Summary: The O’Briens go back to Earth, but they left some things behind.
There was a “fix-it” challenge for the DS9 tumblzine. I missed the deadline but I wrote a thing!
Keiko’s the one who asks: “Are you happy here?”
(She has to ask, because for seven years he didn’t. For seven years he didn’t have to; she made her unhappiness clear enough without prompting.)
“Of course.” He looks alarmed, like it’s a trap. “Don’t I look happy? I told you, I wanted to come back to Earth.”
She shrugs and turns back to the Andorian ficus withering in the Northern California heat. They’ve been here for three months, and Kirayoshi’s cheeks are pink from natural sunlight, and Molly still can’t fall asleep until late at night.
“No,” Miles says, with all the stubbornness that kept him on that damned station for so long. “Don’t think that way, Keiko. We made a deal. I’m done. We’re here.”
“I know,” she replies, and wonders how many months it will take before he stops thinking her every question is a test.
“As long as you’re happy,” he adds.
(To be fair, she usually is testing him.)
Molly sings in her room until 2100, a Bajoran folk tune that Nerys taught her as a lullabye for the baby. She replaces the words she’s forgetting with the names of her toys, her brother, Chester the cat.
“So she’s a night owl,” Miles says. He was the first of all of them to adapt back to a 24-hour day, probably because his schedule of work emergencies on Deep Space Nine didn’t allow him any sort of circadian rhythm at all. Sometimes he also says, “It’s just a phase,” or blames it on the last time they beamed across the planet to have dinner with Keiko’s mother or Miles’s brothers. When he’s frustrated about the paperwork involved in teaching or how the replicator can’t make synthehol taste right, he’ll bellow up the stairs at Molly to be quiet because people are sleeping.
(Kirayoshi sleeps through yelling as well as he sleeps through singing, as well as Cardassians and Jem’Hadar firing torpedoes outside his bedroom window.)
Keiko finds herself dragging in the mornings as much as her daughter, but that fades when she throws open the doors to their patio and breathes in glorious salty air filtered by the native acaena pinnatifida below.
Miles takes her to dinner, close enough to the Presidio for the patrons to be mostly Starfleet, far enough away that few of them are in uniform. She asks him about work, but he never wants to talk about it, beyond saying that the Academy students are good kids. He always comes home right on time. She thinks he’s bored stiff.
“Have you talked to Julian lately?” she asks. “I’m sure he misses you.”
Miles mumbles something with food in his mouth, then finishes chewing. “What would I say?”
“Tell him how you are!”
“Ask him how he is, then.”
“And how would you know that?”
“You know Julian. He’d call and tell me if anything happened. So it hasn’t.”
She takes an annoyed swig of spring wine that tastes like it’s both replicated and twelve years too old. “Maybe he thinks you don’t want him to call.”
Miles shrugs. “We’re not, you know… that sort of friends. Talking for no reason.”
“You haven’t even been to a holosuite since we got to Earth,” she accuses, and she’s not even sure what she’s mad about. A Tellarite three tables over keeps sneaking glances their way, maybe critiquing their argument style.
“Fine. Fine. I’ll call him, if that’s what you want.”
“I don’t care,” she snaps.
Over the dessert menu, she reconsiders her anger. It’s been six months, all their things are unpacked, they’re both dug in at their jobs, and she wasn’t going to apologize, but: “I’m sorry you had to leave so much behind. I don’t want you to lose it all.”
“I’m happy,” he says. “It’s a lot easier here.”
His career, his closest friendships, their marriage for God’s sake — “Since when does easy make you happy?”
“He’s gotten so big,” Nerys sounds delighted and distressed at the same time; Keiko knows the feeling.
Kirayoshi’s been talking in sentences, but refuses to perform for the subspace monitor, only squirms to be put down. Keiko obliges, and turns the monitor toward him so Nerys can see him plow headlong into the cushioned side of the sofa, then do a full lap around the living room and run into the sofa again.
“How are you?” she asks, in between high-pitched screams. Molly was the perfect child for a starship or space station — content to sit and play quietly and follow rules even as a toddler. It feels like all of Earth isn’t big enough for Yoshi, now that he has found his legs and his voice.
“Fine. I’m fine. Busy. I thought once the war was over we’d get a break, but…”
Kira looks exhausted and thin, especially when she smiles. It bothers Keiko that she’s too far away to feed her dinner or give her a hug or get even close to the whole story of how much it must take out of her friend to send endless relief missions to Cardassia, to run the station without Sisko, without Miles, without Odo. To recover from the end of a war and a love all at the same time. To lose the closest thing she has to a son to fifty-two light-years and monthly subspace communiqués.
“Molly’s going to be so upset that she missed you,” Keiko says as their all too brief subspace time winds up. She’s suddenly bothered that their Starfleet apartment lacks a spare bedroom, even though Nerys could never get a long enough vacation to make use of it.
“Don’t let them forget me,” Kira says, and smiles like she’s trying to make it a joke.
The replicator’s in pieces (Miles insists the synthehol still doesn’t taste right, or the coffee), and Keiko orders in because she doesn’t know any of the neighbors well enough to feel comfortable barging into their kitchens. Molly asks questions like Why doesn’t Daddy work anymore? because they actually see him every day now, and for hours at a stretch.
Keiko feels her decision to come back to Earth is validated every time she gets to sleep next to her husband all night long without emergency interruption (no interruptions from Starfleet, at least; their son is less conscientious). During the day, though, she thinks she might kill Miles if he doesn’t take up a hobby that gets him out of the house.
Molly chooses Bajor when she has to pick a planet for a school project, and for a week the house is full of Bajoran folk tunes again. For four weeks after that, Keiko can’t get Soraya Naryshu Ja’lat out of her head.
(She can’t get a lot of things out of her head: Kira, and Julian, and Jake who stayed on Bajor even after his father died).
She borrows subspace time from everyone she knows, and Molly sings to Nerys through the monitor.
“You’re not happy,” she accuses, once too often.
Miles glares at her, full of energy pent-up from trying to be as content as possible. “Maybe you’re the one who’s not happy.”
Her job, though. Her job is good. The Agrobiology Institute is a good position, especially given how long it’s been since her last Federation assignment.
Still, it’s an arboretum. The older Kirayoshi gets, the more she itches for field work, the thrill of finding something new in an unexpected place. She lives to be the first human to see new alien plant life, to help local botanists better understand their own world.
(Her professional life, the last seven years, wasn’t so bad.)
(It wasn’t the Enterprise, but then, neither is this.)
She gets a communiqué from Sabar asking if she’s planning to return to Bajor anytime soon. They’re looking for a project lead for a research expedition to the Davuur island groups in Bajor’s equatorial ocean, which were spared most of the ecological damage of the occupation by their remote location. Each island in the chain has a unique ecosystem with plants found nowhere else on Bajor.
She replies with congratulations, and hopes they’ll have room for a few seeds at the Agrobiology Institute.
Bajor is in the news as it comes up for Federation membership (again). Miles gets a letter from Ezri Dax, updating him on the station happenings that don’t hit the media channels: Jake has started writing again, Quark’s Cardassian Relief Fund auction may or may not have been entirely comprised of stolen artifacts, Kasidy appreciates the hand-me-down clothes and toys the O’Briens left for her. Julian misses him.
And by Julian, I mean me, Ezri writes. If I have to play through one more tragic battle from your planet’s long history of strategic military disasters, you’ll hear me screaming all the way in San Francisco.
She closes with: I hope you’re all healthy and happy on Earth.
Miles isn’t much for writing text letters, and so rather than nag him, Keiko volunteers to reply. She wants to ask about Kira, because the calls are coming less often, and Keiko is starting to wonder if by bringing her children closer to their extended family on Earth, she has cut them off from the extended family that mattered more to them.
Instead she says, If we can get away, we’ll try to come for the parades.
Bajor is far, though, and Federation membership acceptance happens while the Academy is mid-semester, so they don’t go. They watch the parades over the news service. Keiko takes in the sea of Bajoran uniforms, remembering every time she thought her children would die on that godforsaken Cardassian station.
(That’s not all it was, though. It started out that way, but-)
Miles is on the floor playing with the kids as the news feed plays, something he rarely had time for on DS9. He looks up to say to Keiko, “I don’t envy them, you know. They’ve got to train up the militia on Starfleet specs, upgrade Bajoran infrastructure with Starfleet technologies… I can’t even guess how they’re gonna tackle that cobbled-together planetary defense grid.”
Molly asks, “Does this mean we’re going back?”
“We live here now, sweetie,” Miles tells her.
Keiko sets down her pruning shears. “You know, if you want to send some suggestions to the teams on Bajor, I’m sure they’d welcome-”
“Oh no. There’s way too much to send over subspace. Let them figure it out. Trust me, I’m glad I’m not doing it.”
She knows him too well, but lets him win this one.
After the kids are asleep, she and Miles sit out on the patio, and she remembers everything else: Her son’s first breaths, her daughter’s first best friend, their table at Quark’s, her favorite view of the wormhole. If she ignores the uniforms and focuses on the faces, she misses Bajor — the food, the music, the rich varieties of incense wafting from the station shrine that changed throughout the year, giving space-dwelling Bajorans a sense of the seasons back home.
It’s unfair that Captain Sisko didn’t get to see the welcoming celebration, the fruits of his labor. It’s unfair that Miles didn’t, not up close.
“We should send a note to Nerys,” he says. “You know, congratulations.”
Keiko gapes at him. “A note?”
He winces. “Yeah, I guess...”
They leave the rest unsaid.
She does send a note to Sabar and her former research colleagues on Bajor, a personal welcome to the United Federation of Planets. She doesn’t specifically ask for information on open posts on upcoming research missions, but Sabar sends it to her anyway.
Miles has been working late some nights on a PADD, feet kicked up on the living room couch, and she drapes herself over his shoulder more for curosity than seduction.
“That’s Cardassian.” She never follows the details of his projects, but after ten years together, she can identify some of the basic systems.
“Bajoran, actually,” he says, and looks sheepish, like she’s caught him out. “Just… sending them a few tips. Like you said.”
“I knew you couldn’t resist.”
She wonders if she could stand to go back, to go through it all again, if it even would be going through it all over again now that the war is over. If she could leave open air to return to the metal confines of space. If there could be another way.
She has to say it first: “I’m not happy here.”
(It has to be her, because returning to Earth was her idea. She deserved it after seven years of shuttling their children between the station and Bajor and bomb shelters and her mother’s house in Japan.)
(God bless Miles, he did everything she asked.)
She knew teaching at the Academy wouldn’t satisfy his need to solve problems. She knew that cataloging botanical samples at the Institute can never match the thrill of discovering new plant life in the wild. She thought it would be worth it, though, because they see each other. Because Miles won’t miss whole stages of Yoshi’s development like he did with Molly. Because they eat dinner together every night.
They feel like a family now, but it’s not the family she recognizes.
The Federation personnel office finds them a house near the transport center in Ilvia, a one-story cottage with a traditional thatched roof and an adjoined seedling hut, the Bajoran version of a greenhouse. The feature probably hasn’t seen much use in years, if not decades; from the photos, Keiko can identify Ilvian silkweed and three kinds of nettles overgrowing the entire plot that will take years to completely uproot.
(Sometimes, she enjoys a challenge as much as her husband does.)
When the house comes into view, all the windows are wide open. Keiko doesn’t have time to wonder why, because the door opens to a familiar face.
“Ezri!” Miles says as their friend rushes down the path to greet them. “What are you doing here?”
Ezri laughs. “We thought we’d air the place out for you. You’re late — I was starting to think you’d changed your minds about moving to Bajor.”
“The transport-” Miles starts to explain their seven-hour delay while Molly tries to talk over him and Yoshi struggles to be put down, and then Keiko catches on to something Ezri said:
She expects Julian would be the only one crazy enough to come all the way to Bajor with Ezri to open a few windows, but when she looks up, Nerys is at the front door with a smile that hasn’t changed, even after a year and a half.
When it’s Keiko’s turn for a hug, Nerys apologizes. “This was Ezri’s idea — I thought you might want some time to settle in as a family.”
She squeezes Nerys’s hand with a smile. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”