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in sæcula sæculorum

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Ben Sisko stared at his newborn self and wondered, not for the first time, just what he'd gotten himself into.

"The Sisko understands," said the thing wearing Kira's body that called itself an angel. "It has always been the Sisko." The angel spread Kira's arms to either side, expansively if slowly. The movements of a so-called "corporeal being" were still unfamiliar to it. "Here. Now. There. Then." It spoke the words like a foreign language being read from a dictionary, cautiously confident that the right meaning was being expressed. "Always."

Ben rubbed at his forehead tiredly, trying to work out the temporal mechanics at play here. Damn it, he was a retired Marine, not an astrophysicist! What did he know about time travel, or about "angels" that existed outside of time itself? "You're saying," he tried, "that up in... Heaven, your people saw one of you bring me back to this time, to this place. And that, since you saw yourselves do it, you knew it was going to happen? That I was going to be your... Emissary?"

The angel considered this. "Yes."

"That's not destiny!" he spat out. "That's a time-travel paradox, it's - it's a tautology! You're trying to convince yourselves that you knew it all along, but in reality you only knew it after it had happened!"

"After." The angel mulled over the word. Kira's brow furrowed slightly. "After. Before. These are corporeal concepts." It sounded vaguely disapproving.

"Yeah, well it's a corporeal world," Ben snapped. "And you've got yourself a corporeal Emissary, so you damn well better get used to it!" He nearly said more, but turned away at the last second, cutting himself off with a harsh sigh. The empty, distant look on Kira's face, so unlike the wide range of emotions she expressed throughout the day, was too much to look at. He found himself staring at the frozen image of the strange woman standing next to his father, holding a newborn Ben in her arms. This wasn't the woman he'd grown up calling Momma, and there had never been pictures of anyone like her around the house. Ben couldn't imagine his father hiding the existence of a wife before Momma, whether they'd divorced or she died... but Ben would be damned if there wasn't something familiar about the shape of her brow, the tilt of her nose. Things he'd seen in Jake's face that he hadn't recognized from either Jennifer or himself.

And there was something familiar about the look in her eyes. It was lesser, reduced, like she'd had time to adjust to corporeal sensations and linearity, but there was a distance in her eyes that he'd turned away from Kira to avoid seeing.

"Who is this woman?" he asked quietly. "Who - who is she to you? To me?"

"Mother of the Sisko," the angel said. "She was... necessary."

"What do you mean, necessary? Necessary to whom? To you? Why? What was she necessary for?" Ben huffed out a breath, running both hands over his scalp in a futile effort to calm himself down. He still didn't have all the facts, but that horrible suspicion in the back of his mind just wouldn't go away. If this was his mother, what had happened to her? Why did Dad never talk about her?

What was it about her eyes that made her look like one of these angels, and what did that mean?

"The Sisko is corporeal. Linear."

"Yes, I know!" Ben snapped. "But what does that have to do with her?" He bit back further frustration; when the angels started returning to basics, it usually meant they were trying to tell him something difficult to express with their nontemporal vocabulary.

"The Sisko has a beginning, and an end. He... must begin. He is... necessary."

"In the same way my mother was necessary? Or..." Ben frowned, lifted a hand to hold off further comments from the angel. "Wait." A hand rose, almost unconsciously, to his mouth as he thought this over. His mother was necessary. He was necessary. But with the angels there was no point wondering which came first, or why; with timeless beings, linear causality went out the window. Except... he stilled. Except for when they were dealing with linear beings. Like him. "My mother was necessary... to make sure I began."

Kira's face, which had been briefly clouded with the angel's mild frustration, cleared. "Yes."

"And - " Ben stopped; his voice was trembling. "And you people - one of you possessed her, the way you're possessing Kira now, to make sure I began."

"Yes," the angel repeated with the same blank tone. Absent of frustration, of confusion. You could almost say it sounded relieved. Relieved that Ben understood what had been done to his mother and father, two perfectly good, innocent people, all to make sure he existed.

Ben had to sit down.

He pressed a shaking fist to his mouth, willing himself to calm down. They didn't understand. The very idea of bodily agency - and how could they? Bodiless, timeless, formless beings composed of thought and power. How could they know what it was like, to have control ripped from you, to have things done to you and with you and against you that you couldn't do anything to stop - how could they know what a violation it was?

He sure as hell hoped they'd been telling the truth when they said Kira had asked for this. Prayed for it. He hoped that meant his mother had asked for it too, but he suspected otherwise.

Finally, he asked, "What happened to her?"

The angel blinked thickly, and looked up - for an answer, Ben guessed. Apparently it hadn't expected the question. "We... left her. She left you. She... ended."

Dead, then. "Damn." He'd hoped to be able to find her, to... not explain. How could he explain what he barely understood? But to apologize, maybe. Introduce her to her grandson, if she wanted to meet him. If she wanted to involve herself with a family she'd had no say in marrying into, in mothering, in being related to.

Probably not, but he would have wanted to try.

"What about the angel that possessed her? I want to talk to h - to it."

The angel didn't look to Heaven for an answer this time, but it didn't give the kind of immediate response Ben was used to. That... was curious.

"What happened to that angel?"

The angel refused to meet Ben's eyes for the first time in his recollection. Ben's jaw just about dropped. It was hesitating! It - it didn't want to tell him! Now, what could an angel possibly want to keep from telling their vaunted Emissary?

Whatever it was, he wanted to know. Now. "Tell me."

The angel touched two fingers to Ben's forehead. The world swirled and churned in a rainbow of colors and smells and sounds. Ben felt vaguely sick, in the way their transportation always left him. It pulled back, and he wavered on his feet.

"Dad!" Jake sprung up from his writing desk and caught Ben around the shoulders, steadying him. "Are you okay? I had another - I saw the angels take you to see Grampa when you were a baby, is that what just - ?"

"Yes, Jake," Ben said, asking him to hold back his questions for a minute with a wave of his hand. His eyes were still fixed on the angel possessing Kira, which was staring up through the ceiling, at something no human could see. "Tell me," he repeated, firming up his voice to make it an order.

The angel met his eyes at last, and the hopeless look in them - the kind of emotion he'd've sworn was impossible for them to feel, before today - took his breath away. "They are lost," it said, and with a rush of air Kira disappeared, leaving Ben with more questions than when he'd started.

That, at least, was growing typical of his interactions with the angels.