Mollymauk’s head hurt. Ached, actually, in some fundamental, tearing way that he couldn’t stop. The first week after he had been retrieved from the rogue Trill ship, he had spent in sick bay, dotted over by Jester and Caduceus. He didn’t necessarily enjoy that mostly because he really couldn’t stand being still for too long. It had been a requirement, however, if he ever wanted to return to active duty, he had to convince Caduceus that he was in working order. So for the first week, he slept for as long as he physically could and annoyed his friends into spending time with him. Most of them were happy to, since there was a moment a few days prior that they weren’t sure that he was coming home.
The week after that, he was confined to off duty rest. He wasn’t allowed to work, but he was encouraged to roam the decks as he pleased. Molly spent most of that week wandering around the Mighty, listening to the classical music that he had found in the ship’s archives, talking to whomever he could find, trying to ease his bouncing soul.
And mostly he was lonely. He was so very lonely. Sickbay was almost always empty except for nurses and doctors, who checked in only occasionally, and his quarters were even more isolated. He spent as much time with people as he could, but he needed rest, and that meant sitting in his room and trying to distract himself. Molly was starved for people. He was starved for his people, for Yasha and Caleb, for Beau and Fjord. He was starved for Jester and Caduceus stopping by. He was starved for Nott screaming over the comms.
He was ravished for them and there was nothing he could do about it.
It was when he went back on duty that the headaches started. They started small, and although most people didn’t frequent unexplained headaches, Molly did. It was a side effect of the symbiote, he had several health issues that he couldn’t necessarily do anything about. So when, a few hours after he started his first shift back, his head began to pulse lightly with pain, he wrote it off as not being settled in just yet. It did feel good to have Yasha to his side and Fjord to his back, to hear Beau and Caleb bickering. It was good to be back.
By the time that he returned to his room at the end of his shift, he could call it a proper migraine. It had been a while since he’d had one of those, but they were almost always gone by morning.
“Mollymauk,” Caleb said as they approached their quarters, “are you alright?” Caleb was a few doors down and they often wrapped up their days by spending some time together, but Mollymauk wasn’t sure he could stay awake long enough to convince Caleb that he was in good enough condition to stay on duty. Molly genuinely thought that he might go insane if he was stuck away from the bridge for another day. He might go insane if he was left by himself again.
“Yeah,” he lied, “I’m fine, just tired. First day back.” Caleb eyed him with some suspicion, but didn’t push it. That was something that Molly really liked about Caleb. He didn’t make anybody talk about anything. On a ship full of the nosiest people in the galaxy, it was nice to have someone who didn’t feel the need to ask any questions. Especially since Molly didn’t have any answers.
“I understand,” Caleb said, “you should rest. I’ll see you tomorrow, ja?” Molly smiled despite himself.
“ Ja ja!” He responded, unlocking him door. Caleb’s cheeks dusted brown as a nervous smile spread across his face.
“Oh that’s-“ he cut himself off, “-that’s cute.” He seemed to realize what he said and made a beeline for his room. Molly laughed lightly and lowered the lights in his room, the fluorescents burning into his eyes. He was tempted, almost, to make his way to Caleb’s quarters. Not for any of the reasons that he usually thought about sneaking to someone’s room. He felt so very alone in his quarters, the lights low, the air stale in his lungs.
He peeled off his uniform and fell onto his bed, not willing to shower or eat when his head was pounding this badly.
It would be better in the morning.
It would all be better in the morning.
Caduceus made a habit of checking in with mending patients in the wee hours of the morning, since they were much less likely to lie when they were still very tired. He’d been poking his head in on Molly every morning for the past week, and although there were some chronic symptoms that couldn’t be helped, there was nothing outside of the ordinary.
That morning, Caduceus could feel something wrong in the air. It wasn’t uncommon that he could smell out danger or injury on the ship. That’s why he was so very good at what he did. The universe was always telling everybody everything, he just happened to know how to listen.
He could feel the universe trying to tell him something. He very rarely ignored the universe.
Mollymauk was still sleeping when he rang the room, and he got even more worried. Molly put on the easy face of a lazy, laz-a-fair crewman, but Caduceus knew that Molly had taken to training with Beauregard and Yasha in the early morning hours, before their shift started. It was a tradition that he had lapsed out of since both his and Beau’s respective injuries, but Caduceus had always found him long awake during his morning visits.
Molly answered the door in his sleeping clothes, his long hair tangled, makeup smeared across his face, not washed off from the day before.
“Get inside,” Molly mumbled, shielding his eyes from the light in the hallway. Caduceus struggled to see in the pitch darkness of Molly’s room, but let himself be pulled inside. He opened his mind to the possibilities of the universe, looked through each one, and chose the path that let him suddenly and miraculously see in the dark.
Mollymauk slumped back to his bed, dragging his body as though it were weighed down.
“Headache?” Caduceus kept his voice low, not wanting to stir the pain any more than he already had.
“Yeah,” Molly mumbled, sinking into the folds of his sheets. Caduceus followed, pulling out his tricorder and a hypospray.
“Anything beyond the usual?” He asked, hovering the thing around Molly’s head. He recoiled at the sound, but let Clay finish his work.
“Didn’t go away with sleep.” He said through gritted teeth.
“Well, your injuries may have jostled something. It could last longer and be more intense.” Caduceus shuffled through his hyposprays. “I’m going to give you something for the pain and then a mild sedative. Maybe you can sleep this off.”
“I hate sedatives.” Molly grumbled as Caduceus applied the hypospray at the scarred junction of his neck and his shoulder. He always worried so much about the amount of scar tissue that covered Molly’s body. There was little to no explanation with it, since the medical records that they could access didn’t mention them and Molly didn’t care to explore it.
“I know.” Clay said, setting down his tricorder and pulling a second kit out of his bag. “Some tea will help it go down. Plus, some lavender and camomile couldn’t hurt the head.”
He set his tea pot in the replicator and requested just-below-boiling water. He had been somewhat disappointed with civilization’s abandon of most conventional heating agents. He had heated tea over open fires for most of his life when he had joined Starfleet, and moving to synthesized everything was jarring. He still had his leaves grown in the ground and not made up out of stray molecules. Although, really, all tea was made of stray molecules. He still felt better when he could dig his fingers into the earth of it and pluck them from there.
He religiously prepared the pot of tea and let the leaves steep for several minutes, speaking softly to Mollymauk about alternative treatments if this continued. He filled two cups and clearly separated the one with the sedative.
“Don’t keep me locked in this room another minute, Clay,” Molly warned, sipping at his tea, “I’m going to lose my shit.”
“No, you aren’t,” Caduceus countered. “I wouldn’t have it. We’re going to figure out what’s wrong and then we’re going to fix it.” Molly sighed and finished his cup in a few, grand gulps. Caduceus took the cup from him and helped him settle in the bed. “You’re going to start feeling tired soon.”
“I don’t want to be alone,” Molly mumbled, his eyes drooping. People always said the most honest things when they were tired.
“I’m going to stay with you,” Clay said, taking Molly’s hand in his own, “I’m not leaving you alone.”
When Mollymauk woke up again, it wasn’t just his head that ached. His spine was on fire, burning up, tearing through his skin. He could feel the dull ache of pain as he began to resurface, groggy form the sedative, but it wasn’t until he shifted his head that he felt the pain fully. It felt like someone had reached down his throat, grabbed ahold of his spine, and torn it out of his body. He could feel every muscles and bone tense. He wasn’t sure if he was trying to scream or trying to suppress it. He couldn’t decide what was worse, sounding so weak or not being heard at all.
A hand came to his neck, steadying and warm, searching for his pulse. He couldn’t open his eyes, and he could barely hear the deep, resonating baritone telling him that it was alright, that he was going to be fine, to try and breathe.
It was too much, too much, burning through him. Molly would do anything to make it stop. He would have thrown himself from an airlock just to make it stop. He could feel hot tears running down his face and he could hear a tricorder whirring around him and the sound of communicators buzzing on and off, but it was all secondary. It was all trapped behind the wall of utter terror sweeping through him.
And he was so afraid. He was so terrified, down to his bones. He felt like he was dying and even though he knew, somewhere in the back of his brain, that someone was with him, he felt so alone. He was dying and he was alone just like everybody else. Just like on the ground in that cell, surrounded by people but all of them dead, all of them just a step removed from him, but not close enough to reach.
Something cool pressed into his neck, the sting it caused falling away into nothing comparatively. The cool spread, moving out from his neck, using his blood to climb through his body. He felt the liquid cool race through him and then he didn’t feel anything, and then he was floating, falling away from the pain and the terror and from him.
Jester really thought that she was going to be getting a break this week. Molly and Beau had caused her quite the trouble, but now that they were both back on their feet, she was free to go back to fucking around and not taking her job seriously. She liked it that way much better.
Jester was a surgeon. On a non-exploratory science vessel, that meant that she didn’t have to perform more than maybe three surprise operations a year. Most of her work was scheduled, c-sections, appendectomies, the usual things that showed up when people lived their lives. It wasn’t much different from being a civilian doctor aside from worse pay and the occasional life-threatening crisis. And really, she didn’t want for money and she loved nothing more than getting her blood pumping. She might have been able to make a fortune on Earth with her knowledge of general zoology and anatomy, but she was much happier chasing adventure up in the stars.
Caduceus had to be the responsible one, since he had to deal with weird alien sicknesses, toxins, insomnia, cabin fever... everything. She was there to lend a helping hand when he needed it and she showed up to her surgeries on time and ready.
She was basically amazing at her very easy job.
Well, easy if you were a genius doctor lady like her. Otherwise, very, very hard. But for her? No sweat. So easy.
So she took long lunches to sit with Nott in Engineering. Her friendship with Nott wasn’t something that Jester had thought would develop. She had originally been somewhat averse to the mysterious Chief of Engineering. As far as she could tell, the Chief spoke only to Caleb Widogast (another mystery man that Jester wasn’t interested in unraveling anytime soon) out of choice, and Captain Tusktooth (okay, maybe she wanted to unravel this one), out of necessity. It wasn’t until Caleb had landed in sickbay with a bad case of bronchitis (Jester could swear that (two thirds) human lungs were the weakest things in the galaxy, they shut down at the slightest suggestion of trouble), and Nott had camped out with him for as long as she was allowed by her rank.
Nott was a curious one. She had a proper name, that was for sure, but she didn’t go by it to many people. Jester was sure that she could find it if she went digging through medical records, but after getting to know Nott, she really didn’t care to. Nott was Bolian, the first that Jester had met, and covered from head to toe in some kind of scarring. Jester had narrowed it down to burns, deep, thrashing scars, or radiation. She couldn’t decide and she didn’t care to ask. Anybody who had bothered Nott about it had a Vulcan and, soon after they met (and Jester quickly decided that she loved this little mess of a person), an Andorian to answer to.
So, Jester took her lunches with Nott and they caused trouble when they were getting bored. They were basically best friends for life.
She was in Engineering, regailing Nott with the story of her latest wooing of Tooth, when Caduceus called.
“Hey, Cad,” She said happily around a mouthful of peanut butter sandwich.
“Jester, Molly’s back in sickbay, I think he might need surgery.” Caduceus didn’t take the time to greet her like he usually would, just plowed through his explanation.
That was emergency surgery number three for this year. No more. She had reached her quota. With a quick apology to Nott, Jester left her lunch and started running towards Sickbay as she tapped at her communicator.
“One to beam directly to sickbay,” she shouted as she ran, coming to a stop only when they gave her the clear.
She materialized into a fucking mess.
Mollymauk was laid out on a table, no uniform in sight, his skin ashen and pale. His eyes were rolled back into his head and he was unresponsive to the tests that Caduceus and their nurses were running over him. Her heart clenched at the sight.
“He reported a headache this morning,” Caduceus began as soon as she was coporeral, Not wasting a second. “I gave him a hypospray to help with the pain and a sedative to help him sleep. He woke up at thirteen hundred hours in extreme pain. I applied another pain sedative to keep him from worsening the issue.”
“Do we know what’s causing this?” She asked, quickly scrubbing her arms down in the antibacterial sink and slipping into the fresh scrubs and gloves waiting for her.
“Not for certain,” Caduceus said, “but I’m doing a full body scan right now.”
Jester took a moment to check over Molly’s vital signs by hand and matching them to the mechanical ones, knowing that Caduceus had already done so, but also knowing that checking twice never hurt anybody. As she was taking his temperature, the scan came through, layering a holo-scan over him in layers. Bone, blood vessels, muscle, skin. She watched intently as Caduceus zoomed in to his head, searching for any sign of seizure, hemorrhage, aneurysm, or bleed. He didn’t see anything, so he zoomed back out, shifting away the layers and going through one by one. Jester physically examined Molly’s head, made sure that the scan was right and that his skull was completely intact, matching her touch to the image.
It was when she got to the two vertebrae at the bottom of his neck that she realized what was wrong.
She jumped, gasped, checked it again.
“Spinal fusion!” She shouted, feeling the smooth plane of bone where there should be a junction between two, “Cervical six and seven are fused!” Caduceus came behind her, fingers trailing over the bone as he zoomed into the scan.
“That would cause severe pain,” He mumbled, “manifesting in headaches.” Jester nodded. “What could do this?” His voice was somewhere between wonder and horror.
“I’ve seen it a few times in bad surgery, and a few times with that really shitty transport that they’re mass producing,” She ran over Molly’s allergies and conditions as she prepared him for surgery. “The Federation outlawed them, but some of them slip through, and there are a ton outside of Federation space.”
“What do they do?” Caduceus carefully removed Molly’s sleeping clothes, trading them out for hospital garb.
“Fast and shitty transport. You know those few seconds after you’re transported where you’re stuck in place while everything catches up?” Jester rambled, Caduceus nodded. “It completely gets rid of that. You get places fast, but you get the consequences. Bones fuse together, muscles tear. It can be really bad.”
“When would Molly have used one of those?” He asked. There was a moment of confused silence as they both racked their brains. It seemed to hit them at the same time.
“Oh,” Jester mumbled.
“ Oh,” Caduceus replied.
“We can take a second ,” she announced to the medbay, still buzzing for slapstick surgery, “we don’t have to do it right now. His spinal cord is intact and he’s breathing fine, so nothing got ruptured. We just need to keep him sedated. He’s going to hurt.”
“It’s been three weeks since we got him back,” Clay said, “and he’s been living with this.”
“We had him on medicine for his knee.” Jester said, “He might have had no idea.”
“Until this week.” Caduceus said, “He couldn’t be on active duty while taking pain regulators.” Jester nodded.
“We missed it.” She mumbled, pulling off her gloves and scrubbing down properly.
“We should contact everybody who used those transporters.” Clay said, “Ambassador Lallas transported at least once, not to mention the kidnappers,”
“Bad guys deserve fused bones,” Jester muttered.
“Even so, we should at least tell them.” Clay gathered his data pad and patted her shoulder. “I’m going to debrief Tooth and the senior staff. I’ll send Yasha your way, she’s his beneficiary.” Jester nodded.
She took a deep breathe as Clay left the sickbay, steadying herself to cut into Mollymauk for the second time. It was two times too many, if you asked her.
When Molly woke up, he was in sickbay and he just about cried. He was so very- well- sick of that dull, puke-tan ceiling. He took a breathe and blew it out, ready to swing out of his bed and make a run for his room when he was struck with the memory of how very much he hurt the last time he was awake.
And he didn’t anymore. Not in the very least. His neck felt stiff, but his body wasn’t screaming at him anymore. He took another breathe and then another, and soon enough, he was almost mediating to the rise and fall of his own breathe, so relieved that he could still do that and there wasn’t anything pushing down on his chest or tearing up his spine.
“Molly!” Jester’s voice rang across the way. He smiled but didn’t move his head. He was afraid that, if he moved, it would start again. “I’m so glad you’re awake! Do you hurt anywhere?” She asked, clutching her tricorder to her chest. Molly hummed.
“No, no I don’t think so,” he said, “my neck’s a bit stiff, but-“ Jester cut him off with a hug, gentle but sincere, her head nestled against his chest. He laughed and let her hair fall into his face with no protest.
Jester was so pretty. Most everybody in their crew was beautiful, but Jester was just something celestial. It had something to do with the pigmentation of her blue skin and the silk of her white hair, he thought. Something to do with the way her antenna seemed to move with minds of their own, twitching around in her hair.
He could see himself falling in love with her. He really could see himself falling in love with any of this crew. They were all so good, even the ones that couldn’t see it. Maybe he was just being romantic again. At least, he thought, he finally had the spirit to be again.
He clung to the feeling of someone else with him, the heat of another body, the feeling of another person’s breathe on his skin. Jester was alive and breathing and he was not alone.
“What happened?” He asked, patting Jester softly on the back.
“Okay, so,” she shot back up from his chest and settled on the chair next to his best, running her tricorder over him, “you know those supper shitty trill who kidnapped you and almost killed you and super fucked up your knee?”
“Yes, I’m familiar,” he said.
“Well, their transport was super fast and painful right?” She squinted at a reading before smiling.
“Yeah,” Molly blinked back the memories of the feeling of being snapped from one place to another, like his body was a rubber band being drawn back and let go.
“Caduceus and I are pretty sure that their transport was so shitty that they managed to fuse your bones together! The ones in your neck, which is why you had that headache!” She set her tricorder aside and tapped something out on her data pad. She walked over to his chart and marked something down. “You’re looking really good, Molly, I think you’ll be perfect by Thursday.”
“I’m always looking good, darling.” He said, his voice not holding his usual muster, but his smile still convincing. “So are we saying that this is the last major surgery I’m doing as a result of these assholes or do we want to go for lucky number four?” Jester’s smile faded a bit.
“I’m sorry I missed this, Molly,” she said, “and we’ve done a very detailed check of everything to make sure there’s no more fusions. You’re perfect. But we shouldn’t have missed it in the first place.” Molly’s heart broke.
“No, hey,” he started, extending his hand.
“But if you ever get a headache again and don’t come to sick bay I will kill you myself!” Jester looked very serious.
“Wh-“ Molly stumbled, “what happened to ‘Do No Harm,’”
“Metaphorically. I will metaphorically kill you myself.” She corrected. Molly laughed softly and took her hand on his own. He brought her knuckles to his lips.
“I owe you my life, once again, dear Doctor.” He said softly. She laughed.
“Go to sleep Molly,” She said, adjusting his blankets.
“Thank you,” he mumbled, relished the feeling of her cool hands on his cheek.
“Of course, Mollymauk,” she replied, “of course.”
Molly fell asleep in sickbay again, and, although he had been determined never to do that again, he took comfort in the fact that Jester was nearby, that Caduceus was half a minute away. He was safe there, safe from anything that might come for him in the night, safe from anything hiding inside of him. And for the first time in a while, he didn’t feel so alone.