They say there are moments that change your life—mere seconds of action or inaction that alter the course of destiny forever. Julian has never truly bought into that idea. Capable of seeing cause and effect to a higher degree than most humans, Julian doesn't divide life into discrete moments but rather sees it as a chain of related events all building upon each other to create the present.
There is one exception when all time seems to slow and the present solidifies into a single moment like a photograph taken by an antique camera. Even as it happens, Julian cannot deny the transformative power of the moment.
He and Ezri are walking down the Promenade on their way to lunch, discussing their latest trip to the holosuite. (“Discussing” is putting it lightly. More like “arguing.” After four months of playing the Battle of Thermopylae, Julian can't seem to stop comparing Ezri to Miles and Ezri can't seem to stop psychoanalyzing Julian's holosuite habits.) Ezri stops dead in her tracks. “Oh my god.”
Julian looks back at her. “Don't be like this. Just because I suggested you play a Persian—”
“No, look.” She points down to the level below where a crowd of people fresh off the latest transport are making their way through the Promenade.
“What?” Julian scans the crowd, picking up on a familiar face. “Is that…”
“My wife,” Ezri finishes.
Below, Lenara catches Ezri's eye and smiles. Ezri waves.
And that's it. That's when it all changes. A smile, a wave, and the world—two worlds, really—change.
The enormity of the moment is lost on Ezri, who tugs on Julian's arm. “Let's go down and say hi.”
He follows her silently, caught by himself in a temporal flow that makes seconds pass torturously slow (he can hear his heart beat and feel the blood coursing through his veins as they wait for the turbolift) and days fly past him (in three days, he will be sad and alone on a space station that no longer feels like home). As they inch closer and closer to Lenara, ominous drum beats of a Klingon opera pound in Julian's head, signaling his doom, his tragic downfall.
“Hi,” Ezri says.
“Hi,” Lenara responds.
“You look good.”
“So do you.”
“Oh, well, you know, new body.” Ezri titters nervously.
Lenara finally notices him. “Dr. Bashir.”
He nods. “Dr. Kahn.”
“It's good to see you again. Both of you.”
“Likewise. What brings you to Deep Space Nine?” But Julian's gut knows the answer. “If you don't mind me asking.”
“I do, actually. It's a very long story. It would bore you to tears, I'm sure.”
“You could tell us over dinner,” Ezri interjects. “Tonight.”
“I wouldn't want to impose.”
“Not at all. Julian and I were planning on Quark's tonight anyway.” She fails to mention that they are planning to visit Quark's holosuites, not eat dinner.
“That's sound great. What time?”
The minutiae of dinner arrangements blurs into the pounding of a dowel on a blank stage. This is the end. This is the end. This is the end.
Upside down, Kira stops just short of her desk. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Ezri grunts, blood pooling in her face.
Kira cocks her head to the side. “Who's telling you to do that?”
Ezri tries to nod her head but that doesn't seem possible from her position. “Standing on her head helped her calm down.”
“What about you?”
“Not really, but I thought this would work because this is a Dax problem, not an Ezri problem.”
“Is it working?”
“A little bit. I don't feel like puking anymore.”
“That's good. I don't want to give Sisko back his office with stained carpets.” Kira leans back on her desk, resting her hand on Sisko's baseball. “What's the matter?” She tosses the baseball once, twice, three times in the air.
“Guilt. I have eight lifetimes of guilt, including my own.”
“Eight? Shouldn't that be nine?”
“Joran was incapable of remorse. That's probably for the best. I mean, not for the people he murdered obviously, but for me… That's probably a little selfish.”
Kira smiles. “Just a little.”
“That's the problem…” Ezri rolls out of her headstand, sitting slumped on the floor facing Kira. “I'm horribly selfish for a Trill. I want Lenara when she doesn't want me when Julian does want me and—”
“Lenara? Your wife Lenara? You're having feelings for her again?”
Ezri nods. “I don't think I ever stopped. But when I saw her today, I just—”
“She's on the station?”
“—wanted to grab her face and kiss the living daylights out of her. Right there! In front of—”
“Wait, on the station?”
“—Julian! And Lysia, the jumja vendor!”
“So, she is on the station?”
“Yes! She says she'll be here indefinitely, so I can feel nauseated constantly for the foreseeable future. Ugh!” she groans. “I am so mad I died.”
“Torias. I was so stupid! I had everything, but I had to go and fly that stupid mission knowing the shuttle wasn't ready and now he's dead and I'm alive and Lenara and I can never be together and I'm left with nothing.”
“Except for Julian.”
“Right. Except for Julian.”
“Jesus, Julian! Were you raised in a barn? It's two in the morning here!”
His ears ringing, Julian turns down the volume of the subspace transmission. “Sorry, Miles. I—”
“You're damn right you're sorry. I have to get Molly ready for school in a few hours. And then I have class until five at night. The whole bloody station better be burning down for you to call me like this.”
Julian smirks. “I thought you said we weren't allowed to call you with engineering problems anymore.”
Miles snorts. “That's right. So, you've got no reason to be waking me up with a high priority transmission.”
“I'm sorry. I won't do it again. I…” He runs a hand through his hair. “I'm going out of my mind about Ezri.”
“Nothing. Nothing's happened, but there was a moment today when I was convinced with absolute certainty that she was going to leave me.”
“What? Did Captain Boday come swooping into the station reciting Klingon love poetry?”
“No. Lenara Kahn.”
Miles' lips droop into a frown. “Oh.”
“We're having dinner tonight.”
“The three of you?”
“That's bound to be awkward.”
“It's bound to be hell! I'm going to spend the entire night imagining the two of them together.”
“If it makes you feel any better, Quark'll probably be doing the same thing.”
“I'm serious, Miles. I… I've tried calculating the probabilities and the only answer I've come up with is that I'm terrified, and however irrational this all is, I need someone to tell me that I'll be fine. That I'm overreacting.”
“Julian. You'll be fine. You're overreacting. Better, now?”
“So…” Ezri drums her fingers on the table—the same table Jadzia, Lenara, and Julian sat at for their dinner date all those years ago. They are even sitting in the same seats. That does nothing to quiet the damning percussion in Julian's head, but Ezri's awkwardness seems to drown it out. “How's your research going?”
“Good. Things have slowed down significantly since the war ended, but it is nice not having to fulfill military contracts. The bureaucracy is maddening.”
“That's Starfleet for you. One big, interstellar bureaucracy.”
“Have you ever considered leaving?”
“Starfleet?” Ezri shakes her head. “I may complain about the PADDwork, but Starfleet has been good to me. They've believed in me times when I didn't even believe in myself. I mean, I never would've been joined if Starfleet didn't think I could handle it. Not that they had much of a choice. The symbiont would've died if we hadn't been joined, but during those first three days—” Ezri leans in closer to Lenara. “—when I was convinced the symbiont would reject me, everyone on the Destiny had such confidence in me. I never thought of myself as being worthy of being joined, but my crewmates… It's like they saw a part of me that I was too close to see.”
“It sounds to me like you owe as much to Starfleet as Starfleet owes to you.”
Ezri grins. “I can only hope.”
“Well, I don't think either of you would be where you are today without each other.”
“No, I guess not.”
They share a smile. Julian coughs. “Shall I get us some more drinks?” Lenara and Ezri nod wordlessly at him and as he gets up from the table he realizes that he may have squashed one intimate moment between them, but he'd also left them alone to have countless more.
He approaches the bar; the drinks can't come fast enough. “Quark! Another round.”
“Coming up.” But Quark pauses pouring to leer at Lenara and Ezri. “How's the beginning of the end going?”
“Dinner is going fine, thank you… Can you hurry with those drinks?”
“A little anxious to get back, are we? Afraid by the time you sit down they'll be married and with a Bajoran war orphan on the way?”
Julian fixes him with a particularly menacing glare, which considering the general symmetry of his facial features is not too intimidating. Even to a Ferengi. “That's coming out of your tip.” That ought to do it.
“Hey, I'm only looking out for you. From one Dax admirer to another, I think we both know how this ends.”
“Because it's happened before…” Julian mutters bitterly.
“Exactly.” Damn Ferengi hearing. “She's as good as gone. Better to cut your losses now than—”
“I'm not losing anything!”
“So, you think it's a coincidence that Lenara chose this station of all places to make her humble home.”
“We're next to the only known stable wormhole in the universe and she's a wormhole scientist. The fact that Ezri is here is just… But even if Lenara was willing to take the risk and reassociate, Ezri would never. We're together! She has me.”
“Oh, and what a prize you are. DS9's most eligible confirmed bachelor.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“To put it simply, you don't have the lobes for keeping a female.”
“I don't 'keep females.' I… I respect them!”
“You 'respect them' so much that they flee from your embrace like a barkan out of hezmana.”
“A what out of where?”
“How many successful relationships have you had? How many relationships have you had that lasted longer than a week?”
“I was with Leeta for months!”
“And then she left you for Rom. If that doesn't speak to how desperate you make females, I don't know what does.”
“It's different with Ezri. We've been together for four months.”
“But how much longer can you give her. A year? Two? At best, you can give her one lifetime. That's nothing to a Trill, but Lenara… I'd hate to play the species card, but let's face it, you're not Trill. You're barely even human.”
“For who could ever learn to love a mutant?” Julian retorts.
“Exactly.” Apparently, hewman sarcasm is the one thing Ferengi ears can't hear. “Here's your drinks.” He passes the tray to Julian. “You know, I could've had a waiter bring them to your table.”
“And have me miss out on your stunning conversational skills and sunny disposition? Never.” Satisfied with his parting shot, Julian heads back to the table where Ezri and Lenara are still deep in conversation.
“And what about your sister?” Ezri asks. “How is she doing?”
“Good. She's doing well. She just graduated from the Murona Institute of Rian'kora.”
“Wow. That's amazing. Don't they only take a few dozen new students a year?”
Lenara nods. “It's a very selective program, but Nulat has always been gifted. Practically from birth.”
“That's so strange, because you and your brother are both scientists and she's—”
“I know! Bejal and I don't have an artistic bone in our bodies between the two of us—”
“But she's a trained rian'kora!”
“What's funny is that she's really not the odd one in the family; me and Bejal are. My parents are both artists… I actually think they were quite relieved when she started performing.”
“Pardon me,” Julian says. “What's a rian'kora?”
Ezri and Lenara glance at Julian, then back to each to each other to converse briefly in Trill before Ezri turns to him. “It's like a mime. A talking mime.”
“So, like a clown?”
Ezri and Lenara share an amused look, giggling sightly. “It's a little more complicated than that.”
“Oh.” Julian stares down at his salad.
“Rian'korii are more… prestigious than clowns.”
“Oh.” He stabs his fork through an Andorian olive, splattering its juice across his plate.
Lenara leans closer to him. “Rian'koran is maybe the definitive Trill artform.” He feels like he should know that.
“And what exactly does one do with a degree in rian'koran?” He's scrambling, pulling out the stock question he asks of anyone in a “softer” field who intimidates him. It's juvenile.
“Well.” Lenara wipes her mouth with a napkin. “Nulat is working as a cultural ambassador for Trill with the Federation Artists Corps.”
“I'm surprised that's up and running already,” Ezri says. “It was only in the preliminary planning stages when I was at the Academy.”
“From what I hear,” Lenara starts, “once the Dominion War started in earnest, a group of artists in San Francisco decided enough was enough and began organizing and building the corps without Starfleet.”
“I'm sure the upper brass weren't pleased when they found out,” Julian says.
Lenara chortles. “To say the least… but I think in the end they were grateful. They wouldn't have sent Nulat and her team to Romulus otherwise.”
“That's amazing,” Ezri says, resting a hand on Lenara's wrist.
“It's a huge honor for Nulat and the entire family.” Lenara pinches her napkin between her fingers, rolling the fabric back and forth in what has to be a soothing manner. “And to be quite honest, she needed some good news then.” She looks up at Ezri. “The week before Nulat got her orders to go to Romulus, the Symbiosis Commission rejected her application.”
“Oh, well, you know that doesn't mean it's over. Jadzia flunked out of the initiate program—”
“They wouldn't even look at her application. They rejected it outright without giving her a chance. All because… all because she has Gandres syndrome.”
“The developmental disorder?” Julian asks.
Lenara nods. “No one who has it has ever been joined before. We all thought that was because there were never any qualified candidates, but Nulat…She graduated with distinction, and a third-year at the Academy was accepted before her.”
“Is she even capable of being joined? I know Gandres doesn't affect isoboramine lev—”
“Julian!” Ezri scolds in a whisper.
“It's fine,” Lenara says. She looks to Julian as one scientist to another. “We have no reason to believe she'd reject a symbiont, but that's what the initiate program is supposed to figure out. Nulat was never given the chance.”
“That's horrible.” And Julian would know. Or, at least, Jules would. “I'm sorry.”
Ezri squeezes her arm. “It's the Symbiosis Commission's loss.”
“It's a loss to all of us.” Lenara closes her eyes. “When I think of all the experiences, all the lives the Kahn symbiont won't have because of some outdated medical bias…” When she opens her eyes, they are free of tears yet somehow shining with determination. “The entire point of joining is for the symbiont to gain new experiences, but not a single symbiont alive today knows what it is like to live as Nulat does. We only join symbionts with the most successful Trill—people who for the most part have never known what it's like to struggle or to have people immediately doubt them because of the way they were born. I mean, what kind of society are we building if our one source of continuity from one generation to the next is people who've had everything handed to them on a latinum platter?”
“Well, when you put it that way…” Ezri trails off.
Lenara sips at her wine. “And that's why my family left Trill.”
“What?” Julian gasps. “All of you?”
“Yes, of course. We couldn't stand to be a part of that culture any longer.”
“So you just packed up and moved? Couldn't you have circulated a petition or something?”
“That's not how things work on Trill,” Ezri explains. “Our word for 'dissident' translates roughly to 'expatriate.' Seriously.”
“Love it or leave it?” Julian asks.
“And take your whole family with you,” Ezri finishes.
“Will the rest of your family be joining you on the station?”
“No,” Lenara says. “Everyone except for Nulat is on Andor.”
“Are you going to be moving there?” Julian asks. “To be with them?”
“I want to, but I can't.”
“No. I… This is going to sound incredibly morbid of me, but I can't move to Andor because if I should die there, the Kahn symbiont will be returned to the Symbiosis Commission. And neither of us want that.” She inhales deeply. “I've decided to will the symbiont to Nulat. I know I'm not much older than her, but if I were to die before her… there's no one I know more worthy of being joined.” She smiles slightly. “Although, I must admit, I'm likely biased.”
“That's insane,” Ezri laughs.
“It's completely ludicrous, I know.”
“I mean, it's you.”
“Me. Of all people! Not in a million years did I imagine I would be taking refuge on a Bajoran space station so the Federation can't take custody of my symbiont.”
“Hey, I never thought I'd have a symbiont for the Federation to take.”
“Yeah.” Lenara grins. “It's funny how things work out.”
Ezri ducks her head, hiding the wide, blushing smile on her face. Julian sees it anyway, which sends a sharp, twisting cramp to his stomach—growing pains marking his slow transformation into a cuckold, he assumes. He's about to head back up to the bar to get another drink—if only to have Quark validate his pervading sense of dread—when his commbadge chirps.
He taps the badge. “Bashir.”
“It's Jake. Kasidy needs you. She's in her quarters.”
“I'll be there soon.” Julian gets up from the table. “Excuse me. Duty calls.”
He all but runs to the turbolift, slowed by Odo's voice in his ear: “No running on the Promenade!” and “Are they dying? No? Then you can walk like everyone else.”
At least, Julian hopes Kasidy isn't dying. He imagines Jake would have the good sense to have Kasidy beamed to the medical bay immediately if she or her unborn child were in serious danger, but you can't really anticipate how someone will act in a life-or-death situation.
Julian's faith in Jake's emergency preparedness falters when he arrives in the habitat ring and faintly smells smoke coming from the Sisko-Yates' quarters, along with hearing a woman groan, “It burns!”
Good god! Julian punches in his security override, covering his nose and mouth with his shirt, ready to pull Kasidy and Jake from the inferno swallowing their home. Of course, when the door swishes open, he finds not a disaster area but a very dirty kitchen, ingredients and pots and pans strewn everywhere. In the corner, Jake scrapes the burnt-on mess off a skillet into the replicator's recycling platform. His step-mother is nowhere to be seen.
“What happened?” Julian asks. “Where's Kasidy?”
Jake gives a long-suffering sigh. “She got pepper juice in her eye. She's trying to flush it out in the bathroom.”
Julian crosses the room and knocks on the bathroom door. “Kasidy, it's Dr. Bashir. May I come in?”
The door opens and Kasidy staggers out, her left eye red and puffy and now dripping with water. “I feel like my face is falling off.”
“We can't have that, can we?” He gently takes Kasidy by the elbow, leading her to the couch. She (consciously or unconsciously) picks the cushion not bearing Captain Sisko's butt imprint to sit on. Once she's settled, Julian nudges Jake away from the replicator and orders, “Whole milk. In a shot glass,” which he has Kasidy place snugly over her eye, leaning her head back, allowing the casein in the milk to neutralize the capsaicin from the peppers.
Wiping her face with the back of her shirtsleeve, Kasidy reclines on the sofa, sighing. “Thanks, Julian. I'll have to remember that for next time.”
Jake nearly drops a newly ruined skillet, his eyes wide in horror at the prospect at of a “next time.”
“About that,” Julian says, “as your doctor, I'd recommend holding off on the cooking. At least for the time being.”
“Why? Could it be bad for the baby?”
“No. You're just really bad at it.” Jake snorts as Kasidy playfully swats at Julian. “Hey! If that's the kind of thanks I get for sound medical advice, I'll leave.”
Kasidy rolls her eyes. “Go on, get. You don't want to leave Dax and Dr. Kahn waiting.”
“That's right!” Jake says. “You're supposed to be having dinner with Ezri and her widow tonight. Sorry. I wouldn't've called you over if I'd remembered.”
“It's all right, it's…” Julian furrows his brow. “How do you two even know about that?” Stepmother and stepson share an awkward, frantic look across the living room. “Wait, did Ezri tell you about dinner? What did she say? Was she excited? Did she say anything about Len—”
“Whoa,” Jake interjects, waving his hands in front of his chest. “I just heard it from Nog.”
“Nog? Hows does Nog know?”
Jake shrugs. “Small station. News travels fast.”
“Right. And you, of course, had to tell Kasidy.”
“No,” she says from the couch. “Lysia told me this afternoon.”
“Lysia? The jumja vendor?” Julian shakes his head. “Does everyone know?” Julian takes their tightlippedness as an affirmative. He pauses, taking a breath, centering himself before he has an existential meltdown in the middle of what is, for all intents and purpose, a house call. “Was there anything else you needed, Captain?”
“No, I'm good now. Thank you.”
“Right. You're welcome.” He heads for the door. “Come down to sickbay tomorrow morning once the inflammation has gone down and we'll make sure there isn't any physical damage to the eye.” He bids them farewell and hustles his way down to Quark's. Ezri and Lenara are, of course, long gone.
“Thank you for walking me home,” Lenara says, keying open her front door.
“It's nothing,” Ezri says. “I know how easy it is to get lost on this station.” The door opens and Lenara enters. Against her better judgment, Ezri follows her. “My first night here I spent two hours wandering around looking for my quarters. And that was after living here for six years as Jadzia… I ended up falling asleep in a cargo bay.” Her hands fidget behind her back. “It was a confusing time.”
Lenara smiles at her in a way Dax has never seen. “Sounds like it.”
“It's still a confusing time, really. I get spacesick, you know… But you probably don't want to hear about me puking… And now I'm just bringing more attention to the puking. I should…” Ezri looks back at the door. “I should go.” She backs away slowly. “Good night,” she adds in a pathetically squeaky voice.
“I should go. I have to—”
“I need to tell you something.”
“Is it that you still love me and want to tear my clothes off right here, because…” Lenara looks anywhere but at Ezri. “Oh, boy.” Ezri takes a big step back, bumping into the bulkhead. “I need to—”
“There are dozens of non-aligned planets where I could be free of the Symbiosis Commission, but I chose this station because… because I was hoping there might still be something left between us.”
Ezri snorts, hurt still four years and one death later. “Now that you don't have anything left to lose?”
Lenara looks her straight in the eye. “From where I'm standing, I have everything to gain.”
Ezri surges forward, pointing an angry finger in Lenara's face. “That's not fair!” Her chest heaves. “You can't—you can't say something like that and expect me not to fall into your arms!”
Lenara places her hand on top of Ezri's, lowering the shaking finger from her face. “Dax…” Propelled by muscle memory, their fingers entwine.
“I'm not…” Ezri says, quiet now. “I'm not Jadzia. I'm not Torias.”
“I know.” Lenara leans down, pressing her forehead against Ezri's. The height difference is new, but the gesture's the same. “And I'm not Nilani. And I'm not the same Lenara that Jadzia knew.”
“So much has changed, but we're still…” Ezri raises her head to look up at Lenara, dragging her nose along Lenara’s upper lip.
She can feel Lenara shiver. Lenara steps closer, nuzzling her nose against Ezri's cheek.
A billion Terran butterflies take flight in Ezri's stomach. Fearful of what that might mean, she pulls away. “I have a boyfriend.” She backs away. “I have a boyfriend.” She's almost to the door. “I have a boyfriend.” Maybe if she says it enough times, it'll matter. “I have a—” The door opens behind her and she backs right into… “Julian!”
“Ezri, I was just looking for—”
Ezri squeaks like a Cardassian vole before taking off at full speed down the corridor and away from Julian and Lenara. She doesn't really know where she's running, only that she shouldn't be running to begin with. (“Shut up, Odo,” she mutters to herself.) She somehow finds herself in front of Kira's cabin, proceeding to ring the bell at least a dozen times in the span of twenty seconds.
“Come in!” Kira hollers. The door slides open, revealing the colonel wrapped in a towel, her hair wet. She gives Ezri a once-over. “Kahn?”
Ezri nods furiously, stepping into Kira's quarters. “She…”
“She wants me.”
“And you want her?”
Ezri gives a high-pitched whine.
Kira fixes her with one of those no-nonsense Bajoran militia-woman looks that Ezri finds more than a little intimidating. “You know I'm not the person you need to be talking to.”
“I know, I know. I need to talk to Julian.” She gives Kira the Tobin-perfected puppy dog eyes (which, admittedly, work much better on this host than any other). “But do I have to do it tonight? ”
Kira, as predicted, caves. “I guess not. But you have to do it eventually.”
“I know, but tonight, couldn't I just stay here? We could camp out in the living room and braid each other's hair and talk about… interstellar politics? We hardly get to spend any time together anymore.”
Kira sighs. “Fine.”
“Thank you.” Ezri flops on the couch. “It'll be great.”
Kira runs a hand through her still-wet hair. “Be honest; are you staying here to keep yourself from going to Lenara?”
Ezri's visage transforms into one of utmost solemnity. “If I try to leave, sit on me.”