Title: Solitary Man

Author: Kate Kernshaw

E-mail: k1a9t8e0@yahoo.com

Date: 09/20/02

Fandom: Enterprise

Type: Gen, Slash, M/M

Pairing: Archer/Tucker

Rating: G

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

Author's Note: Just a little vignette, a departure from my normal style. I was feeling down after a chat discussion about pairings and how my fave pair was considered to be all-wrong. I started this piece as a writing exercise to work through my own sadness at the prospect of writing no more Archer/Reed stories. The stories that were in the works are still waiting until I decide whether to hang in there with A/R, write gen stories instead, or switch fandoms.

Beta: Many thanks to Taryn Eve for advice and guidance, and to Cinmbria for the beta-read.

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

Reed sat in the far corner of the mess hall, his arms crossed over his chest, slumped back in the chair. A tremendous sorrow overwhelmed him. No, he felt a depth of loneliness so intense that it permeated his very essence. Inside he felt empty, a hollow shell of a man. Oblivious to everything around him, he sat alone, watching the stars pass by the window in front of him. The stars called to him. The stars whispered to him. Sometimes the stars mocked him. Tonight the stars comforted him.

Gazing intently at his reflection in the window, Reed cast his mind back through the past year. Life aboard Enterprise surprised him. Thinking about the importance of duty and responsibility, Reed considered his place within the crew. He was the cool, aloof, totally professional armory officer with no time for a personal life. Munitions and weapons were the driving force behind him, while regulations, rules, protocols, and procedures were the order of the day, the military way. But little by little he found himself drawn into the lives of those around him. The shared away missions, the target practices, the hand-to-hand training sessions, the battles for survival, had all played their part in banding these eighty-some individuals together into a tightly-knit crew. Reed felt some slight satisfaction for his small role in this accomplishment.

Through the glass' reflection, Reed watched Ensigns Sato and Mayweather eating dinner together. The two youngest members of the alpha bridge crew—the linguistics professor and the space boomer—had formed a strong bond of friendship both on and off duty. Reed smiled at Sato's hand gestures and Mayweather's broad smile, their body language speaking volumes, and he imagined the humorous conversation they shared. Watching their interplay escalate from bantering to kissing reminded him of the day that he witnessed the young couple's relationship progress from friendship to courtship. Although his preference was to stay in his quarters and read a good book, Reed occasionally ventured out to join the crew for movie night, and it was at one such event that he discovered Sato and Mayweather were dating.

Shifting slightly in his chair, Reed slid his eyes along the glass, enjoying the mirror-like visage of the mess hall. Strangers a year ago, Reed was pleased to witness members of his armory staff intermingling and interacting with engineers and scientists. Another couple soon caught his attention: Doctor Phlox and Ensign Cutler. Musing to himself about what an unusual pair they made, Reed wondered if the older, married Denobulan and the younger, single exobiologist were a couple, or if they were merely good friends. The doctor was friendly, cheerful, and ever optimistic, yet he held strong beliefs regarding his profession and held steadfast to these beliefs. Cutler, a vibrant, intelligent woman, was eager to learn new skills during this mission and soon became the good doctor's assistant in sickbay. Smiling slightly at the possibility of another shipboard romance, Reed cautiously observed their interactions, deciding that Phlox and Cutler were indeed just good friends.

Considering friendship, Reed thought about the few close friends he left behind on Earth, admitting to himself that he had only one, true friend, Mark Latrelle, his former roommate at Starfleet Academy. Being an intensely private person, Reed rarely allowed anyone to get close to him, especially anyone whose personality was contrary to Reed's own. He marveled at the incongruity of becoming friends with Commander Tucker, for they certainly hadn't started out as such. They competed for storage space. They argued about methods. They fought over materials. They vied for attention. But sharing a near death experience in the shuttlepod incident had brought a meaningful understanding to each about the inner workings of the other. Reed wondered whether or not his life was richer for having known Trip Tucker as his friend, and smiled at the realization that it was.

Reed's thoughts drifted towards Captain Archer, to the burdens of command and how Archer was handling these burdens. Full of hope for the future and enthusiasm for exploration, Archer had started Enterprise's first mission with total commitment for success and knowledge. He treated all his crew with respect and fairness, never showing favoritism, even for his best friend and lover, Commander Tucker. Reed appreciated the efforts Archer employed to include him in conversations and activities. At one time Reed had hoped for a closer, more intimate relationship with his captain. Upon learning of the long-standing affair between Archer and Tucker, Reed knew it would be wrong to pursue a relationship with the captain. He made a solemn decision that whatever bit of friendship Archer could offer would be enough for him.

Still watching through the window's reflection, Reed observed Archer and Tucker as they passed through the mess hall to their dinner in the captain's mess. Despite his sadness, Reed felt genuine happiness for the couple and the great love they shared. Both men glanced his way, nodding and grinning at him from across the room. Thinking about that private enclave brought to Reed's mind the fact that he was the only member of the bridge crew not to receive an invitation to break bread with the captain, compounding his loneliness. Instinctively, Reed's quietly reserved fašade slid into place, an outwardly pleasant countenance for public show, as he turned and acknowledged them with a wry half-smile.

No one, especially those whom Reed considered friends, would ever know of his loneliness. Controlling his emotions had been a difficult lesson to learn, although he had not fully mastered this art. At one time Reed consulted Sub-commander T'Pol, asking her to teach him some Vulcan meditation techniques, which proved helpful, but he still had so much to learn. Remembering his trepidation in approaching the Vulcan for lessons, Reed had been pleased when T'Pol proved to be a patient teacher as she guided him through each technique.

Reed shook his head and forced himself back to reality. Swiveling in his seat to face the table, he refocused his energy on the padds and schematics spread out before him. Calculations filled his mind as he concentrated on the math problems of one padd, while tapping out his daily report, due to Captain Archer in the morning, on another. The schematics for a force field generator beckoned to him as well, and Reed was soon engrossed in yet another project. Work welcomed him. Work soothed him. Sometimes work consumed him. Tonight work sustained him.

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