Chapter 1 - Pillow Talk

Statzia closed her eyes, letting her head fall back on the pillow. She wiped the beads of sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand and almost let out a laugh. She dropped a hand to her chest, finding the headful of fur and curling her fingers into the soft strands behind his ear. “Well, it seems like we both needed that.”


K’Naut sighed at the pleasant sensation of Statzia’s stroking his ears. She’d always been good at it. He rolled onto his back, laying next to her so their sides touched at various places. It was the way they’d laid so often after making love. He put his hands behind his head.


“You have a gift for understatement, Z,” he said. He felt more relaxed than he’d felt in a long time.


Hearing his contented sigh made Statzia smile. Caitians didn’t purr, but there was something about how he sighed when she scratched behind his ears that reminded her of the soft rumble that Clouds used to make when he was content. Her hand followed the movement of him to her side and once again found his ears. Her thumb brushed against the frayed portion of her ear that he’d damaged in a fight long before they’d met the first time on DS10. She opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling above them. “It’s–it’s been a long week.” She paused, not sure how to say what she was thinking. “I’m not used to talking to so many people in such a short amount of time.”


“You handled it well,” K’Naut replied. He thought back on the week, and his relaxed mood faded. “At least you can be sure there wasn’t much more you could have done to stop what happened. My tricorder detected the explosive, Z. Why did I ignore it? To keep from interrupting the damned ceremony? I could’ve warned the captain.” 


Statzia turned her head to look at K’Naut. “Their military still uses projectile weapons, Chief. Every military uniform would have pinged with trace elements for any number of volatile compounds.” She sighed quietly as she leaned her shoulder against his, softly tracing his ear with her thumb. “I–I can’t tell you everything that I saw in the reports from Starfleet Intelligence–some of it is above your clearance. The whole ordeal just stinks of bad choices–not by you, of course. Somebody higher up overlooked a lot of red flags.”


“Such as a planet so divided, it’s on the brink of civil war over joining the Federation?” K’Naut asked. He sighed again. Damn, he’d forgotten how good she was at stroking his ears. “I wonder who authorized this fiasco.”


He was quiet for a time, just enjoying the sensation of her touch. Then he said softly. “Do you want to talk about how you were acting on the bridge earlier?”

Statzia’s fingers stilled for a moment. “It was unsettling. The whole feeling of it all. I know the Commander made a mistake in my rank, but it just made me feel–angry.” She sighed quietly. “Everything everyone said or did–you included–just made me feel more and more irritated, and I was ready to just walk away from all of it to go live alone on a shuttle again and not have to deal with interacting with anyone unless it was necessary.”

She let her words go silent for a moment. “Sometimes all of the people, all of the noise and the movement and the business of it all? It’s overwhelming. I used to go several weeks without needing to talk to anyone–and it was really just talking enough to let Emma take a watch at the helm while I slept.” Statzia paused her fingers once again. “If I’d been given a choice, I’d probably still be out there in the emptiness by myself.”


“The only thing I felt was confusion,” K’Naut said. “I thought I knew humans pretty well. Today threw me, and with the captain’s behavior on Firste, I thought I was mistaken.”


He was quiet for a moment. “I’m glad you’re here, Z. I  wasn’t ex-“


He was interrupted by Thunder, who leaped onto the bed and sat in the middle of his chest.


<food smell funny> merped the calico cat.


K’Naut sighed. “Your food is fine.”


<it is in my spot> the cat replied. <move it>


“What are you talking about?” he asked, confused.


Thunder reached out and lightly smacked Statzia’s hand as she stroked the Caitian’s ear.


Statzia gave a yelp of surprise, pulling her hand back quickly. It hadn’t hurt, but neither Clouds nor Pickles had ever smacked her hand before. “What–what was that for?”


“You’re on the spot where she likes to sleep,” K’Naut said as he climbed out of bed to grab Thunder. 


The calico growled <unhand me fiend>


“There’s no need to be so dramatic,” K’Naut growled back. “If you would be more polite, you could stay.”




He took the cat to the bedroom doorway and set her on the deck outside. He returned to the bed after closing the door. “She’s a bit set in her ways.”


The Caitian laid back down on the bed. He snuggled up to Statzia. “She always gets fussy when I have a guest in my quarters.”


He lay there for a moment as he turned his thoughts back to where they’d been before being interrupted. He couldn’t quite remember, so he took another tack. “My people are a gregarious lot, and I’m even more so. I can’t say I fully understand wanting to be by yourself.  Even so, you know that I’ll be here for you.”

Statzia rubbed the spot where she’d been swatted with her thumb. “I hated it at first. Nearly went crazy with how loud the shuttle hummed.” She snagged the bedsheet with her fingertips, pulling it up over her torso. “I had issues in the beginning with integrating a Starfleet holoemitter into a Ferengi shuttle, so I had to keep Emma shut down the majority of the time. Had to find things to keep me occupied from what was loaded in the ship’s computer. After a while, I figured out the hum in the engine and the silence was moderately tolerable.”

She turned her head to look at him. “I’m glad you had company in my absence for the cat to fuss over.”


K’Naut suppressed his curiosity about how Statzia had stopped the hum. 


“It’s often tricky getting tech from different cultures to work together. Remember that time on Deep-” he replied, stopping as he recognized the change in her tone with that last sentence.


He pulled himself up on one elbow and looked at her. “Company? What do you mean?”

Statzia rolled onto her side, tucking her arm under her head. “You said you had guests over. I’m glad that there was someone you invited in. Someone for the cat to fuss over taking her spot in the bed.” She made herself smile.


K’Naut sighed.


“You’re the only one who’s shared my bed since I’ve been on the Mercutio, Z,” he said. “Thunder has also staked out one of the chairs in the dining set, a spot on the sofa, and the easy chair. I’ve had to lock the crazed beast in the bedroom twice. The first time was when the counselor came to introduce herself a few days after I arrived. The other was when I had a private dinner with Ambassador Miri not long before you came aboard..”


He flopped back onto the bed. She was still giving him that smile. The one she used when she was trying to make others feel at ease. He’d seen it so often before. He’d also seen her smile in the moment, without forcing it. He knew the difference. But there was one type of her smile that he’d never seen in person.


He hopped out of bed and padded over to the closet. After a moment of looking through his things, he found what he was looking for.


“I never told you this,” he said as he returned to the bed. “But I secretly hoped that someday you would smile at me like this.”


He held up a holopic of Statzia and her former partner, Tallin. The image had been one of the few things that she left behind at DS10. He’d kept it, at first to make sure it was safe for her when she returned, then later to remember her.


Statzia sat up, the smile falling from her face, replaced by an expression of disbelief. She reached out towards it, but quickly withdrew her hands as if she were afraid to touch the flickering image. “I left this. I left it on the desk in my quarters.” She looked up, her expression furrowed in confusion. “I couldn’t bring anything with me that would tie me back to anyone in Starfleet. You–” Her voice faltered and she swallowed hard. “Everything I left behind was supposed to be destroyed.”


“Maybe they did,” he replied, frowning. “I came to your quarters after you didn’t show up for breakfast and found this. I didn’t find out that you’d left a letter until later. I never heard anything about your things being destroyed.”


He slowly turned the holopic, taking in the image of a younger, happier Statzia. “This helped me get through the darkest moments of those first days after you disappeared.”


“I knew for six weeks.” The words came out almost as a whisper. Statzia clenched her hands together in her lap, willing them to stop trembling. “They gave me six weeks to make it start to look like I was starting to unravel again–to sell the lie that I was quitting Starfleet.” She swallowed again. “The arguments with the Captain, the drunken brawl on the promenade and the night in the brig–I couldn’t tell anyone, and I especially couldn’t tell you.”


K’Naut thought back to the weeks before she had disappeared. He remembered that she had been acting differently. She had been more prickly than usual. And he realized that this was when she had set the replicators to give Captain Reed nothing but mint cupcakes for a week. He found that amusing at the time, but now he saw it as part of a pattern.


His thoughts shifted from the thoughts of losing Statzia to thoughts of other losses in his life. It had started early, with the Tholian attack on P’teera, when  K’Naut lost some of his friends. In a way, he also lost his father in the attack. The injuries suffered had left his father with permanent brain damage. Instead of the caring man who was eager to share his love of all things mechanical and had been willing to defy Federation law to give his son a better life, K’Naut was left with a shell who shouted incoherently at shadows and couldn’t feed himself most of the time.


But K’Naut’s greatest loss had been Kessia. He had first met the unjoined Trill during orientation at the Academy. She quickly became his closest friend. They shared both highs and lows together. They had parted ways after graduating, with him going to Utopia Planitia and her to starship duty. Then, by chance, they were both assigned to the USS Endeavour. With a renewed friendship, they found themselves in the middle of a Borg incursion. The Battle of Sector 001 was a victory for the Federation, though not for K’Naut. Sure, he had killed two Borg Drones, one with nothing but his teeth and claws, but he’d also killed his best friend to keep her from being assimilated. He still has nightmares about it.


There were others as well. The chief engineer of the Gavia, who died trying to effect repairs during an encounter with an interdimensional anomaly. His niece, a victim of kepet fever. There was the father of his Mongolian friend Oktai, who treated K’Naut like one of his sons, even teaching the Caitian how to ride a horse. And there was his own father, who died about ten years ago.


Thinking about his father brought his thoughts to his mother, which in turn brought them back to Statzia. His mother had lost one of her legs in the attack on P’teera. Like Statzia, she had trouble with her prosthetic replacement, though not in the same way. Statzia liked to tease him about it, saying that the reason he liked her so much was because she reminded him of his mother. Damn, he had missed her.


Statzia shifted on the bed, and K’Naut was suddenly aware that it had been a long time since he’d said anything.


“That does explain a few things,” he said at last. “I suppose you staged that big fight we had the day before you left so we could spend the night making up from it?”


“No, you were actually mad at me. That was a real fight.” Statzia looked up from the holopic to meet K’Naut’s gaze. “Security surveillance was having problems in the docking ring, and I’d reassigned the team you tasked to make the repairs. We had a big blow-up over departments and rank and whether I had the purview to reassign one of your work crews.” She gave a quiet sigh. “And I came to your quarters, mostly because I knew it was probably the last time I would ever see you, but because you always had the habit of being the one to show up at my quarters after a big fight–and you would have discovered that I’d packed up my personal belongings.”


Her left hand reached out and gently took his right. “I sabotaged the security system in the docking ring, and if you or one of your crews had repaired them the night before I left, you would have identified the shuttle I left on. I couldn’t take the risk that your bond would drive you to pursue me, or track me down.” Statzia squeezed his hand. “I knew you would want to follow me–so I had to make myself impossible to find.”


“Damn, you’re right,” he replied. “How did I forget that?”


The worst of their arguments had been about her countermanding his orders to the engineering team on DS10. One of his greatest concerns about taking the job of chief engineer aboard the station had been that the Starfleet officers would have a problem taking orders from a civilian. It turned out that he had more problems with the civilian members of his staff. Thankfully, his second in command had been a Tellarite veteran on her last tour before retirement who kept everyone in line.


He hadn’t even considered that Statzia, as chief of operations, would pull rank on him so often. It had been particularly irritating that he couldn’t do much about it. She was a Starfleet officer and he was not at the time. Oh, yes, it had led to some really bad dustups. On several occasions, security had to be called. Even so, they always made up in the end.


He looked down at his hand wrapped in hers. He gently stroked the stub of her pinky with his thumb.


“How did this happen?” he asked softly.


Statzia instinctively flinched as he brushed the remaining portion of her finger, but she forced herself not to pull away. “Cartel initiation. They take one knuckle first. I was in deep enough that they took the second.” She gave a quiet sigh. “It took me four years to work my way in. Another six to earn the second knuckle.”


She rotated her hand so her wrist was exposed. “After ten years, I earned the tattoos. You can’t see them–it’s bioluminescent ink–but there’s two sets. One here, and one here.” She reached her other hand to trace her fingers along her skin, indicating where each tattoo would be.


“That’s a rough initiation,” K’Naut replied. “I’ve seen people with missing pinkies in some of the rougher places I’ve been. I didn’t know what it meant.”


He traced his finger across her wrist. The skin didn’t feel any different. Of course it didn’t. Humans used ink to create permanent decorations on their skin, not the fine brands that Caitians used to burn patterns in their fur.


“I would have wanted to go with you. And if I had, likely we’d both be dead before long,” he said. “I would have lost my temper and, foosh, that would be it. You were right to leave me the way you did.”

Statzia shook her head. “It wasn’t right at all. It was harsh and it was cruel, and I know it had to have been agonizing for you to feel with the bond you had.” She gave a quiet sigh. “I knew you would have struggled with the things I knew I would have to do to get into one of these organizations–but I also knew that your life would be at risk, as would anyone with any connection to me. I–I couldn’t lose you. Not after losing Tallin.” She gave his hand another squeeze. “I couldn’t be the cause of your death, too.”


K’Naut squeezed her hand and nodded.


“I know you didn’t want that,” he said. “I’m no stranger to feeling that way myself. But I still can’t see any other way you could have left. If you told me you were leaving, you would have had to stun me to keep me from following you. And if you had left a letter for me, I would have tried to find you. Leaving secretly without a word to me was the only option you had. Do you know it took 3 full days for me to unscramble the navigation sensors? By the time I finished fixing the mess you made, your trail had gone cold.”


He squeezed her hand again. He smiled his true smile, the toothy one that made most humans nervous.  “The bond I had? No, Z, the bond I have. It fades, but never completely.”


Statzia forced a smile over the flicker of pain on her face. “I had *hoped* that in the last twenty years you would have found someone else to bond with. Maybe a nice Caitian girl, had a few children.”


K’Naut blinked in surprise. “I never considered that. I have plenty of cousins to carry the clan’s line forward,” he said after a moment of thought. “I don’t know how my genetic alterations would affect my offspring.”

“You always talked so much about your clan and how important they are to you. I–” Statzia paused, looking down at their intertwined hands and the holopic he still held. “I’m not exactly a family person. I always hoped you would find someone who was–who could give you that kind of connection.”


“I’ve always been able to find connection, Z,” K’Naut replied. “For as long as I’ve lived and worked away from Cait. “


He paused to gather his thoughts.


“Yes, my clan is important to me,” he said. “There’s nothing like running through the D’tat grasslands or having a meal with the elders at the Hall of G’kar. I love and cherish the time I get to spend with my family, but I also love and cherish the time I have with my friends and coworkers.”


He waited for her response and when it didn’t come, he looked over to see that she had settled onto the pillow and gone to sleep. Her hand was still entwined with his. He smiled at her and gently retrieved his hand. He pulled the blanket over her and lay down next to her. He didn’t want to disturb her. She had trouble enough sleeping back on DS10, and he couldn’t imagine that it had gotten better since then. No, let her rest. She had spent the night in his quarters often enough in the past.