Title: Strangers in the Night

Author: Kate Kernshaw

Author's email: k1a9t8e0@yahoo.com

Date: 09/05/02

Type: Slash, M/M

Fandom: Enterprise

Pairing: Archer/Reed

Rating: PG-13

Disclaimer: Not my characters—they all belong to Paramount.

Author's Note: A mighty big thanks to The Grrrl for reading and helpful recommendations, MJ and Cinmbria for beta, suggestions and a whole lot of encouragement and cyber-handholding. Additional other errors found within are mine, all mine-you can't have them.

Archive: Sure to EntSTSlash, enterpriseslash, Archers_Enterprise, WWOMB. All others please ask.

This is in response to Tim Ruben's Poker Challenge, based on a conversation between Archer and Tucker in the episode, "Rogue Planet":

"Trip, have you ever known me to do anything foolish, I mean really foolish?" asked Archer.

"Well, I remember a poker game at Jupiter Station once…" Trip replied.

Strangers in the Night

The ship left orbit away from the rogue planet. Archer sat back in his chair in the cool darkness of his ready room, thinking back on his conversation with Tucker. He sipped a cup of coffee, reminiscing about that night on Jupiter Station. He smiled slightly at the memory of that very special, late November night, some four months prior to Enterprise's launch.

They were gathered around the table in Captain Jonathan Archer's cabin on Jupiter Station; the usual gang for their weekly poker night. To Archer's immediate left sat his best friend of eight years, Commander Charles Tucker, III, known to his friends as "Trip"; on the other side of Archer sat another good buddy, Commander Peter Duval; next to him, slumped in his chair, was Lieutenant Commander Frank Jacobs; and lastly, between Trip and Jacobs, sat Captain David Harrigan, gleefully scooping up his winnings from the latest hand. The beer and booze flowed freely, the betting got wilder and crazier with each hand, and the friends were having a great time.

"Come on, Dave," snorted Trip, "deal the damn cards already. Lady Luck is sure to smile down on me any minute now." The others snickered and laughed.

"Ante up, gents," said Harrigan. "Let's see, I think we agreed potato chips are pennies, pickles are nickels…"

"Sure, Trip," laughed Duval. "The day *any* lady smiles at you is a lucky day, right? Just be sure to leave a few of the prettier ones for the rest of us."

More drinks passed around the table, more snacks filled the serving dishes, and a mix of country western and hard rock music emanated from the audio system providing background to the friendly banter.

"Jon, did I tell you that my wife called? We're expecting another baby in about six and a half months," said Jacobs.

"Urgh," snickered Duval. "Dave, you're a real poet—I like that, 'pickles are nickels'—you should get a promotion for such cleverness."

"Frank, that's great news. With two boys already, I bet you and Suze are hoping for a girl this time," replied Archer.

Harrigan ignored Duval's comment and continued, "Cheese cubes are dimes, crackers are quarters, and the Oreos are dollars. Everyone got that?"

"Wait," called Archer. "Before you deal—how about we make this hand really interesting? Seven-card stud, low hand wins, jacks and deuces wild." "Sure, sure, whatever you want, Jon," said Jacobs. He downed his beer and got up to get another one. "Anyone else?" he asked, waving the beer bottle. "Hurry up and deal already, Dave," he added.

"Yeah, Frank, over here," Tucker said tipsily. He accepted the cold bottle from Jacobs. "Say, Pete, did you ever get that purty li'l gal's name, ya know, the redhead in the commissary? Wouldn't mind if she wanted to be my lady luck for the night," he giggled.

Archer sneaked a hand into the pot, snagging a few cheese cubes, which he tossed to Porthos who was wriggling impatiently under the table. He grabbed a couple of pickles and a handful of potato chips and popped them into his mouth. He looked blearily at his cards, blinking several times. "I'll call," he said as he tossed in a handful of pretzels, "and raise you—whatever this is," adding a partially eaten Oreo to the mess in the center of the table.

"Hell, Cap'n, it ain't your turn," commented Tucker. "Not sure whose it is, but I'm real positive it ain't yours. Mind if I help myself to the rest of that cookie? Say, someone turn that music up! I love that song-it's 'Ricochet Rocket'." He thumped his hands on the table in time with the music and chimed in at the chorus, "ricochet rocket, rockin' my baby no more; 'nother space cowboy, and she left me like before."

"Trip," piped up Duval. "Let me tell you, my friend, that little redhead is quite a tasty-looking morsel. Unfortunately, she's a very happily married tasty-looking morsel."

"Dave, what'd you say pretzels are worth?" asked Jacobs. "And what's wild? Hell and damnation but this is the worst hand ever," he hiccupped. "Okay, I'll call," as he added a dozen pretzels to the mix, "and raise two Oreos and five pickles." Another hearty hiccup and a deep belch accompanied the bet.

"Damn. How come all the beautiful women are all married before they come up here? Is it some kind of conspiracy? It doesn't seem fair, now does it?" sighed Tucker.

More food was piled into the center of the table, but no one paid much attention to their cards. The game wound down, everyone tossing down his cards, no one caring who actually won the pot. As was their usual, the five friends never played for real money, preferring to keep funds and friendships separate. They continued to munch on snacks, chatting about work, families, and exchanging a few of the latest dirty jokes.

Tucker glanced over to the chronometer on the nightstand. "Whoa, fellas. It's midnight, and at least one of us has an early shift in the morning. I'm callin' it a night." He grabbed another handful of chips and Oreos along with the rest of his beer. "Night, Cap'n," he said, patting his friend on the back.

Archer walked him the short distance to the door. "Trip, don't forget we have another full afternoon of interviews at HQ; be sure to have a clean, pressed uniform to take down on the shuttle."

"Shhhh, you'll wake up everyone. No prob-; meet ya for breakfast in the mess hall at 0800," Tucker whispered. He stumbled out the door and bumped into another figure in the corridor, his beer sloshing onto the floor. "Sorry," he hiccupped, then staggered down the hallway towards the lift that would take him to his own cabin.

"Excuse me, I heard there was a poker game going on here. Is it a closed game? Or am I too late?" asked a softly accented voice.


* Archer ran his eyes in frank appraisal over the newcomer. He liked what he saw: tousled dark brown hair, quite handsome, intelligent-looking, intense gray-blue eyes, and one incredibly sexy half-smile. Oh yes, he thought, there's definitely room for this one.

"Come on in," Archer said, as he stood and offered his hand. "This is Dave, next to him is Pete, over there is Frank, and I'm Jon."

"Reed," the young man replied. He shook Jon's hand and nodded a brief acknowledgement to the others as he slung his black leather jacket over the back of the vacant chair between Jon and Dave. He sat down and eyed the table skeptically. "What are you using for stakes?"

Frank laughed. "We always play a real friendly game; use whatever we feel like *except* poker chips or money. Tonight we decided on snacks as stakes."

"That's right," piped up Dave. "Whatever food you have on you will buy a stake in the game."

"Well, then," said Reed as he rummaged in his jacket pockets. "I have a small tin of wintergreen Altoids, a roll of butter rum lifesavers, a packet of two Fig Newtons—oh, and a couple of lint-covered cough drops."

"Ah, keep the cough drops," quipped Pete. "Nobody ever leaves our games totally broke."

Jon stood up and fetched more beer for Harrigan and Jacobs, more bourbon for Duval, and added a little more scotch to his glass. "What's your poison, Reed?" he asked.

"Scotch, neat," the newcomer answered. Jon complied, enjoying the soft British accent and thinking of how he could easily listen to this man talk all day long. He handed the drink to Reed and let his eyes roam once again over the young man's wiry physique. His gazed wandered back up to Reed's eyes, smiling at the knowledge that Reed was giving him the same frank examination. They looked directly at each other; there was no mistaking the immediate spark that passed between them.

A few good-natured hands of straight poker were played, the newcomer surprising the group of friends with his skill and aptitude. Jon occasionally, *accidentally* rubbed his knee against Reed's, carefully gauging the newcomer's reaction. Reed flashed him a lovely half-smile, reached under the table to pet the puppy he'd spotted underneath, and let his hand graze across Jon's inner leg.

As he dealt the cards, Dave said, "I heard a rumor that Jupiter Station is going to expand into a full colony. Sure would be nice to have more of a normal life up here. It gets so lonely at times."

Jon got up to fix more drinks and Reed rose and joined him. Jon passed him two bottles of beer and said, "Beer for Frank and Dave. I'll get more ice for Pete's bourbon." He leaned closer to Reed and lightly brushed against him. Reed blushed and smiled slightly.

"Jon, do you find it lonely up here?" Reed asked softly. He poured the bourbon for Pete and passed the glass to Jon, his fingers innocently ghosting across the older man's hands.

"You know, I heard that rumor, too," chimed in Frank. "Personally, I won't believe it until I see it. It would be so great if they built some nice family quarters here so I could have Suze and kids with me."

Jon took the bourbon over to Pete and returned to take the two glasses of scotch from Reed, his hands lingering over Reed's fingers as the glasses were exchanged between them. He spoke quietly, "Good companionship is hard to find on station. But there are ways to fill one's time and chase away the blues. At least I have Porthos here with me."

At mention of his name, the beagle puppy emerged from under the table, wagging his tail in anticipation of some attention or a cheesy snack. Jon tossed him a couple small cubes and lovingly scratched his pet's ears.

Jon and Reed returned to the table, and Jon grabbed the cards, deftly manipulating the deck. He kicked off his shoes under the table and wriggled his toes, sneaking one foot over Reed's lower leg and rubbing from the ankle up to the knee and back down to the ankle. Jon dealt the hand, picked up his cards and nearly dropped them when he felt Reed's sock-clad foot returning the play. Jon lost all interest in the game being played on the table, concentrating solely on the game being played under the table.

"I'd love to see some real restaurants come in here. Mess hall food is the absolute worst!" added Pete. "And the proposed gambling casino is bound to get this place really hopping with some fast action and lovely ladies."

"Yeah, Pete," teased Jon, "and we know where you and Trip would be every weekend."

A few more hands were played and light conversation continued. No one talked shop, nor did Reed volunteer any information about himself. He remained quiet adding a mere 'yes' or 'no' whenever asked a question. Before long Pete, Dave, and Frank all folded, declaring it was time to head off to their respective beds. Jon slid his feet back into his shoes and escorted his friends to the door.

"I suppose I should take my leave, too?" asked Reed. But instead of moving towards the door, the young man approached the audio system and slowly sifted through the discs. "I've never heard of this band, 'Nuclear Underwear'. Looks intriguing." Reed remained attuned to Jon's movements, watching him perform his host's duties, while he perused the disc jacket.

Jon finished saying his 'goodnights' to his friends at the door and keyed in his security code, locking the two men inside. "Put that disc on," said Jon. "It's really a good group—sort of a combination of twentieth century swing and modern jazz. My favorite track is 'Jazz Junket on J Street'. I think you'll like it."

Jon came back to the table, scotch bottle in hand, noticing Reed had also slipped back into his shoes. He truly hoped Reed wouldn't leave. Casual pickups were not the norm for Jon, but something about this young man was different—special, and he wanted to spend more time with him. He hoped Reed felt the same.

"You don't need to leave, unless you want to," Archer said. "Besides, you haven't finished your drink," he added as he poured more of the amber liquid into Reed's half-full glass. "I'm really not all that tired and I don't have to be up early in the morning. I'd like to get to know you a little better."

"I'd like that," replied Reed. He swayed and jived to the rapid tempo of the music. He smiled warmly at Jon and took a gulp of his drink.

"How about more poker?" asked Jon. He needed to say and do something when he saw Reed's eyes shifting downward, focusing on Jon's groin. Jon flushed, knowing how prominent his package must appear in the tight jeans.

"It appears I hold all the winnings," said Reed. He sat down and scooped the remaining snacks from the center of the table closer to him. He silkily added, "Surely you don't expect to play for IOU's?"

Jon was amazed that anyone could look so sexy while smirking. He snorted. "No, I thought a slightly different version of the game—interested in a little strip poker?" He absorbed the nuances of the younger man's muscular frame, those intense eyes, and the air of animal sensuality that seemed to waft off Reed's compact body and decided he wanted to get up very close and personal with that body.

"All right," Reed purred. "Ground rules?"

"Winner of the hand decides which item he wants removed, reserving the option to assist," Jon replied, making up rules off the top of his head. "You're not wearing your jacket so no putting it on now. Shoes one item, socks one item; are you wearing any jewelry?"

"Agreed—and no, no jewelry."

Jon shuffled the deck, offering them to Reed to cut. Jon dealt, they played, and Jon emerged the victor for the first round. "Shoes," he commanded, choosing to assist Reed in removing even the simplest of items. He snaked his fingers upwards to grab the socks in an attempt to remove them as well.

"Oh no, Jon, cheating is not permitted," laughed Reed. "My deal, and since you tried to cheat, I won't let you cut the deck."

The next hand played out quickly with Jon winning again. "Socks, and I will remove them; put your feet in my lap," he demanded. Jon slithered each sock off, thinking how oddly erotic it was to hold this man's feet. He took time to brush his fingers over and around Reed's ankles and heels, and then teasingly tickled the sensitive under-soles of Reed's feet.

The game continued. Reed won three hands in a row, demanding and assisting Jon to remove shoes, socks, and the attractive long-sleeved, green print shirt, button-by-button. He slipped a hand under the tee-shirt, copping a quick feel of furry chest hair before Jon grabbed the hand and pulled it out. "Uh-uh, you don't have permission—yet," he growled.

Another round and Reed grinned wickedly. Jon watched and waited in anxious anticipation, wondering which item Reed would declare to be stripped: the undershirt or the jeans? He was aroused at the thought of standing nearly naked with this man, yet he wanted to draw out the experience to enjoy it more fully. Reed took his time deciding, signaling Jon to stand up and twirl around before him. He ogled and leered, then took a large gulp of his scotch.

"Undershirt," Reed commanded, "and very slowly." Reed watched as Jon grabbed the hem of his white tee-shirt and pulled it up over his head. The broad expanse of well-defined chest covered in a silky forest of brown hair took Reed's breath away. He stood up and reached over, running his fingers through, curling and twisting the lovely fur, while his mouth sought Jon's in a searing kiss.

Jon responded arduously to the kiss, pulling back and sliding his tongue along Reed's lips and then lightly nibbled Reed's lower lip. He gently sat Reed back on the chair. "My deal," he said. He shuffled and dealt, preferring to get the game moving along faster now. Archer decided it was time to play more aggressively; he was nearly naked while this handsome young man remained fully clothed, and he was determined to change that.

Three more hands found Reed losing his maroon and gray knit shirt, his black undershirt, and now Jon insisted on personally stripping off the black leather pants. "Stand up," he dictated. Jon undid the button, then slid one long, elegant finger along the zipper as he slowly unzipped the tight black leather. He grabbed the waistband and gently tugged downwards. Jon felt his body heat up, his heart pounding, his cock throbbing with desire at the sight of Reed in thong underwear. He took a deep breath and possessively gripped Reed's almost bare ass.

Reed's eyes were riveted on the huge bulge in Jon's jeans. He licked his lips and took a couple of deep breaths. "You haven't won yet," he gasped. Pulling Jon's hands off his body, Reed reached for the deck of cards. "I believe this is my deal." He shuffled, reshuffled, and shuffled again before dealing five cards, one at a time, to each of them.

Jon picked up his hand and sorted the cards: jack of spades, nine of hearts, nine of spades, nine of diamonds, and four of hearts. He gambled on the nines, tossing the jack and the four face-down on the table. "Two," he said simply. He forced himself to concentrate on betting odds, chess moves, and water polo standings to control his erection.

Reed picked up his own hand: four, seven, ten, and jack of clubs and the ace of diamonds. "One," he murmured. He tossed the ace of spades face-down on the table. He dealt Jon two replacement cards and one for himself.

Jon picked up his two cards, fighting to keep a poker face when he spotted the nine of clubs and added it to his hand. Let's see you beat that, Reed, he thought. He grinned widely as they each turned their cards over in full disclosure-Jon's four-of-a-kind in nines won over Reed's single pair of jacks. "As winner of the game, I want the pleasure of removing your, ummm, underwear. Then, ahh, let's just see where things go from there."

Reed hesitated, then slowly stood up before Jon, his body trembling. Jon's hands gripped the waistband of the barely-there thong and slowly pulled them down. He took another deep breath, pulled Reed closer, and kissed him thoroughly as he ran one hand through Reed's hair and lowered the other hand to gently encircle Reed's aroused cock. He held Reed for several minutes, enjoying his time with this man.

Reed pulled back tentatively and nervously glanced around the room, avoiding eye contact with Jon. His eyes focused on his clothes piled on the floor, and Jon wondered if Reed wanted to end it now and leave.

Jon spoke reassuringly, "We won't do anything neither of us wants to do. And we'll stop whenever one of us wants to. I want us both to be comfortable and enjoy ourselves. Is this okay? Do you want to continue?"

"Yes, to everything" Reed whispered. They kissed again deeper and harder, Reed's arms encircling Jon, pressing his body tightly against the taller man.

"Everything?" Jon asked and moved his lips over Reed's ear.

Reed nodded and ground his hips against Jon. "Yes, everything."

Jon pulled away until he was looking into the younger man's passion-glazed eyes. "Why don't we take this to the bed and I'll see if can show you-everything?"

Reed smiled and set his head on Jon's shoulder. "After that game, I doubt there is anything left for me to show you."

Jon leaned down and took Reed's lips in a swift and fierce kiss. "You can show me how you look when you come at my hands." Jon stepped back from Reed, took his hand and began to pull him towards the bed.

*** Jonathan Archer cracked one eye open and cursed the alarm while switching on the nightstand lamp. There should be a law against making decent folks get up at 06-ungodly-30 hours. He sat up in his bed and scrubbed a hand over his face, pausing as the night's events came back to him full force. Reed. He looked around the room and found the young man was gone.

He rose and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower before meeting Tucker in the mess hall. As he lathered the soap along his wet body, Archer recalled last night's activities. He smiled wryly at the recollection of soft touches and gentle tickles as the two men had caressed and kissed, exploring and experiencing each other with a desire that had turned into unparalleled passion. Archer recalled how Reed's mouth, lips, tongue, hands, and fingers had all worked in concert to elicit such intense passion, then teasingly tortured him, prolonging the exquisite pleasures they had shared. Additional images tumbled one after the other of how their joined bodies worked in unison to achieve mutual climax.

Archer rinsed, shut off the water, and exited the shower. As he dried himself off, he thought of how last night had proven to be the most mind-blowing, satisfying sex he'd ever known. Damn, he remembered. I never got Reed's last name, where he works, or how to contact him.


* At 0800 hours Archer arrived at the mess hall to find not only Trip Tucker, but also their other friends, Harrigan, Jacobs, and Duval, waiting for him. They selected their entrees and found a large table where they could sit together. They ate and chatted, the conversation centered on the newcomer at the previous night's poker game. "Jon, did that fellow hang around and play more poker after we left?" asked Duval. "He was pretty good. If you played for real money, I hope he left you enough to feed Porthos until next pay day!"

Archer chuckled. "Let's just say I was *real* lucky last night," he said cryptically, then joined in the laughter. Archer was aware that Tucker knew him all too well and that whenever he tried to act like nothing happened, Tucker knew otherwise. He watched Tucker sit back listening to the exchange, curiosity clearly written on his face. Archer avoided eye contact with Tucker so he wouldn't have to acknowledge Tucker's unspoken question about 'what really happened'. He stayed out of all further discussion about the poker game, except to ask if anyone knew anything about Reed.

"Reed! That was his name," said Harrigan, pounding the table. "Did you ever get his last name? I think I heard somewhere that he's some kind of weapons expert, but I'm not sure if he's working for one of the civilian contractors or part of that Marine battalion that was just deployed on station." No one knew anything else about the newcomer except that he was quiet, played a mean hand of poker, and drank scotch.

The men continued to eat their breakfasts. Duval volunteered to take care of Porthos while Archer was in San Francisco for the weekend, then the friends split up to attend to their duties. Tucker and Archer stopped off at their cabins to collect clean uniforms, neatly encased in clothing protectors, and headed directly to the space port. They had decided to catch an earlier shuttle back to San Francisco so they'd have more time to browse the personnel files of the day's scheduled candidates.

Archer hoped to finalize the senior bridge crew from the day's interviews. He eagerly looked forward to the day when Enterprise would launch, and for the key positions, he wanted the very best Starfleet had to offer. He already had his communications officer selected. Professor Hoshi Sato was a friend, but more importantly she was a first-class linguist, highly regarded in her field of expertise. Now he just had to convince the young woman to sign on for the first tour of duty in deep space.

They stood in line waiting to board. "So, Cap'n," drawled Tucker. "What's this about some new guy showin' up to play poker? Sounds like things got really crazy after I left. Come on, 'fess up. What really went on last night? And don't say 'nothing happened'; it's written all over you," he said.

"It's none of your business, Trip," replied Archer, turning away from Tucker. He knew that his closest friend was an expert at ferreting out secrets, although he also had the reputation of being able to keep those secrets. And he knew that if anyone could pry the details of last night out of him, it'd be one Trip Tucker.

"I won't give up, Cap'n. I know you're hidin' somethin' from me, and you might as well tell me now cuz I won't drop it," teased Tucker. He gripped Archer's elbow and turned him back around to stand face-to-face.

Archer remained unfazed. "Aha!" Tucker exclaimed. "Lemme guess, as I recall, the kind of men you prefer are tall, lean, goodlookin' redheads with big, brown eyes, and talk with a foreign accent. Right?"

Archer's eyes flickered and his lips twitched. Damn, Tucker was good. "No, Trip, and *you're* the one who has a thing for redheads," he said. He debated with himself, then cautiously added, "short, wiry, handsome, dark-brown hair, blue-gray eyes"—he hesitated a brief moment before admitting—"and British accent."

Tucker crowed triumphantly, "I knew it-the accent gets you every time! So when do I get to meet your new mystery man?" He smiled fondly at his friend and shook his head. "Cap'n, you're a wonder, you know? I've had what—three, maybe four relationships in my life, and here you are, falling in and out of love as often as you change your shirt!"

Archer laughed. "Sometimes it seems like it. But you know I haven't had a steady relationship in nearly two years. And this guy, I can't explain it, but I felt something special about him. I think given time, he and I could have made a serious go of it. But I don't know his name or how I can contact him…," he trailed off, a sad smile on his face as he realized how futile it would be to start a relationship now. "Besides, Enterprise will soon be a reality…" he froze, as he looked over Tucker's shoulder.

Tucker whipped around to see what caught Archer's attention, but Archer was already rushing towards the lift. The door closed before he could reach it. Reed. Archer had just verbalized his feelings about this virtual stranger, and then suddenly he appeared out of nowhere. Tucker joined Archer and pulled him away from the lift—their flight was announced—it was time to get down to Starfleet Headquarters.


* The slate of scheduled interviews was grueling. Normally Tucker wouldn't have been involved with all of these sessions, but the majority of today's candidates were for positions in the engineering department and for the other senior position, Armory Officer. Archer included Tucker not only because he was a trusted friend, but as Enterprise's Chief Engineer and First Officer, Tucker deserved to be part of the decision-making process.

One after another the candidates reported in, were thoroughly questioned and their performances judged, then they were either immediately offered the jobs or told, "we'll be in touch." After meeting with Lieutenant Hess, Lieutenant Rostov, and Ensign Kelly, Archer was pleased that Tucker's main engineering staff was finally filled.

Interviews with the candidates for helmsman were less conclusive, although a couple of prospects looked promising. Archer still held hopes of finding the perfect man—or woman—for the primary slot on alpha shift.

The toughest interviews had been those for the armory. Both Lieutenant Commander Adrian Samuels and Lieutenant Victor Anderson came highly recommended. Samuels, being a bit older and having served in Starfleet for nearly as long as Archer, had excellent credentials, but he really hadn't shown a keen interest in deep space exploration. Archer hesitated about offering him the job. Anderson, on the other hand, reminded Archer of Porthos: young, eager, and overly excitable. Archer wasn't sure if Anderson had the maturity and experience needed to handle himself and others in a crisis situation. He thought the man would be a good match for the armory, but not as head of the department.

Archer rubbed a hand over his tired face. This was a tedious process, and it dawned on him that they had been interviewing for four hours without a break. It was certainly time for some lunch, and he suggested a quick bite at the mess hall.

They chatted about the latest developments on preparing Enterprise for launch. There were still so many things to do, but once the ship was habitable, Archer, Tucker, and their main staff would move in and be able to work on readying the interior systems of the ship. Archer led the way down the corridor, Tucker nattering away about his engines. Archer rounded a corner, stopped, then broke into a full sprint, stopping suddenly in the middle of yet another corridor where he stood looking frantically all around. Tucker soon caught up to him. "Cap'n, where's the fire?" he asked.

"I saw him, Trip. He was in the hall one minute and gone the next!" Archer was upset at spotting and losing Reed once again. "He was here, Trip, in Starfleet. But why would he be here? I *know* it was him. He must have gone in one of these offices, but which one?" He wanted to search the offices for the young man, but Tucker was hungry and they only had time for a short break.

Tucker shook his head, and the two men turned back the way they'd come and walked to the mess hall in silence, Archer agitated, Tucker mystified. They picked out their meals and sat down at a small table near the windows. "So, Cap'n," began Tucker. "You think you spotted your new fella, huh?"

"He was *here*, dammit!" snarled Archer. "I have got to find him, talk to him."

Tucker dug heartily into his meal, while Archer picked at the food on his plate. "Sounds like you got it bad for this guy," said Tucker quietly. "He must really be somethin' to get you this worked up. What exactly happened after I left last night?"

Archer smiled slightly. "Well, it wasn't a romantic candlelight dinner with soft music, but we played a little strip poker, got a little touchy-feely, and afterwards we expended a lot of lust and lube in the pursuit of passion."

Tucker spewed out his iced tea and grabbed the nearest napkin to clean the mess. "Damn, Cap'n! Ya should give a heads up before sayin' stuff like that! It's a helluva lot more information than I ever needed to know!"

Archer laughed and stood. "Someday you'll stop being so nosy."

The two men emptied their trays and walked back to Archer's office. Admiral Forrest arrived a short time later. "I hope the interviews are going well. The sooner the crew roster is set, the sooner Enterprise becomes a reality," he said. He handed a padd each to Archer and Tucker. "Sorry, Jon, I meant to give you this file earlier; one more candidate for Armory Officer. He should be here in a few minutes. This will be the last interview today. Come see me when you're done."

Tucker took his seat at the side of the large desk and began scrolling through the padd. Archer poured coffee for both Tucker and himself and then sat down and to scroll through his own padd. He rapidly skipped through the photo and biographical information to get right to the candidate's education, qualifications, academy standings, testing scores, and other pertinent data. He was highly impressed, but noted in the recommendations that the man was considered to be shy, quiet and reserved. Archer wondered if his personality would fit in with the well-rounded crew he was hoping to attract to the mission.

The door chime sounded and Archer hit the button to admit the candidate. "Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, sir." Archer jerked his head up-that accent, that voice. Before him, standing perfectly at attention, was the man whom Archer had played strip poker with less than fifteen hours previously.

Reed stared in shock at Archer, recognition evident in his expression, but he quickly controlled himself. He remained rigid, his hands clenched tightly at his thighs. Tucker immediately felt the charged atmosphere and looked from Archer to Reed; it took but a moment to realize who stood before them. "I gather this is Mr. Lucky," he murmured to Archer.

Archer, stunned, stared back hard at the young officer, unable to find words to begin the interview. Tucker took the initiative. "At ease, Lootenant," he ordered. Reed immediately shifted, his hands clasped behind his back and his legs spread slightly, his eyes fixed on a spot a little above and between the two superior officers seated at the desk.

Tucker proceeded to question Reed about everything in the personnel file: Reed's educational background, particularly his studies at the Academy, qualifications, ratings, certifications, and Reed's exemplary military service with the Royal Marines prior to joining Starfleet. Reed responded quietly, his soft accent gentle on Archer's ears. Soon the conversation shifted into more specific topics: self-defense, weapons, weapons engineering, tactics, maneuvers, and security issues. The two officers talked, debated, even argued, and Archer was impressed at how self-assured and confident Reed appeared, how well he handled himself under pressure.

Archer listened intently, inserting a few general comments here and there. He smiled as Reed warmed to his favorite topic, becoming quite animated in discussing heavy weaponry, cannons, and torpedoes. An hour turned into two hours. Archer made his decision. "I've heard enough," he interrupted the conversation. "Commander, please wait in the outer office while I speak to Lieutenant Reed in private." Reed immediately snapped back to attention. Tucker rose, nodded at both men and left the room.

Archer waited for the door to close completely. He walked around the desk and stood in front of the man he knew only as Reed. "Just to set the record straight, I only received your file a few minutes before you arrived. I don't make it a habit to seduce persons I plan to have under my command." He paused and took a deep breath. "I am convinced your remarkable qualifications, experience, training, and expertise are what we're looking for in Enterprise's Armory Officer. I'd like to offer you the job right this minute. But first, we need to clarify a few things."

"Yes, sir," Reed replied. "I do indeed want this position. But I must apologize for my behavior last night. Had I known you were Starfleet, I would never have behaved as…as I did. I conducted myself poorly and can offer no suitable excuse except to say that the combination of drink and loneliness can often induce a man to act impulsively-even foolishly."

Archer nodded. "I appreciate your candor. I wish you had been as candid last night to let me know of your own Starfleet status prior to…prior to what transpired between us." Archer nervously paced, trying to choose his words carefully. "And I want you to know that as captain of Enterprise, I will neither show favoritism to you, nor expect favors from you. I *will* expect you to behave professionally and conduct yourself as an officer and a gentleman at all times. There will not be a repeat of…of…last night. If those terms are acceptable, then we'll start the paperwork to process your transfer to my command."

"Yes, sir," Reed said. "I," he hesitated, "accept your terms." He stepped directly in front of Archer and added bitterly, "So, I was little more than a one-night whore, *sir*." He executed a perfect about-face and strode quickly to the door, but Archer refused to open it.

"Lieutenant," warned Archer angrily. Reed turned around and stared unflinchingly at the older man. Archer read the hurt and humiliation in the younger man's face. He couldn't think of a reply, couldn't think of what to say to better explain himself. "Dismissed," he said quietly, then hit the door button allowing Reed to exit.

"Well, that went well," said Tucker, sauntering back into Archer's office. "He seemed nice-awful quiet and reserved until he got goin'-but he was nice. He sure did get all excited talkin' about his precious weapons. You can always tell when a man loves his work. Ahh, you *did* offer him the job, right?"

Archer looked worriedly at his friend. "Yes, but did I do the right thing?" he asked. "Did I offer Reed the position to have him close to me, to take advantage of him, or to hurt him because I'm hurting? I don't know what to think." Archer massaged his tired eyes with his fingers.

Tucker knew Archer too well to believe this. "Whoa, now, Cap'n," he answered. "If that's what you think, maybe you should rescind that job offer. Lieutenant Commander Samuels had real high scores on all his tests, and he's been workin' armory since Starfleet started. He's got a whole lot of experience. That other candidate, Lieutenant Anderson, was rated a top sharpshooter, and he was ranked in the top two percent of his class. And he's workin' on gettin' his bridge certification. Either one of 'em would be good to have on the crew."

"But, Trip, you saw Reed's record. He has a first-rate education, ranked number one in his class at the Academy, is already bridge certified, had top scores in everything, and is rated expert in both marksmanship and martial arts. He has his pilot's rating as well as his prior military experience. No, I definitely believe Reed is the best man for the job." Archer shook his head and smiled at his friend, realizing Tucker had merely been playing Devil's Advocate to help him sort out his decision.

The two men left the office, Archer keying in the security code for the door, and they walked the short distance to Admiral Forrest's office. The three officers spent another hour discussing the various interviews and the candidates that were most impressive. Archer handed the Admiral his padd containing the names of those officers he had selected, satisfied with all of his choices. The Admiral's staff would arrange all the re-assignment transfers and have orders processed and issued within the month.


* The launch of Enterprise had not gone as originally planned, but at least she did launch. Nor had Archer counted on having a Vulcan added to his crew, despite his objections. Over time he and Tucker had both come to appreciate Sub-Commander T'Pol's knowledge and experience, but it still bothered Archer that her Vulcan rank made her second-in-command instead of Tucker. For his part, Tucker hadn't seemed to mind, preferring to spend most duty shifts with his beloved engines instead of on the bridge.

Another unexpected surprise was the spur-of-the-moment choice of Dr. Phlox, a Denobulan, to be the ship's doctor. Despite his sometimes unorthodox procedures in using various creatures to assist in healing patients, Phlox had also proven to be full of knowledge and experience in dealing with various alien species. The crew had come to accept the friendly, always curious, and highly competent physician.

Archer was happy, too, that he had convinced Hoshi Sato to sign on; her skills and "miracle" ear had been invaluable. Ensign Travis Mayweather, the space boomer, was chosen as the primary helmsman. His Academy record had been outstanding, but the defining point in his favor had been the personal recommendation from, of all people, Lieutenant Malcolm Reed. They had known each other in San Francisco, and Reed had been adamant that Mayweather was the best helmsman in all Starfleet.

Then there was Reed. Archer had been in turmoil since the Armory Officer came aboard ship. To his credit, Reed had conducted himself as a professional in his duties both on the bridge and in the armory. No one besides Tucker knew about the first night Archer and Reed had met. The captain and the armory officer interacted civilly and cordially, but Archer was finding it increasingly difficult to sleep well at night. The times he shared a turbolift to the bridge with Reed were always strained and awkward. His heart ached each time he walked through the mess hall on the way to his private dining room and spotted Reed sitting alone, working. In time, he was pleased to see Reed less alone, dining with Phlox, Hoshi, or Mayweather. But it didn't alter the fact that he'd rather have Reed with him, nor did it ease his guilt in remembering the day after that night-the day of the interview-and how much he had hurt the Reed.


* Archer was furious. Dr. Phlox had informed him that Reed was once again working too hard—double shifts for five consecutive days—and that he was looking tired, pale, and withdrawn. That, Phlox had added, was a good indicator that Reed wasn't eating regularly, and he was seriously concerned about the young man's health. It was just one more reminder to Archer that his Armory Officer was overdoing it. Reed was constantly putting himself in danger, always putting everyone else's safety ahead of his own. He had already been shot in the leg protecting Archer, nearly lost when the ice comet he and Mayweather were on started melting, had nearly died in the shuttlepod incident, and more recently had been stranded with Hoshi and T'Pol on a crippled Klingon ship. Truth be known, Archer hadn't been able to forget 'that night' and couldn't get Reed out of his system, so it was no wonder that he was disturbed by Reed's actions and very concerned for his safety and well-being.

Archer strode angrily into the armory looking for Reed, prepared for a verbal battle with his obstinate officer. One of the crewmen told the captain that Reed was in the cargo bay looking for power relay components. He turned around and headed for the cargo bay, his anger mounting.

"Malcolm, are you in here?" called Archer.

"Right here, just be a moment, sir," answered Reed. Archer rounded the corner near Reed, bumping into two tall stacks of unsecured crates. Both men watched in horror as the top two metal boxes slipped off and tumbled towards Archer. Instinctively, Reed leapt forward and pushed Archer out of the way, narrowly avoiding injury himself from the falling crates.

"Are you all right, sir?" asked a worried Reed. He had pushed Archer into the bulkhead, and Archer in turn had pulled Reed up against him to get him out of the way of the crates. They stared at each other, locked in an unintended embrace.

Reed looked up into Archer's green eyes, the eyes that had intrigued him that night some months ago. "Jon," he murmured, hugging Archer closer. He leaned up and kissed him, gently at first, then more insistently, pulling back slightly. He ran his thumb along Archer's lower lip. Archer didn't respond, still angry with Reed. Reed backed away. "I'm sorry, sir; I forgot myself for a moment. It won't happen again, I assure you." In his haste to get away, Reed tripped over one of the crates.

Archer grabbed him before he could fall. "Did you mean it; did you mean to kiss me like that?" he asked. He pulled Reed into his arms. "It's been driving me crazy, but I have to know if that night meant anything to you," he added. He lifted Reed's chin, forcing Reed to look directly into Archer's eyes. "Tell me-the truth."

Reed squirmed briefly, then stood passively in Archer's arms, allowing the older man to hold him. "Yes," he whispered. "Yes, I meant it; yes that night was special for me. I think of it all the time. I think of *you* all the time. I wanted this job badly enough to accept your terms knowing you loathed and despised me for that night." Archer stared at Reed's anguished face. "You thought I hated you? No, Malcolm, I…I was about to become your commanding officer; I didn't want you to feel pressured or obligated to…to be with me. I could never hate you." He hesitated, "Are you telling me that you want this?"

"Yes," Reed said simply.

"So do I," Archer whispered. He kissed Reed hard, slipping his tongue into Reed's mouth. He pulled Reed tighter against him, kissing him with all the passion in his heart. Within moments they were both panting; the fire of their reunion burning brightly. Archer pulled back and tucked Reed under his shoulder. "We'll find a way to make this work."


* Archer shook his head as he came back to the present. He smiled at the memory of the cargo bay accident; silently thanking whoever had left those crates stacked so precariously. He and Reed were now 'courting', to use that old-fashioned term, and in two days they would celebrate their first month anniversary together. With that in mind, Archer rose and walked down to the mess hall to discuss with chef some special arrangements for a private dinner.

Tucker hurried out of the lift and headed straight for Archer's quarters. He carried precious cargo, a disc of the Stanford versus Alabama water polo finals, freshly downloaded from the subspace mail relay. He stopped at the door and urgently pressed the buzzer. There was no answer, but Tucker heard sounds of music emanating from inside the cabin. He leaned in to catch the lyrics—"strangers in the night, exchanging glances, wondering in the night, what were the chances, we'd be sharing love, before the night was through…" He listened for a few more moments, and with a wide grin on his face ambled back down the corridor whistling the same tune.

Inside the captain's quarters, candles set in the center of the small dinner table flickered and stars shone through the port window, combining to provide a romantic mood in the dark room. Plates that once held a scrumptiously delicious meal sat empty, half-filled wine glasses beside them. Nearby, Archer and Reed stood together, swaying to the music, locked in a gentle embrace, oblivious to everything but each other.

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