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Families

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Families are difficult, especially when they are unusually shaped.

That’s what Kira Nerys is thinking, as she sits at the desk she still calls Sisko’s, warming her hands on her morning raktajino and spending a tenth consecutive minute staring at the photograph on her console screen. She smiled, at first, at Yoshi’s earnestly knit eyebrows, the pudgy sweetness of him, sitting on a wide porch in the sun, chewing on the stuffed sinoraptor she gave him when the O’Briens left Deep Space 9. Then she thought how much he’d grown in one short year, how much of him she’s missed and will keep on missing, and her smile soured into the grimness that now sits at the back of her throat.

Keiko and Miles must have meant well, sending her this substantial file of photographs and infant artworks. A thoughtful gift thoughtfully timed, in honor of approaching Peldor. The note from Keiko was full of all the minute details of Yoshi’s daily life, but the only words it spared for Nerys were I hope you’re well. Miles signed beneath his wife, and he at least wrote love, yet still there is no questioning the simple fact that family is not a word either of them thinks of in connection with Kira Nerys.

She is the unusual shape of this family. The uncomfortable protuberance that disrupts its neat quadrilateral nucleus.

She lays a tentative hand along the edge of the image, considers displaying the photograph, thinks better of it. Kisses her fingertips and presses them to Yoshi’s forehead, closes the file, and slides emphatically back from Sisko’s desk. She stands and taps her comm badge.

‘Kira to Bashir.’

She has business to attend to.

*

Julian has sought her out more often, since Ezri moved back into her own quarters. She’s never asked about that. Julian makes her uncomfortable, with his heavy eyes and his attempts at intimacy.

But today, Julian occupies her morning, and for that she’s grateful to him. He has fine plans for the expansion of the station’s infirmary. He has secured Starfleet’s permission to offer internships and residencies to Bajoran medical students. He has organized a conference on the politics of health care provision. He has published half a dozen papers in as many months. He has kept himself intensely busy and produced more work for himself in a single year, she thinks, than in all the previous seven together. She is grateful that he occupies her morning, and she wonders if she should feel guilty that she is grateful, too, that he shares her losses.

Ezri joins them in the replimat for hasperat and their monthly stationwide health assessment. Nerys finds she still can’t quite look the girl straight in the eyes. Or stop calling her ‘girl.’ Ezri senses it; Nerys feels guilty and overfeigns her friendliest smile. Another entry in the catalogue of loss. Another relationship knocked out of true by the awkward shape of Kira Nerys.

As she sits back down at the end of the meal with the day’s third raktajino, Julian says too casually, ‘I had a letter from Miles this morning.’ Ezri’s face shows the effort of a concealed response. Nerys feigns another smile. A regular enough occurrence.

Julian, consummately himself, simply meets her eye. ‘He says he misses you.’

Now, that is new. Julian anticipates her, doesn’t wait for her to speak. He’s learned to do that, this past year. It seems suddenly remarkable.

‘He seems to think you cheated when last you met on the springball court.’ His voice, his empathetic eyes, are soft. But the old boyish grin toys with his lips. Nerys guffaws, and this time the effort’s that much less.

‘That was three years ago!’ she objects, enjoying playful indignance for a change. ‘And for the record, I pummelled him fair and square.’ Ezri smiles at that, and to Nerys it feels like warmth. She takes the chance and smiles back.

‘Well,’ and Julian is buoyant in a way she hasn’t seen in so long, ‘you’ll have your shot at setting the record straight soon enough. They’re coming for Peldor, Miles says.’

Old friends for a festival of gratitude. Family, she forcefully reminds herself. The prospect should bring joy, but instead her heart goes cold.

*

She works until she can’t see straight; she’s busy, but can’t say with what. Peace does that. Evenings, she boxes holograms. She likes the bruises, her sore muscles. She drinks too much and eats too little and rarely sleeps.

She fidgets through services as she has never done before. She tries to compose her mind for gratitude, and wonders when it became so difficult.

She thinks she can’t cope with another loss. She wants to keep, to hold, and thinks she’s done too much letting go.

Still, somehow, the days pass quickly.

*

She tries to compose her mind, standing in the corridor. When the door gasps open, she proudly does not betray her leaping heart.

She is surprised when Miles kisses her lips; more so when Keiko does.

‘We’ve missed you,’ and ‘You’ve been with us every day,’ they say, and as their voices overlap they smile, first at each other and then at her.

She doesn’t know what to say, what to do with the blush that’s risen in her cheeks, so she crouches to Yoshi’s level and holds out her hand. For a moment she’s not sure if he will come to her, if he will know her. Then he faceplants into her palm and she embraces her own laughter, pretending not to notice the well of tears behind it.

‘Mrys!’ he cries as she folds her legs beneath her, his hands small but so grown in hers. He babbles grinningly at her, and plants himself in her lap.

She watches his parents. They know she does not belong to them; she gives them credit for attempting to pretend that she does.

‘We –’ Miles stutters, stumbles a bit. Keiko rolls her eyes and smiles at Nerys, crouching next to her on the floor. Nerys stares at Keiko’s fingertips as they graze her elbow, kind and familiar and as disorienting as her greeting kiss.

‘Nerys,’ she says – oh, practical Keiko – ‘we thought you’d like some time with Yoshi. We’re taking Molly to the Klingon place for dinner.’ And need a babysitter.

‘Of course. You go on.’

When at last they’re alone, she takes Yoshi up in her arms, thinking, as long as he’s too young to protest, and carries him to the window. He’s heavy, and she realizes: it’s his weight she’s missed. The weight she carried. She wonders if she’ll ever be able to put him down again.

Almost before she thinks of it, an old Bajoran lullaby is in her throat. A song of the stars; a song, inevitably, of war; a song of liberation and the cosmos. Yoshi murmurs, ‘Mrys’ with a string of insensible syllables, and sleepily grasps the chain of her earring. She sings and holds him and eventually, he sleeps.

She is still pacing by the window, the child sleeping heavy in her arms, when the door sighs open on the broad but wavering smiles of the O’Briens, come to claim back their son. She hums softly, her voice delicate with two hours of song, and lingers by the window, greeting Keiko and Miles with her eyes and, what surprises her, a quiet smile.

‘I’d like to hear you sing, sometime, Nerys. I never knew you did.’ The kindness in his eyes is shadowed by something else. Regret. Desire. Guilt. Who knows what. Love, maybe. Who knows.

She hands the child to his mother. Her hands linger over him and she can’t read Keiko’s eyes, when she notices.

‘I don’t sing, Miles.’ He balks at her lie. She touches his shoulder by way of recompense. ‘Good night. Good night, Keiko.’ She brushes her fingers across Molly’s hair, and turns to go before anything more can be said.

In the corridor, she sighs and feels it strongly, the sense of her detachment, the sense of being her own awkward, lonely shape.

*

Peldor. ‘Peldor joy!’ she grins again and again, to her staff, to her superiors, to her friends. She thinks it’s someone else saying the words, someone else’s grin.

Morning and afternoon are occupied with dignitaries and logistics. She handshakes and smiles her way through it, speaks her clear orders, delegates, multitasks. She is efficient and at ease in her efficiency.

Pausing in Sisko’s office to smooth her dress uniform’s placket and knock back a deep measure of voodai, she catches her reflection in the console screen and wonders, idly, when she became a politician. She wonders when she became comfortable in a dress uniform. She binds her long-growing hair deftly at the base of her neck and wonders, too, at the softness of her hands.

She scrawls out her scroll, quickly, does not allow herself to consider it too closely. She pours another drink. So much for composure of mind.

*

Jake presides over the ceremony, and she admires his pronunciation and his poise. The Kai nods her approval; the First Minister gives a rare smile. She finds that she is proud of him, and nods and smiles, too.

When he steps down from the podium, a beautiful young Bajoran man kisses his cheek, and Jake returns his adoring smile. She represses her affectionate smirk and makes a mental note to tell Julian he owes her ten strips of latinum. Well, there at least is something to celebrate. The boy – young man – deserves to be adored.

She rolls her scroll between her fingers, and wonders how long it’s been since last she spoke to that young man.

*

When she was a child, her father would light a kindling fire on Peldor, and when they lacked paper they would whisper their difficulties, their regrets, their mistakes and their misgivings soundlessly against the small warmth of the guttering flames. One Peldor night in the resistance, she and the others, lying in cold ambush in the hills, wrote with their fingertips in the red dirt; all was scuffed away by the skirmish that followed. Another year, another night, she traced her memories across the bare skin of her clavicle, and Lupaza kissed away her invisible inscription.

Tonight, her scroll bears only a list of names. Benjamin. Odo. Taban. Meru. Tekeny. Antos. Furel. Lupaza. Ziyal. Jadzia. She stands before the lamp and holds in her hands her catalogue of loss.

She wonders if she should add Keiko, Miles, Kirayoshi. She wonders if she should add Ezri. She watches the flame and holds the scroll tight in two hands. She wonders if the Peldor lamp can transform loss.

She startles when Julian wraps his arms around her from behind – and she lets herself pause a moment before she shrugs her objection. But he’s persistent as he always has been, and he takes her hands in his, inclining his head to meet her eye.

‘Cast your scroll, Colonel.’ Her title is more intimate in his quiet inflection than her name would be.

Her eyes flicker, excuse-seeking. Across the room, Miles and Keiko smile at her and gesture a hasty beckoning. She understands: they want her. They want her, and their want for her warms her chest. She presses her scroll to her lips and drops it into the fire.

Their arms cross over the small of her back, and their hands are firm on her hips. They want her.

*

Ezri stands apart. Nerys wonders if that’s ever not true. Her smile is more hesitant than she’d like, as usual, and as usual Ezri senses it.

‘Peldor joy, Nerys!’ The girl’s attempt is valiant enough.

She can still feel the print of Miles’ hand on her hip, Keiko’s lips on her temple. She watches Ezri’s faltering face. ‘Peldor joy, Ezri –’ she hesitates, again, when what she should do is hug this small young woman, hold her until the distance between them disappears.

Go,’ says Ezri, wryly scolding. But her fingertips are light on Nerys’ elbow. ‘They’re waiting for you.’

Nerys smiles, and knows Ezri sees that she means it.

*

‘Peldor joy!’ she cries to a passing Jake. To her surprise, he grips her wrist to stop her short, and grins.

‘Peldor joy, Nerys,’ he says, holding her hands. She repays his grin and squeezes his hands and makes to go again, and again he pulls her back. ‘Hey, wait,’ he says sheepishly, and pulls her into a hug. ‘Nerys,’ he says into her hair, for all his height and strength sounding exactly like the child he was when she first met him, ‘I love you.’ And she remembers, suddenly – and why hasn’t she before – that she has been his family, too.

*

She finds her quarters live with activity. Keiko is cooking and Miles and Julian argue Federation politics a few decibels above sober. She wonders if they hear Keiko’s wry commentary, and she smiles. Patient Molly is teaching Yoshi a game of complicated hand-clapping, and the babe, if that’s possible, seems to be cheating.

They eat and drink and laugh together, slow and loud. She lets her hair down for Molly to braid it. Miles tells lewd jokes that make her howl and blushing Keiko reluctantly snort. Julian winks and lays his hand on her knee, and she finally understands that all he means by it is care.

*

No one wants to let the evening end, and so no one leaves.

Julian’s head rests on Keiko’s lap, his boyish legs kicked over the arm of the couch. Molly, slumped on the floor, sleeps reluctantly against Miles’ legs. Yoshi sits on Julian’s chest, three warm adult hands joined across his fat belly.

She kisses Keiko’s cheek and leans against Miles’ shoulder, offering him her other hand.

Yoshi punches Julian’s nose, and they giggle together, a high, delighted pitch joined by a low, indulgent one.

Nerys breathes in the comfort of this momentary family’s momentary shape, and smiling, she begins to sing.

*