Author's Note: Thanks to JustTripn for meaty beta, kindly supplemented by Escriba. And many thanks for the reviews.
"You appear to be preoccupied," T'Pol said later that night. She and Kendra were cleaning up after dinner. Vehlen had presumably gone off to sleep, though Kendra hoped he would still be awake when she got there - he probably would be. Romulans, like Vulcans, apparently didn't need much sleep, though he certainly did need to rest, especially in recent days. Tucker had the bridge shift.
"I guess I'm worried about what happens when we get home," she said.
"What specifically concerns you?"
Kendra purposely chose the lesser of her worries. "Well, for one thing, I can't imagine Starfleet approving of what we did to the crew of this ship."
T'Pol frowned. "You fear that you and Mr. Tucker may face disciplinary charges?"
"We participated in the murder of a civilian crew."
"You didn't kill anyone."
"Neither did I prevent anyone from killing anyone. And that IV I set up - that wasn't exactly standard medical procedure."
"It served the greater goal of escaping with valuable information about the enemy."
Kendra shrugged. "Yeah, I know. But aren't you a little worried about what they might do to Trip? The body is right there in stasis. It's not pretty."
T'Pol had seen the body, but she hadn't asked for any report from Kendra. Trip's injured knuckles were a kind of testimony in their own right, of course. T'Pol's voice turned careful. "I am somewhat concerned, but I also feel there were a great many extenuating circumstances involved. Hopefully Starfleet will agree."
"They could still drum us out of the service. Reduce us in rank. Put us in jail..."
T'Pol looked down at the counter she was cleaning. "In a time of war, it would be extremely illogical to lose Commander Tucker's talents. Or yours. And I believe it was reasonable for us to make decisions on a wartime basis." She paused. "I have seen Starfleet excuse ethically questionable decisions and behaviors in the past, under similar conditions. And my Vulcan superiors. Indeed, I am far from certain that my original decision to attempt to spare the lives of the crew was the correct one."
That surprised Kendra. "Then you're really okay with how it played out?"
"Once a battle has been joined, logic and ethics often become secondary, even for Vulcans. That is one of the reasons we seek to avoid war if at all possible. But few of us are true pacifists. Many are quite willing to defend themselves and their interests." She straightened the robe she was wearing and somehow managed to look much older. "I will be surprised if Starfleet imposes any significant consequences for what happened here."
Kendra hoped she was right. It would be a relief, if also a little depressing: Did this mean they were also Romulans at heart, just less upfront about it? "So...," she said. "You and Trip are okay?"
The Vulcan stared at some point far beyond the galley cabinets. "I believe so. He appears content with the status quo for now."
"Did you tell him what happened?"
T'Pol nodded. "I ultimately deemed it best. He was quite insistent that something had happened."
"That's good," Kendra said. "Then you really are fine."
T'Pol gave her a serious look. "I am not sure about his intentions beyond the duration of this voyage." She swallowed. "You and Vehlen appear to have reached a certain level of... accommodation."
Kendra flushed. "Yes."
"And after we return?"
"He's made it fairly clear he doesn't actually want to go to Earth."
"That would be quite a departure from the Romulan way."
"I don't know how to stop him if he ... chooses to do something about that. I mean, short of pulling all his molars in case they have poison in them. It's not like I can sedate him for the duration. In his condition, that would kill him, too."
"Trip has expressed some concern that he may try to sabotage the cloaking device. "
Kendra chewed her lip. "I think that's a reasonable fear, especially once he thinks we're safe."
"Do you have any recommendation for how we should prevent that?"
She shook her head; she hadn't been able to come up with any ideas on her own that didn't involve holding Vehlen prisoner. "No." She sighed. "I think maybe I'm going to have to leave that up to you two."
T'Pol nodded. "You understand that we may indeed need to act."
Kendra nodded unhappily. "I understand. Just -"
"Please don't hurt him if you can avoid it."
"Of course not," T'Pol said.
Of course not. T'Pol was so civilized. Kendra suspected that Vehlen would have had no such compunction himself.
x x x
"So we're not in Romulan space anymore," Kendra said, greeting Vehlen when she entered their cabin.
He was sitting up in bed with an oxygen mask on and a padd in his hands, which he promptly put down. He took the mask off. "I know. Though you can never be certain of borders, not with a war on."
"It doesn't bother you at all?"
"No. It means we're closer to getting you home." He was wheezing, she noticed, even at rest.
She went to get the scanner. "You're not feeling so well, are you?"
"No," he agreed.
"Go on, you need oxygen," she said, and he put the mask back on.
The scans didn't look good. "Tired?" she said.
She sighed and ran her hand down his leg to his ankle.
"They're quite swollen today," he said.
"Yes," she said, and tried to smile. "We'll up your dosage of the diuretic. That might help. I think you should keep the oxygen on tonight."
He didn't argue. She went to get ready for bed. She washed her face and brushed her teeth and wished she'd realized, the last time they'd made love, that it was probably the last time.
He was looking at the padd again when she went out.
"What are you reading?" she asked.
"Not reading, looking. I have pictures of my children. May I show you?"
"Of course," she said, surprised.
"And perhaps you could tell me about yours," he said. "You already know I looked up the official record on my ship. They were very beautiful children."
She took a deep breath. She kept her memories of Hector and Gabriela walled off deep in her heart. "Yes, they were."
And so they spent the rest of the evening looking at his pictures and reminiscing about their lost children and their past lives, until he dozed off, and she turned out the light.
x x x
Vehlen moved increasingly slowly over the next few days, until one morning he had to lean on her just to get to the mess hall. Increasing the diuretic had put more pressure on his kidneys and she'd had to back off. His ankles and lower legs were always swollen now. The oxygen mask stayed on all the time.
Tucker and T'Pol divvied up his shifts between them without anyone ever actually coming out and saying that Vehlen couldn't cover his; the first time anyone actually talked directly about what was happening was one night when Trip said, "How are you holding up?"
Kendra said, "I'm okay. How are you doing?"
"Fine," he said, as if surprised that she would ask.
"You and T'Pol are doing okay?"
"Yeah, we're fine." He smiled as if he meant it.
"So... all those issues you were having before ... they're all resolved?"
"All our issues resolved?" He snorted. "That'll never happen." He went fishing in the jar of cookies she'd found in stasis and held one up triumphantly. "You're the one who's bunked up with a Romulan spy. At least T'Pol and I are on the same side." Trip chewed his cookie and gave her an assessing look. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"No. He's deteriorating quickly."
"I'm sorry, Kendra. I'm not really sure why I should be, but I am."
"I know. Thanks."
x x x
Kendra began to serve Trip and T'Pol dinner on the bridge; otherwise they'd hardly get any time together. That was how she happened to be there the next day when they passed out of Andorian space and into Vulcan space.
"I'd like to know where everybody is," Tucker said to T'Pol. "Normally you'd expect this zone to be crawling with patrols from both sides."
They'd already decided to stay cloaked even in friendly territory; the chance to obtain a Romulan cloaking device would be extremely tempting to the Andorians and possibly to the Vulcans, too.
"Perhaps they each have more important concerns right now," T'Pol said.
"That's a depressing thought," Tucker said.
x x x
Vehlen started to take meals in their quarters because he couldn't manage the short walk to the mess hall. Kendra couldn't help remembering what the Romulan doctor had said: once he was bedridden, death would come quickly. Sometimes she wondered if Vehlen had somehow figured out how to time this exactly right to avoid being alive when they got back to Earth. At night she slept in a curl on the bed next to him, while he dozed sitting up, or just sat there, his breath rasping, one hand on her shoulder.
Maybe it was the bond, but she had become so accustomed to that simple contact that she couldn't imagine sleeping alone anymore, even as it became increasingly evident that she would soon have to.
The morning came when his breathing was even more labored. She scanned him and said, "You're going to need some breathing assistance, Vehlen. They have the equipment in their sickbay. We can either move you there, or I can see if Trip can get it moved in here."
"No," he said. "None of that."
"I'm sorry, but you'll die without it."
"Then I'll die."
"There's no reason for that yet!"
"Kendra, you need to let me go." He squeezed her hand. "You'll be okay."
"Look, I didn't ask for this bond," she said. "I already lost one family. You owe it to me to try. Please, Vehlen."
"No," he said. "I'm sorry, I can't. You know that. You always knew that." He caressed the side of her face. "You'll be all right."
He removed his mask. "You haven't kissed me good morning."
So she did. Soft and sweet and short; he couldn't do without oxygen for long.
"Thank you," he said, taking her hand. "Thank you for everything. I'm so glad I didn't have to do this alone. I hope you won't either, when it's your time."
She burst into tears. She wasn't ready for any goodbyes. They hadn't even finished saying hello.
"Shush, darling," he said, and patted her back while she sobbed. "You'll be okay. You're tougher than you think you are." He put the mask back on. "Could you get me some breakfast?"
"You're hungry?" He hadn't had much of an appetite lately.
"Yes." He smiled at her. "Bring me something sweet."
So she went and started loading a tray, when she suddenly felt such a terrible foreboding that she ran back to their cabin without it.
He was dead.
x x x
Kendra awoke with a gasp.
"Doctor?" T'Pol looked over from where she had been sitting, apparently in meditation.
Kendra blinked, slowly realizing that she was lying in Trip and T'Pol's bed, in their cabin. The whole room smelled of the two of them, with a faint suggestion of that spicy plomeek. So T'Pol had been right about that. "Vehlen?" she asked.
"I've laid him out in his quarters for now," T'Pol said. "It was indeed a fast-acting poison, as you suggested. In a molar."
Kendra clenched her jaw. The signs of poisoning had been unmistakable. Her fury and outrage and grief had been loud enough to bring Tucker and T'Pol running.
"You were quite hysterical," T'Pol said in that implacable way of hers. "We decided that sedation would be best."
Kendra looked up at the ceiling. She still felt sedated.
T'Pol said, "We'll be passing by Vulcan in the morning. Trip prefers that we head straight on to Earth. He fears that Romulan agents on Vulcan might try to interfere with our ability to access the technology aboard this ship. I fear it's equally likely the High Council itself might attempt to interfere. We can't be sure how an outbreak of war might have affected our relations."
Kendra sat up. She felt logy. "What time is it?"
"Nineteen hundred. Are you hungry?"
Kendra nodded. She felt profoundly hollow inside, though she wasn't sure it was hunger or something else. But according to the clock, it ought to be hunger. "I guess you won't have to worry about him sabotaging anything now."
T'Pol lifted an eyebrow. "I grieve with thee," she said.
Kendra clamped her mouth tightly over a sob and nodded, blinking and swallowing.
"Perhaps I should bring you some food?"
"No, I'll go," Kendra said.
"May I accompany you?" T'Pol said.
Kendra wanted to say no, but then she realized that T'Pol was probably concerned she might do something rash. She had been hysterical, right up there with any of Great Grandmama's graveside histrionics. She was just so furious at him for cutting out like that. She had screamed her shock and outrage at losing Vehlen, and at all her other losses, too. She hadn't known she had it in her to shriek with such abandon; even while it was happening a part of her had sat apart from it all and thought, what the hell is the matter with you?
"Thank you," she said quietly now. "I'd appreciate the company. And then I'd like to sit with him for awhile."
"Of course," T'Pol said.
x x x
Three days later, still a couple of days out from Earth, they encountered their first Starfleet vessel, a small scout ship. When the Resolve came into communications range, Tucker hailed them and they began the delicate dance of proving they were each who they said they were, and then he dropped the cloak.
Soon a small party of Starfleet officers came aboard with their first news of the war. In addition to Coridan, the Romulans had destroyed two Earth colonies and a great number of ships, which indeed included Columbia. Enterprise was currently escorting a refugee convoy and unfortunately nowhere nearby. Young Captain Maarten, whose pips suggested he was actually a lieutenant, didn't come right out and say it, but Kendra got the impression the war wasn't going well.
Kendra noted this without any of the sense of urgency that she knew it ought to have generated in her. She was still wrapped in a cocoon of numbness, and the discussions going on in front of her had no more immediacy for her than an old movie on a video screen.
Trip handed over the energy signatures that would help Starfleet detect cloaked ships and those were hurriedly given to the Resolve's communications officer to be encoded and sent to Starfleet Command.
"And you managed to bring us back a working cloaking device," Captain Maarten said. "That's quite a coup."
Trip nodded. "I hope so. I haven't had a chance to look at it while it's been in operation. There's a good chance it's booby-trapped. The Romulans are pretty paranoid about protecting their technology."
Maarten grimaced. "That's not all they're careful about protecting. Are you saying you've actually seen them? Up close and in person?"
They all glanced at each other. They had already discussed this among themselves. The bodies of the crew and Vehlen were locked in stasis, ready for Starfleet to examine. Kendra hoped they would release Vehlen's to her eventually but would not be surprised if it never happened. "We have indeed seen them," T'Pol said. "However, we must wait until we have authorization from Starfleet to discuss that."
Maarten looked annoyed. "Is there something particularly scary and horrifying about them, that I might want to pee my pants or something just from hearing about it?"
T'Pol said, "I intend to follow proper debriefing procedures, Captain."
"Indeed," T'Pol said.
"I'd go ahead and use the cloak again if I were you," Maarten said. "We've had attacks even inside the system. And if they're really that careful about protecting their technology..."
"We'll be glad to," Tucker said. "Just please don't let Starfleet start shooting at us."
"Oh don't worry, we'll keep you company on your way home. You've got me hooked on your little mystery now. Do you want my medic to check you out before you go? No offense, but you guys look a little the worse for wear."
Kendra looked anew at her crewmates. Tucker hadn't been able to shave since his stint as a Bajoran and had a scraggly beard and mustache, and T'Pol's hair had also gotten shaggy. Their clothing was Romulan, patched together from what they had found in Vehlen's closet. They were each a little thinner, a little more fatigued, though Kendra felt they were doing pretty well, considering what they had been through and the watch hours they had been keeping recently. Trip especially struck her as calm and content; T'Pol still seemed a little tense. Perhaps she still didn't know what would happen between her and Trip when this voyage was over.
As for herself - well, she hadn't looked in a mirror since Vehlen died. It had taken all her resolve simply to get out of bed that morning and make the plomeek broth.
"We are significantly undermanned," T'Pol said. "If you have a helmsman you could spare, that would be more helpful. And perhaps some uniforms for us?"
"And a razor?" Trip said. He glanced uncomfortably at Kendra. "And no offense, doc, but maybe some food that isn't Romulan?"
Maarten smiled. "No problem. You want an engineer, too? I'm sure my chief would like a look at your propulsion system."
Tucker said, "I wouldn't turn down the help, but I was serious when I said things could be booby-trapped. We sure as hell didn't come all this way just to get blown up now - so whoever it is has to understand there will be absolutely no messing around - not until we have a bomb squad on board."
T'Pol turned to Kendra. "Doctor, would you perhaps be more comfortable on the Resolve?"
Kendra's answer was an emphatic "No!"
Maarten eyed her curiously.
But of course this was only the beginning of that.
x x x
Two days later they arrived at Jupiter Station. A team from Starfleet Intelligence came aboard to begin debriefing them and examining their prize. Kendra said little unless asked; it was clear that the early priorities were on obtaining as much tactical information as possible. It was only when Lieutenant Ikeda asked why a former Romulan intelligence agent had been willing to do so much to help them that T'Pol turned to Kendra. "Doctor, perhaps you would care to explain?"
She had rehearsed this in her own mind, but even so she could feel her face go hot with embarrassment as she described, as briefly as possible, how a mating bond had formed with their former captor. She could see the other officers in the room eyeing each other and knew it must sound bizarre and disturbing. No doubt referrals to Starfleet Medical for intensive counseling were already being written in their heads.
Ikeda turned to T'Pol and Trip. "Do you believe the doctor's perceptions of a 'mating bond' to be accurate?"
"Absolutely," Trip said.
"I have no doubt," T'Pol said.
However, neither explained why they were so certain.
Ikeda exchanged a quick glance with her superior, a Commander Garcia, and the subject was dropped for now. It was agreed that T'Pol would talk the Commander through the bridge, while Tucker led a tour of engineering. Ikeda stuck to Kendra. She asked to see the bodies in stasis.
Kendra swallowed and obliged her, leading the woman to the large stasis unit that held perishable cargo, which in this case included seven Romulan corpses. They had each been washed and wrapped before storage. Ikeda looked at each one, raising her eyebrows at the crewman Trip had beaten to death. "What happened here?" she said.
Ikeda stared at her for a moment but didn't inquire further; she just moved on.
T'Pol had laid out Vehlen's body with care: his eyes were shut, he wore clean robes and his hands were folded neatly on his chest. Kendra looked down at him and thought, as she had before, that a corpse was such a cruel parody of life. How could anything so thoroughly retain the outward form and yet suggest none of its illuminating spark?
"So they are like Vulcans?" Ikeda said.
"Genetically, they appear to be virtually identical." Kendra said. "Not that I had the equipment for careful comparisons. You see the forehead ridges, though I'm told told there are occasionally Romulans who lack them." She sighed. "Culturally, they are quite distinct."
"As T'Pol said, they do not appear to repress their emotions any more than we humans do. They practice slavery. They value strength and encourage the survival of the fittest. They are quite ruthless." She recited her findings, trying not to think about Vehlen as she did so, trying to maintain an objective tone.
Ikeda apparently wasn't satisfied with this. "And this mating bond? What did it feel like?"
Kendra blinked and stared down at the body of her bond mate. "I don't really know how to describe it. It was... relaxing."
"Imagine never having to wonder whether a man really wants you," she said. "Instead, it's hard-wired into both of you. I suppose if he were a really awful person that could have been kind of horrifying, but he wasn't..." She trailed off, suddenly confused. Vehlen had been an awful person, or at least she'd definitely thought so at first.
"And you feel that way even though he enslaved you? Raped you?"
Kendra fought to remain calm, to not feel attacked. "He had this whole ethical construct in his mind about what it meant to be a good slave owner. And the rape was just part of his mating fever. It was rape or die. Once I understood that, I couldn't honestly blame him too much for it. Well, I did, but after awhile it's like it just didn't really matter that much."
Ikeda looked disgusted. "So you really had no choice in the matter."
"No, that's not it exactly," Kendra said. "At any given moment, there was choice. Not counting the rape, I mean. Or at least, it felt like there was still choice. But at the same time, you're just so inclined in that direction all the time ... and it feels so damned good ... it's just really hard to resist, and after awhile I guess I didn't even want to. I liked him." She swallowed hard, and had to take a moment to recover. "In his own way, he was very good to me. We're here, aren't we?"
Ikeda raised her eyebrows skeptically. "Can you show me any belongings he may have had?"
"They're in our cabin," Kendra said, and took her there.
Ikeda instantly latched onto Vehlen's padd. "What's on here?"
"Oh, lots of stuff. Family photos ... some videos of extremely questionable taste. I don't read Romulan, so I can't really tell you everything that's on there."
"This could help our linguists and exo-anthropologists immeasurably."
Kendra said, "But..."
Ikeda turned around. "What?"
"Those are the only pictures I have."
"This entire matter is going to be fully classified, you must realize that."
"Yes, I know, but..." It hadn't really hit her that Starfleet would whisk away every trace of Vehlen, just as the Xindi had managed to wipe out virtually every trace of her family. "But they're mine."
Ikeda gave her an appraising glance, and must have decided to humor the crazy rape victim, since she said, "I'll provide you with some copies. But you must never share them. If anyone sees them, you'll have to explain that he was a Vulcan you once knew. Can you do that?"
"Of course. Thank you, Lieutenant. It means a great deal to me."
Ikeda's return smile was tinged with pity and embarrassment. She said, "I need to upload this whole thing to the station computer anyway." She took a padd out of her own pocket. "Let me see how to get it going.... Ah, there, I think this will do it."
Suddenly an alarm started to blare loudly. A Romulan voice started counting.
Ikeda's face paled. "What the--?"
Kendra dived for Vehlen's translator, which she'd stowed in the satchel, and held it up. "...minutes .... WARNING ... Auto-destruct in four minutes fifty-six seconds ... WARNING ... Auto-destruct in four minutes fifty-four seconds ..."
To be continued...
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