Chapter 1 - A Bit of Kit

K’Naut entered his quarters. It had been a long day, with the tunnels and strange AIs followed by a long talk with an old friend. A friend he never thought he’d see again. As he expected, Thunder sat by her food dish and stared at him.


“What can I do for you?” he asked as he removed his vest and slid out of his uniform. He already knew what her answer would be. 


*food smell funny*


He ignored her. She had tried this ever since she was a kitten. But K’Naut had seen through it and refused to replace her food. She glared at him a moment longer, then she began to  eat.


The Caitian shook his head with bemusement. Thunder was so different from her ancestors. He ordered some raw salmon and a glass of cold milk for supper. Taking pity on his feline friend, he tossed her a sliver of salmon.


After eating, K’Naut tidied up. He examined his uniform. It had taken a beating during the away mission. He tossed it into the ‘cycler. He cleared his dishes and made sure Thunder’s water dish was clean and full. 


As he did each night, he checked over his vest pockets and belt pouches. He looked to see if anything needed to be replenished or recharged. He made sure everything was in its proper place. But something was missing. He frowned, thinking about the day.


 He remembered Statzia reaching into his pocket during the away mission, just the way she used to when they worked together on Deep Space 10. She must still have his tool. His kit was incomplete without it. He considered waiting until morning to retrieve it, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to sleep.


He threw on the vest and went to find Statzia’s quarters. With the aid of the ship’s computer, it didn’t take long. He found himself standing by the door to her quarters. He reached over and pressed the doorbell. 




Statzia returned to her quarters after the drink with K’Naut. Well, she never touched her drink. Her mind had been a million places and the lounge had been crowded and she–she didn’t want to let down her guard. But isn’t that exactly what the head shrink back on Risa had encouraged her to do? She scoffed to herself–as if shutting down two decades of training and conditioning was as easy as ‘learning to relax’. 


But why couldn’t she relax with him? It’d been twenty years, and it didn’t appear that he held quite the grudge that she thought he might. So why didn’t she just enjoy herself? Why not invite him back to her quarters? If Emma had been there, it would have been her suggestion. How many times during their little interlude had the holo-doc suggested that Statzia reconnect with her former companion?

Fuck–what would Emma have to say if she knew K’Naut was on the same ship? She’d be a regular Yenta and make sure that match happened.


Statzia crossed the living space and sat on the bed. Emma would have something to say about the fact that the bed was in the living room and that half the furniture had been crammed into the sleeping quarters–packing it just as tight as it had been on the Rule Thirty-Four. She’d moved the bed out in favor of a hammock–but after a week on the Mercutio, she still hadn’t arranged to have the bed removed. For now it sat at a haphazard angle near the wall just outside of the sleeping quarters, since that was about as far as she’d been able to push it herself. She made quick work of removing the prosthetic leg, as she always did once she was alone. Emma had done well over the years in making the needed adjustments or procedures to make living as an amputee as comfortable as possible…but it was still nice to be rid of the weight at the end of the day. She made quick work of the uniform and changed into a pair of nearly-threadbare shorts and a sports bra.

She was approximately 10 minutes into her workout routine when the door chime rang. “Computer, pause music.” Statzia let herself drop from the chin-up bar she’d had mounted to the wall–in what should have been the dining space–and balanced on one foot. “Enter,” she called out, reaching for her crutch.


K’Naut stepped into the room. He stopped just inside the door. 


“Hey, the-,” he began. Everything he had rehearsed to say fled his mind as soon as he saw her. The way she balanced on her leg as she reached for the crutch suggested that she was ready to strike out if need be, using the crutch as a weapon. She had lost some of her curves as her muscles had become more defined. Scars covered her body, scars that hadn’t been there before. He was curious about them. 


He looked around the room, at the lack of furniture, at the way the bed sat in the room, and then again at Statzia. She had clearly been working out, and he suddenly felt like he was disturbing her personal time. His emotions roiled. On one hand, there was the awkwardness of walking in on something private. On the other hand, her state of dress was provocative, even though he’d seen her with far less on. And he didn’t know how this new Statzia would react to the situation. He found himself wishing that he’d waited until the next day to recover  his tool. Now it was too late.


“I’m sorry to intrude, Z,” he said, not moving from his spot by the door. “You borrowed my sonic screwdriver earlier.”


Statzia let out the breath she’d been holding as she tucked her arm and elbow into the crutch, letting it bear her weight. She saw the way he looked around the room, and she suddenly became self-conscious about her quarters. “Sorry–” she stammered, rubbing the back of her neck. “My place is more of a mess than usual. You come in as an officer and they give you all this leg room after living on a shuttle for 20 years–” Prophets, his presence was so unnerving. She’d spent the last two decades facing down some of the worst that humanity and other species had to offer, and she’d never felt so unsure of herself as she did right now.

Her eyes glanced at the open door behind him. “The door. You need to come in a few more steps so the door will close.” Statzia knew it was unlikely that there would be someone dangerous on the ship, but old habits died hard, and it was far more difficult for someone to come through a locked door than one wide open.


“What?” K’Naut asked, looking back. In the corridor beyond, one of the crew rushed past, intensely studying a PADD.


“Oh.” He took another step forward. As the door closed behind him, Statzia looked a little less tense. “Um…” He glanced around the room. “Maybe you just need more time to get settled in.”


He pointed to a pocket on his vest. “I just wanted to get my tool,” he said, fiddling with the pocket’s zipper. “I should have called first.”


He turned to leave. “Maybe you could bring it to Engineering in the morning. Sorry to have interrupted your workout.”


“No!” She perhaps voiced her objection too quickly, reaching a hand out to stop him. Statzia drew her hand back. “No, it’s alright. I have it. It’s just–back here.” She forced herself to smile reassuringly. “I should have put it back when I borrowed it. But god-like AI and world-destroying weapons and all.” She stood for a moment, seeming to gather herself. “Oh. Right. Sonic screwdriver.” She turned, pivoting on her full leg and hobbling back towards the sleeping quarters. “I left it back here.”


K’Naut followed her, partly from force of habit and partly out of curiosity. He stopped at the entry to the bedroom and looked around. At first, he was perplexed at the way the furniture was arranged. After a moment, he recognized the pattern. Statzia had recreated the interior layout of a shuttle. She’d added some touches of her own, like a hammock hung across one end of the room and net sacks filled with equipment on the bulkheads. He dropped into a chair that sat next to the entry.


He watched her fish through a small pile of clothing in one corner. She moved nimbly around the room, seeming more relaxed.


“So, this was your life?” he asked softly.

“This is much bigger than the Rule Thirty-Four.” Statzia leaned the crutch against the wall, scooping up her own dirty uniform. “Didn’t have room for the crutch to maneuver around–” Her fingers reached into the back pocket, retrieving the tool–when it occurred to her that the tone of voice implied something else. Worry, perhaps? Concern? Confusion? Her eyes met his and his expression caused her to visibly flinch.


“Yeah…something like this.” Her fingers played with the sonic screwdriver as she once again tucked the crutch under her elbow. “I’ve spent the last twenty years living in a Na’Far-class shuttle. It was cozy for sure.” Statzia crossed the few hop-steps to where he sat by the door. “Converted the sleeping quarters into a shielded cargo space not long after I got her. Emma didn’t need a place to sleep, so I just got used to sleeping while suspended from the ceiling.”

She looked over her shoulder around the rest of the room. “Living in the whole quarters just felt empty, you know? You live on a shuttle and you don’t have anywhere to accumulate–things.”


“Not accumulate things?” K’Naut asked, forcing a grin. “On a Ferengi shuttle? Where’s the profit in that?”


Statzia handed the sonic screwdriver to him. As he took the tool, their fingers brushed. It was like a spark jumped through him. He made a snap decision.


“I know more about living this way than you might think,” he said as he put away the screwdriver. He pulled out a small device and set it on the deck between them. “That’s a scrambler. It’s been years since I’ve seen an FCA liquidator, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”


He paused to gather his thoughts. “I stayed at DS10 after the Federation left,” he said. “Once it had been declared a derelict again, I engaged in a little bit of salvage.”


Statzia chuckled softly. “I know what a scrambler is, Chief.” She gestured with her head to her tactical vest hanging on the hook on the wall behind him. “And I don’t doubt that you could have made a pretty penny off of salvaging any Federation tech we left behind.” She leaned against the wall, looking smug. “I want to know how the hell you got on the FCA’s watch list.” She paused, raising an eyebrow. “Do I–need to make a few calls to get you off their list?”


He shifted in his seat to relieve the pressure on his tail. “You remember that statue of the Grand Nagus on the DS10 Promenade? Well, it turns out that nobody was emptying its vault,” he continued. “Until a certain Caitian took care of it, that is. Needless to say, the FCA took an interest in finding out who was responsible.”


“My cousin happened to have a shuttle about the same size as yours. He needed the help and I was available. We were just able to keep ahead of Ferengi. They kept finding us and we couldn’t figure out how.”


He reached into a belt pouch and pulled out a strip of gold-pressed latinum. He pressed one edge and it popped open to reveal circuitry.


“There were a dozen of these in the contents of the vault. We spent weeks getting rid of them. Eventually, I was able to get home with the latinum. I have more than ten thousand bricks worth stored in the clan coffers.”


Statzia gave a small smirk. “I’ve had my fair share of those pass through my business dealings.” She eased herself onto the storage crate next to his chair. “I had a stash of them that I would slip into payments on occasion so Starfleet could track where the money traveled.” She set the crutch aside and leaned her shoulder against the wall. “Though I never would have thought you’d be one for larceny, if I’m being honest, Chief.”


K’Naut spread out his hands and grinned. “It was all nice and legal,” he said. “The station had been declared a derelict, so it became a legitimate target for salvage under Federation law.”


He shifted again in his seat. “The FCA took the view that the latinum belonged to them or to the Nagus, I’m not sure who exactly, but certainly with the Ferengi. They were quite persistent. I tried using the Rules of Acquisition, specifically the 219th, ‘Possession is eleven-tenths of the law.’ That didn’t go over too well. I think whoever recovered it planned on skimming some off the top and they were none too pleased that a non-Ferengi beat them to it.”


“1st Rule of Acquisiton: Once you have their money, never give it back.” Statzia’s fingers played with the frayed edge of her shorts. She saw his fidgeting and knew exactly why. “I’m sorry, the chair is one I had pulled out of a cargo bay. I just needed somewhere to sit for brief periods of time. I wasn’t thinking about having anywhere for company to sit–especially company with a tail.” She tugged on a thread, which quickly unraveled another portion of the hem. “I could…have a cushion replicated. Before you come over next time, that is.”


Next time, eh? thought K’Naut. He liked that.


“Thank you, Z, that will be greatly appreciated,” he said with a grin. He stood and stretched. “I should be getting back to my quarters. I’m on first shift tomorrow.”

Statzia likewise stood. The cramped nature of her living arrangement, however, seemed to insist that the act of standing put her nearly chest-to-chest with her former lover. “Sorry,” she murmured as she shifted her crutch into place, almost bumping her body into his.


K’Naut drew in a surprised breath at how suddenly close Statzia was to him, filling his nostrils with the smell of her, which in turn brought memories of all the times they’d been as close as this, or even closer. 


“Uh…” he said. “I…” He tried to take a step back, but his legs tangled with the chair. Only a flailing of arms and tail kept him upright.


As he looked into her dark eyes and at her beautiful, faintly amused face, he found himself thinking back to the last night they had stayed together. It had been in his quarters, and they had planned to meet at the replimat for breakfast after she took care of a few things. She never got there.


“You…uh…” he stammered. “You owe me a breakfast.”


The momentary look of amusement vanished from her face, replaced by an expression of pain and regret. Statzia looked away from his face to her right hand, which was gripping his vest. She’d reached out and grabbed him as he stumbled and her fingers still held tightly to him. As she relaxed her grip, her hand brushed lightly against the fur on his chest, and she swallowed hard against the growing lump in her throat.


“We–we only ever had breakfast together if someone spent the night.” She let her hand rest against his chest as her eyes once again met his.


“That’s true,” K’Naut replied, eyes locked with hers. He drew in another deep breath, savoring her scent. He glanced down at her hand, resting on his chest and giving little twitches, as though she was fighting the urge to tangle her fingers into his fur the way she used to. The past and present seemed to merge for a moment.


“Are you asking?” he said softly.


Her fingers drew together, tracing patterns through the soft fur. Statzia closed her eyes, leaning forward and letting her forehead rest against his chin. “Is it what you want? Or is the bonding clouding your judgment?”


K’Naut froze. His mind raced. The Bond flared, true, but it was not even close to being as strong as it had been when it first formed. He hadn’t expected things to go so quickly. Part of him wanted to take it slow, but the rest…well…


He wrapped his arms around her and said, “It’s been a long time since the Bond clouded anything. The thought of staying hadn’t even occurred to me, but I find the idea very appealing.”


Statzia’s initial reaction to his embrace was to tense her body. Taking a deep breath, she quickly forced herself to relax into his arms. It was K’Naut, she reminded herself, and the familiarity of the way he pulled her closer was reassuring. At the same time, a part of her felt like a complete stranger to him. She wasn’t sure if she was feeling lonely, or nostalgic–or both–but after 20 years of isolation, here he was.

Her cheek found the familiar cleft of his collarbone and she pressed closer to him. “Stay,” she whispered.