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Summary: A sequel to "My Faith in You," addressing Uhura's recovery from a brutal attack and the depths of Kirk's commitment to keep her in his world.
The Humans soon found out that the goi serving ritual was a way for the exalted to show their obligation to the commoner. Ramsha'ka had conscripted Kirk as the highest-ranking Federation representative and introduced him to another Potakai custom. Tradition called for the meat to be cut from the choicest areas and served to the guests in reverse rank order. Tiny tots, with their Menage attendants, lined up to be served by the man who, tomorrow, would be their supreme ruler. Kirk glanced between Uhura and the enormous beast that still hung over the hot coals before surrendering gracefully.
Uhura watched as Ramsha'ka and Kirk served the hundreds of Potakai calmly gathered at the huge roasting pit. The goi turned out be an animal similar to a large bison--at least in size and shape. Uhura as of yet had no idea as to its taste. She, like the other exalted ones, had to wait until everyone else was served before they had the opportunity to taste the aromatic meat. She sat patiently next to Anata'ka and Lilu'ka, watching Kirk slice goi under Ramsha'ka's quiet direction as he captured the tender cuts on platter after platter. Each guest was served with all the formality one would expect at a state dinner. Even the little ones, too young to understand the honor being conferred upon them, recognized the solemnity of the ceremony and responded in kind.
Grinning to herself, Uhura watched as Dah and Tel approached the head of the serving line, their still-short crests stiffly erect in anticipation of their moment in the torchlight. Since his own crest was still braided for protection, Ramsha gave a slight nod to the youngsters as they took their serving of goi from the platter he offered them. They dropped their crests in a show of respect for the towering Potakai. They even stopped and fluttered their crests in deference to Kirk who was standing in the background. It was something none of the others had done. Uhura saw Anata'ka nod in approval out of the corner of her eye.
Noticing the look, Anata'ka leaned over and offered in a hopeful tone. "I see such potential in those two. They fear nothing, but even at this young age, show a poise and understanding of things outside their realm. They are destined to be Aristocrats and Ramsha would do well to choose them as his children."
"They are darling, Your Highness, and quite remarkable. I think they would be fine children for Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka." Nyota offered with an acknowledging glance to the woman seated on the other side of her.
"When the time comes, we would be very honored to continue their training and education." Lilu offered somewhat diffidently and returned her attention to Ramsha'ka.
Uhura was taken aback by the matter-of-factness of Lilu's reaction to the adorable children.
/ Ah, Nyota, this shocks you? / Anat asked in Uhura's mind, the curiosity evident even without speech.
/ I guess it does, Anata'ka. Humans are naturally attracted to children. They bring out our protective and nurturing instincts. That doesn't seem to be the case here. / Uhura offered in bewilderment.
/ Oh it is, Nyota, but only in Menage. They devote their whole lives to nurturing--children, the sick, the elderly, the lonely. It fulfills their soul to care for others. We Aristocrats see children as someone to mold for later leadership. Our love is triggered by finding the one who best represents our ideals. It is a different love than the Menage, but just as strong. /
Uhura was quiet for a moment, trying to process this Potakai version of love, something quite alien to her idea of affection.
/ It is far different than Human love--at least from what I have observed between you and Zhames. /
At Uhura's shocked glance, the Dowager gave a knowing smile and continued.
/ I see many levels of emotions between you and each is considered a form of love by one or both of you: guardian, nurturer, student, teacher, friend and yes--even lover. /
If anyone could have seen in the darkness, they would have noticed the deep blush that burned Uhura's cheeks.
/ I experience through your thoughts what friendship and admiration mean. It is alien to me but one I can compare to the Aristocrat's need to balance power with someone, or a quiet lust for something we lack when trying to find that balance. I know it isn't the same, but it is the closest approximation I can make from my own culture. /
Uhura looked at Kirk, studying him as he quietly continued cutting the meat off the spit. They were nearly through with the children and were now beginning to feed the elder Menage in attendance. Power. Was she attracted to the man or the power he held?
/ Nyota, it is both of course. / Anat answered her thought--unmindful or uncaring that she was raiding Uhura's mind.
/ Zhames is a powerful presence in his own right. His titles make him more so. But I know his power frightens you just as much as it attracts you. The drive and ambition he possesses make you feel lacking and nervous, as if you think he expects you to exhibit them just as strongly. /
/ Wouldn't he? / Uhura challenged back in her thoughts. It was the question that blocked her from ever seeing more than a professional future between them. His intensity pushing her past her limits--wanting and expecting her to achieve more than she was ready to handle right now.
/ Yes, in time he would. He would expect you to keep up with him, or even outpace him, and that is what you fear. You are not afraid of challenge, but you don't like to lead. You prefer to solve the problems and handle the details--something he esteems--but it does not engage his passions. /
/ I know all of this, so why can't I get him out of my thoughts? / Ny asked in near desperation. Hearing her worst fears confirmed by one who 'knew' the truth was just as painful as ramming a dagger through her heart.
/ Nyota, you only have to look at him to see he has much to offer as a mate. His looks, charm, intelligence, sense of humor and integrity act as magnets. As one of his officers, you have pledged your loyalty to him as well. Do not berate yourself because your mind and body respond to what is before them. Yet, understand and accept there are limitations, and always will be, to your relationship. It is not fair, but if you are both true to your natures, it is the reality of your lives. /
Reality, there, Anata'ka had said it. The reality of their lives - to dance and circle around each other, to accept the attraction and the futility of happiness if pursued. She would have to leave his side, his safety, and go out on her own in order to grow and mature--to become his equal. Did she have the determination to do such a thing? Did she want to become someone more than who she was right now just to be considered worthy? It sounded harsh to think it, but she now understood that he would never see her as his equal--personally or professionally--as long as she stayed in his shadow. But was that so bad? Being in his shadow meant she was in his inner circle and protection, something she would dearly miss if she left on a quest to become somebody else.
Strange, Ny thought, to be willing to accept a lesser role in the life of one you cherished, but at the same time, indignant that he could not see all your facets unless you distanced yourself from him. Strange, to be willing to accept the periphery of his affections rather than play hostess to them all, to run from the idea of being his equal because you feared the total loss of your real identity. Those anomalies plagued her thoughts and played havoc with her emotions.
She had achieved the goal she had set for herself: to be out amongst the stars. Now, at twenty-eight, she was already the head of her own department and a staple of the alpha bridge crew. Promotion risked all of that - the stars, Enterprise, her position on the bridge - any bridge. Unless she transferred to Command track, something she had no desire to do, a promotion within her field of expertise would likely send her to the Academy as a teacher or to the fringes of space at a forward listening post.
None of those options appealed to her at this point in her life. No, she had already attained her best destiny and was determined to stay where she was. There were many ways to measure a career and Uhura chose fulfillment over rank. That her desires might suffer from such a choice, she had no doubt, but the risk of losing all her dreams for the possibility of claiming the best one was too great.
Anat listened silently as Nyota argued with herself. Witnesses came forward - the risks, the rewards, the pain and the pleasures - all testifying before the judge in her brain. Her heart presented evidence from the past three months and the last three nights, urging in favor of love. Logic countered that her love would be unrequited once the mission was over and she would risk everything if she could not accept that fact. It offered that Kirk had no room in his life for a flesh and blood woman so long as he had Enterprise. Deliberations were arduous, the jury nearly declared a mistrial before the verdict was announced: career and duty.
Uhura felt a consoling squeeze of her hand, the darkness hiding the sympathetic gesture from the Dowager. There were no words in her head, but soothing warmth washed over her whole body, offering much more support than the physical touch.
"So it is our turn to be served." Anat spoke out loud, bursting the bubble that had sequestered the Human and the Potakai from everyone else.
"I hope Ramsha picked a big enough goi. I don't relish chewing on hooves or tail." She grumbled quietly but Uhura knew it was just a part of her act.
"Grandmother, you have nothing to worry about." Lilu spoke softly as they neared the front of the line. "Ramsha would slay another goi before serving you such."
Uhura could see Anat roll her eyes at the earnestness of Lilu's speech by the light from the torches staked out near the pit. The expression clearly implying that sarcasm was such a wasted effort with this one. However, once they stood in front of Ramsha'ka to receive their portion, all flippancy from the dowager was gone. They accepted the proffered meat in humbleness and dignity.
Nyota stole a glance at Kirk as she accepted her gift from Ramsha and was graced with a small bow of his head and the hint of a smile. Again, a soothing warmth infused her, but this time it was her own reaction to him rather than an outside presence. Their connection was broken as a slight murmur began from the back of the crowd, bodies parted, revealing the entrance of the three ancient crèche mothers.
"Old, upstaging dumas" was muttered by Anata'ka, who received a severe stare from Ramsha'ka.
The elders kept their slow pace as they struggled through the sand to the fire pit, leaning heavily on their walking sticks. Kirk and Ramsha'ka quickly sliced another platter of meat from the greatly reduced carcass. Ramsha took great care and was very formal as he served the eldest mother - reverse rank was ignored here. Nyota did not know if their sudden appearance at the end of the ceremony was per protocol or a declaration of power. She gathered from Anat's reaction that it was the latter. As the eldest mother accepted her serving, she turned her eyes on Kirk, the glow from the torch casting him in warm golds and stark shadow. Kirk held her stare but bent low at the waist, giving her a true, if somewhat impertinent bow.
"Humph, young Human, make yourself useful and help this old mother to a seat near the chee." She demanded imperiously, but more as a tired old woman than an angry one.
Kirk stepped up smartly and relieved her of the plate, allowing the old woman to take hold of his arm. Between his solid support and her cane, she made good time to a near bench. A cupful of chee was already there waiting for her. Once he had her comfortable, the old woman bade him to go and escort the other mothers over to her roost. He obliged under her quiet scrutiny as well as Anat's.
Uhura could feel the tension in the air between the two women as they locked eyes for a moment when Kirk passed between them. The stare was broken as Kirk escorted the second woman back to a seat near the first mother. Again, he ensured she was settled and provided for before he left to attend to the last of the three. As the last woman was seated next to her sisters, a few words were exchanged between Kirk and the women. Uhura could not hear the exchange, but she was sure the Dowager was eavesdropping, as the subtle relaxation of Anat's posture seemed to indicate she was relieved and satisfied with what was said.
Only when the last mother was served and seated did Ramsha'ka and Kirk serve themselves and take seats in the sand near Lilu'ka and Uhura. Nyota was sure it had been torture to Kirk to stand over the fire pit for so long; the heat was bad, but to stand so near the delicious meat and not even sample it was worse. He gave her a tired grin and a wink before tearing into the meat on his plate, eagerly accepting the mug of chee that someone passed over to him.
Once the ceremony was finished, the mood of the crowd relaxed. Anyone still hungry was encouraged to go and serve themselves all they wanted. In short order the carcass was clean and hoisted away from the firepit, leaving glowing coals that were quickly stoked with new wood to a roaring fire. The heat did wonders to counter the chill breeze blowing in from the sea. The entire crèche soon gathered in a circle around the newfound warmth. Pitchers of chee were passed through the crowd. No one was particularly in charge, but everyone was assured of enough to drink. The heady brew tingled the throat as one swallowed. Now, they were all warmed on the inside as well as without.
The entertainment started out as dancing by the youngsters, with everyone laughing at their antics. As the night waned on, the children relinquished the spotlight to a much more mesmerizing dance conducted by a company of Menage females. Their graceful dancing was accompanied by seductive borunjee music that touched deep into the primitive centers of both Potakai and Human. It suddenly became clear to Ny what 'comfort to the lonely' meant when Anata'ka had used those words to describe a function of Menage fulfillment.
The dancing remained relatively chaste until the crèche mothers retired for the night, attendants and sleepy children in tow. However, once freed from those constraints, the movements became more sensual and explicit. There was no touching, not that it mattered, their gyrations were enough to enflame any passions--Human or Potakai. Several couples stole off into the night, no longer able to resist their own desires.
Nyota felt her own pulse quicken as she watched the nubile bodies dance in the fire's glow. The music aroused their brains instead of relaxing them as it had the time before. A quick glance toward Kirk found him lost in the erotic performance, his eyes tracked each dancer as she swayed past him. Attempting to combat the carnal feelings that threatened to engulf her, Nyota was having even more difficulty reconciling the open display of sexuality before them. Considering the strict taboos Potakai placed on public displays of affection, this entertainment seemed so contradictory.
/ The crèche is not public, Nyota / Anat murmured in her mind. Kirk sat up straighter and glanced her way, obviously hearing the Dowager as well.
/ We are all family here and tonight we celebrate the circle of life with our crèche mates. We have provided for, shown honor and laughed with everyone. All these things you have witnessed, but the core of the crèche is love--it strengthens the crèche--renews it. Tonight's dance is a celebration of Ramsha's crèche and its renewal. These Menage are not lewd, they are just enticements for the lonely. Loneliness can crush the crèche--smother it. Tonight you will celebrate and experience the renewal with us. /
Anata'ka became quiet as a few more couples wandered off into the night. Uhura was more than willing to leave if Kirk gave any encouragement, but two dancers recaptured his attention as they gyrated across the sand and over each other. Their movements were wanton and in sync with the pulsing beat of the music as they rubbed bodies.
A more subtle movement caught Uhura's eye as she saw Chota'di come in from the dark and sit down next to Anat--near but not touching her. She observed as he casually watched the dancers, but his eyes kept returning to Anat's face. The Dowager was wrapped up in the dancing before her and appeared not to be aware of his glances.
Eventually he looked across the fire pit and noticed Nyota staring at him. The firelight shone off the Warrior's taut body and started a new fire within Uhura. She attempted to give him a friendly smile, but was afraid there was more lust than friendship wrapped in it. He tried to return the smile, but there was too much sadness in his expression for it to be a success.
Uhura realized tonight might be his last night on Potakai. Tomorrow would bring a change of power and the end of his duties as he saw it. Bitterness and rage flushed over her for a moment at such a loss of life and talent. She knew he did not feel the same way but she could not help how she felt. He had told her all he felt was regret for leaving Anat alone once again.
Nyota caught his eye again and gestured downward slightly with her head. She reached out and discreetly, but in full view of the Warrior, captured Kirk's hand in her own. She turned and smiled into Kirk's hungry eyes as he returned a gentle squeeze of her hand, stroking her palm suggestively with his thumb. Pretending to watch the dancers, Nyota turned back to the fire and Chota's gaze. She motioned with her head that now it was his turn; he seemed shocked and sat back for a moment. Uhura continued to stare at his spot in the shadow until he once again sat forward. She willed him to act--to take this last opportunity to experience what he had only dreamed of.
Slowly, as if hypnotized, she watched as he inched his hand along the ground and stopped in the shadows. A slight jerk by Anat was all the evidence Uhura needed to know the Warrior had captured the hand of his love. The couple was utterly still, their eyes staring at the dancers, but focused on nothing. They sat there, transfixed for several minutes before Anat stirred, bringing both hands into sight.
"Grandson, my bones grow weary sitting on the hard sand. I think I will retire for the night." Anata'ka announced in her normal cantankerous manner. Chota'di quickly stood to assist her up and escort her back to the palace.
"Yes, Grandmother." Ramsha'ka remarked dreamily. He had problems drawing his attention away from the dancers to focus on the elder woman.
"Do you need my assistance back to the Palace, Grandmother?" He finally managed to ask.
"No-" She bit back quickly, then on a more even note continued "Chota'di got me here and I see no reason why he can not get me back."
Now standing, she gestured farewell to her grandchildren and the humans.
"Goodnight, young ones. Do not tarry too long--leave enough of the night for the dancers to celebrate with the Warriors." She chided suggestively and so carefully drawing attention away from the fact that she was leaving with her own handsome Warrior.
Anat glanced once at them all in turn, but Uhura felt her eyes linger when she looked at her. Chota'di kept his distance until she turned to leave, then he took Anat's arm and helped her into the darkness. Nyota smiled to herself, thinking that perhaps tonight the general would achieve one more victory.
They excused themselves from Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka in short order once Anat left the celebration. Uhura was thankful for the warmth of their apartments; the bikini and sarong hardly kept her warm once they left the protective circle of the bonfire. During the walk back she tucked in close to Kirk, stealing his body heat and stoking fires the dancers had ignited with their dancing.
The apartment was quiet and the lights were turned down low. Nyota was unsure if the staff had retired for the night or had yet to return from their own celebration. In any case, she was thankful for the privacy; it allowed her to keep her focus on the man in front of her. As they reached the bedroom, Kirk turned and captured her in his arms, pulling her against him and kissing her hungrily. Nyota returned the kiss just as passionately, pulling his head down and bruising her lips against his. She felt his hands roam down her back and possessively cup her buttocks, grinding her against his obvious erection. Kirk finally pulled away, allowing Nyota to catch her breath.
"I've waited all night to do that." Jim whispered against her temple as he continued to stroke her body.
"I've waited all night for you to do it too." She laughed seductively in his ear.
"But, you know, I think you need a shower. Wood smoke and roast goi is not the best cologne you could wear." Uhura chided playfully as she pushed his cover up shirt off his shoulders.
"No? I thought I might take some back to the ship with me." He grinned down at her.
"No, that wouldn't be wise." Nyota replied against his lips as she slipped her hands into his trunks and finished undressing him.
She stepped back to admire his form and realized he was swinging her bikini top nonchalantly around one finger and her sarong wrap was just so much crumpled cloth on the floor.
"I hate to shower alone and since you're practically undressed, why don't you join me?" He asked with that little boy grin turned on high.
"Oh, I don't know--but I do seem to be ready for it." Ny stared evilly at him for his sleight-of-hand tactic before showing a worried smile. "I'm sure I have sand in places I'd rather not think about."
"Well, we can't have that. Let’s go do something about it." Kirk's smile turned from playful to incorrigible.
Uhura wished her bathroom on Enterprise was a tenth of the size of theirs on Potakai. The wall sconce lights were turned down low in this room as well. The overhead lights were embedded in the top of the waterfall that functioned as the shower, their small, but intense beams caused the fringe droplets to glow like fireflies. The water was warm and pounding in the center of the fall, tapering off to a gentle mist on either edge. The haze reminded her of a San Francisco fog--only warmer.
Nyota quickly peeled her bikini bottom off and joined Jim under the falls. She admired his body as he stood in the center of the deluge, water sluicing over his broad shoulders and washing any sand from his skin. Uhura stepped in closer to him, allowing the warm thunder to strip her skin clean of any clinging quartz as well.
Eventually, if only to catch their breath, they moved to a gentler spot in the flow. She wanted to leap on him, crucify herself on the erection she was desperately trying to ignore. Instead, Uhura scooped a handful of scented soap and began to run her hands across Jim's body. She caressed him, inch by inch, covering him in rich foam. She lathered his hair, turning it white before beginning her southward trek. Picking up what passed for a sponge on Potakai, Nyota rubbed it sensually over his soaped chest, then moved around to his back so she could lather it as well. She touched every part of his body with either the sponge or her hands, working from his chest and back, downward to his firm cheeks and muscled thighs. As she finally touched his firm organ, a strangled moan pushed past his lips and a slight shudder racked his solid frame. Uhura gave her full attention to his pulsing member, sliding her soapy hands firmly along his shaft only to follow with the wicked softness of the sponge. She wrapped the sponge around him, pulling it forward and back in slow, deliberate motion.
With a growl, Kirk reached out and grabbed Uhura, lifting her with negligible effort. He carried her through the roar of the falls to brace her against the slanting wall at the back of the cascade. Finally provoked past reason, he took possession of her mouth with his as he pushed his way into her. Ny moaned deep into Jim's mouth as he thrust all the way in, wrapping her legs around his waist, greedily trying to take all of him. His fingers found her and began their insistent stroking as he slammed into her. She was already so near the edge that his mere touch was enough to push her over. She cried out and bucked hard against him, grinding down on the spear pinning her against the wall. Her climax triggered Kirk's and he shook violently as he came hard within her. Still inside her, he pulled back, looking a little sheepish as she smiled up at him through bruised lips.
"That's quite a sponge bath technique you have, Penda."
"The better to clean you with, My Dear." She purred up to him.
Jim looked around and found the sponge, carefully sliding down, taking Uhura with him to retrieve it from the floor. He stood back up and wedged her against the wall again. He took the sponge, still sudsy from his bathing, and began to caress her body with its softness. He stroked her neck and breasts as he worked down to her flat belly. Wringing the soap out of it into a mound of white bubbles, he ran his fingers through her curly patch. Re-excited by his actions, he pulled away from her and then gently pushed back in. Uhura held him against her with her legs, burying him and holding him deep inside her. She leaned in from her spot against the wall, pulling him down to meet her halfway, taking his lower lip between her teeth and claiming it as hers. He moaned into her mouth and picked her up again. Her legs still locked around his waist, he moved to the edge of the deep pool, walking down the ramp until they were neck-deep in the water.
The water was warmer here; steam rose lightly off its surface. Kirk walked her back against the pool edge and sat her on the sub-surface ledge he found there. The floor of the pool slanted and he found just the right spot where she was the perfect height for him.
Sponge forgotten, his hands moved over her body, enflaming it with new passion. He kneaded her breasts, leaning down to suckle and tug her nipples till she let out a moan. He pushed in, holding her in place as he slid his hands down her back and pulled her against him. Ny lost herself in the sensations, grinding herself against him and whispering for him to finish her off. Jim massaged between her legs as he rocked against her, sending Penda over the waterfall again. She held him close as spasm after spasm shook her body.
The steaming water became too much, the heat more than she could take after the blaze that had just engulfed her. She pushed him away and walked Jim out of the water. Taking a handful of large towels, Ny draped them across the floor and pushed Kirk down onto his back atop the makeshift bed. She quickly followed, straddling his hips and settling herself back upon him. It felt so perfect, so where he belonged. Ny rocked herself on him, leaning down and kissing him hard, bullying her tongue into his mouth and challenging his to a duel.
Suddenly, she found herself on her back and he was over her, buried deep and thrusting hard. Ny pulled her legs up and locked them around his back. He slammed into her forcefully and she felt herself ready to go again. As he pressed in deeply once more, she squeezed her legs and held him there, crying out in renewed ecstasy. A few thrusts more and Jim joined her, his own moans muffled by her lips.
Ny lay there in the oblivion of afterglow, thought and reason only slowly finding their way back into her consciousness. She ignored the tiny voice telling her this man wasn't hers --would never be. He had made love to her like they belonged to each other. Her body responded to him like a trusted lover, his strength and aggressive passion exciting it instead of dredging up memories of her last rough handling. She refused to hear the whisper reminding her their mission was nearly over, that they must return to their lives as Captain and Lieutenant. Instead, she clung to him, trying to keep some part of him forever.
Jim lifted himself from her sudden embrace to look into her eyes, concern evident in his own. She knew he saw the tears well up in hers, but tried to put on a brave face by giving him a tremulous smile. He gave her a sad one in return before leaning down and gently kissing the tears away. Silently, he stood and pulled Ny up with him, walking her to the gentle side of the waterfall and allowing it to rinse them clean once more. Ny let him do with her as he willed, not able to resist his tenderness. He wrapped her in a towel and took her to their bed, settling with her amongst the warm covers. He curled up against her back, pulling Ny tightly against him, letting his hand cup her breast. Captured by his comforting embrace, she felt a soft kiss against her hair as she cried herself to sleep.
The morning found Uhura awakening to Jim's worried eyes. A soft smile turned the corners of his mouth up as he realized she was looking back at him. A tentative hand reached up to caress her cheek, unsure if it would be welcomed after her meltdown the night before.
It was welcome--that was the problem--but it would not be offered so lovingly once they were back on Enterprise--that was the problem. That she had just resolved yesterday to pursue her own idea of a career over love and had seen it melt under his kiss--that was the problem. That she knew all of this before he had ever touched her--that was the problem. Ny closed her eyes and leaned into his touch, grateful for the closeness and ashamed of her need for it at the same time.
"Good morning, Penda. Can we talk about last night?" Jim asked tenderly, but Nyota was under no illusion that she could deny him.
"If we must," was as much as she dared challenge. The balance between personal and professional had become confused, twisted, merged. She could no longer tell the difference--that was the problem.
"I think we need to; we're almost out of time--" his voice cracked with emotion. He stopped to compose himself before continuing.
"A lot has happened during these last three months. Some of it I hope you forget. Some of it I hope you remember forever, but we need to come to an understanding of what we are to each other."
Nyota held her breath, waiting for the worst of it.
"Last night I made love to a beautiful, passionate woman, a woman who was unafraid of my demands, a woman who had no problem taking what she wanted. I think this is the woman you were before Bengali--the woman we both want back on the Bridge. But she's not the woman I can allow myself to know away from the Conn. Is that why you cried last night?"
His eyes bored into Uhura's, trapping her with no chance of escape. Her heart was in her throat and she could not catch her breath. She forced herself to sit up, grabbing a pillow and hugging it to her chest, rocking herself back and forth in an instinctively comforting move.
"Yes--no--I don't know--" she finally blurted out, struggling to breathe but refusing to cry. No, he would not see those tears again.
"I love how you love me and I'm going to miss it. I came down here frightened that my career was gone--that my whole life was gone. The mere idea of a man touching me sent me into hysteria--but you changed all of that. Your touch healed me and gave me back everything I thought I'd lost."
Mustering the courage to look at him, she asked, "How could I not want you? How can I let that go?"
Kirk's eyes were laced with pain; he had no answers for her. Sitting up to face her, he murmured, "I'm sorry." His hand moved toward Ny's face, but he caught himself before touching her. A kindness of a sort--to withhold what she could no longer have.
A soft tapping at the door brought them both to attention. Nyota lay back against her pillows, draping the sheets over her nakedness. She composed her face into a tight smile as she heard Kirk beckon the staff to enter. Her heart was in a clench, but she refused to let it be visible. It seemed as if she had no choice but to become a master of this mask.
The morning was a rush of activity. Pahzj and Nesz flitted about, busily organizing wardrobe for the day, chatting about yesterday's celebration and today's ceremony as the humans ate breakfast in relative silence. Kirk stepped out on the balcony to check in with Spock, seeking a modicum of privacy from their enthusiasm. Late in the morning the Protocol Minister came by to discuss their roles in the ceremony.
"-- We plan to beam the ceremony throughout the Potakai system, Mister Ambassador." Minister Garan'ka continued in his rush of the details.
"I'm sure it will be available to your ship and the Federation at large if they choose to watch. This is, after all, our first coronation in over three hundred years. There will be a processional from the Torga grounds to the Audience Hall proper, so those unable to attend can still feel a part of it and pay respect to their liege lords. The Households will participate in the processional, led by their lord and marching into the Hall in reverse rank order. Of course, this is where you and Lady Uhura come in; you will lead in the Torga palace household--"
"Excuse me?" Kirk, glancing at Uhura, cut in, looking confused at what he had just heard the minister say.
"You and Lady Uhura will lead in the Torga Household." Seeing the confusion still evident on both humans' faces, he chose to elaborate, thinking perhaps that he was the one misinformed.
"Ambassador, you did participate in the Goi serving ceremony last night?" At Kirk's nod, but lack of understanding, the minister continued.
"I'm sorry, I would have thought all of the significance of that would have been explained to you before the ritual. Please allow me to clarify. By sharing in the ritual, you become a member of Ramsha'ka's crèche - and as highest ranking member, his de facto heir - if something should befall him before naming a true heir."
Kirk's eyebrows climbed high in shock and Nyota gasped in surprise.
"However, as it relates to today's ceremony, you become his surrogate in the processional. He, along with Lady Lilu'ka and the Dowager, will await your entry and then your ascent to the dais as members of the actual ceremony."
At Kirk's continued quiet and look of nonplus, the minister stuttered.
"Ambassador, I assure you it is the highest honor of respect Ramsha'ka has bestowed upon you."
"I'm sure it is Minister Garan'ka--we just had no idea of this tremendous honor we've been given. It would have been more fortuitous to discuss with my superiors prior to accepting such esteem." Kirk answered delicately, all the while thinking what the Hell had he gotten himself into now? Heir? Heir? He could just hear the lecture about staying objective and removed from a host planet -- much less the spin coming out of his detractor's mouths now -- no worries, if captaining became too difficult, he could just retire to run his star empire…right.
Was Anat so worried about the possibility of assassination that she felt compelled to paint him as a better target? That was the real issue here - whom would she rather sacrifice to protect her world? Ramsha'ka, whom Anat expected to lead the people into her vision of the future, or Kirk, whom she expected to give them the future? He had his answer.
"I'm truly sorry, Ambassador. I'm sure it never crossed Ramsha'ka's mind that you might need to clear such an honor with the Federation. The title is a personal choice, one bestowed upon you as a person, not the role of Federation Ambassador. It is a matter of pono tomau; Potakai do not question such bonds. They form, they exist, they are accepted."
"Yes, Minister, I understand. It is just unexpected. Thank you for the education." Kirk answered graciously, but Uhura could tell he was far from happy with this change of events.
Truth be told, neither was she. Why hadn't Anat or Ramsha told them of this last night? Were they afraid Jim would have declined? Could he have? Would he have? The risk of something happening to him had just escalated one-hundredfold and it was all she could do to stay focused on the briefing of what was to come - at least, what they *knew* was to come.
Image mostly courtesy of the net.....
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Beta: Sincere gratitude goes to: Nyotava, Bandicca, Zapp and Trekskitten for such wonderful betaing! Each of them brought fresh insight and used their unique expertise to make this story a reality.
Summary: A sequel to "My Faith in You," addressing Uhura's recovery from a brutal attack and the depths of Kirk's commitment to keep her in his world.
Uhura stood up and assisted Anata'ka over the uneven footing of the warm sand. She was amazed at how delicately boned the taller woman seemed. As they neared the other pavilion, Anata'ka cautioned Uhura.
"Be warned, Child, we enter the realm of the crèche mothers. They are caretakers of the future. Their behavior is ancient and formal. They have never met an outsider. I warned them I would be bringing you, but their reaction is anyone's guess. The crèche is the most protected and sanctified place to a Potakai, you should consider yourself honored to enter their presence."
Uhura quickly processed just how much trust Anata'ka was placing in her hands. Access to the inner realm of the Potakai was not a trifle offering. If she did something to offend the matriarchs, she not only embarrassed herself personally, but the Federation and Anata'ka as well.
"I am honored, Your Highness. I trust you will warn me if I should be about to falter?"
Anata'ka eyed Uhura speculatively before speaking. "Perhaps, Child. Sometimes one must earn the lesson to learn the lesson. It would be wise of you to remain silent unless the crèche mothers address you personally."
They entered the pavilion through gauze panels. The crèche mother tent was the only one that had chosen to keep some semblance of walls in place; preferring the meager protection of sheer panels from the sand and sun to the extra breeze.
Uhura immediately saw their reasoning. Pallet after pallet lined the soft sand, nestling a Potakai infant. At nearly every infant, a young Menage was seated by its side. A couple of the infants were awake, but quietly nursing at the breast of their caretaker.
Anata'ka remained silent, but bowed her head in respect to the younger women. Several flicked their shorn crests in quiet acknowledgement of the Empress. Some few cast a glance at Uhura, but gave no sign of greeting, instead returning to their tasks.
Anata'ka navigated the pathway between the pallets and the interior gauze panels that sectioned off the pavilion into other rooms, making her way to the innermost section. Uhura kept pace, staying just behind the elder Potakai as they passed several sections, each containing a different age-group of children. Most were taking a mid-afternoon nap, but a few raised their heads from their pallet and looked in quiet awe at the strange alien in their midst. Uhura could not help but give them a friendly smile in return. At the last gauze partition, Anata'ka stopped and spoke in a dialect Uhura did not understand.
"Wi lante do enium, Anat."
"Anat, sig do bi." Came the soft reply from the other side.
Anata'ka glanced at Uhura and motioned for her to follow. The gauze panels were thicker at this section and it took Uhura's eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness. Seated against the far wall, on a bed of cushions, were three wizened, ancient Potakai women. Their crests were practically non-existent and what feathers they had left were stark white. Yet, for however aged their bodies looked at first glance, Uhura quickly saw the keen intelligence in their eyes.
The eyes had locked on her and were now intently measuring every facet about her they could see. Uhura held her ground but dropped her eyes to the sand in a show of respect. She in no way wanted to assume a threatening or challenging manner. Having apparently passed her first test, the first matriarch dismissed Uhura from her attention and spoke to Anata'ka.
"Kes sul niv ceno sak, Anat?" She asked in a challenging tone.
"Doh chi kes masuruni, Kep 'dado." Anata'ka replied solemnly, with no translation for Uhura to follow. She gracefully sank to the cushions before them and motioned for Uhura to do the same.
They sat there for nearly an hour, speaking quietly and formally between themselves. Uhura was never acknowledged or included in any of the conversation. A servant brought tea and Anata'ka served Uhura before taking a cup for herself, thus ensuring she was included. Uhura waited patiently, listening to the ancient dialect, trying to piece together their meanings from the root sounds of their common everyday dialect.
It was difficult, but she gathered they were concerned with the passing of power to Ramsha'ka--not that he was unworthy, just that he was so young to assume power. There was also a major concern for joining the Federation. Again, not that they disagreed with the idea, but were more concerned as to its impact on their normal way of life.
At this point Anata'ka reminded them sarcastically that if three hundred years of war had not destroyed their way of life, then she hardly thought that a few humans could do so. At the rebuke, Uhura again felt under scrutiny from the old women, as if they were making that very determination now.
A steady cry had gone on for several minutes before turning into a loud wail in the outer chamber. A young Menage entered their room unannounced and brought the crying infant to the center-seated mother. The old woman took the infant as one with years of practice and began to try and soothe the distraught baby. The tender patting and cooing in its ear did not appear to please the infant. Instead, it yelled all the louder and started biting on its fingers. Uhura's heart went out to the baby and its distress. Finally, the matriarch sitting farthest away from Uhura spoke in a dialect Uhura could understand.
"Stranger, it is said your species bear and nurture only their own young. How do the masses benefit from such selfish behavior?"
Shocked by the direct challenge, Uhura looked at Anata'ka, but the dowager merely looked back at her, awaiting her reply.
"We do bear and raise our own young, but we are not cold to the children of others. If someone dies, or isn't capable of raising their own child, there are many who are honored to adopt them and raise them as their own. Because of that willingness, I challenge you to reconsider the claim of selfishness and consider us generous and responsive for the greater good."
The crèche mother arched her brow at the tone of Uhura's response, but did not seem offended.
"Then soothe this little one if you can. His wails are growing tiresome." The dominant mother spoke and sent the baby over to Uhura.
Uhura knew this was obviously a test to see if Humans really did have compassion for the children of others. She knew the crèche mothers could tell the baby was teething and was fretful because his gums were hurting. Uhura took the wailing baby in her arms and quickly put him up to her shoulder. She cooed in his ear and gently patted him on the back, trying to gentle the screaming infant. When that did not work, she turned to the attendant and asked for a piece of ice wrapped in a napkin.
The attendant glanced at the crèche mothers for approval before leaving to run the errand. She quickly came back and handed Uhura a small bowl of ice and a soft napkin. Uhura laid the baby across her knees in order to free up her hands and continued to jostle the baby in a steady rhythm. Grabbing a chunk of ice, she hastily tied it into a corner of the napkin and sat the baby back up, offering the cold tidbit to the wailing child.
The baby did not recognize that relief was as close as the numbing cold of the ice pacifier and continued to wail. Uhura placed the wrapped ice against the baby's gums and held it there over his protestations. Eventually, the baby suckled and calmed--only sobbing out of tiredness instead of pain. Uhura laid the infant down in the cradle of her lap and kept the steady bounce going as he teethed on the cold napkin. Soon his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep, exhausted from all the crying. Seeing the infant in sound slumber, the attendant scooped the baby from Uhura's lap and took him back to his pallet.
"How many children have you borne?" The nearer matriarch asked in approval of Uhura's success.
"None, Crèche Mother." Uhura bowed and answered quietly.
"Then how many have you raised that belonged to others?" She asked, apparently confused that her question was misunderstood.
"Again, none, Crèche Mother. My junior sibling is twelve years younger than me and I helped my mother take care of her."
"Anat, she will do. The Human proved she knew how to calm an infant more than a Citizen or an Aristocrat would know with so little exposure. We are pleased."
"That is good." Anata'ka acknowledged bluntly. "Ramsha'ka shall need your support to keep the households in order until all truly accept him. Our association with the Federation gives the Potakai an outward direction for our energies instead of inward."
The Empress glanced at Uhura and motioned for assistance in rising from the cushion. Uhura stood and gently assisted the old woman up from the sand. Regaining her regal posture, Anata'ka concluded their meeting.
"We thank you for the audience. Remember the goi and chee for tonight's meal. I will make sure plenty is sent to the pavilion if you choose to stay inside."
"Thank you, Your Highness. As always, the crèche is here to serve." The center mother answered humbly but was far from it. "We thank you for the generosity and may perhaps venture forth at dusk."
Uhura watched the two matriarchs dance around each other, each searching for leverage over the other in an attempt to establish complete dominance.
"Hai, Mother, Ramsha will enjoy his visits with you." Anata'ka laughed heartily.
The crèche mother smiled serenely. "I look forward to testing his mettle, Daughter."
Uhura was graced with a cursory, but respectful nod as they backed out of the room and made their escape. Once back out into the sunshine, Anata'ka let out a long sigh.
"Poor Ramsha'ka. He will take quite a beating from that one if he chooses to visit her alone. I must tell Lilu she should attend him. She understands them much better than he ever will."
She looked over at Uhura, eyeing her keenly for a minute.
"How did you know how to quiet the baby? I had no idea what was wrong with him." The elder Potakai confided.
Uhura smiled brightly at the genuine awe given to her by Anata'ka.
"Humans tend to each other’s children all the time, Your Highness. Teenagers baby-sit as a way of earning credits. And we are always conscripted into tending to our little brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews. Nearly everybody has some exposure to babies."
"Humph" the Dowager sniffed at hearing such magic was child's play.
"So it would seem. I prefer my exposure to be after they have passed such a needy phase."
Uhura laughed openly this time. "I know many parents who would agree with you."
Somewhat mollified by the humor, Anata'ka led them back to their own pavilion to gather up Lilu'ka. Glancing out to sea and watching as the three basc dutifully began their journey toward the sanctuary, Uhura smiled at the message she could guess Anata'ka was broadcasting.
Lilu in tow, they marched down to the water's edge, awaiting the arrival of the first basc. Ramsha'ka glided in on the back of a young bull and encouraged him into the shallows, exposing much of his body as he wedged into the sand.
"Oh! Are they beaching themselves? Will they be able to free themselves?" Uhura asked as she saw how close the giants came to the shore.
"Oh, don't worry, Nyota." Lilu answered sagely, she was thrilled to be the knowledgeable one for once. "They can come all the way on the beach and still get back into the water if they're really trying. And we have lots of muscle here if they get stuck."
Content to accept there was nothing to worry about, Uhura looked out to see Chota'di coming through the cleft while Kirk's basc was close behind. It really would be a tight fit for the head matriarch to get through the cleft too. As soon as the young ones saw the first basc enter the sanctuary, a mad dash was made toward the water. No sign of fear for something so massive was in evidence.
Uhura kept one eye on the little ones scrambling onto the young basc and the other one on Kirk's journey into the sanctuary. The water churned madly as the cow forced her way through the channel and Kirk hung on. Finally, seeking a wider path, the cow submerged, taking Kirk with her as she dove. Uhura was about to send out an alarm when both Kirk and the cow appeared on the surface, through the channel and much closer than before.
The largest basc glided into the beach and settled herself on the soft sand. A slew of children stopped in their assault on Chota'di's basc and aimed for the bigger creature instead. Uhura waded into the warm water, caught up in the exodus. She caught Kirk's eye and laughed at the 'kid in the candy store' look she got in return. She noted a few more bruises and scrapes, but could tell he was having the time of his life. As she neared the side of the huge beast, he reached down to pull her up onto its back.
"So, you ready to try basc riding?" He challenged playfully.
"I think I could do a decent job." She tossed back teasingly, all the while trying to restrain herself from touching him in front of all the children.
Young Potakai, most appearing to be between the ages of four and six, were quickly overrunning them. One of the older ones plopped into Kirk's lap and studied him intently.
"Who are you? Is this your basc? Where do you come from? Can we go for a ride?"
Kirk grinned down at the inquisitive youngster and answered him.
"My name is Jim. No, this basc belongs to Ramsha'ka. My home planet is called Earth in the Federation. And I think we will be swimming about the sanctuary as soon as everyone gets onboard."
"I want to go out there and ride the big waves." The little one challenged, unconcerned with the alien he had just met.
"What's your name?" Uhura asked the bold little fellow.
"His name is Dah and my name is Tel." Said an equally bold little girl as she pulled her way into Uhura's lap. The youngster had a short gold and indigo crest, along with yellow eyes and two missing front teeth.
"Nobody asked you your name." Dah informed the young upstager.
"Dah, that’s not a nice thing to say." Kirk gently chided the young man.
"Tel always has to get into whatever I do. She's just a baby and I get tired of her." He sighed in dramatic fashion.
Kirk tried to hide a grin, for Dah could barely be a year older than Tel.
"I understand, but as the older one, you must set an example and show her how to behave."
"Fine. Can we go riding now?" Dah asked, losing interest in the etiquette lesson.
"In just a little bit. Let's wait on the others." Kirk responded to his new friend.
He and Uhura watched as a swarm of children and their attendants climbed aboard. Uhura noted Anata'ka was sitting next to Chota'di and Lilu had even managed to climb aboard with Ramsha'ka. A more thorough look around those on their basc spied Nesz and Pahzj holding two youngsters apiece. Both Menage were grinning ear to ear, as excited as the children to be on the huge beast.
At some unknown signal, each behemoth began to inch their way backward into the deeper waters. Once back enough to regain buoyancy, they began a slow and measured journey around the sanctuary, somehow knowing the necessity of being gentle. Dah grew offended at the leisurely pace.
"Can't you make her go faster? This is for babies." He declared indignantly.
"I'm afraid not. She thinks this is best and I won't argue with her. We are carrying quite a few babies." Kirk commiserated with his self-appointed charge.
"I'm so tired of babies" He replied in disgust.
"You're only a little older than the rest of us." Uhura's ward chided.
Uhura grinned at Kirk. It was apparent that sibling rivalry was another universal constant. Dah gave her a look of contempt and nothing more. He sported all of his front teeth, but his crest was all gold and so were his eyes. Rolling those same eyes, he gave Kirk a look of long-suffering, to which the Captain was hard-pressed to keep his own look solemn.
"Sometimes the lessons take longer to sink in than you want. Be strong, you can endure it." Kirk smiled sympathetically at the youngster.
"Let me see if I can talk her into throttling it up a notch or two." He relented.
Uhura watched as Kirk shut his eyes for a second. Immediately, she heard a deep rumble emanate from the creature they were riding and a hard push from her tail sent them readily ahead of the other basc. A great cheer went up from the riders of the old cow as she pushed them ahead. She wasn't going that much faster, but to them she might as well have been going warp six.
Tel beamed at Uhura as they took the lead. "I like to win." She confided in guileless simplicity.
"Don't we all." Uhura grinned back.
After innumerable laps around the sanctuary, Ramsha beached his basc back on the shore. Much to the chagrin of everyone on Kirk's basc, the old cow eased herself onto the soft sand as well. Ramsha'ka yelled to Kirk that someone else would escort the basc back out of the cleft and back to their pen.
As Kirk slid off the big beast, he stared into her gentle eye and scratched above the bony ridge. She gave another deep rumble and flipped a fin at him, splashing him with water. Uhura waited as he bid farewell to yet another girlfriend.
"Just be glad I'm not the jealous type." She teased as they finally walked onto dry land.
"It would have never worked out." Kirk deadpanned. "I prefer daintier women."
Uhura rolled her eyes and just kept walking.
Once well onto the beach, Kirk laid down in the warm sand and just rested. However, he soon found himself conquered by Dah and Tel, both sitting on him as they had the old basc.
"So, what did you say you were?" Dah asked, deciding the alien he was sitting on now deserved some attention.
"I'm a Human, from the Federation." He answered with a grin.
"Why do you have feathers on your arms and legs?" Tel challenged as she rubbed the soft, blond hairs on his arm.
"And why is your crest so short? Are you Menage?" Dah continued the inquisition.
"I have 'hair' on my arms and legs because that is normal for a human. We come from a planet with much greater temperature extremes than Potakai. The hair helps keep us warm. I have a short crest because it is the custom of my people to keep it so. If I were to let it grow, it would eventually touch the ground just as the Dowager's crest does.
Not put off by his straight answers, Dah continued. "Why is your skin gold and hers is brown?"
"Because that is normal for humans. We come in many different skin colors, eye colors and hair colors--just as Potakai do." Kirk answered simply.
"Good, I like gold. You both look like the sun." Tel acknowledged with the innocence of childhood. "You are the morning sun and she is the same color as dusk."
"Well, we take that as a great compliment." Kirk grinned sweetly at the little Potakai.
"I think I will marry you when I grow up." She announced matter-of-factly as she began to fill a bucket with sand.
All of the elder Potakai who had been listening quietly to their conversation laughed at her innocent remark. Uhura glanced at him, as if to say 'there you go again.' Kirk gave her a challenging look back before answering the youngster.
"I would be honored to marry you when you're all grown up." He replied with ambassadorial solemnity.
"Good. Can I bury you in the sand?"
Everyone laughed at her segue into another topic, apparently quite over her betrothal.
Undone at the hands of a five-year-old, Kirk merely sighed. "Yes, Tel, please do. I think that's where I need to be right about now...."
The afternoon had continued on, from the burying in the sand to building sand fortresses, to swimming lessons in the shallow surf. Tel and Dah had attached themselves firmly to the two humans. It was very obvious they preferred them to the company of the others in their party. The feeling was mutual; the Aristocrats tolerated the children, but did not coddle them.
Later, during a frenzied beachball game, the youngsters sat near Anata'ka as she acted as only a 'slightly' biased field judge. Kirk and Ramsha'ka competed against Chota'di, Lilu'ka, Nyota and the young Aristocrat named Mek'ka. The unbalanced teaming hardly mattered, as it soon became obvious that Ramsha hated to lose just as badly as Kirk did. Neither showed any mercy. Not that Chota expected any, as a Warrior he had fought for every point, spiking and battling back as if the planet depended upon it. He seemed to particularly like to direct his counter-attacks at Kirk. Uhura thought perhaps it was in deference to his loyalty of Ramsha, but it quickly turned into a battle of wills couched in the guise of play. However, in the end, it was no contest and Chota'di gracefully accepted his defeat.
After the game, Ramsha and Lilu left to check on how the roasting of the goi was coming along. Anat returned to her pavilion to sit in the glow of the afternoon sun and patiently wait for Chota to check in with Command. She and Uhura talked quietly as Kirk was seduced into sleep by the droning of the waves. His head was propped against Uhura's lower legs. She knew he would have preferred to rest it in her lap but Potakai sensibilities would not have understood such an open display of closeness. While they were an open and extroverted species by nature, the telepathic bonds between mates made physical displays of affection unnecessary. Therefore, they were considered more intimate and private. Even mild displays were considered risqué and wanton, not something done in polite company. That was why there was such ritual involved in courtly society. It was ironic to the humans that talking about deeply intimate behavior was not considered lewd to the Potakai, but a friendly kiss was.
The sun was definitely on its decline when Kirk sat up from where he had collapsed in sleep after the game had ended.
"So Zhames, you choose to join us again?" Anat remarked with only mild sarcasm.
"Why yes, Your Highness, I do. I think the General exacted more of a victory than he knows." Kirk quipped as he stretched out the kinks in his back and took assessment of the burns on his elbows and knees. Sand was not soft when you were sliding across it in pursuit of a ball.
"I'm sure he would be delighted in your misery, Zhames." She grinned in open acknowledgement of Chota'di's resentment of Kirk.
"Of that, I have no doubt." Kirk replied ruefully; he would much prefer to be on Chota's good side. His eyes turned toward the sea and a soft sigh escaped his lips.
"All in good time, Zhames. Is that not the phrase?" She answered his unspoken thought. She paused for a moment, cocking her head and watching Kirk look longingly at the sea before she spoke again.
"This is an excellent beach to walk on." She began with much casualness. "There is nothing but sand between here and the point. Why don't you and Nyota make good use of the time before the goi is ready? It is tradition not to eat until full dark."
Uhura watched as Kirk turned and locked eyes with Anat's at the mention of the beach. Her phrasing seemed to mean something to him. Tenseness suddenly appeared in his posture, only to slowly drain away; he seemed to reflect upon her suggestion.
"A considered thought, Your Highness." He replied noncommittally.
It was obvious there was more meaning to their exchange, but Uhura had no idea what it was. For a tiny moment Kirk's eyes showed a bottomless depth. The look, so fleeting, was layered with a vortex of emotions, but loneliness, vulnerability and resignation were the most prominent.
"Penda, would you care to join me for a walk on the beach?" A wistful, but melancholy, smile played across his lips as he spoke.
Again, Uhura sensed there was more to the question than what he asked, but it did not matter, she would gladly follow where he would lead. "I would love to, Jim." She smiled back tenderly.
At her words, his smile deepened and lit up his eyes. Uhura felt a click in her head as her world came into excruciating focus. As if, for a split second, they were back in the meld again with no boundaries between their thoughts, then it was gone, leaving her dizzy and overwhelmed. Uhura knew Kirk felt it too, his hand tremored like hers did when he helped her rise from the sand. He locked his fingers with hers and pulled her hand against his thigh, steadying them between their bodies.
Anat's turquoise eyes shone eerily as she watched them. Uhura was unable to decide if they were lit from the settling sun or some inner light. It unnerved her to think she might be the catalyst of their connection, but even more so to think Anat felt the intimacy that passed between them.
"Go enjoy yourselves, Children. The sunlight does not last forever." Anat admonished, motioning for them to be gone. She now appeared as any well-meaning matchmaker, gone was the supernatural persona Uhura had felt just a moment before.
To their distancing backs, she called out. "Remember to be back in time for the goi--it is very important to Ramsha that you share in the ritual serving ceremony."
Kirk waved a hand that he understood her reminder and kept going toward the surf. At the sight of the roused humans heading for the sea, two little Potakai broke from the cover of their pavilion and ran toward them. They caught up with them as the humans turned to begin their trek along the edge of the surf. Several sets of Menage eyes followed the youngster's charge and froze in indecision of what to do. Children were the wards of the Menage and humans were not Menage. Furthermore, humans did not raise children communally and a stab of fear flew through their caretakers as the little ones approached the human male. Regardless of the fact that they had interacted all day with the humans, it was a totally different thing for the children to be left alone in their company.
"Wait! Wait for us!" Dah yelled as he outdistanced Tel in his dash to catch the humans.
Uhura turned around just in time to brace her body as he attached himself to her leg. She laughed at his enthusiasm, squatting down to hug him and wait for the shorter legged Tel. Glancing back at the alerted Menage, she looked down at the youth in her non-existent lap.
"Did you get permission to come with us Dah?" She asked cautiously, looking at Kirk and motioning with her eyes at their many witnesses.
At that moment, Tel caught up and launched herself at Kirk. He caught her in mid-leap and settled her against his hip.
"We want to go with you." She panted breathlessly.
"That would be nice, but we must be sure your mothers have given their approval." Jim spoke softly into the adoring face of his 'future bride'.
Uhura saw an attendant come out of the crèche tent and bow low toward them. As one, the Menage on alert sat down and seemed to dismiss them from their thoughts.
"I would say we just got their blessings." Uhura remarked dryly. She let go of the breath she had been holding, amazed at the acquiescence of the crèche mothers.
Grinning toothlessly, Tel scrambled out of Kirk's arms and joined Dah as he ran ahead of them, searching the beach for gifts from the sea. Kirk grinned at Uhura, shrugging his shoulders at the additions to their party. Uhura laughed as he took her hand and began their journey once again.
They walked in silence for a long while; each caught up in their own thoughts and content with the quiet. Occasionally, one or both of the children would run up to them to share a find. Uhura quickly had to tie up an edge of her sarong into a makeshift tote to collect all of the 'treasures' they suddenly just could not live without.
Tel fell down once and scraped her knee; no blood was drawn, but she cried and demanded to be carried. Uhura watched as Kirk diligently attended to her injury and lifted her effortlessly into his arms before again taking Uhura's hand and continuing their walk. Tel nestled herself against him and settled in for a good cry. Kirk shushed her tears and spoke soothing words to his ward, not the least bit annoyed with his over-dramatic burden.
Uhura smiled at what a tender picture they made. So often Kirk appeared intense and demanding, hardly the gentle father-figure she saw before her now. He caught her smiling at him and she could tell by his blush that he realized what had provoked her grin.
"And I know how to change diapers too." He whispered defensively, as if daring her to say anything.
Uhura laughed, but kept any remarks to herself. Tel soon decided she was well and wiggled until Kirk stooped to let her down to join Dah once again. As he stood back up, he sighed in his own melodramatic way.
"They grow up so fast." He grinned at her, but Uhura sensed his performance was a way of hiding a real regret. She locked her eyes with his, squeezing his hand in consolation of both the real and pretended sadness. He broke contact first; turning to watch the ocean for several paces before looking back at her, his eyes once again shuttered from her scrutiny.
Trying to lighten the mood, Uhura teased, "I believe your injuries deserve more pampering than Tel's."
Kirk smiled and did a quick double take at the various bumps, bruises and scrapes he had accumulated during the basc riding and beachball game. Watching the kids run farther up the beach, he grinned slyly as he asked. "Which one do you want to kiss and make better?"
"Do I have to pick just one?" She asked innocently, then continued in a sympathetic tone. "I sure hope Anata'ka knows how to restore a bruised ego. You and Ramsha'ka certainly trounced Chota'di's during the game."
Kirk glanced at her in surprise, his grin gone.
"Uhura, I didn't play that rough for my own sake. You understand that, don't you?" He continued without waiting for her response. It seemed very important to him that she understood his point of view.
"This society does not understand equality as we know it. Anata'ka has made the first attempt to ally her people in a relationship as equals with the Federation. I doubt even Anat truly understands what an equal is--she's never had one. They have a hierarchy in all their relationships. It's a scary thought, something they nearly can't comprehend. Only Anat and Ramsha have accepted me without reservation.
To the people here, I *am* the Federation. I can't afford to show weakness or our alliance is doomed before it even gets started. Every governor and council member has challenged me at some point or other. I've had to stand my ground without trying to appear dominant. I must make them see we can co-exist without a challenge for power.
Chota'di sees me as a threat because I don't kowtow to Anata'ka. To him, if I'm not a vassal, I'm an enemy. Rationally, he understands I mean her no harm, but emotionally and instinctively, I raise his hackles. I'm up against thousands of years of culture and biology."
"Yes, you're right." She stammered, caught off guard by his seriousness and his perception of the Potakai.
"It's just that I have been welcomed with open arms by everyone--even Chota'di. I had no idea of how you were being treated during your meetings. I knew there was some friction between you and the General, but I thought it was more because he sensed you as another Warrior and not an Aristocrat."
"I'm sure that plays into it as well." Kirk nodded, agreeing with her assessment. "Perhaps more so for him than the others. To the Potakai, you are my consort, therefore, under my protection. They perceive your loyalty is to me and would never confront you directly. Potakai loyalties are realigned when a ruler is toppled by the emergence of a stronger leader."
He spoke earnestly to her, making sure she understood the consequences. "That is why Anata'ka is so worried about the ceremony tomorrow. Will the governors remain loyal to Ramsha'ka once he ascends the throne? Or will their membership into the Federation be too much for them to accept? They have hardly adjusted to peace within their system and now they must learn to accept hundreds of cultures as equal to their own. Ramsha has a difficult dilemma--he must be strong enough to capture the governors’ loyalty, but open enough to accept strangers as equals at the same time. I don't envy him that task."
Uhura felt petty and small for not seeing what was now so painfully obvious. She had been too wrapped up in her own woes to see the bigger picture. She had not been an asset to this mission, but instead, a burden, distracting Kirk from what he must do and becoming another problem for him to deal with rather than supporting him. How could she have been so blind? Why had he not spoken to her sooner? She cringed inwardly at what he must really think of her as an officer. She stopped and pulled her hand away from his.
"I'm sorry, Captain." It was all she could think to say. She was ashamed and mortified for being found so lacking.
"Sorry for what?" Kirk asked in confusion. Why had she reverted to his title? Why did she look as if she was about to be sick?
"I was totally oblivious to that aspect of our mission, sir. Instead, I was more concerned about my personal situation." She answered smartly, relying on training to get her through the humiliation.
Realization dawned in Kirk's eyes. He glanced away to where the kids were, contenting himself they were safe and engrossed before taking Uhura by the shoulders, making her look squarely at him.
"Penda, I am not disappointed in your mission performance. You have nothing to apologize for. If I were unhappy, I would have sent you back to the ship."
"I have not provided the support you needed. Instead, you have been supporting me." She countered.
He cupped her chin, seizing her eyes with his so she could tell he was sincere. "Penda, I'd like to think we have supported each other." He began tenderly. "I won't deny that whatever this is between us hasn't caused me some problems, but I hardly blame you for them. The meld was necessary and its consequences are no one's fault. We just have to struggle through it until we can breathe again."
He stared hard into her eyes, looking for a sign he had made his point.
"I would not expect you to be aware of things you weren't exposed to. Your mission is as my consort--not to become involved in the politics of the situation. If anything, I'm at fault for not sharing with you earlier. Instead, out of habit, I confided in Spock. For that, I am sorry."
Uhura looked up at him in shock. He was apologizing to her? Again, he was taking on her burden--and her guilt--not allowing her to shoulder her own mistakes.
"Sir…Jim," She began, demanding that he hear her. "You do not owe me any apology. Mister Spock is your Exec and should be apprised of all situations. As you stated, I'm the consort. My role is to act as such and provide you with mission support. I promise I will do better with the latter."
Kirk smiled, and under the watchful eyes of the Potakai sentries, he kissed her softly on the brow. To Uhura, it was absolution.
Trying to contain all the emotions that were warring within her, Uhura came back to the present. She looked at the dipping sun and asked, "Don't you think we should be heading back?" They were nearly to the point Anat had spoken of anyway.
"Sure, I'm looking forward to this roasted goi. What about you?" He grinned impishly, allowing her to establish some needed distance.
"Definitely." She grinned back.
Kirk whistled to get the children's attention and motioned for them to start back. Dah stomped his foot and pointed at how close they were to the end. Kirk grinned and motioned with his hand for the youth to run there and back. He understood it was accomplishing the goal that meant something, not actually playing at the physical destination. Tel took off in a hurry to do it too, her little legs pumping for all they were worth. Whatever Dah did she considered it her mission to do as well.
The humans watched them run, making sure they were safe on their solo journey. Uhura glanced at Kirk, grinning that he had given in so easily. He caught her smirking at him.
"What? It makes them happy and costs us just a few minutes. I think it's worth it." He felt the need to explain.
"Oh, I understand completely." She deadpanned. In no way was she going to point out the similarities between Dah's stomping defiance and Kirk's temper when he was thwarted by Starfleet authority. Funny, she thought, they usually gave in too.
As dusk descended, Tel begged to be carried back down the beach, her little legs exhausted from their trek. Kirk swung her up to sit astride his shoulders. For a moment she perked at the novelty of her new height, but fatigue and the lull of his steady walk soon caused her to slump. Kirk held her hands, keeping her securely in place and continued on, unbothered by the child's cheek resting on his head.
Dah's own walk slowed, but he refused to be carried. Instead he pressed on, insisting he lead their way back to the pavilions. As he spotted the bonfire, his pace quickened, eager to be back with the others.
Image courtesy of the 'net.
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Beta: Sincere gratitude goes to: Nyotava, Bandicca, Zapp and Trekskitten for such wonderful betaing! Each of them brought fresh insight and used their unique expertise to make this story a reality.
Summary: A sequel to "My Faith in You," addressing Uhura's recovery from a brutal attack and the depths of Kirk's commitment to keep her in his world.
Uhura awoke to the soft patter of raindrops falling outside in the twilight of early dawn. She could tell Kirk was no longer in bed and saw him standing just inside the balcony doors. He was staring off into the distance, seemingly focused on the soft white caps forming on the choppy waves far out to sea. Dressed only in tousled hair and silk loungers, his posture projected a certain tenseness about it - like something caged - ready to bolt at the first opportunity.
It was something she had expected sooner or later; eventually his conscience would catch up with his actions. Last night had been more about the attraction they felt for each other and less about her emotional recovery. Now, in the gray mist of dawn, all his old reasons for keeping his distance would begin to whisper to him. Soon the whisper would become a steady chant, too hard for him to ignore. Uhura knew the conflict he struggled with; she had felt his desire for her and his shame for it in the meld.
Now it would be her turn to offer comfort; she could not allow him to feel guilty for being human. Sometimes he was harder on himself for having feelings than Spock was, never allowing himself a reprieve for being less than some higher ideal. In the past she had admired the inner drive that pushed him to perform apparent miracles. But that was before she knew what it cost him emotionally, keeping himself distanced and detached from everyone save Spock and McCoy, trying to be a deity to the crew.
She eased out of bed, slipped on her robe and padded up silently behind him. Sliding her arms around his waist, she leaned in and pressed her body against his back, hugging him tightly. When he did not respond, she let him go and slipped around in front of him, trying to assess the emotion in his eyes.
"Good morning, Jim." She smiled tentatively, reaching up to place a soft kiss on his lips.
"Good morning, Penda." He answered with a gentle smile, but Uhura noted it did not quite reach his eyes.
He turned her around and made her face the sea, stepping up and wrapping her in his arms.
"This is harder than I expected." He sighed against her temple as he pulled her back against his chest.
Uhura closed her eyes tightly for a moment in an effort to keep her composure. This was the reality she had been expecting, not the fantasy she had lived for the past three nights.
"Is it really? Or did you just ignore all the warnings going off in your head in an attempt to try and save me one last time?"
Kirk spun her back to look at him, his eyes capturing hers and holding them with their pain.
"Maybe some of both. I knew the risk I was taking, but I considered you worth it--I still do."
As he spoke, Uhura's eyes lost focus, the tears threatened to spill down her cheeks.
"But waking up next to you… holding you in my arms and knowing it can't last…is tearing me up inside. I want you and need you beside me, but the cost is…steep."
"If it's too steep, I can go. I'll pass my pysch exam now, of that I have no doubt, but I can still transfer to another ship." She meant what she said, but the offer ripped out her heart. She wanted to stay with him more than ever now, but not at this cost. If he could not look at her without seeing regret, she did not want to be there.
"No--I don't want you to go. I'll--we'll learn to deal with this. It's just going to take us awhile to adjust, to learn how to put the genie back in the bottle."
The tears finally won and spilled down Uhura's cheeks. Jim held her tightly for a long time before letting her go. Wiping the tears from her face, she looked at him and tried to find her voice.
"So, where do we go from here? I can move back into my room and we can keep it strictly professional for the rest of the mission."
Cupping her chin, he asked tenderly, "Is that what you want?"
"No, of course not, but won't it just make it harder to let this go on?"
"Maybe, but I had someone tell me once I should consider this a gift from the Gods. Stay with me and let me do just that." The pain was still in his eyes, but a cajoling smile struggled to break through.
"We have two days before we beam back aboard, for some species, that's a lifetime. Let's not waste anymore of what we have left dwelling on the future. Regrets can come later."
Too overcome to speak, Uhura nodded her head in agreement as he leaned down and captured her lips with his. Scooping her up in his arms, he walked back to their bed and lay her down, untying her robe in one fluid motion. He spent the next several hours making her appreciate their decision. Regrets would come and they would hit hard, but that was too far into the future to concern Uhura. The only thing that held her attention now was the beautiful man making love to her over and over.
The sun was shining brightly when Uhura awoke again. It was late morning and she did not care--they had no formal duties today--Potakai protocol called for a day of quiet and contemplation before the Ascendancy Ceremony. However, the growling of her stomach did remind her that they had probably missed breakfast. Jim was still in bed beside her, slowly opening his eyes and stretching as she sat up in bed. She leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips, no energy left for anything more passionate. He smiled a lazy smile back at her and looked out toward the balcony.
"Well, at least it stopped raining." He grinned.
"Yes, so it has." She smiled back. At least his melancholy had fled with the rain; the sated smile on his face was a far cry from the remorseful look he had worn to greet the dawn. "Do you think Pahzj forgot we're still here? He's usually chasing us out of bed well before now."
A soft knock on the door sent Uhura scrambling for cover. She slid back down in the bed and pulled the covers up to her neck. Kirk laughed at her sudden modesty and sat up in bed, though she noticed he had plenty of coverage over his lap.
"I think he can read minds better than Anata'ka." Kirk muttered humorously before speaking louder to address their visitor. "Come in."
Pahzj and Nesz entered softly and efficiently, setting about their morning routine as if it were not four hours later than usual.
"Good morning, Ambassador, My Lady." The elder Potakai greeted them warmly. "May Nesz pour you both coffee?"
"Please, we would love some." Uhura smiled up at the Menage. "And, did we miss breakfast?"
"No Mistress, you did not. We thought you both might sleep longer this morning due to the lateness of the Ball, so we planned accordingly."
Taking the proffered coffee from the young Menage, Uhura placed the cup on her chest and sipped it.
"Oh my…that's wonderful…the replicators can't compete with this." She sighed.
The Menage beamed at her; thrilled with the idea they had pleased her so. Remembering a duty, Pahzj turned toward Kirk and spoke.
"Ambassador, you and Lady Uhura have received an invitation from Ramsha'ka to spend the afternoon and evening with his crèche. It is an informal gathering of his personal householders, a rite of passage from being the Heir of Potakai to Emperor of Potakai. He would be honored with your presence as well."
"We would be honored to attend, Pahzj. Just tell us where and when." Kirk replied after glancing over at Uhura for any concerns.
"I shall inform him at once. As I said, it is informal. They will begin to gather on the beach just after mid-day--"
"Uh, excuse me Pahzj, gather on the beach?" Uhura asked. She had not brought along any beach attire for them. She looked over at Kirk with an 'uh-oh' look on her face.
Nesz understood Uhura's hesitancy and spoke quickly. "Yes, Mistress, but do not worry. We can provide appropriate clothing for the beach."
"Oh yes, Mistress," Pahzj concurred, "We have access to anything you need."
Kirk grinned down at her and shrugged. He was game for Potakai beachwear, so how could she refuse?
"Great, Pahzj, then it's settled. Tell Ramsha'ka we'll see him on the beach just as soon as we've eaten something and figured out how to wear whatever you give us." The last line he grinned to Nesz, who promptly flushed, but returned the smile instead of fleeing the room.
"At once, Ambassador. I'm sure Ramsha'ka will have games and water sports planned. It should be much fun." The elder Potakai spoke with considerable enthusiasm.
The beach was breathtaking. The mauve waves curled in and broke on the distant protective reef, their mesmerizing journey only slightly interrupted as they continued on to the shore. Uhura's feet sank into the warm black volcanic sand. She stopped, taking off her sandals so she could navigate more easily to the brilliant pavilions staked out near the sea. The sun kissed her exposed skin and she let it sink in and take possession of her.
It soon became apparent why Pahzj was so enthusiastic earlier that morning when he spoke of the gathering; he and Nesz were invited too. Both of them were dressed in casual shorts and shirts and practically giddy with excitement. They led the way to the biggest pavilion, knowing that was where to find their hosts.
Nesz had done an excellent job of clothing them for the occasion. She had dressed Uhura in a provocative orange and red flowery bikini. However, for modesty's sake Nesz had also given her a matching sarong wrap to tie low over her hips. For Kirk, she had chosen a set of trunks in an abstract print of rich green. They too sat low over the hips, though the fact that they came down mid-thigh gave him a little more coverage than Uhura. He also had a matching cover up shirt, but he was shedding it as they walked, letting the sun soak into his already tan skin.
Uhura had to pull her eyes away from watching the ripple of muscles in his back and concentrate on slogging through the sand. The welts on his back, evidence of her enjoyment from their morning together, were still plainly visible. She had been mortified to see them when Kirk had changed into his trunks. There could be no denying what they were or who had done the damage. Jim, on the other hand, had just grinned when he turned to see in the mirror what had her in such a state. He just shrugged, acting more proud of his 'wounds' than anything else.
There were Potakai everywhere: old Potakai, young Potakai, Menage, Citizens, and Aristocrats. Far away, Uhura could see a perimeter of Warriors standing guard around them. Stiff and erect, the only movement she could detect was the wind blowing through their crests. She looked around and noticed even the Aristocrats had their crests pulled back and bound, protecting their beautiful plumage from the ravages of the wind and sea.
She, herself had her hair combed back and tucked in a tight bun at the base of her neck, but the wind had already found a stray lock or two to dance before her eyes. Kirk's short hair was blowing in the wind too; she grinned, noticing that his always-errant lock was having a field-day dancing in the breeze.
As they stepped under the open-sided pavilion, Uhura was finally able to see the royal couple. Ramsha'ka spied them immediately and broke into a big grin, welcoming them with a wave of his hand. Pahzj and Nesz smiled and let them go--now free to enjoy themselves.
"Zhames, Nyota, we are happy you chose to come." He beamed at them and back at Lilu'ka. Both he and his mate's crests were pulled back in an intricate braid that trailed down their backs. Smiling teasingly at his mate, Ramsha'ka continued.
"I was not sure if such a casual event would be enjoyable for Humans. So much water scares Lilu. Gengi is a dry world, but Earth has large oceans, does it not?"
"Yes, Ramsha'ka, it does, though I was born and raised inland. But I love the sea. Swimming, sailing, and walking the beach--I wouldn't pass this up. And Nyota grew up on an island. Her brother captains a commercial fishing fleet." Kirk smiled at Uhura as he drew attention to her family.
"Oh, a fisherman? Did you know the early Potakai were fishermen? The Menage are direct ancestors of their way of life. In the olden days, Potakai fishermen would pluck their plumes and weave them into fishing nets. That is why the today's Menage are bald or shorn, in honor of their ancestors who fed the village."
"How fascinating." Uhura acknowledged; she was always interested in hearing how a society evolved.
"Yes, and then they tamed the basc and formed a partnership with them. Together they could feed many. Zhames, you must come over to the pier--we have basc to ride today. It is great fun!"
At Lilu's shudder, Uhura cast a questioning eye at the two males.
"Do not be alarmed, Nyota. Zhames is safe if he likes the sea. I do not, but I do enjoy seeing Ramsha so happy. Our basc are domesticated animals and very gentle with Potakai."
"Basc?" Uhura and Kirk asked in unison.
"Yes. Large animals that resemble fish, but come to the surface to breathe air. While not sentient, they possess the ability to sense emotions and can communicate with Potakai in a crude fashion. As I said, in the past, Potakai formed partnerships with them to fish. We have never really understood what the basc gained from the relationship. They certainly didn't need our help to hunt, but they seem to enjoy our emotions. Our basc are domesticated, but wild basc have been known to approach Potakai too."
"--And they have been known to eat a stray Potakai or two." Anata'ka chimed in as she and Chota'di made their entrance.
"Grandmother! Do not scare Zhames away with such a stretch of the truth." Ramsha'ka scolded, but still grinned at the Dowager as she greeted her grandson.
"Ramsha, I hardly believe a big fish will scare away Zhames. I hazard to guess he has seen far deadlier creatures in the course of his journeys." The Empress sighed as she sat next to Lilu.
"Greetings, my children. Are you all enjoying Ramsha'ka's last fling at being mortal? I personally would have preferred a gathering at the pool." Anata'ka glanced meaningfully at her heir.
"Yes, Grandmother, I did consider that, but there wasn't enough room for everyone. The children needed room to run and we could set up more food and beverage stations so everyone could sustain themselves instead of being served."
"Yes, Ramsha, I do know--but the sand and wind are hard on my skin and crest. You just ensure your crest is presentable tomorrow--nothing broken or bent will be tolerated. I, personally, will pluck them if that happens." She smiled, but the threat was real.
Uhura and Kirk watched the family dynamics unfold before them. Anata'ka was being crotchety and had no problem still ruling the roost. Ramsha'ka deferred to her, but more out of love for the cranky old woman than out of any real fear of threat.
"I promise to be especially careful. Well, Zhames, Chota'di--care to ride a basc?"
Uhura noted the quick glance between Anata'ka and Chota'di--his in surprise at being included--hers in acquiesce. She caught Jim's own smile and returned it to him; he was fairly chomping at the bit.
"Go then. I will stay and be entertained by the better part of your bonds." Anata'ka motioned with her hands that they were dismissed, practically shooing them away like little boys. Which fit really, as their hurried saunter toward the pier could in no way be described as dignified.
The women all watched them go toward the pier, Ramsha'ka in a pair of teal trunks and Chota'di sporting a pair of black and gold ones. Uhura noted that Ramsha'ka moved to Kirk's left and sandwiched the shorter Human between himself and Chota’di. Their sleek and shiny deep indigo skin appeared all the darker against the gold of Kirk's own flesh. The vibrant colors of their tattoos on their arms, and Chota'di's face, were so intense Uhura had to squint against the sun's reflection off them. Kirk was a full head shorter than both Potakai, and his lack of tattoos somehow made him appear the youngest of the bunch. However, the triangle made between the breadth of his shoulders and the taper of his waist clearly marked him as the stronger male.
"All right, we have ogled them enough." Anata'ka declared; though she herself was still studying them with a practiced eye as they reached the pier.
She noticed Uhura grinning at her and smiled back conspiratorially.
"I'll never be too old to enjoy handsome men, Nyota. My grandson notwithstanding, Zhames is truly breathtaking. If he had a crest, I would be moved to challenge you for him."
Lilu'ka colored at her Grandmother's remark and Anata'ka shrugged her shoulders, dismissing the implied embarrassment.
"Ah, Granddaughter, whenever you have lived as long and as lonely as I, then you can rebuke me. Tomorrow your bond-mate becomes Emperor. All the other women will be jealous of you, but still I see the look of interest in your eyes."
Lilu colored even more and tried to speak, but Anata'ka cut her off.
"Do not deny it, Granddaughter. I see it in your mind, but there is no harm in it. I know you are devoted to Ramsha and Nyota knows I merely tease with her."
"Yes, Grandmother." Lilu answered in a subdued, but respectful tone. A twinge of violet still flushed her cheeks, but she brazened it out.
"So, Granddaughter, how did you manage to get the crèche mothers to agree to this outing? They rarely choose to come outside the conclave anymore." Anata'ka asked curiously, finally taking her own advice to change the subject.
"I think it may have been the promise of roasted goi and infinite kegs of chee for tonight's meal that won them over." Lilu smiled mischievously.
"Ah, I knew we chose well for Ramsha, you understand that the crèche is the source and must be made an ally." Anata'ka nodded in approval of the young woman's tactics.
"Thank you, Grandmother. And speaking of them, I think it is time I should go greet the elder mothers. May I tell them you will come shortly?" Lilu smiled graciously, obviously pleased at the compliment.
"Yes, go Granddaughter. Tell them I will come later, when I am ready. Advise them that I will bring Nyota as well." She looked pointedly at Lilu, reinforcing her dominance over all in attendance. She might need the crèche mothers, but would never cow to them.
"Yes, Grandmother." Lilu nodded in place of dipping her bound crest and left them to pay her respects to the matriarchs of their crèche.
Now, all alone with Nyota at the forward edge of their pavilion, Anata'ka eyed the consort appraisingly for a long moment. Uhura felt the feather touch of her mind as it brushed lightly in her thoughts, but nothing as intense as the night of the reception.
"So, Child, you seem better than when we spoke last. I take it that you and Zhames have come to an understanding?" The Dowager inquired too casually. As Uhura's eyes widened, the telepath continued.
"No, Child, I do not delve into your intimate moments together. I respect your privacy, but I can sense the easing of tension between you both and the brightening of your spirit. And now, from your perspective, I even understand the connection I sensed earlier between you. This 'meld' you shared with Zhames and Spock, it *did* link a part of you together. The bond was very deep in your minds. I could sense it, but not truly see it."
Her intense turquoise eyes were locked with Uhura's, capturing the Human in their power as easily as a cobra hypnotized its prey.
"It was unnatural and your minds rebelled against the union, but your bodies craved each other, knowing it was the only way to resolve the conflict. Yes, the bond is broken now, but you can still feel its echo--and I think you both always will." Anata'ka's eyes lost focus and she seemed to turn her thoughts inward for a moment, started to say more, but stopped herself.
"I have my life back now and that wouldn't be possible without him." Uhura replied. Saying anything else seemed superfluous.
"That is true, but he has gained something too. You have made a place in his heart for all time. One of the few who will ever do so, and the only one who won't abandon him at some point in his life. It may take months or years for him to realize this, but that day will come." The elder woman decreed with a sincerity that Uhura didn't dare challenge.
"And now, see the boys at play." Anata'ka looked out near the pier and motioned for Uhura to do the same. She felt herself go faint. Moving out to sea, she could see three huge shadows moving just under the water's surface. Sitting atop each was a lone rider, their forms tiny in comparison with the basc they 'rode'. Uhura had no idea that the basc would be so large. She had thought they might be the size of a dolphin, or possibly an Orca, but these creatures were much larger, more in line with the extinct species of whales back on Earth.
Anata'ka laughed at the shocked look etched on her face.
"Yes, they are big. Zhames was just as surprised as you, but he did not let that stop him. In fact, the lead cow chose him and left the others to the younger bulls. At first, I think she just wanted to sense the stranger, to see if he posed a threat to her herd, but now she is caught up in his enthusiasm."
Unable to form a reply, Uhura could just make out their forms as the dark shadows made a wide turn and quickly drove back toward the shore. Ramsha'ka stood up on the back of his basc as they both balanced on the top of a huge wave. The basc weaved in and out of the tunnel of water before finally cutting back out to sea.
Uhura's eyes quickly sought out the form of Kirk and watched as he attempted to mimic Ramsha'ka's behavior. The basc he rode was easily the largest of the three and was charging into the wave faster than the other had. Kirk was on his feet and crouched low as the massive wave curled around him. The basc kept them just at the lip of the wave, racing in close to the reef before arching back sharply and slicing back across the wave toward the open sea. Kirk held it for a moment, but a final buck from the basc sent him sailing off before crashing headfirst into the water.
Uhura stood up, looking anxiously for Kirk to break the surface. She saw the basc sink down deeper in the water and finally come up with Kirk lying across her back. He slowly sat up and shook his head, obviously trying to get his bearings. After a moment, he turned and waved toward their pavilion and Uhura felt herself relax.
"Nyota, he says to tell you he is fine and that he forgot what it was like to ride a bronc."
Uhura laughed at his joke and knew he was really okay.
"I told him to keep a rein on his enthusiasm, as the basc feed on our emotions. The old cow just got caught up in the thrill and launched him. I think it was 'yee ha' that did it." Anata'ka grinned wickedly.
Uhura laughed out loud with that remark. She had always thought of him as a cowboy, but now had proof that he thought of himself as one too.
Anata'ka's eyes quickly tracked for Chota'di as he and his basc made their run for a big wave. He was up and in the tunnel, skirting the edge of the wall of water with his hand, just as Uhura had seen countless professional surfers do back on Earth. He rode the wave to the end before his basc, the smallest of the three, cut back to join the others.
Uhura watched Anata'ka as well as Chota'di, interested in the dowager's behavior as she observed her escort conquer the wave.
"He is handsome, is he not?" Anata'ka asked dreamily without taking her eyes off the general.
"Very." Uhura admitted honestly. His well-defined muscles could easily be seen as the sun cast shadow and light off the angles of his skin.
"Would you believe a Warrior could ride so well? Or, for that matter, even consider it to do? Anata'ka asked Uhura frankly.
Uhura was speechless for a moment. She realized Anata'ka was speaking to her as a fellow Potakai, not a human to which such restrictions in behavior were non-existent.
"I find the General's behavior to be amazing on many levels." She finally answered.
Anata'ka turned and studied her for an instant, assessing her statement.
"Forgive me, Child. I forget you humans are not so emotionally constrained by biology. But nevertheless, you are correct--the General's behavior is amazing."
Lilu'ka re-entered the pavilion and made her way to their side once again. Noting the basc-riders out to sea, she smiled.
"Ramsha is enjoying himself immensely. I fear we will have a tough time talking him back in."
"Ha! He better enjoy it now." Anata'ka warned. "Because when Nyota and I get back from visiting the crèche mothers, they must bring the basc through the reef and let the children ride them."
"He says take your time visiting and he's not even sure if Zhames' basc can navigate the channel anymore. She may be too big." Lilu'ka remarked out loud.
Uhura realized her speaking was more for her sake than Anata'ka's. She glanced out to sea and noticed the cleft cut in the reef that separated the pounding surf from the relatively calm waves breaking against the beach. It was narrow, cut at an angle to minimize any surf breakthrough and quite possibly too small for the cow to pass through.
"My visit is my own affair, Grandson. And I would love to see someone try to keep that cow out of the sanctuary once she realizes the little ones are here." Anata'ka chuffed at Lilu, but primarily speaking to Ramsha through their link.
"The crèche mothers are not so keen on taking the youngest ones out into the sea." Lilu'ka tentatively.
"Then they should have left them in the nursery. If they are old enough to play in the sand, then they are old enough to brave the sea. Besides, there are more than enough Menage to attend each child. How can they learn what the world has to offer by standing on the shore?" Anata'ka scoffed.
"Nyota, let us get this visit over with. My temper does not bear maternal clinginess well. The old women grow dotty with age, thinking I would let something happen to our future…."
Lilu glanced at Uhura, a silent flash of exasperation evident in her face. Uhura gave an understanding smile to the younger woman. Grandmothers were the same all over--some things were a universal constant.