Dreams Into Waking by Carolyn R. Fulton


"What is that thing?" Kira Nerys looked at the crystal globe in Security Chief Odo's hand, and wondered at his underlying sense of -- excitement?

"I don't know. I got it from a Ferengi trader -- he said it was from the Gamma Quadrant."

"I know that -- I was with you when you bought it, remember? I just don't see why you're so interested in a -- big marble."

Odo shrugged, turning the globe over in his hands -- those graceful, oddly featureless hands of his. Kira found herself staring at Odo's hands, the way his fingers caressed the silvery sphere -- she had awakened that morning from a yet another dream that featured those hands, and not in a way she had ever thought of them before. Kira felt a rush of heat to her cheeks, and wished that she could remember something, anything, that required her attention in Ops.

Bareil was dead -- but she felt no sorrow, only -- bewilderment, and loneliness. The flame in the Deranya had died. Edon had come and gone in her life, with disappointing brevity, and finally, disillusionment. She sat staring at darkness, her mind sending out a silent, searching scream. She was gasping, screaming at the empty void that surrounded her, her body begging for a solution to the mystery that haunted it. Her skin was a question mark.

"Shh ... Nerys, it's all right." Hands, soft and soothing on either side of her face, her neck, her shoulders, warm legs and thighs pressed into her back. Then, the mystery resolved -- his body melting, sliding under her clothes, covering her breasts, her torso, running down to pool in pulsing heat between her thighs. Kira lay back dreamily, mingling with his substance, surrendering to the passion that mounted within her as he moved over her skin like a spreading pool of molten wax.

"Odo ..."

The dreams had started over a week before -- shocking, vividly erotic, and always centered on Odo. That in itself was startling, her subconscious placing her friend in the middle of a situation where she had never remotely imagined him before -- at least, not so much that she'd admit it. All Kira knew was that she had awakened abruptly, night after night, every nerve in her body an insurmountable hairsbreadth away from ecstasy.

Kira was jerked out of her reverie by the realization that Odo was still speaking to her. "Its texture is like nothing I've ever felt before." Kira seized the excuse to study the unusual crystal, even if it meant seeing those hands, as it prevented her from having to look into Odo's eyes, from betraying the telltale blush on her cheeks. But she was startled when Odo suddenly reached out, pressing the globe into her palm, his warmly real approximation of Bajoran flesh touching hers. Kira gasped. The globe plummeted from her fingers.

"Careful!" Faster than light, Odo's hand morphed into a sudden extension that captured the crystal before it could reach the floor. "Major, are you all right?"

"I'm sorry, Odo," Kira apologized. "I haven't been sleeping well, I keep having these bizarre dreams ..."

She could have bitten off her tongue. Nice going, Nerys, she thought. Guess what he's going to ask you next?

"Really? What sort of dreams?" Kira caught the unexpected note of tension in Odo's voice, and forced herself to meet his eyes. He was studying her sharply, intently -- Kira's eyes widened slightly as she contemplated Odo's expression. It was almost as though he. . .

"Odo," she ventured, "do Changelings dream? I mean, do you dream?"

The faintest flicker of anguish slipped across Odo's features and was gone.

"Vividly."

Odo fixed his gaze on the silvery crystal as he returned it carefully to the top of his desk. He and Kira sat together in his office off the Promenade, a place where they had shared many companionable hours -- not so many since the beginning of her ill-fated affair with Shakaar, but still a few. Odo stared at his hands for a long moment, before finally looking up at his guest.

Kira felt a shudder running through her body as those pale blue eyes fixed themselves on her face, unblinking yet strangely compelling. There was an unusual gentleness there, a questioning warmth that caused the muscles in her groin to clench and then to soften receptively. Oh, prophets, Kira thought, what is happening to me? She tore her eyes from Odo's, forcing them to focus on some spot over his shoulder instead. I need to get out of here ...

Odo picked up the threads of their tattered conversation. "Why do you ask?"

Kira jumped, startled, and unwillingly met his gaze.

"I just thought that -- you looked like you understood what I was talking about."

"Ah." Odo picked up the crystal again, seeming to take comfort in its smooth shape. Quietly he commented, "You haven't answered my question."

"Question?"

"What were you dreaming about?"

Kira felt like her face would burst into flames, but her basic honesty once again asserted itself. "Oh, all right ... if you must know, I've been dreaming about you."

Odo stared at her sharply, his look faintly stunned. "What -- what about me?"

"I'm sure it's nothing ... Kira once again crumbled under Odo's investigator's stare. "I've just been dreaming that ... well, that we're ... together."

"Together?"

"Sleeping. . . together. That we're -- that you and I are --" Kira looked up at Odo helplessly, unable to force out the word.

"That we're lovers?" Odo whispered.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Kira, as though she had been punched in the gut. "Yes." The word emerged as a half-strangled choking sound. She tried again and did better. "I'm sorry ... I don't mean to embarrass you ... humanoids dream about all kinds of strange things, it doesn't mean anything."

Odo paused for a moment to collect himself. An odd look flickered through his eyes, almost as though he had to make some decision before going on. "Don't apologize, Major. I've been having what I expect are similar dreams about you."

Even though she had suspected it on some deep level, on the surface Kira felt only surprise, and a certain amount of disbelief. "You -- about me --" A question clawed at her brain that Kira thrust automatically from her consciousness. "That's hard to imagine. My dreams have been very -- erotic."

Odo looked at her briefly, before retreating to the safety of contemplating the globe in his hand. "So have mine."

Kira gulped. "Oh ... But why would you ..." She backed away from the idea that rose in her mind as fast as a vole scurrying for cover. "I'm sorry, that seems strange to me."

Odo let out a short laugh. "Funny ... I was thinking the same thing about you."

"Me? But I'm a humanoid. We do have erotic dreams from time to time."

"Yes," Odo commented, "but it's still hard to see you having them about me."

Kira's subconscious dodged the comment lest it cut too close to the bone. "Well, I thought so, too, but ..." Tactless, Nerys, Kira chided herself, at least it would be if this was anyone but Odo. She was consequently startled when Odo let out a heavy sigh and put down the globe, placing both of his hands on the desk in front of him. When he finally looked up at her, Kira was dismayed that the only thing she could think of in that first instant was how blue his eyes were. Then she realized that they were shadowed with pain.

"I can't stand this anymore, Nerys," Odo said simply. "I've tried, but I just can't." He stood up and left the office, leaving Kira open-mouthed with astonishment behind him.

Kira went into her quarters slowly, wincing a little as the lights came up, and quickly telling the computer to lower them. She had just spent an hour with Dax, learning Klingon battle techniques. She wasn't particularly interested in Klingons or their battle techniques, but they were certainly tiring. Kira hoped that sheer physical exhaustion would force her into restful sleep, free her from the dreams that had plagued her -- and from the sharp, bewildered worry that beset her when she thought of Odo.

Whatever is wrong with him? she wondered. Did I offend him somehow? But why then did he call me Nerys -- I'm not sure that he's ever done that before. Is he just -- repulsed to be having dreams like that? What's going on, to make us both have them in the first place? Could Odo possibly ... no, he couldn't, his people don't think that way. They don't 'couple', they 'link'. I've seen them doing it, a whole lake of them, an absolute Changeling orgy -- only Odo wasn't invited. And then, unbidden, What exactly does Odo consider erotic, anyway -- and what does it have to do with me?

Too tired to do more than take a quick sonic shower, Kira pulled on a loose nightshirt and stumbled into bed, falling asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. But her sleep was fitful, and it wasn't long before the dreams began.

The dreams were different tonight -- instead of Odo seeming to come to her, Kira was out in the corridor of the Habitat ring, moving slowly, steadily toward Odo's quarters, softly speaking the override code that would allow her to enter unannounced. Odo was still in solid form, sitting with his back to the door at his computer terminal -- in her dream state Kira didn't wonder about the fact that the screen he was staring at was blank. She merely stepped up behind him, slipping her arms around his shoulders, shivering with exhilaration as his body's warmth penetrated the thin fabric that covered her breasts.

Here again the dreams were somehow altered -- Odo stiffened in shock, standing up and turning around to face her with a look of complete astonishment. He stared into her face, and seemed to be waiting for her to say something, anything, to tell him why she was there. A vague, nagging puzzlement haunted Kira for a moment, before her dream-mouth shaped the words, "I can't stand it anymore, either."

Then, finally, her dream of Odo touched her, only differently than in the dreams of the nights before -- humanoid form maintained, his hands were awkward, questioning, testing the lines and curves of her body as though he couldn't quite believe she was real. Kira reached up and drew his face down to hers, kissing him avidly -- only then did the dream Odo sink with her to the floor, where she discarded the interfering nightshirt and opened herself to his exploration of her body. His substance subtly shifted, morphing, changing into that which would please her, fill her, satisfy her ... she wondered that, dreams being what they were, her fingers did not actually tear out chunks of the, no-not-flesh, but the substance perfectly disguised as flesh that formed the lines of Odo's now bare shoulders, she clutched at them so tightly. As her back arched, straining, the dream-thought came: This is where I always wake up. Instead, Kira cried out in the climax that shook her, transported her, and finally sent her spiraling down into a deeper sleep.

When Kira awoke the next morning, she was immediately aware that several things were wrong. The ceiling that she faced overhead was wrong -- it was too far away. The surface beneath her back was too hard, and, while covered with something soft, the softness was of a different texture and consistency than the sheets on her bed. The blanket draped over her body was unfamiliar. What's more, she was naked beneath it.

Kira sat bolt upright and looked around her. She had been lying on the floor -- that accounted for the distance from the ceiling -- and the room, although carpeted, was strangely empty of furniture, other than a chair and computer terminal. There were odd sculptures, a few textured hangings on the walls, a large potted plant, but no furniture. Odo's quarters.

"I brought you a raktajino."

Kira jerked around to the see the source of the softly spoken words. Odo, neatly uniformed, came up behind her and eased himself into a seated position on the floor, holding out a blue mug. Kira stared at it and took it, as though that single act required every power of concentration and will she possessed.

"The dream ..." she whispered. "This is where I -- ended up in my dream last night." Kira stared at Odo, stunned. "You -- you dreamed it, too, didn't you? We dreamed it together."

Odo gazed back at her, his face absolutely expressionless in the way that only Odo's could be. "A dream ..." he said slowly. In an instant he had shot to his feet, with a fluidity of motion that reminded Kira of her friend's true form and origins.

"The last thing I remember was falling into bed last night," she murmured, "and then starting to dream. Only I'm here, in the place where my dream put me ... what did you dream, Odo?"

"I didn't dream last night." Odo stood with his back to Kira, staring up at the walls as though he was waiting for them to fall on him, and would welcome the crash.

"I was just -- here, when you got up this morning?"

"You were asleep ..."

"Sweet prophets, thank you," Kira whispered under her breath. At least she hadn't ... she and Odo hadn't ...

"I didn't know. . . Last night, when you came in -- I thought you were awake."

"What?" Kira stared at his back, appalled, as she began to realize what he was saying.

Odo walked -- no, staggered -- over to the wall, leaning heavily against it. "I thought you were awake. I thought that -- what idiocy! -- I thought that you finally felt something for me. I don't know, maybe I was dreaming ... I was certainly out of my mind."

"Odo, I ..."

Kira looked around for the nightshirt she had tossed aside the night before, and found it right where she had left it in her "dream." Setting aside her cup, she pulled the garment over her head and got unsteadily to her feet, walking slowly to where she could place a shaking hand on Odo's back. Still without turning, Odo commented, "You'll want your uniform. I'll go get it for you."

"Odo, look at me. Will you please look at me?!"

Kira was startled by the vehemence of her own question. Odo turned around slowly, his face wearing that oddly sweaty sheen which told that the strain of keeping his humanoid shape was proving almost too much for him.

"Yes, Major?"

Kira choked back the near-hysterical bark of laughter that tried to rise from her throat. "Something tells me we're past the point where you should be addressing me by my rank." She took a deep breath and continued, "You were awake last night."

"Yes."

"You -- wanted -- to make love to me."

Odo managed to nod.

"You -- did -- make love to me."

Kira had never seen such agony in a pair of eyes as she did in the blue ones that Odo fixed on her face. "Yes."

Kira turned and groped her way to the single chair, lowering herself into it before her knees gave way completely. She wrapped her arms across her chest, unsuccessfully willing herself not to shake. A small thread of reason slowly penetrated her numbed brain, telling her that what was done was done, apparently of her own choosing. She was undamaged. Odo was the one who was hurting. The pain that emanated from him was as tangible as if his blood -- if he had blood -- were spattered on the wall.

"Odo, I'm so sorry." Kira wasn't sure where the apology came from, but it was somewhere rooted deep in her pagh. "I didn't know you felt that way."

"There's no reason you would. I'm a Changeling."

The word "Changeling" hung between them, bitter as alum.

Kira shook her head, confused. "So?"

"'She can never love you' -- the Founder told me that. I was such a fool ... I knew that you didn't care for me then, but I didn't believe her when she said that you couldn't. Last night ... you were so ..."

Kira felt a surge of color to her cheeks as she remembered, with sudden vivid clarity, her passion of the night before ... Odo whispering that he loved her, and how ardently she had responded. She stood up and crossed to place her hands, shaking, into Odo's as he tentatively held them out to her. She stared at him, trying to think of the right thing to say, anything that would somehow mitigate the look of pain in his eyes.

"I once heard Julian say something about -- our subconscious speaking to us through dreams," she ventured at last.

Odo looked away. "Don't patronize me, Nerys."

"I'm not, it's true!" It somehow seemed like the most important thing in her life that he believe her. She looked down at the floor, whispering, "It wasn't a ... bad dream. It was ... wonderful."

She forced herself to look up into Odo's face, unprepared for the jolt of sheer physical passion that rushed through her as their gazes met. If anyone had asked her later, Kira would have been at a loss to say who took the first step, as her brown eyes locked with Odo's blue ones, and they stumbled into each other's arms. Their lips came together as if in a desperate search for the answer to whatever question had somehow brought them here.

In the end, the abstracts of "why?" were forgotten. It only mattered that the carpet was as soft under Kira's back as she remembered, Odo's hands as gentle yet thorough in their exploration of her body. Her moment of release, when it finally came, was even more profound, shaking her to the marrow of her bones.

Whatever the question, the answer seemed to be yes.

"Odo, I have to get to Ops." Kira dragged herself into a seated position, groping once again for the nightshirt that lay in a crumpled heap at her side. Odo got to his feet in one easy movement, morphing into his normal uniformed appearance as he did so.

"Good trick," Kira commented as she pulled the shirt over her head. "Useful." Odo reached down from behind her to help her up, his hands pausing briefly on her waist after he did so. He then stepped back and turned away.

"I'll go get your uniform."

Left to her own devices, Kira wandered aimlessly through the empty quarters, reminded sharply of the alien qualities of their owner. In what she supposed would have been the bedroom, had Odo needed a bed, came the surprise of a full length mirror, where Kira peered reluctantly at her anxious reflection.

Why a mirror? she wondered. She then answered her own question. Because when you're a Changeling, you have even more important things to check than whether or not your hair is straight in the morning. Kira stared at her own features -- her flushed cheeks, the red patches slowly fading from her neck, her lips still swollen with passion. It was a face she hadn't seen since -- Kira turned abruptly and hurried from the mirror as though she half-feared it would strike her dead.

She was seated in the chair in front of the computer terminal when Odo returned, carrying her uniform rolled into a tidy bundle and tucked under one arm. It seemed ridiculous to leave the room to change into it, considering the night -- and morning -- that had just passed, but Kira was still relieved when Odo looked pointedly away as she started to pull off her nightshirt. Her hands trembled uncontrollably as she dressed herself. She thrust her fingers into the wreckage that was her hair.

"Odo, do you have a comb? -- No, I guess not," Kira answered her own question. She patted at her hair ineffectually, appalled at the sudden quaver that had come into her voice.

"Here, Nerys, let me." Odo crossed the room to gently slide his hands through her hair -- only his hands didn't feel like hands at all as they softly fluffed her hair and massaged her scalp. He's shaped his hands for me, Kira thought dizzily, shaped them into brushes. For a moment she thought she was going to pass out from the intensity of feeling that flooded her at his touch, but then he stepped away, studying his work critically. Odo reached out, with a hand that was a hand again, touching the lock of hair that waved out over her forehead.

"That should do it," Odo said finally. His hand fell away slowly, his fingers barely grazing Kira's cheek in passing.

It took every ounce of strength Kira possessed not to drag him back into her arms. "Thank you," she whispered. She fixed her gaze on the floor, struggling to collect herself. Odo watched her patiently, waiting for the next words she might say.

"We need to talk," Kira admitted quietly. "Can you come by my quarters after you're off duty?"

Odo nodded. "If you like." Bracing herself, Kira managed to walk past her -- friend? -- lover? -- and safely out the door.

Kira knew within ten minutes of walking into Ops that coming there had been a very bad decision.

Captain Benjamin Sisko was already hiding in his office -- a wise choice, from the looks of things. Chief Miles O'Brien was wedged under one of the consoles, calling down deprecations on Cardassians, their species and heritage, and making some very unkind remarks regarding the activities of their mothers and female siblings. Various crew members scrambled frantically about their assorted duties. Only Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax stood unruffled at her station, every hair in place, her uniform perfect, her face serene. Kira wanted to slap her.

"Status," Kira barked as she stepped up to her station. Dax looked surprised as the sharpness of Kira's tone, but replied with her usual smooth efficiency.

"Situation normal. An Andorian freighter has just been cleared for docking in Bay Three -- and the Ops replicator is off line again."

So that was what O'Brien was cursing about. "No coffee?" Kira wailed, her voice an octave higher than usual. Lieutenant Commander Michael Eddington, just coming through the door with a cup of his own, recognized a security hazard when he heard one.

"Here, Major. I brought this from the Replimat."

Muting her glare was the closest Kira could come to an expression of gratitude. She accepted the cup Eddington extended to her, and took a cautious sip.

"Sugar?"

"Sorry, Major -- let me go get you another." Eddington beat a shameless retreat. O'Brien, coming out from under the replicator console, mouthed the word. "Coward."

Dax, meanwhile, was observing the first officer closely. "Kira, are you all right?"

"Of course I'm all right. Why wouldn't I be all right?"

"Well ..." Dax paused and chose her words carefully. "You're flushed, your hands are shaking, and you look feverish."

Kira stared down at her hands. Sure enough, they had started trembling again. She put down the cup of coffee quickly, but not quickly enough to prevent a splash from burning her. Kira yelped, thrusting her scalded finger into her mouth. O'Brien crossed the space that separated them to look at her intently.

"I think Dax is right, Major. You don't look like yourself -- you are wearing your hair differently, I suppose." O'Brien wondered what in his simple statement would cause Major Kira's face to flare into color like that. "Not that it isn't becoming," he hastened to assure her. The chief paused and considered. "Weren't you playing with Molly the other morning?"

"I held her for a couple of minutes. I'm sorry, Chief, but what does your daughter have to do with the way I look?"

"She's got some kind of flu -- maybe you've got it, too." O'Brien was about to say more, but decided against it when he saw the look in Kira's eyes.

"Chief, I don't have the flu. I'm tired, that's all. I didn't get much sleep last night." Remembering why she hadn't gotten much sleep, Kira blushed a dull scarlet. "I just want a cup of coffee. Without sugar."

Dax rushed in where angels feared to tread. "Kira, everything is absolutely quiet here. If you're that tired, why don't you go back to your quarters, and we can call you if anything comes up. Maybe you should check with Julian in the infirmary while you're at it."

"I am NOT sick!"

Absolute silence fell over Ops, and Kira looked at the cautious, skeptical faces that surrounded her. "Oh, all right!" Kira threw up her hands. "I'll go to my quarters -- but call me if anything out of the ordinary comes up, understand?"

"Yessir," O'Brien murmured. Dax nodded her acquiescence. Kira stalked towards the door, only to be stopped by Eddington as he returned bearing a fresh cup of coffee. He smiled hopefully, holding it out to her.

"Here you go, Major. One black coffee."

"I like it with cream."

Another foe vanquished, Kira plunged on to the Promenade, only to nearly collide with the last person in the universe she wanted to see.

Odo studied Kira's face with wary eyes. Finally he ventured, "I have to give these reports to Captain Sisko." Odo indicated the data pad in his hands. "Maj -- Kira, are you all right?"

Kira raised her hands, warding him off. "Not now, Odo. I'll talk to you later like we planned." She brushed past him, using every last ounce of will she possessed not to grab him by the hand and bring him with her, not to take him in her arms then and there and beg him to come and make love to her.

"I must be losing my mind," Kira muttered as she entered the Habitat Ring and headed for home. "Hell, maybe it is the flu."

Her quarters waited with their usual Spartan neatness, only the bed was unmade. Kira stared at it for a long moment as she took off her clothes, for once dropping them carelessly across a chair. Naked, she went to stare at herself in the mirror, her eyes narrowing as she noted the subtle changes to her body.

It's easy to tell what I've been doing, she thought, and enough evidence that even my uniform wouldn't have covered it all up. She touched a crimson mark, high on her neck, and brought her fingertips to her too-red lips. The folks in Ops must have noticed -- certainly Jadzia would have, with her all-observant eyes. Invisible to the world at large, her nipples glowed a deeper pick, the areolae swollen. She cupped her breasts in her hands -- they felt heavy, and hot to the touch. Her abdomen and thighs were flushed.

Suddenly Kira's gaze fixed on her hair, neatly brushed, and simpler than the way she usually wore it now, a graceful frame for the anxious brown eyes that stared back at her. She brought her hands up to touch the mirror, her eyes fluttering closed as she remembered Odo's hands in her hair ... on her breasts ... caressing the tender skin between her thighs. Odo ...

But I don't love Odo, Kira thought, bewildered. I thought I loved Edon -- and look how that turned out! Odo's the same, he's just my friend ... if anything, I still love Bareil.

Yes, but dead lovers aren't much good in the dark, came her mind's snappy comeback, couched in the voice of another dead lover, Mirrit Laureshe, killed in the last year of the war. At least not where it counts. Kira pressed her hands lightly against the hair of her pubis, before forcing them to hang stiffly at her sides.

Maybe I need more sleep, Kira told herself weakly. A rueful smile touched the corners of her mouth. Or maybe I just need to have sex on a more regular basis. With a sad chuckle Kira crossed to the bed, crawled between the sheets, and pulled the covers over her head.

Kira never expected to sleep, but she was swathed in blankets up to her hairline when the door chime sounded, startling her awake. The lights in her quarters had already switched to night cycle ... She pulled the covers down as far as her chin, and called groggily, "Come!"

The room was dark, but she had left a small light burning in the living area beyond, and so she could see Odo's spare frame clearly outlined as he paused in the bedroom doorway. Kira scooted up to sit with her back against the headboard, the sheets pulled protectively over her chest.

"Come on in, Odo. I'm sorry, I must have dozed off." All day long, Kira added silently. Well, exercise is supposed to help you sleep. I sure got plenty of it last night -- and this morning..

She caught a glimpse of movement as Odo moved hesitantly in the direction of the chair that stood closest to the bed. "Do you have a problem with the lights?"

"I'm sorry -- lights!" she called. The lights came up to a comfortable level. Odo stood in front of the nearby chair, looking --

Looking as nervous as I feel, Kira observed. Maybe even more so.

"Are you all right?" he ventured.

Kira nodded, raising her hand automatically to massage the muscles in the back of her neck. "A little tense," she confessed.

"Hmm." The purely noncommittal sound couldn't quite cover the wealth of anxiety underneath.

Kira finally forced herself to look into Odo's eyes. Her body's automatic response shocked her, as she felt the pulse start pounding in her throat. "Odo," she whispered, "What's happening to us? Where is this coming from?"

"I can't speak for you, Nerys. I imagine our motivations are different."

Kira hugged her knees tightly against her chest, forgetting a little of the excruciating tension in her effort to understand. "You really thought I was awake last night."

Odo's eyes flashed blue sparks. "Do you think I would take advantage of you in your sleep, Major?"

"Of course I don't." Kira looked away.

"Besides, you weren't sleeping this morning."

Kira winced. "No ... I wasn't."

The wince seemed to cut through Odo's anger to the pain beneath. "I'm sorry. . ." He sank down in the chair, clenching his hands together tightly. Tucking the sheet securely around herself, Kira swung her legs over the side of the bed and reached out to cover Odo's hands with her own. The touch was like an electric shock, but she couldn't bring herself to drag her hands away.

"Nerys," Odo whispered, "what is it that you want from me? I'm getting some very -- mixed messages."

"I don't know." Kira stared at her hands, resting on his. Odo opened his fingers so that they could interlace with hers. "Something's wrong, Odo ... no, I don't mean that. This isn't wrong, it just isn't -- isn't how I --"

"It isn't how you feel, I know."

"I wish you wouldn't tell me how I feel! This isn't how I act, it has nothing to do with how I do or don't feel!"

Kira forced herself to take her hands from Odo's, even though her skin felt bereft at the loss. She let out one anguished gasp, before pressing her fist tightly against her mouth. Odo stared at her helplessly.

"I'm sorry, Nerys ... I'm saying that a lot today, aren't I?"

"Yeah ... kind of." Kira choked out the words. Odo reached out to lay his hand against her shoulder. He meant the gesture to be comforting, but Kira bit her lower lip as though at a sudden stab of pain. Odo withdrew his hand and fixed his gaze on the far wall. When his words finally emerged, they seemed to come from a place very far down in his soul.

"If I had imagined last night that it might hurt you ... that it somehow might cause you any harm ... I would never have ... touched you. You know that, don't you?"

"Of course I do ... you didn't hurt me. Odo, you're my -- dearest friend."

"Yes." Then, softly: "I'm in love with you, Nerys."

I love you ... words that had been whispered over and over in Kira's ears, against her neck, breathed into her flesh as Odo's mouth discovered her breasts and how sensitive they were. Words that lovers use -- only Odo meant them.

Kira cringed at the underlying anguish in Odo's voice. She reached out tentatively, patting the bed beside her.

"Sit here, please."

Odo eyed her suspiciously. "Why?"

"I don't know ... I just want you here."

"I thought that was the problem."

Odo nevertheless moved to perch on the very edge of the bed. Kira rested her hand gently on his arm.

"Odo --"

"I know ... you'll always be my friend."

"I think you've been reading too many Earth novels," Kira observed. "I wish you'd stop putting words in my mouth."

"You're right, Nerys, I'm --"

"And don't apologize again!" Kira jerked her hand away.

Odo looked at her, his face expressionless.

"That's another trick I wish you could teach me," Kira said tartly. "Look, I don't know about you, but I'm so exhausted that I don't know what I feel right now. I just don't want to be sleepwalking in the halls again tonight, where who knows who will see me, so I would appreciate it if you could sit with me. Bring your bucket here, use the sink, I don't care."

"I don't regenerate in a bucket anymore. The plant you gave me is in my old bucket -- don't you remember?"

"Fine." Kira was too preoccupied to waste her time worrying about facts. "Just don't leave me alone in case --" Kira froze, but forced herself to go on, "-- in case it happens again."

"You might do better to set your door not to let you out before morning without a special emergency override. There's not much I can do to stop you if you try to leave while I'm in -- while I'm regenerating."

"Yes, but I'm not going to go looking for you if you're already here, am I?" Deep down, Kira knew that her irrational anger was really at herself, but that didn't stop her sharp tongue. "I assume I can trust you not to take advantage of the situation."

Odo stared at her, with the frozen comment, "I'll try to restrain myself, Major."

"And don't call me Major!" Kira snapped. She tried to avert her eyes from the pain that whispered across Odo's face.

"I -- all right, Nerys."

Wonderful, Kira thought. Odo tells you that he's in love with you, and you turn on him like a wounded vermokk. "Prophets, Odo, I don't know why I'm acting like this. I'm sorry." Kira reached out to take Odo's hand in hers. This time she didn't resist the jolt of passion that seemed to leap between them, so electric that she half-expected to find scorch marks where their fingers touched.

"Where do you sleep now, Odo? In your quarters, I mean." Kira thought that she knew the answer to her question, but somehow she couldn't remember it through her confusion. Odo's reply nonetheless surprised her.

"The same place a five hundred pound le matya sleeps." Odo managed a tiny smile.

Kira stared at him curiously. "What --?"

"It's a joke Jake Sisko told me."

"I could use a good joke right now. Please tell me."

"All right ... Nerys, where does a five hundred pound le matya sleep?"

"I don't know ... what's a le matya?"

"It's an animal native to Vulcan. They're vicious predators, and they have poisonous fangs."

"Oh. . . all right ... I don't know. Where does a five hundred pound le matya sleep?"

"Any place it wants to."

A slow grin spread across Kira's face. "I like that." She finally raised her eyes to meet Odo's -- and instantly recognized her mistake. Her smile faded as once again the blood started pounding, rich and hot in her veins. She murmured, "I wish you'd stay here tonight ..."

Odo looked around the room wildly. "I suppose I could stay by the door ... you couldn't really get past me without touching me ..."

"I couldn't do that if you stayed right here, either." Appalled at the words that had involuntarily spilled from her mouth, Kira nonetheless edged over on the bed, making more room at her side.

"Nerys ..."

"Odo, I don't know why, I don't know if this is something that's -- been building for a while and I'm just now realizing it -- hell, it could be the flu, I don't know." Kira gave a wry smile at her own joke. "Maybe it's just that I haven't made love in quite a while." Kira's voice faded to a whisper. "Maybe I haven't felt loved ... I miss it, Odo." Kira dared to meet his eyes, and words failed her. For an instant her mind held a brief image of Bareil, but she shoved it ruthlessly aside. Instead, Kira extended her hand, bringing it to rest as softly as a butterfly against Odo's knee.

Odo stared at her like he couldn't quite believe her words, reaching out with breathtaking slowness to finally touch his fingertips to her cheek. Kira turned her head so that her lips could brush against his hand, before lying back against the bed, unwrapping herself from the sheet that covered her and holding out her arms. After a brief moment's hesitation, Odo moved into them, somehow -- useful trick, that -- losing his facsimile of clothing in the bargain.

Kira trembled as she felt his warmth and weight against her naked flesh, and automatically opened her thighs to receive him. She was startled not to feel an erection against her groin, before she realized, Sweet Prophets, Odo doesn't even have a penis, not normally. Kira shivered as she felt as much as heard Odo's whisper against her ear.

"Nerys ... tell me what you want."

How could she ever put words to the thousand and one erotic images that flashed startlingly and effortlessly through her mind -- things she had never thought of before, as well as things only considered in fantasy? "Can't you just guess?" Kira ventured helplessly. "It's worked fine so far."

She felt a shiver of tension run through Odo's entire body, before he began to kiss the side of her neck, while bringing a hand upwards to gently cover her right breast. His fingertips flicked back and forth across her nipple with excruciating slowness -- Kira gasped and tightened her thighs around him, and suddenly anything that might have been missing before was there in full force, sliding deliciously into her most secret flesh. She strained forward to meet each all-encompassing thrust, clutching at Odo's shoulders so tightly that she thought her fingers would break -- she first gasped, and then screamed as an orgasm jolted through her body with searing intensity.

"Nerys ... Nerys, are you all right?" Odo drew back, a look of pure terror in his eyes, and Kira realized with a jolt of sudden compassion that he truly didn't have any practical grasp of what had just happened. Until she had come along, Odo had been a --

Virgin, Kira thought wryly, the word you're looking for is virgin. Congratulations, Nerys, you seduced a fifty-some-year old virgin. An irreverent if relevant thought almost made her chuckle. You should be happy that he's well read.

"I'm fine -- I feel wonderful." Kira wrapped her arms around Odo's neck and kissed him tenderly, holding him against her until he finally began to relax. A nagging guilt scratched at the back of her mind -- As much as I loved Bareil, he never made me scream . . . The questions continued to haunt her as she drifted off to sleep: Why is this happening? What in the name of the Prophets is going on?

Odo waited until Kira's gentle breathing convinced him that she was asleep before allowing his solid shape to slip, to flow into the contained gelatinous state that was his true nature. He tested the texture of the sheets and found them pleasingly soft and smooth, before sliding across them to mold himself into the curves of Kira's naked form, finding her even softer and smoother. Kira snuggled into him, her unconscious body naturally preferring and taking advantage of the support that adjusted to fit it so perfectly. Odo happily let himself flow around her, enjoying the ever changing nuances of her skin, and the movement of blood and muscle beneath it.

Odo had no more idea what was happening between them than did Kira, and with a vague sense of shame he realized that he didn't care, at least not on the deeply primal level where this new meeting of bodies, if not minds, was taking place. He had loved her for so long -- he knew that chronologically it had only been a matter of a few years, but he couldn't remember what it was like not to love her, so that it seemed to be forever. He had never expected anything to come of it, had never expected to even say the words, much less whisper them over and over into the satin skin of Nerys' neck as her body arched ecstatically against his. In some ways it came as a surprise to him that he so enjoyed the act of making love to her, as before he had only thought of it as a compromise that he would be willing to make because she was -- well, because she was Nerys, and he loved her. He had been unprepared for what exquisite pleasure it was to feel her naked flesh against his, to explore the soft, secret places of her body, to venture at least a part of himself into a "where" the likes of which he had never been before ... unprepared for the way his responses matched themselves to hers, spiraling from cell to cell, until they finally cumulated in one surging burst of rapture.

Nerys. . . Odo had watched her with Bareil, watched her during her brief and disastrous affair with Shakaar, and had never even thought to use her given name. Not until that moment, sitting in his office, when the pretended casualness, the carefully maintained distance had suddenly become more than he could bear. And now, little more than a day later, she was lying closer to him than she might ever hope to rest in human arms, his substance gently enveloping her, caressing her, and soothing her tenderly in her sleep. Nerys . . .

It startled him when the dream commenced ... a continuation of the dreams he had experienced on all of the preceding nights but one. It was a simple dream, a gentle dream -- in many ways less complex than the complicated erotic wanderings of Kira's subconscious, but in others far more involved in its pattern and scope. In his dream his entire existence was changed, shifted into one where he could hope -- where the doubt planted by the leader of the Founders had no place, because it had no reality. An existence where he could believe that Kira could love him.

For in his dreams, Odo Ital, the "unknown sample", was not the Changeling found adrift in space fifty-odd years before. He wasn't a Changeling at all, and while he didn't know what his name was, it certainly wasn't Odo Ital. In his dreams, Odo was a simple Bajoran farmer, a former resistance fighter trying to reclaim his occupation-scarred land ... and Kira Nerys was his wife.

Kira's sleep was wonderfully dreamless. She awakened slowly, luxuriously ... she felt deliciously comfortable, lying flat on her stomach, almost as though she were floating. She opened one eye, and saw that the side of her face was pillowed in a self-contained golden gel, as was the rest of her body. Prophets, she was crushing poor Odo!

Kira rolled off of the shapeshifter rapidly, scrabbling at the edge of the bed before landing hard on the floor. Seconds later, Odo's more familiar humanoid visage peered down at her.

"Nerys ... are you all right? What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry. . . I didn't mean to squash you like that."

"You've been 'squashing' me all night," Odo observed. "I liked it."

Kira blushed and sat up, rubbing furtively at her now-sore derrière. "Oh ... I guess it just gave me a turn." Kira bit her lip in embarrassment as she saw Odo wince at her remark. "I didn't mean it like that ... I was just afraid I was hurting you. . ." She crawled sheepishly back into bed, lying so she could face Odo, her cheek pillowed against her hand. "Maybe we should start over ... Good morning."

"Good morning, Nerys." Odo, also on his side, looked back at Kira with a solemnly cautious expression that wrung her heart. He propped himself up on one elbow, his free hand fidgeting hesitantly against slight expanse of sheet covered mattress that separated them. Kira felt a sudden rush of tenderness as she looked at Odo, who had "held" her all night long, but was now too shy to reach out and touch her. She reached out and claimed his hand in hers, bringing it with gentle certainty to lie against her breast. At one time or another, the Resistance had demanded of Kira Nerys every resource she possessed, including the calculated use of her body. Compared to that, it suddenly seemed very easy to make love with someone she cared for as much as she did Odo.

"This is a nice way to wake up," Kira observed softly.

Odo looked startled at the understatement. "Yes," he agreed. Odo seemed frozen in place, before he began to tentatively move his hand in a slow, circular pattern, his palm brushing with tantalizing lightness against Kira's rapidly hardening nipple. She let out a soft little moan, barely more than a purr from the back of her throat.

"You know," Kira observed playfully, "you're good at this."

Odo's hand faltered in its gentle rhythm. "I -- I'm glad you think so." He suddenly seemed willing to look anywhere but into Kira's eyes.

Kira reached out, laying her hand against Odo's cheek. "Night before last -- it was the first time for you, wasn't it?"

"It depends on how you define the act -- by your standards I suppose it was. But I tried this sort of thing once before -- a long time ago, when I was very young. It was during the Occupation." He added reluctantly, "She was a Cardassian."

Kira's eyes widened at the unexpected revelation. "Did you love her?"

"No. I was -- curious. I wanted so much to belong ... when she tried to seduce me, I thought -- why not? Perhaps this will help." Odo closed his eyes in pain at the memory. "It was an unmitigated disaster."

Kira's voice was soft with concern. "What made it a disaster?"

"My partner was not particularly enthusiastic. I found out later that -- she did it on a bet."

"On a -- Odo, no!" Kira's heart ached for her friend, for the agony of embarrassment and self-doubt he must have suffered.

"I understand she won."

The sardonic comment twisted in Kira's heart like a knife. I can't do that to him. It was a silent promise. I can't promise Odo love, but I'll give him what I can. Kira, at a loss for words, finally reached out and drew Odo into her arms, holding him tightly as he continued in a dry rasp:

"I didn't know what I was supposed to do. And she wouldn't tell me! Cardassians have very -- insensitive skin -- I couldn't do anything that seemed to --" Odo stopped abruptly, with a bitter chuckle. "I'm sorry, I must sound insane, rambling on like this."

"Odo, I -- damn! I'm sorry! You must think I'm some -- unfeeling idiot!" Kira exclaimed passionately.

"You? What do you mean?" Odo drew back to stare at her, puzzled.

"Last night you asked me to tell you what I wanted, and I told you to guess."

"I assume it was all right," Odo ventured. An uneasy note of question lurked under his words.

"All right? -- it was -- prophets, yes." Kira reached up to draw Odo's mouth to hers, trying to infuse all the passion she had felt -- and was beginning to feel again -- into a single kiss. She then studied the blue eyes that stared so anxiously into her brown ones, saw Odo's desire to believe her words warring with years of doubt.

"Make love to me," Kira whispered. "Not like this," she added, tracing the line of his human-appearing shoulder with her finger. "Like you. Like you really are."

"Nerys, are you sure?" The fear in Odo's face lost the battle to a cautious, tightly contained joy.

"Of course I'm sure." Kira closed her eyes and consciously opened herself to her partner, as his weight -- his shape -- against her body began to shift. At first she had to fight an initial stab of panic at how alien it was, but then she caught her breath at the power of the sensations that permeated every pore of her skin, every nerve ending in her body. Odo let his substance flow over her caressingly, astounding her with the delicacy and thoroughness of his touch -- when his warmth found and penetrated the answering heat between her thighs, Kira thought she would faint at the overwhelming crescendo of passion that began to rack her whole body. It went on for seconds -- for minutes -- for ever. Bareil ceased to matter. The humiliation caused her by Shakaar was forgotten. Her doubts temporarily vanished. It was the only time in her life when she thought she might die happily, without an instant of struggle. Then Odo re-coalesced into his humanoid form, still joined to her at that one crucial spot, shivering as he struggled to collect himself, his arms wrapped around her tightly.

"Nerys ... Nerys ... are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Kira managed to gasp. She felt very short of breath.

"I thought you had passed out."

"Maybe I did. I don't care." Kira finally opened her eyes, staring up into Odo's anxious face. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Oh -- you're welcome." Odo relaxed at seeing the look in Kira's eyes, and smiled at her -- that rare, sweet, alien smile of his. It vanished as tears began to run down Kira's cheeks.

"I hurt you ..."

"No ... no." Kira took Odo's face in her hands, staring up at him intently. "'O! Do'l'meytahl alana ta'biem. . . Ta'dor a lyien i ter'an a'tiel.'"

"That's a -- part of a Bajoran poem, isn't it?"

Kira nodded, still gazing up into his eyes.

"'Oh! Heart's blood, flowing over my soul ... Heal my mind and bathe me in brightest light.' " Odo translated the archaic Dahkur dialect aloud.

"I don't read much poetry," Kira confessed, "but that was always one of my favorites."

"At first I thought you were saying my name."

"What?"

"'O! Do'l'meytahl -- it sounded like Odo'ital."

"Odo Ital? You have a given name? Ital?" Kira looked at him questioningly.

Odo's eyes shadowed. "Odo'ital was the label on my specimen container in Dr. Mora's laboratory. It's Cardassian for 'nothing'."

"Oh ..." So many things suddenly made sense, how someone so wonderfully intelligent and competent could still labor under such a weight of self-doubt. Kira reached out and took Odo's face in her hands, starting to rain kisses across his cheeks -- chin -- nose -- kisses soft as whispers. "No ... not nothing. Never that." Kira shook her head, rejecting the name utterly. "Odo L'meytahl," she ventured in a hushed tone, "That's a lot better name for you, I think."

"Nerys ..."

Kira started as Odo moved gently against her, and she realized, Prophets, he's still inside me. Like a part of me, filling a void I barely knew I had.

Odo, seeing her reaction, began to draw away, but Kira pulled him back against her insistently, sliding her hands through his hair and kissing him more deeply. She forced a note of lightness into her voice, afraid of the intensity of the feelings that buffeted her like a hurricane.

"The first thing you need to know about sex is that some things should never go to waste." She moaned softly as Odo began to move against her with gentle calculation, exploring her hidden depths until he once again brought her to delicious fulfillment. When Odo finally slipped away from between her thighs, Kira sighed in contentment and asked, "May I ask you a -- personal question?"

"I think we're at the point where that would be permissible," Odo said solemnly.

"How long can you -- do that?"

"You mean -- keep my shape in that -- that position?" Odo questioned.

Kira nodded.

Odo shrugged. "As long as I stay solid, I suppose -- it isn't nearly as difficult as some of the shapes I have to maintain. Certainly not as tricky as a nose -- besides, it's not like anyone will actually see it." Odo snorted.

"I don't know -- I might." Kira chuckled. "That long, huh?" She pulled Odo against her in a sudden hug. "What an idiot that Cardassian woman was! Typical Cardassian, though -- wins a major victory and can't make use of the advantages."

"You think there were advantages?" Odo managed a wry smile.

"I think that there were -- and are -- major advantages." Kira suddenly laughed, the sound luscious and rich as it rose from deep in her chest.

"What's funny?" Odo questioned.

"Oh, about half a dozen things -- they're kind of rude to talk about, but they're a lot of fun to do."

Odo's face took on a cautious, considering look. "I don't suppose they're things you could -- demonstrate."

Kira smiled -- that playful, teasing smile that, if only she'd known, had wrung Odo's heart so many times in the past. "I could -- but I'll need a volunteer to help me." Kira slipped out of Odo's arms and pulled her legs up under her, sitting back neatly on her heels and looking down at her potential "volunteer". She felt an unalloyed stab of joy as she saw the anxious look fade from her partner's face, to be replaced by one of amused consideration.

"Do I need to raise my hand?"

Her voice was a breathy whisper as Kira leaned forward, her lips poised bare inches from Odo's. "You need to raise more than your hand."

"Ah. . . that."

Kira's smile crinkled the corners of her eyes. "That," she assured him, "is just the beginning."

"May I ask you something?"

"Go right ahead." Kira leaned over and gave Odo a lengthy kiss, oddly enjoying the salty tang of her own juices on his lips. Finally she drew back a few inches and whispered, "I'm sorry ... what were you saying?" Kira did not sound in the least apologetic.

"Aren't you on duty today?"

Kira's eyes widened and her smile vanished. "What time is it?"

"I don't know. About nine hundred hours, I think."

"What?! Computer -- time!" Kira called. The computer's gently modulated tones answered her smoothly.

"The time is oh-nine-hundred-hours and forty-eight minutes."

"Oh, Prophets --I was supposed to have breakfast with Ziyal at oh-seven-hundred -- and I was due to be in Ops almost two hours ago!" Kira shot out of bed towards the bathroom.

"So -- get dressed and go." Odo failed to see the difficulty. "You can tell Ziyal that -- you got busy and lost track of the time."

"You got that right." Kira's sudden grin echoed in her voice as it floated back to him. "Still, I need to take a shower -- trust me on this. Will you grab my uniform out of the closet, please?"

Odo, effortlessly assuming his normal "clothed" appearance, obligingly did as Kira asked. "Would you like me to call Ops and tell them you're running late?"

"Hold on -- I can't hear you."

A few minutes later Kira emerged after the quickest sonic shower in recorded history and started to dress. "What did you say?"

"I asked if you would like me to call Ops and tell them you're running late."

Kira's mouth opened to answer, before she paused and stared at Odo uncertainly. "I don't know," she said.

Odo looked at her keenly, his eyes puzzled. "You don't know."

"I -- let me call."

Kira, successfully installed in her uniform, tapped her combadge. "Ops, this is Kira."

"Major -- don't tell me you're not coming in today," O'Brien's voice pleaded.

"No, just running late. I'll be right there. Kira out."

Odo looked at Kira soberly as she once again tapped her badge. "I take it that this is because you don't want the people in Ops to know that I'm here."

A touch of warm color tinged Kira's cheeks. "I just need to answer some of my own questions, before I have to answer anyone else's. It's not you -- it's me." Kira crossed the room to give Odo a gentle kiss. In a lighter tone she added, "Would you care to join me after I get off duty? I need a partner for class tonight."

"Class? What kind of class?"

Kira shrugged. "I think Dax invited me to come along as chaperone -- Julian's going to be teaching some Earth custom called ... bar room? No ... ballroom! Ballroom dancing. By the way, he said I should tell my partner to be sure to wear a tux."

Odo stared at her, puzzled. "What's a tux?"

Kira grimaced. "Hell if I know."

"This is more like it!" Dr. Julian Bashir stood in the middle of Holosuite Three, rubbing his hands in satisfaction over the transformation that had just taken place. The bare walls were replaced with a glittering white-and-gold ballroom, and a string and piano ensemble sat tuning their instruments in the corner. Bashir himself was handsomely attired in a gray tuxedo, its details perfect right down to the white carnation in his buttonhole.

"So, where's the rest of the class?" Dax inquired as she entered the holosuite, stunning in silver lamé. The dress, its skirt already above her knees, was split up either side to her thighs, and the neckline plunged to within a gasp of her navel. Bashir eyed the outfit appreciatively.

"Maybe they aren't coming. It needn't stop you from having your lesson ..."

Dax shook her head, laughing. "What kind of lesson did you have in mind?"

"Anything you'd like me teach you." Their flirting had become more of a friendship ritual than anything else, and Bashir grinned broadly as he spoke.

"Trust me, Julian -- there are some subjects on which you have nothing to teach me." Dax grinned back at him.

"How is a person expected to walk, much less dance in this thing?" The sound of Kira's complaint preceded her into the holosuite. "Dax, are you sure this is right?"

Kira walked into the room, trying unsuccessfully to hold her skirt together with one hand, and pull up the bodice of her dress with the other. The strapless black satin sheath seemed to be staying up by magic, with a great deal more of Major Kira peeking from above it than was normally seen. Her skirt whispered within inches of the floor, while the single slit on the side rose almost as far as her hip. Dax looked inordinately pleased at her handiwork. Bashir's mouth fell open.

"Major ... you look wonderful."

"It's perfect, Nerys, really." Dax crossed to stand in front of Kira, destroying Kira's desperately won victory by tugging the bodice back down where it belonged. "You look great." She glanced over Kira's shoulder to the doorway beyond. "And so do you, Odo."

Odo stood uncertainly in the doorway. He appeared to be wearing a perfectly tailored black tuxedo, although with Odo it was always a strong possibility that he had merely altered his outward appearance for the occasion. A red rose in his buttonhole was the only real spot of color about him, other than his blue eyes. Kira turned to meet her partner, smiling in her relief.

"Thank the Prophets you're here. I feel like an idiot dressed like this!"

Odo studied her carefully. "I think you look very nice," he ventured stiffly.

"So do you." The pulse in Kira's throat started pounding visibly as she held out her hand to Odo and their fingertips touched.

Bashir cleared his throat and began. "Tonight I thought we could start with something fun, kind of bouncy ... most classes start with waltzing, but I thought we might try a fox-trot."

The other three turned to look at him, Kira and Odo both mouthing the odd term. Bashir held out his hand to Dax. "Jadzia, if you'll assist me ..."

Dax smiled and yielded her hand to her teacher. Bashir demonstrated the steps carefully, Dax catching on quickly and following his lead. Kira watched politely, Odo with a surprisingly keen level of interest.

"There! Come on, you two try it -- we'll coach you," Bashir encouraged.

Odo took Kira's hand and led her out onto the dance floor. He looked fascinated by the entire concept, and unhesitatingly swept Kira into the steps of the dance.

Although they were hampered at first by Kira's inborn desire to lead, things smoothed out with amazing speed. His peculiar boneless grace, the fluidity that Odo only evidenced when concentration or stress broke down his reserve, was never more apparent -- the steps seemed effortless, spontaneous, yet perfectly in time and form. Kira became comfortable enough to relax and follow Odo's lead, and Dax and Bashir both watched in delighted amazement.

"You're doing wonderfully, Odo!" Bashir enthused as the music ended. "Are you sure you've never done this before?"

"No, never."

"He's a fast learner," Kira said, smiling a soft, secret smile. Bashir wasn't watching, but Dax focused with sudden interest on her friend's face. Kira's look was unmistakable. Odo smiled back into Kira's eyes, his hands somehow having never left her waist at the end of the dance.

"I think we might just go straight to a tango. It's a wonderful dance -- very dramatic and sensual." Bashir, primarily interested in tangoing with Dax, was cheerfully oblivious to any unusual undercurrents among his students. He led Dax out some distance from the others, wondering briefly why she kept glancing back over her shoulder at his other two "pupils".

Bashir was a good dancer, and the tango was a dance at which he excelled. He led Jadzia through the steps with a certain flair, finishing with a dramatic flourish. Odo once again observed him closely, taking careful note of each movement. Kira also managed to watch a little more closely this time, as anything seemed safer than continuing to stare into Odo's ice-blue eyes.

"There you go, Odo, Major Kira -- why don't you try that? In some ways, it's a lot less restrictive dance than the fox-trot -- there's plenty of room for your own embellishments."

"I can see that," Odo observed. He glanced aside at Kira. "Are you ready, Major?" He placed a hand carefully on Kira's satin-covered back, sliding it down to her waist, and held out his free hand to twine his fingers sensually with hers.

"Ready." Kira abandoned herself to Odo's lead as the music began, lush and rich.

Once again, Dax and Bashir observed the magic transformation as the generally rigid Changeling insinuated himself into the steps of the dance, making them seem like he had invented them. Some of them he did, in that they weren't quite like anything he had seen from Julian and Jadzia. Familiar with Kira's body, silently reveling in the delectable feel of her satin-covered flesh, he entered into the erotic quality of the dance, with Kira following him effortlessly. Bashir and Dax finally managed to tear their gaze from the dance floor to meet each other's eyes.

"They're -- very good," Bashir ventured.

"Umm-hmm." Dax looked a little stunned.

Bashir once again studied the dancing pair. "That's an -- interesting variation," he observed, as Odo let his hands slide considerably lower than Kira's waist before spinning her around to face him, holding her so closely that her breasts were pressed tight against his chest. "Do you think you and I --?"

"Not unless you want to get slapped," Dax assured him in a kindly tone.

They watched for another moment. Finally Bashir asked, "Jadzia -- do you think they'd even notice if we left?"

"Worse."

"What?" Julian looked at her questioningly.

"I'm not sure they're going to notice if we stay."

It took Julian only a second to realize what Dax was saying. He quickly held out his arm to her.

"Dinner?"

"Love to."

Dax and Julian skimmed out the door just as the tango swelled to a throbbing conclusion. Odo and Kira came to a stop much closer to each other than the dance would normally end, and finally thought to look around for their friends.

"Where did they go?" Kira asked hesitantly.

"I don't know." Odo looked around. "Do you think they left?"

"Computer -- location of Lieutenant Commander Dax and Dr. Bashir," Kira commanded.

"Lieutenant Commander Dax and Dr. Bashir are in the restaurant section of Quark's."

"That's strange -- I'm sure Julian said that he had the holosuite reserved for two hours." Kira paused. "Do you think we should join them?"

Odo looked down at the woman he still held in his arms. "Either that, or we could dance some more."

"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" Kira observed, pleased.

"Being a shape-shifter makes one naturally good at an -- odd variety of things. It's always nice when one of them turns out to be acceptable."

"Not to mention pleasurable." Kira smiled up at Odo knowingly, her look softly seductive. Odo smiled back.

"Very." He leaned forward a little, glancing down into Kira's décolletage. "Nerys, may I ask you something?"

Kira felt a slight frisson of tension that she instantly crushed. "Sure."

"What exactly are you wearing under that dress?"

Kira laughed, relieved. "Not much!" She ran a fingertip lightly along Odo's shoulder. "Why don't you come back with me to my quarters and I'll show you?"

"I think I'd like that." Cupping Kira's face in his hands, Odo kissed her gently. Kira gave an abashed little chuckle.

"I thought ... oh, never mind."

"What did you think?"

"Oh. . . I just thought that you were about to ask me something ... serious."

"You mean the obvious questions, like what are we doing here? How long is this going to last?"

Kira's smile faded, although she managed to keep her tone light. "Well -- yes."

Odo shook his head. "This isn't a criminal investigation, Nerys."

Kira looked puzzled. "Meaning?"

"I have no intention of asking any questions unless I want to know the answers."

Odo and Kira got more than a few surprised stares as they walked down the corridor of the Habitat ring towards Kira's quarters, most of them centered on some portion of Kira's anatomy. Odo appeared lost in thought, humming a little to himself -- it surprised Kira that the Changeling could actually carry a tune, although she wasn't sure why -- his resonant speaking voice, spanning a range from velvet to sandpaper, was one of the most attractive things about him. In some ways Odo was still so alien to her, although in others he was rapidly becoming as familiar as her own skin. However, she was starting to take genuine delight in the surprises, in the multitude of new things she was learning about someone she thought she knew so well.

Her mind floated, as it often tried to do these days, to Bareil, and for once Kira let her thoughts linger on her dead lover. Bareil's serene, gentle spirituality seemed so in contrast to Odo's aloof if faintly amused cynicism -- once she had come to understand Bareil, she had possessed such a comfortable sense of knowing him, through and through. She wondered if she would ever fully understand Odo, despite their many years of friendship, and the newfound intimacy of their bodies. But dancing with him that night she had suddenly felt happier, more at ease than she had ever felt with Bareil -- Kira shoved the thought from her guiltily.

Of course my best times were with Bareil -- I loved him. It's just that love carries certain tensions, Kira reminded herself, especially at first. I was certainly relaxed with Edon -- what a joke that turned out to be! If I'm more relaxed with Odo, it's just that there's not as much at stake -- because I'm not in love with him, any more than I was really in love with Edon. Kira pushed further comparisons of her lovers firmly from her mind.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Odo took Kira into his arms and started to dance her across the room, finishing up with a spin that landed her, laughing, across the middle of the bed. Odo sat down beside her, running a hand up her satin-covered hip. Kira smiled, stretching in a way that caused the bodice of her dress to slip a tantalizing hairsbreadth lower.

"You're in fine form tonight, Constable," Kira observed playfully.

"That's Security Chief, thank you," came the teasing rejoinder. Odo smiled, then plucked the rose out of his buttonhole and trailed it down the line of Kira's neck, letting it linger tantalizingly in the curve between her breasts. He then let the flower fall as he leaned over and began kissing Kira softly on the eyelids. She purred in contentment -- then her eyes flew open wide as she picked up the rose from where it lay against her body.

"Odo -- isn't this -- I thought --"

Odo shook his head. "I decided I couldn't manage the tuxedo and concentrate on learning to dance -- it's such detailed clothing. I got this from Garak." He reached up and unfastened his tie, to Kira's bemused delight. "It's very uncomfortable."

Kira laughed, tossing the rose carelessly on the night table. "You mean I get to undress you for a change?" Kira sat up on her heels and faced her partner, slipping her hands inside the lapels of his jacket and sliding it down off his shoulders.

Odo refrained from mentioning the fact that, so far, what little undressing Kira had needed to do she had done for herself. Instead, observing the flush to her cheeks, her slightly faster breathing, he whispered, "You like that idea, don't you?"

"I do," Kira assured him, starting to unbutton his vest. Her hands, trained to competence as a Bajoran freedom fighter, proved equally deft at working their way through the layers of unfamiliar clothing. Pulling up her skirt, she moved so that her thighs straddled Odo's, gratified to find that no further directions were necessary on her part. Kira gasped as his substance hardened to fill her, while his hands caressed her through the sensuous black satin.

"So what are you wearing under this?" Odo asked softly.

Kira arched her back with a soft whimper of pleasure. "Dusting powder, and a little perfume."

"I see." Odo reached up and peeled down the confining bodice like the skin from a grape. He fondled her breasts lightly, teasingly, his body moving with increasing intensity against hers, until Kira finally cried out and collapsed against him, sated and exhausted.

"'Odo l'meytahl'," Kira breathed against Odo's ear. Odo eased her over on to her side, lying on to his own side in order to face her. Kira reached out to gently touch his face. "I can't tell you how wonderful this all is."

"I know how wonderful it is for me," Odo said softly. "How is it wonderful for you?"

Kira propped herself up on one elbow, taking a moment to ponder before answering the question. "Let's put it like this -- I have never made love to a man without wondering at the beginning -- not will I enjoy it, but will I enjoy it enough? Men don't have that problem -- they seem to come no matter what." Kira shrugged at her own crude statement. "But me -- half the time I'm lying there saying, 'Excuse me?' At least I was before I started making love with you."

"I'm sorry ..."

Kira laughed. "You have nothing to be sorry about."

Odo chuckled. "I suppose I should feel flattered."

"You're -- you're the best lover I've ever had, at least in bed," Kira conceded, leaning over to kiss him lightly on the mouth. Then she asked quietly, "Odo -- do you enjoy it? Does it -- satisfy you?" Kira's tone was suddenly hesitant, as though she were fearful of the answer.

Odo looked at her like she had suddenly started speaking Klingon. "It's the most -- incredible experience I've ever had in my life. Nothing I've ever done -- no shape I've ever been -- prepared me for how -- how wonderful it would be just to feel you ... the intensity. . ." He trembled, his eyes dark with a depth of passion Kira could only guess at. Odo reached out and stroked the hair back from Kira's forehead, looking searchingly into her anxious face.

"I'm in love with you, Nerys," he said simply. "How could I not love making love to you?"

Kira's eyes were suddenly shadowed with misery, before she looked away. "Let's get under the blankets -- it's cold in here." Kira clambered to her feet, letting her bunched-up dress fall from around her waist to the floor. Odo watched her quietly, a taut, pained expression shuttering his face.

"Are you sure you want me to stay?"

"Of course I'm sure -- only in the bed, not across it. Come on."

Odo slipped under the blankets on the other side, meeting Kira somewhere in the middle. He wrapped his arms around her comfortingly, burying his lips in her hair.

"I ask you only one thing, Nerys."

"What's that?" Kira drew back and forced herself to look at him.

"Don't ever tell me anything you don't mean. If you don't mean it, I don't want to hear it."

Kira managed to smile. "You have my word."

"Then let's get some rest." Odo kissed her softly. "Good night, Nerys."

Kira was still awake, staring at the ceiling, when Odo let his shape return to his natural gel-like substance. It startled her a little, but it really was comfortable ... deliciously sensuous against her bare skin ... Kira sighed. She felt confused and disoriented, as much by her own feelings as by any of the events of the past few days.

Maybe I really am in love with Odo -- I enjoy his company, I can tell him anything, and as for making love ... just thinking about it makes me feel so ... so what? Contented, aroused, passionate, at peace -- all at the same time. I just wish I didn't have this sense that somehow, somewhere, this is all out of my control, that there's something -- outside myself at work here. I wish I didn't have the memory of Bareil to haunt me. I can't mislead Odo, no matter what -- he's too dear a friend. Friends don't always make good lovers -- I don't think I'd want to live without Odo's friendship, whether he stays my lover or not -- who cares if he's so good in bed that he makes my toes curl? Yeah, right ... but he's an even better friend than he is a lover ... or is that impossible? Is it already too late? Can I even separate the two at this point?

Dear Prophets, please, don't let me hurt him, she prayed silently. I just don't want to hurt him. Kira finally began to relax as Odo insinuated himself comfortably around her, soothing her tired muscles and jangled nerves until she sank into a fitful sleep.

All things considered, the nightmare should have come as no surprise.

Shakaar, Lupaza, herself -- Laur, friend and lover, dead for years now -- all captured. Imprisoned in Narik Dir ... the most infamous of the Cardassian "interrogation centers", a dark fortress of terror. And Gorem ...

"Nerys ... Nerys, wake up, you're dreaming."

Kira awoke with a jerk, sweat pouring off her body, her chest tight and painful with her efforts to breathe, her heart hammering against the roof of her mouth. Odo's arms were around her, his blue eyes anxious in the soft computer-induced twilight. Kira gasped, clutching at him tightly.

"It's just a dream ... it's only a dream ..." Kira almost babbled the words, trying to reassure herself.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Odo held her tenderly, running his hands in a soothing motion over her back. Under any other circumstances, Kira would have been grateful for the contact, but she suddenly recoiled at his touch, at the feel of her own naked body, rolling into a tight fetal ball at the edge of the bed.

"I'm sorry ... it was a nightmare ... I haven't had it in so long ..."

"What was it, Nerys? In your dream?" Odo's tone was infinitely kind, gentle -- inexorable. "Was it something from the Occupation?"

Kira nodded, forcing herself to uncurl her body into a more natural position, while Odo wisely refrained from touching her, allowing her time to collect herself. She finally slid back over the distance that separated them, creeping into his arms like a small, hurt animal seeking shelter.

"It was when -- we were captured and held at Narik Dir."

"The Cardassian interrogation center."

"Yes. That's what they called it." Laur had a scar running from collarbone to groin from their 'interrogation', Kira thought dully. So do I, I suppose -- only mine you can't see. It just keeps bleeding on the inside ...

"You've never talked much about that, other than to acknowledge that it happened." Odo observed. "I've always wondered how badly they -- hurt you."

There was a tight, constrained tone to Odo's use of the word "hurt". Kira looked closely at his brooding face. Of course, she thought, he would guess. No one would know better than Odo what monstrosities the Cardassians were capable of, with all of the neat, sanitized reports of their activities crossing his desk during the last years of the occupation, contrasting so starkly with the grim evidence that passed before his eyes. "You know, don't you?" Kira whispered against his chest.

Odo shook his head. "I don't -- know anything -- other than how Cardassians tended to treat their -- female prisoners." Odo paused, searching for the strength to say the words. "Is that what they did? Did they rape you, Nerys?"

Kira nodded. She couldn't have said the "yes" aloud if someone had threatened to cut it from her throat.

"Tell me, Nerys. Tell me what happened."

"I don't think I can."

"Can you try?" Odo gently touched her cheek. "It might help."

"Where do I start after all this time?" Kira wondered. "I've pushed so much of it into the back of my mind -- I've never wanted to think about it, much less talk about it."

"That could explain the nightmares," Odo observed.

"Are you a counselor now?" Kira's tone was unexpectedly sharp.

"What is it someone once said when I asked her almost that exact question? Ah, yes -- 'I'm your friend. The one who comes to you when she has problems'."

"Oh." Kira fell silent, remembering the incident in question. She finally managed a tiny smile. "You do get to listen to me bitch, don't you?"

"I do whenever you let me. It's not that often."

Kira sighed. "Like I said, I was at Narik Dir. I was being interrogated -- and I spit into the head interrogator's face."

"Is he the one who -- did it?"

"No -- he couldn't be bothered. He didn't even seem angry! He just called to one of the guards, in that smooth, urbane way that the Cardassians have. He called to this guard, Gorem -- I still remember the name, it's the Cardassian word for 'beast' -- and told him to do it. 'Take this rebel whore -- teach her a little humility'. Those were his exact words. He didn't even stay to see his 'sentence' carried out -- just left me alone with this guard who didn't even speak. He didn't make a sound -- he just ripped my clothes off and --" Kira paused, shuddering. It was a moment before she could go on.

"I've always thought of myself as a strong woman, Odo, but I was helpless. I've never been so helpless in my life."

Odo's deep voice rumbled soothingly, "Cardassians are stronger than Bajorans -- much stronger. Their bones are denser, they're used to higher gravity. Add to that the fact that he was probably much bigger than you were -- there's nothing you could have done."

"He was bigger than I am, that's for sure. Did you know that -- that they have scales everywhere?"

Odo nodded. "My duties used to occasionally involve seeing Cardassians in -- unusual circumstances."

"At first I thought I was going to die, literally. Nothing ever hurt like that in my life. If it had happened more than once, I think it would have killed me."

Odo remained silent, but his arms tightened protectively. Kira held on to him for all she was worth, grateful for his warmth, for the silken tenderness of his skin.

"As it was, I bled for three days. I tried not to scream, not to let him know how much he hurt me, but I couldn't stop myself -- and he just smiled. I think I'll be able to see that smile until the day I die -- it was so --" Kira faltered, unable to go on.

"So --?" Odo nudged inexorably.

"So -- serene, almost like one of Dax's smiles. Like he was -- filling his place in the universe. And what he was filling was me!" Kira's sudden, keening cry cut through the air like a thin blade. Odo didn't stir, just continued to hold her close in the infinite safety of his arms. He let himself shift ever so slightly, so Kira's trembling body could merge more closely with his partially gelid flesh.

"Have you ever told anyone?" Odo asked softly.

Kira shook her head. It was a long time before she could speak. "I couldn't -- it was too unspeakable. One person guessed -- I don't know, maybe some others guessed and just didn't mention it. But I couldn't talk about it, not really."

"The person who guessed ... was it Bareil?"

"No. . . I think he may have sensed it -- it certainly made a difference in our relationship. He was the first man I could stand to let -- touch me -- after what had happened." Kira paused, pain etched in her voice, in every line of her face and her body. "It affected our -- times together -- there were so many barriers to get around. Everything would be fine, wonderful, but then it would catch me unawares -- I would be lying there, when suddenly --" Kira trembled, closing her eyes against the memory. "I would panic, and then I'd find myself -- pretending to feel things I didn't feel, just so he wouldn't know --" Kira's sharp inhalation of breath sounded almost like a sob. Odo had never felt so helpless in his life.

"Nerys ..." Words failed him. Odo settled for kissing Kira softly on the top of her head.

Kira looked at him, mustering up a reassuring smile. "In some ways making love with you was the scariest thing I've ever done. It's probably just as well I was dreaming that first night -- I don't think I would ever have had the nerve otherwise. I've only been with native Bajorans otherwise -- except for being -- except for that one Cardassian. Then the dreams, my dreams about you, started -- they were exciting, but they were so alien. I couldn't imagine how it could possibly be -- anything I would really want. But then, when I knew that you loved me -- you weren't alien anymore, you were Odo. My best friend in the world, and you were even more scared than I was, you were hurting like I was. Only now I feel like --" Kira bit her lip at a sudden stab of anguish.

"Like --?" Odo encouraged gently.

"--like I'm the one who's hurting you. Like I'm -- using you somehow."

"Have I complained?"

"Oh, Prophets," Kira whispered. "That's almost the same thing that Laur said. Laur. . ." Kira repeated the name softly, as though the sound was unfamiliar.

"Laur?" Odo questioned softly, "Who is Laur?"

"Not is -- was." Kira sighed, forcing out the words. "Mirrit Laureshe was my best friend in the Resistance -- the one who guessed what happened to me in Narik Dir. For a while we were lovers."

"I don't think I've ever heard you mention a Mirrit Laureshe."

"No ... I don't think I've spoken her name aloud since the day she died."

Odo buried his lips in Kira's hair, holding her closer in his arms. "Tell me about her."

"I don't know if I can," Kira said simply. "She was -- one of the most wonderful people I've ever known. A real 'in-your-face' kind of person -- honest -- funny -- tough as nails, but she would cry sometimes when we made love. I was twelve years old when I met her, and thirty when she died, and I can honestly say that there was no one more important in my life for all those years. Other lovers -- yes -- but no friends like Laur."

"I'm sorry, Nerys -- you must miss her very much."

"I do," Kira said frankly, passionately grateful for his simple understanding. "I've never had as close a friend -- except for you. I could tell Laur anything. There aren't many people in a person's life like that."

"How long were you lovers?"

"Not long -- only a few months, the months before she died." Kira's eyes clouded in memory. "It was so healing to be with someone who I could trust not to hurt me, not to abuse me. She was so gentle, at least with the people she cared about -- she was anything but with the Cardassians ... She had these -- sharp, aggressive features, with piercing blue eyes -- she only had three ridges on her nose, and she used to joke that the Prophets had forgotten a couple. She could always make me laugh ... I didn't laugh much in those days. It's so hard to explain -- after -- after Narik Dir, it was a while before I could stand the idea of a man so much as touching me. Laur was like -- a refuge."

"I imagine that the Resistance made for some -- relationships that might not have happened otherwise."

Kira nodded. "It changed all of us, in one way or another. Not just the way it did with Shakaar -- welding his fly open. It turned Laur into -- tempered steel, like a fine blade. I once saw her walk into the middle of Ri'gel town square when it was lined with corpses -- one of our leaders, a woman named Datrahl, had been taken in what looked like a random seizure and executed. Laur strolled up to the body, lifted the head and then let it just drop back into the dirt because there was a guard watching -- then she walked up to the guard and came on to him just to throw him off the scent. She did it so she could get Datrahl's clan earring -- to send it back to her family.

"I can still see her standing there, silhouetted against the twilight -- she was a tiny woman, half a head shorter than I am, and usually she slouched -- she said it was to make people underestimate her. Offering herself to that Cardassian, so she could protect us but still get that earring ... At least he turned her down." Kira sighed.

"What would have happened if he hadn't?" Odo wanted to know.

Kira looked grim. "The same thing that would have happened if it had been me -- she would have gone with him. But he wouldn't have gotten out of it alive."

Kira's features had taken on a set, anguished quality, reminding Odo of the tired-faced young woman he had first viewed through the smoky darkness of Terok Nor. Kira added, "The woman who died -- Datrahl. I found out later that she had been Laur's lover for five years."

"And you never knew?"

"No." Kira shook her head, smiling a little. "Laur always said I was obtuse." Her smile faded a bit as she sought Odo's eyes in the dim light, and thought about how long she had been blind to the fact that he loved her.

"Our being together probably wouldn't have lasted," Kira continued. "I suppose my usual preferences would have finally reasserted themselves whether she had died or not. I felt so guilty ... she was in love with me, and I only loved her as a friend."

"That isn't so bad." There was a tight note of resignation in Odo's voice that wrung Kira's heart like a vise.

"No." Kira smoothed back Odo's "hair", which was already perfectly in place -- she wondered briefly if tousled hair would prove as difficult to the shapeshifter as a Bajoran nose. "I just wish that ..." Kira's voice faltered.

"You wish --?"

"I wish that you weren't in love with me. I don't mind being with you like this -- Prophets, I love being with you like this --" she ran her hands intimately down the length of his torso, shivering in pleasure "-- but I still can't promise you much in return."

"You're here, aren't you? "Odo kept his tone level with difficulty. "What we've had together isn't -- it isn't all that I want, but it's more than I ever hoped for."

"If only I knew -- Odo, I wish I could tell you what you want to hear ..."

"Shh. . . It's all right, Nerys. Like I said, it's more than I hoped for."

Kira sensed the ocean of sorrow lapping at the edge of Odo's words. She shuddered, wishing that there was something, anything she could say to take the pain from his eyes, take the pain from her own heart as it remembered the past. She reached out and took Odo's face in her hands with sudden determination, giving him a searching stare before pressing her mouth passionately, fearfully to his.

"Odo," she whispered, "'O! Do'l'meytahl alana ta'biem'. . ."

"Ta'dor a lyien i ter'an a'tiel . . ." Odo shifted, morphed into his natural form, and wrapped Kira gently in his living substance, making love to her until she wept, until she laughed from the joy of it -- until she slept.

When the door buzzer sounded the next morning, Kira spent a full moment being absolutely disoriented. She remembered slowly that it was her day off, that there was no reason to panic that she might be late going on duty ... with a tired moan she croaked, "Who is it?"

"It's Dax. May I come in?"

Kira shot bolt upright in bed. There was a brief flurry beside her -- before Odo "disappeared", and a new, brightly colored blanket arranged itself on the bed. Kira leaned over to grab her dress and Odo's tux from the floor, stuffing them under the covers beside her before pulling the sheet up to her chin. She then called, with what she hoped was innocent brightness, "Come!"

Dax came into the room, wearing civilian clothes, and looking puzzled. "Did you forget our appointment?"

"Appointment?" Kira thought hard, but drew a blank. "What appointment?"

"Just the appointment we have for coffee practically every time our days off coincide."

"It's already ten hundred hours?"

"It's half past. I finally gave up and came looking for you." Dax sat down on the edge of the bed, and Kira forced herself not to wince. "Nerys, are you all right? You've been acting -- very strangely."

"Strangely? How?"

"You miss a day of work -- most unusual. You show up two hours late the next day. You forget our appointment this morning. Last night --"

"What about last night?"

"Did you and Odo even notice when Julian and I left?"

"We were -- concentrating on learning the steps."

"It looked like you had already moved on to making up new ones by the time Julian and I decided to go to dinner." Hesitating, Dax studied Kira quizzically. "Nerys -- is there something going on between you and Odo?"

"Going on? I don't know what you're talking about."

Dax shook her head her head in exasperation. Suddenly, her eyes locked on something that rested on the night table. Kira's gaze followed Dax's reluctantly -- to the wilting red rose that Kira had tossed there the night before. Kira's blush was comparable in color to the flower.

Dax let her eyes travel casually around the room, checking out the details. Predictably, her gaze settled on the unfamiliar "blanket" beneath her. She ran her hand along the "fabric", pursing her lips thoughtfully.

"This is lovely, Nerys. Is it new?"

"Yes," Kira whispered.

Dax got to her feet, giving Kira an understanding smile. "I hope you're enjoying it."

Kira squared her jaw, forcing herself to meet her friend's eyes. "I am. Very much."

"Tell you what -- we'll forget coffee. Fourteen-hundred hours at the Replimat for lunch?"

"Sure -- sounds good." Kira watched Dax's retreating back until the door finally closed behind her. The "blanket" transformed itself into a properly uniformed Odo, seated on the edge of the bed at her side.

"I take it she guessed I was here."

Kira nodded.

"Do you care?"

Kira considered the question for a moment. "No. . . not really. I don't want my personal life spread all over the station, but I think I can trust Dax not to say anything."

"I think you're right," Odo commented. There was an underlying certainty to his tone that made Kira look at him curiously.

"You sound like she's been keeping your secrets already."

"Remember when each of us got to provide a -- an environment for one of Dax's prior hosts?"

Kira nodded. "Of course."

"Curzon and I had something of a lengthy stay together -- I got to know a great deal about him. I sometimes imagine that just a trace of Curzon stayed with me -- at least I'd like to think so. Such a remarkable man." The barest ghost of a smile flitted at Odo's lips. "Being aware of some of his -- experiences has certainly helped our current situation." He ran a knowing hand down Kira's sheet-covered thigh. "In the process, he also got to know a great deal about me -- and consequently, so did Dax."

"So you knew then ...?"

"That I was in love with you? Oh, yes."

Kira slowly disentangled herself from the sheets, slipping up behind Odo to wrap her arms around him and rest her chin on his shoulder. "I do care for you so very much -- you know that, don't you?"

"Of course I do." Odo brought up his hands to cover Kira's where they rested against his chest, gripping them tightly.

"Odo, I --"

"Shh ... don't forget what I asked you."

"No. I won't." Kira fell silent, although her arms tightened. Finally she whispered, "Thank you for last night."

"I wish I could --" Odo paused, helpless.

"You wish you could what?"

"Oh ... make all the past hurts go away."

"But you have, as much as anyone can ..." Kira brushed her lips against Odo's cheek, while she pondered her own statement with startled eyes. Odo squeezed Kira's hands gratefully, turning his head to kiss her.

"I had better go -- I have a whole stack of reports waiting for me in my office."

"Odo -- when is your day off?"

"I'm not sure anymore -- I hardly ever take one."

"So you have some leave saved up?"

"If you counted the time I worked here during the Occupation, it probably comes out to years. Why?"

"I want to go spend a few days on Bajor -- and I want you to go with me. I want to show you where I grew up -- introduce you to some of my friends --" I want to show you my life. "Will you come?"

Kira felt a tiny shiver run through Odo's body. When he finally spoke, his words came with difficulty. "When do we go?"

"Can you get away next week?"

"I'll manage." Odo took one of Kira's hands from his chest, pressing it to his lips with sudden passion. "Thank you, Nerys."

Kira shook her head, smiling. "No -- thank you."

Kira was gratified to find that she had actually beaten Dax to the Replimat when lunch time came. She settled down at a table with her cup of coffee, wondering vaguely how any civilization had managed to develop to the point of space travel before humans from Earth came along with this all-empowering brew. Raktajino might taste better, but coffee had the kick . . . Kira stared thoughtfully into her cup, her mind focusing on Bajor, and her sudden decision to go there with Odo. Maybe what's affecting me will be dissipated away from the station, and I can think clearly. Unbidden came the thought: If only I really were in love. It feels like love -- I wish it could be love. I just want to be sure.

"Coffee, huh?" Dax's voice came cheerfully from behind her. She pulled up a chair to the table and set down her own cup, along with a plate of Bajoran haush'bulah. "But aren't you eating?"

"I'm not hungry." Kira picked up her cup, concentrating on taking a sip so she could avoid meeting Dax's eyes.

"So -- what's the story?" Dax inquired gently.

Kira sighed. "You mean with Odo?"

"That would be the one."

"It's pretty simple, actually. I started having these -- incredibly sexual dreams about him last week -- I ended up sleepwalking into his quarters, only he thought that I was awake -- and I guess you could say that nature took its course."

Dax let out a low whistle. "Not the most romantic beginning -- but it looks like it worked."

"Depends on how you define 'worked'."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Nerys, but you weren't sleepwalking last night."

"No, of course not. The sex is -- fine."

"From the look on your face, we're talking about a lot more than sex," Dax observed.

"We may be," Kira conceded, a haunted expression in her eyes, "but that's all I'm ready to talk about right now."

"Does that mean the sex is the only part you're not confused about?"

"Oh, I'm confused about that, too. But at least I know how it was."

"So --" Dax decided to follow the path Kira indicated "-- how was it?"

"I already said. It was fine."

"Just fine?" Dax sounded doubtful.

"More than fine," Kira admitted. "Try incredible."

"Then . . . ?"

"Odo's in love with me, Dax."

"I know."

Kira smiled wryly. "I wish I had known. I have no idea how I really feel about him, Dax . . . other than he's my best friend in the world and it would break my heart to hurt him."

"So -- what are his expectations? Of your relationship, I mean."

Kira shook her head. "I don't think he has any. I'm not sure he believes yet that there is a relationship."

"What about you?"

"I don't know -- other than I don't think it will last. Let's face it, my luck hasn't been too good. I wish it could last -- but passion dies, doesn't it?"

"Not necessarily," Dax said quietly. "Mine for Kahn never did."

Kira glanced up at her friend, touched that Dax would venture into the realm of her own hurt in order to offer some comfort. "It's so strange -- I really want to be in love."

"In love with Odo, or in love generally?"

"That's a good question." Kira thought about it and shrugged. "If I knew the answer to that, I might know whether or not I'm in love with Odo." Kira shook her head. "I always thought being in love would be like seeing a vermokk," she commented, mentioning Bajor's most vicious predator prior to the Cardassians.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, they're very rare -- hardly anyone has ever actually seen one -- but we've seen enough pictures, and heard enough about them, that you'd expect one to be instantly recognizable."

"Emotions are a little trickier than that," Dax observed. She asked quietly, "How soon did you know with Bareil?"

"Oh, Prophets," Kira swore. Dax raised her eyebrows. "I'm sorry," Kira continued, "I've just been trying not to compare the two."

"Noble, but stupid." To Kira's questioning glance Dax answered, "You were in love with Bareil, weren't you? That makes him the best grounds for comparison you've got."

"It's just that they're so different! Not just the individuals -- the circumstances!"

"Okay, then, let's look at the differences. What are they?"

"Bareil was so gentle -- so loving -- so giving of himself. Not just to me, to everybody."

"And Odo isn't?"

"Not to everybody. Just to me. To me he's -- how do I say it? He's gentle, he's passionate -- he's perfect. But I thought the same thing about Edon, and look where that got me!"

"Do you honestly think that Odo's feelings are as -- shallow as Shakaar's turned out to be?"

"No," Kira whispered, "and mine for him aren't that shallow, either. But to compare him with Bareil --"

"But the way he treats you, the way he cares for you -- Odo's not all that different from Bareil in his relationship with you."

"No, I suppose not. But Bareil was more -- up front with his feelings."

"How so?"

"Well, he certainly didn't wait years before telling me he was in love with me!"

"Yes, but didn't he get a lot more encouragement?"

Kira looked faintly insulted. "Excuse me?"

"Let's face it, Nerys, you've been pretty obtuse."

"What do you mean?" Kira asked indignantly.

"I mean that it's been pretty obvious to some of us that Odo worships the ground you walk on, and I for one have been wondering what it would take to give you a good swift kick in the rear! You're so tactless! I remember you carrying on when that Romulan -- Ruwon -- suggested that there might be something between you and Odo. You hit the ceiling! And I bet you hit the ceiling about it with Odo, too."

Kira shrank a little in her chair. "I guess I did at that."

"Did you ever wonder what tipped Odo off to the Founder who impersonated you on that moon in the Badlands? The one in the cave?"

"Odo told me that it was something she said that -- that he knew I wouldn't say."

"I shouldn't tell you this, but I'm going to. Odo realized that it wasn't you after he broke down and told 'you' that he loved you -- and got the reply 'I'm in love with you too'."

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes."

Kira closed her eyes in pain, propping her elbows on the table and burying her face in her hands. "The one thing I prayed for was not to hurt him -- and here I've already done it who knows how many times."

Dax relented somewhat at Kira's obvious contrition. "Nerys, the important thing isn't the past. What's important is figuring out how you feel now." Dax allowed herself a moment's compassion before continuing her interrogation. Distancing herself, she continued briskly, "All right -- let's see, comparing the two of them . . . What about sex?"

"I already told you."

"Not with Odo. With Bareil."

Kira flushed. "It was -- nice."

"Just nice? Not nice-as-in-incredible nice?"

"We just didn't have as much of an opportunity, that's all," Kira said defensively.

"Nerys, you and Odo have slept together how many times?"

"Define 'sleep'."

"Nerys . . ."

"If you're asking me how many times we've had sex, then ask me."

"All right. How many times have you had sex?" Dax responded promptly.

Kira suddenly wished that she had stayed with the question as it was originally phrased as she was forced to count on her fingers under the table. "Seven . . . no, eight. Nine, tops."

Dax's eyebrows crawled up to her hairline. "When did you say this started?"

"I didn't." Kira sighed in exasperation. "Three nights ago."

She felt a strange satisfaction at the look that flitted across Dax's face. Dax seemed. . . impressed. "Not bad," the Trill conceded. "No wonder you were missing work. Still, you and Bareil were lovers a lot longer -- you're not going to tell me that you and Bareil were together less than eight -- or nine -- times."

"No, of course not. It was just -- different, that's all. There were things we still had to finish working through." Kira was clearly reluctant to continue with the topic.

"Do you know what I think is really bothering you?" Dax asked.

"No, but I bet you're going to tell me." Kira's brow was furrowed in a stubborn, resentful frown.

"You'd win the bet. I think that you're feeling guilty."

"Guilty about what?" Kira fumed.

"I think you feel guilty that you're having a better time with your gruff, down-to-earth, tango-dancing Changeling than you ever did with your noble, self-sacrificing, spiritual vedek."

"That's ridiculous!"

"Is it? You Bajorans are so good about cherishing a lost cause. The problem is, Bareil's dead -- he really is a lost cause! Don't you think it's time you gave him up and got on with the rest of your life?"

"Dammit, I loved Bareil!"

Kira and Dax suddenly realized that their voices had been rising steadily, and that the lunch crowd at the Replimat had become their raptly attentive audience. Kira could barely bring herself to glance up at the people around her -- but what she saw chilled her heart. Odo, engaged in his usual daily round of faking coffee consumption while observing the people on the Promenade, was sitting across the room near the door. Only his hands were empty . . . he met Kira's gaze with a single desolate stare, before standing and moving rapidly out of the Replimat, heading in the direction of his office.

Kira had realized for a long time that love left scars. She didn't know until the instant Odo turned his back on her and walked away that love also had teeth.

"Odo, wait!"

Discretion be damned. Kira scrambled to her feet, hurrying between the crowded tables with a near-total disregard for any toes or shins she encountered. Bashir and Garak, sitting together for their usual luncheon date, remained unobserved as Kira went rushing past them -- but Garak was nursing a bruised instep as Dax came up to the table.

"Gentlemen, may I join you? My plans for lunch seem to have been canceled."

"Please, Commander." Garak nodded at a free chair. Dax seated herself, looking glum. Bashir eyed her carefully.

"Jadzia, if you don't mind my saying this . . ."

"Go ahead."

"You might want to stick to the natural sciences."

"Meaning?"

"Leave psychiatry alone."

Her other friends ignored or forgotten, Kira sped down the Promenade towards her destination. She was oblivious to the startled faces of people she would normally say "hello" to, even stop to chat with. Kira only cared about one thing -- that she cover the distance that separated her from Odo so she could finally tell him that she loved him.

She had nearly reached his office when an explosion blew the door off.

Too shocked to scream, Kira could only whimper, "Odo?" She plunged heedlessly into the smoking cavern that been the Security Chief's office, slamming her fist against her combadge as she did so. "Security! Dr. Bashir! There's been an explosion on the main Promenade -- Odo's office." Kira's voice nearly cracked as she repeated her lover's name.

Kira crept through the rubble until she managed to reach the space behind Odo's desk. She found him slumped on the floor behind it, still in his solid form, but unresponsive to her insistent voice, her gentle hands on his face.

"Odo? Odo, wake up. Please, Odo, wake up!"

"What happened?" Bashir appeared through the dust and smoke, crouching at Odo's side.

"I don't know. I was just a few feet down the Promenade when -- his office exploded."

"Well, take heart, Major -- I don't think it's a suicide attempt."

Kira glanced sharply at Bashir, who was concentrating on his patient.

"I was in the Replimat," Bashir responded to her unasked question. He moved his med scanner over the inert Changeling and sighed. "I still know nothing about Odo's physiology -- he won't even show up on my scanners until I reconfigure them." He turned to look at Kira. "Major, I don't even know if he's still alive."

"He has to be," Kira whispered. Bashir touched his combadge.

"This is Bashir. I have a medical emergency. Two -- three -- to beam directly to the infirmary, now."

Two hours later, scanners on one of the bio-beds reconfigured, Bashir still didn't know a lot more about his patient's condition. In addition to Kira, the infirmary now held Sisko and Dax, both anxiously awaiting news regarding Odo.

"The good news is that he appears to be alive -- barely. The bad news is that the injuries appear to have caused his metabolism to fixate in his solid state -- and he's not going to get any better if he can't revert to his gelatinous form and regenerate." Bashir clenched his fists in frustration. "The thing is, he shouldn't be injured -- any flying debris should have just passed through him. I have no idea how to help him."

"I know you'll do your best, Doctor." A slight catch in Sisko's voice was the only indication of how concerned he was for the welfare of his Chief of Station Security. "I think that we should leave you to it and get back to Ops."

"Sure, Captain. Let me go change into my uniform." Kira resolutely tore her eyes from Odo's too-quiet face.

"Actually, I wasn't thinking of you, Major." Sisko met Kira's startled glance with a shrug. "You are off duty."

"Someone needs to head up the investigation -- we need to find out who did this."

"I thought that Commander Eddington could do that."

"Dammit, I want to work!"

Dax laid her hand briefly on Sisko's arm. "Go ahead, Benjamin -- I'll be along in a few minutes." Sisko left the infirmary while Dax pulled Kira gently but inexorably to one side. Bashir barely spared them a glance as he continued to pore over the bio-bed's myriad readings.

"Nerys, don't run away from this. The place you need to be is here."

"Who knows who -- or what! -- is loose on this station?! We need answers."

"We'll get them. The important thing is that Odo needs you."

"Yes! He needs me to find out who did this to him!"

"Eddington can do that. Worf can do that. I can do that. There are dozens of people on this station to do that. You're the only one who can maybe make Odo believe that it's worth his while to stay alive." Dax took Kira by the shoulders and gave her a little shake. "Do you really want to go about business as usual while another person you love dies?"

Kira stared at Dax, a tiny, anguished whimper the only sound she could force from her constricted throat. Dax patted her shoulder by way of apology, before silently exiting the infirmary.

Kira returned to stand by Odo's bio-bed, careful to stay out Bashir's way, then crept a little closer to Odo, reaching out to gather his limp hand between both of hers. Tears were beginning to stream down her face, tears that she shook away angrily. Bashir looked up when a drop splashed his hand, and managed to spare Kira a tight-lipped smile.

"Major -- Dax may be right. I have no idea how much Odo is aware of what's going on around him, but if the two of you are -- I mean, if you've been -- intimate --"

"Yes, Julian -- Odo is my lover." The word felt both right and inadequate. It left a vague taste of ashes is her mouth, mingling with the salt from her tears.

"Look . . . I'm going to take a look at these readings in my office . . . I can actually monitor them a little bit better from there. Maybe if you just talked to him . . . Anyway, call me if you need me . . . and Nerys?"

"What?" Kira whispered.

"Don't be too hard on yourself. This wasn't your fault."

When Kira failed to respond, Bashir sighed and stepped from the room. Kira leaned over so that her head rested next to Odo's, grateful for the privacy that allowed her to weep without restraint. The hand she kept curled around Odo's tightened convulsively.

"Don't die," she breathed against his shoulder. "Please don't die."

"Nerys?"

It was just a faint croak, barely recognizable as her name, much less as Odo's usual velvet-and-sandpaper tones. Kira straightened abruptly, staring down into Odo's face. His eyes were still closed -- and scarred by flying debris, as was the rest of his face. Odo had been unable to re-form his features into their normal appearance after the blast. To Kira Nerys, it was the most beautiful face in the world.

"Odo, can you hear me?"

"Barely." The whisper came with difficulty.

"Odo, you need to try to revert to your gelatinous state." Kira spoke loudly, causing Bashir to come in from his office to investigate. "He's awake," she whispered. Bashir looked at the panel above the bio-bed.

"Same readings as when he was unconscious. Constable, you are not a particularly forthcoming patient."

"Nerys. . ."

Kira bent over to catch the whisper. "Yes?"

"I don't think I can."

"What? You mean you can't regenerate?" Fear made Kira's tone shrill.

"I'm . . . sorry."

Bashir added his encouragement to Kira's. "Odo, you have to. Do it for Nerys."

"Odo, do it for you," Kira begged. "You've already done too damn much for me." She let her face fall back against his shoulder. "I love you, Odo." The words were less spoken than breathed against the side of Odo's neck.

There was a long pause, the silence broken only by the murmur of scanners and the agonized beating of Kira's heart sounding in her ears. Then Odo whispered:

"You -- promised."

Kira knew instantly what he meant. "I know what I promised -- and I'm keeping it. I'm not just saying it -- Odo, I do love you, I'm in love with you, and you've got to get well so I can prove it to you. Please!" Kira spoke loudly, not caring that Bashir heard her every word. Odo managed a vague semblance of a smile.

"I believe you, Nerys. It's all right."

It tore through Kira like a knife that Odo was using his little remaining strength to reassure her. She wasn't sure that he even meant it, that she had convinced him of the truth of her words. "Dammit, I won't let you leave me! Do you hear me? I won't!"

"Major. . ." Bashir put gentle hands on Kira's shoulders, but she threw them off.

"Odo, listen to me! Do you hear me? Shift, dammit, shift!"

There was no further response from the inert shapeshifter. Kira choked back an anguished gasp, shoving her fist into her mouth and biting the knuckles until a trickle of blood ran down her hand.

"Major!" Bashir dragged Kira's fist from her mouth with one hand, reaching for a dermal regenerator with the other. "There's no sense in injuring yourself."

Kira submitted reluctantly to the healing rays. "It's -- something I used to do to cope when I was in the resistance." It always worked -- except with Laur. It took Shakaar and Furel together to pull me off her when she died, and Shakaar had to punch me in the jaw just so they could get me out of there alive. When I came to I was covered with her blood -- it was hours before I would let anyone help me clean up. I felt so guilty. . .

"Injuring yourself?" Bashir asked indignantly.

"Bleeding is quieter than screaming when you see one of your friends blown up."

Bashir stared at her, for once at a loss for words. He reached out and patted her awkwardly on the arm as he collected himself. Finally he ventured:

"Major, you look awful. Would you like a cup of coffee or something?"

"Me? No, I'm fine." Kira squirmed uncomfortably under Bashir's compassionate regard.

Bashir once again turned to study the bio-bed readings, his expression bleak.

"I just wish I knew what to do for him . . ."

Kira walked over to stand shoulder to shoulder with the physician, also studying the readings. As usual, they made as much sense to her as a Klingon opera. But even she could see that they were depressingly static.

"Julian," she asked softly, "have you ever been in love? Really in love?"

Bashir smiled. "I'd like to think so." He crossed the room to prop his angular frame in the doorway that led to his office, turning to study Kira with gentle concentration.

"Did it hurt?"

"Sometimes," Bashir admitted. "Times like this -- they always hurt."

"I've lost every one of the people I love best, and I've managed to survive it. I keep wondering which will be the one that finally breaks me." Kira raised a hand to her cheek, shaking her head. "I must look awful, I feel like --"

A sudden <beep!> from her combadge interrupted Kira's reverie.

"Sisko to Major Kira."

Kira tapped her combadge. "Yes, Captain? Any news?"

"So far everyone on the station checks out. The only evidence found in Odo's office was some needle-fine silver spines peppered like shrapnel all over what was left of his desk."

"Silver spines?" Bashir straightened alertly.

"Does that tell you something, Doctor?" Sisko wanted to know.

"It may. . . it just may. I'll get back to you when I know something for sure. Bashir out." He looked at Odo intently. "I wonder. . ."

There was a sudden, nearly imperceptible movement from the bio-bed. Kira leaned over Odo, gathering his hand in hers.

"Odo, what is it?"

"The crystal," Odo whispered, with surprising clarity. "The silver crystal. . ."

"What about the crystal, Odo?" Kira leaned closer, straining to catch every word.

"I threw it -- against the wall. It blew up. The shards --"

Odo raised his hand with difficulty and traced a vague pattern against his chest, where there was a spattering of what they had initially taken to be metallic dust from the office walls. Bashir reached out and grabbed a set of tweezers, extracting what turned out to be a hair-fine silver splinter over a centimeter in length.

"My God -- Nerys, do you see this? We need to pull these out."

"What are they?" Kira stared at the sliver in Bashir's hand.

"I've never actually seen one before, but unless I'm mistaken, they're pieces of an Aldenorian dreaming crystal. Contained in the crystal they're harmless, but once shattered they're highly toxic to every life form that has so far encountered them -- including, apparently, Changelings. Thank God only this cluster hit him . . ."

"The desk -- caught most of them." Odo sighed and closed his eyes, as though all his strength was spent. Julian hit his combadge. "I need some help in here, now!" His nurse and a med tech hurried through the door.

"Start pulling out these spines," he ordered, his hands never slowing as his assistants took up their places across from him. "Major, stand back."

"I want to help."

"You can't. Your hands are shaking too much."

Kira glanced down at her hands and realized that Bashir right. She stood back out of the way, watching the proceedings uncertainly.

Odo'ital . . . Odo Ital . . . what a horrible thing, to call someone 'nothing', Kira thought absently as spine after silver spine was deposited carefully in a specimen dish. It suddenly occurred to her, It might be a Cardassian word, but it was the Bajoran scientists who did it, who perpetuated it. What a cruel joke.

Finally, after several checks and rechecks with a magnifier, Bashir stood back from his patient, nodding his thanks to his staff. As the nurse and lab tech departed, he turned to Kira.

"That seems to have done something." Bashir nodded at the scanner overhead. "But I'm still not seeing the kind of results I want." Bashir sighed, reaching up to rub the back of his neck tiredly. "Nerys, it's up to Odo now. I don't think that there's anything more I can do."

"I know you're doing your best, Julian -- thank you."

Kira reached out to give Bashir's arm a brief squeeze, before returning resolutely to Odo's side.

"Did you hear that?" Kira spoke to her lover gently, forcing herself to remain calm. "Come on, Odo, you have to help yourself now - damn it, you've got so much to look forward to. We're going to Bajor together, remember? And we still haven't learned to waltz." She lifted his hand in hers, holding it to her heart. Kira let her head droop so that her lips brushed against Odo's fingertips. "Please," she whispered, "give me more time to love you."

In the agonizing moments that followed, all Kira could do was pray under her breath, and listen to her own heartbeat. Odo seemed past all response, gone to somewhere just beyond Kira's reach.

Kira suddenly thought about when she had first met Odo, all those years ago. I thought he was trying to pick me up, she mused. Odo's embarrassment had been so tangible, and she had gotten her first glimpse of perfect integrity, a commitment to justice and to the truth untainted by any extraneous loyalties or expedient demands. Almost the first thing he said to me was to tell me I was pretty. The thought brought her a faint smile.

Kira hadn't felt pretty. She had felt rotten for lying to him, especially when Odo had decided to grant her his trust, his belief in her innocence. It still burned her to remember how hurt he had been when he had finally realized the truth -- that while she might not do certain things for money or for food, she had done them for the Resistance. And they had led her to that bloody moment in the darkened chemist's shop, when she had been forced to murder a collaborator.

How many times have I disappointed you, Odo? Will I ever have the chance to disappoint you again?

"'Ah, that this too, too solid flesh might melt'." Kira glanced up, startled, at the sound of Bashir's voice. "Shakespeare," he added in response to her questioning stare.

"Wasn't he a Klingon?"

Bashir winced. "William Shakespeare was from Earth -- from 16th century England."

"Did he know about Changelings?" Kira inquired absently. She looked up at the depressingly stable readings on the bio-bed scanner.

"You would think to read him that he knew about everything." Bashir paused before asking, "Major, there's something I need to ask you."

"What is it, Julian?"

"Do you know how long ago Odo finished his last regenerative cycle?"

Kira nodded. "Ten-thirty. We slept in." We needed it, after waking up in the middle of the night the way we did, Kira thought silently. Odo was so tender -- so understanding -- who else could have broken through my terror and my pain and made me feel alive and loved and happy, even in the midst of my darkest memories? Caressing me and holding me, making love to me with his whole -- not just body, with his whole self -- I felt it in every particle of my being. It was wonderful . . . no. It was more than wonderful. It was -- holy, sacred. I think I knew then that I loved him -- but I pushed it back, I wouldn't trust my heart. When have I ever really trusted my heart -- or whatever scarred remnant of a heart the Occupation left me with?

"Hmm . . . well, that's better than I thought. I won't really do any more serious worrying until midnight." Bashir's anxious expression belied his words.

"Four more hours," Kira whispered. She stared down at Odo's hand, that she still held tightly in hers.

"Major -- you really do look worn out. Why don't you try to get some sleep? I can call you if there's any change."

"You don't look so great yourself, Julian," Kira observed. "In fact, I'm ready to bet that you got up a lot earlier than I did."

Bashir smiled. "Ah, but I'm younger."

"You're not that much younger!" Kira retorted indignantly. She shook her head. "Nice try, Julian, but I'm staying right here."

Bashir nodded. "I rather expected it -- I'm going to step into my office and put my head down on the desk. If there's any change -- any change at all, no matter how slight -- call me."

"I will," Kira promised. She watched Bashir's retreating back, noting the tired slump of his shoulders. He really is a good doctor, she acknowledged. Prophets, Odo and I despised him at first. I despised him longer than Odo -- Odo's sense of justice again. He figured out early that Bashir was a good doctor, and a good doctor was all he should be expected to be. The fact that Julian's gradually shaping up into such a nice person is just an unexpected surprise.

Kira finally allowed herself to sit in a chair she pulled as close as possible to the bed, so that by leaning forward she could rest her cheek against Odo's hand. She turned her head so that her lips were against his skin. "I love you, Odo," she whispered, breathing the words into his flesh. "L'meytahl, I love you."

Exhausted, Kira closed her eyes. Before she knew it, she was asleep, so deeply so that she barely felt the gentle movement of Odo's hand beneath her cheek. Startled, she opened her eyes and drew back to look at Odo intently. She spared a quick glance for the chronometer on the wall.

Twenty-six-hundred-hours and twenty-nine minutes.

"Odo?"

"Nerys, I --"

"Julian!" Kira called loudly. "Can you come in here, please?"

Bashir hurried into the room just as there was a sudden radical shift to the readings on the bio-bed scanner. Bashir studied them closely, his eyes widening in alarm.

"I don't know what it is, but all hell's breaking loose." Ultimately trusting his doctor's eyes and hands as his best diagnostic apparatus, Bashir began to press his hands gently against Odo's sides. To Kira's questioning stare he said, "I don't know -- I just want to see if he's any less -- solid."

"Not a solid . . . a Changeling . . ." Kira and Bashir were both startled to hear the shapeshifter's voice. Odo sat up abruptly, his eyes flying open and fixing on Kira's face. He tried to speak, before --

Dissolution. He collapsed into an amorphous golden mass, that would have fallen off the bio bed if Kira and Bashir hadn't been on either side to catch it. Bashir looked across at Kira as they endeavored to keep Odo from oozing onto the floor in a multitude of directions. He gave Kira an elated grin as he studied the overhead med scanner screen.

"Major, he's regenerating!" Bashir sneaked another glance at the reading just to make sure. "I think he's going to be all right!" He slapped his combadge, shouting, "I need a med tech in here, STAT! And bring a bucket!"

The bucket arrived too late. Kira disgraced herself forever by keeling over in a dead faint. Odo fell practically on top of her. He oozed the few inches necessary to fit into the curve of Kira's body as she lay sprawled on her side, while Bashir and his newly arrived assistant watched in bemused astonishment. Bashir grabbed a med scanner and ran it over Kira quickly.

"My God," he said softly, "she's got Molly O'Brien's flu." He shook his head. "Doesn't that explain a lot." Bashir grabbed a hypospray and started to inject it into Kira's shoulder, but instead he laid it aside, sitting back on his heels.

"Well, don't just stand there," Bashir said finally. "Somebody get Major Kira a pillow."

By the time Odo finally emerged from forty-eight hours of regenerative rest, the infirmary had taken on a decidedly more normal atmosphere.

Kira, recovered from her faint if not her embarrassment, had at first stubbornly refused to move from where Odo had curled comfortably against her, barely a quiver disturbing him in his "sleep." It was only work that could call her away, where the lives of everyone in Ops were converted into a living hell for the duration of Kira's duty shift. When she returned to the infirmary at the end of it, Odo was encased in a proper specimen container on the bio-bed with his condition being carefully monitored. Kira settled into her chair, simply waiting and thinking, with a level of patience that would have done even Odo proud. She returned to the same chair the following afternoon, after Sisko finally relieved her of duty for surpassing her prior record for bitchiness and bad temper.

It was the middle of the night and Kira was dozing when Odo silently resumed his customary humanoid shape. Feeling perfectly well, he swung his legs off the side of the bed, and noticed Kira sitting there with her head pillowed against her hand, her face white with worry and exhaustion. A being of action rather than words, Odo did the natural thing, standing up in front of Kira and leaning over to kiss her gently. Startled, Kira opened her eyes. She smiled, retreating into studied casualness from the feelings that were making her heart pound like it would burst from her chest.

"About time you were getting up."

"I take it I was sick." Odo glanced around, observing his surroundings. He looked back at Kira quizzically.

"You don't remember?"

"Since that -- damned rock exploded in my office, I don't remember a thing. What was it, anyway? Did anyone ever figure it out?"

"It was a Aldenorian dreaming crystal." Bashir's light tones preceded him into the room, amazingly alert for a man who had just been sleeping with his head down on his desk. "They're the stuff of myths, actually . . . supposedly they enable you to live out your dreams, but if they break before you achieve your heart's desire, you die. I would say that you're safer not breaking one in any case."

"Hmph." Odo rolled his eyes skeptically. Kira felt more convinced. She stared at Bashir, shocked.

"You mean that -- that thing was causing us to dream?"

"Why? Were you both having strange dreams?" Bashir looked from Kira to Odo questioningly. "What sort of dreams?"

Kira opened her mouth to reply, but no sound came out. Odo sighed.

"You're the one who mentioned it -- you answer him."

Kira swallowed hard and squared her jaw resolutely. "They were -- very erotic."

Bashir shrugged. "I can't speak for what was causing Odo to dream, but you, Major, had Eldanesian flu."

"What?" Kira shook her head in puzzlement.

"Yes -- that was probably the primary element that caused you to faint." Bashir commented. Odo looked over at Kira sharply, to see her wince at the recollection. "You were pretty much at the tail end of it -- I'm sorry, I've been so occupied with our friend here that I forgot to tell you. You must have caught it from Molly O'Brien."

"Julian, are you telling me that Molly O'Brien had something that would give her dreams like that?"

"Not her -- she's too young. She just had lots of temper tantrums -- Keiko and Miles are both complaining about new gray hairs. However, with adults it tends to act on the libido -- the more repressed and the stronger the desire, the more intense the dreams. The Eldanesians call it 'the bonding sickness' and refuse to even try to develop a vaccine, because they claim it's the only way that a person can find his -- or her --" Bashir gave Kira a knowing smile "-- true mate. There have even been cases that have caused the patient to sleepwalk. . . I understand it can lead to some embarrassing situations."

"I see," Kira said faintly. Odo looked at her, a whisper of hope rising in his eyes that he instantly silenced.

"Well, Odo, if you feel well, I really can't justify keeping you here, since I still don't have more than the vaguest idea of what we did to help you in the first place. So I think I'll release you into Major Kira's capable hands." Bashir smiled and strolled back into his office, humming. Kira followed Odo out of the infirmary, suddenly feeling too shy to so much as put her hand on his arm. Odo looked lost in thought, his face brooding and troubled.

The corridors of the Habitat Ring were dark and empty, befitting the lateness of the hour. Automatically heading toward her own quarters, Kira was surprised when Odo stopped at the door to his.

"Aren't you coming with me?" Kira asked, surprised.

"That's all right, Major -- thank you." Odo turned abruptly and disappeared into his quarters. Flabbergasted, Kira just stared after him for a moment, before sharply punching in the code that would allow her to follow Odo unannounced.

"What do you think you're doing?" she burst out angrily. Odo, standing in front of his desk with his back to the door, straightened at the sound of her voice but didn't turn to answer her.

"It sounds like you're recovered from your condition, Major."

"So?"

"I thought it might be best -- if we just try to go on like nothing ever happened."

For a sickening moment, Kira was speechless. She felt like she had been punched in the stomach. "Why would we want to do that?"

"That day, before the explosion . . . in the Replimat . . ."

"My talk with Dax." Kira thought back to it with difficulty. It seemed like light years before.

"What you said then . . ." Odo paused, unable to go on.

"I said a lot of stupid things that day." Kira paused. "You heard what I said about having loved Bareil."

Odo nodded, still not looking at her. "My entire life has been spent making compromises -- being something that I'm not, trying to fit, knowing that I'll always be on the outside looking in. But I can't be just some -- temporary substitute for a man who's dead. I'm sorry, Nerys -- I love you, but not enough for that."

Kira shook her head in frustration. "Odo, I did love Bareil -- past tense. He's not the only person I've loved -- I've had other lovers."

"You have," Odo acknowledged. "But I haven't." There was the faintest ripple to Odo's frame, as he struggled to maintain his shape despite his pain, that cut through Kira like a jagged blade.

"The thing is, they're only important now for what they were in my life." Kira reached out, laying her hands on Odo's shoulders. "For that reason, yes, Bareil will always be important to me."

"Nerys, can't we just leave this? Try to be friends?" Odo's voice nearly broke in his anguish.

"Odo, you're not listening!" Kira burst out sharply. "It's not like you not to pay attention! Now, will you please look at me when I'm talking to you?"

Odo finally turned to face her, looking like he would welcome another exploding crystal. "I'm sorry, Nerys. Tell me what you have to say." Odo's features formed his usual expressionless mask -- only his eyes conveyed his bleak lack of hope.

Kira forced herself to use a gentler tone. "Didn't you wonder why I was able to tell you about the gorem -- when I could never tell Bareil?"

Odo frowned, puzzled. "I just assumed it was because I guessed."

"Maybe Bareil guessed, too. He -- he didn't press me, though, and I didn't love him enough to tell him."

"Then why --?" Odo stared at Kira, perplexed.

"You know, I wondered about that, too," Kira admitted. "I've been thinking about it a lot the past two days."

"What did you decide?" Odo, ever the detective, found himself getting caught up in the line of inquiry in spite of himself.

"Well, I think part of it is just that I tend to tell you things. Things that I won't tell anyone else." Kira smiled. "You never seem to push me, but you always have -- the right questions."

"I suppose that's true. But it still doesn't fully explain it."

"I know . . . I could see that, too. But there's something more that I think does explain it . . . I realized what is was just before you were injured."

"Oh?" Odo forced himself to a casual reply. "What's that?"

"I finally realized that I love you -- more than I ever loved Bareil."

The gentle words fell like pebbles into the silence of a well, almost seeming to echo off the walls of the room. Kira continued with quiet determination.

"I think I love you more than I've ever loved anyone in my entire life -- and I've loved you longer than I want to think about."

Brown eyes stared directly into blue ones, and Odo found himself at a complete loss for words. He looked away first, fixing his gaze on the potted plant that Kira had given him when he first moved into quarters of his own -- the plant he had tenderly rescued after having once thrown it into a corner in a jealous rage over Shakaar.

"This should have been watered yesterday . . ." Odo crossed the room to attend to his greenery's horticultural needs. Kira stared after him, her mouth agape.

"Odo -- did you hear what I said?"

"I heard you." There was a decided quaver in the Changeling's voice, pitched at an even lower octave than normal. "I just can't believe you . . ." Odo sank to his knees, in a remarkably similar attitude, if only she'd known, to the first time he told what he thought was the real Kira that he loved her. Kira stared at his back, appalled.

"Odo -- why? Why can't you?"

Odo voice rasped thickly, from vocal cords barely maintained. "The leader of the Founders -- she told me you could never love me -- because I'm --"

"You're --?"

"-- because I'm a Changeling."

Kira moved hesitantly towards Odo and his precious plant, finally dropping to her knees at Odo's side. She reached out gently, taking his hand in hers, questioning eyes fixed on his face.

"And you believed her?"

Unable to speak, Odo simply nodded. Kira looked around desperately, at a loss for words -- then seized the bucket holding the plant, dragging it into her arms with sudden determination.

"What are you doing?" Odo exclaimed.

Kira dug into the soil at the plant's roots, pulling out a handful of dirt. She held it out to Odo on her upturned palm, fixing his gaze resolutely with hers.

"Do you know what this is?"

Odo stared at her. "It's -- dirt."

"Yes, it's dirt -- Bajoran soil. I brought this plant back from Bajor, so it isn't replicated soil, it's real. It's Bajor -- it's a piece of what I fought for, what my friends and family died for. My mother -- my father -- Laureshe -- Bareil -- almost everyone I've ever cared about is buried in some of this soil."

"Major -- Nerys, I --"

"Odo, I swear by the this -- piece of Bajor that I'm in love with you." Kira's words came slowly, with difficulty, yet she had obviously given them some thought. "I love . . . the way you look at me with those blue eyes of yours-- the way you reach past my defenses into my heart -- the way you dance with me --" Kira gave a slight smile "-- the way you make love to me." Her voice softened to little more than a whisper. "The way you take me exactly as I am without losing sight of what I can be -- I realized how much I loved you that day in the Replimat, when I saw you walking away from me -- I knew then that I need you in my life, as much as I do Bajor.

"I think I started to love you before I ever even met Bareil -- I told myself that it was -- respect, liking, admiration. I never thought that you could love me back -- why would you even if you could? You with your commitment to justice -- you're always so fair, Odo -- and I was just an ex-terrorist with a lot of blood on my hands. So I pushed all the feelings I was starting to have for you into some -- little box in my mind, and sealed it shut."

Odo kept staring at her, speechless. Kira swallowed hard before going on.

"Then I met Bareil -- he was such a good man, Odo, he was easy to love. And that love was easy to hide behind, long after he was dead. When it started to get difficult, when it had just been too long -- there was Edon -- that turned out not to be much, but it felt all right while it lasted. But when you finally told me that you loved me, and made love to me the way you did -- Odo, I know you don't have any real grounds for comparison, but trust me on this -- that kind of passion only comes along once in a lifetime, and that's if you're lucky."

Kira stared at the lump of earth in her hand, letting it crumble between her fingertips. "Imagine how guilty you'd feel, if you claimed you loved someone -- only to realize that all that time you'd loved someone else more, someone you wouldn't even let yourself dream about, at least not on a conscious level." Kira's gaze flicked upwards to lock with Odo's. "Bareil was the substitute -- for you."

Odo stared into Kira's face searchingly. She could almost see his logical detective's mind weighing the evidence.

Kira steeled herself to meet that questioning look. She said softly, "I finally let myelf dream about you -- and I know now that I love you. The question is -- do you still love me?"

"Do I -- ? Oh, Prophets, yes . . . Nerys. . ." Odo's arms closed around Kira, holding her so tightly that she gasped. "You mean it," he said, burying his face in her hair. "You really mean it."

"Of course I mean it . . . just because I'm in love with you doesn't mean I'm going to start saying a bunch of things I don't mean. Odo, you're L'meytahl -- my heart's blood."

Odo's response to the soft re-naming was to kiss the woman who had named him until she was breathless, pull away to look at her, and then kiss her some more. He then lay back against the carpet as though his strength had suddenly left him, Kira still locked in his arms. Kira, exhausted, rested her head against his shoulder.

"What was it?" Odo finally asked. "What made you realize, if it wasn't because you thought I was going to die?"

Kira shook her head. "I don't know. Something just happened -- hell, it had been waiting to surface long enough. Maybe it was that night -- when I had the nightmare about being raped." Suddenly Kira could say the word. "When you made love to me then -- do you realize how extraordinary it was that after a dream like that, when I was feeling that -- bruised and bloody, that you could make me feel like that? It's like you -- wrapped yourself around me and made my whole body, my whole being -- not just respond, it sings to you, Odo, it sings with you." Kira paused abruptly, blushing. "I think it started to filter in then that I could never feel as close to anyone as I feel to you. It was as though -- as though the bleeding finally stopped . . . like you gave me back the missing pieces of my heart."

Odo ran his hands over Kira's back as though reassuring himself she was really there, gathering his words while the silence shouted volumes.

"When Bashir said that about the crystal -- I thought it was an absolute crock. But it wasn't."

"No?" Kira nestled her head against him tenderly.

"My 'heart's desire' -- I did get it, after all."

Kira smiled. "So did I."

Odo gently shifted Kira onto her side so he could roll over to face her. For a long moment he just looked at her, searching her eyes with his, seeming pleased at the answers that awaited his unspoken questions. Finally he ventured, at last daring to tease her, "At the risk of being thought an eavesdropper . . . you're sure it's not just the 'incredible' sex?"

"No, it's not just -- " Kira stopped and stared at him, astonished. "You mean you heard that? Jadzia and I were practically whispering when I said that!"

"If you're going to go to the trouble of making a pair of ears every morning, you might as well be sure that they're good ones."

Kira laughed in outraged delight, a seductive little grin crinkling the corners of her eyes, before her smile softened into something more serious. "Better ears than my eyes, anyway."

"What do you mean?" Odo reached out to trace the line of Kira's jaw with a gentle fingertip.

"When I think back -- it's like almost everything you've ever said to me, ever done for me, was telling me that you loved me -- everything but saying the actual words. Why didn't I see it? Why did I waste so much time?"

Odo thought about the question. "I suppose we were both -- victims of our own misconceptions."

"No -- Dax is right. Laur was right. I was obtuse."

"But so beautiful."

Kira looked startled at the compliment. "Odo, I --"

"Shh. . ." Odo slipped his hand around the back of Kira's neck, drawing her mouth to meet his. Finally he whispered: "I could do that for ever."

"I'd like to give you a chance to try," Kira replied. Her mouth opened under his, as she drew him deeper into her embrace.

They kissed for a long time, before naturally moving on to other, more intimate things. Kira found herself lying once again on Odo's carpet, much as she had been when she awoke that first morning, only with Odo resting in her arms, his head pillowed on her breast. She brushed her lips against the top of his head, wondering briefly how someone so skilled at creating an exact facsimile of hair -- among other things -- could resolutely insist that he couldn't manage a proper Bajoran nose.

Kira turned her head to glance down at the carpet beneath them. "Odo, it's time."

"Time for what?" Odo wondered. "Are you on duty?"

"Not until morning. No, it's time you got some -- furniture. You might want to start with a bed."

"Oh." Kira could almost feel the thoughts racing through Odo's brain. Finally he ventured, "Nerys . . . how do you feel about -- Klingon opera?"

"I -- hate Klingon opera. Why?"

"Do you like caro'net?"

"I love it. You know that -- we've gone to at least three tournaments together."

"Yes, of course." He paused. "All right."

By now Kira was hopelessly confused. "All right what?"

"I'll get a bed."

Coupling.

Odo finally understood the humanoid institution, the institution he had derided so extensively to Quark some years past. Now, though, it made all the sense in the world.

THE END


Copyright 1995 by Carolyn R. Fulton*

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE and all of the characters, places, etc therefrom are the property of Paramount Pictures, Inc. This story however, is mine. It was written purely for personal enjoyment and does not intend to infringe on Paramount's copyright in any way. It may not be changed or altered in any way. Do not duplicate. You may print one copy for your personal use.


Go to the exciting sequel to "Dreams Into Waking", "Basilisk".

Like all fan-fic authors, your comments are my only reward. Please drop me a line at odofiles@aol.com and let me know what you think!


Return to The Odo and Kira Collection.