The Manipulation of Julian Bashir
By The Tystie
SUMMARY: When you have lived a lie for over half your life, how do you cope when the truth comes out? A story about Julian Bashir, set in season 5.
SPOILERS: Big spoilers for "Dr Bashir, I Presume", slightly smaller spoilers for "In Purgatory's Shadow" and "By Inferno's Light", and minor spoilers and references to lots of other episodes.
TIMELINE: Set during Season 5, turning slightly AU after "Dr Bashir, I Presume".
WARNINGS: The Manipulation of Julian Bashir contains a few sweary words, a little violence, a lot of made up law, and a large number of minor canon and original characters. Also, it is ridiculously long.
DISCLAIMER: Paramount and CBS own Star Trek. I am making no money from this.
Fifty-two hours ago, Julian Bashir had been healthy and cheerful. Now, as he held out a PADD to Captain Sisko, he looked worn. "My report, Captain." Fifty-two hours ago, Deep Space Nine's Chief Medical Officer had been an impostor, a Changeling, and the man currently standing in front of Benjamin Sisko had been in a Dominion prison.
"Thank you, Doctor. You've scheduled an appointment with Counsellor Telnorri?" Counselling was standard procedure after enemy abduction or incarceration. Julian had been the victim of both.
Thirty-seven days in a Dominion internment camp... Sisko had seen how battered and dirty Julian had looked when he came home, barely twenty-six hours ago. The dishevelled doctor had been a vision to fuel his imagination, and Sisko hated the pictures his mind had conjured up. Even as he had welcomed Julian back and had congratulated him on having helped to foil his counterpart's dastardly plot, Sisko had hoped and prayed that the details he'd imagined were wrong, were an exaggeration, were the stuff of nightmares, not reality.
He'd find out about the reality soon enough, when he read whatever Julian had written.
Then again, thirty-seven days was nothing compared to the two years that General Martok had endured, so maybe Sisko was making something out of nothing.
Sisko looked at Julian and wanted to sigh. Thirty-seven days or two years... Maybe the precise amount of time didn't matter. It was the quality of suffering that was important and, looking at him, Sisko was quite sure that Julian had suffered.
The doctor had always been slender, but this version was even thinner than usual. His cheekbones jutted out from his face, and his new uniform, based on measurements taken a couple of months before, was almost hanging from his shoulders. His expression was solemn and his eyes wary. Nobody on Deep Space Nine had noticed when the Changeling had replaced the real Bashir, but the switch back was obvious.
Julian's gaze kept drifting away from Sisko's face to the star field visible through the port. Sisko wondered what Julian found so fascinating about it; he had never shown any particular interest in it before.
"Will that be all, sir?" Julian's voice was quiet, his tone flat.
Sisko said, "Yes, for now. You're dismissed."
"Aye, sir." Julian turned on his heel, a slightly sloppier about turn than military decorum demanded, and he exited Sisko's office.
Sisko stared at the closed doors.
When the shuttle with Worf, Garak, Martok and Julian on board had docked at the station, Sisko had told Julian to take as much time as he needed to readjust to being home. Even so, now, in the empty space Julian had just left behind, Sisko felt he had missed something important, and that he ought to have said or done something more.
Samil Fahid glanced down at the notes he barely needed and continued his summary of news reports. "... Changeling infiltration uncovered on space station..."
Fahid was human. He was tall and lean, and he looked younger than his forty-five years. His dark hair was yet to be touched with grey. His wife, Mei-Lin, constantly reassured him that the lines developing around his eyes and mouth made him look distinguished rather than old.
"What's that one?" asked Shadow Minister Without Portfolio Shiva Ghazi. Shiva Ghazi was also human, but he was shorter and squatter than Fahid. Fahid was his aide, his confidant, and, as of six months ago, his son-in-law.
Ghazi's olive skin was still smooth, but the lines around his eyes hinted at his advancing years. He was approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, still young in political circles, but old enough for him to worry that if he didn't achieve his ambitions soon, he never would.
"Uh... Prisoners escaped from a Dominion internment camp in the Gamma Quadrant and made it back to the Alpha Quadrant. One of the escapees was General Martok—you remember, his doppelganger was discovered and killed a few months ago. Another was a Starfleet officer—a doctor—from Deep Space Nine. He had been kidnapped some five weeks before and replaced by a Changeling, but nobody on the station had noticed the switch."
"Yes," agreed Fahid, "particularly as the station had been carrying out regular blood screenings. Apparently, not even those closest to him noticed that he'd been replaced."
"Does that say something about the friends or the quality of the impersonation?"
"I don't know. The spin that the Federation News Service has put on the story is 'brave escapees foil terror plot' and 'the need for constant vigilance'."
"All right. What else have you got for me?"
"There are reports from Cardassia about yet more political shake-ups...more rumour than fact, of course. There's very little information coming out of Cardassia now that the Cardassians have formed an alliance with the Dominion. There are more stories about the military build-up, and several statements from Starfleet and politicians about our being on a war footing. There's a leaked statement here from a source close to President Jaresh-Inyo: 'We are still searching for peaceful solutions, but war is inevitable'."
"Hmph!" Ghazi scowled. He didn't like Jaresh-Inyo, a clash of personalities as much as differences in political opinions. "He's trying to talk the talk, but he'll never follow through with action."
"There's something here about you. 'Shiva Ghazi: the next Minister of Military Resources.' You're being tipped as the next party leader, and the FNS says that'll be your stepping stone for the Federation's presidency in seven year's time. Here. I copied the story to a PADD for you."
"Excellent! Saying one has no ambition to lead is a trick as old as the hills, but it still works a treat." Ghazi and Fahid shared a chuckle.
"Incidentally, we've had another request from the FNS. One of its journalists wants to do a profile on the family: dynastic politicians, that kind of thing."
"You know I don't like those stories, but I suppose needs must." Another lie, another chuckle. Ghazi was a firm believer in getting as much publicity as he could, and Fahid had long since proved himself adept at managing his public relations. "See if you can negotiate for an interview slot, too. Then put the usual controls and conditions in place, and make sure that the privacy of those family members who choose to avoid the public eye is guaranteed." By that he meant his wife. She hadn't been the same since their beloved son had died fifteen months before. Such a tragic waste. Such a stupid accident.
"Very good." Fahid tilted his head slightly in a sycophantic bow, then continued to brief Ghazi.
"For a man who has a reputation for talking a lot, you've actually told me very little," said Counsellor Telnorri.
Julian fidgeted in his chair, one of a pair that Telnorri had set at a hundred and fifty degree angle from each other, separated only by a low coffee table and a lot of space. The arrangement was designed to reduce the unease of Telnorri's patients. In case that didn't work, the rest of the room had been arranged so that there was plenty of space for agitated patients to pace.
Julian turned his eyes onto Telnorri and said, "What do you mean?"
Telnorri was human. He wasn't fat, exactly, but he had enough of a paunch to render his Starfleet uniform distinctly unflattering. His bare crown was fringed by a band of blond-white hair, only marginally paler than his skin, that ran behind his ears and around the back of his head. This, in combination with a neatly trimmed moustache and beard, always gave Julian the odd feeling that Telnorri wasn't bald at all, but that his hair had slipped downwards or that his head was on upside down. The comedy of his face was accentuated by a pair of bushy eyebrows; Julian had once heard young Molly O'Brien ask her father why Telnorri allowed a pair of hairy caterpillars to crawl across his face.
"You've told me what happened to you. But, if that was all I wanted from you, I could have simply read the report you gave the captain."
Julian's lips twitched humourlessly. "You mean you haven't read it anyway?"
Telnorri didn't bother to answer. Julian shrugged mentally. Telnorri's lack of response didn't matter. His question had been rhetorical.
Telnorri waited patiently and silently.
Why did counsellors think their clients should do all the talking? Julian didn't want to talk. Most of the time, he didn't even want to remember, but he'd been cursed with an eidetic memory, so it was almost impossible to forget. The closest he could come to forgetting was to keep busy and blot the memories out.
That was why he would rather have been almost anywhere else other than here. He could have been doing research. He could have been making sure that the Changeling had done no lasting damage to the infirmary or to any of his patients. He could have gone to check up on Kirayoshi O'Brien's progress. Any, or all, of those things would have diverted him from his recent experiences.
But, no. He had to spend time with the counsellor. He sighed, a soft sound. "What do you want from me?"
"Now you're being deliberately obtuse," suggested Telnorri gently. "You know perfectly well why we have to do this. Why you're here."
A spark of perversity made Julian ask, "Why am I here?"
Julian knew the value of humour, bluster and sarcasm as defence mechanisms, and he'd had thirty-something days in a Dominion prison to hone his skills. He had barely mentioned in his report how he'd deliberately baited his captors. He'd skirted over the details of how, on more than one occasion, he'd protected his barrack mates with his sarcastic answers, misdirection and downright lies.
He hadn't gone into the detail of what the consequences of his behaviour had been.
Absentmindedly, Julian rubbed an itch—real, imagined or remembered?—through the fabric of his uniform.
Were these the kinds of things Telnorri wanted to know about?
Telnorri pulled Julian back from his thoughts. "You're here, as you very well know, so that we can find out if there are any aftereffects from your experiences, and so that I can help you come to terms with any unresolved issues that you may have."
"I'm fine," said Julian. "I escaped. I'm healed. I'm here and I'm fine."
"Even if that's true, it's not for you to judge." Telnorri held up his hand to forestall Julian's automatic protest. "It's my job to find out for sure." He looked into Julian's eyes, making sure that he had the doctor's attention. "You know I'm right. If you were one of your own patients, you'd refer yourself to me. Just because you're a doctor doesn't make you any different from anyone else. Besides, in case you haven't noticed, I have to report to the same commanding officer as you."
Telnorri was correct and Julian knew he wasn't going to be able to avoid the counsellor's prying. That being so, he might as well bow to the inevitable, no matter how much he disliked the idea.
But... Counselling made him feel vulnerable, exposed. There were too many questions that might cross into dangerous territory, too many places where he had to be guarded. He had too many issues that he had to make sure the counsellor never got a chance to help him resolve.
"Normally," said Telnorri, I would prefer to just let my patients talk. But, as you appear to be having problems volunteering information, I want to try something that might make things easier for you."
"What do you have in mind?" asked Julian cautiously.
"I'll ask questions, and you can answer them. Don't think about your answers. Just tell me the first thing that comes into your head."
"All right," said Julian doubtfully.
"What was the first thing you felt when you woke up in the camp?"
"Pain. My head hurt."
"Why were you confused?"
"Because I'd gone to sleep on Meezan IV and I woke up half a galaxy away, and I didn't know how I'd got there."
"Were you frightened?"
"Yes. Of course. Who wouldn't have been?"
"What were you frightened of?"
"Of never being able to leave. The Jem'Hadar said that there was neither release nor escape, except through death." Julian felt himself beginning to relax. Maybe this wasn't going to be so bad, after all.
"But you did escape." Telnorri's intonation made the statement sound like a question.
"Thanks to Enabran Tain. And Garak."
"While you were imprisoned, did you feel helpless? Hopeless?"
"No," said Julian, surprising himself with his automatic response as much as he seemed to have surprised Telnorri. He compounded their mutual surprise by expanding on his answer without waiting to be asked. "Tain had almost finished reconfiguring the life support system by the time I arrived. The others already had their escape plans well advanced. Even if escaping was a long shot, it was a source of hope. So, I always had hope. And I never felt helpless."
"But you were frightened that you might have to spend the rest of your life there?"
"Yes. But I still had hope."
"Even when you were in solitary?"
"I couldn't help wondering what would happen if rescue came while I was separated from Tain and the others." Julian looked into Telnorri's eyes, wanting him to understand. "It almost happened. When I was released from solitary, Worf and Garak were already there."
"You feared you might have been left behind?"
"How does that make you feel?"
"I don't know. When I'm awake, I feel...grateful. Relieved. Because I escaped with them. But when I'm asleep, I dream about it."
"While you were in the prison, what did you miss most?"
Julian frowned at the sudden change in topic. "The stars. We were inside the whole time. Seeing them again... I know I escaped when I see the stars. I know this is real." He found himself getting up and wandering over to the window and staring out.
"You don't feel this is real all the time?"
"When I dream, I'm back in the camp. And when I wake up, sometimes it's hard to know whether sleeping or waking is real."
Julian turned around and looked at Telnorri. Firmly, he said, "I'm awake. And I know I'm here."
"What was the worst thing about your imprisonment?"
"Coming home." Julian started as he realised what he'd said. Oh, this was bad, very bad. Or else Telnorri was very good. Or both. Julian clenched his right hand to stop it shaking.
Telnorri's eyes widened. The counsellor masked it well, but Julian could read the concern provoked by his unguarded answer and his own reaction to it. After an uncomfortable few seconds, Telnorri said, "Can you explain that?"
Julian turned back towards the window and stared at the stars. He couldn't look at Telnorri as he put his answer into words. It was so much easier to pretend that he was talking to himself. Softly, he said, "Nothing is as it should be. I was gone for over a month, but people behave as though I've never been away."
"Go on," said Telnorri.
"They behave as though I was here the whole time, as though what happened to me wasn't real. They expect me to remember things they've said, or things I'm supposed to have done. Only I never had the conversations or did any of the things they remember."
Telnorri waited patiently, and after a while, Julian continued.
"Nothing in my quarters is where I left it. My rooms don't feel as though they belong to me. He did my job. He spent time with my friends. He...tainted...everything. He stole my life. My life went on without me being there. And if... When my...friends...remember that I've been away, they behave with astonishment, disbelief. And—" Julian's voice cracked and he broke off abruptly. He felt tears pricking his eyes, and blinked rapidly, trying to clear them away without Telnorri being any the wiser. He clenched and unclenched his fists, then rubbed his hands together. Some detached part of his mind noted that his palms were damp.
"And they tease me about it. They say they should have seen the difference. That the Changeling was easier than me to get along with."
"How does that make you feel?"
Julian spun around, his face awash with emotion. "How do you think it makes me feel? The Jem'Hadar...they beat me. They hurt me. I was put in solitary. And people laugh about what happened to me! I'm...angry! And hurt!"
"Have you told anyone how you feel?"
Sullenly, Julian said, "I'm telling you."
"Anyone else? Family? Friends?"
"My family and I aren't close."
Julian shook his head. "Garak and Worf... They know some of it."
"Because they were there, or because you've actually talked to them?"
Slightly desperately, Julian said, "I filed my report with Captain Sisko."
"You reported the facts, not the feelings. Who do you turn to, when you have a problem?"
"I..." Julian's mouth opened and closed silently. He felt cornered.
"Do you talk to anyone?"
Did he? Once he might have confided in Jadzia, but that was before she'd started spending so much time with Worf.
He'd sometimes confided in O'Brien, but their most meaningful conversations took place when they'd had too much to drink. Besides, O'Brien didn't deal well with personal stuff, and this... This was personal.
In any case, he still smarted from O'Brien's teasing.
Garak? Garak was a good conversationalist, and their debates about literature were intellectually stimulating. Julian liked spending time with Garak, but he wasn't entirely sure that liking to spend time with someone equated to liking them. Besides, Garak obfuscated more often than not, and Julian couldn't quite imagine how an open and honest conversation about his feelings would go.
"Don't answer me now," said Telnorri. "But I want you to think about it. I want you to schedule another session, and we can discuss it then."
Julian sought sanctuary in the infirmary, where he busied himself by going through files, equipment, inventory and patient records. Eventually, however, he ran out of things to check. He wasn't sure whether he was reassured or disturbed that the Changeling had done almost as good a job as Chief Medical Officer as he, himself, would have done.
The only things the Changeling had neglected were Julian's research projects. That oversight left Julian feeling almost sick with relief. There was one part of his life that hadn't been violated, after all!
Nurse Jabara tapped on the doorpost of Julian's office. Julian looked around. "Oh... Hello. What can I do for you?"
"Your shift ended over an hour ago. You can get something to eat and you can rest. You look exhausted."
Julian nodded. He was driving himself harder even than was normal. He knew why he was doing it; he also knew that there was no reason to draw unnecessary attention to his behaviour. Besides, now he thought about it, he was feeling hungry and he knew he ought to try to sleep, even if he dreaded what might lie in wait for him when he closed his eyes. "You're right. I guess time got away from me."
Jabara smiled. "It's good to have you back," she said. "He wasn't so dedicated."
Julian nodded, acknowledging her comment. She meant well but she hadn't noticed the substitution, so her words felt hollow. At least she wasn't making light of the situation.
Her smile segued into a frown as she looked at him more closely. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he said. He stood up. "I'll take your advice. Food and bed, right?"
"I'll see you in the morning, then."
Jabara's smile was back. "Goodnight, Doctor."
Julian walked through the long corridors of the station, his mind awash with thoughts and feelings, delaying the moment when he'd get back to his quarters. He felt a strong reluctance to face the space his doppelganger had appropriated in his absence.
Julian found himself next to his front door. Funny. Eidetic memory or not, he couldn't remember the journey from the infirmary. He keyed in the door code, then went inside.
He walked over to the nearest port and stared out at the stars and sighed. His session with the counsellor had left him feeling uneasy, unsettled and alone, and now that he had run out of work to do, the feelings tsunamied back, crashing over him. Smothering him.
Damn. The scars on his back were itching again.
Despite what he'd reported to Sisko and what he'd said to Telnorri, his kidnapping and imprisonment had been traumatic.
More than anything, what he wanted was for someone to put their arms around him and to lie to him that everything was going to be all right. But he didn't have anyone who would do that for him.
Before the Changeling incident, Julian had thought that Miles O'Brien had become a staunch friend and ally. Now he wasn't so sure. What did it say about their friendship that Miles had found Changeling and human so easily interchangeable?
In any case, Julian craved something more than good-natured banter. He wanted support, connection. He wanted human contact, the kind close family members or lovers gave each other. He felt his face morph into a scowl, and he saw his reflection scowl back at him. "Well," he muttered, "the counsellor did tell me to think about who I turn to when I need to talk..."
He shook his head as his mind drew a blank. God. What did that say about him? He was interchangeable with a Changeling, and he had no confidant to draw on. He was pitiful!
But then, wasn't that a true measure of his worth? He deserved nothing more.
Damn. His introspection had ignited other thoughts, feelings and memories that he'd become adept at blotting out with work, research, conversations with Garak, trips to Quark's, time in the holosuites, and the occasional game of darts.
Don't think about it. You can't change what you are. You just have to cope with it.
Don't think. Cope.
Julian had never had much success with either family or romantic relationships. He could barely bring himself to talk to his parents and, if there was any extended family out there, he didn't know them.
He flirted, and he'd had occasional dalliances, but he'd only ever had two long-term relationships and one unrequited crush that he could claim had been serious.
Perhaps because his relationship with his parents had been strained for so long, Julian craved physical contact. It wasn't about sex—although he enjoyed that, too. It was about being close to another person. He loved to snuggle and to spoon and to wake up next to someone else.
His first serious relationship had been with Palis Delon, but a combination of fear of discovery allied with a craving for adventure had finally made him leave her.
Jadzia... Julian had been attracted to Jadzia from the moment he first set eyes on her. If he was honest, he still was. But Jadzia hadn't been interested in him, and he'd been scared.
Then Leeta had come along, Leeta whom he'd liked but not loved, and so the risk of involvement hadn't been so high. Jadzia had become a friend and Leeta a lover, and if that wasn't what Julian would have wanted in a perfect universe... Well. Julian had accepted a long time ago that the universe wasn't perfect.
Leeta had done all the chasing in their relationship; Julian had simply let himself be caught. They'd had fun together, at least in the bedroom, and Julian had liked the fiction of closeness that allowed him to forget his loneliness for a few hours at a time. But being with Leeta had been a palliative, not a cure, for his isolation.
In the end, Leeta had moved on, Jadzia had found Worf, and Julian had found himself alone.
He felt separate from everyone else. He wasn't natural. He wasn't real. He wasn't even truly human. And nobody had missed him when he'd been gone.
He felt the walls of the quarters that had been home to the impostor closing in on him.
He did the only thing he could think of.
He went out.
The late afternoon sun beat down on the grass. Insects droned as they flitted from flower to flower, pollinating the daisies, buttercups and clover that had invaded the close-cropped sward. This could have been paradise, save for two things. First, it was August 1940, and the squadron could be scrambled at any minute. Second, none of it was real.
RAF Biggin Hill, its hangars and wooden accommodation blocks, the spitfires on the concrete, the people... Everything, save Julian, himself, had been created by a complex web of computer code, light particles and energy.
Julian lay on his back, his eyes closed and his arms folded across his face. The sun's rays warmed him through the fabric of his Starfleet uniform.
He hadn't bothered to change into his flying clothes. He'd come here to escape his quarters, questing for a bit of peace and quiet, rather than to role play. Maybe things would have been different had he brought Miles along with him, but Julian hadn't invited him.
Julian sighed. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't lose himself in the programme. His mind kept circling back to events outside the holosuite.
A clap of thunder and a sudden downpour of rain made Julian leap to his feet and run for the nearest hut. The moistened soil released the smell of summer rain—a remote part of Julian's mind produced the word petrichor—only, somehow, the smell wasn't quite right. Holoprogrammes never quite seemed able to capture the finer nuances of the scent.
On a different day, Julian might have laughed at his lot but, in his current frame of mind, the summer storm was an annoyance too far. The water dripping from his hair, face and clothes, allied with the faux-petrichor, banished the final remnants of Julian's enjoyment.
"Computer: end programme!"
The summer day vanished in an instant, and was replaced by hard walls, bare floor and ceiling, and artificial light. The water disappeared from his body and clothes.
Julian sighed. As a distraction, visiting 1940 had turned out to be an utter failure.
He'd have to try something else, instead.
"Scotch. Single malt. Make it a double."
Quark made an expression of sceptical surprise. Julian tilted his head slightly as he catalogued exactly how Quark managed to convey the emotions without having eyebrows to raise or a forehead that could furrow. There was something about the creases around his eyes, the ridges on his nose and the set of his mouth.
"Do you really want whisky, Doctor, or are you trying to make a point?"
"I really want it." He paused, then said, "How would ordering whisky be making a point? And what would that point be?"
"No real point, other than that the Changeling never drank spirits."
Julian found himself asking, "What did he drink?"
"Warm bitter or cold root beer."
"Oh." Julian felt himself frown. "How did he drink? Or eat?"
"Into the mouth and swallow?"
"Odo doesn't eat. Not any more, anyway," said Julian.
Odo regaining his shape shifting abilities... That was another thing he had missed, another thing people expected him to know about and remember. Julian felt himself slump even lower onto his bar stool.
Quark's brow ridges shifted upwards by a couple of millimetres, another nuance of expression. "Maybe he could, if he tried. Especially now he knows what it's like to be solid."
Quark poured out a finger of honey-coloured malt into a small glass and put it down on the counter in front of Julian. Julian picked it up and swirled the liquid around, appreciating its colour, the way the light played with it, and the way it tried to cling to the sides of the glass.
Then Julian tossed back half of the whisky, letting the flavours assault his tongue: a tint of fruit, a lot of peat, and a fire that lingered at the back of his mouth and down into his gullet long after he'd swallowed. His chest warmed. He peered appreciatively at the remains of his drink, then looked up at Quark and said, "I think I'm going to need another."
Quark nodded. He lined up a second glass, acknowledged Julian's thanks, and then moved on to another customer.
Julian swished his next mouthful over his tongue, enjoying the burn and the mixture of taste notes. There was an almost masochistic pleasure in drinking whisky, the sensations hovering on a knife-edge between pain and pleasure. He swallowed, downing the fire. He sighed appreciatively. The whisky was doing a passable job of blotting out his disquiet, better than either warm bitter or cold root beer could have done.
By the time Julian reached the bottom of his third glass, his vision had begun to blur pleasantly around the edges, and Quark had begun to make vague threats about cutting him off even as he served Julian a fourth.
Julian startled, then turned towards the speaker's voice. "Hello, Jadzia." He squinted behind her. "Where's Worf?"
"In one of the holosuites. I said I'd meet him here, after he's finished his work-out."
Julian acknowledged her answer with a nod.
"And what brings you here?" she asked.
"I wanted a change of scenery. I needed to get out of my quarters for a while."
"Something like that." Julian turned his attention back to his glass, watching idly as his long fingers turned it around and around on its base.
"Julian... Are you all right?"
Something about Jadzia's concern touched and hurt him. There was caring and worry in the question, so like how she'd been before Worf, back when Julian had had hope, and when he'd begun to think that he might be able to tell her anything.
Her concern belonged to another time. Or to another him.
"Oh. Yes. I'm fine."
She put her hand onto his forearm, and he thought he could feel the coolness of her skin through the fabric of his uniform. Probably it was just his imagination.
Quark came over. "What'll you have, Commander?" he asked Jadzia.
"I'll have whatever he's having." She waved vaguely in the direction of Julian's glass.
"Islay malt? Isn't that a bit...insipid...for your tastes?"
"Insipid?" said Julian. He looked accusingly at Jadzia. "Do you even have taste buds?"
Jadzia just smiled. Then, when Quark had delivered her drink and moved on, she returned to their previous topic. "No. You're not all right," she said softly. "Tell me what's wrong. Maybe I can help."
Julian shook his head. "Nothing's wrong, exactly. It's just taking me a little time to get used to being back here, I suppose."
"'Used to...' What do you mean?"
"Well, for one thing, my quarters don't feel as though they belong to me any more. He touched everything. Moved everything. God knows why, but he even shifted all the furniture by a few millimetres."
"And you noticed?"
He wasn't supposed to notice that level of detail, was he? He'd slipped. Again. Although...now that he worried about it, noticing that kind of thing did fall on the edges of human norms, so maybe he hadn't slipped too badly. He shrugged, hoping that Jadzia wouldn't pursue it.
"He reorganised my closet. And I can't help wondering whether he wore my clothes, or if he morphed his own."
"You feel violated," Jadzia said, verbalising what it was he hadn't said. She thought for a few moments, then said, "Would it help if you moved into different quarters?"
Would it? Nothing could change the fact that his life had been invaded, but... "Maybe it would."
"Then ask Kira."
"She'll think I'm being s-silly." Julian cringed inwardly. His old, nervous stutter was back. He thought he'd lost that years ago. Maybe he had. Maybe it was the drink making him stutter, but he didn't think so. He didn't think he'd had enough alcohol yet. Maybe he should have some more. Yes. More sounded like a very good idea right now.
"No, she won't," said Jadzia.
Julian squinted at her, his expression sceptical. "If she doesn't, it'll be a first. Major Kira always thinks I'm silly."
Jadzia sighed. "No, she doesn't. Besides, Kira knows you've been through hell. She'll understand."
Julian thought about it. Maybe he would.
Jadzia slapped his upper arm and said brightly, "What you need is a distraction. Something to take your mind off things."
Julian couldn't argue with that.
"Hold on. Don't go anywhere."
"Wasn't planning to."
Julian watched as Jadzia crossed the bar and interrupted a group of people that Julian recognised as being semi-regular visitors to the station. He'd treated one of the men once, when he'd broken his right wrist in one of Quark's holosuites. Jadzia talked, leaning over their table, then gestured towards him. He felt himself blush as he felt the full force of five sets of eyes land on him. Then a woman—human—grinned and stood up as Jadzia straightened.
Jadzia led the stranger across the floor. Julian couldn't help but notice that the woman was very attractive.
Scant seconds later, Jadzia said, "Have you met Julian?" and then proceeded to navigate them through introductions.
Julian noticed that Belen Amoruso had small, straight, white teeth, which she flashed in a heart-shaped smile. Her oval face was framed by shoulder-length, auburn hair, which fell in ringlets like strands of DNA. Her skin tone complemented the colour of his malt whisky. That coincidence had to mean something.
Maybe it simply meant that he'd had too much to drink.
"H-hello," said Julian. "It's a p-pleasure to meet you."
Her smile broadened. "Ooo," she cooed. She looked at Jadzia and said, "You didn't tell me he was a shy one."
"He's not shy," said Jadzia. "Just a little nervous, perhaps. And possibly quite drunk." She winked at Julian. "Anyway, here comes Worf, so I'll leave you two alone. Have fun." Her eyes twinkled as she fluttered her fingers in goodbye.
Belen slid onto the bar stool that Jadzia had so recently vacated.
Her eyes were a rich, dark brown, and Julian fancied that they'd been created specifically to lure him in.
"Jadzia told me you saved a world," Belen breathed.
Julian listed in Belen's direction. "Well...I had help."
Belen shifted closer, and when she next spoke, he could feel her breath tickle his ear. "Nervous—or was it drunk?—and modest, too." She rested her hand on top of his. Her skin was warm and soft, and she'd painted her nails the colour of deoxygenated blood.
He turned his hand over beneath hers, so they touched palm to palm, and he interlaced their fingers.
Belen Amoruso was just the distraction Julian hadn't realised he'd been looking for.
Julian lay with Belen in the afterglow of their coupling, his arms wrapped around her, his cheek resting on her hair, and his legs tangled with hers. Top to toe, skin to skin, their bodies touched. His fingers brushed against her bare back as he listened to her slow, even breaths, and he felt a knot of gratitude in his chest. She was beautiful, and for a while, she was his, and that brief time gave him the best approximation of happiness that he'd felt in a long while.
Just for tonight, he could pretend that what they'd shared meant something more meaningful than gratified lust, and that it had been something more than it could ever be.
In the peaceful haze of satiation and fantasy, Julian fell asleep.
He woke up alone, the space next to him empty, and the sheets cold. He sighed as he rolled over, sat up and rubbed his eyes. Belen's presence in his bed hadn't kept the nightmares at bay, and she'd sneaked out without saying goodbye. What had seemed like a good idea the night before now felt tawdry and depressing.
He felt more alone than ever.