Turbo lift E Deck, 2018 hours, July 7 2152

"Well, Malcolm, I can't wait to read your report on this mission."

Malcolm turned to see that his captain was smiling evilly. The Armory officer shook his head, too tired to be either annoyed or amused.

"I hope you won't mind if I don't submit the mission report until tomorrow morning, sir. After Phlox discharges us I plan on getting a good night's rest."

Archer nodded, patting the younger man on the shoulder as they stepped out of the turbo lift. "No problem at all, lieutenant. In fact, I don't want to see it on my desk until tomorrow afternoon. You should sleep in tomorrow. Don't worry about the report."

He laughed as they walked down the corridor. "After the way today ended, I'd say we both could use a day off."

Malcolm nodded tiredly. "I couldn't agree more, captain."

They'd just rounded a corner when someone caught sight of them and came running. Malcolm seemed to wake up when he saw her and took a few steps towards the uniformed blur, catching her in a tight hug. The two of them embraced, kissing gently at first and then with less restraint.

Archer couldn't tell who the other person was until the couple turned slightly and he saw the side of Jean's face over Malcolm's shoulder.

So the rumors I've heard about them are true. . .

He smiled and shook his head.

Good for them. Malcolm's been more relaxed recently, less tense, and his performance of his duties hasn't suffered at all. Jean's been her usual shiny self. . . hold on, 'shiny'? She's changing my vocabulary. She'll get a kick out of that. As soon as they stop kissing Malcolm'll start worrying what his captain thinks of all this. I won't give him a reason to worry.

He looked at the two of them again and saw that they weren't kissing anymore. Now their eyes were locked on each other, but as far as Archer could tell, neither of them had said a word yet.

Jean's eyes were traveling over Malcolm's face, taking in every cut and bruise he'd collected on the second leg of their mission. Her fingers delicately touched the redness near his split lip and then lingered by a bruise on his temple.

"Sickbay?"

It was less of a suggestion than a question of his intent. He nodded slightly, sighing contentedly as she walked her fingers up past his ear to run them through his hair. One of his hands reached out to rest on her cheek, moving slightly upwards when she smiled and turned to place a kiss in his palm.

"Ahem."

Archer cleared his throat, perversely enjoying the look of sheer panic that crossed the Armory officer's face when he turned to his captain.

You're such a sadist, Jon. Why don't you cut the man some slack? You know he won't be cutting himself any.

"Malcolm and I were just on our way to Sickbay, as a matter of fact. Would you care to join us?"

She grinned, stepped slightly into Malcolm and murmured close to his ear "We have nothing to be ashamed of."

Nodding very slightly, he put his arm around her shoulders and followed her over to stand by their captain.

"Thank you, sir. As a matter of fact I would."

The three of them started walking down the corridor with Jean between the two men. She and Archer could both tell just by looking at him that Malcolm was horribly uncomfortable. She had to bite her tongue to keep from teasing him about it.

She knew how important rank, file, proper military discipline and all that was to him, and with her hand on his back she could feel how tense he was. As soon as Archer had cleared his throat Malcolm had gone rigid, standing ramrod straight and walking stiffly with all his attention focused on the corridor ahead of them. Now his muscles were knotted tightly like coils of twisted steel under his alien costume.

Considering how sore he was from General Gosis' interrogation, he found being this tense to be quite painful. Without needing to be asked, Jean began to give him a bit of a neck and shoulder rub as they walked. This was already beginning to convince him to relax, but what Archer said to break the silence took care of his tension for good.

"I received a communiqué from Admiral Forrest a few months ago." He tried to suppress a smile as he glanced at the people walking beside him and saw that they were listening intently.

"Apparently the Starfleet brass took a good look at our regulations and decided to update a few things. Did you know that some of our regulations were taken straight from 19th and 20th century naval codes? Anyway, the admiralty realized that some rules and standards were out of date and needed to be changed."

Jean's heart skipped a beat and she darted a look over to Malcolm. Oh, please let him be saying what I think he's saying . . .

"Considering the nature of our mission and the fact that the crew is pretty much cut off from the rest of humanity as far as socializing goes, the first things they changed were the rules pertaining to fraternization. The way the revised Code of Conduct is now, any crewmember can pursue a romantic relationship with any other crewmember regardless of rank or position. Of course, it has to be consensual and if it negatively impacts their duties then their CO can decide what should be done. Unless that happens, any two people can be together and Starfleet won't interfere."

A hesitant smile was beginning to grow on Malcolm's face. "Captain, are you saying that, hypothetically of course, a senior officer could be involved with an ensign?"

Archer returned his officer's smile, looking at them both fondly and nodding. "Yes, Malcolm, they could. Hypothetically of course. In other words, you have my blessing."

Jean smirked and linked her free arm through the captain's. "So, would that be your hypothetical blessing, sir, or. . .?"

The smile on Archer's face matured into a grin and he shook his head, starting to laugh. "Oh, of course. If you don't mind my asking, when did this start?"

"Well, sir, that depends. When did you receive the message from the Admiral?"

Surprised to hear the cheeky reply spoken in an English accent, he turned and saw that Malcolm was, no, it couldn't be . . . The lieutenant was grinning at his captain with what looked like Jean's signature evil glint in his eyes.

Archer was amazed. He'd never seen Malcolm this relaxed before, especially around his CO, except for a few times when he'd been sedated.

Well, hasn't love been called a kind of drug?

The man seemed happy – truly, genuinely happy, not just the kind of happy that came from building something new in the Armory or from having a first contact actually go as planned – and it occurred to Archer that even if the rules hadn't been changed he still would've given them a green-light.

These two'll be really good for each other, but if I hadn't seen it for myself I wouldn'tve believed it. Does Trip know?

"I got the message two or three months ago, but the Admiral told me that the changes had been made back sometime around January. It'd slipped his mind since it wasn't really urgent news and then he'd been putting it off for a while. So," he studied Malcolm's face carefully, putting on a mock glare to complete the effect. "Does that change anything, Lieutenant?"

Jean and Malcolm were beaming at each other 'we're in the clear!'

"Sir, do you remember back in March when Daniels kidnapped you and Silik took over the ship with his little green men?"

Archer nodded, grimacing slightly. The mere thought of any Suliban, and especially of that specific Suliban, being in command of his ship made his skin crawl. However, her reference to the old earth stereotype of aliens forced him to smile. "I never really thought of them that way, but some of them do look like the 1950's idea of Martians. What about it? Was that when. . . ?"

Malcolm spoke up. "I believe that Sub-Commander T'Pol and Trip briefed you on how the crew regained control of the ship."

"They did." Archer nodded slowly, beginning to see where this conversation was headed. "You let the Suliban catch you leaving Daniels' quarters with his temporal comm. device. During their interrogation you gave them false information which kept Silik busy and made it possible for Daniels to return me to this century. If I'm remembering right, you got a pretty nasty beating from them."

Malcolm tensed up at the memory and his eyes got a distant look. "Yes sir, I did."

Flashes from that day started playing in his mind like a horrible movie. Silik's fist coming towards his face over and over again, hitting him so hard that he fell out of the Captain's chair and onto the deck, only to be hefted back into the chair again. And after each punch, after each question, each blow, he'd known that it was in his power to make the pain stop, to end the abuse.

But he couldn't do that, he couldn't be selfish. He had to give Trip and T'Pol as much time as possible. So he stayed quiet, and whenever he had a moment of weakness, of wanting to answer their questions so they'd let him go, the only words he allowed himself to say were 'I don't know.'

Eventually it had ended. When enough time had passed for his crewmates to retake engineering he told Silik the approved information and was unceremoniously dragged back to his quarters. And then . . .

He turned to smile at Jean, realizing as they walked through the Sickbay doors that she'd been steering him through the corridor this whole time. She moved closer to him when she saw the smile and continued to run a hand up and down his back, stopping every now and then to give his shoulder an affectionate squeeze.

I wonder when she started doing that . .

Malcolm noticed that the captain was looking at him expectantly, but Jean was already answering his unasked question. "It started that day, but there had been some . . "

A grin snuck onto Archer's face but he hid it and tried to nod seriously. "People did start to talk after the holiday party, but most of us just thought you two were close . . ."

It was clear that he had more to say, but just then Phlox came over and flashed the group a smile.

"Ah, gentlemen I've been expecting you. Captain, if you'll come over to a biobed I'll see to you and Jean will see to Mr. Reed, hmm?"

Archer gave Malcolm and Jean a look before nodding and following Phlox to the central bed. He idly wondered whether Phlox knew about the two of them and if that had anything to do with why he'd assigned her to look after Malcolm. Even if that is the reason, it really doesn't matter. Jean's a good doctor, and she's bound to be less confrontational with Reed than Phlox would be. He'll probably be more cooperative with her, too.

Jean nudged her patient's elbow, starting to lead him towards another biobed. He seemed like he was in a trance, not paying much attention to her or his surroundings. The expression on his face worried her, so she nudged him again.

"Hey. What's going on in that head of yours?"

They stopped next to one of the beds and Malcolm climbed onto it slowly, trying to avoid hurting his side. "That was a very bad day. . ."

She picked up a scanner, flipping it on and slowly passing it over him. "Yes it was." She stole a sympathetic glance at him, briefly resting her hand on his shoulder and then running it down his arm.

He let his body relax into the meager upholstery of the biobed, holding himself upright by bracing one hand against the thin cushion. " . . but the way it ended really wasn't bad at all." He smiled at her thoughtfully.

"No argument here. Could you take off your shirt?"

Malcolm looked up at the sudden question. "Hmm? Why?"

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "Since when do I need a reason?"

He tilted his head, winced, and reached a hand up to gingerly rub at his neck. "Fair point, but what's the medical rationale?"

"Some bruising to your liver." She twisted her hand, showing him the scanner data. "I want to see if there's surface bruising too, and maybe apply an anesthetic gel. But it'd make more sense to do that later, if you want to take a shower before bed."

He nodded tiredly. "And here I was thinking you just wanted to see me shirtless."

"That's always a possibility." She leaned in and kissed his cheek, lingering for another gentle kiss and then moving slightly to look at where he'd been rubbing his neck. "Your neck alright?"

She liked being able to do her job and be intimate with Malcolm at the same time. It legitimized her worrying over him and her status as a doctor meant that he wouldn't argue with her. At least, it meant that he wouldn't argue too much. Besides, he liked it when she fussed over him after he'd had a rough day.

There was a small bump near the base of his neck. She was glad to see that only part of it was bruised, and her scans showed that it was only superficial.

"It's just a little sore."

Nodding, she opened a tin of the gel and carefully spread some over the bump with her fingers. Usually she would have used a cotton swab to do that, but since the skin wasn't broken and considering who the patient was, she allowed herself some leeway. "How's that feel?"

He drew in a quiet breath when the cold gel touched his skin, but soon a comforting tingly sensation crept over the sore spot. "Hmm. That's better."

She kissed him again. "Good. And we could just lift your shirt, get a look at it that way."

The sooner we're done here the sooner we can go back to our quarters."

"Ours?"

"Mmmhm. Ours."

"I like that."