Healing Touch Chapter 12 K/U [NC-17]
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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.
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.