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Tobin started it.

Shy, nervous, nail-biter Tobin, who could coax an engine until it purred but had trouble when it came to anything organic.

Magic tricks were one of the hobbies he picked up. Card games were another. Both could be practised alone, and then shared with others when he had perfected them. He was comforted by the knowledge that if social interactions ever became awkward he always had something to fall back on.

But he had another, secret, hobby. One that proved so absorbing and relaxing it was passed on, more or less subconsciously, to each of Dax's hosts. But one that he was convinced would lead to ridicule if anyone else ever found out.

Tobin loved to knit.

Scarves. Hats. Gloves. Jumpers. Tea cosies. Little toy whales. He could make them all.

Few of his acquaintances knew of his hobby. Those who had caught him at it were sworn to secrecy – what seemed a mild eccentricity, or even a perfectly innocent hobby to them, Tobin considered yet another flaw.

The problem, of course, is that knitted goods aren't exactly inconspicuous. Tobin tried hiding them in the back of closets and under his beds, but eventually he realised there was only one thing he could do: he sold them, anonymously, via an online shop.

This proved even more of a problem, as his knitted creations became popular. He began noticing his work everywhere – on space stations and starships, and on planets: everywhere from the Northern Wastes of Andor to the Tenaran ice cliffs of his homeworld.

Another man would have taken pride in seeing his work so well loved. But not Tobin. He was afraid that everyone would know, just by looking at him, that he was the one who knit their purchases.

This had been going on for some years when something unexpected happened. His shop received a personal message – not from a buyer, but from another seller, one who was interested in discussing knitting.

Tobin fretted over this message for three days, before eventually deciding (with more than a little help, and numerous eye rolls, from Lela) that there was nothing wrong with a little harmless conversation about the fine craft that was knitting.

He was wrong of course. The conversations weren't harmless at all – quite the opposite. They proved engrossing, perhaps even more so than knitting. Within a matter of weeks he'd shared some of his most intimate secrets without so much as a second thought. Within a few months he'd arranged to meet up with his correspondent.

Luckily, she proved to be exactly who she'd said she was: an unjoined Trill woman named Lirisse Tahvan. She was a historian who liked nothing better than to spend hours with her nose in front of a data PADD, or a real, paper book. When she wasn't absorbed in her research then she would either be tending her plants, or knitting. Tobin fell, as the Human expression goes, head over heels.

Fortunately, so did Lirisse, so within the year they were married.

After that, Tobin's knitting could no longer be kept a secret. Because while Lirisse was willing to respect Tobin's shyness, their many children were only too happy to show off the beautiful things their father knitted for them.

By the time he was an old man, Tobin had come to terms with his unusual hobby, even if he did squirm with residual embarrassment every time a stranger complimented him on his work. 

~

Now Emony, on the other hand, was an active woman. If she wasn't practising her gymnastic technique chances were she was off racing hoverbikes or drinking something glittery and highly alcoholic. She had no time for something as sedate as knitting.

Or so she'd thought.

Her first encounter with a pair of knitting needles and wool, in this lifetime at least, was during an Earth ritual known as a 'baby shower' (which involved less water than expected).

The mother-to-be had gathered them all in her home, where Emony had happened to sit on the overstuffed, lavender coloured sofa. It had been after her third glass of champagne – when she'd gone searching for a ring that had managed to fling itself right off her finger to land somewhere behind the sofa – that she discovered a rather squashed basket filled with wool and a poor attempt at a single baby boot.

Emony had retrieved it (forgetting all about the ring, to this day Dax wondered what had become of it). And before she'd quite realised what she was doing, she'd started the piece over, instructing everyone gathered on how to make a baby boot.

She'd finished the pair in record time, and declared this an even better gift than the one she'd bought.

But her most startling discovery was how relaxing it was. She'd simply thought that the effect only applied to the nervous Tobin. So although she didn't go as far as opening her own business, and she had no desire to inundate her wife or daughter with knitwear, Emony did keep a pair of knitting needles on hand for all those times when standing on her head just didn't provide the relaxation she desired.

~

It would come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Audrid liked to knit. She'd liked to knit even before she was joined to Dax. And was most delighted, after being joined, when she realised the true depth of Tobin's secret passion – and all of the fabulous patterns he'd come up with for creations she could now claim as her own.

Audrid didn't only knit gifts for her children, but bestowed them upon the rest of her family and friends. And sometimes even her co-workers – nothing baffled them more than arguing with her over policy and procedure at the Symbiosis Commission all year, only to receive a brightly coloured beanie with a pom-pom on top come the holiday season.

She and Lela always had a good giggle over that.

~

Torias tried to knit once. He'd wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Unfortunately, despite Dax providing all the muscle memory he needed, he just couldn't get the knack of it. So as soon as Nilani arrived home from work to discover him, tangled in bright yellow wool and cursing, he gave up.

~

Joran considered knitting beneath him.

Where the others saw tools to create, he saw a pointed tip sinking into flesh.

His lack of desire to knit didn't stop him from judging the creations of others. After all, what was Dax's knowledge for but to be used to his own advantage?

He fixated on poorly executed increases and clashing colours. His teeth ground together at every poorly knit hat, scarf and glove. Once he even 'accidentally' knocked a beanie from a child's head, because he was so appalled by the shoddy craftsmanship.

He knew he could make the best knitwear in the entire Federation, if he so desired. But he had no desire to.

~

Benjamin still had no idea that the adorable green, white and brown striped jumpsuit that Curzon had given Jake for his first birthday hadn't been something that Curzon had bought.

Then again, Benjamin also didn't know that knitting was considered an honourable past time in the Klingon Empire.

Not one worthy of song of course, but nevertheless it was a popular activity in Klingon households – it could not only sooth a warrior to sleep, but also resulted in practical garments. And there was the added bonus of having a pair of weapons on hand, if one's d'k tahg was too far away.

~

Jadzia had already been joined to Dax for two years by the time she arrived at Deep Space Nine. She'd dabbled in more than a few of Dax's past hosts' hobbies in that time, but having lived for over three hundred years as six different people there were still quite a lot she hadn't attempted.

It was a few months after she moved to the station that she decided to replicate a pair of knitting needles and yarn – if she enjoyed the activity she would of course source higher quality, authentic materials, but there was no use tracking down something nice if she ended up hating it.

Jadzia spent one quiet evening by herself knitting a scarf and found that she did enjoy knitting, to a degree.

The problem was, Jadzia Idaris had grown up a quiet, bookish type, so she already had her preferred methods of relaxation. A mug of sweet tea and a good book was usually enough to settle her down.

Knitting as a solitary act just didn't appeal.

The replicated needles and yarn sat, undisturbed, in a corner of her quarters for the better part of a year. She kept meaning to recycle them, but somehow always managed to forget.

~

“You know, I really like that green dress of yours. The crocheted one,” Jadzia told Nerys one day over a mug of jumja tea at the Replimat. “Where did you get it?”

Nerys's expression, which had been lighter around Dax since their mission together to stop the Circle a fortnight ago, became subdued. “It was my mother's. My father made it for her and kept it after she passed away. He gave it to me when I had grown enough to fit into it. It's one of the few things of hers I have left.”

Jadzia felt a pang of sympathy for Nerys. It was easy to forget sometimes, just how much she had endured in her short lifetime.

She tentatively placed a hand over Nerys's on the table, unsure if the gesture would be welcomed, and was pleasantly surprised when Nerys turned her hand over to give Jadzia's a squeeze.

“I'm sorry Nerys, I didn't realise,” was all she said.

Nerys shook her head, “It's okay. I haven't told anyone else.” She allowed Jadzia's hand to remain in her own for another moment, then gently extricated it to wrap both her hands around her mug.

“So … your father could crochet?” Jadzia asked, once again treading gently. She knew how hot the Major's temper could flare, even if she was rarely on the receiving end of it. But after a year of getting to know the other woman she also recognised that Nerys was sorely lacking in female friends, especially ones she could confide in.

Instead of snapping, as she might have done, Nerys allowed a small smile to creep on to her face. “Yes, and knit. He made all of our clothes when we were young.”

“Did he ever get the chance to teach you?”

Nerys's face pinched. “No.” The 'I was too busy fighting to free Bajor' went unspoken.

Jadzia cursed herself and quickly tried to steer the conversation to a less painful subject. “I could teach you. To knit I mean, I can't crochet,” she said, not even really thinking about what she was saying in her eagerness to undo any damage she might have done.

Nerys's eyebrows raised. “You can knit?” she asked.

Jadzia nodded, “Almost all of Dax's hosts could, though many of them would have preferred if no one knew.” She grinned at Tobin's spluttering indignation, and it widened when Audrid, Lela and Emony all rolled their eyes at his moaning.

She was genuinely surprised (something which didn't happen very often) when Nerys straightened up in her chair and looked her right in the eye. “You know, I think I'd like that. Are you sure it wouldn't be any trouble?”

“Of course not. It'll be fun!”

In fact, the more she thought about it, the better the idea seemed. None of Dax's other hosts had tried turning knitting into a social activity. Nothing delighted Jadzia more than putting one of Dax's many skills into practice – but with a twist that was uniquely her own.

“When do you want to start?” she asked.

~

Nerys was most definitely not nervous, why would you even suggest such a thing?

She definitely hadn't spent the last two hours of her shift glancing at the chrono every few minutes. And her dinner certainly hadn't been forced down at a pace she hadn't eaten at since her days in the Resistance. She hadn't scattered the meagre contents of her wardrobe across her quarters, taking off each outfit seconds after she put it on. And there was no way she'd spent the better part of the past hour pacing up and down her quarters, stepping over wayward pieces of clothing, muttering to herself.

No. Nerys hadn't had any trouble at all deciding upon her outfit: her orange-red dress worn over her short sleeved green shirt, with her crocheted green vest over the top. In fact, she was perfectly relaxed as she made her way to Lieutenant Dax's quarters.

After all, Nerys had been in far worse situations. She'd faced down more terrifying foe. Been outnumbered and outgunned and certain she was marching to her death.

If she'd survived the Occupation then what was there to be afraid of in a simple knitting lesson with a colleague she'd been working with for the better part of a year? Nothing. There was absolutely nothing to be afraid of. This was going to be fine. Fun even.

Nerys reached Dax's quarters and faltered.

She'd asked, when Dax had brought her a raktajino this morning during their shift together, if she was supposed to bring anything that evening. But the Lieutenant had just smiled and shaken her head before proclaiming that the only thing Kira needed to bring was herself.

Now she desperately wished she'd brought something anyway, just so her hands would have something to do. Something other than flop awkwardly at her side, or wind themselves in the fabric of her clothing.

Nerys took a deep breath, closed her eyes and said a quick prayer to the Prophets.

Then she squared her shoulders as if an entire squadron of Cardassian troops was on the other side of the door and pressed the chime.

~

Jadzia had a perfectly relaxing evening. She'd had the afternoon shift off and had spent her time off catching up on the latest scientific journals – gaining new knowledge always put her in a fantastic mood.

So by the time she'd arrived at Benjamin's for dinner she was all smiles and had thought of some fantastic stories Ben and Jake hadn't heard her tell yet.

She'd kept quiet about her after dinner plans. Partly it was because she didn't want to accidentally upset the Major – after all, the lesson could easily end in disaster and Dax certainly didn't want to be responsible for setting an angry Nerys on any of their colleagues innocently enquiring after their evening activity.

But that wasn't the only reason.

Jadzia spent the walk back to her quarters trying to parse apart her thoughts. She'd felt comfortable enough disclosing her knitting ability to Kira – why was Benjamin any different? Was it the Tobin in her, still ashamed of his favourite hobby? Or maybe her inner Curzon, keeping his cards close to his chest?

Maybe it had nothing to do with knitting, and everything to do with the person she was spending the evening with. She couldn't tell which of Dax's hosts had whispered the traitorous thought, but she hushed them quickly and sternly reminded them (and herself) that Major Kira was currently involved with Vedek Bareil.

While some of Dax's previous hosts had no qualms about pursuing people they were interested in, regardless of existing relationships, Jadzia didn't count herself among that group.

Besides, Curzon remarked, with so many other delightful, attractive people passing through the station all the time, what use was it getting hung up on a single Bajoran woman? As the Betazoid expression went, there were plenty more drops in the ocean.

Jadzia conceded that he had a point, then decided to put all thoughts on the matter aside and focus on other things until Kira arrived.

She'd finished a number of fascinating journal articles by the time her door chime sounded.

“Come in,” she called out from where she was seated at the sofa, PADD cradled in her lap. On the coffee table in front of her were two sets of knitting needles and a mug of lukewarm chamomile tea. A wicker basket sat next to the table, filled with a rainbow of yarn.

The doors to her quarters whooshed open and Nerys stepped inside. She paused awkwardly after crossing the threshold, and you didn't need to have lived over three hundred years to see that she was tense.

Dax took one look at her and raised an eyebrow. “You know, I think you looked less tense when we were flying that old Bajoran rustbucket to take down the Circle. I'm sure we can get someone to deliver some Palukoos here, if that'll make you more comfortable.”

Nerys let out a startled laugh and some of the tension in her shoulders eased. “No, that's okay,” she said, “I already ate.”

Jadzia knew she was joking, but she couldn't help her nose wrinkling at the thought of the hairy, skittering critters. She went to the replicator, carrying her lukewarm tea with her. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

Nerys blinked a few times, as if she'd forgotten that this was supposed to be a pleasant, social activity between friends. “Uh, a Tarkalean tea, no sugar,” she said after a moment.

This seemed to be the cue the rest of her body needed, for she finally moved from in front of Dax's door.

She strolled over to the couch, taking in the decorations Jadzia had on display as she went, then gingerly sat down – both feet planted firmly on the ground, as if prepared to spring up at any second.

Dax marvelled at how much progress her friend had made this past year, adjusting to life on a non-occupied Bajor – and working alongside the Federation too. But she supposed there'd always be a part of Kira that was ready to act on instinct, to fight or flee without stopping to think for even a second.

Jadzia repeated Nerys's order for the replicator and had her own tea reheated, then carried the mugs across to set them down on the glass table with a clack.

Nerys watched her do this with a slightly startled expression, as if she still wasn't really sure what she was doing here. Dax had rarely seen her so stilted. “You know we don't have to do this, if you feel uncomfortable?” she remarked idly, after she'd joined Nerys on the couch.

“What? No!” Nerys exclaimed, “I want to be here. And to learn how to knit.” She let out a noisy breath and leaned forward, her hands clasped together, “I don't know why I'm so nervous.”

Jadzia leaned over to place her hand on Kira's shoulder. “Before I was Joined I used to get really nervous if I was about to learn something I was convinced I wouldn't be any good at. Especially if it was something I really wanted to learn.”

Nerys looked at her with surprise in her eyes. There was a vulnerability in her expression that Jadzia had rarely seen in the other woman. She said a silent thanks to Dax, for its perceptiveness.

For a moment Dax thought she saw envy in Nerys's eyes, then the Bajoran woman gave her a wry smile, “I guess you're lucky then – that you were joined to Dax.”

Jadzia had two choices now.

Either she could let the moment pass and agree that joining with Dax was the best thing she'd ever done. Or she could reciprocate Nerys's honesty and vulnerability with her own.

Lela reminded her that the willingness to open yourself up to another person was the foundation of every great friendship. Curzon butted in to argue that she'd never retain her air of mystery if she went around telling people her deepest, darkest secrets.

Jadzia made her decision and inclined her head in acknowledgement. “I am lucky. But to be honest, there are some days I miss just being Jadzia Idaris,” she admitted.

Nerys looked as if she'd slapped her.

Jadzia clasped her hands in her lap and went on quickly, “I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't regret being joined – and I honestly can't imagine my life without Dax. But things were so much simpler when it was just my issues and fears. I think for every fear I've had that Dax has helped me conquer, I've inherited another from one of my past hosts.”

“I- I didn't realise,” Nerys stammered.

“I don't think many people do – not the least because we Joined Trill have an image to maintain.” Her mouth twisted at that, her smile turning mischievous, then she went on, “And I mean, it's easy for me to forget sometimes, that I'm a twenty-nine year old woman as much as I am Dax.”

Some of the tension in Nerys had ebbed and she was looking at Jadzia differently now. “I can't even imagine what it must be like for you, being two people but one at the same time,” she mused. “You always seem so … well, so put together.”

She flushed slightly at this admission and Jadzia couldn't help but chuckle.

“Trust me Nerys, I wasn't always. Even with all my years of preparation and training at the Symbiosis Commission. I don't think anyone who Joins ever really knows what they're getting themselves into.”

Emony congratulated her on getting Nerys to open up to her. But Torias suggested that perhaps it was time to return to the reason they were here. Jadzia thought he had a point.

She picked up her tea, which had now cooled slightly, and took a sip before speaking again. “But that's enough about me. I think maybe we should just get stuck into it, you know, tear off the bandage so to speak.”

Nerys's shoulders tensed for a moment but she took a deep breath and nodded, “You're right, the sooner we start, the sooner I'll realise there's no reason to be nervous.”

“Exactly,” Jadzia agreed, giving her a winning smile.

She took another sip of tea then set the glass down out of the way and leaned over to collect the knitting needles and a ball of red yarn.

Nerys turned to face her, her hands subconsciously tightening in her dress. But her expression was determined, which Dax took as a good sign.

“Okay, well, when Tobin learned to knit he began by making a plain square – just to learn the basics,” Jadzia explained. “I'm going to start you off by casting on for you,” she said, then pre-empted the question on Kira's mind, “which just means I'm going to put the first stitches on the needles. So watch closely.”

The next ten minutes were spent in relative silence. Jadzia showed Nerys the easiest way to cast on, the thumb cast-on, and Nerys watched as intently as if Jadzia was explaining the steps to diffuse a bomb.

“Alright,” Jadzia said at last, “Now you have a go.” She handed the knitting to Nerys. Kira held the needles gingerly for a moment, then adjusted her grip slightly and began to carefully cast another stitch onto the needle.

Jadzia watched her quietly, biting back a smile at how adorable Nerys looked hunched over the needles, yarn in her lap, concentrating so intensely on each motion. She collected a ball of dark blue yarn and needles for herself and cast on, the effortless motions in stark contrast to those made by Kira.

After a few minutes Nerys looked up at her, “How many of these do I have to do?” she asked, brow furrowed.

Jadzia quickly counted the stitches on the needle, “Another two should do, then I'll show you how to knit a row.”

Nerys nodded, her mouth pursing with determination as she looped the yarn around her thumb again.

Jadzia returned to her own knitting, though she was having a hard time not getting distracted just watching the expressions on Kira's face as she concentrated. Audrid admonished her to focus on what she was doing, which made Torias roll his eyes and interject that if there was ever a species suited to multitasking it was the Trill. Emony wondered aloud if Bajorans were monogamous and asked if perhaps Jadzia ought to take a leaf out of her book after all, while Tobin noted proudly that Kira was already slightly faster at casting on than she'd been when she started.

“Okay, that's twenty,” Nerys said, cutting through the chatter, and holding out the needles for Jadzia to take.

“Great work,” Jadzia said, beaming. She put the prattling of Dax's past hosts to the back of her mind with practised ease and set about showing Kira how to knit her first row.

~

When Jadzia returned from lunch the next day she was surprised to see Chief O'Brien hovering around her workstation, clearly waiting for her.

“Is there something I can do for you Chief?” she asked as she approached.

Miles scratched the back of his neck and looked sort of embarrassed. “I, er, heard from Major Kira that you're giving her knitting lessons,” he said slowly, glancing around Ops as if worried that someone would overhear.

Even after being a man four times, Dax still couldn't fully understand the difficulty some of them seemed to have with admitting they participated in certain activities.

Jadzia couldn't resist giving him a teasing smile, “Is this your way of asking to join us?”

Lela and Curzon both got a good laugh out of the way his eyes widened in panic.

“What? Oh, no, I'm not-” he stammered, “It's Keiko. Well, I mean, I just thought that maybe- if neither of you minded that is- She doesn't have many- Er, that is to say-”

Jadzia bit back a grin at his furious back-pedalling and cut him off smoothly, “If Keiko's interested in learning to knit then you can tell her she's welcome to join us any time. Nerys and I would love the company.”

Miles relaxed at her words, the tension flooding out of his shoulders. “Thanks. I'll let her know.”

“And of course, you're always welcome as well Chief,” Jadzia added, keeping her face serious.

Miles's eyes widened slightly, “I'll keep that in mind,” he mumbled before hastily retreating across Ops to hide in the pit.

Jadzia could only maintain her composure for so long with six voices cackling away in her head. She hunched down in front of her monitor and hid the giggles in her sleeve.

~

Two months passed and Jadzia had almost entirely forgotten about the Chief's request. So when her door chime sounded fifteen minutes after Nerys had arrived for their weekly lesson she could only shrug in response to the other woman's questioning look.

“Come in,” she said aloud, setting the dark blue vest she'd been working on down on the coffee table before turning to look over the back of her couch.

As the doors parted to reveal a nervous looking Keiko O'Brien, clutching a pair of knitting needles and a ball of mint green yarn, the memory rushed back to her and she grinned in welcome.

“Keiko! Come on in,” Jadzia said, grinning.

“Hello, Lieutenant, Major,” Keiko said, nodding at them each in turn as she crossed the threshold and stopped after the doors closed behind her. Dax was reminded of the first knitting lesson she'd given Nerys, except that instead of radiating nervous energy Keiko looked like she was holding onto an entirely different sort of tension.

She held the knitting needles so tightly it looked as if they were about to snap, and stared down at the yarn in her hands for a few silent moments before glancing back up. “Miles said you've been teaching Major Kira to knit?” she asked. She didn't seem entirely sure if it was a question, or a statement.

Jadzia smiled gently at her, “I have. And I see you've come to join us,” she said, nodding at the yarn.

“Is that okay?” Keiko asked, “I didn't want to intrude.”

Jadzia opened her mouth to reply, but Nerys beat her to it. The Bajoran woman had left her half-finished scarf on the coffee table next to the vest and was crossing the room, her arm outstretched. “Of course it's okay, we'd be glad for the company.” She reached Keiko's side and gently took her by the elbow to steer her into the room.

Jadzia watched them and thought back over the past few weeks. First Miles had been declared dead during the incident with the T'Lani and Kellerun, and it had only been Keiko's insistence that all wasn't what it seemed that had led them to discover he wasn't dead after all. Then, as if that hadn't been stressful enough, a week later Keiko had had to spend two days acting like everything was normal even though she knew Miles had been replaced by a Paradan replicant.

Jadzia barely knew Miles's wife, but she and Dax both agreed that she must have nerves of steel – and that her current state was perfectly understandable.

“There we go,” Nerys said, her voice soothing in a way Jadzia hadn't heard before. “Sit down here next to Jadzia and I'll get you something to drink.” Her wide eyes sought Jadzia's, silently asking what drink she should ask for.

“How about some relaxing chamomile tea?” Jadzia suggested, leaning down slightly to look at Keiko's face. Tobin, Emony and Audrid all began fussing at the same moment, offering up suggestions on what to say or do, their voices overlapping to form a hum of concern. Dax shushed them.

Keiko was staring down at the ball of yarn crumpled between her fingers. Nerys had already extracted the knitting needles and placed them on the coffee table. When Jadzia leaned down Keiko blinked rapidly, sucking in a startled breath and loosening her grip. She looked back at Jadzia and smiled shakily, “Sorry, Lieutenant, that sounds fine.”

“Please, call me Jadzia,” she said.

Nerys returned from the replicator with a steaming mug of the pale amber liquid, which she handed to Keiko with a gentle smile. “And I'm Nerys – there aren't any ranks in here.”

“Thank you Ma- Nerys,” Keiko said, her fingers curling around the handle. The yarn lay, slightly squashed, in her lap.

Jadzia retrieved her knitting, her restless hands seeking something to keep them occupied. Her eyes met Nerys's over the table. She was finishing the dregs of her Tarkalean tea and glancing between Jadzia and Keiko.

Keiko brought the mug to her face and inhaled deeply. Dax was pleased to see some of the tension ease from her shoulders.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Jadzia asked.

Keiko shook her head, her grip tightening around the mug. “No,” she said, then shook her head again. “Yes,” she revised her statement. “Oh, I don't know.” She sighed, looking into her mug as if maybe it had the answers.

“That's okay,” Jadzia reassured her, “We're here to listen, if you need us to.”

Keiko's lips curled into their first smile of the night. “Thank you.” She took a cautious sip of her tea and her smile widened.

They sat in companionable silence for a time, the rhythmic click of Jadzia's and Nerys's knitting needles the only sound. Nerys still had a delightful look of concentration on her face, but her motions were smoother and faster. Dax noted how rewarding it was, watching her improve each week.

They usually filled the silence with conversation, but both recognised that what Keiko needed now was a quiet space, and time to think.

Their patience was rewarded a few minutes later when Keiko set the now empty mug down on the coffee table. “I didn't realise until today, how alone I was here,” she said, voice steady but soft.

Nerys opened her mouth, her eyes flashing with alarm, but Jadzia held up a surreptitious hand to stop her from saying anything. Kira visibly bit back her reassurance.

Keiko went on, “On the Enterprise I had friends I could talk to about anything, and co-workers too for that matter. Whether work was stressing me out, or Miles and I had had a fight, or if something … more serious had happened,” Keiko stumbled for only a moment over the words, clearly thinking of recent events, “I thought that if I gave it some time I'd make new friends here, but the truth is, between teaching, and looking after Miles and Molly, and keeping up with botany journals, it just hasn't happened.”

Jadzia placed her knitting on the coffee table and rose from the couch. She stretched out her back, thanking Emony silently for her technique, then crossed to the replicator to order herself a hot ginger tea. “You know, I think some of the only friends I had when I was growing up were the children of my parents' friends? I spent so much time studying I don't think I even knew what socialising was.”

She retrieved the mug and crossing back to the couch. “It wasn't until I was a teenager that my mother sat me down and told me that if I didn't stick my head up out of my books every once in a while I was going to miss out on the world around me.”

She leaned back into the couch cushions, the mug warming her hands. “And then she added that academic ability wasn't the only thing the Symbiosis Commission looked for in Initiates and boy, was that the kick up the pants I needed.”

Nerys barked out a laugh at that and Jadzia grinned at her before turning back to Keiko and resting a hand on her shoulder. “It wasn't always easy, between completing my degrees, Initiate training and Starfleet Academy, to set aside the time to make, and maintain, friendships. But I'm sure you'll agree that it's so worthwhile, especially when things are tough, to know you don't have to deal with everything alone.”

She felt a swell of warmth as Dax agreed with her sentiment, thinking in particular of their friendship with Benjamin.

Keiko smiled tentatively at her, covering Jadzia's hand with her own. “Is that your way of saying I'm less alone than I think I am?” she asked, voice partly teasing, part genuinely wanting to know.

Jadzia squeezed her shoulder, “Let's just say I think you've come to the right place to start changing things for the better.”

“Hear hear,” Nerys agreed, before she dropped a stitch and let out a curse.

Keiko's surprised laughter made Jadzia grin and soon the three of them were laughing together, the tension and concern dissipating and leaving something tentative and new in its wake.

“Are you ready to start?” Jadzia asked, scooping up Keiko's knitting needles from the table and holding them out to her.

“I am,” Keiko said.

~

When the three of them meet up again the following week Keiko and Jadzia discovered that they'd both just finished reading the same journal article on the practice of introducing mycorrhizal fungus into extremely arid environments to promote water retention in plants and immediately launched into an in-depth discussion of the potential benefits this would have for repairing the agricultural damage done on planets such as Bajor.

After fifteen minutes of engrossing conversation, Curzon butt in to remark that if they didn't change the topic soon Nerys might very well fall asleep mid stitch.

Jadzia looked over and saw that he had a point, she recognised that glazed over look from Torias's face, and Tobin added that the easiest way to help Lirisse fall asleep was to start talking about any sort of scientific breakthrough.

“I think we need to add a new rule,” she said abruptly, making Nerys look over at her. “No more scientific discussions while knitting.”

Keiko glanced over at Kira, comprehension dawning, “Oh Nerys I'm sorry, I didn't even think.”

“Don't worry about it,” Nerys said, brushing off her concern. Her smile had grown fond and Torias did the mental equivalent of nudging Jadzia with his elbow and winking. She resolutely ignored him.

“I know,” Keiko said, eyes lighting up as she turned back to Jadzia, “Why don't you come over for afternoon tea tomorrow? That way we can discuss mycorrhizal fungus without putting Nerys to sleep.”

“I'd love to,” Jadzia said.

Keiko took a sip of her previously untouched tea and looked to Kira. “What would you like to discuss Nerys? Oh, I know – the election seems to be at the front of everyone's minds at the moment, who do you think is going to be the next Kai?”

Jadzia grinned, “Surely Nerys is somewhat biased on that topic,” she pointed out.

“Hey, just because Bareil and I are involved doesn't mean I'm biased,” Nerys said, indignant.

Jadzia and Keiko both gave her a look.

“Okay, fine, maybe just a little,” Nerys conceded, laughing.

~

They'd been meeting up to knit every week for six months when Joran's memories resurfaced in Dax.

Keiko showed up at Nerys's door that week, a half-finished, powder blue beanie slightly crumpled in her hands and her bottom lip caught between her teeth. Nerys let out a breath at the sight of her and the pair of them spent the first half hour in silence, crammed together on Nerys's couch, knitting needles slowly but steadily clicking away.

“How do you think she's doing?” Keiko asked at last, breaking the silence.

Her worried eyes met Nerys's when the other woman gave her a somewhat crooked, reassuring smile. “Captain Sisko said she's going to be okay.”

Keiko nodded, returning to her knitting.

But it wasn't long before Kira set the sweater she was making onto the coffee table and ran a hand through her hair. “Do you think it's going to effect her? These new memories?” She couldn't help but think of her last encounter with Dax, of the uncharacteristic fury in her eyes, the stiffness of her posture, the way she grit her teeth. It had been like staring at another person entirely. Which, she supposed, she actually had been.

“I imagine it will, but surely the Symbiosis Commission will be able to help her integrate these new memories?” Keiko said, her own knitting forgotten in her lap.

Nerys let out a shaky breath, “I sure hope so.”

~

It was two days after Joran's memories had been restored to Dax and to say that Jadzia was still not used to the seventh presence in her mind would be an understatement. The figure that had been haunting her had been revealed, but his presence was no less terrifying now that he'd been unmasked.

She could feel his dark eyes on her all the time: watching, judging, waiting.

The Symbiosis Commission had assigned her a specialist to provide extra training on maintaining balance within her Joining, and on not letting past hosts overwhelm her. She wished that she could scoff at their obvious worry that Joran's memories would unbalance her as well, and that they'd have another killing spree to cover up. But the truth was Jadzia was afraid he would somehow find a way to take control of her body. It was irrational, and the scientist in her disputed her fear with cold hard facts. While past hosts could certainly influence her, she was still her own person. Dax changed her, but it could not make her a killer.

She clung to this each time she awoke in the night, the memory of blood coating her hands, of the perverse pleasure she- no, he'd felt. The thrill, the satisfaction, the power, it all scared her.

Ironically, it was Dax who gave her the strength to endure the memory integration.

When she woke for the fifth time on the fourth night, drenched in sweat and panting from yet another nightmare, it was to Lela's presence mentally stroking her hair, Tobin sharing a complex knitting pattern to distract her, Emony cuddled up to her, Audrid singing her a lullaby, Torias holding her hand, and Curzon recalling yet another of his outrageous stories.

Bitter tears stung her eyes as she curled upon herself in the shower in the early hours of the morning, letting the water wash everything away.

But for the first time since his memories began to surface Jadzia didn't feel Joran's eyes on the back of her neck. He was still there, hovering like a ghost, but the others were a cocoon around her, protecting her from his dark presence.

She slept through the rest of the night, and when she awoke the next morning, she knew she was going to be able to cope.

~

It was approaching the end of the afternoon shift a week later and Nerys still wasn't sure if they were meeting in Jadzia's quarters after dinner or not.

Dax had been back for two days now, but she and Nerys hadn't had a conversation outside of work. And she'd seemed so subdued that Nerys hadn't wanted to push. The memory of Joran's anger kept flashing through her mind and maybe she was a coward for letting that stop her, but she thought Jadzia would appreciate her space right now.

Unless, of course, she was expecting Nerys and Keiko to show up at her door this evening. In which case they'd be conspicuous in their absence.

Nerys sighed and allowed herself to hunch over her console for a few minutes, taking deep, steady breaths. When she straightened up again she strode over to Dax's station like she'd done dozens, no, hundreds of times over the past two years, her shoulders back and head held high.

“Dax,” she began. The clipped tone of her own voice, tightened by nerves and determination, startled her and she forced herself to relax. This was a personal question, not official business. “Jadzia. Did you want to meet up tonight?”

Jadzia blinked at her, apparently confused, “Tonight?” she asked. But before Nerys could answer, recognition lit her eyes. “Oh, of course, our knitting group.”

Kira nodded stiffly, “I understand if you're not up to it.”

Jadzia clenched her jaw, “No, of course I'm up to it,” she said, sounding almost offended. For a split second Nerys thought she saw the glint of Joran, then Jadzia shook her head and laughed, “I mean, it's only knitting.”

Some of the tension eased from Kira's spine and she smiled, “In that case we'll see you tonight.”

~

“I have some news,” Keiko said, after they'd gotten themselves settled that evening.

“Oh?” Jadzia raised an eyebrow, looking over at Kira who shook her head in confirmation that this was the first she was hearing of this too.

“I would have told you both last week, except with everything going on …” Keiko trailed off, and Jadzia flushed. She was doing a lot better than she had been. Dax had almost reintegrated all of Joran's memories now. She was finally getting used to the seventh presence hovering in the back of her mind, and the nightmares had reduced to only one a night.

“I'm going to be leaving the station for six months, to take part in a agrobiological expedition in the Janitza Mountains,” Keiko announced.

“Oh Keiko, that's wonderful!” Nerys exclaimed.

“It is!” Jadzia agreed, thrilled for her friend. “I mean, we're going to miss you of course, but you're going to have such a fantastic time. I almost wish I could join you, I bet it's going to be a fascinating trip.”

Keiko beamed at their reactions. “Oh it will be. And I'm going to miss you as well, don't worry. Maybe I can teach the other members of the expedition how to knit, so that I'm not rusty.”

~

A fortnight after Keiko had left for Bajor, Nerys was kidnapped and surgically altered to appear Cardassian in an attempt to foil the Cardassian dissident movement.

Although her appearance was restored and her identity as a Bajoran confirmed, Dax couldn't help but notice the way Nerys lingered as she walked past the mirror in her quarters, on her way to the couch, during their first weekly meeting since the incident.

“How are you holding up?” Jadzia asked, bringing over two mugs of Jumja tea and a large plate of hasperat.

Usually they ate before meeting up to knit, but they'd only just finished a three-hour meeting with Admiral Nechayev and the rest of the senior staff, discussing the Dominion threat, and Dax was tired, hungry, and thought if she heard the word Dominion again today she might just scream.

Nerys accepted the mug gratefully, gulping down half of its contents in one go. Dax knew that the sweet, tart flavour of Jumja wasn't a favourite of hers, but she'd guessed correctly that it was just what they both needed.

Kira let out a sigh, slumping back into the couch cushions and cradling the mug against her chest. “I'm fine Dax, you don't need to worry about me. Believe it or not, I've had worse experiences where the Cardassians are concerned,” she said with a smile.

Jadzia returned the smile as she sipped her tea. “I can believe it. But even so, this was different. It can be disconcerting, doubting who you are – even temporarily.” She put her mug down and selected one of the pieces of hasperat. “I should know,” she added, before taking a bite. While not as fresh as the real thing, the replicated version of the dish still seared her tongue and brought tears to her eyes.

Nerys's lips pursed and she hunched forward to pick up a piece of hasperat for herself.

Jadzia waited for her to speak, enjoying the silence and the burn of Bajoran spices in her mouth. Curzon began to recount the time he'd introduced hasperat to a Klingon delegation but she shushed him, needing to savour the quiet and wanting to keep her full attention on Nerys.

They'd made their way through most of the plate when Nerys finally looked over at Jadzia. “I feel like I … like I've betrayed myself,” she began, frowning down at the mug still clutched in her hand as she tried to find the words to explain her thoughts. “It might have only been for a few moments, but I still can't get the past the fact that for those moments I genuinely wondered if maybe I was Iliana Ghemor.”

“And what would have happened if you were?” Jadzia asked, picking up her own mug and taking a sip. The sweet, warm tea soothed the fire in her mouth.

“What?” Nerys replied, startled.

Jadzia tilted her head. “If you were Iliana Ghemor, and the real Kira Nerys had died, what would that mean for you?”

“I- I don't know,” Nerys said, placing her mug on the table as she stood. She paced over to the mirror and looked at her own reflection.

“Let me put it to you this way,” Jadzia said, leaving her own mug on the table and rising to stand behind Kira. “Dax holds the memories of seven other people, alongside Jadzia's. And I remember being Lela with the same clarity that I remember being Curzon. So am I any less Lela or Curzon, or Tobin or Joran, simply because those physical hosts are long dead?”

Nerys's reflection frowned at Jadzia through the mirror, “But that's different.”

“Why?” Jadzia countered, eyebrow raising. “Because I'm a Joined Trill?”

“Exactly.”

Jadzia shrugged, “Joined Trill may be made up of the memories of their previous hosts, but that doesn't change the fact that every being – at least, every one I've encountered in my lifetimes – is made up of the sum of their memories.”

Nerys processed this for a few moments, a number of expressions jumping across her reflected face. “So you're saying that, because I have all the memories of being Kira Nerys, it wouldn't matter even if at one time I was Iliana Ghemor?”

Jadzia shrugged again, “I think that all that matters is that you know who you are. We Trill have a saying, 'in order to know who you are, you need to know who you've been' – but I think it applies just as much to non-Joined species.”

Kira looked into her own eyes for a long moment, then nodded once and turned back to Jadzia. “Thanks Dax,” she murmured, and Dax could see that her posture had relaxed slightly.

“Any time,” Jadzia said, resting a hand on Nerys's shoulder and squeezing.

Emony whispered about the intimacy of the moment, but Audrid sharply reminded her that Nerys was involved with Bareil. Jadzia ignored them, as usual.

Nerys smiled at her, then surprised them both by yawning widely. “Sorry,” Kira said, chuckling, “I'm more tired than I realised I was.”

“Do you want to call it a night?” Jadzia asked, glancing back at their knitting needles, which were poking out of the wicker basket next to the coffee table.

“No,” Nerys said, clapping Jadzia on the upper arm with a smile, “It's only knitting after all.”

~

“That's the fifth time you've scratched your neck. Have you been eating icoberries again?” Ziranne asked. Her smile was teasing, even through the vidscreen.

Jadzia shrugged, “I blame Emony. She used to start every day with an icoberry smoothie.”

Ziranne rolled her eyes, “That doesn't mean you have to too. You do remember that right?”

Jadzia bit her bottom lip, her sister made it sound so simple. After almost five years of being joined to Dax, she had almost forgotten what it was like to not have other people's desires in her head, to not have their habits or quirks so ingrained. She had almost forgotten what it had been like before, but not quite.

“It's not that simple.” She shrugged at Ziranne.

Ziranne's lips pursed, “I know. I'm sorry, I shouldn't give you a hard time. It's just been tough here, I'd forgotten how stressful it was, dealing with Mama and Papa every day.”

Jadzia paused at this, a frown marring her brow. “You're at home?” Ziranne hadn't said anything about that, and they'd been talking for at least half an hour now.

Her sister froze, like an asteroid caught in a tractor beam. Dax could see the moment resignation flickered across her face, “Yes,” she admitted with reluctance.

“Are you okay? What's going on?” Jadzia asked, immediately on alert. A dozen scenarios flashed through her mind. Emony losing her house to a natural disaster. Toral coming home to live with Lela after Enaron and he had separated.

“I'm fine,” Ziranne reassured her, but her face still looked pinched.

Jadzia waited expectantly, the silence lingering between them.

“It's Mama,” Ziranne finally admitted. “She's ill.”

Jadzia felt like her quarters had suddenly decompressed. All the air rushed out of her lungs and suddenly her itching spots were the last thing on her mind.

Ziranne's lips were still moving, but it took a moment for Jadzia's brain to catch up and relay what she was saying. “She has Iranamo's disease. Papa found her collapsed on the floor and the doctor diagnosed it straight away.”

“When?” Jadzia asked. She was surprised by the anger in her tone, she felt completely disconnected from her emotions, her mind still stuck on those few words. Hermother was ill.

Dax was silent, but Jadzia felt six hands pressed against her back, holding her up, holding her together. She wasn't alone. She was never alone.

Ziranne flinched at her tone. “A month ago,” she whispered.

“A month?!”

Jadzia was up in a second, her padded desk chair crashing to the deck. She paced back and forth between it and the desk terminal, her sister's bright eyes following her movement. Audrid whispered breathing exercises in her ear. Curzon suggested hitting something.

But it was Lela she drew upon now, her hands clutched so tightly behind her back she could feel the fabric between her shoulders bunching up. She held herself stiffly, each step measured, for exactly thirty paces before turning back to the screen.

“Why didn't you tell me?” she asked, voice perfectly calm. She'd had decades, centuries, to perfect it after all.

“I wanted to,” Ziranne said, her emotions warring across her face, “Mama told me not to. She didn't want to worry you.”

“Didn't want to-!” Jadzia burst out, before she reigned herself back in, pinching her bridge of her nose in a gesture she'd picked up from Emony. “Is she there?” she tried again, voice calm once more, “This would be easier if I just talked to her.”

Ziranne nodded, her dark curls bobbing up and down, “I'll go get her,” she agreed quickly, stepping away for a moment before turning back. “Jadzia … I'm sorry, I should have told you,” she added, wringing her hands together.

“You should have,” Jadzia agreed, with a little bit of help from Curzon.

Ziranne's lips pursed together, but she nodded again, turning and walking out of sight.

Jadzia listened to Audrid's instructions, allowing her focus to turn inward for a moment. In through the nose, one, two three. Out through the nose, one, two, three.

Torias was already reminding her not to hold onto a grudge, life was too short – even hers. For a moment all she could see was the curve of one of Nilani's beautiful cheeks, her smooth dark skin reflecting the light of twin moons.

So when her mother entered her view, looking fragile and small in an anti-grav chair, her once dark hair almost entirely grey, Jadzia didn't feel angry any more.

“Mama,” she said, stepping forward and reaching a hand out to the screen, as if she could reach right through it.

“Jadzia,” her mother replied, her voice sounding a bit thinner than it had been the last time they'd spoken. It hadn't been that long ago, why had she hidden this from her? “Now you mustn't be upset with your sister,” her mother said, “I was the one who made her swear not to tell you.”

“But why?” Jadzia couldn't help but interject. “Why didn't you want me to know?”

“Now Jadzia,” her mother admonished, “You and I both know that you lead a very busy and fulfilling life. Why would I want to worry you with my little problems?”

“Little? Mama you have Iranamo's disease! How could you think I wouldn't want to know? How could you think I wouldn't want to come and take care of you? You're my mother!”

Her mother sighed, “This is exactly why I didn't want you to know. Jadzia … Dax. You have a life to live. I don't need you coming home to look after me.”

Suddenly Jadzia understood. That was what this was about – Dax. Her mother didn't want her illness to … what, interfere with Dax's life? The fact that her own mother thought she wouldn't want to come home to look after her just because she was joined made Jadzia bristle.

“Well too bad,” Jadzia snapped, “Because I'm going to take the first available transport to Trill whether you want me to or not.”

Her mother opened her mouth to protest but Jadzia held up a hand to stop her speaking and went on, “Dax and I were joined so that Dax could experience a full and rich life. That doesn't mean cherry picking the good parts out and ignoring the bad. And it certainly doesn't mean ignoring my family when they need me. So I'll see you soon Mother.” She hit the button to terminate the connection and waited until the screen had darkened before slumping forward, clutching the edge of the desk.

She heard the murmur of six voices, offering comfort and understanding – at a reasonable volume for once.

Jadzia allowed Dax to anchor her in this moment as anger and fear and grief tore through her, one after the other, cascading over each other and coalescing with Dax's memories of the other parents it'd lost, of the children and siblings, the husbands and wives. Jadzia's feelings in this moment were both uniquely her own, and painfully similar to every other moment of fear and loss Dax had experienced in its centuries of life.

She wasn't sure how long it took, for the feelings to wash over her, and the tightness in her chest to ease. But when it did she straightened up and took a deep, calming breath. Then she returned her fallen chair to its normal upright position while tapping her commbadge.

“Dax to Kira.”

“Kira here,” came the instant reply.

“Nerys, I know our usual meeting isn't for another two days, but I could really use some company right now,” Jadzia said. Her voice sounded small to her own ears, and for the first time in a long time she felt like Jadzia Idaris.

“I'll be right there,” Nerys replied, and Jadzia rested a hand over her abdominal pouch and reminded herself that they would get through this together.

~

It didn't take long for Nerys to arrive, but by the time she did Jadzia was already packing her standard Starfleet issue duffel with anything she might need while away for a few months.

Nerys noticed it straight away when she stepped in the door, and tilted her head. “You going somewhere Dax?” she asked, brow furrowed.

Jadzia glanced away from Kira, fidgeting with the uniform jacket in her hands for a moment before placing it alongside the trousers that were already in there. “I'm going home to Trill,” she said, finally meeting Nerys' eyes. “I've just found out that my mother was diagnosed with Iranamo's disease.” The words came out smoother than she'd expected.

She watched the emotions flash through Kira's eyes. Confusion, understanding, concern. “Oh Jadzia, I'm sorry,” she said at last, crossing the room to stand beside her.

She paused mid-motion, as if unsure whether a hug was welcome or not, so Jadzia closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around Nerys. Within an instant Nerys was hugging her back and for the first time since she'd heard the news Jadzia felt tears spring to her eyes.

“Shh, it's going to be okay,” Nerys said as Jadzia began to sob.

~

“Do you have any idea how long you're going to be gone for?” Nerys asked.

Despite Jadzia's protests that she didn't need an escort, Nerys had insisted on walking her to the airlock where a transport was waiting to take her to Starbase 375. Dax thought she was worried if she left her alone she'd start crying again.

Some of her past hosts had been embarrassed by the way she'd cried all over Nerys earlier, while others felt a wave of affection and fondness towards Nerys for staying with her. Jadzia herself was firmly in the latter group, she appreciated Nerys being there more than she could say.

And even though she knew that she wasn't going to break down again, she appreciated Kira's insistence on seeing her off the station as well.

“I suppose that all depends on my mother,” Jadzia replied, tightening her hands together in their customary grip behind her back.

Nerys nodded, her lips pursed together. She watched Jadzia a little too closely. But Jadzia just turned to face her, calmly, and raised her eyebrow in a silent question.

Nerys flushed and looked away. “I-” she began, then wet her lips and tried again, “I don't know very much about Iranamo's disease.”

“That's understandable, it's not very common. And to tell you the truth, I don't know a lot about it either. Just that it's a degenerative disease that effects the nervous system,” Jadzia explained, “And that the people effected by it need extra care to learn to function with it. I suppose I'll be learning a lot more about the intricacies of the disease soon enough.”

“Well I'm sure your family will appreciate you being there,” Nerys said.

Jadzia's gut churned. “I'm not so sure they will,” she admitted. At Nerys's surprised look she elaborated further, “My mother already objected to me coming. Something about not wanting her 'little problems' to interfere with Dax's 'busy and fulfilling' life.”

Nerys stopped walking at that, a flicker of emotion passing across her face too quickly for Dax to interpret.

“Nerys?” Jadzia asked.

Nerys swallowed thickly and shook her head. “Sorry,” she said, striding forward again. Jadzia hurried to catch up. She was torn between asking what was wrong and wanting to respect Nerys's privacy. Lela and Audrid both suggested giving Nerys space to share if she wanted to, so she accompanied Nerys in silence until they were only a corridor away from the airlock.

“I'm glad you're going,” Nerys said, abruptly. “To look after your mother, I mean. I'm not glad you're going to be away,” she clarified, glancing at Jadzia for a second before looking straight ahead again. “I only wish …” she trailed off, but Dax didn't push her to elaborate.

Nerys took a deep breath. “If you hadn't gone, you would have regretted it,” she finally said.

Jadzia felt a pang of sympathy at Nerys's words. She didn't need to know any of the details to know that Nerys was speaking from personal experience. So when they finally arrived in front of the airlock, she paused outside the open doorway and faced Nerys.

“Thanks for walking with me, Nerys,” she said softly. Both of them knew she was thanking her for a lot more than that, but Dax also knew that Kira wasn't the type to appreciate overly sentimental declarations.

Nerys nodded once, her expression soft, and took Jadzia's hands in hers for a moment.

“I'll be here when you get back,” Nerys said, squeezing Jadzia's hands once before letting go.

~

With Jadzia and Keiko both gone, Nerys became painfully aware of just how much she'd come to rely on the two of them for support, advice and, yes, gossip.

Dax contacted her once a week, for their usual knitting meeting. She would sit in front of the monitor, knitting needles clicking away as she asked after the latest news and gossip from the station. And Nerys would sit in front of her own monitor, feeling slightly foolish knitting alone in her empty quarters, talking to a person thirty light years away.

But she felt closer to Jadzia than anyone else on the station, even despite the distance separating them, so she treasured their weekly correspondence. It was only her daily meetings with Odo, discussing station security, that kept her from feeling completely alone.

However, as the weeks progressed, Nerys started to miss Dax and Keiko's presence more and more. Even worse, Jadzia started looking increasingly stressed out, but shared little of what she was going through. Nerys was worried about her, but whenever she tried to gently probe after her wellbeing, Dax quickly changed the topic or just shook her head and said she was fine. There wasn't much she could do about that, without being able to talk to her in person.

So Kira threw herself into her work with even more vigour than usual, but every time she looked over at Dax's station and didn't find her there she was surprised. She hoped to distract herself by spending more time with Bareil, but that plan was foiled when the Vedek Assembly sequestered itself away for two long weeks, to debate some highly contentious – yet confidential – matter.

By the week of the Gratitude Festival, Nerys had to admit to herself that she was looking forward to the Festival not only for the opportunity to spend time with Bareil, but also because she'd received a message from Keiko announcing a brief visit to the station.

When Keiko returned from Bajor, a month after Dax had gone to Trill, all Kira wanted was to catch up with her and celebrate. This of course, didn't go exactly to plan, what with Lwaxana Troi infecting half the station with Zanthi fever. But that didn't deter Nerys, who decided that it was far more fitting for the two of them to have their usual meeting to catch up properly anyway.

Nerys was still washing the taste of Julian out of her mouth when the door chimed the next evening. With Dax gone, she'd decided her quarters were the most sensible place to meet.

However, when she opened the door to find Lwaxana Troi standing behind Keiko, she seriously considered calling for an emergency beam out and spending the night hiding in an upper pylon.

“Hello my dear!” Lwaxana greeted her as if they were old friends, though Nerys couldn't actual recall ever having a conversation with the woman. She bustled into the room, Keiko trailing behind, and brandished a pair of bright pink knitting needles that Kira noted – with both horror and amusement – perfectly matched her bright pink dress. “Odo told me that you and Keiko liked to knit together of an evening, and lucky for you my transport doesn't leave until the morning, so I thought I'd come and join you.”

“Ambassador Troi,” Nerys said, trying desperately to hide her panicked response from the telepathic woman, “What a lovely surprise.”

“For me as well,” Keiko confirmed, her tense expression revealing that she too was trying to control her thoughts.

Clearly their attempts failed, as Lwaxana put her hands on her hips and tutted. “Now my dears, I understand you both want to catch up, but I promise I won't get in the way of that. You won't even know I'm here.”

Nerys tried to stifle her dubious expression, and she could see the doubt in Keiko's eyes, but again, nothing escaped the formidable Lwaxana Troi, Daughter of the Fifth House, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed.

Lwaxana sighed deeply and seemed to deflate somewhat, which surprised Nerys more than her appearance at her door in the first place. “To be perfectly honest, Major Kira, Mrs O'Brien, I know that the two of you have been miserable without each other's company – and of course you're missing Lieutenant Dax as well. And I must confess that, when I picked up on those thoughts, it reminded me of how much I miss my own friends – Kate and Alynna and I used to knit together too you know, when they both served on Betazed. It's been so many years now, that I just thought … Well I thought maybe you wouldn't mind the company.”

To Nerys' utter shock, Lwaxana sounded completely genuine in her desire to join them. So much so that she found herself nodding without even realising what she was doing at first.

“We'd be delighted if you joined us Ambassador Troi,” she found herself saying. And she was surprised to realise she was genuine too.

She looked over at Keiko, belated realising that she'd agreed on both of their behalf. To her relief Keiko was smiling at her.

“Please,” Lwaxana said, immediately perking up and flashing both of them a bright smile, “Call me Lwaxana.”

Nerys nodded, returning her smile and gesturing for both of them to make their way to the couch. She took a detour to stop at the replicator. “Can I get either of you anything?” she asked, looking over at where Keiko was helping Lwaxana lower herself down onto the couch without her elaborate dress getting caught.

“Why thank you, my dear. I'll have a Jestral tea, and Keiko would like a peppermint tea,” Lwaxana called out. Nerys glanced over at Keiko, whose eyebrows had risen at the casual display of telepathy, but she nodded in confirmation.

Nerys collected their beverages, and a Tarkalean tea for herself, and joined them around the coffee table. She retrieved her knitting – a scarf she'd just begun – and settled back in the armchair across from the couch.

“So Nerys, have you heard anything from Jadzia?” Keiko asked, not looking up from her own knitting – a bright blue whale toy for Molly.

Nerys let out a sigh. “Not as much as I would have liked. It seems like every time we talk she steers the conversation so that I end up telling her about what's been happening here, and she tells me absolutely nothing about what's going on there.”

“Ah, a classic example of deflection,” Lwaxana said, casting the first stitches onto her bright pink knitting needles. She'd chosen a purple yarn that was almost fluorescent, and was going at a speed that made Nerys and Keiko look like they were moving in slow motion.

At Nerys's raised eyebrow she elaborated further, “Whatever Lieutenant Dax is going through at home, she clearly feels unable, or unwilling, to share it with you right now. So she changes the topic to something less painful.” She paused in her knitting and looked between Keiko and Nerys, “Or at least, that's what my Little One would say, if she was here.”

“Lwaxana's daughter is the ship's counsellor onboard the Enterprise,” Keiko explained to Nerys.

“Ah, of course,” Nerys said, struggling to imagine what this daughter must be like, based on her brief interactions with Lwaxana.

“I've never really understood the appeal of listening to other people's problems all day,” Lwaxana added, “But whatever makes her happy.”

Nerys had to bite back a smile at that. She and Lwaxana were in agreement there, if she had to counsel people she thought she'd probably go crazy after the first day. Or maybe the first five minutes.

Lwaxana looked up from her knitting and winked at Nerys.

“Lwaxana's probably right though Nerys,” Keiko said, putting down her knitting for a moment to sip her tea, “I'm sure when Jadzia is ready she'll tell you what's been going on. All you can do until then is support her as best you can.”

Nerys exhaled noisily at that, but nodded in agreement, “I know, I just hate feeling so helpless. I wish there was something more I could do for her.”

“Well it seems to me that you're giving her what she needs – a friendly face and something to take her mind off things,” Lwaxana pointed out.

“Not to mention someone to knit with,” Keiko added.

Nerys knew they were both right, but she still couldn't shake the feeling that she should be doing more for Jadzia. But before she could get too caught up in her own thoughts, she heard what could only be described as Lwaxana clearing her throat – but entirely in her mind. She looked up to see Lwaxana glance at her and pointedly look over at Keiko, in a subtle reminder to focus on the present.

“So Mrs O'Brien, have you heard the latest news from the Enterprise?” Lwaxana asked, before recounting what may or may not have been an accurate recollection of her and her daughter's last conversation.

Nerys took a moment to say a prayer to the Prophets, asking them to watch over and guide Jadzia, on her behalf. Then she took Lwaxana's advice to heart, and focused on enjoying her and Keiko's company for the rest of the evening.

~

Six weeks after Dax had gone home to Trill Nerys's comm panel chimed with an incoming message at 2500 hours. She'd only just fallen asleep, but with the sound she was instantly awake, and rolling out of bed to stand in front of the monitor without a second thought.

To say that she was surprised to see Jadzia's face on the screen would be an understatement. “Dax,” she greeted her, “Is everything okay?”

Jadzia ran a hand through her hair. She had dark circles under her eyes and was biting her bottom lip with an apologetic look on her face. “Nerys, I'm sorry about contacting you this late. Did I wake you?”

Kira brushed off her concern, “Don't worry about that, tell me what's happened.”

Jadzia sighed, “I just thought I should let you know that I've boarded the USS T'Pol, we'll be arriving at the station within the week.”

Nerys's eyes widened, “You're coming back? What about your mother? She hasn't ...” she trailed off, unwilling to suggest what she was thinking.

“No, nothing like that,” Jadzia quickly reassured her. She ran a hand through her hair again and looked off screen, seeming to contemplate something for a moment. When she looked back at Kira there was such a tangle of emotion in her eyes she wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

“I'm bringing my family back with me, to the station,” Jadzia said, and Nerys thought if she had any more surprises tonight she'd have to sit down. She opened her mouth to ask – well, she wasn't even sure where to begin, but Jadzia gave her a pleading look. “I'll explain everything when I get there. I just hoped … that you could assign them some quarters, and let Benjamin know for me?”

Kira closed her mouth and nodded, a dozen thoughts racing through her mind all at once. “Of course,” she said after a moment.

Jadzia seemed to sag slightly with relief. “Thanks Nerys,” she murmured. She rubbed the bridge of her nose gently and Nerys's arms ached to hold her. It hurt more than she expected, seeing her friend in such pain and not being able to do anything about it.

“I'll let you get some sleep,” she replied, just as softly.

Jadzia gave her a tired, grateful smile. “Thanks. I'll see you soon Nerys.” She raised a hand in a little half wave before closing the channel.

Nerys stared at the Federation emblem that replaced her image for a long moment before turning off her monitor.

She crawled back into bed but lay awake, watching the stars outside her window and trying not to dwell on the confusing swirl of thoughts and emotions that churned through her. Sleep didn't come for many hours.

~

Four days later Nerys found herself standing by an airlock on the docking ring, restlessly waiting for the USS T'Pol to finish its docking procedures. A wide, thin box was held loosely at her side, and not for the first time that evening she questioned her decision to bring it with her. She could have waited until later. Or not given it at all. But it was too late to take it back to her quarters now.

Or was it? She raised a hand, about to tap her commbadge to ask Ops how much longer the T'Pol would be, when the outer airlock door rolled open, followed, a moment later, by the inner airlock door.

A number of Starfleet officers and a couple of civilian passengers had disembarked before Nerys caught sight of the familiar dark haired figure walking side by side with a middle-aged Trill man. She was puzzled by the short curls, dangling earrings and civilian clothing. Jadzia hadn't been dressed this way in her last message.

But before Kira had a chance to even open her mouth to call out a greeting, a second dark haired figure appeared in the airlock, pushing an older Trill woman with Jadzia's twinkling blue eyes ahead of her in an antigrav chair. At the sight of the Starfleet uniform Nerys immediately realised her mistake. Having never met Jadzia's sister she hadn't realised how similar they looked – but as Ziranne approached she could now clearly distinguish the two. Even if there hadn't been physical dissimilarities between them up close, her eyes were missing the depth of wisdom that Kira always associated with Dax.

Nerys hadn't anticipated any adverse feelings about meeting Jadzia's family for the first time, but now that she was here she felt unexpectedly nervous. Her palms had started to sweat and she found herself subconsciously straightened up, her legs braced solidly on the deck.

She had no time to wonder at her reaction, as Ziranne was already stepping over the lip of the airlock, her father following close behind.

“Welcome to Deep Space Nine, I'm Major Kira Nerys,” Nerys said, hoping her smile seemed welcoming instead of apprehensive.

“Ah, so you're the Major Kira we've heard so much about,” Jadzia's father said, his voice booming and exuberant. Nerys could easily see the resemblance between him and his daughter in the shape of his face, particularly the easy smile. He stepped forward and held out a hand to shake, so Nerys offered one of her own. He grasped it in both of his and beamed at her. “It's so good to finally meet you,” he said, squeezing her hand tightly, “I'm Jadzia's father, Kela. And this is my wife, Nilea, and our other daughter Ziranne.”

“It's a pleasure to meet you all,” Nerys replied. Jadzia and Nilea crossed the threshold of the airlock and came to a stop beside Kela and Ziranne. As with Kela, Nerys could see the family resemblance in Nilea. Even with her greying hair and overly slight frame she was a striking woman, and Nerys imagined that before the illness struck she would have turned heads just as much as Jadzia did.

Speaking of Jadzia, she was looking better than she had over the comm, but she was still far from her usual immaculate appearance. There was a weariness in her eyes that Kira had rarely seen before. She wondered, not for the first time, if returning to Deep Space Nine would mean the end of that look, or if it would only increase.

But she'd be able to talk to Jadzia properly soon enough. Nerys allowed her smile to widen and inclined her head to Kela, “If you'd like to follow me, I can show you to your quarters. I'm sure you're tired from your journey.”

Kela gave her hand one final squeeze before letting go. “Of course, of course,” he agreed, before smoothly stepping in behind Nilea's antigrav chair. “Let me look after your mother, dear,” he told Jadzia, “I'm sure you and the Major have a lot of catching up to do.”

Jadzia gripped his shoulder for a moment and gave him a grateful smile. Then she stepped forward and surprised Nerys with an embrace. “It's so good to see you,” Jadzia murmured in her ear, either not noticing or not caring that Nerys stood frozen and stiff.

After a moment, just as Jadzia began to pull away, Kira recovered from her shock and raised her free arm to wrap around Jadzia's back. “It's good to see you too,” she whispered back.

Then Jadzia pulled back and gave her a tired, but genuine smile. “Shall we?” she asked, inclining her head to indicate the corridor.

“Right,” Nerys agreed, setting a leisurely pace to allow Kela and Nilea's antigrav chair to keep up.

They walked in silence for a few moments before Ziranne broke it. “So, I understand that there are many schools on Bajor in need of teachers?”

Nerys faltered, frowning with confusion. “I- Yes, of course there are. But, why do you want to know?” She glanced at Jadzia, her brow still furrowed.

Jadzia elbowed her sister sharply in the side, “I told you before we left, I haven't had a chance to talk to Nerys yet Ziranne,” she admonished her.

Nerys felt her gut lurch with alarm, her mind already ticking over possible meanings. From the way she asked the question, she could assume that Ziranne herself was a teacher. And the question itself could only mean … that this wasn't just a temporary stay.

That aside, she honestly didn't know whether Bajorans would be happy to have their children taught by a non-Bajoran, considering how things turned out with Keiko's school. But could they really afford to be choosy? If it meant the difference between children having enough teachers to give them a proper education and their children going without …

But she was getting ahead of herself.

Nerys took a deep breath and used one of the meditation techniques Bareil had taught her, in attempt to still her racing thoughts and focus instead on the present.

Ziranne looked caught somewhere between slightly guilty and intrigued, and she couldn't seem to decide who to focus on – Nerys or Jadzia. “Right, of course. I'm sure we can all talk properly once we're settled in,” Ziranne agreed, finally focusing her attention on Jadzia, who was uncharacteristically watching her feet as she walked.

The silence stretched out uncomfortably thin between them. Jadzia looked up just before it snapped and folded her arms behind her. She inclined her head at Ziranne and then turned her head to look at Kira, the corner of her lips tugging up in the barest of smiles.

Nerys felt the tension that had stretched as thin as the silence ease and uncoil from the pit of her stomach. She had finally worked out what had been bothering her – it wasn't just her appearance, up until that moment, Jadzia's mannerisms had been all wrong.

Or perhaps they'd actually been Jadzia's mannerisms, while the ones Kira was seeing now were all Dax. For some reason that thought sent Nerys's gut churning again. She wondered, not for the first time, how well she really knew the young woman whose family she was walking alongside. That was the difficult thing about her friendship with Jadzia. Even after working with her for over three years, she still didn't fully understand what it meant to be a Joined Trill. How much of what she saw was made up of other people? How much was left of Jadzia Idaris? Did it even matter?

She tried to focus on the present again. It usually wasn't this difficult for her, but something about Dax always made her hyper aware of herself and her thoughts.

Luckily they didn't have much further to go before they reached the turbolift. All five of them crammed in, the four of them squeezed around Nilea's antigrav chair. “Oh dear, are you sure you don't want me taking the next lift?” Nilea asked, concerned.

“Hush Mother, it's fine,” Ziranne reassured her, resting a hand on her arm.

The ride from the docking ring to the habitat ring took a few long minutes, but Nerys didn't break the silence until the lift started to slow.

“I've assigned you quarters in section H-23-B, which is one level below Jadzia's quarters,” Nerys said, looking between Ziranne, Kela and Nilea.

Kela clapped a hand to her shoulder and smiled, “I'm sure they'll be perfect, Major.”

Jadzia bit back a laugh, “Don't get your hopes up too high Papa,” she teased, “Cardassian beds aren't quite up to Trill standards.”

“If you've slept on them for the past three years, then I'm sure we can manage,” Nilea said.

“Just don't say I didn't warn you,” Jadzia countered, as the lift finally came to a stop. She helped manoeuvre the antigrav chair out of the lift as soon as the doors whisked open, but waited for Nerys to lead the way to the assigned quarters.

After the short walk down the corridor, Nerys pressed the door panel and stepped back to allow the Idaris family to enter. “Here we are,” she said, smiling as they crossed the threshold. “I'll let you get settled. Just let me know if there's anything you need.”

“Thank you Major, we appreciate everything you've done for us,” Nilea called out from within the room.

“It was no problem. I'll see you later I'm sure,” she said as she stepped back, allowing the door to close behind her.

She starting making her way back to the turbolift when the door whooshed open again and Jadzia rushed out.

“Nerys, wait,” she called, jogging to catch up. Kira froze in place, turning back to face Dax, who was breathing slightly heavily from the brief exertion. Jadzia put a hand on Kira's arm, stepping slightly closer than usual and looking down at her with an unreadable expression in her eyes. “Thank you so much, for everything you've done.”

Nerys blinked a few times and tilted her head. “It was no trouble, you know that,” she said slowly.

Jadzia shook her head, “I'm not talking about the quarters, though I do appreciate that.” She looked down at her own hand on Nerys's arm and took a deep breath, “I meant … knitting with me every week. It meant a lot to me.”

Kira would have refuted her again, it was only knitting after all, they'd been doing it every week for the better part of two years, why would it be any different now? But the way Dax said it … this was about more than knitting. “You're welcome,” she said softly.

Jadzia nodded once and stepped back. Nerys was about to let her go, when she shifted slightly and remembered the box, held tightly under the crook of her arm the entire way from the airlock.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “I almost forgot.” She held the box out to Jadzia, feeling her heart speed up in her chest.

“I wondered about that,” Jadzia admitted, her voice still hushed. She lifted the lid of the box almost reverently, and looked down at the contents with a peculiar look on her face that had Nerys's gut churning.

“I know it's not very impressive,” Nerys began to explain, “I had to re-do an entire section after I dropped three stitches and ended up with a hole the size of-”

“It's lovely,” Jadzia breathed, cutting her off. Nerys closed her mouth and swallowed heavily as Jadzia's eyes began to glisten. “Are you sure – that you want to give it to me?” she asked, voice just barely choked up, as she gently picked up the scarf from its tissue paper nest within the box.

Nerys had just started to learn colour-work, and she was very pleased with the results. The scarf was made from three colours of yarn: blue and indigo stitches patterned close together, interspersed with pale purple, which she'd knitted into shapes like stars. The stitches were neat and even, and the colours complimented each other beautifully. She was very proud of it.

Nerys shrugged one shoulder, “I wouldn't have brought it if I wasn't sure,” she said, somewhat defensively, absolutely stunned by Dax's reaction. She swallowed again, regretting her tone, and went on, “If it wasn't for you … I … wouldn't be able to knit,” she finished lamely, the words she'd wanted to say sticking in her throat.

But Dax always could read between the lines. “I missed you too,” she said, crushing the box between them as she leant forward to give Nerys a fierce hug.

~

“I'm sorry for being so vague these past few weeks,” Jadzia began, setting her utensils down beside her plate. She and Nerys had gone to Quark's for dinner, after Nerys had finished her shift. They'd caught up on the latest station gossip, but had skirted around the hara cat in the room – until now.

“This all just happened so suddenly! As soon as I arrived on Trill it was one thing after another, and I feel like I haven't even had time to breathe – let alone collect my thoughts for long enough to explain anything to you,” she said. Then she sighed heavily, “And to be honest … I think part of me also felt like, if I didn't say anything aloud, maybe that would mean that none of it was actually happening …”

Nerys finished off her last mouthful before responding. “I can understand that,” she said softly.

Jadzia took a very slow, deep breath before she met Nerys's eyes and said, “My mother is dying, Nerys. The doctors on Trill said she only has a few years left.” Her voice wavered as she spoke, and she had to press her lips together afterwards, and close her eyes.

Nerys felt a horrible lurch in her stomach. She reached across the table, without even thinking about it, to grasp Jadzia's cool hands.

Jadzia clung back so tightly it was almost painful, but Nerys held on, until the moment had passed and Jadzia let out a ragged breath.

“I wanted to stay with her, on Trill,” she explained, voice watery and soft, “But with everything going on with the Dominion, she kept insisting that I needed to be here … every day we had the same argument over and over and over.” She squeezed her eyes shut for a minute, then went on. “It was Ziranne who finally suggested moving here, so we could all stay together.”

Nerys nodded, “Well that sounds like a good solution to me.” She squeezed Jadzia's hand again. “And I understand why she was asking about Bajor now.”

Jadzia's answering smile was rather shaky. “Ziranne's a preschool teacher,” she explained, “When I told her there wasn't a school on the station any more, she asked if Bajor needed any teachers. I told her she'd have to ask you.”

“I'd be happy to look into it for her,” Nerys assured her.

“And I might also have told my father that Bajor had a vast collection of historical documents and artefacts, ripe for study, which you'd be happy to help him gain access to,” Jadzia added, her smile solidifying into something closer to her usual teasing grin.

“Oh, I see why your family have heard so much about me now! You've made a bunch of promises on my behalf,” Nerys said, laughing.

The sound of Jadzia's laugh, joining in with her own, was music to her ears.

“Go on then, tell me what else I'm going to be doing for your family,” Nerys said, leaning back in her chair and signalling one of the Ferengi waiters to bring her another drink.

~

A fortnight after Dax returned to the station, the Bajorans and Cardassians signed the peace treaty negotiated by Kai Winn and Vedek Bareil.

If that had been the only thing to have happened, Nerys would already have had mixed feelings. While a part of her rejoiced that this was another step forward for Bajor, another step towards healing the wounds of the Occupation, there was a larger part – the part of her that had survived purely on adrenaline and pride and hatred – that recoiled at the idea of Bajor and Cardassia being anything other than reluctantly neutral.

But right now the Bajoran-Cardassian Peace Treaty was the last thing on her mind. Whether it was the best, or the worst, thing that had happened to Bajor was irrelevant, for either way it had come at too high a cost.

She lowered herself to her knees in front of the newly placed duranja – the lamp for the dead – and watched its flame flicker and glow for long, silent minutes. Bareil had been officially declared dead by Doctor Bashir six hours ago. But Nerys knew that he'd been dead far longer.

Right now, the only emotion she could feel was anger. And she was so, so angry. At herself, for holding onto the idea that as long as his heart, artificial though it had become, was still beating, that he would still be alive. At Kai Winn, who even now was being celebrated as the woman who brought peace between Bajor and Cardassia, and did nothing to refute the notion. At Doctor Bashir, both for not being able to save him, and for suggesting the procedures that stripped away his life and soul piece by piece.

But most of all she was angry with Bareil himself, for insisting on going through with each procedure, never mind the consequences for himself. Or for her. And for what? To have the Kai steal his last triumph? To build a peace that, knowing the Cardassians, would soon crumble away to nothing?

She bit her lip so hard it bled, angry at herself for her selfish, unfair thoughts. Bareil had felt he was obeying the will of the Prophets in building this peace. He had thought the cost was worth it. Would it have been any better, to see him locked away in indefinite stasis, awaiting a cure that might never exist? To have the negotiations fall apart without his presence and guidance, even if it now went unrecognised?

Nerys let out a shaky breath, wiped the blood from her lip with her tongue, and placed her trembling hands on the outer edge of the duranja. Then she began to pray, not only that Bareil would be carried safely to the Celestial Temple, but that her anger would go with him.

~

It was the next night, right at that moment where she'd started to lose count of how many times she'd said the prayers, that her door chime rang.

For a minute she just stayed there. Knees starting to throb from being pressed into the deck all evening. Her eyes hot and sore, the tear tracks cold down her cheeks. She wondered if she'd imagined the chime, her mind conjuring up something to distract her from her grief, some excuse to get up and move away from the duranja, from the reality of Bareil's death.

Then it came again, the familiar burble of sound sending her stumbling to her feet – only to almost collapse again as her poor, stiff knees protested the sudden change of position. She winced, hunching over and rubbing at them furiously, and called out, “Come in!”

She heard the doors whoosh open behind her, and at any other time she'd feel a flush of embarrassment at her appearance – her uniform was crumpled, her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy, and from this position the only thing her visitor could see was her backside – but she was too angry and upset and exhausted to care right now.

But her visitor didn't say a word, which unnerved Kira enough that she straightened up and turned around to see if maybe she really had imagined the entire thing.

Jadzia stood in the doorway, a pair of knitting needles and ball of yarn squashed in her hands. Her brow was furrowed with concern and her frown only deepened as Nerys faced her properly and she could see the state she was in. Jadzia took a few tentative steps into the room, licking her lips before speaking. “I thought maybe-” she began, gesturing with the knitting needles. But she cut herself off with a shake of the head, her breath huffed out in a laugh and she admitted, “I needed an excuse to come and see how you were doing.”

Nerys blinked at this information, not quite sure what to make of it. Then she snorted out a laugh devoid of humour, “Oh, I'm doing great Dax, absolutely wonderful,” she bit out. She threw her arms up, both in a gesture to her current appearance and in exasperation.

Jadzia's lips thinned and she just nodded slowly, “I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come,” she said softly, turning to leave.

“Wait,” Nerys said, taking a step forward. “No, don't leave, I'm sorry … You didn't deserve that, and I do appreciate you coming to check on me.” She ran a hand over her face, wincing at the tacky feel of her tears, and sighed. “But I'm not exactly good company right now.”

Jadzia had frozen mid-step, but now turned around and approached Kira. “I didn't expect you to be. I just thought maybe you'd like some company, but I understand if you'd rather be alone.” She stopped in front of Nerys and looked down at her, her eyes reflecting too many emotions for Kira's tired mind to process.

Nerys shook her head, “I don't know what I want, or need,” she murmured.

Jadzia placed a tentative hand on Nerys's shoulder. “Why don't we go, and sit, and look at the stars together,” she suggested. And Nerys wanted to frown, to bite out another sarcastic comment, to scream, to cry, to throw Dax out of her quarters, to kneel in front of the duranja until her legs had lost circulation entirely. Instead she nodded once, shakily, and surprised herself by agreeing.

So Jadzia lead her, gently, across the room. She pressed firmly on her shoulder, silently urging her to wait there, and went and heaved Nerys's couch around until it faced the window. Then she took Nerys's hand and pulled her down onto the couch beside her. They looked out at the bright stars, undulled by a planet's atmosphere, and the low hum of the station's environmental control system was the only sound to be heard.

And when Nerys started to cry again, soundlessly, her whole body wracked with sobs, Jadzia said nothing, but wrapped her arms around Nerys and gently rocked her from side to side.