Chapter 5

Note: Trigger warnings for this chapter include a particularly violent facial injury, and attempted sexual assault. While rape doesn’t occur, the scene is written to be fearful and uncomfortable, and includes non-consensual touching.

Stardate 2255.2224.

The Nerada.

Coordinates unknown.

“Why the hell do your eyes glow?”

There was a bemused silence for a few seconds, then the glowing eyes in question blinked. “Excuse me?”

Irritably, Jim shoved himself up into a sitting position. “Your eyes. They glow in the dark. Like a cat’s. I’m trying to sleep over here and all I can see is your creepy ass glowing eyes staring at me.”

He could practically hear the disapproving frown his complaint was met with.

“I was not staring at anything in particular, least of all you,” the Vulcan insisted primly. “And the glow you refer to is likely caused by the tapetum lucidum in my eyes. It is a layer of tissue behind the retina which increases the light available to the photoreceptors, thereby granting me a measure of sight even in darkened environments.”

Jim stared blankly at where he thought the Vulcan was.

“...Incidentally, you are correct that the trait is shared by felines.”

“Oh my god.” Jim buried his face in his arms. He was tired and hungry and did not have the patience for this. Nyota was curled up on the floor of their cage next to him, asleep. McCoy hadn’t bitched about anything in well over an hour, so Jim assumed he was doing the same. He himself had been trying to rest for... Well, long enough that the sight of Spock’s eerie green-lit eyes in the dark had become just about the most obnoxious distraction he could imagine.

“Don’t you sleep?” he hissed through the bars.

“Not as often as humans, no. But if it puts you at ease, I shall close my eyes.”

“Forget it.” Jim rubbed his forehead, trying in vain yet again to find a comfortable position. Sleep was not happening. He leaned his shoulder against Spock’s side of the cage and kept his voice low so as not to wake the others. “What did Tattoos want with you, anyway?”

“He calls himself Nero.” The Vulcan seemed to hesitate, then added, “And he wanted nothing I could provide. As far as I could determine, the man has lost his grip on reality. He believes Romulus has been destroyed.”

Jim’s eyebrows shot towards his hairline. “Seriously?”

“Furthermore, he seems to believe that I am to blame for its destruction.”

Jim snorted quietly. “You been holding out on us? Who knew one day I’d be sharing a cell with the destroyer of worlds.”

“That is hardly amusing.”

“Sure it is! You spend your days working for tips and this guy thinks you killed his planet? That’s comedy gold.”

Jim wasn’t naive enough to accept the Vulcan’s dismissive explanation at face value. For one thing, Spock hadn’t accounted for how Nero knew his name. Still, he was willing to let it slide for now, at least until he had a better understanding of the situation - in particular, whether or not the Vulcan could be trusted.

“That why you came back here looking all roughed up?”

“He had me shot with a disruptor on a whim and beaten by his men.”

The humour drained from Jim rather quickly, at that. He slumped back against the bars, miserably considering the injustice of a universe that allowed them to be kidnapped from their homes by crazy aliens.

“What do you think he wants with the rest of us then? Fair enough, you took out his planet -”

“I did not -”

“- but what did we do to him?”

“I’m sure you’d have to ask him yourself,” was the snippy reply.

They lapsed into troubled thoughts. In truth, Jim was scared of what the answer might be. He was doing his level best not to acknowledge it, but that didn’t change the fact. He’d been in his fair share of tight corners, gotten himself into more trouble than he could accurately recount, but this was... The whole situation seemed wildly surreal. If he didn’t strongly suspect he could die at any given minute, he’d have been tempted to laugh at it all. Beamed right out of his kitchen into the bowels of a Romulan terrorist ship.

“Alien bastards,” he muttered, with venom.

“You do not care for non-humans, do you?”

Jim shrugged awkwardly. “Never really gave it much thought. Although you’ll have to excuse me if I develop a bit of a Romulan prejudice after this.”

Spock made a short noise of either acknowledgement or agreement.

“For the love of god, don’t you two ever shut up?”

Jim twitched in surprise at the sound of McCoy’s groggy voice. There was a prolonged moment of shuffling, shifting, and scuffling as the doctor manoeuvred himself upright.

“You have our apologies, Doctor. I believed we were being sufficiently quiet.”

“Well think again. Christ, my head feels like someone took a plasma cannon to it.”

“You are likely experiencing the initial symptoms of detoxification.”

“That’s a hangover, to you and me,” Jim translated.

“No, I meant exactly what I said. Doctor McCoy is a steadfast alcoholic and is due to be experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms at any -”

“Goddamn it, Spock, stop talking.” McCoy sounded muffled, like he had hands up over his face. “I don’t need you describing every stage of hell I’m about to go through, I’m a doctor. I know.”

“As you prefer.”

“Ugh,” McCoy groaned. “I may throw up on you.”

It was some hours later when Jim awoke to searing pain in his eyes as the lights were turned on for the first time since they’d arrived. It hurt more than he was expecting, and seemed to take forever for him to be able to see clearly again. Groaning, he raised an arm over his face, disturbing Nyota who’d been using his shoulder as a pillow. She swatted at him in irritation.

He sat up, squinting around in confusion. For a few hazy seconds, he had no idea where he was or why he was there. He pressed at the bars in bemusement.

“Which one of you is Kirk?” asked one of the Romulan soldiers who came striding through the doorway.

That brought it all back like a punch to the gut. Jim raised his head.

“Get up. The captain wants to speak to you.”

The soldiers ushered him out of the cage with little patience. There were five of them, which Jim thought was overkill for an escort, but only two accompanied him out into the corridor. He had just enough time to glance back at Nyota, and then the doors slid shut between them.

“What does he want me for?”

“Shut up, Terran.”

They took him into a turbolift, then along a maze of corridors. Jim tried to pick out anything distinctive he could map out in his head, but Romulan ships were evidently designed with efficiency in mind with little thought for aesthetic.

He was led to what looked like a canteen. It was cramped and overcrowded, the din of cutlery hitting plates and the rowdy voices of crew members almost overwhelming after the near-silence of their cell. One of the guards prodded him forward. As he passed by the rows of tables, conversation dropped to a murmur and Jim felt the uncomfortable pressure of a whole room watching him.

Nero was sitting alone at a table near the far wall. He gestured invitingly as Jim approached.

“Take a seat, Kirk.”

Jim slouched into the chair across from him, trying for nonchalance. Nero wasn’t paying all that much attention to him, however. He continued eating as though everything was normal, like he dined with prisoners every other day. There was food spread across the table, most of which Jim didn’t recognise but which set his stomach grumbling regardless.

The Romulan noticed his interest. “Eat what you want, there’s more than enough.”

Jim scowled. “What’s with the sudden hospitality?”

Nero sucked a dab of sauce from his finger and shrugged. “I just thought joining me at the captain’s table would be most appropriate.” He looked intensely amused. “Go ahead, eat. I’m told it’s all perfectly agreeable to human digestion.”

Jim couldn’t resist that invitation twice. Without further ado, he started piling food onto the empty plate waiting in front of him. There was enough to choose from. Thin slices of dark red meat; a hunk of seeded, grainy bread; salad made up of purple leaves; something starchy that might once have resembled potato; a little pot of pinkish sauce that Jim dolloped onto his salad. He tried everything, a little weirded out by some of the flavours and textures, but hungry enough that he was willing to overlook. For all he knew, this could very well be his last meal, and he planned to make the most of it.

Only when he’d finished his inhalation of food stuffs did he sit back and return his undivided attention to Nero.

“So, why am I here?”

“Ah, yes. The all-popular question.”

“Well it is the hot topic of conversation back in our cages,” Jim quipped.

Nero smiled, for all the world as if they were old companions sharing a civil dinner date. “Of course. My apologies. You want the truth? I was curious to meet you.”

Jim scoffed. “Uh huh. Can’t tell you how many alien captains abducted me right off the street because they just couldn’t live without my valuable insight and witty repartee.”

“You’re a funny man.”

“That I am. So why am I here?”

The Romulan ignored the question a second time, responding instead with one of his own. “What exactly do you do back on Terra? What’s your occupation?”

“What is this, a date?”

One of the guards, who Jim hadn’t even realised were still hovering behind him, cuffed the back of his head.

“Indulge me.”

Jim held up his hands. “You might say I’m between careers right now.”

“Oh? It was my belief you’d just joined Starfleet.”

He opened his mouth to answer in the negative, then stopped and stared down at his arm. “Yeah, well. Not by choice.”

“You don’t have any desire to see the stars, Kirk? Explore new worlds? To boldly go where no man has gone before?”

Jim raised a dubious eyebrow. “Dramatic sounding split infinitives aside, no not really. I know exactly what happens when you join Starfleet. No matter how high up you get, sooner or later they’ll ask you to die for them, and if you say no you’re finished. Everyone looks out for number one and no further.”

“Is that so? I once read a case study about a Starfleet captain who reputedly went to great lengths to protect the wellbeing of his crew, up to and including the sacrifice of his own life.”

“Never happened,” Jim said instantly, full of steely conviction. “Chances are he died and they just tacked a glory story to his name, help lure in the new recruits. You think I don’t know Starfleet’s history? Trust me, I’ve been up close and personal, and I know I don’t want anything to do with them.”

Nero chuckled.

“What? What’s funny?”

“Nothing. You’re just... not what I expected.”

Jim shrugged, wondering what the hell the Romulan had expected when he’d beamed him up seemingly at random.

Nero pressed his hands to the table and stood decisively. “Come with me. I want to show you something.” When the two guards began to follow, he added, “You’re dismissed. I think I can handle one human on my own.”

Jim followed him out of the canteen and once again became promptly lost in the twists and turns of the ship’s corridors.

“You asked why you’re here,” Nero said at length, as they walked. “I have to confess, my explanation is probably unsatisfying. In truth, I hold no real grudge against you and your fellow Terrans. I was simply curious to speak with those Spock once called friends.”

“Spock and I aren’t friends,” Jim protested automatically, while the rational part of his mind wondered what that even had to do with anything. “We barely know each other.”

“Maybe not in this reality. But the Spock who destroyed my homeworld claimed you as his soulmate. What a romantic notion for a Vulcan. You understand why you... drew my attention.”

Jim side eyed him. “Uh huh. I’d like to get back to the ‘no real grudge’ thing.”

“Provided your people behave well while aboard this ship, I have no interest in keeping you, killing you, or otherwise detaining you beyond our next destination.”

“We can just... go?”

“You can do what you want. Stay and fight for my rebellion, if you’d prefer.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll have to pass. Something tells me you’re no better option than Starfleet, in terms of life expectancy.”

Nero tipped his head in concession. “Very well. I’m afraid I won’t be passing by Terra again any time soon, but I’m sure there’s some hospitable rock out there somewhere that I can drop you.”

That was by no means the comforting reassurance Jim had been hoping for, but he supposed it was better than all the other outcomes he’d been imagining. He, Nyota and McCoy might all just come out of this still breathing.

“But not Spock,” he realised.

“No, not Spock. I have business with your Vulcan friend.”

“We’re not friends,” he said again, automatically. And it was true. Just because they’d been placed in captivity together didn’t make them any closer than they’d been two days ago, when Jim barely knew him from Adam. Nor was it his fault that the insane Romulan had picked Spock to fixate on.

So he shrugged. “Fine. Any chance of us getting out of the cages?”

Nero smiled. “I’m afraid not. I do, after all, have a rebellion to lead and a reputation to maintain. I can’t have Terrans of the Empire running around my ship.”

“Right. Course. What was I thinking?”

“Don’t worry. You won’t be here much longer. Our ETA is another seven hours.”

“And where exactly are we arriving at?”

“All in good time.”

They moved into a seemingly empty section of the ship. The random crew members who’d passed them in the halls, pinning Jim with blatant stares of curiosity, were now nowhere to be seen. The lighting here was dim, the temperature colder than in more populated areas.

Nero led him to a door with a complex locking mechanism. It required a code that Jim tried and failed to observe, a handprint scanner, and for the Romulan to swipe a key device before it slid open. He wondered what the hell needed that much security.

“Welcome to our little makeshift lab. You should be honoured. I believe you’re the first Terran ever to set eyes on what we’re working with here.”

The room into which they stepped clearly hadn’t been designed as either a laboratory or a particularly secure holding area, even to Jim’s inexpert eye. It was cluttered and cramped, bits of old machinery piled into corners. A yellowish strip-light overhead cast the whole room in a sickly glow. Metal desks were littered with data PADDs, scrap pieces of wiring, models of various solar systems, star charts, and clusters of instruments that looked not unlike medical equipment. On one particular table, cleared of all other debris, was a rack of three high-tech vials, each with a single suspended sphere of red liquid inside.

And in the centre of the room, clearly its crowning glory, was a floor to ceiling tank filled with the same mystery red substance. It rippled ominously at him.

A single Romulan scientist occupied the provisional lab, turning in flustered surprise at their entrance. He performed a clumsy salute.

“Captain? Can I help you?”

“At ease, Neval. I was just showing our Terran guest the latest development in our weapons system.”

The scientist looked vaguely scandalised, but Nero ignored him.

Jim wrinkled his nose dubiously, cocking his head at the giant red blob. “What is it, exactly?”

“It’s called red matter. It’s the reason I’m here,” Nero answered, voice oddly solemn. “I watched my planet burn, and then I fell through the hole in space this stuff blew open. Ended up in your strange, bleak little universe.” He sighed, almost sounding wistful. “Still. I think I’m making the best of things, don’t you?”

Jim made to step towards it, but Nero grabbed his shoulder and the scientist looked like he might have an aneurysm. He held up his hands in defeat.

“Why are you showing it to me?”

“Because I want you to understand,” Nero snapped. “Before you feel too badly about leaving Spock to my tender care, I think you should know what kind of man he is. In another life, your peaceful, passive Vulcan was instrumental in creating this. A single drop contains the potential to birth a black hole vast enough to swallow a sun. It is perhaps the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever designed in recorded history, and I have Spock to thank every step of the way for it falling into my hands.”

With growing unease, Jim stared intently at the undulating red mass in the tank. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I have a personal matter to take care of, first. But then... Then I think I might end the Terran threat once and for all.”

Jim shuddered.

Nero turned to regard him. “I almost like this version of you, Kirk, so take this as a friendly warning. Flee the Empire, before it comes crashing down around you.”

Truthfully, Jim didn’t really know how to react to that. He stared up into the Romulan’s eyes, trying to determine the veracity of such a threat. There was no way one lone, screw-loose alien with his half-derelict ship could really inflict the kind of damage he was implying, not on the heart of the fortified Empire. He’d never even be able to get close enough, surely.

Though he had gotten close enough to destroy an Imperial space station.

Hell, he’d gotten close enough to swipe Jim out from under his own roof.

And there was not one sign of a bluff on Nero’s tattooed face.

“I was just about to take another sample, Captain,” the scientist interrupted, obviously hoping the information would prompt them to leave him in peace.

Nero gestured for him to continue.

Sighing, the Romulan picked up what looked to Jim to be an oversized syringe. Then he hesitated. “If you would instruct the Terran not to speak or interfere, Captain? This is an extremely delicate procedure.”

Nero looked pointedly at him. “He’s not that stupid. Wouldn't want to see us all sucked to oblivion, would you Kirk?”

Neval looked sceptical, but made no further comment. He set about angling the needle of the syringe into the port in the side of the tank. Agonizingly slow, the scientist inserted it and pushed the tip of the needle into the red mass. Jim found himself tensing. The Romulan didn’t let it go any deeper than a few millimetres. Steadying himself, he gently took hold of the plunger and pulled it back.

A minuscule speck of red liquid was drawn through the needle, emerging floating in the glass vessel that had been prepared for it. Jim squinted, trying to get a better look. Almost reverently, Neval extracted the needle from the tank, then the vial from the syringe. He held it before him in both hands, like a bomb he couldn’t help but admire.

It was then that the floor beneath them began to tremble.

Jim looked down in concern, just as the whole ship gave a jolt and a lurch. He nearly lost his footing, flinging his arms out for balance. The scientist swore profusely in Romulan, frantically trying to protect the new sample of red matter. Nero moved towards him as though to intervene.

A voice over the room’s com-system announced, “This is Commander Ayel. We have come under fire from Imperial patrol ships. Taking evasive manoeuvres now, stand by for further instructions. Captain Nero, please report to the bridge. Ayel out.”

The ship shuddered again. Jim stumbled sideways and had to grab hold of the tabletop to steady himself. He blinked, finding himself staring down at the three pre-prepared vials he’d noticed earlier, with their innocuous blobs of red liquid floating inside.

“Keep it still, damn you!” Nero snarled from somewhere behind him.

Jim had no idea what possessed him to do it. Even in retrospect, he could never justify it as anything but a stupid, thoughtless impulse. He grabbed one of the vials, shoving it quickly up the inside of his jacket sleeve. Then he turned his back on the remainders, positioning himself as though to hide the evidence of his theft.

His heart pounded, regret and terror almost instantaneous.

Nero would murder him on the spot if he was discovered. He didn’t even know why he’d wanted it. It had just been there, tantalizingly close, and no one had been looking. He cursed silently.

But there was no way to put it back now, even if he’d dared to try. The ship was steadying. The scientist slumped in relief as Nero finally gave him some breathing room, clutching his own tube of red matter tight to his chest. The Romulan captain turned a glare on Jim, like he was personally to blame for the disruption.

“Our tour is being cut short, I’m afraid. Come. I’ll take you back to your cell.”

All traces of his previous good humour vanished, he reached out to snatch Jim’s arm. Jim’s breath stopped, but by pure chance Nero failed to grab the sleeve where he’d stashed the vial. He was propelled ahead of the Romulan, pushed out into the corridor.

Nero paused in the doorway, looking back at the scientist. “Neval, with me. Bring that new extract, we need to get it ready for deployment.”

“But I need to -”

With me, I said.”

“Aye, sir.” The scientist scuttled obediently after them, cradling the red matter carefully in both hands. He swiftly entered in the complex locking code on the door’s control panel, then the three of them set off.

They got into a nearby turbolift, descending once again through the levels of the ship. In such close proximity, Jim felt convinced they would hear his racing heartbeat, or feel the sizeable bulge of the stolen vial inside his sleeve. His forehead was damp with nervousness. He waited for them to notice his guilt at any second.

The turbolift opened, and Nero shoved him out. “Hurry up.”

Jim walked quickly, doing his best to remember the path back to his cell. He couldn’t believe he was getting away with this, but Nero and the scientist were busy conferring in hushed voices behind him, clearly oblivious. Whether to try sneaking it off the ship or cutting his losses and just ditching it somewhere was the next dilemma. He was debating wildly between the two options as they came to the last stretch of corridor and the sound first reached his ears.

He stopped dead, staring ahead at the door behind which Nyota, McCoy and Spock were still imprisoned.

Muffled screaming drifted from the locked room.

Then he was running.

It had all started going wrong not long after Kirk left.

The first warning sign came when the three guards didn’t leave, nor turn off the lights. While under other circumstances Spock would have appreciated not being plunged into darkness yet again, the break in routine was disconcerting. Indeed, even as he looked on, one of the Romulans keyed the locking code into the door’s control panel, sealing it tight. Tension spread through Spock’s shoulders and the back of his neck. He rose to his feet, adrenaline already beginning to seep into his bloodstream as the guards’ attention turned towards the cages and their occupants.

Doctor McCoy was too absorbed in his own shivering, sweating sickness to notice anything amiss at first, but Nyota was alert enough to sense the sudden danger. She looked across at Spock as she backed up to the far wall of her enclosure. He nodded to her, unable for the moment to offer anything beyond solidarity.

“Been a while since we’ve had a woman on board,” one of the Romulans said, moving closer.

Immediately, Spock felt anxiety speed his heart rate, and heard Nyota draw a sharp breath.

“Do not touch her.”

“Shut up, halfbreed.”

McCoy finally roused himself. He staggered to his feet, pulling himself up along the bars. A damp, unhealthy sheen covered his face. “What’s happening?”

Spock ignored him, too focused on the Romulan who stepped up to Nyota’s cage. He trailed his hand along the bars, circling round her. She moved with him, always staying just out of reach.

“Don’t be like that,” he crooned, slipping his hand through a gap in the bars and holding it towards her as though in offering. “I’ll be real gentle.”

“Oh yeah?” Nyota’s voice dripped sugary condescension. “I sure won’t be.” In a burst of movement, she grasped his wrist and pulled forward with all her strength. The Romulan’s face smashed into one of the bars, hard enough for blood to spill from his mouth and nose. Still maintaining her hold, she slammed the flat of her other hand into the back of his elbow.

The Romulan howled and withdrew, while the remaining two guards fell about laughing.

“Good girl,” McCoy rasped fervently. “Don’t let the bastards near you.”

“She may have just worsened the situation considerably,” Spock pointed out, his sense of trepidation building.

Sure enough, as the two nearest the door continued to express their mirth, the guard Nyota had injured became more and more incensed. His breath came hard through his nose. He paced round her, holding his obviously dislocated arm at a strange angle.

“You stupid bitch.”

Nyota’s lip curled.

One of the other Romulans appeared to take pity on his fellow. He approached still chuckling. “Let me help you, Rekar. The little woman is obviously too much for you.” Taking hold of Rekar’s arm, he stretched it out straight. Then he pulled and twisted in a fast, practised motion. There was an unpleasant crack of joints and tendons. Rekar growled as the dislocation was reset, rotating his wrist and forearm to restore feeling.

Then, expression thunderous, he prowled around to the front of Nyota’s cage. “You’re going to regret that little stunt. Get her out of there.”

“Don’t you lay one filthy hand on her!” McCoy snarled, shoving past Spock to get to the front of their own cage. He was shaking with outrage, his Southern accent thicker than ever in the grip of emotion.

Not one of the guards even glanced at him.

One of them produced the device which unlocked the cage doors. Nyota’s swung open, and Rekar reached in and grabbed at her.

“No!” Both Spock and McCoy surged to that side of their enclosure, slamming uselessly against the bars.

Nyota had her fists up when the Romulan came at her, face set hard and determined. She jabbed, catching him in the mouth. He returned the blow with considerably more force. Nyota fell back against the wall of her cage, reeling. Almost casually, Rekar fisted a hand around her ponytail and hauled her out into the room.

Spock’s breath froze in his chest.

Rekar threw her hard enough that she lost her footing, landing on her knees. In a second she was rolling away, up and dashing for the door. A second Romulan caught her as she passed, spinning her into his arms. In one quick movement, she brought her knee up into his groin and then her heel down on his foot. He let her go with a groan of agony.

She made it to the door’s control panel before Rekar crashed into her from behind, pinning her up against the wall with his weight. She let out a cry more of anger than fear, thrashing wildly in an attempt to free herself.

McCoy’s remaining self-control appeared to snap, finally. He hurled himself against the cage door, managing to rattle it in its setting. “You fucking alien cunts! Let her go! Take on someone your own size, bastard!”

Rekar laughed, turning around and dragging Nyota with him. He had his arm - the very one she’d injured - wrapped tight around her neck, keeping her back pressed to his chest. She clawed at him, obviously struggling to breathe.

“I’m sorry, have I offended your delicate sensibilities, Terran?” He used his free hand to stroke Nyota’s cheek, whispering into her ear as she flinched away. “But she’s such a pretty, feisty little human. How am I to resist that?”

McCoy’s hands were white-knuckled as he gripped the bars. He spat in Rekar’s direction. “You’re pathetic. Rapist scum.”

Seemingly in response, Rekar reached round and groped Nyota’s breast. She let out a growl and kicked back at his shin, but he only grinned and tightened his chokehold. His hand slipped up under her shirt.

Spock was unsure if he was capable of bearing witness to this. He wanted to look away, but suspected that might be a disservice. The purely logical thing would be for her to submit, to minimise pain and injury, but even so he could not bring himself to hope for that. He bared his teeth, a snarl of utter loathing building in his chest.

“No wonder the Empire wants to exterminate your disgusting race,” McCoy hissed next to him. “I hope they do it. I hope they blow you right out of the sky. Goddamn animals.”

At last, he seemed to have landed on something that caught their attention. Rekar and his fellows turned towards him, expressions hard. “Is that what you hope, Terran?”

“Damn right.”

Without warning, Rekar shoved Nyota towards one of the other Romulans. “Hold her for me.” He strode towards their cage, arms wide open in challenge. “Well, Terran, you’re a man of your Empire. Come take your chances. Come kill the alien scum.”

The key device flashed, and the door swung open.

Spock tried to press forward, but suddenly found himself facing a disruptor gun to the head. The Romulan flicked the weapon, gesturing for him to retreat. “Not you, halfbreed. Get back.”

Seething, his gloved hands clenched into fists, Spock took a single, pointed step backwards. It was a struggle to do so. Every instinct in him told him to attack, to hurt, to break. His blood was burning in his veins with the need to do something other than stand impotent witness.

Rekar beckoned. “Come on, Terran. Defend your woman.”

McCoy seemed to steel himself, his spine straightening. The door slammed shut again as he moved forward. He didn’t get two steps before Rekar backhanded him across the face, the Romulan’s superior strength sending him sprawling. Spock hung his head. The detoxing human was in no condition to participate in even a fair fight, let alone this.

Rekar landed a kick to McCoy’s ribs that sent him rolling across the floor like a doll. He came to rest on his front, struggling to get his hands and knees back under him. Rekar pounced forward, bringing his forearm down hard across the human’s back. McCoy collapsed with a groan.

The Romulan tipped his head back and crowed his victory, evidently enjoying himself. He spun back towards Nyota and his two followers. “Your noble defender has fallen already, little human. I’m afraid you’re all ours.”

Spock smashed his fists against the cage, kicked at the door, jammed his shoulder against the bars and shoved. It wouldn’t give. He took a breath, wrapped his hands around two of them, and pulled with all his strength. There was a squeaking creak of metal, and for a second he thought he’d succeeded. But they only bent incrementally rather than come free as he’d hoped. He met Nyota’s wide eyes from above the hand one of the guards had clamped over her mouth, silently trying to communicate his useless apologies.

Rekar moved to stand before her, trailing a finger down over her hip until it caught on the button of her jeans. She twisted away, but couldn’t escape the other two gathered close around her.

“I’m going to enjoy this,” Rekar told her.

“God, me too,” McCoy said from behind him. The Romulan turned in surprise, and the doctor’s fist cracked into his jaw.

In the same instant, the foundations of the ship shook and warning sirens began blaring somewhere nearby. Rekar staggered and McCoy lurched towards him, fisting both hands in the Romulan’s coat collar and bearing him down. Rekar seemed more bemused than anything as he fell beneath the human’s weight, managing to jostle the guard holding Nyota.

It all happened so fast after that that Spock had difficulty tracking everything.

In the turbulence, they all staggered sideways. Her captor knocked off balance, Nyota made a desperate grab for the weapons clipped to his belt. She missed the gun, but her hand closed over the handle of a knife. She pulled it free.

Landing atop his startled opponent, McCoy slammed his elbow down into Rekar’s face. The Romulan howled as his nose broke. The doctor prepared another blow, but was swept aside before he could execute it.

Nyota didn’t try to turn around with the guard’s arms wrapped around her. Instead she simply dropped through them, falling into a crouch at his feet. Then she spun, thrusting the knife upwards. The Romulan shrieked as it stabbed into his groin. He collapsed, arterial blood splashing across Nyota’s face.

The third guard, panicked, drew his gun and aimed it at Nyota.

She threw herself flat just in time.

Instead, the disruptor beam went over her head and struck McCoy in the face.

He screamed, the sound finally bringing a halt to the chaos. His hands flew up to clamp over one side of his face, blood seeping from between his fingers. He went on screaming, arching backwards on the floor. Spock’s stomach clenched in revulsion at the smell of burned flash and hair.

Nyota flew to him, landing on her knees beside the doctor and letting the knife clatter away. She didn’t seem to know where to put her hands, ended up gripping his shirt helplessly as McCoy continued to howl in agony.

“What do I do?” she asked in panic, looking up at Spock.

He had no answer for her.

The two Romulans who remained standing looked just as unsure of themselves, trading significant looks above the Terrans’ heads. Spock doubted they’d been given permission to maim their prisoners. Looking equal parts shaken and furious, Rekar stepped over his injured comrade and grabbed Nyota’s upper arm, hauling her to her feet. “Get away from him.”

Immediately, she turned on him. Her fists pounded on his chest, then formed into claws and took a swipe at his face. “What did you do? What the fuck did you do?!”

The ship slowly steadied.

McCoy’s screams had turned to ragged, grating whimpers, no less awful to listen to. He hadn’t yet taken his hands away from the left side of his face, but turned on his side and curled into himself.

“Stupid Terran,” Rekar hissed at him. “You had to interfere, you couldn’t just stay still and quiet where you belong.”

“Rekar,” the other guard called urgently. He was bent over the Romulan Nyota had stabbed. “We need to get Torell to the medbay. It is a deep wound.”

“He is weak enough to be bettered by a human female, he can go without my help.”

“But -”

The door slid open without warning and Nero, Kirk and yet another Romulan stood surveying the violent tableau. There was a beat of time in which no one appeared to know how to react.

Rekar and his fellow guard snapped a belated salute. Freed, Nyota dropped back down onto the floor next to McCoy, who wrenched away from her when she tried to touch him. The injured Romulan panted laboriously, hands jammed into the juncture between his legs in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

“What the hell is this?” Kirk asked, voice faint with disbelief and perhaps horror. He turned on Nero. “You said nothing would happen to them!”

The Romulan captain looked angrier than Spock would have expected. He stalked towards Rekar, who lowered his eyes in deference. “Since when has it been acceptable to disobey my explicit instructions, Lieutenant?”

“Captain, they were attempting escape -”

“That is a lie,” Spock interrupted, voice loud enough to draw everyone’s attention. “Your men are would-be rapists and torturers.”

Kirk’s gaze shot to Nyota. She ducked her head, avoiding his eyes.

“Get out,” Nero said coldly.

“But -”

“I don’t have time to explain to you the meaning of obedience, Rekar. Report to your quarters. You and your men can disembark at Romulus the next time we dock.”

“Sir -!”

Get out, Lieutenant!”

Rekar cast a look of loathing first at Spock and then Nyota, before he and the other former guard turned and headed for the door, pausing only to grasp their wounded accomplice under the arms and none too gently haul him from the room. A trail of blood marked their exit.

Nero turned to the Romulan who had returned with him and Kirk. “Neval, see that the Terran gets medical attention. Supervise it, then report to me on the bridge. I want everything ready by the time we reach Vulcan.”

Spock blinked. He had been watching McCoy, but looked towards Nero in surprise at the mention of his father’s homeworld.

The Romulan wore a cruel smile.

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