Title: Precious Things

Author: The Moonmoth

Author's Contact: moonmoth47@hotmail.com

Archive: Yes to Archers_Enterprise, EntSTCommunity and ReedsArcheryRange. Others are welcome but please ask first.

Rating: PG, for a leedle bit of language.

Status: Complete.

Series: Little Earthquakes

Sequel to: Chasing After the Rain

Next Story: Caught

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Type: POV (Archer), pre-slash

Warnings: None

Spoilers: Silent Enemy

Disclaimer: Paramount owns the characters, I just play with them. I did it for love, not money.

Beta: The Most Excellent Mareel.

Summary: The last time Captain Archer got a good look at the man behind his armory officer it was late and they were both tired. Facades were bound to slip. This time, Malcolm's had an even longer day… Set during Silent Enemy.

Author's Notes: The title of this piece is that of a Tori Amos song from the Little Earthquakes album, that inspired this series. It also refers to a passage in the previous story. I'm going away for ten day from tomorrow, into the wilderness of Whitby where they have not the internet. It would be really great to come back to loads of fb and new stories :)

Feedback: Yes, please please please! All constructive criticism is welcome. Be as detailed as you like.

"Getting to know Malcolm could be like chipping away at a mountain with a spoon, but there's undoubtedly something precious beneath the surface."—Chasing After the Rain


It's 0400 and I think it's been pure adrenaline keeping me on my feet for the last twenty hours. An unidentified ship has been attacking Enterprise, two men are down. We nearly lost Trip and twelve others. My body's crying out for rest but there are two people I need to see before I can do that. They've possibly had even less sleep than me the past two days. My chief engineer and my armory officer.

I yawn as I step out of the lift from the bridge, raising my hand only half-heartedly to cover my mouth. The corridors are empty, the ship quiet. But as I near the armory I start to sense the activity within—as I round a corner I spot Lieutenant Hess walking briskly in the direction of engineering carrying a toolbox. Just as she disappears at the other end of the corridor, crewman Rostov appears holding a couple of padds.

'Evening, Captain,' he nods.


The armory door opens for us and I motion for him to go first. He nods again, smiles briefly, and then is gone, striding across the room. 'Eddie!' he calls, waving the padds above his head. A figure leans over the railing of the upper level and waves back.

Stepping through the door I take a moment to digest the scene confronting me. There must be at least fifteen engineers in here, working on various things. There are components all over the deck plating, and something that looks like it might be a second phase cannon within a few days standing imposingly in the center of the room. Sparks fly with a whip-crack from two or three different welding jobs. A group of five engineers to my right appears to be absorbed in a simulation of some sort running on one of the consoles. Another crewman flits between two other consoles, tapping away at his padd. A panel of bulkhead is being removed at the back of the armory, the circuitry to be rewired. But I can't see my armory officer anywhere.

The simulation appears to have come to an end and I spot crewman Kelley being patted on the back. 'Good work, Kelley,' someone says. I watch the group dissipate and try to catch her eye.

'Captain! I didn't see you there. Sorry, sir!' She walks over.

'How's it going, Crewman?' I ask, still scanning the room.

She's thoughtful for a moment. 'It's… ah… it's getting there. The calibrations I just did for the targeting scanners seem to be good.'

'Good work.' I pause. 'Have you seen Mr. Reed?'

She smiles slightly, although it may be a grimace. 'Over there.' She points to a large, dark-grey hatch in the back of the room.

'Great, thanks.' I pat her on the arm absently then head over. I'm not really sure, with all the bustle in this small room, but I think I catch a quiet 'good luck.'

He's half in, half out of the access port, working on the barrel of the cannon. I can't see his face but he seems tense, body held awkwardly, stiffly. It's quiet in here, away from the commotion of the armory proper. The only sound is the sizzle of Malcolm's plasma torch. Despite this, I don't think he's heard me come in.

I stand for a moment behind the pipes that nearly fill this narrow space, watching him, intent in his work. He looks so focused—I wonder whether it's really necessary to disturb him. But I do need to speak with him.

'I hope I'm not inter-'

'Jesus!' He flinches violently at my words, banging his head as he shoots upwards and dropping his plasma torch into the cannon port. 'Damn it.'

'Sorry, Malcolm. Didn't mean to startle you.' He straightens up, rubbing his head looking at me balefully as I squeeze around the piping.

'Thanks for the warning, Captain!' There's more than a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

'Are you hurt?' I ask apologetically.

'I'm fine, thank you, sir,' he replies curtly, then leans back into the cannon port. 'Oh, bloody hell.'

'What's up?' I'm trying to be as affable as I can muster at this time of the morning, as he's obviously not in the best mood.

'I dropped my bloody plasma torch down the shaft. I'm going to have to retrieve it.' He glances at me sideways, trying to repress a sigh. 'Be with you in a moment, sir.'

'Sure.' Bemused, I listen to the muffled tap of Malcolm's boots on the metal rungs of the access ladder as he maneuvers himself down, grunting softly, in effort or annoyance I don't know. 'When is the last time you slept, Malcolm?'

'Ah… I got up at 0600 this morning,' he calls up.

'You mean yesterday morning…'

'What time is it?'

'0400, just past.'

'Then yes, sir, I mean yesterday morning.' He reappears at the access port, a terse frown on his face, and I offer my hand to pull him up. He takes it but I notice him wincing at my grip. He glances quickly at his right hand then tries to hide it.

'Let me see that.'

'It's nothing. I'm fine.'

'Oh really.' I reach out and take his hand gently in mine, turning it palm up. His index and middle fingers are red and slightly puffy, and there's an angry looking blister on the tip of each. 'Have you had Phlox take a look at this?'

'No, sir,' he snaps dismissively, 'it's just a static burn—I did it over there on the EPS relays.' He gestures in the direction from which I've just come. 'Captain, I am rather busy. Is there something I can help you with?'

I stare at him, taken aback by his tone. In fact, by our entire exchange. His stance is confrontational, chin up, eyes shining brightly. His tone has been sharp and I get the distinct impression he's irritated with my being here. His body seems to be thrumming with an angry energy. He's exhausted—I can see it in his pale face—but so am I, damn it. I didn't ask him to work through the night and I'm about to say so.

But two things now happen at once. One, I suddenly become aware that I still have his hand in mine, and two, that the space we're in is very, very small.

I feel… confused, reeling from the impact of these realizations. I don't know why I should be or what it means and I think I'm being ridiculous, that exhaustion has finally taken me over completely. Regrouping, I release his hand and turn away, taking a deep breath to dispel the momentary sense of claustrophobia.

'Lieutenant, I want you to get some rest,' I say quietly but forcefully, reasserting my authority in the use of his rank. I turn back in time to catch his eyes flash like gun metal in the sun, but he relaxes his posture, backing down a little. Still, there's something in his demeanor, the way he's holding himself. Like a coiled spring.

'I would very much like to get some rest too, sir, and I will-'


'-as soon as I'm satisfied that Enterprise has adequate capability to defend herself against further attack.'

'I'm sure someone else can take over-'

'Two of my men are down and we're dead in the water. If there's another attack-'

'Then I need my chief tactical officer to be in a coherent state, not falling asleep at his post! I need to know I can count on you, Malcolm.' His gaze—more intense than any phase cannon—refuses to back down, to relent.

'Are you saying you don't trust me to do my job, Captain?' He asks incredulously, fighting to maintain his composure now, and I'm at the edge of mine.

'Malcolm, there's no point exhausting yourself over this,' I say, exasperated, voice raising but I can't stop it. 'You're doing a fine job but the boys at Jupiter station are far better equipped for this sort of thing.'

'We *have* everything we need here.'

'Then let your team take over for a couple hours.'

'I refuse to leave this ship defenseless when there's something I can do about it. I *will not* accept any more of my team getting hurt.'

'It doesn't *matter* if it's you who-'

'IT MATTERS TO *ME*!' he yells back, face reddening as his anger finally erupts. His loss of control has the full force of a solar flare, and I have to resist the urge to take a step back. Somewhere in the back of my mind I note that this man is impressive when he's angry, that his eyes are a tumultuous mixture of storm grey and the dark blue of the evening sky, that a lock of hair has fallen across his forehead, and that his uniform is unzipped a couple of inches exposing his neck, which has also turned pink from his outburst. His shout reverberates from the bulkheads for a couple of seconds then dies away, and there's a deep and shocked silence between us.

'Malcolm…' He's staring at me in something that moves from anger to disbelief to utter mortification. I watch his shifting expressions in fascination, and also his eyes, as they're now the bright grey of the sky after rain, although I missed the exact moment that they changed.

'Sir, I…' his voice is quiet now, controlled if not calm, but he can no longer hold my gaze, the intensity draining away, and almost as a reflex action he crosses his arms over his chest. 'I'm sorry… I don't know where that came from…'

Scrubbing a hand down my face I take a deep breath, trying to understand what just happened.

'Malcolm, my decision to return to Earth has nothing to do with my confidence in you or in your team's abilities.' He shifts his weight on his feet, uncomfortable, but I hold up my hand to preempt any interruptions. 'It was simply the safest thing to do. Like you said, two of your men are down. God…' I shake my head tiredly, 'we nearly lost Trip… I couldn't risk the safety of my crew any further.' All the tension, the energy, is leaving him as I talk.

'And now, sir?'

'And now we're a sitting duck with no help on the way and no way to ask for it.' I sigh, momentarily overwhelmed with the enormity of the responsibilities I carry. 'I don't know when the warp drive will be back online—I'm going to speak to Trip after we're done here—but if it isn't up by tomorrow we'll need a plan B.' Malcolm's eyes snap back to mine at this. He's looking at me searchingly and I think that's hope I'm seeing. It hits me that maybe he did actually believe I thought he wasn't up to the task, and I feel a small pang of guilt knowing that I did nothing to suggest otherwise. I had no choice, though. 'I still intend to return to Earth once we have warp. But as it stands we have impulse and there are some asteroids a couple parsecs away. If the cannon is ready…?'

'Cannon*s*, sir.' I raise my eyebrows, not understanding. 'Both forward cannons are all but online. The one you saw on your way in will be the aft cannon.'

My tired face forms a smile. 'I'm impressed.'

'Thank you.' He doesn't smile back but something changes. It's very subtle, something in his expression, his eyes, relaxes and he seems to be regaining the energy that left him earlier through the shock of his anger.

'What have you got left to do?'

He shifts again, running a hand over his forehead. 'Commander Tucker has asked that I take a few… modifications off-line. I'm just about to start on that. Otherwise, a few calibrations here and there.' He shrugs. 'We should be ready by 0800, latest.'

'Let's make it 1200 and a few hours of sleep.' He doesn't look too happy at my suggestion. 'That's an order, Lieutenant.'

He straightens himself up, coming to attention. 'Yes, sir.'

I shake my head as my smile broadens a little with something I guess could only be called affection. 'You've done a good job here, Malcolm.' Again, I feel that searching look piercing me, but instead of guilt this time I feel the warmth of fondness. Sometimes he reminds me so much of a kid trying to impress his teacher. 'I mean it.' I squeeze his shoulder, trying to reinforce what I've just said, then leave him to get on with it. As I make my way down to engineering I don't think once about how tired I am.


I'm sitting in my ready room at my desk, although I'm not working. We're at the asteroid field, but Trip wanted to run a couple more simulations before he's happy to put our new cannons to use. I've just finished reading a padd Lieutenant Reed handed me earlier. A detailed report of the weapons upgrades. Later, I'll tell him again what a great job he's done. I'll tell him later—right now that's not what I'm thinking about.

I'm thinking about a night, several months ago, in the mess hall. I hadn't really spoken to Malcolm since then. That is, I hadn't held a conversation with the man that didn't revolve around ship's business. Hadn't, until this morning. And I wanted to.

It's funny, but it's only just occurred to me that I probably should have disciplined him for his attitude this morning. *Should* have, but I can't reconcile that with being fair to the man. No, I didn't ask him to work through the night, but he did it anyway and he did it for the safety of this ship and her crew. I have to admire him for that.

There's a niggling feeling, telling me there's more to it—that things, as always, are more complex. I think back to that night in the mess hall. He was tired then, too. Perhaps a part of me remembered that and hoped for the same. I doubt that our argument this morning would have happened if he were properly rested, in control, and I can't help thinking that that would have been a shame. It also showed me something I've never seen from him before—passion—and I'm glad of it. I've seen him gradually settle into the crew, becoming more comfortable and slowly making friends, but it's become obvious that he needs to keep a certain distance from me. I've come across a couple of officers like him before, and in the past I've been happy to accommodate them. It's different, though, here on Enterprise. We're lightyears from home and have no one but each other to depend on—I need to know my officers inside and out. And, I realize, on some level I would like to be on friendly, more comfortable terms with him.

I said to Trip, 'We don't know that much about Malcolm.' That may be so, and maybe one argument with the man hasn't really changed that, but I feel as though a door has been opened. Or should that be a window? Those eyes... it's funny how you don't notice them until you're really up close. Maybe that's one of his defenses—I've thought, in the past, that the answer to the riddle of this man might be found in his eyes. No wonder he wants to hide that. But this morning I saw something. I saw it that night in the mess hall and I saw it again this morning. I saw Malcolm Reed.

Perhaps that's why I've made Hoshi go to such lengths for his birthday. At first I told myself it was to demonstrate to him how much a part of this crew he really is. But to be honest, he's settling in all on his own. It's taken a while but it's happening. So I suppose it must be purely selfish. I remember thinking, that night in the mess, that I wanted to reach out, to make a connection. I still do. More significantly, I want to see the other Malcolm Reed again, the man with the stormy, unpredictable eyes, and the passion that runs so deep. This almost double life that my armory officer leads intrigues me, and I can feel myself being pulled in by my fascination.

I didn't dress Malcolm down earlier because I wanted to watch the deconstruction of his restraint. This realization has been slowly coming to me over the last few hours, but now it crystallizes in my mind with a startling clarity. I *wanted* to watch him lose his control, like a shuttle crash in slow motion. It was almost a relief to be reminded that I wasn't dreaming; that there really is another man under all those layers of propriety and calm reserve. The man that seems to live almost entirely in Malcolm's eyes broke through with the violence and the beauty of a wild animal, powerful and lawless. It was just for a second, a fleeting moment, but it was there.

I shake my head at myself in wonder. It seems… cruel to subject Malcolm to such scrutiny when I know it isn't wanted. He's a private man and I should respect that. He isn't my own personal project, to toy with as and when… and yet, it's as though I couldn't stop myself. I must have been too tired to see it at the time.

My thoughts move on, back to the oddly unsettling conversation I had with Malcolm's parents. I'm trying to keep an open mind about them—I know not everyone is as close to their families as I was—and I can appreciate how frustrating he might have been as a child, a teenager… and yet, to not even know your son's favorite food. It seems like such a trivial thing. But none of us knew him well enough to give him a personalized birthday, and that sits uncomfortably with me.

Staring into space I let my mind continue along this line for a few minutes until, finally, I don't want to think about it any more. The clock on my console is showing 1152—nearly time for the first test. Before that I need to update my star log.

As I speak to the computer, I find myself wandering over to the window. As I stare out at the planetoids I can feel a nervous tingle rising through my body and a jump of hope in my gut that if this works perhaps we won't have to return to Earth after all. I could have been… hasty in my decision. Maybe my armory officer was right, maybe I didn't believe he could do it and do it right. I find myself hoping that I'll have reason to chastise myself for that.


It's all over and we won. No need to return to Jupiter station. Several days' worth of relief is slowly flowing through me as I head for the armory with an armful of cold beers courtesy of Chef. I'm finding it hard to keep the grin off my face—there's nothing so satisfying as getting one over on a bully.

The armory seems oddly quiet now, with the aft cannon being fitted in the stern of the ship and all the bulkheads back in place. It looks deserted, but then I spot Malcolm on the upper level. He's already seen me and is making his way over, sliding with fluid ease down the railings of the stairs.

'Captain,' he greets me. Then, with a shocked look on his face, 'is that… *beer*?'

I have to laugh. 'Yes, Lieutenant, I suppose it is.'

He looks up at me, sharing my smile, but more with his eyes than his face. 'Well then, you'd better sit down,' and gestures to an empty work bench. 'I'm afraid I haven't a chair to offer you, sir, but I'm fairly certain the torpedoes are unarmed.'

'I'll take my chances.' Chuckling again I leave my cargo on the work bench and then join him on the launching platform.

'May I assume Commander Tucker will be joining us?' He asks, glancing at the three glasses I've brought with me.

'He said he'll be down in a moment. I think he's just checking in with Lieutenant Hess.'

'Ah.' As so often happens, we fall into silence and Malcolm looks away, first staring at the table, then the bulkhead to his right, then the ceiling. He seems agitated, I assume from being alone with me. I'm just about to start with some more small talk when he rises, turning to face me, standing at ease.

'Captain, I…' He glances away, collecting his thoughts. 'I want to apologize again for my outburst last night. It was completely unacceptable. It won't happen again, sir.'

I hold up my hand. 'That isn't necessary, Lieutenant. You're only human.' Behind my jovial smile, a vein of worry runs through me, that I've pushed him away even further, that his defenses will now be all the more impenetrable. But I quash it almost immediately—I'm in too good a mood.

Something that might be a wry smile ghosts across his features. 'All the same, I wanted to say it.'

Trip now arrives grinning from ear to ear, looking thoroughly pleased with himself. 'Cap'n, Lieutenant, let's crack out the booze!'

As I hand around the glasses and toast our success, I can feel Malcolm's eyes on me. That wry little smile hasn't really left his eyes or the corners of his mouth and I wonder what he sees and what he's thinking about. Now that Trip's here he's visibly relaxed, leaning back onto his torpedo, arm stretched out towards me. He suspects no ulterior motives to celebrating a job well done.

Which makes his surprise, as I present him with his birthday cake, all the more rewarding. If his anger was a solar flare, then his smile is a supernova. I think it's the first real, genuinely happy smile I've seen from him in all these months and it's infectious. I smile back indulgently.

Seeing his simple pleasure at being given a birthday cake with his favorite fruit in the middle, I wonder if maybe my first reason for this wasn't so far off the mark after all. Even though it seems to me that he's settling in, it's evident that little gestures of friendship such as this are rare for him. Maybe he did need to be shown how much a part of this crew he is. The thought brings me a kind of warmth and a smile to my face. My second reason still stands, however, as I try to fix to memory the way he looks when he smiles—truly alive. And maybe, just maybe, there's a third reason—this gift is my secret apology to him, for willing him to lose control, no matter how subconsciously. I think, this cements my silent promise to him, to not do it again. But I can't quite bring myself to make that promise in the first place. Make it and mean it.

Again I feel a little stab of worry, deep in my gut, as to my motivations. Something ominous moves among the shadows at the back of my mind; a warning. But my officers are smiling, drinking, eating cake, being merry; the atmosphere in the room is buoyant, carrying me up and away until I've forgotten.


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