By Seema

Author's note: My thanks to Liz, Rocky and Sara for their help. A response to the ficlet challenge: Give me a fandom to work in, and exactly two of the following:
- a pairing
- a character
- a setting
- an object
and I will write you a ficlet. This one is for Tori Morris.

This story can also be considered as companion piece to another story of mine, "All Things." However, it can also stand on its own.

Disclaimer: Paramount's babies, not mine.


Ezri Dax ran her fingers lightly over the smooth surface of the box. The wood glowed a deep, rich red and she knew Worf had specially commissioned it from an artist on Qo'noS. It had arrived just that morning, and he'd brought it by a few hours before departing Deep Space Nine for his new assignment as Klingon Ambassador to the Federation. They had made promises to stay in touch; he agreed to write letters and she promised one day to come visit him on Qo'Nos. She had wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him close, her lips pressed lightly to his cheek. "Good-bye, Worf."

Now, alone in her quarters, Ezri fingered the lock and after a second, it snapped open. Green velvet lined the inside of the box, while folds of silk covered the top. She touched it in awe, almost in disbelief that Worf would order something so luxurious. She smiled to herself. Worf could have his refined moments and always, always he had the ability to surprise her.

She turned her attention to the items in the box, settling first on the holorod, as she felt it was the most impersonal, and the least revealing of Jadzia's actual character. Tilting her head to the side, she read the tiny print on the rod: Vic's Bar -- All the Way. She smiled at the memories -- of sitting at small tables, sipping cocktails, of dancing the night away in Worf's arms. At Vic Fontaine's, the war felt as if it were quadrants away; instead, for a few hours, they could pretend there was nothing else in the world except for each other and Vic's rich baritone.

At times like this, Ezri Dax -- formerly Ezri Tigan -- forgot where her memories ended, where those of the symbiont began. Taking a deep breath, Ezri put the holoprogram aside. She was about to reach in for the next object when the door chime rang.

"Come in!"

The doors slid open to reveal Jake Sisko.

"Jake," Ezri said in surprise. "Come in, hi."

Jake looked around uncertainly as if searching for someone, shifting from foot to foot. "I just happened to pass by and I thought, well, Worf left, and Dr. Bashir is, uh, saying good-bye to O'Brien, so I thought you might, uh, want the company."

"That's sweet of you," Ezri said. In truth, she had been looking forward to some time alone to absorb the events of the last few days and the resulting emptiness. So many good-byes in such a short period of time -- O'Brien, Worf, Odo, and of course, Sisko's abrupt 'disappearance'. "How are you, Jake?"

He swallowed hard. "Can I sit down?"

"Yes." She gestured to the armchair. "Of course. Would you like something to drink?"

"No. Thanks."

She settled down on the sofa opposite him. Jake seemed intent on not making eye contact and this worried Ezri. She'd last seen Jake at the memorial service for his father the previous day. Not a funeral, but a *memorial*. Kasidy had insisted on the semantic difference. Not just a matter of semantics, she had said, but an expression of beliefs and more importantly, the *truth*. Small comfort, Ezri thought as she looked across the room at her old friend's son. Perhaps the truth of the matter was that Benjamin Sisko's absence was only temporary, that he was fated to return at some point in the distant future, but that knowledge didn't ease Jake's current reality.

After a minute he said, "Am I bothering you?"

"No." She allowed herself a small smile, hoping to set him at ease. "Never."

"I wasn't sure if you were busy."

"I'm off-duty, and I was just, um, going through some things," Ezri said softly. "I'm not busy at all, Jake." It seemed too cliché and trite to say she'd never be too busy for Benjamin Sisko's son, so she bit her lip; perhaps -- and hopefully -- he already knew that.

"I was afraid you might have things to do, even though I checked the duty roster before I came," Jake said. "I've been trying to finish some errands, but somehow, I just can't. The station seems too quiet, you know?"

Ezri nodded. "Yes. I agree." She rubbed her hands together. "Even after all of these lifetimes, I still can't get used to saying good-bye."

"I thought if anyone would understand, you would," Jake said softly. "Three hundred years, that's a lot of living." His lips turned up slightly at the corners. "From a writer's perspective, there's a wealth of experience you could put to good use."

"If I *could* write, but that's not my talent," Ezri said thoughtfully. "Tobin, now he had a way with words, even though he suffered from almost debilitating shyness." Ezri allowed herself an ironic smile. "Me, sometimes, I can't even get the words out of my mouth properly. And it is embarrassing, especially when I remember how confidently Lela addressed the legislature or how adept Tobin could be in getting his point across. So I wonder, why did *I* end up like this?" She didn't mean to come across as frustrated, but she knew her tone clearly implied that. "Doesn't seem fair to Dax somehow."

"That's not true," Jake said earnestly. "You *are* a credit to Dax."

"It's sweet of you to believe that, but I don't always think it's true myself." Ezri shifted position on the sofa; the corner of the wooden box was digging into her side. "Your father, when I met him after being Joined, he was the only one who didn't think I was an utter disgrace." She eyed Jake carefully, but he didn't take the opening she had offered him. "I never told him how grateful I was that he accepted me so unconditionally and warmly." She swallowed hard.

They sat again in silence. Jake scuffed at the floor with his shoe. Ezri leaned back, her arm draped along top of the sofa. She tipped her head to the side.

"Jake?" she asked in concern.

"Sorry." Jake sighed. He made a move to stand up, but Ezri gestured him to sit back down. He did so, but awkwardly. "I shouldn't have come. I'm bothering you."

"No, not at all," Ezri said, laying stress on the first word.

"I just thought that you might be feeling a little--" his eyes darted back and forth anxiously "-- I just thought, you know, you might want someone to talk to." Jake looked down at his fingers.

"I could always use the company, that's true."

Jake hesitated and then he said, "I just wanted to be with someone who knew Dad. Who *really* knew Dad." Jake looked imploringly in Ezri's direction. "I needed to get away from all that talk about the Emissary, the commander of Deep Space Nine, all of that *stuff*."

"I understand."

"So that's why I'm here. You know Dad better than anyone else on the station," Jake said. "I don't know if I'm ready to talk about him, but I thought that maybe just being with someone who knew him well, I thought, maybe that would help."

Ezri nodded. Three lifetimes worth of friendship with Benjamin Sisko, and each relationship had been different. Curzon Dax had taken on more of a mentor role, while Jadzia Dax had been his equal, if not in rank. And Ezri had relied on Sisko as a guide, someone to help her through the emotional aftermath of the Joining.

Jake's gaze settled on the wooden box next to her. "What's that?"

Ezri recognized Jake's desire to change the subject. Still too early, she thought, the grief still too raw. For a moment, she experienced a sudden, overwhelming despair; she was lying on her back, in pain, staring up at the ornately decorated ceiling of the Bajoran temple. So beautiful, she remembered thinking, so beautiful...

Ezri blinked. Jake stared at her oddly. She cleared her throat and put her fingers lightly on the cover of the box, suddenly very appreciative of its solid form. Now *this* was real, she thought as she flattened her palm against the wood.

"Worf brought it." Ezri shifted position slightly, still trying to shake off the memory of Jadzia's last few hours. "Some of Jadzia's things. Nothing fancy, just a few items of hers he wanted me to have."

"I see."

"I haven't finished going through it," Ezri said. She stood up and picked up the box. "Perhaps you'd like to help me go through it?"

Jake got to his feet and followed Ezri to the table. Ezri set it carefully down.

"It's katta wood," she explained. "It is a rare and expensive wood from the Northern hemisphere of Qo'noS, and legend has it the forest itself was grown by the Gods before they were killed off by the Klingon warriors."

"You believe that?" Jake sounded incredulous.

"I don't have to believe it." She bit her lip. "But Jadzia would have, Curzon most definitely."

"It sounds a lot like the Prophets to me, all these stories about mystical beings, about what they can and cannot do, and how they were once a part of our lives, but then they disappear." The bitterness in Jake's voice was unmistakable. "Stories, that's all they are."

"You're a storyteller, Jake," Ezri said quietly. "So you understand these legends are a way of comforting and explaining. We adapt our own faith in those stories to create the beliefs which suit our needs."

Jake brushed away the comment and reached out to take the holoprogram from the box. He looked questioningly at Ezri.

"Vic," she said, by way of explanation. Jake nodded. "We've had some good times at Vic's, all of us together, didn't we?" She smiled. "Sometimes I got a little jealous at just how good Vic was at reaching out to others. For instance, he was really good with Nog, helping him in a way I couldn't. He's pretty perceptive, isn't he?"

"For a 'light bulb', yes." The corners of Jake's mouth tugged upwards.

"Sometimes you just need someone who will listen, not make any judgments, you know? A good counselor will do that, but what does a counselor do when *she* needs help?" Ezri frowned as she lifted up a delicate silver chain.

"Talk to Vic?"

"You got it." Ezri moved slightly; the edge of the table had started to press uncomfortable against her hip bone.

"I didn't know that you did."

"I need a good sounding board just like anyone else, and Vic is very able," Ezri said matter-of-factly. "I can't always recognize where the reasons behind my own impulses come from. I suppose you could say that that's part of the fun of joining, part of the excitement and adventure." She let the silver coil in the palm of her hand. "For instance, I hold my hands behind my back now. I never did that before joining." She shrugged. "Lela's the one who started it. As a legislature, her hand gestures were too distracting, and so she tried to curb the 'hand talking' by holding them behind her back. Jadzia picked up on it, partly because of Lela, partly because she always felt awkward and didn't know what to do with them. Somehow it feels comfortable to me so I do it as well." Ezri smiled.

Jake stared at her. "That's interesting."

Ezri returned her attention to the necklace in her hand. "That's part of being joined, Jake. You realize details about the person who came before you, find out who they are by literally inhabiting their skin. It can be--" she paused, trying to think of exactly the right word "—- exhilarating."

"But you still don't like being Joined."

"It's a different kind of life than I prepared for. But you already knew that, didn't you? *Everyone* knows that." Ezri tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice. It still rankled at her, even a year after Joining, that there were many who still didn't consider her "up to standard", so to speak. Garak had told her in no uncertain terms that she was not worthy, Worf had taken months to even accept her presence, and Julian -- well, even now, she could never quite tell where she stood with Julian. He loved her, at least that's what he said. And she thought she loved him back. "It's not an easy thing to explain, Jake. You become the sum of people you never heard of before, and suddenly you have, as you pointed out earlier, three hundred years worth of *stuff* to shift through. All of the quirks, the craziness, the likes and dislikes, habits, all of that." She held the silver chain out to Jake. "Isn't this beautiful? It's from Risa. Worf bought it for me."

Jake gingerly took the necklace. "It's, um, pretty."

"We had a fight," she said quietly. She paused, collecting her thoughts. Not 'we', she mentally corrected, but Worf and *Jadzia*. She wondered if she would ever get her pronouns right, if she would ever figure out a way to handle these voices and memories jumbled up in her head. Just talk, Ezri, she finally decided, just talk and see what comes out. "It was a terrible vacation for both of them, Jake. Miserable except for the last day." She took the necklace back and laid it gently on the table. "Jadzia saw the necklace as they were leaving and Worf bought it for her. A make-up present, I guess." Ezri felt her face heat up as she remembered the *other* way Worf had been apologetic.

"Is it weird?" Jake asked. "Having her things? Remembering her... memories?"

Ezri nodded. "It can be, but it can also be very comforting." She looked at Jake. "I never knew them in the flesh--" she grinned wryly "-- but I do now. Believe it or not, Jake, *Dax* does miss of all of its previous hosts." She shook her head. "The symbiont feels a very real grief with each passing and maybe even a sense of guilt. Some of that, I absorb as well. Especially with Jadzia, because of the circumstances surrounding her death and the fact that it's the most *recent* loss for the symbiont. But it's all there --" unconsciously, she placed her hand against her abdomen "-- and Dax remembers and feels it just as much as you or I would."

"How do you deal with all of those emotions?" Jake's voice cracked slightly. "It must be hard."

"Yes." Her response came out breathless, almost as a surprise to her. She held up her hand, almost as a physical pause, to collect herself. "That's why it's good to have someone to talk to, you know?"

"I'm trying, you know, to sort through things," Jake said. His words spilled out in a rush, almost blending into each other. "About Dad."

Ezri looked at him sympathetically. "And?"

"And maybe it sounds silly, but I thought maybe you could tell me." Jake looked at her expectantly. "What I'm supposed to do or say or even how I should act. Because, like you said, he's not really dead." He ran his hand over his hair in frustration. "But it *feels* like he is because he's *gone* and we don't know for how long."

"You have no closure."

Jake nodded. "That's exactly it. I mean, we're all at Vic's and then suddenly, Dad is just *gone*. He just left the party and didn't even say anything to me, or to anyone else. And then he shows up as a *prophet*? How am I even supposed to *start* dealing with this?" The frustration in Jake's voice was very clear.

"There's no one way, Jake. It's whatever feels right to you."

"I don't know what that *is*. I was hoping *you* would tell me," Jake said finally. He took a deep breath. "Am I even making sense?"

"You are. Making sense, I mean." Ezri bit her lip. "Benjamin Sisko -- is -- a good man, good friend, and more importantly, a wonderful father to you." She shook her head. "This is very different for Dax, you have to understand, Jake. Before, Ben was the one making the good-byes. This is a first for me. For the last twenty or so years, when I needed him, he was there."

Ezri pulled a picture frame out of the box. Jadzia, hair around her shoulders, wearing a silver swimsuit and sitting under a tree. Risa again. Ezri suppressed her smile; what a thoroughly dismal vacation that had been. Worf had been out-of-character, all wound up on some *stupid* crusade to pull people away from the indulgent trivialities of Risa and to focus on more *important* matters. She put the photograph aside.

Jake, however, picked it up and stared at it.

"Knowing you were once her, or—-" he paused, visibly distressed "—- or don't you think of her at all? Actively, I mean, not in passing."

"I can't help it, I do." Ezri took a deep breath. "All of them, Jake. Lela, Tobin, Emony, Audrid, Torias, Joran, Curzon, and Jadzia." Even now, it surprised her just how easily she could rattle off the names. Even 'Joran' slipped off her tongue easily enough. "And oh yes, Verad."

"And it's clear? Coherent?" The desperation in Jake's voice was evident.

"It can be. Sometimes." Ezri grimaced. "Though the older memories, Lela and Tobin especially, they are faded, blurred over time." She reached into the box and pulled out the final item –- a silver hair clip. Swallowing hard, Ezri turned it over in her hands, strangely disappointed that there was nothing more left in the box. She saw Jake eyeing her curiously. Without thinking, she handed him the hair clip.

He looked at her questioningly.

"That's the clip she was wearing when she died," Ezri said it without emotion. "Her favorite. She bought this on Bajor a few years ago at an open-air market. She haggled for a good twenty minutes with the artist, and she got him down to fifty percent of the price. Satisfied, she bought it, but then Kira informed her that it was still overpriced. At first, Jadzia was crushed, but as was so typical of her she quickly bounced back by reminding herself that she *could* have paid more." Ezri shook her head. "Still, it was her favorite."

"Ah." Jake looked at it and then handed it back. Ezri glanced down at the intricate pattern of leaves and flowers etched finely into the silver. She placed it carefully back in the box.

"She liked pretty things, Jake," Ezri said. "I never realized that until now. Things, no matter how trivial, have a way of bringing a person back into focus, to reconstruct them into something more than a memory."

Jake said nothing.

"I need some tea," Ezri said after a moment. Her throat felt scratchy, dry. She looked at Jake. "You?"

He shook his head.

"The tea is all me," Ezri said conversationally as she headed to the replicator. "Jadzia and Curzon favored raktajino but Lela preferred a dark roast coffee. Torias, he didn't take caffeine of any kind, and Emony and Audrid, they both preferred warm milk." She punched in the code for Earl Grey. "But this, this is all me. I know for sure. My CO on the Destiny introduced me to the idea of tea time." Ezri sipped the warm beverage, inhaling the rich aroma. "A lot of things changed after the joining, but this didn't." She grimaced. "I tried raktajino because of Curzon and Jadzia." She shuddered. "Nasty stuff."

"I'm not fond of it myself," Jake said. He rapped his fingers on the table. Ezri eyed him carefully.

"Why don't you sit down, Jake?" she asked gently.

"I can't." The anguish in his voice was unmistakable.

"Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?" She had hoped to not have to ask the question directly, but it didn't look as if Jake would come out tell her what he needed from her.

"When--" Jake started, but then he shook his head apologetically. "I just don't know how to phrase it properly."

"Just tell me what's on your mind."

"You sound like a counselor."

"It's my vocation, Jake," Ezri said. She bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you."

"And I didn't mean to complain." Jake twisted his hands together and then leaned forward, looking at her intently. "I guess what I want to know is what it feels like. To know you're going to die. That second before you actually do."

"Your father isn't dead, Jake." The words came out more sharply than Ezri intended.

"I guess it's a question of semantics..." he let his voice drift into uncertainty. Then he recovered and said fiercely, "*He* made a choice. He *chose* to leave."

"He made a choice because he had to. He didn't *want* to leave you--" she stopped talking as Jake bent his head, his shoulder shaking. In a swift movement, she rounded the table and put her arms around him, holding him close. After a few minutes, Jake pulled away.

"I'm fine," he said, even as his lower lip quivered slightly. "Really."

Ezri gazed at him in concern. "Let me get you something." She took him by the elbow and gently steered him to the sofa.

"No." Jake held up a hand. "I'm fine and I really don't want or need anything."

Ezri sat down in the armchair next to him. "Is there anything else?" She hated leading him this way, but she really felt she had no other choice at this point. "Talk to me, Jake."

"You said you still remember," he said hoarsely, "but those memories, the ones you get from Dax, those are tangled up, aren't they?"

"Yes, they can be." Ezri came to stand next to Jake. "But these are very different situations, Jake, yours and mine."

"But those memories, those *people*, they became a part of you. Even though Jadzia is gone, Curzon, all of the others, they still exist, because of you."

"Yes and I become a part of them."

"You-- you give people something to hold on to." Jake shook his head.

Ezri considered. She thought of Julian and the way he looked at her and she couldn't help push away the sting of doubt. "Yes, it is, but it can be very difficult." She put her hand lightly on Jake's shoulder. "For everyone involved. Worf, for instance. He had a very hard time." Her lips curved up, almost sheepishly. "Not to mention, *I* had a hard time. As much as I wanted to hold on, because of Jadzia, I had to let go to become my own person. It can be very hard to push back because instinctively, it's the right thing to do."

Jake picked up the holorod still lying on the table. He held up. "It was nice of Worf to give you these things, though I'm not sure why he picked what he did. They seem... trivial."

"Perhaps, but each one is special in its own way and had some memory of her. And they were all uniquely hers. Not his and hers, but just hers. He still sees me as a bridge to Jadzia." In the brief burst of intimacy she had shared with Worf, she had realized he had only wanted her to recapture what he'd had with Jadzia. In her more paranoid moments, Ezri suspected Bashir was after the same thing. Ezri took a deep breath. "It may look like a collection of things, Jake, but it's more than that. It's a way of remembering, of assigning permanence to something intangible."

Jake nodded, slowly.

"Hey," Ezri said softly. "Jake, you can talk to me anytime you want. About anything, anyone, okay?"

Jake's eyes were bright, and he simply shook his head in response.

"You're a writer, Jake," Ezri said softly. "Make use of that talent. Write it all down. Start today and keep writing until you've run out of words." She faced him squarely.

Jake cleared his throat. "Object permanence?"

"Yes, you can call it that." Ezri chose not to correct his terminology; this was not the time or the place for that. "Your father may be gone, but as long as you remember him, and you *will*, he'll always be a part of you." Ezri put her cup down on the table. Her gaze lingered over the object still there and then on the silver hairclip inside the box. She picked it up, her fingers closing over it tightly. "You're welcome to stop by any time, Jake." She hesitated for a moment and then said, "Thank you for going through these with me. It's easier with someone else. There are some things you shouldn't do alone and I appreciate you being here with me now." She unfurled her fingers, revealing the clip. Jake slowly picked it up, gave it another look, before handing it back. "There's nothing wrong with being sentimental, or afraid you're going to forget. You deal with it in your own time, in your own way." She looked at him intently. "Do you understand?" It was a stronger note than she wanted to end on, but Jake nodded slowly.

"Thanks," he said hoarsely.

He didn't say good-bye. Ezri watched him leave and then turned her attention back to the box. Slowly, she began to replace the items, not wanting to linger over them much longer. It was a relief to close the lid on the memories. While it had been thoughtful of Worf to bring Jadzia's things to her, the items only served to remind her of who she no longer was. No, Ezri corrected, whom she'd *never* been. Now, if only she could make Julian understand that. With a sigh, she carried the box into her bedroom and put it on the bottom shelf in the closet.

~ The end

Tori requested: Jake, Ezri and Jadzia's hairclip

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