Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for beta. Thanks to the reviewers for the reviews! No rape in this chapter, but there is some fairly explicit sex.
When she came out she did so carefully, checking to assure herself that Vehlen was secure. Tucker had switched his cuffs behind his back and tied his legs for good measure, and the Romulan was either still asleep, or unconscious, on his side, his breaths crackling with moisture. In a distant part of her brain Kendra thought that was not a good symptom, but she couldn't bring herself to investigate. It wasn't like she could do anything about it anyway.
"You okay?" Tucker asked. He was sitting at the computer again.
"I'm sorry," he said again.
She sighed. "You're talking better."
He shrugged and arched an eyebrow. "Maybe I jus' needed to get my brains fucked out." His tone was ironic. Tucker didn't look much happier than she did.
"Rutting like animals in heat just isn't the same as making love," Kendra ventured.
He nodded without looking up from the screen in front of him. "I think I finally truly understand why Vulcans find it so embarrassing."
"You don't feel your bond is any stronger?"
He paused, almost as if he seemed to be listening to something inside for a moment, then shrugged and shook his head. "I don't really notice any difference. Honestly ... I feel kinda used. But I know she didn't have any choice. I mean, clearly, she would have even..." His voice caught and he gestured at the bed.
Kendra wondered how much of his bitterness arose from simple resentment that T'Pol had started this process with someone else.
Tucker sighed. "I guess this is just another instance where it would be handy if I were a Vulcan, not a human. I could have just ... you know, gone along for the ride without being freaked out." He swallowed. "But at least I love her. And it's not like it didn't have its moments." He raised his eyebrows wryly. "But you..." He shook his head. "I'm so sorry, Kendra."
She looked down. There was a small part of her that wanted to confess that at some level, for at least a moment there, she too had apparently enjoyed it. But she was far too ashamed to admit that. Instead, she said, "I'm not the only one here who's going to have to deal with having been raped."
"I don't think of it that way," he protested. "It wasn't..."
"I'm not talking about you and T'Pol," she said. "I'm talking about you and the Orions."
"You need to talk about it with someone, Trip, now that you can. T'Pol, perhaps. Someone."
He shook his head, looking sick. "That... that was just ... that was just getting beaten up in a humiliating new way. It's just someone beating the crap out of ya just to see how bad they can make you feel. It sucks. You hope it never happens again. End of story."
Kendra put a hand on his shoulder and wondered if she could just think of it that way. It had happened, it sucked, end of story, move on. It would be awfully nice if it could be that easy. But it never was - though somehow that seemed a lot clearer in his case than in her own. "You don't get over something like that by ignoring it," she warned him.
"She knows about it anyway. Mind melds, remember? I couldn't hold something like that back even if I wanted to." He sighed unhappily, then stopped and listened, his attention diverted. "T'Pol?" Tucker said, and turned to look at the open doorway. A moment later, the Vulcan appeared, looking so stricken that Kendra couldn't help staring.
Oh darlin'," he said, and went and all but scooped her up. He turned back to Kendra. "Will you be okay for a little bit?" he asked.
She took one apprehensive look at Vehlen and picked up the weapon. No, she thought, but instead she nodded.
"Thank you," he said, and disappeared out the door with his mate.
Vehlen had a beautiful carpet in his study. It looked like a fine hand-knotted antique Persian - and perhaps it was. Why spend all those years on Earth if you couldn't get a good deal on a rug?
Experimentally, she shot it.
Green light impacted harmlessly against the fine weave. Apparently this was a stun setting. She looked more closely and realized the characters on his weapon didn't look much like the ones on his scanner. Perhaps he'd picked up the weapon in his travels, too.
She turned the knob a notch. This time a scorch mark appeared and the smell of burnt wool arose. Okay, that was more like it. She hefted the weapon and walked over to the bed.
Vehlen looked up at her from where he lay. She didn't know how long he'd been awake, but he was certainly staring at her now.
She raised the weapon. He kept staring.
"I should just kill you," she said.
He said nothing.
"Don't you want to beg for your life?" she said.
"No," he said, and coughed.
"You sure begged before."
He just continued staring at her. It annoyed her. She would have preferred that he stare at the weapon. "Go on," she said, waving the weapon at him. "Beg."
"I'm sorry.... I know you tried to help me."
"I certainly won't be doing that again."
He coughed. It was a wet cough. "Fair enough," he said, and closed his eyes, coughing some more.
"You're dying anyway," she said, being intentionally cruel. "I'm pretty sure your heart is failing."
"Yes," he agreed, without opening his eyes.
"And even if I wanted to help you with that, I don't have anything to give you."
"Besides the fact that you're a fucking asshole who deserves to die."
He smiled weakly as if he found this amusing.
She stared down at him where he lay on his side, breathing wetly. "You should probably try to sit up," she said grudgingly.
He didn't open his eyes. "I'm too tired."
She shook her head and backed away. She couldn't bring herself to help him; that would mean touching him. Disgusted with the whole situation, she walked back to the computer, where Tucker had left the translation program open, and started searching for medical files.
"Two of the ships are gone," Tucker said.
He and T'Pol were huddled together over the small ship's helm, conferring softly. Tucker might not think their bond had improved any, but from where Kendra was standing they looked more in tune with each other than she had ever seen them. But perhaps they had always worked well together when they had a job to do.
"They could be cloaked," T'Pol said.
"No, there'd still be an energy reading," Tucker said. "He's got his sensors rigged to capture any sign of certain very specific energy signatures - see this one, here, from the remaining ship? This alone is valuable information to get back to Starfleet."
"Agreed," T'Pol said.
They turned from where they had been studying the small ship's helm.
"He says he needs to use the bathroom," she said, with an apologetic smile. She knew they were trying to find a way home, but there was no way she was going to help Vehlen with that particular chore.
Tucker exchanged a quick look with T'Pol. "I'll handle it."
"He could be lying," T'Pol said. "If Romulans are like Vulcans, they urinate a great deal less than humans do."
"And I thought you were just shy about using alien bathrooms," Tucker said, with a grin. He seemed much more cheerful. "You know how to fire that thing?" he asked Kendra as they walked back to Vehlen's quarters.
"I've been practicing on the carpet."
He gave her a look.
She shrugged. "I had to practice on something."
They walked in and Tucker smiled at the scorch marks. "Cover us. It's on stun, right?"
"Yeah," Kendra said. "Just in case my aim sucks." She raised her voice for Vehlen's benefit. "But even a stun might kill him right now."
"What's the matter with him?" Tucker asked, already untying the cord around Vehlen's ankles. Vehlen just lay there quietly; he appeared to be focused on his increasingly labored breathing.
"His heart is weak," she said brusquely. "And his recent exertions" - she grimaced - "appear to have strained it badly." She didn't add that her recent research suggested the water she'd given him might be causing problems as well.
Damn Romulan physiology, how was she to know? Couldn't he have told her he shouldn't have too much? It was a good thing she hadn't found an IV, or he'd probably be dead already.
Of course, she reminded herself, she wished he was dead already.
Which he would have been, or close to it, from the ponvau, if... She shook her head in irritation. Yes, perhaps it was not an impulse he could control, anymore than T'Pol could. This much had become clear in her research. But this was still a man who had purchased slaves just so he would be able to rape one when the need arose.
When they had shuffled back from the bathroom, she told Tucker Vehlen needed to sit up in bed.
"It will help him to breathe," she said. At Tucker's look, she said, "I'm still a doctor, even if the bastard does deserve to die a miserable and lingering death."
Vehlen gave her that odd smile again.
Tucker sighed and arranged the pillows to allow Vehlen to sit in an almost upright position.
"Two of the ships have gone," Tucker said to Vehlen. "You have any suggestions on getting past the last one?"
Vehlen eyed him tiredly. "You could try echoing the trajectory of another passing spacecraft. They'll think the energy readings they get are a sensor echo. This satellite marks a tertiary shipping lane for the colony below. You'll find a schedule in my database. You'll need a fairly large ship to shadow for it to work."
Tucker looked pleasantly surprised. "Okay."
"That's the easy part," Vehlen said. "That traffic will be heading toward Romulus, not Earth. And they're obviously watching for this vessel. That means they will be looking for my warp signature and keeping an eye on all the local ports."
"I can muddy the warp signature. You got any other suggestions?"
Vehlen laid his head back on the pillow. "There are a few stops where I might still be able to buy fuel or passage, but my funds are low and I don't know if any of my previous contacts can still be trusted. But I doubt a human could find anyone willing to do business at all. Not with the little I have on hand. Your mate might have better luck; she could potentially pass as one of us."
"Why are they so intent on finding you, anyway?"
"They probably think I have you. You figure prominently in Starfleet's war plan, Mr. Tucker. Put the two of us together and they have a serious intelligence exposure."
Tucker shared a glance with Kendra. "Starfleet's war plan?"
Vehlen coughed and looked up at the ceiling, grimacing. "In the event of war, Starfleet assigns you to oversee the effort to get its fleet space-worthy and its engineering crews trained. This makes you a primary target for capture or elimination."
"Wouldn't Captain Archer or T'Pol be more important?"
"Yes, but they want to defeat Earth's great space hero in battle. And they know T'Pol will be reassigned as Starfleet's liaison to the Vulcan High Council, where she could be easily neutralized at any point. We have an ample supply of well-placed agents on Vulcan."
"Ample?" Tucker ran a hand nervously over his unshaven face. "Do they know about me and T'Pol?"
Vehlen frowned. "Starfleet thought those rumors were groundless, so I did too. But you should probably assume Zantira told them everything."
Tucker put his hands on his hips. "You're being awfully helpful all of a sudden."
Vehlen nodded at Kendra. "I told her I had secrets." He coughed. "Too bad they're all Starfleet's. Still, it's useful to know what your enemy knows." He looked meaningfully at Kendra. "I pay my debts."
She glared at him. He actually imagined he could pay her?
Vehlen frowned. "She's not going to forgive me, is she?" he said, ostensibly to Tucker, though he was looking at her.
Trip just gave him a disgusted frown.
"Pity," Vehlen murmured, and closed his eyes. "I was getting rather fond of her."
Tucker signaled her to walk to the door with him. "Will you be all right watching him?"
"T'Pol and I need to focus on getting us home."
"See if you can find any of those funds he mentioned."
He grimaced. "Try asking him. Apparently he was getting rather fond of you."
She walked back into the room, considering.
Vehlen watched her silently.
"Where's your money?" she asked him brusquely.
"In the vault."
"A hidden compartment in my docking port. You'll need my help to get into it, unless you plan to take the docking port apart, which could be problematic."
"I have placed certain defensive measures there," he said curtly.
"Will you help us get to it, then?"
"Yes." He smiled grimly. "But don't expect me to hand anything over until I'm safely out of the airlock."
She scowled. "Just because you blithely eliminate anyone who could get in your way, doesn't mean we do."
"That's yet to be seen, isn't it? And I don't, actually, blithely eliminate anyone who could get in my way. You and Mr. Tucker are still here. For that matter, I only needed one slave but I took three, at some additional trouble and expense, simply to keep you three together."
"Yes, of course. That was pure charity. You had no use for an engineer. Or a physician. Or a spare."
He winced. "That was an unfortunate turn of phrase. But it did work out well. I had no desire to come between two bond mates. That sort of thing generally results in a fight to the death." He coughed. "I'm sorry the ponvau makes such a terrible first time." He paused and gave her an appraising look. "But I couldn't help noticing that you adjusted to it surprisingly well."
Fury surged and she slapped him hard across the face.
He didn't say anything, just blinked rapidly. She turned away, her heart still pounding with anger but already embarrassed at her loss of control. She'd hit a man who couldn't defend himself - technically, her patient - and even if he did deserve it, she didn't want to think of herself as the kind of person who would do something like that. She took a deep breath and began to pace.
"Do you know what resolves the ponvau?" he said softly.
She ignored him and kept pacing.
"The male must play his part, of course, but ultimately its resolution depends on the female. Her contractions signal that she has created a hospitable environment for conception."
She stopped. If this was true, nature was kinder to Vulcanoid women than human women. Or perhaps not - what if a woman never came? Then again, Vehlen could just as easily be making this up in an attempt to keep her off balance. "If I were you, I'd shut up," she said.
"I think there may be more of a connection between us than you care to admit."
She planted her feet, folded her arms, and told him what she'd been telling herself, although it had proven to be very cold comfort: "What happened to me is not that unusual in human women who are the victims of sexual assault. It's an instinctive mechanism that evolved to protect the female of the species from excessive damage. Your average caveman probably wasn't a very patient lover."
"I see," he said, and considered this for a moment. "If anything, my ancestors were probably worse. The ponvau has never been considered a terribly good time for the female, especially one without a pre-existing bond to help her through. Look, Kendra - I'm sorry I started out as such a caveman, but I can do better."
She picked up the weapon.
"And I'll shut up now," he said quickly.
Tucker came by a couple of hours later and said, "Why don't you go eat and get some sleep? I'll take this shift, and T'Pol will take over when she wakes up. You might as well try to get a decent night. Tomorrow morning we're going to attempt to get moving."
"I already ate," she said. So had Vehlen, not that he'd eaten much. He had taken the stew she'd spoon-fed him in a brooding silence so profound that she had begun to miss his conversation.
This was a realization that had disturbed her greatly, and she'd been puzzling about it ever since, as he slept propped up against a mound of pillows, his open-mouthed wheezing audible across the room.
On top of all that, in sleep he looked far too young and vulnerable and the curl of dark hair that had fallen over his forehead kept calling at her to smooth it out of the way.
And that was just too creepy.
What the hell was the matter with her? Was she developing Stockholm syndrome - beginning to identify with their captor? That didn't really make sense when he wasn't even their captor anymore. Or was she that lonely? She didn't think so. Perhaps she was overcompensating for her far more understandable desire to murder him?
Was it possible Vehlen had tapped into a deep current of submissiveness? God, she hoped not. Could anything be more humiliating?
Tucker lowered his voice. "Did he say anything?"
She quietly told him about the defensive measures.
Trip rolled his eyes. "We should probably keep an eye out for those all over the ship. Do you think he'll be up to helping us get at it?"
She turned to study their sleeping prisoner and was quietly appalled all over again at the unmistakable feeling of protectiveness that rose up in her at the sight of him. "I think so. This appears to be classic congestive heart failure, but it doesn't look like end stage yet to me. Unfortunately, I have no experience with Romulans. I'm sure there are very basic treatments that could extend his life - we just don't happen to have access to any of them." She frowned in frustration.
Tucker studied her for a moment, then said, "You should go get some rest."
She turned and looked at Vehlen.
Tucker frowned. "Kendra? Shall I make it an order?"
She looked up at him, startled. Tucker had never pulled rank on her before. "I'll go."
At the door, she hesitated. "You won't..."
Tucker looked up from where he was already settling into the desk chair, "What?"
She wanted to say, "You won't hurt him?" But that would betray how screwed up she was, so instead she swallowed and said, "You wouldn't do anything ... important ... without letting me know?"
Tucker looked perplexed. "Like what?"
Her eyes went involuntarily to Vehlen for a moment, before she shook her head. "Never mind."
He was on her again, but this time there were no cuffs. He was taking his time, thrusting slowly and deliberately, and she was pushing back against him with each stroke, groaning with growing pleasure as he deftly fondled her breast, her clit. "I told you I could do better," he said.
She didn't say anything, just panted in pleasure and rocked back on him.
"You're mine now," he said.
Whatever. She certainly didn't want to argue at a time like this.
"Are you mine?" he said.
She felt the first stirrings of irritation.
"Say it," he said. "Say that you're mine."
She stopped cold. "You really know how to kill a mood, you know that?"
"Say it!" he demanded.
"I'm not yours. I'm not anybody's!"
"Wrong answer!" he said, and pushed her head down into the pillow. She struggled but he held her tight; she couldn't breathe; she was suffocating...
Kendra gasped awake, taking in deep, desperate breaths.
T'Pol was staring at her with concern. "I believe you were having a nightmare."
Tucker's half-panicked voice came over the com. "Hey, Doc, I need some help here."
Kendra blinked at T'Pol for a moment, then raced after her to Vehlen's quarters.
Tucker was hovering uncertainly over Vehlen, who had turned grey and was gurgling and gasping and thrashing as much as his bindings allowed.
"What happened?" Kendra said breathlessly, fighting hard not to lapse into an unprofessional panic. She could feel her own pulse thundering as if the nightmare hadn't ended.
"I don't know!" Tucker said. "I thought he was asleep. I guess he rolled over or something because I heard him start choking."
"Let's get him vertical," Kendra said. "Help me." Tucker lifted Vehlen up to the side of the bed and she and T'Pol grabbed his legs, trying not to get kicked, and dropped them over the side. He was still coughing and gagging, but Kendra could tell that getting him upright was helping. "Undo the cuffs," she said.
Tucker hesitated a moment, then fished the key out of his pocket and did so.
"You're okay, Vehlen," Kendra said. She wrapped her arms around his chest, bracing herself to lift him, and said, "Stand up. Come on, I'll help you."
Vehlen didn't respond, but Tucker helped her haul him into a standing position. Vehlen was still gasping and coughing as Kendra supported him, but eventually there were more breaths between the wet coughs, and he began to actually stand unsteadily on his own feet. His arms came up to wrap around her and she frowned but let him hang onto her. Drowning on the fluid in your own lungs was terrifying, and that was what he had been doing.
"Go on, cough," she said, rubbing his back. "Get as much of it out as you can."
They stood there for some time while he coughed and wheezed, and she tried not to notice the looks passing between Tucker and T'Pol, especially when Vehlen rested his head on her shoulder and sighed, "Ihlla\'nh."
Ignoring that - she had no idea it meant, anyway - she told the others, "He's going to need to get up and walk around every four hours or so. And no more lying down. I wish we could give him oxygen."
"Oxygen? No problem," Trip said. "He has an EV suit. We could just put the helmet over his head and hook it up."
Kendra stared at him in chagrin. "I should have asked before."
Tucker looked quickly at T'Pol and said, "I'll go get it, then."
Kendra began to feel self-conscious under T'Pol's gaze. She patted Vehlen awkwardly, trying to signal that enough was enough. "Let's see if you can walk around a little."
He nodded, his face still very pale, and shuffled along with her. He looked thoroughly shaken up.
"Let's just head for the chair," she said. "We'll get you set up for some oxygen. Then you'll feel better." She settled him into the armchair and checked his wrists, feeling a little stab of shame at the condition she'd left them in - surely she should have at least cleaned and bandaged his cuts? "Maybe we could just cuff one of his hands to the chair?" she asked T'Pol. "I don't think he's going to be much of a threat for the immediate future."
"I believe that could suffice for now," T'Pol agreed, and attached the cuff herself, with an efficient 'click' that gave Kendra a chill.
She blinked. Those cuffs had been used to choke her into submission. What the hell was the matter with her? Why was she wasting so much concern on this bastard? Why did she care about his wrists, or his captivity, after what he'd done to her? To them?
"Is something wrong, doctor?" T'Pol asked.
"Do you think it's really true that Romulans aren't telepaths?" she asked. "Could he..." she trailed off. How best to put this? "Could he be messing with my head?"
Vehlen looked sharply at her. He was still pulling hard for every breath.
"In what way?" T'Pol asked softly, with an extra calm that made Kendra suspect that she was definitely concerned.
"I don't want to talk about it here," she said, conscious of Vehlen's stare.
Tucker came in then, with an EV helmet much squarer in design than Starfleet's, as well as a canister. "Just plop it on?" he asked Kendra.
"It's pretty heavy."
Kendra went to the bathroom, rolled up a towel, and placed it around Vehlen's neck. "Try that. Just don't make it a tight seal."
Tucker put the helmet over Vehlen's head, made a few adjustments to the towel, and stepped back.
"Is that better?" Kendra asked Vehlen, but she already knew the answer. She could feel it in the lightening of her own chest.
He nodded, his dark eyes staring piercingly back at her through the helmet.
"Trip, the doctor and I need to discuss something," T'Pol said abruptly, and went to wait at the door.
Kendra followed her nervously. She hoped it hadn't been a mistake to speak up. It was hard not to feel that she was really going to be in trouble now.
To be continued
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