Ezri shifted in her chair, which like most chairs on the station did little for comfort and certainly couldn't alleviate the pressure in her lower back. ”It might be a case of what Dr. Zaremba calls conversion freeze,” she said, ”or it may be plain old learned helplessness. Either way, the...” She swallowed hard. ”...um, physical symptoms should subside with further therapy. It's not particularly complicated, and your role in it, if any, would be mostly... um... soothing.”
Julian had been taking notes, but now he put his PADD down and watched Ezri with puzzled intensity. ”Is something wrong?”
”No,” she said instantly ”Why would it be?”
”You don't look too well. In fact, you look about to throw up.”
She waved that away and put her hands over her mouth and nose, taking deep breaths. ”I'm fine. It's just space sickness, I guess. Don't know why it would arise right now.”
”Especially since we're not in motion.” He rose and grabbed his tricorder, which he brandished against her, running it down from her head to her diaphragm. ”Have you been eating at the Bolian restaurant?”
”No. Why?” The lights of the tricorder stung her eyes, and she pushed it aside. ”Julian! If I want a medical diagnosis, I'll let you know.”
”There have been a few cases of food poisoning,” he said, checking the results of the immediate scan. ”It might have spread further on the Promenade, in which case we have a problem. I can't find any evidence of it in you, though. You do have heightened readings of certain amino acids. I can't recall ever reading up on those specific parts of Trill biology; that's something I'll have to remedy, of course. It might be a liver problem, there are several that would cause that symptom, or... do you know if Trills get diabetes?”
His voice had gone into research mode, and Ezri leaned her head back, closing her eyes.
”Is it a slow day or something?” she asked. ”It's just a bit of queasiness, it'll pass soon enough. I promise that it's not a symptom of any exotic illness or...” A whispered thought from previous memories made its way to her head, and her eyes flew open. ”Amino acids?”
”Yes. Do you know why that is?”
She had a pretty good hunch, more than a hunch even. It was not, however, something she was ready to discuss with Julian until she was certain, not when he had that expression of professional curiosity.
”Could you do me a favor and check on the symbiont?” she asked.
He did as told, though she could tell that it was killing him not to ask any questions. ”Like I said, I'm not an expert in Trill physiognomy, but the symbiont does seem unusually active. Which could explain the queasiness, I suppose. I'm not sure what the amino acids have to do with it.”
”Ohhh,” she groaned quietly. ”Oh, my.”
”Ezri? What does it mean?”
She jumped off her seat abruptly – a bit too abruptly, since it sent another lurch through her back and innards. ”I have to go see Kira.”
Colonel Kira wasn't in Ops, or her office; Ezri finally found her in security, arguing with Constable Yndar.
”I know things are different now,” she said, her voice not quite loud enough yet to qualify as yelling. ”Believe me, I know. But they have been different for quite some time, and I expect you to do your job, regardless.”
”Yes, but...” Yndar protested.
”Unless, of course, you find the responsibilities too heavy for you, in which case I'm sure we can find an alternative position for you. Deputy Seelee has been doing a brilliant job lately, perhaps we can arrange for a trade of places.” Kira's lips tightened in a smile.
”That won't be necessary,” Yndar said stiffly.
”Good. I'm glad we've come to an agreement.” Only now did Kira wave Ezri inside. ”Can I do something for you, Lieutenant?”
”I need a waterproof container,” Ezri said. ”And permission to go back to Trill.” Seeing the others' expressions, she added, ”That should probably have come first, shouldn't it?”
After a beat, Kira asked, ”Why?”
Ezri threw a glance at Constable Yndar, whose expression indicated that he was more eager to let some steam off than listen to the quirks of her biology. ”It's rather private.”
”All right,” Kira said slowly. ”Constable, as you were. Lieutenant, in my office.”
As they walked through the corridors, Ezri did her best to ignore Kira's quizzical looks, and she even offered a few tidbits of smalltalk, which the Colonel accepted, weak though they were.
At last, they reached the office and stepped inside.
”You were a bit harsh on the Constable, back there,” Ezri said. ”I mean, you practically threatened to demote him.”
”There's no 'practically' about it. He's got an important job to do, and I won't accept excuses as to why he's not doing it. No matter how large the shoes he has to fill.”
Ezri's eyes fell on a battered baseball lying on the desk, and wandered over to an empty bucket half-hidden in a corner. ”I see.”
”So, the trip to Trill?” Kira prompted, sitting down behind the desk. ”And the container?”
”I'm gonna lay eggs,” Ezri said. Her cheeks heated. ”I mean, the symbiont is. Any day now. I need to get the eggs into a proper environment and back to the breeding pools.”
”Oh.” Kira remained silent for an agonizingly long moment before asking, ”I'm not... very knowledgeable about these things... but wouldn't it take some sort of... intercourse?”
”Not while the symbiont is joined.” Ezri squirmed. For a Trill, all this was perfectly normal. Once during a psychology exam, she'd seen a fellow student lay down his PADD and politely excuse himself for the rest of the day, in order to go spew out his eggs in the nearest breeding pool. But it was very hard to feel normal, with Kira looking at her like that.
Jadzia would have taken it in stride, she thought, mortified. Curzon had taken it in stride, as had Audrid. None of them had this strange urge to go hide. She couldn't even blame the Tobin in her. This was pure Ezri Tigan, a girl who wasn't even supposed to exist anymore.
”All I need is a couple of weeks to have the eggs and take them to Trill. I'd be really grateful if you'd loan me a runabout. And maybe an extra pilot. I'll be feeling a bit under the weather.”
”And a container. The list just gets longer and longer,” Kira said, but her smile made clear that she was only teasing. ”You can have, let's see... the Volga, and Lieutenant Kirby. How large do you need the container to be?”
Ezri measured with her hands, roughly a meter in each direction. ”I can fill it with fluids, but the container itself is too big for my replicator.”
”I'll see that you get one,” Kira promised.
”Thanks, Nerys. I mean, Colonel.”
”Hey,” Kira said softly. ”We're friends, aren't we?”
”Yeah,” Ezri replied, longing for that easy friendship the two of them had once had, back when she was Jadzia. Even without that rapport, she was relieved at how well this had turned out. Now she just had to explain the situation to Julian. ”We are.”
Julian put his hands together and leaned his chin on the thumbs. ”Fascinating.”
”Don't,” Ezri warned.
”Don't say 'fascinating' like I'm some... case.” Standing up from the sofa, she walked over to the windows. Pain shot up from her ankles, but she ignored it, focusing her attention on the stars. Somewhere out there was Trill, but she couldn't spot the system. She could see Sappora, but she'd never thought to look for a homeworld that wasn't, strictly speaking, her own, and Jadzia's quarters had faced another direction.
”Sorry. Force of habit.” He walked up to her and put both hands on her shoulders. Usually when he did that, she'd lean back into his touch, but she didn't feel like it, now.
”You could have just told me,” he said. ”No need to bolt like that.”
She sighed. ”Other species tend to be... well, icked out, by the symbionts. Especially the physical aspects.”
”I'm a doctor,” he reminded her, kissing the back of her neck and sending shivers down her spine. ”I'm pretty much impossible to 'ick out'.”
”Right. You are fascinated.”
”I did apologize,” he reminded her, his fingers gently rubbing her muscles. As far as she was concerned, that massage counted for more than the apology. Despite the pain and discomfort, she hadn't realized just how tense she was all over, not until she had Julian's medical knowledge pointed out to her through his fingertips, and so she did lean into his touch.
”So what happens now?” he asked.
”I leave on the Volga,” she said, tilting her head to give him better access of her neck. ”Sometime during the next few days, I lay the eggs. I get them to Trill, then I come back.. You won't even have time to miss me.”
”I'd say. Since I'm coming with you.”
She spun around and backed against the window. ”Says who?”
”I'm your doctor,” he said, as if surprised she would even question his presence.
”I'm also going out with you.”
”Those are two separate facts!” If only he didn't look so damned sure of himself. She had to make every effort to stay calm, something made even harder by the way her stomach was making somersaults.
”I know,” he said with a smile. ”I counted. They both make me want to be with you while you're sick.”
”I'm not sick,” she insisted. ”It's a perfectly natural biological process.”
”Are you serious? Even right now, you're shifting your weight, in order to...”
”Stop it!” she hissed. Any remnant of calm was now gone, full Emony-strength emotions taking over. ”See that, right there? That's why I don't want you along! You think I don't want my boyfriend with me? I'd love to have you there, to do what you did a minute ago, to talk to me, because this is going to be shitty. But I'm not taking Dr. Bashir, medical genius. That brain of yours, ticking ahead to catalogue me. I'm not your specimen.” He closed the distance between them, and she flung her arms out, yelling, ”And don't touch me to make me agree with you!”
At that, he backed off, wide-eyed, looking every bit as lost as when he'd first come aboard, all those years ago.
”Go on,” she said, quietly. ”Call me hormonal.”
”I wouldn't even know what hormonal looks like in a Trill,” he said. ”And you seem very reasonable. Unfortunately. Because I'm not very good at not being a doctor.”
”Yeah, tell me about it.”
They both laughed at that, though it was a laughter tinged with sadness, a way to relieve stress rather than to express mirth – and it occurred to Ezri that she wasn't a whole lot better at not being a counsellor than Julian was at not being a doctor.
Well. She was pretty sure counsellors weren't supposed to blow their top like that.
”All right,” he said, sitting back down on the sofa. ”I guess, then... have a good trip. Unless... what if I try my very best to be just Julian? Leaving all the medical knowledge behind. All worries aside – and I do worry about you, obviously – this is a major life event. I'd want to share it with you. As your boyfriend. Who knows if we'll ever get this chance again?”
Audrid's and Tobin's memories told her of the comfort and joy of having your loved ones present, while Curzon had been on his own, brushing off his loneliness like he did most things.
Ezri didn't want to brush it off. ”No diagnoses,” she said after a moment's thought. ”No tests, or research, or notes for medical articles.”
”I'd never write a medical article on you without your permission!”
”No fussing,” she continued. ”Unless I specifically ask for it. Or we run into an ionic field and are forced to crash on a remote planet, in which case of course all bets are off.”
He thought about that. ”Very well. I can't promise, but I'll try my very hardest. And should I slip up, you're free to... hit me.”
”Physical violence, always the thing for a relationship,” she joked weakly. ”How about, if – or when, rather – you slip up, I get to analyze you. At length.”
The grimace he offered made her bite her lip to stop herself from laughing.
”I'd really, really hate that,” he said.
She slid down from the armrest and moved closer, close enough to kiss him. ”That's what makes it a great deterrent. Deal?”
He wrapped his arms around her, and his thumb found that tender spot near her spine. ”Deal.”
Ezri was quite relieved to enter the Volga two days later and take her place next to Lieutenant Kirby. All her luggage was aboard, and she had placed the container of fluid in a suitable cabin corner next to her bunk.
Kirby was nice, too. The two of them didn't know each other well – Ezri had seen her a handful of times, Jadzia of course several more, but only enough to say hi on the Promenade. Yet her presence was very soothing, with that light, pleasant smile, open attitude and slight twinkle of mischief in her eyes. Kira had made a good choice.
”Thanks for doing this,” Ezri said, relishing in the feeling of the chair against her back. One of the many wonders of the Federation – interior design fit for ridge-less species like Trills.
”Any time,” Kirby assured her with a grin. ”You reproduce, I get a holiday. I've had worse assignments.”
Ezri returned the grin and punched the coordinates into the computer. ”I guess you're welcome, then.”
She could hear more luggage being dragged through the runabout, and looked up to see Julian enter. Upon seeing Lieutenant Kirby, he dropped two cases straight down on the floor with a thunk-thunk, and color rose slightly in his cheeks.
”Oh,” he said sheepishly. ”Hello, Angie.”
”Hi, Julian,” Kirby said, showing no particular feeling beyond, maybe, a slight amusement.
Ezri looked from one to the other and found herself quite amused too. ”Come on,” she said and walked over to grab his fallen cases. ”Let me get that for you.”
”No, no, you shouldn't,” he said, still half-stunned. ”You're not well.”
”How do you think Trill would have survived if we couldn't carry a few simple suitcases down a corridor when we were about to lay eggs?” she asked. ”Also, that was fussing. You owe me.”
They hauled the cases to the back of the Volga and stuffed them in Julian's cabin, after which they proceeded to the tiny medical facility installed on board.
”So,” Ezri said, sitting down on the examination bed. ”You and Kirby. Just how awkward is this going to be?”
Julian didn't seem to know what to do with his hands. ”Well, I... thing is... Angie and I were married on Gaia.”
The sentence ran a few laps in Ezri's brain before her memory caught up with it. ”That was an alternate timeline,” she said. ”Does Kirby even know about it?”
”Yes, we... uh... went out, a couple of times, afterwards.”
Ezri pondered that. How long ago had the events on Gaia been, anyway? Two, three years? Whatever had happened, it was pretty clear that both parties were over it. She shrugged. ”Okay.”
”Okay?” he asked. ”That's it?”
”If I could only have a second pilot you'd never been romantically attracted to, I'd have to fly the runabout alone,” she said. ”Then again, if I'm to count anyone you've ever been successfully romantically attracted to, the field is wide open.”
”Hey!” he protested.
This was what her mother would have called a wicked game, but Curzon would have called just a bit of fun. The way she figured, he did owe her one, and in any case she was enjoying herself, so she carried on. ”In the years I've known you, you've slept with – what, five people? And I'm the only one still on the station. I should have given you some pointers, back in the day. Too late now; I don't want any competition.”
”Five!? How do you get five?” The anger on his face was all surface-level, but there was a tinge of offense underneath that seemed genuine.
”Me, Leeta, Miles, Garak, and that Melora girl,” she said, counting on her fingers. ”Five. That's not counting our trip to Risa, of course. Too ridiculously easy to get laid on Risa.”
”That's not even half of...” He broke off. ”Miles? I never slept with Miles.”
”Really?” That surprised her, though upon second thought, she supposed it shouldn't. Miles O'Brien was both an honourable and a deeply conventional man, after all. ”Because of Keiko?”
”I suppose ” he said. ”To tell the truth, I don't think he ever thought of it.”
”And you did?”
He averted his eyes. ”Of course I did.”
”Poor little Julian, always thwarted in love.”
For such a smart man, he could be remarkably dense, but now she could see his cogwheels moving. His eyes narrowed. ”Are you trying to rile me up?”
He scoffed and ran his fingers through his hair ”All for one moment's fussing. You're driving a hard bargain, aren't you? And it's eleven. Eleven people currently or formerly staying on DS9 that I have slept with, present company included. Nothing on your extensive record, I know.”
”It's mostly Curzon's extensive record,” she pointed out. Admittedly, Jadzia had Julian beat in that department too, but since she'd taken all her pointers from Curzon, Ezri didn't think that needed special mention. ”And there's no need to get sulky because I'm a better flirt than you.”
”Who says you're a better flirt?”
”The only witness that counts. Results.”
He pulled her down from the bed and clasped his hands at the small of her back. ”I managed well enough with you, didn't I?”
Ezri stood up on her toes and gave him a light kiss. ”Or vice versa.”
The ache in her legs turned into a tingle as he returned the kiss and deepened it. Though he might not be much of a flirt, Julian Bashir was a great kisser. The bed behind swayed slightly at their combined weight, and she wondered if it would hold for sex or if they'd be better off trying one of the cabins. Not that the bunks were suitable for two, either.
Then she realized that the butterflies in her stomach weren't butterflies and a beat later, that they hurt, so badly she jerked back and gasped for breath.
”Moodkiller,” she muttered.
”Are you okay?”
”Yeah. Just kind of crappy.” She gestured down her body to indicate its current unreliable state. ”I'm gonna go...” What? Piloting was out of the question. Lying down would definitely make her throw up, which could be bad for the eggs. Reading wasn't a very good idea, either. ”Listen to some music, I guess. You go help Lieutenant Kirby.”
”Honey, I trust you with my life. I think I can trust you with her.”
”Right. Well, let me know if you need... any fussing.”
She stopped at the doorway, blew him a kiss over her shoulder, and then went in to sit down in her cabin. ”Computer, give me... Jay Pren. Any one of the spex pieces.”
Jaunty music filled the cabin, and she smiled. The computer had made a good choice. Admittedly, the saucy lyrics were an annoying reminder of what she'd just interrupted, but at least singing along would give her something fun to do.
In the end, she had an easier time of it than Curzon, who despite all his bravado had been incapacitated for almost a week when he lay his eggs. On the third day of traveling, with Trill in sight and Ezri desperate enough to give Julian carte blanche to be as doctorly as he wanted, she felt the unmistakeable movement up her throat. With a choked grunt, she struggled to sit up.
”What is it, do you want something?” Julian asked, instantly alert.
She was afraid to speak, for fear that something might plop out on the floor, but managed to wheeze, ”container.”
The container was only a few feet from her bunk, but it felt like climbing a mountain, even with Julian's arm around her back. Her breath caught, and it was so much like a couple of her deaths that she had to remind herself that she was not dying, that she'd be fine, as soon as those eggs were out.
That impossibly large egg sack, which was pushing, and pushing – and then slid out into the container with a splosh, as smooth as anything. The surface of it glistened, and beneath she could see the perfect drop-shapes forming her future offspring. Despite the spasms still running through her stomach, making her limbs weak, she still marvelled at the sight, just as she had on those three occasions in her previous lifetimes.
”Safe and sound,” she mumbled. Her legs were so unsteady now that she dared the risk of taking the steps back to her bunk just so she could have the luxury of lying down. ”They're all gonna be okay, right?”
”Well, I...” Julian grabbed his tricorder and sat down on his heels next to the container, alternating his focus between the container and the tricorder, both with utmost intensity.
Ezri let her head fall back on the pillow, but she kept her eyes open to watch the eggs.
When Julian had examined them for quite some time, he stood up and said, ”As far as I can judge, they're in excellent health. But then, the Trill symbiont seems to be a remarkably adaptive species. Hermaphroditic, with internal and external fertilization – they're really covering all their bases, aren't they? Of course, I don't know the details of egg health for symbionts, but the life signs are strong and show no sign of deterioration. How does the sperm enter the egg sack, do you know?”
”Oh, give me that,” Ezri said, reaching for the tricorder. She wasn't a doctor, but after three previous egglayings, she knew enough of what to expect to see that the eggs were indeed as fine as they looked. She smiled and waved the tricorder weakly in the general direction of the container. ”See that, sweethearts? You're all right as rain, and we're going to find you a daddy in no time. Aunt Angie's taking us to Trill.”
”You're talking to eggs,” Julian said, sitting down next to her to stroke her hair. It felt so good that she closed her eyes and let herself relax.
This was the point where Curzon had had a bottle of bloodwine, she remembered. ”I need a drink.”
”Are you sure that's wise, in your condition?”
She laughed. ”I'm not pregnant. All the eggs are safely in the container, I can have a drink.” Bloodwine, though, wouldn't make her feel better, considering how she hated the taste of it. What drinks were there? Kanar was disgusting and synthale wouldn't do the trick. At least Jadzia's drinking contest with Worf's foster father had taught her a few good ones.
”Vodka,” Ezri said. ”I want some vodka.”
”Vodka?” Julian snorted. ”Straight for the hard booze, is it?”
”Not straight up. Moscow mule.”
”One Moscow mule, on the rocks,” Julian ordered from the replicator. He handed her the cold glass and helped her sit up. ”Here you go. Try sucking the ice when you're done, it might help sooth your stomach.”
She held the glass in both hands and sipped at it, and the drink was just right – not sweet, but not too strong, just enough to make her feel better and take the taste of eggs from her mouth. Letting the liquid roll around in her mouth, she rested her tired body against Julian's chest, stroking his ankle with her toes.
”Thanks,” she said. ”You're so sweet. Will you be as nice to me when I'm really pregnant and it's months of this crap?”
Sitting the way she did, she could feel him freeze, all over, not even breathing for a moment there. What had she been thinking, blurting out something like that? When she got pregnant?
”I didn't mean now,” she said. ”We're nowhere near that point in our relationship, and I don't even want kids right now, I've got so many things I want to do first, starting with sorting myself out, because I'm pretty sure that was Jadzia speaking.”
He stood up, abruptly, and offered her a tense smile before turning for the door. ”I'll go tell Kirby the good news, shall I? You rest in the meantime.”
With that, he left, and she rolled over on her back, staring at the ceiling, eventually coming to the conclusion that, even allowing for the fact that she'd put her foot in her mouth as usual, his reaction was downright strange.
Lieutenant Kirby was good company and a lot of help during the trip to Trill, but her presence made it impossible to have any heart-to-hearts with Julian, especially as he did his best to avoid it. Ezri felt a little bit guilty when she manipulated the two of them to come with her to the Hoobishan Baths after the eggs had been safely delivered to the breeding pools, but after all, the baths were a tourist attraction. The service-minded staff would make sure Kirby had a good time, and Ezri would make sure that Julian had one, so as ploys went, it wasn't too shabby.
Picking the psychologically correct moment to restart the discussion was the tricky part; Ezri waited until they had been alone in the steam room for a while before asking, ”Is now a good time to talk about what I said on the runabout?”
Julian, splayed out on a bench, opened his eyes slightly and asked, ”What did you say on the runabout?”
Slowly, he gathered his limbs together and sat up, the rigidity back in his shoulders. ”Oh.”
”I honestly don't want to have a baby until much further down the road. What I said, it was just memories, instincts. My head wants to wait, okay?”
”Right,” he said, looking down at his hands clasped between his knees.
”And I know we're still figuring out the ropes.” She thought about pointing out that he had fallen in love with one woman and ended up with another, but decided that, even if that conversation was long overdue, it was still better left for some other time.
”But you do want kids.”
”Some day, maybe. Probably. Say, five years down the road or so.” Most of her previous hosts had been parents, and all of them had enjoyed it – though Curzon hadn't often been to see his child. The Ezri part of her might have been more doubtful, once, but now she had enough fond family memories to compensate for the bad experiences in that area. She wanted to tell Julian that it didn't matter, that they could work things out either way, but she wasn't so sure that was the truth. Her body longed for a child, and her head might want to wait, but not forever.
Then again, who knew where either of them would be in five years? Maybe they'd be broken up by then, or he'd be dead and she'd be in someone else's body. Maybe even the symbiont would be dead; those things happened. There was no point in ruining things now because of what might be.
”I take it you don't,” she said, trying to keep her voice light.
”I don't know. It's complicated.”
He sounded so very like how he had when he told Worf and Jadzia about the difficulties they would have in conceiving, that she asked, ”Is it because I'm a Trill? Are there some issues I don't know about, like with Klingons?”
That made him look up. ”No – no, not at all. A human baby is much more alike in physiognomy to a Trill than a Klingon baby is. The body chemistry isn't all that different either. Even our blood groups, yours and mine, are a good match. There's no reason to think anything would go wrong... although, of course, pregnancy for joined Trills is never easy.” He had gone into doctor mode now, showing both interest and professional concern, though Ezri did get a niggling suspicion that they were moving away from his objections, rather than towards them. ”There's a risk of rejection, or that the size of the child may endanger the life of the symbiont, or...”
”I have been pregnant before, you know,” Ezri said. ”There are specialists on Trill who have worked out treatments for those issues.”
”Those were different hosts, though. You're quite...” There was a hint of a smirk on his face, which would have relieved her if it hadn't been so annoying. ”Slight.”
Though the choice of words rankled her, she couldn't deny their physical accuracy. ”So is that what worries you? That something might happen to me?”
This immediately made him clam up again. ”Well, it's worth taking into consideration. But mostly, it's me. Having a child...” He licked his lips. ”It's a huge undertaking. I don't know.”
He went quiet, lost in his own thoughts, still so rigid and far away from her. When she could stand it no longer, she broke the silence:
”Relax, Julian.” She forced a smile. ”I just wanted to know where we stood. It's okay.”
After a moment's hesitation, he stepped close to her and kissed her hand, stroking the back of her fingers against his cheek.
”I love you,” he said.
”I love you too,” she echoed. She wanted to tell him just how much, how she ached to be near him at all times, because anything could happen to separate them forever. After the discussion they'd just had, though, she feared overwrought sentiment like that would just come off as insecurity, or worse, emotional blackmail. So instead she shook it off and suggested, ”Back to the deep pool?”
Underwater exploration was, after all, a form of love declaration as good as any.
They managed to slip more-or-less back into routine after that. The rest of their stay on Trill, Ezri took the other two to some more touristy places, several of which she hadn't seen herself before, though she didn't admit it.
The trip back was entirely uneventful, and before they reached DS9, Ezri made plans with Angie to play Parrises Squares in the holosuites. Ezri always rejoiced in making new friends who didn't have any awkward associations with previous hosts, and the game would give her a chance to celebrate her newly regained health to the fullest.
It was a good thing she had someone to spend time with, since once they were back, Julian quickly became preoccupied with some difficult cases of Khyme Syndrome on Bajor. He kept in touch with some other Federation doctors on the subject, and if he seemed unusually somber, Ezri figured she could chalk it up to occupational distress.
Then one day, he came into her quarters, the weight of the world on his shoulders, and said, ”I've talked to Sarina Douglas.”
Her breath stopped, and she had to remind herself that if he was breaking up with her, he wouldn't do it like this, not so clumsily.
”I'm going to talk to the others as well. I'd like you to be there.”
That took away her fears, but left her mystified. ”Okay?”
”I've tried to think of a way to tell you about this,” he said, pacing the room, ”and whatever I come up with just sounds completely paranoid. So I think it's better if you're there when I talk with them, because they're so much more obviously different than I am.”
”I'd say,” she replied, still trying to make head or tail of this.
He noticed her confusion and stilled. ”Sorry, I don't mean to sound like a vague Bajoran prophecy. It's about why we can't... no, why we might not be able to have a baby.”
Not able to? Not able to sounded so very serious, and he wasn't talking her ears off about medical possibilities, which was so unlike Julian as she knew him, that all she could manage was to nod and say ”All right,” before following him back to his quarters, where he set up a channel to the Institute. Ezri sat down on a chair next to him, waiting for an explanation.
The conversation with Doctor Loews was short and to the point, with Julian so light and charming that Ezri thought her face would freeze in a fake smile, just to keep up with him. Soon, they were put through to the others.
”Doctor!” Patrick said happily. ”We've missed you! Are there any new wars for us to analyze? Jack still hasn't managed to stop the entropy of the universe.”
”Any day now,” Jack snapped. ”Just you wait!”
Lauren leaned forward towards the screen, giving such a view of her cleavage, Ezri gave an internal whistle that she couldn't blame squarely on her previous hosts.
”Hey, precious. Both preciouses. What gives us the honor?” Lauren asked, only to pause and move back, studying Julian with narrowed eyes. ”Oh. I see. It's been very sunny here, hope you have very nice weather as well.”
”We're on a space station,” Julian said.
”Will you look at that, the visual's breaking down again!” Patrick complained even though the visual was doing no such thing. He sat down at a table and started fiddling with a computer. ”And I wanted to show you some diagrams I'd made!”
”Actually, I hoped to talk to you about a private matter...”
”It has been rather too sunny here,” Jack said, wiggling his eyebrows at Julian. ”The heat is annoying, and the doctors won't let me implement my plan for climate change... oh, finally!” he broke off at a nod from Patrick. ”Now, Mr. Jumps-the-gun, perhaps we can discuss your private matter without any danger of the doctors overhearing us? Patrick, you'd better invent some private matter of a harmless nature; that much went through before the coding was finished.”
Patrick nodded and typed away on his computer.
”I take it the little cutie in your room has something to do with it?” Lauren asked, sitting down next to Patrick at an angle where she could see his work and the communications screen at once. ”Do we know each other? You seem familiar.”
”My name is Ezri,” said Ezri. ”I'm Julian's girlfriend.”
”Liar!” yelled Jack. ”Liar, liar! Your body language is all wrong, it doesn't match your voice, and neither matches your face.”
”There's more than one of her,” Patrick said, taking a brief pause. ”You remember. She told us. Back when she was the other one.”
”The Trill,” Lauren said.
”Ah, yes,” said Jack magnanimously. ”Carry on.”
”Right,” Julian said. ”This concerns Ezri too. I was hoping to...”
”No, Patrick,” Lauren interrupted, reading at the computer screen. ”'I hate sun too' isn't a private matter. You need something spicier, like 'I think I have herpes.'”
”No!” Julian said.
”Lauren, don't be an idiot!” Jack said without turning his head. ”Herpes has been extinct for 137 years, the chances of Doctor Bashir contracting it are miniscule. Make it 'what should we give Sarina for her birthday?'”
Patrick stopped typing for a second. ”What should we give Sarina for her birthday?”
”Oh, what difference does it make? It's three months and thirteen days away, and she has practically nothing. We buy something, she's happy. Now, doctor, what is it you want? Don't worry, Patrick's inventing a boring conversation based on our voice patterns. We do it all the time with Sarina. Can't have those snoopy doctors listening in.”
”You're in a dark mood, aren't you?” Lauren asked Julian. ”And you've got your gorgeous girl all worried. What's wrong? You can tell us, darling.”
Julian glanced over at Ezri, took a deep breath and said, ”I need to ask you about your contraceptive implants.”
”They're very good!” Patrick said. At the tone of someone reciting an information leaflet, he continued, ”More effective than injections and with less risk of side effect if the initial operation is successful – which it was, we're all fine, thank you – although it's preferred by less than 10% of the human population, since fertility is lowered even if the implant is taken out. So if you're going to have a baby, you'd be better off with injections.” His face lit up. ”Are you having a baby? Can we come see it?”
”Don't be ridiculous,” Jack snapped. ”The creation of genetically enhanced individuals through breeding or resequencing is illegal under Federation law. He couldn't have a baby even if he wanted to.”
Ezri tried to hide her gasp, but Julian still gave her a brief, pained glance, before returning his attention to the screen.
Ezri had read up a little about the Eugenics wars, back when she was still Jadzia. The creation of a race of supermen who wanted to take over the Earth... but one child, even a couple of them, wasn't breeding, and in any case, Julian was nothing like those supersoldiers. Even Starfleet had admitted that.
”Oh, honey, that's the problem, isn't it?” Lauren said.
”I take the injections,” Julian said, his voice heavy. ”Technically, we could have children if we wanted to. I'm trying to figure out the legal ramifications of that.”
Ezri slipped her hand into his and squeezed. She didn't want to interrupt the discussion, but it was important to her for Julian to know he had her support.
”Jail!” Jack proclaimed. ”Steep fines! Public humiliation and disgrace!”
”You don't know that,” Lauren argued. ”There hasn't even been a case in over 80 years.”
”Of course not! Everyone lies about the resequencing, and everyone who doesn't lie about it is whisked off here and neutered for the convenience of ordinary people and their ordinary society!”
Lauren rolled her eyes. ”You make it sound like a conspiracy. But then, you always do.”
”I talked to Sarina,” Julian said. ”She still has her implant, and she's quite content with it for the time being, but for obvious reasons, she was never consulted before the operation. I wanted to know if the rest of you were.”
”They nagged,” Jack said. ”God, the nagging!”
”I agreed,” Lauren said with a shrug. ”At twelve, who wants a baby?”
”I was fifteen,” Patrick said, giggling quietly at something he had just typed ”And I like babies. They're cute. But they're a lot of work, and very messy, and I wouldn't be able to handle one. Lauren, I've run out of birthday presents to suggest. The last one I wrote was 'zebra' and that's not very practical, is it?”
Lauren turned her attention to Patrick's computer. ”No, it's not. Change the subject. We could be talking about things that have been happening at the Institute lately.”
”I hate babies,” Jack declared. ”Smelly, noisy, illogical creatures. But it was the principle of the thing! They weren't looking out for my best interests, they were frightened, plain and simple. Still, I let them have their way, in the end. Choose your battles and all that.”
”Lauren?” Julian asked. ”What about now? Would you want the implant taken out?”
Ezri's chest tightened at Lauren's expression, so much like Julian's, and she cursed herself for never even having thought to wonder.
”With my vibrant personality?” Lauren said. ”They'd never let me out of the room, if they thought that was a risk. It's better this way.”
Patrick finished a sentence, giggled again, and looked up, telling Julian, ”Serving in Starfleet is illegal too. They might make another exception for you! They like you.”
”Not as much as you'd think,” Julian said, his voice clipped. His posture was now so rigid that Ezri put a hand on his back, rubbing circles with her thumb.
Jack spun around and told Patrick, ”This isn't about him, is it? It's the creation of a whole new person. Now, he may be content to toe the line, to aim for mediocrity and let his mind rust, but who's to say what the child will do? Maybe it will strive for excellence. Maybe it will lust for conquest, like Khan Singh! Superior ability breeds superior ambition!”
”Maybe it will be like us,” Patrick said.
”I always did think there was a bit of me in you, Julian,” Lauren mused, the sly glint back in her eyes. ”But don't worry. Any major side effects such as megalomania would have been evident in the first generation. Felt like conquering any worlds lately?”
”Can't say I have,” Julian replied, in much the same tone.
”It doesn't matter if it will happen,” Jack said. ”It only matters if they think it's going to happen. They'll never let you have a baby, not a chance.”
”Maybe you could have someone else's baby,” Patrick said. ”My parents had someone else's baby after me.” He turned his attention back to the computer screen and added, ”19.57 hours. Three minutes to supper. She'll come looking for us if we don't show. I'll wrap up the conversation. Do you want to talk again tomorrow?”
”I got the answers I was looking for,” Julian said softly, but added, ”I could call back tomorrow anyway, if you want.”
”I'd like that,” said Patrick, but Jack cut him off:
”No, no, no, we can't talk too often, it might raise suspicions! Call when you'd normally call. Or don't call at all! Why do you have to call us anyway?”
”Shut up, Jack,” said Lauren and walked up to the screen. ”Bye, darling. Sorry we couldn't give you better news.”
”Bye, Julian!” Patrick said and typed the last few phrases before giving Lauren a nod so she turned off the screen.
”Goodbye,” Julian said, a tad too late.
He remained still before the empty screen, and Ezri put her arm around his shoulders, searching through her mind for something to say. Her counsellor training should have given her some approaches, but it was no use, she was too close to the problem. Every thought had to make way past the helpless rage she felt. Before this, even though she had known that Julian felt connected to the others, she had never quite understood why he got so heated when discussing them with his fellow officers. Now, she was ashamed of her own blindness.
”I thought you should know,” he said quietly.
”Yes, but...” She stood up in order to face him. ”It's not the same. Your situation and theirs, it's not the same.”
”Isn't it?” He had some difficulty keeping his voice steady.
”Would you trust any of them with a kid? They can barely take care of themselves.”
”Not Patrick, perhaps,” he admitted, ”and I shudder to think of Jack with a baby, but Lauren? She wouldn't win any Mother of the Year awards, but...”
”That's a long enough list,” said Ezri, her twinge of personal bitterness more fleeting than usual. Although she'd never been involved in the group's treatments before, she found herself wondering if she ought to have a look at Lauren's files. ”Yes. You know, if her erotomania were treated separately, her hypersexuality might not present the problem it does now. Has anyone... never mind. The point is, they're all in psychiatric care. You're a Starfleet officer and a highly respected professional. Do you honestly think you'd be thrown in jail for having a child?”
”It has happened before,” he said, his hands tightly clenched in his lap. ”In some instances. There have also been cases where the child was taken away by the state, or the pregnancy was terminated...”
A chill went down Ezri's spine. The Federation with its high standards and earthly paradise – of course she had known that the picture was more complicated than that, but for something like this to have been going on, openly, while Starfleet officers spread goodwill and smiles across the universe, was still near impossible to believe. ”When was this?”
”22nd century, early 23rd. Last time anyone was procecuted, she escaped before the child was even born.”
”This was the one 80 years ago? Julian, it was a whole different world, back then! I should know, I was there. You can't assume they'd have the same reactions now.”
Julian jerked his head as if swatting off a fly, and stood up, starting to pace the room. ”What else can I do? If I start asking questions, it'll just alert them to my situation. I've tried to avoid thinking about it. I suppose we could always do what Patrick suggested and have a child some other way. Through assisted conception, or adoption, or something.”
What was it Jack had said about Julian? Ezri mused. Aiming for mediocrity, that was it. As ungenerous as the assessment was, she couldn't entirely disagree with it, not if Julian was going to just roll over and accept defeat without even trying. She remembered how hard he had struggled to win over the Teplan blight, and the morphogenic virus, and any number of things, and she wondered what had happened to convince him that this was the fight he couldn't even attempt winning.
”Sure, we could do that,” she said. ”If it's what you want. Is it, though?”
He hesitated, then said, ”It's selfish, really, but at times... I've thought about having children, having someone who could share my sense of the universe. To see the things I see.” There was a yearning in his voice, before he quenched it. ”But that's no reason to have one.”
”If you ask me, selfish reasons are the only good reasons to have children,” she said. ”I wouldn't trust a parent who'd had a kid out of some kind of sense of altruistic duty. Besides, Jack's right, it's the principle of the thing.”
”It's always the principle of the thing with people like me, isn't it?” he said, blinking furiously. ”You don't understand, Ezri, it's not just the legal issues. It's all of it. I'm an adult, I can take it, but all that... loathing, and resentment, to see it aimed at a child and know that I caused it... I don't think I could cope with it.”
”You do not cause bigotry,” she said, taking him in her arms and holding on tight as she glared right into his face. ”You have caused nothing, and if anyone so much as looks at you funny, or our kid, they're going to have to go through me. And that stands whatever body I'm in, I don't care what the Symbiosis Commission has to say about it.”
Despite his blinking, tears started falling down his cheeks as he hugged her tightly – and then he burst into laughter. ”Now, that would be a sight!”
”Shut up,” she said, resting her head on his chest, feeling the heartbeats against her ear. ”I'm a Klingon warrior.”
”Yes, you are,” he murmured.
His comlink suddenly went off: ”Bandee to Dr. Bashir, there's a situation in the infirmary.”
”Damn! Can we...”
”Go,” she said, giving his chest a goodbye pat as she stepped back. ”We can talk more later.”
In a sense, the forced pause in conversation was a good thing; it gave Ezri time to think. Granted, part of that thinking time was spent fretting, but she also looked into the mechanics of genetic engineering, the notes on the four from the Institute, and came up with a couple of things she'd like to bounce off Julian. One, in particular.
There was no chance for her to test it that night; Julian left a brief message saying he'd be late, and so Ezri resigned herself to going to bed. Sleeping was another matter, and her dreams were tangled things filled with loss, dreams she could not even bear to put down in her journal.
When she deemed that it was more or less an appropriate breakfast time, she left her quarters for Julian's. He didn't look much more rested than she did, and she wondered if it was all due to working late, or if he'd had a restless night too.
”I had a thought,” she said. ”If you want to test the waters, we could talk to Jake Sisko.”
”He's a reporter. He can ask any questions he wants, and the worst thing that could happen is that people refuse to answer them because they fear looking bad in the media. No one will connect it to you – well, not beyond maybe thinking you're the original source of his interest.”
Julian stuck his thumb nail in his mouth and pondered the suggestion. ”That's not a bad idea. He's likeable, people respond well to him, and he'd be able to ask both specific and more general questions. Whatever he says, there's no risk of him being seen as an advocate for augment superiority, especially if you're the one to make the call. Which means his results might prove useful to Sarina too, should she ever change her mind about children.”
”And maybe Lauren,” Ezri said, ”if her erotomania could be treated.”
”She resists treatment – she always has.”
”I know, I read your notes. But it seems her doctors have seen the erotomania and the hypersexuality as part and parcel of the same thing, and tried to eradicate both. Now, if they targeted her romantic delusions, specifically, she might actually cooperate.”
”Even without those delusions, hypersexuality can still lead to harmful behaviour,” Julian countered.
”Behaviour frequently displayed in so-called normal people. Curzon was borderline hypersexual.”
”Curzon died of sex.”
”On Risa, which is an officially sanctioned and highly popular resort. She'd fit right in.”
Julian's eyebrows shot up. ”Are you suggesting we tell Doctor Loews that Lauren's vocation in life is to participate in sex rites?”
”Well...” Ezri had to admit that, even though sex rites on Risa was a perfectly acceptable vocation as far as she was concerned, it had sounded a lot better in her head. ”Maybe not phrased like that.”
”Maybe not. But it's food for thought. Do you have any suggested treatments for Jack and Patrick as well?”
”I wouldn't know where to start with Jack, and I'm not sure Patrick even needs...” She caught sight of his expression and stopped. ”You're mocking me.”
”No,” he assured her. ”Not at all. It's just... easier for me, to discuss the aspects that aren't quite so personal.”
She had pretty much forced him into all this, she knew, despite her assurances that actual children could wait. By rights, this should have been his crusade, but she had hijacked it, and he had been the one to say they could try other options. For one moment, he had shown some longing, sure, but was her insistence really due to that moment, or even the attempt to reach justice for the genetically enhanced in general? Wasn't it – in all honesty – about her?
”Do you wish I'd have left well enough alone?” she asked.
There was a moment's pause before the answer. ”No,” he said with a sigh. ”I had to face it sometime. I'd always wonder, otherwise. But if... if it turns out it can't be done, then it can't be done. If you want children, I don't mind if they're not mine. I'd be happy to have little Daxes running around either way.”
”Tigans,” said Ezri.
”They'd be Tigans, not Daxes. So if you're looking for little mementos of Jadzia you're out of luck.” Whatever had possessed her, to come with such a mean-spirited little comment at a time like this? She was half in mind to blame Joran, but suspected that this would be making things too easy on herself.
”Yes, all right, biologically speaking they'd be Tigans, obviously. It's not as if the symbiont is connected to your reproductive system – and what does Jadzia have to do with any of this?”
”Things are different now,” she said, trying a bit too late to tread carefully. ”I'm different now. And that's one thing when it's just the two of us, but if we get children involved...”
”Are you out of your mind!?” he asked, not quite shouting, but still loud enough to make her hope no one was passing by in that particular section of the corridor. ”Is that what you... All this time, you thought I wanted to be with Jadzia? That is what you're suggesting, isn't it?”
”She is the one you fell in love with,” she pointed out. And Jadzia had been more than a little attracted to him too, but she didn't mention that – it would only confuse the issue. Maybe the taboos concerning reassociation ought to extend even further, to prevent these kinds of messes.
Oh, who was she kidding? If they had, she'd have run off with Julian to some faraway planet and carried right on. It wasn't as though she had ever counted on more than one life to begin with, and she was more reckless now than she'd ever been before.
”As someone was kind enough to remind me not so long ago, I have fallen in love any number of times. You, however, are the one I stay in love with.”
That was both romantic enough to make her melt, and very disturbing. It rather made her wonder if his past experiences meant Lauren was right, that he had tendencies to the same kind of issues as her. Not, Ezri reminded herself, that she ought to pathologize perfectly normal behavior.
Also, while she was certain that he believed what he was saying, she wasn't quite so certain she believed it. Not knowing what to say, she said nothing.
”I love you, Ezri Dax,” he said, stepping closer. ”I love your nose. I love your frankness. I love that even now, you're analyzing something... what is it, Lauren?”
”How did you know?”
He laughed. ”I have my tricks. I love how petite you are.”
”165 centimeters is not that short,” she said, running her hand up his arm, rejoicing in the way the hairs tickled under her fingertips. ”I love you too. But I love you so much, with so many parts of me, that it just gets damned complicated. Especially knowing that you love another one of them back.”
”Just one?” he asked. ”Ezri, I'm not going to deny that some of the bits I love in you I recognize from Jadzia. But that's a good thing, isn't it? It'd be hard to sustain a relationship if it didn't involve all of you. And anyway, some of the things I love are older even than Jadzia. Do you remember that time we went skinny dipping in the holosuite?”
They'd had enough dates in the holosuites that she didn't recall at first which one he meant, but then it came back to her – the high cliffs under the deep red sky, the heat of the air and the blessed coolness of the water underneath, all creating a physical sensation so pleasureable that they'd gone from swims to sex to sex in the water, until their time was up and Quark threatened to put in a camera if they didn't leave right away.
She smiled. ”I remember.”
”You jumped straight off the highest cliff, one of the first things you did. Ran up the mountain and dived into the water, fearless.”
”The safety was on,” she reminded him.
”It was one of the most attractive things I've seen in my life,” he continued. ”And then you came up and said, 'Torias called to me.'”
”He did,” she said. Torias's reactions couldn't always be trusted, but they were guaranteed to make things interesting. Then she realized what it was Julian was saying. ”Hang on – you have the hots for Torias?”
”It seems I do,” he said, with a tiny smile. ”Rather strange feeling, since I've been him, but there you have it.”
While thinking of Julian's feelings for Jadzia made her jealous and uncertain, Ezri felt no such thing about this revelation. It rather amused her, and after all, it had led to one of the erotic highlights of their relationship, during which point Torias hadn't even been involved anymore. ”Oh, Julian! Thwarted in love again!”
”What do you mean?”
”Torias was never that into guys.” She made a sympathetic grimace. ”But the rest of me loves you. Well – most of me. I'm not so sure about Joran.”
”I'm quite all right with Joran not loving me” he said, the curve of his mouth belying his solemn voice. ”Unless he influences a great deal of your decisions.”
”He doesn't!” she assured him. ”And all of the others... well, one of the oldest, can't tell if it's Lela or Audrid, has this weird maternal thing going on with you.”
”But all of the others love you.” She leaned in and kissed him, sucking in his lower lip.
”Even Curzon?” he mumbled into her mouth.
”Curzon loves everyone.”
”I may need to keep an eye on Curzon.”
”Mmmm. The Tobin parts get all flustered around you, and can't even look you in your eyes. Your quite spectacular, gorgeous eyes. You know about Jadzia.” He kissed her neck, making her stretch it, and she wrapped a leg around his. ”Emony... oh, you're right up Emony's alley.”
”That explains the sex.”
”The sex is always great when Emony's on board.”
Considering how long she'd been putting off this conversation, the way he handled it was simultaneously a relief and an anticlimax. Worf had accepted her strange mix of characteristics, but he'd still seen her as essentially one – well, seen Jadzia as one, and Ezri as a treacherous mix of two. Benjamin was the only one on DS9 who had properly understood right away, she thought, and he'd had an unfair advantage, having known her once before. Quark had certainly never figured out... and at that, she snorted.
”Am I not performing to your satisfaction?” Julian asked, pulling back a little.
”Yes, it's... I was just thinking about Quark.”
”Oh,” he said, untangling himself entirely. ”Well. Now I lost the mood.”
”No!” she said, smacking him on the shoulder, now laughing even harder. ”I meant, his crush on me isn't really on me, or even Jadzia. Physically, it is, but beyond that, it's pretty much all Curzon.”
Julian burst into roaring laughter, and she smacked him again.
”You mustn't ever tell him! Promise me! You know what the Ferengi are like.”
Although he was still snickering, he nodded. ”I promise. And what about Curzon? How does he feel about Quark?”
”I told you. Curzon loves everyone.”
”I definitely need to keep an eye on Curzon.”
They would have to have breakfast soon, she thought, or they wouldn't have time for it at all before work. Then again, they had moved from sad and tense to excellent, and holding on to that for just a little bit longer might be worth skipping breakfast.
Ezri contacted Jake during her lunch break, on the secure channel he used for his sources. They had some pleasant small talk, but when it came to the actual topic, she was rather terse asking him for the favor. It made her realize why Julian had wanted her to sit in on his conversation with Jack and the others – actually talking about this was hard, getting the words out past all the rage and sadness.
”You want me to publish an article on this?” Jake asked, brow furrowed.
”No. Just say you will – and try not to link it back to us.”
He nodded, then hesitated before asking, ”Is it... Have you... It shouldn't be a problem, right? Having a baby?”
”Just ask around,” she said. ”Please.”
”Sure. I'll see what I can find.”
Even as a tiny kid, back when Jennifer was alive and Benjamin was a hot-tempered young lieutenant, Jake had always been very sweet-natured, and it was a testament to this nature that he agreed so readily to help out, when she'd given him so little reason to.
With Jake on the job, there was very little for Ezri to do except wait, and try to live her life normally. Julian seemed to have reached the same conclusion, because they didn't discuss the issue further, instead having the same conversations they usually did, on topics ranging from the Cardassian reconstruction to what to do on their next holosuite date.
There were times they circled around the subject, such as during a lunch when Julian asked, ”What will become of those eggs of yours?”
”They're tadpoles by now,” Ezri said. ”In a decade or two, they'll be joined.”
”And will you find out who gets them?”
She smiled. ”No. They're not easy to tell apart, at this stage. They'll mix with the other symbionts. That's as it should be.”
”And your other children?” Julian asked, pushing the ratamba stew around on his plate. ”Do you ever meet them?”
Even after all this time, she felt a pang of grief for all of them. ”Only Neema was ever joined. I see her sometimes – the new host, that is. Then there's Paryat...” The grief in this case had a different source, one she had only begun to feel as Curzon grew older and was forced to admit that he never had been a very good father, although he'd loved Paryat and doted on her whenever they met. ”She's very old by now. I met her a couple of times as Jadzia.”
She recalled how utterly at a loss she had felt, her sweet little daughter now a white-haired old woman who looked at her father's new host with kind disinterest. There was nothing she could do for Paryat anymore; the memories were all that was left, and she was ultimately of less importance than the nurses. Not that Paryat would ever be rude enough to say so. Her mother had raised her better than that.
”I suppose we had outgrown each other,” she admitted. ”Maybe I'll go see her some time. I don't know.”
If he had asked anything further, she could have told him about the pain it always was to see your children die, even Neema, who once again changed into someone new, only holding a fleeting image of the little girl she had once been. Remembering that, Ezri could partly understand her own mother's reaction to finding her daughter joined – without proper preparation, that change must have felt as fatal as Neema's eventual death.
She could also have told Julian about how, in the end, it was all worth it, and maybe even more so for the later hosts. Happy endings were overrated; happy was happy, whether it was the ending or not. There were things she regretted about her past, but never the children, not any of them.
But he didn't ask. He swallowed a mouthful of stew and changed the subject.
As for Ezri, the only time she brought it up was when she visited the infirmary to ask Julian for the rest of the files from the Institute. Busy with his research, he gave her access to the files without talking any further about them.
She read up on Lauren and reached the conclusion that her theory just might work. Not that she'd want to try it before they had an answer from Jake. Instead, she read up on the other three as well. No suggestions on treatment of Jack or Patrick presented themselves, any more than when she read Julian's notes, though there were a couple of psychological theories she might want to look into concerning Jack. Their histories, and that of Sarina, were nevertheless a riveting read, and she kept highlighting bits of it as she read, interspersing notes for future use.
Once she was done with that, she dug up everything she could find about genetic resequencing and other genetic enhancements, ordered the documents according to public relevance, and started reading.
She read about the Eugenics wars – such an alien culture Earth was back then, and it felt like ancient history, further back than even her earliest memories. Despite the number of times she had been to Earth, she couldn't connect what she read with any of the things she had seen; it was more like one of those Shakespeare plays Benjamin had introduced her to, where children were sold into marriage and wearing pants made you a boy. The idea that any of this could have any bearing on her and Julian, here and now, was mindboggling.
Except 200 years later, Khan Noonien Singh and his compatriots turned up again, and that was halfway through her own lifetimes. Torias died before Singh did. There were people still alive who might remember Singh – at least from hearing about him on the news.
Even so, he had popped up as a relic from the past. There were genetically unaltered humans from his time she could have put in stasis, and they'd come off just as power hungry and homicidal as Khan.
The next night, back after a day alternating between her councellor's office and ops – too few scientists on board, she'd have to help Kira lean on Starfleet about that – she moved on to Arik Soong and his stolen children. And there, in a late 22nd century dissertation, she encountered the phrase that made her stop and stare at the screen:
It raises once again the uncomfortable question whether it is possible for a person, a fully sentient, rational being, to be born evil.
She blinked. The words remained.
But that was a barbaric notion. It was what cowardly, small-minded people had once muttered under the breath about species like Klingons and Ferengi, and still did with the Cardassians. A rationalization used when they didn't have the guts to find out the truth for themselves.
And, all right, then there were the Jem'Hadar. Even in their case, though, they weren't born evil. They were addicts, manipulated...
She put her elbows up on the desk and leaned her chin in her hands, still staring at the words.
This was ridiculous. There was nothing evil about Julian, and she ought to know. She was the one with a murderer inside of her; she had felt the thrill of keeping her aim on an innocent man, longing to pull the trigger. Evil was a part of her – but she had all kinds of memories from Joran now, not just the murder. There was the joy of creating music, of listening to it, of being fifteen years old and taking a girl to a concert for the very first time.
He had, honestly and purely, liked that girl. Not in a malicious way; he had simply liked her, the way each and every one of her other hosts had liked people. What he had done, what he had allowed himself to become, was monstrous, but that wasn't all he was. Even more frightening: the monstrous, heinous parts, she could feel in other memories as well. Memories belonging to her other hosts, to her. She had to struggle to keep the monster down, and she could only assume that the same was true for others. That you couldn't know for sure who might one day commit a murder.
And oh, sweet, darling Norvo...
How could anyone ever believe that evil was a monolith, that either you were or you weren't? And Julian... even if he did carry the same kind of thoughts she did, she could think of few people less likely to act on them. His desire was to heal, to make things right, and yes, perhaps that was a power trip of a sort, a sign of arrogance, but if so, it was an arrogance more suited to do good than harm.
”It doesn't matter if it will happen,” Jack whispered at the back of her head. ”It only matters if they think it's going to happen.”
And that was what it all came down to, wasn't it? Not the ethical question of whether it was right for the children, for future generations, to raise expectation of standards beyond human capacity. That was a reasonable question, but it could only explain punishing parents, and the geneticists who carried out the procedures. It didn't justify the rest of it.
The list of legal prohibitions for the genetically enhanced was several documents behind; she pushed them aside to read it through. The convoluted, strict phrasing made the content seem all the more damning. No entry for the following higher levels of education: Medicine. Medical science. Biology. Genetics. Law. Political Science. Galactic Economics. No entry in the military services. No right to run for any office on a federal, global, or galactic level.
This wasn't ”Your parents did a bad thing and we want to make an example of you.” It wasn't even ”It would be unfair for everyone else to be expected to compete with you.” It was ”We don't trust you.” Plain as that.
The laws had been implemented in the early 22nd century, and tightened further after the events surrounding Arik Soong. Later, there had be little incentive to either put them to use or revise them. There were exceptions granted for the curing of birth defects, and one or two experiments that bordered on enhancement – but those were abandoned as quickly as they had been created. Apart from Julian, the only genetically enhanced humans serving openly anywhere in the Federation were from unaffiliated planets, and even they were only in ”safe” professions.
She gave a sigh that was half a growl, and turned off the computer. There was only so much of this she could take before punching something. Maybe she could go as Angie for a match of Parrises Squares.
Over the next week, Ezri became what even she could recognize as oversensitive to anything having to do with Julian's enhancements, or with genetic engineering in general. Where before she would have seen only gentle ribbing when someone rolled their eyes or commented on how Julian was too clever by half, she now saw deadly insults. It was just ribbing, she reminded herself. She'd participated in it herself, something that made her blush now, but she'd never meant anything by it. Julian could be damned annoying at times, and she enjoyed taking him down a peg the same way Jadzia had done with Worf.
Now, she wondered if she had hurt him without intending to, if all of this was a sore spot for him, or if he'd become jaded to it with time. There had been times when he'd snapped at his friends for some comment or other, but those were rare occasions. Maybe he really was okay with it.
But she remembered the way he'd spoken about watching a child be subjected to prejudice, and wasn't so sure. This constant vigilance made Ezri feel like a wounded klongat protecting her cubs; she could imagine what Julian would be like with a kid. In a way, it would be a glorious sight, but was it worth it?
She did her best to forget about the whole thing, especially around Julian, but the effort of not thinking about it was so great that she spent more and more time letting herself be ruled by Curzon, with Emony's trained reflexes a good bonus. At least she got an answer to the question if it was possible to be as sore dating a human as a Klingon.
”I'm sorry,” Julian said one such night. ”I hate to admit it, but I am spent. And you... how are you not in pain?”
She was aching all over, but it didn't matter. Frustrated, she jumped off the bed and put on her clothes. ”All right, then. I'm going to Quark's. Are you coming?”
He fell back on the pillow with a groan, waving her away. ”Go, have fun. Leave a man a moment's rest. Is this some sort of post-egg heat for you?”
”Don't be silly,” she said, and stopped for a moment, watching him stretch out in the bed. Deserting him like this was the last thing she wanted, but in her current state she was no use to anyone. ”I love you.”
”Hm. I love you too,” he replied, his eyes already drifting close. ”Just not quite so many times a day.”
At Quark's, Ezri sat moping over her drink for so long Quark finally scoffed at her and rested both hands against the bar so as to better stare her down.
”I get enough sadsacks in here without the magificent Dax ruining my mood too,” he said. ”What's wrong?”
”Nothing,” she said, willing herself to stop thinking and go back into Curzon mode. Unfortunately, that gave rise to another problem. She screwed her eyes shut. ”Oh, shit! Shit shit shit shit shit.”
Looking back up at him, she declared, ”I am this close to kissing you right now.”
He gave a satisfied little smile. ”Well, about time.”
”Don't joke about this.” Despite everything, Quark really was a good friend. She had always felt that she could trust him, at least for a certain value of 'trust'. ”What do you think of Julian?”
Quark grimaced. ”He's not nearly good enough for you, and I don't think he loves you like I do.”
”That's sweet. Thank you,” she said with a laugh. ”But apart from that. Just... If Julian had never dated me at all, what would you think of him?”
”He's too arrogant,” Quark said, taking her glass and filling it up. ”Too cloyingly human. A pretty good doctor. And he did right by Nog.”
Rather than looking at her when he said that last bit, he was looking at the bottle he was putting back under the counter.
”I know you think I only care about latinum,” he said.
”Because you do,” she said.
”Because I do,” he agreed. ”Tenth rule of aquisition, greed is eternal. But still. Nog's a good kid, and your Julian did right by him. And, you know, whatever else he may be, at least he's better than Worf. Now, what's all this about? Trouble in paradise? Do I sense a breakup on the way?”
”No,” Ezri said morosely. ”We're fine. We love each other, and have a ridiculous amount of sex, and I want to be with him for the rest of this life, and I'm going to kiss you now.”
Quark put everything down and just waited. ”Okay.”
”I'm going to regret it afterwards,” she warned him.
”You never know. It might be the first step of you coming to your senses.”
Ezri leaned over the bar and gave Quark a deep, firm kiss, one of Curzon's specialities. He kissed back, too, with an instensity and skill that made her tingle, just a little.
Having finished the kiss, she sat back down, and sighed.
”You're really strange tonight,” Quark said, looking pretty pleased with that fact.
”I seem to have only two ways to go at the moment,” she said. ”Either I'm Ezri, fretting over things, or I'm...” She managed to swallow her words before mentioning Curzon. ”Behaving inappropriately.”
”Uh-huh. What about tongo? Might that solve your conundrum?”
”You know,” she said slowly, ”I think it might.”
A few days later, security caught a smuggler who was behaving in such an erratic manner that Constable Yndar called in Ezri to have his mental health evaluated. She spent twenty minutes trying to make sense of his ramblings, until Constable Yndar returned to the holding cell once again and told her, ”We found a second hiding place, under the latinum. Maraji crystals.”
Ezri spread her hands in exasperation. ”Well, then. Pilfering the merchandise, that explains it. Let him detox, and if you still need my help after that, let me know.”
Short as the encounter had been, it threw her schedule off enough that she was otherwise occupied when Julian contacted her: ”Bashir to Dax!”
”Just a second,” she told the young ensign in her office and called back: ”Dax here.”
”Are you free for lunch today?”
That surprised her. Usually, he'd show up around lunchtime and ask, unless they had something special planned. It wasn't even 10.00 yet.
”Sure. 13.00 hours at the replimat okay?”
”I was thinking my quarters. Jake will be there.”
Her heart started pounding. ”Great. I'm with a patient, so I can't talk right now, but I'll see you then.”
Strangely enough, while she'd had such difficulty concentrating on her work lately, the knowledge that Jake, and with him answers, were waiting for her, made everything seem sharper. The sessions spent with various crew members were, if anything, more productive than usual, and it was only the time inbetween, when she was supposed to keep her journal and catch up on the news, that she found hard to take.
At 13.00 sharp, she was standing outside Julian's door, her hand hovering above the control.
”You're supposed to press that,” a warm voice said behind her.
”Jake!” She rang the bell before turning to give Jake a bearhug that encompassed everything about him – the hope he represented, the way she missed his father, and also the simple affection for him, the little boy who'd grown up in her presence. The angle was somewhat awkward, and she looked up at him. ”This was so much easier when you were shorter than me.”
”People keep saying that,” he said with a smile.
The door opened, and Julian stood up from the sofa, rubbing his palms against the legs of his uniform. The table held a large plate of empanadas. Extra fat and sweet, knowing Julian – he liked to release stress by working up a coronary. ”Hi. It's good to see you.”
”You too,” Jake said. He went inside, and all three of them sat down, the door closing behind them. ”Ooh, empanadas! Great.”
”How are you?” Ezri asked, trying to postpone the moment of truth even though she was desperate to hear it. ”Everything good? Kasidy too?”
”We're fine. She's out on her last run before she's due. Speaking of...” Jake instantly turned serious, though there was something in his face that raised Ezri's hopes.
”Did you find out anything?” Julian asked.
”I did. I've talked to a bunch of people – lawyers, mostly. I got hold of Robert Tsonga. He's really interested.”
Robert Tsonga was one of the most renowned lawyers in the entire Federation. Both Ezri and Julian straightened their backs, listening even more intently.
”They all agreed that having children falls under basic rights, and that any ban on that would be discrimination. Which, as the laws stand, might be legal, but it'd be a PR nightmare for the Federation when dealing with other civilizations. They'd have more to lose than to gain by enforcing it.”
Julian's hand sought out Ezri's under the table. ”So you're saying we... It wouldn't fall under the breeding ban?”
”Well, there's no definite ruling either way, but no, I don't think so. In a way, there's a precedence, with the genetically engineered Moab scientists.”
”They weren't Federation citizens.”
”No, but a couple of them married Federation citizens, and had kids. Granted, Moab worked more with genetic selection than enhancement, but if you go back a bit in the gene pool there are enhancements at work, too. Like I said, it's not conclusive, but we've got a pretty solid case here, especially with the right lawyers and” - he grinned - ”the media.”
”What about Starfleet?” Ezri asked. ”Could they cause trouble?”
”I didn't talk to Starfleet,” Jake admitted. ”You didn't want it traced back to you two, and since Dr. Bashir's the only genetically enhanced person to work in Starfleet...”
”Right,” Julian said quickly. ”Absolutely.”
”There's another thing Tsonga said, though. If all else fails, there's always the option of seeking citizenship of a non-Federation world, like Bajor. I talked to some people in Bajoran immigration, and while they can't give any definite statements on hypothetical cases, they were of the opinion that if someone with previous ties to Bajor wished to seek asylum and eventual citizenship on such a basis, they'd stand an excellent chance of receiving it.”
”Bajor?” Julian asked, stunned. He took a sip of his drink and shook his head. ”But the Federation are still preparing to turn Bajor into a member..”
”Right,” Jake said. ”They wouldn't want any more wrenches thrown into that machinery, like a high-profile court case on discrimination. And believe me, it'd be high profile. I'd raise hell over this, and with Tsonga on our side all the news media would be dying to get the story.”
”Oh,” Julian said. ”Thank you.”
”Of course, that's assuming you're looking to repeal the law. If all you want is to have a baby, no questions asked, I could ask those lawyers to contact a few higher-ups and tell them what I told you, and you wouldn't hear a peep from Starfleet.”
”Not right now, maybe. But if I ever found myself in their disfavor...”
”I'd whip up some trouble on your behalf,” Jake said. ”It's up to you, really. Do you want to lay low, or should I get things started?”
”I.. I don't know. Don't do anything yet.” Julian squeezed Ezri's hand hard. ”It helps, just hearing this. It really helps.”
”It sure does,” Ezri said, letting out a shaky breath. The room was starting to look fuzzy.
”Don't cry,” Julian pleaded to her. ”If you cry, then I'm going to cry, and...”
”Then we cry,” said Ezri, and did, laughing through the tears. ”I've been so angry! You won't believe how angry I've been. I felt that people were all despicable, horrible...”
”I've had those moments too,” Julian said, wrapping his arms around her. Tears dripped down his face and into Ezri's hair.
”And then there's Jake.” Ezri twisted slightly so she could see Jake's smiling face. ”Thank you ever so much!”
”You're welcome. I'm honored to have brought back your faith in humanity or whatever.” He shifted slightly at their display of uncensored emotion. ”Do you guys want to be left alone?”
”Don't you dare,” Julian said sternly. ”You haven't even finished your lunch!”
Ezri pulled Jake into their embrace and tried to ruffle his hair, but it was a tad too short. ”You're the best kid ever,” she told him. ”I know, I know, you're not a kid. Give an old man a break, I've seen you in diapers. Julian, I want one of these.”
”I'm leaning that way myself,” Julian said with a grin. He didn't hug Jake the way Ezri did, but he did reach out to squeeze the other man's shoulder.
Jake laughed. ”Thanks guys. I'm just glad to help. And uh, the positions for best parents ever are clearly taken, but I'm betting you'll make excellent runner-ups.”
Julian and Ezri smiled at each other.
”Someday,” Ezri said.
”Well, don't wait too long,” Jake said and patted them both on the back before sitting back down to have another empanada. ”Ruth's going to need a playmate when she comes visit.”
”Who's... the baby?” Ezri asked. ”Is that her name, Ruth?”
”Well, Kasidy's still wavering between Ruth and Marcenia, but Ruth was dad's choice, so I'm rooting for that.”
Ezri chuckled. Knowing Kasidy, Jake could root for whatever name he wanted, and it still wouldn't make any difference to what the baby would be called. She was willing to bet that, if Ben hadn't ascended the way he did, his choice wouldn't even be in the running.
Instead of pointing that out, though, she said, ”Well, we'll be ready to dote on her, whether we've got a playmate ready for her or not. Make sure to tell Kasidy that, too.”
Later on, when they were alone, Julian said, ”You know, Jake has a point. We could start having children much sooner than in five years. Even if we do raise hell about it, we'd have a definite ruling in two years, at the most. And if we want to play the Bajor card, the sooner the better.”
”Is that what you're going for? The hellraising option?” Ezri asked, hedging the issue.
”I don't know. I think so. What about you? Do you want to talk to Doctor Loews about Lauren?”
Ezri nodded, thinking about what all this meant, both the grander political implications and the effect it would have on her own life. Now that the ban seemed less of a hurdle, the actual everyday things mounted up before her.
”You should probably do that first, then. Still, we could start making plans now, and get Jake on it in a few months...”
”Julian,” she interrupted. ”I know I've been pushing this, and pretty much forcing the issue, and I do want children,” not to mention her inner Jadzia and Audrid, each aching for it in their own way, ”but I do need to sort myself out, first.”
”I understand,” he said, and she rather thought he might, even though he did look disappointed.
”I haven't even had my Zhian'tara yet.” And that hadn't felt so urgent since those first confused months when she had to reassess everything she'd known.
”True, that.” Julian gave a tiny smirk. ”I'd offer to be Torias again, but I don't know, it might be awkward.”
”Because you have the hots for him?” she teased. ”Or because he doesn't have the hots for you?”
”Both. Plus, he did burn my hand.”
”You could have stopped him if you wanted to. Very well, how about Audrid?”
”And rob Quark of the pleasure? Never.”
The thought of Quark sent a pang of guilt through her, and she wondered if this was a good time to come clean about that kiss. But they'd had quite enough of drama lately.
”You're right,” she said instead. ”You should stick with Torias. I'm sure it'll be fine.”