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Story Notes: Based on characters belonging to Paramount. The characters are theirs, the story is mine.

Odo stopped short on his patrol of the Promenade, and crossed his arms over his chest. A bemused half-smile lifted his mouth as he considered the sight before him. Kira Nerys was hidden behind an information kiosk, taking suspicious glances around it at the O'Briens. What was the station's second in command doing creeping behind an information kiosk? Kira looked like some petty thief trying to hide from... well, him.

Odo found it a little silly, and decided to play along. Kira's attention was so focused on the scene ahead, she didn't notice when he slipped behind her. “Major," he whispered.

Kira inhaled sharply, the only sign of her surprise. “Odo,” she said, dropping her head. “Hi.”

“Hi, yourself. Why are we hiding from the O'Briens? Has Molly become a Dominion agent? Or did you forget Keiko's birthday again?”

Kira turned to face him. She bit her lip and looked at the floor, unable to maintain eye contact, but not before Odo saw the desperation and shame written plainly across her delicate features, and his levity at her predicament dissolved.

“Odo, I--”

The Constable cut Kira off with a silencing gesture. He could hear the Chief's jovial brogue and Molly's chirping reply coming closer. Kira heard it too, and her whole being tensed. The O'Briens were her friends, and Odo didn't know why she was avoiding them like this, but if that's what she wanted, he would help her.

“Quickly, Major. Hide.” Odo grabbed Kira's shoulders, moving her behind him, and turned back to stand sentinel. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned casually against the kiosk, his slim frame just enough to hide the Major from any direct view.

“Hey, Odo,” Miles said as he neared, Keiko right behind him with Kirayoshi in her arms, Molly clinging closely to the Chief's side. The family paused not more than two meters from Odo's position. With a painful twist of guilt, the Constable set his features in the cool, intimidating mask he normally reserved for criminals and miscreants, hoping to keep the O'Briens from getting any closer.

“Chief," Odo acknowledged. "Mrs. O'Brien. Good afternoon."

“How're things?" Miles asked, smiling. "I heard your conference on Bajor went well."

“Yes, it did,” Odo replied, frosting his response with his best leave-me-alone-I'm-busy tone.

Odo's reserve had the desired effect, and he grimaced inwardly as the Chief's smile faded, replaced by a trace of hurt and bewilderment. However, in true O'Brien fashion, Miles glibly hid his offense and hooked his arm around Keiko's shoulder. The Chief could take a hint.

“Well, then," Miles said, "glad to hear it. We'd best be on our way...We'll see ya around, Odo."

Casting significant look at a very guilty Odo, the Chief took a grip on his daughter's hand, and with a 'Come along, Molly,' moved his family on down the Promenade.

When the O'Briens were out of view, Odo swung on Kira. “Now, are you going to tell me what this was about?”

“I'm sorry, Odo. Thanks for helping me. I've had some personal issues lately, and I just didn't want to see them. I'll let you get on your way.”

Kira turned to go, but Odo grabbed her arm. “Not so fast, Major. I just offended a man I consider a friend in front of his family, a family who you are supposed to be close with. I'm not usually that rude, and neither are you. I think you need to tell me a little more about these personal issues.”

The Major looked down on Odo's gently restraining hand like she might break it, her shame turning quickly to ire. She tried to tug her arm away, and Odo raised a brow at her, refusing to let go. He felt the muscles under his grip bunch even tighter. Kira twisted in his grasp, rushing forward, shoving up on the balls of her feet until she was centimeters from his face.

“They are personal,” she spat through gritted teeth. “You've made it clear you no longer want to be personal, so let me be clear this time. I don't want to talk about it, especially with you!”

Odo had the sense to let Kira go this time.

*

Late evening found Odo alone in his quarters. After his shift, he had eaten his meal, taken a quick sonic shower, and put on his nightclothes, settling in with the latest Mike Hammer novel, as was his usual evening routine. Nothing at all had changed, but tonight, Odo found he was having a good deal of trouble settling for the usual. He couldn't focus on his novel at all. A good book usually took him away from his problems, but the words on the PADD kept churning to a jumbled mass of meaninglessness as he tried to forget his afternoon, and push his confrontation with Kira out of his thoughts.

Realizing he'd been reading the same sentence for over twenty minutes, Odo set the PADD down with a sigh, conceding defeat. It was no good. He couldn't quit thinking about Kira. He considered hailing the Major to finish what they'd started on the Promenade, but quickly gave up the idea. They weren't the friends they had been, and despite their long history, the thought of hailing her felt like a presumption.

Kira's relationship with Shakaar had created a divide between them, but Odo's day in court with the Dominion had severely deepened it. Odo wasn't sure he and Kira would ever get back what they'd lost. Prophets knew, Kira had tried to get him talk about what the Founders had done, but no one could understand, not even Kira, just how much had been stolen from him when they locked him in this solid form. Despite the months that had passed, the shock was still not healed, not completely. Odo had coped in the only fashion he could, fending off the concern of his friends, and doggedly pursuing his duties, maintaining the facade that nothing at all had changed, and that everything was just fine, thank you. Only in the walled-off solitude of his quarters did he allow himself to morn his fate, in the way that seemed best to him. Privately, and quietly.

Odo leaned back in his seat, and pinched the bridge of his nose against the start of a headache. Was it any wonder Kira didn't want to tell him what was troubling her? How could he help her when he couldn't help himself? When was the last time he tried to see her, or call her, outside of duties? He hadn't even visited after her surrogate son arrived, choosing instead to send a message via the comm, wishing Kira continued health during her recovery.

The Constable cursed himself over that concise, impersonal transmission. Cold, Odo, cold. Even for you.

Where the Major was concerned, however, Odo was anything but cold. None of these things, his problems or hers, had changed the way he felt about her. The very sight of the Major still set him on fire, even more so now that he was human, and had the hormonal responses to go with his ardor. Images from their earlier encounter came back to him in a rush; the enlivened flash in her eyes, the heat that radiated from her small frame, the tantalizing closeness of her mouth, and Odo felt an answering stir in that terribly unruly part of his new form. He groaned aloud, covering his eyes, trying to shove those thoughts back to where they came from before things got any more unruly.

No, Odo, definitely not cold.

The door chime sounded, interrupting his reverie, and Odo started, peeking up at the chronometer on his wall. It was a little late for visitors, he noted with a raised brow, and besides, it's not like he ever entertained any. Who could it be at this hour?

There was only one way to find out, so the Constable stood, making himself ready to greet his guest. “Enter,” he called, and the Computer opened the door.

Major Kira stepped sheepishly over the threshold. “I hope I'm not bothering you," she said, smiling weakly.

'Bothered' was not the word Odo would have used. He might have said relieved. Or happy. Happy seemed like the right word. Odo quickly hid his feelings on the subject in professional courtesy, before they could betray him. “Come in, Major. What can I do for you?”

“Odo,” Kira began haltingly, looking at her feet, “I came to apologize. For earlier. You came to my rescue and I was awful. How I treated you, it's been bothering me all day, and I couldn't quit thinking about it.” Kira looked up at him, a desperate plea in her liquid brown eyes. “I'm sorry..."

As Kira spoke, the station's chief investigator took in her disheveled state. Kira had come to his quarters barefooted and wearing her nightclothes. Her hands were wringing the front of the soft pink gown nervously. The gesture made her look smaller. Younger. Red-rimmed eyes indicated recent tears, and he noticed the dark circles beneath them. She hadn't been sleeping. This visit was about more than an apology. Something was truly troubling her.

“Major, please, come in and sit down,” Odo invited. Relief smoothed her pale features, and she moved to the sofa. “Can I get you anything?”

“Actually, I could use a drink. A real one. Do you keep anything on hand?”

“Springwine?”

“Perfect,” she said. She pulled her feet underneath her and watched as Odo proceeded to a cabinet where he kept a small store of real alcohol. He returned with a chilled bottle and two poured glasses, handing her one as he resumed his seat.

Kira took a sip, and managed a smile. “Wow...Good year. I haven't had a vintage like this in while. Where'd you get it?”

“I still have a few friends on Bajor. One of them works at a winery and sent this to me, when she heard about my...change. I helped her and her husband, during the occupation.”

Tears welled in Kira's eyes and threatened to spill. “I'm not a very good friend, am I, Odo? Someone from years ago thinks of you, and sends you a gift, but I'm not there for you at all.”

“Don't blame yourself, you've had other concerns. Besides, I haven't been very good company lately."

“What happened to us, Odo?" Kira said. "All these years we've had each other's backs, and now, when we need each other the most, we don't talk. Why is that?”

Odo swirled the wine in his glass and watched it roll, as if the fragrant liquid somehow contained the answers. “I don't know, Major.”

“Well,” Kira said, wiping her eyes and setting down her glass. “I, for one, want us to be friends again. Like we were. I will take the first step and tell you about this afternoon, if you still want to know.”

Odo allowed his gaze to meet Kira's, let it shine with the truth of his words. “I don't need a peace offering. It's enough that you're here.”

"Thank you, Odo" Kira smiled. "That means a lot to me... I think I should still tell you about this afternoon, though. I need to tell someone, and no one else is really going to understand. It may explain my side of how things have been between us."

Odo leaned back on the sofa, making himself comfortable. "I'm listening, Kira," he said.

*

“You know I was in a refugee camp as a child?” Kira began.

“Yes," Odo replied. "I remember you telling me, though you've never talked much about it.”

“Did you ever see one of those camps, Odo? While they were still occupied?”

“I never saw one personally, but Dr. Mora did. He told me enough about those horrid palces that I never wanted to see one myself."

"I didn't know Nora had ever spent any time in a camp," Kira said. "When was this?"

Odo sighed heavily. "I don't recall the exact year. It was early in my development. Out of no where one morning, the Cardassians came for the doctor, saying he was needed for a conference with Central. All they would tell us is that he was going to the Reliah camp in Kendra Provence. We were terrified they'd decide to imprison him, or worse, but a week later, they returned him to the science center, and Mora was... not himself...for a time. He ranted and raved for weeks about giving up the sciences and joining the resistance, spouting vows revenge for what was going on in Kendra.”

“So what stopped him?" Kira asked.

Odo gave Kira a level look. “Mora was never a brave man. He wouldn't have made it in the resistance more than a day, and I think he knew it, though he said it was because of me, and our 'work' that he couldn't join up.” Odo reached for the wine and refilled their glasses. “Hmph,” he said, handing hers back. “I'm not sure which one of us regretted that decision more, in the end.”

“Odo, you never told me this.”

“I hadn't thought about it in years..." He shrugged and said, "Maybe it is true, that he didn't want to leave me alone. My abilities were limited, and I wouldn't have been able to go with him. Besides, Mora's ambitions in the sciences far outweighed his patriotism, and I don't think he could have turned from those ambitions for long...” Absently, Odo raised his glass and took a drink of his wine, letting the cool liquid warm on his tongue as he gathered his thoughts. He swallowed slowly, looking past Kira, staring into the shadows over her shoulder. “Once in a while, though, Mora would get these spells. He would stand at the window of our lab, not moving, just...staring, looking long in the direction of Kendra...He wouldn't speak to me for hours..."

Odo shook himself, and brought his focus back to the Major. "I don't think he ever got over what he saw in that camp.”

“And with reason,” Kira said. “They were evil, the worst thing Cardassia did, racism and brutality at its height. They poured us into those camps after forcing us out of our homes, telling us they would provide for all our of needs...Of course, they didn't. How bad conditions got depended on the overseer, but they all had things in common. Too many people, not enough food or clean water, and restless Cardassian soldiers who had been brainwashed into thinking we were dirt.”

“You were in Sing'ha, I believe? Once Dukat's responsibility?”

Kira heaved a deep breath. “Yes. But would you believe that while he was overseer, it wasn't so bad? Don't get me wrong, he's still a soulless bastard, but while he was in charge, the camp was organized, the soldiers kept busy. They didn't have idle time to get....bored and start taking it out on us. He got promoted to Prefect because of the efficiency of Sing'ha. My father said when Glinn Nurhal took over, things got so much worse, he actually missed Dukat.”

“I can believe it," Odo replied. "I did work for Dukat, after all. The man could be so charming, so capable. That's what made him so damned dangerous.”

Kira nodded in agreement. “True...My family came to Sing'ha right before Dukat was transferred. I remember the ceremony they held when they changed command, as if a bunch of starving Bajorans gave a rip about some useless glinn. They made us line up along the main throughway to 'welcome' our new overseer, and send Dukat out properly. During the procession, someone threw a stone at one of the guards. Dukat had the man dragged out onto the street and shot, on the spot...The parade was pretty quiet after that.”

Kira paused and took another sip of her wine, her lips pressed tight as she swallowed. “Glinn Nurahl made sure the body was drawn and quartered as well, so that we would all know how he would've handled it. He made it clear he thought Dukat was too soft.”

Odo winced at the idea of a young Kira seeing such a thing. “How old were you?”

“I think I was about four when this happened. My mother hadn't died yet, my brothers and father were still alive. It was one of the last times all of us were together.”

Kira shuddered and rubbed her arms. Odo saw the gooseflesh rise on her skin, and grabbed a blanket from the back of a chair. “Kira, we don't have to talk about this," he said as he draped it over her. "I can see it upsets you.”

Kira nestled the blanket around her, her lower lip thrust out, and Odo knew it as the sign of her resolve. “Odo, it's time I talked about this. If you can't listen, I understand. It's not easy to hear.”

“I will always listen. I just don't want you to suffer.”

“If I don't talk about it, I'll suffer. I know that now, I knew it when I hid from the O'Briens today. You're right, they're my friends who have stood by me, and even love me. I can't keep shoving down the past and hoping it will die. It's ruining my present, my future.”

“Maybe you should talk to a counselor...”

“No, Odo,” she said. “You were on Bajor during the occupation. You are the last of my friends left alive who was there, except Shakaar, and he's even more repressed than I am. No Starfleet goody-goody counselor is going to understand. How could they, raised in their bubble world? They can't tell me anything I don't know, and can you really see me pouring my heart out to some stupid doctor?”

“I guess not...”

“Besides, I've made my peace with the Prophets, and that's all I need." Kira gave Odo a small smile, reaching out to rest her hand on his arm. "And I need my best friend, too, even though I've really neglected him lately.”

“I'm here, Kira,” Odo replied. “Whatever you need that I can give, it's yours.” Odo risked a brief squeeze of her hand. To his surprise, she returned it, and twined her fingers with his, keeping hold of Odo as she went on with her story.

*

“When I was small," Kira began, "I had this friend Jinza.” She smiled fondly at the memory of her Bajoran playmate. “My mother was gone by then, so my father would leave me with Jinza's mother while he worked. We became like sisters, always together. We had secret games, like sister do, secret words. We made our own toys out of things we found around the camp. Rocks, twigs, bugs, whatever...

“One day, we got bored, so I decided we should sneak away from Jinza's mother, and head out to find new things to play with. Jinza was a year younger than me, and always did whatever I did, never questioning, so of course she went along with it.” Kira shook her head, smiling ruefully. “Naturally, I got us lost. We ended up near the Cardassian barracks of all places, and it was crawling with soldiers. I was scared, but Jinza was terrified, and started crying uncontrollably. I took her hand and hid us both behind some cargo containers, trying to keep her quiet, hoping someone we could talk to would pass, and lead us back out, but we ended up crouched there until night set in.

“It was black as pitch, and Jinza had cried herself out. She was sleeping at my feet. All I could think about was how much trouble I was going to be in when I got back to my father. Then... I smelled this wonderful smell coming from somewhere. I'd never smelled anything that good in my entire life, and when I realized it was food, my stomach growled so loud... I wanted nothing more than to find that food.

“I endured for a while. I didn't want to leave Jinza alone, but it had been days since I'd eaten. I finally gave in, and crept from my hiding place, walking toward some lights where I thought I might find the food, slinking along the barracks walls. Odo, I have absolutely no idea how I didn't get caught, but I didn't, and I ended up at the back doors of the mess.

“I slipped inside, and crouched behind some waste bins. There was a gap between them I could peek through, and see the rest of the room. I had never seen anything like it. It was wall-to-wall Cardassians, and it was wall-to-wall food. Every plate was full, every cup brimming. I had never seen that much in one place.” Kira looked up at Odo, her glance sharp and angry. “I think that's the very moment I started to hate them, Odo. How could they have so much, and we have nothing?”

Odo squeezed her hand. “I don't know, Kira. I never understood anything the Cardassians did to Bajor. Go on.”

Kira took a steadying breath, and resumed. “I managed to swipe some food from the waste bin and get out without anyone seeing. I couldn't wait to get back to Jinza to show her what I had, my shirt stuffed full. I made it past the guards, and was nearly to Jinza, and...” Kira swallowed audibly, trying to gain control of her cracking voice. “That's when it happened.”

Kira paused for a time, and Odo watched her gaze grow hazy as her memories took her back to that night. Whatever she was seeing was playing a dark symphony of emotion across her face, and her hand trembled in his. With her other hand, Kira picked up her glass and took an automatic sip of her wine, clutching the glass so tightly Odo feared it would crack, her fingertips turning white and bloodless against the smooth surface. He took it from her, coaxing it away gently, Kira insensible to his touch as she resumed.

“I made my way around the corner, almost to Jinza, and opened my mouth to call to her, but I was too late. Some Cardassian guards had found Jinza behind the containers. There were three of them, against one scrawny Bajoran girl. One had clipped her by the shirt and was dangling her off the ground. The others were standing there, laughing. I dropped my food and hid myself, trying to figure out how to get to her, and then I heard what they were saying, and the blood froze in my veins...I can still hear every word, like it just happened.”

“And what did they say, Nerys?” Odo urged gently.

'So, Unther, what do you do with little voles like this where you're from?' I heard him say, the one that had Jinza by the neck.

'Well, usually my father and I vaporize voles, or we bait them with traps,' his friend replied.

'Let her down, Grotho,' the second one says. 'She's just a small thing. It's not worth the trouble.'

'That's what everyone says about voles, but if you don't kill the young, they grow and breed, and before you know it, you're overrun...What do you say, little vole?' Grotho laughed, and shook Jinza by her shirt, hard. I heard it tear as he swung her around. 'Are you gonna overrun us?' And he laughed and laughed at his own joke. Laughed like it was the funniest thing anyone ever said.

“The third man didn't find much humor in Grotho's game. 'Come on, man. Put that down, and let's get some canaar.'

“Grotho wasn't done, though. He threw Jinza down on a cargo container, face first, and she cried out when her chest hit the metal. It was the only sound she made the whole time. Then Grotho said, 'Let me show you how we take care of voles where I'm from. Hand me that rock, Unther.'

“Unther gave his friend a rock by his feet. It was larger than an average man's fist, but Grotho's hand palmed it completely. Jinza squirmed against Grotho's grip, his hand pinning her by the neck and smashing her face into the container. She couldn't turn her head, so she didn't see what was coming, and I tried to go to her, to stop them, but for some reason my feet wouldn't move...

“I was locked, frozen, useless. I watched the guard pull his arm back, back, and then bring the rock down. He did it again, then again, blood flinging from it as he hit Jinza, over and over. His face was illuminated by the floodlights, and I could see a splatter of wetness from his chin up to his hairline, and he was smiling, Odo. Actually smiling as he crushed her, like a man putting in a good day's work. I bit my hand to keep from screaming as I focused on those perfect, white teeth... Finally he threw the rock aside, and let Jinza go, her body sliding to the dirt...”

Kira fell silent, and through his shock, Odo felt his anger rise over the violence, the cruelty, in the death of this tiny girl. The absolute senselessness of it. His jaw clenched tightly as he thought over it all. Likely, Jinza's killer was a free man, still in the service, or living somewhere on Cardassia Prime, and Jinza had never received the justice she deserved. Odo vowed that in the morning, he would find out if that was case, and do what he could to change it. Even the Cardassian military had their limits as to how far their soldiers were allowed to go, and what this Grotho and his companions had done was definitely beyond those limits. Kira knew this as much as he did. Why had she kept her silence about it? How had she quietly lived with something this dark for so long?

Yet, Odo reminded himself, passing a hand over his face, trying to control his anger, it wasn't the first time he had heard a tale like Jinza's. The course of his work often exposed him to suffering and death, to things he often wished he hadn't heard, and, like anyone else that came to him to report a crime, he knew Kira had to tell her tale out in her own way, in her own time. Any emotion from him would only make it harder for her. Odo tapped his professional skills to keep calm, but it was difficult. This was different. This was Kira.

Despite the trepidation in his heart, Odo asked, “What did you do next?”

Kira didn't look at him. Her face was a lifeless mask as she began again, her voice muted and muddy. “It was a long time before I came out. I couldn't move. The soldiers were long gone. I tried to stand, and fell back down when my legs gave out, so I crawled toward Jinza instead, babbling and crying and I kept thinking, she's fine. Jinza is just hurt, and I can fix it... When I got to her, I rolled her over onto my lap. Her eyes were open, staring at the night sky, but there was no life there. I knew she was dead, but I held her, and kissed her cheek, and smoothed her hair and her shirt because I kept thinking I could undo it, I could make her better. It was all my fault, but I could fix it..."

“Prophets! Nerys!” Odo swept her up, his resolve gone as he desperately pulled her close. She woodenly dropped her head against his shoulder, balling his shirt in her fist. Odo decided he didn't need to hear more, had heard enough to last a lifetime, but Kira wasn't finished.

“I don't remember leaving the barracks, but I passed out about half way back to camp. When I came to, I was in the arms of one of the Bajoran workers. He had found me, and was carrying me home to my father. I remember I couldn't speak at first. My father just rocked me and held me for a whole day, and kept saying, 'My Nerys, my star, its all right, I'm here.' He told me later that another worker had brought Jinza back to her parents. They had her buried immediately.

“At some point, I started to come around and began spilling the story in bits and pieces, how it was my fault Jinza was lost, my fault for leaving her alone. My father said I was to never think that, I wasn't responsible for what some Cardassian thugs did. I didn't believe him, though. I still don't. Jinza's mother certainly blamed me, and shunned me for the rest of her days in the camp.”

Kira sniffed softly and curled her body in closer to Odo's. “How could they have done that to a child? How could I have let them? How can I ever forgive myself for this, Odo?”

Kira shuddered violently, her body trembling in Odo's arms. The tremble gave in to shaking, wracking her whole being, and Odo felt her heart fluttering like a caged bird through their embrace, felt the burden of guilt the child that was Kira had carried all this time. He wanted to soothe that child, erase her fear, her pain. Odo's own tears stung his eyes, but he swallowed them. He needed to protect the child that was made flesh in the woman before him, here, now, as she wasn't all those years ago.

Odo pried Kira's stiffened grip from his shirt carefully. She didn't want to let him go, and whimpered as he moved away from her. He shushed her gently, and moved as quickly as he could to change position on the sofa, bringing Kira's soft weight back to settle against his chest. Odo wrapped his long legs around her, and threw the blanket over them both. He rocked her gently, making soft sounds and soothing words, lending her his heat, and willing his love to somehow pierce the viscera of the nightmare she was pulled into.

They stayed that way for a time, huddled together in the dim. Eventually, Odo heard Kira's breathing even, felt her body calm and grow still. He risked disrupting the quiet. “Nerys, are you alright?”

“I am now,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Any time,” he replied. Odo expected her to move, to pull away from him, but she didn't, seemingly content as she nestled even closer, burrowing in the safety of their shared warmth. Odo had waited for Kira to be in his arms for a long time, but never thought it would be like this. If this is what it took, he didn't want to ever see it happen again.

“Am I getting too heavy?” Kira asked.

“No. Not at all.”

“Good. I feel good here. You're an amazing man Odo, no matter what form you're in. I've missed you.”

Odo didn't know what to say to that, so he sighed softly and let his head rest back against the sofa. Despite everything he'd heard tonight, or maybe because of it, his eyes grew heavy, the wine and the aftershock of Kira's tale having a soporific effect. He was just drifting off when Kira again spoke.

“Odo, I didn't finish telling you the rest.”

“I'm listening.”

“Molly O'Brien. She reminds me of Jinza. She had hair just like Molly's, and was about the same age. She had the same quiet strength. It never bothered me until I lived with them. I didn't let myself play again after Jinza, didn't think I deserved to have fun. Then I was with Molly and her family... At first, I was scared to death of her. Imagine me, sacred of an eight year old.”

Odo gave a sympathetic grunt. It wasn't so hard to believe.

“I buried the memories of Jinza as deep as I could, not wanting the O'Briens to catch any of it, because that meant I would have to talk about it. I hoped I would adjust over time, and I did. I even started playing again. Molly and I colored, we played Earth games, a few Bajoran ones... The more I played, the more I remembered the good times with Jinza, and it became easier.”

“Then why were you avoiding the O'Breins today?”

Kira was silent for a time, and Odo thought she might have fallen asleep, but a sniffle gave her away. “I don't know how to explain it," she said, "but living with the O'Briens opened something in me that was closed down long ago. It wasn't just Jinza I lost in that camp. My mother left us, then both of my brothers. By the time the Shakaar liberated the camp, it was just me and my father. And then I lost him too... I miss them, Odo. I miss them all.” Kira's voice cracked with grief, and she cried silently into Odo's chest, hot tears soaking the cotton of his shirt. Odo stroked her hair, and squeezed her a little tighter, feeling helpless as he listened.

Taking a shaky breath, Kira said, "The final straw was Kirayoshi. I knew I was a surrogate. I never fooled myself on that point, and tried to prepare myself for what would come after he was born. I would go back to my life, and the O'Briens would go on with theirs... Just another family I would have to loose.”

“Nerys, the O'Briens are still here," Odo soothed. "They haven't left you."

“No, I know that. It's just that every time I see them, it feels.....If I'm ever going to get back on my feet, I've got to get my center again, be just Major Kira again, not Auntie Nerys... I know I'm not making sense, but do you understand?”

Odo did understand, and only too well. Kira was trying to rebuild her walls, the walls that had sheltered her from things that would have destroyed anyone else, walls that time spent with a loving family had knocked down. The only person he knew better at it than Kira, was himself. Yet she was stronger than him in so many ways, stronger than she knew, and if anyone could survive the scars of war and still be a whole person, it would be Kira Nerys.

Odo knew many of her barriers were necessary to that survival, but there were some that didn't have to go back up. “Nerys, I know that you are strong enough to have the O'Briens in your life, and let them love you. I know it doesn't feel that way now, but you can't give up on ever being happy again, just because the Prophets seem to keep taking from you. There is an infinite universe outside this station, an infinite number of deaths occurring every second. There are also an infinite number of lives being created in that same second. You can't block the universe out and stop the wheel of time. You can only accept love where you find it, while it lasts.”

Kira lifted her head from Odo's chest to smile at him. “Odo, I've never heard you talk that way before...It's beautiful.”

Odo blushed in the dim. “Well, or something like that... I think you know what I mean.”

“Yes,” she said, laying her head back down. “I think I do...”

Silence again filled Odo's quarters, both of them talked out. As Kira drifted off, Odo thought over his own words, and smiled ruefully. Physician, heal thyself, he thought.

No matter what the Founders had done, no matter that he had been exiled from his birthright and the Link, he was still alive. There were people who needed him, who cared for him, people that made this existence bearable, the most important of which was cradled in his arms, and he couldn't lock himself away from his past any more than she could. What a fool he had been to shut her out, and allow a rift so large to grow between he and his closest friend.

Love rose to a burning flame in Odo's breast, and he envisioned it wrapping her, and him, in its light. He was grateful to have Kira Nerys in his life, and though he didn't for one second think she loved him the way he loved her, she loved him in some way, and he would treasure it, while it lasted.

Resting his head back against the sofa, his friend safely wrapped in his embrace, Odo fell asleep.



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