Summary: Healing takes many forms. For Doctor Mora Pol, it's a second chance.
Note: This fic is a companion to For Freedom's Sake
. There will be some scene overlaps happening from the POV of the character telling this story. Have fun!
Odo tacitly carried my luggage as he walked alongside me. We turned the corner and stepped into the airlock. Without a word, Odo inched closer to me, no doubt trapped between his prideful independence and a need for comforting.
He insisted on accompanying me to the transport shuttle for my personal safety. I saw right through his ruse. He grieved deeply for the baby Changeling. Its tragic demise caught us all by surprise, but he took it the hardest.
Honestly...I understood Odo's pain. I've been in a similar position. It's the most helpless feeling in the universe.
Odo pleaded with the infant throughout the its last moments. I'll never tell him that I saw the first and only tears of his lifetime. He wouldn't appreciate it.
With the sadness came a bittersweet hope. In dying, the infant restored Odo's shape shifting abilities, and I could see the visible changes in him. His back was straighter. He didn't breathe as often. His eyes shone clearer. He looked 'normal.'
I asked, "How does it feel to be yourself again?"
"I just...wish it hadn't happened the way it did." Odo answered, his tone apologetic. He didn't believe himself worthy of the honor bestowed upon him.
"I am sorry," I said. Odo closed his eyes. I watched him struggle with his cognitive dissonance, and I offered the first comforting words that came to mind. "If it helps...think of it as a gift. Something the Changeling wanted you to have."
Odo inclined his head in a slow nod. He forced himself to look at me.
"I think..." He hesitated, suddenly self-conscious. "...I finally understand how much I meant to you, and what you must have gone through when I left."
I smiled a little. "You had to find your own way in the world."
For a few moments I could only gaze at him. At the incomplete-yet-exotic face and the hair styled just like mine. At the bright blue eyes screaming for solace and the brown Bajoran uniform that exuded strength. I felt a lump form in my throat. Is this how fathers feel when they see their sons achieve manhood?
Odo truly reached beyond all my expectations. He found his people. He found answers. And he did it without me. He was right to leave, even though he left in a way that wounded us both.
He furrowed his brow. "I should have included you in my life."
Even after all these bitter years, I remembered why I still loved him like a son. This experience truly brought him back to me. Not like he was. Never like we were. But I wanted to be part of his life again. How often do we get second chances like this?
My heart turned over. I'm a sentimental man...what can I say?
"You still can." I said.
Odo snorted softly. He offered me his hand. I accepted his handshake and pulled him close. It was the only way I could let him know I still cared deeply about him without saying so out loud. He stiffened...and accepted, letting his head rest on my shoulder.
With that gesture, something between us healed.
I hadn't held him in my arms since he ran to me to escape a group of Klingon children. He wouldn't tell me why they caused him such fright. I clutched him to my chest until he melted and slid towards his bucket.
There were so many wounds on our souls. Odo felt like a prisoner because of me, and I did everything to avoid facing my own personal demons. We hurt each other. We've been such fools. Holding him close again meant everything to me. I missed it. I really did.
If I could go back in time and do it differently, I would.
My throat ached. I needed to find the will to make my arms let Odo go.
"Take care of yourself, Odo," I whispered.
Odo cleared his throat and pulled back, which caused me to release him. Emotional displays were not something he enjoyed lingering on, but the look he gave me suggested he didn't mind it too much this time. He gave me my travel bag and politely dismissed me.
I took up my luggage, nodded in thanks and walked past Major Kira Nerys on my way into the shuttle.
"Where is the love that lets the sunlight in to start again?
The love that sees no color lines?
Life begins with love.
So spread your wings and fly.
Guide your spirit safe and sheltered.
A thousand dreams that we can still believe."
--Celine Dion, "Where Is The Love?"
Morning sunlight streamed into my windows as I poured myself a mug of deka tea. Its welcoming aroma and tangy flavor never failed to chase my grogginess away. Especially after an all-night session in the laboratory. I hadn't slept more than four hours a night for the past week. The Dominion threat loomed larger every day.
I sipped my tea while filing a daily research report to Starfleet. Changelings were becoming quite a problem for the Federation. Starfleet considered me an expert on their physiology and sought my assistance in weeding out Changeling infiltrators. Easier spoken of than done. The Founders are far better at shape shifting than Odo. Oh, he's good at turning into inanimate objects and certain animals, but he can't perfectly mimic another person.
I had ideas for less invasive and more secret means of Changeling detection, but as expected there were roadblocks. 'Bureaucratic red tape' as humans called it. I sighed and stretched, hoping to hear good news soon. I should be careful what I wish for.
My console beeped. "Incoming encrypted message."
"Acknowledged," I said. "Display."
A picture of Odo's bucket came up onscreen. Ah-ha, an old Bajoran trick of getting information past enemy listening posts by hiding text in images. A message couldn't be unlocked without a password, and the image itself offered a clue. I downloaded the image to my PADD and typed Odo's name.
I tried odo'ital
Oh, of course. What went in the bucket?
I typed the word. Nothing
Dabo! I was in! The message scrolled across the PADD screen. I really wish I hadn't taken a sip of my tea just then.
It is at Odo's request that I send this to you off the record. He is expecting. Please return immediately. Do not inform Starfleet.
I didn't just spit my tea everywhere. I also dropped the mug on my foot. The pain shocked me into rational thought. Starfleet expected me back on Earth tomorrow, but I knew this serendipitous development meant Odo needed me more. I required an excuse, fast. A sneeze from someone walking by outside gave me the perfect idea. Turning to the console, I initiated a priority one communication with President Jaresh-Inyo.
The President's craggy face appeared on my screen. I faked a cough. "Sir, I'm afraid I can't travel to Earth at this time."
He narrowed his eyes at me. "Mora, we need you."
"I'm aware of that and I am truly sorry. I'm afraid I've come down with Rugalan fever." I coughed again, for effect. "You know how debilitating the headache is."
"Eugh, I can't have you infecting us with it at such a crucial time. Contact me again for transport when you're cleared for travel. I hope you realize how inconvenient this is, Mora."
"I'm well aware. I'm just as put out by this as you are." I said "I'll keep filing daily research reports."
Everything fell silent after the screen went dark. I sat back in my chair and looked down at the spilled tea. It created a deep purplish-brown stain on the pale tan tiles. Sunlight from the oval window across the room gave the puddle a white sheen. A small hologram of a sprightly blonde female in a flowing red gown floated nearby. Her bottomless green eyes wrenched my soul. She stood in that oval of sunshine when I asked for her hand in marriage. Later, she sat cross-legged on the same spot to tell me I was going to be a father.
I still remember the morning when I woke up and she did not. My beautiful Leruu died from a terrible fever before we felt the child move in her womb. I threw myself into my work to avoid the grief. My mourning wasn't even a year past when I was handed the jar labeled odo'ital
Odo's hologram hovered next to Leruu's. He was beaming in delight after noticing the first spring flowers on a shrub in my garden. I took several pictures over the years. My work with him required it. But that
was the only one showing a smile. It disappeared as soon as he spotted me holding the holo-imager. He hated the reminders of being studied instead of raised.
I picked up my tea mug. The throbbing in my foot gradually went away.
Speaking of Odo-- I could hardly wrap my brain around the news! I knew nothing of how his people reproduced. Being able to study his physiology during this wondrous biological event meant learning a great deal more about his species.
I took a holo-image of my bruised toes, encrypted it with the word 'purple' and added my reply.
I will be on the first transport to your location.
Though I hated the deception, I sent my colleague, Doctor Weld, a message stating I was returning to Deep Space Nine for treatment of my "fever." That way he could truthfully claim ignorance in the event Starfleet discovered my plans.
Less than an hour later I boarded the transport shuttle bound for Deep Space Nine.
Doctor Julian Bashir met me outside the station's Infirmary. I found him to be quite a handsome young man with observant eyes and steady hands.
"I came seeking treatment for Rugalan fever," I said with a wink. "Can you do anything for this headache?"
"Ah, let's get you inside for a full physical and go from there." Doctor Bashir led me straight into his office. I stared in awe at the information he brought up on his console.
"This is the scan from seven hours ago," he told me.
I let my eyes rove over the data. Normally, Odo's humanoid form was a tightly packed gel with an overall surface density of one-point-four. That number never changed unless he shape shifted. The scans I was looking at now showed the surface area of his upper torso reading at two-point-zero. Inside that space, it measured one-point-six. The rest of his biology appeared normal.
Doctor Bashir showed me the image scan. I gazed at Odo's rudimentary lungs-- nothing more than two hand-sized air sacs that let him speak and regulate his temperature for easier shape shifting. Inflating these air sacs consisted of dilating the available space in his chest cavity, which lowered his internal pressure. To release the air, he simply contracted it. This movement created the illusion that he breathed like a humanoid.
And between those 'lungs', sitting where most humanoids have a heart, was the spherical pocket containing a tiny puddle of moving liquid.
"Well I'll be!" I clapped a hand over my own chest. "What is your hypothesis for this?
Doctor Bashir showed me his notes. "It's all here. Please excuse me. Morn is contacting me about his foot rash again. One moment."
I nodded, moving away from the communications console to study the PADD in my hand.
Odo's brain still contained dormant morphogenic components while he was trapped in one form. Doctor Bashir suspected the dying infant Changeling sensed them when Odo poured it into its hands. By integrating itself into Odo's body, it reactivated those components and unlocked Odo's morphogenic matrix. Doctor Bashir speculated that the "conception" happened during the time Odo's body transformed from a solid humanoid to a Changeling again. The infant needed to pull matter and DNA from somewhere
to heal itself...and what better way to stabilize its own morphogenic matrix than to latch onto Odo's?
The infant's DNA pattern suffered intense degradation after its radiation exposure. To compensate, it used Odo's DNA to fill in the missing markers. The process confused Odo's body enough to wall the infant off without completely rejecting it, and the infant's influence resulted in the increased surface density to prevent its fragile gestational membrane from rupturing too soon.
I transferred the information to my personal PADD, taking care to triple-encrypt everything. Odo wanted this kept secret, and I didn't dare ponder the outcome if Starfleet got word of his condition. Fear comes from what people don't understand, and people seek to destroy what frightens them. I'll take this secret to my grave if I must.
"Yes, keep applying the cream until the bumps go down. I hope it helps. And might I suggest better fitting boots? Ah, you're welcome. Bashir out." Doctor Bashir finished speaking to his other patient.
"Were you able to take any chemical readings?" I asked.
"Yes, here." Doctor Bashir brought up those results.
Just what I expected
, I thought.
The infant depended on Odo for morphogenic enzymes, which kept all Changelings' morphogenic matrixes stable. A lack of this is why it apparently died in the first place. It couldn't leave Odo until it had enough of the enzymes in its system to produce them on its own and survive independently. I relayed this information to Doctor Bashir and we both added it to our notes. By tacit accord we didn't sync our PADDS.
"This is rather fascinating," the young doctor remarked. "What do you think?"
"A mother is essentially a life support system for the offspring, and that's exactly what Odo's body is doing." I said. My heart fluttered in my chest. "I'm surprised to see the infant already so active."
"I think it's been active for the past several days, and it's only just now big enough to notice." Doctor Bashir glanced over at me. "Is there anything you want to add?"
"Not at the moment, but don't hesitate to send for me if anything new comes up. Is Odo in his office?"
"He's always in his office at this time of day."
I smiled. "Then I'll pay him a visit. He's expecting me."
"Right. I'll see you later."
Doctor Bashir moved to let me exit the Infirmary.
A woman emerged from Odo's office as I approached. I recognized her by her auburn hair and red uniform. Major Kira Nerys looked amused, giggling to herself and shaking her head. She was heading towards Quark's bar.
"Major," I said politely to her.
Kira offered me a quick nod. "Doctor Mora. You're back awfully quick."
"Yes, something came up. Would you excuse me?"
"Of course." She kept walking, and I heard her giggle again in the turbolift.
I entered the still open doors. Odo sat behind his desk, surrounded by security consoles. Several PADDS were arranged in three perfectly neat piles and aligned so their edges followed the angles of the console. Oh, he could keep everything on one PADD, but that isn't his way. He always was obsessive about keeping things in order, and that included data. Even in the earliest days, he had trouble concentrating on his education in a cluttered room. I kept his lessons on separate PADDS to make them less daunting to him, and I found it interesting that he carried the habit over to his job.
Odo stood up for a proper greeting the moment I crossed his doorway. I noticed his outward appearance revealed nothing about the joyous secret he carried inside his chest. Emotionally, on the other hand...he acted genuinely glad to see me. That warmed my heart.
"Oh, Odo!" I smiled at him. "I came as soon as I heard!"
His expression briefly mirrored mine. He shrugged, sounding amused. "Well, I figured you would be delighted to be a 'grandfather."
A joke out of Odo? Fantastic!
"It's quite a miracle, isn't it?" I laughed and folded my hands together in front of me. "So, when are you off duty?"
"I take my final patrol at zero-hundred."
Odo shot me one of his long-suffering looks. "Crime doesn't only happen during the daytime hours."
His temper still ran hot as ever. Not wanting to spoil the positive atmosphere of our meeting, I acquiesced and gestured to his desk. "Yes, judging by the pileup. Which pile is the solved pile?"
Odo looked proudly at me. He tilted his head towards the largest pile and examined a PADD from the smallest.
"Well then, I'll be in my guest quarters taking a nap," I said. This situation required me at my best, and I couldn't give that on no sleep. "I'll be up again by the time your shift is over."
"Mmhmm," he glanced up from his PADD. "I'll see you later."
I departed to let Odo work. The few belongings I brought with me were delivered to my guest quarters by a lovely Vulcan woman wearing a Starfleet uniform. Seeing it reminded me to control my enthusiasm about Odo's condition.
I stripped myself to the waist and practically collapsed onto the standard-issue bunk.