The girl shivered from cold and trauma, huddled against her own thin body. Stings from myriad cuts and abrasions bothered her, and the roar of the wind scorched her ears. She squeezed tighter into the painfully small niche amongst the debris. Her burrow was just one section of wreckage, only one part of a ruined building in the scarred planet's sea of ruined buildings. Tiny shafts of gray light broke through the same small gaps the wind seeped through. Her only protection was rags - filth encrusted strips of cloth tied together, so covered in grime their original color was gone forever.
Fouled dirt coated everything; her skin bore layers of it, and it collected in the lines already formed around her eyes and mouth in her too young face. Grime caked under what nails she had left on her hands and feet, and ground into her lacerations, inflaming them with infection so the area around them burned angrily with pain and heat.
Life existed as an abysmal routine. Hide, search for food despite the danger, starve when no food was found, and sleep in restless spurts in fear of predators. Repeat. She no longer thought of herself by name anymore -- it meant nothing here. She was losing any distinction between herself, the others like her, and the wreckage.
She kept her face turned away from the smears of blood painting pieces of her retreat. One particular smear, dried an ugly dark green, sat in her peripheral vision. She wedged herself further away from it, bearing the small pain of a broken beam in her side rather than see the blood.
Dark, tangled hair fell in her eyes, stinging them and causing tears. The only reason for tears. She refused to cry. Crying risked noise. Noise meant discovery.
She took a deep breath to steady herself, and choked on the dust created by broken buildings, ruined roadways, lifeless soil, and dead bodies. The stench sickened her stomach.
Voices sounded outside her hiding place. She held her breath, wondering -- had they heard her choke before? She had barely made a noise, how had they heard her?
One nerve wracking second after another passed as she dared not breathe, listening to the white noise of wind and the voices growing closer. Not close enough, not yet, still too far away for her to make out words. Still safe, don't panic.
The roof of her hiding place lifted with no warning, light streaming in and silhouetting the woman who held the piece of broken flooring that had sheltered the girl only seconds before. The girl didn't know that the heavy slab would have fallen in any minute, crushing her. Blinking against the light, the girl tried to see, otherwise remaining frozen.
Then her vision cleared. She saw the face. The hated face. Hated and despised and terrible and the face of the ones who killed.
She exploded from her hideaway, debris collapsing into the space where she had just been. Her heart hammered as she ran, and she labored for air, sucking in more dust that scraped her throat and lungs. Wreckage cut her feet and she slipped on her own blood as she scrambled over mounds of rubble, dashing into small places and wriggling out even smaller exits to lose her pursuer.
The Romulan woman kept up with her. Worse, she gained, cutting off the girl's path, almost grabbing her twice. The woman yelled out, but the girl ignored the shouts. Just run, only run. Run!
She heard other shouts from other pursuers who were too far away to ever reach her, but the woman stayed on her heels, relentless. That determination drove the girl's heart and legs like an engine, picking her up as she almost collapsed, sending her feet flying again, too scared and too angry to feel the pain.
The woman's shouts grew louder with false words, promising things that she never would give. Romulans always lied. Romulans teased with an open hand and then killed with it.
The girl spotted a building ahead. Crumbling, half of it gone already, but she knew a way in and out that the woman didn't. She threw herself into a last burst of speed.
She made the door a few steps ahead of the woman, and leapt lightly up the collapsing stairs, the sound of running boots now matching the pounding of her heart. She reached the top of the stairs, never stopping, but listening now, waiting for the inevitable. And then it came: the staircase caved in under the adult's heavier weight.
The girl still ran, through what once must have been a grand room, now a disaster of torn paintings, blood speckled walls, and broken furniture. A body littered the floor, one of the ones like her, the eyes staring lifeless in her direction. She jumped over it, ran down a smaller staircase, and at last paused. Chest heaving, she listened for a handful of breaths -- all the time that could be spared.
No sound. Good. She hoped the woman was dead under that destroyed staircase. Crushed and crying and dying slow, just like the way the Romulans killed. Let her rot.
No time for such grim wishes. She slowed now, moving with stealth downwards, careful to make no sound. She peeked around and saw the outside through a broken wall. More dust, more rubble, more wind. But no one lying in wait.
Except her bleeding feet made tracks. She stared at the path she had already left, but no one followed from behind her. But out there...
Knots in the rags pulled free under strong, small fingers, and retied in place except for the few fixed around her feet, absorbing the betraying blood. It would soak through soon.
She slipped out, looked around carefully again, and spotted another hiding place she used before. She sprang towards it, slipping across the exposed ground with as much stealth as she could muster. She bent down, crawling into the hole, already breathing better.
Strong hands came from nowhere and grabbed at her waist, hauling her out into the open. The Romulan had picked the perfect moment to attack: the girl was too far in to dart quickly out and dash free; not so far in that she couldn't be reached. The girl screamed, in fear and hate and the knowledge that death had her. Where had the woman come from? Why hadn't she seen the Romulan when she had looked so carefully around before crawling in here? Why, why, WHY?
She lashed out with bony heels and torn fingernails, but the woman expertly held her. No scratch or kick ever hurt her. A last burst of energy sent the girl into frenzied attempts to bite, gouge, or claw her captor, but no amount of twisting or fighting freed her. She sagged in defeat.
Still the woman held her. Expecting a trick? Thinking the girl only faked surrender? The girl didn't care. She was dead. She knew it.
She looked over her shoulder at the chest and arms of her captor, ready to spit and scream in the hated face. She saw something she hadn't give herself time to notice before. The uniform jacket was red and the pants black underneath the dust. The voice spoke again now that the girl stopped screaming.
"I will not harm you. I regret I frightened you. I am Commander Saavik of Starfleet. The battle is over, the Romulans are gone. I am not one of them. I am Vulcan, do you understand?"
The girl said nothing. Too much ache and exhaustion kept her from speaking. But this Saavik seemed to figure it out and took the silence as an answer. She also let go of the girl's arms, and the child decided Saavik knew she wasn't fighting anymore.
"We are taking you and all the other survivors to a safe location. You are leaving Tomed. Do you understand? You need never come back to Tomed again."
The girl wanted to say something, anything, but the effort was too great. She only listened to the calm voice with its husky tones, and began to wish Saavik still held her. The touch had been warm. The woman understood without being told anything. She started taking off her jacket, but the girl stopped her. Starfleet pants alone didn't make a uniform. The jacket with all its insignias and braids did, and the uniform was what made Saavik okay. Without it, she might seem Romulan again.
The girl's eyes dropped away from the woman's face. Saavik only shifted to block the wind, and opened her field jacket but did nothing else, letting the child make all the moves. The girl peeked at her from the corner of her eyes. Even kneeling, Saavik was tall, but the jacket still seemed to have some room. It flapped open on either side of her legs.
"Would you prefer a human, someone of your own species, to talk to you?"
No, the girl wanted to say. You're okay. Vulcan, not Romulan. She took a tiny step into the jacket. Tomed receded, held back by Saavik and her coat.
"We will take you to a ship in orbit. You will get food and attention there, and we will locate your family."
Was Daddy alive? She lost Daddy when the Romulans came. Did Mommy come from Earth with this Saavik to find her? Did Mommy bring her cat? Or her brothers?
If Mommy and Daddy were here, she promised she'd never misbehave again. No more fighting with her brothers even when they deserved it. No more fighting not to go to bed or take a bath or put things away. No more fighting.
She blinked back tears and stared at the ground with its spatters of red blood mixed with the spilled colors from aliens, and green where someone made a Romulan bleed. Even wounded or dead, the Romulans marked where they struck. The girl hated the sight. No more fighting, you promised, Saavik, you did.
At last, the child raised her eyes. She said nothing, but her eyelids fluttered against the withheld tears. Saavik saw and nodded. Her long dark hair fell over her pointed ears, hiding them, but it didn't cover her upswept eyebrows. The girl almost reached up to flatten the way they slanted but stopped. Saavik stared back into her with eyes that weren't angry or mean or -- Romulan. Then those eyes traveled down her small body to her bloody feet and suddenly closed, Saavik's head falling forward to her chest. The girl wondered why. She looked at the grown-up Vulcan's dark, bowed head and became scared. But then Saavik looked at her again, just like before, everything was fine -- and the girl believed her.
They had the same color hair, she and Saavik. She dashed her fingers through her tangles, their length too short to ever cover her rounded ears. Dust and dirt laid in Saavik's hair too, but when the breeze blew it to reveal the thick layers underneath, the girl saw the dirt didn't go past the surface. It couldn't penetrate Saavik.
Her rescuer called to another person in a red and black uniform, like Daddy's uniform. But the man running up didn't look like Daddy. Daddy's hair was red and his eyes hazel and his skin very white and he smiled a lot. This man was like her with brown hair, but his skin was a darker tan -- like he came from the same island Mommy did -- and he looked like he hadn't smiled in a really long time. Like her.
"You got her!" he shouted when he reached them. He sounded surprised. The girl bet she could have outrun him.
Saavik gave him a look that was just like Mommy's when she thought Daddy said something stupid. "Naturally, as she is standing here." She explained to the girl, "This is Lieutenant Phillip Kettiman. And you are--"
Leena. But she still said nothing. She didn't know why.
Saavik changed what she was saying like she never asked for anything else. "--Prepared to go with him? He will take you to our ship."
The girl clutched Saavik's sleeve and bit her lip. Why can't you take me?
Saavik still knelt to her eye level. "I must stay here and look for the others like you. Something is interfering with our scans or we would have transported you out with the others."
Maybe that's where the other people went, all the ones that left the ruins and never came back. Leena thought the Romulans had got them, but maybe Saavik had instead.
"Until it is cleared, we need search parties to look through the city."
Kettiman spoke in a rush. "I'll stay, Commander. You should beam up. We've been hearing things from the other ships, even... even our own people. Some of them are saying some nasty things about you because you're half-R --"
Saavik interrupted. "The lieutenant is mistaken. He needs to take you to the ship. In fact, he prefers it."
The girl eyed Kettiman. Yeah, better that Saavik stayed. Saavik was smart. Saavik was strong and fast. She found people.
Saavik stood and looked at the lieutenant. He started to talk again, and she frowned just like the Vulcans Leena's Mommy worked with. The girl watched them, already knowing who would win. Sure enough, Kettiman's eyes got real big, and then Saavik dipped her head at Leena. He looked down, and now he knelt to be eye level with her. He stripped off his coat and placed it around her shoulders. It felt great as it swallowed her up, the way Daddy's did and it even smelled like his. This lieutenant must splash on the same stuff Daddy did. But it felt a bit lonely without Saavik filling it out. Tomed skulked around her.
Kettiman smiled as if he wanted Leena to forget all the stuff he said before. "Yeah, I would like to get back to the ship. Get something to eat. What's your favorite food?"
"Mine's pizza. I can eat a ton of it! We'll get that and whatever you'd like, sound good?"
Leena still held Saavik's sleeve. She looked up, wondering.
"My favorite food?" Saavik interpreted. "Thkyrh spiced with -- Ah, I see. You meant an item familiar to you." She tilted her head to the side as she thought about it, suddenly seeing something far away instead of Tomed. When she spoke her voice was like a whisper except with the same volume as before. Leena understood that because Grandmam was the same way when she talked about the Old Days. It meant Saavik thought of something good. "A woman I once knew made cookies with chocolate chips and oatmeal batter flavored with nuts and cinnamon. They were quite appetizing."
Leena looked up at Kettiman. He winked. "Yeah, I think we can find some. The doctors might make you eat something healthy first, but then we'll get the real good stuff." He squatted on his heels and held out his arms. "Ready?"
She climbed aboard, noting her legs wrapped around his waist so her ankles locked against his back. Not like when Daddy carried her. Daddy was bigger.
She looked again at Saavik. Goodbye. You're gonna say goodbye, right? You're not just going?!
But Saavik said something else, some grownup thing. She stared out at the battle wreckage. "Children cannot always control what happens to them." Those eyes turned back on Leena. "Only how they choose to let it affect them. You will be more than this. You must trust me."
The lieutenant walked away then, carefully stepping over the debris from the battlefield. He kept talking, explaining how they were able to boost transporter signals after a certain distance from the blocking field. He said they were all going to leave Tomed behind, and talked about his kid sister and her kids, how much fun they had together when he was home. Leena listened, but she watched Saavik walk towards the heart of the destroyed city and signal to a few humans to come with her. So no one would think she was Romulan again.
Saavik was going to find everybody. Leena just knew it.
She clutched the jacket under her fingers and watched Saavik who all of a sudden turned around, like she knew Leena stared at her. She made the other people wait as she looked back at the girl held by the lieutenant until they transported away. Away from Tomed, no more Romulans -- Saavik promised.
That meant no more hunger or being hurt or having no clothes or not sleeping -- and... no more being afraid of making noises.
Leena pressed her face into Kettiman's neck and cried into his uniform jacket.
Author's note: The basic idea for this story comes from "Vulcan's Heart". Saavik reflects back on "a child running from her in terror at the sight of her 'Romulan' features; her own loathing at being forced to become the hunter as once, when she had been that poor child's age, she had been the hunted."