Star Trek might be considered a franchise built on found family as every crew seems to form deep bonds after serving together, but it is the found family between Tekeny Ghemor and Kira Nerys on Deep Space Nine that means the most to me because of how it embodies the utopian future Trek was based on. Tekeny Ghemor, a Cardassian military leader, and Kira Nerys, a Bajoran warrior, end up as surrogate family of choice which would never have formed without circumstance and scheming introducing them to each other. But this just ends up making their scenes more poignant as they choose to build their relationship after these less than ideal circumstances and aim to improve the lives of both of their people.
Tekeny Ghemor is introduced in the episode “Second Skin” as the father of Iliana Ghemor, an undercover operative who underwent surgery to become Bajoran. Kira has been kidnapped, knocked unconscious, surgically turned into Iliana, and told she was only programmed to think she was Kira. Throughout the episode Ghemor tries to figure out if Kira is Iliana. He ends up resigned to the fact Kira is not Iliana, that Iliana is still missing, and that others like Dukat are manipulating him and Kira. However, because he never displays the same behavior to Kira that Dukat does, Kira seems to see Ghemor in a more positive light. Possibly she sees a bit of her own father in Ghemor: a father who became a widower during the Occupation of Bajor. Ghemor’s own opposition to the Cardassian government may also help the two bond. He admits he tried to guide Iliana towards her artistic achievements and did not want her to join the Obsidian Order or go on the undercover mission.
Even after she is returned to her normal appearance and Bashir confirms Kira is Bajoran, she continues to bond with Ghemor, using her contacts within the Bajoran government to help his search for Iliana. Ghemor is profoundly touched by this as he has resigned himself to the fact he may never see Iliana again and has even emotionally adopted Kira as his daughter. He even passes one of Iliana’s bracelets on to Kira and insists she keep it. He also uses his ties to the Cardassian government to learn about her life after the episode, much like a father would, even asking if she and Shakaar will have children. Since he precisely names Shakaar, it also proves he cares about her emotional life, not just their mutual distrust for the Cardassian government and Dukat in particular.
Sadly they only have one more episode together, “Ties of Blood and Water.” Ghemor comes to DS9 where his terminal illness ends his life. Throughout the episode Ghemor tries to use his last few days to give Kira the information she needs to undermine their mutual enemies, rejecting offers from Weyoun and Dukat to support the Dominion/Cardassian alliance in exchange for spending his last days on Cardassia Prime. Yet as his condition worsens Kira becomes enraged as Dukat tells her Ghemor was present when a Bajoran monastery was attacked and many Bajorans killed. She leaves his side, incensed that he never told her about the event. Even though there is no report or evidence that he killed anyone or ordered the attack, he still apologizes and asserts he regrets his time in the Cardassian military, saying that his old feelings of hate towards Bajorans have gone, replaced with the conviction that Cardassians were the villains of the war. Ghemor never tries to deny his role in the attack either, merely explaining he had intel about weapons hidden there and that his men’s safety was his concern. He does say he never told Kira about this because he foresaw this reaction. If there had been another episode featuring Ghemor prior to “Ties of Blood and Water,” the writers may have been able to show Ghemor internally wrestling about whether he should tell Kira or the two discussing the Occupation of Bajor from their different perspectives.
At the end, Ghemor refused other more effective treatments in order to stay alert to be able to tell Kira everything he thought she needed to achieve their mutual goals. Upon Ghemor’s death, Dukat tries to claim his body for burial on Cardassia Prime, intending to spin a propaganda story with Ghemor as a hero who supported the alliance with the Dominion on his deathbed. But Kira had already taken Ghemor’s remains to Bajor and buried him alongside her biological father, perhaps foreseeing Dukat’s scheme.
This burial choice is even more poignant in the context of an earlier scene where Ghemor holds Kirayoshi O’Brien, the child Kira was a surrogate for. Ghemor even says he feels like Kirayoshi’s grandfather since he has now accepted he will never see Iliana again (even before Bashir tells him that his diagnosis is fatal). By burying Ghemor alongside her own father, Kira has clearly accepted him as a found father and seems to validate his brief bond with Kirayoshi. The trio—half Japanese, half Irish, entirely human Kirayoshi; Bajoran Kira; and Cardassian Ghemor—are a perfect representation of IDIC as they are only able to interact in a world where Starfleet and Federation ideals are creating chances for them to learn from each other.
Sadly the writers did not include a reference to “Ties of Blood and Water” in the dialogue for “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night,” which could have added an interesting dimension to the story, explored Kira’s character arc more and highlighted how she has evolved emotionally from the first season up to this point in the series. She went from being very angry at anyone whom she perceived as a non-ally to Bajor to now forming a deep emotional tie with Ghemor, even asking for him to be given equivalent treatment to visiting Bajoran dignitaries when he came to DS9. She smiled throughout their reunion in “Ties of Blood and Water,” something Kira would never have seen herself doing before.
While found family is often seen throughout Star Trek, where starship and space station crews bond as they come to spend more time with each other than their biological families, the bond of Ghemor and Kira from DS9 stands out as particularly poignant and proof that found families can help each other heal. Although the Occupation of Bajor did steal Ghemor’s daughter Iliana from him and Kira’s family from her, Ghemor and Kira were able to take their chance encounter—brought on by the manipulations of Cardassian leaders—to seek out family bonds with each other. They clearly cared for each other and were trying to use their resources to help each other. At Ghemor’s death, he gave everything he could to help her and Kira did everything she could to honor his last wishes: something the two of them would never have foreseen before they met.