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

-- This story takes place following "Behind the Lines"; it is loosely based on various spoilers for and not the actual events in (and was written prior to my viewing of) "Favor the Bold" and "The Sacrifice of Angels" --

Looking for the Next Best Thing

GreenWoman - 10/24/97

I worked hard, but not for the money
I did my best to please
I used to think it was funny
But then I realized it was all a tease

So now I'm looking for the next best thing
Looking for the next best thing
I appreciate the best, but I'm settling for less
Yes, I'm looking for the next best thing ...

"Looking For the Next Best Thing" -- Warren Zevon

"No luggage."

The shuttle attendant stared at the tall man standing before her, waiting to board. He was not of any race she knew ... perhaps his oddly spare face was the result of a war injury. No one to see him off, either, she noticed, but that was not a curiousity; in his startling blue eyes she recognized the flat, dull look of recent and devastating loss. The attendant decided she knew his story ... the recent war had written many like it. Smiling a bit, she stepped aside and allowed the passenger entrance to the shuttle.

Odo felt a hot flush of guilt. He hated pity -- this woman's sympathetic smile was even worse because it was so completely undeserved. He slipped by her quickly and made his way to a seat in the rear. She thinks I'm a war victim, he realized with bitterness. She's right, but not in the way she thinks.

The war was over. The Dominion, the Cardassians, the Jem Hadar and their Vorta, had all departed Terok Nor, and Star Fleet had returned to Deep Space Nine. Things had slowly begun returning to normal, at least on the surface. But Odo and Kira had not returned to normal. After the events that had occurred while he had been under the influence of the nameless Founder, Odo knew that they never would ... never could.

The shuttle vibrated, shuddered gently as it disengaged its docking clamps and pulled slowly away from the station to manuever into position for the run to Bajor. Blue eyes watched as the arches of the station, the closest thing to a home that the homeless changeling had ever known, rotated up and away until they slipped out of the frame of the porthole. Odo felt a wrench deep inside, remote but painful, as if part of him was still tied to the darkly graceful structure. Prophets keep you safe, you damned old spider, he prayed without feeling, dropping his eyes. Deep Space Nine, and everything and everyone on her, were now just one more part of his sorrowful past.

After all his years on the station, it had stunned him how little there had actually been to do in order to bring closure to his life there. His resignation had been sent to Ops, without personal appearance or comment, where Sisko and Kira would find it waiting in their respective computers. His communicator badge lay on the desk in the Security Office. Odo had taken nothing with him; even the morphing key which Croden had given him so long ago had been abandoned in his quarters. Odo had almost kept the key; it had once meant hope to him, in days long gone, when he had believed his people would be his salvation. Instead, the Founders had not only forever closed the door on his dream of a life with them, but they had also destroyed the life he had built with those he had come to think of as friends. So Odo had left the key behind, but the bitterness it summoned still festered within him.

Two of those friends had saved his life. As the Dominion retreated from the station, Kira and Quark had lured Odo into a small room secured with a stasis field and trapped him there, preventing him from leaving with the Founder. Those hours had been closer to hell than anything Odo had experienced since the days in Mora's lab. His link to the other changeling had been stretched thin, pulled tight and torn away from his psyche with the rending pain of a limb being wrenched from his body. Lost in the agony of betrayal and abandonment swirling within his substance, Odo had struck out blindly against the separation, flinging himself against the bulkheads over and over again in desperate futility until his natural form was battered and aching. The hands of Odo's humanoid body clenched reflexively into fists at the memory. At least he had been able to hold onto the awareness of Kira's presence in the room with him ... a small mercy of her Prophets, perhaps, extended on her behalf, that he had retained enough sense of himself to not harm her. But he had wanted to ... and once the Founder's spell was broken, the filmy webs she'd spun in his mind torn away, he was left facing the harsh reality of what he had done.

Using the last of his strength, Odo had reassumed his human form to find Kira, her back pressed to a bulkhead, staring at him. Wordlessly, she had turned away to power down the stasis field and release the door seal, but not before Odo had seen the anger and hurt at his betrayal still burning in her eyes. And something else he had never seen there before ... his worst nightmare finally become reality. Kira was afraid of him. Overcome by self-loathing, it had been all Odo could do to muster a human voice. He needed to talk to her, to reassure her that he was himself again and thank her for bringing him back. He had only managed to whisper her name and his gratitude. She had paused in the doorway for a moment. "I owed it to you, Constable," she had said before she walked away, leaving the devastated changeling alone with the person he now hated most in the universe ... odo ital.

His estrangement had not ended with Kira. Odo could feel the heads turn behind him as he walked the halls of Deep Space Nine. He'd seen the anger in Leeta's eyes, the disappointment in Rom's, the disillusionment in Jake's. Sisko and the others had been polite but distant. Even Dax, with whom Odo had shared an odd and unacknowledged bond since her zhian'tara, had been too caught up in her wedding plans to approach him ... a mercy in Odo's eyes. Odd that Quark was the only one who ... Odo grimaced at the thought of the sole friendship that had seemed to survive his fall from grace.

As the blue-green ball that was Bajor grew larger in the porthole, Odo's thoughts turned helplessly again to Kira. Images from the past months filled his mind ... Nerys standing proud and devastated as Ops destroyed itself around her ... squaring her shoulders to face Dukat ... being inexorably worn down by the occupation ... eyes lit with the burning need to do something to fight back ... the anger in those same eyes blazing through the veil of the Founder's influence as she begged Odo for his help .... help she needed in her most desperate hour, and which he had withheld. Odo flinched inside at the memory. The worst moment had come on that terrible day that Star Fleet had returned; the sight of her standing amid the mayhem on the Promenade, her hands on Dukat's shoulders and her slim body bowed in grief as she and the Cardassian bent together over the lifeless body of Tora Ziyal. Even in that moment he had been torn, wanting to go to her but shut out by the comfort she extended to Dukat but withheld from him.

He'd waited in his office for days, hoping against all hope that Kira would come to him as she always had before, to talk things out. This time, she had not. Station business was transacted by computer, by communicator, by any avenue that would avoid bringing her face to face with him. Finally he decided that her withdrawal was a kindness that made his decision easier. What he had done was unforgiveable. In the end, leaving had seemed his only choice, and where to go his only question.

For a brief time he had considered returning to Mora's lab. Martyring himself to the chemical baths, the electric shocks, and the other unpleasant things the Bajoran scientist had always deemed so important seemed appropriate penance somehow ... and physical pain might dull his mind to his greater anguish. But the need for changeling detection was not so great these days, and Mora, with his new attitude towards Odo, might try to offer sympathy instead. The one person in the universe whom Odo knew would take him in he refused to turn to; Lwaxana Troi would offer him comfort and forgiveness which he did not deserve and could not accept. Chance had brought him to the Alpha Quadrant and to Bajor in the first place. Odo would allow chance to lead him away.

A storm was raging on Bajor, and the landing was rough. Odo, tired and a bit dazed, stepped from the access portal into the bustling terminal of Bajor's capitol city and stood still for a moment, blinking in the bright light. He gazed around the expansive space, crowded with travellers. Locating the reservation kiosks, Odo walked up to an open booth and found himself facing a young Bajoran woman with eyes similar to Kira's ... large, rich brown, the color of Bajor's soil ... he caught himself.

"I want passage on the next craft leaving Bajor," he said gruffly.

The girl smiled. "Going where?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter."

She looked at him oddly, but tapped at her console. "The next shuttle is heading for the space station. Terok-- I mean, Deep Space Nine. Would you like to go there?"

Odo closed his eyes. "No," he said softly.

The girl's fingers flew over her keyboard. "There's a transport headed for Orantis, leaving in an hour," she offered.


Odo sat alone, watching rain driven hard by the wind spatter heavily on the huge windows which looked out over the landing field. He felt somnolent, much the same as he had felt during the time that the Founder had bound him to her ... but then, he had been wandering through visions, revelling in self-realization, wrapped in belonging, not alone. Now he felt insubstantial, not as if he were in a dream but as if he were a dream himself, an unreal thing with no substance. It took a moment for him to react when that voice which he knew better than his own slammed into his simulated ears.


He did not turn to look at her ... he considered not answering her at all. But he knew that she would not allow that.

"Major, that never was my title. And I have resigned my commission."

"So I discovered when I logged on to my computer this morning," she said harshly. "When I found out you'd left, I went to Sisko -- he gave me a runabout, and Shakaar gave me priority landing clearance."

"Why?" There was no curiousity in his voice.

"So I could find you and stop you, of course! You can't just leave without a word!"

"You didn't seem interested in talking while I was still on the station. Why now?"

"I ... I didn't know what to say," she replied, uncertain for a moment, before her anger returned. "I still can't believe you did what you did. Why did you link with her? When you promised me you wouldn't? You turned your back on me, on all of us, when we needed you!"

Odo, overcome with weariness, still refused to meet her eyes. "Is it so hard to understand, Nerys?," he replied, his voice a low rasp, almost lost in the sound of the rain. "She offered me peace. I thought that peace, at least, would not be too much to ask. I was wrong. Another sin on my pagh." His head hung lower.

His calm acknowledgement of wrongdoing took Kira by surprise again. She had expected, even hoped for a fight. Frustration fed her ire. "You don't have to resign, Odo! Take a vacation. Take a leave of absence. Take all the time you think you need."

"And how much time will you, and the others, need?"

"I'm not obligated to forgive you, Odo," she snapped.

"I know you're not," he said quietly.

Kira fell silent at this, her anger defused by his apathy. Finally, she said in a softer voice, "Where are you going?"

"I don't know. It's a very large universe, Major. There must be someplace where I can be useful. Or at least, not be of any harm."

Kira circled the changeling carefully until she faced him. She knelt, bringing her eyes to a level where even his downcast ones could not avoid her stare. Taking a deep breath, Kira reached out and took his hands in hers. He tried to pull back, but she would not allow it. Odo glared at her defiantly and, heedless of the crowd around them, shifted, melting his fingers from her grasp and withdrawing from her attempt at physical contact. Stunned, Kira rocked back on her heels, her arms dropping limply to her sides, unconciously assuming a posture of prayer.

Lightning flashed blindingly outside and the ensuing peal of thunder gave way to a departure call. Odo stood slowly, as if his body ached. He risked a glance at Kira, and was struck at what he saw ... emotion of another kind darkened her eyes. Her anger was gone and she was frightened ... not of him, but for him. Her voice had a desperate edge to it.

"Don't go, Odo." She was struggling. He could see it, and wondered at his inability to care. "We can talk about this. We've always been able to talk."

Odo shook his head sadly. "No, Nerys. You've always talked, and I've always listened. You still don't understand, do you?" His voice was gentled by weary resignation. "I can't help you ... not this time. I feel thin, Nerys ... as if the wind would blow right through me. I have nothing left to give you; no insight, no wisdom, no understanding. And no patience. I'm not even sure that I love you any more."

For the first time, her eyes filled with tears. "I'm not letting you go, Odo," she said with fierce resolve, unable to comprehend or fight his numb indifference.

"You have no choice. And neither do I." His eyes softened ... for a moment she could see a spark of feeling in them. "But Nerys, if I thought I could ever love anything or anyone again, I would love you."

The pain already felt like an old wound, a constant ache that had always been there and always would be. The tall man with the startling and devastated blue eyes turned his back on the slight woman in the red uniform. He did not see the naked anguish in her expression or the wretchedness in her posture.

Odo walked away and did not look back.

All alone on the road to perfection
At the inspection booth they tried to discourage me
You can believe what you want, but that will never change things
You're going to have to come around eventually

So now I'm looking for the next best thing
Looking for the next best thing
I appreciate the best, but I'm settling for less
Yes, I'm looking for the next best thing ...


There is humor in everything, no matter how grim. - Warren Zevon -
If I wasn't crazy, I would go insane. - Jimmy Buffett -
Be cool, but care. - Buckaroo Banzai -

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