"Well, that's the last of it," Chief O'Brien said, wiping his hands on his pants as he climbed out of the access tunnel. "Anything else can bloody well wait until tomorrow."
Sam MacKade helped the chief reattach the panel that would seal the tunnel for the night, "So long as you're sure. Those plasma coils looked a bit worse for wear."
"I replaced the core shielding," Miles replied with a heavy sigh, "They'll hold until we can replace them."
Sam only nodded as they made their way out of the docking ring. She felt like a piece of worn rope, every muscle protested from overuse and her mind was cycling between engineering calculations and numbing mush. She and the chief, along with the rest of O'Brien's crews, had been working for nearly 19 hours straight. Ever since that Bajoran transport crashed into the side of the station, they had been going at a break-neck pace to contain the breach and seal the massive gaping hole left by the collision. It was one hell of a mess to be sure and it showed on the weary faces trudging home for the night.
Miles cast her a side glance, bleary-eyed, wisps of dark hair escaping her utilitarian braid, smudges of dirt and oil on her forest green jumpsuit, across her brow and down one cheek. She didn't look all that different from those long-ago days on the Enterprise. "You did well today, MacKade."
Startled out of her wandering thoughts, she smiled and patted him on the shoulder, "I am merely a credit to your flawless instruction."
The chief chuckled as they reached the turbolift. When she didn't follow him into the lift, he tilted his head, "Not going home?"
"Not yet, I'm actually a bit wired," she replied, "Thought I'd take a few laps around the Prominade to unwind."
"Well, be sure you get plenty of rest," Miles advised, "Tomorrow we move on to those coils. And pylon coupling. And the air lock shielding."
Sam gave a mocking salute, "I will be there with bells on."
Miles saluted her in return, "Habitat ring."
Sam walked a bit aimlessly through the deserted Prominade. It was well past 0300 hours and all the store fronts and cafes were closed. No one was lingering outside the Bajoran Shrine. She let the welcome quiet envelope her as she strolled, her thoughts unwinding along with the tightened muscles in her back and legs. A movement caught her eye as she passed the stasis room that functioned as DS9's morgue. She recognized one of the nurses there, putting a body into one of the stasis chambers. Seeing three more bodies laying under sheets behind him, Sam made a b-line for the Infirmary. There had been a dozen or more passengers on that crashed shuttle, all of them had been beamed directly to Infirmary for medical treatment. Having been so preoccupied with the repairs, she never bothered to check on how they had gotten along.
Walking into the Infirmary, the scene there said it all. Only a single nurse remained from the triage staff, working in silence as she disinfected a tray of instruments. None of the bio-beds were occupied, she realized. Meaning either everyone had been treated and released or they had not survived. The nurse paused and met Sam's gaze with a sad one of her own, giving a slight shake of her head, the nurse turned back to her work. Worry building, she quickly walked back to Julian's office only to find it empty.
Maybe he's gone home for the night. She thought hopefully. "Computer locate Dr. Bashir," she instructed, trying to ignore the feeling of dread in her stomach.
"Dr. Bashir is in the Infirmary."
Fears confirmed, she made a brief search of his office and located his comm badge in the middle desk drawer. "Damn," she muttered, sticking the badge in her pocket as she left the Infirmary. If he had gone to his quarters, he would have taken the badge with him and simply turned it off. Sam strode purposefully down the corridor, trying to let her intuition guide her. If Julian really didn't want to be found, there was a good chance he wouldn't be. Bashir could be both stealthy and stubborn if he had a mind to be. Going on a hunch, Sam turned off towards Quark's. She paused outside the closed doors, there was no light coming from inside the empty bar but after a minute or two Sam heard a soft thunk. Then two more.
She used her backdoor code to gain entrance and following the sound she spotted him. Uniform sleeves rolled up to the elbow, science's blue undershirt unzipped at the neck and a look of controlled fury on his face, Julian stood throwing darts with the precision of a Romulan sniper.
Sam sat at the high-top table where a mostly empty bottle of Irish whiskey stood next to a used tumbler. "Mind if I pour myself a drink?"
He didn't pause in his assault on the dart board, "Help yourself."
Pouring herself two fingers, she tossed back the shot and left a familiar burn in her throat. She watched him score bullseye after bullseye, never pausing except to retrieve his darts. "I can see why O'Brien makes you stand five feet behind when the two of you play, you're an expert marksman."
He let a dart fly, "Just a cheat of genetic engineering. If he was really after a fair game, he should have me stand on my head."
"Was this a full bottle when you started?"
"Did you come here to interrogate my drinking as well as my dart playing or are you making small talk?" Julian spat, throwing off two more darts, "Because I am not in the mood."
Sam watched him stalk over to the board and snatch the darts back. "Actually, I just finished with the repair crews in the docking bay," she said calmly, "I took a walk to unwind before bed and I passed the Infirmary."
Julian paused, but did not look over.
"It was empty."
Julian tossed off three darts in quick succession, "Yes, it is."
When he didn't say anything else Sam sighed softly, "Julian…"
"Don't," he instructed, his tone harsh, "Just don't. I didn't come here to be comforted, consoled, or counseled. I came here to drink whiskey and play darts so if you aren't going to be conducive to that, leave."
He crossed to the table and filled the glass to the brim and tossed it back. He filled it again and downed it just as quickly. Then he simply stood there, two hands braced on the table and his head bowed. "Eleven," he said after a long pause, "Eleven people were transferred into my care from that shuttle and eleven of them died."
Sam reached over and covered his hand with hers. He allowed the gesture of comfort only for a moment before snatching his hand away and returning to his dart game. He fired off three darts, "Acute radiation poisoning was the primary cause, although there were a few lost to 3rd and 4th degree burns. I'm guessing that plasma coil combusted on impact and flooded though the shuttle in a matter of seconds." Julian paused to retrieve more darts, "It would have made it a virtual gas chamber."
"There was a child on that shuttle." He looked over at Sam, her green eyes widened and filled with sorrow. "Did you know?" When she shook her head wordlessly, he broke his gaze and took his throwing stance, "She was six. No burns or poisoning. She had asthma." Thunk, thunk, thunk, three darts flew, "It should have saved her actually, the constricting of her bronchial tubes kept the plasma gas from entering her system. But I couldn't restore her respiratory functions."
Her heart broke for him. Losing any patient was difficult, but to lose so many and one of them a child. Julian Bashir was the epitome of medical professionalism, but everyone had a breaking point. "You did everything you could."
Julian only shook his head, his face distorting with anger, "I failed. And do you know what's worse? She had never been treated for her condition."
"What do you mean?"
"I conducted the micro-cellular scan myself, that girl was born with a serious, but correctable medical condition and she had never once been treated for it. Not once!" He punctuated his disgust with another bullseye, "That was why her reaction was so severe. This was a preventable death, Samantha."
"Maybe," she allowed, "But that doesn't make it your fault, Julian."
"No? Who shall we assign the blame to?" he asked, his tone sharp as a laser scalpel. "Let's blame the Cardassians! After all, they kept Bajor under the heel of their boot for the better part of a century, denied them basic rights like access to medicine. Oh! Or… we could blame the Bajorans!" Julian threw another dart, warming up to his tirade, "They choose to live in ignorance, referring to the alleged will of wormhole aliens by calling them Prophets."
He paused and tossed a look of distain her way, "Or I could take a page from your book and blame Starfleet. In their benevolence and wisdom, they continue to deny my requests to develop hospitals and clinics that are so desperately needed in those out-lying provinces." Julian hurled the last dart with such force that it buried itself half-way up the shaft. The board lit up and gave a low-pitched whine, then went dark. In his frustration, the doctor strode up to it and punched the dart board with his fist, causing it to clatter to the floor in pieces.
He simply stood there, head bowed, chest heaving. Not saying a word. There were no more words to say. Nothing would take away the pain of this day and nothing would bring back the girl, or any of the people who died. It was needless, it was senseless, and it was preventable. Feeling Sam's light touch on his shoulder, he spun around and grabbed her wrist like a vise. To her credit, she didn't flinch or shrink away. Her steady gaze held his and reflected only trust and kindness. Saying nothing, she brought up her free hand and cupped his cheek. He broke then., dropped his chin to his chest and wept.
Sam drew him into her embrace, let him bury his face in the crook of her neck. He held onto her like a man adrift at sea. She stood unwavering, strong, and serene as he let go the anger and the pain. She took the burden of his sorrow and after a time, he was able to breathe again.
When all his tears were spent, he drew back and she looked up at him with a small smile, "Come. Let's go home."
Julian was numb now that his emotions were spent. He couldn't form a thought, so he complied. Letting her wrap her arm around his torso, he leaned heavily on her shoulders and she led him out of the bar. He didn't remember the walk to his quarters or entering the dimly lit rooms. He sat on the side of his bed now and she knelt in front of him, removing his boots and socks. He stared absently at the top of her head, taking notice that she was softly humming. It was a tune he didn't recognize but it was pleasant and soothing.
Sam stood and removed Julian's uniform jacket, easing it off his shoulders and down his arms. He wasn't doing much to help her in the task, but he wasn't fighting her either and she took that as a positive sign. She folded the garment in half and tossed it over the back of a chair then pulled back the bed covers and eased Julian down onto the pillow. She tucked the blankets up to his chin and tenderly ran a hand over his cheek. When she pulled away, presumedly to retire to her own room, Julian reached out and caught her hand.
She looked down quizzically, "Its alright, Julian. You can sleep now."
He squeezed her hand in reply, "Please."
Understanding his request, she kicked off her own shoes and silently climbed into bed beside him. At long last, both of them utterly exhausted, they slept.