Author's Note: Many thanks to JustTripn for annoyingly insightful beta.
It felt like hours later when Kendra’s last obsessive scan persuaded her she really had successfully patched her patient’s abdominal organs. Two projectiles had passed right through him, wreaking a barbaric amount of damage along the way, though all those lacerations were no doubt preferable to what would have happened if they’d hit him in the same spots with a high-energy weapon. Kendra scanned carefully for anything they’d missed, pleased to see that his vitals were already improving. “Do you know how to close?” she asked Saad, who nodded, so Kendra backed away. She suddenly felt exhausted and shaky.
“How is he?” Archer asked.
Kendra swallowed. “Better than he should be. I think he’ll make it.”
That’s when she noticed T’Pol lying on the next table, pale and still.
“Captain?” Kendra asked, confused. She’d had no idea she had a second patient.
“I didn’t want to distract you,” Archer said apologetically. “She came in pretty much right after you started and said not to be alarmed, but she wanted to be with Trip. Then she went out like a light.”
Kendra squinted at the vitals floating on the display. Vulcan readings were bizarre to begin with. “Miriam, do those readings look okay to you?” she asked, heading for the computer to pull up T’Pol’s file. She ignored the sudden disapproving set of Archer’s mouth. Would he rather she pretended she knew?
Saad eyed the display. “I think they’re acceptable, doctor.”
Kendra dug deeper into the file, scanning for anything Phlox had to tell her about a situation like this. Should she hit T’Pol with inaprovaline while her mate was off exploring the distant reaches of unconsciousness? And how they hell did they run a starship this way? Would the same thing have happened to Tucker if T’Pol was the one who’d been shot?
Then she remembered the broken arm. No wonder he wasn’t a big fan of this bond.
“Captain, can you tell us what happened?” Saad asked Archer.
Archer scowled. “Apparently these people are quite cozy with the Orions. One of those women started putting the moves on me and Trip wasn’t having any of it – and I guess they decided he was cramping their style.” He shook his head. “I’d sure like to know why we didn’t catch any Orion bio-signs before we beamed down. In this quadrant I’m afraid we’re going to just have to assume they’re everywhere and take appropriate counter measures. Speaking of which, how’s that agent coming?”
“It’s ready to go, but I’d feel a lot more comfortable if I could test it properly,” Kendra said. “I have it in two forms, aerosol for ship-wide distribution, and injectable.”
“Well, I hope you get the opportunity to test it,” Archer said. “But if we don’t, you’re just going to have to go for it. Understood?”
“Yes sir,” Kendra said. “Did this woman touch you?” she asked, suddenly keen.
“Oh yeah,” Archer said, with a grimace of embarrassment.
Kendra took out her scanner. “Maybe I can pick up enough traces to synthesize the pheromone I need to test against.”
Archer stood patiently while she scanned him. There were traces of Orion DNA, but not enough of any organic compound that looked like what she needed.
“I’m not finding much to work with here,” she said. She switched the settings.
“I’ll leave the uniform with you,” Archer said, looking down with distaste at where Tucker’s blood had already turned brown and crusty. “After that I’ll be on the bridge.”
“Sir, you haven’t been through decontamination yet.” She started scanning him.
“It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” Archer asked, clearly annoyed.
She kept scanning. “Don’t suppose your transporter has a bio-filter yet?”
“No. That’s an interesting idea, though.”
“They’ve been testing them at Starfleet Medical. Guess they’re not ready to install them yet. I’m not seeing anything that requires decon,” she said. That was lucky, since she hadn’t exactly paid attention earlier. “Change and shower and you can go.”
Archer nodded and headed off to the shower.
She turned back to where both Tucker and T’Pol were lying. She removed Tucker’s neural disks and watched for signs of pain or trauma.
In the next bed, T’Pol blinked, then sucked in a breath. She shot up into a seated position and turned towards the unconscious engineer.
“Easy,” Kendra said.
T’Pol slid off the bed and headed straight to Tucker. Her hands traced lightly over him from the sides of his head to his shoulders and down his arms before hovering just over the part of the blanket that covered his wounds. Then she took Tucker’s hand in her own and held it up to her cheek. Kendra frowned, thinking of Tucker’s lamentation that T’Pol disliked touch.
“Commander? Should I be treating you with something?” she asked softly.
T’Pol shook her head.
“So you can still function?” Kendra prompted.
T’Pol ignored her.
“Okay, never mind,” Kendra said, and when Archer reappeared in a fresh uniform she nodded at T’Pol and softly said, “She’s up, but I don’t think she can return to her post.”
“I wasn’t really expecting that she would,” Archer said. “Just keep me informed, doctor.” He stopped by Trip’s bed and patted T’Pol on the shoulder before moving out.
Kendra sighed and went to lean against the counter next to Saad, who was putting away surgical equipment. “I take it this sort of thing has happened before?”
“Nothing quite as hair-raising as this,” Saad said. She lowered her voice to a murmur. “I believe the doctor takes care to leave any mention of the bond out his official reports.”
Kendra was annoyed. “Doesn’t he realize that creates potentially dangerous challenges for any other doctor who comes into this situation?”
“The captain feels strongly about keeping this crew together.”
“From where I sit, this looks nuts! Lose one, lose them both!”
Saad smiled. “I guess he figures they’re worth it the rest of the time. I’m going to get some lunch, if that’s okay. Shall I bring you some?”
Kendra ate the lunch Miriam brought her and then put the entire sickbay onto a sterile cycle. It was official Starfleet medical policy after the kind of exposure to bodily fluids they’d just experienced, though she had her doubts about its wisdom. Any sterilization routine that killed microbes indiscriminately risked wiping out the friendly ones and letting the bad boys run wild. She was pleased that Phlox shared her concern; Saad explained that he kept protected colonies of the ship’s dominant microbes in stasis for re-inoculating rooms and people after a sterilization procedure. “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it,” she said, pulling out samples. “He has a different set for every animal in the room, including us.”
“Everybody. He even keeps a set for Porthos.”
“Tucker first.” If anyone was vulnerable to a hostile infection right now, it was him.
As Saad sprayed his skin lightly with “Microbial Mix, Human Male, External,” Tucker groaned. Kendra jumped to her feet and ran over.
He was blinking. Pulse, respiration, blood pressure had all risen, which was all for the good. But so had his adrenaline levels. “Easy, Commander,” she said, putting her arm out to hold him down if necessary. “Miriam, get me 5 cc of morphenalog.”
T’Pol was leaning down over his face, her hand brushing his forehead soothingly. “Trip,” she said. “You’re going to be fine. The captain is unharmed. Enterprise is safe. Relax.”
Kendra was relieved to hear T’Pol sound so lucid. The statue routine had been quietly unnerving her.
Tucker grimaced up at T’Pol. “Don’t feel fine.”
“You were seriously wounded but you are healing well,” T’Pol said.
His eyes darted and found Kendra. “Doc?” he groaned.
Kendra took the hypospray from Saad and injected it into his neck. “Better?” she asked, and he nodded. “She’s right. You’ve had surgery. It was successful and you’re recovering nicely.”
He looked blank. Kendra doubted he would remember any of this.
“Tired,” he said. He looked back up at T’Pol, who hadn’t removed her hand from his head.
“Sleep,” she told him softly, and he looked at her for a long moment, then obeyed.
Kendra waited to see if T’Pol was going to slip back into statue mode, but instead she turned to Kendra. “I believe he is out of danger,” T’Pol said. “Thank you.”
“Do you mind explaining what’s going on with you?” Kendra asked.
T’Pol blinked. Kendra noticed that she still had a hand protectively clamped on Tucker’s shoulder. “He needed me,” she said.
“In what way?”
T’Pol sighed. “There is no easy way to explain.”
“He could easily have died on the table. What would have happened to you if that happened while you were ... with him?”
“I don’t know.” It didn’t sound as if she particularly cared, either.
“Is there anything I can do for you now?”
“I could use some nourishment.”
“You want to take a break, go to the mess hall?”
T’Pol turned her attention back to Tucker. “No.”
Kendra sighed. “I’ll get someone to bring you something.”
Archer and Reed came down to sickbay later that night, first to look in on the patient – who was still sleeping soundly – and then to huddle with T’Pol. While Kendra and Saad tried to pretend they weren’t listening, Archer informed his science officer they were now heading off at a tangent from their previous course, just in case their encounters with these Orions were not coincidental. “I’m not feeling good at all about this region,” he said. “Is this the reason the Vulcan star charts have so little to offer on it?”
“Vulcan ships have shields and weapons that are a better match for the Syndicate,” T’Pol said. “And of course, Vulcans are immune to Orion pheromones. However, when a vast criminal enterprise has free run of a region, it doesn’t bode well for mutually satisfactory diplomatic or trade contacts. I imagine the Vulcan High Command saw little point in expending the resources necessary to establish them.”
“What about Vulcan intelligence?”
T’Pol’s voice turned even dryer than usual. “T’Pau’s administration appears to be just as protective of Vulcan intelligence as V’Las’s.”
Archer frowned. “There have to be people in this region who’d love to get these Orions off their backs.”
Reed folded his arms. “It may be that the Orions offer protection from something worse. Klingon- and Romulan-held territories are nearby. And even if the Syndicate is unpopular, we’re hardly equipped to oppose it successfully on our own.”
“No, that would take a concerted effort among allies,” Archer agreed. “But we can hardly ally ourselves with people we’ve never met. And I’m not too keen on repeating another first contact like we had this morning.” He glanced over at Tucker. “He’s been sleeping all this time? Are you sure he’s fine?”
“He woke briefly. He is recovering well,” T’Pol said with certainty, and Kendra couldn’t help scowling a little. Just who was the doctor here?
“Sir, are you rethinking this mission?” Reed asked Archer.
Kendra got up and went to check on Tucker for herself. T’Pol was right; he was doing extremely well. No fluid building up in the abdomen, no fever. She wished all patients responded to trauma and surgery this well. Was this a side-effect of T’Pol’s involvement, or was he just unusually resilient?
Archer sounded frustrated. “Starfleet wants to understand this region better, but I’m sure they didn’t expect to sacrifice this ship or its crew in the process. I think it’s time to have a little talk with Admiral Gardner. I think they’ve vastly overestimated my diplomatic abilities.”
“You did make peace with the Xindi,” Reed said. “And you averted war between the Vulcans and the Andorians on more than one occasion.”
Archer shook his head. “If you ask me, we were also pretty damned lucky. We also had a hell of a lot more at stake. I don’t see any particular reason to risk people’s lives over this stretch of space.”
“Agreed,” Reed said.
“Do you have an opinion, T’Pol?” Archer asked.
There was a slight pause while T’Pol returned her attention from Tucker. “Alliances in this region might prove strategic in ways we don’t understand now. However, I also see little reason to risk our ship or crew for it at this juncture.”
“Gardner’s argument was that we have more experience coping with the Orions than anybody else, but I don’t see that this is such a great advantage,” Archer said. “They have more experience with us, too. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if they aren’t toying with us.”
Kendra looked over. She hoped the captain wasn’t turning paranoid on her watch.
“Perhaps we should save further discussion for tomorrow,” Reed said, and Kendra wondered if he had the same concern. “This has been a rather long and trying day.”
“When do I get my first officer back on the bridge?” Archer asked, in a lower voice.
“I would prefer to stay here for now, if you can do without me,” T’Pol said.
Archer gave her a tight smile. “I can, for now. I’ll let you know if that changes. Maybe you should try to get some sleep.” He raised his voice. “You must be tired, Dr. Gonzalez.”
“I’m fine, Captain,” Kendra said. “This is what I’m here for.”
“Well, you’ve definitely earned your pay today,” Archer said, and smiled warmly at her. “I’ll be in my quarters. Call me if anything changes.”
“Of course,” Kendra said, just as the lights shifted automatically down into late night mode. She sent Miriam off with thanks, and did another check on Tucker. Still sound asleep, still recovering nicely. T’Pol was hovering over him again.
“Care for a cup of tea?” Kendra asked.
“Do you have chamomile?”
“That’s what I drink myself at this time of night,” Kendra said. She led the way back to her little office area and fixed them both mugs.
They sat and sipped.
“I’m a little puzzled about something,” Kendra said. “Commander Tucker once mentioned to me that you are not entirely comfortable with touch.”
T’Pol frowned. “He discussed our relationship with you?”
“I asked him why it didn’t work out. He didn’t volunteer much, but he did mention that issue.”
T’Pol absorbed that in silence for a moment. “Vulcans generally avoid unnecessary touch. It increases the risk of unwelcome telepathic contact and it is also, of course, a common vector for pathogens. Humans, in contrast, may be quick to touch even complete strangers in friendship or compassion. After years on a human ship I have grown accustomed to these brief social touches. Commander Tucker’s touch is different. It can be very agreeable, but it can also be somewhat ... relentless. Unfortunately, if I allow the smallest hint of weariness or embarrassment to communicate to him, he quickly feels rejected.”
Kendra frowned. “He doesn’t strike me as a terribly insecure person.”
“Perhaps not in general.” T’Pol looked down. “We have had a difficult history.”
“Yet clearly you remain deeply attached to each other.”
T’Pol sipped her tea and said dryly, “Whether we wish it or not.”
Kendra frowned, confused. “I was under the impression you did wish it.”
“I do, but what I wish is arguably irrelevant.” T’Pol stared into her cup.
“Because you’re Vulcan?”
T’Pol didn’t look up. “No, because he doesn’t wish it. Commander Tucker wants something I can’t give him, and human lives are short at best. I believe we must try harder to find a way to release him from this bond.”
Kendra narrowed her eyes. “Did you make a bargain?”
T’Pol raised an eyebrow. “I beg your pardon?”
“Offer to give up something you value if only your loved one can live?” Kendra would never forget the ever-evolving bargains she’d made with herself in the aftermath of the Xindi attack – what she had been willing to give up to find her family safe … or just the children … just one child … some remains … anything. But there was nothing.
“Attempting such a transaction would hardly be logical,” T’Pol said softly.
“So you wish Commander Tucker to have what he wants. What about you, T’Pol? What about what you want?”
“Surak teaches us to master our desires, not to indulge them. I have indulged myself in this regard far more than most of my people do, and the results have arguably been disastrous.”
“Not to downplay my own heroic role or anything, but I think that bond of yours might have saved his life today. He really shouldn’t have made it.”
T’Pol stared pensively at Tucker on Kendra’s monitor for a moment. “I’m sure that is more to your credit and his than mine.”
Kendra sat back and folded her arms, examining the Vulcan critically. “If you’re really set on this course, you need to talk to him about it. Make sure that’s really what he wants. You owe each other that much.”
T’Pol nodded briefly, though to Kendra’s eye she still looked a bit grudging. She and Tucker were both quite stubborn. She was beginning to wonder if their similarities didn’t actually cause more problems for them than their differences. “But not tonight, obviously,” Kendra said. “I would suggest you get some rest.”
“I believe I would benefit from some time in my quarters. Thank you, doctor.”
Kendra stayed in her office while T’Pol left. She watched on her office monitor as the science officer headed first for Tucker. As she paused there, he awoke and smiled.
Kendra checked his vitals from her station; he was already much improved. She watched and waited, not wanting to disturb whatever communication might occur. She didn’t have a clear view of T’Pol’s face but she could see Tucker’s smile falter; he looked concerned, and raised a hand towards T’Pol, which fell short when she backed away from him and left.
Kendra sighed and walked out. “You’re awake!” she said as cheerfully as she could.
Tucker stared at the door with grim concern. “Is she okay?”
“She’s had a pretty stressful day.”
Tucker scowled. “Oh yeah?”
“She was here with you all day. She held your hand for hours. This is the first time she’s left.”
“Too bad I can’t stay unconscious forever. Maybe things could finally work out between us.”
Kendra squeezed his shoulder. “A good relationship is hard work, Commander. It doesn’t just happen.”
His voice was rough. “Could we please not talk about this now?”
“Of course,” Kendra said. “Let’s just do a quick exam, shall we?”
Tucker suffered her scans and careful prodding in silence. His progress was excellent. “Tell you what, let’s get you into some jammies and then try taking a little walk,” Kendra said.
He nodded and cooperated, ultimately shuffling along slowly along with her as they did a turn around the sickbay.
“You’re really recovering very nicely,” she said. “I’ll let you recuperate in your quarters just as soon as you start passing some gas.”
He laughed, then grabbed his abdomen – no doubt the laughing smarted. “All I have to do is fart a little and you’ll let me go?”
“Would you try to run an engine with a clogged plasma exhaust?”
He shook his head, still clearly amused.
“I’d also like you to drink something,” she said, and gave him a choice of beverages.
He sipped obediently, sitting in the same chair T’Pol had vacated fifteen minutes earlier. She filled him in on the details of his injuries and he began to look increasingly pale. “Sounds like I nearly didn’t wake up.”
She nodded. “Luckily for you the captain got you back here quickly and I’m a far more brilliant surgeon than I ever realized. But I suspect T’Pol might have played a role in that, too.”
“Yeah,” he said softly.
“Let’s get you back to bed,” she said, as soon as he’d finished his drink, and he didn’t protest. Once up on the biobed, he turned over on his side, away from her.
Kendra pulled the blanket up and patted him on the shoulder, ready to go back and try to catch a nap on a cot she’d set up in her office area. “Goodnight, Commander.”
“She always does that, you know.”
“Does what?” Kendra asked, softly.
He was still curled up, facing away from her. “She always pulls back. She was there with me in whatever la-la land I was in and it was just wonderful, you know? And then, bam. She slams the door and runs like hell. I’ll probably be lucky to get two words out of her for the next two weeks.” He sniffed. “Damn.”
“Don’t apologize,” Kendra said, rubbing his shoulder sympathetically. “Feelings are a bitch.”
“I just wish…” He trailed off.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what to wish anymore. I miss her so much … but sometimes I’m not even sure the person I miss ever really existed outside my own head.”
“I think every human who’s ever made it past infatuation asks that question sooner or later.”
He was silent for a moment. “And Vulcans?”
“I suspect that, as far as T’Pol is concerned, you’re her mate and that’s all there is to it.”
“If that’s so, she has a funny way of showing it.”
“She’s a Vulcan who believes her mate doesn’t want her. How is she supposed to act?”
Another silence, then: “Are you trying to make me feel like shit?”
She smiled. “Sorry. I’m pretty much dead on my feet here. You probably shouldn’t listen to a thing I say. I’m going to catch a nap in the back, okay? Yell if you need anything.”
He nodded, and she padded back to her office area and flopped down on the cot, but sleep escaped her.
Her marriage to Ruben hadn’t been perfect, though it was taking on a decidedly rosier glow as time passed. Kendra had grown up in a prosperous suburb of Kingston, where her parents had always hoped she’d marry a nice, successful, preferably Jamaican professional. Ruben’s wild-eyed Cuban egalitarianism was definitely not what they’d had in mind, even if he was a noted doctor. Kendra had found all that fiery passion very attractive, but over the years it had gotten a little old, especially when she’d want to buy a nicer house and Ruben would ask why they should need to live better than anyone else, or when he’d ridicule her for her obsession with British royalty or her collection of hats. Their work on tropical diseases was the one area in which they usually agreed. They worked different shifts at the research center so one of them could stay with the children. Kendra had been lost in her study of a new, resistant strain of Plasmodium falciparum when her family was annihilated. If the rest of the staff hadn’t started screaming in horror over the news reports, it might have taken hours for her to resurface and realize what had happened.
And now here she was, sleeping on a cot in a starship, light years from the Caribbean. She’d joined Starfleet to help protect the planet – and extract her revenge – but by the time her training was over the Xindi had already made peace with Earth.
Certainly Orions had never figured in any of her hopes or dreams for what remained of her life.
Kendra woke up when she heard the sickbay doors swish open. She looked groggily at her monitor, checking the time and trying to determine whether she really had to wake all the way up or not.
T’Pol’s silhouette stood at Tucker’s bed. Kendra checked his vitals reflexively, but they were fine; he was a little restless but probably just dreaming.
The Vulcan reached out a hand and smoothed Tucker’s hair back. His eyes opened and he stared up at her for moment, then reached up with both arms, insistently, and she leaned down and let him embrace her. They had a murmured conversation Kendra couldn’t hear, then T’Pol somehow fit herself up next to him on the narrow bed and they lay together, his arm clasped possessively around her, their fingers entwined.
Kendra swallowed over a lump in her throat. She was pleased that Tucker was getting the cuddle he so clearly needed, but it also reminded her of all she had lost. She lay back on her cot and tried to remember what it had felt like to lie in Ruben’s arms on a stormy night in a house on a street that no longer existed.
The scary thing was, sometimes she couldn’t even picture his face anymore.
She was awakened by a voice she didn’t recognize. “Tactical alert! All hands to duty stations!”
The lights shifted up to full illumination, nearly blinding her. As she swung out of her cot the ship rocked under her feet and she fell on the floor. Phlox’s menagerie erupted into alarmed shrieks. The ship rocked twice again as she staggered out to her patient.
T’Pol was just turning away from Tucker, who was half sitting up, holding onto the edge of the bed to keep from being thrown off it. “What’s going on?” Kendra asked, grabbing at another bed to keep herself upright.
Tucker looked grim. “Someone’s firing on us. And we just dropped out of warp. You think I could get a uniform here?”
“You’re NOT going on duty!” Kendra said, then turned as the whine of a transporter announced two huge forms materializing just inside the sickbay doors: two gigantic Orion males, weapons at the ready. Kendra gaped. She would have been simply amazed at their size and the intense color of their flesh if she wasn’t so entirely focused on their raised weapons.
Apparently she didn’t have much of a death wish after all.
T’Pol had stopped short just in front of the Orions and hurriedly backed up. “What do you want?” she asked, spreading her arms in a way that struck Kendra as instinctive, if futile, cover for Tucker.
They shot her.
“No!” Tucker screamed as T’Pol crumpled to the deck. Kendra jumped in to intercept him before he could throw himself on their attackers; this was clearly a no-win scenario but maybe she could keep her patient alive another couple of seconds, and that was, after all, her job.
She was only vaguely aware of his weight on her before everything went black.
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