TITLE: "Aristeia"

AUTHOR: Little Red (mylittleredgirl at gmail dot com)

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: DS9, post-ep, Bashir/Jadzia Dax

SUMMARY: "At some point he was going to have to hear the truth, that it didn't matter how much he'd changed or grown up or how much she respected him. Nothing was ever going to happen between them. He was already having a rotten evening, so he might as well get it over with."

SPOILERS: post-ep for 3rd-season episode "Prophet Motive," also known as "the one where Bashir gets nominated for that swanky medical award." Also, spoilers for "Dr. Bashir, I Presume" and "If Wishes Were Horses."

DISCLAIMER: Paramount owns the characters, the station, the Andorian champagne, and me, too, if you consider the way I obediently run out and buy any DVD boxed set they release with my grocery shopping money.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: DVD boxed sets are rocking my world at present, and so I'm having a little fun here wondering whether Bashir's genetic enhancements had anything to do with his *odd* behaviour in "Prophet Motive" (the one where he got nominated for the Carrington Award and then lost). For the linguistically curious, "aristeia" is a tangible symbol of excellence. It's one of those words you would never, ever encounter unless you were forced to read the Iliad in high school.

COVER ART: by nenya. Yay!

*****



Doctor Julian Bashir hadn't really expected her to leave as easily as everyone else had. It had been less than ten minutes since the announcement of the Carrington Award winner had been made, and the Ward Room was empty save the two of them. It hadn't been much of a gathering, and there wasn't much cleaning up to do, but he couldn't exactly leave Dax to do it when, even if she had been the one to organize it, it had been his party.

Or, at least, it was supposed to be.

"Everyone left in a hurry," Lieutenant Jadzia Dax commented as she dragged a wayward chair back to the conference table. It was a rather banal observation for Dax, but he suspected she just wanted to say something to end the awkwardly pensive silence they had entered into since Sisko and O'Brien and the others had made their apologies and left.

"I suppose they wanted to get out of here while I was still putting on my brave face," he tossed off, collecting a few cups of coffee to recycle in the replicator. "Some people hate to see a grown man cry."

In all honesty, he wasn't sure how he felt about losing. Mostly, he felt relieved that the whole ordeal was over, but some part of him felt as though he'd been kicked in the chest, like he'd failed at something absolutely vital for approval. Whose, he didn't know anymore.

He looked over at Dax, who was frowning at his weak joke. "I know you probably want to be alone," she said, coming over and picking up the last few mugs herself. "But if you'd like some company, I don't have plans. And I have Andorian champagne on ice." She indicated the bucket of ice and champagne on the conference table, surrounded by glasses.

He'd seen the display coming in, and hadn't known what to think. Dax believed in his chances of winning enough to have champagne ready, when most of the medical community thought his nomination itself was either the result of a joke or a mistake. She made a tempting offer, but he doubted he'd be good company for her, and if he succumbed to his desire to sulk over the whole situation he didn't want her thinking that he was behaving childishly. He had worked too long and too hard to make her take him seriously to risk pouting in front of her.

"I'd better pass. I've got some work to catch up on."

For a moment it looked like she was going to protest, but she didn't. He pushed the last chair back to the table, where she caught his arm. "It's all right to be disappointed, you know."

He sucked in a breath, unsure if it was her words or her touch that caught him off guard. "I knew I wasn't going to win."

Dax shrugged. "It's still all right." She squeezed his arm once more, reassuringly. "You can keep the champagne, if you want. I'm sure you'll need it someday."

"Jadzia..." he realized he'd never actually thanked her for submitting his name and his work for consideration. No matter how he felt about the whole procedure, she still meant well. "Thanks."

His comm badge beeped, and the station's computer voice stated, "Incoming subspace message for Doctor Julian Bashir."

He felt his stomach sink. "Identify sender," he commanded, hoping that he was wrong, trying to think of someone else it could be...

"Richard Bashir."

Jadzia looked up from where she was collecting the champagne glasses. "I'll see you tomorrow, Julian."

"No, wait," he asked her before he could think out his request. If she was there, he had an excuse to get out of the conversation before his parents managed to worsen his evening.

She didn't question him, only sat down in one of the conference chairs while he ordered the computer to put the message through.

"Mother... Father..." he acknowledged their images as they popped up on the screen. He had managed to be in surgery the other two times his parents had contacted the station in the past week. They hadn't been close in years, but it felt like they never failed to reemerge in his life whenever accolades were being given.

"Oh, Jules, we saw it." His mother looked as though she had been crying. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Mother."

His father pushed his way to center-screen. "They stole it from you! They passed you over just because you're so young. It's a conspiracy of the old guard to keep down young talent! You deserved that ten times more than that Roget fellow. What's he done that's so important?"

Bashir glanced back at Dax, who didn't look nearly as awkward as he felt. "It's not a conspiracy. He deserved the award. Can you please not make such a big deal out of it?"

"You should write a letter of protest!" Richard Bashir exclaimed, almost red with indignation. "We've got to do something!"

"I'm not going to do anything, except wait another fifty years."

"Jules, it's important that you learn to stick up for yourself. The universe is full of people who will walk all over you if you don't-"

"Look, Father, I'm here with a friend. Do you mind if we continue this discussion later? After you've... calmed down a bit?"

Julian's mother jumped in at that moment. "I'm glad you've started making friends out there. And what about girlfriends, Jules? Are there any nice young ladies out there on that space station?"

"I have lots of friends," Julian replied, aware that his sullen tone made him sound like a child but unable to help it.

"We'll call back later," she promised, knowing that if she left it up to her son the conversation would never resume. She blew a kiss at the comm screen. "We love you, dear."

The transmission ended, and Julian felt his whole body almost physically shudder as the screen blinked off. He flopped down into the nearest chair and pressed his hands to his head as though to force the conversation, and all the other conversations it had conjured up, from his brain.

He looked up when he felt Jadzia's hand on his forearm. Her face was understanding.

"I'm sorry about that," he said.

Jadzia smiled, and he remembered what, at one time, he had been willing to do for that smile. "I think I'm beginning to see why you went so far away from Earth."

He laughed because he didn't know what else to do. "Deep space does have its advantages."

She looked at him for a long moment, as though to verify that he was really okay, and then stood up. "I'll let you get to your brooding."

Suddenly, the weight of the lost Carrington felt too heavy to bear alone for the whole rest of the evening. "Jadzia... I know I'm not very good company right now... but if you really don't have other plans..."

"I'm all yours." It was a figure of speech, of course, but it still felt a bit like a cruel joke. "Shall we go to Quark's?"

He frowned. "I'm... not really in the mood for-"

"For being around a lot of people," she finished. "I understand."

*****



He hadn't spent much time alone with her in her quarters. She threw parties there on a fairly regular basis, whenever a birthday or Federation holiday presented itself as an excuse, but no matter how early he tried to arrive or how late he stayed she was inevitably surrounded by people. He didn't really need to work hard to spend time with her anymore, to force himself to stay awake until 0300 in the vain hope of having a few minutes of her undivided attention, but he did it anyway out of habit. They were friends now, and they spent lots of time together, but there were times when just a look from her could turn him right back into the stammering neophyte she'd first met on that transport, painfully smitten and totally unable to make himself worthy of the enigmatic creature in front of him. Perhaps he still hung around her parties with offers to help her clean up after everyone else left because he wasn't sure how else to be around her.

"Make yourself at home," she offered as soon as they walked in. "I don't know if you're hungry, but my replicator is your replicator."

"Thanks," he glanced around the room, taking everything in as Dax set down the bucket of champagne on her coffee table, "but I'm fine."

She set out two champagne glasses and held out the bottle of ruby-coloured liquid to him. "Would you like to do the honors?"

Although he was sure he could figure out the Andorian corking mechanism given time, he doubted he'd have the same flare as Jadzia. "You go ahead."

As predicted, she expertly unwound the complicated pattern of wires protecting the cork, and it obediently popped off with a satisfying sound that made her smile. She poured the champagne, only spilling a little on the tabletop, and picked up her glass. "What should we toast to?"

Bashir watched the red currents swirl around in his glass amid the bubbles. "I suppose we should toast Henri Roget, winner of this year's Carrington Award."

"Curzon's Klingon friends taught him to never drink to defeat," Dax commented sagely. She raised her glass and he followed suit. "To great victories still ahead," she said, and clinked glasses with him.

The champagne was an unfamiliar mix of spicy and sweet. "I've never had Andorian champagne before," he told her for something to say.

"Torias discovered it when he worked with some Andorian pilots on a test flight," Jadzia explained. "It's still not that easy to get, but Quark is a resourceful bartender."

"You really didn't have to go to all this trouble."

"Well, I figured that somebody should make a big deal out of this if you weren't going to."

He didn't answer her, and she spent a moment watching him study the crimson bubbles in his champagne glass.

"So, did it help?"

"What?"

"Did not getting your hopes up help ward off disappointment?" Even though she was baiting him, her expression was sympathetic. "I mean, this way, even though you didn't win, you did get to be right."

He put the champagne glass down and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know." It didn't make sense. Ever since Sisko had called him into the Ward Room for the announcement, he'd been almost running blind with an age-old panic. What if he won? He didn't deserve it, he knew he didn't deserve it, and if by some cruel fluke he did win, someone might find out... and now that he hadn't won, had been officially made an also-ran and relegated to a historical footnote which would only be mentioned if someone ever beat his record of being the youngest nominee in Carrington history, he felt painfully inadequate. Not that it was the first time this had happened. In medical school he'd almost destroyed himself trying to prove his worth, to be named the best in his class upon graduation, and then had frozen in the final exam. Maybe his father was right, and in spite of all of his gifts, he just didn't have the strength of character to be a winner.

Jadzia smiled sadly as she watched his features agonize over his thoughts. "If it helps, I do know how you feel."

At that moment, he wasn't sure that anyone could know how he felt. He didn't even know that he knew how he felt, not really, not with so many conflicting thoughts and emotions bouncing around in his head.

"Did I ever tell you about the time I went to the Federation Olympics?"

One of her past hosts, of course. Sometimes it seemed like, in one lifetime or another, she had experienced just about everything. No wonder he sometimes felt like she thought of him as still being wet behind the ears, like he was far too young and innocent of the ways of the world for anything he thought or felt about her to really be genuine. He felt like the past three years had matured him, but compared to her, he could hardly call himself worldly.

Still, she had him intrigued. "You mentioned one of your past hosts was an athlete."

"A gymnast. Emony Dax." Jadzia curled one leg under her on the couch in a manner that was rather unlike her normally statuesque posture. Perhaps Emony used to sit that way. "Trill had just joined the Federation. My people weren't entirely convinced that this was a good thing, and it had been debated in our government for over ten years. A lot of people still openly opposed it."

This was news to Bashir. "The Federation doesn't usually accept divided worlds."

"We weren't exactly facing civil war," Dax shook her head. "We'd had a unified planetary government for over two centuries already. Mostly, people were afraid that by joining this alliance the truth about the Trill being a joined species would come out, and that this information would be used to hurt the symbionts. The Trill can be pretty paranoid people when they want to be. So, when it came time to select a team for our first time at the Federation Olympics, a lot of the top athletes on the planet refused to go."

"Did they really think that would force a break between Trill and the Federation?"

"Most of them were just afraid to go off-world. At the time, it was a very real fear of a lot of joined Trill that they would die off-world, and their symbionts would never have another host."

"But you went anyway."

A nostalgic smile touched her lips. "Dax has always had an adventurous streak, and right back to Lela, its hosts have supported off-world contact. But Emony never expected to be asked to go. She had been joined for less than three months and hadn't competed professionally at all in that time. Beyond that, she was still a relative newcomer to global gymnastics and she wasn't even in the planet's top ten. But when all the top gymnastics stars on the planet pulled out in protest, she was asked to go in their place, to represent her people."

"That's quite an honor."

Dax nodded. "Exactly. But I knew I didn't deserve it. So of course Emony, being headstrong and all of twenty-one years old, figured that the only way to gain the respect of her people, and to ensure Trill's continued membership in the Federation was to take home the gold. Federation Olympics rules were very different from the rules she'd been competing under on Trill, and she was still getting used to being joined, but she never worked harder for anything in her life than that one event."

Bashir took another sip of the champagne and leaned back on the couch. "So what happened?"

"She lost, of course." Jadzia shrugged. "She placed fifth overall, which is still very impressive and far better than she was expected to do, but you don't get a medal for fifth place, there was no tangible symbol of excellence to bring back home. Emony was completely crushed. Somehow the fact that she wasn't supposed to win, and everyone saying 'oh, well, we didn't really expect that much from you, anyway' made it even worse. Because it wasn't like she made any mistakes, or fell off the balance beam, or didn't remember her floor routine. She just wasn't good enough."

Bashir downed the rest of the champagne in the glass and let the spicy tingle warm his body. "I'm waiting for the part where this makes me feel better," he told her, raising a half-joking eyebrow.

She lay her hand over his. "When I got back to Trill, no one in the gymnastics community seemed to care that I hadn't taken home a medal. I had gone out there. Emony didn't gain their respect by winning, but just by being willing to show up and do her best." She squeezed his hand. "Julian, the point is that we're proud of you."

For a second he felt like he was going to start shaking. It didn't make sense, how just her cool Trill fingers against his could make him nearly lose control, but just for that moment he would have told her anything to keep her from pulling her hand away. He wanted to tell her the truth, tell her about how his parents had deemed him inadequate as a child and warped his genetic structure into something they could love and be proud of, how he lived in fear of being found out, how he still didn't know, even with all of his illegal enhancements, whether he could ever truly be good enough.

A lifetime of guarding admissions like that from escaping his lips in moments of weakness kept him from saying anything about it. Instead, he just asked her, "Why did you submit me to the Carrington, Jadzia?"

She looked surprised. "I thought you'd be happy about it. If I had known how upset it would make you, I would never have done it. I would have told you I was thinking about it, but I didn't want you to be disappointed if they chose not to nominate you."

She had been protecting his feelings, like he was nothing more than a child. He supposed he deserved it -- he hadn't exactly been a pillar of maturity lately. "Yes, but why?"

"Because your work is brilliant." Her crystalline eyes bore into his with an intensity unique to Dax. "I wasn't lying when I said it deserves to be recognized."

"You really... think that?"

A myriad of expressions danced across her face, until she finally ended up just looking bemused. "When did you become such a harsh critic of yourself?"

He could do nothing but shrug.

"You have earned the respect of everyone on Deep Space Nine. Who cares what some panel of medical big shots thinks? We're the ones who actually put our lives in your hands." Bashir noticed she hadn't moved her hand away from his. Perhaps she had forgotten about it.

"I told you I wouldn't be very good company," he reminded her with a harsh self-deprecating laugh. "Here you are, saying all the right things and I can't do anything but feel sorry for myself."

Dax pulled her hand away. She actually looked hurt. "I'm not just saying things, Julian."

"Sorry," he mumbled, and reached for the champagne bottle. "I know."

"I'd be careful with that," she warned half-heartedly. "Andorian champagne kind of sneaks up on you. It's quite a bit stronger than Earth champagne."

He poured another glass anyway. It was that sort of night.

There was a moment of silence as she watched him drink the champagne before she asked, "Do you really think I don't respect you?" At his surprised expression, she amended, "that we don't respect you?"

He wasn't sure what to say. "You don't have to try and make me feel better, Jadzia."

She rolled her eyes. "Well, I wouldn't be much of a friend if I didn't at least try." She grabbed the champagne bottle and topped off her own glass, but she didn't drink it right away. "I recommended your name to Curzon's friend on the Federation Medical Council because I think you deserve it, and because you're my friend. You've come a long way in three years."

He laughed, but it wasn't really with humor. "Have I?"

She smiled the knowing, enigmatic smile that he adored so much. "Yes. You've really come into your own here. You've gained everyone's respect, especially mine." She smirked. "Even Major Kira's."

He shook his head, but couldn't fight off a grin. "She tolerates me."

Dax was grinning, too. "Maybe." She twirled the champagne glass around on the table once and then let it alone, sitting back on the couch and fixing him with her gaze. "I consider you one of my closest friends, Julian. I hope you know that."

For the first time that evening, her sincerity tore right through his melancholy. Friendship wasn't an honor a joined Trill bestowed lightly. Dax made friends fast and seemed to have thousands of amicable acquaintances, but the close friendships, the lasting ones, were few and far between, and only with people who she deeply respected on one level or another. He took in her face, gracefully framed by her dark Trill spots, and found he couldn't swallow. She considered him her friend. Wasn't that enough? Shouldn't it be? He'd done what he most wanted to do: earn her respect. He should be content to walk away then, be satisfied with his place opposite her at a table in Quark's, listening to her exploits with various visiting aliens and gamely recounting his own. But she was beautiful, unearthly so, and it seemed almost cruel to have to be so close to her and still never be allowed to touch her.

Bashir broke her gaze, staring down at his half-empty glass of champagne. At some point, he realized, he was going to have to hear the truth, that it didn't matter how much he'd changed or grown up or how much she respected him. Nothing was ever going to happen between them. He was already having a rotten evening so he might as well get it over with.

"It's never going to be any more than that, is it?" It wasn't really phrased as a question.

For a moment, there was silence. He waited for her to laugh at him, to bring out that condescending smile she had used on him three years ago when he'd professed his affection for her almost every time he saw her, making an idiot of himself in the process. The laughter didn't come.

"I... didn't realize you were still interested."

Dizziness hit him all at once, and he wondered if that was what she meant about the champagne. Her hands were folded in her lap and she looked younger than he had ever seen her. "Jadzia..." he wanted to tell her that it wasn't fair to tease, that there was no way that she really couldn't know how he felt about her. He had never been any good at concealing his emotions. It was, according to his father, one of his worst failings.

"I've always known you had a crush on me," she explained.

"I think everyone on the station knows that," he commented bitterly, feeling heat rise to his face as he thought of the time that a group of mysterious aliens had managed to conjure up the Jadzia Dax of his dreams for the entire command staff to see, submissive and coy and helplessly lusting after him. After that, he'd been surprised that Jadzia had ever wanted to speak to him again.

She frowned, her eyebrows knitting together to form delicate lines across her features. "I guess I didn't think that you still thought of me that way. I mean, I know you still..." she trailed off, somehow encompassing all the half-hearted things he still did in the name of chasing her. Her halting, uncertain manner of speech was almost unheard of for Dax. "I thought it was just kind of a... joke between us now."

It was a joke, all right, and it was on him. He knew it was every time he convinced himself that she was just a passing juvenile infatuation whose time had come and gone, only to wake up in the middle of the night knowing that he'd been dreaming about her. He knew it because he got angry at Quark and Morn and that Gallamite captain and everyone else who took a shot at her, even as he rationalized the emotions away as being the result of stressful work hours or insufficient sleep.

He knew it because he could work beside her for days without feeling anything, and then she would touch his shoulder, or smile, or tell him he was one of her closest friends, and then suddenly, being near her would become almost physically painful.

He leaned back against her couch and stared up at the ceiling, feeling even more pitiful than he had at the beginning of the night. The Carrington Award and Henri Roget seemed a million light-years away.

Her tone had betrayed nothing of what she might like to do with the information, now that she knew the truth. The Cardassian ceiling above him seemed to mock him, telling him that he never should have poured that second drink, that he never should have gone to her quarters, that he should have just kept his mouth shut and been grateful that she was in his life at all, in whatever platonic capacity he could get. Some part of him demanded that he say it, that he come clean with her, to tell her the one thing he'd never even said aloud by himself before. He might never get another chance. "I think... I might be in love with you."

He closed his eyes and wished for a wayward spatial anomaly to materialize inside the room and destroy him right there. He waited for her to say something, to gather her infinite composure enough to come up with some sort of anecdote to trivialize his situation, a story about how Tobin or Audrid or some other past host of hers had once been just as lonely and pathetic as he.

Cool fingers touched his cheek. He had to look at her. The expression on her face was one he had never seen on her before, filled with compassion and curiosity and a certain youthful uneasiness he would never have thought she had within her. Sometimes he forgot that the host, Jadzia, was only a year older than he was and had only had a few short years to get used to being the joined creature she now was.

"I don't think you're really in love with me, Julian." He was used to her knowing, superior tone, but there was something different about it, as though part of her was shaking.

Of course, he was probably imagining it because he was shaking all over. "Maybe I'm not," he conceded, unsure of what else he could possibly say at that point.

"I have been a young man, you know. More than once, in fact."

"Jadzia, please don't..." he couldn't finish his sentence. What didn't he want her to do? Twist his emotions into nothing but some meaningless hormonal surge? Profess to know exactly what he was thinking and feeling when he didn't even know himself? Let him know, once and for all, that all his nagging fears were correct and that he would never be good enough for someone like her? He set down his glass and stood up. "I should go."

"No, Julian, wait. I'm sorry."

He didn't know that she had ever apologized to him before.

He sat back down.

She didn't say anything more for a moment, only played with her hands, until finally she looked him in the eye. "I'm sorry if it feels like I never gave you a fair chance."

He tried to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "You never owed me anything."

"That's not true. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't enjoy all the attention you gave me when we first met. It's... horribly flattering."

At least he didn't annoy the hell out of her. That was something.

"And... I'd be lying if I told you that there wasn't a part of me that always wanted to take you up on it."

Bashir couldn't come up with anything more intelligent to say than, "What?"

She got up from the couch and walked over to the nearest window, staring out into the blank expanse of space. "Let me tell you something about Jadzia."

It wasn't often that she talked about herself. Usually, when she was telling stories, it was about her past hosts. He'd always wondered about that, about why she seemed to find herself less interesting than the past hosts whose memories she carried around, but he'd never gotten the chance to ask her. "Go on."

"She spent her entire life preparing to be joined. Her studies always came first. She had a few friends at the Academy, of course, and in the initiate program, but she was painfully shy and hardly ever spent any time with people. Qualifying to become joined was so important to her that it was easy to make it into an excuse to avoid things that frightened her. In many ways, she never let herself live at all."

It was hard to imagine Jadzia without the benefit of three hundred years of experience guiding her hand, so he didn't say anything when she paused, only waited for her to continue. He was grateful the burden of confession was now on her.

"I have Curzon and Torias and Emony in me now, giving me a social courage I never had before, but... part of me is still Jadzia, and she was always terrified of getting her heart broken."

Bashir had never even considered the possibility that he might be the one to break her heart. It was almost scary to see this side of her. As much as the fantasizing part of him always longed to weaken her somehow, to allow him to charge to her rescue in order to make himself worthy of her, actually seeing her this uneasy was almost painful. He wanted to go to her, to somehow offer her comfort, but he was afraid to approach her and had no idea of what he could say, except, "I don't want to hurt you, Jadzia."

She met his eyes. "I know that. I don't want to hurt you, either. But I also know what it's like... to be young."

Just like the Carrington Award, he was denied serious consideration because he was too damned young. He had to laugh at that. It might even have been truly funny if it wasn't his happiness hanging in the balance. "So you're saying that I should come back in... what? Another ten years? Twenty? Thirty? The next time I get nominated for the damned Carrington?"

She walked back toward the couch, but instead of taking her previous seat next to him, she moved the champagne glasses and sat down on the coffee table in front of him. "I don't know what I'm saying." She reached out a hand to cup his face, and he cursed his head for leaning into her touch, cursed his body for weakening at the unusually intimate gesture. He didn't think he could move away from her if he wanted to -- his limbs would simply refuse to work. "When we first arrived on Deep Space Nine, you... came at me so intensely. But you were also chasing a different girl every week, and I knew that whatever fascination you had with me wouldn't last once you actually got me."

She had a point. The possibility of actually landing a date with Dax or, God willing, sex, had seemed so remote back then that he had never really considered what he would do beyond that if he ever got those things from her. She was right about him -- he had wanted little more than to womanize his way through the wild Bajoran frontier. All in all, that quest had been less than successful. Still, he felt the need to argue, if feebly, her analysis of him. "I'm not like that anymore."

"No. You're not." The hand cupping his face moved to tangle in his hair, just for a moment, and he felt as though the station had suddenly lost gravity. Energy crackled up and down his spine so that he could hardly sit still. God, if he felt like this when she was just touching him... For Dax, the gesture didn't have to mean anything beyond sympathetic affection, but he had been dreaming about feeling those hands on his skin for years.

His hand moved by itself to her face, compelled by more fantasies of this moment than he would care to count, touching her delicate spots tentatively. It wasn't like he had never touched her before, but this was the first time it hadn't been in a medical capacity, when she was injured or dying in the Infirmary. She didn't object to his touch, or pull her own hand away, and his heart pounded so hard in his chest he was sure she could hear it.

She let out a breath that almost sounded like a giggle as she leaned her head in toward his. He moved to kiss her, reflexively, but she changed her angle of approach so that their foreheads touched. "Julian, do you really want to do this?"

Suddenly he didn't trust himself with her. She was the wise old owl and could certainly take care of herself, of course, and he doubted that any heartbreak he could engineer would even be remembered by Dax's future hosts, but if he messed this up, he would lose her forever. He couldn't imagine being posted to DS9 without her. In truth, he could hardly imagine his life at all without her wisecracks in staff meetings, her sympathetic wisdom whenever he faced a tough decision, or her laughter at parties, clear enough to ring through the entire room. He had spent almost three years hanging on the possibility of someday getting a real chance with her, and if that possibility were taken away, he wasn't sure what he would do.

She was close enough to taste, and now he was having second thoughts.

But his skin was on fire, forcibly reminding him just how close she was, and he would never forgive himself if he didn't get in at least one kiss.

He kissed her. More remarkably, she kissed him back. She tasted unlike any other girl, something uniquely Trill and alien. The kiss was gentle, tentative, but something about it made him have to fight back the urge to cry. She was letting him kiss her, Jadzia Dax had deemed him worthy enough for one single kiss. It felt ten times more important than any recognition the Federation Medical Council could bestow upon him.

The kiss ended and she let him breathe for a moment, like the action had sapped most of his strength. She was flushed, too, and he doubted he had ever seen her look so beautiful, or so necessary.

"That was nice," she said with a smile, tracing a cold hand down his neck and chest until it rested over his heart.

It took him a moment to be able to speak again. "Nice... isn't exactly the word I'd choose."

She smirked, still resting her hand on his chest. "Very nice," she teased.

He brought his own hands up to cover hers. Her pink cheeks somehow made her blue eyes look even paler, but the icy colour seemed warmer than it had just a few minutes before. He felt like she had brought him up to her level, somehow, like he could look at her and really see her for the first time, insecurities and all. If anything, his new vantage point left her looking even more remarkable. "Jadzia, what does this mean?"

Her hand tensed up under his, like she was thinking of pulling it away, but she didn't move. "Your friendship... is important to me. I don't want to do something we could both regret."

He doubted he could ever regret her, even if he tried. "Our friendship is important to me, too. I'm not going to lose you, Jadzia."

She leaned in and dropped a kiss on the corner of his mouth before standing up. "We should probably call it a night. It's getting late."

He obediently stood up next to her. A shot of courage ran through him as he realized that this was it, the closest he had ever been. He had to move now, or lose her forever. "Can I take you out to dinner tomorrow night?"

She raised her eyebrows and grinned. "We eat dinner all the time."

"Yes, at Quark's, with everyone else. I mean a real dinner," he said, determined that her smile would not unnerve him. "At the new Bajoran restaurant on the second level. You've been saying how you want to try it out."

She studied him a moment before nodding. "I get off-duty at 1900. I'll meet you there."

"Why don't you let me pick you up?"

The enigmatic smile returned. "Really pulling out all the stops, aren't you, Julian?" Before he could object she held up a hand. "All right. It might be fun getting the complete Doctor Bashir treatment."

For a moment, Julian wondered whether he should be insulted by that, or whether he should worry that she truly thought of him as that much of a womanizer, but then she started to laugh. By this time they had made it to the door of her quarters, and she pressed the button to open them.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said, unable to hide the giddiness from his smile.

She kissed him again before bidding him goodnight and letting the door close behind him. He stood there in the hallway in shell shock for a moment, running over the evening's events, hoping to burn them into his mind in case this was all a dream and they would fade before the next morning briefing. He doubted there was much chance of that, really -- he had known for three years already that he would never get her out of his mind.

Jadzia Dax was giving him a chance.

A helpless grin came over Bashir's face. He felt taller, older in the best of ways, as though Dax had changed him in a way wonderful and dramatic enough to be seen by everyone around him.

All week he had felt exhausted to the point of death, and now he didn't know that he would ever sleep again. His skin tingled where she had touched it. He took a breath and walked away from her door, convinced that this wouldn't be the last evening he got to spend in her quarters.

*****



While his intention had been to head back to his quarters and get some sleep before the early shift the next day, the taste of Jadzia's kisses on his lips and the thought of a real chance with her on his mind kept him from sleeping. He paced around the habitat ring for awhile to try and wear himself out, and ended up on the Promenade leaving a reservation request at the Bajoran restaurant.

As he passed by Quark's, he caught sight of Chief O'Brien, darts in hand, apparently trying to explain the game to Morn, who waved him off to return to his drink.

"Trying to find a new opponent?"

"Julian! I didn't expect to see you here."

Bashir shrugged, and tried to keep the grin from his face. He doubted he was succeeding all that well. "I couldn't let Morn beat you at darts, Chief. That's my job."

O'Brien rolled his eyes and handed Bashir the darts as they walked over to the dart board. "You look pretty happy for a man who just lost the Carrington."

He should probably tell him, Bashir realized, even though he knew O'Brien was just needling him about the lost award. After all, the doctor had been waiting for years for the chance to prove himself to his fellow officers after they had laughed over his long pursuit of Dax. Somehow, though, remembering the gentle way she had touched him and the uncharacteristically shy look in her eyes, he wanted to keep her to himself for an hour or two.

He threw the darts one at a time. Outer ring. He supposed his mind wasn't exactly on the game.

"Too bad," O'Brien commented, going up to retrieve the darts. "Guess it's not your night."

Bashir smiled to himself. "Well, you know what they say, Chief."

"What's that?"

"Winning isn't everything."


*the end!*

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