9

Archer smiled down at her. "This looks very good, Ensign."

Jean returned the smile, fidgeting slightly in the corridor. She kept her movements to a minimum, not wanting to spill or upset any of the containers on her tray. Her smile faded very slightly when he didn't move. Somehow, the captain didn't seem to realize that he was blocking the doorway, thus preventing her from entering Reed's quarters.

"Sir, if you wouldn't mind…" she gestured inside with her left elbow. "I'd like to give Lieutenant Reed his soup."

"Oh…" Archer flashed her a sheepish grin, taking a step back to let her pass by. "Sorry about that."

She stepped into Reed's quarters, nodding at the captain on her way to set the tray down at Reed's workstation. "Thank you, Captain." She started taking the covered bowls of soup off of the tray and moving them to the limited space of Reed's workstation. "Now, sirs, we have tomato bisque and a turkey club for the captain, chicken noodle soup and a tuna sandwich for me," she named each item as she relocated it and carefully set them all on the desk, "and chicken ginger soup for the lieutenant." She left Reed's food on the tray and removed all but one of the tumblers, which she filled from the pitcher before putting that aside as well. She filled one of the other tumblers and handed it to the captain.

The drink was pale gold in color and slightly fizzy. Archer smiled, looking at the beverage curiously. "Thank you, Ensign. What is it?"

"Ginger beer." She elaborated when Archer gave her a concerned look. "It's non-alcoholic, sir, and very tasty. Spicier than ginger ale. I hope you'll enjoy it."

The captain nodded his understanding and took a sip, watching as she picked up the tray again and carried it over to Reed's bunk.

Reed looked vaguely uncomfortable when she walked over to him and she smiled encouragingly before setting the tray on his lap. "Eat up, sir." There was a spoon resting on a folded napkin next to the soup and she nudged it towards him with a cheeky wink. "Doctor's orders."

Reed gave a small nod of assent and picked up the spoon in one hand while the other hand unfolded his napkin and set it on the mattress next to his thigh.

Archer had another mouthful of his ginger beer, then he took his soup out from under the sandwich plate and started working on it. He savored the first spoonful, then smiled and gestured to Reed with his spoon. "Better do as she says, Malcolm. Wouldn't want the admiral to be angry with you."

Jean stood up, narrowing her eyes in annoyed understanding and looking from one man to the other for a long moment before hissing at Reed, "you told him about that?"

Reed froze with the soup spoon almost to his mouth, then carefully lowered it back into the bowl and shifted uneasily in place, shooting her an apologetic look and holding the soup bowl steady so his movement wouldn't upset it. "Ensign, I…"

Archer took pity on the man and wiped a napkin at his mouth to hide his grin. "Mr. Reed was just telling me about how you both had survival training together and that nickname… slipped out by accident."

She nodded slowly, not seeming convinced at all. "Of course it did, sir." She took her food over to the comfy chair by the door and set the soup and sandwich down on the large upholstered arm, shooting a playful glare at Reed after she sat down. "Eat you soup, Stinky."

Archer's eyebrows flew up at the nickname, and when he looked at Reed, he saw that the man had turned an interesting shade of maroon. As a matter of fact, the reserved, by-the-book Tactical Officer was almost the same color as the piping on Reed's neatly folded uniform. "'Stinky'?" He repeated the name incredulously, shifting his gaze to Jean when Reed had a mouthful of soup instead of offering an explanation.

Jean shrugged at the captain, grinning mischievously. "Private joke." She smiled more gently at Reed but her tone was still playful. "Fair is fair, sir. You told the captain about calling me "Admiral', I tell him about calling you 'Stinky'. Wanna fault me for retaliating? Go for it."

Reed's voice was deceptively cool as he turned to face her. "I may do just that, Crewman."

She narrowed her eyes at him again, gesturing pointedly at the metal pip on her right shoulder. "I'm an ensign, sir."

The lieutenant raised one eloquent eyebrow, his expression hard except for a slight twinkle in his gray eyes. "I wouldn't count on that."

Archer chuckled, taking another spoonful of soup and urging Reed to eat as well. The lieutenant went back to his own soup with an air of satisfaction, and managed to put away a few spoonfuls without so much as a slurp.

The captain shook his head slightly and resumed his lunch, smiling. "Ensign, how did you know that this was my favorite of chef's soups?"

She had a bit of her own soup and shrugged. "I asked one of the stewards, sir… it might have been Crewman Daniels. He also told me which sandwich you preferred."

"Very thoughtful of you. So… Malcolm tells me you had survival training together."

She nodded by way of confirmation, taking a quick sip of her drink before answering. "Yes, sir. The Sahara in August. I suggested that we should head for an oasis we had seen on our way in. Took us the better part of a day to get there, and when we finally reached it, Lieutenant Reed realized that it was surrounded by quicksand."

Archer gave a nod of his own as he finished off his first course and moved on to his sandwhich. "Malcolm mentioned something about that, but he didn't go into any specifics. Maybe you could tell me about it while the lieutenant and I enjoy our lunch."

Jean glanced at Reed, scowled when she saw a phantom smirk on his face, and let out a resigned sigh. The quicksand had not been one of her finer moments, and hearing her recount it would no doubt make it that much easier for Reed to forgive her for her mention of 'Stinky'. She was a little surprised that Reed didn't seem bothered by the captain's implied directive to eat up, but knowing him, even if he did resent it, he wouldn't say anything. She watched him carefully, pleased that her plan for getting Archer to share a meal with his officer was working, but unwilling to let the lieutenant tire himself out. He was still recovering, after all, and even though he had been fairly energetic today she was keeping an eye out for any signs of fatigue.

"Yes, Ensign. I'm sure the captain would enjoy hearing about your unique method of navigating the swamp." Reed looked the picture of innocence, taking a mouthful of ginger beer and smiling faintly at her over the rim of his glass. Jean was also encouraged by the return of Reed's dry wit, which seemed to have come back as a two-for-one special with his appetite.

Jean smiled pleasantly at Archer as she had a wicked thought. "I'll tell the story, Captain, provided that Lieutenant Reed finishes his soup before I'm done telling it."

Archer glanced at Reed and grinned, but it wasn't clear if he was fully aware of the byplay going on around him. "Done. Dig in, Malcolm."

Reed's face darkened almost imperceptibly as he put aside his drink, but he resumed eating the soup without comment. He might not give any outward sign that he minded the captain telling him to 'dig in', provided that it was the captain's idea to do so, but Jean had a hunch that an ensign using the captain to chivvy him along would be a bit harder to swallow.

"Well," she began, looking at the captain, "we had to figure out what parts of the ground were stable. I had a collapsible axe and rope in my pack, and Lieutenant Reed had found a good walking stick earlier, so we both tested the firmness of the ground and he marked the unstable parts with an 'X'."

Archer polished off his drink and reached for the pitcher to refill his glass. "How did you use an axe and rope to test the ground?"

She glanced at Reed with a rueful smile. "It was pretty simple; I tied the rope to my axe handle and would toss it forward. If the ground didn't shift and the axe didn't sink after ten or so seconds I would pull the axe back and move on to the next part. After a few minutes I started getting impatient and I spent less time waiting to see if the axe would sink after each throw."

Reed gave her a soft smirk as he polished off the last bits of his lunch. After he had eaten the last spoonful, his eyes drifted closed and he rested his head against the locker. She got up from her seat and stepped towards his bunk, shaking her head slightly at her own foolishness as she went on with the story. "I thought that a patch of ground was stable, so I stepped onto it, but then I began to sink." She leaned down to take the empty bowl from Reed, and her smile faded when he turned his head to hide the fact that he was muffling a yawn into his napkin. He turned back to face her again, blinking owlishly, and seemed startled to find that she was standing so close. She gave him a tender smile to put him at ease and took the bowl and spoon from him, patting his hand before she stepped away again, continuing her story and hoping that Archer wouldn't notice how sleepy the Tactical Officer suddenly was.

"Anyway, I started to sink, so I threw off my backpack and called for help. Lieutenant Reed came right over and I tossed him the end of my rope. I held on to the axe and he pulled me out a minute later…" she shrugged sheepishly, "The longest minute of my life."

By that point Archer had finished most of his sandwhich and he put down the remainder, shaking his head. "It's a good thing you were there, Malcolm."

Reed straightened his shoulders and blinked rapidly, trying to rouse himself. "Yes, sir. I'm just glad I was able to help." He had a couple mouthfuls of the chilled ginger beer, and that seemed to help him be more alert.

Jean grinned at him. "So you said at the time, but that didn't stop you from pointing out exactly how 'daft' I had been, and that," she cleared her throat and did a passable imitation of Reed's accent "'perhaps if you had been more careful and patient in the first place, Jean, you wouldn't have landed yourself in such trouble that you needed rescuing'." She smiled sweetly at Reed afterwards and sat back down.

The lieutenant tried to level one of his famous icy glares at Jean, but his face twitched into an involuntary smile instead and he wound up draining the last of his drink, chuckling softly.

Archer covered his own chuckles with a cough, shaking his head at the surprisingly easy camaraderie between his reticent Chief of Security and his demonstrative DMO. "You know, when Trip and I had our survival training at Alice Springs we didn't have any run-ins with quicksand. There were a lot of flies… I think they were blackflies, and we had one hell of a time catching snakes for dinner…"

Jean nodded, listening to the captain with one ear but watching Reed. A close look at the lieutenant confirmed Jean's suspicions that he was still struggling to stay awake. His eyes seemed to drift shut of their own accord, his shoulders were slumped forward slightly, and the empty tumbler which he still held in one hand was tipping at an odd angle due to the fact that his fingers had relaxed and they weren't keeping firm hold of the glass any more.

She shook her head a tiny bit, not enough of a motion to draw Captain Archer's attention away from the story he was telling about his time with Trip in Australia.

"Sir, interesting as this story is, I'm sure you have some captaining to do."

Archer cocked an amused eyebrow at her. "Are you kicking me out, Jean?"

She gave him a cheeky grin, but stood firm. "Yes sir, I am."

The captain sat back slightly in the desk chair and leveled a playful glare at her. "You do realize what insubordination is, Ensign?"

"Captain, do you want me to smile and curtsey and go 'yes sir, no sir, three bags full, sir', or do you want me to do my job?"

The captain stood, smiling slightly despite himself. The fact that this young ensign was bossing him around and had succeeded in getting an informal dialogue going between her two superiors amused him. She had guts and didn't really care about rank, but somehow that didn't seem to be a problem. At least, Archer couldn't foresee it being one. As a medical officer, the only person on board that she had to answer to in a professional capacity was Phlox, and she was always respectful of the Denobulan doctor and deferred to his judgment. She followed Archer's orders and was respectful enough most of the time, but he did worry about what might happen if she ever received an order which she disagreed with. Archer had a feeling that, in that scenario, her disregard for rank might cause trouble. Still, she was dedicated to her job and had a good rapport with Reed. It was good to know that the man had at least one friend on board, especially one who was so affectionate and stubborn. After all, the lieutenant kept to himself so much of the time.

"Alright, admiral, I'm going." He raised his hands in mock surrender, getting the desired mock glare from her for doing it.

Jean spared a moment to shift her glare to Reed. She still was annoyed with him for sharing her nickname with the captain, but the fact that he was allowing more people to see his playful side was encouraging, so she wasn't holding a grudge.

Archer shook his head slightly, evening out his expression until he was in 'captain' face. "Feel better, Malcolm. Do whatever the admiral tells you to and I'm sure you'll be back on duty in a few days." He leaned down, briefly resting a hand on the lieutenant's shoulder. "We miss you on the bridge. Hodges is a fine temporary substitute, but he can't replace you."

Reed nodded tightly, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat. "Thank you, sir."

As ever, he was a man of few words, but the slight tremor in his voice spoke volumes. Talking with the captain for an extended period of time hadn't been one of the more relaxing experiences of his life, but what Archer had said just then was exactly what he'd needed to hear. He hadn't realized it until Archer said it, of course, but now that need was satisfied and he gave his captain a fleeting, tentative smile.

Archer patted his shoulder and ended the silent exchange with a friendly nod, then headed for the door.

Reed waited until the door to the corridor had shut before he let his eyes close, sagging against the locker. "Thanks," he murmured tiredly.

She stepped over to his bunk and rested her hand on his arm, glad he appreciated that she was looking out for him, and used her other hand to retrieve the empty glass. "You're welcome."

He partially opened one eye and said, almost to himself, " ...didn't call me 'sir'."

She leaned away, trying to reach the desk chair and hook her foot around one of its legs while still keeping her hand on his arm. She couldn't quite reach the chair so she momentarily broke contact with his arm, putting the tumbler back onto the mess tray, turning down the main lights, then grabbing the desk chair and pulling it closer to his bunk before seating herself in it. "Nope, I didn't. Guess you're just gonna have to get used to my insubordination."

He let out a short, huffed laugh and slowly shook his head. "I'm already used to it, Ensign. I just don't like it." After a comfortable silence, he opened his eyes to look at her. "Do you think the captain noticed?" He seemed worried.

"No." She shook her head and smiled to herself. "He wasn't watching you as closely as I was."

His eyes slowly closed as he grumbled, "that's hardly comforting."

Jean leaned forward slightly and pet his arm a little. Her other hand found the knob that controlled the lamp which hung over Reed's bed and turned that down as well. The result was that there was enough illumination in the room for them to see each other, but dim enough that if he wanted to sleep, he would be able to. "Shhh. Go to sleep."

He nodded, settling more against the locker instead of lying down in bed. Jean frowned at that. "No, wait. Sir, you should lie down."

His eyes slid open, drifting over to give her an irritated look. "You could have said that bit earlier, Ensign."

She smiled crookedly, shrugging. She knew that he should have figured that out for himself, but she also knew that it wasn't worth correcting him. "Yeah. Silly of me. Come on, though. You'll be much more comfortable."

Reed grunted slightly and sat up, hissing as he inadvertently tensed his injured leg. It didn't hurt nearly as much as it had on the planet or even a few days ago, but the sudden bolt of pain took his sleepy mind by surprise.

Jean was kneeling by the bed in a second, scanner in hand. "Your leg?"

He nodded, easing himself down under the covers. "Issnot too bad," he said, gritting his teeth.

She shook her head, reaching into the medkit for something and moving to sit on the bed again. "You truly are a terrible liar. I'm giving you an anesthetic." Before he could argue, she'd pressed a hypo to his upper arm and emptied the contents into his bloodstream. "It's a small dose."

Reed sighed at the instant cessation of pain, too tired and relieved to really be annoyed by the fact that she hadn't actually asked permission before injecting him. "Thank you." He let himself slip down onto the pillows and felt her pulling the covers up over his shoulders. The blanket edge stopped just short of his chin, ensuring that he would be nice and warm while he slept.

"You're welcome." She studied his sleepy face for a while, then grew concerned when he put a hand to his belly beneath the blankets. "You feeling okay?"

She reached out, waving the scanner over him when he didn't answer. The device didn't register any gastrointestinal distress, but then again, it didn't always. She pocketed the scanner and touched his shoulder. "How's that soup treatin' you?"

He opened his eyes reluctantly. And I was so close to being asleep. "It was very good, Ensign. Nice and warm. Maybe a bit too salty, but aside from that..."

"No complaints?" Jean studied his expression for some flicker of discomfort, but saw none.

He shook his head. "No complaints. Do you know if there's any left in the galley?"

Her eyes lit up and her ponytail waved slightly as she laughed, relieved and surprised by the question. "Are you actually asking for seconds?"

He looked a little embarrassed and she quickly tried to smooth it over. "Because if you are, sir, that's a good sign. If you're appetite's coming back, that's a good thing. It means this whole mess is almost over. First your appetite'll come back, then you'll start getting energy and strength back from the food, and as long as you keep resting, like the captain said, you'll be back on duty by the end of the week." She touched his arm, moving her fingers over his sleeve soothingly. "D'you want me to bring you more soup?"

Reed shrugged, worrying at the edge of the covers with his fingers and not looking at her. "I don't..." He closed his eyes, still hungry but too tired to deal with any real conversation. "I can go to sleep without it, Ensign. It isn't necessary ..."

Jean rolled her eyes, resisting a very strong urge to buffet him with a pillow. "I could do with some more food, sir. If it's alright with you, I'm going to grab seconds from the galley and bring them back here. You're welcome to eat half of my sandwich and I'll bring another bowl of soup for you. How does that sound?"

The tension left his shoulders and he smiled a tiny bit, his eyes flicking from her to the covers and back every few seconds. "It sounds good, Jean."

She shook her head, laughing at him quietly. "Explain to me how it is that you can be so predictable one second and then surprise me the next."

He turned his head away to muffle a yawn into the pillow. "Excuse me." He blinked, trying to clear his eyes of the slight mistiness which his yawning had created. "I really don't know what to tell you."

Reed let his cheek sink into the pillow, feeling sleep tugging at him. He frowned. If he fell asleep before she came back, he wouldn't get any soup until later, and he was pretty hungry. He hadn't really eaten anything substantial, aside from the first bowl of soup, in more than five days.

"Ensign," he muttered, his voice partially muffled by the pillow, but also oddly higher than usual. Like he had a few days before, he suddenly sounded very young.

"Yes sir?" Her hand was on his arm, slowly running up and down. It felt very nice and reassuring, but it didn't do anything to help him stay awake. He couldn't help smiling a little at the kind touch, though, despite the fact that he didn't want to go to sleep just yet.

"If I've fallen asleep when you come back, could you wake me?"

Jean nodded, still touching him. "Of course, sir. You do need your sleep, though. Maybe you could nap for an hour or two, and then I'll wake you for the soup."

Reed swallowed, taking a moment to consider that. He had to concede that it was a good idea. "Maybe." His voice was quiet and low, closer to its normal pitch. He turned onto his side, getting more comfortable in the bed.

"Okay, and that way we can make sure the soup doesn't disagree with you." She smiled down at him, comparing how cooperative he was now to how he'd been earlier on. Actually, she reflected that he was most cooperative at the end of each day, when he was too tired to fight.

A bit of hair had fallen forward onto his brow when he turned onto his side. Without really thinking, Jean reached over and smoothed it back into place.

He opened one eye when she touched him and she froze for a second, worried about how he might react to the familiarity of the gesture. His eye drifted over her curiously before it slowly closed again. He yawned into the pillow, turning his face aside and licking his lips afterward. She smiled. He was pretty darn cute like this, and, clinically speaking, he did look much better than he had in days. His color was coming back, he wasn't sweaty or shivering all the time, and he'd lost that tired, pinched look he'd been wearing since the mission. As a matter of fact, he didn't really look sick anymore.

"Sir?" It seemed like he was asleep, and if he was she didn't want to wake him, so she kept her voice to a whisper.

He muttered something she didn't catch. She tried again. "Sir?" This time she accompanied the whisper with a light touch to his shoulder.

Again, he didn't offer an intelligible response. She gave him a fond pat and stood up. "Pleasant dreams, sir."

Jean started to head out, meaning to bring their dirty dishes back to the galley, but when she was halfway to the door a sleepy voice stopped her. "Ensign?"

She was back at the bed within seconds. "Yes, sir?"

Reed smiled up at the worried face hovering over him. "I wanted to thank you for... for looking after me." He furrowed his brow, childishly mimicking her concerned expression. "I'm not sure how to repay you."

Her worry cleared and she sat on the edge of his bunk, resting a hand on his arm. "Just be my friend. That's all I ask."

He blinked sleepily and gave a broad smile, reaching over and squeezing her hand. "Friends, then." His grin lit up the dim room until a yawn made his face crumple. "Oh, pardon me."

She shook her head at him, also grinning. "Sleep, silly man. I'll wake you when it's time for the soup."

He nodded, allowing his heavy lids to fall shut and drowsily hitching the blankets up over his shoulder as she stood.

She pet his hair back a little, smoothing it into place, but instead of heading for the door again, she settled back into her chair. Getting the soup could wait for a little while, at least until Reed had gotten some decent sleep. In the mean time, she could always keep an eye on him while she made more headway into the Dumas. A random thought made her smile as she took out the PADD and scrolled it to the correct place, and she leaned forward to gently shake Reed's arm.

"How about I read to you for a bit? You were on chapter sixteen, right?"

Reed gave a half-asleep affirmative mumble, shifting onto his back again. Once he had found a comfortable position, he opened one eye and turned his head slightly in order to look at her. "Are you serious?"

She smiled and gave him a playful wink. "I think this next bit is oddly appropriate: 'Chapter Sixteen: An Italian Scholar. Dantes embraced this new friend for whom he had waited so long and with such impatience, and drew him over to the window, so that the faint light that seeped from outside into the cell would illuminate his face. He was short in stature, with hair whitened by suffering more than by age, a penetrating eye…'"

Jean broke off the narration and shook her head, wearing a bemused smile. "If you had some gray hairs, Dumas could almost have been describing you. Lets see… ' a penetrating eye hidden beneath thick, grizzled brows, and a still-black beard which extended to his chest...'"

Reed shook his head and gave a light chuckle at her gentle teasing. He let himself be soothed by her voice, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm as he drifted off, feeling warm, cared for, and most importantly, happy.

The End