Realization (Chapter 1)
current location: Gerome
current mood: anxious
current song: The Bed Intruder Song - Gregory Brothers
This is it, one of the plot bunnies I've been writing this summer. This is the first chapter of I'm not sure how many, and the sequel to my fic Comprehension, available here. This group of stories may have one, possibly two more additions. Enjoy!
Characters: Bashir, Kira (freindship only)
Summary: After escaping 371, Julian is quick to discover that being physically free doesn't mean one is also mentally free. Nerys comes to the rescue.
She doesn’t like what she sees when his runabout first contacts them via view screen. He’s coated in a thick layer of dirt and grime – maybe not one so obvious as that he had worn on their return from the mirror universe – but it was there nonetheless. Nerys can see it in the way he moves. He doesn’t look pained at all, but there is a gingery, meticulous way that suggests he’s trying to minimize contact with his surroundings. To her, it’s clear that he’s trying to avoid contaminating the entire runabout with the mess – a trait she’s not sure would exist if he weren’t a doctor.
It isn’t until several hours later that she is able to see him in person, after she’s gone through all the logs and security records with Sisko, trying to determine how the changeling had bypassed their security. In that time, Julian’s been scanned within an inch of his life by the infirmary staff confirming his identity and been allowed to shower. Worf and Garak have already been discharged by the nurses, but he remains stuck in the infirmary, awaiting a discharge by a full doctor per Starfleet regulations. Nerys knows that Girani booked a spot on the next shuttle as soon as she heard, but still feels annoyed that Julian will have to wait ten hours for her arrival from her disrupted vacation. Nurse Jabara has already sent out a report on his condition upon arrival at the station, listed among such items as malnourishment, various minor bone fractures (maybe his movements in the runabout weren’t completely resultant from that caked on filth), and a large number of bruises. Nerys knows his injuries will be healed by the time she steps through the infirmary doors; it’s the malnourishment that concerns her. That and any mental wounds from whatever indignities her friend has suffered.
She finds him lounging on a bio bed, dressed in the new gray Starfleet uniform, thumbing through a PADD. She can guess what it contains – patient records for the past month. She knows it’s at least that long – when Worf and Garak found him he was wearing the old uniform. The expression on his face as he scans the print on the screen is an odd one, and likely difficult for anyone that’s never seen it to read. Nerys has seen that same look once before, just not so well defined. It contains relief, almost invisible in the stormy set of his eyebrows, furrowed with worry. The furrow grows deeper as he scans further down the PADD and she finally snatches it from his grip, not wanting to watch his frustration grow, his expression become more grim.
He is startled by the sudden move, too engrossed in his choice of reading material to notice her entrance. He recoils before he can stop himself, but doesn’t flinch. He prides himself on that; he never flinched when the Jem Hadar threatened to hit him.
“Sorry.” Nerys offers, for once truly sincere in her apology. But she does not offer to return the pad, and Julian frowns as she sets it on a table behind her, out of his reach. He glares at her, but his anger quickly fades as she sits at the end of the bio bed, cross-legged.
“You can finish that tomorrow.” She reminds him gently.
He sighs. “I know.”
Nerys isn’t surprised by his response; Julian always has been one to put his patients before himself. But this time she won’t allow it. She tells herself that if the changeling had done anything to harm a patient they would know about it by now. There are no lives on the line, no reason for Julian to work himself to the edge of illness when he already teetered on the edge of exhaustion.
He looks at her for a long moment before allowing his head to roll forward, chin to chest, and his shoulders to slump. The movement is accompanied by a second sigh. Nerys reaches a hand to his shoulder and he lifts he gaze at the unspoken request, meeting her gaze properly for the first time since she entered the room.
“Are you okay, Julian?”
A kaleidoscope of emotions runs across his face. “I will be.”
He seems down just because he knows he isn’t okay now, but offers no more information, and for the moment, Nerys doesn’t pry. She instead offers him a new PADD, a game of chess queued up on the screen. Julian stares at it for a few seconds before accepting the device, and then ordering the first move for his chessmen. She is glad for that, and they pass the next few hours amicably, playing games to keep Julian’s mind off the impending debrief and everything that’s happened.
Sisko explains that he is only there for a preliminary briefing – that as the first officer to escape a dominion prison after being there for a reasonable amount of time, there is a number of top brass who want to hear the details from him. Julian simply nods at the news that his full debrief will take place two days hence, giving no indication as to whether he would prefer it happen now or then. Sisko doesn’t bother to mention that they want to hear him in person to know exactly what they can expect to happen to other federation prisoners of war in the event that war is declared. Ben isn’t sure that it will happen immediately, but he is certain it will happen eventually after today’s events. The doctor doesn’t need to know that though, and he doesn’t ask.
The debriefing is quick and relatively painless, but Julian is glad when it’s over. Just the mild questioning has made him nervous, despite the fact that he knows this time, there won’t be punishment if he hesitates. No beating if he doesn’t give away Deep Space Nine’s greatest secrets. He shakes these thoughts from his head and refocuses his mind on another round of chess with Nerys. He can lose himself in the logic of the game, and at the moment that’s all he wants.
Nerys lets Julian fade into silence as she loses a fresh group of pawns to the doctor’s advanced strategies. For the moment, she’s alright with it, it gives her time to mentally review his conversation with Sisko and compare it with the reports and statements already filed by Worf and Garak. His account of the escape and the events leading up to it is almost identical to those of the other two; it bodes well in his favour. He didn’t seem to mind speaking about that, it’s what happened before their arrival that had him uncomfortable. So she lets him have his silence and his distraction in the hours leading up to Dr. Girani’s arrival.
She takes her leave when the other Bajoran woman sweeps in, knowing that she’ll see Julian somewhere in the next few days. He’s been placed off active duty for as long as Dr. Girani and the chain of command see fit, so she’s almost positive she’ll see him wandering aimlessly around the station by the morning of the full debriefing. Julian didn’t react to that news beyond a short nod of his head, for which Nerys is glad. It meant that he had already accepted it before he was informed. She hopes he takes any other such information as well. She gives him a hug before walking out, only pausing to whisper in his ear. It doesn’t bring a smile to his face, but there is something there – a slight ease of the tension there perhaps. But Nerys is glad for it all the same, an indicator that maybe it won’t be so hard for him to recover after all.
He is relieved when Dr. Girani tells him he is free to go, with strict instructions on what he can and can’t eat and drink, and in what amounts. For now he forgets those instructions, having been served dinner between chess games by the nursing staff, and knowing he can recreate them at the drop of a hat thanks to his own medical education. At the moment, the only thought on his mind is going home, and he makes his way there in a time he didn’t think possible at a walk. But his quarters just don’t feel right as he steps through the door.
His belongings are out of place, PADDs and books not where he left them. There is no dust as he had so desperately hoped there would be. He finds this more disturbing than anything else he’s been through to date, and it hits him harder than it has since his kidnapping. He hasn’t been here in a month. And it doesn’t feel like his home anymore.
He knows he should have expected this – the changeling living here – in the same way that he had expected the changeling would operate on his patients. Oddly, he was alright with that. Maybe because he knew the changeling would have to perform just as well as him to pass as him, and there were hard records for review to make sure no harm was done. But here, there was nothing to check, nothing to review…the changeling could have done anything he wanted in Julian’s quarters and social life and not risk anyone caring. No one but him, it seemed.
Garak’s latest Cardassian novel, actually printed and bound in real leather no longer rested on his table. The uniforms in his closet were all the new style, something he had barely known would be introduced soon when he left for the conference. The turquoise sheets he had left behind were gone as well, replaced with ones in a slippery silver fabric. It was unnerving, and Julian found himself fighting off a rising panic attack as he stumbled back into the corridor, not looking behind him as the doors squelched shut. He flees to the promenade, taking comfort in the open spaces and the noise echoing from Quark’s bar.
He isn’t sure how long he stands there, or even what he’s gazing at through the view port on the upper level. He sees many things, but doesn’t notice any of them. The distant stars are simply background noise to Julian’s crowded thoughts, and he vaguely wonders if this is what “zoning out” is like, or if he completely missed the point of what Miles was trying to describe to him a couple years ago. He can’t decide what to think, what to fear, what to be joyous of. Whether to be concerned for his position on Deep Space Nine and in Starfleet as a whole. He feels lost in a way that doesn’t compare to his life pre-Adigeon Prime, and when the noise in Quark’s begins to fade, he still hasn’t figured any of it out.
Nerys recognizes his silhouette, sitting against a railing and staring out a viewport, the instant she exits Quark’s with Dax. She pauses and the trill follows her gaze, frowning at the slumped figure that is so different from the energetic young man the station is used to. The frown disappears quickly though, and she steps forward, clearly intending to question Julian, demand to know he’s alright.
She’s halted by the Bajoran’s hand on her wrist, holding her in place. Nerys’ eyes mirror the worry that she knows must be present in her own, but there is something else there too. A simple knowing, an easy acceptance that she instinctively knows is beyond her understanding with Julian, with life. And somehow, she finds herself hoping it stays that way.
Nerys’ tone asks, but the set of her jaw tells Dax that she’s been given an order. She wants to be here, to help Julian, but also has the grace to recognize that now is not her time. Dax can recognize that if there’s anyone on the station who knows what Julian needs at the moment, it’s Major Kira Nerys. The same Major Kira Nerys that survived the occupation, fought to help her people recover. And Jadzia Dax is okay with that.
Nerys hides her smile of relief as Dax gives a nod to her order and retreats in the direction of the bar after giving her hand a squeeze. Nerys watches her go before focusing her attention on the slumped man before her. He’s definitely looking disheveled, and his eyes are staring vacantly out at the spot where she knows the wormhole is located. She approaches him carefully this time, not wishing to repeat the scene in the infirmary. She crouches down at his side, and reaches for his hand as she speaks.
He turns to her as she takes his hand, and she can see many things in face and nothing at all. It’s a look she recognizes from dozens of freed Bajoran prisoners, and as much as it didn’t work for them or any other humanoid being, it even works less for Julian. The dominion has taken his innocence, his love of life and people, and Nerys isn’t sure there’s anything left for her to salvage, the way there was after their journey to the mirror universe. It’s hard to tell at the moment, he seems shell shocked in a way that he wasn’t earlier in the infirmary. She makes bringing him out of it her priority. She squeezes his hand to make sure she has his attention.
“In retrospect, it’s obvious.” She ignores his frown. “He was too helpful. And we didn’t have to drag him away from his work to make him eat and sleep.”
“Changelings don’t eat or sleep.” He’s confused by her, but goes along with it.
“Ironic, isn’t it?”
“I suppose?” Julian looks at her like she’s insane, but the corners of his mouth quirk almost imperceptibly up as he says it. Nerys can’t help but smile and pulls him to his feet. Maybe some of his innocence and hope are still in there, and if they are, she’s determined to find them.