Looking out my window at the dark and troubled sky
I think I see the ship of the broken-hearted passing by
And I turn away
To where we used to lie ...
"Frozen Notes" - Warren Zevon
The Security Office on Deep Space Nine had no window. Nevertheless, Security Chief Odo sat motionless behind his desk, staring listlessly into space. His console was littered with datapadds, his computer directory listed several unanswered messages, but Odo was oblivious. Only a few short rotations of the station had encompassed Arissa's arrival and departure ... so brief a time in which to find love and forfeit it. Now, nothing seemed as real or demanding to Odo as the emptiness he felt inside. The changeling thought he might fold in upon himself until he disappeared like a dying star in the final throes of collapse.
Before the woman who had become his lover had appeared on Deep Space Nine, Odo Ital had been accustomed to living his life wrapped securely in proud solitude. Exiled child of a race whose great link of intimacy was the very basis of their existence, his quest to rejoin his people had brought him to a brief, glorious immersion in his heritage followed by a wrenching expulsion from it. It had been his own choice, one made out of loyalty to those he cared about and in acquiescence to the harsh judgment of his unrelenting own. Knowing this made his exile no less bitter.
Only rarely since then had Odo Ital reapproached the bonding that he was genetically doomed to long for; when Lwaxana Troi had wrapped his wounded pagh in her empathetic warmth, when the failing changeling child had crept into his hands to die, and when the woman Arissa had opened herself to him, body and soul. Odo found himself wondering if he would have been better off never having known those moments. He reflected idly on how the pain of things lost was as keenly felt as the dull ache for things never known.
"Constable Odo, may I speak with you?"
Odo had not heard the office door slide open. He looked up from his desk to see Ziyal Dukat standing shyly in his doorway.
The Constable was somewhat surprised to see her. He knew the young Cardassian/Bajoran girl, of course ... the daughter of Gul Dukat and his mistress. But they had rarely spoken, although he had been unfailingly polite to her on the occasions that they had met. Therefore, Odo was initially more curious about why Ziyal had come to him with a question than he was about the question itself. He indicated the guest chair facing his desk with a nod of his head, steepled his fingers as she seated herself, and waited for her to speak.
Ziyal twisted her hands in her lap. "Constable, I'm very sorry to bother you, but ... I need some advice, and you're the only person I can think of to go to."
"Oh?" The girl's nervousness touched him. Ziyal had long been one of a small group of station residents for whom Odo assumed a secret responsibility. If asked, he would have been at a loss to explain why; something about them inspired his protective nature, and he watched out for them without question ... it simply seemed a given that he should do so. The little group included Major Kira Nerys, of course; the children of his coworkers, Morn, and a few others. None but Kira had any idea that they had a guardian shapeshifter. And, although the Major did know, her assumption about the reasons behind Odo's protectiveness was quite in error. Ziyal's relationship with Major Kira, whose unofficial ward she was, simply enhanced Odo's desire to be of help.
Leaning forward with his hands folded on his desk, Odo encouraged his uncomfortable guest with his eyes, softening their icy blue to a warmer shade. It was still difficult for her. She glanced around the office, curious and yet not wanting to appear so. Odo rose and walked to the replicator.
"One Willanan tea, hot. With a measure of spicedust."
Ziyal's eyes widened. "How did you know ..."
Odo smiled microscopically as he handed the cup to his visitor. "I make it a practice to know at least as much as Quark does about our station residents." He returned to his chair. "Now, what may I do for you?"
Ziyal met the Constable's eyes over the brim of her cup. The gentle encouragement she saw there brought her voice back to her.
"My father has a great deal of respect for you, Mr. Odo. He told me once that if I ever had any problems here on the station, I should come to you. He said that I could always trust you to watch out for me, and to tell me the truth."
Odo reacted visibly to this. "I can't imagine why he would tell you such a thing."
Something in his voice took her courage away; Ziyal set her cup down and made as if to rise. Odo quickly put his hand out in a gesture of protest. "Your father was right, my dear. I'm just surprised that he would ... But never mind. I will help you in any way I can."
Ziyal settled back in her chair, turning the half-empty cup in her hands. "I need to talk to you about Garak." Her voice was very small. "I'm in love with him, Constable. My father is very angry about it. He's disowned me, you know ... he won't even speak to me. And Elim ... I think he loves me, but ..." She took a deep breath, and rushed ahead. "Mr. Odo, if my own father is willing to let me die, how can I trust Elim to care about me? Can I believe that he does?"
Odo, stunned, was silent for what seemed a very long time.
"Why are you asking me?"
"Because you know him so well. Nerys knows him, too, but she just gets angry when I mention him. Dr. Bashir is his closest friend, but I know if I go to Julian he'll just tell me whatever he thinks is best for me to hear."
Odo disliked the awkwardness of the position he found himself in, but he knew that Dukat had been correct ... he could do nothing else but tell her the truth. Odd that she should come to him for it on the recommendation of her father, one of the few people the shapeshifter had ever intentionally misled.
"I think Garak has ... deep feelings for you, Ziyal," Odo said carefully. "I would even go so far as to say that he would consider your interests above almost all else. But I don't think you can trust him."
Ziyal's face fell. Odo saw tears forming in her eyes. After all she had been through in her short life, Odo knew this girl did not weep easily. Leaving the chair behind his desk, Odo reached out and took Ziyal's hand, squeezing it sympathetically.
Ziyal looked up at him. " Constable ..."
"I know ... I know that you just lost someone you loved." Odo's posture stiffened reflexively, and he turned his head away. "I'm so sorry ... I know you've been lonely. I wish things had turned out differently. But what I want to know is this - if you had known how it would turn out, would you still have done it? Would you still have fallen in love with that woman? Or would you have walked away?"
Odo avoided the girl's eyes. "That's a rather personal question, Ziyal."
"Would you have?"
"What you are really asking me is if you should risk continuing your relationship with Garak."
Odo thought of the recent losses in his life and wondered what to tell the young woman sitting expectantly before him. He had remained safely, achingly silent to Kira about his feelings, and had lost her to Shakaar. He had risked revealing himself to Arissa, and lost her too. Now this child was posing the very question that had been tormenting him since Arissa had left. He risked a glance at his inquisitor ... her large gray eyes were fixed steadily on him. She is very like her father just now, Odo thought.
"I am the wrong person to answer that question for you, Ziyal. I'm not certain that anyone but you yourself can answer it. However, if you feel you have any choice in the matter, then ... you should walk away. You might remain friends with him, but nothing more."
Ziyal released her breath in a rush ... Odo had not realized she had been holding it. She got to her feet and, before Odo realized what she was doing, hugged him tightly.
"Thank you, Mr. Odo. That's what I thought, too!" Her rosy-gray face was lit with happiness.
"Ah, Ziyal ... I don't think you understand me ..."
"Oh, but I do! If I don't feel that I have that choice, then I'm in love with him, and the risk doesn't matter. My father doesn't matter. Nothing else matters." She released the stunned shapeshifter from her embrace.
"Ziyal," he choked out, "that's not what I meant ..."
"But you're absolutely right, Mr. Odo." She smiled warmly at him, her eyes shining. Odo gruffly straightened his uniform, making a bit of a show of it as she turned and left the office. Returning to his desk, Odo settled heavily into his chair. I'm a security officer, not a Counselor, he thought irritably. And he wondered uncomfortably just who had counseled whom ...
The replimat was busy. Odo surveyed the crowd with a professional eye as he waited for Garak. One of the reasons he had continued their occasional breakfasts together, in spite of no longer needing to eat, was the regular opportunity it offered to keep an unobtrusive eye on the Promenade. Another reason was the regular opportunity it offered to keep an eye on Garak. Odo did not often acknowledge to himself that he also enjoyed the company.
"Good morning, Constable!" hailed his breakfast companion. The tailor slid into the chair on the opposite side of the table. One hand balanced a tray which a bowl of unappetizing-looking Cardassian breakfast food shared, incongruously, with a Terran muffin. The steaming cup in his other hand dribbled slightly on the tabletop as he set it down. Odo frowned. His distaste at the small mess did not escape Garak's attention.
"Forgive my clumsiness, Constable," he said genially. "I must talk to Mr. O'Brien ... I don't see why he has to keep the station's gravity set so high."
Odo rolled his eyes. "The rest of us seem to deal with it quite easily," he remarked wryly.
"Ah, that may be true, Constable." Garak leaned forward with a mischievous glint in his eye. "But then, you are really nothing more than a controlled spill yourself, are you not?"
Odo snorted. Garak sipped from his mug. They sat in companionable if testy silence, the Cardassian eating and both of them watching the early morning shift change swell the crowd on the Promenade. Ziyal Dukat hurried by, her face flushed, and waved at the two before being swept on by the crowd. Garak's eyes followed her until the girl disappeared.
"She's very pretty, isn't she?" he remarked, turning back to Odo. The changeling leveled cool blue eyes on the Cardassian. There was no hint of humor in them.
"Garak, if you harm that girl in any way, you will answer to me for it. I promise you."
"Why Odo! I have absolutely no intention of harming her! Quite the contrary!" The Cardassian seemed genuinely taken aback. "And anyway, even if I did attempt anything ... untoward ... I suspect you'd have to get in line behind her father and the Major to take me to task for it."
"I am quite serious, Garak. I know that your personal agenda always come first. Take care that Ziyal does not suffer because of that."
"Odo, my personal agenda now includes Ziyal. Much to my surprise, I admit. Just why are you showing such an interest, Constable? Out of loyalty to Dukat, or affection for your dear Major?"
"I beg your pardon." Odo's voice was cold.
"Oh, don't protest, Constable. It's your fault I found out, you know." Garak put his mug down and sighed, his mood suddenly somber. "Do you recall that ... disagreeable ... conversation you and I had some time ago? When I asked you if you had ever cared about anyone but yourself?"
Odo's mass quivered inwardly. He remembered all too well the interrogation that Garak had once conducted on him. Locked into a stasis field well past his time of regeneration, Odo had thought he might die. Frightening as it had been, there had been times since then when Odo had wistfully reflected that it might have been for the best if he had ...
"You said you wouldn't tell me, even if there had been someone. Dear boy, if you'd just said 'no' I might have believed you. But you didn't. And I was, of course, unable to resist attempting to discover the identity of a person whose existence I did not doubt. Being the trained professional that I modestly admit I am, it didn't take me very long to figure out that it was our own Major Kira."
Odo decided some damage control was in order. He smiled humorlessly. "Garak, if that conclusion is an indicator of your level of investigatory skill, then it's no wonder the Obsidian Order dropped you from their ranks."
"Odo, I'm on your side here. I think you and Nerys would make a fine couple. If nothing else, it would save two other people." Garak grinned, then leaned forward, a solemn look on his face. He reached out and placed his hand on Odo's wrist, squeezing it gently.
"Seriously, Odo ... Dr. Bashir told me about your ... involvement ... with that Idanian woman. I'm very sorry about the way things turned out, but I'm also very proud of you for taking that risk. I hope you learned something from it."
"I don't know what you're talking about," growled Odo, less convincingly than usual.
Garak withdrew his hand and sighed. He gathered up his dishes and rose from the table.
"If you're telling the truth, Constable, as I know you always do, then I believe you must be one of the only two people on this station who don't know what I'm talking about. Major Kira, of course, is the other. Let me offer you a bit of advice, Odo. An unavoidable loss is a sad thing. A loss that does not have to be is tragic." With that, Garak left Odo sitting alone in the replimat.
It was there that Kira found the shapeshifter, lost in thought. Odo was not clear on how much time had slipped by, but it was well past the hour at which he had been expected in his office, judging by the look on the Major's face.
"Odo, there you are!" Kira said reproachfully as she took Garak's vacated seat. "Weren't we supposed to meet this morning?"
Odo's fluid body reacted to his loved one's presence as the ocean reacted to the pull of Bajor's moons. Kira, as always, was unaware of it. She looked at him with a mixture of curiosity, concern and, he noted painfully, wariness on her face. Kira had been avoiding Odo since Arissa's departure from the station, and she had been oddly reserved when they had occasion to meet. Odo wrote it off as yet another blow that he would cope with later, when he felt strong enough. Just now a brave front was required and, as always, he mustered himself to meet the demands of the occasion.
"I'm very sorry, Major," he apologized. "I suppose the time just got away from me. If you'd like to join me in my office..." His voice was polite, his manner formal, as he rose from his chair.
"I can't right now. I'm due in Ops in a few minutes, remember? I changed my shift so I could leave early ... Edon's coming in on the shuttle from Bajor this afternoon." A distant look drifted into her eyes. Odo noticed, and flinched inwardly.
"At your convenience then, Major. And again, my apologies." He turned to go, but Kira impulsively reached out in a gesture that begged him not to.
"Wait, Odo ... just for a minute. I think I owe you an apology." The edge of tension in her tone made Odo's legs shaky ... he sat down rather abruptly and hoped she did not notice. He cleared his throat.
"I ... ahem ... I can't think what for, Major," he managed.
"For avoiding you lately," Kira answered bluntly. "I ... I'm so sorry about Arissa. I wanted to talk to you about it, but I didn't know what to say. I was so surprised ... I mean, after all the things you've said about 'humanoid mating rituals', I guess I've always thought ... oh, damn, I'm so terrible at things like this!" she burst out. Her hands suddenly enveloped the changeling's in a vise-like grip. Odo feared that he could not hold their shape firm in her grasp.
"It's ... quite all right, Major," he ventured in a voice as shaky as his knees had been. "I ... understand."
"No, you don't," she said sharply, her tone unnaturally high with nerves. "Odo, you've been such a good friend to me, and I've been such a bad one to you. I'm sorry. I want you to know how happy I am that ... that you and Arissa were together, even if it was for just a little while. It's better to have loved someone, even if you lose them, than it is to stay lonely forever. Bareil and I ..." Her voice wavered, but she pushed on. "I hope you find someone to love again, someday."
Odo looked into Kira's eyes. They were warm and glowing and ... pained? Hopeful? Loving?
Their eyes and hands stayed locked together for a brief moment spanning centuries. Odo, fearing he would lose his shape right there on the Promenade, finally dropped his gaze and gently but firmly disengaged himself from Kira's grasp.
"Thank you ... Nerys." Odo heard her breath catch but, unable to say more, he rose quickly and left the replimat, not looking back.
That evening in Quark's, Odo leaned against the bar in his customary place, surveying the crowd. The room was full of couples ... Dax and Worf, Ziyal and Garak, Leeta and Rom ... even Morn was sharing a table with one of Quark's Dabo girls, a lovely blonde who had presented the talkative alien with a flower. Odo sighed, then caught himself. Too late ... the bar's proprietor had overheard.
"Kind of tough to return to the solitary life, eh, Constable?" Quark commented, toweling imaginary stains off the bar's spotless surface.
"Quark, if I wanted to discuss this with you, which I don't, I would have said something sooner."
"I liked you better as a humanoid, Odo," the Ferengi complained. "Not only was I certain that all my glassware could be trusted, but at least I could make money off of you while you drowned your sorrows instead of having to put up with you hanging around intimidating my customers."
"I'm certain that if my people knew the level of disorder you are capable of generating, Quark," growled Odo in return, "they would have left me a shapeshifter and sentenced me to a lifetime of keeping you out of trouble."
"Well, it seems to me you're already serving that sentence. Voluntarily."
Odo ignored him ... his eyes were suddenly riveted on Kira Nerys, standing framed in light in the doorway, surveying the room. Dax caught her eye and waved her over to the table she shared with Worf. Kira smiled and picked her way through the crowd toward them.
Quark moved his bartowel vigorously. "There's your chance, Odo. I don't like having only three people at a table for four. It's unnatural. Why don't you join them?"
"Ah," remarked Quark in a sympathetic tone. "Still too scared to make your move, eh? Too bad. After your little affair with that Idanian spy, Dax and I were beginning to think that there might be hope for you yet."
"Doesn't anyone on this station have anything to talk about besides my love life?" growled the Constable.
"Nothing quite as interesting," Quark assured him. His voice softened. "Whether you like it or not, Odo, you have friends who care about you. And friends will get you through times of no latinum better than latinum will get you through times of no friends."
"I don't recall that particular Rule of Acquisition."
"It's not a rule, but it should be. Most Ferengi would laugh at it ... but not this one. Go sit next to her, Odo. Talk to her. Laugh with her. The rest will follow."
"I can't. Not so soon after Arissa ... not while she's still with Shakaar."
Odo left his place by the bar. The Ferengi watched as the changeling paused for a moment at his friends' table, exchanging pleasantries and turning down an obvious plea by Dax for him to join them, before stalking stiffly out onto the Promenade. Quark shook his head. If this goes on much longer, I may just have to rig the game, he thought to himself before returning his attention to his customers.
Odo paused for a moment outside of Quark's, waiting for his form to settle a bit. Shakaar had missed the shuttle ... Kira had offered Odo the chair next to her ... Dax had urged him to join them ... everything had been right. Yet he had declined. Why did I do that? he wondered. Why do I always draw that line and place myself behind it?
The Constable folded his hands behind his back and strode off down the Promenade in his customary fashion, quietly enjoying the orderly hum of Deep Space Nine's residents going about their business. Things were very different now from the way they had been seven years ago. Better, in part due to his own dedication and vigilance. At times like this the hollow ache in Odo's core was eased a bit by something approaching contentment.
He paused in front of one of the huge, curving windows that looked out on the station's docking ring. As he stood there, the Wormhole flared suddenly into iridescent bloom. Odo Ital looked deep into the glittering maelstrom that was its eye, the home of Kira Nerys' beloved Prophets ...
... and made a wish.