Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Faith, Part II: Forgiveness
By Gabrielle Lawson

Chapter Ten

Kira had waited for her shift to end. She still wasn't completely sure what she'd seen down in the lower levels. Oh, the conduit she was sure of. It was the man that still perplexed her. She'd spent nearly an hour during dinner trying to figure out how to tell someone without telling about the man who'd led her down there. And figuring out who to tell at all. O'Brien would be appropriate for the conduit. Maybe he'd had someone working down there. But that didn't explain the man. Only Bashir explained the man, because Bashir had once worn the same striped uniform. She didn't think she could go to him directly on this though. She wasn't sure it was him. And if it was, how would he react when confronted with it. She'd finally decided on Ezri. Ezri would be a better judge of Bashir's reaction and she might even listen to the part about the man with an open mind.

Kira touched the panel by Dax's door and waited for an answer. The door didn't open, but Ezri did answer. "Come in." She sounded tired.

Kira stepped forward and the door opened. She stopped there in the doorway, though. Ezri was facing her on the far wall. Upside down.

"Oh, hi!" she said, swinging her feet down. "I was just thinking."

Kira's brow furrowed. "On your head?"

"It's been that kind of day," Ezri answered without really explaining. She stood up and smoothed down the wrinkles in her uniform. "Is there something wrong?"

Kira shook her head and looked toward the couch. "I need to talk," she said, "about something that happened today, something that's been happening, I suppose."

Ezri held out a hand toward the couch, inviting Kira to sit. Kira moved quickly to it and Ezri sat with her, tucking a leg under her body. "What happened?"

"It's strange," Kira warned.

"I'm a woman of less than thirty years walking around with a slug that's over three hundred in my gut," Ezri admitted, smiling. "I can deal with strange."

Kira chuckled. Ezri always managed to lighten the mood when it needed it. "I suppose you can," Kira agreed. She took a deep breath and started the only place she could think to start. "I saw someone going into Quark's today."

Now Ezri's brow furrowed. "And that's strange?"

Kira shook her head. "Not just any someone. A man."

Ezri's eyebrows shot up.

"A man in a striped Auschwitz uniform," Kira added, stopping any light-hearted thoughts Dax might have had about Kira seeing a man.

Ezri's face darkened immediately. Jadzia had seen more of the camp than Kira had. "Auschwitz?"

Kira nodded. "I'm certain. He had the star on his chest, and a number. Lower than Julian's."

Ezri ran a hand through her short hair. "That's not possible." She stood up. "Julian is the only living survivor. The oldest living survivor from that time died in the early twenty-first century. Why would someone be wearing that kind of uniform in Quark's?"

"Quark didn't see him," Kira threw out. "No one else seemed to notice. He looked right at me from the upper level. But I was the only one who saw."

Ezri sat back down and looked at her carefully. "And you've been feeling okay?"

Kira shook her head and put up a hand. "I've already reasoned it all out. I didn't hallucinate him. I didn't even recognize him. Nor was he a changeling. He did things they couldn't do. He wasn't a Prophet, at least he didn't act at all like Captain Sisko has described the Prophets behaving. Everything was real. He wanted me to follow. I followed."

"He told you that?"

"No," Kira said. "He didn't say anything. I just knew he wanted me to follow."

Ezri just nodded, but her lips were pursed together. "Where did he lead you?"

"Lower levels," Kira answered. "Section D. Two levels below anything we use, into the dark. Only I could see him. At first, I couldn't see anything but him."

"At first?"

"When we got there, to the place he was leading me to, there was light around him, like it came from him. He showed me a power transfer conduit, and left the light there, though he stepped away. I opened it, and it was perfect. Not one wire or connection was missing or out of place."

Ezri shook her head again. "I don't understand. We don't use those levels. They were never repaired."

"Exactly," Kira told her. "This one was. And it wasn't just missed by the Cardassians. I thought of that. There was no dust in it, or around it. Someone repaired it recently. Someone that knew a man in an Auschwitz uniform. Why else would he lead me there. He left as soon as I'd found it. Just gone. It took me an hour to find my way out in the dark."

"Julian?" Ezri asked, putting the pieces together just as Kira had. Who else had known such a man? Lieutenant Jordan had spent more time in the camp than any of the others looking for Bashir, but he'd been gone for nearly two years now and he hadn't stayed around to socialize with the prisoners. "You think the man was some sort of ghost?"

Kira felt her cheeks flush. Ezri was Starfleet. "I'm saying I don't know what he was," she returned with a bit more anger than she wanted. "I just know he wanted me to see the conduit, to know that someone had done it. To know who that someone was. Why else would he wear the uniform? It wouldn't mean anything to anyone but Julian. Forget the man, Ezri, think about Julian. Why would he be down there repairing power transfer conduits in the dark?"

Ezri stood again, blowing out a long held breath. "He took apart walls," she said finally, pacing a few steps away. "In his mind. He took apart walls and equipment. Stripped them back layer by layer when he was in the cave. It was how he passed the time, what kept him sane. It's a common enough coping tactic given long-term isolating conditions. I read a case study of a woman, a prisoner in the Viet-Nam Conflict on Earth in the twentieth century. She built houses from the ground up."

Kira understood that. Bajoran torture victims had done the same sorts of things to keep their minds occupied and off their torment. But she was still worried about Bashir. "So now he's doing it for real? In the dark."

Ezri nodded. "The cave was dark. He was there a long time. Maybe it became a comfort to him. It's quiet in the dark. It's probably chaotic on the station in comparison. It was on the Enterprise. He hasn't been out that long really. Less than a month. It makes sense that he'd go back to the dark. Was the conduit active?"

Kira shook her head.

"Then I wouldn't worry," Ezri said. "At least it's nothing dangerous, nothing we use. He can't do any damage without power and I think he's rational enough not to do anything dangerous anyway. He's probably just been doing it to calm the chaos. I'll talk to him though. Just not tonight. He lost Mtingwa tonight."

Kira felt better. She did trust Julian not to do anything dangerous to the station. And Ezri's reassurances made sense. "I heard," she said, replying to Ezri's remark about Mtingwa. "I'm not sure why we still remember her if she was never here."

Ezri sunk back onto the couch, looking morose again. "Apparently she was. And according to Temporal Investigations, she will be again. Over and over again."

It was late, and it wasn't the best time. Sisko realized that. But he just didn't feel it could wait any longer. He couldn't wait. He didn't want to face another staff meeting like the last two. He didn't want to avoid Bashir on the Promenade. He wanted to put an end to the power game they were playing. Maybe having lost a patient would cool Bashir's temper, making him more able to listen. Sisko expected a clipped reply or terse acknowledgement to his request. Instead, Bashir simply said, "Yes, sir." No tone, no harshness. Sisko started to doubt.

When he appeared in Ops, however, Sisko's resolve came back to him. Bashir's face was set hard, his eyes cold. He stepped through the door and stood at attention. "You wanted to see me," he said, and Sisko could still not identify the tone.

"Yes," he said. "I think we need to talk."

"We talked this morning," Bashir replied.

Yes, they had. "I know. But I don't think we resolved anything."

"There's nothing to resolve."

"I think there is," Sisko said. He stood up and braced his arms on the top of the desk. "I've spent the last three weeks thinking about what you said back on the Enterprise. And you were right. You opened my eyes to a lot of things." He folded his arms and turned to look out the viewport. "When does the line begin to fade? The line between good and bad, right and wrong? What if, in trying to win, we end up looking in the mirror and not recognizing ourselves?"

Bashir was silent behind him. Sisko could see him in the reflection. He'd moved to parade rest. He didn't relax at all.

"I'll admit," Sisko went on, "that I haven't even looked at that mirror since the war began. Not until I saw you on the Enterprise. Then I looked and I didn't recognize myself. I didn't like what I saw there. I've apologized, and I know that isn't enough for you, for anyone. It can't change what I did. But nothing can." He turned. It was enough. "I can't change the past, Julian. I can't go back in time and erase it." The words were out before he realized it. 'Back in time' was not exactly the best choice on this night.

"Can't you?" Bashir asked, his voice flat, matter-of-fact. "You can break the Prime Directive when it suits you and commit a felony when it's convenient. What's to stop you breaking temporal policy?"

"You," Sisko said, deciding not to take offense at Bashir's words. They needed to work things out, not argue more. "You. And me. You made me look in that mirror again. I don't have the right to decide for a whole quadrant which past and which future is right. We played it out the way we played it, right or wrong, it's done."

"So that's just it?" Bashir asked. His face had darkened. "We just forget about it now. Pretend it never happened?"

"No," Sisko said, stamping a hand down on his desk again. "No, but we go on. I got the message, Doctor, loud and clear. I don't need you to punish me anymore. I can manage that all by myself. From now on, we go back to being captain and lieutenant, commander and doctor. And maybe someday we can go back to being friends. But that's your decision. I won't force it, but I will enforce the chain of command. And I'll expect you to respect it."

Bashir straightened to attention. "Yes, sir."

Sisko knew he wasn't going to get more than that. He was surprised, actually, that he didn't get an argument. He nodded. "Dismissed."

Julian Bashir felt like his world-what was left of it-was collapsing. Ezri had him on one side, Sisko on the other. He couldn't go back to the Infirmary, not now. Not just yet. His shift had ended hours ago, thankfully. He told the turbolift to take him to the Habitat Ring. Then he changed his mind. Ezri might look for him there. He didn't want to talk to her. Or anyone else. He just wanted to disappear.

He found himself again in the lower levels, the same deck he'd visited now and then since his return. He knew his way by heart now. He didn't need to grope along the walls. Darkness was something familiar to him, something comforting. It hid everything equally: what one wanted to see and what one didn't.

He located his conduit and felt inside. It was ready. He only needed to tie it in to the EPS system. He took a cue from Jordan's clone and tapped into several dozen different nodes, taking just a bit of power from each. Each would only register the slightest margin of drop-off, not enough to cause alarm. It took hours to accomplish all the tie-ins. He had to move from one panel to another along the entire deck. But finally, he was ready. He found his way back to the conduit and connected the last piece of the circuit.

And the lights came on. Damn. The sudden light snapped at his eyes. He hadn't meant for that to happen. He opened the circuit again and the light faded. Someone might have noticed. It was simple when he thought of it. The lights had been on the whole time; they simply had no power. He had to find all the controls and disconnect them.

By the time he emerged from the lower levels, all the shops on the Promenade were closed. Except Quark's. But Quark's didn't close until the early hours of the morning. He passed by the upper level and noticed that the waiters were just cleaning up. Apparently, it was the early hours of the morning. He went on to the turbolift and headed back to his quarters.

He felt numb and hollow as he walked. Working below had done that for him. It was better than the hurt and anger he had felt before. It was the best he could hope for anymore.

He opened the door to his quarters and jumped when he heard the voice behind him.

"No more caffeine for you," Ezri said.

He spun around. "What are you doing here?"

She shook her head. "Shall we go in?" She didn't wait for him to answer but stepped past him into the room. He looked around, thinking of leaving again, but knew he couldn't explain that. He followed her.

She began as soon as the door closed. "When was the last time you slept?"

He'd barely made it into the room. He'd have to pass her to go anywhere. "Last night," he told her, without having to lie. He had fallen asleep last night eventually.

She crossed her arms over her chest. "More than three hours?" she pressed.

He didn't answer. He didn't know the answer.

"So what do you do with all that spare time?" she asked.

Bashir felt the heat rising in his chest again. Why was she doing this? Why now? He glared at her. But she didn't stop.

Ezri had spent hours thinking after Kira had left. Not about Mtingwa. Those thoughts were too painful. She thought about Bashir, about the conduit, about the darkness and the chaos, about what Bashir didn't get to talk about in their last session. Each of those things, alone, were minor. He could endure, even thrive, as he had shown on the Enterprise and earlier that night when he'd put the pieces together about Mtingwa and Pfenner. But together they told of the hurt he was feeling, of the despair he was trying to mask. He was good at it, too, masking it. He'd managed to get by an empath hiding it so well. She'd already told him how impressed she was with that. Her earlier accusation had been harsh, maybe too harsh. It was possible he didn't know how to cope any other way. Seventeen years was a long time to build a habit of hiding. He had to learn to heal. She had to show him how. No more hiding.

She faced him. "Do you sit and imagine taking apart the walls?" she asked, forcing herself to be strong. "Or do you really take apart the walls?"

He still didn't answer, but she had surprised him. His mouth popped open for just a moment.

"Where?" she pressed. She wanted him to admit it, to talk about it.

He turned away from her. He wanted a place to run, she guessed. She hadn't left him any room.

"The lower levels? That was your handiwork, wasn't it? The lights went on down there tonight. Ops registered it. That was you." She turned around, looking at the walls, the ceiling. The walls seemed different somehow, though she couldn't put her finger on any particular differences. "And here? What did you do here?"

"I won't tell you." Finally.

She turned back to him and sighed. She'd tried to give him time, but somehow tonight, she'd sensed he was running out of time. They'd finally managed to get somewhere in their sessions and he'd been called away. He was always being saved by something to keep from having to face what was hurting him. She wouldn't let it happen again. "Why?" she pushed. "In case I'm a changeling?"

His face flushed. "In case someone's listening in," he shot back.

He was angry. Well, maybe that would make him talk. "Julian," she tried, looking around again. She saw no listening devices or surveillance equipment.

"I want to feel safe in my own quarters," he told her, raising his voice. "I don't think that's unreasonable."

She faced him again. She lowered her voice. "Then why don't you?" she asked. "Why don't you feel safe here?"

"Why don't I?" He opened his arms and spun once around. "Why should I? We've been through this before." He took her arm, tight enough that his grip hurt, and pulled her to the bedroom. He pointed to the chair across from the foot of his bed before he let go of her arm. "Have you any idea how many times I've woken to find Sloan sitting in that chair? Or how about the time I woke up thinking I was in that bed when I was really in a holosuite? How about when I went to a medical conference and woke up on some god-forsaken asteroid? Why should I feel safe here?"

She wanted to hold him, to tell him he'd have no reason to fear. But he did. She couldn't change that. He was right. The station's security hadn't been able to protect him. Of course, he'd try to protect himself. Survival instinct was a hard one to fight. "I'm not saying you shouldn't be afraid, Julian," she tried, softening. "But you can't live like this."

"I can't live at all," he breathed, turning back to the living area.

She followed, hoping she hadn't heard right. Her heart ached for him, but she kept her head. She was his counselor, and a counselor was what he needed.

"I don't sleep," he told her, "because I can't see them coming when my eyes are closed. I don't try to stay awake; I just can't sleep. So I do things. I work on the walls. I don't work on them to stay awake. I work on them to fall asleep."

He hadn't repeated the words she'd feared, but he was giving her something. "Trying to make them safer?" she concluded in question.

He nodded, and she was curious as to just what he'd done to the walls in his quarters. But that wasn't important. "Let me help you!" she pleaded.

He turned on her. "How?! How can you help? How can you help me? Give me medication to make me sleep? Or maybe to make me feel like everything's okay when it isn't. You can't do any more than he can."

He? That threw her off. "Who?"

He turned away, squared his shoulders. He wouldn't answer that. She'd have to guess. It wasn't that hard. "The captain?"

His shoulders dropped but he didn't turn back.

"What can't he change? What happened?" But he was gone. Closed off. This is what he needed. This was the point he always managed to get out of talking about. Sisko. Something had happened between him and the captain that neither would talk about, something that was destroying the man before her. "Talk to me," she ordered, still softly but firm. She didn't want to threaten him, but he wouldn't even look at her. She took a big breath. "You have to talk to me," she said, "or I'll have to relieve you of duty."

He spun around, but he wasn't angry now. He looked terrified. "I can't," he pleaded.

His tone stabbed at her heart but she had to be resolute. He was using the Infirmary to escape from his problems when he needed to face them, to find a way through them. "You're destroying yourself," she countered. "You need a break anyway. You have been through a lot. And you just lost a patient."

"I've lost patients before," he tried, stepping closer to her. His eyes begged her. "I can't," he repeated.

She felt like she was kicking a puppy, but she held her ground. "You're relieved until further notice. I'm sorry. You know how to find me." She turned away from him and walked out the door. She waited until she got around the corner before she let herself cry. Then she called O'Brien.

O'Brien tapped the door panel, and thought about how he might get the door open if Julian didn't answer. He was surprised to find the door wasn't locked. He opened it and stepped inside.

The room was dark and it took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust, just like it had on the Enterprise. Ezri hadn't said anything except to go see Julian, so he wasn't sure what to expect. He'd gotten dressed and left immediately with Keiko's encouragement, and a strong cup of coffee.

Finally, his eyes adjusted enough to see the furniture, but not Julian. He stepped farther into the room. He crossed over to the bedroom and looked in. He worried for a moment that he might have woken him up, but he tossed that thought out. The door would have woken him. Besides, Ezri seemed sure he was supposed to come over.

He didn't see him in the bedroom, so he turned back to the main room. He was about to call for lights when he saw the man in stripes again. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. The man was standing just to the left of the main door. He was thin, very thin, and O'Brien knew where he'd seen those stripes before. On Julian. But this wasn't Julian. O'Brien wasn't even sure what this was, let alone who. The man pointed, and O'Brien followed with his eyes. There past the end of the couch was a leg. O'Brien turned back to the door, but the man was gone.

O'Brien shook off the goosebumps he'd gotten from the man and went to the end of the couch. Julian was slumped against the wall there. He had a med kit beside him. Open.

O'Brien knelt down beside him. He looked at the kit and tried to decide what was in there, but it was too dark to tell. "Julian? What's with the kit?"

Bashir didn't answer, but O'Brien could guess. He looked again. Nothing seemed out of place as far as he could tell. He was relieved, but not much. He'd been where Julian was sitting before. He'd had a phaser then.

Julian did speak eventually. "She relieved me of duty." His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. O'Brien remembered the tone. He'd used it when he told O'Brien of his enhancements and how he'd been a disappointment to his parents.

"Ezri?" O'Brien asked, bringing his mind back to the present. He decided that if he sat down beside Julian, he'd have to move the med kit farther way. He pushed it aside.

Julian didn't look at him. "Don't worry, Chief," he told O'Brien as he sat down. "I seem to be incapable of suicide. I could have. I was there, not two meters from the fence, but I just couldn't move forward. Not like Vláďa. I admire Vláďa."

He was jumping around so much, O'Brien had a hard time keeping track. But he supposed he'd done the same after Agrathi. So he tried. Fence, Vláďa, the guy at the door-though O'Brien couldn't figure out why in the hell he was the one who saw the guy at the door. These were things of Auschwitz. Vláďa, the Chief remembered, had committed suicide by putting himself on the electrified fence. What was there to admire? "He gave up, Julian."

Bashir shook his head, and his voice did hold admiration. "He didn't just give up. He didn't throw himself on the fence in some fit of desperation." He stood up suddenly and paced, acting out Vláďa's actions. "He folded his clothes and put them aside so that someone else could use them. Then he walked straight to the fence and lifted his arms to heaven in the hope that there was one and he touched it." He dropped his arms to his side. "He wasn't ashamed or hurried or desperate. But he ended it. He was stronger than me. Maybe you were, too, Miles." He slumped down onto the couch. "But I stopped you."

O'Brien used the arm of the couch to lift himself up. "I'm glad you did. It would have only made things worse. Keiko and Molly-"

Bashir interrupted. "Yeah, you have them."

This was not a talk O'Brien had ever figured he'd have with Julian. Julian was better at it. "You have people, too, Julian. You have your family. They're on Earth, but you have people here, too. You have me and Kira and all the others. Ezri, too. She only did what she thought was best. You relieved me of duty, too, remember? I hated you for it, but you were right to do it. You saved my life. It would only be worse if you died. Trust me, I know from experience."

"So do I, Miles, in a sense, and do you know what I remember?" Julian looked at him, waiting for an answer.

O'Brien was afraid of what he might say, but he knew Bashir had to say it. "What?"

"Nothing. No pain, no cruelty, no betrayal. . . . Just darkness."

O'Brien guessed he was talking about the cave, but he thought maybe Julian was leaving some things out, like dampness and cold and hunger. He wanted something positive, though, to counter Julian's negatives. "No joy," he decided. "There's joy in life, too, Julian, not just pain."

Bashir nodded and O'Brien thought maybe the dark moment had passed. But Julian wasn't finished. "But there is a point where the joy is overwhelmed, Miles, and I don't see it getting any better. I'm not just paranoid, you know. They are all out to get me. The Dominion, Section 31. One thing after another. They're wearing me down. Hell, I am worn down. I'm worn out. What is there left, Miles? What?"

Only one thing that mattered. "You."

"And what is that worth?" O'Brien heard his earlier words, spoken in this same room. 'Unnatural.' Meaning 'not from nature.' 'Freak' or 'monster' would also be acceptable.

It was worth more than O'Brien had ever managed to tell him. Julian was the best friend he'd ever have and probably ever would have. "Well, I for one, hold it in high regard. I don't get out of bed for just anyone."

"But you're not me." Julian sunk further into the couch. "I was a mistake from the moment I was born. Or from the moment they changed me. None of this would have happened if they'd let me just grow up." He wasn't sure why O'Brien had come when he did. And he wasn't sure why he was arguing with O'Brien now. Maybe because he wanted to hear the other side. Maybe.

"And I'd be dead," O'Brien pointed out. "And Kira and Dax and Worf and Garak. And thousands of others. And the children on Boranis III would still be dying."

"There would have been other doctors," Bashir held.

O'Brien shook his head. "Not as good as you. Not as dedicated as you."

"That used to be enough for me," he said before he could think of a reason not to. "But it isn't anymore. I want to be trusted. I want to trust, and I can't do that anymore."

"You are trusted," O'Brien argued back. "Trusting is your choice. You keep shutting people out. You think if you push people away, they can't ever hurt you. But in the end you just end up alone. It destroys you, in the end."

Bashir wished it was that easy. He'd let Miles in further than Ezri or Troi. But he wasn't afraid anymore. He'd already lost the one thing he'd still been afraid of losing. Being a doctor. "It already has."

"No," O'Brien said, facing him. "It hasn't. If it had, we wouldn't be talking right now. I know there's a lot of bad out there right now and it feels like it's all coming after you, but there are still good things out there, too. Maybe you can't see it now, but they always outweigh the other stuff. Good wins out in the end."

"When, Miles?" Bashir asked, looking at O'Brien for the first time that night. He really wanted to know. "I've tried to be good all my life. I'm not winning."

O'Brien smiled. "You're still here," he said. "You've survived everything they've thrown at you and you're still here and you're still good. You have won."

Bashir dropped his eyes. Why did he feel like he'd lost? Why did he keep losing? "But I don't want to fight anymore," he told the Chief. "I'm tired."

"So let us help you," O'Brien tried again. "You don't have to fight it alone. You're not the only good guy out there."

O'Brien took a deep breath and sighed. This was going to be hard, but it needed saying. "Look, Julian, I've always shied away from telling how I feel about you. I teased you when you came back from the Dominion. That was wrong. I shouldn't have. You're my best friend, Julian. My life isn't the same when you're not here. It's not just that it isn't as much fun. There's a piece missing. You are a part of my life. You are a part of my children's lives. You are a part of this station, a very important part, and I don't mean the Chief Medical Officer. You're our heart, Julian. Without you, the station dies. It turns and hums and Quark's is still open, but it's dead. That's what it was like when we thought you were gone. The station was dead."

Bashir looked at him as if he'd sprouted a second head. But there was something else there, something that told O'Brien he was getting through. So he didn't stop. "And I know there's something between you and Sisko that neither of you will talk about, but you're part of him, too. Ever notice how he always took your side when you and Worf would offer opposite opinions? He always went with you. You're his conscience. He needs you. We all need you. You can trust us. You're not alone."

O'Brien woke up when the computer chirped. His neck hurt and he rubbed it, trying to get the kink out. He was still on the couch, but Julian was gone. "The time is 0630," the computer reported. "Staff meeting in thirty minutes."

O'Brien got up and went to the bedroom to see if Julian was there. They'd talked long into the remainder of the night-or morning. Or rather, O'Brien had done the talking. Julian had stopped somewhere in the middle and just sat staring at the ceiling. Eventually, his eyes had closed and O'Brien let his own head fall back on the couch, too. He was afraid to leave Bashir alone, even while he slept.

But Julian wasn't in the bedroom either. "Computer, where is Doctor Bashir?" O'Brien asked.

"Doctor Bashir is in the Infirmary," the computer replied.

O'Brien wondered at that. He'd been relieved of duty. Had he forgotten?

Bashir finished the letter and downloaded it to the PADD. He checked the time. 0630. He had to hurry. The night nurse hadn't known he was relieved of duty. He told her he had to catch up on some paperwork before the staff meeting. She'd left him alone. But Jabara would be in soon, and the news would be known.

He stopped for a moment and looked back at the Infirmary, his Infirmary, his home. He remembered the Lethean and how he'd stopped him here, in what was for him, the heart of the station. He should have died then, when he was still innocent of all the evil in the universe.

He said a silent good-bye to the place and turned away.

A few people looked up when he reached Ops, but their heads dropped again. It wasn't unusual to see him there. No one questioned him when he walked up to Sisko's office. He checked first, quickly looking through the windowed doors, to make sure that Sisko wasn't there. The doors opened. He stepped in and laid the PADD carefully on the center of desk.

No one paid any attention as he left Ops. He took a different path back to the Habitat Ring, well away from the rest of the senior staff's quarters. Except for Kira's. He went by hers and stopped in front of her door.

He touched the panel and waited for her to answer.

O'Brien reached the Infirmary but couldn't find Bashir there either. He asked the nurse on duty if she'd seen him, but she said he'd just missed him. He'd come in to do some paperwork before the meeting. That didn't add up. He didn't need to go to the meeting since he'd been relieved of duty. Apparently, this nurse hadn't heard. He asked her if she knew where Bashir was headed after he left.

"He didn't say," she told him. "But he did look unusually melancholy. Of course, I haven't seen him much since his return. I'm just going on memory. He was usually so cheerful."

"Yeah," O'Brien replied. "He was. Thanks. If you see him, tell him I'm trying to find him, will ya?"

"Of course."

O'Brien stopped by the information kiosk on the Promenade and asked the computer again where Bashir might be.

"Doctor Bashir is in the Infirmary."

O'Brien went right back, surprising the nurse. He went straight to Bashir's office and started opening cabinets and drawers. The nurse followed, becoming worried herself, by his behavior. He didn't explain, though, and kept looking. He found it in the medkit on his desk. O'Brien recognized the kit from the night before. Bashir's combadge rested between two hyposprays. O'Brien took it out and slammed the kit shut.

Kira didn't expect visitors at this time of day. She wasn't dressed yet. She'd only woken up ten minutes before. She was just finishing her breakfast. She supposed it had to be important if it couldn't wait for the morning staff meeting. She walked over to the door and pressed the panel to open it.

Julian was standing on the other side. He looked tired and there was a fine stubble beginning to be visible on his chin. His eyes held hers like the man's had in Quark's. He didn't say anything.

"What is it?" she asked, stepping aside so he could enter.

He didn't move from the doorway. "I just wanted to thank you," he said finally, quietly. "Thank you for believing in me, for keeping my post open. I won't be needing it now. Promise me that you'll find someone to fill it. You promised before."

Kira shook her head. "I did," she said. "But why-"

He took her hand. "Thank you," he repeated. "Good-bye." He released her hand and turned away down the corridor.

Kira started after him but she hesitated. She was still in her nightgown. "Julian!" she called, but he was already a few doors down. She raced back to her room to grab her robe and then headed out the door.

He was gone. "Julian!" she called out again.

A door opened. "Colonel?" Lieutenant Mubarak stepped into the corridor, still without his shoes. "Is something wrong?"

Kira looked down the corridor again, hoping to see him, or even the man in stripes. Nothing. "No," she told Mubarak. "It's nothing." She turned back and dressed quickly.

Bashir reached his own quarters without drawing attention. He almost felt like he was already gone, a ghost floating through the corridors that no one could see, that no one wanted to see. But he knew that wasn't true. He could be seen, for awhile yet. He paused before he went in and asked the computer where Chief O'Brien was.

"Chief O'Brien is in the Infirmary," the computer replied.

Looking for me, Bashir finished silently. He'd have to hurry. The shuttle would be leaving before the staff meeting began without him. He packed only a few things. He'd already learned to live without most of his belongings. He looked at his device, his insurance policy to keep Sloan away. He placed it in the replicator and it disappeared. "Let them come."

Sisko turned the bacon and moved to put the bread in the toaster. He could hear Kassidy getting dressed in the bedroom. He was determined that today would be a better day. He would not let Bashir control his emotions today. He would not neglect his family.

"Do you want eggs with your toast?" he called out.

"Sunny side up," she answered. "Have you seen my boots?"

He started to tell her they were under the bed, but his stomach felt like it flipped. A light flashed before his eyes and he felt dizzy for a moment. He closed his eyes until it faded, grabbing the edge of the table for support. When he opened them again, he knew he was having a vision. Only this time, the Prophets weren't using familiar faces. "You need him," the Prophet said. His voice was accented. He wore a striped uniform like Bashir had in Auschwitz.

"Need him for what?" Sisko asked, hoping this time they'd be less cryptic.

The Prophet leaned in close to him. They'd never done that before. "You are lost in darkness. Let him be the light."

The light flashed again. The vision was over, and the bacon was burning.

Ensign Mallory looked up when the captain jumped off the turbolift before it had finished rising. "Sir?"

The captain ignored him and instead ran right to his office. He was the second senior staffer to come up acting strange this morning. Mallory wondered what was going on. He hadn't wanted to bother the doctor when he'd come up and he knew better than bothering the captain when he looked like he did. So Mallory kept his mouth shut and his eyes open. The captain emerged from his office holding a PADD in his hands and Mallory thought it might have been the one the doctor had put in there. Why hadn't they just called each other? It was a bit old fashioned to leave notes. Sisko left again, barking at the turbolift computer to take him to the docking ring.

Bashir reached the docking ring just as the other passengers were getting on board. There were only a few of them. This was the early shuttle. Not many people were up at this hour, unless they were on duty, in which case, they wouldn't need to be getting on the shuttle. He had his wish, the same wish he'd told his parents when his secret got out. He could leave the station quietly. Only Kira knew, and she didn't know the details. He had a few minutes. He looked out the viewport one last time. The wormhole flared, though no ship had approached it, as if to say goodbye. He turned and stepped into the airlock.

"Doctor!" Sisko's voice stopped him. "Wait!"

He turned and saw Sisko running to meet him. Anger flared in his chest. He couldn't even give up without losing. "You can't stop me," Bashir told him. "You're not my commanding officer anymore."

"Just wait, please," Sisko said, panting.

"What is so important?" Bashir demanded. The shuttle would be leaving soon. He only had a few minutes and this was not how he wanted to be leaving. Kira was the last person he'd wanted to see and he'd seen her. Sisko wasn't supposed to be a part of it.

Sisko caught up to Bashir and stopped to catch his breath. "You are."

Bashir was confused. He dropped his bag to the floor. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means I'm sorry," Sisko said.

"So you've said." Bashir was tired of hearing it. "Sorry doesn't change anything. It doesn't take away what you did to me. It doesn't bring that planet back to life. It doesn't change anything."

"I know that," Sisko said. "But I can't change the past. All we have left is what we do with the future. I'll do better. I can't lose you."

"You lost me a long time ago," Bashir told him. "You lost yourself." But he didn't move away. He waited, though he wasn't sure why.

It was going all wrong. Sisko was here. The shuttle was preparing to leave. Bashir glanced back at the corridor and saw O'Brien stop in the doorway. Kira and Ezri weren't far behind. At least they didn't come in.

"It won't happen again."

"How can you say that?" Bashir threw back at him, not caring now if the others would hear. He was supposed to have left quietly and Sisko had ruined it. "Two weeks from now you'll be busily engaged in the war, plotting this and that and you'll forget all about me. They'll come for me again and you won't even notice I've gone. Just like before." Bashir picked up his bag and turned away. He didn't want to miss the shuttle.

Sisko caught his arm. "Not this time."

Bashir spun around, feeling that familiar fire burning in his chest. "Take your hand off me!" he demanded.

"I can't."

"I resigned!"

"You told me to renew your faith," Sisko reminded him. "Give me the chance."

Sisko's calm voice only infuriated Bashir more. "I gave you a lot of chances!" he spat. "You threw me to the wolves."

Sisko let go of his arm. "I won't force you," he said. "I need you to stay."

Bashir hesitated. Behind him a steward stepped out of the shuttle and called for last boarding. Bashir held a hand up to him. The man nodded. They'd wait a bit longer. "Why are you doing this?" Bashir asked, turning back to Sisko.

"Because I think we've got it all backwards, Julian," Sisko replied, looking him right in the eyes. "I'm not supposed to renew your faith. You're supposed to renew mine."

Bashir glared at him. He didn't get that. He was the one with nothing to believe in. Not Sisko. "I don't want that responsibility."

"The responsibility is mine," Sisko told him. "Stay."

"Why me?" Bashir asked him. He studied Sisko's face as he answered. It was different now. But it was familiar. It was the same face that had met him in Auschwitz, when he'd thought the captain was the changeling. The one that wanted to save him.

Sisko smiled. "Because I have faith in you."

Sisko was acting strangely and Bashir just didn't understand it. He shook his head as he backed away toward the shuttle. "Then you're a fool."

Ezri ran forward at the last moment. "No!" she shouted, but it was too late. Bashir stepped through the door onto the shuttle and the door closed.

copyright 2002 Gabrielle Lawson