The doorbell rang at last. Amsha walked quickly to the front door, pausing a moment to collect herself before she opened it. It had been five months since she had seen her son in person. Despite his frequent messages, she still wasn't certain how he felt since his genetic status had been revealed and his father sent to the Mount Eden prison.
Now she would learn. She opened the door. Julian stood there, still in his Starfleet uniform, pasting on an awkward smile a moment too late too fool his mother.
Amsha couldn't help herself. "Jules!" she exclaimed, pulling him into a hug. She'd practiced for days calling him by his full name, as he wanted, but she'd already forgotten. She was a little surprised when he did not correct her but merely hugged back with more enthusiasm than he had in years.
"Come in, come in!" She stepped back to allow him in the door. "Here, give me your bag."
Of course he protested; Jules always had to do things for himself, just as his father did. She showed him to the tiny room that would be his for the two days of his stay, a room she normally used for her sewing.
"It's...cozy...." her son said at last, glancing around the small apartment.
"I am the only one here most of the time," she reminded him. "When your father gets out, we will find something larger. Meanwhile, why waste space?"
He deposited the bag on the little camp bed she'd borrowed from her friend Hakina and followed her back to the sitting room. The kettle finished in good time, and she poured him some tea before pouring herself. Jules refused anything to eat and assured her that his journey had been comfortable, but he still looked uneasy.
"Are you worried about something, Jule—Julian?" she asked at last.
"No, no!" he insisted. He'd never been a very good liar, though. His father and she had always been grateful for that: he could not plot much that they did not know. She still couldn't believe after all this time they had been the ones to reveal his secret.
"Is it your friends back on the station?" she asked. He'd answered this question before, but she could read him more easily here, in person. She sighed at his hesitation. "They must think of you differently now."
"No!" he said again, and this time, she believed him. "Really, it's rather amazing. The Chief was a bit put out—especially when he figured out I'd been letting him win at darts." Jules chuckled fondly. "Jadzia was fascinated—wanted to know all about what I remembered, how I felt. Captain Sisko was wonderful; well, you saw him!"
Amsha had indeed seen Jules's Captain Sisko. He'd sat in stunned silence as Richard had meandered through his confession and for long moments thereafter. She'd expected him to have them both arrested on the spot. His soft voice when he'd finally spoken had shocked her. He hadn't addressed them as criminals. He'd spoken as a fellow parent, someone who loved his own son very much, as he'd told them. He'd contacted the Admiral. When first he heard, the Admiral had wanted Richard to go to prison for many years. Richard and Amsha had done well to get up so early that morning, long before Jules would have sought his commanding officer. Had they been any later, Jules might have arrived before Captain Sisko had managed to win over the Admiral, and then Jules probably would have insisted on resigning to keep his father from so long in prison.
"Then what is it?" she pressed gently when Jules said nothing further.
"It's...well...this!" Jules threw his hands in the air and jumped to his feet. "Your flat is half the size of my quarters on a space station! You're living in...in...."
"In a beautiful apartment five minutes' walk from the most glorious bay you have ever seen! Tomorrow, if you are willing to rise early on your vacation, we will go and watch the sun rise over the waters."
Jules dropped his arms to his sides and stared at his mother with his mouth open. His hands twitched a little as he tried to think of something to say. She smiled. He might believe he was no longer the same he had been before the treatments, but that look of bewilderment had not changed at all. She could still see her little preschool son in the man who towered over her. Genetic modifications could change the mind, but not the soul. The treatments had not been her idea, but she never regretted them.
He frowned deeply, a furrow in his brow that she feared would soon settle into wrinkles. "How can you live like this?"
Amsha felt less amused now. "What do you mean?" she asked uncertainly.
"I mean...you've always gone along with Father's plans. You stuck with him through everything. And now you have to stick with him through his imprisonment? Well, it's not like you have to be imprisoned yourself! I mean—"
Amsha did not need pity from her son. "Did you hear to me just now, when I said we should see the sunrise? We can watch from a public park just out of sight of my bedroom window. Tonight, I thought we would have dinner together, just the two of us—but tomorrow, after we've visited your father, you can meet my friends." Aaliyah, Susan, Hakina—and Hakina's whole family; she hoped Jules wouldn't be overwhelmed. They would dine at Hakina's, for only Hakina had enough space.
He was still staring at her.
"Do you really think I have been holding myself prisoner?" she asked.
Jules started to speak but faltered again. "No?" he finally guessed.
Amsha laughed. "Trust me, life in New Zealand is no punishment! Your father and I are considering selling the house in London. The weather here! The people! It is warmer in every way than London, and I have made the best of friends."
Jules looked thoughtful now rather than appalled or confused. "You always were good at making friends quickly," he said. "You had to be, with Father—"
"Do not start criticizing your father!" she admonished him, but she couldn't stop smiling. He was right, but he was also wrong. "He never took me anywhere I did not wish to go. We've had quite a life, Jules—Julian. We may not be Starfleet, but we have been to many planets. You may laugh at his six months as a steward, but do you know how many worlds we saw? How many peoples?"
He shook his head. Jules was not often reduced to silence!
"I will show you videos after dinner. And in those years your father worked as an aide to Ambassador Inouye, how many planets did you see? Would you have ever thought to join Starfleet if you had not traveled so widely and yet gained a hunger for more? Would you have become a doctor but for that Invernian girl?"
He turned away, his "no" almost inaudible. Amsha knew the memory still pained him, and she ached a little in sympathy. Her death was not his fault, however, and it had spurred him to save many, many lives. She still felt for the little girl's parents, too, but she knew that her Julian had helped countless other parents avoid such a loss.
"Sit down," she encouraged. "My neck hurts from looking up at you."
He sat back down in the armchair and picked up his tea again.
"So this is what you have been thinking, all this time?" she asked. "That I came here to suffer with your father? Because I must tell you, he does not suffer much. His guards, on the other hand—they must now listen to all his speeches about his great plans."
Jules finally laughed. "You're right, Mother. You not only put up with Father all these years; you're practically his accomplice!"
She stiffened a little, thinking he meant to upbraid her about the genetic treatments again, but he was chuckling.
He went on without even noticing her reaction. "I'd just...I worried. You've always been with Father, no matter what crazy schemes he cooked up; I couldn't imagine you...alone. I guess I thought of you as...I don't know. Some sort of...prison widow." His laugh this time sounded more self-conscious. "I should have known you better."
"It's no wonder," she couldn't help but sniff. "You've visited so very little since you joined Starfleet."
"Well, that will change," he said, with a smile that seeped away too quickly. "I hope, anyway. We've had...things have been a little...tense, out on the edge of the quadrant. I'm afraid I came now because I'm not sure I'll be able to get leave again for a while."
"Then you must rise early to see the sunrise tomorrow," Amsha decided. "If we do not know when you might return, we must use your short leave well."
"Yes," Jules agreed. "I'd like that."
"Now, Jules, we should—oh, I'm sorry. I do mean to call you Julian, but...."
Jules shook his head. "No. It's all right, Mother. If I am Jules to you and Father, well, that's all right. But not Jadzia," he muttered, almost under his breath, and not for her ears.
"We should have dinner, then, Jules," she declared. "You can tell me all about your adventures on your Deep Space Nine, and I will show you where we traveled while your father was a steward."
Jules smiled. "I'd like that. I really would."
"So...you are still happy there?" she asked as she rose to gather their teacups. Jules, good son that he was, automatically rose with his own and took hers as well.
"Yes. Very happy. It's a wonderful group of people, Mother."
Amsha could see that he meant it. She had spent all these weeks since their inadvertent revelation wondering if he really was happy, if his friends and co-workers really could accept his secret. Apparently they could.
"And you are happy here?" he asked, watching her closely.
"Yes. I will be happier when your father leaves prison, of course, but I have friends. For the first time in nearly twenty-five years, I do not need to worry that I will slip in front of them and say the wrong thing, because I have no more secrets to hide. I have my sewing, I'm teaching again, and I do prefer being on a real planet to being in space."
Jules looked surprised. "I never knew that. All these years, and I never realized."
Amsha shrugged. "You never asked."
His forehead furrowed again. She just wanted to press it flat when he did that; she always had.
"Maybe you should be a little more forceful," he told her. "Ask for what you want. Father has gotten his way all this time—"
She shook her head. "No, Julian. I prefer being on a planet to being on a ship, but how would I have seen so many planets without ever being on a ship? I have made my choices. Your father never made me do anything I did not want to do."
Jules raised his eyebrows. "He couldn't, really, could he?" His voice scarcely went up at the end, making the sentence more a statement than a question.
"I have surprisingly few regrets for a woman my age, Jules," she told him honestly. "And no important ones."
"None?" he asked, his eyes searching her face.
"None," Amsha told him with no trace of doubt, for she felt none. She had many quiet nights alone to think about it, now, and think she did. She knew her mind—but then, she always had. The men in her life were not always so quick nor so certain, but they usually caught up with her in the end.