Dinner brought even more guests into the bar than there had been at lunch. Which would have cancelled newcomers out, except that the richly dressed stranger managed to hit it off with Jadzia from the moment she arrived after work, and had charmed her into offering him and Morn seats at the table she had booked for herself and Worf. By the time Worf arrived, back from taking the Defiant to look for any lingering Dominion scouts in the immediate area and over-doing the job with his usual dutiful thoroughness, she and the alien were busy setting up a poker game in the middle of half- eaten dishes. Judging by the manner Worf glowered throughout the first round, this did not sit well with her intended. Quark didn't even make the effort to feel bad about it.
"Let me guess," he said when Worf stalked towards the bar and ordered more prune juice, "another old friend of Curzon's?"
"His hair is ridiculous," Worf growled, which had nothing to do with anything. "And he has no honour." Then he took a deep breath, and fixed his angry gaze on Quark. "Ferengi," he said stiffly, "I wish to enter into an arrangement with you."
Now that was surprising, to put it mildly.
"Oh?" said Quark, resisting mentioning that since he addressed Worf as "Commander" and not "Klingon", Worf's approach at opening negotiations could bear improvement, but then, what about Worf couldn't?
"My parents - my human parents - will be unable to attend the wedding," Worf rumbled. "This is a grievous disappointment to my mother. Therefore, I want to order a holorecording."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Quark said agreeably. "Of course, it also sounds expensive. How much is Martok paying you these days?"
"It should be your honour to provide your services for free, as you claim to be Jadzia's friend," Worf said, reaching for moral indignation but not quite succeeding, as far as Quark was concerned. He smiled, showing all his teeth.
"But this isn't for Jadzia," he replied. "It's for you, right? Of course, if you want to put yourself in my debt..."
"You will be paid," Worf said hastily. They haggled for a while about the exact price, but Quark knew very well that no one else on DS9 had the equipment to make a holorecording right now, and with the war going on, it wasn't as if supplies were easily available. In the end, he got what he wanted, though he had the uncomfortable suspicion that once Jadzia found out about it, she would go behind Worf's back and reopen negotiations. He still owed her from their last tongo game.
Watching her laugh with the stranger, he couldn't resist needling Worf a bit more. "So, did you look up Trill rituals yet?" he asked.
Worf, who had also watched Jadzia, looked annoyed, then amazed.
"Come on," Quark said, getting into the swing of things. "She's ready to do all this Klingon stuff for you. Surely you can show some respect for Trill customs. Tell me you'll at least do the Hereto'An. I mean, most of the people shouldn't be that hard to find."
"I have never heard of such a ritual," Worf declared, but you could see the grinding wheels turning behind the furrowed brow. No, he definitely hadn't looked up Trill rituals, which was just as well, since Quark hadn't, either. But Worf was such an easy mark tonight. "Yet... you do have a point," Worf continued, grudgingly. "It is only fitting that I honour Jadzia's heritage as she honours mine. What does this Hereto'An entail?"
Under the pretext of needing to clean some glasses, Quark cautiously went a few steps away, out of Worf's immediate arm reach, before replying.
"Well, the bridegroom gets to interview all the lovers of the bride he can find and asks them about the things that please her most. So he can truly be prepared for..."
Worf was fast, one had to give him that. Despite Quark's precaution, he found himself dangling above the floor, his throat in immediate danger of being crushed by Worf's hands.
"This is not a good day for you to die, Ferengi," Worf hissed.
Quark couldn't have agreed more, but he wasn't in a position to speak. Not that he was seriously worried about his life to begin with. Starfleet frowned on that sort of thing. On the other hand, Worf could end up sending him to the infirmary with some crushed ribs, and the thought of lying there, where Bashir had only recently done his autopsies on Ziyal and all the other dead bodies that were there after the siege, was stomach turning.
"Let him down, Commander," said a familiar gravelly voice, and Quark could breathe again. "The direct approach seldom works with Quark."
Quark massaged his throat while Worf gave him a disgusted look and stomped back to the table where Jadzia sat, blissfully unaware and chatting with Morn and the stranger. When he trusted his voice again, he said, his eyes still on Jadzia instead of Odo:
"I suppose you expect thanks now."
"Spare me," Odo replied. "But you could enlighten me on the extent of your stupidity. Where is the profit in provoking Worf, Quark?"
"What do you care?" Quark shot back. Since this normally would have been just the opening salvo, both of them waited, but Odo didn't go for the obvious pontificating about his duties to keep order. The sudden silence felt extremely awkward. Finally, Quark did turn around. Odo had his arms folded and looked down on him, his unfinished face striving for puzzlement. Quark drew another shuddering breath.
"No, really," he said, "what do you care? I mean, believe it or not, I get the Changeling thing. I'm a Ferengi, and I'm proud of it. If I got stuck with only you lot the entire time and suddenly another Ferengi showed up to deal with, I'd feel like they let me into the Divine Treasury, too. But you see, Odo, you have to bid to get in there. You have to know what you're willing to bargain with. What your assets are."
"Is there a point to this?" Odo said, without moving, and Quark suddenly wondered whether Garak still had that device one could use to interrogate shapeshifters with. Come to think of it, he hadn't seen Garak the entire afternoon, and that was odd, because Garak had wanted something from him and they hadn't had the chance to finish their conversation. But now was not the time to get sidetracked. If Odo wanted to have it out, well, why not. Perhaps then he would be able to sleep without dreams at last.
"Rom could have died," Quark said quietly. "He would have died, if the Dominion hadn't locked up Kira as well. And there's no way I would have bargained with that, Odo."
He waited for the mocking rejoinder, for Odo to say something along the lines of Nog's angry words earlier today, about Ferengi and their willingness to do anything for a price. But Odo said none of this. Instead, he said softly:
"Perhaps... we are even less alike... than I had thought."
Something hard and chocking in Quark's throat, more choking than Worf's fist had ever been, started to dissolve, very slowly, yet unmistakably. This was as close as Odo would get to an apology, and it was an acknowledgement that what he had done had been wrong. It wouldn't do to dwell on it, though; it never did. The occupation was over, after all, and perhaps it was really possible to begin anew.
"You bet," Quark said neutrally.
"Not," Odo declared in his most dignified manner, "in your establishment. I had three reports complaining that there is even more cheating going on than usual today. Where is this Mollari person?"
Quark pointed towards Jadzia's table, and was stupefied. The stranger was gone. Considering that the man had appeared to be utterly incapable of doing anything quietly throughout the entire afternoon and evening, it was extremely unlikely that he had just slipped out. Besides, Jadzia, Morn and Worf looked as confused and curious as Quark felt. If the bar hadn't had a security shielding against transporter beams, this would be a tad more explicable, but as it was...
"Your transporter barrier must have been broken," Odo said, obviously thinking along the same lines. This didn't look good at all. Quark hastened to check on his safe, but its contents were all present and accounted for. Once he had made sure of this, he returned to the bar, only to find the newly arrived Chief O'Brien in the middle of everyone's attention.
"...and that was when I realized that we had registered something similar before," he said. "Whenever one of those blokes from the other universe crossed over."
Bashir whistled. "So that was where he came from?"
"Not exactly," O'Brien said. "It wasn't quite the same frequency. Must have been yet another universe, if you ask me. Also, the method appeared to have been relying on balance - someone of our universe had to switch over to theirs at the same time."
"Do we know who?" Jadzia asked.
Given that he had been wondering about Garak's disappearance himself, Quark had a pretty good idea. He also knew that he wouldn't see any of the stranger's winnings again, and hadn't Odo mentioned cheating, in the plural form? He had spotted the bit with the Dabo wheel and some appendage, but nothing else. Clearly, he was the injured party, and true to form, nobody was paying attention to their exploited host.
"...and when Garak materialized in Ops, I figured I had solved the problem," O'Brien went on. Ah well. Considering that he was going to give all the holosuites an overhaul tomorrow, he was probably entitled to the balm of public admiration today. As Worf and Odo conferred about whether this entire episode should be considered as a threat to station security, Quark used the opportunity to return Jadzia's silver pin to her. It wouldn't do for the thing to remain languishing in his safe, after all, when it looked much prettier in her hair.
"Thank you," she said, smiling at him, and used the sleight of hand abilities she had inherited from Tobin Dax to pull out something from his left ear while she was holding the pin in her other hand.
"You know I hate it when you do that," Quark muttered, and she shook her head.
"No, you don't. Look at it. Shouldn't that be in your safe? It's not like the owner will return any time soon."
He looked. It was delicately crafted brooch with a rich red jewel in its centre, and after a heartbeat, he recognized it as something the stranger had worn.
"Yes, it should be," he confirmed, returning her smile, and pocketed the brooch, unnoticed by either Worf or Odo. The strange sensation of lessening weight the conversation with Odo had left him with spread through his body, and he suddenly realized he felt happy, in a fashion. Maybe she would marry Worf soon, but there was a part of her, the part that gambled and flirted and pilfered, which the Klingon would never have, or understand.
After locking the brooch away, Quark returned his bar, determined to end the evening on a cheerful note. He even considered telling Leeta to finish her shift on the Dabo wheel early, so she could be with Rom.
And then he saw Morn, who had returned to his usual seat at the bar. Poor, companionless Morn, looking at him with those expressive eyes of his which just asked for another drink. Morn, who still hadn't been told about the impending sacrifice he was going to make for the general harmony in the universe in general, and Quark's Bar in particular. Surely, Morn would take it well. Surely, Morn would not get upset, and accusatory. Not him.
"Morn," Quark said, clearing his throat which suddenly felt swollen again, "there is something I've been meaning to tell you..."