Places and characters belong to Paramount. No profit or infringement intended.
My gratitude to my wonderful betas, Liz Logan and Rob Morris. Thank you both for your help.
In every beginning, there is an ending; in every ending, there is a beginning. I can only explain it this way. Only in this way...
Ninety-three thousand and six hundred seconds. One thousand, five hundred and sixty minutes. Twenty-six hours.
I've been measuring time in every way possible with the same results: my father is gone.
In some ways, nothing has changed; all around me, life has frozen into stillness. We move as if nothing has happened, as if the incomprehensible never occurred.
You don't realize what it feels like to lose someone until you do. Yes, you can imagine what it might feel like but you're never prepared for the wave of emotion that rolls over you, drowning you in its white-capped intensity.
I thought I had prepared myself.
Every time Dad took the Defiant out, I would stand in the airlock and think, "This is it. This is the last hug, this is the last wave." And of course, he always came back.
When they told me, I didn't say anything for a long time because I didn't think it could be true. My father always came back for me. Forgive my selfishness, but I really thought that they didn't understand what my relationship with my father was like; he would come back for me.
It did not seem real until this morning when I reached for my combadge.
"Jake to Benjamin Sisko."
There was no response, no smooth baritone coming over the comlink. So I tried again. "Jake to Sisko."
Finally the computer responded, almost as if it hadn't processed my hail the first time. "Benjamin Sisko is unknown," the computer chirped at me in that same exasperating tone it used to inform me of the room's ambient temperature.
So just like that. After seven years, after facing the Maquis, the Klingons, the Cardassians, the Dominion, after all of that, Benjamin Sisko was unknown.
The loss of my father manifested itself as a sharp pain just below my breastbone, one that stabbed me every time I inhaled. I never thought, never imagined, that it would be like this. That it would still be like this.
There are two kinds of questions: the ones you know how to answer and the ones you don't. People asked me - then and even now - about my father. I can answer simple questions about my father, that is never hard. I could tell you stories all day long about him, tell you what kind of man he was. Those were the easy questions, the ones where the answers lay right on the tip of my tongue. The other question, I could tell when it was coming. The asker was always uncomfortable, never quite made eye contact and then would spit out some variation of, "Do you think your father is really a Prophet?"
Damned if I know. On my good days, I think Dad is a Prophet. I think he's out there somewhere (I refuse to think of my father making his permanent home in the wormhole) and maybe, he's watching me. On my bad days, the days when I can't go a single moment without the memory of Benjamin Sisko invading every cell of my body, on those days - I tell myself that he's dead. It makes me less angry with him.
Day two of life without Dad began when Kasidy called. She said the investigators had come and I got out of bed, got dressed and walked down to the quarters where my father lived. I walked the way I always did, down the same route through the twisting corridors, one foot always in front of the other.
When I arrived, I found Kasidy behind the table, as if she was trying to put a physical barrier between herself and the investigators.
"Jake Sisko," I said, extending my hand. One of the investigators - this one a stocky man with a blazing shock of red hair - took my hand in a firm handshake. His freckled cheeks flanked a perpetually turned upward mouth, making him seem younger and more jovial than he probably was.
Investigators, by definition, characteristically lack humor and this man's two comrades scowled at me.
"Kaplan. Nice to meet you."
"And you are?" I nodded
at the other two men. It turned out that the tall man's name was
Linell, and the Bolian was Pol. Both, I could tell, probably went to bed early and had worse luck with women than I did; some things are small comfort at times like this, like the burst of confidence and strength which flowed through me. "Now that the introductions are over, what are you doing here?"
"You know we have to investigate every strange disappearance for foul play," Kaplan said primly. "You have to admit, the circumstances surrounding Captain Sisko's disappearance are... odd."
"I told you everything I know," Kasidy said. She moved from behind the table and sat down on the sofa.
"Yes," Linell said. "But you'll have to forgive me if I don't believe you."
"Look," I said. "From what we understand, my father fought with Gul Dukat-"
"Who was disguised as a Bajoran," Pol put in. I glared at him.
"If you know this already, why are you harassing a pregnant woman?" I asked.
"Jake," Kasidy said. "Don't make trouble."
"I'm not making trouble. Something happened to Dad. He's gone. We know that. I'm not sure that we'll really understand what happened to him."
"We have a job to do," Pol said. "We would appreciate your cooperation."
"And we would appreciate some respect." My tone was sharper than I had intended, more bite than usual. I considered an apology briefly, but decided not to. Already, Linell had wandered over to the small corner table where Dad's model home rested. "Something interesting to you?"
"Jake," Kasidy said in a warning tone. I didn't look at her as I joined Linell. Those large hands of his ran over the edges of the board the house rested on and then, he touched the roof, the walls, and even opened the little shutters covering the windows. Linell looked at me.
"What is this?" Linell asked.
"It's a house," I said coolly.
"I can see that," Linell answered. "It looks like a replica, a nicely made model."
"My father designed that," I said. Suddenly all of the fire was gone from my voice. "He was planning to build a house on Bajor..."
"He wanted to stay on Bajor?" this came from Pol, who was standing all the way across the room, but apparently had very good hearing. "This is news." Immediately, Pol whipped out his PADD and began making notes. I sighed.
"When he retired," I said. "He loves it here."
"Loves?" Kaplan questioned.
Kasidy sank into a chair, pressing a hand against her forehead. Immediately, I headed to the replicator to get her a glass of water.
"What did you mean by that?" Kaplan persisted. I looked at him speculatively, imagining that as a child, he was the type who usually sat in the back of a classroom, but whose hand was constantly in the air.
"Nothing," Kasidy said dully. She reached up to grab my hand. "He doesn't mean anything by it."
And I wanted to tell them all, Kas included, what I meant. But one look at Kas' face, another at those of the investigators, and I kept quiet. Later on though, when Kas and I were seated on the sofa, facing the trio of investigators and answering their questions as quickly as we could, I kept looking over at the model house my father had built.
I didn't see how he could leave, especially since he had seen a future for himself here on Bajor. Seven years ago, he couldn't even see beyond the next hour and just a week ago, he was thinking about the rest of his life.
I visited Ops in search of an angle for my news story. Here the decisions were made, good, bad, indifferent - it all happened here. But while I was staring at the view screen at the various ships that were docking or undocking, I had to look.
Kira was sitting at Dad's desk. She wasn't alone; a Cardassian sat in front of her, his head uncharacteristically bowed. After a few minutes, the Cardassian left through the back door and Kira stood up, stretching out those long limbs. I watched as she tilted her head to either side and then, she straightened, and noticed me.
The doors to the office slid open and she came to stand in the doorway, her hand against the edge of the door.
"Jake," she said. "Come in."
I followed her in and while I settled myself into a chair, Kira walked to the replicator.
"Anything for you?" she asked.
"No," I said.
"Raktajino." Kira brought the steaming cup back to the desk and cupped her hands around it. She inhaled deeply.
"Rough day?" I asked.
She nodded. "That was another Cardassian captain asking for more engineers to help on his ship."
Kira shrugged. "I extended his permit to remain docked. We can't spare anyone right now, Jake. Time is all I can give him."
I took a mental count of all those who were no longer on the station, for one reason or another. Jadzia, O'Brien, Worf, Odo. I even spared a thought for Damar and Kai Winn. Dukat, despite my best efforts, invaded my mind and I blinked rapidly, trying to clear my vision.
"There's a delegation coming up from Bajor today," Kira said. She sounded incredibly weary.
"Why?" I asked.
"To discuss applying for Federation membership."
"Dad would like that."
Kira smiled, a thin smile which never quite reached her eyes. She lifted her cup and took a sip.
"They're supposed to arrive in two hours," she continued. "I've been trying to decide what to say to them."
"You always find the right words."
"I was never cut out to be a diplomat. You know that," she said. "But one thing has always been sure in my life and that is Bajor. Whatever else, my only motivation is Bajor."
"Then you'll do the right thing for Bajor," I told her. "What's to decide?"
"Maybe I'm thinking too hard about it."
"What's there to think about?"
"So many things," she said quietly. "I'm not your father, Jake. He was all things to all people, and sometimes, even I couldn't see beyond the Emissary to know the man. Somehow he did this job and he did it effectively, taking every point of view into consideration and balancing them properly. I'm almost ashamed to confess that Bajor is all I have left, it's all that's worthwhile right now, and my self-centeredness on the subject makes me doubt my own perspective."
I'd never known Kira to show insecurity, not even for a moment and I realized that all of her brashness, all of that fierceness of character, was nothing more than a mask for the deep rooted fears beneath, fears that we all possessed, but some of us hid better than others. Kira, I realized, was a master of concealment; not for a single second, had she let her emotion affect her judgment, not even when Odo was dying, not when he returned to the Great Link. She was strong in a way I could only hope to emulate.
Kira wrapped her fingers around the base of the metal cup as she met my gaze straight on.
"Everything is different now," she said. "You know that the Federation is going to send a new commander, don't you?"
I blinked. I couldn't imagine anyone other than my father in this office. Even seeing Kira sitting in his chair seemed off, but I could comprehend Kira commanding Deep Space Nine; she had always been a part of this station, had always seemed to be a fluid extension of my father's authority.
"I don't know who it is," Kira went on. "Starfleet didn't give me any hints. I just hope it's someone who is sympathetic to Bajor."
"I'm sure it will be."
Kira laughed, unconvincingly in my opinion. She brushed away my comment with a tiny wave of her hand.
"Membership in the Federation, it isn't everything," she said. She glanced at her hands, long fingers topped with neatly cut nails. "I'd like to think that we've come a long way, Jake, and I'd like to think that this war we just fought means something. I don't know what."
Kira's gaze drifted away from mine and towards Ops. I twisted around in my chair. I couldn't see anything out there was worthy of attention. I turned to look back at Kira. Idly, she had reached for the baseball, still perched on the corner of the desk in its little stand.
"Maybe we're not supposed to know," she mused as she ran her hands over the baseball. "What do you think, Jake?"
I shrugged. "You could be right."
"What about the Federation News Service? What do you plan to write?" Kira asked. She tossed the ball from palm to palm, almost absent-mindedly. "Any ideas?"
"None yet. Jack keeps hounding me. I'll come up with something soon."
"I'll be interested in seeing how you, how you-" she paused and stared at the baseball in her hand. "Jake, this wasn't the way it was supposed to end."
I looked at Kira Nerys and for the first time saw the woman, not the soldier, who had lost nearly everything precious to her in life. The woman who somehow managed to fight her way out of every corner, yet in the process, still remained alone. The weariness in her voice, the almost complete surrender in her words - I could only think that the war had scarred us in ways that we were only just starting to realize. The obvious wounds would be there, festering for all time, yet the ones deep inside would slowly eat away at us until the day we died. I shivered, cursing myself for my negative thoughts, knowing that the last thing my father would have wanted was for me, for Kira, for any of us, to turn inward, to turn away.
I reached out to her and took the baseball, my fingers brushing against her skin. The ball, its leather well worn by my father's caressing hand, was smooth against my palm.
"Maybe we should have another baseball game," I said, doing my best to keep my voice smooth and level. Kira looked at me in surprise.
"A baseball game?" she asked and then slowly smiled. It seemed so long ago since we all had trooped out to the holodeck for a game against the Vulcans. So long since I had stared down the smug superiority of the Vulcan pitcher and felt the thrill of the crack of the bat hitting the ball. "Jake, that sounds like a good idea."
The vibrancy was back in her voice and even her eyes appeared less tired.
"Arrange it," Kira said with an enthusiasm that startled me. "See if Julian, Ezri, Quark... well, ask everyone, anyone. Find a time next week and um, you can draw up the rosters."
"All right," I said. I pushed the chair back and stood up. I contemplated taking the baseball with me but then handed it back to Kira. "You're going to need this more than I will."
She didn't smile.
Writers aren't supposed to run out of words. Not like this. But I've been staring at the PADD for two hours now and I've tried so many times to start. Words strung together, one after another, orderly and composed, much like foot soldiers, but they are simply words; there is no life, there is no energy.
I've had writer's block before, but not like this, not to the point where I feel the tension behind my right eye.
Insomnia is my new best friend. It accompanies me as I wander the halls of the station; it sits by me as I lean over the railing, staring down at the Promenade. It reminds me of Nog and how he lost his leg; it reminds me of all of the things that I want to forget in deep and endless sleep.
Of course, this is one of those things I can't share with anyone, not Nog, not Ezri, not any of them, even though I know how much they care.
I'm not the only one who can't sleep. The Promenade is crowded with people, all of them looking as aimless as I feel. Their voices are muted, their smiles never quite reaching their eyes.
The other night, I found myself in front of the Temple. The vedek had just concluded the service and the Bajorans were filing out in an orderly procession. The vedek, in his ceremonial robes, was the last to come out. He saw me and raised his hand. And then, he disappeared into the crowd like everyone else.
Inside the Temple, golden light radiated from the orb in the middle of the room. I approached cautiously, holding my hands out in front of me; I'd never done this before and didn't know what to expect. But there was nothing, no shock, no tingle, no nothing. I put my hands on the orb. So many people had told me of their experiences here in the Temple, here with the orb, and I admit, even though I don't always believe, I was disappointed when nothing happened.
I heard footsteps behind me and knew the vedek had returned, but I didn't turn around. I ran my hands over the curves of the orb, over its smooth surface.
I wondered if my father had done this and I wondered why I had never come here before.
"I wish I understood you more," I said. I don't know who I was talking to and I don't think it matters now, not really. When I finally did turn around, the vedek was gone and I was alone in the rectangular shaped room, its brown walls closing in on me.
This morning, the comm unit beeped, disturbing my already disturbed sleep. I got out of bed and walked over to check the message, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. When I could finally see clearly, I called up the first message.
"Inside scoop, Jake," my editor wrote. "This is your chance to tell your story. Think of all of the angles, think of what you can do. Spin it anyway you'd like, just do it fast. The masses want to hear what happened to Captain Sisko, the courage of Damar and the others, the capitulation of the Dominion... this is riveting stuff, Jake! Don't let me down."
I stared at the other messages, thirteen of them in total. Wasn't this how I had sold myself to the news service? How I convinced them to take a chance on a kid who had no solid experience behind him?
"I can give you what you need," I had told them. "I'll be your inside man. I have the front seat to the Dominion War, my father is the captain of Deep Space Nine. No one else can get you the stories from the front like I can."
I admit, I was shameless then, absolutely shameless. I wanted the job like nothing else; I wanted to prove to my father, to anyone and everyone, that I could make it as a reporter, that I didn't have to follow in my father's footsteps and become a Starfleet officer.
At the time, it had seemed like a really good idea. An excellent idea and my father, thin-lipped and with a tight jaw, had agreed.
There were a total of thirteen messages from my editor, all of them saying the same thing no doubt. The tone, I figured, would be the same - cheery, bright, peppy, and encouraging.
"Computer," I said, "delete all messages from Jack Carlson."
And then I settled down on the sofa and closed my eyes.
I found Nog in the darkest corner of his uncle's bar, sipping something foul smelling and staring intently at a PADD.
"What do you have there?" I asked.
"Specs!" he announced as I sat down. "The Defiant, Deep Space Nine, a half dozen Klingon warships, you name it, it's all here. My new responsibilities."
"Congratulations," I said. "How does it feel to be the new operations officer?"
Nog looked around furtively and then lowered his voice.
"The truth? I'm terrified."
I signaled to a waitress and had her bring me a Corellian sunrise. The red hued beverage with a swirl of orange stood in stark contrast to Nog's black and fizzing beverage.
"It's a lot of responsibility," I said.
"A lot," Nog said. He stared at me intently, giving me the same scrutiny he had been giving his PADD. "I haven't seen much of you, Jake. How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine," I said.
"How is the story coming?"
"Why does everyone ask about the story?" I asked irritably. I shifted my position in my seat so I now had a clear view of the dartboard; my position also made it possible to avoid direct eye contact with Nog. "I'll get it done when I get it done."
"Just asking," Nog said. "You're a reporter and you're sitting on the biggest story of the millennium. Think about it. The captain of Deep Space Nine, arguably one of the greatest combat officers in Starfleet, disappears under mysterious circumstances while in the background, the Dominion is brought to its knees by the combined forces of Cardassian rebels, the Federation and Klingons. It has all the makings of a page turner, Jake."
"Yeah," I said. I stared into my drink. "Unfortunately, it's all true. Not a word of fiction in it."
"Yeah," Nog said. "You're right."
I didn't recognize the two Starfleet officers who now stood in front of the dartboard. But lately, I'd had hard time recognizing anyone at all. Kira had mentioned new Starfleet personnel would be arriving shortly, but apparently, the changing of the guard had already begun.
"I wouldn't want to do it, Jake," Nog said suddenly.
"Profit on my father's disappearance. It wouldn't be right."
I glared at him. "You think I'm going to make a profit?"
Nog shrugged. "They pay you, don't they?"
He had a point I couldn't argue. I slumped lower in my chair. I had a chance in a lifetime, I knew, to make a name for myself with this story. Who else had the kind of access I did? Who knew Benjamin Sisko better than me?
Nog leaned forward. "If it's going to be done correctly and respectfully, Jake, you're going to have to do it. You know that, don't you?"
I raised my glass and took a sip; the cool drink soothed my throat.
"Don't you?" Nog persisted. I glanced back at the two Starfleet officers at the dartboard; they were laughing.
"Yeah," I said. "I know."
Watching the officers playing at darts reminded me of Bashir. After leaving Quark's, I headed towards the infirmary, purposefully, and with my head held high.
The doctor looked up as I entered; already, he was arranging his instruments neatly, putting them back into place.
"How are you doing, Jake?" Bashir asked easily as I perched on a stool opposite him.
"Good," I said abruptly; I was starting to hate that question with a passion I didn't know I had. "I wanted to ask you something."
"What?" Bashir's eyes were alert. He closed a drawer and then pulled up another chair. "Is something wrong, Jake?"
"Do you think Section Thirty-One could be behind my dad's disappearance?"
"No, Jake, I don't think so."
"But it would be nice, wouldn't it?" my voice came out harsh, cold, and unforgiving. I stared at a spot just directly above Bashir's shoulder. "I could explain that, you know? In my story, I could write that Captain Benjamin Sisko, late commander of Deep Space Nine, is missing under suspicious circumstances. Section Thirty-One, an elite and secretive group within Starfleet, is claiming responsibility for the disappearance."
"That would be an interesting angle," Bashir said cautiously. "But you don't really believe that's what happened, do you, Jake?"
"If I knew what happened..." I let my voice trail off. "I'm looking for an explanation, one that I can use without stretching the bounds of credibility."
"Is credibility so important to you? What about the truth? One isn't necessarily the same as the other."
And therein lay the problem. The truth, damn, what was that? And did it matter? After all, wasn't it the sensationalism of the story that inspired interest?
"Look, Jake," Bashir said, "you can write whatever you want about what happened, but you must remain true to yourself. Remember, what you write becomes a part of history, something that will dog you for the rest of your life. If you're going to create history, don't you want it to be something you can live with?"
"I could live with Section Thirty-One," I told him. Bashir sighed.
"I was afraid of that," he said softly. "Do what you need to, Jake. You know all of us are here for you."
"I know that," I said. I swallowed hard and glanced around the infirmary. Starfleet personnel, wounded during the war, had been treated here. Many of them had died and I wondered if their ghosts roamed the infirmary, flitting between biobeds. And I thought of their families, the ones who had received the short missives: "I regret to inform you..."
"Let me know what you decide to do," Bashir said. He stood up. "And I'll be at the baseball game next week. Tell Quark to watch out. I've perfected my swing. Lots of free time to practice now that I haven't got to worry about fighting the battle of the Alamo over and over again. Crockett and Travis do get wearying after a while, you know." His tone was wistful, and I knew that he didn't mean a word of what he said.
"I miss the Chief too," I said.
"Yeah." He heaved a sigh and then looked at me. "Well, I suppose, we all have to move on, don't we?" His voice sounded full of forced cheerfulness, as if it was an effort to think happy thoughts anymore. "We can't possibly stay in one place forever."
"You're right," I said.
"Listen, Jake," Bashir said, lowering his voice. "The question you need to answer, it's very simple. We all know that the wormhole aliens exist. We acknowledge that. It's not a question of if, but rather a question of what. Do you understand me?"
The intensity of his tone surprised me; never would have I thought Julian Bashir to be one to indulge in philosophy of any level. To me, he always seemed a little on the playful side, inclined to leave his genius behind in the infirmary when he went off into the holosuite to reenact the battle of the Alamo or dodge Russian spies in twentieth century Cold War scenarios. That Bashir would have given any thought whatsoever to the wormhole aliens - Prophets - fascinated me.
"Think about that, Jake," Bashir said. "It's not if someone is out there, only a question of what is out there. Starfleet understands that. You think of it in that way and you'll get your story."
I paused, trying to digest what he had said. I could only come to one conclusion.
"You believe?" I asked hoarsely.
"Of course," Bashir said. He shrugged those slender, elegant shoulders, and a wistful smile crossed his face. "After everything that has happened, what other choice do I have?"
Every writer has fragments of something hidden in all sorts of inconvenient and convenient places. You stumble across these little unfinished pieces and are either awed by your own genius or stunned by the inanity of your own writing. Either way, the reaction is equally strong.
I started by going through my old files, hoping to find something of value, something I could use as a trigger to start writing. A lot of the pieces I reviewed had never seen the light of day after the initial draft; I had never even shown them to my father, who always seemed to enjoy anything I penned.
I read through some of the old files, reliving where I had been and so thankful for being where I was.
"My growth as a writer," I said out-loud and then laughed. I couldn't make sense of the words I had written over the last few years and I knew I wouldn't be able to find my new beginnings here. "Where I've been, where I'm going... damn, I don't even know anymore."
I rose from the table and walked to the window. I could see a Keralian freighter going through docking procedures on the upper pylon. So ordinary, I thought. I pressed a hand up against the glass, knowing that only this window separated me from the cold airless space outside.
My dad had spent hours watching the ships dock and undock from the various windows of the station. Once, he had explained to me the minutia of the arrival/departure processes until my eyes glazed over, but he kept talking long after the ship in question had departed. He had been passionate, I realized, about everything. Not just about Starfleet, Bajor, Deep Space Nine, Kasidy, me, but truly interested in all of the things around him.
I returned to the table and without thinking, started to write. For a long stretch, the words appeared on the PADD and I had no idea where they had come from; I only knew I couldn't stop.
The door chime interrupted by solitude, and in dismay, I said, "Come." I quickly saved my work and got up from the chair, nearly knocking it over in my haste.
"Hi Ezri," I said. I leaned against the wall, folding my arms across my chest, in an attempt to look defiant. "It's late. You should be sleeping."
"I could say the same thing to you," Ezri said. The Trill circled the sofa, running her hand over the maroon upholstery. "Were you writing?"
"Yes," I said, glancing at the PADDS lying on the table. "I started after dinner and stopped just a few minutes ago."
"The muse paid a visit?" Ezri's lips turned up.
"You could say that," I said. "Do you want something? Eat? Drink?" I made my way to the replicator, not really waiting for an answer. I only wanted to be busy, to fill every moment with some kind of action.
"No, not really. I was just
wandering the Habitat Ring and thought I'd take a chance you'd be
I smiled, knowing that Ezri was blatantly lying to me; I had no doubt she had checked on my vitals prior to showing up on my doorstep.
"Have a seat," I indicated the sofa. Ezri nodded, and curled her slim body into a corner of the sofa, tucking her legs beneath her.
"New story?" Ezri asked.
"Can you tell me about it?"
"No, not really. Sorry."
"It's all right."
I took the corner opposite of Ezri, stretching my legs out in front of me.
"It's just new, raw," I said, feeling that I owed Ezri's some kind of explanation. "It's.."
"Unforced? Brilliant?" Ezri prompted. I bit my lip and nodded. Ezri leaned forward, taking my hand in hers. "Is it about Benjamin?"
"Yes." My voice cracked slightly, much to my dismay.
"I know," she whispered. I squeezed her hand and then pulled away. I cleared my throat and blinked before continuing.
"The Federation News is asking for my story on the end of the Dominion War," I said. "They haven't come out and said it, but I know they want me to write about what happened to Dad."
"Is that what you're working on now?"
"No. I've been debating how to explain what happened to Dad. That's the story my editor wants. At least, it's the story I think he wants."
"What is there to debate? Is it really so ridiculous that he is a Prophet?"
"We don't know that for sure," I said defiantly.
"We know what we want to know," Ezri said. "Belief, Jake, is a wonderful thing."
I shook my head. "How do I explain the Prophets? If you aren't of Bajor, then all of this means nothing at all. Think of how Admiral Ross reacted whenever Dad brought up the Prophets. I just can't go up to him and talk about belief."
"If you're trying to qualify what happened-"
"I'm not trying to qualify anything," I told Ezri. "I just don't know how to explain it. Any of it. I should be able to. I'm a writer, this shouldn't be this difficult."
"You're also a son," Ezri said gently. "I think it would be unnatural if this was easy for you."
I contemplated her words. Truth be told, I felt oddly distant from my own life. As if somehow, I was on the outside watching myself go through the motions. In that sense, I could remove myself from my own writing and send off something to the News Service that was completely factual, but without the heat or heart that makes a story come alive.
"I'm afraid of forgetting," I told Ezri. "I've been sitting a lot actually. Here, the Replimat, Quark's, anywhere that I can find a chair. I play moments over and over again in my head and every time, the memory is a little different, a little more fuzzy. It's only been a few days and I'm already losing all sense of my father."
"Jake..." Ezri reached out her hand and gripped mine tightly.
"I've been writing down everything I remember about him. I was watching a ship dock and it reminded me of something he did once," I said. "It would be wrong to take the time to write that news story because it will detract from my memories and I don't want to waste my energy on sharing my father with the rest of the quadrant. I- I don't think I'm ready to do that."
"I know." Her voice was low, soothing, calm. She reached over and pulled me into her arms, her hand stroking my back in a careful, practiced motion.
And for the first time since they told me that my father was gone, I cried.
After I moved in with Nog, my father and I fell into the routine of Friday night dinners. We never discussed it, but somehow it just happened. I would show up every Friday night when he wasn't on the Defiant and dinner would be waiting, rich aromas wafting through the quarters.
I didn't think about it tonight when I stood in front of the quarters where my father once lived. Somehow, I knew that at 1930 hours, I would be expected for dinner. The doors slid open and Kasidy stood there, a tight-lipped smile stretching across her face.
"I knew you'd come," she said. She stepped aside, letting me in. The table was already set - two places. Before, when it was the three of us, Kasidy would sit at Dad's right and I would sit opposite Dad. Tonight, Kasidy had set a place opposite her chair. "I did my best, Jake, but I'm not the cook that your father-"
She paused and I knew exactly what she was struggling with; it was a question of tense. When one becomes a Prophet, how do you speak of that person? Present, past or future? I admit; the writer in me is stymied.
"I found the recipes for some of your favorite dishes," Kasidy said. She led the way towards the small kitchenette in the far corner of the quarters. "I hope you don't mind."
"I don't," I said, admiring how neatly Kasidy had avoided defining my father's current state of being.
She lifted a pot cover, sniffed, and I caught a whiff of garlic. She stirred the contents quickly and then smiled at me, a little too broadly, I thought.
"Come, Jake," she said. I helped her bring the food to the table and she sat in her usual chair. I ran my fingers over the back of my former seat and Kasidy saw my glance. "I thought it would be more comfortable if we sat like this," she said. "I hope that's okay. If you want, we can switch back; you can sit in your usual place and I'll, I'll move."
I shook my head. "No."
We didn't talk much during dinner. Our brief exchanges were punctuated by the clatter of silverware and the occasional shoving back of a chair.
"I'm glad you came tonight," Kasidy said. "Thank you."
I wanted to tell her that she didn't
need to thank me, but I didn't. I just smiled at her.
Kasidy put her spoon down and delicately swiped at her lips with a linen napkin.
"I wanted to talk to you," she said. "I would like to arrange a memorial service for Ben."
I reached for my glass of water, hoping to wash away some of the scratchiness in my throat.
"I have to make sense of things in the only way I can," Kasidy continued. "I have to trust in Ben, but I also have to look at the situation logically. We don't know when he's coming back."
"He said he would return," I said.
"'In a year, maybe yesterday,'" Kasidy said softly. She bit her lip. "I don't know what's real, Jake."
I wondered if Kasidy was seeing the world the same way I did - as if all of the light was curving around objects, as if everything was slightly out of focus. There were no straight lines anymore, only distortions, with the colors slightly off. Enough variation in reality to remind us every passing second that something wasn't quite right.
"Or if you'd like, a ceremony of remembrance," Kasidy said. "In Bajoran tradition."
"Okay," I whispered.
Kasidy inhaled deeply, and maybe I imagined it, but I thought I saw her visibly relax.
"As soon as possible," she said. And she didn't finish the thought, but I knew what she was thinking: before we all forget the man, before we banish Benjamin Sisko to the status of legend, hero, what have you. "Next week."
"We'll invite everyone, the entire station."
"Yes," I said, unable to say anything more.
We sat in silence and then Kasidy got up. Her eyes seemed unusually bright to me, and she blinked rapidly a few times. I swallowed hard, took another gulp of water, and helped Kas clear the table.
The story I eventually wrote for the Federation News Service won an award or two for excellence in journalism. Actually, several awards, but I've kept those hidden in a cabinet, unwilling to look at them or acknowledge them.
I can tell you now, fifteen years removed from the end of the Dominion War, that I never thought of myself as a spectacular writer or one who would earn the acclaim that I did. Perhaps I was simply lucky, in the right place at the right time.
Ezri tells me now luck had nothing to do with the awards I garnered.
"You're talented, Jake," she says. "Don't sell yourself short. It's the last thing your father would have wanted."
Funny thing is, after all of this time, I'm still justifying myself - as are Ezri and the others - with the words, "it's what he would have wanted."
Truth be told, I'll never know what my father wanted. For all I know, he may have been content to simply have been a cook in New Orleans, breathing in the rich aromas of the Cajun cuisine. Maybe in his house on Bajor, he would have been able to enjoy life in a way his seven years on Deep Space Nine never allowed him to.
I never asked. In all that time, I never asked him what he wanted.
Since he isn't here, I'm forced to make excuses and think of what he would have wanted. Every decision I make and I tell Ezri, Kira, anyone who cares, "this is what Dad would have wanted for me." And they nod, sagely, in agreement.
So I still write, mostly slice of life pieces. Cutting edge journalism, gritty news stories, I stay away from them. There is a heartbreak inherent in those pieces I'm unwilling to experience again. There is a certain amount of honesty and openness required and I poured all of that into the story I wrote fifteen years ago.
There have been novels, the occasional short story, and once in a while, I do an interview with the survivors of the Dominion War. Through all of it, I maintain an air of detachment. Ezri even noticed once, and wrote to tell me she no longer gets a sense of Jake Sisko in the words she reads.
What she says convinces me that I have finally become what I long to be: ethereal and fleeting.
I am my father's son in every way possible.
When they hear my name, the questions inevitably start. What do you think happened? they will ask, their eyes wide with curiosity and their lips flattened into thin sympathy. What do you think really happened? and they will put the stress on the word 'really' as if they are expecting me to unveil a great mystery. Perhaps they expect the author to spin elaborate and exotic tales of wormhole aliens and fire caves; perhaps they expect something more than what I do reveal. I tell them, simply, that my father is missing, has been missing, will always be missing.
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