Keiko can smell the incense, though she can’t see its source. She can’t see much of anything, actually; there are so many people at the Heian shrine in Kyoto on this crisp mid-November day, so many parents here with their young children. Everywhere she walks, it seems she’s bumping into somebody, or getting in the way of someone trying to take a holo. She doesn’t know where Miles and Molly and her parents have disappeared to.
At the same time, there’s something pleasant about the dizzying kaleidoscope of color and light: the vivid orange of the torii gates; the perfect blue of the sky; the pinks, golds, blues, and reds on the children’s kimonos. Even the tall, graceful cedars that cover the hills to the north of the city are a riot of autumn colors. It’s so different from the Enterprise, where everything was cool grays and somber black.
Not that she regrets choosing to live aboard a starship for so many years. The survey teams always brought her such interesting plants to study, and she made some very good friends there. I even married one of them, she thinks with a fond smile, and had his child.
She simply didn’t realize how color-starved she was until she came here with her family.
And a part of her isn’t looking forward to returning to space, even though she suspects - hopes, anyway - that a space station will feel more homelike than a starship. She and Miles still haven’t told her parents. Molly knows, and Keiko hopes she won’t blurt something out; her daughter is pretty quiet, but every now and then she’ll make a rather impressive observation for a three-year-old. She’s more like Keiko in that respect, though she seems to have inherited Miles’s interest in the internal working of things; the other week, she very neatly and carefully took apart the remote control for the holo-viewer.
“There you are,” says her mother, startling her out of her thoughts. “I’ve lost your father. Again,” she adds, with a sardonic twist to her lips.
Keiko grins back at her wryly. Her parents divorced during her second year of college, her mother moving back to her native Kumamoto, while her father remained in the Kansai region. Keiko remembers the many shuttle rides between her parents’ houses. She resented it at the time, though her parents get along much better now than they ever did when they were married to each other. She knows they talk all the time, even though her mother has a boyfriend in Kumamoto, and they haven’t bickered once since they picked the O’Briens up at Kansai International Spaceport.
The only bickering on this trip, so far, has been between Keiko and Miles.
One of the reasons Keiko is so reluctant to tell her parents about the Deep Space Nine venture is that she’s pretty sure they’ll try to convince her to keep Molly on Earth while Miles goes off alone. She has no intention of breaking up her family; as exasperating as Miles sometimes is, she loves him and wants to raise their child with him.
So tell them that, Miles said last night in their hotel room. (Her parents had Molly with them at the ryokan.) I don’t see what’s so hard about it.
You don’t know my parents, she retorted. I’ve always had trouble being assertive with them.
You don’t seem to have that problem with me, he said, his lips curving as he reached across the bed to stroke her hair away from her cheek.
Well, you’re different.
Sliding a hand under his pajama top and stroking his chest, she said, For one thing, you didn’t know me when I was an awkward schoolgirl who blushed practically every time I opened my mouth. For another thing … you’re soft and sweet.
Soft? he snorted. That’s a fine thing to say to a man.
I didn’t mean everywhere, she said, shifting closer so she could kiss the pout from his lips. Then he put his arms around her, and they proceeded to make good use for their first Molly-free night in weeks.
“Over there,” Keiko’s mother says, pointing, and once again jolting her from her reverie. Keiko follows her finger, and sure enough, there’s Miles with Molly in his arms, her little hands clutching the collar of his shirt, and there’s her father following close behind.
“There you are,” Miles says when they’re close enough to be heard. “Thought we’d lost you in this crowd.”
“I thought we’d lost you,” Keiko says, reaching up to adjust one of the little silk flowers in Molly’s hair.
“We weren’t lost,” Molly informs her, her big brown eyes very serious. “We were over there.” She points over Miles’s shoulder, toward the giant torii that stands at the shrine’s southern entrance.
“What was over there?” Keiko asks.
Molly looks at Miles, who shakes his head. “You discovered ‘em, princess. You tell Mommy.”
“Ojiisan said I could have dorayaki,” Molly explains. “I found it.”
“I didn’t mean right away,” Keiko’s father says, sounding slightly apologetic. “I was thinking on the way out, or after dinner.”
“But they were right there,” Molly says.
“Can’t exactly argue with that,” Miles puts in.
Keiko doesn’t really know what to say. She wasn’t worried, and she isn’t upset, though she feels an odd pang below her ribs. Someone could have said something.
“She wanted to go on an away mission,” Miles continues. “Just like Daddy. Molly-honey, why don’t you show Mommy what we found? Here.” He adjusts his grip on Molly, then reaches into his pocket and produces a small white box, which he hands up to her. “There ya go, darlin’. Not angry, are you?”
The question is directed quietly at Keiko, who shakes her head, even though she wishes he wouldn’t ask things like that in front of her parents.
Keiko takes the still warm dorayaki from Molly’s small hand and bites delicately into it. The dough, she discovers immediately, has been fried to perfection; her teeth crunch through the thin outer shell, and then it’s just soft sweetness from there to the azuki paste filling. Keiko’s eyes flutter closed and she can’t suppress a faint moan.
“Yeah, they’re not bad,” she hears Miles say off in the distance.
“You remember the last time you had one of those?” her father asks.
“One of those?” her mother snorts. “More like ten. She couldn’t get enough.”
Keiko opens her eyes.
“Seven years old, and so pretty in her kimono,” her mother continues. “We wanted to take pictures, and she just wanted to stuff her face.”
Keiko rolls her eyes at Miles, who shrugs as if to say, Oh, parents. What can you do? And this, she thinks, is the main reason she’ll go with him to Deep Space Nine, and gladly; they may have their differences, but nobody else understands her like he does.
Soft and sweet, Keiko mouths at him.
Over their daughter’s head, they share a private smile.