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Disclaimer: Paramount owns all characters and concepts of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. No infringement on their copyrights is intended. Please do not link this story without my permission.

Note: This is just a silly "what-if", not meant to be taken seriously.

Stranger Than Fiction
by Tracy L. Hemenover


One evening on the subspace nets:

++Hello.

||Hello.

++My name is Red. What's yours?

||CS.

++Hi, CS.

||Pleased to meet you.

(-|-)

Several weeks later:

++CS? You there?

||Yes. Red?

++Yes. I'm so glad I got a hold of you.

||What's wrong?

++I broke up with my lover today.

||I'm sorry. What happened?

++Nothing too dramatic. I went to see him, and he told me it wasn't working out. We're too far apart; we're too busy; we hardly ever have time for each other. He said he thought it was time we both moved on.

||Do you agree with that?

++Yyyyes. I guess I've known for a long time it was going nowhere. I love him dearly, but we just don't seem to work as a couple. Also, I've been hearing rumors about him.

||What kind of rumors?

++Well, let's just say it seems he didn't wait for the breaking-up part to move on. I always used to dismiss it as gossip. Especially since he's in the sort of position where being gossiped about comes with the territory. But now...

||I'm sorry. I've gone through something similar recently.

++You've broken up with someone too?

||Yes.

++Was it painful?

||Very.

++I'm sorry to hear that.

||What makes it worse is the fact that it was my first serious romance.

++Oh no. Ouch. Zero for one?

||Exactly. It turned out she was married.

++Married?? You mean she was cheating on her husband with you, and she didn't even tell you?

||Well, not exactly. It's a long story.

++You say she was the first one?

||Yes. Actually, it rather depends on your point of view. I had a wife at one time, but that was a matter of convenience, though that sounds worse than it was. The truth is, I married her to help her out of a difficult situation. We were divorced soon afterwards.

++Sounds like your luck with women is as bad as mine is with men. Did you love her?

||Not in the romantic sense. Though I think at times that I would have liked to have stayed married to her anyway. She's a good friend.

++You know, I've always heard the best romantic relationships start out as friendships.

||I wouldn't know.

++Then again, the man I just broke up with was a friend of mine for a long time before we became lovers. I guess it just depends on the individual and what you know about them. In my case, I suppose it was my own fault for expecting him to be something he wasn't. He's had a wandering eye for as long as I've known him.

||That doesn't make it hurt any less, does it?

++No. You know, sometimes I wish we were talking face to face. Or that there was someone near me I felt as free to talk with as I do with you.

||Same here.

++I wonder why that is? I mean, you're a complete stranger. Hey, just had a thought: is that what CS stands for?

||No, actually.

++Oh, well, anyway, there *is* someone here I used to be able to talk with like this. Another male friend of mine.

||But you don't talk to him any more?

++Well, we talk, but things have been different over the last year or so. It was as if he suddenly didn't have time for me. Then I found out something about him, and -- well, I was harder on him than I should have been, especially since there are things in my past I'm not proud of either. We've made up, but it's still not quite like it used to be, and it bothers me.

||Maybe it bothers him too. Perhaps you should talk to him about it.

++You're probably right. The thing is, sometimes I think *he* should have been the one I got involved with. But it always seemed that he didn't care for all that messy romance stuff. Now, I'm not so sure, but he won't *tell* me what's going on. It's getting frustrating.

||Perhaps it's hard for him to find the words. I think I know how that feels.

++Oh?

||Yes. You see, if you knew me in person, you would never believe that I would be talking like this to anyone, let alone someone I've never met. I'm generally thought of as a rather forbidding type of character. It's a reputation that has served me well professionally, but it's been an obstacle in my private life. I've never seemed to be able to let down my guard, except with that woman I told you about.

++The one who turned out to be married?

||Yes.

++I hope you don't let that stop you from opening up to anyone in the future.

||It's hard.

++I know. But I think I've come to know you pretty well over the last several weeks, and you seem like far too good a person to shut yourself away and deprive other people of getting to know you. In fact, I'm almost tempted to trace your transmissions and find out where you are so I can meet you in person.

||Maybe someday we can do that.

++I think I'd like to, sometime.

(-|-)

A few weeks after that:

||Red? Is that you?

++Yes.

||I was getting worried.

++I'm sorry. I know I haven't kept our sched for the last few days. Something's come up.

||What is it?

++CS, I need to talk to you. It's about something kind of, well, personal.

||I'm here. Is something wrong?

++Yes. Well, no, but yes.

||What do you mean?

++I sort of realized something a few days back, and I've been trying to figure out what to do about it.

||Why didn't you ask me?

++I would have, except, well, the problem I have is about you.

||Me?

++You're going to think this is silly. I can't believe it myself. I mean, I don't even know your real name, where you are, or even what you look like.

||Red, if I've said something to offend you, I hope you'll tell me what it is.

++No. Please don't think it's anything you said. It's me. It's my own mind. I told a friend of mine about you, and this problem I have. She said I should tell you. So that's what I'm doing.

||What is it?

++CS, I think I've fallen in love with you.

||...

++CS? Are you still there?

||yes.

++Please say something.

||I'm sorry. I'm just surprised.

++I didn't exactly expect this to happen, either. I guess there's just one obvious question now.

||I think the answer is yes.

++You mean...?

||I told myself I was insane. It was impossible. But when I wasn't able to reach you over the last few days, I did some thinking of my own. And I think I might know the reason why this happened. It's not in spite of the fact we've never met. It's because of it.

++You mean, since we've gotten to know each other this way, instead of face to face?

||Yes. It might even be better like this.

++How's that?

||It just seems to make some things easier to say, for some reason. For instance, there's a woman I've known for a long time. As far as she's concerned, I'm only a very close friend. But for me, it was more than that. I was never able to tell her I was in love with her, because of the friendship we had. Now, with you, it's as if I'm starting fresh. And I doubt that I would have been able to do so if we knew each other face to face.

++How do you feel about her now?

||I accepted quite some time ago that she would never feel the same way I did. But if you're thinking that I've fallen in love with you only as a substitute for her, I assure you that that's not the case. You are the one who is in my thoughts constantly. I can't begin to tell you how many days I've been able to get through only because I knew I would be able to talk to you at the end of them.

++Same here. And while we're making confessions, I might as well tell *you* that you remind me a lot of that friend I told you about once. The one I used to think I should have gotten together with. But I'm over that. You're the one I want.

||I think it's time to tell each other where we are.

++Agreed. I'm on a space station in the Bajoran system, right beside the wormhole. It's called Deep Space Nine.

||Please confirm: you said Deep Space Nine??

++Yes.

||You're not going to believe this, but that's where I am too.

++You're joking.

||I'm not joking.

++Are you passing through, or do you live there?

||I live here.

++So do I!! Meet me at the replimat in ten minutes.

||I'll be there in five.

(-|-)

Her heart was hammering so violently inside her chest that she imagined that the people she passed could hear it too. She was barely managing not to run. Her stomach felt as if it was trying to climb up to her mouth.

She couldn't believe it. The Prophets worked in wondrous ways, but this... All these months, he had been right here on the station! The odds were staggering. Who was he? Someone she worked with in Ops? A cargo bay dockworker? Another officer, even?

Deliberately, she slowed her steps as she neared the replimat. She made herself breathe, then she went in.

There were nine or ten people there, milling around, getting their food, sitting and chatting. Some, of course, were men. She peered as casually as she could at them. None of them seemed to be waiting for anybody.

Glancing at a corner table, she saw Odo sitting by himself, hands resting entwined before him. He nodded to her, as usual. She smiled back as she made her way over and sat at a table beside his.

"How are you, Odo?"

"I'm fine, Major."

Kira glanced around, then back at him. "What brings you here?" She couldn't recall having seen Odo in this particular spot for quite some time. The main purpose of the replimat was eating and drinking, and Odo didn't need to do either, any more.

"I'm -- waiting for someone." He cleared his throat. For some reason, he seemed almost embarrassed. He lifted his chin, a clear sign.

"Really. So am I."

"I know." At her questioning look, he added, "I can tell by the way you keep looking at the door."

"Oh. Of course."

Five minutes went by. Ten. Maybe he got held up by something...the Promenade is kind of crowded. Fifteen. Twenty.

Throughout, Odo stayed planted vigilantly at his table. He was watching the door too, though not as obviously as she knew she was.

The half-hour mark came and went. He glanced at her.

"I'm beginning to think I'm experiencing that phenomenon known as being 'stood up'," he muttered. Something about the sag of his shoulders said he was keenly disappointed.

"Me too," she sighed. Impulsively, she left her table and joined him at his. "I'd offer to buy you a coffee, but..."

"That's quite all right, Major." His sigh echoed hers.

"So, who were you waiting for?"

"Oh...a woman."

Kira smiled. "Really? Someone I know?"

"Perhaps."

She raised her eyebrows. It wasn't like Odo to be mysterious. "Well, it's not as if you have to tell me, but I just want you to know I think it's great that you're seeing someone again, after..."

A nod. "Thank you, Major. But that may be premature."

"Why?"

He gave one of his short, caustic almost-laughs. "Look around you, Major. She isn't here." He leaned back, a sigh escaping him. "You'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you?" From the way he murmured it, she wasn't sure if she had been meant to hear that comment.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean...bah, you'll think I've lost my mind. I'm starting to wonder myself."

"What?" If nothing else, she was really curious now.

Odo glanced around once more, then back at her. He shrugged a bit and inclined his head briefly. "I've...never actually met her," he confided.

"You haven't?"

"No. A few months ago, I got tired of reading detective novels before I liquefied every night. They were getting rather predictable. So I tried something new, something Jake mentioned once. The subspace nets."

Kira nearly lost the mouthful of coffee she had just taken.

"Major? Are you all right?"

"Yes," she croaked, after swallowing hard. "Go on."

"Well, I started 'talking' via subspace with one woman in particular, and tonight I found out that by some very odd coincidence -- "

He got no further. Kira jumped to her feet.

"You're CS???" she sputtered.

Odo stared at her, open-mouthed. "You're Red?"

(-|-)

Later that night:

"So, what does CS stand for?"

He hugged her closer for a moment under the sheet. "Constable Shapeshifter. It was the best I could come up with on short notice."

She groaned. "Ohh, I can't believe this. Yet another clue I missed. I am such an idiot."

"If you're an idiot, so am I," he pointed out, with a brief laugh.

"I suppose there was no reason for either of us to believe the person we were exchanging messages with was even in the same sector, much less on the very same space station."

"True. I doubt that even Quark would want to lay odds on it."

Kira sat up, looking down at his face as he watched her through half-closed eyes. "Odo, can I ask you something?" She didn't wait for his assent. "You told me there was a woman you were in love with for a long time, who you never told. Who was she?"

A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth. "Do you have to ask?"

Kira nodded ruefully. "Thought so."

"And the friend you thought you should have gotten together with..."

"...Is exactly who you're thinking." She smiled and draped herself over his chest, looking intently into those blue eyes of his. "You want to know what really tops everything?"

He gave an inquiring grunt.

"The fact that each of us thought we were putting the other behind us. The Prophets must be having a good laugh right about now." She dropped a kiss onto his simulated collarbone. In response, he caressed the back of her head, luxuriating in the texture of her hair.

"If this was their work," he said thoughtfully, "they have a rather eccentric sense of humor."

"This time..." Another kiss, on his throat. "...I don't mind the joke being on me." She moved upwards.

He freed his lips just long enough to give his hearty consent.

-The End-


Copyright by Tracy L. Hemenover

 

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