Getting an audience with the Kai of Bajor was easier for the son of the Emissary than it would have been for Jake Sisko, reporter. Not that he wanted to interview her. Actually, he didn't intend to tell anyone about this visit if he didn't have to. The Federation News Service guys would complain about missed opportunities, and his father would be displeased and somewhat troubled. His friends would just be mystified. He could almost hear Nog's voice.
"You do remember what happened the last time you wanted to talk with the Kai, right?"
He did remember. It had been really embarrassing, with him and Nog accusing her of kidnapping a crazy scientist. She had given them one incredulous look, swept out of the room again, and he had felt like a misbehaving toddler for all that he was taller than her and knew she had done things far worse than kidnapping in her time. Compared to what he wanted to talk with her about this time, though, he would have preferred another embarrassment.
Jake didn't like Kai Winn. There was no reason why he should; his introduction to her had been the uproar about Mrs. O'Brien's teachings. He also knew that Major Kira blamed her for the death of Vedek Bareil, and when his father had been getting visions from the Prophets that were killing him, Kai Winn had been encouraging him. No, there was no reason why he should like her, and this made what he intended to do all the more difficult.
For Jake Sisko was quite firmly convinced he owed Winn Adami his life.
The Kai of Bajor did not reside in the great temple itself, which was a small relief since Jake didn't want to be anywhere near a shrine or a temple right now if he could avoid it. He actually took a different route to Quark's these days so he didn't have to pass the entrance to the small temple on DS9. Since the Kai's residence was a smaller house next to the temple premises, with her gardens and the temple grounds melting into each other, he had to walk in the shadows of the graceful columns for a while anyway, and he could feel the hairs of his skin standing up. Gooseflesh, his mother would have said. Something walk over your grave? Grandpa would ask, and wouldn't be completely wrong.
He deliberately pushed back the thought of his father.
When he gave his name at the entrance of the residence and was cleared by security, he was rushed into the reception room, which was full of brown and orange colours, so he might as well have been in a Bajoran temple. There was one sofa with a woman sitting on it who took in Jake's lack of an earring and human nose, then evidently recognized him and asked, with an awed voice: "Will the Emissary be visiting the Kai today?"
"No," Jake said shortly. "I'm here for myself."
The woman looked disappointed but seemed to be in a mood to talk. So was she, she told him, since she was not content with what her local Vedek had told her about the Reckoning. She headed one of the largest orphanages, and said the children were wondering whether the Reckoning being thwarted meant the Prophets would now turn their back on Bajor, and that the Cardassians would return. Jake wished he could sink into the ground. Then the woman bowed her head and said in a hushed voice: "Eminence", and he knew the Kai must have entered the room. Hastily, he turned around.
Winn was dressed in her safran-coloured robes and looked majestic as always, but for the first time, he thought she also came across as drained. There was tiredness in her face, as if she hadn't slept for days. Neither had Jake, and he wondered whether it was for a similar reason. After blessing the orphanage leader and promising to talk to her later, she turned to Jake, and to his surprise touched his ear.
The gesture was familiar to him after several years on a space station full of Bajorans, of course. It was the way Vedeks explored one's pagh. It was just that nobody had done that to him before. Her fingers felt cool and dry, and he shivered. Winn let go.
"Walk with me, child," she said.
Once they were outside and breathed in the scents of a Bajoran garden in summer, Jake, clinging to the script he had made up in his mind, decided to get this over as quickly as possible.
"Eminence," he said, launching into his prepared speech, "thank you for seeing me. I know you are very busy, so I will not waste any of your time. There is just something I wanted to say."
Because nobody else would say it, Jake thought. Kira had voiced her anger about Winn's interference when Jake tried to talk to her, believing that the experience they shared would have left her in a similar state; she was completely convinced that Winn had stopped the Reckoning because of jealousy. Because the Kai had wanted to be chosen by the Prophets and could not stand the idea of the Emissary, a human, having more faith than herself.
"We were ready to give our lives in the service of the Prophets," Kira had declared, and the implicit assumption made Jake speechless. Because he certainly had not agreed to any such thing. He could still feel the horrible sensation of his body being not his own, the utter violation, so he had no doubt the Pagh Wraiths needed to be defeated sooner or later. But he would have died in the process, or Kira would have done, or both of them, if not for Winn. And then his father would have broken down completely. Whatever had motivated Winn, he owed her his life, and perhaps Kira's as well.
"Thank you for saving me," he said. Because Siskos paid their debts. The words alone felt barren, though, in a reality where he still could breathe and talk and smell and hear. Perhaps this shouldn't be so important. Perhaps he was being a coward, as opposed to Kira, who had been ready to die for her gods and her people. Jake remembered his first experience of battle, remembered running away and leaving Dr. Bashir to die in the blind, all encompassing panic and urge to stay alive. At least back then, it hadn't been about saving a world from creepy non-corporeal beings.
"You wanted to live," Winn stated in her calm, placid voice that made her sound deceptively grandmotherly, and Jake reminded himself that she was a dangerous woman who would undoubtedly file this conversation in her mind somewhere where she might use it against his father, if necessary. But he could not lie about this, not to her at any rate.
"Yes," he said.
Perhaps that was why the Pagh Wraith had chosen him. Because it recognized something selfish and cowardly in him, which wanted to live even at the expense of someone else. Not like Kira. Afterwards he had told his father that bearing a Pagh Wraith inside had made him understand why they were evil and why the Reckoning would have been necessary, and his father had been relieved. His father was a good man.
"Your father would have let you die," Winn said, and Jake stopped walking and stared at her. The anger that rose in him felt as if it had been boiling for quite some time, and he was glad she had put off her mask so he could direct it at her. Obviously, Kira had been right about Winn.
"My father wanted to save your world," he flung back. "And your gods. He believed they would save me. It's not his fault they made him Emissary and not you. Or that they speak to him and give him visions and…"
And take away everything, but he couldn't say that out loud. Jake's feelings about the wormhole aliens the Bajorans called Prophets had always been uneasy at best. When he saw them killing his father through visions, he had started to hate them. Which was also impossible to say, especially to Winn. The Emissary's son denouncing the Prophets? She could hardly ask for a better weapon in her rivalry with his father.
Winn inclined her head. "We all make our choices," she said, the corners of her mouth turning downwards. "The Prophets as well as their Emissary."
"He didn't choose me, the Pagh Wraiths did," Jake returned heatedly. The earlier exhaustion he had seen in Winn's face had by now melted away. She was all coiled attentiveness.
"No," she repeated slowly. "He did not choose you."
It was impossible to misunderstand her meaning.
He shouldn't have come here. He should have listened to Kira and everyone else. Winn was an evil woman who didn't deserve gratitude. At the very least, he should get the hell out of here now, out of this garden in the shadow of the great temple, and leave her and her insinuations behind.
Jake didn't leave. Maybe he was a coward who didn't want to die, but he knew about words. He was a writer. They were something he could shape and defend himself with, too. He wouldn't fail this time, or run away.
"You did," he said. "You chose to save my life and go against the will of the Prophets. Doesn't that mean you betrayed your gods? How can you still be Kai after doing that?"
He saw something flicker in her eyes. Then it was gone.
"If the Prophets had not wanted me to save you, I would not have been on that station, child," she declared serenely, and Jake shook his head.
"No, you were there because you wanted to be. You said it yourself - we all make our choices. You chose to be there, and you chose to go against your gods. You weren't fulfilling their will. You were fulfilling yours."
The sun made the mixture of gray and blond hair that was wound so tightly beneath Winn's cap look like gleaming gold that hurt his eyes.
"And how do you know that that the Prophets did not mean for their Kai to be the instrument that saves the Emissary from sacrificing his only son?"
"Because," Jake exclaimed frustratedly, "that makes no sense. That would mean their great Reckoning was just a cruel test. What kind of Gods test people by trying to find out whether their faith is strong enough to kill their children?"
He did not understand what he had said until the words were spoken, and then silence fell between them, heavy and strong. He didn't, Jake thought desperately. He wouldn't have. But the words were said, and now he felt the bitter taste of betrayal filling his mouth with acid. Whether it was his own betrayal in saying something like this in front of his father's enemy, or his father's betrayal of having that kind of faith in incomprehensible wormhole aliens, he did not know. For a moment, he wished he had died that day on the promenade, and both Pagh Wraith and Prophet with him.
"The kind of Gods," Winn said, and her quiet voice was so low that he almost could not hear her, "who test the faith of their chosen people by leaving them at the mercy of a cruel enemy for more than sixty years. Do not speak to me of sacrifice, Jake Sisko. We gave our sons and daughters for decades before your father even knew how to spell our planet's name, and the Prophets were silent. They still are. I will live for them and die for them and teach their story for the rest of my days, and I will never forgive them."
For a heartbeat, he wondered whether he was having one of the orb experiences Kira and his father had described to him, where the Prophets took the shape of the people in one's life. He could not believe Winn just said what she had said. And yet he knew she had done. Jake regarded her, and saw the truth of anger and betrayal she had given him in return for his own. He knew that if he ever spoke of this to anyone, she would deny it, just as he would deny what he had said earlier. Save for one thing.
She was still standing with the sun in her back, and his eyes still hurt, but he could not look away. Maybe everything he had thought today about Winn was true. She was a tired old woman, and she was the cool ruthless politician with blood on her hands. She was a part of the religion and the world that had taken his father and transformed him, bit by bit, and she was possibly the only person alive who felt a measure of the furious resentment that burned inside Jake against the Prophets.
"Thank you," he said again, "for saving me."
This time, it didn't sound like an insufficient phrase anymore, and she smiled at him. There was no kindness in the smile, and none of the professional sweetness she was famous for during her public appearances. It felt as true and as sharp as one of Worf's blades.
"Walk your own path, child," she said. He nodded, and turned away.