* * *
"What are you doing up there?"
Crewman Michael Rostov closed his eyes for a second and sighed. Just the person he had come to the cargo bay to avoid. "I'm tightening up the shelving unit, Ethan. What does it look like I'm doing?"
"It looks like you're going to fall," Novakovitch said, a note of worry clear in his voice. "Shouldn't you be using a ladder?"
Rostov continued to balance on one foot, left hand gripping the handle of a cargo box tightly, and right hand stretched far out in front of him, holding the macro-spanner from his ever-present tool kit. From this awkward position, he could just reach the bolt he needed to tighten – just. "Ladder'd take too long," he grunted. "Besides, I'm almost done."
Lieutenant Hess had sent Michael down to the cargo bay for new valve sealant at the beginning of Gamma shift, and he had noticed the loose screw in the shelving unit right away. Rostov figured that it must have vibrated loose during the battle with the Tholians, and he quickly scaled the side of the shelves, leaned out and tightened it. None of the other screws looked loose, but he decided he'd come back in the morning after his shift and tighten them anyway. It would ensure that the cargo didn't come crashing down on someone's unsuspecting head any time soon. - And, as an added bonus, it meant that maybe Novakovitch wouldn't find him so quickly after their shift was over.
But clearly his luck hadn't been that good. Ethan's face was tilted up towards him, pinched with worry. "I'll be down in a second," he called in answer to Novakovitch's unspoken request. It drove him nuts that Ethan worried about him so much.
He and Ethan had only been dating for a couple of months – less really, if you counted that week where their shifts had run opposite and they hadn't seen each other. Rostov had really enjoyed it at first. Ethan was a good-looking boy, in a frail sort of way, with his dark hair, pale skin and big doe-like eyes. He was smart and fun, and someone that Michael could speak Russian with. It had been a long time since he had met anyone he could converse with in his first language, besides Hoshi, who didn't count. Even the sex had been good. Ethan's slight frame had made Michael feel all protective and they had taken it slow. Real slow. Slow enough that their orgasms had been incredible. They had even slept together afterwards; Ethan curled up in his arms, so sweet and delicate. So different from Ian.
Rostov had actually thought this relationship might have a chance.
But then the morning came, and that bitch reality descended once again.
Rostov had woken the next morning to the sound of Ethan humming to himself as he made them both some coffee. "Hiya, lover!" he had called over his shoulder, huge grin on his face. His black curls were still deliciously dishevelled, his mouth still bruised from their passion the night before. Rostov had returned the grin, and was just about to call the other man back to bed when he noticed something, and the smile flew off his face.
Novakovitch was wearing one of his shirts. It was too big, hanging off his shoulders and falling to his thighs, and if the sight hadn't been so disturbing, Rostov would have thought that Ethan looked incredibly endearing in his clothes. But it was already too late.
The fact that Ethan was wearing his shirt meant one thing, and one thing only. Overnight, they had gone from 'dating' to 'boyfriends.' Novakovitch had fallen in love.
"Please come down!" Ethan yelled up to him, voice tight with concern. "That looks really dangerous! Can't Commander Tucker send someone from Alpha shift to finish it?"
Actually, Commander Tucker doesn't know I'm doing this, Rostov thought as he gave the screw one final twist. "There!" he exclaimed. "All done. See? Told ya I'd be down soon."
"Just – just be careful, okay?" Novakovitch asked. Rostov grimaced inwardly as he saw Ethan chewing on a fingernail, distress clear in his expression.
He grunted in response and pushed himself backwards with his right hand. He was annoyed, and used more force than necessary. The movement caused the shelf to shake, and suddenly Rostov felt the cargo box he was holding slip forward under his left hand. It made him lose his balance and he jumped on his left foot, shifting his position on the thin shelf rail. The bounce caused the shelving unit to vibrate violently, and Rostov heard Ethan scream below him as Rostov desperately scrambled to grip the cargo box tighter. With a sigh of relief, he was able to throw his left arm over the top of the box, and plant both feet firmly on the shelf. "I'm okay!" he called down to Ethan. "The cargo is all tethered to the bulkhead. Don't worry!"
"Okay," he heard Ethan's faint reply from below.
The heavy boom of an explosion echoed through the ship. Before Rostov had even registered the noise, the shelf shook again and the box started sliding. It took Rostov only a second to realise that the box hadn't been tethered after all, but before he could react, his weight had pulled it completely off the shelf and he was falling.
He landed hard on the deck, on his back. The cargo box landed on him, solidly into the right side of his chest. The noise of metal striking metal reverberated through the bay, and underneath it, a small sound like the snapping of branches.
"Ohmygod," Ethan breathed as his face, even paler than usual, suddenly appeared over the edge of the box. "Are you okay?"
"No," Rostov ground out through clenched teeth. He could feel the hot wetness of sweat forming on his skin. The box was crushing him; trapping his right arm against the deck and grinding into ribs that he was sure were broken. The pain was really bad. "Help me get it off."
The younger man groaned as he began to push at the box. It didn't budge. Rostov tried to help, but his right arm was held fast, his left at the complete wrong angle for the job. Ethan's efforts were merely sliding the box across his chest, changing the pain from bad to agonizing. "Fuck!" he screamed. "Stop!"
Immediately Ethan was crouching by his head, brown eyes wide and bottom lip trembling. "I'm sorry," he said, voice quavering. "I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm not strong enough. I'm sorry!"
"It's alright," Rostov panted. It wasn't, but Ethan looked so damn upset. "I think my ribs are broken," he continued, forcing the words out. It was hard to breathe with over two hundred pounds of cargo sitting on one side of his chest. He didn't know much about medicine, but he hoped that his broken ribs weren't doing anything really bad to his insides. He remembered from Starfleet's first-aid courses that stuff like that could happen and the results could be really messy.
Ethan still hadn't moved from his position of staring, teary-eyed, at Rostov's face.
"Get help," Rostov enunciated slowly, wishing he had the air to scream it at the younger man.
"I don't have my communicator!" Ethan wailed.
It was true. Novakovitch had obviously changed after his shift and before he had gone to hunt Rostov down. He was wearing a golf-shirt and jeans. Rostov's communicator was in the pocket of his right sleeve, trapped beneath the box.
"Use the comm. by the door," Michael replied, as if speaking to a small child. How the hell did Novakovitch get into Starfleet? Rostov thought wildly to himself.
"Right! By the door!" Ethan said, and took off. Rostov could hear the rhythm of Novakovitch's sandals' as the younger man ran across the cargo bay. He lay back and shifted slightly, trying to see if he could get the box to move at all. No luck, and even the small movement was too painful to try to repeat. He could taste blood in his mouth, and he hoped it was just from biting his tongue too hard after he landed.
Ethan's footfalls grew closer, and suddenly he was back, panting a bit with nerves and exertion. "It's going to be ten or 15 minutes before they get here," he gasped. "There's been an explosion in the armoury, and everyone's really busy. I told them you were still breathing and you weren't bleeding, so they said you could wait. They said I should call back if you get worse."
"There was an explosion in the armoury? Just now?" Michael felt his heart lurch in his chest. Alpha shift had already started, hadn't it? That would mean – "Did they say who was hurt?" Rostov asked desperately. "Is Ian okay?"
"They didn't mention who got injured," Ethan said. His eyes narrowed. "I didn't know you knew anyone who worked in tactical."
"Sure," Rostov hedged, suddenly very sorry he had asked. Now was definitely not the time that he wanted to be discussing Ian with Ethan. "I know Martinez pretty well. We work out together sometimes."
"But you didn't ask about Martinez," Ethan said, lips tightening. "You asked about Ensign Young."
"Yeah," Rostov said. The word was shortened by another gasp of pain.
Novakovitch didn't seem to notice. "What's going on between you and Ian?"
Michael closed his eyes for a second. "Nothing," he said. It was true. He had barely seen the guy since they had been trapped on that alien ship together. When he had kissed him.
"No, really," Ethan insisted. "What's going on?"
Michael decided the best defence was an offence. "What makes you think there's something going on between us?" he asked. The sentence was choppy since he had to pause with each spasm of pain. He could feel his sweat trickling down the sides of his face.
"I don't know!" Novakovitch cried. "It's just – well you just asked about him! What about that?"
"What about it?" Rostov growled. "He's someone I know. No big deal. Weren't you worried about anyone in the armoury when you heard what happened?"
"Of course!" Ethan replied quickly. "Of course I was worried! I don't know anyone who works in the armoury that well - but I still wanted to know they were okay."
"Well, I felt the same way." Rostov said. "Except I know people in the armoury. Like Ian. I wanted to know if he was alright." It wasn't a lie. He did know Ian, and he did want to know if he was okay. It was none of Novakovitch's damn business how well he knew Ian – or in what sense. And it really, really wasn't something he wanted to talk about now. That conversation should happen in his cabin, face-to-face, where Ethan wouldn't have to stick around afterwards if he was upset. Not here, in the damn cargo bay, with him trapped. And the constant ache from his side didn't help either. He squeezed his eyes shut against it.
"You never said you knew Ensign Young," Ethan said.
"Are we still on this?" Rostov shouted, eyes flying open. "I'm in pain here, Ethan! Haven't you noticed?"
Novakovitch sat back on his heels and crossed his arms, and Michael felt the tiniest prickle of dread from the sudden coldness in Ethan's brown eyes. "Oh yeah," Ethan said finally, after pinning Michael with his eyes for what felt like forever, "I've noticed you're in pain." Carefully, Novakovitch put out one hand and placed it on the side of the box that was leaning on Michael's chest. "Tell me about your relationship with Ian." The threat was implicit.
Rostov narrowed his eyes. He hadn't known about this side of Ethan, the incredible selfishness that lived just below the obvious sweetness. He felt a small twist of pain in his chest that had nothing to do with his broken ribs. "Fuck you."
Novakovitch leaned on the box.
Just a bit, just a tiny bit, and just for the briefest of moments, but Michael was still gasping at the burst of agony it caused. "Zhri govno i zdohni!" he shouted.
"Ohmygodohmygodohmygod, I'm so sorry! I'm sorry!" Novakovitch cried. His hands were over his mouth, eyes filled with horror. "I – I can't believe I did that! I'm sorry!"
"Are you fucking crazy?" Michael said between breaths. His head was swimming from a combination of pain, oxygen deprivation and the realization of what Ethan had just done. "What the fuck did you do that for?"
"You've been avoiding me for days!" Ethan howled. "What did you expect me to do?"
"Not fucking torture me!"
"I was mad," Ethan said softly. "I'm sorry." His eyes were huge with sadness, and Michael felt his anger drain away. Ethan was so young; could he really blame him for being so self-centred? Isn't that how kids were?
"It's okay," Michael said, and was instantly gratified by Ethan's look of gratitude. He really was a very handsome young man. He smiled back.
Novakovitch began stroking Michael's hair back from his forehead. "I'm sorry I was acting so crazy," he said again. "I'll never hurt you."
"I know you won't," Michael said. He didn't really believe it, but he was too tired to argue. The sensation of Ethan's fingers in his hair was calming and he let his eyes drift shut. With his eyes closed, he could almost imagine it was Ian's hand touching his head, Ian's knee against his shoulder.
"I love you."
Michael's eyes flew open. "What?"
Ethan gave a small laugh. "I said I love you. Didn't you hear me?"
Michael eyed Ethan warily. "Huh?"
"Oh stop," Ethan said, lightly slapping Michael's shoulder. "You know what I said." He moved his face closer to Michael's, "And you love me too, right?" His full bottom lip was between his teeth.
Michael's heart began to race. He had a sudden memory of Ian, telling him to never touch him again. Is this what Ian had felt like? This trapped? He felt an unexpected rush of shame.
"You're blushing!" Ethan crowed. "You do love me! I knew it!"
Rostov's embarrassment instantly turned to anger. Novakovitch really was a selfish brat. "No, I don't love you," he spat, tone harsh. "I don't love anyone."
"What?" Novakovitch's face crumpled and his eyes filled again with tears.
"I said I don't love you, Ethan," Rostov repeated. That really is annoying, he thought. The waterworks all the time.
"Is that why you've been avoiding me?" Ethan whispered. "Because you don't want to be near me?" He wiped his eyes with the side of his hand and took a shuddering breath. "Why don't you love me?" he asked plaintively.
"I don't love anybody," Michael repeated. He closed his eyes as another spasm of pain roared through him. "Can we drop this now please?"
"Whatever," Ethan muttered.
The cargo bay went quiet. Michael could hear the soft sound of the air recyclers and Ethan's hiccuppy breathing. He listened to the throbbing of his blood through his veins, feeling the intense ache of his side with every heartbeat.
He pictured Ian the way he had last seen him. Sitting on the biobed in sick bay, no shirt, uniform sleeves tied around his waist, livid bruises decorating his arms.
And that terrible look of longing Young had given him as he had left, and how well that look had echoed the longing in Rostov's heart.
"I don't love anybody," he repeated quietly. "No one."
He heard the sound of the cargo bay doors opening. The medical team had arrived.
* * *
"I can't believe you were so goddamn stupid!" Commander Tucker hollered.
Rostov was sitting on one of the emergency cots that were set up in sick bay every time the patient allotment grew to more than three. The cot next to him held Juliana Martinez. She had been badly injured in the armoury explosion, ending up with a full set of broken ribs for her trouble. She had commiserated with Michael on how much broken ribs sucked while Dr. Phlox had been treating him, and they had promised to help each other through the inevitable physiotherapy to come. Now she was rolled on her side, turned away from where he was sitting and Commander Tucker was raging around, face red with anger. She was pretending to be asleep, but Rostov knew she was hearing every word.
The biobeds in the back held Ensign Cormack and Lieutenant Reed. He was unconscious, and Rostov could bet some of Tucker's anger was fuelled from that direction. Cormack had been burned, Martinez had told him, and had managed to re-injure her shoulder at the same time. Rostov liked Cormack - she was tough. He hoped she'd heal up fast.
He didn't even want to think about the fact that it was Ian Young on the last biobed. Rostov didn't get a good look at him when Liz and Savario had brought him in, but it was obvious he was unconscious. And the way that his roommate Ari was hovering around him, things couldn't be good.
He turned his attention back to the Commander. It was easier to deal with being yelled at then speculating about Ian.
"How could you fix a shelvin' unit without a ladder?" Tucker shouted. "What would have happened to you if Novakovitch hadn't arrived when he did? I'll tell you!" he yelled before Rostov could even try to answer. "You could have died! That's what!"
"I'm sorry, sir," Rostov muttered. His ribs were aching, and now he had a headache to boot. Probably from lack of sleep as well as having to suffer through the Commander's temper tantrum. He was sure that Phlox had skimped on the painkiller just to make a point.
"You're goddamn right you're sorry!" Tucker yelled. "And I'm gonna make sure that you remember exactly how sorry you are! You, 'Mr. 'I-don't-follow-safety-protocols', are gonna be confined to quarters after your shift for one – no, two - weeks! And I'm gonna put a formal reprimand in your file!"
"Yessir," Rostov mumbled.
"You bet your ass it's 'yessir!' And if I ever, ever hear you pullin' a stunt this stupid again-" Tucker took a deep breath and rubbed his hand over his face, visibly calming himself. "Look," he said finally, hand on the back of his neck and voice in a more normal range. "Mike, you're one of the best guys I got. I can't afford to lose you because you're doin' somethin' dangerous. I don't wanna have to worry about you. I have enough to worry about as it is." He gave a small, humourless smirk. "I don't need you to add to my problems."
"I won't, sir," Rostov said, looking the Commander in the eye. "It won't happen again."
"Good," Tucker replied, all business. "I'll have that reprimand ready for you to sign on your next shift." With a quick nod, he turned and went back to the Lieutenant's biobed.
Juliana rolled onto her back and turned her head towards him. "Wow, did you ever piss him off!"
Rostov lay back, breathing a sigh of relief as it eased some of the ache in his side. "Yep."
"I saw Novakovitch come in with you," Martinez continued after a moment. "But he left already. He must be really worried for you. He looked sad."
"I broke up with Ethan," Rostov said. They had. Maybe not officially, but it was pretty clear it was over.
"Oh," Juliana said after a moment. "That's too bad."
"No, it's not," Michael replied. "It was probably long overdue."
"Well," she sighed. "As long as you're happy."
"Sure," Michael said, not thinking of Ian. "Yeah."
* * *