Grey Panels, red panels
Sometimes he can’t help but wonder if there was anything he could have done. Oh, he’s already run through a hundred different scenarios but it’s hard trying to logically think through alternate solutions when he can’t even remember what happened.
No one will tell him either.
He thinks Phlox has warned them not to till he's healed up a bit maybe, but it’s hard to know what’s going on when all he can see is the ceiling.
He wonders if he should suggest to Phlox that it needs to be painted. That there’s over thirty panels up there and millions of little holes, and he knows because he’s counted them all and each one seemed to multiply even as he tried to grasp the numbers in his head.
At first it was almost like the holes were swooping away from him. It felt like flying, the real kind of flying that you can feel drag you down, the kind he always wanted to do. Not that he hates piloting the ship; he loves those gripping moments of adrenalin where he knows that everything is resting on his ability to move the ship.
Grey panels, red panels, heat washing over everything.
He can hear whimpers sometimes, late at night when the menagerie is calming down and even the beeping machines seem to lower in volume. He can’t help but think he should know who’s making the noise, the first time he heard it he thought it was his brother but then as Phlox leant over him he realised he wasn’t in the sickbay at his old home with his parents hovering nearby.
Sometimes at night he dreams of blood dripping through the ceiling above him and pattering down on his cheeks. He hates those dreams, hates how disorientated they leave him but when Phlox asks he gives a bright smile and lies because he wants to figure out on his own why the guilt twists in his stomach.
Hoshi visits almost every day, she always comes to his bedside first and tells him the gossip before moving away. He hears her speaking to someone else although her words are always too soft to carry, and he wonders who else is stuck staring at the grey panelled ceiling as well.
He goes over what little he can remember, a million times, trying desperately to figure out his own guilt, why deep down he knows that whatever happened was all his fault. He can’t help but wonder if he could have done something differently and wishes he knew what he had done in the first place.
Once he dreamt it was Lieutenant Reed, lying next to him, his skin charred and burnt, blood – their blood – dripping through tiny holes in grey panels staining them red. “I’m sorry” he had gasped reaching out. Reed had stared at him, blue eyes boring into his very soul. “Wasn’t... your fault.” He woke up crying after that dream, his skin twitching in dull agony, the salt in his tears burning his cheeks.
Phlox had gently wiped the tears away. “What do you remember?”
Grey panels, red panels, heat washing over everything, screams that fade to nothing...
“Nothing.” He should know something, anything. “What happened?” It hurts to talk and he can’t remember why, he doesn’t even remember much of anything before waking up to the grey panelled ceiling of sickbay and the quiet rustling of the menagerie. But maybe Phlox will tell him, this time.
“There was an accident,” Phlox is staring at him now, eyes boring into him just like the Lieutenant’s. He shudders involuntarily and something pulls, but the pain is so distant, so far on the edge of his awareness he barely feels it, barely feels anything. “You were badly burnt.”
“Wasn’t ... your fault.”
“Oh,” he should feel something more, but all he can do is stare at the ceiling, counting the lines and the tiny holes like he’s done a million times before.
Pain in his leg, he can’t run, he can’t catch up...
“Was anyone else hurt?”
Phlox nods after a pause. “Lieutenant Reed was also caught in the explosion.”
“My leg...” he trails off, uncertain as to what he was even going to ask in the first place. “I think I hurt it.”
“A sprained knee,” Phlox nods.
Hands on his arm, dragging him to his feet...
He blinks. A sprain? “The Lieutenant... is he?” He can’t remember why, but he knows it’s important to ask. Only he’s not sure he wants to know.
“He should make a full recovery.”
Phlox makes a soft emphasis on the ‘should’ and he wonders just how tentative that assessment is. Guilt creeps in; his eyes rest on the ceiling again listening out for the comforting rustle of the menagerie.
A soft whimper destroys any comfort he can draw from his surroundings. Phlox looks up and leaves, there’s the muted sound of a soothing voice and the gentle hiss of a hyprospray. Relief and guilt intermingle as the whimpers stop.
His eyes close.
“It looks like... it’s a countdown! Everybody out!”
He’s only running for a split second before he catches his boot on debris and he’s flying, skidding across the grey panelled floor.
There’s the sound of boots pounding against the floor, strong hands haul him upright but the flaring agony in his leg halts any attempt at moving quickly. A small part of him hopes Hoshi and the Commander made it out ok as they move haphazardly, before heat flares out across the room and they’re flung out the room to the corridor beyond.
He’s not sure when he comes to. The grey panels have turned red, blood dripping through tiny holes. Lieutenant Reed is staring at him, blue eyes boring into his very soul.
“I’m sorry,” his voice sounds odd even to his own ears and the smell of burnt flesh wafts slowly around the smoky corridor as he reaches out.
“Wasn’t... your fault,” Reed grinds out, his voice so gravelly and scratched it sounds almost inhuman. He slumps then, as if the effort of speaking was too costly, blue eyes closing.
His eyes fly open in time to see the Commander pass just on the edge of his vision. There’s another soft whimper, on the edge of his hearing and a quiet voice that replies: “You’re ok, Mal, I got ya.” He blinks furiously and forces himself to count the tiny holes in the grey panelled ceiling. But the yielding comfort and safety of sickbay left with the soft whimpers of the man who tried to save him.
He thinks of flying, the pull of the ship against him when the inertial dampners can’t compensate. He remembers the moment the blast swept Reed into the back of him, flinging them both forward.
Phlox appears again, leaning over him with a paternal smile. “How are you feeling?”
“I remember what happened.”
Phlox nods, his gaze flickering away for a split second. “You remember it was an accident?”
“I shouldn’t have fallen.”
“It was an accident.”
“Is he okay? Really okay?” He can feel the heat of embarrassment rising in his face. “I can hear him...”
“He can hear you too,” the Commander appears fully in his field of vision. He smiled. “He said to tell you to stop being,” he smirked, and in the worst English accent he had ever heard said “’so bloody stupid.”
There came the barest noise of protest from somewhere that seemed so far away.
“Wasn’t... your fault.”