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Bajoran Newswire, 19 Pelnor, Durna's Year

Starfleet Date 012386.5

Dr. Mora Pol, formerly of the Bajoran Institute of Science, has entered the Celestial Temple. The doctor passed away last night in his home in Dahkur City following a long illness. He was ninety-five.

Mora Pol was born in 2291 in Grenn Province to parents of a privileged d'jarra. Orphaned at age ten by the Grain Riots, he spent the remainder of his childhood at the Kiva Monastery. At sixteen, he began attending classes at the University of Bajor, majoring in exobiology and physics, and accepted an internship with the Bajoran Institute of Science upon graduation. One year later, the Occupation began, and the laboratories were seized.

Mora worked under the former Cardassian Order at the institute throughout the Occupation. Much of his research during those years was commissioned by the Order, and was therefor suspect. After the withdrawal in 2369, an investigation was launched by the Provisional Government into his activities. The investigation yielded enough to draw charges, and Mora stood trial for treason in 2370. The case was dismissed under the Amnesty and Reform Act, passed by the Vedek Assembly that same year.

After his acquittal, Mora's studies were released, and his star in the sciences rose. He received numerous awards and national prizes for his work, but was most especially recognized for his research of the Changeling race, which earned him the Bajoran Medal of Science in 2372. His papers on the elusive people were widely published, and he will be remembered in interstellar scholarly circles as the leading authority on the subject.

Like many survivors of the Occupation, Mora leaves no family. In recognition of Dr. Mora's achievements, he will be honored in temple. Vedek Palenno will lead the Chal'Pagh at the Temple of Light on 25 Pelnor, and the ceremony is open to the public. The Chal'Hiah will be held privately at a later date.

In lieu of temple alms, Dr. Mora's executor has asked that donations be given directly to the Cardassian-Bajoran Alliance.

Kira closed the message, staring blankly at the screen of her terminal. She hadn't really needed to read the newswire. She had, after all, provided most of the details, but seeing the public announcement of Pol's death gave her a sense of finality Shakaar's transmission hadn't. Pol was gone, really gone, and Kira found that years of peaceful living had dulled her ability to accept death.

It comforted her marginally that Mora Pol's suffering was done. The Grelnar Syndrome he'd contracted was a brutal disease. For the last six months, all that could be done was to keep the old man comfortable, and help him control the pain. It wasn't the first time Kira had helped a man she cared about ease his passage, but that hadn't made it easier. Mora's death was drawn out, the disease sapping his strength, fading the ebullient charm, the winsome instance, that had broken Kira's reserve all those years ago, and allowed them to become friends.

After arranging for Mora's services, and overseeing his estate, Kira was left with one last task. This task, however, seemed a heavier burden than the rest, and she resented that Pol had extracted this promise from her. He knew how she felt, but he'd asked her anyway, and Kira had eventually given in. As Pol had said, “I will be dead, almost-daughter-in-law. You'll indulge me.”

Activating her comm, Kira established a subspace link. Given the distance, and the encryption she'd added, the comm would take some time time to cut through. As she waited for it to connect, she managed half a smile. The turns her life had taken, bringing her to this place, at this time, in a Dahkur City high-rise sending a secret transmission for a dead biologist were unexpected, to say the least.

Six years before, Kira had been selected by Starfleet to teach at the newly-built academy on Bajor. When Admiral Ross had first extended their offer, she'd rejected it, immediately. Kira was a soldier, a fighter. She'd never had a formal education, and knew nothing of academics. Ross had calmly listened to her objections, ranging from the humorous to the vitriolic, to explain why she was chosen, and his words had changed Kira's perspective on not just the offer, but on her entire life.

“Captain, I understand how you feel, but you are, simply put, one of the finest tactical minds I've ever known. That incident with Cretak was unforgettable. That kind of skill is rare, instinctual, but instinct still has to be honed. Who taught you to hone yours, Kira? What if they hadn't? We're at peace now, but peace is fleeting. We need minds like yours teaching the next generation, or we'll end up like we did with the Dominion- unprepared and overwhelmed."

Kira still hadn't been convinced, flattery or no. The sedate life of an instructor wasn't what she'd planned for her future. It sounded like forcing one's foot into a shoe that didn't fit, and besides, she wasn't ready to give up command of DS9. However, it seemed the Federation had plans for the station as well, and even as her heart sank with the news, she saw what Ross was trying to do for her.

“I didn't want to tell you this way, but DS9 is done. You are, of course, welcome to bid for the new station, and I'll endorse you, but you may not get it. Taking the position at the academy is the only way to be sure you can stay near Bajor. You also happen possess the well-known Bajoran face this project needs, so headquarters made sure to sweeten the deal... If you accept, you'll get to call me Bill, and I can't reprimand you for it.”

“Bill” had pulled through, and Kira was promoted, heading the academy with two other admirals. Six months later DS9 was decommissioned, replaced by a sleek, stunning Federation marvel, but Kira had convinced them not to destroy the old station. She'd used it as a stipulation for being their poster girl, touting it as an excellent facility for deep space training, essential to her educational curriculum. That it turned out to be true was an added bonus. No one was more surprised than Kira how much she'd come to enjoy teaching that next generation, right from the place that had taught her.

The comm blipped, signaling its readiness, and drew Kira back to the task at hand. Confirming the line was secure, she took fortifying breath, and attacked the keys.

Dr. Mora Pol has passed. I'm sorry. I was with him as much as I could be. In his final days, Pol spoke of you often, and despite all there was between you, he considered you the proudest achievement of his life. He wanted me to tell you that he loved you deeply, and he hoped you fared well with your people. Pol asked that, if at all possible, you attend his services.

Admiral Kira Nerys

Kira attached the newswire and pressed the send key, barely proofing her message. There, Pol. Done, she thought, and logged off the terminal. She didn't expect a response to this transmission. Kira thought it was a waste of time, but the doctor had disagreed.

Mora had suspected what every one else did, but only he'd been able to coax the truth from her. Starfleet had been sending subspace messages to the Dominion for years, all of them unanswered, mostly because they were sending them to the wrong coordinates. The coordinates they had were linked to the Dominion, to be sure, but only Kira knew the ordinance that went straight to the Founders, entrusted to her by someone she and Pol had both known well. Kira wasn't confident Mora Pol's funeral qualified as reason enough to risk her secret, but a promise was a promise.

Kira checked the time, and sighed. She needed to get ready for work, and was cutting it close. She rose from her seat and padded down the hall to the bathroom. As she turned on the sonic, and shed her nightshirt, she had to wonder. What if Pol was right? What if her recipient did show up for the funeral? What if, and it was a big what if, the Link actually answered her?

**********************************************************************************************


Three days later....

“Sir, enemy ships sighted. Sensors say twelve cruisers in attack formation, bearing zero-one-seven by three-eight-one. They're heading for the station.”

“On screen,” a voice spoke.

The Andorian cadet at sensors obeyed. He swiveled in Kira's direction, but Kira wasn't in charge on this one. That was Cadet Gorchan, who was standing in the central part of Ops. The mock captain frowned, uncertain, at the sight on the screen.

“What are you thinking, Gorchan?” Kira asked.

“Sir, how we are supposed to defeat twelve cruisers with only one functional turret, and the phaser reserves at half?” Gorchan lifted a skeptical brow at her. “This isn't a Kobiashi-Maru, is it?”

“No, cadet,” Kira smiled. "Stop dwelling on what you don't have, and focus on what you do. Think quickly, though. You have thousands of lives in your hands, and you must slow this attack.” She placed light inflection on the words, hoping Gorchan would catch the hint.

Gorchan looked back at the screen, brow furrowed. Kira shared his frustration. This was a tough simulation. She would know, she'd written it herself. As the seconds ticked by, Kira decided she might have given the cadet this one too soon, and was about to call a halt, when his face lit. He had something.

“Polnaris,” Gorchan called, “target the underside of the third ship's hull, near the port nacelle, with a three-torpedo spread. Time it so they hit exactly when their ships drop to impulse.”

“Aye, Captain.”

The next few seconds were an agony, the whole room tensed as they waited. Even Kira wasn't immune.

“Captain, target acquired. Torpedoes away.”

The missiles struck true. A white-hot flash of light tore the target apart, flinging debris back into the too-tight formation, disabling half of the cruisers in one blow. The other half broke off to avoid the chaos, and a hearty cheer went up from the cadets.

"Nice shooting, Polnaris," Kira beamed. "And Gorchan. Well done. No one has ever found that particular solution before. How'd you know where to hit?”

Gorchan blushed under the praise of his hard-to-please instructor. “Er, I've been studying, sir.”

“It shows,” Kira said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Cartha, end simulation.”

The Andorian closed the simulator, and the screen went dark. Kira gave the cadets a little longer with their victory, then called them around her. “Alright, let's review. During the initial battle, we could have avoided the heavier damage to-

The red alert siren blared through Ops. Everyone jumped. Turning to Cartha, Kira frowned. “Cadet, I said end simulation.”

“I did, sir.”

Kira rushed to the console. Sure enough, the simulator was off. This alert was live. She sent the image to the view screen and cranned her neck up, just in time to see the wormhole burst open. At the sight that filled the screen, she straightened, and took two shaky steps back from the console. It can't be...

Kira watched, frozen, as ship after unmistakable ship poured through the passage. Those coloeperoid hulls and violet nacelles knocked her back fifteen years in her past, back to the last time she'd fought a real battle. There were dozens of them, a full war fleet, moving fast and meaning business, and heading straight for DS9.

Ignoring the odd mix of nostalgia and fear that flooded her, Kira dashed to the center of Ops.

“Battle stations!”

The cadets scrambled to position, and turned towards her. She was surrounded by a room full of bewildered, frightened faces, counting on her to keep them safe.

Prophets protect us, they're not ready for this. "Silence the alert. What do we have, cadet?”

“Sir," Cartha replied, "sensors indicate....So many...”

“Cadet, focus! Who is it?” Kira wanted, needed to hear someone else say it.

Cartha turned to her, eyes wide. "It's the Dominion.” Twin antennae flattened against his skull as he swung back to the screen. “Holy shit, it's really them. Sir.”

“Steady, cadet. What else can you tell me?”

Licking his lips, the cadet read the tactical in a babble. “Sensors indicate one hundred Jem'Hadar attack ships, cruisers, destroyers, and three flag ships, all actively armed, shields up, they're approaching the station in standard formation bearing one-by-five-by-two, and will be here any second.”

Think, Nerys, think....Kira saw the approaching swarm, knew she was powerless to stop it, and knew it was her fault it had come. She was, after all, the one who'd poked a stick in the hornet's nest. Even during its days of glory, the station couldn't have fought a fleet this size. The flag ships alone were enough to destroy the old hulk, and the starships from DS12 would take too long to get to her. She was on her own.

Kira kicked her doubts aside, and got to work. “Tuhoy, send a general distress call. Relay tactical to Bajor and DS12. Request assistance.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Gorchan, shields up, maximum output. Arm weapons, and make damn sure the safey's off.”

“Weapons ready, Admiral.”

“Polnaris, notify the rest of the station to prepare to be boarded. Establish a channel-”

“Admiral, were being hailed,” Polnaris called.

“Put it though, on screen.”

"Admiral Kira, hello." A well-featured feminine face, framed by a cascade of black ringlets, smiled benevolently down at Ops. “I am Rinchaal. I am most pleased to make your acquaintance."

Kira frowned. “I wish I could say the same.”

“You wound us, Admiral," the Vorta replied. "We thought you would be pleased to see us.”

The words were false, given the ships outside the station, and Kira bit back her acid reply. The woman had the advantage, and she knew it. The only thing Kira could do was stall for time, which was easy enough. All she had to do was keep the Vorta talking.

"I don't know how the Dominion does it, Rinchaal, but we in the Alpha Quadrant don't bring a war fleet to someone's door, and expect a hug.”

“Ah, yes, it could appear that we are... adversarial. But I assure you, we have only the best intentions. Our mission is one of peace.”

“Oh, my mistake," the Admiral returned. "I thought the Jem'Hadaar armada at your back meant something else."

"Well, Admiral, you cannot expect us to come through the passage without some assurances. Our peoples did not part on the best of terms.”

“They sure didn't,” the Admiral replied, rushing closer to the view screen, “but you're on my side of the universe now, and I don't like your dogs running loose in my yard. If you want this mission of yours to stay peaceful, you'll stand those ships down. Now!”

Rinchaal's smile didn't reach her eyes. “We meant no harm. It was merely precaution.” The Vorta nodded to someone off-screen, and looked back at Kira. “Is that satisfactory?”

Kira didn't take her eyes off the Vorta. “Cartha?”

“Admiral, confirmed. Sensors show the Dominion ships are powering down weapons.”

"It's a start," Kira replied. "Now are you going to tell me what you want?”

“Madam, forgive me, but I was told that you sent for us. That we were invited.”

“I don't remember sending an invitation to the Vorta, or the Jem'Hadar. ”

“But you did invite someone to come to Bajor, and where the Founders go, we go. You know that, Admiral.”

“I take it, then, that the Founders are with you?”

The Vorta smiled widely. “Yes, we are honored by their presence.”

"Can I speak to them?”

“I speak for the Founders,” Rinchaal said with a reverent half-bow. Kira's lip curled. Nothing had changed, then. “We are here regarding the sad event relayed in your transmission, but we also wish to speak with Starfleet Command. The time has come for our peoples to put aside the past. The Dominion is ready to negotiate.”

“Admiral," Polnaris interjected, "DS12 has deployed the fleet. The Seminole will intercept in one minute. Ambassador Kla'tho is aboard.”

“Well, Rinchaal, if its negotiations you want, I think it's best we wait for my colleague. I don't speak for anyone, and I'm not going to start now. Ambassador Kla'tho is authorized to negotiate on behalf of the Federation. Further words should be saved for her.”

Kira signaled to cut the comm, but a flutter from Rinchaal stopped her. “Wait, Admiral. Please.”

Kira stiffened, and swung back to the screen. “Yes?”

“I have a personal message, from a certain Founder. I wish to deliver it before the...diplomacy begins, in case we cannot speak again.”

Kira hesitated. She almost told Rinchaal to forget it, she didn't want any personal message, but the woman was right about one thing. Kira had started this, and soon everyone would know it. She couldn't back down now. “Let's hear it.”

“Admiral, are you sure it should be delivered so publicly?”

“Anything you have to say can be said in front of my cadets. I've nothing to hide.”

“As you wish,” Rinchaal smiled, and Kira realized too late she was going to regret this. “The Founder you sent for bid me tell you: he remembers you best in Paris, how the rosy light of sunset made your skin glow, how it lit your eyes. He said your beauty outshined the City of Light, and he hopes that you recall your time together there as fondly as he does.”

Kira felt her cheeks flame as all heads in the room swiveled to her. She weighed her response carefully. “Tell him...Tell him I preferred Marseille.”

“I shall, Admiral. It will please him. Until we meet again.” The Vorta signed off, and the screen went dark.

Forcing a smile, Kira turned around. “You did well, cadets.”

Cartha stared at her, hard. She read the question stamped on his blue brow, and Kira couldn't help herself. “What's the matter, Cartha? Haven't you ever met the ex-girlfriend of a Founder before?”

“No, sir...You, sir?” Kira nodded once, and his deep-ocean eyes went wide. “...Holy shit. Sir.”

****************************************************************************************


Three days after that...

Kira knew that somewhere out there, Mora Pol was beaming. The temple was packed. He would have crowed for weeks over the outrush of people that had come to see him to the next life. Kira looked behind her, trying to find anyone she recognized without making it obvious. It was, after all, a death chant, not a dinner party.

There were many faces Kira knew, but none of them well. Some of those faces tilted toward their neighbors when they spied her, whispering behind their hands. Kira turned around quickly, tugging on the collar of her dress uniform, and cast her eyes forward to the empty first row. It had been left open for their unexpected guests. Though Kira was Pol's beneficiary, she had been placed a few rows back, and was trying to stay humble about it. She doubted, given all the fuss, Mora Pol's wayward son would even show.

The last three days had been a whirlwind. All of Bajor was abuzz with the drama playing out above the stratosphere. Negotiations were in full swing, and Bajor was host to a myriad of representatives, from worlds all over the Federation. Despite her connections, Kira had no idea what was happening, and it galled her, mainly because it was her fault.

As she had predicted, Kira was in trouble over the transmission that had started all of this. It was not, however, the first time she'd earned the wrath of Starfleet. After she'd taken her former paramour home all those years ago, and returned to DS9, she'd made sure no one could backtrack her course. A secret smile twisted her mouth as she recalled the grim satisfaction of yanking out the memory core of her runabout, and dusting it with her phaser. She had hidden the coordinates for the Founders' planet from Starfleet for good.

Starfleet had called a hearing, grilling her over the "willful concealment of critical information," and demanded she recreate her flight plan. Naturally, Kira had refused. She'd nearly lost her career before it began, but Ross had intervened. He had the charges knocked down to destruction of property, and Kira had moved on, but over the years, as her career in command stalled out, it was clear it had cost her.

Starfleet wasn't happy with her then, and they weren't happy with her now. Another hearing was slapped together, but she still hadn't changed her stance. She wouldn't give them the ordinence for her transmission, nor the decoding sequence. They had consequently shut her out of negotiations and placed her on administrative leave, citing the reason as her "refusal to comply during an investigation." She knew there would be more to follow, maybe even a court-martial this time, but Kira couldn't find the will to worry about Starfleet right now. She had other things on her mind.

The reason behind her refusal to comply had contacted Kira once, and only once, since his arrival. The text-only message was brief. "It will always be Paris for me. After the service." Sitting in her fifth-row seat, tapping a nervous foot on the floor, Kira hoped Pol understood why she'd almost skipped his funeral.

A flurry at the front of the temple drew Kira's attention. The side entrance was open, and a uniformed guard entered, moving through the aisle en masse and flanking what could only be the Founders. The Jem'Hadar were banned from the temple, and Starfleet was providing security. Kira bobbed her head with everyone else, trying to get a look, but the crowd blocked her view as the Founders were hasted to their seats. Kira caught a sliver of dark-colored cloth, a glimse of smooth golden hair, and pressed a hand over the flutter in her stomach. There were two Founders, but she couldn't tell which one was him. As they settled, the guards remained standing, forming a frustratingly solid shield around their charges.

The temple bell sounded, and Kira dragged her eyes reluctantly to the dais. Vedek Palenno was entering the temple from the alcove. As he ascended the dais, the Vedek raised his hands, and the room fell to a respectful hush. It was time to start the Chal'Pagh.

Kira had heard the Bajoran death chant before, but never in such grand circumstances as this. The soft, rolling syllables of her native tongue floated down from the choir as a single monk sang out. The clear tenor asked for the Prophets to hear his prayer, and grant mercy on the deceased. The temple's ancient acoustics lent the words a poignancy Kira had never heard, and she let the gentle song soothe her, lull her, as she opened her heart to her faith. All thoughts of reprimands and Founders and Starfleet were soon banished as she closed her eyes, and listened.

The other voices of the chorus came in, varying the harmonies and progressing the song. The monks moved through the movements of the chant, a slow river of sound that carried her along with it, and Kira found her peace inside the swell. The chorus sang of loss and parting, of love and faith. At times, Kira was moved to tears, but she quickly swallowed them. Weeping was considered ill luck for the departed.

As the chant came to the final movement, the urgency increased, and the song grew louder. The reverberation ran up the walls and out to the ceiling, and the temple became a chorus of its own, reflecting the song back at its singers and raining down sound on those below in a desperate storm. When it seemed the balance would fail, that the chant would loose cohesion and fall to a cacophony, the sopranos broke through. The darker voices faded out until all that remained were those joyous tones, pure and sweet. A crystalline solo rang high and unwavering, heralding the pagh's ascent to the Celestial Temple, and Kira's skin prickled with gooseflesh. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful sound she'd ever heard.

The high note trailed off, and the Vedek sang the final part of the chant, his voice pitched strong and sure to the back of the temple. He sang the Prayer of the Prophets, taught to every child on Bajor. Kira smiled. It was a privilege to hear it like this. With a final blessing on the crowd, the Vedek ended the ceremony, and left the dais.

The worshipers began shuffling out after the Vedek. A subdued Kira filed out with her row, inching her way down the aisle. She broke off at the vestibule and turned back to the dais. One of the Founders was before it, standing now and surrounded by Starfleet security, by diplomats, vedeks, and an assortment of people trying to get a word with the leaders of the Dominion. She still couldn't see a face, but there was something achingly familiar about the back turned to her, and Kira had to squash the urge to run up the aisle. He said after the service, but she would have to wait. She turned to leave, vaguely wondering where the other Founder had gone.

Her hand flew up to her neck as her question was was answered. "Prophets!" she exclaimed, heart thudding.

Before her stood the other Founder, wearing the ambiguous, unfinished face she associated with the Link. It had slithered behind, silent, unseen, and stood blocking her path.

“You are the Nerys?” the alien asked.

“I'm Admiral Kira Nerys, if that's what you mean.”

“The Nerys...” The alien smiled at her. Kira didn't care for that smile. It was overly familiar, personal. It made her feel left out of some secret, and she bristled.

“Yes. I'm Kira. And you are?”

“We are the Link.”

“What do you mean, 'we'?”

“We were sent. By the one. He has asked if you would wait in the green place, by the largest statue. He will find you there.”

Green place?...“The gardens... Fine. Tell him I'll give him one hour, and that's all.”

“Yes, one hour...This is agreed,” the alien acknowledged. Kira expected it to turn away, to leave her, but it lingered, its smile again disturbingly intimate as it looked her over.

“Nerys,” it said, smile broadening. It touched her face. Before she could slap it away, the pads of its fingers went gelid, minutely so. It was something her body had been attuned to at one time, that little liquid caress, and Kira shivered with delight. There was love in the touch of this cryptic stranger.

“We have missed you,” it said, releasing its hold.

With a last look the Founder left her, gaping and wanting, alone in the temple vestibule.

*************************************************************************************************

The Temple of Light gardens were across the square from the building itself, a sprawling, green and lush preserve, filled with ancient sculptures, bubbling fountains and paved walkways, all tended lovingly by the monks of Dahkur. It was a beautiful place, and one of the few of its kind not destroyed during the Occupation. Even the Cardassians had found respect for the gardens. Kira realized she had spent little time here since her return to the city, and tried to make up for it now, as she slowed her pace and breathed deeply of the summer air.

Meandering the paths, nodding affably to those she passed, Kira made her way to the center of the manse. There stood Kinto, right where she'd left him. Kira looked up, high up, straining her neck to see the face of the city's patron. The staue's gaze was cast tolerantly over Dhakur, one hand held out, palm up, the other over its heart. Kinto was the Prophet Bajor associated with love. This spot in the park was legendary. It had seen many marriage proposals, and even more weddings.

Kira narrowed her upturned glance. Not today, Kinto.

There was no sign of Kira's guest, but she was early. Unfortunately, it left her time to think. Why she had agreed to any of this, to Pol's transmission, to this meeting with her former lover, was beyond her. She owed him nothing, had nothing to say to him after all this time. The stretched out span of silent years had made it clear where their relationship stood, and the idea of reunion was something she had let go of, long ago. Yet something had stirred within her three days ago, an ephemeral, unreliable thing that had sprung happily forth as soon as she'd seen that first Jem'Hadar ship, a thing she had done her best to ignore. Kira knew this air-light, feckless, and elusive feeling. It was hope, and it had no place in her life, at least not where he was concerned.

Pacing back and forth at Kinto's feet, the Admiral loosened the collar of her jacket, and checked her chronometer. The hour she'd agreed to was almost up, but there was still no sign of him. Willing herself to calm, she leaned against the cool stone of the statue's base, and people-watched for a while. As the shadows lengthened, sensible folk began heading home for the evening meal. The park slowly emptied out, until Kira was left by herself.

The temple bell struck six, and Kira took it as a sign from Kinto. Her visitor was well past late now, and he was never late. Apparently today was an exception, she was an exception, and the thought made her blood boil. Fifteen years later, she was still a fool, standing here, alone, waiting for this ghost from her past to manifest. What had she been thinking? Swallowing a lump in her throat born of a feeling she wouldn't acknowledge, she gave up, and turned to go.

“Nerys?”

The sound of her name as it breathed through velvet over gravel gave her pause. Kira smiled, but didn't turn. “I still say it was Marseille...And you're late.”

The presence at her back moved closer. “I didn't want to be.”

The words were a tender growl that nearly caved her knees, and she squeezed her eyes shut. Dammit, how does he do that? Kira braced herself, and turned, but what she saw what not what she expected. The voice was the same, but that was almost all.

Before her, too close for comfort, was a man any woman would respond to, and Kira was no exception. A small huff escaped her as she took him in; tall, elegant, silver-streaked blonde, and carrying distinguished authority the way only a man of middle years could. Much of the face she remembered remained, but it had been resculpted, enhanced. Still not conventional, but all the better for it. Laugh lines deepened as he smiled warmly down at her, and Kira's stomach fluttered.

Biting her lip, trying not to return that smile, she looked the rest of him over. She was pleased to see he'd kept that long-limbed frame she'd loved so well, the one he'd held against her a thousand years ago. Seeing him made it feel like it was yesterday, and she found herself struggling for something to say.

Odo gave her a sideways smile. "I look different."

Kira met Odo's eyes. Those were exactly the same, and they freed her voice. “A good different...Really good...It's just...”

“...What?”

“I kind of miss the old you.”

He smiled wider, pleased. “I can call up that Odo if you like.”

Kira made a stopping gesture with her hands. This Odo was enough to deal with. “No, it's fine...I'll get used to it.”

“It's been a while since anyone has seen us, and we...I... thought blending better with the Solids would be easier.”

“That might be wise..." Kira replied. She shook her head, recovering. "It might have been wiser still to have used that kind of tact when you came through the wormhole. You scared the hell out of me.”

"I'm sorry about that. The Vorta insisted..." His expression warmed as he looked her over. "Nerys, you haven't changed at all.”

Kira blushed, scrubbing the dirt with a toe. “Well, that's not true.”

“Yes it is. You're just as I remember... Except this.” He brushed lightly over the silver at her temples. “This is new.”

“Actually, it's old,” she said, tilting her head, shaking off his touch. “Odo, why did you come? And don't tell me it was the funeral.”

Odo caught her gaze, held it. "I think you know why."

“Maybe I don't," Kira replied, finding her anger. "You haven't spoken to me for fifteen years.”

"I know, and I can explain. If you'll let me.”

“It'd better be an awfully good explanation, Odo.”

“It will be the truth, Nerys. That's the best I can offer.”

The plea in those sky blue eyes was compelling, dangerously so, and Kira felt her resolve slip. They were inches apart instead of galaxies, and she wanted to tell him to forget the truth, she didn't need it. Just take her home and make the years they'd lost disappear. But Kira wasn't going to make it that easy for him.

"I've waited this long," she said. "I suppose I have another hour or so to spare."

Kira moved to the base of the statue, and settled on the steps. Odo followed, joining her, sitting near enough so their legs brushed. She and Odo had sat this way many times- companionable, comfortable, close- well before they became lovers. Odo pressed his thigh warmly to hers, and Kira blinked rapidly, fighting sudden tears.

“There's so much, so many things I want to tell you," he began, "I don't know where to start.”

“You can start by telling me about your friend from the temple," Kira replied. "He seemed a little...off.”

Odo shrugged. “They are the Link.”

“So 'they' told me, but I don't get it.”

“They are the Link, Nerys. All of it.”

"The entire Link?" Odo nodded once. The thought set her reeling. Maybe a hundred ships had been conservative. “I don't understand. Why? How?"

“The drop becomes the ocean, the ocean becomes the drop...It's hard to explain.”

Kira recalled those words, who had taught them to Odo, and she huffed. “We've had this conversation before. I'm just a solid, I know. Don't bother explaining if it's too much trouble.”

“I didn't mean it like that," he gently admonished.

Kira sighed as she looked away. “I know, I'm sorry, it's just....we did have this conversation, and I always felt left out when you talked about the Link... I really do want to hear what you have to say.”

"Then I will tell you." Odo paused until she looked back to him. “The Link, Nerys, is total unity. It is everything I thought it was, and so much more...Form and feeling, thought and idea, all shared, all merged, all one.”

“Yet you aren't just one being... Are you?”

“No, and yes. Odo is one being. The Link...is not.”

Odo looked out over the park, gathering his thoughts, and she followed his gaze to the half-set sun. How long had it been since they'd watched a sunset together? Kira looked to the side of it, avoiding the glare, admiring the pastel glow of the horizon as Odo spoke.

“When I rejoined the Link, they didn't know what to do with me. Individuality confused them. I was a burr, a thorn, something to be plucked out. The Link held me apart for...some time.”

Kira caught the longing in that pause, the loneliness. She drew her attention to Odo's hung-down profile. “Alone in a crowd.”

"Yes..." His eyes lit as he turned to her. “You do understand... I almost gave up, but I had to finish what I set out to do. The Link had to see, had to know what it was to be an individual, or else we would just repeat the cycle we'd lived in for so long. Millenia of hatred and mistrust, of destruction, death and control..."

Odo shook his head and looked away, gathering his hands back between his knees. Kira smiled a little. She had forgotten how much he talked with his hands. "My people are beautiful, Nerys, wonderful. Nothing like we've been painted. I don't know how we ever fell so far from grace. The Dominion is not who we are.”

“Wait...Isn't the Link, the Dominion, all the same thing?”

He smiled, and said, “Not at all.” Odo proceeded to enlighten her on the hidden hierarchy of the Changelings, and the revelation put much in perspective.

“Ages ago,” Odo explained, “the Dominion was founded by solids. They hunted the Link, tried to destroy it. The Link responded by creating the Founders. They were a defense mechanism, a weapon. They became a separate part of the consciousness, a mind within the mind. The Founders had nothing of the Link's kinder attributes, and so grew to think differently, to act differently.

“The Founders defeated the Dominion, and took the spoils of their victory. At first it was to ensure the safety of the Link, but the Founders became more and more like the solids they'd defeated, ever hungry for control, and doing what they wanted to obtain it. The Link itself suffered, but was powerless to stop them. They couldn't destroy the Founders any more than they could destroy themselves."

Odo paused, and Kira digested the information, applied it to what she knew. “So the creature we have locked up on Star Base 11-”

“-is the first Founder. And almost the last. Many of the Founders have chosen to rejoin the Link. I managed to accomplish that much.”

“And the Jem'Hadaar, the Vorta-?”

“-are what they've always been, creations grown in a lab. They were the antithesis of free-born solids, a way to bring order to the chaos with no effort on their part, at least so the Founders believed... But it's backfired. Master has become servant. The Founders, and therefor the Link, are dependent on their creations completely.”

“Not that they would ever tell the Jem'Hadar that.”

Odo shuddered. "Prophets, no. Can you imagine what they would do? And not just to the Link.”

"Wow, Odo. That is complicated... But you still haven't answered my question. You told me before the Dominion is far older than the Federation, and it seems like an awful lot of change in a short amount of time. Why peace now, after all that history? What changed them? And why are they here all at once?”

Odo turned to her, smiling, reminding her uncomfortably of alien from the temple. “You, Nerys.” He placed a warm palm on her cheek. “They came to see you...My memories of you are what made the Link change.”

Kira gaped at him, startling. She blocked his wrist, knocking his hand away. “What do you mean, me? Odo, that's ridiculous.”

“Is it?” he asked, expression darkening. “Is it so hard to believe, to understand? How did you think I was going to convince them? By using my memories of the Occupation, full of brutality and suffering? Let them see how I was paraded around like a sideshow? How I was imprisoned, experimented on? Or maybe with the oh-so-delightful tales of DS9's security chief, featuring con-artists, rapists, and killers. How else was I to show them being a solid had value, except to share you, share us?"

“Just how much of 'us' did you share?”

“All of it, Nerys. Everything.”

The sun had nearly set now. She let the rising night cool her face as Odo's words sank in, as she thought about what exactly everything entailed. It made her squirm. An entire race that knew all about her, knew her quirks, her flaws, her habits. What she looked like when she-

We have missed you...“That explains a lot.”

“It does?”

"Not really," she winced. "It just seemed like something to say."

“Now maybe you see why it wasn't so easy for me to leave. The Link had to change slowly, carefully. You know time moves differently there. An age is merely a second, and the reverse is true, depending on what I was showing them, what I was trying to explain.”

“But Mora Pol's funeral called you back from all of this?”

Odo closed his eyes, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not Pol. You...Although part of me says Mora was thinking more of you than himself when he convinced you to break your silence. The man never attended services, Nerys, but he wanted me to come to his Chal'Pagh?”

She looked at him sharply. "You mean your silence, don't you?”

“No,” Odo said. “I meant yours.”

Temper flaring, Kira flew off the steps, and turned back to glare at him. Odo kept his seat, matching her stare. “Nerys, you've known how to find me all along, and I could ask the same thing you've been asking me. Why did you wait so long to contact me?

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I'm not answering that.”

“I think I deserve an answer.”

“You gave up your claim on answers from me."

"I didn't want to, I had to. I still lo- " Odo's form rippled, and he looked away, ducking his head to the side. "I had thought-"

"-Oh, let me guess. You thought I was going to sit here, waiting for you, pining for you, like a princess from one of Dax's silly stories? You thought that I wouldn't move on, that there wouldn't be others? Well you thought wrong, Odo.”

The Changeling flinched as if she'd hit him. “Kira...”

“What, Constable? Did you think you were the only knight in the galaxy?” She felt only marginally guilty for the blow she'd struck. For Kira that was actually true, but he didn't need to know it.

"I see," he sneered. "That's why I haven't heard from you. You must have been very busy.”

The barb cut her, just as he intended. She knew he was using her own tactic against her, knew he did it push her and force an answer, and damned him if it wasn't working. She roiled on him in the full fury of her Bajoran temper, face aflame, eyes burning. He wanted to know so badly, fine. She wouldn't spare him.

“You left me, Odo,” she spat. “What did you expect?”

He kept her gaze, didn't let her go. “We never talked about it. I didn't think we had to. You know why I left.”

“Yes, but it didn't have to be forever, did it? You abandoned me. The station, our life, all of it, and left me alone to fight the fight without you. Do you know what that was like? Do you know what it did to me? How many nights I lost sleep, how many days I lost count of? I couldn't drink raktajino for years because of you.”

"Raktajino? Nerys, what does that-"

"You were such an important part of my life, but I told myself it was all for the best, that it was what was best for you, that I didn't need you to make me strong. I had to learn to live on my own again, and I did, Odo. I learned. I went on with life, a life I carefully constructed sometimes I think just to spite you.”

"Nerys, I-"

“Why didn't I contact you? Why would I? To have you reject me again, to suffer through it again? To remember how to draw breaths, one at a time, even though every one was pain? To remind myself to eat, to bathe, to work, because I couldn't let the cracks show, because everyone was looking to me, a whole damned quadrant, to fix the mess your people left, when all I wanted was to crawl in a hole and lick my wounds, and the worst part, the WORST PART, is that all I could think about was you!...You don't love like we loved, Odo, and just walk away from it, not without scars. My heart was completely broken when you left. It still is, Odo. It has never healed!...Is that the answer you were looking for?"

Chest heaving as she stood illuminated by the lamp light, Kira heard her own words echo back from the empty park, and was shocked at their bitterness. She slapped a hand over her mouth, but it was too late. The words were loose now, she couldn't take them back. She had said things she'd never told anyone, not even Dax. Fifteen years of silent heartbreak were out in the open.

Odo was quiet on the steps, his face a pale mask. Kira looked at his blanked expression, and her breath hitched. She was doubly embarrassed. She was about to burst into tears, and there was nothing she could do stop them.

Kira covered her face, stifling a sob. Strong arms, familiar arms, wrapped around her as her tears let go. She burried her face in his chest and let out her grief. “Nerys, shhh, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry...” The words were a muffle as Odo kissed her neck, her hair and folded her close. She allowed it, allowed him to shelter and soothe her like he had all those years ago, like no one had since he'd gone.

Odo pulled back, thumbing the tears from her cheeks. “When I left, I really thought I was doing the right thing. I wasn't sure if I would be back, wasn't sure what the Link would do to me after they were healed. It was wrong, not to include you in my decision. I truly thought I was doing what was best for you. I turned the whole thing into some noble sacrifice I was making on your behalf, told myself that it was only me who would suffer.” He cupped her face in his hands. "Prophets, I'm so sorry, my love.”

“Oh, Odo I'm sorry, too," she sniffed. "You can't take all the blame. You always did that, especially for me. I knew there were things you weren't saying, how could I not know? But I didn't ask you about them, did I? I went along with your 'noble sacrifice,' even took you home myself, and never told you how much it was killing me to leave you there. I suppose it was my own misguided contribution to nobility.”

“Noble fools, the two of us,” he said with a wry smile.

“Besides, the Link truly did need you. They were the enemy, but no people deserves what was done to them. It was awful, to see the Link that way...My feelings didn't matter compared to that.”

“But they did, Nerys. They still do. That's what I've been trying to tell you.” Odo's form blurred a little, erasing some of that sungod perfection, and he crushed her to him. “Every day, my love, you were with me. I gave the Link all of us, and they reflected it back at me, constantly. I couldn't go anywhere without finding you. It was terrible and wonderful at the same time. In the end, the Link couldn't take the pain of wanting you any more than I could, and now..."

Carefully, gently, lest it be blown away, Kira let her hope rise again. "Now, Odo?"

“Now,” he said, kissing her brow, “I am here. I am with you.” He raised her hand to his lips, and pressed it to his chest. “And I will not leave again, if you'll have me.”

Under Kinto's loving presence, Kira gave him her answer.

******************************************************************************************************

Later that night....

A languid Nerys lay on her bed, the sheets kicked down about her feet, sweat glistening her naked body. A light breeze wafted from the open window, and she smiled as it brushed her skin. Living in a real atmosphere again had created a yearn for fresh air, and she could never get enough.

Speaking of never get enough...

"Better?" Odo asked, slipping in next to her.

“Much," she said. "Thank you."

Odo propped himself up, head in hand. "So," he said, tracing her collar bone. "...Marseille."

“I was wondering when you'd bring that up.”

Finding a droplet in the hollow of her throat, he swirled it gently and pulled it down her chest. “Nerys, you hated Marseille."

"No I didn't," Kira replied.

"You said Marseille was boring, that you liked Paris better."

"I liked the dancing in Paris, the night life. But Marseille was special." Odo cupped one full breast, and squeezed it gently. "Or don't you remember... our first time," she gasped.

"Our first time," he said, teasing a nipple with his thumb, "was in your quarters, precisely seventeen minutes after The Kiss."

"Our other first time," she managed, twisting under his hand.

Pulling his attention away from her breast, Odo stilled, and raised a brow at her. Kira's smile widened. "Marseille was the first time you made love to me as you," she said. "As a Changeling."

The quizzing look melted away, replaced by one that went straight to her heart. "I remember," he said softly. Kira reached up to caress his face, and he caught her palm, placing a kiss in the center. "...But maybe we should refresh my memory. Just to be sure."

Kira bit her lip, and smiled. "Maybe we should."

Odo leaned down and caught her mouth. He deepened his kiss as a hand curved over her hip and smoothed across her stomach. Kira twined her tongue with his as he moved lower still, and cupped her sex in a warm palm. She squirmed under his hand, arching up. She knew what was coming, and gripped his wrist, wriggling impatiently. Slowly, Odo let one long finger go gelid. His silken substance flowed between her folds, parting her, opening her, pouring over the delicate skin like warmed oil. Kira gasped sharply as a tendril of Odo found her clitoris, and slid slyly beneath the hood, swirling the little pearl with tender care.

"Is this how it was?" he growled.

“Yes, oh yesyesyes...”

The tendril travelled lower still, lengthening, thickening, as he smoothly slid into her. Liquid Changeling stretched her deliciously, throbbing as he melded with the walls of her sex. Pleasure so intense it was a burn fired down her legs and out to the soles of her feet, curling her toes. Odo gave a satisfied moan as he filled her, and dropped his head on her chest, pulling a nipple in his mouth. He let his tongue go liquid there, too, melding sweetly with her skin. Kira cried out, bucking off the bed. She shuddered under him, balling the sheets in her fists, clenching around him hotly. Odo raised his head to look at her, to watch, staying inside her, staying with her, until his own need rose and his form began to blur.

"Nerys..." In a rush of amber, Odo let the rest of himself go.

Odo's true form bonded with every part of her, within her and without. He called to her through their join, sought her in the dark, and Kira answered, shedding the chains of self and opening to him fully. Years, pain, want were banished, and Kira let them go, let her Changeling take them from her, let him fill her with his love. Endless joy shared between them, endless pleasure, out of her and back again in a constant, shining arc. The room faded and she faded, but he was with her. They were linked, and they were one...

Slowly, Kira came back to herself. She was in Odo's arms. She always missed his return to solid form, but he was always there, waiting for her. She reached a trembling hand to his face, and her vision blurred. How many times had she had this dream?

Tears spilled as she asked, "You're really staying, aren't you? You won't go away again?"

Odo held her even tighter. “Never again, Nerys. I love you. Forever.”

Thinking of the chant, wrapped with Odo in the dark, Kira changed her mind. Those words, spoken by her love, were the most beautiful thing she'd ever heard.


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

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