Chapter 1 - Something Borrowed

Statzia tucked one of her coils behind her ear. After being on the planet, and the subsequent ash and grit that seemed to permeate her hair and her uniform, she’d taken the time in the sonic shower to undo her braids and pulled half of her hair into a braided crown around her forehead, leaving the rest to hang loose. She was unsure as to why she was nervous, standing in front of K’Naut’s quarters. She had been the one to inquire about the bonding ceremony, after all. She’d bought the knife, too. In human terms, one could argue that she was the one to “propose”. She smoothed the front of her blue tunic, tucked the wooden box in her hand under one arm, and reached for the chime.


K’Naut stood with his hands on his hips, inspecting the hearth-nook. Everything looked to be in place. Three gold-chased silver bowls, each containing a different dried herb, rested on a bronze tray set on a low wooden rack. The bonding knife lay sheathed on a velvet pillow made from silk dyed the color of Statzia’s hair, sitting next to the bowls. On a shelf below the tray, a Starfleet medkit waited unobtrusively in case it was needed. The cushions and pillows were arranged properly, and the lights-


The Caitian caught something in the air. He took a deep breath, realized what it was, and hurried to the entry. Just before Statzia’s finger touched the chime, he opened the door. He bowed slightly.


“Please, come in, Z,” he said. “Welcome!”

Statzia paused, taking in the room from just inside the doorway. “You always did have the better eye for aesthetics.” She reached to place the wooden box on the dining table, her fingers reached out, brushing the fur on the back of his hand.


K’Naut looked around his quarters as he absently took her hand. He wasn’t sure what Statzia meant by her comment. Maybe his clothing? He wore only his ceremonial trousers, crafted of fine pesir wool, in the clan colors of turquoise shot through with silver. The trouser legs ended just below the knee, and a belt of woven silver wire encircled his waist.


“This is the traditional setup for a bonding ceremony amongst our clan, Z,” he said. “My aesthetics have little to do with it.”


He gently drew her into the room. He looked into her eyes for a long time before saying, “Before we get started, I want to apologize for how I acted the last few days. It was harder than I expected.”


Statzia shook her head. “You don’t have to apologize. I shouldn’t have spoken to you that way, and I certainly shouldn’t have pulled rank on you like that.” She reached out and took his other hand, now grasping both of his. “There’s…a lot of things I should have done differently.”


“Hmph…none of that talk on our bonding night,” K’Naut replied, squeezing her hands. “We have a decision to make. Shall we eat supper before or after the ceremony?”


He swallowed nervously. The significance of what they were about to do had just hit. He began to babble.


“Some clans have a meal before the ceremony and some after it. Our clan doesn’t have a meal as part of the bonding ceremony. It’s up to the participants to decide when they eat with regard to their performance of the ceremony. If you’re really hungry, we can eat now. But the ceremony is not long, so if you can wait to eat, we can have dinner after. I’ve heard the first meal after confirming the bond is particularly satisfying. On the other hand, we might want to fortify ourselves by eating before the ceremony.”


This had all come out in a single rush. K’Naut paused to take a breath. 


Statzia put a hand up to K’Naut’s mouth, pressing her fingers to silence him. “I’ve put off this ceremony for twenty years, Chief. I don’t want to wait any longer.” She smiled, letting her fingers brush against the fur along his jaw. “Ceremony first.”


“Right, ceremony first,” K’Naut replied. “I’ve got everything set up-“


As he led her toward the hearth-nook, the comm sounded,”Bridge to Lt K’Naut.”


K’Naut glanced at Statzia and sighed.


“K’Naut here.” He tried to keep the irritation out of his voice.


“Sorry to disturb you, Chief, but we have an incoming holographic transmission for you.”


“I’m in the middle of something important right now. Record it. I’ll look at it later.”


“I can’t, sir. The transmission is live.” The ensign’s voice sounded awed. “It has diplomatic priority. From Cait.”


“Cait?” muttered K’Naut. “The clan elders have a fine sense of timing. Sorry,  Z, I’ll get rid of them as soon as I can. OK, Ensign, put them through.”


“Aye, sir.”


There was a burst of holographic static in the entry, and then a slender Caitian woman stood there. Much shorter than K’Naut, she had tawny fur and wore similar trousers to his. She also wore a loose blouse made from the same material. The part of her right leg that emerged from the trousers was obviously artificial.


“Greetings, K’Naut. May I enter your quarters?” she asked. She spoke Federation Standard with a mild Caitian accent, tending to trill her Rs and hiss with the sibilants.


“Mother!” K’Naut looked from her to Statzia and back. “Why are you here? And how?”


N’Sar smiled. “How? I had help from your great aunt. And as for why, I was invited.”


“With permission from the Loremaster.” Statzia smiled, inclining her head with a nod to N’Sar. “When I explained that it was human custom to invite family to be present for a union ceremony, and how you’ve worked to incorporate human customs into your other Caitian celebrations, I was able to talk him into letting the parents of the bonding couple be present.” She gave a shrug. “I must have forgotten to send the invitation to my father in the midst of the chaos over the last few days.” She waved her hand up at the holographic projector installed in the ceiling. “I called in a few favors, promised a few others…”


“If the Loremaster said it was allowed,” K’Naut said slowly, sounding a little dubious. Then he realized that he’d forgotten something. “Mother, please, of course you can enter.”


“The Loremaster did say so,” N’Sar said.  She stepped over to her son and briefly touched the side of her muzzle to his. She had to get on the tips of her toes, but he leaned over to meet her part-way.


She went over to Statzia and touched the side of her muzzle to Statzia’s cheek. She took both of Statzia’s hands into her own. “Future daughter, it is good to meet you almost in the flesh,” N’Sar said warmly, with a hint of a grin.


Statzia returned the gesture, bumping her cheek and temple against N’Sar’s muzzle. “This meeting has been long overdue, certainly.” She smiled, squeezing the holographic hands of her future mother-in-law before releasing them. She turned to K’Naut, reaching with her gloved hand to place a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry for the secrecy in this. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to convince the Loremaster, or if the last couple of weeks of arrangements would make the communication connection a success–and I didn’t want you to be disappointed if I couldn’t make this happen.”

Statzia took a deep breath, letting out some of her nervous tension, before giving a gesture of her head towards the hearth nook. “Shall we?”


K’Naut nodded. He said, “Computer, set the hearth-nook to ceremonial mode.”


“Acknowledged,” the computer replied. There was a sparkly shimmer in the air along the boundaries of the hearth-nook as a forcefield sprang to life. The fire flickered and died down for a moment. When it flared back, it seemed more real.


He turned to his mother, bowed, and said formally, “N’Sar, daughter of M’Ret, wouldst thou act as Caller for this ceremony?”


She bowed and replied, just as formally, “The honor would be mine to be thy Caller, K’Naut, son of N’Sar.”


She went into the hearth-nook and rummaged through one of the storage bins stacked against the wall. She removed a double bell and a striker. Next, she selected a cushion. She knelt on the cushion beside the tray holding the herbs and knife. She set the bell on the deck and made some adjustments to the placement of the ritual items. When everything was arranged to her satisfaction, she rang the bell three times.


“Attend, all those present, for a Ceremony of Bonding is upon us,” N’Sar intoned. “Celebrants, please take thy places before the hearth fire.”


Statzia let her hand slide down to take K’Naut’s, giving it a squeeze–though she wasn’t sure if it was to reassure him or herself. Following his guidance, Statzia stepped to the left of the heath, kneeling on her designated cushion.


K’Naut sat on the cushions directly across the fire from Statzia. He had set up hearth-nook so the south wall, with its high, long windows, was against the outer hull. Thus, as they now sat, he would be on the west side of the fire, with Statzia to the east and his mother to the north. 


Once everyone had settled into their spots, N’Sar rang the bell again. “Thou art about to perform a ritual as old as time. Thus, this place must be purified,” she said. “The herb p’set.”


She took a handful of the herb from the first bowl and sprinkled it into the fire. She added another handful. Dense smoke rose to fill the hearth-nook. It smelled of pine and mint and cinnamon, with just a hint of skunkiness. It was a familiar odor, last smelled during Fesen Mreth.


“This space has been made suitable,” N’Sar intoned. “The ceremony may begin.”


She lifted the bonding knife. She shifted it so that, with hands held palm up, it rested lightly on her fingers. The hilt lay on her left hand, and the still sheathed blade lay on her right.


“This blade shall serve as a symbol of your mutual bonding. It is fashioned from the antler of a h’sar, a beast from our world who mates for life,” N’Sar said. “You have bonded to one another, each in the manner of your people, and the Loremaster has certified your bonds. All that remains is to formalize your bonding through this ceremony.”


N’Sar carefully unsheathed the knife and held it by the hilt only. The glossy antler was a lighter shade where the blade had been honed razor-sharp.


“Anastatzia, daughter of Natalka,” N’Sar said, doing her best to pronounce the name of Statzia’s mother. “I will give you the knife. Take it with your right hand. After I pour this powder into the fire, slice the palm of your left hand. Deep enough to draw blood, but not so deep that you permanently hurt yourself. Then, you must acknowledge your desire to make your bonding exclusive to K’Naut. In our clan’s version of the ceremony, the exact words aren’t important, only that your meaning is clear. Then give the knife to K’Naut, hilt first.”


K’Naut’s mother gripped the hilt just below the blade with two fingers and the thumb of her left hand and offered Statzia the hilt. 


“Anastatzia, daughter of Natalka, take this blade and seal thy pledge with thine own lifeblood,” she said. Once Statzia had the knife, she sprinkled a handful of pale powder into the fire. There wasn’t much smoke, but the nook filled with an indescribable acrid smell whose largest component seemed to be burnt hair.


Statzia looked up from the knife to her Bondmate. “Computer, alter lighting in hearth nook to ultraviolet spectrum.”




Immediately, the light in the ceremonial area darkened, casting a dim glow over the trio. Statzia held out her gloved hand, and from around the hem of the fabric, a highly-detailed tattoo halfway to her elbow, typically invisible, showed fluorescent against her dark skin. She set the knife down on the cushion beside her. “Almost nineteen years ago, I made a decision. Without consulting you, my bondmate.” 


She began pulling off her glove, one finger at a time. Soon, the full extent of the tattoo was visible. It wrapped around her wrist like an unending serpent, doubling back in swirls and overlapping knots. Statzia turned her hand around, showing K’Naut every part of the design that criss crossed the back of her hand. “I spent the seventeen years that followed bonding myself to wicked people, earning their trust, infiltrating their organization…” Her voice caught and she swallowed hard. “With each detestable act I performed, I earned more and more of this tattoo. With each new tattoo, I bonded myself over and over again, knowing that each one made it less likely that I would ever see you again.”


Statzia turned her hand up, revealing the most intricate part of the tattoo on her palm. She picked up the knife and looked up into K’Naut’s eyes. “I can’t give you back those years I took away. But, with this cut, I will damage the tattoo, irreparably. By bonding myself to you, I simultaneously sever the bond I made on my skin–and by doing so, I will never be able to go back.”


Statzia placed the knife on her palm. “I choose you, K’Naut, son of N’Sar, from this moment until my lungs no longer draw breath.” Without taking her eyes from his, she drew the blade across the intricate design, red blood welling up where the knife broke the design in two.


K’Naut kept his eyes on Statzia as she made her declaration. His eyes widened as she set the knife down, and he sensed his mother shifting in his periphery. Neither he nor N’Sar said anything about the breach of the ritual. When Statzia removed the glove, which he hadn’t noticed she’d been wearing, he nearly gasped. He knew about the tattoo, but he’d never seen it before. It must have been painful for her.


Still, he had to admire the artistry of the thing. It seemed to move with a life of its own as Statzia twisted her arm to show the full extent of the design. When she sliced across her palm, the blade absorbing most of the blood and leaving an oozing cut, the life seemed to leave the tattoo. Now, it was just an intricate series of bioluminescent lines contrasting with Statzia’s dark skin.


His bondmate neatly flipped the knife in her right hand, an unconscious act undoubtedly learned during the years she earned the tattoo, and presented it hilt first to K’Naut. He took the knife with his right hand. As he brought the knife close, he could smell Statzia’s blood, and his bond flared. There was a brief internal struggle to keep control.


“K’Naut, son of N’Sar, thou hast heard the pledge of Anastatzia, daughter of Natalka,” N’Sar said. “If thou wouldst accept her words, state thy acceptance clearly then use the blade to seal thy pledge with thine own lifeblood.” She added another handful of the pale powder to the fire. 


K’Naut blinked at the acrid odor as he gathered his thoughts. He glanced down at the knife, then locked onto Statzia’s eyes. 


“I don’t know all of the dark things that you had to do to earn that tattoo, things you had to do to survive. It grieves me to think of the damage you suffered, but I am glad that you did survive and returned to be a part of my life once more,” he said slowly. “I recognize the importance of the destruction of the tattoo, and I am humbled and honored that you have chosen me over your former life.  I joyfully accept your pledge and choose you, Anastatzia, daughter of Natalka, from this moment until my lungs no longer draw breath.”


He drew the knife across his left palm. There was only a slight stinging. There was some blood, but most of it was absorbed into the blade. He handed the knife back to his mother.


“The pledge has been made and accepted,” N’Sar said. She held the knife in front of her, blade up. “And now we come to the Final Sealing. The knife by flame and the two of you by pressing your left palms together over the fire, mingling your lifeblood.”


She laid the knife at the edge of the fire, hilt on the stone, and the blade in the flames. The fire died down a bit when she released the hilt. The yellow-orange of the fire changed to shades of blue and green and red as the flames licked the blade.


K’Naut reached toward Statzia, across the fire, with his left hand, blood dripping. 


Statzia reached across the fire, grasping her left hand in his. “Ree tah-moy,” she whispered.


K’Naut smiled at Statzia’s words. He’d first heard her say them here in the hearth-nook after she had given him the bonding knife.


“The bonds have been sealed,” N’Sar said, ignoring the minor breach. She lifted the knife and held it up. The blade was no longer the same pale color as the hilt. It was now the color of dried blood. “Sealed by the mingling of thy lifeblood, to be known only to each other, and sealed by the very same lifeblood that has been locked within this blade for all who enter to see, for it shall never be sheathed again.”


N’Sar dropped the sheath into the fire, where it began to smolder. She stood and walked behind Statzia. She placed the knife on its rack beneath the crossed polearms. Then she returned to her seat. 


“You may release your hands,” the Caitian woman said as she handed each a damp cloth. “Clean your hands and drop the cloth into the fire.”


When they had done so, N’Sar gave them strips of bandage. She bade them to bind their wounds. After they had done that, she sprinkled the herb from the third bowl in the fire. A sweet, pleasant smell filled the hearth-nook.


“This ceremony is ended,” N’Sar intoned. The corners of her mouth quicked up in a faint grin. “How would humans say? Ah, yes. I now pronounce you wife and husband. You may kiss the groom.”


The sound that escaped Statzia’s lips was something between a sob and a laugh. She quickly launched to her feet, side-stepped around the hearth fire, and dropped to the floor beside her Bondmate. The smile on her face was genuine, and even more vibrant than the holocube he had returned to her after seventeen years apart. Without hesitation, she flung her arms around K’Naut and kissed the end of his muzzle.


K’Naut wrapped his arms around Statzia and nuzzled her cheek. He held her and sighed with contentment. He could have stayed that way all night, but there was something he needed to do.


“N’Sar, daughter of M’Ret,” he said. “It is with gratitude that I discharge thee from thy role of Caller.”


“It was my honor to serve,” N’Sar said. “I am pleased that you allowed me to take part in the ceremony.”


She stood and held her hands out to Statzia. “Daughter, welcome to our little family. We are planning your adoption ceremony. I hope we’ll see you soon for that, but not too soon. You’ll need to meet with K’Naut’s aunt and great aunt. They’re very busy women. We need to be able to fit your meetings into their schedules,” N’Sar said warmly. “There is a gift I sent with Statzia for after the ceremony. It’s time for me to leave. They’ve already convened a precedence committee for Statzia. I need to keep an eye on it.”


K’Naut nodded. “Of course, Mother,” he said. “We appreciate you taking the time to be here.”


When N’Sar’s hologram dematerialized, Statzia leaned against K’Naut, turning her left hand over to look at the bandage that intersected the fluorescing lines of her tattoo. “What did your mother mean by ‘precedence committee’?”


“Well, when you’re adopted into the clan, you’ll enter the line of succession for it,” K’Naut replied. “The precedence committee will determine exactly where you’ll be placed. It can be quite contentious.”


He stood and stretched.


“The gift from your mother is on the table.” Statzia smiled. “It was delivered to me almost three weeks ago with a very stern note not to open it until after the bonding ceremony was complete.”


“Computer, return the hearth-nook to standard mode,” he said as he walked over to the table. 


The lighting in the nook returned to normal. Scintillations filled the air and  twinkled at the base of the fire. Statzia felt a tingling across her skin. When the light show was done, the smoke was clear and the ashes were gone. The forcefield surrounding the hearth-nook dropped with another scintillation.


“Let’s see what Mother sent to us,” K’Naut said. He returned to the hearth-nook with a small jewelry case.


He settled back next to Statzia and opened the case. He sucked in his breath at the contents. A pair of Caitian ear cuffs lay on the satiny lining. Made from precious metals spun into a fine wire filigree set with gemstones, one of the cuffs was made to fit a human ear, and the other a Caitian. 


“This is- uh, was my father’s,” he said,  lightly touching the one made for a Caitian ear. “My parents exchanged them to declare that they were married. Some people wear them most of the time but Father only wore his on special occasions.”


He reached for the cuff but stopped as a thought came to him. “Mother wasn’t wearing hers. She wouldn’t have missed it for the ceremony. Which means…” He shuddered with emotion. “…that she had hers modified to fit you, Z.”


His hands trembled slightly as he lifted his father’s cuff and placed it around the edge of his right ear flap. He shifted it until it felt right, then flicked his ear to make sure it was secure and to start to get used to its weight. 


“How does it look?”


Statzia reached up her bandaged hand to stroke his ear. She was quiet for a moment before she smiled. “I assume these meet the Starfleet Uniform Code cultural accommodation requirement?” Her eyes met his. “If I wanted to wear it on duty.”


“I have no idea,” he said, blinking in surprise at the question. After a moment of thought, he continued with a grin, “But I’d say regulations be damned. Are you hungry?”


“Famished.” Statzia lifted her own ear cuff from the box and turning it over in her hand. She lifted the jewelry to her own right ear, fussing with it for a moment. Frowning, she stood and made her way over to the mirror, holding it up before turning around to look at K’Naut’s ear. “I–don’t think I’m doing this right.”


K’Naut smiled. He rose and went to join Statzia at the mirror. 


“Well, it goes on this side,” he said, giving her left ear a nibble. “Like this.”


He took the ear cuff and carefully slipped it onto her ear. As he adjusted it, he continued to nibble behind her ear and down the curve of her neck. When he was satisfied with the placement, he leaned so that his right ear was next to her left. He watched the way the light played along the filigree and how the gems sparkled. 


“A matched set,” he said, taking her into his arms. “Just like the two of us.”


Statzia leaned into his shoulder as he pulled her in close. She tilted her own head to watch her reflection in the mirror, smiling back at K’Naut. She realized as she looked at the ear cuff, that though it was an exact match to K’Naut’s own piece, it was designed to wrap around a human ear. She reached up a finger to brush along the line of gems that wrapped around the back of her ear. “It’s beautiful.” She ran her finger across a larger amber-colored chip closer to her earlobe. “And it will almost match that dilithium pendant you gave me at Christmas.”


“I should think so,” he replied. “All the gems came from Father’s collection.”


There was a flicker of emotion in the furrow of Statzia’s brow as she turned her head, examining her reflection in the mirror. “I–never had anything that belonged to my mother.” She swallowed hard, the fingers of her bandaged hand reached up to brush along the jewelry wrapped around her ear. “I am honored that your mother would give me something so important to her.”


“I’m a little surprised about it,” K’Naut replied. “Ear cuffs are among the most, ah, earnest, I suppose the word would be, signs that one is married. Mother loved Father very much, even after the attack, when he rarely recognized us. No one would have thought less of her had she chosen to remand him to the care of the clan. That she would give these to us…it makes me happy. It means she’s finally at peace with his passing.”


K’Naut would have said more, but Statzia’s midriff sent forth a gurgling. He laughed.


“Look at us standing here jabbering away like a couple of newlyweds when we haven’t had anything to eat for hours and hours.”

Statzia likewise laughed, turning to wrap her arms around the back of his neck. “Then we should eat–there are other human newlywed traditions we still have to fulfill.”


K’Naut grinned. “I know a little about those traditions…let’s make it a quick meal.”




Statzia lay quietly, her body still as she listened to the crackle of the fire–once again holographic– and the soft snore-purr of her bondmate as he lay curled against her left side. It wasn’t how he usually slept, but after the exhaustion of their planetary rescue, the emotions of the ceremony, and fervor of the human aspects of the post-wedding traditions, she was surprised that she hadn’t fallen asleep herself. She’d begun softly stroking between his ears shortly after their heated romp, and he’d wrapped his arms protectively around her, falling asleep within a few minutes. Even now, his paw-hands would occasionally flex, kneading against her skin.


He stirred slightly in his sleep, pressing his muzzle up, and she resumed stroking between his ears. He murmured something in his sleep, both paw-hands flexing as if pulling himself even closer into her. While she knew she wasn’t proficient in Caitian, her rudimentary translation said he was either talking about horses, or he didn’t want to take a bath. She held back her chuckle, not wanting to wake him.


As his purr-snore resumed again, she thought back to nearly a year before, when they had laid in this exact way–though in his bed and not in the hearth-nook–as she’d apologized to him in the darkness. I’m sorry, Bondmate,she thought to herself, I’m sorry it took me so long.