Title: Comfort Eating

Author: Weebob

E-mail: weebob@fsmail.net

Date: 07/08/03

Fandom: Star Trek Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: PG

Category: pre-slash

Beta: Self

Feedback: Yes. Pretty Please!

Archive: EntSTCommunity. Others, please ask first

Summary: A brush with death provokes confession.

Spoilers: Minefield, The Communicator, Shuttlepod One.

Disclaimer: I don't own or have any rights to the Star Trek universe, "Enterprise", or any of its characters—they belong to UPN/Paramount. I am making no money from this story.

AN: Sap alert!

It was after the debriefing that it began to really torture him—not that it hadn't been bothering him sooner, it was just momentarily forgotten during the fire fight and the dramatic escape in the Suliban cell ship.

He'd almost got his Captain killed.

Trip, Travis and Captain Archer had all been euphoric during the short journey back to Enterprise, and Malcolm had tried to join in with the excitement, but his participation was short-lived. By the time they were docking, he'd begun picking apart his actions, counting his errors, listing his inadequacies.

Dr Phlox had fixed up his cuts and bruises in no time, but Malcolm habitually concealed the wounds that were giving him the most pain. Now, he sat alone in his quarters, scrutinising his failures with is usual meticulous precision. He'd been incredibly stupid to lose his communicator: so caught up in the excitement of the away mission, and the beauty of the city's architecture, that he hadn't even missed the device until they were back aboard ship.

He knew he shouldn't have let Archer return with him to search for it: he should have gone alone, risked only himself, but he'd been so panicked by what he'd done that he couldn't think straight.

Malcolm rarely made mistakes and, when they did occur, they were usually so minor as to be barely noticeable. You didn't grow up to do shoddy work when Stuart Reed was your father: the slightest error would have earned you a thrashing and a night shut in the cold, dark basement of the family home. You checked and double-checked, memorised the rules until they were second nature to you—simply didn't allow yourself to fail. It was perfection or nothing.

But he had failed. Badly. Instead of protecting his Captain, he'd put him in mortal danger. Instead of trying to plead for Archer's life, he'd stood; mute, at the steps to the gallows while Archer pleaded for his. Malcolm had been taught never to acknowledge fear or it would gain the upper hand and he'd told his Captain, only moments after hearing that they were to be executed, that he wasn't afraid—but standing there, beside the scaffold, and seeing the dangling nooses awaiting them, his courage failed and he'd been frozen into silence.

The doors of his quarters shut behind him and he slowly looked around himself, still a little dazed by all that had happened. Everything was in its place and pristine, the bed neatly made and his clothes perfectly hung or folded. The walls were bare of decoration and, instead of the usual family photographs and personal mementoes favoured by his crewmates, Malcolm's shelves held technical manuals and one or two old fashioned books. Trip had called his quarters soulless. Sometimes he envied them.

Bloodied, unshaven and smelling none too fresh after his incarceration, he gratefully stripped off his clothing and drifted into the shower. Although Phlox had treated them both, they still had some bruising left over from their interrogation and Malcolm's lip was slightly swollen. He glimpsed it in the bathroom mirror and the sight triggered another surge of memories of watching his Captain being beaten while he stood by, held at gunpoint and powerless to assist. He scrubbed viciously at his eyes, trying to dispel the accusing mental images.

Jonathan Archer had been the surprise to end all surprises when Malcolm had come aboard his ship. A spit-and-polish military man through and through, Malcolm had immediately been irritated by the Captain's easy-going command style and alarmed to discover he took a personal interest in his crew.

He was a brave, kindly man—well meaning, if impulsive—but he had absolutely no concept of the necessity of maintaining a proper distance from his subordinates: nor did he appreciate the need for caution in such a ground-breaking, exploratory mission as was Enterprise's.

As Chief of Security, Malcolm lived on his nerves, trying to anticipate every possible threat to his Captain and crewmates. His concern, albeit with a smile and a gentle reproof, was usually dismissed by Archer as being over-the-top paranoia—but, more often than not, Malcolm's instincts were right and it was he who ended up paying the price for Archer's trusting nature.

Finding it hard to keep his frustration to himself, Malcolm had recently lectured his Captain on how to do his job properly! There had been extenuating circumstances at the time, the Armoury Officer having been pinned to the Enterprise's hull, impaled by a defective Romulan mine he'd been attempting to defuse, but he felt a blush rising even as he recalled the incident. Archer had risked his life to aid Malcolm and Malcolm, shocked and under the influence of a potent cocktail of pain relievers prepared by Phlox, had repaid him by tearing his command style apart.

Through it all, Archer, unlike most of the people in Malcolm's life, had patiently weathered the storm, refusing to give up on the injured officer, and, finally, he'd brought him safely into harbour, devising a daring but effective solution to the stricken Lieutenant's plight. Although he'd managed to reinstate his professional demeanour shortly after the event, Malcolm had been charmed.

Drying off, he wandered back into his cabin and, distractedly, threw on a tee-shirt and sweats. How the mighty had fallen! He'd gone from telling his Captain how to do his job, to proving he couldn't do his own—the security officer who couldn't even keep his own possessions secure!

Desperate to escape the downward spiral of his thoughts, he suddenly remembered a bottle of bourbon with which Trip had presented him, as a memento, after their brush with death on the damaged Shuttlepod One. Getting drunk seemed like a good plan right now and the resulting hangover would go some way towards the punishment he felt his negligence deserved.

Digging around in the closet where he had hidden the alcohol, in the hope of someday having cause to celebrate, something else caught his eye. It had become public knowledge that he had a weakness for pineapple, thanks to Captain Archer's desire to find out his favourite food to mark his birthday in some way. Several weeks later, Hoshi had presented him with a tin of it as a "thank you" for the extra tuition he'd given her on using a phase pistol. A man of moderate appetites and iron discipline, he'd been hoarding it ever since—as a treat for a rainy day.

Well, they didn't get much rainier than this.

He really wasn't particularly hungry—his appetite had been gone from the moment his stomach began its sickly churning when he realised his communicator was missing—but, in his misery, the comforting sweetness of the fruit suddenly appealed to him.

For once in his life surrendering to a selfish impulse, he tugged the lid off the tin, peered in at the juicy yellow chunks and inhaled the exotic, fruity aroma. Memories of Nanny Barker, the one bright spot in his infancy, making pineapple upside-down cake for he and Madeline when their parents were away, brought a tired smile to his face.

Feeling oddly decadent, he locked his door, put a "do not disturb" signal on it, then climbed into bed and guiltily, wolfed the pineapple with his fingers, drinking the juice straight from the tin. It all slid down rather nicely and, his inner hunger somewhat satiated, he began to unwind a bit.

Reaction to the prolonged stress he'd so recently been under was beginning to set in and drowsiness was creeping over him. There was no place he had to be so, yawning, he squirmed down further under the blankets and, too tired to be tidy, put the empty pineapple can on the floor beside his bunk, killed the lights and closed his eyes.

It was only when he felt the strange, tight feeling in his throat, and realised he was having trouble breathing, that he remembered: Chef had exhausted his stocks of pineapple and so it had been off the Enterprise menu for some time. Malcolm, therefore, had stopped getting injections for his bromelin allergy.


Jonathan Archer had been troubled by his Armoury officer's withdrawal after the debriefing. Malcolm Reed was a highly-strung, socially awkward individual and, although he was an excellent Armoury Officer, and would have defended his ship and crewmates with his life, he was shy, distant and difficult to get to know.

Unfortunately, getting to know him was Archer's fondest desire.

The Captain had tried to shrug off the Lieutenant's hasty retreat as just being part of his complex temperament but, knowing Malcolm's tendency to take failures very much to himself, it had niggled him all the way through dinner and now, still uneasy, he found himself heading for Reed's quarters.

Seeing the message at the doorbell, he rang it anyway, announcing himself through the intercom when no reply was forthcoming in a reasonable time. It wasn't hard to decide to use his override code. The room was occupied and, even if Malcolm had been sleeping, Archer knew he'd have been out of his bunk and all but saluting at the sound of his Captain's voice.

A knot of fear was clenching in his stomach and, as the door slid open on a pitch-black interior, he felt his heart leap into his mouth. There was a sound coming from the bed, but not the peaceful, relaxed breathing of a sleeper. It was the harsh gasping of somebody struggling for air. He hit the lights.

Malcolm lay on his bunk, head tilted back on the pillow, eyes closed, and mouth open. His lips were faintly tinged with blue and perspiration misted his skin and soaked his hair. Both hands were grabbing fistfuls of blanket and his chest rose and fell in a panicky and ineffectual struggle for breath.

Archer pressed the comm-panel "Phlox. Get to Malcolm's quarters right away. He can't breathe." He darted back to the bunk and examined the distressed officer, checking for any obstruction to his airways. Grasping his shoulders, he shook him slightly: "Malcolm! Malcolm, hang on. Help's on its way."

Expressive grey eyes were suddenly regarding him with a mixture of panic and fear. His body rigid, Malcolm worked to squeeze out a reply—but it never came. Abruptly, he went limp and very, very still.

Archer was too stunned to react but felt himself being pushed aside as Phlox barrelled to the bedside. The Denobulan instantly scanned the Lieutenant's unmoving body then hurriedly loaded a hypospray. "He's having a serious allergic reaction, Captain. It looks like he forgot to get his bromelin medication—do you see that pineapple tin?"

Scanning Malcolm again, and re-applying the hypospray with a stronger dosage, the doctor frowned: "One would think, at his age, he'd be more careful with his health. Still, it looks like we've caught him in time. It was fortuitous that you discovered him when you did, Captain. He's stabilising now but I'll just have him moved to sickbay for observation."

The Captain blinked. Something the doctor had just said bothered him—yet he couldn't quite figure out what it was. He gazed at Malcolm's now-peaceful form and was suddenly loathe to disturb him, so seldom did he see his Armoury Officer so tranquil. "Is that strictly necessary, Doctor? I'd be happy to keep an eye on him here." He abruptly felt the need to justify his concern: "I mean, I doubt if I would be able to sleep tonight anyway—still too wound up after our little experience planetside." He tried to sound casual and jocular but Phlox gazed at him quizzically

"I do generally prefer to have recovering patients were I can see them but I suppose I can trust my Captain to alert me to any problems in this instance. Be sure to call me right away if anything seems amiss. He should be coming round any minute now—ah, welcome back, Lieutenant."

Malcolm awoke to the familiar sound of the ship's doctor speaking in his peculiarly sing-song manner. He opened his eyes cautiously and started at the blurry vision of the Denobulan giving him a disconcerting face-splitting grin. Behind the doctor, however, was another, equally fuzzy figure—one he had hoped not to see for quite some time.

A wave of nausea rolled over him and he swallowed, only to feel like he was attempting to ingest broken glass. His grimace alerted Phlox to the problem and his head was gently lifted to allow him to sip some pink liquid which the doctor offered. A pleasant numbness followed it down as he swallowed and he sighed in relief. "Thank you, Doctor. That's much better."

Phlox nodded "Glad to hear it, Lieutenant. I'm also relieved that you seem to have escaped unscathed from a very nasty allergic reaction. You really must be more careful about what you eat until we can find a way to permanently knock these food sensitivities of yours on the head."

Phlox got to his feet again and headed for the door "He seems to be recovering well, Captain, so I'll be on my way. Keep him resting and drinking plenty of fluids. And try to get some sleep yourself, won't you?"

Archer nodded and watched him leave before pulling a chair over to the bed and settling himself beside his patient. His foot accidentally nudged the empty pineapple tin and the illusive "something" that Phlox had said came sharply into focus: Malcolm—dear precise, meticulous Malcolm—DID know better than to eat pineapple without first having his medication, so why had he done so? The Captain could think of only one reason.

Trying to control his whirling thoughts, he smiled reassuringly at the befuddled officer.

"Well, Malcolm, I think two close calls in one day is overdoing it, don't you?"

Malcolm felt his face grow hot: "Yes, Sir. I'm sorry to have been such a nuisance. And my incompetence earlier ."

Archer shook his head "At ease, Lieutenant. There's nothing you can teach me about making mistakes so don't waste your time trying."

The younger man was growing agitated "Sir, I must protest. I almost got you killed! As Captain of this vessel, it is your duty to ."

Standing up so suddenly that Malcolm was surprised into silence, Archer lost his control. "My duty is as I see fit, Lieutenant."

Startled eyes stared up at him "But Sir!"

Archer held up a hand, enjoining silence "In the very recent past you made it perfectly clear what you think of my command style, Malcolm, but I really don't give a damn."

Malcolm was sitting up now, squashed as far as he could get into the furthest corner of his bunk. He was still very pale but now his eyes were moist too and he looked a little scared. Archer softened at the sight.

"Oh Malcolm, what is it with you? You seem to be fitted with some kind of self-destruct mechanism. Have you any idea what it does to me when you try to throw your life away?"

The figure on the bunk blinked "Sir? I don't understand what ."

Archer was into his stride now: there were things he needed to say and he wouldn't let himself be interrupted "I love you Malcolm. I didn't come out on the hull when you were pinned under that mine just because I needed the exercise! And there you were, trying to force my hand, trying to get me to leave you to die in space. And tonight . I almost lost you again. I saw you when you left the briefing room. I should have known you'd try something like this."

He gestured toward the empty pineapple tin then his attention was abruptly drawn back to Malcolm, who seemed to be reacting badly to what he was saying. The officer was holding his breath and had gone rigid where he sat, his face even paler than before. Archer panicked and darted forward to shake him. "No! Don't do this to me! Breathe Malcolm."

Shocked out of his stillness, Malcolm gulped in air but the Captain watched him anxiously: "Are you alright?"

The Armoury Officer nodded dazedly, warily watching Archer as if searching for an opportunity to bolt for the door.

The Captain sighed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to start lecturing you. I just came here tonight to see if you were OK. You seemed so lost after we got back to the ship that I was worried about you. You're always beating yourself up for something and you don't seem to believe me when I tell you what an excellent officer you are. Losing your communicator was an aberration: it could have happened to anybody. And you didn't nearly get me killed. I chose to go with you. You had no say in the matter."

Malcolm looked stunned and fought to control himself enough to speak "Sir, I . I'm very grateful for your concern but I honestly didn't try to harm myself tonight. It really was an accident. Hoshi gave me the pineapple ages ago and I found it when I was looking for something else. I was feeling miserable and I suppose you could say I was comfort-eating. I was tired and it was a spur of the moment thing—I forgot I hadn't had any medication for weeks."

Mortified at baring his soul for nought, Archer dropped his head forward to bang it softly on the nearest bulkhead "Oh!"

After a moment, there was a whisper of movement behind him then he was aware of Malcolm's hand tentatively grasping his arm: "Sir, I hope you're not seeing this as another of the mistakes you say you keep making?" His voice was hesitant and nervous but he battled on regardless: "You've always seemed so concerned for me, but you take good care of all of your crew. I—I never dared hope that you might see me as something, well, special"

Slowly, afraid to believe what he was hearing, Archer turned and found Malcolm's earnest grey eyes looking, unflinchingly, into his own. Surprised and delighted, he smiled: "I've never been able to see you as anything but special—even though you've been trying to push me away as hard as possible."

Malcolm blushed and lowered his gaze "I'm sorry. I was afraid you'd realise I had feelings for you too. Where I did most of my officer training, its not appropriate to be attracted to one's Captain and it felt so wrong. Today, though, every time I looked at you in that cell, knowing there would never be another chance to tell you how I felt. how much I wanted—still want—you."

His heart soaring, Archer stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the smaller man, feeling the slight body tense then relax against him as Malcolm shyly returned his embrace.

"If you want me, you've got me. But do me a favour, Malcolm. Next time you need comforting, come to me—and leave the damn pineapple alone."

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