Main characters: Tucker, Reed
Warning: None, but it is rather melancholy.
Spoilers: Minor for Minefield, Two Days, Two Nights, Northstar, major for Twilight
Archive: Warp 5 complex. Anyone else, sure, if you want it just let me know.
Beta: I don't have one! All constructive criticism is therefore most welcome.
Summary: Twilight-verse fic. Trip toasts Malcolm's promotion.
A/N: Set in the future as seen in Season 3 episode Twilight. I thought Captain Tucker and Commander Reed seemed a good duo, but they both appeared to be perfectly pleased that after something like 15 years all told they'd be going their separate ways. This is a Malcolm-centric, fairly introspective piece that (sort of) addresses that. This wasn't intended to be slash, but it could be inferred!
Standing in the captain's private dining room, Commander Malcolm Reed stared out of the window and into the starfield beyond. It would take millennia for those stars to shift enough that he'd notice it, and somehow that was deeply comforting. Things had changed so much in recent years; circumstances altering beyond recognition and adjustment inflicted brutally. Soon another change would occur, and Malcolm would have a captain's mess of his own.
Years ago, Malcolm recalled, he'd been thoroughly miserable at the thought of eating in the captain's private dining room. It hadn't been due to any particular dislike of the then-captain, on the whole Jonathan Archer was an amiable man, but Malcolm had been unable to reconcile himself with the idea of sharing a friendly breakfast with his captain. He'd spent what short time that first meal had lasted feeling awkward, prattling about work, and if Archer's reactions were anything to go by, behaving like child who'd been called to his headmaster's office.
He tried not to think too much about that meal; not only was it embarrassing but the memories would inevitably segue into the events out on the hull of the ship immediately after. He could remember how furious he'd been that Archer wouldn't sacrifice the life of one man for the sake of the ship. Malcolm had even tried to force the matter by unplugging his air hose from his EV suit. Archer had steadfastly refused to be the captain Malcolm expected him to be. If things had been different, Malcolm wondered what kind of captain Archer would be today. Would he have continued to strike blithely into space, hoping that they'd only meet life forms that shared in Starfleet's desire for peaceful exploration? How many times had they entered into discourse with a new species and been overwhelmingly unprepared for the consequences? Nowadays that kind of foolhardiness was beyond unacceptable. Would Archer have got them all killed by now? Or would he have saved Earth?
Looking back, it was hard to believe that when Enterprise's mission had begun the Vulcan's were considered the biggest threat to Earth's space exploration program. It was hard to believe that there was a more palpable threat of being recalled home than there was of being attacked.
They'd all been so young then, so cocky. So sure that they were ready to enter the interstellar community as equals.
They'd been so wrong.
The planet they were in orbit around didn't look even vaguely like Earth, but it was the only planet where Human's now lived. It was virtually entirely desert, barely Minshara class, and from space looked like nothing more than a ball of dust. Earth had been so beautiful, vibrant blue and green, indisputably alive. Sometimes, when he was feeling particularly masochistic, Malcolm would think back to the very first time he'd left orbit, travelling to New Berlin to visit some relatives. His eight-year-old face had been flattened against the window of the shuttle as he tried to see everything all at once. His father patiently pointed out the countries, naming the bright expanses of water and the great battles that had been fought on them through the ages. It seemed like a lifetime ago now.
A soft swoosh noise from behind him signalled that the door had opened. Trip - because Captain Tucker still sounded a little odd, even after nine years - entered the room and came to stand by his first officer in front of the window. All the conversations had been finished long ago, and Trip and Malcolm had always enjoyed the sort of friendship were words were secondary to actions anyway. Often they'd sit and eat in comfortable silence drawing strength from the knowledge that the other understood the weight of responsibility, the guilt - however misplaced - and the desperation to keep the tiny community of Humans alive for another day.
Today though, Trip spoke. "Got you a present." He held up a standard Starfleet issue flask and unscrewed the top.
Curious, Malcolm took the container and breathed in the odour of the brew inside. "Wine?"
"Sort of." Trip shrugged. "Picked it up last time we were in orbit. Best the planet has to offer... Closest to champagne I can manage."
Malcolm smiled. "Thanks."
"You could sound a little more appreciative, you know," Trip said, his tone teasing. "Decent alcohol is not easy to come by these days."
It was an understatement of vast proportions. There was strict rationing of every consumable aboard Enterprise, and things weren't much more relaxed on the planet. What little there was available was rarely of comparable quality to what they'd all been used to Before, and bartering could be fierce for anything special. Trip must have gone to some serious effort to secure a flask of drinkable wine.
"And I suppose I have to share it with you?"
Trip laughed. "And Hoshi, she'll be by soon enough."
"Well, I shan't miss you greedy buggers," Malcolm tried to grumble, but his voice caught on the last syllable and betrayed him.
He remembered he'd been desperately embarrassed the first time he'd lost his grip on his emotions and cried in front of Trip. It had been back before Earth's destruction, when they'd lost their starboard nacelle and knew for almost-certain that their mission was a failure and they'd never stop the Xindi weapon. Trip had flown into a rage about T'Pol's actions crippling them, but despite fully understanding his friend's point of view, Malcolm had been certain that if T'Pol hadn't acted as she had they would all be dead. Tactically it was an ambiguous victory, but Earth had no hope at all if Enterprise was gone. Tensions were running high enough for it to deteriorate into a screaming match, and might well have turned violent if Trip hadn't suddenly found the strength to compose himself. His apology had been the proverbial straw to the camel's back, and Malcolm's shame at his own tears had blinded him at first to Trip's. Like most things, they never talked about it now.
"Hey, I'm not gonna miss an ungrateful son-of-a-bitch like you either," Trip replied, clasping Malcolm's shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze. "Captain Reed. Damn, but that sounds weird."
"Does, doesn't it?" said Malcolm, wandering away from the window and fetching three mugs from the storage locker. "Captain Malcolm Reed of the starship Intrepid. It'll take a while to get used to that."
"You deserve it. You've been a fine first officer," Trip said, filling two of the mugs. "Don't think I'd have survived this long without you." He pushed Malcolm's mug toward the man, and picked up his own.
"No, you'd still be tied up in your blues in that nightclub on Risa!" Malcolm saw Trip shake his head in amusement at the attempt to lighten the mood before tentatively sniffing at his drink. "Not waiting for Hoshi then?"
"She won't be much longer. Just sorting out the last details for T'Pol and the Cap'n."
Malcolm nodded, and didn't point out the technically Archer held no rank now. The unceremonious way he'd been relieved of duty after the accident was another thing that they no longer discussed. His condition was stable and he had as good a quality of life on the planet with T'Pol looking after him as anyone was likely to have.
When Archer had first been diagnosed with his condition, Malcolm had found it hard to imagine a much worse fate. To have your health and all your faculties, but to be unable to retain new memories must be so desperately frustrating. And although the condition was not worsening, the amount of time that had passed since Archer's memory ceased was ever growing. Over a decade was now missing from his life. Twelve years he'd lived but had no recollection of. Without T'Pol by side almost constantly he would never have any way of understanding what had happened to him in that time. Sometimes Malcolm thought Archer was lucky to wake each morning with no knowledge of the fate that had befallen humanity due to Enterprise's failure, but to have to experience the fresh pain of finding out over and over and over again...
When Malcolm had seen the planet explode he could barely comprehend what he saw. His thoughts had turned to the safe, analytical concerns of the explosive power required, the weapon's yield, the debris field created. His mind focused on the destruction because to focus on the death would be too agonising. How many billions had died that day, and in the days to follow as the Xindi ruthlessly tracked down every Human outpost and obliterated it. Not even the small Human/Skagaaran outpost they'd discovered in the Expanse had been spared despite their technology being so very far behind Earth's.
"Do you think it'll work? Phlox's new treatment."
"For the Cap'n's sake I hope so, you know?"
"I know," said Malcolm, because he did know. He knew all that layered such a seemingly simple answer. There was no place on Enterprise for their erstwhile captain now. Trip was an excellent leader but more importantly, Trip knew the history of their exile first hand. He knew the dangers, the problems they faced to complete even simple trades. It was a situation that had changed all those who'd lived through it, granting more than a plethora of scars and grey hairs. Archer had less than three years of command experience, and most of that during peacetime. He hadn't learnt the lessons thrust upon the rest of them. That they couldn't trust Archer now the way they once had was one more of the things that was never said. That they didn't truly believe that Phlox's cure would work was another.
Malcolm felt the cool ceramic of the mug beneath his fingers, the symbol of the toast to his new life away from Enterprise and the people who had been his family even before his flesh and blood relations had been murdered. It was an honour to be given captaincy of a ship, and it was a position he was best qualified to fill from all the remaining members of his species. He could never tell Trip that it wasn't a position he wanted to take up. But he knew that Trip could no more have denied the transfer request than Malcolm could have refused the promotion.
Trip raised his glass aloft. "Be careful out there," he said with sincerity. Ten pages of verbose platitudes couldn't have said more about how Trip felt to be saying goodbye to his best friend as that one solemn sentence did.
"You too," Malcolm replied, voice thick with emotion, hoping that two words could say everything he wanted to but couldn't articulate.
Raising the mug to his lips he swallowed a mouthful of the wine. It didn't taste like the real thing, but, like so much, that went without saying.