Remnant

Kira's first rule, made just moments after she'd left Odo on his home planet, was "Don't cry." Not that there was much danger of that while she was on the job. There was always work to do on the station and with the new crew cycling in there were plenty of people to train. Or to intimidate anyway. Kira wasn't sure how much training was actually going on at least by her. She looked around Ops, scowled at one of the new officers and saw him turn away quickly. She doubted that he would have believed her capable of smiling, much less of crying.

She worked steadily through the shift, wondering as she often did, if Sisko was watching from wherever he was...shaking his head at the way she was running things. She suspected he was in the Celestial Temple with the other prophets, his attention on weightier matters than whether she had redecorated his office--an office she still felt like a squatter in--or was treating his people the way he'd have wanted. She didn't share that view with the others though, knew that the thought of Sisko's probable detachment would make Kasidy and Jake too sad. And sadness was something Kira didn't want to inflict on them, not when Kira had been through so much herself, not when she was all too familiar with the pain that they both were feeling. Kira was intimately acquainted with loss and emptiness and sheer heart wrenching loneliness. And with what she would never admit to anyone else but knew was a deep feeling of betrayal. Couldn't you fight for us? she thought to the unseen Sisko, to the now out-of-reach Odo. Couldn't you have stayed and chosen us instead of your damn causes? It wasn't a noble sentiment. But it was one that Kira struggled with often.

From Sisko's office she saw the Ops crew changing shift. A few of the old hands nodded to her as they left, but the new officers practically skulked out, not even glancing in her direction. She shrugged mentally. They weren't there to be her friends; she didn't care if they liked her or not.

She tried to bury herself in her work again. But soon the restlessness that had plagued her since the war with the Dominion began to rise again. Walk, she ordered herself, rising and heading for the back exit. She needed to walk and burn off some of this energy. She was tired of going to bed and not sleeping, spending the entire night staring at the ceiling and trying not to cry.

She walked the outer ring, nodding to the personnel she passed. She wandered past some empty docking bays, then turned to inspect the echoing cargo bays on the far side of the station. Business was light right now; the Ops crew was directing incoming traffic to dock near the main ring. She had this area all to herself.

She heard a noise and whirled, hands coming up instinctively as she prepared to fight whoever it was that was there. The sound came again and she realized it was just the creak of old Cardassian metal. She made a mental note to send an engineering team down to this bay to run some structural integrity checks. Deep Space Nine might be a new post for Star Fleet, but Terek Nor was anything but new, and years of little upkeep and her own people's sabotage had played havoc with the struts and supports.

In her memory, she remembered tossing a concussion grenade into a cargo bay just down the corridor from this one. She could see the small explosion flaring, feel her feet hitting the deck as she ran from the opening to escape the crushing blast. She had waited, counting slowly as she'd been taught by Shakaar. Then she'd crept back to look into the cargo bay. The sharp tang of Cardassian blood had met her as the door had hissed open. The smile on her face had grown as she'd taken in the bodies, had realized that no one had survived. She'd hurried away, making it back to her work area before anyone had realized she'd been missing. Although Odo had given her a strange look.

Odo.

She felt something in her chest constrict, was amazed as always that heartache could hit so close to the actual organ. That pain could fill her just at the memory of him, and at the knowledge that he had left her.

He didn't love me enough, part of her whispered. The Kira who understood sacrifice and the concept of the greater good told that other part to shut up. But the thought remained, hovering on the edges of her mind.

He did love her, she told herself. He had loved her for so long, had been her lover for so much less time. Why had she waited? Why had it taken her so long to find him when he had been standing in front of her the whole time? She smiled, a sad smile as she remembered how he had kissed her once in this cargo bay. His body spreading to surround her, to envelope her in golden warmth. The sensation of being safe, being held forever, had overcome her then, as it had every time he loved her. She doubted she would ever feel that safe again. She heard her breath catch as she imagined his hands on her, almost heard his whispered, "Nerys."

She forced away the pain that was threatening to overcome her, striding out of the bay, into the corridor and making a beeline for the promenade. She should not be alone. Not now. She headed for Quark's, hoping to see Ezri or Julian. But they weren't there. She slid into a booth, muttering a drink order at the waitress, and leaning back in her seat, as she willed her mind to stop thinking of Odo, willed her heart to stop wanting him.

Heavy steps on the stairs sounded behind her, someone was coming down from the holosuites. She thought it might be her friends, was about to get up, urge them to join her when she realized there were too many voices to be Ezri and Julian. And the voices were too young and enthusiastic, not worn and wary from war and too much loss. Some new crewmen, she realized, sitting still as they settled into the booth behind her, the tall divider keeping them from realizing she was there.

"Well, I don't see what the big deal is," one of them said. "He sings. And he tells jokes that aren't funny."

"Well, he's always on, and the other rooms were booked. It was Vic Fontaine or nothing," another one answered.

Kira hadn't been to see Vic since Odo left. Didn't want to be reminded of how her romance with Odo had started, didn't want to talk to Vic about how it had ended.

"Someone must like him if he's on all the time," Kira heard another one murmur.

"Probably Colonel Kira. I bet Quark's too scared of her to turn the program off."

Another voice, one she thought she recognized as belonging to Lieutenant Chalmer from Ops, said, "Can't see it. Vic's human. And Kira...Kira's inhuman."

Kira rolled her eyes. Of course she was inhuman. And she was glad of it.

Then one of the others, it sounded like the new comms officer Lieutenant Teraya, murmured, "And too angry for a Bajoran."

Kira nearly got up, wanted to pull herself into the rigid posture that seemed to so intimidate them and give them all a dressing down. How dare they judge her? How dare they presume to judge her people? They weren't all serene mystics for Prophets' sake. They hadn't fought the Cardassians as long and hard as they had by being soft, by being incapable of anger.

Kira looked down then, saw that she was digging her fingernails into her palms so hard that the skin was about to tear, blood pooling under the surface just waiting for a chance to seep out, to show her anger, her hurt to the world. She slowly uncurled her fingers, forcing herself to lay her hands on the table and take a deep breath...then another. Her palms throbbed where the blood was even now turning into a set of blisters. She sat quietly until her neighbors got up, started to leave. She saw Chalmer go pale as he seemed to realize she had been in the booth, could have heard him.

"Lieutenant," she said, her voice betraying nothing but she knew her eyes grew increasingly cold as she looked at him.

"Colonel," he said, with an audible gulp before he could get the word all the way out. He practically ran out of Quark's.

"You're chasing away my business. Again." Quark said from behind her.

"They were already leaving," she replied without turning to look at him. She listened to the clink of the glasses as he picked them up and carried them to the bar, then the sound of his rag brushing across the table as he wiped it down.

He moved to her table, looked at her barely-touched drink. "And you're not much of a customer yourself," he groused, sitting down across from her despite her having given him no indication that he was welcome.

She stared at him hard, trying to show him that she didn't want company, especially not his. But he leaned back and watched her, his expression not even wary. When had he stopped being afraid of her? she wondered. Was it when she'd fallen in love with Odo? Had she shown him how soft she could be? How vulnerable?

Kira's second rule was "Don't let them see how much Odo's leaving hurt you." She moved, taking pleasure in the strength of her body as she slid out of the booth and stood up in one graceful motion. She looked down at Quark, kept her eyes cold and hard as she tried to show him how dangerous she was.

But as he whispered, "I miss him too," she realized that somehow she'd only shown the Ferengi how damaged she was.

Don't cry, she thought fiercely. She nodded shortly, moved away before Quark could see how hard she was fighting for control. She turned to the entrance, saw Ezri and Julian come in and the intense couple-ness of them suddenly sent her reeling in the other direction up the stairs and into the holosuites. Back to the Las Vegas nightclub she'd sworn she wouldn't set foot in again.

"Long time, no see, doll face." Vic's voice was full of amusement not censure. "Didn't figure you for darkening my doorway anytime soon."

She turned to go.

"Don't run away on my account."

"I'm here by accident," she said weakly as she took the few steps that would let her escape.

"Computer. Add Nanook," Vic said, loud enough for her to hear.

There was a strange sound in Vic's voice, enough to make her turn around as someone started to play the piano. She felt something deep inside her seize up and bit her lip hard to keep from crying as she watched a perfect replica of Odo staring over at her. "You bastard," she cursed Vic softly.

"You can't keep it all inside."

She stood as if paralyzed. Her mind was screaming at her to leave, but other parts of her wanted to go to the Odo hologram, wanted to hold him even though she knew it wasn't Odo, knew it could never be Odo. "You're lucky I'm not an engineer," she said to Vic.

He nodded, no smile on his face as he walked toward her. "I've no doubt you'd dismantle my program in three shakes." He touched her arm gently, nudged her forward, to a chair at a table in the back of the room.

"The people that just left here would thank me." She looked down. "They might even like me for it." She added, "For once," under her breath.

He laughed. "Those punks? Who cares what they think?" He reached up to loosen his tie and undo the top button of his shirt, then he shrugged out of his tux, folding it over his arm. He began to roll up one of his shirtsleeves, asking her, "Do you care what they think? Do you want them to like you?"

"Of course not." She shot him an annoyed look.

"What do you want, Colonel?"

I want Odo back, she thought but did not say. I want him to choose me. To choose to stay with me, not return to a people that I'm not even convinced are worth saving. But she answered in the tight, shallow truth that allowed her not to lie. "I want the station to run efficiently."

Vic smiled knowingly, as if somewhere he had translated her answer into the unspoken truth. He turned to watch the Odo hologram. "It's not really Odo."

"You think I don't know that?" She tried to temper her irritation as she said, "Get rid of him."

"Hurts, doesn't it? Seeing him this way? Knowing you can't have him? That he's probably never coming back?" He backed up as her hands slammed down on the table. "I know, I know, some bedside manner I've got. But Colonel, if you don't face the truth and let some of that sadness out, you're going to explode. I've seen some pretty intense pressure cookers in my time, but you take the cake."

She kicked away from the table, felt the chair almost fall backwards as she scrambled out of it. "You know what, Fontaine? You can take your fake Odo and your fake Vegas and your fake insight and--"

The feeling of a hand on her arm stopped her before she could finish the angry thought. She spun around, saw Odo--the Odo hologram standing close to her, a look of infinite tenderness on his face. "Nerys?"

It was the voice of memory. The ghostly whisper from the cargo bay. And it unleashed a raw, crippling anger; Kira pushed him away from her. "You're not Odo."

"What if he were?" Vic said softly. "What would you say to him?"

She turned, punched hard, planning to connect with Vic's face, to wipe that knowing smile off his face. Her hand sailed through him, making no contact. She felt her shoulder wrench as her arm extended farther than it should have if there had been something to hit. "Damn," she swore, unconsciously using Sisko's favorite swearword.

"You think I couldn't see that coming a mile away, sweetheart? My mama didn't raise me to be a fool, or to stay solid when in the vicinity of a very cranky alien." He moved closer. "What would you say to him? If he were Odo?" Then he turned on his heel and walked out of the bar into his apartment, leaving Kira alone with the not-quite Odo.

"Nerys?" The Odo hologram touched her again, tentatively this time she realized, as if he was afraid she'd try to strike out at him too. But he didn't have to worry, his voice--the perfect twin of Odo's--touched her, stilled her.

She could never hurt Odo. Too bad the reverse wasn't true. "You left me," she whispered, looking away then down, anywhere but at him. She knew he'd have no idea what she was talking about.

But he did understand. "I had to. My people needed me."

She met his eyes, saw the calm gentleness reflected, the inner peace she'd seen in Odo's eyes as he'd left her to join his own kind. "Damn Vic," she cursed.

"Don't blame him, Nerys." The Odo hologram moved closer. "He didn't program me."

"He didn't?" she asked, realizing even as she did that of course it was exactly the kind of thing the real Odo would do...would do for her.

"Odo was worried about you. You were being so noble. So understanding. But he could see how this was tearing you up inside."

She looked away. Her third rule was never to let anyone see how damaged she was inside, how utterly destroyed. Not just by Odo's departure, but by life, the scars made by her choices, the wreckage left by the things she'd done, the things she'd had to do. She never showed that, not to anyone. Not even to a hologram of her dearest love. "I'm fine." Her tone was supposed to be breezy, it barely sounded sane.

She could feel the pain welling up inside. So much of it, for so long. All the deaths of her childhood, the losses. Then all the deaths she'd caused. During the Occupation, she'd had to become hard; the Resistance hadn't been for the soft, for the weak. She'd grown layers of strong calluses over her heart, over her emotions. They hid the damage, covered over the empty holes and rotting memories. She tried to push the pain down, tried to push it away into the recesses of her being, where she could control it. But it wouldn't stay put.

"You're not fine, Nerys. You're a long way from fine." The Odo hologram sat down at the table, gestured for her to take the chair across from him.

Kira laughed then. Only Odo would have known not to touch her when she was in this state. Only Odo would have known that while she would flee from any offer of comfort, the promise of sanity, of even the veneer of normalcy, would get her to sit down, to make nice as Vic might say. She sat. "So what do I do...?" She could not bring herself to call him by Odo's name.

He smiled, and his face was so familiar, so beloved that her breath caught. When had his strange, smooth face become so attractive to her? Had it been even before Vic's intervention? And how odd that she could love Odo's face on Odo so much and be equally repelled by the similar face on the female shapeshifter. On the woman who had taken him away from her. "The woman," she repeated out loud, not meaning to and hoping as she did that the Odo hologram wouldn't realize who she was talking about.

And he didn't seem to. He shook his head, as if reading her mood but unsure what her thoughts were, uncertain what to say next. Then he cocked his head and his eyes narrowed in the affectionately worried way Odo had of looking at her when she was being difficult.

Kira closed her eyes, pressed them tightly down to keep the tears back. Rule one, she reminded herself. Rule one.

Rule one in the Resistance had been to never let them take you alive. She laughed bitterly. Her new rules all centered on behaving as if she were already dead, as if the pain she felt inside her couldn't touch her. "I miss you," she whispered, and immediately wished she could take the words back. They did not go with her rules. They did not go with the hard, impenetrable Colonel who ruled the Station and her own emotions with an iron hand.

The Odo hologram reached out then, his hand open, waiting for her to take it. "He misses you too," he said, suddenly distancing himself from the Odo she had loved. Suddenly making it all right for her to reach out, to let his hand envelope hers. "He misses you so much."

She hung her head, felt the tears threaten again, tried to blink them away.

"Let them fall," the hologram said in Odo's voice, in Odo's gentle tone. "It's okay to let go."

She stopped fighting and allowed herself to cry, her tears splashing on the white tablecloth. "He left me. How could he leave me?" She hated how plaintive her tone sounded, how like a child she was behaving. Even if she had never acted like this when she was a child. The deprivations of the camps had not made her cry, how could the loss of just one man?

"He had to." The Odo hologram's hand tightened on hers. "He gave up the one person he loved most to save his people. Do you understand that, Nerys? The person he had waited so long to win, he had to give up. He didn't want to. Even at the last, he was still thinking that maybe he could not go, could stay here with you. Forever. Happy."

She did look up then, saw the torn expression on the hologram's face. "He couldn't," she said. "It wouldn't be Odo." She could feel her face crumpling, the words difficult to get out for all the emotion she was feeling. "I wouldn't have loved him if he were a man who could turn his back on his people." Then she broke inside, her sobs coming deep and loud, as if some terrible primitive pain were being dredged up from inside her. The hologram said nothing, just held her hand as she cried out her anguish, her loneliness. When she finally stopped her eyes throbbed and her head ached. But the tightness in her chest felt as if it had eased somewhat. She wiped at her face with her free hand, trying to get rid of the evidence of her tears.

"You're so beautiful. Not just on the outside," the Odo hologram said as he got up, walked around the table and tipped her head up so that he could kiss her gently on the lips. "But on the inside too, Nerys. On the inside, you glow."

She shook her head as he pulled away. "No. On the inside, I'm broken glass." She sighed. "It's all sharp edges and jagged pieces. I move and I cut myself. I cut everyone else too." She looked at him entreatingly. "What should I do?"

He smiled and shook his head. "I'm just a poor copy. I don't have any answers." He looked toward the door of Vic's apartment, where Vic stood watching them. "What do you think, Vic?"

Kira wondered how long Vic had been listening. Then realized that if he had been it was because Odo had wanted it that way when he programmed his hologram. "What do you think?" she repeated, trying to show that she accepted Vic's role in this.

"Shattered glass, huh?" At her nod, he walked toward her. "You could melt it down and make something new. Something beautiful."

"Like what?"

Vic laid a hand on her chest, just above her breast, his touch solid and warm. "Like understanding. Like empathy. Like compassion. You understand pain, Kira. You understand loneliness and sacrifice. You don't have to let it distance you from everything and everyone around you. It could bring you closer to others."

She frowned.

"Kira, those kids that were in here earlier. They didn't like me because they thought I didn't get them. They're far from home and they're missing the people they love and maybe they're a little bit scared. They weren't listening to the words of my songs, they were just taking in the glitz and the hoopla of this place and not even getting that I was singing about what they were feeling. About what everyone feels. Even you." He motioned to the hologram, "Come on, I need some accompaniment on the ivories."

The Odo hologram followed him to the stage. He stole a glance back at her, his look a perfect copy of Odo's when her lover had been feeling especially tender. She bit back a sob.

He shook his head slowly, as if accepting she was never quite going to let go of her control.

"May as well stay for the show, doll. This Odo's gonna turn into a pumpkin as soon as you leave." At her confused frown, Vic laughed. "I mean that your Odo programmed this one not to stick around. He didn't want you getting too fond of him."

She nodded, unreasonably glad of Odo's precautions. She just might have been tempted to try to lose herself in this holographic version of the man she loved.

"Why don't you move up? Plenty of room down close," Vic said.

She shook her head. "The perspective's better from here."

Both he and the Odo hologram grinned. "Now you're getting it," Vic said.

She stayed in the lounge for their entire set. Only getting up as the Odo hologram pulled his hands away from the keys, turned to look at her. "Good night, Nerys."

"Good night, Odo." It felt good to say it. Even if it wasn't real. She smiled at Vic. "He's the best."

"He is. Wherever he is, Kira, he loves you. Never doubt that."

"Though world's may come between us," she said, repeating the lyrics of one of the songs he'd sung.

"He loves you," the Odo hologram finished softly. "He will always love you."

She stared for a long moment, drinking in the sight of him, then she turned and walked out of the holosuite. Quark's was noisy as she made her way down the stairs and out of the bar, working her way through the promenade to the lift that would take her to her quarters. For once, sleep came easily, finding her almost as soon as she closed her eyes. And when she woke, she felt something she hadn't felt in a long time. A small glimmer of hope.

As she walked to Ops she saw Jake coming toward her. His face wore the tight, shut-down expression she recognized as a mirror to the one that she'd been wearing for so long. She catalogued pain, hurt, and loneliness in the way he held himself, the set of his jaw. As he passed her with a half smile and a nod, she called after him. He turned slowly, his expression wary. She saw him straighten, realized he might have rules of his own and the thought of that broke her heart.

She took a step toward him, felt her eyes tear up a little and didn't try to hide her emotion. "I miss your father, Jake."

His eyes widened in surprise. Everyone was so careful, she realized, to act as if everything was all right. As if the fact that this young man's father had disappeared was a tragedy you shouldn't refer to, should avoid at all costs.

"I miss Odo," he said softly.

She realized that everyone had been treating her the same way. Avoiding the subject, trying to act as if everything was okay. She reached out, tightened her hand on his. "They're going to have a lot of making up to do," she said, the joke hard despite her resolve to make it.

She thought he was going to close down on her, his eyes seemed to shutter and his lips tightened. She held her breath.

Then he seemed to relax. "They sure are," he said, his enthusiasm for the game clearly forced, but in his eyes Kira saw a slight glimmer of the hope she'd felt.

"I understand how you feel. What you're going through. If you want to talk?"

He stared at her for a long time. Then he said in a rushed whisper, "I have some things I wrote. To say goodbye. They're too hard...too sad for Kasidy right now, I mean with the baby coming and her still trying to find Dad. But maybe you could read them sometime?"

She smiled. "I'd like that. You bring them by whenever you're ready to show me."

He nodded, seemed reluctant to leave her.

She smiled as she let go of his hand. "I'm not going anywhere, Jake."

He smiled then and for an instant she saw the young boy who had grown up on the station, who had turned into this fine young man who shouldn't be carrying such raw pain inside him. Then the boy was gone, and the man turned and walked away from her. But she thought that maybe his walk was a little bit lighter.

She felt the ghost of a smile begin as she got into the lift, was still smiling as she stepped into Ops. Chalmer saw her and pulled away from Lieutenant Teraya, who giggled at something he said under his breath. Kira could feel her face tighten, and she didn't fight it. She'd try to make something beautiful out of the wreckage inside her. She would. But she still had to be true to who she was. And she was the toughest, most resilient fighter the Bajoran Resistance had ever seen. And that was not something she wanted these children that Star Fleet had assigned to her to forget.

Teraya's grin faded and she turned back to her station. Chalmer gulped as he had in Quark's and busied himself with some readings. Kira realized that everyone was studiously avoiding looking at her. Good. They understood how dangerous she was.

She walked over to Chalmer's station, watched him work for a moment. When he finally looked up at her she said, "I've been meaning to tell you, Lieutenant, that was nice work the other day with the Morcradian delegation. Could have been sticky if you hadn't rerouted them away from the Tellarites."

His mouth dropped open as she walked away. She realized it had become very quiet in Ops and she had to fight to hide a smile, as she said, in near perfect imitation of Benjamin Sisko at his best, "Well, carry on, people. We have work to do." And for the first time, as she walked into Sisko's office, it actually felt like hers.

FIN