Disclaimer: Deep Space Nine does not belong to me. I'm just playing with it.
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Voice of the Emissary

"Jake?"

Jake Sisko looked around at the featureless whiteness around him. He'd been working on a story, but the chair, the desk, the entire room...all of these things were nowhere to be seen.

"Jake?"

This time, he recognised the voice. "Dad?" Jake was caught up in a tight hug, staring up into his father's eyes. "I've missed you, Dad."

"I know, Jake." Benjamin Sisko looked different somehow. More serene, perhaps, though that serenity was tempered with visible emotion at the moment. "The Prophets have been teaching me a great many things. I was permitted to reach out and try to contact you. How long has it been?"

"Almost a month." Jake collected his thoughts, realising that his father wouldn't know what was going on outside this place. "Kira – Commander Kira now, she spoke to Starfleet about you. Loudly."

Ben chuckled. "And what was the result?"

"Well, they're saying you're off on a spiritual journey, and you're going to be allowed to return to your duties with no trouble – you are coming back soon, right?" Jake asked wistfully. "But Kira said she'd happily step back down when you came back. I don't think she's that fond of the job, though she's doing it really well. 'If he comes back, he can have the job...even if I have to make him take it back,' I think she said."

Shaking his head, Ben laughed again. "That sounds like the Kira I know. What other news is there?"

"Oh, Ezri and Doctor Bashir, they're engaged. Kasidy's fine, but she misses you too."

Sisko looked saddened for a moment. "I'm going to return as soon as I can. What about you, Jake? Shouldn't you be going to Pennington?"

"I'm staying on Deep Space Nine, for now. At least for a while. The Bajorans are building that house you wanted, from your plans. They said they wanted it to be ready when they got their Emissary back."

Ben nodded slowly. "Love you, Jake-O."

"Love you too, Dad." There was one last hug, and then the whiteness receded. Jake was, once again, alone in his quarters.

***

"I cannot believe this!" Kira hurled the PADD onto the desk in disgust. It never made contact, seeming to vanish from sight.

"What can't you believe?"

Kira looked around, the annoyance on her face melting into awe. "This is the Celestial Temple, isn't it?"

"It is." Sisko stepped out of nowhere, smiling at her.

"Emissary, I -"

"You don't normally refer to me as Emissary," Sisko noted.

"And you don't normally transport me to the home of the Prophets for my very own vision," Kira said, a little tartly.

"That's better." Sisko smiled again. "So, what was it you were angry about when I called to you?"

"Oh, the latest list of Quark's misdeeds. We have a Starfleet-trained security chief now, and Quark has been running rings around him. For the first month, he didn't seem to do anything wrong. It was uncanny. Like he missed Odo. But this month, he seems to have recovered."

"Same old Quark, then?"

"Same old Quark." Kira looked around again. "The Prophets...are they here?"

"In a manner of speaking. They're a little hazy on 'here' versus 'there', 'nowhere' or 'everywhere'. So they're within the Celestial Temple, yes, but not near us in the strictest sense."

Kira nodded, filing that explanation away to ponder when it didn't seem like it would give her a headache to work out. "We did join the Federation, finally. You've been given the credit...and you deserve it, too."

Sisko shrugged. "That was the job I was given. It did turn out to be a lot more than I expected, though."

"I bet. Oh, do you remember Thomas Riker?"

"The one who took the Defiant? Yes."

Kira smiled. "We have him back. The Cardassians gave him back to us."

"How did you manage that?"

"I asked Garak for a favour, and he pulled some strings. He's gone into politics, oddly enough. The Cardassians have been restructuring everything, they have a new civilian ruling council, and they're rebuilding the cities the Dominion destroyed, with Federation help." Ever since what Kira had seen during her assistance of Damar and Garak's resistance movement, she'd made a point of keeping up to date on the conditions on Cardassia. Damar might have died without ever getting a chance to see the free Cardassia he'd fought for, but he had helped Kira to heal some very old wounds. Forgiveness was still a little new for her, but it felt good.

"Is it really that odd? Garak has always had a politician's aptitude for lies," Sisko said lightly.

"Hm. What actually happened in the Fire Caves, if you don't mind my asking? Nobody really seems to know."

"It was Dukat. He was trying to release the Pah-wraiths. He'd tricked Kai Winn into helping him. Dukat became the Emissary of the Pah-wraiths. We fought. Winn...well, she realised she'd gone astray. She died helping me, but managed to tell me what I had to do. I destroyed the Book of the Kosst Amojan, and Dukat was trapped in the Fire Caves with the Pah-wraiths. The Prophets brought me here."

"Dukat? He managed to do that? Well, good riddance to him. Do you mind if I tell the new Kai about this? Bajor should know what happened," Kira said quietly.

"Of course. But don't be too hard on Winn when you talk about it. Dukat was good at fooling people, and she did die trying to stop him, at the end."

"I'll try not to be," Kira promised. "Before you send me back..."

"Yes?"

"I'd like to pray here. It's really the closest I'm ever likely to feel to the Prophets."

Sisko smiled and sat down beside her. "Open your eyes again when you're ready to go back. I can wait."

***

"Interesting. I appear to be experiencing some kind of hallucination. I can see myself, hear myself, but there's nothing else here. I wonder, what could have caused this? I didn't think I'd been exposed to any viruses lately that might inspire hallucinations..."

"Doctor, you are not hallucinating. Welcome to the Celestial Temple." Sisko looked amused by Bashir's attempt at self-diagnosis based upon his surroundings.

Julian looked around, clearly fascinated. "So this is what Kira meant, last month." He gave Sisko a smile. "It's good to see you again, sir."

"I'm allowed to periodically reach out to the outside world, in exchange for my focus the rest of the time on what the Prophets are teaching me. I assume you're still the one doing check-ups on Kasidy?"

"Ah, yes, and she's fine. So is your daughter," Bashir said reassuringly.

"A daughter? You're sure?"

"Quite sure. She's developing normally, and there have been no problems. A very healthy little girl." Julian noted that, white glow or no, Sisko had developed a truly classic 'proud father' smile. Some things apparently never changed, even when the father in question was being instructed by insubstantial aliens in some not-quite-place inside a wormhole.

"So, how have things been for you, then? Engaged to Dax, I was told."

Utterly unconscious of the irony, Julian produced a lovesick grin at least as foolish as Sisko's 'proud father' one. "Yes...we're going to get married in a few months. I wish you could attend; a lot of people are coming back for it. Miles, Worf...even Garak."

"Think of me as being there in spirit," Sisko suggested.

"I'll do that." As the white glow faded, Julian returned to filling out his list of medicines needing a fresh stock.

***

"Benjamin?"

"Hello, old man. Though I suppose I really can't call you that and still give you congratulations on the upcoming wedding." Sisko chuckled ruefully.

Ezri smiled. "Well, I've been the bride and the groom enough times before that I don't really mind."

"Good. Congratulations, then."

"Thanks. You're sure you can't be there?" If it had been Sisko's choice, the wide and pleading blue eyes accompanying this request might have seen him crumble very rapidly. It was so important to her, and Dax was one of his oldest friends, in a very endearing and persuasive current form.

"I still have a lot to learn. Think of it like trying to give a symbiont as many lives' worth of experience as yours, during one life."

"So you're being taught some tricky things, huh?"

Sisko laughed. "That about sums it up. Save me some pictures, and you can tell me about it when I return," he offered.

"I'd like that." This smile wasn't as broad or as bright as the first, but it was still a smile. Pictures and stories wouldn't compare to having him there, but Ezri did appreciate what he was trying to do. "We're going to talk a lot when you get back. I'm a counsellor, and I'm appointing myself to the job of assessing you afterwards. You get to do lots of talking, Benjamin. Hurry back; the sooner you return, the less talking you'll have to do. As it is, you have five months to talk about already." An impish grin followed the mock-threat.

"I'll be sure to remember that, old man," he promised.

***

"Ah. Judging by the lack of definite surroundings, the tales with which Doctor Bashir sought to entertain me are indeed quite correct, though I must wonder why I have been granted this singular privilege."

"I can't always control who I call to, Mister Garak." Sisko surveyed the new arrival, noting his clothing, rather more ornate than it had been in the past.

"I see. How disappointing a reason. In any case, I hope you will not have cause to regret it. Was there something you wished to know?" Garak enquired, smiling pleasantly.

"I think you were on the station. Why?"

"Naturally, I came to wish Julian the best of luck in his marriage – judging by the formidable array of life experiences and knowledge Dax has accumulated, he's going to need it. The wedding was yesterday, as a matter of fact. They made a charming couple during the ceremony. As they should have, since Dax's clothing was of my design."

"I thought you'd gone into politics."

"Oh, I did. But as a cover story or as a livelihood, I did have a gift for matters of fabric," Garak stated calmly. "Besides, it provides a relaxing respite from the demands of bureaucrats who believe my one purpose should be to aid them in their personal goals. A politician who makes wedding dresses for the wives of friends is no higher upon the pinnacle of absurdity than a former member of the Obsidian Order who has worked for Starfleet and gotten away with it, after all. They're calling me a hero these days, you know." His tone was light, but there was the sense that even he was still surprised by his change of fortunes.

"I see your point."

"I'd hoped you might, commander – or would that be 'Emissary' at the moment, given our location? Either way, one would hope that the company you currently keep might have sharpened already keen perceptions. If you're following my point, then my hope is undoubtedly not dashed."

Sisko pinched the bridge of his nose wearily, realising with a mix of irritation and amusement that for the first time in quite a while, he was again having a 'Garak headache'. "Either will do fine, Garak. But you still talk too much."

"Oh, I do apologise, commander. Am I wearying you? I once informed you that Cardassians excel at conversation, and unfortunately, in the field of politics, speech is rather a competitive art, so my natural inclinations may have been honed by recent situations."

"In other words, you've been practising, and now you talk more than ever," Sisko said dryly.

"Precisely, commander!" Garak gave him one of those indecipherable smiles. "Still, I believe I have not yet reached Morn's level of talent. Now there is a man who can speak at length."

"Will you give my greetings to the others?"

"Of course." Garak nodded graciously as the white glow faded, sending him back to the station.

***

"Kasidy."

"Ben?" Kasidy looked around, wrapping her arms around her husband as soon as she could see him. "Oh, I've missed you so much..."

"I know." Sisko brushed a strand of hair away from her face, and they stood still for a moment as though drinking in the sight of each other, refreshing memories that had never truly faded, just gone soft-edged from absence. He broke the silence, looking down with a broad smile as his fingers brushed along her considerably expanded waistline. "A daughter, huh?"

"Yes. Our daughter." Her eyes glistened with unshed tears, both of joy at this meeting, and the sorrow of his long absence.

"This isn't the place to talk about it. I'll show you something I learned to do for myself." With a flicker of thought, a lush garden sprang up around them. He'd visited this garden on Earth once. It lay within his memories, and now he no longer needed the aid of the Prophets to recreate it.

"It's beautiful, Ben." They sat upon a wooden bench, side by side.

"The Prophets tell me I'm nearing the end of my training. I'll be able to come home soon."

"That's wonderful!" At this news, Kasidy gave Sisko the smile that had been part of why he'd originally fallen in love with her. "What has your training been like...or can't you tell me?"

"Kas...it's been incredible. The Prophets know so many things I could never have dreamed possible. I've learned so much, and it's made me think in ways I couldn't have imagined before this." The wonder in his eyes battled with a wry smile, as he tried to find the words to explain. "It's... indescribable, really."

"Then don't try to describe it. I'll take your word for it." Kasidy rested her head against him, smiling as he slipped an arm around her.

Somewhere in the remembered garden, a bird sang, its voice the only counterpoint to the peaceful silence of Benjamin and Kasidy. They closed their eyes, simply appreciating the comfort of closeness.

At last, Sisko disengaged himself, helping Kasidy to her feet. He kissed her lightly, then let her return to the station.

***

There were no more visions on Deep Space Nine. In the eighth month of Sisko's absence, no one reported hearing from him. In the months before that, he'd shown up around the same time each month, a new person being whisked away for a conversation. The Bajorans had listened eagerly to each tale from those blessed enough to hear the Emissary's voice and glimpse the inside of the Celestial Temple. (Garak had found this particularly amusing when it became his turn to be referred to by them as 'blessed' and tell his tale, though with Kira listening in, he curbed the impulse to exaggerate it too far.)

The silence stretched on, and people began to wonder what had happened.

***

"Well, you now have a sister, Jake." Bashir handed the squirming bundle to Jake, turning his attention back to Kasidy, completing the routine procedures required at this point – none of which Jake saw, too busy staring into the face of his newborn sister.

"May I hold her?"

Jake's eyes widened as he handed the baby to his father. Joy seemed to have rendered him speechless.

"I couldn't miss the arrival of my own daughter, could I?" Sisko smiled first at his son, and then at Kasidy, whose weariness seemed to melt away in an instant.

"I'm, ah... I'm done here. Call if you need me." Circumspectly, Julian departed, giving the reunited family some privacy.

"Ben..." She didn't need to say any more. The expression on her face said it all, as he gave their child back to her and wrapped his arms around them both.

Then it was Jake's turn, and he seemed to have recovered his ability to speak, as the words poured out between them all, asking and answering questions, absorbing the knowledge that Ben was truly back.

Eventually, it was time for Sisko to step outside. Kira was waiting there, looking as though she was holding back waves of emotion. She'd been woken and informed by Bashir, who had lost no time in spreading the happy news.

"Sir... welcome home."

He clasped her hand, meeting her eyes. "Thank you. It is good to be... home." With that, the Emissary of the Prophets, Starfleet captain, friend to many and proud father, Benjamin Sisko, smiled.