1. Chapter 1 by Queenix
2. Chapter 2 by Queenix
3. Chapter 3 by Queenix
4. Chapter 4 by Queenix
5. Chapter 5 by Queenix
6. Chapter 6 by Queenix
7. Chapter 7 by Queenix
Major Kira Nerys strode the halls of the habitat ring, gliding on feet that felt like they barely touched the ground. It was going to be a good night. She couldn't suppress her wide grin, even if it did make her look like an idiot. She had been looking forward to tonight for days. Duties were behind her, a much-needed night out ahead, and it was going to be even more special because of her chosen companion for the evening. Tonight, Kira had a date with Odo.
As she boarded the turbolift, Kira's smile faded a bit. It had been an age since she'd spent any time with her good friend, and she'd felt guilty about it, but she had been incredibly busy these last few months. She and Odo had barely seen each other outside of duties lately, not like they used to do. With her constant maternity check-ups, the constant Dominion threat, and the constant strain of trying to keep her romance with Edon alive, Kira had been pulled in every direction, having no room to spare for much of anything else.
And Odo was just as busy. He was, after all, the chief of security aboard one the biggest hubs in the quadrant. Busy wasn't even the word for Odo's schedule. Insane was more like it, though Kira had to wonder how much of that was on purpose. The things he'd been through lately made her problems look like insignificant nothings by comparison, and every time she'd checked his booked-solid itinerary, trying to fit herself in somewhere, she'd recognized Odo's need to bury himself in duty. She had understood it, in fact. Channeling their emotions into work was one of the things she and Odo had most in common, and between the two of them, it was amazing they'd managed this night at all.
As the lift stopped at the Promenade, Kira's smile returned. Her destination was in her sights. She bounced off the lift, rushing forward, unreasonably happy over the sight of blast doors. The Major had to laugh at herself as she drew closer to them. During her resistance years, she'd avoided places like the security office avidly. Now, she was practically running toward a police station. Then again, it wasn't the office itself she liked. It was the company.
Kira crossed the threshold and found Odo still working. He was leaning on the edge of his desk and pouring over a data PADD with one of his deputies. Odo lifted his head at her entry, expression set rigidly in security chief mode.
“If you'll have a seat, Major, I'll be with you shortly.”
“Of course,” Kira replied, taking her cue from his tone. She did her best to wipe the smile off her face. “No rush.”
Kira plopped unceremoniously in what she thought of as her chair and contemplated her friend as she watched him work. She admired Odo in so many ways, but it had grown to near hero-worship in these last few months. Though his face, his body, were still the same, under the surface Kira knew the Founders had altered him greatly. She followed the tracery of veins on Odo's hands, at his temples, pulsing with his newly acquired heartbeat. She noticed the slight color on his cheeks, the way he subconsciously rubbed the back of his neck to ease the tension there, one of the most humanoid gestures she'd ever seen him make. His chest moved as he talked with the deputy, rising and falling with the rhythm of his lungs. Before his change, Odo had told her his breathing was only an illusion, another tactic he used to blend better with the solids he was forced to live with. Now, she knew, breathing was as essential to him as it was to any solid.
The Founders had made Odo Human as a punishment, and it was harsh, but seeing as how Kira was humanoid herself, she could think of worse things that could happen to someone. Still, she couldn't imagine what kind of hell that had been, to wake up to such a different form of existence. Even with everything he'd faced, Odo hadn't missed a step in his duties. Anyone would have understood it if he had, but so far, security still ran like the perfect machine he'd built it to be. Kira had to marvel yet again at the inner strength of her best friend.
Odo and the deputy wrapped it up, and Odo dismissed him. He waited until the deputy was gone before he spoke. “Major, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting.”
Kira rolled her eyes. Odo always called her Major, no matter how often she told him not to. Why he couldn't call her by her given name she had no idea, seeing as how he had been her father confessor for the last few years. He knew way too much about her to stick to constant formalities. "No need to apologize, Constable.” She placed the lightest inflection on that last word and was amused by the slight shift of his shoulders that said he'd heard it. He hated that nickname. “Besides, I know how it is."
"Just the same, I do apologize," Odo replied. He started shutting down monitors, closing the security office for the night. "So where are we going?"
Kira rose and followed Odo out of security. "I thought we'd get a bite to eat first. I'm starving. I also wanted to do a little shopping, maybe walk the Promenade. Would that be alright?"
"If you don't mind, Major, I'd like to get away from here. The Promenade's been a madhouse all day. And could we stop by my quarters first? If you're going out of uniform, so will I." He gestured toward the tunic and pants she wore. They were made of purple silk, the cut of the garments easy, airy, but still well tailored. “You look very nice, by the way, Major.”
“Thanks,” she smiled. “Dax got this outfit for me on her last vacation. This is the first time I've been out without the baby bump, and I finally got a chance to wear it.”
Odo's gaze softened as it traveled over her silk-clad form. "Dax chose well. The color suits you."
Kira tucked her chin to her chest, blushing. Odo's gaze made her uncomfortable, but in a warm, fuzzy sort of way. "Actually,” she said, changing the subject, “since you mentioned it, away from the Promenade might be nice. How about we try the Terran restaurant at the Alcove?”
Odo nodded firmly in agreement. “That would be perfect, Major.”
They headed toward the turbolift, and on to Odo's quarters.
Odo punched his access code into the panel, and the door to his quarters slid open. “Make yourself comfortable, Major. I'll be quick,” he said and headed off in the direction of the bedroom.
Kira smiled as she watched him go. Likely, she was the only person in the universe who would receive such an open invitation from her intensely private friend. Sliding her hands in her pockets, she took Odo up on his offer. She made a casual stroll about the room, admiring the things displayed in his quarters. Odo had taste in art that belied the hard-hearted, dour facade he presented the rest of the station, and it was something Kira had always admired. She was one of the few who had been allowed to peruse his little museum though she hadn't been here for some time. The large central sculpture was gone, and she noted, replaced by standard-issue furniture, but there was much of his collection still on display. There was, however, one key piece Kira was missing.
Kira had a favorite among Odo'a collection, a rare and valuable item Odo had acquired during a bust of a smuggler's ship. It was a plant of all things, something Kira knew she should stay far away from if it was to be spared her black thumb. This plant, though, was different, cultivated as an object d'art by the people of Devrie. At first appearance, the plant looked to be a sculpture carved from white stone, cold to the touch, it's ivy-like leaves elegant and sepulchral. Odo had explained to her that it was indeed alive, requiring regular light and water, and when properly cared for, could live for around two hundred years. Since Devrie was two sectors away, and there was little traffic between the planet and the station, the authorities of Devrie had gifted the plant to its rescuer.
Kira was still scanning for her plant, hoping he hadn't gotten rid of it, when Odo emerged from the bedroom. "Ready?" he asked. Her head swiveled at the sound of his voice, and the plant was quickly forgotten.
Odo had changed into black pants, a black shirt, and was shrugging into a jacket as he walked into the living space. Kira centered her attention on her friend, contemplating how different he looked out of uniform. His long legs looked even longer in black, and the cut of his jacket enhanced his lean frame. Garak's tailoring there, she was sure. His shoulders looked stronger, more defined, and as always, his eyes had a unique appeal all their own. The black set the blue of Odo's eyes off far better than the earth color of his uniform. It was all definitely different than what Kira was used to. She was trying to put her finger on what she liked so much when she heard a slight cough.
"Major?" Odo asked, concern knitting his brow. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," Kira replied. Her mouth was hanging open. She snapped it shut. "Sorry, I...I Just spaced out for a moment."
Odo looked down at himself doubtfully. "Is it the way I'm dressed? Did I get it wrong?"
"Oh, no, Odo," she said, "not at all. You look..." And then the word Kira wanted hit her like a punch. Her friend the ex-Changeling was sexy in this black suit.
Odo's expression grew nervous as he waited for her to finish her sentence. She couldn't find a word to replace “sexy,” a word that was appropriate between colleagues, a word that wouldn't send her sensitive friend running in fear from his own quarters. The more she looked at Odo, searching for inspiration, the worse it got, her body growing uncomfortably heated as her brain locked on that dangerous adjective, and repeated it.
"You look great!" Kira squeaked.
"Yes," she assured him, hoping the relief she felt wasn't showing on her face. Kira rushed for the door, the need to get out of Odo's quarters and get her feelings on a more level plane spurring her to action. "Let's eat! I'm so hungry I think I could eat half a tarkherg by myself."
"Well, Major," Odo quipped, "if we're going to a Terran restaurant, I doubt tarkherg is on the menu. But after you."
The restaurant Kira had chosen was tucked away in a section of the station that had been recently renovated. During the Occupation, it had housed the offices of the Cardassian civilian leaders assigned to the Bajoran system. Starfleet had yet to make real use the section, so the Bajoran government had ordered the renovations, hoping to increase the station's commerce potential. To make it more appealing, and give it distinction from the Promenade, the designers had called this new space "The Alcove." Kira thought it sounded silly but still admired the views.
She looked out the viewing port by their table, her thoughts content but indistinct after a well-enjoyed meal. She had tried an Earth dish called Chicken Marsala, a white wine that was dry and not too sweet, and another Earth specialty called pasta. In her head, Kira was drowsily covering pasta with hasperat and wondering how it would taste when Odo spoke.
"Major, if you're finished, I thought we could take a stroll. You said you wanted to see the shops, and they'll be closing soon. They keep earlier hours here than on the Promenade."
"I'm finished," she replied, taking the napkin from her lap and depositing it over her plate. She and Odo rose in sync with an Earth couple from the next table. Kira and Odo watched as the woman hooked her arm through the man's, and he guided her out of the restaurant.
Odo looked at Kira, shrugged his shoulders, and offered his arm. “When in Rome...”
With a smile, Kira hooked her arm through his as she'd seen the Human woman do, allowing Odo to escort her from the table. She stifled a giggle at both the out-of-character gesture, and at the bubble of nerves that set butterflies buzzing around her stomach. Odo had always been so cautious about touching her, despite their close friendship. As his warm hand enveloped hers, she wondered what was different tonight, and decided it must be the wine. Kira also decided she should buy the Constable a glass more often.
Odo still had gorgeous hands, Kira thought, as she looked down at the large palm covering hers. Thank the Prophets the Founders had left those alone, at least. Her thoughts became warmer as she admired his long fingers, square-tipped and elegant. There was a slight callousing on his palm that spoke of work but not hard labor, a roughness that she knew wouldn't have been there if he were still a Changeling. As Odo deftly guided her out of the restaurant, she mentally moved his hand to her shoulder, covering it companionably, or maybe to rest at her waist, sitting on the curve of her hip. She imagined the roughness of his palm rasping over the smooth skin of her back, thought about those strong fingers massaging her neck, or maybe those long fingers stroking her-
Prophets, Nerys, what is wrong with you?
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to blot out the image of Odo's hands, and their possibilities. Dr. Bashir had pronounced her fully fit last week. All traces of the human hormones she'd been bombarded with during her pregnancy were supposedly gone, but maybe there were a few delirious particles still floating around her system. These kinds of thoughts did not belong to a friend.
As soon as Kira opened her eyes, they betrayed her by going right back to Odo's hands. Her stomach did flips flops, her meal suddenly not resting as pleasantly. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
The exhale caught Odo's attention. “Are you alright, Major? You look flushed.”
“Just the wine I think. I'm fine.”
Kira was in knots as Odo searched her expression. He was obviously dubious, but finally, much to Kira's relief, all he said was, “If you say so, Major,” and walked her onto the square.
There were a few shops in the Alcove Kira recognized from the Promenade. The clothier and the jeweler were some of the station's first merchants, hailing back before the end of the Occupation. The Bajoran tea shop had moved here as well. Kira was quite fond of the rose hip-ginger blend the owner made and decided she deserved a treat. The tea merchant also had a better gossip net than Dax. Chatting with the old busybody might calm Kira's jangled nerves, and her still-heated blood.
Odo waited patiently as Kira selected her tea, occasionally feigning interest in some of the merchandise. He pretended not to listen as the women caught up on the latest rumors over a cup of tea. Kira might have worried Odo was bored but knew he liked a juicy bit of gossip as much as anyone even if he'd never admit it. She made sure to pitch her voice loud enough for him to hear.
Eventually, they left the tea shop. Odo walked casually beside her, his hands in his pockets this time. Kira caught herself thinking about the walk from the restaurant again, and found that gossip and tea hadn't helped any. Kira had enjoyed leaning on Odo when he took her arm, feeling his strength, his warmth. The contact had chased away some of the loneliness she had been feeling lately, and she wondered if there was a subtle way to put herself back at his side. Kira knew, though, that Odo would see through any contrivance on her part, so she resolved herself to a more aseptic -and appropriate- place, a couple of paces away.
There were many artists shops here, only about half of them Bjoran. She counted six different races in all. As she and Odo window shopped, and made light conversation, Kira was struck with how much the station was changing, evolving every day, most times faster than she could keep up with. It was a vastly different place from the time when it belonged to the Cardassians. Back then, it had been a dismal ore processing facility, filled with misery and oppression. Now it was fast becoming the center of commerce, of government and progress, for the entire quadrant.
And here was Kira Nerys, running the place, the station's security chief at her side, specially blended tea in her shopping bag, wearing Betazoid silk and looking at Bolian art. Quite a change from running scared and hungry through her resistance years. Not once could Kira have imagined this would be her life, and she took a moment to silently thank the Prophets for all they had given her.
They had finished browsing the shops except one, set apart at the end. Kira walked toward the door, Odo following, and read the plaque. 'Ceqrian, Perfumer' was embossed on the metal plate in clear, plain lettering.
The Major stared down at the plaque, frowning. A perfumer's shop wasn't her idea of fun, exactly. Her life in uniform left little room for frills, and she couldn't imagine Odo in such a place. She was also concerned that he might be tired of her company. Odo wasn't the most social person she knew. This kind of evening was not his cup of tea, yet it seemed he had fallen into a rare ease with her tonight. The constable was more relaxed than she'd seen him in weeks. It was as if he had found something he had been missing, and the content she read in his softened expression and easy posture suggested he was happy enough. Besides, the idea of going back to her empty quarters didn't hold much appeal at the moment.
"Kira," Odo asked, "did you want to go in?"
“What do you think?” she asked. “It's late; I don't want to keep you. If you had other plans...”
“No, Major. No other plans.”
“Well, then,” she said briskly, hoping her tone hid the happy leap her heart made. “Let's go.”
They stepped forward and entered the perfumer's shop.
Inside, the perfumer's shop was wall-to-wall with stacked shelves, holding all sorts of bottles, vials, and pots in every conceivable shape and color, as Kira had expected. Kira had also expected to be overwhelmed by fragrance but got only the barest hint of floral essence. By the ceiling, the proprietor had added a series of hanging orbs to the space that glowed with a soft yellow light, reminding Kira of tiny suns. She wondered at the trick used to hang them so it seemed they were floating on their own. They gave off a bit of heat, too, chasing away some of the constant cold. The walls were the usual dull metal the rest of the station was built with but were hung with tapestries of natural scenes from a world she didn't know. They relieved the drabness, giving the room a tastefully exotic feel.
She looked over at Odo and smiled as she watched him study the tapestries. He tilted his head in that way he had, from side to side, studying a particular one carefully. Kira was about to ask him what he found so fascinating when a voice from behind got her attention.
“Welcome, friends. May I be of service?”
Kira and Odo both turned to the melodious voice. A tall, violet-skinned alien stood before them. It appeared humanoid, having two arms and two legs, and only one head, but was from no species Kira recognized. She couldn't decide if it was male or female, shrouded as it was in voluminous robes. The voice hadn't helped any, either. She decided to accept the alien as neither and both until other information became available. Besides, not every species had a gender. Or had only two.
"Good evening," Kira replied, finding her voice. "We were just browsing. This is your shop?” The alien dipped its head in acquiescence. “I don't think I've met you before. You must be new to the station."
"Indeed, I arrived here most recently," the alien replied. "I am Ceqrian, from the planet Virin. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Major Kira, and you as well, Security Chief Odo." The alien bowed slightly in turn to each of them.
“You know who we are?” Odo asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Of course," the alien replied. "You are both well-known figures aboard this station."
Odo and Kira looked askance at each other, chagrined. Neither of them was comfortable with such easy recognition. Over the years, they had both tried to ignore the fact that their positions brought them a certain local celebrity, but still, it came up from time to time. Living on the station would make it hard not to know who the senior staff members were.
Odo cleared his throat, looking back to Ceqrian. "Virin, you say? I've never heard of it.”
"Likely not, Odo. May I call you Odo?" Odo grunted his affirmation. "My homeworld is in the Gamma Quadrant, and my species does not travel off-world often.”
The mention of anything Gamma Quadrant always caught Odo's attention. Curiosity replaced his wariness. "So what brings you to the station?" he asked, leaning an elbow on a display counter as Ceqrian moved behind it.
"Trade, of course," Ceqrian replied. "There are whole new galaxies of planets to trade with, now that we know of the passage- the wormhole, as you call it. My people decided it would be best if there were a first-hand observation of the Alpha Quadrant. It has been long indeed since such rich opportunity for new knowledge has come to us, and I am here to collect as much as I can."
“Sounds like an adventure," Kira said, smiling. She liked this alien, she didn't know why. The Major didn't usually take to new people, and Odo was worse than she was, but he seemed to share her opinion of Ceqrian. He was all ears as he listened to the alien's answer.
"Indeed, I volunteered for this, Major," Ceqrian said. "I am unusual for a member of my race in that I do not fear to travel. I am, as they say, a bit of a rebel." With this, Ceqrian gave her a conspicuous wink. The gesture was so Human, Kira couldn't help but laugh. This one learned fast.
"Now," Ceqrian said, tone changing to that of business-minded merchant, "I find myself with the rare occurrence of having two of the station's most prominent figures in my humble shop. I would be remiss if I did not take advantage of the opportunity. May I share with you some of the rare goods my planet has to offer? I think you will find the demonstration most pleasing."
Kira looked at Odo and raised a brow in inquiry. He nodded once, and Kira answered for them both.
"We would be delighted, Ceqrian," Kira said.
"Ah, wonderful!" Ceqrian exclaimed. "Let me mention, once again, this is a humble shop. What I have here is a mere sliver of what my people can create, using local essences from our own world, but also importing others from off-world. With new discoveries for my people here in the Alpha Quadrant, the possibilities are nearly endless, and the applications just as endless. It's an exciting time for Virin."
"Applications?" Odo asked. He and Kira watched as Ceqrian pulled various bottles and vials from under the counter, placing them on top. "What do you mean? Isn't fragrance for wearing, or freshening a room? What other applications are there?"
"Oh, many applications, Odo,” the alien assured. "The olfactory sense for most races is a powerful instrument, tying directly to emotion, memory, even basic survival instinct. On Virin, it is all. We possess the strongest sense of smell among the known sentient species, so naturally we have built our entire civilization on the study of this sense. Everything from worship to weaponry, from education to entertainment, relies on it.”
"Weapons, you say. Are you a warrior people, then?” Odo asked.
“We were, long ago. My people were once divided by nations, all looking to outdo each other, using our gifts to conquer and control. Virins united in common cause when we let go of those pursuits, devoting all of our energies to common good. We became as we are today, a single-minded race, with almost no conflict among us. The Virin revolution was more than twenty thousand years ago, and we have enjoyed peaceful coexistence on my planet since that time.”
"Humph," Odo grumbled. "Sounds too good to be true."
"Yes, Odo, but true it is," Ceqrian replied. "The revolution was brought about when we became warp capable. As we encountered new races, we realized we were a unique species. None were as responsive to scent as we were, and we had difficulty communicating with outsiders. We came to understand that we were special, our society precious. We had to retreat in secrecy to preserve our way of life."
The merchant ducked under the counter, muttering and searching for something elusive. "Aha!" Ceqrian said, rising and setting out an especially ornate bottle, its contents iridescent and mysterious. Kira found herself lost in a swirl of colors, gazing raptly at the ever-shifting hues inside. "This is special. I most definitely want to show this one."
Kira watched the silvery fluid, her mind going back over what Ceqrian had said, and a question bubbled up. "Ceqrian, if your race is so secretive, why are you so open with your history? You seem pretty easy with Odo and me, and you don't know us."
"Ah, well," Ceqrian said, "normally my people are not so loquacious about our planet and its idiosyncrasies. We have even avoided the long eye of the Dominion thanks to our quiet habits. You two, however, can be trusted."
"How do you know that?” Odo countered. “You just met us tonight.”
"By your scents, of course. Both of you have amazing scents. Honest, and worthy of trust. I smell very little deception in either of you, especially for humanoids."
Kira raised a skeptical brow. "You can tell character traits by how we smell?"
"Yes, Major. The Virinian sense of smell is, as I said, extremely sensitive. You may equate it more locally with the Betazoid sense of telepathy. For instance, Major, I can scent that you are forthright and hardworking.” Ceqrian leaned closer, inhaling deeply. The alien pressed a hand to its breast, smiling broadly at her. “Passion, Major, an exhilarating base note. I also get faith, deep and pure...You are obviously lovely and clearly intelligent, yet I get no conceit or arrogance. Actually, there's a hint of self-deprecation, likely from a rather conservative heart note. I do detect a fair amount of pride, though, and blended with the passion, I would say you grow especially impatient and temperamental, dangerous even when crossed.”
Kira's eyes widened at the intimacy of all Ceqrian had said. She felt exposed, her ears and cheeks burning. Odo seemed to take smug delight in her discomfort.
“Well, Kira, I'd say that's pretty accurate,” he quipped, raising a brow.
Turning the tables, Ceqrian moved away from Kira and closer to Odo. “Well, we must be fair, Odo, and scrutinize your scent as well. We wouldn't want to be rude to the Major.” It took a deep inhale. “Your base note, sir, is order. No surprise there, and rather cool, but tempered by kindness... Ethical and fair, sometimes to a fault, creating a tendency to be judgmental...And such patience. Calculating, analytical, and unwavering restraint. Most disciplined you are, Odo. There's something else, though...” The alien inhaled again, third nostril whirring softly, brow drawn as it searched Odo for something that was eluding it.
Ceqiran held out a six-fingered hand. "May I?" Odo reluctantly conceded, giving Ceqrian his arm. Ceqrian brought Odo's wrist closer and inhaled, silver eyes closed in concentration.
“Ah, I have it now,” Ceqrian said, releasing Odo. "Well balanced throughout the bouquet, and not as spicy as the Major, but just as strong. No wonder I didn't get it right away. You guard your passion most carefully, Odo.”
Kira's mouth lifted in a one-sided grin. "Well, Odo, I'd say that's pretty accurate."
Odo blushed to the roots of his hair.
"Your veru scent, your 'together' scent, tells me you are quite compatible, promising a happy life together," Ceqrian noted.
"Well, the Constable and I have been friends for years," Kira added, thinking that was what the Virinian was catching.
"Oh?" the alien replied. "I thought I picked up scents of a more... intimate nature."
"Intimate?" Kira covered her alarm with a laugh. He could smell that, too? "The Constable and I are friends, not lovers."
Odo was staring at something that didn't exist behind Ceqrian, his skin flushed an even deeper shade of red.
A quirk of a thin, white brow disclosed Ceqrian's amusement. "I see," Ceqrian said. "My mistake, I do apologize." The alien bowed low over its pressed-together hands. "I did not mean to make you uncomfortable...So!” the alien said, sweeping an arm over the selection of merchandise before them. "Shall we begin the demonstration?"
Kira let Odo choose first. He hovered over the counter, scanning each selection, carefully considering the numerous vials and pots Ceqrian had laid out. He was taking his time about it, and the impatience Ceqrian had labeled Kira with got the better of her.
"Oh, Odo, pick already!" she blurted, heaving an exasperated sigh.
"Alright, Major,” he returned, shooting her a look. He turned to Ceqrian. "This one." He pointed at a nondescript, deep blue bottle.
Ceqrian picked it up, and with the showy air of a salesman, unstopped it. "A nice choice. This formula is one of our oldest, traditional and simple, from a time where our skills were not so advanced. This fragrance can be found in any household on Virin." He offered the stopper first to Kira, then Odo, passing it just under their noses so they could get the scent. It was a spicy floral, feminine and sensual, but not too heavy. Lovely, Kira thought, and obviously blended by masters, but not amazingly special as she had anticipated.
Kira chose next. She picked a bottle with an elongated neck and a full bottom, made of an opaque, green glass. They repeated the sampling process, and it turned out she had selected a woody citrus fragrance, another staple of the Virin people. Again masterful, but not mind-blowing. She was starting to wonder if all Ceqrian's talk was more boast than fact.
Odo chose once more, picking a dusky gold pot with a silver lid. Ceqrian clapping and smiling with delight. "Ah, this is going to be wonderful! I'm so glad you selected this!"
Ceqrian pulled two spoons from below the counter and scooped a small amount of something that looked like unfiltered honey from the pot. Ceqrian offered one to each of them, saying, "From a time much later, when our arts were more sophisticated. Place the blend on the tongue, and allow it to rest there, breathing through the nose to get the full experience."
Kira complied, a little dubious of tasting perfume. She put the spoon in her mouth and let the thick substance rest on her tongue. It melted slowly in her mouth, intensely sweet. As she breathed through her nose, she began to smell meadow flowers, also sweet. It was amazing, like tasting and smelling summer at the same time.
"Close your eyes, Major," Ceqrian advised.
As soon as she did, Kira could see a meadow in her mind's eye, captured in a perfect sunny day. She had never seen a meadow like this, its flowers gorgeous and profuse but entirely unfamiliar, and somehow she knew she was seeing Virin. The sky was more green than blue. High-piled clouds floated slowly overhead, and twin suns blazed brightly as a gentle breeze tossed the trees. Kira caught the scent of far-off rain on a warm wind and thought it would be just fine if she was left to stay in this meadow forever.
"Major," Ceqrian said gently. Kira's eyes fluttered open. She was dropped back in the shop, on her very gray, very cold space station. A touch of sadness hit her at the switch back to reality, the sweetness on her tongue fading. She looked at Odo and saw the same emotions reflected in his blue eyes. He had been just as affected.
"Would you allow me to select this time, friends?" Ceqrian asked. They both agreed, Kira relieved she didn't have to choose. The last selection had been an intense experience, and she was almost afraid of what might come next.
Ceqrian showed them many more blends, with effects that ranged as much as the scents. There were practical fragrances, ones for calming a fussy child, or for soothing the sick. There were formulas that cleared and centered the pagh, ones that triggered desires to sing, to dance, and create. Others were more serious, a studious blend enhancing Odo's already impressive math skills. A strong scent meant to motivate made Kira so confident, she felt as if she could stride out of the shop and take over the quadrant all by herself.
Ceqrian occasionally offered them a waft from a plain bottle. The alien called it selva, explaining it would cleanse their pallets so they could continue sampling. Each fragrance they tried was unique, and everything they tested had an effect on them no regular perfume could. Kira lost all track of time. Overall, she couldn't remember when she had enjoyed herself this much, and found herself glad Odo was with her to experience it.
"Ah, my friends," Ceqrian said at last, "we have reached the end of the demonstration. The hour grows late, and I am hesitant to show too much in one night. There is one more item, however, I think the two of you must try. I feel happy you chose my shop this evening and have delighted in your company. I want to share something special before you go." Ceqrian reverently selected the bottle of iridescent fluid that had caught Kira's eye earlier. “It is most important to my people.”
Odo and Kira leaned in to look closer. The liquid seemed alive, coiling and whirling inside its bottle. “What is it?” she asked.
"It is called The Diod. We originally developed it to help us when meeting new races. It enhances the sense of smell to the point of being nearly as strong as a Virinian's. It was intended to allow others to smell the universe the way we do, and to help bring about peaceful relations. We found, however, that there were few willing to try the elixir, and even less willing to trust their own noses. Now, we use it rarely. When applied for personal use, the Diod can solidify the bonds in any kind of partnership, but is most effective in healing lover's rifts, or growing a friendship. It is impossible to hide deep emotion from the other party when the bond is made.”
"And what would the Major and I get out of something like this?" Odo asked. "There is already honesty between us. Kira and I are friends, as we have always been, and I can't see any elixir changing that.”
Ceqrian raised a knowing brow at Odo, and held his gaze. The Constable squirmed under the scrutiny and looked away. Kira looked between them both, confused.
“Yes, Mr. Odo, good friends, as you say,” the alien said, smiling mysteriously. “I share this offer with you and the Major because it can enhance that friendship. You will need your bond at its strongest against the tide that threatens to rise over this station."
Odo crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, that's rather ominous, Ceqrian. I suppose now you can see the future.”
"Ah, no, Odo. I claim no powers of prescience. One only need check the newswires, listen to the gossip in public places, watch the activities of those in power to know that war with the Dominion is coming. It is coming here, my friends, as much as you may hope against it. You are both in pivotal positions that must meet the wave as it crashes over this quadrant. I tell you nothing you do not know already. It is also no secret that you are both of sufficient personal interest to the Founders to be in danger. A strengthened bond may be critical to your very lives in the coming years. I offer this opportunity in the spirit of friendship, and in the hope that even this small gesture may help throw back the Dominion."
"Huh!” Odo huffed. “You are awfully well informed for an alien from a xenophobic planet in another quadrant. What is the real reason you're here, Ceqrian? Who has been giving you information about us? Is it chance you happened to see us today or was this somehow arranged?"
Odo was moving to investigator mode, his posture and tone interrogative, threatening. All of this was testing his limits, and Kira was trying to decide if she needed to get him out of Ceqrian's shop before one of them ended up in holding.
"My friend, please," Ceqrian said, Ceqrian's hands held out in a universal gesture of yielding. "I have only the best intentions. Please, calm yourself, Mr. Odo, and accept my offer as it was meant- a gift." Ceqrian gave Odo a deep bow.
Kira was amazed to see her Constable stand down, his posture relaxing, the ire that threatened to ruin this night diminishing from his eyes. She noted, though, that Ceqrian hadn't answered Odo's questions, smoothly evading them behind the apologies.
Ceqrian turned to Kira. "Please, Major. Will you try it? Will you try the Diod with the Constable?"
Kira looked to Odo. Doubt and discomfort over this proposal were written plainly on his face, his tension set there in grim, stark lines. She understood his feelings. What Ceqrian proposed was daring, and frankly, reckless. What if complete truth was too much for them to handle, and she lost her friend instead of becoming closer? There was a reason you didn't tell someone everything. Yet, she also knew Ceqrian was right. There was something not acknowledged between them. Odo had been her constant companion all these years, her faith in him second only to her faith in the Prophets. Odo seemed to value her just as much, but ever there was a reluctance, a hesitance in him. The minute she thought she was close to figuring it out, he sensed it, and distanced himself from her, and the wall had to be breached all over again.
Still, Odo was the only being in the galaxy Kira would have chosen to do something this vulnerable with. She trusted him with her life. Did he, though, trust her as much? Suddenly she saw what Ceqrian had been trying to tell them, and knew she wanted to do this.
"Odo," Kira said softly, "look at me." He stared over her shoulder, looking blankly ahead. Kira tried again. “Odo, please.”
At her plea, he sighed, letting go of his tension. She locked her eyes with his, searching their depths. "I know it makes no sense, but I think we can trust Ceqrian. I know I trust you. I think we need to do this." It was his turn to look straight into her, through the warm softness of her gaze, and, she felt, right at her pagh. She read his assent before he voiced it.
"All right, Major. If it's that important to you, I'll try."
Ceqrian seated Odo and Kira in two soft armchairs, facing one another. They were close enough that their knees brushed, the frisson setting Kira's butterflies off again. The alien had also dimmed the overhead lights, moving the golden orbs together in a circle over their heads, so only their light remained. They shed a soft halo over the pair, casting anything beyond their reach into unreadable darkness. It created an atmosphere of intimacy, like a fireside glow on a dark, cool night, perfect for deep discussions.
Or making love...
Kira could have cheerfully phasered herself for that thought.
Ceqrian approached, carrying the bottle of elixir. "Please, Odo, turn your wrist upward and rest your arm on the chair."
Odo did as he was bid. Kira watched as Cequrian carefully removed the stopper from the bottle, the end covered with the precious liquid, and dripped some on Odo's wrist. It landed exactly on Odo's pulse-point, settling over his veins and onto his skin like a bit of starlight.
“Major, if you would, turn this wrist up to me," Ceqrian repeated the process, placing a shimmery drop on Kira's wrist. "And if you will excuse my touch." Ceqrian picked up Kira's arm and guided it across to Odo's, carefully aligning their wrists so that the drops of elixir met, leaving her hand to rest on Odo's forearm.
Kira felt Odo's warm hand clasping her arm, felt the rhythm of their hearts beating counterpoint at the place where their wrists joined. An anticipatory tingle raced up her arm with each little pulse, electric and faintly erotic. Maybe this wasn't so hot of an idea. She was beginning to regret dragging Odo into this. He looked uncertain as their eyes met, squirming in his chair. She managed a thin smile for him, hoping it looked something like reassurance.
Holding a spooned fingertip over the bottle's mouth, Ceqrian tipped it, and with a "Pardon me," ran a line of the stuff from the base of Kira's nose, down the hollow above her lip. She felt it tickle, then burn, then...nothing. Ceqrian did the same for Odo, and she watched, fascinated, as the elixir evaporated into a silvery vapor that traveled into his nostrils, leaving no trace of itself behind.
“This is the final step,” Ceqrian said from behind her.
Kira started as a black cloth fluttered over her field of vision, blocking Odo's face. This she definitely wasn't comfortable with. Her heart picked up its pace, tripping quickly under her ribs, but she willed herself to calm. Odo was right there, under her fingertips. There was no reason to panic. Ceqrian tied off the blindfold, and she heard the alien move away to do the same for Odo.
As Kira calmed and adjusted to the dark, the Diod began to take effect. Her head spun sickly, and she breathed against the nauseous roll of her stomach. The dizziness faded as quickly as it had come, replaced by an odd sensation that pressed inside her skull. The Diod had opened a place in her head, a place she somehow knew had been there all along. It was hers, this new place, but not hers, a part of her brain Bajoran evolution had left dead but the Diod had awoken.
Kira inhaled deeply, instinctively, flexing her olfactory sense's new muscles. The silk of her clothes, the soap she favored on her skin, the slight traces of wine from her dinner were there. She pushed passed herself, scented the carpet beneath her, the paint, the room in general, all of which would have been normal. But her new ability also told her the carpet was Idanian wool, replicated, and not more than a week old. There was a sting of chemicals in the air, and Kira recognized the sanitizer that mixed with the station's life support systems. She should never have been able to detect it as it was designed to be odorless when diluted, and until this moment, it had been.
Kira was enjoying her analysis of the room when she caught something else, something urgent to her heightened senses. She tilted her head, honing on it, separating it from the other scents as she tried to track its source. The scent was clean, like freshly washed skin and cotton, soothing and safe. She breathed a little deeper, intrigued by this mystery. There were other notes within the scent, ones that were spicy, masculine, and pleasantly strong, and something essential she couldn't quite identify. The faintest hint of musk raised goosebumps on her arms. This scent was very tempting, and her mouth watered a bit. It was also very familiar...
Kira realized with a start that it was Odo. She'd always liked the way he smelled, Changeling or Human, but this...This was on a whole new level. She felt her skin flush and hoped the palm resting on Odo's arm wasn't sweating.
"The bond is fast," Ceqrian said. Kira turned her head blindly to the quiet voice. “Please, each of you tell a deliberate falsehood to gauge the elixir's effect. A lie is a strong trigger for this sort of bond."
Kira went first. "I am the captain of the station," she stated boldly. Odo grunted a sound of disgust.
"Are you alright, Odo?"
"Yes, Major." Kira felt no reaction, so it must be true, but she didn't know for sure.
"And Security Chief, your non-truth, please," Ceqrian prompted.
Odo cleared his throat and shifted in his seat. "I am completely comfortable with this," he said.
Kira scented the lie. It was ugly, rotten, like soured olgla fruit. She stopped her nose and breathed shallowly until the odor passed.
"Very good!" Ceqrian said. "You are ready. Keep your arms clasped to hold the bond. You will know when it is over, and when to let go. I will leave you for a time." Kira heard the plink of clanking crystal and the rustle of robes grow distant as Ceqrian left the room.
"Well, that was interesting," Kira noted after the alien was gone. Ceqrian also had a unique fragrance and the lingering traces of it triggered Kira's first question. "Can you smell me, Odo? I mean really smell me?"
"Yes, Kira, I can," he replied tightly.
"Does it bother you?'" she asked, worried by his tone. She knew she smelled a far cry better than her days in the resistance, but still...
"Not at the moment. When you lied, it was distinctly unpleasant."
"But now it's okay?"
"Yes, you smell...ah...well...good." Kira caught the hint of musk again.
Kira caught the hint of musk again. "You, too, Odo," she replied, grinning. Maybe too good, she thought, her nose's receptors taking in his scent with relish.
"Well, Major," Odo said, "now that we've established we both smell nice, what shall we talk about?"
Kira gritted her teeth. 'Major' again. Bonded as they were and if Ceqrian was to be believed, it seemed a waste of time to make small talk, so Kira got to the point. "For starters, Odo, can you call me Nerys for once? We're the only ones here, and I think it's silly that you constantly use my title, especially in these circumstances."
"I'm sorry, Ma—" Odo caught himself. "Nerys."
"Why do you do that, Odo? Refuse to use my given name, even though I gave you permission ages ago. And be honest. We both know what happens if we aren't."
Odo paused, forming a response. His scent changed slightly, a drift that made her think of rain, and a touch of metallic-something. Fear, her nose told her, the scent sharp and oddly exhilarating. He didn't want to tell her because he was afraid of something.
She had to give Odo credit, though, for matching her frankness. "I didn't have the best time, as you know, in Mora's lab. Yet I...have feelings...for the doctor. Almost like he's my father. The disparity, Nerys, makes it hard for me to open up to others. The formality keeps the distance, so no one gets too close. I don't mean to exclude you, you're not everyone else, I know that, but it's just...difficult for me sometimes, even with you."
Kira's heart hurt for her friend, for the pain of his "childhood". There were rare occasions Odo had spoken of it. Kira had met Dr. Mora two years prior, and he had confessed his treatment of his charge. She believed the doctor when he told her that the experiments had stopped once he realized Odo was sentient, and that he regretted hurting him. But it had taken the doctor far too long to figure it out, and the damage had already been done.
"I'm sorry, Odo. Truly. But you know I care for you, right?"
"Yes, I think so," he replied.
Kira scented the faintest trace of a lie, not as strong as before. She knew then that self-doubt plagued him. He didn't believe her. "Odo," she gently admonished. "I do care for you. I wouldn't have made it through the last few years without you. Will you try to remember that?" She squeezed his bonded arm lightly for emphasis.
"I'll try," he replied. She caught the smile in his balancing scent.
Since Odo was in the mood to talk about himself for once, Kira kept her tactic of directness. She knew her next question was going to be tough, but she asked it anyway. It was something she'd wanted to know for a while. "What about your people, Odo? Do you still want to be with them?"
"No," he replied.
Kira was overcome with rotten fruit. "Odo! The truth, for Prophets sake!"
"I'm sorry, Nerys! It's gotten so automatic, I've tried to convince myself a thousand times...I guess it just came out. I'm sorry."
"Well, now we both know there really is no convincing yourself of a lie. Please," she said, "try again."
Odo sighed, and the smell of rain grew stronger. "It's hard to explain it all to myself, much less anyone else" Odo began. "I wanted to be with my people, to belong, for so long...When we met them the first time, and I experienced the Link, I knew my purpose, knew what it was to be whole. Now that I am a solid, the Link will only be a memory. I have lost that perfection, that peace of being accepted for exactly what I am. I guess I tried to convince myself I didn't want to see them, to help me accept what they had done..."
New smells wafted to her then, a smell she knew to be grief- dark, thick, potent, sticking to her senses like tar. There was another her brain linked to loneliness. It was dusty and dry, like an unused room. The scents together squeezed her heart. She knew Odo had been hiding much from her, from all his friends, about what had been done to him, but she wasn't prepared for the depth of what the Diod revealed to her. The Diod was giving her the chance to know what he felt, as he felt it, as it went through his mind and translated chemically through his body. Kira was more sure than ever that this elixir was dangerous stuff as it bared Odo's conflict to her, raw and open.
“I'm locked in this solid existence, and the Founders are the ones who put me here, knowing exactly what they have done to me, yet I persist in longing for a home that is no longer mine...Pathetic!” Anger infused with the other scents, creating a heavy blend of resentment that stung her nose bitterly. She felt Odo tense, trying to control his emotions. She smelled the war going on within, her enhanced senses catching every change in the phrase of his essence. It was like flipping through music channels.
Kira concentrated as Odo struggled, trying to form the things she felt into words, the right ones that would help him see what she saw. "Odo,” she began, “I know they took something precious from you, and I'm not going to insult you by pretending I understand. I don't, not completely. But this-this flesh-" She shook his bonded arm at the word. “-is not you. You are more than that. The station is your home, too. A home you once chose over your people because they threatened it. Sisko, Dax, O'Brien, even Quark accepted you when you came back changed, knowing that being Human instead of Changeling didn't change your pagh. They are the ones who have stood by you when your people couldn't...Doesn't that count for something?”
"Nerys, of course it does. Why do you think I haven't run screaming out an airlock? You, and the others, have seen me through this just by being yourselves, by letting me be me, without labels. It's just such a fundamental change...It's like that time the Cardassians tried to convince you that you were one of them by having you surgically altered. You told me you knew it was a lie, that in your heart you were Bajoran, and they couldn't take that from you no matter how hard they tried.”
“I think I get it... Your saying even though you're Human now, part of you is still a Changeling.”
“Yes, and it's a part that will never be anything else...It doesn't integrate well, Nerys. My own being chafes at itself.”
“You need to give it time, Odo. You'll adjust.”
“Maybe. But right now, it doesn't feel that way...I'm sorry, Nerys, I don't mean to put all this on you, I guess I just...I don't know...”
Kira focused elsewhere as Odo pondered, giving him some privacy from her new nose. As soon as she stopped focusing on Odo, the scents of the room piled back on her in a jumble. The Major challenged herself to use her borrowed ability to sort the chaos, and separated a compelling scent from the rest, its pleasurable distraction tantalizing her nose sinfully. It was chocolate, decadent and rich, her mouth watering as her nose broke down the milk, sugar, and cocoa used to make it. The chocolate shop was three doors down from Ceqrian's. She should never have been able to track the aroma from that far, much less detect the secret dash of cinnamon the confectioner added to his formula. This elixir stuff was growing on her.
Odo stirred, bringing her focus back to him. She heard him draw breath to speak, then sigh it out, hesitant.
"Nerys, I wanted to ask you..."
“Go ahead, Odo. Ask your question. It's fair enough; I've asked two so far."
"Well," he said, "I've- I've thought about your surrogacy, and its effect on you quite often. I've...worried about you. Are you...recovered from your experience?”
"Yes, I think so," she replied.
Odo whooshed out. "That, Major, was not the truth."
"Oh, Odo, I'm sorry,” she giggled and squeezed his arm in sympathy. "I guess that was my automatic response. I must not really know the answer. I admit, I haven't been able to sort out my feelings since having the baby. I loved carrying that little life inside of me, even with all the sneezing, and I always thought I would have my own someday, but..."
Kira trailed off, trying to frame her thoughts and explain all that had tangled her in the mixed emotions she'd suffered since giving birth. The mirth she felt at Odo's discomfort dissolved completely as her thoughts darkened, her brow drawing down as a memory rose unbidden to the surface.
I remember they were all so dirty, and so thin, and the crying made me angry because it never seemed to stop....
Odo's thumb made soft circles on the top of her arm. “Nerys, what is it? I can scent the grief. What's troubling you?”
"Odo there are things I never told you, never told anyone,” she began hesitantly, voice already tightening with tears. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I never told you because I never wanted to talk about it. I thought I put it behind me, but living with the O'Briens, carrying the baby, made it all come back...”
“Go on,” he encouraged.
“You know I spent my childhood in a refugee camp.”
“Yes, it's in your file.”
“Those camps were nothing but suffering and death. Whole families were lost in those places. Most children under twelve didn't survive internment more than a year...So many children lost, Odo. They starved or died of simple infections, they died of hypothermia, of heat stroke, perfectly preventable causes. We were always packed in too tightly, there was never enough food, there was never enough water...
"The nights were the worst, lying in the dark, listening to the sounds all around me of people dying. Their groans, their screams, their rattles. Sometimes I would keep myself awake the entire night. Being a child, I thought that if I didn't go to sleep, if I didn't close my eyes, I couldn't die..." Kira broke off a bitter laugh and shuddered. "Isn't that silly?"
Odo gripped her arm tightly. “Nerys, I don't need the elixir to know how frightened you are. We can stop this. We don't need to talk about it.”
“No, Odo, I do need to. I should have let this out a long time ago.” She heaved a breath and steeled herself against her fear, Odo's grip on her bonded arm lending her strength. “Each morning the Cardassians would have workers remove the corpses of those who had died in the night. They hauled the dead off like garbage, Odo. Like they weren't even people. I would watch them drag the bodies away each day from a spot I had on a hill, and I could pick out the smallest ones...At some point, I made a game out of trying to count how many babies there were, my child's mind trying to make some sense out of it all. I sat there and counted dead children every day, and I became a dead child myself..."
Kira heard the wince of sympathy in Odo's voice, scented his pain, and it gave her tears permission to flow. They streamed from her eyes, absorbing into the blindfold. Kira tried to speak, to tell Odo what she was reliving as the Diod enhanced her recall of those camp years to horrifying clarity. Bajorans weren't meant for this ability, this scent memory. There was the reek of oily cook fires, the filth of people in close quarters, the rusted metal that reminded her of blood. There were smells of sickness and death and rot, things her mind had blocked but the elixir renewed. It was like she was standing in the muddy streets of the camp all over again, shivering in the cold and begging the Prophets for salvation.
The images were too strong, the recall too sharp, with the added layer of scent. A whimper broke from her, and Kira clapped a hand over her mouth. She tried to stop the flood of grief that threatened to pour from her throat. She struggled to control it, send it back, but it was too late. It escaped in huge sobs that hurt her stomach and stole her air.
"Shh, Nerys," Odo whispered, drawing her close with his free arm, careful of their bond. As he drew her close, his scent became a soothing balm, banishing those other smells back to her past. "Easy, easy..." She didn't resist what he offered, laying her head against the solid wall of his chest, letting her anguish flow freely. Tears soaked the blindfold to a cold, wet mess against her cheeks. "I'm so sorry I brought this up."
Kira hid her face on his chest, and reveled in the feel of him, his scent wrapping her in warmth. They sat that way for a time as Kira's tears abated, her grief soothed by Odo's soft words and gentle rocking.
As Odo held her, Kira realized the answer to his question, the answer that she'd hidden deep and away from even herself. “I didn't tell anyone, but I had constant nightmares while I was pregnant, of losing the baby, of the baby dying after birth, of me dying with it...I'm pretty sure Miles knew, but he never said a word. It's the real reason I wouldn't let Julian give me sedatives to sleep. I was afraid to sleep, and see more of what I lived through. It's been enough to convince me that I shouldn't get pregnant, shouldn't have children. There's too much fear in me when in comes to the idea of children and family."
“Perhaps there will be a day when you change your mind, when you are healed enough," Odo said. "Don't give up just yet, Nerys."
Kira had her doubts, so she didn't reply. Instead, she sighed and nestled closer to Odo, still content to remain in his embrace. He didn't seem in a hurry to push her away. As she relaxed against him, the slightest tinge of sweat carried to her, bringing that same note of his scent she couldn't process before. It was essential, like oxygen or water or food. When she focused on it, so close now, images spun through Kira's mind, of summer sun and starry nights, of soft sighs and hard muscle, teasing the pleasure centers of her brain. Whatever it was it was good, and she breathed deeply, getting as much as she could.
Odo was breathing her in as well, his exhales tickling past the tip of her ear, and Kira couldn't suppress a shiver of delight. Odo's grip on her tightened, and his breaths began to in hitch short, rapid pants. A closely-shaven cheek scratched her skin deliciously as he traced his way to her neck. He nudged her gently, looking for the pulse-point under her jaw. Kira tilted her head to let him closer. A satisfied grunt vibrated against her throat as he found what he sought, as he took in the stronger essence there. She could feel his heart thumping faster through the bond, her own jogging quicker to catch up, an erotic charge shooting up her arm and into her core with each beat.
Kira breathed deeply, catching a third, unique scent as their essences commingled. It was bold, exotic, yet comforting, molten and sweet, and made her pulse pound even harder. Fulfillment and trust were the base notes, satisfying, rich and sure. A sense of home, of rightness, washed over her as the fragrance between them grew more complex, filled with things she didn't understand, so she stopped trying, and let sensation take over.
She took that third scent deeper, let its effects wash over her body, the juncture of her thighs opening, softening. Was this what Ceqrian had noted between them, this incredible blend? It was intoxicating, exhilarating. Her nails dug sharply into Odo's arm and he made a ragged, gasping sound. Prophets, she wanted to crawl in his lap right now and—
Odo broke the spell abruptly. He pushed her back as if it burned to touch her. The shock pooled tears in her eyes, and she blinked rapidly, lashes catching on the blindfold. They both sat dumbfounded, chests heaving, as that third scent faded from the air. Kira's cheeks flamed hotly when realized what she had been about to do. She scented that Odo was equally embarrassed, frightened even, gripping her bonded arm a little too hard. There was a cough and the rustle of fabric. Another waft of musk carried to her as he shifted in his seat.
What are you hiding from me, Constable? a feral part of her mind purred.
"Major, I'm sorry," Odo said. "I shouldn't have touched you, I have no right—"
"Odo, don't you apologize. I'm the one who's sorry, losing myself like that. We're not used to this enhanced sense of smell.”
“Still, I apologize," Odo said. "I just hate to see you suffer, I always have, and I couldn't let you grieve like that... Maybe we should stop this.”
“No,” Kira blurted, “not yet.” The thought of letting him go right now was painful. Besides, what had just happened raised more questions than ever, and she didn't want to let him off the hook just yet, not until some of them were answered.
Kira moved to change the subject. “Odo, let's talk about something else. Something happy. Something that hopefully smells nice, too.”
“All right,” he replied, resigned. “Like what?”
Kira couldn't think of anything, still distracted by the scents that lingered between them. There was a long silence as she struggled to find something. Kira was about to give the whole thing up when a gravelly chuckle came from Odo.
“What's so funny?” she asked.
“I was just remembering something... Do you recall that time on Loronia 7? When we thought we were walking into a pub, and it turned out to be-”
“-a strip joint?” Kira grinned. “Yeah, I remember. What made you think of that?”
“Well, Nerys, it is the only other time I can recall feeling this awkward in your presence.”
Kira giggled, biting her lip. “It was pretty awkward for me, too...Seeing all those naked men, grinding away on the stage. I've never run out of a room so fast in my life.”
Odo laughed then, a boom from deep in his chest that raised the hairs on her arms, and widened her smile. “Like a Denebrian slime devil being chased by a karthoc,” he managed.
“Faster than that, I think,” she replied, reveling in the sound of Odo's laughter. It was such a rare occurrence, hearing him laugh that way, she didn't want it to stop, wanted to keep him laughing, her nose tingling with scent of champagne and oranges.
After a time, the citrus splash of mirth dissipated. They sat catching their breath for a while, neither speaking. Odo's mood grew more somber as he leaned back in his chair, and his scent turned serious. She could tell something was on his mind.
“What are you thinking?” Kira asked softly.
"Nerys, can I ask you...are you in love, truly in love, with Shakaar?" A green, peppery smell wafted to her, like crushed vines, oozing their juices on a forest floor.
She concentrated on the question, deciphering the scent less important at the moment. Why was Shakaar on his mind? And what kind of question was that, anyway? Odo knew her better than anyone. Of course she loved Edon, they had been sleeping together, hadn't they? She wasn't some sleebok who sold herself. Her ire started to build, and she was about to burst out with an angry 'Of course I am,' when the scent of spoiled fruit, from her own skin, hit her.
Was she lying to herself, then? The Constable had phrased his question most carefully. He didn't ask if she loved Shakaar, but if she was in love with him. The difference was life and death.
"Smoothly played, Constable. I guess I never really was...Huh."
"Hmph," Odo agreed. "I didn't think so. I watched you all those months with Bareil. You were in love with him, and he with you, anyone could see it. I just don't see the same...spark in your eye when you talk about Shakaar. You like him, I know, but you're not in love with him."
"Since when did you get to be such an expert on love? I thought you hated this stuff."
"Not love, Major, but you. I'm an expert on you, or as much as anyone is ever going to get. Besides, I am the best investigator in the quadrant. I pride myself on my ability to read others.”
Pride smells like boot leather. “Very true,” Kira conceded.
“Are you going to be with him still? With Shakaar?" There was that green smell again, sharp, intrusive, like pulverized saplings, broken and sickly. Her brain finally found the word to go with it. There was envy coming from Odo when he talked about Shakaar.
Kira sat forward on her chair. "Why did you want to know, Odo?”
"Curiosity, I guess..."
Rotten olgla fruit assaulted her nose. "And you just lied to me! It's not idle curiosity. Why do you want to know?"
"I'm sorry I brought it up, Major. Ask me something else."
“It's Nerys! And no, I will not ask you something else. Answer my question." She scented his trepidation, and the smell of something sour and unpleasant she couldn't identify tied up with that dry, dusty smell again. There was something here, something important.
"Nerys, please. I don't think you'll like the answer."
There was no lie to his scent. Did he believe the answer would hurt her somehow? She hesitated, almost trusting he would know best, but then a trace of fear wafted her way. Why would he be afraid?
Kira paused for a moment, calming her irritation, and considered the matter carefully. The answer, after all, was often in the question. What could it possibly matter to him who she dated? Yes, she dumped on him about her relationships, she'd even listened to some of his advice, but that didn't mean he got to approve all of her partners. Unless...and it hit her. The green smell, the fear smell, and that little drift of loneliness. Oh my, oh my, Nerys thought to herself. Unless...
"Odo," she began softly, "are you asking because you want to know...for yourself...that I'm not seeing Edon?"
"Nerys, please. I don't want to answer." That sour odor was starting to overwhelm the others.
"Will you let me be the judge of that?" she countered. She concentrated the Diod- activated part of her brain intently, ready to catch any change in the wind. "Why..did you..want to know?"
"Nerys, I can't!" He tried to pull his arm away from her, to break the bond. She gripped him tighter and pressed his arm back to the chair.
“No, Odo. Not yet. This is important, and I want an answer.”
There was a heavy silence, the tension from Odo ominous, heavy, an electric scent crackling between them, like the smell in the air right before a lightning storm. Why didn't he throw her off if he wanted to leave so badly? He was certainly strong enough. The arid smell of loneliness flooded her nostrils, mixed with the sour stench from earlier, and she realized with a quiver of sympathy that it was shame. Shame was oozing from him, running out of his pores, a poisonous cloud between them. Why so much shame?
“Odo, please. Tell me.”
"Nerys, I...I'm in love with you," he said, almost too low for her to hear. "Deeply. I have been for years."
Nerys sat silently for some time, thunderstruck. That was definitely no lie. How had she missed something this important? She thought back over all they had said and done together, adding her new knowledge to every late night conversation, every security office exchange, every heated argument, and it was all there, the whole time, right under her nose. Stupid girl, she thought. How did you not see it? The pungent scent of anger- with herself, not Odo- rose from her skin.
Taking her silence, and her scent, for something else he said, "Nerys, I'm so sorry. Sorry you had to hear this."
Shame was still pouring heavily from him and it broke Kira's heart. She realized she had been taking the wrong approach with her inherently honest but continuously mysterious friend. She took a gentler tack this time, softening her tone. "You said years, Odo. When did you know?"
"I think I loved you from the first time I saw you, all those years ago during the Va'atrick case, but I didn't know it for what it was, not then." No rotten fruit. Good. Honesty was clearing the air between them.
"And even when I was with Bareil? When I was with someone else?" Kira asked.
"Yes, even though I knew you were likely going to marry him. I couldn't be jealous of Bareil because he was such a good man. He made you so happy, and it made me happy to see it." Sadness, regret tainted the space. Grief was there, too. She didn't know Odo grieved for Bareil.
“Ceqrian said we were both in danger from the Dominion. It's not just because of the war. The Founders know, don't they?”
"Yes. I'm sorry, Nerys."
Kira's resentment simmered to the surface, hot and redolent. "How Odo? How did they know, and I didn't?”
"It's my fault, really. Do you remember that incident on the asteroid, where the Founder impersonated you?” Kira spoke her affirmative. “The Founder forced a confession from me by making me think you were dying. It was awful. When I think of losing you..." Odo shuddered. "She used your face, your mouth, and said 'I love you.' I knew it wasn't you in that instant. I should have known sooner, should have seen through it...”
Kira's anger evaporated. “That was the 'slip of the tongue' you told me about? Odo, that is a lot more than a turn of phrase!”
Kira reeled with the knowledge, remembering how he'd casually dismissed the incident, and she hadn't given it a lick of thought since. This was terrible. They'd used his love to deceive him, to hurt him. No wonder she scented so much shame and fear.
Odo agonized silently, waiting for her to speak, to be forgiven for his supposed transgressions, the Diod enhancing every bit of his misery. She wanted to end it for him, but Kira needed him to ask her one last question.
"Well,” she said, “here's the perfect chance to prevent any more misunderstandings...Odo, ask me if I'm in love with you."
"Nerys, I know the answer. It's been there before me all these years. You don't have to do this."
"Odo," she said more succinctly, "ask me if I'm in love with you."
Odo heaved a sigh. With no hope in his voice, or his scent, he said, "Kira Nerys, are you in love with me?"
Kira smiled broadly. The Diod had already told her the truth, the truth that had been following her through this whole night, and she knew without doubt what her answer was. "Yes, Odo. I love you. Very much."
The scent of Odo's shame disappeared, something else taking its place, something much more pleasant. Hope added its note to loneliness, peace to wanting, and they blended to a new fragrance altogether. She heard a rustle, and her blindfold was lifted. She could see him now, the emotions in his expression matching the ones in his scent.
"Kira Nerys," he said softly, reaching up and cupping her cheek, the scent of him righted now, solid and strong. "Tell me again. Do you love me?"
"With all that I am, Odo" she replied, joy releasing its aroma from them both, effervescent and pure. "I think I always have, and I never saw it, not in all these years.” Tears coursed down her cheeks. “Can you forgive me? For being so damned blind?"
"Nerys,” he gasped, pulling her close. The bond at their wrists was broken as he embraced her, releasing the hold of the Diod. Before its effects faded completely, Kira caught the essence of the perfume that was *them* one last time, beautiful and complex, full of love and sex and angst, and all those things that go with loving your soul mate.
"Ah, Nerys..." Odo didn't have any more words. He caressed her face, and finally...finally...pulled her to him for a kiss that set them both afire, sealing their love with a promise of perfection.
The door chime startled Kira from a sweet sleep. Disorientation at waking in a strange bed and a strange room washed over her. Kira looked at her surroundings, spied the ivory plant in the corner, and knew exactly where she was. So that's where he put it. She couldn't stop the huge grin that threatened to crack her face as memories of the previous night flooded back to her.
She listened as Odo answered the door. Kira could hear him speak to whoever was on the other side, but couldn't make any of it out, their words a soft jumble traveling through the bulkheads. She considered getting up, but decided she felt way too glorious right where she was. Rolling herself in the sheets that still held their scents from the night before, she wondered what it would be like to be under the effects of the elixir in this bed. Kira nestled deeper, content with what her normal Bajoran nose, and the pleasant ache between her thighs, told her. She certainly knew enough.
Odo walked into the bedroom, dressed in a dark blue robe, carrying something. He looked so strange in that robe. She wasn't used to seeing him like this, out of uniform. Out of uniform? He's out of clothes, period, under that robe. The idea sent a jolt straight to her groin, and she had to fight an irresistible urge to reach up and pull the robe's tie.
“Good morning,” he greeted, sitting next to her, stretching his long legs out on the bed.
Seeing Odo smile down at her like that, Kira was struck with the thought that she had never felt so right in all her life, even though she was naked and mussed. It was as if they had been doing this for years. She sat up suddenly and kissed him, hard, putting all of the love she could in it. Odo quickly caught her ardor, and they got lost for a time, until Kira felt something hard hit her belly.
Kira broke the kiss and looked down. “Good morning, indeed. Is that a box in your lap, Constable, or are you just happy to see me?”
Odo looked at her, dazed. “Box?”
“Yes, the box?” Kira giggled, nodding toward it.
“Oh, yes...That box...We have a delivery, though who would know you are here, I have no idea. I didn't think anyone saw us, it was so late.” Odo looked down at the box, turning it in his hands. “There's a card, too,” he said, pulling it from the pocket of his robe. “It's addressed to both of us, most formally, and with titles.”
Kira sat up, clutching the sheet over her naked breasts, her curiosity piqued. Odo was right, she hadn't remembered seeing anyone as they rushed back from The Alcove to his quarters. Then again, she wouldn't have noticed much of anything at the time. Recalling the turbolift ride to the habitat ring would heat many a cold night for years to come.
“Well, that is interesting," she said. "Open it?”
Odo complied, breaking the seal on the old fashioned card. She hadn't seen real paper in ages. The writing on the card was in Bajoran, she noted, adding even more to the mystery. Kira couldn't fathom who had sent it. Odo cleared his throat, and began to read.
My Dear Friends,
You left quite abruptly last night, and I did not have the chance to give you a parting gift. I do, of course, forgive you in your haste to leave my shop. I know well the effects of The Diod, and can express only joy at what I know was the joining of two true hearts. The nose always knows, if you will forgive the phrase.
In the box you will find a small vial of the elixir. I give it as a gesture of friendship, and as a goodbye. By the time you read this, I will have left the station to explore, and gather the information that was my purpose. I hope I may see you again, but in this universe our paths are never certain, what lies before us is never guaranteed, and what is behind us must be left behind. The only constant is that which is between you. If doubt or darkness come to claim you, use The Diod, and renew your bond again.
Blessings on you both,
Odo handed Kira the box. She opened it reverently. As promised, nestled in the bottom was a miniature version of the elixir's bottle, containing the familiar silver liquid. Kira smiled as she drew it out, and regretted not being able to say goodbye. She owed Cequiran one.
“We owe Ceqrian a debt.” Odo's words mirrored her thoughts as if she'd spoken aloud, and Kira started, looking up at him. He smiled, and hooked his arm around her shoulder, pulling her against his chest.
They both studied the bottle in her hands. “Yes, we do, “ she said. “I wonder how long it would have taken us to sort out our feelings without this stuff.”
Odo laughed, the rumble of it traveling through his chest as he squeezed her a little closer, and kissed her brow. “Knowing the two of us, I'm sure we would have made a mess of things for years.”
“You're right,” Kira chuckled. “We are so different, but sometimes so much the same. I'm sure we would have danced around our feelings, sizing each other up, waiting for the other to make a move, like a pair of wrestlers in a ring.”
“Well, we did manage some interesting moves last night, so maybe that's not so far off,” Odo teased.
Kira waggled a brow at him. “Care for a rematch, Constable?”
Odo plucked the bottle of elixir from her hands, and set it on the nightstand with care. “Double or nothing says you pin me to the mat this time.”
Kira pulled the tie on his robe. “Oh, you're on.”
And elsewhere in the universe, a Virinian smiled.