I know, I know ... he won't be solid forever. But this idea struck my fancy ... and isn't it a pleasant "what if?"

-crf

The baby was crying again.

Waking groggily from a sound sleep, Kira Nerys sat up, before she fell back against her pillow with a moan. She could already hear Keiko in the next room, as the Asian woman murmured soothing words to her new son and began to provide the nourishment he needed as he began his third day of life. Keiko had already completed the series of shots she had to have to guarantee that she would be able to nurse her baby ... which did not stop the automatic spilling of milk from Kira's own breasts as her body reacted to that hungry cry. Kira wrapped her arms across her achingly full chest, and struggled not to surrender to the tears that threatened to overwhelm her.

She had already taken some shots of her own ... Dr. Bashir had assured her that her breasts should have stopped their unwelcome milk production by the end of a week. He had also done a complete and careful regenerating scan of her entire reproductive system, and made the kindly if not entirely tactful suggestion that perhaps Kira should go visit Shakaar for a few days.

Kira shook her head at the memory. She had no desire to visit Shakaar Edon, her Bajoran lover, where she would be expected to be loving and cheerful and happy that the baby she had been compelled by circumstances to carry these past months was no longer standing between them. She wanted quiet, and time to think, time to process the event that had taken over her body and to some extent her life for so many months.

She lay awake until morning, that night and many more to follow, until she reached the morning that she could enact her plans ...

"What?" Keiko O'Brien looked up, startled, from where she was fussing over the baby, black eyes fixed on Kira's face. "You only had the baby a few weeks ago ... you can't go to Bajor yet!"

"Dr. Bashir already said that I could travel any time I wanted to," Kira said with gentle firmness that did not stop a note of pleading from entering her voice. She looked from Keiko to Miles, and then back again. "Keiko ... I have to start taking my life back. It will be a lot easier for me if I take some time on Bajor, and then come back and just move back into my own quarters then. It will seem less ... abrupt."

"But where will you stay?" Keiko protested. "Nerys ..."

"I'm going to my friend's house, the one I told you about on Bajor."

"Yes, but you can't go alone! Not this soon after having the baby! Miles ..."

Chief O'Brien's eyes widened in horror at the suggestion he knew was coming, an expression mirrored by Kira herself, even though the brief hormonal tug that had drawn her to the chief had already diminished to the point of vanishing altogether. Fortunately, the door com interrupted them before either of them could say anything to rouse Keiko's stubborn ire.

"Come in!" O'Brien called hastily. The door opened to admit Security Chief Odo, several data PADDs in his hands. He was startlingly, unfamiliarly dressed in civilian clothes ... a fairly somber dark-gray tunic and trousers, and Kira suddenly remembered that her friend had plans that maybe, just maybe, could coincide with her own.

"Chief, you wanted these reports before I left, I believe?"

"That's right -- thanks, Odo." O'Brien took the PADDs reluctantly, clearly wishing for a more overwhelming interruption. Trying to stretch it out, he added, "It's hard to believe, you taking a vacation ... have you ever had one before, Constable?"

"Well, it was Captain Sisko's idea," Odo confessed dryly. He nodded to them all, indicating his imminent departure.

Kira interjected hastily, "Odo, I'm so glad you came by ... Keiko was worried about my going to Bajor by myself, and I was about the explain to her how you were coming with me." The emphasis was very, very faint, but hardly lost on Kira's friend of these many years. Odo nodded slowly, before turning his attention to Keiko, eyeing the pair of them with some suspicion.

"That's right, Mrs. O'Brien. I -- I'm taking Major Kira to Bajor when I leave today. Major, are you going to be ready in an hour?" Once again Odo rose to the challenge of friendship and gave it all he could. A good friend is a gift from the Prophets, Kira observed silently, deeply grateful for this one.

Thankful that she had made a few early calls, Kira nodded. "I just need to finish throwing my things in a bag ... you know how little I need to pack."

Keiko, bull-dog-like, was not to be shaken off. "Yes, but Kira, staying at that remote cabin all by yourself ..."

"No!! I'm not! Odo's staying with me." Kira spun her tale hastily, even while Odo allowed himself one furtive, startled look in her direction. "We both just want some quiet time away, and the place is big enough that we won't get in each other's way, but I'll have somebody nearby if I need help. I'll be fine, Keiko."

Keiko looked to Odo for confirmation, who nodded solemnly. "All right," she said finally. "I wish it wasn't so soon, but I think I understand. Thanks for taking care of her, Odo."

"My pleasure, Mrs. O'Brien," Odo assured the concerned woman gravely. He then interjected tentatively, nodding at the bundle in her arms, "May I --"

"You want to hold him?" Chief O'Brien asked, surprised.

Odo looked like he'd been asked to phaser himself in the foot. "No! I just -- I just wanted to see him."

"Sure!" Keiko exclaimed, her eyes and voice warming as she held out the baby in her arms. Odo inspected the sleeping face gravely.

"Odd -- for some reason I expected him to have wrinkles in his nose," Odo observed whimsically. Keiko smiled, and O'Brien pronounced jovially:

"Considering the amount of time Keiko was spending on Bajor, I'd say we're all happier that he doesn't!"

Keiko chuckled and swatted Miles affectionately, and Kira sat back to quietly observe their by-play. A family, she thought wistfully. Then, firmly, THEIR family. Not mine.

She chanced to look up and discover Odo watching her, his eyes strangely soft and compassionate. "Meet you at docking bay twelve in an hour, Major?"

Kira smiled and nodded, struck once again at the perfect understanding she and Odo could achieve in so few words. "I'll be there."

Odo departed, and Kira slipped from the room as soon as she could do so gracefully, gathering up her belongings and throwing them in the carryall she had brought them in originally. She took one look around the room appropriated for her use from little Molly O'Brien, and let out a sigh before squaring her shoulders.

It was time to move on.

"So," Odo said, just as soon as they were settled into their seats on the shuttlecraft and had cleared the docking bay, "do you mind telling me what that was all about?"

Kira sighed, letting her head droop back against the headrest. "I just needed some time by myself, to think. Bashir was trying to make me visit Edon, and Keiko was about to make Miles come with me. Those are the last things I need."

"Still having a problem with Miles?"

Kira shot Odo a startled glance. "What do you mean?"

"I'm a fairly good observer of human nature, Major ... more so, perhaps, now that I'm one myself. Certain ... chemical responses are a little hard to miss."

Kira thought about denying it, but what was the point? Besides, it was over. She managed a wry little smile. "No ... no problem. It pretty much vanished when the baby was born."

"That was only three weeks ago," Odo noted. "Are you quite well now, Major?"

"Bashir says that I'm fine. No doubt thanks to his 'remarkable medical expertise'."

"Oh, I don't know ... he seems to have developed a bit of humility since he first started on the station, don't you think?"

"Maybe a bit," Kira conceded, responding to the dry humor in Odo's voice. "We've all come a long way since then, haven't we, Constable?"

"Around the galaxy and back again," Odo agreed, his blue eyes suddenly shadowed. He shook himself a little, and added, his voice forcibly cheerful, "So, where would you like me to drop you?"

"Retla province ... a friend of mine has a cabin there ... a house, really, it's gorgeous. Overlooks the river ... very restful, and no one else around for kilometers."

Odo rose to the challenge of being the first person not to question Kira's decision to be alone. Instead he sighed wistfully. "It sounds perfect, Major. Genuine solitude ... very restful."

"Where are you staying while you're on Bajor?" Kira asked curiously.

Odo's mouth curved in rueful grimace. "I have a hotel room booked in the capital... I thought I'd spend the week doing research at the Central Bajoran Forensic Archives."

Kira stared at him in astonishment. "Odo! Don't you access those same archives from the station whenever you need them?"

"Well, yes, but I thought I could do some an in-depth study of the new investagative techniques being employeed on Retlos Seven."

"Odo ... that's hardly a vacation."

Odo dodged the accusation with a shrug. "I don't know, Major ... at least no one will be yammering at me to fill out reports and run down criminals while I'm at it. Sounds restful enough to me."

"I suppose," Kira conceded. "What hotel are you staying at?"

"Someplace called the Kreega. Commander Worf recommended it."

Kira's eyes widened. "Odo ... back when we had better relations with the Klingons, that was the place they all stayed."

"So?"

"They stayed there because they liked it!"

"Major, I assume that a Klingon would like the place or Worf wouldn't have suggested it. What's the problem with that?"

"Because it's a terrible hotel! The beds are hard, the food is terrible, and the people who work there are rude! You don't want to stay there."

"Major, it's something I can afford. I had a number of unforeseen expenses recently, and I'm trying to be as frugal as possible."

"Odo ..." Kira shook her head, exasperated. "You've worked on the station for years, and you didn't have anything you had to spend your income on before you ... before you became a human. You couldn't have spent all of it since then!"

"Well, not if I'd bothered to keep it."

"What did you do with it?"

Odo looked suddenly uncomfortable. "I -- donated it."

"Donated it?" Kira looked puzzled. "To what?"

Odo sighed, exasperated. "Not that it's anyone's business, but I've donated most of my salary in the past to the Fund for Bajoran-Cardassian War Orphans Relief." Odo continued hesitantly, as though he somehow had to justify his choice. "Most of the charities for Bajoran orphans are fairly well-funded ... but the children left behind by the Occupation forces haven't been as ... popular." Odo snorted a wry chuckle. "I suppose I've always felt an affinity with them ... always on the outside, looking in, faces pressed to the window --"

Odo stopped abruptly, as though realizing he had said too much. Kira marveled at yet another facet revealed to this friend she knew so well and yet not at all, and said gently, "I think that's a wonderful thing to do. You just have to remember to take care of yourself now, too." She paused for a moment, thinking furiously, and let the idea that had been lurking at the back of her mind for the past half-hour finally surface. "You know, you can access those archives just as easily from the place I'll be staying ... why don't you stay there, too?"

"But Major ..." Odo looked startled, but, surprisingly, not appalled at the suggestion. "I thought you wanted to be alone."

"It's not like you're a big talker. Besides, it's like I told Keiko ... the place is big enough we'll have no trouble staying out of each other's way. And you'll be there if I need help for some reason." Kira let the subtle appeal to Odo's innate chivalry sink in for a moment before adding slyly, "Besides, it won't cost you anything."

There was a long, long pause ... and the miracle occurred. "All right, Major," Odo said slowly, "if you don't think it will be an imposition ..."

"It won't be," Kira assured him. "Who knows ... after a day or two, we may want somebody to talk to."

"Let me radio the planet and cancel my reservations." Odo proceeded to do so, although not without haggling with the hotel's proprietor, who wanted to charge him double for canceling with less than two weeks notice. A pointed reference to Bajoran Commerce Code Two-fifty-seven A-fourteen, Rules Governing the Keeping of Inns, finally elicited a less than gracious but cost-free cancellation, and Odo severed communications with a sigh, sitting back to look at Kira wryly. Kira managed to restrain herself for a minute, before breaking into peals of delighted laughter.

"Just imagine how much fun you would have had if you'd had to stay there," she burbled. Odo conceded her point with a rueful smile.

"Still, I might have gotten to observe all sorts of criminal activity right there."

"Don't worry," Kira said with absolute confidence, "you'll have much more fun with me."

However, it was surprising even to Kira how much fun they proceeded to have.

The cabin, being only a cabin in the whimsical description of its owner, was actually a rambling vacation house of twelve rooms, with more than ample space for Major Kira and her single guest. Making sure that Odo was comfortably ensconced in the nicest room in the house -- something the security chief might have objected to had he realized that was the case -- Kira left her friend to his own devices, smiling a little as she watched him unconsciously begin to relax, just a little, in the beauty and serenity of the quiet place.

For the first day, they mostly went their own ways ... it was a sultry midsummer on Bajor, and Kira spent most of the afternoon either near or in the river, enjoying the sunshine and water and generally relaxing a body that was tireder than she had realized. She then wandered back to the cabin across the manicured lawn that sloped down to the river itself, and changed from her swimsuit to the lightest clothes she had, a pair of gauze trousers and a blousy tunic. Even so, she was starting to sweat when curiosity sent her in search of Odo, holed up at the computer console in the library.

The library was probably the coolest room in the house, as the owner had made limited allowances to the equipment and books it contained by including a not very adequate ventilation unit. Still, it was warm enough that Odo sat clad only in his trousers and black, standard-issue undershirt, a slight sheen of sweat glistening on the area of his skin left exposed by the shirt's v-neck. His narrow feet were bare, tucked up under him on the wide bench that fronted the computer, his face alight with eager interest as he tapped energetically at the touchpad, garnering data for his study. He was so absorbed that he didn't notice Kira's arrival, and she paused for a moment in the doorway, just looking at him and pondering the road he had traveled with a sudden burst of sympathy.

I remember when that sheen on Odo's skin meant he was about to lose his shape, Kira mused, and how odd I always thought it was if it happened to be cold. I don't suppose he'll look like that when it gets cold now ... She started a little guiltily as Odo suddenly looked up and saw her, a spontaneous smile curving the corners of his mouth.

"Major ... you look like you've caught some sun."

Kira smiled, and continued hesitantly into the room. "If I'm disturbing you, just tell me ... I'll grab a book and go."

"It's a very impressive collection," Odo said respectfully, looking around at the array of neatly stored data PADDs. "There are even some bound books here, made of paper -- and I think they're actually meant to be read." His smile deepened, his eyes resting comfortably on Kira's face. "Of course you're not disturbing me, Major. I'm just glad that for once I decided not to be stubborn and let you talk me into this."

"Are you hungry? I think that this place has the best replicator on Bajor -- L'tel made sure of that." Kira paid a smiling homage to the friend who had kindly lent her the house for the week. "It's too bad she doesn't believe in having the best environmental controls -- but then, she hardly ever comes here when it's as warm as this."

"I thought sweating was supposed to be good for you." Odo eyed Kira curiously.

"Well, it is ... but it's like a lot of things that are good for you, nobody likes it very much."

"Ah."

"So -- what about dinner? Unless you want me to just leave you alone ..."

"Actually, I'm quite hungry. And I'd like joining you for dinner, Major, if you don't prefer to be by yourself."

"I've been alone all afternoon. I think I'd like the company." Kira nodded towards the doorway invitingly. Then she paused. "I forgot, though ... there's one condition I'm going to have to insist on if we're going to stay here together the entire week."

"What?" Odo's smile faded as his blue eyes grew anxious. Kira chuckled.

"I'm on vacation. And when I'm on vacation, I prefer to be called 'Nerys'."

"Oh. Of course, Maj -- Nerys." Odo only stumbled a little as he forced the unaccustomed syllables past his lips. "I suppose that makes sense."

"It certainly does," Kira assured him, unable to contain the smile that split her face at Odo's customary caution. "I knew I could count on you to do what's practical."

Odo smiled a little as he acknowledged the joke. "It's hard for me to think in terms of being off duty, M-Nerys." He nodded down at his casual attire. "Let me assure you, I only appear comfortable."

"That's too bad. You look good like that."

Odo peered at her curiously. "What do you mean?"

"Black's a nice color on you ... you look very long and lean and ... well, sexy." At Odo's startled expression Kira hastened to add, "It suits your coloring, too. Your eyes look very blue."

Odo continued to stare at her as though she had suddenly started spouting Cardassian. Kira laughed and shook her head.

"You have to learn to accept a compliment, Constable ... the correct response is usually to say 'thank you'."

"Umm... thank you, Major." To Kira's warning scowl he added hastily, "Nerys -- thank you, Nerys."

"Come on, then, let's check out those replicators."

Somehow dinner turned into a picnic ... the idea occurred when they were in the middle of selecting what they realized to be an array of finger foods, and at Kira's suggestion they piled everything in a carry bag and hauled it down to the very edge of the water. There they sprawled on the grass, feasting on fresh bread, berries and cheese, and a respectably dusty bottle of Bajoran spring wine Kira had liberated from the cellar. It would have been a peaceful meal, if they hadn't gotten into a debate on the role of religion in Bajoran society -- Odo had recently developed an attraction to the old human notion of the separation of church and state, and Kira was suitably indignant at the thought that religion wouldn't permeate every aspect of Bajoran life.

Still, it was an amiable discussion, and comfortably familiar. It reminded Kira of all of the wrangles she and Odo used to have sitting in his office, late at night when the rest of the station was asleep ... She smiled as she studied Odo's profile, outlined against the twilight as he leaned back on his elbows against the grass and studied the first stars as they appeared on the horizon.

"I always liked watching the sky on Bajor," Odo mused quietly. "I remember, back when I was in Mora's laboratory ... sometimes, after all of the scientists were gone and the lab was dark, I would crawl up in one of the window sills and just watch the stars come out, and the moons rise. It was always so ... exciting when two of them were visible at once ... I've heard there are places on Bajor where you can actually see three at the same time, but the most I ever saw was two. I would look at the sky, and wonder where my home was, and if I'd ever find it." He fell silent for a moment, seeming to reflect on his own words. "I guess the humans are right -'Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it."

Kira lay down on her side, pondering Odo's calm, matter-of-fact words. "I've never seemed to find ... oh, the right time and place to tell you how sorry I am about how things turned out."

"I don't know," Odo said thoughtfully. "In some ways it hasn't been so bad."

Kira's eyes widened in pleased surprise. "Like what, Odo?"

"Well, this is nice, for one thing." Odo straightened up and reclaimed his glass of spring wine, raising it to his lips after tipping it slightly in Kira's direction. "I never understood how much pleasure humanoids took in food and drink until I became one ... and got over being disgusted at the whole process, of course." Amazingly, Odo chuckled. Kira stared at him, her surprise becoming tinged with delight.

"These bodies of yours - of mine," Odo continued, bemused, "they're such demanding things. I mean, you have to spend so much time just taking care of them... I was used to getting by with an hour's regeneration time most days! Now, with this body and all its demands -- it wants food, it wants drink, it wants cleaning, it wants sleep, it wants exercise, it wants sex -"

Odo stopped abruptly, and even in the gathering dark Kira could see the rush of color that suffused his face. She felt a pang at his almost palpable embarrassment, and forced herself to speak lightly as she commented, "They seem to crave all sorts of things, don't they? Look at the bright side -- at least there's no chance of you getting pregnant."

There was a considerable pause before Odo could say in a reasonably normal tone, "I'm certainly glad of that. I can't imagine how females can stand -- having their bodies taken over like that."

"It's not easy!" Kira laughed and lay back again, folding her arms behind her head and peering up at the sky, where two of Bajor's moons were already sailing, gloriously full and shining like beacons. "I remember at one point how all I could stand to eat was hasperat ... morning, noon, and night, nothing but hasperat! Poor Miles and Keiko took it as long as they could, tried to eat it along with me ... Molly loves it, but after the second day it made her sick ... and for the next three days I ate in my room so no one else would have to see it or smell it. And then, suddenly, I couldn't stand it myself anymore, not for weeks and weeks ... and I ended up sicker than Molly. I spent the better part of two days in the bathroom."

Odo chuckled. "I did that once myself, when I was figuring out what this body would and wouldn't tolerate. I'll certainly never accept another invitation from Dax to join her and Worf for some gagh!"

"Gagh? You ate gagh?"

Odo nodded and shuddered. "That was back when I was trying to pretend that food is food, and it didn't matter what I ate." He glanced down at Kira, blue eyes twinkling. "It matters!"

"I'll say!" Kira laughed, feeling a sudden surge of fondness as she looked at her friend ... and something more besides. There was something in the lean lines of his body, the moonlight shining off the blue of his eyes ...

It's like you told Miles, Kira scolded herself, this may be the most romantic place on Bajor. Don't let it make you start acting like a lunatic and scare off your best friend. Kira sat up, and said decisively, "You know, I'm still hungry, and this replicator has the most amazing dessert selection in the sector. Let's go check it out."

Odo obligingly followed her back to house, where any possible sexual tension was forgotten in poring over an incredible array of cheesecake options. But in bed that night Kira was tormented by a weird array of highly erotic dreams, and she began to wonder if she shouldn't have gone to see Shakaar after all. However, in the light of day, that idea lost all its appeal.

She felt like she had found her friend again, the friend she could count on to stand at her back or get in her face, whichever the situation and her own behavior seemed to warrant. And Kira wouldn't have given up that feeling for all the lovers in the quadrant.

The next morning, after a surreptitious peek revealed Odo happily riveted to the comlink in the library, Kira once again headed for the river, a light gauze tunic thrown over her swimsuit. She could never get enough of the sun on those rare occasions she was planetside with some free time to spare ... something about the space station, Cardassian-built climate controls not withstanding, always felt cold to her, compared to the summer sunshine of her homeworld.

This time she strayed further afield than the day before, seeking out a place she had often gone to sit and bask on prior visits ... a secluded clearing past the bend of the river, well screened by trees and undergrowth on all three of the sides not facing the water. There she deposited her carryall containing lunch and a book, before peeling off her tunic and, after a brief moment's reflection, her swimming suit as well. The sun felt too good against her bare skin to let any part of it go uncaressed by the blissful warmth ... she sighed, running her hands unconsciously over her breasts and belly, and finally willed herself to look at some of the troubling thoughts she had been pushing to the back of her consciousness for weeks.

Shortly before the baby was born, she had spent two weeks on the planet with Shakaar, and had been startled to find so little left of the strange sexual spark that ignited between them when he had visited her on the station and become her lover some eight months past. She had put it down at the time to her pregnancy, and the adverse effect it was having on her hormones, causing her to lust after Miles O'Brien -- Miles, of all people!

Now, though, she wasn't so sure. Shakaar certainly hadn't figured into any of those dreams she was having the night before ... nor, for that matter, had O'Brien. Her lover in her dreams was faceless, voiceless -- a silent, warm presence exploring the folds and depths between her thighs and filling her with delight

Lying back on the grass, Kira toyed idly with her nipples -- so nice that there was nothing coming out of them anymore -- and contemplated doing some exploring of her own. She decided at last against it, knowing from past experience what a barely adequate substitute it was. Besides, the sun was so warm, relaxing against her skin -- Kira threw her arm over her eyes and, before she knew it, had fallen fast asleep.

What finally awakened her was pain -- a rasping, burning rush from her neck to her knees. Kira sat up, startled, and looked down at her reddened skin, already starting to blister in places -- I must have rolled over at least once, she realized, feeling a similar uncomfortable sensation in her shoulders and buttocks. Oh, well, nothing that a sustained encounter with a dermal regenerator wouldn't fix -- then she winced as realization settled in. Oh, well, there was no help for it ...

Poor Odo, she thought regretfully, do I have a job for you ...

Kira didn't even try to put her swimsuit back on, just threw her tunic on over her head, flinching when it came into contact with her raw skin. The carryall strap proved agonizing against her shoulder, and she opted to hold the thing in her hands instead ... she made her slow and painful way back to the house, noting the time from the old-fashioned chronometer as she entered -- she'd been out in the sun for six hours, at least. No wonder it felt so bad ... she headed, crab-like but tenacious, down the hall to the library, where she stuck her head in the door and called, "Odo, I need your help!"

"What is it, Ma -- Nerys?" Odo came to the door, his eyes widening when he saw her face. "What happened?"

"Sunburn," Kira said briefly, "I've got it all over me. I need you to use a dermal regenerator on it. And Odo -"she reached out and took his arm in warning "when I say 'all over me', I mean all over me. I wasn't wearing my suit."

"Or sunscreen, apparently." Odo's faced blanched, then flushed, but all in all he remained admirably calm. "Well, then, Nerys, you'll have to tell me when you want me to keep my eyes closed."

Kira laughed, even though the motion stung her cheeks. "I'll do that," she assured him. "I think there's a dermal regenerator in each of the bathrooms ... come with me to my room and we'll see if there's one in the bathroom there."

Odo moved obediently into step beside her, watching her painful progress with concern. His own steps were light, soundless against the bare wood floors ... Kira glanced down and saw that he was once again shoeless, his bare feet pale extensions past the jet black of his trousers. She chuckled a little and said, "You're getting too fond of leaving your boots off, Odo ... you're not going to want to put them on when you get back to the station."

"I must admit that I don't miss them." Odo gave a rueful smile. "I mean, before, when I was a changeling, my boots were just a part of my feet -- they were my feet. It wasn't like I ever needed to form toes ..." Odo opened the old-fashioned hinge door to Kira's room, letting her hobble in first. He then hurried into the adjoining bathroom, shortly returning with a dermal regenerator in his hand. "It's a nice, straightforward unit," he announced, pleased, "and it's already set for sunburn."

"Yeah, I've stayed here before," Kira confessed wryly. Odo smiled a little, before all traces of humor fled from his face as Kira started pulling her tunic over her head. Kira eyed his sudden anxious expression compassionately, but continued with the gingerly procedure. "Odo, can you -?"

"Oh ... certainly." Odo took the tunic by its very hem and eased it upward cautiously. Kira sighed in relief as the garment peeled away from her skin, even while she chuckled a little at the trembling she felt from Odo's hands. "If you can take care of the back, I'm sure I can handle the front myself."

"Well, that's a relief."

"Thanks a lot!" Kira exclaimed, laughing.

Odo looked up at her, startled, and managed to regain his wry smile. "No offense, Nerys ... I'm sure Quark would be selling chances on the privilege, if it were up to him."

The ludicrous image was enough to make Kira continue to laugh to the point of tears, while Odo angled his body so that he stood with his back to her, staring resolutely in the opposite direction. Kira came up behind him, causing him to jump as she gently pried the dermal regenerator from his grasp.

"Let me do the front first ... then I'll be able to lie on my stomach while you take care of my back."

Kira chuckled as Odo nodded wordlessly, going to peer fixedly out the window. He clasped his hands behind his back in what Kira's always privately referred to as his 'stalwart constable' stance -- watching his hands flex nervously as she positioned herself on the edge of the bed and began applying the regenerator, Kira asked curiously, "What exactly is it, Odo?"

"What do you mean?" Kira saw her friend's head straighten, although he didn't turn around.

"Well, you've been in security for a long time now. You must have seen at least one or two naked women in all those years ... and it doesn't bother me if you see me."

"Hmph." Odo's grunt was noncommittal. "That odd, Major -- I always think of Bajoran women as being unusually modest."

"Nerys," Kira corrected automatically. "I don't know how we are as a whole, but back when I was in the resistance we got pretty used to having to do everything in a group that included men and women. You get over a lot of preconceived notions about bodies that way."

"Well, mine is too new for me to be quite that casual about it." It was a short, unwilling confession.

"Oh ..." Kira nodded in understanding, if not in sympathy. Then she asked, "Just how new is it?"

"What do you mean?" Odo was so startled at the question that he nearly turned to look at her, but he remembered just in time. "You know when it happened."

"Yes, but what's your physiological age? I know that you look the same, but was your body aged to that point?"

"Oh -- that." Kira could hear Odo's exasperated exhaling of breath. "Dr. Bashir says I have the internal physiological makeup of an eighteen-year-old. I've developed a high level of sympathy for young Mr. Sisko -- and his father."

"I bet!" Kira chuckled at a few unwelcome adolescent memories of her own. "Still, at least you have a lot of intellectual and emotional maturity to balance it. That must help some."

"Not necessarily," Odo said gruffly. "Nothing's particularly effective once the beast starts to rise -- although I've found that thinking about Quark can help."

Kira was so shocked and secretly delighted by Odo's outspoken admission that she laughed hard enough to make her nearly drop the regenerator. "Poor Odo!" she exclaimed. "I bet you're setting a new record for number of high frequency pulse sonic showers."

Odo snorted. "It's not the showers, it's what you're able to do in them that makes a difference. I have to give Dr. Bashir credit for one thing -- the documentation he gave me to review was extremely thorough." There was a pause before Odo added, "I apologize, Nerys. I can't imagine why I'm talking about this."

"Well, I'm the one who brought it up," Kira observed. "Besides, I suspect you're able to talk about it because you still aren't quite convinced all that humanoid 'messiness' really applies to you."

"Maybe that's it." Odo managed a chuckle.

"And now you can test your powers of restraint by running this regenerator over my back." Kira, finished with the anterior portion of her skin and still tingling pleasurably from the regenerator's rays, snapped off the device and moved to where she could lie down on the bed, marveling for the umpteenth time since her unwanted pregnancy ended how truly wonderful it was to be able to lie on her stomach. Tucking pillow under her head and chest, she held out the regenerator, smiling a little as she felt Odo remove it from her hand, and sensed that his own hands were trembling. She sighed as Odo finally activated the unit and applied it carefully to her shoulders, and the burning was replaced by a gentle prickle as the cells began to renew themselves.

Odo worked his way slowly, carefully over her back and buttocks and thighs -- Kira dared peek up at him once, and saw that his blue eyes were positively enormous as he bent resolutely to finish his task. He remained largely silently during the whole process, occasionally venturing a dry chuckle at the joking remarks that Kira kept making to put him at ease.

"I can't tell you how much better it feels already." Kira decided that assurances were in order. There was such a delicate, teasing, almost erotic sensation to the way the regenerator worked on her exposed flesh that she gave an unconscious, guttural moan of contentment -- then her eyes flew open at the barely audible gasp that came from Odo in turn. Turning her head to the side to look at him, the first thing on which her gaze fell -- and stopped -- was the prominent bulge displacing the front of her friend's trousers. She forced herself to close her eyes again, to not give any indication that she had seen, even while her mind went racing down a dozen heretofore unexplored pathways.

What do you expect? she asked herself. The man has all of these brand-new hormones floating around, you spread yourself out in front of him stark naked -- of course he's going to get aroused. I don't see how he could avoid it, it doesn't mean anything ... but Prophets, it looks good on him. I can just imagine peeling all that black cloth away and taking him into my mouth ...

Kira could feel a blush causing a different kind of burning in her newly regenerated skin. Odo, working conscientiously on a spot he had missed on the small of her back, apparently saw it, too, and his voice became concerned.

"Nerys, are you all right? Did I get the setting wrong?"

"I'm fine ... it feels wonderful." Kira sighed and steeled herself to be as truthful with Odo as he had been with her. "It's just that ... well, the sensation is ... kind of stimulating."

"Oh." The syllable was the barest emission of sound. Odo continued resolutely at his task without another word until he finished with the backs of her feet, a process that Kira found almost unbearably ticklish. Odo finally deactivated the skin regenerating device and asked, "How's that? Do you feel any spots that I missed?"

"No ... you're always thorough, Constable." At least you would be, Kira's mind added rebelliously, if you took off those clothes right now and made love to me. Appalled at her own forthright imagination, Kira blushed once again, and Odo turned away hastily.

"I'll leave now and let you get dressed ... I thought I might replicate us some dinner ..." Odo basely fled. Kira sighed, getting up to go into the bathroom, where a quick sonic shower removed the last traces of her skin's distress, if not of the needs that felt even more urgent.

Freshly attired in a lightweight caftan that covered her from her neck to her ankles without putting undue pressure on her still tender flesh, Kira strolled out to the kitchen, where she found Odo busily replicating what looked like a sit-down dinner for six. Recognizing nerves when she saw them, Kira refrained from commenting on the amount, but only mentioned how hungry she was.

"That looks wonderful," she assured him. "Mmm ... karesh'netal ...how did you know? That's one of my favorite dishes."

"I remembered that you ordered it once when we were attending a security conference on Bajor. You mentioned then how much you liked it."

Kira had to think hard to recall the incident. "Odo, that was over three years ago! I can't believe you've remembered this long."

"I'd be the first to admit that my memory isn't as good now as it was when I was a changeling ... but I do like to think that I've kept track of all of the important things."

It wasn't until they were sitting at the kitchen table (the more formal dining room having been briefly considered but rejected) tucking into the copious repast that it occurred to Kira to wonder, What's so important about what I like to eat?

The question clung to her mind, refusing to be dismissed while they finished their dinner and tidied everything away, having made further inroads on the food than Kira would have dreamed possible. They then retreated to the den, where Kira activated the holographic fireplace, gloating over the way it could be set to provide all of a fire's light without any of its heat. Odo in the meantime located and hauled out a kistrel set, and soon they were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the flickering light, embarked on a cut-throat round of the strategic board game that pitted Cardassian soldiers against Bajoran resistance fighters. Kira always took the side of the Bajorans, and usually, when she played against Odo, the Resistance went down in glorious defeat. On this occasion, though, she won handily. Odo was noticeably off his game.

When the game was over, Kira sighed and tried to take the situation under control. "Odo, I'm sorry if what you had to do today made you uncomfortable. Just the physical sensations and the proximity excited me ... quite frankly, I'd be shocked if it didn't excite you, after what you were telling me earlier."

Odo shot Kira an agonized look at her understanding words. "Umm ... thank you, Nerys. I -- well, I --"

Kira thought that he must be struggling to think of a way to admit she was right. "I couldn't help noticing at one point that you -- well, that something had come up." Not used to being oblique, Kira nonetheless decided that a little ambiguity would be a more acceptable option where Odo's burgeoning sexuality was concerned.

The barest flicker of a smile touched the corners of Odo's mouth. "I just wish ..."

Something made Kira reach across the kistrel board to touch her friend's arm, causing him to look up at her, startled. "What do you wish?" Kira asked softly, trying to fathom the expression in the bottomless blue eyes.

"I just wish that ... it would go down sometime before morning." Odo barely mumbled this blunt confession. Then, amazingly, he chuckled. "One thing this new body of mine is teaching me is an unbelievable level of humility." Odo's mouth curved in a self-deprecating smile, as he finally willed himself to meet Kira's gaze squarely with a graceful shrug of his shoulders -- confronted with that frank, open stare, Kira felt something inside herself turn over.

Thankful that the flickering light would conceal the rush of color to her cheeks, Kira reached out determinedly for the kistrel pieces, beginning to set up the board for a new game. "Care for a rematch, Constable?"

"All right." This time Odo came back more up to form, and trounced Kira soundly. Relieved that the tension in the room had lightened somewhat, Kira didn't even care -- at least not much -- and accepted her defeat with easy grace.

Unfortunately, with the end of the game, an uncomfortable silence once again loomed. What's happened to us, Kira wondered, troubled, we used to be so comfortable being quiet with each other -- we could sit together for hours and not say a word. When did it change?

The answer occurred to her immediately, causing Kira's mouth to fall open in a silent 'O'. It was when Shakaar came to the station and I got involved with him. And Odo canceled those damned meetings for months afterward.

"What's wrong, Nerys?" The soft-spoken question made Kira start guiltily. She gave Odo a sheepish grin.

"I'm sorry, Odo ... I was just wondering ... well, why it isn't as easy as it used to be to talk to you -- just to be with you."

There was a long silence as Odo seemed to carefully consider Kira's words. Finally he said, absolutely dead-pan, "I don't know -- I've been following Dr. Bashir's personal hygiene instructions to the letter."

Kira's smile bloomed across her entire face. "Odo! You --"Suddenly overcome by a rush of affection, Kira reached across the kistrel board and gave her friend a hug, unprepared for the sudden burst of sexual tension that electrified the air around them. Drawing back a little so she could see Odo's taut, questioning face, Kira managed to keep a note of lightness in a voice suddenly gone soft and husky. "Actually, Constable, I kind of like the way you smell." A number of objections flashed through her mind, but she pushed them recklessly aside, to take Odo's chin in her hand and press her mouth to his with gentle passion.

"What about me?" she whispered, "Do I smell all right, too?" When she received no negative answer, Kira kissed him again. After a moment's frozen resistance, she felt Odo cautiously yield his lips to hers, as he parted them slightly to admit the inquisitive exploration of Kira's avid tongue. Kira jumped as suddenly, impatiently, Odo shoved the kistrel board out of the way, pieces scattering in every direction as he clasped Kira against him hungrily, and caused her to gasp as she felt the prominent bulge of his erection press an insistent entreaty against her groin. Catching fire from his urgency, Kira shoved her hands under the black T-shirt, and slid them up Odo's chest to caress the smooth planes of his flesh and play with the tiny, sensitive points that were his nipples. Finally tearing her mouth from his, she buried her face in the side of his neck and breathed in the sensual aroma of his fresh sweat.

Bad idea, her conscience warned. It's too soon, it's going too fast -- if only I could convince the rest of me. Then all cognitive thought was swallowed in a red haze as she nibbled her way back to Odo's lips, where her eager mouth swallowed up the moan that escaped him.

She schooled her hands to gentleness as she eased the shirt off of Odo's lightly perspiring body and let her eyes drink greedily of his unmarked, unmarred skin. Odo, his head thrown back, his own eyes closed in a sensual trance, groaned as her hands traced down his sides and then moved in asymmetrical formation, one back up his chest, the other to caress his genitals as they strained resolutely at the fabric that imprisoned them. Even while he clasped his hand over hers, involuntarily pressing it closer to his swollen member, Odo opened frightened, bewildered eyes to fix them on Kira's face.

"Nerys," he whispered, "why are you doing this?"

The question was so unexpected yet so demanding that Kira sat back on her heels, and drew back her hands to let them fall to her sides. Odo sat back as well, quiet except for the rasp of his aroused breathing -- Kira finally looked at him, and shook her head.

"I don't know," she whispered. "I'm not sure ... except that I think I've wanted to for a long time." Suddenly trembling, she fumbled at her caftan, pulling it off over her head, and was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath from Odo, who moved to draw her gently into his arms. Kira leaned forward into his embrace, once again kissing him deeply, marveling at the unexpected mobility of his pale, thin-lipped mouth. He seemed frozen in one position, his hands glued to the neutral zone of her waist ... Kira captured them gently in hers, moving them and bringing them to rest squarely on her bare breasts, letting out a sensuous little shudder as those long, agile fingers that she had secretly admired on a number of occasions moved cautiously to caress her nipples.

It was a touch that seemed to break down the rest of the fierce restraints that always held Odo in check, imprisoning him behind the walls of his own reserve. He gathered Kira against him once again, kissing the side of her neck and beginning to work his way down ... Kira gasped as his mouth found her breasts, his tongue teasing and exciting her already rock-hard nipples. His other hand dipped between her thighs, delving into the sweet, hot moisture he found there ... Prophets, Kira thought, dazed, I'm going to melt all over his hand.

She reached out, suddenly insistent, and unfastened the trousers that kept the object of her desire just out of her grasp ... they fell down easily over Odo's lean buttocks, and his erect penis soon sprang free into her grateful hands. Kira lay down on the floor, hastily brushing aside the majority of the kistrel pieces threatening to make holes in her back, and drew Odo after her into the juncture of her wide-spread thighs. Almost there, nearly home ... she gave his erection a final, manual caress, slipping back that human oddity called a foreskin and positioning the head against the warm, wet opening that waited to welcome it.

The welcome was a heartfelt one. Kira cried out as Odo slid inside her, pushing slowly, steadily until he filled her to her very depths, before he adopted an easy, rocking motion, each stroke filling her enticingly and caressing the hard nub of her clitoris. I've heard that human women have their clitorises set so far from their vaginas that they don't even rub against a man's penis when he makes love to them ... not a ridge to be seen, but who cares when they're as big as this? Bajoran men weren't particularly noted for the size of their reproductive equipment, and Kira had been inclined to doubt some of Dax's stories about the endowments of certain other species. But now the evidence was before her -- or more specifically, within her, as Odo made love to her until her entire groin exploded in a glorious wealth of sensation, even while she felt the warm, throbbing rush of his semen bursting free inside her.

Odo groaned, a guttural sound of profound fulfillment, and collapsed in Kira's arms, his head seeking a pillow against her breasts. Kira ran her hands gently over the length of his back and buttocks, sighing as his member slowly lost its stiffness and finally slipped from its place inside her ... I'd keep it there all night if I could, Kira mused, filling me over and over again until I felt like I could fly forever and never stop. She undulated against Odo shamelessly, and was rewarded with a renewed surge of interest from his penis, which never became completely flaccid before rising to her new challenge.

"Again?" Odo whispered.

"Do you mind?" Kira teased gently. In answer, Odo caught her against him, kissing her hungrily while he rolled over on his back, drawing her with him so her thighs straddled his. As Kira looked down at him in pleased surprise, he murmured, "I want to look up and see you ... reach up and touch your breasts ..." his actions mimicked his words "see you throw back your head, see how lovely your neck is ... watch you ride out your passion like a storm inside you."

The soft, poetic words were perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening. Kira reached down, laying her hand tenderly against the side of Odo's face. "That's beautiful, Odo," she whispered. And suddenly, slamming home to her in the space of a heartbeat, was the answer to the question that had bothered her at dinner, about why Odo thought it was important to remember what she liked to eat. Why he always remembered that she liked her raktajino extra hot with two measures of kava. Why it was that, when he had canceled their Tuesday morning meetings in order to schedule more security training sessions, he had looked like his whole world was coming to an end.

Odo is ... in love with me.

Kira leaned over and kissed her partner with sudden, desperate ardor, trying to draw the answer to the rest of her questions from his avid mouth. She then caught his erection in her hand and sank down, impaling herself with delicious slowness ... she wanted nothing more than to stay there, filled with his hardened, gently throbbing flesh. Still, nature took hold and caused her to move, slowly at first, then faster as her excitement built ... she looked down and saw Odo's eyes fixed on her face, his eyes drinking her in as though he never expected to see her quite like this again.

I've got news for you, friend, Kira swore silently, I don't plan to take a pass on this for QUITE a while. She screamed as her orgasm took her, startling and somehow shattering ... Kira threw back her head and let tears of passion stream freely down her face, accompanied by a sudden outburst of uncontrollable sobbing.

"Nerys?" Kira tried to smile reassuringly at the note of sheer terror in Odo's voice. "Are you all right? Did I -- are you hurt?"

"No, no ... Prophets, no." Kira realized with a stab of remorse that Odo's own arousal had gone unsated, and that his penis had lost some of its resilience within her. Drawing away from him gently, Kira began kissing her way down his chest and stomach, little feather-light nibbles across his abdomen until she could take him in her mouth. Odo groaned as she began working her tongue and lips eagerly around him ... soon he had more than duplicated his lost erection, spilling his essence into her once again, this time so that she could taste it, swallow it, consciously make it a part of herself. Her tears flowed freely the whole time ... yet she had never felt so free.

After Odo had spent himself, gasping, Kira crept back up into the circle of his arms, sighing in exhausted contentment and snuggling her head against his chest. "Are you all right?" she whispered, with the belated realization, I think I'm the first. I don't know why, but I don't think Odo has ever done this before ... he's really not sure whether I enjoyed myself or not.

"I'm fine." Odo got the words out with difficulty, and Kira was appalled to hear the unmistakable lump in his throat. "I just ... how do I thank you for something like this?"

"You don't," Kira said in a strong voice, pulling away and pushing herself up so she could look at him. "You don't have to thank me for anything, Odo ... you gave as good as you got." She felt a stab of pain as Odo's unspoken love shone from his blue eyes, a sad and wary expression that fought resolutely against hope.

A tiny smile crept across the former changeling's lips. "Then I must have been fantastic."

"You were," Kira assured him, her own smile deepening as she raised a careful finger and ran it down the bridge of Odo's nose before outlining the stern lines of his mouth. "Most exceptional -- I've never had better ... hell, I'm not sure I've had as good." Her heart twisted in a sudden pang at the anguish that flared in Odo's eyes at the thought of her other lovers. Her lips parted, prepared to say the words that she knew he wanted to hear, but both honesty and compassion held her back.

I don't know HOW I feel, Kira thought frankly. And I can't tell Odo anything otherwise until I'm sure. Because there's one thing I'll never do, and that's lie to him again.

"Come on," Kira said gently, getting to her feet and reaching down to draw Odo up after her. "Let's go to bed."

Sometime later, on a bed bathed in the light of two moons, Odo finally whispered the secret words in Kira's ear. It was all that she could do not to whisper them back.

Instead, she kissed him, and made love to him again. It seemed like the least that she could do.

Kira awakened to the coolness of a gray dawn and an empty space beside her ... sitting up abruptly, she looked around the room, relaxing when she saw Odo perched on the old-fashioned window seat, his knees pulled up tightly against his chest as he watched the rain patter against the window. Kira took some heart from the fact that he was still naked, suggesting that he didn't entirely regret the night that had passed or fear to face her this morning ... slipping from the bed, Kira padded over to sit on the seat behind him, sliding her arms under his to wrap them around his chest, and resting her cheek against his bare shoulder. Odo brought his hands up to cover hers, and Kira could feel the shudder that ran through his lean form.

"Good morning," Kira whispered, angling her head to kiss his smooth skin. "Did you sleep well?"

"I didn't try to sleep," Odo replied softly. "I just wanted to lie there and watch you ... you're beautiful when you sleep."

Kira kept her tone light, even though tears stung her eyes at the unabashed tenderness in his words. "I'm glad you think so ... I haven't felt very attractive the last few months."

Odo glanced back over his shoulder at her, his eyes wide in surprise. "Why ever not?"

"Well, being the size of a kivik isn't the best thing for a woman's morale." Kira stood up and crossed to where she could sit facing Odo, noting with a stab of intimate pleasure the way his eyes moved over her body, the faint dilation of the pupils in his clear blue eyes.

"The Chief seemed to find you attractive enough," Odo observed dryly. There was a touch of the old, acerbic Odo in the remark, and Kira met it with a grin.

"Hormones. That was his baby he could smell in there." Kira nodded cheerfully at her abdomen, still slightly fuller than usual in the aftermath of giving birth. "You ever get someone pregnant, you'll probably think she smells wonderful, too." Kira suddenly blushed as she belatedly recognized how her words might come across in circumstances such as these. Odo, however, only turned his attention back the window, watching the rain coming down for a long moment before he spoke.

"I somehow don't expect that to happen, Nerys. It seems unlikely that the Founders were so accurate in their genetic construction as to make me able to reproduce."

"What does Bashir say?" Kira asked curiously.

"I don't know ... I've hardly had cause to ask him about whether or not I can father children!" Odo snorted derisively.

"Maybe you'd better," Kira said softly. To Odo's startled look she added, "I need to know if I have to keep taking my shots or not."

Odo lowered his eyes, tracing a pattern with his fingertip against the windowpane. "Did you take one before you left the station?"

"Of course." Kira smiled. "I don't like being caught unprepared."

"And I suppose you thought you might be seeing Shakaar while you were here."

"I did think it was a possibility," Kira admitted, "although it wasn't something I was planning to do." She reached out and covered Odo's hand with hers, causing him to finally turn and fix his wary eyes on her face. "I didn't plan on this happening, either, if that's what you mean." She caressed his hand gently, raising it to her lips. "Odo, I -- I don't know for sure how I feel -- but last night ... I've never felt anything like what I did then. And I'd like to give this a try, if you're willing."

Odo gave her a long, searching stare, and his mouth finally curved in a smile. "I suppose I could," he said dryly. "Seeing as I didn't have anything else planned along those lines."

"Glad to hear it, Constable." Kira grinned in return, a sudden brightness lightening her heart. She continued her caresses of the hand she held, her fingers frankly sensuous -- Odo's smile deepened, and he lowered his feet to the floor, sliding along the bench to press against Kira's side, his arm snaking out behind her to pull her even closer. Kira let her head fall back as Odo started to kiss her, first on her forehead, then on her nose ... he lingered on her mouth for a moment before letting his mouth travel to the smoothness of her neck ... Kira sighed as he continued to kiss her all the way down until he was kneeling at her feet, breathing a heady invitation against her thighs.

Kira sighed and let her legs fall open, drawing in her breath with a sharp little hiss of pleasure as Odo's mouth sought out her most intimate places, his fingers parting her and stimulating her even as his tongue found her clitoris, joining with his lips and teeth to caress it until she screamed in passion, finally begging him to stop. At some length he did so, standing and pulling her up on legs suddenly turned to rubber, drawing her after him back to the bed, where they continued to make love to each other until they both collapsed, exhausted, in a welter of tangled sheets.

The major was the first to waken this time, and she did some watching of her own ... Odo looked so innocent, so curiously vulnerable while he slept, his mouth slightly open and his hair all askew ... I don't think I've ever seen Odo with a hair out of place before this weekend, Kira mused. You know, I think it looks good on him. It hints, somehow, at all that passion underneath -- all that tempestuous emotion hidden by that quiet, orderly exterior. Kira reached out and touched the disordered strands, her eyes tracing the lines of her lover's seamless face.

My lover... Kira's eyes widened in sudden dismay. There was another man on Bajor at that very moment who thought that description still applied to him -- she had certainly given him no reason to think otherwise. And not just a lover, but a friend as well ... Must be some sort of trend, Kira thought dryly, I can only have lovers who are my friends now. She tried to remember if she had ever gone so far as to tell Shakaar that she loved him, and was appalled to realize that she didn't remember. I was certainly giddy enough there at first to have said it, she admitted ruefully, Edon's always been good at getting people to commit to him, one way or another ...

Kira let her eyes return to their study of Odo's sweet, unsuspecting face, his long neck, his impossibly smooth, hairless chest. There was something so fragile about him -- one thing seemed certain, that Odo would take any defection on her part harder than Shakaar could even dream of. And she had blithely embarked on an affair with him without having any idea where her heart really lay.

Caught up in her musings, Kira was startled at the sound of a cheerful voice outside in the hall, only a few feet away from her bedroom door, which stood partially open. "Nerys, are you here? It's Jadzia."

Kira belatedly remembered and cursed her invitation to Dax to come and spend a day with her on vacation. That was all she really had time to do, before Dax's sleek brown head and perfect oval face appeared around the door frame, and the Trill's lovely mouth fell open in shock.

"Shh ..." Kira slipped from her place at Odo's side, relieved to see that he still slept. I guess I wore him out, she thought ruefully, drawing up the sheet to conceal her supine lover from Dax's frankly inquisitive stare. Kira gave Dax a wry grimace, before pulling on a tunic and trousers and propelling her friend down the hall toward the kitchen.

"Nerys, what's going on?" Dax hissed in excitement as soon as they were safely behind the kitchen door. "I thought you were coming here alone!"

"Last minute change of plans." Kira headed for the replicator and ordered cups of raktajino for both herself and her friend. "Odo was going to stay at some flea-bitten Klingon hotel called the Kreega, and I talked him into coming here with me instead."

"Yeah, but it's a long way from house-guest to that." Dax nodded back in the direction of the bedroom. "How did that happen?" The Trill was clearly delighted, excitement dancing in her eyes. Kira shook her head at Dax's unabashed and avid curiosity.

"I don't know ... it just ... did." Kira smiled a little over the rim of her cup, her eyes soft as she remembered. "One minute we were playing kistrel, the next we were ..." Kira blushed and laughed. "I think I have the permanent impression of a kistrel-gul on my butt." Shaking her head, Kira opted for blunt frankness. "I've never flown so hard for so long ..."

"Flown?" Dax knitted her brow, puzzled at the unfamiliar context to the familiar word.

"You know." Kira sighed in exasperation. "I don't know what Trills call it ... Bajorans call it flying. I think humans call it coming, something like that."

"Oh!" Dax exclaimed in sudden comprehension. "So, it was a good thing." Her mouth curved in a gleeful smile, while her blue eyes shone.

"Good question." Kira's smile faded, and she stared moodily into her raktajino. "I don't know how I feel, Dax," she said bleakly, "and all of the answers but one would hurt Odo dreadfully." She gave her friend a sudden, sharp glance as suspicion dawned, "Did you know Odo was in love with me?"

"Who? Me?" Dax's look of innocence didn't fool Kira for one second. "I found out after my zhiantara," Dax proceeded to confess, "after Curzon's memories were returned to me along with the memories he had picked up from Odo. Odo's feelings for you ... were pretty outstanding."

"So why didn't you tell me?!"

"Because it was none of my business. What goes on in a zhiantara is private, confidential ... there was no way I could have told you any of it, and besides," she hastened as Kira made motions as though to protest, "it was Odo's place to tell you, not mine!" Dax gave a faint smile. "I guess he finally did."

Kira opened her mouth, starting to answer, before her head shot up at the sound of Odo's voice in the hall. "Nerys? Where are you?"

An alarmed look flashed through Kira's eyes as she considered a number of facts ... the most notable one being that Odo's clothes were still on the floor of the den, and that he certainly didn't have anything to wear in her room. Finding her voice, she called loudly, "I'm in the kitchen with Dax!"

The kitchen door vibrated ever-so-slightly, before subsiding the possible quarter centimeter it had opened. Odo's voice on the other side was cautious, restrained. "Did you say you're with Dax?"

"Hello, Odo!" Dax called cheerfully, mischief gleaming in her eyes. "Come on in and join us!"

"I'll -- be there in just a minute." There was a soft sound of retreating footsteps, and Kira relaxed enough to tease:

"Don't try to fool me, you just want to look."

"I sure do!" Eight lifetimes had made the Trill nothing if not direct. "From the glimpse I got this morning, it looks like he's hung like a --"

The remainder of her analogy was drowned out by Kira's outraged "Jadzia!", which in turn reduced the Trill to helpless laughter. When Odo ventured in a few moments later, hastily but thoroughly clothed, Dax was still chortling, while Kira shook her head in resigned indignation.

"What's so funny?" Odo asked cautiously, his gaze moving from one face to another. Dax got to her feet and moved to face him, causing his eyes to widen in surprise as she reached out to capture his hands in hers. Kira watched, throat tightening, as Odo leaned awkwardly into Dax's fierce hug and smiled at little at some whispered comment. His gaze sought out Kira's face as he peered out over the Trill's shoulder, and Kira let her mouth relax in a reassuring smile. She found herself automatically mouthing words that she had no idea whether or not she meant.

"I love you."

The blue eyes widened in a fixed stare, and Kira winced at the emotion she saw so clearly reflected in them. Disbelief.

Odo didn't believe her, not for one minute. And the pain and betrayal that accompanied his disbelief felt like a knife to her heart. Kira turned away abruptly, thinking as she did so, It would help if I knew for sure myself.

Lost in her own thoughts, Kira looked up, startled, when she heard her own name, followed closely by the word, 'picnic'. She stared at Dax, by now seated back at the table with Odo sitting next to her.

"What?"

Dax smiled a little at Kira's obvious inattention. "I was just telling Odo how I had planned to ask you to go on a picnic if it hadn't been raining like this. As it is, I think I'll go on into the capital, look up a few old friends."

"I thought you were staying over tonight," Kira said automatically. Dax chuckled.

"I don't know why, but I somehow think I'd feel a little ... intrusive if I did that."

"Don't be ridiculous," Kira said automatically, amused to hear her words echoed almost to the letter by Odo. "You won't bother us."

"Yeah, but what about me?" Dax asked mischievously. "Before you know it, I'll have to ask Worf to join me -- do you really want me to do that?"

"No!" Kira and Odo responded automatically, again almost in unison. They both had the grace to look abashed, while Dax burst out in a hearty laugh.

"Just for that, I think I will call Worf." Dax got up and strolled to the kitchen com-center, while Odo and Kira watched her in astonishment. "Don't worry, I'm just going to see if he wants to meet me in the capital ..."

Kira retreated back into her own moody thoughts, and she presumed that Odo must have done the same, since they both looked up, startled, at Dax's exclamation, "You did what?! WORF!"

Something indistinguishable was mumbled on the other end of the transmission. Dax shook her head, clearly exasperated. "Well, great. That's just -- no, don't bother. I think I'll stay here for a while after all. Maybe do that research I was talking about." Dax severed the connection sharply, while Kira and Odo fixed her with questioning stares.

"What is it, Commander?" Odo asked. "Is there a problem on the station?"

"No -- no, nothing like that." Dax sighed, before explaining, "First Minister Shakaar called the station looking for you, Nerys ... apparently he's taking a few days off after some big conference that ended sooner than they expected it to."

"And?" Kira said anxiously.

"And -- Worf told him where you were! Of all the stupid ..."

"Did Worf say anything about what Edon was planning to do?"

"Apparently he's planning to come here to 'surprise' you, probably tomorrow."

"Ah." Odo said noncommittally. He straightened visibly ... Kira could almost see his old aloofness and alienation pouring back into his spine. "If you'll both excuse me, I have some work to do." Odo turned and left the kitchen, his steps somehow resonating despite his bootless state. Kira shot Dax a stricken look, and Dax in turn nodded at the door.

"Go. I'll find something to do ... what room should I stay out of?"

"The library," Kira said briefly, heading out the door. She went down the hall, straight to the room in question, but Odo was nowhere to be seen. Puzzled, she headed in search, finally finding him in his room, already in his traveling clothes, throwing a last few items into his carryall.

"What do you think you're doing?" Kira's tone, although level, was tinged with outrage.

"I thought I'd go see if they still have any rooms at the Kreega. If I stay here until the First Minister shows up, he might get the wrong idea." Odo straightened from his task, arranging the bag's strap on his shoulder. Kira saw with dismay that his eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Thank you for your hospitality, Major. I --"

"Stop -- right -- now," Kira interjected, raising her hand in protest and fighting back the lump in her throat. "If Edon gets any 'ideas' from you being here, they'll be the right ones. I don't sleep with more than one person at a time, Odo, and the person I want to be with right now is you."

"Right now," Odo repeated bleakly. "What if you change your mind when you see him? The First Minister," he concluded, "is a very handsome man."

"You're not so bad yourself, Constable!" At Odo's surprised look Kira went on, "I wasn't telling you that outfit made you look sexy to build your morale, Odo. I happen to think that you're very attractive!"

Kira welcomed the rage that started to build in her heart, the heat that rose to scorch her face. "Do you honestly think that's all there is to it? That I choose my lovers for their looks? That I only want to be with you because you turned out to be damned good in bed? I've got news for you, Constable -- I may not know yet whether or not I'm in love with you, but may I never see the Celestial Temple if you're not going to stay right here and help me figure it out!"

Riding high on the tide of her anger as it rose into passion, Kira reached out and yanked the strap of the carryall off of Odo's shoulder, causing it with its load of clothes and dataPADDs to go crashing to the floor. Then she took hold of the edges of Odo's uniform tunic, pulling him to her with one hard yank. Odo stared at her, shocked, before suddenly reaching out and grabbing her, clutching her shoulders and kissing her savagely, shoving aside her robe to run his hands over her body. They undressed each other with frantic urgency, and none of the gentleness that had marked their coming together before -- Kira threw herself backwards on to the bed, thighs parted, and Odo lowered himself on top of her, pinning her to the mattress with a single, solid thrust. And she was ready, more than ready ... Kira groaned, biting at Odo's shoulders, raking her fingernails down his bare back, riding every plunge until she climaxed with a full-throated scream. She gloated silently as she felt Odo spend himself as well, exulting in the warm liquid spilling out of her ... then she looked up into Odo's appalled, wide-eyed stare.

"Nerys, I ... I didn't mean to ... Prophets, I ..."

"Don't you dare apologize," Kira whispered, lacing her fingers across the back of his neck and drawing his head down to hers. "You may not believe this, Constable, but I care for you, and I want this to work."

"Nerys ..."

Kira opened her mouth and gladly met Odo's gentle, searching kiss, her tongue twining delicately with his. She let out a long, deep shudder as she felt him begin to harden again, his penis swelling where it had never left her inner depths and slowly filling the furthest reaches of the void between her thighs. "Oh, yes," she whispered, "Yes ..."

They were so wrapped up in each other that neither gave any notice to the murmur of voices in another part of the house, except to vaguely acknowledge their existence. They remained blissfully ignorant until suddenly a deep masculine voice sounded only a few meters away.

"That's all right, Dax ... I'll just drop my bag in my old room and --"

The words came to a strangled halt just as Kira looked out over Odo's shoulder into the shocked face of First Minister Shakaar Edon.

Frozen with Odo likewise rigid in her arms, if no longer so elsewhere, Kira could only think in those first few electrified seconds how much like a bad holonovel it all was -- without the music and the artfully contrived holocam angles that made things look more graceful than they were. There was nothing romantic, nothing graceful about being caught in such a position, and no way to make it so. There they lay, a classic example of the expression "caught in the act".

It was ludicrous enough without Shakaar's angry, incredulous, "Nerys! What in the name of the Prophets do you think you're doing!"

Dax came through the door like a shot, and Kira realized that the Trill had probably been trying to steer Shakaar away from the library, her original destination. All for naught ... Kira sighed, managing a bare, reassuring grimace for Odo as he slowly loosed his hold on her, wide blue eyes searching her face for some cue as to what she wanted him to do. Good question, Kira thought silently, before she slipped out from under Odo and sat up on the edge of the bed. She didn't bother to hide her body, there hardly seemed to be a point when everyone in the room had seen her naked. Instead she shook her head and said quietly, "I think that it's pretty obvious, Edon, exactly what I was doing."

Shakaar looked stricken. "Nerys, I ..." Without another word, he turned abruptly and left the room. Dax rolled her eyes and began:

"Nerys ... Odo ... I am so sorry, I thought you were still in the ..."

"I know," Kira said quietly. She turned to Odo, who had followed her cue and was sitting mute at her side, equally exposed -- Count on Odo, Kira thought with sudden, fierce gratitude, to not let you face any single humiliating aspect of this thing alone. But then, I would hardly get involved like this with a dishonorable man -- at least I hope I wouldn't! "Are you all right?" she asked quietly.

"This may be the single most undignified moment of my life, but I'll live." Odo reached out and gave her hand a brief squeeze.

"Well, I'd better go talk to him," Kira said, sighing.

"Call if you need me."

"Me, too," Dax added. Kira nodded, standing and looking around for her robe. Dax picked it up from the floor and handed it to her with a compassionate smile.

At the door, Kira spared one last backward look for Odo, who had by this point reclaimed his own clothes from where Kira had scattered them earlier and stood with them clutched in front of him, shielding his groin. His blue eyes fixed themselves on hers, apparently having followed her to the door -- a volume of questions screamed out of them, although he didn't make a sound.

What a mess, Kira thought, unromantically but honestly as she went down the hall in search of Shakaar. What a Prophet-forsaken mess.

She found him in the kitchen, extracting a pair of raktajino mugs from the replicator. "I thought you'd be here soon," Shakaar commented dryly, putting one of the mugs into her hands. She tasted it cautiously. As usual, Shakaar had forgotten the extra kava.

One point for Odo, Kira thought automatically, and then shook her head at her own fancy. Instead she nodded at the kitchen table. "Can we talk about it now? Or do you want to wait?"

"You mean while I decide whether or not to rearrange Security Chief Odo's newly-acquired teeth for him?" Shakaar managed a twisted smile as he sank into one of the old-fashioned wooden chairs. Kira sat down across from him, shaking her head with a rueful grimace.

"If you're going to rearrange anyone's teeth they'll have to be mine. It was my idea."

Shakaar looked stung, but not surprised. "I don't suppose it occurred to him to say 'no'."

"He's got the physiological makeup of an eighteen-year-old. Would you have said no when you were that age?"

Amazingly, Shakaar started to chuckle. "I wouldn't have had time. I'd have been too busy taking my pants off." Then his demeanor grew somber. "But I wouldn't have expected it of you, Nerys."

Kira winced at the hurt and disappointment in her old friend's voice. "I'm sorry, Edon ... I don't know what to tell you. I'd say that it just happened, except that it would sound trite, and there's probably more to it than that."

"I just thought that you, of all people ... dammit, Nerys! I mean, certain things I'd be able to understand, but this --"

"Excuse me?" Kira said sharply. "Is this coming from the man who's managed to work his way through the entire female population of our resistance cell?"

"Yes, but that's the way I've always been -- you've never been like that! Besides, at least all my lovers have been Bajoran!"

Kira's eyes narrowed as her guilt began metamorphosing into anger. She got slowly to her feet, with Shakaar following suit. "What the hell is that supposed to mean? Odo's Bajoran!"

"Hell, Odo wasn't even a humanoid until a few months ago! He's hardly a Bajoran!"

"I think you'd better check your citizenship rolls, First Minister. I think he may even have voted for you in the last election, although it's sure starting to look like a mistake now!"

They met each other glare for glare. Shakaar finally sighed and turned away. "Fine. Whatever you say. It's just hard, Nerys ... first waiting all those months, trying to deal with you being pregnant, just out of the blue like that --"

"I know -- and I'm sorry." Kira bit off the words reluctantly, annoyed at the renewed surge of guilt that rushed through her. "And maybe things would be good again, now that I'm not pregnant anymore. You have to admit, they were pretty bad the last few times we've tried to be together."

"Well, I guess you don't plan to find out if they'd be better or not, do you?" Shakaar's words were sharp and bitter. "Or were you thinking you could just come strolling back into my life after it was all over, and you got tired of having a lover without a face?"

Kira felt her breath suck in, her eyes widen ever so slightly. It was the only warning she gave anyone, including herself, before her fist came up, seemingly of its own volition, and gave First Minister Shakaar Edon a solid punch square in the jaw. Kira stared at the belligerent hand, before tightening her mouth into a thin, resolute line.

"Edon, if we're going to salvage anything of our friendship out of this, I strongly advise you to stop saying things like that about the person I love." Kira stopped abruptly, startled at her own words, while Shakaar rubbed at his jaw warily. He gave Kira a look of reluctant respect.

"You always did have one hell of a punch, Major." Shakaar seemed to weigh his next words carefully before he spoke. "So ... you're in love with him?"

Kira also thought for a long moment. Finally she nodded, blinking back the tears that had come unbidden to her eyes.

"I think so. Believe me, no one is as surprised as I am."

"I just can't believe it ... of all the women I've known, you were the last one I ever expected to betray me ..."

Betrayal. Kira thought back to all the times Shakaar had fought at her back, saved her life, and was appalled at her own duplicity. The one thing she had always prided herself on was her loyalty, her fidelity to the people and the planet she loved. Betrayal ...

Kira was unable to fight back the sob that escaped her at Shakaar's bleak words and her own bleaker thoughts. Shakaar looked at her, faint hope dawning in his eyes.

"Nerys ... won't you at least think about it?"

"I --" What's there to think about? a stern inner voice told her. In the end it will be the same. "Edon, I --"

"Please, Nerys! You can think about it, can't you?"

"I -- no, I --"

There was the sudden sound of a small commotion in the hall outside, and Kira realized belatedly that Dax had been eavesdropping, of course, and that Odo had probably just caught her at it. She was surprised, though, to see the Trill come barging through the kitchen door, dragging an extremely reluctant former changeling behind her.

"Odo, you have to tell her! If you don't, I will!"

"Tell me what?" Kira asked. There was something about Odo's pale, anguished face that filled her with dread. "What is it, Odo?"

"Nerys, I think we should finish our discussion first --" Shakaar interrupted. Kira silenced him with an impatient wave of her hand.

"I want to know," she said quietly, firmly. "Tell me."

Surprisingly, instead of looking at her, Kira saw Odo's eyes fix reluctantly on the face of Shakaar. "First Minister ... I think that you're asking Major Kira to make a very important decision without giving her a full command of the facts."

"What are you talking about?" Shakaar asked brusquely -- a little too brusquely. Kira turned slowly to face him, suspicion dawning as her brown eyes went wide.

"What is it, Edon? What don't I know about?"

"Nothing!"

"Ask him --" Odo gave the First Minister one last look of appeal. When Shakaar remained stubbornly silent, Odo sighed and went on "-- about Avril N'lanna."

Kira laughed. "I don't need to ask about her, everyone on Bajor's heard of her. She's the most notorious prostitute in --" Kira's mouth fell open as realization suddenly sank home. "Edon," she breathed, "you've been seeing a p'eska?"

"Nerys ..." Shakaar stared at her helplessly. "It's not like you're on Bajor more than once every three months ... it doesn't mean anything..

Kira, inclined at first to think that this behavior had resulted from her pregnancy, felt her suspicion deepen. "How long?" she breathed.

"Nerys, it doesn't --"

"How long, dammit?!" Kira screamed the question, as the hot blood of humiliation flooded her cheeks. "Sweet Prophets, it's been months, hasn't it? Since before I had to carry Keiko's baby -- it's been since the beginning, hasn't it? You went out and called a p'eska the second you got twitchy -- hell, did you radio ahead from the runabout on your way back from the station?"

"Avril N'lanna and I have a long-standing business arrangement," Shakaar said tersely. "It has nothing to do with the way I feel for you."

"Well, it's sure having an impact on the way I feel for you!" Kira bit off the words. "You asked me to think about it -- I've thought about it all I care to. Now get the hell out of here." Kira sighed, suddenly drooping back into a chair. "Edon, I don't want to lose you as a friend, we've been through too much together for that ... but any other relationship we might have had is over. And right now I need you to just go away and leave me alone."

No fool, Shakaar recognized the finality of his defeat, and left without another word. Dax skimmed out quickly after him, but Kira reached out and caught the tail of Odo's tunic before he could follow suit.

"Not you, Constable. You I want to talk to."

"Nerys." Odo sat down in the chair next to hers, and Kira reached out blindly searching for his hand, breathing a small sigh of relief when it closed, strong and warm around hers. "I'm sorry," Odo whispered, "sorry you had to find out like that."

"How long have you known?"

Odo sighed. "It's been all over Bajor for months, Nerys. Everyone's known."

"Except me," Kira amended quietly.

"Yes," Odo acceded. "It didn't come out until after you were pregnant with the O'Brien's baby, and no one wanted to upset you."

"That makes sense," Kira agreed tiredly. She gave Odo a faint, troubled smile. "I don't suppose this is a problem I'll ever need to worry about with you."

"No," Odo said, his voice soft but firm. "Never." He looked up at Kira, raising his hand to press the palm tenderly to her cheek. "I doubt if I'll ever be handsome or famous, but I will be faithful. And while the day seems a lot closer than it did when I was a changeling, I'll love you until I die."

Kira sighed, and knew the words for truth. It was a truth she could claim as her own.

Shakaar was nowhere to be found when Kira and Odo wandered, arm in arm, out of the kitchen and into the central hall -- Dax, however, waited in one of the antique lienza-reed chairs, reading a dataPADD. Her carryall rested at her feet. She looked up apologetically at Odo and Kira's approach.

"I'm sorry ... that can't be anything that you wanted to have to deal with right now," Dax murmured contritely. "He's already left ... and I promise, I'll take Worf apart when I get back to the station."

"I imagine he'll enjoy that," Odo commented dryly. Kira and Dax both looked at him, startled, before breaking into delighted laughter.

"I'm afraid you're right!" Dax chortled. "But I'll still do it."

"Try staying out of the Infirmary this time," Kira advised. "Are you sure you don't want to stay for a few days?"

"Some other time." Dax got lightly to her feet, and reached out to hug each of her friends in turn. "I think the two of you could use some time alone, don't you?"

Kira glanced shyly at Odo, and was faintly amused to catch him doing the same at her. Dax laughed at them both.

"See? Trust me, you'll be better off on your own." Dax picked up her bag and crossed the hall comlink, keying in the codes that would activate the transporter that would take her to the Central Transport Station in the capital. "Besides," she added, just before the transporter shimmered her away, "you two were getting awfully noisy a while ago -- how could I sleep with all that going on?" Like the old Earth story of the Cheshire cat that Dax had once forced an uncomprehending Kira to read, it seemed that the last thing to vanish on Dax was her smile.

Kira and Odo turned to face each other awkwardly, suddenly, acutely aware of being alone together, with a relationship that had seemed to spring full-grown out of nothingness. Only it wasn't nothing, not by a long shot ... Kira gave Odo a little smile, and automatically said the first thing that came to her mind.

"Nervous?"

"Nervous? Why would I be nervous?" Odo looked slightly affronted, and then he sighed. "Terrified ... it seems like the universe has turned inside out since this time yesterday."

"I -- I think this side looks kind of good, don't you?" Kira stepped closer to Odo, bringing a tentative hand up to rest lightly against his chest. Odo smiled a little, his eyes growing very soft.

"I'd say it looked very good. Nerys -"

"I love you," Kira said with sudden, determined passion. She raised her lips to his, sighing as she felt Odo's hands close gently on the small of her back and his mouth open in response to her tender urging.

"I think you mean that," he breathed, when they finally paused in their delicate exploration. "You know, I really do."

"Good," Kira said firmly. "It's the truth."

"When did that happen?" Kira sensed a sincerity underlying the lighthearted question, and gave it the serious consideration she felt it deserved.

"I'm not sure," she admitted. "You've just always been there for me -- like a strong wall at my back." She let her hands slide down Odo's arms to clasp his hands in hers. "Maybe ... maybe some of what you felt finally rubbed off on me. All I know is that when Edon started insulting you -- I knew. I knew you meant more to me than I had ever let myself believe. And that I wanted to be with you." Kira stopped, knowing that her words sounded weak and inadequate, but unable to come up with better. To her intense relief, Odo simply smiled, his blue eyes looking deeply into hers and seeming to be satisfied with what they found there.

"I think that's enough to start with. Far more than I ever expected." Odo gave a slight, self-deprecating shrug. Kira stared at him solemnly.

"Then you'd better raise your expectations, Constable. This is just the beginning."

"Tell me, Major ... is this all that couples do?"

The use of her title didn't bother her nearly so much, Kira decided, when it was being breathed in her ear. She pulled Odo closer into her arms, and sighed as he adjusted the weight of his naked body against hers.

"Absolutely, Constable. This is all we'll be able to do for weeks and weeks."

"Hmph." Odo sounded amused but doubtful. "Does this mean you've asked for an extension on our leave?"

"Don't I wish!" Kira smiled, letting her hands ramble aimlessly over Odo's back. "I think Dax was right."

"I'm afraid to ask about what."

"Just that you and I need to spend some time alone together."

"Hmm ... is that why we're out here? Because you were afraid of more unexpected guests showing up at the house?"

"Well, it's always a risk." Kira chuckled as Odo rolled off of her, sitting up on the blanket next to her. The blanket in question was spread on the grass of the riverbank, and another thick blanket had covered both of them warmly, the night air carrying a trace of chill despite the balminess of the day. It was the last night of their visit to Bajor, a visit that, despite its precarious beginnings, Kira knew she would remember as one of the highlights of her life.

They had spent almost all of their time together -- taking walks and either talking or else sharing the peaceful silences that often sprang up between two such introspective people. They had spent hours in the library, working quietly on their respective projects, contented just to be in the other's company. Most often they had made love -- slowly, sensuously, Odo exploring Kira's body with all the painstaking concentration of a trained investigator confronted with a particularly fascinating case.

Such attention to detail was paying off for him now, and Kira laughed in amused exasperation. "Hey! No fair pulling off the blanket!" She nonetheless paused before grabbing it back, enjoying the way Odo's eyes traveled to her nipples as they hardened in the cool night air. "You did that on purpose," she accused, deciding to seize his hands instead, pressing them against her breasts.

"Nonsense," Odo teased gently, easing his body back down alongside hers. "Now, why are we really out here?"

"Don't you think it's romantic? Lying on the ground, looking up at the moons?"

"I think they'd look just as romantic from your bedroom window. So tell me."

Kira smiled, wrapping her arms around Odo's neck and snuggling against him. "I have a surprise for you. Don't you like surprises?"

"This week has been full of them ... I'm not sure I can take another one!" Odo joked in turn. "So, this is specifically an outdoor surprise?"

"Absolutely. Now, lie on your back and watch the sky."

"All right." Odo settled back comfortably, pulling Kira with him so that her head rested against his shoulder. In the cool midnight shadows, the larger moon, Respelar, hung at the height of the sky, while her smaller companion, Tisa, was a bright disc lingering just over the horizon, almost ready to dip behind it. Kira smiled and extended her hand.

"There," she said, pointing in the opposite direction. "Watch."

A faint glimmer of light was gleaming on the eastern horizon. As Odo and Kira watched, spellbound, a third Bajoran moon, D'rannah, rose in a slow and stately progression to join her sisters in their nightly dance. Kira could feel Odo becoming absolutely still in her arms, even breathing forgotten for those first few seconds.

"Nerys," he whispered, "you remembered what I said."

"Of course I did, silly." Kira fought back the tears that threatened to spill from her eyes. "If you could remember my favorite dish from three years ago, I think I could remember something like this!"

They continued to watch as D'rannah rose, and Tisa, as though surrendering her place, began to slip away beyond the western skyline. Odo let out a long shudder, and Kira felt a smear of moisture against her forehead as she rubbed it against his cheek. Kira contented herself that it was just an attack of sentiment, until she felt more than heard the choked sob that tore through Odo's chest.

"Odo," she whispered, propping herself up so she could look down into his face. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing ... everything." Odo reached up and stroked Kira's cheek, his eyes fixed on her face in desperate searching. "I just can't believe ..."

"Believe what?" Kira asked when he floundered and fell silent. "That it's real?"

Odo nodded wordlessly. His blue eyes shone with dismay.

"Feel me ... I'm real." Kira reached down and began fondling him purposefully, her fingers stroking and caressing his penis until it sprang to life in her hand. "See? I'm real ..." She moved to where she could straddle him, kissing him over and over, her lips like the wings of Terran butterflies fluttering against his skin.

"Real ..." Kira gasped, moaning a little as Odo began to touch her in turn, as their bodies moved and melded together, their joining electric and fated and somehow charged with portent. A distant memory from her youth flashed through Kira's mind, a memory from when she was a young resistance fighter who slept under the stars and moons of Bajor almost every night.

"Odo," she gasped, "by Tisa, I name you lover."

Odo stared at her, taken aback, before recollection dawned. "Nerys," he whispered, "by Respelar, I name you friend."

"Odo --" Kira shuddered as her orgasm radiated through her like a supernova "-- by D'rannah, I name you companion of my heart."

Odo paused, crying out incoherently as his own body followed suit. Finally he managed to gasp, "Kira Nerys, by the light of this third moon rising, my life is joined with yours."

"J'non." Kira murmured the solemn Bajoran word of affirmation, to which the closest Terran equivalent might have been an 'amen, so be it'. Odo stared up at her, blue eyes wondering. Kira smiled at him in return, her own eyes soft as she reached down to gently stroke his cheek.

"Moon-pledged?" Odo whispered questioningly. To Kira's contented nod, he said with a nervous chuckle, "You're lucky I remembered the words."

"Don't worry ... I was ready to coach you." Kira sighed and lay back down against Odo's chest, although not without a sigh as his fullness slipped from inside her. She chuckled. "I'm just glad I remembered them myself."

"I've always wondered ... what exactly does it mean to be 'moon-pledged'?" Odo put the question to her hesitantly. "I mean, I have some vague idea, but some of the things I've heard about it are confusing."

Kira laughed. "Well, that's because it's been applied in a lot of different ways. A lot of Bajoran girls have lost their virginity when there have been three moons visible -- so have a lot of Bajoran boys, for that matter. You're alone together, the feelings are kind of right, anyway, and you've got three moons up there begging for romance, things happen. However --"

"You're saying it's a come-on?" Odo looked appalled.

"However," Kira continued firmly, "when you're older, it's seen as a -- a declaration of exclusivity. It's a special way of saying that you're not planning to be with anyone else. It doesn't have any official status -- I guess the legal term might be a 'declaration of intent'. I believe Captain Sisko once used a similar term when he described Jake and his old girlfriend, Marta, as 'going steady'." Kira smiled, rubbing her cheek against Odo's shoulder. "With Bajorans, it usually involves a bracelet."

"Ah." Kira felt Odo's sigh ruffling her hair. "I'm afraid you caught me unprepared."

"Well, I wasn't exactly planning on it myself." Kira angled her head to plant a gentle kiss on Odo's jaw. "Besides, I don't need a bracelet. I'd probably just lose it -- I'm terrible with jewelry. If I didn't put it on first thing when I wake up, and take it off last thing after I get into bed at night, I would have lost my clan earring a hundred times by now."

"That would be a pity," Odo agreed. He lifted Kira's hand in his, and raised it to press her wrist to his lips. He then proceeded to encircle the slender joint with kisses, while Kira purred in contentment.

"Mmm ... is that my bracelet?" she murmured.

"For now." Odo carried the hand he held to his heart. "We'll have to see about more later."

"Later's good, too," Kira agreed. "We have plenty of time."

"Nerys," Odo asked hesitantly, "what happens to us when we get back to the station?"

Kira looked up from where she was fastening her belt, to where Odo, already neatly installed in his uniform, sat in the window seat, looking out at the river beyond. They had staggered back to the house when dawn began to light the sky, and snatched a few hours sleep, a tangled jumble of arms and legs, twined together like twin strands in a skein of rope. They had even discussed the possibility of asking Sisko for a few more days, but their strong senses of duty had ultimately intervened. Now Kira wondered if she had been too quick to be responsible. There were so many things yet to be said.

"What do you mean?" she replied. "You mean as a couple?"

"Couple ..." Odo repeated the word, drawing out the syllables in a wondering tone. "I still can't quite see myself as part of a couple."

"Too bad," Kira said briefly. To Odo's surprised look she added, "You're stuck with me whether you like it or not."

"Oh, I like it!" Odo exclaimed hastily. "I'm just having a hard time believing it."

"Yet I've been doing my best to convince you." Kira crossed the room to drape her arms around Odo's neck, drawing forth a faint smile. "I'm sorry you didn't notice!"

"I noticed ..." Odo slid his arms around Kira in turn, looking up at her and finally letting the taut muscles of his face relax. "It would have been hard to miss."

"Hard?" Kira teased. She brought her knee up to nudge gently into the juncture of Odo's crotch. Odo's eyelids drooped in dreamy pleasure, before he held her away from him reluctantly. "None of that," he remonstrated, chuckling. "We have to be out of here in half an hour if we're going to be back to the station on schedule."

"We could still call Sisko ..."

"No." Odo shook his head. "I ... need to move this all into my real life. I have to see that ..." He trailed off, setting his mouth in a rather grim line.

"You have to see if it works under less than ideal conditions?"

Odo managed a wry smile. "Something like that."

"Okay, then, here's the answer to your question."

Odo looked up, surprised, as Kira went on. "When we get back to the station, we'll spend the first few weeks trying to be very subtle, thinking that no one knows we're together, when everyone who hasn't already heard it from Dax will have figured it out within fifteen minutes of seeing us together. We'll make lots of serious commitments about allowing each other 'space' when all we'll want to do is be together. We'll be so anxious to be loving and supportive of each other that we'll not speak up at first when we disagree about something, and we'll end up fighting about it instead -- and then we'll make love." Kira smiled. "And probably about the fourth time that I forget my hairbrush or my toothbrush and have to borrow yours, we'll get sick of hauling things back and forth to each other's quarters all the time, and we'll finally decide to move in together. After that -- well, I guess it all depends on how much you decide you like coupling."

Odo considered Kira's words for a long, thoughtful pause. Finally he said, "As long as we have a plan -- you know how orderly I like things to be."

Kira laughed. "Odo, you'll find love to be many things -- but never orderly."

Odo smiled. "I guess I'll just have to wait and find out."

From the look in his eyes, Kira knew that about the final answer Odo had no doubts.

And neither did she.

THE END

Copyright 1996 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.

Once again, my special thanks to GreenWoman (grnwoman@aol.com) for the beautiful artwork!


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