CHAPTER 10: Don't Fear the Reaper
Kira reacted quickly, scooping up the phaser and thumbing the power setting to stun. She fired at Pax, her aim as deadly as ever, and he fell unconscious once again...but the damage had been done.
She whirled to where Dietz was still standing and holding Briggs upright, her legs slack and her head lolling limply on her neck. Odo was supporting her back. "I've got her," he said. "Move back."
Briggs' body was jerking spasmodically, a gurgling sound coming from her throat and blood bubbling on her lips. Dietz moved out from in front of her, his substance flowing from around the huge gleaming blade and revealing the horrible injury where the weapon protruded from her chest. Kira rushed up as they laid her carefully on her side on the deck plating.
"We've got to get her to the ship," Odo said.
Dietz' hands flew over the blade and her blood-soaked chest, searching in vain for something to do to help. "There's nothing more than a first aid kit up there, it wouldn't help her. Besides, we can't beam out, not from here."
Kira crouched next to Briggs, the experience borne of a thousand combat wounds returning to her in an instant. "Don't touch the blade," she said. "It's the only thing controlling the bleeding." She grasped the hilt of the scimitar. "Stop up the wounds as best you can. Dietz, hold her."
He braced her torso, one hand around her back and his other arm across her chest. Odo slipped his hand under her back, his substance flowing around the sword into the wound and sealing it. Dietz rolled her onto her side and did the same for her chest wound.
"My God, there's so much blood," Dietz said, near panic. Her face was falling a deathly white already. Her arms trembled and her eyes fluttered open and closed with limited awareness. He looked up at Odo and Kira and saw a matching expression on their faces; a sort of resigned shock and grief. They believed her already dead. He didn't, he couldn't.
He pulled her limp form into his lap, looking from her face to the faces of his friends and then all around the rooftop as if hoping for a miraculous guardian angel to swoop down and save her. "D...D..." she managed. Her eyes swam and focused on him, one hand gripping his arm weakly.
"Shh, don't talk," he choked. "You're gonna be okay." Kira sat down heavily and buried her face in Odo's shoulder, unable to watch.
"...lemme...go..." she croaked, less spoken words than lip movements around exhalations.
"No, I won't, I won't let you go," he said, pulling her face into his chest.
He looked searchingly into her eyes, then raised his head and stared off into the distance, appearing deep in thought. After a moment he turned his shadowed gaze onto his companions, then seemed to come to some personal decision. He looked down at Briggs, who was fading fast. "Nora, do you trust me?"
She blinked and nodded, slowly.
"Then close your eyes." She did. "Odo, back away," Dietz said quietly, never taking his eyes off her face. Odo withdrew his hand from its place undeneath her and moved back, staring in wonder at Dietz. What was he doing?
Dietz laid her gently on the landing pad surface and bent over her body. He bowed his head down to his chest and closed his eyes, placing one hand over her and slipping the other beneath her. As Odo and Kira looked on in silence, both his arms lost solidity and flowed to encase her torso from neck to hips. He raised his head, his expression one of intense concentration, and then he began to...glow. Kira blinked, not sure what she was seeing, but it grew stronger. His gelid substance was pulsing and exuding a warm, white luminescence as it flowed and rippled around her. Slowly, slowly, the sword slid out of Briggs' chest and a tentacle of Dietz' substance flung it aside. His features began to blur and lose their cohesion, as if he were so focused on whatever he was doing that he was losing control of the rest of his shape.
"What's he doing?" Kira whispered in Odo's ear, her hand gripping his shoulder.
He shook his head in amazement. "I have no idea."
"But she's..." Her words were cut off when Briggs' body suddenly flexed upwards, her back arching. She took in a huge, gasping lungful of air and then sagged back onto the floor. The glow given off by Dietz' body faded quickly and his arms re-solidified. He sat back on his haunches, looking tired and dispirited. Odo and Kira crept forward, their eyes on Briggs. Her clothes were still soaked with blood, but...Kira reached forward and pulled aside the tatters of her vest and undershirt. The skin underneath was smooth and unmarked. She stared at Dietz, her mouth hanging open, and rolled Briggs partially onto her side only to find that the wound in her back had vanished as well.
"Great Prophecy, you healed her," Odo said quietly.
Dietz merely nodded. "She's all right. She's just unconscious."
"I...I don't believe it!"
The elder Changeling snorted brief laughter. "Odo, we're talking about a species that was able to transform you from Changeling to human, and an unskilled infant of which was able to change you back again. Is it such a long walk to think that we might also have enormous influence over organic lifeforms in other ways?"
Kira looked at Odo. "Can...can you do that?"
"I don't know," he said, his tone awestruck. "It never occurred to me to try."
Dietz shook his head. "You don't have The Ability, you're too young. It develops with maturity, usually around age 400. I had been away from the Link for many years when it came to me...of course I knew that it was coming, but even so it took me nearly a decade to master it without the guidance of the Link."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Odo asked, his voice small and confused.
"It's the last great secret of our people, Odo," Dietz said sadly. "And now I've given it away. Once you develop The Ability, the sense that, above all else, you must keep others from knowing of it develops as well. It's very powerful, the aversion to let solids see what we're truly capable of." He looked away. "I almost didn't use it. It was a very near thing. I almost let her die rather than use The Ability in front of...solids."
"But why?" Kira said. "Why hide such a powerful and miraculous gift?" She looked to Odo, but he seemed to already know the answer, and as soon as the question had left her lips she knew it, too.
"If you knew what we could do," Dietz began...and she was aware that by "you" he meant solids, "we'd do nothing else. No matter how much humanoids might say that they would respect our wish not to use The Ability, we would lead hounded and tormented lives. The quest to acquire the healing services of a Changeling would overtake all of solid society. It's happened before. Much as I might want to help others, it is not our place to interfere with the natural order of death and fate and heal those who are sick or injured, but if it were known that we could...well, you can just imagine."
Kira could imagine. She touched Briggs' face, composed peacefully in sleep. "You used it to save her, though."
Dietz looked away. "I had to. I love her. And I'm only..." He snorted. "I guess I'm only human."
"Is that all?" Odo asked.
"What else is there?" He bent and gathered her up in his arms. They stood, unsure what came next. "I don't know how Donegal managed it, those knockout drops last for at least a few hours."
Odo glanced at the feathered heap lying half in and half out of the shadows before the control booth. "I should have anticipated that. I've never encountered one in person, but Auraylians are supposed to be highly resistant to chemical agents, and their fast metabolism lets them break down toxins and rebuild their systems with amazing rapidity."
Dietz crooked an eyebrow at him. "Thank you, Odo, for that belatedly accurate analysis. The problem now is that we'll have to take out the dampening field before we can..."
The thump of a taloned foot cut him off. They whirled in time to see Donegal staggering to his feet, his eyes glittering in the darkness. For a few moments they all just stared, Donegal clutching at his chest where Kira'd shot him. He sneered and thumbed a control on his wrist communicator. The roof was immediately bathed in red light and loud klaxons filled the air. "Let me know when you bury her," he rapsed with a nod to Briggs' limp form in Dietz' arms, then abruptly turned and ran for the edge of the landing pad. He flung himself off into the darkness, his wings unfurling with a loud fwap. His form, silhouetted against the moonlight, swept off towards the city.
Dietz glanced at Odo with a nonplussed expression. "Resistant, huh?"
"Seems that way." Odo turned in quick circles, his eyes darting about the rooftop. "There!" he said, pointing to the sensor array tower. "The dampening field generator!"
Kira pivoted, took aim, and disintegrated the top of the tower in a blinding flash of phaser fire. They all felt the barely-perceptible sssssnap as the dampening field winked out of existence. She turned back towards the roof. "What about Donegal? We can't just let him get away! We've got to take him back to Starfleet!"
"We don't need him!" Odo exclaimed. "Mauren's already there!"
"No time to argue!" Dietz shouted. The sound of running footsteps came up the stairs as if to emphasize the point, growing louder by the second. "First priority is to get off this roof!"
"How?" Kira cried. "Seems to me the only exits are full of gun-wielding maniacs, and the shuttle transporters can only take two at a time!"
Dietz and Odo exchanged an unreadable glance and nodded to each other. The footsteps grew louder and the sound of shouting began to filter through the klaxons. As the first henchmen kicked in one of the rooftop doors, Odo grabbed Kira about the waist and the two Changelings made a break for the edge of the roof. Kira tucked the phaser into her belt and sucked in a deep breath, intuiting what was about to happen.
As Donegal's thugs flooded onto the landing pad, Dietz and Odo leapt off the rooftop, their flesh reshaping itself as their feet left the plating and gravity pulled them towards the hard ground below.
Odo saw out of the corner of his eye a graceful, fully formed hangliding apparatus spring from Dietz' torso and lift him into flight with Briggs cradled securely in his arms. He allowed himself a momentary flash of envy at his friend's superior shapeshifting abilities as he reformed his body into something that almost resembled Donegal, with hawklike wings and a streamlined form. He wrapped both arms around a shivering Kira, pinning her to his chest as he banked and swerved to avoid the bullets that flew through the air around them, fired from the roof of Donegal's building. Dietz swooped past him, engaged in similar evasive maneuvers, having grown an extra pair of arms to operate the hanglider's steering mechanism. The shots died out in a few seconds once they had flown out of range.
Odo drew even with Dietz. "Get her to the shuttle," he said, nodding towards Briggs, who was still unconscious.
"What about you?" Dietz shouted back.
Odo and Kira exchanged a glance. "We're going after Donegal. We'll signal you for beamup...all three of us."
Dietz considered for a moment, then nodded. "Good luck," he said, then tapped his combadge. The transport signal plucked them from the air and they were gone. Odo tightened his grip on Kira and swooped off, following Donegal's last known trajectory.
"Ha!" Miles exclaimed, bounding triumphantly into the lab. Everyone jumped.
"Good Lord, Miles...I think you just took a year off my life," Julian said, one hand to his heart.
"Oh, it gets better," he said, whipping out a PADD. Everyone gathered around.
"What have you found?" Data asked.
"Only the carrier wave they used to transmit Worf's phony comm signal."
Deanna grinned. "Another nail in the Syndicate's coffin," she said.
"Well, looking for the piggybacked signal in the millions of different communication signals to or from Earth at the time was worse than a needle in a haystack."
"You needed a magnet," Data said.
Miles grinned. "Took the words right outta my mouth, Data. I found the computer encryption code pattern in the phony security log recording."
"And you used that to construct scanning parameters for the piggybacked signals," the android finished.
"Right. And I found this," he said, loading the data to the wall monitor. "Here's the signal, hidden within the planetary sensor array. It lasts ten minutes thirty-five seconds, which corresponds to the length of the conversation Kira claimed to have had."
"Any word on the source?" Deanna said.
"The immediate source was an unmanned relay station in the Vulcan system, but by triangulating the coding vectors I traced the original source to Orion City."
Data went to his station and his fingers moved in a blur over the controls. "With two separate incidents of encryption from the same source, I can probably interpolate the computer's identification codes and, if Starfleet Intelligence has them on file, even identify the individual who executed these forgeries."
"Amazing," Julian said. "All it took was one strong gust of air and the entire house of cards comes crashing down."
"We still don't know who actually did the shooting," Miles pointed out.
"Does it matter?" Deanna said, leaning over Data's shoulder and watching his calculations. "It's just scenery. The crime originated with someone within the Syndicate...and I suspect the shooter may be beyond our reach."
"Well, think about it, Miles. An assassin that vanishes into thin air?"
He blinked and sat down with a thump. "A Changeling?"
"It is a distinct possibility," Data put in, never taking his eyes off the screen. "We know the Founders and the Syndicate have something of an informal alliance. There," he interrupted himself, pointing to the monitor. "I believe I may have an answer. Here are the computer encryption codes," he said, indicating a long string of alphanumeric code. "The computer is trying to match them to previously recorded codes." The computer bleeped and a file loaded up to the monitor. Miles leaned closer.
"Pax Donegal, Syndicate councilmember. Says here...that he is known to harbor special hatred for Jaresh-Inyo and has tried and failed repeatedly to establish a Syndicate presence on DS9."
Deanna blew air through her teeth. "That could be one reason why he chose Kira as a scapegoat."
"To punish Odo for interfering with his plans for the station."
"I wouldn't put it past him," Miles said.
"Do you know him?" Julian asked.
"No, but I know the type. I'll bet you this Pelz Mauren guy works for Donegal and set up this particular operation for him. The Syndicate has bureacracy to rival Starfleet, and a councilmember's gonna have half a dozen different operations going at any given time. If Odo and Briggs get their hands on Mauren and he sings, then we'll have all we need to arrest Donegal...provided we can find him."
"Let's take this to Biroc," Deanna said, uploading Data's calculations to Miles' PADD. "It might even be enough to make him forget about that little jailbreak."
As strange as it seemed given their situation, Kira felt completely exhilarated. She couldn't help the wide smile that spread across her face as the winds whipped through her short hair. She was flying! Every child's fantasy, come true for her thanks to the miraculous being that held her aloft.
She felt no fear, for Odo would never let her fall. His strong arms encircled her from behind, her back to his chest so that his wings were as her wings. She huddled a little tighter against him, feeling the thrumming vibration that rippled through him as he glided through the air, straining to flap fast enough to keep their weight aloft and constantly reforming himself for more efficient flight. "Why haven't we done this before?" she said, craning her neck so she could see his face. "It's amazing!"
He smiled distractedly. "Captain Sisko might frown upon us swooping around the Promenade." His abrupt manner brought her back to the task at hand and she scanned the ground below, though she'd be damned if she knew what she was looking for.
"He could be anywhere!"
"I learned some things about him from Mauren and Briggs," he answered. "I have a few ideas where to look. She said that he has a 'bolthole' at Council headquarters, we should start there." He pointed with his chin towards a low, angular building that lurked amongst its taller brothers like the runt of the litter. The sight of it filled Kira with oily dread, and she suddenly felt far less secure than she had a moment ago. Her fingers gripped Odo's arms where they were wrapped around her waist.
"We're awfully exposed up here," she said uneasily.
"I know," he said, his tone matching hers. "We'd better get down to ground level once we clear the cityscape."
No sooner had the words left his mouth than a phaser blast ripped towards them from the ground, fired from an unseen weapon below them. Odo banked steeply, and all at once they were in the middle of a barrage. Phaser fire struck the buildings around them and sizzled past them into the sky. Kira shut her eyes against vertigo as Odo tried to dip and turn quickly enough to evade the snipers, but he lacked the skill with wings to pull it off. Kira hung on tightly as she felt him faltering and losing lift. She pulled out her own phaser and began firing blindly towards the ground, hoping to at least give their attackers enough pause so they could get away. For a moment it seemed to be working, then a shot caught the tip of Odo's right wing and they spun wildly out of control. She could hear someone screaming, then realized it was herself. Another shot struck them dead center. There was a blinding flash of light as the phaser energy crackled around them. Kira felt herself sag, and was peripherally aware that they were falling before the world went black and she knew no more.
Dietz laid Briggs down gently on the cot in the rear compartment of the shuttle. "Computer, assume geosynchronous orbit above previous beamout coordinates," he called. He felt the engines shift as the computer complied and repositioned the small craft above Orion City.
He retrieved the medkit from beneath the console, but he'd scarcely opened it to get the stimulant hypospray when she stirred, her eyes moving beneath the lids. Dietz pushed the medkit aside and knelt next to her, reaching down to touch her face gently. Her eyes opened, slowly and reluctantly. The expression in them when she recognized his face made all the hell they'd put each other through vanish like a bad dream.
"I'm not dead," she breathed, grasping his hand as if to test its solidity.
"Not yet, anyway," he said with a wry smile.
"But..." She pushed herself up on her elbows and peered down at her own chest, her fingers investigating the skin beneath her torn and bloody clothing. "Shouldn't I be? Pax ran me through...I can remember feeling the blade pass through me..." She shuddered at the memory. "The blood was draining out of me and the pain was everywhere and then..." She looked up at him, puzzlement on her face. "Then it was suddenly all right." He nodded. She laid one hand on his cheek. "What did you do?" she whispered urgently.
"What I had to do. To save you."
She examined his face for a long moment, evaluating him as she always had. "Should I ask?"
He sighed. "Mmm...no, best not. Not right now."
She nodded, carefully pulling herself up into a sitting position. They just looked at each other for a few intense seconds. "I'm sorry," she finally said. What she was sorry for did not require articulation. For everything, and for nothing.
"So am I."
She abruptly leaned forward and hugged him as hard as she could, relieved as his arms went around her at once. "It's not going to be easy, is it?" she murmured.
He chuckled low in his throat. "I hope not." She laughed with him, all the rest forgotten...for the moment.
The first thing Odo was aware of was the unpleasant, barely-there tickle all over his skin that told him he was in the presence of a quantum stasis field generator, a piece of technology he would have gladly seen erased from existence. The second thing he was aware of was something warm and heavy lying on top of him, and the third thing was that the 'something' was in fact Kira.
He opened his eyes, putting his own inability to shapeshift out of his mind for the moment. His legs were cramped and tucked in an awkward position, and his neck was propped against a bulkhead at what would have been an uncomfortable angle for a humanoid. He looked around, a feeling of trepidation creeping over him.
They were in a very small, spherical chamber. So small, in fact, that he could not lie full-length on the floor, thus explaining his folded, spindled and mutilated position. Kira was similarly curled up, though her shorter stature made it less extreme. The chamber was without furniture or accoutrements of any kind, just plain duranium walls, a small viewport, an ovoid hatch and a control panel no bigger than a tricorder. Odo realized with dawning alarm that they were inside an escape pod.
He sat up, drawing Kira with him, and began to shake her gently. "Nerys," he murmured in her ear. "Nerys, wake up."
She jerked out of unconsciousness with the sudden alertness borne of guerrilla warfare, and her brain's resistant certainty that she was still somehow still waging it. "What's going on?" she croaked. "I feel baked."
"Shh," he said, gripping her shoulders. "We were stunned. I think we're in some sort of escape pod."
She rose to her knees, looking around. "What the hell?"
"Ah good, you're up," said a voice, startling them both. A too-familiar voice from the comm circuit.
"Donegal?" Odo growled, rising to his feet and going to the viewport. Kira crowded in next to him...what little they could see was of some sort of loading bay or perhaps a cargo transporter room. Donegal was sitting on the console with his knees pulled up and his wings spread out around him like a cape. He was leaning forward, his eyes glittering with eager malice. Odo had the uneasy feeling that he'd just been sitting there, lurking like a vulture and waiting for them to regain consciousness so he could gloat before doing whatever he intended to do.
"Did you miss me?" the Syndicate boss said, hopping down to the floor. He had some kind of control PADD in his hand. That feeling of trepidation rose higher in Odo's chest.
"You won't get away with this," Kira said through clenched teeth. Absurdly, Odo had to bite his lip to keep from laughing, which would have been a most inappropriate response. The whole thing was just so ridiculous. Trapped in an escape pod by a maniacal Mob boss, who appeared to be for all intents and purposes physically invincible, with his trusty, plucky fiancee spouting B-movie cliches. It was like an episode of one of those serialized adventure stories that Deputy Tyral enjoyed in the holosuites. Any minute now the announcer would be telling them to tune in next week and see if he and Kira could escape certain death. Ridiculous or not, he had a sinking feeling that very shortly things would stop being funny.
"Get away with what? You don't know what I'm going to do." Donegal tossed the control PADD in the air and caught it.
"Why? It doesn't make sense," Odo said. "Kill us and you're only making more enemies for yourself."
"My dear Constable, you can never have too many enemies. More's the merrier, all the better to play them off each other. And if you mean Starfleet, well, they've been my enemy for decades, I doubt this incident will somehow tip the scales in their favor. I'm not concerned about the Bajoran government coming after me, nor any friends of yours that could drum up enough sentimentality to seek revenge. Better sentients than they have tried and failed, including Siubhne, who was a trained assassin at the top of her craft. And before you ask what you ever did to me..." He shrugged. "To start with, you were trying to capture me. Then, you shot me. Then, as if that weren't enough, you tried to capture me again. You're persistent, I'll give you that. But unlucky." He paused and looked away, smiling to himself. "First Siubhne, now this. This is turning out to be a pretty good day."
Kira held her tongue about Briggs. If Donegal didn't know she was alive, he'd be all the more surprised when she showed up to usher him off the mortal coil.
"If you're going to kill us, just shoot us," Odo said wearily. "Don't subject us to whatever overblown and drawn-out execution scheme you've cooked up."
"When you've killed as many people as I have, the traditional methods just aren't fun anymore," Donegal said with a sigh. "A disruptor to the head is efficient and quick in a pinch, but it just doesn't inspire the proper mystique. Someone hears I disintegrated someone, they shrug and say 'so what else is new?' But someone hears that I had someone's skin peeled off their body and then dunked them in a huge vat of boiling iodine, they might think twice before crossing me. True, the more complex the method the greater the chances for escape, but it's a calculated risk that's far outweighed by the style factor." He stopped pacing and stood before the viewport, looking in at them. "It amuses me to trap you inside an old escape pod and a quantum stasis field, then launch you into orbit with no life support."
Kira felt her knees go watery. It was her nightmare, her worst possible death. To be trapped with no way out and no way to help yourself, slowly and painfully asphyxiating while your body tissues freeze around your bones. Losing consciousness and slipping mindlessly into oblivion while the absolute cold of the void seeps away the energy of your body, the energy that had sustained you and those around you. She could face being shot, stabbed, disintegrated, beaten to death, drowned, eaten...anything but this. She hung onto Odo's arm in a deathgrip, panic running its sharp fingernails around the inside of her skull and robbing her of the ability to think clearly.
Donegal wasn't finished. "Even you, Changeling, will succumb to the harsh reality of space travel without the benefit of artificial environments, though you'll most certainly last longer. That's the best part. You'll live long enough to watch your beloved die. She...well, she isn't much to me. Just an annoyance, really. You, however, have earned the greater measure of suffering through years of interference." He held up the control panel. Kira and Odo just stared at him, rooted to the spot. "I'd advise you to brace yourselves...and when you get to the other side, be sure and give my love to Siubhne. It'll be a long time before I see her again." He thumbed the central button on the control PADD, tossed it over his shoulder and strode away. "Have a nice trip."
The pod began to vibrate in preparation for takeoff. Kira bent and examined the hatch. "The locking mechanism's been fused," she said, keeping her tone determinedly even. "I can't even bypass the lock."
"He wouldn't have made it that easy," Odo said. "Check the comm..." Before he could finish the thought the pod's vibration suddenly increased and they both heard the orbital engines fire into life. "Get down," he said.
They both dropped to the floor. Without much in the way of inertial dampers, if they hadn't done so they'd have been thrown to the floor by the force of launch. Kira curled on her side, bracing her back to the wall and cradling her head with one arm. With the other she reached blindly across the floor, relieved to feel his hand immediately grasp hers.
There was no countdown, no warning...just a sudden jolt hard enough to knock Kira across the pod's floor and an immense surge of G-forces as the pod was catapulted away from the planet's surface. She felt Odo gather her into his arms, trying to shield her from being hurt as they were both tossed around like peas in a can.
Odo braced his feet against one wall and his back against the other, wishing fruitlessly for the ability to shapeshift and better shield them both. This craft wasn't designed for surface-to-orbit launch and as such provided almost no shelter from the harsh realities of escape velocity.
After a few interminable minutes the violent jolts and vibrations smoothed out, and the sky outside their small viewport darkened to the emptiness of space...but the relief was momentary. Almost immediately, the temperature inside the pod began to drop.
Kira jumped up and went to the control panel again. "This panel's powered down completely," she said defeatedly. "I can't even hotwire it from here, not without some kind of tool." She turned back towards him. "There's no way to activate the life support or the engines." She sat down cross-legged in front of him and grasped both of his hands in hers.
"What are you saying?" he whispered.
She raised her head and met his eyes, her own brimming with unshed tears. "I'm saying...that we might not get out of this one, Constable."
"Computer, open a secure line."
"-Communications have been secured-"
"Engage scramble encryption code Venable-alpha-34."
"Open a channel to Admiral Korinth."
"I once injured my shoulder playing rugby."
"Damned sport almost cost me a knee. What's up?"
"Biroc just left, the Chief and his team are uncovering more and more evidence of the setup."
"Good. They're supposed to."
"When they get back we can wheel Mauren out on cue."
"Ugh, I hate that part. So humiliating."
"What's the story on Gamma squadron?"
"They've already been deployed."
Venable blinked, surprised. "My, that was fast work."
"Well, don't thank me. Once I told them about the mission, nothing short of the Apocalypse could have kept them here one more second."
"Let me know how they resolve the situation. And tell Briggs to mind her own business from now on."
"Oh, I think she's kicking herself enough as it is without me joining in."
"Just as you say. Venable out."
"Take a look at this," Briggs said, motioning to the sensor readouts in front of her. Dietz leaned over and followed her gesture. He fetched a deep sigh when he saw what she was indicating.
"Shit," he muttered.
"Well, that could explain why I haven't been able to sense him in a little while."
"I guess...a stasis field that robs him of his ability to manipulate his morphogenic matrix could prevent me from sensing its existence."
"Bit of a reach, isn't it?"
"I don't care if it's a reach, the fact that someone's got a quantum stasis field down there makes me very nervous about how they're doing on the Great Donegal Hunt. Still...I'm sorta relieved. When I stopped sensing him I feared the worst."
"I'm localizing the field...hang on..." She squinted at the controls, then sat back and blew air through her teeth. "It's coming from one of Pax's cargo bays, and I've got Bajoran lifesigns." Their eyes met.
"He's got them."
"Looks that way."
"So how do you think we should..." The computer cut him off with an insistent bleep. "What's that?" he said, tensing.
"Projectile launch from the surface," she said in the clipped tones of a deck officer. "It's a small escape pod, and it's the source of the stasis field...Jesus, its life support is disabled." She stared at him, her eyes wide with alarm.
"Oh God," Dietz breathed. He jumped to the controls. "Let's go." The shuttle shot out of orbit to follow the pod.
"Our transporters can't penetrate the stasis field and we have no tractor beam." Her tone was utterly flat...she wasn't giving him any news flashes. "In this crappy shuttle there's nothing we can do."
"I don't care, we've got to try...something. I don't care if I have to hold my breath and saw through the hull with a damned nail file, we'll try something!"
Briggs watched his face as he piloted the small craft in pursuit of the pod. He wouldn't give up, not as long as there was a chance. She blinked against a sudden and unexpected rush of emotion; after all, she herself was only alive because he refused to give up. "Nam?" she said quietly.
"What?" he replied, distracted and short.
"I love you."
He paused for one second, long enough to bow his head in weary acceptance. "Thank God," he whispered, then resumed the pursuit. Briggs sat back gingerly, her entire chest and back still sore and immobile. That would do for now.
For the first few seconds after her statement, they just looked at each other. Kira's fingers tightened on his as reality began to sink in. Prophets save us, she heard in her mind, over and over. "Can you...aren't you..."
"Impervious?" Odo said hoarsely. "Not in this form. To survive in a vacuum I'd have to assume the form of something that could. It'll take longer but the cold...will eventually affect me as it does you." He rubbed her hands between his own. "You're freezing."
"It's g-getting colder by the second," she stammered. He ran his hands quickly up and down her arms, then drew her into his embrace. Kira clutched at him tightly, her only shield to ward off panic.
The temperature continued to drop. Odo could feel her shaking all over, a combination of cold and fear. He cursed Donegal every time he felt her tremble, not just for trapping them here but for robbing him of the chance to give his own life to save her. If he'd been able to shapeshift, he could have protected her until...well, until. "Try to save your strength," he said, cupping the back of her head and twining his fingers in her hair...for the last time, his mind insisted on adding.
"We're not g-gonna make it," she shivered, her voice roughened by suppressed sobs.
"I know. Let's...try not to think about it." It was all he could think of to say.
"I can't help it! Odo...I'm so s-sorry..."
"So am I," he said, knowing immediately what she meant.
"I c-could have loved you longer b-but I..."
"Shh, don't talk. I only wish..." He paused.
She pulled back slightly so she could look in his eyes. "Wish what?"
He laid a hand on her cheek. Her skin was so cold. "I wish I could have been your husband."
She nodded, bowing her forehead to his. Her breath was coming in quick, shallow gasps; the air was thinning. "I know, s-s-sweetie," she whispered. "Me too." She drew up again, suddenly. "Wait..." she said, her eyes far away in thought.
"What?" he said, frowning.
She looked back at him. "M-maybe you s-still c-c-could be." She put a finger on his lips, stopping the question before he could ask it. "In the ruh-ruh-ruh..."
"You c-c-couldn't always fuh-find a v-v-vedek. There's a b-bit in the 'joran t-t-texts that s-s-s-says that..." She bit her lips, trying to keep blood flowing. "In extreme circ-c-cumstances p-p-p-people can m-marry each other through..." She struggled to recall the words from the distant past when such things had been relevant. "Through 's-sincere m-m-mutual ag-g-greement.'" She stared at him, the question in her eyes.
He nodded. "These are certainly...extreme circumstances."
She wrapped her arms around him again, burying her face in his shoulder, her fingers digging grooves into his back. "Oh P-p-prophets please...q-q-quick...I'm going n-n-n-numb..."
He held her tighter, overwhelmed. "You know how I feel about you...what you might not know is how much always thought I could never have you, not really. Even since we've been together, I've been half-waiting for it to end...I never really believed it wouldn't end, not until this moment." She was crying, he could feel it. "We're one, Nerys. Nothing will ever change that."
Her tremors were slowing and lethargy was spreading over her body, and she knew what it meant. She was freezing, and soon she'd lose consciousness...but not yet. She would do this first, by the Prophets. Her lips stubbornly refused to form words, her lungs were loathe to expel air...it would have to be brief. "Yyyy-ou...are m-m-m-my hearrrrt," she managed, "annnnnnd m-m-mmmy paaaghhh." She began to sag in his arms, the strength leaving her limbs.
That was good enough for him. He looked down into her eyes. "J'non," he whispered. She smiled weakly and nodded, the Bajoran word of affirmation formed silently by her own lips. He kissed her gently. "My wife," he said, emotion choking his voice. Her eyes lost focus and glazed over.
"...husband..." she breathed, then slumped unconscious in the crook of his arm. Odo gathered her limp form as close to himself as possible, drawing her knees up so he could encircle her. Movement was becoming...difficult. The cold was stiffening his substance, soon it would immobilize him. He bowed his face into her hair.
He'd heard or read the phrase a hundred times from a hundred different sources from varied cultures and people, and had thought it overblown and pretentious everytime; yet it was this phrase that was the only thing he could think of as he sat on the floor of the escape pod with his beloved's lifeless body cradled in his arms, waiting for obilivion to claim them both. Now it did not seem overblown or pretentious, now it seemed like the most obvious and fundamental truth he would ever know:
We will die, but at least we're together.
"Try remodulating the phase transition coils!" she cried, her eyes darting over the deflector shield schematics before her.
"Are you kidding? That was the first thing I did!" He glanced at her monitors. "What are you doing?"
"I'm trying to juryrigg some kind of tractor beam with the deflectors. I might be able to disrupt the stasis field long enough to beam them out."
"Good idea but it'll never work on such a small field." They were firing these comments off at each other like machine-gun bullets, the urgency of the situation weighing heavily on them.
"I've gotta try something fast, they've been spacebound for..." She checked the chronometer. "Seven minutes. Much longer and the cold will kill them both!"
"Lemme see if I can..."
The escape pod lurched in space and a shower of sparks erupted from its side. "Jesus, it's gonna blow," Briggs muttered. "The power system is short-circuiting. That thing must be forty years old...we better think of something before it..."
That was as far as she got. The pod gave another lurch, then exploded in a bright but momentary flash, leaving scant debris to mark its passing. The two agents sat staring out the front viewport with wide, shocked eyes...but before they could react, the familiar shimmer of a transporter beam filled the cabin. They whirled around as one just in time to see Odo materialize in the cabin, sitting on the floor with an unconscious Kira cradled in his lap. He was holding her face to his chest protectively, his own head bowed down against hers and his eyes shut. It looked like he'd been trying to shield her from the sparks from the power surges.
He opened his eyes and looked around cautiously. When he realized where they were he fetched a deep, relieved sigh and hugged Nerys tightly. Briggs nodded, smiling. "Well, thank God. How in the world did you do it?" she asked her partner.
Dietz looked up sharply. "Umm...I didn't do it. I was about to ask you how you did it."
She shook her head, her brow furrowing. "I didn't do it. What on Earth do you..."
"I hate to interrupt but could one of you fetch the medkit?" Odo said. "I can't move very well and Nerys is half-frozen."
Briggs jumped up and grabbed the medkit and a thermal blanket. She carefully drew Nerys out of Odo's stiff arms, wrapped her in the blanket and laid her on the cushioned bench. "Are you all right?" she asked him, applying an isothermic hypospray to Nerys' neck.
"Just give me a minute, I'll be fine," he said, flexing his substance to speed the thawing process. "What happened?"
"You got me," Dietz said, still at the controls and scanning the area. "Whoever beamed you out, they must have had state-of-the-art equipment to punch through the stasis field. We're not picking up any ships on the sensors, and we're out of range of the planet."
Nerys stirred and began to shiver again. Odo sat at the head of the bench and laid a hand on her forehead. "Is she all right?" he whispered to Briggs, who was scanning her with a tricorder.
"Looks that way. I'm not seeing any tissue damage. You're damned lucky you got out of there when you did."
He snorted. "If I knew who to thank, I would."
As if on cue, another transport matter stream shimmered into the shuttle's cabin. They all stared, open-mouthed, as it materialized into the astounding sight of Pax Donegal, gagged and securely bound in neurosuppressive constriction bands. He was glaring at them with a sort of embarrassed fury. After a few moments of processing time, Briggs surprised everyone by busting out into mad laughter. "Well hello, Pax! So good of you to drop by!"
As his eyes fell on her, his former comrade he'd believed dead, Donegal's eyes fairly blazed from their sockets and he strained fruitlessly against the constriction bands. Dietz stood up and approached Donegal. "What's this?" he said. There was a small PADD attached to one of the constriction bands. He plucked it off and activated it.
"What's it say?" Odo said.
Dietz chuckled. "You're gonna love this. It says: 'What do you get for the spies who have everything? We all went in on this little gift, hope you like it. Have a nice trip home. Love, Gamma Squadron. P.S. Hope Odo and Kira are okay.'" He tapped the PADD against his palm, then whacked Donegal upside the head with it. "Whaddya think of that, Pax ole buddy? Bet they didn't even break a sweat tricking you into an ambush." He crouched in front of him. "Here you were, all tripping ego over your Founder buddies, and you get caught by a bunch of Changelings." He grinned. "Isn't it ironic...don't you think?"
"You through impressing yourself, Dietz?" Briggs said shortly, though a smile was lurking about her lips. "How's about getting us out of here? I know I can't wait to put this planet behind me."
"I can't argue with that," he said, resuming the pilot's seat. He glanced back at their new prisoner as he guided the shuttle out of orbit. "Road trip, Pax! Starfleet HQ or bust!"
Pax grunted something, muffled and unintelligible due to his gag...but it sounded suspiciously like "shut up."
They entered warp shortly, all of them breathing sighs of relief as they left the Orion system. Briggs checked Nerys once more, then returned to the copilot's seat, leaving her with Odo. He gently drew her head and shoulders into his lap and sagged against the bulkhead, giving in to the relief and emotional fallout of being so near death. He kept one hand on Nerys' forehead, her skin regaining its usual rosy hue as her body warmed up. She stirred and murmured under her breath, then once again snapped awake quickly. Odo smiled at the sense of deja vu that swept over him. Didn't I just leave this party?
"Odo? Wha...where?" She looked around at the shuttle and its occupants.
"As I believe the Chief would put it, we were rescued in the nick of time."
She sat up and stared at him, clutching the thermal blanket around herself. "Prophets, who the hell rescued us?"
"Gamma Squadron. Seems like someone back on Earth thought we could use a hand."
"Well, they were right."
"They beamed us off the pod and then delivered Donegal. They even gift-wrapped him for us," he said with a wry smile.
She chuckled. "After all that, they swoop down and finish things up in no time flat."
He shrugged. "It's just as well. This trip wasn't really about him, was it? I didn't come out here to catch a Syndicate boss or to help Briggs avenge her husband's death. I came out here for you," he said simply.
She looked into his eyes. "I know what you mean." They held each other's gaze for a few long moments. She twined her fingers through his and leaned against his shoulder. "Odo...what happened in the pod..."
"Shh," he said, laying his cheek against her hair. "You don't have to say anything."
"No, I need you to know...that I meant it."
"So did I."
They fell silent, thinking. "So...it's real, then."
He sighed. "It's real to me."
She nodded and moved closer, snuggling into his arms. "I'm so sleepy," she yawned.
"Rest for awhile. We've got a sixteen hour trip back to Earth." He reformed parts of himself to cradle her in soft cushions.
She looked up into his face. "Let's not tell anyone just yet. For now...I'd like it to be just us."
"Whatever you want," he said with a smile. He ran one finger down her cheek. "I love you, Nerys."
Her expression went serious. "If I didn't love you...I wouldn't be me." She smiled, turned on her side and let her eyes slide shut. Within moments her breathing was slow and even, but Odo did not rest. He sat motionless and watched her sleep, forgetting about Inyo and Biroc and Venable and even his friends who were piloting them towards home. He thought of nothing but the ebb and flow of his wife's steady breath, and marveled at the tides of his own life that she should exist at all.
Seven hours later, Briggs still sat quietly in the copilot's seat, plotting. She was plotting what she'd say, because she knew that once Kira woke up and she and Odo got their thoughts together, she would have a lot of talking to do. She had promised him an explanation, and he'd get one.
She didn't have to wait long. Low murmured voices from the back told her that Kira had awoken, and within five minutes she and Odo were sitting in the navigators' chairs and looking at her with expectant expressions. Dietz lounged in the pilot's seat, his arms crossed, watching her with an amused expression. She'd get no help from him.
"Well?" Odo said.
She sighed, wondering how to begin.
"I think it's time to clue us in," Kira said.
Briggs nodded. "First, Kira...why don't you tell me what it is that you think you know?"
She shrugged. "What I know is that Section 31 arranged to have Jaresh-Inyo assassinated. They placed one of their operatives, Pelz Mauren, in the employ of a man who was planning such an attempt and Mauren orchestrated the attempt, including me as the scapegoat."
Odo was shaking his head. "But that doesn't quite add up, not anymore. Mostly because of Mauren. He never acted like he was working to kill Inyo, and he eventually helped us." He eyed Briggs. "Nothing is what it seems, is it?"
"In this case, no." She looked around at her three...no, make that four...listeners and took a deep breath. "All right, brace yourselves. I will tell you the truth...but it must never leave this room." They nodded their assent. "Here's the deal: You were never in any danger of imprisonment, Kira. Section 31 never intended for you to actually be blamed for the attempt, and they didn't want Inyo dead. What was done was not to kill him...but to save him." She let that sink in for a moment, then went on:
"Section 31 has known for years that the Syndicate wants Inyo dead. They also have some expertise in assassinations, and what they know has taught them that if someone is really determined to carry out an assassination, they will eventually succeed. It doesn't matter how many bodyguards you put on the target or how vigilant you are, a sufficiently skilled assassin will find a way...and the Syndicate has no shortage of skilled assassins. So the question then becomes, what to do about it if prevention ceases to be an option?
And so the 'bunt' was born. It's a top-secret operation known only to DFAs and Section commanders, a blueprint for assassination engineering. You see, the best way to prevent an assassination is to let it happen...but be ready to intervene once the attempt is made and save the target's life. To take it one step further, your chances for success are much greater if the attempt is made on your own terms and in a way that is known in advance. So what do they do?"
Odo jumped in, wearing the familiar look of satisfaction that he got when he saw the pieces falling into place. "They send one of the DFA's to join the Syndicate and set the whole thing up."
"Exactly. Pelz goes to Orion and gets in good with Donegal, then gets himself assigned to set up the assassination. He does so in ways that will enable us to save Inyo, and reports all the details back to Section 31. Consider: a few months before the ball, Dr. Bashir is asked to design an antidote to batrachotoxin. Inyo is maneuvered into making a few bold anti-Syndicate moves, so that the assassination will have visible motivation. The President is shot when he's standing right next to Dr. Bashir, who just happens to know the antidote. Does that sound like a bunch of coincidences to you? Not in a million years. Everything that happened at that ball was planned down to the second. Which brings us to you, Nerys.
The entire thing depends upon the Syndicate's belief that the attempt is genuine. Of course they can't ever suspect that Mauren is setting the whole thing up to fail. For that, he needs to frame someone for the assassination, just as he would if he really worked for Donegal. But, he also needs someone whose accusation will not stand up under close scrutiny. He needs the frameup to be traced back to the Syndicate, so that Biroc can call in the cavalry and make arrests. So he chooses one Major Kira Nerys of Deep Space Nine. For a number of reasons. She will be present the night of the ball, when the attempt is to occur. She can be called away on the pretext of a transmission from the station and seeded with trace evidence. But most importantly, she has a fiancee who will never believe in her guilt, nor will he rest until he proves her innocence."
Odo leaned forward. "Are you telling me they picked her because of me?"
"In a way, yes. They knew that if she were accused of this crime, they would get the services of the best investigator in the quadrant." She sighed. "It would have worked, too. You were supposed to go to Orion, just as you did. You were supposed to discover the frameup, just as you did. You were supposed to find Mauren, who would point you towards Donegal. You would have taken them both back to Starfleet, Kira would have been exonerated, and Donegal would have gone to a Federation prison colony for the rest of his natural life." She shook her head. "It's my fault it got screwed up. If I hadn't come with you, you never would have known that Pelz works for us. You were supposed to go alone. I didn't know this was a bunt operation. If I had, I would never have gone with you."
Kira was bouncing her feet, tapping her teeth with one fingernail. "I don't believe this. So...I was never in any danger of spending the rest of my life in jail?"
"Of course not. Even if Odo hadn't discovered the frameup, which I'm sure wasn't really a contingency they were concerned about, they would have found a way to get you freed. Anonymous tip, or maybe they'd have had Pelz turn himself in, who knows."
"You're forgetting one thing," Dietz said. "What about my little anonymous friend back on Earth? The one who told me to get Kira away? He seemed pretty concerned."
"I'm sure he wasn't in on the entire plan. He said he only played a small part, no doubt he thought much as you all did...that Section 31 actually wanted Kira blamed for the assassination."
"Do you know who he was?"
"No, but I have an idea," she said thoughtfully. "I'll take care of it, don't worry."
Odo couldn't hardly believe what he was hearing. "I must say, that is the most insanely dangerous plan I've ever heard! I didn't think even Section 31 had the nerve to pull something like that."
"Oh, but it's such a good plan. No bunt we've ever tried has failed...not that I know of, anyway...and all the intended targets have gone on to live happy, productive, non-assassination-interrupted lives. It's hard to argue with success."
"I resent being an unwitting participant," Kira grumbled. "One or all of us could have been killed!"
"That's true. And you should resent it. I might point out that most of us weren't supposed to be endangered at all, and as for Odo...well, the danger to you on Orion would have been minimal." She looked sternly about at her listeners. "But you all must promise me not to reveal what I've told you. The bunt operation is one of Section 31's most closely guarded secrets, for obvious reasons. Can we agree that it's in everyone's interests not to discuss this?"
Odo nodded after a moment's consideration. "I can appreciate the difficulties of trying to protect an assassination target, and though I can't condone these kinds of tactics, as you say it's hard to argue with success."
Kira stood up and began pacing. "I'm still pissed off."
"Go ahead, be pissed off. I just care that you keep it to yourself."
She stopped and glared at Briggs for a moment, then the anger seemed to go out of her and she flopped back into her chair. "All right. I promise."
"Good. 'Cause it'd be my ass in the fire if Section 31 had to design an entirely new anti-assassination protocol just because once again I couldn't keep my big yap shut." No one said anything. "Then we're agreed." She sighed mightily and grinned. "In that case, I say we haul ass for home, where no doubt we are awaited with much anticipation. At least you'll have the satisfaction of having Starfleet grovel all over you with apologies for your unjust imprisonment," she said to Kira, her eyes twinkling.
Kira snorted, then snickered, then burst out into guffaws.
"What's so funny?" Odo inquired curiously.
"Oh, nothing. I'm just picturing Admiral 'Belt-Buckle' Ross kneeling before me and begging for forgiveness like some kind of penitent at a shrine."
Briggs laughed. "I'd make him pay for his misdeeds with an entire year of indentured servitude."
"Servitude for Quark," Odo added.
"Sharpening his teeth."
"Procuring Dabo girls for his pleasure."
"Cleaning his holosuites."
"Prechewing his food."
"Giv-giving him oo-mox!" Dietz added, braying wild laughter.
"That's disgusting!" Kira managed, holding her side.
"Oh, and prechewing his food isn't?"
"Yeah, but at least you can't get venereal earlobe fungus from prechewing tube grubs!"
Their laughter echoed through subspace as the shuttle warped towards Earth and the vindication that awaited them there.
CHAPTER 11. Return to Innocence
The sight that greeted Kira's eyes as they materialized at Federation HQ in Paris was quite possibly the most welcome one in her lifetime. The transporter room was full of people. The first face she saw was Sisko's, his dark skin broken by his wide, blindingly white smile. Jake, also smiling, stood at his side. The Chief and Julian stood together, both of them looking pleased with themselves, and to one side was a very pale golden-eyed man whom she assumed was Commander Data; she'd never had the chance to actually meet him. A slight brunette woman stood next to him with her arm through his...must be Deanna Troi, Lwaxana's daughter. Commander Biroc was there, as was the formidable Captain Venable, their expressions equal part relief and embarrassment.
Sisko all but leapt forward to embrace her, managing to shake Odo's hand at the same time. "Thank goodness you're back safely!" he exclaimed as the others pressed forward.
"Barely," Kira said. "It's wonderful to be back, sir," she said, then cast a significant glance at Captain Venable. "Isn't it?"
Venable bowed her platinum head briefly. "Indeed it is, Major. Thanks to the tireless efforts of your friends," she said, indicating Miles, Julian, Data and Deanna, "who proved that much of the evidence gathered here was falsified, and also to the testimony of a Syndicate middleman who came forward. You have our humblest apologies for suspecting you, although I trust you understand that we were only acting in accordance with the evidence at hand."
"Yes, I understand," Kira said.
"I'd also like to offer you my personal apology, and my best wishes," Venable said, sticking out her hand. Kira shook it. "Under the circumstances, I think we'll all just...ahem, forget about the fact that you escaped from detention and fled the jurisdiction." She tossed an annoyed look at Biroc. "In any case...you're free to go."
A cheer went up in the small room, and Kira and Odo were surrounded by their relieved friends as Venable and Biroc made a discreet exit. "What happened on Orion?" Julian asked, setting off a flurry of questions.
"We found the evidence of the frameup!"
"They said you brought the Syndicate boss back with you?"
"How did you find him?"
"How did he set it up?"
"Why did he want to blame you?"
"Did he put up a fight?"
Kira held up her hands. "Everyone calm down!" she said, grinning. "We'll tell you everything, but I for one would like to get out of this transporter room."
"Of course," Miles said. "Let's go to our suite...you guys look like you could use a stiff drink and a comfy chair." The prodigal DS9 officers were bustled off the platform and the entire chattering group moved off down the hallway. Briggs smiled wearily, she and Dietz thankfully forgotten for the moment.
She took a hesitant step forward. Her chest was still terrifically sore, and her legs didn't seem to want to work very well. Dietz put an arm around her and helped her off the platform. "Are you sure you're all right?" he fussed.
"Yeah. It just feels like I did about a thousand bench-presses and then ran a marathon over gravel wearing high heels. It'll pass." Yet she allowed him to support her as they left the room, her steps noticeably slower.
They didn't speak as they made their way down the hallway. "Can we stop here for a moment?" Briggs finally asked, breathless, when they came to a small sunlit alcove notched into the corridor. Dietz guided her into one of the two chairs set there and she relaxed back into it with a sigh. "Good Lord, what did you do to me?" she said, chuckling.
He crouched before her and looked up into her face, noting with concern the bags under her eyes. "Just the power of positive thinking," he said teasingly.
She rolled her eyes. "Well, whatever it was, it made me feel like the inside of a plasma exhaust tube." She smiled down at her partner, her expression tender. "Thank you."
They just sat there in silent communion for a moment. "So," he said softly. "Can she come back now?"
She cocked her head, puzzled. "Who?"
Nora chuckled. "She never left. She's me. It's just that sometimes..." She paused in thought. "Sometimes she has to hide." An uncertain expression came over her face, looking out of place there. "I've been hiding since Harry died....but I don't think I can anymore, or even want to." She smiled. "No matter how hard I try to hide, you always see me, and it never scares you away."
He sighed, turning serious. "Nora...I love you too much to let that happen."
Her smile widened. "So we're stuck with each other."
"Looks that way."
They sat there in the shaft of sunlight streaming through the window. A sense of peace stole over Briggs; it felt foreign and strange. Dietz leaned towards her. He's going to kiss me, she thought. My partner, that infernal Changeling, is about to kiss me...and my God do I want him to.
She met him halfway, her eyes falling closed as their lips met. She felt his hands rise to twine through her tangled hair as her own crept around his neck, then her arms encircled him as the kiss deepened. Nora sagged against him...God he feels amazing, she thought. She could feel a sense of the liquid beneath his solid exterior, his mouth molding itself to hers.
Some indeterminate time later they drew apart. Her heart was pounding, and for the first time in her memory, his features looked just a tad blurred; he quickly sharpened himself up. "Wow," she breathed.
She opened her eyes...and jumped, giving a startled yelp. Dietz flinched. "What's wrong?"
She pointed up at him. "Your hair!"
He tried to look up at it, his eyes crossing. "What about it?"
"It's...brown!" And it was. His unruly, wavy blue hair was no longer blue. It had gone a deep chestnut color...the same color as her own, Briggs realized.
"You're kidding!" Dietz grabbed a strand and pulled it down in front of his eyes. "Huh. That's weird. I'll just fix it." He let the strand go and concentrated for a moment. "There."
She shook her head, grinning. "It's still brown." Dietz gave an exasperated sigh and stood up, looking at his reflection in the windows. Briggs stood next to him. He just stared at himself, not moving, his brow furrowed slightly. "Well?" she said.
He made a face. "Okay, here's the thing...I can't get it to change back." He glanced down at her. "It's stuck. That is really strange. Lemme try this." He abruptly shifted, and a green-haired Andorian woman was standing where he'd just been. Then a blue-skinned Bolian. Then...Kira, her red hair intact. Then back to himself, brown hair and all. "I don't get it. It's not a problem in any other form. But when I'm me, it just...wants to be brown, I guess." He turned and eyed her suspiciously. "I think this must be your fault."
"Moi?" she said innocently.
He leaned closer. "Seems you've changed me in unusual ways."
She reached up and ruffled his newly-chestnut curls. "Well, I like it."
"Then I'll keep it...not that I have a choice."
"So how did you convince this Pelz Mauren to confess?" the Chief said eagerly, leaning forward. Kira and Odo exchanged a glance. They'd been through the whole account of their adventures on Orion, omitting by tacit agreement any mention of Section 31. Kira silently begged Odo with her eyes to make something up...he was oh so much better at inventing plausible cover stories than she.
He gave a neutral shrug. "Briggs and I had him dead to rights anyway. I'd taken copies of most of his computer files, he'd confessed his role in the assassination to us...we'd intended to leave him imprisoned on Orion until we left, hopefully with Donegal in irons, but he escaped. We thought we'd lost him, though we weren't terribly upset about it. We had the evidence we needed against Donegal. I was as surprised as you to find him here. I suppose his conscience got the better of him." Everyone nodded and seemed satisfied with this explanation.
Kira glanced around, suddenly alert. "Hey, where is Briggs anyway? And Dietz too!"
"Something tells me they had some things to work out for themselves," Odo said, casting her a significant glance. As if on cue, the door opened and the pair of agents entered, Briggs leaning rather heavily on her partner. Julian jumped up.
"Good Lord, what happened to you?"
Briggs pulled back. "Oh, nothing. Just a bit worse for wear."
"Nonsense, you're hurt."
"I was. I'm okay," she said emphatically, but Julian was having none of it.
"That'll be quite enough out of you, Lieutenant. Let's get you to sickbay. That's an order," he added, forestalling further objections. She heaved a sigh.
"If you insist, Doctor." She tossed a wink and a smile at Odo and Kira, then she and Dietz turned as one and followed Julian out of the room.
Deanna got up and went to the replicator as Kira relaxed back into the corner of the chaise lounge. "We're very grateful for all the work you did in our absence," Odo said to Miles and Data. "Looking at this," he went on, glancing over the PADD of the group's findings, "Kira would be a free woman even if we'd never found Mauren or Donegal. You've shot enough holes in this evidence to discredit it completely." Just as you were meant to, his mind chimed in.
"The entire exercise was a fascinating experience," Data observed. "This fabricated evidence was most cleverly constructed, its verisimilitude proved quite difficult to contradict. I believe this was the third most challenging analytical problem I have faced. The first was the matter of..."
Deanna laid a hand on his shoulder. "That's all right, dear." Data fell silent, looking a tad embarrassed, as Deanna handed Kira a cup of ginger tea.
"Oh, you're an angel," Kira said, taking it gratefully. She took a sip and slumped further down in the lounger. "I'm just glad it's all over and I can get on with my life," she said. With my husband, she thought. Sweet Prophets, my husband. Can it be real? She looked over at him, seeing her thoughts mirrored in his eyes. Oh, it's real, she thought as warmth spread over her body.
The Chief and Deanna exchanged a meaningful glance, and Miles rose from his chair. "Well, you two should get some rest. You must be exhausted." Kira was wilting already, making his point for him. "We'll see you later." The three officers left, leaving only Captain Sisko to linger by the door. He had been very quiet throughout Odo and Kira's tale, but now he seemed to have found his tongue again.
"Constable, Major...first of all, I'm delighted you've returned safely and to such good news." Kira rose and stood before him, next to Odo.
"But?" she prompted him.
"Well...you say Mauren escaped?"
"That's correct," Odo said.
"He arrived here at HQ in the same shuttle that you and Briggs took to Orion. However did he gain access to it?" Odo and Kira looked at each other, at a loss. Sisko nodded. "I don't want to know, do I?"
Kira clasped her hands behind her back and looked him square in the eye. "No, sir."
"Nor will anyone else question his testimony, will they?" Their silence was sufficient answer. "Ah well. Whatever really happened, the outcome has set things to rights." He smiled and touched Kira's shoulder. "I'll see you both in the morning." He turned and left the room.
Kira breathed a sigh of relief. "I don't think I like this secrecy thing one little bit."
"I understand how you feel, Nerys, but we've little choice in the matter. No one can know about Section 31's involvement in this."
She nodded, too tired to discuss the matter further. "What about Dietz?"
"You mean his...ability? I think we can agree that needs to be kept quiet as well." She said nothing. "Can't we?"
"He could help so many people, Odo."
"We can't possibly do that to him! His life would no longer be his own!"
"I'm not suggesting he be made some sort of healing-slave, but think of the benefits!"
Odo shook his head. "The benefits are irrelevant. You wouldn't suggest such a thing if he were a humanoid."
She jumped up, angry. "What are you saying, that I have no respect for Changelings? I married one, didn't I?"
"Hardly the point. His abilities are his to use as he chooses."
"But he could..."
"Nerys, listen to me, please. The fact that one species or another possesses skills that may be of use to others is no reason to violate that species' individual rights. On Ritkas IV, the indigenous population possess no lower body limbs. There, a humanoid would have almost miraculous abilities...should they be forced to use them to service the populace?"
"That's not the same thing."
"It is the same thing, only the stakes are much higher. So much so that if we tell the universe what Dietz is capable of, we might as well just take a disruptor to him because his life would be over. You or I wouldn't presume on him to use his gifts, but not everyone is so scrupulous. There are those who would pay any price for someone with that skill."
She sat back down with a sigh. "You're right...I just can't help but think about all the people I've loved and lost and...if I'd known someone like Dietz..."
He sat next to her and drew her close. "I know," he said softly. "But it's not our place to decide who gets to cheat death." He kissed her temple. "You did, didn't you?" he mused after a few moments.
She yawned mightily and slid down so she was lying across his lap. "Did what?"
"Marry a Changeling."
A sleepy smile curled her lips. "I sure did...well, we'll check with Vedek Tonsa when we get back, but...yes." She looked up at him, one hand rising to his cheek. "You're my family now, Odo."
He sighed. "As you have always been mine, Nerys." He smiled. "I mean, Mrs..." His brow creased. "Umm...Mrs..." She snickered at his puzzlement. "Oh, that's a problem."
"No, it's not. I never really thought I'd take my husband's name."
"Good, because I've none to give you."
"What you've given me is far more precious than just a name," she whispered, turning serious.
He stroked one thumb across her pale cheek. "What's that?"
She held his gaze. "Peace."
Julian shook his head, making exasperated faces as he scanned her. "This is dreadful," he said. "You've got a whole series of subcutaneous hematomas and serious muscle strain, and the bones and cartilage in your ribcage are scarred and stressed." He snapped the instrument closed and fixed her with a stern stare. "What have you been doing?"
She shrugged. "Nothing more dangerous than what you've been doing...Doctor." Julian glanced around...they were alone in the medical bay. Dietz had gone to retrieve her equipment from the shuttle Mauren had taken.
"I don't know what you mean," he said carefully, afraid that he did.
She sat up. "You know...disguises, secret meetings in the middle of the night, aiding and abetting prison breaks." He took a step back, his heart skipping a few beats. She winked at him. "Come on, Doctor. It's just too convenient for you to have been the one to engineer the antidote to the toxin."
"Uh...I don't...I'm not sure..."
She hopped off the biobed and backed him up against the wall, stopping his words with one finger on his lips. "Shh, no need to exert yourself. You thought you were doing the right thing. You thought the Section would let Kira rot in prison. You thought you could do some good." Julian sagged, admitting defeat.
"You're with them, aren't you? You're an Section agent. I always thought...you were different." He met her eyes. "How did you know it was me?"
"Lucky guess. I've been doing this awhile. Listen, I don't have to tell you that this conversation is strictly confidential." He nodded numbly. "I know you were trying to help, Julian, but you really screwed things up. You aren't privy to the Section's plans. You just do your part and let it go. Don't meddle in things you don't understand."
"I don't understand this, either!" he exclaimed.
"That's all right. Just trust Briggs. Repeat after me: Briggs is good, Briggs is wise."
He shuffled his feet and looked away. "Briggs is good, Briggs is wise," he muttered.
"That's right. I'm on your side, Doctor, believe me. You just watch yourself, okay?" She pinched his cheek and stepped back just as Dietz came back into the room.
"Everything okay?" he said, his eyes flicking from one to the other.
Bashir cleared his throat. "Ah yes, well, it seems to be. Excuse me," he said hurriedly, and left the room. Dietz chuckled.
"What's his deal?"
She shrugged. "Post-traumatic stress, maybe?" She took a step forward, then stopped with a wince. He was at her side in a flash, concerned.
She nodded, rubbing her chest. "He gave me something, but it still hurts."
He thought for a moment. "Here, let me," he finally said. He moved behind her and embraced her from behind.
She chuckled. "Honey, this is hardly the time or the..."
"Shh," he cut her off. She fell silent and stood still, unnerved by his serious manner. His hands were on her stomach, then one slid underneath her shirt to rest on the bare skin of her abdomen. She gasped as it went liquid and spread over her torso, then she went rigid as it took on an eerie warm glow and suffused her entire body with an odd, electric tingling. It lasted but a second, then was gone. She slumped in his arms, gasping for breath. "Better?" he murmured in her ear, reforming his hands.
She straightened experimentally. "My God...I feel fine! The pain's..." She turned abruptly to face him. "Jesus, that's what you did to me. You healed me. That sword went right through me, I didn't just imagine it. But you..." She grasped his face between her hands and kissed him firmly. "You healed me."
He smiled. "I guess I didn't do a very complete job the first time."
She sobered. "You're a miracle, Nam. You're my miracle." She hugged him hard, tears touching the corners of her eyes. He returned the embrace gladly.
"For the first time in my life I'm glad to have The Ability," he said against her shoulder. "Always seemed like a curse before."
She sagged against him, fatigue overtaking her. "I'm so tired," she whispered. "I didn't realize how much till the pain went away."
"Let's get out of here before you pass out," he murmured, then bent and picked her up as if she weighed nothing. She smiled wearily and linked her arms around his neck.
"Well, I've been swept off my feet," she said teasingly. "So, you Changeling scoundrel...take me to bed or lose me forever." He stood still for a moment, head cocked. She raised her head and looked at him, brow creasing. "Well?"
"I'm thinking," he said, eyes twinkling. She slapped at his shoulder as he turned and carried her out of sickbay, their familiar chuckles echoing down the dimmed corridors.
Kira stood motionless in the shower, letting the water cascade over her tired body. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her head lolled on her neck as Odo washed her hair, his strong hands massaging her scalp and neck as he did so. He rinsed the lather away then moved on to her body, the soap slicking her skin as he washed away both the dirt and grime from their journey as well as the fatigue and stress of the entire ordeal.
Kira's knees abruptly buckled and she put out a hand to steady herself. "Whoa, almost lost it there," she muttered.
"Here, you'd better sit down," he rumbled.
"Odo, there's no...oh, okay." She sat down on the stool that had just appeared in the middle of the shower. Oh, the endless advantages of a shapeshifting lover. She let him cradle her as the hot water and his gentle hands made the rest of the world go away and stop bothering her.
By the time he shut off the water she was barely conscious. She was semi-aware of him drying her, then slipping a nightshirt over her head and guiding her under the sheets. She curled on her side, one hand still reaching out for him...then she felt him slip in behind her and draw her gently into his arms.
"It's been a day now," she whispered. "We've been married one day." She turned towards him and snuggled as close as she could get, soothed by his warmth and the sense of absolute security that only he had ever been able to give her.
"Seems like a lot has happened in that time," he murmured.
She nodded, yawning. "I hope all the days aren't this jam-packed."
"It's us. Never a dull moment." He felt her smile against his neck, her breathing smoothing out into the untroubled tides of sleep. He let himself go partially liquid to better cradle her...he'd have to revert completely soon, anyway. He kissed the top of his wife's head. "Happy anniversary, Nerys."
The restaurant was bustling with people, and they just seemed to keep coming in. The Siskos were hosting a cocktail party to celebrate Nerys' exoneration and as a final hoo-ra before the crew left to return to DS9. It had been two days since she and Odo's triumphant return, and Nerys had spent much of the interim sleeping or being debriefed. She had scarcely left Federation HQ and she had been just about batty with cabin fever when the captain had suggested this gathering. It had seemed an excellent idea, and the execution was proving even better than the proposition.
"Hide and seek?" Deanna said around a mouthful of etoufee, grinning. "Somehow I can't quite picture you doing that."
Odo smiled. "Once I got over my own disbelief, I rather enjoyed it. You know, in many ways your mother taught me how to relax...somewhat."
"Mother's good at getting people to act contrary to their natures," the counselor said fondly. "She delights in the unexpected." She chuckled. "I dreaded having to tell her about Data, thinking she'd be horrified I'd fallen in love with an android, but when I finally did, she just gave a laugh and wanted to hear more about it. I think she relished the adventurous aspects."
"I hope...I hope that she knows how sorry I am that it...well, that it couldn't work between us," he said more seriously.
Deanna laid a hand on his arm. "She knows. She accepts that some things just aren't meant to be." She smiled a little sadly. "She will always love you, though."
Odo nodded. "And I her, as much as I can. Despite my frequent frustration with her, Lwaxana is someone I care about very much."
"I know exactly what you mean," Deanna said, rolling her eyes.
"She wasn't like anyone I'd ever met before. No one had ever treated me with as much respect and...acceptance as she did. Not even Kira," he added under his breath.
"Mother puts up a good front of foolish affectation, but at heart she's a very sensitive and practical woman." Deanna sighed. "But now she may just prove me wrong...look, I think she's making another conquest as we speak." They both looked across the room to where Lwaxana was hanging off Dr. Mora's arm and laughing uproariously at something he'd said. Odo harrumphed.
"I should warn Dr. Mora that she's not a subject for scientific study," he said.
"My mother is romancing the adopted father of her unrequited love," Deanna mused with a sigh. "I'd better clear my schedule." She met Odo's eyes and they both laughed.
"Nerys, I'd like you to meet Captain Picard," Miles said, indicating a distinguished-looking bald man. Kira smiled and shook his hand.
"Nice to meet you, sir. I've heard a great deal about you."
He nodded noncommittally. "I was glad to hear of your exoneration, Major. I haven't seen my first officer quite so determined to solve a puzzle since I taught him bridge."
"Well, we couldn't have done it without him, sir," Miles said. "The Counselor, too."
"I appreciate your loaning them to us," Kira added with a grin.
"Oh, think nothing of it. They both had some leave time coming and we were going to be in the system for a few weeks. Refits, you know. The war has taken its toll on all of us."
Data came up to them and handed the Captain a PADD. "Sir, this just came for you." He scanned it, then looked up at the group.
"Will you excuse me, I must return to the Enterprise." He smiled at Kira. "Again, congratulations, Major. Good luck, and to Odo as well." She nodded in acceptance and he moved off quickly.
"Anything wrong?" Miles asked.
"No," Data said. "Part of my job." Kira glanced from one to the other, puzzled. Miles grinned.
"You see, Major...the Captain hates parties with a passion."
Data interrupted him. "So it is the job of his first officer, after he has put in a sufficient appearance for politeness' sake, to come up and hand him a PADD so he can plead sudden ship's business and leave."
Kira burst out laughing, amusement far outweighing any offense she might have taken at this flimsy pretense. "You're kidding! He's the most famous captain in the fleet and he can't even make his own excuses?"
Miles chuckled. "Famous captain, sure. Slick social operator...no."
"Stiffer than a Klingon surfboard...absolutely," Data added, straight-faced. The other two stared at him, then all three erupted into mad laughter once again.
Sisko wiped his hands on his apron and slipped the ladle back into the big pot of gumbo he'd just replenished. He found himself enjoying being the host and being rather too busy to make much small talk. Odo and Kira strolled up to the buffet table, hand in hand, looking vastly contented. It did Sisko's heart good to see it.
"Well, Captain," Odo began. "I can't help but recall the last time I was in your father's restaurant."
Sisko nodded. "A lot has happened since then, Constable...but for what it's worth, you were right. About everything."
"Not quite everything, sir."
"I believe I said that I had been wrong in my assessment of your character, that I hadn't thought you were the type to run and hide...but I wasn't wrong. You're not the type to run and hide, you never were."
Sisko glanced down at the tabletop. "No, you were wrong there for awhile, Odo. I was running," he said quietly. "I thought I was of no use to anyone."
"That's not true, sir," Kira said. "I don't know what I would have done without your help throughout this ordeal. Thank you."
Sisko looked as though he might cry. "I'm just glad to have you free and safe, Major...both of you."
They stood in silence for a moment, then Kira voiced the question she knew was on everyone's mind. "Sir, are you coming back to the station with us?"
"No," Sisko said after a brief pause. "No, I'm not. Jake and I will stay here for a little while yet." He noted their alarmed expressions. "Now now, I'm not running. I'm taking a vacation." He grinned, the boisterous devilish grin of the Sisko of old. "But I'll be back at work soon."
A small commotion drew their attention to the front entrance, where they were amazed to see President Jaresh-Inyo enter, Biroc at his side. He scanned the room and when he saw Kira, he made a beeline through the crowd towards her. "Major," he said, clasping her hand. "I just had to come and apologize for what you've been through."
"No need to apologize, sir. It wasn't intentional."
"Nevertheless, you were as much a victim of this Syndicate plot as I was...and I daresay you suffered more from it than I did. Now you've helped bring the real perpetrators to justice, and you deserve our apologies and our thanks." He smiled at her and looked at Odo. "I seem to be developing a habit of benefitting from your services, Mr. Odo. Any chance I can persuade you to join my staff?"
Odo bowed his head in acknolwedgment. "I appreciate the offer, Mr. President, but I already have a job."
"Of course." He looked around at the gathered company. "On behalf of myself and the Federation, I wish to thank all of you who assisted in this investigation for your tireless efforts. All of you will be formally commended for your dedication." He turned to leave, one hand on each of Kira and Odo's shoulders. "I understand that the two of you are still planning your marriage." They exchanged a glance...through some silent agreement, they had decided to keep their newly-altered marital status to themselves until they could speak to Vedek Tonsa.
"Yes, we are," Kira said.
"Excellent. Would you honor me with an invitation when you choose a date? Even if I am unable to attend, I can at the very least send an expensive gift," he said with a smile.
"Of course, sir," Odo said. The President gave them a final wave and left, Biroc tagging along like a tugboat after an ocean liner.
The party went on well into the night...at about 9:00 a local jazz combo just "happened" to stop by and was soon stomping out lively tunes. It was a beautiful night, and locals and people just walking by came in, beckoned by the music and the heavenly aromas of Joseph's shrimp creole.
"We didn't get to do any of that sightseeing we talked about," Kira said as she and Odo danced.
"No," he said regretfully. "Unless you'd call the Winchester club a tourist spot."
"Briggs would love this," Kira went on, looking around the room. "Where are they, anyway?" She snagged Jake's arm as he passed by. "Jake, did you see Briggs at all today?"
He slapped his forehead theatrically. "Oh gosh, I forgot! Um, no, I haven't seen her, but this came for you earlier," he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small, folded piece of paper. "I think it's from her."
Kira stopped dancing and unfolded the note. "What's it say?" Odo said, leaning over her shoulder.
She sighed. "They're off already, it seems. It says: Sorry we missed your party, couldn't be helped. You know how it is...so many bad guys, only two of us. Have a safe trip back. Love, Us." Her lips curled into a smile. "I guess there's never a moment's peace when you live a life of danger and intrigue."
"I've had enough danger and intrigue to last me a lifetime."
"Or maybe two."
"Do you have to leave so soon?" Miles said, following Data and Deanna out to the sidewalk. "We still have so much catching up to do!"
"That is what subspace is for, Miles," Data said, his tone chiding.
"Besides, we're leaving in the morning. I probably have a list of messages as long as my arm waiting for me when I get back," Deanna added. She held out a hand to Odo. "Odo, it was truly a pleasure to meet you. I hope we'll meet again soon when we have more time to chat."
"As do I," Odo said, surprising himself by meaning it. "Don't you want to say goodbye to your mother?"
She cast an apprehensive glance towards the restaurant, where Lwaxana's laughter could be heard even over the jazz combo. "Oh, I'll just slip away and talk to her later. It's better that way." She turned to embrace Kira as Odo shook Data's hand.
"Good luck to both of you," the android said. "And can we expect at least a wedding announcement?"
Odo and Kira cast an amused glance at each other. "Seems our guest list is growing by the day," she commented with a smile.
The two Enterprise officers said their goodbyes to Miles and Julian, and with a flurry of waves and promises to write, walked off down the street towards the park. Data slipped an arm comfortably around her shoulders. "I don't think I could work on a space station," she mused after a moment.
"Nor I," he agreed. "It is such a different sort of life than ours. Our charter tasks us to boldly go where no one has gone before, but their job requires them to..."
"Boldly sit where no one has sat before?" she finished.
He chuckled. "I suppose that is one way to put it. We are in different places day after day, but their adventures come to them."
"That station has seen more than its fair share of adventures, being at ground zero of the war as it is."
"Quite. I worry for Miles' safety often, and the safety of his family. And Worf, of course."
"Of course," she teased him. "Because you're never the slightest bit jealous or insecure when it comes to other men that I've dated in the past."
Data drew himself up and spoke haughtily. "I can afford to be magnanimous," he said. "After all, none of them are here with you now, are they?"
"Gloating is hardly a fitting aspect for an android," she said.
He shook his head, almost shyly. "I am hardly gloating. In fact, most of the time I wonder what it is that I did to deserve you."
She stopped walking and looked up at him. "Have I told you...today...that I love you?"
He smiled down at her and brushed a strand of stray hair off her forehead, then tapped his combadge. "Data to Enterprise. Two to beam up."
Some hours later, once the jazz combo had packed up and gone home and the food had been put away, the DS9 officers lounged about Sisko's with cups of tea, chatting and laughing. Kira sat tucked against Odo's side as he leaned back in the corner of the couch, Miles sat backwards on a chair with Julian stretched out catlike on the floor of the lounge. Jake and Joseph were working in the kitchen and Sisko sat at one of the tables slowly rotating his teacup on the table in front of him.
"That was quite an insight about the Andorian's body temperatures," Odo said appreciatively.
"It was really Miles' breakthrough," Julian added. "He went to visit the President and came racing back to the lab like all the demons of hell were after him. Scared us half to death!"
"Not nearly as scared as I was the first time you swung a driver, Julian. I feared lives would be lost."
"Golf isn't your game, Doctor?" Sisko said, grinning.
"I think I'll stick to tennis, thank you."
"You humans and your strange games," Kira said. "It's all so ritualized. Give me springball over any of them. Simple, uncomplicated, non-stylized. Just a ball, a wall, and two sweaty people."
"Only one sweaty person when you play with me," Odo commented.
"I'm not playing with you anymore, you always win," she said, elbowing him.
"Would you rather I let you win?"
"Then you'll just have to make your peace with inevitable defeat," he said, a smile flirting about the corners of his mouth.
"Children," Miles scolded. "Do I have to separate you two?"
"I don't think anything could separate those two," Julian said, watching them. Kira smiled, twining her fingers through Odo's.
"I don't think so either, Julian...but the universe just keeps trying."
"Let it," Odo growled. "They say failure builds character."
The station had seemed so quiet and empty with everyone gone, Quark thought as he stared out at the Promenade. So peaceful and unsuspectingly innocent. He scowled as Odo walked by on his usual patrol, shooting him a matching scowl as he passed. He's only been back three days and already my contacts are running like cockroaches. Odo's back, Odo's back, everybody run! Damned Changelings, ruining everything. And without a station to run, he'd probably be seeing more of that infernal Klingon in here. That's the last thing I need.
He watched Odo's progress down the Promenade. He was walking more quickly than usual...he must have somewhere to be. Indeed, he stopped by the Temple and went into Vedek Tonsa's office right next to it. Perhaps he feels the need to unburden his soul for all the trouble he's caused me over the years.
As he watched, Kira approached from the opposite direction and entered the office just a few moments after Odo. Quark smiled in spite of himself. Maybe they're finally making some preparations, he thought. Time to re-open the pool!
Vedek Tonsa sat, hands folded primly on his desk, and regarded his twitchy visitors. "Let me get this straight," he said in his low, velvety tones. "You were in an escape pod. No life support. Shielded to prevent beamout. No access to the pod's control systems. You were freezing and about to lose consciousness and you only had about ten minutes' worth of oxygen." Odo and Kira exchanged a glance.
"Yes, that's about the size of it," Kira confirmed.
Tonsa nodded. "Well, I'd call those 'extreme circumstances,' all right."
She blinked. "So...was I right about that stipulation?"
"Oh yes. The liturgical texts absolutely include provisions for self-joining under extreme circumstances. All that's required is sincere mutual consent." He smiled. "I take it there was sincere mutual consent?"
Kira smiled. "Oh yes." Odo just reached out for her hand.
Tonsa spread his hands and shrugged. "Well then, congratulations! You're married. Perfectly legal. May the Prophets bless you and your union." He stood and shook their hands, smiling. "On a personal note, I'm most happy for you. Like everyone else, I've seen how happy you've been and though I would have liked to marry you myself, well...it's still a blessed occasion."
"Thank you, Vedek," Odo said. Kira nodded agreement, overwhelmed, and they turned and left Tonsa's office. They stood outside on the Promenade, Kira's arm through his, and said nothing for a moment. "Well," Odo finally ventured. "That's that, then."
Kira looked a little shell-shocked. "Yes, it is. I...didn't know how much of a difference that would make to me, to have a Vedek say it was really legal." She smiled up at him and squeezed his arm tighter. "It's real, then."
He nodded. "I think our friends will be very cross with us for depriving them of a ceremony to attend."
"We'll make it up to them," she said, thoughtful.
"How...how do we tell them? It's a bit of an awkward situation."
"I know just what to do." She was looking across the Promenade, still thoughtful. She grabbed his hand. "C'mon, let's get this over with." She dragged him across to the Replimat and the comm station that stood outside. She thumbed a channel open and set it to broadcast throughout the station.
"What are you doing?" he hissed at her.
"Shh, you'll see." She cleared her throat. "Attention all station personnel, this is Major Kira. I have an important announcement." Everyone on the Promenade who was within visual range of the Replimat stopped and turned towards her, and all over the station people looked up from their work or their conversations to hear what she had to say. Odo stood by her side, bemused...he'd had to very nearly restrain her from doing this exact same thing when they'd gotten engaged. She'd had to settle for just telling everyone she saw. He supposed he owed her this.
"This is going to sound a little strange, but bear with me. It makes me very happy to announce that...well, that Odo and I are married." A murmur went up from the crowd that had begun to gather around her. "I know that seems sudden and you may be wondering when it happened. Trust me, it's a long story. I just..." She smiled up at her husband. "It seems our relationship is doomed to be a public spectacle no matter what we do, so I just thought you'd all like to know that...well, that we're married!" She grinned. "Um...that's all. Thank you." She flipped the comm channel closed and threw her arms around Odo's neck, her heart swelling with joy as cheers and applause rose from the crowd around them.
"I think it's so romantic," Ezri commented wistfully. The senior staff was sitting around a table at the back of Quark's. After Kira's surprise announcement, she and Odo had been spirited bodily into Quark's where they'd been toasted and congratulated ad nauseum. Their friends had soon descended upon them, demanding explanations. "Two people, facing death, declaring their undying love and marrying each other out of sheer will..." Miles chuckled at her typically romanticized notions.
Kira rolled her eyes. "You make it sound a lot better than it actually was. I couldn't even really talk with the cold. I can scarcely remember what I said."
"I remember," Odo said.
"Well, as long as one of us does."
"You should know that I sent a message to the Captain right after your announcement," Julian said. "So expect an excited subspace on your terminal when you get home."
"Knowing your talent for gossip, Julian, I'll expect messages from half the quadrant."
"I'm just an amateur. Jadzia was the real expert."
Ezri shrugged. "I make no apologies for Jadzia's idiosyncracies."
"Well, I'd like to make a toast," Miles said, rising.
"Not another one!"
"There's always room for one more toast," he insisted, raising his glass. "To our Major and our Constable...may your joys be many, may your sorrows be few, and may you have much happiness together for many years to come." Everyone clinked their glasses, saying "hear, hear." Miles wasn't finished. "But let's not forget, the gods of weddings will exact a severe penalty for going ahead and doing it without us!" This was greeted by more enthusiastic clinking and cheers.
"Oh relax, Miles," Nerys said. "You know, we just made up that whole 'extreme circumstances' thing. We really did it to get out of yet another party...and to force you to buy us an even more expensive wedding gift!"
"I knew it!" Julian shouted. Everyone laughed, the war seeming very far away.
...one month later...
"Colonel, may I reach you on DS9 for those documents I requested?"
Kira nodded distractedly, packing her PADDS into her satchel. "Umm...yes, please do. I apologize for not having them with me..."
"Oh, it's all right. You have enough on your mind." The vice-minister moved away in the post-symposium melee as Kira glanced wistfully towards the door. Her host and the organizer of the conference, Minister Nayaste, elbowed her way through the crowd.
"Excellent presentation, Colonel. Most informative, everyone enjoyed it."
"As much as anyone can enjoy a speech about Dominion battle tactics."
"Indeed. There's precious little to enjoy these days. However, people here on Bajor so often feel helpless and impotent...it's reassuring to listen to someone like you who is actually doing something to help in the struggle against the Dominion." Kira nodded, seeing the faces of all her fellow crewmembers who'd been killed in that "struggle." "Will you be staying for the banquet this evening?"
Kira shouldered her satchel. "I'm afraid I can't. I need to catch the evening shuttle back to the station."
"Yes, my husband is waiting for me. We just moved, and he's leaving tomorrow for a conference of his own."
"Oh, I understand. Well, have a safe journey, and thank you again for your participation." Kira nodded an absent thanks and hurried out of the lecture hall, her mind already back on the station.
When she stepped off the shuttle, Odo was waiting for her near the airlock. "Hi honey," she said, burrowing gratefully into his embrace.
"Welcome home, Nerys," he said, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. He bent and picked up her bag. "How was the conference?"
She rolled her eyes. "Ugh, interminable. Four days of meetings, lunches with ministers and one speech after another."
"I'm sure yours were brilliant," he said as they boarded the turbolift.
"Hardly. I'd recommend them in case of insomnia." She yawned. "Which shouldn't be a problem for me tonight. I can never sleep well away from my own bed and my own Odo." She leaned against his side wearily. "Are you sure you have to leave tomorrow night?"
"Unfortunately, yes. I'm pushing it with my arrival time on Vulcan as it is. I really should leave in the morning, but you've got the day off and we've still so much unpacking to do."
"Well, I do, anyway. All you have is a bunch of sculptures." The turbolift doors opened and they started down the hallway towards their new, larger quarters. Three rooms: living room, bedroom, and what they'd taken to calling the shapeshifting room.
"I've missed you," he said quietly.
"I've only been gone three days."
"I still missed you."
She stood on tiptoe to kiss his cheek as they reached their door. "Thank you. I missed you too." The door opened onto the darkened quarters.
"Computer, lights," Odo said. Nothing happened. They paused just inside the door. "Lights!"
"Hi guys," came a voice from the darkness. A figure stepped in front of the viewport, a silhouette in the darkness.
Kira peered at it, squinting. "Briggs?" she said. "How did you get in here?"
The figure took a few steps forward so the glow from the viewport fell on her. She was wearing the black leather of a Section operative, her sharp features outlined by the pale moonlight. "Trade secret," she said. "I don't want anyone to know we're here."
"We?" Odo said.
She paused. "He's around."
Kira was starting to get a bad feeling about this. "Nora, what's going on? You're acting very...sinister."
"It's necessary. Dietz and I have gone back underground. The Syndicate's put out an extremely large bounty on my head."
Odo sighed. "I'm not surprised."
"Nor am I, in fact I expected it weeks ago. Don't worry," she said, holding up a hand. "I'll have it settled in a few weeks."
"What are you doing here?" Kira asked.
"I came to warn you."
"Warn us about what?"
"The Section may suspect that you know about the bunt. It's been suggested that you know...things." Kira and Odo exchanged a glance. "They're not wrong, but they don't know that. I just wanted you to be aware of it." She walked forward until she stood before them. "But there's another matter, far more serious...you are in big trouble," she said, eyeing Kira with a mischievous glint in her eyes.
"Oh really? Why's that?" Kira said, sensing that the trouble wasn't actually serious.
Briggs leaned closer. "Two things. First, you went and got married without telling us! That's pretty serious." Kira shrugged, smiling. Briggs wasn't finished. "But even more serious is this: why did you never tell me how amazing sex with a Changeling is?" Odo rolled his eyes. Kira just stared for a second, incredulous, then burst out into mad laughter. After a moment Briggs joined her.
Kira calmed herself. "Well, we can't go around telling people that...not unless we want everyone in the quadrant coming after our fellas."
Nora dropped her a wink. "I can keep a secret if you can." She moved past them to the door. "Let's go, Dietz," she said. Kira's eyes widened in shock as the satchel she'd taken to Bajor liquefied, then shot upwards into the figure of Dietz, also in Section black leathers. He dropped them a wink and a sly smile, but stayed quiet. Kira stared wordlessly at Briggs, speechless. "I asked him to go with you to Bajor," Briggs explained. "I'd heard some things that concerned me. No matter, it's over now and nothing happened."
Odo cleared his throat. "Briggs, this whole situation makes me very uncomfortable."
"I can understand that," she said, then thought for a moment. "Just watch yourselves. The Section is unpredictable...and not all its members are as scrupulous as I. In fact, some of them I wouldn't turn my back on for a second. But they never act unless they're sure...and they're never going to be sure. Besides, they won't try anything. They know I'm looking out for it." She and Dietz moved to the door. She paused halfway through and turned back, backlit by the hallway lights. "And they don't dare cross me." She smiled at them, then they were gone.
Kira sagged, calling for the lights. She shrugged and shook her head. "It just never stops, does it?"
Odo bent to pick up Kira's PADDs and clothes, now strewn on the floor without a bag. "That was a risk for her. She didn't have to come here and warn us."
"Of course she did. She couldn't resist another chance to be mysterious and enigmatic and leave us holding all the paranoia."
"I know, I know. It's just frustrating. I don't know how they live like that."
"I think they enjoy it."
She smiled. "Wouldn't surprise me." She sighed and linked her arms around Odo's neck. "But we're okay, and we're going to stay that way."
He bent and kissed her. "You know, I think I really believe that."
She grinned. "Really? You don't think it's too good to last anymore?"
He gathered her close. "I still think it's too good...but that's why it will last."
"Good answer, Constable." She kissed him, long and hard. "Love you."
"I love you too."
She sighed and hugged him. "Let's go to bed."
Her lips curled into a smile. "Not as tired as I'm going to be."
"Good answer, Colonel."
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