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.o

Doctor Mora's eyes were closed and his mouth slack. Ever since he lost consciousness, his exhalations sounded like someone slurping the last drops of a beverage through a straw. It started quietly and grew louder as time progressed.

Odo hadn't moved from his bedside in nearly four hours. He sat there in the dark, holding his hand. Doctor Mora's short, round fingers were swollen and cold. No amount of massaging them restored their fading warmth, but that didn't stop Odo from trying.

Earlier, Aleexa inclined the head of the bed and made creative use of the abundant pillows to make Doctor Mora more comfortable. A semicircular one supported his head, a large one kept his feet from pressing into the footboard and a small foam cushion propped up his arthritic left knee. He moaned a little at being repositioned.

"Oops, did that hurt? Shhh, Pol. I'm sorry." Aleexa spoke to him the same way she did while he was still awake. "I made it easier for you to breathe. That's all." She straightened the blankets and smoothed them down.

Odo cleared his throat. "How much longer?"

"He's moving through this stage pretty fast. At this rate, he won't make it to morning."

"Heh..." Odo looked across the bed at her. "He said he was going to die tonight. He seemed so sure of it."

"Sometimes, people just know. Where is Kejal?"

"I don't know. He shape shifted about ten minutes ago. He heard what you said."

Aleexa nodded and padded from the room. She checked back every fifteen minutes. Her presence was never intrusive. Odo liked that.

"Odo?"

Odo faced the familiar voice. "Nerys."

She moved closer to the bed. Her eyes watered at the sound of Doctor Mora's raspy exhalations. "Tekeny made that noise in the last hour of his life."

"Doctor Mora has been like this for four hours."

"Everyone dies differently." Kira sat down on the edge of the bed. "Pol said he doesn't want me to watch him die, so, out of respect, I'm not going to stay. Is that okay with you?"

"It's fine."

Kira smiled sadly and stroked Doctor Mora's left hand. "Hey, it's Nerys." She paused as if waiting for a response. "I'll take care of Odo and Kejal. You don't have to worry about them." Tears welled in her eyes. "I don't want to keep you waiting if you're ready to leave us, so I'll go. But first..." She leaned close to him and whispered something too quietly to hear.

Odo reached for Kira's hand. She grasped and squeezed. Their eyes met in the darkness. Then she tip-toed out, her steps silent like a shadow.

Two hours later, Doctor Mora smacked his lips and sputtered a few times. The first change in his breathing since the rattling noise started.

Odo unbuttoned the scientist's white nightshirt and applied a fresh triptacederine patch. A dose via hypospray followed.

The frown lines in Doctor Mora's brow relaxed. Everything about him seemed so fragile now. Odo picked up his hand and resumed rubbing it. His throat tightened at the memories washing through him.

Hours ago, when he shed his first tears, he finally experienced the paternal love he sought. It had always been there, and he spent decades letting his resentment act as a blindfold to it. No language could express the wonder of feeling truly safe in Doctor Mora's presence. The hands that once tormented him in ignorance brought wisdom, peace and healing.

Odo lifted one of those hands towards his lips and tenderly kissed it. Blessing it with silent forgiveness.

Doctor Mora's breath hitched again. He stopped completely for nearly two minutes. Then his limbs twitched and he resumed as though the pause never happened.

Frowning, Odo straightened. "Light, twenty-five percent."

He let his eyesight adjust to the dim glow cast by the spherical bedside lamp.

A knitted green afghan lay over the red and gold quilt keeping Doctor Mora warm. Propped up the way he was, he resembled a marionette held in place by strings. His half-closed eyes stared into nothing. Ghostly pallor was sweeping over his skin. His lips and fingers had a blue tinge. The way his mouth hung open gave his face an unnaturally thin appearance. He kept making gulping motions like a fish out of water. Every few breaths, he frowned and groaned. Was the rattling in his chest causing discomfort after all?

"Doctor Mora?" Odo shook his mentor's shoulder. "Doctor Mora, can you hear me? Are you in pain?"

Nothing. No response at all.

Odo frowned and pinged Aleexa's combadge. "I think Doctor Mora needs help. I dosed him with his medication, but he is still in distress."

"Sit tight. I'll be right in."

Moments later, Aleexa padded into the room.

"It's Aleexa. I'm going to do a quick exam, all right? No, Odo, you don't have to move. I can do it from here. Keep holding his hand."

She checked the pulse in Doctor Mora's wrist, lifted the blankets to peek at his feet and lightly brushed her finger across his eyelashes. Each action was performed with utmost gentleness. Her ministrations generated no reaction.

After the exam, she said, "This is it. He's going."

Odo leaned forward. "How can you tell?"

"His radial pulse is almost gone and his legs are mottling. He has minutes. Kejal? Are you here? Sweetheart, you need to come out now. Your father needs you."

The green afghan glistened, dribbled onto the floor and shifted into a humanoid shape.

Odo stared at Doctor Mora in disbelief. Kejal studied his odd facial contortions.

"Are you sure he isn't in pain? He keeps making faces."

"That's a reflex." Aleexa kept her voice low. "Don't be alarmed if his arms and legs pull inward or shake-- did you see his hand move? That's normal."

Kejal nodded and petted Doctor Mora's hair. "Why is he moaning like that?"

Odo wished Kejal would stop asking questions!

"His vocal cords are relaxed and they vibrate as the air passes over them. That's a good thing. It means he's not suffering." Aleexa said softly. "You can still speak to him if you wish. He can hear you."

"Can he feel us touching him?" asked Kejal.

"I believe so."

Odo doubted Doctor Mora had any awareness of anything, but for Kejal's sake he kept that thought to himself.

Kejal grasped Doctor Mora's left hand. "We're here, father."

Aleexa smiled tenderly at that. She patted Doctor Mora's feet.

"Pol, this is the moment you've been preparing for. You're doing just fine. It's all right to pass on when you feel ready." Her voice trembled. "Everyone in this house loves you. May the Prophets welcome you home."

She smoothed the blankets around his frail form and slipped out of the room.

Kejal kept petting Doctor Mora's hand. Other than that, he didn't move at all.

"I remember...he held me in his arms when I was sick with the morphogenic virus. He hardly ate or slept. He read to me, prayed over me and wouldn't let me give up. I'm alive because of him, and he told me I made his life worth living again."

Odo smiled wryly and studied Doctor Mora's wrist. The blood vessels under his skin created purple blotches all up his arm. Unsettled, he pulled the sleeve of his nightshirt down.

"Once, just after I mastered my humanoid shape, he broke a Cardassian's jaw on my behalf."

Kejal's eyes widened. "Why?"

"The Cardassians wanted to vivisect me, and Doctor Mora wouldn't have it. I was too angry at him back then to see the lengths he went to for my sake, but..." Odo sighed heavily. "...he saw my first shape shift. He heard my first words. He witnessed my first steps. He saw most of my firsts."

"Mine, too," whispered Kejal. "Now, we're here for him."

Doctor Mora's fingers were wholly blue. Rubbing the warmth back into them became a futile effort, but Odo kept doing it anyway. It made him feel less helpless.

They sat quietly, watching his chest rise and fall. The pauses between breaths stretched longer. There was an oddly familiar rhythm to the rapid inhales and slow, rattling exhales. Odo likened it to his own labor experience. The waves came quicker and stronger after he relaxed into the process, which culminated in the ecstasy of Kejal's emergence.

Now, he was watching it all happening in reverse. It pained him in ways he never imagined. Why did he wait to say what needed saying? Why couldn't they talk while they had time? Why did he let his bitterness stand in the way for so long?

Kejal moved to the edge of the bed.

"I know what he's waiting for."

"What?" Odo stirred from his reverie. "Kejal, don't reposition him again."

"I'm not. Just watch." Kejal bent and gave Doctor Mora a hug. "He needs his hug. Nobody leaves without getting one, remember?"

A shiver ran through Doctor Mora's body. Odo saw him blink and look at Kejal. Did that really happen, or was he imagining it?

"Hey, father...you're going the wrong way. Are you lost?" Kejal tried to smile, but his lips quivered instead. "It's okay. Step-mother will be here soon to guide you."

Doctor Mora blinked slowly. His left hand patted Kejal's knee. He moved his eyes to focus on Odo. Something profound and intangible reached out through his gaze.

"Hug him, mother," whispered Kejal.

Odo climbed onto the bed without question. His arms overlapped Kejal's.

Tears spilled down Doctor Mora's cheeks. Odo brushed them away and shed one of his own in solidarity.

Because, now, he could.

Their eyes met again. No words were needed.

Finally, Doctor Mora's attention focused just above the foot of his bed. His eyebrows went up and his eyes reflected a light not present in the room. He uncurled his right index finger to point towards his feet.

"Is she here? I told you she'd come!" Kejal's face practically lit up with hope. "Go to her, father!"

Doctor Mora's eyes widened. He gurgled and tried to sit up. Odo and Kejal stopped him.

"You have to leave your body behind. You don't need it anymore." Kejal glanced at Odo and his brown eyes held a strength reminiscent of Kira. "Your work here is finished. We'll be fine. You can go now. It's okay. You can go."

He met Odo's gaze and nodded towards the ailing man, mouthing, "Tell him."

"Everything is in order." Odo stammered, completely at a loss for what to say. He never was good at things like this. "You've done all you can. It's time to rest. I won't leave your side. I promise."

Doctor Mora stared intently at the foot of his bed. His eyes drifted halfway shut and his lips went from blue to white to grayish-purple in a span of seconds. Odo found the sudden changes alarming, yet he couldn't look away.

"There...now you're going the right way." Kejal murmured. He kissed Doctor Mora's cheek and stroked his jaw. "You'll be in the light soon, father."

Odo watched the remaining color drain out of Doctor Mora's skin. His breathing slowed to a shallow breath every thirty seconds. The way his tongue and throat flexed looked so mechanical. The awful, congested rasps of his exhalations grew even louder.

Sadness stung in Odo's eyes. He wanted to flee from that awful sound. Knowing his mentor's suffering neared its end became his only solace. He clung tightly to his single-minded wish for a painless passing.

"I'm still by your side, Doctor Mora, and I'm not going anywhere. Never again," he said. "If you can still hear me, listen...I'm right here. You have nothing to worry about. Relax...just relax."

Doctor Mora's ears, fingers and eyelids went purple.

"Everything is fine." Odo spoke softly. "It's time to rest now. Relax. Just relax."

He rubbed his thumb in circles around Doctor Mora's palm. Hoping to comfort him in the face of his impending oblivion.

"It's all right. Your discomfort will end soon. Very soon now..."

Another quick inhale followed by a long exhale.

"Let it happen, Doctor Mora. Don't think. Relax and let it happen..."

Doctor Mora's neck muscles clenched and went slack.

"No. No, don't struggle. Please, just relax. I'm right here..."

His jaw twitched.

"...That's it. Relax. You're doing fine..."

The room became silent.

"...It's all right. I'm here. I'm right here..."

"Mother?"

Odo focused on his son.

Kejal's eyes glistened in the dim lamplight. "He's not breathing anymore."

Time hiccupped the same way it did for Kejal's birth. Nothing moved or made a sound. There was no more struggle for air. How could such a profound moment be so natural and unremarkable? The weight of it crashed into Odo like a planet-killing asteroid. He straightened and stared at Doctor Mora's face.

"Doctor Mora?" Odo blinked in disbelief. "Is he...?"

"Not yet." Kejal said. He rubbed Doctor Mora's chest. "He said I'll know when his pagh leaves. Brain death takes three minutes without oxygen. Maybe he's waiting for that. Let's wait three minutes, mother. Please." He closed his fists. "Three minutes. I'm counting on you, father."

Odo released Doctor Mora's hand and grasped Kejal's instead.

Three minutes won't make any difference, he thought morosely. There won't be a grand sign from beyond. It's all false hope and everyone is deluding themselves. His suffering is over, and that is all that matters.

Kejal hid his face against Doctor Mora's neck. Odo mirrored his son's pose. They stayed that way in silence, both embracing the person who shaped their lives.

Several moments later, Odo felt a chill run down his back. He noticed a tiny stain on the pillow.

"Kejal, is his left ear bleeding?"

"Huh? No." Kejal gasped, wide-eyed. "He did it! His pagh is free!" He hugged Doctor Mora closer, looking up towards the ceiling. "I knew you could do it, father! It's okay now. Everything is okay. Have a safe journey."

"Kejal?"

"He's on his way to the Celestial Temple. He's gone now. Oh, father...I love you so much." Kejal nuzzled Doctor Mora's shoulder. He stopped short. "Um, mother? His nose..."

Odo straightened. "What now?"

Blood oozed out of Doctor Mora's nostrils. More filled his mouth to overflowing. Dark yellowish-red rivulets dribbled onto his white nightshirt.

The peaceful moment shattered into something hellish.

"Doctor Mora!" Odo recoiled in horror.

Kejal grabbed four towels but they weren't enough to contain the mess. He snatched the bowl meant for catching vomit and bent Doctor Mora's head over it.

Odo heard the ping-ping of blood hitting the metal bowl. He grimaced. "I'm calling Aleexa."

"Mother, no. I've got it." Kejal said. Nothing about his body language expressed fear. How could he be so calm at a time like this?

Odo's inner substance turned over. He gripped the altar of the prayer shrine. His fingernails cut deeply into the wood as he clung on for dear life.

Kejal started mumbling more prayers...a bunch of useless incantations directed at wormhole aliens who didn't care! Hearing it almost made Odo knock over the prayer mandala in rage, but respect for Kejal's faith stopped his hand. He asked Doctor Mora to teach Kejal about the Prophets and he had no right to tear those beliefs down, no matter how unrealistic they were.

Merciful gods indeed.

When Odo regained control of himself, he faced the bed again.

Four stained towels surrounded Doctor Mora's pallid, crimson-streaked face. His pupils were dilated like black holes.

The bleeding finally stopped. Kejal set the bowl aside and began systemically removing the soiled towels.

"What happened?" Odo asked.

"I don't know, but I'm going to clean him up. He wouldn't want anyone seeing him like this." Kejal replied. He asked the replicator for a basin of soapy water, cradled Doctor Mora's head in the crook of his arm and tenderly washed his face. Afterward, he dried Doctor Mora off and set aside the washbasin.

"There." He got rid of the cushion propping up Doctor Mora's arthritic knee and repositioned his head on the semicircular pillow. Every motion was performed with utter love and reverence. "I miss you already." He adjusted the mattress to lay flat and smoothed Doctor Mora's rumpled hair. "Mother, I think his pagh went right past you."

The statement dug at Odo's rawest wound. Moments ago, the body on the bed was a brilliant scientist renowned throughout Bajor and Starfleet for discovering the first Changeling. Now...he'd become a corpse destined to decompose.

"No..." His eyes stayed bolted to the bloodstained nightshirt. Something cold opened deep in his chest. He wanted a re-do without the bleeding. "This is wrong."

"Mother? What's the matter?"

"Everything." Odo choked out. The rising panic wouldn't abate. He tapped his combadge. "Aleexa!"

"I'm right here." Aleexa stopped in the doorway at the sight of Doctor Mora. "Oh, bless his heart." She finished tying her robe and checked her tricorder. The slight shake of her head made it official.

"That wasn't peaceful!" Odo exploded over the emptiness in his chest. He pointed at Doctor Mora's face. "He drowned in his own blood! You said he wasn't suffering!"

"Mother!" Kejal gasped. "And you tell me I'm immature."

"Kejal, I'll handle this." Aleexa came further into the room. "Odo..."

Odo clenched his teeth and held up a hand to halt her.

"Odo, listen to me. Did the blood look foamy?"

"No. It was dark in color."

"Then it wasn't from his lungs." Aleexa scanned Doctor Mora with her tricorder and showed him the screen. "See? His lungs are clear. Odo, look."

Odo stared at the image of two lifeless lungs bearing no abnormalities other than mucus in the bronchial tubes. The heart nestled between them stood still with all its valves pulled wide open. He saw similar images a few times when scanning Bajoran murder victims. It let him estimate the time of death. Regardless of temperature or the kill method, Bajoran hearts stayed relaxed for twelve hours before they contracted into a tight ball.

But this was Doctor Mora's heart, and it wasn't beating anymore.

"Then where did it come from?" Odo asked. "And why was there so much? Look at this!" He gestured at the bowl and bloody linens piled up on the bedside table.

Aleexa's eyes glistened. She ran another, more detailed tricorder scan. "It came from his esophagus. I've never seen this happen before myself, but it isn't unheard of with Delfeya syndrome. He was already gone when he bled, Odo."

"How can you be sure?"

"Bleeding of this sort only happens after the heart stops." Her voice remained calm. "I will let you see my full report when I chart it."

"Don't leave anything out." Odo said brusquely.

She touched his hand. This time, he let her.

"He loved you," she whispered.

"I know. W-we talked...I know." Odo mimicked a swallow. "I-I'm sorry for my outburst." He sat down again, trembling and embarrassed. "Please, I didn't mean to doubt you. You did nothing wrong. I thought-- no, no excuses. I'm sorry."

"Shhh, Odo. Everybody reacts differently. I had no idea he would bleed like that. Please remember, it happened after he died and he never felt it. He didn't suffer." Aleexa gave Odo's shoulder a squeeze. "Do you need to talk about what you saw?"

"No." Odo groused.

"All right. When you're ready." Aleexa said without taking offense at his tone. She got rid of the bloodied objects on the bedside table and gently approached Kejal. "Kejal?"

"I'm okay. Father promised to let me know his pagh escaped, and he kept it!" Kejal dropped his voice to a whisper. "He did it, Aleexa. He's flying now. No more pain."

"No more pain." Aleexa agreed. She patted his arm and kissed the side of his head. "Looks like you're still saying goodbye. I'll leave you to it unless you want me to help with-- you don't? That's fine. Call me if you need any assistance."

"Thank you," said Kejal.

Aleexa sniffed and bent to kiss Doctor Mora's forehead. She did a remarkable job of holding her emotions in check. "Now you're at peace, sweetheart. Good night."

At the door, she offered a respectful nod and keyed the code to close it.

Odo stared at the cooling body lying in the bed. The cold, empty space in his chest grew heavier, making his whole being feel numb. How long before it swallowed him up?

What is the use of life if it disappears as soon as someone expires? Hmph, I suppose it doesn't matter to Doctor Mora anymore.

"Mother? Are you okay?"

"Hm? I was just-- thinking." Odo passed his palm over Doctor Mora's eyelids. They wouldn't stay shut. His cheeks felt waxy and cool. "His body needs to be tended to."

"In a little while." Kejal didn't budge an inch. "I don't want to disturb him yet. Look how peaceful he is."

"Peaceful...yes, I suppose."

Odo took Doctor Mora's hand again. He thought he was ready to witness this. He'd prepared himself to move on. He never expected pain.

"I don't know what to do. Tell me what to do." Odo whispered, rubbing the former scientist's limp, purple fingers in a last-ditch attempt to warm them up. When no answer came, he solemnly laid Doctor Mora's hand down on his chest.

Now it felt real.

Kejal shifted Doctor Mora's hand into a more relaxed position. How could he lay there and embrace his lifeless corpse like that? How could he smile?

"He was in our arms." Kejal said softly. "He felt safe enough to die in our arms."

"Don't say things like that."

"Why, mother? It's true. Come, lay with him a little while."

"Later...after he's cleaned up." Because his nightshirt is still bloody, and that's all I can see right now.

Someday, Kira would take her last breath.

Odo frowned at his thoughts. He shook them away. Doing was the only way to stop his mind from twisting itself in knots.

"Where is his old lab tunic?"

"In the closet behind the winter robe."

Odo found the garments in a bag. He hung them on the hook next to the closet door. He turned and grasped Kejal's shoulder. "Let me know if you need me."

Kejal nodded once. "Thank you, mother."

Odo quietly exited the room. The void in his chest refused to go away.

Kira stood outside the door. She looked disheveled and groggy, having awoken only moments before.

"I was coming in to check on you. Aleexa told me Pol just died. Are you all right?"

"Nerys, I'm fi-- no. No, I'm not."

"Odo?" She was suddenly wide awake. "What happened?"

Odo shook his head and walked right past her. He headed out the front door. His legs kept moving until he stood upon the cold ground next to Leruu's burial arch.

"Odo? Odo!" Kira followed him. "Talk to me, Odo!"

"I can't."

Cloaked by darkness, Odo formed a shovel out of his substance and let it bite into soft, grassy dirt. He dug and dug. All his rage went into the shovel, but the hole never matched the emptiness in his chest.

"Odo!" Kira shouted. "Dammit, stop digging!"

"Let me do this!" Odo snarled back. He returned to the task at hand. Some of the dirt he tossed aside fell back into the grave, dirtying his face and hair. His legs were covered in soil. He didn't care.

Kira jumped into the hole and wrenched the shovel out of his hands. It turned back into Changeling cytoplasm. They both watched it merge with his shoulder.

"Talk to me," she said.

Sighing, Odo wrapped his arms around Kira and hugged her close to his chest. Her heartbeat brought sensation to the numb part of his being.

Jeraddo rode high in the sky, offering enough light to see Kira's face so clearly. He saw the march of time on her skin and in her hair.

Every second counted down her lifetime. Each beat of her heart was precious.

"I watched him die, Nerys."

Kira rubbed his back and kissed his cheek. "Your being there meant a lot to him. Was Kejal in the room, too?"

"Yes. He's still with him. I think he wants to be alone for awhile."

"That's fine." Her breath tingled across his neck. She pressed closer to him for warmth. "I'm sorry, Odo."

Odo closed his eyes. Life was so fragile and short. How much of hers did he waste by not saying what he should have said? If what his Gaia counterpart said was true...the alternative seemed unthinkable.

He brushed his lips against the soft shell of her ear, whispering, "I love you, Nerys."

Kira's grip on his arms tightened. "I love you too, Odo."

He kissed the top of her head. His breath, or what passed for it, hitched in his throat.

"Let's get out of this grave." Odo formed himself into a ladder. Kira climbed up and lifted him onto the ground next to her, where he resumed his humanoid shape. They sat together, their feet dangling into the hole.

She made him look at her. "Something's bothering you. I'm not leaving until you tell me what it is."

Odo gave in and told her exactly what he saw. The horror of the blood. He doubted Doctor Mora's final seconds were peaceful, regardless of what Kejal or Aleexa said.

"...and I wish I hadn't witnessed it. I can't think of him without seeing his face covered in blood. It's going to haunt me forever." He grimaced. "I've seen less gruesome murders."

"I know. You're in shock right now." Kira wrapped her arms around him. When she spoke, her voice cracked. "But each time that ugly memory comes up in your mind, find a good one to counter it."

"Does it help you?"

She smiled a little. "Every time."

"Then..." He sighed, rubbing her hands with his thumbs. "Five minutes before the end, he looked at us. He just...looked at us like he was saying goodbye with his eyes. Then he stared at the foot of his bed and pointed at something. Kejal is convinced he saw Leruu waiting to take him away. He closed his eyes and died right after that."

"Maybe he did see his wife." Kira pressed her hand against his chest. "There you go, Odo. Make that your last memory of him."

He cringed. "I wish it was that easy."

"Give it time," she whispered. "The hard part is over for Pol."

"But not for me." Odo replied.

Kira's eyes flickered at his words. She leaned into his embrace without another word.

Finally, Odo stood and offered her his hand.

"You should go back to bed," he said. "Tomorrow is going to be a rough day."

Kira let him help her up. "Will you be okay?"

"I...need time."

When they started towards the house again, Odo saw the light still on in the bedroom. In its glow, Kejal gently tended to Doctor Mora's dead body.

.o

Humanoids gave their babies a bath shortly after birth. Kejal saw no difference in bathing his father's remains after death.

When he shifted Mora's body to scrub his back, he felt comforted at hearing no moans of pain. He washed Mora's hair, cleaned the blood residue out of his nose and mouth and trimmed his nails. Then he slicked his hair back using styling gel and took great care in shaving off his stubble.

When Kejal finished, he kissed Mora's right ear and covered his nude body with a clean blanket. He faced the prayer mandala to thank the Prophets for granting his father a peaceful passing.

The door opened just as he completed his prayer. Without looking, he knew it was his mother. He practically threw himself into Odo's arms.

Odo cupped the back of Kejal's head. His voice sounded wooden. "You did a nice job. He looks good."

"He's naked under the blanket. I thought you wanted to dress him."

Odo nodded. "I'll need your help." He glanced at the chosen attire. "He never was very stylish, was he?"

They chuckled despite the ache. Getting Mora dressed was a simple matter. Odo and Kejal managed it without assistance. Afterward, Kejal placed a rolled-up towel under Mora's chin to keep his mouth in a dignified state of closure.

Then they stood together and studied what remained of the man who centered their lives.

Mora's face was relaxed in an inquisitive expression. The colors of his lab tunic actually made the pallor in his skin less shocking.

Kejal held his head and groaned. Odo bodily led him into the living room without a word. The vase became his regeneration container, and he enjoyed a blissful hour of nothingness.

Faint light on the horizon hinted at morning's nearness when Kejal returned to his humanoid form. He almost prepared a mug of tea until he remembered it wasn't necessary anymore.

In Mora's bedroom, Odo stared off into space. Eventually, he covered his face with one hand, and Kejal swore he heard muffled sobbing.

It's my imagination.

Kejal checked the PADD Aleexa filled out after Mora died. His official cause of death was multi-organ failure as a result of Delfeya syndrome. When his heart ceased to beat, all the blood in his body flowed into the varicose veins lining his esophagus. They couldn't handle the sudden influx and burst, pouring his entire blood supply into his gullet. Bajoran stomachs contracted at death, a reaction to the lack of oxygen, so the blood had nowhere to go but up.

There was no explanation for the bleeding in Mora's right ear. Something ruptured his eardrum from inside, but Aleexa had no idea how it occurred.

Kejal checked the date and shut the PADD off. He toyed with the chain on the earring Mora gave him. Knowing his father's pagh was safe brought immense comfort.

His eyes searched the myriad of holograms lined up underneath the oval window. He saw his birth, his mother smiling and his father in full health. A personal favorite was Mora and Ambassador Spock exchanging a Vulcan salute. Odo and Kira's wedding hologram stood in the center next to Mora's and Leruu's.

Every chair, every wall...everything carried echoes from the past. More than anything, Kejal loved seeing Mora laugh. Especially when he laughed hard, like he did less than twenty-six hours ago. The way his face crinkled up in mirth was unforgettable.

So many memories.

"The morning after my death, you will watch the sunrise from the oval window just like we used to. You will see the most beautiful dawn of your life and realize life goes on. I want you to smile for me when that morning comes."

Kejal looked up. A glowing line marked the misty east. He sat down on the floor near the oval window.

Brilliant colors heralded morning's arrival. Kejal's brown eyes shimmered with reflections of sunlight bursting over the horizon. Like a tree, he saw the sun as a sign of life.

Something stirred the dust motes floating in the air. Kejal reached as if to embrace the light itself. The sun climbed higher, its brilliance sliding down his body. He didn't try to hold on when its glow moved slowly off his outstretched fingertips.

Kejal folded his hands in his lap.

"Goodbye, father," he murmured, smiling. "You were right."

"Kejal?"

He startled. "Mother...I didn't hear you come out here."

"I didn't want to be heard." Odo said. He seated himself on the rug.

Kejal scooted over into his lap and wrapped his arms around his neck. He wanted to be held. Odo silently pulled him closer.

"Kejal...you saw the same thing I did." He inhaled through his nose and asked, "Do you think he felt pain at the end?"

Sighing, Kejal closed his eyes. "What did you experience while giving birth to me, mother?"

"You already know."

"Tell me anyway."

Odo frowned at the window. His eyelashes looked unusually damp. "Everything went white, and I felt the purest love I have ever experienced in my life. And then you were there, in my lap...and when you formed your face to look at me, I forgot all about the discomfort leading to your birth."

Without hesitating, Kejal said, "Father experienced the same thing when he died."

"He bled from his esophagus. Blood usually entails pain."

Kejal looked right into his mother's eyes. They were large and pleading for meaning. He wasn't surprised by Odo seeing Mora's death as total extinction.

But he hoped to change that.

"The blood in his nose and mouth came from his esophagus, yes. Aleexa doesn't know what caused his ear to bleed. Something ruptured his eardrum from the inside."

"So?" Odo growled.

"I think I know what caused it." Kejal leaned forward. "Mother, humanoids often bleed when a baby passes through their birth canal, and that usually happens after the amniotic membrane ruptures."

Something in Odo's face changed.

"Yesterday, father told me he wouldn't see another sunrise. He knew exactly when he was going to die. Do you know why?" Kejal saw the opening and kept talking. "His biological son was due forty-seven years ago today."

At that, Odo pursed his lips. He blinked rapidly, his eyes glistening, and touched the earring on Kejal's right ear. His whole body trembled. Then he looked at his hands and began to laugh. He clutched Kejal in a crushing embrace, his entire frame shaking.

Odo was laughing and...crying?

Kejal pulled him close. He kissed his cheek and rubbed his back, letting him experience whatever emotions coursed through him without judgment.

"I was so afraid to witness the end," Kejal said. "Father told me I would be ready when his time came, and I was. He prepared me every step of the way once you made me realize it was inevitable. Seeing him die was...mother, this will sound strange, but it was beautiful. All his pain and sickness ended at his last breath. I can't think about it with sadness. Why should I when he is hugging wife and son like this right now?"

Odo ruffled Kejal's hair and immediately smoothed it back down. His voice quivered. "It's amazing how we both saw the same thing and drew such opposite conclusions. All I wanted was for his last moment to be peaceful, and it didn't look peaceful to me. I worked cases on less gruesome murder scenes...so I always equated blood with pain. I felt as if I let him down."

Kejal gripped Odo's shoulders. "You held him in your arms when he took his last breath. You didn't fail him. You gave him what he wanted. You stayed by his side. He died happy because of you. Not me, mother. You."

The clock on the wall beeped to mark the hour.

"Kejal..."

"Hm?"

Odo closed his eyes and his form lost cohesion. He beckoned through the link. Kejal relaxed into it without question. In a few seconds they became one giant puddle on the living room floor with Kejal's earring floating in the middle.

Between them, a single, bittersweet emotion flowed with all the strength of a tsunami.

Hope.

Chapter End Notes:
**Chapter soundtrack**

Healing At Last: https://app.box.com/s/jvw19ef0wc1impmupvwo

Mora Finds His Answers/Waiting for the End: https://app.box.com/shared/bqmloxsc0p

Kira Comforts Odo: https://app.box.com/s/0n1k9fuj1uhvhfixd1o1

Sunrise Without Father: https://app.box.com/s/eujv251kte6dlvcz8pt8

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