[Author's note: This story was written before we knew any of the details about Bajoran pregnancies, ie. the sneezing instead of getting sick, etc. I may come back to it someday, and then again, I may not - there is something so fun about a story that you can begin with someone having their head stuck in a toilet bowl.]

STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE

Unexpected Dividends by Carolyn R. Fulton


It was really interesting how different the doorcom sounded, Kira Nerys thought tiredly, when echoing off the sides of a toilet bowl. She staggered to her feet and quickly washed her face, willing her unruly stomach to obedience before returning to the main living area of her quarters and calling, "Come!"

The door <swooshed> open, revealing Constable Odo, data PADD in hand. He greeted her with his usual reserve -- a reserve grown more pronounced of late.

"Good morning, Major. You asked me to bring by these reports before we left for Bajor this morning."

"That's right -- I'd forgotten. Come in, Odo." On one hand, Kira wanted nothing so much as to be left alone, but on the other she saw Odo so seldom these days, except when they were thrown into a room together with a large group of people, that it seemed impossible to let such a rare opportunity slip by. Kira nodded at a chair. "Have a seat -- I was about to have some breakfast, you can keep me company while I take a look at that." She nodded at the PADD he still clutched.

Odo seated himself tentatively, obviously ill at ease. Kira looked at him, concerned. "Odo, are you all right? You've been so -- distant lately."

"I'm fine, Major -- I've just been busy, that's all."

Kira remained unconvinced, but decided to let it pass. She crossed over to the replicator, ordering, after some thought, dry toast and ginger tea. Odo studied the contents of her plate curiously as she placed it on the table.

"A little light, isn't it?" he asked. Kira was notorious for the volume of her breakfasts, just as she was for frequently forgetting to eat for the remainder of the day.

Kira smiled and shrugged. "Not hungry, that's all." She cautiously nibbled at a bite of toast, with no ill effects. "I appreciate the ride to Bajor, Constable," she added. "What time were we hoping to leave?"

"I had scheduled our departure for oh-nine hundred hours, provided that's all right with you."

"That should be fine. What is it for you, another security conference?"

"I'm afraid so. I don't know how I'm expected to provide security, when I have to spend half of my time talking about it."

Kira embarked on a second bite of toast. So far, so good . . . she raised her cup of tea to her mouth, and as the fragrance filtered into her nostrils, Kira Nerys met her undoing. Gasping an excuse, she raced for the bathroom.

Red-faced and sheepish, she finally returned, to find Odo standing near the door, a concerned expression on his face. "Major, are you all right? Would you like me to call Dr. Bashir?"

Kira chuckled wryly. "Don't worry, he knows." She smiled reassuringly at Odo's worried look. "I'm fine." She paused. "I'm just pregnant."

"Oh."

Kira wasn't sure if she had ever seen Odo at such a complete loss for words.

Finally he ventured, "Should I congratulate you?"

Kira laughed. "I don't know yet. Ask me that question on the way back from Bajor, after I've told Edon."

"Doesn't he know?" Odo sounded bewildered.

"Not yet. I only found out myself yesterday."

"But --" Odo retreated into his confusion, an embarrassed look crossing his face. Finally he asked, "Don't humanoids - know when something like that happens?"

"Well, we know what causes it." Kira gave him an amused smile. "We just don't always know when it 'takes', if you know what I mean -- you do, don't you?" Kira's smile faded as the thought struck her.

"I know what act is involved in humanoid procreation, Major -- in the course of my duties I've even arrested on a few of your own species for doing it on the Promenade." Odo's face, normally so expressionless, mirrored his distaste. Kira felt suddenly uncomfortable, with a weird sense of being a lower life form. Odo caught the look and hastened to add, "I don't mean that -- I'm sure that it's really -- I mean, it doesn't sound like something that one should do on the Promenade, that's all. It seems that it should be very -- private."

"Well, yes," Kira agreed, "it does to me, too." She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Odo -- you must think we're all crazy with our -- humanoid mating rituals."

Odo studied her seriously. "Some of them sound -- interesting."

"That's one word for it." Kira grinned.

"It's just that --" Odo paused, looking hopelessly out of his element.

"Go on." Kira encouraged. "Odo, you're my friend, it won't embarrass me. What is it that you want to know?" Prophets, I hope it won't embarrass me, Kira silently amended.

"It's that -- don't you know what your cells are doing?"

Kira stared at him blankly. "My cells?"

"Of your body."

"You mean -- individually?"

Odo nodded.

"No." Kira shook her head at the enormity of the idea. "Why -- do you?"

"I don't monitor mine constantly, but I would certainly know it if one of them linked with a cell from -- another being. Or if one left me to -- do that." Odo faltered, obviously remembering what kind of linking, in Kira's case, was involved.

Kira smiled. "We aren't able to keep such close track of ours. So -- tonight I get to break the news to the First Minister."

"I see." Odo suddenly seemed to withdraw back into himself, taking Kira's close friend with him and leaving only her coworker behind. "Well, I have a few things that I need to accomplish before we leave -- see you at Docking Bay Five at oh-nine hundred hours, Major." Odo turned and left, rather precipitously, Kira thought.

For someone who doesn't have sexual feelings, Odo sure does get embarrassed when other people start showing theirs, Kira thought, suddenly puzzled. She reached absent-mindedly for her cup of tea -- the results causing all thoughts of Odo's unusual attitude to go flying from her mind, even as Kira herself went flying back to the bathroom.

Maybe changelings have the right idea after all . . .

******

Odo loathed security conferences. He particularly loathed Bajoran security conferences, although Starfleet ones could be almost as bad. At least with Starfleet he could count on a similar level of education and a common sense of procedure -- when dealing with the Bajoran Security League, he never knew what to expect, except that any meeting would definitely be lengthy and would probably be loud. How there could be such a diversity of hotly held opinions on what seemed to be such a clear-cut topic was a mystery to Odo, who privately wondered if they didn't draw slips at the door to see what strange, new, illogical point of procedure to argue this meeting.

He managed to get through with a certain level of equanimity by only engaging his mind for what seemed like relevant points -- there were certain individuals who he had already learned to screen out entirely, so that by now they bothered him no more than the drone of insects. At these points his mind would travel to matters he deemed more important -- in this case, try though he might not to think of her, to relegate her to a place of little importance in his life, to Kira Nerys, and what he imagined she must be doing while the security conference wrangled on.

Fortunately, the First Minister's home and the Bajoran Central Security Office were only a few blocks distant from each other, so that Odo and Kira were able to land together and agree to rendezvous at the shuttle port later. "No transporters for me," Kira had commented cheerfully, "at least not for a while." Her hand had gone unconsciously to her abdomen, unchanged as far as Odo's acute observation could tell. He had watched her go, and resigned himself to a stab of the old, familiar pain.

The interior of the shuttle was dark when Odo finally returned -- I'm going to have to see if Kira can pilot part of the way back, Odo thought, that damned meeting ran so long I'm due to start regenerating in less than two hours. The lights failed to activate when he entered, so he automatically called for them -- and became aware of Kira, sitting huddled in one of the seats in the rear. Odo took a step toward her, concerned.

"Major," he ventured. When she failed to acknowledge him he continued, "Are you all right?"

Kira shook her head in adamant negation. Finally she said, "Let's get out of here, okay?"

"I'll lay in a course for DS9," Odo said quietly. He seated himself at the navigator's console, his fingers flying over the touchpad.

"Thanks, Odo." Odo heard the soft rustle of Kira's movements as she rose and moved slowly to the seat beside him. Not looking at her, Odo asked calmly, "What happened? Was the First Minister -- displeased?"

"The First Minister still doesn't know."

That caused Odo to look up at Kira, startled. She went on, "Edon gave me all of his security access codes, the last time I was here, so next time I came I could surprise him. I guess he didn't expect me to take him up on it."

"What happened, Kira?"

"Not much -- I found him in bed with one of his Vedek Assembly liaisons." Kira laughed mirthlessly at the unintentional joke. "I guess he wanted to encourage her to work extra hard to gain their support when that new grain bill comes up."

"I see." Odo retreated into minimalism, knowing that there was nothing comforting or even useful he could say. He simply checked a few readings on his control panel, before turning to give Kira his full attention. "What are you going to do?"

Kira shrugged. "I guess I'm going to have a baby." She bit down hard on her lower lip, turning her mouth into a thin, hard line. Odo reached out slowly over the distance that separated them, putting his hand on her arm.

"I'll -- help you in any way that I can. I hope you know that."

Kira looked at him, her expression relaxing ever so slightly. "I wasn't sure," she admitted. "You've seemed pretty far away lately."

"I'm sorry." Odo started to draw his hand away, only to have Kira cover it with hers, holding it tightly against her. She only held it for the briefest instant, but Odo felt that brief touch like a burn on his flesh.

"You're the best friend I have," Kira said simply. "It scared me when I thought I was losing you."

"No -- you haven't lost me." How did I think that I could just walk away and stop loving you? Odo wondered. At least I can't now - now that you may need me.

He carefully rechecked his console as the shuttle flew on through the endless night.

******

Some women bloom with impending motherhood. With Kira Nerys, it was more like an eruption. The officers and crew alike in Ops came to dread the arrival of the turbolift when it was time for Kira to come on duty. Her infamous temper, never her strongest selling point, waxed faster and wider than her waistline.

When word of her condition had finally reached a certain interested party on Bajor, Shakaar had arrived promptly on the station -- and had promptly been sent on his way, ears still ringing from Kira's less than cordial reception. Rumor had it that the First Minister was also sporting a black eye, although no one was sure if this was the truth or the product of Quark's fertile imagination.

Finally, after Kira exploded into such a rage that Miles O'Brien suggested that they sound a red alert, Captain Benjamin Sisko had enough. Drawing up to his full height, Sisko bellowed, "Major! In my office, NOW!"

Once there, Kira managed to blurt out an apology. "I'm sorry, Captain. I was a little out of line."

"A little out of line?" Sisko stared at her. "Major, you've been a walking warp core breach for the past four months! I don't know if the problem is emotional or hormonal, but you're clearly not fit for duty! And I'm relieving you of duty until after your baby gets here!"

"Relieving me of duty?" Kira stared at him. "Captain, my baby's not due to arrive for another two months!"

"Then you should have plenty of time to get ready for it."

"But -- but --" Kira stared at him helplessly. "What am I going to do for two months?"

"There are all sorts of things. You could be reading. You could -- redecorate."

"Redecorate." Kira stared at him with lowering brow.

"Choose a name -- decide on a birthing method. Gestate -- and do it somewhere other than Ops! Now, that will be all! I'll send Commander Dax by your quarters later, so you can brief her on your current duty status." Sisko paused. "Dismissed, Major."

Kira stared at Sisko, opened her mouth to say something, but finally bit her lip. "Captain," she said briefly, turning and leaving his office. She didn't stop until she was out of Ops and had made her way down the Promenade to the Security Office, where Odo sat quietly, working on one of his countless reports.

"Major." He looked up as she approached, a slight smile on his face. It occurred to Kira suddenly that Odo was one of the few people of late who still looked genuinely glad to see her. "What can I do for you?"

Kira lowered herself into her usual chair, although not with her usual grace. "I've just been relieved of duty for the rest of my pregnancy. Odo, what am I going to do for two months?!" Kira glared at him indignantly. "I can hardly sit in my quarters and knit!"

Odo enjoyed the rare distinction of being the one person Kira could rail at with impunity, as he seemed impervious to her temper. "Well," he suggested mildly, "you could help me with my reports. It wouldn't be too strenuous, and I could certainly use the assistance."

"Your reports."

"That's what I said."

"Paperwork."

Odo nodded.

Kira looked ready to protest, but suddenly she decided to acquiesce. "All right," she conceded, "it's better than nothing." She hoisted herself out of the chair, her fine-boned frame clearly not the ideal design for the demands currently being made on it. "When would you like me to start?"

"It's a bit late now -- how about tomorrow morning?" Odo smiled. "If you meet me here at oh- eight-hundred hours, we can discuss what's involved over a cup of raktajino."

"Sounds good." Kira nodded. As she turned to leave she added, "Will I still see you tonight?"

"Of course."

Odo watched her as she went, not bothering to hide the look that crossed his face once her back was turned. It was a combination of contentment and despair, longing and gratification so profound that it caused a certain Ferengi, passing Kira on his way into Odo's office, to pull up short and stare.

Odo quickly turned his full attention to the PADD in his hand. Quark took the few remaining steps into the office, shaking his head.

"I thought you had decided to get on with your life," Quark observed.

"I had." Odo continued tapping in data with precise little touches. "But my life intervened."

"What do you think will happen when she finally has that baby?"

"I assume she'll start to raise it."

"I'll tell you what will happen -- she'll make up with Shakaar, move away to Bajor, and you may get to see her two times a year if you're lucky! And I hope you're not planning to tear apart your room this time!"

"Why would that bother you? My floor is soundproofed now."

"Fine!" Quark threw up his hands. "Just don't let it affect your job performance again, all right?"

"I shall endeavor to maintain the high standards of law enforcement you've come to rely on, Quark." Odo smirked a little at the Ferengi's look of sudden dismay.

"Fine! Be sure that you do," Quark grumbled. He blurted out, "You're there in her quarters every night. For hours. She's as big as a cargo bay -- it's not like you could -"Quark faltered a little before Odo's suddenly dangerous glare. "What do you do? What do you talk about?"

"This is not to imply that this is any of your business, Quark, but just in case you were thinking of inventing something more 'colorful' for your patrons -- the Major and I talk about security reports. Sometimes, we talk about her baby. Sometimes, we don't talk at all -- we listen to Earth jazz, and I rub her back."

Quark's eyes widened. "Her back."

"Her pregnancy is very hard on her back. It's helps to have someone massage it in the evening." Odo suddenly wished that he had left the back rubs out of his account. Still, hoping to brazen it through, he added, "Also, I sometimes massage her feet. They're bothering her, too."

"But -- Odo --" Quark seemed practically beside himself. "Where's the profit in it?!"

"There isn't any." Odo admitted this freely. "But I enjoy spending the time with her. Now, was there something I could help you with?"

"Oh." Quark returned to the business at hand. "Truthfully, you're with the Major so much -- do you have any ideas you could share with me for -- for the baby pool?"

"The 'baby pool'."

"I've started a pool -- weight, sex, date of birth -- they're very common. Even hu-mons like baby pools. I just thought that you might have some idea as to what it's supposed to be -- when exactly it's due - -"

Odo stood up, smiling. "When I do," he assured Quark, "I'll bet on it. Now, if you'll excuse me . . ."

His first stop was his own quarters, where he carefully selected a book. Second, he stopped by the Bolean restaurant, where he picked up a take-out order. Finally, he arrived at Major Kira's, where he tapped in the lock code and let himself in.

"Kira?" he called.

"Here!" The irritable call came from the direction of the bathroom. A few moments later Kira entered the main living area, looking annoyed and tense. "I'm thinking about moving the bed in there," she said crossly.

"I brought you some dinner," Odo told her calmly, arranging his booty on the table. "Come eat."

Kira crossed to the table and smiled. "You heard me saying that Bolean food was the only thing I could work up an appetite for. Odo, you are so good to me." Kira reached out and gave her friend an impulsive hug. She did a lot of that recently, and Odo had learned to submit gracefully. He watched her as she sat down to eat, his blue eyes softly shining. He then sat down next to her, putting the book he had brought down in front of him on the table.

"What are you reading?" Kira queried between bites.

"Henry David Thoreau," Odo replied briefly. "An human philosopher of sorts, from the nineteenth century."

"Anything good?"

"He was a great advocate of simplicity, of cutting things that are extraneous from one's life."

"Oh." Kira considered this idea rather glumly. "Like our Tuesday morning meetings, I suppose."

Odo braced himself at the subtle change to Kira's voice. He had weathered her hormonal shifts for the preceding months, and he knew the storm that was about to break.

"How could you just -- cut me off like that?" Kira stared across the table at him, her dinner forgotten. "Why did you do it?!"

Odo bowed his head before the onslaught. "I can't explain it -- I don't think you would understand."

"Fine. So I'm stupid now, too." Kira stood up abruptly, and then winced. "Damn!"

"Are you all right?" Odo also stood, book forgotten on the table.

"No, I'm not all right!" Kira blazed. "My back hurts -- my feet hurt -- my ankles are the size of a Jeffrey's tube -- two Jeffrey's tubes! -- I'm as big as a house, and I'm scared, okay? So, no, I am not all right!" Kira turned on her heel, stalking over to the couch where she angled herself down.

Odo followed her slowly. "Would you like me to rub your back for you?" he asked quietly.

Kira sighed, her anger seemingly spent. "Please," she said briefly. Sitting with her back to Odo, Kira pulled her top off over her head, holding it modestly in front of her, but not before she had afforded the shapeshifter, standing above her, a fleeting glimpse of her bare breasts. Odo sat down behind her, carefully applying his hands to the small of Kira's back, letting their substance shift and spread across as much of the taut surface as possible. Kira moaned a little, saying:

"That feels so good. I wish -- oh, I don't know, I wish I could just crawl into a bathtub and let you do that all over me."

Odo paused at the weight of the mental image. Kira noticed him faltering.

"Odo, I'm joking -- well, not exactly, but I hardly expect you to do it. It's all right."

"I'm just sorry you're so tense." He resumed his gentle ministrations to her back.

"You know what they don't tell you about being pregnant?" Kira asked.

"I'm not sure if I know what they do tell you," Odo observed. "What is it that they don't tell you?"

"I guess all those authors figure you're going to be -- with someone if you're pregnant. They don't go into how - incredibly aroused you're going to get -- and how much you're just going to want to be held."

"Aroused," Odo said slowly. "You mean -- sexually."

Kira nodded. "That's part of it. I think I'd settle for someone just holding me, though."

Odo forced back the first response that tried to rush from his mouth. Instead he said, "I'm sorry, Kira. No wonder you're so -- " Odo paused delicately, searching for a word.

"Bitchy?"

"That would be -- an apt choice of terms," Odo conceded.

Kira suddenly laughed, pulling her top back on before turning to put her arms around her friend, hugging him tightly. Odo let his own arms close around her gently, shoving caution and logic and forethought all to one side, and holding her close. Kira nestled her head against his shoulder with a sigh.

"I couldn't have asked for a better friend than you," she said simply. "I love you, Odo."

Kira, never the most astute of women where matters of the heart were concerned, and hormonally impaired besides, still couldn't miss the sudden frisson of tension that shot through her friend's body. Odo disengaged himself from her as fast as he could without seeming utterly abrupt.

"It's getting late, Major -- you should probably be getting some rest." Odo got hastily to his feet. "I'll see you tomorrow in Security."

"All right," Kira said quietly.

Odo had nearly made it to the door when he remembered his book. Turning back toward the table to get it, he spared a glance for the woman on the sofa, and then froze where he stood.

Kira lay on her side on the couch, in much the same position as the child curled within her body, arms wrapped around herself as she shook with silent tears. Odo felt completely helpless. He had never seen her cry before.

"Kira . . ." Odo started back towards her. Kira flipped over so that her back was to him, her shoulders heaving with her sobs. Odo sat on the edge of the couch beside her, patting her shoulder awkwardly, and, after a moment's hesitation, stretched out along the sofa behind her, so that the length of his body could curl around hers. "It's all right," he whispered. "I'm here." He draped his arm across her, tentatively letting his palm come to rest on the distended curve of her belly, his fingers curling slowly to join it. Kira covered his hand with hers, holding it against her tightly until her crying finally ceased.

There was a long silence, during which Odo slowly relaxed, attuning his sensors to the subtleties of Kira's body, and the new life stirring aggressively within her. He stroked her abdomen almost without thought, until the movement quieted beneath his hand. Kira sighed.

"That's the calmest it's been in days," she commented. "I wish it would do that when other people patted it. So far I have a sense that this baby hates all of my acquaintances and most of my friends. Of course, maybe it just objects to people strolling up and handling it without warning."

"What do you mean?"

"You wouldn't believe how free people feel to come up and put their hands on your belly when you're pregnant."

"What?" Odo asked, appalled. He snorted derisively. "They wouldn't do that to me if I was pregnant."

Kira's body quivered silently for a brief moment before she burst into laughter. Seeing the joke, Odo chuckled gently as well.

"Of course," he added, "that's not something I have to worry about."

"I suppose not," Kira managed, still laughing. "But it's fun to picture."

Odo continued his gentle caress of Kira's abdomen, contentment flooding him against all logic and all thought of the morrow. At least for now, Kira needed him -- she wanted his arms around her - and he could still make her laugh. Odo sighed as Kira linked her fingers with his. Her fingertips traveled to the back of his hand, stroking it in a soft, circular motion.

He wasn't sure where the change came from, but he could feel it in Kira's body, in a slight singing of tension that communicated itself from her to him. He suddenly felt self-conscious, and the movement of his hand against Kira faltered.

"Don't stop," Kira whispered.

"I think -- I think that perhaps I should." Odo forced out the words, even while he brought his forehead to rest in Kira's hair.

"I'm sorry," Kira said simply. "If I just ignore it, hopefully it will go away. I just don't want to be alone right now."

"I understand." Odo tried to relax again, with only minimal success.

Kira lay in silence for several moments, continuing the gentle, sensual caress of Odo's hand. Finally she asked, "Remember when the Federation first took over the station?"

"Of course." Odo relaxed a little bit more, at the introduction of such a seemingly safe topic.

"Those first few months -- I had such a crush on you."

"You -- what?" Odo shook his head as though to clear it.

"You know -- an infatuation."

"I -- I'm familiar with the term. I just don't -- I didn't -- why didn't you tell me?"

Kira shrugged, the movement strangely stimulating against Odo's chest. Doesn't anyone realize that this isn't a uniform, that this is my skin? He toyed briefly with the idea of demonstrating the point, but dismissed the thought at once. I wonder what she'd do, he wondered. He could think of several possibilities -- all of them alarming. Then Kira spoke.

"I don't know. I just figured it was so -- so silly of me. It wasn't like it was something that would ever remotely interest you."

Odo thought of her the way she was then -- her pride, her passion already insinuating her into some spot deep within his consciousness, his 'heart' if one used the humanoid term. He let out a sigh, thinking that he should have given the same nonexistent organ more time to heal before he risked having it broken again.

"Why do you say that?" It suddenly seemed very important not to let silence fall.

"You've been pretty outspoken about what you think of our -- humanoid mating rituals," Kira observed, amused.

"Yes -- to Quark!" Odo was deeply grateful that Kira couldn't see his face. "I couldn't well say anything else to Quark."

Kira, however, apparently decided that seeing Odo's face was just what she wanted to do. She squirmed over onto her other side, so that she lay with her distended abdomen pressed lightly against Odo's flat one. She smiled curiously.

"Well, since I'm not Quark -- what do you really think of our 'humanoid mating rituals'?"

Odo was unable to meet Kira's eyes, and was deeply grateful that her girth maintained something of a distance between them. "I -- still find some of the concepts -- extremely alien," he admitted.

"But --?" Kira said softly.

Odo finally looked at her. "You aren't the only one who gets lonely, Major," he said shortly. Quark was right, Odo thought dully. You have to tell her how you feel -- or forget about her. But another voice argued with the voice of Ferengi reason. Only how do you turn your back on a friend who needs you? There's no 'profit' in being here for her -- but there's no honor in not being here, and you are an honorable man.

There seemed to be only one place maintaining his sanity and honor could intersect.

The truth.

"I suppose you do," Kira said simply. She rested her hand gently against his chest. "You just hide it well."

"Do I?" Odo closed his eyes, feeling Kira's hand like a firebrand against his flesh. He slowly reached up to take it in his, opening his eyes and giving her a little smile.

"Everything just seems to take second place to -- efficiency, and your job."

"That seems to be the one area that -- no one questions my right to be there."

Kira narrowed her eyes, peering at him thoughtfully. "As opposed to what?"

"Kira --" Odo paused, and took the plunge, "Nerys --"

"Odo," Kira interrupted in a pleased tone, "you've never called me by my given name before."

"It seems to be -- time."

"Past time," Kira assured him. "I'm sorry -- what were you saying?"

"Everyone seems to forget that -- I was conditioned -- raised, if you would -- to be Bajoran. My teachers were Bajoran, all of the people I had close contact with, were Bajoran. My -- feelings, my emotional responses -- are Bajoran."

Kira thought about his words, and bowed her head, so that her hair brushed against Odo's chin. "I -- never thought about it that way," she confessed. "We're taught to be so -- respectful of the differences of different species -- I guess it never occurred to me that there might be a member of a different species who would be happy being treated like just another Bajoran."

"It isn't that I don't enjoy being a shapeshifter," Odo hastened to add, "it's just that I see myself as a Bajoran shapeshifter."

"You're so --" Kira hesitated, choosing her words, "-- cool-headed for a Bajoran. We're all such outspoken hotheads sometimes."

"I try to maintain a certain -- orderliness to my existence," Odo admitted. "Besides, if no one expects you to have feelings, you learn to -- suppress them."

Kira smiled gently, and then winced. Odo glanced down in the direction of her abdomen, startled by the kick that he distinctly felt.

"I think it's waking up," Kira said dryly. "Do you mind if I turn my back to you again? -- it seemed to like that better."

"Go ahead." Odo waited until Kira had rolled over and snuggled against his chest, and draped his arm across her, again letting his hand rest against her swollen abdomen and stroking it gently. Kira sighed as the burden she carried once more settled down, seeming to trust the hand that touched it so softly as much as its mother did.

Kira returned to the topic at hand. "Don't suppress your feelings, Odo," she said softly. "How else will people ever get to know what -- what a wonderful person you are? Sometimes I'll say something about you, or repeat -- I don't know, something funny you've said, and whoever I'm talking to will look at me like -- like it must be some other Odo I'm talking about, not the one they know from here on the station."

"It's just gotten to be a habit. Certain things become part of the pattern of one's life -- until one can't break the pattern and speak the truth."

"Tell me the truth, Odo," Kira murmured drowsily.

"What truth do you want to hear?" Odo asked softly. When she made no reply, he went on, "I remember that first morning on Terok Nor, when the Vaatrik woman pointed you out to me -- I don't know what happened, but somehow I felt a -- connection -- it was almost like I recognized you."

Somehow the words seemed to come easier as Kira continued to lie silent. Odo took a deep breath and rumbled, "I never had a real friend before you, Maj -- Nerys. I never -- loved anyone before you. I certainly was never in love with anyone. Not before you, Nerys."

If Odo had actually needed to breathe, he would have held his breath to the point of gasping, as the silence between them lengthened until it became intolerable. Finally he whispered, "Major -- please say something."

The silence continued -- soft and curiously peaceful. Odo risked angling himself up on his elbow, and discovered that Kira's eyes were closed, and that she was sound asleep.

Odo lay back down behind her, sighing. I suppose I could think of it as a rehearsal, he thought glumly, before settling in to wait out the night.

At some point he let his exhausted mind and substance both slip, curving his gelatinous form to follow the line of Kira's back just as his solid shape had. The day cycle lights were on when he finally returned to consciousness, and Kira was gone.

Shooting upwards into an amber column, Odo resumed his customary humanoid guise. "Major?" he called, electing to perch himself nervously on the edge of the couch.

"Just spending some quality time in my favorite place," Kira's voice echoed back from the direction of the bathroom. A moment later she stepped into the living room, dressed in a loose, rust- colored robe. Shoving her hands through her hair, she smiled at Odo, still blinking the sleep from her eyes.

"I haven't slept that well in months. I'm sorry I fell asleep, though, just when the conversation was getting interesting."

"It wasn't that interesting," Odo said shortly. He twisted his hands together anxiously. Kira stared at him, puzzled.

"Odo, what is it?"

"I'm sorry if you were -- startled, this morning."

"Startled?" Kira frowned. Finally she realized what he was referring to. "That you were --"

"Yes," Odo said shortly, looking away.

"Odo -- I don't know why it bothers you so much. It's not like you don't see me in my natural state all of the time. Is it just that you're -- naked when you're that way?"

"Naked isn't really a concept for me, Major. When you get right down to it, I'm always naked."

Kira stared at him, astonished, and then burst out laughing. "I suppose you are," she finally managed. "I suppose you would prefer I didn't share that insight with Quark."

"Not unless you want to spend the rest of your pregnancy in a holding cell," Odo warned.

"Anyway," Kira began, coming across the room toward him, "I'm sorry I didn't stay awake to finish listening to you last night. Tell me again tonight?"

"We'll see, Major," Odo replied noncommittally.

"I think I liked Nerys better," Kira said softly. She smiled. "You don't expect me to get a security uniform to work in your office, do you?"

Odo glanced down at her critically. "You might have some difficulty getting one to fit properly," he observed. "You're officially off duty, Maj -- Nerys. Wear whatever's comfortable for you."

"I don't think I'd better," Kira said dryly.

"Why is that?"

"'Cause then I'd be naked."

Odo chuckled. "No, I suppose that wouldn't be a good idea. We'd never get Quark out of my office."

Kira winced. "Isn't that a lovely thought? Don't worry -- I'll be as respectable and unappealing to Ferengi as possible."

"Then I'll see you there later." Odo started around her, only to have Kira reach out and take him by the arms.

"I can't ever repay you for what you're doing for me, Odo -- you realize that, don't you?"

"Don't worry -- by the time you've taken care of my Starfleet reports for two months, you'll think that I owe you."

"What I'm trying to say is -- thank you." The kiss that Kira stood on tiptoe to give would have landed on Odo's cheek if he hadn't turned his head slightly in surprise. As it was, her mouth brushed his, sweet and innocently sensuous -- how he managed not to gasp, not to take her in his arms and never let her go, Odo never knew. Instead he just smiled.

"Any time, Major."

******

Leaving Kira's quarters, Odo felt ready to face anything that life might hand him. However, for once he had failed to take Quark into account.

Finishing his morning rounds of the Promenade, Odo found the Ferengi awaiting him in his office, his lobes practically a-quiver with indignation. He gave Odo one good look up and down and exclaimed, "I can't believe it! Her -- like that, and you --"

"What are you babbling about, Quark?" Odo moved behind his desk to his chair, seating himself and beginning to tap at his console. "And why are you babbling about it here?"

"Major Kira. You never came home last night, did you?"

"No." Odo tapped away, never betraying any emotion other than his usual calm.

"You slept with her? While she's -- that's disgusting!"

"I slept on the sofa in Major Kira's quarters." Odo saw no point in telling Quark that Kira had slept there as well, since it would only give him the wrong idea. "She wasn't feeling well."

"She's not ready to have it yet, is she?" Quark asked, alarmed.

"Is that what your concern is really about?" Odo queried dryly. "The baby pool?"

"You never know what can make them decide to arrive when they're that close already!"

"And the sooner it arrives, the less money you make off the pool."

"Well, as a matter of fact --"

"Don't worry, Quark, as much as Major Kira would love to annoy you, I don't think that desire extends to having her baby two months early -- although I could be wrong. I'll ask her just as soon as she gets here."

"Ask me what?" came a voice from the door. Kira stepped into the office, eyeing Quark suspiciously.

"Quark has started a betting pool with odds on when your baby will arrive. When I failed to come back to my quarters last night, he was afraid we were engaging in acts that might precipitate the birth."

"He -- Quark, you dirty-minded, sneaking little vole!" Both Quark and Odo were surprised at Kira's vehemence, and the red color that tinged her cheeks. "Whatever you want to do in that -- that shitty little bar of yours is your business, but you keep me, my baby, and my friends out of it!"

"Sorry, Major -- just a -- misunderstanding." Quark beat a hasty retreat.

"Of all the --" Kira sat down in her usual chair across from Odo, fuming. Odo watched her in mild astonishment.

"He's just being Quark, Major. Don't let him upset you."

"I'm sorry -- I'm just in a bad mood." To Odo's questioning look, she replied, "I just had a subspace message from Edon."

"Ah," Odo murmured noncommittally.

"He wants me to come to Bajor to see him day after tomorrow."

"If I'm not mistaken, he's been trying to get you to come see him for months. Are you considering it now?"

"I suppose I am. He's my baby's father -- I have to deal with him sometime."

"I see." Odo's hands flew calmly over the keys to his console, matching his level tone. "Would you like me to take you? There's a meeting of the security league that I suppose I should attend." There was always some meeting or other going on within the Bajoran Security League -- Odo felt reasonably sure that he could find one in progress.

"I'd appreciate that," Kira admitted quietly. "I'm not sure that Sisko would trust me with a runabout or even a shuttle at this point."

"You're right -- he probably wouldn't."

"How do you know?" Kira asked indignantly.

"Because I wouldn't." Before Kira could explode Odo continued, "You're too far along. You shouldn't make a trip like that alone."

"I suppose not," Kira conceded. She sighed, reaching behind herself to rub the back of her neck. "I ran into Julian on the Promenade -- he wanted to talk to me about birthing classes -- natural childbirth. I told him I'd had enough of anything 'natural' in the Resistance -- when I'm ready to have the baby, I expect him to put me under and get it out of there."

Odo chuckled. "What did he say?"

Kira shook her head. "Clueless as ever. 'Major -- don't you want to experience the miracle of life to its fullest?' As I see it, I'll be dealing with the 'miracle of life' for the next eighteen years or so -- I can live without screaming through the first eight hours of it."

"A very -- rational judgment," Odo approved. To Kira's questioning glance he added, "It's only a hunch, of course, but I suspect I know who you would ask to be your 'labor coach'."

Kira laughed. "You're right. I take it the job doesn't appeal to you."

"I don't think I would enjoy seeing you in pain, Maj -- Nerys," he corrected quickly as he saw her open her mouth to protest. "I think you've had enough pain in your life, without undergoing any that you don't have to undergo."

"Thank you, Odo," Kira said, touched. "I'm glad that at least one person sees it that way." She paused before continuing, "Now, where are the reports you want me to work on?"

"Come sit in my chair -- I think you'll be more comfortable," Odo instructed. He went over the reports with her quickly, finally leaving her alone to work, her brow furrowed in concentration as she poured over the myriad of forms and data.

That evening Odo found Kira in her quarters at her personal console, still wrestling with the same reports. After looking over her shoulder for a moment, Odo reached around her and calmly closed her work down.

"I'm not paying you any overtime," he said dryly. Kira looked up at him, blinking and smiling.

"I'm sorry," she said. "The truth is -- it's kind of restful."

"Restful?" Odo gave a skeptical snort. "Whatever do you mean?"

"Well -- it gives me something to concentrate on -- no one bothers me while I'm doing it -- and after what I've been spending my time thinking about lately, it's -- restful."

"I see." Odo let his hand rest briefly on Kira's shoulder before crossing to the table and examining the contents. "I'm sorry that I'm late -- did you not eat something?"

"Some supplement tablets Julian gave me -- I'm fine."

"You should eat," Odo criticized gently.

"I'm sorry -- I just can't stand replicated food any more." Kira shuddered.

"Tomorrow I'll see if I can get a few staples -- I'm sure I can learn to make an omelet."

"Mmm -- that sounds good."

"In fact . . ." Odo thought about it for a moment, then tapped his combadge. "Odo to Captain Sisko."

"This is Sisko," the captain's voice came back promptly, while Kira looked up in surprise. "Is there a problem, Constable?"

"No -- I was just wondering -- do you have any eggs?"

"Eggs?"

"Yes -- fresh eggs, not replicated eggs."

"Constable --" the absolute puzzlement in Sisko's voice came through even the combadge "-- for what exactly do you need fresh eggs?"

Odo sighed. "The food from the replicator isn't agreeing with Major Kira. I thought I would try to make her an omelet."

There was another long pause from the combadge. At last Sisko's voice came back to them brightly, "I'll do you one better, Constable. Not only will I bring you some eggs, I'll show you how to make that omelet."

"Why -- thank you, Captain. Odo out." Odo glanced over, pleased, to where Kira sat watching him, laughing and shaking her head.

"You know, Odo, you'd make some woman a wonderful husband."

Odo stared at Kira, electrified, for a full second, before turning abruptly away and walking toward the computer console. "If you don't mind, I thought I would work on some reports while I'm here . . ."

"Reports are my job now, remember?"

Odo stopped in mid-stride. "Yes, of course." He paused, looking around helplessly, and embarked on making minute adjustments to some of the chairs, pushing them back into perfect alignment. Kira studied him thoughtfully, the trace of a smile still lingering on her lips. She finally hoisted herself to her feet and walked up behind him, leaning into his back and wrapping her arms around him.

"Odo -- I'm not angling for a proposal, don't worry about it."

"It never -- occurred to me that you might be, Major."

"Anyway, why don't you sit down and finish telling me what you started to tell me last night?" Kira let her arms fall and moved over to the couch, lowering herself onto it awkwardly and then patting the seat beside her invitingly.

"I -- I'm not sure if I remember it."

"You were talking about learning to suppress your feelings," Kira encouraged softly, "at least that's the last thing I remember."

"That's right," Odo managed with difficulty. "I really didn't have much more to say after that." Still, he came slowly to sit beside Kira, taking the hand that she held out to him and clasping it awkwardly between his own hands as he rested them against his knee. "I see you've given up painting your nails," he observed approvingly.

"A short, unfortunate phase." Kira smiled. "It wasn't the kind of thing I got the chance to do as a girl -- I understand that we humanoids do tend to go back and pick up the developmental phases we missed the first time through."

"Ah . . . I suppose that explains the hair, too -- and those awful boots."

Kira smiled ruefully. "It even explains Edon." To Odo's sudden, questioning stare, she shrugged. "Handsome, a war hero -- world leader -- kind of the person you'd expect a goggle-eyed adolescent to fall for, don't you think? It just maddens me to think -- I knew what he was like! I had seen him -- working his way through the ranks, so to speak -- and that was one reason I had never gotten involved with him before. Why did I think that becoming First Minister of Bajor would cause some -- magical change in him? I should have known better, Odo."

"What's that human expression? Hindsight is always perfect?"

"Something like that," Kira agreed. "Well, I guess you could say that I've learned my lesson the hard way." Her free hand went to her abdomen, and she sighed. Then the door com sounded.

"Come!" Kira called automatically. Captain Sisko sailed into the room, Jake following closely behind him, both of them with their arms piled high with an assortment of loose items and containers. They both started setting up shop on the table, while Kira and Odo watched, amazed.

"It occurred to me that you didn't even have anything to cook on, Major, much less cook with, so I brought you a few things," Sisko said cheerfully, glancing over at the pair on the couch. Odo remembered that Kira's hand was in his, and dropped it like it burned him. Sisko's eyes narrowed, suddenly keen.

"I have a cooktop built into the table somewhere," Kira said vaguely. "Try the other end."

Sisko investigated. "So you do -- it may even still work." He began tinkering busily. Jake smiled in Kira and Odo's direction, a curious look coming into his eyes. "Hi, Major -- Odo. I just stopped by long enough to help Dad with this stuff."

"Can't you stay?" Kira encouraged.

"I'm sorry, Major -- I have a date." Jake grinned.

"Well, then, don't let us keep you from it." Kira smiled her goodbye, while Odo managed a nod. He suddenly felt vulnerable, exposed -- so far he had spent these evenings with Kira alone, and he decided now that he greatly preferred it that way. Nonetheless, as Jake exited Odo went to stand at Sisko's side, watching attentively as the captain began cracking eggs into a bowl.

"The secret to a good omelet, Constable, is to use water, not milk, in your eggs, and to beat them within an inch of their lives -- figuratively speaking." Sisko whisked away vigorously. He then passed the bowl to Odo, and began sorting through his other ingredients. "The beauty of an omelet is that you can put so many different things into it -- you can have a different dish every night! Now, this is going to be an earth-style omelet -- I happened to have some leftover shrimp Creole and a few mushrooms that should make it very tasty." Sisko retrieved the bowl from Odo and poured the contents into a hot pan while the shapeshifter watched intently. Kira got up from the sofa and moved over to stand at Odo's side, tucking her hand casually through the crook in his arm and leaning her head against his shoulder. Odo jumped.

"You are so nervous," Kira teased, hugging Odo's arm. "The one thing I haven't been worrying about is actually having the baby -- I think that Odo has been doing all of my worrying for me."

Sisko eyed the pair thoughtfully, before turning to slide the omelet onto a plate. "Here you go, Major -- one shrimp and mushroom omelet."

"Are you just going to watch me?" Kira asked. alarmed. "I'm used to that with Odo, but --"

"I'm making mine right now," Sisko assured her. In a matter of moments, he was sitting across the table from Kira and Odo, and both human and humanoid were tucking into their food energetically. Odo, sitting at Kira's side, remained largely silent while Sisko and Kira chatted companionably. The captain finally focused on the changeling, studying him through narrowed eyes.

"Odo, I understand you have a new assistant in Security."

"What? -- oh, yes, Captain. Nerys is proving a great help."

"At least it's keeping me out of your hair in Ops," Kira added.

"It's certainly cut down on casualties," Sisko said cheerfully. Kira scowled, and then shrugged.

"At least it lets me do something for Odo for a change," she commented. She smiled warmly at her quiet friend. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Odo. I thought that these were going to be the longest months of my life. I never expected to be -- pampered."

Odo managed a slight smile. "You seem to need -- pampering," he observed.

"Yes, but there was no reason you had to do it."

"Of course there's a reason," Odo said automatically. He looked up at her, almost seeming wounded, and then, remembering the captain's presence, spared a fleeting glance for Sisko. "You're my friend, Nerys."

"There's never been another friend like you," Kira said simply. She stood awkwardly, shooing away Odo's automatic attempt to help her. "I just need to excuse myself for a minute -- I'll be right back." She paused briefly behind Odo's chair, putting her arms around him and dropping a kiss on the top of his head -- his response was invisible to her, but blatantly obvious to Sisko as he watched the shapeshifter's eyes widen, and then close in a look of -- futility? Passion?

Love??

Certain events that had made no sense before suddenly jelled in Sisko's mind. The incident in the turbolift, with Shakaar and the botched security codes, that had almost resulted in disaster -- Odo had said that he was distracted by a personal matter. At the time, Sisko had been surprised to learn that Odo had personal matters -- but now they were as clear to Benjamin Sisko as the rather unfinished- looking nose on the changeling's face.

Odo was in love with Major Kira.

Sisko toyed with the idea that it might be a mere infatuation, and dismissed it. Infatuation was not likely to survive the abuse that seven months of swelling and temper and mood swings would subject it to -- there was clearly nothing lacking in Odo's regard for the woman for whom he had set himself the task of caring and protecting. Sisko, staring at his Chief of Security, blurted out, "Constable -- are you all right?"

"Me?" Odo looked puzzled -- and wary, Sisko thought. "Why wouldn't I be all right?"

"Outside of work, you seem to have pretty much -- turned over your life to taking care of Nerys. That must get wearing at times."

"No." Odo's tone was decided. "Besides, she needs me."

"And you're in love with her," Sisko added softly.

Odo glanced up at his captain, shocked, just as Kira re-entered to the room. She returned slowly to her chair.

"I never knew just how big my quarters were until I got pregnant," she commented. "Now I could probably tell you the number of steps from any given point -- if not, I'm sure the figures are branded on the bottom of my feet."

"Sore?" Odo asked automatically, his warning, pleading eyes never leaving Sisko's face.

"Oh, yeah." Kira paused before her chair, as if wondering if sitting was worth the effort.

"You should probably put them up," Sisko observed, as Odo breathed a sigh of relief. "I remember when Jennifer was pregnant with Jake -- she had to keep her feet up constantly for almost three months."

"Well, so far it's not that bad," Kira said, sounding faintly pleased that at least one other person had experienced an ordeal worse than her own. "I'm actually quite lucky -- I have my own personal masseur."

Sisko smiled. "Constable, is there anything you can't do?"

"Cook," Odo replied evenly. "But I'm learning."

"Well, at least now you should be able to throw together an omelet. Be careful, though -- every time I managed to come up with something that Jennifer would eat, the next week it would make her sick."

"Fortunately," Odo said archly, "I know who to call."

"You most certainly do -- any time." Sisko got to his feet. "And now if you'll excuse me, Nerys -- Odo -- I still have one or two more things to get accomplished today. Besides, Nerys -- it looks like you could use an early night."

"That's the only kind I have these days," Kira agreed. Sisko shot Odo one final look as goodbyes were said, before heading out the door.

"The way he dressed me down in Ops yesterday, I wasn't sure he was going to speak to me for the next two months," Kira observed. Abandoning any thought of returning to her place at the table, she crossed the room to beach herself on the couch while Odo cleared away the remains of dinner. Lying supine Kira tilted her head to the side in order to watch her friend's fastidious movements. Odo spared her a quick, faint smile.

"I'll be with you in just a minute."

"I can wait," Kira said simply. She felt a sudden stab of pleasure -- and something more -- as Odo's blue eyes briefly, affectionately met hers. The something else made her grimace, and curse the hormones running amok in her body.

After all, he is a shapeshifter, came a seductive little whisper in her brain. This baby of yours probably wouldn't even get in his way.

Kira sighed noisily, shaking her head to clear it. Odo, crossing the room to join her, paused, startled.

"Nerys -- are you all right?"

"I'm fine -- just feeling a little crazy." She failed to elaborate, and Odo did not press her. Instead, he sat down at the end of sofa, picking up her feet and slipping beneath them so her lower legs rested across his lap. He lifted her right foot and began to work on it with strong, careful hands. Kira moaned happily, surrendering herself to bliss.

"Good thing you weren't a Cardassian interrogator," Kira observed. "I would have told you anything."

"I'll remember that next time I think you're withholding information." Odo let the substance in his hands spread a little as he worked his way up to her ankle.

"Prophets know -- it's worked for some people," Kira said shortly, remembering how Shakaar had maneuvered her into going on a mission with Gul Dukat. Odo let out a brief chuckle, moving his attention to her left foot. Kira was practically purring by the time he starting working on her calves.

Finally he let his hands come to rest on her knees. "How's that?"

"Wonderful," Kira sighed.

"Is there anything else I can do for you?" Odo asked jovially.

"You can just keep going until you reach my hairline."

For a moment Kira wondered who had said such a suggestive thing. Only as she felt the hands that had been resting comfortably on her knees freeze with tension did she realize: Oh, Prophets. I said it.

"Odo, I -- I'm so sorry, I didn't mean --"

"Shh . . ." Odo murmured. "I know you didn't." There was a note of intense sadness in his voice that refused to register in Kira's mind, at least not then. She felt absolutely mortified, red-faced with embarrassment.

"I can't imagine what -- what you must think of me --"

"I think that the same baby who has you going to relieve yourself every hour is probably putting pressure on some other areas as well. It's all right, Nerys."

"You must be -- so repulsed by all of this sometimes."

"No," Odo said softly. "I've -- rarely enjoyed an experience more than I have the time I've spent with you these past few months."

Kira opened her mouth to ask if he was joking, but then realized with absolute certainty that he wasn't, although any possible reason that he wouldn't be was beyond her. She slipped her feet out of his lap and angled herself awkwardly into a seated position, leaning a little into Odo's side. She rested her head against his shoulder.

"That's so sweet of you, Odo -- but why?"

There was a long pause during which Odo studied the back of his hands. Finally he said, "It's just that -- I've never felt less -- lonely. It's been like having a family."

Knowing her friend as she did, Kira knew the significance of those words. Deeply touched, she straightened and looked at him until Odo finally let his gaze meet hers. "Thank you," Kira whispered as their eyes locked, and the air between them became suddenly electric.

"It's not a compliment. It's -- the truth." Their mouths were so close that Kira could feel the soft rush of air from Odo's words. Kira half-closed her eyes, letting herself drift just a little bit closer. Odo's hand came up to touch her cheek -- and then fell abruptly.

"I really should be leaving -- you need to get your sleep." Odo got to his feet so quickly that he nearly threw Kira off balance. "Good night, Nerys." Odo practically turned tail and ran, while Kira remained on the couch, watching him go with dismay, and a vague, unsettled sense of longing.

******

Kira was seated behind Odo's desk in Security, working doggedly to drag a pair of reports into the immaculate order that both Odo and Starfleet demanded, when Captain Sisko walked in and sat down in the chair where Kira always half-expected to find herself. Kira looked up at her commander, smiling, but her smile faded before the serious expression in his eyes. "Captain," she said quietly, "is there something wrong?"

"I wanted to talk to you about something." Sisko spoke slowly, thoughtfully, weighing his words. "Major, I'm worried about Odo."

"Odo? Why?" Kira stared at Sisko, alarmed. Her face flushed. "Did he -- tell you about last night?"

"No-o -- what about last night?"

"Nothing, really." Kira bit her lower lip, wishing she had kept her mouth shut. Finally she admitted, "My hormones were pretty much out of control last night, and I may have come off as -- amorous. I was afraid that Odo had misinterpreted it."

"Let me get this straight, Major -- did you make a pass at him?"

"No, not -- exactly." Kira sighed, and went on reluctantly. "I just said something that -- was kind of out of line -- I didn't mean to. Odo knew that."

"Nerys, this really isn't any of my business, except in that it affects one of my officers -- two of them if we include you."

"Captain, what are you talking about?"

"Nerys, I think that Odo's in love with you -- and I think that if things keep up the way they have been, it's going to end up having a negative impact on his work -- maybe to the point that I'll finally have to yield to pressure to remove him as Chief of Station Security."

"What are you talking about?" Kira burst out, sounding almost frightened. "Odo -- Odo couldn't be in love with me! He's -- he's --" Kira stared at Sisko helplessly.

"He's a changeling. But he's a changeling who's been raised to think and act like a Bajoran."

"Well, yes, but --" Kira became suddenly still as she began to remember snippets of her conversation with Odo from two nights earlier.

'Everyone seems to forget that -- I was conditioned -- raised, if you would -- to be Bajoran. My teachers were Bajoran, all of the people I had close contact with were Bajoran. My -- feelings, my emotional responses -- are Bajoran.' There had also been that brief instant last night when she thought that he was about to kiss her, when his fingertips had brushed with agonizing brevity against her cheek. The sadness in voice when he acknowledged that Kira hadn't really meant her startlingly seductive remark. His comments about loneliness, and that being with her felt like family. His overwhelmingly thorough and tender care for her all of these months, when most of her friends practically winced when they saw her coming. The care she might expect from a lover -- or a husband.

'You know, Odo, you'd make some woman a wonderful husband.' She had even said that to him -- and been innocently oblivious to his sudden, stricken look, except to think that he was alarmed at the suggestion. Still, maybe he was alarmed . . . Kira made a last, desperate attempt to shove the truth away.

"Captain, I still don't think that you can assume --"

"Major, do you remember when Shakaar was here on the station and the turbolift you were riding on with him and the constable was sabotaged?"

"Of course I do -- it would be hard to forget something like that."

"Weren't you ever curious about the details of the incident -- how a Cardassian extremist operative was able to get hold of the security codes necessary to do something like that - or were you too busy 'falling in love'?"

"I -- I just assumed that Odo had investigated the matter and taken care of it."

"Major, Odo was the one who let it happen in the first place! Whatever was happening on that turbolift at the time, he was so distracted that he handed over the controls to the person he thought was Worf without verifying the security code first!"

"Odo?" Kira stared at Sisko, feeling the last shreds of her resistance beginning to crumble. "Odo would never --"

"My thought exactly, Major. Nonetheless, that's what he told me happened. When he told me it was a personal matter, I didn't press him. He seemed to get it under control shortly thereafter, although there were some interesting reports that filtered back to me regarding his quarters."

"His quarters?"

Sisko nodded. "You remember how Dax used to slip in while Odo was regenerating and rearrange his furniture?"

Kira gave a little snort of laughter, shaking her head. "To 'loosen him up', so she said."

"About a week or so into Shakaar's visit, she went in on one of her little forays -- and Odo's quarters were wrecked."

Kira sat very still, remembering the man who had faced her across her own quarters, looking like he was the bearer of momentous tidings, only to do nothing more than cancel their Tuesday morning meetings. And to shut me out of his life almost entirely until I got pregnant, and Edon turned out to be less than I bargained for. She finally looked up at Sisko, and nodded slowly.

"Maybe you're right." Kira stood awkwardly, crossing to the replicator. "Ginger tea, extra strong, extra hot," she requested. She then stood for a long moment, staring at the mug in her hands.

"I'm sorry, Nerys -- I really thought that it was something you needed to know."

"You're right," Kira said briefly. "I'll have a talk with him."

"Just be -- diplomatic. Let him down easily."

Kira looked up at the captain through narrowed eyes. "Why do you assume that I'm going to let him down at all?" she asked.

"I see." Sisko gave a faint smile. Kira stared at him solemnly.

"Edon's participation in this pregnancy has been pretty minimal, when you get right down to it. He just -- supplied the paint."

"The paint?"

"An artist doesn't make his own paint or clay -- he takes the raw material and turns it into something else -- a work of art, if he's lucky. Edon just made the paint -- Odo . . ."

"-- is the artist?" Sisko supplied gently.

Kira nodded, her face somber. "I think I would have had this baby aborted on about five separate occasions if it hadn't been for Odo -- and it would have killed me if I had. I've seen too much death -- I've caused too much death -- to be able to do something like that and still live with it later. Whenever I would get too down -- scream that I couldn't do it by myself -- Odo would take my hand and say, 'It's all right, you don't have to -- I'm here.' And he has been, for everything -- Prophets, he's held my head when I've had to throw up for what felt like two hours straight. For all intents and purposes, Odo is -- he's the father of this child." Kira dredged up a ghost of a smile. "He just hasn't signed his name to it."

Sisko smiled, looking puzzled. Kira added, "It's a Bajoran expression -- it loses a lot in the translation. Anyway, Benjamin, thank you -- I'll talk to Odo tonight. One way or another, I'm sure we can work this thing out . . ."

******

An incident at Quark's involving two Boleans, a Klingon, and a Dabo girl at the end of her endurance caused Odo to be late arriving at Kira's quarters that evening -- he let himself in softly, preparing to slip away as quietly as he had come should she already be asleep. The outer room of her quarters was dark - Odo was about to step back out the door when the bedroom door opened, and he saw Kira outlined in the light that came from behind her.

"Come on in," she called, an unexpected note of tension in her voice. Odo crossed the room toward her quickly, eyes narrowed in concern.

"Nerys? Are you all right?"

"I'm fine." Kira's reply was short, almost terse. Odo carefully analyzed her tone and thought -- fear? Kira went on, "Come sit with me -- I need to talk to you."

"All right." Odo paused for a brief second when he saw that she meant to sit on the edge of the bed, then joined her there warily. The expression in his eyes was enough to make Kira ask, "What is it, Odo? You look like -- I don't know, like you've never seen a bed before."

"Of course I've seen a bed before," Odo said shortly. "But except for a few times in the Infirmary, I've never sat on one."

"Oh." Kira's eyes widened a little, before the corners crinkled in a smile. "Come to think of it, I suppose you've had no reason to sit on one before now." The look in her eyes was both warm and anxious, and Odo felt a slight chill of apprehension.

"You said you need to talk to me."

Kira nodded. "This may not be easy for me, so please, hear me out."

"All right." Odo stared at Kira's tense but smiling face, fear coming from nowhere to slam into his soul. "Perhaps you should start by giving me some general idea of what this is all about."

"It's just that --" Kira took a deep breath and continued, "-- I've been thinking about it, and it's occurred to me that, in everything except for the one random act that created it -- my baby's father is you."

"Nerys, I -- " Odo was appalled to hear himself stammering. "I've -- tried to be as helpful as I can, but --"

"Shh . . . let me finish." Kira raised her hand, touching her fingertips to Odo's mouth. "Trust me on this -- it's the truth. The point is -- I think that I'm ready for you to sign your name to it."

Odo stared at her, stunned, as he heard the familiar saying. Kira gave him a faint smile. "I guess you really are Bajoran if you know that one," she said softly.

"You want me to make love to you?" It came out as a harsh whisper, a request for clarification, nothing more. Odo felt his form slipping ever so slightly from the shock and struggled to collect himself, to reabsorb the sheen that had formed on his face.

Kira forced herself to look levelly into Odo's eyes, even while she wondered, panic-stricken, if Sisko had been wrong after all. Odo's expression did much to reassure her -- even while she winced at the pain in it. She nodded and said quietly, "Yes. I do."

"Nerys --" Odo reached out and took Kira's hands in his, looking intently into her face. "Why?"

It was the last thing she had expected, and she suddenly found herself at a loss for an answer, although before her reasoning had seemed so clear. Kira paused, stammering a little as she made her reply. "I -- just -- do, that's all."

Odo drew back a little, his eyes narrowing in sudden suspicion. "Did Captain Sisko talk to you today?"

"Captain Sisko talks to me most days," Kira evaded. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Prophets," Odo whispered, "You feel sorry for me." He dropped Kira's hands and stood abruptly, staring down at her appalled.

"No!" Kira gasped, shaking her head in adamant denial. "That isn't it -- you should know me better than that!"

"Are you going to tell me that you're in love with me, Major? Because, quite frankly, I'll have a hard time believing you if you do."

"No -- I don't know how I feel about you, Odo -- other than the fact that I do love you, very much. But I don't know if I'm in love with you -- I was hoping that I might find out."

"Are you telling me that you're used to going to bed with people you aren't sure how you feel about -- for clarification purposes?" Odo's tone dripped sarcasm. Kira's face went white.

"As a matter of fact -- yes," she said sharply. "I was in the Resistance from the time I was twelve -- people died too often and too fast to wait until you were sure you were in love with someone you cared about before you slept with them. You just did it, and hoped the lightning would strike. Usually it didn't, occasionally it did. But they were still your friends and you shared whatever you could with them, because you loved them and they might be dead the next day." Kira let out a little sob, before slamming her hand hard against her mouth. Odo started to reach out to her, before his expression hardened.

"You're good friends with a number of people on this station, Major. Does that mean you'll be sleeping with Captain Sisko -- O'Brien -- Dax -- or have you already eliminated them from your field of contention?"

Kira stood up slowly, and, drawing back her hand into a fist, gave Odo a solid punch to the jaw.

She was startled to feel his cheek give beneath her hand -- and even more startled to see Odo crumple to his knees, shaking, his eyes closed. She was under no delusion that it was the force of her blow that had felled him -- she was one of the few people on the station who had a clear idea of how strong the changeling really was. She sank to her knees beside him with only the briefest consideration of the fact that she would never be able to get up again without help.

"Nerys --" he rasped, "I'm sorry."

"It's all right," Kira whispered, wrapping her arms around him and leaning against his shoulder. "I -- wish I knew what to say. I didn't know how you felt." She paused. "I still don't, not really."

"Why would you? I've never had enough nerve to tell you." Odo was slowly collecting himself, and his voice sounded almost normal. The words came out softly, simply. "But -- for the record -- I am -- in love with you."

"If Sisko could see that, then I should have, too." Kira raised her hand to Odo's forehead, smoothing back his hair.

"I have worse news for you." Odo managed the ghost of a smile. "Even Quark saw it."

"No."

"I'm afraid it's true."

Kira shook her head, amused and amazed, and suddenly realized that Odo's mouth was very close to her own. She closed her eyes with a slight intake of breath -- and barely restrained her gasp as lips covered hers. The kiss was soft -- gentle - inexperienced but somehow exquisite. Then Odo drew away.

"Let me help you up."

Odo stood behind Kira and lifted her easily to her feet, his hands lingering briefly on her waist before he stepped away.

"Have you eaten?" he asked softly. "Do you want me to make you something?"

Kira shook her head. "No, I already had some has'barak -- Dax brought it by." She turned to place her hand against Odo's chest, eyes searching his face. "I wish you'd stay. You don't have to make love to me -- just stay with me."

"I can't," Odo whispered. "If I stay with you, I will make love to you -- but I won't be happy about it tomorrow."

"Tomorrow . . ." Kira's eyes widened, dismayed. "I'm supposed to go see Edon tomorrow. I'm not sure I want to go."

"I think that you need to," Odo said gently. "And I'm still planning to take you there."

Kira stared at Odo, startled at the rush of tenderness pounding in her chest. "You know," Kira said faintly, "maybe I am falling in love with you."

"That would be -- nice," Odo confessed, "but I think you need to see Edon before you can know that."

Kira nodded. "You're probably right," she admitted. She wrapped her arms around Odo in a brief hug, before pushing him gently toward to door. "My hormones are still going crazy -- you'd better get out of here."

"Good night, Nerys." Odo caught Kira's hand briefly in his, before turning and leaving with his usual quick efficiency. Kira watched him as he went, resting her hand on her abdomen and stroking it slowly.

"You love him, don't you, little one?" she asked softly. "I do, too -- I just hope that it's enough."

******

"Oof!" Kira, returning from her umpteenth visit to a certain too-small compartment in the runabout Rubicon's rear section, settled into the contour passenger seat with a sigh - its contours failed to conform to hers nearly as well as they had in the past. Odo, seated in the pilot's chair, glanced over at her with a slight smile.

"Are you all right, Nerys?"

"I'm fine -- although I've got a few complaints to make to Starfleet about the size of the bathrooms they put on these things." Kira paused before confessing, "I didn't sleep very well last night."

"I see." Odo stared straight ahead, monitoring the viewscreen. "Was it the baby -- the meeting with Edon -- or me?"

"All of the above."

"Not a good night," Odo observed. "Why don't you try to take a nap now?"

"I thought I might," Kira agreed. She gave him a tired smile as she closed her eyes, leaning back in her chair. Odo adjusted his hearing to catch the sound of her breathing, his finely tuned sensors catching every nuance until they told him she was asleep. The gentle sound was soothing, almost hypnotizing -- for a too-brief moment, all was right with the world. Then they hit the ion pocket, and all hell broke loose.

Such mini-anomalies were common occurrences, ones that usually went unnoticed unless one was unfortunate enough to be present when one of them sprang into existence. The Rubicon was caught in the middle of this one, and Odo's fingers flew desperately over the navigation touchpad in an effort to stabilize the ship's sudden erratic plunge. Kira flew out of her chair before she was even awake, landing on the floor beside it -- hard.

"Nerys!" Eyes still fixed on his console, Odo forced himself to calm. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine -- what is it?" Through sheer force of will, Kira crawled back to her seat and used it to lever herself up.

"Ion pocket -- came out of nowhere."

"Let me have the controls -- I'm a lot more used to rough flying than you are."

Odo nodded, standing and managing to get Kira settled in the pilot's chair before dropping into the one she had just vacated. He studied the ship's sensor readouts intently.

"It's fairly widespread -- I don't know how much of this pounding we can take."

"Then we need to drop out of it and land. Where are we?"

Odo read off the coordinates. "Good news -- we're directly over Dahkur province."

"Better news -- we're practically on top of Lupaza's. I'm going to take us down near there."

Kira piloted the runabout with her usual effortless skill, and Odo began to breathe easier when he saw that she seemed unaffected by her fall. She brought the shuttle down in a pounding rainstorm -- no doubt aggravated by the disturbance overhead -- landing it with somewhat rough efficiency on a rocky plateau flanked by cliffs on either side. She looked over at Odo, smiling.

"Prophets, that felt good." To Odo's questioning stare she added, "I haven't felt that -- that competent and on top of things in months." Kira let out a happy chuckle, before her expression abruptly changed. She looked down at herself, an appalled look flooding her face.

"Odo," she said tautly, "my water just broke."

"What?!" Odo had been keeping up on the reading. "It can't have -- it's too soon. Are you sure you didn't just --"

"I wasn't that excited, Odo. Nope -- this is it."

"All right --" Odo endeavored to remain calm. "What's the closest medical facility?"

"There's nothing for quite a distance -- L'met City, I suppose."

"Fine. They should be able to beam a physician here."

"They're not very well staffed," Kira commented. "Right now, I think I'd like to get to Lupaza's -- it should only be a few hundred meters from here, along this ridge." She tapped the readout on her screen.

"I'm going to contact the ship." Odo tapped a few keys, then checked a reading on his console, and frowned. "It must be the ion interference -- they're not answering my hail."

"We can try to do a subspace link-up from Lupaza's." Kira stood, and winced as the first contraction hit her. "Shit!" she exclaimed. "That hurt!"

"Can you walk?"

"Of course I can walk. I shouldn't have another contraction for -- " Kira gasped, and for the first time she looked frightened. "Odo -- this doesn't feel right."

"It shouldn't feel right, it's two months early." Odo reached under a panel, grabbing the runabout's med kit, fastening it to the belt that he was suddenly, once again, 'wearing'. "Put your arms around my neck, I'm going to pick you up and carry you."

"To Lupaza's? You can't possibly!"

"Of course I can. Now do it."

Sighing, Kira did as she was told, and was surprised at the ease with which he lifted her in his arms, cradling her effortlessly against his chest. "Is this all right?" Odo asked. "I can shift into something else if you think it would be easier."

"Like what?" Kira couldn't help but smile. "A Terran camel?"

"I suppose not." Odo smiled in return. "I've heard they're not very comfortable." He paused for a moment before exiting the runabout. "Prepare yourself, Major -- we're going to get wet."

"That's all right," Kira assured him, "I already am."

Odo carried her with swift and sure-footed efficiency along the ridge to Lupaza's cabin -- Kira considered the possibility of checking his feet to see if he had replaced them with those of a goat, or something particularly suited to the rugged terrain. He shouted over the roar of the downpour as they approached the cabin. Kira's Resistance comrade Lupaza met them at the doorway, her eyes wide in amazement.

"Nerys!" she gasped. "What in the -- come in, both of you!" Lupaza hustled Odo and his dripping burden through the door, pushing it closed behind them.

"We had to make an emergency landing," Odo explained briefly. "Major Kira is in labor."

"Oh, in the name of the -- bring her over here. I'll turn the heat up, and then let me get her out of those wet things." Lupaza went to work like a dynamo, Odo averting his eyes and busying himself laying out the contents of the medikit on the table until Kira was encased in a voluminous robe of Lupaza's, and stretched out on Lupaza's bed. Lupaza came back into the main room and crossed it with her hand extended.

"Kira says that you're Odo. I'm Lupaza."

"I thought as much," Odo acknowledged, taking the hand that she offered him and shaking it briefly. "I have a medikit here, but she's going to need a doctor."

"I know -- I put a message through to the First Minister -- although Prophets know how long it will actually take him to get it -- and I'm trying to get a message through to that station of yours."

"Isn't there someone closer?" Odo stared at Lupaza, perplexed.

"There was a big mining explosion up north in R'Mel province earlier today. Several hundred people were injured -- I doubt if there's any emergency medical personnel available for the next three provinces."

"Then get one from the other side of the planet! Tell them it's the First Minister's baby, that ought to get their attention."

"I'll try. With the weather the way it is, though, transporters may not be operative. It may be that your doctor can get here fastest."

"All right. Let me run this med-scanner over her first, so I can give him some preliminary readings."

Lupaza nodded. "You know, don't you, that Bajoran women typically have very short labors."

Odo nodded. "I think that I read that. All right, we'll cope with what we have to. Come on." He went into the bedroom, followed by Lupaza. Kira lay on the bed with her eyes closed, her breathing coming short and fast.

"Nerys." Odo lay a gentle hand on her forehead. Kira grabbed it in a viselike grip.

"Odo -- this isn't -- it isn't hurting right. I don't know what it is, but something's wrong."

"All right -- we'll have a doctor here just as soon as we can. Let me just get a quick scan of you . . ." Odo ran the med-scanner over Kira slowly, studying the unfamiliar readings with narrowed eyes. Suddenly his eyes widened, and he pulled off the blanket that Kira had tucked over her.

The robe she wore and the sheet beneath her were bright red with her blood.

"Prophets . . ." Lupaza whispered.

Odo kept his tone calm and level. "I'm going to contact Dr. Bashir with these readings, Nerys, in case he has any suggestions -- I'll be right back." He gently freed his hand, which plainly bore indentations from Kira's fingers. Odo then led Lupaza over to a spot near the door.

"Try to keep her calm. I need to talk to Dr. Bashir -- if you can show me your comlink--"

Lupaza pointed out the unit in a corner. Odo quickly went through the channels he needed to send a priority message. In less than five minutes, he was looking into the anxious face of Dr. Bashir.

"Odo! This came in on the Priority 1 frequency -- what is it?"

"We had to make an emergency landing -- Kira's in labor. Only she's bleeding far more than she should be -- I'm going to send through the med-scanner readings to you now."

Odo uploaded his readings, all the while his eyes never leaving Bashir's face. Julian's expression, as he finished studying the readings, was grave.

"How soon will you be able to get a doctor there, Odo?"

"That's just it -- the weather system being what it is, it could be hours."

"I'll come myself, of course, just as soon as I can, but it's going to take me three hours as well. The thing is, the placenta has ruptured -- that's what's causing all the bleeding -- and the baby's in a breech position -- hell, it's not even a true breech, the bloody thing's turned sideways. Once the baby's delivered, getting the bleeding stopped won't be a problem -- but if it can't be delivered quickly --" Bashir paused. "If it can't be delivered quickly, Odo, Nerys could bleed to death."

"Lupaza was saying that Bajoran women tend to have short labors," Odo proffered, hoping against hope.

"They do when they're at full term and their babies have their heads pointed down the way they're supposed to be. I would perform an emergency C-section, but if all you have is the emergency medikit from the runabout, you're hardly equipped to do that, even if I could talk you through it. Maybe if you turned her -- it might make the baby change position -- but if it didn't, it could aggravate the bleeding . . ." Bashir spoke half to himself, thinking furiously.

"Doctor," Odo said slowly, "if the baby were in the correct position, do you think we could deliver it?"

"Oh, I would think so," Bashir said, "from the looks of these readings, she's already well on her way to being fully dilated -- Bajoran women are very efficient that way. It's the breech that's causing the problem."

"Doctor -- if you'll talk to me -- make sure that I'm doing what I need to be doing -- I think I can get the baby into the right position."

"How?" Bashir looked at Odo sharply.

"Let's just say that -- my abilities are curiously well-suited to the situation. I just need your help to make sure of what it is that I'm feeling once -- once I'm up there."

Bashir nodded slowly. "Of course -- you can shape yourself so that you actually reach inside her to turn the infant. Yes, that could work -- well, don't just stand there! Run a sterilite over your hands and get to it!"

After a fast session with the sterilite, Odo stepped back into the bedroom. "Lupaza, could you activate the comlink that's in here?" he asked. Lupaza nodded, all the while watching as Odo approached where Kira was lying white-faced on the bed. "Nerys," Odo said gently, "I need you draw your knees up towards your chest and spread your legs and thighs just as wide as you can."

"I offered to do that -- last night," Kira whispered, even while she complied with his request. Odo pushed aside the robe, closing his eyes and letting the sensors in his hands take over as he made them return to their gelid substance and slip in between the bloody folds of Kira's labia into her contracting vagina. Heat and infrared made the images surprisingly clear as he maneuvered through her dilated cervix into the warmth of her uterus beyond.

There's the little troublemaker, Odo thought, with a strange pang of joy even in his anxiety as his substance slipped between the lining of Kira's uterus and the occupant who filled it so compactly. In no hurry to make an appearance -- well, it's time you did, young lady. A girl, he thought, it's a girl. Kira hadn't wanted to know, but Odo had secretly wished that he did. Come along then -- He nudged the baby in gentle, liquid movements, like waves resolutely wearing down on sand, and began maneuvering Kira's daughter's head into a downward position.

"Whatever you do, try not to tangle the cord," he heard Bashir saying, "and don't let it get around the baby's neck. How are you doing?"

"That's a good question," Kira observed, gasping. Her eyes were wide with alarm.

"Nerys, you're fine," Odo automatically reassured her There you go. Ready or not world, here she comes! "Lupaza," Odo said quietly, "get ready to cut the cord."

"What?" Lupaza grabbed the medikit's laser scalpel and managed to activate it without slicing her hand off, just as Kira's daughter slid into the world. Odo, once again remembering his reading, laid her gently against her mother's stomach and began massaging the tiny limbs as the newest Kira took in her first breath with a surprisingly hearty wail. Kira, her face a study in wonder, brought her hand down to touch the little head. Bashir, watching via the comlink, broke into a radiant smile.

"Odo, you did it. Do a quick reading on her for me, just so I can see --" Bashir studied the readings intently as Odo complied with his request. "Marvelous -- she's absolutely healthy -- in fine shape to have gotten here early like this. I'm on my way -- Nerys should be delivering the placenta in another few minutes -- once she does, do a cauterizing scan and pack her with sterifill -- she should be fine."

"All right, Doctor." Odo's eyes were fixed on the tiny person he had just helped into a new life. It was clearly a case of love at first sight.

The umbilical cord taken care of, Lupaza handed the baby into Kira's arms. Lupaza sat down at Kira's back to help support her as Kira began to cluck over her daughter, making a careful inspection of each finger and toe.

"It's a girl." Kira touched her fingertip to the scrunched-up red face. "She's beautiful."

Odo, beginning to follow doctor's orders, looked up to give Kira a brief smile. "She is," he agreed. "Now, Nerys, don't lose all your focus on me, you still have something to do down here. . ." He worked quietly for a some time, Kira automatically following his murmured instructions while she and Lupaza both made soft, foolish noises over the baby. Finally, when he was finished with Bashir's instructions and everything vital had been taken care of, he approached the head of the bed and asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Wonderful -- much better," Kira added, realizing that he wanted a more clinical response. "How did you -- it was like everything just straightened out and -- there she was!"

"I'm not sure you want to know," Odo said with a slight chuckle. Kira looked at Lupaza questioningly. Lupaza simply shook her head.

"I've never seen anything like it. You may have missed your calling, Odo."

"I think we need to get her washed off -- you, too, for that matter, Nerys."

"I can take care of that," Lupaza commented. "Come take my place holding up Nerys, here, and I'll go get what we need."

Odo gingerly slipped into the place behind Kira once Lupaza had vacated it, and sighed as she snuggled back against him. Lupaza hurried back with the necessary accouterments, and tidied both mother and daughter while Odo let his cheek rest lightly against Kira's hair, watching the proceedings with a strange combination of poignant sorrow and vast, unalloyed joy. Finally Lupaza took the freshly cleansed infant in her arms, saying:

"Nerys, you need to get out of that robe -- it's absolutely wrecked." Lupaza nodded to Odo. "Will you hold the baby, Odo, while I help Nerys finish getting cleaned up?"

Odo stared at her like she'd asked him to change into a rabid targ. Finally he nodded, slipping from behind Kira and slowly holding out his arms.

"Support her head," Lupaza ordered, handing over the now blanket-swathed bundle.

"I know," Odo whispered automatically, gathering the baby into his arms and holding her close to his chest. Kira, looking across at him as Lupaza helped her out her robe, felt a rush of tenderness so strong that she thought her heart would pound its way out of her breast.

"Odo," Kira called softly, "thank you."

Odo glanced up at her, startled -- he looked so tall and lanky, strangely awkward compared to the small armload he held. "You're welcome, Nerys." His eyes returned, as though compelled, down to the baby's scrunched-up face.

Lupaza looked from Kira to Odo, and back to Kira again, before clearing her throat. "I'm going out into the other room now to make a few calls," she said. "Nerys, I think it's time you showed that baby of yours where her next meal is coming from." Lupaza smiled and left the room, pulling the door closed behind her.

Odo's eyes widened, and he moved hesitantly to return the baby to Kira's arms. "Of course -- here you are -- I should go check on the runabout now anyway --"

"Odo," Kira said gently, "please stay." As he hovered beside the bed, uncertain, she added, "Odo, you've had your han -- You delivered my baby," she amended. "I'm not worried about you seeing my breasts." She smiled and added, "Sit behind me. It's a lot easier for me if I have someone to lean against right now."

Odo bent over Kira slowly, handing the baby carefully into her arms and resuming his place seated at the head of the bed, supporting Kira's back against his chest. He even dared to rest his hands lightly against her shoulders as Kira took a deep breath and pushed down the blanket that covered her.

"I hope I know how to do this," she commented. Odo glanced at the side of her face, startled.

"Is it -- difficult?"

Kira shrugged. "It's not supposed to be -- I've just never done it before. Oh, well -- here goes." She guided her daughter's mouth to her nipple, where the baby displayed none of her mother's hesitation. Kira let out a soft little sigh, her eyes fluttering closed while a beatific smile touched the corners of her mouth.

Odo watched in silence, his cheek resting peacefully against Kira's hair, unconsciously letting his hands slide down her bare arms to her elbows, savoring the warmth of her skin against his. Listening to her contented breathing, the soft sound of the baby's hungry mouth, he felt a sense of intimacy like nothing he had ever known, had ever dared imagine in his wildest dreams.

"Do you hear that?" Kira asked softly, echoing his thoughts. "She's slurping." Kira shook her head in amazement. "I don't know why - there's nothing really there yet."

"She seems to like it," Odo observed, his voice little more than a whisper. "How about you?"

"It feels good," Kira admitted, chuckling a little. "Very -- sensual, very right." She turned her head towards Odo, so that suddenly their mouths were bare inches apart. "Odo -- " His name was little more than a breath brushing against his face as Odo let his lips close impulsively over Kira's. He was startled as her mouth opened under his, her tongue mounting a gentle inquiry. His kiss deepened, a sudden, desperate searching -- Odo broke away from Kira with a gasp, his eyes traveling fearfully over her face.

"I'm sorry -- I didn't mean --"

"Please don't tell me you didn't mean it," Kira whispered. "Because I did."

"No," Odo conceded in a husky murmur. "I meant it."

"Good." Kira gave him another, briefer kiss, before turning her attention back to the baby in her arms. "Look, she's asleep." Kira stifled a yawn. "I can't blame her -- I'm pretty tired myself."

"You should be," Odo observed. "You've had a hard day."

"I guess I have," Kira agreed. "Will you take her for a while?"

"Of course." Odo took the baby from Kira's arms, holding her with growing expertise. "By the way, what are you going to call her?"

"V'lonn," Kira said softly, "after my mother."

"V'lonn," Odo repeated. "It's a good name." He surrendered one of his fingers into the baby's tiny hand, and was rewarded with a surprisingly hearty grip. Settling himself into a nearby chair, he held the sleeping infant nestled against his chest, and watched as Kira nodded off to sleep, one hand stretched across the blankets as though reaching for her daughter -- or reaching for him, Odo thought. For the first time that seemed possible, and hope roared through his innermost substance like wine.

He was lost in a mindless reverie of pure happiness when Lupaza stuck her head in the door. "Is Nerys asleep?" she whispered.

"Yes." Odo looked up, smiling. He nodded at the baby, also sound asleep, his finger still clutched in her minuscule grasp. "I'd say they've both had a full day."

"I suspect you have, too," Lupaza observed. She came over to crouch beside his chair, looking into the baby's face. "Prophets, she's beautiful -- has Nerys named her yet?"

"V'lonn," Odo said softly. "After Nerys' mother."

"It's a good name." Lupaza reached out to touch V'lonn's fine mist of hair, already determinedly red. "She looks like Nerys."

Odo looked closer at the bundle he held. "How can you tell? Other than the hair?"

"Well, she's only going to have five nose ridges, for one thing -- see?" Lupaza counted out the tiny wrinkles. "Nerys has five -- Shakaar has six. I don't know -- I just think she looks like Nerys."

"So do I," Odo confessed. "I just assumed it was because -- because I couldn't stand the thought of her taking after Shakaar." Something about the quiet room, the sleeping baby, and the quietly listening woman beside him provoked the unusual confidence.

"I'm afraid he's going to be here any time," Lupaza said gently. "That's what I actually came in to tell you -- the weather's cleared, transporters should be working again -- it shouldn't take him long."

"Lupaza," Odo asked slowly, "what will people think about the First Minister having a child by -- by a woman who isn't his wife?"

"It depends," Lupaza said, "on whether or not he regularizes the situation."

Odo looked up at her. "You mean . . ."

Lupaza nodded. "If he doesn't marry her, it could cost him the next election. Bajorans are pretty old-fashioned that way."

"It's important for Bajor, isn't it -- that Shakaar remain First Minister?" Odo spoke the words with difficulty.

"Yes," Lupaza conceded, "but it's important for Nerys to be happy, too." She gave Odo a knowing look.

Odo shook his head, all of the shining gladness draining from his eyes like water. "Nerys won't be happy if things go wrong for Bajor," he said simply.

"Odo --"

There was a sudden small commotion as someone entered the cabin, and Odo and Lupaza looked up as First Minister Shakaar Edon opened the door to the bedroom, looking around with anxious excitement. He spared a brief smile for the sleeping Kira, before crossing the room to where Odo held the baby gently against his chest. Lupaza straightened slowly, while Shakaar went down on one knees in front of his new offspring.

"I can't believe it," he said softly. "I -- what is it?"

"Her name is V'lonn," Odo told him briefly.

"A girl. She's just beautiful." Shakaar finally took his eyes off of the baby, looking up into Odo's face. "May I --?" He held out his arms.

"Of course, First Minister." Odo surrendered the baby into Shakaar's arms, determinedly oblivious to V'lonn's sudden, soft sounds of displeasure. Shakaar took her with the ease of a farmer, a man used to handling small, helpless creatures, while Odo stood and walked to the door. "I need to go check on the runabout -- I really should be returning it to the station, since Dr. Bashir will be here with a runabout as well, and that leaves them quite short if there were some kind of emergency. I know that Dr. Bashir won't mind making sure that Major Kira gets back -- gets to wherever she wants to go." Straightening his thin shoulders, Odo departed without another word.

"Where is the doctor?" Shakaar inquired, looking around, puzzled, as he took the seat that Odo had just vacated.

"We didn't have one," Lupaza replied shortly. "The person who delivered your baby just walked out the door."

"Security Chief Odo?" Shakaar looked in the direction of the doorway, chagrined. "I had no idea -- I'm so sorry I didn't have the chance to thank him."

"I don't think he did it for you," Lupaza said dryly. She looked up attentively as there was a soft murmur from the direction of the bed.

"Odo?" Kira called softly.

"He's gone, Nerys, he went back to the space station." Lupaza crossed the room to Kira's side.

"What?!" Kira exclaimed, struggling to sit up.

"It's all right, Nerys, I'm here." Shakaar went to sit on the side of the bed, holding V'lonn carefully in his arms. His reception was not exactly what he had hoped for.

"You're here." Kira greeted him with all the enthusiasm she might offer a Cardassian gul. "What the hell did you say to Odo to make him leave like that?"

"Nothing." Shakaar gave Kira a puzzled stare. Kira looked sharply at Lupaza.

"He didn't," Lupaza conceded. "Odo made some -- deductions about the political situation, and decided he needed to go."

"Will someone tell me what's going on here?" Shakaar looked from one woman to the other, bewildered. "Why are you so concerned about Odo?"

"Edon, listen to me, because I'm only going to say this once." Kira caught her former lover's eyes in a riveting gaze. "I'm willing to keep this as quiet as I can -- I'll even claim that she's someone else's - but I'm not going to marry you, so save your breath."

"Nerys --" Shakaar protested. "Let me --"

"You cheated on me, Edon, after you told me that you were in love with me! I'm not marrying anyone I can't trust one hundred percent. Besides, I'm not in love with you anymore. I'm not sure that I ever really was."

"Nerys," Shakaar said slowly, taking a deep breath, "what about Bajor?"

"What about it?"

"Do you want to see Winn elected the next First Minister?"

Kira stared at Shakaar for a long moment. Finally she said:

"You give me my baby and get the hell out of here, you fucking politician."

After that, there was not a great deal that could be said.

******

His runabout safely docked, his report made to Captain Sisko, who wisely refrained from extraneous questions when he saw the look in the changeling's eyes, Odo found an excuse to stop by the infirmary every half hour until Bashir finally returned. When he finally found him, the doctor greeted him enthusiastically, saying:

"Good work, Odo! I never saw a baby and mother come through a presentation like that with less physical trauma!"

"How are they?" Odo looked around the empty infirmary.

"They're fine -- couldn't be better, especially under the circumstances. They're both still on Bajor."

"Oh. I see," Odo said quietly. Bashir wondered what accounted for the sudden dejected look in the changeling's eyes.

"They're staying at Lupaza's for a few days -- I didn't think that Kira should be traveling quite yet -- and then they're going to the monastery at T'Mar. Kira apparently wants to take some time on Bajor with the baby. She said something about taking three months' leave."

"Three months?!"

"Yes." Bashir studied Odo curiously. "one of the first things a Bajoran mother is supposed to do is take a three month retreat to bond with her new infant -- it's a very nice tradition, actually. I believe that the father is usually involved to some extent as well, although in this case that seems to be out of the question . . ." Bashir refrained from further elaboration when he saw the look on the changeling's usually expressionless face. "But she asked me to give you a message."

"Yes?" Odo's voice was taut with sudden hope.

"She said to say 'thank you again', and to ask you if you can pick up her and little V'lonn and give them a ride home after the Security League's big Annual Conference three months from now. She said that she'll be back at Lupaza's by then."

"Of course," Odo said automatically. "I'll send her a subspace message to let her know." Odo turned toward the door.

"Oh, and Constable --"

"Yes?" Odo looked back at Bashir bleakly.

"She said to give you her love -- and to tell you that the two of you still have some unfinished business."

Bashir had never thought that Odo's seamless face could be considered handsome, but there was a sudden blaze of light in the blue eyes that gave him an alien beauty. "Thank you, Doctor," was all that he said -- but his expression spoke volumes. Bashir watched him as Odo walked out the door, a bemused expression crossing the young doctor's face.

"Kira and Constable Odo," Bashir murmured. "Who would have thought it?"

One of the Ferengi employees from Quark's, coming in to have his earache looked at, could only wonder at the doctor's expansive, satisfied smile.

******

As it turned out, when the three months was up it was one of Odo's deputies who arrived at Lupaza's cabin to claim Kira and her baby -- along with a brief message from Odo.

Problem in Security -- unable to leave at present. Will see you when you return.

The tenor of the note would have chilled her, if it had not been for the last few words in Bajoran.

Nerys, l'hanya ti.

Nerys, I love you.

Lupaza watched as Kira scurried around, stuffing a few last-minute items in her shoulder-bag and gathering her baby in her arms.

"So -- where is he?" Lupaza asked.

"Some kind of emergency came up on the station." Kira kissed her friend on the cheek. "I'll see him when I get there."

"Hmm . . ." Lupaza said thoughtfully. "There must be more than that in that note to give you that look in your eyes."

Kira smiled. "There is."

"Can I read it?" Lupaza was never noted for her subtlety.

"Sure." Kira tossed Lupaza the PADD. Lupaza read it and smiled.

"A man of few words, isn't he?"

"He is that," Kira agreed. "Odo's a man of -- action."

"Well, you'll have to tell me about that, too."

"Don't worry, I will -- you'll just have to wait until there's something for me to tell."

Lupaza smiled. "Walk with the Prophets, Nerys."

"Walk with the Prophets, Lupaza. And thank you -- for everything." Nerys gave her friend a one-armed hug, and Lupaza dropped a kiss on V'lonn's forehead.

"Go with the Prophets, little one."

Kira ran briskly down the steps and across the ground that separated her from the Rubicon and the member of Odo's security team who awaited her. V'lonn, by now used to her mother's gunshot approach to life, no longer objected to speedy movements, but watched the world go by with wide-open eyes.

Pausing in the doorway of the runabout, Kira turned back toward the figure watching her from the cabin's porch, shouting in Bajoran, "'The Prophets walk with us!'"

They were the first words of the Bajoran marriage litany.

Lupaza called back the correct response.

"'Though they lead you down many paths, in the end your road is one.'"

Her baby held firmly in her arms, Kira Nerys pronounced her claim on the future with a resolute heart.

******

It seemed that half of the people on DS9 were waiting for Kira when the runabout docked, the only notable absence being Odo himself. Captain Sisko claimed V'lonn within seconds of the entrance to the docking bay rolling back, and Dax seized Kira in a hug. Bashir and O'Brien were both quick to follow suit, while Kira tried to not be too obvious as she peered over their shoulders to the corridor beyond. Dax caught the look, however, and whispered in Kira's ear:

"Odo said he'd meet you later in your quarters, if you aren't too tired from your trip." The small crowd started to disperse, and Kira fell in step beside her friend, who had finally managed to wrest the baby from Sisko's clutches.

"Jadzia -- some of your hosts had children, didn't they?"

"On both sides," Dax agreed, making soft, silly noises at V'lonn, who obviously approved.

"Do you think you could baby-sit for me tonight?"

"Sure thing." Dax looked at Kira questioningly. "How long did you have in mind?"

"If I'm lucky, till tomorrow morning."

"So -- you're using 'lucky' in its traditional sense." Dax grinned at Kira's startled expression. "Can I replicate everything she needs?"

"What you can't, I'll make sure you have." Kira smiled, blushing a little. "I'm a typical Bajoran -- I have a lot more problems with surpluses than shortages in that particular department."

Dax grinned, finally returning V'lonn to her mother. "What time?"

"I'll bring her by about twenty-one hundred hours."

"Perfect."

True to her word, Kira appeared at Dax's quarters with V'lonn promptly at the time agreed upon, handing her over with a full carry-bag but not a lot of instructions. Kira was used to delegating.

"Diapers, milk -- not replicated -- and two changes of clothes," she pronounced, putting the bag on the table.

"How many feedings?" Dax made the practical inquiry.

"Well, I just fed her -- you should have enough for three, unless she turns greedy on you." Kira grimaced. "Just be warned -- she turns greedy a lot."

"Sounds like you can handle it," Dax observed.

"I can cope with everything but that first little tooth."

"Ouch. Already?"

Kira shrugged. "About average for a Bajoran." Kira leaned over and gave V'lonn a last, fond nuzzle before leaving her in Dax's arms. "Not to say that she's average."

"Don't tell Benjamin I said this, but Jake was still pretty much a little round blob at this age. I think Bajoran infants develop a lot faster than human ones do, at least during the first 18 months or so. Not to say that V'lonn isn't pretty exceptional." Dax laughed as V'lonn reached for her nose with determined baby fingers.

"Pretty and exceptional." Kira caught her daughter's hand and kissed it. "Actually, the doctor on Bajor dared to say that she was average, like that was some kind of accomplishment. Just because she was in a hurry to get here . . ." Kira reluctantly relinquished the little hand. "Well, I'd better get going."

"Why are you wearing your uniform?" Dax asked, as she and V'lonn escorted V'lonn's mother to the door.

"It's comfortable. Besides, I've missed it -- and I can finally fit back into it."

"Good luck, Nerys."

Kira smiled wryly. "Thanks."

Kira returned slowly to her quarters -- it had been harder to leave her daughter with Dax than she had anticipated, even taking into account that she had never really been separated from her baby before in all of V'lonn's short life. She had gotten so used to carrying her, slung securely in one arm, that her arms felt strangely incomplete -- Kira shook her head and punched in her lock code, stepping into her quarters and looking around, wondering what she should do to get ready for her anticipated visitor. Somehow candles and champagne seemed distinctly inappropriate, especially considering the last time she had introduced such items to her decor -- Kira sat down on the sofa to think about it. She felt a sudden, unwelcome rush of exhaustion. Maybe if she lay down, for just a minute . . .

When Odo punched in the lock code to let himself in half an hour later, he found Kira sound asleep, curled up with her back to the door and the lights.

"Computer," he said softly, "dim lights to twenty percent." He sat down on the edge of the couch at Kira's side, and, after a moment's thought, stretched out alongside her, fitting his longer limbs to hers and draping an arm across her middle. Kira snuggled into him, before a slight tensing of her body informed Odo that she was waking up.

"Odo?" Kira said softly.

"Yes." There was the faintest trace of a chuckle in his voice. "Were you expecting someone else?"

"No." Kira touched the hand that lay across her, caressing it gently with her fingertips. "Funny -- it feels like we've done this before."

"Yes -- only the armrest was more substantial." Odo nestled his face into the back of Kira's neck, kissing it gently. Kira let out a long sigh, drawing his hand up her body so that it curved over her breast. She suddenly felt weak and dizzy, her stomach clutching with delicious tension. She started and blushed as her milk let go, damp spots filtering through the front of her uniform.

"Sorry about that," she whispered. Odo chuckled softly.

"That's nothing compared to how liquid I could get."

Kira laughed, finally rolling over to face him. Odo's pale blue eyes sparkled like Terran moonstones in the dim light.

"I hadn't thought of it quite like that," she confessed. She caught her breath in a tiny gasp as Odo's mouth closed over hers, before her own lips opened hungrily. She forced herself to hold back, to let Odo set the pace as he explored the realm of kissing, for what was, for all practical intents and purposes, the first time. His hesitation was enticing, maddening -- when his tongue finally slid past her lips she thought for a brief instant that kissing alone would be all she needed to bring her body its desperately craved release. She wanted to shove off her clothes, seize Odo's hips and draw him between her thighs without further inquiry -- she moaned a little as he drew away from her, his fingers going to the point on the front of her uniform where it dipped down over her collarbone.

"May I?" he whispered. Kira nodded soundlessly, breathlessly, adjusting her body to ease Odo's movements as he carefully unfastened the uniform jacket, drew it off her shoulders and away from her, and let it drop to the floor. The layers beneath it followed in slow, stately order -- Kira caught her breath as the air finally touched her bare breasts, and she resigned herself to the milk seeping steadily from her nipples. If anything, Odo seemed fascinated by this unexpected liquid aspect -- his fingertip traced the circumference of each nipple in turn, before letting his hand shift, shape itself to Kira's left breast, moving against it like a gentle, hungry mouth. Kira let out a tiny moan as she felt her milk let go completely, flowing into and somehow being absorbed by Odo's substance -- her other breast followed suit as Odo covered it with his free hand, and once again joined his questing mouth to hers. Finally he let his hands travel down her sides, slipping his fingers under her trousers and sliding them off of her hips, off her legs -- Kira almost cried out as she felt Odo's lower half go liquid, his substance pouring over and into the moist depths of her body.

He flowed into her like water, like blood, like light . . . he was like a wave on the beach, rising and breaking softly against the rock of her passion. Kira gasped, clutching at Odo's shoulders where the remnants of his assumed uniform melted under her hands -- he was nothing but blue eyes and smooth skin -- smooth skin and heated substance -- he was the beat of her heart, the rasp of her breathing, the throbbing pulse between her thighs. He was existence, primal and pure, as fundamental as whatever ooze from which her ancestors had first crawled to learn the dance of being. He was the breath of the Prophets, hot on her flesh -- he was love. He was life.

Kira cried out as her release shook her like a leaf in a windstorm, going on and on until she almost prayed the leaf would fall, the branch break -- the nearly intolerable ecstasy stop. Tears were raining down her cheeks, as warm and liquid as the milk that still trickled from her breasts, salt as the juices that spilled from between her parted thighs to mingle with the gelid warmth that caressed her. Suddenly Odo cried out, the remainder of his solid form melting to immerse her in near-searing heat.

Kira lay quietly, feeling almost stunned, letting her hands trail aimlessly through the substance that covered her. Finally Odo began to reshape himself into his humanoid form, after which he lay exhausted in her arms.

"Nerys," he whispered, "l'hanya ti." An unexplored world lay behind his words.

"Odo," she responded softly, "l'hanya ti du, meytahl."

Odo raised himself on his elbows and gave Kira a long, tender kiss, catching her lower lip delicately between his teeth before going on to explore the depths of her mouth with his tongue. Kira responded gently and passionately in kind, thinking as she did so that Odo could have been kissing her all of his life, so expertly did he gauge the reaction of her avid mouth. Finally he broke away from her, a faint, shy smile on his face.

"Was that all right?" he whispered.

Kira's eyes widened in astonishment at the question, before she gave a soft, delighted laugh. "That was -- wonderful. Extraordinary."

"You're sure?"

"Odo, I could -- crawl inside you and live there happily ever after. I never dreamed that sex -- that making love could be like that."

"I didn't either," Odo confessed. He searched Kira's face with his eyes, as though memorizing every detail. "She said you could never love me."

"Who said that?" Kira frowned.

"The leader of the Founders. When she replaced you on that moon in the Badlands -- she told me that you could never love me -- because I'm a changeling."

"So, that's what happened . . . Stupid Founder," Kira observed. She paused. "I suspect there's a lot that you didn't tell me about that incident."

"Very probably." Odo sighed gently, reaching up to smooth Kira's hair back from her forehead. Kira studied his face in turn, smiling.

"Your hair's mussed," she commented. "I've never seen you with your hair mussed before -- don't fix it!" she added hastily. "I like it."

"All right." Odo gave a slight chuckle. "I'll tell you what -- you can muss my hair anytime you want to."

"I just might take you up on that, Constable." Kira laughed in amazement. "How did I get to love you so much?"

"Proximity," Odo said solemnly. To Kira's questioning smile he explained, "It had to rub off on you sometime."

"You've loved me a long time, haven't you?"

"A while," Odo conceded. "But not long enough."

"Not nearly long enough," Kira agreed. She took his face in her hands and kissed him, before saying with a laugh, "To think, I had to get pregnant -- by someone else! -- to figure out who I really love!"

"Speaking of pregnant -- where is V'lonn? Asleep?"

"Hopefully. She's with Dax."

"Will she be back?" Odo asked anxiously. "I -- I was looking forward to seeing her."

"I had planned to let her spend the night with Jadzia -- but I imagine we can get her back anytime we want her." Kira kissed Odo's shoulder. "You love her, too, don't you?"

"I do," Odo assured her, the look on his face softer than any Kira had ever seen there. "You were right -- I feel like she's mine."

"I'm sorry -- I shouldn't have stayed on Bajor so long -- I just wanted to think some things through -- it is a tradition -- and to be ready to -- to make love to you before I came back. And I had to heal a bit first."

"From Shakaar?" Odo asked quietly.

"Shakaar? No, from V'lonn!" Kira laughed. "Didn't you get that far in your reading?" she teased.

"It wasn't a section I expected to need to cover," Odo confessed. The last shreds of tension evaporated from his face, leaving it alight with a gentle radiance. Kira caught her breath, raising her hand to Odo's cheek.

"You're so -- very beautiful," she whispered. Odo laughed, rolling his eyes skeptically. "It's true," Kira insisted. "You are."

Odo shook his head. "The eye of the beholder," he conceded. "Right now, I'd like to behold -- " he paused "-- our daughter."

"All right." Kira took Odo's hand and kissed it, holding it briefly to her heart. "Let me put on a robe, and then I'll call Dax." She slipped out from beneath Odo as he slowly sat up, morphing into his usual neat, uniformed appearance. Kira smiled, pausing briefly as she stood beside the sofa, her slim body pale in the dim light. "We'll have to work on a casual, lie-around-our-quarters look for you, too, you know."

"I'll get on it right away," Odo assured her. However, he was still in his uniform when Kira returned, belting her rust-colored robe around her waist. Kira grinned at him, before picking up her tunic from the floor, removing the combadge.

"Kira to Dax."

"Kira! Thank God!" came Dax's harassed-sounding reply. V'lonn could be heard wailing loudly in the background. Kira and Odo exchanged startled looks.

"Dax, what is it?"

"Is the baby sick?" Odo whispered.

Kira shook her head, listening. "Hungry -- and pissed," she declared. "Dax, what's wrong? Did she already finish the milk I left with you?"

"Kira -- have you ever actually fed this baby from a bottle?"

"No -- I haven't needed to. Why?"

"Because she won't take a bottle! I've done everything -- and she won't take it! I even got Julian over here to help me -- nothing!"

"I'm afraid it's true," came Bashir's voice from the background. "Some babies just refuse to accept any substitutes." He chuckled tiredly. "I suppose I can't blame her."

"Thank you, Julian," Dax said dryly. "Nerys, I'm sorry, but --"

"I was just calling to see if you would mind bringing her to my quarters. I'd come get her, but -- I'm not dressed for it right now."

"I'll be right there. Dax out."

The distance between Dax's and Kira's quarters had never been covered so rapidly. Dax carried in the wailing baby and deposited her in Kira's arms, while Bashir brought up the rear carrying her bag.

"For goodness' sake," Kira cooed softly, gathering her daughter close. V'lonn gave up crying to nuzzle determinedly at Kira's front, flailing irritably at the robe covering her breasts. Kira laughed, blushing.

"If you'll excuse me . . ." She turned and carried V'lonn in the direction of the bedroom, adjusting her robe as she went. Odo took the bag that Bashir held out to him.

"Thank you for baby-sitting," he said quietly. "We'll have to work on the bottle aspect a bit."

"She'll probably get used to it if Nerys gives it to her first -- the scent and all," the doctor explained. "I'm sure it'll be fine to leave her with Dax next time you and Nerys want to be alone."

Dax gave Bashir an appalled stare, to which he turned an impervious eye. Odo showed more compassion, saying, "I don't expect that to be for a while." He smiled. "I think that Nerys and I want to spend as much time with her as possible."

"Well, good night, Constable," Bashir murmured, smiling. Dax echoed his words and followed him out the door, her look suggesting that motherhood was an aberration she never intended to repeat. Odo went towards the bedroom, chuckling.

Kira lay on the bed, her robe discarded, with V'lonn working at her breast with hungry determination. Odo crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed beside them, reaching out with one finger to gently touch the back of the baby's head.

"She's starving!" Kira exclaimed guiltily. "I had no idea she wouldn't eat out of a bottle -- it wasn't like I tried to replicate the milk."

"She seems to be making up for it," Odo observed. The warm, tender intimacy of watching Kira nurse her daughter still overwhelmed him. Odo wondered briefly if he could ever explain the sense of belonging, of homecoming, and what the word home meant to someone who had spent most of his life in a laboratory, or 'sleeping' in a bucket in the back of his office. He started as V'lonn made a small, discontented sound. Kira gave him a quick, reassuring smile as she shifted the baby in her arms, guiding the voracious mouth to her other nipple.

"Does she do that often?" Odo asked softly.

"Go from one breast to another? Always." Kira smiled, dropping a kiss on the top of her daughter's head. "It isn't that she actually -- actually empties one, she just hates it when she has to really work at it. She's just a little bit lazy -- Prophets know where she got it. Certainly not from me -- nor from --" Kira stopped speaking abruptly, her smile vanishing.

"Not from Shakaar, I know." Odo reached out automatically, running a soothing hand down the length of Kira's upper arm.

"Just thinking about him now -- makes me so angry," Kira whispered. "We were such good friends once -- what happened? I can't imagine that just -- just sleeping with someone could ultimately lead to -- so many unrealized expectations -- and do so much damage."

"It wasn't just sleeping with someone, it was the failure of trust," Odo observed. "Besides -- just sleeping with someone also did this." He cupped his hand to the back of V'lonn's head.

"She loves it when you touch her," Kira said softly. Odo stared at her curiously.

"What do you mean?"

"I can just tell." Kira shrugged. "It must be that she feels that hint of -- something liquid underneath. Maybe it reminds her of when she was still inside me."

They sat together in a companionable silence as V'lonn finished eating and finally went to sleep, her mouth still affixed to her mother's breast. Kira gently extracted her nipple from the baby's mouth, before getting up to carry her across the room to the anti-grav cradle she had managed to acquire in her one vague attempt at nesting. Odo followed at her heels, and they stood with arms linked, gazing down upon the sated and sleeping infant.

"Prophets," Odo whispered, "she snores."

"A little," Kira agreed, smiling. She turned and drew Odo into her arms, giving him a long, all-encompassing kiss. "We've got maybe four hours before she starts up again," Kira whispered. "Let's make them count."

"Whatever you say." Odo lifted Kira and carried her to the bed, once again laying claim to her passion as he had laid claim to her affections, and letting her renew her claim to his as well. His lover. His heart. He would never feel entirely alone again, and the thought brought him nothing but joy.

His home.

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.

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


Return to The Major and the Constable.