On the second day of Odo’s leave, Miles and Julian came. They arrived in the evening, after their duty shifts and together, no surprise there. Odo was certain the chief spent more social time with Dr. Bashir than he ever did with his wife, and if he didn't know better already, he’d swear they were the ones who were married. Odo tried, once again, to get rid of these unwanted guests, but they weren't budging. When in all of his time on DS9 had Odo ever made it seem as if he welcomed such intrusions? Was there something about his transformation to a Human that suggested he’d suddenly pick up their habits? Yet, Odo had to remond himself, he had spent several of his off hours with Miles, kayaking the great rivers of the Federation, and the chief had become sort of a friend, which would preclude this sort of visit, and Dr. Bashir had been more than patient in helping Odo learn some basics of taking care of his new body, professionally and compassionately helping him wade through the more embarrassing aspects of being made of flesh and blood. At least he could do the pair the courtesy of hearing why they had come.
Taking advantage of Odo’s indecision, Miles asked, “Can we come in for a bit, Odo? We come bearing gifts.”
Miles raised his hands, holding up a covered tray, and Odo noted a long, round case tucked under his arm. Bashir was holding a medium-sized black bag, the contents of which clinked slightly when he moved, but Odo couldn't ascertain exactly what they were. Giving gifts without a religious purpose behind them was one of the many differences between Bajoran and Earth custom, and Odo wasn’t quite sure what the protocol would be in accepting such things. The idea of digging through his recall of cross-cultural social niceties was overtaxing, and made him feel awkward, and Odo thought more than ever he should get rid of these two, but still his conscience wouldn't let him.
Odo shot for a compromise. "Come in, then," he grumbled, "but I’d rather you didn’t stay too long.”
“Oh, we won’t, Constable,” Dr. Bashir said as he moved passed Odo. “We just came to see how you were getting along.” He looked around Odo’s quarters and said, “Got some new furniture, I see?”
“Seeing as how at some point I’d be required to sit down, it seemed appropriate,” Odo returned, folding his arms over his chest.
“Speaking of sitting, Odo,” Miles said, gesturing at the new sofa in Odo’s living space, “may we?”
Odo heaved an exasperated sigh. So much for ‘We won’t, Constable.’ “I suppose,” Odo conceded.
The two men took their seats, and Odo took an uneasy place in an armchair across from them, refolding his arms, waiting for them to get on with it.
Miles set the tray on Odo’s table, and lifted the cover. “This,” he said, “is real shortbread. None of that replicated rubbish. Made it this afternoon. It takes a quarter pound of butter to make a batch, and Sisko’s the only one on the station who’s got real butter. I managed to wheedle it from him, but it cost me a whole bottle of good scotch, and don’t ask me what it cost to get the use of his kitchen. I’ll be on rotation for a straight fortnight.”
“Real shortbread?” Julian said, his eyes lighting. “I haven’t had a real, homemade biscuit since I left Earth.” He scooted forward on his seat, lunging across Odo’s table towards the tray.
Miles slapped Julian’s hand away. “Well, and you won’t have any now, unless Odo gives it to you. It’s for him, not for you.”
“I never figured you for a baker, Chief,” Odo said, eying the tray. The sandy yellow whatever-it-was didn’t look like much, but Miles seemed very proud of it, so Odo was careful to keep his expression neutral.
“I’m not, Odo, not really,” Miles replied. “I can only make shortbread, and that’s only because of my gram. She taught me, years ago…It’s a funny story, though, how I learned to make it. Had nothing to do with cooking. It had to do with playing the cello.”
“The cello?” Julain said, chin in hand, gaze still locked avariciously on the shortbread. “What does that have to do with baking?”
“Well,” Miles began, “I’ll tell you. I suppose I was, oh, seven or eight, when my mother got the idea I needed culture in my life. Without asking me, she signed me up for music lessons. The cello, to be specific. I wasn’t happy about it, but there was no arguing with Darlene O’Brien when she wanted something, so off to cello lessons I went. I hated them. Had no interest in music whatsoever. I wanted to be out building forts and playing phaser tag like the other kids, but my mother insisted I keep going. Said music would make me a more rounded person, and that I'd thank her when I got older.
“Each week, I trudge my way through my lesson, surly and uncooperative, until finally one day my teacher threw down his bow, and said if this was all the effort I was going to give, then he was through with me, and stormed out of the room. My mother was terribly embarrassed, and furious with me, and practically dragged me by my collar to my grandmother’s, scolding me the whole way. Said she’d leave me with my grandmother while she went out for a bit, to see if she could talk some sense into me.
“Gram was in her kitchen, busy, flour and whatnot all over her hands, as my mother told her what happened, and then took off. I stood there in my short pants, feeling all kinds of stupid for the way I’d acted, waiting for her to scold me like my mother. Instead, she gave me a long, assessing look, and finally said, ‘Miles, come here. Come help me with the shortbread.’
“That didn’t sound any better than cello lessons, but I was already in hot water, so I went to the sink, and washed my hands, and took a place by my grandmother’s side.
“'Miles,’ she said, as I eyed a ball of yellow dough in front of us, ‘no matter what it is, learning to do something with your hands is important.’ She took my hands in hers, and showed me how to roll the pin over the dough. It stuck, so I took my hands to it, and I ended up with a sticky mess all over my fingers. Gram was all patience, and helped me get it off, and showed me how to do the pin again.
“'We live in a time,’ she continued, ‘when everything is handed to us, when technology can do just about everything for us. To retain who we really are, it's important to know where we came from. Traditions, art, music, culture. These are things we must never let technology overtake. You could have the computer call up a recording of a Bach cello suite. You could ask the replicator to make you a batch of shortbread, but you won't appreciate either one half as much than if you'd learned the way of them yourself.'
“I didn’t say anything to that, not really sure I understood. My grandmother didn’t say anything, either, just kept showing me how to make shortbread. By the time my mother came to collect me, we had a fresh batch done, and we all sat and had a nibble. When I took that first bite, everything my grandmother said made sense. The shortbread turned out great, and it made me proud, because it was something I’d help make with my own two hands. After that, I stopped arguing with my mother, and my cello instructor. And after every lesson, I'd go to my grandmother's house and make shortbread. Eventually, I got pretty good at both.”
“Do you still play the cello, Chief?” Odo asked.
“Nah," he replied, "not so much since taking this post. Too busy, and I was never terribly talented. But my mother was right. Music did make me more rounded, and helped my thinking. Made me use all of the parts of my brain. You'd be surprised how much music translates into engineering.”
“That’s all very nice, Miles,” Julian said, “and thank you for sharing, but can we try the shortbread now?”
“Hang on, Julian,” Miles said, shooting him a scathing look. “I’m not done yet.” He looked back to Odo. “Keiko made you something, too.”
Miles picked up the case he’d brought, opening it, and pulled out a length of what looked like rolled-up paper. The chief smoothed it out carefully, revealing it to Odo and Julian so they could all admire Keiko’s gift. It was a painting, black ink on cream vellum, of what appeared to be a pictographic form of writing, not unlike Bajoran. Odo admired the grace and symmetry in the free-flowing yet restrained lines, the carefully placed brush strokes, and the stark simplicity of the effect as a whole.
“It’s beautiful,” Odo said, looking up at the chief.
Miles beamed proudly at the praise of his wife’s work. “Calligraphy, another of Keiko’s many hobbies. Her grandfather was a renowned artist, and taught her some before he passed. She said she never had his level of talent, but she did win some prizes in her school days.”
“What does it say, Chief?” Julian asked.
“It’s your name, Odo,” Miles said. “Keiko did some research before painting this. As it turns out, on Earth, Odo is a Germanic name, meaning 'wealthy.' There was a line of kings from ancient days with a variant of the name. She said it translated quite easily into kanji.”
Odo leaned a little closer over Keiko’s work, studying. Wealthy, he thought. A name fit for kings. Odd that his name should mean the exact opposite in Cardassian.
“That's the thing that bound me and Keiko, you know. We're very different, from different backgrounds. Our marriage should never work, but it does, because we both have a strong sense of family, and respect for tradition. That we have in common. She has her calligraphy, I have my shortbread, and Molly gets to have both.”
“Sounds like a metaphor for the whole station,” Julian said. “DS9 is mix of cultures and traditions, a marriage of opposing governments and religions. It should never work, all things considered, but it does, because we all make certain it does.”
“Aye, Julian,” the Chief agreed. “Different races, from different planets, all with our own crosses to bear, and what a confusing hash it is, living here sometimes. But the thing about living in a place like this is, we’re never alone when we bear those crosses…Are we, Odo?”
Odo startled, looking up from the painting. “I…guess not...So,” he said, changing the subject, “what beverage goes best with this…what was it again?”
“Shortbread,” Miles replied.
“Sorry,” Odo said, shaking his head. “The universal translator keeps wanting me to say ‘crunchy brick,’ but that doesn’t sound like something we should eat.” Odo ignored the translator, and tried the words for himself, his Bajoran accent curling uncomfortably around Federation Standard. “Chord…braid.”
“Close enough,” Miles smiled. “And tea would be the regular thing, but Julian didn’t come empty handed, either. He brought something with a little more kick.”
“Indeed,” Julian replied, holding up the bag he’d brought. He pulled out a respectably dusty-looking bottle of something Odo assumed were spirits, and three glasses. “Saurian brandy, a good year, given to me by my parents as a graduation gift,” Julian beamed. “I kept saving it for a special occasion, but never had one special enough to crack something this expensive open, until now.” He smiled at Odo as he set the bottle down. “Offering a friend his very first drink seemed special enough to me.”
“Dr. Bashir,” Odo stated, “as the station’s chief of security, I must remind you that Saurian brandy is contraband under Federation law.” He gave Julian his best Constable Odo glare. “Even possessing it is punishable by steep fines, and up to three days in holding.”
Julian laughed nervously under Odo’s scrutiny, and started to put the bottle away. “Of course, you’re right. I’ll just take this back…”
“Good thing,” Odo said, “DS9 is still Bajoran property.”
Odo smiled slightly, and Julian sagged with obvious relief, and all three of the men had a good chuckle. Julian cracked the bottle open and poured out three glasses, handing one each to Odo and Miles. The men settled in with their brandy, which was exceptionally good, though Odo had to acknowledge he had nothing to compare it to. They shared the shortbread as well, which to Odo’s pallet was deceptively simple, not too sweet, the light flavor and melty-crumble texture rich and comforting. ‘Real butter,’ Miles reminded him, and Odo decided he liked this ‘crunchy brick’ just fine.
Odo swallowed a sip of his brandy, eyeing Julian and Miles over the rim of his glass as he enjoyed the flavorful burn of spirits, and, not that he’d ever admit it out loud, the company. He took another moderate sip, mindful that only half a glass of brandy had him fuzzy, when a question popped up.
“Do either of you know why the Federation banned Saurian brandy in the first place? It’s not harmful in any way, and the Federation is always open-minded with imports, especially spirits. I never got around to finding out for myself what the issue was with Sauria.”
“Well,” Miles said, “it’s a funny story. Had nothing to do with brandy, or Sauria. It had to do with Vulcans.”
“Vulcans?” Julian countered. “They don’t drink. What do they have to do with banned brandy?”
“Well,” Miles began, “I’ll tell you…”