Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Two
Written by Karen Dunn
The comm. line to Starfleet closed with a small beep but Benjamin Sisko kept his gaze locked on the blank screen for a moment longer. The tasks which lay ahead of him were not enviable. Never mind having to keep the station running without the best engineer in the quadrant or the Security Chief to beat them all. Never mind having to deal with the Bajoran government without the help of the only woman since Jennifer to have intimidated him, the only first officer he could imagine at his side. The task he dreaded most was telling Keiko O'Brien that she was a widow, that she was alone in the universe with two small children to raise. That her husband had lost his life, not in some heroic battle to save his fellow officers, but in a pointless accident at the mouth of the wormhole with only the Prophets as his witness.
He rubbed his eyes, uncharacteristically tired and completely unsure of what to do next. Whenever personal crisis' had reared their ugly head in the past, he had been able to call on Dax and talk it through with the Old Man. One glance through his office window into Ops and he knew that was not an option this time. Jadzia Dax was slumped in her seat, her hands clenched into fists, eyes gazing, unseeing, at the screen before her. He knew that she was eating herself up with guilt and he knew that it was up to him to bring her out of it. He just did not know where to start.
Pushing himself up out of his seat, he left his office and walked slowly down the steps to Dax's console. She barely acknowledged that he was there, her eyes still glazed as they watched data stream past on the screen without taking in a word. He placed a hand on her shoulder, "I have to go and see Keiko, Commander, you're in charge."
He was in the turbolift before she raised her head and attempted a smile, "Aye, sir."
The turbolift disappeared from view, swallowed up by the gaping maw of the station's innards, and Dax let her shoulders slump again. She glanced briefly at the screen, realising that she could not remember a single fact that had appeared there in the last half hour and not really caring. She let her eyes close as tears threatened to take over, and felt the symbiant within her stir,
"You're not the only one hurting."
The voice wasn't harsh or taunting as it had been earlier and she recognised it as Audrid, the more maternal of the past hosts. She clamped her lips tight shut, knowing she had to answer, but also aware that non-Trills found the one-way conversations between host and symbiant disturbing. She cleared her mind and tried not to be rude, "What?"
"Look around you, child, there is a whole room full of people here who need to grieve and don't know how"
"That's only natural."
"Of course it is. But they're good officers. They'll do their jobs and when their shifts are over, they will grieve in their own way."
She could almost see Audrid nodding, "So by what right do you sit here making a bad situation worse?"
Dax frowned, "I don't understand…"
"Yes you do. Young Benjamin carries the burden of these tragic circumstances on his shoulders and what do you do?"
"Do you go to him and offer to share the load? No, you sit here like a lost little girl and cry to yourself. Why are you any different to these other 'good officers'?"
Jadzia's mind tried to answer, but she found that being choked with tears meant in mind as well as body and she could not get a response clear in her head. She wiped a hand across her eyes and bit her bottom lip, stabbing furiously at the buttons before her as Audrid continued.
"I know the answer already, child. We all do, we can feel it. Guilt is hard to swallow when it is deserved. You will choke on it if you take it for no reason."
"…leave me alone…"
"Don't do this to yourself, Jadzia…"
"Damn." Blocking out the last of Audrid's pleading, Dax slammed her palm onto the console, hitting the reset button a little too hard and lowered her eyes as those around turned to look at her.
Deep inside her an insistent voice called for attention, but was ignored.
Sisko could hear Kirayoshi crying from the far end of the corridor - that insistent infuriated cry that spoke of a hungry belly not being filled quickly enough. He smiled to himself as he thought of Jake at that age and the spark of pure temper that always surfaced in the child at meal times. If Yoshi grew into half the man Jake had become - a little piece of his father and a huge chunk of his mother - he was sure the Chief would be proud….the smile vanished - at least Jake had clear memories of his lost parent. Little Yoshi would never have that comfort.
He stopped outside the door of the O'Brien's quarters aware that he had no idea what to say. How do you tell a family that their husband and father is dead?
He tapped the door chime and waited.
Keiko O'Brien's harassed voice called, "It's open."
The doors hissed apart to admit him and Sisko stood on the threshold and gazed at the scene before him.
Kirayoshi was propped up in a high chair, pink faced and stiff legged with temper as Keiko tried to coax him into eating some indefinable mush on a spoon. Sisko sympathised with the boy - appetising was not a word often used by the manufacturers of baby food.
Molly was lying on the floor by the couch putting the finishing touches to yet another drawing - the results of her previous efforts scattered around her. She looked up at him and beamed a gap toothed grin, "Hullo, Captain. Daddy's not here, he's at work."
The father in Sisko took over and he knelt down beside her and ruffled her hair, openly admiring her art work, "I'm here to see Mummy."
Keiko's head snapped round and her gaze locked with his. Without a word, she lifted Yoshi from his high chair with one hand and gathered up Molly's drawings with the other. The girl frowned at her, "I'm not finished yet, Mommy."
Keiko smiled down at her daughter, ignoring Sisko, "Honey, I need you to take Yoshi over to Mrs. T'Prell's for a while. Would you do that for me?"
Molly took her brother and clumsily balanced him on her hip, "Do I have to stay with him?"
Molly sighed as she walked to the door, "He's getting awful heavy, you know. You should teach him to walk."
With an awkward wave to the Captain she carried her brother away.
Sisko smiled fondly as the doors closed then turned to Keiko. She was standing almost at attention before him, her eyes wide, "Keiko…"
"He was on the runabout, wasn't he? The one that blew up. Everyone on the Promenade saw it…"
She had said it all for him and Sisko was ridiculously grateful to her for making his task easier. There would be no stuttering speeches, no wishing he was somewhere else - anywhere else - he simply nodded, "Yes, he was."
She took a shuddering breath, "We came home straight away. I knew that if you or Nerys showed up within the hour then he was on it."
"Major Kira was on it, too. And Constable Odo…"
She sank onto the couch, "Oh, God…"
Sisko sat beside her and placed his hand over hers as they twisted in her lap, "Keiko, I'm sorry…"
She didn't look at him, "How did it happen?"
He relaxed ever so slightly as they entered known territory, "We're not sure. We just know that when the other vessel exploded the runabout was caught in the blast."
"Is there any chance they survived?"
He shook his head sadly, "We found the remains of a warp nacelle…"
She jumped to her feet as if unable to listen to any specific details and Sisko fell silent, watching her as she pottered about the room picking up toys and straightening pictures that did not need straightening until finally running out of things to do. She turned to him, her eyes too bright, her smile grotesquely false, "Can I get you anything, Captain?"
He crossed to her and laid his hands on her shoulders, "Keiko…"
Her head dropped and her voice was tiny, "…I don't know what to feel…"
"I know." His mind flipped back to the time of Jennifer's death and the long ride in the escape shuttle, his son in his arms, watching as the Saratoga erupted in the distance taking his wife, and everything he loved about her, with it. He drew her into a hug, "Believe me, I know."
He raised a comforting hand to stroke her hair, ready to support her when the expected flood of tears spilled forth, but they never came. Her shoulders stiffened and she pulled away from him, eyes wide in momentary panic as her mind latched on to something to talk about - anything other than the fate of her husband, "I should start packing…" she began a second circuit of the room, hands searching for things to gather up, "Miles' replacement will be wanting the quarters."
She sounded for all the world as if the Chief had finally handed in one of his oft threatened transfer requests and Sisko sighed and reached out to take her arm, recognising in her the way he had refused to accept that Jennifer was gone, "Keiko…"
She shook him off, "It's such a shame. Molly was starting to love Bajor. She speaks quite a bit of the language now. Did you know that?"
He folded his hands carefully behind his back, "The Chief mentioned it, yes."
She opened a closet and hefted a suitcase in her arms, "It's a lovely place to grow up now the Cardassians are gone. I know Nerys was looking forward to taking Yoshi to Dakhur Province. Kind of to show him off, you know?" The suitcase hit the couch and she flicked the catch open, "I know she never came across as the maternal type, but she was a fantastic Aunt. I bet you didn't know she had a soft side, did you?"
Sisko allowed Kira's image to float before his mind's eye and thought of their many discussions, differences of opinion - hell, they had almost come to blows on more than one occasion - as the terrorist that dwelt at the heart of her had clashed with the regimented officer nurtured by years in Starfleet. Then he remembered her valiant attempt to hold back tears after the death of Li Nalas, the way she had broken down at Bariel's funeral, the open love which shone from her eyes whenever Shakaar had come to the station, "I knew" he said, "I just wish I had seen it more often."
Keiko placed a bundle of baby clothes in the case and turned to fetch more, but Sisko stepped in front of her and took a firm grip on her hand, forcing her to look at him, "You can stay here for as long as you like, Keiko. This is your home - I'm not going to turn you away."
"But the regulations…"
"Damn the regulations. This is my station and Starfleet and the Bajoran Government will have one hell of a fight on their hands if they try to wave the rule book at me now."
She smiled up at him, a weary smile that shone with threatening tears and clutched the clothes to her chest, "Thank you."
They stood in silence for a moment, Sisko unsure of what to say as he watched Keiko battle with her feelings and saw her pent up grief bubbling near the surface. He took her hand once more and held it tight between his own, "He was a good man, Keiko."
And finally the tears came as she collapsed in his arms with a heart wrenching wail and cried the anguished lament of some-one who had lost everything they held dear.
The duty shifts were changing by the time Sisko left Keiko, his uniform front damp with her tears. She had fallen asleep in his arms and he had carefully moved out of her tight embrace and covered her with a blanket. A quick trip to the T'Prell quarters had ensured that Molly and Yoshi would be taken care of until their mother was ready to break the news to them. That was one task only Keiko could undertake and he did not envy her.
Not wanting to return to Ops just yet, he let his feet lead him where they would and found himself outside the infirmary. One of the nurses glanced up as he came in and smiled encouragement. The DS9 grapevine, it seemed, had passed the news like wild fire from the supposed security of Ops to the depths of the Promenade. He returned her smiled and nodded towards Julian Bashir's office, "Is he in?"
"Yes, sir. Go ahead."
Julian Bashir looked up as Sisko entered his office and the Captain saw that he was holding a pair of antiquated goggles, a prop from the Battle of Britain hologame he and O'Brien often enjoyed.
Bashir shrugged, "I've seen more people die than I care to remember. I've even sat and cried over some of them. Why do I feel so empty now?"
Sisko sighed, "You're the doctor. You don't need me to answer that."
His business-like tone made Bashir look up, "Is something wrong?"
Sisko nodded, "I've just broken the news to Keiko. She's sleeping now, but …"
Julian got up and readied his medical kit, glad for the distraction from his own morbid thoughts of mortality, "I'll drop by straight away. If nothing else she may be glad of the company."
Sisko shook his head, "Why not give her an hour or two, Doctor. Let her sleep while she can."
Bashir hesitated, "Certainly - if you think that's best. I couldn't do much more than give her a sedative anyway." He placed his bag back on the desk, at a sudden loss for what to do, then picked up the goggles again, "We must have played out this scenario a hundred times and we only managed to win once."
Sisko smiled, "Once?"
"We had to cheat in the end. The Chief rewrote the program so that the axis planes were only armed with catapults" He made a bow and arrow gesture with his hands, "Tiny little hand held things with pebbles for ammunition." They both chuckled and Julian sighed as he sat down, "Even then they nearly beat us and Quark reported us to Odo for damaging his property."
Sisko laughed and clapped his hands together, "I remember. You had to get Dax to help you change the program back because Odo said he'd throw you both in the Brig if it wasn't repaired within the hour."
"And Upper Pylon Four went down just as Mrs. T'Prell went into labour so neither of us had the time. Dax was fantastic…"
"You still owe her five strips of latinum for that."
Julian grinned, "I tried to persuade her to do it for love, but…well, I think she's been hanging round with the Ferengi for too long. She just quoted the 111th Rule of Acquisition at me and told me she only accepted cash."
Sisko chuckled once more then sobered as he sank into the spare chair, "It's Dax I'm here to talk about."
He got up out of the chair again and paced the floor as he spoke, "She has taken the accident pretty hard. I think she feels responsible."
Bashir's tone was deadly serious as the doctor took over, pushing the playboy aside, "Was she?"
"No." he sat down again, "It was an accident. Judgement calls were made on all sides. There were people to help and we tried to help them. That's what they pay us for."
Bashir nodded, letting his Captain talk through events in the hope they would become clearer to both of them, "Then why does she feel she's to blame?"
He saw Sisko clench his fists in frustration, "It's that damn Trill logic again. I used to think Vulcans were annoying. At least a Vulcan would accept this for what it is - a tragedy that no-one could have prevented. But Dax…" he sat down again, "…Curzon admitted to me once that every joined Trill looks on their non-Trill associates as children. He said they never lose that sense of feeling responsible for everyone around them. So if something goes wrong when there's a Trill involved they subconsciously shoulder the blame."
Bashir frowned, "That's ridiculous."
"To you or I, yes. To Jadzia…" he could picture her now, her usually immaculate figure stooped in grief, and fought down a wave of fear. The day had started so well, surrounded by his friends and colleagues, at ease with life. In the space of a few hours his world had collapsed. He had lost three friends to tragedy and felt as if he were losing a fourth. He couldn't put into words how much he needed the young doctor's help. Bashir had pulled more miracles from his bag of tricks than Sisko could count. He hoped to God he would have one to spare now, "I don't know what to do to help her."
Julian watched his commanding officer battle with his anger at feeling so inadequate. He was used to being in control of these situations and Bashir found it ironic that Sisko's usual source of sage advice, the person who, for years, had prodded him in the right direction was at the heart of his problem now. He got to his feet, "Would you like me to talk to her?"
Sisko shrugged, "I don't know whether it would do much good. I've known Dax for years. I've seen Curzon live through situations you and I can barely imagine and always come out smiling at the end. I never knew him to lose control like this. I know he had regrets about things he had to do, but I never saw him so wrapped up in guilt."
"Are you saying that this is Jadzia's problem alone - not the synbiant?"
"That's what I'm saying. Can you help her?"
Bashir reached out and pressed a few buttons on his medical console, frowning at the information before him, "I've said it before - this station needs a professional counsellor. I don't have the relevant experience to make an accurate judgement on anyone's state of mind. Psychology was never my strongest field."
"But you're still the closest thing we have to an expert."
Bashir flicked off the console and gazed at Sisko, "With all due respect, sir, as the closest thing we have to an expert, I prescribe a lot of listening and understanding from her friends. Jadzia is strong, but she will not get through this if she thinks she is alone. Talk to her - listen to her. " he allowed himself a quiet smile, "Think of all the times she has acted as station agony aunt. O'Brien's marriage, Odo's never ending battle to understand the world around him, Kira - well, just being Kira,. You and I…did she ever drag you along to one of Quark's all night Tongo sessions?"
Sisko's eyes lit up, " Did she? I was in a foul mood and I had a double shift to pull the next day. But she insisted I go along to 'unwind'."
"And did you?"
Sisko shook his head as he saw where the doctor was heading, "Yes," he whispered, "We stayed up until 06:00 drinking spring wine and taking Quark for every strip of latinum we could get our hands on. She was talking to me on and off for the first hour - nonsense talk, nothing important - but by the time she finished I wanted to tell her everything. Every little thing that was bothering me. After we left I realised I had never spoken to Curzon that way - never could." He grimaced, "God, did I really talk about my private life in front of Quark?"
Bashir laughed out loud, then looked at Sisko intently, "Don't you think she deserves a little of that patience from you? If she won't talk to you, just be there for her."
Sisko got to his feet and walked to the door, "I'll give it a shot, Doctor, thank you." He turned as he left, "Will you be attending the memorial?"
Bashir nodded, "21:00 hours in front of the temple. I'd like to say a few words if that's at all possible."
Sisko left sick bay, focused, refusing to meet any of the gazes which turned his way. He slapped his combadge, "Computer, locate Commander Dax."
"Commander Dax is in the Replimat."
He turned on his heel, retraced his steps and eventually spotted her. She was in the furthest corner, nursing a cold mug of raktajino. She did not look up as he took the seat opposite, just stared at her drink, gripping the mug with whitening knuckles. Elbows on the table, he rested his chin on his fists and watched her, waiting until she was ready to speak.
After a long moment, she gazed up at him, eyes brimming with tears, "I'm not going."
"To the memorial?"
A whisper, "Yes."
One of the tears escaped and traced a path down her cheek, "Because it's my fault."
Sisko leant forward, "It was an accident. How could it possibly be your fault?"
"Because I told Kira it was safe. Because I was arrogant enough to assume that I could judge the reaction of a totally new object just because it was similar to something I had seen before."
He reached out and took her hand, "You're not making sense, Old Man. You're taking blame where there's none to be taken."
"That's what everyone says…"
"Then listen to them."
"I should have told them to wait…"
"We had to check for survivors."
Her tears were flowing freely now, unashamed, and she made no attempt to wipe them away, just shook off his comforting hand as if it had slapped her, "Leave me alone, Benjamin."
His combadge beeped, "Cargo Bay 3 to Sisko."
He thumped it in irritation, "Sisko here, go ahead." He felt a twinge of regret as he heard the young woman on the other end of the line swallow nervously. Bawling out his junior staff was going to get him nowhere.
"Um, this is Ensign Andrews, sir, you wanted to know when we had finished the salvage operation by the wormhole," she hesitated, unsure, "Um, well, we're finished, sir."
"Thank you, Ensign. Get an engineering crew down there and have them go over everything with a fine toothed comb."
"Yes, sir. Cargo Bay 3 out."
He looked back to Dax, watching as she took a deep mouthful of the cold, foul tasting coffee. She was in danger of blocking him out again, his words not reaching her, so, with a whispered apology to Bashir and his pleas for patience, he tried a different tack, "Do you know Ensign Andrews?"
She shrugged, "Barely."
"Well I do. She is one of Odo's most promising deputies." Dax seemed to be ignoring him now and he slammed his fist onto the table, making her look up, "For the last two years she has taken every double shift going, every bum assignment that needs to be completed. She spends her free time reading up on Federation Law, Klingon Law, Bajoran Law…hell, if there was a book on Dominion Law, she would have read it. Odo told me that he fully expects her to be offered his job within five years. She was as close to him as anyone on this station, but do you think she'll be crying into her coffee tonight?" He saw Dax's eyes squeeze tight shut as she tried to block him out and he leaned closer to her, his voice a growl, "She would never dishonour him in that way. He was her friend and she'll be at that memorial no matter how bad she feels. Because that's what friends do."
He pushed back his chair, deliberately letting it scrape on the floor, knowing he finally had her full attention, "There's nothing we can do for Kira and the others, Jadzia. They're gone. But we can show our respects and mourn them and find out why they died. Then we can remember them and drink to them." He laid a hand on her shoulder as she looked up at him properly for the first time, "Life goes on, Old Man. You of all people should know that."
Then he walked out of the Replimat and left her alone.
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By the way, the 111th Rule of Acquisition is: "Treat people in your debt like family - exploit them." Just in case you were wondering.