Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for meaty beta, kindly supplemented by Escriba. Beginning with this chapter, JT and I diverged fairly seriously, so don't hold her responsible for anything you encounter from here on in. And many thanks, reviewers.
Two hours later, Kendra found herself standing with Vehlen behind a wall of velvet draperies that Tucker had managed to hang on the bulkhead. Trip had left just enough space so that they could avoid betraying their shapes through the fabric, and perhaps lean a bit on the wall behind them, but it was less than ideal in terms of comfort. Kendra sincerely hoped dinner wouldn't take long. Fortunately, T'Pol had included her satchel in the cart, so she and Vehlen had been able to eat something.
He was doing without oxygen, having coughed out the worst of the congestion in his lungs. He had also been able to tell her what the labels on the various medicines said; luckily, the one she'd already given him had been nothing worse than a diuretic. Armed with more information, she'd given him a dose of another drug that supported general heart function. He looked much better and was standing without complaint, though he was still unusually quiet and grim.
"What's bothering you?" she finally asked.
"Why would anything be bothering me? I'm only dying of heart failure, betraying my people, and standing behind a curtain like an idiot."
She smiled. "Yeah, okay, but why do I get the feeling that's not it?"
"No doubt because you know me so well." He sounded bitter.
She blinked up at him. In close quarters like this, in the dim red light that was all that could make it through the drapes, his physical presence was impossible to ignore. It was just the bond, she reminded herself, and slid away a step.
"Tell me," he said. "What does it take for a man to earn your good opinion?"
"You heard the question. How, for example, did Ruben Gonzalez, MD earn your good opinion?"
"That's not really any of your business."
"Then he was good in bed."
She scowled. "Yes, but that's not what I meant. I meant it's none of your business."
"Come on, Kendra. Humor a dying man."
She gritted her teeth in annoyance. "The absolute last thing I'm going to respond to is the 'dying man' gambit."
His jaw tightened. "You think everything I do is a gambit, don't you? But I'm serious. What does it take? Good works? Intellect? A great sense of humor? Athleticism? Wealth? Status?"
She snorted. Ruben had indeed held status as a talented doctor and scientist, but he had abhorred even the slightest suggestion of status or wealth - except, of course, for his status as an egalitarian who deplored status and wealth. "Ruben discovered a method by which one could accurately predict the most likely mutations in any given bacterium in any given population. It was a breakthrough that revolutionized infectious disease prevention."
Vehlen was a silent for a moment. Then he said, "I don't think I could match that."
"No," she agreed.
"So it was general brilliance as well as being good in bed?"
"No, he was also a good man. His major goal in life was to save lives."
Vehlen brooded over this for awhile. Eventually, he cleared his throat and said, "I know you may not believe this, but that has always been my goal too."
She almost laughed out loud. "Yet you've racked up a pretty impressive body count. What was it you were just arguing for earlier?"
"I want to help you," he said. "It would make me feel a little better about all this." He stopped and swallowed. "I think it's the best thing I can do for my people now, but I would also like to earn your good opinion, if I can."
When she didn't respond, because she had no idea how to respond, he dryly added, "I realize that's somewhat unlikely."
She stared up at him in the dim crimson light, into the dark pool of his eyes, and felt her heart beat faster.
Could he truly mean what he said? Or was this just another game? Was she a woman responding to a man baring his soul, or just another fly being enticed into the web? She felt that he meant what he said, but feelings were untrustworthy; indeed, it was quite possible he was influencing her with this bond in ways he wouldn't have been able to otherwise.
The cabin door slid open.
Vehlen turned, as did she, her hand tightening on the hypospray. He had their weapon, a sign that Tucker and T'Pol had decided to trust him for now. Of course, neither item was particularly useful from behind a thick curtain.
A man guffawed. "Oh, by the Praetor's daughter, look at this! Doesn't she know she's disembarking tomorrow?"
"She must be a fine lady," another other, higher male voice said. "Used to comfort."
"I'll wager you she disabled that camera."
"Well now, if you knew it was there, you'd do the same. Especially if you knew what the captain was doing with it." The man's distaste was clear.
"We don't get many passengers we'd want to watch, do we? I wouldn't mind a peek at this one myself."
There was a grunt, and the sound of equipment being fiddled with. "Fvadt," the first guy said. "It's ruined. He's not going to like this."
"We could take the one out of the other cabin, install it in here."
"Yeah, we could, but I'm not doing anything he doesn't tell me to first. I learned that lesson, didn't I? Let's go. It's always better to give him bad news after he eats."
They left, and silence fell.
Kendra sighed in relief. "So far, so good."
"Do you think we really need to stay behind here?"
"Better safe than sorry," he said. "But if you need to get something..."
"I've made you uncomfortable," he said.
"I don't know what to think about you," she said. "That's the honest truth. And right now, I'm a lot more focused on what we have to do tonight. Either or both of those men could end up dead because of us. They may not be innocent lambs, but they're still some mothers' children."
"They're not the only ones who could end up dead - so could you. So could a great many other mothers' children on your planet if you fail."
She managed a faint laugh. "But hey, no pressure!"
"You'll do fine," he said, and put a tentative hand on her shoulder. Without quite knowing how, she ended up against his chest while he rubbed a soothing hand across her back.
"I wish I could say I didn't sign up for this, but I obviously did," she said, trying to get a handle on her emotions. "Maybe I didn't really think it through. I'm not sure I have what it takes for Starfleet. I'm scared out of my wits."
"Even the toughest woman in the universe gets scared sometimes," he said. "And you're far from the toughest woman in the universe. You're tough enough, though."
"Tough!" she snorted, disbelieving, and sniffled a little as her emotions spilled over. She held on to him, utterly ignoring her better judgment in order to take what comfort she could.
"You're certainly tough on me," he said. He produced a handkerchief. "Blow your nose."
She almost laughed. "Romulans carry handkerchiefs?"
"I would assume that most sentient beings with noses do."
"Actually, humans use paper tissues," she said. "They're disposable. Don't you know these things are germ factories?"
"Romulans believe in toughening up the immune system, not protecting it."
Oh, that just figured. Ruthless in all things, even microbiology. No wonder a man his age could be dying from complications of what appeared to be a fairly commonplace infection. She said, "By that logic, you ought to want to toughen me up, not protect me."
"True," Vehlen said softly. He tipped her chin up until she was looking at him. "But for better or worse, you're my mate and I want to protect you. Let me."
She stared up at him. He leaned down and kissed her, lightly, on the lips.
She just breathed.
"You haven't shot me full of sedative yet," he said. "I take that as a good sign."
She said nothing. Her heart was hammering; time itself had slowed. This time their lips met in the middle and her mouth opened to his tongue, which plumbed her mouth, exploring. Her free hand went up to his face and into his soft, fine hair. His free hand pulled her close.
They kissed until Vehlen pulled back and started coughing.
"Do you need oxygen?" she asked, a little breathless herself.
"No!" he said, and quickly backed her up against the wall and kissed her again. Eventually he broke off to say, "I've been dying to do this."
He might really die. For that matter, they all might die. "Vehlen," she said warningly.
He put his forehead against hers. "Kendra."
"I don't think this is the time or the place."
"I know." He sighed and, as usual, that made him cough. "I'd just really like a chance to prove to you that I'm no caveman."
"I know you're not. I know that...that..." She grimaced and stopped, unable to say anything more specific, instinctively shying away from that remembered pain. "But trying to prove something could be dangerous for you... it's probably not a good idea."
"A man needs to have something to live for, you know."
"Cribbage?" she said, which made him laugh, which turned into wheezing -- until the sound of the door opening made them both freeze in place again.
x x x
Footsteps entered. The door closed. There was breathing, and the sound of bed springs. Vehlen had his mouth open, his head tipped back, perhaps trying desperately not to cough or wheeze audibly. A scanner hummed. "It's clear," Tucker's familiar voice announced.
They both sighed in relief. Vehlen coughed and kept coughing. "Oxygen for you," she said. She fought her way out from behind the thick drapes and headed for her supplies.
Halfway there, there was a buzz at the door and she stopped cold. Tucker quickly helped Kendra duck back into place. But Vehlen's coughing could not be silenced, even though he'd covered his mouth with both hands and turned his face into the wall.
Tucker began to cough, loudly, to cover it, and T'Pol opened the door. "What is it?" she said with an impatience that sounded quite sincere.
"The other cabin is ready," a voice said.
Tucker coughed and coughed with admirable gusto.
"I'm not ready to dismiss my slave yet. I will call you when he can go."
The voice responded a little anxiously. "But the captain..."
"I must ensure that I and my quarters are presentable for him."
T'Pol cut him off by saying, "I merely require half an hour," and the door slid shut.
There was silence, broken only by Vehlen's continuing choked coughs.
"I'm going to get a sore throat if I have to do much more of that," Tucker complained.
Kendra fought her way out of the drapes once again. "At least you can breathe," she said darkly, and got the oxygen. Once again, they should have kept it with them. Would she never learn?
Of course, they also, clearly, shouldn't have started kissing.
She looked quickly at Tucker and T'Pol, but they didn't seem to have noticed that her world had tilted on its axis. Vehlen smiled and looked down at her with clear affection in his eyes as she fastened the mask on his face. He took a few deep breaths and relaxed perceptibly.
"Now what?" Kendra said.
"There are seven crewmembers aboard," T'Pol said. "One is someone they called an 'auditor' who only occasionally joins them on their runs. They seemed fairly wary of him."
"That's your agent," Vehlen said. "Most likely, anyway. Do you know which one he is?"
"He wasn't in the room."
"Once again, let me just tell you that you can't allow anyone time to react. Once this starts we have to move extremely quickly."
"The captain is the easy one," Tucker said. "He'll come to us."
"You can't be here," T'Pol reminded him.
"Yeah, I know," he said, and something dark flickered in his eyes. Kendra wondered if it was a flare-up of the same possessiveness he'd demonstrated before, or something else. He couldn't be enjoying even the pretense of being her slave. "But they'll be here. And meanwhile I need to..." He sighed. "Try to stun all the rest of them."
Vehlen spoke up, his voice muffled by the mask. "Just as discussed earlier, Mr. Tucker. We will assist you as soon as it's clear here. Normally I would recommend that T'Pol keep the captain entertained until we can assume most of the crew is asleep. But quite apart from any personal objections you and she might have to that, I'm afraid Kendra and I are unlikely to be able to keep perfectly quiet that long. Or at least, I am unlikely to."
"Indeed," T'Pol said.
"We may be able to get another crewman to come to us by claiming the captain has fallen ill. He might even be the only other one on duty. And the off-duty crewmembers are likely to gather in the mess hall for recreation," Vehlen said. "If you can get them all huddled together, you can take them all out with one continuous blast."
Tucker looked pained. "Just how do you suggest I do that? As a slave, I'm not even supposed to address them."
"Where's the satchel?" Vehlen said. "There's a padd..." Kendra dug through it and produced it. Vehlen flushed a little green and thumbed through some menus. The unmistakable sound of women moaning in pleasure floated up from it.
Tucker peeked at it and turned pink. "Oh. Yeah, I suppose that might do the trick."
Kendra peered past him to see for herself. An Orion, a Reman, a Romulan, and a woman from some species she didn't recognize were industriously getting to know each other's engorged sex organs. Apparently, dreary pornography set to terrible music was another one of those constants across the galaxy. She supposed she could give this one extra points for anatomical variety, though. "I take it the rest of the crew is male?"
Vehlen said, "I can't imagine any female wanting to serve under this captain. He's not even permitted to keep slaves; too many have died in his service."
"Great," Tucker said. "Just great." He looked at T'Pol. "Please don't even attempt to 'entertain' him."
"I believe that goes without saying," T'Pol said.
Tucker tried to give the padd back to Vehlen.
Tucker scowled. "I'm bonded, remember?"
"Ah, the joys of a young bond," Vehlen said. "They're still your testicles, you know."
Kendra thought that remark may have explained the stoniness in T'Pol's voice when she said, "Would it be at all possible for me to spend a few quiet moments in meditation?"
"Of course," Vehlen said. "Is this something you humans also wish to do?"
"No," Trip said. "Could you pull up those ship schematics you showed us before? I prefer to keep busy."
"Kendra?" Vehlen said, turning to her.
Like Trip, she'd welcome anything to keep her mind occupied. "I guess I'll take care of you," she said, and raised her scanner.
"Lucky me," he said lightly, and Tucker and T'Pol both looked up, perhaps noticing something different in the exchange.
But then they returned to their individual tasks - far apart from each other, Kendra noted.
x x x
T'Pol said, "Trip."
"I know," he said. "You guys ready?"
Kendra said "Good luck" to Tucker and gathered up the mask and canister she was determined to keep close at hand this time. She looked at Vehlen and he followed her behind the drapery. He put a possessive hand on her hip as soon as they were out of sight.
T'Pol tabbed the comm. "You may come show my slave to his cabin now."
"Well, good luck, Mistress," Tucker said. His tone was ironic, bordering on resentful.
"Trip," T'Pol said, and Kendra wondered if Trip could hear the anguish in T'Pol's voice as plainly as she could.
She looked at Vehlen, who was clearly eavesdropping too, but he just shrugged and removed his hand from her hip so he could capture her hand and hold it.
She sighed and tried to relax. Having her hand held was definitely a good thing at a moment like this.
Then the door opened, and a voice said, "Come on, then."
"You may tell the captain I am ready for his visit," T'Pol said.
"I'm glad to hear it, blossom," another voice came.
The captain, already. Trip must just love this, Kendra thought. She straightened and squeezed Vehlen's hand almost convulsively. This was happening too fast.
But at least it would be over soon, one way or the other.
x x x
"Would you like to sit down?" T'Pol asked her guest.
"If you'll sit with me."
"Perhaps you'll take a glass of ale?"
"No, thank you. Sit down, blossom. Tell me what brings you to my ship. You have an unusual accent."
"So I am often told. Do you like it?"
"Of course, of course. Where are you from?"
"My family led a rather itinerant existence when I was a child," T'Pol said. "I'm sure the details would bore you."
"No, not at all. I'd love to hear them."
"Well, I personally find them rather tedious," she said. "And since you clearly came here for sex, perhaps we could focus on that and dispense with the small talk."
Vulcans weren't very good at flirting, Kendra decided.
"In a hurry, are you?" the captain said.
T'Pol said, "If you would care to remove your clothing, we could begin."
"Thank you, but I'd prefer to stay dressed for now. But you -- by all means, go ahead."
"Then I would prefer not as well."
"But I must insist."
Vehlen quietly held out his hand for the hypospray, and she handed it over to him.
"Do you bring a weapon to every tryst?" T'Pol said, and Kendra stared up at Vehlen in alarm. But he had stilled in a way that reminded her of a coiled snake.
"Only when I expect there might be a certain lack of ... cooperative spirit. Clothes off now, please, blossom."
There was the sound of her getting slowly off the bed, of a robe dropping to the floor. Kendra stared at Vehlen - just how long was he going to wait before he intervened? But he shook his head impatiently at her and went still again.
The man's breath hissed in and out. "Lovely. Quite lovely. I can see why you wouldn't want your slave staring at you all night. Bajoran, is he?"
"His mother was," T'Pol said. "I cannot vouch for his father. She served the needs of any number of men."
"How nice. Rather like you."
"You know, we scanned you and your slave," he said. "And his readings were human. Not something you come across every day, especially in someone who looks Bajoran. I'm sure our favorite auditor is seeking the answers to this conundrum with him even now. In the meantime, I don't see why I should lose my fun tonight. If you would kindly hold your hands out... That's it. Now if you would kindly move to the bed."
The captain dropped any pretence of civility. "I said..."
"I have a weapon pointed at you."
"Perhaps I'd rather die than let you touch me." She sounded as if she meant it, Kendra thought, and bugged her eyes at Vehlen. What the hell was he waiting for?
"You don't have any choice. You will do as I say!"
"I won't!" she snarled.
The captain got off the bed, apparently intent on forcing the matter, and there was a grunt of pain. Vehlen launched himself out from under the drapes. By the time Kendra had fought her own way out, Vehlen was sitting on an unconscious man and T'Pol was lying on the floor, out cold. She was quite naked and her hands were bound together in front of her by a plastic tie.
"Is she okay?" Vehlen asked.
"He stunned her," Kendra said, after a quick scan.
"She managed to kick him pretty hard. I don't think he can be Tal Shiar." There was an awful crunch as with one swift move he crushed the vertebrae in the man's neck, and the unmistakable signs and smells of death immediately followed. Kendra looked up at him, thinking that this wasn't what they'd agreed upon. On the other hand, she didn't exactly mourn the guy's passing.
"I guess our plan isn't exactly working out very well, is it?" she said grimly.
"Can you bring her around?"
"I don't have any stimulants."
Vehlen took the captain's weapon, adjusted it to a fine beam, and sliced through the bindings around T'Pol's hands. "Just get her dressed, then." Grunting, he dragged the dead captain to the other side of the bed, behind the panel they'd brought in from the cargo container.
Kendra got the robe fastened around T'Pol again and tried waking her, even splashing a little water in her face, but she was unresponsive.
"You should stay here with her," Vehlen said.
"That's ridiculous! You're going to take this ship all by yourself?"
He scowled. "I'm trained for this; you're not. T'Pol's pretty little plan is shot to hell. If you come, you're going to have to do what I say without argument. Do you accept that?"
She hesitated for only a moment. "Yes."
"We have to take the bridge first." He gestured at the captain's corpse. "I gave him some sedative. Are there plenty more doses in there?"
She took the hypospray and checked. "Yes, plenty. What about Trip?"
"They're not going to do anything to damage their prize this early in the game."
"You really think we have a chance?"
"As long as we do it my way. You accept that?"
It was the second time he'd asked. She blinked, wondering if she should be more worried about his insistence, and nodded. At this point she felt she badly needed to follow someone.
To be continued...
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