The concept translated into Federation Standard neatly — firewater. The words and their combination had existed in the language for centuries, if not under the same meaning.
Emony had been the one to discover the translation. It had been surprising, at first. Firewater hadn’t been a secret, not the way the symbionts were, but it wasn’t common knowledge either. To catch the word in a conversation between McCoy’s shipmates was a shock.
To humans, it meant alcohol. An archaic term for it, anyway. It was comforting to know she wouldn’t have to school her expressions around it often. She was a gymnast, not an actor. All in all, though, it was a good parallel to have if one had to exist.
Something that burned. Something that changed you.
Someone who burned, and someone who changed you.
Jadzia remembered well the marks Nilani Kahn had left on Torias. There were always fresh, temporary splashes lurking beneath the spots on his neck, and a permanent, undefined shape on his hip. The Symbiosis Commission would have liked it if Dax wasn't able to remember what every curve of Nilani's body looked like, the way her forearms would be twisted in light every time they were submerged. Jadzia remembered the gentle glow of a dark kitchen, Kahn's well-known hands scrubbing at the dishes. The painted fish of the tile would seem to leap in the green firewater light.
Jadzia didn’t have any firewater to stain her skin. That sort of thing didn’t carry over through the symbiont. The Commission always used that as proof that reassociation wasn’t a good idea. The lines of firewater didn't linger, and so neither should they. Their past lives didn't place a mark on them. They should move on.
To the general populace, firewater didn’t mean forever. But it meant something. That sort of phenomena didn’t happen for no reason. Firewater was inexplicable as the first joining. Whatever reason or explanation there might have been for either was long lost to history.
Jadzia Idaris had never minded. She was always focused on her work, her studies, her impending joining. There wasn’t time to be worrying about soulmates or destinies or quantum amoebas. Looking forward didn’t leave time to glance at the present.
The first time Dax had sunk into a warm bath after her joining, there was a dull emptiness to her that was more than her fresh, aching scar. The slender lines that had woven around Curzon’s ankles were gone, leaving the water dark and still. A life lost and a light lost.
It was always a trade off, the new host, but it had been a long time since Dax was blank. New experiences were valuable, of course, but this was merely an experience that wasn't fresh.
Jadzia traced the lines of spots down her calves, wishing for something more.
Jadzia wore Ben’s friendship in an interlocking golden glow over the top of her shoulders. It was something that was her own. Curzon hadn't bothered.
Jadzia had always been able to feel when there were eyes on her. Call it intuition, or paranoia. Kahn’s brother’s eyes burned into her with a special passion. Hatred, maybe. Jealousy. It was always a complicated thing, to have a sibling joined. They weren’t yours, not quite. Not anymore. Apparently, he didn’t like the prospect of losing more of his sister to someone like her. Dax was one of the older symbionts, but old didn't mean respected.
Then Lenara Kahn joined her, and her brother was forgotten. It would have been juvenile to say that she could feel each of Kahn’s touches, the way their shoulders brushed as they reached for the buffet. “Quite an audience.”
Lenara smiled, something more tempered than Nilani’s but just as expressive. She looked nothing like Dax’s old wife — lighter, slighter, but the easy set of her shoulders, the almost-cape trailing from her dress that was easily fifty years out of style… that was Kahn. And of course it was. It was Kahn. Eighty six years and two and a half hosts had hardly erased that from her mind. “Seems a shame to dissapoint them. Maybe we should do something?”
And it was easy. Jadzia could feel her Dax-heavy limbs, Torias’s infatuated smile creeping up on her. It was easy to joke, to banter, to speak as if the eighty odd years between them were nothing but a blink. "We could get into a screaming match and start throwing things at each other."
There were other things that wanted to be thrown, but Lenara got there first. Clever and biting as always. Jadzia could feel each breath seize her, the creak of her ribs, the half-sensation of movement against Dax. Half-remembered lectures from Julian murmured from the corners of her mind, something about human lungs needing only oxygen where Trill needed a nitrogen component as well. She could nearly taste the chemical on her tongue. Perfume hung thick in the air, and though it had been close to a century, she couldn’t tell if she was smelling Nilani or just Lenara.
Just. If only it was just that.
Jadzia let out a breath, the symbiont moving slightly in her belly like it wanted to nudge her back towards her wife. To the woman that had been her wife. There was a differences. Tenses and pronouns, in Standard and in her home tongue. There were words between them, and worlds, and lives. It wasn't as simple as she wanted it to be.
Dax took another breath and poked her hasperat with a fork.
The earring hung in her ear heavy as her heart. Kahn was smiling again. It was enough to make Dax forget herself entirely. “It’s really good to see you again, Dax. That sounds so strange. I mean, I'm looking at a different face, hearing a different voice, but somehow it's still you."
"I know." She knew a lot of things. That under no circumstances was she to be here, with Bashir gone. That there was no way to escape their knowledge of each other. "Every time I start to think of you as just Lenara, you'll smile or laugh and suddenly-" I would marry you all over again "-it's you.”
Lenara gripped her hand, and Jadzia could feel heat burning under her skin. The way firewater might feel, if it could be felt. But it was Lenara, and her, nothing more than the simplicity of touching hands. It was the contact she'd been aching for ever since she'd first heard the scientist was coming to her home. “I’m really glad you’re here.”
She had meant to melt away the stress of her day — nearly losing Lenara, the rushing green of the plasma fires — but Dax should have known it wasn’t that simple. Blue light flickered out from under the water, sparking and fading across her palms.
The lights stretched as she watched, settling. Lines traced up her arms, following veins and reaching out, like they were searching for a home. Blue, mostly, but some red as well. They were lit like fireworks, a bright spark of light trapped under her skin, never fading. Kahn’s mark settled on her forearm, an outline of a neon red heart smaller than her palm. The place that would have lain across her hip should she be standing. A merging of Torias and Jadzia.
She was Dax. And this wouldn’t matter. Not in the long run.
she loved her—
“I knew you were a pilot when I married you.” You. It was endlessly familiar to have a problem with pronouns, with defining me and Dax and history from the present. But it wasn’t that, now. Lenara was Kahn and Jadzia was Dax and sharing the same air felt right. “I went into it with my eyes wide open.”
Jadzia remembered Kahn’s hungry, beautiful eyes. “And what about now? Are your eyes open?” Do you see our future with them? “Do you know what the risks are?”
“I thought I’d gotten over you. It’s been so long and so much has happened.” Lenara’s hands shook in hers. Love wasn’t just simple. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t like firewater, slick under your skin. "And now I know I haven’t."
Jadzia touched her face, tracing the gentle lines that had been Nilani’s firewater. She would never assume that she had left a mark but— “Shh. Shh.” Jadzia leaned closer, every line blurring away. Trill taboo, whatever had once existed between Dax and Jadzia, all disappeared. “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you so much."
Jadzia could feel the distance between them the same way she’d been able to feel the contact. It burned in her throat and her heart, like she couldn’t catch a breath. Lenara leaned away from her like she was afraid of catching something. “I’m not like you, Dax. I don’t have a little Curzon inside me telling me to be impulse, to ignore the rules, to give up everything I’ve worked for.”
Like Dax wouldn’t be giving up just as much. Starfleet wouldn’t pick her over relations with an entire planet, if they decided to throw a fuss. "Can you really walk away from me? From us? After all this time we're back together. Don't throw that away."
"I don't want to. Maybe I need more time. Maybe if I go back to Trill for a while, think it over…" Lenara sounded nearly wistful, and all of a sudden she was a stranger again. A woman Dax had never seen before and never would see again. "I could always come back later?”
"I wish I could believe you.” Kahn stared up at her with those big grey eyes, and it was her all over again. Dax’s hearts stumbled. "But ultimately, it comes down to this: if you feel about me the way I feel about you, you won't get on that transport tomorrow. And if you do leave, I think we both know you're never coming back.”
Dax shook her head. “I have a trace of you already.” She said it in Standard, to drive home the point. They weren’t on Trill. They weren’t at home. They were at her home, her life, what she would have given up for them. “Firewater. At least you’ll have—"
Something to remember by.
Bioluminescence didn’t tend to be part of most sentient species, and certainly not under such strange circumstances. Still, nobody mentioned it. She hadn’t minded explaining it when it was just Benjamin’s gold, the mark of a long-lasting friendship, but Kahn’s heart meant something else entirely.
It was months before Jadzia cleaned in anything but a sonic shower.
It was in the new year when Jadzia received the message. She wouldn’t realize it until later, but it had been the anniversary of Torias’s death. It wasn’t something she celebrated.
At first, she’d thought it was something she’d need to report. The sender was scrambled and the message had clearly been bounced off dozens of planets. It was the kind of setup that even most hardened criminals didn’t bother with. Not only did it prevent the recipient from tracking it, but also anyone who might have been keeping an eye on the sender.
It was addressed simply to Dax, and that was enough to make her risk opening it.
The message was short and sweet. It was a picture of an arm, submerged to the elbow in a sink Jadzia recognized easily. The pattern was faded now, the cheerful fish in the purple waves barely more than ovals with beady eyes.
She had forgotten. Nilani hadn’t had any other family than Torias. Where else would the property go? Even Trill law wouldn’t forbid a family home from staying with its last owner. Love in that form was permissible if there were no better alternatives.
Just like Dax remembered, the sides of the basin were washedwith soft light. Blue, this time, instead of green, but the lines between the lines of Lenara’s bones were just as bright and just as Kahn.
I could never have come back, but it isn’t impossible for you to leave. If you ever needed a home, mine has space to spare.
It wasn’t signed, but it didn’t need to be.