About Face

SPACE

"But, Doctor ... there's something wrong with it!"

"Not from what you're describing ... how often is it happening?"

"Constantly!"

"I'm sorry, but ... do you really mean constantly? Or is that just a figure of speech?"

"It's happening as much as once or twice an hour! That seems constant enough for me."

"That's actually not that unusual. Especially considering how -- recently your situation has changed, and the fact that you're -- well, that you're inactive. With that, I mean." The doctor made haste to mollify his patient's glare.

"Fine. Can't I just have it removed?"

Dr. Julian Bashir stared at his patient with widening eyes, and wondered at the bizarre turn this consultation was taking as they discussed the state of Security Chief Odo's penis. The former changeling- now human seemed to consider his request entirely reasonable. With difficulty Bashir managed not to wince as he said quietly, "I don't think that's indicated. I don't think that's ever indicated. You might even eventually decide that you like it. Most men are rather attached to that portion of their anatomy." Bashir smiled weakly at his own pun.

"But why can't I control it?" Odo was honestly bewildered, and a little upset. "Isn't it a muscle?"

"No-o-o." Another one, Bashir thought, that they didn't really prepare you for in medical school. With a ten-year-old child -- sure. That he could have handled with aplomb. But with a fifty-six-year-old man who'd just magically acquired this new 'equipment' without asking for it and without warning, that was another matter entirely. Bashir could only guess what extent of desperation had driven Odo to engage him for such an intimate consultation in the first place. "It's just -- erectile tissue. When you encounter something that your body perceives as erotic stimuli, it's an involuntary response."

"What about first thing when I wake up? I haven't encountered anything then!"

Bashir forced back his umpteenth chuckle and kept his face and voice calm and concerned. "That's a bit different. It's generally just because you need to urinate."

"It doesn't feel all that different," Odo grumbled.

"Odo," Bashir began hesitantly, "I'm afraid a lot of the problem is simply one that the passage of time will have to take care of -- while your face and to some extent your body looks older, you actually have the physical makeup of a much younger man. At least as far as hormonal and cell degeneration levels go, you're barely more than a -- well, a teenager." The doctor dug in his heels to bravely withstand the constable's sudden, outraged stare. "Look, would you like me to point out some reading on the subject? There are several excellent data files in our own record banks that -"

"I've done the reading, Doctor -- at least I've tried to." Odo's expression was taut with distaste. "It's just that, these solid bodies -- they're so -"

"So ...?" Bashir prompted helpfully.

"So messy. So ... expulsive."

"Ah," Bashir murmured. "I think I understand."

"How are you able to stand it?"

"We grow up like this -- it makes a difference, I suppose. And some of the experiences our bodies give us are ... very pleasant."

Odo snorted his disbelief. "Isn't there something I can do to make it more -- manageable? Some sort of drug, perhaps?" Odo glanced around the Infirmary office hopefully.

"Nothing I would prescribe. Constable ..." Bashir leaned across his desk, carefully framing his next words. "Have you considered just ... 'taking matters in your own hands', so to speak?"

Odo stared at him, unblinking. Just as Bashir was beginning to wonder, with a sinking heart, if he was going to have to explain exactly what he meant, Odo asked scathingly, "Is masturbation honestly the best thing you can suggest?"

Bashir breathed a sigh of relief. To Odo's look of sudden outrage he explained, "I'm sorry. I was just afraid you didn't know what I was talking about."

"Doctor, I'm the head of station security. That means I'm in charge of the security cells as well. I've had more than one occasion to walk in on a prisoner doing just what you've mentioned." Odo shuddered. "It looks vile. It's degrading."

"So you haven't ..."

"Of course not! Not yet, anyway."

Bashir considered the facts. Odo had been a 'solid' for a little over three months. If his tension -- and temper -- continued escalating at their apparent rate, what would the constable be like after six months - nine -- a year? Bashir shook his head at the thought. "Odo, there are other possibilities."

"A prostitute? Doctor, this is a Bajoran station. I can hardly solicit an illegal activity."

"No, of course not ... what about a holosuite?"

Odo gave him an incredulous stare, summing up his objections in two words. "At Quark's?"

Bashir immediately backed down. "Actually, what I was originally thinking of was something more like a -- a relationship."

Odo became absolutely still, like a freiza-bird hiding itself in tall grass. "A relationship? What sort of relationship?"

"Well, you could start -- dating. There's that lovely woman Garak introduced you to -- what is her name? Chalan Aroya?"

"How do you know about that?" Odo asked sharply.

"I still have lunch with Garak at least once a week, there in security," Bashir explained. "He told me about her."

"Then I hope he told you I'm not interested!" Odo stood abruptly, staring down at the apologetic Bashir. "In other words, we've wasted a good deal of time here when there's actually nothing you can do to help me. Thank you for listening, Doctor, but I really have work to do."

Odo ate up the floor with long, angry strides as he navigated the Promenade, on his usual rounds, but with something more than his usual speed. He wasn't quite sure how he ended up at the Celestial Cafe right at lunch time, but there he was -- he was about to reconsider and flee in the direction of the Replimat when a soft, pleased voice caught his attention. He would have fled anyway, except that it was not the voice he expected.

Major Kira beckoned to him from one of the tables near the entrance.

"Odo! Come join me!"

Odo hesitated only briefly before going to the major's table and taking the seat she indicated, justifying his actions as being necessary to prevent anyone viewing the likely response of the divining rod in his trousers. Prophets, she's so beautiful. The words seemed to come unbidden to his mind every time he saw Kira Nerys nowadays. Glowing, radiant, hair like a dark flame against her creamy skin - Odo sat down hastily, with a surge of gratitude that the tabletop wasn't made of glass.

"Odo, how are you?" Kira's eyes were warm, interested ... the eyes of a friend, someone who cared. If only she could care for me the way I care for her ... His transformation to human had done nothing to diminish Odo's feelings for the lovely Bajoran -- if anything, they had been enhanced by his new hormones, as well as a sweet glimmer of possibility. At least now he occupied a solid form, the same as she did ...

With the same face as before, Odo reminded himself sternly. And with Shakaar still there on Bajor. He knew from last week's staff meeting, when she had been getting ready to depart, that Kira was newly returned from a visit with Bajor's First Minister, her first since giving birth to the O'Briens' baby.

"Quite well, Major, thank you." Odo made a slight grimace. "Although still adjusting."

Kira nodded understandingly. "It's going to take you a while. I'm just glad you came in -- I can use the company. I decided I needed a special treat today, so I came here. There's nothing like your home planet's food when ... well, when you're feeling a little down."

Down? Odo wondered. "I'm sorry if you're not feeling well." After a pause he added, "You were just on Bajor, weren't you?"

"Yep," Kira said briefly. "Visiting Shakaar."

Odo noted, with a certain investigatory detachment, the fact that she referred to her lover by his patronym rather than his given name as she had been wont to do. "How is the First Minister?" he asked politely.

"He's fine." Kira picked up her water glass and absently swished around the contents as she stared straight ahead. "We -- we aren't going to be seeing each other any more."

"What happened?" Odo blurted out, before remembering that it was none of his business. Kira, however, seemed touched by his concern.

"It's just too hard. He's there, I'm here -- and he's used to having someone around for him. Things got pretty bad while I was pregnant -- and now I'm not willing to throw away what I've got here just to be at his beck and call in some -- plush little post on Bajor. So we decided we'd better end it, while we're still friends." Kira sighed, finally putting down her glass. "I guess friends don't make very good lovers after all."

Odo heard a quick death knell to any hopes her initial words might have caused. He did manage, "I would think it would depend on the friend," before picking up his menu and studying it as closely as he might the week's Criminal Activities Report. Then a soft, girlish voice intruded on both of them.

"Odo!" Chalan Aroya glided across the restaurant toward them, wearing one of her usual slightly flamboyant outfits that emphasized her voluptuous bosom. "Major Kira," she added, nodding, with decidedly less warmth. "Odo, I've been wondering when you plan to take me up on my invitation to dinner. You do eat now, you know." Her smile was frankly seductive.

"I haven't really thought of a time yet," Odo waffled. "I've been so busy -"

"What about tonight? At twenty-hundred hours?"

Assent seemed to be the easiest route of escape. "I -- all right. Tonight, then. Twenty-hundred hours."

"I'll see you then." Aroya's lips curved bewitchingly. "I'll make sure that a waiter comes over to take your order now." Giving Kira an arch look and Odo one last radiant smile, the restaurateur retreated the way she had come with undulating steps. Kira stared after her, wide-eyed, before starting to chuckle.

"I wonder how long it took her to come up with that act?"

"What act, Major?" Although he hadn't been necessarily impressed with Aroya's presentation himself, Odo found Kira's question to be oddly irritating. Kira's laughter died abruptly as she heard the seriousness of Odo's question.

"She's just so -- overstated, I guess. I don't know, she just doesn't seem like your type." Kira's smile returned in spite of herself.

"Who does seem like my type to you, Major?" There was a tiny note of something dangerous in Odo's level voice that Kira managed to overlook.

"I don't know ... I never thought of you having a type. Why, do you like her?"

"I don't know yet," Odo replied shortly. He turned to acknowledge the approaching waiter and placed his order -- hasperat, which had the merit of being something he'd heard of.

"Make that two," Kira said absently, handing over her menu. Her brown eyes fixed on Odo's surly expression, concerned. "I'm sorry, Odo -- she just looks like such a -- p'eska." The word was a unique Bajoran expression for a nicely-turned out cross between a bimbo and a tart, someone who seemed well-bred but was too accommodating with her favors.

Odo considered the assessment. "Sounds good to me." His words came as a surprise even to himself. Kira was practically speechless with startled laughter.

Finally she gasped, "Odo! What are you talking about?"

Odo stared at her, obviously at a loss. "Major, if I knew the answer to that question, I might not have said what I did in the first place."

Kira's laughter slowly died as she looked at Odo's somber face. "Oh." Kira pronounced the single syllable slowly, giving several moments to silent thought before she finally pronounced, "Odo, you need to get some -- outside interests."

"What sort of outside interests?" Odo asked, immediately suspicious.

"Well, you're human now. Humans need a variety of activities and interests for good mental health." Kira suddenly dimpled as a thought struck her. "Tomorrow night, I want you to join me and Dax in Holosuite C."

"Why?"

"I want you to play Camelot with us."

"Camelot? What kind of game is that?"

"It's a fantasy ... a role-playing game." When Odo rolled his eyes she added, "I play it. Dax got me to start playing to develop my imagination ... I don't think that would hurt you any, either. At least you wouldn't fall for something so obvious." Kira gave a derisive glance towards the restaurant's central bar, where Aroya was having quiet words with the bartender.

"What would I have to do?" Odo asked, curious in spite of himself.

"Well, let me think ..." Kira considered the options. Lancelot didn't seem likely, nor did Galahad, with his religious fervor and deep spirituality ... Kira snapped her fingers as inspiration struck. "I know! You can be King Arthur!"

"King Arthur?" The reference obviously meant nothing to the former changeling.

"Yes ... he brought a code of law and chivalry to Britain -- that's on Earth," Kira added helpfully. "Back in ... a long time ago. He's kind of a myth, actually. But there's a lot in the library record banks about him."

"Hmm ... let me think about it." Odo applied himself to his hasperat as soon as it arrived, avoiding any real conversation until he was finished. Then he said abruptly, "All right. What time?"

Kira wondered for a moment what he was talking about. Then she smiled. "Camelot? Twenty- one hundred hours. You'll be Arthur?"

"I suppose ... wait a minute. Do I need to have one of those foolish outfits, like you and Dax?" This sounded like it might be too great an imposition to bear.

"No! -- no, something much simpler than me and Dax. I'll get it for you -- please come, Odo." Kira reached out impulsively across the table, taking his hand in hers. "It'll be fun to -- well, play with you for a change."

Odo stared at her, startled, with a hint of -- laughter? -- flashing through his eyes, as though she had said something he found amusing in spite of himself. But his voice was grave as he replied, "I'll look forward to it, Major. And I'll try to do some reading on the subject before I come." Odo got to his feet, excusing himself. "I really need to get back to work -- thank you for asking me to join you." He nodded at the table.

"Tell you what, it's my treat." Kira gave him a radiant smile. "I'm glad you decided to come tomorrow night."

"Thank you, Major." Odo nodded briskly and walked away, while Kira thought suddenly, You always play Guinevere - you just invited Odo to be your husband. Good thing you didn't mention that part!

For some reason the thought made her sad, but she put it down to the whole wretched business with Shakaar.

SPACE

At eighteen hundred hours Odo abandoned his work, quite early for him, and instead accessed the computer's library files, asking for any information pertaining to King Arthur. The amount available surprised him, but he plowed into it doggedly, to the point that he had to drop everything without preamble when he realized it was almost twenty-hundred-hours. He hurried to the upper level of the Promenade, somehow managing to skim through the doors of the Celestial Café exactly on time. Aroya greeted him with a smile.

"I knew you'd be punctual, Constable Odo." She batted her eyelashes at him so shamelessly that a more experienced man might have laughed. "I hope you like Bajoran food ... I do like to eat in my own restaurant when I dine in public, but if you'd care for something else ..."

"No, Bajoran is fine." Odo had made a stubborn point of not seeming to care what he ate, but he had a sneaking fondness for the cuisine of his adopted homeworld. Aroya smiled appreciatively.

"All right, then, do you mind if I order? I do know what's good here." She chuckled a little at her own joke.

The food she chose turned out to be delicious, and Odo ate heartily, a little surprised at his own enthusiasm. Aroya herself ate little, devoting most of her time to maintaining a light and bantering conversation. Odo found her surprisingly intelligent, and well-versed in the ins and outs of station security, to the point that he wondered if she had studied for their date in advance.

Date, he thought, startled at his mind's use of the word. Prophets, this is what humans call a 'date', isn't it? Odo was briefly appalled, but found that feeling being replaced by one of resignation. If nothing else, the reign of terror being exercised by the demon dwelling in his trousers looked like it might be nearing an end. As if on cue, after they finished their desserts -- Odo noticed that his companion barely touched hers, no doubt due to some feminine preoccupation with weight -- Aroya asked brightly, "Would you mind walking me back to my quarters, Odo? I usually let the bartender close up on a quiet night like this ... and I'd love the chance to talk with you somewhere more -- private."

"All right," Odo conceded. It can't be as disgusting as what Bashir was suggesting -- take matters into my own hands, indeed! Besides, there was something about the Bajoran woman he found strangely appealing -- with a start he realized that she had a slight but telling resemblance to Kira.

The thought nearly unnerved him, and made him wonder guiltily, Aren't you supposed to care about someone before you consider something like this? Of course, Aroya seemed to have been considering it before she ever met him, but the nagging sense of doubt still persisted ...

Safely behind the door of her own quarters, the Bajoran woman became, if that were possible, even warmer and more inviting. "May I fix you a drink, Odo?" she asked softly, as she settled him on the couch, leaning over so that her seductively arrayed bosom was scant inches from his nose as she arranged a pillow "to make him more comfortable." Newly acquired hormones making a mockery of his self-control, it was all Odo could do not to bury his face in her cleavage. When she finally stepped back, his sigh of relief was almost audible.

"That would be good," he replied, finally remembering to answer her question, although he was no longer sure what the question had been. The mystery was resolved when Aroya returned to press a glass into his hand, her fingers brushing against his lightly. Odo tasted the iced beverage cautiously -- both sweet and tart, colorless and seemingly mild, but with a trace of bite underneath.

"It's a specialty from my restaurant. Do you like it?"

"It's quite good." Thirsty from sheer nervous tension, Odo drained the glass appreciatively. "What is it, some kind of tea?"

"It's called a gamma-star. Let me get you another." Aroya crossed to the replicator, and Odo watched her departure with a sudden, dreamy pleasure, a pleasure that doubled when she turned back toward him. Aroya handed him a fresh glass. She smiled, watching him as he began to drink. "Actually, it's a blend of fourteen different liquors and seven special herbs. It's quite potent."

Potent. The word seemed an understatement as every ounce of blood in Odo's body seemed to rush to his groin, to congregate there in a surge of pulsing heat. Aroya sat down next to him -- too close, Odo thought, dazed. Of course, the next room might be too close at this point. He noticed vaguely that Aroya held no glass of her own.

"Aren't you having one?" he asked faintly.

"I'm not thirsty." Aroya's smile deepened -- her voice was a soft purr. Odo jumped as her hand, which she had rested behind him on the back of the sofa, moved to lightly caress his neck. "I am feeling a little hungry, though ..."

"Well, you didn't eat very much." Odo turned to look at her, and was startled to find her face scant inches from his own. Wait ... she doesn't mean food, does she? Odo's intrinsic sense of honor forced him to add, "Aroya ... we don't know each other very well ... are you sure about this?"

"But I want to get to know you," she whispered, "much, much better." Aroya closed the little distance that remained between them, her mouth soft and mobile, though surprisingly cool - Odo let out a little moan against her eagerly exploring lips, before finally bowing to the forces of nature that assailed him.

All things considered, it was astounding that the first emotion to beset him in passion's aftermath was a sense of bitter disappointment.

Lying on Aroya's wide bed against pale blue silken sheets -- 'I picked them to match your eyes,' she had whispered, before moving her attention to an entirely different portion of his anatomy -- Odo wondered at his rush of chagrin. His physical body felt sated, at least for the time being -- Aroya had seen to that more than once, with her mouth and her soft hands and the warm, secret place between her thighs. But Odo's mind was curiously let down, with an odd sense of somehow having been cheated.

Was it that I somehow expected her to be - I don't know - more passionate? Abandoned? Less - calculating? Part of Odo wanted to shy away from that last assessment, but basic honesty forced him to let it stand. He realized what it was that bothered him most -- I don't think she enjoyed it at all. I think she was pretending.

The disturbing thought made him sit up in bed and stare down, troubled, at the woman lying beside him.

"What is it, darling?" Aroya asked softly. "Do you have to go?"

For some reason the question surprised him, but Odo's rather foggy brain seized upon the option nonetheless. "Yes -- I'm afraid that I do." Climbing out of bed, Odo began doggedly locating his clothes, scattered wantonly along the path between the living room couch and the bed. Once he was neatly resettled in his uniform, the security chief returned reluctantly to Aroya's side. "Good night," he said softly, knowing as he said them how lame his words were. "Thank you for a -- a memorable evening."

"I enjoyed it," Aroya replied archly, with another one of her seductive smiles. "Will I see you again soon?"

"Of course," Odo replied automatically.

"When? Where?" The reply was instantaneous and insistent.

"Oh ... I have a few other commitments. How about dinner again, day after tomorrow?" That should give me a little time to think, to process all this.

"Dinner it is. Same time as tonight?" Odo nodded. Aroya gave a pleased smile. "I'll see you then."

Blundering out into the darkened Habitat Ring, Odo considered returning to his quarters and decided against it. The last thing he wanted right now was to be alone with the thoughts that chased each other like sky-crawlers in his muddled brain. Instead he returned to the Promenade and headed impulsively for Quark's.

The little Ferengi bartender greeted him with a look of bright-eyed and lecherous interest -- of course he knows about my 'date', Odo thought tiredly, it's all over the station by now. Forestalling any questions, Odo said sharply, "I'd like a drink, please. There's something they make at the Celestial Cafe -- I think it's called a gamma-star. Are you familiar with it?"

Quark let out a low whistle. "Okay, Constable -- I don't have all the herbs, but I think I have the liquors ... that bad, huh?"

"Better than you might think," Odo growled. Taking his drink, he turned around to look for a table. At the far end of the room, Jadzia Dax beckoned.

Odo approached her with a surprisingly low level of reluctance. An unusual but deep bond had developed between them in recent months, begun in the moments when Odo was first beamed back to the Defiant after his transformation into a human. Naked and exhausted, he had lain there on the transporter pad -- Chief O'Brien had simply stared at him, mouth agape, but Dax had stepped over to a replicator and quietly requested a blanket, which she wordlessly tucked around the shivering constable as she might have one of her children in a past host's life. The small but telling kindness had brought tears to Odo's eyes, and it was something he knew he would never forget as long as he lived.

Now Dax greeted him with a cheerful smile that held no hint of that poignant but embarrassing memory. "Good evening, Odo! You're off your beaten path tonight."

"I needed a drink," Odo said simply, dropping into the seat opposite Dax with a sigh. Dax eyed the clear liquid in his glass thoughtfully.

"I take it that's not water."

"Not even remotely." Odo shoved the glass in Dax's direction, and she took a cautious sip.

"Too many of those and you won't feel well tomorrow at all," Dax assured him. "There's a lot of real alcohol in this, not just synthehol."

"Hmm ... I don't expect to feel well, anyway, so I might as well be able to show a cause for it." Odo took a rebellious swallow from his glass, even while he recognized that it wasn't nearly as tasty as the one served to him by Aroya. Dax watched him with concerned eyes.

"Not a good date?" she asked sympathetically.

"I have no idea," Odo commented, staring at his glass. "How exactly does one determine if a date was 'good' or not?"

"I don't know. Some people would say it depends on whether or not you got lucky." Dax laughed at her own joke.

"Then I guess it was a good date," Odo growled, before diving back into his glass.

Dax froze, staring at him. "You mean lucky as in ... lucky?"

"Depends." Odo gave her a wry grimace. "Lucky like in O'Brien's detective novels in that I didn't get shot? Or lucky like in O'Brien's detective novels in that I -- what's the expression -'got laid'?" Odo snorted. "Either way, I got lucky."

Thankful they were in a booth, Dax's hand flew out the activate the privacy buffer, causing all extraneous sound in the room to deaden abruptly. "I assume you don't want that all over the station, Odo!"

"No ... I suppose not." Odo sipped at his drink glumly. Dax studied his face carefully, blue eyes concerned.

"Odo -- what happened? You don't sound like it was a very good experience."

Odo thought about the question for a moment. "Have you ever been discussing something with someone -- something in which you were vitally interested, something you thought the person you were talking with was interested in, too -- only to realize after you finished what you had to say that she wasn't interested at all? That she was only being polite?"

Dax considered his words carefully. "Ouch."

"It was -- disheartening," Odo conceded.

"I'll bet."

Odo shrugged. "The odd thing is -- she was most insistent about my 'seeing' her again."

"Well, that's promising." Dax's face brightened. "She is Bajoran, Odo. Some Bajoran women think it's not polite for them to enjoy sex too much."

"Humph," Odo grunted, not sounding entirely convinced.

Dax, studying his troubled face, added gently, "Besides, it usually works a lot better if you -- really care about the person you're with."

"Ah." It was a noncommittal sound that spoke volumes. He stared broodingly into his drink, in a way that did not invite further comment. Dax decided to start over.

"So," Dax began, in an effort to lighten the mood, "I understand you're playing Camelot with us tomorrow night."

"That's right." Odo brightened a little. It seemed like such a comparatively harmless pastime.

"I know that Kira's really looking forward to it."

"Is she?" Odo looked up with sudden eagerness, which he quickly beat back down. Dax gave him one of her serene, Mona-Lisa smiles.

"Don't worry about it. I still have Curzon lurking around in here, you know." She tapped her chest.

"Is that supposed to reassure me?" Odo managed a little smile. "I get the feeling that Curzon was a worse gossip than you are."

Dax's smile was torn between amusement and indignation. "I am not a gossip! I just like to gather information! If I were a gossip -"

"I know," Odo circumvented her, raising his hand. "Well, I had better bid you good-night, Commander. This body takes a lot more regeneration time than my old one did."

Odo dragged himself to his quarters, and began to rigorously follow his newly developed bedtime routine. Teeth and gums were carefully attended, and a sonic shower five minutes in duration -- no more, no less -- cleansed the day's dirt and secretions from his body, along with the scent of the perfume of the woman he'd just slept with.

Slept with, Odo mused wryly. Neither of us slept a wink. Humans are so odd, with their fifty-thousand synonyms for the reproductive act.

Reproductive. Odo's eyes widened. He hoped to the Prophets that Aroya was sharp enough -- and non-manipulative enough -- to have gotten her birth control shots. Odo supposed he could get some himself, but shuddered at the very thought of approaching Bashir with such a request. Abandoning the shower, Odo pulled on a robe, purloined from the Infirmary, and headed out into his living area, settling in the one comfortable chair he had managed to obtain and picking up a dataPADD from the small table that stood at its side. He was more or less happily absorbed in The Idylls of the King when the doorcom sounded.

Who can it be at such an hour? He wasn't one to encourage guests even at normal times ... Odo looked up, curious. "Come!" he called, laying aside the PADD and carefully arranging his robe over his knees. The door <swished> open to reveal Major Kira, casually thrown together in an ill-matched tunic and leggings.

"Major." Odo inclined his head gravely. "Is there something I can do for you?"

Kira smiled and shrugged. "I wasn't able to sleep. According to the computer, you were out here instead of in your bedroom, so I assumed you couldn't either. I thought you might be up for a game of kistrel, or just a talk."

Kistrel was the Bajoran equivalent of chess. Odo and Kira had been fairly avid kistrel opponents in the past, and it definitely seemed like a safer option to the cautious constable than spending the wee hours engaging the major in intimate conversation.

"Certainly, Major. Let me get my kistrel set." Holding his robe carefully around him, Odo got to his feet and went to one of the built-in wall cabinets, extracting the kistrel set and the octagonal board that went with it. He turned to find Kira watching him with an amused smile.

"What's funny, Major?"

Kira shook her head a little even while her smile deepened. "I don't know ... I just never pictured you as ..."

She paused, not seeming to be so much at a loss for words as to be hunting for better ones. "As?" Odo said helpfully.

Kira shrugged, a splash of color staining her cheeks. "I figured you for the pajamas type -- not someone who'd sleep in his underwear." She nodded at Odo's bare legs emerging from beneath the knee- length blue robe.

"Underwear?" Odo retorted, before his fair skin flushed red as he recognized his own admission. Kira looked into his face with fascinated delight.

"Constable, I never thought I'd see you blush."

Odo let out an amused snort as he saw the humor of the situation. "Stick around, Major -- I'm coming out with all sorts of new behavior these days."

Kira's look softened to a compassionate smile. "I'm glad you're able to laugh about it now -- at least a little."

"I thought you wanted to play kistrel," Odo observed. "I'm afraid I don't have much in the way of a place to sit yet ... let me move this chair over near that one -"he nodded at the chair affixed to the floor in front of the computer terminal"- and you can sit here, and I'll sit there."

"Sounds pretty complicated. Let's just sit on the floor."

Odo considered the ramifications of sitting on the floor in his present attire. "If you don't mind, I think I'll put on some pants first."

Kira grinned. "You do that, Constable. May I fix myself something to drink?"

"Certainly -- help yourself." Odo disappeared into the bedroom and returned a few moments later in a pair of black trousers and a tunic that looked suspiciously like an Infirmary pajama top. Kira met him with a smile and a full glass that she held out to him.

"I hate to drink alone. Here you go -- one gamma-star."

Odo took the glass slowly, unsmiling. "I see. Word certainly travels fast here, doesn't it?"

"Word about what?" Kira stared at Odo, puzzled, and he realized too late that she genuinely had no idea what he was talking about. "You mean the drink? I had one at the Celestial Cafe -- I liked it so much I thought you might like to try it, too." Kira cocked her head to one side, her eyes narrowed in puzzlement. "Word about what?" she repeated.

"I had a dinner date earlier this evening -- you were with me when I made it, remember?"

"That's right." Kira smiled. "How did it go?"

"Quite well, I suppose." Odo gulped absent-mindedly at the drink in his hand, and remembered too late its potent effect. "I think I should have this analyzed for its content," he said dryly. "There's something in here ... I'm not sure what it is, but it's very powerful."

"Are you feeling tipsy?" Kira reached out to lay a gentle hand on Odo's arm. He shuddered as he experienced that light touch in every fiber of his being. Shaking himself, he took his seat on the floor, setting up the kistrel board with quick, determined movements.

"Let's play," he said decidedly. Kira gave him an odd look but took her place across from him without a murmur.

They were soon completely absorbed in the machinations of the game -- Odo's particular kistrel set pitted Bajorans against Cardassians, and Kira pushed around her red playing pieces around with all the ferocity she had displayed in the Resistance, while Odo deployed his black ones with a tenacity surpassing that of any Cardassian gul.

This time the Bajorans won. Kira let out a yelp of triumph. "Finally! Do you know how many times you've walked all over me playing this, Odo?"

"Too many gamma-stars," Odo observed. He noticed, surprised, that two more empty glasses stood near to his hand. Kira had an equal number, but he had never seen the Bajoran major so much as tipsy, even after a night's drinking so hard that it would put Morn under the table. Besides, he had gotten a head start on her ... Odo clambered to his feet, startled to find himself swaying dizzily. Kira hastened to stand as well, reaching out to steady him.

"Constable, I think you are tipsy."

"Mmm," Odo murmured in a tone of assent. "I think you're right." He could feel the blood rushing through his veins, with an odd feeling of senses both numbed and yet strangely heightened. He was certainly more aware of his body as waves of conflicting feeling washed over him ... Odo stared at Kira longingly. Still so beautiful, and Shakaar is gone ... He leaned towards her, and nearly lost his balance.

"Hold on there!" Catching him by the shoulders, Kira laughingly helped Odo right himself. As her brown eyes met and held on Odo's blue ones, Kira's smile slowly faded.

"What is it?" Odo whispered as Kira continued to stare into his eyes. Her hands had slipped from his shoulders to rest awkwardly against his chest, and her face held an unfathomable expression.

"I just -- it's been hell for you, hasn't it?"

Somehow Kira's simple question brought all of the past months' anguish slamming into Odo's consciousness. He winced, letting his head fall in a tired nod of assent. "Major, you don't know the half of it."

"I'm sorry," she murmured. Odo was amazed when Kira suddenly raised herself on tiptoe, pressing her lips against his, but he nonetheless leaned into the kiss hungrily. After starting in surprise, Kira let her mouth linger on his for a moment, softening and opening -- he had a brief sense of warm wetness, and the delicate taste of her tongue -- before she stepped away abruptly.

"I'd better get out of here before I do something we'll both regret in the morning."

"It is morning," Odo informed her solemnly. He didn't know whether to be dismayed or relieved at her sudden withdrawal. He was acutely aware of a renewal of interest from the area of his groin, and felt rather defrauded -- he thought that alcohol was supposed to deaden such responses.

"It is, isn't it?" Kira let out a strained laugh, running a hand back through her short hair. She sighed. "We're both just too vulnerable right now -- I don't think we could manage to have a friendly fuck and then walk away from it."

"I imagine you're right." Odo had only the vaguest idea what Kira was talking about, but it sounded accurate. He decided that a hasty retreat to his chair was in order, where he arranged himself so that no unsightly bulge would be apparent. Kira's eyes, however, were fixed on the floor, as she murmured an incoherent good-bye and fled.

Suddenly drained past all endurance, Odo retreated into his bedroom, where he pulled off his clothes and collapsed on the bed, sinking gratefully into oblivion.

SPACE

Somehow Odo managed to crawl out of bed the next morning and make his painful way to the Promenade. He was about to round the corner into the Infirmary in search of a hangover remedy when the sound of talking within made him pause in his tracks. Once he heard Kira's voice, he couldn't have budged if he'd wanted to.

"Dax, do you really have to be so cheerful?" Kira said dryly. Odo moved a little closer to the wall, listening intently.

"What the hell did you get into last night?" Dax wondered. "I didn't think you ever got drunk."

"I don't. I just feel vile this morning. I don't think it was the liquor, I think it was those damn replicated herbs. Dammit, where the hell is Julian?"

Dax chuckled. "Herbs, huh? Don't tell me you were at the Celestial Cafe."

"No, I was sitting in Odo's quarters playing kistrel!" Kira's voice dropped to a lower, softer tone. "Dax, I may have done something really stupid."

Odo, about to bow to guilt at his own eavesdropping, was immediately distracted from further exploration of his conscience. He scarcely dared to breathe as Dax asked, "What did you do? Nerys, you and Odo didn't -"

"No!" Kira exclaimed strongly, so strongly that Odo winced. Then she admitted, shame echoing in every syllable, "I just came on to him."

"You mean you made a pass at him?" Odo could practically hear Dax's eyes widening as she spoke. "Kira -- why?"

"I don't know!" Kira's exasperation was evident. "I was just -- lonely. Odo's always been there for me -- now that he's human, for a second there I thought he might be there for me in another way. It was a really, really stupid thing to do."

As was, Odo realized, continuing to linger right outside the door of the Infirmary. Straightening his uniform tunic, he backed up a few steps before continuing to where he could enter the Infirmary at his normal pace. He felt a trifle sheepish as Kira and Dax both started guiltily.

"Ladies." He inclined his head gravely. Kira looked like she would happily transport to the surface of Cardassia without a phaser and wearing nothing but her underwear. Dax's eyes narrowed quizzically as Odo continued, "I needed to consult with Dr. Bashir before staff meeting this morning -- is he here?"

"Not right now," Dax replied. "Kira needs to see him, too -- why don't I just leave you both to it? Are you still on for Camelot tonight, Constable?"

"Certainly, Commander." Odo nodded to Dax again as she exited, while Kira shot a look after her that bespoke her heartfelt sense of betrayal. Once the Trill was gone, however, Kira steeled herself and took the bull by the horns.

"Constable, I -- I'm sorry about last night."

Odo looked at her curiously. "Why are you sorry?"

Kira sighed and plugged onward. "It's like I said last night -- you're very vulnerable right now, and inexperienced on top of it. The last thing you need is someone like me confusing all those new hormones."

"I'm not as inexperienced as I was," Odo commented dryly. To Kira's sudden questioning look he added, "I suppose you might say that, technically speaking, my date with Aroya was what you would call a good date."

"Oh!" Kira stared at him, wide-eyed, and seemingly somewhat at a loss. "Well -- that's great -- right?"

Odo shook his head. "I haven't got the faintest idea. We're having dinner again tomorrow night -- but I must admit I'm looking forward to tonight in the holosuite with you and Dax more." Odo felt quite proud of himself. He had added the "and Dax" without a trace of a pause.

"I'm glad." Kira managed a faint smile. "I was afraid you wouldn't even want to look at me today."

"You've always been easy to look at, Major." Odo avoided meeting Kira's suddenly questioning eyes, instead peering beyond her and saying, "Good morning, Doctor. It looks like you're treating a sizable portion of the senior staff this morning."

"Oh?" Julian Bashir looked questioningly from one shuttered face to another. "What seems to be the problem?"

"Too many gamma-stars," Kira said dryly. Bashir smiled and activated a med-scanner, running it over first Kira, and then the Security Chief. He then turned and selected a hypospray.

"This should work for both of you," he observed. "However, I think I should warn you that these gamma-stars need to be approached with extreme caution. I don't get any special readings from you, Major, but you, Constable -- were you drinking from the same replicator batch?"

"Not entirely," Odo admitted. Bashir nodded, not surprised.

"Well, that makes sense ... some of whatever you drank, Constable, contained a very powerful aph -"Bashir suddenly paused, looking uncomfortable. Odo stared at him curiously.

"A very powerful what, Doctor?"

Kira gave Bashir a knowing look. "Would you like me to leave, Julian?"

"That might be best," the doctor acceded. He smiled at Kira apologetically, deftly wielding the hypospray to give her an injection. "That should take care of you, Major -- let me know if you have any other problems."

Kira nodded and walked out, a faint, worried pucker still catching at the space between her eyebrows. Odo, after watching her go, turned to face Bashir squarely. "What is it, Doctor?"

Bashir quietly administered another shot to Odo as he explained. "It's just that -- something you ingested last night contained an extremely potent aphrodisiac."

Odo's eyes widened as his thoughts flew to Aroya handing him the glass holding his first gamma- star of the evening, and the events that had followed shortly thereafter. But that doesn't make sense, he thought automatically. I was already going back to her quarters with her - wasn't that signal enough that I was willing to have sex with her? Odo wondered if he had perhaps misunderstood some of the cultural allusions in Chief O'Brien's detective novels.

"It's also an illegal one," Bashir continued reluctantly. "A fairly recent discovery -- the plant it's extracted from is native to a moon in the Noleris system, in the Gamma quadrant."

"The Gamma quadrant?" Odo shook his head, bewildered. "We get a lot of traffic in contraband from the Gamma quadrant because of our proximity to the wormhole, but I still don't understand -"Odo remembered who he was talking to, considered his options, sighed, and went on. "Doctor, I went to dinner with Chalan Aroya last night, and to her quarters afterwards. I'm quite sure that was when I was given the drink with the -- illegal drug in it."

"Ah." The consummate master of the noncommittal syllable, Bashir nodded knowingly.

"The thing is -- I was already there. Doesn't that indicate a certain -- willingness, as a rule?"

Bashir smiled a little. "Well, that depends -- were you acting 'willing'?"

"As willing as I care to act." Odo snorted indignantly. "Isn't it possible that this drug is just a regular component of the drink in question? Quark did mention that he couldn't replicate all of the herbs last night."

"Meaning that Miss Chalan is using contraband to ensure authenticity? I can stop by the Celestial Cafe and analyze the drink, if you think that might help."

"You won't -"

"I'll be the soul of discretion. I'll just order one and wave my tricorder over it when no one's looking. What's it called, anyway?"

"It's something called a gamma-star."

"One gamma-star -- coming up!" Bashir smiled at his own joke. Odo didn't feel like smiling, but pushed the conflicting emotions out of his mind as he murmured a brief farewell and headed out onto the Promenade.

In some ways it made distressing, bitter sense. If a person wanted to smuggle an illegal substance onto the station and make use of it as part of their regular business operations, who better to form an intimate relationship with than the station's Chief of Security? And he had actually let himself believe that she was attracted to him! Had let her -

Odo checked this train of thought abruptly and headed for his office, where he settled behind the desk to begin his daily attack on the myriad forms and reports that beset him. But once there he buried his face in his hands instead, a long shudder rippling across his thin shoulders.

Even without Bashir confirming his suspicions, Odo knew that what the doctor would find. The pretty restaurateur had set out cold-bloodedly and deliberately to seduce the chief of station security, taking no joy in the act of doing so.

Letting his hands fall to his sides, Odo stared at himself in the computer console's darkly reflective surface. Smooth, inhuman features stared back at him, as they had continued to do so, mocking him, ever since his transformation had taken place.

The face, the security chief in question thought tiredly, the face is still the same. For all the limits and longings this body has cursed me with, it's the same damned face.

Odo straightened slowly, as a foreign but oddly familiar notion filtered into his brain. By the Prophets, they condemned me to be human. So human is what I'm going to be.

Odo pushed resolutely away from his desk and moved out on to the Promenade, not looking back as he returned to the Infirmary. When Bashir looked up, surprised, the former changeling said, "Doctor, there's something else I'd like you to do for me ..."

SPACE

Late that same evening, Kira Nerys forced herself to go by Odo's office, in order to give him his costume for the evening's holosuite adventure. She had been by twice before during the afternoon, but the constable had been absent, no doubt off attending to some matter of station security. Now she froze as she came through the door at the sight of the unfamiliar figure seated behind Odo's desk, plugging away diligently at the Security Chief's computer console.

The human male who sat there looked up as she entered, giving her an odd smile. He looked to be fifty-something, with sandy hair worn back in the same severe style affected by her friend, a singularly impressive nose, and a rather puckish set to his features. His eyes were a bright, clear blue.

Kira stared at him, her mouth falling open as recognition finally struck. "Odo?"

"Major." The voice was still the same, a deep bass rumble. The odd little smile deepened, looking almost -- shy? "What do you think? I decided that if I had to be human, then I should look human, too."

"I -- I don't know what to think." Kira studied her friend's new face earnestly. She was glad to see that Bashir had opted to give Odo's features character rather than beauty, the result being a cast that oddly suited him. She asked, feeling strangely shy herself, "Did you chose your face or did Julian?"

"The doctor had a number of suggestions." Odo's newly defined lips twisted in a moue of amusement as he remembered some of them. "I thought this -- seemed right, somehow."

Kira nodded slowly, smiling. "I liked your old face just fine -- but you're right. If you want to look like a human, this suits you." She studied Odo's features more critically. "It isn't exactly what I'd call handsome, but you look nice. Pleasant. It's -"she considered her next words carefully"- an expressive face. And you look kind."

"Harumph." Odo's brow darkened in a ferocious scowl. "I'm not sure kindness is the image I want to convey."

"Then just do that." Kira grinned, finally dropping into the chair in front of the desk. "Very fierce and no-nonsense."

"Excellent." The next surprise from the constable came in the form of a singularly wicked smirk. Kira laughed out loud.

"You know, it's going to take some getting used to, but I like it. It makes you seem more -- accessible."

"Thank you, Major." Odo's mouth softened into a gentle smile as his blue eyes lingered on Kira's face. Kira could feel her own smile fade as she studied her friend's newly mobile features.

Why did I never notice his eyes before? she wondered. They haven't changed, just the setting around them ... but a person could drown in those eyes.

Kira abruptly pulled herself together and finally remembered the box that she carried, shoving it across the desk.

"Here's what I promised you. Your costume for tonight."

"Thank you again." Odo reached out to take the package, and their fingertips brushed briefly. Kira could feel the blood start pounding in her ears as their eyes met and held -- she tore her gaze away and got briskly to her feet.

"Then Dax and I will see you tonight, Constable -- twenty-one hundred hours?"

"I'll be there," Odo promised. His voice was as deep and soft as black velvet.

Kira turned tail and fled.

SPACE

Dax, who had been forewarned by Bashir, greeted Constable Odo with equanimity when he joined her and Kira outside the upper level entrance to Quark's, as well as with loud kisses on both cheeks.

"Odo, you're gorgeous," she proclaimed. "Which is not to say you weren't pretty damned attractive before."

If this comment had come from anyone but Dax -- or perhaps a certain red-haired major -- Odo would have snorted skeptically. As it was, he blushed. Kira, standing to one side as she twisted nervously at a fold in the voluminous skirt of her costume, listened to Dax's easy banter with a stab of envy.

He is gorgeous, Kira thought, distracted, but it's not the face - it's something else. Something I imagine has always been there - so why didn't I see it before now? Just because he was a changeling? Even in her thoughts, Kira rejected that notion of prejudice. No, I don't think so - that doesn't feel like the answer. Is it just what I told him earlier - that he seems more accessible? But Odo's always been accessible to me, at least until -

The realization that followed the "until" made Kira's mouth fall open -- and then she looked up, startled, to realize that Odo and Dax were both studying her curiously. "You didn't answer Odo's question, Kira," Dax observed. "Where did you get his costume? It's really marvelous."

"Even if I feel ridiculous," Odo added. Kira studied her choice now that the recipient was wearing it and silently agreed that she had done well. The cut of the bluish-gray doublet and hose suited the constable's lean frame, while the color brought out his eyes. Kira smiled.

"It wasn't easy, but fortunately Garak doesn't have much to do in his holding cell. I'm with Dax -- I think you look great." Kira's eyes narrowed curiously. "But where's your crown?"

"I thought I'd just carry it till I got here." Odo raised his hand, holding out the multi-tined silver circlet. As the two women watched expectantly, he sighed and set it reluctantly on his head. Kira and Dax both studied his altered visage raptly, breaking into delighted smiles.

The moonstones set under each of the crown's spires seemed like pale mirrors of the questioning, faintly humorous eyes that looked out beneath them. As Odo smiled cautiously, Kira suddenly realized, That's it. That's the difference. His face - it's so readable. I can tell what he's thinking, what he's feeling, and I was never sure before. It's like - a darkened room when the light's suddenly turned on. At first it can blind you, but then you can see whatever's there to be seen. Another realization soon followed, I don't know if Odo's going to like that at all.

"Let's get into the holosuite before my credibility's completely destroyed," Odo said dryly. Dax laughingly led the way, maneuvering with grace through the warren of tables on Quark's upper level to open the doors to -- Camelot.

Odo evaluated the holosuite setting, nodding solemnly and completely ignoring the various holographic characters who bowed or curtsied as he entered. "I assume from the costumes that we're trying for Tennyson's interpretation?"

Dax looked a little surprised. "Lerner and Lowe, actually."

"Who?"

"Never mind," Kira interjected. "Let's just do it."

Dax had apparently chosen a gentle introduction for the new player, and Sir Lancelot was nowhere in evidence. The scene was a banqueting hall, from whence was staged Guinevere's attempted abduction by a rival king. Guinevere, who had never quite accepted her character's passivity, put in some fairly good hits of her own before Arthur finally managed to dispatch her attacker with a broadsword. The action had meanwhile carried them from the banqueting hall to the gardens of the castle, where the holographic attacker didn't so much as mar the grass before silently disappearing after his demise.

"Milord, I am indebted." It had been a struggle, but with practice Kira had picked up the jargon. She held out her hand to her rescuer, who took it gravely in his.

"Milady." The soft, rumbling reply had a decidedly kingly aspect. "My life is, as always, but to serve you." Eyes never leaving her face, 'Arthur' carried 'Guinevere's' hand to his lips. 'Guinevere' felt decidedly dizzy, but tried to put it down to her recent assault.

The sharp <beep!> of a communicator shattered the newly acquired peace in the simulated garden. Dax, who had just had a most enjoyable time dispatching two of the rival king's minions, identified the source of the interruption as coming from the combadge hidden in the bodice of her dress.

"Sorry, it's mine." She extracted the badge from her bosom and responded, "Dax here."

"Commander, I'm sorry to interfere with your time off-duty, but there's a little matter in Ops requiring your attention and I'm afraid it won't wait." Benjamin Sisko's tone was apologetic. "Can you meet me there in say, five minutes?"

"Sooner than that if you don't mind the pointy hat," Dax said with a grin. "Dax out." She gave Kira and Odo a contrite smile. "I have to leave for a few minutes -- do you mind just staying here and carrying on without me? We've got another hour -- I hope I can get back for part of it."

"Sure," Kira agreed. Odo nodded his acquiescence. They both watched as Dax activated the holosuite door and departed, before turning to each other questioningly.

"What do we do now?" Odo asked finally.

"I don't know ... I guess we just walk in the garden till she gets back."

"All right." That wonderful, elfish smile touching his lips, Odo suddenly held out his arm. "Milady?"

"Milord." Smiling, Kira twined her fingers lightly around the crook of the constable's elbow. "Come on, let's go see the roses."

A few bends around some hedges found them surrounded by masses of old-fashioned terran shrub roses, sprawling bushes loaded with red, yellow, pink, and white blooms. Kira stepped close to bury her nose in one of the blossoms appreciatively, abandoning all pretense of maintaining her character as she said, "Bashir was telling Dax and me that the different rose colors all have different meanings." She gave Odo a confiding smile as she urged him, "Come on, smell. It's a really good program -- they're wonderful."

Odo applied his considerable proboscis to a large pink rose. "Mmm... you're right. So, what would this pink one tell you?" He tapped the petals with his forefinger, turning to eye Kira with a look both curious and indulgent.

"Pink? That's friendship -- affection."

"I see. What about this one?" Odo shifted his attention to a yellow rose with a faint tinge of pink along the edge of its petals.

"Yellow? That's what you send to a lover to tell him good-bye -- a final good-bye." Kira's mouth twisted in grimace. "Maybe I should find some real ones and send them to Shakaar -- hell, maybe I should just try to grow myself a bush of them so I'm always prepared." The lovely Bajoran's face was unsmiling, bitter, and Odo reached out without thinking to squeeze her shoulder consolingly.

"I'm sorry, Major."

Kira smiled a little, reaching up to cover his hand with hers. "What are you sorry for? You're the one man I can always count on being there for me."

The one man I can always count on ... Kira's smile faded as the implication of her own words sank home. Odo withdrew his hand and turned away hastily, fixing his attention on the remaining rose bushes.

"So, the colors -- what about the white ones? And the red?"

"According to Bashir, the two have gotten mixed up, and he's not sure which is which, but one is for passion, and one is for true love."

"Ah." Odo let his fingers caress first a white blossom, and then a red one. He stared at the flowers a long time, before daring to steal a glance at Kira. She was still gazing, transfixed, at the yellow roses, an unfathomable expression on her taut face.

Now. The voice was insistent, irresistible as it echoed in Odo's brain. It's now or never.

His fingers moved of what seemed to be their own volition as Odo carefully broke off a red bloom, and then a white one. He turned toward Kira, holding out both flowers to her in his outstretched hand. Staring at them a long time, Kira finally accepted the floral offering into a grasp that clearly shook. Her wide brown eyes caught Odo's in a questioning stare.

The words, when they came, were simpler than Odo had ever imagined. He shrugged and said, "I just thought it was time that you knew."

Kira brought the flowers slowly to her face, pressing the soft petals against her cheeks. She then let them fall from nerveless fingers as she stretched out both her hands. "Odo -"

Scarcely daring to believe, Odo reached out slowly to capture her hands in his. He stepped closer so that their joined hands were the only thing that separated their bodies, looking down into Kira's upturned face.

"Major." He realized as he said it how ridiculous it sounded, but he couldn't quite force his lips to shape the syllables of her name -- her given name, the name he had never dared to call her except in his secret dreams.

"Constable." Her smile irradiating her face, Kira took her hands from Odo's so she could slide her arms around his waist. Odo cautiously put his arms around Kira in return, taking a careful investigator's note of her half-closed eyes and softly parted lips. A kiss. I could almost swear that she wants me to kiss her. Odo lowered his face carefully, finally daring to touch his mouth to hers, and breathed a little sigh of relief when she didn't pull away. Instead Kira's lips parted further, her tongue making a delicate inquiry after his -- Odo let instinct take over as he began to kiss the woman in his arms with the pent-up passion of a lifetime.

"Prophets," Kira whispered after some untimed interval, her hands sliding up Odo's chest to gently cup his face. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"

Odo tried to think of a good answer, and found himself quite at a loss. "I -- it was my face," he said finally. "My face got in the way."

"Oh. I see." Kira neither agreed with nor refuted his words, merely accepted them as his explanation. The unabashed tenderness in her smile was like balm on a soul that had been bleeding for years. "It's still not a very handsome face," she said softly, tracing the bridge of his nose with a gentle fingertip, "but it's kind, and it's sensitive, and it's honorable. It's very, very lovable."

Odo let out a little moan as Kira's lips once again began to explore his, and her arms slipped back around him, her hands sliding unerringly down his back to pull him more tightly against her. He could feel the blood of arousal coursing through his veins, hot and insistent, and was grateful for the voluminous folds of Kira's skirt that were hopefully keeping his condition from becoming too obvious. He finally found the strength to gasp, even though the gasp was only a whisper -"Nerys ..."

"Come on." Kira stepped back and took his hand in hers. "Let's get out of here."

"But we promised Dax -"

"Dax can deal with it."

"I suppose she can, at that." Odo followed Kira from the holosuite without further protest. It wasn't until they were out on the main Promenade and getting ready to step into a turbolift that he thought to ask, "Where are we going?"

"Habitat Ring," Kira instructed the turbolift as the doors closed. "I thought we might go to my quarters, or yours, if you'd like." Her expression was suddenly shy, and she avoided his gaze, choosing to study the floor instead.

"Level, please," inquired the flat tones of the computer.

"Level 12," Odo supplied quickly. It was the level where his own quarters were located, one level down from Kira's.

My quarters, he thought, my bed. A place where no other lover has ever been - only this one, and this one only in my dreams.

Kira smiled, and was finally able to meet his eyes. Somehow, in some way he might eventually ask her to explain to him, his choice had been the right one. "Your quarters will be fine," she agreed, her voice a soft caress on his ears. When the turbolift stopped they proceeded down the corridor that led to Odo's door in silence, not touching, but Odo could swear that he could feel the heat coming off Kira's body in waves. As for his own physical state -- he was deeply grateful that they didn't meet anyone on the way, as the doublet and hose did nothing to disguise his acute condition. When they finally reached their destination, Odo keyed in his lockcode with fingers that shook so badly that he had to re-enter the numbers twice.

Kira slipped into the darkened quarters ahead of him, her skirts brushing against him lightly in passing. Calling for the lights, Odo took distracted notice of his single comfortable chair.

Another chair, he thought, I need to get another chair. Maybe even a sofa, so we can sit together. Then panic slammed into him from nowhere. That depends on whether she ever wants to come back, doesn't it?

Then he felt Kira step up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist and pressing her body against his. She blew softly against the back of his neck. "Constable," she said softly, "you need a haircut."

Odo managed a light chuckle, taking Kira's hands in his and drawing them up his chest. Kira, contrary-minded, slid her palms down over his ribcage and belly, coming perilously close to the very unruly member that threatened to hammer its way through his clothing. Odo sighed and let out a little groan as Kira nuzzled at his back, rubbing her face against the soft velvet of his doublet. What had she been talking about? Oh! Yes - "A haircut? I suppose that I do. I'm not used to having to take time for it -- I'll have to work it in."

"Do you have a pair of scissors? And a comb?" Kira asked softly. Extracting himself from her embrace, Odo turned to look at her, surprise circumventing passion, at least for a moment.

"Scissors? Why?"

Kira smiled. "We had to do a lot of things for each other when I was in the Resistance. I got to where I could give a pretty mean haircut."

"Oh ... all right." Was she getting 'cold feet', as the humans said? Or just postponing the moment? "I do, actually -- I was working on something that required them." Odo went and retrieved the required objects from their storage places, returning to place them gingerly into Kira's outstretched hand. Kira smiled a little, nodding at the chair that stood before the computer console.

"Take off your jacket and sit there. It shouldn't take me more than twenty minutes."

Odo slowly removed the blue velvet doublet, putting it away carefully. Wearing nothing but the matching skin-tight hose, he took the seat that Kira indicated, trying and failing to find a position that would prove comfortable for his raging erection.

Kira removed her own elaborate veiled headdress, tossing it into the other chair. Odo could feel the warmth radiating from her body as she stepped up close behind him and began snipping away confidently at his hair. Her fingertips were soft, sensuous as they teased and played with the sandy locks, fluffing them first this way and then that as she considered her options -- Odo dared to turn his head to kiss Kira's hand when she pressed it briefly against his cheek, and was rewarded by her lips descending softly against the top of his head. A bit longer than twenty minutes later, Kira finally stepped away and moved to where she could stand in front of him. Studying Odo critically, she finally nodded her head and smiled.

"It looks good. I think you'll like it. Do you have a mirror?"

Odo shook his head. "Only in the bathroom."

"Well, go take a look at it. You probably want to shower off the little bits of hair, anyway. Don't worry," she added softly, when Odo gave her a questioning look, "I'll still be here when you get back."

"All right," Odo said faintly, forcing himself to stand, even though it brought him perilously close to Kira, who smiled up at him in serene anticipation. Odo hastily withdrew into the bathroom, where he stared, transfixed, at the face that met him in the mirror.

Kira had cut his hair in subtle layers, rather than the straight, severe lines to which he was accustomed, and brushed it off to the side so that it fluffed forward a bit over his forehead. It was radically different from the severe, combed-back style he had copied from Dr. Mora -- the transformation was complete. The man who stared back from the mirror was just that -- a man.

Odo shucked off the hose and stepped into the shower, automatically following Kira's suggestion and ridding himself of the small, itching bits of hair. He then pulled on his robe, taking one last look at himself before turning back and heading slowly back into the bedroom. The lights were lower than he had left them, and he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Kira's Guinevere dress draped tidily over the single lesser spire he had kept from his shapeshifting apparatus, a nostalgic monument in the corner of his bedroom. He turned cautiously toward the bed, where Kira lay waiting for him, propped up on one elbow, the covers pushed back to reveal the length of her body. She was naked.

Odo crossed the room slowly, and sat down on the edge of the bed, his eyes fixed on Kira's face. He reached out to touch her cheek, and Kira caught his hand in both of hers, pressing it passionately to her lips.

"I was starting to think you'd locked yourself in the bathroom and were going to hide there until I gave up and left," Kira said softly. "I think you should know by now, Constable, that I can be very persistent until I get my way."

"I seem to recall that." Odo touched his fingertip to Kira's forehead, drawing it down the bridge of her nose and watching her shiver in pleasure. With a strange feeling of curiosity, he continued his exploration to her lips, and over her determined chin to the smooth line of her neck beneath -- Kira's breathing deepened, her eyes narrowed, as Odo ran the same questioning finger over the curve of her breast, tracing it in a thoughtful circle around her erect nipple. Kira let out a soft gasp, and reached out to draw Odo insistently into her arms.

"Come here and kiss me."

Odo was glad to pursue an activity with which he was starting to feel a certain level of comfort, reinforced by Kira's contented sigh when their lips finally parted. He jumped a little as she slid her hands inside the facings of his robe, pushing it off his shoulders and beginning to nibble at the newly exposed flesh. He was startled to learn that his own nipples were apparently just as sensitive as Kira's -- and then her hands found the tie that held the robe closed around his waist, and gently but inexorably unfastened it. Odo got to his feet, letting the garment fall from his body to pool on the floor beneath him. He steeled himself to let Kira study his nude form, even though he cringed inwardly.

The last man she saw naked was Shakaar. This may be a hunch on my part, but something tells me he was just a bit more impressive.

But there was no trace of disappointment in Kira's frank gaze as she looked at him -- if anything, her lips curved appreciatively as her eyes lingered on his erect penis. "I have one question, Constable," she said softly.

"Certainly, Major." Two could play at that game, he supposed, and it certainly had the merit of being familiar.

"Why don't you pass out when that happens?"

"Pass out?" Odo stared at Kira, puzzled. "Do Bajoran males -- ?"

Kira gave a little grin, reaching out to draw him down slowly against her. "So much blood flow lost to your brain. I'd heard that human males tended to be bigger in that department, but I've never had occasion to check it out before now." She kissed him, a slow, sensual embrace. She then eased him back against the narrow bed, running a questioning finger of her own down his chest and belly, until it could trace the lines of the organ in question. "No ridges," she commented simply.

"Oh ... no, apparently human males don't have them." Odo thought briefly about the neat line of ridges that Bajoran males possessed on top of their penises, near the base, that usually corresponded in size and number with the ridges on their noses. "Do you think you'll miss them?" he asked, with a sudden stab of anxiety.

"I don't know," Kira admitted. "But I think it's time we found out." She drew Odo back into her arms, between her parted thighs, and then smiled at him as he hovered, poised, over her waiting body. "Odo, seleyl'a ti."

Humans had so many euphemisms for the physical act of love between a man and a woman -- Bajorans had only one, simple and primal. Odo shuddered as he heard Kira's soft-voiced request, and finally let her guide him into the moist warmth of her waiting depths.

It was a journey filled with remarkable revelations.

The only thing he could think of at first was how much better it was, better than Aroya, better than any experience in his life except for perhaps his first real taste of the Great Link. The rich scent of Kira's body, her soft, involuntary gasps as he moved against her, the sudden contractions of her vagina accompanying her orgasm that in turn sent him moaning over the edge from joy into ecstasy. Kira cried out as well, muffling her scream against his chest, clenching her fingers so tightly into his shoulders that it hurt.

"I guess that answers your question," Kira finally managed, laughing, as she ran her hands over the length of Odo's back, catching his buttocks in her palms and grasping him to her firmly, not letting him withdraw from his place between her thighs. Her face was radiant, alight with happiness -- Odo reached up and touched her cheek, almost shivering with delight at the soft feel of her skin, of her warm flesh against his, and his own inner surety that he had left her contented and satisfied. Kira reached up in turn, tracing the bridge of his nose with her fingertip.

"I was wrong," she said softly. "It is a handsome face. No -- it's a beautiful face."

Odo was entirely unprepared for the emotion that washed over him in a devastating, inescapable tide.

Anger.

He pulled out of her arms and lay back against the bed, appalled at the intensity of the feeling that beset him. More than anger, almost rage -- he brought his hands to his face, covering his eyes to shut out the light. He heard Kira's outraged, "What the hell -?"and then, when he continued to lie there, shuddering, felt her hand come to rest tentatively against his chest.

"Odo -- are you all right?"

When he opened his mouth to speak, even Odo wasn't sure what he was going to say. The words came out as a strangled croak. "Why -- why did it matter?"

"Why did what matter?" Kira's words sounded genuinely bewildered. "What is it, Odo?"

Odo forced his hands away from his eyes, and sat up abruptly, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. "My face," he whispered. "Why did it make a difference?"

"Your face -"The concern in Kira's voice was joined by a distinct note of irritation. "What the hell are you talking about?"

Odo got to his feet and crossed to the center of the room before whirling around to face her, blue eyes blazing. "Why did my having this face make such a difference, Nerys? What would have happened if I'd just stayed a changeling? Would I just have had to keep loving you and watching you with one lover after another? Have you hug me and tell me what a good friend I am? While all the time I'm standing there thinking what hell it is to belong to such a long-lived species? Because that's how long I could 'look forward' to being in love with you and knowing that you could never love me back? Why the big difference, Kira Nerys?!"

Startled, Odo realized that he had been shouting, pretty much at the top of his lungs. Kira had slipped from the bed to stand facing him, her eyes wide and astonished and more than a little angry in return as she studied his tense face.

"Your face has nothing to do with it!" She bit off the words. "Except that suddenly you looked like someone who might, just might, consider loving me back!" She stopped, seemingly startled at what she herself had said. Then she pushed any questions she had aside to embrace the rage that possessed her.

"Yes, Mister 'You Humanoids'! What was I supposed to think? The way you always sneered at 'humanoid mating rituals'! Sneered and snorted and 'harumphed'! How the hell was I supposed to think that you would ever consider stooping to 'mate' with someone like me? In case you've forgotten, I was part of 'you humanoids'! Only now you're part of that whole humanoid mess, and I guess the face just made me think that you were someone who might be interested!"

"Interested?" Odo froze, staring at her. "Interested in what?" His own anger drained from him like oil sliding from water, even while Kira's mounted to a fine blaze.

"What do you think? Do you think I never thought about what it might be like to have you make love to me? You were a shapeshifter, dammit! Hell, Dax could write one of her papers on the kinds of fantasies an idea like that can churn up!" Tears began to stream down Kira's face, tears that she was too proud to dash away. "I guess I'm just too fucking insensitive, but why in hell should I think that you would ever care for someone like me when you kept insisting that you couldn't?"

"I don't know," Odo whispered. "I never thought you could care for me, so I never wanted you to guess that I cared for you."

"Oh, I knew that you cared for me! You're my friend, Odo -- friends care about each other! I just figured my body would repulse you! But then, I realized you were human now, and that maybe you might not find this body of mine so unattractive after all. Suddenly you -- you have this face, and it has so many expressions in it, expressions that I can read, and just for a minute it looked like -"

"Like I wanted you?" The words were little more than a whisper.

"Yes." Kira uttered the brief syllable resentfully, before turning her back on him to cross to the room's replicator. "One raktajino, two kava, extra hot."

"You had no idea that I was in love with you." Somehow it was easier to ask the question while Kira had her back turned.

It was Kira's turn to turn her startled face back toward Odo, to stare at the rear of his head and wish she could see his averted visage. Even though the message of the roses had been clear, it was so much more indisputable to hear him actually say it. In love with her. In love with her. Kira braced herself to keep her legs from trembling. This wasn't just sex. Odo was in love with her.

"I -"Kira paused, and sighed. "I -- wondered what was wrong when you canceled our Tuesday morning meetings. I knew it was something more than you wanting to schedule extra training sessions for your deputies." She removed her mug from the replicator and turned back to Odo, her eyes solemn as they surveyed his.

"You knew that?"

"Of course I knew. I'm not stupid. It just took me aback -- it was so unlike you to be dishonest with me."

Odo winced at the flat accusation of dishonesty, even while he accepted it as truth. "I suppose love calls forth the worst in people."

Kira gave a bitter laugh. "I think it does. Funny -- it's supposed to call forth the best in us."

"So -- why didn't you say anything?"

Kira stared at him, surprised. "I wasn't sure what it was -- and if it was something like that, well -- I'd just made another decision."

Odo nodded slowly. "Shakaar."

"Shakaar."

"Are you still in love with him, Nerys?"

Kira pondered the question, and shrugged. "I don't think so. I'm not sure if I ever was." She abandoned her mug back to the replicator, and shoved her hands distractedly through her short, tousled hair.

The anger had somehow slipped from the room, replaced with a blunt, tired honesty. Odo asked simply, "Then how do you feel about me?"

"Odo, I love you. I just don't know if -"

"If you're in love with me?" Odo finished softly.

Kira nodded. She ran her hands across her face, haphazardly rubbing away the remaining vestiges of her tears. "I -- I think I could be. And do you know what? It scares the hell out of me. When you gave me those flowers -- I didn't know whether to thank the Prophets or turn tail and run." She gave Odo a pleading, questioning stare. "Odo -- are you really in love with me? Are you sure? I mean, now that you're human, I know it's confusing -"

"Being human has nothing to do with it, Nerys. I've been in love with you for years."

Odo took a hesitant step closer, a step that she echoed. Their fingertips stretched out across the distance that separated them until they finally touched. "How long?" Kira whispered. "How long have you known?"

"Since the day you told me you were in love with Bareil."

Kira's eyes met Odo's in a look of dismayed comprehension. "Oh, Odo, I -"Shaking her head, she took the final step to bridge the gap between their bodies, and Odo let his arms close around her with a cross between a gasp and a sigh. Kira rubbed her face tiredly against his shoulder.

"Wonderful," she commented. "A Bajoran ex-terrorist, and a human-once-changeling agnostic. Who says the Prophets don't have a sense of humor?" Forcing a laugh, Kira slid her hand along Odo's cheek to grasp his left ear teasingly in her hand. Smiling a little, Odo reached up and did the same to her, unprepared for the shock that ran through his entire being. Kira stared at him, astounded, her gaze electrified in turn.

"Sweet Prophets," she whispered. "Odo -"

"Nerys -"He could feel the passion rising inside him like a phaser set on overload. Kira's hands were insistent on his face, dragging it down to where her mouth could hungrily devour his.

"E'tienta pagh." She whispered the words steeped in centuries of Bajoran legend. You are my soul.

The bed was only a few feet behind Kira, and somehow Odo managed to get her there before they became hopelessly lost in the tangle of each other's arms. But it was a very near thing.

SPACE

Jadzia Dax hurried back into Quark's, hand clutching at her precariously balanced headdress as she surveyed the assembled patrons, looking for Odo and Kira. Neither being present, she headed toward the stairs, only to be stopped by Quark, glancing up from his place behind the bar.

"They're gone," he announced. "They've been gone for almost two hours now."

Dax sighed in disappointment, and took a seat at the bar. Why she thought that either Kira or Odo would go so far as to book the holosuite for additional time she wasn't sure, but hope sprang eternal -- she really enjoyed her Camelot holosuite program. Of course, matters still might be salvageable ... "Quark, is there a holosuite available now by any chance?"

"There might be." Quark's eyes brightened at the whisper of potential profit. "Would you like me to check? I can go ahead and make you a tentative reservation for the next two hours -- non-refundable, of course."

"Hold on a minute." Dax reached into her dress to activate her combadge. "Dax to Kira."

The silence that greeted her grew deafening. "Dax to Kira. Kira, come in, please." When the silence continued, Dax inquired, "Computer! Location of -"

"Kira to Dax." The words that crackled through her combadge sounded strangely out-of-breath.

"Kira, I'm sorry the thing in Ops took me so long -- Quark says we can still have a holosuite, though -- are you interested?"

"I kind of -- got into -- something else."

Kira was gasping. Dax frowned.

"Nerys, are you all right? You sound out of breath."

"I'm fine. Just -- busy. Kira out."

"What on earth ...?" Dax bit on her lower lip thoughtfully, a curious frown creasing her smooth brow. She puzzled the matter for a moment, then tapped her combadge again. "Computer -- location of Major Kira."

"Major Kira is in Security Chief Odo's quarters."

Quark, eavesdropping behind the bar, looked up sharply, mouth hanging open. Dax stared at him, her face breaking into an amazed and delighted smile. "Quark ... I think that Odo and Kira ..."

"No!" Quark swore vigorously in Ferengi. "Dammit, I'm going to lose my shirt!!"

"What? Don't tell me you have bets running with people other than me!"

"Do you know how much money I have riding on this? I thought I had the inside track after Shakaar showed up and the Major got involved with him!"

"You mean you've been betting against Odo and Kira ever since -- who with besides me?"

"Everybody! Bashir, O'Brien, Rom, Morn -"

"Morn?"

"Odo's the sentimental favorite. I figured I'd make a killing!"

"That'll teach you to discount sentiment." Dax grinned in pleased satisfaction.

"All I know is, I'm not paying anybody until I see some proof."

"Well, why don't we look?" Dax's eyes danced with mischief.

"What do you mean?" Quark asked suspiciously.

"Don't tell me you haven't gotten hold of a level seven security code."

"What if I have?" The light of curiosity was being born in the Ferengi's eyes.

In unison, they both turned slowly to stare at Quark's computer console. Quick as a razor-cat, Dax zipped behind the bar, and they began to take turns tapping in codes and commands. Finally, they both stood back and stared for a moment at the screen they had activated, before Dax held out her hand.

"Pay up."

Quark, eyes never wavering from the viewscreen, dropped several strips of latinum into the Trill's hand. Dax reached out and deactivated the console.

"Hey!"

"I think we've seen enough for proof, don't you?"

"I suppose," Quark grumbled, though not too loudly. After all, he had memorized every sequence Dax had keyed in, and it shouldn't be too hard to replicate them.

Quark returned grumbling to polishing glasses, while Dax left for her own quarters. At the first computer terminal she came to, she bumped Quark out of the system, changed her access codes, and, after a little thought, put in a delighted call to Captain Sisko.

It seemed she owed him her thanks for that well-timed summons to Ops.

SPACE

"What time is it?" Kira whispered in the darkness. Odo, his hand making lazy trails on her breasts and belly, sighed and nuzzled against the side of her neck.

"I have no idea," he murmured. "Does it matter?"

"Not as long as we don't miss Sisko's senior staff meeting in the morning." Kira kissed the hollow of Odo's throat, her tongue lingering against his skin. She let out a throaty sigh as he entered her once again, his body moving against hers with the ease of recently acquired familiarity. Kira moaned and let her arms and legs twine around him like a vine around a trellis, riding a gentle wave of passion until she reached a shuddering climax and felt her lover do the same, warm wetness exploding inside her, then trickling out to drench the skin between her thighs. How many times can human males have sex in one night? she wondered idly, and decided that she was likely to find out, and that the number might prove higher than she imagined. The end did not yet seem to be in sight.

"Odo," she said softly, "did you know our paghs linked?"

"Is that what it was?" Odo rolled over onto his back, pulling Kira with him, snugly wrapped in his arms. "I never believed I had a pagh."

"Do you now?" Kira traced the curve of his left ear with a gentle fingertip.

"I suppose I have to." Odo smiled a little, turning his head to brush his lips against the caressing digit. "The thing is, what does it mean?"

"It means we belong together," Kira said solemnly, and not entirely happily. Odo caught the hesitation, and turned so they were lying facing each other, and he could look into her eyes.

"That bothers you."

"It just feels a little arbitrary." Kira managed a wry smile. "At least the Prophets don't want me to sculpt any more birds."

"Ah." Odo reached out, stroking back the hair from Kira's forehead. "I'll try not to let it be too much of an imposition." His next words came with difficulty. "Just -- just try to love me, if you think you can."

Kira reached out, caressing Odo's taut face until he could feel the lines of strain ebbing reluctantly. "I don't think I can help it," she assured him. She then let out a shocked little laugh, her eyes widening. "Oh, Prophets ..."

"What is it?"

"The legends about tienju-pagh - the joining of souls -- say that once it happens, the couple will want to make love -- constantly -- for 'a cycle of three moons'."

"How long is that?" Odo asked curiously, happy to be diverted from the worries and doubts that continued to haunt him.

"Depends on which moons we're talking here. Could be a few days -- could be a week -- could be a month."

"Is this a problem?" Odo chuckled. "Provided it doesn't kill me."

Kira laughed in turn. "Provided I'm able to walk, you mean. We may just have a hard time concentrating on our jobs, that's all. Right now -"Kira paused, before saying the next words in a strong, oddly determined voice, "right now, all I want to do is be with you."

"I can live with that." Forever and ever. Odo ran his hands down Kira's back, savoring the feel of her skin with long, sensuous strokes, losing himself in the sensation. "For so long all I had was my job -- I suppose I don't mind letting it take second place for once. Ferreting out smugglers ... tracking down assassins ... churning out reports for Federation bureaucrats ... being constantly on the lookout for changeling infiltrators ..."

Odo stopped, frozen in place, suddenly fixated on the rich scent of Kira's, and he supposed his own, bodily secretions filling his nostrils. His mind ran back over the feel of Kira's body as it had responded to his, the countless small sensations, the tiny changes, the subtle little things that even the most skilled changeling could never hope to reproduce, with their disdain for the solids and their dislike of taking physical form. And he thought of Aroya, and her strangely objective, antiseptic approach to love- making.

"Aroya," he whispered, "Chalan Aroya ..."

"Your other girlfriend?" Kira teased. "What about her? Do I need to push her out an airlock or something?"

"Maybe." Odo sat up abruptly, staring down at Kira with an unfathomable expression.

"Odo ... what is it?" Kira pulled herself up beside him, troubled eyes fixed on her new lover's face.

"Aroya," Odo whispered. "She's a changeling."

"What?" Kira exclaimed. "How do you know?"

"At least she's not a Bajoran." Odo scrambled from the bed, heading determinedly toward the closet and pulling out his uniform. "When I -- when we -- Nerys, she doesn't smell right."

"She doesn't smell right?" Kira propped her back against the bed's solitary pillow, staring at Odo doubtfully. "What do you mean, she doesn't smell right?"

"When we had sex, she smelled like perfume -- and that's all. No scent of her own. She felt different, too -- nothing overt, it was subtle, but something no one would miss if they had a -- a basis for comparison. Only I didn't have one. I just figured I hadn't been any good. Then, later, when I found out that she'd drugged me -"

"You had sex with Chalan Aroya?"

Odo looked at Kira, surprised. "I thought that I told you."

"Well, you hinted -- I wasn't sure." Toying with the possibility of jealousy and rejecting it, Kira instead considered the problem carefully. "Odo, I don't think a bad sexual experience is grounds to drag someone out of bed and give a her a blood test."

Odo, already halfway into his trousers, froze and stared at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean that -- well, I think you need a little more evidence than something you experienced when you were -- well, in a less than objective state. What do you mean, she drugged you?"

"According to Dr. Bashir, one of the drinks I was given last night contained an illegal aphrodisiac." Odo gave a grim chuckle. "When he told me that, at first I just thought she was trying to set me up to overlook some smuggling operation. Trying to get something she could hold over me as head of station security."

"Which could still be the answer," Kira observed. "I'm sorry, Odo, I trust your investigator's instincts, but I think you need to think about this one some more before you act."

"Well, that's the problem." Odo removed his trousers and put them back in the closet carefully.

"What is?" Kira snuggled back down into the bed, involuntarily holding out her arms as Odo approached her.

"I'm not sure if I can think right now." He eased himself down along beside Kira, sighing as her arms closed around him. Even while some dim portion of his brain assured him that he must be exhausted, and that he would kill himself if he kept at it, Kira's parted thighs breathed another, more powerful message, one to which he eagerly responded.

"That's not a problem," Kira assured him tenderly.

"No?" He began to move against her, within her, watching as her breathing deepened and her eyelashes fluttered to rest against her cheeks.

"No," Kira whispered. "It's a blessing."

SPACE

As things turned out, Odo and Kira were less than ten minutes late to their meeting the next morning, and only a little disheveled. Captain Sisko, amazingly enough, failed to give either one of them the stern look and sarcastic admonishment, "So glad that you could join us" that he usually reserved for late-comers, instead greeting them with a nod and an odd little smile. Kira, puzzled and a little ill at ease, slid into her seat next to Odo -- not the wisest choice, she realized, as her fingers itched to touch him. She glanced around the table to find Dax watching her with a questioning smile, and the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. To underline the truth of Kira's suspicions, Dax nodded to Odo as well, before letting her eyes dance quizzically from one face to another.

It was fortunate that the staff meeting was largely routine, as Kira could give it no more than half her attention. Her eyes kept drifting to the man at her side, taking in the lines of his new face -- if he really thinks that his face makes a difference to me, I think I'll tell him to change it back - and noting with amused dismay the lipstick mark she had somehow managed to leave on the side of his neck. For hundreds of years they've claimed to come up with lipstick that won't smear and won't rub off, and it never does - not until you kiss someone no one else knows you've been kissing.

Kira caught Chief Miles O'Brien studying her curiously, and managed a friendly smile. Ever since she had been invited -'compelled' was the word that usually came to her mind -- to live with the operations chief and his wife while she had been pregnant with their infant son, O'Brien had taken a brotherly interest in Kira's life that sometimes got on her nerves. Still, there was a part of her that had secretly enjoyed the O'Briens' attentions and their warm family life -- they had really seen to it that she felt like a part of them. Not that baby Kyoshi hadn't helped with that, too ... As the meeting broke up and Kira wondered how she could avoid answering questions from Dax, O'Brien wandered over and asked, "Nerys, are we still on for tonight?"

"Tonight?" Kira stared at him, drawing a blank. She could only really think of Odo, lingering near the door, waiting for her as he also kept a wary eye on Dax, still caught up in conversation with Sisko.

"You were coming over for dinner." O'Brien smiled, masking disappointment at her forgetfulness. "Don't you remember?"

"I'm sorry, Miles, of course I remember." Kira managed a weak smile, before blurting out, much to her own surprise, "Miles, is it all right if I bring someone with me?"

"Someone with you?" O'Brien looked surprised, but not displeased. He gave her a sly grin. "You mean like a date?"

"Well ... I ... yes."

"That'll be just fine. So, when does Shakaar get here?"

"Edon?" Kira stared at O'Brien, bewildered. "Oh! No! He and I -- we broke up. Didn't Keiko tell you? I'm almost sure I mentioned it to her ..."

"No!" O'Brien gave her a look of honest commiseration. "Well, I dare say he's not good enough for you, anyway. Who's the lucky fellow?"

"Lucky fellow?"

"Who are you bringing tonight?"

"Oh!" Kira managed a weak smile. "It's ... it's Odo."

"You don't say!" O'Brien's face beamed with genuine delight. "By all means, bring along the constable -- it will give me someone to talk to while you and Keiko fuss over the baby. I think I have a few new books he'd like to read."

"More detective stories?" Kira asked, smiling. At some point during the night when Odo had been in the bathroom, Kira had passed the time by activating the dataPADD placed in meticulous alignment on the small table beside Odo's bed, to discover some sort of novel about a character named Mike Hammer. She had barely had time to investigate it before Odo had returned and ...

Kira held her hand to her forehead, suddenly feeling weak in the knees. She glanced over at the doorway, to find Odo watching her in turn. Kira swayed a little, and O'Brien caught her by the shoulder, his hazel eyes anxious.

"Steady there! Are you all right?"

Kira realized, dismayed, that her movement had been broad enough to draw not only O'Brien's concerned response, but to catch the attention of Sisko and Dax as well. That Odo would notice wasn't even a question -- he was there at her side in the space of a heartbeat, not touching her, but hovering close at hand should she need him.

"Major, what is it?" Sisko crossed the room in long strides, an intensely curious Dax riding his heels. "Would you like me to call Dr. Bashir?"

"No! -- No, I'm fine. I just didn't get enough sleep last night, that's all." Kira studiously avoided meeting Dax's eyes.

"You ought to take it a little easier, Major -- you did just get over having a baby, you know." This observation came from O'Brien, still with a supporting hand on Kira's shoulder.

Sisko nodded decisively. "You've been running yourself pretty ragged, Major, and you don't seem to haven't gotten enough rest while you were on leave."

"Captain, I'm fine. I just -"

"Major, I'm relieving you of duty for the rest of the day. I want you to go back to your quarters and rest. That's an order," he finished as Kira opened her mouth to protest. "Dax, will you escort Major Kira back to her quarters and make sure that she stays there?"

"Certainly, Captain," Dax announced, her eyes dancing.

Kira gave Odo one final despairing glance and bowed to the inevitable, sulkily accompanying Dax from the briefing room. She could almost feel the heat from her lover's body as he followed close behind them, before he turned to stride in the direction of the Security Office once they reached the Promenade -- Kira paused there for a moment, watching him go.

"So," Dax asked, once they finally made it to the turbolift, "are you going to tell me what kept you awake all night, or are you going to let me guess? Either way, I think I'm going to have fun."

Kira glanced around to make sure there was no one to overhear her before saying tersely, "Fine. Odo and I did it. Are you satisfied?"

"No! I want details!" Dax protested as the door of the lift opened in front of them. She bundled Kira on ahead of her, announcing, "Habitat Ring. Level Eleven." Her bright eyes returned inexorably to Kira's face. "What the hell happened after I left you two last night?"

"We -"Kira paused, wondering how to best phrase what she had to say. Finally she whispered, "We went for a walk in the garden. And Odo told me something he's been keeping from me for a long time."

Dax sighed in contentment. "He finally told you? I'm so glad!"

"What did you know about it?" Kira asked suspiciously, just as the turbolift opened onto the Habitat Ring. She scowled as, Dax hard on her heels, she headed for her quarters.

"Remember my zhian'tara? Curzon came back with a few more memories than he left me with."

Kira glared at Dax indignantly before keying in her lockcode. "So why didn't you say something?"

"Anything you learn about someone providing an environment for one of your past Trill hosts during your zhian'tara is confidential, Nerys. Surely you can see that."

"I suppose," Kira admitted grudgingly. She preceded Dax into her darkened quarters, and then turned to face her. "Anyway, you've got me here -- were you planning to stay and baby-sit?"

"Maybe." Dax grinned at her. "It depends. Are you going to tell me what's wrong with you?"

"What do you mean what's wrong with me?" Kira's hand flew to her neck where she felt quite sure a number of love-bites were clearly in evidence.

"Not those." Dax snorted. "Your face is white, and you're shaking. Did you really just go at it all night to get like this?"

Kira paused in thought for several moments before answering, and Dax, sensing that something important was going on, allowed her friend the time she needed to think. Finally Kira replied, "Dax, you're interested in Bajoran 'folklore', as you call it -- have you ever heard of the tienju-pagh?"

"'Tienju-pagh -- that means "joined souls', doesn't it?"

Kira nodded. "It's an ancient Bajoran belief that, every so often, two people will come together who were meant by the Prophets to be that way. Once they find each other, should they part it would have dire consequences, not only for the couple involved, but for everyone else around them. It's a custom when you make love with someone for the first time, you're supposed to cup each other's ear in your hands -- you know the way, you've seen the vedeks do it -- and if you're tienju-pagh, you'll feel it in every cell of your body. Most people still do it, even though it's considered just a myth -- almost like a joke -- only last night, with Odo ..."

"You felt it happen?" Dax, who had lived long enough to know that almost every myth had solid roots, was completely understanding.

"Yes." Kira went to seat herself on the couch, drawing her knees up under her chin and hugging them to her chest. Dax dropped into a nearby chair, studying her friend curiously.

"I'm not sure I understand," Dax said finally. "Are you saying that you're in love?"

"I'm saying that -- it doesn't matter if I'm in love or not."

Faced with the bleak resolution in Kira's eyes, Jadzia Dax, perhaps for the first time since she had been 'joined', found herself at an absolute loss for words.

SPACE

Odo tried to keep himself occupied in Security by running a variety of background checks on Chalan Aroya, all of which checked out perfectly. There were no glitches, no discrepancies, no omissions from the woman's past -- perhaps Kira's right, Odo thought tiredly, the loss of sleep beginning to take its toll. Still, there was an unpleasant task that needed to be performed -- he tapped away at his computer console, keying in the sequences that would connect him with the Celestial Cafe. Aroya herself answered the comm', her thin face evidencing surprise at the sight of him.

"Odo? What -- is that you?"

Odo belatedly remembered his new face, which had engendered a surprising lack of comment thus far. He considered an explanation, but settled for a simple, Yes."

For the briefest of instants, Aroya seemed somehow -- dismayed? -- by the transformation, but masked her feelings quickly with a sunny smile. "I was hoping you'd call. I haven't had a chance to tell you how much I enjoyed dinner night before last." Her voice dipped and lingered over the word 'dinner', while she fluttered her eyelashes seductively.

Odo was never one to put off biting the bullet. "I'm afraid that I have to cancel our plans for this evening. Something came up." And has been doing so, he thought dryly, every time the thought of Nerys has passed through my mind.

"Oh ... I'm sorry to hear that." Aroya looked clearly disappointed. "But you mean postpone, not cancel, don't you?"

Odo took a deep breath. "Aroya, you're a very lovely woman ... but no. I mean cancel."

"I see. Very well." Aroya's face suddenly seemed to be all points and angles as her smile vanished. "Well, thank you for calling."

"Aroya -"

The com-screen went blank.

Odo sighed, rubbing his temples tiredly. He supposed he could have lied, dissembled, but he had never been good at it. It was just as well that she knew now. It wasn't going to change. Odo reached down and tapped his combadge.

"Odo to Kira."

"Odo?" The reply was a little fuzzy, sleepy but prompt. "Where are you?"

"Security."

"Can you come here? To my quarters?"

"I'll be right there." Odo closed down all the work on his terminal, and headed for the Promenade. He managed to maintain a dignified pace to reach the turbolift, but he almost ran the necessary steps to Kira's quarters once he reached Level Eleven of the Habitat Ring. Kira answered the doorcom instantly, drawing Odo in and activating the lockcode behind him. She caught him tightly in her arms, her mouth opening effortlessly to his as Odo began to kiss her.

"Prophets, I've missed you," he whispered, even while he realized how ridiculous it was. They had only been apart a matter of a few hours.

"I've missed you, too." Kira, thankfully, found no absurdity in his words. "Now come to bed."

Tienju-pagh certainly demanded a lot of a person's physical resources, but at least this time, after a couple of orgasms that had him bellowing at the top of his lungs in ecstasy, Odo was able to fall into a restless doze, still entwined in Kira's arms. Their bodies apparently more able than their minds, Odo drifted back to consciousness with his engorged member already sliding into Kira's welcoming depths while she whimpered softly, her arms coiling around him hungrily even while she seemed to sleep.

"Prophets, I wonder if anyone's ever died from this," Odo mused aloud. Kira chuckled a little, opening her eyes a scant slit and planting a sleepy kiss in the hollow of Odo's throat.

"Not yet," she purred, before letting out a sudden, sharp gasp as her climax overtook her. Odo spent himself as well, and collapsed gratefully into Kira's arms.

"Do you think we'll get some sleep tonight?" Odo asked, none too hopefully. Kira laughed, giving him a slow, lingering kiss before replying:

"I guarantee it, even if we have to call Bashir for a sedative. But first there's dinner at the O'Briens' to get through."

"Oh? You're having dinner out?" Odo tried to force back the tiny, hurt feeling of being excluded. "I have some work I need to get done in my office -"

"You're coming to dinner with me," Kira told him, not fooled for a minute. "Miles and Keiko are expecting both of us in -"she checked the bedside chronometer"- forty-five minutes. I think we need to take a shower first -- come on." She slipped from Odo's arms and climbed out of bed, reaching out her hand to draw him after her. Odo followed her curiously.

"Together?" he wondered.

"The way we're going, we'll probably end up that way anyway. Might as well save time where we can."

Somehow they managed to finish their shower without having sex more than once -- in light of recent events, this seemed like a major accomplishment. They even managed to leave enough time to go by Odo's quarters so he could change into civvies -- a nicety upon which Kira insisted.

"You're not going there with me as my coworker, you're going with me because we're together. And I want us to look like that." Kira, beautiful in the deep rust tunic and leggings that, had she but realized it, would always remind Odo of the horrible morning when she told him she was involved with Shakaar, surveyed Odo's limited wardrobe with a small frown of concentration. She finally made him pull on a gray silk tunic with black trousers, the tunic formerly one of Dr. Bashir's who swore it didn't fit him properly anymore, and she vowed to drag Odo out shopping the next day, even if they had to get Garak out of his holding cell to do it. Odo submitted to her fussing with surprisingly good grace -- so this is what it's like, he thought with a stab of contentment. This is being part of a couple.

Other aspects of being a couple soon presented themselves as they arrived at the O'Brien family's quarters. Keiko, already briefed by the Chief, greeted Odo without surprise, but with boundless curiosity threatening to leap out of her black eyes. She then abducted Kira into the baby's room, where little Kyoshi was sleeping peacefully through it all. Miles O'Brien clapped Odo heartily on the shoulder, and escorted him into the main living area, offering him a seat.

"Good to have you here, Constable. Lord knows how long those two will stay at it in there." O'Brien smiled broadly -- not a particularly talkative man by nature, he was already reaching the limits of his ability to make small-talk. Fortunately, little Molly O'Brien had no trouble coming up with a conversational ice-breaker.

The small girl approached Odo, stared at him with solemn dark eyes, and asked, "Are you Aunt Nerys' new boyfriend?" The dark eyes narrowed skeptically. "You're not pretty like her last boyfriend."

"Molly!" O'Brien shushed his daughter hastily, even while he showed a guarded interest in hearing an answer to the query.

"I -"Odo was completely taken aback by the childish candor. Avoiding the question, he responded finally to the comment, "I don't think that there are very many people pretty enough for your Aunt Nerys."

The critique continued. "Daddy says you're Odo, but you don't look like Odo. Odo's all smooth. You look old."

"Molly!!" This time the chief's admonition had more bite. Odo, meanwhile, was beginning to understand how a criminal felt when getting the third degree. The little girl subsided a bit, before asking,

"Can you change into a pony?"

"No," Odo said, after a short, sad pause. "Not anymore."

Clearly dissatisfied with this response, Molly retreated to her father's side while O'Brien tried to make amends. "Kids!" he exclaimed, in a falsely hearty voice. "You never know what'll come out their mouths."

"Kyoshi threw up on Mommy," Molly added helpfully. Thankfully, before matters could get any worse, Kira and Keiko re-entered the room, Kira with baby Kyoshi in her arms.

"Such a beautiful boy," Kira cooed gently. She glanced up from the bundle she carried, her eyes finding Odo's and crinkling as she smiled. "Odo, have you had a chance to meet my hazardous duty here?"

"Only briefly." Odo smiled in return as Kira sat closely beside him on the sofa, so he could look down easily into the baby's sleepy face. Kyoshi looked remarkably like any number of other human and humanoid babies Odo had seen in the past, but some sort of enthusiastic response seemed to be called for, so he added, "He's very handsome. I can't tell which one of you he looks like, though." It seemed like a safe enough comment.

Apparently it was. "I think he looks like Miles," Keiko said happily.

"He's the image of his mother," O'Brien stated with contented assurance.

"I think he looks like a baby vole," Molly observed, with a decided lack of enthusiasm. Odo, the perpetual outsider, could pick out that note of exclusion if he heard it played in the middle of a symphony. He pretended to give the baby a closer look, and actually, he could see Molly's point in referring to the Cardassian rodents' pink and initially hairless offspring.

"You know, Molly, you may have something there," Odo observed solemnly. The other three adults smothered their smiles as Molly shot across the room to sit at Odo's other side, bright eyes hopeful. "He does have a very long nose."

Molly looked at the baby, and frowned. "No he doesn't."

"Oh?" Odo looked again. "I guess you're right. It's certainly nothing like mine." Odo stroked the bridge of the referenced appendage thoughtfully. "Hmm ... vole have such long noses, though ... does he only have three toes on each foot?"

"No!" Molly giggled at the absurdity.

"Not three? Five, then?"

Molly nodded confidently.

"Well, then, he must have whiskers, but I don't see them yet ..."

"There aren't any!" Molly was enjoying this inept summary.

"So ... why does he look like a vole, I wonder ..."

"He doesn't!" Molly proclaimed gleefully.

"He doesn't?" Odo gave her an aggrieved stare. "But you said he did."

"I lied!" Molly chortled, before looking startled at her own confession, and suddenly fearful. "Do you 'rest people that lie?"

"Arrest them? Molly, if I arrested everyone on this station whenever they told a lie, the whole station would be have to be turned into holding cells."

The little girl wasn't quite sure she understood that truthful response, but apparently decided that she liked it anyway. "He's a good boyfriend, Aunt Nerys," she announced. "If you don't wanna to keep him, can I have him? Even if he's not pretty," she added as an afterthought.

"Tell you what, Molly," Kira said, "you can have the last one. This one I'm going to keep."

Odo gave Kira a startled, grateful look, while O'Brien and Keiko broke into beaming smiles. Molly, still not put off, sought to clarify with the query, "Forever?"

Kira paused. Then she affirmed quietly, "Forever."

Molly sighed and accepted the inevitable. O'Brien exclaimed jovially, "Congratulations! When are you planning the big event?"

Kira and Odo both stared at him, Odo wondering what on earth the chief was talking about. Kira managed a weak smile and said, "Oh, we haven't set a date yet. It's all been -- kind of sudden."

Seeing the possibility of further awkwardness, Keiko said brightly, "Shall we eat? It's vegetarian, Constable, I hope you don't mind ..."

"Not at all." Odo wasn't entirely comfortable with the concept of meat, even replicated, and had yet to try any. Fortunately Bajoran cuisine tended to concentrate on vegetable proteins.

O'Brien, on the other hand, groaned. "You should have seen it, Odo, when Kira was living here. She couldn't stand to eat meat the entire length of her pregnancy, and Keiko doesn't care for it much, either - I didn't see a decent chop or cutlet or leg o' lamb the entire time! Just tons and tons of tofu!" He shook his head. "Not that Keiko can't do perfectly lovely things with tofu, mind -- well, let's get at it."

Odo found both the tofu stir-fry and delicate vegetarian spring rolls to be excellent, although he was slightly taken aback by his first encounter with chopsticks. Molly, giggling on his left, was no help, but Kira, seated to his right, was quick to cover his hand with hers, demonstrating the procedure with a gentle intimacy that made his heart swell painfully in his chest. The meal was consumed in a cloud of what was, to Odo, the very new feeling of euphoria, every bite somehow blessed by the existence of the auburn- haired woman at his side. Even while he chatted with O'Brien about Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer, and debated the merits of P.D. James, Odo was aware of his lover's every movement, her every word. And he was aware of the same sort of unity between O'Brien and Keiko -- even while they devoted themselves to their guests, there was a connection, a unity underlying all their actions. A link.

Miles and Keiko had a link. And, Odo thought, with joy that was almost painful, so do Nerys and I.

This realization, formulated as they strolled the short distance back to Kira's quarters after dinner, was accompanied by a wave of physical passion so strong that Odo almost staggered. Kira caught at his arm, concerned, before smiling as she saw the look in his eyes.

"We may have to call Julian for that sedative after all." Arriving at her door, she keyed in the lockcode with fingers that shook a little. "But not now. Later."

"Later," Odo agreed. Then Kira was in his arms, and 'later' became a matter of complete disinterest.

SPACE

Towards dawn they finally slept, exhausted, Kira draped across Odo like a blanket. The passion of this second night together seemed deeper, truer than the frantic coupling that had overwhelmed them before ... Even in her sleep Kira clung to Odo possessively, her hands moving occasionally over his body as though to reassure herself that he was still there. Odo, drifting in and out of consciousness, merely gathered her closer and, for the first time since this human transformation had been forced upon him, acknowledged the good in what he had become.

Kira awakened reluctantly in the morning that followed, Odo slumbering quietly in her arms, his head pillowed on her breast. She slipped her fingers into his tawny hair, stroking it gently, smoothing the tousled strands -- Odo stirred and yawned, dropping a casual kiss on the first part of Kira's anatomy that his lips chanced to encounter, which happened to be a nipple. Kira chuckled.

"We're going to need to spend some serious time with a dermal regenerator if this keeps up," she observed.

Odo, with a sleepy smile, laughed softly in turn. "I think we're safe. I can actually conceive of getting out of bed this morning and going to work without feeling ill at the thought."

"So can I," Kira agreed. "Not that I won't want to meet back here tonight."

"Well, that much is a given." Odo purred the words into Kira's ear, before moving to angle his body so he hovered over her. "Nor did I say I wanted to get out of bed right now."

"That's true, you didn't." Still, there was a pleasant lack of urgency as they joined in a gentle melding of two bodies perfectly attuned to each other. For once there were no shouts or screams, only sighs as they came together in shuddering waves ... Odo allowed himself a contented murmur as he took a final, brief rest in Kira's arms.

"I still can't believe what you said last night." The words were tremulous with joy.

"What was that?" Kira asked, returning to the interrupted reorganization of his hair.

"That you meant to be with me forever."

"Well, it's not like I have a choice," Kira observed, smiling. She meant it to be something in the nature of a joke, but Odo stiffened and withdrew from her arms, staring at her with narrowed eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"Odo, I'm teasing."

"I still want to know what you meant." Odo's solemn blue eyes were shocked and unconvinced.

"Well ... tienju-pagh hardly leaves you with much of a say in the matter. But I think I would have chosen you anyway, eventually."

"Eventually."

"Odo ... please. You're making me nervous." Kira forced a smile. "Besides, there wasn't any tienju-pagh about it when we made love the first time, remember?"

"Just every time since."

"We could hardly have kept it up at this rate if there hadn't been." Kira decided that she was getting very tired of Odo's line of investigation. "Odo, it's not like we don't love each other -- I imagine there may be people who aren't nearly so lucky."

"Nerys ..." Odo sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed while looking down at her. "Nerys, are you saying that, even if you didn't care for me, if this pagh thing had happened you would be planning to stay with me? Forever?"

"If I didn't care for you, I wouldn't have slept with you in the first place."

"Yes, but let's be hypothetical here. Suppose it was just one of those 'friendly fucks' you mentioned. Would you still be planning to stay with me?"

Once, three years before when Odo had finally closed the case on a certain murdered Bajoran chemist named Vaatrik, Kira had sworn she would never lie to him again. Never before had she regretted that oath the way she did now.

"Well ... yes."

"Why?" The retort was short, sharp, a ricochet.

"Well ... I ... it's a religious obligation."

"'Religious .... obligation.'" Odo stared at Kira for a long moment, before getting abruptly to his feet and starting to collect his clothes from the floor. Kira sat up and watched him, wide- eyed, as he began to dress.

"Odo, it's not that I don't love you ..."

"But you're not in love with me, are you?"

"I don't know ... maybe. I'm not sure." Kira shook her head in confusion. "It wouldn't matter if I wasn't." Never was there a poorer choice of statements.

"It matters to me!!" The words were raw, a rasping shriek like the tearing of velvet. "I don't want to be your 'religious obligation'! I want you to be with me because you want to be! Not because you think you have to be!"

"Odo -"Kira forced herself to speak in an even tone. "I do want to be with you. I only meant that - well, I'm a Bajoran. My faith is very important to me. I thought you knew that."

"Fortunately, some Bajorans are a little more objective! Dr. Mora may not have been the perfect 'father figure', but at least he didn't saddle me with any idiotic religious nonsense!"

"Dr. Mora is an agnostic!" Kira snapped back, losing her temper in turn. "Do you think any Bajoran believer could have worked the way he did for the Cardassians?"

"Well, Major, speaking as an agnostic who worked for the Cardassians myself, I really can't say! Funny thing, though -- you nearly had me believing!"

"Believing in what?!"

"Believing that those damned wormhole entities might be more than they seem. That there might be something to this tienju-pagh of yours other than the fuck of the century! Believing in you, Major!"

Pulling on his boots in two sharp, decisive stamps, Odo whirled and left the room. Seconds later, Kira heard the outer door <swoosh> open and then close behind him. She grimaced at the emotional anguish that slammed into her gut, but shoved the pain aside to hold desperately onto her anger.

Cardassian-loving agnostic, tearing up her cherished beliefs and throwing them in her face like so many dirty rags -- calling the sacred time they had spent in each other's arms no more than 'the fuck of the century' -- bastard, Kira raged inwardly, I hate him! I hate him!

No, an inner voice chided instantly, you don't hate him. Kira winced at the words, and tried to resist what she knew would follow -- what did follow. You're in love with him. Kira finally acknowledged the truth she had denied for so long, even to herself. Yes, she was in love with him.

"Well, too bad," she murmured aloud. "He'll never believe it now."

Kira was in the shower, resolutely preparing for the day ahead, before she realized that she was crying.

SPACE

Continue reading "About Face".


Copyright 1996 by Carolyn R. Fulton. Paramount Pictures, VIACOM et al owns all rights to STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and the characters and universe depicted within. This is a work of fan fiction, designed solely for the enjoyment of fans of the Star Trek universe, and no infringement of Paramount's copyright or trademarks is intended. The following may be reproduced electronically or in single hard copy for your own enjoyment only, providing that all disclaimer material remains in place.


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