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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."

 



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