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Nameless Here Forevermore

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Nameless Here Forevermore
By JJJunky

Based on the M*A*S*H story "Sometimes You Hear the Bullet" by Carl Kleinschmitt.

 

Keiko O'Brien lit the candle she'd placed in the center of the table. Glancing around the room to make sure everything was perfect, she ordered, "Computer, lower lights seventy percent."

Her face warmed by the soft glow of the flickering candle, Keiko smiled with satisfaction. Miles would be home soon. The romantic atmosphere was certain to rekindle flames their recent separation had threatened to extinguish. The assignment on Bajor that should've taken weeks had turned into months, much to her dismay. She loved her job, but she loved her family more. On the Enterprise, it had been easy to indulge both. Here on Deep Space Nine, her skill as a botanist was unnecessary. The desire to continue to practice her profession sometimes clashed with her role as wife and mother.

She was determined tonight would not be a night of disharmony. It was an anniversary, of sorts. Seven years ago today, Miles had asked her out on their first date. She wondered if he would remember.

Glancing at the clock, Keiko realized she didn't have much time left. "Computer, play a soft romantic song."

"Parameters undefined. Please specify."

Keiko frowned, her mind momentarily going blank as she desperately sought an appropriate song title. A smile curved her lips deepening the dimples at the corners of her mouth. "Computer, play, 'I'm in the Mood for Love'."

"Specify artist."

Exasperated, her romantic feelings waning, she snapped, "Any artist."

Muscles tensed as she waited for the computer to challenge her response. Instead, the soft notes of the old tune filled the room.

Feeling as though she'd just tangled with a sehlat, Keiko collapsed in a chair facing the door. She wanted to see her husband's face when he entered. Tired from the long day, her eyes had started to droop when the doors to their quarters slid open.

Miles O'Brien stepped into the room and stopped in his tracks. All the weariness of the difficult task of converting outmoded Cardassian equipment to Federation standards disappeared from his face as his eyes rested on the romantic setting. His gaze shifted to his wife, wary hope in his eyes, "What's going on?"

"Just a little anniversary celebration," Keiko explained, rising to her feet.

Flickering light illuminated the tears filling O'Brien's eyes. "When you didn't say anything this morning, I thought you'd forgotten."

"How could I forget," Keiko whispered. Putting her arms around his neck, she started to sway to the music.

Tossing his tool kit on the couch, Miles put one arm around her waist. Enclosing her right hand in his, he rested it against his chest.

"This song gives me goose bumps," Keiko sighed, resting her head on his shoulder.

 

A soft kiss on her forehead told her that her husband understood. Closing her eyes, she let herself be swept away by the music and her love for the man holding her in his arms. He dipped, almost bending her over backwards. Suspended only inches above the floor, Keiko giggled. She couldn't remember the last time Miles had been so daring. She waited, curious to see what he would do next. Her heart beat faster as adrenalin pumped into her system. Gasping, she finally protested, "Miles, this is wonderful, but the blood is beginning to rush to my head."

"It isn't wonderful," O'Brien groaned, "my back went out. I can't straighten up."

Dismayed Keiko grabbed his shoulders. A groan greeted her action. "Can you let go of me?" she asked.

Accompanied by another groan, Miles opened his arms, letting Keiko drop to the floor.

The breath knocked out of her, she lay for a minute staring up at her husband's anguished face. Finally scrabbling to her feet, she ordered, "Computer, raise lights to full."

"What're you gonna do?" Miles anxiously demanded.

"What do you think? Call Julian."

"No!"

"Miles, you can't stay like that all night."

"I'll be all right. Just give me a few minutes."

Exasperated, Keiko sat at the table and blew out the candle. "You're being childish."

"I don't care."

"A wife learns something new every day. After all these years, I'm just learning that I married a masochist."

"All right, all right," Miles unhappily conceded. "Call him, just don't tell him what's happened over the comline. The whole station doesn't need to find out about this."

"It's a small station, Miles. Everyone's going to know in twenty minutes."

"Only if Julian doesn't keep his big mouth shut."

Keiko smiled before tapping her combadge. "Keiko O'Brien to Dr. Bashir."

"Go ahead, Keiko," a soft voice replied.

"Could you come to our quarters, Julian?"

"I'm a little busy at the moment." Disappointment was clearly audible. "Is it important?"

"I'm afraid it is," Keiko verified.

A sigh whispered across the line. "I'm on my way."

"Computer," Keiko ordered, "stop the music."

His face crimson, as much from embarrassment as his uncomfortable position, Miles apologized, "I'm sorry, Keiko. I've ruined our anniversary."

Keiko sadly smiled, dropping her lashes to hide the hurt. "There'll be others. At least you remembered it was the anniversary of our first date."

"I thought it was our wedding anniversary," Miles said, with renewed humiliation.

The animation left Keiko's face. "Oh, Miles."

The door buzzer echoed loudly in the quiet room.

Trying to swallow the lump lingering in her throat, Keiko called, "Come in."

"What seems to be the problem?" Bashir impatiently demanded. The scowl disappeared as his eyes rested on his friend. "Oh, my."

"He hurt his back," Keiko unnecessarily explained.

Crossing to his patient, Julian gently probed the bent appendage. "Can you straighten up at all?"

"Not an inch," Keiko answered for her husband.

"Unless the chief's tongue is broken," Julian frowned, "I'd like to hear it from him."

Miles unhappily complied. "I can't move at all without pain."

"A muscle relaxer should take care of it," Julian decided, his fingers pressing a little harder.

Moaning at the additional pressure, Miles urged, "Then get on with it."

"I would if I had my medkit."

"I thought doctors always carried their black bag?"

Julian met his patient's accusing glare without flinching. "I don't when I'm on a date. It tends to cramp my style."

A groan from her husband dissolved Keiko's lingering anger. "What're you going to do, Julian?"

"Unless the chief feels like walking across the promenade like that," Julian waved at the bent figure, "there's only one option."

"And that is?"

"Contact Ops and have them beam us to the infirmary."

Miles groaned. "There's got to be something else you can do. Why can't you go get your medkit and bring it back here?"

"We don't have time. Every minute we wait is putting an unnecessary strain on the muscles, weakening them and lengthening your recovery. With the aid of the transporter, I can ease your pain in seconds."

His short bark of humor lacking laughter, Miles grumbled, "Physical pain doesn't bother me. You won't be the one who has to listen to all the jokes."

An understanding smile on his lips, Julian tapped his combadge. "Bashir to Ops. Medical emergency. Three to beam to the infirmary."

O'Brien's mouth opened to protest, but his words were garbled when the transporter beam grabbed them.

As soon as he re-materialized, Julian crossed to a cabinet. Extracting a tricorder, he quickly ran it over his patient's quivering body. "I was right. It is a pulled muscle."

"I don't care what it is," Miles growled, "just fix it."

Inserting a vial into a hypospray, Bashir pressured the medication into the Chief's neck. "How do you feel now?"

Cautiously straightening, O'Brien awkwardly cleared his throat. "Fine."

"I wouldn't go that far," Julian warned, running the tricorder over his patient. "To circumvent a reoccurrence of the problem, I want you to avoid any heavy lifting for a few days. That includes dipping your wife when you dance."

"How did you know?" Miles gasped.

Replacing the hypospray, Julian hummed a familiar tune.

Recognizing the melody, Keiko blushed as her eyes met her husband's. "Thank you, Julian."

"I don't suppose this whole incident could be our little secret?" Miles asked, the words tentative as if he were only testing the idea.

A gleam in his eye, Julian shrugged. "Well . . ."

The doors to the infirmary swished open admitting Captain Benjamin Sisko and Lieutenant Jadzia Dax.

"We were in Ops and heard your call, Doctor," Sisko said, a muscle quivering in his jaw. "What seems to be the problem?"

Waving a hand at his patient, Bashir turned to replace his tricorder. "I'll let the Chief explain."

Bright red creeping up his neck to his temples, Miles stuttered, "I - ah - was - ah . . ."

To the O'Brien's obvious relief and the disappointment of his audience, the infirmary doors flew open. Two security guards awkwardly maneuvered an antigrav stretcher into the tight quarters. His hands covering his face, its occupant moaned loudly.

"What's wrong?" Bashir demanded, concern etched on his face as he stepped up to the stretcher. "What seems to be the problem?"

The patient dropped his hands, "You're my problem." Grabbing Julian's shoulders, he pulled the doctor closer and gave him a kiss. "I think I love you."

"Tommy Gillis!" A happy smile split Bashir's face.

Sisko's grim countenance relaxed at the exclamation. "I take it you know him, Doctor?"

"Since we were five," Bashir confirmed, helping his friend off the stretcher.

"We fought the bullies together," Gillis elaborated.

Waving the security guards out, Sisko said, "Since you're such good friends, I'll overlook the unauthorized use of my security guards and your inappropriate behavior."

"You're a beautiful man," Gillis replied, kissing the captain on the lips.

Caught by surprise, Sisko quickly backed away, "I - ah - think I'll call it a night."

Embarrassed, Bashir watched his superior leave. Hitting his friend on the shoulder, he protested, "Tommy, that man is my commanding officer."

"All the more reason to show my affection."

Dax regarded Gillis with amused wonder. "Are you always so uninhibited?"

"Always", Bashir sighed in confirmation.

"In that case, I'd love to hear more about the things you and Julian did when you were growing up," Dax said, ignoring her friend's frown.

"Is there a place with a cheerier ambiance?" Gillis asked, indicating the infirmary.

"There's Quark's place."

Cupping the Trill's elbow in his hand, Gillis guided her from the room. "Did you know that Julian wrote poetry?"

Dismayed at the turn the reunion had taken, Bashir started to follow the couple.

"Julian," Keiko protested, "what about Miles?"

"He'll be fine," Bashir absently soothed. "Just refrain from dipping for a few weeks."

O'Brien's plaintive wail followed Julian out the door. "I told you this would happen. The whole station's going to know about this."

Crossing the promenade quickly, Julian paused just inside the entrance to Quark's and searched the crowded room for his friends. He finally located them in a secluded corner.

"The poem was entitled, 'Ode to a Pretty Teacher'," Gillis explained, gallantly holding a chair for Dax.

"Did he tell you we were in third grade at the time?" Julian defended himself, taking an empty seat.

"I was getting around to it."

"Right," Julian muttered, all too aware of his friend's propensity for creating embarrassing situations.

His deep set eyes focused on Dax, Quark approached the table. "What can I get you?"

"Synthenol, all around," Bashir ordered, accustomed to the drooling Ferengi.

"Synthenol!" Gillis protested, "that's not what you used to drink."

"I didn't use to be the only doctor on a space station. And," Julian emphasized, regarding the gold and black uniform his friend was wearing, "you weren't a security officer. In fact, the last I heard, you were a correspondent for Starfleet News. What happened?"

"Wolf 359 happened," Gillis soberly revealed.

"I don't understand."

The teasing note disappeared from Gillis' voice. "I was on the Memphis when the Borg attacked. My assignment was to file a report on Captain Regis' last voyage before he retired. Instead, I filed one on his death."

"A lot of good officers died at Wolf 359," Dax softly affirmed. "Captain Sisko's wife was a casualty."

His eyes blazing with a savage inner fire the memory of the battle invoked, Julian pressed, "That doesn't explain why you became a security officer."

"Whenever there's trouble we all expect security to risk their lives to save ours."

"That's their job."

"But have you ever bothered to get to know them as individuals? Did you even know the names of the two men who carried me into the infirmary?"

Exchanging an embarrassed glance with Dax, Bashir admitted, "No."

"We had a big blond kid on the Memphis. The first attack took out our phasers. We were defenseless." Gillis floundered in an agonizing maelstrom. "This kid crawled into a jeffries tube to make the repairs. We were attacked again. An electrical volt shot up the tube. The kid never had a chance."

Bashir sadly shook his head, puzzlement played across his features. "It still doesn't explain why you became a security guard."

"No one knew that kid's name. With all the chaos caused by the Borg attack, it was weeks before DNA records could be accessed to make an identification. Until then he was known as John Doe."

"That was the name given unidentified male corpses on Earth in the days before DNA coding," Julian explained for Dax's benefit.

"Don't you see," Gillis softly cursed, his accusing voice stabbing the air, "not one person in a crew of two hundred and fifty knew that boy's name."

"Your becoming a security guard won't make the position more high profile," Julian gently pointed out, his face clouded with uneasiness.

"It might." Leaning forward, Gillis eagerly revealed, "I'm writing a book."

Exchanging glances with Bashir, Dax asked, "What will that accomplish?"

"I won't be reporting what the job entails, I'll be living it. Hopefully, it'll make people more aware. Give those anonymous faces a name."

"Couldn't you do that as a correspondent?" Julian anxiously demanded, a shadow of alarm darkening his eyes. "Security isn't the safest profession in Starfleet."

"You can't know what something's like unless you've been there."

When Rom suddenly appeared at her elbow with the synthenol, Dax waved him off. "Let's get drunk," she suggested.

Julian nodded agreement, just as his combadge beeped for his attention. Sighing in resignation, he tapped it. "Bashir here."

"Doctor," Sisko's worried voice pleaded, "report to my quarters."

"On my way, sir."

"Who was that?" Gillis queried.

Rising to his feet, Julian said, "Captain Sisko."

"I guess you better go."

Bashir unhappily nodded. "When will I see you again?"

"That's up to the Klingons," Gillis joked, rising. "I'm joining the Yukon. Her orders are to patrol the Klingon border."

Giving his friend a hug, Julian cautioned, "You take care of yourself."

"Don't worry." Gillis forced a smile. "I'm not the hero type."

With a reluctance that surprised him, Julian strolled from the bar. It'd been years since he'd seen Tommy Gillis. Correspondence between them had been sporadic the last few years due to the diverging paths their professions had taken. Still, there had always been the comfort of knowing he had a friend who knew his secret - and didn't care. He'd never felt alone. Tommy's friendship enveloped him, like a warm blanket on a cold night.

Arriving at Sisko's quarters, Julian hesitated before announcing his presence. Why had he been summoned? After contemplating Gillis' conduct, had the captain decided disciplinary action was warranted? Taking a deep breath, Julian pressed the buzzer.

"Doctor," Sisko anxiously greeted him, "I think there's something wrong with Jake."

His own worries instantly disappearing, Julian asked, "Where is he?"

"In his room."

Leading the way, Julian hurried into the boy's room. "What's wrong, Jake?"

"I have a stomachache," Jake said, frowning at his overprotective father. "That's all."

"Well, since I'm here anyway, why don't you let me take a look?"

"You don't have a medical tricorder."

"A good doctor doesn't always need high tech equipment to tell him what's wrong. Sometimes, all it takes is gut instinct and knowledge." Julian sat on the edge of the bed. "Now, where does it hurt?"

"Here." Jake put a hand on the left side of his abdomen.

Probing the area gently with his fingers, Bashir asked, "Does this hurt?"

"Yeah!" Jake gasped.

Rising, Bashir glanced first at his superior, before returning his gaze to his patient. "I'm afraid your appendix is inflamed."

"Is that bad?" the scared young boy whispered.

"It's possible it'll have to come out," Julian gently explained. "I need to make more tests to be sure."

"Will they hurt?"

"Not a bit."

Taking his son's hand, Sisko demanded, "What do you want me to do, Doctor?"

"Have Ops beam us to the infirmary immediately."

The words were barely out of Bashir's mouth when he felt the familiar tingle of a transporter beam. Why did tonight of all nights have to be so busy? He was experienced enough to know Sala wouldn't appreciate his failure to return to her quarters. There went another relationship. There were times when being a doctor was terribly inconvenient. Not to mention disastrous on his social life.

***

Julian pulled the mask from his face and smiled as he observed the worried father pacing in his office. Benjamin Sisko could face the Jem Hadar or a raging Klingon warrior without batting an eye, but he came close to the edge of rational action when his son was in danger. Despite his responsibilities, he was a typical father. Taking pity on the man, Julian quickened his pace.

The door had only partially opened, when Sisko pounced, fear stark and vivid glittered in his eyes. "How's Jake?"

"He's fine," Bashir soothed. "In fact, I'd say he's doing better than his father."

Sisko sheepishly smiled. "When can I take him home?"

"I'd like him to stay overnight," Julian replied, "just to be on the safe side. He should be ready to go in the morning."

"Any restrictions?"

"Nothing too strenuous for a couple days. In other words, no double headers."

His voice fragile and shaking, Sisko asked, "Can I see him?"

"If you don't disturb him. He fell asleep only minutes after I finished."

Sisko smiled. "Only Jake would stay awake during an operation and fall asleep after."

"He was curious," Julian defended his patient.

"So what else is new?"

A little jealous of the relationship between Sisko and Jake, Bashir led the way into the infirmary. As soon as he saw the unconscious boy, Sisko crossed to his side. A hand gently stroked a soft cheek.

"Ops to Captain Sisko."

The call made Sisko jump, but didn't disturb the sleeping boy. Walking quickly from the room, he waited until the door had closed behind him before answering. "Go ahead, Major."

"We just got word from the Yukon, she was attacked by a Klingon Bird of Prey. They've received heavy casualties, including her doctor."

"I'm on my way," Sisko acknowledged. Ending the transmission, he glanced at his Chief Medical Officer, a boy not much older than the one sleeping in the next room. "Doctor?"

"We'll be ready, Captain," Bashir assured him.

Sisko nodded. "What about Jake?"

"We'll need the bed," Julian gently revealed. "I'll get him moved back to your quarters and ask Keiko O'Brien to stay with him."

"Thank you," Sisko gratefully whispered, slipping out the door.

Summoning his staff, Bashir set them to work preparing the infirmary for the influx of wounded. Pride at their efficiency accompanied him as he entered the ward to wake his young patient. To his surprise, he heard talking. Glancing around, he saw there was no one in the room except Jake Sisko.

"We can slip on board behind the engineering team, Nog."

Realizing he was hearing a confidence the young boy wouldn't want to be revealed, Julian called, "Jake."

"I know the perfect hiding place."

"Jake!" Julian repeated, raising his voice.

"Once the Defiant goes into warp, they won't be able to turn back, even if they did find us."

Laying a hand on the boy's shoulder, Julian gently shook it. "Jake, wake up."

"W-what's wrong?" the boy gasped, jerking awake.

"Nothing," Julian reassured him, "I'm expecting more patients. I have to take you home. Mrs. O'Brien's going to keep an eye on you."

"I don't need a babysitter," Jake protested, cautiously sitting up.

"You can argue that with your father."

"Never mind."

Smiling, Julian eased his patient off the bed. Keeping a firm grip on a thin elbow, he slowly guided the boy out of the room and over to the habitat ring. Keeping his eyes on their course, he asked, "Jake, did you know you talked in your sleep?"

Fear flashed across the young face. "What did I say?"

"Something about a perfect hiding place on the Defiant. It sounds to me like you and Nog are planning to stow away."

"Are you going to tell my father?"

"I don't approve of what you plan to do," Julian admitted, "but I won't turn you in. I know what it's like to want a piece of the action."

A relieved smile brightening his tired face, Jake said, "Gee, thanks, Dr. Bashir. I owe you one."

***

The moment the Yukon was in transporter range, the casualties started beaming over. Confident in his team's abilities, Julian left triage to two of his nurses and entered the operating room. Fear of failure lurked on the edge of his thoughts. The years he'd spent training for a day such as this was all that kept the feeling at bay.

His first patient was a young woman with a blue/black uniform that matched his own. She had severe trauma to the head and chest. Quickly sterilizing his hands, Julian tackled the massive damage. As soon as he closed one bleeding section of artery, another section collapsed. While his mind told him there was little chance she would survive, his heart forced him to try.

Eventually, with other patients needing his services, he finally listened to his head. Others who might have a chance could die if he continued. Sadly stepping back from the bed, he removed his gloves and waved for the next patient.

As body followed body, he soon lost track of everything except the injuries requiring his expertise. Somewhere, in his numbing exhaustion, faces and names blended. The only identifying factor was their wound. He welcomed the work and the fatigue. It kept his thoughts from dwelling on the life he hadn't saved.

"How's it going, Doctor?"

Sisko's hushed inquiry drew Bashir's attention. Completing the last procedure on his patient, he stepped away and removed his gloves, a sign to his assistants the operation was complete. Pulling down his mask, he sadly informed his superior, "I lost a patient, Captain."

"And how many have you saved?" Sisko softly asked.

Shrugging his shoulders, Bashir admitted, "I lost count."

"According to Jabara, fifteen officers owe you their lives. That's a pretty good score in my book."

The blood began pounding in Julian's temples. Afraid Sisko would see the anger in his tired eyes, he shifted his gaze. He was a doctor not a baseball player. A high score wasn't his goal. He was competing with death. Only a shutout would satisfy him.

With skilled gentleness, two assistants returned with an antigrav stretcher. While they carefully transferred the injured occupant to the biobed, Julian tied a clean mask around his face and slipped on a fresh pair of gloves. "Excuse me, Captain."

As he crossed to the bed, something drew Julian's eyes to the face of his patient. His steps faltered at the familiar visage. "Tommy?"

Bloodied lips curved into a half-smile. "I'd give you a kiss, but I can't lift my head."

"That's all right," Julian said, tears blinding his eyes and choking his voice. "You'd only get my mask dirty."

"You want to hear something funny?" The voice was so faint, the words were barely audible. "Everyone knew my name."

Smothering a sob, Julian encouraged, "So you change the focus of the book. It's still a good premise."

Alarms started to beep.

"What's wrong?" Sisko asked, stepping closer to the bed.

"There's no pulse," Julian shouted. Adjusting the controls on the biobed, he pushed a button. The limp body jumped.

Frustration furrowing is brow, Sisko demanded, "What are you doing?"

"Using a neural stimulator to try to get his heart started." A finger pressed the button again. The still form jumped.

The alarms continued to cry.

Adjusting the controls, Julian pressed the button. Nothing.

Another adjustment. The alarms echoed around the room bouncing off the walls.

Fingers desperately punched controls. Tommy Gillis lay still.

Sisko put his hand on Bashir's shoulder. "That's enough, Doctor. You've done everything you could."

Choking down a sob, Julian backed away from the table and removed his gloves. "Next."

"That was the last one, Doctor," Jabara softly informed him.

Bashir nodded his acknowledgment. Removing his mask and gown, he walked stiff-legged to his office. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he stared blindly at the Starfleet medical diploma hanging on his wall. It mocked him and his abilities. All those years of training and he couldn't even save the best friend he'd ever had.

When the doors swished open behind him, he didn't need to look to know who had the courage to follow him. "Captain?"

"Is there anything I can do?"

"This is the first time I've cried."

"That's to be expected. Tommy was your friend."

His eyes bordered by tears, Julian turned. "Tommy was my friend and I watched him die. And that's why I'm crying now. I watched Dr. Michaels die. Why didn't I cry for her?"

"'Cause you're a doctor."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I don't know," Sisko admitted, sitting on the edge of the physician's desk. "All I know is what they taught me in command school. There are certain rules about a war. Rule number one is: people die. Rule number two is: doctors can't change rule number one."

Julian frowned, his eyes level under drawn brows. "Do you believe that?"

"I don't know," Sisko whispered, a fleeting look of discomfort crossing his face. "Do you?"

Clenching his jaw to kill the sob in his throat, Julian shook his head. "I don't know. But I know one doctor that can keep one young man from dying in one war." Straightening his shoulders, he ordered, "Come with me."

Leading his superior from the office, Julian walked briskly through the infirmary, across the promenade to the habitat ring. He was so tired his nerves throbbed. But there was one thing he had to do before he could rest. It had only taken him seconds to weigh the importance of a trust against a young life. Outside Sisko's quarters he paused, waiting for the older man to open the door.

A puzzled gaze resting on his Chief Medical Officer, Sisko palmed the door open.

Julian's step barely faltered as he exchanged a tight simultaneous smile with Keiko. Without waiting for permission, he entered Jake's room.

Putting aside the padd he'd been writing on, Jake tentatively smiled. "Hi, Doctor Bashir."

"Hello, Jake." Impatience made Julian tap his leg with his hand. "How are you feeling?"

"Great."

Every muscle relaxed as Julian caught the boy's eyes with his own. "In that case I think you have something to tell your father."

"W - whaddya . . . mean?" Jake nervously stuttered.

"Either you tell him about your plan to stow away on the Defiant, or I will."

"Stow away?" Sisko dazedly repeated.

Jake glared at Bashir with burning reproachful eyes. "You promised you wouldn't tell."

"It was a stupid promise," Julian said, a cold shiver spreading over him as he realized what might have happened the next time the Defiant went into battle.

"You're a double crosser," Jake cried, his expression growing hard and resentful. "I'm never going to forgive you. Not for the rest of my life."

His faint smile holding a touch of sadness, Julian whispered, "I hope it's a long and healthy hate."

***

Julian sighed as he pressed the send button on his terminal. The reports he'd just completed were on their way to the designated authority. In this case, Major Kira Nerys. At least he wouldn't have her jumping down his throat demanding to know where the reports were. Now she could only be angry with him for some seemingly inexcusable error he'd committed while compiling the data. For once, he was too tired to worry about incurring her wrath.

"Doctor Bashir, could I talk to you?"

Surprise at the interruption gave way to apprehension when Julian's eyes rested on his visitor. He didn't have the strength to fight any more battles. Especially against Jake Sisko. Rising from behind his desk, he asked, "Are you in pain, Jake?"

"No," the boy quickly reassured him. "I'm fine. I just wanted to apologize for my behavior yesterday."

"If your father sent you--"

"He didn't," Jake interrupted. "He told me about your friend. I understand now why you did what you did."

A melancholy frown flitted across Julian's features. "Do you?"

"Sure, you were afraid I would get killed if I stowed away on the Defiant. You did it to save my life."

"And ease my conscience," Bashir softly confessed. His jaw clenched as his eyes narrowed. "If you had died, I would've been guilty of murder. I might as well have aimed a phaser at you myself."

Ducking his head, Jake said, "I didn't mean what I said, you know?"

"I know." A real smile, his first in two days, overtook Julian's features, imbuing them with a new energy. "So, what judgment did our commanding officer met out for this latest transgression?"

"Huh?"

"What was your punishment?"

The corners of Jake's mouth drooped. "I can't see Nog for two weeks and no holosuite for a month."

"I'd say you got off easy," Julian observed, shuddering with a cold premonition. "Think what it might've been if your plan succeeded."

"I don't want to."

"Neither do I."