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16. The Seed

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Odo tried not to think about the task at hand. "Support his shoulders, Kejal."

"I've got him, mother. You hang onto his feet."

"Right. You ready?" Aleexa stayed in the doorway. "Now slide him over."

Odo and Kejal followed her instructions. Moving a corpse was vastly different than shifting a live body that could support its weight. Rigor mortis made it slightly easier-- no one worried about controlling limp hands or arms.

Doctor Mora fit comfortably in his permanent receptacle. Aleexa helped position him properly. Kira smoothed out his rumpled clothing.

Odo picked up his old beaker, an object he linked with his painful early years. Kejal had filled it up with deka leaves, a seed pod and the first spring flower he picked off the tree. Odo gently tucked the beaker under Doctor Mora's folded hands. He took a long, last look at his mentor's calm face. His inner substance clutched. He lowered the cloth flap.

Everyone worked together to lace the lid shut.

They eased the coffin onto the small antigravity platform. The simple device aided in carrying Doctor Mora outside. Leruu's grave was just over one of the western hills.

Cool spring air blew across the grassy field. The sun sat just above the horizon, its reddening brilliance giving the world a deep orange glow.

Odo and Kejal privately interred Doctor Mora next to his wife at exactly sunset. No part of his funeral was tended to by anyone who wasn't present during his final days. Everybody had something to say about him that brought forth smiles, and Odo read his last treatise out loud. He was surprised to find himself choking up halfway through the reading.

Ironically, the treatise had been published the day before Doctor Mora died.

Kejal sang beautifully before burial. Kira knew the chant and whispered the translation to Odo. Aleexa wiped her eyes several times.

Then they took turns pushing the dirt back into the hole. Before the last layer went on, Kejal sprinkled the grave with flower seeds.

"For luck," he said.

Odo realized he was surrounded by the same people who attended his wedding. He gazed at the fresh grave.

"You did this on purpose, didn't you?"

Later, Odo helped Kira pack for her return to Deep Space Nine. Her week was up. He longed to join her, yet it became his duty to start announcing Doctor Mora's death. Doctor Mora requested it kept quiet until after his funeral-- he didn't want the event to become a public spectacle. Odo made sure Spock was among the people to be notified personally.

The small guest bedroom felt cramped with two beds. Kira and Odo could barely maneuver past each other in the small space. They kept stepping on Aleexa's slippers.

"How are you doing?"

Odo glanced at his wife. He sighed and slipped her spare boots into her travel bag.

"I'm all right," he said.

She touched his hand. "Something is still bothering you."

"It didn't feel like goodbye, Nerys. I closed his coffin. I helped bury him in the ground. I just...I feel as though I should do something more personal. Something only he would have thought to do." Odo shook his head. "It's ridiculous. He's dead and buried now. It's time to move on."

"Odo." Kira straightened to face him fully. "He's only been gone for what? Eighteen hours?"

"It seems like less." He grumbled to himself. "Nerys, we talked. Six hours before he died, we talked. We connected."

Her expression softened. She leaned subtly closer, letting her hip brush his.

Odo bit his bottom lip. "I never thought I would grieve over him." His eyes prickled as he looked into hers. "I finally learned how to cry, and now I don't know how to stop. This is ridiculous."

"Odo?" Kira cupped his face in her hands. "Don't even try."

The urge to cry was a heaviness behind his eyes. Nothing like he experienced as a solid, but feeling the tears reach freedom without him willing them to offered a strange relief.

"I think our wedding day was his last decent day. He went downhill after that." Odo shuddered again. "I didn't want him to suffer, Nerys. Sometimes, I considered 'accidentally' overdosing his triptacederine. He suffered because of me."

"Don't say that. You don't know that for sure."

"Nerys, I do."

His face twisted. He sank against her. She pulled him close and held him tight. For a moment or two, he swore he'd lose his shape without her holding him together.

"You gave him peace in the end," she whispered in his ear. The wetness of her tears merged with his. "You gave him peace and held his hand. He died happy, and that's what matters. His pain is over."

"I wish mine was."

Kira's hands stroked his hair. "This is going to sound wrong, but it's a good thing you're grieving. It means he meant something to you."

Odo pressed her closer to his chest with trembling hands. "I realized it too late."

"Better late than never."

"I almost made the same mistake with you. Now, I'm glad I didn't."

"Me, too." Kira cupped his face and rested her forehead against his.

"I thought watching him die would ease my fears, but it made them worse. Kejal is coping much better than I am. I want to believe, Nerys. I want to keep hoping there is more, but it slips away every time. How do you keep your faith at a time like this?"

"Because faith kept me going when I didn't have anything else." She stroked his quivering bottom lip with her thumb. "You're scared. I understand, and it's okay. Open up. Let it all out, Odo. It's okay. I'm here. I love you."

Hearing Kira say she loved him touched the empty void in his chest. He trembled violently and the tears spilled free. They tracked down his face only to disappear into his substance once more. The sensation of crying was almost as visceral as sex and giving birth. He let it happen, because it was impossible to not give in.

"Don't let me go." Odo choked out. He didn't care how foolish it sounded.

A sad smile touched her lips. "I won't."

The shaking settled down. Odo leaned in and kissed her hard, seized by a sudden need to be closer.

She held onto his upper arms. "Are you up to doing this right now?"

"Yes," he said against her chin. "I need you. I love you."

Kira's eyes darkened. She locked the door and unclasped her top. He let her remove his clothing. It reverted to Changeling cytoplasm and merged with his legs as they kissed.

Odo laid her on the bed. Light from the tiny lamp in the corner softly lit her features. He saw everything he loved about her shining through her eyes.

"Are you really immortal?" asked Kira.

"Unless I'm killed, yes."

"Then I want you to keep me with you after I'm gone. It doesn't matter how. I want to stay with you, Odo. Forever. But you have to promise not to beat yourself up over it when I do die. I won't live forever, but I'll try to stick around awhile." She traced her finger along his jaw. "For you."

Odo's chest hurt again. He made himself nod his head. "But I might cry."

Her lips curled in a wan smile. "Your eyes look gorgeous when you cry, Odo."

Then she reversed their position and descended on him. When the chaos of their lovemaking passed, Odo surrounded her in his substance. He loved holding her in his natural state. She ran her fingers through his liquid form, bringing him a comfort no words could describe.

"Oh, look at the time." Kira groaned. "I need to finish p-- "

"Mom! Mother! Come quick!"

Alarmed, Odo reformed and raced into the living room. Kira dashed in behind him wearing only a robe. He found Kejal sitting by the chest, which he'd pulled away from its spot under the oval window.

Kejal held a rectangular gold box in his hands. It gleamed faintly in the light of the nearby duranja lamp. Inside it was a long, golden-hued braid. Silver cloth ribbons tied off both ends.

"Father's braid," Kejal said. He looked up, his eyes gleaming. "I found it while looking through the chest."

Odo knelt and touched the silky hair. In a flash, it came to him. He knew exactly how to say goodbye.

"Mother?"

Odo kissed Kejal's forehead. "Hold onto it. Don't lose it."

Nodding, Kejal put the braid back in the box and reached for an old fashioned Bajoran holo-image set inside a crystal cube. In it, a Bajoran baby peered at the image taker with huge, curious eyes. Kejal pressed the symbol on top and the infant crinkled his face up in laughter.

"Father laughed the same way all his life. Look."

"That's adorable." Kira bent to better see the hologram. She sighed after a moment. "I better get going. Where's Aleexa?"

"She went to finalize father's death certificate." Kejal put the hologram away. "So, you're going back to Deep Space Nine already?"

"Yes, after I get dressed in proper clothes."

Kejal got up and hugged her before she finished speaking. "No. Wait until tomorrow."

"I wish I could." Kira gave Kejal a good, strong squeeze. "I have a lot of work to catch up on, but I heard you and Odo will be heading there once you get things settled here."

Kejal nodded once. "Shouldn't take too long."

Odo watched them touch foreheads and smile at each other.

"Father said mother is a lucky guy to have you, you know."

She patted his cheeks. "We're all lucky to have him. And we're lucky to have you, too. Don't you ever forget that."

Kejal playfully bumped his nose into hers. "I won't, mom."

Kira hugged him again and turned to Odo. "I better get dressed."

Five minutes later, Odo held the tram door open while she climbed in.

Odo leaned in and said, "We'll see you soon."

"I look forward to it." Kira replied. She kissed him tenderly. "Husband."

He chuckled. "Wife."

She pulled the tram door shut. He watched the vehicle zoom away.

A chilly breeze prompted Odo to head back inside. Kejal wasn't in the living room anymore. Odo checked around the house until he found his son curled up on Doctor Mora's bed.

Odo laid down next to Kejal.

"You sang beautifully at the burial."

"Thanks." Kejal answered without trying to smile or look happy. Doctor Mora's absence had become more palpable as the hours passed.

"But the goodbye doesn't feel complete, does it?" Odo asked.

"No. It doesn't."

They were silent for several moments. Odo scooted closer and gathered Kejal to his chest. Exactly how Doctor Mora had done for him.

"I have an idea, Kejal."

"Oh?"

"Let me get the notifications out and then we'll talk."

Kejal nodded and buried his face in Odo's chest. Odo commanded the communications console to turn on and began delivering the news. Within the hour much of Bajor knew of Doctor Mora's passing.

Next, Odo and Kejal helped Aleexa pack up the medical equipment. The grab poles, the balance bars and the shower bench had become such regular fixtures that their disappearance felt somehow wrong.

Odo went to tell Kejal the bed needed to go. He found him in the middle of it in his gelatinous state, his substance surrounding the pillow that cradled Doctor Mora's head.

Maybe the bed could wait awhile longer.

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Day two without Mora wasn't as joyful as day one.

The reality of his absence hit Kejal hard. His established routine no longer applied and he found himself floundering.

It used to be so automatic. Watch the sunrise, make a mug of deka tea and check on Mora. Now, the sudden free time left him lost. He wondered if his father felt this way after those ten wonderful early years. Then again, now, Mora was experiencing the joy Kejal did upon reuniting with Odo.

Kejal realized he missed Mora's voice the most. After the confusion following the separation from his mother, that voice became his guidance. Holo-vids were the only items that kept his memories solid. Losing them meant truly losing his father forever.

"It was an honor to meet you," Spock said to Mora.

Mora smiled and took a deep breath. "Ambassador, the honor was mine, too."

They shook hands. Spock raised his right one in the Vulcan salute. Mora mirrored the gesture, his eyes practically glowing
.

The holo-imager flashed to the next video.

Mora held up a hand, laughing. "Oh, don't point that at me. I look awful."

All the memories he thought would bring solace became too painful. Kejal shut off the holo-imager.

Footsteps approached the door.

"Kejal?"

Kejal stayed huddled in a ball.

Aleexa sat by his feet. "It's a strange feeling, isn't it? You spend so much time looking after someone. Then they pass and there you are, wondering what to do with all the time you didn't have before."

He nodded without looking at her. "I feel selfish. I should be glad he isn't suffering anymore. He was so sick and weak at the end. I wanted him to get out of that miserable body."

"And now that he's gone, you'll give anything to have him back."

She practically read his mind.

"Like I said," Kejal whispered, "selfish."

"Missing someone isn't selfish." Aleexa moved to seat herself where he could see her. "You loved your father, and he loved you."

Kejal clutched the gray semicircular pillow to his chest. It still had the bloodstains from Mora's right ear. Blood caused by his pagh escaping and proof of his continued existence.

"Then why did I rejoice right after he died and why is it painful now?"

Aleexa smiled, but her eyes had tears in them. "The reality of it is setting in. You saw him go, and you saw him buried. This is where many people say 'now what?'"

"Hm...I remember...he woke up and looked at us right before..." A sigh made Kejal's nostrils flare. "I'll never forget the love in his eyes. Like he said goodbye with just a look."

"That is exactly what he did." She squeezed his shoulder. "I've been present at quite a few deaths, and I know the look you're talking about. He was completely happy and at peace."

"He was. Mother and I were hugging him. He died in our arms, Aleexa. I saw his last breath. I felt the pulse in his neck stop. My own birth was that easy." Kejal said. "Then he looked at the foot of the bed. His eyes had a glow to them. I know what he saw. This bloodstain, right here, it's from his pagh leaving his body. Do you think he ran right to Leruu?"

She touched the pillow and smiled sadly. "Yeah. I think he did."

"What do your people believe happens when you die?"

Aleexa looked up. "We leave our bodies and emerge into the Great Forest. A family member who went before meets us at the Guide Tree and leads us to our ancestors. It's a very beautiful place full of sunlight and greenery. I think you'd like it there."

"I would." Kejal said.

He still hadn't convinced his mother to believe in an afterlife yet. Not completely.

"I know you need to send the bed back," Kejal mimicked clearing his throat, "but can I keep this pillow?"

"Of course, sweetie."

He hugged it to his chest and slid off the mattress, taking the red and gold quilt with him. "Thank you. I'll be visiting father's grave while you take care of this. No offense-- I can't watch the bed go."

"I understand." Aleexa squeezed his arm. "I'll put the quilt and pillow in the closet."

Kejal thanked her before heading out the front door.

Sunlight shone in golden streams between puffy white cumulus clouds. Multicolored wildflowers bloomed on the majestic green hills. Gusty spring wind stirred the waist high grass and ruffled Kejal's auburn hair. He squinted upward at the blue-green sky.

Two huge hills cradled Mora and Leruu's resting place. Just beyond them, a small forest of moba trees.

Odo was busily digging a hole between the foot of both graves. He glanced Kejal's way.

"How deep for a deka tree?"

Kejal sat down in front of his mother. He stuck his open hand in the hole to measure. Shaking his head, he filled in some of the dirt until the hole was only a fingertip deep. "There. That's about right."

"That seems so shallow."

"It's a tree seed. It needs to be close to the surface. Don't worry, it'll be fine. They germinate fast."

"How fast?"

"About ten days."

"Hm."

Odo picked a single seed out of the deka seed pod he'd brought along. Deka seeds looked like fingernail sized wood chips. A defense mechanism the trees evolved to discourage birds and other animals from eating their offspring. Even then, perhaps one out of every hundred seeds ever sprouted.

"This can turn into a tree?" Odo stared at the tiny seed lying on his palm.

Kejal grinned at him. "Remarkable, isn't it? In ten years, it'll be a giant tree." He cupped his hands around Odo's and kissed the seed. "For luck. Go on, give it a kiss."

Odo rolled his eyes before complying. He dropped the seed into the hole. Kejal helped him cover it up.

Suddenly, Odo took his hands out of the dirt and embraced Kejal, pulling him close to his chest.

"I will never die on you, Kejal," he whispered. "Don't ever worry about losing me."

Kejal's face softened. He laid his head upon Odo's shoulder and closed his eyes. "The same goes for me. If we go, we go together or not at all."

"Hmph." Odo grunted. They slid apart and sat on the ground, facing each other. "I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of an afterlife."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "It's all electrical impulses dependent on chemicals in the brain. Remove the any part of that equation and the electricity stops."

Kejal chuckled to himself. "Energy transforms, but once it begins it can't be stopped. Look around you. We're products of an explosion that happened billions of years ago. An old human saying is we're the universe trying to understand itself."

"That doesn't answer my question." Odo grumbled.

"Yes, it does." Kejal said.

Odo's eyes focused on Mora's grave. "He wondered what made us alive."

"Mother."

"What?"

"I think death is the greatest shape shift of all. To completely leave behind what we were and transform into energy...to float into a place so beautiful people can't find words to describe it." Kejal squeezed Odo's hands. "I was so afraid to die that I saved my own life through you. But after seeing father die, that fear is gone. I know there is more. I thought I got that through your head."

"Kejal...." Odo shifted without pulling away from Kejal's grasp. "You know how I am. I always need definite proof."

"Faith is to believe without seeing." Kejal released his mother's hands and touched the dirt where they buried the seed. "You're aware of the seed, right?"

Odo frowned at the soil. "Of course. We buried it."

"Why did you do it?"

"I hope a tree will grow here."

"There's that word again." Kejal's lips quirked. "Hope. You hope a tree will grow here. And you hope father still exists. You hope your existence will continue after you die. Mother, to have faith is to have hope."

"You can hope for something to happen all you want. It doesn't mean it will."

"It doesn't mean it won't, either." Kejal pressed on. "Do you think there's more?"

"I don't know." Odo looked up at the sky. Suddenly, he smiled a little. "I hope so, Kejal. I hope so."

Kejal mirrored Odo's expression and also gazed skyward. "I couldn't imagine life after father, yet here I am. I suppose, in a way, I can understand why you can't wrap your mind around an afterlife. Today didn't exist to me until I got here, and he is there." He gestured to Mora's grave.

"You're more like me than you realize," Odo said. His words resonated somewhere in Kejal's substance.

Another wind gust rippled the grass. Kejal heard remembered laughter between the green blades. Mora brought him to this field to teach him about plants and insects. And once or twice, it was a great place for hide-and-seek. The grass grew so fast here that by spring, a person could lie down and disappear.

Briefly, Kejal thought he saw Mora standing in the grass nearby. He blinked. The field was empty again.

He pursed his lips and took his mother's hand. "I think we've become more like each other after this."

"Maybe."

Kejal peered at his palms. They looked filthy because Odo's hands were covered in soil. He grinned. "Mother, it's not gardening until we're dirty."

Odo noticed the dirt. He smirked and wiped his hands on Kejal's sleeves. "You're right. Are we gardening yet?"

Kejal grabbed two handfuls of dirt and rubbed it all over Odo's knees. "We are now!"

They laughed and liquefied to let the mess fall off. Afterward, they stood together in the sunlight.

"It's time to pack," said Odo.

Kejal sighed solemnly. Their first destination was Deep Space Nine. Then, home. Back into the Great Link.

He hated to admit he missed the link, but he knew he would always miss Mora more.

Thirty minutes later found them together in the house, packing only what was going with them. Kira took the sand mandala with her at Odo's request. Kejal had a few knick-knacks he wanted to keep. Odo shot him odd looks as he packed every hologram Mora kept under the oval window on top of the semicircular pillow.

"He'd want us to have these memories." Kejal said. He paused at the holo-image Aleexa took of him, Odo and Mora on Odo's wedding day. They looked so happy. It brought a sad smile to his face. "I'll keep them in the underground vault back home. I can-- hey, Aleexa!"

Kejal scrambled into the guest bedroom at the sound of Aleexa dropping her hairbrush.

"Wow! Hey! Kejal, where's the fire?"

Kejal handed her an isolinear rod. "I copied the holograms. I want you to have this."

Aleexa took it and pulled him into a tight hug. "Are you okay, sweetie?"

"Yeah." He hugged back equally strong. "I'll be okay."

"Good." She patted his back. "What about you?"

"I'm...decent enough." Odo answered from the doorway. "Time heals a lot of things."

Aleexa stepped over and embraced him. He let her.

"So, will someone hear a heartbeat there someday?"

That made Odo smirk. "I doubt it, but who knows?" He finally returned the hug. "By the way...my people can cry."

"Oh?" Aleexa peered curiously at him.

"I had to learn how. So will Kejal."

She squeezed him gently. "I’m glad, Odo. Just don't hold those tears in, okay?"

"Believe me, it's impossible." Odo straightened, prompting her to step back as well. "Thank you. Let me know where to send my payments and-- "

Aleexa lifted a hand. "Pol took care of that. He didn't want you or Kejal worrying about money. It's been handled." She smiled, picking up her large travel bags. One orange, the other purple. They perfectly matched her purple jumpsuit, which she wore under a diaphanous orange vest.

"I swear you have a bag for every outfit you own." Kejal pointed. "You always match!"

"It's a woman thing! Of course you would notice, wouldn't you?" Aleexa giggled. She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "But thank you. I got to know a great family by taking care of Pol. So, walk me out?"

Kejal and Odo helped Aleexa carry her bags. "Well, I got to know a nurse who isn't boring."

"Boring? Me?" Aleexa feigned offense. "Someone is feeding you lies."

They laughed and embraced, squeezing each other tight.

"Take care of your mother," she whispered in Kejal's ear. "He needs you."

Aleexa's hover-tram pulled up to the house. The polite young driver took her bags and placed them in the tray between the back seats. He tipped his head politely to Odo, who seemed to give off a 'head of the house' air.

Sighing, Kejal made himself release Aleexa's shoulders. "Goodbye, Aleexa."

Aleexa pinched his cheek and smiled. Her brown eyes twinkled. This goodbye wasn't sad.

"Bye, Kejal." She climbed into the tram and stuck her head back out. "Odo, bye!"

"Take care." Odo waved.

The tram door closed, the driver got back in and Aleexa's smiling face shrank out of view.

Kejal stood there on the doorstep. The tram's engine faded. He leaned back when Odo wrapped an arm around his shoulders and kissed him above the ear.

"Have the legalities been taken care of?" Kejal asked.

"Mmhmm." Odo exhaled through his nose. "The house and property are in our names. This area will be left alone. That means no one will chop your tree down."

"Good." Kejal said. "I think I'm ready to go. Let me say goodbye to my tree real quick."

To his surprise, Odo went with him. They held hands and bid the tree farewell together.

Chapter End Notes:
**Chapter soundtrack**

Quiet Burial: https://app.box.com/s/2ndpdpz7miu0dwmbzcvl

Odo Mourns: https://app.box.com/s/mddfmofaarxj3gai2hr5

I Will Never Die on You: https://app.box.com/s/zgq9j5mop3mmtd86c9fu

Farewell, Aleexa: https://app.box.com/s/0br85e78732vmw99r9vw

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