Chapter 1 - Aftermath
Statzia laughed, her breath ragged, and released her death grip on the bedsheets above her head. She let one hand drop to the pillow, the other hand seeking out K’Naut. He’d collapsed, spent, onto her chest, and she tangled her fingers into the fur behind his ears. “You’ve been holding out on me,” she murmured softly.
K’Naut rolled to one side and propped himself up on his elbow. Grinning at her, he traced a finger along the shallow scratches he’d left down her torso. The smell of her sweat and blood filled his nostrils as the bond seemed to pulse in time with his heartbeat.
“How so?” he asked lazily.
“Those,” she said with a chuckle. She pulled her free hand from the pillow, reaching to the bite mark on her collarbone–he’d bitten hard enough to break the skin, and the wound felt tacky to the touch. “And this.” Statzia gave the beginning hints of a smile, but it spread no further than the corners of her lips. “You’ve been acting like I’m going to break in my old age. But then, you were always more intense during this season anyways.”
“I knew that you were strong enough,” he said. He rolled away for a moment to find his drink. His hand found a wet patch on the carpet. They’d knocked the glass over in their lovemaking. He sighed and rolled back to snuggle against her once again.
“You’ve been holding me at more of a distance than you did on DS10, even after we talked when you moved into your new quarters. I wanted to respect that,” the Caitian said, wincing at his stinging back. He took one of her hands and closely examined her nails. “Did you add implants? You really carved up my back.”
Statzia gave a soft chuckle, pulling her hand from his and raking her nails through his fur. “They’re acrylic nails, silly. I–thought that a fancy night at the ballet and the fancy dress and hair was reason enough to get my nails done.” She found that spot behind his ear that would have made him purr–if Caitians did such things. She let her head lay back on the pillow. “I haven’t bothered doing my nails since–” Her sigh was quiet. “Since before DS:10.”
“You were gorgeous, Z,” he replied as he tilted his head toward her hand behind his ear. He sighed contentedly.
He looked over her body, at scars that hadn’t been there before. He traced a finger along a particularly large one that spread across her belly. He could feel the hard scar tissue and the slight puckering of the skin.
“There must be quite a story behind this one,” he said softly.
Statzia’s eyes slipped closed, and she lay in silence for several minutes, though she still worked her nails through K’Naut’s fur. She didn’t pull away from his touch on the scar, but her brow furrowed. “Is it safe to tell you that story right now?” She opened her eyes and turned to look at him. “It’s–not a good one.”
“No, I wouldn’t think so, not with a scar like that,” K’Naut replied. “Wait until you’re ready, if it’s too difficult.”
Statzia chuckled and ruffled his fur. “It’s not that. I’m more worried about you getting worked up and destroying things in your…current state.”
“Hmm…I see your point,” he said. “Why don’t you start, and if it gets bad, you can stop.” He grinned. “And if it gets really bad, you can stun me.”
Statzia shifted, moving closer to K’Naut, leaning on his shoulder. “I told you that I worked with some–less than ethical organizations. A few years after I left, I was able to procure a stasis pod.” She gave a quiet sigh. “It gave me the opening I needed to get deeper into the organization I was working to infiltrate. Part of my mission was to gather intelligence on humanoid trafficking.” She looked up, watching his face.
K’Naut nodded. “Go ahead. I’m fine so far.”
Statzia took in a shaky breath, questioning whether she wanted to share this part of herself with him–whether he’d decide he didn’t like the person she’d become over the last 20 years. She swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. “I trafficked a lot of things, K’Naut. More often than not, it was either weaponry–or sentient beings. I was valued for my–discretion. And having a stasis pod meant that I could move someone across quadrants without needing to feed or care for them.” She glanced away for a moment, not wanting to meet his gaze. “Emma’s expertise let us tag the people we transported with a hard-to-trace tracker, but I just—” She let out the breath she’d been holding. “I passed them on to their intended buyer, and then walked away. Except the last one.”
K’Naut wasn’t sure what he thought she was going to say. He hadn’t expected that. He pulled back to get a better look at her. The anguish on her face tugged at him, caused the bond to surge a bit, but he kept control. He pulled her close again and wrapped his arms around her.
“It’s hard to imagine that such things still occur in the galaxy,” he said. “Every member of the Federation had a time when they practiced those things, including both of our peoples. You were working for Intelligence. I assume there was a goal behind your work, as distasteful as it was.” Here, he made a noise that sounded just like a terrestrial feline coughing up a hairball. Despite the revulsion he felt, he was still curious about it. “You said except for the last one. What happened then?”
“It was supposed to be a weapons shipment. Simple pick up, plant a couple of tracing chips for Starfleet to keep tabs on, and make the drop.” Statzia leaned into the warmth of his fur. “Showed up to pick up the crates and they had extra cargo for me. It was a kid–a little Karemman girl–couldn’t have been more than six or seven.”
Statzia’s voice broke, and she swallowed hard again. “I wasn’t going to transport a kid.”
K’Naut felt a bit of guilt at his reaction. He was affected more by the pain in her voice than by what Statzia told him, as horrible as it was. The bond surged again, and he felt himself losing control. He began the Vulcan exercises in his mind. It took a moment before he could speak.
“Repugnant” he said hoarsely. He pulled her closer, until he was practically wrapped around her. “Please…continue…”
Statzia let her head rest against his shoulder. “It all went sideways from there–they shot me. High-powered rail gun bolt to the torso. I’m–lucky, I guess…if he’d have aimed higher, the bolt would have punctured my lung. Instead, it took out half my liver and one of my kidneys and impaled me against the wall.” Her fingers sought out the fur on his chest, needing that familiar comfort. “Emma broke the ‘don’t come out of the ship on a hostile planet’ rule and cut me free of the structure. She–she got me into the stasis pod, and that’s the last I remember until I woke up in a hospital bed.”
K’Naut’s body tensed as Statzia spoke. When she paused, he tried to relax, but he was only partially successful.
“I must remember to thank your Emma, if I ever get the chance to meet her,” he said.
“She–she’s your Emma, too, in a way.” Statzia gently lifted her head, just enough to let her temple nudge against his chin, mimicking the Caitian gesture he had a habit of doing when they were in close proximity. “She wanted to call you–at the end. I was sure I wasn’t going to survive the injury and–and I didn’t want you to have to lose me all over again.”
“I don’t know that I would have believed her,” K’Naut said after a moment of thought. “But the bond probably would have bothered me if I didn’t go.”
He gently kissed her temple.
“Speaking of Emma, did you know that Doctor Barnes retired from Starfleet to take over his family’s practice? I planned to visit him in Boston before we head back to the Mercutio. Emma, the original, is there with him as a full partner in the clinic. Would you like to join me?”
Statzia pulled back enough to look into K’Naut’s face. Her relationship with the Doctor had been nothing short of rocky in their time on DS10, but they’d reached an understanding–and he’d been instrumental in righting her off-track life. But like K’Naut, she’d broken off all contact on her departure. Her brow furrowed in concern. “Are you—are you sure they’d want to see me?”
K’Naut smiled. “The doctor likes to keep in touch with his most, ah, challenging patients. He refers to you as ‘The One That Got Away,'” he said. “He’s often expressed regret that he wasn’t able to keep in touch with you.”
Statzia’s surprise came out almost as a laugh. “Well, in the doctor’s defense, I didn’t keep in touch with anyone. That was–somewhat of the point. To anyone who might go digging, it had to look like things had gone bad and that I had no connections left to Starfleet, because–”
She stopped herself. There was something in the way he looked at her as she felt his arms flex around her shoulders protectively–as if he felt she might bolt from the bed and disappear again. Statzia forced her usual smile on her face to reassure him, reaching up to scratch along his jawline. “Yeah,” she said softly. “We can do that.”