Disclaimer: See Chapter 1. Thank you so much to Fameanon (and Strom and Gabriel&Max), maba7x, BelladonnasMom, 09sasha, and dinopoodle for reviewing! You're all super awesome!
Sovak followed Soval, Oratt, and several members of the Vulcan security force posted in the area, following a tricorder (held by the doctor), trying to find the source of the screams. Oratt, Soval and Sovak were already almost to the house when they got the call that the killer was here, that they needed to come as quickly as possible to find and save Lucy.
Dr. Strom, it seemed, had been in regular contact with Yuris, a doctor who, at the Inter-species Medical Exchange Conference, had been dismissed for being a melder. Strom had sent him some data, new cortical scans done on Lucy whilst she was recovering from a debilitating nightmare, and Yuris had responded this morning, saying that in his opinion, Lucy was bonded to a Vulcan male.
Dr. Oratt, who was in San Francisco (the reasons escaped Sorak, but apparently he was here to brief Vulcan doctors on some change of protocol), looked over the data and was forced to concede: Lucy was bonded to a Vulcan male. They assumed that when her assailant had forced a meld on her, he had gone further and initiated a marriage bond, perhaps as insurance for his impending Time.
They came upon a clearing, in the middle of which was a small cabin, and Oratt informed them that a human was in the cabin. There were two Vulcan signatures further north in another clearing, but their main priority was Lucy. Soval sent a few of the security forces toward the Vulcan biosigns, and two stayed behind with the doctor and the ambassador's aide. They headed toward the cabin, and one of the guards carefully opened the door.
There was no trap waiting for them, so they all filed in and looked around for Lucy. Oratt found her first, huddled in a corner, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her shirt was in tatters on the floor, and one of her bra straps had been torn off as well. Two deep, bleeding bite marks still oozed blood at her shoulder, and she was staring straight ahead, her eyes unfocused, her cheeks stained with tears. More tears were silently coursing down her cheeks, and when Oratt tried to kneel down and touch her, she lashed out, swiping her hand blindly at him and screaming. The doctor tried again and managed to take a gentle hold of her shoulder, but Lucy began sobbing loudly, begging him to let her go.
The sound of that made Sorak's heart clench in anger, and he turned away and left the cabin, lest he run out towards the two Vulcan biosigns and find the worthless bastard who did this to a poor, defenseless human girl. Well, not a girl anymore. She was showing the signs of womanhood, in her waist, in her thighs, her hips, her breasts...she was no longer a girl, perhaps something her assailant had noticed when he first saw her and decided to take her for himself. The thought sickened Sorak...
Two of the security officers that Soval had sent toward the Vulcan biosigns came back through the trees, and Dr. Strom was following them. Sorak could see it in the doctor's eyes, and it was amazing that he had hidden it from the ambassador and his superiors for so long. The man had just been through pon farr, had presumably fought kal-if-fee, and as evidenced by the fact that he was alive (bruised and battered, but alive), he had won.
Sorak walked toward him, relieved that Lucy's assailant was dead. "Doctor?"
Strom's eyes blazed for a moment, but once he saw that the aide meant him no harm, he relaxed a fraction. "Lucy?"
"She's inside. She won't let Dr. Oratt touch her."
Strom's eyes hardened, and he entered the cabin quickly, Sorak at his heels. Lucy burst into earnest tears when she saw the newcomer, and Strom went straight to her, ignoring Oratt's questions and Soval's inquiring stare. He knelt down by Lucy and stroked her hair, and she calmed down, leaning into his touch.
"I was scared for you," she whimpered. "Is he dead?"
"Yes, Lucy, he is dead," the doctor said gently, and with that, he scooped her up into his arms and carried her toward the door. Oratt looked like he might protest and try and keep Strom from leaving, but seemed to think better of it.
Lucy seemed perfectly content in the doctor's arms, and it warmed his heart to see her bury herself deeper into Strom's dirt-encrusted shirt. She wrapped her arms around his neck and let the tears flow down her cheek, and Sorak could hear the doctor whisper comforting things to her in Vulcan.
Gabriel Hardister's last words came rushing back to him, and his words concerning Lucy made sense now.
"And Lucy...It's ok if she marries him. He's a good man...Mina said Strom cares for her...tell Strom to look after my daughter and to find the bastard..."
The tender and careful way Strom was holding his charge made it obvious to Sorak that he cared deeply for Lucy, more than a doctor concerned for a patient. With the fever slowly crawling to all corners of his brain, his care for his patient most likely had developed into something more intimate, and judging by Lucy's reactions to him, that intimacy was welcomed and returned in kind. Sorak had been present when L'Vek's condition had gotten to that point, and he had been in the lobby of the embassy when the human woman, Ms. Sadir, had walked in with the adviser, leaning heavily on him despite everything she had endured. Ms. Sadir had looked contented, though thoroughly exhausted, and it appeared Lucy felt the same way about Strom. Sorak wondered briefly if there had been any intimacy between the two, but decided that it was none of his business. Strom cared for Lucy, Lucy was in love with Strom, and Sorak could only hope that they could move past their cultural differences and offer each other a life of happiness.
They reached the house and witnessed the destruction of Koss' break-in, but Strom ignored it all and took Lucy upstairs, presumably to see to her injuries and get her cleaned up. That kind of focused devotion made Sorak even surer that Strom was in love with the young woman, and he frowned slightly when he saw Oratt scowling after the two as Strom climbed the stairs. But he didn't think any more of it. There were other things to attend to.
The security officers who had continued on to where Strom and Koss had fought returned, and Soval ordered them to take Koss' body to Starfleet Medical for examination. They obeyed and left, and then Sorak came forward.
"If I may, Osu, the girl's mother is at her home. Shall I go and fetch her? It would most likely be unwise for Ms. Hardister to travel...she looked very...disturbed. I do not blame her, considering all she has endured."
Soval sighed and nodded. "Then, Sorak, fetch Mrs. Hardister. I assume she has been informed of her husband's death?"
"Yes, Earth authorities took on that sad duty. Shall I leave now?"
Soval muttered an affirmative. "The two of them may stay here until tomorrow. I will have security continue to guard the house, and their head can inform Earth officials that the murderer has been killed and no longer poses a threat to Earth...or its innocent women."
Sorak shook his head in agreement. "So many of them dead...perhaps their families would benefit from meeting each other, and walking through the grieving process together."
The ambassador seemed pensive. "You seem to have more insight into human culture than me, my friend. Yes, I think their families would benefit from that. Once you have fetched Mrs. Hardister, please contact their families and arrange a meeting."
Sorak nodded and departed.
Strom carefully placed Lucy on the edge of the tub and started the water, and while the tub was filling up, he turned his attention to the bite marks on her shoulder and her destroyed undergarment. He swallowed thickly, debating with himself as to if he should remove it, knowing that the remnants of fever still flowed in his blood, that he may yet have a little bit of his charge before the fever was gone completely.
He tore his gaze away from the tattered bra and looked down at the clothes in her hands. They had made a stop at her room to fetch her some clean clothes, and a bra was not included. She would go straight to bed once he had her cleaned up and healed of her wounds. He noticed the scratches on her face, and he dug through his medkit until he found his dermal regenerator. He ran it over the scratches, watching them disappear, smiling ever so slightly at the sight of her soft, rounded cheek returned to normal.
The bath was half-full now, and he turned off the water and grabbed some soap. He bid his charge to strip and sit in the tub facing away from him, and he averted his eyes as she obeyed him. Once she was sitting in the tub, he sat down on the edge of the tub and rubbed the soap over the bite marks that Koss had made. Her creamy flesh was soft beneath his fingers as he held her steady, and she leaned her head back into his bare chest (he had torn off his muddy shirt and discarded it in his room), tears streaming down her newly-healed cheeks.
"Am I causing you discomfort?" he asked quietly, focusing his gaze on her shoulder. "If so..."
"No," she croaked. "I'm sad, and still scared...that's all."
He paused for a moment as he continued to clean her shoulder. "There is no reason to fear, Lucy. I will not let anything befall you."
She gasped as the lather built up, and he cupped some of the hot water in his hands and poured it over her wound, removing the soap and leaving her wound raw and exposed. He dried it carefully, then gently ran the regenerator over the scars, erasing them from her skin.
He let her lean forward in the water and wash her hair, and he could not tear his eyes away from the beautiful expanse of her back left exposed to his gaze. Koss had erased his mark with two of his own, and Strom had in turn erased them using medical means...but he could not deny the urge to mark her again as she tossed back her hair, squeezing it to rid it of as much water as she could. He handed her a towel and turned away as she rose from the tub and dried her hair, and he passed back each article of clothing until she was decent.
Strom turned and frowned at her, but she took the regenerator from him and ran it deftly over a bruise he didn't even realize was on his cheek.
"You can use that water. I won't look." Instead of flirtatious, she sounded incredibly child-like, and she blushed and made to move past him. But he caught her arm and scooped her up again, relishing her clean smell, and he carried her back to her room and laid her on the bed.
"I will do as you request, Lucy," he said gently. "It is illogical to waste that water."
She offered him a tiny smile. "Exactly."
"Now go to sleep. Vulcan security will continue to guard the house until you return home, and I will be in my room if you need me." He turned away, prepared to leave.
"Strom?" she whispered, and he turned to her. "Doctor?"
He closed his eyes briefly and sat by her, stroking her damp hair. "Yes, Lucy?"
"Please don't leave me in here alone. Not tonight."
"Your mother will be here soon. She will stay with you. It is inappropriate for Dr. Strom to stay in your room, Ms. Hardister."
Strom jumped up and twisted around to face Oratt, who was standing in the doorway, an extremely displeased expression on his face. Yet strangely, Strom felt no fear in the face of his superior. He was taking care of Lucy, as was his job, and if Oratt did not like it...there was a human phrase, 'he could shove it'. Strom was not familiar with the meaning of the phrase, but it seemed appropriate for the situation.
He turned back to Lucy and brushed some damp strands of hair out of her face. "I'll only be a little while, and then I will sit in here with you until your mother comes."
"Ok," she whispered, her fearful gaze lingering on Oratt.
"Go to sleep, little Lucy," he whispered to her in Vulcan, and her eyes drooped and closed. For once in three months, she would not be under his influence, but that did not guarantee that she would not be plagued by nightmares.
He stood and backed away from her a few steps, watching her relax into a deep slumber, then turned and faced Oratt. He followed his superior out into the hallway and closed the door behind him, and Oratt rounded on him with a noticeable scowl.
"When I assigned you to the girl, I was under the impression you would conduct yourself with decorum. It appears I was wrong." The elder physician's voice was cold, like the biting autumn wind outside. Strom straightened.
"In what way have I displeased you, Osu?"
Oratt's eyes hardened. "You take too many liberties with that girl. You fought kal-if-fee for her? A human? Do you realize what she is to you now?"
Strom shook his head. "Considering that she was inducted into the darkest realms of our society by force, I was under the impression that she would not be held to our standards. She is my patient, Oratt."
"You fought kal-if-fee, and I cannot ignore the implications of your behavior toward her. I should arrange a disciplinary hearing for this, Strom."
Strom's gaze hardened as he stepped closer to Oratt, closer than what was acceptable. He narrowed his eyes at his superior. "I fought kal-if-fee to help a woman who needed my help. I do not regret it. She is free of him, free to live her life as she chooses," he growled. "Again, I say...I did not believe we were going to hold her to the standards of our people."
He turned to re-enter the room, but Oratt's cold command stopped him. "You should release her, Strom. It is disagreeable to think of you stuck with a childish little human girl as a wife. These humans are all immature and-"
Oratt never got to finish the sentence, because Strom raised his hand and slapped him across the face as hard as he could, and his superior stumbled a little before straightening and looking back at him, the beginnings of anger blazing in his brown eyes.
"You will recall, Oratt, that I am still coming down from the fever. I cannot be held accountable for my actions for another two weeks, I would suggest that you watch your tongue."
Oratt opened his mouth as if to speak, but then closed it and stormed off down the stairs, his robes flaring out behind him. Strom watched him go, his blood boiling in ire, but he took a deep breath and calmed himself, going back into the room to sit with Lucy.
She was asleep when he sat on the side of the bed, and he reached out and gently stroked her still-damp hair, looping a strand of it around his finger, fascinated at how it seemed to curl before his eyes. She was the loveliest creature he had ever laid eyes on, and he would be extremely fortunate to have her as his wife, but...she was still so young, and still hurting. And maybe when the fever passed completely he would look back on this day with shame. He did not want to turn into the monster he had fought against whilst falling into the flames. He did not want to subject her to that pain, that horror, after all Koss had put her through.
A tear streamed down his cheek as he stroked her face with two fingers. By Vulcan custom, she was now his, but...perhaps it would be best to let her go. She had a life to live, he was an old doctor with nothing of worth to offer her. He had the means to care for her, certainly, as he was paid well for his work, but she deserved better than him. She deserved something more.
Another tear, then another followed the first. I love her, the beast whispered. But I have to let her go, the logical side of him countered. Letting her live her life as it should be lived...if I love her, I will do this. Because I love her, I will do this. I will let her go.
And if it turns out that you were the man she had been waiting for all her life? the beast growled, its possessive nature still digging into him.
Then I will welcome her with open arms, he resolved. But I will let her continue her education, her pursuit of her career. I will leave that choice in her hands.
Strom leaned down and kissed her forehead, his two fingers finding hers and wrapping around them.
Goodbye, a'duna, he whispered in his mind to her. If you need me...find me, and I will be the best man I can be for you. Until then...goodbye.