Title: Scotch on the Rocks

Author: Kylie Lee and MJ

E-mail: KylieLee1000@hotmail.com, MJR91@aol.com

Authors' URLs: http://www.geocities.com/kylielee1000/ and http://www.geocities.com/coffeeslash/mj/

Date: 08/21/02

Fandom: Star Trek: Enterprise

Pairing: A/R

Type: Slash M/M

Rating: NC-17

Summary: On shore leave, Archer and Reed manage to get in some time alone in Archer's hotel room.

Feedback: Yes, please!

Archive: EntSTSlash, Archers_Enterprise

Disclaimer: Original material copyright 2002 Kylie Lee and MJ. Characters are Paramount's. They own it all. No money changed hands.

Spoilers: None. This is a stand-alone fic.

Series: Under the Disco Ball

Previous story: Romance

Next story: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Comments: Cinmbria and Kim beta'd this fic, and we appreciate it!

Jonathan Archer held the door open as his crewmates, flushed and laughing, filed past. "That was some action on the dance floor," he commented, releasing the door and falling in with Commander Trip Tucker.

They were on shore leave on an industrial planet—but they knew how to have a good time here. The planet was a transport hub, with plenty of night life, exotic aliens, and fun. The five members of the crew of the starship Enterprise had just had dinner and danced the night away at an astoundingly popular and crowded nightclub. Enterprise was in a nearby system on a science mission. It hadn't been hard to talk the captain into granting shore leave. The bridge crew had decided to hang out together; they had rented rooms in the same hotel, although tomorrow they planned to split up for day trips and shopping. The night was still young, but the incredible crush of people in the club had driven them out at about midnight.

"I take back my previous comments about the captain," Travis Mayweather told everyone as he brought up the rear of the contingent. Earlier that evening, he had said he had trouble envisioning Archer dancing.

"As well you should, Travis," Reed called over a shoulder.

"You and Hoshi looked like you were having fun," Archer noted.

Hoshi Sato, hearing her name, turned around and looked backward toward Archer, Reed, and Mayweather. "I don't know if I can survive another night out with you, Captain," she teased. "I know I'm small, but you really don't need to toss me around like that."

Archer laughed. "I admit I got carried away. No injuries, I hope?"

"No, I'm fine."

"I'll be more careful next time," Archer promised.

"Well, I got the lucky end of the deal," Sato said cheerfully, turning back around. "I got to leave with four handsome men. Some girls didn't get any men at all."

"Aw, you're so sweet, Hoshi," Trip Tucker said. He was at the front of the line, talking to her.

"I know a good thing when I see it," Sato laughed. "Speaking of which, why are you still here, Commander? What about that redhead you were dancing with?"

Tucker touched his thumb to his lips and smiled, but he pointedly didn't answer the question. "Do you want to take a taxi back or walk?" he said, changing the subject.

"I'm not very tired," Reed said. "I'll walk, but take a taxi if you like."

"No, it's a beautiful night," Archer said.

They all decided to walk. It was only about five kilometers to their hotel. Sato was still alongside Tucker, and Archer fell back and joined Reed as Mayweather's legs, appreciative of the slightly lighter gravity on this planet, pushed him ahead of the group. Sato was teasing Tucker about the redhead, and everyone was laughing.

"Tired?" Reed asked Archer.

"Not at all," Archer said, smiling at the shorter man.

"Nor I. Do you want to find another nightclub, do some more dancing?" Reed tugged at a belt loop on Archer's jeans, then dropped his hand and let it rest lightly on Archer's ass. "Someplace less crowded."

"More dancing?" Archer asked with a sigh. "You might just do me in."

Reed laughed. "Well, if you don't want to dance, how about drinks?"

"Maybe one drink," Archer decided. He'd danced away all the alcohol he had consumed.

"We could make it a nightcap in my room," Reed whispered. His hand slid along Archer's ass, briefly cupping a cheek, before he dropped his hand altogether as Tucker turned to them.

"What about that girl you were dancing with, Cap'n?" he asked.

"Lin? What about her?" Archer had been asked to dance by an exotic specimen of womanly beauty who had, according to Tucker, been quite taken with him. Apparently she liked his eyes. Or his height. Or…there was, in fact, a great deal about Archer to like. She appeared to have been enamored of all of it.

Sato sighed. "I don't understand men," she said. "First, Commander Tucker leaves the redhead in the lurch—"

"Hey!" Tucker protested. "I told her I was going to the bathroom before I ducked out."

"You see?" Sato said.

"Kidding," Tucker said. "I'm *kidding.*"

Sato turned her head and continued. "And then *you* decline to hook up with that Lin woman that Commander Tucker introduced you to. Is there *no* romance any more?" Archer and Reed could see the smirk that Tucker couldn't. Sato knew what Tucker didn't, having been on the dance floor when Archer and Reed had been there together before dinner.

"Lin wasn't really my type," Archer said, honestly.

"Beautiful, female, and available isn't your type? Thought I knew you better 'n that," Tucker asked.

Archer avoided Reed's eyes. "Not really," he said.

Tucker threw up his hands. "Whatever," he said. "Obviously, I'm no matchmaker. I'd better quit now."

The bantering continued all the way to the hotel. It took them a while to get there because they were walking slowly and were easily distracted by the sights along the strip, which seemed to be a shopping district. Archer was momentarily fascinated by an exotic dance show seen through a window, and Sato was drawn to a shop window displaying hand-thrown pottery. Tucker found another shop that sold some form of what appeared to be this planet's idea of hardware and hand tools; he had never seen anything like them before. Then they had to drag Reed away from a weapons display.

"We'll have to come back tomorrow, when the shops are open," Reed said, casting a longing look behind him as they turned the corner and headed for their hotel's steps. Archer smiled at Reed's ability to be distracted by a hot serial number packing a high caliber.

They stopped briefly in the lobby. "Malcolm and I thought we'd hit the hotel bar for a drink," Archer said. "Anyone want to join us?" He hoped he sounded sincere. He really didn't want anyone to join them.

"Sure, thanks," Tucker said.


Mayweather and Sato declined, pleading weariness, and headed for the elevator bank. Tucker led the way into the dark, intimate bar, and Reed chose a table. "This one has a good view of the entryway and it's close to both exits," he said, sliding into a seat.

"Malcolm, are you ever off duty?" Tucker asked, settling into a comfortable red chair to Reed's right. He took off his jacket, a red windbreaker, and draped it over the chair's back.

"Apparently not," Reed said.

Archer seated himself at Reed's left. He adjusted his chair slightly, so that his leg brushed against Reed's. A server dressed in a black- and-silver minidress and heels arrived and took their order, then came back a few minutes later to deliver their drinks to the low table in front of them. Archer, as the highest-ranking officer, took the bill and charged it to his room. His arm brushed Reed's as he turned and handed the bill back to the server. Archer responded to Tucker's quips and Reed's sardonic comments, but he was acutely aware of Reed's warmth, of Reed's body, the pressure of Reed's leg against his, and this awareness only grew as he sipped his drink. He was, he realized, drunk with sexual desire and not with the alcohol.

There were, he admitted, problems with being a ship's captain, with needing to be discreet. He wasn't comfortable with showing affection in public, and he was painfully cautious about expressing any interest in another officer at all; enlisted were naturally completely off limits for him, as they should be. Although he and Reed had worked together for nearly a year, since he had hand picked Reed to serve on Enterprise, this evening was the first occasion on which they had acted on what was obviously a serious mutual attraction. The only other person who knew of this beginning of a relationship, as far as he was aware, was Sato, who had seen them kissing—more like groping—on the dance floor earlier that night. He had decided when he took command of Enterprise that he would be discreet if he fell into a relationship with any of his officers but would not deny it if confronted. No one had become the subject of his interest, however, except Reed, and the few signs of interest Reed had given until tonight had been particularly circumspect. Archer himself hadn't been totally sure that Reed was really attracted to him until earlier that the evening, when he'd asked Archer to dance. It was going to be difficult to keep the relationship quiet back on board, he realized, if it progressed as he hoped it would. He wondered if Reed, who liked his privacy, had considered that. The ship was small; it was hard to keep secrets. Everyone knew who sat together at movies and shared popcorn, and who ate together all the time.

Archer supposed they would make an unlikely couple; perhaps that meant no one would notice, though he doubted it. Reed was a lieutenant, rather younger than him, and tended to be reserved and a little cynical. Archer was the captain and was known to everyone, especially the top brass, to be outspoken about his opinions; he was optimistic and, dared he say it, usually happy. He could see, though, that on shore leave, Reed relaxed his reserve. He did it when he was off-duty, too, Archer realized. He had shown that side of himself to his colleagues today, at the nightclub, and he had shown it before, during poker games and parties on board Enterprise. Over the year they had been working together, Reed had become important to him. He didn't think secrecy would be an option if this new development between them worked out. Plus Sato knew. And it would be hard to keep this a secret from Tucker for very long.

He blinked when Tucker rose. "I'll be right back," he said, and turned away. Archer mentally ran through his last few statements. Ah, yes. He was going to the bathroom. He watched Tucker as he passed the bar and turned down a corridor.

"God, I thought he'd never leave," Reed said, knocking back the rest of his drink like a shot. He set his glass down and turned to Archer, then slid his hand along the V of Archer's green knit shirt. His fingers were cold and a little wet from his drink's ice and condensation. "Quick, before he comes back."

Archer leaned in and they exchanged a long kiss, Reed's fingers gently stroking. Reed's mouth and tongue were warm and tasted of the liquor he had just drunk.

"Mmm, that's nice," Reed whispered when they pulled back. "Very, very nice." He brought his hand up from Archer's chest and stroked it along Archer's neck. The next kiss was longer, and they were breathing hard when they broke it off. Reed sat back. "What are you thinking?" he asked after a moment.

"I was wondering what we see in each other. Why we're looking at this."

Reed's eyes crinkled. "Besides the very obvious physical attraction?"

"Besides that."

"I think we complement each other," Reed said. "And I like—I like not being so serious around you. Sometimes I think I'm too serious."

"Sometimes," Archer teased. "I can use an occasional dose of serious myself."

"See? We're good for each other." Reed smiled at him. "Should we stay for another drink?"

"Oh, god, no," Archer said.

"Your place or mine?"

"Mine," Archer said. "I've got a king-size bed."

Reed smiled at him, and a minute or two later, Tucker rejoined them. He didn't sit down but leaned heavily against the back of Archer's chair. "I was in the bathroom an' it hit me," he confessed.

"What hit?" Archer asked.

"Exhaustion. Hope y' don't mind. I'm goin' right back up to my room. I can barely keep my eyes open."

Reed stood up solicitously. "I'm finished. I'll walk you back and see you to your room."

"I'm sure it's safe," Tucker demurred.

"Humor me," Reed said firmly. Tucker had had too much to drink that evening, and it was starting to show.

Archer held up his half-full glass. "I'll just finish my drink. See you tomorrow."

"Good night," Reed said.


Archer watched as Reed steered Tucker, who was swaying slightly, discreetly by an arm. Reed held the door for him as they exited. He was quite the gentleman. Archer smiled after them as he nursed his drink, shaking it occasionally to dislodge the ice. He declined another when the rather scantily clad cocktail waitress whisked by. When he stood up to leave, about twenty minutes later, he noticed that Tucker's red jacket was still on his chair. It had fallen from the chair's back into the seat, so Tucker likely hadn't seen it. He picked it up and headed for his room. Reed would likely be along in another half hour or forty-five minutes. Just enough time for him to clean up and place some useful items in the nightstand.

Archer had just finished showering and slipping into a fresh shirt, this one blue, and a pair of black trousers when there was a light knock at the door. He let Reed in. "What have you got?" he asked, gesturing at what Reed was carrying.

Reed set a bucket down on a table with a flourish. "Ice," he said. "And something rather like a fairly decent single malt." The bottle joined the ice bucket.

"Thanks," Archer said approvingly. "I'll get the glasses."

"Oh, I didn't have glasses in mind," Reed responded, teasing.

"My my." Archer pulled Reed in for a kiss. "Alone at last," he sighed. "I just want to know one thing about tonight," he said, keeping his arms around Reed.

"What's that?"

"You took forever in the bathroom," Archer said. "After our—dance."

Reed's eyes were amused. "I'm afraid I found dancing with you a bit more…mmm…exciting than I had expected. I needed to do some serious cleaning up, I'm afraid. So I hid in a stall with a wad of wet toweling and cleaned myself off," he said. "And I threw out my Starfleet regulation briefs. I suppose you'll have to put me on report," he laughed.

"There, I knew it. I knew you were naked under those trousers. All night, I was dancing with you, wondering." Reed opened his mouth, then closed it. "I'm not going to say it."

"Please don't." Archer released Reed and turned to the room's audio system. "Want to dance? Something really slow this time?" He put on the music he had found, something slow with saxophones and a sultry female vocalist. "Come here." He put his arms around Reed and they began circling to the music. Archer was leading, Reed's right hand in his left hand, their other arms around each other.

"How come you get to lead?" Reed teased.

"I'm taller. Or I *could* say I'm pulling rank. Why? Do you want to lead?" Archer let go of Reed, held both arms out to the side, then switched them. "Better?"

Reed considered as they swayed. "Much the same, actually."

"Leading is overrated." He tugged Reed closer. "Let's eliminate the whole problem, shall we?"

He slid both arms around Reed's shoulders and pulled him close, then leaned down and kissed him. Reed's arms held him tight for a moment, then relaxed. When Archer released Reed's mouth, Reed sighed and leaned his head on Archer's shoulder. One hand came out to play with a button and stroke Archer's skin. Archer smiled down at his lover. Lover was undoubtedly the right word; Reed wasn't taking this like a one-night stand or a shore leave fling any more than he was. Reed's fingers gently tugged at the hem of Archer's shirt; then his hand crept under it, stopping to smooth against Archer's skin, stopping to rest on a nipple, stroking across his chest and around to his side. Archer's hands were equally busy. The dance went on, a slow striptease, except they were undressing each other, Archer finally stopping his touching of Reed for Reed to peel the shirt off of him. Then they stopped the pretense of dancing, shirts askew and trousers unbuttoned, bare chests pressed against each other, erections throbbing, as the kisses turned from sweet and lingering to deep and desperate.

"What did you have in mind with that scotch?" Archer whispered.

Reed tugged gently on Archer's trousers. Reed was the only thing holding them up. "You'll see," he purred, sliding his hands down.

Archer stepped out of his trousers and briefs, peeling off his pullover, then removed Reed's shirt by tugging the collar at the back. He grabbed Reed with one arm and kissed him hard while the other hand slid down Reed's black leather trousers. Reed had only changed his shirt; he wasn't wearing underwear. He and Reed moved to the bed, mouths hungry, leaving Reed's trousers behind. Archer pushed Reed back on the bed. Then he pinioned the smaller man under him, hands on Reed's wrists, one leg between Reed's legs, and continued kissing until Reed moaned when Archer paused long enough to take a breath. Reed managed to turn them so he was on top, and he kissed Archer soundly, mouth commanding and hard.

"Wait," he ordered, and he rolled off the bed to fetch the ice bucket and the scotch. He sat cross-legged on the bed as he opened the bottle, pulling out the cork. "Here," he said, holding it out to Archer.

Archer sniffed. It smelled, if anything, like one of the better single malts he'd had when he'd been in Australia, and he said so. It didn't have any specific characteristic he could point out by its smell.

"Ah, yes," Reed smiled. "But now—taste." He put the bottle to his lips and took a deep sip, then leaned forward. Archer obligingly put his mouth on Reed's, and Reed opened his mouth. Archer tasted something he would describe as smoky. It left a warmth in his mouth that didn't dissipate.

"Interesting," Archer said as Reed's hands urged him to lie back. He watched as Reed walked on his knees to kneel between Archer's legs.

"Slainte," Reed said, carefully tipping the bottle and pouring the liquid on Archer's stomach, his free hand spreading the liquor around his abdomen and chest.

"Oh," Archer said in surprise. The alcohol was cold at first, but Reed's touch on the liquor spread gentle heat. Reed poured a little more on and began massaging it into Archer's skin. The heat spread to his arms, his legs, and his fingers before he realized that Reed had begun licking it off him. Reed paid special attention to his fingers, licking and sucking them. Then Reed took another pull from the bottle, set it on the nightstand, and gently clasped Archer's hips.

He knew it was coming, but he wasn't prepared for the sensation. Reed managed to hold the liquid in as he slid his lips around Archer, and then he released it as his mouth descended. Archer felt the gush of liquid, and then warmth radiated along his erection. He shut his eyes and focused on the feeling of Reed's tongue and mouth sliding up and down his length. His whole body was pulsing in time to his heartbeat. Reed's hands slid under him, kneading his ass, and then his cheeks were warm too. He groaned, low and deep, when Reed inserted one, then two fingers inside him. The fingers were removed, but the sensation from the alcohol remained.

"Are you on fire?" Reed asked.

"Oh, yes," Archer breathed.

He felt like his nerve endings were exposed, alive to Reed's lightest touch. He shivered when Reed blew on him: the puff of air sent a shock through his body. He closed his eyes as Reed continued stroking, his mouth dipping down every now and then to lick, suck, or blow. Archer was hot and gasping when he heard a rattling noise. His eyes flew open, and he watched as Reed popped an ice cube into his own mouth. Reed dipped his head down, but instead of Reed's warm tongue, he felt the ice cube. Reed's hand curled around Archer's erection as Archer groaned. Reed began tracing designs on Archer with the ice. Sometimes it fell out of his mouth, and his hand would grab it and press it against his body or slide it down his side as Reed grabbed another ice cube. The coldness of the ice and Reed's tongue and mouth left what felt like glowing patterns on his skin. Reed even used his hand to slide an ice cube up and down Archer's hard cock. It was torture, sweet torture. The warmth would bleed back, and then Reed would come back again with an ice cube.

Finally, Archer couldn't stand the preliminaries any longer. "The lube's in the nightstand," he whispered hoarsely.

Reed found it, then insinuated himself on his side, under one of Archer's legs, and eased himself inside him. Archer was more than ready, and Reed knew it.

"Long and slow, is that what you want?" Reed asked, voice low and breathless.

"Oh, yeah," Archer agreed. His fingers found an ice cube fragment on his stomach, and he put it in Reed's mouth. Reed's lips closed around the ice and Archer's fingers and sucked. "Oh, god, Malcolm," Archer groaned. He could feel the ice inside Reed's mouth, a tiny ball of cold sensation inside incredible warmth.

In response, Reed, still sucking on Archer's fingers, one hand on Archer's bent knee, began working his hips. Archer felt Reed's cock brush again and again inside him, and waves of warmth of another kind spread through his groin, then set fire to his flushed skin. Each of Reed's strokes sent waves of warmth and pleasure through his entire body.

"Harder, Jon?" Reed whispered a few minutes later, releasing his fingers.

Archer's cock leapt when Reed said his name. He reached out a hand and clasped his own erection. "Harder," he agreed. Reed adjusted his hip slightly against the mattress and pushed in deeper, then found a new rhythm. Archer abandoned himself to the sensation, panting. Reed had him right on the edge. "Let yourself go," Reed said softly. "I'm right here. Come for me, Jon."

Archer moaned. He began moving his hand up and down his shaft. The sensation curled against the sensation of Reed's moving inside him. His own hand trailed heat, heat that Reed's presence fanned.

"Oh, god." Reed's hips quickened. "Oh, god, Jon. Come for me." His hand clutched Archer's leg as he thrust deeper, then moved to gently surround Archer's own moving hand.

"Say my name, Malcolm," Archer managed, hand squeezing.

"Jon," Reed said. "Oh, god. Jon." A groan, low and deep, and Reed found Archer's rhythm, Reed's hand tightening over Archer's as Archer stroked himself. "Come with me, Jon," Reed said, and Archer went over the edge, coming as Reed came, falling into the heat of their bodies, Reed's voice saying "Jon" as Archer's body exploded.

"Oh, god," Archer said an eternity later, when reality finally began settling back around him. "I love it when you say my name."

Reed slowly backed away from Archer and settled next to him, setting the ice bucket on the floor next to the bed. "Why do you love it?" he asked, pulling Archer against him. He was breathing hard.

Archer set his cheek on Reed's shoulder, Reed's arm around him, and draped his arm over Reed's stomach. He briefly lifted his head to kiss a nipple, then set his head down again. "Because you call me 'captain' all the time, I suppose. You have to call me that or 'sir' when we're both on duty. And that may be how you're supposed to address your captain, but that's not *me*."

"Well, it's better than calling you pet names on the bridge, I suppose," Reed said tartly. He imitated his tone on the bridge, clipped and efficient. "'Ready to fire, Cupcake!' You have to agree, it sounds all wrong, doesn't it."

"Cupcake?" Archer laughed sleepily.

Reed gave another example. "'Targeting sensors engaged, love,'" he said. "Or how about, 'Darling, I'd adore it if you'd let me get a clear shot at those hostile aliens. Thanks, pet.' Perhaps you'd prefer 'Snuggle bunny, you need security with you on that away team?'"

"I see your point," Archer decided. He leaned up and kissed Reed. "Although I like 'love.' Very British. And very descriptive." "Very descriptive indeed," Reed said. "And although I do love you, you're making my arm go to sleep."

Archer didn't move. "Oh, sorry," he said, not really sorry at all, closing his eyes and inhaling Reed's scent. "Cupcake."

When Archer woke the next morning, he and Reed were lying next to each other. One of Reed's ankles crossed his, and Archer's arm was flung across Reed's stomach. The lights were still on, as was the music, and the ice bucket was full of water instead of ice. The bottle of scotch on the nightstand was uncapped, next to the lube, and their clothes were flung around the room. The bed linens—those were best not discussed; the hotel's laundry had its work cut out for it. Archer smiled. It had definitely been one hell of an evening. He disengaged himself from his lover and hit the bathroom. He was sticky with come and liquor.

When he came out, towel around his hips, moisture still beading his body, Reed was puttering about, nude, folding clothes and neatening up. Reed said, "Next time, wake me up, will you? I'd have joined you."

"Sorry. Next time I'll know." Archer kissed him. "I didn't want to wake you up. Anyway, you could have just joined me."

"I ordered up breakfast instead," Reed said. "It will be here shortly."

"Good." Archer kissed Reed again. "Last night was wonderful," he told his lover. Reed made a noise of agreement. "Do you think you might move your things in here? Unless you have something in mind, I have some plans for the two of us tonight."

"Maybe I'll do that," Reed said. "Although I'm willing to put up with certain inconveniences, such as a lack of clean clothing, to wake up next to you in the morning." They shared another kiss. "You're all minty," Reed complained. "I haven't brushed my teeth."

"You taste just fine."

Reed disengaged himself. "I'll be in the shower," he said, and he shut the door firmly behind him.

Archer tossed the clothes Reed had been folding over a chair—they needed to be laundered, not folded—and then rummaged through his luggage and pulled out a clean pair of jeans and some briefs. He wondered where Reed's room key was; he probably should bring fresh clothing from Reed's room when he finished dressing. He had just slid the jeans on and was contemplating his shirts when there was a knock at the door.

Expecting room service, he opened the door with a quick "Come in" before he realized it was Tucker.

"Oh, sorry," Tucker said, stepping inside, taking in his shirtless state, then eyeing the rumpled bed, the prominently placed bottle of scotch, the lube—oh, god, the lube—and the clothes hanging over the chair. He probably noticed the shower running as well.

Tucker was about to say something else when the real room service came by. There was a general bustle as the waiter set out breakfast for two, clearly assuming that Tucker and Archer were the two who would be breakfasting together. Archer pulled some currency out of the jeans hanging over the chair and tipped the attendant as he ushered him out, but he didn't shut the door.

"Something I can do for you, Trip?" he asked pointedly.

"Oh, so you're not interested in beautiful, female, and available?" Tucker said. "Very discreet, Cap'n."

"I don't know what you're talking about, Trip," Archer said virtuously. Tucker clearly thought Lin, the woman he'd danced with the night before, was here. Well, let him. He was surprised that Tucker wasn't entertaining the redhead from the night before.

Tucker sighed. "It's hard to be a romantic type of guy any more," he griped. "I came by for my jacket. Do you have it? It's not in the bar."

"Oh, that." Archer found it and handed it to his friend. "Here you go. Thanks for stopping by. Bye."

"I'm goin', I'm goin'," Tucker said, clearly aware that his friend was trying to get rid of him.

He was halfway out the door when the bathroom door opened and Reed appeared, wearing nothing but a towel, hair rumpled and wet, saying, "Jon, may I borrow your shaver?"

Archer shut his eyes briefly as Tucker swiveled around. There was a surprised silence as Tucker, Reed, and Archer contemplated each other.

"Yes," Archer said at last. "It's in the kit on the counter. Just dig through it." "Thanks, love." Reed disappeared back into the bathroom. Reed never called anyone, not even Mayweather or Sato, his friends, by pet names or nicknames. He had done that on purpose. For all of Reed's denunciation of pet names before falling asleep, Archer had to admit that, as he'd said to Reed, he did indeed like hearing Reed call him that one.

"I'm not really very interested in beautiful, female, and available these days, Trip," Archer confessed after a moment.

"You're back in the market for good-lookin', male, and available?"

"You could say that," Archer said. "Although neither of us is really—available, per se. Not after yesterday."

"I see." Tucker sighed. "All last night, this romance was brewin' under my nose and I didn't even notice." He shook his head. "I'm definitely retirin' from matchmakin'. I'll leave it to Hoshi." He tucked the jacket under one arm. "I'm goin' to visit that hardware place after breakfast. And I think I saw a comics store. Do you want to join me? You an' Malcolm," Tucker offered. He might have trouble believing this had happened so quickly, but he seemed to have no problem accepting the news, for which Archer was thankful. Tucker had been critical of a few of the occasional men in Archer's past, but Tucker and Reed had slowly become friends over the past year. Apparently Reed was good enough for Tucker's best friend, even if the others hadn't been.

"I'll check with him. But he may not want to join us unless we can stop at that weapons place too. I don't quite see him browsing those—um—graphic novels."

"I'll see you in the lobby at eleven, then." Tucker was just shutting the door when he stuck his face back in. "So—is this, um, a secret?" he asked.

"Not now," Archer said, smiling.

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