"Just what is her condition, Doctor?"
Jadzia Dax frowned at the sound of Benjamin's voice, talking to Julian in the next room. She was sitting on an infirmary biobed, her hair pulled haphazardly out of its tie and nursing a broken arm from her latest activities with Worf. Worf was sitting next to her in similar condition. She suppressed a smirk at the thought.
"…It's been days, Captain," Julian was saying. "Her work isn't below par, but that's exactly the problem. She's thrown herself into it. I haven't seen her this focused on station duty since…"
Julian let the thought hang, but Benjamin picked up his thread. "…Since before she and Major Kira got involved."
Dax glanced at Worf. "I could be wrong, but it sounds like they're discussing Odo."
"They are responsible adults." Worf didn't mention that there was no one else they could be talking about. "It is not for us to interfere."
Dax sighed and shook her head. "I know. But I'm worried about her. She's completely shoved Kira away…"
"Still, it is their business."
"All the same," Dax said, "I'd like to talk to Odo."
"You will not get far with the constable." Worf paused. "He…she…can be very determined to deflect conversation."
"Not this time," Dax said. She tapped her combadge with her good arm. "Computer, location of Constable Odo."
"Security Chief Odo is in Quark's."
"Figures," Dax said with a smirk. "She always goes there when she needs some company." Her arm cried out and she grimaced, cradling it more carefully. "Soon as Julian gets us fixed up, I'm going to pay her a visit."
Julian entered a moment later and quickly restored her and Worf's limbs to working order. The moment her arm wasn't screaming in pain, Dax pulled her hair back through its tie and stood. "Thanks, Julian. I'll see you later."
"Where are you going?" Worf asked.
"To Quark's," Dax said.
Worf said nothing, simply watched her as she left.
Dax stepped out onto the promenade and quickly traversed the distance to Quark's. She had an odd affection for the chaos of the place, and especially the bar's proprietor. But now, she reminded herself as she wound through the maze of tables, she wasn't here to socialize or to enjoy a good game of tongo. She was here to find Odo and set a few things to rights.
As she neared the bar counter, Odo's voice drew her attention before Dax could actually see her.
"How generous, Quark," Odo said. "I can only imagine the fun I'll have being…ogled at."
The sarcasm practically dripped from her mouth. Dax suppressed the urge to roll her eyes. Odo evidently hadn't changed a bit.
"Odo, open your eyes!" Quark said. "You don't realize what this experience can offer you! Imagine the undercover operations you could complete…"
"All under your nose," Odo returned. "Thank you for the offer, Quark, but I'd rather not accept employment at your bar."
Dax slapped a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter. That image was an amusing one. She decided not to say so to Odo, though.
She finally emerged from the crowd and spotted Odo sitting on her usual seat. Dax had seen her when she'd first beamed up to the Rio Grande, but she hadn't really seen the constable around in days, so the sight surprised her a little. Odo was indeed in female form.
"Ah, Commander," Quark said when he spotted her. "Care to join me for a little…refreshment?"
"Not tonight, Quark," Dax said.
"Suit yourself," Quark said, and moved off down the bar.
Dax approached the seat next to Odo and addressed the constable. "Mind if I join you?"
Odo merely grunted. Dax took that as an invitation and made herself comfortable on the barstool.
Odo didn't look at her. "If you're here to…comfort me," she said, "don't bother."
"You say that as if it's a bad thing," Dax said.
"I don't need your advice." Odo's voice, though oddly musical, was still as stiff as ever. She moved to stand. "If you don't mind, Commander, I should be returning to my office."
"Actually, Constable, I do mind," Dax said.
Odo stopped in her tracks. She turned to look at Dax for the first time, her expression radiating displeasure. But Dax sensed something quite willing beneath the reluctance. Some part of Odo wanted someone to talk to. And Dax couldn't say she blamed her.
"What makes you think I have any interest in being the subject of your…meddling?" Odo asked.
Dax smiled to herself. Still the same old constable. "Because I'm not here to meddle. I'm just here as a friend."
"Besides," Dax said, "I do have some idea of what it's like to change one's gender."
Odo laughed. Actually laughed. It was a light, feminine sound completely unlike her typical hmph-laugh as a male. "I suppose that you do."
Reading Odo had never been Dax's strong suit, but she had enough experience with people in general that she could come pretty close. Odo seemed even easier to read now than usual; perhaps her discomfort over the past few days had broken down her guard. Odo was making a fair attempt at humor, but Dax could sense something hidden within that laugh. She just wasn't sure what.
She decided to try some fishing. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, Odo."
"For Trills, maybe," Odo said.
"You know, I don't quite understand what your people did to you," Dax said tentatively. "Changelings don't have gender in general, right? I was under the impression that you had copied your appearance and modeled your male behavior off of Dr. Mora."
"I did," Odo said. She sighed. "I was just lucky he happened to be the right gender for me."
"So your people do have gender," Dax said.
"In a sense, yes." Odo paused. "I don't understand it entirely myself, but as far as I could gather from my…recent time in the Link, gender is assigned at random." She paused and shook her head. "I can't imagine why I'm going on about this. I'm no scientist."
"No," Dax encouraged her. "Go on. Maybe it'll help me understand."
Odo sighed. "Commander, I appreciate what you're trying to do, but…"
"No buts," Dax said. "You and Nerys are about as close as it goes—or, at least, you were. I don't want to see your friendship destroyed, and I'm sure you don't either."
Odo looked away. "That much is true. But I'm still not certain how I feel about her."
"That doesn't matter now." Dax reached out and squeezed Odo's arm. Odo looked at her, startled. "You were friends first. You can think of her as a friend now. You can think of her as a lover later."
Odo didn't answer, but Dax took her silence as assent.
"Now," Dax said, "I believe you were about to tell me about Changeling gender."
Odo heaved another long-suffering sigh, but she didn't protest again. "The Great Link as a whole is gender-ambiguous. The…gene, to use a humanoid term, that causes gender is present in equal portions as both male and female. As I understand it, when a Changeling withdraws from the Link…"
"…that Changeling has a fifty percent chance of being male or female," Dax said, nodding. "And if that same Changeling returns to the Link and withdraws again…"
"…it might emerge as the opposite gender," Odo finished. "Or, at least, I assume so."
"It makes sense," Dax said. "You've kept your gender identity for all these years because you haven't returned to the Link."
"Well, at least not under the right conditions to exchange gender genes."
"How are you so familiar with genetics?" Dax asked.
"Dr. Mora." The name was an unwilling grunt.
Dax nodded, careful not to linger on the subject. "I see. The Founders must have thought that by forcing you to finally emerge with the opposite gender, they would finally convince you to stay with them."
"But their…interference has had the opposite effect," Odo groused.
Dax considered the circumstances. "You know, the science doesn't really matter."
Odo didn't look at her. "I agree."
"Odo," Dax said softly. "Look at me."
Grudgingly, Odo turned her head and slowly, reluctantly, met Dax's eyes.
"What matters," Dax said, giving Odo's arm another gentle squeeze, "is whether you want to go back to them."
"That's ridiculous," Odo said. "I couldn't—"
"Odo," Dax interrupted, "there's no shame in wanting to return home."
"They're not my home," Odo said in a harsh whisper. "They never have been. They rejected me. They used me for their own aims. They don't care about me, they only try to manipulate me around every turn and use their power over me to try to frighten me."
Dax wondered if Odo would ever have been this open with her if her recent experience hadn't shaken her guard down. Dax resolved to enjoy it while it lasted. "And do they frighten you?"
"Every time," Odo said. "I can't help wondering if one day, this power struggle will end, and they'll do something to me that I can't recover from. Something that takes me away from all of you, and…"
That actually sounded like something the Founders would do, but Dax knew that this wasn't the time to betray her own fear. Letting the constable know how much Dax feared losing her wasn't going to help either of them. "Well," she said, "I suppose in times like these, we have to remember your people's mantra."
"'No Changeling has ever harmed another,'" Odo recited. She lowered her head and added quietly, "Except for me."
"And you think they're still looking to punish you for that?"
"Perhaps," Odo said. "I don't really understand my people all that well. All I know is that they're a group of dictators…"
"I know." Dax paused to gather her thoughts. "But they've already made you human, Odo. And they're obsessed with order, aren't they? Somehow I doubt they'd consider it 'orderly' to exact a punishment again for no reason."
"My people don't understand justice."
Odo's voice was low. Dax felt a pang of compassion for the troubled constable. There had been times, especially in her past lives, when Dax had wondered just how much of a grip the universe had on justice. There had even been times when she'd wondered if she understood the concept herself. She didn't have a belief in a supreme being to comfort her. She preferred to assume that people in general weren't all bad and that their rash actions were a product of circumstances and fear. And she'd met far too many wonderful, respectable people in her lives to declare humanoid existence an experiment gone wrong. But Odo, of course, too often saw the other side of the coin. Her work in security exposed her to all sorts of dangerous characters, and her life before the station—what little of it Dax had been told—hadn't lent her to optimism.
Dax sighed. Odo was watching her with intense interest, as if she considered the conversation more of a debate than a heart to heart. Perhaps Dax hadn't dug far enough. She considered her next words and decided they were necessary. Maybe Odo's people didn't understand justice, but…
"But you do," she said.
Odo lowered her head again. "I don't know."
"The question," Dax said, "isn't whether your people forgive you. The question is whether you can forgive yourself."
Odo's head snapped up. "Forgive myself for what?"
"I don't know," Dax said. "For killing that Changeling. Or…" She paused. It was time to take this a step further. "…for pushing Nerys away."
"I haven't pushed Nerys away! She's the one who—"
"I know," Dax said, "but you blame yourself, don't you?"
Odo tensed. The constable had always been so tense in the past, a mere stiffening of the shoulders had never been much of a clue to what she was thinking. But now, with her posture so loose and defeated, Dax knew she'd hit a nerve.
"You're disgusted with this body," Dax continued. She hoped she sounded more confident with her analysis than she felt. "You're even afraid of it. Of what it means for you and your relationships. And so you start pointing your finger."
Odo snorted, but Dax could now hear the raw agony underneath. "I don't 'point my finger,' Commander."
"If you say so." Dax shrugged. She squeezed Odo's arm reassuringly. "Well, Constable, thank you for an enlightening evening." She stood. Almost as an afterthought, she added, "And Odo? Try not to be too hard on yourself."
She expected a defensive harrumph, but it didn't come. Instead, Odo's eyes merely flicked up to follow her. Dax flashed her a parting smile before weaving back through the tables, towards the bar's entrance.
About halfway there, Quark's hand on her arm stopped her. She turned, surprised.
"Don't bother, Commander," Quark said. "He's—she's—about as easy to cheer up as a depressed Breen. Just leave it to me."
There was something about the way Quark's eyes and voice danced around the feminine pronoun that turned Dax's warning lights on. "Don't even think about it, Quark. The last thing Odo needs is you complicating her adjustment."
Quark's eyes widened, the picture of innocence. "I wouldn't dream of it, Commander."
Dax rolled her eyes inwardly and smiled. "Good."
She swore she heard him mutter something like, "It would have been fun, though," behind her back as she left the bar.