Healing Touch Chapter 6 K/U [NC-17]
Image manipped by moi. Aren't they PRECIOUS?!!
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 gray light of an overcast sky. She could not tell if it was just past dawn, or later in the morning. She found herself nestled against Kirk's chest, secure in the crook of his arm, her leg thrown across his hips. He was still asleep, his head tilted down toward her own. Uhura watched him sleep, mesmerized by how beautiful he was. Here in slumber, he looked so young and innocent, nothing like the intense and driven man she knew him to be.
She looked down at her dark hand that rested against his smooth chest; his slow, steady heartbeat could be felt against her palm. The contrast between her mahogany flesh and his golden tone was arousing. She moved her hand across his chest, enjoying the feel of the hard muscle underneath. She became aware of a different hardness where her leg rested across his hips; it sparked a quickening deep in her own groin. While he was asleep, she felt so brave. With his eyes closed, she was not frightened of his touch.
Last night he had offered himself as a way to keep her on the ship. She had been on the verge of giving up, but he would not allow her to do so. He was willing to break the one rule she knew he had always honored--the guardianship between commander and crew--to keep her in his world. How would he reconcile that abrogation once they were back on ship? Would he look at her and see failure in himself, or could she make him understand that, in this case, there was no failure except to lose each other? Would this morning find him regretful of making such a promise? She refused to believe that. Uhura knew he cared for her, if she had ever doubted that, the meld had erased those fears.
The meld, why did she sense so much revolved around that brief moment she shared with Spock and Kirk? She had been an emotional cripple when they had entered her mind and stripped the nightmares away, but somehow, she felt as if a vital part of her was missing when Spock claimed her cured. Uhura had seen that same haunted look in the Captain's eyes as he sat next to her on the bed. She had tried to talk to him, but words failed her, made her as silent as he had been.
Days had turned to weeks, and weeks had turned to months, and still she felt incomplete. Had they given each other a part of themselves that still struggled to find its way home? Was that why he haunted her thoughts night and day? Did the memory of his passion in the meld make her immune to desire for any other? Uhura didn't have those answers, but with his help, she felt she was on the way to finding them.
She had no idea how long she just stared at him, soaking up as much of his essence as she could. Uhura was thinking she could possibly watch him all day when a soft knocking came from the doorway. Pahzj and a young female Ménage padded in quietly, bearing a tray of something smelling suspiciously like coffee. The aroma hit Kirk and his eyes opened immediately. It took him a half-second to remember where he was. He looked down to where Uhura was curled against him and smiled warmly. She sensed no uneasiness from him; he appeared quite content.
"Good morning, Penda," he said softly, for the moment ignoring the other presences in the room. He bent down and kissed her gently on the lips.
"Good morning, Jim," Uhura smiled back while running her nails lightly along his side; she had been waiting patiently to do that.
Kirk's whole flank twitched, along with other parts of his anatomy buried under the covers. He reached down and captured her hand, holding it firmly in place. At the warning look he threw her way, Uhura immediately hid her smile. There was no look of contrition, but at least she stopped so he could greet the Potakai in their room.
"Good morning, Pahzj. Have we overslept?"
"Oh no, sir. You have plenty of time to prepare for the day. Nesz has brought you what we hope will be something familiar--a human beverage called coffee. Please let us know if we prepared it correctly. Potakai has nothing similar to compare except our many fine teas."
The Ménage gave no hint of surprise at finding the two humans together when they had left them retired to separate bedrooms the night before. In fact, that had probably seemed like the stranger situation; they were after all, ambassador and consort.
"Well, it smells wonderful, and that’s half the battle."
Uhura unwound herself from Kirk and pushed up in the bed; obviously the Potakai expected to serve them there. Kirk pushed himself up as well while Pahzj fussed over tying back the gauze curtains, straightening their covers and fluffing the pillows. Nesz busied herself pouring the coffee and then carefully handing each a delicate cup and saucer. Uhura watched as Kirk brought the cup up and savored the aroma. A soft, sensual "hmmm" escaped his lips. Next, he took a cautious sip, and then another, closing his eyes and letting the warmth diffuse its way through his body. When he opened his eyes he saw two Potakai watching him intently, holding their breaths awaiting his response.
"Pahzj, this is perfect. Nesz, you did a wonderful job." Kirk beamed at them each in turn.
Pahzj's shorn crest ruffled in happiness, and Nesz just stared at Kirk, a dreamy look etched on her face.
"Nesz, kia mahara ki to whanonga," Pahzj whispered something untranslatable softly, but firmly, to the young householder. She promptly turned violet and bowed before quickly leaving the room.
"I beg forgiveness, Ambassador. Sometimes the young forget their duty."
"And sometimes they just see something they like, Pahzj." Uhura laughed and it was Kirk's turn to blush--he had *just* smiled at her.
"As you say, Mistress. I assure you Nesz meant no disrespect." Pahzj bowed to the consort.
"None was taken, Pahzj; unfortunately, the Ambassador often provokes this reaction from young women." She grinned evilly in Kirk's direction.
"Pahzj, the Lady Uhura has awakened with a wicked sense of humor this morning. Please pay her no mind and please tell Nesz I am very flattered." Kirk smiled warmly to the elder Potakai then cast Uhura a pointed look.
"Yes, Ambassador. Shall I prepare breakfast?"
"Thank you, Pahzj, that would be excellent."
The householder bowed and left the room.
"Well Penda, you certainly woke up in a feisty mood. Feeling better about this, maybe?" Kirk asked as he sipped his coffee.
"I've decided I'm not ready to give up anymore. I want my life back. You and the Enterprise are what are important to me." Uhura did not know where that speech had come from, but it was the truth. She felt heat rise to her face from the confession.
Kirk sat his coffee down on the bedside table, then turned toward her, a more serious look on his face.
"Penda, you're very important to me and I don't want you to leave."
He leaned over and pressed a tender kiss against her lips, careful not to spill her coffee. Uhura kissed back, startled, but enjoying the new openness between them. Encouraged by her response, Kirk took the coffee out of her hands and leaned across her, placing it on the other bedside table. Uhura felt herself tense, excited as his body slid across hers. Now, unfettered from the risk of scalding, Kirk pulled her to him and began placing feather-light kisses along her jaw, slowly dropping to her collarbone while working his way to the cleft between her breasts.
Uhura felt her nipples go hard, the silk of her gown only enhancing them. Kirk's hand came up and lightly brushed against them, teasing through the material. Then, apparently not satisfied with the degree of torture that did to her, he leaned down further and nipped one, then held it between his teeth and tugged on it a little harder. The sensation shot a jolt of electricity through Uhura and forced a soft moan from her lips.
Kirk looked up at her sound, his eyes intense but playful. His expression told her he knew exactly how aroused she was. Meeting the challenge, Uhura slid her hand down and claimed acknowledgement of her own affect upon him. At her touch, his gaze became more intense; he leaned in and took possession of her mouth. Uhura tightened her grip on him and moved her hand to the rhythm of his seeking tongue.
A soft rapping on the door, accompanied by Pahzj's discreet announcement of breakfast being served, caused Kirk to throw himself onto his back, growling something unintelligible. Uhura pulled herself together, trying to think instead of staying lost in the bliss of the moment.
"Well, you told him it sounded like an excellent idea…" She reminded him none too gently.
"And it was, but something better came up." He shot her a wicked grin.
"Yes, it did," Uhura returned with her own mischievous smile, "but I guess we'll just have to continue this thought later."
Kirk sighed and rolled out of bed, walking over to get their robes. Holding out Uhura's robe, she placed her arms through as he reached to wrap her sash snugly around her waist.
"You can count on that," He whispered in her ear as his hands rested briefly on the swell of her hips, "but now the day begins."
Uhura was following Pahzj to Lilu'ka's apartments for the formal tea being held in honor of the First Ladies of Potakai. The royal suites were on the other side of the palace, so it was quite a journey. Uhura allowed a part of her mind to wander over the events of last night and this morning. It was just the sort of lapse in focus that Starfleet used to justify its continuation of the non-fraternization regs. Well, she thought, if Pahzj intended to slit her throat, at least she would die knowing how she felt about Jim.
Being held by Jim--it still sounded strange to call him that, out loud or even in her thoughts--whether playfully or passionately, she was on the verge of being overcome by all the emotions his touch evoked. She knew he was trying to let her set the pace of their relationship, but it was not in his nature to be passive. This morning, his tender kiss had quickly escalated to something nearly unstoppable; only Pahzj's interruption had broken the spell he had so promptly cast upon her.
After breakfast, Uhura had excused herself to her own bedroom to get ready for the day. When she had re-entered the living area, Kirk was once again 'the captain,' talking with Spock about his upcoming meeting with Anata'ka, Ramsha'ka and the Potakai Council. He noted her entrance with a smile, but kept it restrained, nothing like the look he had seared her with last night. In a way, it hurt her feelings to see he could distance himself so effortlessly from her, when not two hours ago he had nearly made love to her.
Uhura squelched that feeling; he had told her months ago that he could not allow himself to become involved with her. And again, last night he had told her that he could not continue anything past this mission. She had to accept it as fact if she intended to let this continue. These next few days were just a brief bubble in time when they could share themselves with each other, and hopefully, suffer no repercussions emotionally or professionally. A time when each of them was living outside of who they were and not constrained by normal realities. What was reality anymore? Uhura had no idea.
She brought her attention back to the present when Pahzj greeted the two fierce Warriors guarding the royal apartments entrance. The householder spoke softly, but with surprising authority to the stoic Potakai sentries. The senior Warrior flicked his crest in assent, allowing them to enter.
Lilu'ka's apartments were breath taking. The entire back wall appeared to be missing, allowing direct access to the outside balcony. The living area was rich in exotic plants. Chlorophyll was not the dominant plant photochemical on Potakai--the room was awash in purples, blues and varying shades of reds. The balcony actually supported two large trees whose branches were woven together to make a natural shade canopy.
A middle-aged Ménage female entered the room and gave Uhura a formal bow.
"My Lady, Mistress Lilu'ka asks that you join her in the salon."
As Pahzj had done when they first met, she turned without waiting for acknowledgement, leading the way. Uhura gave Pahzj a warm smile and followed the woman.
The salon was much more formal and prepared for the day's event. Uhura was somewhat surprised to see that she was the first guest to arrive. Lilu'ka came in from another balcony, one facing the palace's interior rather than the ocean, a frown etched on her delicate features before noticing Uhura's arrival.
"Ah, Lady Uhura, thank you for coming." The young Aristocrat tried to erase the sadness on her face. She fluttered her crest in welcome.
"Thank you, Your Highness, but please call me Nyota. I seem to be too early."
"Oh, not true, Nyota." The young woman was finally able to produce a genuine smile, but it faltered a bit before she pressed on. "Then please, call me Lilu when it is just us."
"I asked Pahzj to bring you a few minutes early to give us an opportunity to talk as equals before the others arrive and we must again assume our roles. It is rare to have someone to talk to where I do not always have to be the future Empress of Potakai. Since Anata'ka announced Ramsha'ka was her heir, our lives have not been our own. Life has become a constant game of power shifts and realignments. Courtesans are notoriously fickle and not the best choice for friendship."
The loneliness Lilu allowed Uhura to see was touching. How sad to be your world's next leader and have no one to talk to.
"Oh, Lilu, do you not have anyone from your crèche here at the palace?" Uhura remembered that Potakai crèche mates were the next strongest relationship a Potakai could form, only the pairbond was stronger.
"No, not at the moment. I was raised on Potakai Six, we call it Gengi, and until recently, it wasn't safe to transport civilians between planets. I hope to bring some of my siblings to stay with me soon."
"I'm sure that will be wonderful--" Uhura cut herself off; a loud chant could be heard coming from the inner courtyard.
Lilu looked at the open doorway and motioned for Uhura to follow her out onto the balcony. The Federation officer was unprepared for the sight before her. The royal apartments were much higher in the palace than their own apartments were, giving her a greater view of the courtyard. The grounds were aswarm with black-clad Warriors. There were thousands and thousands of them, moving and chanting in a hypnotic display.
"What are they doing, Lilu?"
"Praying for a good death." Lilu answered in a sad, but matter of fact tone.
"What?" Uhura asked incredulously.
"You do not know?" Lilu asked, her turn to be surprised.
"The war is over and Potakai no longer needs so many Warriors. After the Ascendancy ceremony, General Chota'di will lead most of them in 'Tikanga Whakamomori', or ritual suicide. It is the only way for a Warrior to die honorably outside of battle. Those left will stay to protect us from outsiders."
Uhura was dumbfounded; Potakai had millions of Warriors. The concept was unimaginable.
Lilu turned and escorted Uhura back inside, gently guiding her to sit down while the officer processed what she had heard.
"I don't understand. The war is over--can't they do something else?" The death of millions was flashing before Uhura's eyes.
Lilu looked at Uhura strangely, trying to understand the question.
"Nyota, they are Warriors, it is who they are. We are not like Humans who get to pick and choose their lives. We become fixated on a life path during our youth. It is not a choice, but an awakening. We cannot change the path inside us. One might as well try to stop breathing." The young Aristocrat was speaking as if to a child, trying to explain the meaning of life to a simpleton.
"Aristocrats are driven to lead, and sometimes that causes conflict. When two rulers of equal stature mature at the same time, the rest of us become confused as to whom to follow. Again, it is not a conscious choice, but an innate feeling of he pono tomau, or unfaltering loyalty.
Warriors are just as driven to protect and conquer. The last three hundred years of war has caused our society to expand their caste to a number that would finally succeed in ending the bloodshed. Is it not ironic that the ones to stop the war lose everything with its end?
The Ménage are just as driven to nurture us all. They raise the children, maintain our households, take care of the sick, provide a spirit home for the Gods, and offer comfort to everyone regardless of caste. A Ménage with no home will die.
Only the Citizen caste has some modicum of choice in their lives. Many actually get some decision in their career and who they might bond with. That is more than the rest of us have. This is what it means to be Potakai."
"Lilu, we were briefed on Potakai physiology, but the Federation had not drawn a conclusion as to what would happen to the Warriors after Anata'ka relinquished power."
Uhura's mind whirled back to last night, when Anata'ka had urged Kirk to push his way to the throne. What had she said in their mind…'If we are to succeed, you must earn their respect'… something like that. Succeed? Succeed in what? And who's respect--the Aristocrats’ or the Warriors’? Besides Chota'di and his staff, there had been many Warriors in the audience hall--the walls were practically papered with them.
What plan did the Dowager have that involved her captain and how dangerous was it? It had to be dangerous or he would have told her about it. When Anata'ka and Kirk had spoken alone as soon as they had beamed down, Anata'ka had said it was to protect Ramsha'ka, but what else? She could not ask Lilu these questions. No, it was far too dangerous to broach such a cultural imperative without hard facts; facts Kirk had not shared.
"Nyota, are you all right? I did not tell you of the Tikanga Whakamomori to upset you, but to explain. They are not sad to die, in fact, they welcome it." Lilu tried to comfort the Human, but was not actually sure how to when she could barely grasp the reason for her agitation.
"Tell me what it is like to serve on a starship." Lilu asked, thinking diversion the best course of action.
Uhura took the cue and chose to go with it. She gathered her wits and gave the young woman a tight smile. The idea of so many sanctioned deaths was appalling to her. However, Kirk possibly being involved in some type of scheme with Anata'ka tempered the disgust with quiet anger at being left out of the loop.
"It's great, Lilu. I get to see so many wondrous sights and experience new and fascinating cultures."
"Do you not miss your planet and your culture? Doesn't it make you lonely for home?"
"Sometimes I get homesick, but I can send messages back and forth to my family. And I have a great extended family on the Enterprise."
"Family? Crèche mates, yes?" Lilu asked curiously.
"To Potakai, yes. On Earth, normally the woman who bears a child raises it herself. We have many different types of family, but my family consisted of a biological mother and father, along with two biological siblings. I feel about them the way you do your crèche mother and mates." Uhura felt the analogy worked well, as Lilu nodded in understanding.
"So small a household; do you not get lonely?"
Uhura laughed, she had been quite the tomboy growing up and had fought regularly with her older brother. Her little sister came along twelve years later and Uhura was not around much as she grew up.
"Oh, sometimes, but I think we Human's need more emotional space than Potakai do," Uhura offered as explanation.
"So, how does one become pairbonded on your world? Do you choose, or is a mate chosen for you?" Lilu dropped her crest and spoke softly. It made Uhura think back to her teenage years and those late night chats about boys with her girlfriends.
"That depends on where you live on Earth, or the Federation for that matter. In mine and the Ambassador's cultures, we are expected to choose our own mate."
"You and Ambassador Kirk are from different societies? How did you meet then? I am from Gengi, but the bonding between Ramsha’ka and I was arranged."
Uhura took a deep breath; this was getting too close to home. "We met on the Enterprise. I've served with the Ambassador for three years now."
"Ah, of course, one would expect bondings to form during such long missions."
Lilu seemed content to have explained the relationship to herself in Potakai terms and Uhura chose not to dissuade her. Trying to explain Starfleet fraternization regulations to a Potakai would only cause them to question their sanity. Uhura did that often enough herself. She was rescued from further friendly interrogation by the arrival of other guests. Uhura watched as Lilu let out a soft sigh and resumed her regal posture before facing the newcomers. Regardless of the surrounding luxury, Uhura did not envy the young ruler's life.
Pahzj led her back to their apartments after the tea in order to allow her time to prepare for the cleansing ritual. Probably, as lead householder, he felt it was his sole responsibility to escort each of them to their formal functions. That was fine with Uhura because it would be easy to get lost in the labyrinthine palace. Uhura was not sure what their exact role in this ceremony was to be, just that anyone involved in the Ascendancy Ceremony was required to participate.
When they entered the apartment, Uhura saw Kirk out on the balcony; his back was to her. The overcast had burned away and the bright sun was glaring off the loose white shirt and pants he was wearing. It was not an outfit she had picked out for him. Pahzj seemed to notice her confusion and spoke.
"The Ambassador's meeting ended early and he has already dressed in his 'moia,' the ceremonial dress of a pilgrim seeking purification. Nesz has laid out yours as well."
"Oh, thank you, Pahzj, then let me go and get changed myself."
She looked at the soft cottony outfit on the bed; hers appeared to be a loose gown rather than shirt and pants. Nesz entered silently and spoke.
"My Lady, it is customary to enter the temple clad only in the moia when one seeks purification. No other garment, jewelry or makeup is allowed."
"I see," Uhura answered hesitantly. She studied the moia again to see just how thin the material was. 'Oh well', she thought, 'when in Rome…'
Finished changing, she joined Kirk on the balcony. After months in space, the sun beckoned to her too. The warm breeze was soft but steady. Kirk looked around as she neared, obviously enjoying the sight of her moia being molded to her body by the wind.
"It's going to be very difficult to purify my thoughts if I have to look at you in that for very long." He teased as Uhura neared.
Uhura ran an appreciative eye over him as well. The glistening whiteness of his loose shirt made his tan skin appear all the darker. The wind did an equally impressive job of highlighting the best parts of his anatomy through the flimsy material as well.
"Well, I guess we'll be cast out together, just like the first time." She threw back; it was getting easier to let down her guard and be more open with him.
Kirk reached out and took her hands, intertwining his fingers with hers, reeling her toward him one step at a time. When she was touching him, breast to chest, he leaned down and dappled the arch of her neck with soft kisses. Her reaction was strong and immediate. Uhura felt her nipples harden more than she thought possible; a low moan passed her lips and she pushed her body into his.
"Now who is being the tease?" She whispered in his ear as she leaned in to nip its enticing lobe. He knew they had to leave for the temple very soon; this was just revenge for last night.
"I never tease," he spoke huskily as he planted the same delicate kisses on the other side of her neck, "it's just an advertisement of what I intend to do later."
He turned her toward the stone wall and stepped close behind her, his arms sliding under hers and locking across her abdomen. He pressed himself firmly against the small of her back, trapping Uhura between him and the wall for a delicious moment before backing away.
"You are evil," Uhura tossed at him in a shaky voice. The quiver was from trying to control the desire he had awakened in her so easily. She felt no panic at his touch; he dominated her without thought and her body responded naturally. It just seemed so 'right'. For the first time, Uhura finally believed she might be able to put the past behind her.
Kirk leaned forward and rested his elbows against the low stone wall. It might have eased his own tension, but the outline of his firm butt did little to soothe Uhura's. Catching her stare, he chuckled and stood back up.
"Who me?" He asked innocently. "No, not me. I was just out here minding my own business when you came out and enticed me. Now come on, you know we have to go to the temple; you're going to make us late." He grabbed her hand and pulled her into the apartment, laughing as she rolled her eyes. What had she unleashed?
The temple was striking in all its plainness. The interior was clad in a white-veined stone reminiscent of alabaster. The room was large and rectangular, with the walls stair-stepped in coliseum fashion. All the observers for today's ritual would sit along the walls and watch the ceremony unfold in the center below them. At the opposite end from the entrance, a lone flame fountain similar to the one in Kirk's bedroom dominated. A host of completely bald Potakai, dressed in gray moias, sat around its base, chanting and bowing.
Uhura saw Anata'ka and Chota'di kneeling at the feet of the one bald Potakai that stood out front, as if blocking their path to the fountain. Anata'ka's crest was pulled back in a completely submissive posture. Chota'di's crest was back also, though it fairly pulsed with agitation. Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka walked up behind them but did not kneel, though their own crests were also dropped in submission. All four of them were dressed in the same style moias as Kirk and Uhura. Even bare of any ornamentation, Uhura thought them exquisite. The light from the flames reflected off their iridescent feathers.
Anata'ka seemed to be answering the disciple's chant with a cadence of her own. As they walked up and stood behind the other two couples, Uhura strained to hear what was being said. She could make out little, but the tone sounded desperate. The bald Potakai looked down at the Empress, watching her with hard eyes. As she finished her response, he reached down and plucked the center crest feather from her head. Anata'ka did not move; she did not even flinch. He next turned his attention to Chota'di and also plucked the center crest feather from the Warrior's head. Chota'di remained still, just as Anata'ka had.
Uhura and Kirk exchanged looks--that had to be extremely painful. The crest feathers were deeply embedded in the flesh of a Potakai: they had to be to support their weight and allow for their movement. The humans wondered if they would be expected to endure something similar.
The priest, or at least Uhura thought of him as one, seemed satisfied with only the two feathers in his hand. He turned and approached the fountain. He extended each feather to the center flame and held them there, watching the fire consume them. As it burned toward his fingers, he tossed the last remnants into the heart of the fire. Uhura found herself holding her breath as the priest turned back and leveled his stare upon the small party before speaking.
"Tupato koutou kaore' tikanga wairua," the translator could not decipher the dialect he used.
Anata'ka and Chota'di touched their foreheads to the floor before rising. Uhura noticed a small rivulet of violet blood ran down from where their crest feathers had been plucked. Anata'ka glanced at Chota'di, anguish on her face for one brief second before being schooled in solemnity. However, that one look told Uhura volumes.
/Zhames, Nyota/ Anata'ka spoke within their minds, /We have been granted permission to undergo the cleansing ritual. This particular ceremony has not been conducted since my bond mate, Mishcha'ka, ascended the throne over three hundred years ago. It can be dangerous. However, if you are still and meditate throughout, one usually comes away unscathed. /
Uhura could sense Kirk's concern over Anata'ka's use of the word 'usually'. For her part, she had hoped the feather plucking had been the ritual.
/ Hardly, Nyota, it was my penance to pay in order to participate. Blood oaths are costly and everlasting. Chota'di and I will never truly be 'pure' again. /
/ We're ready, just tell us what to do. / Kirk answered for them both.
/ Just follow my lead and allow the disciples to place you as they want. Stay exactly as they position you, otherwise you may regret it. /
Anata'ka turned and followed the priest to the center of the room. The rest of them followed. Chanting disciples came up and began positioning each of them in a circle. The observers who had silently glided in for the ceremony picked up the chant, causing it to echo off the walls. Uhura found herself kneeling across from Kirk, between Ramsha'ka and Chota'di. Each of them posed opposite their mate. Next, their arms were extended and they were made to grasp one hand of their mate and one of someone else. They ended in something of a pinwheel pattern, a set of arms crossing each other in the center of the circle and every other body clasping a neighbor.
The disciple’s continued their chant and took great pains in all their positioning. Uhura was pushed and prodded until the priest appeared satisfied. Finally, the chanting stopped and the disciples backed away. The priest stepped forward and drew a shape in the air. Uhura realized it was the same shape they had been positioned to emulate. They felt the floor vibrate and saw tiny holes appear in the floor below them.
/ Don't move! Sing the chant and meditate. / Was all the warning Uhura got as the floor erupted in a mist of water, only to be followed by jets of fire. Instinctively, she wanted to pull away, but Kirk and Ramsha'ka held her immobile. The disciples renewed their chant and began a slow march around them.
The water and flame continued to dance all around them, shooting up in chaotic patterns. Steam hissed as the two met. The moisture settled on and around them, dampening their hair, or feathers, and causing the moias to cling revealingly to their bodies, yet any movement would cause a serious burn. Uhura attempted to center herself mentally and pick up the singsong mantra the disciples wove about them.
How universal to believe that one could purify something by water or flame, Uhura thought. As she relaxed to the rhythm of the chant and the dance of the two forces surrounding them, Uhura found herself looking at Kirk. Her eyes were about the only part of herself that she could move without incurring injury. He gazed back at her, the flames dancing off the highlights in his eyes. His look caused her to feel anything but pure. She felt heat rise to her face that had nothing to do with the fire dancing just inches away. Trapped by the flames surrounding her, the blaze of his devouring gaze made Uhura burn with a different kind of heat. She tore her eyes away and glanced at Anata'ka, who was kneeling on Kirk's left. She had to look at someone else or she thought she might implode.
Anata'ka was staring at Chota'di, who was kneeling to Uhura's left. Uhura recognized that the Dowager's stare was kindred to Kirk's; she was feasting on the Warrior with her eyes. Misa-mren--wasn't that what Anata'ka had called it? Mixed caste? Now Uhura understood why Anata'ka was so interested in the feelings Uhura and Kirk shared; she possessed those same feelings for her Commanding General. Did he return them? Uhura was hard-pressed to see Chota'di's face without turning her head. More questions flashed though her mind. Was Anata'ka allowed to take another mate, or lover? Was her attachment to the general, or the fear of losing him, the reason why she was planning something with the captain? Uhura had intended to broach that subject with him when she returned from the tea, but he had distracted her.... She knew Anata'ka was reading her thoughts, but the Empress did not respond. She did, however, close her eyes and take up the chant.
Time drifted on, the chanting mesmerizing the pilgrims. Eventually, the rhythm of the water and fire changed along with the disciples’ chant. The fire now became dominant and the chant turned into a sibilant hiss. The steam and dampness were burned away, leaving the participants surrounded by uncomfortable heat. Just as the temperature became unbearable, the flames vanished, taking the water with it. The disciples ended their chant on one final long hiss and were silent. They moved to help the pilgrims rise, but Uhura's body felt locked in place; she had been in that one posture for hours. She was slowly able to stand and waited for what would happen next.
"Hema ki ta tikanga wairua," The priest made the strange sign in the air again and strode from the temple.
Uhura fell into place beside Kirk as they marched out behind the Potakai Aristocrats, the disciples completing the processional. They were escorted to the palace entrance and delivered to the waiting Ménage. Pahzj came up to claim his two house members and took them away, not allowing for any conversation with the others.
Uhura was tired and stiff from the long period of inactivity the ceremony had demanded. She fell back a pace or two before Kirk noticed her absence. He stopped, allowing her to catch up, then took her hand in his, pulling her against him. Uhura leaned into his body, using him for support.
Her body was tired but Uhura's mind was analyzing Kirk's actions, how he was using every opportunity to touch her, to acclimate her to the feel of his hands on her body. Uhura didn't know if it was by conscious effort or instinct, but it definitely was a change in behavior for him.
He caught Uhura smiling as he glanced down to check on her and asked, "So what's the grin about, Penda?"
Uhura looked up in surprise; she had not been aware of her expression.
"Oh, nothing in particular. I was just enjoying how it felt to be walking with you like this." She kept to herself how worried she had been that this feeling would be lost to her forever.
A quick smile brightened his face for a moment and he kissed the top of her head.
"I'm enjoying it myself, now that you mention it." He pulled her closer, tucking her neatly against his side, and urged her on.