Chapter 1 - Last Christmas

Statzia stood just outside of K’Naut’s quarters, bouncing on her heels nervously. She hadn’t felt this nervous around him since she’d first transferred to the Mercutio and discovered he’d already been stationed there. Her thumb traced along the twine holding the small white box closed and she let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Well, that’s about all the news,” N’Sar said from K’Naut’s PADD. “Oh, one more thing, Elder Feret asked me to remind you of the open invitation to join the Council of Elders. I know you aren’t interested, but I told him I would remind you. I hope you find someone to spend the Fesen Mreth with.”

K’Naut winced. N’Sar knew about his bond with Statzia, but he hadn’t told her that he was spending time with her again. He paused the recording to study his mother’s face. She was aging gracefully, with just a touch of gray around her muzzle. There was a tightness around her eyes that K’Naut recognized. It would be another Fesen Mreth without his father. K’Naut wished he could be there.

He set the PADD on the table and checked the time. Statzia would be there at any moment. He looked around his quarters to make sure everything was in place. He’d kept his decorations minimal. Statzia wasn’t too keen on Christmas, so he only had a few things. A holly and ribbon centerpiece on the table, an evergreen garland festooned with warm white fairy lights strung above and hanging to either side of his replicator niche, and a sprig of mistletoe hung from the ceiling just inside the entry. 

His Fesen Mreth decorations were more elaborate. He’d converted the side of the room with his couch into a traditional clan hearth-nook. His clan’s emblem hung at the center of an arc of plastered wall. A pair of weapons hung crossed below it: a long hunting spear and a shorter mren-hra, a polearm with four razor-sharp blades. A holographic fire burned in the hearth with the couch replaced by pillows and cushions strewn on the floor around the fire. A ceremonial rack of bronze decorated with silver and gold inlays sat to one side, holding the bottles and jars filled with the various powders and herbs that would be sprinkled in the fire during the Fesen Mreth rituals.

K’Naut looked it all over and decided that it was all to his satisfaction. His eyes strayed to the gift wrapped in white and gold paper that was on the table. Statzia had suggested that they exchange gifts. K’Naut was curious about that. They had never done so on the holidays they’d spent together on DS10. Why this time? He shrugged to himself. Human women could be as inscrutable as Caitian women.

He was ready. Now, all he needed was Statzia. 

Statzia rang the chime and brushed a hand along her tunic, smoothing out a wrinkle at the front. The door slid open and Statzia took a quick step inside to get herself out of the corridor. She immediately paused, her eyes noting the changes in the room. She’d seen the Fesen Mreth decorations before in K’Naut’s quarters on DS10, and she’d always found them to be uniquely beautiful. She also noted the greenery that was traditional to the human winter holiday, and a soft smile crept through the nervous expression on her face.

As Statzia entered, K’Naut moved to stand next to her. He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.

“Mistletoe,” he said, pointing up.

Statzia smirked as she glanced up, now noticing the greenery hanging above her. She chuckled, reaching up to ruffle the fur between his ears. “You know you don’t need to use a plant as an excuse for wanting to show affection.” She stood on tiptoe, returning his kiss with one of her own. “I…like how you’ve decorated your quarters.”

“I know I don’t, but it’s a human tradition that I like,” the Caitian replied. He looked around the room. “The hearth-nook doesn’t fit as well here as it did on DS10. Please, have a seat. Can I get you something to drink? I’ve tried a little experiment using kumis instead of rum in the eggnog.”

“Sure.” Statzia stepped around several of the floor pillows, finding a larger cushion to sit on. She watched him bustle around, and her fingers tapped out a soft-repeating pattern on the lid of the gift in her hand. She took the proffered glass and took a sip.

Statzia immediately spit the drink back into the glass, her face contorting in disgust. “Oh, this is horrid,” she sputtered. “Definitely not with kumis–”

K’Naut smiled ruefully. “So it tastes bad to you too?” he asked, taking her glass. “I thought it was my enhanced senses. I’m sorry about that. How about something else?”

Statzia chuckled softly. “If you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to make me drink it.” She swiped at her lower lip with the back of her hand. “A ginger ale is fine. I need to see about getting a case of Slug-o-Cola in the next supply shipment. The replicated version just isn’t the same.”

K’Naut grimaced. He couldn’t understand what Statzia liked about the cloying Ferengi soft drink. He tossed the pitcher of eggnog and the used glass into the ‘cycler.

“Ginger ale, eh?” the Caitian said. He opened a wall panel next to the replicator. He’d installed a refrigerator there. He reached in and pulled out a pair of green and gold cans. “You’re in luck. I noticed that you’ve been consuming less alcohol, so I put in a supply of soft drinks. I tried a couple of brands of ginger ale when we were on Earth. I liked this one the best.”

He poured the ginger ale over ice into a pair of glasses. He came over and settled among the pillows next to Statzia.

 “It’s called Vernors,” he said as he handed the glass of bubbling amber liquid.

Statzia couldn’t help but smirk at his observation. “Compared to the self-sabotage I was putting myself through on DS10, a lot less, for sure.” She took the glass and took a sip. “Emma helped me sober up after we left. It was…safer that way, especially since I was alone any time I was off the shuttle–at least in the beginning. She didn’t venture off the shuttle unless it was necessary.” Statzia sighed. “It was also safer that way.”

K’Naut nodded. “I’ve certainly done, uh…unsafe…things when I’ve had too much to drink.” He flicked the ragged fringe of his ear. “But this is supposed to be a joyous time. We shouldn’t linger on such unpleasant things.” He thought of Millie, and his words felt hollow.

He looked around for some way to change the subject and settled on the gift she held. “Should we exchange gifts now or after dinner?”

“Right. Holidays are festive.” Statzia gave a nervous laugh. “I’m sorry, I’m just about 20 years out of practice when it comes to holidays and festivities.” She looked at the small box in her lap and smoothed out the twine bow that she’d been fidgeting with, and she took a breath. “I suppose now would be fine, though this is probably something I should have given you a long time ago.” She looked up from the box, meeting K’Naut’s gaze, and offered him the package.

“Hold on,” he said. He jumped up and retrieved his gift for her. He settled back to his seat. “I started making this for you on DS10, but only recently found what I needed to finish it.”

He handed her the gift and took the one she offered.

Her fingers traced along the shiny paper, carefully finding the seam. Statzia worked a fingernail under the tape, working the edge free and unwrapping the gift in such a way that she kept the paper as intact as possible.

The paper fell away. Statzia opened the white box within. Nestled in green velvet was an amulet: a large, pale amber trilliant-cut gem set in a delicate filigree of gold and silver hung on a silvery chain.

Statzia’s fingers drew back, as if she were almost afraid to touch the necklace. She looked up and met K’Naut’s gaze. “You…you made this?”

“Just the setting,” the Caitian replied. “It’s based on a classic Caitian design. It took a long time to finish since it’s made from gold-pressed latinum and silver. Latinum is damned tricky to work with. The real hard part was the stone. It took me a long time to find a jeweler who had the skill to cut dilithium. And the chain was something I found in the replimat directory. It’s made of platinum. I hope you like it.”

Statzia’s fingers still hovered an inch above the stone. “I…this is…” Her gaze returned to the necklace. “When did you start working on this?”

“Well, I’ve been collecting small shards of dilithium for a long time as part of my NX-class scale model project,” K’Naut replied. “I discovered pretty early on that only crystals that were free of defects could withstand the forces in the scaled down warp core of my model. Gemstone quality crystals. That’s when I first had the idea of making jewelry out of it.”

He took a sip of the ginger ale, enjoying the way it tickled the back of his throat. “I started work on this particular piece a few months after I bonded with you. It wasn’t finished when you left DS10. I worked on it on and off over the years. Joe helped me find the jeweler on Earth. I dropped off the setting and the raw crystal when I returned to the Academy. I picked the finished item when we were on leave.”

Statzia gave a laugh. “Well, Joe seems to have had a hand in both of our gifts.” She gently folded the velvet back over the amulet and carefully placed the lid on the box. She glanced at the gift in his hands. “Dr. T’Ana said that I should learn more of your ways–I probably should have started a lot sooner.” She let out a breath. “Open it.”

K’Naut extended the claw of his index finger and slid it along each side of the box. He removed the wrapping by grabbing the paper where he’d slit it open. He glanced at Statzia as he opened the box within. Beneath a piece of white tissue paper lay a Caitian dagger carved from a long, singular antler. The blade curled slightly, as if following the bend of the bone. The hilt was intricately carved with miniscule sworls and waves as if mimicking the motion of roiling water.

K’Naut sucked in a breath. “A bonding knife,” he whispered. “And made from h’sar antler…how much do you know of the symbolism of this?”

Statzia’s cheeks flushed. “I know that the bonding was unintentional–at first. But after four years, I didn’t–” She swallowed hard against the lump forming in her throat. “I was foolish and wrong, and I’m sorry I let my fear stand in the way of being the partner I should have been to you from the beginning.” She bit her lower lip. “I did a lot of research. I know there’s not a written record of a Caitian-Human bonding, and from Dr. T’Ana’s reaction, I can understand why it would not be something that is spoken about.”

Statzia averted her gaze to her lap. “I know there’s a lot of ceremony that would usually accompany this kind of gift–that I should have gotten the approval of your clan elders, and appeared before your clan matriarch–” She looked up at him again. “When we were on leave, you called me Bondmate. You’d never called me that before. I realized that–even though being human prevents me from this kind of bond, I was ready to rip T’Ana apart just for insulting you in front of your friends. When that colony was being attacked by fog spirits, I was ready to take on whatever came through that door with just my boot knife to make sure you survived. I nearly went crazy when we lost contact with your away team during that first contact mission.” She gave a shrug. “I think I’m about as bonded to you as a human can be.”

K’Naut stared at Statzia for a long moment. Then he slowly nodded. “Of course… you’ve bonded with me, only in the way that humans bond with others,” he said softly, almost to himself. After another long silence, he said, “It never occurred to me.”

He took her hand and looked into her eyes. “I told you that I had made my peace with your disappearance. That wasn’t entirely true,” he said. “The chunk of dilithium I used for your pendant came from P’teera. After Federation negotiators finally convinced the Tholians that P’teera actually belonged to Cait, N’Gau and I went to recover whatever family belongings that had survived. Among them was a collection of unusual pieces of dilithium that my father had gathered in his time as chief engineer.” He gently squeezed her hand. “When I took the setting and the dilithium to the jeweler before returning to the Academy for re-enlistment training, I didn’t know that I’d ever see you again. I guess you could say that getting it finished was the last vestige of hope that I would be with you again. And here you are.” His voice had grown hoarse with emotion. He wrapped his arms around her and held her. He released her after what felt like both an eternity and an instant. He sat back, but still held her hand.

 “Bonding with other species isn’t forbidden or taboo, just rare. I think T’Ana was upset that I didn’t tell her,” he said, smiling. “She doesn’t have much to stand on though. She’s been seeing a big, scary Bajoran for the last 20 or so years.”

He gently ran his free hand along the length of the knife blade. “There is only one ceremony that involves a bonding knife, at least in my clan,” the Caitian said with furrowed brow. “What you described sounds like an adoption ceremony. That’s rare for non-Caitians as well, but not unheard-of. The entire crew of the USS Halifax, for example, after they came to our aid during the eruption of the M’resh’ndet supervolcano…”

“Wait… is that what you want? To be adopted into my clan?”

Statzia bit her lower lip. “I walked away from my family at eighteen and never looked back. There’s never been a name on my next of kin notification, and assuming I somehow manage to live to retirement, I–” Her voice caught and she swallowed hard. “I don’t have a home, and I’m not so sure I want to spend my last days living out my retirement sleeping in a hammock in a Ferengi shuttle.”

She brushed her thumb along the fur on K’Naut’s hand, and she laughed nervously. “You’re the closest I have to a family, Chief, and you must be pretty important to me if I’m volunteering to live out my retirement with actual dirt under my feet–if your elders approve, that is.”

K’Naut felt his world shifting. He’d only just gotten used to having Statzia in his life again, and now it looked as if a long-term future with her was opening up. He had tried to keep his expectations realistic, but sometimes he imagined what such a future might be like. He thought back to his most recent visit to his friend Oktai, to the notions he’d entertained while riding on the steppe of Mongolia. For a moment, a vision of horses thundering across the plains of the G’kar clanlands, with Statzia and himself riding among them, rolled through his mind. He had dismissed the idea as impractical and highly unlikely, but now… now it seemed, well, still impractical, but also less unlikely.

He looked down at his hand, at Statzia’s thumb stroking his fur. “You offer a future that I dared not hope for,” he said quietly. “That is a priceless gift, Z.”

“I should have offered you this future a long time ago. I didn’t, and I know it hurt you to have me constantly pushing you away.” Her free hand reached to brush the fur at his cheek. “I was a coward and a fool. I–I hope I can start to repair what I put you through. Emma–your Emma–told me that if a Caitian bonds with someone outside of their clan, a Caitian can petition the clan and the matriarch for permission to join the family. Joe was the one who helped me procure the blade.”

Statzia’s expression seemed to falter briefly. “I understand if politics or decorum or something about my being human complicates that request and I will understand if the answer is no…”

K’Naut leaned into Statzia’s hand on his cheek. As she finished speaking, he felt the bond surge. “Anyone who objects to you joining the clan as my bondmate is going to answer to my teeth and claws,” he growled. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself before continuing. “I can send the petition right away. My mother will handle the preliminaries. She will want to meet you before she goes to the council.”

Statzia chuckled nervously, her hand continuing to stroke his fur. “If anyone objects to my joining, I think I’ll be the one to show my teeth and claws. I think I’m more nervous about meeting your mother and the rest of your family.”

K’Naut smiled. “I don’t think you have anything to worry about, Z,” he replied. “I’d say that that you’ve already met N’Gau, but he wasn’t exactly in the best way. He’s responding well to treatment, by the way, so well that they’ve moved him to the clan hospital on Cait.”

“T’Ana doesn’t count. She’s not in our clan,” he continued after taking another drink. “But I have plenty of aunts and uncles that are in our clan. Both my parents came from large families.” He let out a chuckle. “I think that may be why Father took the job on P’teera. To get away from all the chaos.”

Seeing the look on Statzia’s face, he quickly said, “You don’t have to meet them all at once. In fact, the proper protocol is for you to meet each of my grandmothers after you meet my mother. Now that I think about it, I’d be nervous meeting my grandmothers.”

He looked down at the knife again. His brows furrowed as he tilted it to test the sharpness of the blade. “I was going to suggest that we perform the bonding ceremony, but I think I should consult with the clan Loremaster first.”

“It’s okay,” Statzia said with a laugh. “With my father, my four brothers and their wives and all the nieces and nephews, I understand what a big family probably looks like–though mine probably grew considerably in the last thirty-five years, and they’re probably all still crammed on the same ship.” Her brow furrowed in seriousness. “But I will not make you meet them. You wouldn’t want to meet them any more than I would…and thankfully space is big enough that I’ve never run into them.”

She saw his attention turn to the blade, and she reached her hand to tip his chin up. “There’s not a rush, K’Naut. I will wait as long as it takes to do this properly, clan meetings and red tape and all.” And then she smiled at him in a way he had only ever seen on a holopic cube.


Several hours later, K’Naut took a deep breath. He hadn’t been able to get to sleep. He savored the scent of the room. The sweet and pungent odors of the herbs he’d sprinkled on the fire during the Fesen Mreth rituals mingled with the rich, savory smell of herevet roast. A few slices of the roast remained on a plate resting on a low table to his right. He reached over and used a slice to scoop up a bit of a human side dish made from cranberries, apples, and oranges that K’Naut had accidentally discovered paired well with the heveret. It was awkward since he was only using his right hand. His left arm was draped across Statzia’s shoulders as she lay with her head on his chest and her body tight against his own.

They had put together the makeshift bed next to the fire using the cushions and pillows. They used heveret furs as blankets. They hadn’t made love, though. Maybe it had been the soporific effect of the herbs, or maybe all the food they’d eaten. It had been enough to simply bask in each other’s presence.

He looked down at Statzia. Her features were relaxed in repose, seeming to mirror the way he felt: content and peaceful. She seemed to be asleep, so he moved deliberately as he brought the meat to his lips. He bit off a piece and returned the rest to the plate. As he chewed, he reflected on how the flavors represented aspects of his life. The meat was a traditional food for the holiday and nostalgic for his life as a Caitian. The fruit relish was like the Federation, a startling mix that was more complex than the sum of its parts. One that paired well with Caitian culture. And it was made from fruit from Earth. With the exceptions of Kessia and a pair of Kzinti merchants, his closest non-Caitian friends were human: Oktai, Joe Barnes, Becca Martin, and, of course, Statzia.

He looked down at his bondmate again and felt a wave of affection for her. He slowly lowered his head to gently kiss the top of her head. The memory of that smile she’d given him, the one he’d been hoping to have aimed at him for so long, was seared into his soul. And she had been free with the smile all evening long. Her laughter had been warm and infectious. Not the cynical bark she typically used. He sighed and settled back, putting his hand behind his head. Life was good.

Statzia lay curled up against him, teetering on the edge between the waking world and sleep. It was strange, not feeling like she needed to open her eyes as she felt him stretch and reach, but there was a part of her that knew that her bondmate would tear apart anything that would attempt to cause her harm. She hadn’t felt safe in a very long time. She felt him settle back into the pile of pillows, and she gave a quiet sigh. “Ree tah-moy.”

K’Naut shifted at Statzia’s words. It sounded Ferengi. He knew a bit of the language. He tried to work out what it meant. The pronoun and verb were pretty clear, ‘we are’, but the rest… it was beyond his limited understanding. He reached for his PADD, again carefully as to not disturb Statzia. He looked up the phrase. What he found made him smile. 

He kissed the top of her head again and settled himself for a long winter’s nap.