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Julian gazed disconsolately through the window in his quarters
at the starscape outside. Sarina's transport had left over two hours
ago. It felt more like two years. He equated the view with the
feeling in the pit of his stomach: empty and lightless. He had been
the one responsible for driving her out of his life, just as quickly
as he had resurrected hers. He should have known better. A doctor's
first priority was to see to his patient's recovery, to ensure she
experienced as safe an adjustment to real life as possible. If pushed
too hard or too fast, that rehabilitation could be just as damaging as
the initial affliction. Instead he had ignored his own training, just
because he had found the woman of his dreams hidden beneath an
unfortunate consequence of genetic engineering.
How remarkable it was, being a first-hand witness to Sarina's reaction to the surgical procedure. In a matter of hours she had transformed from an unresponsive shell into a vibrant being. He replayed the events again in his mind, over and over, ceaselessly captivated by the personality that had blossomed. He reserved no doubt that he had just returned a gift to the galaxy. She was incredibly brilliant, attractive, and ready to make a life for herself. She just wasn't ready to deal with the complications of love. It was that little difficulty that depressed his spirits.
It was the right thing to do, though. After spending fifteen years within her own mind, she needed to get out and explore her new world. It would have been immeasurably selfish and cruel to ask her to do anything else. Her need for discovery far outweighed his desire for companionship. Besides, it wasn't like he'd never hear from her again. He knew where she would be working, since he had arranged it. He could use his shore leave time to visit her whenever he chose. He would have to let her be for a few months, though. She needed the time and space to herself to adjust to her surroundings and her work. Maybe then she could sort out what feelings she might or might not have for him. The hardest part would be the waiting.
The loud chime at the door upset his melancholy reflection. He flinched in surprise, then glared irritably at the door. Everyone should have known by now that he wanted to be left to himself. He marched over to the door ready to give his visitor a much-needed dressing down.
Ezri Dax jumped back half a step when the door to Julian's quarters suddenly opened with the doctor standing right in front of her. She clutched her chest in a meaningless gesture to combat the brief surge of adrenaline. "Julian! You scared me!"
Julian had meant to unnerve his unsolicited guest, but seeing the doe-eyed Trill in a fluster made him feel a bit guilty. Even though Dax was a symbiont nearly 360 years old, Ezri was a literal newcomer. Compromising circumstances had forced the young woman to become Dax's new host, and she was still uncertain of her identity. Her friends on Deep Space Nine were so far her only anchors. "Ezri, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you."
"Oh, no, that's okay. I guess I wasn't paying much attention, which isn't very hard to do these days considering that there are memories from eight different lifetimes tumbling around inside my head. I mean, for instance, just the other day I was reminiscing about the summer I journeyed to Trefaylen to visit my daughter's family, only it wasn't my daughter, it was Emony's...."
"What?" Ezri cringed and smiled meekly, realizing that she was rambling again. "Oh. Sorry."
A grin tugged at Julian's lips. It was difficult to stay angry with her. In an odd way it felt as though they had switched roles from their first days on Deep Space Nine. Dax was now the fish out of water, and he was the older, wiser voice of reason. "That's quite all right. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was feeling a little lonely, and I was wondering if you would like to join me for dinner, or maybe a drink at Quark's?"
His shoulders drooped. "Did Miles put you up to this?"
"The chief?" Dax looked genuinely confused. If she was acting, she was doing a good job. "Put me up to what, Julian?"
"Never mind," he sighed. "I just want to be alone right now."
It took a little time, but Ezri finally put two and two together. "Oh, this is about Sarina, isn't it? Are you okay?"
"I'll be fine, Ezri, I assure you."
"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it? It might help you feel better."
Julian rankled a bit at the implication that he required counseling, but didn't let his indignation show. Ezri probably meant it as a gesture of friendship, not as a professional observation. "I'm quite sure, but I appreciate the offer. This is something I have to work out on my own."
She shrugged. "It hurts me to see you like this, Julian, but if this is how you feel...all I can say is, I hope you find what you're looking for." Ezri wrapped him in a supportive hug, squeezing tighter than a normal professional association would allow. After a just-too- long moment she stepped back. She bit her lip anxiously. "If you ever change your mind, though, you know how to find me."
"You'll be the first person I call, I promise." He didn't think he would actually seek her out any time soon, but the promise wasn't empty. He watched her depart down the corridor before retreating into his quarters. He meandered through the darkened room, finally settling back in front of the view port to ponder his egregious error.
He gnawed on Miles' observation from the other day. Whether he wanted to admit it or not, the chief had struck a bull's-eye. The doctor was lonely, pure and simple. He yearned for the company that could only be supplied by an intimate partner. If only he had taken heed of Miles' advice, taken his relationship with Sarina at a slower pace, circumstances might have turned out better than they had. Infatuation had unfortunately blinded him to good sense and patience. He had tried to rush it, certain that Sarina shared his feelings about her, and it had backfired.
He looked across the room and spotted an object of comfort sitting limply on a shelf. He walked over to it, picked up the small stuffed bear and stroked his free hand over its faded, balding coat. The threadbare animal, drooping and ragged, looked much the way he felt inside. "What do you think, Kukalaka?"
The toy looked back at him with its black button eyes, betraying no expression. Julian set it back down and returned once more to the window, peering out at the cold expanse. The wormhole flared into existence, igniting the surrounding space with violet, cerulean and pearl eddies of light, then abruptly vanished. Although a spectacular sight, the explosive display of luminescence just further reminded him of his time with Sarina.
He had to remember that he was not alone, despite the ache in his chest. His friends were still here, offering words of support and comfort. The shroud of despair that blanketed his heart would lift in its own time. Either Sarina would come back to him to fill the darkness in his soul, much as the wormhole filled the night sky, or he would grow tired of the wait and move on. Either way, his happiness would be restored.
If only he could calculate how long that would take.
Unforgettable, that's what you are Unforgettable, though near or far Like a song of love that clings to me How the thought of you does things to me...
Julian sat in an empty Las Vegas hotel lounge and listened as
Vic Fontaine, the headlining entertainer, crooned a soulful rendition
of yet another timeless piece of music. Unable to find any measure of
peace in sleep for several nights, the doctor had decided to
appropriate one of Quark's holosuites in an effort to escape his
deepening despair. The plan, however, was not living up to his
expectations. With each ballad Vic sang Julian felt the ever-
increasing burden of melancholy weigh upon him. Although it probably
wasn't Nat King Cole's intention, instead of hearing a romantic
declaration of everlasting passion Julian heard the grief and pain of
realizing only too late the significance of what had once been
Vic and the band reached the final bar and held the last note until it faded. Vic looked over his shoulder. "Take five, boys." He then hopped off the stage and sat down beside Bashir. "So who was she, Julian?"
Julian sighed in resignation at the hologram's precise evaluation of his current romantic pitfall. "Is it that obvious?"
"Are you kidding? You're so down in the mouth your feet will trip over your bottom lip." Vic playfully slapped his shoulder. "Come on, talk to me, pally. You wouldn't have come here unless you wanted some of my advice."
Vic was at the cutting edge of holographic technology, possessing a self-awareness that made interactions much more natural and insightful. Tonight was no exception. "Do you remember me telling you about that group of genetically enhanced patients that visited the station last year?"
"I've got computer memory. Of course I remember." Vic cocked his head. "Is this about Lauren? I thought you weren't interested in her."
"No, Vic. It's Sarina, the other one."
Vic frowned. "Somehow I can't picture you and her together, Julian. She's the one with hypersynaptic polyneuropraxia, isn't she?"
"Not anymore. I cured her. She can now function like any other person on this station."
"You cured her?" the hologram echoed. "Wow, that must have been something."
"It was unbelievable. She metamorphosed into a completely different person. She could walk and talk and interact with other people again. There was so much joy of life in her eyes. I'm sorry I didn't get the opportunity to introduce you to her."
"She sounds like an incredible lady, all right. So what happened that you're in here with me instead of her?"
Julian was surprised to find himself responding to Vic's questions with little trepidation. It was probably a subconscious judgment more than anything, he finally decided. Vic might act and respond like a real person, but he was still just a collection of photons and complex computer algorithms. He was also, either by coincidental or intentional design, very adept at solving romantic dilemmas. "I'm afraid it was all my doing. I pushed her too hard, too fast. I was so entranced by the potential of sharing a life with someone like me that I didn't stop to consider how she felt."
Vic's expression saddened. "She didn't share your feelings?"
"In a sense. Sarina spent most of her life without the ability to interact with the people around her or fully perceive her environment. She was hardly in any condition to reconcile feelings for anyone, yet here I was talking about spending the rest of our lives together. She had barely been out of the infirmary for a week."
The hologram sat back in surprise. "Man, I've heard of fast relationships before, but that one's in the proximity of light speed. No wonder she bailed on you."
"I know that now," the doctor bemoaned. He propped his elbows on the table and cradled his head. "I feel so stupid. I've been in plenty of relationships. I learned from experience that you can't be overly aggressive to form a relationship, yet I still tried to force it with Sarina. What is the matter with me?"
"Hey, don't sweat it, pally. Love always has the capacity to make us do the strangest things."
Julian looked at Vic with a dissatisfied frown. "That doesn't make me feel any better, Vic. I could have just chased away the woman of my dreams."
Vic turned at a sound behind him. The band was slowly beginning to reassemble on the stage. "Maybe Sarina isn't the only one who should be reconciling feelings, Julian."
Julian's brows knit together. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"All I'm saying is that if you love her as much as you claim to, you wouldn't have tried so hard to drive her away." He looked over his shoulder again and stood up. "Listen, I gotta split; the boys are ready for the next set. You think about what I said, huh?"
Julian watched the hologram return to the stage, his mind still turning over the cryptic response. "Drive her away?" He asked himself. "Why would he think I was doing that?"
Chief O'Brien sat facing away from the Promenade, picking half-
heartedly at his lunch. "I've never seen him so depressed before.
It's even worse than his 30th birthday." He looked up at Ezri with
concern creasing his brow. "Isn't there anything you can do for him?"
She returned a forlorn expression, a clear signal that her hands were tied. "I've already tried speaking to him. It's up to Julian now to decide if and when he wants help. I can't force him into doing something he doesn't feel like doing. I'm sorry, Chief."
O'Brien frowned at her response. "Well, he'd better decide quick before he loses his job. Nobody wants to have their ailments treated by a gloomy doctor."
"You can say that again," Quark said, suddenly appearing at the table with a tray topped with beverages. He set down a cup of coffee and a conspicuously more exotic drink in front of them. "I've got nothing personal against the good doctor, but judging from the way he looked last night I'd rather take my chances with whatever I contracted."
"Quark, that's a terrible thing to say!" Ezri exclaimed. "Julian has just suffered an intense emotional crisis. He needs our compassion and understanding."
"Compassion and understanding," the Ferengi spat out the words with distaste. "You weren't the one he woke up in the middle of the night asking for access to the holosuites."
"Hold up," O'Brien interrupted. "What did Julian want with the holosuites?"
"He agreed to pay me ten times the normal rate for waking me up. Frankly, Chief, I could have cared less what he wanted to do."
"If you must know, I spent some time at Vic's place." As one, Quark, Ezri and O'Brien turned and stared agape at Julian. "I'd like a Tarkellian tea, if you don't mind, Quark."
"Of course, Doctor," the Ferengi stammered out. He disappeared as the doctor took a seat between a sheepish Dax and O'Brien.
"I know both of you are just trying to look out for my best interests, but there's really no need for concern. I'm quite capable of looking after myself."
Ezri swallowed her guilt and met his eyes. "Of course, you're right, Julian. You are a mature person capable of making your own choices. We're just worried about you. Your relationship with Sarina was inimitably special."
"You said it yourself: she realized your lifelong dream of meeting another genetically enhanced human who could live as normal a life as you do. Having a dream walk out on you would be hard on anyone."
Julian half-smiled at O'Brien's interpretation. "I suppose there is something to that, Miles. Personal aspirations are certainly goals not to be taken lightly. But I can say I have coped with the loss now."
Ezri's mouth dropped open. "Already? What -- how?"
"Vic said something to me last night that really started me thinking. Scaring Sarina off may have been exactly the reason why I was being so aggressive in my pursuit of her."
The chief looked monumentally puzzled. "Come again?"
Julian understood O'Brien's confusion. It had taken the doctor several hours himself to figure out the intent of Vic's advice. "During one of the first days since I released Sarina from the infirmary she happened upon some research I had been working on. She solved in minutes the problem I had been studying for days." Julian paused to let that sink in, then explained. "Sarina possesses an intelligence that far surpasses even my own. It's quite possible that, on some subconscious level, I felt threatened by her. My rapid advances were a means of protecting myself from my infatuation with her."
"In this case it was possible to love somebody too much," Dax observed.
O'Brien chuffed. "Sounds like a cock-eyed explanation, if you ask me. You weren't really in love with her after all? You sure had me fooled."
"I prefer to think of it more as an intense liking. There's a lot about Sarina to admire, but it never would have worked out between us. I see that now."
Quark returned with Julian's tea. "So, that means you're finally over her, then?"
"Yes, Quark. Sarina is nothing more than a memory now."
"That's a relief," the Ferengi sighed, setting his tray aside. He scratched at the vest underneath his jacket. "I think I'm developing some kind of rash."
Julian caught sight out of the corner of his eye the sudden stunned look that appeared on O'Brien's face. It quickly contorted with umbrage. "You little rotter! I know you said it, but I didn't think you'd be low enough to actually do it."
"Hey, my health is as important to me as any investment I make. I'm not going to leave it at the mercy of just any random market condition."
Julian chuckled as O'Brien scowled threateningly at Quark's insufferable selfishness. "Come by the infirmary in ten minutes and I'll see what I can do."
"I'll give you a random market condition to worry about," the chief intoned, making a motion to upset the table. The Ferengi instantly scurried away.
"Oh, leave him alone, Miles. He can't help who he is."
"I can think of at least half a dozen people who'd volunteer to give him a hand." O'Brien finished his cup of coffee and rose from the table. "Sorry to eat and run, but I'm already behind schedule. The captain will have my ear if I don't have those gravitic stabilizers up and running by the end of the day." He gave Julian a firm pat on the shoulder. "It's good to see you back to your old self, Julian."
"Thank you, Miles." Julian watched him exit Quark's Place and smiled fondly. As their friendship had developed the doctor had come to appreciate O'Brien's robust and uncomplicated behavior. Although a gifted engineer, Miles Edward O'Brien was a simple man living a simple life. He had a job he loved (despite the almost continual griping about it), a caring wife, two wonderful kids and a strong moral compass. On many occasions the Irishman's common sense and tempered experience served as a conscience to the doctor's overzealousness. In a very real sense O'Brien had become his anchor in the world of normal humans.
He turned back to the table and almost startled to see Ezri still sitting beside him. She seemed not to notice, though; with a dejected expression she had immersed herself in the study of the beverage in her hands. Julian experienced a twinge of guilt, having momentarily forgotten her. "Is something the matter, Ezri?"
"What makes you say that?" Her stare never left the glass, as if it contained all the mysteries of the universe.
"Well, good news is normally supposed to make people happy. You should be glad that I've resolved my feelings for Sarina."
Her expression did not change. "Yes, of course I am. I'm really happy things worked out for you."
"You've got a strange way of expressing it." Indeed, it was quite unlike Dax to behave this way -- or at least, the way Jadzia Dax would have behaved. Julian had to remind himself that Ezri Dax was a totally different person. She was still struggling to adapt to her new life as a joined Trill, a life for which she had been totally unprepared. That struggle often resulted in her overt insecurity with other people. It was a complete turnabout in behavior from what he had come to expect from Dax, but Julian was certain that time and experience would help her regain her confidence.
"I'm sorry, Julian. I didn't mean for it to sound that way. I'm just feeling a little sorry for myself."
She finally put down the glass, turning her eyes to look into his. As foolish as it sounded, they reminded him a lot of Jadzia's. It was more than just the identical blue pigmentation; they reflected the same kind of precociousness, the same wisdom, the same spiritedness. "Me, the station's official counselor, upstaged by a hologram. Maybe Benjamin should offer the post to Vic, he's done a much better job than I have."
"You're being too hard on yourself. You've done an admirable job so far."
"Please, don't patronize me. I've lived a lot longer than you have. Well, Dax has, not Ezri." She grew increasingly frustrated, as was her habit whenever she began referring to the symbiont or its previous hosts. "You know what I mean."
"I'm not patronizing you. Just look at what you did for Garak's claustrophobia."
She looked away, unable to face him. "I didn't do anything for Garak, not until he practically handed me the answer himself."
"That's not true, and you know it. It's against his upbringing and Obsidian Order training for Garak to display or admit to weakness. Garak told me himself that he would never have recognized how guilty he really felt about deciphering all of those Cardassian military communiqués if you hadn't confronted him. You really did a lot for him."
Ezri drew a quick, short breath of air, almost a gasp. For a few moments she continued to sit quietly, staring at her clasped hands. "He really said that?"
"Yes, he did." Julian touched her shoulder, causing her to look up again. She appeared a little unnerved by the contact. "If you stop selling yourself short you'll see that you're just as valuable to Deep Space Nine as when Jadzia was Dax's host."
It took a few moments before her unsettled expression worked into an awkward smile. "Thank you, Julian. I feel much better now."
The tension between them was now recognizable to the doctor. He heard Vic's words repeated in his ear as if spoken aloud. As he regarded the troubled young woman sitting next to him he realized that Sarina was not the only person with whom feelings had to be reconciled. He released her, surprised by the revelation. "I'm... glad I could help."
They sat and stared at each other, saying nothing. Julian wondered if Ezri's thoughts rivaled his. "I'd better get back to the infirmary. Quark is probably wondering what's keeping me."
Ezri snapped to alertness. "Oh! Right. I should get back to work, too."
A part of him wanted to stay right there, with her, for the rest of the day. His conscience thought otherwise. Jadzia's death was still too recent. Having been her friend and colleague for many years, her memory deserved a great deal more respect than what he was giving it at the moment. "Right. I'll see you later, then."
"Later." She bobbed her head stiffly. "Right."
They finally went their separate ways. Julian felt only too eager to get away. The discovery shook him down to his foundation. There were too many reasons why it was wrong to be feeling this way. His long-standing friendship with Jadzia Dax and her marriage to Commander Worf were major deterrents. Even more than that, Jadzia had long ago declared her intentions to him. She liked him more as a friend than a love interest. But again, that was Jadzia Dax's declaration; Ezri Dax did not necessarily share that sentiment. The events that had just played out in Quark's establishment practically pointed to the possibility of kindling romantic feelings. However, he wondered if his feelings were genuine. Was he falling in love with Ezri, or falling in love with the idea of finally obtaining Dax? Julian knew well of the Trill homeworld's law on Reassociation. Did they also have regulations covering this kind of scenario?
Julian shook his head in frustration. It was still madness. His conversation with Vic, which he once thought to be very helpful, was now showing itself to be an even greater dilemma than his problem with Sarina.
"Well, look who finally decided to show up! Obviously your genetic enhancements didn't include punctuality. I've been here for nearly fifteen minutes."
Julian was virtually oblivious to the Ferengi's sneering remarks as he entered the infirmary. He was still trying to find an acceptable solution to this new development. "My apologies, Quark. Something came up. Now tell me about this rash of yours."
While Quark whined and complained extensively about the origins of his skin irritation, Julian kept thinking about Ezri. How would he tell her about his feelings for her? He didn't know if he could even tell her. They already shared a special relationship. An admission of desire could spoil all of that, but if he didn't tell her she might eventually turn her affections to someone else.
Julian sighed. Perhaps Vic had too much insight.
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