thoughts drifted back to the incident in the clinic. He was certain that Joanna had no idea how intimate a contact she had intimated when she'd brushed his hand. It was an innocent mistake. What Salen was having trouble understanding was why he couldn't put it out of his mind. There had been other girls at the Academy that had very purposefully taken his hand knowing full well that they could 'pretend' that they didn't know the Vulcan ritual. The way they giggled betrayed their true intentions.
There were even certain predatory females around that had turned it into a game in hopes of gaining his affections, but it only made him pull further away from the risk of contact. It was the reason that he now tended to stand with his hands held protectively behind his back. As he entered his third year at the Academy without showing any interest in the women courting him Salen knew that the rumor now was that he was gay. It didn't bother him, he was here to become a Starfleet Officer, not to find a mate.
"As an endangered species I suppose it is only logical that I be paired with a Vulcan female." Salen sighed without much enthusiasm. "I am sure the Vulcan Council will choose a mate for me...again."
Salen hadn't given much thought to Ta'lin, the Vulcan girl he had been betrothed to when he was seven years old. He had not been told the particulars of his commitment to Ta'lin at the time and he had been captured by Wilson before he could learn more. However, it didn't matter, he had known in his heart the moment it happened that Ta'lin had not survived the destruction of Vulcan. Once in the Academy he had searched the Vulcan census just to be sure and she was listed among the dead.
Although part of him felt the loss of Ta'lin he had never managed to truly grieve. He barely remembered any of his life before Wilson and he had only met her once in the joining ceremony. His traveling parents had returned to Vulcan long enough to hold the ritual and then had left the next day. At times he feared that his lack of interest in the women at the Academy was due to the fact that he was destined to only be paired to Ta'lin. He didn't know how Vulcan pairing truly worked. He had once tried to ask Spock, but the half-Vulcan had instantly responded that he would explain when Salen was older.
"I know Vulcans mate for life...but what happens if one of them dies before that life together begins?" Salen asked the empty room. "'Parted from me and never parted, never and always touching and touched'."
Salen chanted the words that always came to mind when he thought of Ta'lin, but he didn't know what they meant or even how he knew them. Thoughts of Ta'lin had not bothered him a while, however Joanna's touch had sparked something in his mind that brought his thoughts back to the ritual. Joanna's touch had sent an intensely pleasurable shiver up his spine, something that had never happened with the others who had tried to initiate the Vulcan contact with him.
"It was just an accident, Salen, she had no idea. She's a doctor, they touch people all the time."
Feeling restless Salen jumped out of bed and paced around his room for a moment. Not feeling any better he decided he needed to do something to restore peace to his mind. Changing into a black exercise uniform he headed to the gym. When he got there he noticed that a sparing class for hand to hand combat was taking place. Salen approached the coach who was leading the exercise.
"Hello, Cadet Pike." Coach Rainer greet with a broad smile.
"Hello, Sir. I was wondering if I could join the class?"
"Absolutely, you can show these candy-asses how to really fight!" Rainer beamed. "Holloway!"
"Yes, Sir?" A large Cadet responded.
"Meet you new sparing partner for the day." Rainer said. "Holloway this is Salen, Salen this is Holloway, he's currently my top fighter."
Holloway walked up to Salen and held his hand out for Salen to shake. Salen had never hesitated to participate in the human greeting before, but right now he couldn't imagine grasping hands with the muscular sweaty human. Instead he offered Holloway a shallow bow of respect. Holloway laughed and returned the bow with one his own.
"How are you at staff sparing?" Holloway asked.
"It is one of my favorite combats."
"Oh this is gonna be fun!" Rainer laughed. "Class gather around, a show like this deserves an audience."
Salen wasn't so sure about needing an audience, but he accepted it. Holloway went over to the equipment rack and grabbed two solid staffs. He tossed one to Salen and then twirled the one that he kept around in his hands with expert skill. Salen smiled and moved to the center of the ring. The pair circled one another a few times as they sized up each others perceived strengths and weaknesses.
"You ready?" Holloway asked.
"Anytime that you are."
Holloway smiled brightly and with a powerful roar he attacked. Salen easily deflected the first blow, but he also knew that Holloway was just warming up. They followed the gentleman's rules as they attacked and defended. Salen had to admit that Holloway was very skilled and impressively strong. Although he had Vulcan physiology on his side it wasn't long before Salen managed to break a fine sweat.
The rest of the class cheered in good natured competition as the match continued. So far Salen was wining, having harmlessly tagged Holloway several times. Still enjoying himself Holloway did his best to score a point. Salen was one point away from wining the match when a female Cadet with dark curly hair entered the far side of the gym.
The female wasn't Joanna, but she looked closed enough to distract him. For a fraction of a second Salen's attention was diverted away from the sparing match. Holloway was already in mid swing with the heavy wooden staff when Salen took his eyes off the game at hand. There was an explosion of breathtaking pain as Holloway struck him in the side of the ribs. Knocked to the floor Salen gasped sharply, blood rose to the back of his throat, but he quickly swallowed it.
"Ohmygod!" Holloway exclaimed as he dropped his staff. "I'm so sorry, Salen! I thought for sure you were going to block that one. Are you alright?"
"I am fine." Salen forced a smile. "The strike was my fault."
"Okay, everyone, clear out, class dismissed." Rainer hustled everyone away. "You okay, Kid?"
"I am fine." Salen repeated.
With a sharp pain still jabbing into his side Salen tried and failed to get to his feet. Looking guilty Holloway reached down and held Salen stand. Once up Salen put his hand protectively over his ribs and tried to take a deep breath. When he winced in pain Rainer got a nervous look on his face.
"Alright, Holloway, hit the showers. Salen, I'll take you to medical."
"No, Sir." Salen shook his head. "I don't need a doctor, it is just a bruise. I will be fine."
"I don't know..."
"Do not worry about me. Thank you for letting me participate."
"You're a tough one, Salen." Rainer chuckled. "The Admiral must be so proud."
"I certainly hope so."
"Are you sure you are okay?"
Trying to convince the nervous coach that he was okay Salen took his hand away from his ribs and nodded. Keeping his shoulders back Salen said good bye and turned to leave. He walked at a normal pace back to his room. Once in the privacy of his dorm Salen tried to climb up onto the top bunk to his bed. Unable to raise himself up without excruciating pain Salen settled for laying down on Doug's bed.
Laying on his side Sale took fast shallow breaths to minimize the lancing pain. He weld his eyes shut against the sting of tears. It wasn't the pain that was effecting him so strongly it was the memories that it brought to the surface. He knew this particular pain well, the sharp jolt with every breath told him that he had suffered yet another broken rib. When Wilson used to lose his temper one of his most common responses was to kick Salen in the ribs, about twenty-five percent of the time he stuck him hard enough to break bone.
Salen calculated that this was the seventh time one of his rib had been cracked. Trying to remind himself that this had been an accident Salen fought to keep thoughts of his time in captivity out of his mind. He licked his lips and noticed a copper taste. Reaching up he drew his hand across his lips and then stared at the green blood that now stained his hand.
"That is new."
Salen couldn't remember if he tended to bleed from his broken ribs since they were usually accompanied by a few strikes to the face. He had always assumed that any blood had been from split lips. He checked his lips and inside his cheek with his tongue but he couldn't find any cuts. Assuming that the blood was normal Salen swallowed the blood and closed his eyes.
Hours later Salen woke up feeling like someone was sitting on his chest. Struggling for breath he panicked for a moment. Some belly breathing helped raise his oxygen levels and his anxiety decreased. Salen sat up with a growl of pain and got to his feet. Seeking comfort he headed down to the community bathroom and stepped into the shower. Letting the hot water slip down his back seemed to make breathing easier.
Back in his room Salen found that he was still exhausted. Crawling back into Doug's bed he quickly fell asleep once more. Salen didn't wake until the midmorning sun pierced through the window. The moment he opened his eyes he was sent into an agonizing coughing fit. Green blood spattered across the white pillow. Get to his feet Salen stumbled over to the waste bin and spit excess blood into the trash.
"Ugh, what a mess." Salen sighed.
Ignoring the protest in his ribs Salen took the sheets off Doug's bed and replaced them with clean ones. He knew that his side was going to be painful for a while, but he also knew that there was no sense in getting help because there was nothing that could be done about cracked ribs. Struggling to get into his uniform Salen sat down and rested for a moment before getting up and going to class.
Salen spent the day trying to pretend that nothing was wrong. He swallowed the blood as it rose to his lips so that no one would notice. He had a difficult time paying attention to the lectures since he had to concentrate on taking shallow breaths. Salen recalled the days he spent on the dirty floor of Wilson's basement nearly unable to breath. Shaking his head to clear it Salen pushed through the rest of his day. Back at the dorm he collapsed on the bed once more.
When his pain and shortness of breath were even worse the next morning Salen started to wonder if he should go to the clinic. His ribs had always healed on their own before, but he didn't recall them ever causing him this much distress. Just walking across the room left him desperately gasping for breath. Spitting blood again he tapped on the communicator to dial the clinic.
"Cadet Health Services, how can I help you."
"I need to make an appointment."
"I can help you with that, do you have a preference for doctors?"
"Yes." Salen panted. "Um...her name is Joanna."
"Do you know her last name?"
"No. She completed my physical yesterday."
"Okay, I found her...she's booked to the end of the week. If this is urgent you could see Dr. Lanc..."
"No." Salen said quickly. "No, that is okay. Never mind...it is not urgent..."