See Chapter 1 for disclaimer and other story details.
"Hey big brother, we're going to be late!" Eli West called as he barged into Eric's quarters. The Captain had invited the two brothers to join him, Commander Tucker, and Lieutenant Reed for dinner. Eli supposed it was sort of a celebration for surviving this entire ordeal.
He stopped short when he caught sight of his brother. Eric was seated on his bunk, staring at the still-bruised knuckles of his right hand, almost as if he were in a trance.
"Eric?" Eli said softly, approaching slowly.
He got no response, and he settled gingerly at his Eric's side. Instinctively he reached for his brother's hand, gripping it gently and pulling it towards himself. Eric finally looked up, focusing on the younger man. There were hints of tears in his eyes. "I could have killed you," he choked out in a whisper.
Eli sucked in a breath and shut his eyes briefly. He knew that Lieutenant Reed had regained his memory and he had been expecting this moment, though definitely not looking forward to it. He hated seeing the pain in his brother's eyes. Still, he locked gazes with him to let Eric see the emotions in his own eyes as he began to speak. "But you didn't. And I don't believe that you would have."
Eric shook his head. "Eli, I could feel something off between us from the moment I woke from that coma. Please don't lie to me. I could tell that you were shaken, and now I know why."
Eli sighed. Eric knew him far too well. "Okay, yeah. It threw me off a little."
"And brought back some memories. Memories that would be much better left dead and buried."
"They're never going to die," Eli said softly, then realized that wasn't what his brother needed to hear right then. "Yes, it shocked me. But I knew that something was wrong with you. Eric, I know that you would never hurt me."
"I did hurt you."
This guilt trip obviously wasn't going to go away quietly. Those childhood memories belonged to both of them, and they were tearing at both of them yet again. Eli had been forced to relive them. But Eric was going through something new, something he'd never wanted to experience—identifying with the abuser.
Eli reached for his brother, gripping his shoulder tightly. "Listen to me, Eric. Yes, you hurt me. But you could have done so much worse, and you stopped yourself. This chemical was so powerful that you shouldn't have had that kind of control. But you did. Because you cared about me that much, and I see that."
"Eli…I would never want to hurt anyone like that, especially you." Eric's tears spilled over.
"I know that," Eli responded, heart breaking for his big brother. "I know." He put his arms around Eric and hugged him tightly. After a moment Eric returned the embrace and let his silent tears fall on his brother's shoulder. "Everything's okay," Eli whispered.
After a while, the tears slowed and dried. Then Eric responded, "I just don't see how things could be okay between us right now. I don't see how you could be okay with this."
Eli sighed. "You want the truth? I was afraid I would have trouble getting over it, and yeah, I was a little uncomfortable with you at first. But I'm already past that. I love you, big brother. And I trust you. Nothing is going to change between us."
"I think it is," Eric pulled back, and Eli looked at him with concern. Then he smiled. "I may have to reevaluate how much protecting you need. You're a lot more mature than I was giving you credit for."
"Hey!" Eli exclaimed in mock indignation. "I'll always need you. Maybe you just need me a little more than you realized."
Eric grew serious again. "I'm not stupid, little brother. I always needed you. I've known that for a long time." He paused, then said, "I'm sorry I scared you."
"I'm sorry you had to go through this at all. Look, I know we may need some time to work through this, but we will. I'm not going anywhere."
They stared at each other for a long moment before Eric broke the mood by reaching to ruffle Eli's hair. "Okay, enough mushy stuff for one night. Let's go before the Captain gets worried and sends security out looking for us."
Eli laughed. "I hear he went searching for the Commander and the Lieutenant himself."
Eric grinned at the image. "Well, I guess everyone's going to need some time to get back to normal."
The young ensign glanced up from her meal and her conversation with Ensign Cutler, then stood. "Yes, lieutenant?"
Malcolm met her gaze, but suddenly couldn't remember the words he had planned to say. "I…well, that is…I just wanted to stop and say…"
"Are you alright?" she asked, looking concerned.
He stopped to take a breath. "Yes. I'm fine. I just wanted to apologize."
She looked confused. "For what?"
He stared at her for a beat. "Well, for attacking you in sickbay."
"Oh. Malcolm, you don't need to apologize for that. I know that wasn't your fault."
Malcolm continued to stare at her. He couldn't believe how understanding everyone was being. His memories of the way he'd treated his friends were enough to turn his stomach. It was very hard for him to grasp the idea that they were willing to just let it go.
Trip joined them at that moment, slinging a friendly arm around Malcolm's shoulders. "Evenin' everybody. What're we talkin' about?"
"Forgiveness," Malcolm offered softly.
Trip and Hoshi exchanged a look that went unnoticed by Malcolm, as he had taken to studying the ground. He looked back up again as he felt a small hand slip into his own to hold it gently. "Malcolm, we're fine," Hoshi said quietly. "Don't worry so much."
After a few moments of silence as Malcolm looked at the sincerity in Hoshi's eyes, Trip cleared his throat. "Well Lieutenant, we really shouldn't keep the Captain waiting. If you're done monopolizing the ladies..." the engineer put in with raised eyebrows and a barely hidden smile.
Malcolm blushed. Hoshi and Elizabeth both looked away to hide their giggles. Trip took pity on his friend and steered him away. Malcolm began to make his way toward the Captain's dining room, but Hoshi called Trip back.
"You know he still feels really guilty about all of this," she said softly.
Trip sighed, glancing at his friend's retreating back. "Yeah. I think he just needs some time. And maybe a little reassurance."
She nodded sympathetically and went back to her meal. Trip hurried to catch up with Malcolm, arriving at the door in time to enter the room with his friend.
"Are we early?" Malcolm asked, glancing around at the empty table.
"No," Trip responded as he checked his watch. "I guess everyone else is late."
The two of them settled into two chairs on one side of the table. After a few seconds of silence watching the stars, Trip spoke again. "Hey, can we talk for a minute?"
"Sure," Malcolm responded, curious about Trip's unusually serious tone. "Is something wrong?"
Trip hesitated a moment before answering. He was obviously struggling with what to say, and it was making Malcolm a bit nervous. "Not exactly. I guess I'm just a little…concerned. I've been thinkin' about somethin' you said."
"When?" Malcolm asked with a bit of trepidation.
"All through that little episode in my quarters, you kept bringin' up how you thought that no one cared about you. Now I realize that was mostly the chemicals talkin', but I can't help but worry that it all had some basis in reality for you."
Malcolm shook his head, at a loss for words. Then he tried to shrug it off, "Don't worry about it—"
"I am worried about it." Trip reached to gently grip Malcolm's chin, forcing his gaze up to meet the engineer's serious eyes. "Malcolm, I'm your friend. I care about you. And I'm certainly not the only one on this ship who does. You shouldn't be thinkin' any different."
They both looked up in surprise as the Captain walked into the room. Neither of them had even noticed the door opening. He gave them a smile. "Sorry to interrupt."
"No problem, sir," Trip responded. "I think I could use some backup here."
Malcolm ignored Trip and addressed the Captain. "Sir, speaking of being sorry—"
Archer cut him off as sat down at the head of the table. "Malcolm, don't apologize. It's not necessary."
"It would make me feel better, Captain."
Archer studied Malcolm for a second and then exchanged a glance with Trip before saying, "All right. Go ahead."
"I'm very sorry that I hit you."
"Apology accepted. Now—"
Malcolm wasn't finished yet. "And I'm sorry I disobeyed a direct order."
But Malcolm was on a roll. "I should never have undermined your authority, especially in front of junior officers and I have much more respect for you than that and—"
"Malcolm!" Trip broke in from his side. "Take a breath, will ya'?"
Before Malcolm could do so and start in on his apologies again, the Captain chimed in. "You really don't need to apologize. It was not your fault and we all know that. And Malcolm," he paused and waited until the younger man made eye contact with him, "what Trip was saying when I came in is absolutely true. This crew is a family and you are an important part of that."
Malcolm struggled with a response, finally speaking as honestly as he could. "I know that, sir, at least on some level. It is unbelievably important to me. I guess I'm just a bit insecure about my place in it at times. I think life experience has taught me that."
Beside him, Trip squeezed his shoulder. "Well then, you need some new life experiences. And you definitely found the right crew to get them with."
Malcolm allowed himself a small smile. "Thank you. Both of you."
The West brothers joined them at that moment. Captain Archer welcomed the two ensigns and invited them to sit before asking them how they were doing. They exchanged a look and a couple of smiles before responding that they were fine. It actually seemed to be an honest answer.
A crewman arrived shortly with their dinners. The five of them managed to put aside the baggage they had accumulated lately and had a pleasant meal. Nothing more was said of the recent events until the dinner party was breaking up. As everyone was preparing to leave Archer spoke, "Before we call it a night, I have one more thing to add. I know this has been a tough week for you all. My door is always open, and I think I speak for Commander Tucker as well." He and Trip exchanged a glance and the engineer nodded affirmation. "You can always come to us if you need to talk about anything."
Malcolm met the Captain's gaze and gave him a slight nod and a smile to let him know that he had gotten the message and that he appreciated it. He exchanged a smile with Trip as well before echoing the thanks of the two ensigns and following them out of the room.
Captain Archer and Commander Tucker remained at the table for a few more minutes. "It may take a little time, but I think they're both going to be fine," Jonathan observed.
"Yeah," Trip agreed, then stood. "So, what are you doin' this evenin'? Got an exciting water polo match to watch?"
"I wish," Archer said with a smile. But it quickly disappeared. "I've got a call I have to make."
After a moment of confusion, understanding crossed Trip's face. "Need some moral support?" he asked sympathetically.
"Thanks, but no. You go get some rest," Archer reached up to give his friend a pat on the shoulder.
Trip nodded slightly. "Alright, but that 'open door' thing goes for you too, you know. You don't have to wait for me to hunt you down and talk."
The Captain grinned. "I know Trip."
Trip smiled and slapped his friend lightly on the back, then called a 'good night' over his shoulder as he left the dining room.
The Captain spent another few minutes just sitting at the table and sipping the remnants of his wine. His ship was finally getting back to normal after the recent events that had threatened to tear them apart. But there was still one thing he had to do before the whole ordeal would be over. Finally, knowing that he was simply prolonging the inevitable, he stood and slowly made his way back to his quarters where he placed the call.
He waited until the familiar face appeared on the screen, then took a deep breath before launching in. "Good evening, Admiral Thomas. I'm afraid this is an official call."
Light-years away, a father's heart broke. On board the Enterprise, two mangled hearts began to mend.
Author's Notes: I want to thank everyone who's been reading and reviewing this story! I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I really appreciate those of you who have taken the time to give me feedback.
This story kind of took on a life of its own. I didn't really expect it to be this long when it began, and Captain Archer took a bigger role that I had originally planned. (Oh well, it is his ship, I suppose he's entitled!) Also, I've never really used original characters to this degree before. I didn't expect the West brothers to take as big a part, but the more I got to know them the more I liked them. I'm rather attached to them now!
Despite all of that, I think Malcolm and Trip will always be my favorites. I set out to write a story that held big parts for both of them and highlighted their friendship, and I hope I have done that. Again, thank you for reading!