Healing Touch Chapter 11 K/U [NC-17]
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.