Actions

Work Header

Every Time We Kiss

Work Text:

It takes half a bottle of celebratory Bajoran springwine, a sweet sparkling vintage on sale in honor of the war’s end, before Quark decides it will be a great idea to stumble down the loading dock hallway toward the runabouts.

He got word that Odo was leaving for the Link several hours before. Of course he did -- Quark hears everything that goes on at the station. It’s both vital to his business and a source of cultural pride. Notably, however, he didn’t hear the news from Odo himself, or Kira, or even any of the other main crew, but while eavesdropping on a couple of security officers reviewing station flight plans. Odo had been apparently trying to keep it quiet -- to slip out while everyone else was celebrating without another word, presumably to avoid any commotion.

That was the crux of it -- Odo had made his decision, chosen his sides, and Quark had spent that half bottle of springwine convincing himself he was celebrating along with everyone else. No more constable watching his every move, scaring away customers, never buying anything! No more stray chairs or wayward glasses spying on his clandestine activities! No more persecution, grumbling, insults, or disruption from that overbearing spoilsport!

No one to keep in check the more threatening criminal elements on the station, or at least not with the dogged dedication that Odo brought to the position. No one to challenge Quark, to keep him on his toes, to hone his craft.

No one to complain at-slash-with at the end of the day.

So Odo wants to slink away without another word? So he doesn’t even tell Quark as much, to his face? As if Quark is going to let him get away with it!

Honestly, Odo should know better than that, after all this time!

Maybe Odo does know better. Maybe he knew Quark would find out, and he in fact expects Quark to barge in with his messy emotional demands and perhaps even a sales pitch to stay.

With this in mind, the crisp refreshing bubbles of stardate vintage 2369 clearly going straight to his head, Quark marches off.

What comes next is something that has happened before -- in a myriad of ways, in a variety of contexts, with far too many excuses for why it never means a thing.

---

Mixed Signals

The first time it happened was late after hours, when the miseries of Bajoran workers were confined to groaning on the Promenade and the Cardassian soldiers had finally had their fill of after-work revelry. It was quiet, intimate almost, with Quark and the new constable alone in the bar.

Quark had been surprised by how Odo’s lipless mouth felt, unlike any normal humanoid he’d come across.

Especially how unyielding they were.

After the brief brush of contact, Odo pulled away, extending one arm to keep distance between them. Quark cowered in expectation of rebuke, but Odo was otherwise impassive, completely unreadable.

Quark held off on the flurry of apologies and excuses always ready on the tip of his tongue.

“What was that?” Odo said tonelessly.

Quark tittered. “Uh, it’s uh that was a kiss. It’s a thing us humanoids do. You and I were having a moment, weren’t we? Bonding?”

“I was inquiring about what interactions you’ve had with the Belosi brothers this week,” Odo said. “Is this your attempt at a distraction?”

“No, no… Well ,” Quark drew out the word with insinuation and winked, “you tell me. Maybe it was. When done right, a kiss can lead to companionship .” Quark gestured to his ears with a lewd grin. Odo remained as blank as ever. “But, uh maybe not tonight.”

Slowly, Odo caught on to Quark’s intentions and his unfinished putty face developed several new crevices to better glare at him.

This wasn’t such an unusual reaction to Quark in this type of situation (sans the shapeshifting face), and Quark, though insulted, felt at least assured Odo wouldn’t slap him for his advances, unlike the Cardassian woman last week.

Quark rolled his eyes. “With a kiss like that, I’m the one that should be upset. You could stand to move your lips a little next time. We can practice.”

Odo’s folded arms hunched tighter across his chest. “There certainly won’t be a next time.”

Quark assessed the uneasy tension, and changed tactics again. “Now, now I don’t mean to be critical! You’ll get the hang of it, these humanoid things. You have me as your guide after all.”

Odo’s harrumph was loud and harsh (perhaps overly so). “Ha! You. Am I to assume all humanoids smack their lips against any stranger with the misfortune of catching them alone?”

“Oh, you’re not a stranger, though I will say you are strange. But I’d say we’re on our way to, well, let’s say friends .”

“I don’t think so.” Odo chuckled, a mean smile stretching across his face. “We’ve barely just met, and the only thing I know about you is that you’re a lascivious hustler.”

Quark smirked; he’d heard worse. “Oh I’m not so bad, once you get to know me.”

“I know all I need to.”

“Uh-huh, sure.” That’s why Odo was still here chatting with Quark after hours, despite that there was nothing about his so-called investigation that couldn’t wait until tomorrow. “We’re two of a kind here on this station. Doing our best to make our mark on this miserable place, far from our own people and making the best of a difficult situation--”

“And that should make us friends?” Odo scoffed.

“Sure. I scratch your back, you scratch mine…”

“I don’t itch.”

“That’s not what I--”

“You know what your problem is, Quark? I’ve been observing you since I arrived on this station. Intimately. Do you know why the few trysts you’ve attempted this week that I’ve been here have backfired on you?”

Quark scowled. He didn’t like where this was going.

“You’re too desperate. You want too much.”

“Is that so?” Quark heaved. “And -- you! You pretend like you don’t want anything , but I know better. Everyone wants something. Everyone gets lonely, even you.”

“You expect to get everything from everyone, all at once.”

“Better to spin the wheel, place a bet and lose the round, than never to play the game.”

Odo snorted. He hesitated in the doorway for a moment with a strange expression on his face, exposed and unsure.

But without another word, he headed back to the security office.

Quark lay awake in bed that night, replaying that last look and unable to forget how that hard cold mouth felt beneath his own.

---

Just a Joke

Quark made a bit of a game out of pushing further reaction from Odo after that.

If Odo was going to stop by the bar every morning, afternoon, and night, with the perpetual excuse, no matter how flimsy, that it was necessary for his investigations, then it was Quark’s right to poke at Odo’s insistence that he had no need for companionship, that his daily conversations with Quark didn’t fill some latent social need. If Quark had to live under constant persecution and surveillance, then he could have some fun with it. He flirted incessantly with Odo -- a true challenge since it was like flirting with (sometimes literally) a barstool with the response he got -- because after all, if Odo wasn’t getting something out of it, he didn’t have to come by so often. He teased, cajoled, ingratiated, whinged, and all around made a nuisance of himself.

Quark would show Odo too desperate, too much.

Better than doing a terrible job of pretending he was above it all.

(Of course, there was always the possibility that despite Quark’s lack of subtlety, Odo didn’t in fact recognize he was being flirted with. He did tend to be overly observant in some ways while oddly oblivious in others.)

One day, in a not uncommon move, Odo stalked into the bar, backed Quark up against a wall, and loomed over him to glare into his face.

“I’ve been informed that a very important package is missing from Cargo Bay 2, where you recently picked up a few pallets. Any last words before I lock you away?”

“No need to be hasty.” Quark was only several inches away from Odo’s stern face, and he was finding it difficult to concentrate. All the more thrilling. “Could you be more specific about what was missing?”

“Medical supplies from Cardassia Prime. You’re reprehensible in a lot of ways, but if one person on this station so much as sneezes because you’ve interfered with their well-being, I will charge you with mass endangerment, biological conspiracy, and --”

“Now, now!” Quark squirmed in Odo’s grasp. “I picked up a few pallets of speciality goods for Dukat’s soiree this week -- maybe I misread a label. An honest mistake.”

“Hrrmph. A likely story.”

“What was in the package? Maybe the name sounds similar to a gourmet sauce or liquor.”

Odo paused for a moment, weighing what Quark’s game was. “Rejoan extract.” Quark busted up laughing, which only irritated Odo further. “This is no laughing matter!”

“Of course not! I’m laughing because I didn’t expect you to understand about the importance of such delicate humanoid matters,” Quark said, a sly grin on his face.

Odo narrowed his eyes at him.

“You mean you don’t know what it’s for?” Quark smirked. “Aren’t you curious? I could give you a hint, show you.”

“You could show me the contents of your storage rooms.”

But Odo was abruptly cut off when Quark made a show of pretending to kiss him. He moaned and smacked his lips, but stopped just short of actually making physical contact.

Odo dropped him in disgust. Quark broke back into laughter. “It’s an aphrodisiac! I bet Dukat pushed you hard on following up on this. See, it’s specifically used for Cardassian males, if they have ‘dysfunction’ if you know what I mean, but Ferengi, we don’t suffer from the same ailments --”

“I don’t know what you mean and I don’t care to find out,” Odo said.

Uninterested in further explanation, Odo dragged Quark to his storeroom. He stood over him while he sorted through each item one by one to be sure the missing extracts weren’t there.

All the while, Quark would pretend to kiss him before pulling back with a laugh, or purse his lips in Odo’s general direction and wink. Odo would groan and sigh and redirect Quark back to the task at hand.

Notably, however, Odo never hesitated to loom in Quark’s personal space or to place a hand on his lower back and push him towards a suspicious box. Once or twice Quark may have even caught a small smile on his face -- albeit more likely to be because he was at Quark’s growing irritation about the continued search of the storeroom than anything.

After spending the entire afternoon together, Odo didn’t end up finding the extracts (Quark had already connected them with a buyer before Odo arrived, knowing that Dukat wouldn’t be able to complain too publicly without revealing his personal problem), but he did find several stowaway cases of unlicensed Tellerite whiskey.

Quark found he wasn’t as upset about the hefty fine he had to pay as he should have been.

Maybe one of these days Odo would kiss back.

---

Playing the Game

Quark would get his wish, but as was too often the case for him, not with the results he wanted.

“Quaaaark!” Odo strolled towards where Quark was flitting between tables, calling his usual refrain.

“Not now, Odo!” Quark hissed, balancing a tray overladen with synthale to distribute.

“Exactly now.” Odo stepped between Quark and the table of thirsty Starfleet ensigns. Quark attempted to swerve around, only to be cut off again. “Is there anything more important than complying with matters of stations security?”

“The two strips I’m losing each minute I spend talking to you.” Quark sighed. Accepting that he wouldn’t be able to brush Odo off, he handed over his tray and a padd of orders to a passing waiter. “I’m only training several new waiters, pouring today’s special of half-priced Saurian sunsets, handling the dinner rush at shift change, organizing a blackjack tournament at Dr Bashir’s request… But of course I have time to chat idly.”

“I need you to recall if any--” Odo paused to check a padd. “--brown-haired humans ate lunch here this afternoon.”

“Brown-haired humans,” Quark repeated.

“Yes.”

“Anything else?”

“Answer the question Quark.”

“How am I supposed to know.”

“Try to recall.”

“With as specific a description as that, it’s no wonder you’re head detective.” Quark rolled his eyes and attempted to walk off.

“I’m not done with you yet.” Odo grabbed him by the elbow. He leered into his face, attempting to intimidate him. “Quark, if you’re trying to cover for someone I will find out.”

Quark enacted his favorite method of dealing with Odo’s habit of physical entrapment. He closed his eyes and puckered his lips, with the expectation that Odo would react as usual and shove him off in favor of another tactic.

Except that’s not what happened this time.

Quark’s lips were met with a pliant flesh-like analogue.

Hah!

If Odo was going to call Quark’s bluff, then Quark would up the ante. Quark kissed back. He moaned with exaggerated enjoyment.

Odo still didn’t pull away. He copied Quark, kissing him harder, rough and dry but with some (feigned?) amount of passion.

Quark’s head went strangely blank. He forgot himself and the game they were playing. He grabbed onto Odo’s uniform pulling the two of them closer together. He could only concentrate on the way his heart was pounding, the alien texture of Odo’s mouth, the odd stiffness of Odo’s body against his, the firm grip of Odo’s hand on his waist.

He moaned again, not at all fake this time.

(There was a mixture of jeers and groans from surrounding customers, but Quark didn’t take notice.)

There was a flutter of moths in Quark’s stomach. A warmth spread in his chest, a tender pull towards this strange man-being that had given him such trouble.

A series of consequences for this moment unfolded in Quark’s mind: Quark leaving Broik in charge of the bar during the evening rush to go on dates with Odo, Quark avoiding riskier higher profile deals where he might end up breaking the law, Quark restricting alcohol sales or gambling because Odo requested it.

In horror, Quark pulled away before it could go any further. Odo’s smooth face seemed to have a more putty-like texture than usual.

This wasn’t about amusement or a mere physical attraction or wanting something because he couldn’t have it (or not only that at least): love and romance were not a valid Ferengi currency.

The bottomless chasm of what Quark would do for Odo if this went any further -- to make him happy, to keep his love -- yawned out before Quark, as if he were standing on the edge, one misplaced step from falling forever into its dark depths.

Better to let him down easy before it could go any further.

“That was really -- well.” Quark swallowed. The moths in his belly felt more like nausea now. “You have to understand, it wouldn’t work between us.”

Odo let out an abrupt guffaw. “Got you. I called your bluff.”

Quark processed that for a few moments. Eventually he regained himself and attempted a low chuckle. It grew more convincing as Quark’s relief set in. “Took you long enough.”

“Even if I weren’t who I am --”

“A security officer hellbent on ensuring my financial ruin.”

“A security officer devoted to his job, and yes, but also a Changeling entirely uninterested in the affairs of humanoid romance -- you still wouldn’t be stupid enough to think I’d want to kiss you ,” Odo said, entirely too smug about it. Quark’s relief felt a bit emptier now.

Not for the first time, Quark wondered how much of Odo’s lack of desire was sincere and how much of it was based solely on lack of experience, on fear of intimacy.

“Like I ever wanted you to.” Quark scowled.

“I knew your advances were only ever an attempt to distract me, but now you know. I’ll call your bluff.”

Quark ran his tongue over his teeth, performing disgust. He grabbed a nearby glass for a long dramatic draught of water, then primly wiped off his mouth. “You need to work on your shapeshifting. I’d hardly call that a kiss. I’d rather kiss a Bolian, and their spit is corrosive.”

Never mind that Odo hadn’t tasted like much of anything. That it had all been about the textures of the shifted mouth, the sounds of his liquid insides reforming, the intention Odo had put into it.

Odo chuckled. “I don’t have those senses myself, but I don’t envy the tasting glands of any humanoid with the misfortune to kiss you.”

“Fine, ha ha. You’ve made your point,” Quark said, now peeved. “It’s all a great big laugh and neither of us want it to happen again.”

“Good.” Odo’s smirk faltered for a moment, then reformed with enough conviction that Quark could only take it at literal face value.

“Besides I have plenty of other ways to mess with you.”

“Hrrmph. I don’t doubt it.”

Quark did his best to backpedal away from the edge of that chasm, not to fall down its craggy cliffs.

But even the best resolve can’t stop gravity.

---

Someone Else

Quark had almost managed to convince himself that he was better off flirting with business contacts and chasing unattainable women, then longing after Odo. After all, Odo had made it clear that any newly emerging romantic feelings he had were reserved for one Kira Nerys.

The peculiar circumstances of Deep Space Nine, however, were unpredictable, and a clash of incongruent alien physiology conspired against them both during an otherwise fairly routine Trill ceremony.

The day after Jadzia’s zhin’tara, Quark absent-mindedly wiped at a cup with a rag. The glass shone clear and clean, but Quark kept rubbing at it anyway. At the other end of the counter, Odo sat facing away from Quark, watching the few other customers in the quiet bar and drumming his fingers on the table.

With a start, Quark inspected the cup then set it down. He sighed. If he was waiting for Odo to say something first, he’d sooner wear a hole clean through the cup’s material with all the rubbing, Telvanian-poured glass or not.

“So what was it like when you were Curzon -- or when Curzon was you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it Quark.”

Quark tilted his head, face screwed up in thought. “Or was it more like you were half of each? But then where would the missing half go?”

“Quark… It happened.” Odo reluctantly swivelled around, hoping a direct answer would shut Quark down from further inquiry. “Curzon inhabited my body, and it was valuable in some ways, but I’m well-aware it was strange for everyone involved. I want to move past it.”

“You -- you’re embarrassed! You regret it.” Quark could still feel the heat that rose in his cheeks, the rush of tingling in his lobes at the memory of Odo-as-Curzon grabbing them the previous night. Quark hadn’t even done anything for once, no goading or flirting required before Curzon had simply walked up and done it, but he felt strange about the moment all the same.

“I simply don’t see the point of rehashing everything.”

“Now you know what it’s like for my customers. Loosening up, becoming someone else for a night -- someone ‘fun’. Your inhibitions drowned in a potent cocktail named Curzon.” Quark considered. “I wonder if I could market something based on that. A holosuite program somehow?”

“I was there too, Quark. It wasn’t only Curzon.”

Quark jerked his head in surprise. “No, no when I was a host Audrid was in full control. You looked like you, mostly, but you didn’t act anything like yourself.”

“Obviously, it was different for me,” Odo said. He focused on the counter, perhaps on some stain Quark hadn’t wiped away in favor of cleaning that single cup. “We were both there, both making decisions. My particular physiology allowed it.”

Quark cocked his head. “So when you came into the bar yesterday, when you came up to the counter…” He trailed off, not wanting to acknowledge outright what else happened.

“Curzon’s joy for life got the better of me. All the humanoid indulgences I always brushed off as... trivial, he showed me how to enjoy them.”

“All of them?” Quark’s face was hot.

“Maybe enjoy them too much though. It was me, but… it also wasn’t me. As much as I appreciate the experiences as a whole, I certainly don’t plan to do anything like that again.”

“No?”

“Everyone liked him better,” Odo said somewhat bitterly, “for a while at least. Until he overstayed his welcome.”

“I didn’t!” Quark blurted out, with enough vehemence Odo was taken slightly aback. “Like him I mean. The Curzon you. He was loud and rude and despite all the tranya, it wasn’t profitable keeping the bar open that late for him.”

“He rearranged my evidence locker,” Odo muttered. “And wrote some of his own notes on my files. 'Citation for making out on the Promenade - who cares?' Pah!”

“The nerve!” Quark said, delighted to complain together.

“What I’ve been trying to say is, I’m glad things are back to the way they were.”

Quark mulled it over. “Me too.”

“I don’t want to be Curzon.” Odo now leaned forward with his elbows on the counter, watching Quark carefully. He exuded guilt and presented this like it was an apology. “Do you understand?”

Did he not want to be the type of person who would show such abrupt affection towards Quark? Or did he want it not to be with the excuse that he was someone else at the time?

“Good,” Quark said firmly and he meant it. He picked up the next cup in his stack to clean.

Even if it was Odo that made that choice, to grab his lobes and plant one on his forehead, it wasn’t something Odo would do without a weird old Trill man egging him on. If they were going to kiss again someday, he’d rather it be with the real Odo.

But he’d be lying if deep down he wasn’t also disappointed that yet again, it amounted to nothing of consequence.

---

Tradition

“So- the rumors- are- true,” Quark said in between catching his breath. He had just run up and down the Promenade, desperately trying to find Odo before it was too late. Finally, he almost crashed into him exiting Garak’s shop in a hastily sewn blue gown. “There goes the two slips I bet that Broik was having one over on me. A Tavnian wedding robe -- you are marrying Lwaxana.”

Odo crossed his arms over his chest, as if self-conscious about the garment. “And this is your business because…?”

“Everything that happens on this station is my- my business.” Quark massaged the stitch in his side. “I uh I just needed to find you to know what to- to serve at your reception. If you actually go through with it.” He raised his brow ridge in challenge at this last statement.

“Well if that’s all, I’ll make it easy on you -- even if we were to have a reception it wouldn’t be at your bar.” Odo waggled his head facetiously at him. “It’s a marriage of convenience.”

Quark frowned. “Convenient for whom? What are you getting out of it Odo? I suppose she’s daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the royal chalice, blah blah. Sure she’s rich and powerful, I’d jump at the chance, but since when do you care about that?”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Odo said, avoiding eye contact with Quark, “to help out a dear friend.”

“I thought I was a dear friend --"

“Hardly,” Odo scoffed.

"--but that doesn't mean you'd marry me on a whim.”

An awkward beat. 

“Careful Quark," Odo said. "One might think you’re looking out for my well-being here.”

Quark waved his hand dismissively. “It’s just that I can’t imagine a noble woman such as Lwaxana being happy on this little station. At some point I expect you’ll have to leave to Betazed, and then I’ll have to learn the methods of a whole new security chief.”

“So this is still about you.”

“Of course.” Quark shifted from foot to foot, bristling with swallowed sentiment and deciding whether to say anything more.

“Hrmph.” Odo turned to leave, but Quark’s hand shot out to grab his sleeve before he could think better of it.

“You’ve been running from her advances since she first showed up on this station. Don’t lie to me that you love her Odo, not like that. You don’t need to settle for the first woman to need something from you -- you deserve more than convenience, Odo.”

“Not even for a wealthy widow?”

“Well.” Quark smiled. “Save it for people like me who can appreciate them properly.”

Odo snorted. “Then you’ll be happy to know I have zero intentions of ever living on Betazed. I can’t go into details, but you have no worries of me leaving you to your schemes unchecked.”

“Oh. Okay then.” Quark was taken aback. He was running out of objections.

“If that’s all, I have preparations to make…”

“Is she making you get a pre-nup? Now you may want to write this down, because I have a wealth of advice on that topic -- ”

Before Quark could react, Odo leaned down to him. His lipless face was firm and cool as glass as it kissed Quark’s cheek.

Quark closed his eyes at the contact. A rush of all those feelings he kept in a locked vault deep down bubbled up to the surface. When he opened his eyes again, Odo had that stupid smug grin on his face, the one he always wore when anticipating Quark’s reactions.

“What was that for?” Quark whined, trying to look angry and not quite managing it. “I don’t think your future wife would approve.”

“An old Betazed tradition.” Odo smirked. “Kiss even the ugliest person that challenges your union, to ensure good luck for the wedding and challenge any jealousy.” Then he sauntered off, still chuckling to himself.

Quark frowned at his retreating back, hand to his cheek, fairly certain no such tradition existed.

Even if it did, it proved not to be entirely effective.

---

Rations

Wrapped up in a hospital gown, hooked up to electrolytes and painkillers, and thankfully, miraculously alive, Quark shifted into wakefulness.

“Remember back there when --” Quark cut himself off. Odo continued staring at the ceiling. The hesitation stretched into a pregnant pause.

Quark wondered if Odo was remembering that moment back on the mountain as clearly as he was:

“Come down here,” Odo had rasped, a frantic look in his eye. “Come closer.”

Quark had crouched over Odo lying on the stretcher, gradually and warily closing the distance between them as Odo gestured for him to keep coming closer. He groaned as his muscles cramped up. When he was completely bent over and inches away, Odo had exhaled, an abrupt ejection of any second thoughts.

Then Odo had kissed him.

His mouth was chapped and icy against Quark’s.

“What the hell was that for?” Quark said, reeling back. His hand jerked up to touch his mouth.

Odo had stared at him, a wide-eyed gaze of a desperate man. A man who knew he was going to die.

“Oh no you don’t,” Quark said, wagging his finger. “No I know what you’re doing. You’re saying goodbye. Well I don’t accept it.”

“You don’t?” Odo said, disbelieving.

“No. How will I believe I can take the communicator to the top peak if I have the stink of your hopelessness on my face?”

“Fine. I take it back.”

“You can’t take it back!”

“Then you misunderstood.”

“Okay, go on…”

“I only thought I saw a crumb on your lips,” Odo said flatly.

“If I were hoarding rations, I wouldn’t share them with you.”

“And leave me to die on an empty stomach?”

“I’ve got a mountain to climb; I need all the strength I can get.”

Before Odo could engage in any more futile despair, Quark shuffled off to venture up the rockface alone, determined to prove him wrong.

Now here they both were, alive, and casting about for any remaining pretensions to fall back on.

Quark took a deep breath and started again, “Remember back there when I told you I hated you, and you told me you hated me?”

Odo eyed him. “Vividly.”

“I just wanted you to know I meant every word of it,” Quark said with some deliberation.

“So did I,” Odo said gratefully, relaxing.

There were extenuating circumstances, and now that the terms of the moment had been revoked, its implications were no longer valid.

It was basic contract law.

---

Accident

“Why Odo! Even such a stone-hearted sourpuss as yourself should be able to recognize this as true love!” Quark clutched the curvaceous Bolian dowager to him closer. She batted her eyes at him.

Odo chuckled. “Oh really? And am I supposed to assume that this is in spite of Lady Nix’s vast inherited fortune?”

Quark gasped in exaggerated offense. “My darling, my sweet grubling! Is that true? You can tell him -- the subject never even came up.” Nix nodded along vigorously

Odo rolled his eyes. “And you have no interest in ‘acquiring’ her very valuable business shares in Bolarus Institute of Barbery?”

“Pshaw!” Quark exclaimed lofitly. “What we have is more pure, a truer bond -- over the intricacies of Bolian-Ferengi exchange rates and interworld corporate laws.”

“How could I forget,” Odo said flatly, “a common Bolian aphrodisiac.”

Nix winked coyly.

“I love her for her mind,” Quark said. Nix giggled and ran a single finger along Quark’s lobes. Quark shuddered and grinned. “And of course those fingers … Isn’t that right my plump little tubeworm.”

Quark and the Bolian nuzzled noses, cooing at each other.

“Disgusting,” Odo huffed.

“You should be happy for me. All this time I’ve been alone and loveless, never finding anyone who truly understood me --”

Deciding to put an end to this nonsense, Odo grabbed Quark and kissed him.

“Quark, you said there was no one else!” Nix exclaimed.

Odo pressed against him hard, and Quark yielded beneath him, relaxing into his grip and kissing vigorously back. Quark held up a finger in Nix’s direction, as if to say ‘just a moment dear.’

She huffed.

Then Odo shoved Quark away with a smug grin.

Quark staggered backwards. He grabbed onto Nix for support, but she shrugged him off.

“Odo...” Quark dreamily stroked a lobe. His eyes were wide and locked on Odo.

“You said I was the only one for you. Cheater.” Nix spat at Quark’s feet in disgust and stalked off. Quark swayed on his wobbly legs while dodging the corrosive fluid -- it could stain his boots.

“No spitting on the Promenade,” Odo called after her, “and you should be thanking me for saving you the trouble.”

Quark waved his hand dismissively, in a daze. “Oh leave her be. I imagine your girlfriend would react much the same way if she saw that display.”

Odo recoiled, as if Quark had spat on him.

Quark froze mentally kicking himself. He held his hands up in a placating gesture. “I’m -- I’m kidding. It was just a silly kiss. Kira is -- uh much more reasonable. No temper at all.”

“It was for a case,” Odo sputtered, his eyes widening with the implications of what he just did. “It’s different, it was just you .”

“Yes, yes, I know! ” Quark was quick to agree. Anything for Odo. “It was only me, I’m nothing.”

“I shouldn't have done that.”

“You were employing creative scam-busting methods.” The gears in Quark’s head whirred into action, attempting to find the right spin that would comfort Odo. “I would have walked off with Nix’s fortune and you know it.”

“It didn’t mean anything,” Odo pleaded. “Right?”

Whatever warm feelings had blossomed in Quark’s chest along with the kiss were wilting away. “Yeah. I get kissed all the time. Just another day.” But not like that. Not by Odo.

Odo huffed. A small flicker of amusement. “A regular ‘don won’ as Vic would say.”

Quark shrugged. “That’s me.” He felt strangely small. He reached out to pat Odo on the shoulder. He cleared his throat. “Best, um. Best not to do it again though. I- I can’t have you disrupting my next chance at marrying a wealthy heiress. Agreed?”

Odo glanced towards where Quark was holding onto his shoulder. Quark let go.

Odo considered him for a moment, inscrutable and contemplative. Then he nodded slowly. “Right.”

He walked away, lost in thought.

---

Lessons

Odo heaved a great sigh at the bar counter.

“Is there something wrong?” Quark asked, not for the first time that evening.

Odo sighed again. “Nothing.”

“It’s clearly not nothing, or you wouldn’t be pretending to breathe at my counter.” Quark waved his cleaning rag around at Odo for emphasis.

“No need to concern yourself,” Odo muttered, drooping in the barstool, looking utterly forlorn.

Quark rolled his eyes and continued wiping down the counter. He poured a few synthales for his regulars, made the rounds at the dabo tables, and when he returned to the counter, Odo was still there. Sighing like someone stole his latinum.

“That’s it. ” Quark banged on the counter. Odo jumped at the noise. “I can’t have you hemming and hawing like a hara-frog, depressing all my customers. It was bad enough when you were pining after Kira, now that you’re together I would have at least hoped --”

This did not have the desired effect. Odo groaned and drooped as far over onto the counter as one could while still pretending to have bones and flesh. “Nerys, oh sweet Nerys.”

Quark swallowed his remaining rant. He affected a knowing smile. “Girl troubles you say? Then you’re in the right place.”

Odo had the wherewithal to frown at that. “I doubt it.”

Quark huffed. “At the very least you can ask my advice and then do the exact opposite. Anything to stop this mope-fest.”

“Hrmph.” Odo sat up a bit straighter. He drummed his fingers on the counter. “I’ve… already tried asking Vic.”

“That two-bit bar rat?! What does he know that I don’t?”

“He wasn’t much help. ‘Best thing in the world, if ya found the right gal,’ he said. ‘Kissing’s as easy as shaking hands, but much more fun,’ he said.”

“You’re having kissing problems? She seemed pretty into it on the Promenade that one time. It was the talk of the station.” Though come to think of it, there hadn’t been much in the way of PDA between them since, beyond a fond pat on the shoulder or a quick hug. Quark had chalked it up to their sense of professionalism.

“As if mashing orifices was instinctive, as if it automatically feels natural. Pah!”

Quark blinked, not even sure where to start. “In the bedroom though, that can be different…”

“Nevermind,” Odo said sharply, “I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

“Too late.” Quark grinned and took out a padd to flip through. “I’m sure I have something here that could help. There are all sorts of interspecies instructional holoprograms.”

“Porn you mean.” Odo did his best to feign indifference, but kept close attention on Quark’s search anyway.

“Sure, call it what you will, but you’re not the first couple to find this type of thing helpful.” Quark kept scrolling through the padd, but apparently didn’t find anything that met his immediate approval. “You should have asked me years ago, if this was going to be a problem -- before you ever got together with her. Then you wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Odo said wryly, “Perhaps I was avoiding your exorbitant fees.”

“They’re open to negotiation.” Quark frowned, tapped at the padd several times, then set it down in a definitive motion. “I have bad news and good news.”

“You’re going to drop the subject and leave me be -- and I don’t want to hear the bad news.”

“I don’t have anything prerecorded that I think would appeal to your particular sensibilities.” A slow wicked grin crept across Quark’s face. “Luckily Quark’s Holosuite Emporium is adaptable to all; I can provide a private personalized course on interspecies kissing for a small fee of 100 strips.”

“Hah! Has that ever worked on anyone?”

“You’d be surprised. There was a lovely Gil'Tarkna lady I helped out once -- you see she had tentacles where her face would be, and I was generous enough to provide a live mouth for her to practice on --”

“That’s disgusting.”

Quark shrugged. “You’re not very creative, for a shapeshifter. Maybe that’s your first problem.”

“Forget I ever said anything,” grumbled Odo.

A beat passed, and Odo’s general demeanor threatened to settle back into the humdrum of a few moments ago.

“I could show you for- for free. How to kiss,” Quark said, as offhandedly as he could manage. He busied himself rearranging bottles on the shelf behind him, to deal with the sudden rush of anxiety.

“A real bargain I’m sure,” Odo said sardonically. “Because it’s in your best interest to keep the security chief happy, is that right?”

“Oh sure. But also as your friend. A friend of you both.” Quark placed a wayward bottle of chartreuse back with the Terran liquors. “And so you don’t depress my customers. It’s not something I’d offer lightly.”

“I doubt that. As if it were an option that would ever interest me. Plus Kira wouldn't appreciate it.” Odo chuckled, but it trailed off into another morose sigh.

They were both carefully skirting around any acknowledgment of the last time they kissed, as if it didn’t happen. Both of them were upholding their unspoken agreement that their entire meager repertoire of kisses over the years never happened. They were masquerading as if this exchange was nothing but their usual banter, as if it wasn’t a thinly veiled attempt to find an excuse to kiss again.

“I suppose not.” Quark swung a bottle of Gorn cognac in his hands, considering where it fit in his shelf organization. Perhaps next to the Gothian wine, since their home planets weren’t far. He set it in place.

“As if I would ever want to be taught how to kiss by you.

Quark whirled around and slapped his hands on the counter. Odo grunted in startlement.  Quark propped his torso on the surface in order to lean far enough forward.

Before Quark could think better of it, he kissed him.  Sweet and soft and all too short.

There was no indication on Quark’s end what could be the “problem” with Odo’s kissing.  (Unless it was  with who he wanted to kiss.)

“There now you can tell her you didn’t agree to it. That wily Quark, at it again.”

Odo opened his mouth to retort, then closed it. A ripple passed through his faked-solid body. “You didn't need to do that.”

Quark picked up another bottle, something orange, just to have an object to fiddle with. "You needed to know what you're missing, with uh the lesson. A teaser for my 100 strip course.”

“It feels different than with Nerys,” Odo said slowly.

“Before you ask, it was too brief for me to diagnose your problem." Quark faced the shelf again and took his time finding a place for the orange bottle. He was having trouble concentrating on what the label said. His hand wouldn’t stop shaking. “The teaser was free but you’ll have to pay for the rest. If that wasn’t clear.”

The side of Odo’s mouth quirked. “Is that so.”

Quark was left under the distinct impression that they both knew that the other felt the same way, that beneath it all they were having the same conversation. That for the first time, both of them knew and accepted that there was something there between them, something indisputable and pertinacious. Something that could not be denied, no matter how many times they tried.

And it still didn’t make a difference.

---

Goodbye

Quark sways down the hallway to Odo’s runabout, glass of springwine in hand, not completely sure what he expects or even wants from Odo at this point.

Well, that’s not true. What Quark wants is for this game they play, this dance between them -- what he wants is for that not to be over.

But Odo isn’t exactly known for his persuadable pliant nature, goo or no. (It’s what Quark likes most about him, if he’s being honest.)

The next thing Quark knows is: he’s standing in front of Odo, chest heaving, head spinning, spitting out the words “mutual respect” in Odo’s face.

“I have nothing to say to you,” Odo rebuffs Quark’s attempts to drag a satisfying response from him. Quark wishes he could even be surprised at that.

Then Odo does something that, every time, always takes Quark off-guard.

He kisses him.

It’s every insult, every sly smile, every amused harrumph, every stolen kiss they’ve ever shared condensed into this one moment. Odo clutches at Quark and tries to convey everything he doesn’t know how to verbalize into this kiss. Quark opens himself up, he lets himself be kissed, even though he knows this is all he’ll get, the last exchange between them. Even though he knows Kira, the love of Odo’s life, is standing right there watching. Even though he knows somehow this kiss will be brushed aside in favor of a forever unresolved status quo.

It doesn’t matter how many times they kiss just to deny it means anything -- how many times Quark tries to squash those warm feelings that arise within him, how many times Odo will walk off never to acknowledge outright that he cares -- Quark will keep spinning that wheel, betting the whole of his tender heart that one day this gamble will all pay off.

It goes on too long to be a joke. It’s too passionate to be a punchline.

When it’s done, Odo walks onto the shuttlecraft like that was all he needed to move on.

Quark swoons and smiles and confesses to Kira without thinking, “That man loves me.”

“He’s not going to leave,” Kira says and Quark’s heart leaps into his throat, “he’s going to go with you!” She smiles like it’s just another part of Quark and Odo’s game.

Quark laughs along, still giddy with the thrill of the kiss. He’s like one of Sisko’s based balls: arcing carefree through the air up towards the heavens, only biding time before inevitably crashing back down to earth.

Kira, still smiling, says more seriously this time. “No, you know that right? He’ll be back soon.”

Quark chokes on his laugh. “What?”

“You didn’t know…?” Kira groans in frustration. “Of course not, you two never talk about anything.”

“Talk about what,” Quark says, like she’s the one with a head full of alcohol feeling completely lost in this conversation. He smiles indulgently, wanting to be in on the joke. “You heard him -- he has nothing to say to me. It’s okay. I know he has to go to his planet, be with his people and all that.”

Kira chuckles softly while shaking her head. She takes in Quark’s expression and her smile fades. “Quark…”

Now that he‘s said it out loud, it feels real in a way it didn’t before. It doesn’t feel okay at all.

“I know what we -- what we had. It wasn’t what you two had. Have. But it was special while it lasted.” Quark feels dizzy all of a sudden. “It’s really over now though, isn’t it.”

“Quark,” Kira says sharply. She shakes him a little. “Odo and I, we decided we were better off as friends, some time ago. He’s coming back to be with you.”

Quark jerks in surprise, not sure if he heard that right. She’s as serious as an expense report. And he’s a Ferengi -- he always hears it right.

“You’re welcome!” Kira calls after Quark, as he scampers off onto the runabout, shouting Odo’s name.

“Odooo! You idiot! You clammed-up closed-mouthed fool.”

Odo looks almost frightened as Quark charges onto the vessel.

“Ah.” Odo fiddles with his hands then clasps them behind his back. 

“So it’s true?”

Odo doesn’t say anything.

“What happened to -- to teaching the Founders what you learned about solids?” Quark says, not sure why he’s arguing the point. He’s afraid of getting his hopes up only to crash again. “You’re supposed to prevent another Dominion. Do you have any idea what the war did to the stock market?”

Odo hangs his head a little, sheepish. “That's still the plan.”

“But -- how?” Quark pleads. “What are you doing?”

“I decided I didn’t feel fully prepared for them to have me as their sole instruction on solids. I’ve spent only a handful of years, all together, around your kind. So we’re going to set up an exchange program between my people and solids. I’ll come back to stay on the station, along with a few others at a time. There’s much I don’t know.”

“I can attest to that,” Quark grumbles.

Odo makes a small begrudging sound in concurrence.

Quark furrows his browridge. “Kira also said --” He gulps. “What about me?”

“Always about you isn’t it,” Odo says, with some amount of fondness. "I had a whole plan for you when I returned."

Quark waits for him to explain, deciphering the turmoil of goo sounds within Odo.

Odo doesn’t say anything else for a long moment, trying to find the words. He sighs -- an affectation meant only to convey his resignation to this decision, since he of course doesn’t have lungs. “What better way to gain the experience with solids I need, then to spend my life chasing down your hapless schemes?”

“Really?” Quark whispers, not quite trusting Odo isn’t going to take it all back.

With a pained expression as if each word is as difficult to give Quark as a bar of latinum during a losing dabo streak, Odo admits: “You’re the most disconcerting, paradoxical, beguiling solid I’ve ever met. No one else of any kind even compares.”

Odo,” Quark breathes. “Here I thought I’d finally be rid of you.”

As if in a dream, he finds himself floating over to Odo.  Odo places his hands carefully around Quark's waist, drawing him near.

"I'm going to kiss you now," Odo says, his voice a creaking groan. 

 Quark nods vigorously.

"When I do I might not be able to stop."

There's no hastiness this time. No charade, full declaration of intent.

Odo told him once that being in the Link was like being a drop in an ocean. A sense of the infinite, the individual only a part of a larger whole, a place where time ebbs and flows like waves on a sandbank. Quark thinks he might have some idea of what that feels like now. The whole of everything is the two of them, in this singular moment. This unending kiss.

It’s the first of many more to come.