Disclaimer: Enterprise belongs to Paramount. I own nothing.
Title: The Long Way Home
Author: Aeryn Alexander
Rating: PG
Genre: General
Characters: Phlox, Malcolm Reed
Spoilers for Home.
Summary: Phlox returns to the Enterprise after the events in "Home" and has a conversation with Malcolm.
Notes: I haven't written any Enterprise in a while, but that episode and some reviews I read made me think. Reviews are always appreciated. Thanks.
The Long Way Home

by Aeryn Alexander

Phlox climbed aboard the Star Fleet shuttle with a single bag slung across his shoulders. He had arranged for the rest of his equipment, personal belongings, and so forth to be sent up to the ship later. That was the best place for it, he imagined, while the Enterprise and its crew were temporarily in flux, not knowing whether they would be grounded for an indeterminate amount of time or back among the star immediately. From what Phlox had gathered, the crew wasn't thinking about that at the moment. They were enjoying their homecoming.

They had every right to enjoy it too. Many members of the Enterprise crew had not returned to their home planet, much less their actual homes and places of origin, since the Xindi attack on Earth. Phlox could certainly sympathize with their feelings of homesickness. Maybe that was part of the reason he was returning to Enterprise earlier than he had planned: Phlox did not wish any uneasiness or discord caused by his presence to intrude upon their happy homecoming.

Phlox deposited his duffel bag beside one of the rear seats in the shuttle as he sat down and began to strap himself in for take-off. The Star Fleet pilot was checking the instruments and paying no attention to him, which, after the incident the previous night, was perfectly fine. Under more ideal circumstances, he might have felt the temptation to strike up a conversation with the young ensign at the controls. Somehow, he just didn't feel like it at that moment.

Of course, he understood why the men in the bar had reacted so negatively to him, to the presence of an alien. Not that Phlox endorsed xenophobia by any means; he merely understood that humans, some humans at least, would approach beings from other planets with greater reluctance now, and possibly for some time to come. They had been hurt and were now afraid and were expressing that fear as anger and hostility. He hoped that time would heal the wounds, soothe the fears, and let them put their anger to rest.

Footsteps on the gangplank behind him, roused Phlox from his thoughts and caused him to look up as second passenger sat down heavily in the seat next to his.

"There's room for one more, I suppose?" asked Lieutenant Reed with half-smile.

"You're going back to the ship?" questioned Phlox.

"Oh, well, I left some things in my quarters. You know how it is," he said in an easy tone of voice, "and since you were going up, I thought..."

"Mister Reed, I assure you," Phlox began as he realized the tactical officer's intentions to accompany him back to the ship. He could not help but to feel touched by the gesture; however, he didn't wish for Malcolm to waste value hours on Earth for his sake. "You don't have to come back to the ship with me..." he started to say.

Giving Phlox an amused and mock-affronted look, Reed said, "I don't know what you mean, doctor. I've left my... my Enterprise baseball cap in my quarters and thought I would come back for it." Before Phlox could say anything further, he turned his attention to the shuttle pilot. "We're ready for take-off, ensign," he informed their pilot.

"Aye, sir," said the young ensign as he closed the hatch and prepped the engines.

"Look, doctor, I thought you should know," said Reed, turning back to Phlox as the shuttle lifted off, "trouble-makers like that fellow in the bar are few and far between, even now. You don't need to return to the ship. I can grab my things, and we can both go back to..."

"Lieutenant, I appreciate the sentiments, even more than the offer, but I don't think that's prudent right now," the doctor replied with a slight smile. "Maybe some other time," he added, glancing forward as the shuttle began to pass through Earth's atmosphere and into space.

Malcolm nodded and said, "All right. It's certainly your decision."

An expression of mild misgiving remained in his eyes, by which Phlox knew that he still disagreed with his determination to return to Enterprise.

"I was curious about something. You said last night on our way out of that place that you had an instinctual reaction..." Reed prefaced after a moment of relative quiet that was filled only by the hum of the shuttle's engines.

"That's right," said Phlox, who had told his companions as much as they had made a tactical retreat from the establishment.

"I don't understand," said Malcolm with an apologetic half-smile. "If you don't mind the question--"

"--not at all," the doctor interjected.

"Why then and not before, during a mission or something? I mean, no one on Enterprise has ever mentioned seeing you do that, and it's a small ship," he said rather hastily.

Phlox considered this for a moment before telling him, "The threat and situational context were different. On my home world, we have bars that are bit more lively than those I've visited on Earth and..."

Reed attempted to disguise a laugh with a cough at this revelation, but the good doctor had lived among humans for much too long to be fooled so easily. "Go on, doctor," prompted Malcolm.

"As I was saying, the Kaybin bars on Denobula can frequently become very lively indeed. For the most part, everything that goes on in these places is in good fun and a positive experience for everyone involved; however, from time to time things may become more intense or heated, arguments may break out, things of this sort. In our evolutionary past, we may have used this reaction to frighten away potential predators, but now, it typically occurs in volatile social situations to warn threatening persons either to leave us alone or cease their own aggressive behavior," Phlox informed the lieutenant.

"Interesting," said Malcolm as he slowly nodded, "and it certainly worked last night." His lips worked their way into a genuine smile. "I don't think that one fellow will be picking a fight again any time soon."

Phlox smiled at that too, albeit a bit sheepishly, and said, "Him or his like-minded friends." He glanced forward to see Enterprise looming in front of them. After admiring the ship for a moment, as Phlox seldom saw it from this perspective, he asked, "How long do you suppose Enterprise will be..."

"I haven't heard any plans to continue our original mission," admitted Reed as the doctor trailed off meaningfully. "Weeks, perhaps, or even months," he said with a grim expression over-taking his features. "Sentiments toward exploration aren't exactly what they were."

"I imagine not," Phlox concurred, recalling the words against Star Fleet spoken by the angry man from the bar.

If his opinion were widely held, then Star Fleet might be pressured into ceasing its mission of peaceful exploration. That displeased Phlox more than anything else about the situation. He could not imagine, even after the harrowing year of trials and tribulations they had just experienced, the crew of the Enterprise, especially its younger members, being grounded and denied the opportunity to see more of the galaxy.

"Captain Archer will probably need to convince his superiors that we -- the crew -- is ready go get back to business. And then there's always the prospect of a possible re-fit for the ship, of course," ventured Reed as the launch bay doors opened ahead of them. The ensign piloting the craft pressed a few buttons on the control panel in front of him. Not a bad pilot, by the lieutenant's estimation. "I suppose, only time will tell," said Malcolm.

"About a lot of things," Phlox agreed.

After the shuttle had safely landed in the launch bay and Phlox and Reed exited the small craft, the lieutenant turned to Phlox and said, "If you change your mind, I'll be going back down in about an hour. You're welcome to come with me."

"I appreciate the offer," said the doctor, "and your company, but I think I would rather remain aboard Enterprise, catch up on some reading."

"As you wish," said Reed with a nod.

"If you don't mind, lieutenant, would you refrain from mentioning last night's misadventure? I wouldn't want any of the crew to become displeased with how things have changed on your home world," said Phlox as they left the launch bay.

"My lips are sealed, doctor, but I can't imagine Mayweather not talking about the incident," Reed told him, shaking his head.

"It is a small ship," said Phlox repeating Reed's earlier words. "No matter," he said with a shrug.

As the reached the junction where they would part ways, Lieutenant Reed paused and said, "I suppose I won't be seeing you again until we have new orders. Take care of the yourself, and the ship, doctor, and try not to think too much about what's happening down there. With any luck, it will work itself out eventually."

"Sound advice," said Phlox with a nod and a soft, almost somber smile. "Enjoy your holiday in San Francisco, lieutenant."

"Will do," said Malcolm before continuing on his way.

Phlox watched him go before entering sick bay and going to tend some of his various creatures that had remained behind. He was still concerned about the state affairs on earth and realized now that perhaps he should have given the tactical officer's warning more attention; however, at the same time Phlox felt certain that Earth would overcome this tragedy and emerge again as the people of optimism, the would-be explorers, he had known during his time on the planet.

The End