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The Flash of a Firefly


Note: This story is difficult to code, and you'll see why when you read it. Thank you JA Ingram for your betaing and your brilliant suggestions, including the title. Jen, you rock. Even if you made me write a het scene.



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

1

How the two of them could sleep through Britten was a mystery to him.

Miles O'Brien had always found the Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello depressingly sad, not something for the sweet dreams of the two dark heads dozing on the sofa in front of him. It was however a technically complex piece and one of his favourite works; after years of practicing the likes of Bach, T'Para, Debussy, and Chow, it was refreshing to play something that required the full scope of the cellist's talent. He liked to play the Canto Secondo a bit more sul ponticello than most, if only because he thought the notes called for more definition than was normally given them.

He passed over the Serenata (not his favourite, and probably a bit too pizzicato for the time of night) and began the Canto Terzo. About a minute in, though, he bowed just a bit too forcefully; the two on the sofa awoke with a start, blinking their eyes.

"I really liked that, Dad," Molly said as she sat up and stretched. "Can you play some more?"

"Not now," he said, checking the chrono; "it's your bedtime." He turned away from the pair and placed his cello carefully in its custom-designed humidity-controlled case -- his wife's first anniversary present to him. "Music hour is over."

"That's right," Keiko added. "Now go get changed and brush your teeth."

"But I want to say good night to Aunt Nerys," the girl said with a pout.

"She's on duty tonight," Miles told her. "She won't be in for hours. You can say hello to her tomorrow morning before the Defiant leaves, all right, honey?"

She sighed dramatically. "All right. Are you going too?"

"Yes, but we'll only be away for a few days. Good night, sweetie." He kissed the top of her head.

Miles tidied up their quarters while Keiko helped their daughter get ready for bed. Fifteen minutes later she finally tiptoed out of the girl's room and shut the door. "She's sound asleep. I haven't seen her that tired in weeks."

"Probably the day trip to Bajor the school set up with that writer," he said as he joined his wife on the sofa, grateful for some time alone with her. "What was that book he wrote again?"

"Moxie the Crimefighting Parrot," she said with a chuckle. "She couldn't get enough of that one when she was three; I'm surprised they'd bring him in for the second-graders." Keiko wrapped her arms around him. "You really did play beautifully tonight."

"How would you know? You slept through it."

"I was just resting my eyes."

He burst into laughter and leaned back, resting his head on her shoulder. "You know, your snoring is very regular. I used it as a metronome."

That got him a play-tap on the forearm. "Miles!"

"Restin' yer eyes..."

Keiko's voice was low. "I'm awake now."

He looked up and saw the glint in her eye. "Well..."

She smiled, pressing a finger to her lips, and led him into the bedroom.

She pushed his uniform jacket off his shoulders, pulling his turtleneck up over his head as the moved towards the bed. "I want you," she groaned into his throat as she pulled him close, running her hands over his ass and grinding herself into his eager cock.

Oh yes, she wanted this as much as he did.

He knew exactly how to please her. He knew exactly what she wanted from him, what she needed. He unzipped her dress, letting it fall in a puddle on the floor, and gently laid her down on the big bed. "Love you so much...want you so much..." he murmured into her ear before moving down and taking one of her delicate brown nipples into his mouth. So soft...so sweet...

"...Miles..."

No ethereal aesthete was Miles O'Brien; he was a working man, a soldier, and his rough, calloused hands had taken lives on many occasions. But they also had the ability to bring pleasure and joy to the woman he loved. As he reached down and ran his fingers over just the right place, using that circular motion that drove her mad, he felt her hands clutch at his hair, imploring him, begging him wordlessly.

He bent down lower, using his tongue and lips, eagerly giving her the sensations he knew she craved. Sometimes it still amazed him that she let him. She was so beautiful, so strong, so passionate. He had been with a dozen lovers, men and women, Humans and otherwise, but this woman had been the first to show him the difference between having sex and making love.

She suddenly arched her back and gave a strangled cry of pleasure. She was trembling, panting and moaning as her hands clawed at his shoulders. "Miles...." she gasped, "...please..."

She was the most beautiful woman in the galaxy, and she burned for him.

He moved up, entered her wet depths, felt her grip him, move with him, breath for breath, thrust for thrust. When they were both spent he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, her head on his shoulder as her shudders dissipated and she relaxed into an easy slumber. "Love you," she mumbled as she dropped off.

Founders, pah-wraiths, Cardassians: let them come, he thought. He'd defend her to the death.


It had actually turned out to be a fun mission, Miles reflected. Arne Darvin (or the Klingon who carried that name) had used the Orb of Time in an attempt to kill James Kirk during a visit the Enterprise had made to Deep Space K-7. O'Brien had thoroughly enjoyed the walk back in time. Who knew that Klingons didn't have wrinkled brows in 2268? Best of all, he had met the legendary James Tiberius Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise - although perhaps not in the best possible way.

"Getting dressed down by Captain Kirk for a barfight," Bashir said as they exited the turbolift. "What a black mark on our service records that's going to be."

O'Brien returned his grin. "Can you believe it? Something to tell the kids when they get older."

Julian smirked. "If I exist," he said.

He rolled his eyes. "Your own great-grandfather. That was the biggest, most steaming pile of-"

"Miles, shut up," he laughed, as he gestured towards a darkened side corridor. "Let's call for beam-up from there. We should be less obvious from that viewpoint."

"Good idea," Miles said as they headed for the narrow space. O'Brien got there first, but suddenly stopped in his tracks.

About two metres down the dark corridor, a tall, imposing man was shoving a terrified young Asian woman into the wall, one hand over her mouth and a knife to her throat. "Do as I say or I'll kill you!" he growled.

"Hey!" O'Brien and Bashir both shouted, but the attacker had already seen them and had let go of the woman, running the other way down the corridor. The woman then pushed Miles aside and ran past them into the main corridor, screaming for help.

"What the - that BASTARD!" Miles shouted as he tried to run down the attacker. "I'll rip his GODDAMN BALLS right off his-"

"MILES!" Julian yelled at him as he ran after him down the corridor. "You can't-"

They reached an intersection. "Which way did he go?" Miles shouted at Julian. "Goddammit, man, get out your tricorder! If we can-"

"Miles!" Julian glared at him. "We have to go back to the ship!"

"But that fucking son-of-a-"

Julian rolled his eyes as he ripped the communicator from Miles's waist and opened it. "Bashir to Defiant. Two to beam out."

"Julian, for God's-"

And the transporter beam took them.

"-sake, we have to-" He glared at the doctor. "You - he's getting away!"

Julian rolled his eyes. "Miles, if we hadn't got away they'd have caught us instead of him and where would that leave the girl? It also wouldn't have taken them five minutes to realize we weren't on any crew roster and then we'd have been tossed in jail for impersonation at best. And when we got back here, Sisko would've nailed our balls to-"

A cough made them look towards the transporter controls. "Worf, um..." Miles stammered.

"Have Captain Sisko and Commander Dax returned yet?" Julian asked.

"No." Worf frowned at them. "What 'girl' would this be?"

Miles cut in. "Maybe we should speak with Captain Sisko about this before we say anything more," he said, turning to Bashir. "He might need to know this for his report, but..." He gave Worf an apologetic look.

"Understood," the Klingon said with a polite nod, looking down as he received another hail.

They entered the corridor to the crew area. "Maybe we should change before they get back," he said to Julian in an attempt to change the subject. His heart was still pounding but there was nothing they could do now. "I'm in need of a shower, and it'll give you a chance to remove that dead stoat from your head."

"I think I look quite dignified. The style's rather - sleek." He admired his hair in the reflection from the door to his quarters.

"Sleek like a polecat," he replied. "Listen, if Sisko doesn't comm us, I'll meet you in the mess hall in-"

And Julian smacked into his door face-first.

He stepped back, rubbing his cheek where it had hit the doorjamb. "What the - Computer, open door."

Unable to comply.

"Why the hell not?" Miles asked.

Crew quarters are only accessible by assigned crewmembers with the exceptions of senior staff using appropriate override codes.

"Bloody..." Miles grumbled. Sounded like another repair job...damn thing would probably take him the better part of a week. "Who are these quarters assigned to?"

Lieutenant Enrico D'Abruzzo.

"Goddammit." This time it was Julian who swore under his breath. "I've had these rooms for two years. Computer," he said aloud, "where are my quarters?"

Deck 4, Section 11.

They both stared up at the speaker. "Why would they move me?" Julian said, his hands outstretched, apparently beseeching the ceiling for an answer.

"God knows." Miles cocked his head. "Come on; that's in my section. Who's D'Abruzzo anyway?"

"I think he's the new navigator," Julian replied as he followed Miles down the corridor. "I saw his name on the incoming medical list last week. He's got a wife and three children, if I remember correctly."

Miles shrugged. "Wouldn't know him then. Any of the kids Molly's age?" They entered the turbolift.

"Don't remember."

They reached Deck 4 and headed to Miles's quarters. "What number did it say again?" Julian asked.

"Didn't," Miles said. "Computer, which specific quarters are assigned to Dr. Bashir?"

Room 4-11-5.

They both glared at the ceiling again. "Those are your quarters," Julian grumbled. "What the hell are they playing, musical senior staff? Computer, locate the quarters of Chief Miles O'Brien."

Room 4-11-5.

"Whose nit-brained idea was that?" Miles muttered disbelievingly as their eyes met.

"I'm blaming the computer. It's probably infested with tribbles." Julian stepped up to the door of 4-11-5 and it opened. "At least we can get into one room."

Miles gave him a mock frown. "Don't. That's a month of work you'd have Dax 'n' me on, and we'd probably have to end up gettin' Worf to call out the Klingons for another Great Tribble Hunt. Listen," he said over Julian's snicker, "go ahead and use my shower and replicate a new uniform for yourself. I'll check my messages and see what the hell's up."

"Thanks."

But the repair queue was empty, and after five minutes Miles was able to determine that no other crewmembers had reported any systems errors. He was about to check the accommodations log when Bashir returned to the main room, a towel about his waist and his hair thankfully back to normal. "So, what's the-" he started, when he stopped and frowned at the space behind Miles's desk chair. "My bag."

Miles swivelled around and looked down. "Hm. I checked, and there don't seem to be any problems outside of this. Maybe they ran out of rooms and someone on the bridge made an 'executive decision'."

"You'd think they'd send two ensigns to bunk together instead," Julian replied with a snort as he took the bag from Miles and unzipped it. "And I thought we were short-staffed on this mission. At least everything's here - uniform, comm badge..." He looked up at Miles. "You know, responsible positions such as CMO and Chief of Operations should carry perks, and one of those should be not being kicked around the ship like-"

"Sisko to O'Brien."

"O'Brien here," Miles replied to the incoming comm as Julian carried the bag to the sofa and began to dress.

"Commander Dax and I just got back. Mr. Worf said you needed to talk with me about a girl?"

"Aye, sir; about a couple of things, actually. Something happened when we were on the station, and Julian's been having some problems with the computer. He's here with me. I'm a bit worried tribbles or maybe even the Klingons have mucked somethin' up in the systems. The computer seems to think we're bunkmates."

"Very well," Sisko said as Dax stifled a snorted laugh in the background. "Fifteen minutes in the wardroom?"

Julian spoke up. "Aye, sir. Fifteen minutes. We'll be there."

"Thank you, Chief, Doctor. Sisko out."

"I'm glad we're keeping Jadzia entertained." Bashir was pulling on his uniform turtleneck. "More importantly, I hope the sickbay computers are still all right. I've got an experiment involving ketracel-white running."

Miles grabbed his own uniform (once he found his bag; it was on the other side of his bed, for some reason) and took off to the bathroom. "I'll just grab a quick sonic. This hair cream's pissin' me off."

A baritone voice rang out behind him. "But Miles, it makes you look so mod!"

"Shut up, ye daft..."

Julian just laughed.


Sisko frowned at the two of them from the other side of the wardroom table. "This is exactly the kind of thing Temporal Investigations will be concerned about," he said. "You yelled at this - attacker..."

"Rapist," Julian supplied. "Attempted, at least. And yes, we did yell at him - well, Miles, mainly - but he was running away even before we opened our mouths."

"Son-of-a-bitch took one look at us and was gone," Miles added. He was still furious beneath the surface. He thought of his wife and daughter, alone back on DS9. Rapist scums like that fucker should be retroactively aborted with extreme prejudice, he told himself.

Sisko's expression changed slightly. "I can see why you chose to beam out from the corridor, and it's probably just random - you're sure he would have left if you hadn't yelled?"

"Absolutely," Bashir said, while Miles studied Sisko. He suspected the Captain was more worried about covering their arses (or his own) than he was about that poor girl; he remembered Geordi LaForge mentioning to him once that TI had been a bitch and a half to Captain Picard after that fiasco with Data's head.

Sisko lowered his brows. "I'm hoping there was no permanent damage done to the timeline," he mused, looking over at Jadzia. "I doubt we even have to tell TI about it."

Dax turned to O'Brien. "You also said something about a computer glitch?"

"I'm not sure if the tribbles've got on board or somebody in operations just got creative with accommodations, but when Julian tried to get into his quarters it told him Lieutenant..." He looked over at his friend.

"D'Abruzzo. It said they were his quarters. And then they said Miles and I were sharing a room. Captain," he said, leaning forward, "moving around senior officers isn't just bad for morale; it's also not secure. I could have had a padd in there containing classified information, I could have had any number of experiments running..."

"No, I agree," the Captain said, nodding quickly. "I'll ask Kira what happened when she-"

The door opened; Worf and Kira walked in. "Captain, I-" Kira started.

But Miles jumped up, horrified. He barely noticed the other three standing with him. "Kira - Nerys - you're not-" But his voice deserted him. Why hadn't she commed him - how was he going to explain to - oh God, Keiko...her heart was going to break in two...

"What?" she said, glaring at the four of them. "What am I not?"

"Pregnant," he heard Julian say in a shocked tone. He also heard the whirr of the doctor's tricorder, but his own eyes were fixed on Kira's flat abdomen.

"Of course I'm not pregnant!" she said, incredulous. "Why would I-"

Julian's voice was distant. "And you never have been."

She put her hands on her hips. "Well, no, if that's anybody's business."

"My son..." Miles choked out as he bent over, grasping the chair back, and looked up into the Major's face. "Where the HELL is my SON!"

Kira glared at him indignantly. "Your-"

"My son, dammit! Keiko's and mine." He was starting to hyperventilate. "You're carrying him as a surrogate! WHAT HAPPENED?!"

Worf frowned. "Who is Keiko?"

He glared at the Klingon, shocked. "Keiko, man! Don't you bloody know-"

"Oh, no," Jadzia suddenly moaned as she dropped back into her chair and clapped a hand over her mouth.

"Miles," Kira said slowly, her face suddenly very sad, "you don't have a wife and a son; you have a husband and a daughter. And your husband," and with that she nodded to Julian, "he carried your daughter."

"Chief!" but that was the last thing he heard; the last thing he saw was the ring mark on Julian's left hand as the doctor tried to break his fall.


2

"Doctor, how is he?"

Bashir took his seat in the now-full wardroom and turned to the Captain. "He's had a bad knock on the head and he was out for a few minutes, but he'll be fine. Miles is just a bit uncomfortable..." He snorted to himself: Miles was actually trying to stop himself from ripping somebody's head off. His, he suspected. "He wanted a few minutes alone to compose himself," he finished.

"No wonder," Dax murmured. "We have to find out what we changed and change it back."

"If we can."

"Constable." Sisko raised his hand. "Doctor, for your information, I've given the rest of the senior staff a quick rundown of the relevant events. I'd like this to remain among us," he continued, looking around at his staff, "at least until we can figure out how this happened. Don't mention this to your staffs, keep this out of your logs, say nothing to anyone about-"

"Captain," Julian cut in, his stomach suddenly roiling at the realization, "I think I know what the change might have been. The attack."

"What attack?" Kira said, puzzled.

Sisko clarified. "While on the station, Chief O'Brien and Dr. Bashir accidentally barged into an attempted rape in a side corridor. The attacker ran away when he caught sight of them." He thought for a second. "It appears that those of us on the station at that exact moment, including Commander Dax and myself, have memories of Mrs. O'Brien, but the rest of you don't. That's correct?"

They all nodded in agreement.

"The victim was human and East or Central Asian, I think," Julian said, "and if I recall correctly so was the attacker. There might have been a direct connection; I don't know." He looked at Kira. "Keiko was from that part of Earth as well."

"So there may be a direct familial connection to this - Keiko," Worf said carefully.

"You mean that she might be descended from the rapist and the victim." Kira said, giving Worf a look.

"That's exactly what I mean," Julian said. "Her name was Keiko Ishikawa O'Brien." He gave Sisko a heartfelt look as he ran his thumb over the mark on his ring finger. He hadn't even noticed... "We have to fix this," he said to the captain. "We have to get them back."

"I think what we first have to do," Dax said, "is identify these two people you and Miles saw. The connection might not be what we think it is, and maybe we could fix things without - well, without causing any distress to the woman."

"Could you identify them if you saw them again, Doctor?" Sisko asked.

"Yes, sir. If it's any help, the woman was wearing a uniform similar to that of the station workers, but I think he was wearing what they used to call free trader motley. I can give you a full description."

Sisko was about to reply to him when the door slid open.

"Captain," Miles said as he took a seat at the far end of the table from Julian, his face as cold as a glacier and as hard as a granite outcropping.

"Chief, I want you to know we plan on doing everything we can to resolve this. Dax, what have you been able to find out? Is Keiko..." His voice trailed off.

"I'm searching through Starfleet records," she said, "but - Miles, when did Keiko graduate from the Academy?"

"The-" His voice broke, and he tried again. "She was in the first class of 2359." He kept his steely gaze on Sisko's face.

Julian thought it would be impossible to look at Miles but no, Kira was the one he couldn't face. Her and her traitorous, if innocent, empty womb.

"Her name doesn't show up," Dax said after a moment. "In fact, she's not coming up at all in Starfleet databases. I'll perform a wider sweep. What were her parents' names?"

"Dax," Sisko interrupted, "perhaps you and the Chief can work on that task in a moment. Constable, take Dr. Bashir to your office, use the identity kit software to create an image of the attacker. If the connection is what we think, Chief-"

"That we prevented some ancestor of Keiko's from bein' conceived by that monster forcin' himself on..." Miles pulled in his lips and looked away.

"-Kira, Worf and I will scour the station for the attacker once we have that image," Sisko finished. "We will find him."

"And if we do?" Kira said.

"Then we get a knife and cut his fucking balls off," Miles growled. "That's all we need, and he won't go around raping little girls any more."

Kira gasped; Dax made to say something, but Sisko caught her eye and gave her a quick shake of his head. "If it comes to that, Chief," he said carefully to O'Brien, "we'll do it, but we'll attempt other methods first. If we antagonize him and he harms the woman later on in revenge..."

Miles looked down, his gaze fixed on his hands as he held back the devil that was threatening to burst out. "You're right, you're right. I - I can't - if she's hurt she might not-"

"Exactly." Sisko's voice was restful, calming. "Which is why we also have to keep this under wraps. If anyone finds out about this, even Temporal Investigations, history could be changed again and something much worse could result. Odo, Doctor, let's get that identity kit image ready. After you do that, bring up the personnel records of the ships in dock and look through those. See if he's a crewmember."

"Before you go," Jadzia said, her eyes on the monitor, "I've just been going through the station personnel. Only three Human women of Asian descent work on K-7." She pressed a key; three faces appeared on the main wardroom viewscreen. "Do you recognize-"

"The middle one," Julian and Miles said almost in unison.

"I'm certain of it," Miles added. "Who is she?"

Dax brought up the relevant file. "Her name is...Jinko Hatayama." She looked up. "She's only 19."

Miles pressed a fist to his lips and visibly trembled. "Keiko's mother's maiden name was Hatayama," he eventually said. "I remember her saying that her grandfather's mother was a single parent. She died, killed herself, when the grandfather was only a kid. Her name was..." He thought for a moment. "God, it was Jinko; Keiko has an aunt named after 'er." His eyes squeezed shut again.

The room fell silent.

"The Chief and I will go through the historical records and try to figure out if anything else has changed," Dax said. "If it has, it might be a clue that the failed rape wasn't the direct cause of the temporal shift. Almost anything else would be easier to fix." She gave Miles an apologetic glance.

"I'd like a progress report from each of you at 0700 tomorrow," Sisko said, as he rose from his seat.

Julian turned back to Miles as he and Odo reached the door. "Chief," he said, deliberately using his title, "we will get her back. Don't doubt that."

Miles's face was a picture of despair and rage, but he gave him a short, abrupt nod.


"You're certain you aren't hungry or thirsty, Doctor?"

Julian almost smiled at Odo's attempts to be social. "Maybe just a glass of water. I don't know if I could eat a thing right now; this is..." He waved a hand. How could he explain? His best friend was dying on the inside and he had to do something. Cut the bastard's fucking balls off, like Miles had said; take a sample from him; do something. But find him first.

The constable interrupted his thoughts. "Doctor," he said, looking down at him, "one thing I've learned since becoming a solid is that going without nutrient is detrimental to both the thought processes and the ability to act quickly. Chief O'Brien needs you at your best. I understand from Mr. Garak that you enjoy Delvan fluff pastries?"

He nodded silently; Odo made the request to the replicator and set the plate down in front of him. "Now, Dr. O'Br- Dr. Bashir-" he started.

I took his name, Julian thought. I married my best friend.

"-please describe the attacker."

"He was Human," he began, accessing his eidetic memory as Odo entered the information into the system, "most likely of Central or East Asian descent; less likely possibilities include Sami and Western Hemisphere aboriginal, including Inuit. If I had to guess I'd say Central Asian, but I wouldn't bet latinum on it. No more than 25 years old. About 190 centimetres in height, weighing about 100 kilograms, very broad-shouldered and large-framed. Short, wavy black hair about 2 centimetres long, 3 centimetre long sideburns, dark brown eyes with prominent epicanthal folds. Single eyelids. High cheekbones. Round-faced with a strong jaw and prominent buccal fat pads, but otherwise not fat. Moustache, no beard. His nose was short and the bridge depressed..."

Twenty minutes later Odo sent the completed identity kit image off to the senior staff; four hours later, he and Odo had finished going through the crew rosters of all the Starfleet and friendly ships docked at K-7. "He was probably a privateer," Julian volunteered as he finished his raktajino. "He was wearing motley."

Odo raised an eyebrow. "Perhaps, but if he is I don't know if we can find him. I've accessed the security logs for the station; they haven't been able to find him either. The station's head of security seems to think the woman made the whole thing up." He shook his head, apparently in frustration at the foolishness of his counterpart.

Julian bit his lower lip. "Kira said there was a daughter," he blurted out.

"A dau-" Odo's brow knit, then he frowned. "Doctor...Julian...I don't think it's necessary for you to-"

But he needed to. "What's her name?" he asked, his gaze fixed on the desk.

He heard Odo sigh. "Her name is Molly. She's 18 months old."

Molly...just like Keiko's daughter. The real Molly, he reminded himself. "Is she normal?"

"Normal, doctor?"

He looked up into Odo's puzzled gaze. "I was always told - at least in my time stream, maybe here it's different - that it was dangerous for me to even try to father a biological child, but Kira said I carried her. I have to know. I've always wanted a family, and..."

Odo sighed. "She appears to be a child of average development compared to other Human children her age." He paused. "There is one thing."

He nodded sharply, knowing what he'd hear. Clumsiness. Vision problems. Learning disabilities. Inability to-

"She seems to be somewhat - advanced with respect to verbal skills compared to the other children. That's according to your nanny."

His jaw dropped. "She's - she's not disabled?" But they had said...his parents, the geneticists...

Odo half-smiled at him sympathetically, then turned to the monitor. "Computer, bring up a recent image of the O'Brien family." He swivelled the screen so Julian could see.

And there they were, a candid picture: the three of them smiling brightly, Julian's arm around Miles's shoulders, Miles holding a little girl who looked just like the Chief - right down to the square jaw, the underbite, and the twinkling green eyes. She had Julian's dark brown hair, though. "It looks like we were in a camping holoprogram," he murmured.

"Actually, Nerys took that on Bajor. The three of you went on a vacation with her and First Minister Shakaar four weeks ago." Odo's voice was cut glass. "Ever since then Shakaar's been giving Nerys that look."

He reached out and touched the screen. "I never thought it was possible."

"You were uneasy - unduly, I thought at the time - during the pregnancy. I hadn't realized your concern was warranted."

"I really carried her?" It was unimaginable to him.

"You did."

He yawned, suddenly realizing that it was well after midnight and that he had been up for almost 48 hours straight. "Odo," he began as he twisted the screen back, "I think I need to grab a couple of hours'-" A noise at the door made him turn in his seat.

Miles nodded at Julian. "Thought you'd both still be here. Wanted to let you know..." He ran a hand through his hair. "I checked out an Earth calendar, and it seems we were right. Keiko's grandfather will be born, or would be born I guess, about eight and a half months from now. Worf and Kira checked in; they can't find the attacker. Sisko's off with the Orb." He shrugged. "Maybe he can fix everything. Right now I'll take a miracle wherever I can get it."

The three shared a grim look.

"We haven't been able to find him either," Julian said. "He's not on any of the crew rosters. I'm sorry." He reached out and squeezed Miles's arm in empathy.

"We've gone through the history books," Miles continued, his face back to an emotionless slab, his gaze on Julian's face. "We can't see anything that's changed, other than Keiko not being here."

"That's horrible enough as it is," Julian said. "Listen, I was just about to grab a quick nap; I've been up for two days straight. I'll walk you to the turbolift." He turned to the constable. "Night, Odo."

"Good evening, gentlemen." He nodded at them, then returned to his terminal.

"He's probably going to spend the whole night on this," Miles muttered, nodding at Odo as they left his office and headed down the corridor. "You're right, you should get some rest; you look all in."

Julian greeted Ensign Yarrow with a curt smile as they passed her in the corridor, then turned to his friend. "Miles, I'm so sorry. If I had known we'd cause a problem in that corridor-"

Miles shook his head. "But you didn't. You couldn't have. And you were right. We couldn't have beamed out in the main corridor without attracting attention, and Sisko would've had our hides if we'd been caught." He looked back towards Odo's office. "Julian, I don't blame you. It's that goddamned-"

As they reached the turbolift, Miles pressed the Up button, Julian pressed the Down. "Where are you going?" Miles asked.

"To a spare room. D'Abruzzo has mine."

Miles glared at him. "For God's sake, the last thing I need is to be worryin' about you right now. Come on, sleep on the sofa, it's big enough."

"Miles, you don't need-"

"You're still my friend, and to be honest," he said with a shrug, "I really don't want to be alone. I don't know what I'd do."

He let out a sigh; Miles had a point. "All right."

"Hello, Chief, Doctor," Crewman Robertson said as they joined him in the turbolift. "Late night?"

"Yeah," Miles croaked out, his face to the wall, as Julian forced himself to stand closer to Miles than usual. He shrugged at Robertson and mouthed, "Bad shift," shaking his head once.

The crewman's eyebrows shot up and he nodded. "So how's the toilet-training going?" he asked Julian quietly.

"Well," he said, grasping for something to say, "you know how it is. Two steps forward..."

"And nine steps backward?"

"Well, she's still pretty young."

Robertson grinned as he stepped off the turbolift. "You should bring her around again. Henry has a bit of a crush on Molly." The door closed.

Miles's facade suddenly crumbled and he slumped against the wall of the lift. "Molly..."

"Computer, halt turbolift." He grabbed Miles and drew him into his arms. If there was anything a man had the right to cry and scream about, it was the loss of a child, and Miles had just lost two.

"...my baby, my little girl, my babies..."

"I know," he said soothingly. "I know. We'll get them back. We'll do it."

As he rocked his sobbing friend, he silently vowed to a God he didn't always believe in that he would do anything, including giving his own life, to bring Keiko and their children back to Miles.


He blinked himself awake as the alarm went off. "Computer, time?" he asked aloud, before he remembered he was on Miles's sofa.

The time is 0601.

Damn, he thought; he had only wanted to nap for a couple of hours.

He sat up, stretched, and picked up his bag, trying not to disturb Miles, who (thank goodness) was already up and sitting at his desk. "I slept in. Mind if I use the shower?"

Miles nodded. "I've, um, been up all night, looking through those crew photos Odo saved last night. I reset your alarm, let you sleep." He shrugged. "I haven't caught sight of him either."

"He's got to be on one of those free traders," Julian said, but as he looked over at Miles's grim face, he realized: what was there to say? Miles was angry, determined, heart-broken: mere words meant nothing. He needed his family back. "I'll be out soon."

As he closed the bathroom door behind him and pulled off his pyjamas he chanced to look down at his abdomen. On a whim he reached into his bag and pulled out the medical tricorder, then quickly scanned himself. The ring scar on his finger wasn't the only change; he had internal differences as well. A functioning abdominal pseudosac, striae under the superficial epidermal level, strengthening bars embedded in the pelvic bones, traces of a vertical suture from umbilicus to pubis - apparently they had done it the safer, old-fashioned way instead of using a transport.

It hit him again. I, Julian Bashir, freak and monster, have a normal child. A normal biological child. He briefly wondered why his body had changed but his memories hadn't, but-

He abruptly dropped the tricorder back in the bag and stepped into the shower. They didn't have time for musing over temporal paradoxes. Keiko, Molly - the real Molly - and the baby had to be his concerns, not himself, not even Miles. He had to get them back. He had to undo his mistake.

As the sonic waves passed over him, he wondered what they would do if they couldn't find the bastard. He could clone Keiko if he could locate enough of her DNA. But no: she would look like Keiko, sound like Keiko, be Keiko's identical twin - but she wouldn't be Keiko. The same with Molly. And would Miles want him to decant them? Could he live with a wife and daughter who only looked like the people he loved? And what about the baby? If they didn't fix this, he was irretrievably lost. The Infirmary computers back on DS9 would no longer contain his specific genetic information.

He reached up and switched to water to wash his hair. What would they do if they even found the SOB, he wondered. Julian guessed he could sedate him, take a DNA sample, create a pseudosperm, and fertilize the ovum, but how would they get to the girl to go along with it? He couldn't justify doing that without her knowledge or consent. It also wasn't safe; if she didn't give consent she wouldn't likely know she could be pregnant, especially if she wasn't taking regular suppressants, as it appeared. She might even be a virgin at that tender age...

And there was no guarantee they'd even find the bastard.

He had to think of something, he realized as he shut off the shower and stepped out. He had to come up with a Plan B. And for that he had to have a sample of Keiko's DNA.


He arrived at the staff meeting five minutes late, grabbing the empty chair next to Sisko.

"...and from what Miles and I could tell," Dax was saying, "there are no notable changes to the timeline other than what we've already discovered. This makes it more likely that the rape is the defining event of the temporal shift."

"That makes our task more difficult," Sisko said. "Any luck, Constable?"

Odo shook his head. "Neither Dr. Bashir," he said carefully, "nor Chief O'Brien recognize any of the male Starfleet members who could possibly fit the description, not that any of them fit it well. I've determined that there were over 35 Free Trader ships through the station yesterday as well as a number of private vessels, and their personnel records are unavailable. It's a daunting task."

Miles's gaze could have frozen neon, let alone a former shapeshifter. "But you are going to complete it, right?"

He spoke directly to O'Brien. "I've already begun. I've spoken with Captain Sisko and obtained his permission to have four trusted members of your staff hack, as it were, into the privateers' information systems to download personnel records. They're working as we speak. I guarantee they will not discuss this with anyone. But I warn you - it could take weeks."

"We don't have weeks."

They all looked at Julian.

"If the connection is what we think it is, we don't have much longer than 24 hours before the entire subject becomes moot."

Miles glared at him. "Moot? What the hell are-"

He held up a hand. "Miles, I only mean that in a few days, maybe less, Miss Hatayama won't be fertile and we'll have lost our chance. Human women only ovulate once a month and are normally only fertile for 24 to 48 hours. The next egg will have a different array of chromosomes and genes." He looked down at his hands. "We can stretch the time out a bit because we can use a direct pseudosperm implant into the egg. That is, assuming she wasn't already at the end of her fertile period, and assuming we can obtain consent from her."

"And that's a hell of a big if," Kira said. "If a bunch of people I didn't know came up and started telling me this I wouldn't believe a word they said, especially if I were 19 years old."

Julian recognized the look in Miles's eye. "We have to try," he said in an attempt to forestall the explosion. "We have to do something. Miles, I've taken the uniform you were wearing when we were on the station to the lab; that's why I was late. It's the only thing in this time stream that could conceivably carry Keiko's DNA. If we find the attacker, we have to know which genes he contributed to the child, and that can help us narrow down the choices and construct the pseudosperm best suited for the task."

Miles nodded. "That makes sense. I haven't refreshed it."

"Good. If you carried some of Keiko's skin cells onto it, I'll be able to determine which of his genes need to be transferred into the pseudosperm. But Miles," and he spoke to him directly, "I need to start the process within six to twelve hours or it'll likely be too late."

Sisko broke the silence. "Chief, Doctor, I'd like to speak to the two of you privately. If the rest of you would continue with the tasks you've been assigned."

As the senior staff rose to leave, Julian realized from the look on the Captain's face that whatever he had to say was going to be very bad news indeed.

"Doctor," he said after the door closed, "I know you can't be certain, but can you give us any idea of the odds of this working?"

He frowned. "Working perfectly, so Keiko's grandfather is an exact copy? One in a billion at best." He saw Miles sag out of the corner of his eye. "Working well enough, though...if we find him, if we can extract his DNA, and if we obtain Miss Hatayama's consent to create the fertilized egg and to impregnate her, perhaps one in a thousand. Even if I'm able to construct the perfect pseudosperm there's only a 75% chance the fertilized egg will survive. That's a simple fact of reproductive science."

O'Brien squeezed his eyes shut.

"I'm sorry, Miles," Julian said, "but you deserve to know the truth. And that's just the genetics. There's environment as well." He pressed his lips together and turned back to Sisko. "Those odds are far beyond my ability to calculate, sir. If Miss Hatayama isn't raped she might not commit suicide, and that could affect her son's future. He might not be raised in the same way Hirako Hatayama was."

The captain nodded. "Chief," he said in an even tone that belied his words, "you should know this, and you won't like it. As you know, I communicated with the Prophets last night to ask if they'd return us so that we could fix this. They refused."

"They-" Miles went beet red. "WHAT THE FUCK?" he shouted, jumping up and leaning across the table, his chair falling behind him. "They let that - Darvin son-of-a-bitch almost kill James Kirk and they won't save my wife's life? What, are they pissed off because a pah-wraith possessed her? That wasn't HER fault! And what about my babies? What did they ever do? What did Molly ever do to them?!" He was shaking with rage, his fingers gripping the table edge so hard his knuckles were bloodless.

Sisko held his hands out in an appeasing gesture. "I don't know, and it's not under my control. If it were we'd already have done it." He sucked in his lips. "Chief - Miles - this one-in-a-thousand scenario is only possible if we find him in the next few hours. If we don't, we have to-"

Miles's eyes were ablaze as he leaned over the captain. "You wouldn't," he said, his voice a ragged edge. "You fucking wouldn't. YOU," and with that he smacked the table so hard the veneer cracked, "are staying here. I am staying here." He pointed at Julian. "HE is staying here until we find that motherfucker and I can go home to my wife and daughter, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" His face was six inches from the Captain's, hard and red.

Sisko didn't flinch. His expression was compassionate but firm; his eyes never wavered from O'Brien's face. He said nothing.

Miles eventually backed off and sat down again, casting his gaze everywhere but in Sisko's direction.

"Captain," Julian interrupted, "give us 24 hours. After that it doesn't matter what you do." He stood and placed a his hand on Miles's shoulder. "Please, Captain. For the children's sake."

Sisko looked away, stared out the viewport as if the weight of the world were resting on his shoulders. "Very well," he finally said. "But we leave in 24 hours. And two more things. First, Chief, our 'conversation' didn't take place. Don't repeat the experience."

O'Brien reddened. "I'm sorry, sir - I - I just - my family-"

Sisko held a hand up, not unkindly, and continued. "Second, and this is for both of you: if you do find that you've made a change, I may not recognize it. Report to me; advise me that you have done so. But only provide me with the details if you succeed. That way we don't make things worse in the long run."

They nodded. "Aye, sir," Julian said.

He returned his gaze to the viewport. "Dismissed."


He swore faintly as he ran the assay again. 27 complete chromosomes but only 11 maternal ones. That was fewer than half the normal maternal complement of 23, and who knew how many of those were from the great-grandfather...

There hadn't been more than a dozen of Keiko's decomposed skin cells on that uniform. The decomposition made it impossible to obtain a full DNA profile, although he hadn't shared that grim fact with Miles.

And that's all we have of the two of you, he thought morosely as the sequencer copied the 27 chromosomes and saved the information on them. Twelve of your skin cells and one of Molly's.

He looked up at the chrono; he'd been at it for five hours. If they didn't find the attacker soon he'd have to go to Plan B - and he didn't like Plan B at all, even if it was looking more like their only chance with every passing minute.

Ignoring the dead weight of guilt in his belly, he hit his comm badge. "Bashir to Sisko. Sir, could I ask you to come to Sickbay immediately?"

"On my way," came the reply.

This wasn't the kind of thing he could choose to do on his own, not when the lives of three individuals were at stake. Four, if he counted Jinko Hatayama.

They shouldn't do it. It was a deliberate and egregious violation of the Temporal Prime Directive. But they had to fix what they had broken, and Sisko had lost a wife. He'd go along with it if Julian explained it to him in the right way.

The right way, he snorted.

Before Sisko arrived Julian looked around, then quickly grabbed the nearest dermal regenerator and ran it over the ring mark on his finger.


3

Miles studied the schematic. "So what's the plan?"

"Here are the locations of the security recorders," Julian said, pointing to a number of blue triangles on the diagram. "The backups are kept on disks that remain near the recorders. I'll need you to locate the backup disks for the time in question, go through each one of them, and record the six hours after the attack onto the tricorder. If we can find what dock he left by, we can probably find him within a few hours."

He nodded. "Odo hasn't seen this?" he asked.

Julian shrugged. "They don't store the monitor recordings online, I suppose for security reasons. It might take a while; these disks don't copy quickly. I'm going to see what I can find out from the medical staff and I'm going to perform a DNA sweep of that corridor, see if I can differentiate his DNA using what I have of Keiko's." He looked around. "Neither of us should leave the station without the other. If we change something, the other won't know."

"I'll comm you when I'm done."

Julian hadn't been kidding when he said the disks didn't copy quickly. It was almost four hours by the time he had finished reviewing, copying, and storing the data on the last one. He opened his communicator once he reached the rendezvous point. "O'Brien to Bashir."

The answer came about ten seconds later. "Captain," Julian replied breathlessly, "I'll, um, be right there. Bashir out."

He stared at the primitive device for a moment, then clipped it back to his belt and took a seat to wait for Bashir.

Ten minutes later Julian arrived. Miles glared at him: his hair was rumpled, his uniform shirt was untucked, there was blood on his left sleeve and trouser leg, and the smell...

"You goddamned son of a bitch," he heard himself growl under his breath. "Do I have to call Odo, or should I just hack off your balls where you stand?"

"Miles," he pleaded, "let's return to the ship and we'll talk there. It's not what you think."

"It had bloody well better not be, or the only reason you're going back is so your rotting corpse doesn't contaminate this time line." He grabbed Julian by the arm and dragged him into the corner. "O'Brien to Defiant; two to beam directly to my quarters."

They materialized in front of the sofa. Miles shoved him down into a sitting position and towered over him. "Okay. You stink of sex and blood and you're half-dressed. Did you-" His voice deserted him.

"I - operated on her." And he lifted the medical bag he was carrying in his right hand.

"You-" Miles dropped down beside him. How could he have thought Julian- "Did you ask her, or did you just-"

"If I had given her all the data she required for informed consent, I'd have contaminated the timeline," he said. "If I hadn't asked her, she wouldn't know she could be pregnant and she might decide to get drunk or take drugs and the embryo might suffer damage. So I had to make it seem - to her - like she could be pregnant naturally, without..."

Miles stared into his eyes.

Julian took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I located her," he continued, "made sure she would bump into me...she recognized me, thanked me...I was charming, witty, she fell for my lines...she took me back to her quarters, kissed me passionately, crawled into my lap, began to undress me..."

"And then?" Miles asked, not quite believing what he was hearing.

"I sedated her with 8 ccs of mysalistine." His eyes were bleary with exhaustion and some other emotion Miles couldn't quite place. "It causes a mild euphoria and dulls the memory. You wake up with the vague feeling that you've had a very good time, and in her case she would have had some slight pelvic soreness and vaginal discharge from the procedure, so..." He looked down. "I scanned her, determined that the ovum was viable - just - and I injected one of the pseudosperm I'd prepared into the ovum. If I'd performed the procedure one hour later, it likely wouldn't have been successful."

Miles looked down at his hands. "Where'd you get the DNA?"

"Keiko, plus a standard research Y chromosome." His lips were thin.

Okay; he could live with that. He didn't know if Keiko could live with being her own great-grandfather, but he knew she'd damn well prefer it to not living at all. He prayed to God that she'd have the chance to find out.

Julian continued, his face reddening. "When she woke up, she didn't notice anything was out of place. She was still - affectionate. She kissed me, she held me, she - Miles, she's such a beautiful girl, but I couldn't." He dropped his head into his hands. "I couldn't risk it. There's a chance of spontaneous abortion if another man - but there's only so much...thank God you commed me when you did."

He placed a hand on Julian's shoulder. If Keiko was still his wife - hell, if she was even alive - he owed him everything. "Did you find any of the attacker's DNA?"

He shook his head. "The cleaning system is too efficient, so I used the pseudosperm I'd already prepared. The ones containing Keiko's DNA."

They sat there for a minute. "There's one thing I want to know," Miles eventually said. "Why didn't you tell me beforehand?"

Julian closed his eyes and leant back. "Sisko ordered me not to. Said if I did and he found out about it, he'd cashier me. I committed a felony - numerous court-martial level felonies, actually - and he didn't want to involve you. If it worked but you had to go to jail..." His voice trailed off as he turned to face him. "Miles, have you considered the possibility that Keiko might be alive but that she and you might not be married?"

"That I have, a hundred times in the past few hours," he replied, his voice grim. "I want 'em all back, but even if she doesn't love me, or we never met, or if she's divorced me, I still want her alive. If we go off and change things again she might not be."

"We can't."

He shot Julian a puzzled look.

"We can't change things again," he clarified.

Miles frowned. "We could wait until next month."

"No, we can't." Julian sat up. "With chromosome selection and recombinance, the next ovum would develop into a completely different individual even with the same sperm. That person could be as different from the product of this ovum as you and I are." He pushed himself to his feet. "Come on; let's get changed and go check in with Sisko, see if he remembers why we were on the station."

On the way to the bridge they passed by the mess hall. One of the nurses stuck her head out the door. "Dr. O'Brien! Chief!" she called.

Miles felt his stomach lurch. Oh no, oh no, he thought. Please let at least Molly-

"Yes, Akina?" Julian said in a weak voice.

She beamed at the two of them. "It's ready. Any time in the next 32 hours."

"Thank you. We're just on our way to report to the Captain. It might be a while."

"He's been comming you all day long," she said with a fond shake of her head.

"What else is new," Julian said. "I'll be in as soon as I can."

Miles frowned as they entered the turbolift. "What was all that about?" he asked after the doors closed.

"I haven't a clue."

"You, um..." He cleared his throat. "Did you know? About the..."

"I suspected." Julian raised his left hand to show Miles the plain gold band on his fourth finger. "It's engraved, 'M & J, 9.21.2370'."

"I'm not the only 'M' in the galaxy," he harrumphed.

Julian sighed. "I suppose I could have married Morn," he said in a tired voice.


The captain glared at them. "Gentlemen, this is not a pleasure cruise. When you're ordered to return to the ship by 2300, you return by 2300, not at 1815 the next evening."

They stood at attention in his office, Miles for one trying not to stare at the clean-shaven face. "Sir, we received orders to carry out a mission on Deep Space K-7 this morning," he said. "We were ordered to remain on the station until our mission was complete."

"Orders." Sisko's voice was deceptively calm. "From whom?"

"From you, sir," Julian replied. "You told us that due to the nature of the mission you likely wouldn't remember them, and that we were to advise you of our status upon our return, then determine whether our mission had been successful and only at that point provide you with a full report."

"Like Julian said, the first order was not to give you any specifics unless we fixed everything. You were concerned there'd be a temporal incursion if we talked about it." Miles kept his gaze fixed on the wall art behind the captain's desk.

"You're serious." It was not a question.

"Aye, sir."

Sisko sucked in his lips. "All right. How long will you need to determine the success of the mission?"

Julian spoke. "We don't know, sir. Anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours, depending on what our research reveals."

He glared at them. "I don't like this. We have to be at Starbase 375 to pick up Ambassador Ishikawa and-"

Miles took a ragged breath as his heart skipped a beat. Oh God please please, he silently begged.

Beside him he heard Julian ask, "Ambassador Ishikawa?"

"Yes." Sisko gave Miles a puzzled look. "The Ambassador's attending the final signing of the peace accords. Chief, are you all right?"

"I'm-" The air suddenly became too heavy to breathe. He had to get out of there, had to find a terminal, had to know for sure-

Beside him he heard Julian ask, "Peace accords?"

"Between the Federation and the Vorta. Chief, you've met the Ambassador before on many occasions. Why are the two of you-"

"We can't say, sir," Miles replied as he pulled himself together, "per your orders. Permission to conduct the required research."

"Granted. Dismissed."

He followed Julian out of the office.


They all but ran to the science office next door. "Miles," Julian began, concerned at what his friend would find, "let me-"

"No. I have to know." Miles threw himself into the chair in front of the closest terminal and switched on the monitor; Julian crouched down beside him. "I have to know now. Computer, display personnel details for Ambassador Ishikawa."

Specify.

He gave the screen a murderous look. "What the FUCK does-"

"MILES!" Julian grabbed his forearm before he could slug the terminal. "There might be more than one Ambassador Ishikawa. It might be a larger family now. Keiko might even have siblings. Computer, display personnel records of the Ambassador Ishikawa who is scheduled to attend the signing of the Federation-Vorta peace accords."

The face was remarkably similar to Keiko's, Julian had to admit; only a slight difference in the tip of the nose would ever give away the entire truth of the matter to his friend.

But he thought the sex would be more of a concern at the moment.

"Is he related?" he asked, praying it was an older brother or cousin or-

Miles's lips thinned. "Same parents," he said, after bringing up the biographical page. Born..." He suddenly let out a strangled cry. "Nooo..."

Julian read the information over Miles's shoulder while he wrapped his arms around his shaking friend. 'Hiroyoshi Ishikawa,' it read, 'son of Hiro Ishikawa and the former Ryuko Hatayama, born Kumamoto, Japan, Earth, March 19, 2337.'

Two weeks after Keiko had been born, and of the same parents.

They had failed.

"We have to go back..." Miles groaned.

"We can't."

"DAMMIT!" He threw Julian off him and spun in his chair, livid, clutching at his uniform and shaking him like a cat shook a mouse it was trying to kill. "WE HAVE TO GO BACK! No Keiko, no Molly, no baby - I WON'T ACCEPT THIS!" He threw Julian to the floor.

He pulled himself back up. "Miles..."

"I want my WIFE! I want my DAUGHTER! I want my SON!" he shouted, counting them off on his fingers. "TELL ME why you can't make things EXACTLY the way they were!"

"Because the only way to do that," he said, "is if one of us went back in time, stopped us from interrupting the rape-"

"WHAT?"

"-and hope to hell the same sperm makes it. Even then, random chance could prevent that." He placed a hand on O'Brien's forearm. "Miles, do you know how many sperm there are in one ejaculation? 250 million. If we had even found him, that specific spermatozoon would have already been dead, or gone, or..."

Miles turned away from him, got up, took a chair in the corner, ran his hands over his face.

Julian sighed as he clambered up into the chair and re-read Ambassador Ishikawa's biography on the terminal viewscreen. He couldn't do anything about them, he'd failed, but he needed to know how he had changed history so radically that the Federation were signing peace accords with the Vorta. He accessed a news article on the subject.

The second sentence of the third paragraph leapt off the screen.

'War was averted when Elim Garak, a Cardassian living on the space station Deep Space Nine, sacrificed his life to destroy the Founders, the controlling species of the Dominion.'

He blinked away a tear of silent mourning and forced himself to finish the article. It appeared that Garak's death was only the tip of the iceberg. "Miles, he said weakly, "there's no war. The Dominion is falling apart. Dozens of planets, billions of beings are free. Thousands, maybe millions are alive who would have died-"

The voice was brutal. "I don't care."

"They could have been killed in the war."

"They would have lived first."

He didn't have a reply to that.

On a whim, he accessed the archives and brought up information on Jinko Hatayama. She had died in 2352 after a long, successful life, including a ten-year stint as commander of Starbase 23. She had never married, but she had given birth to three children: Hirako, Kyoko, and Midori. He brought up the first child's picture.

Good God.

He immediately replaced it in the archives with an old photo of an obscure 21st century Japanese politician.

His friend's voice emerged from the corner. "So what do we do?"

"Give me a second," he said as he saved his work, exited the station archives, and opened his personal directory. There was a holoimage titled 'O'Brien Family, Musilla Province, 8 April 2373'. Four weeks earlier.

And there they were, a candid picture: the three of them smiling brightly, Julian's arm around Miles's shoulders, Miles holding a little girl about two years old who looked just like - Julian. His triangular face, his nose, his brown eyes. She had Miles's mother's bright red hair, though; shoulder-length and curly.

He clicked off the terminal and squatted in front of Miles's chair, looking up into his dead, cold eyes. "We have to report to Sisko, then I have to visit Sickbay."

"Sickbay-"

"That thing Ensign Akina said was ready. Someone's life might depend upon it. It's my job, and I can't let anyone else suffer because I... because..."

Miles took a deep breath, then nodded. "So what're we going to tell the Captain?"

Julian looked down at the hand gripping the armrest of Miles's chair. "I have an idea."


"...it appears that the correct Ambassador Ishikawa now exists and the present is as it should be," he finished.

"A miscarriage, you said?" Sisko asked.

"In about six weeks' time," Julian replied with a nod. "Our incursion somehow caused a technician to make an incorrect adjustment to a decontamination console in Cargo Bay Two. The error caused one of the units at her station to emit fetotoxic radiation. Fortunately, she hadn't been exposed to the unit for long enough to pose any danger yet, and Chief O'Brien was able to readjust the console to ensure that the unit performed as it was designed to."

The captain nodded at the two of them. "Very well. That will appease the Department of Temporal Investigations, which I assume will be somewhat eager to speak to me after my report. Do you have anything to add, Chief?"

He shook his head. "No, sir."

"Then dismissed. And gentlemen: good work."

Miles gave the captain's ready room door a filthy look as they reached the turbolift. "Good work," he muttered.

Julian waited until the doors had closed and they were alone. "Computer, halt turbolift."

"What-"

He turned to face Miles. "I have to go to Sickbay. Can I trust you not to do anything stupid?"

Miles kept his gaze fixed on the floor.

"Miles," Julian said, grasping his shoulders, "right now they don't live anywhere but in our minds and in our hearts, but someday we might be able to bring them back - but not if you do something foolish. You have to keep up hope. You have to let them live in your mind, in your heart, and maybe someday they can live again in the real world. I'm telling you this as your friend."

His eyes were so dead they were almost grey. "You're my husband."

"I'm your friend before anything else," he replied. "And I'll continue to be your friend for as long as I live - unless you can't stand the sight of me, which after the events of the past two days I could well understand."

"No." Miles shook his head. "I don't hate you. I don't blame you. I don't."

Julian suspected he was trying to convince himself more than anything.

"I'm angry," Miles continued, "you've sure as hell got that right, but to be honest I'm more pissed off at the Fates than at anyone. Even more than at that son-of-a-bitch." He blew out a breath. "Listen, I'm going to go back to my quarters. I - I can't...Computer, resume turbolift. Decks 2 and 4."

The lift began to move at Miles's command. Julian let go of him. "I'll see you later," he said as the doors opened on Deck 2.

As he headed towards Sickbay, he only hoped that Miles wouldn't hate him too much when the enormity of what Julian had done to him finally hit home.


He returned to Miles's - their - quarters half an hour later. Ironic, he thought: somebody's life actually had depended on it, and still did.

Miles looked up at him from the terminal, which was displaying the family holo Julian had seen earlier. "We have a daughter." His expression was unreadable.

"I saw. Apparently she's back on the station with a nanny. I gathered from what Akina said that she's a bright, happy little girl." He dropped the padd he had been carrying on the desk. "In fact, we have two daughters," he said as he took the other chair.

"Two..." Miles gave him a puzzled look. "But..."

He gestured towards the padd. "The thing Akina said was ready? We had - they had begun an in vitro fertilization procedure. It's ready for implantation."

Miles's eyes snapped shut. "How much more of this do I have to take?" he cried out as he raised a hand to his forehead.

"I'm sorry."

"No..." Miles shook his head. "Don't be sorry. It's not..." He rubbed the bridge of his nose and let out a sigh. "What the hell are we going to do?"

"I can't understand what you're going through right now," Julian began as he tried to keep his voice even. "And I never will. But I can't let this child perish. I can't let there be another victim. I simply cannot do that. And..." He looked down. "This child was conceived in love. We may not love each other, well, other than as friends, but the Miles and Julian who chose to conceive that child did. To me, it would be as if I had abandoned your son in that runabout accident."

"I don't see it that way."

"I know."

Miles met his gaze, then looked down and nodded once, his head barely moving.

"But before you decide," Julian continued, willing himself to speak, "there's something about me you need to know."


4

"NO!" The girl looked up at him crossly, the gold highlights in her brown eyes flashing.

Julian tried another tack. "Molly, don't you want to grow up to be big and strong like Meru?"

She shook her head, sending a cascade of red ringlets flying about her.

He looked down at her severely. "So you want to be little and weak?"

She scowled back.

"Come on, honey. Just one bite. They're little trees, see?" he said, holding up the piece of broccoli. "Just like on Bajor."

"Want cherry!"

"No dessert until you finish your dinner. Now come on. Try some of the potato." The door swished open behind him. He turned around. "Hello."

"Hi. And how are you!" he said to the girl, a big smile on his face. He was getting better at that, Julian mused.

"Dada!" She held her arms up. "Give me cherry!"

"Are you giving Papa a bad time, Mo-Mo?" he said severely.

She pouted, giving the broccoli another filthy look before popping a piece in her mouth and chewing disconsolately.

He chuckled as he looked up at Miles. "She listens to you."

"She probably realized she couldn't play one of us off the other," Miles said, dropping a pile of padds onto the desk. "How was she today?"

"Good. Busy." He stood and followed Miles to the sofa. "It's nice sometimes to have a day off in the middle of the week. We spent the afternoon with Kira and Meru building sandcastles in a holosuite." He took a seat and turned to Miles. "I don't remember Bareil being a very tall man, do you? Meru is huge for her age. I wouldn't be surprised if she grew to be taller than us."

"Don't remember, to tell you the truth. Sometimes it skips generations, though."

He nodded. "Bizarre, isn't it? The changes." He kept an eye on Molly and his voice low as he talked; he had already learned from experience that children heard everything. "Kira with a child of her own, Garak married..."

"To a woman," Miles snorted.

"And three little ones left behind," he said with a sigh. "Still, he probably saved the Alpha Quadrant, genocide or not."

"Fifty thousand Founders doesn't equal what they were intending to do to Bajor, though. If it did, I don't think Shakaar would've awarded Iliana a pension or sanctuary."

"True." He looked back at Molly. "I wonder which one of us they were planning on replacing."

"Probably you."

His head whipped around. "Me?" he said aloud.

"Let's face it," Miles said, keeping his voice low; "you're the best choice. You're the CMO, you handle all the blood testing, you have high security clearances..."

"Done!" Molly cried. "Cherry!"

"I'll get it," Miles said in a low voice before calling out to the girl. "Good girl! Now how do you want them!" he asked her.

"Wif ice cream!"

He ordered the dessert and put it on the little table. "Here you go, Mo-Mo."

"Molly! My name is Molly!" the girl cried.

Miles's shoulders slumped, but he put on a brave face. "Of course it is." He kissed her on the top of the head and went back into the living room, dropping back onto the sofa. His face was white and lined: his eyes mere slits.

Julian scooted over and drew him into his arms. "Come here."

Miles leaned on him, trying to hold it in, but eventually he began to shake. He wrapped his arms around Julian's waist as he began to cry, holding on to him as if he were his only anchor as great heaving sobs tore through him. "I know," Julian whispered as he rocked his friend in his arms. "Let it out."

They both jumped as a loud voice startled them both. "I know why Dada's crying!" Molly cried as she ran up to them and tried to put her arms around Miles. "Dada's happy! Meru said Papa has a baby in his tummy!"

Julian could feel Miles tense, but he pulled out of Julian's arms and somehow smiled down at the girl, ruffling her hair and allowing the hug. "You're right," he said, tweaking her nose after she let go; "you're going to have a baby sister in a few months. I'm so happy." He kissed her on the forehead again, then went off into their bedroom and closed the door.

Julian let him go. "Now go finish your dessert," he told the girl.

"'Kay." She made short shift of the treat.

As he cleaned up after her and watched her go off to play with her dolls, he thought about the past three months. He had at first been so worried about the possibility of Miles committing suicide that he had followed him constantly. They had told everyone that a favourite aunt of his had died, which had made it slightly easier for them to hide the real depths of Miles's grief and had additionally given Julian the opportunity to ask Rom to quietly (or as quietly as Rom could) keep an eye on him. Julian had also tried to help by creating identity kit images of Keiko and Molly and commissioning one of Ziyal's friends, a fairly decent portraitist, to paint the mother and daughter. Miles had appreciated the gesture; Julian thought it had helped, especially since there were no holos or other images of them in existence.

But Miles sometimes found it easier when he could get involved in his work and not think about them. Other than the portrait, Julian had done his best to avoid anything that would remind him of the pair. But they couldn't avoid the little red-haired girl happily babbling to herself in the other room, and they couldn't avoid everyone who had once known Keiko and Molly but who didn't now.

It still wasn't easy for either of them. He wasn't sure if it ever would be.

Later, while running the tub and undressing Molly for her bath, and as Miles practised his cello in the spare room, he ran his hand over the bump that was beginning to show through his clothing. His second child, he thought. Well, his third, he supposed.

He had told Sisko that the genetic information from Keiko's skin cells would allow him to locate the attacker's DNA on the station and to produce a pseudosperm on site. He had told Miles the pseudosperm had mainly been Keiko's DNA with a standard research Y chromosome.

He had lied to both of them.

He had used as much of Keiko's DNA as he could, but in five cases there was no copy of either of the chromosome pair and in two cases the chromosomes were so damaged and unstable they couldn't be used. So he had instead used his own DNA: eight chromosomes out of 23, including the Y. He knew by then he could father a healthy child so he didn't worry as much as he would have had Molly, the second Molly, not existed.

Hirako had looked enough like him that it would have been obvious had Miles seen his picture. Julian had therefore made certain there were no accurate images of him in any of the databases Miles could easily access from DS9, surreptitiously replacing them. There was no chance of Miles and Hirako ever meeting, fortunately, as he had died last year on Earth at the age of 104 after a long career as a trader on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. 104 was a ripe old age, he thought, as he scrubbed Molly's back clean. He hoped his sisters (half-sisters? quarter-sisters?) would live that long.

There had really been no choice, but it had still been a mistake. Whatever they would have done - leaving it as it stood, using Keiko's DNA alone (an impossibility), or even Sisko's shocking yet almost-realized suggestion that Julian seduce Jinko and father the child himself, would have been a mistake. But in the end he had made the choice himself and that, not them barging in on the rape, was the real reason that it was Julian's fault alone that Miles might never be whole again. At least the Alpha Quadrant would be, he thought.

Molly splashed him with soapy water; he grabbed her and tickled her. "You silly bunny!" he cried as she giggled and squealed. He then squirted some shampoo into his hand and began to wash her hair.

Julian had made a vow the day they returned from the past that, unless Miles asked for a divorce, his friend would never be alone and the children would always have two parents with them. And if that meant that he spent the rest of his life sleeping chastely next to his friend, raising and even carrying his children, holding him when he cried, and helping him to survive without the love of his life, so be it. Julian owed it to him, and to them.

He rinsed off Molly's hair - so coarse for a small child, but then again red hair was usually like that - and pulled the plug. "Now what do you want for a story?" he asked her as he carried her into the bedroom.

"Moxie!" she cried.

Miles flubbed a note.

"All right." He helped her put on her nightie, then tucked her into bed and got the book.

Once Molly was asleep, he looked in on Miles before sitting back down on the sofa and finding his place in the medical journal he had been reading. It was strange, he thought, as his gaze strayed back to the spare room: Miles had once mentioned that Britten was one of his favourite composers, but since all this happened he hadn't played a note of any of his works.

He rested a hand on his abdomen and returned to his journal.



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