Dec 042009

Title: Tala t'Zaprah
Fandom: ST TOS
Co-authors: diane_kepler and proudcockatrice
Characters: T'Nis, Starek (and a few surprises)
Rating: M
Warnings: Violence, non-con
Notes: T'Nis thinks kidnapping is the way to Starek's heart — or at least some of his vital organs.

T'Nis waits until after Starek materializes on the transporter pad, but before he's able to move. Then she clubs him viciously with the butt of her pulse weapon. It would, of course, have been easier to just stun him, but old-fashioned methods are terribly satisfying at times. And one way or another, she will be satisfied tonight.

Seizing a limp forearm, she turns him in the appropriate direction. It's best to keep that skull from any further damage; she'll want him conscious and verbal before long. There are cables and data feeds crossing cave floor, but she negotiates them, dragging him into her makeshift living quarters. The effort is tiring. The gravity field is stronger than she'd like.

With a final push, she gets him onto the bed and secures him. Only then does she reach out and tilt Starek's chin towards her, caressing his elegant jawline with her fingers and her gaze.

"Rest while you can, Commander. You're mine now."

The words sound oddly hollow in this cave, illuminated only by several heat lamps. But she pays the acoustics no heed, merely ghosting away to complete her preparations, unsmiling and with dark, glittering eyes.

Starek wakes in pain. Clearly this negotiation isn't going well, and he's only just arrived. His eyes stay closed as he assesses the situation and the damage done. Head hurts — probably from impact. Hands are tied — that also makes sense; he can't escape if he's tied down. Lying on something soft — and that's when the terror kicks in. There's only one reason he can think of that he'd be tied to something soft, and while he's the kind of guy who'll say yes to maybe ninety percent of incoming propositions, he really prefers the opportunity to have an opinion.

"!!! !?? !!! … !!! !!!" He panics openly, into the bond he shares with Spock, knowing damn well he can't hail his own ship, but if he can get the point across…

His eyes snap open, taking in as much of the room as he can see, without moving. He needs to know who has him, and how many of them there are.

"Good evening, Starek. Or perhaps good morning would be more appropriate; I'm not sure. I find that time has little meaning, here."

The lamps are angled towards the bed, leaving the chamber's perimeter in shadow. The Romulan will be able to see her, once his eyes adjust, but for now only she can see. And what she sees is Starek's eyes widening at the sound of her voice. He controls the expression, of course, but that fleeting look of fear was all too apparent from where she sits, in the darkness, a finger along her temple, thumb supporting her chin.

His reaction sends a frisson of pleasure through her, starting at her throat and ending in a place that will soon feel more of the same, if her plans are well-executed. And this time they will be.

Starek decides that the best he can do is get himself killed, quickly, before this gets as bad as he knows it can get. Now, what's the most wholly irritating thing he can say? Any attempt at control is likely to make this hurt more than is strictly necessary, so that's out, along with his usual icy bluster. He has to hit hard, in a completely unexpected place.

So he smiles, teasingly, eyelids lowered, lip sliding between his teeth. And then he opens his mouth.

"Well, hello, princess. Can't say I'm surprised. I am irresistible, after all." He grins into what he expects to be a fist in the teeth, but doesn't even flicker when it fails to arrive. "I had the chance to meet your charming parents, as I'm certain you're aware. Anyone ever told you that your dad has the second hottest ass in the Alpha Quadrant? I should know. I only lead by a light few points."

He's certain he can feel his chance of survival dropping like a rock, as he bats his eyes. "It's a pity you inherited his nose, instead."

"…? <3 ... :(" he sends, not really expecting much, but hoping that Spock will at least understand why he's not coming back.

T'Nis bites back her first response and takes a breath instead. "A clever approach, S'thora. But your skills at petty insults will be of no use here, except perhaps to provide me with some extra entertainment."

She rises and moves into the light. Except for the odd piece of grit crunching under the thick soles of her boots, her steps are noiseless.

"Petty insults, my gorgeous arse, dear girl. He took food from my fingers, your pretty, darling daddy did. I watched him eat chocolate with his hands." Starek gloats, for a long moment, taking a brief flicker of pleasure in the things he'd considered doing to Selov. It's all about balancing truth with implication, in the end.

"Chocolate with his hands, indeed." She laughs merrily, snapping on a pair of synthetic gloves in the silence of the chamber. Next to hand is a small beaker. The colloid inside swirls round with a gentle clinking of glassware as she stirs, serenely approaching the bed. "Tell me. You must have made many enemies in your years of treachery. Who among them is greatest?"

"You want to hear about things that hurt me? 'Razors pain me, rivers are damp, acids stain me, and drugs cause cramp'," he quotes, with a sigh. "My worst enemy certainly isn't you. True, you're angry, but you are not Tal Shiar. Only a Romulan is truly dangerous to another Romulan, and you know it."

T'Nis says nothing. Instead she moves around behind Starek, to the point where his wrists are tied. While he was unconscious, she took care to encase his hands in a bag made of the same material as her gloves. Now she snaps open the seal and pours the contents of the beaker smoothly inside.

"Now, before we continue, I will grant you a few truths. The first is that in a few moments, your hands will begin to feel rather pleasant." She puts the empty beaker back down on a long table holding shadowy objects and strips her gloves off slowly, eyes locked on his face.

"The second is that yes, the Tal Shiar are indeed formidable opponents. And yet, in all their years of work, they have been unable to find you."

He rubs his hands together, idly, as a pleasant chill begins to sink into them "The Tal Shiar are not stupid enough to venture into Federation space. They'll yank me out from under the Klingons, or they'll catch me on some milk run near the border of the Neutral Zone. You, on the other hand, are patently insane, and overlooking some vital points of this arrangement, of which I will not be kind enough to remind you."

"Vital points?" She flutters down to rest her elbows on the bed, face in her hands. "Oh do indulge me Starek, I beg of you. Elucidate me on these finer points of which I am so patently unaware."

Starek smiles prettily, having clearly forgotten his promise to avoid wiseassing himself into a world of pain. "No."

"<3. <3<3<3! * ... !. !. !."Starek tries sending again, but gets nothing in return. He has no idea how far he'd have to project to get Spock's attention. Hell, he doesn't even know where Spock is.

Despite his present distaste for the situation, Starek can feel his heart rate increasing, and he rubs his fingers together to relieve the sensations spreading through his body from his fingertips.

T'Nis gets up, shrugging. "No matter. And as for my state of mind, I'm not the least bit insulted by your name-calling. The envious frequently denigrate the gifted. I was able to find you, track you, and bring you here despite your numerous, feeble attempts at security. My success speaks more loudly to my sanity than anything you could have to say on the matter."

"And not only are you insane, but your methods are pretty damn unimaginative. You want my body, and you'll drug me to get it." Starek's ears flatten against his head in irritation, his chin lifts in defiance. "Do you think you're the first? Do you imagine you'll be the last?"

Strolling back towards the table which holds the beaker, gloves and other shadowy objects, she sheds her jacket. Underneath is a high-necked, sleeveless dress that closely follows the lines of her body.

But her tone is bored. "Isn't it rather hypocritical for you to cry rape when manufacturing consent was the very task I hired you for? And one which you accomplished quite admirably, I might add."

Her eyes rove over Starek, taking in the outlines of his calves, the occasional swell of his triceps as he shifts his hands, even the sweet curve of one hip, visible through those admirably tight pants on the one side where his coat has fallen away.

"I found no need to, as you say, manufacture consent. I told the truth. I made an offer, and that offer was accepted. Then I told the rest of the truth. Now, I'm a married man. I think that speaks to something more than just my methodology." Starek catches T'Nis's eye, and his gaze plainly delivers the unspoken end of his thought. I win.

"And I'm hardly crying rape. Who would listen? I am a citizen of no empire. I am merely reinforcing the point that I do not desire what you intend to have of me." Inside the bag, he is pinching the tips of his own fingers, sharply, driving lush currents of lust through his flesh, but his voice remains steady. He lives with Orions. He can do this. "Your sanity is defined, for me, by the intent of our original contract and your current intent to force yourself upon an uninterested member of another species."

"Starek," she shakes her head slowly. "I had hoped to avoid debating semantics, but you are apparently hungry for it."

She picks something up from the table and wanders idly back.

"Let us examine this. You told Spock the truth? At which point? Did this period of epic honesty occur while you masqueraded as a member of his race? Or did the truth come out as you watched me drug him? No, I don't think so. In fact I believe you subsequently toyed with his loss of control. So when did you speak the truth? Might it have been when you first bathed him with that talented tongue of yours, knowing he was a virgin and powerless to resist? No — I believe the truth emerged just after you made that ridiculous verbal slip, and you knew he might well break your neck if he found out the truth on his own."

Now that she is closer, the form of the tool becomes apparent. It is a forked cutter. When she switches it on a band of blue energy appears between the tines. Applied to the cuff of Starek's fitted coat, it parts material easily, right down to buttonholes on his chest.

"Oh yes, Commander, you were so very honest — just as aboveboard as you are in your dealings with all you encounter. In fact, I hadn't thought to tell you this before, but you are such a paragon of virtue. You have never once lied, nor stolen. You have never grifted your way from one end of federated space to another. You have also never ever," and her eyes narrow as she moves to his other side,"had sexual relations with someone you did not desire, perhaps to gain a favorable opinion or . . . negotiate a contract. And of course, you have never stuck to the letter of an agreement, while violating the spirit."

She finishes with his other sleeve and the coat falls away. "Desire? Consent? Yes, I agree. These concepts are well-suited to one of such impeccable moral standards."

Starek grits his teeth. "He he didn't ask me if I was Vulcan. I did not say it. I permitted a misunderstanding to persist. And his intoxication was certainly a factor, but even three mochas down, he's got sufficient control to resist what he does not desire. Offer the man something he actually wants, though, and it's a done deal."

He leaves out the part about how he thinks that he gets along so well with Spock, because they're both damaged goods, neither one quite what they were expected to be, both terrible disappointments to their families. "All I had to do was offer. And when I chose to take, he voiced no objections. Quite the opposite, in fact. And when he knew me for what I was, he still wanted me. He had a life to go back to. He chose to take me and keep me, instead."

Starek dares to smirk. "And, by the way, he loves it when I whisper dirty things to him in Romulan."

He's begun to shiver, whether out of cold, fear, or lust is uncertain, but his body vibrates, shaking his words as he speaks. "I am amoral, yes. But, I am not unethical. I deliver no less than I have promised, in business or in bed.

"… And I am rather upset about that coat. It was French."

T'Nis, seated near one of his hips, fingers the ruffles of his shirt. "Who knows? Perhaps I'll buy you a new one. But you'll have to earn it. Some time ago, you made me an offer, one which I chose to defer until you had completed a certain task."

She leans forward and cocks her head, her long hair falling into a curtain on that side. "Now the task is, after a fashion, complete, I will accept your offer. Will you be ethical and deliver what you promised?"

"I promised you nothing, I offered something you chose not to accept, at that time."

"!!! !!! !*&*£$%! !?! ??? * !" Stareksends, wishing there was somewhere to shift to.

"The offer is no longer valid. But, since I failed to withdraw it in a reasonable amount of time, let us say that I will submit to some of your desires. Some. Not all. And by 'submit', I wish to be perfectly clear that I mean 'lie here and take it'." He is seething, now, panting between his clenched teeth. "Stickler for rules, and all that."

"But of course." Her tone is mocking. "Rules are so very important, I find. "

She swivels to stretch out beside him, taking the time to scrutinize him closely. He's doing well at keeping his calm, except that his ear-tips are flushed with a potent mixture of hatred and other physical reactions. What she did to his hands is no joke, indeed, she's surprised he's not begging by now. Still, it is most diverting to see him like this. It affects her even more strongly than than when they were her estate, and he was obeying her commands.

"Did you know that anger becomes you, Starek?" Her fingers skate around the plane of his abdomen, traveling, after at time, to the fastenings of his shirt.

He smiles, disdainfully, scraping his nails across his palms to keep his balance. "Of course anger becomes me. I'd also look good unconscious, in a burlap sack. I'm simply appealing. It is a testament to the quality of my blood, just as your reaction to it shames your Vulcan ancestors. But, then, I've got a bit of a track record for shaming Vulcans, I think."

His rage has caused a green tint to highlight the skin above his heart. Although, he can't swear it's all rage, and not lust. He wonders if this isn't like the pon farr his race gave up, when they left for a greener world. It is a purely physical burn, bearing no emotional element.

T'Nis scowls, fleetingly. "I don't follow Surak, if that is what you mean. But you've been aware of that for some time." She plucks at the shirt fastenings "And as you are so 'unconscionably appealing', where is the shame in anyone's attraction? After all,S'thora, it is what you desire most, is it not, to be that rakish starship captain, the envy of all?"

"To be desired, certainly. Do all sentients not wish to be desired by something, at some point? But, there is a difference between desire and action." Starek's shoulders are twitching, his eyes, bright and glassy.

But then, when his shirt falls open, any further remark T'Nis might have made on the subject dies away.

"Well, well." Another pair of strokes with the energy shears leave his arms and torso completely bare. Her fingers trace the network of scars that adorn him, heightening the effect of his shaven skin.

"Sem-rik." She smiles slyly. "And I suppose all of these were quite involuntary?"

Nausea seizes him, briefly; it's like being fisted with a handful of ice. His jaw tightens and his abdomen spasms, forcing a sickened sound from his throat. He flexes his tongue, and spit and stomach acid arc out, between his teeth, unaimed. Then the world levels, under him, and once again, he is in control.

More quickly than he can track, she backhands him. It's savage enough that the pain of it competes with the other aches in his head.

"You will keep that under your pitiful Romulan control," her lip curls in disgust. "Take this as a warning. Swallow if that happens again, or you will be in a world more trouble than you are in at present."

But then, almost as quickly as her arcing hand, her expression softens, into something so coy as to verge on playful. The abruptness of the change is unnerving.

"Those scars put me in mind of something, darling. Be so good as to wait here." T'Nis moves off towards one of the natural archways that lead out of the room, only her boots clearing the hem of her long dress. She pauses at the door, giving him a disturbingly kittenish glance. "I won't be a moment."

Starek takes the moment to reflect on the present arrangement. From the sound of it, she's about to put another hole in him, which is the last thing he wants to explain to Merendith. This is going to hurt, unavoidably and excruciatingly, but he thinks he can lean into it. And only his hands are tied. He's pretty sure that once it gets ugly, he can twist until she accidentally kills him.

Dead? Yeah, he can do dead. But, it'll be on his terms, not hers.

Then, for a long few seconds that he's wracked with grief, over what the news will likely do to Spock and Stavret, but he'll either walk out of this, or he'll die with his pride intact. If any part of his ethics can still be called Romulan, it's that he will not bring shame on his family.

At this point T'Nis slinks back in with what appears to be a pen. Two of them, in fact.

The first is black, with a bulb at the end of the handle. It is this that she applies to the left side of his chest, after straddling his hips and sinking gracefully down with a whispered "hold still, now."

It is only a brush, self inking. After drawing the central staff, she takes a moment to adjust the the viscosity and flow rate before leaning forward to trace out a Vulcan word in rather ornate script.

"There," She backs up to admire her handiwork. "Can you read that?"

Starek blinks, somewhat disconcerted at the unexpected lack of excruciating pain. He squirms, stretching and squinting at his side.

"… No. With a mirror, maybe, but not like this."

"The word is 'vuhnayek'." She pauses for a smile. "But I use it in the ancient sense. Written in this way, it is generally translated as 'fickle'."

Bending to the side, T'Nis retrieves a silvery strap from somewhere beside the bed. She hums lightly to herself as she slides it across Starek's throat and behind his shoulders, coming around to secure the rather large elliptical buckle atop the bones of his clavicle. The second strap goes around his hips, low enough that she has to unzip him and peel his pants back a little way. She does not go so far as to strip him. Yet.

"Fickle? Do you think so?" He arcs an eyebrow up, trying to look down at her without moving his neck. "Obviously, you've never lived with Orions. They give that word a whole new meaning."

His hip twitches at the coldness of the straps but mostly at the touch of her hands. Despite the aphrodisiac, he's terrified, and the distinct lack of a bulge in his tight leather pants is proof of how deep that fear runs. His hands ache, now, as though he has sand in his veins, and his fingertips are starting to go numb from overstimulation. Still, he digs his nails in, and tries to keep everything usable.

Somewhere, out of his reach and vision, she flips a switch. It triggers a low hum.

"Extremely fickle, yes." She adds more text with her brush. "By the way, were you aware that the pre-Awakening 'risa-guv-aitlusu' is a near-perfect translation for 'slut'?"

Switching off the brush, she sits back up and cocks her head, considers a moment, and then nods, satisfied. "Yes, I think that will do admirably. Now hold still." and her own joke seems to delight her as she activates both ellipses, engaging magnets that pin Starek neatly at the shoulders and hips.

The second pen takes a moment to warm up. She holds it near her face as it does so, so that Starek can see the glow and recognize the plasma cauter for what it is.

"I think it's about time someone issued a warning." She curls her lip at him, cruelly. "It's a public service message, really."

The blood rushes out of Starek's … everything. Romulans are generally a little grey, to begin with, but he suddenly looks to be made of concrete — still and pale and stony. His lips move slowly, even as his eyes glaze over. "Don't mislabel me. I'm not a slut, I'm a whore. It's usually for profit, not pleasure. Guv-makausu, not risa-guv-aitlusu. Get it right."

It's tough, but he forces his body to stop tensing. He knows that tension will only make it hurt more. His eyes slip shut, and his breathing deepens. His lips move in an edited version of the Imperial Oath — one that refers to his family and his ship, rather than his family and the Tal Shiar — but no sound comes forth.

Her tone is icy. "That's your problem, Starek, you always think you know better."

With her final word, T'Nis applies the instrument, paying an eager, excited kind of attention both to the form of the letters and the reactions of her captive. She stops only when the phrase is complete and glowing bright green upon his silken skin.

"And don't worry.Guv-makausuis the very next noun on my list."

Starek's screaming. He's sure of that. He's not sure of a whole lot else, at the moment, but that scream? Yeah, that's his. Also, he can't remember why, but he knows it's vitally important to keep the burning side of his body very still and very relaxed. Everything else seems to flex just fine, though, hard and tight.

It's so loud in here, and he knows he's supposed to breathe, and he can't quite remember how to do that without making incoherent bursts of sound on the exhale.

Something else is in his mind, but he can't remember why. It's like an opening to some other place. Maybe if he puts the pain there, he'll be able to remember things again. That's good, isn't it?

"!!! !!!!!! !!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

And then the burning … the pain doesn't stop, but at least the burning isn't happening anymore. His breathing slows, and he is nearly motionless. He can't feel his hands at all now, but he can't quite recall why that's important.

But, he knows what is very definitely important. More than anything. He knows, suddenly, what he's done. There's a familiar voice at the back of his mind.
"Yeht-veh!! Nam-tor du wilat?!"

Starek prays that his increased heart rate reads as fear. He is afraid, but not of the burning. He is afraid that she will notice this little chat. He is afraid that Spock will be next.

"!!! !?? … … …! *&$!%~#£."

He can't get the words out, in Vulcan, or Standard. They don't focus properly, sliding off the edges of the bond, and transmitting only the emotion behind them. He hopes Spock speaks enough Romulan for a few simple sentences.

"Mehre Stavret. Partrai T'Nis arhva. Jol hwi."

"Fi'meskarau, sarlah etek. Ri'puk'uh. Vohta'uh ish-veh, hi du ma kup'es."


Okay, maybe he's not going to die. Maybe this won't be dirty and fatal. Maybe it'll just be dirty. A pained giggle slips out of his mouth, as he catches himself wondering if Merendith will be able to get these scars off. It's not that he minds a warning label, really. It's just that he wants thewrongone the fuck off his flesh.

Another giggle slithers out, and this time, he can feel the tight, singed flesh of the burns tearing in the pits of the cauterised gouges.

Relax, he reminds himself. Relax or this is going to be worse than it has to be.

"What shall we have next?" With her index finger crooked against her bottom lip, T'Nis is a mockery of the careful thinker. She opens her mouth to bite the thin skin there as the cauter goes back to the bedside table. "Guv-makausu ek'yelhalekik? Mm, seems a bit mild. Oh, wait, I know just the thing. Kafeh t'kitork-vlital. Perfect."

She claps her hands together, dragging her bottom lip up the side of the inner two fingers as she smiles, rocking her hips. "But first, a little more stimulus, I think."

T'Nis leaves and returns with an alacrity that is almost comical. A quick adjustment to Starek's pants leaves him exposed and once she has arranged herself again there is nothing but skin on skin. He is still sealed, although she has been open for some time.

"There, I think we have everything now." The hypospray she's brought back goes into the soft flesh above his pubic bone with a little hiss and the same chill as when the topical drug first attacked his hands.

Retrieving the brush from the nightstand, Starek's captor pauses a moment to fondle his bound and imprisoned hands in a gross parody of the finger kiss. "You see? There's an antidote to that shyness of yours. All I have to do now is wait."

And suddenly, the one thing he'd actually agreed to is the most unbearable idea. Logically, it is probably just the pain that makes this seem like a completely inappropriate use of time, but for all the species he's stuck his elat in, this is the most disgusted he's been in a long time. He's used to being beaten and cut, notburned, and it's all the difference in the world. It's not the same pain, at all. It's the wrong kind of pain for this, and he knows that's what she's counting on.

Rape is no longer horrifying — in fact, most of the time has a certain amount of trouble perceiving it in relation to himself. Sometimes people have sex with him when he'd rather be doing something else. That happens. Most of the time, he objects, on principle, and then just lets it go. Most kinds of torture are discomfiting, but not upsetting in the long run — at least not to him. Annoys the daylights out of Merendith, every time he comes home in more pieces than he left, though.

But the burning — the burning is not a part of his standard repertoire. The depth and persistence of the pain, the crawling irritation, the systemic panic at the feeling of seared flesh — these things are not normal. These things are outside his ability to convert them into bright, crisp pleasures.

Still, he feels the rush as the aphrodisiac seizes his system, again, this time in a more vital and central locale. It disgusts him. His stomach turns, again, and although he holds his lips closed, tight and thin, the force is enough to push what could have been another arc of acidic spit into a thin dribble down the side of his chin. The abdominal contraction tears open a few cracks in the crisped skin along his side, and the cool trickle of blood is enough to clear his senses.

Starek realises that he does not want Stavret to see this.

Spock is already seeing it. There's nothing to be done for that. Merendith is expecting this. She's a chiurgeon, and on his ship. But Stavret has always been so certain of his Commander, so sure that whatever Starek gets into, he'll come out of with a laugh. They've always been this way, a stable system of the scholar and the rake. Stavret should beexasperated, not concerned, and in this, Starek's afraid he'll fail his best friend, this time.

This is the wrong kind of pain. This is the wrong kind of distress, from which to need a rescue.

But, he can fix this. He can make it look like the same old shenanigans.

"Shyness? Shy? Me?" Starek grins dizzily up at T'Nis. "I'm not shy. You're just doing it wrong. If you'd used a knife instead of that plasma cauter, I'd already be begging for you. Hot, hard, and waiting. But, no. You had to make it burn, and now I'm not sure even your aphrodisiac's going to override the damage done."

T'Nis deals him another backhand, following it up with a second blow with her other hand, fingers extended, leaving Starek's cheek with parallel cuts from where her nails have passed. "You dare!"

It is not Starek's words that are most provoking, but the feelings of revulsion boiling up from where they are pressed skin to skin. She had expected anger, of course, as well as fear and a helpless sort of lust after the drugs took hold. In fact she has lain awake these many nights, fingers pressed into herself in increasingly frantic and obscene ways, anticipating these feelings and planning to savor them. But this odium and this utter contempt were not on her radar. It is a rejection of the highest magnitude, channelled through a part of her that has ached for much else.

But worst of all, she still wants him. She is, in fact, helpless with it.

"You insignificant, fucking whelp." Her eyes are slits, her ears completely flattened against her skull. "You'll take what I give you and love it if I have to burn out everything but your brain stem. And after I'm finished, the Tal Shiar can have whatever's left of you if I have to drag your bleeding carcass to the far edge of the neutral zone."

She goes on, cursing and striking him, in such fury now that the is completely unaware of the flickering lights through an archway that he can see through a triangle bordered by an arm and her waist. But Starek not only sees it — he knows what it means.

Still, it's a surprise to see that the four humanoids that move like shadows along the walls are all Vulcan and dressed not in robes but in form-fitting jumpsuits marked with the insignia of the V'Shar.

"Kroykah!" shouts one of them with enough force to make the rock walls bounce it back from all sides.

She's instantly on her feet, crouching above him, fisted hands out for balance.

"Ash'uh sa'kum-lan."

Her head jerks towards the second voice. It takes her only a fraction of a second to realize she's surrounded and only twice that long for her to hurl herself at the nearest enemy. But long before she makes contact, blue energy wraps her and sends her to the floor, stunned out of her wits.

The Vulcans advance quickly, weapons raised, searching the chambers beyond. Scans had recorded only two life-forms, but the V'Shar are nothing if not thorough.

"Pa'thon sharik, Shal-lan."

A fifth Vulcan, taller than the rest, lowers his weapon and steps into the circle of light. Starek blinks and shakes his head when he recognizes Tunor. Is he hallucinating now? But the Vulcan's features stay the same, no matter how many blinks and head shakes try to rearrange them.

"Hakausu," Tunor nods and a V'Shar with a medical badge on his shoulder steps forward to scan the prisoner. Even though the doctor prides himself on his emotional control, he cannot mask a flicker of distaste when he reads the words on Starek's chest.

Meanwhile, the colonel unclips a communicator from his belt and speaks into it. "Renunciation, we have him. Stand by to beam down."

Starek catches Tunor's eye. His shoulders twitch as he reflexively tries to spread his hands, but fails, because they are still bound. "Tushah nash-veh k'odu. Lafot t'nash-veh. Katal nash-veh ko-fu t'du ki'ish-veh."

He lies burned and burning, under the medic's hands, apologising to the father of the woman who laid him up. He has become the source of yet more shame, to that family, and that is intolerable to him. Selov and Tunor are as dear to him as his own uncles.

"Vesht laf-tor nash-veh krup t'vo'ektaya shau-yehat t'ish-veh – lu vesht nar-tor nufai ar'kadan. Katal nash-veh mesh fi'maat t'du."

He can hear the shouting from the hallway.

"Get your hands off me, you pointy-eared totalitarian! I'm a doctor, and that's my commander, in there. Let me at him before you idiots break something I can't fix."

"Mere-daeh —Maenek zh'Trang — calm down,please, before you get us all arrested," Stavret begs. "Forgive her. She's really tired of seeing his blood. We all are."

There is a long pause, presumably punctuated by some distinctly Vulcan facial expression.

"Voral. Kal'uh au fna'sarlah." Tunor tosses this in the direction of the voices and turns back to Starek.

The medic has given him something for the pain and arranged one of the blankets to hide his nudity. At last he finds the release for the magnetic field and the low-pitched hum dies away.

"Ri-dvun'uh," the healer urges softly.

Tunor shakes his head at Starek, slowly, once. "There is no need to apologize for that which you are not responsible." It is all he has time to say before Stavret and Merendith burst in.

"Rahm-saj –" and Stavret halts and abruptly going as grey as his commander. "Imirrhlhhse arhva."

"Maybe later," Starek winks in vague attempt at humor.

Merendith's curse is more inventive and extended, lasting until she is nose to nose with the Vulcan healer, who rises to his full height, stares her down, and then calmly suggests that she attend to Starek's chest wounds while he sees what may be done about his hands.

Starek grins at Stavret. It's not convincing — the smell of burned flesh permeates the room, and the trails of blood dried across the commander's chest are all too clear. When Stavret closes his eyes and sighs, Starek turns his attention to Merendith.

"What kind of deal did he make to get me out of this? What do I owe the Federation for the trouble?" Starek grunts, as Merendith sprays an anaesthetic down his side. Twenty-third century, and they still can't make a topical that takes effect immediately upon contact.

"I'm a doctor, not your subcommander. Why don't you ask him, when the drugs wear off? You're lucky I don't just let you keep this one, just to teach you something." Merendith's fist curls, but she glances at the other medic, and lets her hand relax. "You're lucky they're more interested in T'Nis than in you, right now."

Starek looks up at her, flatly. "Why would anyone be interested in me? I'm a courier and personal escort, not a thrice-buggered kidnapper. I may not have been born on Vulcan, but my blood's as green as anyone's here. Unlike some people, I am not a threat."

"A threat. I'll show you a —" Merendith snorts with irritation and jabs Starek with another hypospray, to the consternation of the Vulcan healer.

"You are a doctor?" he asks, at last.

"She's a chiurgeon. Andorian trained. Trust me, this is absolutely in her job description," Starek rattles this off, holding hand up between them, as if to restrain Merendith although he's in no condition to do so. "And she's not terribly fond of Vulcans. It's cultural, you understand. Nothing personal."

"No more personal than you shitcakes trying to bomb my homeworld," Merendith offers, with a distinctly unfriendly smile.

With a determined sigh, Stavret finally takes control. "The commander is drugged and bleeding. That puts me in command, Maenek zh'Trang. Do not start a fight with the Vulcan. Do not start a fight, or anything that may be interpreted as a fight, with any Vulcan in this room."

Starek opens his mouth, but Stavret cuts him off. "And you. Don't talk. You're on medical leave. Tell him he's on medical leave."

"Oh, you're one to —" Merendith starts, but Stavret raises an eyebrow and stops the sentence cold. He does no longer looks like the mild-mannered astrophysicist who flinches at the drop of a hat. "Starek, you're on medical leave, until I clear you. Stay the hell off the bridge, or I'll strap you down in sick bay."

"Oh, come on, I'll be fi—" Merendith reaches out and thwacks one knuckle, solidly, and Starek's face greys. "Duly noted. I'm on medical leave."

There's a long pause, as he seeks out Tunor, again. "What do we owe you? What do I owe them?" Starek gestures to the V'Shar agents, with his chin. "Mar-tor ra tala ha'kiv t'nash-veh? Vi vlitau? Government agencies are stereotypically notoriously interested in the principle of equivalent exchange."

"Do not concern yourself with payment. The High Command's desire to keep this matter from getting even further out of hand dovetails neatly with your crew's desire to have you back. It was an excellent decision on Stavret's part to contact Selov and myself immediately."

His eyes drift to T'Nis, still unconscious, but now once again dressed in her jacket and secured to a stretcher for transport.

"I doubt if any of you were aware, but my unit has been tracking that one," and he avoids mentioning her name as well as showing any flicker of emotion, "for several months now. In fact, the Vulcan High Command expedited my repatriation and restored my original rank so that I might be of assistance in this matter. You may also be interested to hear that Selov has taken a post at the Vulcan Science Academy."

Stavret gives him a nod with the understanding that Tunor's total lack of inflection is taking the place of wry humor.

"I would also like to extend our thanks — those of myself, my mate, and my superiors — for allowing me to be of service. Naturally, our apologies for the danger and distress that one of ours has caused you follow from this."

One of the V'Shar steps smartly to Tunor, extending a hand to reveal a silvery object, roughly the size of an eye, although cubic, with rounded corners. "Nam-tor glayek wehk ka la. Vipladau au a'le."

Tunor plucks the device out of his subordinate's hand and turns it over, meditatively. "With your permission, Starek, a few of these may be collected for the T'Nis's healers at the asylum. Otherwise, they will remain here and be destroyed when this cavern comes down."

Stavret holds up a hand. "He's not thinking clearly, and cannot be allowed to make decisions that may affect our entire crew, while in this state."

"Blighted ass-barge!" Starek tries to sit up, but Merendith holds him down. "I'm a grown man and the commander of a starship—"

"Which is why you should know that you are not in any condition to make command decisions, right now." Stavret returns, tired amusement in his eyes. "Tell me about the content of the recordings. If it's medium to low resolution, and he's the only one of our crew on them, you may take them. If the doctor or I appear at all, you may not. If it is possible to get a clean image of the commander's face from any of them, those recordings must be destroyed."

Merendith is watching Stavret with a new respect. She forgets, sometimes, that he was the thinker who got the ship through the Neutral Zone — attributing all the sharp-minded madness to Starek — but Stavret is a force to be reckoned with, even if he hates being in command.

"You must understand that I am not asking this to protectus. I am asking because I fear for our families." A smile touches one corner of his lips. "Even Merendith's. This alliance would be … unpopular, on Andor, and she has lost one brother, already."

"Very well." Tunor pinches the device between a few fingers, crushing it before letting it fall to the floor. It bounces with a little 'pock' sound.

"Ohassu. Is the patient stabilized enough to travel?"

The medic nods, directing his next comment to Merendith. "Although I would caution against unsealing that bag until you are able to keep the fluid inside from contacting any more of his skin." He shows her his scan. It displays the results of what the bag contains

She grunts and eyes Starek again. "I think I can handle it from here."

Together, she and Stavret get the commander between them and in a moment, the solemn faces of the Vulcans are replaced by the joyful ones of D'Nila and her band of engineers. They are loud, pushy, and generally overzealous. In short, they are everything a recently tortured Starek doesn't need.

And yet, they are exactly what he needs. Between the lot of them, they carry their commander back to his quarters and stand watch over him, in shifts, for hours, days, until at a sense of security envelops the vessel once more. No one knows how long it will last, but for now they are together and whole. For now, it is enough.

Zahvan t'Masu:
[ Prologue | I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X ]

Fallout (on LJ):
[ Starek's Personal Log | Repudiation | Reflections of a Starship Pirate | Subspace Doesn't Have That Newsprint Smell | Boomerang | The Romulan Response | Na'Shaya ]

[ I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX ]

Falling Through Time:
[ Verdant and Virile (gDocs) | Tala t'Zaprah ]

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