Professor Sisko is a cold corpse by the time O’Brien finishes on the Defiant the night following the battle to defend Terok Nor. He’s glad to be alive—of course he is, every day of his life as a free man—even though he didn’t expect to be when it was all said and done. The rest of the rebels are celebrating around the station, breaking into Nog’s bar now that he’s gone the way of his kin, taking liberties with one another in the corridors, against the bulkheads, wherever there’s space enough to tug aside a layer of clothes and go at it.
And O’Brien’s here, sitting with a dead woman in a barely-used infirmary, holding her icy, stiff hand. Intendant Kira had always said she was a cold woman, but O’Brien has seen the carefully-guarded spark of liveliness that she carried in the year since she joined the Rebellion and he’s admired it. Jennifer Sisko was not a woman who would ever let anyone worm their way into her heart—anyone other than Benjamin Sisko, whatever side of the transporter he comes from, that is. O’Brien welcomes the flare of hot anger in his chest, clings to it, and tries to find a reason to pin her death on someone else. All ones he could blame are across the sector or in a whole new universe by now, though, so he settles on himself and closes his eyes peacefully. It used to be that his ancestors watched over their dead instead of coolly ejecting them from an airlock, ancient Terrans in a place he wouldn’t know what to call if he ever managed to stumble onto the bit of Earth that they came from.
He doesn’t quite belong in this place. O’Brien suspected that Professor Sisko was cut from the same kind of cloth that he is—too emotionally involved, too soft, too weak—and she’s dead now, leaving him alone with a station of monsters whose brutality isn’t just learned from the Alliance, but bred into their bones. O’Brien wants to be a better man, proud of his Terran heritage, living up to the standard of honor that Captain Sisko and, hell, Doctor Bashir—the right Bashir, as he thinks of him in his head—set for him the moment they each met him. He wants to be better because he thinks it’ll make him more successful, the way the Terrans from the other universe are. It’s only that he didn’t want to be alone while he was trying to uphold some moral standard he can’t quite close his fingers around because it’s so different than anything he’s known.
O’Brien thinks a lot these days. He thinks about the time before any of the others came, when he wasn’t anything more than a tinkerer, puttering away while Intendant Kira mocked him. It’s a cold past, miserable and hopeless. O’Brien feels like he wasn’t alive before he met the people from the other universe. Doctor Bashir had lit something inside O’Brien, though, when he talked about being best friends, about a wife that O’Brien will never meet in this life, a daughter he dreams about even though he doesn’t know anything about her but her name. Sisko’s talk of his wife had kindled that flame. When he left, O’Brien had known that he had a chance to seize the life he’d missed out on. And he could be for Jennifer Sisko the better man, the good man that she craved. They were so alike, so fragile, needing each other like air or water or hope. And she’s dead.
The doors chime and open behind him before O’Brien can firmly order the computer to lock them and keep the others out. He doesn’t want any of the would-be lovers from the Rebellion staggering into the infirmary to make use of the beds around Professor Sisko like she’s naught more than decoration to set the mood for their victory. He turns his head and finds Bashir—the version O’Brien’s got to live with, anyway—sauntering through the doorway, mercifully alone, though O’Brien knows Dax won’t be too far behind.
“Keeping watch over the Professor, Smiley?” he asks with a sneer, kicking a foot out over the dusty floor until the toe of his boot collides with a medical tricorder and it goes skidding into the far wall. “I think she’s dead, there’s no use.”
“Get out, Bashir,” O’Brien snarls, rising to his feet and staring directly at Bashir’s smarmy grin, fantasizing about knocking it off with a good punch. This Bashir is such a disappointment by comparison to the one O’Brien met first, and he relives that feeling when he stares at his sharp eyes, carelessly sex-tousled hair, and unshaven jaw. He’d really been hoping for a best friend when he met this Bashir.
“Oh, you don’t want company?” Bashir’s face doesn’t change, but when his fingers touch Professor Sisko’s knee over the blanket O’Brien brought to cover her, O’Brien takes a warning step toward him, kicking the stool back toward the wall. “I didn’t know you were into such things.”
A muscle in O’Brien’s jaw twitches. “This isn’t negotiable, you slimy bastard. Get the hell out of here before I make you.”
Bashir waves that torture device he built after reading about the old agonizers from the Terran Empire and O’Brien watches him turn the knob up to its highest setting. “Want to see if she’s really dead or just faking?”
O’Brien doesn’t need to hesitate. One palm thrusts out and breaks his nose while his other hand seizes the agonizer, twisting Bashir’s arm until he yelps in pain. Then O’Brien shoves him to the ground and grits his teeth. A proper funeral is too much to hope for, but he doesn’t intend to let Jennifer’s body be casually defiled.
“You fucker,” Bashir says through the bloody hands he has cupped around his dripping nose.
“Be grateful I didn’t break anything else,” O’Brien says and throws a regenerator at him, which Bashir fumbles to catch. It would be comical if O’Brien were in a jovial kind of mood. If O’Brien were ever in a jovial mood. “Now get out.”
“I’m going to kill you.” Bashir’s voice is distorted by his broken nose and O’Brien does laugh then, if only to incense him further. “Stop laughing, I swear I’ll kill you!”
He sits sullenly in a nearby chair and begins regenerating his nose, giving a soft groan when the nose doesn’t heal into place properly. O’Brien turns back to Professor Sisko’s body, intent on ignoring him, but the sickening crunch of Bashir breaking his nose again so he can fix it straight pushes O’Brien over the edge.
“Can’t you do that somewhere else?” he snaps at him and considers using an old scalpel from the table next to him, but stops himself short of carrying it out.
“I’ve got it,” Bashir says in a clearer voice, but a cursory glance tells O’Brien that he’s still covered in blood and he’s lost that shit-eating grin.
Footsteps give Bashir away before he can get too close to the bed again. O’Brien turns and points the agonizer at him on its highest setting. Bashir freezes and O’Brien doesn’t press the activation mechanism.
“I mean it, Bashir. If you don’t take your ass out of here right now, I’ll do it for you, six ways from Sunday.” The threat sounds hollow to O’Brien because though he means it, he knows he wouldn’t exercise it to the extent that Bashir would if their roles were reversed. Bashir falls for the bluff, though, and retreats toward the door.
“What does she matter, anyway?” he says and looks disdainfully over his thin shoulder at O’Brien. His hand doesn’t quite extend to the panel to release the door. “As far as I know, she wasn’t involved with anyone around here, least of all you. And even if you were warming over her icy heart when the rest of us weren’t looking, what use is it crying over her like a child? She’s dead, Smiley. That’s my medical opinion.” His mouth twitches with the return of his black humor and O’Brien regrets ever telling him a thing about Doctor Bashir when they met.
O’Brien picks up the scalpel and throws it straight at the control panel by the door, where Bashir’s hand is resting, and feels a simultaneous burst of achievement and pang of regret when the blade buries itself through the center of his hand, ruining the panel with his blood. They should have been healer’s hands, O’Brien thinks as Bashir curses violently and flees from the infirmary.
“Have Dax fix it,” he calls after his retreating back and sits next to Professor Sisko again, his hand grazing her smooth, beautiful skin like she’ll crumble to dust at his touch. He feels none of his momentary satisfaction from before. O’Brien isn’t a monster, he’s more controlled than to act carelessly like that when a flea like Bashir gets under his skin and violates all the things he holds dear, the things that give him hope, even now. He’s better than this. He repeats the words aloud to no one but himself, over and over, reaching for Jennifer’s hand once more and holding it to his forehead when the tremors in his chest begin.
He’s not good, not sure he’ll ever be, but he’s a better man, much better than any of them, and so terribly alone in it.