With thanks and apologies to Paramount, and proceeding on the assumption that forgiveness is easier to ask than permission:

-- This story takes place following "Things Past" and "The Ascent", and before the next new episode The Powers That Be see fit to serve us, whichever one that turns out to be -- GreenWoman, 12/10/96


...for soldiers who have been blooded are soldiers forever... That they cannot forget, that they do not forget, that they will never allow themselves to heal completely, is their way of expressing their love for friends who have perished. And they will not change because they have become what they have become to keep the fallen alive.

-- Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War --

Lieutenant Jadzia Dax and Major Kira Nerys walked the busy Promenade together early one evening, on their way to Camelot. Heads turned as they passed by. Colorful folds of blue, green and gold satin cascaded from their shoulders and from the empire waistlines that flattered even Kira's pregnant form. Undergarments of stiff cotten rustled beneath their trailing skirts, and the silk veils on their pointed hats drifted cloudlike behind them. An admiring whistle issued anonymously from the crowd.

"Honestly, Jadzia," murmured Kira under her breath. "It's bad enough that you keep talking me into this silly game in the first place...but why can't we wait to get into our costumes until after we're in the holosuite?"

Dax smiled serenely. "Because we wouldn't get nearly as much attention that way."

Kira rolled her eyes.

Approaching Quark's bar, the two women saw Deep Space Nine's Security Chief Odo stalking stiffly down the center of the Promenade toward them, his hands clasped behind him and his shoulders slightly hunched, as if he were walking into a strong wind. Upon seeing Kira and Dax in their medieval regalia, his stride faltered; he stopped and bowed slightly at the two in almost courtly fashion, a faint smile haunting the corners of his lips. Dax grinned broadly and dropped into a graceful curtsey, but Kira merely nodded in return and kept walking. Dax smiled again at the Constable and shrugged her shoulders as if to apologize for her companion's behaviour, but Odo's face was inscrutable; he turned quickly away and, shoulders squared and back ramrod straight, resumed his patrol of the Promenade. Dax watched as he disappeared into the crowd, sighed, and hurried to catch up with Kira.

"Nerys," she said reproachfully, "how long are you going to keep treating Odo like that?"

Kira's chin lifted, but she avoided Dax's eyes. "Like what?"

"You know what I mean. You've been snubbing him for days now, ever since we got back from that conference on Bajor."

Kira was silent as the two swept through the entrance to Quark's.

"Ladies, ladies, how nice to see you!" Quark hurried out from behind his bar and reached for Dax's hand. The Ferrengi bowed deeply from the waist and put his lips to the back of the Trill's glove. Dax curtsied again, and the little barkeep beamed. "Your holosuite is ready and waiting," he announced.

"Why, thank you, kind sir." The two women gathered their skirts and headed up the spiral staircase toward the second floor. As they approached the holosuite door, Dax resumed their conversation.

"Nerys, what happened wasn't Odo's fault."

"Wasn't his fault?" Angrily, Kira spun on her heel to face her friend. "He didn't do his job, and three innocent Bajorans were executed. Whose fault was it, if not his?"

"Well, you could start by blaming Gul Dukat."

"I know all about the blood on Dukat's hands. But Odo..." Kira's voice trailed off.

"It was an assassination attempt, and Dukat was demanding executions. The circumstantial evidence was very strong...Odo believed those men were guilty."

"But they weren't."

"Nerys, he was new...inexperienced. He did his best."

"Did he?" Kira snapped, her tone bitter. "Three innocent men are dead."

"I know. But innnocents died at Shakaar's hands, too. And Bariel's. And yours, Nerys. And those deaths were calculated risks, not honest mistakes."

The Bajoran woman dropped her eyes and slumped forward, pressing her forehead against the cool metal of the holosuite door. Jadzia slipped an arm around her friend's shoulders. "The occupation forced you and Odo into terrible situations, terrible choices. You've lost so much to that war already...your friendship with Odo is too special to let it claim that, too."

Kira's eyes were fixed on the holosuite control panel. "What friendship?" she said dully. "Odo's been avoiding me for months...I don't know why."

"Maybe you should ask him."

"Frankly, I don't care any more." Her temper flared. "Look, Jadzia, my whole life is up in the air right now. I'm pregnant with someone else's baby, I haven't had any privacy for months, I've been shut out of every off-station mission since I got myself into this situation, and Edon has been --" She caught herself, shook her head. "It's just that I'm tired, miserably uncomfortable and frankly, a little scared. I can't worry about Odo right now."

"I think you should. He's always been there for you when you've needed him."

"Dax, just leave it alone!" Kira's palm slammed the control panel. The heavy door slid aside and the gridded walls of the holosuite melted away into rolling green hills, blue sky and the ivory towers of Camelot. "Now let's go have fun, dammit!"

Dax sighed, took Kira's hand, and together they headed off across the greensward toward the castle gates.

Several hours later, fantasy had been left behind and Kira, in a slightly better mood, had exited Quark's headed for the O'Briens' quarters. As Dax made her way through the busy evening crowd, still resplendent in her court dress, Quark caught her eye from across the room and waved her over to the bar. The Trill slipped onto a stool next to Morn while the barkeep took care of a rowdy party at the other end of the counter. Quark joined her after a moment, a full glass in his hand and a concerned look on his face. "On the house," the Ferrengi said. Jadzia lifted an eyebrow but accepted the drink.

Quark glared at Morn. "Find someplace else to sit," he snapped. "I have some...business...to discuss with the lovely Lieutenant, here. Private business." Unruffled, Morn claimed his half empty glass and clambered from his stool to wander off in search of a table.

"That's no way to treat a regular, Quark," Dax commented.

"He'll be back," replied the barkeep. "He has a tab here."

Dax smiled. "What did you want to talk to me about?"

Quark's eyes swept the room. He spotted Odo taking a seat at a table on the second level and directed Jadzia's gaze upward with a nod of his head. "It's him," Quark said in a low voice. "I'm worried about him."

"Odo? Why?"

Quark glared at her. "You know why. That shuttle accident... He's been spending a lot of time in here since then. And he's not sleeping...he spends half the night pacing the floor. I'm hearing strange noises, too...like shouting...or screaming."

Dax's eyes narrowed. "You can hear him?" she remarked wryly. "Through all that new soundproofing?" But she knew Quark was telling the truth. She had seen the circles beneath the Constable's eyes and the haggard look that had settled on him over the past weeks.

"There's more," Quark said. "Do you want to hear it or not?"

"Go on."

The Ferrengi lowered his voice conspiratorily. "He hasn't been arresting anyone -- he's just passing out warnings. Haven't you noticed? He hasn't even been harrassing me. Last week he found out about the Saurian brandy I got from...well, never mind who I got it from. He didn't haul me into the brig, he didn't confiscate the booze...he hardly even raised his voice at me. Said he had suspicions that I was trafficking in illegal substances, but he couldn't prove anything. Said he was keeping an eye on me, and left it at that. You know that's not like him."

"I know it's not like you to take such an interest in Odo," Dax countered. "Why don't you just count your blessings?"

"Look, every night of sleep Odo loses is a night of sleep I lose," Quark said defensively. "Not to mention the fact that if he's not out making arrests, I'm not cashing in on my betting pools." The Ferrengi scowled. "Frankly, I thought you'd lend a more sympathetic ear, Lieutenant. It's been a bad business from the beginning, this...Odo and Major Kira. And don't give me that wide-eyed, innocent look, 'old man'. I know exactly what you know, and what the Major doesn't know, about our Constable. What happened on that shuttle has only made things worse. It's bad enough that the stiff-necked fool won't forgive himself -- it's killing him that she won't."

The thinly disguised concern in the barkeep's voice, coupled with his candid acknowledgement that they both knew Odo's secret, left Dax too nonplussed to respond for a moment. She had often wondered how genuine the enmity between Odo and Quark really was. She'd questioned it even more since their recent shuttle crash. Dr. Bashir had, somewhat unethically, related snatches of conversation he'd overhead during their time in the Infirmary...

Suddenly realizing that Quark was still waiting for a response, she improvised. "Given that any of this tale you've just spun is true -- " Quark rolled his eyes, but Dax ignored him. "-- just what, exactly, do you expect me to do?"

"She's your friend. Talk to her!"

Dax shook her head. "As a matter of fact, I've already tried to. She's not listening."

"It was seven years ago, for profit's sake!"

"I know."

"And it's not as if she never--"


"You know, those two really were made for each other. They're the most stubborn, self-righteous, arrogant, unyielding pair of--"


Dax's tone caused the Ferrengi to back off, but only to a degree. "The hu-mons have a saying - better the devil you know than the devil you don't know. I don't want to have to break in a new security officer...but I've got a nasty feeling that it could happen."

Dax cupped her chin in her hand, allowing herself a nearly imperceptable nod of agreement. A small cloud formed in the bright, bustling barroom and descended to envelope the barkeep and the Starfleet officer in mutual gloom.

Dax enjoyed spending time in Quark's; Curzon had always loved a good saloon. Following her conversation with the owner, she had remained at the bar and watched as the bustling atmosphere that normally signaled a shift change of station personnel had, over the past few hours, given way to a late-night hum of more subdued activity. The low buzz of conversation was relaxing white noise behind the Trill's troubled thoughts. Her eyes drifted upward, as they had many times that evening, to the small table near the railing on the second level where Security Chief Odo sat. The moment she had been waiting for had finally arrived.

Odo rose from his chair, not unsteadily, but with concentration apparent in his movements. Dax watched as he came slowly down the stairs. She left her seat and crossed the room, catching up to the Constable as he stepped out onto the Promenade. Without preamble, Dax slipped her satin-clad arm through Odo's. She felt his body tense at her touch.

"Walk a Lady home?" she asked, throwing her most disarming smile at him.

It took Odo's clouded consciousness a moment to comprehend the situation.

"Why?" he inquired bluntly.

"Why, Constable, any woman would appreciate such a brave and handsome escort."

"Sorry, I'm neither," Odo retorted, trying unsuccessfully to disengage the Trill.

Dax hugged his arm more snugly. Involuntarily, her companion fell into step beside her. "I beg to differ, on both counts," she said warmly. "Besides, I've seen you walk Morn home on many a night...although I'm not sure Morn recalls the favor. I'd be hurt if you turned me down." She steered Odo toward the turbolift.

"I seriously doubt you need an escort," he said gruffly.

"Well, you have relaxed your law enforcement standards a bit. How do I know that the Promenade is really safe this late at night?"

Odo blinked. "What is that supposed to mean?"

"I've noticed that the criminal activity reports have been a bit sparse lately. And tonight Quark was offering me Saurian brandy from his private stock." They reached the lift, and Jadzia's fingers tapped the control pad. "I thought Saurian brandy was illegal. But he said you knew he had it." The lift door rolled aside, and the two stepped in. Dax felt Odo's balance fail him as the lift engaged, and she said a silent prayer that Quark hadn't overserved the one-time Changeling with something too powerful for his newly human body to handle. She tightened her grip on his arm to steady him.

"Odo, have you been avoiding making arrests because of what happened on the shuttle...and what happened on Terok Nor seven years ago?"

The security chief turned startled, haunted eyes on her.

"The blame for those executions lies with Gul Dukat, not you," Dax said firmly.

Odo looked away, quiet for so long that Dax began to wonder if he might not respond at all. "You're wrong," he whispered finally. "My negligence killed those men. I can't dismiss their deaths as Dukat's fault...and neither can Major Kira." His defenses seemed to leave him with the words, and he leaned heavily on Dax. The weary finality in his tone left her speechless.

The lift halted. Still arm in arm, the two exited and walked slowly and in silence down the corridor toward the staff quarters. Odo didn't object when they arrived at his door and Dax gave the computer his private entry code. Troubled days, sleepless nights and strong drink were finally being put paid to; he allowed Dax to guide him to his bedroom where she stripped the dizzy security chief of his uniform and boots, turned down his bed and helped him into it. He sat upright there, eyes closed and skin deadly pale drawn taut across his plain face. Dax seated herself on the edge of the bed, reached out and covered his clenched fists with her slender hands.

"You made a terrible mistake, and you've been paying for it for years. But Odo...if it hadn't been for you, so many more people would have died than did. If it hadn't been for you, Nerys would be dead." Odo shuddered and Jadzia impulsively reached out and wrapped her arms around him. The anguished man she held became every child Dax had ever borne, and she rocked him back and forth, murmuring soothingly. Odo held onto her as if she were the only solid thing in the universe.

"Don't you know why Nerys is hurting, Odo?" Dax said quietly. "It's because you represented what she wishes so desperately she could be...someone brave and strong, honorable and guiltless, with no blood on her hands. No one came through the occupation like that, Odo, and those scars may never heal. But they are nothing to be ashamed of. She needs to learn that, and so do you."

Odo made an undefineable sound. Dax held him for a long time; finally, his rigid body began to relax, and his ragged breathing became more regular. Gently she released him from her arms and settled him in the bed, drawing a blanket over his shoulders. Her fingertips brushed a strand of hair from his forehead.

"Sweet dreams, Odo," she whispered, "or none at all."

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