Odo and Kira felt a little sorry for Molly O'Brien. Her birthday was a few days away but it occurred to Kira Nerys that there would be few children to attend. Her parents wanted to plan something for her and were making arrangements to perhaps take her and her baby brother down to Bajor for a time. Doubtless they had planned a special dinner with a birthday cake.
But Molly was born and raised most of her years in space. There would be no children to attend her party her own age. She was not allowed a pet and her parents were always so busy especially with the new baby. She must be getting old enough that she was hoping for something special.
Kira loved babysitting for Miles and Keiko. After living with them for nearly five months she had become close to their daughter and Kirayoshi was her surrogate son. She was more than happy to watch them for a few hours of the evening.
She was pleasantly surprised when Odo volunteered to help her. He made a cute remark that the children should never outnumber the adults in a room if it could be helped. Besides, he liked watching her dote on them. She was good with them and maybe it satisfied her mothering nature. He was fond of Molly and let Kira handle the infant.
Kira was bottle feeding Yoshi while Odo watched Molly sketch and color drawings in the living room. He wasn't terribly familiar with the expectations of art at her age. There was something charming about her simple shapes, blocks, not quite straightened lines and imperfect circles. Odo was aware most artists couldn't master a truly perfect circle. He remembered making shapes as a Changeling for the first time. A globe had been the first sort of circle he attempted to make.
"What is that?" he pointed to a creature she was coloring in.
"It's a unicorn!" Molly informed him.
"Do they have such a horse on Terra? I have never seen anything like that on Bajor."
"Oh, Odo!" Kira came into the room holding the baby. "Unicorns are mythical creatures from Earth's fairy tales. I don't think you ever call your home planet Terra, do you, Molly?"
Molly shook her head and sighed, "I wish unicorns were real! I would love to ride or fly on the back of one!"
"Well, wait a minute!" Odo said gruffly. "A horned horse isn't all that farfetched! Maybe there is no such thing as a unicorn on your home planet or Bajor but there's bound to be something similar or identical just like it somewhere in the universe!"
"You think so?" the little girl looked up at him hopefully.
"There's no harm in dreaming," he smiled. "Although, a horned horse that could fly would probably bend and break the laws of physics. In our gravitational system, it would anyhow."
"That's what fantasy is good for," Kira said. "Breaking and bending the known and allowing us to become enthralled with the unknown."
Molly began to draw a stick figure of herself on the mythical creature's back.
"Tell me more about unicorns," Odo requested.
"They are magical!" Molly said happily. "In the stories, they protect little girls and noble ladies. They could heal the sick, make water in wells sweet to drink, and some could talk or fly."
Kira put the baby down for a nap and replicated Molly dinner. Odo was staring intently at her drawing. Kira sat next to him on the couch and whispered.
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking there's something I can do to make Molly happy. Call it an early birthday gift," he replied.
"Simulating a unicorn would be very easy. It's just a white stallion with a horn. There are stranger animals. I imagine that the horn would be made of keratin the same sort of thing your nails are made of."
"Really?" she looked at him in amaze.
He nodded, "Do me a favor, though, and don't let on it is me. Tell her I'm a real unicorn! I'll let my deputy know so she can frolic around the Promenade. If you take her to a holosuite, she'll be disappointed and say I must be a hologram. That would spoil the gift."
"She'll be delighted!" Kira was happy to play along.
Odo announced that he needed to regenerate in his bucket. He fetched his pail for Kira as Molly went back to coloring. It was filled with a silver liquid so Molly could see that the Changeling was napping. She was polite enough not to stare or want to poke around the pail and disturb him.
After a few minutes passed, there was a rap on the door. Kira grinned and opened it and cried out to Molly. A horned stallion was in the hallway! Molly rubbed her eyes, peered at Odo's bucket and confirmed to her mind that he must still be there, and then she looked at her babysitter in bewilderment.
"Isn't that a unicorn, Molly?" Kira pointed. "Go ahead, touch him! He seems friendly."
The unicorn gave the ground a little dig with a hoof and let out a muffled whinny. Molly seemed a little afraid. Her fear vanished as quick as it had come and she reached out to touch the unicorn's long snout. He was soft and his fur was white as fresh snow. Molly let her hand slip down near the very end of his snout and when the creature let out a breath through its nostrils, she felt the warm breath of life flow through them. She giggled and squirmed with joy.
"Is it really real?"
"Looks real enough to me! Touch its horn if you don't believe it. Is it glued or rubber banded on?"
"May I touch your horn, Mr. Unicorn?" Molly asked permission.
The unicorn promptly sat and lowered its head to grant her access. Molly ran her hands along the curved horn and found no evidence of a hoax. She avoided touching the tip in case it was sharp. The unicorn lay down, stretching nearly the length of the hallway so that the girl could rub his belly and neck and see for herself he was not a painted horse.
"Do you want to ride him?" Kira offered. "He looks like he wants to take you for a ride. I must stay with your brother but unicorns protect little girls, right?"
The security team knew to watch the cameras and had been alerted that the child would be wandering for a bit with a one horned mule sort of creature that was their Constable. They were being as responsible as possible.
"May i?" Molly's eyes lit up.
"Well, Mr. Unicorn?" Kira gazed at him.
He lifted himself to a sitting position, for a horse, so that Molly could climb on his back. There was no saddle so she wrapped her arms around his neck and held tight but not too tight to offend the unicorn. He didn't seem to have the power to speak but he clearly had the power to understand.
"Can he fly, I wonder?" she said aloud.
"Flying on a space station would be unwise," Kira said. "Even if he could, I think."
"It's OK. I still get to ride him!"
"Have a good ride, Molly!" Kira waved.
The unicorn let out a proud whinny and began a slow trot. Molly bounced a little with his steps and giggled and squealed with delight. The creature was careful not to trot or gallop too fast and risk losing his rider. She began to get more comfortable bare back and began to stroke his beautiful white mane. He took her around the Promenade a few times. Since it was after hours it was mostly deserted and those that saw were impressed and didn't interfere. Odo's deputy was close by for those that needed assurance of what they were seeing. Odd things had been seen on the Promenade before after all.
"I still remember seeing the Constable bow to an ostrich!" a couple commented. "And who could forget waking up to hundreds of tribbles on the Promenade?"
"What is that animal?" another asked.
"Something called a unicorn," the deputy answered.
Deputy Talpet shrugged in response.
It was nearly time for Molly's parents to return home and Molly should be in bed by then. The unicorn brought her back to quarters. Kira was waiting in the doorway and scooped the little girl from his back. Molly gave the creature a great big hug.
"It's not quite my birthday yet," she whispered, "but this was probably the best birthday present ever! Is that why you came, Mr. Unicorn?"
The unicorn winked!
"It's time for bed, Molly."
The little girl went to kiss her baby brother good night and then crawled into her bed. Odo was through regenerating and was ready to read a bed time story for her.
"Odo!" he didn't mind she used his name because she often had trouble for a long while saying his title. "I just rode a unicorn! You were right! Unicorns could be real!"
"That's what Kira told me! Were you scared at all? Aren't unicorns the least bit scary?"
"He was big and his horn could hurt, but I know unicorns never hurt people like me."
"Well, I'm glad you liked him! I'm sure he's returning to whichever planet he came from and will tell all his friends all about his strange visit to the space station. Now which book would you like me to read from?"
He showed her a few options from her bookshelf. She pointed to one and listened as he droned on. She was so excited from her ride around the Promenade with a magical unicorn that Odo ended up having to read three books before she began to drop off.
When Miles and Keiko returned both children were sound asleep and Odo and Kira were cleaning up after the girl. They let them know about the birthday surprise they had given Molly and Keiko gushed. Miles grumbled a little.
"Great now how is daddy going to impress her?" he said. "Do I need to buy her a real pony?"
"Maybe a unicorn plushy or another book about unicorns?" Kira suggested.
"No need to thank me for making your daughter happy!" Odo cracked.
"Of course you deserve to be thanked!" Keiko cried. "Miles?"
"Yes, thank you!" her husband groaned. "And thank you for babysitting. I didn't think you were fond of children, Constable."
"Did I say that?"
"I recall you also said you didn't understand humanoid need to couple!"
Kira blushed at that and Odo wanted to melt into his bucket. Kira plucked it from the coffee table and they said goodnight to the O'Briens. As they walked out, Kira was grinning.
"What is it?" Odo uttered.
"You! I didn't expect you to shape shift into an imaginary animal on such a whim. Usually you don't shape shift for anyone but me or when you need to."
"I'm becoming not only more comfortable with it but better at it thanks in part to you."
"Yes. You aren't alarmed by it and when I realized my gift could make others happy, why not?"
"Molly might not appreciate the gift so much when someone spills the beans that unicorns aren't real."
"I didn't lie when I said unicorns could be real. Didn't you dream of similar imaginary creatures?'
"Well, Nerys," he growled, "would you like a ride on my back?"
He shifted into a unicorn and offered her a ride. She smacked his rump.
"I'll ride you later, Odo!" she joked.
"I'll hold you to that!" he grinned as he shifted back.
"You know, you would be a wonderful father," she said softly. "Who wouldn't want a dad that could change into a pony or a Klingon beast when they need a champion?"
His grin turned upside down, "Changelings can't reproduce the way humanoids can."
"I know," she said seriously. "But that doesn't have to stop you. Even a childless man can become a father to a child in need. Blood and biology alone doesn't really make a mother or father."
"Perhaps you are right, Nerys. I hope Molly has a wonderful birthday and many more just as wonderful to come."