TITLE: The Labouchere Amendment

AUTHOR: Julian Lee

EMAIL: thwarted1066@yahoo.com

URL: http://www.geocities.com/thwarted1066/index.html

DATE: 10/27/02

CATEGORY: Archer/Reed


DISCLAIMER: I don't make any money out of the torture I inflict on the characters of "Enterprise."

ARCHIVE: To Archer's Enterprise and ENTSTslash; all others please ask.

SUMMARY: "Here be dragons," or, When Malcolm's opening conversational gambit is Victorian-era lesbians, Jon should know he's in for trouble.

NOTES: Watch for falling SelfDestructive!Malcolm, Obsessive!Jon, and GreekChorus!Trip & Mayweather. Perpetual Motion did beta, and her beta job did bringeth much joy. Props also to Angie, for being a romantic. And, yes, some consider the story Malcolm tells to be apocryphal, but I've studied Queen Victoria, & I have no trouble believing she'd do something like that, so I'm using the story, damn it.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'll be out of town 'til Sunday; here's a little something to remember me by. Hope you enjoy. -Julian.


"I swear, Trip, the next time to call me at one in the morning, I'm just going to ignore you." Jon rubbed at his aching elbow as he made his way to the mess, threatening his absent engineer. One of these days, he promised himself, he was going to sleep for a reasonable number of hours.

This was not that day.

The room was, not surprisingly, fairly empty. Jon nodded to a few members of the gamma shift on break, and he smiled sympathetically at Crewman Naylor, who was always up at this hour; she had explained once that, before Enterprise's launch, her five-month-old daughter had always been up at this hour.

As Jon finished a futile search of the kitchen for the *good* coffee he'd been sure was stashed somewhere (Chef would be furious if he knew his supplies were being rifled, but there were advantages to being Captain, and this was certainly one of them), he was startled to notice the back of a familiar dark head of hair. He frowned as he crossed the room. "Lieutenant?" Malcolm looked up at him, but the blue-gray eyes were millions of light-years away. Jon's frown deepened. "Malcolm?"

With a violent shudder, the armory officer returned to place and time and lurched to his feet. "Captain Archer! I am so sorry, sir."

Jon waved him down. "As you were, Lieutenant." Malcolm sank back onto his chair, and Jon sat across from him.

"You're up very late, Captain." The PADD in front of Malcolm had been neglected for so long that it had shut itself down.

Jon sighed and rubbed his elbow again. "Trip woke me up to come look at another one of his 'creative suggestions' for power rerouting. I need to learn how to refuse the man—especially when he thinks he's been brilliant in the middle of the night."

Malcolm's eyes glinted. "Let me guess," he said, lapsing into his uncanny impression of the Commander, "'I got a real great idea on how ta conserve resources, Cap'n.'"

"The lifts should be working again within the hour." Jon chuckled. "Does he know you can do that?" Malcolm didn't answer. He was back to looking out the window. Jon leaned over and tapped his arm. "Malcolm?"

The officer started again. "I'm so sorry, sir. Did you say something?"

Jon's eyes narrowed, but he said only, "I was asking if Trip knows you impersonate him so well."

"I assume someone's told him by now," Malcolm said, shrugging. His gaze drifted to the window again, but with what looked like a monumental effort, he brought his attention back to the Captain. "I'm careful not to do it in front of him, of course."

"Smart decision." The men fell silent a moment. "Is everything all right, Malcolm?" Jon asked tentatively. "You seem a bit…distracted."

Malcolm shrugged and went back to staring at the stars as they zipped past. "In 1885," he said, addressing the window more than the Captain, "the House of Lords brought Queen Victoria the Labouchere Amendment, which established England's anti-sodomy laws. As originally written it outlawed all same-sex acts, but the Queen made them remove all references to sex between women."

Jon had no idea where this was going. "That was very…open-minded of her."

"Not a bit of it." Malcolm shook his head. "She didn't believe it was possible. She couldn't imagine how two women would have sex with each other." The Lieutenant's posture looked relaxed enough, but his body was thrumming, as though he could spring or strike at any moment. "I would never advocate the criminalization of same-sex acts—" He seemed about to say more but snorted and visibly changed tracks. "But can you imagine being so insulated that you would willfully close your eyes so you can remain in your safe, sheltered world? If they had brought that bill to *me,* I would have stayed up all night trying to figure out exactly how two women would have sex."

The men chuckled; humankind had made remarkable progress in recent centuries, but not so much that the average male didn't still fantasize about the act that had seemed so fantastical to Queen Victoria.

Malcolm's laugh died on a bitter note. "But there are still people who would rather sit in the circle of light cast by a single candle than allow themselves to see what the sun will show them."

Jon leaned forward, his chin on the palm of his hand. "I didn't realize you were a poet."

The corner of the Lieutenant's mouth twisted. "I'm not. I've been in communication with my parents this evening, and I've found that such purple flights of fancy are all that keeps me from saying some rather unfilial things about them."

"Ah." Jon leaned away from the table. He'd had a feeling this wasn't really about Victorian-era lesbians. The elder Reeds were exactly the kind of people Malcolm was talking about. Their disapproval of Starfleet and the deep space program was practically legendary, and, though not inclined to divulge details of his personal life, Malcolm had made no secret of the rift his posting to Enterprise had created between himself and his father. "Still haven't come around, I take it."

The sardonic smile remained firmly in place. "I come from a long line of seafaring men, Captain, and for several generations we've been associated with the order and regulation of Navy life. But in our earlier days, the Reeds were buccaneers—pirate adventurers who explored the wilds of the oceans, the places where maps were still marked 'Here be dragons.' My father, of course, expected me to follow him into the Royal Navy, but what was left to *explore* on Earth? All the dragons have been mapped. This—" He jerked his hand towards the window, "*this* is where the maps have yet to be drawn. I'm staying truer to my ancestry than my father ever could."

"But he doesn't see it that way."

Malcolm laughed dryly. "Indeed he does not."

Jon drummed his fingers on the tabletop. "Would it help at all if I tried talking to them again? Explained our mission a bit more, told them about some of the things you're doing here?"

Malcolm laughed so loudly that the few other people in the room looked over in surprise. He looked so different when he laughed, his entire face relaxed and open. He collected himself as he took in Jon's slightly hurt expression. "My apologies, Captain," he said breathlessly, "but that is among *the* worst things you could do. To my parents, you *are* Starfleet—the representation of a lifestyle they abhor."

"All right, then, I won't do that." He regarded his armory officer. "Is there something else?"

Malcolm's face was a perfect blank. "What do you mean, sir?"

"I'm not sure." Jon shrugged. "But it's two in the morning, and you're sitting here staring out the window."

"I couldn't sleep," Malcolm said defensively. "It happens from time to time. I think better here."

"Okay," Jon said, putting up his hands. "I'm sorry if I seemed to be suggesting…anything."

Malcolm relaxed slightly. "Forgive me, Captain; I guess I *have* been somewhat on edge lately. But I'm fine; it's nothing you need concern yourself over."

Although Malcolm would say he was fine if all of his internal organs were spilling out through a hole in his gut, there was nothing Jon could do or say now that would make the Lieutenant confide in him. He pushed his chair back and stood. "I think I'm finally ready to sleep, myself. I'll see you in the morning, Lieutenant."

Malcolm nodded absently. "Good night, Captain." His attention was already turned back to the window. Jon took one last look at him, sighed, and left the room, suspecting that he wouldn't sleep at all.


Malcolm was having his first nightmare in years. He was a cadet at the Academy again, but laboring over, of all things, Browning's "Childe Roland." A dark form loomed before him, striking the edge of the table with a heavy leather lash, bellowing at him to work faster, telling him he was doing it all wrong. What 'it' was, the mysterious 'it' of the assignment, he had no idea.

He stumbled over the words yet again, and the lash swung down with unparalleled force, slicing across his hand. He felt no pain and no need to shield his hand from another blow. He simply sat and watched a line of blood well up and run down the back of his hand.

The figure with the lash started laughing, and Malcolm looked up. He knew that laugh.

That was Captain Archer's laugh.


"I'm worried about Malcolm."

Trip swallowed his catfish thoughtfully. "I figured ya might be. You've been awful twitchy about him today."

"Twitchy?" Jon echoed. "I've been 'twitchy'?"

Trip shrugged. "Don't get worked up, Cap'n. I doubt anybody else's noticed. But you've got that look in your eyes every time he's around."

"Which 'look' would that be?"

"The 'I'm watchin' you' look."

Jon dropped his knife on his plate. "Of *course* I'm watching him. He's a valued member of my crew, and I'm worried about him."

Trip nodded. "A course. But that's not what I mean, and you know it."

"Yeah, I do." Jon sagged in his chair. "Any suggestions?"

"Leave him alone," Trip said decisively.

"But if he—"

"No, Cap'n. Leave him be. Malcolm's as buttoned-up as they come, and you can't force him to open up—not without openin' up a whole can a worms even you don't want anything to do with."

"I don't like what you're suggesting!" Jon threw his napkin onto the table and regretted that it wasn't something that shattered or made a loud noise.

"Malcolm's got his demons, Cap'n, same as everybody else. Maybe more." Trip passed a hand through his blond hair. "He'll deal with 'em his own way; you'll only make him worry that you think he's not fit for duty."

"That's absurd."

Trip shrugged and picked up his water glass. "Fine. If ya don't actually *want* my advice…"

"You do a frighteningly good impression of my mother, Trip." Jon scowled at the back of his hand. "All right, thank you. I'll take it under advisement." The conversation turned, almost inevitably, to water polo, but some corner of Jon's mind continued to worry at Trip's words. And the fact that he was probably going to ignore them.


"What's our weapons status, Lieutenant Reed?" Jon watched his armory officer as Malcolm's fingers danced across the display panels. There wasn't a section of the ship that hadn't reported some ill effects from the storm-heavy section of space they were being forced to travel through.

"We sustained some damage during the last storm, sir," Malcolm said, barely sparing him a glance. "But so long as we don't encounter a fleet of Suliban ships or any sort of raiding party in the next three days, we should be all right."

At the helm, Ensign Mayweather gritted his teeth. "Malcolm, you know I wish you wouldn't say things like that."

"Sorry, Travis." Malcolm smiled at him. "I'll knock on polymers, if that would make you feel better."

Travis shot him a sulky glare and went back to flying the ship.

Malcolm's grin widened at his friend's discomfiture, but when he noticed Jon's eyes still on him, all traces of amusement were erased as though they had been no more than a child's tracings in the sand. Jon frowned. "Three days, Lieutenant?"

Malcolm nodded tersely. "Possibly two."

Jon rubbed his chin and stared out the view screen. "Borrow anyone from Engineering you need to help with the repairs."

"Thank you, sir," Malcolm said, his voice almost inhumanly devoid of inflection, "but my team should be sufficient."

"All right, Malcolm," Jon said, sighing. "Whatever you need."


"Does the Captain consider you unfit for duty?" Travis's dark eyes widened as he stared at Malcolm. "No I *don't* think that. How can you even ask it?"

Malcolm shrugged and went back to his ironing. "Haven't you noticed how closely he's been watching me lately? Damn it!" He'd ironed a wrinkle into his uniform pants.

"I have." Travis smirked. "I think he wants you."

"Oh, Travis, shush," Malcolm said impatiently, brandishing the iron at him. "I'm serious. We ran into each other unexpectedly in the mess yesterday morning, and now it's as though he's constantly watching me for signs that I'm cracking."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Captain Archer has nothing but respect for you; we'd all have been dead a dozen times without you, and he knows it. So cut it out." His eyes narrowed. "And put that iron down; you make me nervous."

"I'll just have to redouble my efforts," Malcolm said absently, "to prove to him that everything's all right."


"You weren't at the movie, Lieutenant."

Malcolm blinked. "No, sir. I had reports that desperately needed going over. The timetable for the repairs looks a bit more complicated than expected, and I needed to ensure that we can still finish within three days."

Captain Archer leaned towards him. "If you need more time—"

"No!" He blushed, realizing he'd been brusquer with his Captain than was decorous. "Thank you, sir," he said at a more normal level, "but I promised the repairs in three days, and you shall have them."

"Thank you, Malcolm." Archer was still frowning. "I was just concerned that—well, the movie had some pretty gruesome scenes, and I didn't know if that bothered you."

Malcolm felt a smile creeping up, but he knew it would be the one that Trip, behind his back, referred to as 'Malcolm's crazy grin,' so he clamped down on it. "I have made a career out of weapons. Movie violence is of little concern to me."

If Malcolm had intended that to reassure the Captain, he had failed miserably. Oh, wonderful. Now Archer probably suspected him of masochism and a long history of abuse. Archer's frown deepened, and he stared at the Lieutenant. "All right, then. Next time."

Malcolm nodded. "Next time, sir."

Archer hesitated, then took a step closer. "If there's anything else…"

Malcolm's eyes clouded, but he didn't move. "Anything else…*what,* Captain?"

Archer shook his head. "Anything else at all. I just want you to remember that I'm here for you." He cleared his throat and added, "For all of you. If anyone has concerns that need to be discussed. I'm here. That's all."

"Thank you," Malcolm said evenly. The Captain was looking at him as though he expected Malcolm to say more. There was nothing else coming.

Archer sighed and ran his hand through his hair. "Good night, then, Lieutenant."

"Good night, Captain." Malcolm turned sharply on his heel and walked back up the hall, regulating his stride with military precision. If Archer was looking for cracks in his armor, by God he'd have to look harder than this.


Malcolm was having nightmares every night now. Enterprise was under attack. He was being held hostage. He was drowning, held underwater by a hand he could not fight. Always, *always,* Captain Archer was in the dreams; sometimes his assailant, sometimes his savior. And he honestly couldn't say which frightened him more.


"I worry sometimes, though." Jon balanced himself on the chair and gulped his third glass of the wine the Kennarian ambassador had gifted him with, ignoring the reproving look Porthos was giving him. "We all threw our lives into disarray for this mission."

"That's one of the downsides we knew we'd be takin' on, Cap'n," Trip said. He looked as though he'd been a physical extension of Jon's couch his entire life, his legs sprawled over the coffee table.

"True," Jon agreed, "but I don't think a lot of us realized *how* different things would be. Wouldn't you agree, Malcolm?"

Malcolm looked up quickly and pulled his hand into his lap, but not before Porthos heard him snapping and ran over to investigate. Trip grinned into his cup, and Malcolm shot him a warning glare before looking back at the Captain. "The adjustment has been harder for some members of the crew than others, Captain," he said crisply, "but I don't think that there are any insurmountable difficulties."

Jon swore inwardly. Where did Malcolm *go* so fast? One second he was teasing Porthos and quelling Trip with a single look; the next he was as unreachable as the furthest corner of the galaxy.

"Still…" Jon shook his head and then waited for the room to stop wobbling. "Crewman Naylor's daughter will be in school before she sees her again. Last week I discovered Ensign Santa Ana hiding in a Jeffries tube near tears because his mother had sent pictures from his brother's wedding, and he hadn't been able to be there. Are we asking the crew to sacrifice too much?"

"Yeah, it's rough," Trip said, "but like Malcolm said, it's nothin' we can't get past, once we're used to it."

"What about you, Malcolm?" Jon asked. "Has the adjustment—I don't know much about your life before Enterprise, but you seem to be doing all right."

Malcolm's eyes narrowed slightly, and Jon tried not to look like he was pitying the other man. "Well, there are my parents, but you know the status of my relationship with *them.* I miss my sister, naturally, but she's a grown woman with a life of her own, and I admit I didn't see as much of her as perhaps a brother ought. We were never overly close." Jon almost snorted; of course being 'overly close' would not be encouraged in the Reed household. "Other than that, sir, I wouldn't say that there was anyone whose loss I feel too keenly."

"There wasn't anyone—"

"No. Sir."

"That's a shame," Jon said softly. He blew out a breath and stared into the swirling green depths of his wine before practically chugging the rest of it and pouring another glassful, ignoring Trip's reproving look, too. "I just hope that no one's concentration will be affected by the loss of contact," he said quietly.

"Indeed, that would be most unfortunate," Malcolm said stiffly.

He was too tired—and possibly drunk—to pry further into Malcolm's secrets tonight. But he didn't intend to give up. Not by a long shot.


"You're freakin' him out."

"I am not. He's fine." Jon stopped. There was Malcolm's own word—the one he used no matter how much pain he was in.

"Uh-huh." Trip stretched out further, and Porthos took that as an invitation to jump into his lap. The Commander grunted but didn't put the beagle off. "You keep tellin' yourself that. But you've gotten stubborner than Porthos with a bone, and if you keep it up, you're gonna run into a whole mess a trouble."

"I know how to handle my crew, Trip." Jon heard his voice rising and took a deep breath to recenter himself.

"If you say so." Trip scratched Porthos behind the ears for a minute, then looked over at Jon. "But if you don't mind me sayin' so, I think you're lettin' personal feelings get in the way a professional judgment."

Jon slammed the mostly-empty wine bottle on the table and faced his old friend. "You're out of line, Commander!"

"I don't think I am, Jon." Trip leaned forward, and Porthos scrambled to the floor. "You want Malcolm, and you're convinced he's got some big secret, and that if ya crack it, you'll have the inside edge to him, and that'll show ya the way ta his heart. How'm I doin' so far?" Jon just glared. "But the thing is, Cap'n, he thinks you're tryin' ta find a way ta drum him off Enterprise."

"That's ridiculous!"

"To you and me, maybe, 'cause we know the truth. But how's it gonna look ta Malcolm?" He stabbed a finger at Jon. "You're pokin' at him all the time, askin' him how he's feelin', if the pressure's too much, whatever. Ya really do start ta sound like you're waitin' for him ta fail."

Jon turned his back to Trip. "You're absurd."

Trip rose angrily from the couch. "Maybe I am. But ya asked me ta tell ya when I noticed problems in the crew, and I'm noticin' a big one right here: Malcolm's got a problem with *you.*"

He stormed out. Jon snorted. The man had no idea what he was talking about.


Malcolm's nightmares became red and pulsing, like the light behind his eyelids when he closed them during sex. When Archer attacked him, the blows felt like a bondage game gone awry. When Archer rescued him, Malcolm fell into his arms like a romance novel heroine the instant they were out of danger. Every time, he woke hard and sweating and shivered himself back to sleep.


"How's the leg, Lieutenant?"

Swearing to himself, Malcolm readjusted the settings on his treadmill. "Very well, Captain; thank you for your concern." He watched in dismay as Archer climbed onto the treadmill beside his. Almost unconsciously, Malcolm's finger twitched on the controls, speeding up the belt.

"Good." Archer started a deceptively easy lope on his own machine. "No pain?"

"No, sir." Malcolm kept his eyes glued to the far wall.

Archer glanced at him briefly. "Because if it's bothering you, we can arrange for—"

"Thank you, Captain, but I have the exercises Dr. Phlox assigned me, and they work quite nicely."

"All right." They fell into silence, and Malcolm cast surreptitious glances at his workout statistics to see how soon he could realistically hope to get the hell out from under Archer's scrutiny. Beside him, Archer's preprogrammed run gained speed and angle. Archer matched the pace easily, but he looked as though his mind was fixed on something else entirely. "I worry that I might have let you return to full duty too soon."

Malcolm stumbled on the treadmill, arms flailing for the controls as he tried to keep from falling to the belt or flying into the wall.

"Malcolm! Are you all right?"

The Lieutenant cut power to his treadmill and had staggered off before the belt came to a full stop. "I—I'm sorry, Captain," he said, struggling to keep his voice steady. "I have to be going now."

"Lieutenant?" Archer's voice chased him out of the room. "Malcolm, what's wr—"

Malcolm didn't stop running until he reached his quarters. Vaguely, he thought he heard the sound of Archer pursuing him, asking him to stop, but he would not, and the instant he was inside his quarters he put a DND order on the door that even the Captain couldn't override. Malcolm collapsed against a wall and wrapped his arms around himself. His breath came in ragged gasps; a cramp gripped his calf. He ignored it all and let his world spin to blackness.


Later that day Malcolm found himself staring at a wall of knives and phase pistols, wondering what would happen if he turned one of them on himself. He'd been shot and stabbed any number of times, but the wounds had never been self-inflicted. He wondered if it would feel different than when someone else did it to him.


"Have you tried *asking* him what he's up to?"

"That would go over smashingly, wouldn't it?" Malcolm's hand stilled, his scanner hovering idly over the conduit. "'Captain Archer, I couldn't help noticing that you are attempting to discover a reason to dismiss me.'" He grimaced.

"That's *not* what he's doing!" Travis groaned. Sometimes, the effort it took to penetrate that thick British skull was more than he had in him. "Look, if you want my advice—"

"Which I'm not entirely certain I do—"

Rolling over Malcolm's aside, Travis continued, "You have to stop walling yourself off."

"I'm not!" Malcolm frowned and held out his hand for wire cutters. "That is, no more than usual."

Travis handed over the tool. "Are you sure? Seems to me you're closed up tighter than an oyster. And if you keep it up, the Captain's going to think you're hiding something."

"And if I let my guard down, he's going to think I'm falling apart and no longer fit for duty." Malcolm wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. "If you'd heard him in the exercise room, Travis—the way he was talking about me returning to duty after the Romulan mine—"


The Lieutenant pulled his hand away from the wall as though scorched. "Oh, my God." He'd nearly severed the wrong wire, which would have cut power to every system in this sector. Shaking, he set his wire cutters on the ground. "My God, Travis," he whispered. He looked at his friend, his eyes flooded with panic. "Is he right?"


"Two ships approaching starboard, Captain," Travis said.

Jon left his chair and came to stand behind the helm. "Anybody we know?"

T'Pol slid the periscope back into place. "They do not resemble any vessel we are familiar with. I am consulting the Vulcan database."

"Try hailing them, in the meantime." Jon smiled. First contact.

They waited, and Hoshi shook her head. "No response, Captain."

"Keep trying, Ensign."

Hoshi nodded. "Aye, sir."

"Captain." T'Pol was watching the displays in front of her with as near a thing to a puzzled frown as you'd ever see on a Vulcan. "I am reading an unusual energy increase in one of the ships."

Jon crossed to her side. "Are they charging weapons?"

"I do not believe so, but I am unable to determine—" The ship quivered once. Not a weapon strike, but something had definitely just pinged them. On screen, the two ships went to warp and disappeared.

"Tucker to the bridge."

Malcolm leaned over and hit the comm, and Jon nodded his thanks. "What's going on, Commander?"

Trip's voice was a mixture of frustration and amusement. "I was hopin' you'd tell me, Cap'n. Everything looks normal enough here, but—"

"Dear God!"


But Malcolm was already on his feet and dashing off the bridge.

Jon turned hopelessly to T'Pol. "Subcommander?"

T'Pol switched her displays so she saw what Malcolm had seen. She paled just visibly, a sure sign that they were in mortal danger. "I believe that the alien vessel has released an airborne pathogen into Enterprise's ventilation system."

"What!" He leaned over her shoulder and looked where she pointed. "How is that possible?"

"I do not know, but I would hypothesize that it is related to the energy surge we experienced earlier. The pathogen will begin to disperse in forty seconds."

"So where the hell is Malcolm going?"

The science officer's lips compressed slightly. "It would be unwise of me to try to predict the Lieutenant's movements, Captain."

"Forget that," Travis snapped. "He's going to deactivate the ventilation system and neutralize the pathogen."

Jon was deathly pale as he turned to the Ensign. "He wouldn't."

"You know he would, Captain," Hoshi said quietly, her hand shaking where it grabbed the edge of her station.

Jon stormed to the comm panel. "Archer to Reed."

There was frozen a moment of staticky silence, and then, "I'm afraid this isn't the best of times to talk, Captain."

Jon slammed his hand against the wall. "Damn it, Lieutenant, you will come back to the bridge this instant."

"I'm not in the best of positions to do that just now, sir."

"This is suicide!"

Malcolm chuckled. "Possibly."

"Get *out* of there, Malcolm! That is an order."

Another frozen silence, then Malcolm's voice, tinged with tense cynicism. "You may take the matter up with Starfleet Command when this crisis is resolved, Captain. That is, if any of us remain to take it up with them. I am at the main ventilation control panel, and I can see the capsule the alien vessel attached to it. I wonder how they managed to get it in here," he mused absently. "I have sealed the room, and I am disabling the ventilation system. Should I be unable to deactivate the capsule, the pathogen will not travel to the rest of the ship."

Jon turned to Travis. "Can you talk any sense into him?"

Travis shrugged. "Malcolm, this is crazy."

"This is my job, Travis. I know what I'm doing."

"Oh, I bet you do," Jon snapped.

The silence was so enormous it pressed against all of their chests. Jon's eyebrows lowered dangerously. "Lieutenant?"

"Is that your command opinion, Captain?" Malcolm asked brokenly.

Travis gritted his teeth. "Not *now,* Malcolm!"

"What the hell is he talking about?" Jon demanded, staring at his helmsman.

A buzzer began shrieking. "Captain," T'Pol warned, "the pathogen—"

"Get out of there, Lieutenant!"

"Shit! The capsule's disintegrating!"

The bridge swayed in Jon's vision. "Malcolm—"

"The capsule has activated," T'Pol said bleakly.

"Got it!" Malcolm's voice across the comm link was triumphant, but they couldn't miss how weak it sounded.

Jon smacked the comm panel. "Archer to Sick Bay." He didn't give Phlox time to respond. "Doctor, get a team to the control room immediately. Lieutenant Reed's breathing some sort of airborne pathogen; he's going to—" Jon's breath caught in his throat, and he curled his hand into a tight fist. "He's probably going to be in pretty bad shape. Archer out." He sagged momentarily against the railing and then righted himself and stumbled towards the door. "Subcommander, you have the bridge—get the bastards that did this. I'll be in Sick Bay."

He'd be in Sick Bay hoping to God his entire world wasn't about to collapse out from under him.


Doctor Phlox met him at the doors, but Jon didn't give him time to say a thing. "Where is he?"

"Right here, Captain," Phlox soothed, leading the way to a biobed.

"Is he…?" No way those words were passing Jon's lips.

Phlox smiled gently. "He's fine, Captain. He did inhale a small amount of the pathogen, but its effects seem to have been no more severe than respiratory irritation."

Jon shuddered as he looked down at the too-still form on the bed. "He's…unconscious?"

"Just asleep." Phlox nudged him. "Go on, you can wake him up."

Jon bit his lip, unable to reconcile his simultaneous desires to kiss Malcolm and shake him until his teeth rattled.

Before the choice could be made, the armory officer stirred, and pain-fogged eyes opened slowly. "Captain Archer?" He grimaced. "I'm alive, then; dead wouldn't hurt this much. And…the pathogen?"

"Completely neutralized. We're chasing down the bastards right now." Jon gripped Malcolm's hand. "I gave you a direct order, Lieutenant."

The blue-gray eyes shut again, and Malcolm shifted on the bed. "I suppose, in the long run, that a court-martial is preferable to death."

"Damn it, Malcolm, you could've been killed!"

"The entire *crew* could've been killed, Captain. I only did what anyone would have."

Jon could easily have argued with that. "Why didn't you say something? We would have sent a team—"

"There wasn't time." Malcolm tried to bring his hand up to rub his eyes and found it still entangled with Jon's. He frowned, and Jon hastily let go. "I only just got there in time."

"I can't let you continue to take these risks, Malcolm!" Jon stopped. The Captain of the ship didn't have the luxury of hysterics.

Malcolm's head turned away from him. "You needn't worry for much longer, sir. As soon as Doctor Phlox clears me to leave, I will be contacting Starfleet to request a transfer."

At once it was very, very cold in Sick Bay. Jon stared at his Lieutenant. "What?" he whispered.

"It has come to my attention recently that—" Malcolm stopped for a wheezing cough. "That you no longer trust me to perform my duties satisfactorily. The delay caused by your second-guessing me, and the subsequent self-doubt it awoke in me, nearly caused me not to deactivate the capsule in time."

Jon dragged a chair from the back wall and collapsed onto it. "What second-guessing?" He could barely *see,* let alone follow this conversation.

Malcolm snorted impatiently. "When I said I knew what I was doing, you responded, and I quote, 'Oh, I bet you do.'" Apparently, Commander Tucker wasn't the only crew member Malcolm could impersonate with merciless accuracy. "You lack faith in my performance. I cannot continue to endanger Enterprise in this manner."

"You mean you can't continue to serve under a commanding officer who won't let you surrender to your death wish!"

Malcolm's eyes narrowed. "Death wish, sir?"

"Admit it, Lieutenant." Jon leaped out of his chair and leaned down until he was *very* close to Malcolm. The armory officer tried to withdraw, but on a biobed, there was no place to go. "Your thoughts have been of a suicidal bent for weeks now, and you thought one last act of heroism would be a perfect send-off."

Malcolm struggled upright on the bed. "Captain, I have *no* idea what you are talking about, but I can assure you that suicide was the *furthest* thing from my mind!"

"Gentlemen!" Dr. Phlox appeared beside the bed, his mouth stretched in a frown every inch as broad as his smiles. "I had not realized that preliminaries to the Earth human mating rite were so violent, but I must insist that you keep your volume to a minimum." He fixed a glare on Jon. "Besides which, Captain, Lieutenant Reed is recuperating and should avoid strenuous activities of *all* kinds." He stalked away, yanking the curtain closed around the bed as he went.

"Malcolm," Jon hissed, too incensed to have heard a word the doctor said, "I don't know what you're hiding from me, but it can't be bad enough to *die* for."

"I'm not hiding *anything* from you, Captain!" Malcolm snapped back with equal intensity. "I fail to understand why you so badly wish to prove that I am having a breakdown, but it cannot be worth risking the lives of the other crewmembers!"

"What are you *talking* about?"

"What are *you* talking about?"

They stared at each other. Slowly, very slowly, a truly awful thought was trying to break into their minds. They were fighting it with everything they had, and they were losing.

"That morning in the mess," Jon began hesitantly, "when you were talking about the Labouchere Amendment…there was clearly more you weren't saying. Something you were keeping from me. Something about your parents, maybe."

Malcolm's forehead furrowed. "No, Captain. My relationship with my parents is always…disapponting to me, especially after I talk with them, but it was no worse than usual. That morning, I was having some difficulties with the duty roster, but it was hardly a secret." His eyes narrowed. "Is that why you've been prying so? You think I'm keeping something from you?"

Jon blinked slowly. "And you thought I was trying to find some crack in you, the crack I could force open until you fell apart." Malcolm nodded. "God. No wonder you were so…closed off."

"Yes, sir," Malcolm whispered.

A strange hitching began in Jon's chest, and he had no idea if he was laughing or crying. "God. The past week has been—I was so worried about you."

"You…you were?" Malcolm flushed and dropped his eyes.

Jon fell back into the chair, leaning away from Malcolm. The sudden revelation of a week of tragic misinterpretation didn't give him the right to force his feelings on the Lieutenant. "You're very important to Enterprise, Malcolm," he said quietly. "And to me."

Malcolm smiled a bit wistfully. "Thank you, sir. Enterprise is very important to me." He swallowed. "As are you."

They stared at each other, and Jon's hand began traveling back up towards Malcolm's.

"Permission to speak very, *very* freely, sir?" Malcolm blurted.

Jon's hand thudded back into his lap. "Of course, Lieutenant."

"I…sir, I have recently been having—" Malcolm's blush spread all the way to his hands, and he stared anywhere the Captain was not. "I have been having what can only be termed 'erotic nightmares.'" His hands formed fists at his sides, and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "About you."

God, this would be so much easier if he could get air into his lungs. "Malcolm—" Jon leaned forward. "Malcolm, I've wanted to pursue a relationship with you for quite some time." Blue-gray eyes snapped open and latched onto his face in shock. Jon shook his head and pressed his tongue against the back of his teeth. "But I won't hurt you. If you want a relationship that involves inflicting pain on you, you'll have to find it somewhere else."

Slowly, Malcolm's fists uncurled. He took a deep breath, and then another, and Jon jumped forward as it turned into a wracking cough. Malcolm held up his hand. "Thank you, Captain; I'm all right now." Jon crossed his arms, and Malcolm smiled faintly. "Truly, sir. I'm all right." Jon relaxed. Malcolm stared at the Sick Bay ceiling, then turned his head towards Jon. "I won't say I'm not disappointed. I feel this facet of my personality bears exploring." He frowned. Jon wasn't breathing again. "But you may be right; it may be better for me, all things considered, not to do so just now."

And then he smiled. A broad, unguarded smile that lit his eyes so brightly it almost hurt to look at them. Jon sagged against the biobed, and Malcolm grabbed his hand and held it tightly. "Are you *sure,* Malcolm?" he whispered as his heart banged frantically against his ribs. "Are you absolutely sure?"

Panic flashed across the Lieutenant's face. "If you don't think that it's a good idea, sir—"

Jon took a deep breath. What had he *done* to the man? "It won't be easy, that's for certain." He raised Malcolm's hand to his mouth and kissed it. "But I don't think I've had a better idea in a really long time."

Jon was just going to have to deal with being unable to breathe quite right when Malcolm smiled. "You'll have to be patient, Jon." He added Malcolm saying his name like that to his list of things that disrupted his air flow. He closed his free hand over Malcolm's as the Lieutenant added, "It's been a strange week."

Jon chuckled and pulled his chair closer to the bed. "You should sleep, Malcolm."

Malcolm's eyes darkened. "I'm not sure I can," he whispered. "The nightmares—"

"I can have the doctor give you something, if you'd like." "I'd rather not." This was said with a grimace.

"You have to sleep, Malcolm." He smoothed brown hair back from a pale forehead. "I'll stay, if that will help."

Although his face twisted painfully as he did, Malcolm shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea yet."

Jon's heart plummeted, but he nodded and stood. "I understand. I'll send Dr. Phlox to check on you."

"Thank you, Jon."

"May I come by later?"

Malcolm chuckled, and Jon had to acknowledge that he did sound like an awkward adolescent. "I'd like that very much."

"Good. Until then." Jon hesitated briefly, then leaned down and pressed a gentle kiss to Malcolm's lips. They smiled at each other, and Malcolm looked as though ten years of worry had been lifted from him.

Jon wasn't sure how much of the damage to Malcolm's psyche was his fault, and how much had been wrought long before he ever met the man, but at this point he didn't care. Short of whips and handcuffs, whatever was needed to fix Malcolm, they would do it. Together.

He just hoped they would prove strong enough to handle it.

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