Miles O'Brien raced to docking pad 'C'. He wasn't sure which was racing faster, his legs or his heart. His best friend had looked haggard on the view screen explaining they had been held in a Dominion prison camp.

'Why didn't you know!', O'Brien chastised himself, 'How could you have been fooled by a Changeling for so long'.

How long had it even been? The dirty, torn, old style uniform did not go unnoticed.
'It must have been at least a month. Dammit.', he muttered as he reached the docking pad, medical personnel already standing by.

The first sight that greeted him was a half dead Worf being removed on a stretcher. Julian barking orders and taking charge. He looked like hell, but with a patient in need of surgery Dr. Bashir predictably put Worf's needs above his own.

"Miles", Bashir greeted, but in a haunted tone O'Brien had never heard from him before. The two made eye contact. There was something in Julian's eyes that didn't look quite right on him. An emptiness. Miles felt a chill.

"We're going to go through a lot of Scotch, aren't we.", stated Miles.

Julian gave him a pursed half smile, but only replied with "Make sure Martok goes to the infirmary. He's as stubborn as I am."

Martok laughed "You'll get no argument from me, Bashir. I have a song to write, after all". Julian smirked as he and Martok disappeared towards the infirmary.

"Ah, Chief!" Miles turned around to face the only possible owner of that voice. "I was hoping you would be here." Garak said.

A nurse interrupted the conversation before Miles could utter a word, "Mr. Garak, you need to come to the infirmary, too".

Garak smiled, "But of course. First, I'd like to inform the Chief he needs to be more perceptive with a mutual friend of ours."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Scoffed O'Brien, knowing damn well Garak hadn't known about the Changeling either.

"Chief, we mustn't be fooled again. I do not take being made a fool lightly."

Miles looked away and sighed, "Yeah, me neither."

"For a man who talks oh so very much, it appears our dear Doctor says little." With that, Garak took his leave.

Miles stood in contemplative silence as the corridor completely emptied.

Captain Sisko and Jadzia Dax awaited word on Worf in the infirmary.

"Don't worry, old man. He's in the best of hands," Sisko reassured her.

Jadzia sighed and nodded, believing it was true. She felt in her heart Worf was going to be ok. After hearing Martok's song, she was grateful Worf hadn't had to endure another night there. She smiled slightly in amusement remembering the verse about the Cardassian who panicked, but continued on for 'the song'.

"I know, Benjamin. I also know you've been working around the clock non stop. Why don't you go get some rest? I'll let you know as soon as Julian has news."

Sisko let out a heavy sigh.
"I'm not going anywhere. I need to speak to Julian. Starfleet wants a report immediately."

As if on cue, Doctor Bashir emerged from surgery. He was unshaven, his eyes heavy, his lanky frame a bit more slight. His voice sounded beyond exhausted.

"He'll be fine. Worf didn't have a single rib that wasn't bruised or broken, a punctured lung and internal bleeding, but he will make a full recovery." reported Julian, after 3 hours of surgery. His hair a little too long and hanging over his tired eyes as he took off his scrub cap. Jadzia hugged him warmly.

"Thank you, Julian. I'm glad we got you back."

Julian winced at the contact. She backed off and took in his appearance.

"Hey..." She said worriedly, cupping his paling face. Sisko saw it too, "Nurse!" He called out as Julian stared through Jadzia to somewhere unknown.

Julian knew this was a bit dramatic, but he didn't want to be conscious now that his work was done. Everyone was safe. He didn't want to explain anything to the Captain right now. No questions. So tired. He cutoff the oxygen supply to his own brain, as only a genetic mutant could. '' he thought, bitterly, as sweet nothingness enveloped him.

10 hours 23 minutes and 8 seconds. That's how much time has passed.

'They must have given me something to let me sleep. I was supposed to wake up in a couple of hours'.

Julian's fuzzy vision came into focus. He saw his friend asleep in a chair next to his bio bed.

"Miles", Julian whispered. Miles awoke with a start

"Huh? Oh! Hey, Jules. Ya scared me half to death."

"What did you call me?"

"What?"

"Never mind." Julian did an internal check to make sure he was indeed awake.

"Look, Julian..."

"What is it, Miles?" Julian asked tiredly.

"I should've known about the changeling. I'm sorry."

Julian smiled sadly, "There was no way for you to know..."

Miles couldn't help but feel guilty. He thought about making a joke about how 'I should've known, you were too easy to get along with' or 'You'd never bring me sandwiches', but now didn't feel like a time to joke. Bashir's demeanor reminded him of himself after his own prison experience. A man defeated. A darkness that could be heard in the unusually lower timber of his voice.

"Well, you look like hell...If you ever need to talk-"

"-Thanks, Miles," Julian quickly cut him off, "I don't need...I don't know what I need. I'd like to get back to my quarters actually." Julian started to sit up, but Miles stopped him.

"Whoa, wait. I was supposed to call Doctor Crusher and the Captain when you woke."

"Doctor Crusher?"

"The Enterprise docked while you were in surgery. Dr. Crusher is taking care of you."

"That's what I'm supposed to be doing," interrupted Dr. Beverley Crusher as she walked in.

"I was just about to call ya. O'Brien to Sisko. *Go ahead, Chief.* He's awake. *On my way*.

Julian studied Dr. Crusher as she checked her tricorder readings. She seemed...miffed.

'I had to perform surgery on Worf. Damn. I shouldn't have been able to in my condition though.'

"Will I live, Doctor?" Julian tried to joke. Tried to be normal. Tried to smile.

"Doctor Bashir, you are very fortunate," Dr. Crusher admonished.

"Over a month in a Dominion prison. It appears Lady Luck is indeed on my side." Julian took exception to her condescending tone.

"How is he, Dr. Crusher?" Asked Captain Sisko as he entered.

Crusher's eyebrows raised and she shook her head for a moment trying to figure out the best way to put this.

"Doctor Bashir had injuries and deprivations significant enough to prevent him from providing adequate healthcare to patients. How he performed hours of life saving surgery I have no idea."

Bashir and Sisko shared a glance, "I'm fine." Bashir assured him.

"He will be fine. He's off duty until further notice.", Crusher huffed.

Julian felt anger, indignation, relief, anxiety then a large helping of apathy. Apathy. That was an emotion he hoped would stay locked up in 371. He took a deep breath.

"I agree for the time being", Julian said, without much inflection, "For the record, if someone else had been capable of giving Worf the care he needed, I would have stepped aside."

"Julian, you did good", Sisko said raising his hand to silence an oddly perturbed Crusher. "I need to talk to you about your time in the prison camp. Starfleet considers this intelligence top priority."

"I...can get a report to you by morning."

Sisko studied him for a moment. Bashir was no longer making eye contact. He recalled the brash, naive young man who arrived on the Station 5 years ago looking for adventure. To be a hero. Wide eyed and never ever stopped talking. Those eyes looked older and vacant right now. Sisko found that particularly hard to see.

"Counselor!" Miles exclaimed as Deanna Troi walked in.

"Chief O'Brien! How are you and Keiko?" The two exchanged hugs.

"Oh we're doing fine. Keiko and the kids are on Bajor right now. I'll tell them you asked about them."

"Kids!" Julian was startled out of his apathy, "Miles, your son was born. My god."

"Kirayoshi was born 3 weeks ago, Julian. No complications."

Julian was still slack jawed processing that an enemy changeling held his best friend's newborn child's life in his hands. A complication would have been easy to create.

'I guess when you plan to blow up the entire system it didn't make sense to bother'.

"Doctor Julian Bashir, this is Counselor Deanna Troi", Dr. Crusher introduced, "She'll be with us until the Enterprise is repaired. I'd like you to speak with her daily."

Julian looked at Troi. Troi smiled. His eyes widened.

'Oh no. A Betazoid.'

"I-I don't want to seem rude. I think I'll speak with Dr. Telnori".

'Focus, Julian. Don't let her read you.'

"Julian, I'm sorry, but Dr. Telnori died in an accident a month ago." Sisko revealed with a sigh, thinking he'd have to have Odo investigate that accident further in light of recent developments.

Anxiety was rising inside Julian. All the enhancements in the world can't calm the nerves of potentially being outed for what he is by a Betazoid. He felt like vomiting. Everything he lived for could be lost in a moment. Counselor Troi gasped at the barrage of surprising emotions flooding her from the young Doctor. She momentarily lost her balance and reached for a chair. O'Brien helped her as he looked at Julian who appeared to be panicking.

"Doctor Bashir, I'm-" Troi began

"-you don't have my permission to invade my mind." Julian weakly exclaimed, trembling, the vein in his forehead popping out.

Doctor Crusher had prepared a hypo and was standing by. Deanna waved her off and finished her sentence with more composure.

"I'm half Betazoid. I can't read your thoughts. I'm an empath."

Julian looked at her. His eyes squinting and boring into her and thought 'I'm a genetically enhanced monster. A freak! I'm a fraud. I'm illegal and I committed atrocities on that damned rock. You are required to report me to Starfleet '.

Troi looked at him with concern, feeling his anger and a self loathing that surprised her. It was a different flavor than what she normally encountered from people who've been through this type of trauma. Of course, the Dominion prison experience was unfamiliar territory.

"I believe you," said Julian, who relaxed back down on the pillow.

After an awkward silence, Sisko made a decision that was undoubtedly going to result in an angry Admiral. The report can wait. Bashir clearly needed rest. The war will not be won or lost because one report waited a few hours.

"Julian, I'll get that report from you tomorrow. Dr. Crusher, can he be released?"

"Yes."

"He shouldn't be alone though." Interjected Troi.

"He can stay with me" volunteered Miles, studying his friend.

"Doctor Bashir, let's meet at 14:00 hours in Holodeck 1 on the Enterprise" Troi said, offering him an understanding smile.

He nodded.

Julian tossed his bag on Miles' couch and went straight to the replicator.

"Hot buttered scones and jam. Tarkalian tea extra sweet."

"The scones have missed you, Julian", joked Miles.

"I doubt that. I'm sure he ordered them and they were none the wiser." Julian immediately regretted the words. Miles looked away. "I apologize. I'm upset, but not specifically with you, Miles."

"Or the scones?"

Julian just stood there staring. A smile briefly flashed with a slight chuckle.

"The scones aren't off the hook. They're about to make it up to me though. Would you like anything?"

"Raktajino would be great, thanks."

The two sat in mostly silence while Julian devoured his scones. It was hard to fathom Julian hadn't really been here all along. He was playing darts with a changeling. Talking about his family with a changeling. Why couldn't he tell the difference?

"Hey, do you think the changelings are capable of molding exact replicas of our brains and memories?"

Julian gave it some thought. "Did the changeling say anything that only I would know? Something that couldn't be learned from personnel files? What did you two do together?"

"You know, now that you mention it. He didn't talk about anything too personal. Odo may have given all the information needed when he entered the great link."

"That's odd. That would be a version of me from the singular perspective of Odo. Of course we were in that simulation for a time on the founders' planet..." Julian stopped.

'Did the Dominion know? Is that why they singled me out in that way? Did they have plans for me? Did they want me to be a killer? Did...'

Miles was waving his hand in front of Julian's face.

"Julian?"

Bashir was now trembling.

"Hey! Snap out of it! Bloody hell!" Miles grabbed him by the shoulder. Julian startled and dropped what was left of his scone.

"Hey. Welcome back. You ok?" Miles was relieved to see his somber eyes focus.

"Uhm...", Julian muttered, "You couldn't have known it wasn't me, Miles. Let's not overthink it. I think I'll freshen up and then head over to the Enterprise. Would you like to come to the Enterprise with me? See your old friends?"

"Yeah, I would. It's been a long time."

"Miles, is it me or is Dr. Crusher lacking in bedside manner?"

Miles laughed "I noticed. I think you remind her of her son. She's usually quite personable."

"Ah, I see. That's actually how she made me feel. Like a child being talked down to by their parent."

Julian got up to hit the sonic shower. Miles realized he knew nothing of Julian's family. Nothing really anyway.

Miles was escorting Julian to Holodeck 1, greeting old friends along the way. Julian was quiet. Miles kept glancing at his friend.

"Nice hair."

Julian looked over at Miles questioningly. "What?"

"Did ya even look in the mirror, Julian? You look exactly the same as you did when you first got back except-cleaner."

"I didn't look in the mirror, no. Dax tells me the Dominion prisoner look is quite fashionable right now."

"Hah."

"You may laugh, but I may not get off the Enterprise without dozens of women begging me to take them to Risa."

"Is that right?"

"It is. That's why I asked you to escort me. You're my body guard."

"Heh. Things are going to be ok, aren't they."

Julian smiled somberly, realizing how easily he and Miles got back to their usual banter. He wished he could say yes, everything was going to be ok, but he had no idea how to forgive himself.

'Play the part, Julian. It's what you do.'

"Well, I thought everything was going to be ok until I realized I asked you to keep dozens of women from whisking me away to Risa. I should probably seek counseling."

Miles laughed and clasped his hand on his friend's back as he left him at Holodeck 1.

"Hello, Doctor Bashir", Deanna Troi greeted him with a warm smile.

Inside the Holodeck was beautiful greenery, rich, multi colored wild flowers, butterflies, rolling hills, chirping birds and sunshine. The scent of jasmine in the air. The breeze ever so slight. There were two benches as well as a walking path. Julian stopped in his tracks to take it all in. He closed his eyes and felt the warm sun on his face.

"You can call me Julian."

This was a stark contrast to the frightened, angry young man she'd met in the infirmary.

"Julian, if you're comfortable with it you can call me Deanna. I feel you're more emotionally open now."

Julian smiled a bit, still basking in sunlight he thought he'd never experience again.

"Deanna, I apologize for my behavior. The thought of someone being able to read my thoughts was unsettling. If we're going to do counseling then I'm going all in. If there's any chance at all to find a way to put this behind me...I want to get there."

He was being genuine. Deanna was relieved. 'This may be easier that I thought.'

"You will get there, Julian, believe that. Would you like to sit or go for a walk?"

"I'd prefer to walk."

They walked in companionable silence for a long while. The longer they walked in silence the more Julian's thoughts turned inward. The more he remembered why he doesn't deserve to enjoy a nature walk. Why he doesn't deserve help.

"Julian, tell me about it."

Julian stopped in his tracks.

His heart now racing.

Palms sweating.

He was there.

He was at 371.

He was being taken to the lineup.

"Choose" said a Jem'Hadar. Julian's heart was pounding fast and loud in his ears. He felt a hand on his arm and jumped.

"It's me", said Deanna, "You're safe. Feel the ground beneath your feet."

Julian mentally returned and looked hard at her.

'She feels what I feel'

"Oh.. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I-"

"-Don't be", Deanna interrupted his guilt, which happened with some patients regarding her empathic abilities, "This is why I'm here. I'm here to help you. I can handle whatever feelings come my way."

Deanna's eyes pleaded to be let in, but Julian's were now closed off. His mood swung wildly. It was like he'd let the genie out of the bottle and he couldn't quite stuff it back in no matter how hard he tried.

"There is no way to help", Julian's voice was shaky and venomous, "If you knew...you wouldn't want to help." Julian walked away, "Computer. Change program. Run any program set on a damned asteroid."

The rolling green hills and singing birds gave way to a lifeless rock floating in the depths of empty space.

The wild flowers, the butterflies and the warm sunshine, as fraudulent as he believed himself to be, lost to a cold blackness.

The change of scenery hit Julian like a phaser blast to the heart.

'This is where I died'.

Julian carefully sat down, surrendering to the emptiness he felt. Deanna approached him slowly and sat next to him.

"You said you were all in. I'm all in, too. That doesn't mean we have to do everything in one day. We still have time if you'd like to talk. Or we can pick it up tomorrow. Whatever you need, Julian."

Julian turned to her to apologize when suddenly he flashed back there again.

This time, Deanna didn't just feel it. She saw it in her mind, too. She didn't understand how this was possible. It was so rare with humans and only a special few if any in a lifetime are able to do a rudimentary connection after the strongest of bonds are formed. This man was a stranger.

She didn't stop it. It was too unique an experience to stop. She was actually there. She saw Julian being taken to a lineup of some sort. The Jem'Hadar told him to choose one of the prisoners.

"I'm not choosing! I will not take part! You may as well kill me!" Shouted Julian.

All 10 people in the lineup were then savagely beaten. Screams of horror and dying filled the room.

"Noooooo! Stop! Please!" Julian pleaded.

He knelt down by the victims trying to render aid, but he eventually found himself surrounded by corpses. A Jem'Hadar smeared the dead's blood on Julian's face.

"Next time, choose one."

The connection between them was broken off by Deanna.

Julian, unaware of hot tears streaming down his face, looked her in the eyes.

"Were we? *breathing heavily* Could you?"

Deanna was shaken as well, though she did her best to hide it. She nodded.

"You lied! You said you couldn't read my thoughts!" He wanted his words to be angry but they sounded like the words of a man too broken to fully protest.

"Julian...this isn't...this isn't supposed to happen. I have only connected with one human in my life and he and I shared a deep bond... This could be an opportunity for me to fully understand and for you to share what happened since talking seems to be difficult right now. How do you feel about that?"

He didn't verbally respond. She could feel his shame.

"Julian...I want you to listen to what I have to say. That blood was not on your hands. The Dominion was responsible. Whatever sick game they played with you it was all on them."

A few minutes of silence dragged on. Julian finally found his voice.

"From then on...I chose." Bashir's cracking voice was soft and low. Eyes dark and far.

"You were forced to choose one to save all of them from dying."

"I came up with a system...It was very complex...I used it to choose. I thought it would remove me from the burden of choosing. Mathematics chose who was going to be beaten to death, not me."

Deanna continued to receive flashes of the equation, it involved the stardate, cell block number, presumptive age of the individuals.. She couldn't follow it all, but the purpose of it was brilliant.

She saw Bashir with his equation, choosing which one was to die.

The horrors that followed.

The shrieks of agony as each chosen one was brutalized in a new way.

She needed him to stop. He was getting too carried away, so she hugged him.

His thoughts came back to the present, and Troi let go.

He was becoming alarmed that he was losing control. He tried to bury everything, but it was bubbling over.

'Come on, freak. You can do better than this.'

"Nobody should have to go through that. I know you don't feel it right now, but you have to know it was not your fault. It was not your fault.", Deanna said firmly, "Judging by what they did to Worf it might have been entertaining to them to make a man who saves lives, be forced to choose who dies. To study how you would react. To learn what happens to a good Starfleet officer when he's put in an impossible moral situation."

Deanna was quickly enveloped in another flash.

10 were lined up.

"Deanna, leave!" Bashir shouted. "Now!"

She tried.

Nothing.

She couldn't disconnect.

"Get out of here! I don't want you to see this! This is not what I want!"

He was panicking.

So was she.

"I'm trying! I can't leave!"

Deanna was terrified, but tried, and mostly failed, to remain composed.

She saw Julian choose, but nothing happened. Something was different about this time. Alarmingly, she briefly sensed his desire to end his own life. She saw the Vorta approaching him.

"Troi, get out of my goddamned head and this will stop!" Julian was getting desperate.

Part of him knew he shouldn't do it himself, but he was not about to reveal what happened next. He wasn't ever planning on revealing this part. Not in it's completely honest form, anyway.

"We're doing this differently today, Doctor." Said the Vorta with a sneer.

Bashir's feelings grew frighteningly dark. The Vorta brought the unknown Gamma quadrant alien he had chosen to him.

'No choice' Julian thought as he cut oxygen to his brain just long enough to drive her out.

Gasping, he fell back on the cold surface of the asteroid. It had worked. He remained conscious. He hoped upon hope he didn't just out himself.

Deanna, with all her experience, felt out of breath and in danger herself. She should have called everything off the moment they connected in such a way. She couldn't allow herself to be vicariously traumatized or cause her patient more pain.

She startled a bit at his current feelings.

'Oh, no', he thought.

He sat up next to her not making eye contact. He brushed his hair out of his eyes and calmed himself.

"Julian, I have to ask, are you feeling suicidal?"

Julian knew the feelings were there. So she did too. The reason why, he'd never with full honesty, say.

"Counselor...I am not acting on any feelings of that nature."

"If you feel like you're wavering please call me immediately."

Julian nodded. "This is not how I expected this to go."

"Believe me, neither did I..." She knew she was going to have to consider a different counselor see him. "Why don't you head to your infirmary. Have Doctor Crusher run a brain scan. I'm curious if anything unusual turns up considering what happened here today."

He was sure she felt his lack of enthusiasm for an in-depth brain scan. Julian spoke with a quiet, clipped, authority, "I won't be reporting to Doctor Crusher for a brain scan. I'm sorry. I'd rather not discuss my experience with you anymore. Thank you for your help and your Doctor/Patient confidentiality".

With that, Julian Bashir ended the program and walked away. As soon as the doors closed behind him he wanted to collapse under the weight of his secrets.

The upbeat Jazz Trombone music could be heard halfway down the corridor.

*beedeeboodoop*

"Come."

Deanna entered his quarters.

"Deanna! Hey, come in," beamed Will Riker.

'Imzadi, can you sense my thoughts?' Deanna stared into his eyes.

Riker looked at her puzzled, "Deanna, is everything alright?"

'Imzadi, sense my thoughts.'

Riker set aside his trombone and moved towards her, his brows furrowed with concern.

"What is it?"

Deanna looked him in the eyes and sighed, "I think I need to contact my Mother".

"Whoa, hey, let's not get hasty." Riker called to her as she left his quarters.

She heard the now sad Trombone music fill the corridor. She couldn't help but break a slight smile. Very slight.

Captain Sisko was pleasantly surprised by how quickly Doctor Bashir had pulled his report together.

"Thank you, Doctor. I'll let you know if I have additional questions once I've read it."

Julian nodded and was about to turn to leave when Sisko added, "I also look forward to the test results of your brain scan. Counselor Troi, while not revealing anything you shared, informed me of the-unique experience."

"Sir, if I may," Bashir had no idea what was about to come out of his mouth, "I believe the Lethean attack I survived may have been responsible."

"Oh?" Sisko arched an eyebrow.

"It's the only thing that makes sense. I'd rather not undergo any more tests, sir."

Sisko eyed him, "Doctor Crusher will do all the analysis of the scan. All I need is for you to get it done and then continue to rest. Troi is having a scan as well."

"I see...Sir, I'd like to request a different Counselor for.. obvious reasons."

"I'll put in the request. Use the holo-counselor in the meantime," Sisko said as he took in the sight of his disheveled, frontier Doctor, "and Julian?"

"Sir?"

"Nice hair."

Julian tried to comb his hair back out of his eyes. It fell right back over them. He smiled apologetically and left for the infirmary.

"Little one, this is very interesting. Are you sure you don't want to marry him?"

"Mother!"

"A connection like that between a human and a halfling? He's the one! Oh how I have looked forward to this day! My little one is getting married! What's his name? I know everyone on DS9, they just adore me!"

"I can't say who and there is no wedding. It was not a pleasant experience as the connection grew stronger and out of control. I'm not even sure how I disconnected the last time. Has this ever happened before?"

"No dear, not to my knowledge. The best you could have expected was hearing his thoughts. Please tell Doctor Bashir I do hope he's feeling better by springtime. That's the most lovely time for a wedding on Betazed, wouldn't you agree?"

"Mother! I'm not saying who my patient is!"

"I do keep up with the Federation news service, little one. I didn't think it was Woof having all that trouble."

Deanna huffed and ended the transmission. "I should have listened to Will."

Jadzia Dax spotted the Chief at Quark's having a synthale.

"Mind if I join you?"

"Not at all." O'Brien said as he downed more of his drink.

"So, how's Julian? I haven't been able to spend much time with him. Or his hair."

O'Brien smirked, "Yeah, why he won't at least comb it is beyond me. Did you really tell him the Dominion prison look was in? Because I think he took you seriously."

"I did, but honestly I was trying to keep it light. He seemed... different. I feel guilty for not having noticed he'd been replaced."

O'Brien let out a huff, "Believe me. I feel guilty too. As for how he's been, I'd say moody. Extremely moody. He can seem almost normal and then he zones out or has a stress reaction. He sounds...well, like he was held in a Dominion prison for over a month and none of us were the wiser."

"I read his report..."

"...Me too. He doesn't want to talk about it. Said I already know everything anyway since I read it. At least that brain scan turned up nothin. He was relieved about that. And the Enterprise will leave tomorrow. He's relieved about that too."

"He's hiding something."

"I dunno. The report was pretty horrible. All things considered I guess he's doing ok or will be. Has nightmares, you know, the usual after...yeah...it's only been a week," O'Brien had a sad smile. It wasn't right seeing his energetic and talkative best friend so quiet and sullen.

Dax thought carefully, "No...I think he's hiding something. 5 days in isolation that's 5 days where nobody else could corroborate his story."

"Why do ya think that?

"Worf thinks he's hiding something too. Nobody would talk about why he was in isolation while they were in the prison."

"He doesn't believe it was over rations?"

"He doesn't. He said a prisoner from another cell block said the rations hadn't been cut."

"That was a different cell block. If Julian has anything to say he'll say it to me."

"You two are like brothers."

"Yeah, who'd a thought," O'Brien smiled.

"How many brothers does he have again?"

Julian had already put on his night clothes for bed when O'Brien returned. His back was starting to ache a bit from sleeping on the couch. Though it was a vast improvement over his previous circumstance.

"Hey, Julian. You're turning in early. I thought you had an appointment with the holo-counselor?"

"I already went," Julian lied, "I'm feeling a bit tired tonight. Thought I'd get a good nights rest."

O'Brien didn't particularly like the way he sounded right now.

'Look at ya, O'Brien. Dax has you paranoid.'

"Before you do, I was thinking maybe we should come up with a secret question or somethin. You know, to regularly check to make sure we're...us."

"What did you have in mind," Bashir said with disinterest.

"I dunno, how many Brothers do ya have?"

"I'm an only child-Miles, that's in my file and would be known." For gods sake the thing passed as me for a month."

"Yeah, yeah, you're right... How about how'd you get that scar on your neck?"

Bashir stared at Miles for an uncomfortably long moment.

"I don't know. I was young. Look, can we-", Julian stared at nothing.

"Julian," hell, thought O'Brien. "You're back on DS9, remember?"

Julian continued to stare blankly and trembled.

Miles walked him over to the mirror, "Look! You're back and you're safe. Do you hear me?"

Julian saw his raggedy reflection staring back at him. His hair was longer and an absolute mess. He now had a full beard. His eyes empty. The man he saw staring back at him was the monster he'd feared over half his life. An unnatural freak capable of anything. He reached out and touched the mirror.

"Miles..."

"I'm here."

"I look like shit," Julian said flatly.

Miles couldn't help but chuckle, "That you do. Maybe tomorrow we-"

Julian punched the mirror and screamed. His hand bloody. Shards of the mirror were everywhere.

"Julian!"

Bashir was screaming and grabbing at his head, "Get away from me!", he picked up one of the shards of glass and held it against his own neck.

"NO! Please! Julian, please. Put it down and let's talk."

"You don't understand, Chief! I'm not Julian anymore! I'm a goddamn monster!"

Miles froze, "No. You're not. You and me, we're brothers."

Julian's face was contorted, tears streaming while his raspy voice screamed in defiance, "Of course we're like brothers, Miles! Don't you see? I have to protect you!"

"Tell me what you're talking about. Please. You know damned well I've been where you're at and if it weren't for you I wouldn't be here."

"I'm a monster! I tried not to be! I'm dead, Chief! This is what's left and I won't be it!"

The door swished open and Counselor Troi entered. She could've felt this all the way from Jupiter Station.

"No! Stay out of me!" He shouted at her before they both went still.

They were there.

Back on the rock.

"We're doing things differently today, Doctor", the Vorta sneered.

"Get out of my head, Troi!"

"No. If you want me out you're going to have to kick me out- like you did last time. I'm here to help you."

Julian cried, "You can't help me! I'm dead!"

The Vorta said, "Today, you're killing this man." A knife was put in Bashir's hand. "You kill him and the others live. What are you going to do?"

Bashir looked at the Jem'Hadar to the left of him.

"Get out of my head, Troi! Now!" Bashir desperately pleaded.

Bashir looked at the Vorta to the right of him.

"I won't go. I'm willing to go through this with you." Troi resolved.

Bashir looked at the 2 Jem'Hadar on either side of the other 9 prisoners.

"Well Doctor? You have 3 seconds." Remarked the Vorta.

Bashir didn't need 3. Fast as lightning he slammed the knife into the neck of the Jem'Hadar to the left of him without even looking in his direction or using his dominant hand. He ducked and rolled away from the phaser blasts he anticipated would head his way from the other two Jem'Hadar now charging him. Bashir jumped up higher than he should have been able to and grabbed a beam above him and flung himself into the Jem'Hadar with precision. He slit one's throat while he swept his leg under the other. He grabbed the first ones rifle and blasted the Jem'Hadar into oblivion before turning it on the Vorta and doing the same.

Troi watched in disbelief. This can't be how it went down?

"Please! Deanna! Leave!" Bashir begged.

One of the prisoners shouted "Kill him! He dies and this experiment stops!"

A couple of the prisoners charged. Bashir successfully knocked them out and pleaded with the rest to stop.

He heard the man behind him.

The man who he had chosen to die.

He could hear he'd grabbed a phaser rifle.

Before he could pull the trigger Bashir turned and shot him dead. The other prisoners stood in stunned silence.

"You can not over power me. Any attempt to do so will result in your death. And believe me, I do not want to kill you. Leave here. I'll wait and take responsibility!"

The two men who started the fight were rousing. One grabbed the rifle and pointed it at Bashir. That man is now dead.

"Anybody else?" Bashir coldly asked.

A woman ran to the dead man's side crying.

"Julian, this can't be how it happened. You must be misremembering." Deanna concluded.

"Leave me!" Bashir cried.

Suddenly they were in a bedroom. It looks like someone had wrecked it. Trophies and award certificates busted and shredded. A mirror shatters. 15 year old Julian Bashir grabbed a shard from the mirror.

"What is this?" Deanna asked

"Oh. My god." Bashir deadpanned.

"Jules? I know you're upset, but put that down. Be a man about this. Not a spoiled child." Said Richard Bashir, not believing for a moment his son had it in him to hurt himself.

Julian was on his knees now, surrendering to the scene playing out. Troi watched wide eyed.

"I'm already dead, Dad. You killed me. You didn't love the real me and you killed me-"

"-Jules, that's ridiculous. Think of your Mother!-"

"-And Mother allowed it!"

On 371 the woman crying over her loved ones body grabbed the rifle and screamed as she aimed it at Bashir. It was the last move of her life.

Young Jules was shaking, but not relenting with the piece of glass.

"All we need you to do is tone down your accomplishments a bit. Especially with the Tennis nonsense. I'm sorry you're upset finding out about your genetic enhancements."

"You're sorry?!" Jules exclaimed incredulously, "I'm a monster! An unnatural freak! All my accomplishments are a sham! I'm not even human! I'm the next Khan!"

The remaining 371 prisoners unwisely chose to try to kill Bashir.

He pulled the trigger.

He stood silently in the dead quiet room. He dropped his weapon and waited to surrender to whomever the Dominion sent.

"Jules, put it down!" Richard shouted in disgust.

"Go to hell!" Jules cried out.

"Fascinating," said the new Vorta as he locked Bashir in the isolation cell, "Enjoy the next 5 days with today's events as your companion."

"You were a slow child, Jules, and we saved you! Don't let all your Mother and I sacrificed for you be for nothing! How about a little gratitude from your genetically enhanced smart mouth, huh?"

"Gratitude?!"

"Listen, I'm a very important man, Jules, and I'll not have you ruin my reputation!-"

"-thank you."

The lanky 15 year old slit his own throat.

Bashir and Troi disconnected. Bashir had made the same motion as his 15 year old counterpart, but Miles had carefully taken the glass out of his hand while they were mentally somewhere else.

Julian and Deanna made eye contact. The look on Bashir's face could melt the heart of the burliest, battle hungry Klingon.

Bashir started sobbing uncontrollably. Troi was in shock.

Miles went to Julian and grabbed him in a hug as much for comfort as it was to hold him until security and a medic arrived.

"It's alright, Julian," Miles said through tears of his own, "I promise."

Troi walked over to him and kneeled down. She touched the scar on the left side of his neck and her heart skipped a beat.

Odo burst into the room with 2 other guards and a medic.

"What happened?" Odo asked.

Troi looked up at him and said, "Doctor/Patient confidentiality."

Julian slowly looked up at Troi.

"No, it's still not your fault. I'm not reporting your genetic status, but I do have to report the suicide attempt," She thought to him, "I'll stay here and work with you until you're ready to get back to work, Doctor. You're worth it."

He hugged Miles tighter, his pained eyes never leaving hers as he thought back to her, "...thank you."

EPILOGUE

6 weeks had gone by. Julian Bashir had been back on full duty for over two weeks now.

'Things are really back to normal' thought O'Brien as he hit a triple twenty.

"He's back in the zone today!" Exclaimed a fresh faced Julian Bashir, not a hair on his head out of place.

"I never really left it. Just been giving you a chance to get even." Teased Miles.

"Thank you, but I don't need your charity. Another game?"

'I really should go', thought Miles, 'but it's so good to see him back to normal.'

The thought of him weeks ago sobbing on the floor made another uninvited appearance in Miles' mind.

"Maybe one. I promised Molly I'd do some coloring with her this afternoon..."

"A father's work is never done."

"You said it. Still, it's worth it. You should give it a try sometime."

"Me? No."

"Why not? I bet you'd make a great father."

"I'm not exactly the family type."

Miles has made a concerted effort to get to know more about Julian on a very personal level. Over a bottle of Scotch, they'd settled on having 5 different questions they could ask each other to make sure one wasn't a changeling. The trick was having agreed upon incorrect answers including one answer that required a reply in song. Miles had vowed to ask that question during a senior staff meeting.

'It's great to have him back', Miles thought happily, 'I'll never be fooled again'.

"Doctor Bashir, I Presume?" Asked a bald stranger.

-The End-