Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Thirteen
Written by Karen Dunn
Worf and Baskell were waiting for them at the edge of the forest, hidden from sight as they watched the activity before them.
The palace was in ruins. The entire east wall had been blown out as the runabout exploded, huge chunks of debris marring the once perfect grounds outside. Flames could be seen flickering from the demolished interior, the sparking of burning circuitry mingling with the crackle of wood and cloth.
Baskell grinned openly at the little group as they approached, keeping low to avoid detection. His smile faltered as he saw Kira's bruises, but he kept his thoughts to himself.
Worf, ever the Klingon officer, merely nodded, an eyebrow raised as Jhemor stifled a squeak of shock at his appearance and buried his head in O'Brien's arms. As Kira crouched down next to the impassive Klingon and listened to his report, she reflected that this was one of the times she had trouble believing Dax's insistence that he was a 'big softie' at heart.
"The explosion has destroyed the eastern wall of the building," he growled, "If there was anyone in the vicinity, they would not have survived." He nodded toward the confused souls milling around in the debris, "There are many wounded."
It was the first time Kira had gotten a proper look at the devastation that had been the Merchant's palace. She knew the power of a runabout on self destruct and was silently admiring of the skill of the builders. The palace should have been so much rubble by now. There should not have been survivors.
She cast a quick look at Jhemor as he stood close at O'Brien's side and hoped against hope that he never realised that his actions had killed and maimed so many. Giving the boy a quick smile she turned back and let her gaze take in the twisted, huddled forms on the ground around the palace. Far too many of them were not moving and, despite the treatment she had received over the past days, she felt a pang of guilt.
If the Amazon had not been there, these people would be alive.
O'Brien saw the look on her face and placed a hand on her shoulder, "There was nothing to be done, Major. We didn't have the time."
With a set of her jaw she shook him off, "Maybe not, Chief, but we have time now. We're not leaving until we help them."
Worf looked at her in disbelief, "With respect, Major, the Prime Directive…"
Kira's anger boiled over. Days of ill treatment, violation and hunger exploded in her eyes and she turned it on the Klingon with full force, "Don't you quote the Prime Directive to me, Mister," she hissed, "I have had it up to here with Starfleet's precious Prime Directive. There are times when your rules cannot apply. This is one of them."
He opened his mouth to disagree, to defend the people who were his life, but she cut him off with the spark of fire in her eyes as she got to her feet, "Live with it."
Worf watched for a long moment as she made her way to the grounds of the ruined palace, a limp impeding her, making her progress slower than usual. As she passed one of the injured people, a hand reached out to her and she crouched down next to the fallen woman, a reassuring smile never quite reaching her eyes.
Without a word, the others followed her; O'Brien and the boy leading the way, Odo and Lars at their heels; all of them going to the aid of people who had never been friends, but were not quite enemies. With an apologetic shrug, Baskell and Andrews tucked their phasers in their belts and stepped out into the open, jogging to catch up.
The Klingon growled deep in his throat and glared at Dax as she watched him carefully, "You need not look at me like that, Jadzia."
Dax placed a friendly hand on his shoulder, "We don't know the whole story, Worf. Let's not be judgmental until we have the facts." She smiled as he sighed and got to his feet, "Besides, she's right. Starfleet are not omnipotent. There are some things they just couldn't foresee. Rules are there to guide us - they are not carved in stone."
With a very Dax-like smile, she followed the others into the grounds.
No-one paid much attention to Kira and the others as they wandered the grounds outside the ruined palace, helping where they could and despising the fact that they could not do more. Merchants and their peasant servants alike were too caught up in their own shock to pay much attention to a band of strangers.
Until Worf stepped into the open, scowling as he followed Dax.
Then some-one screamed.
Kira's head snapped up and she glared at the approaching Klingon with far too much hostility. She wanted to scream at him for parading himself in front of these bigoted, superstitious people; wanted to ask him what in the name of the Prophets he thought they would do to some-one with such an obvious deviancy.
Instead, she pushed herself back to her feet, ran faster than her throbbing leg could stand and threw herself in front of Worf and Dax as the first of the braver souls came looking for a scapegoat, "Leave them alone!"
She thought she recognised the man who stepped forward as one of the palace guards. He glowered down at her, sword in one hand, disruptor in the other and curled his lip, "Move or die, deviant."
Kira stood her ground, legs like jelly in her weakened state, "What is the point of this? Look around you. Look at your palace. There are better things to do than fight. There's work to be done and these people are here to help." She shot an impassioned glance at Lars, "Tell them!"
The farmer placed a hand on the guard's shoulder and took the disruptor from his hand, "She's right, friend. What good will it do to fight now? We have a new life to build."
The guard looked at Lars and Kira and the crowd of frightened people who had gathered to watch the scene unfold. His eyes strayed nervously to the deviant she protected, "For as long as you help, you are welcome. Not a minute more." And he turned and stormed away.
Without a word, the crowd dispersed, huddled in groups as they waited for some-one to lead them. To tell them what to do next.
With a shuddering breath, Kira limped slowly back to the woman she had been tending and crouched down next to her. She gently brushed a stray lock of raven black hair from the face, fixing her smile even as she took in the glazed eyes and sickly pallor, the skin cold to the touch.
With a sob, she let her hand rest on the woman's head and began to cry softly for the death of a person she had never known.
Dax saw Kira's head drop and her shoulders shake and felt a lump rise n her throat at the sight of her friend's suffering. She badly needed to know what had happened to her and Odo and O'Brien since they had been snatched away from home, but knew this was not the time.
So she watched from a distance and prayed to every deity she could think of to give Kira the strength to endure.
A blur of movement caught her eye and she reached out in time to grab Jhemor by the arm as he tried to go to the Bajoran, "Wait."
The boy blinked up at her, "The Major Lady's sad."
He tried to pull away, "She helps me a lot when I'm sad…"
Dax didn't loosen her grip, holding on until the boy stopped struggling, "I know that, too. And when she's feeling a little better you can go to her. I think she needs to be alone for now, though."
Jhemor frowned at her with innocent green eyes, and Dax sighed as one more unpleasant task occurred to her, "Jhemor, we have to have a little talk…"
Kira wiped a grubby hand across her tear stained face as Garus, the High Lord's right hand man, made his way towards her. His face was pale beneath a layer of grime, his robes a tattered mess and he had some kind of wound leaking blood through the chest of his tunic.
She turned away from him and gazed again on the peaceful face of the dead woman before her. If she ignored him for long enough, perhaps he would go away.
Garus refused to take the hint and reached down to take Kira by the arm, "I'm talking to you, deviant."
He hadn't meant to sound so harsh. So much had happened and he was scared to the core of his being. Kira pulled her arm away sharply and glared at him and he backed away, his voice softer, "Where's Marius?"
She looked him in the eye with a barely contained fury, "Dead."
The man seemed to crumble before her as his eyes almost pleaded with her, "I don't know what we're going to do. The High Lord…Taren…he's missing…probably dead."
Kira stared at him in disinterest. Marius' death had left her with a feeling of soul deep relief. For the first time since they had crashed on this Prophets forsaken world, she had felt safe enough not to have to keep looking over her shoulder for danger. That Garus displayed an almost grief stricken reaction to the news of the overseer's death sickened her. She buried her feelings deep, though, unwilling to offer any more thought to the repulsive man who had so nearly wrecked her life.
Some wounds were so painful they could only be tended in private.
She was aware that Garus expected some kind of response, but was unable to give it. So she just stared at him some more and wished he would leave her alone.
Garus watched as the deviant's eyes turned cold on him and he wondered for the first time how Marius had died. He knew what went on within the walls of Caspii and news of this woman and her disrespect for the overseer had spread quickly. He knew how Marius liked to bring people back into line - and his methods with women were particularly brutal - and felt no surprise that she may have exacted her revenge.
As it was, she was holding all the cards, whether she knew it or not. Every instinct in his body was protesting as he pleaded with a woman who should have been kneeling before him in supplication, "Please, deviant… Major…we've never been without a leader before and everyone knows…everyone knows…"
She looked almost bored now as she got to her feet and began to limp away, "What do you expect me to do about it?"
"I expect you to…I expect…for the love of the Creator woman, you have to give us the boy."
She stopped now and looked at him, a dangerous scowl creeping across her face, "The boy?"
He reached out once more to take her arm, thinking better of it at the steel in her eyes. His voice dropped to a whisper as he saw her friends watching from a distance, "You have to give us Jhemor, we need him…"
She almost laughed, "You think I'm going to hand one of my friends over to the likes of you?"
She turned away and, forgetting his caution, he took her arm and pulled her back, "You don't understand…"
For a moment he thought he was dead as she spun out of his grip, her eyes flashing. Then a shout, almost a scream of denial rent the air and he saw Jhemor running towards them, a strange woman following at a more dignified pace. The boy threw himself into Kira's arms, almost knocking her off her feet, "Major Lady. Spotty lady says you're leaving soon. You're not leaving soon are you?"
A flood of emotion washed over her as she focused on the green eyes gazing at her in abject terror, "…Jhemor, I…"
Before she could reply, Garus had fallen to his knees before the trembling boy, "Lord!"
Jhemor and Kira stared at him, one in terror, one in confusion, as he lowered his gaze as though waiting for some kind of holy touch.
Jhemor pulled himself free of Kira's grasp and began to back away from the man, shaking his head, "You leave me alone."
She steadied him as he almost tripped over the body of the dead woman, her eyes hardening as she watched Garus get to his feet, "What do you mean?"
But the Merchant ignored her, oblivious to her presence, aware that other people were gathering to watch, their eyes focused on the one person who could bring their tattered world to rights. Garus had been Taren's right hand man for a long time and they trusted him.
Garus held out pleading hands to the boy before him, "Taren is…your father is dead. You are High Lord and we await your orders."
An uneasy murmur ran through the gathering crowd and Kira's hand tightened on Jhemor's arm as she blinked at the Merchant in shock. He must have made some kind of mistake - taken a knock on the head during the explosion. But when she glanced down at Jhemor as he almost hid behind her, she knew from the look on his face that it was true.
And suddenly it all made sense.
That he had lived so long in such conditions as the prison at Caspii was a miracle. Unless some-one was looking out for him, making sure that he never fought in the Arena, making sure that he had enough food.
She had put it down to the luck of the innocent; what O'Brien would call the virgins and unicorns syndrome. Now she knew there was no luck involved and was inexplicably, completely pleased for him.
He had looked at her with such fear in his eyes when Dax had mentioned that they were leaving, that she had began to give serious thought to staying. She could not bear the thought of being safe and well on DS9 as Jhemor starved to death on an uncaring world.
She looked closely at Garus as he waited for his new Lord to speak, "You're saying that Jhemor is High Lord?"
He nodded, "Taren is dead. He freely acknowledged this boy as his son…" He looked up as O'Brien came up behind the boy and laid a protective hand on his shoulder, "…and I thank you for the friendship you have shown to him. But you must give him to us - let him rule us as he was born to do."
O'Brien stepped up close to the man, wary of the increasingly restless crowd around him. He held his voice in a harsh half whisper, "Do you think that's wise? Do you think these people are going to simply accept a..a half wit ex-prisoner from the cells of Caspii as their new leader?"
Garus frowned at the people around him as they shuffled and muttered to one another, "The line of succession cannot be questioned. They all know that. The rules were set long before we even arrived here."
O'Brien raised an eyebrow and looked at Kira. *Before we even arrived here?* Finally some-one was going to tell them the whole story. He turned back to Garus just as the man stepped forward and raised his hands to the waiting crowd, "My friends!" All eyes were fixed on him, no-one said a word, "My friends. Taren is dead - killed protecting the home and the people he loved. But I present to you his son, the new High Lord." He reached out and tugged the cowering boy into the open, "I present to you - Jhemor. Long may he rule!"
For a long moment there was silence, then one man stepped forward, his disruptor raised, his face twisted in a scowl, "You think we'll follow that..?"
He fired his disruptor and the uneasy peace was shattered.
Jhemor found himself face down in the dirt as Odo appeared from nowhere and knocked him clear of the blast of energy. Hands pulled him to his feet and he was led away from the now baying crowd by people he did not recognise. As panic flooded his mind, wild eyes searched desperately for Kira and O'Brien, finally finding them as they pushed through the loyal few to stand at their friend's side.
As the two factions faced each other, preparing for battle, O'Brien turned on a somewhat pale Garus and exclaimed, "Perhaps you should have broken it to them a little more gently."
For a long, long moment nobody moved.
Swords and disruptors faced swords and disruptors in anachronistic harmony as friends stood ready to slaughter friends for the sake of a new leader.
The visitors from DS9 stood shoulder to shoulder in front of Jhemor, Worf, Dax, Baskell and Andrews with their phasers at the ready.
No-one knew who fired the first shot, but suddenly the man in front of Worf was dead, his body twitching with the after effects of a disruptor blast, and the battle was joined.
In the history of the universe there have been many battles, though none have been shorter. As Worf picked off the first few men with stun shots to the chest, Jhemor broke free of all efforts to protect him and burst through the crowd to stand alone in front of friends and enemies.
"I didn't know my father." He looked up into row upon row of faces, all capable of killing him without a second thought, "When I met him, he told me that he sent me away when I was a baby. He said I had to be protected because I was a half wit."
Jhemor took a deep breath, "I know I'm a half wit, but I don't like it when people call me that, no I don't. It's just that I don't know any other words for what I am. I know that you all hate me and that I find some things hard to understand, but I don't want you to all go and kill each other because of me, no I don't." He swallowed, "I may be a half wit, but even I know that's wrong. That won't make things better and it would have made my father sad."
One by one, the weapons began to fall as the boy continued to speak, "When I was growing up I always tried to be good and to be careful and to not do bad things or say bad things. That was really hard to do in Caspii, yes it was. But when I met my father and he told me who I was, I hated him. I never hated anyone before. Not even Marius when he hurted the Major Lady and made her cry. Now my father is dead and they said I've got to be a High Lord. But I don't know how to be a High Lord, and that's my fault because I'm a half wit."
With a deep breath, he straightened his shoulders and looked at the people who had declared themselves enemies, "You're probably right to get all mad and cross and ruffled over me, 'cos I only know how to be a prisoner. So if you want, you can kill me now and get it over with, then you won't have to bother killing anyone else…and that will a good thing, yes it will…"
And just like that, he ran out of words.
Kira and O'Brien held their breath, knowing that should anyone decide to take him up on the offer, they would be powerless to help.
As with the first shot, no-one knew where the first shout came from. But as quickly as the battle had began, it was over. The final weapons hit the ground as some-one started to chant Jhemor's name. The chant was taken up all through the crowd and Kira beamed with pride as an embarrassed flush crept up the boy's neck and coloured his cheeks.
The two sides merged into one and she lost track of him in a sea of admiring faces.
"Now there is a natural diplomat," said Dax at her side and the Bajoran could only nod and watch.
O'Brien found Garus sitting on a chunk of fallen debris, watching the new High Lord as he started his first day of office with a bewildered frown on his face and a look of near panic in his eyes.
The Merchant looked up and nodded to the engineer, "I didn't know he had it in him."
O'Brien snorted, "You don't know him at all, Garus, but you'd better bloody well take care of him."
Garus shrugged, "He's the High Lord. Merchants everywhere will protect him with their lives."
"That's something I wanted to talk to you about." The Chief sat down next to the Merchant, "Where are you Merchants from? We know you're not from this world…"
"It doesn't much matter." He looked at O'Brien, "You'll be gone soon. What do you care?"
A heavy footstep behind him made them turn to see Worf glowering down at Garus, Baskell and Andrews at his side, "It does matter if our ship is in danger of attack." The glower deepened and Garus flinched as the Klingon took another step forward, "What are your defences?"
Garus scrambled to his feet and backed away, "You're in no danger from us, deviant. The only ships we have on this world are for transport within an atmosphere and are hidden well. Our world is the next in this system and the last I heard they had sent their best ship through a breach to set up in business with your people."
O'Brien frowned and looked at the devastation around him, "Is this your only base?"
"No. We have palaces on all three continents, but this was the largest." His chest swelled with pride, "This was the place the High Lord called home."
Baskell stepped forward, "How long until the others realise that something's wrong here?"
Garus visibly deflated, "Months." He sat down on the chunk of masonry once again, "Believe it or not, we love the people of this world. We didn't want to harm them. We wanted to live in peace with them. The other palaces have integrated themselves totally into the lifestyle of the natives - only a very few know of our home world - things just got a little out of hand here."
O'Brien wanted to take him by the throat and shake him, "A little?! You've been acting like thought police; throwing people in prison for even suggesting there may be a better way of doing things. You call that love?"
Garus matched his ire with a little of his own, "You've seen these people. You've seen how they live, how superstitious they are…" he pointed at Worf, "…what they think of deviants. How do you think they would react to the news that people from another world had been living amongst them - studying them?"
"They'd be bloody annoyed and rightly so."
The Merchant nodded, "And they would have attacked us and died as we protected ourselves."
O'Brien fell silent for a moment before asking, "But why keep them living in the dark ages? Why prevent them evolving? They should have moved on long ago."
Garus was not used to being questioned like this and turned his head away, unwilling to answer until Worf took him by the arm and dragged him to his feet, "You were asked a question!"
"It was a mistake," he said, "We didn't want to give them things they were not ready to discover for themselves and we got a little over enthusiastic at curbing their development. In the end it was easier to freeze them at this stage," he shrugged, "just in case." He pulled against the painful grip on his arm to no avail, his voice rising in frustration, "We were virtually abandoned here, you know! Our only link with home was over a comm. channel and now that's gone. I don't know if they'll even bother to check on us when we don't report in."
Worf let him go with a growl of disgust, "You can report to them now," and he hit his comm. badge, "Worf to Defiant."
"Go ahead, sir."
"Beam the prisoners to these co-ordinates."
Moments later, Hern and his associate materialised before them, blinking in astonishment. Worf pushed Garus toward them, "I am sure you all have a lot to talk about."
Jhemor had managed to break free of his newly converted public and was sitting alone, Kira watching him from a distance.
Baskell stopped for a moment to look at her, unsure about the look on her face. He had seen the same look on O'Brien's face earlier - a kind of devastated confusion. As though mind and heart were battling for control, neither really wanting to win.
It had been obvious from the start that they had become attached to Jhemor in some way - that they had been through a lot together - and he wondered whether they were on the verge of making a decision they would all regret.
Whether they were going to stay.
Deep Space Nine could not afford to lose people of their calibre. Not to guilt.
He swallowed deeply and ran to catch up with Worf, squaring his shoulders, "Commander. I would like to stay."
The big Klingon glared down at him, a puzzled frown playing across his craggy features, "What?"
"I could make a difference here. I could help."
Worf shook his head, "Mr Baskell, you must know that is out of the question. The Prime Directive applies. I cannot allow a Starfleet officer to influence the future of this world…"
Baskell couldn't believe he had heard correctly. After all they had heard Garus say, he would not be a party to continuing the mistake, "Then with all due respect sir, I quit."
The words were out of his mouth before he had given himself time to think and he bit his lip hard. He had given his life to Starfleet. He had surrendered his childhood to them and put his career above everything else and now he was offering to throw it all away for a group of people he didn't even know?
He felt his head spin as the others looked at him in shock and in that second a pulse of excited certainty coursed through him. He had been sure of many things in his life - his love for space travel, his love for Kate, his intense need to become a father - but they were nothing compared to this.
With Starfleet he was never going to be more than an adequate officer; one of hundreds lost in the ranks. Here, he could make a difference. He could offer advice which would save lives - make lives better. He could start again.
Dax stepped toward him and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, "Martin…"
Baskell shook his head, "Please don't try to change my mind, Commander." He unholstered his phaser, slipped his tricorder from his belt and handed them both to the Trill, "There's nothing for me back home. You know that. Kate has taken everything that I hold dear. There's nothing left."
He couldn't quite decipher the look on her face; a kind of mixture between infinite sadness and parental pride. He placed a hand on her arm, "You helped me out once. Please don't turn your back on me now."
Dax cradled the phaser and tricorder in her hands and watched the young man closely. He seemed to have grown a foot taller in the last few minutes and the beaten desperation she had seen in his eyes when his wife left had been replaced with a quiet determination. She was not looking forward to explaining this to Benjamin, but knew that nothing short of stunning him would get Baskell back on the Defiant.
With a sigh she turned to Worf, "Don't you hate it when they resign on you?"
Worf glared at her, "You cannot possibly be ready to accept…"
With a smile, she placed a finger on his lips effectively startling him into silence, "Don't be such a stick in the mud." The glare deepened with his wounded pride and she lowered her hand and whispered, "We've lost him, Worf. Give him the honour of allowing him to choose his own path."
The Klingon let his gaze move from the Trill to the human and back again. He hated losing members of his away team, be it to death or love or quests of honour. With a final scowl he gave a curt nod, "Very well, but you can explain it to Captain Sisko."
Martin grinned. He didn't care if it made him look younger.
Jill Andrews watched Martin closely as he closed the book on one chapter of his life and stood ready to begin another. His defiant stance as he faced up to Dax and Worf made her proud to be called his friend and she thought back through their lives together. From the children they had been as they stepped through the doors of the Academy, through their Cadet Cruise and brush with death at the hands of the Borg; and finally the infinite good fortune of being assigned to the same little square of space to serve out their first term as Starfleet Officers, they had been inseparable.
She had watched him fall for the acid-faced Kate and gotten him drunk when she finally left him. She had gone to him with her insecurities and listened, teary-eyed, as he patiently told her she could do anything she turned her mind to. She had sat with him as he studied for his first, far too early, attempt at promotion and taken him on a very memorable consolation trip to Risa when the Lieutenant's pip was given to someone else.
They had grown up together and she loved him deeply.
Far too deeply to let him leave like this.
Pulling herself up to her full height she cleared her throat, willed her courage to stay with her, and addressed Worf, "Um, Commander…?"
She felt herself blush as his eyes snapped toward her, "I'll stay and keep an eye on him."
As a frustrated scowl crept across the Klingon's face she was aware of Dax smiling behind him. The sort of knowing smile which had kept the entire station on its toes for the last few years.
"I'll resign if I have to, Sir, but…um…I figured that maybe I could be…um…stationed here, if you like, to make sure he doesn't do anything…treasonous…"
A hand touched her arm and she looked up at Martin as he gazed at her with questioning eyes, "Jill…?"
Andrews shrugged, "Well, with Odo back they're probably going to reassign me to somewhere I don't want to go. There'll be a whole new bunch of people to meet and you know I'm not very good at that kind of thing." She smiled at him as he started to protest, "Someone has to keep you out of trouble, Martin, and besides, " she grinned, "at least here no-one will be better at my job than I am."
Worf watched them in resigned disbelief as he accepted Andrews' phaser and tricorder and attached them to his own belt. He turned to Dax, "The Captain is not going to be pleased."
Dax smiled, "Oh, I don't know. He's always been a soppy romantic at heart - he'll love this. Eventually."
O'Brien felt a weight lift from his shoulders at the news that the two young officers would stay behind. Though he hardly knew them, he recognised good souls when he saw them. And good souls in Starfleet uniforms were an added bonus. They would protect Jhemor with their last ounce of breath and now he could go home in peace.
He looked across at the lad in question, realising for the first time how small he seemed. Little more than a baby trying to fill the shoes of a man. He was aware of Kira at his side and, as one, they went to the boy.
To say goodbye.
Jhemor looked miserably at his feet as the duo approached and the engineer laid a hand on his shoulder, "You all right, son?"
The boy nodded his head, "I'm a High Lord now, Mr 'Brien and High Lords mustn't cry, no they mustn't." He looked up at the Chief with glistening eyes, "But you told me that it was okay to be scared if you really really had to be, so I figured that it's the same with crying and all that. And if you really really have to cry then that's all right as long as you don't make a habit out of it all the time…"
He trailed off and let his head drop once more.
O'Brien wrapped an arm around his shoulders and hugged him close, "I'll tell you what, Jhemor."
"Being a High Lord has its good side, you know."
Jhemor pulled out of the hug and rubbed his eyes, "It does?"
O'Brien smiled his best fatherly smile, "Sure it does! You could make it the law that if anyone feels like crying or being scared then they can. And no-one is allowed to laugh at them or tell them to pull themselves together."
The boy considered this, "I could do that?"
O'Brien hugged him once more, "That's what High Lords do, son. And you are going to be the best High Lord they've ever had."
Kira smiled at them and blinked back unexpected tears before stroking the boy's hair with a tender hand, "It won't be easy, Jhemor, but you'll have friends to help you. You'll be able to make sure that no-one is sent to Caspii again; that no-one is hurt again; that no-one is hungry again."
Jhemor looked up at her and squeezed her hand, "I'm scared Major Lady."
She squeezed back, giving what she hoped was a reassuring smile, "I know you're scared, Sweetheart. That's part of life. But look behind you. Look at all those people ready to help you. Think of all the places you'll have to explore. There's so much more to a world than the inside of a prison and you've got it all to come."
"But I don't know anyone," he wailed, "no I don't and they want me to do difficult things and…"
Kira reached out and tipped his chin up, forcing him to look at her, "You stopped a war with your words, Jhemor. You did the bravest thing I have ever seen. And Jill and Martin are here for you. They're good people and they will never harm you. I promise."
"…stay with me…please…"
It was so nearly enough. She blinked rapidly and drew the boy into a hug, her voice soft in his hair, "I can't stay, Jhemor. I have to go."
His bottom lip trembled as he refused to give up the fight, "You could live here…"
"I miss my friends. I miss home. I wouldn't be happy here and I know that's not what you want." She looked deep into his eyes and saw his goodness and innocence force him to admit defeat.
He gazed back at her for a long moment with teary eyes, then drew his shoulders back and tried a half smile, "I'll miss you, Major Lady, yes I will."
"I'll miss you too, Jhemor. More than you'll ever know."
With her reserves finally spent, Kira allowed the tears, so long held in check, to course down her cheeks as she held the boy to her for the last time. She thanked the Prophets that he had finally acknowledged she had to leave. If he had asked her one more time, she would have stayed.
She had a feeling he knew that.
His finite patience already long since exhausted, Worf stepped forward and cleared his throat, "If you are all ready…?"
Pulling away from Jhemor, Kira and O'Brien looked at each other and nodded, stepping in front of the Klingon and the Trill, wishing it was all over. They watched as Odo shook Lars by the hand, "Tell Darriel that I'm sorry I couldn't come back."
The Changeling cleared his throat, a habit left over from his time as a human, "Tell him to stay away from the cliff edge and to be good."
The farmer nodded and stepped back as the Changeling looked past the new High Lord to Andrews, "You know my standards and you know my rules. Don't let me down, Ensign."
Jill shook her head, her expression serious, "I won't, sir."
She and Martin stood side by side and watched as Worf called for transport and the little group disappeared in a hazy storm of lights.
Martin placed a hand on his friend's shoulder as she blinked back tears, "You okay?"
She nodded and smiled, "I'm fine."
He looked back at the empty space where their friends had once stood, "You know, Odo didn't seem too disappointed that you stayed."
To his surprise, she chuckled softly, "I shared a little information - gave him something to remember me by…"
The Promenade was quiet as Odo stepped off of the turbolift after the debriefing with Sisko. Although openly delighted to see his friends again, the Captain had taken a while to calm down at the news that Baskell and Andrews had stayed behind. Odo got the feeling that Dax and Worf were going to have to do some fast talking to avoid a court martial.
Kira, O'Brien and himself had been excused duties for "at least a week" and ordered to Doctor Bashir for a full check up. Knowing that the young doctor could not have helped him even if he needed it, Odo had headed for the turbolift citing the tying up of loose ends as his reason for leaving.
Summoning two of his deputies, he headed for Quark's, forcing down a very un-Changeling-like smile as he went.
Though the Promenade was all but deserted, the bar was bustling. Glasses clinked and the dabo wheels span to shouts of triumph and groans of defeat.
And Quark was at the far end of the bar, deep in conversation with a man Odo recognised as one of the most prolific smugglers in the quadrant. The reward on his head was impressive in anybody's money. He watched as Quark showed him a green gemstone, snatching it back as the smuggler made to take it. Instructing the deputies to keep their eyes open and stay back, he straightened his back and spread his best annoyed scowl across his face.
He walked forward as casually as possible and let a low growl build in his throat before bellowing, "Quark!"
The Ferengi almost jumped out of his skin, his eyes flying up to gaze upon a nemesis he had thought long gone, "Odo?!"
Recognising the law when he saw it, the Smuggler slipped off of his bar stool and darted for the door. Odo nodded in satisfaction as the deputies held him fast before he had gotten more than a few yards. Andrews had been efficient in his absence and his staff were just as good as they had been when he left.
He turned back to the cowering Ferengi and held out his hand, "Give."
Quark straightened up and attempted to bluster, though they both knew it was all for show. He dropped the gems into the Changeling's palm and scowled as Odo almost grinned, "Thank you."
Quark stepped out from behind the bar and glared up at the Constable, "One more day! Couldn't you stay dead for just one more day!"
"Not while you still have a thieving, conniving breath left in your body…no."
"I believe you know the way."
They left the bar as the dabo wheels continued to spin, Odo with his hand on Quark's collar; the Ferengi pleading every step of the way, "It was the deal of a life time."
"It was illegal."
"In the broadest possible sense of the word, maybe."
"In my sense of the word, definitely."
"It would have set me up for life. I would never have had to do anything illegal again."
"You're a Ferengi, Quark, it's in the genes."
"That is a scurrilous lie!"
"No it's not."
"It's good to have you back."
"You're still going to a cell."
"You are unbelievable!"
"Couldn't we come to some sort of deal?"
"Not in this life…"
And that's all she wrote.
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