MASTER

The sight that met Spock on entering the sumptuous banqueting chamber of Lord Zuma's castle, stopped him in his tracks. Vulcanoid beings lounged on chairs or divans. Slaves tended their every need; serving them food and drink, sensuously dancing before them, crawling on hands and knees beside their masters, submitting to them in a fashion that Spock could scarcely believe despite the evidence of his own eyes. Quelling his revulsion, he strode down the length of the room towards the ornate throne situated upon a dais at the far end.

None considered stopping him, a vulcanoid richly dressed in silken blue leggings, open matching shirt, gold glittering against his bare chest and arms, a fortune in ruby, emerald and diamond rings sparkling on his fingers. Everyone watched as he passed, an impressive and powerful lord perhaps of royal lineage.

As Spock neared the dais, a bound, helpless but struggling man was dragged forward by two burly guards. For a moment Spock stopped breathing. He would have recognised that distinctive figure anywhere. He swallowed, his throat almost totally constricted by the horror of seeing his captain's physical condition. Kirk was clad only in a thin, red, torn tunic, the scars and bruises covering his back and legs showing only too clearly. His arms were bound to his side by ropes securely wrapped around his body, the wrists tied together behind him by leather thongs which had been drawn cruelly tight.

The person sitting on the throne rose to his feet. Spock recognised him immediately from the description given by Sendel. This tall, muscular vulcanoid, in appearance like some ancient Terran vision of the devil was Zuma - Lord of M'Ran.

The despot's face was filled with lustful exhilaration. "You will kneel to me, slave, You will prostrate yourself and serve me in any manner I desire. You will submit to me and grovel on the floor at my feet."

There was defiance in Kirk's tense stance despite the pain he must have been enduring. "Never, you bastard," Kirk hissed in a voice full of a harsh hatred normally totally alien to his nature.

A vicious grin crossed Zuma's florid face. "I have tried every way to break you, except one. I will now use that method." He paused and leered down into Kirk's face. "I will castrate you," he said softly in a tone filled with deadly menace.

Kirk could not restrain his cry of horror. He struggled wildly, recklessly, to break free but the soldiers had little trouble in restraining a weakened and bound human. Their vulcanoid muscle easily overpowered him and held him immobile.

"NO." Spock's command voice echoed across the chamber.

Kirk's body stiffened then slowly began to tremble.

Zuma stared at Spock, his black eyes noting the authoritative manner, rich attire and regal looks. "My lord?" he inquired.

Spock strode forward. "I am Lord Spock," he said in his most dominant tone. "I have sailed across the Timanir sea in search of allies for my father's House."

As he reached Kirk, Spock tried to control his fears. He had only seen his friend's back and the damage to that was extensive. Zuma waved the guards away and they moved to the side, drawing Kirk with them. Spock's gaze met his captain's and held them for a long, emotion-filled moment. He broke the contact with much difficulty and forced himself to study the many bruises and weals on Kirk's chest, arms and legs. Jim had been very badly treated during the nine days of his captivity. Obviously beaten and starved, the normally muscular human was almost gaunt now, his face drawn and pinched. There were dark circles under his eyes but his face had not been damaged. With a chill, Spock surmised the reason for that.

Jim. His mind could not restrain the anguished call.

Kirk's eyes never left him, burning with such an intensity of deep emotion that Spock could feel it reach out across the space between them and puncture his telepathic shields. He tore his gaze away and calmed his mind.

"You are Lord Zuma," Spock said. "I have heard much about you."

Zuma smiled in obvious pleasure at the comment, misunderstanding Spock's meaning. "I am honoured to meet you, Lord Spock."

"Who is this unruly slave?" Spock asked, trying to keep his tone light.

"A most unusual slave. He was captured nine days ago near Firanol. He is completely unbroken, a rare specimen indeed. He is proud and arrogant and will not bend to my will." Zuma's eyes darkened in anger.

"So I have perceived," Spock mocked. "An interesting slave. One fit for the Royal House if properly trained." He raised an eyebrow. "Castration will not break him. There is only one method of doing that."

"I have tried everything, my lord," Zuma said, unctuously. "See how his body is marked by my discipline."

Spock gritted his teeth, forced himself to glance at Kirk without openly showing sympathy, then concentrated on his newly formed plan. He hoped that Jim could follow him and be able to play his part in the bluff, but his captain was near to collapse and Spock was unsure if he would have the wits and strength to take part.

"My method does not employ torture." He leaned forward, praying that Sendel's information about Zuma's gambling addiction was correct, for everything rested on the tyrant's craving for this vice. "Are you a gambling man?"

"I like to gamble," Zuma replied, his yellow teeth showing in a greedy smile.

The odour from his mouth reached Spock's sensitive nostrils, causing an involuntary tremor within one to whom cleanliness was of the greatest importance. He called on Vulcan discipline to battle his reaction. This was not the time for fastidiousness.

"Very well." Spock reached for a small pouch from inside his shirt. "Here are precious jewels." He opened it and dropped the contents into Zuma's podgy hands. "If I do not succeed then many more are yours." Zuma's eyes lit up with avarice, his fingers caressing the sparkling gems. It was time for Spock to play on that weakness. "However if I am successful in making this slave abase himself before me, then he is mine. Either way these are yours, a gift from me."

Zuma considered it for a moment then he nodded. "Done. But I warn you Lord Spock; you will fail."

"We shall see," Spock replied. "I am used to command. Many do my will." It was the truth and he saw the conviction of those words penetrate Zuma's confidence, causing him a moment of doubt.

There had been silence in the chamber during this discussion; now the atmosphere erupted into a flurry of excitement as bets were placed. Spock stood still, an oasis of calm amidst the chaos. None saw his worry and fear, none saw his uncertainty except one bright pair of hazel eyes.

"Unbind him," Spock ordered when quiet finally descended.

Zuma nodded to the guards then re-seated himself upon the throne to watch the unfolding events, the gems grasped in his hands. "Proceed, my lord."

Kirk had scarcely breathed since Spock had so miraculously re-entered his life. He felt dizzy, disorientated and shaky but held onto his very real hope that now Spock was here with him, they would escape this nightmare together. He stood in silence, his head bowed, as the bonds were removed. Spock turned to face him, and as their eyes met again there was nothing Kirk wanted to do more than run to his friend and throw his arms around him in a long, tight hug. It was something that would normally make the Vulcan uncomfortable but under these circumstances, Kirk was sure that Spock would not deny him the simple human comfort he so desperately needed. However, with iron control, he held himself in check almost feeling the touch of his friend's mind warning him to be still.

"Slave, what is your name?" Spock asked.

Kirk stared at him, unsure how to play this. What did Spock want him to do? Exhaustion, pain and hunger tore at him causing his usual quick thinking to escape him. Confused, he shook his head.

"Do not be afraid. I will not harm you," Spock said gently.

Kirk drank in the sight of his closest friend and his head began to clear as a touch of his irrepressible humour, a trait which had helped him through many ordeals, came to the fore. His modest, unassuming Vulcan garbed in such an outlandish fashion! What a commotion that must have stirred amongst the female crew!

He breathed deeply and his tension slipped away as just Spock's presence eased away some of the pain that had become a permanent companion during these last nine days. "Jim, my name is Jim," he whispered. His throat was dry from thirst but he forced the words out and swallowed in an attempt to ease the rawness.

"Jim." Spock sounded the one syllable softly.

Kirk's spirits soared on hearing Spock say his name. It made him a person again; not a slave - someone's property and a thing to be abused. That one word uttered in his friend's compassionate voice returned his self respect and dignity to him.

Spock moved a step closer. "Jim, if you kneel before me, acknowledging me as your master then you will be my property, not Lord Zuma's. Think carefully and consider. I will treat you kindly."

He desperately wanted to comply with Spock's wishes but realised that to make this charade believable there would have to be some protest from him. It was a simple but effective plan, one specifically designed to engage the gambling addiction which Zuma enjoyed so intensely. It was very difficult not to throw himself at his friend's feet and be safe at last, however, if he succumbed too easily it might put both their lives in danger.

"I am no-one's slave. I will kneel to no man," he scorned, drawing on his skills at bluff. "None shall own me."

Zuma laughed with delight. He slapped his hand against the arm of the chair. Who was this royal lord who thought he could handle a slave better than Zuma of M'Ran? There were no others to match his skill as a slave-owner. He smiled with anticipation at the satisfaction he would feel as he castrated the defiant Zalar. He had clearly seen the reaction that threat had caused; the slave's fear of losing his masculinity was greater than the threat of death. He settled back to gloat over the stranger's failure.

Spock held out his hand. "I am not a harsh master but you will belong to me." His voice was gentle but firm. "Come kneel and pledge yourself to me. You will not regret it."

Kirk turned away - the hardest thing he had ever done in his life. "I will not be a slave." He bowed his head down in an attempt to conceal, from the interested stares of the watchers, that his eyes were wet.

"You will be my slave, Jim."

"No." Kirk swallowed hard, fighting with himself to keep his back turned to Spock and continue with the protests for as long as possible. It was more difficult than he imagined for he so badly needed to see Spock, feel his physical presence, desperate to experience the rapport of their unique friendship once again.

"You will obey me, Jim," Spock ordered. "I will cherish and care for you if you will but conquer that foolish pride and accept me as your lord and master."

Shivers of need for the reassuring touch of his t'hy'la swept through Kirk's shaken, abused, pain-wracked body. He was unable to continue with this any longer. He needed to go to his friend, to be close to him once more. Should he show further resistance? Could he? How did Spock want to play this? He listened intently for any clues knowing that his own instincts could not be trusted in his weakened state.

"I will accept nothing less than your complete compliance, Jim. Now."

That had to be the cue. Slowly he turned round, stared at Spock and took a hesitant step forward. It was almost impossible to walk slowly to his friend. God, how he wanted to run!

"That is correct, Jim," Spock encouraged, his outstretched hand beckoning.

Kirk stopped a few paces from his first officer. He could almost feel the touch of those fingers on the meld-points, the warmth of Spock's mind within his own, healing him through their special bond. He looked into dark eyes full of deep concern for him and could barely stop his tears from spilling over. NO, he chided himself. He must not show any weakness in front of Zuma.

There was no need now for acting; he permitted his feelings to guide him. His legs shook with exhaustion, barely able to support him anymore. Then with the profound relief that he could finally allow himself to temporarily pass the responsibility of his life over to his bond-brother, he wearily sank to his knees, caught Spock's fingers and pressed his forehead against the warm palm. To all outward appearances he was a slave showing submission to his master; in reality a man giving a greeting full of affection and gratitude to his chosen brother. Spock's other hand rested on his hair, soothing him as one would a child, transmitting security - a haven - in this vicious place of servitude.

Kirk closed his eyes, basking in the warmth of his t'hy'la's healing power, shutting out his surroundings and concentrating on the two of them, eagerly opening his mind to the telepathic touch as he felt the hand upon his head slowly moving to the contact points of his face. Spock, he cried silently.

The sensation of Spock's mind entering his own brought a burst of ecstatic joy that banished his exhaustion and despair. The familiarity of his friend's mind-voice reverberated through him. Jim. It comforted him with its caring concern, and he sighed with contentment as Spock's consciousness encircled his own in a deep, inner embrace.

A moment later Spock was gone, the security of his telepathic presence dissolved. Kirk moaned softly with disappointment; he reached out in an attempt to re-establish the contact, searching for the unique touch he had dreamed about for so many days. It had been his only lifeline during the tortures he had undergone. Then as he realised the danger in resuming the meld, he bit back his unhappiness and concentrated on the physical contact of the Vulcan's hand until the gradual awareness of voices began to intrude.

"How did you do it, Lord Spock?" Zuma's hateful voice showed amazement.

"Kindness can work when brutality does not," Spock replied. "He is mine now."

"He is yours," Zuma conceded. "But stay, my lord. Be my guest. Eat, drink, there is much to be discussed."

Kirk shuddered at the thought of remaining here any longer but took comfort from knowing that he was not alone anymore, no longer a slave in Zuma's power. He was protected as long as Spock was considered his master.

"I thank you," Spock accepted, but Kirk knew his friend well and sensed his reluctance.

Kirk remained still, his face pressed against Spock's hand. It was imperative that he play the perfect slave and await his master's commands; none must suspect that they were anything other than what they portrayed or they would never leave M'Ran alive.

"Jim, attend me," Spock commanded.

He looked up at his first officer, caught a glimpse of Zuma out of the corner of his eye - that perverted ruler who had degraded and humiliated him - and on sudden impulse bent down to the ground in front of Spock, his forehead touching his friend's sandalled foot.

Spock's acute discomfort was palpable. Kirk smiled to himself, hoping that his dignified, undemonstrative friend would forgive him for the liberties he was taking. Clutching at the bony ankle, he kissed the narrow foot, taking great satisfaction in knowing that Zuma watched intently. He would pay the bastard back by whatever means at his disposal. See what kind of slave Jim Kirk can be! he taunted silently. Suddenly he felt alive again.

Spock's surprise and confusion flowed from him; Kirk absorbed it through the physical contact. He covered his amusement, pressed his palms together in an attitude of servility and gazed up at the Vulcan. "Yes, my master," he replied obediently.

Kneeling there, he was not in the least bothered that he was doing, willingly for Spock, what he would rather have died than give to Zuma. Spock was the only one - even in an act - whom he would have prostrated himself before in such a manner, and realisation dawned upon him that his regard for his t'hy'la knew no limits.

 

CHARADE

He rose, followed as Spock was led to a low chair next to Zuma's throne, then knelt by the side of the seat knowing well enough by now that personal slaves attended their masters in this way. He sat back on his heels and bent his head down as the aroma of the food assaulted his starved senses. He had not eaten for so long; it caused shakiness to overwhelm him and he trembled again in weakness. The food was only centimetres away on a low, wide table; he had only to reach out and take... He clenched his hands together, his bruised wrists aching with the tension of his hold.

"Eat and drink, my lord," Zuma invited, as he settled into his own chair. "We have an abundance of everything. Delicacies from the far reaches of my domain."

Spock nodded his thanks and glanced around. He had gleaned much through the mind touch and was only too aware of Jim's hunger. He watched, sickened, as the other masters hand-fed titbits to their favourite slaves and was outraged at this blatant degradation of intelligent beings. However it did seem the only logical method of giving his captain sustenance without arousing suspicion, so he set his distaste aside. Jim was close to breaking point. Spock had helped him a little but the rest would have to be dealt with later in privacy. Right now Jim's hunger and thirst needed to be assuaged.

Lifting a gold cup filled with water, he took a sip to test its purity. Satisfied by the fresh taste, he turned to his kneeling friend, placed a hand on the tensed shoulder and leaned forward until his face was only centimetres from Kirk's. "Drink a little," he murmured, holding the cup to the parched lips. "Just a few sips at a time; not all at once."

Jim looked up at him, his normally clear eyes showing deep pain but bright with renewed hope. Spock smiled slightly in an attempt to transmit reassurance. The response was a shadow of the other's normal blazing grin, then the tousled head was lowered to the goblet. Intellectually, Jim would know the effects of gulping water after being deprived for so long, but the mind could not always control the body's needs. To Spock's relief, the captain's strength of will and stubborn determination held, and he continued to sip slowly.

Spock concentrated on applying some of the healing power through their contact. It was barely adequate for it needed full concentration, much time and energy but this limited assistance would have to suffice for the moment. Jim sighed as the edge was taken from his pain. Once his initial thirst was satisfied, Spock placed the cup down and searched amongst the plates of sweetmeats and delicacies on the table for something nourishing for Jim to eat. He came to the conclusion that the small chunks of meat were the only suitable source of protein and did not hesitate over his choice. Picking up a piece, he held it to Jim's lips and after a brief moment of consideration, the human opened his mouth and allowed himself to be fed.

The Vulcan knew that his t'hy'la was trying not to bolt down the food, and admiration at such self-restraint and will power filled him, yet his own discomfort at hand-feeding his captain made his flesh crawl with revulsion. "Jim, forgive me for causing you further humiliation," he murmured.

Kirk's surprise showed on his face. "Accepting food from your hands is not humiliating, Spock. It is my privilege to accept. Your hands give me strength, they have given me my life, returned my self-respect. They heal and comfort me... " His voice caught and he lowered his head, trying to control the emotions that threatened his shaky composure.

The flow of reassurance increased through the pressure on his shoulder, and it was difficult not to break down completely as the contact between them intensified. He had despaired of ever knowing the closeness of their friendship again.

"Jim, you are overwrought, and weak from hunger," Spock whispered urgently. "Please eat some more food."

With what little strength remained to him, Kirk fought his weakness. Spock was correct. However it was not only the hunger that had caused his emotion but the relief and joy at his friend's secure presence beside him. He longed to be alone with Spock to express that joy. Drawing on inner reserves, he leaned on the other's unflinching support and a sense of calmness enveloped him. Spock held another piece of meat to him and, with eyes shining in a trust which overcame all else, he allowed himself to be fed until his hunger was abated.

Zuma watched them with envy, fascinated by the obvious empathy between the two. He did not understand how this strange, royal lord had won the slave's devotion but his rudimentary telepathy sensed its depth and power. Why had the slave never submitted to him? Nothing had made the Zalar yield. Everything gained had been taken by force, two guards needed to restrain him - or chains. And after... the slave had always emerged defiant, never beaten, never servile, still proud and unbroken. The vulcanoid considered Lord Spock's tactics. Kindness? Kindness to a slave! Yet, Jim - he had not known the Zalar's name before nor had he thought to ask - had prostrated himself before his new master. He had not cowered, and certainly was not scared, but had submitted by his own choice, recognising some authority in the stranger which had brought him to heel. Zuma's eyes widened. To own a willing slave! The thought excited one who had never known such a phenomenon.

He studied Jim, understanding the expression in those beautiful, oddly-coloured eyes. His heart thudded wildly with jealousy. The slave would adore his master, and give him anything he wanted without being forced. He would love his lord; not fear him. Zuma had heard of this happening before but had never experienced it himself. His envy twisted and turned inside him like a sharp, serrated knife.

Spock was aware that he and Zuma had been talking yet it seemed vague and dreamlike. He had assigned a part of his mind to deal with the tyrant whilst concentrating on helping Jim. His worry increased as he felt the depth of his friend's hurts; to heal him would take much skill, perhaps more than he possessed.

His gaze flicked about the chamber, noting how the behaviour of the people had degenerated into what he distastefully observed had become an orgy. Sexual activity was openly displayed, the slaves succumbing to their masters' every whim and desire. Disgusted by the scenes around him, he returned to the stability of caring for his captain but found that Jim's eyes were also upon the others.

Zuma now manhandled a beautiful, female slave. Her eyes were blank as she submitted to him, and sympathy for her plight was all the two Starfleet officers could offer her, for they were powerless to help. T he Lord of M'Ran looked over at them, an obscene leer on his coarse features. "Lord Spock, would you like to share her with me?"

Spock's eyes flashed with anger, his body tensing in outrage and disgust. Respect for all life was such a natural part of his being that this degradation of a weak, vulnerable, young woman brought a violent rage of extreme intensity to the surface that even Vulcan discipline could not control. The image of Serran danced before his eyes, her face merging with that of Zuma's slave and causing a bloodlust of revenge in Spock which only the death of the oppressor could assuage.

Through the physical contact at his shoulder, it swept through Kirk with frightening force. Realising that their cover was on the verge of being blown, the human took drastic action in an attempt to prevent it. He caught his friend's hand tightly and pressed his lips to the sensitive Vulcan fingertips, hoping and praying that the tingling sensation of their bond would engage.

The friendship bond was a powerful link. When it had first happened spontaneously, during an accidental touch, Spock had denied its existence, unwilling to believe it possible to have the deep, life-long commitment of t'hy'la with a human. Eventually Kirk had forced Spock to accept the attunement between them. The Vulcan had reluctantly admitted that the tingle of contact had been the formation of the bond: a mysterious unity of two compatible minds; a balance for one another, a brotherhood of the spirit. Once by Kirk's determination and desperation to initiate the link, it had brought Spock back from a comatose condition where he had been close to death. Could it now bring him out of a violent anger that would lead them both to disaster?

This time it was impossible to use the ritual touching of fingertips, so keeping in the guise of the slave, Jim employed the only way possible not to cause suspicion. Spock, he tried to send his thoughts. Spock.

The bond sparked between them, flashed through Spock's body like wildfire and brought the rage to a complete halt. Relief brought trembling in its wake, and Kirk slumped to lean his head against Spock's leg. He heard his friend's voice, amazingly calm. "No, Zuma. I have my own slave and need no other."

The intake of breath from the Lord of M'ran was audible.

Kirk almost smiled. Zuma, who preferred male slaves, would be furious at that unintentional jibe. Well, he would make sure that he rubbed the bastard's nose in it. Glancing from beneath his lashes to ascertain the despot watched, he concentrated on pressing his lips upon the warm skin of his friend's hands. With great satisfaction, he revelled in the knowledge that each kiss would stab at Zuma's innards to cause the most exquisite jealousy.

Spock's tension was radiating strongly, but the need to draw away was tempered with the realisation that it was impossible to do so. Kirk knew his friend would follow his lead no matter how bizarre his actions might appear, but they had to communicate and work out a feasible plan for their survival of this night. Lifting Spock's fingers to his forehead, Kirk looked up meaningfully. Spock nodded imperceptibly in response.

Waiting until Zuma's attention had been drawn away, Kirk slid over until he knelt between Spock's feet. Both men knew that these vulcanoids might have some vestiges of telepathy, so any mind-link would necessarily have to be carefully disguised. Kirk lowered his head until his face rested on Spock's hands. Gently, Spock initiated contact, attempting to overcome his distress at seeing his captain forced to assume such a debasing position.

Kirk opened his mind, welcoming Spock joyfully as he felt the comfortable togetherness of the link. T'hy'la, you are my saviour. How can I ever repay you?

Seeing you alive is thanks enough, came the reassuring reply. But it pains me to see you so abused and humiliated, forced to act the slave.

No, Spock. You've got it all wrong. To play the slave with you is not humiliating. I was dying inside! You've brought me hope and sustenance; you've returned me to life. Being with you invigorates and heals me. It doesn't bother me 'to kneel at your feet for I've nothing but love and trust for you. I'll act your slave and do anything necessary to be convincing. Please don't allow it to upset you, for you must play your part also. I am very proud of the way you've played it so far. You're very convincing as a royal lord.

Spock began to relax as Jim's words and complete faith in him filtered through his mind. Very well, Jim. I accept your judgement on this. What are we to do now? You need medical attention.

We must survive this night, Spock. Then once away from here we can beam up to the Enterprise.

Deep regret flooded the link. I am sorry. The ship has been diverted by a class-one priority call. Mr. Scott was ordered to leave us here. The storms caused my delay in reaching you, otherwise... A flash of pain swept the Vulcan but was swiftly controlled. I do not expect the Enterprise to return for several days.

It took only moments to pass on a brief summary of the events since the captain's capture. Spock intentionally left out certain details such as Serran. There was no reason to burden his too fragile friend with further distress.

Kirk swore. His disappointment threatened to swamp his new-found hope but he swept it aside. Then it is even more imperative that we continue this masquerade if we are to live.

Indeed, Captain. What do you suggest?

Something settled back into place within Kirk as Spock turned the decision-making over to him. Once again he was in command. Spock was following him. No longer was he a nobody, less than a person, but a leader again despite outward appearances. He owed this alien-brother his life a dozen times over but this time Spock had returned to him, his dignity, his manhood, his very self.

These orgies can last all night, he finally said. If we do not participate then we'll be suspected. If we try to leave it will arouse suspicion. A sudden, intense embarrassment permeated him as he realised to whom he was making such a suggestion.

Participate, Captain! Spock exclaimed. But how? I will not abuse another. I cannot... I will not... I am unable!

Spock, Spock. The innocence of his Vulcan friend was such a natural part of his personality. He had never lost that endearing quality in the years Jim had known him. I would not expect that from you, my friend. I only meant that we must somehow simulate sexual activity. Indeed it is imperative that we do so, for Zuma watches us too closely.

Indeed he does, Captain. I fail to understand his interest.

He has tried to force my submission to him. He wants... he has... he... Kirk's mind-voice trailed off into silence but Spock, reading the images flickering through the human thoughts, saw the reasons for the nausea and deep disgust within his t'hy'la's soul. Sendel had warned him of Zuma's perversions, and Spock had feared greatly for Jim. Now he knew that those fears had been justified; the extent of Zuma's subtle tortures horrified him.

Jim. He wove a tendril of the healing gift around the memories, trying to ease the pain and degradation of them, sending his admiration for the man who had remained defiant, resisting despite whatever cruelty had been inflicted upon him.

Jim, he repeated, recoiling from the callousness of Zuma's vicious games, the victimisation of his captain by such a tyrant. It is all my fault. I should have been here sooner. I should have beamed down immediately to rescue you.

No, Jim replied. You couldn't break the Prime Directive. You did the correct thing by not beaming down at once. You could not have predicted the distress call nor prevented it. You couldn't have known that you'd pick up the agony of countless Zalar. How could you have travelled here through those storms? I will not permit you to blame yourself.

Spock's self-condemnation wavered under that barrage, and he yielded to his captain's will. Immediately aware of it, Jim's mood changed. He flooded his t'hy'la with all his delight at being with him again, and Spock did not attempt to deny this access to the deepest part of him, meeting it with his own intense joy. Rarely had Spock revealed so much of himself - even in the meld - and Jim felt awed and humbled by the knowledge that he was the recipient of such devotion. It covered his inner scars like a healing balm causing his agile mind, freed for the moment from the pain of his nightmarish ordeal, to supply the answer.

Of course! What he wanted from me, he'll see you get willingly.

Jim! You cannot mean... The shocked response was almost amusing.

Yes, it can be easily simulated. Listen, Spock, you must follow my instructions. Pull me down against your groin. Hold me there, your arms around my head. That should cover me from prying eyes. Jim's rapid thoughts, his plan, left Spock dazed and confused. You must try to appear aroused. There was a slight glimmer of amusement. No, I guess not. You better hide your face. We must seem totally wrapped up in one another until it's safe to leave. Our only option is to make this believable, for there must be no opportunity for anyone... Zuma... to get his dirty hands on me. He could attempt it now that I am 'broken'. He might even expect you to use other slaves as they do, so we'd better be convincing.

Jim, I do not know if I am able! Jim, my body temperature will be too uncomfortable for you. Jim, after what he has tried, what he has done to you... Spock's consuming doubts and fears crashed through the receptive human

Kirk bore it all stoically. You must attempt it, Spock. The confusion and embarrassment in Spock's mind were overwhelming. Kirk struggled to keep his thoughts clear as it added to all the other emotions he was receiving from his friend. Spock, you're being illogical! Surely holding my body is not as intimate as this mind-contact we share?

A sudden anger flared in the distraught human. Are you sure the pristine purity of your Vulcan soul is not sickened by me? Are you repelled by me? Do you think me too weak? Should I have killed myself rather than allow him... I wanted to but they watched me every minute, night and day. Self-loathing replaced the anger with a rapidity which left Spock stunned. He made me less than human, less than a man. I should have found a way to kill myself, or him. You condemn me for that, don't you? You're revolted by what's been done to me!

An excruciating wave of jagged hurt penetrated through Kirk's self-recriminations. As he realised the source of the pain, remorse hit him with sickening force. How could he have unleashed such violent emotions? How could he have lost control during a mind-meld when Spock was open and vulnerable to him?

Spock, forgive me, please, he entreated, as bitter regret welled through him.

Tears fell onto Vulcan hands. He - who had not wept even through the worst humiliation and torture - now cried with misery at causing pain to his t'hy'la.

A soothing warmth slowly filtered through his jangled emotions. Do not weep, Jim, please. It was a misunderstanding. Even in the mind-link it can occur.

I hurt you, Kirk persisted.

It is nothing. Do not be concerned. I only fear for you and the friendship we share. I could not live if you changed towards me; if my Vulcan abilities brought you distress and you were afraid of me. Jim, I received your every feeling when you recalled the times he forced you. I would not have you feel such revulsion for me.

Kirk swallowed convulsively, found some control and tried to transmit reassurance to Spock. I thought you would spurn me, that you'd think me defiled or something. I have doubted your loyalty to me. Please forgive me.

There is nothing to forgive, Jim. I am ashamed to be Vulcan, related to these corrupt beings. How can they treat people so?

Kirk slowly regained a sense of calm, and sought to still his friend's insecurity by showing the profound regard and respect he felt for him. Spock, it is you, my bond-brother. I'm not afraid of you, and you could never bring me any such distress. I could never feel revulsion for you. I trust you implicitly. I'll be in physical contact with you, receiving comfort and warmth. I've yearned to see you in all the days I've been held captive here. I thought that I'd never be privileged to be near you again. Do you think I could possibly be nauseated by you? Compare you to these savages! Never think that. Don't fear that anything could turn me against you, Spock.

Deeply touched by his captain's fervent words, Spock agreed to the plan. Very well, Jim. However, I will attempt a light healing meld so the time need not be wasted. You have many injuries, some are deep-seated and will need much attention.

Kirk sighed deeply at the prospect of a healing meld, then for a moment felt a rush of satisfaction at what Zuma would think he was seeing. The bastard would be sick with jealousy.

Spock's voice interrupted his thoughts. Jim, it grieves me that you have suffered such tortures and indignities. I beg you to allow me to use the power at my disposal to assist you in overcoming all you have endured.

Jim's assurance filled them both. Once I was stubborn enough to spurn your offer of help. I'm not so foolish now, my friend. I will allow you anything you deem necessary.

Zuma watched as Lord Spock's fingers left the handsome face of the slave to settle in the soft, thick hair. He caught his breath as they pressed the unresisting Zalar towards the lean, muscled body. A jealous rage enveloped him when the slave wrapped his arms around his new master's waist, buried his face into the bare abdomen and slid lower. He chewed at his lip as he tried to see what the slave was doing but Spock's arms encircled the blond head, obstructing his view. He bit his lip until it bled as he imagined the passionate kisses which must - even now - be pressing onto the responsive flesh of the royal lord. He saw the stranger's eyes narrowing to a slit, a deep breath being expelled, then Spock bending his head down until his face rested on the slave's hair. Zuma's heart thudded violently in envious excitement. He imagined himself in Spock's place receiving such worshipful adoration. Pushing his female slave aside, he called for another - a male.

The clean scent of Spock's body filled Jim's nostrils like a breath of fresh air. It rid him at last of Zuma's sickly, unwashed, sweated, sexual smell which had left him churning with nausea these last days. He breathed evenly, warmed by the touch of the Vulcan's skin against his face, comforted like a child by the steady beat of Spock's heart. He smiled to himself as he was held in a tight, secure hold, allowing himself to lean on his friend, willingly accepting the help so selflessly being offered. As the familiar warmth of the healing meld entered him, he slid into a relaxation which shut out everything around him. He opened himself to the power of Vulcan healing.

Spock held his friend within his arms and mind, recognising Jim's desperation for security, and his own equally intense need to personally ensure his t'hy'la's safety. Those nine days trapped by the weather in that dingy inn had been the worst of Spock's life. He did not permit his worry over their precarious situation to reach Jim, but one part of his mind calculated the odds against them both leaving here alive, and they were not favourable.

He maintained the pain control whilst initiating certain healing, but knew that time and privacy were needed to cure his friend. Many hours of intense work were required. No medicine would ease the mental scars of Jim's ordeal; that task would be Spock's. Nor without the facilities of Sickbay and a medical practitioner would it be easy to mend many of the physical wounds, some of which were internal and of unknown severity. The first priority was to leave this fortress once it was safe enough to do so. Until then, they were forced to remain under the scrutiny of the tyrant, Zuma, whose beady eyes glazed in lust as his sick mind - just as Kirk had known - supplied a fantasy of his own. It was the one thing he wanted the most from a proud, unbroken warrior-slave, in the manner he found the most exciting.

Spock's time-sense ticked over. His acute hearing continued to monitor the sounds around him even as he dulled Jim's pain through the link. Eventually the chamber quietened, and deeming it safe, he lifted his head to glance around. Some of the guests were leaving; others lay drunk and satiated by the orgy. Controlling his revulsion, he turned to meet Zuma's gaze.

"Are you pleased with your slave?" Zuma asked enviously, on seeing the way Jim still pressed against his master, despite not being held down any longer.

"I am most pleased with him," Spock assured, as he stretched his long legs out in front of him to ease cramped muscles.

Kirk shifted uneasily, moaning a little as some of the pain returned. He burrowed into his friend, blindly searching for more comfort until fingers stroked his hair sending tendrils of healing warmth. He sighed; contented as a babe in his mother's arms.

Zuma bit his lip drawing more blood, his base mind only able to conclude that the slave could not get enough of his new master. The relationship of the two men was of a type beyond his comprehension. He was unable to conceive of a friendship so powerful that each would gladly die for the other in selfless devotion. He would never understand the reasons which had prompted the human to open himself in a faith so deep that his innermost privacy could have been lost if the other had abused his trust in any way. Nor why the Vulcan had willingly accepted all the pain, suffering and bitter memories of the other, taking them into himself in an attempt to ease their impact on his friend.

"I will leave now," Spock said.

"Stay, Lord Spock," Zuma offered. "There are many guest rooms in M'Ran."

Sensing real danger here, Spock was aware that the greatest of care was essential. He had to take exactly the correct tone. Allowing a smile to touch his mouth, he ran his hand down Jim's back. "I am grateful for your kind offer but I need privacy with my slave. There is much I wish to do with him. You understand... "

Zuma laughed knowingly at the words and the raised eyebrows which accompanied them. "Enjoy him, my lord. You have broken him to your will. I congratulate you. May he continue to serve you as well as he has done this night."

"Indeed," Spock replied, despite being unsure as to the other's meaning.

"When you are ready, return and we will discuss the purchase of more slaves for your father's House. Perhaps we will wager again. Perhaps I will win him back."

Spock clamped down on a shudder of fear. "I will return, Lord Zuma, but I suspect it will not be for some time."

The obscene laughter of the Lord of M'Ran filled the chamber. Not understanding, Spock frowned for a moment then, disregarding the intense stare upon him, bent and lifted the dazed human from him.

"Jim, we are leaving."

The eyes of his friend cleared from the almost hypnotic state which the healing had generated. There was a flicker of acknowledgement but Spock noted how difficult it was for Jim to move at all, and he yearned to help him. Under Zuma's scrutiny he could not overtly do so and, with an outward calmness which barely concealed his inner turmoil, he rose to his feet.

Stiffly, Kirk staggered and tried to stand, almost fell but caught himself with grim determination. He could scarcely believe he was - at last - leaving this vile place with Spock at his side. His one hope during captivity had been this very moment, although recently even that had been lost. Yet danger still loomed. Until they had departed from here, away from Zuma's influence, there would be no safety.

Due to the healing meld, he was feeling much better. His confidence had improved, and even the pain had settled down into nagging aches which could be tolerated. However he did not delude himself into believing himself cured; it would take time, skill and patience to heal him for Zuma was an expert in torture. Kirk wondered if it would ever be possible to recover from the effects of this ordeal, but pushed the worrying thought aside for the present. Now was not the time.

Zuma reached out to touch him.

Sharp memories of the brutality of those hands caused an overwhelming shakiness to permeate him. His body readied itself to recoil. He could not control his revulsion for that slimy grip.

He would give it all away!

"Let us depart, Jim." Spock's fingers grasped his, pulling him out of Zuma's reach. The tingle of their bond swept along his arm, and he gasped with relief as his panic eased.

"Yes, master," he replied, loud enough for Zuma to hear.

With as much alacrity as could be forced from his abused body, he followed Spock through the room and ante-chamber beyond, stumbling as they sped along the cobbled courtyard into the night. He held tightly to that warm hand, unwilling to lose contact for a second, afraid that if he did, somehow he would be parted from Spock, and returned to Zuma. One part of his mind ridiculed that idea, but his newly reacquired confidence was still shaky and could not still the overpowering fears. When they entered an awaiting carriage, he slid to the floor to sit at Spock's feet, unable to break his need for the security of his friend's touch.

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Slave World - Part 4

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