Disclaimer: Star Trek: Enterprise, Malcolm Reed, Trip Tucker and the rest belong to Paramount. Thank you, Messers Braga and Berman! I borrow for pleasure alone.
Written in the run-up to the eleventh of the eleventh, 2011. I hope even in the 22nd century people will still be wearing their poppies with pride.
Jonathan Archer pointed to an unusually vivid splash of colour pinned above the bright gold pips on his Armoury Officer's dark blue uniform. "I haven't seen that decoration before, Lieutenant. Has Starfleet created a new honour?"
"Oh." It had been a last-second decision to pin the little paper flower to his chest and nobody had been consulted. An uncharacteristically reckless act, Reed acknowledged, but what the hell? Circumstances had made it all too apposite.
"It's not your usual colour, Lieutenant," Travis Mayweather leaned close to peer. Trip Tucker bit his bottom lip, waiting for the Englishman to tense up; pull back.
Reed held perfectly still, allowing first one curious ensign then the other to peer at the flash of brilliant scarlet. "It's Armistice Day, Captain," he explained sedately, unconsciously shielding the small symbol from any more probing fingers. "It seemed appropriate to bring this out."
"Armistice Day?" Phlox loomed up over the Englishman's shoulder. "Is this a significant Earth event? And what does it have to do with a paper – is that a flower Lieutenant Reed is wearing?"
"It's a British thing, Doctor." Trying not to roll his eyes as the Denobulan produced stylus and pad from his voluminous pockets, Malcolm entered the observation lounge with his superiors, shooing his goggling young boomer friend ahead. "The flower is a poppy; a symbol of remembrance for the dead of far too many wars."
"How does a paper poppy symbolise that?" Trip threw himself into a seat, ignoring the English officer's disapproving look. Archer and T'Pol seated themselves with him, leaving the two Ensigns and the doctor to slip into chairs at another table. At his C.O.'s nod, Reed took the sole remaining place beside the Chief Engineer.
"It refers to the flowers that grew in the fields of Northern France and Flanders, where the worst of the trench warfare took place in what my ancestors called the Great War," he explained. T'Pol lifted one fine eyebrow.
"Earth's First World War?" she clarified. Reed nodded.
"The armistice which ended the conflict came into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. On the first anniversary of peace, a two-minute silence was held in memory of what they used to call The Glorious Dead."
He had seen too much death in battle for any grandiose epithet to ring true. Gently brushing the well-worn emblem over his heart, he took a breath, glanced across at the physician scribbling avidly, and continued.
"Over the years it became a national act of remembrance for all the dead of every war. What began as a tribute to the fighting men grew to encompass civilians too as conflicts spread beyond conventional battlefields. The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal was – still is – a part of autumn at home, raising money for elderly or wounded service personnel and the families of the war dead, and when our people are fighting it's always had an extra resonance.
"I knew I had a poppy tucked somewhere in a drawer; being a military family, it was a major point of Reed honour Under our present circumstances, it felt right to dig it out today. I apologise, Captain; I ought to have obtained your permission first."
"No, Malcolm." Archer had not moved during his quiet lecture; neither, save for the frenzied scratch of Phlox's pen, had anyone else. "It's more than appropriate that you should be wearing it; in fact, I think it would be fitting if we all honoured your country's tradition today. Trip?"
The Southerner swallowed hard, his attention riveted on the poppy's livid splash. "All victims of war?" he repeated huskily.
"All of them. Regardless of occupation, race, religion or, in our present circumstance, species."
"An admirable philosophy," T'Pol observed, winning a filthy look from the other table. Reed slanted her a chiding look, and Hoshi had the grace, he was pleased to note, to blush.
"Oh indeed!" Phlox was beaming as he only did when he felt he had learned something especially significant about his favourite species. "This tradition is unique to your country, Lieutenant?"
"I believe so."
"I think today we should extend it to this ship." Archer swept a speculative glance around his senior staff, seeing enthusiastic nods from physician and helmsman, a small smile from his comms. officer and (as usual) absolutely nothing from his Vulcan second-in-command. From his oldest friend, he received a sharp twitch of the head.
"Hoshi, see what you can do about making poppies. Malcolm, will you loan yours as a template?"
"It won't take me more than a few minutes," Hoshi put in quickly. Wordlessly, he pulled the green plastic stalk free of its pin. She accepted it as if it were made of the most delicate crystal.
"I'll advise the crew. At eleven hundred hours, unless we're in the middle of another Xindi-reptilian attack, we will remember them."
Reed's breath caught. "Malcolm?"
"That's the phrase, Sir." They were all staring as if he had taken leave of his senses, but with the faces of the very recent dead, Hawkins, Hayes and the rest, shimmering across his vision, he couldn't stop the words. "At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them."
"We will remember them." Hoshi stroked the inexpensive fragment of paper in her fingers, startled by the tears that stung the backs of her eyes. "Travis, give me a hand with these? Maybe Chef will let us take a couple of tables."
The boomer nodded, giving his British friend's shoulder a squeeze in passing. "Thanks for this, Malcolm," he murmured. "Figure it'll do us all good to stop and think for a couple of minutes."
"Yes." He'd been planning to mark the silence alone in his office, but sharing it with his colleagues – his friends, Reed amended sternly – would make the occasion all the more poignant. "Commander?"
"Huh?" Tucker shook himself abruptly, but as the mist faded there was a genuine smile lighting his blue eyes. "Yeah, it's good, Mal. You Brits have had some good ideas over the years."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," Reed returned drily. Tucker gave his arm a comradely punch.
"Gonna come 'n give Hoshi a hand with these poppies?" he asked hopefully. The Englishman raised a rueful half-grin.
"If only to preserve my own from over-enthusiastic boomer fingers," he replied, lifting the volume just enough to reach Travis Mayweather's ears. In companionable silence, the two senior officers followed their agitated subordinates in the direction of the mess hall.
At two minutes to eleven the whole senior bridge crew stood at their posts, small stains of bright red paper pinned above their hearts. Across the ship Starfleet and MACO alike has seized upon an unassuming British emblem until there was not a chest unadorned. Captain Archer had memorised the words familiar to any Briton from a lifetime's commemorations and stood in the middle of the bridge, hands folded, ready to give the signal. Malcolm Reed had not felt such a tingle in the air since….
Since the last Xindi-Reptilian face-off, he finished bleakly.
The turbolift swished open, turning every head. "Thought I'd sooner stand up here th'n in Engineering," Commander Tucker announced, unnaturally loud in the ecclesiastic hush.
As people turned back to their consoles or the viewscreen he was left standing awkwardly, hands dangling, unsure of what to do. When gentle fingers caught in his sleeve and a strong arm tugged him subtly sideways to stand close beside the Tactical/Armoury console, he did not resist.
Reed didn't glance around as he released the durable fabric of the Commander's sleeve, conscious of the seconds ticking by to the hour. His fingers slid past the thick piping at the wrist, left hand dropping to hang as loose as the right. Until strong, warm digits laced their way through his, pressing his work-roughened palm smack against the callused one of Commander Charles Tucker the Third.
His free hand brushed the alarm panel, releasing a brief, ear-splitting wail across the ship. The sound died away, leaving an ethereal hush to fall over Enterprise.
Reed stood straight-backed, his gaze fixed on the subdued lights that flashed across his console. Hayes. Hawkins. Fuller. Great-Uncle Jackie the submariner. Lizzie Tucker. Names and faces scrolled through his mind, lives ended too soon. He pressed his lips together, absently returning the minimal pressure he felt exerted against his captive hand.
The siren squalled automatically to signal the end of the silence, muted after a single foghorn blare. Over the shipwide comm. Captain Archer softly recited the famous words.
"They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, or the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them."
"We will remember them."
The words were barely a sigh that rippled around the bridge. Reed blinked against lights that suddenly seemed three times brighter than a second before, reading the same dazed expressions on the faces of his colleagues in the instant it took to realise he was still holding hands, rather tightly in fact, with a petrified chief engineer.
And he really wasn't in any hurry to let go.
The Captain was moving toward them, but unless he had developed X-ray vision overnight his view would be blocked by the console's bulk. "Thank you for bringing this occasion to our attention, Malcolm," he said quietly, scanning each intent, solemn face in turn. "I think we all needed a few minutes of reflection."
Reed's fingers came up to his brow in a small salute. "Thank you, Sir, for honouring my country's tradition," he said, surreptitiously giving his freed fingers a flex. Archer nodded.
"Do we wear these for the rest of the day?" he asked, reverently brushing the smooth paper on his breast. The Englishman pursed his lips.
"It's customary to wear them until the end of the Remembrance Sunday service; but I wouldn't recommend making them a standard part of our kit," he mused, gentle mischief lightening the stormy grey of his gaze. "Poppies are hardly ideal camouflage during away missions."
"We'll wear them for the rest of the day: unless we're called into action," Archer nodded a dismissal, sinking gratefully back into his seat. "Travis, maintain course and speed. Anything on long-range sensors?"
"Nothing, Captain." Trip was still hovering, Reed realised, flicking a wary glance the Commander's way. Tucker quirked him a careful grin.
"Uh, figure the Cap'n was talkin' 'bout me as much as anyone needin' those few minutes," he muttered, leaning in as if he were inspecting the younger man's station. Reed shrugged.
"We've all had our grieving to do recently," he said simply. A large hand curled briefly around his bicep.
"Thanks," the Southerner whispered before straightening up and heading for the lift, leaving a slightly bewildered and deliciously unsettled Malcolm Reed to stare unseeing at the report scrolling across his console.
Hands wrapped around a mug of steaming, sugary tea, he scowled at the figures flickering across the PADD's screen, oblivious to the subdued hum around the mess hall. Engrossed in mental calculation, he didn't register the tall shadow falling across the display until its creator cleared his throat, theatrically, for a second time.
"Oh! Sorry, Commander, I didn't see you come in."
"You work too hard, Lieutenant." Tucker's grin was wide and friendly, bringing a response unbidden to the younger man's previously pursed lips. "Seat taken?"
"It is now." Shoving his project aside, Reed waved his friend and fellow officer to the waiting chair. "You all right?"
"Yeah." The way his fork turned uselessly in his tuna salad suggested the word might be a poor deception. Reed cocked a dark eyebrow. "Okay, been better. You?"
It occurred to the Englishman that they were actually having lunch together. Smiling. For the first time in weeks. He wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. "You didn't think the silence was a bit – much?" he asked, spearing an inoffensive lettuce leaf with unwarranted ferocity.
Shadowed blue eyes met his. "Figure the Cap'n was right," Trip answered slowly, deliberately holding the challenge in his friend's steely stare. "An' you Brits do a damn fine thing, rememberin' the dead this way."
His fork clattered on the tabletop as he cradled the red slip of paper on his pocket. "There's somethin' to be said for memorials, y' know."
Malcolm let out the breath he hadn't realised he was holding. "A lot more for never forgetting," he countered. "I think we owe them that."
The weight of the universe seemed to lift from the engineer's shoulders. He straightened in his seat, a long-absent gleam returning to his fatigue-clouded cerulean eyes. "Figure ah owe the living quite a debt as well," Trip announced, digging into his lunch with the sudden enthusiasm of a ravenous wolf. "You, uh, got plans this evening?"
"Nothing that couldn't be delayed for a better offer." His heart surged so high Reed half expected it to burst out past his tonsils. Trip cocked his lofty blond head at him.
"Does a couple of beers with an old buddy count as better 'n a quiet night in with a book? We – we ain't talked much in a while, Mal, an' – well, ah've missed ya."
The directness of the admission trapped the breath in Reed's lungs. "I've missed you too, Trip," he admitted, mortified by the huskiness emotion brought to the words. "My place, nineteen hundred?"
"I'll be there." If he hadn't know better, the Armoury Office thought, he would have sworn that convulsive movement was Trip Tucker stopping himself at the last moment from seizing Malcolm Reed's hand in the middle of lunchtime service. "I might even have a lil' bottle of scotch still hidin' in a closet, if you're interested."
"You don't have to get me pissed to be welcome, Trip."
"That's pissed as in drunk, yeah? The British pissed?"
"That's the one." Affection threatened to undo all Lieutenant Reed's formidable control. "You're finally learning English like wot she should be spoke."
"Don't push it, Limey." Trip laid a hand over the younger man's, stopping his instinctive flight before it could begin. "I – all this remembrance stuff's got me thinkin' 'bout Lizzie. Mind if I tell you 'bout her?"
"Not at all." Innate courtesy suffused with warmth was, Tucker reflected as he allowed the man to leave, a lethally attractive combination. Especially in a compact package as appealing as Lieutenant Malcolm Reed.
And that was not a thought for a busy mess hall, he reminded himself sternly, trying not to follow the Englishman's movements too obviously as Reed threaded his nimble way between groups of idlers toward the door. A lot had happened – maybe both of them had changed too much – since he had last made a gesture like the morning's handclasp. Maybe the dreams he had set aside for a better time would be just one more casualty of war to be commemorated every November eleventh.
Reed was quite capable of pulling his hand away if he hadn't been comfortable with it being held. He was quite terse enough – snotty-nosed enough, Trip amended, the phrase in all its clipped Englishness slipping unbidden into his mind – to have dismissed a lunchtime overture if it were unwelcome. And the Southerner knew his man well enough to have spotted the miniscule softening of the fine-drawn, sensual mouth when the fond, familiar insult to his heritage had been thrown.
He chewed the last of his meal without noticing its taste. Maybe they couldn't go back the way he wanted, to convivial shore leaves and an innocent almost-romance. But they could go forward, couldn't they, to something just as precious?
That, Charles Tucker the Third assured himself, he would know for sure by the end of the day. Love was the memorial his romantic baby sister would have wanted him to remember her by, after all.