2376, Three Days Later
It had been Amy's idea. The two of them were to meet at Quarks at Thirteen Hundred Hours, a short time before she and her research team were finally scheduled to leave for the Badlands. "It is a fascinating place," she commented, with the beginnings of a soft, throaty laugh. Which was true, Julian supposed. And his friend had passed quite a lot of time there, enough for almost every one of Quark's waiters to come to know her by sight.
Those whose names she had not learnt on her own, Dax had been all too willing to introduce to her. Julian smiled secretly to himself, remembering how Ezri's predecessor had developed a habit of staying awake late into the night, to exchange cheeky witticisms over several drawn out rounds of tongo. And his smile soon turned to an open grin when he thought of this outwardly timid woman - whom he'd met as a still more timid young child - being as fascinated as she was by such a disreputable establishment.
Amy sat at the far end of the room, where some of the artificial lighting dipped gradually into shadow, leaving her table only half illuminated. She was easy enough to find; this corner had rapidly become one of her favourite haunts. Not waiting to be invited, Julian slipped quietly into the opposite seat. She was right about one thing, he noted. This was a good place to meet. Easy enough to peer at the surrounding crowd, but not so exposed that it could not occasionally feel more private.
The professor glanced up briefly from a padd she carried in both her hands. "I took the liberty of ordering drinks already." There were two half-full glasses of something clear and green set together on the table in front of them. "I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all." Julian chanced a sip of his drink. It was sweet, tangy - and tasted a little like the not-quite-blackcurrant flavour of those cough medicines his parents had forced him to swallow as a child. But he supposed the taste would grow on him, given time. It was not wholly without potential.
He placed it back down upon the table.
"So," he remarked. "Almost time."
"Almost time," Amy confirmed. Her voice was low as she finally set her padd aside. Trapped within a bed of a small-print text, the screen showed an image of a butterfly with large, elaborate, blue-green wings. Even as a still frame, it was easy to see the sheen of reflected light dancing across them, transforming their colour to a gaudy display.
"Are you sure you still ought to be going?" Julian found that he was asking before he could stop himself. "I mean, after…?"
His companion hesitated for barely a second. But then she nodded, tucking a wayward strand of light brown hair behind her right ear. It instantly dropped back to rest across one eye. "It's what she would have wanted, for the project to continue. And besides, it's what I want, too."
M'Pel. The name hovered between them for a moment, solid and unspoken. Amy seemed willing enough to forgive - at least on the surface. But Julian still wasn't entirely sure how to feel about the Vulcan woman's betrayal. Of course, he could guess what Ezri's advice would be. That he really should allow himself the time for his uncertainties to resolve themselves into some kind of solution. And that was what he swore to do.
Much of their research equipment had been destroyed in the bomb, and the ship's departure was already delayed. But enough of it had been stored off the station instead, and also in M'Pel's temporary quarters, to make for a viable expedition. And when she was not making statements to Lieutenant Ro, or taking every opportunity to discover still more about the Ferengi establishment, Professor Dowling had spent the past two days wearing her throat dry, in attempts to convince her superiors in the Science Ministry to allow their project to go ahead.
"I guess that means you're in charge now," the doctor told her.
"I guess so," his friend agreed, nodding. Amy's gaze was cast low, hair and lashes covering her eyes, and it did not appear that she would look up any time soon. Not without some definitive prompting.
Julian Bashir jerked upright as though from a sudden recollection. "Wait," he exclaimed. "I just remembered something…"
He reached deep into the pocket of his trousers, and placed a small, brown object onto the flat of the table. He'd been meaning to show it to her ever since that business with Badin Fen had finally reached its conclusion.
Amy took the package in both hands, and turned it around, studying it from every angle. The hard, transparent disc that encapsulated it was not so very dissimilar from those that she would use for her latest research. Her eyes narrowed slightly, their expression shifting from confusion, to a kind of quizzical amusement. And just as suddenly, she laughed aloud. "My god - you kept this?"
"Queen of the Butterflies, remember?" Julian reminded her. "And how could I possibly refuse a gift from my sovereign?"
Her next round of laughter was even louder than the last, and as it faded, Amy positioned the case between her glass and the upturned datapad. The object inside was dry with age, and had darkened slightly in the intervening years - but at the same time grown as hard as thickened bark. Many years ago, it had split open along one side, and a multicoloured creature had emerged from within, wings unfurling and drying in the sun.
"Perhaps our butterfly ended up becoming one of those," Julian suggested, nodding once towards Amy's padd.
"It would be nice to think so," was her reply. "But doubtful, especially since this species is only ever found in the Tirean System."
Julian shrugged. "So it's a little further from home than you might expect it to be - not impossible."
"Nice try, Doctor." Amy's smile broadened, growing decidedly less timid.
"I do my best, Professor." Attempting another swig of his unidentified drink, Julian noted that the taste did seem to have improved, if only by a little. "You'll have to tell me all about it one of these days. Perhaps on your way back?"
"I'd like that," Amy agreed, and for just a moment, he imagined that he could even see a shy, freckled, blue-eyed seven year old peering out from behind her smile. "A chance to catch up in less dramatic circumstances."
"I'm not entirely sure that's possible, Amy Tanner." He used the first name he'd known her by, the one from their childhood. "You seem to bring drama with you wherever you go."
"Oh, from what I've heard, Doctor Bashir, you don't need anybody's help in attracting trouble."
Julian held up his glass, barely able to suppress his open grin. "To trouble."
"To future adventures," Amy corrected him, and he agreed. It was a far better sentiment for a toast.
After the soft chink of their glasses touching, and the uneasy slickness of the same berry-tinted liquid sliding once more down his throat, the pair fell into an easy silence. It reminded him of a time long past, when they were much younger, watching the city of London through the leaves of that sturdy old oak.
Their tree had been cut down over ten years ago, almost on the day that he had started his first year of medical school. Lives had moved on, punctuated in places by changes, new friendships, lost smiles. Last time the young doctor had visited England - how many years was that? - not even their old park remained in its original place. And now, in less than twenty minutes, Amy was scheduled to depart the station.
But it was the mark of good friendship, Julian supposed, that their silences could still be comfortable.
Ro Laren took a deliberate half step away from the Security office. "I may have something of interest to you." But she paused by the door even after Julian had stopped and turned in response to her call. And she didn't allow him the time to ask what it might be.
"We managed to apprehend the woman responsible for the attack on Lieutenant Dax."
Now he did approach. "Are you sure?"
"You said you would know, if you saw her again," Ro told him. "But there's no longer any need for that. She's already confessed to accepting payment from a man who introduced himself only as 'Emanon'. And that he was the one to instruct her in the finer points of assassination - and especially on targetting a member of this station's senior staff."
Julian swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. But the tightness in his chest felt more like rising anger. "Where is she? I have to speak to her."
"Which you may get a chance to do. Eventually." Turning a little to her right, Ro held out a hand to indicate the office's interior. "But there are still some important questions that need to be answered."
The doctor sighed, and nodded - quietly resigned. Really, this was not entirely unexpected. He'd given a statement over two days ago, but even that had been far from airtight. The only real surprise was Ro's delay.
"So now we know who were the culprits in this case." The Security chief waited until she had settled behind the desk before continuing. She squared her shoulders, meticulously folding both hands in front of her, and watched as Julian obediently took the opposite seat. "The only remaining question is, why?"
"What do you mean?"
Ro's eyes narrowed slightly. "It just seems like an awful lot of trouble for this 'Emanon' to have gone to," she told him. "Simply to target some random Trill he's never even met."
The proceeding silence was leaden. Julian pressed his mouth into a thin, pensive line and rubbed his fingertips across both eyes. "I have something important to tell you," he confessed. "But it may take some time."
Ro leaned back again, so slightly that the movement was close to imperceptible. "I'm listening."
"The poison wasn't in Ezri's meal." He sighed. "It was…"
"It was in yours."
Startled, Julian's attention jerked towards a narrow space beside the desk - which he knew was the entrance to the farther section of Station Security, the part containing a row of brightly illuminated holding cells. But he looked instead to the second Bajoran woman who now stepped through the door.
With her dark eyes hard enough to chill the doctor's blood, Nerys folded both arms tightly across her chest. "Did you think we wouldn't even check?" she challenged him, raising one eyebrow. "Lieutenant Ro is far more thorough than that, and incidentally, so am I. Now, I haven't yet seen fit to order any of my officers to talk. But I suggest that someone here should start telling us the truth, and I suggest you start at the beginning."