Where or When by Djinn

Vic closed his eyes as he leaned back into his couch. He didn't sleep, didn't need to rest. Could relax at will, if he just put his mind to it. And he tried but gave up when the tension didn't go away. He wasn't sure why, but he needed to move, needed to walk.

He wanted to go somewhere other than this godforsaken room that held the programming that didn't quite contain him.

He could jump into one of the other rooms if he wanted; that was as close as he could come to freedom if he stayed in 'form.' If he allowed himself to shift back to electrons, he could roam the systems at will, but that wasn't quite the same thing.

He was bored. He was bored to death and lonely.

Everyone had transferred or was away on leave. Odo, Miles and Keiko, and Worf had left long ago. Even Julian and Ezri had gone, accepting new posts, embarking on new adventures just the two of them. Quark was on vacation on Risa. Kasidy never came in much, anyway--busy raising the Emissary's child. And Jake was back on Earth visiting his grandfather.

Only Kira was left. Kira who sometimes looked at Vic like he was the lowlife who'd ruined her world.

And maybe he had? It was his fault she and Odo had gotten together, after all.

He could hear the band warming up out in the lounge, and he suddenly wanted to be anywhere but here in the same old same old. "Computer, change lounge to Earth, New York City, Times Square."

"State time reference."

"1920's." He'd go back to Damon Runyon's time. A crazy time for New York, when incredible things could happen to a regular cat just hanging out on the street corner.

As the scene shifted around him, he morphed his clothing into what the proper swell was wearing back then.

"What just happened?" Kira walked around the corner, onto Broadway. In her Bajoran uniform, she stood out like a sore thumb.

"Hey, doll."

"Don't 'hey, doll' me. What happened to the lounge?"

He shrugged. "I changed it."

"But you can't. It runs twenty-six hours."

"I can change it anytime I want. Quark is the one who promised to keep his mitts off."

She looked around. "Where are we?"

"Earth. The Big Apple." He could see she didn't get the reference. "Back in the past. Walk with me, talk with me." Glancing over at her, he was surprised to see her fall into step with him. "Uh, no offense, Kira, but what are you doing here?"

"I'm not allowed in the lounge now?" She sounded defensive. Defensive and angry. Great--just what he needed. Cranky Colonel Kira starring in 42nd Street.

"You can go wherever the heck you want. You run the joint."

"And don't you forget it." But her sigh took the starch out of her words.

He reached over, took her hand and tucked it under his arm, the way a gent and gal would have walked back then. Kira looked at him sharply but didn't pull away. He wondered how long it had been since she'd touched anyone.

"So, Colonel, what's the what? Why darken my door at this late hour?"

"Couldn't sleep."

"Can't help you with that. But I can offer an alternative." He pulled her into a diner, shepherded her onto a counter stool, then took the one next to her. "Best blueberry pie in the world here."

"I'm not hungry."

"Well, that's 'cause you haven't smelled the pie yet. Warmed up in the oven. Ice cream melting on top. Mmmm-mmm. Heaven." He smiled at the waitress as she came up. "Two pieces of pie and two cups of joe. Heavy on the sugar for this one"--he cocked a thumb at Kira--"she could use some sweetening up."

"Sugar's right in front of you," the waitress said as she scribbled on a pad then left them alone. A moment later, she was back with their coffees.

"I'm not thirsty," Kira said.

"Look, I don't care if you drink it or not. Just as long as your boyfriend here pays up at the end of this dream date." The waitress scowled at them both before she left.

"Not my boyfriend," Kira muttered at the same time as Vic said, "Anything but a dream date."

He found himself smiling, realized she was biting back what looked like a grin. "Truce, Colonel?"

"Fine. Truce. And you called me Kira earlier."

"I was feeling cocky, I guess." He studied her, saw the deep circles under her eyes, the tightness of her mouth--maybe coffee had been a bad idea? Then again, if she already wasn't sleeping, would it really hurt that much? "What's eating you?"

It was the wrong approach. That much directness usually just made her shut down, and he knew better than to try it. She wasn't the only one off her game.

He tried again. "I know this must be a stressful time."

"Don't psychoanalyze me." She looked like she'd deconstruct him photon by photon if he tried.

"Gotcha. Ixnay on the ychoanlyzing-psay."

She stared at him.

"Guess they don't have Pig Latin on Bajor?"

"No." She poured sugar into her coffee--somehow Vic had known that's how she'd take it--and sipped at it gingerly.

"Are you lonely?"

"I said--"

"I know what you said. But what aren't you saying?" When she didn't answer, he said, "He's not coming back, Kira. I think the man's an idiot, but I don't believe Odo's coming back."

She looked ready to slug him.

"I'm only saying this because I think you need to talk about it. I think you need to open up to someone. And I'm safe. I'm not even real, right?"

"Oh, you're way too real, Vic. I'm not stupid."

He was saved from answering that by the arrival of their food. He saw her smile as the aroma of the best pie ever made hit her. He wished he could taste it the way she would soon be doing, but he knew the holosuite would whisk the food away when he tried to eat it.

He could almost relive it just by watching her. Her face seemed to lose every bit of tension as she took her first bite, and a slow smile spread over her face. After a few more bites, she looked over at him.

"Good, huh?"

Nodding, she went back to it, finishing every bit and washing it down with the joint's signature "put hair on your chest" coffee.

God, he used to adore good, strong coffee. He remembered mornings in Philly, waking up, reading the paper with buttered toast and coffee. But the memories weren't his. Felix had given him the real Vic's memories. Or he'd made up ones that seemed like they'd go with the real Vic. Who really knew? Vic certainly didn't--but the memories felt real to him.

Once Kira was finished with her coffee, he asked, "You wanna walk a little? Nothing like Times Square on a beautiful night."

"I don't want to talk about how I feel."

"Fine. No talking about that. We'll just walk."

They walked for over an hour, and he gave her a tour of a city he loved like his own. When they'd walked a little ways into Central Park, she finally called for a door, leaving him alone to his New York illusion.

He locked the holosuite door and stayed in the Big Apple for hours before he finally turned the lounge back on.

-------------

"I figured you out, Vic." Kira had on a harsh smile as she entered the lounge and walked toward him.

"Figured me out how?" He went back to plucking out melodies on the piano, as if he didn't care that she was here--or what she meant. What the hell did she mean?

She came and sat down next to him on the piano bench, and when he glanced over at her, she gave him a nasty little smirk.

"That's not a good look on you, Colonel."

"I'm not the lonely one here." She moved closer, and he could feel her solidity hitting up against the form he'd surrounded himself with. It felt a little like a tingle, a small shock of electricity as Bajoran energy met his own. "You're the one who's missing everyone, Vic."

He shrugged. "No shame in admitting that."

She stared at him, and he guessed it wasn't half as much fun needling him in person as she'd thought it would be when she'd come up with her big revelation. Or maybe she just felt sorry for him. Vic hated that idea a whole lot.

"No comeback?"

"It is, unfortunately, the truth." He didn't stop tapping the keys. "You're just a bundle of insight, Colonel. Now, you can go."

"You don't want me to go. Lonely, remember?" She got up and walked around the stage, stopping at the mike, staring out at the empty lounge.

"You want to un-rust those pipes?"

She frowned at him.

"Sing? You want to wow the crowd?"

"There is no crowd."

He laughed softly. "I could insert one, and you know that, doll."

She moved away from the mike quickly. "No, I don't want to sing."

"Go pour yourself a drink, then, and take a load off." He began to pick out the melody from "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," singing softly, "While the whole wide world is fast asleep, you lie awake and think about the boy and never, ever think of counting sheep."

He realized she was glaring at him, and smiled softly--and a little harshly. Two could play this game. But he stopped singing.

She poured herself a strong one, threw it back. "You were right. I do miss him."

He closed up the piano, slid off the bench, and walked over to the bar. He chose a stool and watched her as she stood behind the bar, playing with the labels on the booze.

"Sometimes I get so mad at him."

"Of course you do. He left you."

"But I know why he did it. And I respect his reasons. I support him." She was tap-tapping on the bar as she talked, and he wondered if she even knew she was doing it.

"Doesn't make it any easier. May make it harder. You can't just hate him outright and get over him."

"I don't want to get over him." She looked down. "I want him to come back."

"Do you think he will?"

She didn't meet his eyes, just shook her head very slowly. He had a feeling she'd never admitted before that she'd given up on Odo.

Suddenly she grabbed one of the bottles and flung it down the bar. It crashed against the wall, spraying everything near it with twelve-year old Scotch. She looked like she was heading for another bottle, so he caught her hand.

"Hurl those." He pointed to the house-brand end of the stash and let her go.

She picked up a bottle of gin and let it fly. It didn't have the same satisfying sound as the more expensive hooch. He was about to point her back to the good stuff, when she walked around the bar and settled onto the stool next to him.

"Didn't help?"

"It didn't."

"I could order you up some bad guys. You could kick their ass."

"Thanks, but no." She laughed softly and smiled at him.

He was struck by how soft she looked--how much younger--when she smiled. He was so used to the tough broad exterior she usually wore that it was almost a shock to see this gentler, more vulnerable Kira. Even if he'd known she was there all along. Knowing was one thing; seeing was a whole different package.

She patted his hand and slid off the stool. "Thanks, Vic."

"I didn't do anything." He looked down at the booze stains on the wall. "I think the catharsis was all you."

"You'll clean that up as soon as I leave, won't you?"

He nodded.

"Good." With a wry grin, she turned and walked out of the lounge.

---------------

The joint was jumpin', and Vic gave the crowd--real mostly tonight--his best. He saw a lot of new faces in the sea of people. A couple of the women were real lookers, and they were looking back.

Vic grinned. It'd been a long time since his program had been this popular. He finished the set and went to mingle and press flesh. Drinks had obviously been downed because the crowd was loose and happy to be there, talking animatedly with him as he stopped to see if they were enjoying the show.

He was nearly to the back of the lounge, when he saw Kira leaning against the wall, one foot resting on the wall, arms crossed over her chest, and a big grin on her face. With a graceful move she pushed herself away from the wall and walked over to him.

"Your doing?" He indicated the crowd.

She shrugged, but her eyes were flashing with amusement.

"What'd you do?"

"How was I to know the phrase, "First round is on the house" would get so many of them in here?"

"Did you clear that with Quark?"

"Did he clear that illegal shipment of Morlavian dance-dust with me?"

"Good point." He studied the people, could feel his smile fading. So they were just here for the free booze?

"I got them in here, Vic." She moved closer, took his arm the way he'd taken hers in New York. "But they stayed here for you. It was a great show."

"You're just saying that." He hoped she said more like that. It sounded terrific.

"Do me a favor?"

"Anything for someone who can fill the lounge."

"Sing that song you started the other day?"

"Kira, it's not a happy song and--"

"Just sing it, okay. I want to hear it all the way through."

He nodded, on impulse leaned in and kissed her cheek quickly. "Thanks for this, doll. This song isn't much in the way of gratitude."

He made his way to the stage, laughed at the sound the crowd made when the band started to play. They really did like him. Why the hell hadn't Quark tried some promotional maneuvers instead of just kvetching over the constant loss of sales?

"This one's for a friend." He saw Kira smile, knew that the crowd would never in a million years pick her as the recipient of this song.

Her smile faded as he sang the song. And she looked down when he hit, "In the wee, small hours of the morning, that's the time you miss him most of all."

Vic wished he could get out to that puddle of goo and beat some sense into Odo.

She started to walk out, and he said, "This one's for the same friend. If any of these places sound good...?" He murmured "Come Fly With Me" to the band and they hit it with gusto.

He saw her smile, then she left.

He'd hurt her. And she'd wanted him to. It wasn't how he did business. But grief was a funny thing. If you couldn't feel it for yourself, sometimes you needed something to pound it out of you.

He hated to think of himself as an emotional sledgehammer. But if it helped a friend, he'd be that for her.

It occurred to him that, before tonight, he'd have never considered Kira a friend.

-------------------

Quark walked into the lounge. For him, he looked serene.

"Nice vacation?"

"Is there any other kind on Risa?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Yeah, well, take my word for it, there isn't."

"Has Kira been there?"

Quark laughed. "Can you see her there?"

Actually, Vic imagined Risa to be a bit like Tahiti, and he could imagine Kira there easily. She'd wear the hell out of a pareo.

"So, you were popular while I was gone. I checked the ledgers."

"Yeah, biz was good. Place was packed." Apparently so packed that Quark hadn't realized he was missing the revenue from everyone's first round.

"Well, keep it up."

"Like you'd close me down. You may be a lowlife at times, Quark, but you honor your promises. Especially to family."

"That's why it's bad business to make promises to family, Vic. Last one I'm going to make." Quark seemed to be going for surly, but he was too mellow to get there. He turned to leave and stopped, staring at the entrance. "Colonel."

She strode down, boots hitting hard as she stared daggers at him. "Quark. So nice to see you back." Her smile was the utterly fake one she used with the Ferengi--the one that Quark loved. The man had a masochistic love of sparring with her.

"I know you missed me." He moved past her.

"I had your ship searched."

"Knew you would," he called over his shoulder. "You found nothing."

"Next time I will."

He waved that idea away and left.

As soon as the door closed, Kira laughed. "I didn't have his ship searched."

"Why not? You might have found something."

"I have guards on it. When he goes back to get whatever it is he thinks I didn't find, they'll confiscate it."

"Tricky. You'll burst his good mood bubble."

"He did seem to have a glow. Guess Risa's good for that."

"Have you been there?"

She nodded but didn't offer any details. He wondered if maybe it had been with Odo. Scratch Risa, then, as a good place to take her mind off of her lost love. It was a big universe, with lots of nice options. Where had she probably never been? Or when? She'd liked the twenties the last time.

"Are you hungry, Kira?"

She nodded.

"I've got a treat for you, then." He smiled as he ordered the lounge to change to Tijuana, Mexico, late 1920's. He invoked the privacy lock, didn't feel like being disturbed.

As the dusty--and pretty tacky looking--Avenida Revolucion opened up in front of them, she made a sound of dismay.

"Just wait," he said as he led her to Caesar's hotel, and back into the elegant restaurant.

"Nice," she murmured as they were led to a table by a tuxedoed maitre d'.

"I recommend the salad. It's their specialty." Vic spread his napkin over his lap. "And the Fettuccine is to die for."

"I'll trust you. You were right about the pie."

With a grin, Vic ordered for them, wishing that he could taste the salad for real. But he had memories of experiencing a Caesar's salad for the first time when he'd been south of the border with a beautiful young woman. Felix had spared no effort loading Vic up with lovely memories. Maybe that was part of what made him different?

Kira seemed eager to talk about normal things. She rambled on about what was going on at the station, and Vic filled her in on things he'd overheard--either normally or in his less-obvious travels through the system. Things she might need to know someday.

They finished their lunch, and he took her on a tour of Tijuana.

"It's a little...seedy. Why did people come here? I mean excellent salad notwithstanding?"

"At the time we are now, people came down here to escape prohibition. Over the years, it's always been a place to cut loose."

"I guess nothing changes."

"Not things like that, Kira." He grinned, thinking of all the ways--and all the wonderful places--he'd found to get into trouble.

"You know I have a given name. You could use it?" She smiled softly. "Try it."

"Nerys." It was a pretty name. Softer than Kira. Made him think of the sea for some reason. "I like it. It's a nice name."

"Thanks." She took his arm. "Why have you made me your project, Vic?"

"Hey, it was you that popped into the joint today. How do I know you haven't made me yours?"

"Maybe it's a mutual thing."

"Would that be so bad?" He patted her hand where it sat on his arm. "Two friends there for each other. Isn't that what friendship's all about?"

She seemed to have to think about that. "When I was growing up, friendship was more about alliances. Who you could trust, who would watch your back--that kind of thing."

Vic thought back to his youth in Philly. "Mine wasn't all that different, toots. Except a lot less of the mortal danger. But we had our gangs--our alliances. And those relationships usually had nothing to do with actually liking someone."

"Exactly."

"So you're saying you actually like me, Nerys?" He laughed softly, making it easy for her to take his question as a joke.

Even if it wasn't.

"I do." She stopped walking. "I have to get back to work. Can you take us back to the lounge?"

"You can do it. You don't need me."

"It's your home. Host's privilege and all that."

He grinned. "Computer, return to lounge program."

She waited a sec, then let go of his arm. "Thanks for lunch, Vic."

"My privilege." He winked at her as she turned and walked out, back to work, but at least with a full stomach.

---------

Vic hadn't seen Kira for a couple of days and was beginning to worry. A few week's ago, it would have taken a lot more time than that for him to notice her absence.

He worked his way through the crowded lounge, talking to the crew who'd crowded the joint. Quark stood off to the side, beaming at Vic, as if he'd done something special to get the people back in--Quark would never believe he had Kira to thank.

"Gotta hand it to you, Vic. Whatever you're doing, keep it up."

Vic shrugged. "Not my doing."

"Well, something sure has gotten this place reenergized in the hearts and minds of the paying public. If it isn't you, what is it?"

Vic thought it was probably the hope of another free round on the house, but he didn't tell that to Quark. Instead he looked around. "I think Kira's been talking up the place."

"Sure, she has. That's why she's out in my bar rather than in here."

Vic didn't have to work hard to not react. Part of the beauty of being a hologram.

But that may have been a mistake because Quark kept talking. "She's with Shakaar."

Vic remembered the man. Odo had been jealous of him. Now Vic felt a strange feeling at the sound of his name. "Good for her. Having a good time."

"Having a very good time. She's drunk beyond belief. It's fun to watch. In fact, I think I'll go back and do that. Maybe take pictures. Ones she'll pay to get back." Quark rubbed his hands together and left Vic.

So Kira was toasted and spending time with Shakaar. Vic poured himself a drink, lifted it in the direction of Quark's bar, and said, "Here's to moving on, dollface."

He tried very hard to ignore how much he didn't like the idea of her moving on--or back, or whatever she was doing--with Shakaar.

He was a little off as he did his next set, but the crowd didn't seem to notice. They took forever to clear out, and he was closing up when he heard the door open.

Kira stumbled through. Alone.

"Hi, Vic." She stood at the door and giggled. It was an odd sound coming from her. Girlish and fearful and calculated all at once.

It scared the holy hell out of him. "Colonel."

"Oh, Vic. You were calling me Nerys a few days ago."

"You weren't lit like a New Years ball a few days ago."

"Does that mean I'm drunk?" She sashayed toward him, and he couldn't help but notice that the red dress she was wearing left no curve to the imagination.

"It means you're very, very drunk." He slipped out of her grasp, then grabbed her shoulders and guided her to a stool. "What happened to Shakaar?"

She frowned. "How'd you know about Shakaar?" Then she smiled and sort of hiccupped. "Quark, that little mole. He told you, didn't he?"

"He did." Vic pretended to be worried. "Should I go check the door? Did you lose the First Minister?"

"I got rid of him." She slid off the stool and moved toward him. "I decided he was not the right man for me." She sort of fell into him, arms twining like thin, strong serpents around his neck. "Not the right man at all."

Vic wasn't sure what to say, then he was saved by the band, who'd reassembled and were striking up a slow one.

"They want us to dance, Vic. I used to dance in here with Odo." She nestled closer.

"I remember."

"You can make this room be anywhere you want. Anywhere I want."

"I can. Where do you want it to be?"

She didn't answer, just stroked the lapel of his jacket while she hung on for dear life with the other hand. If he'd been a real person, her death grip on his shoulder would have hurt like hell.

"You can change your outfit at will." She looked up at him. Her eyes very soft. "You could change everything, if you wanted to."

He stopped dancing.

"You could be him, couldn't you?"

He tried to unlatch her arms from around his neck, failed and just let his molecules un-form and re-form outside of her grip.

She fell heavily against him. "Be him. Be Odo."

"I could be. But I won't."

She was holding onto his arms, short nails digging in like little daggers. "Two years ago, Vic. He and I went to his world, and I left him there. Two years ago today."

"I'm sorry, Kira."

"Two years, Vic. And I miss him. You could--"

"If you want a hologram of Odo, I'll be happy to order one up for you. But I'm not going to change into him just to make a sad drunk a little happier." He lifted her back into a barstool, hoped she didn't fall as he turned and walked away from her.

"Vic, wait."

He let the door to his private quarters close and locked it tight against her. Striding over to his personal bar, he poured himself a drink and wished that just once he could actually get some help from the booze that lined the shelves.

But as usual, it didn't make any difference at all.

------------------

She came back the next day. He heard her knocking on the door to the lounge. Not the door to the holosuite. That he left open. But he'd locked the inside door that led into the lounge, and hung up a "Closed for fumigation" sign.

As messages went, it was pretty passive aggressive.

Quark broke through the lock an hour later.

Vic glared at him. "You promised Nog that--"

"I promised Nog that I'd let your program run all the time. I never promised him I'd let a crazy, hung-over Bajoran beat me up because she wanted in and you decided to take a vacation."

"Coward."

"Thanks, Quark. I owe you." Kira walked past him. She wasn't striding with her normal verve. Was talking at a much lower volume, too.

She was hung over? Hurting? Good.

Quark hovered.

Kira turned to look at him. "I don't owe you enough not to kick your ass from here to the Divine Treasury."

"I was just leaving." Quark nearly ran from the room.

"I'm sorry." She didn't turn around. Didn't look at Vic.

"No problem. I'm not even real to you. You proved that last night, Colonel."

She turned, and he was surprised to see tears in her eyes. "I really am sorry. I don't know why..." She wiped at her eyes. "I didn't intend to get drunk. I was on my way in here, and I saw Shakaar, and he was smiling at me, and I was lonely."

"And he was real." And Vic never would be.

"And he was real." She looked down.

He shook his head, made his way to a table halfway across the lounge from her. If he was so damned unreal, why did this hurt?

Why did he even care what she thought of him?

She walked over slowly, took a chair directly across from him. "I think I need some closure."

From him? Would "Go to hell" cover it?

She met his eyes. "You were right. It would have been easier to hate him."

Oh. Closure from Odo. That made more sense, actually.

Damn, what the hell was wrong with him? The day he couldn't figure out what a woman meant was the day he should hang his hat up for good.

"I'm not real. You're right about that." He reached over, took her hand. Let his unreal atoms touch her real ones. "And I don't pretend to understand why I am the way I am. But I do have feelings. Real ones, even if the rest of me isn't."

"I know. I'm sorry." She put her other hand over their joined ones, rubbed gently. "Are you in love with me?"

"I don't know. I like you. I thought we were friends. I thought..." He sighed. "I thought you considered me a person, Nerys. Not a thing. Not a walking, talking lightbulb."

"We are friends."

"Sure we are, doll." He smiled sadly at her and pulled his hand away. "I'm going to ask Quark to turn me off for a while. I think I'm tired."

He could tell she didn't understand. Did she think he couldn't feel tired? Couldn't feel like the cost of going on wasn't worth the payback? Nog had meant well when he'd asked for Vic to stay on all the time. But had it been a good idea?

She met his eyes. "How long? How long will you be off?"

"I don't know. A week or two. Longer, maybe." Forever, maybe.

She stood up. "Okay." She walked around the table, leaned down and kissed his cheek. "I am sorry, Vic." Then she walked away.

He'd never seen her look so defeated.

Quark walked in a few minutes later. "She said you wanted to talk to me about your program? If you think I'm going to let you expand into two rooms, you've got ano--"

"This one's fine."

"Oh."

Vic's cheek tingled where Kira's lips had touched him. He touched the spot, tried to figure out what was causing the feeling.

"So, what did you want, Vic? I'm a busy man, and time is money."

"I'd like to throw a party tomorrow night. First round on the house. Bunch of new officers checked in this week. Would be a nice way to get them into the lounge. I'll keep them once they come, you know that."

Quark rolled his eyes. "It's bad policy to give away things."

The man was a sage. Vic couldn't agree more. It was bad policy to give away some things. Like a heart. Like common sense.

But he kept seeing her as she walked out. She...needed him.

"Trust me on this?" Vic patted Quark on the shoulders.

"It's coming out of your program time if you're wrong."

"Sounds fair. Make sure Kira knows we're doing this, okay?"

Quark gave him a weird look but nodded. "I'll tell her. You two are just weird these days." Then he walked out and left Vic to plan a great party--and worry about why he was so ready to take care of Kira and her feelings and so eager to let his own be trampled.

She would only hurt him again.

He wasn't real to her.

He found himself not caring. He was pretty sure that was a bad thing.

-------------------

The party was a huge success. Vic could tell that Quark was mentally counting the latinum he was making. The lounge was so packed it was standing room only.

Kira, however, wasn't in the throng.

Vic tried to tell himself that was for the best. He finished the set, gave the boys a break, too. Mingling, he heard a familiar voice say, "Dance with me?"

He turned, saw Kira, felt her hand on his arm, pulling him into his private quarters, then she moved into his arms.

He held her, his arms closing around her as if on autopilot. "There's no music, Nerys."

"Make some. Sing me a message in a song the way you did before."

He could feel his lips tighten. Why couldn't he hide his feelings when he was with her, the way he did with Quark?

"Vic, please?" She laid her head on his chest, her hand tightened on his.

"You won't like it."

"Try me."

He sang, "It seems we've stood and talked like this before. We looked at each other in the same way then. But I can't remember where or when."

She looked up at him. "Do you feel that way? Like there's some destiny at work?"

"Wrong message, Nerys. Maybe all I see is the same old thing playing out over and over again." He could tell his words surprised her. Maybe even hurt her a little.

But then she smiled. "You never lie to me. I like that."

He thought she was going to rest her head back on his chest, but instead she reached up, pulling him down to meet her lips with his own.

He felt the electricity again, the tingle where she touched him. Her mouth opened; he didn't try to fight what was happening.

After all, it wasn't real. Not for one of them, anyway.

She pulled away, and there was a small smile on her face. She stared at him, then ran her hand through his hair, around his neck, pushing against him with her lithe, small body.

How could he want her this much? Where was he programmed to want anything, much less this woman with whom he had nothing in common?

"This is just an experiment to you," he said as she began to slide off his tux jacket.

"I'm not much of a scientist, Vic."

That was true. She wasn't much of a diplomat, either. A warrior. She was a warrior.

And a hell of a good kisser.

"This is a whim, then."

"Indulge me?"

He gave up fighting her. This already hurt. It would hurt later, when she left him. What difference did it make, then, if the end result would be he was hurt? Why not indulge both of them? He engaged the locks, sending a mental apology to the boys and the crowd, and began to undress her.

She was beautiful. And as they kissed their way into the bedroom, as she ripped off the rest of his clothes--clothes he could have just un-formed, but he thought it gave her pleasure to tear them from him--Vic realized she was full of fire and passion.

Odo had left this?

"Mmm," she moaned as she climbed onto him, rode him hard, let him do the same to her. He made love to her until she was exhausted, until she lay sweaty and rosy skinned and smiling in his bed. He did things that weren't humanly possible, all to give her pleasure--and because it didn't matter since he wasn't real, anyway.

It occurred to him as he collapsed next to her, tired in his non-existent heart if not physically, that he might be the only man who could even come close to what Odo had probably done for her in bed.

He wasn't sure if that thought bothered him or not.

He wasn't sure what to do. He was waiting for her to bolt, but she pulled him closer. He was waiting for her to tell him that she was leaving.

But she closed her eyes, and kissed him, and then fell asleep in his arms.

He didn't sleep. Didn't even close his eyes. He indulged every foolish, romantic fantasy and kissed her and touched her and just enjoyed the fact that, for this moment, she was his.

And in the morning, when she woke up, he steeled himself.

"Mmm." She was so sexy when she made that sound.

"Nerys." Should he call her that? Would Kira be better? Establish distance. Or Colonel? To show her that he understood what this was. And what this wasn't.

He'd been a player back in the day. He understood the etiquette of a one-night stand.

"Get me a Raktajino," she mumbled into his chest.

She could have just ordered it. He smiled as he said, "Raktajino. Sweetened. On the nightstand."

It appeared, steaming and smelling like morning and sunshine and the Sunday paper with toast and butter.

"It's on the nightstand."

She rolled out of his arms and sat up. The sheets fell away and she didn't seem the least bit concerned that she was naked.

Beautifully, gloriously naked. Vic frowned. Awfully sappy thinking for a one-night-stand pro.

"Thanks. This is perfect."

He didn't sit up, just watched her as she enjoyed the drink, arms crossed behind his head. She looked down at him, a warm smile lighting her face. Now was when she'd say it. "Last night was great but..."

"Last night was great."

He waited for the but. And waited. And waited.

She nudged him with her foot. Rather hard. "In Bajoran circles, the proper etiquette is for the man--even if he doesn't agree--to concur in the woman's assessment of the intimate event."

He laughed. "It was wonderful."

"Better. Much better." She put the coffee down and slid back down to him. "You had me worried."

He ran his hands over her chest, down her arms, around her lovely, rounded belly.

"You're definitely doing better now." She laughed as he tickled her. Her laughter turned to throatier sounds as tickling turned to other kinds of touching.

As she lay next to him, breathing hard, she turned her head to meet his eyes. "Do you get pleasure out of this?"

"Most definitely, doll."

She smiled, a closed mouth, extremely self-satisfied smile. He kissed the smile off her face, kissed her until she pushed him to his back and did things to him he didn't expect. Things he thought she'd only do to a real man.

When she was done, she lay back in his arms and the self-satisfied smile was back in spades. "I know you got pleasure out of that." Then she frowned a little and turned over on her stomach, looking down at him. "How does that work?"

"I have no idea. And I don't care." He smoothed back her hair. "So."

"So." She lay, chin resting on her crossed arm. She seemed to be assessing him. Like a warrior would. Looking for weaknesses, for strengths. "You're waiting for me to tell you this can't happen again, aren't you?"

"Thought crossed my mind."

"Okay, this can't happen again." Then, before his stupid, silly heart could break, she giggled. "Not until I'm done with my shift."

He began to laugh, too. "You liked this?"

"What fool wouldn't?" She touched his face. "But that's not why I'll come back."

"No?"

She shook her head. "I like you." She kissed him quick and got out of bed. "Can I use your shower?"

He liked the easy intimacy of that request. She could just leave. Go back to her own quarters and clean up. But she wanted to do it here. "Sure."

He heard the sounds of the shower running, checked in the replicator records for what she usually ordered for breakfast and had Bajoran rolls and juice ready for her when she came out.

"You accessed records way beyond this holosuite to find out what I eat," she said sternly. She gobbled up the food, though.

"I did. I understand boundaries, Nerys. But I can't walk around with you and observe. I have to learn other ways."

"Fair enough. If you cross the line, though, I'll kick your ass."

"Wouldn't have it any other way."

"Masochist." She kissed him. Then her look became serious. "I'm not sure what's going to happen. We'll have to take this day by day."

He grinned. "Sweetheart, I don't know any other way to live."

FIN