Changed 
Perception

... continued ...

Personal Log, Kira Nerys, Stardate ______.

I have never been good at waiting.

Odo is a master at it -- I never truly realized that before now. The patient razorcat that can lie still for hours and watch until the kivik of its choice straggles away from the herd. An expert at what the humans call cat and mouse. He says that patience has always been his ally. Never having had any, I’m afraid I can't say the same.

The O'Briens' baby boy makes steady, stealthy progress from its haven in my womb -- it seems so strange to me still, this child who will be no real part of my life who is nonetheless very much a part of my body, at least for the next three months. It's already been two. I had hoped that I might have a shorter gestation, since he already had four months start in Keiko, but apparently this human baby is going to take his time about it. I could have cried when Bashir told me, but I'm trying to keep a good face on it, because of Odo.

The renegade Founders are due back on the station any day, or at least they are if they hold true to what they told Odo three months ago. Odo has been very quiet about it, but he's been sitting up later than usual, doing a lot of entry on a dataPADD. One night when he was late coming home, I picked it up to see what it was -- I put it down again as soon as I saw the words:

"For my wife, Kira Nerys, to be read in the event of my death."

Even that felt like too much -- like by seeing those words I could somehow make it happen. I felt like the world was falling away -- I managed to go out into the main room to get a cup of tea, thinking it would calm me down, and naturally Keiko took one look at my face and asked me what was wrong. I don't know how long I cried after that, and I ended up telling her the whole story. Then Miles came in, and asked the same question. I didn't know I had that many tears in me, that it started me up all over again.

The upshot is that Molly and I are the only ones here who aren't annoyed at my husband these days. Miles and Keiko both think it's awful that he could even be considering such a thing with me in this condition. At one point, Miles took it upon himself to 'say a few words' to Odo, and I ended up saying a few words to Miles, along the lines of, "He planned this before I got IN this condition, and my being this way is neither of OUR faults!" I then made matters worse with, "Next time your wife gets pregnant, keep her home and out of any runabout, all right?" Keiko naturally overheard this, and had the guilt and anxiety attack I would have expected -- I like Keiko, but I sometimes wonder that someone so soft and sensitive ever connected with someone as bluff and sensible as Miles. Miles would have made a good Resistance fighter. Keiko, never.

Miles. That's another thing. Miles.

I should have anticipated it. I should have done a lot more reading about what happens to a Bajoran woman when she's pregnant, instead of just relying on nature to take its course. Nature is NOT going to take its course, at least not as far as Miles O'Brien is concerned. This wretched Bajoran body of mine has sniffed out who the father is of this child that I'm carrying and made him suddenly, overwhelmingly attractive to me. And I suspect that the same hormones are making me extremely enticing to him. We sublimate it with a lot of fights about what I should and shouldn't do while I'm carrying this baby. And I'm all over Odo like a vole every night. Sweet man, he's amazingly tolerant, though I fear that he realizes what's going on. I want to tell him that it's all right, that it will pass, but I don't feel I can so much as mention anything that might be bothering me right now, as he awaits the arrival of those mysterious ‘dissident founders’, and writes on that damned PADD every night. 'In the event of my death' ... Those words have burned holes in my mind.

Prophets, if you ever want to answer any prayer of mine again, answer this one -- let my husband live. Changeling or human, it doesn't matter to me -- just let him live. Please, let him live.

 

It was late when the doorchime sounded, and the only one awake to hear it was Odo -- whoever was outside had opted for the muted selection, so as not to disturb the rest of anyone inside. Odo might not have heard it himself if he hadn't decided to slip out and have a cup of ginger tea after Kira had gone from cries of passion to sleeping in his arms.

More passionate verbal wrestling with Miles, and then more passionate non-verbal wrestling with me. Unlike Kira, Odo had read the books, and resigned himself to what was going on -- more or less. I know that Nerys loves me. I know that this is just a reaction of her body's, one over which she has no control. I don't have to worry about her acting on it, or for Miles trying to get her to act on it, for that matter. She'll have the baby, and then everything will return to normal. In the meantime, when I become a changeling again, I think I can make her forget more than the occasional passing thought when it comes to Miles O'Brien. If I become a changeling again. If ...

Then the doorchime sounded, and Odo put his cup of tea, just claimed from the replicator, carefully down on the table before he crossed the room to answer it. The door <swooshed> open quietly at his touch on the panel, to reveal an unknown Bolian woman who waited patiently outside.

"Can I help you?" Odo wondered for an instant if it was perhaps earlier than he thought. "Is there a problem?"

Then the face of the woman in the corridor changed, shifted, into the young female changeling he had met in his 'bolt-hole' three months before. Odo's felt a combination of apprehension and hope slam into his stomach like a shot of Saurian brandy. "You," he whispered.

"May I come in?"

"Of course." Odo managed to nod, and step aside for the changeling to enter. He then glanced outside in the corridor, only to determine that his guest was alone. "I thought there would be more of you."

The changeling looked at him, misery darkening her clear blue eyes. "There would have been. They were -- returned to the Great Link."

"What?"

"I'm the only one left," she said sadly. "The others have been -- dispersed."

It was moment before Odo could find his voice. "I'm sorry -- won't you sit down?" He himself groped for a place on the sofa.

The changeling looked a little startled at the question, before she carefully took a seat in the chair across from him. "I forget," she said softly. "This is something that Solids do, isn't it? Redistribute their mass like this, to refresh it."

"Something like that." Odo gave a wry smile, before he returned urgently to his question. "What happened? What do you mean, 'dispersed'?"

"It was because they dissented." The young changeling unconsciously mimicked the "Solids" as she bowed her head in an attitude of despair. "They were returned for judgment -- their essence has been dispersed throughout the Link. None of them can ever take individual form again."

Odo stared at her, horrified. Finally he found his voice. "What about you? Did you escape?"

She shook her head, and radiated a sorrow deeper than tears. "They said I was too young, that I had been misled, and that I had much to learn. My sentence was to become a Explorer, like you were when you were newly formed. I may not return for three hundred years."

"But -- you had left the Link anyway. How is this a punishment?"

"I didn't leave alone." The changeling looked shocked that Odo could even ask such a question. "I was with other changelings. Others I could link with, be with. There is nothing so horrible," she finished softly, "as for a changeling to be without a Link."

And yet they had no trouble sending out a hundred of us to be just that. Odo shook his head in resentment. Alone in the universe for centuries, until we could finally make our way back to our own kind. Or realize that 'our own kind' isn't what we need anymore. He looked toward the door that led to Nerys' and his bedroom with a sudden stab of longing. Or to not be alone, and to be condemned for forming links of our own.

"There are other links," Odo said quietly. "There are good people of all races throughout the galaxy -- you may even find links that will be more important to you than the one you left."

"The thing is, Odo, I can no longer help you. Not even to repair the damage that the Founders did to keep you from forming new ones with the Solid you have linked with."

"Odo, when are you coming back to --?" The interrupted question came from the bedroom doorway. Odo turned to see Kira as she stood with wide eyes fixed on his unexpected visitor.

"Nerys, please come in." Odo held out his hand, encouraging Kira's wary approach. "This is --" Odo paused uncertainly. "Do you have a name?"

"No." It was a weary, taut negation, and Odo was suddenly reminded of himself, when he first became self-aware in Dr. Mora's lab. "I never needed one."

Kira sat down slowly on Odo's other side, to earn a puzzled stare from his guest. "That is how you carry your unformed ones, is it not?" She nodded at Kira's bulky midsection.

Kira grimaced. "That's right." The edgy Bajoran forced a smile. "I'm Kira Nerys. Odo's wife."

"I did not know you were expecting a young one," the changeling commented. Odo hastened to explain Kira's condition, and then told Kira what the changeling had told him.

"It seems that there are worse things than being turned into a humanoid," he finally finished, reaching out to take Kira's hand tightly in his. "I guess I didn't need to see Bashir about that jar after all."

"It's all right," Kira whispered, as she lifted his hand to press it to her lips. "I don't care, as long as you're with me." The changeling watched the exchange with widening eyes.

"You do have a link here," she said wonderingly. "With a Solid."

Kira bristled a little at the term 'Solid', and Odo patted her knee reassuringly. "I have many links here, with many sentient beings of many races. Nerys is the most important one, but there are others. You can form other links, too."

The female changeling stared at him, with sad, doubtful eyes.

Odo took a deep breath and tried again. "It will be lonely for you at first, I know. It may feel impossible. But you can do it. I did, and I've never been known for my charming personality." Odo snorted in self-derision, while Kira, who had finally begun to relax, chuckled fondly.

"At any rate, I wished to at least see you -- too tell you why we could not help you." The changeling stood and, after giving Odo and Kira each a grave nod, reshaped into the pleasant-looking, unremarkable Bolian woman who had first appeared at the door. "I must go now."

"Where will you go?" Odo stood also, unprepared for the stab of anguish that overwhelmed him as this lone friend from his own race prepared to make her departure.

"I don't know." The now-Bolian shook her head. "To explore, I suppose. What should I do?"

"Well, you could stay on the station." That suggestion, surprisingly, came from Kira. "I don't know about the other departments, but I suspect the Chief of Security wouldn't mind having another changeling on his security force."

"That's right." Odo's words stumbled over each other in his eagerness. "You could stay here on DS9. No one will mind -- there are so many different races here, what's one more? And Nerys is right -- I could use another changeling in Security. Now that I'm a humanoid, I'm convinced that Quark is getting away with things he never dreamed of trying when I could still shapeshift to help keep him under control."

"I would be happy to help you if I can." Their visitor fell silent for a moment. "I will need a different face. I borrowed this one from someone I saw in the docking port. A face should be -- unique, should it not?"

"That's generally a good idea," Odo said gravely. "I've always had problems doing faces, but I suspect that's because I never spent any time in the Link, with more experienced changelings."

"What's wrong with the other face you had here?" Kira asked suddenly. "Why can't you just look like a changeling?"

"A changeling does not look like any solid form. Besides, I do not think changelings are terribly popular on your station right now."

"Odo is a changeling."

"Odo is different. He is known, and the solids seem to trust him." Although it received no emphasis, Odo nonetheless took note of that qualifying 'seem'. "I would like to stand out less, at least at first."

Odo thought about the problem for a moment. "Perhaps Bashir could help. He knows all about humanoid physiology -- he might be able to come up with a reasonable compilation of features."

"When can I see this Dr. Bashir?"

"Tomorrow," Kira interjected firmly. "Tonight you can stay in Odo's study. Do you need a bucket?"

"For what?"

"I'm sure she'll be fine." Odo reached down to help Kira to her feet, and nodded towards their bedroom door. "It's right through here."

The changeling followed them with solemn gravity, pausing in the middle of the bedroom to look curiously at the bed with its jumble of sheets and blankets. "That is a bed?"

"Yes -- yes, it is." Odo shook his head, startled, even while he remembered his own now bizarre-seeming questions when he had been young, and a resident of Dr. Mora's laboratory.

"It's where humanoids sleep," Kira added helpfully.

The changeling turned to face her. "I thought it was where they coupled."

Odo was thankful to see that his cheeks weren't the only ones that reddened at the innocent comment. Kira blushed furiously, even while she chuckled. "Well, we do that, too."

"My study is through here." Odo crossed hastily to the open doorway. "I can speak to Captain Sisko tomorrow about some quarters for you."

The changeling inclined her head gravely. "Thank you, Odo -- Kira Nerys." She seemed to search her memory and finally produced a smile. "Good night." She disappeared into the small room beyond, and the door <whooshed> closed behind her.

Left alone in their bedroom, Odo reached out and took Kira's hand, squeezing it gently before he crossed the room to sit down on the foot of the bed. An unsettling mixture of excitement and despair had begun to wreak havoc on his all-too-human stomach. "There are a lot of good things to be said for being a humanoid," he said finally. "At least this way I don't have to look forward to outliving any children we might have."

"Or grandchildren," Kira agreed in a quiet voice. She crossed to take her place at Odo's side, snuggling into him as he automatically wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "I don't care as long as you outlive me."

"That hardly seems guaranteed." Odo nonetheless tightened his hold gratefully, and buried his face in the side of Kira's neck. He breathed in deep, and savored the smell of her warm skin, her short, shining hair. His arms slipped around her of their own volition as he breathed in her ear, "Link with me, Nerys."

Odo saw the surprise flare in Kira’s eyes, the half-glance she flashed at the study door, but she never hesitated. He felt more than amply compensated for all his years of waiting, alone in the Denarius belt, then in Mora’s laboratory, then on the station, by the unhesitating, whole-hearted love that his single ‘Solid’ had chosen to bestow on him -- and continued to bestow on him, day after day. Any fleeting attraction to another man was trivia, to be glanced at and discarded. When Kira Nerys chose to love someone, she did it down to the bone. Now she brought her mouth fearlessly to meet his, and they fell back on the bed together, where he now had no trouble working his way around the child that she carried to make love to her until they both cried out -- softly, so as not to disturb anyone, but full of passion all the same.

Afterwards, they lay together whispering in the dark. "I can’t believe we did that with someone in the next room," Kira confessed. "I hope we didn’t disturb her."

"If she’s like I was, she’s probably impervious to anything but a direct touch when she’s regenerating. Besides, we always have someone practically in the next room now that we’re living here. I have to admit, I sometimes wish Miles and Keiko would go to bed earlier."

Kira chuckled. "I know what you mean." There was a pause, and then she said softly, "Odo -- about Miles --"

"It’s all right, Nerys." Odo pushed down the nervous quaver that automatically rose from his stomach. "I’ve done the reading. I know what your body is going through right now -- it can’t be helped." He pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes, then drew a deep breath to steady himself.

"And that’s all it is. You know that, don’t you?"

Odo sighed. "In theory I do."

"I love you more than anyone or anything, Odo. Never forget that."

"More than anything?" Odo forced a smile. "Even Bajor?"

There was a long silence, in which Odo could almost hear Kira’s inner dialogue as she questioned her own heart. "Yes, Odo," she said finally. "Prophets forgive me, even more than Bajor."

"Tiena ..."

Odo kissed Kira deeply, then rolled onto his back and drew her after him, helping her arrange her bulk against his thigh. "My humanoid body pillow," Kira teased, as she ran a light fingertip down Odo’s chest to his navel. There was a light, happy note in her voice that made Odo look at her curiously.

"Nerys, what is it?"

"What’s what?" Kira let her hand dart playfully downward until it was within an inch of Odo’s genitals, before she scooted it back up to toy with his collarbone.

"You sound -- different. Like something’s changed."

Kira’s dancing hand stilled, and Odo could feel her become absolutely still in his arms. "My husband’s going to live." It was a soft, simple statement of fact. "I prayed to the Prophets to let you live -- changeling or humanoid, it didn’t matter to me -- and they answered me." Suddenly Kira’s voice grew solemn. "Was that selfish of me? I know that -- that you miss being a changeling very much."

Odo considered her words. Do I miss it that much now? he wondered. Parts of it, certainly -- there will always be gaps, things that I will miss. But do they matter next my being able to lie down beside this woman every night and wake every morning with her in my arms? To know that I won’t have to watch her grow old and die, and look forward to centuries in which nights like this are just a memory? To know that Kira Nerys holds me dearer than the planet that is as dear to her as her heart’s own blood?

"No, Nerys," he said quietly. "As long as I have you, I can be content."

... to be continued ...

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