The first shock is that of recognition: this striking vedek is not one at all; this woman before you in vedek’s robes is your Jadzia.
The second shock is just that: your Jadzia, you think, as though that makes some kind of sense.
The third shock is two incompatible thoughts colliding in your mind.
How dare she, is one, and simultaneously the other, How beautiful.
After all that, it’s easy to ignore the pain. You wonder, idly, for a brief moment, how you got here – you have the uncanny and impossible thought that Jadzia must have carried you all this way. Bareil has just told you otherwise. You think it all the same; you settle on that thought because it makes the same peculiar kind of counterfactual sense that Jadzia in vedek’s robes does.
You let her drape you in robes of your own, shoving off the profound discomfort of it; you manage some exchange with Bareil, some dispute you can’t quite invest in. You try to order your thoughts; mostly, you fumble and stare.
How dare she: the audacity of an unbeliever, a foreigner, in those robes. The audacity of Jadzia who has no notion of the cost in lives of the handwoven vestments she so casually wears. It’s only in the past year that the monasteries have crept back to something like life; only so recently that the looms have begun to move again. You watched the novices learning at the feet of vedeks who look uncanny at peace. Vedeks with the the scars of phaser-burns beneath their robes and shrapnel beneath their skin are teaching fragile children of occupation to weave. And this woman before you has the audacity to wear this fine wool whose cost she does not know.
How beautiful: as in that thought, your Jadzia, as in that thought that she carried you, would have carried you, this, here, now, the improbable beauty of her, provokes a whole set of possibilities that have not occurred to you before. A flash of fantasy that disorients you, as though seeing her as she fundamentally is not reminds you to think of her as she is. This counterfactual sense she makes. How you suddenly start thinking in what ifs —
‘What do you think?’ she asks.
What an impossible question. How you might put into words what you think, you can’t imagine. All you can do is stare at her. When she spins her impossible question into a joke, it saves you from your sudden desire to run the tip of your finger down the bridge of her nose to her lips.
The council. The ministers. The evidence. You fabricate a laugh and follow her out of the cloisters.
Later, when all this is over, you will stand with her at the airlock and only then will you remember your orb-vision; only then will you remember that you saw her as a vedek. You will turn and say to her, ‘I saw you, in the orb. As a vedek. I didn’t understand.’
‘What did it mean?’ she will ask, as though she already knows.
‘This,’ you’ll say, to prove her wrong, and palm her cheek and press your lips to hers.
But that, you’ll find, is not quite right, either. It will not be until after you learn of the death of Li Nalas, until Sisko calls you a hero and it turns your stomach, until you flee to your quarters and find her there waiting for you – as though she already knows, and you think once more, how dare she, and also how beautiful – not until then that you will understand.