Title: Imperceptibly Stript Back

Author: MJ

Author's e-mail: mjr91@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/mj/

Date: 06/05/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: PG-13 for language

Archive: Archer's Enterprise

Summary: Malcolm POV.

Series/sequel: Companion to Byrne

Note: David Jones was a British WWII soldier and poet. Somehow, I see Reed with a stash of English WWI/WWII poetry hidden somewhere, and no doubt a copy of Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth."

Stealthily, imperceptibly stript back, thinning
night wraps
unshrouding, unsheafing—
and insubstantial barriers dissolve.

—from "In Parenthesis," David Jones (1937)

I never doubted that I would enter the military. My family has been military for as long as anyone can remember, and farther back than that. It's not a bad thing, is being a soldier, though some seem to fear the work and others to disdain it; yet I'd like to see the pacifist who could afford the luxury of pacifism without an army to protect him and his beliefs from the non-pacifists next door.

Ah, soldier—there's the rub, why not a sailor? If it was good enough for the old man and his old 'un, why not his son? Of all the bloody things to start a family war over…although I suppose if a fight had to be picked—and it had to be; you don't know the old man—it was better that than the other. But he'll discuss matters military, and the other—well, the other, he thinks, is something nice people don't discuss. Don't discuss it, it'll go away. As if it hasn't been around since the day God created the green earth. And him—"nice people"? Any more twee and he'll be sewing chintz curtains? I don't bloody think so.

No point arguing Latin with the old man—he still hates that I've the education he never had; they sent me to public school on the money my grandfather left Mum—and pointing out that the "naut" in "astronaut" comes from the Latin for "sailor." There are more ships in the universe than those on the water. But seawater's in his veins, or so he thinks, and if I don't bleed it, I'm not his son. Better claiming I'm not his son over that, he'll say to himself, than admit it's because I've gone and ended the family name. One son from his loins; none from mine, and he knows it up front.

Need I point out that once, when you wanted to leave home, you ran off to sea? These days, you can run off even further than that. I'm in the military, where I belong; I'm on a ship, where I ought to be; and 3.2 light years away from my father is better than three thousand miles. Bless Starfleet for my commission.

I take that back. Damn Starfleet to hell. What right have they to ruin my bloody life?

Starting me in munitions. Discovering I've a talent for D&D—design and detonation, or "death and destruction," if you like—that no one else seems to share, and then, after praising my name to the skies, packing me off for five years with that blasted man over there. Supposedly because I'm the best in the Fleet at this game—mind you, it is a game; treat it any other way, the overwhelming realization of what you can do to other beings will crush you—but actually to torture me.

How could being sent off on the prize mission of the entire Fleet—the one that guarantees me the promotions I want, the one that guarantees my place in Starfleet history—be designed to torture me?

How about because I'm not blind? All you have to do is look at him. Once is quite sufficient to cause a general problem. Repeated visual contact is nearly fatal. He's too tall by half, too broad-shouldered, too muscular, and too bloody handsome. And from my post when I'm on the Bridge, I'm trapped with a permanent rear view of…of…good Lord, one is simply *not* to be having that kind of thought about one's commander's posterior anatomy while on duty, but his damn bum's practically in my face, blast it!

The look on his face when he came back to rescue me on Terra Nova—well, I saw that, too. Unfortunately. I dream about that look in my sleep; I can picture it all too well while I'm on the Bridge with him, as well. The fact that I've seen that look on his face—aimed, again, at me—a few times since certainly doesn't help.

Of course, it's also that my nerve endings work perfectly. Bad enough that even the most casual touch from him sends me reeling; worse that the man's given to holding on when he touches me. Worst, I've held on to more than one handshake and stared into more than one set of eyes just that bit too long for my own part; if I didn't know better, I'd say I'd managed to strike his fancy. But what sane ship's captain would dream of pursuing, or even hint at an interest in pursuing, one of his subordinate officers? Of course, this isn't the typical mission, and he's certainly not the most orthodox follower of the regulations manual I've served under.

And the way I'd like to be serving right under him doesn't bear repeating.

Bloody hell, got to keep my mind on this cannon test. I *would* have to be alone on the Bridge with him right now, wouldn't I? And if the filthy buggers down in the Armory right now would use half of the few brain cells I'm able to use at the moment on running this test, I could be out of here and safely away from the man in no time flat.

The majority of my functional brain cells are, unfortunately, the ones connected with thoughts of being down on my knees in front of that chair over there. The one, naturally, that he's in. I'd like to teach him a thing or two about what I really know about causing explosions; I'd like to see—see, feel, swallow—his.

Now, if I didn't also have occasional visions of moving my things into his cabin and worrying about whether we could stand the same pattern in matching curtains and bedspread, I'd be fine. I'd merely be obsessed with him. But being able to picture quibbling with him over something like that—yes, me, of all people; give me the right circumstances and I'll domesticate as easily as anyone else—goes just a bit too far.

Oh, God, tell me I'm not in love with him.

Tell me I can get through the remainder of this cannon test without collapsing into a puddle of treacle pudding right here where I'm sitting.

If I watch myself make the adjustments from this end, if I pay attention to my fingers as they move, I won't have to look at him.

Unfortunately, I can tell he's watching me. And why shouldn't he? He has every right to watch my actions; he's the captain, for God's sake. It's the way he's looking that makes me hot under the collar, as if he'd like to have my hands working on him, not at my console. Not that I'm offended, of course—the problem is that I want it, too—and I want it too much.

Another three degrees left, four and a half up…there. That should hold the adjustment. I ease out of my seat; easier if I stand to handle these controls at the moment. His eyes are still following me. It would be so much easier for both of us if he'd just give in and make a play for me; it's not as if I'm that hard to get, not for the right man. And Lord knows, he's the right man. I wish he weren't, but he is. I have to smile, wondering what the old man would say if I told him I'd finally found someone I'd marry in two seconds flat.

And I look across at him. I'm still smiling, partly from the thought, partly from the sheer relief of being finished with this cannon trial, partly from a weak moment, acknowledging that I know how he's looking at me.

How he's looking at me now is frozen—almost like a deer caught in lights. He wants this—wants me—and now he's seen how I feel, he's scared out of his wits.

Time for a deep breath. Time to act, no matter how idiotic it may be. Legend has it one of my ancestors was fool enough to be leading the charge of the Light Brigade; never let it be said a Reed didn't know how to march in boldly and die.

I really can't bear this any more. Go ahead, line up that court-martial. Putting an end to this bloody aggravation would be worth the risk. He thinks I'm leaving the Bridge? I don't think so, not without trying to take him along for the ride. Still, I think that his obvious consternation for no good reason is a sign that he's ready for the ride but thinks he hasn't got the admittance ticket. It's up to me to dangle the pass at him.

So few steps from my station to the Bridge, it isn't funny. He's watching me come up and drape myself over the chair, and partly over him as well. Ah, look at that—the old boy's sporting one that the Royal Artillery would be proud of.

I think we can dispense with the fear of court-martial right about now.

"Captain? It's my professional assessment that there seems to be one more cannon waiting to fire…" His earlobe is right by my mouth, and I have every thought that it just might be the firing pin. If it isn't, the fact that I can feel his nipples erect and hard through his uniform means there might be a fuse or two there. My God, he's responsive—this cannon just might blast before I'd like it to, but if I can't control fire, no one can. I lighten my touch on him; I don't need to get trigger-happy here. "Did you want me to investigate the situation further?"


"No?" I can feel myself going cold. All I need is to have misread this moment. My stomach isn't the strongest in the galaxy.

His hand closes around my wrist. "Not here. My cabin." A flood of relief; I wasn't wrong. His grip is solid enough to make me fear a bruise. I'd peg him as a gentle enough sort normally—but he's too far along to be worried about that at the moment, he's beyond tenderness, into pure raw need. No matter; I'll take either willingly, as long as it's from him.

Still, "Oh?" Why wait? We're alone, the moment's going all too well…

"I'd like to have our first time in a slightly less awkward place…" Did I hear him correctly? I don't think it's a fear of discomfort or an odd position he's emphasizing there.

"First time?" I squawk. We've barely touched, and he's talking about doing this again? There really is a God. If this man's already looking for more than a simple once-off to kill the tension between us, I'll consider going back to church when this mission's over.

"Believe me, Lieutenant, if we'd done this before, I'd never have forgotten it."

Flattery will get him anywhere with me right now. I am not beneath wallowing in the compliment. "Oh, I know we've never…but…you were planning a repeat engagement?" Please, God, make him tell me I'm right. I'll actually go on Easter. And Christmas, and on the feast day of the blessed King Charles the Martyr.

He's looking at me as if he were Porthos and I a particularly appealing bit of cheddar. "I was thinking along the lines of a long-term booking."

What did he say, God? Very well, I'll even take communion again. "Were you? Hmm, I think that could easily be arranged…" And it could be. I'd like nothing better.

He rises from that damned chair, pulling me up with him. "My cabin. Now."

For just one moment, the amusement of playing hard-to-get is appealing. "Is that an order, Sir?"

"It is, Lieutenant." God, what a voice. If he sounds like that in bed, it's settled, I'm never leaving bed again.

This kind of order I'd take anytime, no dispute. I'd be the absolute model of Starfleet decorum for this one. As if I weren't already, I know.

The vaguest hint of a picture of worrying about chintz curtains hits me between the eyes.

Bloody hell, I really am in love with him.

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