Disclaimer: Names you recognize aren't mine—I do not own nor claim to own the characters, places, or events. Only the story. Names you don't recognize (i.e. Telyn Roksana and Jaleyn Krem) are mine; please don't use them without permission. Lyrics at the beginning respectfully accredited to Elton John and his "Candle in the Wind."
Author's Note/Timeline: Firstly, much thanks to DianeB for allowing the use of Molly-O's beach; stop by and read her Nothing in the Galaxy if you haven't, especially if you like this story—it's one of my favorites.
-Though I have read the first two Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels, I've disregarded canon in the event where the O'Briens move to Cardassia. In this story, they never left Earth.
-I've followed bits of the timeline laid out in the DS9 re-launch novels, Avatar and Unity, (Sisko's return, the birth of his & Kasidy's baby, Bajor's joining the Federation) though I did change his daughter's name. Originally, (in Avatar) Kasidy was considering the name Rachel Jadzia for a girl.
-I used Jadzia's pre-joining name as presented in the second Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel (featuring Trill and Andor). I also used bits of the inscription on her tombstone, though I couldn't remember exactly what it said.
5/21/12: Streamlined for easier reading.
Your candle's burned out long before
Your legend ever will
Molly O'Brien set her Introduction to 24th Century Exobiology homework aside and gazed out the window, taking in the sparkling waters of San Francisco Bay. The late-afternoon sunlight glinted off the waves and sparkled into her eyes, causing her eyes to water. Or was it something else that triggered her tears? Surely simple sunlight couldn't provoke such a strong reaction. After all, she'd lived under natural light for the past nine years of her life. No reason she shouldn't be used to it by now.
Molly sighed and turned away from the spectacular view, opting instead for a Starfleet-issue padd. A glance at the stardate justified her tears.
Ten years to the day.
Molly inhaled, and the air seemed to hang in her lungs as her eyes pinned the date, willing Time to retrace its endless steps and choose a different path. Any path other than the one it had blundered along that tragic day so long ago.
Molly's outward eyes glazed over as her inward ones stared at the door leading to yesterday's halls. As she sat there, she envisioned stretching out her arm and pressing the keys to open it. In her mind's eye, she saw the doors slip open, even heard the hiss of them sliding into the bulkhead. But the one thing she couldn't fancy into existence, the one act she couldn't will her body to perform…was to step past the entrance.
Everything seemed to trickle into stillness as she struggled within her heart. Then, with a breath so heavy that it shut her eyes, Molly exhaled and steepled her fingers over her nose and mouth.
She wasn't ready yet. She just wasn't strong enough to endure the pain.
The doors behind her whisked open, and Molly's roommate, Telyn Roksana, entered the room. Sounds of laughter spilled in behind her, and Molly dashed the tears from her cheeks. She turned to greet her friend, hoping Roksana wouldn't notice the sadness hanging in her eyes.
"Hey," she said, watching as the Bajoran tossed an armload of padds onto her bunk.
"Hey," Roksana replied, turning to face Molly.
"How'd class go?" Molly asked, halfheartedly scrolling through her homework assignments. She really didn't have that much left to do before the weekend.
"Great. I only have two papers to write, and one test to study for. What about you?"
"Not much homework left. The rest of Intro to Exobiology, a few lecture transcriptions to read for Astrophysics, an outline due for Early Starfleet History…"
"Have you started that end-of-year essay yet?" Roksana asked. She pushed aside the padds and folded herself onto the bunk. "I haven't."
"You mean the one all the first-year cadets have to write? No. Haven't had the time to look at the assignment yet. What's the prompt?"
" 'Who inspired you to enter the Academy, and why?' "
The words hit Molly like a blow to her stomach. Who inspired you… "Y-you're sure that's it?" she choked, heart hammering.
"Positive. I've got the assignment right here," Roksana said, gesturing to the padd she held in her hand. "It's due, uhm…yikes, next week."
Molly blinked and shifted her gaze to her homework. Anything to keep from breaking down in front of her roommate. Roksana was her friend, but Molly wasn't ready to admit her grief to herself, much less to a girl she'd known for barely a year.
The gray pallor of the padds' casings stared back at her, silent. Silent like…she shoved the thought back into its musty closet.
"Well, then…I should get to work on it, I guess," Molly mumbled, grabbing her satchel. She filled it with a few padds before slipping her feet into sandals. Since she hadn't had class that day, and it was the start of the weekend, she was already dressed in civvies.
"Where are you going?"
"Uh, down to the beach. I need some fresh air," Molly explained, offering what she hoped was a convincing smile before walking over to her nightstand. She punched the button to open the top drawer and reached inside, withdrawing a wooden box about the size of a thick hardcopy. She slipped it into her satchel, next to her homework, and walked to the door.
"I'll be back in time for dinner," Molly said, glancing back at Roksana. The Bajoran had moved to the floor, where she'd splayed her homework around her. She looked up and smiled before returning to her work. Molly squared her shoulders and exited the room.
The dormitory's hallways were bustling with students making their ways to their quarters after a day of classes and training. The air buzzed with eager voices sharing the day's ups, downs, and, of course, practical jokes. Representatives from dozens of races—Andorian, Bolian, Bajoran, Ktarian, Trill, Human, Betazoid, and more—intermingled. They lounged in twos against the walls, or laughed in fours and fives in couch-filled nooks. Overall, the atmosphere was warm and cheery, full of youth's exuberance and life.
The happiness grated on her nerves. Clutching her satchel strap, Molly wove her way through the mass of light-hearted smiles and banter. As she side-stepped elbows and other unexpected appendages, Molly kept her mind fixed on her destination, not allowing it the luxury of wandering. Not until she got away from everyone. Away from the laughter and smiles and all-around happiness.
A few of her friends smiled or waved cheerfully to her hurried form, but all she could manage was a small nod in their direction. Her heart was too heavy for her hand to wave, too forlorn for her lips to smile.
When she at last broke free of the dormitory's walls, Molly lifted her face to the sun and breathed deeply, letting the warmth act as a balm to her soul. This…this she could handle. This emblem of joy she welcomed.
Quickening her pace, the eighteen-year-old headed for the beach, straining to catch the sounds of seagulls' cries and the crash of waves against the shore. The trip took her fifteen minutes at a rapid pace, but she found the exercise refreshing. Especially on such a gorgeous, but rare, afternoon. Most people these days simply beamed to their destination, too impatient to absorb their surroundings. Not Molly.
She'd grown up first on a starship and then on a space station, surrounded by all things technical. Replicators to fix her meals, turbolifts to move her from one level to the next, computers to tell her everything she cared to know. And, for the first six years of her life, it had been natural.
It hadn't mattered that there weren't any trees to climb on the Promenade—she'd preferred her daddy's arms instead. The absence of caves to explore in the corridors had never bothered her. She'd only known about caves from school, and hadn't liked what she'd learned. Too dark and damp for her liking. No lakes had awaited her in the bathroom; a steaming bubble bath with her favorite bath toys had made up for that. No butterflies had existed to catch before they flitted out the viewports, but pretending she could touch the stars had been much better.
So she lived in space—what was so awful about that? Molly had laughed and played like a normal child in a normal home, and she'd carried a little-girl joy inside her that, her mother had once said, charmed even the Klingon's heart.
She hadn't fallen in love with nature until she turned seven. That was the first year they'd made the day trip to Golana, for a picnic and botany lesson. As it turned out, they'd never gotten around to the botany lesson—her mother had been too busy playing tag with her, her father trying to keep up with a holocam. Molly smiled, remembering the sunshiny hours she'd spent tumbling about in the grass, laughing as it tickled her cheeks. That had been the day everything changed.
From that point on, Molly distinctly remembered the times when she felt most alive as during the O'Brien Family Picnics on Golana. There she had leapt, tumbled, and laughed in the rolling green hills like any other girl her age. There she had dreamt and giggled until all that filled her mind were images of exotic animals and the smell of sweet green grass. Out there, in the intoxicating, open Unknown, Molly O'Brien had beenachild.
The hill beneath her feet crested, and Molly stopped to drink in the sight. Gulls soared overhead, wings tilting on the wind's lazy currents. The grass underfoot faded into powdery sand, and the sand into sparkling seawater. In the distance rose the Golden Gate Bridge, its burnished red-orange brilliant against the ocean's green highlights.
The dim roar of the waves beating upon the shore sounded as glorious as a Klingon opera to Molly's hungry ears; the tang of salt seasoned the air, stinging her eyes and throat in its welcome familiarity. Molly closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting the memories wash over her. Yes, she loved space, loved the thrill and mystery and adventure. But there was nothing quite like terra firma to bring her to life.
After Golana, she had always felt a nagging sense of discomfort growing up on Deep Space 9.
Except for on the holo-beach.
A smile tugged her lips. At her father's request (and with the help of generous compensation), Quark had constructed a beach holoprogram especially for Molly's use. The Ferengi barkeep had outdone himself in the programming, creating the warmest sand and clearest sky a child space-resident could ask for. Molly-O's Beach, he'd dubbed it. And so it had been.
Molly fondly recalled the many hours she'd spent playing in the find golden sand of the shore. The swimming lessons her father had given her in the tide pools on his days off. The day she'd swum with dolphins. She sighed. Those had been perhaps her favorite hours aboard the station.
She walked the remaining distance to the shore, kicked off her sandals, ad dropped the satchel to the sand. Then, after rolling up her pant legs, she padded down to the water.
The sand was cool and firm beneath her feet, giving only slightly under her weight. When she reached the waterline, she stopped, waiting for the next wave. It came, lapping about her ankles in a warm rush. Welcome back, the shushing waters seemed to say, we've missed you.
Molly let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. How long had it been since she'd come here? Too long, she decided, and waded a bit further into the water.
She stood there—for how long she didn't know—eyes shut and head tilted back. The waves slapped against her knees, the sun shone upon her shoulders, and an ocean breeze played melodies through her hair. The three wove together, creating a strand of memories that stretched deep into Molly's heart with their little-girl perspective.
The sand's golden warmth…seagull chases…lopsided sandcastles…exotic shells…warm seawater tickling her toes…salt wind teasing her hair…sleek gray dolphins…cartwheels collapsed into the sand…family picnics…Yoshi's delighted grin…her mother's tender smile…her father's undivided attention…a laughing face… eyes bluer than the sky…long brown hair that matched—
Molly jerked her thoughts away from their intended path and sloshed her way to the shore, attempting to stuff her emotions back into the closet. But, by the time she'd stormed onto the beach and dropped Indian style to the sand, she hadn't succeeded. They were out, running rampant, and there was nothing she could do to stop them. Molly buried her face in her hands, eyes stinging as if she'd spilled soap in them.
The stardate echoed through her mind, her tears flowing freely. Salt mixed with salt; memory mixed with memory. The doors to yesterday's halls shushed open, beckoning her into their shadows. She moved haltingly, still not ready to endure the pain. Unsure whether she could withstand the onslaught of memories long locked tight.
Molly drew to the lip of the threshold, teary brown eyes gazing into the corridor. Could she do it? Could she withstand the emotion cresting on the other side? She licked her lips, uncertainty nipping at her willpower.
It took only a moment for her to realize. It didn't matter if she stepped past the bulkhead or not—the monstrous wave inside wouldn't wait forever. The door was open, now, the wave free to crash down upon her. Either way, the memories, the loss, the pain, were coming. Whether she was ready or not.