STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE

Essentials

by Carolyn R. Fulton


Sheer luck plays a larger role in the lives of humans than most of them ever care to admit.

Security Chief Odo, non-human, nonetheless had luck intrude into his life in a most unwelcome way, as he finally began to work at cleaning up the destruction he himself had wrought in his quarters after Kira Nerys confided in him about her new love. Someone else, of course -- always someone else.

"She can never love you. You are a changeling."

No doubt true, and all the more painful for being so.

Workmen had been set at the task of putting soundproofing into his floor -- Odo had sent them off on a break so he could work in solitude, at least for a while -- but he kept the actual clean-up for himself. He thought that it would reinforce his new resolve to see what chaos love had wrought in his life if he had to handle once again the wreckage it had wrought of his carefully organized existence.

Odo was just stuffing his potted plant into a recycling bin when the doorcom buzzed. Quark had said he was coming by to check on him -- he probably wants the salvage, Odo thought wryly -- so he gave the matter little thought as he called, his back to the door, "Come in!"

He immediately realized his mistake as he heard her gasp behind him, and he braced himself for the sound of her voice.

"Odo ... what happened?" Kira was clearly appalled, even though he couldn't see her face.

"I --"What do I tell her? Odo wondered miserably. More importantly: Why couldn't she leave me alone until I could restore a little order to my life?

Kira came to stand beside him, looking at the plant he had just tidied away into the trash. "Odo ..." She liberated the greenery gently from the receptacle into which he had shoved it and tried to hide it. "This isn't dead -- you just need to re-pot it."

"I don't seem to have a talent for it," Odo said gruffly. "You're welcome to take it, if you like."

"I ... gave you this," Kira said slowly. Her confusion was slowly being replaced by a sense of hurt that radiated off her still form, and Odo was appalled at his own rush of sadistic pleasure. Good. It's time you felt some of the things I've been feeling all these years. Unsure. Rejected. Unloved.

"That's right." Damn it, I'm through taking care of you, Kira Nerys! Get your new lover to do that for you -- tell him it comes with the territory. "However, I'm not going to be here to take care of it for a while, so all things considered, this seemed easiest."

"Not going to -- Odo, what are you talking about?" Kira's brow furrowed in a perplexed, stubborn line.

"I'm talking to Captain Sisko later this morning to request a leave of absence."

"Leave of -- Odo, what's going on?" Kira looked around the room, irritated and bewildered. "What did happen here? Who did this? Have you arrested them?"

"Tricky to arrest one's self, Major." Odo started picking up more debris from the floor. "Now, if you don't mind, I'm rather busy."

"Yourself?"

"That's what I said. And I don't want to talk about it."

He really hoped that she would abandon the field, but Kira Nerys wasn't one to walk away from a fight. "Let me help you," she said quietly, ominously, dumping the plant back into the bin. She then pitched in with a will, helping to restore the order she had unwittingly helped destroy. In the midst of it all she let out a yelp.

"Damn!"

"Major? Is something wrong?" Odo looked up at her, none too sympathetically.

"Cut myself. It's nothing -- let me go wash it off. You do have a sink back there somewhere, don't you?"

"Yes, Major, I do," Odo shot back. "I like to curl up in it from time to time."

Kira glared at this unexpected display of venom. "Odo, what is it?" Kira threw up her hands as Odo retreated into a stubborn silence, before she disappeared into the unused bedroom, heading for the bathroom beyond. The door buzzer sounded.

"Come!" Odo called. Quark strolled in, surveying the wreckage yet again and shaking his head.

"That Bajoran woman has a lot to answer for. I can understand getting this upset over lost profits -- but over losing a female?"

Odo's head came up sharply in response to Quark's statement, just as Kira stepped slowly through the bedroom door. Quark, with true Ferengi valor, scooted out the way he had come so fast that he nearly collided with the door, with a cringe thrown in for good measure. Kira stared at Odo with narrowed eyes, her mouth practically hanging open.

"This is about me?" Kira shook her head as though trying to clear it.

No way out but through. "Yes, Major," Odo affirmed shortly.

"Odo, why? I may be with Edon now, but you're still my best friend."

Odo retreated into silence once again. Kira's temper flared.

"Dammit, I want an answer! What's gotten into you?"

"Believe me, Major, you don't want to know."

"Of course I want to know! Why wouldn't I want to know?"

"Because if you did want to know, I think you would have noticed something by now!" There was an irresistible bliss to finally letting some emotion -- even his anger -- have free rein in Kira's direction. His blue eyes blazed with crystal fire. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go meet with Captain Sisko. Thanks for your help." Odo stormed from his quarters, leaving Kira fuming behind him. She tossed a few more things into the recycling bin, just for the pleasure of throwing something around, before heading back to her own quarters, chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip.

Shakaar awaited her there, a slow smile crossing his face as she entered. Kira was too troubled about Odo to give her new lover more than a despairing glance. Shakaar looked at her quizzically.

"Nerys? Is something wrong?"

"It's Odo. He's leaving the station -- he destroyed his quarters -- and he says it's because of me."

"What?" Shakaar seemed honestly puzzled. "I don't understand."

"I don't either!" Kira threw up her hands. "But Quark came in and said something about it being my fault before he knew I was there, and then Odo admitted that it was. First he cancels our weekly meetings, then he starts talking about leaving -- and it's my fault? Edon, do you have any idea what could be going on?"

"I don't know, Nerys -- but if he's set on leaving, isn't it possible that you should just let him go?"

"Why? Why should I let my best friend walk out of here because of something I've done and me not even know what it is?"

Shakaar thought about her question for a long moment, letting his own mind wander back over his brief acquaintance with Security Chief Odo, and some of the things he had noticed, on a subliminal level, now surfacing. He looked up at Kira, eyes widening. It was a while before he spoke.

"Nerys -- I think that -- maybe Odo is in love with you."

"What are you talking about?"

"Some things that he said -- I didn't make the connection, but if it had been -- I don't know, someone humanoid ... it couldn't be anything else."

Something about the words 'someone humanoid' irritated Kira tremendously, and her voice got dangerously loud. "What does being humanoid have to do with it? Of course Odo isn't in -- in love with -- "

A thousand incidents, barely noted in passing, suddenly converged as a sharp pain in her heart. Shakaar watched her, startled, as Kira sank down on a nearby chair, her arms wrapped around herself to grip her elbows, her eyes wide and too bright, her mouth clenched into a tight line.

"Oh, Prophets. I think you may be right ..."

Shakaar stood and started across the room toward her.

"Nerys --"

"I'd like to be alone now." Kira spoke the words in a clear, level tone. "I need to think."

Shakaar thought about objecting, but judged it useless. "I'll talk to you later," he said quietly, turning and leaving her quarters with a single backward glance. Kira was oblivious, her thoughts already racing down trails that led into her past.

"A pretty girl like you shouldn't be eating alone ..."

"Oh, Odo ..." Starting back at the very beginning, Kira made herself travel the whole road.


When Kira finally emerged from her quarters, sometime late that afternoon, she headed straight for Odo's, punching in his lock code while thinking, Why didn't you wonder that you're the only one he gave this to? Laur always said you were obtuse ...

Odo's quarters were once again as tidy as she had ever seen them. Tidier, in fact -- because they were empty. Not a stone or wall hanging or statue remained. Fear an ever-tightening hand around her heart, Kira raced down the Habitat Ring corridor to the turbolift and headed for Ops.

She burst into Captain Benjamin Sisko's office, where her commander sat thinking quietly, fingers steepled in front of him, dark eyes grave and troubled. He briefly acknowledged Kira as she entered.

"I'm glad you're here, Major -- I need your input. We need to appoint an Acting Head of Station Security. I thought that L'eska ..."

"Odo's gone," Kira said flatly.

"Yes, Major." Sisko looked faintly surprised. "I'm sorry, I thought you knew."

"He said he was going -- I didn't know it would be so soon."

"I'm not sure he did, either, but he had a chance to get passage on a freighter headed for Betazed this afternoon. Once he -- explained his reasons, I agreed he should take it."

"Betazed? What's on Betazed?"

"Well ..." Sisko spoke thoughtfully, in a measured tone, as he tapped a few buttons on his computer console, "the subspace communication he put through to there last night was to Ambassador Troi, and I believe she replied early this morning."

"Ambassador Troi?" Kira stared at Sisko. "Lwaxana Troi?"

"She was very taken with the constable once, Major. Apparently she still is."

"But --"Kira stopped, remembering how appalled Odo had once been at Lwaxana's attentions.

"Nerys, leave him alone. Sometimes -- if a person finds he can't reach an apple on the tree, he's going to decide that there's perfectly good fruit already lying on the ground."

Kira's lips tightened. Did everyone know about this but me? "I see. I think you're right, Captain -- L'eska would be a good choice. Excuse me, please."

Not sure where she was going, Kira was surprised to find herself standing in front of the bar at Quark's. She was not at all surprised to hear herself ordering a drink.

"Quark, give me a Maraltian seev-ale, please."

"Private stock?" the Ferengi asked, reaching under the bar for a dusty bottle.

"Here. This will help." His dark velvet rumble of a voice, thundering in the ears of her memory.

"What is it?"

"Maraltian seev-ale, from Quark's private stock."

"Yes," Kira said briefly. "Private stock."

"A little early for you to be in here," Quark observed. "Something bothering you, Major?"

"I'd like to know," Kira said, keeping her tone admirably level, "how it is that you knew that Odo is in love with me when I didn't."

"I guess I'm just more sensitive," Quark theorized. He met Kira's glare with an unflinching gaze. "Either that or you're as blind as a Terran rhinoceros."

Kira just stared at the little Ferengi for a moment as indignation warred with honesty. Honesty won. "Terran rhino it is," she acceded, lifting her glass and draining it in a few long gulps.

"Take it easy with that stuff," Quark warned. "It's not synthale, you know."

"Good." Kira nodded at her empty glass, tapping the rim decisively. Quark shrugged, pouring her a refill. "It's your headache, Major."

"Yeah," Kira agreed, thinking of something entirely different than any potential hangover. "It sure is ..."

Shakaar finally found her there, well on her way to drowning in an ocean of seev-ale. Kira greeted him with elaborate enthusiasm, draping her arms around his neck and proclaiming, "Ah, it's the First Minister! Minister Shakaar, how are you this fine evening?"

"Nerys, you're drunk," Shakaar said in a low tone. He was starting to feel very ill -- and afraid.

"No!" Kira feigned astonishment.

"Besides, it's only afternoon."

"What time is it?" Kira stared blearily at the wall chronometer over the bar, but couldn't quite make it out.

"It's sixteen hundred hours, Nerys."

"Oops! Quark, time for another drink!" Kira held out her empty glass.

"Here you go, Major." Quark exchanged a full glass for Kira's empty one, closing her fingers around the new container like a man who'd been getting a lot of practice.

"Why are you giving her that?" Shakaar asked the bartender indignantly. "Can't you see that she's already drunk?"

"Because," Kira informed him, breathing toxic fumes into his face, "I gave him this many strips of latinum —"she held up the fingers of her free hand, wiggling them in and out of a fist for several counts"—and told him to keep filling my glass until I used up my credit."

Quark shrugged. "She's got another bottle to go."

"If I pass out before I've finished," Kira added helpfully, "I told him he could keep the change. That way," she confided in a low tone, "he won't start slipping in synthale when I'm not watching. You have to watch Ferengi, you know -- because they'll be watching you." Kira's expression suddenly went bleak, tears spilling without further warning down her cheeks. "And they'll see things you never see."

"Nerys, I want you to come with me. Now." Shakaar spoke firmly, putting his arm around Kira's waist and preparing to carry her out bodily if he had to. Surprisingly, she acquiesced.

"You win, Quark," she said faintly, before suddenly going limp. Shakaar swung Kira up into his arms, while glaring at the Ferengi.

"I hope you're satisfied."

"I'm not the one you're going to have to worry about being satisfied," Quark shot back. "Tell the Major I'll keep the rest of her bottle for her — she paid for it."

Back in Kira's quarters, Shakaar laid her gently on the bed -- he had managed to rouse her sufficiently to get the lock code, and now she was muttering softly to herself. But as he started to draw away from her, her arms closed around him insistently.

"Don't go, Edon," she whispered, "I want you."

"I —"Shakaar paused helplessly, sensing with a true politician's instinct the beginnings of a no- win situation. Finally he conceded. "All right, Nerys."

Kira sat up and promptly began an attempt to work his suit off of his body, an endeavor seriously impeded by alcohol-numbed fingers. Shakaar finished the job for her, taking a deep breath before tackling Kira's uniform as well. She was so beautiful, her slight, slender body with the firm, perfect breasts — if there was one positive thing to be said for life in the resistance, it didn't make for women who sagged. Shakaar ran his hands gently over her body, and tried to make it good.

He did everything he could, used every delaying tactic he had ever heard of and some he made up right there on the spot, but in the end he lay gasping and spent against Kira's body, knowing that he had left her unfulfilled. It was the alcohol, of course — he slipped his hand between her thighs, meaning to finish the job, only to have her push him away.

"Never mind," Kira told him, turning on her side so that her back was to him. "It's not that important."

The returns were in, and he was losing. Shakaar could feel it in his bones. "Of course it's important," he said softly. "I love you, Nerys."

"I love you, too," she replied, but the words sounded hollow. Silence fell like lead over the room, and a few minutes later Kira's breathing shifted, telling her dismayed lover that she had finally passed out.


She was waiting for him at the Central Interplanetary Transport Station when he arrived on Betazed. Dark as his mood had been, Odo was relieved to feel it lightening at the sight of Lwaxana Troi.

He was a bit surprised at her appearance — she was simply dressed, and for once her dark brown hair was her own, not some elaborate wig. The smile was the one he remembered, however — confident, sensual, but somehow wistful. Lwaxana greeted him with outstretched hands, and a kiss on the cheek.

"Odo! It's so good to see you again." She stepped back and looked at him closely, a frank, compassionate gaze. "Still hard to read," she commented, "but I can tell that you're hurting. You didn't say much in your message — did things not go well with Major Kira?"

Suddenly her emotional forthrightness, her way of cutting through all possible subterfuge to the truth felt like balm on Odo's lacerated soul. If he had been able to communicate like this woman, perhaps he wouldn't be here now ... "Yes," he said simply, responding in kind. "Major Kira's new lover is First Minister Shakaar."

"She's certainly attracted to power, isn't she?" Lwaxana commented, tucking her hand around Odo's arm and walking with him from the central area, leading him into a small coffee shop nearby. "First a vedek, now a first minister ... I can't fault her for that, I suppose, but I think she'll find it frustrating in the end. It isn't easy for a strong woman to live in a powerful man's shadow."

"I suppose you're right," Odo said quietly. "However, it doesn't concern me any more."

"I hope that you're not going to try to tell me that you're not still in love with her," Lwaxana observed reproachfully.

"Of course not." Odo shook his head. "She's just not a part of my life anymore."

"So you came looking for me." It was not a question.

Odo managed a wry smile. "You told me to — don't you remember?"

"Of course I remember." Lwaxana smiled. "I meant it, too." She ordered a cup of tea, asking, "Won't you have something?"

"I don't drink."

"That's right — I keep forgetting." Lwaxana, upon receiving her tea, sipped at it thoughtfully. Odo studied her face with quizzical eyes.

"You look — different. Less — elaborate."

"I had the feeling you would like me better this way."

"I do think it's more becoming. You look very nice."

Lwaxana smiled at the compliment. "So, what are you planning to do while you're here — besides visit me?"

"I just needed some — distance — to decide what I want to do next. Do I stay at DS9? Or is it time to — move on?"

"Right now it's time for you to come with me." Lwaxana stood and held out her hand.

"Oh." Odo stood uncertainly. "I think I should confirm my reservation at my hotel first ..."

"You don't have a reservation."

"Yes, I —"

"I canceled it. You're staying with me." To Odo's startled look she responded, "Oh, don't worry — I'm not going to rape you. I won't even try to seduce you unless you say you want me to."

"I'll — let you know," Odo managed in a level tone. Lwaxana smiled.

"I think that's the most encouraging thing you've ever said to me, Constable." Her brow creased in concern at the sudden flash of pain in Odo's face.

'Sooner or later, everyone has to choose sides ... Constable.' Nerys called me that -- named me that -- the very first time I met her.

"Odo, what's wrong?"

"I wish you could read me," Odo said simply. "I'd like to tell you everything — but I never got into the habit of talking about myself."

"You're not too old to learn. 'Constable' -- is that what Major Kira used to call you?"

Odo nodded. "She was the first — a long time ago."

"I did wonder if it was a formal title," Lwaxana said gently. "Odo — I want very much to be your friend. All you have to do is start talking — I may not be able to 'read' you, but I think you'll find that I'm still — quite intuitive."

Odo simply nodded. He took the hand that Lwaxana offered, and followed her without a word.


Mrs. Troi's house on Betazed was a riot of color and texture, as vivid and warm as her personality — but orderly, Odo saw to his extreme relief. He was deeply grateful for Mr. Homm, as he suspected that the order was due largely to this individual. He also suspected Mr. Homm of having some involvement in the Spartan simplicity he found in the guest room that awaited him — only to discover he was wrong.

"I thought you might like things as simple and neat as possible," Lwaxana said quietly from the door behind him. "Was I right?"

"Yes." Odo looked at the woman who stood silhouetted in the doorway. His face shone faintly puzzled. "Why weren't you like this before? You seem so much more — real."

Lwaxana shrugged. "No need for the public facade, I suppose. Maybe I'm just — a bit older."

"More mature," Odo amended with a faint smile. Lwaxana's eyes glowed warmly as she looked at him.

"That's right," she agreed. "More mature." Their gazes met, and for the first time Odo refused to look away from the look of passion that rose in Lwaxana's eyes. She smiled. "Make yourself at home, Odo."

"Madam Ambassador —"

"Yes?" She turned back to face him.

"I myself don't eat, of course, but — might I take you out to dinner?"

"I'd like that very much, Odo." Lwaxana Troi beamed that beguiling, sensual smile again — Odo wondered why he had never seen those qualities in it before. Perhaps because he never before had been willing to be beguiled.

"I know what it is — to be attracted to someone who doesn't necessarily feel the same way."

Odo looked at the woman who was so openly risking her heart for him. His own pain bubbling to the surface, he crossed the room and took her hands in his. "Madam Ambassador—"

"Lwaxana," she corrected him gently. Odo stared into her face, and noticed for the first time her dark, Betazoid eyes, so deep a brown they were almost black. Darker than Nerys', he thought, and winced, as much for the woman before him as for himself.

"Lwaxana," he conceded. His hands tightened around hers. His words came with difficulty. "I — I'm —"

_You're still in love with Major KiraI know._ The words sounded in his mind. Odo looked at her, surprised.

_When I'm touching you, it's much easier._

"Oh." _Can you read me now?_

_Yes. I know that you love Major Kira — and I know that you wish you could love me._

_I wish that I couldn't love anyone_, Odo corrected automatically. He felt a little guilty at the ungenerous thought, and started to pull his hands away, but Lwaxana held on to them insistently.

_Sorrywistful thinking on my part, I suppose._

_Still, if I have to love someone, I wish it could be you._

Lwaxana smiled her dazzling smile. _Why, Odo, I think you mean that._

"It would be -- easier." The sound of his own voice was startling in Odo's ears.

_I'll help you any way I can._ Lwaxana took Odo's face in her hands, and kissed him gently on the mouth. Instead of withdrawing, Odo leaned awkwardly into her kiss, trying to respond in kind. Her lips were surprising -- warm and soft and mobile -- and he felt a strange stirring of pleasure.

_-I knew you'd like it if you ever really tried it._

Odo smiled a little at Lwaxana's mental observation. Deep, deep down, he had suspected he would like it, too.


Odo was gone, as it turned out, for almost six months, at the end of which time Kira was thoroughly convinced that her friend had gone out of her life for good. Shakaar had also gone out of her life, at least as her lover -- she had told him that there were some things that she needed to work out for herself before she could further commit to their relationship, and he had accepted her edict without a word. Last time she had bothered to watch a news transmittal from Bajor, she had seen that he was being accompanied by a very pretty woman, younger than Kira but with the same red hair. Shakaar had always been a bit of a dog with the ladies ... or he merely sensed the truth in his gut, the same way she finally knew it in hers.

Odo had also made the news, in a story she had followed more closely. Apparently an attempt had been made to sabotage a conference to which Ambassador Troi was a delegate -- there had been a bombing, similar to the one that had killed 27 people on Earth. Only this time a watchful shapeshifter had been able to prevent the deaths of any of the delegates, with, from what Kira could gather, some risk to himself -- Odo was a hero. Of course, Odo had been a hero to Kira for a long time. She prayed that he at least realized that.

"If someone had told me a year ago that this was going to happen, do you know what I would have said? You're crazy! Yes, I respect him, yes, he makes me laugh, but we know each other too well ... there's no mystery between us, we're friends, that's all ... I guess I was wrong."

Kira knew now how very wrong she had been. Wrong in her earlier assumption -- and wrong in the man she had said those words about later.

She was sitting in Quark's -- she did that quite a bit more since Odo's departure, and Quark had laid in an extra supply of seev-ale, just for her. She had actually curbed her consumption to a single glass a night, but she never failed to come by for that one glass, usually an hour or two before closing time -- and Quark closed his establishment late.

Tucked behind a small table in the darkest corner she could find, Kira was slow to register the identity of the tall, straight-backed man who walked up to bar and started speaking with Quark. It was his eyes that gave him away, crystal blue and always searching -- he was back. Odo had come back. He spoke to Quark, and while she couldn't make out his words, she could hear the timbre, the tone of his deep, rustling voice. Only his nose, his mouth were different -- Kira realized with a start that he looked like any humanoid, with lips and nose clearly defined. Moreover, he looked so -- relaxed. Calm, peaceful -- happy.

When did I last see him truly happy? Kira wondered, and was dismayed to realize how long it had been -- how seldom it had been. Tuesday mornings, she thought suddenly, he used to look happy when I would walk into his office Tuesday mornings for our meetings -- except for that last one, when I arrived twenty minutes late and ignored my cup of raktajino. Prophets, I was acting like a teenager, all distracted and excited, thinking that my itch was about to be scratched ... Kira retreated as far as she could into the shadows, her eyes moving over Odo hungrily. He was out of uniform -- not that he ever was in uniform, at least not in the traditional sense --"wearing" the charcoal gray outfit he had affected the first time she met him, back when the Cardassians were still in charge and he had held her life in his hands. Like he held it there now ...

Odo lingered at the bar at the bar for several minutes, speaking to Quark. Kira's eyes widened and she wished that she could shift into a different shape as she saw the Ferengi bartender turn to point out her location with an unerring finger. Odo nodded his thanks and walked toward her, his gaze -- cautious.

"Welcome home, Constable." Kira somehow managed to make the greeting sound reasonably natural. "It's good to have you back."

"It's good to be back, Major." Odo nodded at the chair across from her. "Do you mind if I join you?"

"Of course not." Kira tried to shove her heart back into place, but it insisted on staying in her mouth. "How are you, Odo?"

"I'm -- well." Odo drew out the word as though it were a remarkable thing. "I don't think I've ever taken a real vacation before, Major -- it's been -- really quite wonderful. It's been good just to spend time with a friend, without other concerns to interfere."

"I hear you went to Betazed," Kira commented, trying to keep the question out of her voice. She didn't quite succeed.

"Yes -- Ambassador Troi had once extended an invitation to me, and I decided that it was time I took her up on it. She's here on the station now -- she's en route to a conference on Bajor." Odo's direct blue gaze calmly challenged Kira to say more. As though there was more to be said.

Kira picked up her glass of seev-ale, and was dismayed to find it empty. "I think I need a refill ... if you'll excuse me for just a minute ..."

"No need, no need." For once Quark appeared in the right place at the right time, deftly refilling her glass. "Shall I put it on your tab, Major?"

"Yes, that'll be fine," Kira said automatically. She looked up to find Odo watching her curiously.

"Since when did you run a tab at Quark's?"

"For a while now," Kira said briefly. She found a reason to examine the table top -- wonderful things, laminates. She hastily interjected, "It looks like you've been working on your shapeshifting."

"I've had a lot more time to put into it," Odo commented, turning so that his face was in profile. "Do you like it?"

"I thought you looked fine before," Kira said briefly. The silence that fell over the table was like lead.

"I was watching some of the news from Bajor on the transport in," Odo finally observed. "Who is Karalet Linya?" To Kira's blank stare he added, "She was shown dining with the First Minister."

"Oh, is that her name?" Kira shrugged. "I don't know -- she's someone Edon is seeing now. I heard they might be engaged."

"I'm sorry, Major." There was sincere concern in Odo's voice.

"Don't be," Kira said shortly. "It was my own decision. I told him I couldn't make any kind of commitment until I'd thought some things through. I thought them through -- and I still couldn't make the commitment. Not everyone's as emotionally obtuse as I am."

Odo actually chuckled. "You can't be blamed for your nature."

Kira suddenly had an irresistible urge to change the subject. "So, what did you and the Ambassador do together?" she blurted out, before realizing how the question might be interpreted. She considered how wonderful it would be to be a shapeshifter -- she would shift herself into a swamp eel and just slide on out of the bar.

Odo just smiled. "I got to see quite a bit of Betazed -- it's really very lovely. The natives were fascinated that I was so unreadable telepathically, but it turned out that it can be done, after a fashion -- the telepath just has to be in direct physical contact with me for a sustained period --'to sort out the static', is the way Lwaxana puts it. I don't have a telepathic cell in me, of course, although I do seem to feel and reflect certain physical sensations, provided they're fairly intense."

Considering the fact he's spent the past six months in the company of an amorous Betazoid, what do you suppose those intense physical sensations could be, eh, Nerys? "So, did a lot of people get the chance to read you telepathically?" You're the one who brought up the question, Nerys, you might as well see it through.

"No." Odo gave Kira a level stare. "Just the ambassador."

"Oh." Kira found herself at a complete loss for words -- too late, she thought to herself, too damned fucking late -- and stood up awkwardly. "Well, I have the early shift tomorrow, so I guess I'd better call it a day. It'll be good to have you back on duty, Constable -- Senior Staff meets tomorrow at oh-nine-hundred."

"Actually, Major, I'm taking a few more days leave while I'm here -- I seem to have a career choice to make."

"Career choice?" Kira stared at Odo fearfully.

"Yes -- I've been offered the job as Chief of Domestic Planetary Security on Betazed."

"That's -- quite a promotion," Kira said faintly. "When would you be going?"

"If I decide to take it, I report for duty in six weeks."

"And Betazed is three weeks away," Kira commented.

"Yes."

"Do you think you'll go?" Kira asked quietly.

"It's quite an opportunity. I never imagined anything like this would happen -- I suppose that sometimes it pays to be a shapeshifter after all."

"Plus you do have a friend there ..."

"Lwaxana? Yes, there is that." Odo smiled gently, a soft look coming into his eyes. "I'm not entirely sure they would have made the offer if it hadn't been for her influence -- she can be very persuasive. She's a very -- intuitive person."

"So I suppose I shouldn't start looking for you at staff meetings anytime soon."

Odo shrugged. "Maybe not. Like I said -- I haven't made up my mind."

"Oh. All right. Well, of course -- whenever then." Kira was appalled to feel tears beginning to spill down her cheeks, and tried to get away before Odo could see them. Of course, he saw. He turned away politely, though, and pretended not to.

"It was good to see you again, Major. If I do decide to take the post on Betazed, I hope we can get together again before I leave."

"Sure -- that'll be great." Kira fled without another word.

If she had seen the look in Odo's eyes as they followed her from the bar, it might have given her pause. The fact that she didn't see was probably just as well.


Odo returned slowly to his quarters -- not his own quarters, awaiting him emptily in their old spot on the Habitat Ring, but the quarters he was, unofficially, sharing with Lwaxana Troi. Deep in thought, he was startled to find her there, digging through the seemingly fifty outfits without which she couldn't possibly travel, Mr. Homm patiently tidying in her tracks. She turned to meet Odo with a dazzling smile, indicating with a tiny gesture that Mr. Homm could leave them alone.

Odo forced himself to cross the room to meet her, to brush his lips very quickly against hers, unwilling to prolong the contact for fear she would read the thoughts that he couldn't push aside. Even that brief contact was enough to cause the smile to fade from her face.

"You've seen her, haven't you?" Lwaxana asked quietly. "Major Kira."

Odo saw no point in denying it. "Yes," he said briefly, going to the sofa and finding a spot amid the pillows to sit down. Lwaxana followed him, and after a moment he sighed, reaching to draw her down beside him and into his arms. He rested his chin against the top of her head, waiting for her thoughts to start filtering into his consciousness.

_You're still in love with her._ It was not a question.

_Yes._

_Then you're staying -- here on the station._

_No._

Lwaxana drew back from Odo's arms to look at him. "She's not still with Shakaar."

"No -- apparently he's engaged to someone else."

"Then why, Odo?" Lwaxana's brow furrowed suspiciously. "Surely not because of me."

"I just don't see any reason -- to torture myself again. She couldn't conceive of my loving her before, I don't see why she should conceive of it now."

Lwaxana reached up to stroke Odo's hair, pulling his head down against her shoulder. "I hate to feel you hurting like this," she commented. "I just don't think you're going to stop feeling tortured until the two of you have it out. Odo, what's the worse thing that could happen if you told her? She tells you that, no, she can't ever feel that way, and you come back to Betazed knowing that. If you don't tell her, you still come back to Betazed -- only without ever knowing if it could have been different."

"You make it sound so easy."

"Not easy." He could feel her smile against his forehead. "Just simple."

"Are you that eager to be rid of me?" Odo hid his face in the soft curve of her throat.

"No. I'm just -- placing my wager."

"What?"

"I want you with me, Odo -- all of you. I guess I'm wagering that she'll say no -- inconceivable as that is to me -- so that you'll be able to come with me without looking back."

"Ah." Odo smiled sadly. "I suppose this is what they call a win-win situation."

"No, that's not what you're thinking, and you know it. You're thinking that if I win, you lose."

"Lwaxana --"

"Shh ..." She held her fingers to his lips. _Maybe I just think that if she does say no, someday you'll be able to love me the way I love you._

"That would be -- nice," Odo conceded. He added softly, "I do -- care for you very much."

Lwaxana disentangled herself from his arms. "Oh, well -- I suppose that's a start." She smiled at him brightly, no trace of her pain showing through her affectionate expression. Then she turned her attention back to her wardrobe. "I thought I might wear this," she decided, pointing at a burgundy brocade.

"For what?"

"Captain Sisko's reception tonight. Don't you remember?"

"I'm sorry -- it just slipped my mind." Odo smiled. "What do you think I should 'wear'?"

"Blue," Lwaxana said decisively. "You look best in blue."

"Very well." There was a brief pause. "What do you think?"

Lwaxana looked over her shoulder to see that Odo had changed his 'clothes' to a muted blue-gray suit. He had also changed his nose to show four neat Bajoran ridges. She raised her eyebrows, smiling

"I never could do this when I was here before," Odo admitted. "It's sort of a --personal triumph."

"It looks very nice," Lwaxana assured him.

"I thought I should try it -- just once. To prove that I can."

"I don't think that there's anything you can't do if you put your mind to it, Odo." Lwaxana contemplated the possible truth of her words, and wondered if it would break her heart.


Continued! Click on the highlighted text to read the conclusion of Crossfire II: "Essentials".


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