Healing Touch Chapter 15 and Final 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.


Her bag was still on the floor, the contents spilling out in the same disarray as her feelings at the moment. She lay there in the near darkness, listening to his steady breathing, illogically frightened that he might stop at any moment if she should drift off. Her conviction to sleep in her old room, or back on ship, had crumbled once she had kissed him again. How could she resist the last chance to feel his embrace?

Mindful of his injury, and McCoy's stern warning, Uhura had pushed him back against the bed and done all the 'work'. She had not asked permission for anything, just coaxed and commanded him to do her bidding. She had savored every inch of his body, knowing each touch was a farewell. He was restrained but responsive, denying her nothing as she fought the demons of their goodbye, his tenderness shredding her heart, as he loved her as no one ever had.

Now, curled against his side, her head pressed against his chest, Uhura wondered how she could leave her passion for him on Potakai. He scared her with the strength of his convictions about them, and about his duty, both only making her more frantic. To go back to just being his comm officer was going to be extremely difficult.

But did she actually think she could allow herself to feel this deeply for him and still sit idly by as he went down on mission after mission? On this one point Uhura knew the answer--no. It scared her to be so close to someone who would throw himself into the fire. She had worried about him when he was just her captain; now it smacked her hard on a completely different level.

She wanted to run away from it, wanted to go back in time those many months ago and stop herself from kissing him on the observation deck. The fear of losing him during the Tholian mission had caused her to act upon feelings his near-death had brought to the surface. It had caused them to dance around each other and confess to feelings they both knew were better left unexamined. That confession had led him to promise she would always have a place by his side, not as a lover but still a vital person in his life. A promise that had forced him to declare martial law on an alien space station in order to rescue her from the Orions. A promise that had forced him to share himself, his heart and his body, in order to keep his word. A sequence of events that happened from that one moment of weakness, one she could do little to rectify now.

She knew it was what McCoy faced every time Jim beamed down. Perhaps only Spock was 'safe' from him - and she had her doubts there. Anyone who got close to Kirk would have to endure the fear of him not coming back one day. She had always known that in theory, but the actual reality of it chilled her blood. She had to back away and allow some distance between them once again. She could not let him any nearer her heart than he already was.

She had to keep reminding herself of why they weren't meant for each other. He was too intense, always pushing and demanding when sometimes all she wanted was peace. He would expect her to advance far quicker in her career than she was wont to go. He was physical and always craving excitement, while she preferred a night at the opera and a slow dance under the stars. But mostly, she wanted someone who would be totally and unequivocally hers, not someone she would have to share with the ship and at least four hundred other people.

And tonight she had come face to face with that terrible intensity so many alien commanders had met--usually to their own undoing: That one brief moment of staring into eyes so deadly. Whether it was her challenge, or her dismissal, that had finally caused him to snap and lay his hands on her, she didn't know. Even through the brightness of his usual aura, she had always sensed there was something dark and dangerous about him. Now she knew what it was - that he was whatever he needed to be in order to win. An image of her White Knight in black armor flashed in front of her eyes and it unnerved her to know he was so driven. It didn't stop her from loving him, but now she knew why she always preferred the shadows. She knew it was only the fact that he had a strong conscience and true friends in Spock and McCoy that kept him grounded.

He had told her all along that he couldn't be what she wanted. He had been honest when he told her they could have nothing past Potakai except to be in each other's world. He had not lied when he said he loved her, yet she realized he had kept most of his true feeling buried from her. It was that which hurt the most, that he needed to shield himself, allowing only a certain amount of vulnerability. Though now she knew it was the only way he could permit himself to be the comfort that she needed.

She contemplated transferring, but felt is was cowardly to run after he had risked so much for her to be able to stay. She did not know why she felt she needed to linger in his light. Like the real sun, it could do quite a bit of damage to one who foolishly remained in its glare without some form of protection. But it was at his side, on his Bridge, that she felt was her place. Perhaps just as another soul to hold vigil for him as Spock and McCoy did. It did not matter, she just knew it was where she belonged.


Dawn found Kirk up and rummaging through his cast-off jacket for the extra hypospray McCoy had left him. His shoulder and back were a vivid purple as the deep bruising rose to the surface. The edges of the dermaplas bandage were tinged with blood, a ghastly reminder of the wicked injury underneath the superficial closure.

Uhura silently rose from the bed and took the hypospray out of his hands, adjusting the dial slightly before pressing it against the base of his neck. She could feel the tension leave his body underneath her hands. He murmured a soft, "thank you," as she touched his forehead and ran her fingers through his soft hair, gently encouraging him to lie back down and allow the pain meds to take effect. She curled up next to him--not yet ready to let him go.


The morning brought gray shadows into their room, the lack of color reflected in Uhura's mood as she packed up the last of her things. The mission was at an end and its completion closed so many other chapters going on in her life right now. Even though she knew most of them needed to be stamped with "The End," it still made her sad to know how this one finished. No, "and they lived happily ever after," seemed to be written in the stars for them.

Yet a part of her resisted that analogy. *They* might not live happily ever after, but some tiny part of her shouted out that *she* still could. She could still live the life she had always dreamed of living. That was the voice she strived to listen to, the one who tried to tell her how much she had won--instead of the chorus that was singing a dirge of how much she had lost.

"Sugar, you can't lose what you never really had." Nyota lectured softly to herself as she brought her kit into the living area. The room was still gray but Uhura thought she might be seeing a trace of color around the edges.

The staff was gathering in the foyer, waiting to bid their guests farewell. Kirk came in from the balcony; he had been quiet and introspective all morning and Uhura felt him withdrawing from her. It was not a cruel distancing, but a necessary one in order to transition back to the ship and its reality. She accepted it with grace, allowing no sadness to creep into her eyes. Her mind was busy rationalizing that it was all for the best--that she knew they would never truly be happy together--but her heart was still struggling with the idea. Yet, she was far closer to acceptance of it than when she had started the journey.

Kirk glanced her way, taking in that she was ready to go. A small smile crossed his face but Uhura saw that his mind was focused on other things, probably the farewell with Ramsha'ka and Anat. He waited for her to step up next to him before approaching the waiting staff.

It amazed Uhura to see him transform. Gone was the quiet, intense thinker, replaced by the witty and charming diplomat. He started at the far end, thanking each staff member for their warm hospitality and gracious service. Shorn crests fluttered in delight at his praise and deep bows followed one by one as he made his way up to Nesz and Pahzj.

Kirk stepped in front of the young Menage and took her hands, leaning forward and touching them to his brow. It was the courtly form of affection and rarely used outside of the Aristocratic caste, but he did it anyway. Nesz immediately glowed violet and her tiny crest fluttered non-stop. Uhura watched as he smiled warmly at the blushing woman, still holding her hands.

"And Nesz, we want to thank you for your tireless service and generosity during our stay. Lady Uhura and I will miss your care and devotion."

Uhura smiled brightly at Nesz, nodding and murmuring her agreement to his sentiment. She smiled all the more at how Kirk complimented from a Menage perspective, that service and devotion would mean far more to her than anything else he could say, while his affectionate gesture ensured she would be smitten for life.

Finally, letting go of Nesz's hands, Kirk turned his attention to the elder Potakai who stood proudly in front of him. As head householder Pahzj took responsibility for his staff, good or bad. The effusive praise had nearly caused him to burst with pride.

"Ah, Pahzj'dado," Kirk intoned solemnly, adding the rarely used honorific for someone in the Menage caste. As a 'common class,' they were considered familiar and intimate with everyone. To use an honorific meant something very special to a Menage.

"Please let me say that in all my travels I have never been so well cared for. You and your staff have taken care of every possible need for Lady Uhura and myself. I thank you for accepting us into your household."

Pahzj flushed a bit violet himself before regaining his composure.

"It has been and honor and a privilege to serve, Ambassador, My Lady." He bowed low to them both.

"And I have already sent your,'care packages,' as you called them, up to your ship. They seemed very excited at their contents." He remarked in surprise at how a few cases of sjobaberry juice, candies and a selection of liquors could generate such a commotion in orbit.

"Oh yes, Pahzj, you have made my Chief Engineer's day. Thank you again for the thoughtfulness." Kirk and Uhura laughed, mentally picturing Scotty cataloging his 'cultural education' items.


The journey to the Audience Hall seemed shorter than usual. Nyota really never wanted to see that place again. It brought unbidden images of berserkers and blood to her mind. The Federation couple had no idea what to expect--a packed house or just the Royal few.

Uhura was glad to see that their send off appeared to be a private affair, only Ramsha'ka, Lilu'ka, Anata'kel and Chota'kel in attendance. Not even Ronar'di was included. Pahzj took them to the base of the stairs, just as he had done several days ago and bowed in humble fashion, announcing his wards in the same tradition as before. However, this time, Ramsha'ka acknowledged the old Menage and they all chose to come down the steps to greet the humans. Uhura saw the look of surprise on Pahzj's face but he quickly schooled it into acceptance. She was sure the Menage was in for a lot more surprises in the days to come. Ramsha was the first to approach Kirk and he gave him a huge smile and a full dip of his crest. Lilu was quickly at his side, mimicking the gestures.

"Zhames, I will miss you. Are you sure you can't be enticed to stay on as our permanent Federation Ambassador?" He asked in a teasing manner.

"Thank you, Your Highness. Your offer would be tempting if I didn't have a ship that needed me." Kirk answered with some sincerity.

"Ah yes, your ship. I'm afraid you have been a bad influence on Chota'kel--he has talked of nothing but spaceships since his rebirth. I fear I am in dire risk of losing a large portion of my fleet to him. Is this how you repay me for the glory of being my heir?" He cast a playfully reproachful look between the starship captain and the Seka caste leader.

"How scandalous--he's only getting a portion of the fleet?" Kirk quipped in mock horror. "I thought I would have taught him better. And speaking of heir--have you named a new one, or am I still on standby?"

"No, sad to say, but I have named Grandmother as my heir until I find a more suitable choice. It bends the rules a bit, but at least she is Potakai." Ramsha grinned sheepishly.

Kirk laughed at the implied insult and shook his head.

"I'm not sad in the least. She has proven to be a strong leader and an excellent tactician. I hazard the ranks will settle down now soon enough."

Anat chose that moment to step into the fray.

"Zhames, you know me so well." She leaned in and kissed him on either cheek--the other Potakai, shocked at her audacity.

"Oh, do come now, Zhames is Human and I merely bid him farewell in the manner of his people. If we must tell him and Nyota goodbye at such an unseemly hour and all alone instead of in great honor, do not act appalled at a small token of affection." She admonished the scandalized glances cast her way, but winked at Kirk and beamed an unrepentant smile. He returned her grin with one of his own, not the least bit embarrassed by her kiss.

"I can never repay the debt I owe both you and Nyota." She continued more somberly, taking them both into her gaze.

"You have given my world a chance at survival and my people a direction in which to grow. The next years will be happy years-- ones not so lonely for me now." She ended almost shyly, looking back at Chota and motioning for him to join her.

"Anata'kel it has been an honor to know you and help in any way I could. I think the Federation is a better place with the Potakai included."

"Zhames," still a man of few words, Chota held out his hand in human-fashion, offering a handshake by way of farewell.

"Chota'kel," Kirk grasped the strong hand and shook it firmly.

Uhura felt the Seka turn his gaze on her. He dropped Kirk's hand and took up her own, bowing low and touching them to his brow.

"My Lady, thank you once again for my life. I am forever your servant and am indebted to your house."

"I was honored to be of service, Chota'kel, and Potakai is richer to still have such a leader." Nyota answered sincerely. For all the turmoil this mission created, the one thing she would never regret was saving their lives.

"Nyota," Anat said reverently as she stepped toward the smaller Human. "I wish it known you are always welcome on Potakai and have a home with the Torga household. And I offer sincere apologies for any wrongs you feel you may have suffered at my whim."

Uhura had to take a deep breath to sustain her; the feelings of gratitude pouring into her from Anat were overwhelming. The last of her anger crumbled under the onslaught and she felt joy in Anat's heart for the forgiveness. As she composed herself, Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka stepped up to her.

"Lady Uhura, on behalf of the Potakai Star System, I wish to award you the 'Kel'kai' Dia'tane,' or Golden Star of Valor. A representation of the heart, mind and soul of the Potakai mente and offered to you as our humble token of gratitude for the great service you performed for us.

Lilu opened a jewel-encrusted case and allowed Ramsha to lift out a golden five-pointed star threaded on a black ribbon. He motioned for Uhura to lean forward so he could drape it over her head and allow it to rest upon her shoulders. Still in shock, she stood numbly as he scooped up her hands and touched them to her brow in the same expression of affection.

Uhura looked around to see Kirk's reaction to all the attention she was awarded. He stood there and gave her an affectionate grin, obviously not surprised at her being given a medal; in fact, he was acting rather proud of it.

"Zhames, please inform Starfleet and the Federation of the Lieutenant's great assistance to us. We intend to send a formal notice, but that may take a bit longer to get through the diplomatic channels." Ramsha asked of Kirk as he followed her stare. Lilu quickly stepped up and pressed the jeweled case into Ny's hands.

"Of course, Your Highness, it goes without saying." Kirk answered Ramsha, but beamed a genuine smile at Nyota, taking away what little composure she had regained.

The Royals backed away from the humans in a gesture of farewell. Uhura shook herself back to the present and stepped into position next to Kirk as he flipped open his communicator.

"Kirk to Enterprise--two to beam up." He requested as he had on countless other occasions--but this time he looked over at Uhura, holding her gaze for a long moment before the sparkle took them away.


They materialized within the familiar confines of the main transporter room. Uhura felt at home as she took in the faces staring back at her--Scotty's, Kyle's and McCoy's--but Spock's was nowhere to be seen. This surprised her, but apparently not Kirk. He stepped off the platform and absently reached back to assist her down as well. It was more attentive behavior than he would have given her in the past, but not too much of a stretch, considering she was still wearing heels.

"Mister Scott, inform Mister Spock to take us out, and ask him to meet me in my quarters in fifteen."

"Aye sir, will do--and I wanae thank ye for the 'care packages.' Mister Pahzj sent up another ten after ye left him this morning. He said he wanted to ‘make' many days for me. A fine gentleman, that one is." Scotty beamed from his newfound wealth. Uhura glanced at Kirk and they both laughed, the buried tension between them eased by the sweet brogue of the engineer.

"Aye Lass, that's some pretty pendant ye be wearing. Might it be a medal for saving the Royal Family?" Scott asked as he caught sight of the golden star around her neck.

"Yes, Mister Scott, you would be right--and I dare say more of those are to come the Lieutenant's way." Kirk answered proudly as Ny blushed.

"It's embarrassing to get a medal for just doing your duty." She answered shyly to Scotty.

"Then let's say you did more than that... and as an early reward, take the rest of the day off. Regular duty can start in the morning." Kirk offered with a knowing smile and gentle nod of his head for her to get gone.

"Thank you, sir" she answered in crisp, military fashion, doing her best to be nothing but thankful and professional. As she turned to go, McCoy stepped up to her and caught her eye.

"Lieutenant, I trust everything went all right after I left?"

"Yes sir, nothing that hypospray couldn't fix." She replied smartly, answering only his surface question. Whether she was referencing her shot, or Kirk's, she left up to McCoy to determine.

"Good. How about we get that pysch scan out of the way this afternoon, shall we?" He asked kindly, his keen eyes heartened by her confidence.

"Yes sir, I'd like that. I'm ready to get on with my life." Uhura answered softly, but now full of hope that she could do so.

"Good, Lieutenant. Now, did our patient follow orders?" McCoy asked a bit louder, bringing Kirk's interest away from Scotty and ship's business to his own. Ny noticed him tense just a fraction--waiting for her to answer.

"Oh, absolutely, Doctor. The Captain always follows orders." She grinned mischievously at Kirk, seeing him relax at her playful, but perfectly normal, reply. It was not as difficult as she feared it would be to find her old rhythm and pattern of interaction with him. After so much had happened between them, finding her old safe, but sassy, nuance had been a concern for her.

"Sure he does, Lieutenant...and which Captain were you discussing?" McCoy got into the banter, glad to see them comfortable with each other.

"That hurts, Bones. I always follow doctor's orders." Kirk offered in mock indignation.

"Yes, and you are going to prove it right now. I came to escort you to Sickbay for that date with my scalpel." McCoy tossed back, warming up for the inevitable delay.

"Give me an hour, Bones. I promise I'll be there in an hour. I need to touch base with Spock before you dope me all up." Kirk danced for time.

McCoy cut his eyes to Uhura and then to Scott and Kyle, looking at them as witnesses before zeroing back in on Kirk. "One hour--I have witnesses. If you're not there by then, I'm sending security after you. And you’d *better* hope I dope you up... ought to use a hammer and catgut..." He grumbled as he rocked up on his toes, aggravated by, but accepting, Kirk's terms.

"Go ahead, that's what I'll feel like you used anyway." Kirk shot back in a tone that spoke of past experiences. Scott and Kyle attempted to contain themselves as Kirk tossed them an aggrieved look before walking past the CMO and Comm Officer, bidding a tactical retreat.


Jim sat in his quarters and scanned over the backlog of messages in his queue--if anything, the few days McCoy would confine him to quarters would allow him an opportunity to catch up on them. He absently leaned back in his chair, but quickly sat back up, the edge of the chair gouging into his wounded shoulder and starting the throbbing pain again. He sighed and stared at his chronometer; Spock was not late--yet--but Kirk knew he would not choose to be early.

If he had any idea why Kirk wanted him to come to his quarters, he would stall for as much time as possible. Kirk wanted to ask Spock what he knew of his and Uhura's problem with the meld. Why they had practically become obsessed with each other? Or, to put in more succinctly, what did he know and when did he know it? The door chimed and Kirk glanced at the time--right on the nose.

"Come," he beckoned, allowing Spock to enter.

The tall Vulcan stepped in, calm and stoic. He scanned over his captain, taking in the slight cant of Kirk's shoulder and the tightness of his eyes, attempting to judge if this was more than a quick briefing.

"We have exited orbit, Captain, and are now underway to sector two-two-six for gaseous anomaly research. I trust the Potakai are adjusting to their new emperor and caste structure?" He inquired curiously, sensing nothing amiss from Kirk other than the pain of his delayed treatment.

"I think they will get through it." Kirk answered tiredly and motioned for Spock to sit. Spock sat in the proffered chair, allowing Kirk to stare at him straight-on as opposed to looking up and adding stress to his shoulder.

"Spock…" Kirk began hesitantly, but his eyes flared with keen interest. "Why did you really encourage me to--'act upon my mutual attraction'-- with Uhura? What did you know that you haven't told me?"

"I did not know anything." Spock answered back quickly--too quickly for Kirk's taste.

"All right, you didn't *know* anything. What did you *suspect* then?" Kirk sighed, knowing that any time Spock played semantics, he was in for a battle before getting what he wanted.

"Why do you think my reasons were anything other than what I stated? You risked losing a capable officer and you appeared to be the only man she desired."

"Hold it right there. How did you know that?" Kirk contested.

"Doctor McCoy informed me of the Lieutenant's fixation upon you."

Kirk's eyes lit up at the word 'fixation'. "And you didn't find that strange? That after such a deep meld, Uhura would suddenly be fixated--on me?"

"I often consider Human behavior strange." Spock offered in challenge, but Kirk didn't bite. He didn't chase rabbits as easily as McCoy. He just stared hard at Spock, waiting for a real answer.

"I did consider it unusual," was all that Spock would admit.

"And *my* behavior the past three months--did you consider it normal?" Kirk asked, dragging the answers out of him bit by bit.

"Your behavior was *more intense* than usual, but I surmised it was because of the trauma to one of your officers." Spock offered haltingly.

"And am I normally *so intense* when one of crew is injured? So intense you feel the need to escort me to the gym everyday and beat the *intensity* out of me?" Kirk asked, leaning across the table just a fraction.

"Injury to the crew often affects you for weeks. I assumed your fondness for the Lieutenant colored your emotions more than usual." Spock rebutted.

Tired of the game, Kirk snapped.

"Spock, don't sit there and play dumb with me. Fondness was hardly the color of my emotions where Uhura was concerned. You touched me enough to know that and still you thought that was normal?" He looked skeptically at Spock before continuing.

"No, you did not. And further, you recognized Uhura's behavior was not normal as well. So tell me, why did you encourage me to act upon my feelings for her? Why did you suddenly agree with McCoy that I could solve her problem?" He locked his eyes with Spock's and the Vulcan slumped infinitesimally in his chair.

"Because, once McCoy advised me of the Lieutenant's symptoms, I suspected you may have become fixated with each other during the meld.

"And…you thought that my sleeping with her would cure this…fixation?" Kirk asked, trying to lead Spock to explain further.

"There was scant data, but my research suggested that as a viable option. The only other choices were another meld--one I felt ill-equipped to perform--or seeking out a Vulcan healer, and that was not realistic considering the urgency of our mission."

Kirk's shoulders slumped as he shook his head. "Did you ever think that if you had just told me of your suspicions, I might have reacted differently?" He asked sadly, hurt that even after all they had been through together, Spock still hesitated to come to him without facts.

"I did not have enough pertinent data to present to you. You would not have accepted the choice any better than you did without my suspicions."

"You don't know that." Kirk cut him off.

"Jim, did any of our arguments convince you to act? Look into yourself and see what caused you to change your mind."

Kirk cut his eyes at Spock, raising his chin in consideration of what the Vulcan had just inadvertently confessed. Kirk knew Uhura's resignation to defeat had caused him to reach out to her, but how did Spock know he had done anything at all? The Vulcan, who never made assumptions, wasn't making one now either. Changing tactics, Kirk asked, ""How did the fixation happen, Spock? What went wrong?"

"I believe you overwhelmed the partitioning of your personalities that I had established before removing myself from your interaction."

"--But you weren't affected?" Kirk asked quickly.

"I was not. I was merely the bridge between your minds." Spock added, trying to assuage Kirk's fear.

"Good, good," Kirk answered absently, almost to himself.

"But Spock, don't ever do that again." Kirk warned quickly. "Come to me if you ever suspect something is not right. Let me make the choice based upon all the data. Don't just manipulate the circumstances to achieve your goal. I won't be angry with you, or blame you if you talk to me up front. Now, dismissed. I have a surgery date with McCoy--hold the fort down for me, okay?" He smiled at the Vulcan, motioning for him to go.

"Yes, sir." Spock replied with just a hint of relief in his voice. He had nearly made his escape when Kirk called out--looking at him through the open doorway. His voice low, carrying just to the Vulcan.

"You were there, weren't you?" The Human's gaze tore through his defenses, stealing the truth from him before his shields could mask the answer reflected in his own eyes. Frozen in place, no words were needed. He was trapped by Kirk's stare as he saw through Spock all too easily. His salvation came solely by the automatic closure of the cabin door. Spock took a step back, ensuring it did not open again in sensing his presence and fervently computed the odds that Jim would not open it from the other side. His face flushed in shame as he hurried to the sanctuary of the Bridge.


Uhura walked into sickbay just as McCoy walked out of the surgery suite. He looked tired but pleased when he caught her staring at him from near the doorway.

"Hello, Lieutenant, right on time. Just give me a minute to clean myself up and we can get started." He gave her a big smile.

"Sure, Doctor." She smiled back as she sat down in the chair near the inner doorway. "Is the Captain going to be all right?" She asked anxiously, taking his happiness as a good sign.

"Yes, in a few days he'll be wrestling Sam again down in the gym. He's damn lucky I'm so good with catgut." He laughed wickedly as he dried his hands and motioned her to accompany him to the exam room. Just before she followed him in to find out her fate, she stopped and asked quietly.

"Doctor McCoy, do you think I might be able to check in on the Captain after my scan? I promise I'll be quiet. I'd just like to be the one to tell him I passed my test."

McCoy gave her a warm, fatherly smile. "Sure, Uhura. I think that would be just what the doctor ordered."


An hour later, Uhura came out of the exam room wearing a smile a laser cannon could not erase. McCoy followed in her wake, grinning almost just as proudly.

"Congratulations, Lieutenant. I knew you could do it." He broke protocol and hugged her in excitement.

"Thank you, Doctor, for having faith in me." She murmured against his cheek as she hugged him back. How wonderful it felt to be able to love and touch again without fear.

"Do you think the Captain is awake now?" She asked in anxious anticipation.

"Let's go find out." McCoy slipped his arm around her shoulder and steered her toward the recovery ward. The doors opened to cool air and dim lighting, a soft steady beep keeping time with Jim's heartbeat. Christine looked up and smiled at them as they neared the bed containing her only patient. Chapel looked at Uhura, raising her brows in an unspoken question. Uhura nodded her head like a giddy schoolgirl and the nurse rushed around the bed to give her a congratulatory hug.

"Is he awake?" Uhura whispered in Christine's ear.

"He's in and out. We have him on some pretty strong meds, but if you call his name he'll open his eyes." Christine answered sympathetically, understanding Uhura's desire to share her good news.

Uhura gave her a big smile as Chris let her go and walked out of the ward with McCoy. She was surprised, but appreciative of the privacy they allowed her. She looked down at the sleeping man on the biobed. Kirk lay on his stomach, his back and shoulders exposed, but a sheet draped the rest of him. His shoulder was smooth again, the dermaplas bandage gone along with most of the bruising. His peaceful face was turned to the left, still so innocent and vulnerable in repose. Ny reached out and stroked his cheek, unable to resist touching him this one last time. His eyes opened at her touch, trying to see who was in the room with him. Ny pulled a chair up near his bed and sat down, leaning in so she would be at eye level with him.

"Hello, Captain." She smiled into his face, waiting while his eyes fought to focus.

"Hi" he managed to say once he recognized her.

"Doctor McCoy let me in for a moment so I could be the one to tell you I passed my pysch scan. He's released me back to active duty." She reached out and brushed his hair back out of his eyes.

"I knew you would." He tried to nod, but settled for giving her a sleepy smile.

"I did because you helped me; I owe my life on Enterprise to you." She whispered as he lost the battle to keep his eyes open. Leaning down, she kissed him on the cheek and breathed, "Thank you," into his ear. A sweet smile lit up his face for a few seconds before the meds claimed him again. Uhura kissed him on the temple once more, saying goodbye to so much more than just her captain. She straightened the sheet over his back and walked out the door--a journey of a few meters than claimed a lifetime.


The rec room was alive with the sounds of her friends. Uhura could not remember a sweeter sound as she let the laughter and general nonsense seep into her skin. Chekov popped up like a prairie dog from a corner table and yelled, "Uhura, over here!"

She sauntered over to the table where Chekov sat in high excitement and Sulu gave her a pained look, warning her she probably did not want to hear this. She could tell he didn't.

"Nyota, I am glad you're back! I need someone as ferocious as you to protect me. I don't know vat has heppined to all the women on board, but dey have suddenly lost der minds and have started to smack me on de butt venever they can!"

Uhura burst out laughing--all the old dares coming back to her from that night a few weeks ago.

"Vat is so funny? Ewen Nurse Chapel hez gone crazy. She pinched me vile she vas giving me a shot!"

"Oh, Pavel, lighten up." She quipped at the outraged Russian. "I think you have a cute butt too--can I pinch it?" She reached down as if to do just that and he slapped her hand away.

"Certainly not!" He barked, offended at first and then considered her statement further. "You really tink I heve a cute butt?" He asked curiously. Sulu rolled his eyes and implored Uhura not to egg on this nightmare.

"Well, not as cute as Sulu's, but it's pretty cute." She answered conspiratorially. Perking up at being ranked higher, Sulu regained interest in the conversation.

"Nyet. I tink my butt is much cuter than Sulu's." Chekov replied indignantly. Uhura laughed until tears glittered in her eyes; oh how she had missed the silliness and love of her friends.


Uhura wandered in to dim lighting in her quarters, thankful she had had the foresight to realize soft lighting would be a blessing. She had drunk and partied, giggling and laughing with everyone, intent upon catching up for lost time and opportunities. Later on, Chris had joined them, allowing her to celebrate her real victory with someone in the know. She had told Chekov and Sulu that McCoy had released her back to full duty, but it wasn't the same as sharing with someone who knew the whole story.

Much later in the celebration, Mister Spock had ghosted through the room--she had made eye contact from across the room and he had given her a single nod of acknowledgement. It gave Uhura goosebumps how much he reminded her of Chota'di. That Chota'di was now Chota'kel and reminded her of a very different man did nothing to erase the eeriness of Spock's dark eyes and knowing look.

As she stripped off her tunic, she saw the glow from her monitor and walked around to turn it off, silently chastising herself for leaving it on. As her hand rested on the toggle, her fingers froze as her eyes absorbed the message glowing on the screen--the sender anonymous but hardly a secret to her.

Let me confess that we two must be twain,
Although our undivided loves are one:
shall those blots that do with me remain,
Without thy help, by me be borne alone.
In our two loves there is but one respect,
Though in our lives a separable spite,
Which though it alter not love's sole effect,
Yet doth it steal sweet hours from love's delight.
I may not evermore acknowledge thee,
Lest my bewailed guilt should do thee shame,
Nor thou with public kindness honour me,
Unless thou take that honour from thy name:
But do not so, I love thee in such sort,
As thou being mine, mine is thy good report

Ny's eyes watered as she read the words over and over, so touching and sweet a sentiment from the man in sickbay now sleeping a dreamless sleep. Uhura hit the print key to mortally capture in hard copy the words that had stenciled themselves into her heart.




Healing Touch Chapter 14 K/U [NC-17]

Image manipulation courtesy of mostly me
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Feedback: Yes please, here or by email.

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.


Ronar'di was the first to greet them as they re-entered the Audience Hall.

"Ah, Ambassador, fortunate for you it was old General Mora'di who turned rogue instead of me. Otherwise, you would not have been so lucky." The new, young Warrior Chief of Staff fairly beamed at him and ignored Uhura, the winner of that confrontation, altogether. So different from Chota'di, this one.

"Yes, my good fortune, I'm sure." Kirk answered back with a smile that did not reach his eyes.

Ramsha'ka and Lilu'ka approached in a quick step, obvious relief on their faces as they took in the sight of the two humans. Ronar stepped back, allowing them some privacy.

"Ambassador, My Lady, Grandmother said you were injured and that your doctor was treating you. It pleases us to see you both well." Ramsha'ka voiced sincerely. Both Aristocrats scanned over the two Humans, trying to ensure they were fine. They sensed discord, but not the reason for it.

"Thank you for your concern, Your Highnesses." Kirk answered with a slight bow of his head. The movement caused a slight twinge of his eyes--neither Potakai saw it, but Uhura did.

"Speaking of Anata'ka, where is the Dowager?" Kirk asked casually.

"She and Chota'di are in deep conference with the crèche mothers and the high priest. Both your actions have caused quite a stir amongst the hierarchy and households. I cannot say I disagree with her, now that she has told me what your plan was, but I'm glad she did not confide in me earlier. I would not have allowed it."

The new emperor shook his head in resignation as Uhura stared at him in shock. He was *glad* Anat kept it to herself? He was *happy* to have been excluded? Ramsha'ka turned to her, his attention drawn by her tiny start of surprise, but Lilu chose that moment to speak.

"And Nyota, how brave of you to engage Mora'di. A Potakai berserker is nothing to trifle with, but then it should be a given that neither is a Starfleet officer. Now I know it is a fallacy to assume our greater height makes us superior in battle. You proved today that your human strength far surpasses anything we consider normal."

Uhura recognized Lilu's intervention as just that--a way to distract Ramsha and change the topic. Thankful, she smiled gratefully at the Empress, even if the new topic was not much better.

"Thank you, Your Highness." Accepting the praise with only a slight flush, Nyota felt their attention upon her. She felt Kirk's gaze upon her, quietly assessing her response, but now the smile on his face was genuine.

"Well, shall we make our entrance to the ball, now? It still started on time." Ramsha'ka grinned at the humor of partying in the face of adversity.

"Since I have no idea when Grandmother shall finish her discussions, and you are still my heir, I think it apropos that we greet the households together."

"I'm sure that will liven up the party." Kirk replied in his best deadpan. "Any idea how long I'm going to own my new title?"

"What, Zhames, tired of dodging threats already?" Ramsha laughed loudly.

"No, no--it's not that, exactly--it's just that Starfleet frowns on its officers moonlighting as planetary rulers." Kirk answered mildly.

Laughing harder, Ramsha answered as he motioned them toward the ballroom. "I promise to relieve you of that title soon, but let them ponder it for awhile…."


The party had gone on for hours and showed no sign of slowing down, their entrance only a slight hiccup in the grand celebration.

Uhura tried to focus on what one of the Governors was saying to her as they danced Potakai-style. She felt like she had danced with every man in the room--some of them twice--and wanted nothing more than to sit down and enjoy some peace and quiet for a few minutes. In Potakai tradition, she and Kirk had split up and worked the room separately. Tonight she was grateful for the custom because it allowed her some time to sort through her emotions and figure out why she was so angry with him.

It boiled down to a matter of trust. He had not trusted her and that hurt. Keeping Anat's plan to himself was tantamount to lying, and after his speech about honesty their first night together, that hurt even more. No trust and no honesty equaled no respect--and that hurt most of all. She was no longer sad; now she was mad. Such realizations had kept her at a slow simmer all night.

She glanced across the dance floor and saw Kirk dancing in Human fashion with Lilu. She noticed, not for the first time tonight, that his left hand was resting low on his partner's hip. Most of his dances had been at the female's request and nearly all of those had been in some version of Human dance. Whether this was his choice or theirs, she did not know. However, the dreamy looks on the women's faces made her suspect them as the culprits, while Kirk acquiesced so he didn't have to hold his injured arm up for long. The bitch inside of her took guilty pleasure in knowing their hands resting on his shoulder had to be painful.

The music stopped in mid-tune and everyone turned to the entryway. Standing there in full Royal posture was Anata'ka, and at her side Chota'di, who no longer wore a uniform, but instead a handsomely tailored suit. After a moment of everyone frozen in place, Ramsha'ka walked up to them, greeting her as an equal and in obvious acceptance. Soon, the others followed. Uhura's current dance partner graciously excused himself and made his way to the Dowager as well.

Finally able to take a break, Uhura sat down at a corner table, grateful for the respite and in no hurry to greet Anat. If she was angry with anyone right now more than Kirk, it was Anat. She had manipulated them all, playing with their emotions and their fears in order to orchestrate her plan.

"Are you ready to greet the new clan leaders?" Kirk asked quietly, catching Uhura off guard. His tone was guarded, not expecting a change in her attitude since their last encounter.

"That's why we stayed, isn't it? To be--seen? To show the Potakai we won't be scared away by some little attempted assassination?" She whispered back sarcastically.

Kirk's face clouded and she expected to be busted back to ensign, if not worse, but whatever he started to say was swallowed as he took a deep, cleansing breath before trying again.

"If you want to look at it that way. I prefer to think we're helping stabilize a culture that just might tear itself apart and maybe salvage a relationship between the Federation and the Potakai. But maybe that's just me. Now, are you ready to make our appearance?" The tone was a question, but the look that came with it was an order.

"Yes, sir." She answered tightly as she took his proffered right arm, for once not interested in the bigger picture.

The crowd parted before them, acknowledging their rank without demure. Uhura found herself face to face with Anat and Chota'di much too soon.

"Ah, Zhames, you look much better than last I saw you. I am very glad you are still with us." She smiled with deep sincerity at him before turning her attention toward Uhura.

"And Nyota, I am forever in your debt for saving all our lives. Your courage saved millions of lives, not just us few." The Dowager actually bowed to the stunned consort.

"You're welcome, Your Highness, but I just did my duty." Uhura murmured quietly, she had no wish for Anat to feel any obligation to her.

"Yes, I know. Strange how duty interferes with reason and normal behavior--taking hold of one and bending them to its will." Anat remarked in a conversational tone, but her eyes were focused on Uhura's face.

"Yes, strange indeed." Nyota answered to all the layers of her statement.

"Zhames!" Chota'di exclaimed in barely contained enthusiasm. "It's all so clear to me now." He flashed a most Kirk-like smile at them and Uhura felt her world spin around. Kirk grinned back and it was like an old camera negative was being compared to its photograph. He did not even ask what was so clear, because Kirk knew, even if the others did not.

"And now you have years to explore all of it." Anat spoke lovingly to Chota, briefly excluding them from her conversation with her -- what? What was Chota'di to her now?

"So, Zhames, may I have one last dance? I promise good behavior and no tugging on your shoulder." Anat's smile started out impish, but the mention of his injury subdued it.

"Of course, Your Highness. I would be honored." Kirk bowed slightly, then escorted the Dowager onto the floor.

The crowd parted, recognizing dismissal when they saw it. Uhura watched them move together--Anat at her word, keeping her hands at Kirk's waist and right shoulder--knowing that the Dowager merely wanted a private forum to speak with Kirk.

"Nyota, would you teach me that dance?" The warm tone and familiar smile unnerved her as she looked up at the tall Potakai.

"Of course, Gen- I mean Chota-di." Uhura caught herself, moving out on the floor with him and placing one of his hands around her waist and holding the other in a firm grasp.

"Oh, it's not Chota'di anymore either. Now I'm known as Chota'kel, just as Anat is now known as Anata'kel. Kel means 'star' and we are now clan leaders of the Seka Caste--those who would seek out the stars." His chest puffed out in pride as he said this, his normally somber face totally surrendering to his new grin.

"We may never get to see the stars ourselves, most of our immediate future will be spent dealing with establishing our new caste. Mostly, hammering out the protocols with the crèche mothers and brokering with Ramsha'ka for part of his fleet." He mused in a mixture of excitement and resignation.

"It sounds like quite a challenge." Nyota answered distractedly as they moved across the floor. He had picked up the steps rapidly and was leading quite well.

"Why are you angry with Zhames and Anat?" He asked curiously, causing Uhura to falter and miss a step.

"Quit reading my mind." She said flatly, attempting to warn him off.

"Anat is the mind-reader. I am merely observant." He replied with a too-innocent air.

"Was it so wrong to save millions of Warriors--to find a way to channel our instinctive aggression into something less destructive?"

Ohhhh…. The look and the logic were getting to her.

"Not when you put it that way, no, I guess not. It wasn't the goal that was the problem, but how it was carried out." She finally voiced.

"Ahh--and you were excluded and that has made you angry--especially with Zhames." He spoke mostly to himself, trying to understand her anger.

"I don't want to discuss it." She warned again.

"Anat asked him to keep her secret. She expressly asked him not to share with you for fear of it becoming known--"

"For fear I might not be able to keep a secret you mean." She bit back.

"No, for fear another sensitive might attempt to read your thoughts. Nyota, even I, who had the most to gain personally, would have struck her down to stop such a plan. I would have had no choice but to act upon my pono tomau. As a Human, I'm sure that is something very hard for you to understand, but you do understand duty. It would have been the harshest order I could ever imagine, but I would have carried it out."

"I liked you better when you were the strong, silent type." Uhura retorted testily.

Chota's crest flattened in surprise at her barb, but his smile did not falter.

"But my eyes were closed to so many possibilities then, Nyota. Do you wish me still blind to the beauty before me? Did you know your eyes glitter like stars when you are angry?"

"Now you're sounding too much like him. Stop it. Turn the charm down a few degrees."

Chota tried to look contrite, but even in that, Nyota saw Kirk's mannerisms. She kept it to herself, but she could not control a slight roll of her eyes.

"Excuse me, I do find strange thoughts popping into my head. Anat assures me they will dissipate, that my new insight will settle and mesh with who I've always been." He offered, not in apology, but merely by way of explanation.

"But you're still angry with him…" Chota continued, not willing to let the subject drop.

Uhura looked around the room, seeking an escape from his questioning. She noticed Jim and Anat were still together, dancing closely. It was obvious they were in deep communion.

"You could leave, but someone would notice. They would wonder why the Consort runs from the Ambassador."

"I'm not running--" she hissed, but realized it was exactly what she was thinking, "--from him." She added. "I'm just not interested in answering your questions. Why do you care if I'm angry?"

"Ah, so you are angry." He grinned as if getting this tiny confession out of her was all he wanted.

"Fine. I'm angry. Now are you happy?"

"No, I am not happy that you're angry, but I am glad that you admitted it to me." He clarified, her sarcasm lost in translation.

"It matters to me in that I like you and owe a great debt of gratitude to you both, to Zhames for giving me a new perspective on life, and to you, Nyota, for giving me a new perspective on love. I do not wish to see such anger between two I respect so much."

Uhura looked up into the yellow eyes that looked tenderly into her own. Her anger, at least at Chota'kel, vanished and she smiled shyly in response to the warmth his look generated within her.

"Don't worry, we'll work it out between us. We've been through too much together for this to end our relationship." She hoped that was not a lie.


The ball finally wound down, allowing the Federation couple to excuse themselves. Anat had always been somewhere else when Uhura had briefly found herself partner-less. Now, as they bid their farewells, she stood proudly, towering over Uhura with no semblance of shame. Her eyes were warm, but guarded, as she acknowledged their bland pleasantries. Uhura found it eerily strange to only be conversing with her on a verbal level for a change.

Kirk stepped up next to her, offering his own goodnights to the Aristocrats and Sekas. He drew near, but did not touch her as he encouraged Uhura to lead the way back to their apartments. He was quiet all the way back. A few stolen glances at him told Uhura he was in pain--the tightness around the eyes--telling. She kept the silence between them, knowing it would not last. Even through the veil of his command presence, she sensed anger from him. Good. She did not want to be the only one shouting.

As they entered their apartments, Pahzj asked if they needed anything else of him. Their murmurs of "No, thank you" were met with a hesitant bob of his head. He obviously sensed the tension between them, but had no idea what to do. After no further acknowledgement from either of them, he left.

Finally alone, Uhura stalked into 'their' bedroom, starting to collect her things. No, tonight she could not stay in this room. In fact, she might just choose to beam back to the ship. Let the ambassador make his excuses for her in the morning in their formal farewell.

"So, are you ready to tell me why you're so angry? Or do I just get to watch you throw things?" He asked baitingly as she missed her bag and tossed her brush on the floor.

Bending down to pick up the brush, she whirled on him, fire flashing in her eyes.

"You *knew* what Anat had planned--and you kept me in the dark! You nearly got killed and I nearly stood there and watched it happen!"

Hot tears of rage were running down her cheeks. Impotent rage that sent shivers down her spine. She knew she was out of control, but she did not care. Nothing mattered.

"You forget yourself, Lieutenant." Kirk's tone was cold and cutting, but Uhura had seen a look of surprise gloss his face before he schooled it into stone.

"I forget? I forget? Who forgot their big speech about honesty? Your silence was as good as a lie." She spit out between gritted teeth, pushing past him in dismissal as she continued to collect her gear.

"I never lied!" Kirk snapped as he reached out, his injury momentarily forgotten, and grabbed her as she passed him.

Uhura felt herself spun around and held in an iron grip. She looked up into his eyes and saw such a look of furious indignation that she cringed. Her cower made Kirk react as if someone had thrown ice water over him. He looked at his hands as they gripped her arms and made himself let go of her. He backed away, dropping his arms to his sides.

"I never lied to you." He repeated--this time deadly calm. "I promised Anat I would keep her confidence. I kept my word."

"What about your word to me?" Ny asked in anguish.

"Penda, Starfleet sent me here to bring the Potakai into the Federation, to make allies with Anat at all costs. She told me her price for that alliance and I paid it. It was for the greater good to risk myself rather than banish millions of Warriors to death. I'm sorry for hurting you in the process; it wasn't a matter of trust. I would have told you if I could have, but I won't apologize for carrying out my duty and honoring my oath. I told you I couldn't be more to you than I already was. My duty has to come first. It's not what I want but it is the reality of our situation." His voice softened at the last, as if he didn't have the energy or the desire to be angry anymore.

"Would you have told Spock if he were here instead of me?" She rubbed her tingling arms and backed away from him.

Turning away from her and looking out into the blackness of the sea, he answered. "No, I wouldn't have. He would have known, but I wouldn't have told him."

And Uhura knew he was right--Spock would have *known*--but she didn't, couldn't, and he should have told her so she could have better prepared to protect him....

"But you nearly died…" Was all she could think to say, the cruelness of that shock still pressing down on her.

"Yes, I nearly died, Penda, but I didn't--you saved me. Someday I might not be so lucky, but you can't keep me all tucked in and safe on the Bridge. Nobody can--not you, not McCoy, not Spock." He turned back to face her, all anger gone, replaced by a look of sad determination.

"And you'll push away anyone who tries…" She added to his decree.

"There are limits." He answered with quiet finality.

What were *her* limits? How did she fit into his life once back aboard Enterprise? How much had really changed between them? All these questions crashed into each other, forming the most important one that demanded an answer.

"What am I to you?" Uhura begged, the mystery of his true feelings more than she could bear. She had to know what she meant to him--here--now.

"You're beautiful." Kirk answered, reaching out to brush his fingers across her cheek.

Uhura flinched back from his caress, too aware he could control her with one touch. She let the anger she felt goad her to demand more from him: platitudes and stock answers were no longer good enough.

"I need more than that." Her voice was raspy, raw with emotion.

"You're the woman I see whenever I think of the Enterprise. You're acceptance, a safe haven, home. Your presence soothes and nurtures me. Your beauty makes my heart quicken."

To another woman, being compared with a ship would be insulting, but Uhura knew differently. She understood Kirk's relationship with his ship and how much he loved her, how much of his soul was tied to its being. But did that love transcend to her? She had to ask; she had to know.

"Does love have any place here?" She stared into his eyes, waiting for an answer--needing an answer.

Kirk stepped back and dropped his hands to his sides, mindful she would not allow his touch, aware he had touched her far too much already.

"Yes, a strong love, a forever love, a love worth dying for--but not an 'in love'." He answered in a halting voice. Uhura knew his confession was hard for him, but she refused to show pity. Instead, she kept staring, silently insisting he say more, his answer only begging more questions.

"My feelings about you are too entangled with the ship, our positions." Kirk began, struggling for words, his voice entreating her to understand.

"It's hard for me to see who you really are instead of what you've been to me. I've grown too attached to the loyalty and support you've given me to risk that on something I know we can't have."

Uhura watched as his eyes came into sharp focus, switching from introspection to suddenly challenging for his own answers. "What am I to you?"

"You're my protection from evil, my champion in battle, my handsome and gallant knight--and my image of you is far too perfect to be real. I'm in love with 'the Captain', but he is just a persona, an alter-go of the real man. The real man I barely know; I've only been allowed to see that man in glimpses--tired moments when the hero has let his guard down."

Uhura saw that he was stunned by her words. She held his eyes and continued, the words spilling from her lips and taking her anger with them.

"Would I be disappointed with the real man? No, but I think I would be consumed and burned to ashes if exposed for any length of time to the real James Tiberius Kirk. In many ways you remind me of Apollo--golden hair and skin, your warm eyes--so like the sun. Your intensity about life so brilliant, blinding to those who would dare to look at you. And like Apollo, you're trapped by your need to move, never allowed to linger in one place."

Uhura moved toward Kirk, no longer angry that he had kept her in the dark, finally accepting that he had done what he felt was right to honor his word. Her fear of losing him was still with her, a reconciliation still to be made. She reached out and stroked his face, forgiveness in her caress. He shut his eyes and leaned into her touch. She leaned in, kissing him tenderly on the lips, feeling his arms encircle her and pull her close before she pushed back a little--enough to finish what she needed to say.

"In love, as in life, you crave the rapids, and I prefer the deep, still waters. Somehow, right now, I think we're caught in an eddy line--a boundary between the two forces. We can't move backward or forward until we come to terms with our feelings for each other. I know you feel passionately about me, but only you can forgive yourself for feeling passionately for me. I absolved myself for loving you long ago."

With that she pulled him to her, kissing him as if there were no tomorrow. For her, there was not.





Healing Touch Chapter 13 K/U [NC-17]

Image a compilation of 'pretty'
Disclaimer: Paramount owns Star Trek. I only own my fantasies.
Feedback: Yes please, here or by email.

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 bridge viewscreen was filled with the Potakai Ascendancy Processional in full tilt. Images from every angle were captured and presented along with a soft narrative by an off-screen commentator. Awash in a sea of color, the entire bridge crew was enthralled as each household marched by in their traditional garb. The boulevard used by the procession was lined with thousands of Potakai, all chirping and fluttering their crests. The entire screen was covered with spectators, no matter how wide a shot the camera panned.

A loud drum corps played a heady, reverberating beat. The rhythm was exciting, yet controlled the crowd. From the Conn, Spock noticed Sulu's hand tapping his console in unconscious mimicry of the compelling pulse. He felt it tug at the primitive center of his brain, but clamped down on his shields, blocking the entrancing rhythm.

McCoy and Christine came onto the Bridge and stepped down next to Spock. At his look of inquiry for their unrequested arrival, McCoy chimed in, his tone half-plea and half-challenge.

"The announcer said the last household was just about to march, Spock. Christine and I were tired of watching on our little screen and wanted to see the rest of the ceremony in detail. You can't begrudge us that, can you?"

"Very well, Doctor. However, please keep your comments to a minimum. I do not wish to be distracted." Spock warned.

McCoy started to retort back about being incapable of distracting such a stubborn Vulcan, but the serious gaze the first officer turned on him drew him up short. Spock was not bantering; he was worried.

"There they are!" Sulu yelled out, bringing all eyes back to the screen.

Emerging from the Torga archway, and the focus of a tight shot from the video feed, were Kirk and Uhura as they led their procession. A Company of female Warriors, all of equal Captain's rank, flanked them on all sides. Their faces were fully covered by tattoos, their crests a deep indigo tufted in white. No ceremonial palace guard, these were decorated and battle-proven Warriors meant for serious protection.

"My God! She is beautiful." Ignoring the Warriors, Chekov whispered in hushed awe.

"Stunning, my boy. Stunning." McCoy answered the young Russian, mesmerized by the woman before him.

There was no mistaking who they were talking about. Every man's eyes were locked upon the image of Uhura as she glided down the stairs at Kirk's side. She wore a brilliant white gown, richly brocaded in various insignia of the Federation homeworlds. The strapless gown was long and full, her crystal stilettos barely visible as she lifted its hem to aid her descent. Drawing attention to her décolletage, a matching wrap draped her shoulders, held closed by a golden Enterprise-emblem broach. A golden necklace and dangling earrings complimented her upswept hair and dramatic makeup.

As the Federation couple reached the bottom of the steps, Uhura dropped her hold on the hem of her gown and placed her hand on Kirk's proffered arm. Row after row of Torga Potakai followed their new household leadership down the boulevard.

Chapel studied her friend; a slight pang of jealousy thumping in her chest as she silently acknowledged how beautiful Ny was before turning her attention to Kirk. It was rare to see the Captain in anything other than his everyday uniform and the sight of him in civilian dress caught her off guard. He was gorgeous. Not attractive or handsome - but gorgeous. He wore a close-fitting outfit of midnight blue suede. The cropped jacket was trimmed in bronze cord along the seams and immaculately tailored to show off the breadth of his shoulders. While, Chris thought wickedly, the clinging pants highlighted the delicious curve of his butt. He wore a Federation pin over his heart and Chris was fairly sure two golden feathers were clipped in his hair near his temple.

"They look like they just stepped off the top of a wedding cake." Christine answered, putting her own spin on the imagery they presented. It was on the tip of her tongue to wax eloquent on whom she found attractive, but she kept her more risqué thoughts to herself.

The two marched in a slow, measured step, setting the pace and the tone for the hundreds following. Neither of their faces gave much away to those watching from the Enterprise. Kirk's eyes were serious, taking in all the activity around them. A ghost of a smile tried to lighten his face, but failed to unleash the sunshine they all knew he could blind them with. Uhura had a warm smile of her own, but a trace of apprehension clouded her eyes. That they were both on alert and nervous was about all that could be inferred from their body language.

Everyone sat up and took notice as the commentator remarked that Ramsha'ka had named Kirk as his heir in a special ceremony the night before. Spock's eyebrows were well past his hairline as he exchanged looks with McCoy.

"I take it this is news to you?" McCoy asked sarcastically.

"Affirmative, Doctor. The Captain made no mention of it during our morning briefing." Spock answered with just a hint of incredulousness.

"Well, Heaven forbid he should ever lead a dull mission. He would die from boredom."

"No, Doctor, he would not, but he may die from the repercussions of Ramsha'ka's decision to make him heir to the Potakai throne." Spock replied to McCoy's diatribe with quiet conviction.

Brought back to reality, McCoy demanded, "What the Hell does that mean, Spock?"

"It means that by choosing the Captain as heir, Ramsha'ka has made himself a lesser target to those who oppose his ascension to the throne. Now, his would-be opponents must consider the ramifications of his death: namely, the imposition of a Federation citizen as the head of their government."

"The Federation would never allow such a thing." McCoy scoffed.

"Exactly, but the Potakai do not know that. To them it is quite believable, and that, Doctor, is all that matters. It also makes Jim a far more desirable target to the opposition. Remove the heir first before renewing the attack upon the throne. "Fascinating; a highly strategic move, presumably made by the Dowager to bide time…"

"A strategic move with Jim's life, you pointy-eared calculator." McCoy blew up. "The Dowager has just possibly signed a death-warrant with Jim's name on it and you sit there and admire her strategy!"

"Doctor, calm yourself. It would appear Anata'ka has taken great pains to ensure the Captain's safety. Security is extremely tight throughout the entire city. All ships have been warned out of low orbit and she has surrounded him with a formidable guard. To allow something to happen to Jim only hastens an attack against Ramsha'ka, which she has gone to great pains to shield him from. I think it unlikely she wants anything to happen to the Captain."

"What she wants and what might happen are two different things, Spock. We need to warn him." McCoy growled.

"The Captain would have deduced all of this for himself, Doctor. You forget, he is an excellent tactician in his own right. I surmise his understanding of the threat explains both his and Lieutenant Uhura's state of alertness as they cross the processional - the most logical point for attack."

"Well, that's just dandy! Let's all just stand here and hold our breath while they cross the damn courtyard, why don't we?" McCoy bit back scathingly, impotent to do anything more than just what he had mocked.


Uhura took a deep breath as they entered the Audience Hall. It was not actually a sigh of relief--they still had to get through the ceremony--but at least she did not feel a sniper's scope targeting her now. They were not out of danger yet, but the security was tighter here inside the Hall. She felt Kirk give her arm a quick squeeze of reassurance. She looked up into his calm eyes and gained strength from him.

How did he do that? How did he always look like he could handle anything and make her feel that way too? Giving her a flash of his cocky grin, he started their march toward the dais, where the Royal Entourage and High Priest awaited them. Ny grinned back, feeling heady from the rush of adrenaline surging through her.

The scene was surreal, Warriors lining the walls and the aisles all the way to the dais, looking like a part of the decorations with their crests in full flare. Only the battle black of their armored uniforms bespoke of their potential role if something should go amiss. No weapons, save their ceremonial short swords, were allowed in the Hall, but Uhura had no doubt they were highly skilled in their use.

The march to the top of the dais seemed to take forever. Now, aware of the unrest within the Governor's ranks, she felt their tight scrutiny as she and Kirk passed row after row of each household along the way. Nearly all of the Governors stood at their approach--they did represent the House of Torga after all--but a few tried to remain seated. Ny felt herself brought up short and realized Kirk had stopped and turned to face the recalcitrant Governors, silently demanding that they offer their respect. She felt a shiver run along her spine at the stare down, but she kept her face composed. She glanced between the challenging glare of the Mescu Governor and the flinty stare of Kirk. She had seen Kirk's stare before, but he was usually facing a Klingon Commander, not a supposed ally. It was a battle of wills, but Ny thought that, with Anat's added urging from above, the Governor saw the error of his ways and grudgingly rose to his feet.

Seemingly satisfied that honor had been preserved, Kirk glanced hard at the other few governors who had started to show defiance. They quickly rose to their feet when the ringleader backed down, dropping their crests in a subtle apology. Kirk gave a slight nod of his head to each of them before continuing his march to the front.

When they reached the foot of the stairs, Kirk and Uhura continued to the top of the dais while the household members took their seats at the front of the Hall. The Aristocrats greeted them with warm smiles as protocol officers ushered them to their positions for the ceremonies. The Royals were all dressed in obscenely rich robes of traditional design and house colors. It nearly hurt to look at them.

The High Priest immediately took control of the assembly. He began his speech in that obscure dialect the translator struggled to comprehend.

A soft murmur of, / Don’t worry, I will tell you anything you need to know or do. / Flashed through Uhura's mind as Anat tried to put them at ease.

Actually, comprehending so little of the priest's words allowed Uhura to view the ceremony unfettered by anticipation. She watched as he chanted and anointed Ramsha'ka with the smoke of a pungent incense. The chant was picked up and repeated by everyone in the Hall.

Finally, it appeared it was time for power to be formally transferred from Anata'ka to Ramsha'ka. Anat turned to face her heir and placed her hands along his brow. They both closed their eyes and began a singsong chant of their own. This time, the Hall remained silent.

Upon completion of one verse, Anat motioned for Chota'di to detach himself from the bevy of Generals standing at the rear of the dais. He complied with exacting motion, unsheathing his sword and offering it to Anat in a gesture that needed no translation. With a deep drop of her crest, she accepted the symbol of his fealty and, in turn, presented it to Ramsha'ka.

Ramsha accepted the gift with all the reverence it demanded. He held the sword high and admired the rosy sheen the skylights bounced off its gleaming blade. He then turned it hilt-first and offered the sword back to Chota'di. The Warrior froze in the act of accepting his blade from his new liege lord. Once taken, it meant his loyalty was wholly and irrevocably transferred to Ramsha'ka from Anata'ka.

Uhura watched as Chota struggled with himself, trying to reach for the blade, but not able to do so. After a third attempt, he dropped his crest in defeat and stepped back to Anat's side. Uhura's heart broke. She knew he had tried to do as Anat had wished--to change for her--but the ancient drives were too strong. He would die before leaving her service, and her side. Ramsha'ka nodded his head once, both acknowledging the General's decision and agreeing with Chota's choice. The new emperor took the blade between his hands and snapped it in two, symbolically severing Chota'di from his service.

He then cast his eyes at the row of generals, challenging any to step forward and assume Chota'di's vacant position. One of the younger generals quickly stepped forward. His crest was proudly erect and the gold ribbons of service draped along the sleeves of his uniform fluttered in the sudden breeze of his advance. Uhura searched her brain for a name--General Ronar'di--she had met him once, at the reception, and pegged him as extremely ambitious to have reached that rank at such an early age.

Ramsha'ka stared hard at the brazen General, looking into his soul, attempting to find the bond of pono tomau he had so admired between Anata'ka and Chota'di. Ronar'di smiled at his liege. Acceptance by Ramsha would give him everything he had ever wanted in life and he would willingly give his blood to protect such a gift. Ramsha smiled back. He knew it was not the same sort of relationship his grandmother had shared with Chota, but he thought such daring ambition was a worthy substitute.

He reached out, silently demanding Ronar's sword. The General's smile beamed bright as he presented his sword and his service to his new master. Ramsha'ka took the blade and inspected it, then gave it back to his general, hilt-first. Once accepted, Ronar sheathed the blade and shadowed Ramsha as Chota'di did Anat.

Now it became time to address Potakai's acceptance into the Federation. Uhura heard Anat whisper in her mind to / be ready / as the priest led the assembly in another prayer chant.

Be ready for what? She had no part in the ceremony proper, only Kirk did. Ramsha'ka was emperor now, surely the threat had lessened. It did not matter; it was as if she had somehow transported to a higher plane of sound and sense out of her own body. She watched from afar in surreal slow-motion as Kirk took his position next to Ramsha. Uhura watched in exquisite detail as both kneeled in front of Anat as the Dowager placed her hands against their faces, calling for 'A Kef Bonz' chei', or a merging of souls. A rumble tore through the assembly--they had not expected this. The High Priest yelled something and made as if to break the bonds between the Human and the Potakai. Ronar'di stepped in and blocked the irate holy man.

A fierce yell from one of the remaining generals rang out as he made a charge against the Aristocrats. Chota'di had no weapon to block the deadly blow bearing down on Anat. Uhura watched in horrid fascination as Chota threw himself on Anat, trying to shield her with his body. Contact momentarily broken, Kirk became belatedly aware of the deathblow arcing toward both Chota and Anat. He pushed Ramsha back toward Ronar, moving him out of harm's way and launched himself over Chota--too far away to get to the berserker--but not too far away to use himself as a shield.

With sickening clarity, Uhura saw Kirk look her way; his eyes telling her goodbye as he prepared to take the blow meant for Anat. That look of finality stirred her to action--a millisecond of hesitation that seemed like eternity. Uhura yanked her wrap off her shoulders in one fluid motion, wrapping it around her arm as she moved in toward the attacker. The other generals broke rank, whether to attack or protect she did not know. They were not going to get there in time to affect the outcome of her altercation with the berserker.

Uhura reached the rampaging general just as his arm came down. His blow was meant to kill, to sever a body in one fell stroke. She threw her padded arm out, striking the General's arm and the hilt of the sword. She heard a sick crunch as the force of her awkward counterattack broke bone. A howl of pain mixed in with his war cry and the screams of the crowd.

The deadly swing was not stopped, just deflected, the angle and some of the fury flattened. Uhura continued her charge, using the advantage of the lesser gravity to run down the would-be assassin. She heard, more than saw, the blow land. It struck Kirk in the shoulder and sank into muscle before hitting bone and scraping along the flat of his scapula. Uhura rolled to her feet, grinding the heel of her stiletto into the attacker's hand, piercing it and forcing him to release the weapon. The other generals closed in and she was relieved to see them take the traitor in hand rather than finish his mission.

She rushed to the pile of bodies on the dais, seeing red blood pour from Kirk's wound. Loosening the wrap off her arm, she saw it already smeared with blood but had no thought as to how it had gotten there. She quickly folded it to make a pressure bandage, pressing it against the large gash she could see in Kirk's shoulder. He grunted in pain and Ny realized she had never heard such a sweet sound. Sound meant he was alive and all she had to do was keep him that way.

Kirk struggled to sit up, attempting to free Chota and Anat, who were still buried under him. Ronar rolled off Ramsha and Lilu, where he had pulled them both down in a similar protective gesture.

"Help me up." Kirk hissed between gritted teeth.

Uhura pulled him to a sitting position, trying to keep pressure on his wound at the same time. Chota quickly moved off Anat once he was freed to do so. His focus was intent on making sure she was all right.

The Dowager reached out and gripped Kirk's arm, as if trying to use him for leverage to sit up. Her grasp caused another grunt of pain from Kirk. Then Uhura found herself down on the floor with them--a roar of shock and pain passing all the way through her. The pandemonium of the crowds was hushed as they all collapsed--stunned from the same psychic blast Uhura felt--however, being much more psi sensitive, the effect was more devastating to them than to the humans.

/ Hurry! We haven't much time, Nyota. I have used Zhames' pain to stun everyone, but it won't last long. Get him to sit up and then help me to get Chota into position. / Anat screamed in her head.

Uhura did as she was told, scrambling to get Kirk in an upright position and then quickly move to help Anat rouse Chota from the stupor that had dropped him. What was the Dowager planning to do? Slick with Kirk's blood, Anat placed her hands against both men's temples, quickly starting a chant in a pleading, desperate voice. Uhura watched in bewilderment, but somehow knew Anat must succeed in whatever she was attempting. Taking up the makeshift pressure bandage, she once again held it tightly against the gash in Kirk's shoulder. The heavy wrap was no longer white; instead it, and much of her gown, was stained a deep crimson.

With her one free hand she fumbled for Kirk's communicator, finding it tucked in his breast pocket. It took two times to flip it open as she attempted to call for aid. She had to get through to Enterprise--Kirk was bleeding badly and she did not know if a Potakai doctor could treat him.

"Enterprise! Medical Emergency. Beam Doctor McCoy down immediately." She ordered over the answering chirp.


The scene went from stylized formality to chaos in less than the blink of an eye. One second Kirk was in the middle of a ceremony involving Anat and Ramsha, the next bodies were flying all over the place. The bridge crew watched in horror as Kirk threw himself over the Dowager and General Chota'di, trying to shield them from the berserker's attack with his own body. Almost in unison, Uhura launched herself at the assassin, using her stole as padding to protect her arm and deflect the worst of the vicious swipe that would have cleaved Kirk in two.

The angle of the blow was deflected but still made nauseating contact with Kirk. Spock flinched with the impact, as if he had taken the blow himself. They watched as Uhura drove her heel into the hand of the berserker, finally forcing the weapon from him. The next moment, she was at Kirk's side, using her wrap as a pressure bandage against the bloody remains of his shoulder.

McCoy was on his way to the turbolift, determined to get down there no matter what, when he heard Spock gasp and collapse against the command chair. He froze in indecision, but Spock motioned for him to go to Kirk. Freed from the agony of two patients, McCoy barked out orders.

"Christine, take care of Spock. Palmer, call M'Benga up here. Tell him Spock has collapsed and that I'm going down to the planet."

Scotty was in the transporter room arguing with Potakai Security to lower the planetary shields over the capital. McCoy paced on the platform, medikit in hand, as the Scot announced they had a medical emergency down on the planet and that Anata'ka herself had demanded a Human doctor. Silence spoke volumes as the Potakai on the other end digested that bit of bluff before agreeing to lower the shields just long enough to beam McCoy down.

"Ge' down with yer'self, Man." The engineer waved the CMO to stand still. "God Speed." He prayed as McCoy vanished.


Uhura looked up at the chaos that was going on around her just in time to see McCoy coalesce from the transporter sparkle. Immediately, two Warriors began to close on him, blocking him from his patients.

"Get out of my way! I'm Chief Medical Officer Leonard McCoy of the USS Enterprise and you're interfering with my treatment of the Ambassador!" McCoy practically roared and, with no thought of his own safety, pushed past the Potakai defense.

"Doctor! The Captain has been injured. He has a deep gash on his left shoulder." Uhura reported to him as soon as he was clear of the Warriors.

McCoy's eyes took in the scene, automatically assessing the situation as he closed the distance between them. Seeing Kirk mostly conscious slowed his frantic rush, allowing him to glance around the dais, looking for some place to lay Kirk down.

/ Take him to the back. There is a doorway leading to privacy and safety. /

Uhura knew Anat was mentally directing the same two Warriors to gather up Kirk, but McCoy looked from side to side, trying to see who had 'spoken'. As the Warriors half-carried, half-led Kirk away, Anat urged them to follow.

/ Attend to Zhames, McCoy. I will send whatever you need. Nyota, go with them, you are injured too. We are safe for the moment. Now, I must wait and see if we have been successful. /

Uhura needed no urging; she was going wherever they took Kirk. She realized that it probably was not only McCoy who had a wild look about him.

A path cleared for them to the sanctuary behind the door. Uhura's brain processed seeing Ramsha'ka take command of the scene, shouting out orders as if he had done it forever. Glancing over her shoulder, she was able to catch a glimpse of Chota'di as Anat hovered over him, all pretext of them merely being Dowager and General gone. He still sat on the bloody floor, a dazed and confused look on his face.

The deafening noise in the Audience Hall was shut out as the Warriors left them in privacy. McCoy had decided against laying Kirk down in favor of making him straddle a lounger that would afford better access to his shoulder. Handing his tricorder to Uhura, McCoy used a laser scalpel to slice through Kirk's jacket and peel it away, exposing the nasty gash underneath.

"Lieutenant, hold the tricorder where I can see its readings. I need both of my hands free right now." McCoy ordered quietly, his emotions now under control and focused on Kirk's injury.

Taking the unit in her left hand and using what was left of her makeshift pressure bandage to cushion her right hand, she answered automatically. "Yes sir." Glad for something to do.

McCoy quickly cauterized the wound, stopping the bleeding. He retracted the flap of tissue, exposing the full nature of the injury. Uhura could see the dull white of bone once McCoy cleansed the wound.

"Damn it, Bones! Try to leave some of it attached." Kirk ground out through gritted teeth--his first words to McCoy.

"Hurts, huh? Good--maybe it'll teach you a lesson about throwing yourself in harm's way." McCoy barked back sharply, but he glanced at Uhura and she saw relief in his eyes. "Now shut up so I can see how badly you're injured."

Using the feinberger and tricorder in unison, McCoy did a thorough examination of Kirk's shoulder. Uhura studied the tricorder screen, trying to understand all of the data. One of the images caught her attention over the others--a superimposed outline of Kirk with an assortment of white lines, dots and squiggles which Uhura finally realized was a catalog of Kirk's previous injuries. The abundance of markings caused her to let out a tiny gasp, immediately drawing McCoy's attention to her, then at what she had seen. His eyes tightened as a scowl momentarily flashed across his face before he returned to his ministrations.

In that instant, Uhura knew McCoy remembered each and every one of these injuries--probably better than Kirk did. He had been the one charged with patching Kirk back together time after time. She contrasted the difference between the wildness of his arrival to the controlled, but almost angry presence before her now. Angry with Kirk for risking his life, angry with him for once again making them scared his luck had run out.

How could McCoy stand it? How could he tolerate mission after mission with Kirk always in the thick of it? Uhura knew she had always been concerned when they had gone on landing parties before, but this new, stomach-wrenching fear of what she had nearly lost was unbearable. Had she been a millisecond slower, she would be staring at his corpse right now. How many little deaths had McCoy endured because he was not just Kirk's doctor, but also his friend? Was that why he accompanied him on so many landing parties when she knew he hated the transporter so much? To be there just in case? In case Jim put himself in danger and Spock could not protect him--that McCoy might once again cheat death?

Uhura's blood ran cold. How could she endure the same torture? She could not bully herself onto landing parties as McCoy often did and monitoring from afar now seemed woefully inadequate. How had a few nights in his arms changed her perspective so much? How could she allow herself to care this much for him and still remain quiet? Allowing him to command in the only way he knew how--from the front lines?

"Okay Jim, that's about all I can do down here. I need to get you into surgery to repair that muscle and nerve damage." McCoy announced, sounding much calmer and relaxed as he sealed the last of the dermal bandage. He scanned over the rest of Kirk's back with the feinberger and seemed to notice for the first time the telltale scratch marks Uhura had fretted over the day before. A raised eyebrow and a quick glance drew Nyota out of her internal anguish, forcing her to pull herself together and brazen it out. Looking confused would not work with McCoy, not when the man had practically wrote her a doctor's excuse for the opportunity to inflict them. The doctor merely shrugged as he protoplased the marks away--banishing evidence from future medical eyes.

"Surgery will have to wait until tomorrow, Doctor. I have a mission to complete." Kirk said as he pushed himself up off the makeshift treatment table. At that moment the door opened and Pahzj and Nesz bustled in, carrying new outfits for Kirk and Uhura.

"Now just a minute, Jim--" McCoy started to challenge.

"Not now, Doctor." Kirk glanced at the Potakai and warned McCoy off. "Surgery can wait till tomorrow. Please treat Uhura's hand--that's not just my blood she's wearing."

"We're not finished with this topic, Captain." McCoy ground out before shifting his focus to Uhura. At once his demeanor changed, the gentle McCoy came forward, dismissing Kirk from his thoughts for the moment.

"All right, Lieutenant," he purred in his best Southern drawl, "Let's take a look at what that nasty blade did to your hand."

Gently, he reached out and pulled her hand toward him, away from the protection of where she had tucked it against her chest. He carefully peeled the bloody bandage away, silently agreeing with Kirk that there was more than his blood here. Removing the last of the bandage revealed a long gash along the outward edge of Uhura's hand. Again, the wound was deep, but clean. McCoy ran his feinberger over her injury, assessing to be sure she had not sustained any nerve injury. Luckily, the cut only involved soft tissue and could be protoplased close in a few minutes. He lased it closed, and once satisfied with his work, picked the feinberger back up and ran it over the rest of her.

"What are you doing, Doctor? He only cut me there." Uhura stammered, brought out of her reverie by his continued attention.

"I know that, Lieutenant, but the Captain isn't the only one suffering from shock. Your injury, plus the after-effects of the attack have played havoc with your system. Let me give you something to make it easier." McCoy dialed up a hypospray and pressed it against her neck.

"I don't think you have anything in your medikit that can make it easier." She answered before thinking, glancing back at McCoy before catching herself and blushing at her inadvertent confession.

McCoy looked hard at her, following her gaze as she watched the elder Potakai male help Kirk put on a new outfit.

"No, probably not, Nyota." He spoke softly, sympathy in his eyes. "The pain that can be caused by caring for someone is outside of my skill--but at least you can feel something again." He offered in commiseration as he squeezed her good hand tenderly.

"Oh, yes…I can definitely feel again." She whispered to herself.

"I take it you intend to stay down here with him?" McCoy asked cautiously, having already given up that he could convince Kirk to return to the ship. But that did not mean she had to stay--he wasn't sure if staying was such a good thing for her either.

"Of course, Doctor. Somebody has to look out for him." She said with a bright, if forced, smile.

McCoy just nodded his head, recognizing that Jim had gained another soul in his unwanted collection of people who realized he often needed protection instead of always providing it.

"Fine, I'm leaving him in your hands. He lost a lot of blood and his whole left arm has little strength or feeling. Try to keep him quiet. Don't let him do anything too strenuous." The last remark was accompanied by a pointed look that caused Nyota's cheeks to fairly glow.

"Yes, sir." She answered mildly.

"Good. Now, I think this young lady has a new outfit for you too." McCoy nodded to where Nesz waited patiently against the wall, allowing them what privacy she could. "I'll leave you in her undoubtedly capable hands and go waste my time lecturing Jim. I don't see what's so all-fired important about attending a ball…It'd serve him right if I decided he didn't need anything for pain…" McCoy muttered crabbily as he left to rejoin Kirk.

Nesz came forward and began to strip off her blood-soaked gown. Modesty wasn't an option in their small sanctuary, but there really wasn't anyone to be modest in front of anymore.

"My Lady, that was a brave thing you did, fighting a Warrior--a berserker no less." Nesz whispered in quiet awe.

"Thank you, Nesz, for saying so, but I was just doing my duty." Uhura answered humbly, feeling uncomfortable with the praise.

"A Federation Consort is also a bodyguard? We did not know this. We were surprised when you did not bring your own Warriors--now we understand." Nesz seemed to accept Uhura could be both.

"Well, in this case, I guess you could call me that. As a Starfleet officer, I'm trained to perform in many capacities." Trying to get the conversation off of her, Nyota asked, "So what is going on out there? Why did that General try to kill Anata'ka?"

"Oh?" Nesz's eyes lit up with excitement. "They are claiming a new caste has been born!" She whispered gleefully.

"The crèche mothers and priests are very angry with Anata'ka for doing this--there is much shouting between them. We heard many things--most of it not for our ears."

"A new caste?" Nyota asked. "How did she do that?"

"I only know what Pahzj told me, and he overheard it as he attended Anata'ka right after the attack. He says she imprinted Chota'di with a part of the Ambassador's mente. That Chota'di is now clan leader of the Seka caste--those who desire to explore. Many are saying that others were converted at the same time--from all the castes!"

Uhura's mind raced at this news. Kirk was involved? He *knew* all along? "And the berserker sensed this was what Anata'ka was doing?"

"It would seem so. Sometimes a sensitive appears in the other castes. It made him quite mad, so the other Generals have let him have the honor of leading the Tikanga Whakamomori. They took him to the courtyard immediately after you were brought here. Hundreds of thousands chose to join him, but for now most have decided to stay and continue to serve their leaders or join the Sekas."

All the pieces suddenly clicked into place and Uhura could see nothing but red. She had known there was some plan going on between Anat and Kirk, but never imagined anything as remotely far-ranging as a new caste creation. That was Anat's plan all along. That was why she asked the Federation to send Kirk. That was why she needed a private audience with him--to gain his assistance and his silence. Was her motivation to save millions of warriors or just whatever she needed to do to save the one Warrior she cared about?

How dangerous it was to play God and revamp a whole society, regardless of the reason. How infuriating to be left out in the cold, not considered trustworthy enough for inclusion. Had Anat's aborted merging between Ramsha and Kirk merely been a subterfuge to draw the berserker out? To allow her an opportunity to stun the masses and substitute Chota'di for Ramsha? How desperate was she to risk both her grandson’s and Kirk's lives? Was her sole reason for joining the Federation just a ruse to get them to send Kirk?

Fury was building in her head, causing her temples to pulse with the hard beat of her heart. She had to get a grip on herself--this was neither the time nor the place to go off on a tirade.

"My Lady, are you well?" Nesz asked nervously at Uhura's continued silence.

"What?…Yes, I'm fine, Nesz. I was just considering what you had told me. Do you think the creation of a new caste is a good thing?"

"I'm sure I don't know the real answer to that question, My Lady, but as a Menage, I can say that the saving of lives is always a good thing. If a new caste could do that, would it not be an improvement?"

"One truly hopes so." Nyota prayed fervently. Being actively involved or not, there was bound to be a major investigation into this situation.

"Nesz, why are the crèche mothers and priests angry with Anat?" Uhura asked, trying a different tactic.

"Because she broke tradition and our way of life. It is their job to teach the young our culture and traditions. Anata'ka has caused chaos in all the households and castes. Some bondings appear to have been severed by the change, when one mate realigned and the other did not. They say the foundation of our culture has been shaken."

"Do you think they are right?"

"I am still Menage. Nothing has changed for me. If a house is built on good stone, can it not withstand a storm? If a few roof tiles fly off, did they not need replacing anyway? I'm sure there are greater issues to consider, but those are for the elders to contemplate."

Uhura turned just in time to see McCoy beam out and braced herself as Kirk walked toward her. Pahzj motioned to Nesz he was ready to leave and she quickly gathered up the discarded clothes and excused herself from their company.

"So, did Nesz catch you up with what's happening out there?" Kirk asked distractedly as he tried to shift his jacket and found that only one of his shoulders would cooperate.

"About the new caste? Yes, she did. She said it saved many lives, but that hundreds of thousands of the Warriors still committed suicide." Uhura knew that jab was unfair, but she had to vent a fraction of her anger or she would burst.

"Yes, Spock confirmed that too." Kirk added sadly before offering news she had not known. "Anat's stun even affected him on the Enterprise, but M'Benga told McCoy he checked out okay."

Somehow knowing Anat had stunned Spock made Nyota angrier. Were there any limits to whom she would risk? Did Jim not feel used?

Still struggling with his jacket, Kirk stopped for a moment, looking hard at Uhura.

"Are you really okay? McCoy said you wanted to stay down here, but you don't have to if you'd really rather go back."

Exasperated with his futile efforts, Uhura reached up and adjusted the set of Kirk's jacket across his shoulders, allowing the action to bide her a few seconds before replying.

"No, I'm fine--really. I guess it's just the letdown after that adrenaline rush. I want to stay and finish this mission with you." She tried to focus on the mission, letting the fact that many lives were saved diffuse some of the anger she felt at him and at Anata'ka.

His eyes softened and he clasped her hands as they rested against his chest. "Good, and I want to thank you for saving my life."

"I thought it was about time I returned the favor." She quipped, not allowing him the closeness he sought, pushing him away emotionally becoming her means of defense. Uhura caught the little flinch as he reacted to her distancing. His attempt to reach out to her only made it worse; it was too little, too late.

"Should we go out and show the others that you're indestructible?" She tossed over her shoulder as she moved toward the door, knowing it was insubordinate but unable to curb her tongue.

He was there before she could activate it, his good hand covering the control.

"Penda, what's wrong? Why are you being this way?" He asked in a hurt and confused tone.

"Just leave it for now. We've got a Coronation Ball to attend." She hissed at him, angry at his barring of her escape. Uhura saw his eyes glitter dangerously before he spoke.

"Why, yes we do, Lieutenant."

His soft and quiet tone, as well as the use of her title put her on notice that she would have much to answer for later, but for now he agreed they needed to be seen. He pulled back from the door, allowing her to finish waving it open. Uhura strode through it quickly, but he followed on her heels, his nearness for once intimidating instead of comforting.