Jadzia stretches luxuriously as she wakes. She has the whole bed to herself, which stirs up a second of sleepy concern before she remembers that Worf's off the station on business. She grins and rolls over, enjoying the space and the feeling of cool sheets against her skin.
She's got to get up soon, though, so she drags herself from bed and yawns at the replicator to make her a raktajino.
Jadzia lifts the mug up to her mouth to take a sip and it's all she can do not to spit it back out. Her replicator must be malfunctioning, because this raktajino is disgusting. She sticks her tongue out, licking the air like it will erase the taste out of her mouth.
Worf would be rolling his eyes at her theatrics, if he were here. And she would only play up her reaction more.
She doesn't have the time now to do anything besides make faces. She'll have to inspect the replicator later. "Computer, make a note – "
And Jadzia stops –
Because that isn't her voice.
"Not again," Ezri sighs.
Ezri had thought the first few weeks of her integration were bad. And they were – the Symbiosis Commission had no idea where to start helping her. They hadn't had such a botched joining in hundreds of years.
She was hardly the first joined Trill in history to forget which hand she wrote with or where she'd grown up or whether she peed standing up or sitting down. But mostly those sorts of problems disappeared soon after the joining, if they happened at all.
She'd stayed on Trill until she'd made some progress. Until she stopped jumping when she saw her reflection, anyway.
And then she came to Deep Space 9, and everything got bad again. Everything that's Ezri is overwhelmed by everything that's Jadzia, and Ezri's run out of time to figure it all out.
Ezri doesn't want to be late, but it's important to straighten out these little hiccups when they happen, so she talks as she dresses and grooms herself. (She's got half her face covered in shaving cream before she thinks no, wait, and washes it off. At least the stuff smells nice.)
"Say what you know," she tells her reflection, sternly but kindly, like it's a patient. Physician, heal thyself, and it's not like she doesn't know why everyone's surprised that she's a counselor.
"I was Ezri Tegan. Now I'm Ezri Dax."
When she tries to pin down one single thing about all of this that surprises her, it's maybe the way that the memories of the symbiont's past lives are integrated into her own. She would have expected the first host's memories to feel the most distant, and the most recent host's memories to be the freshest.
"I'm on Deep Space 9," she says. "Benjamin asked me to visit."
It isn't like that at all, though. Memories feel freshest and closest based on emotional weight, or situational relevance, or sheer chance. Ezri's trying to build a system for sorting them better, but for now she relies mostly on trial and error. With a lot of error.
"The Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire." She bites her lip. "No, the Dominion."
She doesn't know if she was thinking of the most recent spat, the one that brought Worf into her life, or of the war that Curzon had helped settle.
"Jadzia was attacked by Gul Dukat. They thought she wasn't going to make it and they had to remove the symbiont." Ezri breathes. "She's been recuperating on Trill."
Time to think of happier things, Ezri decides. "Ahjess just turned five," she says.
That backfires, though. Ahjess has been dead for nearly two centuries. Ezri has no children – her mother would say that she's barely more than a child herself.
The computer chimes at her.
"And, I'm about to be late," she says, fixing her collar before running out the door.
The smell of eggs and French toast greets Ezri as she steps through the door to Benjamin's quarters.
Whenever she starts to second guess her choice to come to the station, all Ezri has to do is eat one of Benjamin's home cooked meals and it's all worthwhile again, at least until the dishes are cleared.
Benjamin knows that, of course. Which is probably why he invited her for breakfast, today of all days.
"Hi, Ezri," Jake says, setting down plates at the breakfast table.
"You're joining us for breakfast, Jake?" Ezri asked.
"Best food on the station," Jake says proudly. "Besides, I figured, since it's a big day..."
Jake trails off. He doesn't yet have his dad's diplomatic chops, but he isn't entirely lacking in tact.
Ezri pretends not to notice the comment and turns to greet Benjamin as he steps out of the kitchen, breakfast in hand. "Good morning, Ben."
"Good morning, Dax." Benjamin places the food trays down. "You missed a spot." He touches a spot on his own face, just under his ear; when Ezri reaches for the same spot on her own face, her fingers meet the last trace of shaving cream.
Blushing, she wipes it off. "Well, I wanted to look my best, " she jokes as they take their seats. "We can't all grow beards as great as yours."
"Hmm, that reminds me." Benjamin starts serving up the food. "I just got word from Captain Raymor," he says. "The Destiny will be docking on DS9 in about a week."
"Yes, I'd heard something about that." Ezri clings to her glass, desperate for an excuse not to talk, and gulps half her juice at once. Too much. She coughs and sputters, and Jake pats her on the back.
"Oh?" Benjamin raises an eyebrow. "Been chatting with a certain ensign, have we?"
"Don't take that suggestive tone with me," Ezri teases, biting back the words 'young man.' "I may have sent a few communications back and forth with Brinner, but, honestly, I don't see it going anywhere. We're just too different people, now. Well, I'm too different people."
Out of the corner of her eyes, Ezri can see Jake looking a bit hopeful. She's going to have to do something about that if she stays on DS9 much longer. All things considered, Ezri is only a bit older than Jake, and currently has the emotional and mental stability of someone even younger – but still. Dax had decided way back that all members of Ben's family, good-looking as they were, would be best put off-limits. She saw no reason to change that policy now.
"That's too bad," Benjamin replies. "Still, there are plenty more fish in the sea. Plenty of fish right here on this station, even."
"I think I'm putting away my fishing pole, for the time being," Ezri says. She ignores the implied question about whether she'll stay on the station. Her confused ramblings on the subject would only ruin everyone's appetite.
Ezri has never seen the wormhole appear, blossoming into existence in a wash of light and color. She remembers seeing it as Jadzia, of course, but it isn't quite the same. Now, she may never get a chance to see it. It's one more thing to curse Gul Dukat for.
The collapse of the wormhole bothers a lot of people besides Ezri, of course. The Bajorans worry about their gods and what the loss of them means for their planet. The Dominion worries about its supply chain and reinforcements. And Benjamin worries, all the time, though he pretends that he doesn't, at least to Ezri.
It seems to her that if he's going to ask a counselor to stick around, and invite her over to breakfast a few times a week, he might as well make use of her services. But he doesn't mention his problems to her, or ask for advice.
Benjamin's unhappiness with the situation nevertheless managed to reach Starfleet Command. Admiral Ross came by, and he and Benjamin had a private conversation which naturally half of the station knew about in no time at all, to the effect that the theological problems of one planet couldn't outweigh the concerns of the entire quadrant, and that the wormhole collapse was currently more beneficial than detrimental to the Federation. And that was that.
Dax isn't exactly a big believer in the Prophets, but also knows that if Gul Dukat wanted the wormhole shut, it couldn't be beneficial for anyone but Gul Dukat.
Ezri just wants Benjamin – this almost-stranger who has gone out of his way to make her feel welcome – to be happy. And with what he sees as his own failure hanging over him every day, 'happy' isn't happening any time soon.
Ezri can relate.
Ezri walks down the Promenade to the office, just off the infirmary, that she'd been working out of for the past month.
While she doesn't technically have any responsibilities on DS9, she's been helping Julian sort through some paperwork, as well as reading psychology journals and textbooks. Whether she goes back to the Destiny or stays here, one thing Ezri does know is that she doesn't want to stay an assistant counselor forever. She has a lot of lost time on her training to make up for.
Ezri pops her head into the infirmary as she walks by. "Morning, Julian."
"Good morning, Ezri," Julian smiles at her from the computer terminal. "How is the most brilliant ensign on Deep Space 9 this morning?"
"I'm going to tell Nog you said that," Ezri replies.
"Ah, but Nog is the prettiest ensign," Julian says, and Ezri can't quite help but giggle at that.
"What are you working on at the moment?" Ezri asks, finally stepping into the room. "Anything you need a hand with?"
"You know, as a matter of fact, I do have something for you." Julian interrupts himself to rummage around the infirmary, sorting through a stack of PADDs until he finds the one he wants.
Ezri reaches for the PADD and her fingers brush over Julian's.
It's innocent, but it isn't; a habitual flirtation left over from before she got married. Before she was Ezri. Ezri, who isn't looking for romance until she's got her own head fixed on right. But Jadzia and Julian had always flirted, and it hadn't meant much, it had just been an innocent game.
It doesn't feel like a game when Julian drops the PADD in his haste to pull his hand away from hers.
"I'm sorry," Julian says, but Ezri knows this is all on her. One way or another, Dax has been teasing him for six years, and at this point it must seem a cruel trick. Perhaps it's time to put that to rest.
"It's fine," she says brightly, bending down to pick up the PADD before Julian can reach for it.
"So," Julian says, like talking cheerfully enough can make a moment less awkward. "Are you going today? Jadzia's transport gets in at 1100."
Ezri thinks of making an excuse, but really, she needs every bit of honest truth she can get her hands on. "I don't think that's the best idea."
"Well, you are the counselor, I'm sure you know best."
"I really hope so!" Ezri's laugh fails to catch on. She clears her throat. That might have been too honest. "I'll get this back to you soon as I can."
Julian's smile is charming, polite, and utterly fake. "Take your time."
Ezri has it in mind to stay in her office with the door shut, but somehow as 1100 approaches, she finds her feet carrying her to the Promenade gangway, mingling with the crowd, wondering if she'll come this way.
Ezri hopes she won't. (She'll be tired, she'll need to settle into her quarters and rest.) She knows she will. (She'll want to see her old haunts, just as Dax had, see the familiar faces, especially since this time hers will be one of them.)
Jadzia doesn't keep her waiting long.
Ezri hears her approach before she sees her. People sharing greetings, well wishes, hugs. Morn alone takes up five minutes of her time, so glad to be talking to her again, and would undoubtedly have taken up more if Worf hadn't hurried Jadzia past.
"She seems to be doing well."
Ezri has been so focused on the scene below her that she didn't hear Odo until he spoke. She jumps and makes a little squeaking noise, which brings the smallest, smuggest of smiles to his face.
"Have you seen her?" Ezri asks once her heart rate climbs back down a notch.
"I have. There was quite a crowd at the airlock, though. Not much chance for a conversation."
"She's always had a lot of friends."
Friends that Ezri has been borrowing while Jadzia was fighting her way back from her deathbed. Ezri's been grappling with some strange variant of survivor's guilt for the past month at that thought, but today, as she studies Odo's profile, Ezri wonders what it was like for them.
"You're a great deal shorter than Jadzia," Odo tells her.
He continues to look down at Jadzia as he talks. "You take up less space than she does. You're less graceful in your movements. And you're more apprehensive of your surroundings. People respond to these things, even if they don't notice it. It affects the way they treat you."
"So you haven't been treating me the same as her."
He looks at her out of the corner of his eye. "You wouldn't want us to even if we could."
For someone who daily claims to be mystified by strange humanoid behavior, he has an eerie way of reading her mind.
She looks back down. Ezri will never be exactly the same as Jadzia, certainly, but now it occurs to her that Jadzia will never be exactly the same as Jadzia. Even from a distance, Ezri picks up on some differences. She's pulled her hair into a braid, for one. Her steps lack her usual since of drive as she walks down the Promenade. Her motions and expressions are smaller, lacking some of that vibrant life force that used to ooze out of her.
Wherever that life force has gone, it hasn't gone with Dax. Ezri's never felt half as vivid and confident and alive as Jadzia Dax used to on a daily basis.
Maybe this is all speculation. She's fifty feet away and undoubtedly imagining things. Besides, Jadzia's still recovering, and just gotten off a long transport. No one would be at their best after the ordeal she's been through.
Still, Ezri finds that she doesn't want to watch any more.
There's a welcome-home party for Jadzia at Quark's that evening, which of course Ezri is invited to, and which of course she politely declines to attend.
And which, of course, her meddling friends aren't going to stand for, she thinks, as her door chimes a half-hour into the party.
To her surprise, it's Miles who's shown up at her room. She's never known him to voluntarily insert himself into other people's emotional problems.
"You have to meet her eventually, you know," he says, not allowing her to pretend she doesn't know why he's here.
Of course, Miles is dreadfully practical.
"Not if I leave the station, I don't," Ezri answers.
"If running away was your plan, you could have done it by now," Miles points out. "And frankly, it isn't a very good plan."
"I thought I could at least let her have one night to celebrate before I dropped it all back on her."
"You're both just going to be walking on eggshells until you get it over with." Miles steps back from the doorway. "But maybe that's what you want. In which case, I won't take up any more of your time."
Miles gets halfway down the corridor before Ezri starts after him.
Jadzia doesn't look surprised to see her.
Ezri couldn't miss the way Jadzia looked at her, not when every molecule inside her is drawn toward the other Trill.
Jadzia's eyes pause on her face for only the shortest of seconds before dropping down to her abdomen, like she can see the symbiont.
And Ezri has a heart-stopping, sickening moment when she can feel Dax trying to climb out from inside her to get back to where it belongs.
The next second she knows it was her imagination. It doesn't really make her feel better.
Ezri smiles faintly, nods as Benjamin says something – an introduction, she thinks, as though either of them could have any doubt about who the other is. The conversation that follows is a sad charade, with the two Trills making only the most innocuous of comments and relying on Ben to supply the forward momentum.
So, naturally, Benjamin gets called away for something, leaving Ezri with a woman that she fears and loves and misses and doesn't know what to say to.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, since her joining, Ezri hasn't ever been at a loss for words for very long.
"I'm sorry," she gushes. "I'm really sorry about all of this. It never should have happened, and I didn't want it to. And now I probably look ungrateful, because you want Dax and now I'm Dax and I don't even want to be, but – I'm just sorry."
"It's not your fault," Jadzia says, and it sounds like the sort of thing you say because you have to, not because it's true. "You did the right thing, under the circumstances."
Ezri nods, then wonders if that makes her look conceited. Then she decides that she's entirely too sober for all of this.
The second Benjamin returns, she beats an undignified retreat toward Quark and his rows of lovely, lovely bottles.
He's already pouring her a drink by the time she arrives. "Don't ask what's in it," he advises.
"Thanks," Ezri says, and swigs her drink, then sputters. "I think this beverage constitutes an attempted homicide."
"What are friends for," Quark says as he takes the glass. "Another?"
Ezri is all the way at Jadzia's door before she stops to think any of it through.
For one thing, she hasn't met Worf yet. "Excited" isn't exactly the way she feels at the thought of that meeting. Especially if it's going to happen when she comes knocking on his door in the middle of the night to bother his wife.
For another thing, her last attempt to talk to Jadzia was pitiful, and she hasn't had any brilliant revelations since then of what to say. She just knows she has to say something.
For another thing, she's still a little drunk. Maybe this is a sober, over breakfast kind of conversation.
Yes, over breakfast, maybe in a week from now.
Ezri turns to leave and sees Jadzia stopped, ten feet away, staring at her.
"Hello, " Ezri says weakly. "Didn't think I'd run into you around here."
"Couldn't sleep?" Jadzia asks.
"Haven't really tried. You?"
"I wanted to see the station when it had quieted down a little. I always loved this place at night."
"I know," Ezri says, before she can think better of it. "Me too." And that's such a colossally wrong thing to say that Ezri comes back around the other side and realizes what it was she wanted to say to Jadzia in the first place. "The Destiny – my ship – is coming in in a few days. Benjamin wants to know if I'm staying here, but – I need to know what you think. So. What do you think?"
"I think," Jadzia says slowly. "That I've had a part of myself taken away, and living with a constant reminder of that is going to be very painful."
Ezri nods, sharply. She isn't surprised, but it hurts, all the same, having the station closed off from her.
"Okay," Ezri says finally. "Thank you."
"Wait." Jadzia sounds frustrated at the effort of communicating. Ezri wishes she could understand Jadzia better, but the other woman is too familiar and too strange all at the same time. "I'd be living with the reminder of what happened whether you leave or not. It's not the sort of thing you forget."
"So what do I do?"
Jadzia steps toward her door, and it opens. "That doesn't sound like my decision."
Ezri stares after her. The door closes before it occurs to her that she should probably have said good night.
"Care for another drink?" Quark calls to her as she enters the bar. "Take the edge off your hangover?"
"I'm not hungover," Ezri says.
"Now I know you're lying," Quark replies. "You could at least be more creative about it. I was mixing your drinks, remember?"
"How could I forget. If you'd tell me what's in it, I'd avoid it for the rest of my life."
"That's the problem with you Starfleet officers," Quark says. "You avoid the things that are good for you and rush straight toward the bad things."
"Oh really," Ezri challenges him. "What about heading straight into the Gamma Quadrant, or facing the wormhole aliens, or dealing with Brunt?"
"That's different." He does look a bit flustered, though, to Ezri's delight. "An opportunity for profit is never bad for you."
"So what would you do if you were me?" Ezri asks.
Quark doesn't even have to think about it. "Quit Starfleet. Go into business with a brilliant, handsome rogue, say a bartender of good repute you know – "
"Hm, I don't think I know any bartenders of good repute."
"What would I even do if we worked together?"
"Are you kidding? 300 years of tricks up your sleeves, plus those sad blue eyes in that innocent little face of yours? We could clear out the Quadrant."
The thought of herself as a con artist makes Ezri snort. "Maybe if I were Curzon," she tells Quark. "He could tell a lie. Or even Jadzia."
The game loses some of its fun.
"This is your problem," Quark tells her, serving her a cup of tea. She's touched that he remembers her new dislike of raktajino.
"Besides being in Starfleet and liking things that are bad for me?"
"You have a lot of problems," Quark says. "Including interrupting people who are trying to help you even though it's no profit to them."
Ezri smiles and doesn't say anything.
"You make everything so difficult on yourself. If you can't keep your memories straight, focus on the present. If you don't want to see someone, don't see her."
"And what if I do want to see someone?"
"Then see her. And if things happen to get heated, make sure there's a holo-recorder. I've got a market for things like that."
Ezri sputters at the insinuation. "She's married, Quark."
"But the two of you have a lot of history. Now if you're finished taking advantage of my free drinks and advice, I've got paying customers."
Ezri finishes her drink and remembers the 59th rule of Acquisition. "I've got some thinking to do," she tells Quark.
"Don't forget the recorder!" he yells after her as she leaves the bar.
"What's this?" Benjamin asks, sparing the PADD she hands him only a second's glance.
She knows he's seen it, though, because he's got that tone of voice, the 'I know what this is and I don't like it, so now's your chance to change your mind, quick.'
Ezri doesn't change her mind. "A transfer request, sir."
Benjamin's eyebrow goes up at the 'sir.' "Back to the Destiny, then?"
Ezri shakes her head. "Humanitarian relief efforts in refugee settlements."
"Going to practice some of that 'frontier medicine' I've heard so much about?"
Ezri quirks her mouth at the phrase. "I'm not a doctor, sir, but I've been told I'm very good at holding a hypospray."
Ben puts the PADD down with a sigh. "What's this about, Dax?"
Ezri shrugs. "I'm a new person now. I think I need a new setting."
"And what about finishing your training? Ship's counselor Dax."
"Maybe later," Dax says. "If I still want to. There's a lot of things that are going to have to wait until later."
Benjamin stands and places a hand on her shoulder. "There'll always be a place here for you here."
"I know, sir." And maybe someday she wouldn't be so scared to step into that place.
"Smile," Julian tells her, as he hands her a dart. "It's your party."
"I didn't want a party." Ezri throws the dart. "And I'm terrible at darts. Can you blame me for not smiling?"
"You've got to let people have a party whenever there's an excuse for one," Miles says, chuckling at her poor throw. "It's good for morale. You want the Dominion to win?"
"But we just had a party for Jadzia," Ezri points out. "It's funny, having a welcome home party for one person and then a going away party for another. Though I guess that's how it usually works for Daxes," Ezri muses. "Hello to one and goodbye to the other."
"Usually the other way around," Jadzia says. Ezri fights like mad not to panic or run away or do anything silly as Jadzia joins their group and takes the next dart. "You boys mind if I cut in?"
"No, not at all," Julian says, but he's thrown off by having the two Trills in front of him at the same time. Miles has to hustle him off, with an excuse about getting another round of drinks.
"You know," Jadzia says, throwing her dart. It doesn't hit bulls-eye, but it's a lot closer than Ezri's. "I must've played this game a hundred times with Miles and Julian, and I never quite saw the point of it."
Ezri knows this, that darts was never Jadzia's favorite bar game. There's no place for strategy or guile in the game, and very little place for luck. What she doesn't know is why Jadzia's telling her this, unless she's just making small talk. But Jadzia came to her, not the other way around.
"I've never been a fan," Ezri says, because she has to say something. Her next dart is wide by a mile. "Of course, there's a good reason for that..."
Jadzia takes the next two turns. Ezri doesn't mind.
"It's funny," Jadzia says, her eyes on the dartboard and not the woman she is looming over, literally and metaphorically. "I'm kind of enjoying it right now." She throws another dart. "It's soothing."
Ezri starts to joke about the game being soothing if you're winning, but the words die as she looks at Jadzia.
Jadzia is drinking a glass of Andorian ale, which she'd never really cared for before. While playing a game of darts. Which she was likewise largely indifferent too.
It had not occurred to Ezri that Jadzia would be going through the same processes of self-discovery that she was.
Jadzia, feeling the weight of Ezri's gaze, turns to look at her.
Is Ezri imaging things, or does Jadzia look the littlest bit lost?
And why shouldn't she?
"I have an idea," Ezri blurts out, in that painfully awkward way she's developed. "Let's order every dessert we can think of and try them all. To see what we like. And don't like."
There's a very long moment when Ezri knows that Jadzia is going to say "no." But she doesn't. "That's going to get pretty expensive."
Ezri's laugh is a breathy, quavering mess. "For Jadzia and Dax? Nah. I bet we can get Quark to comp the whole thing, if we play our cards right."
Jadzia starts walking away. Ezri's alarmed until she realizes that Jadzia is leading her toward the bar.
"Speaking of cards," Jadzia says, with the smallest trace of humor. "I do believe there's a Tongo game later."
"I can't – " use your memories in front of you? Take part in a normal humanoid activity? Stand the thought of losing to you? Or worse, beating you?
Jadzia waits, like Ezri has all the time in the world to figure it out.
Maybe she does.
"I can't wait," Ezri says.