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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.



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