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The upper level of Quark's bar provided a great view of the Promenade. Nothing escaped the watchful Security Chief's nearly unblinking eyes.

Odo sat alone, holding a facsimile of Bajoran springwine in a tall wineglass. He concentrated until the liquid became the proper shade of pale, translucent blue.

Quark complied with the sign removal. Odo was glad for that. Throwing him in a holding cell created too much trouble. Besides, that little twerp had the awful habit of singing until Odo blocked off his ears to shut him out.

Doctor Mora emerged from the turbolift below. Odo waved to him, and in a few minutes they were reunited at the table.

"I want to try something from Earth, but I have no idea where to start," said Doctor Mora. "Did you taste any Earth cuisine before you regained your shape shifting abilities?"

Odo swirled his 'wineglass' and replied, "I recommend a dish called shrimp alfredo. Humans make fantastic pasta."

Doctor Mora placed his order on the small computer in the middle of the table.

"Doctor Bashir wanted to take a sample of the..." Doctor Mora gestured vaguely at Odo's chest.

"He what?"

"Don't worry. I talked him out of it. I made you a promise and I intend to keep it."

Relaxing wasn't something Odo did well. He became tense again the minute he exited the holosuite with Kira.

Rom delivered Doctor Mora's shrimp alfredo and a glass of Bajoran ale. The food came in a broad, steaming bowl.

"Here is your order, sir. Anything else for you?"

"No, thank you." Doctor Mora borrowed Rom's PADD to pay for his purchases and add a generous tip. He always tipped well for a meal, regardless of how terrible it ended up tasting. His impeccable manners were something Odo often admired.

Rom offered a Ferengi bow and darted towards the next table.

"Dabo!" Someone shouted below.

"Mm!" Doctor Mora closed his eyes and chewed slowly on his first bite of shrimp alfredo. "This is absolutely delicious. Thank you."

Before Odo replied, Quark's voice shouted across the bar, "Hey, I just found out someone's pregnant! Guess who?"

The dabo wheels whirred to a stop. Everyone fell silent in the bar. Odo stiffened where he sat. Doctor Mora frowned. Odo looked over the side since the table also offered a view of the bar. Quark glanced up at him and grinned.

Oh, no...

"Odo?"

Odo glared.

Quark's grin widened. "Aren't you going to venture a guess?"

"No, I'm not," he snapped.

Others called out names. Quark, always looking for a profit, was taking bets.

"Aw, I'm so sorry, everyone. You all lost." He gestured to a dark-haired human female in a Starfleet uniform. The same woman Odo saw sweeping near Garak's shop. "Please extend your congratulations to Ensign Williams! How far along are you? Ah. Twelve weeks!"

People cheered. Others groaned at losing the bet. The dabo wheels resumed spinning.

"Ugh." Odo lost his focus on the springwine facsimile. It dropped onto the table as ooze and rejoined the sleeve of his uniform. He clasped his hands together and looked around the Promenade.

Doctor Mora acted completely unbothered by the noise below. "Odo, you're fidgeting."

"That was too close," said Odo. He recognized that his anger was misplaced, but it kept welling up anyway! "Quark is an idiot. Taking bets on a pregnancy...humph!"

"Mm-mm, this food is fantastic...ah...sorry. Odo, I think your situation is too unbelievable to be true."

"Kira believed me when I told her."

"Oh? You seem quite taken with her."

Huffing, Odo avoided Doctor Mora's eyes. He hated how well that scientist knew him. "It's nothing."

"I saw how you were looking at her earlier."

"Enough!" Odo slapped his hand down on the tabletop. His shoulders sagged and he stared at his own fingers. "I...am too different to be anything more than her friend. I've been her friend for a long time, and I won't jeopardize that. Besides, she is quite happy with Shakaar."

"I can put in a good word for y-- "

"No! No, that won't be necessary."

"All right, all right." Doctor Mora wisely dropped the subject and wiped his mouth with a napkin. He smiled, sipping his Bajoran ale. "I think I'll save the rest of this for later. Good choice, Odo. Thank you. What is this dish called again?"

Odo said, "Shrimp alfredo."

"I'll remember it now." Doctor Mora replied, patting his stomach. He glanced around and lowered his voice. "Have you been experiencing any unusual symptoms?"

"Well...aside from being a little tired, no. Why do you ask?"

"I'm just making sure your work isn't affected by your condition. You may need to request temporary leave if you're unable to perform your duties."

"Bah. I'm already affected. You saw what happened when I regenerated. It's the same way with shape shifting. I can change everything but my torso."

To demonstrate, Odo formed his left arm into a huge alien claw and snatched the menu off an empty table. He held it up for Doctor Mora to see before returning it to its rightful place.

"I must be a sight when I regenerate," he mused.

"It's a fascinating sight, yes."

"So glad I amuse you."

"I didn't mean it that way, Odo. It's interesting, seeing how your body is changing for the little one."

Odo tightened his lips. He couldn't believe he misread such a simple sentence. It was hard not to, when much of his youth involved shape shifting for the amusement of others.

"You become a chair, but you can't mimic a face? What kind of shape shifter ARE you?"

"That man with the funny face? Oh, it's just Odo. Watch this. Odo! Turn into a rock! Now do that Cardassian neck trick! Ooh! Can you be a bush? Oh wow, turn into a basket!"


Odo fell for it so many times. He used to reform with a smile, desperate for friendship...only to watch the other people walk away. His innocent and curious nature made his peers laugh. Oftentimes, humanoids treated him like he had no feelings to hurt.

He could remember liquefying beneath a fallen tree to escape an assault by three obnoxious Klingon children. They rolled the tree off his hiding place and stomped on him until he shape shifted into dirt. It took them three hours to give up.

That was when Odo started speaking with a deep, gruff voice. He taught himself how to frighten his tormentors away by growling at them. And he stopped shape shifting for others' amusement.

Odo surfaced above his thoughts. Doctor Mora's hand rested on his clenched fist.

"Odo?"

"I'm...fine. I was just remembering...things." Odo lowered his head. "Things that are long gone. I don't want the infant to go through what I did. I endured things I never told you about. I was too ashamed."

"Such as?"

"The Klingon children...I told you they chased me. I didn't tell you how they stomped on me when they found me in my liquid state. You thought I learned to shape shift into dirt after showing it to me in the lab, but I really learned how when I did it to hide from those Klingons."

Odo paused. All expression left his face. He told Doctor Mora everything. About getting bullied, shamed and shunned for being different. His less-than-pleasant disposition wasn't entirely the scientist's fault.

The hand holding his fist squeezed tight. Tears welled in Doctor Mora's eyes.

"I failed you in those days, Odo, and for that I am deeply sorry."

"It's the past." Sighing, Odo laid his other hand on top of Doctor Mora's. "I never blamed you for what other people's children did to me."

"Still, I am sorry. I should have known you were being mistreated." Doctor Mora finished his drink. "I give you my word that your little one won't go through that. I'll be more vigilant, and I'll teach it how to interact with its peers. Something I should have done with you in the beginning."

"Really?"

"Yes."

Odo felt himself smiling. A real, genuine smile from his eyes to his mouth.

Doctor Mora's expression softened too. He winked at Odo and flagged Rom down.

"May I have a reheat container for this? It's far too delicious to send back to the replicator."

"Uh-huh! Coming right up."

Rom reappeared with the requested device. A small, unassuming gray box that tripled as a storage device, a microwave cooking unit and a serving container. Kira swore by them during her pregnancy. Odo didn't have enough fingers to count the nights he walked across the Promenade with one of her craved foods in a reheat box. She hated to wake up the O'Briens and she knew he stayed on duty until the wee hours. He never let her down.

Once, he broke into Quark's bar to make her a grilled cheese sandwich with Bajoran shrimp on the side because she had to have it right that minute and didn't want it from a replicator.

And there were the nights he sat with her until she stopped sneezing long enough to fall asleep. Always with her head in his lap. He missed those nights the most.

"Odo?"

Odo looked up. He'd been staring at a bulkhead like an idiot. "Hm? Yes?"

Doctor Mora closed the reheat box. "Thinking about her again?"

Odo growled a warning.

"You've made your point." Doctor Mora chuckled. "Thank you for dinner. I'll let you get back to work."

A second after Doctor Mora said that, Odo spotted an Andorian male slipping fabric from Garak's shop into his tunic.

"Yes, and I have work to do right now." Odo pointed with his thumb, "Shoplifter on my right. Excuse me, Doctor Mora."

Doctor Mora gestured for him to leave first. No doubt he would stay and watch the action.

Odo exited Quark's bar and strode into the Andorian's path. Arms crossed, chin up and back straight-- he prided himself on his commanding presence. The Andorian slowed his stride. It was a child perhaps four years younger than Jake Sisko. Odo figured his thievery was a dare. Children did that a lot-- they dared each other to slip something past the 'creepy shape shifting Security Chief.'

The blue-skinned alien smiled up at Odo. Trying to play it cool. Too bad his twitching antennae and sidelong glances gave him away. Odo would have known he had a shoplifter on his hands without seeing him commit the crime.

"Drop the merchandise," Odo commanded.

"I don't know what you mean," said the boy.

"Oh, really?" Odo reached into the Andorian's tunic and pulled out three yards of orange Romulan satin. "Ah, I imagine this would set Garak back quite a bit. This isn't easy to come by. Now, what is your name?"

The Andorian's antennae sagged. "Zhry'malath Namar. Non-Andorians call me Malath."

"Well then, Malath, you have three choices." Odo grasped the boy's arm. "First choice: we walk back to Garak, you apologize for stealing and return the fabric. Second choice: we walk back to Garak, you apologize for stealing and you pay for it. Or, your third choice: I toss you into a holding cell and track down your parents. What will it be?"

Malath's eyes widened. Odo tilted his head, unrelenting.

"Oh please, sir! I'm sorry!" Malath hung his head. "I-I'll return it."

"Wise choice. Let's go."

Odo marched Malath towards Garak's Clothiers. The Cardiassian waited by the entrance. His vaguely reptilian features scrunched in a frown.

"Slippery little fellow, isn't he?" Garak remarked. He handed Odo a roll of fabric similar to what Malath stole. "And he tried to replace what he stole with counterfeit material."

"Really?" Odo smirked. "I heard there was a fabric counterfeiting ring plaguing Bajor, but I never thought I'd see it on Deep Space Nine. And from a child, no less. Well, Malath, it looks like you're in a lot of trouble."

"No! It's not me!" Malath's antennae folded back, betraying his anger. "I had to do it! I'm sorry!"

"Sure you did." Odo handed the real Romulan satin back to Garak and took the counterfeit material in its place. "I'd like to hear all about it in my office."

"Hey!" Malath protested.

"Oh, by the way, Garak..."

"Yes, Odo?"

"How are your replicators working?"

Garak eyed the delicate material in his hands. "Not a single hiccup in months."

"I see. Thank you."

"My pleasure, Odo."

"All right. Now you..." Odo dragged the upset Andorian into his office and plopped him down in a chair near his desk. "Start talking."

Malath hung his head. His voice twisted itself small. "I-It's a group of Yridians."

"Yridians?"

"They said they'll kill me if I don't deliver. I..." Malath sighed, his anger gone. Now, he squirmed in his seat, clearly distressed. "I stowed away on a Yridian ship after I ran away from my parents. We were staying on Bajor. My parents told me a secret. I got so mad at them that I ran away and hid in a cargo container full of fabric. It smelled funny, like that stuff I switched out in the shop."

Odo took Malath's statement down on a PADD. "Mmhmm, go on."

"Somebody moved the container aboard the ship that came here. I-I-I tried to yell for help. Nobody came. I yelled so loud, but it didn't work."

"I'm surprised you didn't decompress." Odo said.

"I was scared of that happening!" Malath replied. "The Yridians found me after docking here. I couldn't run away. They said they will take me back to my parents if I assist them."

Odo mentally rolled his eyes. Children were so gullible. An unfortunate result of their inexperience with the world.

Malath's expression twisted. He began to sob, hiding his face. "They'll kill me for talking to you! They saw you take me away. I'm scared...I'm really scared, sir!"

The boy's body language gave no indication of lying. Malath was a frightened child desperate to go home. Nothing more than a pawn in a greater chess game. But pawns were amazing pieces when played right. Odo saw an opportunity.

"Tell me, Malath...can you identify the specific Yridians making you do this?"

"I can't tell you any more."

The child wasn't going to cooperate without reassurance. Taking a deep breath, Odo forced himself to speak gently. "Listen to me, Malath. I won't let you get hurt, but I can't stop the Yridians unless you identify them for me. One of my deputies will stay with you, and I will make sure your parents know where you are. I'll help you, and you'll help me. It's a fair trade, don't you think?"

Malath chewed on his bottom lip. He wiped his face. "I-I think so. Am I still in trouble?"

"Not from me. Now, can you help me...er...catch the bad guys?"

Malath's antennae swiveled. He relented. "I will try."

"Good." Odo faced his main viewscreen. "Computer, retrieve the files of all Yridians who came aboard the station within the last seven days."

The computer beeped. "Searching."

"Your parents must be worried," Odo said.

Shrugging, Malath fidgeted with a loose thread on his deep purple tunic. It was made of fine fabrics. Which meant he came from a rich Andorian family. "They're having another baby."

Ugh, pregnancy is a plague! Odo thought. He tilted his head. "That doesn't seem like a reason to run away."

"The youngest always becomes the favorite!" Malath cried. "I am not ready to be an elder brother! They should have consulted me first!"

"I'm sorry to hear that," Odo replied casually. He had little sympathy for Malath's situation, but he understood why he fled. "Ah, here we go."

Going through the identification files took a some time. Just when Odo thought the boy couldn't deliver, Malath stopped the computer on an old Yridian bearing a nasty acid scar stretching over his mouth and nose. His name was Slek Ygroness and his file listed him as a merchant.

Hah! A merchant with scars is a little too suspicious for my taste.

Malath identified three more Yridians. Odo double checked their names and identifying images. No criminal records, but they had memorable faces.

Gron Pitrek had shifty, squinty eyes.

Lapniss Ykiln was missing part of an ear.

Ashbock Jekmuss looked the most clean-cut...for a Yridian.

Odo smirked and tapped his combadge. "Odo to Deputy Pinar."

"Pinar here."

"I have a young Andorian who needs to be placed in protective custody. He is a witness to criminal activity. Please report to my office."

"On my way, sir. Pinar out."

"I'm not staying with you?"

Sighing, Odo regarded the boy. "No. I'm in charge of this case. Deputy Pinar will take care of you until I arrest the Yridians. By the time I'm through with them, their new criminal records will follow them for the rest of their-- "

Odo found himself seized in a tight hug. He rolled his eyes and tolerated it for the child's sake.

"Oh, thank you, sir! Thank you." Malath paused. He stared at Odo's face. "Do all shape shifters make a bubbling sound in their chests?"

Before Odo answered, Deputy Pinar entered the security office. The Bajoran man looked mildly amused at the situation. He smiled and reached out to Malath. "I am Deputy Pinar, and I am in charge of your care."

Malath's antennae twitched. He let go of Odo. "I'm really sorry. I'm not a thief...I just want to go home."

"And I promise you will. Good luck, Malath." Odo handed Deputy Pinar a PADD. "Have Slek Ygroness sent to my office. Here is his identification file."

"Consider it done."

Odo's office doors hissed shut. He leaned back in his chair, waiting. Before long, a grayish alien whose appearance couldn't decide between a rodent or a reptile walked in. The scars on his face were more hideous in person.

"I fail to see why you summoned me," said the Yridian.

"I figured you would say that, Mister Ygroness." Odo replied.

"Call me Slek."

"Slek, then." Odo put on his best poker face. "I caught a shoplifter outside of Garak's Clothiers."

He didn't miss Slek's throat bobbing in a swallow. So, the Yridian was nervous already. "What's that got to do with me?"

"Oh, I think you know."

"My apologies, but I don't."

Odo reached under his desk and dropped the counterfeit fabric in front of Slek. Slek flinched, a micro-expression of shock and anger flashing over his wrinkled features. Odo eyed him like a predator assessing prey. "I think you do. So make this easy on yourself and tell me what you're up to."

Jumping to his feet, Slek jabbed a finger at Odo's face. "You can't prove anything!"

"SIT down!" Odo growled. "Or I'll throw you in a holding cell."

Slek wisely seated himself. The scar on his mouth distorted his features when he sneered.

"Now," Odo paced around his office with his hands clasped behind his back. "What is going on in cargo bay four?"

"I have no idea." Slek said. He started fidgeting again. Such a terrible liar. Quark was more convincing than this idiot!

Odo knew he couldn't bust Slek based on body language alone. Catching a criminal shared many similarities to playing chess. He had to position his pieces strategically and hope Slek made an error. Odo just placed him in check. Slek's next move determined whether or not his situation left him in checkmate.

"Scans indicate a large shipment of fabrics in cargo bay four," he said.

"So what?" Slek snapped. "That Cardassian owns a clothing shop."

Mmhmm, here we go. Odo kept pacing. "Oh, how unfortunate for you. He only orders off-station when his replicators malfunction. And right now his replicators are working just fine."

Slek stiffened, his lips pressing into a line. "I'm finished here. I want to go."

Odo gestured to the door. "Go right ahead." Because I'm going to catch you, and there is nothing you can do about it.

The angry Yridian practically sprang off his chair in his haste to exit Odo's office.

Moments like these made Odo love his job. He sat down behind his desk, propped his feet up and prepared the full report for his security team. The station wide alert preventing the four Yridians from leaving went out next. Before calling it a night, he left his office and headed straight to Quark's bar.

Once in awhile, Quark was useful.

.o

Odo wiggled his toes as the masseuse worked expertly on his feet. He glanced at Kira, who occupied the massage table a few meters away. Sunlight shimmered across her dark auburn hair. The length of her body blurred behind the modesty screen. Her skin looked so vibrant against the pale blue towel.

He found himself envying the masseuse's hands and simultaneously cursing himself for it.

Really? Jealous of something generated in a holosuite? Note to self, Odo, you are a moron. She only has eyes for Shakaar anyway.

Kira gave a contented sigh. "Mm. A sting operation?"

Odo grunted and refocused on their conversation. "Yes. There seems to be a Yridian fabric counterfeiter passing as a merchant on the station. His reaction to my questioning tells me he is guilty, and now I have to prove it. Quark is my undercover man. He is going to help me expose the operation."

"Quark is helping you? Ugh...I know I don't have to worry. You're too good at your job, but Quark? Let's hope he doesn't bungle it up."

"He won't. I threatened to halt his shipments of Klingon bloodwine if he did."

"Ahh, that's one way to make him cooperate. Ooh, more on the left shoulder."

"Kira?"

"Oh, I'm fine. I played Springball with Jadzia last night. I'm paying for it today."

"I see."

Kira looked over. "So, how is the little one?"

Odo stretched out on his back. The young masseuse smiled at him. He had altered the holosuite program with an option for modest Bajoran clothing. It made the situation less awkward.

"The latest scans show it takes up ninety percent of the pocket in my chest when in its liquid state."

"Really? It grew that fast in a couple days? How active is it?"

Odo chuckled. "It's been holding the shape of a tentacle for the past several minutes. I...ah, wait, it just moved. It's liquid again."

Kira propped herself up on one elbow. "You can tell what shapes it's taking?"

"Sometimes, if I'm in the right position at the moment it decides to practice. Like right now." Odo sighed, letting the masseuse knead his legs. "So far, its repertoire only consists of tentacles, a sphere and a mound. I saw it do all three onscreen last night. I enjoy it the most when it becomes a sphere, because I can feel it roll whenever I move."

Kira's eyes lost focus, remembering. "Oh...I remember when I learned the difference between Kirayoshi's elbows and feet. I found out exactly what made him wiggle, too. He didn't like it when I tried to sleep on my right side. He kicked my bladder until I turned over or sat up. And he hated it when I ate spicy food. Being elbowed in the ribs from the inside is a...different...experience."

Somewhere, a holographic seagull squawked.

"You sound like you miss feeling those movements," Odo said.

"I do...kind of." Kira laid back again. "So, tell me more about this sting operation."

Smirking, Odo rested his hands on his chest. "Normally, I shape shift into something in the cargo bay and wait for the perpetrators to act. Since I can't do that right now, I planted motion-activated surveillance devices in cargo bay four. I'll receive an alert if any activity is detected. I told Quark he can choose when he goes in as long as it isn't the hours between oh-one-hundred and oh-six-hundred, which is when I regenerate."

"That seems like a longer regeneration time than usual."

He peered at her. "I'm gestating another life form. It's tiring work."

"No argument there."

"Mm, and Quark will...ahh, that feels nice." Odo reveled in the masseuse working on his chest and sides. Being unable to liquefy all the way diminished the restfulness of his regeneration cycles. A good massage almost made up for it. Especially today, when he woke up feeling particularly exhausted. His chest kept increasing its internal density, and he had to consciously return it to normal. He chalked it up to one more annoying result of his condition.

"Mmhmm. What were you saying about Quark?" Kira hedged.

"Oh. Sorry. Quark will pose as an interested customer, and my team will strike when he makes the purchase. He has spent the past two days reeling them in, so I suspect something will happen soon."

"I hope it works out, and let me know when you catch them." Kira hid a yawn behind her hand. "You know, Odo, I think this is the most I've ever heard you talk in all the time I've known you. Well, while off-duty, anyway..."

"Oh?" He lifted his head. "Am I boring you?"

"Not at all." She was smiling. "Did you finish the novel I sent you?"

"The one about the Bajoran detective on Risa? Yes, four days ago. It was quite good." This time, Odo grinned at the sky. "I think my favorite part was Detective Shaarlek catching the drug-smuggling Yridians in a ship's cargo hold. How appropriate."

Kira laughed, and to Odo it sounded like music.

"Oh," she picked up her combadge and asked it for the time. "I need to get back. I'm on duty in ten minutes. Odo?"

He rumbled, "I think I'll stay a little while longer."

"Heh, heh! Maybe it's doing you some good after all. Computer, remove masseuse A."

Kira's Bajoran masseuse and table disappeared. She pulled her uniform on while Odo politely kept his gaze averted.

"Anything to help me prepare for Kejal's arrival," he said.

It was the first time he referred to the unborn Changeling by name. He didn't realize he did so until the words left his mouth.

Kira adjusted her uniform once she had it back on her body. She sounded amused, "I'll say a prayer for you two in the shrine."

Once in awhile, Odo wished he could share her faith.

"Thank you, Nerys."

"You're welcome. Take all the time you need in here. Mother."

Odo snorted at that. Kira smirked back. She exited the holosuite without a sound. Her towel and modesty screen disappeared when she stepped out the door.

Why did every room she left feel diminished?

Heh, love...it does funny things to a man.

Odo watched a puffy cloud drift overhead. It bore some resemblance to a starship, but his stomach didn't lurch in realization like it did when he had a digestive tract.

The emotions of solid humanoids...Odo missed having them. He had feelings as a Changeling, but solids experienced their strongest ones in such a visceral manner. Distinguishing one emotion from the other was rather difficult at first, as various mental states often generated similar physical effects. He literally had to think about the situational context in order to understand the reactions going on inside his body.

Anger, fear and excitement created itchy, knotting sensations in his intestines. Joy and sorrow caused his eyes, nose, throat and chest to prickle and burn. Enjoyment in its purest form let him sink so deep into himself that he swore he slipped into another dimension. Being in love-- especially around Major Kira --created a warm pleasantness behind his sternum. He even remembered the embarrassing-yet-interesting tingle of sexual arousal when Quark paid a dabo girl to flash him as a prank.

These effects were all hormonal mixtures triggered by external stimuli. Cortisol, testosterone, endorphins, prostaglandins, adrenaline and dopamine. Odo found them fascinating, and his experiences helped him understand a great deal about why people committed crimes.

I still haven't figured out the term 'butterflies in the stomach.' I suppose I never will. One thing is for sure-- I gained a new respect for Vulcans.

Odo commanded the holosuite to dispel his masseuse and got up. His towel reformed into his uniform. He stood on the edge of the cliff and peered across the ocean far below. Most seas looked peaceful from a distance. The water sparkled like sapphires under a spotlight. Each wave built up, crested and crashed against the rocky shore in a sizzle of foam. Odo felt something similar inside himself, and he had a harder time willing his body back to normal.

His gaze drifted to the rocks below, and he remembered water's power to reshape a world. The Great Link wasn't much different. But the Great Link let him down. The Great Link rejected him. The Great Link was just like everyone else.

"Computer, end program."

The rocks, the sunlight and the ocean faded into black walls and holographic emitter arrays. Odo left the holosuite behind and returned the program's isolinear rod to Quark.

"I didn't know you were a fan of Bajoran massages," Quark remarked, flashing a sharp-toothed grin.

Odo shot him a baleful glare. Before he could say something cutting, a rough baritone voice called out, "Constable!"

"Good afternoon, Worf." He nodded to the Klingon. "What can I do for you?"

Worf came right up to him. Odo remained where he stood, since stepping away would be culturally disrespectful.

"There are four Yridians at a table upstairs. They have been behaving suspiciously since they arrived in this bar."

Odo did not risk looking at them. "That doesn't surprise me. They are probably planning an escape, and their plan will fail. They know I'm onto them."

"Prune juice," Worf said to Quark. He bared his fangs at Odo. "You should apprehend them now."

"Not yet," said Odo. He leaned on the bar. Speech required more conscious effort, as if the air weighed too much. "I plan to catch them with proof of their crime. I have circumstantial evidence of a fabric counterfeiting operation. I need something more solid before I can officially arrest them, and catching them in the middle of a sale is the perfect way to do it."

"I see." Worf didn't appear pleased. "Perhaps..." He stopped and stared. "Are you unwell?"

Odo realized he was rubbing his chest. He let his hand drop to his side. "I'm fine. Ah, here comes Dax. Excuse me."

He left Quark's bar, brushing past Dax before she drilled him about the relaxation program.

"Odo, how's it-- "

"Not now!" Odo barked. If he came across as rude, too bad! He retreated into the safety of his office and didn't venture out again until he saw Worf and Dax climb the spiral staircase leading to the holosuite. Then he made a beeline for the Infirmary.

Something wasn't right.

.o

"It's all right. The baby Changeling is fine."

Doctor Bashir's tricorder flickered and beeped. He repeated his scan twice more. The results weren't going to be any different. Why did he keep doing it?

"The pocket has definitely moved. It's two centimeters lower than before. When did you first notice the tightness in your chest?"

"I've been feeling it since I woke up this morning, but it just recently became impossible to ignore," said Odo.

"You let this go on for six hours?"

Odo pinned the Chief Medical Officer with a glare. "Yes, so?"

"Odo!" Doctor Mora hurried through the Infirmary doors. He was out of breath. "I came as soon as I heard. Odo, how are you?"

Odo shrugged his shoulders and crossed his arms. "I'm fine."

"The baby Changeling is putting pressure on the inside of its pocket," said Doctor Bashir. "And the pocket itself has moved." He showed Doctor Mora his latest scans, "The extra mass he built up in his torso is pressing against the pocket. My guess is this will continue until the baby is forced out of his body."

"It stops when I resist it." Odo cut in. "It's no different than fighting to hold my shape after the Founders made me sick."

"But you may not be able to resist it indefinitely." Doctor Bashir folded his tricorder shut. "Odo, you're in labor, and I have no idea what effect it will have on your body. I suggest you relax and let us monitor you."


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