Disclaimer: I do not own nor claim to own any of the following characters, places, or events. All Star Trek characters are the rightful property of their creators, and all references to Sara Crewe and A Little Princess (my favorite children's classic) are respectfully accredited to Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Author's Note: Set during season 6's "Time's Orphan." For those of you who have read my "Legacy" story, you may recognize some common elements, as I used this piece to flesh out some more of the Dax/Molly moments I so love.


Princess Braids
by Dax's10thHost

The sound of rustling leaves drew Jadzia from the worn pages of her book, and she glanced up, momentarily bewildered by the alien sound. A sound that most definitely did not belong on a space station. Blinking to dislodge the strands of the book's plot from her mind, Deep Space 9's science officer pulled herself into the present, away from little Sara Crewe and her bleak servant's life.

It was then that Jadzia saw the grass carpet lying in stark contrast to the dull metal deckplates, the wrinkled humps of replicated boulders, and the uplifted branches of the ersatz tree anchored to the center of the room. And it was then that she remembered where she was, and why.

The Trill allowed her eyes to climb the roughened branches of the tree until they came to rest upon its sole occupant—a petite figure wrapped loosely, naturally, about the thickest limb, whose unconscious movements had caused the leaves to rub together. As she gazed at the slumbering girl (more like woman, now, she thought wistfully), a sense of deep loss pervaded Jadzia's being. How could this be the Molly O'Brien she'd known and loved for six years? Where was the adorable eight-year-old child with big brown eyes and a laughing smile? Instead, there was a beautiful, foreign young woman curled about a tree branch, sleeping as if she'd slept there every night for years.

And she had, Jadzia realized. For the last ten years, this woman before her, genetically proven to be Molly O'Brien, had slept in a tree like a Terran leopard or panther, or even monkey. The thought made Jadzia's heart ache. Ache for the joyful child lost beneath ten years of isolation and fear.

How she missed little Molly…the Molly who would run and leap into her arms the moment she walked into the room, crying "Zia!" at the top of her eight-year-old voice. The Molly who loved to dance and sing with Kirayoshi, and pretended to catch stars with her fingers. The Molly who let Jadzia color with her prized Bolian crayons, and loved nothing more than to play with the Trill's long dark hair every chance she got. The Molly who wasn't afraid to throw her arms around Worf's waist and announce in a sing-song voice, "I love you, Uncle Worf" with a sweetness that never failed to bring tears to Jadzia's eyes.

Oh, how she missed her! Missed her like she would a corner of her heart.

From her seat on the couch, Jadzia studied Molly's dozing figure. While it was true that the Molly before her was ten years older, Jadzia could still see remnants of the eight-year-old child in the woman's features. Her eyes traced the porcelain skin, stretched taut over delicate, upswept cheekbones. The flattened appearance of Molly's face, defining of her Asian heritage, was the same, though wider than Jadzia remembered. The nose, the mouth, the thickly lashed almond eyes…they all bespoke Molly O'Brien, though a Molly far different from the one Jadzia held close to her heart.

A lump lodged in Jadzia's throat as she watched Molly sleep. Raven bangs brushed her smooth forehead, unmarred by pain or anxiety, and Jadzia longed to finger the silken locks dangling over the girl's slim shoulders. How many times had Molly come running to her in the past, eyes brimming with excitement and voice pleading for Jadzia to braid her hair?

"Zia, give me princess braids, please? Be my 'mander Hairdresser today?"

Princess braids. Zia. 'mander Hairdresser.

Jadzia blinked back tears. Would she ever hear Molly utter those words again? Her eyes went once more to the glossy black hair. Hair that had taken Keiko hours to untangle, and even longer to restore to its current sheen. Jadzia knew this because she'd helped her, after begging out of her bridge shift on the Defiant during the journey back from Golana.

With a flash of pain, Jadzia recalled the hours she'd spent with Keiko in the Defiant's sickbay, sitting beside Molly's sedated form and working a comb through her matted locks. For what seemed an eternity, the two women had toiled together, silent and hurting, each mourning in her own way. Jadzia remembered the way Keiko's fingers had shaken as she held the scissors to Molly's ragged mane, how she had looked to Jadzia with pleading eyes before pushing the scissors into her hands and retreating to a corner to regain her self-control.

As she relived those moments in sickbay, Jadzia could almost feel the unyielding chill of the metal scissors assault her hands, and hear their measured snip as she shaped part of Molly's hair into bangs. And then the warmth of Keiko's hand on her own as she took back the tool, conveying with her wet brown eyes all that her voice couldn't.

Oh, Molly, Jadzia thought, blinking back tears of her own, will we ever get you back? Or are you forever condemned to a life of fear aboard this station you once called home? What happened to you on that lonely planet to make you so nervous and withdrawn?

With a shaky breath, Jadzia lifted her book once more, determined to regain control. Miles and Keiko had asked her to stay with Molly because they trusted her. They had wanted to spend a few hours with Kirayoshi before sharing dinner alone in their quarters for the first time in days. It wouldn't do to let them return, only to find her crying over the daughter they'd lost. Not when they needed her to be strong, to show them a smiling face and open arms for Kirayoshi and Molly both…no matter how much the latter had changed.

Jadzia's eyes wandered the page, trying to find where she'd left off. Her eyes lit upon a familiar sentence. " 'I'll tell you what, Sara,' she said. 'Pretend you are the princess now and this is a royal feast.' " The sentence struck Jadzia like a blow to the gut, and she found she couldn't tear her eyes from the page.

Pretend you are the princess…The words awakened a memory of a night two years past, when the O'Briens had asked Jadzia to babysit Molly so they could steal a few hours away. And so the Chief and Keiko had dropped six-year-old Molly by Jadzia's quarters, smiling as their daughter leapt into Jadzia's arms, squealing "Zia!" all the way.

That night, just as any other night spent playing with Molly O'Brien, had been perfect in Jadzia's eyes. They'd laughed and colored, knelt at the viewport to name stars, and set up a styling salon in Jadzia's living room floor. Not quite halfway through the night, Molly had begun chattering away about the book Daddy was reading to her—Grimm's Fairy Tales.

After several minutes of detailing stories of lost princesses and knights in shining armor, Molly had turned excited brown eyes on Jadzia. "I know, Zia—you pretend to be the princess, and I can be your special lady!"

A smile had flickered across Jadzia's face at the words special lady. "Don't you mean lady-in-waiting?" she'd suggested gently.

Molly's face had clouded into a thoughtful frown, but her smile soon broke through. "Yes, a'course. Silly me! Zia, you be the princess, and I'll be your…lady-in-waiting."

And so they'd played fairy stories for the rest of the night, though Molly had assumed the role of princess soon after the game began. "Princesses have fancy hair, Zia, and I can't do your hair fancy. Can you do my hair fancy?" And that's how it had all begun—make-believe and princess braids.

Jadzia's heart ached with the memories. Would she ever play with Molly's hair again?

Her fingers absently traced the cracked leather spine of her book. Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess. She'd replicated the volume only days before, intending to offer to read it to Molly every night, as a way to spend more time with the adorable little girl.

If living seven lives had taught her anything, it was this: life was short. With the war at a lull for the moment, Jadzia had realized Molly was growing up far too fast; she had to make the most of every moment she had with the girl. Of course, Jadzia's desire for children of her own was never far from her mind, and often spurred her to visit the O'Briens' quarters whenever possible.

Children of my own.

The thought brought her own family troubles to mind, and Jadzia quickly turned her attention back to her book, not wanting to think about what awaited her at home. Soon she was lost in Sara's make-believe banquet hall, enchanted by a little girl's ability to turn the worst of situations into a feast worthy of the long-ago kings. The leaves rustled once more, but Jadzia paid them no mind; Sara's Magic had worked its way into her imagination, and it wasn't about to leave.

Her heart had just rebelled at the villainess', Miss Minchin's, entrance when Jadzia suddenly became aware of someone crouching at her feet. With a start, she realized that it was Molly. Suppressing a gasp, Jadzia slowly lowered her book, hoping fervently that the movement wouldn't send Molly scuttling back into her tree. Miles had said she was skittish, and any unexpected noise or movement could send her over the edge.

With the book safely in her lap and Molly still at her feet, Jadzia could breathe once more. Moving only her eyes, the Trill studied the figure before her. Hunkered close to the deckplates, eyes wide and fingers grasping her knees, Molly looked more like a shy, overgrown preschooler than the wild eighteen-year-old she'd been when Jadzia first saw her, seconds after the transporter beam had pulled her out of the past. Her brown eyes seemed to occupy most of her face, and were wide with…yes, Jadzia confirmed—

Wonder.

Molly angled her head, and without thinking, Jadzia copied the movement. It was a game they'd played when Jadzia had first started babysitting Molly—over five years ago. The tiny three-year-old hadn't wanted anything to do with the Trill, and her almond-shaped eyes had seemed filled with permanent tears for her Mommy. For a full ten minutes, she'd huddled in a corner and sniffled while Jadzia stood uncertainly in the middle of the room.

At last, her motherly instincts had kicked in, and she went to sit in front of her charge. A voice in her head—probably Audrid's—told her not to speak, only to watch. Soon, Molly's tears stopped, and her sniffles became less and less frequent, until they'd ceased altogether. Then the little girl tilted her head and stared up at Jadzia. And that was when their game had begun.

Now here they were in a cargo bay five years later, playing the same game. Except, this time Jadzia faced a Molly fifteen years older. As she mimicked Molly's actions, Jadzia couldn't help but marvel at the coincidence.

Then it happened.

Slowly, shyly—almost wonderingly—Molly rocked to her knees and reached toward Jadzia's face. The Trill froze, hardly trusting herself to breathe. For what seemed like an eternity, Molly's hand hovered just out of her vision. And then it descended…to trace her spots.

Her touch was soft and feather-light, trailing down Jadzia's temple and into her hairline like an errant tear. It sent gooseflesh rippling up Jadzia's arms, and her heart slammed into warp speed. She held perfectly still, willing the moment to last.

Molly's fingers drifted away, and Jadzia's heart sank. She closed her eyes, mentally crying out, No, don't leave. Not yet. I haven't had enough time with you.

Warm fingers grasped her cold ones, and Jadzia's eyes flew open. Molly looked up at her, shy and uncertain, but still she drew Jadzia's hand forward. A brief hesitation, and then her cheek pressed into Jadzia's palm.

The warmth of the contact spread all the way to her heart.

After several seconds, Molly shifted, bringing Jadzia's hand to rest on the top of her head. With quick movements, Molly ran Jadzia's fingers down her hair, humming softly. Puzzled, Jadzia shook her head. But then she realized what Molly was trying to communicate.

Her hair. Molly wanted Jadzia to play with her hair. A shaky smile worked its way across her lips, and she whispered, "You want princess braids, don't you?"

Molly nodded vigorously, and turned her back to the couch. Jadzia's smile stretched into a grin. Molly still knew their routine; she hadn't forgotten. Spying Keiko's brush on the coffee table, Jadzia retrieved it and gently began working it through Molly's dark locks. The firm bristles hit a few snags at first, but her hair was soon shining and smooth, all ready for Jadzia's princess braids.

The Trill set the brush aside and combed her fingers through the left side of Molly's hair, separating a section of it into three strands. From there, she began twining it into a style she'd learned as a teenager on Trill. She'd perfected the look on her sister, Ziranne, and even learned to do it in her own hair. At the Academy, the style had been in high demand, and her dorm room had become known as The Idaris Beauty Salon—a title derived from her pre-joining surname. But out of all the girls she'd done them for, Jadzia thought the braids looked prettiest in Molly's thick tresses.

She'd almost finished braiding the left side when Molly twisted to face her, pulling the strands from Jadzia's fingers. Jadzia opened her mouth to scold the girl, but caught herself at the last second. Who knew how Molly would react to a rebuke?

Before she could decide what to do, Jadzia felt Molly's fingers tracing her spots for the second time that night. But this time, something was different. Her fingers weren't shy and wondering—they were searching. Urgent. A frown clouded Molly's face, and she brought her other hand up to frame Jadzia's face. Again, Jadzia held still, only her eyes moving to search Molly's.

Something dawned in Molly's expression. "Zia…" she whispered. The frown melted into a smile.

Tears of joy flooded Jadzia's eyes, and she raised trembling fingers to her lips. Zia! Molly remembered her. The realization swept through her like a wave from the ocean, warm and buoyant, and she brimmed with happiness.

"Zia," Molly whispered again, her thumbs rubbing the Trill's spotted brow. And then, in a moment Jadzia knew she would never forget, Molly rose to her knees and wrapped her arms around her hero's neck.

The moment took her breath away and nearly melted her heart. When Molly pulled away, the memory of her embrace was emblazoned on Jadzia's heart. "Oh Molly," she whispered, tears trembling on her lashes, "it feels so good to have my princess back."

Molly smile-sighed, turning her back to the couch once more. Her message was as clear as if she'd spoken it in words:

Give me princess braids, please? Be my 'mander Hairdresser, Zia?

~Finis~