What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
-- Crowfoot, 1890
Miles rubbed his eyes as the letters on the screen began to swim. Principles of Temporal Mechanics had to be one of the driest engineering journals around, but if he was going to fix the mess he had to examine every possibility. Seven months of teaching himself everything there was to know about temporal science, seven months of poring over ancient journals and even hard-copy texts had got him nowhere. But this...
A footnote to an article in the latest issue had mentioned something called the 'light-speed breakaway factor', also known as the 'slingshot method', a temporal displacement method used three times (by James Kirk, of all people) to travel to the distant past. It hadn't been discussed much according to the journal, though; the consensus among temporal scientists was that the calculations were far too complex and the science far too tenuous to be able to predict where exactly the incursion would occur. But if the article he had found was correct, he could narrow down the arrival to within one year, and as long as he arrived before the Defiant did he'd be there to prevent them from changing the course of time...
"...and one for you..."
He looked over at the busy little girl who was holding a tea party in the corner with two teddy bears and a stuffed targ. Busy should be her middle name, he thought: she never stopped talking, playing, finding things to do. Two and a half years old she was, tall for her age and smart as a whip, with his mother's alabaster skin that would never tan (or likely even freckle) and the brightest red hair this side of Galway Bay.
Also Julian's eyes, nose, mouth, and chin.
She was Molly, but not.
He returned to his journal as she picked up the teapot and began to 'pour' for her 'guests'. There had to be a way, he told himself.
He'd see Keiko and Molly - the real Molly - again.
Julian had decided half an hour ago that he would never be comfortable again.
He punched his pillow and rearranged the covers as he grumbled to himself. It had been over seven months since he and Miles, sucked into the past along with the rest of the Defiant crew by a Klingon intent on killing James Kirk, had inadvertently interrupted a vicious assault on a young woman and thereby prevented Keiko's grandfather from being conceived. Julian's last-ditch attempt to fix the problem had instead landed the two of them in an alternate timeline where they were married - to each other - with a two-year-old daughter and another one on the way. And he, the skinniest, rangiest Human in two quadrants and a 100% bona fide male to boot, was carrying the baby.
He closed his eyes and tried to get some rest.
Only to open them ten seconds later to the sight of two enormous brown eyes staring at him from about ten centimetres away.
"What's wrong, honey?" he asked, pushing himself up on one elbow.
Molly pouted at him. "Papa, is Dada goin' 'way?"
"Of course he isn't!" he assured her as he sat up and lifted her onto the bed. "What would make my little bunny think that?"
She buried her face in the neck of the huge teddy bear she was clutching. "Tik'ny said Dada gonna go 'way 'cause he sleeps in the other room."
He could have thonked his head on the headboard. Thank you Tekeny Garak. "Honey," he began, "Papa and Dada sleep in different rooms because - we work at different times." A good an explanation as any, he supposed.
"But Dada's sad," she said, turning back to him. "Tik'ny says so."
"Tekeny's just a little boy, honey; he doesn't know everything. Dada's sad because some people he cares about very much went far, far away, and he and Papa couldn't bring them home no matter how hard they tried. It has nothing to do with you or me." He hugged her tightly. "Do you want to sleep in the big bed with Papa tonight?"
She shook her head as her eyes filled with tears. "I want my Papa and my Dada!"
Oh God...he supposed they'd have to sacrifice some privacy for the evening. He checked the chrono; Miles would have gone off shift about an hour ago. "Let's see if Dada's home, all right?"
"'kay," she pouted, as he carried her into the hall and knocked on Miles's door.
The door slid open; Julian leaned through the doorway. "Visitors." He nodded at the girl as he sat at the foot of the bed with her. "Somebody's worried that you're going to 'go away'."
Miles put his padd aside and sat up. "Now where would you get that silly idea?" he asked her.
Benny the Bear tumbled to the floor as Molly scrambled out of Julian's arms and crawled into Miles's lap. "Tik'ny said you're goin' 'way."
Julian thought for a second that he saw a shadow of real concern on Miles's face; but no, it was the same fake smile Miles assumed every time he was forced to acknowledge her. "Don't you worry; I'm not going anywhere. Why does he say that?" he asked, looking over at Julian.
"We sleep apart because we're on different shifts."
Miles rolled his eyes at Julian. "Honey," he said as he placed the girl between them, "Dada and Papa sleep apart because - Dada has to work late and Papa has to work early. And Papa needs his sleep, so Dada sleeps here so he doesn't wake Papa up."
She stuck out her lower lip. "But Tik'ny said so!"
"Between you and me, darlin'," Miles said gently, "I wouldn't believe everything the lad says. Okay?"
"Okay. But Papa and me sleep here."
The adults' eyes met. Miles shrugged. "How about the big bed instead, hm?" Julian suggested, doubting that the three of them could fit into the small spare room bed.
"Yay!" She hopped down, picked up her bear, and ran off.
"You know," Julian said after she left, "Sisko'll kill us when he finds out she named the bear after him."
Miles shrugged. "Can't see why; Rom mentioned it was his present to her last Christmas. I was hopin' to get some reading done on that slingshot idea tonight, but..."
"How's it going?" he asked.
"Bit of a slog, to tell you the truth. Seems more simple on the surface than it really is." He stood and headed for the hallway.
Julian rose to follow him when a sudden kick knocked the breath out of his lungs. "Hold on a minute," he gasped. "She's practising her rugby moves."
"Papa, Dada!" Molly cried from the other room. "Come sleep!"
Their eyes met again; Miles silently put an arm around Julian's shoulders and led him into the main bedroom.
Molly snuggled into Julian's arms after they lay down with her and was soon fast asleep. He, on the other hand, was still getting beaten up.
"What is it?" Miles asked in a low voice.
Again, Julian thought he saw just a hint of actual emotion in Miles's eyes, but - no, it was just his imagination. "It's, um..." He looked down at his belly again. "It's bloody overwhelming, if you want the truth. I know, it was my choice to continue with this, and I'd make the same choice again, but sometimes - between the side effects of the hormones and getting slugged to death from the inside out every night, it makes me wonder what I was thinking."
Miles snorted. "I've been wonderin' that for years. Hopefully we'll be back before you have to go much further with it." He rolled over and returned to his padd.
Suddenly the baby kicked hard again; for a brief second Julian imagined that she was reacting to what Miles had said. It was the strangest feeling, he thought: even though he had delivered dozens of babies and counselled more expectant parents than he could count, he had never truly appreciated until now how bizarre it was to have another living being moving around inside you like some kind of alien.
He frowned at the back of Miles's head, wondering yet again how the man found it so easy to pretend that everyone around him was as unreal as the characters in a holographic adventure. It wasn't that simple for Julian. Perhaps Miles could look at the little girl sleeping between them, her bear clutched tightly to her chest, and feel absolutely nothing - and he understood that, he did - but Julian simply couldn't do it. Perhaps he just wasn't as strong as Miles, or as connected to the old timeline. Or perhaps it was that this Molly, and the baby as well, represented something that he had assumed was out of his reach. Perhaps he had just allowed himself to love her too freely, too fully, and now that the connection was there he couldn't cut it.
Or perhaps Miles was the one at fault. Julian knew that his friend was still in mourning. But - and that word encapsulated the entire problem. There was always a "but" in Miles's mind. The man couldn't tear himself away from the possibility that saving Keiko was in fact within his grasp if only he tried hard enough. Julian didn't feel as if he could say anything; after all, they had changed the course of time, and it was their responsibility to at least try to change it back if it were possible to do so. But it was becoming more apparent to Julian every day that it wasn't possible, and that Miles's obsession was becoming unhealthy for all of them.
Julian sighed and shut his eyes as he breathed in the clean scent of Molly's hair. He'd let Miles follow this last wild goose chase, he'd even pitch in and help if it would speed things along, but he'd be damned if he'd allow him to hurt his girls.
Julian hugged Molly a little tighter. If Miles decided he didn't want to be a part of her life, there was nothing he could do about it. But Julian would stay right where he was - with his girls.
And if Miles couldn't understand it, that was his problem.
"You're certain this is going to work?" Julian asked.
Miles sighed and looked up from the engineering console. "If I were so damned sure I wouldn't need to run a simulation, now would I?"
"All right, all right." They had been snapping at each other all evening.
"The thing is," Miles continued, "nobody's quite sure whether Kirk was able to aim the slingshot accurately on his own or whether he had 'help' of some kind. The only time he used it to return to a specific year they ended up meeting some kind of omnipotent alien."
"Might've been. The first time they went back it was a mistake, and the third time they didn't aim for a given year - they were just trying to reach a time before some whale species became extinct. But the second time..." He frowned at the readout. "Take a look at these numbers. You have brains, might as well use them."
He moved behind Miles and studied the columns of spatio-temporal coordinates over his shoulder. "What am I looking for?"
"The slingshot effect should cause a discontinuity in subspace," he replied. "What we're looking for is a topological break large enough to..."
As he listened to Miles's explanation, he followed the column of figures down, expecting this to be yet another dead end. He suddenly noticed a gap. "Here," he said, jabbing a finger at the screen. "The difference in the fifth correlate-
But Miles was nodding. "Wouldn't have caught that. Let's see how it works. Computer, run subroutine A-6 using the coordinates on line 452, column 49."
"I wish we could get Dax in on this," Julian said, easing himself into a chair while the computer completed its task. "It's right up her alley. By the way, I talked to Iliana this morning; she'll have a talk with Tekeny."
"Did you ever figure out why the lad thought I was goin' away?" Miles asked.
He sighed. Tekeny had probably noticed how cool he was to Molly, but that wasn't what Miles wanted to hear. "From what I can figure out," he said instead, "Garak and Iliana had been sleeping in different rooms for a few weeks before he took her father's ship off to the Gamma Quadrant. When Tekeny and Mila were over for that playdate and I told him not to go into the spare room because you were sleeping there..."
"...he put two and two together and got five." He checked the progress of the simulation. "'s that common with Cardassians?" he said, looking up. "Sleeping apart?"
"No, but apparently Garak snored as badly in this timeline as he did in ours, and with Iliana being pregnant..."
Miles gave him a look. "How would you know - were you and Garak...?"
"For a couple of years, on and off," he replied. "Not at the very end."
He chuckled. "So Dax was right."
"She usually is."
"Y'know," Miles said, "it's funny. I was goin' through my old personal logs a few days back, and she was apparently the one who talked me into agreein' to go out with you."
"I asked you out?" he asked, surprised by his own audacity.
"That you did. Apparently you latched onto me in this timeline instead of her."
Julian grinned. "Could have been worse. 'Oh Commander Sisko,'" he cried in a quavering falsetto, "'you're so big and strong!'"
"Shut up!" Miles laughed. "Now that I can't see-"
The computer interrupted them. Calculations complete.
Miles bent over the console and read the results. "Hell."
"Not unless you don't mind a one-way trip to the Stone Age. The calculations would put us back about 7,000 years, give or take a century, and the trip would probably destroy the ship as well." He blew out an angry breath. "Damn."
The child in Julian's belly suddenly began to dance as if she were rejoicing in the fact that Miles had failed. Julian put his hand over her and mentally urged her to keep still. Miles had that obsessed look in his eye, the one Julian was becoming all too familiar with, and he didn't want to upset him any further.
The comm system suddenly came to life. "Sisko to Dr. O'Brien. Report to my office immediately."
Julian tapped his comm badge. "Aye, sir."
"And doctor, if the Chief is there..."
Miles spoke up. "We're on our way, Captain."
As Miles saved his work, Julian pushed himself up out of the chair and stretched. "I'm still not comfortable with that name," he grumbled as they headed out towards the Promenade.
"Better get used to it; you'll be hearin' it until we get back."
He snorted, wondering privately if he had chosen to take Miles's name after that searing subspace message his father had sent him in this timeline or if Miles had talked him into it. From what he had seen, the old Miles had been very much the 'man' of the house. How the original Julian had got himself into this mess with changing his name and bearing children...but then again, perhaps those decisions were simply the compromises he had chosen to make to be with the man. He supposed he could understand that.
Talking about children..."How long do we have Jake tonight?" he asked Miles.
"Until 2200. It's 2120 now; we'll give him a comm if Sisko keeps us late." He suddenly chuckled. "I'm going to have to start rebuildin' the ceilings if that boy gets any taller. He's going to pass two metres, I'll bet you."
"I wouldn't take that bet." He looked around to make sure they were alone, then leaned in. "I asked you out?" he asked quietly.
"'bout three months after we arrived here," Miles replied as they reached the turbolift area. "Or at least I accepted about three months later. You haven't checked your logs?"
"Well, I," he stammered with an embarrassed shrug, "I looked at a few of them, but - God, Miles, I was such a puppy..."
He snickered as they entered the lift. "That you were. 'Course, I wasn't much better. You should see the logs I recorded after we started seein' each other..." His face suddenly turned beet red.
He shifted from foot to foot uncomfortably. "Seems we were a bit affectionate - well, you know..."
Julian burst out laughing. "What, you raved about my sexual prowess in your personal logs?"
"Shut up, ye daft...always yankin' my chain..." He kept his eyes on the door.
"Oh, is that what you called it?"
Miles shot him a look that would have struck a lesser man dead. "You should be glad you've that belly to hide behind, ye..."
He shook his head. After all the trials and tribulations of the past seven months, he was still glad he had Miles with him to weather it all. "Forgive me for saying this," he said, "but thank God you're still my friend."
"...annoyin' little nit-brain is what you are..." O'Brien muttered as they left the turbolift for Sisko's office. Julian saw the beta-shift Ops officer hide a smile behind her coffee cup.
"Gentlemen," the captain said as they entered his office, "I'd like you to meet Dr. Lewis Zimmerman." He raised an eyebrow at Miles's barely- concealed low burn.
A tall, balding man wearing a Starfleet uniform and a smarmy, self- important expression rose to meet them. "Dr. O'Brien, I presume?"
Julian took his hand. "Um, how do you do. What can I do for you," and he looked on the man's collar in vain for insignia, "sir?"
The pompous man all but bounced on his toes. "I'm here to make you - immortal."
Miles and Julian both stared at him. "Immortal?" Miles asked, suspicion in his eyes.
"Dr. Zimmerman is the Director of Holographic Imaging and Programming at Jupiter Station," Sisko interjected as they all took their seats. "He's designing a long-term medical hologram and wants to use Dr. O'Brien as a template."
"Oh..." Julian was momentarily speechless. "I'm flattered, but-"
"No buts, Doctor;" Zimmerman began, "Starfleet Medical believes that you're the perfect model. Your patients, your nurses, even your senior officers have nothing but praise for your diagnostic skill and your bedside manner. It's a simple process; all I have to do is scan your physical characteristics into the holographic generator - modifying certain features, of course..." He looked askance at Julian's prominent abdomen.
Miles rolled his eyes.
"...and then we'll get on with the interviews."
"Interviews?" he repeated.
"The LMH," Zimmerman explained, "is designed to operate in places such as distant outposts and bases where having an actual physician on duty would be impractical. The holo-physician would need to be able to interact with patients in a natural manner, conversing with them, even trading dirty jokes and swapping recipes. To do that, we have to give it a personality, and what better personality than yours?"
Julian frowned at him. "So you'll be interviewing..."
"Your patients, your colleagues, Chief O'Brien and your daughter, and of course your parents. We need to know everything we can about you, even from the formative years."
Julian's and Miles's eyes met briefly. This was dangerous, Julian realized; not only could this Zimmerman uncover his enhancements, he could even tease out the fact that they had changed the timeline. He had to think of something...
Just then Miles took his hand. "You're bringing his parents here?" he said, allowing anger to cloud his voice.
"We're trying to convince them to travel to Deep Space Nine," Zimmerman replied. "I'd already have them on their way but every time I've attempted to contact Mr. and Mrs. Bashir, your father-in-law has cut the comm signal." He turned back to Julian. "If you could contact them yourself and let them know that I am a legitimate-"
Julian assumed a look of terrified shock. "My parents? You want my father-" He thought furiously: there was that comm recording... "I - I can't," he said, turning to Miles, his voice full of terror. "Not him...not after what he called me..."
Zimmerman frowned. "Now, now, Doctor. If you would just comm them then we'd be able to-"
"Like hell he will!" Miles bellowed in righteous indignation, giving his hand a quick squeeze of comprehension. "I am not letting that bastard talk to Julian! Not in his condition!"
Julian suddenly clapped his hands to his face and broke out in sobs, slumping into Miles's shoulder.
"But Dr. O'Brien, we need to interview them in your presence so-" Zimmerman started, but Miles (who by this time had one arm around Julian) interrupted him.
"Now you listen to me," he said, his voice hard. "That son-of-a-bitch isn't getting within a light-year of him, do you understand!?"
Julian peeked out between his fingers to see Captain Sisko staring at the two of them, a look of utter panic in his eyes. So much the better, he thought, as he began to wail loudly.
"But that will make it impossible to-"
"And furthermore," Miles continued over Julian's sobs, "You are NOT puttin' Julian through this - rigmarole of interviews!" He drew Julian closer. "It's all right, sweetheart..." he murmured into his ear, rocking him as Julian tried desperately not to burst out into laughter.
"Doctor - Julian," the agitated Captain broke in, "are you all right?"
He raised his head, letting a single teardrop fall from his eyes as he turned to Sisko. "Captain," he said in a tremulous voice, "it's just that with the hormone treatments and everything...and then he mentioned my father." He shot a look at Zimmerman. "Dad hasn't spoken a word to me since I told him we were getting married. He called me a - a filthy- " And he broke into heaving sobs again.
"It's okay, darlin'; let it out," Miles murmured, running his hand over Julian's back. "Captain," he said to Sisko, "It's been a long day; Julian's tired. I'm going to take him home, put 'im to bed - if that's all right with you."
Julian snuck a quick look at Zimmerman, who was still apparently earnest about the matter. Oh well, he thought: in for a penny, in for a pound. He pulled away from Miles and smacked him in the arm, glaring at him with a look of cold fury. "You son of a bitch, don't you dare patronize me!" he cried. "I am not some child you can tuck in! The hell with this - I'm going home!" And with that he jumped up from his seat.
"WAIT!" Miles cried, grabbing his arm before he could rush out the door. "You - you can't...the Captain hasn't..."
In the reflection of the door he saw Sisko giving Miles a look of infinite sympathy. "You had better take him home," the Captain said. "Jennifer was the same way with Jake at times."
"Aye, sir. Good night, sir."
Miles led him carefully out of Sisko's office and to the turbolift, Julian whimpering all the way. As soon as the lift dropped below ground level he let go of Julian. "Fuck you!" he sputtered. "You fucking prat!"
Julian collapsed in laughter. "Oh God! Did you-"
"I nearly lost it with that - with that 'patronizing'-" and Miles began to laugh. "You bastard!"
Julian was laughing so hard he was snorting like a pig. "Oh God, stop...I'm going to piss myself! D-did you see Sisko's face? I swear he was going to bolt! 'Pregnant man crying! Run away!'"
"Did you hear-" Miles got out, fat tears rolling down his face, "-when he said - he said you reminded him of his - his wife!"
"Oh God!" Julian cried as he held his aching sides. "This is the best laugh I've had in ages!"
"Tell me about it! I just hope to hell Sisko runs that arsehole off the station." Miles wiped his face. "The last thing we need to be goin' through right now are a bunch of 'interviews'."
Julian gave his friend a fond shake of his head. He was starting to realize why the old Julian fell in love with him. In fact...but he shooed that thought away and returned to the topic. "You don't honestly think he'd let Zimmerman pick me apart after that performance, do you?" he asked. "If he does, I'll just get Girani to stick me on light duty."
"I hope you're right. Listen," Miles said after a quick check of his chrono, "you know what I'd like right now? A game of darts and a pint of ale to go with it. You up for Quark's? We can comm Jake, get him to stay another hour."
"We do have tomorrow morning off," he replied, "but it might be better if we laid low and had the game in our quarters. I'll bet you latinum that if we showed up at Quark's we'd find Zimmerman there ogling the dabo girls."
"Ach, you're right," Miles sighed. "God, this is the first time I've felt normal in months!"
He put his hands on his hips and frowned at Miles in mock annoyance. "Figures. I get pregnant, Sisko calls me a woman, and suddenly you feel normal!"
"Oh Lord, Julian," he cried, "if you make me start laughing again I'll pass out - I swear to the Blessed Virgin I will!"
As the doors opened, Julian turned to his companion. "Speaking of the Virgin Mother," he said, wagging a finger at him, "since I'm carrying your immaculate conception, I reserve the right to stand closer to the dart board this time."
"Now isn't that gentlemanly!" Miles complained. "Just 'cause you're knocked up doesn't mean you have to go claiming your fat gut as an excuse to cheat!"
He gave Miles a mock-frown. "Unless you want me to cry again..."
"Christ Almighty," he muttered with a roll of his eyes, "I've created a monster."
"Rom," Julian said, "hold still." He aspirated the abscess, then injected the Ferengi with a broad-spectrum antibiotic. "How long has this been going on?"
"Well..." Rom shifted his gaze, not daring to meet his eyes. "... a couple of years back there was, um, this female trader...you know...I thought it went away on its own, but, er..."
Only with great restraint did he stop himself from rolling his eyes. "Why didn't you come to me back then?" he said instead. "Treatment would have been much simpler. Otogonorrhoea isn't something you can safely self-treat - it can lead to everything from meningitis to pneumonia." He readied another hypospray. "How's Leeta's hand?"
"She, uh, seems fine."
"Well, if she has any further redness or swelling, have her come in for a follow-up. This," he said as he pressed the second hypo into Rom's neck, "is for the dizziness and nausea. I'm taking you off duty for the next 24 hours. Go home and rest. And I don't want the two of you re- infecting each other, so no sexual contact for at least seven days, all right?"
"If you think it's necessary..."
"It is. And I'll see you back here in 24 hours for the next treatment."
He nodded, scooting out of the Infirmary as quickly as his feet could carry him.
Julian shook his head. Treating engineers for Ferengi ear clap wasn't what he had envisioned when he decided to embark on a career in frontier medicine. Of course, that wasn't the only thing he hadn't envisioned.
The Infirmary was quiet, he mused, as he sanitized his hands and disposed of the used equipment. He looked around, then switched on the fetal monitor and surreptitiously scanned himself.
As the familiar features crystallized on the monitor, he reached towards the screen and took a moment to trace the outline of the eyebrows - so much like Miles's - the nose, the mouth, and the tiny hands with his finger. The fetus suddenly shifted, moving slightly on the screen as a kick made itself felt in his abdomen. Such a miracle, he thought, as a fond smile spread across his face; that Miles and I could create such a perfect-
A cough behind him almost made him drop the transducer probe. He spun around to find Dax smirking at him. "Everything okay?" she asked.
"Fine," he managed to say. "I was just checking up on things. Are you free for lunch?" he asked as he powered down the scanner.
"That's why I stopped by." She looked behind her towards the Promenade. "The Replimat's pretty crowded, though..."
"Then how about my office? Two seats, no waiting?"
She grinned at him as he obsequiously ushered her into his cramped office. "So Girani's still letting you do paperwork?" she asked by the replicator. "What do you want?"
He eased himself into his office chair. "Same as you're having is fine, and yes, Mirat is generously allowing me to sign reports and even treat the odd ear infection. How's Ops this morning?"
"Dull," she said, putting two plates of steaming-hot gladst down on his desk. "A ship docks, a ship undocks, and there is nobody to talk to. I hope the Defiant gets back soon - it's driving me up the wall being there all alone."
"Now don't exaggerate," he said, spearing a bite of the spicy vegetable. "You're not all alone up there."
"It feels like it. Since the last round of transfers, I feel like I don't know anyone."
They ate in companionable silence. Suddenly Dax looked back at the main room, then turned her gaze back to Julian. "How often do you do that?"
"Too often," he said with a nervous chuckle as he pushed a morsel of food around with his fork. "You won't tell Miles?"
"Why not?" she asked with a frown. "Why would he mind?"
"Well...he thinks I'm fixating. He doesn't seem to be all that interested, to be honest, and I think he's worried I'm made too strong a connection." That at least was true, he thought.
Dax put down her fork. "Fathers - at least the ones who don't carry their children - usually aren't all that emotionally invested in them until they're born," she said. "I never was. And you're right, sometimes fathers do become worried about their partners being overly connected to the developing child." She gave him an understanding look. "But it's more than that, isn't it?"
Damn that woman, he thought, as he stared down into his gladst: she's worse than the Obsidian Order.
"I mean," she continued, "you were borderline certifiable the first time, but now you're almost - I hate to say it, but you're almost too calm, and Miles is never around. Is everything all right between the two of you?"
"It's not that," he replied, his mind working overtime. "It's that project Starfleet Engineering assigned him. He's become so wrapped up in it I hardly see him from day to day. And if anything I've been concentrating on not becoming over-emotional - although I've had my moments." He grinned sheepishly.
"Ben told me about that. He said he was worried he'd have to call Girani and have you sedated."
He sighed. He hated to lie to her, but... "I felt like such an idiot after I calmed down," he finally said. "I mean, there was a medical explanation - I'd had to increase my HPL and erythropoietin dosages, which is why I booked off the next day - but honestly, Jadzia, having to face my father again - I don't think I could do it."
She reached out and gave his forearm a quick squeeze. "Julian, forget about your father, and forget about that Zimmerman too. Ben understood completely - well, between you and me, I think you scared him half to death-"
He laughed. "Miles said he had this look on his face halfway between panic and terror."
"-but," she continued, "are you sure Miles is handling this as well as you think? After all, he's the one who wanted the 'big Irish family'. Don't you think it's strange that he's withdrawing in this way?"
"I suppose you might be right." He was a little surprised by her revelation. "Sometimes he seems as fixated on this project of his as he thinks I am about-" and he gestured downwards, "this."
"It's not a 'this'," she told him. "It's a baby. Say the word."
He sucked in his lips. "Baby."
"That's right." She picked up their empty plates and carried them to the recycler. "Pretty soon the two of you are going to be up to your elbows again in dirty diapers, slimy pacifiers, stained onesies-"
"You make it sound so romantic."
"-the smell of a tiny baby, little pink booties, little pink bonnets, little pink dresses..." She sighed. "That is, unless you're having another redhead."
"Jadzia, as I have told you, and repeatedly if I remember correctly, we've decided not to examine her MC1R status." The teasing he had to put up with in this timeline...
"I'm just saying that if you'd like to get presents that don't clash with the baby's hair..."
He rolled his eyes at her. "Aren't you due back in Ops?"
"Actually, now that you mention it, I am," she said as she glanced at the wall chrono. "But remember what I said. Talk to him. I'd hate to see anything happen to the two of you, especially considering the children."
"I'll do that." He saw her to the door. "And thanks."
"What are friends for?" she said, giving him an unexpected hug before leaving.
He sighed as he watched her walk down the corridor towards the turbolift to Ops. If she had ever hugged him like that in the old timeline...
Stop fooling yourself, old man, he thought; you'd have found a way to screw it up.
He returned to his duties.
He was floating on a peaceful cloud, still, comfortable...
And an arm suddenly shot out and grasped him around the chest.
Julian slowly awoke to the realization that something pleasantly hard was nudging his backside. Miles began to grind his hips into him, his hands running over his distended stomach. He suddenly moaned into Julian's ear, his lips brushing his throat as his hand cradled Julian's belly. "Baby, you are-" he murmured...
And suddenly the hand and the mouth were gone, and Miles was hurdling himself out of bed and onto the floor.
"Lights ten percent." Julian pushed himself up into a sitting position and peered over the edge of the bed. "Are you all right?"
His friend was sitting on the floor, a sheet tangled around his legs, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked up guiltily at Julian. "I, um, I-"
"It's all right," he said, trying to soothe him. "You were half-awake and forgot who you were sleeping with. Come back to bed."
Miles suddenly looked distinctly uncomfortable.
Julian sighed. "What's the problem?"
"Well," he started, his face a deep red, "I...it's not that I'm not - Julian, you're you."
"Yes, and I have been for quite a while," he said dryly, wondering what had got into the man's mind now.
Miles pulled himself up. "It's not that," he said, sitting on the bed. "It's that you're not her. Okay, part of it is that you're you. You're my friend. It's just..." He shrugged.
"It's 0235," Julian said with a sigh, realizing that they'd be all night at this if Miles didn't get to the point. "Can we discuss this in the morning?"
But Miles kept talking, picking at the bedspread while he spoke. "It's just that you're...goddammit, man, you're my best friend, and you're-" and he gestured towards his stomach. "It's..."
He gave Miles what he hoped was a reassuring smile. The last thing he wanted to do was make his friend uncomfortable, especially considering that unlike his own feelings, Miles's reaction was likely nothing but a pheromonal reflex. But how to explain that to him... "It's possible," he said, "that the hormones I'm taking are affecting the way I smell. That might be what you're reacting to."
Miles looked down at his hands again, apparently unconvinced. "You think?" he asked, his voice low.
"I'm sure that's all it is." Julian gave his forearm a pat. "Listen, what do you want to do about it?"
"Maybe one of us should move into the spare room again."
"The last time we tried that," he said, "Molly had nightmares for two weeks running. I still don't want you uncomfortable in your own home. Do you want me to take a night shift?"
Miles's face closed down into the familiar blank expression Julian had seen a thousand times since they arrived in this timeline. "It's my problem; I'll deal with it. And after my last talk with Girani..." He shook his head. "That woman is the most annoying, irritating - do they teach how to get under engineers' skins in medical school?"
"She's a dedicated professional who cares about her patients enough to include the entire family in the prenatal care package."
"She, um," and Miles's face darkened, "she said she wanted me to pay more attention to you. Said I should 'do special things for you' like takin' you out for dinner and the like."
"She wants you to woo me, does she?" he asked, trying to keep down the urge to laugh.
"God." Miles shook his head. "But talkin' about special things..."
Julian suppressed a groan. Here we go again, he thought, at zero two bloody forty in the morning.
"...I've been lookin' at those figures I came up with - you know, during that simulation we ran a few days back?"
"Yes, yes, I remember," he said. Even being molested in his sleep was better than this.
"Well," Miles continued, "I was thinkin' that with a larger ship - somethin' like the Defiant - it'd be easier to balance the mass equation. What do you think?"
"I'm too tired to think," he said, glaring at Miles, his patience as exhausted as he was. "I'm almost too tired to breathe. Give me the details in the morning and let me sleep!"
"Oh." He gave Julian a contrite look. "Sorry. I keep forgettin'."
"I've noticed." He looked at the ceiling. "Computer, lights off." He turned over and closed his eyes.
But of course sleep would not come. One thing kept bothering him - the look in Miles's eyes after he had catapulted himself off the bed. Pure, unadulterated need, desire...maybe even affection?
No, Julian told himself severely: that's what you want Miles to feel, not what he feels. You might be falling in love with your best friend, but that doesn't mean he feels a thing for you - outside of pheromonal attraction, that is. Which, he supposed, wasn't a bad start.
Suddenly the baby began a tattoo on his belly. He looked down; the sheet was actually vibrating. Is that what you want too, little girl? he thought to her. Two parents who love each other instead of just going through the motions?
He closed his eyes.
All too soon he awoke, Miles still snoring softly beside him. He checked the chrono and went to wake up Molly.
She wasn't in her room.
Julian tore through the apartment searching for her. She wasn't in the fresher room, the storage area, the spare room, or even in any of the closets. She hadn't fallen into the recycler or the toy box..."Miles!" he shouted as he ran into the room and shook him awake. "Molly's gone missing! I can't find her!" He reached for his comm badge but Miles's hand gripped his arm.
"Molly?" he said with a strange look on his face. "Who's that?"
"Miles! Let go! I have to call security-" and he suddenly turned, his mouth hanging open in shock. "What do you mean 'Who's that?' Our daughter. Dammit, man, she's gone!" He tried to pull away from his grip but he couldn't shake that cold hand.
"Oh, that Molly," Miles said, rolling his eyes. "Didn't I tell you? I got rid of that problem for you. Both of 'em, actually."
Julian followed his gaze down. His abdomen was completely flat.
And he woke up in a cold sweat, shuddering in terror. He looked to his left; Miles was still snoring away. The chrono said 0320.
He lay his head back on the pillow and tried to calm his pounding heart. He had read about the vivid dreams pregnant women had but had never thought he'd experience one. It had been so real...
Time for a cup of hot milk, he told himself, as he levered himself out of bed and waddled into the main room.
Girani held the scanner over his abdomen. "Forty-two centimetres from head to toe. She's not going to be a big baby, but she's within human norms for the 35th week. Everything else seems fine...although given the scanner logs you probably already know that."
He blushed. "I've been slightly concerned..." he began, but stopped when she looked up at him over her old-fashioned half-glasses.
"Julian," she started, "during the last gestation you were so terrified that the child would be born with a defect that you installed a scanner in your bedroom. I distinctly remember Chief O'Brien saying he was afraid the child would be born with transducer probes for hands. I hardly think a scan every other day is excessive, especially considering the breadth of your pelvis, or lack thereof." She shook her head. "If I had a young woman with your hips contemplating pregnancy, I'd suggest pelvic restructuring. As it is, the strengthening bars are preventing microfractures, but you still need to keep off your feet as much as possible."
"Do you think it would be safer for her if I went on bed rest?" He didn't relish the idea, but if it was better for the child he'd do it in an instant.
"I don't think that's entirely necessary," Girani replied. "The fetus isn't stressed - in fact, her hormone levels, heartrate, and movements are almost textbook. You're the one who's at risk, and I'm not certain that putting you on bed rest is the best choice. How about cutting down your workload to half days?"
"I suppose I could live with that." He suddenly grinned. "Do you think the Captain will accept your decision this time?" Dax had told him that Girani's voice had almost peeled the paint off Sisko's office walls when she found out he had overruled her and ordered him on that mission. In the end he had remained home, but Sisko was still fuming.
"I doubt he'll make the same mistake twice," she said dryly, "but in case he does, I'll remind you that I do have an in with the station CMO. But there's something else I want to talk to you about," she said, leaning back against a cupboard. "I'm concerned about your husband."
"About..." It took him a second to realize she was talking about Miles. Of course he's your husband, you twit, he reminded himself severely. "Why?"
She sighed. "I'm concerned he's clinically depressed. You told me he was working on this project for Starfleet Engineering. Is it going well?"
"I don't know," Julian said, keeping to the script he and Miles had worked out. "It's a classified matter. But you're right; he seems, I don't know, distracted all the time, hardly speaks to me some days...I just keep wondering..." He didn't add that in reality Miles's theory wasn't working out - thank God, he thought, as he rested a hand on his abdomen.
"Julian," she continued, "this is a personal question, I know, but: when was the last time the two of you had sex?"
Knowing why she was asking didn't make the question any easier to answer. "Well, it's um...you know that the hormones have done a number on my sex drive. It's not just that I can't reach it; sometimes I think it's gone missing."
"I know that," she replied patiently, "but has he expressed any sexual interest recently?"
And how was he supposed to respond to that? "He - he is affectionate," he stuttered. "At night I often wake up with him cuddled up to me." He tried desperately not to blush. "And there have been a few times recently when he's shown a slight interest..."
"But when was the last time the two of you had sex?"
"It's been a while," he replied evasively. "Perhaps longer than average." That was true, he reflected, if 'never' was in that category.
"Well," she said, removing her glasses, "I know that certain positions and perhaps even certain acts might be impossible right now given your bulk and the pressure on your abdominal organs-"
Trust Girani to get to the point, he thought.
"-but if he is depressed, and I think he is, showing him that you still love him could be a factor in his recovery. You do love him still, don't you?"
He met her eyes. "Of course I do!" The words came naturally, and Julian wasn't terribly surprised that he had meant them.
"Then help him."
"All right," he replied as he prayed for the floor to open up and swallow him whole. "Um...I'll talk with him and..."
"Talking is a start but it isn't the complete answer," she interrupted. "Now if he can't or isn't willing to have sexual contact, that's a sign he needs to see me or Telnorri, since, as you are well aware, impotence or disinterest are cardinal signs of major depression. But it may be that the lack of sexual contact is actually a partial cause of the depression and not a symptom." She held up a hand. "I'm not blaming your lack of interest; after all, you've already gone through one pregnancy, and this problem didn't occur last time. I'm saying that the two of you have issues you should confront, and one of them may be depression. Sex won't cure anything, but it can help in the context of a loving and caring relationship. You simply need to work at connecting with him again, and sex is part of that."
"I, um...okay...all right..."
She patted his hand. "Don't worry, but let me know if you think his depression appears to be major. Now go home; effective immediately, you have afternoons off." She shooed him out of the Infirmary.
He made his way to the nearest turbolift as if in a fog; once inside the lift, he slumped against the back wall.
How was he going to fix this? If Dax and even Girani had noticed Miles's relative indifference to him, and if anyone put the pieces together about just when that indifference began...well, the penalty for breaking the Temporal Prime Directive had never been set out in statute, if Julian remembered correctly, but he supposed a conviction would lead to a long sentence. And if they found out about his enhancements they could take his girls away. That was completely unacceptable.
He would have to speak with Miles.
Julian sighed, wondering for the thousandth time if the stubbornness came with the red hair or the O'Brien name. "Honey," he said, "if you won't wear the training pants then you have to wear a diaper."
She looked up at him, and for a second he saw himself in that annoyed glare. "Wanna be big girl!"
"And you are a big girl," he tried to reassure her. "Big girls wear training pants, not diapers."
She crossed her arms over her undershirt. "No!"
Telling himself that getting into a shouting match with a two-year-old was not acceptable behaviour for a man his age, he knelt down in front of her. "Honey, Meru is almost a year older than you," he said. "She wore training pants when she was your age."
He tried to thread her feet through the leg holes, only to have her kick the pants away.
"Molly..." He tried another tack. "Bunny, if you don't put on the training pants, you won't be able to play with Meru and Tekeny today. Don't you want to see them?" He hated to bribe her, but he had to be on shift in fifteen minutes.
She thought for a moment, never letting the Glare of Death leave her face, then she huffed (just like Miles, he thought) and silently held out her legs.
"Good girl," he reassured her. "Now stand up...thank you... and what do you want to wear today? The green dress?"
"Purple," she said with a pout, still not resigned to the training pants.
"All right." He crossed to her closet and removed the dress in question from the hanger before pulling it over her shoulders and fastening the back. It was already snug; he'd have to replicate a new one tonight. He then retrieved her shoes from the corner and slipped them onto her stocking feet.
"Now," he said as they left their quarters for the station daycare, "you remember what I told you. When you feel like you have to go, tell Mrs. Karlssen and she or Miss Hantha will take you."
"And no beating up on Tekeny today, all right?" he continued as they entered the turbolift. "Little boys don't like little girls who beat them up."
She gave him a hard stare straight from the patented Miles O'Brien collection, a stare that made him feel like he'd been a fool to mention it. Julian privately wondered how such a young girl could mimic her father with such pinpoint accuracy.
As soon as they arrived at the daycare Molly ran off with a little friend of hers, barely stopping to give Julian a sloppy kiss goodbye. He watched her disappear down the corridor, then turned only to almost bump into Hantha Rekhim. "I'm sorry," he spluttered, grabbing onto her shoulder to stop both of them from toppling over. "Are you all right?"
The heavily pregnant daycare aide burst into laughter. "It's like two balloons in a birdcage."
"We are a pair, aren't we?"
She smiled as she passed him, rushing to break up a fight between two of the older children. "See you this afternoon!" she called behind her.
He shook his head as he crossed the Promenade headed to the Infirmary. Life had its drawbacks, but Molly - his Molly - was something he had never thought possible.
He rushed into Quark's, ten minutes late, ordering a quick lunch at the bar before taking his seat between Miles and Iliana. "Sorry I'm late; it was a bit crazy this morning."
"Nothing serious?" Miles asked as he gave Julian's hand a quick squeeze.
"Actually, yes, but it's under control." He smiled at the two of them, making sure his eyes softened when he looked at Miles. "I hope I didn't interrupt anything."
"We were just talking about Molly spending the day at Iliana's tomorrow so we can have some time to ourselves," Miles said as the waiter brought Julian's meal.
He nodded; having it known that they spent time together alone would go a long way to damping down any gossip. "You're sure that's all right?" he asked Iliana. "She's a busy girl."
"It's no problem whatsoever." She gestured towards the daycare with her fork. "In fact, I've noticed that she seems to have become somewhat attached to Tekeny."
"Attached?" Julian asked. "In what way?"
"Just last week I caught her calling him a 'nasty little boy'." A sly smile stole across her face. "I remember when I was just a few months older than her, there was a boy...Mirak Pelar, his name was. I was so ardent. I remember telling him he was a flat-foreheaded numbspoon with the brains of a diseased riding hound."
"You mean-" Julian sputtered. Wonderful, he thought: my daughter has a crush on Garak's son. It was almost incestuous.
Miles laughed. "D'he fight back?"
"No, which is why I eventually lost interest in him. Tekeny, on the other hand, is a strong young man, but not a violent one. If anything, he reminds me more of Elim than he does any member of my own family. I remember the first time I saw Elim..." She sighed. "Director Tain had sent me to work in the new Federation Ambassador's mansion. There I was, pretending to be a cook - can you imagine, a woman cooking? - and in the door comes the new gardener trailing mud all over the place. I told him off and made him wash the floor. Little did I know at the time that he was Tain's feared lieutenant."
"Love at first sight, was it?" Julian asked.
"The mission was futile from an operational standpoint," she continued. "Ambassador Ishikawa knew from the very first day that we were operatives and, quite sensibly I might add, took appropriate precautions. But you're right - it was love at first sight, for both of us. I remember the first time he placed his hands on my shoulders..."
She smiled again, a sad smile that tore at Julian's heart. After all, he had felt much the same way in another lifetime. "Do you ever wish he hadn't gone to the Gamma Quadrant?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Better his death than Cardassia's or even Bajor's. What is the life of even the best man compared to that of three billion or more? He did his duty to the State, and I honour his memory by accepting his death."
Julian could understand the sentiment. His Garak would also have died to save Cardassia. Well, they were the same Garak, he supposed, so that wasn't terribly surprising.
As Iliana and Miles changed the topic to musical matters, Julian took a moment to wonder if he and Garak had even been acquaintances in this timeline. There was nothing in his personal logs about him, not even a mention of his shop. He thought back on his friend: friend, he snorted to himself. He had been so besotted by the man that he could barely think at times. Ironic that the very reason that caused him to finally break up with Garak - the attempted destruction of the Founders' homeworld - was in this timeline probably the only reason Bajor still existed.
It wasn't the first time he'd been wrong about Garak, but perhaps it was the most poignant.
"Are you going to finish that?"
He looked up, distracted. "I'm sorry?"
Miles pointed at his barely-touched lunch. "I don't need Girani lecturin' me again, and especially about you not gainin' weight. Now eat up."
"Yes, dear," he deadpanned, spearing a chunk of deep-fried katterpod puree and dipping it in the sauce.
Iliana frowned at his plate. "I cannot understand how you can eat that..." and her voice dripped with disgust, "...ranch dressing. It smells like week-old zabu meat."
"Can't say that I disagree," Miles said, saving him the necessity of replying. "Last week he was smearing some kind of jam..." He turned to Julian. "What was it?"
"Lingonberry preserves," he replied. "They're quite good on latkes."
Miles gave Iliana a knowing look. "See what I have to put up with? Jam on potato pancakes, mustard on the salad...he put sugar on his popcorn night before last."
"I assume that is a bad thing?"
"It's delicious," Julian interrupted after swallowing another mouthful, "but it wasn't sugar. It was cinnamon sugar."
Miles rolled his eyes.
"At any rate," Iliana said, "I should return to my customers. It's nearly 1400." She took another look at Julian's plate, then shook her head. "Good day, gentlemen."
They watched her as she left the Replimat heading for Garak's - Iliana's, Julian corrected himself - Couturiers.
"Do you think it worked?" Miles said in a low voice.
He shrugged. "I hope so. But we need to be seen together more often than just at lunch. How about darts tonight at Quark's?"
"I had hoped to get some time in on the new sim..." Miles looked around. "But you're right; we aren't going to calm down the bloody gossip with just a lunch here and there. Walk you back to our quarters?"
He nodded; Miles took their trays to the recycler, then followed Julian into the corridor. "Hold my hand," Julian whispered in his ear.
Miles grunted under his breath, then grudgingly took Julian's hand in his. "This is inane," he whispered.
"But necessary." And it felt perfectly natural, Julian thought.
"I know," Miles replied, a resigned look on his face, "I know."
"Elizabeth's a nice name."
"Too dull," Julian muttered as he propped his feet up, "and too old- fashioned. How about Aisha?"
"What kind of name is that?" Miles snorted. "Sounds like a sneeze."
Julian frowned at him. "Have some respect; Aisha was the Prophet's favourite wife."
"Sorry." He thought for a moment. "I've always liked Maeve..."
"Sounds like something you wash a floor with. I have a cousin named Jalila."
"Sounds like a cake filling," Miles grunted.
"Does not." He reached around and scratched a spot on his back.
"How about Siobhan? It's Irish for Julia."
"Too trendy," Julian said. "How about Fatima? It means abstinence."
"Fatima? That'll go over well."
"Stop being so judgmental," he growled. "Why is every name from my culture unacceptable?"
Miles rolled his eyes. "To tell you the truth I don't even know why we're bothering. It's not like she's going to be around for long enough to-"
"She needs a name," Julian said, cutting him off. How dare he say that? "Maybe we could name her after-" and he stopped and grimaced as a well- placed kick took out his left kidney, "-a rugby player. Or maybe a torturer. Enabran's nice."
"Shut up, Julian."
He grunted. It was all well and fine for Miles to hide behind his denial, but his girl deserved a good, solid name. Siobhan, he snorted to himself. She'd spend her entire life spelling it.
He had just opened his mouth to make another suggestion when the door chimed. "Enter," he called.
Kira walked in. "Chief," she said, "I was just in the neighbourhood and - okay, what's going on?" She crossed her arms and frowned at the two of them. "I haven't seen two scowls that fierce since Meru stole Worf's prune juice."
"We're trying to pick a name for the girl." He glared at Miles. "Apparently, names from my culture sound like sneezes."
"Fatima..." Miles grumbled. "And mine sound like what?"
"Like ninety-eight-year old women off knitting somewhere."
"Anyway," Kira said, "I just dropped by to-"
"Old women..." Miles interrupted, glaring at Julian. "Old women! I'll have you know that Maeve is one of the most popular-"
A quick gasp from Kira made both of them turn their heads towards her. "Did you say mave?" she asked, her eyes full of suppressed laughter. "You can't call her that!"
Julian frowned at her. "Why-" and then he remembered something one of his patients had once mentioned to him. "That's right," he said with a grin. "I knew there was a reason I didn't like it."
"What?" Miles asked.
Kira smirked. "It's North Continent slang for diarrhea, that's why."
"Ye gods." Miles rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I have a niece named Maeve."
"Seems like half the names we think of are either obscene, blasphemous, vulgar, or crude in one language or another." Julian sighed. He hadn't realized how difficult it would be.
"What about a Bajoran name?" Kira asked. "Something like Filon. That was Antos's mother's name."
"Actually, that's not bad." Julian thought for a moment. "Sounds rather masculine in Standard, though. Maybe - Filona? Finona?"
"How about Fiona?" Miles suggested. "Y'know, I like that. My great- uncle Finbarr's wife was named Fiona."
He nodded. "I like it too. It's a good solid name, easy to spell. All right then; Fiona it is. Unless it means something obscene in Bajoran, that is," Julian said, turning to Kira.
She stared at them, her jaw dropping. "You can't choose a name like that!" she cried. "Where's the deliberation? Where are the long-held family traditions?"
"Long-held family traditions...that's our problem right there," Miles grumbled.
"We've been 'discussing' those traditions for four hours straight," Julian added. "It was getting to the point that Miles suggested we call her Millian or Jiles."
"Better than your suggestion of Desdemona."
"Desdemona is a lovely name-"
"Guys," Kira broke in, "okay, okay. Fiona it is."
Julian heaved himself out of the chair. "Thank you for the suggestion," he said to Kira as he saw her to the door. He suddenly stopped. "I'm sorry; did you come here for something?"
She bit her lower lip. "Nothing important. I'll message you later, Chief."
After she had gone, Julian turned back to Miles. "I wonder what that was about."
"Probably had some report she wanted signed," Miles said, his lips thin as he rose to his feet. "I'm going to go work on that new sim. Call me if anything happens."
A new sim, he thought. Always a new sim or new calculations or something designed to take him away from his girls. He tried to understand, but -
-and a sudden lancing pain drove him to his knees. "Miles!" he shouted, "Get in here!"
"What is it?"
Miles's voice was fading; Julian could barely keep his eyes open. "There's..."
The last thing he heard was Miles calling for an emergency beam-out.
He swam up into consciousness to find himself flat on his back on a biobed. Everything was shades of grey, and he could barely hear through a tinny buzz that seemed to be coming from every direction. "What-"
Girani interrupted him, her words coming rapid-fire as she used some kind of tool on his lower abdomen. "You coded. Grade I placental abruption. We've performed a fetal transport and removed the pseudosac. She's fine."
She turned around. "2 ccs epizanthene, 1 microgram pseudotocin!" she called to the nurse standing at the replicator while another nurse - Jabara, he thought absentmindedly - slapped a venous port on his left shoulder and began what looked like a transfusion.
As his vision cleared and the buzzing receded, he looked up at Girani again. "Is she-" he gasped out as the hypo touched his neck.
"She's small but she's breathing unassisted, 99% sat on room air," Girani said. "One-minute Apgar of four-"
"-five-minute Apgar of nine. It's you I'm worried about."
Just then he heard Jabara's voice. "BP 90/50. Pulse 160 and falling."
So it had been a near thing, he thought. "What have you given me?" he asked Girani.
"Just a second." She checked his vitals on the biobed scanners, ran a medical tricorder over him-
-and he almost jumped as a cry rang out from the other end of the Infirmary.
"I have to see her," he pleaded. His baby was over there, his girl needed him, he had to-
"Now hold on!" Jabara said, grabbing his shoulders as he tried to lift himself off the biobed. "Dr. Perreira is with her. She'll be fine."
"But she's my-"
Girani leaned over him. "Julian. Listen to me," she said, holding his chin in her hand. "You lost over a litre of blood, you're numb from the waist down, and you've just gone through major surgery."
"No buts." She stared him down. "We'll bring her to you as soon as we stabilize you. Now stay."
"I'm not a dog," he grumbled, but he stayed put. He kept reminding himself that she sounded healthy and strong as the team worked on him, taking readings, administering drugs, and setting up another infusion.
But he wanted to see her so badly it hurt. He needed to see her, needed to hold her - good God, the emotions were overwhelming him. Was this what it was like to...
And he almost snorted at himself. The word is birth, Julian, he thought, albeit in Jadzia's voice. You gave birth. You, Julian, 100% male he-man of Starfleet Medical, out to conquer the wild frontier with nothing but a medical tricorder and a phaser, just gave birth. For the second time. And yes, this is what it's like.
He had been a doctor for five years and a medical student before that, but only at that moment did he realize how utterly and completely dehumanizing medicine could be for the patient. He felt like a science experiment gone wrong, or an art exhibit under scrutiny by a team of critics. There he was, naked as the day he himself had been born, being poked and prodded and shot full of things that he knew full well were necessary, but still...
"BP 100/60, pulse 90 and stabilizing, HCT 39.2%," Jabara called out as Akina wrapped his lower body in a heating blanket and adjusted the biobed to raise his upper body to a half-sitting position.
Girani heaved a sigh of relief. "Looks like you're here to stay," she said to him. "We've given you two units of B-neg synthoblood and - well, if you want the whole list of meds you can download it later." She suddenly looked up and grinned. "And here's the star of our show."
He followed her gaze; the locum, Dr. Perreira, had just emerged from the intensive care room, a tiny bundle in her arms. "Dr. O'Brien," she said, "I have someone here who wants to meet you."
He took the bundle from Perreira and with a mixture of anticipation and love (mixed with more than a touch of fear) looked into the face of his new daughter for the first time.
She was perfect.
Rosy pink skin, big blue eyes, a little button nose, Miles's square chin, his mother's mouth, and a shock of bright red hair, just like her sister's. She squirmed in his arms, then opened her eyes and searched his face with her gaze.
"I've been waiting so long to say hello to you," he crooned to her, and her eyes widened. "You know that voice, don't you?"
A sudden surge of emotion caught him unawares; he took a deep breath and forced himself not to cry. "She's so beautiful," he murmured. "She's so perfect. How could I have a child so absolutely perfect?"
He heard Girani tell the scrub nurse to get Miles, but he couldn't keep his eyes off his daughter's lovely face. She sputtered once, just a tiny burp or hiccup, and he reached up with a finger to wipe the spittle off her face. She suddenly turned her head towards the finger. The rooting reflex, the doctor in him thought, as the father in him beamed at her. "That's a good girl," he murmured.
He looked up. Miles was standing beside his biobed, his eyes wet with unshed tears as he looked down at the two of them.
At first he thought Miles was leaning down to take a closer look at the girl. But then, to his shock, Miles gently tipped his head back and kissed him.
It was gentle, sweet, perhaps more chaste than he had hoped their first kiss would be, but it felt so very right. His heart caught in his throat as Miles drew away from him, brushing a thumb over his cheek. Did Miles really return his feelings? Oh please, he pleaded silently to any deities or Prophets listening, let this be what brings him to his senses.
Just then the baby squirmed. "Fiona," Julian said, looking back down at the little girl nestled in his arms, "this is your Dada. I'm your Papa. Welcome." He kissed her on the forehead.
His eyes met Miles's again, and for the briefest of moments he saw his own feelings mirrored - wonder, joy, maybe even love. Hope swelled in his chest that this could really-
But then the man shut down, a look of near-indifference in his eyes as he regarded the two of them.
He blinked, momentarily confused by Miles's expression, then realized what had happened.
Goddamn you, he thought savagely; can't you even rejoice in your own daughter's birth?
For just a moment, a brief moment, it had seemed as if Miles had finally let go of the past. In that second Julian's heart had soared. But now - now the joy of his daughter's birth had been tarnished by the realization that her other father had just been putting on an act.
Perreira suddenly spoke up. "Chief, would you like to hold her?"
"Well..." Miles held up his hands. "I've just been workin' with chemicals, and to be honest I'm afraid I'd drop her. She's so tiny, and..."
Julian cut in, fury slicing through his heart as he fought to keep his voice level. "Could the three of us have some time alone?" he asked. Working with chemicals...as if nobody would see through that.
Girani nodded. "ICU, everyone?" she suggested.
Miles watched them go, then turned back to Julian. "I had this great idea about the sim when I-"
He glared up at Miles in pure rage, his piercing stare so icy and so intense that Miles actually backed up two steps. "Get out," he growled.
"All right..." Miles stepped back again. "Why don't I, uh, go get Molly from daycare?"
"Why don't you do that." His voice was flat, hard.
He turned back to his daughter as Miles left and began to murmur soft words to her, words of love and encouragement. If she was only going to have one parent, one real, loving, caring parent, he would make sure he was the best damned father a girl could have.
And Miles Edward O'Brien could go straight to hell.
He rubbed his forehead. "Computer, replay message from beginning. Sound level low."
His father's face reappeared on the screen, his mouth twisted into a sneer. "Your mother's just received a card from Palis," he said. "You remember her. The ballerina? The woman you were supposed to marry? The card said, 'Congratulations on your new granddaughter.' I couldn't believe my eyes when your mother showed it to me, so I rang Palis up. Oh yes, Jules, we know all about it now. How you let that man use you as if you were a - a girl - and for the second time! You thoughtless little bastard! Do you know how angry and upset your mother is?"
At what, Julian silently asked the image on the screen: the fact that you disowned me four years ago, or the fact that you apparently deleted my subspace message unseen?
"And now," Richard was saying, "I have to look at myself in the mirror every morning and tell myself that my son, who could have married any woman he wanted and who could have had the entire world at his feet, has chosen to shack up with a man fifteen years his senior-"
"Thirteen," Julian corrected out loud.
"-on a space station out in the middle of nowhere doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with his life, and now he's pushing out babies like some goddamned bint! If you had any idea how disappointed I am in you, boy - all the time I spent with you trying to make you realize what it meant to be a man, all that money, all that work, and you threw it away! I should travel out there and straighten you out, that's what I should-"
Fiona suddenly began to cry.
"Computer, pause." He sighed, pushing aside his anger, and went into her bedroom. "What's wrong, doodlebug?" he asked as he quickly checked her sodden diaper. "You're wet? Well, we can't have that! Let's get you all nice and dry and then we'll have a snack."
After changing her, he replicated a bottle of neonate human milk and sat down with her in the big rocking chair beside her crib, holding her gently as she began to nurse. How could anyone disown their own child, he wondered as their eyes met. How could someone turn away the child they had borne, raised, and loved?
He snorted: and his father called himself a man. A man doesn't walk away from his children, he told himself, or push them away because of the choices they make. A man doesn't call his own son a 'thoughtless little bastard', especially not for living his life the way he thinks best. And the way he had said 'girl', as if it were an insult...
I'll never do that to you, he promised Fiona as she smiled up into his face: never. Although I might fall asleep on you...
Before he knew it she had finished. "You must have been hungry, hm?" he said. "I bet you'd like-"
The front door suddenly chimed.
"Let's go see who that is." He threw a towel over his shoulder and carried her into the main room, propping her up on his shoulder and patting her back gently to burp her. "Who is it?" he called out, stifling a yawn.
Dax stuck her head through the doorway. "I know it's late, but do you feel up to a visitor?"
"Jadzia! Of course - come in!" He gestured towards the sofa and stepped back. "So how have you been? How's everything going with-"
Suddenly Fiona spit up an enormous gob of milk all over the towel.
"Better than they are with you," she quipped.
"I'll be back in a moment," he called over his shoulder as he went off to clean up. "So when does the Defiant get back?"
"Some time tonight," she said from the front room. "I got tired of waiting around in Ops and wanted to see if you were-"
"What, going stir crazy?" He returned to the living room only to find her frowning at the terminal.
"What's he done this time?" she asked, her eyes on Richard's angry face.
"Computer, end playback." The screen went dark. "An old friend of mine sent a congratulations card to my mother," he told Dax. "Father found out and decided I needed a tongue-lashing." He took Fiona over to the sofa, cradling her in his arms as she happily burbled up at him.
Jadzia took a seat opposite him. "A tongue-lashing? About what?"
"The baby. Or, more specifically, Mother finding out about the baby." Julian began to rock Fiona. "How does a man get to the point where he'll sacrifice his and his wife's relationship with their only grandchildren over something that should make him happy?"
"I don't know," she said. "If I had an answer for that, I'd be a counsellor."
He smiled as the thought crossed his mind that Jadzia would make an excellent counsellor.
"Do you know why he resents you so much?" She gave the terminal another quick glance. "Because that's what it sounds like."
"I haven't followed the path he set out for me," he said with a sigh. "I was supposed to take a position either on Earth or on a Galaxy-class starship. Something high-profile, I assume, so he could bask in the reflected glow. And I was supposed to marry a woman. Preferably someone young, accomplished, and photogenic. Although maybe he wouldn't have minded if I'd married the Federation President."
"The President's wife might not appreciate it," she said with a laugh.
He snorted softly. "My dad is so - it's just that," and he chose his words carefully, "ever since that first day I held Molly in my arms, I've been aware of how important it was for me to be a good father. But sometimes I feel so out of my depth that I'm terrified I'll turn into him, or worse."
She smiled sympathetically. "Let you in on a secret?"
"If you didn't feel out of your depth from time to time," she said, "that would be something to worry about. Every normal, loving parent feels that way sometimes, and because the two of you don't have a family support system on the station you probably feel even more-"
The front door suddenly slid open. "You won't believe-" Miles said as he rushed in, then stopped in the front hallway as he caught sight of Jadzia. "Oh. I didn't realize we had a guest. Hello, Commander."
"It's Jadzia after hours," she corrected him, "and how did the mission go?"
He shrugged as he leaned against the back of the love seat. "Routine. Had a hell of a time with one of the memory banks in the computer core, though. The self-diagnostic somehow got caught in an infinite loop and ended up taking out life support on Decks 5 and 6 with it. Then the cooling system for the power conduits on Deck 2 went haywire, and then-"
"Just fine, dear," Julian interrupted, a puckish smile on his face. "And you?"
Jadzia snickered as she rose to her feet. "If the Defiant is in," she said, "I'm sure Worf is looking for me, so I'll see the three of you later." She turned back to Julian. "And remember what I said."
Once they were alone, Miles frowned at him. "What was all that about?"
"My dad," he said, rocking Fiona slowly as she slumbered. "He commed me. Just a short note to let me know how disappointed he is in me and how badly I've failed to live up to his expectations."
"I'm sorry." Miles looked down at the baby. "I had no idea your da was like that. Then again, you never talked about him."
"Can you blame me?"
"Guess not. You know, she really is a cute little thing."
Julian chuckled. "She looks like you."
"You think?" Miles asked, giving him a puzzled look.
"She has your eyes. They're even beginning to turn green like yours." He looked down at her again. "I should put her back to bed," he said. "She's sound asleep."
"Let me do that; you look all in." Miles took Fiona from him and carried her off to her room.
Julian grinned as Miles gingerly carried the infant down the hallway. The man had been walking on eggshells ever since Julian had exploded at him after her birth. He'd finally stopped going on and on about the simulations he was running in the holosuites, and (thank the deities) he hadn't asked Julian to "check his calculations" - in other words, spend two or three hours going through tables of figures - for the past two weeks either. It was a good thing, too, for if he had tried to get Julian to do anything he'd likely have ended up flat on his arse with a broken nose.
He propped up his sore feet on the coffee table. "Did I ever tell you," he said to Miles after he returned to the main room, "about the holo I found, back when we were in the past? After we stopped the rape, but before we made the second change?"
Miles gave him a puzzled look as he took a seat on the sofa beside him. "No, you didn't."
He crossed his arms. "When Kira said we had a daughter," he said, "I was stunned, and not just for the reasons you were. They had told me I couldn't father a child, not safely, and I kept wondering if she was normal or if..." His voice trailed off.
"You mean because of what your parents did to you?"
He nodded. "I think I mentioned to you what the geneticists had said, that if I fathered a child he'd likely have the same disabilities I had, but..." He shrugged. "After I finished going through the crew records I asked Odo about her. He said she was normal - above average for her age, actually - and he showed me a holo of the three of us. She looked a lot like you, and a lot like Fiona."
"Why didn't you say something?" Miles said hollowly.
"I thought you'd be too upset. And to be honest, after we ended up in this timeline - with what we learned, and finding out about this Molly and the in vitro process - I just forgot."
Miles looked down, unable for some reason to meet his eyes. After a long pause he said, "Julian, be honest. You don't want to go back, do you?"
Julian didn't want to cause him pain, but he knew that Miles deserved the truth. And perhaps if he realized how close Julian had become to the girls he'd understand why he had been so angry the day Fiona had been born. "I realize that we have to go back if it ever becomes possible," he finally said. "We damaged the timeline and it's our duty to repair it. I understand that, I accept that, but," and he sighed, "you're right. I want to stay here. For the first time in my life, I'm happy. I've always wanted a family - although I didn't quite anticipate having one in this exact manner-"
Miles gave him a wry grin that didn't quite make it to his eyes.
"-but it simply never occurred to me that it could be possible. I think that's why I always gravitated to people who either didn't want children, couldn't have them, or didn't particularly want me. If I had known it was safe..." He shook his head. "I know you don't see the girls as real. I know-"
"It's not that," Miles interrupted.
Julian looked up, confused. "What do you mean?"
Miles's face was unreadable, his eyes slitted as he looked down at his fidgeting hands. "You're right, it'd be a hell of a lot easier if I didn't think they were real, but..."
"You're-" Julian sputtered.
"I keep tryin' to fight it," Miles cut in. "'Keep your eyes on the task at hand', I tell myself, and I try so hard to ignore all this, or push it to the back of my mind." He gestured to the walls around them. "But I can't do it." His voice was no more than a whisper. "I look at the two of 'em and my heart melts."
Julian was shocked. He had assumed- "I didn't realize," he got out. "I - I thought you were faking everything."
Miles glanced at him, just for a second, then his gaze returned to his hands. "At the start I was. Hell, I thought we'd be back in a few weeks. Couldn't figure out why you were so damn worried about keepin' the baby since - like you said - to me she wasn't real. But for the last couple of months I've, um, had problems dealin' with it all. Part of me's bein' tugged one way and the rest's gettin' pulled in the opposite direction. I've been trying to cover it-"
"Which is why I got so angry at you at Fiona's birth."
"I know," he said with a deep sigh. "I - it was an idiotic thing for me to say." He sighed. "Do you think we'll remember this year if we go back and change things?"
The switch in topic surprised him. "No," he replied, "I don't think we will. I actually researched the matter after we ended up here. The neurotemporal scientists think that either our current neural patterns will die and the old ones will continue, or the patterns will just revert instantly to the point of divergence and we'll be left with no memory of anything that's happened. So we either won't remember or we'll simply cease to exist, and the Miles and Julian who lived before will continue to live, albeit as different individuals."
"Hm." Miles appeared lost in thought, his mouth a thin line.
Julian suddenly stifled a yawn. "Listen," he said, hauling himself to his feet, "It's too damned late for neurophilosophy, and I'm about ready to drop. I'm going to try to get some sleep before Fiona wakes up for her 0200 feeding. You coming?"
"Nah. I've got some things to go over first."
"See you tomorrow then." He dragged himself into the bedroom and dropped onto the bed, hoping he could get a few minutes' rest before...
A sudden motion of the bed startled him awake. He sat up and checked the chrono. 0445. Oh, God: had he slept through-
A hand on his arm stopped him from leaping out of bed. "It's okay," Miles said from beside him. "She's fine. I thought you needed the rest, so I took care of a couple of feedings."
He peered over at Miles in the dim starlight that lit their bedroom. "Thanks. You're right, I was exhausted."
But Miles didn't let go of his arm. "Julian, I, um..."
"What is it?"
Miles rolled over on his side. "What you said, about us forgetting everything? You're absolutely sure?"
"Not absolutely. As I said, we could just cease to exist, but the experts think our neural patterns would most likely return to the point of divergence and we wouldn't remember a thing."
"Damn. I - I'd hoped..." He swallowed convulsively. "Julian - there's something I have to tell you. The, um, feelings I mentioned, you know, when we were talking earlier..."
"Julian..." Miles let go of his arm and brought his hand up to lightly caress his cheek. "I don't just have them for the girls."
"You-" Julian stared at him open-mouthed, twisting around to face him. He couldn't mean... "But you..."
"I didn't mean to fall in love with you," he said. "I suppose it just snuck up on me. And I know you probably think I'm full of shit. I've been a right bastard to you for the past ten months, and I can understand if-"
Julian suddenly reached over and hushed him, pressing a finger to Miles's lips. Miles's eyes widened but he said nothing.
"It's true that from time to time I've felt like spacing you in your underwear," Julian said, "but Miles..." He leaned towards him, letting his finger trail down Miles's chin before tilting his head to place a tender kiss on his lips. He didn't want to scare the man-
And he suddenly found himself flat on his back, a strong hand cupping his head as Miles plundered his mouth. It was more than just a simple passionate kiss; it was almost desperate in its intensity, as if Miles were funnelling every emotion he had struggled with in the last year into this one kiss. They finally broke apart. Julian groaned, trying to catch his breath as he stared up into green eyes bright with passion, even obsession - but for once those emotions were directed towards him alone, and he welcomed them.
He opened his mouth to speak but Miles descended on him again, kissing him with wild, insane need. Their tongues danced as he moved to cover Julian, bringing their hard lengths together. "I want you," he gasped between kisses, "so badly. For so long. Please." The last word was almost a prayer.
"Yes," was all Julian could get out. Yes, he wanted this. Yes, he needed this. Yes, this was so right.
Miles suddenly pulled away; Julian felt himself being undressed in the dark. Miles pulled down the trousers Julian hadn't bothered to change out of, his hands brushing over Julian's erection as he shoved his boxers down as well and tossed both to the floor. He then pulled him up, tugging his thin T-shirt over his head, and began to make love to him.
He moaned as Miles licked at his throat, teased his nipples, kissed his flat belly, ran his tongue down the thin line of hair that trailed down his abdomen. It had been so long since he had been with someone - so long since he'd been able to respond...
And he was almost undone by the first touch of those hot lips against his throbbing cock.
"Miles, I can't-" he moaned, barely able to think...he was so close...
"Just let yourself go, darlin'. It's been too long." And Miles bent over his cock again, taking it in his hot, wet mouth, teasing the opening with his tongue, sucking softly as his lips moved down the shaft.
Julian couldn't hold back, crying out incoherently as he came hard, spilling his seed into Miles's mouth as he thrust up to meet him.
Afterwards he lay there, taking in great lungfuls of air, his mind barely able to process what had just happened. "Miles," he said weakly, "my God, I'm-"
But Miles shushed him as he slid up his body and kissed him, and how sweet it was to taste himself on Miles's lips.
"Do you want me to-" he tried again, but Miles covered his mouth with his own to silence him.
"I want to be inside of you," he whispered against his lips. "Please, Julian. I have to feel you, please."
Julian shivered, a shiver of pure need that emerged unbidden from somewhere deep inside of him. No, he thought: this was not a time for gentle coupling. He rolled over, capturing Miles beneath him as he bit his neck, marking him. "You want me," he snarled as Miles's shoulders slammed into the mattress, "then you take me."
Miles glared at him, then gave him a near-feral grin. "If that's how you want it..." He rolled Julian over onto his back again. "I've waited far too long for this," he growled as he placed himself between Julian's thighs, blindly groping for a tube of skin cream Julian had left on the bedside table yesterday.
"Here," Julian gasped, reaching over and grabbing it for him before Miles could tip over the bedside lamp.
He said nothing as he took the tube and squeezed gobs of thick cream onto his rough fingers. Julian watched him slather the cream on his cock, making sure he was well-lubricated, before he reached for Julian's tight opening.
A slick finger entered him; he hissed in pain as his tight opening resisted the invader. It had been so long since-
Miles froze. "Are you..." he asked, worry in his eyes. "Should I-"
But Julian shook his head. "More," he begged. "Please, I need-" And he groaned again, this time in pleasure, as another finger joined the first and began to open him up. "So good..." he murmured under his breath, encouraging Miles to continue. "...So good...don't stop...more..."
"You're so tight," Miles whispered as his fingers worked. "Are you sure-"
"Goddammit, O'Brien," he growled, "would you just get on with it and fuck me?!"
Miles needed no more encouragement. The fingers retreated only to be replaced; as Miles slowly eased himself inside, Julian forced himself to ignore the burn he felt as he stretched to accommodate his lover's thick, rock-hard shaft. Miles suddenly groaned, a low and heady sound that made Julian's erection stir to life once again.
"So tight..." Miles moaned as he slid in the final inch and his cock rubbed against Julian's prostate, "so damn tight, so good, oh baby, oh Julian..."
"Don't stop," he panted. "Fuck me, Miles, oh God please fuck me..."
Miles, his eyes locked onto Julian's, grabbed his hips tightly and began to thrust. He drove himself into Julian, pounding into him hard; Julian lifted his hips and met his lover stroke for stroke. Soon he felt the pressure building; he arched his back, moaning in ecstasy as orgasm swept through him. Miles shuddered and cried out incoherently as he joined him with one last powerful thrust.
Their shudders stilled; Miles rolled off him as the heat of their bodies dissipated and their breathing returned to normal.
After a moment he felt Miles rubbing his chest with his discarded T- shirt, cleaning him off as he buried his face in Julian's hair. "I didn't know," he whispered into Julian's ear as he tossed the shirt over the side of the bed and wrapped his arms around him. "I never thought-"
"What?" he asked.
"That fucking you could be so damned good."
He smiled against Miles's chest. Everything would be all right, he thought as he drifted off; he knew it.
He awoke twenty minutes later to find himself alone in bed. What a night, he thought, staring at the ceiling in wonder and amazement. He had been hoping for months that Miles would break free from his obsession and choose to live in the present. He had been so passionate, so - well, almost desperate in his lovemaking. Julian only wished he could figure out why the man had been asking about whether they'd remember-
And he sat bolt upright in bed as the truth suddenly hit him.
"MILES!" he cried frantically as he jumped out of bed, quickly pulling on his trousers and grabbing a shirt from the closet before rushing into the main room. "NO! Don't-"
But he was still in the front room, an old-style uniform tunic in one hand as he packed his carryall. His head snapped up as Julian entered the room.
He glared at Miles. "Why didn't you tell me?" he demanded, keeping his voice low so as not to wake the girls. "Dammit, man, what the hell is this?!"
Miles dropped the tunic into the bag and zipped it shut. "I figured it out," he said, his face an unreadable mask.
"You - but I thought you'd given up! You said-"
Miles interrupted him, his voice and his eyes suddenly so wracked with pain that Julian found himself unable to interrupt. "Last week I finally got the numbers to crunch," he said. "I still had to figure out how to fine-tune the arrival time, but...when I was workin' on the Defiant's computer core yesterday the answer suddenly came to me."
"But why didn't you tell me?" he cried, grabbing his shoulders. "I - we - Miles, we just-"
The words came out in a tumble. "I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to know."
Julian's mouth dropped open. "You didn't - was what you said me last night a lie? About loving me? Was it just some kind of game you-"
"Julian," he said, raising a hand, "I didn't say anything I didn't mean. If we were going to die, I wanted to show you how I felt before it was too late. It's just..." He dropped his gaze to the floor between them. "Plainly put, I was hopin' you'd sleep through it. If you didn't know beforehand, either you'd revert to the Julian you were, and no harm done, or you'd wake up in Heaven with the girls."
Julian stared at him, then dropped onto the sofa, his anger suddenly replaced by ice-cold fear. "Oh God, the girls."
"And that's another reason I didn't intend on tellin' you," Miles said. "I didn't think it was fair to make you choose to leave 'em behind."
"You're right," he said hollowly. "I couldn't make that decision." He looked up at Miles. "But you should have told me. If I hadn't woken up, they would have been alone, when..."
Miles had the decency to look ashamed. "Didn't think of that."
They remained in silence, Julian on the sofa, Miles standing across from him, his bag slung across his shoulder. "I know you have to do this," Julian finally said. "As I said last night, we damaged the timeline and it's our duty to repair it. That doesn't mean I have to like it."
Julian rose to his feet. "Give me fifteen minutes before you-" and he ran a hand over his eyes. "That'll give me the chance to get the girls in here so I'll be holding them when it happens."
"I'm glad you'll be here for them."
Their eyes met. "If I don't see you in the next world..." Julian began.
Miles cupped Julian's chin in one hand and kissed him, gently, then turned and left without looking back.
Julian watched him leave. Part of him wanted to run after him, to stop him, to get on his knees and beg him, plead with him to reconsider. But no: what Miles was doing was necessary, and he had to let him do it. "Necessary," he muttered, biting back a bitter laugh. Necessary for Molly and Fiona to die? Necessary for his life to be shattered?
He pushed that angry thought aside and went to get his girls.
Molly peered up at him for a moment through drowsy eyes as he scooped her up and carried her into the living room. He placed her gently on the sofa, then went to get Fiona.
"What're you doing?" Molly asked him as he returned to the living room with the baby.
"I thought we'd have a little cuddle on the sofa this morning," he said as he took a seat beside her.
She looked up at him. "Silly Papa."
He smiled at her despite the grief that was threatening to overwhelm him. "C'mere," he said, holding out an arm; she snuggled in next to him and was almost immediately asleep.
As he looked down on his girls, he prayed that he'd die with them. He couldn't imagine living in a world where they didn't exist.
"Release docking clamps."
The ship eased away from the station; Miles steered it towards the initiation point and loaded the co-ordinates into the navigational computer. It was essential that he begin the procedure at exactly the right location...
A reflection in the console made him look up. It was Bajor above him, verdant, full of life.
As the ship passed under the dappled planet, he thought of the billions of men, women and children who lived there.
He thought of Iliana's words: "Better his death than Cardassia's or even Bajor's. What is even the best man compared to three billion?"
He thought of Julian's words: "I want to stay here. For the first time in my life, I'm happy."
He thought of Molly, this Molly, holding up her arms to him that morning and kissing him, telling him she loved him.
He thought of the baby, her smell, her eyes as she looked up at him.
He thought of Julian, of the anguish on his face as Miles left.
And as he looked up again at the green skies of Bajor, he thought of Keiko, and wondered if she would want him to sacrifice an entire planet, or more, for her and the children.
If he succeeded, it was likely that the Founders would destroy Bajor and Deep Space Nine. Since he likely wouldn't remember this timeline he wouldn't be able to stop them. And his wife and children would likely die, along with billions of others.
He got up and began to pace, then stopped and slammed his fist into a bulkhead.
Julian checked the chronometer; ninety minutes had gone by since Miles had left them. Surely he should have made the change by now, he thought, as Fiona slumbered in his arms and Molly dozed beside him.
Just then the front door slid open; Julian looked over his shoulder and found Miles standing in the doorway, staring at the bag in his hand, a tortured look on his face. "I, um...looks like we'll be staying here for a while," he said.
He sprang to his feet. "You-"
"Let's get them back to bed first," Miles said, cutting him off before he could wake the girls. "We'll talk afterwards."
He nodded as he carried Fiona to her room. As soon as the door closed behind him, though, he slumped against the wall, holding the baby tight as he tried to stop the trembling that threatened to pull him apart. Thank God, he thought: his girls were safe.
Until that moment he hadn't realized how mind-numbingly furious he had been at the Universe, the Prophets, Miles, and even himself. Fate had given him these precious girls, but fate had almost ripped them from his arms; worst of all, he might have never known they had existed. But they were safe. They were safe, he repeated to himself, as he placed Fiona in her crib and gently ruffled her short red hair.
He emerged from the bedroom to find that Miles had already returned Molly to her room. "So what went wrong?" he asked as he took a seat beside him.
"I did." His voice was low.
He frowned at him. "What do you mean you did? Did you make a mistake in the calculations or-"
"I, um, made a mistake in thinking that Keiko would want me to do this." He shrugged. "Or that it was the right thing to do."
"What?" Julian's jaw dropped. "Miles," he said, "we changed the timeline. Whether we like it or not, it's our responsibility to change it back!"
His voice was low. "We did change the timeline, you're right, but... when I was up there, on the way to the initiation point, I got to thinkin'. The way things turned out, with the Founders gone and the Dominion fallin' apart, I have to ask myself if we were meant to do it."
"Meant to - Miles..."
"One of the things I've never been able to figure out," he continued, "is why the Prophets let that Darvin idiot go back in time. I mean, they could have just said no, right? They said no to Sisko when he wanted to use the Orb back after the first change."
"Perhaps the Prophets only let Darvin return in time because we were there to prevent him from killing Kirk," Julian suggested.
"But if they did, wouldn't it have been easier to let nobody go back?" He blew out a breath. "I keep wonderin' if the Prophets sent Darvin and us there deliberately so that you and I could make the changes we did."
He stared at him. What was he- "But how can that-"
But Miles held up a hand. "Just hear me out. This ambassador being born instead of Keiko and then gettin' posted to Cardassia, that's what brought Garak and Iliana together, right?"
"And because they were together," Miles continued, "Garak had access to his father-in-law's property, including that spaceship he used to take out the Founder homeworld. Now think about it: if the Prophets knew that the Founders were plannin' to send the Bajoran sun into nova - which would kill them as well, I remind you-"
He tried to interrupt again. "I know that, but you can't-"
"-they'd want to do something to stop them. And having Garak destroy the Founders' homeworld did that. It eliminated the threat."
"Are you saying," Julian said, shocked to his core, "that the Prophets used you, me, Darvin, and Garak to protect Bajor?" He shook his head. "That's the wildest conjecture I've ever heard. We don't even know if the Founders would have succeeded."
"But the Prophets might know, and - okay," he said, "maybe it is wild. But - I was out there, over Bajor, getting ready to make the jump, and I kept looking up at the planet. And I kept thinking about all the people who lived there, and I suddenly asked myself whether Keiko'd appreciate me putting an entire planet in danger simply to save her and the kids. And then I thought about what Iliana had said that day, that even though she loved Garak she still didn't think his life was worth riskin' a planet for."
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few," Julian murmured, conceding the point.
Miles took Julian's hand. "If I had known of a way to go back right after the change, I would've done it in an instant. I was so bloody angry at how things turned out that I would've destroyed the galaxy - hell, the universe to get them back. But now that I've had time to think about it...I don't think she'd want me to sacrifice a planet, or even risk it, for her and the kids. And to be honest, those two back there," and he nodded toward the girls' rooms, "I don't know if I could sacrifice them either. Or you."
Julian searched his face. "I know you've thought this through," he said, "and to be honest I'm relieved you didn't do it, but - I'm still not convinced you've made the right choice."
Miles snorted a laugh. "Yeah, well, that's the problem, isn't it? There is no 'right choice'. Every choice is just a different variety of wrong, and from what I can see this is the least wrong choice I could make. If we went back, we wouldn't remember what had happened here and we couldn't stop the Founders from carryin' out their plan. Keiko and the kids would have died anyway."
"But they would have lived first."
"I know. I know, I just-" and tears suddenly formed in his eyes. "I'll never..."
"I've got you." He wrapped his arms around Miles, rocking him as he cried, letting his own tears - of mourning for Keiko and her daughter, of relief that his own children would live - fall down his cheeks. "That's right, love. Let it out."
"What's wrong, Dada?"
They both looked up to find Molly standing in front of them. "Dada's heard-" he began, but Miles sat up and shook his head as he turned to the girl.
"I've just heard something sad, sweetie." He picked her up and pulled her into his lap. "Do you remember," he said to her, "when Papa told you about the people I knew who went far, far away and made me so sad?"
"Papa didn't tell you then, but there was a lady and a little girl, and they lived in a very special place..."
Julian quietly stood and headed for Fiona's room. After checking on the baby, who was thankfully still sound asleep, he removed the painting of Keiko and Molly he'd commissioned and brought it back into the living room.
As he entered the room, he heard Molly asking, "Is Keiko a nice lady?"
"She was," Miles replied. "She'd have liked you very much."
Julian retook his seat beside Miles and showed Molly the painting. "This," he said, pointing at one face, "was Keiko."
The girl smiled at the picture. "She's pretty."
"Yes, she was," Julian said. "And the other girl, this one down here," and he pointed at the painting of Molly, "had the same name as you do."
"That's right," Miles said, his voice close to the breaking point. "She was Molly too."
She stared up at him. "Where are they?"
The adults' eyes met. Julian looked down at his daughter and said, "Honey, they had to go to heaven. They didn't want to, and Dada and I tried so hard to save them, but we couldn't. That's why we're so sad."
Molly suddenly wrapped her arms around Miles's neck and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sorry," she said.
Julian could see that Miles was struggling, trying so hard not to break down again. "Molly," he said, "why don't I help you get dressed?"
"No," Miles cut in, his voice stronger than Julian would have expected. "I'll take her." He stood and carried her off to her room, asking her on the way what she wanted to wear that morning.
Hope bubbled up in Julian's heart as he watched them leave. It was the first time Miles had helped her dress; the first time he'd done anything for her spontaneously. He hoped Miles had found it in his heart to finally accept them, and him, as his family.
Fiona was wide awake, her eyes wide and focussed on Julian as he carried the portrait back into her room. He propped the painting up against the wall and picked her up. "Good morning," he said to her, smiling down at her as he carried her over to the room replicator. "I bet you're hungry." He ordered a bottle of milk and sat with her in the rocking chair. As she took the bottle, he thought again of how close he had come to losing her and Molly.
A shadow crossed his face; he looked up to find Miles standing in the doorway. "What are you going to do with all those calculations you made?" he asked him. "Are you going to save them, or submit them somewhere, or-"
"I destroyed 'em," Miles said, his mouth a thin line. "I erased everything before I came home."
"All your work?" he asked, shocked. "Miles, that was almost three months' worth-"
"It's-" and he sighed. "I don't want the temptation again. If this is the best possible choice, so be it."
Just then Molly ducked into the room from behind Miles's legs, stretching up on tiptoe to take a peek at Fiona. "My baby," she said as she craned her neck to see the nursing infant.
Miles chuckled - an honest laugh, Julian realized - as he knelt down beside her. "Bunny," he said, using Julian's nickname for her, "Fiona is Dada and Papa's baby. See? Dada has green eyes," he said, pointing at himself, "and baby has green eyes. Papa has a little nose-"
"Not so little," Julian said defensively, dodging Miles's finger.
"-and baby has a little nose. You're her big sister."
She giggled. "My baby too!"
"All right, your baby too. Come on," Miles said, holding out his hand. "Let's make breakfast for you and me and Papa. Okay?"
"'kay!" She took his hand and skipped out of the room beside Miles.
Julian watched them leave, then kissed Fiona on the forehead as she continued to nurse. I'll do my very best to keep us all together, he thought to her.
He only hoped his best would be enough.