Disclaimer: See chapter one.

Chapter Eight

Archer dropped by several times during the night; each time looking tired and worried. They were less than two days from Vulcan, but the conference had all but been forgotten. The Admiral did not move at all during the night, remaining at his son's side, never speaking or reaching out, just maintaining a silent vigil as other crewmembers came and went, including Hoshi, Travis and especially Trip, who had to be forcibly told to go and get some rest by Phlox.

As the morning shift started, Phlox was doing his rounds and feeding breakfast to his menagerie, when the sound of coughing alerted him. Almost dropping the food pellets all over the floor, he grabbed a hypo spray and crossed over to lieutenant Reed's side.

"Relax, lieutenant…this will help you to breathe," Phlox said, gently, administering the drug, "you're going to be fine…"

He glanced across at the Admiral, and nodded slowly, before backing away, giving them some space. He would wait a moment to pass on the good news to the Captain; for now, it seemed that the two men needed a moment...

---

Stuart Reed got to his feet, and stood beside the bed. Malcolm looked up at him through half-closed eyes, his expression almost wary. Stuart sighed. Malcolm was too pale, with dark circles under his eyes, and a slight tension that suggested he was trying to hide how much pain he was in. Stuart tried to decide what to do, what to say…Malcolm beat him to it.

"Sir," he rasped out, "f-forgive me…?"

That was the last thing Stuart was expecting; he blinked in surprise, and leaned in a little closer.

"I'm the one who should be asking you for forgiveness," he said, surprising himself with the softness of his tone, and he felt suddenly awkward.

He had never been an open person, he hated discussing his feelings with anyone, and he wondered if that had led to the distance he had sensed between himself and Malcolm, long before his son had refused to join the navy and run away…joined Starfleet. Malcolm was looking at him with an expression of shock and confusion.

"I volunteered for the conference because I…I wanted to see why space appealed so much more than the ocean," Stuart began, uncomfortably, "I wanted to see why a Starship was better than a naval ship…aside from the lack of, uh…deep water…at first I thought it was because it was soft and undisciplined, and I was so…disappointed…in you. I always felt disappointed…"

There was an unspoken pain in Malcolm's eyes that had nothing to do with the physical, and Stuart held up his hand to stop him from speaking.

"That's why I'm the one who's sorry," he continued, quietly, "I'll never understand why you didn't join the navy…I'll never accept the fact that you broke with our family traditions…but I can appreciate that you've become a fine young man. This is a good ship with a good crew and a strong captain. I'm proud of you, son."

Malcolm blinked, and dragged in a painful breath, summoning the strength to speak. When he did, it was barely a whisper, and Stuart had to lean forwards, straining to hear.

"Thanks…Dad."

---

The Enterprise remained in orbit of Vulcan for nearly a week. Several of the crew took shore leave; in spite of the fact that half of the dignitaries from Earth had been killed in the alien attack, the conference went ahead successfully, with many suggestions for the improvement of Starfleet and humanity's exploratory tactics in space.

The journey back to Earth was uneventful, and it was a tired but happy crew that arrived back to their home planet. In the mess hall, Trip sat by the window and stared at the planet above them.

"Beautiful," he murmured, appreciatively.

"Agreed," Malcolm said, with the ghost of a smile.

He'd been released from sickbay a few days earlier; he was still pale and gaunt, but he was making a full recovery. Trip spared him a grin.

"We should be heading down to the shuttle bay," he said, getting to his feet, "the envoys will be leaving soon. I'm sure gonna miss Hogan; the ship's going to be damn quiet without her jokes."

"Yeah," Malcolm nodded, absently, following Trip.

They walked down to the shuttle bay in companionable silence, where the rest of the senior officers were already assembled. Ambassador Long stepped forwards, and bowed.

"It's been a pleasure, captain," he said, "I regret the unpleasant circumstances of our voyage, but I commend you and your crew…and my thanks go with you."

"Good-bye, ambassador," Archer nodded, with a warm smile, shaking the man's hand, before allowing the ambassador to step aboard the awaiting shuttle.

General Hogan stepped forwards next, shaking Archer's hand, and those of the rest of the assembled officers.

"Damn good to meet you all," she grinned, "love this ship; wish I could stay but I cause more trouble than I'm worth. Trip! Take care of this ship! I might come back and fly her someday!"

"You do that," Trip grinned, "so long, General!"

She waved, and disappeared into the shuttle. Admiral Reed stepped forwards, looking uncomfortable.

"Captain," he began, hesitantly, "I…appreciate the actions of you and your crew. My report will be favourable…I see no need for any change."

"Thank you, Admiral," Archer inclined his head slightly, and held out his hand.

The Admiral shook it firmly, and turned to go. He paused, and glanced back.

"Good bye, Malcolm. Take care of yourself."

"And you, sir. Good bye."

Stuart Reed nodded, and stepped aboard the shuttle. Archer and the others filed out, before the bay depressurised, and the shuttle left the ship, returning to the Starbase. The officers went their separate ways, as Trip and Malcolm wandered away towards the mess hall.

"Things okay between you and your dad?" Trip asked, quietly, at last.

"They're…better than they were," Malcolm replied, pressing one hand lightly to his chest, "If I'd known I had to get stabbed to get him to accept my decision to join Starfleet…!"

"I never called my father 'sir'," Tripquickly changed the subject, sounding suddenly amused.

"He's never been anything but 'sir'," came the shrugged reply, "but things are…better now. We understand each other."

"Agreeing to disagree?"

"My mother will be pleased, at least."

"And you?"

"I'm…I'll be fine."

Trip nodded, satisfied.

"Great. Let's go eat!"

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FINIS

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A/N: The End. Reviews welcome – challenges considered. Flames accepted, but don't expect a Christmas card if you leave them. Go on, tell me it sucked. I can take it. It sucked, didn't it? See if I care. Sob… (lol) Just ignore me. I won't go away, but you can pretend I'm not there...