The first time his console chirped, Bashir just ignored it. The last two days overseeing Vedek Bareil’s slow demise, knowing all along he could have prevented it if it were not for Winn, had taken a toll that sleep alone could not fix. But it was a start. He rolled over and put a pillow over his head.
The second time it chirped he opened one eye and checked the chronometer. It was 5 am. If it was really urgent his combadge would have activated by now, he mused.
But what if it was Major Kira? He had sent her to bed with strict instructions to get some sleep herself, what if she was asking for something to help with that?
Every time Kira had watched a friend die in his infirmary he had offered what help he could afterwards, and just like all those other times, she had politely declined. Too many times – how many had she lost in his infirmary now, or who had died before he could do anything to prevent it, despite being there with her, like her adored Kai Opaka.
He opened his eyes. She didn’t blame him for any of their deaths, he knew that, but she had already lost nearly her entire family and most of her friends in the occupation. He wished he could have done more this time – this time when he could have prevented all of Bareil’s neuro-degeneration if the man himself hadn’t insisted on being conscious to hand-hold Winn through the negotiations with the Cardassians.
He sat up and checked his message, his brow furrowing. Then he blinked and re-read it, rubbing his eyes. It was just a series of numbers and a word in Bajoran, with nothing in the ‘from’ field. He inputted the word to the translator directly, wondering why the auto-translate filter had missed it. Nothing. The subroutine returned the error that meant it was an unrecognized proper noun or otherwise not translatable, with the canned language about using context to try to ascertain meaning. Problem was, there was no context, just numbers. He squinted at the digit sequences. If you omitted the repeating lead numbers it was possible these were coordinates.
Sitting up straighter he ran it through the broader Federation linguistics database, which offered up a 38% likelihood estimation of “tulaberry ocelot”. He scrunched up his face at the meaningless phrase, and hit the button to send it to the Starfleet Academy Semiotics Division for further research. Then he looked into the header fields, which yielded no detail at all on who had sent the message. The best he could tell was that they hadn’t had any contact information for him beyond “Doctor Bashir, Deep Space Nine” so the message had been re-routed through the Bajoran system before being sent up here.
Turning to another screen he activated a data set he had been monitoring just before he went to sleep: the first officer’s vitals. Kira was apparently wide awake too, and not in her quarters. A quick cross-reference for her combadge put her in the Bajoran shrine on the promenade.
Well, he figured, since she was awake anyway, maybe she could shed some light on the mysterious message.
There were more people than he expected on the promenade given the early hour. He dropped in at the infirmary and asked Nurse Jabara and Nurse Hortak if they knew what was going on.
They both looked at him for a beat. “We held the death chant for Vedek Bareil,” Hortak offered, her tone suggesting he should have known this.
“Oh.” He ran his hand through his hair. They were right, he’d heard enough death chant dirges in his time on the station to last a lifetime. “Is Major Kira..?”
“In the temple. She has been there to comfort every Bajoran on the station that came to say goodbye to the vedek.”
His eyes closed and he pinched the bridge of his nose. She must be exhausted.
“I think it would mean a lot to her if you dropped by,” Jabara offered softly.
Bashir looked down at himself. His uniform didn’t look anywhere near as rumpled as he felt.
“I can go like this?” he asked them as they eyed him appraisingly.
“You can,” Hortak offered, “but if you want to show proper respect to the dead you would need to take off your shoes.”
“That’s it?” he asked as he discarded his shoes, depositing them in his office.
They nodded in approval. “You can also say ‘Ahn-kay ya ay-ya vasu’.” It is the first line of the death chant, it wishes the departed a safe journey to the celestial temple.”
He repeated the syllables carefully. Both nurses smiled at him now, and Jabara’s eyes filled with tears.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked softly, leaning over to give her arm a gentle squeeze. “You both don’t need to be on duty right now you know, we can get Starfleet personnel to fill in.”
Hortak sniffed. “Anyone getting overcome with the death rituals would rather see a friendly Bajoran face, so we’ll be here if it’s all right with you, doctor. We’ve said our goodbyes to the vedek already.”
“Of course. I understand.”
“It’s Major Kira who needs you now,” Hortak added.
He held her gaze for a moment, then nodded and headed to the shrine.
The crowd was thinning now, he was relieved to see. He repeated the first line of the death chant under his breath until he was sure he wouldn’t mess it up, and stepped inside.
The incense alone was powerful enough. In combination with the heavy sadness in the air, and the only light coming from the duranja lamp, it was disorienting. He focused on the woman at the center of the room, and moved towards her – surprisingly diminutive without her boots and kneeling between two prylars in front of the duranja. Kira looked drained, but she was greeting everyone with a warm smile, clasping hands and accepting their words.
Unsure of his welcome in a crowd that was entirely Bajoran, Julian hung back until the only ones left were Kira, the prylars, and himself.
He approached her slowly. “An-kay ya ay-ya vasu,” he offered tentatively.
Her answering smile changed her whole face, and she reached for his hands. "Cohmara dinayya," she answered him.
He knelt down beside her.
“Pray with me?” she whispered hopefully, “for Bareil?”
“Yes.” He bowed his head and closed his eyes, threading his fingers through hers much as he had seen the other Bajorans do. The prylars chanted more words in Bajoran. The incense was so thick in the air he almost felt light headed, and he was grateful for Kira’s strong hold on his hands. The strength she got from her faith never ceased to amaze him.
When he opened his eyes again she was looking at him, an almost beatific smile on her face, despite the dried streaks of tears he could see now that they were so close. “Thank you,” she mouthed.
He hadn’t really done anything, but he was glad to have brought her some measure of comfort, however small.
Jabara and Hortak exchanged smiles with each other when Kira and Julian stopped by the infirmary to pick up his shoes, but otherwise gave them their space. Kira looped her arm through his.
“Can you get some sleep now?” he inquired gently.
She lifted her shoulders. “Bareil will be taken back to the monastery tomorrow—I mean, today—and they’ll begin the same thing down there, giving everyone time to say goodbye. I should probably be there, but…I’m not sure I can.”
Her eyes filled with tears and Julian gathered her into his arms. “You’ve done enough, Nerys. You’ve been here for hours, comforted everyone who came to pay their respects. You need to rest now. Let me walk you back to your quarters?”
She nodded against his chest, furiously wiping at her tears when she pulled back from him. He handed her a tissue, then noticed the PADD he had set down earlier when taking off his shoes.
“Oh, I almost forgot. I got a transmission, the origin is apparently untraceable, but there is one word in it and the universal translator claims it doesn’t have an equivalent—it’s in Bajoran and I wondered if you might—”
She frowned, and grabbed the PADD, scrutinizing the message. “Why would they send it to you?”
“It looks like coordinates, and something else I can’t decipher.”
She nodded slowly. Her mind was clearly miles away but she didn’t look confused.
“…But you can,” he surmised, “decipher it, I mean.”
She looked at him sharply, and for a moment he could tell she was considering lying to him, but then her shoulders sagged. “I…have to go.”
“You should get some rest, maybe we can talk about it in the morning.”
She nodded distractedly. Julian watched her go, still clutching the PADD, apparently having forgotten his offer to walk her to her quarters.
On a hunch, he followed Kira down to the habitat ring. She looked over her shoulder a few times but he didn’t think she noticed him—he’d have to tell Garak the lessons were paying off. He hung back while she went to her quarters, but he didn’t have long to wait before she emerged again, carrying a small bag.
When she paused at the airlock for the Rio Grande to scan behind her to see if she was being watched he stepped into her field of vision. She froze.
“Doctor,” she said brokenly.
She looked as if she was going to say something else and then stopped. He dipped his head to catch her eyes, taking a few steps toward her. “Are you going to tell me you decided to go to Bajor after all?” He looked at her steadily.
She raised her eyes to his and shook her head slightly. “I can’t lie to you,” she said so quietly he had to lean in to hear her.
“Does this have anything to do with the message?”
She sighed, her forehead creasing. “Julian, please…this doesn’t concern you.”
He would have been offended but her tone was more beseeching than commanding. “Nerys,” he tried.
She shook her head, backing up a few steps as he closed the distance between them. He reached for her but she turned on her heel and strode purposefully through the airlock.
Julian charged after her, following her into the runabout. “You might get hurt, I can’t let you go off on your own to goodness knows where when you just went through what happened with Bareil.”
She turned on him, blocking him from coming further into the cockpit with her body. “What are you doing?”
“I’m coming with you.”
She blew out a frustrated breath and dropped her bag unceremoniously behind the pilot seat. “Julian…”
“We’re not going to Bajor, are we?”
“We are not going anywhere. You are going back to bed and getting some much needed sleep. I don’t think you slept at all the whole time you were taking care of Anton.”
“And when Commander Sisko wants to know where his first officer has disappeared to?”
Her eyes flashed. “I sent him a message from my quarters, I am taking some personal time.”
“You’re grieving. You aren’t thinking straight.”
“I need to do this.”
She looked at him, breathing heavily. “I don’t have time for this,” she muttered. “The message is from Kalita and Tamal.”
His eyes widened. “The Maquis members of Tom Riker’s crew?” Understanding dawned. “You told Tom you would come for him.”
“And I meant it.”
“I never doubted it for a moment, Nerys, but not like this – you haven’t slept at all, have you?”
Her jaw flexed. “I need to go, now. Get out.”
She was trying to be harsh, but it came out as more of a plea. Ever since what they had gone through together as captives of the Maquis, Kira hadn’t quite been able to be as dispassionate with him as she had before when she needed to be.
His own tone softened too and he put a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes closed for a moment and she reached up. He thought she was going to push him away but she just covered his hand with hers.
“Kalita has a plan?” he pressed softly.
“It’s just coordinates, and a time.” She pursed her lips and released his hand. “Only hours from now. She didn’t leave any way for me to communicate back to her.”
He sat down in the co-pilot seat. She rounded on him, her palm pressing to her forehead.
“Julian…you can’t. Starfleet would…The Bajoran militia sometimes turns a blind eye to involvement with the Maquis, we’re no friends to the Cardassians. But the Federation would have you hung out to dry.”
“I don’t care. We got into this together and there is no way I’m letting you go to a Cardassian labor camp on your own.”
“You’re risking your career, and possibly your life. I can’t let you do this.”
“You’re wasting time, major,” he replied calmly, and began initiating the launch sequence.
An ensign from ops immediately contacted them over comms. “Ops to Rio Grande. There is no scheduled departure at this time, please explain.”
Julian held Kira’s eyes. “This is Doctor Bashir. Major Kira and I need the runabout, it’s an urgent matter, we will relay the mission details to Commander Sisko once we are underway.”
“Understood sir. You are cleared for departure, ops out.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Either you sit down and we do this together, or I’m alerting Sisko. I’m not letting you risk your life alone.”