The sun is still hanging huge and orange on the edge of the horizon from Bashir’s window high up on the hill overseeing the steep cliffs that have made this once-remote outpost a bustling hub of airship activity. Down below, where the streets are thick with merchants and soldiers off the newest ships that have docked, he knows that the sun has already disappeared past the peaks of the mountains surrounding them with nothing left of day but a thin line of warmth on the horizon.
When he stops to look out the window—which he does, of course, because he can’t stop himself—Bashir can almost lose himself in the knowing that this is it, the farthest frontier he could have ever found. Here, the rest of the world seems to drop off abruptly at the edges of those rock faces; so alienating that it makes him shiver, as if he’s been left alone too long again.
Bashir stares out the window for a long, long moment as the sky tints more violet than red. Then the clock on his far wall gives an impatient clang to remind him that he’s going to be nearly half an hour late for his twice-weekly appointment with the outpost’s chief engineer. He grabs his coat and pulls it on with all haste, locking the heavy door behind him and jamming his hands into his pockets to ward off the chill that comes off the mountains this time of day.
The streets are shadowed when he jogs toward the docks, the building where his clinic is housed already high and imposing above him when he makes it a few hundred meters down the cobbled street. A few people wave to him, but all of them have a knowing smile on their face that they at least manage to hide from him these days.
Bashir even manages to slide in the door of The Cog and The Cask a mere fifteen minutes after the agreed-upon time, and finds Chief O’Brien in the same corner he met him in, wearing an expression uncomfortably similar to the one he did the night Bashir staggered up to introduce himself three years before.
“Julian,” he says with more resigned humor than ire, and Bashir actually smiles when he does. “I thought someone might’ve pushed you over the cliff today.”
“That dubious honor will only ever belong to you, Chief,” Bashir says warmly and hangs his coat nearby, gratefully acknowledging the ceramic cup of ale favored by this particular establishment with a nod and a slight grin. “I lost track of the time this evening.”
“Just this evening?” O’Brien’s mouth is turned upward already, though, and he sits back in the wooden chair with a quiet sigh. “I didn’t get here very long ago myself, anyway. One of the ships that came through—”
Bashir interrupts him while nearly sloshing ale down his front, “The one from the North?”
O’Brien actually smiles then and hides it in another drink. Bashir’s enthusiasm for the wilder parts of the world is no secret, and pushing the edge of exploration into the untamed northern tundra has been one of his favorite topics for nigh on a year already. “The same one,” he confirms with a grin. “I’m sure you’ll get the crew through your clinic sometime this week and talk their ears off."
“I’ll do no such thing.” Bashir’s face hovers somewhere between a frown and a grin, unable to decide whether to be cross or pleased with the chief. “Only a little. Do you think they need a ship’s doctor for their next trip?”
“What they need is a competent engineer to keep their ship together,” O’Brien retorts and rolls his eyes hard at the eager expression Bashir is wearing. “Oh, for—I don’t know what they need and don’t need on that ship. If you’re interested, their captain’s going to be hanging around the docks tomorrow while I work on his engines, ask him.”
Bashir smiles wistfully at the thought, and then sits back in his chair. “I can’t. It’s only a sweet fantasy to pass the time.”
There’s a beat of silence before Bashir realizes that O’Brien is staring at him in frank disbelief, just on the other side of laughing out loud.
“Julian,” he begins and lifts his cup to drink again. Bashir refills his cup from the flagon between them while waiting for O’Brien to finish. “You’ve been on about this for years, getting on a ship—”
“But it wouldn’t be the same,” he interrupts before O’Brien can get any further in pointing out the obvious. “I would... miss it here. My patients, the clinic, even my time with you here in the old Cog and Cask.”
“Staring at Leeta when you think she can’t see,” O’Brien provides with a knowing smile that he doesn’t try to hide and nods to the smiling barmaid standing nearby. “Or chatting up the Dax sisters.”
“I meant that I’d miss you, you stubborn old mule.”
Leeta pauses by their table and deposits a fresh jug between them, greeting O’Brien warmly and winking at Bashir before she moves on and Bashir catches himself staring after her again for a few seconds before snapping back to himself and turning back toward O’Brien and his smug grin.
“It’s not me you’d miss,” he says and snorts another laugh into his ale.
Bashir leans closer across the table. “Don’t be cold, Miles. I like all of them just fine, but Leeta wouldn’t pack up and get on an airship to see the northern lights over the arctic tundra with me.”
“Neither would I,” O’Brien retorts, but Bashir knows he’s got him there. The truth is, Miles O’Brien would do it to see the North with him, or across to the Americas to desert ruins and hazy mesas, or to the docks high in the Karakorum and deep in the Amazon. All Bashir would ever have to do is find the means and ask.
Bashir looks out at The Cog and The Cask and smiles to himself, comfortable with the silence they lapse into while O’Brien looks pensively at a scratch in the table wood. He doesn’t say it out loud, he’s not that kind of man, anyway, but Bashir knows without asking that he’s thinking about it, all the hypothetical possibilities for their adventures that they talk out at this table.
In this way, they’ve gone to the South Pole, climbed mountains and fought heroic battles against invaders. Their regular lives are full of the kind of adventures that have become commonplace here at the edge of the world: pirates and disease and terrifyingly real danger that fades into the haze of memory quickly enough to render it mundane compared to the twice-weekly meetings they have.
“All right,” Bashir sighs and rests his chin on his hands. “If it’s not the North tonight, then what will it be?”
O’Brien sighs and looks at him directly, then laughs a little when he refills Bashir’s cup. “The North, I think.”