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Close call

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The med bay has never felt quite as far from the airlock as it does now.

They don’t exactly have to carry him, he’s managing most of his weight, but Maureen has taken him by one arm, Don by the other, and they are helping him stay upright, because he mentioned that his head was spinning and he keeps getting wrecked by violent coughing fits, and they have to make sure that he doesn’t touch anything with those hands — Maureen took one accidental look at them, and she felt like throwing up, out of worry more than anything else.

She’s now looking straight ahead, trying to breathe through her rising panic, and just — speed walking. Was the med bay always this far, the hallways so endless?

As soon as they finally, finally get to their destination, she and Don help John up on the bed, Maureen automatically pushing him down, because she knows somewhere in the back of her mind that his first instinct will be attempting to get up.

“We need — we need to fix —” John tries to speak, his breathing ragged and that worrying goddamn cough cutting him off, and Maureen can’t even be bothered to try and guess what it is that he’s blabbering about now.

“Just shut up and lie down,” she orders, just as Judy hands her an oxygen mask. Well, that should shut him up, at least.

It occurs to her a moment too late, when he reaches up for the mask and grimaces, that she is going to have to hold it up herself. Because he just attempted to hold in a flow of toxic air with his bare hands. That absolute, complete moron

She’s so worried she might just start crying.

“Try to breathe normally, alright?” she says, surprisingly gentle, and maybe that’s what makes him give a slight nod and obey, taking deep breaths into the mask, his eyes half-closed.

(Or maybe, muses a corner of her brain, he’s already set a foot in his grave and he doesn’t have much fight left in him to begin with.)

“Alright, I — this lotion should work for his hands,” Judy says, tearing through Maureen’s thoughts when she registers the slight uncertainty in her daughter’s voice and a shot of fear runs through her. “I will just give you some anaesthetic and —”

“No, it’s fine,” John wheezes out, predictably enough.

Dad —”

“I can take it.”

Maureen doesn’t have to ask to know what he’s thinking: they have anaesthetic in limited to supply, they don’t know if they will need it more on another occasion, they should try to save it for when it’s strictly necessary.

Judy must understand as well, though she does not look any happier about it than Maureen feels. She presses her lips together, shaking her head once. “Fine,” she says. “Mom, I need you to keep him very still for this, okay?”

The request is enough to freeze her in place.

It's only a second of sheer terror, but it’s enough for her stomach to fall all the way down to her knees, the floor wobbling under her feet as she’s crushed by the utmost certainty that she cannot do this, she can’t possibly just hold him down while —

“I got it!” Don announces, his eyes meeting Maureen’s only for a moment. “I think the poor man will appreciate, like — lovingly gazing into his wife’s eyes while he suffers. Right, buddy?”

John snorts, which earns him another coughing fit – hopefully, it isn’t only her imagination that makes it appear as less violent than before.

Maureen spares a few seconds to stare numbly as Don moves closer, asking for instructions and getting ready to work, as she is invested by a wave of guilty relief.

“I’ll try to make it quick,” Judy says. “But this is gonna hurt — a lot. Are you sure you don’t want —?”

“No, it’s fine.”

She sighs. “Okay. Just try to stay still.”

John nods, taking a breath and tensing up, to brace himself, and it’s then that Maureen finally becomes aware of something outside of John’s general vicinity, and she notices Penny and Will, holding onto each other at a safe enough distance not to get in the way, trembling as they stare with huge, terrified eyes.

The mother in her pushes to come out, her voice fairly steady as she says: “Why don’t you two go wait outside?”

She doesn’t want to see this, she can’t imagine that they should.

“We’re not going anywhere until we know that Dad is okay,” Penny says, voice tight and no real room for argument in her tone.

Maureen is obviously about to attempt anyway, but then she hears John groaning in pain, his muscles spasming under the hand that she used to push him down and that never really left his shoulder after that, and before she knows it she’s turning around.

“Jeez, I hope there are no hard feelings after this,” Don comments, the grimace evident in his voice.

John’s eyes are squeezed shut, he’s hardly breathing and he looks like he’s holding back a scream by some kind of miracle.

She reaches for his hair, hoping to soothe him at least a little, and at the very least it gets his attention, because he opens his eyes, and when he meets her gaze she somehow manages to summon a smile.

“Come on, try to breathe through it, alright?” She encourages.

He gives a shaky nod, then makes an honest attempt at breathing deep in the mask, but the sight is not as reassuring as she would have hoped, given the slight tremors running through him and the way he whimpers through his teeth every know and then.

“You know what,” she says, her eyes stinging and her voice trembling slightly, in spite of her attempt at a light, joking tone. “I don’t think I’m even going to lecture you on how stupid this was, under the circumstances.”

At that, John snorts, honestly amused. “I appreciate it,” he says, words muffled by the mask.

“Okay, the other one,” Judy says, quickly. “Try to keep your hand right here, don’t touch anything, okay, Dad?”

As John nods, Don immediately gestures to Maureen. “Come on, switching places,” he says, briskly, and she nods gratefully, making a mental note to remind herself that she really loves him and that maybe she does yell at him too much, after all.

She finds herself stuck in the same situation as before, running soothing fingers through John’s hair as he tries his best to stay as still and silent as he can, reminding him to breathe and trying not to grimace too much at the pain on his face, even if more than once she has to swallow back a fresh wave of tears, her stomach turning over and terror pressing down on her chest.

“Almost done,” Judy says, and Maureen is pretty sure that she heard John utter a ‘thank god’.

“You’re doing great,” she says softly, offering the biggest smile she’s got when he turns his eyes to her, attempting a bit of a tired smile himself.

“Okay, it’s done,” Judy eventually says, taking a deep breath, her eyes still on John’s hands.

Don takes a giant step back. “Finally,” he says, as dramatically as if he had been the one actually suffering through it, and Maureen is almost tempted to already start yelling at him again.

Fortunately, she has other concerns. “Will that heal him?” she asks, her hand travelling down to John’s shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze.

Judy gives her an hesitant look. “It’s — I mean, it’s technically for burns, but it’s the best thing I had — the damage shouldn’t spread or anything, I hope, this should make him feel better pretty quickly.”

There are too many shoulds, too much wavering, and a part of her wants to yell out her frustration at Judy and demand answers, but even on edge as she is she doesn’t seem to be that far gone, fortunately.

She only gives a brief nod.

“Dad, how’s your breathing?” Judy asks then, walking up to take the mask from Maureen’s hands and remove it for a moment.

“Okay,” he says, faintly. “No coughing.”

Judy nods, inhaling sharply. “Okay, let’s — let’s remove the mask for now, we’ll put it back on if you have any difficulties breathing, alright?”

John nods, closing his eyes for a moment. It sends an irrational jolt of fear through Maureen, and her hold on his shoulder tightens.

She doesn’t have time to check if he realized, because her eyes fall on Will and Penny, still keeping to themselves in a corner, not looking much less terrified than before.

“It’s alright, your dad’s gonna be okay,” she says, gently.

That seems to give John a shake too, because she feels him shifting a little. When she turns she finds him trying to keep his head up to take a look at Will and Penny, a small smile on his face. “Yeah, guys, I’m fine,” he says, his voice only a little strained. “Sorry if I scared you.”

Yeah, well, that’s an understatement.

“Maybe I should go try to fix the hole?” Don suggests, pointing at the door.

Maureen shakes her head. “No, at this point, it’s all probably too far gone to do anything about it.” She takes a breath. “And no one is going in there alone. Clear?”

“Well, I am putting on a suit,” he points out, with a deliberate look at John, who has the audacity to roll his eyes.

No one,” Maureen says, because right now what she needs is everyone to stay put, safe inside, so she can take a moment and properly freak out about the fact that her husband just had yet another brush with death. “We’ll all go later, now — ” She turns to her children, Judy having insinuated herself between Will and Penny so that she can hold each of them under one arm, and she offers a slight smile. “Let’s just let your dad get some rest, okay?”

That gets some tentative agreement, no one apparently enthusiastic at the idea of leaving, but eventually Will comes over for a quick hug, Penny follows suit, clearly attempting to strangle her father, and Judy lays a kiss on his temple, turning then to Maureen.

“Get the mask back on if he starts coughing, and call me if his hands don’t look better in fifteen minutes, got it?” She instructs, before heading out.

“Alright, see you later!” Don announces then, lightly, as he exits the room too.

Left alone with John in the silent room, she lets out a slow breath, her shoulders slumping a little as if realizing that she doesn’t really have much of an audience anymore, no need to keep herself up.

When she turns, she finds that John is staring.

She shakes her head slightly, swallowing through the lump in her throat and rubbing her thumb against his shoulder, her eyes filling with tears.

That was just — so stupid,” she says, a little chocked.

He looks lost for words, opening and closing his mouth with a regretful look on his face – good, he should regret it –, and he moves his arm as if to reach out, only to slump back to his initial position when he remembers that he can’t.

“I’m sorry,” he eventually says, grimacing a little. That only reminds her of all the pain that he was in up until a minute ago, and anger flares up in her chest.

“I thought you were going to die!”

“I know.”

“What were you thinking?!”

He opens his mouth, only to close it again and offer a bit of a shrug. “Just that I needed to save the food.”

She snorts. “The food,” she echoes, beyond sceptical. “We can always get more food, John!”

She lets out the beginning of a humourless laugh, suffocating it in both of her hands. She presses her palms against her mouth. He disappears in a blur when her anger dissipates and the only thing that she can think of is that she was so damn scared.

“Don’t you ever do that again,” she says, more of a plead than an order, given her chocked voice and the tears swelling in her eyes.

He just nods, pressing his lips together.

She lets out a shaky breath, leaning forward until she’s resting her head besides his, a few tears falling when she closes her eyes.

John lays a kiss on her hair. “I’ll just — I’ll apologize properly when my hands work, yeah?” he says, a note of tentative humour in his voice.

It draws a shaky laugh out of her, as more tears fall. “Yeah,” she breathes, reaching up and curling her fingers around his shirt. “Okay.”