Sickbay, E Deck, 1926 hours, September 4 2153

Bright lights glared in Malcolm's eyes and he felt a flat but soft surface beneath him. He couldn't tell where he was or what was happening, he only knew that his body hurt all over. It wasn't a simple hurt from a bruise, although he had more than a few of those; it was a deep ache which almost felt like the bones themselves were changing shape and roughly pushing his organs around in the process. Malcolm gritted his teeth, trying to prevent any noises of distress from escaping his lips, but not before a partially stifled moan snuck out.

Almost immediately afterwards Malcolm felt two soft lips lightly brushing against his forehead. They hovered just over the skin for a few seconds, exhaling warm breath and murmuring kind words into his hair. "Shhh. It's alright. You're okay, sweetheart, you're okay. Shhh."

Another element entered his world and through the haze of pain there now came a soft comforting voice along with a pair of hands which alternately touched his face and held one of his hands. He squinted against the lights which seemed to have dimmed slightly and saw a familiar face hovering over him nervously. As soon as he recognized her he smiled and squeezed her hand to communicate his relief and joy. "Jean. . ."

She grinned in answer but didn't explain why she was so happy that he'd remembered her name. When he had been brought back aboard Enterprise as a Loquequec he hadn't been himself. Literally. He'd fought the MACOs tooth and nail all the way from the shuttlepod to decon and once he was sealed inside he kept throwing his body against the walls and panels, trying to get out. He'd spent the next few hours clawing at the doors and trying to hide from the flood of blue light which engulfed the small room and seemed to nearly blind him.

Because the mutagenic virus was extremely contagious she hadn't been allowed to be in decon with him, even in an EV suit, and had been forced to watch him try to escape again and again. The only thing harder for her than being forced to watch Malcolm suffer was not being able to help or comfort him.

Once Phlox had developed an anti-virus he'd had to administer it to the Captain and Hoshi first so they could go to the bridge and convince the containment vessel to stand down. Then it was Malcolm's turn.

Before the captain and Hoshi were even brought to Sickbay Phlox had flooded the decon chamber with a strong sedative to render Malcolm unconscious. When he was out cold Jean had gone into decon in an EV suit followed by an armed MACO bodyguard, also in an EV suit, to keep an eye on her patient while she administered a dose of the anti-virus. Once his vital signs and his DNA started returning to normal and he was no longer contagious they brought him into Sickbay and strapped him to a biobed, just in case he tried to fight either doctor when he came to.

Thankfully he'd begun to seem like himself again so Jean had removed the restraints, despite Sargent Chang's protests. Now she was holding one of his hands in hers while she leaned over him and let the other hand cradle his cheek lovingly.

"Welcome back sweetie." She kissed him on his forehead again and began stroking his hair.

He closed his eyes and smiled, enjoying the sensation of her fingers gently raking through his dark brown locks. The familiarity of this gesture was far more reassuring than Jean would ever know. It let him know that no matter what else changed she was still his and she always would be his. Happier but still confused about what had happened during the past several hours, he gave her a grateful but questioning look.

"I'm back on Enterprise . . . in Sickbay?"

She nodded reassuringly and smiled, starting to run her fingers more gently over his hair. "Yes. The Captain and Hoshi have been treated already. They'll both be fine and they're on their way here right now so Phlox can officially release them and send them to their quarters."

She paused briefly in stroking his hair and looked at him thoughtfully. "We had to cut it pretty close with you, though. Phlox said that if we'd waited another half hour there wouldn't have been enough of your DNA left to restore. . ." She shook her head, clearly still worried that they may have waited too long.

Despite how utterly rotten he felt Malcolm managed to reach one hand up to Jean's face and pull her down towards himself for a deep kiss. He hated to see her worried, especially about his well-being, so he wanted to convince her that no worrying was necessary. They kissed for well over a minute and when they eventually broke apart both were smiling broadly.

A rustling of the hanging partition curtain caught Jean's attention and she turned around to see what had made the noise. Following her lead Malcolm peered over her shoulder to see the doctor holding aside part of the curtain and smiling very subtly. Phlox had been standing nearby for some time, waiting to speak with his patient, but he hadn't wanted to interrupt them and as a result he had overheard some of their conversation and had seen their amorous kiss.

"I don't mean to interrupt, but I thought that Mr. Reed would be glad to know that he is free to leave Sickbay. I've conducted several tests which will require additional scans later, but as of now he may return to your quarters if he wants to."

Relieved and embarrassed but most of all tired, Malcolm nodded his thanks to Phlox and sat up with a quiet groan. "I appreciate that, doctor." With some help from Jean he got up from the biobed and then headed across Sickbay towards the double doors. As they walked out, Phlox noted that Malcolm was somewhat hunched over and couldn't seem to stand up straight.

Chief Medical officer's log, supplemental. Mr. Reed's spinal column underwent significant strain due to the dissimilarities between Human and Loquequec physiology. Instead of having between 28 and 33 vertebrae as most Humans do, the Loquequec seem to have 25 or 26. Their height is not decreased by having fewer vertebrae, since each individual bone in the spinal column is larger. However, this prevents them from standing fully erect and indicates that they may have evolved from an arboreal species.

They walked down the corridor in comfortable silence with Malcolm leaning slightly on her while she rubbed his back a little. As they approached the turbo lift it seemed like she was about to say something but then decided against it. When they reached Malcolm's quarters she turned to him and gently touched his arm.

"Should I come in?"

He gave her a surprised look. "Of course. Why wouldn't you?"

She shrugged, fiddling with one of his zippered pockets as he opened the door. "I wasn't sure whether you wanted company or not."

They stepped inside and he smiled tiredly, tightening the arm around her shoulders. "I do want your company, very much. Especially after today." He kissed the top of her head and she nuzzled into him happily before steering him towards his bunk. "Bed or shower first?"

"Shower first, then bed."

He sat down heavily on the bed while she headed into the bathroom to start the water running. When the water reached the right temperature she came back out and lightly tapped him on the shoulder, waking him out of a dazed half sleep.

"C'mon mister, I've got some nice hot water with your name on it."

He nodded absently and started to get undressed, his mind elsewhere. "Owch! Ahh . . . "

She made a sympathetic sound. "Sore?"

He nodded and didn't protest when she came over and started to help him out of his uniform.

"My poor sweetheart. You've had quite a day."

He nodded again as she carefully eased off his boots and his socks, putting them aside and then moving back up to his chest to help with his undershirt. "Your shoulders hurt?"

"And my back. Ohh yes, that's the spot. Mmhmm." She'd paused in helping him undress and had started kneading the muscles between his shoulder blades.

A smile crossed her face. "If that feels good, a good hot shower will feel even better."

He shook his head with his eyes closed, not wanting the massage to be interrupted. "I don't need to shower . . . "

"Yes you do, baby, and then you need to sleep. Soundly. For at least eight hours." She stopped the massage and resumed helping him to undress, causing him to whimper ever so slightly.

"No, pet, don't stop. Keep doing that . . . "

"For the rest of this massage, you'll need to follow me into the bathroom." He frowned slightly but let her take his hand and start to lead him towards the bathroom.

On the way there she grabbed both of their bathrobes with her free hand and almost tripped over their cat; Malcolm couldn't help smiling when Melia shot out of the way and up onto their bed, meowing at them pointedly for ignoring her. The simple presence of their cat made the scene more comfortable and helped to restore a little normalcy to a thoroughly abnormal day.

She led him into the bathroom and hung up their robes next to the towels. "C'mon babe. We need to finish getting you out of those dirty clothes."

He nodded obediently, tired and perfectly willing to do as she said. Steam from the shower had filled the room, warming him and helping to calm his nerves. He watched the hot water streaming out of the shower head and thought that it was starting to both look and sound very inviting.

While he was looking around the bathroom in a daze, Jean finished peeling him out of his clothes and put them aside before nudging him towards the shower. He stepped into the stall and simply stood under the hot water for a minute, enjoying how it felt pounding on his sore muscles, but when he realized that Jean hadn't joined him he turned his face away from the spray.

"Pet? Are you coming?"

After he asked it was less than a minute before she had taken off her uniform, kicked off her shoes and stepped into the shower with him.

Once she was under the spray of the warm water Jean came up behind Malcolm and put her arms around him. He smiled when she laid her cheek against his upper back, and his smile grew even wider when she spoke. "You're my Malcolm and I love you."

It was something she'd say whenever he'd had an especially rough day or come back from a dangerous mission. It was a ritual of theirs which facilitated Jean's love of fussing over him, as well as Malcolm's love of being fussed over by her.

She began tracing her fingers up and down his back, feeling the familiar warmth of his wet skin under her hands. This quickly turned into a continuation of the massage from earlier with Malcolm swaying slightly and making soft noises of enjoyment as she worked the muscles in his shoulders.


He felt her nod and handed her one of the soft-scrubby sponges they used, along with a good sized dollop of blue soap. She accepted them and worked the soapy sponge into a lather, but before she started washing his back she traced a line of kisses up either side of his spine. When she got to his neck she had to stand on her tip-toes before she moved around to the side of his neck, nibbling along where his hair started and ending up at the corner of his jaw.

He made a pleased noise and turned to face her, wrapping strong arms around her and holding her close to himself. She leaned into his embrace, tilting her head back to get a better look at his face and smiling before moving to kiss his chest and then letting her head rest there.

He put a hand on her head and ran his fingers over her wet hair. "I'm so glad you're here. . . "

She smiled and kissed up to his collarbone, nuzzling her face into his neck and clinging to him. "So am I."

He continued running her hair through his fingers with one hand while his other hand retrieved the sponge and started to rub the suds over her shoulders. "No. I'm glad you're here in the Expanse with me. I'm glad you insisted on coming."

Not willing to let go of him just yet, she reached one hand out for the shampoo and started washing his hair. "It isn't like I had a real choice. Someone has to look after you." She paused in the washing to kiss his ear and nuzzle his neck, being careful to not get any lather in her mouth or eyes.

He still didn't feel quite like himself but this shower was certainly helping. They continued bathing each other and once they were both clean they stepped out of the shower. Jean handed Malcolm a towel and helped him into his robe before putting on her own and starting to dry her hair. He was still having some trouble with his shoulders and some minor difficulty walking so she helped him back into the main part of their quarters.

They went straight over to their bed. Malcolm went to sit down on the edge with a quiet groan but Jean pulled back the blankets and guided him towards the pillows. He lay back, tired, while she gently dried his hair with one of the towels.

When she was satisfied that his hair was dry she put the towel aside and traced the ridged line down the middle of his forehead with one finger before moving over to the flares on his temples, a curious expression on her face. "It's different."

He tensed visibly and she moved in right away to reassure him with kisses and soft words. "Not good or bad, baby. Just different."

A kiss to his cheek. "You're still my Malcolm." A kiss to his nose. "My Mally." A kiss softly brushed over his lips. "My sweet wonderful man." Another, deeper kiss which lasted for a few seconds before they broke apart.

"That feels good?"

"Jeannie no, I mean yes but. . . " He closed his eyes and reached one hand up to adjust the pillow. "I just want to sleep right now. . . "

Disappointed but not surprised, she nodded and started playing with one of his fingers. "Well, then can I just kiss you? Is that alright?"

She knew that he needed to rest but she needed to dote on him for a little while. She'd been so worried about him and now that he was alright she wanted to celebrate, to make sure he wouldn't go anywhere for a while.

He smiled, nodded and closed his eyes while she moved over his torso, kissing his damp skin every few centimeters and gradually moving south. As soon as he realized her destination he opened one eye. "Nothing too stimulating, edsi. I'm very tired."

"Whatever you want, Mally."

She took off her robe and got under the covers with him, lying on her side next to him with one arm draped over his chest and the other one on the pillow behind his head. It wasn't long before he fell asleep, smiling and vaguely aware that she was gently running her fingers through his hair and softly kissing his lips.