Another Year Wiser

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Title: Another Year Wiser
Category: Angst
Rating: PG
Summary: It was a little known fact outside the Reed family that father and son shared a birthday...
Author's Note: Assumes the same backstory as "Father's Day". I suggest you read that one for any real background into Stuart's condition.

It was a little known fact outside the Reed family that father and son shared a birthday, that little Malcolm had been born on Stuart’s thirty-fourth birthday... or was it his thirty-fifth? Either way, it was not something Stuart liked to discuss if he could at all help it, despite the many questions he received on a daily basis.


The answer he gave most often to avoid the questions was that pondering on mortality was a pastime for fools and doctors, usually adding silently that there was sometimes very little difference between the two. However, he had suffered the many medics, specialists and nurses so far over the years, and there was little point in leaving all that good effort to waste now.


But yes. Stuart’s son’s birthday was the same as his own, although in some ways it was just another date on the calendar, or had become that over the years. Stuart’s own father, a formidable beast of a man, had brought his five children up to not bother with such frivolous and unnecessary things.


It was a lesson Stuart had learned well. His life in the Royal Navy and the subsequent constant moving around the planet to various postings meant that he often travelled with little more than a small shuttleful of basic furniture and other supplies. Later there had been Mary into the equation, and although she had followed her partner, and later husband with good grace – the best of grace – there had always been some small niggling feeling in the back of Stuart’s mind that he was doing the wrong thing, in uprooting his small family time and again.


And for what? A military organisation that had come into the twenty-second century with no more chance at seeing action than the cavalry horsemen that still paraded outside Buckingham Palace twice weekly with extra “performances” during the tourist season. The monarchy had gone when the Eugenics Wars had arrived, and the best part of London and the surrounding Home Counties had been wiped out in seconds, including the Palace in the city, and Windsor Castle. Later rebuilt, of course, but their inhabitants had long since fled the country, fled the ceremonial seat of false power that had been the figurehead of British politics since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.


What good was a Royal Navy without a Royalty to serve? Sometimes Stuart caught himself thinking that, most often on the second of September ever year, watching his growing son coming to terms with the latest place the Reeds had to call home.


Shortly before Malcolm’s second birthday, Madeleine had been born, adding another name to the list of Reeds and their possessions constantly uprooted in the name of ceremonial military. It was this same fašade that had pushed Stuart to in turn push both his children towards a more nautical way of life and living. Sailing lessons around the shorelines of wherever he had been posted for that three or six or nine month stretch. Constant trips and visits to places of nautical interest; museums, exhibitions – anything and everything.


The crux had of course come the summer before Stuart’s forty-third birthday, the summer before Malcolm in turn would have turned nine. That summer in the sailing boat had put paid to any lingering ambitions Stuart may have had regarding the Navy.


It was also where the multitude of doctors and specialists had come in, of course. All paid to poke, prod and pander...


Contrary to popular opinion, there was nothing Stuart regretted about the aftermath of the accident. The Navy had given him an honourable enough discharge, and a pension plan good enough to keep him well into old age and beyond.


And perhaps, most importantly – to him – he had saved his son’s life. Losing three quarters of a leg in return for being able to watch his son grow up and follow in the family tradition?


It was probably the best deal Stuart was ever going to get in life.


And it was probably why he felt so disappointed on the inside when Malcolm announced to the family, shortly before his nineteenth birthday, his ambitions to join the Starfleet program in San Francisco. It had been almost ten years to the day since the sailing boat “incident”, and somewhere inside him Stuart couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the whole damned thing. Here he was, someone who had been brought up to almost completely disregard birthdays and anniversaries, and here Malcolm was, almost smack bang on the tenth anniversary of something that had reshaped the Reeds’ lives, showing complete disregard in turn for the life Stuart had been trying to show him on that day in the first place.


Sometimes, Stuart didn’t know any more. He couldn’t find the words, even in his head, to describe what had happened between himself and his son. Occasionally, he smirked and wondered if the wheelchair had something to do with it, if no longer being able to look Malcolm in the eye was a partial reason for the situation as it now stood – or, in his case, sat.


But either way, blame no longer mattered. By the end of that summer, Malcolm had gone, left England behind altogether. Madeleine hadn’t been that far behind him, choosing to study abroad somewhere, anywhere as long as it wasn’t within the same borders as her parents.


Birthdays came and went after that. The older Stuart got, the more he was reminded by the constant influx of doctors and specialists that he could – and should – be doing more, but he’d always resisted any change to the routines that had taken over his life.


Stability and normality were good, and change brought about the unknown. Before the accident, Stuart had never given much thought to the so-called “great unknown” – after all, the entire surface of Earth had been mapped and explored and visited several times over, the moon had been colonised and there was even talk of a permanent settlement on Mars the last he had paid attention to the media.


But the accident had changed everything, and Stuart would have happily become a recluse if circumstance had let him. He no longer liked to think about the world outside his front door; he even recognised this to be a real shame, because there was still some small part of him overjoyed when Malcolm wrote home one Christmas to say he’d been promoted to officer status within Starfleet, and another small part of him that wished he had been there to see his son receive his promotion.


Starfleet was not the Royal Navy, not by any stretch of the imagination, but sometimes Stuart caught himself wondering – usually on the 2nd day of the month of September and after the doctor had left – if Malcolm truly appreciated the opportunity his generation had... to truly be able to sail the stars and explore the greater unknown, to be the first men, all over again, to go forth and make the maps for themselves.


In a way, Stuart found himself envying Malcolm’s chosen lot in life. And maybe that was why he never responded to the letters that came less and less often, and eventually, not at all. The launch of the Starfleet ship came in fifty-one, and Stuart idly wondered on more than one occasion if Malcolm was on that ship. He couldn’t see his son settling for anything less, of course – after all, the man was a Reed – but then again he couldn’t see very much at all these days when his entire life was spent in the upright sitting position, watching the world and its pet monkey fly by him.


The move back to Malaysia had been more out of habit than anything else. It was easier to hide from the world in the depths of Asia, and there Stuart didn’t have to try very hard to avoid the world at large. Habit again meant that every two months Madeleine and her partner came to visit, never for very long, and usually driven away after two or three days by Stuart’s very own Victor Meldrew act, which he’d honed to a fine art over the years.


Mary had followed her husband out of the same enforced habit that had taken him back to Kota Baharu in the first place. There was very little between them any more – not since the two children had left home so many years before – although there was still the sense of companionship. Mary put up with Stuart’s changing moods, and in turn he suffered hours of inane conversation, occasionally interested or amused by the topics.


This level of companionship was of course to prove essential during the summer of fifty-one; the Asiatic monsoon season kicked in almost as soon as the Reeds had moved there; not even Mary could leave the house to get anywhere for those first few months. So the summer passed with evenings spent idly talking and talking and... more talking...


Madeleine did her daughterly duty and came to visit towards the end of August, spending most of the four days in the kitchen with her mother. Once or twice Stuart heard them discussing Malcolm’s favourite food, one of the stranger things the two women had ever talked about on the rare occasion they’d been under the same roof, but like so many other things in his life, Stuart dismissed it.


That way, he didn’t have to think about it for too long, or before it became too painful to remember. The Navy had been his entire life until the sailing accident, something Malcolm had known all too well in the years after the accident, but that was probably one of the few thing Stuart had made certain that the boy didn’t think himself responsible for. The only thing, probably.


Stuart Reed may have been many things, and was probably lacking a great deal more, but he was by no means the kind of man who enjoyed inflicting second-hand guilt onto his children. Malcolm was more than welcome to feel guilty over breaking with the family tradition and sailing in space rather than the North Atlantic, but damned if Stuart was going to let him take the blame for something that had happened when he was eight years old.


And Stuart was no fool, either; of course, being in a wheelchair helped his case also. He’d seen Malcolm’s lingering looks in the direction of the fruit bowl as he’d been growing up, and was more than willing to hazard the guess that the favourite food, the item of stomach fodder that had so far eluded the two Reed women was the pineapple. But Malcolm, in all his years as a child, had never said anything, and Stuart couldn’t ever remember pushing the issue. It was something that fell under the same header as his own father’s stance on birthdays, came under the title of “unnecessary frivolity” and so therefore was not something to get fussed about.


And for all this sudden discussion about a son who was no longer around, Stuart supposed he should have been expecting a call about said son, although the circumstances of the call had been... well.


Malcolm had made it onto the Starfleet ship, after all. And there was something about the words, “He’s my tactical officer,” that made Stuart smile on the inside, although years of natural reticence and that old unwillingness to share anything with anybody meant the emotion didn’t translate onto his face. Maybe it couldn’t. Maybe he’d never know for certain.


Much like her daughter, Mary could not tell the Starfleet officers what their tactical officer’s favourite food was, citing the same reasons Stuart himself had been using as an excuse for the past few days, and the last however many years.


He could probably get away with blaming the constantly changing doses of medication that the doctors insisted he take. Or maybe he hadn’t said anything to Archer because the call was to do with Malcolm’s birthday, which was only another reminder of Stuart’s own mortality, his own impending doom.


That, and he felt as though he’d be interfering in something if he actually had said something. Malcolm wouldn’t have expected him to know something so trivial as his favourite food. Nobody would have been expecting him to know – and who was Stuart Reed to argue with that kind of unanimous acceptance?


The kind of man everybody thought he was.


He’d lost count of the years by now. The onset of the autumn of fifty-one brought about Stuart’s sixty-fourth birthday... or was it his sixty-fifth? Either way it was not something Stuart liked to discuss if he could at all help it. He’d done the meaning of life thing lying in a hospital bed more than twenty years before; there was little point in getting pretentious this close to dying.


Stuart had grown far older than his years; there was no denying that, no arguing with it.


Except that sometimes he looked at the few remaining photographs of his son and wondered if for all those extra years, had he grown any wiser or not?

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