Having Jake for a son had been an eye-opening experience for Benjamin Sisko from day one. Ever since he got the news that he was going to be a father, his entire perception of himself and the world changed. And as the boy grew and they lost his mother, it only became more clear that nothing would ever remain unchanged for long. So it was no real surprise that it was Jake who provided the first inspiration for a change that became a lot more important that Sisko had ever anticipated.
The April sun beamed through the glass doors of the mall and made dust motes look like tiny little planets in a bright, swirling solar system, as he cleaned the window next to the entrance to Deep Dish Nine. When he was sure the surface was clean and dry, he peeled the back off the rainbow colored sticker Jake had brought home from school, and carefully eased it onto the glass. “Safe Space,” it proclaimed in soft looking letters, and he nodded to himself once it was attached right next to the signs informing that this establishment was a no smoking zone, that no pets were allowed, and that they accepted a wide range of credit cards, all listed on a colorful palette. And those were just the top ones. The window was slowly starting to resemble a decal collection, but he figured that with the rag tag bunch of people working there it would only lessen the shock to the unawares, if the exterior of the shop reflected some of the strangeness going on inside.
He didn't really expect much to change, other than maybe himself feeling a little better on the inside. Doing the right thing always felt good. But he truly hadn't expected the effect a tiny little sticker could have on his world. As he turned away from the window to head back inside, he was almost toppled over when a gangly teen boy flung his arms around his middle and squeezed.
“Thank you, sir! You are an awesome human being and I'm gonna tell all my friends to eat here from now on!” And before Sisko could even say anything in response, the teen had run off again, disappearing into the afternoon crowd of the mall.
Shrugging, Sisko decided it was a fluke, albeit a pleasant one, and went back to his kitchen. He hadn't even told any of his staff about putting up the sticker, because it wasn't a secret that no prejudice would be tolerated in Deep Dish Nine, but evidently it was something bigger to advertize his opinions.
When Ezri showed up for her shift, she grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously in both of her own, before going away sniffling.
Miles did a quick double take when he spotted the sticker, but then shrugged and moved on. Julian who was right behind Miles, gave the sticker a long look and then took an even longer look at Miles before following him inside.
Worf was almost frightening as he slapped his hand down heavily on Sisko's shoulder and proclaimed that he was indeed a man of honor, but Jadzia soothed Sisko's jangling nerves by bumping his hip with hers and winking at him. She always did know just what to say or do when he was confused. And as the day passed into evening he needed her steady presence a lot more than he'd ever anticipated over a tiny little sticker.
Around the end of the dinner rush, a large group of teenagers came in. This wasn't really news, since a lot of kids ate there. What was new was the sheer amount of rainbows found in their attire, and the fact that at least two same-sex couples were openly kissing and holding hands as they waited in line. There were a couple of regulars mumbling unhappily under their breath and casting glances at the carefree kids, but nobody made a fuss and the teens just kept coming. By closing time, Sisko had to herd the last dozen of them out, since they seemed very reluctant to leave, and one of the older girls surprised the hell out of him by asking outright if it would be against company policy if she gave Ezri her phone number. He told her honestly that it was none of his business and that she could do whatever she wanted as long as she wasn't hurting anyone.
By the time he opened up the next morning, five of the teens were back, two of the boys holding hands so tightly that they looked like being separated would kill them. And that's when it dawned on Sisko just what the sticker meant.
Safe Space, sure. Safe from prejudice and slurs and inequality. But also Safe Space from hurt. Actual pain, beatings and abuse, in some cases probably from the kids' own homes. He had to go into the back and cool his forehead on the icy shelves in the freezer before he felt ready to face the day.
When Jake dropped by after school later that day, Sisko ignored his muffled protests and hugged the living daylights out of him in front of at least thirty customers, just from the sheer relief that his son would never have to be afraid of loving whoever his heart chose.