Keiko finds Kira in her bedroom, packing. She’d moved in with hardly more than her uniform, but five months had brought with it all sorts of ephemera -- additional clothes to fit her changing figure, stray padds and knickknacks, hair pins and candles. Her duffle bag is open on the bed, already full, and there are still clothes in the open drawer in front of her.
Keiko lingers in the doorway a moment, watching. She can’t believe Kira is already up and about at all so soon after giving birth, never mind leaving already. It had taken Keiko significantly longer to recover after delivering Molly, even accounting for the rather unconventional circumstances. Part of it must be Bajoran physiology, she knows, and there’s a tiny, unkind part of Keiko that is viciously jealous of the serenity with which Kira had brought Yoshi into the world. Just as much can probably be attributed to Kira’s stubborn streak, wide enough to give even Miles a run for his money.
Kira pulls a blouse out of the dresser drawer, and when she turns to pack it away, she finally notices Keiko’s presence. “Oh, Keiko, hi,” she says. “I’ll be out of here soon; I’m almost done.” She gives Keiko a tight smile, obviously trying to be gracious, but her eyes are guarded. Keiko itches to reach out and smooth away the tension with her fingertips, with the soft press of lips.
It’s not a new feeling, this simmering attraction. Once the sharp spike of longing for her displaced child had been somewhat sated by Kira’s presence in her home, longing of another kind had surged up in its wake. And if it had just been her, that would have been the end of it -- Keiko has been married long enough to recognize any extra-marital sparks and put them firmly aside. Miles had probably thought he was being subtle, as if the way he and Kira sometimes looked at each other wasn’t obvious to practically the entire station.
It’s sweet, Keiko decides, how dedicated they’d both been in sparing her feelings. If they’d only just talked to her about it though. She’d thought she’d been fairly clear in her approval when she’d pushed Miles to accompany Kira on her trip to Bajor, but then again, the two of them could be remarkably obtuse about personal matters.
“There’s no rush,” Keiko says, waving one hand dismissively. It wasn’t as if they’d set a date for Kira to move out. Keiko has grown fond of having a third adult in her home and of Kira in particular -- her dry sense of humor, the way her smile lights up the whole room. “Have dinner with me,” she offers, moving towards Kira so she can lay a gentle hand on her arm. “Miles is working late tonight, so I thought I’d make that seaweed dish he hates.”
There’s a prevaricating twist in Kira’s lip as she holds the shirt in her hands to her chest and glances around at her things still scattered around the room. She’s going to decline, Keiko can see, some appeal to propriety now that her reason for being here is slumbering peacefully in the next room, no longer her responsibility. She’s trying to school her features into resignation, but the mask doesn’t quite hide the longing in her eyes. She may not be Yoshi’s biological mother, but spending five months heartbeat to heartbeat forms a bond that can’t be broken by a bit of physical distance.
How much has Kira already sacrificed, Keiko wonders. Too much, and she suspects she doesn’t know the half of it.
The words are out of Keiko’s mouth before she can stop them. “Or you could just… stay.”
Kira’s head jerks up sharply and guilt flashes over her features, but now that Keiko has said it out loud, she can’t think of anything she’d like more. Maybe it’s selfish to want to keep Kira close -- after all, her child had kept Kira from her own life for so long -- but she thinks perhaps she’s entitled to a little bit of selfishness. Kira had been wary when she’d first moved in, but little by little, she’d unfurled like a creeping merna vine, thriving in the spaces Keiko and Miles had left open for her.
“I don’t want to impose,” Kira says, twisting her fingers in the blouse she’s still holding. After a moment, she notices what she’s doing and smooths it against her thigh.
It’s little wonder she should fall for Kira Nerys, Keiko thinks wryly. She’s so like Miles in some ways.
Keiko gives Kira an encouraging smile, the same one she uses when Miles needs a little gentle redirection to see what’s best for him. “Nonsense,” she says, and then she touches Kira’s elbow and takes both the blouse and the decision out of her hands. “You would think two adults could handle two small children, but, well, you know how it is -- Miles is so busy keeping the station running, and I’ve got my own career. Never mind that an infant is really a full time job.” Keiko folds the shirt and drops it into the drawer with the others. “Really, Nerys, you’d be doing us a favor.”
A morning glory smile blooms on Kira’s face, sunlight dawning on her features. “Alright,” she says, putting her hands up and laughing. “I’ll stay. For a little while.”
Keiko beams at her, something bright and beautiful unfurling in her chest. “Wonderful,” she says, throwing her arms around Kira for a brief, tight hug. “Now let’s see about dinner, shall we?”
Kira’s in Ops one morning, puzzling over where to house an incoming Xian delegate when Miles rolls out from under the console he’s repairing and says, “What about your old quarters?”
She hasn’t been there or even thought of them in weeks at least, but the rooms are still in her name in the station database. Keiko and Miles hadn’t given her an end date to their current living arrangement, but signing over her quarters had seemed an unbelievable presumption.
“My old quarters?” she repeats.
Miles shrugs. “Why not? Right size, right sector, easy to secure. They’re still unoccupied, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” Kira says because it’s technically true.
“Alright, so stick the Xian in there. Problem solved.” He slides back under the console, clearly considering the matter resolved.
Kira stares down at the schematic of the habitat ring on her console screen. Yoshi’s birth had been the line, this far and no further. Now that they’ve crossed it, she’s at a loss, like she’d wound back for a solid strike and hit nothing but air. It throws off her whole stance, leaving her unbalanced and vulnerable to attack. It can’t possibly be this simple, can it?
When she’d mentioned it to Edon, he’d said incredulously, “You’re still living with them?” He’d asked about visiting her on the station, and it had seemed dishonest not to tell him. “Nerys, why?”
She’d tried to explain, but the words wouldn’t quite come together -- how the O’Briens made her feel safe and needed, how comfortable she was with them, how it meant she could stay close to Yoshi.
“I didn’t realize having children was so important to you,” Edon had said, but that wasn’t the point at all. Maybe she shouldn’t have expected him to understand -- but why shouldn’t he? Shouldn’t he better than anyone understand how important it is to find the people who will walk through fire for you? Who can quiet the violence in your soul for even a moment?
She loves Edon -- and how can she not after all the battles they’d fought together, all the scars they share -- but it’s different with him, somehow. Her childhood had been snatched away by Cardassians, but there is a tiny piece of her that is still twelve years old and begging for a chance to prove herself, like she’s not sure she’ll measure up to the great Shakaar Edon.
Maybe it’s as simple as finding the people that make you feel like you’re enough.
It has taken many months for Keiko to learn the hard way that it is often far more difficult to get two busy adults to sit still long enough to have breakfast than it is to wrangle two small children.
Her bowl of miso soup is cooling on the table as she ducks under it to pick up Yoshi’s spoon for the third time that morning. He’s finally sleeping through the night, and “make mommy pick up things I’ve thrown onto the floor” is his new favorite game. She cleans off the spoon with her napkin and feeds Yoshi another bite of cereal. Across from her, Molly’s chattering animatedly about her new friend Orja in between bites of egg.
From the bedrooms, Keiko can hear Miles and Kira bustling about, getting ready for their day. Their favorite game as of late has been “dodge Keiko’s extremely reasonable fifteen minutes of family time in favor of working around the clock”, although they’ve yet to actually win it -- Keiko can be very convincing.
Sure enough, Miles strides out of the bedroom a moment later, pauses at the replicator for coffee, and then says to Keiko’s expectant expression, “I know honey, but I really don’t have time today.” He drops a kiss onto the top of her head before moving past her, sipping at his coffee.
“Miles,” Keiko says, a sharp rose thorn in her tone, and Miles freezes.
He turns around. “Darling --” he starts, and Keiko arches an eyebrow at him. “There’s a panel is Ops that’s acting up again -- I’m probably going to have to rewire--”
“Is it an emergency?” Keiko asks calmly.
Miles opens his mouth, his face twisting into an expression that promises an excuse. “Not technically. Yet. But if I don’t take care of it, it could become--”
“Miles,” Keiko says. “Sit down.”
“Yes dear,” says Miles, and he sits.
Kira tries to sneak by her next, taking advantage of Keiko’s attention being on Miles, but Keiko has two small children, and before that, she’d had a greenhouse full of Rigellian spider vines that liked to creep out of their boxes without a constant eye on them. “Good morning, Nerys,” she says brightly, turning a rose prickle smile on her. She glances meaningfully between Kira and the empty chair beside Miles until Kira slinks back to the replicator and orders breakfast.
“Now isn’t this nice?” Keiko says, beaming at everyone. “I’m so glad we can make the time to sit down together every morning before we all run off to different corners of the station.” Gratifyingly, Kira and Miles are both appropriately cowed, hiding sheepish expressions behind their coffee mugs.
When breakfast is over and kisses have been distributed (fair is fair, after all, and if Mommy gets to kiss Aunt Kira goodbye, then Molly and Yoshi should get to too), Keiko is left with the sound of Molly’s chatter and Yoshi’s babbling and a warmth to rival Bajor’s sun blooming in her chest.
It’s early -- or maybe it’s still late, depending on your perspective -- when Miles jerks awake. There are hours to go yet before he has to be up, but the glassy eyes of too many dead chase away any hope of peaceful slumber. He climbs out of bed, careful not to wake Keiko, and goes into the living room.
“Coffee, double strong, double sweet,” he murmurs to the replicator, hoping to chase away the itching exhaustion prickling behind his eyes. He wraps both hands around the mug and moves toward the couch. It takes a moment for the observation to work its way through his sleep-deprived brain, but the living room isn’t quite as dark as it ought to be in the middle of the night.
He spots Kira curled up in the chair, her feet tucked under her. Her hair is mussed, sticking up in the back, and there are dark circles under her eyes, visible even in the low light. There’s a padd in her hand like she’d been reading, but she’s not looking at it now, her gaze unfocused and distant.
Miles clears his throat to announce his presence and Kira’s head jerks up sharply, alarm flashing over her features. “Oh, Miles,” she says. “I didn’t wake you, did I?”
He almost wishes she had -- irritation over being disturbed fades much more quickly than his nightmares. “No, it wasn’t you,” he says and then sits down on the couch. He takes a long drink of his coffee -- it’s too hot and it burns going down. Keiko always asks why he doesn’t just ask for it at a cooler temperature, but it helps ground him, gives him a solid point of reality to fix on.
“Oh, good,” she says. For a moment, they just look at each other. Miles half-expects her to ask him if he wants to talk about it before he remembers who he’s talking to. From the expression on Kira’s face, the same thought had crossed her mind. It’s nice, Miles decides, having someone who’s seen the things he’s seen, who’s done the things he’s done. To be understood without speaking.
It had been strange at first, Kira continuing to live with them without the excuse of her pregnancy. Keiko had sprung it on him rather suddenly after a cascade of ODN failures had extended his shift long into the evening. Wouldn’t Kira be more comfortable in her own quarters, he had reasoned, without a rambunctious five-year-old and an infant underfoot? There was a profound difference, after all, between a colleague you were friendly with and someone who’d seen you tired and unkempt at four in the morning with a fussy baby. Keiko had just given him that long-suffering look that meant she thought he was being particularly dense and taken his hand, smoothing away any misgivings with her patient, matter-of-fact tone.
After a few minutes, the little voice in Miles’s head that sounds like Keiko makes him say, “So, uh -- you okay?”
“Oh, sure,” Kira says dismissively. She glances up at Miles and then drops her gaze to her lap. After a moment, she shrugs and glances over him again like she’s sizing him up. “I was thinking about Furnel and Lupaza,” she admits. “How they--” She cuts herself off abruptly with a little shake of her head. “How are you?”
“Fine,” Miles says, a little more curt than he’d intended. It’s not exactly true, but it’s close enough for the hour.
They lapse into silence again, a little less companionable this time. What a pair they both make, Miles thinks, suddenly feeling all of his years. Keiko is much better at this stuff, at making the past feel properly distant even as it’s trying to crawl down your throat. He does what he always does with social matters that are beyond his ken -- he asks himself what Keiko would do.
“Hey,” he says, leaning forward to set his coffee mug on the table in front of him. Kira looks up again, her expression curious but tempered, and Miles pats the seat cushion next to him. “C’mere.”
Kira studies him for a long moment, and then she gets up, leaving her padd on the chair, and sits down beside him. Miles puts a hand on her shoulder, and she turns her back to him, the gesture familiar after so many months. He kneads out the knots in the base of her neck, and slowly, her shoulders relax until she’s slumped forward, her chin to her chest, and humming soft, pleased sounds.
The pressure of Miles’s hands fades until his fingers are just ghosting over her back, rubbing soothing circles. He shifts a little, readjusting his position so he can lean against the back of the couch when sitting upright feels like too much effort. His eyes drift closed and he listens to Kira breathe, slow and steady.
In the morning, Keiko will find them curled alongside each other on the couch, Kira’s head pillowed on Miles’s chest. She will press soft kisses to their foreheads and usher Molly back into her room to give them a little more time.
For now, though, they sleep.
Molly looks up from where she’s coloring on the floor by Kira’s feet and says, “Is Yoshi going to call you Mommy, Aunt Nerys?”
Slowly, Kira lowers her padd down to her lap. She shoots a wary look over at Keiko and Miles on the other end of the couch and then says carefully, “Why do you say that?”
“Because he lived in your tummy just like I lived in Mommy’s tummy,” Molly says matter-of-factly. She’s the spitting image of Keiko, with her eyebrows raised like this is the most obvious thing in the universe.
“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Kira tries, and Molly just carries on over her.
“My friend Orja has two mommies,” she says, returning to her coloring as she talks. “I asked her if she missed having a daddy and she said she never had one, so she doesn’t know what it’s like.” Molly pauses, lip curled in thought. “I’d like to have two mommies, but I like having a daddy too.” Miles snorts. “Yoshi’s lucky -- he gets to have two mommies and a daddy.” She frowns, crayon poised over her paper. “That’s not very fair.”
“Well that’s not--” Kira tries again, and Molly looks up at her, brown eyes wide and serious.
“You could be my second mommy too,” Molly offers, her voice suddenly a little shy. “That way me and Yoshi will be the same.”
That’s not the way it works , Kira wants to say, even as longing springs up sharp and familiar in her chest. She’s used to wanting, to steady, regular hunger of one kind or another. An aching belly is easy enough to ignore when righteous fire burns through your veins.
She still can’t quite believe she’s allowed this, that’s she’s not just a guest overstaying her welcome. Surely there must still be a line somewhere -- they have long since crossed Yoshi’s birth and stepped over so many besides, fleeting touches turning steadily more confident, soft kisses on cheeks becoming lips meeting lips. Whatever this is between the three of them, the words that Kira doesn’t dare say, even in her own mind, there must be an edge somewhere, and Kira will run headlong into it eventually.
“I think that sounds wonderful, Molly,” Keiko says, her voice warm like a Dahkur summer. There’s a soft smile on her lips as she meets Kira’s eyes. Miles is grinning too, nodding like he’s found the solution to a particularly tricky engineering problem, and Kira abruptly finds herself blinking back tears. “What do you think, Nerys?”
Kira swallows around the lump in her throat. “Yes,” she says, her voice barely a whisper. “Yes, that sounds perfect.”
Molly pushes up from the floor and climbs into Kira’s lap, throwing her arms around Kira’s neck. After a moment, she leans back, peering curiously into Kira’s face. “You’re crying,” Molly says, confused. She touches Kira’s cheek. “Are you sad, Mommy Nerys?”
Kira draws in a shaky breath and swipes at her eyes. “No, honey. I’m not sad,” she manages, smiling a little. Her heart is so full she’s not sure her chest can contain it, sunlight spilling over the edges.
Keiko leans over to press a kiss to Kira’s temple, and Molly wiggles around in Kira’s lap so she can hug Kira’s middle, her head tucked under Kira’s chin. “I love you, Mommy Nerys,” Molly announces, and suddenly Kira can’t hold back her tears any longer.
“We all do, Nerys,” Miles says, reaching around Keiko to grasp Kira’s knee. “We all do.”