Chapter 1 - Relocation

Statzia let the crate drop the last few inches to the top of the table, reaching to wipe the sweat from her brow. She’d carried every last container down to her quarters herself, not telling the other crew that she would do so. She’d passed the occasional crew member on the half-dozen trips back and forth to her new quarters, but nobody had given her a second thought. They’d all gone on their way, immersed in their own business or personal activities.

She stepped to the counter, picked up the bottle of alcohol, and examined the label and the red wax that dripped down its neck. The ‘housewarming gift’, courtesy of the vacating bartender, hailed from somewhere on Earth called Kentucky. She found the tab that allowed her to pull the wax free of the lid seal and uncapped the bottle, taking a generous swig without the use of a glass. *Here’s to sleeping in a bed for once.*


K’Naut strode down the corridor toward Statzia’s quarters. Things had been strained between the two of them ever since he’d returned from the planet of the giants. He had a day off and thought that breakfast with his closest friend might be a good way to ease the tension. He’d seen her at the counselor’s party last night, but that had been hardly the best place to have an important conversation. 


The Caitian nodded to fellow crew members as they passed. By the Clans, it felt good to be on a Starfleet vessel again. He had tried to get this feeling back during his time away, but couldn’t quite find it. Deep Space Ten, where he’d first met Statzia, had come close…then Statzia disappeared, and that was that. Even if the Federation hadn’t given up on the decrepit old Cardassian station, K’Naut would have left. Then the amnesty he helped champion was enacted, and he was one of the first to re-enlist. Despite a few hiccups, life was good.


He turned the last corner and found himself at Statzia’s door. He pressed the doorbell, hoping he’d have time to think of a clever remark before she responded. He waited for a minute or so, then hit the doorbell again. She still didn’t come to the door or call for him to enter. He pressed the doorbell a third time. After another minute without a response, he began to worry. He made himself wait another minute before using his engineering override to open the door.


He stepped into the room, expecting to see Statzia hurrying out of the head without her prosthetic and wearing only a bathrobe, ready to rip into him for busting in on her. Instead, he found that her quarters had been cleaned and the furniture returned to the default placement. He sniffed. He could just barely smell her under the strong odor of cleaning fluid. He went into the bedroom. The bed was in place on one wall. The head was clean and empty. There were no linens on the bed, no towels in the head. He found no sign that Statzia had ever been in the room, except for the faint smell of her.


K’Naut began pacing the living room. Surely she hadn’t left again. The thought agitated him and he paced more quickly.  When he felt the urge to pick up a chair and smash it, he began his Vulcan exercises. As he calmed, his reason came back. He realized that he’d worked himself up prematurely.


“Computer, where is Lieutenant Commander Liski?” he asked, feeling a bit foolish for not thinking of it earlier. The computer gave him a location on Deck 12.


K’Naut left the turbolift feeling confused. This part of the ship had originally been designed for overflow storage of shuttle craft but had turned out to be impractical for that purpose. On most Akira-class ships, it had been refit to add berthing. It was used on the Mercutio to house civilians who worked on the ship but weren’t related to any of the crew. So why was Statzia down here?


He arrived at the door of the room that the computer had indicated. He pressed the doorbell.


The chime of the doorbell startled her, and Statzia whirled towards the door, her hand resting atop a knife in the open crate in front of her. She took a quick breath, pulling her hand off of the blade. “Who is it?”


K’Naut sighed with relief. “It’s me, Z” he said. “Can I come in?”


Statzia quickly shut the lid of the crate. “Yeah, sure. It’s open.” She shoved her hands in her pockets, taking a few extra steps towards the door.


K’Naut opened the door and took a few steps into the room. He stopped to look around. From the number of crates and bundles, he guessed that all of Statzia’s worldly possessions were here, which meant that she had moved to this cabin. It was much smaller than her other quarters, cozier, which he supposed was the point.


“So you’ve moved down here,” he said. “I sense the counselor’s touch in this.” His nickname for the counselor, Millipede, was not just a play on her name. It also reflected the way the counselor seemed to have a thousand arms touching the members of the crew. That probably made for an effective counselor, but it could be damned uncomfortable when one of those arms rested on your shoulder. 


K’Naut stepped over to the windows and looked out. The view was stunning, well to the engineer. They were on the underside of the saucer section, so the windows were further away at their tops. Above, he could see the primary hull where it overhung the lower part of the saucer, but the view was dominated by one of the warp nacelles.


“Wow,” the Caitian said. He turned to say something about it to Statzia when he noticed the sag of her shoulders and the way her hands were tucked into her pockets. “By the Clans, Z, you’re exhausted. Were you up all night moving all of your things?”

Statzia gave a quiet sigh. “The counselor offered to help. I suppose it was just easier to move it all myself.” She gave a look around the room. “I think it will work. It’s not so…big.”


K’Naut moved to stand directly in front of her. He felt a sudden urge to take her into his arms but resisted, unsure about how she would respond. Instead, he placed his hand on her shoulder.


“I know that coming in from the cold has been, ah…challenging for you, Z,” he said softly. “You don’t have to do it all by yourself anymore. I would have been happy to help if only you’d asked.”


He saw the exhaustion in her eyes and smelled it as well. “I came to see if you wanted to have breakfast with me, but I think rest is what you need right now.”


Statzia gave a quiet sigh. “I didn’t have a whole lot to move. Twenty years in a shuttle doesn’t give you much room to accumulate personal effects.” She looked over her shoulder at the small stack of crates. “It’s mostly—equipment.” She gave a sheepish grin and shrugged. “Stuff I would rather the Counselor or the Captain not know that I have.”


Her gaze landed on the small table in the room, and the two crates atop it. “I could clear the table—“ She hesitated for a moment. “We could replicate breakfast, but replicator food still tastes weird, right?”


“Yes, it does,” K’Naut replied, nodding. “But it’s something I can ignore.”


He glanced at the same stack of crates and said, “There are a few of my tools that I would rather nobody knew about, as you well know. But that’s not what you’re avoiding. You need rest. I can come back for a late lunch, or maybe even supper.”


Statzia’s hand reached out for his chest, but quickly pulled it back. “Yeah, sure.” She let out a breath, feeling a wave of anxiety surge. It flickered across her face for a moment before she forced a smile. “I’m sure we can–” She made eye contact for a moment before looking away. “Meet up later. Sure.” 


K’Naut felt the bond surge more strongly than it had in a very long time. He’d never seen her like this. Was it a stroke? He knew that that particular malady was exceedingly rare these days, but it could be triggered by stress. No, it didn’t smell right. If Statzia had been Caitian, he would have said she smelled like she was having an anxiety attack. Could that be it? He knew that with many emotional states, humans and Caitians smelled very similar. It was probably one of the reasons Caitians liked humans. They were easier to understand since Caitian emotional awareness was partly olfactory. He decided to treat it as an anxiety attack.


Only how did you help a human get through one? He knew how to help a Caitian. His mother had anxiety attacks in the years following the attack on P’teera. He could try those techniques. There wasn’t anything dangerous about them.


“Please, Z, have a seat,” he said, guiding her to the edge of the bed. As she sat, he went to the replicator and called up a large glass of water at room temperature. As he came back. He dragged a chair over to sit in front of her.


“Take long, deep breaths,” he told her. “Close your eyes. Count the breaths. After 5 inhales and 5 exhales, take a large drink of water and swallow it slowly. Then 5 more complete breaths and another drink. Repeat until you feel better. I’ll stay right here with you until it passes.”


Statzia’s hands trembled as she gripped the glass, following K’Naut’s directions for breathing. After several repetitions, her hands ceased to shake and her breathing came easier. Statzia sighed quietly, closing her eyes and leaning forward, closing the distance between them. She let her temple rest against his chin, as she had done hundreds of times before. The brush of his fur against her forehead always seemed to ground her.

“I’m sorry,” she spoke, softly. “I’m usually better about keeping myself from falling apart.”


The Caitian felt a tension he hadn’t noticed drain from his body. He was still concerned, though the immediate crisis seemed to have passed. He sat still, savoring the contact with her. He could have sat that way all morning, but he needed to know.


“You don’t need to apologize, Z,” he said softly. “Has this happened before?” 


Statzia gave a small nod. “They started after I lost my leg. Recovery on Risa was pretty rough. By the time I got to DS10, I was dosing to keep them at bay.” She gave a soft, weary chuckle. “Remember the time that Clouds figured it out and you found both of us laying on the deck in my quarters?”


She gave a soft sigh. “Emma figured it out, too. Confronted me about it after one of the surgeries, and she helped me manage the withdrawal so I wouldn’t–get caught.” Statzia went quiet for a moment. “I had one after you came back from the planet of the giants.”


He did remember, as clearly as if it had just happened. It was the day after they had first made love, and the bond was newly created. K’Naut had had a hard time controlling himself. He wasn’t able to get to sleep. His tossing and turning had upset Clouds, who, as quite the escape artist, got out of their quarters and led K’Naut on an extended chase throughout the station. The Caitian finally found his feline friend in Statzia’s quarters, sitting on her belly and kneading her chest. Statzia was heavily medicated. He had assumed it was something that Dr. Barnes had given her for the pain.


He had helped her into bed. The bond had a solid grip on him, so much so that the high hormone levels triggered the monitor that Emma, the station’s EMH, had strapped to his arm earlier in the day. The hologram called to find out what had happened. It had taken the combined effects of his Vulcan exercises and Emma’s cajoling from the infirmary to get him to leave Statzia and go back to his own quarters. Emma had been instrumental in getting him through that first week of being bonded. 


“Wait,” he said, lost in reminiscence so that he almost missed the last thing Statzia said. “Did you say you took the drugs after I got back from the planet of the giants?”


He tried to remember, but that day was still mostly blank after he’d returned. The counselor said he and Statzia argued, but he didn’t remember it. He certainly didn’t know if Statzia was acting differently.




Statzia pulled away enough that she could see K’Naut’s face. “No, not since DS10. Emma made sure I stayed clean all these years. It got easier as she was able to remove the damaged nerves–” Her left hand released the glass and she brushed against the fur on his knee with her fingertips. “I had a panic attack after our fight. I was in the hallway outside of your quarters. The whole time your away team was out of contact, I was–I thought I was losing you, too.” 


She gave another quiet sigh. “After our fight, it just all came crashing down. I’d been so hyper-focused on trying to get you back–I didn’t realize the impact it was having on me. I–” She looked away, embarrassed. “Another crew member found me in the corridor, tucked in the corner in a ball and shaking. The counselor said they had to sedate me in Sickbay for the night.”


K’Naut placed his hand over the hers on his knee. “You wouldn’t have reacted that way back on Deep Space Ten. And we certainly had our share of hairy situations there,” he said, thinking back to those days.


They had discovered more than a dozen booby traps on board the station. Each had been built with components from the tech of multiple species. They had never discovered who had placed them and that still frustrated K’Naut. Both he and Statzia had nearly been killed or severely injured by several of them, but she had never had a panic attack afterward. 


“What changed?”


Statzia’s brow furrowed. “K’Naut…I did react that way on the station. My coping mechanisms for the anxiety were far more unhealthy back then. You used to get so upset with me when you’d find me at the bar, completely hammered and barely able to stand–” Her voice caught in her throat and she looked away for a moment. “You weren’t always conscious when I had them, Chief. Emma was–she was really good at helping me keep my shit together, especially when you were laid up in Sickbay.”


She finally looked at him again. “I’m sorry. I should have told you a long time ago.”


“Yes, you should have,” the Caitian agreed. “What’s done-“


He drew back as a new thought came to him, one he wasn’t sure he liked. After a long moment rolling it around his mind, he demanded, “Was I one of your coping mechanisms?”


Statzia pulled back her hand as the question was asked. “Yes,” she said softly. “At least, that’s what you were supposed to be at first. We got a little drunk, blew off some steam–and then you bonded with me. And prophets, what was I supposed to do, Chief? I wasn’t looking for a connection or a relationship. I was on a fucking downward spiral and well on my way to getting dishonorably discharged, and you were so excited to be back doing something that gave you purpose. I knew that anyone I attached myself to would just get dragged down the spiral with me–and I didn’t want my self-destruction to hurt you.”


Her gaze fell to her lap where she was absently rubbing the end joint of her amputated finger. “You were so persistent, Chief. No matter what I did to try to run you off, you were always there, pulling me out of whatever mess I was getting myself into. You made me want to be better, to get better. I didn’t want to get attached to anyone, but damnit, Chief, I was starting to get attached to you…” Statzia gave a quiet sigh. “And then that’s when I got the call from Intelligence. I tried to convince my handler that you needed to come with me, that I needed someone with me–and so they briefed me on who I would be working with, and the things their organization did–and I knew for sure that you would either die protecting me, or they’d kill you to spite me…and I couldn’t lose someone I cared so deeply about.”


She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Watching your disappointment as I feigned my relapse into my destructive behaviors almost destroyed me.”


“Damn, Z,” he whispered. “Damn.”


He was quiet for a long time. He stared at her amputated finger. His emotions were a tangled knot. He turned over what she had said in his mind. He could see now what she meant. Only…


“I didn’t know how bad it was for you,” he said. “And I didn’t realize how much I had done for you. I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but it wasn’t deliberate. I was just being myself. I enjoyed your company. I still do.”


He reached over and took her hand. “And it sounds like you put more importance on my bond than I did. Put unnecessary pressure on yourself. One-sided bonding is fairly common. We usually ignore it once the initial shock passes. It rarely bothers me. It does flare up, but not enough to make me anywhere near as crazy as that first week.”


He wiped a tear from her cheek and touched it to his tongue. There was the taste of salt, but also something much more subtle. He couldn’t actually taste them, but the mix of trace compounds that were unique to Statzia made their presence known as they set off a cascade of physiological effects. The bond was refreshed.


“Neither of us was looking for a relationship, but somehow, we came close. You filled a hole in my life, one that was there since my youth and that I tried to ignore. You see, I don’t, um, smell right. It’s something that Caitian women can ignore, but most of them don’t want to. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I had my career. You showed me a possibility I hadn’t considered. And then you were gone.”


He gently pulled her close to him so that their foreheads touched again. “Now that you’re back, I realize how much I want you to be a part of my life. How much I need you to be a part of my life.”


Statzia let her eyes close as he pressed his forehead to hers. She gave a quiet sigh, thinking back to all the times he’d leaned in to press against her temple, and the way he’d laughed the first time she’d likened it to a similar motion performed by Clouds. She let her hand reach for his chest, brushing the soft fur with her fingertips. She wanted to tell him that this time she’d stay, that she wouldn’t leave–


“Will you stay with me a little while? I’m–not used to sleeping in an actual bed–” Statzia stiffened slightly. “Stay until I fall sleep?”


“Of course, Z,” he said and laughed. “How else can I be sure you actually get some rest?”


At his laughter, Statzia seemed to visibly relax. She pulled back, shifting around him to place the glass of water on the small bedside table. Standing, she crossed the room, picking up her crutch from its place by the door and relocated it to within reach of the bed. She sat again, unlacing her right boot, kicking it far enough away so as not to trip on it later. The left boot she left on the prosthetic, reaching to the ankle to unfasten the snaps in the seam of the uniform, allowing her access to the straps of her prosthetic. The gears whirred softly as the leg disengaged, setting the leg into its neutral position.


She finished undressing, tossing the clothes on the floor in a heap. It was a habit she knew K’Naut would continue to tease her for–and the thought eased the furrow of lines on her face. 


K’Naut sat back and watched Statzia prepare, as he’d done so often in the past. He shook his head at the pile of clothes but didn’t say anything. Once she had stretched out on the bed, he moved his chair closer. 


He held her hand until she faded off to sleep. He  leaned down, gave her a human kiss on the cheek, and turned to go. But he was reluctant to leave her just yet, so he called up some breakfast and sat at the table to eat. As he ate, he worked on some administrative tasks that he’d put off for too long. He paused whenever Statzia would shift, and once, he went back to her side when it was clear that she was having a bad dream. 


Her brow furrowed in her sleep, her fingers giving tiny twitches. Statzia took in a sharp breath, but didn’t wake. Her lips parted, a mewl of a whimper escaping, and she took in another breath. “Emma–” the plea was soft, almost agonizing. 


K’Naut paced at the side of the bed. He didn’t want to wake her, but her cries were triggering the bond. He made a few more passes before he realized that he was extending and retracting his claws. Not a good sign. There was only one thing to do.


He left a message for her to call him when she woke. He tidied up his breakfast plate and left, heading to his workshop.