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8. The Perfect Dress

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Kejal was getting clingy again. He always did that when thoughts about the future scared him-- a trait he had long before they separated twenty years ago. Mora kept his mouth shut because he knew commenting on the issue would only upset the young Changeling.

Still, Mora worried about Kejal's emotional well-being. What if Kejal couldn't deal with his declining health? What if he couldn't handle seeing another sentient being transition from life to death?

Kejal's talent for walking out and disappearing rivaled Odo's. Mora knew he'd never survive another abandonment like that.

No, stop it! Kejal cares too much to run off. I didn't make the mistakes I made with Odo. Mora shook the negative thought side. He'll be ready. He is a quick learner.

The warm interior of the house chased the cold off his bones, but it did nothing for his pain. He eased himself into his favorite chair by the window and propped his feet up on the footrest. Moving anything below the waist sent fresh, hot aching through the left side of his lower back.

"Oof! Kejal, could you bring me my metorapan?"

"Of course." Kejal hurried to retrieve it. He skittered right back into the bedroom to watch for Odo and Kira.

The medicine came with a freshly mixed fruit smoothie.

"I won't let you forget those herbs." Aleexa said with a wink. "I'm due to check on another patient. Will you be all right?"

Mora hesitated long enough to sip the fruity concoction. He figured the pain in his back was nothing compared to the suffering of Aleexa's other patients. Besides, the metorapan had already taken the edge off.

"Oh, sure. People need you, you should attend them." He raised his glass. "Thank you, Aleexa."

She smiled, patted his hand and took up her knapsack. "Kejal, I'm leaving for today. I'll be back tomorrow!"

Kejal called from the bedroom, "See you tomorrow, Aleexa!"

The door whirred.

Mora spent the next hour working on his treatise. He saw Kejal perk up through the corner of his eye, chuckled and set his PADD aside.

"They're here!" Kejal ran for the front door like a large, hoofed beast. "Mother! Mom! Hello, good to see you again. I'll get your bag. Father is in the living room."

"Well, hello to you, too!" Kira's familiar voice wafted into the living room. "Thanks. Put my bag wherever it's out of the way. Oh. This is a beautiful house."

Odo and Kira walked into the living room holding hands. The look in Odo's eyes was a sight to behold. Mora forced himself up to greet the couple with a smile.

"Welcome to my home, General Kira."

"Thank you, Doctor Mora...and please, I'm off duty. Call me Nerys."

"Only if you agree to call me Pol," Mora replied playfully.

Kira nodded once. "Deal."

"I'll get you a mug of tea." Odo kissed her on the shoulder.

She smiled at him. "I'd like that." Then she faced Mora and shook his hand. "This is a gorgeous house. Ooh, I saw that. Let's both sit."

"My wife did the decorating." Mora replied. "Mmh, let's sit on the couch, thank you. This chair won't fit us both, and Odo might get jealous."

Odo scoffed in the kitchen. "Hmph!"

Kira helped Mora seat himself. He remembered the last time she came to his aid. Decades ago, she assisted him to his quarters when he drank too much on Deep Space Nine. It did his heart good to see a woman not hardened by the horrors of the Occupation. Many weren't as fortunate as her.

"I hope your trip here wasn't troublesome," said Mora.

"Not at all. I slept through most of it." Kira covered a yawn with her hand. "The time differences really get to me."

"Me, too."

"Here you are." Odo reappeared holding an orange mug of deka tea.

She took it, smiling, and the soft expression Odo offered back reminded Mora of how he used to look at Leruu.

Kejal bounded back into the living room. He almost plowed into Odo in his excited haste to jump on the couch next to Kira.

Oh, Kejal, sometimes you're still such a child, Mora mused.

Kira pinched Kejal's cheek. "Someone has a wild streak."

"You don't know the half of it." Kejal said back. He wiggled his nose at her. "I'm glad you're here."

"It's nice to get away. It's hectic on the station! A bunch of Klingons almost took over Quark's, and Malath spent all afternoon shuttling the drunk ones to their guest quarters. That was enough paperwork to make anyone throw themselves out the nearest airlock. Now-- ah..." Kira's attention was drawn to the holograms under the oval window. She smiled tenderly at the images of Kejal's birth. Then her eyes went to a picture of Leruu. "She was beautiful."

Mora flinched at a pang in his lower back. He covered it with a fake cough. "She was, and she would have aged beautifully." The nagging pain refused to back off. He forced himself upright. "Would you excuse me? I need to lie down for awhile."

"Oh, I'm sorry, was I keeping you up?"

"No, no! Not at all. I'm just a tired old man." Mora waved a hand. "Please, stay out and visit, and help yourself to anything you want to eat or drink."

Kejal's smile slipped. He slid off the couch and draped his arm around Mora's shoulders. "Come on, I'll help you."

Grrr, damn this disease.

Mora wasn't sure how Kejal got him into the bedroom. The last thing he remembered was stretching out on his side. He woke up to darkness outside and a puddle of Kejal regenerating on the foot of his bed.

Grunting, Mora dosed himself with metorapan, got out of bed and replicated himself a glass of water. As he drank it, he heard a noise. It happened again, louder this time.

Mora limped closer to his bedroom door. It sounded like Kira gasping in pain. He almost ventured out to check on her-- and then he heard Odo. Their vocalizations accelerated and suddenly muffled themselves.

Suddenly, Mora decided he needed to wash his face. Anything to get away from hearing such a private moment.

"Father?" Kejal's voice gurgled as he took shape. He froze, wide-eyed, and turned towards the door. "Are they having-- "

"Shhh!" Mora nabbed Kejal's arm and hauled him into the bathroom. "It's none of your business, Kejal."

Kejal pointed to the toilet. "Urinating is private, too, isn't it?"

"I'm not in here to do that." Mora turned on the sink and ran his hands under the cool water. He splashed it on his face, but the embarrassment wouldn't stop burning.

"Father?"

"Whatever you do, Kejal, do not discuss what you heard with them."

"Why?"

Mora rubbed the corners of his eyes with his fingertips. "Because it's personal between them. I thought we went over this."

"We did. You said people do it because it feels good to procreate." Kejal gestured over his shoulder. "And they can't reproduce together, so why? I thought love was holding hands and getting married."

Now, Mora considered climbing out his bathroom window. He put the lid down on the waste commode instead and sat down.

"All right, all right...I'll explain it to you." He cleared his throat and started to speak.

Mora told Kejal how he loved watching the sunrise gleam off Leruu's bare shoulders in the morning. The soft hollow in the side of her throat. Her cute way of wrapping her leg around his. Spending an entire day without putting on a single garment of clothing. Her lips against his ear.

Kejal wrinkled his forehead. "That isn't what they're doing out there."

Mora couldn't help but laugh. "Because making love is more than intercourse."

"This is weird. Humanoids are weird."

"We're all a bit strange, Kejal. Plus, you asked." Mora stood up, yawning. "Now I am going to do my business and go back to sleep."

"Ew." Kejal wasted no time exiting the bathroom.

"And don't go creeping out into the living room."

"What am I? A pervert?"

The way Kejal said it sounded so childishly snotty that Mora snickered to himself as he used the toilet and washed his hands. He climbed back into bed and slept until the pain woke him up again. It ached like a hot coal in the left side of his lower back.

"Ugh..."

Daylight poured through the windows. Mora wiped the crust off the inner corners of his eyes.

His bedroom door was open. A shadow moved past it.

Mora dosed himself with metorapan, grabbed his cane and padded into the living room. Pillows and blankets were piled up in the middle of the floor.

"Shh," Kejal held a finger up to his own mouth. He leaned back on the couch and studied the PADD in his hands. "Mom is showering and mother is asleep."

Mora glanced to his left and saw Odo stretched out on his side amid the blankets on the ground. In sleep, he didn't breathe at all. He had one hand folded under his cheek. His rumpled hair fell around the pillow and his upturned ear, and his only cover was the white bed sheet draped over his body. He seemed to be smiling and his face looked utterly peaceful.

Mora's expression softened. He reached down and covered Odo's exposed shoulder with the sheet. Odo didn't even flinch.

"Does he toss and turn?" asked Mora.

Kejal shook his head. "He picks a position and stays in it. His eyes move and he breathes when he dreams...that's about it. He's not like you."

Mora gave an amused sniff. True, he twitched a lot in his sleep. The trait ran in his family.

"Remarkable." He scrunched his nose and limped towards the back door. His lower back complained about every step he took. He tried to ignore it. "Kejal, let's step outside and give him his privacy."

Thankfully, Kejal didn't argue.

.o

Soft fingertips drew a line from the base of his neck all the way down to his backside.

"Mm," Odo stirred.

"Good morning," Kira whispered in his ear.

Odo opened his eyes. She curled up next to him, her messy hair damp and her skin warm from a recent shower. The only clothing on her body was a filmy white house robe.

He smiled. Thirty years, and she still looked beautiful like that.

"Good morning." He kissed her.

Kira gazed at him through her eyelashes. "Ooh, say it with your little growl."

Odo grinned and gave her a slightly deeper kiss.

"Good morning." He nipped at her earlobe. "Rawr."

She giggled and laid her head against his shoulder. "I really missed that. I missed everything about you, Odo."

He brushed this thumb across her bottom lip and ran his fingertips along the familiar landscape of her jaw. Making love to her always gave him a sense of belonging he never found anywhere else. One moment with her was worth more than a thousand years in the Great Link.

"I missed you, too, Nerys." Odo rubbed his lips against her hairline. "I don't want to move from this place...let's stay like this forever."

"Hm," Kira tapped her finger against his chin, "Me either. Besides, I like seeing you naked."

Odo chuckled and kicked off the sheet to let her see all of him. His long, lean physique appeared almost indistinguishable from an average Bajoran male.

"I'm pleased to meet your approval," he purred.

"Stop that!" Kira pretended to be scandalized. "Or we'll never get up and dressed!"

At that, Odo untied her robe. "I wouldn't mind that at all."

She caught the tie before the robe fell open. "Except we're naked in someone else's house."

Odo blinked. Until Kira mentioned it, he completely forgot they were fooling around on Doctor Mora's living floor. He sat up and his outer surface shape shifted into clothing similar in color and cut to his old security chief uniform. Then he ran a hand over his head and his hair returned to its neat combed-back style.

Kira scooped up the sheets and pillows. "Sometimes, I wish I could do that."

Odo took them off her hands, gave her a chaste kiss and batted his eyes at her. "It takes practice."

She laughed, slapping his shoulder. "For you, maybe."

He followed her into the guest bedroom and redressed the bed. The room was tiny-- meant to be a nursery-- but she didn't appear to mind it.

Falling asleep together on the living room floor happened by accident. They started out talking, followed by Kira bringing the sheets and pillows out, and one thing led to another.

Kira whipped her robe off and climbed into a lovely form-fitting jumpsuit.

Odo smoothed the blankets over the bed. He noticed the date on the digital calendar above the bed. His expression softened. "Nerys, it's the thirty-first anniversary of our first date."

"I know." She caught his hand. "I usually visit Vic in the holosuite."

"Really?" Now Odo felt guilty about never remembering the exact day. Time in the Great Link was fluid, and it didn't measure dates or times the way humanoids did. Still, he felt the need to make his unknown error up to her. "Then let's do something tonight. How about dinner?"

She paused. "The closest nice place is the Ital."

"The Ital?" Odo quirked a brow. "I've never been there."

"Me either, but I heard it's amazing." Her eyes sparkled. "I'll have to find myself an evening gown. It's been ages since I dressed up for a fancy night. See, Odo? Not having a hotel fare means I can splurge."

"I...yes, you're right."

"I'll go dress shopping after breakfast." Kira winked.

Odo felt himself smiling. "I'll come with you if you like."

"But I want to surprise you tonight." She mirrored his expression. "I'm thinking of asking Kejal to come with me. I want to get to know him and this is the perfect opportunity."

"That's-- "

Kejal poked his face in. "Did I hear my name?"

"Speaking of Kejal." Odo stepped aside. "Yes, you did."

Kira pulled a brush through her tangled hair. "Just the person I wanted to see. Odo intends to take me somewhere nice later, and I don't have anything fancy to wear." She twisted her auburn locks into a bun and secured it with a clip. "I think a shopping trip is the perfect opportunity to get to know each other."

At that, Kejal's eyes lit up. "That sounds fun. When do we leave?"

"After I've eaten breakfast."

Odo heard the door.

"Hello! Good morning!" Aleexa announced her presence.

"Aleexa!" Kejal shot back out of the bedroom.

Grinning, Kira put her hairbrush away. "Were you ever that energetic?"

Odo slipped his arm around her shoulders. "Mm, not quite. Kejal has such a different disposition than I do. Sometimes, I hardly believe he's mine, but I wouldn't change a thing about him." He glanced out the bedroom window and noticed Aleexa checking on Doctor Mora.

"Is that the nurse?"

"Mmhmm. Her background check came back clean."

Kira nudged him with her elbow. "Always working, aren't you?"

Odo shrugged. "Old habits."

"It's nice to know some things don't change. So," she looped her arm around his, "are you going to introduce me?"

"Intro-- oh, right. Of course." Odo made a noise like clearing his throat and escorted Kira outside. He waited politely for Aleexa to finish listening to Doctor Mora's heart and lungs.

"How has the pain been?" Aleexa asked in a hushed tone.

"It bothered me last night, and it's awful today." Doctor Mora shook his head. "It's worse on the left side."

"I can tell."

Kira squeezed Odo's arm. "He doesn't look so good."

She was right. Doctor Mora sat rigidly in the wicker chair. His right hand gripped his cane and the left remained a fist in his lap.

"Perhaps we should-- "

"Ah, there they are." Doctor Mora's face lit up. "Odo, introduce Aleexa to your lovely lady friend."

Aleexa perked up and looked over her shoulder. "Oh! Hello! My apologies for not greeting you sooner. I'm Aleexa. It's nice to meet you."

"I'm Kira Nerys," said Kira with a smile. She and Aleexa shook hands. "And it's an honor. How is he?"

The face Aleexa made spoke louder than words.

"Excuse me." She smiled politely at Kira and returned to Doctor Mora.

"Nerys," Odo glanced at the house, "it might be a good idea to eat breakfast and get Kejal out of here before he sees this and gets upset."

Kira gave him a knowing look and patted his hand. "I'll do that."

Odo let her go. He reluctantly pulled up a chair next to Doctor Mora and listened in on what Aleexa was telling him.

"...left kidney inflammation is up fifteen percent. Your temperature is also elevated, which might suggest a minor infection. That wouldn't be a big deal for say, Odo-- "

"I don't have kidneys," said Odo.

"Oh. Right." Aleexa grinned at her tricorder and grew serious again. "Someone else wouldn't feel a thing. Since your kidneys are already chronically inflamed, the added swelling of the left one is causing more pain. I can give you a dose of antibiotics once a day for seven days and that should take care of it. Are you okay with that?"

"Of course." Doctor Mora shifted in his chair. His eyes remained slightly squinted. "Any treatment that will help the pain is fine with me."

"I'll put in an order. The medicine should arrive by twelve-hundred." Aleexa got up and tapped on her combadge.

Odo handed Doctor Mora the water glass he was reaching for. He felt suddenly guilty for making love to Kira the night before. They weren't exactly quiet, but they did their best to be discrete.

"Did Nerys and I wake you?"

Doctor Mora's lips twitched in a smile. "I didn't hear a thing. Why?"

He was lying.

Odo rolled his eyes. "Nothing."

"I can't even begin to say how happy I am for you."

"Doctor Mora, please." Odo stiffened his posture. "About the pain you're having..."

Doctor Mora waved a hand. "Oh, it's nothing. Once I sit down it gets tolerable. I was told to expect this a long time ago. Now what's this I heard Kejal say about going out?"

"I'm taking Kira out to the Ital tonight. And before you ask, yes, it is a date."

"Heh, heh...aren't you glad you decided to talk to her again?"

Odo finally cracked a small smile. "Fine, you were right."

"You should see how your face changes when I mention her." Doctor Mora leaned forward. "It reminds me of how I used to be around Ler-- ooh..." His face scrunched up and he cupped his lower back.

Odo reached out and steadied his mentor. "Aleexa, he needs his-- "

Aleexa passed him the hypospray. "Way ahead of you."

Nodding, Odo pressed it to Doctor Mora's neck and delivered the dose.

Aleexa handed Doctor Mora a fruit smoothie. "Kejal and Nerys are leaving now. Pol, I think we should get you to bed."

"Thank you." Doctor Mora sipped the drink. "But I don't think I can walk."

Odo grumbled to himself. He slipped one hand behind Doctor Mora's shoulders, another under his knees and lifted him with minimal effort. Doctor Mora was too surprised to protest. Odo carried the scientist into his bedroom and laid him down on the bed.

"There." He straightened his shirt. "That solves that problem."

"I suppose that's one way to take care of it." Doctor Mora bore his teeth and grabbed his back again. "Ooh, Prophets...augh, dammit...ow!" He almost bucked himself off the bed. His head ended up against Odo's chest. Odo caught him by the shoulders to prevent him from falling onto the floor.

The discomfort made his body shake. He clutched at Odo's shirt while gasping for the breath being taken away by his illness.

Seeing Doctor Mora dissolving in agony struck Odo like a slap in the face. Vomiting blood was one thing-- Doctor Bashir solved the problem easily. Pain wasn't so simple.

Odo let his arms slide around the sick man's shoulders and sat down on the edge of the mattress. He was so used to holding Kejal this way that he didn't give the gesture a second thought.

"It's all right, Doctor Mora."

"Don't take her for granted, Odo..."

"I'm sorry?"

Doctor Mora swallowed hard and closed his eyes. "Nerys. Don't take her for granted. You never know...you might wake up one morning and she won't...or you won't..." His breathing slowed. The metorapan was taking effect. "I told Leruu I loved her every night before she went to sleep. The only comfort I had after her death was knowing those were the last words she heard me say."

"That sounds like a nice tradition." Odo said.

Footsteps entered the bedroom.

"His smoothie is on the table," Aleexa whispered in his ear.

She tip-toed out.

Odo picked up the glass and tipped it to Doctor Mora's lips. "Here."

Doctor Mora drank a little before pushing it away. He rested his head on Odo's chest again.

"Thank you," he murmured. "Mm...no wonder this feels safe to Kejal."

"I-- wouldn't know." Odo realized he was petting Doctor Mora's hair. He moved his hand away. "I never really-- "

Doctor Mora's breathing morphed into soft snores. Odo awkwardly scooted him towards the middle of the bed and got up. The fingers clutching at his clothes relaxed as he moved away.

.o

Kejal listened intently to Kira describing her first true date with his mother. She stood before the fitting room mirror wearing a short peach dress made of shiny Andorian satin. Lace ruffles accented the fluffy skirt and cap sleeves.

"...then I said, 'well, why don't you?'"

"And...?"

"He yanked me close and gave me a kiss I'll never forget." Kira fluffed her bangs. "People still talk about it."

"Hah! Mother says that was the scariest moment of his life, but he doesn't regret it."

"Well, if he wasn't going to make a move, I sure was." Kira turned sideways and frowned. "This doesn't work. I look like a dabo girl."

"The color is nice on your skin."

"Mmhmm, but I'm too old for this dress. No alteration on Bajor will make this look right on me."

"Really?" Kejal cocked his head. "Clothing has an age limit?"

She laughed and slipped back into the booth. "Kejal, when women get older, gravity starts to take over. Certain body parts don't stay perky, and I don't need my big back end looking any bigger

Kejal snickered. "It's not that big! Really!"

Kira poked her head out the door. "Thanks." She passed him the rejected pink dress. "Hold on, I'm trying on the gray one next."

Kejal politely put the garment back on the rack where he found it.

"Argh! No way. I'm not even walking out in this. I'm not wearing something cut down to my stomach!"

"It's that low?"

"Unfortunately." Kira chortled. "It's pretty, but it doesn't suit me."

"The gold ball gown looked good."

"Mmh, it did, but I'm not aiming to be the belle of a ball. I'm going out to a nice dinner. I'd look ridiculous."

Kejal made a face. "Female fashion is complicated."

Rustling noises punctuated her removing the offending gown. She cracked the fitting room door.

"Yup. Be glad you're a man."

"I can look female if I want to. I chose to look male because I thought it suited me."

"True...you have a point." Kira held out the rejected dress. "Here, hang this up again. So, what determines your gender, then?"

"Technically, we don't have one. Changelings who lived their whole lives in the Great Link have trouble understanding gender. The lady Changeling who led the whole Dominion War looked female in order to appeal to mother." Kejal took the dress and replaced it on its proper rack.

"Oh...her. Guess you learn something new every day." Kira's voice had a slight edge to it, but it vanished after a clasp snapped into place. "Ah! Okay, trying on the blue one. Ready?"

"Ready!" Kejal perked up.

Kira reappeared wearing a sparkly tea-length column gown with white flower detailing on the hem and neckline. She frowned at her reflection. "Hm. I knew this had shoulder pads in it. It's too old for me."

Wow, I didn't know women were so picky!

"The color is lovely on you." Kejal said.

"I know, and the length is good too." She gestured to her midsection. "But I look pregnant in this."

Kejal couldn't see what she meant. He nodded anyway and cleared his throat. "Can I pick one?"

Kira smiled at him and slipped back into the changing room. "Yeah, why not? Surprise me." She cracked the door again and gave him the blue dress.

As Kejal turned to put the discarded garment back on the rack, he spotted something worn by a mannequin in the back of the shop.

The backless, form-fitting evening gown was made of deep burgundy velour. It had a closed halter top neckline completed by a gold plated metal collar. The sleeves were separate pieces ending in gold cuffs.

He dug through the nearby rack until he found the same dress on a hanger.

"Mom?"

"What?"

Kejal lifted the dress over the door. "Try this one."

"Oh, my! This is beautiful, but I'm not as skinny as I used to be. I'm not sure I'll be able to get into this."

"C'moooon, if it's too much, we'll laugh about it. Same as the orange outfit with the poofy pants."

"Hm." Kira chuckled and Kejal felt her take the hanger. "I'll give it a shot because it's gorgeous."

The metal collar and sleeve cuffs clinked behind the fitting room door. Kejal sat on the bench, eagerly waiting for the big reveal.

"I like how this feels. Ready for me?"

He perked up. "Definitely."

Kira swung the door open and stopped to examine herself in the mirror. She looked absolutely statuesque. Like that dress was made for her and nobody else.

"Ooh, wow," she breathed out and turned to see herself from behind. The gown exposed her whole back and the floor-length skirt had a slit all the way up to her right thigh, yet it was modest and sophisticated.

"Mom?"

"Kejal, I don't know how you did it, but I think this is the dress for tonight." Kira let her hair down and re-twisted it on top of her head. "Hair sticks will look good with this, and I see the perfect set."

Kira stepped away from the mirror to pick up two black hair sticks. From their glossy tips, gold mandala charms dangled on short, delicate chains. She pulled her hair into a bun, held it there and added the hair sticks.

"What do you think?"

Kejal beamed at her. "Perfect. Mother is going to be amazed when he sees you. I know I am!"

"You're sweet." Kira grinned back. "Okay, it's settled. Shoes are the easy part for me." She vanished into the changing room. "Did I mention Odo looks fantastic in a tuxedo?"

"Those formal things from Earth, right?"

"Mmhmm."

"Ah." Kejal concentrated and fashioned his outer surface into a fancy tux with a yellow shirt, a red tie and a matching cummerbund. "Something like this?"

Kira emerged holding her chosen evening gown. She paused, stared at Kejal and smiled, her eyes soft. "Yes, something like that. I still can't get over how much you look like he used to."

He grinned, reverting to his previous outfit of a green turtleneck and pants. "He thought about you all the time while in the Great Link. I think he was hoping you found someone else and got married."

Kira paid for the dress and hairpins. Pricey, but not overly so.

"Really?"

Kejal walked with her to the shoe store next door. "Mother didn't want you to be alone. He loves you so much and said so many times, and I quote, 'I hope for her happiness, even if it isn't with me.'"

"That sounds like Odo." Kira shook her head. "I tried dating again after he left. None of them worked out. So how about you, hm? Anyone special in your life?"

At that, Kejal smirked. "No, but I make women blush all the time."

"Odo mentioned you're an awful flirt."

"He's jealous because he is about as charming as a Tarkalean cactus."

"Cacti have a lot of charm! Prickly on the surface, gelatinous on the inside." Kira examined the holographic display of shoes and selected black pointy-toe slingbacks with spike heels and gold buckles.

Kejal imagined a cactus talking like his mother. He couldn't hold back a rude snort.

Grinning, Kira pulled off her boots and placed her feet in a small depression in the floor. The computer measured her and replicated the shoes right onto her feet. She tested them out by walking around the bench.

Kejal eyed her shoes. He willed his boots away. "Computer, give me the same."

"Kejal! What are you doing?"

"Having a little fun." Kejal stood up and realized his entire center of gravity wasn't where it belonged. He rolled both his ankles before he took two steps. "Uh oh." He reverted to his gelatinous state as he fell. The impact made him splatter on the floor and wall.

The elderly shopkeeper didn't look pleased at the disturbance.

Kira gasped. "Oh! Kejal! Are you okay?"

He reformed sitting on the ground, laughing, and set the heels back into the replicator where they dissolved in a white sparkle. "How do women walk in shoes like that?"

Kira's worried expression melted into amusement. "It takes practice." She helped him up. "You're lucky you don't have bones. People break their ankles doing that. Did that hurt?"

"A little." Kejal wiggled his toes and reformed his boots. "I hope father is all right. He looked tired this morning."

Beside him, Kira changed out of her heels and paid via the computer system on the wall. The replicator produced a box to store the shoes. She let the shopkeeper see the shoes in the box before exiting the shop.

"Odo says you're upset about the whole thing."

Kejal nodded once. "I'm not ready to let him go."

"Nobody is. I wasn't. I ran away from my father's death. I could have stayed to hold his hand, and instead I went on a raid." She blinked, staring down at the floor. "I never forgave myself for that."

"I don't like that he gave up."

She led him to the door. "It's not giving up if the treatments don't work."

A cool breeze blew over the street. Leaves rattled along the white roadway.

Kejal faced Kira. "Then why isn't he spending his time looking for new ones?"

Her face softened. She reached for him. "Because he's getting ready to die, and he wants everything in order before he goes."

He let her grasp his hand. Everything in his chest was churning. It amazed him how fast his mood sank after soaring so high.

"When mother and I shopped for plants to plant in the back garden, I saw plants that don't bloom for four or five months. I couldn't picture their flowers." Kejal glanced at Kira while they strolled past a computer shop. "I can't think beyond father's death. Those days don't exist to me."

Kira peered up at the blue-green sky and squinted. "Because all you see is that he won't be there."

"Exactly!"

Kira stopped walking and looked Kejal squarely in the eyes. "You and Odo are both running in your own way. You're here, but you aren't here. You can't do anything about his illness or eventual death, but you can make something with the time he has. Whatever you do, Kejal, don't leave it all until the last minute. Make memories now, and let go as fast or as slow as you need to, but don't run from it. I ran, and I never got to say what I needed to say before my father died."

Kejal swung their arms, sighing. He had no desire to discuss the subject. "Mother is handling this better than I am."

"The dying part? He's doing fine there." Kira released Kejal's hand and caught her dress before the bag fell off her arm. "But their relationship is still rocky. Odo has a lot to work through, just like you."

Suddenly, Kejal felt himself smile. "I see why mother is crazy about you."

She giggled. "Believe me, Kejal, I had no idea of his feelings for me for a long time. Not until he told me. He was the best friend I could ever ask for...he listened to me complain about Bareil and Shakaar. Then I watched him have you, and I realized there was a lot more to him than I thought. He became so much dearer to me. I loved him, and our first date in the holosuite made me realize it."

"Really?" The change of subject helped lift Kejal's spirits.

"Mm, I always thought he had the prettiest eyes I'd ever seen on a person."

"He gets all embarrassed when people tell him that."

"I know." Her gaze was faraway. "Kejal, I was holding him in my arms when he gave birth to you. He doesn't really remember me whispering in his ear, but I told him he was incredible. Pol had great timing, he caught the smile...Odo hasn't smiled like that since."

"Mother isn't much for smiling...he says that's my job." Kejal bumped Kira's shoulder with his own. "I remember seeing your faces side by side. I felt his love for you the whole time I was inside his chest."

"You did?"

"I think it helped shape who I am."

"Oh..." She rolled her eyes and rubbed her palm down her face. "I was such an idiot. I think I was the only one who didn't know Odo was crazy about me."

"Sometimes love takes time. Mother didn't want to impinge on you and Shakaar."

"That's so like him, isn't it?" Kira smiled. "Odo said you're the baby Changeling he tried to help."

Nodding, Kejal rattled the bag holding Kira's evening gown. "Yeah."

She eyed him. "So how much do you remember before you...?"

"How much do I...oh!" He picked up a faded leaf skittering past his feet. "Bits and pieces. Mother spoke to me often. He seemed incredibly sad. I didn't know why until he actually held me in his hands. Then I knew-- I just knew what to do. I wanted to live. He wanted his shape shifting abilities back. It worked out for both of us."

Kira's eyes tilted in amusement. "I wish I had holograms of him during the pregnancy. It changed him. I heard him laugh for the first time because of you. He said your bubbling tickled."

"Oh, mmhmm. I remember. I liked hearing him talk to me."

"So do I." Kira stopped walking. "We should head back. They're going to think we got lost out here!"

"I hate time." Kejal grumbled, smiling. "I'll get us a tram."

"Thanks." At the sound of soft music from a nearby shop, she smiled again. "Pol said you're quite the singer."

"Music! I love it so much I want to marry it." Kejal flagged down a tram. "Climb in and I'll serenade you."

Chapter End Notes:
**Chapter soundtrack**

Those Grown-up Noises: https://app.box.com/s/r69tysfmsso05gzsg4hq

Waking Together: https://app.box.com/s/uos3a7y1xlg4008jc3rd

That's the Perfect Dress: https://app.box.com/s/vl2u56h57xxg8k6zmpva

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