Mora's dreams were strange and terrifying. Somehow, he'd gotten lost within the Fire Caves, and he felt a pah-wraith pressing into his back. Instead of running from it in fear, he turned and cursed its existence.
He awoke feeling angry. Angry at the Delfeya syndrome, angry at being in a medical facility again and angry that he couldn't do the things he used to.
Yawning, still tired, he checked the time. Oh three-hundred. Blast it all, he hadn't slept more than two hours and his bladder needed emptying.
His back gave him a few twinges. He calmed himself down and touched the call button next to his head.
"Pol?" Aleexa's voice offered reassurance. "What is it?"
"I need to make water."
"I'm on my way."
Mora blinked. "You're still here?"
Kejal approached his bedside. "I couldn't leave you here alone."
Aleexa slipped into the room with a clear container in her hand. It was hardly more than a long plastic tube inside a bag.
"Here you go. Do you need help?"
Mora shook his head. "May I have some privacy?"
She smiled. "Of course. Kejal? Come on."
Kejal offered a little protest before Aleexa convinced him to leave the room. She pulled the curtain around the biobed and waited just outside while Mora took care of his bladder.
He didn't think the bag would hold it all, but to his relief it expanded as he filled it.
"I think the blockage is gone. I never go this much."
"That's good to hear!" Aleexa said cheerfully. "Does it hurt to pee?"
"No." Mora finished and tucked himself back into the facility-issued shorts. "I'm done now."
Aleexa moved the curtain and took the bag. The contents were cloudy with blood. "Oh, yes, I think you're definitely emptying out the swollen kidney." She swished it. "Is it usually this bloody?"
Mora nodded once and shifted his position. "Some days it looks like that, but not always." He cleaned his hands with the provided wet sanitation wipes.
"That's how it usually is with Delfeya syndrome." Aleexa noted down the amount in the bag and discarded it in the waste extraction unit. She used an ionizing station to disinfect her hands and came back to take his temperature.
Mora didn't mind the cool probe being rubbed across his forehead. It soothed his pulsing headache. "Do I have a fever? I feel like I might."
"Yeah, you do. It's the antibiotics you're being given here. They pull your own antibodies towards the source of the infection, so I'm sorry, that means I can't give you anything to lower the fever without disrupting the process."
"Mm...I understand. Compared to how I felt earlier, a headache is nothing." Mora wiggled on the bed. "Can you up the field strength a little? I'm getting twinges."
"Sure." Aleexa adjusted something above his head and the pain faded. "How's that?"
"Better, thank you."
She smiled kindly. "You're scruffy." Her fingernails scraped lightly at the stubble on his chin. "I like scruffy men."
Mora chuckled at her. He scratched his chin and made a face. "It looked better when I was younger. Now, I just look like an old, dirty goat."
"You certainly do not! You're still quite good looking, sir." Aleexa balked. She replicated a tall water glass with a spill-proof lid and a flexible straw. "Here's some water. Your mouth looks a little dry."
"Thank you." He took a generous drink. Until then, he didn't realize how thirsty he was. The cold water felt wonderful on his parched throat. He set the glass on the bedside table. "I think I'll rest a little more."
"That's just fine. Rest is the best thing for you." Aleexa reached down and gave his hand a friendly squeeze. "Don't hesitate to call for me if you need anything else. I'm always available."
Yes, I have to bother other people to tend to my most basic needs...
Mora resisted snapping the comment running through his mind. He smiled instead and patted her wrist. "I appreciate it, Aleexa. I apologize in advance for any further interruptions I may cause."
"Don't, sweetie. It's what I'm here for." She straightened the blanket for him, smoothed his hair and padded out. "Keep it down in there. He wants to rest."
"Okay," Kejal's voice filtered through the door.
Mora sighed, closing his eyes. Kejal entered and Mora felt the air disturbance of him leaning over the bed. Then he moved away to sit by the window. Mora cracked an eye open.
Kejal didn't look happy. He seemed haggard, as if he hadn't relaxed once in the past several hours. Sitting on the floor like that made him appear far smaller than his actual size. Amusingly, he was barefoot and shape shifting his fingers and toes into different flowers from the garden back home.
Seeing Kejal doing something so silly dissolved Mora's anger. He could always chase away Mora's darkest mood just by entering a room. A talent he possessed since being born on Leruu's death anniversary.
That date used to drive Mora into drinking himself numb. Now, it had a new, wonderful meaning, and he still believed Leruu talked the Prophets into planning it that way.
"Kejal," Mora whispered.
Instantly, Kejal's face lit up. He clambered towards the biobed. "Father! How do you feel?"
Mora crinkled his nose. "Old."
He yawned and fought down his amusement at Kejal trying and failing to imitate it.
"Infections are exhausting," muttered Mora. Then his nose started to leak blood. "Augh, wonderful! Kejal, get me a-- "
Kejal handed him a handkerchief. "Should I call Aleexa back in?"
"No. This is a minor issue."
"I wish I could lay down with you." Kejal said quietly. He glared accusingly at the bed and all the gadgetry attached to it. "I don't like this bed. It looks like a casket."
"I feel half-dead. I think it suits my condition."
"That's...almost funny right now." Kejal gave a half-hearted chuckle.
Mora's head pounded. He rubbed his forehead and blew his nose to clear it. The coppery taste of blood clung to the back of his throat. Damn nosebleeds.
He set the bloody handkerchief down without caring where it landed. "I'm going to fall asleep pretty soon." Smiling a little, he added, "Sing something...would you please?"
"Oh! Gladly, father." Kejal cleared his throat and launched into a quiet, hypnotic melody about a butterfly in a well. His clear tenor voice rose and fell like pure light finding its way through darkness.
And Mora felt himself slipping into slumber...
Odo sat silently on the edge of the bed. Kira was settling down to sleep.
"Are you coming to bed?" she asked.
"I might later," he replied. "I don't feel like sleeping right now. I'm sorry."
Kira nodded and closed her eyes. She rubbed his leg in a sleepy attempt to soothe his troubled mind. Odo's expression softened at her kindness. He brushed a strand of hair off her forehead and kissed her above the ear.
"I love you, Nerys."
"Love you, too," she yawned. In a few minutes her breathing shifted into soft, kitten-purr snores.
Odo padded out of the bedroom. The square white box Doctor Mora told him about sat unopened on the kitchen counter. Odo had been afraid to look inside.
Ridiculous...me, afraid of a box? Odo, get a hold of yourself.
He steeled himself and pressed the button that made the lid pop up. The gold betrothal bracelet gleamed faintly in the dim overhead lights. It consisted of five long bars with small red beads in between. Vows of love were engraved on each bar.
I promise you my love.
I promise you my devotion.
I promise you my strength.
I promise you my faith.
I promise you my everything.
Underneath the bracelet was a tiny piece of parchment listing the people who wore it before.
A prickly feeling bothered Odo's eyes. Rubbing them made it go away. He tip-toed into the guest bedroom and gently slipped the betrothal bracelet onto Kira's wrist without waking her up. Then he kissed her cheek and walked back out.
He spent the next three hours reading one of the Shaarlek novels. The story revolved around a Ferengi named Murg hiding in a science lab after being framed for murder.
Odo dropped the PADD, held his head in his hands and sighed. No getting around it. This needed to get done.
The communications console lit up when he tapped the touchpad. He asked for a hover tram and paid the fee in advance.
"Nerys...I didn't mean to wake you."
Kira rubbed her eyes. "You didn't." She looked down at the bracelet and smiled. "It's beautiful."
Odo dipped his head politely. "A gift from Doctor Mora. It's been in his family for generations."
"I'll be sure to thank him." Kira indicated the communications screen. "What's going on?"
"I'm doing something I should have done a long time ago." Odo tapped his thumbs together as he paced the length of the couch. "I'm going to see the lab."
"I'm coming with you."
She was already in the bedroom pulling on her clothes. When she returned, she said, "Don't face this alone, Odo."
He met her eyes. She wouldn't back down.
Sixty minutes later, they stood together outside the intimidating black building. The fog swirling around its angular edges made it seem alive. A huge, dark monster about to devour anything in its path.
Odo took a breath. Kira squeezed his hand. Together, they stepped through the main entrance and slipped past the snoozing security guard. Odo led Kira onto an elevator to the second floor. He walked swiftly, hoping the trepidation he felt stayed two steps behind.
The laboratory was the first door Odo saw when the elevator arrived.
"Come on..." He muttered more to himself than Kira.
Fashioning his thumb into an exact replica of Doctor Mora's, he pressed it to the identification panel beside the double doors. They slid apart and revealed the last place in the universe Odo ever wanted to see again.
It looked exactly like he remembered it. From the cold black countertops to the gleaming metal table running down the center. A layout so familiar he could find his way around blindfolded.
Odo headed straight for the shelf on his right. He plucked up the beaker and handed it to Kira. The label was still there.
"Oh..." Kira turned the beaker over in her hands. "The Cardassians called you nothing?"
Odo nodded slowly.
"Once, I believed that label. The Cardassians didn't know what I was, so they chose Doctor Mora to find out. He labeled my jar as 'unknown sample' and the Cardassians translated it into 'nothing.' Nobody realized I was a life form for a long time. Doctor Mora's experiments revealed that by accident.
"I didn't have a name, then. I was the unknown sample, the creature, the specimen, the alien...the beaker of nothing. Once I started taking humanoid form, the Bajorans in the lab started calling me Odo Ital, as if the two words were a Bajoran name. Over time, it was shortened to just Odo. No matter how they changed it, I always heard nothing when people called my name."
Kira cupped the beaker against her chest and squeezed his hand. Her eyelashes were damp. "You were never nothing to me, Odo." She cracked a small smile that he mirrored effortlessly.
"I know. The first time you said my name to me, I stopped hearing it as nothing."
She pulled him close and kissed him deeply. "If I hadn't seen Kejal after he was born, I never would've believed you fit in this beaker."
"Sometimes I can't believe it myself." Odo laid a hand on his chest. The very spot from which Kejal emerged. His eyes roved over the menacing gadgets tucked neatly into the walls. Larger pieces of equipment were positioned near the windows.
He tugged Kira's hand and showed her the electrostatic dish. "This is the device that first induced me to shape shift."
The memories came up, unbidden...
Most of his existence had been vibrations, stirring, suction, stinging and tingling.
And then, out of nowhere, agony! Disorientation! Burning! Spinning and confusion and terror!
Then nothing...for a long time, nothing.
Suddenly, IT happened.
Something poured him onto a flat surface. The smooth, cool environment seemed safe enough until the cruel Pain Thing bombarded his entire being! He discovered he could move; he stretched until he found a place of no pain. Parts of him still touched the Pain Thing. He compacted himself until the zapping stopped.
Later on, he experienced the Pain Thing again. Only now, the Safe Place was blocked! He extended desperate tentacles and palpated the cylindrical obstacle. The top was open. He rushed for the container and poured himself inside.
He began to perceive the outside world. Shape, form, texture and vibration. The alien who exposed him to the Pain Thing looked different than the other shapes around it. He began recoiling inside his beaker each time that alien turned on the lights and stretched out its limb.
The alien put many shaped containers inside the Pain Thing. He memorized them all. Then, suddenly, no shapes. What did this alien want?
He learned to recognize the smoothness of the Pain Thing. It was a big, flat, round surface. He dreaded feeling it, for he knew it meant suffering.
Once, he adhered himself to the bottom of the Pain Thing. The alien turned it on. Resisting it was impossible. He took the last shape he remembered pouring himself into and became a cube all by himself. When the Pain Thing stopped buzzing, he stayed a cube. All those straight lines and right angles-- wait, he could do this without the Pain Thing?
The alien made noises at another alien. Now two were hovering over him. He felt himself being picked up, tapped and turned over. The alien's strange limbs were two flat surfaces with five smaller appendages. This odd alien used those five appendages to manipulate the Pain Thing. He heard the alien generate more noises, and the next thing he knew he was spinning. Holding his cube shape was impossible.
He got tired of it. The poking, spinning, pain and the giant alien looming over him-- he wanted it to stop!
Changing shapes made the alien use the Pain Thing. Perhaps not changing shape would stop the pain!
Then the alien got confusing. Once, it poured him into a tall, cylindrical container. He felt the smoothness of the Pain Thing underneath it. A trick? The container lifted away. He relaxed his shape, resisting the Pain Thing. It did not hurt as badly as it used to.
Just when he thought he finally won, the alien tried again. He melted into liquid a second time. But the persistent alien did it AGAIN, and resisting the Pain Thing became impossible. He held the container's shape.
Wait, he could change shape without the Pain Thing, right?
Of course. He knew what to do.
The next time the alien turned on the Pain Thing, he stretched part of himself out and attacked its appendage. The Pain Thing immediately stopped.
And the alien became cruel...
Or so Odo thought. He didn't realize he was mumbling out loud until Kira whispered his name.
"Odo?" Kira's brow knit in concern. "Odo, you're liquefying. Odo? Odo!"
Odo's consciousness realigned with the present. He forced his body back into its humanoid shape.
"I-I..." The memories were so real he swore he was re-experiencing everything. "...I thought he was punishing me for slapping his hand away from the control panel. I never asked...I didn't know any better." He gestured to the test tubes, the large beaker and the long, thin syringe lying on the countertop behind Kira. "Doctor Mora discovered I was a life form when he poured acid on a small sample of my substance and found DNA. But he did not realize I was sentient when he returned the sample that didn't break down. The acid reacted with my morphogenic enzymes."
Odo clutched the electrostatic plate in remembered agony.
"He saved me with the centrifuge. It separated out the acid, but the pain persisted for weeks...and I hated him. My first emotion was hate, and I never knew the guilt he felt for causing me that pain.
"I thought he enjoyed hurting me. I thought he was punishing me. I used tentacles to grab tools out of his hands and knock over his equipment, and he had to keep me inside a containment field for his own safety. I threw myself against it in attempt to escape. I didn't know how else to communicate that I wanted the pain to stop. He wasn't even aware of my sentience until I shape shifted into a copy of my beaker.
"Later, I began recognizing the vibrations of voices as a means of communication, and through that I began to understand language itself. I proved I understood his words by shape shifting into a cube on command. Then everything changed...he started introducing me to various life forms and objects, and my shape shifting vocabulary grew until I..." Odo tilted his head to indicate himself. He looked over at Kira, his inner substance swirling in shame. "This is where I began, Nerys."
Kira put his beaker down. She pried his hands off the electrostatic plate and wrapped his arms around her. Then she pulled his head down onto her shoulder and kissed his ear. A touch so tender compared to the memories of his surroundings.
Odo leaned into her warmth like a plant desperate for rain. He felt his lips quivering, but beyond that he could not express the emotions welling in his substance.
"The hardest part," he sighed heavily, "is realizing my fear and hatred were completely misguided. He wasn't a sadist. He didn't enjoy my misery. He was experimenting on a jar of what looked like organic residue because the Cardassians wanted to know what I was-- I could have been a valuable new fuel source, or an undiscovered chemical or biological weapon. How could anyone know I was alive? Of course, once the Cardassians realized I was a life form and sentient, they pressured Doctor Mora to find out everything about me. My capabilities, my intelligence...everything.
"Once a month, I had to entertain them at parties to show off what I'd learned. I thought they liked me. I thought they truly wanted to be my friends. Humanoid children were cruel to me because I was different. I told you about the young Klingons a long time ago..."
"Yes, I remember," Kira whispered, never breaking her embrace.
"I recognized their mockery as the same mockery I heard from the Cardassians, and suddenly I understood what really happened at those ridiculous parties. I stopped enjoying them, and I saw my shape shifting as a source of shame.
"The Cardassian neck trick was the last straw. Doctor Mora made me practice it for weeks. At the party, I tried to refuse by stating I didn't like it. Doctor Mora got angry at me, and I finally did the trick to shut him up. The whole place erupted in laughter. Doctor Mora thanked me for cooperating. And again, I thought he enjoyed seeing me suffer. I felt betrayed...I believed his science meant more to him than me, so I left the lab after that party. I told him what I was doing and I walked out into the rain."
He kissed Kira's shoulder. "If I knew then what I know now, and if we had simply talked about it, things between Doctor Mora and I would be so much different. I know the experiments I endured wouldn't have been done if he knew I was alive at the start. I-- Hmph, it's all so ridiculous. It's the past, it shouldn't bother me."
Kira squeezed his upper arms and resumed her embrace. "Your feelings aren't wrong, Odo. He hurt you, and he was wrong to do it. It doesn't matter if he did it knowingly or not, you were still hurt."
Odo closed his eyes. He grasped her shoulders. "I'm sorry, Nerys. I didn't mean to drag you through this."
"No." She sat down on the metal table and made him look into her eyes. They were watering, but she spoke before Odo could snap that he didn't want her pity. "This is an important part of who you are. You can see it for what it is instead of what you thought it was. Look at what you've overcome, Odo. I'd be bitter as hell and never look Pol in the eye again if it were me!"
Odo snorted. "I would say the same if he fell ill two decades ago. I walked out swearing to never see him or this laboratory again."
"And here you are, facing it and helping him." Kira patted his hip. "I really admire that. We've both overcome a lot, haven't we?"
"Yes. We definitely have." A small, amused smile tugged the corners of his lips. He touched her knees with his fingertips. "You're sitting on the exact spot where I took humanoid form for the first time."
Kira tilted her head. "Really?"
"Mmhmm." Odo sat next to her. "I didn't realize my legs weren't solid enough to hold my weight. So when I tried to stand..." He slid off the table and reverted to his gelatinous state on the floor. After a few seconds, he reformed facing her. "Learning to walk took a long time. I did not have the reflexes associated with balance. They came to me with practice. Talking happened the same way. Both with Doctor Mora's guidance."
"Just like any other baby." Kira said affectionately.
"Then I was a large infant." Odo found himself smiling as fonder memories surfaced. "Doctor Mora played games with me to teach me the simple things-- like facial expressions, but I did not master using or interpreting them until after I left the lab."
He walked past the table and opened the glass cabinet by the wall console. Isolinear rods labeled with dates lined the shelf.
"Ah, here." Odo placed one in the port below the console. He saw himself sitting on the table. At that time, he did not have eyelashes or teeth, and the only clothing he could mimic was a pair of black skintight shorts.
"You were so young!" Kira gasped.
Odo stared at his younger self on the screen. At Doctor Mora guiding his hands and praising him.
"Now remember, you have to hold it tight." Doctor Mora said after shaping Odo's hand into a fist around the neck of a beaker. "I'm going to let go. Don't loosen your grip."
He let go. Odo focused his whole being on keeping his fingers closed.
"Aha! Fantastic. You're doing so well! Let's put it down. Slowly. Open your fingers. There you go. Perfect! Now, do you remember the handshake?"
"No." Odo opened his eyes wide, grabbed Doctor Mora's hand and shook it vigorously up and down. "Wait. Yes."
He felt Kira leaning against him.
"You sounded a lot like Kejal when you were young. What made you change your voice?"
"I wanted to frighten other children away."
Odo nodded. Oddly, that memory didn't sting like it used to. In fact, the building-- the very room he was standing in-- didn't look as terrifying as his mind made it out to be.
The equipment was just equipment. The shadows were just shadows.
"It is hard to imagine that there was a time where I knew nothing. I didn't know what it meant to love...or be loved..." Odo thumbed the betrothal bracelet on Kira's wrist. "...or that I would be standing here with you."
Kira ducked her head, smiling. She glanced at her wrist and refocused on his face. Her expression softened. "Pol seems to love you like a son."
Odo cleared his throat and put the isolinear rod back into its proper place. "He is not my father."
"Family isn't always governed by genes. Kejal has no problem calling him his father."
"That's what I told Kejal to call him." Odo replied. "Don't all mothers want their children to know better than they did?"
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean denying yourself if a chance comes up, either, and you won't have yours for long."
Odo closed his eyes and allowed himself a silent sigh. Doctor Mora was good to him when he wasn't blinded by his own arrogance, but at that time Odo didn't have the mental capacity to understand gestures like embracing and pats on the back.
Looking back on those times left him even more confused.
"We should get to the facility," said Odo.
Kira handed him his beaker. "Got your sticker?"
"My-- " he scooped it off the floor, where it fell when he liquefied. "Here we go."
They joined hands and activated the circuitry in their stickers. The facility transporter beamed them right to Doctor Mora's room.
Kejal was regenerating in a clear basin by the window.
Doctor Mora had been stripped to the waist. He shivered a little, his face flushed. Odo picked up the digital chart by the biobed. The antibiotics were causing a controlled fever and helping his body fight off the infection in his kidney.
Odo did a double take. Doctor Mora looked so small in the bed. The hair on his pectoral area was all gray and thinner than Odo remembered. His collarbones stuck out beneath the skin. He shifted restlessly and his lips were dry.
Doctor Mora's eyelids fluttered.
"Nerys, replicate a cool cloth for his head."
Kira nodded and replicated one. She laid it lightly on Doctor Mora's forehead. "He's awfully warm."
"It's the antibiotics."
"Leruu?" Doctor Mora mumbled.
"No," whispered Kira. "It's Nerys."
"Mm..." he opened his eyes. "Oh."
Odo edged in next to Kira. "Doctor Mora, good morning."
Doctor Mora covered a yawn with his hand. "To you, too."
"Nerys and I stopped by the Science Institute. I...felt the need to face it."
"Did you now?"
Nodding once, Odo handed Doctor Mora his old beaker. At the sight of it, Doctor Mora's eyes twinkled. He smiled, but it was sad.
"It's been a lifetime since you fit in this thing."
"I know. Nerys almost didn't believe it either."
Kira gave his arm a squeeze. "He's right. If I hadn't seen Kejal as a newborn, I never would've guessed."
Doctor Mora held the beaker out to Odo again. "Keep it for now. It'll get lost in here."
Odo accepted it and slipped it into the pocket he created in his pants. "How do you feel?"
"The blockage seems to be gone and the swelling is going down. The pain hasn't gone away yet. I'm fortunate this contraption is so good at controlling it."
"Ah. Yes. Doctor Bashir used one of these to stop the pain when I had the morphogenic virus. Apparently, you had the same idea for Kejal."
"I kept him in my living room. I held him as much as I could to make up for your inability to be there." Doctor Mora lifted his head and glanced at the window. When he noticed Kejal regenerating, he settled back once again. His eyes remained troubled.
Aleexa bustled in carrying a food tray. "Oh! Well, the gang's all here! Good morning, Odo. Good morning, Nerys."
Odo and Kira offered polite pleasantries. Aleexa helped Doctor Mora incline the head of the bed and moved the tray into his reach.
"I'm afraid this isn't my home cooking, but it'll be easy on your stomach." She lifted the lid to reveal some sort of fruit sauce, toasted bread and a mug of warm tea.
"Ah, it looks delicious anyway. Thank you." Doctor Mora's eyelids dropped as he reached for the packaged spoon.
Odo watched how Kira tenderly buttered the bread for him and replicated extra napkins. She and Doctor Mora talked in hushed tones, their faces serious.
Odo let them converse uninterrupted. He slipped over to the sunny window and gazed down at his 'sleeping' offspring.
Something cylindrical plopped into Kejal's substance. Only his mother and father dared do such a thing, and at the moment his father was indisposed.
He absorbed and studied the invader. A beaker with something written on it.
Curious, Kejal slowly assumed humanoid form. He popped the beaker out of his elbow. "Oh, mother...it's your first beaker!"
"Mmhmm." Odo lightly slapped Kejal's knee.
Kejal rolled it between his hands. "It's so little."
"You were that tiny when you were born." Odo slipped his arm around Kejal's shoulders and Kejal leaned into his mother's comforting touch. "How is Doctor Mora doing?"
"He filled up an entire pee bag earlier. I didn't know humanoid bladders held that much."
"Tch, I don't miss having one. They're annoying."
"Father says the same thing." Kejal smiled and handed the beaker back to Odo. "He's doing better. Aleexa says he'll be well enough to return home soon. Maybe he's going get completely better!"
The arm Odo had around his shoulders tightened its hold. "He is dying, Kejal."
"No, listen to me. I understand you don't want to hear this, but it is time to face reality." Odo's voice remained gentle, but firm. "Today, I showed Nerys a painful part of my past. If I succeeded, so can you. Stop running from reality, Kejal."
Kejal's substance quivered. He clasped his hands together. "I'm afraid to."
"Why? Look at me...tell me why."
He met his mother's worried gaze. "No. It's too hard. Let's talk about your wedding plans inst-- "
"No. Don't change the subject. Doctor Mora is going to die in approximately seven weeks."
Seven weeks. Before, the word months got thrown about. Months meant a long time. Weeks felt like no time at all.
Kejal's world contracted more.
Odo said, "Nerys and I will take care of the wedding plans. That means Doctor Mora needs your help planning his funeral. You...are closer to him. You know what he prefers better than I do."
"No. That's not enough time. Don't have the wedding for a year. He'll wait for it! Sick people stay alive for things like that all the time!"
"Kejal, you are asking for the impossible. Don't be selfish!"
"Why not?" Kejal exploded. "Why not, mother?"
His outburst silenced the muted conversation between Kira and Mora.
Odo sighed without backing down. "Let's talk somewhere else. If you're going to yell like that, I'd rather not cause a disturbance."
"Is everything all right?" asked Mora.
"We're having a minor disagreement," replied Odo. "We're taking it outside right now."
"They're fine, Pol." Kira soothed.
Kejal couldn't protest. Odo bodily led him into the hall by the arm. They followed the signs to an elevator leading onto the roof. Once out in the bright sun, Odo pulled Kejal close again.
"You've been close to him your whole life. Even while in the Great Link, you thought of him. I know how much you love him, Kejal."
"People don't let the ones they love die!" Kejal gestured at the silver ground beneath their feet. "We're just sitting back and letting him die!"
"No. Delfeya syndrome has no cure. Scientists like Doctor Mora have studied it for years. It's such a complicated disease. Who knows? There might be a cure in another hundred years. Even if Doctor Mora lived a natural lifespan, he still won't be alive in a century. He is a sick man and he needs you."
Kejal wanted to hit Odo in the mouth. He wanted to cry-- and hated that he lacked the ability to do so.
Instead, he uttered several Bajoran curse words and sank into Odo's arms. "I don't know what to do."
Odo's hands pressed him closer. "Be there. Worry less about tomorrow and focus on today." He exhaled, the air puffing across Kejal's head. "I didn't know how I would go on once I sent you away with Doctor Mora. Then I realized what a wonderful life you were going to have, and it wasn't so bad. I missed you terribly for those first ten years. But the knowledge that you were safe and happy made it bearable. And I'm sure it wasn't easy saying goodbye to Doctor Mora when he brought you to the homeworld."
"It wasn't." Kejal shook his head. "But I always knew he was alive. If I had a pressing need, I could've come to Bajor to visit him. It's not so easy once someone crosses into the Celestial Temple. Admitting it means it's real...that he'll die."
"And if you don't, he is still going to die. Whether you want him to or not, his death is inevitable." Odo hardened his expression. "Either you can see him off properly, or you can hide from it until the bitter end. Which would you regret more?"
They were hard words to hear. Kejal knew Odo only took on that tone when he had a point to drive home. And it worked. He felt it burrowing into his chest like a knife.
His father was going to die, and nothing he did could prevent that eventuality.
"I think...I-I need to be a Tarkalean hawk for awhile." Kejal said, avoiding Odo's eyes. "My transport sticker is next to the container I used to regenerate."
Odo held him closer. "Don't be too long."
As soon as his mother released him, Kejal crouched low and relaxed. Morphogenic enzymes flooded his system, breaking up his cells into cytoplasm until he told his body what to become. He compacted his substance. Feathers appeared on his gelatinous surface. He focused on perfecting the shape. The curved beak was the hardest, but the fierce golden eyes were easy. His vision sharpened until he could distinguish individual freckles on the face of a little girl a mile away.
Kejal gave a hawk's shriek and flapped his wings. The wind, a bird's best friend, lifted him upward. His feet folded up against his underbelly as the hospital facility shrank away.
Air moved differently in the city than it did in the wilderness. He sensed the currents ricocheting off the buildings like rapids in a river.
Finally, an updraft! Kejal spread his wings to let it carry him so high the city below was just a miniature diorama between rolling green hills. Morning fog hugged the ocean, obscuring it from view. The distant mountains were majestic creatures reaching for the atmosphere. Even further off, he saw the curved horizon.
A breeze sent something pale brown skittering in the city street far below. He recognized it from thousands of feet away.
Tarkalean hawks were the greatest showoffs in the sky and the fastest predator in the Alpha quadrant. Known for making kills in mid-air, off the ground and even in water-- able to soar for hours and capable of reaching dizzying heights --yes, they truly fit the profile of a perfect bird.
Kejal twirled through a cloud. He tucked his wings in, closed up his tail feathers and let gravity take over. Within ten seconds of beginning his stoop, he reached speeds of over one hundred and fifty miles per hour. Wind roared past his ears and tore at his feathers. Baffles in his nostrils kept the air from ripping his inner substance apart. Every nanosecond he adjusted his teardrop shape for maximum aerodynamic control. The city grew like magic.
He felt weightless. He felt free.
But his aim was a little off.
Not a problem. Not a problem at all.
Turning his head would send him out of control, so he flicked his wings and did a graceful barrel roll to keep his target centered in his sights. The horizon spun. His central vision stayed clear. He maintained his balance. Almost there!
The side of a skyscraper whipped through his peripheral vision. His instincts screamed, and at the last possible second he fanned his wings and tail. His momentum shot him forward. Pebbles on the street were blurs. G-forces slammed into him as he stretched his talons to grab his prey before flapping back towards the sky in a harrowing death-defying spin.
Him against gravity, and he won.
Kejal circled another cloud, shaking from the thrill. A dirty hasperat wrapper dangled off his feet.
I still got it, Kejal thought triumphantly to himself. He swooped past an outdoor waste unit and dropped the trash inside, leaving a very confused street merchant staring at his retreating tail feathers. If only birds could laugh.
It was impossible to be sad while flying. Impossible.
But he couldn't put off reality forever.
Kejal circled the city once more and headed back to the hospital.
Chapter End Notes:
A Lullaby Soothes: https://app.box.com/s/jj565b22466xt4igg041
Odo Faces His Demons: https://app.box.com/s/wgpbchzsfo31pt4fyvcb
A Lullaby Soothes: https://app.box.com/s/jj565b22466xt4igg041
Odo Faces His Demons: https://app.box.com/s/wgpbchzsfo31pt4fyvcb